Terri Beckett author with Chris Power of TRIBUTE TRAIL—see www.speculationpress.com for details! Comments on this story can be sent to: flamingoslim@erols.com

NOCTURNE

by

Terri Beckett.

The night sounds of cicadas and tree frogs trilled in the still, jasmine-scented air outside. Inside the bedroom, the smell was of sweat and the peculiar musk of recent sex. A nick of damp sheet was under his back, and he shifted, trying to get comfortable.

"Hey," he said, with a nudge of the elbow to reinforce it, "You awake?"

There was an indistinct mumble from his partner, who hitched over onto his side and subsided again. "Nnnn . . . ."

This not being the required or expected response, he tried again, a little more forcefully. "You awake? Hutch! You awake?"

There was a sigh. Another. And a sleep-drugged voice accepted the inevitable. "I am now. What's up?"

The bed shook briefly with the sound of the familiar filthy, grow-mushrooms-in-it chuckle. "He wishes . . . ."

Hutch rolled onto his back and contemplated the invisible ceiling. "One track mind . . . . How come everyone else sleeps the sleep of the innocent and the just after a dose of Nature's Tranquillizer—but you just get more wide awake?"

"Just lucky, I guess . . . ." He could hear the smug satisfaction in the voice.

"It's unnatural, is what. Go to sleep, Starsk. Please?"

"Getting old?" came the silken query. "Getting past it, lover?"

Plainly there was to be no peace. "Yes," he said shortly.

There was a brief pause. Hutch felt himself drifting back asleep and relished the sensation.

"Hutch," his partner said, destroying the moment as only he could. "I've been thinking."

Silently, Hutch groaned. "That is unnatural," he grunted. "Take an aspirin, maybe it'll go away."

There was an aggrieved silence. "You really are getting old!"

"Yes," Hutch confirmed, thinking about it. "Does that make any difference? Okay," he bit the bullet. "What are you thinking about?"

"What if." Starsky sounded almost sheepish. Almost.

"Oh, God, not that again! What is it this time? If you hadn't flunked out of grade school you could be a brain surgeon?"

But Starsky did not rise to the bait. "What if this had never happened."

"If what hadn't happened?" Hutch floundered. He hated these conversations. Even more he hated these conversations in the middle of the night when he'd just enjoyed a couple of hours of extremely good sex with the man he (mostly) loved to distraction and they both had to get up for work in the morning.

"This."

Hutch thought about it. "I'd be a Captain of Detectives and you'd be directing traffic," he opined.

There was a snort. "Get serious, willya?"

"Serious at two o'clock in the morning or whatever the hell time it is? You get serious!"

Starsky, like a pit-bull terrier, worried the question as if it were a rat. "But what if?"

Hutch, realizing he would not be getting any sleep, resigned himself to the fact. He wedged his pillow behind his head. "Okay," he said, with an air of resignation. "What if?"

He was not to be let off so easily. "That's what I'm asking you."

He crooked an elbow behind his head as extra support, and considered the question. What had changed? They were now lovers as well as partners and friends. What's changed? Nothing lost. What we had is augmented . . .

An elbow impacted his ribs. "You gone to sleep . . . again?"

"No," he said patiently. "What if? Well, for starters, I'd be sleeping on the couch."

Starsky snorted again. "Get serious, Hutch."

"Okay." He decided to lay it on the line. "We'd probably still have career prospects."

This was plainly out of left field. "Huh?"

"Well, sooner or later, IA are gonna find out," Hutch pointed out reasonably. "And we'll be lucky if we've still got jobs."

"Ah, we'll sue for unfair dismissal. I wasn't thinking career."

Hutch continued his deliberations. "We'd have missed out on some good times."

"Yeah," Starsky agreed. "But . . ." He hesitated. "What if you—what if either of us—met someone? We could have got married. Had kids."

Hutch snickered. "What? In six months? Fastest pregnancy on record!"

"You know what I mean," Starsky insisted.

"Yeah," Hutch agreed, deciding to stop teasing. "But offhand I can't recall anyone who'd have either one of us on a permanent basis. Can you?"

"Right. I mean, who'd put up with your snoring?"

Hutch knew for a fact that this was foulest calumny. He didn't snore! "What about you? At least I don't cut my toenails in the bath! And I don't clog up the drain with hair when I shower!"

Starsky sneered in the darkness. Hutch could hear it in his voice. "That's because you gotta hang on to what you got left. Schweetheart."

This touched a nerve. "If this wasn't your bed, I'd kick you out of it. At least my mother never screwed up my toilet training."

"Whaddya mean?" Now Starsky was incensed. "You leave my mother out of this!"

"There's nothing wrong with my bladder," Hutch pointed out reasonably. "I don't have to go to the john every five minutes."

"At least I'm not in there for hours at a time!" Starsky shot back.

"Well, that's the only place I can get any peace!" Hutch snapped.

"Izzat so?" Starsky snarled. "Well, you know what you can do!"

"Yeah?" Hutch decided he was getting very tired of this.

"Yeah!" Starsky countered belligerently. Then, quietly—"This is dumb."

Hutch could hardly believe his ears. "You started it!"

"Yeah . . . ." Starsky, mercurial as ever, changed moods more often than he changed his underwear. It was—it always had been—a bit like living with a chameleon. "Well, you know what they say? Best thing about fighting is making up!"

Hands in the dark performed a leisurely and loving grope. Hutch returned the favor, almost wishing that he wasn't quite so tired. But it was enjoyable, even if non-eventful, and after a final lingering embrace, both settled back on their pillows.

The night sounds of cicadas and tree frogs trilled in the still, jasmine-scented air outside.

Hutch cleared his throat. "Starsk?" No response. A gentle but unmistakable snore. "Starsk?" he repeated hopefully. "You awake?"