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The words struck hard, and Starsky's whole body jerked as he came powerfully in his own hand, the liquid scalding as it pulsed into his palm. He used it to keep stroking himself, milking every drop as he sucked Hutch dry.

I love you, too, Hutch. Can you feel how much I love you?

Finally, his body quieted, even as Hutch's heavy organ softened in his mouth. Hutch reached for him, lifting his chin, pulling him off, urging him up to the head of the bed.

"My turn now," Hutch insisted. "If we couldn't come together, then at least I can do you now...."

With a practiced move, Starsky wiped his sticky hand on a corner of the sheet, then tucked himself back inside his pants and zipped up, as if that would protect himself from his friend's good intentions.

"It's okay," Starsky assured him, pulling Hutch's nude body against his clothed one. He rubbed the broad back gently, petted his friend's hair. "You don't need to do that. I came already." He pressed his lips chastely against Hutch's forehead. He could still taste his sharp male flavor, his essence, coating his mouth, his throat.

"You came?" Hutch murmured, confused. He sounded hurt. "But you never let me do anything. I wanted to give you—"

"You did," Starsky swore breathlessly, hugging him tight. "Oh, babe, you gave me so much, you'll never know. It was good for me, Hutch, the best. Really. You gave me exactly what I wanted." He kissed his cheek. "You don't even know, do ya? We came together."

"We did?" Hutch asked, marveling, his arms winding around Starsky's body.

"Yeah. Amazing, huh? Come on, now, rest." He kept up the gentle massage, stopping only to grab the cover sheet from the bottom of the bed and pull it up around Hutch's nudity before he started to chill.

Hutch returned the hug, nestling tight against Starsky. "That was all you wanted?" he questioned skeptically. "Geez, doesn't seem like much. Doesn't seem like you coulda gotten anything out of it. I never even touched you. You're still dressed...."

"Ssshh," Starsky urged, knowing Hutch couldn't hold out against sleep much longer. Between the sorrow, the alcohol and the orgasm, he'd have to pass out soon, as long as Starsky could keep him horizontal and stop him from thinking too much. "It was good for me, Hutch, so good. It was what I wanted, what I needed." And I didn't even know it.

Hutch was quiet for a moment. "Well...then I'm glad, Starsk. I wanna be there for you, anyway you need me." He looked up at Starsky. "I'm still willing, Starsk. I'm ready. still wanna fuck...."

"Sssshh," Starsky begged, rolling his eyes. His traitorous cock, limp and satisfied, had the nerve to twitch. "Hutch, I'm shot. It's late, we've both been through the emotional wringer, and we've killed a bottle between us. You must think I'm Superman."

Hutch shrugged and a wry smile played around his mouth. "So I've heard. Word on the street is you can go three, four times a night easy, just to work the kinks out."

Starsky had to smile back. "That's what you've heard, huh? Well...that's with women. It's different...." 'Cause it's never as intense. It's never been this intense with anyone before....

"So, you do like sex better with men, then," Hutch said knowingly.

"No, it's different with men, like I said. But with you—it's even more different. 'Cause'a the way we are."

"Because we love one another—'re in love with me."

"Either. Both. I don't know. I just know I'm shot. I came like a freight train. You're just gonna hafta get nailed some other time. Sorry, pal."

Hutch grinned and cuddled against him. "I'll try to live with my disappointment. Maybe in the morning?"

Oh, yeah. Sure. That'll happen.

"I love you, Starsky," Hutch murmured, cuddling against him.

But you're still not in love with me, Starsky knew, sighing.

"And..." Hutch continued, a bit hesitantly, "what you did to me, the way you loved me.... No woman's ever done anything like that for me. It was...unbelievable."

I told you back in the Academy I was good at this, Hutch, that I knew what I was doin'. "I'm glad it was good for you, babe. It was good for me, too."

"We're so good together, so right...." Hutch's voice was sounding slurred, thick.

"Like I always told you, an' when we become partners on the force, we're gonna be unstoppable." Hutch's body suddenly sagged against him, the muscles going slack. Finally! Starsky waited, hearing the steady, rhythmic breathing that told him Hutch had, at last, gone to sleep. He stayed for a few moments, relishing the feel of Hutch in his arms resting heavily against him. My last chance to be with you like this, to touch you like a lover. His own eyes grew heavy and started to close.

The sound of a door closing in a neighboring apartment brought Starsky awake with a jerk, his heart pounding as, for a moment, he thought Vanessa had entered the apartment. Shit! Don't fall asleep here, idiot! It would be such a sweet capper to their lovemaking, to be able to just sag into sleep in Hutch's embrace. But it was too dangerous, way too dangerous. So far, they'd gotten away with it. He couldn't afford to screw it up now.

Time to get your ass outta this bed, he realized, and began carefully untangling himself from yards of Hutchinson. The last thing he wanted to do was rouse the sleeping giant. There's no word on the street 'bout your prowess, big guy, but Vanessa's dropped enough hints for me to read between the lines. She did it to try and make Starsky feel inadequate, but she didn't have the power to do that. She'd never know that all she really did was make him jealous—of her.

I've heard enough to know if he wakes up even after a short nap, he'll be ready to go again. And I can't let that happen. So, get your beauty rest, babe. You're gonna need it, since you're gonna wake up with a beaut of a hangover and the guilt trip to end all guilt trips. That or amnesia. Starsky knew which he was voting for.

He finally managed to free himself and inch out of the bed, substituting a pillow in his stead for Hutch to embrace. He straightened the bed around Hutch, drawing the covers up and tucking him in securely.

In sleep, Hutch's face was untroubled, relaxed. A slight smile graced his generous mouth. Unable to resist, Starsky leaned over and pressed his lips lightly to Hutch's, taking the kiss he couldn't take before, chastely, purely. A kiss of love, not of passion. Real love, Hutch. What we've got between us. Just don't wake up, Sleeping Beauty.

