This story was written for entertainment purposes only, and is not meant to infringe on any rights held by any holders of rights to Starsky & Hutch. This story was originally featured in the Starsky & Hutch zine, "Who You Know, What You Know, and How You Know It," in l983 and is reprinted here with the author's permission. This zine is still in print and can be obtain from Agent with Style:

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The Last Charade



    Hutch sat on the couch, picking at his guitar. The somber notes that kept coming out of his instrument were doing nothing to lighten his mood. He continued to try, but even Black Bean Soup sounded like a dirge this evening. In one of those dark places where music couldn't penetrate, the events of the day kept reeling through his mind. The jeweler, his clerk, their murderers...five men senselessly slaughtered in as many minutes. And for what? A handful of cold stones?

    Hutch shook his head, attempting to clear away the images. One stubborn picture remained, refusing exorcism, the same one that had been crowding the others out all afternoon. Starsky, the scraped bloody knee showing through his torn jeans totally ignored as he reached out to touch him in the dreadful silence that followed the last bullet being fired. Starsky's bullet, aimed at the unseen gunman that would have taken his life.

    That shouldn't have been the scene that stuck in his head. The other horrors of wasted life should have greater significance. Should have, but didn't.

    His fingers slipped and the guitar twanged sharply off key as he admitted a truth that had been hiding from him for the past few months. He'd had glimpses of it, elusive intuitions that shattered his personal life, but only now did he clearly see it for the first time. When he thought back on this day in the years to come, he
knew that touch would be the thing best remembered. That acknowledgment disturbed him, for it violated every vow he'd ever made to himself. Starsky was his friend, always his best friend...but never more than friend. That was the only way they could continue to work as a team, the only way that Kenneth Hutchinson could survive. This new truth couldn't be. It endangered too many of the old ones.

    Shaken, Hutch tried to put reality back into a bearable perspective. Of course he would remember that touch. His best friend had just saved his life. There wasn't anything more to it than...

    The shrill blare of the phone made him jump. Hutch hesitated answering, figuring it was probably the office. He tried to remember where Starsky had said he was going tonight, not looking forward to the mood his partner would be in after being dragged away from another date.

    "Yeah?" he snarled.

    "Ken? That you?"

    His anger and even some of his earlier doubts cleared. Hutch felt a small smile come unbidden to his lips. That was one tone of voice the caller had never heard him use before. "Oh. Hi Andy. How're you doing?"

    "Better than you from the sound of things. What's wrong, Ken?"

    The concern was genuine and flowed over his troubled spirit like cool stream water down a thirsty throat. He could almost see the worry clouding the green-gray eyes. "Nothing... Just a case that won't fade easy."

    "Yeah, had a few like that myself." Hutch suspected that the sensitive resident had had more than just a few. "Am I interrupting something?"


    "You sound really down."

    Hutch shrugged. "I'll be all right."

    "Where's your partner?" There was more than just a trace of accusation in the question.

    "At a rock club with a stewardess named Cathy. I wouldn't go. Didn't feel like...dancing." Actually, he hadn't felt like tagging along again, regardless of how much Cathy liked him. Starsky had offered to cancel and stay with him, as he'd done in the past.

    "He left you alone anyway?"

    "Look, if it weren't for Starsky I'd be..." The 'dead' he'd intended to finish the sentence with was never spoken. Another answer whispered somewhere from the depths of his soul. If it weren't for Starsky, I'd be able to love you.

    "Hey, I didn't mean that the way it sounded. It's just that...well, you sound sad, sort of lonely. Feel like some company?"

    "We've been through this before, Andy," Hutch warned sternly. The one real fight between them had been caused by his lover's first surprise visit.

    "Yeah, I know all that, but...your partner's out for the night and you're off till morning, aren't you?"

    "Yes," Hutch answered, steeling himself for another long distance argument.

    "It'd be safe. No one would ever know I was there. I'll leave before dawn or whenever you say. Just let me see you tonight?"

    Something in his friend's voice made it difficult to say no. Maybe it was because he'd said it so many times lately. "Andy..."

    "Come on, Ken. You sound like you could use a friend."

    Use a friend. He'd been using this poor kid for over seven months now. Until tonight he'd consoled his conscience by telling himself that it was a two-way street. A doctor had to be just as discreet as a cop. Their casual, convenient relationship had worked for them both. But lately their uncomplicated relationship had changed, or maybe he had just started listening to some of the things his lover had been telling him all along. Their first night together, Dr. Andrew Brennan's first time with another man, Andy had told him he loved him. Hutch had dismissed it for what it was--an expression of the intense passion they'd shared, an infatuation that would quickly fade once he'd gone. Hutch had intended only a one-night stand, no commitment, but he hadn't gone and it hadn't faded. He'd stayed because it was convenient, and because what he'd shared with Brennan that first night held more tenderness and compassion than he'd experienced in a whole life of one-night stands. Now he believed Andy was in love with him for real, and would have to face some of the things he' d been running from that night he'd picked the young doctor up in a San Francisco bar.

    "Ken, you still there?"

    "Yeah, I'm still here."

    "What do you say? It's been over two weeks since...since we've last seen each other and...I miss you." The last was said with uncharacteristic hesitance.

    "I miss you too, Andy," Hutch assured, meaning it.

    "Then I can come?"

    "What about planes? You mightn't be able to..."

    "There's a flight out in forty minutes. I can be there in two hours."

    "This wasn't exactly a spur of the moment idea, was it?"

    "Told you I missed you. Thought it was worth a shot, only I didn't think you'd go along with it."

    "I haven't been very good to you, have I Andy?" He hadn't meant to say the words aloud, and the sudden silence at the other end of the line made him wish he hadn't.

    "Knock it off, Ken. I'll be there in a little while, okay?"

    "I'll be waiting."

    "Good. I'll see you then." There was a pause, as if there were something more he wished to say, then a click.

    Hutch knew what hadn't been said. Responses that never came had long ago discouraged Andy of speaking openly of his love.


    Two hours later the doorbell rang. Hutch took one last look around the hastily cleaned apartment and went to answer it, fighting down a sudden wave of nervousness. He needed to see his lover, needed to assure himself that nothing had changed. There were times when he felt that he was very close to returning Andy's love, knew that if he could only see him more often all these other doubts would disappear.

    "Hi," Brennan greeted warmly as Hutch opened the door.

    Their eyes met and held. Hutch found a smile and a bit of rekindled hope. "Hi, yourself." He stepped aside to let his friend in. As Brennan passed, Hutch allowed himself one of the appreciative looks generally forbidden in public.

    They were the same height, exactly. Almost the same build, Brennan being slightly more muscular. Hutch, whose own stature often made him feel clumsy, found himself constantly admiring the grace and self-confidence with which Andy moved.

    It was that confidence which had first attracted him. Hutch recalled how on the night they'd met he'd been depressed, turning down every pass that came along. Until Andy. The clichéd come-on he'd used had sounded like something lifted from one of those old forties' movies Starsky loved to watch. Unbelievably corny, but the cocky assurance with which it had been delivered intrigued him. It wasn't until they'd gotten back to Brennan's apartment that that confidence had faltered and he'd realized that the younger man was a complete novice.

    "Are you expecting more company?"

    "No, why?" Hutch asked, not understanding the amused smile.

    "The door."

    Hutch closed it, feeling like the novice now, with a nervousness he couldn't explain. "You look good," he covered.

    Andy smiled at the compliment. "So do you, but then you always look good, except..."

    "Except what?"

    "Except you don't look happy. I shouldn't have come, huh?"

    "I'm glad you did. It's just tension." He stood still as Brennan reached out to gently knead his shoulders, a look of intense concentration on his face. Hutch wound his arms around the trim waist, leaning heavily against his friend. He felt good to be close to him again. He rested his head on Brennan's shoulder, letting the touch flow through him, watching the expressions that flickered across the handsome face. The green eyes glanced down at him and didn't look away. Hutch read the same thought in those eyes that had been on his mind. They hadn't kissed yet. Brennan's head lowered and their lips met in a soft, lingering kiss.

    They parted reluctantly. Hutch took a deep breath, feeling the body supporting most of his weight waver unsteadily. He tightened his grip and guided them towards the couch, slipping Brennan's jacket off his shoulders as they moved. Locked in each others arms, they sank onto the cushions, kissing and touching hungrily.

    Hutch felt himself relaxing. This was what he'd needed, a dose of slow, tender loving. He gazed into Andy's eyes. Beyond the slightly glazed, gray-green depths, he could see sparks of the fire that his lover was holding in check in an obvious effort to pace himself to his needs. Hutch kissed him again, fiercely this time. Brennan gasped as the lips moved from mouth to his throat. Using his lips as well as fingertips, Hutch started unbuttoning Andy's shirt, noticing that his own was already three quarters of the way undone. Brennan's hands were roaming restlessly over his chest, urging quicker action. Hutch took his time, enjoying the prolongation, stretching it out for both of them.

    Hutch buried his face in his friend's chest, sucking on a nipple while his fingers carded through soft curls above an ear. Gentle curls, the color of wet sand, not tight ones as dark as the midnight sky. That was another unsettling fact that had come to his conscious attention the night he'd picked up Andy. He'd suddenly realized that it had been more than three years since he'd been to bed with a dark, curly-haired man. There was only one consolation to the nagging discovery--the idea that it probably would have been much worse had he been sleeping with nothing but men who physically resembled his partner, although Hutch wasn't entirely certain if avoiding them completely was much better.

    He looked up from the nipple he was still nuzzling, realizing that he'd allowed his mind to wander again. Annoyed, he took Andy's mouth in a deep kiss, hoping that its intensity would make up for his lapse of attention. Brennan didn't seem aware of anything other than his touch. For some reason that only seemed to add to his guilt.

    Andy squirmed in his arms, pressing his hips against him, before pulling out of the kiss, eyes hot, feverish. "Come on, Ken, have a little mercy." The hips arched beseechingly.

    Hutch took his time moving to Brennan's belt buckle, letting the anticipation build. Finally his fingers touched the cold brass buckle. Brennan expelled a captured breath, then lay completely still, waiting. Hutch started to undo it, fumbling for effect, when an unexpected buzzing made the fumbling genuine.

    He pulled his hand away and stared into Andy's equally shocked face as the doorbell rang again. "What the...? I'll take care of it. Stay right where you are," he whispered in annoyance. Sitting up, he quickly buttoned his shirt. He had just started to walk towards the door when the ringing changed into an impatient pounding.

    "Hey, Hutch, you in there?" Starsky's voice called loudly.

    His legs froze, abruptly paralyzed. He'd had a thousand nightmares, all with a scene similar to this, but none had prepared him for this type of terror.

    "Hutch, you home?"

    The metallic jingling on the other side of the door reminded him that he'd forgotten to take the key in with him again. The game was over. Starsky was going to walk right in and catch him red handed...with a half-naked lover on the couch. There'd be no explaining. The time for honesty was long past. His partner would never understand.

    Hutch saw the lock turn and found his voice, partially because of a desire to scream, and because he knew it would be even worse were he found speechless with terror. "I'm...I'm coming, Starsk," he croaked hoarsely, stumbling to the door.

    It opened as he reached it. Hutch grabbed the knob, physically blocking the entrance.

    "Oh, you're home. Good." Starsky looked relieved. "What took ya so long?" Miraculously, his partner didn't wait for an answer. Instead, he bent over to pick up what looked like a large white laundry bag, and started talking as he brushed by the blond. "Cathy got stuck with a flight to Japan, so we hadta cancel, and when I got home...Hutch, do you think a couch'll dry out and still be okay?" Starsky asked worriedly.

    "Huh? Wha...?" It suddenly registered on his fear-dazed mind what his eyes were focused on--Starsky's emergency jeans, the bottoms of which were darkened by wet stains that were slowly spreading up the calves.

    Starsky seemed to notice the direction of his gaze. "One of the pipes busted. My livin' room looks like a kiddie pool. Huggy's cousin's been pumpin' water out for two hours, but he says it'll be mornin' before it's drained...can I borrow your couch?"

    During the pause that followed, as Hutch tried to sort out the jumble of planes, pipes, and couches, he saw Starsky's gaze wander from his face to the living room. His blood chilled even colder. How was he going to explain the half-naked, aroused man on his sofa? The victim of an explosion in the laundry room? Girls in the bathroom? Or, hey, Starsk, guess what--your partner's gay?

    Starsky's expression changed to one of mild curiosity. Very slowly, Hutch gathered the courage to look at the couch. Andy was casually seated there, shirt fully buttoned, jacket draped neatly over the sofa back. He breathed a relieved sigh and shot a grateful look at his lover.

