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Part Six

Charlotte Frost


When Hutch awoke, the bedside clock read 4:00 am. He was facing the nightstand, on his side, and was aware of a body at his back. The overhead light was still on in the living room.

"You awake?" he heard Starsky whisper.


"How come?"

"Just woke up." Since Starsky's voice sounded clear, Hutch asked, "How come you're awake?"

He felt a shrug. "Just thinkin'."

Hutch shifted onto his back, tenderness kicking in. "Yeah?" he asked, reaching to draw the other closer. "About what?"

"Nothing in particular. Just nice stuff."

"What nice stuff?" Starsky's head was against his chest, and he loved feeling that weight.

"Just about what might happen now. Between us." Starsky raised his head to look at Hutch. "Not that either of us is obligated or anything. It just seems we could go to lots of nice places from here."

Hutch stroked up and down the bare skin of his partner's back. "I'd like that," he said, relieved that they could speak like this now without dancing in circles. Except...he reached up and brushed at Starsky's hair. "How far are you willing to go?"

"As far as we can. Eventually." Starsky leaned closer . "Don't see why we should rush into anything. Just take our time. Feel our way. You know," his face softened, "I didn't know...with a woman unless we were real experienced with each other."

Hutch nodded, agreeing with the need for caution before going all the way.

"Feeling better?" Starsky asked, snuggling against him. "I mean...more connected?"

The blond snorted with amusement, happy that his reply was true. "Yeah."

"Hutch?" Serious now.

Hutch furrowed his nose through those thick curls. "Mm?"

"'Member when I was kidnapped by Simon's goons?"

How could he forget? "Of course."

Starsky shifted so that he was now more on his back, his expression easier to see as he tilted his head to look up at Hutch. "Remember how it was? The first coupla days afterwards, I was just so happy to be alive. Feelin' terrific. And then, out of the blue, a few days later, it was like I felt...I dunno, like something was different. Like you said, I guess...disconnected. The world around me was all the same, but somethin' inside of me was...uneasy, I guess. Started feelin' like something real, real bad gonna happen. Felt tense all the time. Wanted to keep feeling inside my holster for my gun. Paranoid, you know?"

Hutch hugged him. "You got over it, buddy."

"I know. But..." Starsky trailed off, and then seemed to switch subjects. "Remember that time when we were all required to go to that seminar on that whachamacallit PTA syndrome?"

"PTSD," Hutch supplied automatically, telling himself that he shouldn't be surprised that his partner's thoughts had ended up there, since his own had as well. "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder."

Starsky picked up Hutch's hand and gently rubbed at the fingers. "Yeah. When we were sittin' there, listening to the doctors talk about the symptoms, I found myself thinking about those first few weeks after Simon. I thought, 'Maybe that's what I had.' Got over it pretty fast, though." His voice softened. "You were with me all the time. Gave me something solid to hang onto until those weird feelings went away, for good."

Hutch squeezed his shoulder. "I always knew you'd get better. I wasn't worried."

"Hutch?" Starsky's head was tilted back again. "Do you think that's what could be goin' on with you? Your whole system has been like...shocked...because of everything that happened at Milford's? And that's why you've been feelin' all out of whack?"

"It's crossed my mind," Hutch admitted. "But...I can't figure out why Milford would be any different from any other time I've almost bought it."

"Yeah, but what happened at Milford's was more than just seeing your life flash before your eyes. You were angry at me for feelin' protective of you. You were fearin' for both of our lives. You agreed to give Milford what he wanted even though you were scared shitless. You saw something in my eyes that you hadn't seen before. And then you were there with Milford...and you couldn't give him what he wanted. And after going through all that, and surviving it, they were still going to drive you somewhere nice and quiet and blow your brains out." Starsky drew a deep breath. "That's a lot for any man to put up with, let alone in one day. No matter how smart or level-headed you are, it's not like all that stuff is something that's just automatically...dealt with. Even though," his head tilted back again, his voice hinting at admiration, "I know you've been tryin' as hard as you can to sort it all out. You haven't let it draw you in so deep that you' know, gotten unstable or anything like that."

"Sometimes I feel unstable," Hutch admitted, not liking it.

"Like when you were sitting on the john that time?"

It was a moment before he understood what Starsky was referring to. "Maybe."

"And when you called me that night when I was with Shelly?"

Hutch swallowed. "I'd had a dream."

Starsky brought Hutch's arm up across his chest and held onto it. "A bad one?"

"Not all that bad."

"Ah, Hutch, you shoulda told me. I woulda come over. Or at least talked to you on the phone."

Hutch snorted then. "You would've been mad as hell at me for interrupting your pleasure." More softly, "Wasn't worth it."

"Yeah, I probably woulda been. But I've gotten you out of bed before when you were with someone."

That was true, Hutch recalled. One of those times had been when Starsky had been feeling particularly anxious--for no apparent reason--after the Simon incident. Hutch had been more than a little annoyed at being called and having to send his date home, but he'd still gone to Starsky's apartment.

After a moment of silence, Starsky gently asked, "What are your dreams about? Getting raped?"

"No," Hutch replied quickly, wanting to correct the other's impression. "Being in that car, knowing they were going to kill me when it stopped. Feeling..." Hutch drew a deep breath, "so sad that you were going to find me dead. And being so afraid that you'd never forgive yourself for leaving Milford's house, even though it was the only thing you could have done at the time."

Starsky snuggled closer against him. "Same dream over and over?"

"Pretty much the same one." Hutch wanted to put the other more at ease. "I've only had it a few times. That's why I'm not sure if it's really PTSD. It's not like the dreams are interfering with my life."

"Yeah, but remember, those doctors were talking like the effects of whatever syndrome could--"


"Yeah, disorder, could have really subtle effects on a person's life. That's what makes it hard to diagnose."

"Yeah," Hutch said softly. "I just times."

"Yeah. Uneasy. Anxious for no reason. That's how I was after Simon."

Hutch closed his eyes, enjoying the feel of Starsky so comfortably against him.

"Maybe I should stay with you a while," Starsky said. "Until you're better."

That opened his eyes. It was a nice thought, but... "Not sure that would be such a good idea, partner."

