This story originally appeared in zine, Blue Eyes and Blue Jeans 2, which is still available. If you are interested in this zine, or wish to comment on this story, contact Flamingo.  (This is based on a true story. Mostly.)

Happy Birthday to You
by
Flamingo

You say it's your birthday,
Well, it's my birthday too, yeah
You say it's your birthday,
We're gonna have a good time
   
             Happy Birthday song--the Beatles

Hutch wiped a hand over his face tiredly and looked at the clothes festooned all over his bedroom. This is ridiculous, he told himself disgustedly. You're not going out on a date, dammit. It's just dinner with Starsky.

Well, not just dinner, not this time. He closed his eyes and swallowed. It was entirely possible that he was two tacos and an enchilada shy of having his twelve year partnership with his best friend come to a screeching halt.

No. That's not gonna happen. I'm not gonna let it happen. Not after everything we've been through. Especially not after this last year and Gunther. I'm not gonna let one last screw-up end it all.

But he couldn't control Starsky, couldn't force his friend to see reason if Starsky was beyond reasonableness. Couldn't even force Starsky to hear him out if the man wouldn't do it willingly.

He'll listen tonight. If he wasn't willing to listen, he wouldn't have agreed to dinner, would he? And on neutral territory--a restaurant downtown, someplace we've never been before, in a part of town we usually don't hang in. He must be willing to listen, to hear me out.

Even Hutch, in his most depressed, moody state couldn't believe Starsky would throw their whole relationship out the window over one small mishap.

Hutch laughed bitterly. One small mishap?

Inevitably, his hand went to the heap of shirts on the floor and pulled up a black turtleneck. It was the first thing he'd considered wearing, then thought it was too morose and dropped it on a quest for something brighter. He pulled the turtleneck over his head and tucked the shirt into his black jeans. Grabbing his brush, he smoothed his long hair, then combed his moustache back into order. Black suited him tonight. The black leather jacket would round out the morbid ensemble.

He paused. He'd been wearing the black leather that night--the night of the small mishap. The night of the biggest screw up of his life.

It had started as a celebration, that Friday night, the night following the day that Starsky had been restored fully back to active duty after Gunther's assassins had nearly killed him. Six months of a grueling recovery and Starsky had marched triumphantly back into the squad room, singing the theme to "Rocky" and holding his fists up in victory. He'd gotten a standing ovation from the other normally sanguine detectives and a raucous cheer and a frenetic hug from his partner, who was more than tired of working the streets without him. Work had come to a grinding halt, with even Dobey joining in on the impromptu party. In minutes, word had spread throughout the precinct and the squad room had filled with other cops, multiple congratulations, and then someone brought in champagne. Hutch couldn't remember ever feeling so high, except maybe for that moment in the hospital when Starsky had finally come out of his coma, opened his eyes and smiled at him from the intensive care bed.

The celebration had continued at Huggy's, going on for hours, with he and Starsky high from the joy of their official reunion. They couldn't stop hugging, hanging their arms around each other's shoulders. The Dynamic Duo was back, better than ever. And everyone they knew was happy for them.

Hutch couldn't remember how much alcohol they consumed, or even how they got home. He didn't remember falling into bed that night. The only thing he remembered was--

--waking up with Starsky in my arms, filling my arms and my heart like no one ever had before, even as his presence seemed to fill my soul. I awoke entwined around Starsky's lithe frame, discovering the taste of his mouth as his kiss seared my very essence, stole my breath. I can still feel my hands discovering his nude body, remember him touching me wildly, desperately. We both came, together, spilling our fluids onto each other's bellies after a bout of wild frottage that left us crazed and breathless. Then we'd stared at each other, completely spent, totally out of air--

--And shocked shitless.

They lay there, frozen in stunned surprise, still clutching each other and trying to come to grips with their startling discovery, when the phone had jarred them so badly they nearly levitated out of the bed. Dobey's barked commands to get over their extended vacations and get their butts back to work had caused frantic scrambling, hurried showers and gulped coffee as they raced to get into the office to face the latest emergency. There had never been a minute to discuss what had happened, to analyze the shocking reality of their night of passion.

Sitting in the car together over the next few days of overtime, missed meals, and a fading trail of critical leads had been agony as neither of the men could find the time--or the ability--to broach the forbidden subject. As the days stretched, they grew more uncomfortable, more awkward, until it started affecting their work as they missed clues and dropped leads in their confusion. Dobey had finally called them in and chewed them out, told them to get back in gear, assuming the problem was the six months of separation. They'd glanced guiltily at one another, mumbled assurances at their captain and stumbled out of his office.

That's when Hutch had decided enough was enough. He'd looked across the desk at his partner, his best friend, the man who meant more in the world to him than anyone or anything.

"You know what the problem is," he'd said to Starsky right out in the squad room.

His indigo eyes had widened in near panic, and Starsky had swallowed, and said in a small voice, "Yeah."

"We need to talk about this, Starsk," Hutch forced himself to say.

Starsky had looked down at the desk, as if he couldn't bear looking Hutch in the eye, and nodded.

They managed to finish the case and wrap up the paper work later that day. Hutch had suggested a new Mexican restaurant because they'd never been there before. Starsky had agreed quickly, surprising him. So, at eight o'clock tonight, one week from their disastrous celebration, they would find the words they needed to discuss what had happened to them seven days ago in Hutch's bed.

Hutch slipped the black leather jacket over his holster and wondered, when it was over, would he still have a partner, or even a friend, to ever celebrate anything with again?

I

Starsky sucked in his gut and fought the zipper of the clean, faded jeans into submission, hearing it growl in complaint as it forced the opening of the pants closed. He exhaled painfully then struggled to adjust his genitals into a slightly more comfortable position. Turning around, he checked out his ass in the full-length mirror. Yes! These were the pants. As well they should be--he'd just pulled them from the drier, maximum setting, nearly branding his cock with the scorching zipper the first time he'd tried to zip them up. There was no point in even trying to get a pair of briefs between his ass and the denim. He attempted to bend over to retrieve the other six pairs of discarded jeans lying all over his bedroom floor, but a sharp pain in his testicles made him reconsider. Struggling to breathe in the dangerously tight pants, he settled for kicking the rejected jeans into the bottom of his closet.

He still hadn't quite regained all the weight he'd lost from the shooting--most of his jeans were too damned baggy, sagging off his ass like an oversized diaper. But a couple of extra washings in super hot water and a few spins in a drier set on meltdown had finally reduced these to....

He caught sight of his frantic actions in the mirror and paused.

What the hell are you doing?

He hadn't worried this much about what he was wearing since the last gorgeous blond he'd taken to dinner--Kira. He pushed those bitter memories out of his mind. That was B.S.--Before the Shooting. A lifetime ago.

Nothing that had happened before the shooting seemed to matter much anymore to him. The only thing that had come to matter was recovering, getting back in shape, getting back to work. Back to Hutch. Every day he pushed the therapists. He had to get back on the street, had to get back to Hutch. Hutch was out there alone. If anything had happened to him while Starsky was laying around in the hospital, he'd....

Quit lyin', at least to yourself. It's bad enough you been lyin' to Hutch.

The truth was he missed Hutch for other reasons. Reasons that scared him. Reasons he didn't want to examine. Reasons he was going to have to examine. Hutch was going to make him examine them tonight. Starsky wasn't sure he could face this. Assassins, sure he could handle that with his gun in hand, facing them straight on. Bad guys, drug dealers, gun runners, you name it. With Hutch by his side, he could face 'em all. Without Hutch--

A fist closed around his heart.

Without Hutch. There was nothing without Hutch. Oh, shit, what was he gonna do?

That's why you're standing here, checkin' out your ass, making sure it looks hot. Praying he'll notice, praying he'll care. That cool, straight, ice-berg of a wasp is supposed to suddenly look at the same ass he's been partnered with for twelve years and suddenly think it's the hottest thing on two legs. Gunther's bullets must've detoured through your brain, Starsky, before exiting your back.

For the first time in a long time Starsky allowed himself to look at the scars on his back, Gunther's legacy, and wondered if he'd ever have the confidence to wear a bathing suit without a shirt again. Damn, they were ugly. At least on his front his chest hair helped hide the criss-crossed scars the surgeons frantic knives had left, even if the pattern of the hair was different now.

Cut it out. This ain't a date with a hot stewardess. Your partner, your best friend in the whole world, is about to lower the boom. If you're lucky, you'll still be working together.

Wouldn't that be the ultimate irony? Starsky had never labored so hard as he had to get back on the street, just to be with Hutch again, only to screw up so bad the very first night, that Hutch might never want to work with him again ever.

But still--the feel of all that blondness under my hands, under my body, against my lips, all of Hutch, all that he is, all that he feels, to have all that even for one night--

He forced the memories away. He didn't know why it happened, how it happened, but it had. It couldn't have just been the alcohol. Over the course of his life he'd gotten drunk with a zillion guys and never laid hands on one of them. Would've decked one, even as drunk as he'd been, if any of them had even tried. But with Hutch--it had been so right. Like after all the years of looking for something, some place, he'd finally come home.

He closed his eyes. The look on Hutch's face that morning, the stark betrayal, the shock, the near panic. And ever since then, the coolness, the retreat. Hutch made the front seat of the Torino seem as big as a football field as he sat pressed up against the door. They couldn't joke, couldn't laugh. They didn't touch. Not ever. Not once in a whole week. And Starsky ached for that touch, just the warmth of his friend's hand on his arm, ached for it like food, like air.

Distractedly, he ran a hand over his butt, checking again the tight fit of the jeans. If only Hutch wouldn't want to end the partnership. If only he'd give Starsky another chance. He'd never drink again, never think again, never, ever remember--

--Hutch's mouth on mine, a kiss so hot it made my toes curl, as that big hand of his grabbed my hair so hard, yankin' my head back, while Hutch went lookin' for my tonsils with his sweet, silky tongue--

STOP. IT.

