This story was first published in Indigo Boys IV, and again in the collection, The Starsky & Hutch Indigo Boys Stories. Both zines are still in print and can be obtained from In Person Press.

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We were prisoners of love a love in chains
He was standin' in the door, I was standin' in the rain
With the same hot blood burning in our veins...
Lost but not forgotten from the dark heart of a dream...
Adam Raised a Cain—Bruce Springsteen

The flashy red car skidded to a smoking halt by the curb, inches from the rear of a dilapidated, colorless hulk from the same family, but different species. Dave Starsky flung open the red Ford's door before the wheels finished spinning, and in panicked haste, ran across the hood to get to the sidewalk. Bolting through the ornate front door of his best friend's apartment building, Starsky took the long staircase two steps at a time, until he was finally facing the door to Ken Hutchinson's apartment. Without pausing, Starsky grabbed the knob, turned it, threw the door open wide—

Then froze in place.

His heart slamming wildly, his breath labored, his hand still tightly clenching the doorknob, Starsky forced himself to act like a cop—Like a cop, dammit, not a panic-stricken civilian!—and assess the scene he was about to enter. He looked around the apartment, taking in everything in a glance.

It all seemed perfectly normal. The living room was neat, tidy, familiar furniture right in place. No one stirred in the limited parts of the kitchen, bedroom, or hallway he could view.

At the kitchen table sat his friend.

Hutch wore a dark running suit, his back to the door. His head was bowed as if examining something on the table. He didn't look up or acknowledge Starsky's sudden entrance.

The words of Hutch's jarring phone call still rang in Starsky's ears.

"Starsky. I need you. I need you now."

At the strangled sound of Hutch's voice, Starsky had completely forgotten to ask why. He'd just thrown his old brown leather jacket on over his worn, denim work shirt and ran for the car.

Starsky stepped into the apartment, his sneakered feet and soft, faded blue jeans making no sound. He moved quietly through the space, as quiet as Hutch was being, as if afraid a jarring sound would rupture something fragile.

Hutch was staring at something, mesmerized by it.

Starsky walked around behind him, glancing around the apartment, the furniture, the floors. Nothing shattered. Nothing broken. Every plant, every book, every knickknack in place. Okay. Okay. As he walked behind Hutch, he gently touched his friend's shoulder, then trailed his fingers along the nape of his neck in a gesture meant to be comforting. If Hutch was comforted, he never said.

Starsky moved as quietly, as respectfully, as if there were a corpse in the room. The apartment wasn't large, but it was cozy and bright. Hutch liked bright, open space. But Starsky never forgot this was not his space. It was not his territory. He was an invader here, except for Hutch's invitation.

Finally, as he moved around in front of Hutch who was still sitting motionless at the table, Starsky spied something in Hutch's hand. Some paper. Starsky couldn't read it from this angle. It didn't matter. The expression on Hutch's face spoke of disaster, desolation, despair. It rattled Starsky thoroughly even if he didn't let it show on his face. He'd never seen his friend look quite like this before.

Poking around a kitchen he spent little time in, Starsky eventually located an open bottle of amber liquid. Snagging a smallish glass off the drain board, he filled it halfway with the strong bourbon and set it carefully in front of his shell-shocked friend.

"Drink it," he ordered gently. Removing his leather jacket, he hung it over the back of the chair as he sat across the table from Hutch.

Hollow blue eyes glanced at the glass as Hutch hesitated, then did as he was told in two hard swallows. His whole frame shuddered and he sucked in a lungful of air as if suddenly awakened.

"What happened?" Starsky asked carefully, his voice neutral, yet with a cop's command.

Finally, Hutch looked at him. The knot of worry that habitually creased his brow was pronounced, marring his handsome, young face. He opened his mouth, but said nothing, then finally, as if desperate to communicate, placed the folded paper in his hand on the table. He slid it over to Starsky.

Starsky picked it up. It was a legal document. The official notice that Hutch's wife, Vanessa, was filing for legal separation to pursue a divorce. Finally. It was real. It was happening.

Starsky's jaw tightened with surprise as he clamped down hard on his expression so as not to reveal his feelings.

"It was waiting for me when I got home," Hutch said in a voice so soft Starsky could barely hear him. "I didn't even see it right away. I got in around five. She wasn't here."

Nothing odd about that. God forbid she should be home when you got in from work after riding the streets all day in a hot patrol car. And if she ever made you a single meal the whole damn state would probably fall into the ocean from the shock. Starsky kept his face blank, letting Hutch talk.

"She usually doesn't get in till six or...later. So I changed and got ready to make dinner. I was moving toward the fridge for a beer when I saw it, sitting in the middle of the table. She must've left it for me there. It wasn't until I'd read it twice that I realized she—she'd left. I mean, I finally looked around, really looked around. She's taken everything."

To Starsky, the place seemed no different than the last time he'd been here. He glanced around quickly, trying to confirm what Hutch was telling him, and couldn't.

Hutch understood his confusion. "All this stuff, all of it's mine, was mine from before we were married. Her stuff—clothes, jewelry, cosmetics, mementos—they're all gone. All of it. Her closet's bare. She took everything except—well, it's not important—"

"What?" Starsky prompted, keeping his voice calm, easy. "What were you gonna say?"

Hutch shrugged, not looking at him. "Some of the plants, they were hers. Gifts from me. An orchid I bought for her once. An unusual flowering begonia. Some other gifts I'd gotten her. She left all that."

Then Hutch took a deep shuddering breath. "Her wedding ring. She left her wedding ring on the dresser. Like it was an afterthought." Hutch glanced at his own ring, fingered it, then clenched his left hand in a fist.

It was an afterthought to her, buddy, Starsky thought, fighting to keep the anger off his face and from his voice.

"I-I'm sorry to drag you into this, Starsk," Hutch said, apologetically. "But—I didn't know who else to call. What to do. Where to go."

Starsky enfolded the hand Hutch was clutching the glass with in his own. "You did the right thing, calling me. I'm your friend. I'm here for you."

Hutch looked right into Starsky's calm, sympathetic gaze. "What am I gonna do, Starsk? She wants a divorce! How-how can I just let that happen? How'm I gonna get her back?"

Starsky was never more grateful for his police training than he was at this moment. The blank, emotionless exterior he sometimes affected for questioning suspects saved him now. He wanted to rail at his best friend, scream at him, Damn it, Hutch, let her go and celebrate! That woman is poison and she's been killin' you slowly for all the years you been together. You're well rid of her! But knowing Hutch still hadn't accepted the slow demise of his marriage, he said nothing, just sat there, offering support with his presence. He refilled the glass with more alcohol, and without saying a word Hutch drank it.

"She's been threatening this for so long," Hutch indicated the separation papers, "that I guess I'd stopped listening. Truth is, she's hardly ever here. And when she is, we're at each other's throats. There's nothing we can discuss, no subject that comes up that doesn't become a battle. Our bed's a demilitarized zone, with each of us restricted to our own side, backs to one another, hostility crackling. That is—when she's even in it...." He downed the remains of the drink.

Starsky obligingly refilled it. It's been coming for so long, how can you be surprised? How can you even be hurt? I thought all you'd really feel is relief. But Hutch's wounded blue eyes put the lie to that.

"I guess I must've really scared you with that call," Hutch realized a little dimly as the alcohol started to hit. "Sorry, buddy. I was stunned. I felt like the walls were closing in. Like I was so alone. Like the aloneness might suffocate me. Until I dialed your number, until I heard your voice on the other end. Then I could breathe a little. Could tell come over...that I needed you...."

"I'm glad you called me," Starsky assured him. "I'm here for you. I'll always be here for you, Hutch, you know that."