"Why not? You don't know when you're going to have one of those anxiety attacks. Easier if I'm just right here."

Hutch sighed. "But considering the bridge we crossed tonight--last night--it might be...." He trailed off, not having the right word.

"Pushing things?"

"Yes. Pushing things faster than we're ready for."

"Well...then maybe we can just agree to not have any more sex together for a while. I could sleep on the couch, like always."

Hutch was amused at the martyristic suggestion. "Considering that when I start feeling funny I'd want more than anything to hang onto you, I'm not sure that's really a solution."

"Oh. Guess you're right."

They were silent for awhile. Then Hutch said, "It'll be okay, buddy. I'll call you if I need you. Promise." He bent and planted a kiss on top of the dark curls.

Starsky grinned.

Hutch closed his eyes and let himself drift, his arm still snugly around his partner, who still kept a protective grip on his arm.


He roused himself. "Hm?"

"That night you had the dream--when you called me--that was the same night after you'd seen Marianne, right?"

"That's right."

" you think one had to do with the other? I mean, your mind probably associates Marianne with what happened at Milford's...more so than, you know, what happened between you and her before. So, do you think seein' her maybe got your subconscious thinking about it all again and caused the dream?"

"I don't know, buddy." Hutch sighed, then decided to be more honest. "It's possible."

More silence. Then, "Hutch, did you really go see her just to say thank you?"

He wished Starsky would let it drop. If his partner had the slightest bit of information, he tended to go to amazingly accurate places with it. Hutch resolved to swallow his medicine. "That was my intent," he admitted glumly.

"So, what else happened?"

"Nothing," Hutch replied blandly. "Didn't matter if I wanted something else to happen, because she didn't. Besides, she's seeing somebody."

"Oh." More silence. Then, without malice, "Are you in love with her?"

It was instinct to tell the truth to such a direct question. "Yes." There was no response, so Hutch said, "I guess I always have been. She has so many mysteries about her. They fascinate me."

"But if she let you find the answers to all those mysteries...then, don't you think she wouldn't seem quite so...interesting anymore?"

"She's the kind of person who will always have mysteries." Hutch tilted his head back to stare at the ceiling. "She has too many layers of mystique to uncover in a single lifetime."

Starsky grunted. "Funny you say that."


"Because that's how I feel about you."

Hutch stifled a noise of surprise. He hadn't expected anything like that. Hadn't known Starsky felt that way about him. Hadn't ever viewed himself as any sort of person with hidden secrets. Or layers. Just a cop who was older than his age and getting more burned out with each passing year.

"Only," Starsky got up on an elbow, shifting to lean over Hutch, "I've been partnered with you long enough to know that your mysteries never end. But, to be bluntly honest, I think you're over-romanticizing the situation with her. I don't think there's as much to Marianne as you want to believe. Just a scared person who's had a rough time. Like a lotta people. Only, she's got more class than most people, so it's the mixture that's attractive. But only on the surface. I think you're infatuated with her mysteries, not in love with her."

Hutch wanted to argue but, more importantly, he was puzzled by why Starsky felt such an analysis necessary. If anything, it seemed a bit insensitive. It wasn't like Starsky to bad-mouth the people Hutch had strong feelings for.

And then the reason for Starsky's interest suddenly made sense. Hutch laughed. Loudly.

"What?" Starsky demanded. "What's so funny?"


"Whaddya mean?"

"You, you silly imp." Hutch ruffled his hair, still chuckling. "You're jealous. Plain and simple."

"Hutch, I am n--" He shut up as Hutch continued to laugh. Then, "Well, fine then. Have a good laugh at my expense." He snuggled back down to the torso that was still vibrating. "Best sound I've heard in a million years."

Hutch had to keep laughing then. Or his heart would burst.

* * *

The door to the squadroom flew open and a short, gray-haired black-skinned woman entered. Both detectives looked up.

"Mrs. Marquez," Hutch greeted gently.

"Ma'am," Starsky nodded, not liking the look on her face.

"It's been four months," she railed, shaking the umbrella she always carried for emphasis. "And you don't have a single suspect!" Starsky was sure that she had once been a reasonably happy person, but after her son's murder, her mouth seemed to be a permanent frown.

Hutch pulled out a chair. "Please, sit down."

"Don't patronize me!" she shouted, and both detectives glanced at the staring eyes of the other people in the room. "My innocent son was brutally murdered while doing nothing more than his job and filling somebody's gas tank. Why isn't anybody doing anything?"

"Ma'am," Starsky leaned across the table, "if you can please try to calm down. Shouting isn't going to solve anything."

She quieted, her frown deepening. "I'm sorry. But it's so frustrating...."

"Look, Mrs. Marquez," Hutch said, his voice carrying that gentle quality that could melt hearts, "we do have suspects for your son's murder. But we're still trying to gather proof and we have to move carefully so that none of the suspects gets wise and flees. I know it seems like nothing is happening and nobody cares, but we do. Starsky and I are on this thing every day. It's just that it's a delicate puzzle and the pieces have to be put together a certain way or the guilty party will never get convicted. If we go around making accusations without all our ducks in a row, then we'll be accused of violating suspects' rights, and then we'll be the guilty party. And you'll never get justice."

She sighed so heavily that it shook her body. "You've already given me that speech. I need something more to keep me going." Her voice trembled on the last.

Starsky came around the table to the side she and Hutch were on. He took her shoulders. "Ma'am, my daddy was gunned down in the streets of New York when I was nine years old. When my mama sent me out here at the age of eleven to live with my uncle, because she couldn't handle me anymore, my father's killers still hadn't been inside a courtroom. They weren't tried until two years later. But it was worth it, ma'am. Believe me, it was worth it. You've gotta believe that. You've just got to. Your son wouldn't want you to give up."

She looked up at him for a long time. Then she nodded sadly. And shuffled away.

When the door closed behind her, Starsky felt Hutch's hand on his shoulder. The fingers squeezed. His partner said, "Let's say we pay Rodney Jenkins one more visit."

Starsky grabbed his coat. "Wouldn't hurt." Jenkins was a young, rich snot. Maybe rattling the cage one more time would cause something important to fall to the floor.

