This story first appeared in the zine Code 7 #4. It can be read completely independently, though it was originally a sequal to the short story Between The Hours of Five and Nine by April Valentine in the zine, No Pants, No Badge, No Gun. That story proposed that during A Coffin For Starsky Starsky & Hutch returned to Starsky's apartment to rest during a period of time not shown in the episode. While there, the intensity of what they were going through and the desperation of what might have been Starsky's last hours resulted in their making love. However, afterwards, Starsky had to be hospitalized, and the tag of the show, which showed him completely recovered, showed Huggy explaining to Dobey and Hutch that Starsky was making plans to vacation "where all the New York secretaries like to go." (You can obtain the zine No Pants, No Badge, No Gun, and the rest of In Person Press's Starsky & Hutch zines from April at her website: http://www.squidge.org/~flamingo/InPerson/InPerson.htm
A Fine Storm picks up that story two years later, immediately after the tag for The Plague.
No Pants, No Badge, No Gun is also available again through April Valentine: AprilValen@aol.com
A Fine Storm has a sequel (also in Code 7 #4). The Sweetest Taboo and its art, is also on this Archive, and there are links to it at the end of this story.
Any comments about either A Fine Storm or The Sweetest Taboo can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org and will be forwarded to the authors.
A Fine Storm
The affection between us
November 30, 1977
Hutch was the first to see the rectangle of paper tucked under the windshield wiper of the Torino. He had been half expecting to find it. He plucked it out and handed it to Starsky.
"Hey," his partner said, "I didn't park in the loading zone this time."
Hutch motioned at the sign designating the parking order. "I told you, 'Reserved for Official Personnel' means official airport personnel."
Starsky shrugged and fed the paper into his pocket. "C'est la vie."
His easy dismissal of the latest in an alarming number of traffic tickets collected at LAX told Hutch that Starsky was determined not to let anything spoil his day. With a flourish, he opened the passenger door, waved Hutch in, bowing after him. The blond chuckled. "Clown."
"Mind taking the beach road?" he asked after Starsky had started the car. Obviously in an expansive frame of mind, Starsky didn't object to the longer route. Perhaps he understood that Hutch needed the free, open space and the endless sky. Only a small patch, gray with city smog, had been visible through the isolation room window; the last bit of open space he had thought he would ever see.
He remembered very little of that day, except for needles and tubes being inserted into his body to prolong his life; hands, cold and impersonal in protective coverings, that poked and pried and hurt. And behind it all two windows on either side of the bed, one marking the too-fast passage of time, the other holding a promise in two-feet high letters. They had washed the letters off, but somehow he had kept seeing them all day long, a bright blood-red mark among blurred images, until he stopped seeing altogether. He had thought
It's over, he told himself. Stop being maudlin. To dispel the inner chill he pulled a bit closer to his partner and threw his arm across the back of the seat.
The beach, where the city streets spilled into it, was teeming with humanity, noisy with the discordant sounds of what youth called music. For a change, Hutch didn't care to look out of a policeman's eyes. He simply enjoyed the chaotic interplay of motion and sound, of human beings in the act of life.
Further on the crowds thinned out, then disappeared altogether. Miles of sparkling gold sand and shades of blue stretched out. After a while, Hutch realized that Starsky had slowed the car, and they were barely crawling along the shoulder of the road.
"Beautiful," he said, looking his fill.
"Ain't it just?"
He turned around. Starsky was watching him with the endearing smile which reminded Hutch of a kid who couldn't suppress his joy. It was the same smile that had burst out at the airport when Hutch had said something about living for 148 years.
"Wanna get out?" he asked Hutch.
"Uh, no. You were right. I am tired. Anyway, I can see it anytime, right?
"Right." Starsky changed gears and pulled back out onto the road.
Anytime. It was such a presumptuous word. And it was so good to be able to use it with reasonable assurance. Again.
Hutch moved his hand the few inches to the back of his partner's neck and gave a brief, gentle squeeze, conveying 'thank you.' Starsky glanced sideways and smiled again. The blond pulled his hand away.
The Torino came to a stop in front of Venice Place, and Starsky accompanied him up the steps. The first thing Hutch noticed upon entering the apartment was how clean it was. During the hectic days of investigation, he had left it a mess. Now it was cleaner than he could have managed himself.
He didn't have to wonder. "Thanks," he said to his partner, simply.
"Anytime," Starsky responded. "Long's it's once in 148 years," he added as he went into the kitchen. "Want something to drink?"
Somehow he had become homesick, Hutch realized, wandering around the apartment, confirming that his world was still intact. More intact than it had been, actually. A missing slat on a blind had been replaced; the broken mast on his model ship which had been lying like a broken wing for months was now standing upright; the new strings he had been meaning to put on his guitar were already in place. He was sure it had all been done during the two days when the doctors had known he'd live but couldn't guarantee he'd wake up without brain damage.
I knew the feeling, buddy, he thought. Fix the little things and hope it's contagious, that order will be restored to the rest of your world.
Starsky was leaning against the kitchen doorway with a beer can in his hand. Warmth spreading inside, Hutch approached. When he realized Starsky had to tilt his head back to keep eye contact, he also realized he had stepped closer than he had intended, seemingly for no reason. Needing an excuse, he plucked the can out of his partner's hand, then moved away.
"Should you be mixin' alcohol with all the stuff they've been pumpin' into you?"
Hutch evaded the question, a note of irritation creeping into his voice. "I'm thirsty." He had had enough nursemaiding. Defiantly, he took a big gulp.