    Andy, seeming to sense that the silence was dragging on too long, spoke. "Hi." The greeting was nervous, but no more so than that of any guest who had not been properly introduced.

    "Uhh, Starsk, this is Dr. Andrew Brennan. Andy, Dave Starsky, my partner," Hutch stammered, damning the formality of the introduction. It didn't sound like him.

    Starsky appeared to think so too, judging by the smile on his face and the teasing tone of his response. "Hello, Dr. Andrew Brennan. Everyone call you that?"

    "Just my close friends," Brennan answered, sounding very much the doctor, "but you can call me Andy if you want."

    Starsky chuckled and Brennan joined in, sharing the pleasure of teasing him. Although Hutch didn't laugh, the happy sound relaxed the blond, who no longer sensed imminent catastrophe.

    "You a real doctor?" Starsky asked. "You look kinda young."

    "I'm a resident at U.C. Med Center."

    "Yeah? Where'd the Blond Blintz pick you up?"

    The innocent comment seemed to ruffle Brennan's composure. He looked at Hutch, who stared helplessly back at him, before ad-libbing a response. "Uhh...I called him. Was on my way up from...Santa Ana when my car broke down. The mechanic said it wouldn't be fixed 'til morning, so...Ken's the only person I know in L.A."

    Starsky accepted the story, smiling fondly at his partner.

    Hutch, unable to meet the innocent eyes, stared guiltily at the floor. He was grateful to Andy for protecting him, but the lie was...painful.

    "Where you two know each other from?"

    Hutch sensed the question was directed towards him. He looked up, wanting to tell the truth and say that he met the kid in a San Francisco bar, but he couldn't speak.

    Brennan answered the question for him with a truthful, "Back home." Brennan's home.

    "Back home, huh. He a big brother to you, too?"

    Brennan's cheeks reddened as he glanced at his quiet friend. "Not exactly." His eyes looked worried as they focused on Hutch, then a glint of mischief entered them as he turned back to Starsky. "Hey, Starsky, what's a Blond Blintz?"

    Starsky grinned, started to explain, then stopped, looking at Hutch with a mock-fearful expression. "I'll tell you sometime when he's not around."

    Still nervous, Hutch managed to enter the conversation, comforted by the normality of his partner's banter. "You do and I'll tell him how you got your nickname."

    "Which is?" Andy inquired.

    "The Dirtball."

    Starsky's cheeks darkened to a deep red. "You wouldn't," he pleaded.

    "No?" Hutch turned to Andy, completely certain of the effect his action would have. "You see, we were on this undercover assignment as..."

    "Okay, you win, Hutch. Cut it out, huh?"

    "Whatever you want," Hutch relented.

    "What I want is a wet beer...and some dry pants. You still got those jeans I left here?"

    "Somewhere. Try the closet."

    They watched Starsky hunt through the bedroom closet, mumbling under his breath as he sorted through eight pairs of seemingly identical pants. When he disappeared into the bathroom with an armload of faded denim and a doleful, "This hasn't been a good day for blue jeans," a heavy silence fell between the room's two remaining occupants.

    "Want a beer?" Hutch asked, hoping to relieve some of the tension. Brennan nodded and followed him out to the kitchen.

    "Is he always like that?" The tone of the whisper was somewhere between shock and amusement.

    "Pretty much. Why?"

    Brennan shrugged. "He's so..."

    "Overwhelming?" Hutch suggested when Brennan seemed unable to find a fitting adjective.

    "Yeah, that he sure is. You don't think he...?"

    "Suspected?" Hutch shook his head, his voice turning bitter with self-loathing. "No, he...trusts me. If I say you're a friend from my home town, he'll believe you're a friend from my home town."

    "Hey, Ken, I'm sorry if I...didn't mean to get you into this mess."

    "It's not your fault. I...I didn't know what to say when he walked in on us like that."

    "We could tell him if you want."

    "No." The answer was decisive. "Not that way. It's just that...I've never lied to him before."

    "You want me to leave? Maybe then you could..."

    "No, you can't do that either," Hutch said. Uncapping the last bottle of beer, he was slowly beginning to realize that Brennan's story had effectively trapped the three of them in his apartment for the night. "You said your car would be in the shop until morning." Morning, suddenly a million hours away, a million hours filled with Starsky pumping Brennan for information about his past with the same persistence he'd used on Nancy and Mrs. Blake. Their story could never hold up under that kind of intense examination.

    "Maybe we should..."

    Brennan's voice cut off at the sound of a door opening. "Hutch?"

    "Out here, Starsk."

    "So," Starsky said, accepting the offered beer and leaning back on the counter, "what're we gonna do tonight?"

    "Do?" Hutch echoed, the memory of his shattered plans slipping into his mind.

    "Yeah, do. It ain't every night you get visitors. We should do something special. You know, show him the town."

    "Ahhh..." Hutch stammered for an answer, beginning to feel he was losing control of the situation again.

    "I, uh, saw most of the tourist attractions last spring," Brennan supplied.

    "Oh, well, what'd'ya say the three of us go out and find some ladies, then go dancing?"

    The empty silence that followed Starsky's question crawled through his nerves. He looked at Brennan, the pale face deciding his answer. "I don't think so, Starsk."

    "Why not?"

    "For one thing, your knee's still hurting you. And all three of us have to be up early tomorrow."

    Starsky looked ready to argue the point, then apparently changed his mind in favor of another line of reasoning. "Well, what do you think we should do?"

    "Monopoly?" Hutch suggested lamely.

    Both Starsky and Brennan burst into laughter at that.

    Brennan calmed first, his greenish eyes softly sympathetic as they settled on him. "What about a movie or something?"

    "Yeah, how 'bout it, Hutch? There's a double feature at the Rivoli tonight?"

    It sounded like a safe distraction to Hutch. At least the movie would discourage conversation. "Okay," he agreed. "What's playing?"

    "A classic and its remake," Starsky replied cryptically, then turned to Brennan. "You like monster movies?"

    "Love them."

    "Good, let's go then," Starsky said, turning into the living room with the eager speed of a little boy who'd convinced reluctant parents to humor him and was still afraid of their changing their minds.

    "Starsk," Hutch said, slipping into his jacket, "just what is this classic?"



    "Don't worry, Hutch, you'll love them," Starsky promised.


    Hutch dropped the white tablets into his water glass and watched them fizzle away. His stomach felt like John Hurt's must have during the crew dinner in the last film they'd seen. He leaned back against the closed bathroom door, wishing he could spend the rest of the night behind it. The unrelieved tension was getting to him, and the fact that he seemed to be the only one feeling it didn't help him at all.

    The catastrophe he'd feared had never materialized. Objectively viewing the evening, Hutch had to admit that it had gone well. The movies had kept Starsky and Brennan from talking for most of the night, and had also provided a lively, if lurid, topic for discussion at the dinner table afterwards. In fact, had it been Starsky and him and Cathy, or Starsky and him and anyone other than his present male lover, the night would have been perfect. As it was, he felt seconds away from a nervous breakdown.

    "Hutch, hurry up, will ya?" His partner's voice intruded on his solitude.

    He downed the bitter seltzer water and turned the bathroom over to his friend.

    Brennan smiled at him from the couch as he came out and sat down beside him. "Feeling better?"

    "Some," Hutch answered, finding a smile. "I'll be glad when tonight's over."

    "It hasn't been that bad," Brennan protested.

    "No, guess you're right. Thanks," Hutch said, realizing how much had depended upon his lover's cooperation.

    "What for?"

    "For not...for going along with all this. It can't have been easy."

    "Hell, I like monster movies. Besides, how often do we have a chance to be 'just friends'? It's nice for a change." Brennan's hand, which had been resting on the couch's back beside Hutch's head, began to absently play with his hair.

    Hutch jerked away, his eyes darting towards the bathroom.

    "I...I forgot," Brennan explained, a hurt look in his eyes.

    "It's okay."

    "Is it?" Brennan's voice sounded strange.

    "What's that supposed to mea...?" The opening bathroom door cut off the rest of his question.

    Starsky entered, looking tired. Hutch breathed a sigh of relief at having escaped the anticipated talkathon. As his yawning partner sat down, another anticipated problem presented itself--sleeping arrangements. Who was going to take the couch? Andy had come with the intention of sharing his bed, among other things. After the evening they'd had, Hutch didn't have the nerve to ask him to sleep on the sofa. Starsky had asked for the couch, but that was before he'd known that there was a third person staying. It would seem weird to his partner if he took a stranger to bed with him.

    "What do you think, Hutch?"

    "Huh?" He looked blankly at his partner.

    Starsky patiently repeated his question. "Which one do you think was scarier?"

    "Are you back to that again?" Hutch supposed he should be grateful that Starsky had taken an immediate liking to Brennan. It had made the night pass quicker, but seeing them talking so much still unnerved him. He looked from one waiting face to another, having the absurd feeling that he was being asked to pick sides. "The alien in the second film was more frightening than the Martian monster," he said finally to Starsky, who sided with the gorier remark, "but the first movie itself was scarier."

    "That's no answer!"

    "It's the only one I've got."

    "Guess it's a draw," Brennan said softly, the forgiving smile on his face told Hutch that he was aware of his dilemma.

    "Guess so," Starsky agreed, yawning again. "Don't know about you two, but I'm gonna call it a night."

    Hutch felt Brennan's eyes on him, knew that he was waiting for him to assign sleeping quarters. Before he could voice his suggestion that Andy take the bed, Starsky the couch, and he the floor, his partner was standing and moving towards the adjoining bedroom.

    "Don't forget to set the alarm when you come in, Hutch. The captain'll kill us if we're late again this week. Night, Andy."

    When Hutch looked back at Andy, his surprise had faded to a strange tightness.

    "Think I'll take a shower."

    "I'll get some sheets."

    "Fine." Brennan's voice was cold and uncaring. Hutch searched his face for some sign of understanding, but Andy turned away from him and stalked into the bathroom.

    "Should've stayed there myself," Hutch muttered.

    "You say something, Hutch?"

    Surprised, he looked into the next room. Now he was sure the walls were closing in. "No, Starsk, nothing important." He got the sheets and made up the couch, leaving the lamp on so Brennan could find his way to the makeshift bed.

    Starsky, stripped down to his briefs, was turning back the covers when he walked in. The tight underwear seemed strikingly white against his lightly tanned flesh and moving muscles. Hutch's insides stirred nervously as he watched, the feeling frighteningly familiar.

    Bending across the bed to untangle the spread from where it was caught around the far pillow, Starsky's eyes strayed his way. The relaxed body straightened suddenly. "You scared me. Didn't hear you come in."

    "S-sorry," Hutch mumbled, ducking his head to hide the embarrassing heat coloring his cheeks. He kicked off his shoes and started unbuttoning his shirt, forcing himself to concentrate on his actions and not his companion. "What happened to the bandage?" he demanded as Starsky climbed into bed.

    Starsky looked down at his scraped knee and shrugged. "Fell off, I guess."

    "You can't go to bed like that," Hutch said, seeing the light glisten off the still wet, scabless cut.

    "It's just a scraped knee, Hutch. No big deal." The way he'd gotten it--saving his partner's life--made it no big deal. They both knew had Starsky gotten that scrape any other way, he'd have been complaining about it all night.

    "It'll stick to the sheets if you don't cover it up," Hutch warned. "Let Andy put a fresh bandage on it."

    "No," Starsky said sullenly, pulling his injured knee up close to his chest and wrapping his arms around the leg.

    "He's a doctor, Starsk. He'll put it on so it stays on this time."

    "I don't trust doctors."

    "But you like Andy." Hutch felt as if he were arguing with a stubborn child.

    "I don't want it."

    "Well, I don't want you stuck to my sheets in the morning," Hutch answered testily, feeling his patience snap.

    "Then you do it."


    "You fix it." The stubbornness was gone, replaced by an expression of child-like trust.

    "But...Andy's a doctor. He'll...he'll do it better," Hutch stammered, afraid to get that close to his near-naked friend.

    "A doctor put the last one on. You couldn't do it any worse."



    Lost in pleading blue, all he could do was nod.

    He went to the kitchen and brought back the first aid kit. He found Starsky seated at the bottom of the bed. Hutch knelt at his feet, resting the kit by Starsky's thigh. "All I've got to disinfect it with," he said, searching through the open box, "is alcohol."

    "That's all he'd have. Go ahead."

    Hutch wet a piece of gauze and began dabbing gently around the edges of the irritated sore. Overly tense muscles were the only thing which betrayed Starsky's pain until he attempted to clear off an ugly, puss-covered patch. Unable to tolerate the stinging, Starsky gasped and jumped to his feet, the front of his briefs accidentally bumping against, Hutch's cheek.