* * *

Jenkins refused to talk to them without his lawyer present, but they came away satisfied that they'd shaken him up a bit. They both doubted that he'd pulled the trigger. It was his rowdy friends that were more likely responsible. Maybe, if he got scared enough, he'd rat on them.

It was hardly enough to call progress, but at least it was a step in the right direction.

* * *

That night, they were at Starsky's place. In his bed.

Hutch didn't think either of them had intended to end up there, but after checking out for the day, and taking Chinese back to Starsky's, it became more a matter of...why not? Neither of them had an answer.

It had seemed such an incredible treat, having sex twice in one week, after having gone so many months without. By some unspoken agreement, they'd kept to themselves over the weekend, both cautious of pushing things too far too quickly. But here they were again, eager to please each other.

Hutch had had another orgasm just from a blow job. Starsky had knelt before him, while Hutch was still partially dressed, and tended to his partner's need. Hutch hadn't been able to conjure up a fantasy while standing, for it was too awkward. Instead, it was the knowledge that Starsky seemed to truly enjoy doing it that sent him over the edge. His partner's patient bobbing of his head back and forth, working on Hutch's flesh, worshipping it.

Hutch was returning the favor. Only, Starsky was stretched across the mattress, and Hutch was on his stomach between the spread legs, working just as patiently, enjoying the turgid flesh that filled his mouth. He'd been paying attention the two times Starsky had done him, and he had a fairly good idea of what made it best.

He was rewarded when Starsky kept groaning over and over. But it was a relaxed that said he wasn't in a hurry to get anywhere soon.

Hutch had the shaft firmly gripped with one hand. With his other he felt lower, found the taut testicles, scratched across the sac.

"Oh," Starsky said when groaning again. An audible swallow, then a breathless, "You can be firmer than that."

Hutch squeezed the furred ovals. Heard a more intense moan. Ran his fingernail down along the seam. Pressed at the area between the sac and the crevice farther down.

He wanted to put his tongue down where his fingers played, but that would mean he'd have to release his pacifier, and he wasn't ready to do that. His jaws were getting tired, but he liked the noises he was creating.

"You're so damn beautiful," he heard Starsky gasp. "The most beautiful thing on this earth. And you're treatin' my cock so nice."

Hutch knew that Starsky was talking himself into an orgasm. He increased the intensity of his sucking, bobbing his head back and forth, squeezing more purposely at the attachments beneath.

"Man." Another gasp. "Gonna have an explosion that's gonna blow the roof right offa this buildin'."

Hutch knew it was his signal to pull away. But he wanted to taste. He kept his rhythm, encouraging the sensation along.

Starsky cried out.

A sharp flavor registered with Hutch's taste buds. Carefully, he swallowed--trying not to touch the organ that was now overly-sensitized--and realized that he shouldn't be surprised that it wasn't the "hot sperm" that porno books wrote about. Instead, only the flavor and texture were unique.

"Mmmm," Starsky said sleepily.

Hutch settled beside him, leaning on an elbow. "Liked doing that," he whispered.

A lazy grin. "Liked having it done."

Hutch kissed him on the cheek.

Starsky puckered his lips.

Hutch laughed softly and kissed him there. The other's tongue darted out and lapped along the inside of his mouth.

"Mm," Starsky said after withdrawing. "You taste good."

Hutch snorted. "Narcissist."

Starsky's eyes opened wider. "Am I supposed to know what that word means?"

"It means you're in love with your own image."

Starsky managed a half-hearted shrug. "No, I'm not. I just think I taste good." His grin widened.

Hutch tweaked his nose. Starsky turned his face away and said, "Maybe I need to see how you taste next time." Then, more seriously, "Maybe we can do a sixty-nine."

That sounded complicated, and Hutch didn't reply. He got up and pulled at the covers. "Come on. To bed." When he had them pulled back, he realized that there had been no assistance or word from his partner. He glanced over his shoulder and found Starsky staring at him. "What--" Hutch then realized that he'd been too presumptuous. "Hey," he said easily, hiding his disappointment, "maybe I shouldn't invite myself to stay, huh?"

Starsky shook himself. "Huh? No, no way. That's not what I'm thinkin'."

Hutch got under the covers. "Then what are you thinking?"

Starsky maneuvered himself beneath the blankets. "Just thinking about how this all seems too easy."

Hutch put an arm around him. "What do you mean?"

"Just that...if we were destined to end up in bed together, then why did it take so long? And if we're not...then why are we doing it?" Sheepishly, he admitted, "It's almost like waiting for the other shoe to drop."

"Hey," Hutch scolded gently, "since when are you a worry wart?"

"You gotta admit, Hutch, what we're doing together isn't exactly a normal, everyday thing. Not for partners. Not for best friends."

"It is for two people in love with each other."

Starsky grinned and looked up at him. "Oh. Is that what we are?"

It was in the tone of a joke, but it led Hutch to a question he'd been avoiding asking the past few days. "Starsky, you're the one that came over here that night with the intent to seduce me...not that it took much. What made you change your mind after all your denial before?"

The other shrugged. "It wasn't denial before. It was the truth."

Hutch furrowed a brow. "So, when did the truth change?" It suddenly occurred to him that since Starsky couldn't find a date, perhaps he'd felt his partner was in such dire need of a lay that he decided to play substitute. But that didn't wash...not with what Starsky had said afterwards with seeing where things would lead.

"Like I told you that night, I just sorta got used to the idea. And once I reached that point, there was no turning back. And now that we've actually done things together...well, gee, Hutch, I'm not too crazy about the idea of just dropping the whole thing." His voice softened. "Like doing things with you. I mean, who knows us better than each other? We can be so good for each other." The last was said with more passion in his voice.

"So, why are you having doubts now?"

"I'm not having doubts."

"Yes, you are. Just a moment ago you said that this isn't the most normal thing. That means you're having doubts."

Starsky tilted his head back so their eyes could meet. "Only because I realize there could know, consequences. It's not like we can mention to anybody else that we're sleeping with each other."

This time it was Hutch who sighed. Heavily. "Yeah, you're right," he grumbled, then admitted, "I've avoided thinking about that part."

"We'll just have to keep our private lives private," Starsky said...a little too cheerfully for Hutch's comfort level. He squirmed out of his partner's arms, then patted his chest. "Hey, it's my turn to hold you."

