Originally published in the zine "Blue Eyes and Blue Jeans II", 1996, by The Idiot Triplets Press. This zine is still in print and available from LCabrillo@aol.com. Retyped by Kathy Windrain, proofed by SHaron. Comments on this story can be sent to flamingoslim@erols.com who will forward them to the author.

PART ONE

The Salt Point
by
Isabel Ortiz

PART TWO

Hutch drove the familiar route towards Venice mechanically, his mind somewhat else entirely, in curiously numb and hazy place. Jesus Christ, why is this happening to me? As he drove he noticed, in a detached sort of way, the tension clenched throughout his body, his rigid neck and shoulders, back ramrod straight, hands sweating their grip on the steering wheel, even though the night breeze through the open window was cool ...

Starsky ... Even now his body could feel the warmth of the other pressed tightly against it mere moments ago as they'd embraced. He remembered how it tickled to bury his nose in the curls and inhale deeply, smelling Starsky's shampoo. His thighs and torso and groin burned where Starsky had innocently pressed up against him in friendship and gratitude, seeking only warmth and security, giving it all back a hundredfold, that and so much more. His arms ached, physically ached with longing as they remembered tightening around the strong, slim body, never wanting to let go, protesting the loss of contact as they loosened. He felt his hands slip down Starsky's sides as their embrace ended, resting ever so briefly at his hips before letting go, wanting with all of his being to instead draw them near. Once again he regarded the upturned face, the blue eyes filled with such sincere sentiment, framed by those long lashes, so close that Hutch felt as though he could discern each and every one; the beloved face so beautiful, so mysterious and inviting that Hutch might have bent to kiss it had his instinct not succumbed to the command of his iron will ...

He suddenly became aware once again of the roadway, the broken white lines blurring, his LTD moving along smoothly between them, with no outward sign of his having been mentally absent for at least the last couple of miles. God, now we're driving on the brain stem ...What's your next brilliant move gonna be, Hutchinson? He started actively paying attention to where he was, to what he was doing, to where he was going. Home, just let me get home ... The entire situation had suddenly skyrocketed light years beyond the unbearable.

He rolled up to the curb near his apartment building and killed the engine, absently listening for a while to the protesting sounds of its asthmatic knock. Starsk's right - - gotta see Merle about that ... Tomorrow ... He heaved a sigh and forced his body to obey his command to move, climbing slowly out of the car and up the stairs to his apartment. He walked straight into the bathroom, stripping quickly and stepping into the shower, hoping that the soothing spray would alleviate the tension gathered in his neck and shoulders. He tried for while to not think of anything, to clear his mind, but it was a futile attempt from the start as John Blaine and Peter Whitelaw and, inevitably, Starsky consumed his thoughts.

Questions without answers twisted and tangled in his mind as he turned off the water and wrapped himself in a towel, dripping his way into the bedroom. The way seemed long, his footsteps heavy, the apartment cavernous, the silence all around him maddeningly, unnerving. He threw himself onto the bed and the springs protested, their creaking striking him as a very sad, melancholy sound. Tears of grief, confusion, fear, and frustration welled up behind burning eyelids and he finally gave himself up to them. Oh, Starsk ... why can't love ever be simple? How can I tell you how I feel, what you do to me? How can I not? Oh, Starsk, what if ... What if ... What if ... No stranger to these feelings, yet tonight strangely overwhelmed by them, Hutch couldn't think beyond them and continued to cry, softly, until slowly a profound exhaustion wound its way upwards through the tumult of emotions. He sensed the encroaching darkness and welcomed it, sobs slowly subsiding, tears receding and drying, until finally, mercifully, he slept.

Just as dawn was breaking he woke up with a hard on.

The room was still and dark. He stretched, the allowed his hands to slowly feel their way down his chest, pausing to rub at his nipples, and as he reached to stroke his still-hardening thickness he closed his eyes and let himself imagine that it was Starsky's hand closing around his shaft, Starsky's fingers pressing against his balls, Starsky's hot breath whispering to him, tantalizing him, teasing his already dripping head.

Hutch no longer even tried to think about women when he masturbated. What was the point? He hadn't gotten off thinking about a woman in months. Only Starsky. Only Starsky ... Always, now, Starsky ... He could try to think about a woman until kingdom come, but only thoughts of his gloriously dark and slender partner now kindled fire deep in his being. When was the last time he'd made love with a beautiful woman? Correction: not make love, have sex. How long had it been? How long would it be? It hardly mattered - - it had been long enough. He couldn't think past Christine, although he knew there had been at least a few others. Meaningless ... Ever since that night after the Monopoly game he had been unable to love a woman without thinking about anything but loving Starsky in the same way. All eyes had become blue, all hair dark and thick and curly, all chests flat and hard, all hips tantalizingly straight. And when had he started to almost prefer the honesty, if not the solitude, of masturbation? At least then he could have Starsky to himself ...

More and more often now he found himself like this, alone in his bed, clutching a pillow, knowing that it was Starsky, burying his face in the soft hair, raining moist kisses on the sweaty nape, feeling the slickness of Starsky's smooth strong back as he rubbed his dew-dappled chest against it in sync with the slow deliberate thrusts he made, feeling Starsky warm and real beneath him, surrounding him, tight around him as he arched, filling him again and again, clutching and loving Starsky's own thick length underneath, hearing him gasp and cry out a sweetly wrenching sound, feeling him come hot and sticky in his hand ...

His slick hand was now Starsky kissing and licking and sucking his burning length. He knew the moisture of his mouth and the texture of his powerful tongue as it danced him expertly, breathlessly, endlessly to the edge. He tried to hold on to the feelings for as long as he possibly could but finally surrendered himself to the inevitable and allowed Starsky to consume him totally, coming and coming, his orgasm sweet torture.