He groped for a shirt, rejected it, groped again, tossed that one over his shoulder. Grabbed another, an old one. He looked at it. It was the batik t-shirt with the fern leaf pattern that Hutch had given him years ago. It hugged him like a second skin and wouldn't hang on him like most of his other shirts which seemed so shapeless now. He put it on, glancing around at the mess he made. Well, what did it matter? It wasn't like he'd be entertaining anyone here tonight. The way he felt now, he might as well become some kind of monk. He couldn't think beyond tonight, couldn't let himself see the future. There was no future without Hutch. There was nothing without Hutch.

He swallowed and smoothed the shirt over his chest, hiding the scars, hiding the pain in his heart. Then he donned his holster. He ran a hand over the mound of his genitals. And you be quiet down there, tonight, he ordered his cock. You got us in enough trouble last time!

He grabbed his black leather jacket and slipped it on over his holster. At least they were going for Mexican food--though frankly, Starsky just didn't feel hungry right now.

I

"Wow! Look at this place!" Starsky breathed as they entered the lobby.

Wow is right! Hutch thought, as they stepped through the large front doors.

This wasn't just a Mexican restaurant--it was a Mexican restaurant with a thyroid condition! The building itself was huge, all new construction, built of fake stucco inside and out and painted in garish colors approximating Mexican folk motifs. The ceiling climbed three stories high with massive skylights now dim in the darkening Los Angeles twilight. During the day, however the sunlight from those skylights would spill brightly over cascading plants, ferns, philodendrons, baskets of blooming chrysanthemums and azaleas. Full sized ficus trees with braided trunks reached for the sky, with tiny twinkling white lights like fireflies sprinkled among their leaves. Riotously colored paper-maché parrots of species never found on planet Earth perched on golden swings high overhead. It was as if a deranged arboretum from Star Trek had married a hacienda out of the old TV show Zorro and lived all too happily every after. Hutch blinked in amazement. Maybe he should've checked the place out first. He glanced at his partner.

Starsky took in everything, eyes wide, mouth agape, looking as if he'd just stepped into Disneyland's Magic Kingdom. He stared at a massive, three-tiered fountain spewing water in decorative arcs in the middle of the restaurant. Any minute now, Hutch knew, Starsky would start looking for the men's room. He spied the door reading Se˝ors and nudged his partner, nodding towards it. Starsky smiled wanly and just shook his head. Hutch rolled his eyes. Well, that's what he got for wearing jeans so tight it was a miracle he could get in and out of the Torino without emasculating himself.

Yeah, and you noticed 'em quick enough, didn't you, Hutchinson?

Well, how could he not notice them? They were painted on, for cryin' out loud! When Starsky had first appeared in them at his door Hutch had barely stopped himself from blurting, "So, you really are Jewish!"

And you made sure he went down the stairs first, didn't you? Just so you could watch his butt in those pants.

Hutch gave his head a slight shake, arguing with himself. I was just shocked at how thin he seemed.

Oh, yeah. Right. Liar.

"Sure is different from our usual taco stand, huh?" Starsky murmured softly, as if he were afraid to speak too loud in the bizarrely appointed restaurant.

"Yeah," he responded quietly. "The Times food critic said the food is really good, though."

Starsky nodded, shifting from foot to foot. The fountain must really be getting to him.

"Buenos tardes. Two for dinner?" A pretty hostess in a white, off-the-shoulder, mock peasant blouse approached them with menus. A sash with the Mexican national colors was tied around her waist. A soft, floor length white skirt fell around her sandaled feet.

"We have reservations," Hutch offered. "Hutchinson."

She glanced at her book. "Yes, here it is. You wanted a special table."

Starsky shot him a quick glance, but before he could explain, the hostess moved away and they had to follow or lose her in the huge space. Hutch hurried to keep up with the young woman and Starsky trailed close behind him. They'd need a native guide to find their way out.

After winding their way through various small rooms off the atrium, all decorated with Indian and Mexican wall art, fake cacti, and brightly colored woven wall rugs, they finally came to a light, breezy room with mock Spanish decor. The woman waved them into an intimate little booth where they sat across from each other stiffly. Hutch tried not to remember the times when they would've both sat on the same side of the booth so they could talk more privately. How casual they'd been about their closeness then, crammed onto a restaurant bench together, thigh to thigh, shoulder to shoulder, no thought involved, no self-consciousness. Damn, but Hutch wanted that back again.

He glanced at Starsky, whose eyes were wandering around the cheery room. There was more glass in here than Hutch's greenhouse.

The hostess left them with two huge menus then said brightly, "José will be your waiter. He'll be with you shortly."

As she left them, Starsky glanced at him and muttered, "José? You think that's his real name?"

Hutch could only shrug as he wrestled with the plastic-encased menu. It was monstrous, with more selections then he was used to seeing from three different restaurants. Most of the places he and Starsky patronized rarely had more than a single sheet of daily specials and half the time you didn't even have to look at that. This menu contained a dozen beef meals, as many chicken, and just as many fish. There were dishes whose Spanish names he'd never heard of. An entire page was devoted just to various flavors of Margarita drinks. This place was like a self-contained carnival of food. Hutch was beginning to think they should've ordered a pizza and had it delivered to Venice Place.

No! Scratch that! Not to Venice Place. Not to the scene of the crime.

"Hey, look at this," Starsky said, peeking over the top of the gigantic menu. "This place is a chain, like McDonald's."

"What?" Hutch said incredulously.

"Says so right on the back of the menu. They got restaurants in New York, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Miami, Texas, and half a dozen other places. Wonder how big the one in Texas is?" He paused a minute while Hutch digested that. "So what's so special about this booth?"

Hutch remembered the hostess mentioning that he'd asked for a special table. Starsky would bring that up; the man never forgot anything. Thinking that triggered Hutch's own ability to recall and he had a sudden, searing flashback of Starsky rolling him over in his own bed and pinning him to the mattress with his strong, slender body. He blinked the image away and shifted as his cock nodded in memory. "Uh, I, uh, just asked for something, you know, off to the side. I thought it'd be better if we had something a little, well--private."

"Oh," Starsky said, then gave him a weak grin. "Yeah. Good thinkin'." Then he quickly buried himself behind the menu.

Someone appeared at their elbow as if from nowhere. "Buenos tardes! I'll be your waiter tonight. My name is José."

Both of them flinched at the waiter's cheery street-normal volume. Hutch looked the man over. He was tall, more than a little rotund, with a tiny Oliver Hardy-style moustache and a round face and twinkling eyes. Hutch blinked as the man stood beside him, one hip canted. That's not all that's twinkling, he realized with a sinking sensation. Of course, he reasoned, what were the chances that in this part of LA they would've gotten a waiter who wasn't gay?

With a pronounced tsk, the waiter gave them both the eye and declared, "All that black leather tells me you gentlemen could use some cheering up. How about a frozen strawberry Margarita?" This was directed to Hutch who suddenly found himself speechless. To Starsky, he suggested, "Or maybe peach?"

Starsky looked dazed. "Peach?"

"Margarita!" José announced.

"Actually," Hutch muttered, finding his voice, "a couple of beers would--"

"Oh, be adventuresome!" José admonished chidingly. "Our Margaritas are made with California's finest fresh fruit--so they're healthy as well as delicious--and we use only Cuervo Gold Tequila. Try one! They're on special!"

He glanced at Starsky, hoping he would save them, but his partner only shrugged. "Well, I suppose--"

"Two Margaritas, one strawberry, one peach, coming right up. That'll brighten your outlook in no time. And I'll be back in a flash with some chips and dips, fellas." And he was gone with a swirl of the pseudo-Mexican sash that encircled his portly waist.

They locked eyes.

"If his name's José," Starsky decided, "mine's Carmen Miranda."

That seemed to break the ice and they broke into nervous titters.

"Did you really want a peach Margarita?" Hutch asked.

Starsky's face flushed. "A girl drink? You kiddin'? I didn't know how to stop him!"

"Starsk, I think I'm too used to life on the streets. This place scares me." They both laughed some more. Before they could really absorb the giant menu, José was back with, as he promised, tortilla chips, salsa, and the biggest, most brightly-colored frozen Margaritas Hutch had ever seen.

"If these don't cheer you up," José declared, "we've got eight more flavors! I forgot to ask you boys how you like your salsa, but you look like you could handle it hot, so that's what I brought. Okay?"

"The hotter the better," Starsky declared, while absorbed with the menu. Then he must've realized what he said, because he locked eyes with Hutch for a second then descended behind the plastic pages and remained hidden.

"So!" José asked, clasping his hands. "What's for dinner?"

"If you don't know," Hutch mumbled, "we're in real trouble."

José grinned and batted his eyelashes. "That's cute. No, really. What can I serve you tonight?"

Starsky waved the big menu at him. "Any chance of gettin' a couple of tacos?" he asked plaintively.

José took command of the menu and flipped to the back page. "How about this, cowboy? Our Macho Man Special. Three tacos, an enchilada, sides of beans, rice, guacamole, some cornbread, and flan for dessert."

"Sounds good for starters," Starsky agreed with a weak laugh.

"And what can I do for you?" José asked, turning to Hutch.

Hutch was almost afraid to answer. "Uh, well, me, I'll just have a taco salad."

José nodded. "Good choice for the health conscious. I'll be out with those dishes in just a few moments." And he snatched up the menus and swirled away.

Starsky seemed relieved once they were alone, and sampled the chips and salsa. He whistled appreciatively. "This stuff is alive, Hutch. Be careful."

"I wonder how much food coloring they put in these drinks," Hutch said, sampling his strawberry Margarita. "Hey, Starsk. This is pretty good. They use real strawberries!"

