As far as the book and Monte's lieutenant, they got lucky--or un, depending on your point of view, Hutch thought.

    Entire portions of the book were in code, and that would have to be broken with the FBI's help. Once certain elements of the code were cracked, Monte's lieutenant could fill in dates, names, places, witnesses. But cracking the code and working with the lieutenant, then arranging for warrants and judges was all stuff the two street cops didn't need to really help with. If anything, Dobey found them underfoot with all the technical problems they were facing and shooed them out of the squad room with orders to "Get outta here and get some sleep. I'll call you back in as soon as some action's going down."

    Starsky told Dobey they'd both be crashing at his place, then grabbed Hutch by the elbow and they made their escape. Even the FBI guys were happy with them. It was almost too good to be true.

    It was nearly two a.m. when they pulled up outside of Starsky's apartment, finally at the end of their long, eventful work week. It bothered Hutch that they had ended up here without really discussing it, but it's not like it was that unusual. While he often hosted Starsky at his place, his partner's apartment was really closer to Metro than going all the way to Venice. Still, this meant that whatever was about to go down between them would happen on Starsky's turf.

    Home field advantage, Hutch thought glumly. He stared at the long wooden staircase and thought suddenly how much it looked like a hangman's platform. He shook his head.

    "You okay?" Starsky said softly.

    He glanced at his partner. "Yeah. Just thinking that couch of yours is sure gonna feel good tonight."

    "Oh, yeah?" Starsky muttered cryptically, grinning. "Don't tell me you're tired, old man. Want me to carry you?"

    Before Hutch could answer, Starsky was out of the car and jogging around to the passenger door which he opened with a flourish. Hutch unfolded his long frame from the low slung car and peered at his partner, wishing he could figure out where Starsky was coming from. He looked into blue eyes that were so darkened by the night sky as to seem almost black.

    "Think you could?" Hutch asked. "Carry me? Up all those steps?"

    Starsky shrugged. "You managed to carry me when I was shot. Had to feel like a mile for you, dead weight like I was."

    Hutch flinched when Starsky said the word "dead." "You were pretty out of it at that point. I didn't think you'd remember that."

    "Oh yeah, I remember," Starsky assured him. "I heard Teresa's boyfriend and one of the hit man offer to help haul me in there but you wouldn't let 'em. Wouldn't let anyone touch me but you."

    The sentence hung between them for a long moment, then Starsky looked back at his staircase. "'Course, bein' hauled up these steps in a fireman's carry wouldn't be nearly as comfortable as the way you carried me. But that's the only way I could wrestle all that blondness up them stairs. You ready?" He moved as if to sling Hutch over his shoulder.

    Hutch put a restraining hand on his chest. "Think I've still got enough energy to get up there on my own power, buddy. Thanks anyway."

    Starsky moved ahead of him, taking the steps two at a time with a reserve of energy Hutch envied. It didn't bother him, either, to watch his partner's graceful legs and ass move smoothly in jeans that were at least a size too tight. He pushed his mind away from forbidden topics and tried to blank his thoughts so he could be open for whatever Starsky might want to bring up tonight. Maybe he'd get lucky, Hutch hoped, and Starsky would just let him crash and deal with bigger issues in the morning.

    Or tomorrow afternoon. Or the day after that. Yeah. Right.

    Hutch took the steps one at a time and watched where he placed his feet to avoid stumbling. Falling up stairs always made him feel like a total klutz and he already felt at a disadvantage.

    Starsky flipped on lights and bustled around the kitchen as if it were eight in the morning instead of two. "Thought I'd make some coffee. Okay with you? We still gotta eat those cannoli's or Marie's gonna be mad as hell."

    After the sumptuous meal in the restaurant Hutch had thought he'd never be hungry again, but the lightly sweet cannoli with some coffee would be nice right now, he decided. "Sounds good, partner," he said, slipping his brown leather jacket off and slinging it over a kitchen chair. He ran a hand over his dark shirt, spotting some crumbs left over from dinner.

    He'd have to be careful, he realized as he undid his holster and placed it also over the chair. The familiar, friendly ambiance of Starsky's place could be dangerous, making him relax, say things, think things, be too optimistic. He watched his friend moving around his kitchen as he pulled down clean plates, took the cannoli's out of the bag, unwrapped the wine.

    It was good to see all the stiffness from the gunshot wound gone, to see the liquid grace back in Starsky's well-defined arms, his long torso and muscular back. Hutch felt a pang of longing that was so strong it shook him. He wanted suddenly to slide his hands around Starsky's narrow waist, press his front against his ripe, solid butt, enfold his masculine chest in his arms, bury his face in the mass of curls framing Starsky's head. He forced himself to close his eyes to block the image of himself doing just that and more. He scrubbed his face with his hands, as if he could wash away the fantasy.

    "I thought maybe, if we wanted, we could open the wine while we talked," Starsky said too casually. "Wha'd'ya think, Hutch?"

    "You really want to get into this tonight?" Hutch asked wearily as he sank onto a kitchen chair.

    Starsky handed him his cannoli and coffee as he parked himself in a chair directly opposite. "S'funny thing about getting shot," he said around a healthy mouthful of Italian desert.

    Hutch wondered what could ever be funny about getting shot.