He pulled away, forced himself to step back, move away from the bed. Walking backwards, he kept his eyes on the still figure. Every step took him that much farther from what he really wanted; the one thing he could never have.

Maybe that's the meanin' of life, Hutch, like you're always wonderin' about. Y'know, how you're always askin'—what's it all mean? Maybe it means reaching for something so perfect, so beautiful, you couldn't live if you ever got to have it. Like you and me together. So real, so true, maybe we couldn't stand it. Maybe we'd ruin it. God, I love you. An' I always will. And that's okay. It's good. I'm glad about it.

Starsky left the bedroom, moved back into the living room, feeling his heart rate finally slowing. Turning his back on the bedroom and his heart, he leaned against the doorframe and ran a hand over his groin.

Okay. Okay. Add it to the list of memories and get on with your life.

He wondered about the time, and looked around for Hutch's antique clock, forgetting completely to check the watch still on his own wrist.

Shit, I was supposed to call Maurice an hour ago.

Finding his jacket on the chair where he left it, he brought it over the coffee table. Parking his butt on the couch, he pulled the jacket onto his lap. Digging around in his inner pocket, he dumped out a packet in a brown envelope, his wallet, some mangled, half-unwrapped gum, and an assortment of notes written on tiny pieces of paper. He fumbled through the little notes, searching more and more frantically, then dug around in his wallet, finally finding the number he was looking for sitting right next to his driver's license, where he left it.

Why is it men's brains go right out through their dick whenever they come, huh?

He was totally wiped, but he still needed to make this call.

I just love bein' a cop, he reminded himself grumpily. He pulled Hutch's phone onto his lap and dialed the number. It rang twice. "Hi. It's me.... Never mind how I sound." He smiled as Maurice, on the other end, made a rude comment. "Never mind why. What's the word, Mr. Bird?"

He listened as the voice on the other line gave him the information he'd paid for.

"Okay. Okay. Yeah, I hear you. Well, no, I'm not sure how I'm gonna play the scene or even when, but that's my problem. I want you to stay on the job, though, just a while longer. That cool with you? Cool." He grinned at the voice on the other end. "Yeah, bro', I hear ya. If this gig lasts much longer, I'm gonna declare you as a dependent on my income taxes! Kiss your cuz, Huggy Bear, for me when you see him, huh? And tell him to stop puttin' my shit out on the street." He listened to Maurice's reply. "Why's that? I had this...sweet fox tonight who gave me some static about not livin' up to my rep. Well, the only one spreadin' anything about my rep has to be my buddy, Huggy. Tell him, I'm gonna get him for that. He'll know what you mean. Stay cool."

Starsky hung up the phone gently and eased it back onto the coffee table. Now maybe I can do what my body's been beggin' me to do for the last half hour and crash. Hutch's couch didn't look nearly as inviting as his bed did, but it would have to do. Still, he needed a blanket, maybe a spare pillow if there was one in the closet.

He stood to get one, but instead found himself standing once more in the doorframe of Hutch's bedroom, leaning against it with one arm. Hutch hadn't moved, was still wrapped around the pillow, the look of satisfaction plain on his face. Starsky felt as if someone had put a hand around his heart and squeezed.

Then the front door opened, the click of the knob alerting him.

He spun in the doorframe of the bedroom, feet shoulder width apart, in defensive posture—the wolf protecting his lair.

The door swung open and he and Vanessa found themselves eye-to-eye, with only the short expanse of the living room between them.

Starsky felt a bead of sweat track down his back. If it had taken us fifteen more minutes....

She didn't even ask what Starsky was doing there, just smirked that same sarcastic smirk she always wore, and tossed her mane of long, dark hair. "The bed's not even cold, Dave, yet here you are already."

He returned her smile with one of his own. You're damned right the bed's not cold—you're out of it, ain't you? Aloud, he only said, "Hello, Vanessa."

Be cool, Davey-boy. You know how things can go in scenes like this. All she has to do is tear up that separation paper and slide her bare butt in that bed, and Hutch'll thank his lucky stars. Just be cool.

"Where is he?" she asked, all pretense of civility gone. The smile was gone.

Starsky tensed, but kept his stance in the bedroom doorway. "He's asleep." Neither of them had to put a name to the subject.

She marched over to the doorframe, ordering him imperiously, "Get out of my way."

Starsky didn't budge, his body stance warning enough. She stopped short of shoving him. He wasn't just an obstacle, and Starsky realized she had to know that. He was a man she couldn't charm, a man impervious to her beauty and sexuality. He was that rarest of creatures—a man she couldn't affect. And she hated him for it.

Glaring at him, she growled, "You're lucky I don't name you as co-respondent in my divorce suite."

Starsky smiled benignly. "Gotta have proof to do that. Courts are funny that way."

She lifted her chin. "How much proof do I need to claim alienation of affection?"

"More'n you got. You're his wife. His whole world. Hutch is a pushover for you, and you know it. All I am is his friend, available, as always, to pick up the broken pieces you leave behind." It was the raw truth, but it hurt him to admit it.

She smiled that same cold smile. "Glad you know your place in the great cosmic scheme. Now, get out of my way."

"He's asleep," Starsky said, his cop's stony demeanor unwavering. "He's gonna stay asleep."

"That's my bedroom, Officer. With my husband in it. Get. Out. Of. My. Way." She moved to shove past him, but Starsky gripped the doorframe, blocking her path.

"What's so important it can't wait till morning?" he asked.

Her eyes narrowed. "My lawyer found out about the trust fund," she hissed. "And don't try my patience with that 'what trust fund?' expression. No doubt you know all about it. You know every one of his little secrets. God forbid he should share them with his wife." She dodged under his arm, storming into the room before he could stop her.