Hutch grinned, feeling silly about it, but not denying that he liked the idea. He shifted to place his head against his partner's furred chest. It brought a sense of comfort, the security of which was increased when his partner's arm came around him. He never wanted to think about anything else, except that all was well while snuggled up with the person he loved most.

Armed with that thought, Hutch drifted into sleep.

* * *

The phone rang. Since Starsky was at the water cooler, Hutch picked it up. "Hutchinson speaking."

The voice sounded scared. "Detective Hutchinson?"

"Who is this?" Starsky looked up and Hutch gestured him to pick up another phone.

"Rodney Jenkins. Look, I gotta meet with you guys."

Hutch exchanged a glance of triumph with his partner. "All right. We can be there in twenty minutes."

"No, no way. Not at home."

"All right. Where?"

"There's a park near Iliff and Thornton. Do you know where that is?"

"We'll find it."

"I'll be near the fountain."


"It'll take me about a half hour to get there."

"We'll be there."

The line went dead.

"Wonder what's got him shook up," Starsky said as he put the receiver down.

Hutch grabbed his jacket. "Let's find out."

* * *

The meeting went going well. With his hands stuffed in his jacket pockets, Jenkins babbled to them about what his two high school friends had done on that fateful night four months ago.

Starsky crossed his arms, trying to show that he was unimpressed. He leaned back casually against a metal railing that ran along the park's pathway. "So, why have you decided to tell us all this now?"

"Because I'm scared of them!" Jenkins replied. "They know the cops have been talking to me, and I keep telling them I haven't said anything, but they keep bringing it up." He let out a heavy breath. "I'm afraid they're going to assume that I did rat on them. I'm afraid they're going to come after me."

"All right," Hutch said soothingly. "But in order to convict them, we're going to need your testimony. Which means you've got to play it straight with us from here on out. Otherwise, they'll still be free and you'll be dead meat. Understand?"

He nodded.

"Which also means," Starsky said, "we're going to have to bring you down to the station with us and get an official statement."

He started to protest, and Hutch quickly said, "It's the only way we can get a warrant for their arrest."

"You're in this thing too deep already to back out," Starsky told him. "You've got to take it all the way until they're in prison. If you're being straight with us, you shouldn't have anything to worry about."

Jenkins gulped. But nodded.

* * *

"Your father ought to be down any minute to get you," Hutch said as he handed Jenkins a soda. His statement had been recorded and now he was waiting in an interrogation room.

"I bet he wasn't too happy that I'm here," Jenkins said.

"He was upset that you didn't call your lawyer first, but I explained that you came in on your own." He was tempted to say, "That takes guts", but he was hesitant to praise Jenkins too highly. They still had many months to go before there could be a trial, and he still had his doubts that Jenkins was completely innocent while his pals were completely guilty.

Starsky entered the room. "Uh...Hutch?" he said uneasily.

Hutch went over to him. He was surprised when Starsky took him by the arm and guided him into the first empty room. "What's going on?" he asked.

"Uh..." Starsky swallowed. "Just thought I should warn you." He scratched his head. "You aren't gonna believe this."

"What?" Hutch demanded impatiently, unable to imagine what had his partner so nervous.

"Jenkins' father just walked into the squadroom. He had his girlfriend with him. You won't believe who it is."


"Marianne Owens."

"Mar--i--anne," Hutch repeated in a whisper. "She's here?"

"Right. In the squadroom. She's got to know we're the detectives on the case."

"So she came in on her own," Hutch said. Surely, she could have decided not to come along if she'd wanted to avoid him. He smiled. "I'll say hello." From the corner of his eye, he saw his partner's reluctant nod.

She was sitting in a chair next to their desk, smoking a cigarette. "So we meet again," she said when Hutch approached.

"Yes." Hutch sat on the desk, facing her. "Your boyfriend's son can help us put away two killers."

Starsky appeared beside him, sitting backwards in a chair between them both. "Just how well do you know Rodney?" he asked.

She looked Starsky up and down with a hint of amusement, making it obvious that she was aware of how he'd placed himself between them. "I don't know him very well. Of course, I see him around the house. He's got a chip on his shoulder, but I wouldn't expect much else from a rich kid whose father was never around enough. Why?"

"We're not totally convinced that he's being completely straight with us, even if he didn't pull the trigger."

Her eyes went to Hutch. And hardened. "So, I'm stuck in the middle once again. Am I faithful to someone I love, or am I faithful to the cop who wants to use me?"

Hutch bowed his head, feeling shame come over him, unable to meet her eye.

"Look," Starsky said, his chair scooting a fraction closer to his partner, "nobody's using anybody. We just want the truth. If there's nothin' you can tell us, fine. It's just that if Rodney was with his buddies that night, chances are that it's going to come out in the trial. If we know about any involvement ahead of time, we'll be able to put on a better prosecution strategy."

Her attention turned fully to Starsky. "Why don't you ask his father?"

"We will," Starsky replied, meeting her gaze.

After a moment, her expression softened, but her voice wasn't gentle. "Will you excuse us just a moment?"

Starsky sighed heavily. He slowly stood, and Hutch gave him a nod of reassurance. Then Hutch looked at Marianne again as Starsky moved away.

"I didn't come here to fight," she said with a hint of apology.

"Then what did you come here for?"

"I was with Brandon when he got the phone call to come down. When I heard it was you two on the case, I thought I'd come down, too." She exhaled a long stream of smoke from her cigarette, her eyes still on him. "Thought I'd catch up on old times."

He met her gaze squarely. "You were right before; you won't be forgiving me anytime soon. So, why don't we just stay out of each other's lives until then?"

She flinched, as though surprised that he wasn't crawling toward her in fascination, as he always had in the past. "My, haven't we grown a thick layer of skin over the last few weeks?"

He let it go by. "What do you want, Marianne? Straight."

Now a forced laugh. "Straight? Coming from you? The man who takes women to bed under the guise of love?"

"I never lied to you, Marianne."

"No," she reached to an ashtray and stubbed out her cigarette, "I suppose not. Though, somehow, I find it hard to believe your silence about who you really were wasn't a lie in itself." Her voice was harsher. "Explain it to yourself any way you want."