    "Makes everything kinda immediate. An' I figure we been putting this off long enough, y'know? When I came out of the john tonight and spied Vic Monte sitting with you, I figured we waited too long as it was, like maybe we'd lost the chance for good." He paused, spying Hutch's troubled expression. "Hey, stop lookin' so worried, Blintz! S'just me, Starsky! You don't look this rattled when Dobey's yellin' for our blood!"

    Hutch struggled to form a wan smile. Starsky was right. What was the worst that could happen? Starsky would acknowledge Hutch's sincere--if weird--feelings, and let him down easy. That would be like Starsky. Kind to a fault. Gentle. Funny. And the door would be ever so tenderly but firmly closed. They'd still be partners. Still be friends. Wouldn't they? The cannoli tasted like dust in his mouth. He pushed it away.

    "You gonna finish that?" Starsky asked, scraping his plate of crumbs. Hutch shook his head, and Starsky snagged the remains and devoured them in two forkfuls.

    Hutch toyed with his coffee. "How about letting me off the hook about this tonight, Starsk?" He avoided meeting his eyes as he asked. He'd spent entirely too much time falling into those dark blue orbs to risk it now.

    "Why should I?" Starsky asked quietly and, despite his misgivings, Hutch glanced up to see his partner's eyes narrowed in concentration. He was in the predator's lair now, Hutch realized, as Starsky's expression took on that same calculating look it had earlier.

    "'Cause I asked?"

    Starsky licked the last of the cannoli cream from his fork and Hutch felt a rush as he watched his tongue curl around the tines. He is toying with me, Hutch thought again, grinding his teeth. He had the sudden urge to knock his best friend out of the chair onto the floor and show him what Hutch could do with that tongue. As if he could read Hutch's thoughts exactly, Starsky smirked that same infuriating smirk he wore earlier.

    "That's no reason," Starsky murmured. "You act like talking to me is the toughest thing you've ever faced. Me. Your best friend. Biggest crime lord in LA, maybe in the country, sits his ass at your table, and you're Mr. Cool. You can chat him up all the live-long night. I wanna work something out with you and you can't even finish the finest cannoli in the city. I don't understand you, Hutch."

    Join the club, Hutch thought miserably. I don't understand myself. Don't understand why I feel this way, how this happened, why it happened. Why I'm gonna have to live with this ache in my gut for who knows how long. You got me over a heroin addiction in less than a week, Starsk. Think you can get me over my addiction to you in the same amount of time? How? By putting me to bed, holding me, stroking my hair, rocking me, loving me? He had to bite his lower lip to keep from bursting into laughter.

    "It's late," Hutch reminded him. "It's been a long day, longer week. We're both beat. It'll keep."

    "It's been kept unsaid for three months now, Hutch. That's long enough." Starsky asked quietly, his narrowed eyes and somber face an unreadable mask.

    "What's one more night?" Hutch asked, trying not to plead.

    "It's an anniversary night," Starsky reminded him, getting out of the chair. "A celebration. Three months since I got shot and lived through it--thanks to you." He went to the wine bottle, took a corkscrew and started opening the bottle. "You just need to relax a little, buddy."

    He is mocking me, Hutch decided and took refuge in his anger. Just what is so damned funny about my loving you, you bastard? "Okay!" Hutch said too loudly. "You wanna talk, talk already."

    "Hey, calm down," Starsky chided gently. "You know when you get angry your--?"

    Hutch pointed a finger at him. "One more word about my flashing eyes, and I'll make one of yours a lot bluer." The finger turned into a warning fist.

    Starsky just chuckled and put a wine glass in front of him, filling it half way. Then, standing beside his chair, Starsky poured himself a glass. Putting the bottle back on the table, he picked up his glass and clinked it against Hutch's before taking a swallow. "I ever thank you for saving my life?" he asked, licking the wine from his lips.

    "Couple of times," Hutch said wearily, and downed most of the glass. The rich bouquet filled his senses, while the alcohol thrummed through his veins. "Come on, Starsky. You're playin' me like a salmon, and I'm getting tired of it."

    Starsky refilled his glass.

    His nearness was suddenly unbearable to Hutch. The muscular chest tantalizingly outlined by Starsky's faded brown tee shirt, the round, ripe ass made even more desirable by the soft, threadbare tight jeans, and the heavy genitals that seemed to be more than the aged zipper could reliably contain, all screamed for Hutch's touch, his kiss, his ardent attentions. He tried to figure out how his partner's body had suddenly become such an incredible object of desire to him and couldn't. It just was. The scent of him--a combination of sandalwood, leather, and male sweat--was like raw pheromones wafting into his brain.

    I'm just tired, Hutch told himself. A little stressed. I'll get over it.

    Starsky gripped Hutch's shoulder to pull his attention back, and pushed the wine glass against Hutch's hand. Obediently, Hutch drank, then put the glass back on the table. Starsky's warm palm was burning through his shirt.

    "I had the weirdest dream in the hospital, Hutch," Starsky murmured, his voice low, meaningful.

    Hutch wouldn't look at him. He was too afraid of what he'd see. He stared into the wine glass, at the rich burgundy liquid, then realized he could see Starsky reflected in its surface. Those indigo eyes were boring right through him. He swallowed.

    All the years together. My partner. My best friend. How could I fuck this up so bad?

    "I dreamt you were with me, by my bed," Starsky went on, maintaining the physical contact. "I dreamt that after they put in the drains and sewed me up, after everybody went home, you stayed there with me. And I felt good in my dream, even though I was dopey and hurtin', but still, you were there, and I felt good about that."