Starsky glanced around as if to see if anyone was watching him with his "girl" drink, and tried the peach concoction. He licked his lips--a gesture which nearly caused Hutch to become undone--and nodded grudgingly. "Yeah. That's okay. You can taste the Cuervo. Not too sweet. S'good. This might not be so bad."

Hutch relaxed a little. He sipped the massive drink, tried the chips and salsa, and tried to figure out how to open the topic. About the other night. What the hell happened? No, that wouldn't work. He knew damned well what had happened.

About the other night. I'm sorry. It was my fault. Can you forgive me?

Nope. Starsky was just as much to blame. And besides--Hutch wasn't sure he was sorry at all. He sighed.

Starsky just stared at him, waiting.

Hutch said the first thing that came to mind. "How come it's always my job to start these conversations?"

"This was your idea," Starsky said simply. "You said, 'Starsk, we gotta talk about this.' So, talk."

"That's not fair," Hutch complained, sipping his drink. "You knew as well as I did that we needed to talk about--this. You just kept waiting for me to bring it up."

Starsky smirked a little. "Well, you're the verbal one. You're better'n me with words. Always have been."

Hutch didn't feel better with words right now. He felt positively tongue-tied. But they had to work this out. They couldn't just leave it between them the way it was now. "Look, Starsk--"

"Hutch, I--"

They both stopped and sat back in the booth.

"You first," Starsky said quickly.

"No, you," Hutch insisted.

"I called it first," Starsky said.

Hutch closed his eyes for a second. He opened them and tried again. "About the other night." He lowered his voice, leaned closer. "Listen, Starsk, I--"

The sound of maracas, marimbas, tambourines, and finger cymbals shattered the calm of their surroundings as a half dozen waiters and waitresses marched through their room into the one beside them and surrounded a table within sight of them. One of them carried a small cake on a platter with a sparkler hissing on top.

To the well-known tune of La Cucaracha they sang out loudly,

"This is your birthday,
Your happy birthday,
See the candles on the cake.
Yes it's your birthday,
So, Happy Birthday,
Come with us and celebrate."

They were mesmerized with the seemingly spontaneous performance.

The waiters kept singing as an elderly lady at the table grinned with embarrassed delight.

"Oh, it's your birthday,
Your happy birthday,
Share your day of happy bliss.
Yes, it's your birthday,
Your happy birthday,
Have some nachos and a kiss!"

Everyone cheered, shook the maracas, chimed the marimbas, rattled the tambourines, and clanged the tiny cymbals, then filed on out as an elderly man at the table kissed the birthday girl.

Just then José showed up with the food.

"What was all that about?" Hutch asked him.

"That's our birthday song," he said, placing a salad carefully in front of Hutch. "If you have dinner with us on your birthday, we make a party out of it. How does that look, gentlemen?"

Starsky had forgotten all about the birthday song, Hutch could tell, and was just staring in stunned amazement at the size of his platter. There was enough food on it to feed most of Mexico, or any moderately sized Third World country. Even for Starsky it was an amazing amount. For that matter, Hutch's salad could have saved every rabbit on the planet from starvation. He poked around in the mass of greens to find ground beef, beans, cheese, an entire four course meal all held in an edible bowl of a gigantic fried tortilla shell. If they had to eat it all, they'd be here all night.

"This is amazing," Starsky finally announced. José beamed as if he were solely responsible and flounced away to harass some other diners.

"Y'know," Starsky added, "the prices weren't that bad, either. Not for this amount of food. This looks like dinner, and breakfast, and lunch for tomorrow." He started moving food around on his plate.

Hutch took another swallow of the radioactive Margarita. "Starsk. Why don't we put a dent in this food while it's still hot, before we, you know, get down to it."

"Good idea!" he agreed too readily, and began to devour one of his tacos as Hutch tackled his salad.

The Margaritas finally disappeared, even though Hutch began to suspect they were secretly replenished from the bottom by some secret apparatus in the table. No sooner had the last of the icy brew gone down his throat than José appeared like a genie at his elbow.

"How about a banana, big boy?" the fey man asked Starsky, who was polishing off his peach drink.

The question took Starsky by surprise and he snorted the last of the drink, pinching his nose in pain as some of it hit his sinuses. Hutch had to turn away for fear he'd laugh. "Banana?" Starsky asked nasally, still holding his nose.

"Banana Margarita." José turned to Hutch. "Coconut's good, too."

Hutch was about to say no, and request nothing more elaborate than a beer, when Starsky said, "Sure! Hutch loves coconut. Banana and coconut. Sounds terrific." And before Hutch could do anything to stop him, José was gone.

Hutch glared at his partner. "Another psychedelic concoction? Do you really think that's such a good idea?"

Starsky was working on his second taco. The plate looked barely touched. "I'm beginning to think it's just what the doctor ordered."

Hutch just stared in confusion.

"Look," Starsky blurted, his taco in mid-air. "I know what you wanna talk about, and frankly, I'm too sober to talk about it. The very thought of talkin' about it's got me so freaked out I'm barely hungry. And this food is really good. A couple of Margaritas from now I'll be willin' to talk about anything you want. I might even be able to talk about it without dying of embarrassment. Not that anybody would notice in this place."

Hutch felt himself soften at Starsky's bald honesty. "Okay. I'm--kind of uncomfortable, too." For the first time all evening, indeed, for the first time all week, they locked eyes. "Starsk--we're gonna work this out between us, aren't we?"

Starsky looked pained, and opened his mouth to say something.

Just then a clash of cymbals and a rattled tambourine shattered the moment.

"This is your birthday,
Your happy birthday,
See the candles on the cake!"

The cheerful birthday song drifted through the myriad rooms like a tipsy guest who didn't know how silly he looked with a lampshade on his head.

Before either of them could recover from the birthday celebration, a screaming yellow glass of slush was placed before Starsky, and a snowy white one deposited before Hutch. The empties were snatched away just as efficiently. "Everything all right here, fellas?" José asked, batting his lashes at both of them.

"Oh, yeah," Starsky said with a lopsided grin, "just peachy."

"I knew those Margaritas would cheer you up," José declared, before turning away. "Before you leave here, boys, those black leather jackets will be positively madras!" Then he left.

Hutch couldn't help it. He had to laugh. Starsky joined him, and it felt good, really good, to laugh with his partner. Starsky must've agreed, because he lifted the huge glass and held it up for a toast. Hutch lifted his and held it expectantly as Starsky clinked their glasses carefully.

"To you, Hutch. For waitin' for me."

"Waiting?" Hutch asked, confused.

"Waiting for me to recover. To get out of therapy. To get back on the streets. You didn't have to. You could've had another partner any time. Dobey told me. How he tried to get you teamed with someone right when it happened, when I was in surgery. But you told him, 'I've got a partner.'"

Hutch felt color rising to his face. He sipped the white drink. It was sweet, but flavorful, the coconut taste strong and fresh. "Dobey told you that, huh?"

Starsky nodded. "Been a kinda rough year for us, hasn't it?"

Hutch shrugged. "Yeah. Kinda rough. Look, Starsk--our problems last year. I know a lot of that was me. It was my problem. I know that's not exactly what we came here to discuss, but--I wanted you to know that I knew it was me."

Starsky shook his head. "Don't carry all of that, Hutch. I never blamed you. 'Course, I didn't have to. You're always so busy blamin' yourself. You're probably even blaming yourself for my gettin' shot."

Hutch clenched his jaw, wondering if electric Margaritas could possibly make Starsky even more insightful.

"Hutch? Are you?" Starsky pressed. "Blaming yourself for Gunther's hit?"

He downed a big swallow of the icy brew so quick he got a sudden headache and had to close his eyes.

"Hutch?" Starsky pushed.

Just as he was about to confess yes, a tambourine rattled loudly directly behind him, nearly causing him to jump out of his seat. As the clash of cymbals announced yet another rendition of the birthday song, Starsky's pale appearance told Hutch he'd also been totally startled by the singing wait staff.

"...Yes, it's your birthday,
Have some nachos and a kiss!"

Starsky was clutching his chest as if fearing an imminent heart attack. "This place could make a guy a nervous wreck!" He slurped down a big swallow of the shockingly yellow drink, then pinned Hutch with his darkening blue eyes. "Answer me."

Hutch tried to shrug it away. "I guess. Maybe. At the time." He tried not to face those piercing blue orbs, but they pulled him like a magnet. "I just kinda thought--you know--that--" The lump in his throat was choking him, so he swallowed more of the Margarita for courage. Irritably, he grumbled, "I saw the black-and-white moving, and even before it hit the other car, even before that I, I mean, I knew, I knew it was wrong. I should have yelled faster, I should have--"

Starsky's voice was clear over the din of the restaurant. "There is no way you could've known that. It was just a black-and-white. There were two dozen of them in the lot, pullin' in and out. There was about three seconds between the time it started pulling out and the moment when it hit the other car. And you called me the instant it did. I heard you. I heard you before I registered the sound of the black-and-white impacting the other car. Hutch, if it was anyone's fault is was my fault. I could've rolled under the car, or jumped over it. I had the chance, 'cause you called me so quick. But, all I could think was pull the gun--"

"Yeah," Hutch interrupted. "All you could think was, 'Pull the gun. Protect Hutch.'"

Neither of them moved or spoke.

Then it was Starsky's turn to shrug. "That's what partner's are supposed to do. But I should've jumped for cover. You were behind the car and I knew it." He grinned with the lopsided smile that totally unhinged Hutch's heart. "But who ever saw Gene Autry jump for cover? Anyway. It wasn't your fault. Mine, neither, really. It was Gunther's fault. So, quit doin' that to yourself, blintz."

Hutch nodded and swirled the remnants of his drink around the bottom of his glass. "Okay. If you say so. But--that's not what we came here to talk about." He finished the drink as Starsky busied himself with beans and rice after polishing off his last taco.

