This story was originally published in Code 7 #4. This zine is still in print and can be obtain from Agent with Style: Comments can be sent to:

Circle's End

     It was Spring when I finally caught up with him, in a single's bar in Duluth, three months and five days after I set out from LA. At least, according to the calendar it was Spring--the weather seemed to be having a hard time deciding. I felt like I'd traveled through every possible climate, in every state, lookin' for him, an' my head had gone through so many time changes jet-lag was a way of life. I slept when I was too tired to go on, ate when I was hungry, and in between the two I traveled, regardless of time of day. Amazing what some people will put themselves through in the name of love.

    Even now I can't believe two grown men could wreck ten years of friendship over a dumb misunderstanding, but that's the way it happened. She walked back into my life like a ghost from the past, reminding me of what Hutch called my 'innocent youth' (was I ever?)--then walked out again, taking with her the only thing in the world that mattered to me. Hutch. Okay, so it was as much my fault for losin' my cool an' not listening to reason, an' when she finally came to me an' told me what happened, I knew I was in the wrong. But that didn't stop it hurting. Trouble was, by the time I reached their apartment in San Diego, Blondie'd taken off for places unknown.

    I spent the next three months tracking down every girl I could think of, every pal from the Academy, and even the few college buddies I'd met--anyone I thought might take him in. Zilch. No one had seen him or heard from him in months. In the end there was only one other place to look. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't under any illusions; I'd never met Stephen Hutchinson, but I'd picked up enough from the little Hutch'd told me to know the man had done something to turn his own son against him. Guess that's another mistake to add to the list of Starsky's Greatest Errors. Still, family is family--the worst they could do was throw me out.

    By the time I reached Duluth I was just about bottomed out. No money, no car, no job or apartment to go home to. I'd let the lot go--well, you can't travel on goodwill these days. Make or break time. Either I found Hutch and we put things right, or.... I'll leave that to your imagination. I won't deny I was scared. I mean, I wasn't even sure if the man knew who I was! How much, if anything, had Hutch told him? I understand so much more now, about what caused the rift between them, and believe me, not all of it was Stephen's fault. But I'll save that story for some other time, except to say, the man did everything within his power to help me find Hutch. No expense spared. I never actually told him just what the relationship between us had been, but I got the feeling that, by the time I left, he'd worked it out for himself. Guess my concern did make it a bit obvious.

    Anyhow, we eventually tracked Hutch down to a little place on the outskirts of the city. I shoulda known he'd try something like that; hidin' right under our noses. When I asked him about it later, he said he knew it was the last place I'd think to look. I went to the apartment first, but he was out. The girl across the hall couldn't be certain, but she thought he used a bar a couple of blocks over, one of those places with soft lights an' music. It was almost empty when I got there, everybody tucked up at home, away from the snow. That night was for the lonely and homeless, an' as I sat in a booth near the door I couldn't help hoping Hutch would be one of them.

    An hour and two drinks later I was beginning to give up hope. Maybe he was breaking with routine...maybe he had a date someplace else...maybe--

    The door opened, sighed shut again, and a solitary figure walked up to the bar, ordered vodka with a twist. I didn't need to look, I knew that voice better than I did my own. For two full minutes I sat there, starin', too shit scared to even move. It was crazy! After all the weeks of searching, city to city, coast to coast, with only a few memories and half-baked ideas for company--I'd found him. Hutch was all I could do was sit frozen in my seat. Crazy.

    I'd picked the table well. From there I could see all except the farthest end of the bar, without him being able to see me. Gave me time to get my head together. He was lookin' good; he'd lost weight--a good twenty pounds, I guess--but it suited him, gave him back that lean, prowling look. His hair was shorter, too, like the old days, but still that beautiful pale gold that made him stand out in a crowd. The memories hit then; the scent of that hair newly-washed, the feel of it in my fingers, soft against my skin, and the way it twisted into tiny damp curls at the nape after we made love.