He saw the jacket he had thrown toward the couch had ended up on the floor. Feeling guilty about promptly cluttering up the place Starsky had tidied so thoroughly, he went to pick it up, draped it over the arm of the couch, then sank down into the cushions.
A glass of milk was placed on the coffee table as Starsky plopped down next to him and casually removed the beer from Hutch's hand. Should've seen that one coming, he thought, then panicked instantly, unreasonably, when Starsky raised the can to his own mouth.
"Don't!" He grabbed his partner's wrist, causing the beer to splash over Starsky's hand.
"What the -- ?"
"I drank out of that."
"I know. So what's the -- Oh." A bemused expression came over Starsky's face. "What the hell're you worried about? You're discharged. Besides, didn't I just see Doctor the-hot-shot-from-Alabama-Disease-Control Kaufmann kiss you full on the lips? How contagious can you be?" He disengaged Hutch's hand and took a deliberate swallow.
Hutch was feeling utterly foolish. "I know. It's just -- I wasn't thinking, that's all. Christ! For days I felt like Typhoid Mary, like my touch was a death sentence...."
Starsky transferred the beer to his other hand and the left one came to rest on the back of Hutch's neck; fingers, cold and moist from the can, gently tugged on the long strands. "Didn't feel too great on the other side, either, believe me. It's over, partner. We made it."
He always puts it like that, Hutch thought, remembering lying trapped under his car in a ravine, knowing he was finally found when someone had frantically scrambled to his side and familiar hands had cradled his head. Starsky had said exactly the same thing then: we made it, partner, we made it.
An older memory surfaced. Starsky driving away from the Receiving Hospital, with Bellamy's poison in his veins and less than a day on his hands. "The doctor was pretty straight about our chances." Our chances.
The memory was chilling. He had never been so scared in his life, not even a week ago when he had realized he couldn't hold onto consciousness for another instant although he'd had no guarantee he would ever wake up from that sleep.
Never so scared, and never so --
No! It was forbidden to think about that. It had been new, and different, and had felt so right... But it had existed so briefly, a time out of time, not to be considered when things turned normal again. Starsky had made that clear. Death had been stalking them and if something had to be buried as its due, Hutch was more than willing to bury that episode. The cost was well worth it, considering the alternative, the other payment death might have claimed. He shivered.
"What's wrong?" Starsky asked instantly.
"Nothing," he lied, then voiced the first excuse that sprang to mind. "Your hand is cold." He cursed himself when the hand was immediately removed.
"Sorry." Starsky put the can down, and dried both hands on his jeans, rubbing them up and down as if to warm them.
"It's all right," Hutch rambled, missing the comfort of the contact after being isolated and untouchable for so long. He was irritated that with the best of intentions on both sides, somehow they were managing to end up at odds.
Starsky was the one to break the awkward silence that followed, and it was one of his typical off-the-wall statements. "You were right, Hutch."
"It is hardest on the ones left behind."
Oh, Starsky, do you have to remind me? was Hutch's first thought. Then he realized he didn't have to be reminded; he was thinking of that time anyway. He knew, with some amazement, that somehow Starsky had plugged into his thoughts -- on a different track, but in the same direction.
"Well," he said lightly to hide his discomfort, "now that I've been on both sides--" But it wasn't a joking matter.
"Now you think differently?"
The sapphire gaze was so goddamned artless. "No, I was right the first time," he admitted. But he didn't want to remember that time, let alone discuss it. He rubbed his face. "I'm going to lie down, Starsky."
"So lie down already."
"I want to take a shower first. I still smell like the hospital." But he sat there, watching Starsky sip the beer and lick his lips, thinking they would feel cool now, remembering the different texture of the tongue-- Stop it!
Starsky cast him a sideways glance after a while. "I said I'd tuck you in. You want help with the shower, too?" he asked pointedly.
"I'm going. I'm going." Shower, a nap, dinner, a good night's sleep, waking up to a new day -- All's well with the world. He got up.
When he came out of the bathroom, clad in his orange robe, Starsky had rolled down the blinds, leaving only a subdued shade of the bright afternoon sun in the apartment. He pulled the comforter off and motioned at Hutch to lie down. Suddenly uncomfortable with the atmosphere, unwilling to wonder why, the blond sat on the bed. "Are we having another heat wave?" he grumbled.
Starsky touched his palm to Hutch's forehead. "Ain't that hot. You runnin' a fever or somethin'?"
Hutch abruptly turned his face away. "No, I'm not," he snapped. "Stop fussing, will you?"
"How about if I open some windows?"
"Yeah, okay." He slid between the sheets.
Starsky came back after fiddling with the blinds and windows all over the apartment. "If you're hot, why are you keepin' that robe on?"
"Oh." Unable to find an acceptable excuse to cling to it, he squirmed in the bed to rid himself of the robe and Starsky helped pull it away. Hutch quickly grabbed the covers and pulled them up to his chin. Ridiculous.
"Fine." White lies, his mother had explained to the confused boy. Soon, he'd learned...
For a long minute Starsky stood staring at him. "Is somethin' wrong?" he asked finally.
"I don't know. You just look-- I don't know."
"I'm fine, Starsky. Really."
"Okay." He looked down at his shirt and wrinkled his nose. "I smell like a brewery. Mind if I borrow a shirt?"
Hutch watched his partner rummage in a drawer and pull out a dark blue t-shirt. "How come you keep giving me all those loud shirts and when you borrow one you never pick one of them? I mean, if you liked 'em enough to buy 'em in the first place?"