    Battling his reeling senses, Hutch pulled back, the subtle scent of salt and male clinging to his nostrils.

    "Sorry," Starsky apologized, sitting back down.

    Hutch slowly opened his eyes. He didn't remember having closed them. He took a deep breath and started working on the cut again, trying to ignore his trembling fingers.

    "What's wrong?"

    "Didn't mean to hurt you," he said softly, not daring to meet his friend's eyes.

    "Didn't hurt half as much as the stuff the doctor put on this afternoon. You finished already?"

    Hutch nodded and pressed down the last piece of adhesive tape. Starsky's hand settled on his shoulder in a warm clasp. There was nothing unusual in the action, just something Starsky did all the time. Hutch looked up, scared by it for the first time in his life.

    "Thanks, partner." Starsky's eyes glittered affectionately.

    Hutch gulped back the lump choking his throat. "Any time."

    Starsky scrambled to the top of the bed, leaving his shoulder cold and deserted.

    Hutch rose from his knees and finished undressing. He switched off the lamp, then slipped into bed, being careful to leave as much space as possible between them. "Good night."

    "G'night." Starsky already sounded half asleep. Hutch listened to the breathing steadily deepen, knowing almost the exact moment when his partner slipped over into sleep. It made him feel good that Starsky could fall asleep so easily beside him.

    A few minutes later he heard the bathroom door open and saw the living room light go out. He closed his eyes, trying to give his exhausted body and strained nerves the rest they needed, but found himself unable to sleep. His lover, whom he could touch, but feared he'd never love, lay asleep on a couch fifteen feet away; whereas the man he loved, but could never touch, was within arms' reach. He stared at the dark ceiling, contemplating the bizarre irony of the situation.

    The silence became louder as the night wore on. The sound of Starsky's breathing became the rhythm of the night, of his own body. Time was measured by the space between turns, land-marked by such events as the stealing of the covers and their subsequent falling to the floor.

    Still awake and shivering, Hutch stared across his partner's unconscious form at the shadowy heap of fallen covers. Just when he'd decided to leave the relative warmth of the bed to retrieve them, Starsky turned, disrupting Hutch's mental timetable. A different kind of shiver passed through him as Starsky's butt settled uncomfortably close to his groin. He considered getting up and picking up the blankets as he'd planned, returning to lie a respectable distance away, but changed his mind. Instead, he slipped the arm that had been propping his head up under his partner and draped the other across him. He moved closer to the sleeping warmth. Their bodies fit comfortably together, like an artist's mold and its matching plaster.

    On the street, in the office, or even at play, Starsky's presence always made him feel more secure. Tonight was no different. Hutch held his friend close, pretending that Starsky wanted it that way. Starsky's warmth gradually crept through his body and troubled spirit, lulling him into a protected slumber.

    The lighthearted sound of the sparrows nesting on top of the restaurant's sign broke into his sleep. The dull grayness spreading through his room told him that it was still very early. Panic gripped his groggy mind as he recognized the source of the blanketing warmth. Starsky was lying face down right on top of him. Afraid to move, he watched the ceiling brighten, his control fighting a losing battle with his senses. Several times he'd awakened with Andy stretched across him like this. Wiggling his hips usually awoke his lover to a deliciously exciting bellyrub. If he moved now...

    Hutch gasped, his morning erection hardening as tingling spirals of sensation shot through his groin at the thought. He bit his lip, willing relaxation. Starsky was too close for that type of fantasizing. His fear faded as his body calmed. Hutch held back his relieved sigh, knowing that such respite was only temporary. He had to get out of this, soon.

    The minutes moved slowly by. Hutch kept waiting for Starsky to turn over and free him from the seductive entrapment, but his partner remained motionless. He smiled at the futility of trying to predict Starsky's behavior and tried not to dwell on the surrounding softness. With his partner's hair tickling his left ear and the weight of the sleeping body pressed hard against every inch of his own, Starsky was difficult to ignore. The desire to rub their lower bodies together was more easily suppressed than other minor liberties. Hutch found his hand unconsciously stroking the bare back it had been resting on. The skin was smooth under his touch, warm and incredibly tender. He let his fingers roam freely, lightly tracing his way down the backbone, then administering a gentle massage. Being able to hold Starsky close like this once in a while, and touch him, would almost be enough to satisfy...


    Hutch's hand froze at the sleepy murmur. Starsky shifted a little on top of him, his hips pressing hard against his thigh and the dark head turning so that his lips now nuzzled Hutch's neck.

    He gasped at the unexpected action, his perceptions reeling under a dizzying burst of excitement. Starsky wanted him. The thought sang through his mind in deafening euphoria. Just as Hutch was about to tighten his arms around his partner, Starsky spoke, his voice foggy and far from alert.

    "Cathy..." Starsky's hand slipped up his side, stopping abruptly. "Hutch?"

    Just as suddenly as it had come, his elation vanished, leaving him dejected. Hutch screwed his eyes shut and feigned sleep as his friend's body tensed. He had the disquieting sensation of being stared at. Hutch hoped that his misery didn't show, that Starsky would think he was still asleep and turn over and forget that it had ever happened. Starsky wants me. The mocking thought echoed through his mind. The very idea was ludicrous. He'd just forgotten whom he was with. Starsky would never, could never, want him that way.

    Starsky rolled off him, the desertion a bitter confirmation of his thoughts. The cool morning air slapped at his exposed-skin, chastising him for his foolishness. He tried to control the pain by telling himself that his partner's pulling away wasn't a personal rejection. Starsky didn't know how he felt. If he did...

    Hutch shivered, knowing that there'd be no questioning that rejection.

    He lay still as the bed rocked again, wondering if Starsky were getting up. Then, amazingly, he felt his partner pull closer to him. An arm settled protectively across his chest, as two legs curled around his right leg. Seconds later he felt Starsky's face burrow under his arm, like a sleepy bear cub hiding from the morning sun.

    Something about the way Starsky cuddled up to him, the casualness of the action, made him feel very happy. It was almost as if his partner had just rolled over, identified the person he was with, then snuggled back into a warm embrace. Hutch knew that had he been any other man his friend would be on the far side of the bed right now instead of curled around him. There was something very precious about that kind of trust, a child-like innocence that he could never violate. Savoring his contentment, he relaxed and waited for the alarm to ring.

    Hutch turned off the clock as it began to buzz. He sat up and carefully freed his leg, then eased out of the bed. Starsky turned from his side onto his stomach, his hand searching the now empty space.


    "Stay there," Hutch whispered, covering his partner with the fallen covers. "I'm going to take Andy..." he couldn't lie, not this morning, "...home."

    He patted the slumbering mound and turned, shocked to find a pair of cold green eyes watching him from the kitchen table. There was no doubt in his mind as to their color this morning. Even from across the room, the glare was unnervingly vivid, intense and as friendly as an aroused tiger's.

    "Hi." He tried to keep his tone casual, pretending to be unaware of the tension crackling between them.

    Brennan silently stared at him for an uncomfortably long minute, then replied in a dead monotone.

    "Good morning."

    "You're up early."

    "Couldn't sleep."

    "Oh...sorry. Feel like some breakfast?" he asked helplessly.

    "I'm not hungry. I think we should be leaving. I go on duty in four hours."

    "Sure," Hutch agreed slowly, realizing that now was not the time to press his lover. He'd never seen Brennan like this before. He sensed it was something more than last night's couch, and remembered the twinge of guilt he'd felt on finding his lover watching him as he left the bed. The stare had been accusatory, the supercharged silence and icy replies even more so.

    He dressed quietly, occasionally glancing back at his occupied bed. There was nothing to feel guilty about, he decided. For all his longing, nothing had happened, or ever would. "Ready?" Hutch asked, stepping back into the living room. Brennan nodded, not meeting his eyes.

    They left his apartment, the silence between them as thick as the stone walls of a medieval castle.

    As they drove the stillness deepened, playing on Hutch's frazzled nerves to the point where the rattling of his own car was getting to his almost as badly as it did his partner.

    Every glance at his quiet companion showed Brennan's eyes glued to his folded hands, his feelings revealed only by a tightening of the skin around the corners of his full lips and the laugh lines near his eyes.

    Hutch pulled the car out of traffic, pausing in front of a burned-down storefront. Andy looked up, obviously expecting to see the airline terminal. Seeing the gutted building, Brennan's turned quizzically towards him.

    Hutch waited for a question. When none came, he asked softly, "Okay, what's bugging you?" For a moment he thought that Brennan wasn't going to answer, that his friend was going to get on a plane and fly away without ever saying another word to him. Then Andy sighed and the distant, unaffected mask crumbled into vulnerability.

    "You didn't tell me it was that way between you and your partner," Brennan said finally, his voice ragged with pain.

    "What?" Shocked, Hutch felt his mouth run dry, making him stumble over his words. "What way? Starsky and I aren't..." He didn't say 'lovers,' choosing more carefully, "...sleeping together..." Realizing that wasn't entirely true either, he tried to correct it. "Uhhh...I mean, we don't make love if that's what
you're insinuating."

    "With you two it doesn't matter."

    "What's that supposed to mean?" Hutch demanded.

    Brennan shrugged, looking strangely embarrassed. "Just that the intimacy's there even if the sex isn't."

    "We've been partners for over six years, Andy. It's only natural that we'd be close."

    Brennan cut him off. "I said intimate, not close."

    "They're the same thing."

    "No, they're not," Brennan insisted. "You do things in public with your partner that you don't even do in private with your lover."

    "What the hell are you talking about?"

    "Forget it."

    "No, tell me."

    Brennan examined him closely, the hurt hardness softening to sympathy after a few seconds. "You really don't know, do you?"

    "Andy, please, explain what...intimacies you're talking about," Hutch pleaded, fear biting at his insides. If Andy noticed it, what must Starsky be thinking?

    "Like last night at the taco place."

    Hutch had expected something about this morning or his fear last night of Starsky catching Andy touching his hair. Brennan's example bewildered him, especially the way he said it, as if it were explicitly clear without further explanation. He searched his memories, trying to locate whatever slip he'd made to give away his true feelings, but found nothing. "Huh?"

    "I ordered a taco and a coke, Starsky two tacos and a root beer, and you had water. Then we sat down and Starsky and I started talking about the movies." Brennan paused, obviously expecting him to remember the rest.

    He did, nothing had happened. He had hardly spoken a word through the entire meal. "So?" Hutch prompted.

    "So in the middle of our discussion you casually reached out, took Starsky's taco out of his hand, took a bite out of it, then gave it back."

    "So what?" Hutch asked, mystified by the significance of a mouthful of taco.

    "So he didn't even blink. It was like he was sitting there waiting for you to do it, like that was why he'd bought two of them in the first place."

    "You mean to tell me you're jealous because I took a bite of someone's taco?"

    Brennan's cheeks flamed at the accusation. "It wasn't just a bite. You shared both of them and even finished off his root beer, and I'd swear that neither one of you was consciously aware of what you were doing."

    "Then what's the big deal? I was hungry."

    "The big deal is that you've never done that with me, regardless of how hungry you were."

    Hutch looked away, wanting to deny the words and the truth behind them. His friend was right. He'd never shared half-eaten food with Andy or any other lover, yet he did it with Starsky without even thinking. As his eyes settled on sparkling chips of the store's shattered window, Hutch realized something else--he was usually the one who did it unconsciously. His partner generally asked first.

    Hutch sat very still as Brennan went on, his voice echoing a deep sadness. "All along I knew you didn't love me, but I thought it was because you were afraid of being hurt again, and that in time you'd come to... I didn't know that you were..."

    "We're not lovers!" Hutch nearly shouted.

    "But you'd like to be," Andy said, then finished in a whisper. "You haven't once said that you're not in love with him."

    "I-I just don't know, Andy." The honesty felt good after so many pretenses. "You're everything I ever wanted..."

    "Except I'm not him. He's..."

    "He's straight, goddammit! Straighter than I ever was. You're right, I do love him, but...he'll never love me the way you do. Never. Do you understand?" His desperation poured out, the hopelessness burning like salt on a raw wound. He knew that Brennan would never forgive him, but hoped to make him see that he hadn't intended to hurt him this way.

    Amazingly, Brennan reached out to touch his arm. His face was pale, but not angry. "I do understand, Ken, but..."

    "But what?" Hutch prodded, reading reluctance in the strong face.

    "I think you're straight he is."


    Brennan's voice turned bitter. "He acts like he owns you, like he's got you staked out as his private property. If you hadn't told me he was straight, I'd swear he was a jealous lover."