Leaning over the sleeping form, she snapped, "Ken! Ken, wake up!" She grabbed his shoulder roughly, shook him. There was no response. She wrinkled her nose, glared at Starsky. "I should've known. He's drunk. This place reeks of alcohol. You're responsible for this, no doubt, so why are you still standing?"

"I'm not the one being divorced," he said simply. "Look, he's passed out, you wanna fight with him you're gonna hafta wait till morning."

She scowled, but clearly saw the rationale of Starsky's argument. Marching out of the bedroom, she blew past him, shoving him roughly against the doorframe. Quietly, he closed the bedroom door, not wanting to run the risk of Hutch accidentally waking up in the next few minutes.

Vanessa was on her way to the front door again. "Fine. He'll be hung over in the morning. It'll hurt more." She put a hand on the knob, spun around to throw one last taunt at Starsky. "No doubt you'll still be here. You'll probably be moved in by next week. Enjoy yourself. Ken is so much fun when he's in mourning. And when he finds out I know about the trust fund...."

"That was good detective work on your lawyer's part," Starsky said, approaching the coffee table. "That fund was really buried."

Vanessa smiled, all teeth, like a predator. "Can you imagine? All these years we've lived hand-to-mouth on his pathetic salary while that money was there, just growing, reproducing like rabbits, untouched. I could just kill him."

"That money is buried 'cause Hutch doesn't feel like it's his money. It's his parent's money. He doesn't want it. He wants to make it on his own." Starsky kept his voice low. He couldn't afford to have Hutch hear him. He wasn't supposed to know about the fund, either.

"Of course, you'd be on his side in this," Vanessa complained. "No doubt that self-sacrificing Protestant work ethic makes sense to you— Oh, scratch that, wrong religion! It doesn't matter. My lawyer's found it now. Community property makes half of it mine. Half the trust fund, and that's just the beginning. My lawyer says the conditions I've had to live under should net me a nice alimony payment for past hardships. Ken doesn't want to be saddled with money? I'll happily alleviate him of the burden."

Starsky sighed. He was tired, wrung out. He wasn't expecting to have to deal with this tonight. But the opportunity was here. He couldn't let it go past.

Quietly, he said, "No, you won't."

She blinked, not hearing him right for a second. "What?"

"I said, no, you won't. Alleviate him of the burden of his money. Of any of it."

She crossed her arms and stood with one hip canted. "And why won't I? Just what do you think you're going to do about it? Arrest me?"

Starsky sighed. "Well, technically I could.... Adultery is still against the law." He reached for the packet that lay innocently on the coffee table. Opening the small brown envelope, he pulled out an array of photos and spread them across the table like a deck of cards. "I think you look especially good in this one." Picking up one particular picture, he handed it to her.

Her mouth opened in astonishment as she stared at the image of herself expertly performing fellatio on a dark skinned man who was clearly not her husband.

In a low tone that spoke of barely contained fury, she growled, "How...? When did you...?"

"Not me," Starsky assured her. "Lawyers aren't the only ones who can find things out, schweetheart. And in case you're wondering, there's more. There's audio tape—you should'a been a singer, honey, 'cause you sure do howl in the rack—and even some live film. Oh, yeah—and one live witness. More'n enough to prosecute, to prove adultery, and more'n enough to deny any alimony claims. Proving adultery's about the only way to deny community property claims, did you know that? I can't think of a judge in California who would grant you alimony or community property after seein' these pictures." He pointed a finger at her. "You been screwin' around on Hutch for over two years, and now you think you're gonna take his money? Think again, sister."

She shook her head, trying to deny the reality before her. She took a step closer to the coffee table, stared at the entire array, the proof of her infidelity Starsky had been sitting on for months. "You won't use these. You'd have to bring them into court. You'd have to display them in front of him." She nodded her dark-haired head towards the bedroom. "And you'd cut off your arm before you'd hurt him."

"Which is why I hired someone else to do it," Starsky told her. "I won't have to go to court. My man will. And if my choice is hurtin' Hutch to save his pocketbook, hurtin' him to keep you from takin' him to the cleaners—then, yeah. It'll be like necessary surgery to save him from cancer." He moved closer to her, invading her space, threatening her with his size, his strength. She shrank back fractionally, making him smile. "You think about bein' in court when this stuff is laid before the judge. You think about how your little sweetheart's gonna handle the notoriety. You think about being convicted of adultery. You think about that."

She stared at the pictures, looked at Starsky, then back at the pictures. He could see her sharp mind working. "He'll know you were behind it. He'll know you found it out. He won't forgive you for not telling him before. You'll lose him."

"Maybe I will. But you'll still lose the bucks. Hutch's bucks. An' more important—you'll lose all claims to him. He'll never forgive you for lyin' to him, for the magnitude of it." He thought about the man in the next room who was willing to let another man fuck him just to be assured that he was still loved. "You've taken enough from him. You've taken his heart. I'll take my chances with this. How about you?"

Her beautiful face was a mask of contained hatred.

Before she could say anything else, Starsky warned her, "By the way, that dude you're playin' house with in those shots—I got paper on him. He's got warrants in three states for check kiting, and fencing stolen gems. You stick with him, Vanessa, and you'll be hittin' the big time soon enough. I suggest the two of you might wanna relocate for awhile."

Her jaw worked back and forth as she glanced at the pictures again, as if trying to convince herself of their reality.

"You wanna take those with you," he said, smiling, "I've got more."

She dropped the pictures on the table and walked up to him, nose to nose. "You think you've won this one, don't you?"

Starsky shook his head, sadly. "No one wins this one, Vanessa. Not Hutch. Not you. Not even me. Maybe you'll figure that out someday."

She glared at him furiously, and walked slowly out of the apartment, closing the door quietly behind her.