Not for the first time, Starsky wished he and Hutch were working out of the same precinct, that they were partners already, but Hutch was at Rampart and Starsky at Metro. They were both still in uniform, but Starsky was confident that wouldn't last long. They were both pushing for detective, waiting for that day when they could be partnered together, like they'd promised each other in the Academy. That seemed so long ago now. But Starsky could wait. He knew the value of a good partner on the street. He could wait for Hutch.

Starsky pulled himself out of his musings as he realized Hutch's watery blue eyes were fixed on him. There was just a bit of an alcoholic haze in them. Starsky hoped the liquor might help open his friend up a little, get him talking. Normally, Hutch was verbal enough for both of them, but when he was hurting, especially about Vanessa, he had a tendency to try to hide it from Starsky, keep it all inside.

"You are always there for me," Hutch said, in response to Starsky's last remark. "You always have been. I can rely on you like I can rely on the sun to rise."

A little embarrassed by the sudden testimonial, Starsky tried to shrug it away. "We're friends. S'posed to be that way. You're there for me."

Hutch shook his head. "No. I've been there for her. Because I'm her husband." He made the word drip with contempt. "I'm there for her, but she doesn't see it that way. I'm not there the way she wants me to be. I'm still a lowly street cop. Not a the high-priced lawyer she thought I would become when we got married."

After finishing the drink in a swallow, this time Hutch poured another glass himself. "She really thought I'd get tired of it after awhile. She figured the grunt work, the street action, having to actually 'deal with those people' would turn me off the job in about six months. She figured she'd just tough it out till I got sick of the job, quit, and went back for the few credits I needed for my law degree. Then I'd pass the bar, go to work for some well-placed corporate suits, and be pulling in high six figures in about five years." He took a healthy swallow of the bourbon.

Starsky considered taking the alcohol away, but since Hutch was finally opening up, he decided to let it ride. Besides, Hutch was at home. He could drink to oblivion here. Starsky would just put him to bed and make sure nothing happened to him.

"I've never been there for you," Hutch concluded miserably. "Not like I should have. Not like you've been for me...."

"Hey, come on," Starsky chided gently. "How 'bout that time I got shot trying to stop that holdup down on Wiltshire? Right after we got outta the Academy? You were there ten minutes after the report went out over the radio. And you stayed at the hospital all night. You nearly got disciplined over it. Yours was the first face I saw when I came up outta the anesthesia—"

Hutch smiled wryly. "I was so relieved I yelled at you for ten minutes about taking unnecessary risks."

Starsky grinned, remembering. He could recall blinking sleepily up at the anxious, familiar face staring down at him, raining abuse about the damn fool stunt he'd pulled that'd earned him his first wound. Even in his semi-comatose state, Starsky knew the harangue was the only thing keeping Hutch from bursting into tears. When one of the nurses had tried to pull the furious cop away from the recovering patient, Starsky managed to stop her. S'okay, lady, let 'm be, he'd told her. He can't help yellin'. It's cause he loves me. And then he'd gone back to sleep, right in the middle of Hutch's diatribe.

"An' what about that time I had that really bad flu?" Starsky pressed. "You were livin' over in Venice then, in that little house...."

Hutch nodded, almost smiling. "I loved that little house. The one with the greenhouse over the porch?"

It was a cute yellow bungalow—entirely too cute, too small, for Vanessa. Not to mention the completely wrong part of town. They barely finished out the year's lease before she insisted they move here. Hutch preferred Venice, since it was closer to the water. It seemed to Starsky that whatever Vanessa preferred was diametrically opposed to Hutch's desires.

"—And you brought me over there," Starsky continued, remembering his bout with the killer flu. "Put me on the couch and nursed me like I was a baby."

"You were really sick, Starsk," Hutch insisted. "Your temperature spiked to a hundred and five. You could've had brain damage."

Starsky waited for the teasing insult that would normally have accompanied that statement—of course, how would we have ever known?—but it never materialized, just underscoring how depressed Hutch was.

"You could've died if you'd stayed alone in your place, no one to cook for you, make sure you got well," Hutch continued. "I know you. You would've curled up in bed, no pajamas, drinking root beer and eating left-over pizza, just waiting for the bug to pass like a sick bear in its cave. Pathetic."

Vanessa hadn't seen it quite that way, Starsky recalled smugly. She'd been furious when Hutch had brought the ailing Starsky home, and through the fog of his fever, Starsky had been all too uncomfortably aware of their arguing. She'd finally stormed out, insisting she wouldn't return until "Typhoid Harry" had vacated, for fear she'd catch whatever it was he'd had.

At one point, he'd clearly heard her rail at Hutch, "How do you know he's not in the terminal stages of some venereal disease? With the number of women he sleeps with, he must have his own revolving door at the public health clinic!"

Starsky had managed to catch her eye at that point, and smiled crookedly at her, which really pissed her off. Whenever he'd had to attend parties with Vanessa and Hutch, he'd come on to every woman in the place—no matter how old, how young, how pretty, how homely—he'd flirt with every woman, but her. His excuse was that it wouldn't be respectful to Hutch, but Vanessa knew. She knew how he really felt about her.

You're in no danger of ever catchin' anything from me, sweetheart. I'd cut my johnson off with a dull knife before I'd let you near it. You're a cold, manipulative bitch, who lucked into a sap way too good for you. Yeah, we recognize each other, don't we?

"You took such good care of me then, Hutch," Starsky told him. "As good as my mom! You were there for me, big time! And-and what about when Barbara left me that time? I was a mess. You were there for me then."

Hutch nodded morosely, and pushed the liquor glass over to his friend. Starsky took a small, obligatory sip as a token of recognition of that aborted relationship, then gave it back to Hutch, who drained the glass and filled it again.

Starsky had really loved Barbara, and for a while it looked like he might actually settle down. They'd started talking about marriage. Starsky had stopped seeing other women. Barbara made him happy; he loved her. She was fun in bed, easy to talk to, and she even liked Hutch. It seemed to be too good to be true.

"You never really told me why you two broke up," Hutch said.

"Sure I did," Starsky insisted. "You spent the whole weekend with me at my place after she left that Friday. That's all I did was talk about it."

Hutch shook his head. "You talked about how you felt—about losing her, about what a wonderful woman she was, about what a worthless shit you were because you couldn't keep her. You talked a lot. And drank a lot. But I never really understood why she left."

"I told you," Starsky insisted as Hutch sipped at his drink. "It was the whole cop thing. She was always worried about it, then I took that bullet and she kind of freaked. Things were never the same after that. Every time I was late for dinner, every time I had to break a date— Then, then, remember, her friend Tess, her college roommate, the one in Texas, who was married to a state trooper? Remember, he bought it out on the highway, tryin' to give some guy a traffic ticket, and the guy was a fugitive and blasted him right in the face? She went out there to that funeral, and when she came back, she gave me my walkin' papers. It was the cop thing. I told you then. I know I did. It really hurt that she would leave me because I was a cop." Just like it's hurtin' you now that Vanessa's left for the same reason—sorta.

"I remember you tellin' me that," Hutch said, a slight slur in his voice. Still, he sounded surprisingly sober. "But I also remember thinking there was more to it. That you weren't telling me all of it."

Starsky grew still, and just watched his friend, waiting for the rest.

Hutch took another sip. "That time in the hospital, when you got shot? I went by Barbara's place after you regained consciousness in Recovery. They told me you probably wouldn't wake again till morning, so I went to tell her what happened. She said something to me then...something I never told you." He took another sip. He pushed the glass at Starsky, but he shook his head slightly and Hutch took it back.

Starsky never felt comfortable drinking here. This was Vanessa's place. He needed to have his wits about him here. He needed to be clear-headed.