    "You're crazy."

    "I was watching you both last night. You hide it pretty well, but it shows all over him."

    "How?" Hutch demanded, unbelieving.

    "The way he moves, the way he touches and looks at you. It's like he wants to keep you all to himself. Territorial rights!"

    "That's ridiculous ."

    "Yeah. Well, think about it. When he first walked in on us last night you wanted to keep us separated, didn't you? That way he wouldn't blow our cover." Hutch nodded, not seeing what any of this had to do with Brennan's point. "But who sat between us in the movie theater and the taco joint? And who maneuvered it that way?"

    The image of the oval booth at the taco joint flashed into his mind. He could see Starsky waving him in first, then sliding in after him. He hadn't thought about it at the time and even now it didn't seem all that unnatural or planned. It certainly wasn't overtly possessive. "You're grasping at straws."

    "Maybe," Brennan conceded, staring pointedly at him. "But why should I? I mean, why would I make it up if I didn't believe it?"

    Hutch stared into the pain-filled eyes, their color still lost somewhere between green and gray, knowing in his heart that he'd never have the chance to find out which they really were. "Why...why did you tell me?"

    "Figured one of us should get what he wants."

    The sadness in the twisted smile tore at his heart. " still care?"

    "You've been good to me. Helped me learn things about myself that I probably would never have known if it weren't for you. Neither of us can help how we feel."

    Hutch bit his lip thoughtfully, hurting as he hadn't hurt in a long time. Andy was still playing it like a forties movie. From start to finish, complete with an amiable separation. No hysterics, no sharp words, and seemingly no regrets. Except when he looked closely at his eyes. Then he could see the unshed tears clouding the wounded green wells. "Andy..."


    "What are we going to do?" The question didn't make any sense, but a 'sorry' wouldn't even begin to cover the damage. They both knew the answer--when it's over, it's over. No going back. But to make those innocent eyes happy again, he'd almost be willing to try.

    Andy smiled. "I'm going home and you're going to go back and wake your partner."

    Hutch sensed that Brennan meant more than just getting Starsky out of bed. He reached out to touch his ex-lover's cheek. A tear spilled out of the corner of one green eye and the lips which had given him so much pleasure trembled. He gathered the trembling man into his arms, holding on tight as the traffic flowed obliviously past his window.


    It's not your usual every day thing. No, babe, it's not. Nor my usual every night thing. Not any more, not since you... Hutch glanced at the rear view mirror. Starsky had settled back down into his seat and was once again leafing through his magazine. He relaxed. Cautious glances, weighty silences, this case was filled with them. Luckily his partner had been too upset with the proceedings to notice. Notice what? Guilt? He was pretty sure he'd gotten rid of that a long time ago.

    Yet, this was the closest they'd ever come to discussing the subject and...he still hadn't spoken. His first excuse for delaying, the one he'd been using for the past two days, was that he had to study Starsky's reaction to Blaine's death. Despite yesterday morning's burst of temper, he wasn't ready to blow a partner, not that way at least.

    Strangely enough, there had been no contempt in Starsky's response--a lot of confusion, but not a hint of the disgust he'd dreaded. Even his joke about being a bad kisser a few minutes ago. Not a trace of defensive anger. Starsky had been surprised by the comparison he'd made, but not discomfited.

    So why didn't you tell him? The question jabbed at his conscience. He tightened his grip on the wheel, looking for an answer. It wouldn't be fair to lay that on him. Not so soon after Johnny. Maybe tomorrow...

    The unconvincing resolve broke off. Who was he trying to kid? It had been 'maybe tomorrow' for how many years now? So many that it wasn't even the wanting that was important any more, just the telling. He never wanted Starsky to find out about him the way he had about Johnny Blaine. Although from the way he'd been living lately, there was little chance of that happening. No one since Andy. Almost a full year. Still, Hutch knew that couldn't last forever. Starsky had to be told, and since there was no time like the present...

    "Hey, Hutch."

    "Yeah?" Maybe Starsky wanted to talk some more about Johnny. That would make his own confession a little easier.

    "What's saffron?"

    He sighed, putting his intentions on hold again, not sure if he was relieved or disappointed by the interruption.


    He pushed the orange tinted rice lumps around his plate, doing his best to ignore the sunset beyond the window. Another 'maybe tomorrow' wasted.

    "Ain't it cooked enough?"

    "It's fine."

    "They why ain't you eatin' it?"

    "Guess my tastebuds aren't as cultivated as yours. You want it?"

    A vigorous nod sent the dark curls bobbing like an eager child's. Hutch looked away, wondering how he'd ever been foolish enough to agree to stay. He didn't even like horror movies. Yet when Starsky had turned that grin on him, The Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman had seemed the perfect way to end the day.

    "Wonder how it tastes on ice cream."

    "Want some?"

    "On ice cream? No, thanks."

    "Suit yourself."

    Starsky crossed to the ice box and, despite his best efforts, Hutch found his gaze trailing his partner. He shook his head in resignation, knowing he'd lost that particular battle six years ago. Now the most he could hope for was that his interest would be marked off as casual observance.

    Starsky returned. Hutch grabbed the saffron jar before his friend had a chance to douse the strawberry mountain rising out of his bowl with it. Apparently Starsky had forgotten his threatened intention, for there was no protest. He juggled the bottle, turning it over and over until he noticed the price. "Told you that an herb couldn't be as expensive as gold."

    "Magazine said that it only cost that much in its natural state," Starsky's voice sounded normal, as if he were keyed for another of their lengthy debates, but there was a watchfulness about his eyes that Hutch found vaguely unsettling.

    "Oh." Hutch remembered reading somewhere that saffron was also used as an aphrodisiac. He hastily put the jar back down.

    "You know, it might help to talk about it. Sure'd beat goin' on 'bout a stupid spice."

    Hutch started. For the past two days, Starsky's pain had kept him from noticing Hutch's condition. Now that Starsky was coming out of it, he'd have to be careful. "Talk about what?" He tried to sound casual.

    "Whatever's botherin' you. You've been awful quiet the past few days. Haven't said hardly a word about...everything that's happened."

    So Starsky had noticed. He shifted nervously in his chair, wondering just how much of his fear had been showing. "What do you want me to say?"

    "How 'bout how you feel?"

    Scared was the first word that came to mind. Walking on eggs for two days, wanting to talk, but terrified of the consequences, didn't make for a very calm state of mind. Yet answering Starsky's question honestly would put too personal a focus on the conversation. He finally settled on a lesser truth. "Sad. John was dead, and the only thing that seemed important to everybody was where he died."

    "Yeah, it really stinks," Starsky said, jabbing his spoon deep into the soft ice cream.

    Hutch flinched at the suppressed anger in his partner's voice and action. Some more of his hopes slipped into the netherworld of dead dreams. "Why?" he croaked hollowly. "Because Johnny loved other men?"

    His question seemed to surprise Starsky. "No, not that. The gossip."

    The explanation hung between them, awkward and out of place. He should have known what Starsky meant, would have under other circumstances, but right now his defensiveness was a barrier between them. Hutch realized that he was doing the same thing Whitelaw had done yesterday afternoon--making a snap judgment based upon his own insecurities rather than Starsky's response.


    "What for?"

    "For jumping down your throat."

    Starsky shrugged his apology off in the same easygoing manner with which he dismissed most of his darker moods. "Guess we did get a little off the track. You still haven't told me what's buggin' you, babe."

    Babe. Starsky didn't use the word often. Hutch wondered if the endearment and its user would remain if he answered truthfully. He looked down at his clenched fists and acknowledged another basic truth. He could not lose this man. If he said anything now it would never, ever be forgotten or forgiven, but he couldn't sit quietly, not with the weight of the lies and pretenses of the past years and all the years to come pressing in on him. " don't want to know."

    "What's that s'posed to mean?" Starsky looked hurt. "Of course I want to know. Now, what' s botherin' you?"

    Hutch shrugged lifelessly. "It''s not important."

    "If it's not so important, how come you look like you're all set to run out that door?"

    Hutch looked down at himself. Perched on the edge of the chair, muscles tensed, fists bailed, he did look like he was ready to flee.

    "Hey," Starsky gripped his tense arm, "whatever it is, it's eatin' you up. Why can't you tell me?"

    "Because..." He wanted to leave it at that, childish and peevish, but couldn't, "because you won't like it."

    "So? I don't like that heap you crawl around in, but I still get into it."

    Hutch couldn't laugh at the simple ridiculously incongruous comparison, not with the memory of the last one Starsky had made that afternoon so fresh in his mind. ...A man preferring another man isn't as casual as the common cold... Starsky mightn't have been disgusted by homosexuality, but still the first thing his partner's mind had naturally fixed on to compare it to was a disease. "This is different."


    "Yeah. Just let it be, huh? It'll pass." It never had before, but maybe this time would be different.

    "Hutch, I'm your buddy. Whatever it is, I'll like..."

    "Last time you used that line to convince me you regretted it, too."

    "Yeah, but you were mad at me then."

    Hutch's head shot up at the matter-of-fact statement. They hadn't been arguing that night. All the tension had been internal, petty jealousy over a cheap model, carefully concealed. Or so he'd thought at the time, yet Starsky had picked up on the emotion and misinterpreted' it as anger. He wondered how much else of the truth Starsky sensed without properly understanding.

    "Hutch, what's wrong?"

    The concern in the voice made him aware of what his face must be betraying. "C-could I ask you something?"


    "Yesterday you...never answered my question. How would you've felt about Johnny if he'd told you he was gay?"

    "Is that all that's buggin' you?" Starsky sounded relieved, if not amused. "And all this time I was worried..."

    "You said you'd answer me," Hutch reminded, recognizing the evasion tactic.

    Starsky looked down, seemingly embarrassed. "I never thought I was...prejudiced before, Hutch, but I...I don't know how I would'a felt about him if he'd told me."

    "It wouldn't have changed the man you knew him to be, would it?" He kept his voice soft, reasonable, as if his entire world didn't depend on the answer.

    "I guess not." An uneasy concession.

    "But you're not sure?"

    "Look, Hutch, where I come from they didn't call it gay. Back there it was queer and faggot and a lot worse. When they called you that, it meant that you were something less than a man. Do ya understand?"

    He did understand, all too well. The silence stretched until he finally dared another question. "Is that how you feel about Johnny now?"

    "No!" The denial came without hesitation. "He was one of the bravest men I ever knew. Still can't believe he was really..." Starsky's gaze sharpened, as if suddenly remembering something. "Hey, we were supposed to be talkin' 'bout you, not Johnny."

    There it was, the chance he'd been waiting for. He took a deep breath, trembling inside. If he didn't speak now, he knew he never would. "Maybe we are," he whispered.

    "Huh ?"

    Starsky's face was blank, completely innocent of even the slightest traces of what authors liked to refer to as dawning realization. Hutch sat still, waiting for the connection and inevitable explosion. Finally, Starsky's mouth dropped open and a slight shiver shook the ice cream spoon he still held clutched in his hand. "What...what're you sayin'?"

    His eyes burned and his stomach muscles tightened in dread, but he managed to keep his voice level and unashamed. "Just wondering how you'd feel about me." Why had he put it that way? He'd meant to break it gently, with as little surprise as possible.

    "That ain't funny, Hutch." The lightness was forced.

    "No, it's never been funny." Pathetic at times, but never funny.

    "Quit jokin'...." The warning was nervous, poised on the edge of believing.

    "It's no joke, no game. I-I'm gay, Starsk. Just like Johnny."

    "No." The whisper was soft, but Starsky's wounded expression lashed out at him more forcefully than anger ever could. " can't be, you were married. Just last week you'n'..."

    Starsky's tone, his entire attitude was pleading. It made him want to take it all back, to beg his partner to please stop looking at him like that. Instead all he said was, "It's true."

    "How long?"

    The tension crammed into those two, small words was incredible. Hutch gulped nervously trying to ignore the energy he sensed bouncing through his partner's body, trying to read the suddenly closed features. Even the sapphire eyes were unfathomable, like a door had just slammed between his and Starsky's soul. "Always." His partner looked like he was waiting for more, but Hutch didn't know what else to say. A recitation of times and places? Somehow he sensed that that would only push them further apart.

    "Why?" At last Starsky's expression changed. The blankness of shock was gone. His eyes were blazing, furious blue coals.

    "W-what?" One of his lovers had once told him that 'coming out' made a man feel free and at peace with himself. All he felt was naked and scared.

    "Why didn't you tell me?"