Starsky gathered up the pictures, put them back in the envelope and slid that back in his jacket pocket. He honestly didn't know if he could go through with it, reveal Vanessa's transgressions in court. If he had to, she was right—Hutch would never forgive him. And the passion they'd shared tonight would suddenly be cast in an entirely different light. But he'd be damned if he'd sit back and let Vanessa bleed Hutch dry.

You wanna hide your money, babe, that's your right. He didn't exactly understand what Hutch had against being rich, why he wouldn't use the frightening amount of money his parents had given him in trust, but he didn't need to understand it. This was Hutch's way, and he respected that. It had been a shock to learn about the money, but once he got over the surprise, he just accepted it, the way he accepted all of Hutch's little foibles. The way Hutch accepted his.

Like bein' in love with him. Most straight guys would've headed for the hills, would've run far and fast. Hutch just told me he loved me, and stuck by me.

Moving over to the front door, Starsky opened it, pulled the spare key off the lintel and locked the door after shutting it. That's enough unexpected visitors for one night.

Tossing the key onto the coffee table, he was able to truly relax with Vanessa's departure. For the first time tonight, I can be confident she won't return for a second go round. Now, where the hell's that spare pillow?

On his way to the linen closet, he passed the closed bedroom door. Unable to resist, he reopened it slowly and gazed wistfully at the sleeping man. Hutch slept on, oblivious to the drama that had played out nearby. That made Starsky glad. Hiring Huggy's cousin the private detective had been a good investment.

Suddenly, something occurred to him.

No way will Vanessa be back again tonight. I've got the door locked, and the spare key inside.

There was absolutely nothing stopping Starsky from stripping and climbing back into bed with Hutch.

No sooner did the tempting thought occur than his dick hardened in his pants, urging him to follow his desire. Absently, Starsky rubbed himself through the denim, trying to ease the deep ache. He'd lied to Hutch about his ability. He'd never needed a lot of recovery time, especially when his feelings ran strong. But Hutch would've never left him alone if he'd told him the truth.

You could climb in with him now. Take him in your arms. He's sleepin' so sound, he'd just curl up with you like a baby. You could love him awake....

As Starsky stared at his sleeping friend, his mind raced ahead full tilt with the fantasy. He clearly saw himself climbing into the bed, letting his bare body nestle against Hutch's. He'd touch Hutch once more with the hands of lover, so gently, so carefully, waiting for the slight response he would have. Then he'd use his mouth, tasting Hutch again, licking, nipping, kissing all over that fragrant, warm skin. Lower and lower.... Until he came to the sleeping cock, nestled in all that soft blond hair. He saw himself tonguing the limp organ teasingly, running his tongue up under the protective foreskin, making it wet there, gently urging the sleepy member awake. As he ran his tongue under the tender skin flap, the glans would start to swell, pushing its way out from under its covering like a rose bud blooming. Starsky's tongue would arouse and delight, tantalize and torture, until finally Hutch's breath would come faster, and his cock would grow long. Then, at last, when Starsky started sucking the vivid erection in earnest, Hutch would wake, finding himself completely aroused, insanely hot, when all along he'd have thought it was just a wonderful dream.

Starsky's mouth watered from the fantasy and he found himself rubbing his crotch hard.

And then his tongue would leave that beautiful cock, leave it glistening wet in the dim bedroom light, and slide down over the softly furred balls, down below them, lower, lower, until Starsky's tongue could slide into the very center of Hutch's being, wetting his entrance, asking permission for the ultimate pleasure. And Hutch's soft moans would grant him permission. His tongue would stay there a long time, until Hutch was crazed, relaxed, opening, pressing against that sucking, licking mouth, begging...begging....

His fingers would open Hutch slowly, gently. He would go slow, so very slow, so there'd be no pain, just pleasure, the most intense, insane pleasure Hutch had ever had. One finger, two, three.... Hutch would be humping the air, needing it bad, wanting more and more. Then finally, Starsky would coat himself with lubricant, anoint his lover, then carefully, tenderly, he would enter Hutch's body. And Hutch would love it, and tell him so, arching his body, impaling himself on Starsky's formidable length. Then Starsky would fuck him, so gently, so beautifully, and make it last so long. Then Hutch would be his. His completely.

He shuddered, the fantasy causing him actual physical pain. He was gripping his swollen rod hard, at the same time his other hand clung to the door frame. He'd broken out in a sweat, panting silently in the doorframe.

He was three steps into the bedroom before he realized what was happening.

What the fuck are you doin'?

He stood rigidly still, controlling his breathing, suddenly terrified that he'd wake Hutch now. He pulled his hand off his own cock and backed up, one step at a time.

Back at the doorframe, still panting slightly, he found he couldn't pull his eyes off the innocently sleeping man.

You want a fantasy, Davey—then make yourself a real one. See yourself ten years from now, with Hutch by your side.

He made himself envision a typical LA backyard, him and Hutch playing with a passel of young kids, some of them blond, some of them with unruly dark, curly hair. The kids were giggling hysterically as the two cops—detectives now, partners—wrestled with them playfully. Uncle Ken and Uncle Dave let the kids overwhelm them until two sweet-faced women came outside with cold food and ordered the kids to wash up. The women were kind of vague in his mind, but they were nice-looking, good-hearted women. Neither of them looked like Vanessa.

That's your fantasy, Davey. Focus on it. Look forward to it. It's your future, the future you and Hutch been plannin' since you met. The only future that makes any sense. That other dream is nothing but a road to heartache and disaster. Forget it. This man loves you, really, truly loves you. He'll love you all your life...unless you screw it up. So, be happy. Accept the reality of life in the real world. It'll be a good life.

He nodded, feeling his cock shrinking finally, easing its terrible demands. He took one last look at his sleeping friend, then turned away, closing the bedroom door again.

