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Part Two



Charlotte Frost

Part Three

    We might not have gotten much sleep, but I felt all rested when I woke up. I was sleeping on my stomach, and when I opened my eyes Hutch was on his back, his head turned toward me like he was watching me. He looked wide awake, too.

    I couldn't help but smile at him. "Mornin'."

    He smiled, too; that real soft expression overtaking his face.

    I knew we had to talk about it, but I wanted to make it clear with the tone of my voice that nothin' was ever gonna make me regret it. I raised my head. "How'd that happen?"

    I think he must have been thinkin' about that, because he was ready with an answer. But first he put his hand in the middle of my back, beneath the covers. "We were ready for it."

    If he had all the answers, he was gonna have to share them. "Why now? How come we haven't been doin' this for years and years? Or month and months?"

    His voice was all tender and soft. "Because we weren't ready yet."

    He said it like it made the most perfect sense in the world, and I believed him. I raised up a little more. "What time is it?"

    "Going on seven."

    I'd thought it would be later. "What time do people get up around here?"

    "Seven-thirty, eight o'clock. My mother will probably get up a little early since she has guests to feed."

    "She do all the cookin'?"

    Hutch looked surprised. "Of course."

    "Oh. I thought there might be a maid or somethin'."

    He shook his head, then snorted like it was a dumb thought. "It's just the two of them, Starsk."

    "Oh. I guess so."

    Now, lookin' back, it seems real funny that I didn't think about it sooner. But, honest, I didn't. And when the thought did cross my mind, my eyes got real big, and I sort of raised up in the bed, on my elbow. "I've gotta sneak back to my room." I mean, geez, what would his parents think? His sister think? If they'd known what had gone on in that room during the night? I didn't want them to think any worse of Hutch than they already did. His parents, I mean. Somehow, I didn't think it would be as big a deal to his sister, but still a shock....

    Hutch laughed a little, but it was real gentle this time. "Don't worry about it. They won't come in here."

    He seemed to be missin' the point. "But if I'm not in my room -- if they see me come out of here -- they'll know...." I turned on my side and sort of sat up against the pillow.

    He closed his eyes and shook his head. "No they won't. They won't notice anything. And if they do, they won't say anything. They just won't." His voice seemed to be saying trust me.

    I started to argue, but then I realized how it must have seemed. And I didn't want him gettin' the wrong idea. "Hey," I whispered, reaching to run a finger down his cheek, "it's not that I'm ashamed of anything we did. Not at all. I just don't wanna complicate things with your family."

    "I don't care about that, Starsk. They don't care, either." There it was again, him sayin' it so casual, like when we were in the men's room at the restaurant yesterday. No anger, or grief, or bitterness, or hatred. Just a blunt statement of fact.

    I moved over to kiss him, but he put a hand on my mouth. Then he laughed a little. "You don't want to do that." And he sort of rubbed at his mustache.

    I was close enough to get a bit of a whiff, and I wasn't gonna argue. It's funny how things that seem like such a turn-on at certain times can seem downright gross at other times.

    Well, fine, maybe I couldn't kiss his beautiful mouth, but there was plenty more of him to love. I started to curl against his side, and put my head on his chest, but then all of a sudden I had a big urge to just take him in my arms. So, I did. I grabbed him and rolled back with him on top of me and just put my arms around him and squeezed real hard, and I felt myself get all emotional again.

    "I think I'm gonna cry," I said in a voice that came out real small.

    His reply was so tender, and he was rubbing at my shoulders. "Huh? Why?"

    "Because I love you so damn much." I wasn't exactly crying, but I sort of sniffed.

    He scooted down a little, and I loosened my hold so he could. Then he kissed me right in the center of my throat. And then he moved down, kissing along my chest. And then he sort of sucked at one of my nipples... or whatever the hell they're called.

    Man, it was great. But it had only been a few hours since I'd last gotten off, and it seemed like too much of an effort to do it again. Especially when the bed was so warm and cozy and we could be just layin' there being lazy.

    I sort of patted my hands along his back -- not rubbing -- trying to keep it from getting too intense. And then he stopped and just lay down against me, like he didn't quite have the energy, either.

    We sort of lay like that for awhile. Then he raised up a little and put his hands on my cheeks and just looked at me, all serious. "I love you.'"

    Well, hell, it's not like he's never said it before. Or even not said it in a long time. But it just meant so much right then. And I thought it was important that I say something real meaningful, too. I mean, we had a future to think of.

    "Hutch," my voice was shakin' a little, "I don't want no one else. It's just me an' you, from now on. There ain't ever gonna be anyone else, for either of us."