He lay quietly for several minutes, one arm thrown across his eyes, the other still extended, hand absently fondling his now soft and slightly sticky flesh. He heard himself sigh and acknowledged the familiar emptiness he felt inside as loneliness. It was always the same. He tried to recall the feelings of moments ago, tried to recreate the sense of connection and completion he'd felt, but try as he might the feelings engendered by the manufactured fantasy could not be duplicated in the aftermath. He wanted to cry but knew that he wouldn't, for he'd found the relief of tears to be as impermanent and unfulfilling as the relief of an unshared orgasm. He let himself imagine for a moment what it would be like to have Starsky truly there with him, warm and real, exquisitely sated, basking with him in a lingering afterglow ... The two of them, together, holding each other, stroking each other fully sharing the sweetness that follows passion, caressing each other, kissing each other, maybe even laughing together ...

Stop it! God, Hutchinson, you're a fool. Why do you do this to yourself? Masochist. Isn't it bad enough as it is?

He roused himself enough to pluck a few Kleenex from a box on the nightstand, and as he wiped at his belly he thought about how upset he'd been last night, about how close his feelings had been to the surface, about how completely he'd lost control of them the moment he'd left Starsky's apartment. It was usually easier for him to stay on an even keel, but yesterday had taxed his reserves to their limit. Of course, it had been far from a normal day, so it really wasn't that surprising. Its high emotional content had brought everything into sharper focus, had made it just that much harder to maintain the fašade. The intense quality of the closeness he'd shared with Starsky and the resultant increased physicality, all of it had combined to make keeping those other feelings in check just a little more difficult. That was all. He'd expended a lot of energy yesterday, his resources had been nearly exhausted, so no wonder he'd cried himself to sleep. But yesterday was gone. Now ... now he could get himself together again, regroup. Now things could start getting back to normal. Day to day, status quo ... yeah, he could handle it. No problem. He dropped the damp tissues in the wastebasket, thinking about how funny it was that when he found himself emotionally distraught his head always seemed to clear if he masturbated, as if the release of the sexual tension made room for more rational thought.

He craned his head to check the time. Six o'clock on the dot, ten hours before he could be with Starsky again. Starsky ... He lay back down, heavily, and the crease between his brows deepened as he stared at the ceiling, hands beneath his head. Shit! Who am I trying to kid? What the hell am I going to do now? Fucking story of my life. Kenneth Hutchinson, Golden Boy, the man with everything, everything except the one thing he really wants, which he'll never be able to have because what he wants is impossible.

Impossible. Impossible. The word echoed over and over in his mind. It hurt. He hated thinking about it, because every time he did the pain would rise up inside, throbbing at his temples, knotting his stomach, drying and tightening his throat until it hurt to swallow, choking him, filling him, swelling to frightening proportions. He wondered at times if wanting the impossible would eventually drive him mad, like Don Quixote. But Quixote hadn't known that his dream was impossible. Hutch did. And he sure as hell wasn't gunning for Sancho Panza ...

It hurt. Like hell. There were other feelings, too, all mixed up in the mayhem of his state of mind. He tried to separate and individuate them.

There was pain, yes. Also anger, frustration. Guilt and fear, those too, obviously. Embarrassment. Trepidation. Dread. And beyond those? Need. Desire. And ultimately? Love.

Love. Oh yes, love. The kind of love he had tried to deny for a long, long time. He twisted his torso side to side, stretching, working out a kink in his back, then settled back onto the bed with a sigh, determined to think it through this time, to not run away from it.

It had started long before Terry, he realized. Even before Gillian. Maybe as far back as a couple of years ago, when in fewer than six months he'd been convinced twice over that Starsky was going to die, that he was going to lose Starsky for good. Even now just remembering the prospect of that loss, its magnitude, chilled him to the bone. Sometimes I really hate being a cop ... Both times he'd held Starsky in his arms, and both times he'd not wanted to let go, not then, not ever. But those times he'd been too caught up in circumstances to stop to analyze his feelings, and when he'd thought about it later, he hadn't called it love. At least not love by its proper name, the name it had now. This ... this was different. This was real. This was something he'd never felt before, not even when he was married.

Vanessa? He'd been doing all the right things when he'd married her. All the right things by everyone else's standards, and he'd been too young to even consider that he might be making a mistake. Love? I didn't know the meaning of the word .... Their honeymoon had been brief, their fights vicious, their divorce a blessing. He rarely thought of her now, and when he did the thoughts were inevitably accompanied by a bad taste in his mouth. Since the divorce many women had passed through his life. Some he remembered, several he'd cared for, most he'd bedded. He hadn't truly loved a single one of them.

Except, perhaps ... Poor Gillian. He'd known her so briefly ... for what, a month? Yet even so he'd loved her, in a way. He'd been intoxicated with it, drunk on it for a brief time. It was a wonderful feeling but too good to be true, and deep down he'd known it. That kind of giddy love was bound to be temporary, and the flame that had, for a time, burned so brightly would surely have burned itself out eventually. He'd never know how it would have ended if Grossman hadn't snuffed out her life prematurely, but he could imagine. God, what a horrible night ... He'd gone crazy, a little, finding her body, lashing out - - but even that had been contact. Even that had been bonding. And what, ultimately, did he remember most clearly from that night? Starsky's arms holding him tightly, telling him to let it out, that it would be O.K. ... Starsky, when it was all over, when the endless night had finally ended, putting him to bed ... Starsky, for weeks afterwards, never leaving him alone for an instant, until he'd met Terry ...

Terry. Starsky had loved her, deeply and truly, of that there was no doubt. But what was it he said that night when we were sitting there getting plastered? Something along the lines of, "What if Prudholm had gone after you?" That look on his face .... I couldn't bear to see it, and then he said he had to go to the bathroom, and then we set up the Monopoly board, and then ... Well, we all know the ending to that story, don't we? Yes, that night had certainly been the turning point, because it had given his feelings a name. Not only love, but also desire. And desire for one's male partner was strictly forbidden. Wasn't it?

But it meant so much more than that to him. Yes, he loved Starsky, deeply and with certainty, and had accepted the fact that he also desired him, wanted to express the breadth and depth of his feelings in every possible way. He'd never considered himself to be gay, but recognizing his feelings and desire had altered his previous assumptions about what the word meant. So what? Maybe he was bi. Lots of people were. Or maybe he'd been gay all along and had just never known it, like Starsky thought John had been. Or, more likely, maybe it just boiled down to loving Starsky. David Michael Starsky: friend, partner, brother. Obsession ... It was a relationship beyond labels, one that had, from the very beginning, defied definition. It was a relationship that Hutch knew to be essential to his very existence, a relationship that Hutch knew that he simply could not afford to lose. Ever.