Well, if I wasn't tired before, I'm ready to drop now. He abandoned the idea of looking for a pillow when he didn't find one in the closet. He couldn't risk entering that bedroom again. Snagging a blanket from the hall closet, he rolled up his leather jacket and put that under his head. Just like Gene Autry would'a done out on the trail.

He tried not to think about the pictures still secured in the pocket under his head. He tried even harder not to think about the nude blond in a bed not twenty five feet away from him.


The smell of coffee insinuated itself into his brain, but all it did was make him hunker down into his leather pillow and pull the blanket up tighter around his face. But it was such a good smell, such an enticing smell, that, eventually, he couldn't deny it any longer and slowly cracked open one eyelid.

Daylight. Bright daylight. He shut the eye tight and groaned.

After resting a minute, he tried again. Easing open the lid, he scanned the living room. Morning. Late morning by the angle of the sun. Cup of hot, black coffee in front of him, with two slices of—he looked again to be sure—dry, whole wheat toast resting neatly on a plate beside it. His stomach roiled at the sight of the food, so he looked away. In an armchair near his feet sat Hutch, drinking his own coffee and munching toast—how can he stand that sound?—all freshly showered in his bright orange bathrobe, his golden hair slicked back wet. He didn't even look the least bit hung over. For a moment, Starsky purely hated him.

Seeing life stirring on the couch, Hutch inclined his cup in tribute, then said quietly, "Good morning."

Is it? Starsky wondered warily, the events of the previous evening coming back with a sudden, shocking clarity. Pulling his act together, he snaked an arm out and snagged his coffee cup, daring a sip. There was no sugar in it, and he nearly gagged. "Huuutch!" he whined.

"All that sugar's gonna kill you, Starsk," Hutch assured him, nothing but kindness in his voice. He smiled gently. "You need to give it up, give your body time to cleanse itself of its toxins...."

No! No, this is too cruel, Starsky thought, dazedly. Hutchinson health lectures the morning after too much liquor and some of the sweetest sex I've had in years? I can't stand it.

"This is why I wanted to make the post-hangover coffee," he grumbled, sitting up unceremoniously, scratching his half-exposed chest and belly. He hated sleeping in his clothes. Glaring at the toast, he pushed it away grumpily. "I hate breakfast at your house. When you sleep at my house, I always have somethin' decent for you to eat."

Hutch nodded sagely. "Sure. Like cold pizza and root beer."

"I never served you cold pizza," Starsky protested, not that he could see anything wrong with that, but after all, it was leftovers. Hardly suitable food for a guest. "I always get you fresh danish or doughnuts—"

"Laden with white sugar, hydrogenated fats, goopy smears falsely representing themselves as fruit...."

Starsky groaned. "Yeah. Good stuff. The real reason I got over the flu so fast that time you nursed me was so's I could get outta here to eat some decent food! This is dry toast, Hutch!"

"You need the fiber. Besides, it'll help your hangover. Oh, yeah, drink this." There was a small table beside Hutch's armchair; he reached toward it, picked up a glass, and handed it to Starsky. It was full of something orange and creamy looking.

"Uh-uh! Forget it! I am not drinkin' one of them weird voo-doo health drinks of yours. I swear, Hutch, I'll barf my guts up."

"It's orange juice," Hutch insisted. "You like orange juice. Of course, I added a little—"

"Don't tell me!" Starsky begged. "I won't be able to deal with it if you tell me." He grabbed the glass and downed it in a swallow and was amazed at how tasty it really was. Hutch could kill the flavor of even orange juice with his health food concoctions. A moment later, he was surprised to find he actually did feel better. "That was good. Thanks. Keep the recipe a family secret, okay?"

"Okay." Hutch was gazing at him openly, his eyes soft. His expression was different, Starsky thought, then realized the subtle etching of anger and dissatisfaction Hutch had worn for the last few years—as his marriage disintegrated—was gone. It had been replaced by a pervasive sorrow. Starsky couldn't decide if that were good or bad. Then he noticed that Hutch had removed his wedding ring.

You'll get over her, Hutch. I promise. I'll make sure you do. I'll introduce you to some of the finest ladies—

"Wanna talk about last night?" Hutch said quietly.

Starsky felt as if an ice-shard had just pierced his chest. "Only if you do," he said honestly. Timidly, he asked, "What do you remember?"

Hutch paused a second, then smiled wryly. "Everything."

Starsky's heart sank. Thanks a lot, God.

"I mean—I think I remember everything.... Everything's real clear to me until..." he shifted in the chair as if uncomfortable, "I...uh...came the first time. I know I fell asleep then. After gets pretty fuzzy."

Starsky ran that through his brain. After that...? The first time? He thinks we did it again? Maybe he dreamed...? He started to tell Hutch they'd only done it the once, but Hutch spoke first.

"I remember the things we talked about," Hutch said decisively. "I know it was my idea. That I pushed you into it. I want to apologize for that. I-I'm really sorry, Starsk. I...feel like I used you."

Starsky just blinked and stared at him. "How's zat?"

"I was feeling so...lost, so abandoned.... I kept after you, hounded you, really, trying to...make you love me. Forcing you into dredging up stuff I know you'd...put away a long time ago. I wouldn't quit either, till I pushed you into making love to me. I'm...I'm sorry. I know you'd decided...not to go that way anymore. I know you only did it for me." Hutch swallowed.

Man, he's in full blown martyr-mode this morning. That's great, just great. Well, at least I can be sure he didn't hear me and Vanessa out here last night. And, I guess he doesn't hate me. He just thinks he owes me the universe. I'm not sure that's any better.

Hutch was still apologizing. "I'm...hoping that the damage I've done isn't...permanent. That I haven't...ruined the balance in our relationship. I'm hoping you can still trust me. That you still want to be my partner. And...Starsky, I'm ready to take full responsibility for...what I've started. Whatever you want from me, need from me.... I mean—this was all my idea. I'm ready to be your lover on any terms you want." Hutch tried to smile but it was strained.