Their words had grown ugly. Hutch straightened, resisting the temptation to say something further. For there was nothing more to say.

Then she was soft again, as she nodded toward another part of the room that Hutch's back was to. "He's still so protective of you," she marveled. "Don't ever lose him, Ken." She glanced toward the door, and stood.

Brandon Jenkins and his son had entered. "Let's go," the elder one said impatiently.

Hutch looked away, not watching her leave.

* * *

"Wasn't I right?" Starsky insisted an hour later as they headed out to the parking garage. "Jesus, Hutch, she's still bitter and everything."

The blond looked at him sharply. "Do you blame her?"

"What difference does it make?" Starsky countered. "We can't change how she feels. I'm just tellin' ya, partner, you don't need to carry a torch for her. She's not worth your mooning over." They were at the Torino, and Starsky turned to face his partner squarely. "You can call me jealous all you want, but I don't think there's anything there for you to invest your beautiful little blond heart in."

"Don't worry about it," Hutch said sharply, his hand fishing in his jeans pocket for his keys. "The infatuation is over."

"Oh." Starsky thought he should feel relieved, but instead he felt bad for Hutch. Then he decided to change the subject. "Hey, uh, wanna...get something to eat...go to my place...."

Hutch shook his head. "Not tonight, partner. Rain check." But his expression had softened.

Starsky waved him off, teasing, "The heck with you then." He opened the door to the driver's side.

Hutch stood watching him. But the sternness of his reply was feigned. "You develop an attitude like that, and maybe someday soon I'll have to fuck you where the sun don't shine."

Starsky grinned while starting the motor. As he pulled out, he called toward Hutch, who was headed toward the LTD, "Up yours!"

"Dream on," Hutch called back.

Starsky's grin faded as he pulled out into the traffic. Fuck you where the sun don't shine. It wasn't a phrase his partner normally used, even while joking.

He sighed out loud. You'd really love to, wouldn't you, babe?

How awful could it be? Starsky wondered. Hutch would be really careful, patient. Kind. Gonna have to be some pain. But that would be worth...his chest swelled up...sharing something so close....

Besides, Hutch deserved a reward for letting go of Marianne.

* * *

"Don't ever lose him, Ken."

Why did Marianne even care? Hutch wondered. That was a puzzle. She ran so hot and cold. Seeming to care one moment, and then bitter the next. That was probably the result of hurt that went very, very deep.

Besides, Hutch wasn't in any condition to judge another's moodiness. What he did know was that she was right. He couldn't ever lose Starsky. Too much of all the good things in his life were wrapped up in that one very special person.

"Don't ever lose him." Why does it matter to her? he wondered again. Was it because she'd never had anyone in her life that had been worth not losing; and it was her way of saying that so few people had someone like that in their lives that if you were one of the lucky ones, you should never let go?

Or did she mean it in the sense that she considered Hutch so unlovable that he was lucky to have found love at all?

Hutch rubbed at his mustache, feeling the queasiness start. He'd needed to be alone this evening, to recover from having been reminded once again of what an unforgivable thing he'd done to an innocent person. His desire to help her during the Fitch case had backfired so badly that he couldn't use the excuse of trying to help anymore...not even in the privacy of his own thoughts.

Hutch stopped at a light and took a deep breath, feeling a shallowness in his chest. He glanced up at the buildings that lined the street. They seemed tall and foreboding. Almost as though they could swallow him up, car and all.

The light turned green. He moved the LTD forward. The cars on either side also moved forward. Hutch glanced over at them. Drivers were hunched over their steering wheels, as though attacking the street with their vehicles. Hutch wondered if he was a mere peon in the center of it all, and it was just a matter of time before he was snuffed out.

What's the point of it all?

They had made a major breakthrough in the gas station murder case. That was good. Things like that made it worthwhile. The victim's mother might finally know peace soon.

He passed a seafood deli that he often visited on the way home. Food will help. But his stomach was so queasy. And he didn't want to stop anywhere. Just get home.

Hutch took another deep, deep breath, trying to fight the shallow sensation in his chest. He raised his hand to adjust the rearview mirror and noticed a tremor.

Keep breathing in and out, he told himself. Just get home.

His stomach twisted when the car in front of him was moving too slow, and Hutch had to stop at the light. Bastard, he silently cursed the car in front of him. It meant further delay.

Was it mere minutes ago that he and Starsky were joking in the parking lot? "Fuck you where the sun don't shine." "Up yours." "Dream on."

He tried to feel the humor, but couldn't. It was only voices lost in time...existing over a century ago.

Starsky had wanted them to get together tonight. Hutch knew he wouldn't be good company, would be distracted because of Marianne.

What was Starsky doing now?

Probably cursing traffic. But without his stomach twisting, his body shaking, or his chest fighting for enough air.

Hutch passed by the gas station on Ocean that he often filled up at. He automatically glanced at the gauge and saw that he had a quarter tank. Usually not enough to stop, but.... Maybe I should pull over.

He passed it by, unwilling to stop, afraid of drawing attention if he got out of the car, afraid everything going on inside him would be noticeable.

Only three more blocks.

He had to stop again at a light. This time he was in front. He revved the engine while waiting for it to change, the nausea increasing....

He stared at an old sign on a furniture store, trying to figure out what the small lettering on the window said. It kept him distracted until the light changed to green.

He felt foolish when he pulled up in front of Venice Place. He'd made it, and to think he'd actually thought about pulling over a mere three blocks away. It felt good to move. Get out of the car. Go up the stairs. Feel for the key. Unlock the door.

He picked up the telephone from an end table and dialed. The phone rang. And rang. And rang.

Not home yet. Probably stopped for a burger.

A part of him realized it was just as well, as he wasn't sure what he would say. Still, he let it ring three more times before hanging up.

Hutch sat on the couch and pulled off his shoes. There was still a tremor in his hands. It dawned on him that the room was very warm, and he pulled off his jacket. His shoulder harness followed.

He curled up on the couch, one hand against his twisting stomach, the other against his chest. He wished he had turned on the television, as it could give him something to focus on. But now he wasn't willing to get up again.