    And, shit, he kissed me right then, like he couldn't help it. And I didn't really mind. In fact, I wouldn't let him go. And I put my hands on him and started rubbing... anywhere... everywhere. His cock was pretty soft, but he started groaning -- real deep-like -- when I rubbed across it. So, I kept rubbing. And he started arching against me and rubbing all over me, and we were kissing and kissing, and then licking and devouring, and I don't know what all happened, but we didn't get up until nearly nine o'clock.

* * *

    Hutch was in the shower when I came down the staircase. The house looked a lot brighter than the night before. The windows were all open, letting the summer sun stream in, and it all felt real cheerful.

    Mrs. H. came out of the kitchen. "Would you like some breakfast, David?"

    I grinned at her. "That'd be great. Thank you."

    "Come on in, then. I've got scrambled eggs and bacon, toast and pancakes."

    I followed her, loving the smell coming from the kitchen. I got the feeling she didn't normally go to such an extreme at breakfast, and she seemed to relish the break from the normal routine.

    So did I.

    "It must be Kenneth I hear in the shower," she said over her shoulder.

    "Yeah, he should be down soon." It kind of worried me that you could hear the shower all way up the stairs, down at the other end of the house. It made me wonder what else could be heard. But she didn't seem to behave funny, or anything. And I guess everyone was already downstairs when I had left Hutch's room to take my own shower.

    The kitchen was even brighter than the rest of the house. It was large, too, like it could comfortably seat eight or ten people. But it was just Mr. H., sitting there with the newspaper stretched out before him -- though he lowered it enough to nod at me -- and Suzette looked like she was finishing up her breakfast.

    "Good morning," she smiled at me, still kinda shy-like.

    "Good morning, Suzette."

    "Did you sleep all right, David?" Mrs. H. asked from where she was bent over the stove.

    "Yes, I did."

    She turned long enough to pull out a chair. "Here, sit right down. I'll have the eggs warmed up in a moment. Orange juice?"

    I nodded, surprised that she seemed to want to hover so much. She hadn't seemed like that kind of person.


    I raised the cup that was sitting at my place. "Please. Thank you."

    Suzette looked at me with her bright, blue eyes. "Do you and Kenneth want to take my car today to drive around?"

    "I didn't know you drove here." Mrs. H. placed two slices of toast before me, and I reached for the butter.

    "I didn't. But I rented a car, because I wanted to see a lot of my old friends. But I've already done most of that. If you two could drop me off at my friend Nancy's, you could have the car the whole day."

    "That'd be great. Hutch mentioned something about wanting to show me places today."

    Mr. H. lowered his paper to sip his coffee. His breakfast had already been cleared. "You a sports fan, David?"


    "What's your favorite?"

    I shrugged, glad that he was finally talking to me. "Just depends on whatever the season is. I get off on all of it. You?"

    "I'm a Twins fan all the way back," he stated proudly.

    "Yeah, Hutch follows them, too. It's too bad they aren't on national television very often. He keeps track of the Vikings, too. Fran Tarkenton was a big favorite."

    Mr. H. made a grumping noise... sorta like Hutch does. "Tarkenton's always been over-rated. People always made so much out of all the records he's broken, but he did it throwing those short little baby passes. Anyone ought to be able to complete those."

    I shrugged. To each his own. "Hutch likes it that he went into commentating when he retired. He doesn't come off like a big, dumb jock, like most of those ex-athletes do."

    Mrs. H. put a plate before me. "There you are, David."

    I smiled up at her, because the smell of bacon and eggs was so wonderful right then. "Thank you, Ma'am. You're a real sweetheart."

    She smiled, seemed a little embarrassed, then turned away. "I'll get your pancakes. Will two be enough?"

    "Sure." I started to dig in.

    "You follow hockey?" Mr. H. asked.

    Mrs. H. put down the pancakes and sort of nudged her husband on the shoulder. "Really, Richard, must we talk about sports?"

    It did seem a bit ridiculous that we had to make such forced conversation, though after yesterday I hadn't expected much else. However, it would be easy to change the subject. I sort of wriggled in my chair to get more comfortable. "So," I addressed both of them, "tell me what Hutch was like as a child."

    Mr. H. glanced back at his newspaper. Mrs. H. sat down with a few strips of bacon. "Oh," she said, "there really isn't much to tell. He was a pretty good boy. Serious, you know."

    I couldn't believe she'd just leave it at that. I toyed with my breakfast. "Well, surely, he at least occasionally got into trouble."