    I don't recall standing up, or walking to the counter, but a moment later I was by his side, watching his profile for any change as I said 'hello.' I was shakin' like a kid hauled up in front of the principal, a squadron of butterflies dog-fightin' in my stomach, an' knees like Jell-O. He recognized my voice right away, I could tell. There was a subtle change in position, a turn of his head, then, very softly, he said my name.

    "The one an' only," I replied. "How you doin', Hutchinson?"

    He turned then, an' I saw the surprise--and the joy--in his eyes. Right then I would have sold my soul for the chance to hold him, feel the strength and love I'd been missing for so long. But for me it was too soon...for Hutch too late. There was too much pain between us. A shadow crossed his eyes, and I knew the moment had gone.

    "Ah...I'm--I'm fine." He looked at me like he thought he was imagining the whole thing, like maybe he was daydreamin'. Then: "Starsky...what the hell are you doing here?"

    I told him I was just visiting. Vague I know, but I'd just gotten my first good look at his face--a face I knew so well, but hardly recognized now. He was slimmer, neater--good points--but he was also older. In a year he had seemed to age ten. He'd shaved off the cookie duster, leaving lines around his mouth; sad lines I didn't recall seeing there before. They were round his eyes too, fanning out from the dark thumbprints beneath, giving the impression of someone who'd come through a lotta pain. I coulda cried, 'cause I knew I'd done that to him. The spark was gone, that special fire that drove him on when everything else was fallin' apart, an' I'd taken it from him, 'cause I was too damn busy feelin' sorry for myself.

    "What?" I said, suddenly realizing he was talking to me again.

    "I asked who you were visiting."

    I'd taken time on the way over to work out answers to some of the questions I knew he was gonna ask. "Just a guy I grew up with," I lied.... But then, was it so much a lie? I reckon I'd grown more in my years with Hutch than in all the time before. Grown, expanded, become a whole, independent being and not just the shadow of a dead father's dream. Sure had a nice way of repaying him for those years.

    "Staying long?"

    "Few days. Girl in your block told me where to find you. I heard about Alison. I'm sorry." I couldn't tell him yet that Alison herself had confessed to walking out on him, rather than destroy the little peace he had left. Didn't think he was ready to understand that much. The way he was seeing it, the last two people he'd trusted had turned away from him when he needed them. It would take a lot to win back that trust.

    "Yeah?" he said, one word, expressionless, as he turned to watch the reflection of the room in the bar mirror.

    "I mean it," I told him. "I really thought it was gonna work out right for you this time."

    "Well it didn't." Before I could say more he called the barman over. "You want a drink? Same again, Harv, and a beer for my buddy.... 'Less you want something stronger?"

    I told him beer would be fine. I still couldn't drink much--Gunther's little 'present' changed a lot of things.

    "Heard you're off the streets now," he said, like he was tryin' to keep the conversation goin', but couldn't think of anythin' to talk about. "Huggy said something about the Academy...?"

    Huggy? The bastard! He told me he didn't know where Hutch had gone. "'S right. Dobey fixed it, called in a few favors." What I didn't tell him was how, after he'd gone, I couldn't face goin' back on the streets without him beside me. I've worked with other guys when Hutch's been sick, but that was only temporary. They wouldn't let me work alone, an' I wasn't takin' on a new partner, so the only other way to stay on the force was to transfer. Don't think it woulda worked out too well long term though. I'd spent too many years kicking against the rules, to be able to stand up in front of a class of rookies and tell them 'this is what the book says you should do....'

    "You like it there?" he asked.

    "It's okay. Rewarding in a way. At least all the stuff we learned on the streets ain't goin' to waste.... How 'bout you? You find anythin' yet?"

    He told me he was working for a security firm, as a courier. It was mostly documents, stuff like that, with occasional packages of gemstones an' other valuables. All legal, he assured me. "They've got me working with this young guy. Andy. We've got a good arrangement, I teach him how to stay alive, he shares his address book with me. Shows me the 'in' scene."