He gives so much, he loves so much, he means so much ... why can't I be content with what we have? Why am I so greedy? Why do I want more and more, when what I have, what he gives to me, is so much more than most people will ever know, so much more than I've ever gotten from anyone, ever, period?

But it's the truth. I want more. So help me, I want more. But it's impossible and that hurts so much.

Stop it! Stop it!

Hutch rolled over and punched his pillow, hard.

I'm going to fuck it up. Jesus Christ, I'm going to fuck it up. What am I doing? He trusts me, damn it! He trusts me to be honest with him, to tell him the truth, and I'm fucking lying to him every time I look at him, every time I smile when he tells me about his women, every time I touch him and he doesn't know how it makes me feel ... I almost fucked it up with Rosey - - so sick with jealousy, letting it get to me, letting it show. Scared to death that he'd figure it out and covering it up by lying through my teeth, telling him, 'Go snuggle with your woman' and hating her, almost hating him, hating myself ... One lie leading to another and another until there's nothing left but lies and more lies ...

He rolled over onto his side, propping his head up on one hand, absently tracing patterns on the sheet with his other.

Wait a minute. That's not quite true. These feelings don't change the others. You're still friends, you're still partners. That's not a lie. Far from it, that's the only unsullied truth in your entire life.

But friends and partners tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Don't they?

John didn't. John couldn't. John didn't think he could. Is there a difference?

It was getting hard to find a comfortable position and stay there. Hutch experimented with several before opting for a variation on his original position, still staring at the ceiling but with his knees drawn up, feet flat on the mattress. It was the best one for his back.

Starsk was so sad last night. So hurt. John telling Peter all about him and not a word the other way around. 'Didn't he think I'd understand?' Isn't that what you said, buddy? I guess he didn't. Maybe he should have known better. Maybe he shouldn't have underestimated you, your capacity for love, for understanding, for accepting ... The way you were talking last night, everything you were saying about how hard it must've been for John to have to hide all of the time, to tell lies to those he loved, to keep everything inside? You're amazing - - you really do understand. He should've known you better. Maybe I should, too. You really do keep surprising me. Of course, if you knew what I know, it'd definitely be a two-way street.

You can't go on like this, Hutchinson. Don't make the same mistake. He's got to know. You've got to tell him. You've got to trust him. You've got to risk it.

Hutch tossed.

NO!!!

Impossible. Impossible. It's not the same. This wouldn't be, "Starsk, guess what? I'm gay." No, that would be easy. This would be, "Starsk, guess what? I'm in love with you." There's a basic difference there. One is decidedly less participatory than the other. He's not like that. It could never fly. And then where would I be? Clear of conscience and sans a partner. Thanks for playing, next contestant. Thanks, but no thanks.

Hutch turned.

Don't underestimate the man, Hutchinson. You're always doing that, and it always comes back to haunt you. He trusts you. Trust him. Tell him.

Hutch tossed and turned, finally stilling only after having divested the bed completely of its sheet.

Wait a minute. What are you talking about? Tell him? After this? After John? "Hey, Starsk, guess what? Not only didn't you know that John Blaine was gay, bet you didn't know that I was, either! And guess who's the lucky boy?" Yeah, right, that'd go over real well. Being honest, Hutchinson, does not pro forma include coming out to your best friend.

He thinks you wrote the book on trust. What happens if he finds out some other way? What could you possibly say then? He doesn't take kindly to betrayal of trust.

Hutch rolled over and punched the pillow again. This was getting him nowhere. Why couldn't he just turn it all off and go back to sleep?

His friend will never, ever lie to him. It's only the man who wants to be his lover that has a few problems in the honesty department. And that's ... understandable. He'd never issued an invitation for you to shift his paradigms, and you can't risk doing that to him. You can't. You can't. Better to ... to live the lie and keep the peace. Or should that be piece? Yeah, the piece of Starsky I can have until I blow it by doing something stupid like this. And blow it I would, like everything else.

No. Not this. Not this time. No way. I won't lose all of you for some of you. Even if I am in fucking love with you and it's driving me crazy!

Toss. Turn.

Funny, though, Starsk sounded so sad, talking about John and Peter ...talking like he'd wished it had worked out for them. It really didn't matter. Could he ...

Toss. Turn.

Forget it, Hutchinson, that's an intellectual consideration, which is a far cry from an emotional entanglement. Just ... just forget it.

Toss.

Wait a minute, Hutchinson, don't ever, ever underestimate the man.

Turn.

Yeah, but don't give too much credence to the fact that he hugged Peter Whitelaw, either.

Hutch sat bolt upright. Now where the hell did that come from??

He thought about it for a minute. Jesus Christ, he was going fucking crazy. Wasn't it enough that he had to deal with almost savage jealousy every time Starsky went out with a woman.? Was he going to be just as jealous and possessive when it came to other men, other friends, too? What was happening to him? What kind of friend was he, really? Shame and guilt surged once again to the forefront. I'm turning into a monster ...

He shook his head as if to clear it. So much for clear thinking after jerking off. God damn it! Why'd he have to start thinking about all this now, anyway? Fucking Pandora's box. He wasn't about to tell Starsky, period. That's all she wrote.

Starsky was right, I am a lot like John ... more than he knows. Just as scared. For different reasons, but just as scared. Taking the risk of hurting you just as much, because deep down I believe it to be in your best interests, just like he probably did. Because I love you, like John did, and I don't want to see you in pain. Ever. And I won't be the cause of it.

Yeah, you could handle John. You might even be able to handle knowing about me. At first. But eventually? It'd get to you. You'd worry about tempting me, hurting me, and you'd start to pull away. Cruel to be kind, something along those lines? And I couldn't handle that. So help me, but that's the truth. I couldn't handle losing one iota of what we've got now. I need it too much. I need you too much.

Or maybe you'd even respond. Once or twice. Because you love me. Because you love me enough to do anything for me. You've told me and shown me a thousand times if once that there's nothing you wouldn't do for me. But I could never settle for a favor, Starsk. And if wouldn't be anything else. It'd never work out. I'd hate myself, you'd begin to hate yourself, and then I'd hate myself even more for doing that to you.