    "Damn near set the house on fire once," Mr. H said firmly, lowering his paper again.

    That was something I hadn't expected. "Really?"

    "It was an accident," Mrs. H. put in quickly. I noticed that Suzette seemed to hunker down, like she was trying to make herself as small as possible. She was slowly chewing on the last of her pancakes, like she was too full to eat them but was determined to finish them.

    "Accident or not," Mr. H. went on in a firm voice, "he damned near left us without a home."

    "What happened?" I asked. "How old was he?"

    "He was twelve -- old enough to know better. We got him that damn chemistry set he'd been wanting for his birthday, and two days later he threw away some chemicals in a waste basket and it caught on fire. Thank God I was around to smell the smoke and put it out in time."

    I let out a breath. "It was only a trash can fire?" I asked hopefully.

    "'Only'," Mr. H. snorted. "The smoke damaged the wall. We had to have it repainted."

    "Did you make him repaint it?" I tried to ask casually. It seemed like a punishment to fit the crime.

    "Of course not. I wanted it done right. I called in a professional and made sure Kenneth paid the bill."

    "Well," I shrugged, trying not to sound judgmental and to keep things reasonably cheerful, "I bet he never did anything like that again."

    Mr. H. snorted and went back to his paper. "You're damn right he didn't. That was the last he saw of the chemistry set."

    "Well," I said again, determined to not over-react, "I'll bet that took care of any ambitions he made have had to become a chemist."

    "Oh, it was just a phase," Mrs. H. put in quickly.

    Mr. H. was still looking at his paper. "Kenneth didn't have much ambition for anything."

    Real quiet, and matter-of-fact like, I said, "He does when it's important enough to him."

    Mr. H.'s voice softened a little and his eyes were still on that damn paper. "Obviously, you've seen a side of him that I haven't."

    "Obviously." It probably shoulda been left at that, but I couldn't help but add, "He's a damn good cop, you know. Famous, actually. I mean, within our precinct. Even outside it."

    If he was impressed, I couldn't tell, and Suzette suddenly said, "Are you famous, too?"

    I shrugged, feeling kinda self-conscious. "Well, we are partners. Everything we've accomplished, we've accomplished together. So...," I trailed off so I wouldn't have to outright brag on myself.

    Mr. H. seemed to fold his paper for a final time. He looked at me. "I'm glad you've helped him along, David." He shook his head and made this big sigh. "I was always afraid that he wouldn't turn out to be much of anything. He's always been stubborn and strong-willed and never had any appreciation for the things my wife and I have tried to give him. I know a certain amount of rebellion is normal in children, but after all these years, Kenneth has never come around to appreciating his family -- his roots -- like I'd always hoped."

    There was so much I wanted to say to that, that I had no idea where to start. Of course, a part of me was very angry that Hutch was so misunderstood. And, yet, the very fact that Richard Hutchinson was able to talk to me about it -- when he otherwise said so little -- showed that he actually had an interest in the subject. He did care, at least a little bit. So, I tried to keep my voice level and calm and help him understand the stranger that was his son.

    I pushed away my plate and folded my hands on the table top. "First of all," I said steadily, "my 'helping him along' runs both ways." His eyes dropped from my gaze, but he was listening. "Hutch would be dead if it weren't for me. And I would be dead if it weren't for him. That's how partnerships work. And everyone in the LA police department knows that Hutch and I have the best partnership of all, because we do more than protect each other. We sometimes communicate without words. We like each other, respect each other, and love each other." I put a hand on my chest. "If something happened to Hutch -- if he died, or even if somehow he wasn't my partner anymore -- there'd be this big hole that nothing else could fill. You can't know what it's like, if you've never experienced it."

    Mr. H. didn't say anything. He didn't seem particularly impressed, nor did he act like he was disregarding what I'd said. He just sipped his coffee and reached for a piece of bacon.

    And then I felt frustrated because all I'd talked about was our partnership... what we were to each other as cops. I wanted him to understand the person that Hutch was. So tender, warm, and caring, and....

    We all looked up when we heard Hutch trotting down the stairs. Trotting. Really. I would almost say he was humming, but the noise he was making wasn't quite that coherent.

    "Good morning, everyone," he greeted as he entered.

    Mrs. H. was getting up. "Would you like some breakfast, Kenneth?"

    "Sure, Mother." Hutch came behind me and slapped me on the shoulders. "Good morning there, pal." He ruffled my hair.

    I looked back at him and grinned. Ah, hell, even after the shower, and being in the same room with them, he looked all soft and happy and in love. Jesus Christ. He was just radiating with it.