    He sounded so bitter. He reminded me of that day on the beach, when we watched our badges bein' swallowed up by the waves...the way we were being swallowed by all the shit around us. The only thing that seemed real that day was us, what we shared. But even that was gone now. Y'know, when Nick heard about it later, he said we were dumb not to quit while we were ahead. I guess he was right for once.

    "Can't be that bad," I said, trying to cheer him up.

    He looked at me, an' there was an expression in his eyes I thought I'd never see again. "Partner, you got no idea." He snorted a laugh. "An' I useta think LA was the pits...."

    If he said more, I didn't hear it. My mind had fastened on that one word--Partner--like a limpet to a rock. Partner. After all the pain, all the changes, was it possible he still thought of me that way? I'd never doubted my own loyalty to what we'd been, but Hutch was the injured party--he'd reached out for a little happiness and I'd forced him into a corner--he had the right to resent me. Seems like loyalty's a stronger bond than anger. Maybe there was still a chance to salvage something, if we could get away someplace quiet an' have a long talk.

    "Can we get outta here?" I asked.

    He looked at me, puzzled, then away again. "What for?"

    "To talk."

    "We said all there was to say six months ago. Let it rest in peace, Starsky."

    "Uh-uh, I'm a fighter. Pop always said, if you want somethin' bad enough you go fight for it, forget everythin' else, no matter what it costs. I never agreed with him--till now." He started to protest, but I shut him off. "You got transport or do we call a cab? My hotel's not far...."

    He sighed, an' I knew I'd won the first round. "My place is closer--unless you'd rather be on neutral ground?"

    "Neutral ground's for war zones.... We at war, partner?" The word came naturally, like it had that first morning in Dobey's office. It felt good.

    So did walking down the street at his side, shoulder to shoulder. Funny how easily we slipped into the old routine of shadow-watching for each other. Couldn't help thinkin' back to one of our first stakeouts, when we'd spent the night talkin' about what we were gonna be like in twenty years. Funny how much a dream can change in a decade. 'Fore I knew it we were back at his apartment.

    "It's not much," he apologized as he let us in. "What didn't come with the place I begged and borrowed from a couple guys at work. Soon as I find a place I like I'll have Huggy send the rest of my stuff."

    Not if I can help it, I told myself. "That'll please him. He's startin' to get nightmares about bein' eaten alive by all your damn plants." When I saw the huge potted fern in the corner of the room, I couldn't help askin' if it was a houseguest or a member of the immediate family. I guess it was nerves, but he started giggling an' whispered that it was the landlord, an' how he'd met this little old lady in the Laundromat, who sold him a potion.... Coupla minutes later we were both doubled over.

    "Guess it beats hell outta paying the rent," I suggested. It felt good to laugh again, hadn't done much of that since he'd been gone. I useta lie awake nights, rememberin' all the times we cracked each other up over some dumb joke. Good times. Thinkin' about it brought all the old aches back again, but it was the wrong time to let go. I shoulda known I'd never hold out....

    I needed a minute alone, so I asked where the bathroom was.

    I stepped through the bedroom door, into a world so achingly familiar it was like someone jabbing a butcher's knife into my memory, slicing it to the bone. This was Hutchinson-gone-native; solid furniture, hand-worked blankets, enough greenery to fill a glass-house.... Just like that first night, in that little hotel on the Mexican border, when we finally stopped hiding how much we needed each other. Great place for a honeymoon...maybe one day we'll go back there.

    I coulda handled the memories even though they hurt--I'd got useta the pain by then. But as I passed the nightstand, on the way to the bathroom, I saw the one thing that just wiped out what little control I had left.


    If it had been anything else...I can still remember that night, playin'--trying to play--Monopoly, waitin' for the clock to chime twelve...cryin' in his arms...hurting over him, the way he hurt over me, like the pain was chasing itself in circles....Terry's words, Hutch's voice--please love them both...don't let either one of them change....