"Hah," Starsky snickered. "If you don't know the answer to that..."
Hutch sighed. "I'm afraid I do. What I don't know is why I keep wearing the eyesores."
Starsky took off his shirt. "'Cause you know I'll be hurt if you don't."
Hutch sighed again. "There's got to be a better way of testing me, Starsk."
"Never mind." He rolled onto his stomach and burrowed into the pillows. The bed was too warm. A knot deep inside him was ice cold.
"Hutch, you mad at me for somethin'?"
Hutch let one eye surface. "Mad at you? No, I'm just tired."
"Oh." Starsky stood, absentmindedly worrying a loose button on his shirt, the slanted rays from the blinds striping his naked torso. Then he seemed to reach a conclusion and came over to sit on the bed. "Guess I should've spent more time with you at the hospital, eh?"
"What are you talking about?" His doctors and nurses had been frazzled to distraction from having to step over and around Starsky for days. "I don't think even you could've managed to get 25 visiting hours out of a 24-hour day."
"No, I mean earlier. Before Callendar came in."
"Oh, right, Starsk. You could've babysat me and I'd be dead. Great idea there."
Starsky tapped his head. "I know that here, Hutch, but--" He let the sentence hang with a shrug.
Starsky was fishing, and Hutch wondered why. Then he realized that his partner was reacting to the tension he sensed between them.
"Starsky, I know you did everything possible, more than anybody else could've done. And it worked, right? You said it, partner: we made it. It's over. Cheer up."
Guiltily, he remembered that Starsky had been very cheerful indeed. So had he, for that matter. His moodiness was spoiling a perfectly fine day. Thinking some conversation might help, he started chattering. "God, I can't wait to get back to work. You know, Starsk, this hospital stay taught me something. If I have to go, I want it on the streets. I don't want to lie there, helpless, waiting for it. Out there, it's quick and clean. Honest, you know. At least you know why, and you don't have time to--"
Starsky's voice and the look on his face halted Hutch. Oh great, he thought, I try to make casual conversation, and look what I end up saying. What a complicated bastard you are, Hutchinson. "Hey, it was just an observation. Doesn't mean I'll stop being careful. But we both know that in the end--" Starsky's hand closing on his upper arm in a painful grip stopped him again.
"Cut it out! Just cut it out. I know it was hell and I couldn't make it easier. I know you gotta get it outta your system, but there ain't nothin' pretty or clean or honest about death, on the streets or whereeverelse the goddamned hell -- so don't talk like that. The sonuvabitch already has the high card, and I won't let you play into his hand. We don't accept it anytime, anywhere, ever, you hear me?"
"I hear you," Hutch said trying to ease the pressure of Starsky's hand. "Let's ask the neighbors."
Abashed, Starsky removed his hand and lowered his voice, but its intensity wasn't diminished. "I mean it, Hutch. Dammit, I hate it when you get like this."
Especially after close calls, Hutch knew. "Don't mind me. Didn't mean to -- Would you believe I was actually trying to lighten up?" He managed a smile.
Starsky stared at him, then decided to smile as well. "Hate to tell you, buddy, but you just look like the Sunshine Man. Got a lot to learn about bein' one." He patted the arm he had gripped so tightly a moment ago, then shifted around to rest his back against the headboard and swung his feet, sneakers and all, onto the bed. "Get some rest," he ordered, seemingly determined to stay and make sure Hutch obeyed.
Hutch rolled to the other side of the bed, closed his eyes and tried to drift off. Starsky's presence was distracting, for some reason. He shifted restlessly, remembering a time when their positions had been reversed and he had sat on another bed, watching Starsky sleep. Irritated at the way portions of the same memory he'd buried for two years kept surfacing now, he allowed himself to at least search for the reasons. Except for an exchange of roles, the conditions had been all too similar.
Okay, he thought, I'm just drawing parallels, that's all. It'll safely go away when we get back to regular routine. I'm all right. We're all right. Everything under the sun is all right. God's in his heaven and everything--
"Can't sleep, huh?" Starsky cut into his thoughts.
Hutch raised his head, punched the pillow into a presumably more comfortable shape, fell into it again, then rolled over with a sigh when it didn't seem to help.
"What's botherin' you, Hutch?"
You. Hutch stayed quiet, although he recognized the dogged attitude Starsky assumed when he was determined to get to the bottom of something. If he couldn't get answers, he'd invent them, hoping to stumble on the right one eventually. Out of the corner of his eye, Hutch watched his partner chew his bottom lip, and waited. Sure enough, Starsky soon opened his mouth, having pulled a probable out of possibles.
"You know, buddy, you'd been out of it for quite a while, and Judith didn't have time to breathe. But I saw her often. Talked to her, too. I can tell she really liked you, Hutch. A lot. And I think that's why she had to leave. I mean she's a doctor in Alabama; you're a cop in LA. Maybe she was scared she'd start to care too much, and then what, right? It wasn't that she didn't care, take my word for it."
Ten points for trying, Hutch thought at the sincere effort to soothe his ego. Being wrong didn't lessen good intentions. "Just as well she left. I mean, I liked her, too, but I'm not sure why I wanted her to stay." Oh, really? He felt the need to be honest about something. "I think I just...well, let's just say my reasons weren't all noble." He'd been in isolation for days, untouchable, feeling nothing but pain and fear. "Maybe all I wanted was somebody, anybody...you know..." He squirmed under Starsky's gaze. "Hey, never claimed to be too pure." He rolled away to the side of the bed, as far from his partner as he could get. "Talking is keeping me awake. Go away so I can get some sleep, huh?" Please, go away.