    "Kenneth," Mrs. H said a bit sternly, "let David finish his breakfast. Here's some orange juice." She patted a chair across from me. "Come over here and sit down."

    Hutch ruffled my hair again, then turned away. Cheerful as hell, he said, "Whatever you say, Mother. I know how uncomfortable it makes you to see people love each other."

    It took a moment for his comment to register. Then my mouth sorta dropped open. Mr. H. looked up from the paper he'd pick up again, and Suzette just kept looking from me to Hutch and back again. And Mrs. H. put together Hutch's breakfast that much faster, like it would keep her from havin' to think about what he'd said.

    And I wasn't sure what he was tryin' to say. I mean, surely, he wasn't trying to hint at what had happened last night. I can't imagine him having any desire to let his parents in on that little secret. Yeah, he may not go out of his way to hide it, but he surely wouldn't flaunt it.

    No, I think he meant... well, the 'just love' stuff. Not havin' to do with last night, or sex, or anything. And it seemed like he wanted to shout it to the world... or at least to his family. And, to me, it showed that he really cared.

    But I shouldn't have been so concerned about whatever point he was tryin' to make, because Mr. H. went back to his paper, Mrs. H. served him breakfast and started cleaning the counter, and Suzette went back to coaxing down those final three bites of her pancakes.

    And there threatened to be a big silence. And I didn't want that. And Hutch was just sitting across from me, beaming at me, not at all caring that he had made everyone uncomfortable. Really, I had no intention of making everyone uncomfortable, either. But I just couldn't let Hutch's comment get away without a response. I grinned at him and announced, "I love you, too, buddy."

    He grinned back and dived into his breakfast.

    No one else paid us any attention.

* * *

    We dropped Suzette off at her friend's and drove her car into the city. Hutch showed me all the schools he'd attended. I think it would have been nice to try to visit his old teachers, but since it was Saturday we didn't have the opportunity. Plus he said he wasn't sure if any of them were still teaching in the area. He showed me some of the houses where friends had lived. Most of his friends' families didn't live there anymore, and of the ones that did, he really didn't have any desire to stop and say "Hello". I was relieved, because sometimes it can be awkward trying to have a polite conversation with people you haven't seen in years and years, especially when you don't really care about each other anymore. And I sorta wanted Hutch to myself, anyways.

    He was still radiating with happiness throughout the day. He showed me places -- the malt shop, the little theater, the dime store -- where he used to hang around town. Showed me where some places used to be before they were torn down and replaced by something else. Showed me places that used to be open fields that he played in and were now occupied by big office buildings. And the more he talked, the more he remembered. And the more he remembered, the more he talked, and the recollections fed on themselves. It was really neat, watching it all unfold. I felt like I was on top of the world, because he just... well, he just seemed so damn happy, chattering away. I mean, Hutch is the greatest guy on this whole damn Earth. But when he's happy like that, well, hell, he's just so damn beautiful.

    We stopped for lunch at an old A&W that had survived the onslaught of fast-food restaurants. After stuffing ourselves with greasy burgers and fries -- I mean, there weren't really any other options and besides Hutch wasn't complaining -- he finally started to wind down and looked a little peaked.

    "Want me to drive?" I asked him. "You look like you didn't get enough sleep."

    He grinned at me. "No less than you." But then he rubbed a hand over his face. "No, I want to show you one other place. We'll get out and take a break there."

    I flipped my shades down over on my eyes. "Okay."

    We drove out of the city. Eventually, we reached farmland. But there was forest areas, too. Finally, he stopped the car on a little country road. No one was in sight.

    "Still here," he said with satisfaction. He was looking past a barbed wire fence, into a group of trees that surrounded a little meadow.

    I looked at him, waiting for more.

    He wasn't chattering like he was before, and he seemed very mellow as he led the way toward the fence. "This land used to be owned by the Robertsons. The son was well-liked at school and he was always having other kids over to play around in the meadow here. When I was old enough to drive, I'd still come here by myself to think things through."

    "Had a lot on your mind then, huh?"

    He didn't answer, but parted two strands of barbed wire, and I crawled between then. Then I did the same favor for him, and then we were walking toward the circle of trees.

    I looked at him. "So, did you ever want to be a chemist?"

    He took off his sunglasses and turned to me, frowning like I'd said something really stupid. "A chemist?" His voice was all puzzled.

    "Yeah." I had my hands stuck in the back pockets of my jeans. "Your father was talking this morning about how you almost burned down the house."

    He snorted. "That was damned nice of him."