    Can't remember much of what happened next. One minute I saw Hutch standing in the doorway, lookin' kinda fuzzy 'round the edges, then he was sitting beside me, arms around me, tellin' me not to cry, that everythin' was gonna work out. It hurt. I hadn't cried like that since the night Terry died. I couldn't breathe, couldn't think.... Just sat there, holding on to him like my life depended on it. Maybe it did. I just knew, right then, that I wanted him more than I 'd ever wanted anything in my life before. He was mine, an' nothing and no one was gonna take him away again!

    After a while he pushed me away, very gently, an' looking into his eyes was like staring into the sun. There were tears on his face--mine or his?--it didn't matter, not then. Not ever. His presence was the only truth I needed.

    Then he kissed me. He was gentle at first, using his lips to feel my face the way a blind man uses his fingers. Oh God...! I thought I was gonna melt right on the spot! I was already reaching for him when he pushed me away, shaking his head like he was trying to deny what he'd done. He pulled free and backed away to the window. Illusion of escape.

    "God...I'm sorry.... I-I never meant...."

    "Hutch. There's no need--"

    "Yes, there is. Starsky...we can't do this. There's too much between us now."

    I was losing him again. Hutch's got this thing about guilt. Anythin' goes wrong he always blames himself.... The morning after we became lovers he vanished into his shell, an' woulda stayed there for good if I hadn't persuaded him there were better things to do with a vacation....

    "Hey!" I said. "Weren't you the one always tellin' me to live for the future?"

    "What future? I threw our future away the day I chose Alison over you."

    He was sinking fast, determined to hide away in his cozy little world of self-pity while the rest of life passed him by. But without thinking he had given me a way in. Self-pity was something I knew a lot about. "Can't do that," I told him. "Maybe you can put it on hold for a while, give yourself time to think...but it's always there, waiting for you."

    "What if I don't want it?"

    "Who says you get a choice?" I'd been edging closer to him all the time we were talking and he hadn't seemed to notice. Standing in front of him I stretched out my hand to him, trailing my fingers through his hair, following the line down to his cheek, raising my other hand to cup his face between them, forcing him to look at me. Old and tired, but still so beautiful. "I musta been crazy to let you walk out on me."

    He stared at me for a long time, his eyes picking up the red and green flashes from a neon sign across the street. Then I felt him swallow, and his hands came up, hot against my own face. "I musta been crazy to go," he whispered.

    "Fine pair we make," I laughed, and after a moment he joined in. I guess we both knew there was no way back from there. There was only one way to end it.

    "Starsk...we should talk first."

    I knew I shoulda listened to him but I was past that. "Later," I said. "We've wasted enough time.

    I could feel the fear reverberating between us, like it was that first night all over again. I saw the answer, the hunger in his eyes, but the last barrier belonged to him. I'd come so far, done all I could to put things right, but the final decision was his. Ever heard that expression about every second feeling like an eternity? Well, it was true for me as I waited for him. Then, suddenly, he bowed his head and sighed, and I knew.

    "I want you," he whispered. "I never stopped wanting you...."

    Looking back, I can see all the things we did wrong, all the time we shoulda given it more thought, but when you're on a runaway train you don't stop to wonder why the brakes don't work. Act now, think later an' to hell with the consequences. Good thing that was never true of the way we worked!

    There's a lotta things I can't remember about that night, an' a lotta things I can. One of the best, the one that still sends shivers through me when I think about it, is that first moment when we climbed into his bed and settled into each other's arms. Y'know, that was the first time he'd held me like that since the night before the shooting--fourteen months before.

    We've always been a pretty even match in bed, no hassle over who's gonna be on top, whose turn it is. We play it by instinct. But that night something in me needed to submit to him completely. I had my own guilts to work out, my own omissions to atone for...but it was more than that. I needed to show him that I was still alive, an' that, whatever had gone wrong in the last year, it was all over.