All Starsky wanted to do was crawl back under the covers and hide. You make bein' my lover sound like a prison term. Starsky rubbed a hand over his face. "You don't remember what happened after I went down on you?" He stared Hutch straight in the eye.

Hutch flinched slightly and shook his head. "I just remember...that first time...."

"You don't remember doin' me?" Starsky watched Hutch's color tinge pink. Absently, Hutch ran the tip of his tongue over his lower lip. He shook his head and shrugged. Starsky could see his unease. Don't fancy yourself as a cocksucker, huh, boy?

To his credit, Hutch tried to joke about it. He smiled bravely. "Was I any good at it?"

"For a beginner," Starsky said casually, then stood up and wandered around the room, his mind working. "'Sides, that was just the preliminaries." He glanced at Hutch, saw the tension in his body as Hutch struggled to remember what had never occurred.

"Oh, yeah?" Hutch said weakly.

Starsky strolled around behind Hutch's armchair, leaned on the back, so he could murmur in a perfectly formed ear. "You don't remember...askin' me to fuck you?"

Hutch nodded. "I remember that."

"But you don't remember doin' it?"

Hutch colored violently. "Last thing I remember was you're saying you were too tired. You said...we'd have to do it some other day...."

"We napped for an hour. You woke up. Woke me up. You wouldn't leave me alone. You're quite insistent when you want your way. But you can't remember?"

He could see Hutch mulling it over, shifting his body, trying to find some physical memory that might tell him what had happened. "It-it doesn't feel like we—"

"You were a virgin," Starsky reminded him, emphasizing the past tense. "I was real careful. 'Sides, I told you in the Academy, I'm good at this." He ran the back of his hand over Hutch's nape, while pitching his voice low. "You were beggin' for it. So I made it last all night, like I promised. I can't believe you don't remember."

Hutch's neck was hot to the touch, scarlet, his body tense as a bow. "Sorry, Starsk. I-I wish I could...."

"Don't worry about it, Hutch," Starsky said seductively. "We can have a rerun this morning. I'm ready, bad coffee an' all. How 'bout you?"

Hutch lurched up from the chair, taking two long strides away from Starsky before forcing himself to stop. "Starsk, I-I...." He shut his mouth with a snap.

Starsky came up behind him, nearly stepping on his heels, wanting Hutch to feel the heat from his body. "Remember what you said last night?"

Hutch bowed his head. "Oh yeah. I remember. I said I'd give you...anything. Anything you wanted."

"And that's what you gave me, what you said you'd always give me. Anything I wanted. Whenever I wanted it."

"Starsk, I—" Hutch started, but Starsky placed a possessive hand on his shoulder to stop him.

"I know it's gonna take some adjustment, Hutch. It's okay. I'm patient. It'll be easier once I move in."

"" Hutch turned slightly to look at him over his shoulder.

"That's what you said you wanted. Last night." He moved closer, deliberately brushing his groin against Hutch's ass. "We'd been at it awhile. I was deep in you. You were sayin' a lotta shit. Like how you loved the way I was doin' you, how you wanted to live with me, be mine alone." He struggled to look sincere. "How you always wanted to be my boy."

Hutch started, frowning. He looked Starsky in the eye. "Your boy?"

"You said it, not me, buddy," Starsky insisted, working to keep the expression on his face even, but he could see Hutch was growing suspicious. He shrugged. "I told you it might start to look funny, that IA might get suspicious if we lived together openly, but you said that's what you wanted. Of course, I had you really climbin' the walls at that point, but...." Starsky struggled to look both butch and genuine. "I'd hate to think it was all pillow talk, Hutch."

"Look, Starsk, last night...I...."

Starsky placed the flat of his hand against the lush mound of Hutch's ass. He felt the muscle tense against his touch and struggled not to be hurt by it. He murmured, his voice sultry. "C'mon Hutch, let's go. I can't get into your ass again...."

He could hear Hutch swallow audibly. "Starsk...I...uh...."

"Yeah," Starsky breathed, "I wanna get into your ass all right...with my foot!" He stepped back and gave Hutch a sharp, swift kick.

Hutch spun around, grabbing his offended part. "Ow!"

Starsky poked him hard in the chest with a forefinger. "You dumb jackass, the reason you can't remember what happened after you fell asleep is 'cause nothing happened! What the hell kinda friend do you think I am, anyway? You think I'd take advantage of you like that when you were drunk?" He tried not to think about the vivid fantasy that had nearly prodded him to do just that.

Hutch was totally dazed. "Nothing happened? Nothing after...?"

"Get this straight—you should excuse the expression. You don't have to give up your lily-white ass just to make sure someone on the planet loves you. I love you. Without compensation. You're my best friend. I'm never gonna leave you. But if I ever, ever, even considered for a second fuckin' you—you'd hafta be stone cold sober before it would ever happen. Understand? Sober!"

Hutch was shaking his head, still trying to figure out what had happened between them. "But...we're lovers now.... I-I made promises to you...."

"Hutch," Starsky said, with far more patience than he felt, "you were drunk and you were hurting. I know you were drunk, cause I fed you the booze. I was...tryin' to anesthetize you, trying to fix it so you'd just go to sleep. You were so blue. I'd'a done anything to take some of your hurt away. But, damn, Hutch—I wouldn't'a taken advantage of you!"

Hutch's eyes were liquid. He touched Starsky's cheek with all the gentleness he had. "I remember that. You did do everything you could to take the pain away." He brushed his thumb lightly across Starsky's lower lip.

As he did, Starsky's knees turned to water.

"Guess what," Hutch whispered. "It worked."

"Huh?" Starsky said dumbly, Hutch's touch short-circuiting his brain.