    I shrugged. "Well, I sorta of started it. You know, asking about you as a kid."

    We were in the shady clearing now, beautiful green trees surrounding us, and Hutch's voice was a bit tight. "Bet he didn't have much to say."

    "No. Neither did your mother."

    His frown hardened and I felt kinda bad that I'd started talking about it. But since we were on the subject....

    "Hey," I said, moving to stand directly in front of him, my hands on my hips, "what made you say what you said this morning to your mother?"

    He knew exactly what I meant, and he seemed kinda embarrassed, his smile all sheepish. "Nothing," he told me. Then his smile faded. "It was the truth, you know. She never could stand to see me love anybody. Even anything." He looked at the ground, grinding the toe of his boot in the dirt. Then, he looked back up at me. "You know, even that damned dog of mine." He shook his head, snorting. "The minute I'd kneel down to hug it, she would be all over me about germs and getting hair on my clothes and that sort of thing."

    I felt my heart sink. But I couldn't hate them. They were too pathetic to hate. Carefully, I suggested, "Maybe she was just jealous, Hutch."

    He snorted so harshly I was tempted to offer him a handkerchief. "Jealous? I don't think so, buddy." He shook a finger at me. "And I'll tell you why. When I was six years old, I was such a stupid little shit that I actually went up to her one day and hugged her. I'd seen one of my friends do it to his mother, and she seemed to like it, so...." He took a deep breath. "And you know what she did? She pushed me away, said I was wrinkling her dress."

    I looked away and muttered, "Her and her damn clothes."

    "No shit."

    It all seemed so sad. And so unfair. I was turned to one side, facing away from Hutch, but I reached back and put my hand on his stomach. Curiously, I asked, "Where did you learn about love, Hutch?"

    He didn't even hesitate. "From you."

    It sorta annoyed me that he was trying to be flattering and I looked back at him. "No, really."

    He sort of smiled then, and nodded. "Really, Starsk," he said, his voice all soft.

    Well, okay, I realized then that that's what he believed, but it wasn't the right answer. "No, Hutch, you learned it before me. Otherwise, you wouldn't have been able to love me, because you wouldn't have known how."

    His beautiful brows furrowed, like he was trying real hard to think about it. Then he suddenly sat down right there on the grass, his arms stretched out behind him.

    I, of course, sat down beside him.

    He shook his head, all serious. "No, Starsk. I didn't know how to love you, not at first." He tilted his head to one side. "Don't you remember?"

    Now it was my turn to think real hard. I tried to remember how it'd been all those years ago. We'd met at the police academy. Then, when we were both in uniform and assigned to different precincts, we tried to keep in touch and socialized together, saw each other maybe every other week or so. I got promoted to detective about two months before Hutch, and we'd already discussed by then that we would request to be assigned together just as soon as his promotion came through.

    We were just friends back then. None of that life and death stuff. I'm not even sure if it could be said we genuinely loved each other. Our relationship was still... well, kinda shallow... compared to now, anyway. We always talked a lot, but rarely about anything particularly personal, or deep. I mean, hell, he was married. Married people don't have a lot of room for single friends.

    I realized my eyes had narrowed, drawing my eyebrows together, just as Hutch's had done a few minutes ago, because I realized something that had never occurred to me before.

    The divorce was the turning point. All that bitterness and hurting and aching and needing. The marriage slowly crumbled, and so did Hutch. Really, it was like there were bits and pieces of 'im scattered all over the place. Bitter anger one moment. Heavy remorse the next. The iron determination to keep them together. The weary depression that they could only survive by being apart. It took eight months for it to happen. One morning he greeted me with a strained, trembling, "Van and I are getting a divorce." And then all that we've-made-up, I'll-try-harder, we're-trying-a-trial-separation shit that came in between. And then one day it was truly over.

    "Hutch." My voice sounded hushed to my own ears. I was staring at the ground in disbelief at my discovery, but through the corner of my eye I saw him look at me, waiting.

    "Hutch," I snapped my fingers, "I know exactly when it was -- the moment I started to love you." I looked at him. "I mean the moment when we weren't just 'good friends' anymore, but... but special together."

    He leaned closer to me, his face all serious and intrigued. "Yeah?" He said it like he couldn't believe it could really be all that black and white.

    I wouldn't have thought so, either, generally speaking. Nevertheless there it was before me. But even though I was kinda excited about having realized it, I felt bad that...well, for him it wouldn't be a pleasant memory. So my voice was real gentle. "Remember the day your divorce was final?"

    He snorted again, tossing a small pebble in front of him. "Of course."