Before either of them could add anything, José appeared at their elbows. "Looks like you two need more Margaritas!"

"Uh, wait a minute!" Hutch interjected quickly.

"No arguments, now," José chided. "I've been watching you two. Long faces. Serious talk. We don't allow that here." He turned to Hutch, as if sensing he was about to refuse the drinks. "You've got to try the melon."

"Melon?" Hutch said numbly, in no condition to handle this hyper-active Mary Poppins of a waiter.

"Melon Margarita!" José leaned toward Hutch conspiratorially. "It's made with Midori. To die for! You definitely look like a Midori man to me."

"Oh, definitely!" Starsky chimed in helpfully.

Hutch glared at him. "And what fruit flavor does my friend look like?" he asked pointedly.

José turned, peered at Starsky with one eye, and announced, "Apple cinnamon. Are you ready?"

Starsky's mouth dropped open. "Ready?"

José pointed to his nearly empty Margarita glass.

Like an obedient student, Starsky gulped the remnants, and José bustled away with the two empty glasses.

Hutch stared at his partner. "You realize he's coming back with two more Margaritas."

Starsky blinked. "Wha'd'ya talkin' about? There's no such thing as an apple-cinnamon Margarita. That's ridiculous."

Hutch just watched Starsky as José reappeared with two new glasses. Hutch's was a screaming green, while Starsky's was a much more subdued tan--the color of applesauce. Starsky's blue eyes widened in stunned amazement as his drink appeared as if by magic.

"I do hope you'll notice," José said pointedly to Starsky, "that the rim of your glass is coated--not with salt, oh no--but with cinnamon and sugar. Still working on your dinners?"

"Yes," Hutch said quickly before José caused their plates to disappear with his frightening efficiency.

"Enjoy, fellas." And he was gone.

Starsky just stared at his drink. "Apple cinnamon?" he said, incredulously.

Hutch peered suspiciously at his own. "I never considered mixing Midori in with Tequila."

Tentatively, they each took a sip.

Starsky's eyebrows lifted. "This is--delicious! Hutch, ya gotta try this. It's great!"

Hutch was licking his lips. "Here, taste this. It's incredible."

Cautiously, they traded the full glasses and sampled each other's drinks, nodding their approval.

"Good stuff," Starsky announced and proceeded to work on his dinner some more, hopeless cause that it was.

They ate in silence for a few minutes, then Hutch finally pushed his plate away. If he shoved another piece of lettuce down his throat he'd gag. They'd put this off long enough. "Starsk?"

His partner's head stayed bent over his plate.

"Starsk, come on. It's not gonna go away. We gotta deal with it."

Starsky wiped his mouth and pushed his plate away, pulling his glass closer, as if it could protect him. He stared into the wide-mouth glass as if he could find some answers there.

"Don't tell me you wanna have another week like this last one," Hutch said quietly.

"No," Starsky agreed. "I never wanna have a week like this one. Couple of times I kinda wished I was back in the hospital. At least then you'd come see me in the evenings and--Geez, Hutch, I din't think this would be so hard."

He really does want to end the partnership, Hutch thought, a ball of ice forming in his gut.

"And--I'm not good at this, Hutch. I'm not good with words. Not like you. I can't explain--can't find the words to say how I feel--I can't tell ya--"

"Easy, partner," Hutch said softly. "Come on, Starsk. You should know by now you can tell me anything."

Starsky shook his head miserably.

Give him an out. Let it go graciously. You've had a lot of years together. Remember the good times. Tell him you accept it and walk away like a man. But Hutch couldn't. He couldn't give up his relationship with Starsky so easily.

Then tell him how you feel. Tell him--What? That it was good for you? That you loved it? That you love him? He'll be out of this restaurant so fast he'll burn a path in the rug.

"Starsky, it's--hard for me to talk about, too."

"You?" Starsky looked at him in surprise. "Words always come so easy to you."

Hutch shook his head and sipped the Margarita. The powerful melon liquor was going straight to his head. "Not this time. It's all pretty new to me."

Starsky pinned him with his eyes. "How do you feel about it, Hutch? Maybe if you can tell me how you feel, maybe I can find the words, too."

Hutch drank some more of the potent brew, even as Starsky drank his down way too fast. Before he could open his mouth, José was at their elbows. Hutch seriously considered pulling his gun.

"Looks like that apple-cinnamon Margarita was a big hit," José declared happily.

"Damn right," Starsky agreed firmly, in a tone of voice that told Hutch the alcohol had hit his partner hard. "No more flavors, José. Just keep them apple-cimmanom, uh, cirramon, uh cinnaminimum--"

"Apple-cinnamon," Hutch said slowly.

Starsky pointed to him, "Yeah. That. Keep 'em comin'. And them melon ones, too."

"Your wish is my command!" José declared, whisking Starsky's empty glass away, along with the partially consumed meals.

Hutch stared at Starsky open-mouthed. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"I'm half-way to gettin' pie-eyed, partner. What the hell do you think I'm doin'?"

"You think that's a good idea?"

"Best idea I had in seven damn days, buddy!" He leaned across the table. "How else am I s'posed to find the guts to say what I gotta say?"

Oh shit, he really is going to dump me, Hutch thought in a panic. He grabbed his own glass and downed it. Would he beg Starsky to stay his partner? Would he lose every scrap of dignity he'd ever had to keep this man by his side? I swear, Starsk, you can trust me. I'll never touch you again. Never go near you. Never make an off-color joke. Just please, don't leave me!

When José appeared with their drinks they both attacked them like two men dying of thirst. "Now that's the attitude I like to see!" the waiter praised them. "Though the two of you still look like you're at a funeral. You're going to give this place a bad name."

"Not us," Starsky insisted, then burped lightly.

As José left them with their drinks, Hutch realized that a dusting of cinnamon coated Starsky's upper lip like a mustache. He started to reach over to brush it off, then realized what he was about to do. He jerked his hand back, nearly upending his brilliant green brew. "You, uh, you've got cinnamon--" Hutch stammered, completely red-faced.

Starsky touched his upper lip, brushed the cinnamon away. He looked miserable.

"Starsk," Hutch whispered, "we can work this out. I know we can. Please--"

Starsky's eyes captured his, the pain in them palpable. "Hutch, I gotta, I just gotta tell ya--You're gonna hate me for this, but--"

Rattle. Jangle. Ching-ching! Thump.

"This is your birthday,
Your happy birthday,
See the candles on the cake.
Yes it's your birthday,
So, Happy Birthday,
Come with us and celebrate!"

They were two rooms over, but impossibly loud, no doubt because a huge table of patrons was singing along with them. It sounded as if an entire percussion band had joined in, or did someone find a hand-drum to help along?

The waiters kept singing.

"Oh, it's your birthday,
Your happy birthday,
Share your day of happy bliss.
Yes, it's your birthday,
Your happy birthday,
Have some nachos and a kiss!"

"Hutch," Starsky said, "how many people in Los Angeles could be havin' a birthday today and come to this one restaurant?"

Hutch took a healthy gulp of his Margarita. "Technically, hundreds."

They both stared at each other and suddenly burst into laughter. Hutch finished half the margarita way too quickly, but, he figured, since his best friend was about to tell him he didn't love him anymore--no, Starsky would never say that--he was about to tell him he just didn't want to work with him anymore, be with him anymore, share the best relationship he'd ever had in his whole life anymore.... Since his partner was about to cut out his heart and serve it warm on a plate, Hutch may as well be anesthetized for the surgery. If he'd had a fiddle he could play along with the next birthday song.

"I should'a brought my guitar," Hutch declared.

"Your guitar? You wanna set this to music?" Starsky asked.

Hutch nodded, once, firmly. "The blues. Or maybe country-western. 'Sides. Guitar's the national instrument of Mexico."

"You should'a wore that shirt tonight," Starsky declared, slurping his sweet drink.

"What shirt?" Hutch asked, completely baffled.

"The one wit' the guitar onna back. I always liked that shirt."

"You did? I din't know that. You want it?"

Starsky stared at him blearily. "You'd gimme that shirt?"

"Sure. You're my partner. I'd give you--"

"The shirt off your back?" Starsky looked like he might cry. "Hutch, how can you be like that, all open like that, when I--when I gotta tell you--"

The crash of cymbals nearly made Hutch slide out of his seat.

"This is your birthday,
Your happy birthday,
See the candles on the cake!"

They stared at each other in horror.

"Let's arrest 'em for disturbin' the peach," Starsky declared.

"You mean the peace? We can't," Hutch told him. "It's not ten p.m. It's not even dark."

As if in silent agreement about the lunacy surrounding them, they finished their drinks in a swallow.

"Five bucks says José shows up in less than one minute," Starsky declared.

"That's too easy," Hutch argued. "Ten bucks says fifteen seconds." He grabbed Starsky's hand and stared at the part of his watch that had a timer on it.

"Here you go, two more Margaritas," José declared, depositing the brimming glasses in front of them and taking the empties away. "Now you're getting into the party spirit!" He stared meaningfully at Hutch's grip on Starsky's hand.

"Jus'--checkin' the time!" Hutch said cheerily, but forgot to release Starsky's hand. He could feel heat in his cheeks and the end of his nose.

"I just knew you were a Midori man," José said sotto voce and winked outrageously at Hutch.

"Hey," Starsky grumbled threateningly as José left them. "Is he flirtin' wit'chu?"

"Shhhh!" Hutch admonished as he glanced around them self-consciously, finally releasing Starsky's hand. Then he remembered that he'd asked for a private table. There was no one in their immediate vicinity. "No, of course not. He's just being friendly. It's his job."

"You better never be a waiter, Hutch!" Starsky declared seriously.

"What'zat s'pposed t'mean?" Hutch grumbled.