After a few seconds, he felt Starsky get up. Relieved, he closed his eyes and found another location on the bed where he wouldn't roll off at the slightest move. Much better. His ears disinterestedly catalogued the sounds in the room. The rattling was the breeze off the ocean moving the blinds. Sliding of cloth against cloth and skin was Starsky dressing. The sound of the zipper meant the shirt was being tucked into jeans.
Wrong, he realized and stiffened when, behind him, the bed sagged with the addition of new weight, and an arm reached across his shoulder, naked against his flesh. He jumped at the contact and immediately pulled away.
There was a frozen instant, then he felt Starsky start to get up. "No, wait." He reached back with one hand, encountering the hard muscle of a thigh -- oh, God. He removed his hand. "Give me a minute."
His partner obeyed, totally silent and still, only his weight on the mattress marking his presence. The first explanation Hutch could come up with was that he had somehow brought on the situation with his comments about Judith. His heart had started racing, feeling like it wanted to climb out of his chest; he took a deep breath to steady it.
"You're not just anybody," he said. And certainly not anybody.
Starsky seemed able to follow him. "I know," came the quiet reply first, then a sigh. "You don't understand."
No, I don't. I don't know what it means this time and I feel like I'm going to fall off the edge somewhere. He couldn't speak or turn. Silence, like a tension wire, stretched to its breaking point.
"I'm sorry. I...I'll get outta here," Starsky mumbled.
His voice held dejection, making Hutch reach back again. "Don't."
After a beat, Starsky's hand hesitantly fitted itself inside his. Hutch didn't know which hand had been shaking to start off with; now both were.
We're scared of each other, he thought. Isn't that silly? Suddenly decisive, he pulled Starsky's hand around his shoulder and across his chest, squeezed it tight once, then gave it the freedom to do as it wished by removing his own. He felt Starsky exhale the breath he had been holding. Splayed fingers pressed flat on Hutch's chest, directly over the heart, and the curly head came to rest sideways against the blond's back.
Long moments passed and Starsky seemed content just to hold him. Hutch remained still in the embrace, understanding the need, knowing that all that was required of him at the moment was to keep on breathing. It was so peaceful he almost fell asleep.
He was brought out of it when the embrace changed, subtly at first. The cheek resting on his back rubbed up and down a few times, then the head turned so lips were moving against his flesh. It was a gentle pressure, warm and dry, but it made him shiver.
So much for innocence?
Something was quivering inside. He marveled at how easily, how naturally he had fallen into it the first time. Like a child running into a burning house because the flames were so pretty, unaware that they also scorched.
The hand over his chest started a circular motion. Hutch's hand came up, intending to quell Starsky's, but found himself caressing it instead as it slid lower, pressed against his belly.
Once intoxicated, one learns the strength of the wine.
Starsky's breath whispered against his back. "Hutch...babe?"
Unable to decide if the sensation curling and uncurling inside him, making him tremble, was arousal or fear, Hutch turned to face his partner.
And all at once, it was all right. Looking at Starsky, feeling the closeness, he couldn't stay scared. Everything outside the reality of the moment dissolved. I should never turn away from you, Hutch thought; it only confuses me. Leaning into Starsky's lips felt as natural as taking his next breath, and just as inevitable.
The contact was gentle for only a second or so, then mouths opened crushingly against each other, tongues twined, hands grasped heads, tangling in hair almost violently. The urgency was akin to a parched man's upending a bottle of cool, reviving water down his throat, unable to get enough, fast enough.
They broke apart when lungs screamed for air. Lightheaded, Hutch wondered fleetingly whether they had managed to get close enough to block nasal passages, or had they somehow forgotten so basic a thing as breathing? He gasped for air, realizing Starsky looked just as shocked at the turbulence that had gripped them.
And I thought I knew something about intoxication.
Starsky's mouth was already red and swollen. Suddenly remorseful about the abuse he had inflicted with just one kiss, tenderness replacing urgency, Hutch gently touched his lips to Starsky's. The skin was stretched taut and felt hot. Softly, he ran a moist tongue-tip along the lips, then blew on them, trying to take away the burning sensation.
It didn't seem to cool Starsky down. On the contrary. Suddenly volatile again, he gripped Hutch with demanding hands and bore him onto his back. His body followed the blond, grinding into him, pressing him into the mattress, as if he was impatient with the boundaries of skin and enough friction would burn away the obstruction.
The feeling of being overpowered in bed was an unfamiliar sensation. Before Hutch could decide if it was upsetting or thrilling, Starsky's weight had lifted off of him.
"I...I'm sorry," Starsky mumbled, moving to one side again. "All I wanted -- I didn't mean... I just wanted to hold you."
And if I buy that, you got a bridge you want to sell? Always strip for a hug? Stop playing with me!
Hutch's temper threatened to flare, but Starsky's inherent honesty came through. "I, uh, I think. Thought," he continued, looking confused, lost. "I mean, I've been on the other side of that glass...and I just thought, but...then... D-do you mind?"
Hutch softened at the sincerity in the eyes. "No," he answered quietly, reaching to weave his fingers through the thick curls.
Starsky smiled hesitantly, his eyes closed, and he let Hutch pull his head closer. "I feel strange...dizzy," he said, clinging to the blond in return.
