This story was originally printed in the S/H zine LIFELINE: A DECADE OF SWEET REVENGE, published by Jenn and Molly D. Brown as Jenny Brown Enterprises in 1989. Special thanks to Daphne for preparing this story for the archive. Comments on this story can be sent to: email@example.com and will be forwarded to the author.
HAPPILY EVER AFTER
Hutch paused in the shadow of the huge oak where he could see the interior of the garage-cum-woodshop and the figure within. He loved to watch Starsky at his work, shaggy head of curls bent over whatever was his current project. Tonight Starsky was working with the antique back saw that he'd found at the Sausalito flea market last weekend. He was carefully cutting a dovetail joint that would make two pieces of wood fit exactly. Hutch took advantage of the deep concentration to move forward a few steps.
This was an old game by now, honed in seven years on the force and in the decade since. Their awareness of each other just grew stronger with time. How close could he get tonight before Starsk felt his eyes and looked up? He was stealthily approaching the big doorway when he was betrayed!
The familiar sounds of an angry cat and a wounded dog disturbed the peaceful afternoon; a bundle of fur tore around the corner of the garage and barreled into Hutch's long legs, almost knocking him over. It was Casey, the golden retriever mix that one of his students had saddled him with "just for the holidays" a year and a half ago. The dog was friendly, but dumb, and Starsky never called her anything but "Dipshit."
By the time Hutch had disentangled himself from the dog, Pete, the killer cat, was gloating his victory from atop Starsky's workbench. Starsky pushed his protective glasses back on his head and reached out to smooth the cat's ruffled fur, but was met with flattened ears and a hiss. He shrugged and turned his amused smile on his partner instead.
"You're gonna have to teach that stupid dog to stay out of Pete's food dish or you're gonna come home one day and find her torn to shreds. Not that it would be any big loss, you know."
"At least she loves me, Starsk. That's more than you can say about that hell cat."
"Hutch, he just has a mind of his own. The Dipshit has no mind at all. And no pride! She begs for attention all the time. You could kick her in the teeth and she'd still love you. You oughtta get a cat, man, or else make friends with Pete." Starsky tried to pet the cat again, and this time he was allowed to caress the battle-scarred ears.
Hutch moved into the workshop, enjoying the way the late afternoon sun slanting through the window highlighted his lover's face. Starsky welcomed him home with his customary warm hug and kiss. Hutch brushed some sawdust out of the graying curls, then turned to examine the board that was clamped to the worktable. "How's the new saw working out? What are you working on?"
"It's fantastic! I don't know why they can't make them like this nowadays. See how close I can cut this? Here's how it will look," Starsky demonstrated. "This is just a jewelry box, but I could use it for furniture, or anything. It gives me a much better feel than the router; it seems more real."
Hutch loved the way Starsky lit up when he talked about his woodworking. What had begun as simple physical therapy had become an artistic passion. Now he was collecting antique tools, doing more and more of the work by hand, and his toys and other creations were beautiful. He had started selling his work in flea markets and craft fairs. That was where he'd met Sarah, the potter. She'd invited him to join the local crafters' co-op that had grown into a close circle of friends for both partners. One of six members, Starsky had to work eight hours a week in the little shop they had downtown, and in return could display his work for sale there. He loved watching the shop and chatting with the customers who wandered through almost as much as he loved working with the wood.
"Well, it looks good. Are you going to finish it up tonight, or leave it 'til tomorrow?" Hutch asked.
"I don't think I'm gonna do any more today. If I get started early in the morning, I can glue it and have it out of the clamps by tomorrow night. I promised Gemma that I'd finish it by Friday, it's for her mother's birthday. You gonna be free tomorrow afternoon? I gotta pick up some stuff down at Hubbard and Johnson; I could use a hand with it."
"For you? Anything." Hutch smiled his gratitude that Starsky was willing to accept his help, even on such a routine matter as visiting the lumber yard. Some of their most painful fights in the days after Gunther had been over Starsky's unwillingness to admit his partial disability. Now, they hardly thought of it, except when an unusual movement brought an unexpected gasp of pain. When Hutch took the time to examine how far they'd come, he was amazed. He felt like they'd finally grown up.
His dream bubble was burst, however, when Starsky pressed his lips against Hutch's neck and, blowing hard, produced a rude noise. "Earth-to-Hutch! You gonna stand here all day with that silly grin, or you gonna come inside for some dinner?"