"Once we got in were all I could think about. The pleasure you gave me, your tenderness, I couldn't believe how good you made me feel. I never thought...a man could make me feel like that. And for awhile, it did make all the hurt go away. Even this morning...the pain of...her leaving me— It's still there, but it's not raw like it was. I know I'll live through it. I'll get over it. And I wouldn't be feeling this way except for you." Hutch slid his hand into Starsky's hair. "I know I've been acting like a silly virgin this morning, but...that's what I am. You've gotta believe me, Starsk, I don't regret becoming your lover. patient with me while everything's still new...."

Oh, jeez—we're never gonna survive the honeymoon—'cause I'm gonna kill him!

It took an effort, but Starsky managed to take Hutch's gently caressing hand and pull it away, holding onto it for safety. He needed to be clear-headed and he couldn't be with Hutch touching him like that.

"Hutch," he said softly, "we're not lovers."

Hutch's face went slack. "Of course we are. Maybe we didn't fuck last night, but we sure as hell made love. Or at least, you made love to me...."

Starsky sighed. "You got a really broad notion of what makes someone your lover. To me, a lover is someone I sleep with, make love with, on a very regular basis. Once ever four years don't cut it."

Hutch began to look impatient. "Starsky—"

He cut him off. "Hutch, last night, you needed somethin' that I could give. I-I was glad to give it. But you're right to worry about the balance of our relationship. If you insist on callin' us lovers, or on trying to be my lover, it's all gonna fall apart for us. You're straight, and you're not in love with me. You're gonna find it's all really different now that you're sober." He looked Hutch straight in the eye. "When I touched your ass just now you wanted to crawl outta your skin."

Hutch looked angry. "So, I'm just supposed to grab hold of the oldest excuse in the book—I only did it cause I was drinking—and run out on you? Pretend what happened last night didn't mean anything to either of us?"

Starsky swallowed. "No. We don't have to pretend that. I couldn't pretend that if I tried, Hutch. But we can't pretend that you're in love with me, either. And we can't pretend that the whole world's gonna look the other way if we take a walk on the wild side on a regular basis."

"Oh, yeah. I forgot. You're still looking for that picket fence fantasy," Hutch said bitterly.

"It's gonna take you some time to get over Vanessa," Starsky agreed, "but when you do, you're gonna be lookin' for it, too. You liked being married. You fought hard to stay married. And you wanted kids in the worst way. You know that's the truth."

Hutch bowed his head, the truth of what Starsky was saying to him undeniable. "I feel like...I'm abandoning you. That I lied to you—"

Unspoken were the words, The same way Vanessa treated me.

Starsky shook his head. "You're not abandoning me, buddy. I'm pushing you away." And I don't know how much longer I can keep doin' it. So, please, Hutch, please, let it go. Let me try to get us back on track again.

Hutch had that anguished look again. "If...that's what you really want...."

I can't let myself think about what I really want, Hutch. At the moment, I'm just too damn fragile for that.

"That's what we both want," Starsky told him, and Hutch couldn't deny it.

Starsky turned back to the couch, wanting to get his shoes on. He'd take them both to breakfast, get them some decent food.... Get us outta this apartment, into a public place. It'll put things in perspective.

But before he reached the couch, Hutch snagged his arm, pulled his attention back.

"One thing, first," Hutch insisted. "Don't you think it's kinda interesting that when my wife dumped me, the only thing I could think to do to get over it was to crawl into your arms?"

Starsky stood immobile, unable to answer, unwilling to examine the issue.

"When Barbara dumped you—or half-a-dozen of the other women you've cared enough about to be hurt by—how come you didn't climb into my bed for comfort, huh?"

Because I'd never be able to get out again—and you know it.

Hutch didn't wait for him to answer, as if he knew he couldn't. "I want this out in the air. While we're both sober. I said something to you last night I couldn't find the courage to say before. Something I've been trying to find the guts to say for four years. I know damn well there are times when you want me, when you need me. Physically. Sexually. I've seen it in your eyes. You always get real distant then, you avoid touching me, avoid looking at me directly. I know that's when you're hurting the worst."

Hutch eased up his grip, as if realizing he was being too rough. His body relaxed slightly. "You don't want us to be 'lovers'—that word, that label, rattles you too much, okay. You think we can't make it work in the world we live in, you think I can't handle it, well, maybe you're right. But I'm telling you now, the next time you're hurting like that—I'm coming after you. I'm your friend, too. I want to be there for you, anyway you need me. Anyway you want me. Because I love you."

Starsky patted Hutch's hand where it gripped his arm. "Okay. Okay, Hutch." I love you, too, baby blue. A hell of a lot more'n I should. A lot more'n I can afford to.

Hutch reeled him in for a tight, affectionate hug, the kind they always shared, and Starsky melted into it, feeling his heart pound against Hutch's chest. Just as he tried to think of someway to extricate himself before he got hard again, the phone rang.

Impatiently, Hutch pulled away, pointing at him. "Hold that thought."

Starsky nodded, and dug around the coffee table for his shoes.

"Hello," Hutch said abruptly, using the kind of voice that would scare anyone off except his beat partner or his captain.

As Starsky struggled to get his running shoes on without untying the shoelaces—a habit that drove Hutch crazy—he heard Hutch's voice change radically.

"Hello, Vanessa."

Starsky's head snapped around, and he and Hutch shared eye contact. Starsky glanced guiltily at the leather jacket still rolled up on the couch. If she told Hutch about her midnight visit, all the repair work they'd done this morning would be down the tubes. Would Starsky even get a chance to tell his side of it? He found his heart pounding as if he'd just run a mile.

"Yes, I got the paper, you know I did," Hutch said a bit impatiently. He listened, his jaw tight, his expression grim. But his eyes only showed anger, none of the too-bright pain of last night.