Hutch toyed with a bead of water left by the glass. "When I told Barbara what had happened to you, that you were gonna be all right, that the surgery was done, she looked at me funny. She asked me why Stevenson, your partner at the time, hadn't come to tell her this. Then she said, 'Don't answer that. I know why.' I just stared at her, kind of baffled. I'd been through the wringer with you getting hurt and all—I mean, I was still in uniform—and I wasn't following her. So, I told her she could see you around nine in the morning, and that I was sure you'd like her to be there. She just stared at me and said, 'Why? You'll be there, Hutch. That's all he really needs.'"

Hutch still wasn't looking at Starsky, but Starsky kept his face blank none-the-less.

"I didn't know what to say to that," Hutch continued, "so I didn't say anything. Then she said, 'All cops are like that, aren't they? They've got this tight little fraternity, and the rest of us—wives, girlfriends, family—we can have what's left over. My friend keeps telling me about it. But I can't help but feel that with you and Dave there's something more. I keep hoping if I stick it out, someday I'll mean almost as much to him as you do.'" Hutch was really watching him now. "Is that why she left you, Starsk? 'Cause of me? 'Cause we're so tight?"

"Don't blame yourself, Hutch," Starsky said quietly. "Maybe it was a part, but the murder of her friend's husband was really the main issue. But, yeah, she was jealous of you, of our friendship."

"Your friendship?" Barbara had said to Starsky once, shortly before the break-up, while they were still trying to work things out. "What you and Hutch have isn't friendship. I'm not sure what it is, but friendship doesn't touch it at all. The two of you are like twins who emerged from the same egg, the same womb, then were separated at birth. You were raised by wolves, all appetite and no manners. He was raised by sharks, always thinking, planning, learning how to mingle so he can hide the teeth. Then you found each other in the Academy and remembered your evolution. You were two brothers who formed a marriage, a bond so impermeable the rest of us can just hover around it and hope for leftovers. I wouldn't even try to compete with Hutch. There'd be no point. I'm just trying to figure out if the feelings you've got left over are enough for me to live on. I'd always foolishly thought the man I loved—the man I'd eventually marry—would put me 'before all others.' That's why you make that vow. You can't lie when you take that vow, Dave. You've got to tell the truth. And they won't let you marry Hutch."

"Vanessa's jealous of you, too," Hutch admitted.

But that's not why she left, Starsky knew. Oh, she hated me all right, but not because she had to share you with me. She hated me 'cause I know what she is. She'd have never left you over me, or the hassle of bein' a cop's wife. She didn't care enough about any of that. It was strictly the money. As a cop, you just couldn't earn enough money to keep her, but you'd best believe she'll be bleedin' you for every penny you've got now. Still, you're better off, babe. We'll deal with the money issue when it gets here. And the hurt'll pass. Then you'll be free to love again.

"When we'd fight sometimes," Hutch admitted, "she'd yell at me to go climb into your bed so you and I could finally have the perfect marriage we were striving for. If I was mad enough—"

He stopped and looked up guiltily, then drank some more.

"Go on—say it," Starsky murmured. It was just words. It didn't mean anything.

Hutch swallowed, then wet his mouth. His voice was soft. "If I was mad enough, I'd say, 'at least if I got in bed with Starsky, I'd know the person I was sleeping with really loved me, not just what I could do for him.'"

Starsky winced theatrically. "Oh, low blow. Bet she loved hearin' that." Starsky was proud of Hutch. He didn't think he'd had that much insight into Vanessa, even when he was furious.

Hutch smiled ruefully. "Yeah, we lost a few dishes over that argument." Then he grew grim again. "But I slept with her that night anyway. The truth was...." He hesitated, staring at the blotch of water on the table. "The truth with her was always better when we were fighting. Sometimes at the height of our most vicious arguments we'd end up in bed, still battling. It fueled something in us, some need.... I don't know. We'd fall asleep after this cataclysmic bout of sex...and...and...."

"And when you woke up, everything would be all right again for awhile," Starsky finished, his throat tight.

"In the beginning," Hutch admitted. "It started that way. We'd fight. We'd fuck. We'd be okay. But after the Academy.... We'd fight. We'd fuck. We'd wake up fighting. We still went through the routine, but it didn't solve anything. There was still anger in the morning. Toward the end, it was like the sex was all we had to keep us from killing each other. And-and while it was physically draining, and gave me some release I seemed to need—it never satisfied me. That make any sense to you?"

Careful not to reveal how uncomfortable this conversation was making him, Starsky said cautiously, "Yeah. It was like a safety valve or somethin' keepin' the pressure cooker from exploding. Or maybe it was like Chinese food. An hour later...."

Hutch almost laughed. "It changed after the Academy, between Vanessa and me. I noticed it right after that night you and I—" He stopped abruptly, eyes carefully avoiding his friend.

The awkward pause sat between them like a live thing squirming in a sack waiting to be released.

Don't, Hutch! Starsky begged him mentally. You've been drinkin'. Don't bring this up, not now. It's all just old memories you're startin' to view through amber-colored glasses.

As if Hutch had heard the thought, he ended up shrugging. "After...the Academy, it was like I finally figured out that every night I climbed into bed with her, I was sleeping with someone who—" His voice caught and he gulped the liquor. Then, swallowing hard, he finished. "Someone who really didn't love me. It's a thought that, once it occurs to you, well, it's hard to shake.

"Sometimes I'd manage to forget about it, convince myself she really did love me—not the Hutchinson name, not the Hutchinson she kept imagining I would grow into—but.... The last two years...I don't think I ever forgot. Not one night." He drained the glass in a swallow. "All this time, I've been making love with someone I'm in love with, knowing even as I was doing it that she was never really in love with me."

Hutch's voice had dropped an octave; he sounded plainly miserable. "Do you have any idea what it's like—being in love with someone who's not in love with you?"

Starsky froze, his eyes locked on Hutch's face. He was too stunned to mask his expression, too rattled to cover his shock. The words were so hurtful he could barely breathe.

For a split-second the memories crashed in on Starsky with the kind of shocking clarity they hadn't had in years—

He and Hutch had become roommates at the Academy, after John Colby had left to join the Air Force. Hutch had insisted on it, and Starsky couldn't come up with a good enough reason not to. But Hutch's natural perceptiveness and Starsky's unease soon came to a head. Hutch had demanded honesty, and Starsky cared for him too much to lie any longer. Starsky remembered his confession as if it were yesterday, not a full two years before.

"I'm crazy about the ladies, that's no act. But my first love was a guy. Every now and then I get that feeling again.... I want you, Hutch, the same way you want that lovely wife of yours. The way Vanessa makes you feel—that's the effect you have on me."

Hutch could only regret what he couldn't give his friend. "I'm sorry I can't be everything you want me to be. I wish I could."

"But you're not in love with me," Starsky had said knowledgeably.

"No, I'm not," Hutch agreed. "but I love you. You're my partner, my best friend."

And with an open-hearted beauty that more than matched his physical attractiveness, Hutch—who was married to a stunning woman, and had pursued lovely females all his life—had held Starsky, kissed him, and shared a moment of brief, nearly chaste passion that was the most profoundly moving in Starsky's life.

Because the love was real, Starsky remembered. Really real. And, suddenly, it didn't matter that we couldn't be lovers, that it would never work out. We knew we could still love each other, like warriors, like brothers. The only way the world would ever let us. And it was okay, because what we share between us is the truest love of all.

Being able to reveal his hidden feelings honestly with Hutch without recriminations had meant the world to Starsky. It was at that moment that they both knew they would be friends forever, and someday, if they were lucky, partners together on the force. It was something they were still working toward, but Starsky knew it would happen.

He'd told Hutch, "What we've got—it's gonna be stronger than any affair, stronger than any friendship, maybe even stronger than any marriage. It's beautiful, Hutch. An' I swear I'll never take advantage of it. Not ever."