He closed his eyes, trying to shut out the silence. If only he could sleep, but he knew he was too wired to be granted that.

Starsk, where are you, buddy?

Starsky would blame this all on Marianne. Which would be grossly unfair. It was Milford. Everything had happened at Milford's. One case that had seemed to be going so well...and ended up being so badly botched, which, four months later, still had such far-reaching consequences.

Should be over it by now. Starsky had gotten over Simon in a matter of weeks. Hutch himself had recovered from being trapped under his car with no quirky after-affects. Of course, the heroin ordeal had taken a longer recovery, but that was because the physical withdrawal symptoms still appeared unexpectedly as much as three months later. But they were only physical.

This is all in my head, Hutch told himself with gritted teeth. There's nothing wrong. Nothing that can hurt me. Or Starsky. He scoffed out loud at the irony. This should be the happiest time of my life. Me and Starsky...getting it on. Moving closer and closer to a permanent/forever relationship. One where we don't need or want anybody else, because we give each other everything that we need.

But how healthy is that? he wondered now. In addition to, like Starsky said, we can't tell anybody else, how good for us is it that we've shut out the whole world so that he and I are the only ones who exist for each other?

No, we have our jobs. We make a difference for others.

"He loves you so."

"Don't ever lose him."

I know, Marianne, I won't ever lose him. Can't ever lose him.

Hutch uncurled the fist from his chest and reached over the arm of the sofa for the telephone. He put it on the floor and dialed.

One ring. Then, "Hello?"

Hutch hadn't given any thought to what he might say. "Starsk?"

"Yeah?" Then concern when there was no immediate reply. "What's goin' on? "

Hutch wanted to say something reassuring, so that Starsky wouldn't worry. But it seemed to be too much effort to figure out how to say it the right way. "I-I'm not doin' too good."

"Sit tight, I'm on my way." The line went dead.

Hutch leaned over the couch to hang up the phone. He let his whole body drop to the floor so he could move on his knees to the TV set and turn it on. It seemed a great accomplishment, and a relief, when a picture appeared of a talking head giving the local news. Encouraged, Hutch stood and went back to the sofa. He wondered if maybe he'd overreacted and he shouldn't have called Starsky.

He lay down again, very still, listening to his body's signals. The nausea wasn't quite as tight. His chest still felt funny, but there wasn't the urgency to take deep breaths. He still thought the room felt hot. He glanced around at the walls of his apartment, wondering why it seemed he was a stranger in a strange land.

Hutch stared at the TV. After many minutes passed, he realized the newsman was talking about the possible Republican candidates for the 1980 presidential election.

Hutch blinked, realizing it was the first news story that had sunk in. He needed to make sure he registered to vote. He hadn't bothered last time. He needed to make sure Starsky registered, too. The election was a year away. Hopefully, that would be enough time.

Despite the late afternoon traffic buzzing by, he was able to identify the sound of the beloved Torino pulling up at the curb. Less than a minute later, footsteps were pounding up the staircase.

Then the door flew open. "Hutch?"

Hutch made the effort to tilt his head so he could make eye contact as his partner approached. "Hey."

Starsky was kneeling in front of him, his hand gripping Hutch's shoulder. "What's going on?" he asked breathlessly. "Huh, pal?"

"Not feelin' so good," Hutch muttered, hoping he wouldn't have to make the effort to explain further.

Starsky's hands were all over him, rubbing, squeezing. One brushed up his forehead into his hair, and then Starsky muttered, "Stay right there," and got to his feet.

Hutch continued to stare at the television. He heard the running of water in the kitchen. Then Starsky was at his side. An overly-wet cloth was slapped against Hutch's forehead. And then another was pressed against the back of his neck.

"Mm," he approved, closing his eyes and wondering why he hadn't applied cold compresses to himself when he realized he was hot. The coolness felt good against his flushed skin.

The one on his forehead was so wet that water dripped down his face. After a few moments, Starsky moved it to dab at the droplets, then pushed it inside Hutch's shirt and pressed it against his chest. It felt like heaven.

"Wanna talk?" a tender voice whispered.

Hutch was grateful the answer was easy. "No."

He felt Starsky touch his hand, moving it away from his chest so the cloth could be pressed against more of the skin there.

"Need to hang onto me, babe?"

Hutch knew then that his hand was still shaking. It was too difficult to figure out what he wanted, and he was relieved when the decision was taken away. The cloth was removed from his chest. The one on his forehead was draped around the back of his neck. Starsky was pulling at his arms, and Hutch allowed himself to be sat up.

And then he fell forward, his cheek landing nicely on Starsky's shoulder.

"I'm right here, buddy boy. Right here." Hands were stroking up and down his back.

Hutch put his arms around Starsky, clutched at the back of his shirt. Kept his eyes closed.

The hands were patient and soothing. Hutch knew that it meant Starsky was going to give him as long as he needed. He relaxed more heavily against the shoulder. He eased his grip on Starsky's shirt but still held on.

The sound of the television faded away.

* * *

Eventually, there had been movement, jostling. The television drifted in and out.

Hutch became aware of John Wayne's voice. And Bruce Dern's.

He opened his eyes. He was lying on the sofa, his upper body draped across Starsky's lap. A warm hand rubbed leisurely up and down his back, inside his shirt.

"What are we watching?" he muttered, but asking it didn't seem like the effort he feared.

"The Cowboys. It's almost over."

Hutch let himself drift a while longer, but he realized he was following the story line on the TV.

Hands still moving, Starsky asked, "Any better?"

Hutch twisted to look back over his shoulder. "How about lots better?"

"Good, 'cause I'm starved. I'll order pizza as soon as this is over."

At the mention of food, Hutch's stomach rumbled. Good. Everything was back in working order.

* * *

They watched more television while they ate. Hutch felt renewed and found it difficult to believe that a mere two hours ago he'd been wondering if he could even make it home.

He looked over at Starsky, who closed the lid on the empty pizza box. "Starsk, it wasn't because of Marianne."

The other regarded him doubtfully. "Well, maybe not directly, but she had to be the trigger. Just like when you had that dream." Starsky paused and furrowed a brow. "You haven't had the dream since then, have you?"

"Not really. Maybe less intense versions of it."