    Hutch flinched at the shout. It wasn't unexpected, just sudden. He searched Starsky's face, looking for some trace of his usual gentleness. There was only the hardness of a stranger there. "I..."

    "You what?"

    The harsh demand shook him like a wind-battered, withered leaf. He recognized the almost brutal fury, had seen Starsky use it on the street a million times, but it had never once been directed at him. Usually all he received was the frustrated backwash. "I-I...wanted to tell you."

    "Sure you did," Starsky snorted.

    Sarcasm, that was something else he wasn't used to getting from his partner. He looked away, letting his teeth sink into his lower lip. The physical pain wasn't distracting enough. He could still feel that angry, blue glare boring through him. He sat still, waiting for the next attack.

    Starsky's chair squeaked as he got up. Leaving, that was the one thing Hutch hadn't expected. He looked up hesitantly, only to find Starsky standing nearby watching him. Their eyes met and held for a few, fleeting seconds. Hutch could see the anger, the need to strike out again, burning there. But when their gazes touched, something else slipped into his friend's eyes. The balled fists clenched even tighter, and Starsky turned his back to him, moving to stare out the window over the sink.

    "Seven years... I thought we were..."

    His partner's casual use of the past tense hurt almost as much as his hoarse tone did. "Starsk...?" He whispered warily to the stiff back, almost afraid to use his shortened name. "Will you let me...explain?"

    "No one's stoppin' you."

    "I didn't mean to hurt you..."

    "No?" The laugh that followed was bitter.

    "Of course not. It-it had nothing to do with you..." he stammered, making a worse mess of the matter.

    Starsky whirled around to face him, all the fury suddenly back. "Don't tell me it had nothing to do with me! I trusted you. Thought that you trusted me. All this time you been lyin' to me, hidin' something that...big from me."

    Hutch looked down, not knowing how to respond. This wasn't at all as he'd imagined it. Disgust and prejudice he'd prepared for, but Starsky was taking it as a betrayal. "You''re right. I-I should've told you a long time ago, but I was..." Too vulnerable to openly, admit his fear, he looked for another alternative, but there was nothing else inside of him. With this one exception, there was no part of himself that he'd ever been afraid to expose to Starsky, always certain of his compassion, if not his understanding. Now his partner had the power to rip his soul apart, and possibly the desire to do it. He closed his eyes, admitting total defeat.


    He shuddered, imagining shades of concern in the soft whisper.

    "Hutch, look at me." He obeyed the command without thinking, somehow surviving the silent scrutiny. Starsky's eyes pinned him, seeming to bare every dark secret in his soul. His breath caught painfully in his chest as he waited for destruction. Then, amazingly, he saw some measure of sympathy crowding out the anger in the searching, blue eyes.

    A look of confusion crossed the troubled face, then something like guilt.

    Hutch's muscles tensed as Starsky drew closer. For a few breathless seconds, his partner towered over him. Slowly, Hutch looked up, tensed for a blow. Then Starsky sank down on the chair nearest him, not speaking for an uncomfortably long moment. "Seven years is a long time to sit on something like that. It can't've been easy."

    He shook his head, eyes dropping to his folded hands.

    "Why're you tellin' me this now, Hutch?"

    He swallowed nervously, afraid of losing the compassion. "I don't want you hurt, Starsk."

    "What do you mean?" The mystified tone and Starsky's earlier anger told him how much the man was already hurting.

    "What happened to really scared me. All along, I've wanted to tell you, but...I kept putting it off. Johnny made me see that, regardless of how careful I am, it could still come out. I wanted you to know from me, not from gossip in the locker room. This way you'd have a choice."

    "Oh." The comment was strangely calm, almost numb. After a minute Starsky asked, "What d'ya mean by 'that way I'd have a choice?' You mean you'd stop bein'..." He still couldn't seem to say the word in connection with his partner.

    Starsky's eyes were still bewildered, but Hutch could sense the effort his partner was making to understand. He was tempted to say yes, he'd stop being gay, that it had already been almost a year since he'd slept with another man and never would again if only Starsky would agree to remain his partner. But such promises were ridiculous, as well as unkeepable.

    "No, that's not what I meant." When Starsky still seemed befuddled, he went on, keeping his voice controlled and his body motionless. It had to be said, and it was his place to say it. "Things could get pretty messy if I.A. found out about me." The confusion cleared, and the blue eyes were suddenly unbearably vivid. At their depths Hutch could read the fear. "This way you won't be taken by surprise. You can get yourself a new partner. One who isn't a...queer." He finished bitterly, hating himself and everything he was.

    "Stop it," Starsky ordered angrily, visibly flinching at the use of the word. "Don't talk like that. I.A. ain't gonna find out."

    "They could."

    "They haven't so far, and they won't. But if they do...we'll handle it," Starsky said with determination.

    "We'll?" Hutch echoed hesitantly.

    "Yeah, we'll."

    "You mean that you're not...that it doesn't make a difference?"

    Starsky shrugged, apparently at ease, but Hutch could tell how furiously his mind was working to assimilate everything he'd had thrown at him in the last hour. "It'll take some gettin ' used to, but..."


    "You're my partner, Hutch. I don't want a new one."

    Even sitting, Hutch could feel his knees weaken in relief. He hadn't lost him. "Th-thanks, Starsk."

    "For what? I ain't done nothin' but yell at you."

    He watched Starsky pick up his spoon and start eating the melted ice cream. Every now and then his partner would stop spooning to look at him, his eyes filled with questions. "Uhh...Hutch...?"


    "When did you first...I mean..." Starsky broke off, a blush brightening his cheeks to nearly the same color as his melted dessert.

    "High school," Hutch answered, smiling at the first, uncertain probe for information, feeling that everything was going to be all right between them. "At least that's when it stopped being just a game."

    "And ever since then you've been...?" Starsky sounded like he still didn't completely believe him.

    "Gay," he said gently.

    Starsky looked down at his bowl, concentrating on the intricate designs his spoon was weaving in the sticky strawberry goop. "Have you...have you ever..."

    "What?" Hutch prompted, his mouth suddenly dry.

    "It was a stupid question," Starsky said, looking nervous.

    "Well, ask it anyway."

    "I wanted to know if you'd ever been in love with a man." The blush was back again.

    "You mean is it more than just sex?" Starsky nodded, and Hutch found himself loving him all the more for this unexpected streak of bashfulness. "Yes, I've been in love with a man," now it was his turn to look away, "even without the sex. It really isn't all that different, Starsk."

    "Is there...I mean, are you seein' anyone..." The question trailed off, his partner looking extremely embarrassed. "Sorry, shouldn't've asked that."

    "Why not? You always ask about the women I see, same as I ask you. I'll tell you anything you want to know about me, Starsk. To answer your question, there hasn't been anyone I've loved in quite a while, not even Andy." It came out without thinking.

    Starsky's face blanched at his slip. "You mean that guy we went to the movies with...?"


    Surprisingly, his friend didn't seem disturbed by the deception. "No wonder you were so quiet that night." Starsky fell silent for a few seconds, apparently remembering, then his eyes widened in shock. "Hey, I didn't interrupt..."

    "Don't worry about it. That's...a part of the past now." He read the unvoiced question. "I couldn' him the way he wanted me to."

    Starsky nodded, the same non-judgmental acceptance he always gave whenever they discussed their relationships. Encouraged, Hutch found himself talking more and more openly, giving a short history similar to the ones they'd exchanged in the earliest days of their partnership. For the most part, Starsky listened quietly, but the questions he did ask surprised Hutch. They weren't the expected requests for more details or the products of growing unease with the subject matter, but difficult questions concerning his own reactions to the experiences he was relating. He had trouble answering some of them, but his partner's willingness to listen made him want to put into words the feelings and thoughts he shared with no one. A whole empty life encapsulated in a few short hours, and not a word said about the dream that made it all worthwhile.

    "You look beat," Starsky said after a prolonged pause. "Want to call it a night?"

    Hutch started, unaware of how long he'd been staring at the potted plants on Starsky's 'window sill. This batch of snippings was doing better than the last doomed compliment he'd sent over to liven up his partner's apartment. "Yeah, guess you're right." He rose stiffly from his chair and helped Starsky carry the dinner dishes to the sink. The intimidating pile of pots waiting there cowed them both. He looked at his friend, willing to take over the cleanup detail.

    "Leave 'em," Starsky directed, giving him the same gentle smile he'd have used yesterday or any other time before tonight's discussion. "I'll take care'a them in the morning."

    Hutch froze as they entered the living room, hit by an unexpected wave of awkwardness. Earlier, he'd agreed to spend the night, but since their talk, 'spending the night' took on new connotations. Starsky didn't seem aware of them yet. At least he seemed perfectly at ease when he'd gone to gather some sheets to make up the couch, but he knew that his partner might behave that way simply to spare his feelings.

    "What're you doin'?"

    Hutch guiltily dropped his holster and jacket, feeling as if he'd been caught in the act of stealing. Slowly, he tuned to face Starsky.

    "You were gonna stay." The voice was soft and hesitant.

    Hutch realized that if his friend hadn't been uneasy about his staying before, his attempting to leave had succeeded in unnerving him. "I-I thought it might be better if I went home."

    "Why?" Unfeigned curiosity.

    Hutch searched the guileless eyes, wondering if Starsky could be that oblivious to the tension his announcement had created. "You might need some time alone to...think. It might be better if I weren't around."

    "You don't stop me from thinking." Starsky dumped the sheets onto the couch and stood looking at him for a long moment, an empty universe seeming to stretch between them. Then Starsky moved closer to him, reaching out to grip his upper arm.

    The touch ran through him, shooting a warm tingle of longing through his body. He tried not to shiver, tried not to reveal how starved his frightened body had been for that familiar contact since he'd made his terrifying disclosure. "St-Starsk?"

    "It don't make a difference to me," Starsky said firmly, sounding as if the decision were an unalterable, life-long vow. "Are you gonna let it...matter?"

    Lacking strength for anything more, he shook his head.

    "Good." Starsky squeezed his arm reassuringly, then released him. "We better get some sleep."

    "I'll do that," Hutch said as his friend started to arrange the couch. "You go ahead in."

    "Okay. G'night, Hutch."

    "Good night and...thanks, partner."

    A flash of bright smile, and Starsky disappeared into the bedroom.


    When he reached 801 he stopped counting. The living room was dark and silent, his body more than exhausted from the draining emotional experience. The perfect conditions for sleep. Yet he was still awake, wide awake..

    His mind kept replaying the evening, running one particular scene as often as a syndicated TV serial. Strangely enough, it wasn't one of the pleasanter moments. Starsky's acceptance or their talk afterwards, he could understand. His relief alone was worthy of remembrance. Even those terrifying moments of anger when he'd been certain he'd lost his partner merited a lingering effect. But this one? Hutch kept thinking about it, trying to unravel the mystery of its attraction.

    His dark angry friend had just returned to the table, almost unwillingly. His fury subdued, Hutch knew, only because of the visible effect it was having on him--Starsky had never been one for attacking the defenseless. He'd tried to explain his reasons for speaking after so many years of silence, all the while conscious of the seemingly unbridgeable chasm between them. Starsky had seemed a million miles away, completely untouchable, hidden behind a wall of confusion and anger. Despite the tenuous, guilt-born cessation of hostility, Hutch had still felt alienated, ostracized because of the one difference his partner could never understand. Yet the moment he had mentioned outsiders... Angry as he was with him, Starsky's instinctive reaction had still been to protect him. Instantly it had been 'me and thee against them,' even if his partner's own prejudices were a part of the 'them.' Somehow Hutch had never expected that.

    Tired of pointless tossing, he sat up. The living room gave him the strange feeling that most darkened rooms seemed to have when it was long past the time for their occupants to be asleep. Shrugging off his uneasiness, he cast a wondering glance towards the shadowy bedroom, then went to the kitchen for a drink of water. He jumped a little at the foamy rush of water from the open tap, closing it quickly. The night's stillness closed in around him again, the quiet all the heavier for his disrespectful interruption.

    He gulped down the cold water, telling himself that he wasn't a stranger to this hour of the night. There had been many like it, and longer, spent at his own place. At least here Starsky was only a few yards away.

    Returning to the living room, he paused, not wanting to get back onto the couch until he was tired enough to sleep. He regarded the other two possibilities. The easy chair was kinder to his back and more accommodating than the wicker monstrosity, but, like the Torino, there was something about that slightly gaudy "Adam's Family" escapee that was distinctly Starsky. Forgoing physical comfort, he sat down, feeling closer to his friend.