"I know the feeling," Hutch whispered back.
The intensity that had overwhelmed them a minute ago had been tempered. They petted each other soothingly, almost fearfully, as one would a frightened kitten. The arousal that had flared in both had not been extinguished, just moderated, and soft caresses stoked it. Thirst renewed, they returned to each other's lips.
Starsky's right arm snaked around Hutch's neck and held firm, fingers spread wide against a shoulder. Briefly skittish, his left hand worked its way down, alternately skimming and kneading, then stopped motionless in the air, asking permission. Hutch arched his hips forward, eager for the touch. He was stroked gently, experimentally, at first, then circled, held. He enjoyed the sensations for a while, until he noticed Starsky's body squirming impatiently in his arms. Forcing himself to see past his own pleasure, he reached for the seeking flesh.
It felt familiar and strange at the same time, like being on the wrong side of the right mirror. Starsky moaned into his mouth, the sound encouraging him to go on. His other hand slid low under Starsky to cup the flexing buttocks.
Starsky's hand on him was insistent, doing crazy things to his nervous system. He struggled to contain his own reactions and respond to Starsky's body which was moving frantically against his. He tried to get a secure hold and establish a rhythm, but ended up fumbling awkwardly. This wasn't his own body and the angle was all wrong. For a moment, he was irritated that Starsky seemed more assured than himself, then realized that the man was simply doing what felt good, while he was holding back, analyzing.
He surrendered himself, letting Starsky and the sensations guide him. Like the pieces of a puzzle suddenly falling into place, they fit together with ease, the true simplicity of instincts as old as time taking over. The feelings intensified until Hutch thought hazily that spontaneous combustion of a body wasn't that farfetched an idea, and Starsky pulled away from the union of their mouths to gasp, "Hutch...please." He immediately returned to the blond's mouth, as if to make up for the brief deprivation.
Something was interfering with Hutch's efforts. He realized that Starsky, being left-handed, was reaching for him from the same side and crossing wrists were getting in the way. Impatiently he shoved Starsky's hand away, pulled himself closer and captured both organs in his large hand, taking control.
Unable to concentrate on anything anymore except the centering, peaking pleasure, their mouths broke apart simultaneously, both breathing harshly. As Hutch was sure it was about to crest and nothing could halt it, Starsky's hand returned, covered Hutch's, and forced the long, deep rhythm to change into rapid, shallow strokes. Suddenly, Hutch was thrown into limbo, teetering on the brink but unable to fall. He cried out in frustration. It mingled with Starsky's moan, the fingers on his shoulder tightened painfully, and he felt the heavy throbbing of the hard flesh against his palm, as warm, thick fluid spilled over his hand.
"Now," he sobbed, desperate for the same relief. "Please, now."
Instantly responsive, Starsky pulled himself out of the way before he could catch his breath, and replaced Hutch's hand with his own on the blond's erection.
"Show me," he said, his voice raspy, "show me what you like."
Hutch grasped the slick hand tightly, forced it down hard to the base of his erection, then pulled it up fast, in one long, smooth, tight stroke. Starsky picked up the rhythm immediately and copied it, quickening the pace instinctively, and it only took a few seconds to totally overload Hutch's senses.
Awareness returned sluggishly. Hutch found himself with his head flung back, Starsky's teeth gently nipping at his exposed throat, his hand still fondling. The sated flesh too sensitive at the moment even for that tender kneading, he shivered, pulled Starsky's hand away. It shifted in his hold, and slender, sticky fingers laced with his, gripping tightly, possessively. Hutch realized his other hand was still digging into Starsky's buttocks and he loosened his hold, stroking in apology. The curly head burrowed into the hollow of his neck, the hair clinging to his moist skin.
For a long time they remained still, close, until breathing stopped being a labor and hearts resumed pumping blood at a normal rate. The cooling perspiration chilled Hutch; a shiver went through his body. It seemed to rouse Starsky. Looking wantonly tousled, he lifted his head, shook it like a puppy coming out of water, and leaned across Hutch to grab the edge of the crumpled top sheet. He dried Hutch's face and chest, and his own, wiped the blond's abdomen and groin. Still sensitive there, Hutch caught his breath at the contact. Starsky cleaned himself, too, dabbed at the wet spots on the bed between them, then tugged the sheet from the foot of the bed and covered them both with the dry portion. He cuddled close again, bringing with him his warmth, and was almost instantly asleep.
Hutch drifted in the in-between world of half-sleep, feeling a quiet permanence, safe and complete. Minutes chased each other, not touching the two men. Then Starsky, still deeply asleep, started fighting with the sheet, obviously getting too warm. Not needing the cover himself anymore, Hutch threw it aside. Starsky curled easily around him again. Without needing to move, Hutch could see Starsky's darker body and limbs entwined comfortably with his own, a twin in contrast.
He wondered why the perfection of the moment had to end, why they had to emerge from this womb into the hostile world with its iron-clad taboos, which seemed so arbitrary and capricious to Hutch right then. The thought shattered his mood and brought him fully awake. The world had intruded already. Damn you, he cursed himself, you couldn't just go to sleep. You had to think, didn't you?
Sighing, he disentangled himself from Starsky and carefully got out of bed. He stood looking down at the sleeping man, who made a protesting sound, groped around the bed and had to settle for hugging a pillow.
I could stand up against the world, Hutch thought. I could. If only you stood alongside me.