    Starsky took another sip of his wine. "So, in my dream, I'm just laying there, driftin' sort of on the high, trying to ignore the pain. It was quiet and kinda dark. Then you came over, walked right up to my bed and watched me for a long time. And that was okay, only I was wishing I could talk to you and tell you thanks for what you did, and tell you not to worry 'bout me, cause I could see how freaked out you were. You'd been scared all night I was gonna die on you, even though it was just a shoulder wound. But the docs did tell me the exit wound was pretty nasty, that your first aid had stopped the bleeding. So, I guess I coulda died. Anyway. In my dream, I couldn't say anything, and that was frustrating as hell, but I was glad we were still together, that you didn't leave me there alone, after all we'd been through, to wake up by myself."

    Starsky squeezed his shoulder briefly and Hutch felt a corresponding sensation in his crotch.

    "And then--in my dream--you touched me," Starsky murmured. "Touched my face. The bandage on my head. My eyes. My cheek. My lips. Your hand was so gentle, so careful, the way it moved over me made me wanna cry. No one had ever touched me like that. At least not in a dream."

    Okay, Hutch thought, feeling oddly relieved. It's out now. We can deal with it. He took another swallow of the wine.

    "So, that was weird enough," Starsky went on, "but then it really took a twist when, in my dream, you kissed me."

    "I'm sorry," Hutch whispered, barely able to get the words out. Irrationally, it angered him to apologize for the purest, finest feelings he'd ever held for anyone. "It was wrong. I was wrong. I know I violated your trust. Our friendship. If you can forgive it, I can promise you it'll never happen again."

    "When you kissed me," Starsky continued, ignoring Hutch's apology, "my eyes fluttered open just a slit. As you pulled out of the kiss, I could look through my lashes and see your eyes, those beautiful crystal blue eyes swimming behind big tears. You were really crying over me, and that hurt me so much, that you were that worried about me. But I still thought it was a dream. 'Cause your crying didn't make any sense--I mean, I was gonna be all right and everything was over all ready. And your touching me and kissing me didn't make much sense either. Not in my dream. But your eyes were real, I think I knew that much.

    "And then you started talking and nothin' you said made much sense. I couldn't follow it. I was alive, was gonna be fine, and you were goin' on about my dying and how you couldn't live without me, which I thought was the dumbest thing I'd ever heard from such a smart guy like you. The only thing I could make any sense of was that you loved me. Which, of course, dream or not, I already knew. I didn't understand your going on about bein' in love with me, but you were so upset, and it was such a crazy dream anyway, I didn't worry about it. Later, when I woke up, really woke up, and felt you holding my hand, and thought that had all been a drugged dream, I still felt compelled to respond to the man in my dream who thought he was in love with me. As soon as I could move my mouth I told you I loved you. 'Cause I couldn't bear the thought that you were so alone with all that love."

    Hutch swallowed. This had to be the gentlest let down of his entire life. Funny, but it didn't make it hurt any less.

    "It must've been three or four days later before I accepted the fact that I hadn't had a dream," Starsky said. "That you really had touched me like that. Kissed me. Cried over me. Loved me. I realized it all at once, like a big revelation. And I been sitting with it ever since. Waiting for you to make your move."

    Hutch tipped his empty glass and Starsky cooperatively refilled it. "You thought that's the way it would go? That one of these nights I was gonna jump your bones over Monopoly? Slide an arm around you during the Creature Feature? Corner you on the couch?" He snorted a sarcastic laugh.

    "Actually," Starsky said in that same soft murmur, "I was kinda countin' on it."

    "What?" Hutch said, baffled by the response, his glass halfway to his mouth.

    "Hell, it's been years since anyone seduced me, Hutch," Starsky said matter-of-factly. "I was lookin' forward to it."

    The statement rattled Hutch so much he poured half the wine over his shirt, then dropped the glass in surprise and leapt out the chair from the shock of the cold liquid on his skin. Calmly, Starsky picked up the unbroken glass from where it rolled across the floor and got a dishcloth from the sink.

    As Starsky mopped up the table and floor, Hutch pulled the cold, wet material away from his chest. "That's funny, Starsk," he muttered, hearing bitterness in his voice. He moved away from the table, tugging at the sticky shirt. Starsky's nearness was too distracting. "Very funny. I don't know why I'm not laughing."

    "Hutch," Starsky said softly as he rinsed out the glass and the washcloth, "try and relax." He snagged a clean glass, and wrung out the cloth.

    Refilling the fresh glass, Starsky approached Hutch and handed it to him. Hutch successfully avoided contact with his friend even as he took the offered wine. When Starsky attempted to blot some of the wine off his wet shirt, Hutch backed up too quickly into the living room and nearly knocked over a lamp.

    "Why don't you just take that off," Starsky said seriously, indicating the blue shirt. "It's a mess. I'll get you something else."

    "Sure. Okay. Whatever," Hutch stammered, and handed Starsky the glass, then stripped off the shirt, happy to get the wet stickiness off him. Starsky tossed him the washcloth and Hutch wiped the remnants of wine off his bare chest. Snagging a kitchen towel, Starsky offered that next so he could dry off. When Hutch was finally clean, Starsky immediately handed him back his wine, almost as if he wanted to distract Hutch from the fact that he was standing bare-chested in the border between Starsky's kitchen and living room. For some reason, his shirtlessness suddenly made Hutch feel oddly exposed and vulnerable. It was crazy, considering how often Starsky had seen him stark nude over the years.