    Once again his mind ran through the scene at the kitchen table. This time he finally realized that the thing bothering him most about it was also the thing which had given him the most comfort at the time. Starsky's reaction. What was worrying him now was that it was based on instinct, not thought. The talk they had had afterwards had helped to clear up some of his partner's misapprehensions, but even so, Hutch realized that he hadn't been given enough time to make an informed decision. After thinking carefully about it Starsky mightn't want...

    "Hey, you alright?"

    Surprised by the soft question, he swung around, not having heard Starsky come up behind his chair. "Yeah," he lied, eyeing the brief-clad body as he would a dangerous opponent.

    "What're you doin' sittin' in the dark then?" Starsky moved from the doorway, his step light, his voice affectionately teasing.

    Hutch watched him come closer, fighting to keep his eyes focused on the shadows of his partner's face, rather than the stark white strip of clinging briefs around his waist. "Couldn't sleep."

    "Me neither."

    "Feel like talkin'?" Starsky asked, shattering the silence again.

    "Sure," Hutch agreed. Through the darkness he could see Starsky's eyes scanning the room. He prayed that his friend would choose the easy chair or the far side of the couch, anything that would put some distance between them. Starsky appeared to sense how cold and isolating either of these positions would be, for he moved nearer, sitting back on his heels beside Hutch's right arm. Hutch's grip on the wicker armrest tensed as he looked down into his partner's upturned face, noticed how the silvery, half-light seeping in from the windows glistened on the moist lips. "What do you want to talk about, Starsk?"

    "I-I've been thinkin' 'bout what you told me before."

    "And?" Hutch wondered if he could have reconsidered his decision so quickly

    "Uhhh...there's somethin' I wanted to ask you."

    Starsky seemed to be waiting for-permission to speak. The nervousness and reluctance Hutch saw worried him. He didn't know how he'd respond to a request for a new partner, or even if Starsky would be able to ask it. "Go ahead," he ordered.

    His gruffness seemed to unnerve Starsky. "I, uhh...was thinkin' 'bout our talk, goin' over some of the things you told me...and somethin' was botherin' me."

    Hutch relaxed, not sensing any threat in his friend's words. "What?"

    "Well, uhh..." Despite his shift into gentle encouragement, Starsky still looked uneasy. "I don't know how to say it."

    "How about straight out. That usually works for you."

    "It-it'll sound...silly."

    "Try it," Hutch urged, intrigued by the buildup.

    Starsky started speaking, obviously having difficulty voicing his feelings. "When we first became partners and found out that the only people we could really trust were me and thee, it was...important to me. Sorta the one thing I could always count on."

    "Uh huh."

    "I thought it was...important to you, too."

    Shocked, Hutch stared at the bowed head and trembling hands, reading the vulnerability and the pain, uncertain as to what had caused either. "It is! The most important thing in my life. How could you think you weren't important to me?" he asked, unable to understand how his revelation could have made Starsky that insecure about his place in his life.

    Starsky slowly raised his head. The eyes shadowed by the long, black lashes were clouded with doubt. "I got to thinkin' 'bout what you said. You talked a lot about what you've done and how you felt 'bout bein' gay, but you didn't... I mean I kept waitin' for you to...tell me how I fit into all that, didn't mention me once." Starsky paused for a moment before continuing half-heartedly, "I mean, it ain't like I'm someone you just work with."

    "No, of course you're not," Hutch assured. It had taken a great deal of skill to keep his feelings for his partner out of the conversation earlier. He'd never imagined that Starsky would interpret his omission this way. With all the other information he'd had thrown at him, Hutch could barely believe he'd noticed it.

    "Then why...?"

    The rattan chair was suddenly too confining, its wicker arms and back grappling for a strangle hold on him. Hutch bounced to his feet, wondering what he could say. The living room itself seemed to be closing in. He crossed to the bookshelf, feigning interest in the volumes there, pretending not to notice Starsky standing beside him, waiting for an answer. His eyes scanned the one title he could read in the semi-darkness. The golden letters glittered on a dusty old leather binding"The Corsican Brothers" by Alexandre Dumas. Starsky had gone out and read the thing after they'd called them that back at the academy. The Corsican Brothers, the Dynamic Duo. He wondered how Robin would tell Batman he was in love with him.

    "Hutch?" The tentative query was followed by a soft touch on his arm. Starsky's way of making things better--reaching out to touch. Only in this case it was destroying him.

    He took a very deep breath and gathered the strength to face those blue eyes. "Starsk, I didn't...intend to leave you out entirely. It's just that..." He stepped free of the distracting hand, which brought him through the doorway dividing the two rooms. Seeing the rumpled bed, he turned to get back to the living room, only to find his partner right there behind him, inadvertently blocking his exit. Feeling trapped, he stepped further into the room. "It's just that I wanted to make you understand what you were unfamiliar with, not what you already knew about." That was true, if incomplete.

    "Oh." Starsky sounded unconvinced or as if he knew he was being lied to. Something in the watchful stare made Hutch want to squirm.

    They stood facing each other for a long time. Starsky's eyes seemed to be searching his face for some answer that would make everything all right again while his own gaze darted around the bedroom, nervously seeking a safe object to rest upon. Finally he spoke, needing to bridge the growing awkwardness. "I-I didn't know what you wanted to hear."

    "The same thing you did."

    The strange sounding words chilled him, spoken almost as if Starsky knew his most painfully guarded secret. "Huh?" Hutch questioned, his eyes now riveted on his partner's face.

    Starsky's expression fell. Worried, Hutch watched him turn away and sink down onto the bed. The turned back and slumped shoulders confused him, as did the other signals he was picking up from his partner's body. "Starsk?" he called softly, not knowing what he'd done wrong, what he'd said that could have hurt his partner this much. He drew closer, coming to stand in front of the silent man.

    At last Starsky looked up at him, the bewildered look of a child softening his face. "I wanted...needed to hear that it wasn't gonna make a difference, is, Hutch. Can't you feel it? It...we ain't the same anymore."

    "Don't," Hutch pleaded, dropping to his knees before his hurting friend. "We're the same. We just need some time." The optimistic words tore at him. Hutch realized that it was probably his own hidden desires that were causing the tension between them. Starsky was right. Until they were tightly under control again, nothing would be the same. "Maybe you need some time alone to think things out," Hutch offered, starting to rise.

    "No!" The small shout filled the room with panic, stopping Hutch in his tracks.

    Hutch had barely heard it before both his arms were grabbed. Starsky's fingers dug deep into his bare skin, trying to hold him in place, to keep him from leaving. "Okay," he agreed gently, reasonably.

    The grip gradually loosened and he was hesitantly released. Starsky's head lowered, his eyes resting on the hands that were now tightly clasped in his lap. "I-I feel like somethin's gonna break if you walk out, Hutch." The words were ragged, reluctant, obviously motivated by fear.

    "Nothing's breaking," he assured, reaching out to lightly lay his hand on Starsky's shoulder, too much aware of the pleasure he was receiving from what was supposed to be a comforting touch.

    "No? Then how come it feels like we're on the edge of a cliff somewhere, that if I make one wrong move you're gonna fall off 'n I'll never see you again?"

    The words were too perceptive, "What do you mean?" Hutch asked, trying to sound casual.

    ", you're different." Starsky's eyes darted from his clasped hands to Hutch's face, then back again.

    Hutch's hand dropped from the warm shoulder to the bed. "I was afraid that once I'd told you you'd feel that way."

    "That ain't it," Starsky insisted. "It ain't what you said, it's how you're actin'."

    "How I'm...?"

    "Like you want me to get lost or somethin'."

    "I-I don't want you to get lost." Nothing could be further from the truth than the fear his partner had expressed. "What makes you think that?" The only reaction to his question was a shrug. "Starsk?"

    "You keep giving me the feeling that you want to get as far away from me as possible...and you keep talkin' 'bout leavin' and..."

    "And?" Hutch prompted when it seemed Starsky wasn't going to continue.

    Starsky's cheeks flamed to a bright, sunburned color. "You've only touched me once all night, and even then it was like you really didn't want to. Is this how it's gonna be from now on?" Starsky sounded hurt by something he didn't understand.

    "No, no, babe," Hutch promised anxiously, firmly grabbing hold of Starsky's arms. "It won't be any different. I-I was just afraid that you wouldn't want me to touch you after what I told you. It'll be the same. I swear it." And it would. Even if he had to walk around with his guts twisted in knots for the rest of his life he wasn't going to hurt this man. "It'll be the same, Starsk, or any way you want it to be."

    A gentle nod followed a long period in which Starsky simply stared at him, then a relieved smile broke the tense set of Starsky's features. The arm Hutch still gripped tightly in his right hand moved as his partner reached out to stroke his hair.

    Hutch remained completely still. He knew the gesture was intended to calm him, but he was suddenly too aware of his chest pressed against his friend's knees. His entire body tingled from the touch, quiveringly sensitized to Starsky's nearness.

    "Any way I want it to be," Starsky softly repeated. "All along, that's pretty much how it's been, but maybe...maybe I ain't been givin' you enough room. You've sorta been leavin' everything up to me tonight, but you got a say in this too. How do you want it to be, Hutch?"

    The question caught him off guard. Kneeling there with Starsky's hand tangled in his hair and the velvety feel of the other man's skin running through his body, all he'd been concentrating on was the sensual tone of his partner's voice. He looked up and opened his mouth to speak, but couldn't give voice to the lie. Regardless of how much he said it to reassure Starsky, he didn't want things to be the same. Mere inches away from that which he'd never touched, all he wanted to do was...

    The smile disappeared from Starsky's face, the hand in his hair simultaneously freezing in place. Starsky's momentarily blank expression switched to astonishment. Hutch could almost hear his friend's sharp mind fix on the right conclusion. There were a variety of perfectly plausible explanations as to why he hadn't wanted to touch his partner earlier. He watched disbelief fade to sudden understanding as Starsky finally stepped beyond accepting what was said to detecting the unsaid.

    For a few seconds he was frozen, petrified to the spot by an overwhelming sense of exposure. Without saying a word, he'd let it slip. Starsky was quiet, but Hutch knew he wouldn't stay that way for long. The fury his friend had felt at what he'd viewed as his betrayal earlier would seem mild when compared to what Hutch knew had to be brewing now. Not wanting to wait for that reaction, he released the strong arms and started to climb to his feet. Instead of falling away as he'd thought they would, Starsky's fingers tightened their hold in his hair.

    Hesitantly, he met the blue gaze, fully expecting Starsky's other fist to meet his jaw. Anger, disgust, revulsion, hate. Hutch anticipated any or all to be there. Finding none of them, a numbing dread filled him. A fiery rejection, although traumatic, might be undone, but Starsky rarely regretted what he did in cold blood. He lowered his eyes, trying to hide the trembling that threatened to consume him.

    He didn't move as the fingers untangled themselves from his hair. Waiting, not even daring to breathe, he wished that the explosion would come, that it would be over with.

    Abruptly shocked, his chin shot up as the hand that had abandoned him seconds before, now stroked the damp strands over his temple, petting him like a frightened kitten.

    "Starsk?" The continued silence was unnerving. He felt cold all over, frightened by a response he didn't know how to interpret.

    Starsky started at his hoarse whisper, as if reminded of his presence. Then he reached out and grasped both of his elbows.

    For a breathless moment Hutch thought that his partner was pulling him into an embrace, but Starsky only steered him off his knees to sit beside him on the bed. Sensing the tension in his partner's body, Hutch remained still, unsure of Starsky's intentions or even his mood.

    Finally, Starsky spoke, his voice strangely apologetic. "I ain't never made it with another man before, Hutch."

    Hutch nodded his understanding, his eyes fixed on the red and white marks mottling his knees from the prickly bedside carpet. He tried to tell himself that the losses weren't that severe. Starsky didn't even seem angry. He was lucky, really.

    "But, then, you never asked me before either," Starsky finished uncertainly, almost shyly.

    "Huh?" Hutch asked, disbelieving the offer he thought he'd heard.

    "I never thought of us that way before tonight, but now..."

    "Don't!" Starsky flinched at the unexpected sharpness. "Don't do that to me." The bewildered look on Starsky's face made him realize how harsh his refusal had been. Starsky cared about him, probably loved him more than anyone had in his entire life, but hearing him suggest that they...make love just because Starsky knew Hutch wanted him hurt more than a flat denial ever could have. "No casual offers, no...pity. I don't just want your body."

    "I didn't think you did," Starsky said softly.

    "You didn't think I what?"

    "Wanted me just for my body. Let's face it, Hutch, there're a million guys out there who look just like me. You could have any of them if you wanted."

    "No one looks just like you," Hutch protested quickly, ignoring the confident tone of the last statement.