Complicated. It's too complicated. You like things simple and straightforward. Like you. I can keep it that way. If I try hard enough. I know I can. I can. I can. Anything else is just ... impossible.

Forgive me, Starsk.

He leaned out of bed and picked up the sheet from the floor, tossing it up and out, watching how it billowed before settling over his body. So, that's that. Take a deep breath and keep on keeping on. That's all there was to it, all there was to do. But ... there was still something wrong, something missing out of all this. He was ... missing something important, another element. It was an oversight that danced and teased at the edge of his consciousness, a thought as close and as far as a word on the tip of his tongue, something important, basic, elemental, but the more he tried to thank abut it the more elusive it became ... Shit.

He looked at the clock. Six-thirty. He wasn't going to go back to sleep at this point. He glanced out the window. Just like the weatherman had predicted, it was cloudy and gray. Perfect. Matches my mood. Might as well get up and run now. That'll be good. A little routine is good for the soul. It clears my head better than sex, anyway. A good run, a good breakfast, some coffee, the paper ...

He bounded out of bed, suddenly looking forward to the prospect of running. Running. Running away. No, damn it, just running! It's good for you. Puts things into perspective. You'll feel better afterwards, you always do. Things'll seem really different afterwards, you'll see. You just need to ... to clear the cobwebs.

He dressed quickly in navy blue sweats, pulled on his socks and shoes and headed for the door. He flung it open and nearly tripped over the blue and brown form that tumbled backwards into the apartment, the form that had evidently been sitting outside in the hallway leaning against Hutch's door.

What the hell?!

Hutch's ears immediately registered two distinct and simultaneous gasps of surprise, but it took his brain a full second longer to register the form as Starsky. He stared at the unexpected sight sprawled inelegantly on the floor for another second or two as he waited for his brain to react appropriately, to send the pertinent signals to his mouth.

"Starsk? Are you O.K.?" Finally, at last, a coherent thought. "What the hell are you doing here?"

He crouched down next to the figure struggling to regain its balance after the precipitous upset, helped it to attain first a sitting, then a standing position. Hutch held him steady by his shoulders as Starsky looked around, seeming a little dazed, as if unsure as to where exactly he was.

Oh, God, please let me handle this ...

"Starsk?" he repeated. "Starsky, talk to me! Are you O.K.? What were you doing out there? Why didn't you let yourself in?" He was rambling, reeling, stunned.

Starsky still said nothing, staring at his partner as if he were a stranger, as if seeing him for the first time. He looked as if he hadn't slept much, if at all. His bewildered aspect and lack of response to Hutch's questions was frustrating, and it was scaring him down to the bones. He's acting like a zombie... What the hell is wrong with him? Jesus Christ, you should never have left him alone! You knew he was still upset, you knew it! Why did you leave? You could've asked to stay, he'd never have said no. Idiot! What the hell is going on here? Stay calm... Just stay calm, it'll be O.K., you just have to figure out what's going on here. It's O.K., you can handle it. You don't have a choice.

"Starsk? C'mon, let's go inside." Hutch shut the door and led Starsky into the living room, sitting him down on the sofa and joining him before continuing in a soothing tone of voice. "You're acting a little out of it, babe. Are you sure you're O.K.? I mean, it's six-thirty in the morning! You want to tell me what's going on here?" Talk to me, Starsk... I can't handle this if you don't talk to me...

This time Starsky answered, his tired eyes seeming to focus a little more, becoming more awake and aware as he replied, "Really? That late? I guess I must've fallen asleep out there. I didn't mean to." Starsky rubbed at his eyes with the heels of both hands. "I, uh..."

"Starsk, if you were upset, why didn't you call me? You know I would've come over..."

"Did I say I was upset? I was just... I just went out for a walk and I, uh... I ended up here."

"O.K. ... So why didn't you let yourself in?"

Starsky didn't answer.

"Starsk?"

This time Starsky shrugged. "I dunno. Didn't wanna wake you, I guess."

"Oh, c'mon, that's absurd!"

"Yeah, well... You got any coffee?" Read: back off.

Hutch hesitated a moment before replying. Maybe he was pushing too hard. Maybe... Oh, shit...

This little turn of events certainly hadn't been what he'd been expecting this morning, and he frankly wasn't sure how to react. After all that he'd been thinking about and feeling this morning he was now unsettled. On edge. Uneasy. Anxious, and becoming more so with every passing second. He wasn't used to being caught off-guard, and furthermore didn't like it when it happened, not one bit. Watch yourself, Hutchinson... This was all coming down way too fast; he needed a little time and space for regrouping. Maybe the normality of morning coffee with Starsky would help him to re-establish his wavering equilibrium. He was obviously all right physically, and any emotional turmoil was probably best dealt with when both of them were a little more composed, in a clearer frame of mind. Your head 's certainly not feeling too clear at the moment...

"Yeah, sure. Uh... you stay here, I'll go make it."

"Thanks," the unexpected guest replied, shrugging out of his leather jacket as Hutch rose. He noticed that Starsky was wearing the same white shirt as before and... and...

"Starsky?"

"Yeah?"

"Where the hell's your gun?"

"Uh... at home."

God damn you...

"You went out for a walk in the middle of the night?"

"Uh... yeah."

"You walked all the way here?"

Starsky just stared up at him, as if trying to determine the purpose of this particular line of questioning, knowing that he should be able to, but for some reason not quite catching on.

"Answer me!" The raised voice was taut with barely suppressed outrage.

"Yeah, I walked all the way here. What's your point?"

"My point, buddy, is that walking the streets of Los Angeles in the middle of the night isn't the safest thing in the world to do, so if you were going to do it you might have had the common sense to wear your piece!"

Hutch felt suddenly dislocated from his surroundings, disoriented, disassociated. What am I doing? What's happening here? He was mad and getting madder and found himself without the strength to control it, hearing his own strident voice rising as if from far, far away. Even as he listened to himself rail at his partner he knew somewhere deep inside that he was overreacting, but there was nothing he could do to stop the clearly articulated stream of vehemence. Why am I so angry? The thought swept through his mind and was gone as he faced Starsky, barely containing a rage whose origin went far beyond a forgotten gun.