    Wanting to squelch the uncomfortable feeling, Hutch moved further into the living room as he gulped down another big swallow of wine. Then something occurred to him. He spun on Starsky, staring accusingly. "Are you trying to get me drunk?"

    "Actually," Starsky admitted shamelessly, following Hutch into the living room and herding him into a grouping of furniture he couldn't get past, "I thought it might help."

    He turned around, absently looking for an escape route, and realized he'd have to clamber over an armchair to get away. Feeling cornered, his nerves frayed, his tongue lubricated by alcohol, he faced Starsky squarely and demanded, "What the hell is the game plan here, partner? What are you after? What do you want? And--are you gonna get me another shirt or what?"

    "I want you to talk to me," Starsky said simply, and added more wine to the half full glass. "I'll get you a shirt in a minute."

    Hutch looked at it as if he couldn't figure out how the burgundy liquid kept appearing in his glass. Even though he would've liked to swallow the whole thing in one gulp, he wisely put it down on an end table. "What do you want me to say?" Hutch murmured.

    "I want you to tell me how you feel," Starsky insisted in that same quiet, reasonable tone.

    Hutch felt like belting him. "I told you how I felt in the hospital. You heard me. The only possible reason you could have to make me repeat it is to twist the knife."

    "That was three months ago, Hutch," Starsky reminded him. "You haven't said a word to me about this since. People can change their minds about all kinds of things in three months."

    Hutch nodded, finally understanding. Starsky was giving him a chance to take it back, wipe the slate clean, start over. For some reason that notion didn't fill him with relief as he'd thought it might. He opened his mouth, looking for the words he needed to set the world back on its correct axis. He floundered, moved his hands in the air. Nothing came out.

    "Don't lie to me, Hutch," Starsky insisted. "You're miserable at it."

    He wet his mouth, let his anger surge forth. It was the only emotion he could use that would let him keep some dignity. "What do you want me to say, Starsky? Nothing's changed. Believe me, I wish it had. But it's still there. I'm in love with you, okay? It's pointless, I know. But there it is. I love you. Are you happy now?"

    "Not yet," Starsky muttered. "Was it so hard to say?"

    "Yeah, it was," Hutch said, feeling his face heat up. "But, so help me, if you say 'I'm sorry,' even once--"

    "Why should I? I'm not."

    Hutch was too wound up for Starsky's words to register right away. "--I'll flatten you. I don't need your damned pity. It's just one of those things that happens sometimes, just something that I'll have to-- What did you say?"

    "I said I'm not sorry about it," Starsky told him. "Why should I be? You're the closest person in the world to me. Why should I be sorry that you love me? I'm flattered. More than that--I'm intrigued."

    Hutch could only stare, speechless.

    Starsky's voice was still soft, soothing. His expression still held that confident, inscrutable look. "You can't imagine what your touch felt like that night, Hutch. It blew my mind. I never thought anyone's hand--never mind a man's--could make me feel like that. Not over something so simple. I kept tellin' myself it had to be the anesthesia or something--but for the last three months, every time you've touched me--" Starsky stepped closer, reached out, and it was everything Hutch could do to hold his place as his partner grazed his fingers ever so lightly over Hutch's jaw, "--every time I've touched you, something's been there, some little tantalizing, teasing feeling. Like the hum you get around a power source. Or that perfect rumble I feel in my butt when the Torino's tuned just right. It scared me at first. But I liked it, so--I kept waiting, hoping you'd make a move--" He sighed, sounding frustrated, as if he'd run out of words before he wanted to. "Dammit, Hutch, you haven't been very cooperative about this."

    The tips of Starsky's fingers burned a path over his skin, and Hutch could feel a flush spread over his entire body. His nipples went rigid and he watched Starsky's eyes drop, blatantly watching the physical manifestation of his desire.

    Hutch grabbed Starsky's hand too roughly, yanking it away from his face, which drew his indigo eyes back to his. "Vic Monte got the drop on me tonight because I was lost in a fantasy about you. That's the raw truth, partner. You're driving me crazy, you've been doing it--deliberately--for the last three months. I thought I was losing my mind while you've been just toying with my feelings for you."

    Starsky shook his head, but that narrow-eyed hunter's gaze looked back at Hutch. "Not toying, Hutch. You mean too much to me for that. I haven't been toying with you. I've been as serious as a heart attack. Just--didn't know how to play it."

    For some reason, Hutch couldn't make himself release Starsky's hand, even though he knew he was holding it too tight. "This is too dangerous, Starsk. It'll change everything. We could have gotten killed tonight because I wasn't paying attention. What'll happen on the street? What'll happen to us, what we are, how we work--?" It was like releasing a flood, every fear and insecurity, every doubt Hutch had harbored all these months were rushing forward into a logjam of confusion.

    "I almost died," Starsky said to him simply, cutting through all of that.

    Hutch realized it was the first time Starsky had really admitted that out loud. He'd always downplayed or denied the seriousness of the gunshot injury before, claiming Hutch had overreacted to a mere shoulder wound.