Starsky grinned at him. "You're getting better, pal."

The grin was so contagious that Hutch smiled back. But he didn't know how Starsky could say that, when he'd been almost incapacitated a mere hour before. It was the worst attack--or whatever it was--yet.

It was on the tip of Hutch's tongue to say, "Thanks," but he realized there was a better way to say what he felt. He leaned toward his partner and took him by the chin. He kissed him for an extended moment, tasting all the flavors of pizza toppings.

"Mm," Starsky grinned at him eagerly.

Hutch ducked his head and kissed him again...more forcefully this time, his hand pressing against the back of the curly head.

Starsky was serious when they parted. "You sure you're up to it?"

Hutch took his partner's hand and guided it to his crotch. "Does that feel like it's 'up' to it?"

Starsky was thoughtful. "Not sure." He parted the snap to Hutch's jeans. "I need to investigate a little further."

Hutch felt himself throb when Starsky drew out his erection.

"Hm," Starsky said, turning it this way and that. "It's long enough. Hard enough." He gripped its girth. "Thick enough." He rubbed a thumb over the moist tip. "Gettin' all charged up to do its thing." He nodded, stroking it. "Yeah, I guess it's up to it."

Hutch jumped to his feet and pulled off his pants.

Starsky was watching him, a huge grin lighting his face. But then it faded, though the glint in his eye was no less feral. "Hutch, what you threatened?"

Hutch was letting his shirt fall from his shoulders. "What do you mean?"

The grin was back. "Stick it where the sun don't shine?"

Hutch felt himself grow soft--and protective--all over. "Starsk..." he knelt on the sofa, took the other by the shoulders. "You sure?"

"Yeah. As long know, you go easy."

Hutch softened even more. "Of course, I'll go easy."

Starsky's chest moved with a deep inhalation. Then he said, "You got something for grease?" But he couldn't meet Hutch's eye.

Hutch squeezed his shoulder. "We'll find something." He flung his shirt away and took his partner's hand. "Come on."

He was aware of his jutting erection as he led the way to the bed. He stopped at the end, turned to place his hands on his partner's shoulders. Then he massaged with his fingers as he bent to kiss those enticing lips.

The first few times they'd had sex together, they'd gone into it with such a sense of purpose. They were less self-conscious now, more eager to please each other, than worrying about whether or not they could. Hutch used that to his advantage, not releasing his partner's lips until he was certain the other was weak in the knees.

He parted the buttons to Starsky's shirt, was delighted at the other's eagerness when he started on his own jeans. In less than a minute, his partner was naked, and Hutch rested a hand on the broad back as Starsky got on the bed.

Hutch went to the dresser and pulled open a drawer. He searched through layers of underwear until he felt a plastic tube. He took it and turned around.

His partner was face-up on the bed, weight resting on his elbows.

Hutch had expected him to be turned over, but decided it might be better this way. He knelt between the legs that spread wider for him. He dipped his head and took the firm erection within his mouth.

He loved how smooth it felt, the mushroom shape of the head. He sucked avidly, drawing a gasp of appreciation. Then he reached down and played with the furred testicles, squeezing periodically. Hutch had originally thought he'd just get Starsky nicely aroused, but the other was responding so eagerly that Hutch decided he could be patient enough to bring him to completion.

His hands stroked up the flat flanks, to the softer feel of the stomach, up to the moderate helping of hair that decorated the chest. He felt for the tiny nipples and squeezed them.

Starsky's legs spread further. "Oh, man. You're a fucking genius."

Hutch remained stretched out, patiently applying the sensations, listening to the verbal encouragement.

The peak was reached shortly thereafter, and a good helping of fluid was deposited on the back of his tongue. Hutch had gotten used to the flavor. He released his captive and swallowed his prize.

After a long moment of steadying his breath, Starsky said, "Man, you really deserve what you're gonna get after that."

Hutch merely grunted at the compliment. He waited a while, his hands brushing lightly along Starsky's inner thighs, wanting the other to enjoy the afterglow before demands were made of his person.

After the gasps of pleasure had melted into soft sighs, Hutch picked up the plastic tube. He squeezed some out across his fingers. "Starsk? You still among the living?"

The other man's eyes were closed. "Just barely."

"I'm going to touch you with a finger."

The legs spread wider and bent at the knees.

"We need a pillow if you want me to do it from the front."

Starsky grabbed the pillow next to the one he was lying on and held it out.

"Arch your ass up," Hutch said, taking it with one hand.

Starsky obeyed, and after some maneuvering and grunts of effort from them both, Hutch was satisfied with the placement of the pillow.

Hutch pulled one lower butt cheek aside, and touched the recess revealed. He stroked it. "Ever have anything up your ass before?"

"You mean other than at the doctor's office?"

Hutch wasn't sure if the other were teasing. "Right."


"Not even a finger?"

Starsky's eyes opened. "Well, maybe just barely."

Hutch picked up the tube and squeezed lubricant directly at the recess. He pushed at the substance, sliding it past the outer ring of muscle. No reaction. He felt for the inner sphincter, nudging past the tight muscle.

"Oh, man, " Starsky drew a deep breath. "That's just your finger?" he asked in amazement.

"Feel too big?" Hutch said worriedly.

"Just...takes up a lot of room."

"Don't worry," Hutch said gently, "I'll ease up to it." He felt the muscle working around it. "Relax, buddy."

The obedience was immediate. Hutch could feel the difference. "That's good, partner. Going to pull it out real slow, and then try two."

He withdrew, thinking as he felt the tightness release his finger that his prick was going to get to feel those sensations in a matter of minutes.

The channel felt tighter when he inserted a pair of fingers. He moved them back and forth when they were barely inside, then worked them in more deeply.

"Man," Starsky said while taking a deep breath. "Really feel them. Not sure how you're gonna fit."

"Second thoughts?" Hutch said, more for conversation than because he thought Starsky might want to back out. Starsky always relaxed more when he talked.

"'Course not. I'm gonna wanna know how it feels eventually. May as well be now."

Hutch bent his fingers at the knuckles, then scissored them, causing a gasp of surprise.

Starsky chuckled briefly. "Actually feels kinda good the way you're messin' around in there."