"If you're offering, I'll take you up on it."
"If you're up for leftover chicken, I'll fix it."
Starsky carefully swept off the top of the workbench, returned the saw to its place on the pegboard with the other tools, and started to close up the garage, patting the cover of the Torino in passing. The place was all Starsky: light, open, tools kept persnickety neat on one wall, and beloved car in the back. The tomato only got driven on sunny weekends now, since Starsky used the Toyota pickup for his work, but under its protective sheet it was as shiny and as fast as ever.
Hutch had just swung the big door shut, and was following his partner towards the house, when a yowl of outrage came from the darkened garage. He returned to let old Pete out, cursing the animal all the way. He would never understand what Starsky saw in the cat, anyway. It was mean, it beat up on Casey, and generally ruled the whole place. The cat darted out as soon as there was a crack wide enough for it to pass, and raced off into the trees.
By the time Hutch wandered into the kitchen, Starsky was examining the contents of the refrigerator. The leftover chicken was already out, and salad seemed to be the next order of business. The next two items out of the refrigerator were a head of Romaine lettuce and an avocado.
"You want me to do the salad?" Hutch offered, crossing to the sink to wash his hands.
"Yeah, that'd be a big help. I'll get the chicken going, then set the table. You want anything else?" Starsky was still fishing in the vegetable drawer; half a tomato and a bunch of scallions appeared beside the avocado.
The dinner prep seemed almost choreographed. Starsky adjusted the seasoning, put the pan of chicken in the over for reheating, then set out plates and silverware on the old butcher-block kitchen table. Hutch chopped the vegetables, mixed oil, vinegar and mustard for a dressing, and placed the tossed salad back in the refrigerator to chill until the chicken was ready.
"What do you want to drink? Tea? Beer?" Starsky was searching the refrigerator again.
"I dunno. We got any of that wine from last week?"
Starsky checked. "Nope. All gone. How about some juice, it's been around for a while." He was sniffing the pitcher suspiciously.
"No thanks, babe, not if it smells that bad. I'll just take a beer." Hutch reached over his shoulder and pulled out a bottle of imported beer. Starsky stood indecisively in front of the fridge for another minute, then pulled out two pitchers. He dumped the juice down the sink, then poured himself a glass of tea and added a few ice cubes from the freezer.
"How long 'til it's ready?" Hutch asked.
"Not long, just has to heat through."
"Let's wait out on the porch, okay?"
Hutch led the way through to the front of the house and out on the porch where they could enjoy the last of the day's sun. Starsky settled on the big old chaise lounge and pulled Hutch down in front of him. Leaning back against his lover's warm chest, with the shadows just beginning to overtake the yard, Hutch felt secure and contented. A query from Starsky prompted a quick sketch of his day at school, including several problems with students that would require future discussion, but Hutch didn't want to bother now. Instead, he idly combed stray bits of sawdust from the hair on Starsky's legs and listened less to his partner's words than to the sounds they made and the feel of the chest rising and falling underneath his body.
He didn't notice the words had stopped until the mouth was otherwise engaged, nibbling at his ear.
"Hey, Hutch, gonna come home to me?" Starsky whispered into the ear.
"Never left. And you know I never will."
"Mmmm. That's what I like to hear." Strong arms tightened around Hutch's chest and a warm mouth scattered more kisses across the captive neck and right shoulder.
He shifted a little and the arms around him loosened their hold. He took advantage of the freedom to turn until he was sitting sideways and could return the loving attention. Taking the cherished face between his hands, Hutch pressed a soft kiss against his lover's lips. "If you haven't figured out by now how much I love you, then you're dumber than I ever gave you credit for, Starsk."
"Yeah, well, y'know, I never get tired of hearing it. Or saying it. I love you, too, Blondie. More than I can say."
"But do you love me as much as the dinner that's burning in the oven?" Hutch taunted.
"More. That's why it's only on two-fifty. Give us plenty of time to get ready." Starsky's eyebrows danced suggestively, and Hutch couldn't resist smoothing down the zany punctuation marks to his beloved's face.
"And what did you have in mind . . ." He tried to keep a straight face as Starsky's hands attacked the buttons on his shirt.
"Oh, I think you can pick it up as we go along. After all, you're the teacher."
"I think I'm getting your drift."
Words trailed into panting breaths, and the sun settled unnoticed behind the hills.