And he never had.

Hutch must've sensed something, because he glanced up from his empty glass to Starsky's face, then did a quick double take. Finally, it hit him, what he'd really said. He paled, his mouth dropping open. "Oh, God, that was the most thoughtless thing I've ever said in my life. I'm so sorry, Starsk."

Starsky just blinked, unable to respond.

Hutch, red-faced with embarrassment, started stammering. "I-I didn't mean that the way it came out, Starsk. I swear. I mean, I just didn't think, that is, I didn't remember—no, I mean, of course, I remember, I just—oh, God!"

What could Starsky do, but help his friend? "Hutch, take it easy. I didn't take it...personal. I mean...I didn't take it the wrong way. I know what it's like to love...some woman who didn't love me. I've loved plenty of ladies who had no time for me, who ditched me for dumb reasons. Barbara wasn't the first, and at the rate I go through 'em, she won't be the last." He snagged Hutch's glass, splashed some more alcohol in it, and this time took a good swallow, feeling the burn, glad for the distraction. "That don't mean the right lady isn't out there waitin' for us. Both of us. We'll find those ladies, we just gotta keep looking."

But Hutch's eyes were boring into his. "I didn't mean that I didn't remember, Starsk. I could never forget something that important, something—that beautiful. You remember, don't you? You remember that night? In the Academy? Right after we became roommates? After Colby left?" His voice had taken on a wistful tone Starsky could not deny.

"I remember, Hutch," he assured him, his heart suddenly trip-hammering. He felt trapped, terrified. How could I forget the way you felt in my arms? The way your mouth moved against mine? The strength in your body.... He jerked his mind back to the present.

The two men sat there in silence for a minute, and Starsky imagined that they were both afraid of the subject they'd just opened. He prayed Hutch would leave it alone, drop it right there, drink some more, and talk about Vanessa. But Hutch still had that lost look on his face, so Starsky filled the empty air.

He moved the legal paper around on the table. "You think she's gonna want alimony?"

Hutch blinked, as if he couldn't translate the words. He glanced at the separation form. Finally, he shrugged. "Well, sure. Vanessa's got a lot of needs, and she knows there's Hutchinson money involved. This is California—community property. She's entitled to half of—whatever. And alimony. She's gotta live, doesn't she—?"

Starsky looked at him sharply, still rattled by the previous topic. "She can work. Just like you. She's got a college degree. She can probably earn more than we do."

Hutch looked uncomfortable. "Even if we're separated, her support's my responsibility. I'll manage.... I'll find a smaller place, maybe back in Venice. If I have to, I can even move in with a roommate to cut expenses." He glanced at Starsky, his expression almost playful. "Been a long time, Starsk, but we roomed together once—?"

Yeah, and fell into bed together in the first two weeks, Starsky thought, his stomach knotting.

"Think you could stand living with me again?" Hutch asked.

Starsky looked around the apartment, and Hutch's ever-growing collection of plants. "You? Yeah," he lied. "The jungle? I dunno. 'Sides—might cause a problem in my social life if I gotta bring a pretty lady back to a place where she's gonna bump right into a tall, blond, Nordic god who's suddenly single. You're pretty intimidating for the rest of us mere mortals, Hutchinson. You haven't had to worry about this in years, but the thought of you loose on the streets is makin' my little black book mighty nervous."

Hutch frowned. "Dating...! You're right. That's something I haven't thought about since...since college. Oh, brother." He swallowed more bourbon, shaking his head. "Feels like an eternity. I don't know.... I don't think that's something I'll be ready for, for a while. I mean, it was fun in college, but...the whole games-man-ship of it, the insincerity—I'm out of practice. And right now—I'm not even interested."

"That's 'cause the hurt's so raw," Starsky assured him. "It'll scab over after awhile. Some pretty young thing'll cross your path, and...the feeling's'll be there. You'll see."

Hutch didn't look like he agreed. "Maybe. Maybe later. Much later. I just can't see dating as a solution to this...this emptiness inside me. I feel so hollow. Barren. Totally alone." He glanced up at Starsky, who was watching him intently. "No. That's not right. Not alone. I haven't felt alone since you got here."

Starsky said nothing, just watched Hutch battle his own inner pain.

"You know, I never cheated on Vanessa, Starsk," Hutch murmured. "I'd meet women sometimes, women who acted interested in me, and sometimes, especially lately, I even thought about it."

Starsky had watched it happened countless times. Women couldn't resist the handsome blond cop, but Hutch only had eyes for Vanessa. He could've screwed half the west coast if he'd wanted to, but as long as his marriage was intact, he'd never wanted to, no matter how badly he and Vanessa were getting along. Starsky couldn't understand it, how that woman commanded that level of loyalty. But maybe that was because in all the ways that counted, he knew her better than Hutch did.

"But, I think," Hutch continued, staring at his glass, "I mean, I'm not sure, but.... I think Vanessa's cheated on me. I think she's seeing someone...."

Starsky grew still, schooling his face, his voice. "You think so? You never talked about this before."

Hutch shrugged laconically. "I considered following her or checking the phone calls—you know, using the badge to find out. But that didn't seem right. Besides, they told us at the Academy how domestic disputes involving off-duty cops are often the worst. That made me back off. I didn't want to risk anything that might screw up our future—yours and mine, I mean—on the force. And really, I guess I didn't want to know. If she was, that is. With someone. But...she must've had somewhere to go. She's obviously been planning this awhile." Hutch swallowed hard.

"Easy, buddy," Starsky said softly. But what could you say to a man who thought the woman he loved cared so little for him that she'd take on another lover?

"I never screwed around on her," Hutch reiterated, "and even now, I can't imagine sleeping with another woman. I can't even imagine wanting to. I don't know what I'd say, how I'd approach one—how I'd feel—to be with a stranger...."

Seeing the downward spiral Hutch was on, Starsky gripped his wrist. "She won't be a stranger by the time you get into bed, Hutch. You'll feel like you know her real well, by then. Besides, the whole thing'll be outta your hands as soon as the ladies find out you're available. Trust me on this."

"I can't even remember the last lover I had before Vanessa," Hutch said quietly. "Once I met her, she was all I could think of, the only one I could imagine myself being with. The only one I ever wanted." He glanced up guiltily at his friend. "Except...except for that one night with you...."

Starsky considered denying the importance of that incident. What had transpired between them didn't qualify them as lovers in Starsky's mind. No, becoming lovers required a much greater level of intimacy, not to mention a certain amount of repeat performances. But Hutch was floundering, obviously afraid that he'd insult Starsky by not giving enough gravity to the connection they'd made that night, when Starsky only wished Hutch would forget the whole thing. Starsky certainly didn't want to discuss all that now, and he was afraid any comment he might make would give Hutch permission to drag the whole thing out for closer examination.

At the time, Hutch had insisted that what they'd shared hadn't impacted on his marriage. What was between them had had nothing to do with Vanessa. And that's the way it had seemed to Starsky. But now that lone incident seem to be gathering importance in Hutch's mind. Starsky splashed a little more liquor into the glass and searched for something to say. But he waited too long.

In the stillness, Hutch sipped the glass Starsky had refilled, then said, "You...ever think about that night, Starsk? You ever think about what happened—?"

"Yeah," Starsky said quickly, cutting Hutch off. "Sure. Sometimes. I-I think about it." He couldn't look at Hutch. The truth was he rarely thought about it. He couldn't afford to. They'd made their choices that night, the only ones they could, and Starsky had lived with that. Most of the time, he was glad about it, too.

Hutch paused, then pushed the glass toward Starsky. "You ever let yourself think about us that way any more?" His voice was low, husky.