    Starsky's smile dropped. "Maybe not." Hutch could feel that disarming gaze digging through all the pretenses to his raw, aching heart. "But there ain't no pity, Hutch. I love you."

    Hutch shuddered, never before so utterly vulnerable to mere words. "But you don't want me." The painful line wasn't even directed at Starsky, but said more to remind himself of the bitter realities that were too easily forgotten.

    "How do you know what I want?" Starsky demanded, his gruffness belied by the tenderness of a touch to his cheek. "Touchin' you always felt good, Hutch." Starsky's hand lingered for a distracting moment.

    "This is...different," Hutch sputtered, trembling. Though the pressure of his partner's hand on his face was nearly imperceptible, the touch melted through his skin. The room was too close, too warm. He tried to ignore the tingling, tried to pretend that they were in the middle of the crowded squad room instead of Starsky's soft bed. Starsky's often had he ached to be here?

    "You said before that lovin' a man wasn't much different."

    The trust in those eyes scared him. With any other man it wasn't much different, but this was Starsky. He wondered if his partner had given any thought to all the different ways he might want him, knew that he couldn't have and still be this relaxed about it. "This is. You're my partner."

    "Yeah, but..."

    "Would you knock it off," Hutch interrupted, fear sharpening his voice. "You're playing with fire and it's gonna burn you if you're not damn careful." He took a deep breath, tried to calm himself. "Just let it go, Starsk. Everything will be..."

    "The same as always? Business as usual, nothin' different?"

    Hutch nodded cautiously.

    "You think I can forget what I saw...the way you looked at me? Pretend it never happened at all?"

    "Nothing happened, Starsky," he protested, knowing full well that his partner had read it all in his face.

    "No?" Although subdued, the tone was unmistakably that of a naked challenge.

    The move came with the lightning speed of a snake's strike, too quickly to allow any reaction. Hutch felt steel-tight fingers clamp around his upper arms, tugging him forward until their chests were pressed so closely together that his partner's body hair tickled his skin. The muscles in the nearby face tightened in a familiar look of determination. Hutch held his breath, waiting, unable to free himself from the seductive warmth of his captor's grip or the intensity of the vivid, sapphire gaze. Starsky's head tilted slightly to the side, positioning for a kiss. Hutch tensed, not wanting it to happen this way, but powerless to refuse.

    "No," Starsky whispered, stopping less than an inch from the waiting lips. The thin body was shaking as if stopping had required a great amount of willpower, as if Starsky had really wanted him. "Not this way, not to prove a point." The confining arms dropped guiltily away as Starsky drew back. "I'm sorry, Hutch. You'n me are too important for games."

    Mouth too dry to speak, Hutch gulped loudly, insides still quaking. Paradise lost, and he'd made no move to take it. Take it? Slowly, he realized that he'd almost had it shoved down his throat. "Then why're you playing them? Just what was that scene supposed to be? Did you get what you wanted?"

    "What I wanted? I didn't..."

    "I know." His voice caught on the words, making them come out as something of a sob. "I know you didn't want. But did you have to..." Hutch's eyes dropped. He couldn't stare into that pale face and maintain his fury. When he looked at Starsky all his body wanted was to be wrapped in those arms again. Bitterly, he admitted that it wasn't the doing, but the stopping, that hurt so much. "I can handle it," he lied, trying to hide the humiliating weakness. "At least I can if you don't pull any more stunts like that. don't know what you're getting into, so please stop, for me?"

    Emptiness claimed the quiet reserved for the response he'd felt certain would come. Almost afraid to meet the bewitching gaze again, he turned back to his partner, worry instantly replacing the fear. Starsky's arms were wrapped tightly around his stomach, as if recovering from a painful punch. His head was bent, eyelids lowered, but not completely closed. He looked scared, hurt--everything Hutch was feeling at the moment. "Hey, you all right?" he asked gently, noticing the quake that shook his friend at the tentative touch he gave to an arm.

    "Yeah. You?"

    He could tell that the gruff reply took effort. The shiver his touch had caused was still running through the sleek body, the sculptured thighs prickled with goosebumps. A study in terror, or something else. Hutch let the remnants of the defensive anger he felt at being toyed with slip away and took a good look at his friend.

    When Starsky had stopped the kiss it was because of his unwillingness to use his partner's feelings. Hutch had known that and chosen to ignore it. Perhaps there were other facts he was overlooking. The man trembled when he touched him, still wouldn't meet his eyes. Was the attempt at seduction more than Starsky could handle or...

    All night long his partner's offers had been made with the intention of satisfying his best friend's needs, not his own. That could be why it had come so easily. It was all for Hutch. But Starsky had already admitted that he liked to touch him. Somewhere along the line 'like' might have changed to 'want.' Maybe confronting his own desires wasn't as easy as accommodating someone else's. "Starsk," he slid closer, easing an arm across bare shoulders, "why'd you stop?"

    "'Cause it wasn't right that way. You woulda always thought I did it just to show you things couldn't be the same anymore. I don't want you hurtin' like that." The blue eyes never shifted to him once.

    Hutch lifted his hand and lightly traced his index finger around a curl covered ear.

    "And why'd you start?"

    Starsky's head shot up. His lips parted, but no sound emerged.

    His partner's eyes were wide, and Hutch could read the longing there, but still he held back, uncertain of the reasons behind his hesitation.

    "Touch me?" A plea more than a request, voiced as if there was every chance of refusal.

    "All right, Starsk," Hutch whispered, "no more games."

    Tilting his head, he leaned towards Starsky, gently covering the mouth with his own.

    For a startled moment the lips were still, soft and motionless beneath the light pressure his mouth was exerting. Then suddenly, they seemed to come alive, muscles tensing and moving against him in response. Hutch savored the deepening kiss, glad that this was their first and not the previous attempt. There was an endearing tentativeness to Starsky's attitude, a natural awkwardness that Hutch found delightfully enchanting.

    Reluctantly, they separated for breath, his partner's lips clinging and following him until he finally pulled sharply away. Starsky smiled sheepishly, his hand sliding up and down Hutch's arm in an almost unconscious caress.

    "Hutch, that was..."

    "Yeah," Hutch agreed, his own tone equally awed, "it sure was." He let his restless fingers wander up Starsky's left shoulder, then anxious to touch more, he trailed his hand down the collar bone and chest. Surprised, he felt a soft nipple harden into a tight bump at the feathery touch of his fingertips. Slowly, he became aware of the hungry gaze-focused on his face and the tight hold Starsky now had on his arms. Possessive. There was no hesitancy or awkwardness as Starsky leaned forward to kiss him this time.

    From the intensity of the fire Hutch read in his partner's eyes, he expected a hard, crushing kiss, but their mouths met with surprising lightness, as if Starsky were taking great care not to bruise his lips.

    "You feel good," Starsky sighed as they parted.

    "Yeah?" Hutch asked, intrigued by the look of concentration on his partner's face. Starsky seemed fascinated with his chest, lightly running his flattened palms over the smooth firmness. It felt good, but Hutch realized that it was more of an exploration than a caress.

    "Yep." The curly head bent to place a soft, experimental kiss above his left nipple.

    Hutch gasped at the supercharged reaction his body had to the simple act. He tightened his grip on the shoulders, feeling it his only hold on reality as the lips moved to kiss, then suck the hardening bud. It took him almost a full minute to realize that the sensations had stopped and that the wet warmth was gone from his chest. Hutch opened his eyes to find Starsky staring at him, his expression both stunned and pleased. Hutch blushed under the scrutiny, inexplicably embarrassed.

    "Hey, don't," Starsky murmured, rubbing his hot cheek. "Didn't mean to spoil it. You just looked so..."

    "Enraptured?" Hutch suggested, feeling his blush deepen, but no longer willing to deny how thoroughly Starsky moved him.

    Starsky gulped, his Adam's apple bobbing up and down his slender throat. The blue eyes continued to stare at him for a moment or so longer, their cobalt depths as bewitched as they were bewitching. The arms slipped around him again and Starsky leaned in for another kiss, his weight behind it propelling them to the mattress, still firmly locked in the kiss.

    Hutch lay still for a second, buried beneath his partner's body, drowning in the incredible experience of that longed-for flesh covering every inch of him. Purposefully covering every inch of him, Hutch mentally corrected, remembering waking one morning not so long ago with Starsky sprawled over him in a similar position. The burning heat pouring off his partner was the same, as was the dizzying feel of the hardness pressing against his thigh, except this time it was all meant for him. This was no sleep-fogged mistake of identity. Starsky wanted him. The wet tongue probing his closed lips more than proved it.

    Hutch parted his lips, meeting the welcome invader, inviting the intimate touch and the first taste of his partner's sweet mouth. At first they just touched, gently flattening tongue tips against each other's or circling, then they played a push-shove game of dominance between mouths before Hutch happily surrendered and sucked in his partner's tongue. Starsky pressed even closer to him, pushing deep into Hutch's mouth while provocatively rocking their hips together, seemingly trying to melt into him. Hutch realized that he was doing his own part to mold them together and guiltily withdrew his nails from where they were digging into Starsky's back.

    Finally, Starsky surfaced for air, apparently unaffected by the temporary deprivation. Hutch panted for breath, slightly amazed by his companion's easy respiration. For a man who couldn't swim more than ten feet under water, he now seemed to have the lung capacity of a pearl diver. In a second, Starsky was back again, this time kissing and nipping his neck. Hutch squirmed with pleasure, arching up against his partner.

    In his fantasies, it was usually the other way around, he covering Starsky with kisses and caresses, savoring his partner's body the way he was now delighting him. He'd never dreamed than Starsky would want to touch him this way, would want to spend so much time just making him happy.

    The sensations were so intense, so completely in tune with the needs of his love-hungry body that Hutch was almost willing to believe that it was indeed only a dream, except for one small discrepancy. Never in a thousand years would he have imagined his fantasy lover making the kind of noises his partner was now making--deep, contented "Mmmmmmmm's" that sounded more like the vocalizations of a little boy devouring a chocolate sundae than the passionate moans of an erotic fantasy. Hutch smiled, enchanted by the surprise.

    Hutch grabbed hold of the curly head as it rose from his own neck. Starsky looked like he'd been prepared to start on Hutch's chest again, but he didn't object as he was pulled back into a kiss.

    Hutch's hands greedily explored the smooth back. He gripped the rounded buttocks, rhythmically squeezing and releasing the firm mounds, barely aware of the impeding cloth covering them, but sensitive to every shiver that shook his lover.

    His lover. He liked thinking of Starsky that way. For years it had been partner, buddy, friend. A long line of endearments that came nowhere close to describing what he felt for this man. Tonight he would show him.

    Eager to know more of his love, he rolled them over, wondering if Starsky would object to their change of positions. Surprisingly, the dark eyelashes didn't even flicker open or the pressure let up in their kiss. But Starsky's arms did tighten their hold on him and his legs wound around Hutch as if trying to lock them together. Once again touched by the trust Starsky had in him, Hutch reluctantly broke away from the succulent mouth, aching to learn the rest of his lover's body as intimately.

    Brushing light kisses over a cheek and ear, Hutch slowly worked his way down the long neck to the chest. He'd always been amazed at how little body hair Starsky had here. Considering the thick mound of soft curls crowning his head, Hutch would have expected a heavy pelt to hide the pink nipples, but the light sprinkling of hair barely reached them before petering out into smooth skin. Hutch liked the artful way it was distributed--thin at the far sides of the breasts, and thickest down the center, its symmetry seemingly designed to accentuate the musculature of the rib cage. He let his fingers trail down the thick central line to the navel, then spread kisses across the chest and followed his hand.

    Hutch continued that way for a long time, kissing and exploring every inch of uncovered territory. At last, he was overcome by the need to experience more. He looked up from the belly-button his tongue was reconnoitering, and read a matching urgency in the too-bright eyes. Relieved, he grasped the elastic waist band, shifting his own body as Starsky worked on removing his briefs.

    Once freed, they both seemed to freeze, staring ambivalently at one another, each waiting for the other to make the first move. The shy smile and nervous way Starsky's tongue ran across his upper lip reminded Hutch that this was his partner's first time. Doubt stabbed at him, fear of frightening with over-eagerness holding him back. He didn't want to ruin this now.

    Starsky's eyes quizzically searched his face. Hutch knew that he must have been able to read the doubt. Surprised, he saw the facial muscles relax. Slowly, Starsky's hand reached for him, a slight quiver in the arm the only sign of his remaining nervousness.

    A jolt of ecstasy jerked through him as the fingers tentatively touched him. Starsky simply stared at his unmoving hand and the excited organ for a long moment before gently nestling the hard cock in his palm. His free hand moved to lightly stroke from its base to tip, the delicate touch shooting electric sparks through Hutch's body.