"Le's face it," Starsky said, leaning closer, while clutching his Margarita in a death grip. "If you ain't in the mood to be frien'ly, ain't no amount o' money would make you do it."

Hutch drew himself up and tried to center his dignity, but found it slipping. "I cannot be bought!"

"Damn right 'bout that. Tha's why you my partner." Starsky hiccupped slightly.

Hutch finished half the Margarita off and felt his eyes fill dangerously. He blinked the threatening tears away. "Yeah? Tha's why? Tha's a good reason. Starsk. I always wanna be your partner. I'd'a waited forever for you to come back."

Now Starsky looked like he was on the verge of tears. "You really mean that?"

Hutch nodded solemnly.

"Then how come you're sittin' all the way over there? You always useta sit next to me inna res'trant booth. Hutch? Don' ya trust me anymore?"

Hutch blinked and narrowed his eyes. "'Course I trust you! You think, cause'a...what happened...you think I don't trust you? I trust you, Starsk! Hell, I--I trust you even more!"

"Well?" Starsky asked, scooting over in the bench.

Hutch slid out of his side of the booth and moved in beside his friend, his chest aching with mixed emotions. If Starsky was going to dump him, why would he pull Hutch even closer before doing it? Or was this a dangerous reaction to the alcohol they'd consumed? Hutch knew his own will power was seriously compromised right now, but he couldn't bypass the opportunity to share one last moment of closeness with his friend.

They crammed into the booth together, leather jackets creaking, denim thighs brushing. Hutch felt like someone had placed a metal conducting plate in his back pocket and kept giving him little shocks every time Starsky's leg touched his. It wouldn't be so bad, except that he liked it so much.

"Hutch," Starsky said softly as they sat elbow to elbow, "you're the bes' partner a cop could ever want. Workin' wit' you--that's like the bes' part of my life, the bes' part o' bein' a cop. Tha's why, last year, when you quit, I hadda quit, too. I'm not sayin' this real good, but--I gotta tell ya--I'd do anything if only, if only--" He swallowed a gulp of Margarita and struggled with the words. Words Hutch hung onto the way a drowning man hugs a life preserver. "Please, Hutch, please don't--"

The clash of cymbals no longer made them jump. They were too inured to it. This time, the silly song, combined with their tension and their drunkenness only made them giggle, then guffaw, then laugh outright in an over-reaction of hilarity that had them clutching one another in desperation.

"...Come with us and celebrate!" Starsky sang and shoved a tortilla chip in Hutch's laughing mouth.

Nearly gagging on the chip, Hutch managed to get it chewed and swallowed, then blinked the tears out of his eyes, and, wheezing, managed to ask, "Are you tryin' t'tell me you still want me to be your partner?"

Starsky sobered some. "Yeah. If you'll have me. I know you're probably ready to pitch me out, Hutch, but if you give me another chance...."

Hutch stared at Starsky in amazement. "You thought that I wanted to end the partnership?"

"Din't you? I mean, what guy wouldn't'a wanted to dump me after--after what happened? I can't even 'splain it. Don't think I wanna. Just seemed like it should'a happened. I'm real sorry, Hutch. It was just--I was so happy--and bein' wit' you again--and you were all there, all blond like you are and beautiful--and I'd been drinkin'--an'--an' I felt all the feelin's I got for you an'--an'--"

Hutch just stared at Starsky as he blathered on. "What kind'a feelings?"

"Huh?" Starsky said, seeming to notice finally how Hutch was watching him.

"What kind of feelings have you got for me?" Hutch pressed. His heart was thrumming wildly in his ears. He tried to blame it on the Midori, but knew there was more to it than that.

"You--you gonna make me say it here?" Starsky whispered.

"Here. Now. Tell me." Hutch heard the desperate edge in his voice.

"This is your birthday,
Your happy birthday,
See the candles on the cake!"

This time the singers were practically behind them. In his frustration, Hutch's hand moved automatically for his gun.

Starsky grabbed his wrist. "Wha'd'you, crazy?"

Hutch blinked, his face reddening. "We gotta get outta here before I shoot somebody."

José appeared at that moment as if volunteering to be the first victim. "Well, don't we look chummy? That's much better. You two shouldn't fight, you look so cute together."

"So we've been told," Hutch said, squinting at the waiter, trying to focus. José looked a lot more like Oliver Hardy now than when they came in.

Starsky was staring at José , too. "Hey. Where's the next round?" That was when Hutch realized that for the first time the waiter was empty-handed.

"Well, fellas," José said apologetically, "we wouldn't want you to wake up with headaches or tummy aches tomorrow and blame it on our food. So, how about you just take care of this little bill and call it a night. I've already taken the liberty to call you both a cab."

They looked at each other with silly grins, pointed at one another and said at the same time, "You're a cab!" Then they dissolved in laughter.

Hutch looked up to see José rolling his eyes, one hand on his hip.

"Yep," José said sternly, "you two are finished for the night."

"Not yet!" Starsky announced to Hutch's surprise.

Off in the distance, Hutch could make out the strains of yet another rendition of the birthday song. He remembered pressing Starsky for a confession about his inner feelings. Starsky was liable to do anything to avoid that. But Hutch wasn't expecting the next thing that came out of Starsky's mouth.

"It's my birthday!"

"Your birthday?" José peered at him suspiciously through narrowed eyes.

"His, too," Starsky insisted, pointing at Hutch and nodding vigorously before Hutch was able to protest. Neither of their birthdays was even close to today.

José had both fists on his hips now and looked highly skeptical. "Funny you didn't mention it before now. I'll need to see some ID, boys."

Starsky rummaged in the inside pocket of his black leather jacket, accidentally exposing his gun. Well, God knows he couldn't fit his wallet anywhere in his pants! Hutch thought, as he dug around in his own back pocket for his badge, making his gun clunk against the table. At least their birth dates were on their police licenses, which would verify that this was not his--or Starsky's--birthday. By the time the two of them flashed their badges José was staring open-mouthed.

"You two are cops?" he said, shocked.

"Tha's right," Starsky said proudly. "Partners. Twelve years. Best fuckin' detectives on the squad."

"Cops!" José said, stunned. "Well, help, police! I feel safer all ready! Honey, if you say it's your birthday, then it's your birthday. It'll be your birthday any day you come in here." To Hutch's horror, José flung a hand up and snapped his fingers. "Maria! Pedro! Luis! Carmen! We got a double over here! Get everyone together!"

Oh, no, Hutch thought, not that.

Beside him, Starsky was grinning like a fool.

It seemed to Hutch that the entire staff of the restaurant was marching to their table. There were sparklers and dessert. There were cymbals and marimbas, maracas and tambourines. Even a small hand drum. At least there were no guitars.

"THIS IS YOUR BIRTHDAY,
YOUR HAPPY BIRTHDAY.
SEE THE CANDLES ON THE CAKE."

Starsky was singing along, grinning, totally joyous. Hutch could feel the heat in his face, knew it was red as a beet, that he was lighting up the entire end of the restaurant.

"YES, IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY.
SO, HAPPY BIRTHDAY.
COME WITH US AND CELEBRATE!"

The sparklers dazzled and the cymbals rattled. Starsky grabbed a huge tortilla chip to use as a baton to keep time with the wait staff as he sang along.

"OH, IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY,
YOUR HAPPY BIRTHDAY.
SHARE YOUR DAY OF HAPPY BLISS.
YES, IT'S YOUR BIRTHDAY,
YOUR HAPPY BIRTHDAY.
HAVE SOME NACHOS AND A KISS!"

And, on cue, Starsky fed Hutch the chip and kissed him hard on the lips. Everyone cheered, José the loudest of all.

"Le's go home now, Hutch," Starsky said, his eyes glittering dangerously.

Hutch knew he should say no, he should tell José to bring some black coffee and make them sit there and drink a pot full while they talked over what they came here to talk over. But he couldn't. He couldn't say anything. His lips were tingling and his gut was churning, his heart was racing and his cock was trying to call a cab without any help from the rest of his body. He reached for his wallet, threw a bunch of bills on the check without even looking at it. He couldn't yank his eyes away from the midnight blue ones pulling him into deep water.

"Yeah," he murmured huskily, "let's go home."

Back to the scene of the crime.

"Thank you," José said to them as the rest of the wait staff dispersed, no doubt to sing to someone else. The rotund waiter had quickly tabulated the generous tip Hutch had left him. "Your cab is waiting, fellas."

Hutch started to slide out of the booth when Starsky grabbed his arm. "Hey, is there a rear exit to this place?"

Hutch just looked at him confused.

"I can't go past that fountain, Hutch, I just can't!"

They broke into laughter again, leaving José with a bemused expression.

"I'll be happy to send the cab around back," José assured them. "The rear exit is right there." He pointed to a door set in the glass panels of their room.

As they wended their way through the tables, arms strewn over each other's shoulders, Hutch could've sworn he heard José sigh and mutter, "Ah, love! Ain't it grand!"

I

During the cab ride home, it was everything Starsky could do to keep his hands off Hutch. Starsky had climbed in the cab first--so that Hutch could get a good look at his ass--but when Hutch got in, he slid all the way in, so that Starsky was pressed tight against the door with Hutch practically sitting on his hip. Which was making him hornier than hell--not that he could get a whole lot hornier without creaming his jeans--assuming there was enough space in his jeans for that to even happen. And for some really, totally weird reason, this song kept running around and around his head. Not the birthday song from the restaurant, which, under the circumstances you would of thought that would be the one. No, instead it was an old Beatles song.

"You say it's your birthday," Starsky heard himself singing quietly. "Well, it's my birthday, too, yeah. You say it's your birthday. We're gonna have a good time."

Hutch stared at him as if he were completely losing it. But then Starsky realized they were both losing it. The flush on Hutch's face wasn't embarrassment, it wasn't from alcohol. It was a sexual flush. And it was for him, Starsky. Hutch was hot. For his partner. And Hutch had already said he wanted them to stay partners.