Starsky suddenly wished he didn't have to listen to that voice, that seductive tone Hutch got when he was sad. He took his turn sipping the drink and pushed it back. He couldn't afford to get drunk now. Especially not now.

"You ever think," Hutch went on in that same low tone, "that maybe, it might've been better if we'd done what you wanted? If we'd become—"

Starsky couldn't bear to have him put the name to it. "It wasn't what I wanted. I wanted the whole thing to go away. You pulled it into the open, the way you do everything, and I let you. But all I wanted was for us to be comfortable together. To be best friends. To be partners. There was no future for us together...that way. I knew it then. I know it now. You're not in love with me, Hutch. We talked it out that night and decided it was better this way for both of us. We both wanted nice, normal lives. Careers on the force. Wives. Families. It's what we both wanted then, what we both still want. You're just feelin' blue over this, over Vanessa, that's all, so that old stuff seems more important to you now. We did the right thing then, Hutch. And I'm okay about it."

They quieted a moment and passed the glass back and forth, even though Starsky was careful to restrict how much he actually drank. But finally, Hutch whispered in a tight voice, "That night with you, Starsk, that night in that narrow little bed—that night you held me and loved me so nice 'cause you couldn't not do it—?" He took a slow breath before he could continue. "—That was the last time anybody ever touched me with love, Starsk. You know what it's like realizing that?"

Starsky always marveled at the ability Hutch had to tear his heart apart with just the simplest words. And wha'd'ya think it's been like for me—knowin' you curl up with that bitch every night while I—? He slammed down the traitorous thought viciously. He couldn't afford to indulge in that kind of thinking, not for a minute, not even a second.

But Hutch was too drunk to let it go. His watery blue eyes fastened on Starsky's, and with a sinking heart Starsky knew Hutch wouldn't be happy till he'd wrung every aching memory for all it was worth. "You still feel that way, Starsk? About me...? After all this time? Are you...still in love with me?"

Lie to him. It'll make it easier. He'll buy it 'cause he's half-stewed, and then it'll be done with. He'll be relieved. And he'll never bring it up again. Lie to him, if you wanna get through this night in one piece.

"Starsky...?" Hutch murmured. "Are you?"

Feeling as if his tongue was glued to the floor of his mouth, Starsky could only whisper the truth. "Yes."

For a moment, there was a glimpse of relief, even joy, on Hutch's face, but then his better nature rose, and he must've realized that what he was imposing on his best friend was the kind of pain he was currently suffering. "Oh, geez, buddy, I...I should have never asked that. I'm sorry!"

"Hey, hey, come on," Starsky said consolingly, reaching over to pat Hutch's arm. "It's not a problem. Yeah, I'm still in love with you, Hutch. I'll always be in love with you. And it's okay. It's not some big tragedy, it's kinda nice. It's somethin' special between us, something unique. It makes me feel warm and good inside, not sad or lonely. I'm never lonely for you, 'cause you're always there for me, whenever I need you, just like I'm there for you."

Hutch shook his head, clearly disbelieving.

Starsky clung to Hutch's arm and gave it a shake. He kept his voice low. "Don't you understand that if we'd kept it up, if we'd'a screwed around in the Academy, we might'a found out we weren't all that hot together? You weren't in love with me; you aren't now. You might'a got tired of me. And you know me. I like variety. It's hard for me to be monogamous. If we'd'a been incompatible in bed, if we'd'a got tired of each other, it would've ruined everything. We wouldn't even be friends now. We were smart, Hutch. We went for the sure thing. And that's what we are. A sure thing. We're partners. More than lovers. More than friends. It's me and thee, and it always will be. It's a damn good trade for a couple of nights rollin' around in the sheets."

Hutch looked like he was on the verge of tears, which worried Starsky. He wasn't sure he could hold it together if Hutch lost it. Hutch poured out the rest of the alcohol and offered the glass to Starsky first, but he shook his head. So Hutch finished it all, then tried to speak. "I don't know, Starsk. I just don't know anymore. All I know is, when you're with me, it's all okay, you know? When I'm hurting and you hug me. When I'm lonely and you come over, content to just be with me and spend time. When I'm angry and you let me vent. When I'm bleeding inside, only you can stop the pain. Only you."

"And that's the way it is for me when I'm with you. That's why we're best friends. Why we're gonna be partners. We're gonna take all that special energy and put it to use. We're gonna be the best damned partners this police force's ever seen. Then we'll always be there to cover each other, to help each other, to make every thing right. You'll see, Hutch."

With all the drunken sincerity he could muster, Hutch blinked and said, "I really love you, Starsky. Really. You know that, right?"

"Sure, I know it."

"And-and- I never want you hurtin' inside because of me. Not ever."

"You don't make me hurt, Hutch. I swear you don't." He's totaled, Starsky realized, and was annoyed with himself for not recognizing the signals earlier. I need to get him in bed and let him sleep it off. He stood, came around the side of the table, and knelt by Hutch's side. "Come on, Hutch. You're all wrung out. You need to lie down, get some rest. Come on."

Hutch gripped Starsky's shirt above the elbow. "Stay tonight? Don't leave me alone here. I can't handle being alone here tonight."

"No problem, babe. You know I'd never leave you when you need me. Come on. Let me tuck you in. I'll make you my special post-hangover coffee in the morning. Then maybe tomorrow we'll find you another place to stay. Someplace where there aren't so many bad memories." He stood, took Hutch by the elbow and urged him to his feet.

Hutch was steadier than Starsky expected as he rose. "What about when you need me? You ever need me, Starsk? It never seems that way."

"We already talked about that, Hutch, remember? When I got shot, when I had the flu, when Barbara dumped me? You're always there when I need you."

Starsky started walking Hutch to his bedroom, one arm around his waist to steady him. Hutch returned the embrace, long arm draped casually over Starsky's shoulders as Hutch leaned heavily against him.

When they got to the side of the bed, Hutch sat down hard on it, sliding his arms around Starsky's waist and resting his head against Starsky's sternum. Starsky rubbed Hutch's back soothingly, hoping he would nod off and let Starsky just roll him into the sack.

But Hutch still had some issues on his mind. He looked up, gazed wistfully into Starsky's eyes. "You'd never let me know what you really need from me, would you? Because you think I wouldn't wanna give it to you. But I could, Starsk. I could give you what you need. There wouldn't be anything wrong with it, once in a while. 'Specially now that...I'm not gonna be married anymore....'"

Oh, shit! Starsky thought, clutching. He froze in place, startled by the bald offer.

"There's gotta be times," Hutch continued, "when you really need me. You'd never say so, but I'm a man. I know what it's like to want someone so bad it hurts. You think I couldn't give you that? My best friend? Why won't you tell me when you need me?"

"Don't, Hutch," Starsky begged, realizing even as he did that he was trying to be rational with a drunken man.

"I remember what you said that night in the Academy, the way you said it. You said you wanted me. There was hunger in your voice, hunger for me. It hurts me to think you're still feeling that."

"Hutch, stop," Starsky ordered, and tried to pull away, but Hutch held Starsky with both arms, his chin resting provocatively above Starsky's waistband. His crystalline eyes were wide, luminous. A part of Starsky wanted to believe he saw desire there.

"I'm no expert, could teach me," Hutch went on, as if this were the most sensible idea. "Show me what you like. Then I could please you, give you what you need, once in a while, when you needed it. That would be okay, Starsk. 'Till you found your special lady. 'Till you didn't need me anymore...?"

For just a moment, Starsky allowed himself to indulge in Hutch's embrace. Rubbing a thumb across Hutch's cheek, he murmured, "I'll always need you, babe, don't you know that?" Gently, reluctantly, he tried to disengage himself.

"Don't leave...." Hutch whispered, and Starsky knew then that leaving would be impossible.

"I'm not leavin'," he promised. Hutch released him then, scooting backwards in the bed to make room for him.