Starsky had spread his hands in a helpless gesture, palms up. "I... What's the big deal, Hutch? I guess I just wasn't thinkin' about it."

"Obviously!" the furious blond shouted, gesticulating wildly. 'Well maybe you should've been thinking about it! Jesus Christ, what if something had happened to you, huh? Ever think about that?"

"Hutch?" Starsky's tone of voice plainly conveyed his puzzlement. "Look, calm down, nothin' happened. It doesn't matter, I'm fine..."

"Don't tell me what does and doesn't matter! It most certainly would've mattered if something had happened to you! No car, no gun, the middle of the night... What if you'd run into trouble, huh? What then? You could've been hurt, or God forbid, even killed! Jesus Christ, what were you thinking? How stupid can you get?"

Hutch seemed to run out of words at that and just stood there looking at Starsky, not quite knowing what to do next. Starsky stared back at him wordlessly, his expression indecipherable. Long moments passed. As inexplicably as it had materialized Hutch's anger faded, replaced by a quiet horror as his gaze locked with his friend's. Why are you screaming at him? Why did you do that? What were you thinking? Oh, God...

"Starsk?" It was barely a whisper. I'm sorry...

A corner of Starsky's mouth lifted. "Someone certainly got up on the wrong side of the bed this mornin'," he wryly observed. Read: We can talk about this later, if you want, but don't worry, you're forgiven.

Hutch didn't know what to say, needed time to think, to sort through the chaos of his mind. "Yeah, guess so... " Just then Starsky tried to stifle a yawn and failed, and the bewildered blond seized the opportunity. "Look, uh... I'll go make that coffee now, O.K?" And maybe by then I'll have recovered from whatever the hell that was all about... Jesus H. Christ, this has been one of the most unreal mornings of my entire life...

The other side of Starsky's mouth lifted in response. "Sounds great," he said, kicking off his shoes. "I'll wait here."

Hutch went about the business of making coffee slowly, deliberately. He was appalled at himself, confused beyond measure, reeling from the after effects of having thoroughly lost control of himself. The anger, born partly of worry but mostly of pent-up frustration, had risen up in him from out of the blue, had overtaken him, and he'd been powerless to resist it. I'm so sorry I yelled at you. You scared me, taking foolish chances like that. It scared me to imagine you out there alone, without me. Yeah, I know. You 're a big boy. But I can't help it. You want to protect those you love. And I love you so much you don't even know, you can't know...

Nevertheless, understanding his behavior didn't justify it and he berated himself mercilessly for having taken it out on his obviously troubled friend. Jesus Christ, you're a selfish bastard, Hutchinson... He shows up on your doorstep and all you can do is go off half-cocked, lose control, yell and scream at him, when you don't even know what brought him here. Some friend in need you are...

Why was Starsky here, anyway? He still didn't know. You've got to get a grip. Hutchinson, take control. He needs you. You've got to talk with him, find out what's wrong. It's over five miles from his place to here, he must've been out walking for hours... Why hadn't he been asleep? What's going on? You've got to talk with him. Put the rest of it aside.

The coffee was ready. Hutch poured two steaming mugs and took a deep, steadying breath. Just go back in there, apologize, and get him to talk to you. That's all you've got to do. It's easy. Easy. Real easy...

To Hutch's surprise his deliberate mental preparations were, for the moment, unnecessary, for Starsky lay recumbent on the couch, very much asleep. Hutch quietly set the mugs down on the coffee table and for several minutes simply stood there, looking down at him. The sight of his sleeping friend moved him to an almost heart-rending tenderness. God, I love him so much...

He slowly lowered himself to the floor next to the couch, close to Starsky, and after a time a peaceful, unexpected tranquillity settled down all about him and he found himself existing in a state in which fear and anger and confusion had no place. He had no interest in questioning the transformation as he allowed his gaze to travel over the unique, familiar, well-loved planes and angles of Starsky's face, stopping to study long lashes, nearly translucent eyelids, unruly brows; lingering over shiny dark hair. He clasped his arms around his updrawn knees, rested his chin upon them, his eyes never leaving Starsky's face. Suddenly all was right with the world. Starsky was safe. Starsky was here. Starsky had come to him. Starsky needed him. He feels safe here, with me... Safe enough to let himself sleep. Sleep, Starsk, you need it. Sleep... for as long as you want, as long as you need. I'll be right here when you wake up. We can talk then, you and me, about whatever you want. Just talk. About everything, about nothing. About John, if you want, about why you couldn't sleep... or not. Everything is all right when we're together, when we talk. Or even when we don't. It doesn't matter at all... just as long as I'm with you. It's only when we're apart that things start to get weird...

Hutch had no idea how long he sat there quietly gazing at Starsky, listening to him breathe slowly and deeply, in and out, soaking up the serenity, absorbing the simple incomparable pleasure of just being with him. He noted at some point that it had started to rain, and he listened to its hypnotic rhythm beating time upon the roof, against the windows... He was glad it was raining, really. It made him feel lucky to be here, inside, warm and dry, with Starsky. This was all that really mattered, all he really needed. Everything else he could just let fade away... This was enough, for now, at least... Later?... Later could wait... Later would always be there waiting -- the worry, the confusion, the pain... He could let it wait, it was O.K... Now was all that mattered... Love was here now, with him, sleeping under his watchful gaze... Now was a blessing he wouldn't waste or take for granted, ever...

Love finally stirred, stretched, opened its eyes. They blinked a few times, awareness returning, looked around, then locked with Hutch's. The deep blue betrayed no surprise at seeing Hutch so close, almost as if his presence had been expected, awaited.

Hutch couldn't help but smile. "Good morning."

An answering smile was his only reply as the form on the couch shifted to one side, angling slightly towards Hutch, still blinking somewhat sleepily.

"Coffee's cold by now," he continued. "I'll make some fresh, if you'd like."

When no reply seemed to be forthcoming, Hutch took the silence to be assent and moved to rise from the floor. His retreat was arrested as much by the penetrating indigo gaze as by the restraining hand on his arm.