    "It was then, Hutch."

    He looked sharply at me. Then disbelief. "You mean you were jealous of her?"

    Ah, man, that's not what I meant. "No, Hutch," I said firmly, but still gentle. "Remember, that night, when I came over to your place?"

    He looked down and his mouth sorta twisted. I couldn't tell if it was a grimace or a smile. I guess maybe both. And then he sorta relaxed. "Of course."

    "It was then, Hutch. Because you trusted me enough to... to let me see it how much it hurt. You didn't hold anything back. And... and, well, I know this sounds kinda weird considerin' how painful it all was, but it made me feel almost... I dunno, proud, I guess. That you trusted me that much. That, you know, you were willin' to let me be there for you."

    Man, it had been a scene. Almost like with Gillian; in some ways, worse. Because he had all night to down a few beers and bawl his eyes out. Not that it took all night.

    "You let me hold you," I went on softly. "I mean, most people, even when they're really devastated, still hold something back. I don't know what it is about people. It seems like we're always afraid that if we give too much of ourselves away, we'll somehow lose something, be less of a person; or maybe we're afraid we won't find ourselves anymore. And, you know, we men have all that macho shit to deal with on top of that." I tried to sum it up. He was listening, staring at the ground. "It made you the strongest person I've ever known. And, I guess, I was sorta in awe of you for it."

    He looked at me slowly. His expression was all soft, but his brow was still furrowed like he was thinkin' real hard. "S-strong?" he sorta stuttered. "Jesus, pal, you were the one with all the strength that night. And it was because you were so strong, that I guess I felt safe enough to go ahead and," he shrugged like he wasn't happy with his choice of words, "be weak." Then he nodded. "But that's what I meant... about learning about love from you. If Van and I ever had a scene like that, it would always end up in the bedroom. Ultimately, any strong feelings -- love or anger -- lead to that goal. There was never time for 'just love'." And then he looked all serious again, like he was thinkin' it through.

    "You know," I said, "I suppose it really isn't surprising that you married a real sensual person like her. Because your parents -- your mother, at least -- had that prudish attitude about sex and stuff. I mean, someone like Vanessa must have been a revelation."

    He sorta smiled then. "She was." Then he paused, frowning. "It all was. Sex, I mean. Once I discovered it, I went after it in a big way. Hell," he grunted, "I must hold some kind of adolescent record for beating off."

    I glanced at him sideways. "I doubt it."

    He turned his head to look at me. "But do you understand what I mean? About the love? Real love? I didn't know about it before you."

    He wanted me to agree with him, but I wasn't sure I could. "But you were ready for it, Hutch. You could have pushed me away that night. You still could have... felt like you did, but not let me near you, turned away from me and cried by yourself." When I stopped, it suddenly seemed funny to me that we were talkin' about that night in an abstract way, being all objective-like. Because it hadn't been that way at all. Lots of grief, lots of sadness, lots and lots of loss, but also lots of warmth and love. I never believed that stuff about divorce being more devastating that death, until that night.

    "I guess," I said, "in simplest terms, after that night I felt more protective of you, Hutch. I just -- "

    "And I was more protective of you," he interrupted. "You were special to me." But then he looked at me, his mouth all curved into this warm smile. "But then you'd always been so damn lovable. So full of life. Man, you're something." He leaned forward, and I met him, and we kissed. But we kept it light.

    He flopped back on the grass, a hand behind his head. I didn't waste any time in joining in. I curled up next to him, and laid my head on his chest.

    His voice was enticing. "You going to sleep with me tonight?" His hand was furrowing through my hair. He knows I'll do anything when he's petting me like that.

    "Yeah, I guess I had plans for sneaking in your room tonight."

    "You don't have to sneak in, Starsk," he said flatly.

    I hoisted up on my elbow, leaning on his chest. "Whaddya mean? Maybe you think they don't care, but I wouldn't have thought you'd want to advertise it."

    "It wouldn't be advertising. If you come into my room tonight, they aren't going to know why you're there. For all they know, we'd just be talking."

    Well, okay. We were quiet for a while, and then I felt I wanted to keep talking about it. "Hutch?" I was turned away from his face, my head resting in the middle of his chest.

    "Hmm?" His hand was rubbing up and down my body.

    "Think we woulda ever done it, if we hadn't come here?"

    "Sure we would have."

    I was surprised by his confidence. I pulled back to look at him. "Really? When?"

    He pressed my head back down against him. "Probably the next time we slept together. I don't think it would have been long in coming."

    "You'd been thinking about it?"