You promised you'd never take advantage of him, Starsky's conscience reminded him sharply, even as he put one knee on the bed.

Hutch took his hand, tugged it. "Lie down with me. Hold me." It was a timid request, really, but it had all the effect of a direct order. Starsky had no idea suddenly how he could refuse this man anything.

We've both been drinking, he reminded himself. This is a bad idea.

Hutch rolled against Starsky the way a child would, nestling his big, warm body against Starsky's. Starsky wrapped his arms around Hutch and tried to suppress the urge to tremble. It had been so long....

"Feels good," Hutch breathed against his throat. "Just like in the Academy."

Starsky swallowed hard, and allowed himself to stroke Hutch's hair. Gently, he pressed his lips against Hutch's broad forehead. Hutch snuggled closer, his long legs entangling provocatively with Starsky's. It did feel good. Too good.

We're in Vanessa's house. In Vanessa's bed. She'd crucify us if she caught us. That alarming thought helped Starsky keep a grip on a burgeoning desire he thought he'd long ago tamed. We can't afford this. We damn sure can't afford to get caught, either.

"She won't be coming back," Hutch whispered suddenly, as if he could read Starsky's mind. "She took everything that was hers. She even left the key."

You keep the key on the lintel outside the door, you big dope, Starsky thought impatiently. Not that I even bothered to lock the door behind me.

"Stay with me," Hutch said again.

"I'm right here," Starsky assured him. Couldn't get any damned closer unless I climbed inside you. He squeezed his eyes shut as his traitorous mind supplied him with that delightful image.

"You've been giving me what I need all night," Hutch said, sounding more sober than he had any right to. "'Cause what I've needed has been you. Let me give you what you need. It's only fair." He nuzzled the side of Starsky's face with his nose, kissed his cheek lightly. "Come on, Starsk. Let me."

Pulling away was impossible, wrapped up as he was with endless miles of Hutchinson limbs. But he was able to move his face away from the warm, soft lips teasing him. "Hutch. You're drunk. I let you do this, you're gonna hate me in the morning."

"I'm not drunk," Hutch insisted. "I feel good, that's all. And I just...just want to be good to you."

"You are," Starsky insisted. "You don't have to do anything to be good to me. Let me just lie here and hold you." Till you fall asleep.

But Hutch clearly wasn't sleepy yet. "That night in the Academy," he murmured in Starsky's ear, "you said you...had a male lover in 'Nam. In the army."

"That was a long time ago," Starsky reminded him, wishing Hutch would just close his eyes and doze off.

"Real long time ago," Hutch agreed. "Haven't there been any others? Since the Academy?"

Starsky held perfectly still. "You mean...any guys?"

"Yeah. Any guys. Since...?"

"The Academy?"

Hutch swallowed hard.

Starsky closed his eyes, listening to what Hutch wasn't saying. She's cut your heart out and served it to you warm on a plate. So, now you need to know how much I love you. He stroked the blond hair and hugged Hutch tight. His voice was a harsh whisper. "No, Hutch. There's men since you. You were the last. I told ya, I wasn't doin' that anymore. I meant it. None since 'Nam, 'cept you. No others since." Is that what you needed to hear?

Hutch sounded doubtful. "I'm the only one...?"

"You're the only one," Starsky murmured, and brushed his mouth against Hutch's forehead.

Hutch was breathing shallowly. " love me?"

Starsky closed his eyes, finally answering, "Yes. Because I love you."

Hutch had his face buried against Starsky's neck. Starsky could feel Hutch's heated breath tickle his throat as Hutch whispered, "I wanna love you like that."

Starsky only sighed, his heart heavy. "Hutch, you can't just decide to feel those kinda feelings. They're either there or they're not. I know you really love me, I know you've got feelings for me no woman will ever have. It's enough. It's better this way...."

"I wanna love you," Hutch insisted, clinging to Starsky as if he were terrified. "It would make so much sense, it would be so right...."

"Hutch, try and relax. You need to sleep, babe...."

But once Hutch had hold of an idea, he was bound and determined to choke it to death. "I trust you, you're the closest person in the world to me, and you love me. We could make this work...."

"Hutch!" Starsky said firmly. "You're not in love with me. It's just one of God's little jokes, making us both the same sex. We just gotta live with it."

"Can't we even try?" Hutch breathed, sliding his hand over Starsky's abdomen. The broad palm crept over his soft denim shirt, descending toward Starsky's groin.

Starsky snagged Hutch's wrist before things deteriorated any further. "Hutch, you gotta stop this."

Hutch stilled his hand, just gripped a handful of Starsky's shirt as if he needed to hang on for balance. "Is it better for you...? I mean, when you do it with them?"

Starsky was baffled for a minute, then figured it out. "You mean the sex? Is it better with men than women? Is that what you're askin'?"

Hutch nodded, keeping his face buried between Starsky's neck and shoulder.

Starsky closed his eyes. "I...don't know about better.... It's-it's different, that's all. 'Sides, you know, how good it is just kinda depends on how you feel about the person—whether it's just a casual thing, or if there's love between you...." He trailed off, fearing he'd said too much.

"There's a lotta love between us, Starsk," Hutch reminded him needlessly. "It would be good for us. It would be right."

You think I don't know that? Starsky thought worriedly. He tried not to remember that brief encounter in the Academy, the searing heat of Hutch's mouth, the silken feel of his tongue, the tension of his big cock that couldn't be masked even behind layers of denim— He bit his lip to stop a train of thought that seemed to run along a track of its own making.

"You think I couldn't please you?" Hutch asked. "You think I'm afraid? I'm not afraid." Brazenly, Hutch nuzzled Starsky's ear, causing a chain reaction south of Starsky's belt that he couldn't deny. "I remember everything you said that night in the Academy. You told me how you felt. You told me what you wanted."

"Come on, Hutch, don't!" Starsky ordered, but found he couldn't make himself pull out of Hutch's embrace.

"In the Academy, you said you wanted to...fuck me," Hutch whispered, right in Starsky's ear.

Starsky froze in place, that one word rocking him, causing his cock to jump. He was steel hard now, strangling in his pants, but he didn't even dare attempt to adjust himself. He hoped, vainly, that the discomfort would distract him.

"You still want that from me?" Hutch asked, whispering, as if afraid of the power he was invoking with the forbidden words. "You still want to fuck?"

Starsky found he couldn't speak, couldn't move, and knew Hutch could feel his sudden trembling.

"We could do that," Hutch murmured, his voice pure seduction, low and husky, inviting. "You could teach me. Show me how to please you. And then I really could be there for you when you needed me, when you were hurting, when you needed someone to love."

"Hutch," Starsky murmured, nearly choking on the word, "you don't hafta use your body to keep me. You're my best friend. I love you. I ain't goin' anywhere."

Hutch grew quiet for a moment, while Starsky prayed he would ease into sleep, but finally Hutch only said, "Vanessa told me she loved me just this morning. She said, 'I know you won't believe this Hutch, but I love you. I really do.' Those were her last words to me—before she left."

Starsky turned, took Hutch's chin in his hand and moved his face so he could see the rain in Hutch's blue eyes. "I'm never gonna leave you, Hutch. I swear it. An' I don't have to fuck you for that to be true."

"Starsk," Hutch said softly, clearly out of arguments but still full of need, "please...."

"We're in Vanessa's bed," Starsky hissed, knowing he was at the end of his rope, the limit of his endurance. How many ways could he find to say no?

"It's my bed," Hutch insisted. "She'll never be in it again."

Not because you don't want her there, Starsky's traitorous mind reminded him.

"Starsk. I...need this from you...."

You need to feel loved so bad, Starsky realized, heart-sick, that you'd willingly give me your body just to have that momentary assurance.