    I was scared, too. Once I was well enough to pick up what the doctors called a normal 'active' life, the only person I wanted to be active with wasn't around anymore. I'd tried it with a couple girls, but that didn't work out too well. Stage fright. Once, just once when I was really down, I thought about going with another guy. I've never thought of myself as gay, never wanted anyone but Hutch, but something dark and cruel inside me kept tellin' me that one body was just like another, all I had to do was close my eyes.... We got as far as the bar door before my conscience won the argument. After that I just couldn't be bothered.

    Now, of course, I don't know what the hell I was worried about. The moment he touched me I caught fire, and when he wriggled down beside me, an' that familiar mouth went to work.... Oh man! Does he know how to turn a guy on! I thought I was never comin' down off the ceiling. I didn't need telling it was good for him, too. Surprised the neighbors didn't come around to see who was gettin' murdered, or worse still, call the cops. That woulda made some headline....

    Sometime around one in the morning he finally took pity on me an' let me rest. I managed a cat-nap, but I was too keyed up for anythin' deeper. Tossed an' turned for a few hours 'fore I woke up properly. Hutch was stretched out beside me, eyes closed, relaxed, like we'd never been apart. His hair was all mussed up, an' some of the lines on his face had gone, like makin' love together had taken the strain away. We still had problems, an' there was a lotta explaining to do--on both sides--but there'd be time enough for that later.

Sandib&w.jpg (32002 bytes)
Click on image to see larger version

    I began to stroke his body, from the curve of his shoulder as far down his thighs as I could reach without moving, an' I couldn't help smiling every time I touched one of those little sticky patches. I was kinda lookin' forward to the shower we both needed. For a moment I was tempted to take him asleep--we'd done it a couple times in the past and he'd never complained, but sometimes things got a bit out of hand, an' we were still too unsure of each other. Anyhow, I wanted him with me, wanted to watch those baby blues go wild again, so I settled instead for some slow, sexy kisses, an' he was just beginning to respond in kind--when I felt him grab hold of my shoulders and push me away.


    I froze right where I was, my hand still curled around his cock, feeling the beginning of panic in the back of my mind.

    "What?" I said.

    He repeated. "Not now."

    Trouble. I should guessed it could happen. If he felt bad about our affair before, then this could turn out to be the guilt trip of a lifetime. Well, at least I had ten years experience to back me up...all we had to do was find the cause behind it. Step one, get the pair of us onto firmer ground.

    "You're right," I said, calmly as I could.

    "I am?" I sensed him looking at me. He hadn't expected that.

    "Yeah. Last night was terrific--" I stopped long enough to give him the Blue Ribbon Starsky Leer, then, "But now we need to have that talk."

    "Don't you think it's a bit late for that?"

    I ignored the sarcasm in his voice and began to dress. "Fine conversation we woulda had, me with my concentration in my pants. You oughta know what I'm like by now. Gonna begrudge me a little reassurance?"

    "Reassurance? Of what?"

    "That you still wanted me that way. Give me somethin' to fight for."

    He laughed, but this time there was no pleasure in it. "What you mean is, it's harder for me to back down now."

    "I never said that--"

    "But it's true. Last night I think I could've walked away from you.... Now, I'm not so sure."

    The little thread of doubt in his voice hurt like hell, but I'd made up my mind--I wasn't going down without a struggle.

    "Get your pants on," I said. "I'll fix us some coffee."

    The kitchen clock told me it was three forty-five in the morning. I pulled back the drapes--it was still dark outside. Cold, too; there'd been fresh snow in the night. Ten minutes later he came outta the bedroom, his hair all wet from the shower. How many more ways was he gonna find to hurt me?

    "Find everything okay?" he asked.

    "Uh-huh. You re as predictable as ever, babe." I poured the coffee an' pushed his cup across the table.

    "What's that supposed to mean?"

    "Just what it says. A place for everythin', an' like that." He didn't answer.

    We sat in silence for a long time, drinking our way through the pot of coffee, Hutch chomping on some stale cookies I found at the back of the cupboard. There was a distance between us, like casual acquaintances with nothing to say once the usual amenities are dispensed with. Anyone watching us woulda found it hard to believe we'd been lovers so long. All the fancy speeches I'd been practicing vanished into thin air; this needed honesty, not clever words.