    "In a way." He seemed a little amused. "The back of my mind was, anyway. The front of my mind didn't think about it too much. But I know a part of me knew it was just a matter of time." His hand paused. "Did I shock you last night?"

    I had to chuckle. "The front of my mind was kinda surprised. But not the back of my mind."

    He seemed relieved. "I was going to say that you didn't act like someone who'd been caught off guard."

    "It just seemed natural." And as I said the words, it dawned on me how simple they were. And how true. And I knew right then that I wasn't ever gonna worry about the reasons anymore. But.... "Do you think we're fags?"

    He sort of pushed at my arm, scolding-like. "Don't use that word. It's an ugly word."

    I was kinda surprised that he felt that strongly about it. I tried to be reasonable. "Well," I shrugged, "if it's true...."

    "If your skin was black, would you call yourself a nigger?"



    Okay, I saw his point. I sighed. "Does that mean we're gay, then?"

    He seemed kinda irritated with the conversation. "I don't know. I don't think so. I mean, I don't want to go to a bar and look at other men." Then his voice softened, and his hand stroked my back. "Just you. If other people want to call that 'gay', then fine. I don't care what other people choose to call it. I just want to live it -- live life with you."

    Aw, heck. I snuggled against him more. But then I realized that, even in the summer, the shade in Minnesota is a lot nippier than what we were used to. Hutch must have been thinking the same thing, because he suddenly sat up and tugged on my hand. "Come on, there's a neat view on top of the hill."

    He dropped my hand before too long, because his legs were so much longer than mine. I followed him as we walked past the circle of trees, then came upon a big field with tall, yellow grass. Maybe it was a wheat field, or hay, or something. Hey, I grew up in the city.

    There was a hill to the left and we climbed up it. It wasn't a very big hill, but it let you look down at all the farmland, and the woods and the trees, and the little houses. In the distance, you could see where the city was stretching out.

    "I always liked this view," Hutch said softly. "There's so much variety. It's like seeing all the possibilities of life stretched out before you."

    Well, to be honest, it didn't look all that grand to me, but I guess to a boy who was lookin' for any way to get away from home, it probably seemed like the whole world.

    "Ever want to be a farmer?" I asked.

    "Oh, I think I was in that phase for a while." He looked at me, his hands stuffed in the back pockets of his jeans. He was so beautiful, standing tall in the tall, yellow grass, the yellow sun reflecting off his yellow hair. "When I was maybe thirteen, fourteen, the idea of living off the land held some appeal." He looked me in the eye. "I was so idealistic then."

    I gave him a sideways glance. "You still are."

    He thought about that, then grinned a little. "I guess so." He looked at me. "Thanks for seeing everything with me today, Starsk."

    He wasn't kidding. It seemed real important to him. It was to me, too. I nodded. "My pleasure."

    He turned away then, starting down the hill. And when our heights were level, I just suddenly had an impulse, and I sorta threw myself at him from behind, and wrapped my arms around him.

    He wobbled a second, like he might lose his balance, but then held steady. And then he just dropped his head and leaned back, accepting it.

    I held him real close and squeezed him real firm -- but not hard, not like this morning or last night. I didn't feel desperate or anything. I just wanted to feel him in my arms. And, well, shit, Hutch is just so squeezable. I mean, he's like this big bundle of flesh that just melts right against you. And, honest, he really melts. Like butter left in the sun. He just gets all squishy and mellow. And then you can do anything with 'im. Well, he lets me, anyway. If you have his trust, he'll turn his whole life over to ya for safe keeping. That's what I was talkin' about with the divorce. He just gave in to the grief and let me hold him while he fell apart. If I hadn't been holding him, he wouldn't have allowed himself to fall apart. And then he wouldn't have healed near as well. Because, you know, there's some old saying about something having to be shattered first before you can begin to rebuild it.

    And it's like that time he went through the heroin withdrawal. He was goin' nuts, wanting to get out of that room Huggy and I had him locked in. And then at one point he actually was tryin' to fight me to get out, but he was so weak you couldn't really even call it a struggle.

    And then he gave up and rested the top of his head against my chest.

    See, there was once, years ago, when a detective in the precinct brought in his little baby daughter to show her off to everyone. I don't know how old she was, but she was too young to walk or crawl. So he held her, her little butt resting on his arm, and showed her to everyone, as proud as can be. She had these big blue eyes and just sorta stared at everyone who had gathered around her. And then she got tired and laid her head against her daddy's shoulder. I mean, she was completely wore out, and her entire weight rested against him. And her father told us, "This is what it's all about, guys... when that head goes down."