Clenching his jaw, Starsky grabbed Hutch's shoulder, levered a leg between Hutch's knee and rolled him over onto his back. Hutch released a small gasp of surprise, and his eyes went wide.

"Better be sure you want what you want, baby blue," Starsky warned, "cause you just might get it."

"I wanna give you what you need," Hutch insisted, his voice strong. "Everything you need."

Starsky tried, unsuccessfully, to swallow a groan. He kissed Hutch's cheek, his jaw, but when Hutch tried to move his mouth to meet Starsky's, he shook his head. "No. I can't. Hutch, don't."

"You can't kiss me?" Hutch asked, sounding confused. "Why not? We love each other. You said that people that love each other kiss...."

"I'll lose it if I kiss you, babe," Starsky confessed. Just like I did the last time. Completely lose it, and this time you're entirely too willing. "I don't wanna do that."

"But, if that's what you need—?" Hutch insisted.

I gotta distract him or he's gonna talk me into this, Starsky realized, losing his will power. "You gonna give me what I need," he growled against Hutch's ear, "or what you think I need?"

Hutch threaded his fingers through Starsky's short, curly hair. "Anything you want, Starsk. Anything."

The murmured promise pulled a shudder from Starsky, as he forced himself to concentrate on something, anything else then the tempting beauty of that wide, generous mouth. He found his hand at the top of Hutch's dark, zippered sweatshirt; snagging the tab, he pulled it down, hearing the growl of the metal teeth as a warning. Instantly, Hutch imitated his move, fumbling with the fastenings on Starsky's denim shirt.

As Starsky slid his hand inside Hutch's unzipped shirt, he had the startling thought, I've never touched him like this. All the times I've touched him without thinking twice, touched him like a buddy, like a pal. Touched him to give him comfort, touched him to get comfort. All of that, and I've never touched him like this. He slid his fingers lightly, carefully over the pale flesh of Hutch's lean, hairless chest, and heard a sharp intake of breath. Yeah, I've never touched him like this—like a lover....

He tugged at the shirt, pulling it open, then slid both hands over the exposed golden flesh. Lightly, Starsky thumbed Hutch's small, brown nipples and watched with amazement as they hardened.

Their response beckoned him. Starsky bent his head, taking the nearest nipple into his mouth. He didn't dare kiss this beautiful man he loved, but his mouth craved a taste of Hutch, watered for his flavor.

Beneath him, Hutch arched, sighing. One of Hutch's big hands tightened in Starsky's curls.

You like that, babe? Starsky thought, his mouth too occupied by the tiny piece of tactile flesh inside it to comment out loud. He tongued the nipple, sucked it hard, captured it between his teeth and nibbled just enough to make Hutch call his name. The sound of his name uttered so passionately made Starsky ache with pleasure, with all the years of suppressed hunger he still felt for this man.

I thought I'd buried it, thought it wasn't there any more, my need for him. But Hutch knew it was still there, knew how to tap into it, pull it into the light. Damn him! How long is it gonna take me to bury it again?

He moved his mouth to the other nipple and bit it hard, making Hutch jump. But Hutch didn't complain, just rode it out, gripping Starsky's hair.

Starsky forced himself to ease up, to calm down. His mouth turned gentle, lapping at the bruised nipple, soothing it, loving it as sweet as he could. Hutch's moan was like a purr.

You like that, Hutch? My mouth pleases you, huh? A man's mouth? You don't know the half of it yet, buddy. But you will. You will.

"Starsk! Oh, God, Starsky! That's...that's so good...!"

Starsky ran his tongue down the long line of Hutch's sternum, tasting his sweat, his sweet Hutch flavor. He'd never allowed himself to think about this, think about how Hutch might taste, how his golden skin might feel under his tongue. And now that he was here, tasting him, loving him with his mouth, he couldn't think, couldn't analyze. All he could do was feel his need, his hunger, the very thing Hutch wanted to satisfy.

And the most amazing thing was how much Hutch was loving it.

Starsky reached up, grabbed Hutch's sweatshirt by the collar and yanked it off, peeling it off the broad back and long arms, then tossed it over the side of the bed. Hutch pulled at Starsky's shirt, opening it, but couldn't get it off. Giving up on the reluctant material, Hutch ran his hands under the shirt, roaming Starsky's furred chest, his smooth back and sides. Gently, cautiously, he fingered Starsky's small nipples, finding them easily under the mat of soft hair. Hutch's tentative touch inflamed Starsky, making him moan as he kissed and licked Hutch all over.

With trembling hands, Starsky reached for Hutch's waistband.

"Anything!" Hutch insisted breathlessly, as Starsky wrestled with the knot in the drawstring, finally opening it and loosening the waist. "Anything you want!"

Oh, dammit, Hutch, shut up! Starsky thought, as he yanked the waistband down and tongued Hutch's navel, drilling the tip deep. Hutch's answering moan was deep, throaty, full of passion. It was a sound Starsky had ached to hear without ever realizing it. He moved his mouth lower, as he pulled the sweatpants down, yanking the fabric over Hutch's hips with both hands. His mouth continued to travel, licking, nipping the soft, sweet flesh below Hutch's navel as he clambered between his long legs.

Hutch was shaking, sweating, pulling his knees up and spreading his legs. Starsky grabbed Hutch's sweatpants and hauled them down along his lean legs, along with Hutch's briefs. He knocked off Hutch's shoes and dragged off his socks on the way. After tossing the pants in the same direction he'd flung the shirt, he found himself suddenly confronted with the impressive length of Hutch's tall, rosy erection.

Starsky stared at it as if he'd never seen one before.

When was the last time I saw you nude? he wondered, mesmerized. Last time I came to meet you at Vinnie's gym? Was that two weeks ago? I walked in with coffee and doughnuts like I always do and started tellin' you about my date with-with, shit, I can't remember her name. And you were rinsin' off and laughin' at what I was tellin' you, and throwin' soap and water at me. An' I swear, I watched you rinse all that soap off your long, lean, beautiful body, and never once looked below your navel. I swear it.

He blinked then and admitted the truth to himself.

'Course I didn't look. I didn't have to. I memorized every inch of you in the Academy. When we roomed together. When we showered together in the gym after workouts. Every inch of your skin, your legs, your arms, your gorgeous ass— he allowed himself to stare at the towering erection, throbbing as if to an inner beat, bobbing with the pulse of Hutch's heart. Every inch of your big, beautiful, uncut cock.

He glanced up, feeling Hutch's eyes on him. Crystal blue eyes met his own darker ones. "It's yours," Hutch murmured. "Whatever you want."

Starsky's mouth filled with saliva. He forced himself to slow down. Reaching out, he touched Hutch's cheek. "I love you, Hutch. I'm never gonna leave you."

The words seemed to act like a balm on Hutch's tattered soul. He shut his eyes and nestled his face against Starsky's palm. "Promise...?"

Starsky wanted to weep. "We're forever, Hutch. No matter what. I promise."

Starsky took hold of Hutch's heavy rod with his left hand, gripping it firmly, controlling it. Then, keeping his eyes on Hutch's face, Starsky lowered his head and ran his tongue slowly, wetly, around the ruddy crown of Hutch's enraged erection. As he did, he inhaled, pulling in the unique, heady musk of Hutch's groin. He smelled of sea and sweat, a special Hutch perfume that permeated Starsky's senses, imprinting itself on his brain. It was pure pheromones, making Starsky's erection so hard, so painful, he could no longer ignore it. As he reached for his own zipper and finally freed his agonized member, he memorized Hutch's flavor, licking the crown slowly, around and around. The flesh was clean, dry, and tasted sweet, tasted like Hutch. It was all pure man-flavor, something Starsky hadn't had in so long he'd almost forgotten the pleasure it gave him.