    "Hutch please..." I said at last. "I can't take this hate between us.... It's gonna work out."

    "You think?"

    "Matter of fact, yes, I do."

    He answered with a sigh, shaking his head. "Wish I had your confidence." Without warning the anger was back, brutal, narrowing his eyes to glittering slits. "Why the hell did you come looking for me?!"

    Honesty. "I told you already. I--"

    "Not that! I mean the real reason, damnit!"

    I was gettin' mad now.... Never did like being called a liar, 'specially by him. "That is the real reason.... 'Less you can think of a better one. Hutch, we were lovers for four years--I happen to think that's worth fighting for."

    His eyes were cold, an' when he spoke I felt that butcher's knife in my heart again. "That why you gave me that little ultimatum? You or Alison, that's what you said."

    "No!" I could handle his bitterness, his accusations, but no way was I gonna sit there an' let him twist my words to suit his needs. "I said that if you and Alison had somethin' special goin' I wasn't gonna stand in your way."

    "Same thing--"

    "Uh-uh. The choice was yours, lover.... I just never thought you'd walk out without another word."

    "Would you have listened if I'd tried?"

    Would I? Maybe not--l don't know. Never was much good at hindsight. But the ball was back in my court, an' Hutch was waiting for an answer. I reached across the table, covered his hand with mine, grateful when he didn't pull away

    "Talk to me now, love. Tell me what happened.... Make me understand."

    "I can't--"

    But I insisted. I had to, 'cause now I knew what was wrong. In all those weeks in the hospital, and after, we'd never really talked about the shooting, how it was gonna change us. Oh, we talked about the event, about Gunther an' his motives, an', about all the things we were gonna do when I was well again--but we never discussed how it would affect us. There'd always been a kinda unspoken fear of the risks before--somethin' all cops learn to live with in time--but when the fear becomes a reality it can do weird things to your sense of perspective. Fancy words? Maybe.... Only another cop could really understand what I mean.

    "What's the point in talking?" he asked. "We've been through it all before--too many times." He pulled away then, and sat back, putting distance between us, like he was tryin' to protect himself from the truth.

    "But not like this," I told him. "There was always a chance before, room to hope. This time the odds were stacked against us, babe. My death wasn't a was a fact. I died.... How can that not change us?"

    "You pulled through--"

    How could I hope to make him understand what it was like? You just can't put that kinda fear into words of one syllable. Just thinkin' about it, even now, scares the hell outta me. His next question wasn't any easier to answer-- Did I remember much about it? I didn't need to ask what. There wasn't much to tell; darkness...a gradual slipping away into nothing...cold...empty...alone. When I came 'round later, an' they told me what happened, I was terrified.

    "So was I," he confessed softly. The dam burst then, all the pain and the fear, the nightmares he'd suffered, the doubts--for himself and for me. I saw those weeks the way I had through Alison's eyes, when she came to me and tole me what he'd been through. The waiting outside the ICU, watching those damn monitors for any hint of change, never being told what was going on. "He's holding on," the only news they gave him. Dobey'd done his best to help, but he had other cases to consider, other men to organize. Even Huggy could only do so much, he had his own life to lead. No wonder, when Alison came along, offered to share the load, Hutch'd jumped at the chance. I was so high on painkillers half the time I didn't know what month it was, let alone which day. Now an' then I'd wake up, an' he'd be sittin' there beside me...but I was never sure how long he'd been there, or how often. I guess, in a way, she was standing in for me, helping him through the way I'd always done in the past, till he could cope with the world again.

    "Why didn't you tell me before?" I asked. "It woulda saved all this...."

    He closed his eyes, like he was in pain, an' it was all I could do to keep from goin' to him right then. "Don't you understand yet?" he whispered. "You wanted more than I could give, Starsky. You think I don't know what was going through your head while you were in the hospital? All that talk about how it was time we stopped fooling around and took our feelings seriously.... Have you got any idea what they would've done to us?"