Starsky couldn't think, couldn't analyze what was happening. He didn't want to. He just wanted it to happen. He wanted it to be as hot and electric as it had been the last time, only this time he would be awake right from the word go.

His heart was pounding and his cock, strangling in his overly tight pants, throbbed in time to the beat that kept running through his head.

"You say it's your birthday," Starsky sang again. "Well, it's my birthday to, yeah."

He couldn't find any place to put his right hand since his arm was crammed tight against Hutch's and the only place it seemed to want to rest was on the inside of Hutch's thigh, so he slid it down between their hips to keep it out of trouble. As soon as he did, Hutch's left hand slid down there too, and the next thing Starsky knew their hands were gripping one another hard, really hard, both of their palms sweating like crazy. He shuddered all over, knowing Hutch could feel it.

Hutch nodded to the same beat running through Starsky's head and picked up the next verse. "You say it's your birthday. We're gonna have a good time."

It was like a code, Starsky realized. Their own code. Just like on the street. They were thinking the same way. Working the same way. Starsky licked his lips and watched Hutch watch him do it.

The cab slowed, the cabbie glancing at them surreptitiously in the rear view mirror, his brows furrowed. Wondering, no doubt, how he always managed to get the weirdoes whacked out on Technicolor Margaritas.

They were at Venice Place. Starsky fumbled for some bills in his jacket pocket, but Hutch released his hand and was out first, paying the tab. Starsky headed for the stairs, making sure Hutch would have to follow. It was a long flight. He prowled up the steps on the balls of his toes, moving as smoothly as if he were trying to surprise some bad guys. He could sense Hutch behind him, watching the play of muscles in his thighs, watching his ass move in the tight jeans. By the time they got to the top, Hutch had tripped twice going up his own steps.

Good sign, Starsky thought smugly.

They reached for the key over the lintel together, their hands grasping each other's. Starsky managed to snag the key before it slipped off, but now that they'd connected, they couldn't release their hold. Without warning, Hutch yanked on Starsky's hand, pulling him close, sliding his other arm around Starsky's waist. At the same time, Hutch shoved him up against the carved wooden door, grinding his crotch against Starsky's. Their mouths clashed together in instant agreement, both open, both tongues searching for their mates.

Starsky thought he might melt under that kiss, or maybe faint. He rubbed his knee between Hutch's legs, bumping it up against his crotch, only to have Hutch grind harder against him, and take his mouth more fiercely.

All of Hutch, all of him, right here in his arms. Starsky was delirious with joy and wanting as he clutched Hutch's black leather jacket hungrily.

"We're makin' out on the landing!" Hutch whispered against his cheek then returned to savage another kiss from him.

"We gotta get inside," Starsky agreed around the frantic kisses, as his hands roved Hutch's body, touching everything he could reach, searching for him under the black leather, around the holster.

"Where's the key?" Hutch wondered, trailing his lips over Starsky's ear.

He groaned. "I--I've got it." He waved it around until Hutch took it from him, slid it under his arm into the lock and turned it.

They nearly fell into the room as the door opened. Somehow, they kept from stumbling, each balancing the other. Hutch pulled the key out of the lock and tossed it on the table as Starsky shut and locked the door behind them. Then Starsky spun Hutch around so that his back was against the solid wooden door. Starsky took his turn pressing Hutch against the firm surface of the door, fondling him, rubbing against him, capturing his mouth over and over. Their leather jackets creaked and complained. Hutch's holstered gun thumped rhythmically against the door, as Starsky humped against his groin.

As they kissed, they struggled with Starsky's jacket, finally pulling it off him, tossing it to the floor, only to be followed by his holster. Through the whole thing their lips never separated for more than a second, their tongues becoming reacquainted with their heated mouths. They were both moaning, gasping, acting like two men who hadn't had sex in years. Next, they fought Hutch's jacket and his holster and finally they were both down to shirts.

Starsky's hands moved under Hutch's black turtleneck. They shook violently as he skimmed the soft flesh of Hutch's chest, feeling once more that texture he thought never to have again, all that smooth skin with the finest dusting of blond hair covering it like down. He couldn't get enough of Hutch's skin. He couldn't get enough of Hutch. He wanted to climb up the big blond the way a monkey clambers up a tree, knowing that tree, owning it, claiming it. Impulsively, he slid his leg up, tried to hook it high behind Hutch's ass. He didn't have to say anything. Hutch knew.

Reaching down, Hutch grabbed Starsky's ass and hoisted him, and just like that Starsky's legs were wrapped around his waist and Hutch was holding him there in a wonderfully suggestive position that made Starsky's blood boil with the possibilities.

"Oh, you're mine now, Starsky," Hutch threatened, as he turned them around, pinning Starsky between himself and the door. His voice was low, meaningful. "I'm gonna make you mine."

Starsky laughed, happier than he'd been in a week, in a year, in a lifetime. "You keep thinkin' that, blondie. We'll see who belongs to who."

Hutch moved away from the door, carrying Starsky with surprising ease. They kept kissing all the way into the bedroom, as Starsky stayed wrapped around Hutch's torso until he dropped them both on his big brass bed, and they began to roll around, grinding, humping each other wildly. But finally Starsky was able to use his position as leverage, and ended up sitting over Hutch's groin, his legs still wrapped around his partner's waist. He pinned Hutch flat to the bed and pulled the black turtleneck over his head.

Then all he could do was stare at the torso beneath him. "Damn, Hutch, you're so beautiful." He touched Hutch's smooth flesh reverently, circling his nipples, tracing his musculature over his ribs, outlining his collarbone. He bent to take a small brown nub into his mouth and thought he'd die from joy when Hutch cried out in reaction.

But even as Starsky's mouth loved his partner, Hutch was busy, moving his hands, pawing at Starsky's torso, grappling with his batik shirt until he hauled it off over Starsky's head.

"Oh, God, Starsk," Hutch breathed, "look at you."

The words hit Starsky like ice water as Hutch stared at his mutilated body. Starsky couldn't meet his eyes, couldn't risk seeing the shock there, the revulsion.

"Hutch, don't," Starsky whispered, his shoulders hunched forward. "Don't look me."

"What?" Hutch said, dazed. "Why not?"

Starsky risked a glance at blue eyes filled with confusion. "The scars," he muttered quietly. "They're so ugly."

"No," Hutch said firmly, sounding more sober than he had all night. He grabbed Starsky by the shoulders, flipped him onto the bed on his back, took his turn straddling Starsky's hips. "Don't say that. Don't ever say that. Not to me. You're alive. You wear them because you're alive. Dead men don't scar."

Starsky looked up into Hutch's face, seeing his fierce expression.

Hutch traced the scars gently, line by line, his big hands so tender, the way only Hutch could be. "You got these protecting me. I love every one of them. They're beautiful. You're beautiful. Your body. Your heart. Your courage."

Starsky could see that for Hutch it was the truth. And because Hutch saw that beauty, Starsky could believe in it, too.

Hutch leaned down as Starsky reached for him and then their mouths were crushed together again, their tongues examining every micro space as they breathed together, clicked their teeth together.

They reached for each other's waistband at the same time, their wrists crossing, rubbing together.

"I need you," Starsky gasped around Hutch's tongue.

"So bad," Hutch agreed. "Right now."

Starsky had his partner's pants half way down his hips when he realized Hutch was still struggling with Starsky's.

"How the hell did you get into these pants tonight anyway?" Hutch groused, climbing off him to get better leverage.

"It wasn't easy!" Starsky confessed, moving to help Hutch undo the tight clasp and the zipper that seemed welded together. When they finally got it to release, it opened all at once with a tortured squeal, pinching Starsky's sensitive flesh on the way down. He yelped, then helped Hutch free him from the vengeful pants.

"You were makin' me crazy in these damn things," Hutch confessed, towing the jeans off his legs and tossing them over the side of the bed. Starsky had to swallow his smirk; he was grateful Hutch hadn't made a sarcastic remark about his lack of underwear. Quickly, Hutch skimmed the rest of the way out of his own black jeans. Then he paused as if remembering something. "Don't you need to use the john?"

Starsky hoisted himself up on his elbows and stared meaningfully at his turgid erection. "Can you pee with a hard-on?"

Hutch looked a bit embarrassed. "Uh, well, no."

"Me, neither. Besides, I can do that later." He lay back down on the bed and held out his arms. "So, get back here, where ya belong."

Hutch came to him without a pause, sliding his larger frame against Starsky's softly furred skin. "Oh, you're so right about that, Starsk," Hutch murmured with a soft sigh as he settled in his embrace. "This is exactly where I belong." Hutch's arms tightened around him, as Starsky slid his hand into the soft strands of Hutch's hair, marveling at the sensual texture.

Hutch pulled back a little, stared into Starsky's eyes. Starsky found himself mesmerized by all the different shades of blue in Hutch's eyes, like a hundred ice shards all overlapping one another.

"Being in your arms, Starsk," Hutch said huskily, "it's like coming home. Like being in the only safe place left in the world. Knowing with absolute certainty that this is where I can relax, where I can trust--where I'm loved. This is where I belong."

Starsky's heart pounded so hard it almost hurt. He could barely find his voice. "I told you already, you've got all the words. Is that what you were tryin' to tell me in the restaurant?"

Hutch's brow furrowed, his eyes looked sad. "No. I just wanted to apologize.... Wanted to beg you not to leave me, not drop me as your partner. I thought--I thought I'd never see you after tonight--"

Starsky nearly choked. "Leave you? I was tryin' to find someway to get you to forgive me, just so you could trust me again. I thought we weren't ever gonna be able to work together again, or even be friends...." His voice trailed off as he stared at his partner. "I was so scared of losing you."