    "I kept fading in and fading out," Starsky continued. "You were being held at gun point in another room. I couldn't see you, couldn't hear you, couldn't do a damned thing to help you. How do you think that made me feel? Don't you think maybe that focused things for me just a little? Don't you think I made my own bargains with God on that couch? Then I come outta the john tonight and there you are again in the spider's web. How was I supposed to react? All I could think was that they could've killed you while I was in there, could've killed you while you were alone--just like that night--and I'd just spent three months pussy-footin' around all this like a thirteen year old on his first date. So, don't talk to me about stupid shit like what's gonna happen to our work."

    "If--if you, uh, you felt that way," Hutch stammered, amazed he could speak at all, "why didn't you make a move? It's not like you to just wait."

    Starsky shook his head. "Look at you. You're as jumpy as a rabbit. Every time I've laid a hand on you since the shooting you twitched. You're so freaked out about what you're feeling you can barely handle being in the same room with me. I knew if I tried to push you, you'd just deny everything, and bury it all so deep we'd never dig it up again. Then I thought maybe if we went back to the restaurant, that might be the key. I hated pushin' you like that, but I was desperate."

    "Desperate?" Hutch whispered, unable to understand Starsky using that word about himself when Hutch thought he had exclusive rights to it.

    "Look," Starsky said softly, "I know it might not work out. It might be a mistake. But we were always the guys who jumped feet first into whatever it was everyone else avoided. This ain't the time to start playin' it safe. Unless--unless you've changed your mind, Hutch. About the way you feel."

    Hutch shook his head, staring hard into the bottomless blue eyes looking so fiercely into his.

    "You ever gonna make that move, Hutchinson?" Starsky asked, sounding almost irritable. "You ever gonna touch me again?"

    Hutch wet his lips, trying to think of something, anything to say but couldn't. Then he realized the sapphire eyes had lowered slightly just for a second, that Starsky was distracted by Hutch's touching his own lips with his tongue. For some reason that galvanized him. Without releasing the hand he still clutched so tightly, Hutch brought his left hand up and ever so gently touched Starsky's face. His fingertips grazed his strong jaw, ran over his cheek, brushed his mole, then gently stroked his dark eyebrow. Pushing back the curls tumbling over his furrowed brow, Hutch's hand slid lightly over Starsky's proud nose, then tenderly touched his partially opened full mouth.

    Starsky exhaled in a rush, then closed his lips to lay a gentle kiss on those fingertips. Hutch felt his stomach flip when Starsky performed that simple action. If he'd reached down and grabbed his crotch, Hutch couldn't have been more startled.

    Slowly, as if Starsky were the skittish one, Hutch slid his hand around the back of his neck under his dense, dark mane, and anchored him in place. Bending his head, he moved in cautiously for their first kiss, the action suddenly as natural as breathing. Tipping his chin, Starsky met him willingly, his mouth already partially open and Hutch couldn't suppress a gasp when their lips brushed. Their tongues met midway, tentatively, hesitantly, and the tender dalliance of warm, wet probes was gentle, sweet, and shockingly electric.

    Starsky's breath rushed against Hutch's nose and upper lip, and Hutch inhaled warm air that reminded him to breathe. The dance of tongues was slow, languid, and more erotic than Hutch ever remembered kissing to be. Instinctively, Hutch took a half step closer, and--finally remembering to release Starsky's hand--slid that arm around his slender back. When he towed his strong body closer yet, Starsky surprised him by exhaling a soft moan into his mouth. Fearing it was a protest, Hutch pulled out of the kiss, amazed when Starsky's mouth tried to follow him to prolong the contact.

    "Hutch," Starsky murmured, pressing his dark forehead to Hutch's pale one as his arms encircled Hutch's neck and shoulders. His voice was husky; it thrilled and worried Hutch all at the same time.

    "You okay?" Hutch asked, his own voice ragged. He blinked, trying to gather his wits. It was just a kiss.

    "No," Starsky admitted, then grinned. "Don't wanna be." He swallowed, as if pulling himself together. His midnight blue eyes captured Hutch's worried ones. "Come on, Hutch. Seduce me. Entice me. Persuade me. Your eyes are flashin' like two blue crystals hanging in the sun. Remember that old song? Crystal Blue Persuasion? They must've been singing 'bout your eyes, Hutch. You could get me to do anything with those eyes."

    "Stop it!" Hutch ordered roughly, trying to adjust to Starsky's shocking seductiveness. "You don't know--! This can't--! What are we--?" But he couldn't complete a sentence, an entire thought, as those predator's eyes held his, ready to grant his every wish, his every fantasy--ready to steal his heart.

    His body overrode his sense, the alcohol racing through him like an erotic antifreeze, heightening everything. His pulse pounded in his head, his fingertips, his cock. Burying both hands in thick, lustrous curls, Hutch once more found the lips that pulled him like a lodestone. He invaded Starsky's mouth roughly, but this time his friend's moan could not be misinterpreted. Starsky's tongue battled back happily, twining around his, tasting him, slipping into his mouth eagerly as they shared air and made soft wet sounds of desire.

    Starsky's hands slid up and down Hutch's broad back, electrifying his skin, leaving trails of heat and need that Hutch thought could never be fulfilled. Hungrily, Hutch tightened his hands in his satiny hair, his kiss growing more urgent. Their teeth clicked as they each nipped at tongues and lips, working in perfect concert, just as they did at everything.

    Needing to pause, to breathe, to think, Hutch forced himself to pull back for a moment. Starsky must've needed the break, too, because he let him.