    Now, I have to tell ya, I'm not really into babies. I'm not the kinda guy who likes to make a big fuss over them. And his statement didn't really mean anything to me at the time. But then when Hutch and me were in that room over Huggy's, and Hutch laid his head against my chest, I thought about that father and his baby daughter. And then I understood. It was the trust thing. The idea of someone giving in and completely turning themselves over to your safe-keeping.

    And that had been what Hutch was doing the night he fell apart after the divorce was final.

    And that's what he was doing now. Tucking in his chin and leaning back so I could hold him. Only, this was better than those other two times because there wasn't any grief or pain. Just love.

    I sorta rubbed at his chest and stomach. He couldn't do anything because his arms were pinned within my grasp, and I liked it that he could only receive and not give. He's already given a lot in his life.

    I loved having him against the front of my body, the sun warm on my back. Life just seemed so perfect right then. And I wanted it to last forever and ever.

    "Hutch?" My cheek was pressed against the warmth of him.

    He almost seemed asleep, though he was standin' up. "Hm?"

    "I meant what I said this morning... about there not bein' anyone else. I'm serious, I want us to always be together. I just," I swallowed then, as the worst scenario imaginable flittered across my mind. Maybe it was possible that I had presumed too much. "I just wanna make sure you're in agreement about it. I mean, before we go much further."

    He seemed to sorta wake up, and started to turn around. So I dropped my arms and I guess he wasn't prepared, because he had to take a quick step down the hill to keep his balance. And then he was sorta lookin' up at me.

    And he was wearing this little smile beneath his mustache, and he was so damn beautiful. And I couldn't help but wonder what I'd ever done to get on God's -- or whoever's -- good side so that He would let me have this person, and share almost my entire adult life with this person, and that this person would be there to save me when I got in a bad spot, and that this person would need me so I would never feel unimportant, and....

    Hutch reached up and brushed a finger along my chin. Gently and sweetly, he asked, "You wanting to get married?"

    Married? All of a sudden, I felt kind of embarrassed. "Well, I dunno," I said sort of loudly, because I was frustrated that there wasn't a word for what we wanted to be together. "What are people like you an' me 'posed to do to make a lifetime commitment?"

    He thought about that, his little smile all warm. Then he simply said, "Just make a commitment."

    "Well, okay," I told him, wondering why I thought it shouldn't be that simple. "I guess that's what I'm gettin' at. I wanna go all out. But I wanna be sure that you feel the same."

    The finger stroking my chin stopped. Then his whole hand -- and Hutch has large hands -- settled against my jaw. His fingers stretched out all along the side of my face, like he was holding it. He looked into my eyes and his voice was so soft. "There won't ever again be anyone else for the rest of my life."

    Aw, shit, I was gonna faint right there. I mean, hell. Even if you've been a good person, sometimes it's damn scary having everything you've always wanted. It just seemed too simple, too easy.

    But, dammit, now that I had him I wasn't ever, ever, ever gonna let him go.

    And I think I woulda fainted, too, except his eyes held me up. They were so intense, so deep, so sure.

    "Okay," I said. It came out a little meek. I'm not sure why. But then I wanted real bad to do something, instead of just standing there basking in the wonderfulness of it, because then maybe it would disappear before I had a chance to take it and lock it away where no one else could ever touch it. I had to take a deep breath, but then I asked, "So, when are we gonna have a honeymoon?"

    His finger reached to my nose, then dropped off the tip of it. "When we get back to LA. We'll still have a week and a half of vacation."

    I took another deep breath. "Okay."

    He took a few steps up so he was standin' almost beside me, and he took my hand. With concern, he asked, "You going to be all right?"

    I beamed at him. "Hutch, I'm more 'all right' than I've ever been in my whole entire life."

    He reached for me. "Come 'ere." And then suddenly he lifted me and was holding me tight against him, and he placed a real firm kiss just below my throat. I was startin' to get a hard-on, but I really didn't want to do anything right there. I'd done it outside once before, years ago, and it was more trouble than it was worth. But it could be fun anticipatin'....

    When my feet were back on the ground, I asked, "You wanna go all the way tonight?"

    His head shook. "Uh-uh," he said easily, like he'd already thought about it. "Wait until our honeymoon." He shrugged. "We'll be much more comfortable back at home." And, then, correctly reading the look on my face, he assured, "We can still play around until then."

    "Okay," I agreed with enthusiasm. We held hands as we made our way back to the car. I was feelin' real fond of the whole state of Minnesota right about then.

Part Four

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