"No, don't," the quiet voice pleaded, commanded.

Don't what? Go?

The blue eyes boring into his had never before seemed so intensely mysterious, so riveting, so enchanting. Your eyes are like the ocean... Hutch very nearly said the words aloud. Mesmerized, he experienced the curious sensation of tumbling, of falling into them, of sinking willingly into their azure depths. No, I can't... "Starsk..." he began.

"Please... don't say anything."

Feeling hypnotized by Starsky's strangely intense perusal of his face, Hutch obeyed. He watched as the other's lips moved, forming simple, alien words which slowly registered through the haze of his mind.

"Don't say anything," he heard. "Please, don't move." Starsky was obviously unaware that he was at that moment thoroughly incapable of movement, of speech, of thought. The room was still, the silence nearly absolute, save for the sound of falling rain and the pounding of his heart within his chest, the rushing of his blood within his veins. He felt Starsky's hand leave his arm to trace the path fashioned by his gaze and he had to remind himself to breathe. The gentle hand traveled upwards and Hutch felt trembling fingers caress his cheek from jaw to temple before threading themselves into his hair, brushing back the fine strands, repeating the motion again and again. I dreamed this once... Spellbound, Hutch yielded to the questing touch, submitting willingly. It crossed his mind that this, too, might be just another dream, but the touch was too tangible to be anything but indubitably real. What was Starsky doing? What was the nature of the spell he was casting? Hutch didn't now, didn't care, so long as it went unbroken... The fingers left his hair to skim his broad forehead, smoothing the horizontal lines, then a single digit traced the deep furrow between his brows.

"You worry too much," a voice whispered. The fingers returned to his hair, stroking it back, and the tremulous whisper came again, even softer than before. "Is this O.K.?"

Unable to speak, unable to even conceive of the words he might use to reply, Hutch merely nodded. He followed Starsky's eyes as they traversed his features with great consideration, as if committing them to memory, felt his gentle hand explore them... felt the brush of a thumb upon his lips, back and forth, felt them burned by an ardent gaze affixed to the place... Was this really happening?

"You're beautiful, Hutch."

Sweet Jesus... He couldn't stand it any longer, had to know, had to ask. "What's happening, Starsk?" The voice was, and was not, his own.

"I think... I think maybe the truth?"

Oh, God...

Did he move first? Did Starsky? He didn't know, couldn't tell, he only knew that the next breaths they took were each other's, that whatever infinitesimal space remaining between them became as meaningless as time or thought as for the first time their lips met, melting them together in a kiss filled more with wonder than passion. He had no sense in that instant of being separate from Starsky. They were one, a single entity, a single design that had been shifting, evolving, rearranging its elements, altering its patterns of light and color and texture for years and years, aspiring towards the singular perfection of this moment... The exotic sensation of Starsky's mouth on his was unfamiliar, yet on another level he knew this kiss, knew that he'd always known it, its absolute rightness surpassed only by its undeniable inevitability.

When the kiss finally ended he pulled back just far enough to behold his own sense of wonder and rightness mirrored in Starsky's eyes. Impossible? He banished the word forever. What had been impossible was now... the only thing in the world that made any sense whatsoever. He felt the other's sweet breath warm and fast against his lips, heard his name whispered like a prayer, and the sound set off such an avalanche of dizzying need that nothing in the universe could have stopped him then from returning to that succulent mouth, from bending to claim Starsky's lips once again with his own. Driven by a singular, single-minded hunger he wove his own fingers into the luxurious silken curls he'd longed to touch like this forever, secured his hold, felt Starsky's lips beneath his moving, parting, accepting the invasion of his tongue. He heard his own helpless moan as he urgently probed the secret depths, tasting the moisture that was both of theirs, mingling in an ever-deepening kiss. He wanted to melt into him, become one with him, be absorbed by him until there was nothing left of either of them but a single point of inextinguishable light...

Through a fog of desire he became aware of trembling... was it only his? No, it was not, and somehow he knew that it was not merely the trembling of unadulterated desire. He opened his eyes as he released Starsky, pulled back to see the tender lips he'd kissed reddened and slightly swollen, bruised from the force of his onslaught. He raised his eyes to meet Starsky's, knowing that the ragged breaths that filled the room were both of theirs, but realizing that he must have overwhelmed the man with the sheer intensity of his passion. Take it easy, Hutchinson... He brought his hands down to cup the beloved face gently, stroking tenderly across roughened cheeks, tracing the shapes of ears and lips, taking his time, cooling his fires. Take it easy...

Still caressing Starsky soothingly he heard himself ask a dangerous question, marvelously unafraid of the answer, whatever it might be.

"Are you scared, Starsk?"

A thoughtful look a slight nod. "Maybe... a little."

"Of me?"

A smile, a shake of his head.

"Of us? Like this?"

A long moment, a helpless shrug.

Hutch took one of Starsky's hands in his, examined it, stroked it. He'd always loved these hands, their shape and grace. For all their beauty, however, they were strong and capable and undeniably masculine. Finding its very masculinity intensely erotic he brought the hand to his mouth, kissed it slowly, thoroughly, hoping to transmit a portion of what he felt through the pressure of his lips. He must have been successful, for he sensed the character of his partner's trembling change.

"We can take it slow, Starsk," he promised. "I... I'm sorry, I just got a little carried away there."

"That's O.K."

"I've b-been... thinking about this f-for a while," Hutch was finally able to confess. A strange expression crossed Starsky's face, but he seemed to accept the knowledge with more equanimity than surprise.

"That explains it, then," was all he said. Before Hutch could respond the man on the couch reached out to encircle his shoulders with his free arm, drawing them close, kissing again, briefly, Hutch's lips. When Starsky pulled back he was smiling, a brilliant smile that lit the world. "I'm not, ya know," he countered. "Sorry, that is."

Starsky's hand shifted, turned to grasp Hutch's, held it firmly, kissed its palm, pressed it against his cheek. His eyes never left his partner's as he guided the hand own his chest, past his stomach, down to the place where his rock-hard erection strained against the denim of his jeans, indisputable proof that Hutch's apology hadn't been strictly necessary.