What does it mean this time? Two years, and I never thought we'd cross that line again. Has anything changed? Or is this just a repeat performance, imposed by similar circumstances? It was fear the last time. Today, it was relief, I think, after being so scared. A measure of defiance, in both cases. Is it only that when losing it all comes too close for comfort we grasp greedily, in ways we wouldn't think of normally?
What now, Starsky? Business as usual and this didn't happen? Like before?
Starsky had never referred to it, had never given the impression that he at least was aware something out of the ordinary had taken place between them, and Hutch had worked hard to follow his partner's lead, fearing that unless he did, the rest of their relationship would suffer.
Generally, he didn't mind, didn't even give it much thought himself. It was like living with an injury. Once the feel of it became the normal tune of the body, one functioned with it and stopped noticing the constant ache consciously. Except, every once in a while, a small barb went into the tender spot, and then it hurt like hell, making Hutch realize it was beyond him to totally forget.
Like when Blaine died...
At first, he hadn't connected any aspect of the Blaine case to his one experience. To him, nothing could've been further removed from the seedy hotels, sleazy bars, cheap hustlers and blatant trappings which had been the package John Blaine's murder came in. The only time it had hit a little too close to home had been during the interrogation of Peter Whitelaw. Hutch had caught a glimpse of something more permanent, someone loved, yearned for and lost in Blaine's secret life. It had stirred an echo in him.
Then Whitelaw had looked directly into Starsky's eyes and dared him to state his opinion. Hutch had held his breath, waiting for the answer, as if his whole existence was hostage to it. There had been no condemnation in Starsky's quiet reply, just an honest expression of his distaste that one's privacy should become a rallying platform in public.
Hutch had quickly banished the echo, realizing anew how much Starsky needed and valued his silence. It was too private for words, maybe even for thoughts. He liked to think that from that moment on, he had succeeded in distancing his emotions from the case. Later, however, when Starsky had compared the intimate relationship between two men to a disease, he had been unable to help a few pointed comments. It was usual for them to end uncomfortable subjects with a joke, and the 'not even a good kisser' remark had just slipped out. As soon as the words were past his lips, Hutch had wished them back, afraid he might have strayed too close to forbidden territory.
A beat of silence, then Starsky had sat up, leaning against the back of the seat toward Hutch. "How do you know that?"
What hurt most was that it hadn't even been a challenge, daring Hutch to step past the limits set by Starsky. If it had been, he probably would've trampled over the line right there and dared Starsky in his turn to deny the knowledge. But the question had held an innocence, an impossible innocence which made Hutch wonder if the whole thing had been a figment of his imagination in the first place. He had quickly changed the subject.
The game is called charade-between-friends, he thought sadly. In this version, the object is not to give the game away. Blurt out the name, out of the game. And God help me, I wanted to keep playing. Still do.
Conspiracy of silence. It had lasted for two years.
There would be no answers until Starsky was awake. Hutch felt too drained to continue standing by the bed, and moving further away seemed to be beyond him. He was also chilly again, and crossed his arms to rub his shoulders. Noticing a soreness on his right shoulder, he twisted his head around. He saw the reddened spots, remembered Starsky's grip, and decided they were going to turn into bruises.
Starsky reclaimed his attention by pushing away the pillow, as if he found it a poor substitute. He rolled over and sighed in his sleep, and Hutch couldn't resist climbing back into bed. Starsky found him immediately, flinging an arm and a leg over the blond. Hutch gave in to the inevitability of sleep.
When he awoke it was late afternoon, and he was alone. There was a piece of paper next to his head. He picked it up, trying to focus his eyes.
"Back at dinner time -- with dinner. Rest," the message said, scrawled at a wildly slanting angle in Starsky's usual impatient style.
Hutch sank back into the pillows and obeyed.
Starsky's arrivals were rarely what Hutch's neighbors would approve of as quiet, unobtrusive events. This time, it was louder than customary. The sounds heralding his presence ended with thuds delivered on the door with sneakered feet. Hutch, just out of the shower, quickly shrugged into his robe and answered the door, wondering why Starsky didn't simply barge in as he always did. The answer was soon plain.
His partner was loaded down with packages of various sizes, from which delicious aromas drifted. Unable to decide which ones he could extricate without causing the precariously balanced mound to topple, wondering what army they were going to feed, Hutch settled for removing a small brown bag from between Starsky's teeth, and waved the man in.
With heretofore unsuspected deftness which would've left a juggler envious, Starsky unloaded everything on the dinner table and proceeded to set it to his satisfaction. He frowned, running a critical eye over the array then, remembering, he plucked the bag out of Hutch s hand, took out the cranberry sauce, placed it in the center with a last bit of flourish, and turned to his partner.
The blond stared incredulously at the overloaded table. "Turkey?" he sputtered.
"I go through all this trouble and all you can do is call me names?"
Hutch laughed despite himself. "There's no name descriptive enough for you, Starsk. What is this?"
"Thanksgiving dinner," Starsky announced.
"You idiot! Thanksgiving was--" Hutch cut off, remembering when Thanksgiving was, that he bad missed it -- they had both missed it -- and realizing there was good cause for celebrating it, belated or not. "Is," he reversed his verb. Then he felt obligated to inject a little more. "But it's so much."
"So you won't cook for a week, or at least until you get tired of turkey."
"Seems that's one thing I can't get tired of, Starsk." He resisted the impulse to pull the curly-haired, bluejeaned imp into his arms.
"Siddown. And quit stealin' my jokes."