    Who's seducing who here? Hutch wondered suddenly.

    This was so typical. Whenever Hutch introduced Starsky to some new interest, his agile, quick-witted, competitive partner always ended up besting Hutch at it. Hutch wasn't sure he was ready to face that in bed. A little late to worry about that now, Hutchinson!

    As he pondered that, Starsky was busy sliding his hands around Hutch's waist, his fingertips lightly skimming his belt and waistband until they came to the front closure. Deftly, Starsky undid the belt buckle one-handed, then nimbly opened the button of the corduroy pants.

    Unwilling to let Starsky take control of a situation Hutch could barely handle now, he moved quickly to distract him. Unsnapping Starsky's jeans, Hutch yanked the zipper apart, then slid his hands down inside the back of his denim jeans. Grasping a double handful of lush rear, Hutch pulled Starsky's groin tightly against his own. Starsky grunted in surprise, grabbing Hutch's shoulders for balance as Hutch pressed his mouth against Starsky's dark, lean throat. Stroking his beautiful round ass, Hutch marveled at his warm, smooth, pliant skin that moved sensuously against his palms. Slowly, he rubbed his swollen groin against its turgid mate. They strained against each other as their hips danced languorously, rhythmically.

    Hutch kissed his way up along Starsky's taut throat, until he found his ear buried under all those curls. His voice reduced to a rough growl, he murmured against the shell, "Sergeant Starsky, just where is your underwear?"

    His answer was a rich, low chuckle which only excited him more. He bit his earlobe, making Starsky jump and hiss and rub harder against him. He snaked his tongue around the curved rim of that ear, and Starsky's nails dug into his bare back as he arched against Hutch helplessly. Thrilled by that reaction, Hutch attacked his ear, drilling his tongue deeply, wetly into his canal, suggesting something he didn't even know if he had the nerve to do. Starsky leaned into his mouth, breathing harshly, erratically, the motion of his hips slick, urgent.

    Hutch's hands moved as if someone else were in control of them, stroking Starsky's incredible ass as if he owned it. He examined the foreign territory of his friend's rump by touch, finding his round cheeks even more erotic to handle than to watch. Beneath his hands, the strong muscles in Starsky's ass flexed and relaxed over and over, the action making Hutch dizzy with wanting.

    Starsky's head had tipped back as Hutch continued laving his ear, and he was groaning small, low sounds of animal need. Finally, he gasped, "Jeez, Hutch, you're makin' me nuts like this! Your mouth, your hands--ah, babe. We ever going to bed?"

    No, Hutch thought, pulling away from the delicious ear. No, not yet. Was it just because Starsky had suggested it? Was it just his need to be competitive, to maintain some shred of control? He didn't know.

    Swallowing, Hutch struggled to find his voice. "My party," he whispered, but his tone brooked no discussion.

    For a second, Starsky looked as if he might argue, but then, as he stared at Hutch's eyes, he yielded, nodding slightly as if he couldn't find words to answer.

    Then, as their gazes locked, Hutch reluctantly released his ass. Pulling his hands free from the jeans, Hutch dropped to his knees. There was no surprise on Starsky's face as he did this, and somehow Hutch thought there ought to be. Starsky just watched him, calmly, expectantly, his eyes narrowed. They weren't just a predator's eyes anymore--they were hungry now. Full of wanting. Just like Hutch's. Only Starsky's weren't shadowed with worry, with fear of the future. All that smug confidence in his friend's expression rattled the hell out of Hutch. In defense, he lowered his gaze, rubbing his forehead against Starsky's softly furred abdomen, trying to collect himself, get his head together. What was he doing on his knees before another man--before this man? What was he thinking? What was he starting?

    Then he remembered. He'd started it months ago by playing Prince Charming to a dark-haired sleeping beauty. His kissing an unconscious man had awakened something in both of them, something they couldn't deny anymore. He couldn't stop now. He didn't want to, anyway.

    Starsky lifted his own worn brown tee shirt, slowly dragging it off his abdomen to allow Hutch better access to his body. His gesture touched Starsky, made him realize Starsky wanted this, wanted him.

    Starsky wanted him.

    It was still too new a thought to be accepted, to be fathomed. Hutch rubbed his forehead against Starsky's tight belly, brushed his nose through the line of dark hair that ran into his nearly flat navel, then lightly kissed his strong abs, barely touching the skin that reacted so sensitively to him. Starsky's body grew taut under his mouth, expectant. That pleased Hutch.

    Sliding his hands up over the back of Starsky's strong thighs then over the denim-covered rear, Hutch grasped the waistband of Starsky's pants and pulled them halfway down his round rump. It was just enough to free the tip of Starsky's cock from the confines of its blue-jean prison. The vibrations of a soft pleasure-song rippled through his sun-bronzed body and Hutch sighed, even as the hot, velvety crown of Starsky's manhood brushed lightly against his chest. He glanced down, seeing it, examining it as if it were something new he'd discovered, instead of just another part of Starsky he'd been exposed to a thousand times.

    For Hutch, it was a conflicting moment of fear, anxiety, and raw desire. All at once, everything was right here in front of him, all that he'd fantasized about--Starsky's body, warm, alive, trembling with desire, desire for Hutch--and all that he'd feared--the terror of tomorrow, their future, the risk to their friendship, their work. He felt as if he were standing on a yawning chasm leading to discovery and disaster with one foot hanging over the edge. Could the exhilaration of the plunge and the unique beauty of the view on the way down compensate for the unknown landing? Hutch poised on the brink, thinking too hard as he stared at Starsky's cock and realized it was pulsing in time with his own heartbeat.