"Oh, God, Starsk..." came the helpless groan, the feel of the turgid flesh sending shock waves of electric sensation throughout Hutch's body, short-circuiting pathways of rational thought. He closed his eyes and surrendered to the sensations, felt every nerve ending on fire as he stroked and fondled the denim bulge, the contact fuelled and urged by the pressure of Starsky's own hand guiding his. He wants this... He opened his eyes and looked into Starsky's, saw his own hunger mirrored there. Acting on pure instinct he turned away, bending his face to Starsky's arousal, feeling the heat, rubbing his cheek against the rough material, inhaling the subtle, masculine scent that was Starsky as his hands stroked tense, muscular thighs. Himself aroused beyond measure he started a slow, sensuous caress with his mouth, biting gently, increasing the pressure in response to Starsky's low moans of pleasure. He felt Starsky's hands wrap around his head and only gradually became aware that they were urging him up. He followed their direction, kneeling over him, bending to take Starsky's mouth once again. He tangled his fingers in the glory of his hair, kissed his lips, his eyes, his nose... His fingers quivered over Starsky's face, exploring every precious inch of it... He trailed kisses down the length of his throat, finding the little hollow at its base, flicking his tongue over it... Starsky gasped in reaction and drew Hutch's face close to his own. His mouth whispered over it and everywhere it touched sent echoes of madness coursing through Hutch. The exploring mouth found his ear, caressed it with his tongue, his warm breath, and then kissed it, whispering as he pulled back ever so slightly, "Please, Hutch... bed?"

"God, yes..."

He would never remember later how they managed to disentangle themselves from one another, how they managed to accomplish the move from living room to bedroom to bed. Hutch did know that however it was accomplished, the maneuver never involved even an instant of complete separation as hands and mouths in one or another combination kept them in constant physical contact for the duration of the journey.

They rolled together on the expanse of bed, still fully clothed, bodies pressing together in search of more and more contact as if mutually starved for it. Hutch hadn't realized how awkward their previous positions had been until he found himself freed from them, free to stretch to his full length, free to wrap both of his arms completely around Starsky, free to mold his entire body around his partner's. The alteration of the contact between them unleashed desires in Hutch whose intensity he'd never before suspected, not even in his wildest dreams, his most extravagant fantasies. His own hardness discovered his partner's and they moved as one, their urges so indivisible that every movement, every shift in rhythm and intensity, seemed orchestrated, as if they were performing the timeless motions with each other for the thousandth time and not the first. The sensations were incredible, indescribable. Their mouths sought and found one another and Hutch was drunk with the taste of him, desperate to quench his terrible thirst. He no longer sensed any fear or hesitancy in Starsky, who met his every challenge with an equal if not greater fervor. What was he doing now -- to his lips, his throat, his ear? Every touch sent fevered messages through his blood and he was lost in the spinning, dizzying pleasures of taste and texture...

Hands were moving frantically now up and down his back and he felt them steal beneath his sweatshirt, seeking contact with bare flesh, pulling and tugging as they struggled to remove the superfluous layer. Breathless gasps, then. "I wanna see ya, Hutch, I wanna touch ya."

Hutch sat up and willingly complied, pulling the sweatshirt up and over his head, dropping it heedlessly onto the floor before falling back onto the bed. Starsky knelt beside him, inflaming his skin with his passionate gaze, his ardent touch. Not an inch of Hutch's smooth chest was left unexplored by fingers and tongue and he cried aloud in pleasure as the hot mouth descended on first one taut nipple, then the other. His own fingers fumbled with the buttons on the shirt that hid Starsky from his view, his lack of co-ordination frustrating him beyond belief. Finally the extraneous covering fell away and Hutch pushed it back off Starsky's shoulders, revealing an expanse of dark, silk-covered skin. He rolled over, dragging Starsky with him, and proceeded to devour him -- running his nose through the soft hair on his chest, back and forth and up and down, nipping gently here and there, flicking his tongue in a random pattern, noting every sharp cry of response, reveling in the exotic feel of dense muscle, soft hair, and straight lines.

It wasn't enough, not nearly enough. Hutch felt trapped in a paroxysm of tenderness and fire as he fell upon Starsky, blindly seeking his mouth, their sweat-slicked chests coming together, rubbing, igniting senses already inflamed almost past the point of endurance. He felt his hands captured, guided between them to the waistband of Starsky's jeans, wordlessly invited to strip away this last barrier to their complete intimacy.

Hutch couldn't think, could only act as he unclasped the button and undid the zipper with trembling hands, seeking to release the throbbing flesh he felt beneath them. Starsky lifted his hips off the bed as Hutch pulled the jeans down and away, divesting the body of its cotton briefs at the same time. Starsky groaned with relief as his pulsating erection sprang free of its restraining garments and Hutch was momentarily stunned, unable to move as he beheld the proud shaft rising from its thatch of dark hair, the most beautiful and erotic sight he'd ever seen. Starsky's own hand moved instinctively to soothe his aching flesh and Hutch was instantaneously released from his temporary paralysis, drawn like a magnet to Starsky's center. Mine...

He caressed the perfect column of rigid flesh, loving the subtle movement of velvet over steel. He tore his eyes away to look at Starsky's face, found it transformed by pure sensation, head thrown back, eyes closed, tongue moistening his lips, breath harsh and irregular. Beautiful... Fascinated, Hutch kept up his slow, deliberate rhythm with one hand while the other crept even further down to cup and gently squeeze the tight sacs below. Starsky's body arched upwards, crying out, his enraptured countenance plainly revealing the intensity of pleasure the new touch had engendered. Encouraged, Hutch explored further, stroking the smooth, soft area just beneath the balls, loving Starsky's vocal reactions, loving the fact that it was he coaxing such potent responses from his lover.

My lover... Oh, my God...

It was so obvious, so perfect, so right that they should be here like this, together, sharing themselves in this way. Lovers... The word sang in Hutch's heart. Was it possible to love so and still to breathe? He felt filled in that moment with a glorious tenderness which flowed from his heart through his soul to his hands as they continued to caress his lover. My lover...