Without another word, Hutch fastened onto Starsky's mouth, kissing him as though it were his last chance in the world to do this. Starsky met his kiss and returned it in kind, unable to remember feeling this level of desperation for any lover, any time. Their tongues fought furiously, as if all their strength and passion could only be released through their mouths.

Hutch pulled them tight together and Starsky let him, as they rolled onto their sides and stretched out to enjoy maximum body contact. Starsky felt a heady rush of pleasure just like he had that first night, as his hands roamed Hutch's soft, downy skin, his firm muscles, as all of Hutch's masculinity rubbed against Starsky's furred body. And Hutch must've love the feeling too, 'cause he was rubbing against Starsky's frame as if he couldn't get close enough, couldn't get enough stimulation.

Starsky slid his palms down Hutch's spine and grabbed his ass roughly, unable to stop himself or slow down. He meant to be gentle, to go slow, but right now he felt like he was on a runaway train, with all the controls fused wide open and everything out of control. He pulled their lower bodies tight together, felt their dicks slide side by side and began to hump hard. Hutch was right with him, reaching to cup Starsky's thrusting ass, moving with him, the two of them perfectly matched.

"Oh, damn, Starsk," Hutch moaned around his kisses, sounding desperate. "I love your ass!"

Oh, thank God! Starsky thought and gasped in relief. "I'm glad, Hutch, really glad. I love yours too--your ass, your legs, your whole incredible body." It was all swallowed up in endless, hungry kisses as they gripped each other's rear and stropped their cocks together crazily.

Starsky needed to come so bad his legs were shaking, but a few minutes of desperate humping told him things were different than the last time. They were drowsy, last time, half-asleep and satisfying their morning erections. And there'd been the element of shock and surprise. It wouldn't be enough this time around. But failure was too horrible to contemplate. Damn, he needed to come!

He could feel the tension building in Hutch, too, and knew--the way he knew his partner's reactions on the street--that it wasn't quite working for him, either. Without spending a second's thought on it, Starsky released his powerful grip, and pulled out of their kiss.

His mouth was tender, his lips swollen, but he trailed the bruised lips down over Hutch's jaw, onto his throat. Hutch groaned, trying to form a question, but Starsky wasn't about to let him start thinking. That always got them into trouble. He bit Hutch's shoulder just to try to bank his own need, then bit and licked his way down Hutch's fair-skinned, muscular chest. He latched onto his pebble hard nipple and sucked it, making Hutch arch wildly under his mouth, and gasp out questions Starsky wouldn't answer.

Pushing Hutch firmly onto his back, Starsky attacked the other nipple, biting it once, and getting the reaction he wanted, then sucking it gently in apology. He had Hutch shaking now, quivering all over, never knowing when there'd be pain, or gentle pleasure.

Who belongs to who now, blondie? Starsky thought smugly as he trailed his mouth down Hutch's sternum to his navel. He licked it, nipped it, kissed the smooth skin all around it. And then moved south.

"Starsk!" Hutch gasped, sounding almost panicked. "What are you doing? Come back up here! Starsk!"

Starsky collected the vivid, pulsing erection in his hand, tightening his grip around it. He was mesmerized by its shape, it's color. Hutch wasn't cut, and his erection looked completely different than Starsky's. It smelled musky like a man, but clean. And it looked so angry. All Starsky wanted to do was soothe it, gentle its temper, make it smile, make it sing. He leaned down impulsively and kissed the red, raw-looking glans.

Hutch froze and from above him, Starsky heard him murmur his name. It was half-plea, half-question.

Starsky kissed the glans again, then slowly slid his tongue into the slit, tasting his partner for the first time. The sound Hutch made was unmistakably pleasure-driven. Starsky began licking the whole thing all over as though it were some wonderful confection made expressly for him. It tasted fine, it tasted like Hutch, and Starsky had always enjoyed using his mouth to bring pleasure to a lover.

Everything he was doing was reducing Hutch to a trembling mass of screaming nerves and sensations, just as Starsky hoped it would.

"Oh, jeez, Starsky," he gasped, threading his hands through Starsky's curls. "Oh, damn, that's good!"

Yes, Starsky thought, closing his eyes. He wanted it to be good. More than good, it had to be great. Had to be perfect for Hutch. He wanted Hutch to know he was at home here, too, in Starsky's mouth. Slowly, he took the organ inside him for the first time in his life, and the pleasure it gave him came as a complete surprise. This was Hutch filling his mouth, filling his body. He enveloped the sweet, sensitive flesh, making it wet, making it hot, and let it slide beautifully in and out of his mouth over and over, just the way he loved to have it done to him.

Hutch started to fall apart completely and that made Starsky smile around the heavy maleness in his mouth. That's right, babe. Give it to me. Let me have it all.

As if Hutch could hear his thoughts, he responded, but not in the way Starsky expected. Hutch shifted in the bed, sliding up, pulling Starsky with him, then moved around. He shifted around so much, Starsky pulled his mouth off to complain.

"Hey, hold still, will ya, blintz? This is a delicate operation, here! You can't disturb the maestro!"

"Sorry, Maestro," Hutch murmured breathlessly, "but it's time for me to learn to play the piccolo."

"Pickle-who?" Starsky asked, baffled, just as Hutch grabbed him at the base of the cock. "Oh, hey, wait a minute, partner! You don't have to--"

He was cut off by the shocking sensation of Hutch's tongue laving the head of his cock. He fell back in stunned surprise, his organ nearly leaping in Hutch's hand, as he pillowed his head on Hutch's thigh. "Hutch! Hutch!" he whispered reverently. He could barely believe it! Hutch was giving him head! What the hell was the world coming to?

Hutch stopped for a moment, and grinned down at him. "Starsk! What's the matter? Can't do two things at once?" He stared meaningfully at his abandoned erection.

Starsky growled playfully. "Oh, you shouldn't'a said that, blondie. I can do a hell of a lot more than two things at once." They rolled onto their sides and took each other into their mouths with a practiced ease that belied their inexperience. And each groaned as they slid home into the wet warmth of their lover.

In spite of his boasting, it was damned hard for Starsky to concentrate on giving Hutch pleasure when Hutch was making him insane with his tongue and his lips. The sensation of having Hutch go down on him even as he did it to Hutch was like pleasure in stereo, almost more than he could bear. Hutch was kneading his ass, stroking it, giving it all the attention it was starved for and that only drove Starsky higher and higher. He was dizzy on sensation, being assault on all ends, unable to determine just where he began and Hutch ended. And this was only their second time in bed! What the hell might happen if they ever did it sober?

The tip of Hutch's tongue was drilling into his sensitive slit, as if trying to pull his seed out. Starsky knew he was about two minutes from meltdown, but didn't get that feeling from Hutch. Hutch's proficiency at this act was scaring him; his partner could definitely do two things at once, but Starsky wasn't sure coming was one of them. He'd be damned if he'd leave his best friend behind.

He realized then he was digging his fingers into Hutch's ass, pulling him into his mouth over and over. While it was everything Starsky could do to restrain himself from humping too hard into Hutch's mouth, Hutch was holding rigidly still. That was hardly what Starsky wanted. He wanted Hutch unhinged, completely unglued. He wanted all that Hutchinson cool, all that icy Nordic reserved shattered. Deliberately, Starsky slid one of his hands between the rich cheeks of Hutch's ass and traced his cleft. He lurched a little and grunted. Starsky did it again, slower this time, and carefully traced the tight pucker of Hutch's ass.

Hutch released a throaty groan and shoved into Starsky's mouth so hard, he nearly gagged. Yeah, be careful what you ask for-- Heedlessly, Starsky fingered Hutch's tight anus again, and he bucked wildly, pumping into Starsky's mouth ruthlessly. Oh yeah, partner. I can do more than two things at a time. Now who belongs to who? Starsky took all of Hutch inside, every inch, sucking hard, tonguing the mass of flesh wildly, then penetrated Hutch gently with the tip of his finger.

Hutch roared, his cock swelling even more inside Starsky's mouth. As he pumped frantically, fucking Starsky's mouth rudely, he swallowed Starsky's cock completely in a shocking move Starsky couldn't have possibly anticipated. The sense of being so completely surrounded by Hutch's wet heat was more than he could handle. With a shuddered groan, he exploded like a bomb, bursts of semen jetting into Hutch with more force than Starsky ever felt before.

It was all Hutch could take. He came suddenly, surprising Starsky so much he almost choked, barely recovering quickly enough to handle the flood ejected into his mouth and throat. He swallowed some, shocked at the bitterness, and lost some by surprise as it dribbled from his mouth and down his chin. And it just kept on coming as Hutch pulsed and pulsed, giving Starsky everything he had, everything he was. Starsky's orgasm seemed endless, he felt like he was deflating like a balloon, that he was filling Hutch up with his soul, his heart, his everything. It was a stunning, shocking experience, and Starsky knew then no matter how often they did, no matter how drunk or how sober, it would always be like this between them. Earth-shattering. Incredible. Insane.

They released each other at the same moment and fell back, pillowing their heads on the others' thigh. Gasping for air, they were like mirror images of one another, in contrasting color. They each wiped their mouths, then looked at one another and grinned feebly. And Starsky knew there was nothing left inside them to say, nothing else at this moment they could do. Since Hutch was closer to the head of the bed and the pillows, Starsky finally struggled to climb up there to be with him. Collapsing beside him, he felt Hutch pull him close with one arm. Slinging one leg over one of Hutch's, and one arm over his chest, Starsky pillowed his head on Hutch's shoulder and thought about telling Hutch how great it had been, how much he loved it, how much he loved him, but he couldn't find the air to talk.

They glanced at one another, and each smiled weakly and nodded, and then there was nothing to do but sleep. So they did.