Hutch was served, and although the gravy made a soggy mess of the rolls and more cranberry sauce ended up on the dressing than on the turkey, he couldn't find it in him to mind. And the way Starsky was eating, there didn't seem to be a prospect for too many leftovers, either.
The subject of Thanksgiving turned into the subject of Christmas. Conversation flowed easily, and the blond man found it impossible to dwell on the uncertainties which had plagued him earlier. Right now, they were unimportant, even silly. What could possibly go wrong with this perfection, a word that seemed created specifically for the occasion?
"Are you going home for Christmas?" Starsky asked.
How do you go where you already are? Hutch thought, feeling too full and thoroughly mellow. "No. Why break a perfect record?"
"Great. In that case, I've got it all planned. Kathy and Cindy're goin' to have a layover here through the holidays. They said they'd help us decorate the tree and stay over to open presents in the morning."
It was like suddenly being hit in the face with ice cold water.
He's doing it again. New York secretaries, LA stewardesses, what's the difference? The message is the same.
Hutch groped for something to say past the lump that had suddenly lodged in his throat, hoping he could sound as casual as Starsky. "May I remind you that you're Jewish?"
"Right. So we're gonna decorate the tree here. That'll make it all kosher, see?" He chuckled at his own wit. "I'll bring a sleeping bag for me and Cindy."
I should have some goddamned doors in this place, was Hutch's first thought. Or maybe I'll get drunk enough to be blind and deaf.
"That okay with you?" Starsky continued.
Hutch couldn't look at him. No, it's not okay with me. I'm carrying your mark on my shoulder; my bed smells of you; the evidence of what we did is dried all over my sheets -- and you're acting like it never happened, just like you did before, and it's not okay with me!
"Sure," he found himself saying. Coward. "As long as Kathy and Cindy are having a layover here..." He left the sentence hanging, afraid his voice was about to break.
"The least we can do is make sure they have a proper layover," Starsky finished for him. "Right?"
Hutch came back with a pun of his own, feeling obligated to do his share to reestablish the status quo.
The bruises will fade, he thought, I'll air out the room, wash the sheets -- but, oh God, how do I turn off my brain?
Somehow he would have to, and knew that he would. He had done it before.
DECEMBER 25, 1977
Hutch opened his eyes, blinked and brought up his hand to brush Kathy's long, dark-blonde strands away from his face. She was curled up on her side, her back to him. Sometime during the morning, after he had thrown himself onto the bed and promptly fallen asleep, she must have joined him. He looked down at himself and wondered if he had unbuttoned his shirt and unbuckled his belt himself to get comfortable, or if Kathy had tried to rouse him, to no avail.
He eased out of bed, careful not to disturb the sleeping woman, and walked into the living room. He heard sounds in the kitchen. Cindy was there, fixing something. She saw him, smiled drowsily and mouthed, "Good morning."
Softly, Hutch stepped around the couch. Starsky was sprawled in abandon across the sleeping bag on the floor, still fully clothed, The night certainly hadn't been what anybody had expected. In fact, it had been more fun than Hutch had had in a long while.
Trying not to laugh out loud at the picture Starsky presented, Hutch pushed away the sheet and pillow Cindy had used and found a spot on the couch. He smiled down at his partner, remembering the antics of the night.
They had been detained on a case and had made it home way past midnight to find the two women waiting for them. The choice had been whether to go to bed and leave a pristine tree, or to decorate it then. Starsky had made it clear he wanted a properly decorated tree for Christmas, come hell or high water.
So, with generously spiked eggnog making frequent rounds, they had proceeded, Starsky insisting on decorating the whole apartment along with the tree. At one point, Hutch had noticed how the angel hair Starsky was trying to fashion into snowy shapes was catching in his hair, and had decided to decorate Starsky as well, promptly starting to weave tinsel through his curls, draping gaily-colored balls over him. Everybody had joined in the game.
When they were finally done, all of them more punchy than they cared to admit, Starsky had spied the first rays of the morning and had decided he could safely tear into the presents, sparking a free-for-all wrestling match aimed at divesting him of the notion. After a tickling bout, he had promised to be a good boy, leaving all free to crash on the first available surface.
Hutch reached to pull out the strands of tinsel that still remained in Starsky's hair, was rewarded with a growl and a swat for his efforts, and took himself into the bathroom after rummaging for clean clothes.
He was through with shaving when the door opened and Kathy slipped in. He smiled at her mumbled a good morning, and didn't bother with apologies for his unresponsiveness earlier; the relationship was too sporadic, too casual for that. There was little difference between going dancing or going to bed; it just depended on the mood. In fact, it made little difference to her which partner happened to be available when she had some time to spend.
Kathy took off her clothes and sank to her knees in front of him. Later, they showered together. She soaped Hutch's body, arousing him again. When they rinsed off and stepped out of the shower, Hutch lifted her, wedging her between his body and the wall as her legs wrapped around his waist. Aware of others outside the door, he tried to smother her sounds by capturing her mouth under his, but soon reached a point where he couldn't bother.
They got dressed, and Hutch followed her out of the bathroom, running his fingers through his wet hair. Kathy went to join Cindy in the kitchen. Hutch started toward the couch, met Starsky's stare, and was brought up short as if he had run into a solid wall.
Starsky was sitting up cross-legged on the sleeping bag; eyes darkened to a midnight shade glared at the blond man. Hutch felt some undefinable emotion reach across the room and slam into him. He was shaken by its intensity, puzzled at its cause.