Hutch gripped the bedclothes and sighed as Starsky tasted his cock. Seeing the pleasure clearly etched on Hutch's face, Starsky allowed his own eyes to close and let the entire head slide into his mouth as he groaned low in delight.

It's so good, so good to please you like this, love you like this. Hutch....

Hutch's big hands moved tentatively against Starsky's head, stroking his hair, petting his cheek, touching his face as if needing to be sure it was really Starsky doing this to him.

Oh, it's me all right, blondie. It's your buddy lovin' you, as good as he can, as good as he knows how.

His tongue swirled around the heavy head sliding slowly in and out of his mouth as Hutch started a soft, rhythmic moaning in time with the gentle rocking of his hips. Hutch's thumb touched Starsky's lower lip where it met the flesh of Hutch's cock.

That real enough for you, babe? That's me givin' you head, me, Starsky. And, God help me, I'm lovin' it.

He took more of the long cock into him, letting the crown press hard against the back of his throat. Starsky was stroking his own cock in time with the thrusting action in his mouth. The regular pulse of pleasure pounded through him until he became convinced he and Hutch shared the same heartbeat.

Hutch's soft moans were a passionate music feeding Starsky's need, exciting him, enticing him. He pulled away from the cock to run his tongue down the entire length of it, wanting to feel the pounding beat in the thick vein that roped up the side, wanting to taste the steel-hardness of all of Hutch. His tongue traced a line around the base, through the fine nest of dark blond curls. Hutch's moans weren't regular anymore, but broken, staccato, like his breathing. Starsky's tongue traced a pattern lower, traveling now over the heavy sacs that were drawn up so tight against Hutch's groin. Opening his mouth, Starsky enveloped one of the big orbs, wanting to devour it, swallow it, take it completely inside him.

Hutch cried out softly and writhed against the bed.

Oh, yeah, love it, babe. Love what I'm doing. Love it as much as I love doin' it to you.

With shaking hands, Starsky managed to free his own testicles from his tight jeans and massaged them roughly, needing the pain to distract, while he laved Hutch's balls gently, sucking on them, rolling them with his tongue, making them wet. They tightened up even more under the teasing touch of Starsky's tongue, even as Starsky's did under the crueler pleasure of his own hand.

Suddenly, Hutch was grappling with Starsky's shirt, tugging at him ineffectually. "Starsk!" he gasped, breathlessly, "Starsky, please. Wanna touch you. Let me, please. Wanna give you...everything. Wanna do you like this...."

Starsky squeezed his eyes shut, the very thought of his flesh sliding into that beautiful mouth almost more than he could stand. One second of that, and it'd be all she wrote. I'd come so fast it'd set a world's record. Besides...there was a part of him that couldn't see Hutch doing that, giving head. It was part of his prejudice, he knew, but it was there. Hutch was straight. There was no question in Starsky's mind about this. And he'd be damned if Hutch was going to learn some new tricks because of some skewed ideas of friendship brought on by nostalgia and alcohol. No, he didn't dare let Hutch even touch him. He was too wired, too hot. He wanted it too much.

Needing to stop Hutch's frantically searching fingers, Starsky reached up, grabbed Hutch's wrists and pinned them hard to the bed. Hutch gasped in shock.

Never been held down, have you? Scares a lotta guys the first time someone strong as them pins 'em in bed. It's fun when you do it to a lady, isn't it? A little aggression, a little domination, some girls really dig it, and when you're hard, it makes it all a little sweeter. But the first time some dude does it to you, it makes you remember that the mouth on you ain't female. You're in bed with an equal. Someone just as strong. Just as tough. Scary, isn't it?

Starsky released Hutch's testicle and slid his tongue back up to the head of his cock, tonguing around his foreskin, making it wet. Hutch was so hard, the foreskin was all drawn back tight. With both his own hands occupied pinning Hutch's wrists to the mattress, Starsky straddled Hutch's thigh, and rubbed his exposed cock against the smooth skin of that strong thigh.

He could feel the smooth ridge of his glans where he'd been cut strop against Hutch's smooth skin. Starsky relished the fact that they were different this way, like the shape of their bodies, the color of their hair, the fact that Starsky was furred, and Hutch wasn't. Each factor complimenting the other. Trying to help Starsky's stimulation, Hutch lifted his leg, pushing it against Starsky's cock, squeezing his tight, aching balls with that long limb. Starsky moaned, loving it and allowed himself the pleasure of riding Hutch's thigh.

At the same time, Starsky inhaled the pulsing cock deep into his mouth, keeping Hutch pinned tight to the mattress. This time when he went down, he kept going. Closing his eyes, he felt the broad crown brush the back of his throat. Inhaling sharply, he swallowed and opened his throat. Hutch's long member kept going, deeper, deeper into him. He swallowed convulsively, concentrating on keeping his gag reflex under control. It had been so long since he'd done this he wasn't entirely sure he could....

Hutch tensed beneath him, his hands balling into tight fists, the muscles in his forearms standing out as he called Starsky's name loudly. It made Starsky's heart leap in joy, made his cock throb against Hutch's flesh.

I know damned well Vanessa's never done you like this, deep-throated you to the root. With this monster hard-on, no woman would be able to. Their throats would be too narrow, too small. You wanted to know which was better, sex with men, or with women? Well, Hutch, now you tell me.

He forced himself to work the big cock slowly, enjoying the taste, the feel of all that Hutch-flesh filling his mouth and throat. God, it was good to do Hutch like this. Starsky stroked himself harder, rougher against Hutch's leg, needing the sharp, cruel stimulation.

Just so you don't forget, Davey-boy. You get this one shot, one chance to please him. Then you gotta face him in the morning, when all the alcohol and Auld Lang Syne just makes for one massive guilt trip and the embarrassment of remembering he let his buddy go down on him. If there is a God, he'll give this boy alcoholic amnesia and give me the graceful out I need. If there is one.

"Oh, Starsk, jeezus! That's incredible...." Hutch muttered, struggling for air.

Amazingly, Starsky felt the heavy rod in his mouth grow harder, bigger.

Yeah, come on, big boy. You're tearin' my throat up you're so big. And I need to come in the worst way....

"Starsky!" Hutch begged, struggling to free himself from his friend's punishing grip, "Let me do you, too. Let me suck you, please. I can do it. I can do it for you. I wanna give you that...."

The words were like bullets of pleasure, slamming into his groin, as Starsky just held Hutch down harder. Just knowing Hutch wanted to give him that was too beautiful to bear.

"Come on, babe, please," Hutch implored, even as his head tossed on the pillow in delight. "I want us to come together."

The suggestion tore at Starsky, and he worked Hutch's cock harder, lapping, sucking, rubbing his nose against Hutch's groin, nudging the heavy balls with his chin. He felt Hutch's cockhead flare wide in his throat.

"Oh, dammit, Starsky, dammit!" Hutch cried out, then lurched, ejaculating hard into Starsky's throat. There was so much of it; it filled Starsky's throat and mouth, forcing him to swallow convulsively just to be able to handle the quantity. The flavor was sharp, strong and Starsky loved it. It was the gift he'd always wanted even if he'd never consciously acknowledged that wanting. Hutch pumped hard into him, until Starsky released the imprisoned hands to reach for his own aching balls. Stroking his own cock fast, furiously, he rubbed and rolled his testicles for added push. He was so close.

Hutch's hands stroked Starsky's hair gently, as Hutch continued to pump semen into Starsky's mouth. Starsky wanted Hutch's orgasm to last forever, to be the best he'd ever had. He wanted to be sure there was no trace of Vanessa in this man's mind or his heart, not at this moment, not now.

Hutch breathed a sigh. "Oh, babe, oh, Starsk.... God, I love you."