    Slowly, as if he still feared startling Hutch with a quick action, Starsky finished pulling off his tee shirt and dropped it to the floor. Once freed of the shirt, he slid his hands over Hutch's hair, caressing his cheek gently with his thumb. Hutch leaned into the soft gesture, then risked looking back up. Starsky's mouth held an enigmatic smile, his eyes dark and heavy lidded. Tenderly, he brushed his thumb against Hutch's lower lip. Hutch opened his mouth, pulled the thumb in and bit it gently. Starsky trembled and bit his own lower lip, and that snapped Hutch out of his hesitancy. Releasing his thumb, Hutch towed the denim pants lower down Starsky's thighs, making sure he had all the access he wanted, then slid one hand up to cup Starsky's heavy genitals.

    No, Hutch realized with a start, as he moved his other hand to capture his swollen phallus, not just my friend. Not anymore. My lover now. Lifting Starsky's thick, dark organ, Hutch kissed the dusky crown with the utmost reverence. My lover. My beautiful lover.

    Above him, Starsky released a quiet sound. Wanting to hear it again, Hutch opened his mouth, bringing the crown to his lips, touching his tongue to that warm, clean-tasting flesh. Marveling that at his age there was still something he was virginal in, he slowly licked Starsky's glans, making him wet, tasting his heat. It didn't matter that this was the first time he'd done this; it had been done to him countless times, on occasion, when he was undercover, by experts. He had learned by example, if no other way. He knew what would please a man. Learning what would please this one would be part of the joy.

    "Oh, dammit, Hutch," Starsky swore softly, frozen in place as Hutch licked him slowly, wickedly, "oh, God! I love you, babe, I swear I do!"

    As if that were what he'd been waiting for, Hutch murmured, "And I love you," to Starsky's furred stomach, then slid his mouth over his pulsing organ, pulling it deeply inside him, sheltering it, comforting it with his tongue.

    Starsky cried out, a strangled sound, and the hands in Hutch's hair tightened, but that only encouraged him. He could do this. He could give this to Starsky, this pleasure. It was good, tasted good, felt good in his mouth. He could do this. He could even love it.

    As Hutch went down on his new lover with the utmost care, he felt Starsky's hands wage a battle with his need, as he alternately pulled then petted Hutch's hair. It was a battle his self control would definitely lose, Hutch decided, as he worked his mouth on Starsky's hot, heavy shaft, licking, sucking, kissing and pleasuring it so slowly, he could barely stand it himself. Little by little, he swallowed more of his lover, working his jaw, opening his throat, until Starsky was completely inside him, until Hutch had to swallow convulsively to handle it, until he couldn't help whimpering around the heavy mass.

    That was when Starsky started losing it, clinging to Hutch's hair, his head, pulling him harder and harder onto his cock, needing more and more. Hutch felt Starsky's knees buckle, felt him struggle to remain standing upright under the driving force of Hutch's demanding, loving mouth. And Hutch adored that.

    Starsky was moaning, humping, flexing his thighs, trying to climb down Hutch's throat, until he had to grip the denim pants to control the nearly frantic motions. Hutch glanced up and nearly lost himself in Starsky's intense expression of lust and need and incredible delight. All from Hutch, from Hutch's mouth. His own cock, trapped hard in his pants, leaked a bubble of pre-come in reaction. For a moment Hutch thought he'd come himself, just like this, in his pants, before Starsky ever had a chance to touch him, just from giving Starsky head. He shivered and hummed his own song of pleasure around the cock taking his mouth.

    "Hutch, oh, jeezus, Hutch, you gotta stop," Starsky whispered, his breathing ragged, his body shaking, sagging, weakening. Hutch thought happily that his words sounded like a prayer. "It's too good, Hutch. Way too good. You gotta stop." But one hand still clutched Hutch's hair, and fingers dug roughly into the back of Hutch's neck, holding him in place, putting the lie to Starsky's words.

    Hutch's tongue moved delicately, tracing teasing patterns on the overloaded nerve endings along Starsky's shaft, tickling the ridge, toying with the slit, finding the thick honey that was all salt and bitterness and leaking just for him. Hutch wanted this to be perfect for Starsky, he wanted it to be the best, the finest act of love Starsky had ever experienced. Hutch couldn't offer the sweet, moist beauty a woman could, but he could, and would, give this man all that he was, all that he had. He would do anything for Starsky, and that rattled him more than a little.

    "Can't!" Starsky gasped and nearly staggered. "Can't stand anymore, Hutch!"

    He fondled Starsky's heavy sac, felt his testicles retreat from the intense stimulation even as Starsky's legs went rigid from the added sensation.

    "Damn you, Hutch!" Starsky hissed. "Wait! Don't. Stop! Please!" But it was all nonsense and Hutch knew it. Starsky's hands tightened convulsively around the back of Hutch's neck and pulled his hair as Hutch felt the force of Starsky's passion gathering in his trembling legs, his spine, his balls. And Hutch wanted it, wanted it inside him.

    "Hutch!" Starsky barked in warning, tensing all over, "I'm gonna come. Oh, shit, babe, don't!" And finally, he tried to pull away.