That made Hutch feel good and he moved them around more.

"Just feels real tight around the opening."

Hutch slid the fingers back, then used them to pull at the outer muscle. "Maybe I can loosen it up a little."

"Maybe circle them around?" Starsky suggested. He was gazing at the ceiling.

Hutch did so, moving the digits in a circle around the opening, making a bigger circle each time.

"Yeah," Starsky purred, "that's helpin'."

A minute later, Hutch removed his fingers. He took a moment to stroke himself.

He heard another swallow. Then, "I love you, Hutch."

Hutch looked up, felt himself go soft all over. He leaned forward over that leanly muscled body, so ready for him, and moved on his elbows until he could kiss Starsky. "Love you, too," he said, pulling back.

"Good. 'Cause I wouldn't want you to do this to me if you were only liked me for my body."

Hutch laughed. "Not a chance." He leaned forward and kissed Starsky again, this time deeper, loving the flush of warmth that came over him, the knowledge that he was going to get to increase their intimacy to a new level.

But he was serious when he pulled back again. "Starsk?" he whispered. "I'm going to put it in real slow. Just know that I can always take it out if you decide you don't want it. There's no such thing as a point of no return with us." He stroked across his partner's stomach. "Okay?"

Starsky's features were tender. "I'd hate to do that to you."

"I know, but it's been done to me before and I've survived. Nothing's worth hurting you."

"I know it's gonna hurt some," Starsky insisted. "I've never been able to avoid it when I've done it."

"I know, but if we're careful enough it shouldn't be a big deal."

Now that the moment was here, Hutch's erection was straining. He picked up the lubricant and squeezed a stream along the top of his phallus. Then he rubbed it along his length.

"Okay, pal," he whispered as he leaned on one arm. "I'm ready whenever you are."

Starsky wrapped his legs around Hutch's upper body. "I'm ready."

Hutch nudged at the opening. He was nice and hard and with all the lubricant it only took one firm thrust, and a small part of him was in.

He saw Starsky's eyes widen toward the ceiling. "Oh, man," the other gasped.

Hutch waited, feeling the muscles work around his girth, trying not to think about the sensations that would be his once his task was complete.

When the spasming had eased, he pushed in a little more.

"God," Starsky said tightly, and Hutch could see a glint of moisture in his eyes. He could also see the effort Starsky was making to work it through, to accept the pain he was feeling.

Hutch pressed gently and went a little deeper. This time Starsky's eyes squeezed shut and his teeth gritted.

Hutch withdrew, feeling the heavy throb of frustration between his legs.

Starsky opened his eyes and looked at him worriedly. "Don't give up."

"I haven't," Hutch said, breathing heavily. "Just giving you a breather." He stroked along his partner's flanks with the flat of his hands.

Starsky swallowed, but this time his breath evened out afterwards. "Do it again, but just stop when I say so."

Hutch took himself in hand, glad to try again.

"Just stop when I say stop," Starsky said. "You don't have to take it all the way out."

Hutch pressed forward, loving the warm tightness that fit around him. He slowly moved in, the first couple of inches going in with less resistance than before.

"Stop," Starsky said, his chest heaving. "Just give me a sec."

"Take all the secs you want," Hutch whispered tenderly. It would be worth it in the end. When he could lose his mind and let sensation take over. Him and Starsky...

"'Kay," Starsky muttered. "Try a little more."

Hutch obliged, shifting his legs to more easily thrust to a deeper depth. He waited until Starsky drew a sharp breath. "That's good enough," he whispered. "Don't need to go any deeper."

He felt and heard Starsky relax fully.

Now the other grinned at him. "Okay, blondie, show me your stuff." Then, suddenly, he sobered, and choked out, "Or just let me watch you a while."

Hutch ducked his head, feeling bashful. He braced his hands against the mattress and pulled out a little ways, then pushed back. "Feel good at all?" he asked, genuinely curious.

"Yeah," Starsky panted. "There's just so much pressure...feel like I'm stuffed. Be glad when we've had more practice and I'm used to it."

Hutch pulled back a few inches. When he thrust forward again, he allowed himself to only recapture another inch or so. "How about that?" he asked, panting himself. Starsky was so tight around him, their bodies locked together. Hutch knew that first times were rarely anything worth remembering, but he hoped Starsky could enjoy it.

"Yeah," Starsky nodded eagerly. "Not so uncomfortable when you don't go as deep." He renewed his grip on Hutch's upper body with his legs. "Go for it, blondie." He grinned hugely. "Wanna watch you get yours."

Hutch realized his partner was serious. He closed his eyes, thrusting shallowly, searching for a rhythm that would send him to his goal without increasing Starsky's discomfort. He found it--short, rapid thrusts--and focused on the tightness that felt so good, sending the most wonderful sensations shooting through his groin.

"That's nice," his partner purred.

Hutch's eyes snapped open. Starsky was staring at the ceiling again, but this time his expression was one of pleasure, his lips parted.

"Ah, buddy," Hutch gasped appreciatively.

Starsky glanced at him, then raised his arms to place his hands on Hutch's head. He moved them through the fair strands of hair.

Hutch felt a surge of tenderness as the sensations peaked. He cried out as seed shot forth from his body, then stilled his hips so no other feelings interfered.

All his muscles seemed to stretch like a rubber band...and then sag back, the elasticity turning into wobbliness.

Hutch knew he was grinning as he collapsed beside his partner.

Starsky got up, and Hutch heard the bathroom door close. He drifted lazily for a while. Then a damp, clean-smelling body snuggled against him.

"Ah," Starsky commented, "isn't it just like a man? Use you for his own pleasure, and then he rolls over and falls asleep. Not even a hug or a kiss."

Hutch raised his head. "I'm not asleep," he protested. He puckered his lips and leaned to touch them against his partner's. "There's your kiss."

"Guilt works every time," Starsky said, then worked with the covers. "I'm ready for sleep."

Hutch felt a chill and decided to follow suit. When they were both lying on their backs, he looked over at Starsky. And smiled. "Thanks. That was a treat."

Starsky grinned. "Anytime. Go to sleep, blondie."

Hutch turned to mold himself around Starsky. And obeyed.

Part Eight

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