    "They needn't have known--"

    "No? Would've looked kind of odd when we moved in together, don't you think? We might as well have taken out an ad in the paper-- 'David Starsky and Ken Hutchinson wish to announce....' That's what you wanted, wasn't it? But you didn't stop to think how I felt, Starsk. That's why I had to get away, give us time to get over the shock. Alison was a--convenient excuse. I didn't plan on things going wrong...."

    There were no words for what I felt then. All the pieces were clicking into place like cogs in a well-oiled machine. In trying to hang on to the one thing that had given me a reason to pull through, I'd come close to destroying it. With so much pressure no wonder he ran. I guess I woulda done the same. Suddenly I saw all the plans I'd made, all the wild dreams turn to dust. I was going to lose him....

    "You still want it, don't you?" he asked, an' I knew he didn't need an answer. All I could do was nod. What he said next was like a door slamming in my face. "I can't go back, Starsk. I can't face losing you again."

    There were tears in his voice again--but there was also something else, a tiny thread of--challenge. Hutch was throwing the ultimatum back in my face, only this time the choice was between my job and my love for him.

    "We can make it," I told him.

    "Can we? I don't know. You remember Butch and Sundance?" Did I? I'd dragged him to see that movie a couple dozen times, kiddin' him it was really Grandpa Starsky an' Grandpa Hutch.... "That part, where the schoolteacher says she'll do anything for them except watch them die.... That's us, Starsk. I've watched you die once, and it almost-- I can't go through it again."

    I'd always wanted to be a cop, right from the time I was a kid, back in New York. It was never easy, but I made it, hung onto it through all the crud, stayed with it even when I couldn't work the streets anymore. Between the army and the police force I'd given close on twenty years--all my adult life--tryin' to make the world a better place. What did it get me? Not a lot when you think about it, except the satisfaction that at least I was doing my 'bit.' Maybe it was time I took a little somethin' for myself.

    "You won't," I told him. "We'll go someplace new, safe.... 'Bout time we both settled down. I'm gettin' too old for this."


    But I was on a roll. "How 'bout that farm your Grandpa left you? You think a coupla city boys like us could make it work? You can teach me how to milk a cow...."

    That got him to his feet, and I could see the laughter hiding behind the frown, just waiting to be coaxed out.

    "Starsky! Will you hold up a minute? I haven't agreed to anything yet."

    "So agree."

    "It's not that easy--"

    "Hutch...." This time I wasn't gonna let him back down. "Do you still love me?" I already knew the answer, but I wanted to make him say it out loud.

    He smiled then, for the first time since we woke up. "Never stopped," he said.

    "Then say 'yes'," I couldn't take much more of the goofing around but what he said next yanked the floor out from under me.

    "You'll be asking me to marry you next."

    It was meant as a joke, I could tell by the sparkle in his eyes, even though he musta known what was running through my head. Okay, so put like that it maybe sounds a little corny, but that depth of commitment, with all the promises that went with it, was exactly what I did want.

    "Would you?" I had to know. He was right, it was somethin' I'd wanted all along--maybe even from that first night--but if he could accept it now, with all the problems it was gonna bring, then we really could make a future. He didn't say anything, didn't need to, the answer was there in his eyes, and in the way he kissed me.

    We stayed another week in the city, makin' plans, gettin' to know each other again. Then it was back to LA for just long enough to tie up the loose ends of our old life...and rescue Huggy from the greenery. The last night there we had dinner with Alison. Afterwards we walked her home, left her at the door like we did the night of the Brahms concert. I think she understood.


    Now we start each day with birdsong instead of sirens. There's trees and flowers instead of concrete an' glass; scarecrows not psychos, and the only 'bad guys' we get to chase are Mrs. Taylor's goats. I'm happy. He's happy.... It works.


    Know anyone who wants to buy a coupla used guns?

The End