    "It's not going to break, you know," Hutch said gently, moved by the tenderness, yet frustrated by the delay.

    Starsky gulped, blushing vividly. "S-sorry."

    "Don't be," he whispered. "Never be sorry. I love you, Starsk."

    The kiss was sweet, unimpassioned at first, but steadily deepening. Hutch felt the loose hold unconsciously tighten as Starsky became engrossed in the kiss. He took the opportunity to do his own exploring. Starsky gasped at his first, groping probe, the breath and sound smothered in the kiss. He ran his hand along Starsky's thigh, stroking further inwards when they parted at his touch, just brushing the rosy head with each move before heading back down the thigh again.

    His teasing caresses seemed to be getting to his partner, changing Starsky's kiss from gentle to fiercely demanding. Hutch was so caught up in it that he barely noticed when the hand stopped fondling him, his next conscious awareness that of Starsky rolling back on top of him. He spread his thighs, expecting penetration, wanting it, but Starsky only crushed their hard cocks together. Hutch arched his hips, needing to get closer, lost in the taste, feel and smell of his partner.

    Starsky's mouth wandered from his lips to his neck, once again nipping and sucking at the moles there. Their presence had always bothered Hutch. He shifted, trying to divert attention from them, but his lover only nipped a little harder, obviously excited by his attempt at escape. The nips moved lower, melting into wet kisses as they reached his upper chest. Starsky stayed there a while, wandering from one shoulder to the next, spreading shivers and kisses in his wake.

    Unable to continue the downward kissing path with their lower bodies still locked together, Starsky lifted his hips and slid off him. Hutch made a desperate grab for the retreating waist, then attempted to follow, but Starsky caught his hands and firmly pressed him back down onto the mattress. Hutch looked up, hurt by the denial, but willing to go along with anything Starsky wanted. The promise he read in the bright eyes reassured him. He still didn't know what Starsky had in mind, but he had a feeling he was going to enjoy it.

    The kisses returned, wet, sucking caresses that roamed from one nipple to the other, punctuated by a light touch that skimmed down the center of his stomach. Starsky's mouth pursued his fingers with maddening slowness, his cool tongue slickly skimming over the sensitized flesh, dipping provocatively into his belly-button and moving on. Hutch's fingers dug into the sheets, his senses ravaged by the exquisite torture.

    He was ready to explode, but Starsky had barely touched his cock yet. In fact, he appeared to be bluntly ignoring it, his fingers carding through the blond pubic hair that he seemed to have been playing with for hours. Hutch was puzzled by the fascination until he caught sight of the dark patch at the base of his partner's cock, a long forgotten memory stirring. The first time they'd showered together in the Academy gym. Gradually, Hutch had become uncomfortably aware that his new friend was staring at him, the direction of his gaze panicking him all the more. He'd finally gotten up the courage to ask what was wrong. Deeply embarrassed, Starsky had apologized, mumbling something about his being blond all over. An affectionate warmth spread through him now as he watched Starsky twirl the wiry curls around his finger. He bit back his frustration, indulging his friend until Starsky's hand accidentally bumped his straining shaft.

    Gasping, he arched his hips frantically, silently begging for attention. Starsky's eyes widened in surprise and he quickly took hold of him, the overly gentle touch communicating his remorse for the neglect. The curl laden head bent to place a whispery kiss on the moist crown, shooting another intense burst of excitement along his nerves. His body jumped again, his cock insistently throbbing. The fingers of one hand played along his shaft with growing skill while those of the other cupped and squeezed his heavy sacs, Starsky fast becoming an expert at both tortures. Hutch moaned, squirming and thrashing to relieve the burning delight, only increasing the sensations with his writhings. He cast a pleading glance at his partner, found the wide eyes fixed on him. Starsky looked amazed, shocked that he could cause such a response.

    The curls bent over him again. A cool tongue swabbed his fiery tower. Hutch grabbed the broad shoulders, unconsciously clawing at the tender skin as the tip of Starsky's tongue swirled around the head of his cock, circling and absorbing the droplets glistening there.

    Through the haze fast blanketing his senses, Hutch saw his partner's mouth widen and begin to lower, the action unexpectedly alarming him. First time he'd tried that, he'd nearly choked. So far Starsky had been amazingly daring, but he'd never done this before. "No, Starsk, No-o-ahhh..."

    His weak protest died when the hot mouth absorbed him. Several breathless seconds later, Starsky started sucking, awkwardly at first, but with growing confidence. Hutch tried to remain still to make it easier for his partner, but quickly enflamed by the developing rhythm, he soon found his hips thrusting helplessly, sending the source of his treasured agony deep into Starsky's throat. Soon the fire in his cock surpassed the mouth's capacity to cool it, each bright burst of pleasure more exquisite than the last. He battled for as long as he could, but finally the flames won. One last, excruciatingly sharp flare, and his nerves exploded, liquidating his soul and shooting it out in powerful spurts into Starsky's waiting throat.

    The haze slowly cleared, consciousness sluggishly returning. His gaze focused on his partner, who still clung to his empty cock. "Starsk?"

    Starsky released him, sitting back on his heels between his satiated partner's spread thighs. "I like the way you taste," he said, visibly surprised. "Never thought I'd want..." The words stopped, but Starsky's eyes roamed hungrily over him, reminding Hutch that only one of them had been satisfied. He sat up, crossing his ankles behind his partner, trapping Starsky's hips between his thighs and closing him in his arms. "Starsky, that a dream that I never thought would happen. But it's only half the dream. Finish it?"

    "Huh?" Starsky asked blankly, staring into his eyes without any real sign of understanding, seemingly content to just look at him.

    He kissed the confused man, tasting traces of himself lingering in the warm mouth. "I want you," he whispered, feeling Starsky's shiver run through his own body. "Okay?"

    "Sure," Starsky agreed, starting to lie back down on the bed.

    "Not that way, babe," Hutch corrected gently, easing himself down while using his ankles to pull Starsky closer, his open thighs stressing their positions. "All right?"


    The shock on Starsky's face and the meaning of his answer finally registered, leaving him cold all over. This was the last place he'd expected hesitation. Once or twice before he'd had 'straight' guys, and there had never been any problem here. They were usually all eager for it. If anything unnerved them, it was taking another man's cock in their mouths for the first time, but Starsky hadn't seemed to have any trouble with that.

    "What?" he demanded defensively, hurt by the rejection.

    "What we did before, that was don't haveta..."

    "I want you," he repeated, fingering the small mole above Starsky's cheekbone. "Don't you want me?"

    If anything, the question seemed to deepen Starsky's bewilderment. "'Course I do, but...not that way."

    "Why not?" Hutch asked more gently, sensing fear.

    "I-I ain't never done this before, Hutch. I don't wanta hurt you..."

    "You won't," he promised.

    The head shook in stubborn refusal. "No. It killed Ben Thompson. I don't wanta..." The name clicked. Two years ago. Young runaway turned hooker, dropped dead in the bus terminal. Peritonitis. Their job rarely showed them the pleasanter side of society. It was no different with the gay community. Corpses in seedy hotel rooms and bus station terminals. That was all Starsky had seen of it. No wonder he was spooked. "He was raped, Starsky," Hutch reminded. "Gang-banged the coroner said. You're not about to do that."

    "I-I don't know how to do it right. I could..." The voice was still uncertain, but slightly calmer.

    "You couldn't hurt me like that if you tried," Hutch insisted, running his hand down the bare back. "It just isn't in you. Now, relax and love me."

    Starsky's troubled eyes searched his face. As always, they seemed to find their answer there. He wondered if Starsky could see how much he really wanted it or if he'd been aware of how excited he'd been before when he'd thought that that was what Starsky intended.

    "Already love you," Starsky whispered shakily, following the words with a delicate kiss.

    Hutch rubbed his hands along his partner's sweat-beaded chest, ruffling the silken hairs there, adding fire to the tender kiss. When it ended, he let his lips drop to Starsky's shoulder, working his way down to the nipple with firmly kneading kisses, sensing his lover's tension ebb over into arousal. Hutch tried to ignore the seductive mouth nudging around his ear as he slipped his hand between their bodies to massage Starsky's testes. They were soft, like warm, living velvet. His fingers moved on instinct, knowing where and how to give pleasure. Starsky moaned, shooting a cool stream of air across his sweaty neck. Subduing a shiver, he tried to get a hold of the slick shaft that was beginning to thrust wildly against his own flaccid organ. "Okay, babe, okay..." he murmured, leaning back and drawing Starsky along with him. He lifted his hips to position himself.

    "Hutch..." The urgent gasp turned his attention from the burning cock in his hand to the equally hot eyes, "...don't we...need somethin'?"

    "You're fine," Hutch assured, taking in the shining sheen of sweat glossing the over-heated flesh, unwilling to pause to search for a more suitable lubricant.

    Starsky, apparently beyond arguing, accepted his judgment, allowing himself to be guided in without further protest.

    The hungry cock entered him in one smooth thrust, burying itself almost totally in his relaxed body, fitting him as if sculpted for this purpose alone. His muscles gave a loving squeeze to the long awaited guest, testing its bulk, feeling it grow even larger. The sigh that shook him seemed to come from the depths of his soul. Together. Never before had they been this close, touched this deeply. Starsky was a part of him now, as he was a part of his partner. Hutch pushed down against the pressure, aiding in his impalement, wanting more.

    Starsky froze over him for a moment, wide eyes fixed on their joined bodies. The gaze moved quizzically to his face, as if looking for traces of pain. Hutch reassuringly rumpled Starsky's curls, using his legs to force his lover deeper into him. No more persuasion was necessary. Starsky withdrew once, keeping that same watchful surveillance as he cautiously reentered, before giving himself over to a delightfully uninhibited rhythm.

    Each thrust buried Starsky still deeper within him. The fullness was familiar, but there was something different about it this time. His partner was owning him as he'd never allowed himself to be owned before. Other men had taken him this way, but only when he'd chosen. Even then he'd retained control of the situation, giving only what he desired, never allowing them to really touch him. With Starsky it was different, as much of an emotional completion as a physical one. He let his lover set their speed, abandoning all control, content to merely answer a need.

    For a while, it continued that way, Hutch's pleasure fulfillment from giving. But gradually the hard shaft moving in and out of him demanded more, rubbing insistently against his prostate, reviving desire. The growing warmth centralized in his groin, begging attention. Hutch reached for his cock. Surprised, he felt the support on one hip drop as Starsky intercepted his hand. He'd thought his lover too far gone to notice his arousal, but the gentle warmth turned to fire as Starsky's hand began a firm pumping, perfectly attuned to the thrusting. Soon reality hazed again in a devastating explosion, both inside and out. His own seed shot from his body even as Starsky's flooded his insides. Hutch held still, frozen in time, gasping for each breath, listening to the dying echo of the primeval howl that had followed his own groan. The noise startled him. He hadn't thought that Starsky would yell that way because of him.

    Gradually he became aware of the warm weight pressing against him, Starsky's head resting on his sticky belly. He touched a shoulder and the head lifted, staring strangely up at him. Then his partner slid out of him and crawled up to his side, that same, unnerving expression still on his face.

    Suddenly nervous about what they'd done, Hutch averted his gaze. Grabbing his discarded briefs, he hesitantly wiped Starsky's soft shaft clean, inexplicably afraid of touching him, feeling as if he were removing all traces of their lovemaking forever.


    He froze at the uncertain voice, flinching at the unexpected feel of a hand running through his sweaty hair.

    "Hey, you alright? I-I didn't hurt you, did I?"

    The tension inside eased at the frightened question. "No, I'm fine."

    "You're more than fine." It was said in a low tone, edged with something Hutch slowly identified as wonder. He dared glance at Starsky's face, his stomach fluttering at the open warmth he read there. "I never thought I'd like that, babe, but were perfect."

    Hutch felt the world slide out from beneath him. "You're not...I mean, you don't wish we hadn't..."

    "Do you?"

    He kissed the hint of insecurity from his friend's eyes. "Never," he mumbled, cuddling into the open arms and relaxing under Starsky's stroking hand. Tonight had been perfect. If he could never love again in his whole life, tonight would be an equitable trade.

    "Hutch?" Starsky asked hesitantly, as if there were anything he could possibly refuse him, "did you want this for a long time?"

    "Forever," Hutch whispered, snuggling closer.

    "Well, that's how you've got it, babe, forever--if you want it that way?"

    If he wanted it that way! He kissed his partner, knowing that it would take longer than forever to tire of that mouth.