    Hutch dug the fingers of one hand roughly into Starsky's smooth ass as he gently, but firmly, tightened his other hand around Starsky's sac. His mouth never stopped, never eased off, as he buried his face in his lover's groin, rubbing his nose against the coarse, clean curls nesting there. His mouth watered hungrily.

    Impossibly, Starsky grew harder in his mouth, swelling even more, cutting off Hutch's air for a critical moment. Hutch saw spangles dance behind his eyes and nearly panicked, even as his own neglected cock throbbed in his pants, aching to participate.

    With a tortured moan that thrilled Hutch to his soul, Starsky's body released itself. The pumping rush filled Hutch's mouth and throat so quickly he barely managed to swallow in time. He gasped and almost gagged, but held Starsky tight and took it, wanting it this way, wanting it all. It was hot, searing, and more bitter than he could've imagined, but it was Starsky's, and that excited him so much he shivered, and leaked more pre-come in response. It was wonderful. It was terrible. He never wanted it to end.

    "Hutch!" Starsky gasped, sounding amazed as he swallowed him alive. "Oh, Hutch!" The reverence in his voice startled Hutch, making him shiver.

    But finally it did end, and as it did, Starsky's fingertips gently touched Hutch's lips as he pulled his glistening, spent cock out of his devouring mouth. Hutch flinched as his jaw protested its abuse. Gingerly, he closed it as Starsky slipped his other hand under Hutch's arm and urged him to his feet. Before Hutch could gather his wits and think about what he'd done, or what his partner might think of him for it, Starsky's mouth found his and kissed him ferociously, his tongue plunging deeply past his slack, swollen lips. The inside of Hutch's mouth was raw as Starsky's tongue plundered it, but that sweet, searching tongue felt like a balm, and Hutch returned the kiss feebly. He sighed happily.

    Starsky pulled back finally and gazed at him; there was surprise in his face, true amazement. "I can taste myself in your mouth," he murmured, as if he didn't expect that. He sounded as if he couldn't believe in the reality of what Hutch had done until this minute. "It's so strong, so sharp--"

    "Tastes like it belongs there," Hutch rasped huskily.

    "You and your way with words," Starsky complained, and took his mouth again just as urgently.

    Hutch yielded to the kiss, too tired, too shaky to fight back. A part of Starsky's inside me now. That makes him part of me for always. It was a heady thought, and made him shiver.

    "I don't believe you," Starsky groused with a dazed grin when he released Hutch's mouth again. "You got me standing here with my pants around my thighs while you're givin' me head in the damned living room. Hutch, we never even closed the curtains! I been mooning the neighbors ever since we started."

    "They're lucky then," Hutch decided, meaning it.

    "Come on," Starsky urged, yanking his pants up so he could walk. It pleased Hutch to see him unsteady on his legs, knowing he was the cause. "Grab your wine. We're goin' to bed."

    Hutch shook his head, moving away slightly. He tried to control his breathing while waiting for his heart to slow, but it wouldn't.

    Starsky frowned, took the wine glass, pressed it into his hand. "Don't you want this? To get that taste out of your mouth?"

    Hutch shook his head. "Your taste? No. I don't want the wine, especially not for that."

    Starsky's expression went all soft on him. "You know just what to say to me, don't'cha? Come on, Hutch, let's go to bed."

    He shook his head and stepped back again. "I can't."

    "You can't? Hutch, what are you talkin' about?" Starsky reached out, took one of his hands, tugging him towards the bedroom. "Look at you, you're hard as a rock. Your whole body's quivering. I wanna love you so bad, wanna please you, Hutch. But my legs are shot, you made sure of that. Come to bed with me."

    Hutch shook his head. "Your bed? The mirrors and all? I can't, Starsk. There've been a hundred women in that bed. I'll get lost in there; I'll just be another conquest, another warm body. Let's use the couch. That's almost mine, as much as I sleep on it."

    Starsky seemed stunned. "The two of us on that couch? We'll need a chiropractor in the morning--or a block and tackle to untangle us. And if you think that couch has never seen any action, you're nuts. Hutch, you can't think that getting in my bed is gonna make me forget who you are. You're my partner, for cryin' out loud. I mean, if it makes you feel any better, you're the only man I've ever had in it."

    Hutch hesitated, thinking that through. Starsky saw the pause in his body, and moved closer.

    "I want to feel you lying next to me," he murmured, sliding his arm around Hutch's waist, pulling him near. "Want to hold you in my arms, love you all over." He pressed his lips gently against Hutch's collarbone. "Come on, babe," he wheedled. "You haven't even finished seducing me yet. I want to give you so much. And I want to sleep with you tonight, wake up with you in my arms tomorrow. Don't--don't you want that, too?"

    Suddenly, Hutch didn't know. He searched Starsky's eyes, looking for the predator who had lain in wait for him so long. That predator wanted to devour his heart, maybe his whole soul. But would that be bad?

    Reading his confused expression, Starsky honed right in on it. "Hutch? It's who-do-you-trust time."

    It was the one statement that was guaranteed to break down any barrier between them. Who do you trust? When this man asked, there was only one possible answer.

    Hutch smiled at his partner, his lover. "Who do I trust? You. With my life," he said, unequivocally.

    "Then trust me now," Starsky asked, and tugged him toward his room.