Almost immediately Starsky broke eye-contact, rose to his feet as smoothly as an uncoiling snake, and began to roll up the sleeping bag in quick, precise motions. Pinned by that enigmatic stare, Hutch stood motionless, watching him. Starsky pushed the bundle to one side and approached his partner, stopping directly in front of him.
"What?" Hutch asked in a whisper, confused by the hostility emanating from the man.
"Other people need to use the bathroom, too, you know," Starsky snapped.
Hutch realized he was still blocking the doorway. He moved. "Could've knocked."
Starsky didn't take advantage of the access. "Oh, yeah?"
"Hey, what's the big deal?"
Hutch hated to start the day off on the wrong foot. "I know you didn't have your morning coffee yet, Starsk, but you look ridiculous having the grumpies with that stuff in your hair." He reached to pluck the tinsel out.
Starsky's hand came up and knocked his away. He went into the bathroom and slammed the door. Hutch stared after him. That had been no sleepy protest this time, but a deliberate slap.
Screw you, he thought. You wrote this scenario; I'm just playing it. If you're going to sulk because you didn't get any, take it up with Cindy. Something in him wasn't at all unhappy at the turn of events. Serves you right, buddy. He went into the kitchen and put an arm around each woman, determined to enjoy himself and ignore Starsky's petulance.
Starsky was quiet through breakfast, in an ill temper, but not rudely so. He no longer seemed terribly interested in opening presents, either, when the time came. Cindy and Kathy made appropriate noises of appreciation over the trinkets they received, and presented the partners with curiosities found during one of their trips. Starsky roused himself from his sullen mood long enough to thank them and kiss both women.
Hutch reached for the last package under the tree. Peeling away the flashy paper revealed an even more chaotically colored material underneath. The blond man pulled out the shirt. "I see. Art-Deco goes tropical. Gee, Starsk, what can I say? You shouldn't have. You really shouldn't have."
For the second time that morning Starsky looked straight into his eyes. "Will you wear it?"
Hutch again felt pinned by the intense gaze, suddenly sensing that something much more important than the outrageous shirt was hanging in the balance. Before he could open his mouth, Cindy spoke up, the intrusion making Hutch realize that he had momentarily forgotten the presence of the women. "Ken, didn't you get anything for Dave?"
A look of defensive detachment came over the dark-blue eyes, and Starsky turned away as if the subject didn't concern him in the slightest. Hutch remembered the box in his closet. Starsky's peevish attitude had made him deliberately neglect placing it under the tree. But the way Starsky turned away now seemed to say that his partner actually did not expect a present. Hutch's track record in such things had never given his friend cause to be optimistic, let alone assured.
Feeling a little embarrassed at his own pettiness, Hutch pointed to the bedroom. "Just might be something in my closet." Starsky turned back towards him, a tiny flicker of hope in his eyes, but he didn't get up. Do you doubt me so much? Hutch thought.
Cindy jumped up, a bundle of holiday spirit. "I'll get it." She emerged from the bedroom with the huge box. "Didn't you ever hear that the best things come in small packages, Ken?" she joked as she placed it in front of Starsky who was sitting on the floor.
"Not in his case," Starsky said softly, then threw another doubtful glance toward his partner. "Sometimes."
Starsky wasn't in the habit of opening presents; he normally stormed them. This time, though, he was warily slow, as if he expected an unpleasant surprise to spring out at him. Once the rectangular box was opened and the case was revealed, there shouldn't have been any question as to the present, but Starsky still pried open the snaps and lifted the lid cautiously. The hesitancy was causing something very much like pain inside Hutch.
Starsky froze for an instant when the lid was open, then reached in eagerly to pull out the shiny guitar. "Now you can stop massacring music on mine," Hutch put in.
"Hutch, this - damn, this is great." His dark mood seemed to have evaporated instantly. Once again, he was a child on Christmas morning. "Goddamn, this is terrific!" He cradled the instrument on his lap and assaulted the strings. "Let's sing."
Hutch covered his ears with his palms. "Stop. Stop! STOP!" He yanked the guitar away. "Tuning, Starsky. Ever heard of tuning?"
Starsky shifted until he was sitting at his partner's feet and proceeded to join his voice to Hutch's while the blond attempted to tune the instrument. Hutch cupped his hand over his partner's mouth, then discovered he couldn't tune with just one hand. "Somebody shut him up. Watch it, he bites."
Giggling, Kathy and Cindy fell on Starsky, wrestling him down, trying to cover his mouth. "You're just jealous," Starsky declared around their hands. "You know I'm gonna be the hit at the barbecues from now on.
"Fat chance, buddy. You just keep on dreaming."
Some hours later, the women had to get back to work. Starsky offered to drive and left with them, clutching his new guitar, damn near stroking it. He also left Hutch saddled with cleaning up the apartment, through which a strange combination of "Jingle Bells" and "Black Bean Soup" still seemed to reverberate.
When the house no longer looked like it had been hit by a tornado - or Starsky - Hutch picked up his new shirt again, grimaced at it, and went to put it in the appropriate drawer. In the drawer was another package. In it was a red not candy-apple red, thank heavens, but burgundy red cashmere sweater, his initials discreetly embroidered on it in a slightly darker shade of the same color.
Next morning, Hutch put on both the shirt and the sweater to go to work. The gaudy shirt clashed horribly with the classy sweater, but Hutch thought it very fitting indeed. With Starsky, one took the off-beat right alongside the tasteful and learned to like living with both.