I did that for him. Took that pain away. I did that by loving him....

Hutch's voice changed yet again. Now, he sounded confused. "What do you mean, you don't want.... Is that what your lawyer advised you...? But, what are you gonna live on...? Vanessa, I...I don't understand.... No, I'm not trying to start an argument!" He'd raised his voice on that last.

Starsky wondered if maybe he should disappear into the bathroom for awhile to give Hutch privacy, but when he tried to leave the room, Hutch gestured for him to stay put. He sat back down on the couch and put his sneakered feet up on the coffee table.

"Well, if you really want it this way, Vanessa, but I feel obliged to advise you to talk to your lawyer.... Oh, you did. Yeah, I bet he wasn't happy. Well, all right. Sure. I'll, uh, talk to you later." He glanced at Starsky, then said, "Yeah, I'll tell him. Oh, and Vanessa—good luck."

Hutch hung up the phone carefully.

Starsky waited. He knew he should really ask, What was all that about? But he was too afraid he'd reveal something he shouldn't, so he simply sat silently, waiting.

"That was Vanessa," Hutch said unnecessarily. He was still staring at the phone, as if it might turn into a snake and bite him. "She, uh, she wanted to tell me—" He looked up at Starsky, his expression dazed. "She wanted me to know that she doesn't want any money. No settlement. No alimony. She just wants a simple divorce. No bucks."

Starsky bit the inside of his cheek to keep his expression under control. He opened his eyes wide and tried to look surprised. "Vanessa? Doesn't want the money?"

"She said it was worth giving it up if it meant we wouldn't fight anymore. She has some connections for jobs; she isn't hurting for money. She just wants out." He glanced at Starsky. "And weirdly enough, she told me to say good morning to you."

Starsky grinned weakly. "Really?"

Hutch ran a hand through his hair. "It's too strange. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. I knew I was gonna be tied up in court for years over her settlement. Now, just like that, it's all...over."

Starsky stood up, concerned over Hutch's odd expression. "You okay, buddy?"

Hutch blinked once, then smiled. "Yeah. Yeah, I really am. It's really over. All the fighting, all the conflict. I can start rebuilding my life." He gazed at his friend. "Thanks, Starsk. Thanks for everything."

Starsky smiled back at him, knowing Hutch didn't know half of what he was thanking him for. He couldn't believe Vanessa had yielded so easily. Now he could call off Maurice and save a few bucks every month.

"Let's go celebrate!" Starsky announced.

"Celebrate a divorce?" Hutch asked warily.

"Not a divorce," Starsky said. "Bachelorhood! You only remember the hassle, not the fun." Grinning, Starsky waggled a finger at Hutch and slipped into a classic "old Jewish lady" accent. "And have I got a girl for you, Hutch, a lady who's gonna make your toes curl and your eyes roll up in your head."

"Starsky, you need to work on your Jewish mother routine," Hutch said, laughing. "My eyes are already rolling."

"Come on. I'll buy us a decent breakfast at the pancake house, and tell you all about her." Starsky grabbed his jacket before realizing Hutch was still in his bathrobe. "Fer cryin' out loud, will you get dressed already!"

"I'm goin'!" Hutch agreed, heading for his bedroom, "I'm goin'!"

By the time Hutch came out of the bedroom, still tucking in his shirt, Starsky was hanging up the phone.

"You know, I've been thinking, Starsk," Hutch said, reaching for his jacket where it was hung by the front door. "Maybe I will look for another place. Start over fresh. Like you suggested."

"Funny thing you mentioned that," Starsky said, as they headed for the door together. "I just called a Realtor I know in Venice—that little yellow bungalow is back up for rent. I told him you might be interested."

"You did? That's great! That was the best place for my plants. Thanks!"

Yeah, and it'll get you out of this place, which already has too many memories for me. Starsky patted Hutch on the back, relishing the simple contact. "Hey! What are friends for?"

Hutch paused, then looked at Starsky significantly. "I already know the answer to that, Starsky," he said smoothly. He cracked up laughing when Starsky blushed to his roots.

"Very funny," Starsky grumbled, giving Hutch a shove out the door. "Anyone ever tell you your eyes flash beautifully when you're aroused?"

"Not really," Hutch told him without embarrassment. Then Hutch halted, making Starsky run smack into his back. Hutch turned, confronting his friend. "By the way, I hope you don't think I bought that bit about being 'your boy?'"

Starsky shrugged a little sheepishly. "The look on your face made it all worthwhile. Y'know, your eyes flash when you're embarrassed, too."

Hutch smacked him playfully on the butt, and shoved Starsky toward Hutch's battered old Galaxy.

"Uh-uh!" Starsky protested. "No way! I ain't ridin' in that, I'll never live up to the public humiliation. We'll take my Mustang. It's old, but at least it's clean."

It was an old argument between them, and the familiarity of it was comforting to them both.

"I guess I don't have to worry about Vanessa suing me for half this car, huh?" Hutch joked, as he stared at his faded, battered old car. Vanessa's hatred for the vehicle was the only thing she and Starsky had in common.

Starsky stared at his friend, surprised that Hutch was able to find even a glimmer of humor in his situation. It pleased him inordinately. I didn't lie, Hutch. The look on your face, the one you're wearin' right now—a little sad maybe, but clearly recovering—made everything that happened last night worthwhile. And we're gonna be okay. Really okay. Even now the ache inside Starsky was being relegated to the small, dark place he'd always lock it in before. He was pleased he could still do that.

The two of them finally entered Starsky's flashy red Ford, and drove off, facing their future together.

You remember the faces the places the names
You know it's never over, it's relentless as the rain
You're born into this life paying
For the sins of somebody else's past...
You inherit the sins, you inherit the flames
Adam Raised a Cain—Bruce Springsteen