I

Hutch woke up at four in the morning feeling like he was trapped, because he was. His legs were so tangled in the cover sheet he couldn't move and his upper body was completely enveloped by his partner. He was horribly hung over and his mouth tasted like cotton. Moldy cotton. And he had to pee unbelievably badly.

Slowly, carefully, with patience he felt too awful to have, he extricated himself from the bed without waking Starsky and made it to the bathroom. After peeing a river, (and being relieved to find his urine was not a screaming Midori green), he threw two Alka-Seltzer tablets into the bathroom glass and watched them fizz as he downed four aspirin, then brushed his teeth. He gulped the seltzer, then followed it with a glass of water just as a fist pounded on the door and an impatient voice grumbled, "Will you quit runnin' that water in there and lemme in?"

Rinsing the glass and refilling it, he threw in two more Alka-Seltzer tablets. Opening the door, he handed the fizzing glass to his naked partner as they passed each other in the doorway. Starsky took the glass as if he expected it and made a beeline for the head.

"Aspirin's in the cabinet," Hutch said simply and headed back for bed. He straightened out the sheets, rescued the covers that had landed on the floor and got back into bed.

It sounded as if poor Starsky urinated for ten minutes before Hutch finally heard the water in the sink running, and the sounds of teeth being brushed.

So, that's what it's like to have oral sex with a man, Hutch thought distantly, running his tongue around the inside of his battered mouth. He couldn't think about it now, couldn't think about anything, not about the incredible pleasure Starsky gave him, not about the intense sensation he'd felt when his partner penetrated him, not about the shocking reality of having Starsky come in his mouth--he couldn't think about any of it. His head was killing him and his stomach was threatening rebellion if he moved any faster than a snail's pace.

After awhile Starsky finally rejoined him in bed. Hutch wondered if Starsky would use this opportunity to put some distance between them, and if he did, Hutch knew, he wouldn't have the energy to fight it. But Starsky cuddled up tight against him, and with a great sense of relief, Hutch slipped an arm around his slender body and drew him close, feeling the comfort of the warm, bare flesh that was now so wonderfully familiar to him.

"What the hell happened in here, Hutch?" Starsky mumbled quietly. "Looks like a bomb went off in your closet."

"Don't let it worry you, Starsk. You feeling okay?"

Starsky grunted an affirmative and then said quietly, "Thanks for the aspirin and the seltzer. But if you make me talk to you now, I'll throw up."

Hard to bargain with a line like that, Hutch thought and smiled in spite of the pain in his head. "I won't make you talk. Go back to sleep."

Starsky murmured something against his chest and in seconds was slumbering away. With a sigh, Hutch joined him, hoping they'd both feel better later.

I

The next time Hutch tried consciousness, he felt almost human. There was still a dull throbbing in his head, but it was greatly subdued, and he no longer felt as if rolling over was going to make him throw up. His mouth tasted all right, and most of raw places were no longer so tender. And his arms, to his surprise, were still full of Starsky.

They were on their sides, back to front, Hutch surrounding Starsky like a blanket, while Starsky's arms cuddled Hutch's forearms to his chest. He marveled at that. Whenever he'd slept with his ex-wife, Vanessa, or for that matter, any of the women he'd had sex with over the years, he could tolerate about five minutes of cuddling before he had to declare his own space. But he and Starsky, as far as he could tell, had turned in unison all night long and, by the evidence, it seemed they were determined to maintain full body contact for as long as possible. It was nice, he realized. He liked it. He felt as if Starsky belonged here, in his arms. In his bed.

Starsky stirred in his arms, and rolled gently towards him, still within the circle of his arms, never trying to push away. Once face to face, Hutch waited to see surprise or shock in his sleepy indigo eyes.

But they only blinked once and held his as Starsky said with perfect clarity, "We gonna do this every Friday?"

Hutch paused, having no idea how to answer such a question. He tossed one back at Starsky. "You got something better to do on Fridays?"

Starsky smiled, knowing Hutch's evasive tactics as well as Hutch knew his. "I was just thinking--"

"A sure sign of trouble," Hutch interjected, punctuating the teasing remark with a hug.

"I said," Starsky grumbled, give Hutch's nipple a sharp tweak, "I was just thinkin'--if we're gonna do this every Friday, could we try it next week without the alcohol? I don't know about you, Hutch, but I can't hack wakin' up on another Saturday morning feeling like shit. Especially after a Friday night that makes me feel so..." he paused, worrying Hutch, then grinned and sighed heavily, "that makes me feel so totally drained, like every last drop of come has been wrung outta me."

"Is that how I make you feel?" Hutch asked hesitantly. "Drained?"

Starsky held his gaze unwaveringly. "Drained. Wrung out. Hung out to dry. Deflated." He paused as if looking for one last word that would express it all. "Exsanguinated."

Hutch's eyes widened in amazement. "Where'd you get that one from?"

"Vampire movie. Or maybe Marcus Welby?"

"Exsanguinated refers to blood loss," Hutch told him.

"Well, you catch my drift. It's all precious bodily fluids, of which I don't have much anymore. And the alcohol doesn't help. Maybe without the alcohol, I could survive makin' love to you, but the combination is gonna leave me a shriveled husk. I'm too young to die of dehydration, all shriveled up like the mummy, my skin turning into dry, old, dead leaves, flakin' off in pieces--"

"I get the picture," Hutch assured him, eager to stop the diatribe. "Starsk. In the restaurant. You never did tell me how you felt about me."

He groaned wearily and hid his face in Hutch's chest. "You never forget anything. I wonder how much it'd cost me to have José ship those waiters over here to sing the birthday song right now?"

"More than you could afford," Hutch assured him. "And before you can even suggest it, it's too early to get drunk again just so you can find the courage to tell me the truth. Now, tell me. I want to know."

Starsky glanced around like a trapped creature, then finally met Hutch's eyes. "You're not gonna like it."

"Maybe so. But I have a right to know. Out with it."

Starsky exhaled noisily. "Okay. You asked for it. I'm...I'm in love with you, okay? You had to know. So, there it is. So, deal with it, Hutchinson. Could'a let sleepin' dogs lie, but no!" He clenched his jaw and stared at Hutch defiantly.

Hutch just stared at Starsky, trying to digest what he'd just been told. "You're...in love with me. You. With me."

"I said it, didn't I?"

Hutch felt the smile start at his toes and slowly spread all over his body. He kept it off his face until the last possible minute. "Well, that's a problem."

Starsky looked away, missing the glint in his eyes. "I told ya you wouldn't like it," he grumbled low.

"You're right about that," Hutch agreed. "I don't like it."

"I'm sorry, Hutch," Starsky said mournfully. "I tried to make it go away, but it wouldn't."

Hutch took Starsky's chin in his hand and lifted his head, forcing him to meet his eyes. "I don't like it, Starsk. I love it. I love you. I'm in love with you, you big turkey."

Starsky just stared, suddenly speechless. After a moment he said quietly, "You're still drunk, aren't you?"

"No, I'm not drunk! I'm hung over like a dog, but I'm sober. And I'm in love with you. So, deal with it, Starsky!"

He leaned down and captured Starsky's mouth--open in sheer surprise--and kissed it thoroughly. It was their first kiss without having the bolster of alcohol and Hutch was delighted to discover it was just as warm, just as erotic as those they'd shared laced with liquor. It took Starsky a second to collect himself, but when he did, he came alive in Hutch's arms, grappling his body, his mouth responding hotly, his tongue wrestling wetly. When they separated for air, Starsky looked dazed--deliriously happy, but dazed.

"We still need to talk about this," Hutch said, ever practical.

"Yeah," Starsky agreed too quickly, breathing hard. "Talk. Sure. Whenever you want." He tried to move in for another kiss, but Hutch held him off for the moment.

"How about tonight," Hutch suggested. "Over dinner?" They needed to get some things settled before they wandered into this scary territory unprepared.

"Sure," Starsky agreed, his expression cunning. "But only if it's over Mexican food--at José's!"

Hutch groaned. "You're kidding! We can't discuss anything serious there! They'll be singing the birthday song every five minutes, and José will be popping up every two minutes, and plying us with alcohol.... I can't face another electric green melon Margarita!"

"Think of the romance, Hutch," Starsky insisted. "It's where we first tried to talk about us! We gotta do it there. 'Sides, José's practically part of our family, now. He helped us get together. It might have not ever happened if he hadn't gotten us wasted."

"Mmmm," Hutch murmured doubtfully. "Next you'll want him to be our Maid of Honor."

Starsky cuddled close to Hutch and nuzzled his neck, an action that caused a profound reaction south of his navel. "C'mon, Hutch. Mexican food at José's. Remember what he said. It's always our birthday at José's. Please?" He kissed his way over Hutch's collarbone.

"That is not fair!" Hutch complained, feeling his resistance dissolve.

To the tune of La Cucaracha, Starsky sang softly,

"This is your birthday,
Your happy birthday,
See the candles on the cake.
Yes it's your birthday,
So, Happy Birthday,
Come with us and celebrate."

Hutch couldn't help himself, he started to laugh. Too much in love with Starsky and life in general to deny his new lover anything, he capitulated. Rolling Starsky over onto his back, he planted little kisses all over his face, making him scrunch up his expression, as Hutch sang back,

"Oh, it's your birthday,
Your happy birthday,
Share your day of happy bliss.
Yes, it's your birthday,
Your happy birthday,
Have some loving and a kiss!"

"That's not how it goes," Starsky complained, as Hutch continued to kiss him. "It's 'have some nachos and a kiss.'"

"I'm out of nachos," Hutch explained, and covered his squirming partner's mouth with his own. Within seconds, Hutch made sure Starsky forgot all about nachos.

After long moments of oral play, as their hands began to explore strange, masculine contours and their skin discovered the pleasure of large, powerful palms, Starsky finally murmured plaintively, "Do we have to wait for Friday?"

"No," Hutch whispered against his lips. "No, we don't have to wait."

I