Starsky's voice like a sacred chant filled his ears with the sweetest music he could ever hope to hear. "Oh, God, Hutch, God, yes, I love you so much, oh, God, yes..." Single syllables were all he seemed to be capable of as he voiced his pleasure, his desire, his need, the fractured, breathless utterances at once a soothing balm for Hutch's soul and a spark for his passion, further inflaming a desire already on the verge of raging out of control. You love me...

Hutch noticed a droplet of fluid appear on the tip of Starsky's shaft and without thinking he bent to kiss it, taste it. The first contact of his lips on Starsky's manhood sent Hutch into orbit, and judging from the high-pitched cry it unleashed, Starsky was not far behind. Hutch shifted his position so that he could take more of Starsky into himself, totally unselfconscious as he took the flesh deeper and deeper, responding instinctively to Starsky's monosyllabic entreaties and affirmations as well as his own need to take, to touch, to taste... As he worshipped his lover with his mouth he was suffused with feelings of love and devotion so intense that he thought he might faint from them. What they were doing was pure and perfect, sacrosanct, and he was aware on a deep level of a curious sense of absolute redemption. He had been so unsure of himself, so driven to submerge his true feelings, so willing to deny himself, to sacrifice himself, to torment himself, to resign himself... But now... Now there was only one reality, and it was his, it was theirs, and there was no denying it, ever again. He wanted to shout with joy as he licked and sucked and kissed the most intimate part of his lover, ecstatic with the knowledge that he was making love, real love, for perhaps the first time in his entire life.

Starsky's breathing was becoming faster and more erratic by the second, the thrusting of his hips more frenzied with abandon as they propelled his flesh ever deeper into Hutch's willing, worshipful mouth. Hutch had to hold on to the wildly bucking hips to maintain his contact, to stay with his lover all the way, till the end, to stay with him as he arched and thrust his way to inexorable completion. Distantly he heard the beloved voice crying out an unnecessary warning before the body he held stiffened in his grasp for a brief eternity... his mind was hazed with fire as the pulsing organ baptized his mouth with its sacred seed and he swallowed reflexively, greedily, savoring the flavor of Starsky on his tongue, knowing that the act drew them closer, made them a part of one another, bonded them together as never before. I love you...

He rested his head on Starsky's downy inner thigh, the softening flesh cradled in his hand, his tongue lapping lazily and ever-so-gently at the last drops of precious fluid seeping from the sensitized head. He had never felt so content in his entire life, so complete, so connected... Lifting his gaze to his lover's face, he was overwhelmed by the beauty of the man in sated repose, overwhelmed by the undeniable reality of what had just transpired between them. You reached out for me, you wanted me, you went wild for me, you came for me and in the midst of it all you cried out for me, you said that you loved me... Hutch closed his eyes with a sigh, consigning the moment to memory forever...

"Hey..." Starsky's low voice, a little hoarse, wafted through Hutch's consciousness. "Hey, C'mere, will ya?" The request was accompanied by a gentle tug and Hutch found the strength to somehow crawl up the bed and into his lover's waiting arms. They wrapped around him lovingly, gently pressing Hutch's head to Starsky's shoulder. A hand began to stroke his hair and he knew that he could fast become addicted to the sensation. Hutch closed his eyes again, sinking into warmth, loving the way Starsky felt and smelled... He felt a sweet, soft kiss on his head and the nuzzling of a nose before the arms around him increased their pressure, holding him securely, tenderly, gratefully...

Starsky's breath bathed Hutch's head in warmth as he sighed, then kissed him again. "I almost can't believe it's real," he murmured into the blond silk fascinating him so.

Hutch smiled. "Me, neither."

The arms around him tightened even more. "That was... that was..." The words trailed off, as if Starsky's lexicon did not contain the words to adequately analogize his experience. Hutch understood perfectly. His didn't, either. Not even in his mind could he sum up his feelings, or even come close to understanding them. The intimate encounter had been... What he and Starsky had shared... It had been too profound to be captured by anything as mundane as words. Their love-making had gone far beyond carnal pleasure, even far beyond an expression of love, farther than Hutch had ever been taken. The rapturous joy and wonder of pleasuring Starsky, the sense of inherent rightness, absolute freedom... Even now, he understood it only on the most primal of levels. It had been an experience spiritual in the highest degree. How do you put a... a religious experience into words?

He decided he couldn't, at least not yet, and said simply, "Yeah, it sure was..."

"Yeah, it was," Starsky slowly agreed, "and ya know somethin'?" He turned, shifted his weight, and holding his golden lover close began a tantalizing circular movement with his hips. "It's not even over yet..."

Hutch's arousal, which he'd been content to ignore in the face of everything else he'd been feeling, surged once again. Convulsively he gripped Starsky to him, increasing the pressure on his groin, encouraging the provocative, stimulating motion, delirious with swiftly and fiercely rekindled passion...

Oh, God...

"I'd been meanin' to get these off before," Starsky continued in a low, sensuous purr, somehow insinuating his hands between them, loosening the drawstring of Hutch's sweatpants, slipping in past the waistband, reaching around to caress the firm, smooth mounds underneath. The voice dropped even lower. "But you distracted me. Now it's my turn..."

Oh, God...

Starsky's suggestive words turned Hutch's insides into something the consistency of jelly, while the seductive movement of his hips and the feel of his hands kneading him from behind infused him with a delicious tautness, the tension of anticipation... He rolled to lie on his back, assisted with the removal of his sweats as best he could, felt them being drawn down, sensed them being tossed away. For a long moment there was only silence and he felt the palpable sweep of Starsky's gaze across his skin. Suddenly he was back, a precious weight covering his entire body, and they were pressed together in an intimate embrace, skin to skin, nakedness to nakedness...

The weight shifted, lifted slightly. "How long?"

The words took some time to sink in and Hutch struggled to comprehend. "How... how long what?" was all he could manage to gasp in reply.

Starsky's hand was moving up and down Hutch's side as he spoke. "You said..." Starsky paused to kiss his throat. "You said you'd been thinkin' about this for a while." A tongue audaciously circled an ear, teasing the lobe, sending exquisite shivers down Hutch's spine. "How long?"

Amazing that such a simple question should require such a complicated answer... The calculations of time and variables were totally beyond his ability to accomplish at the moment, and what did it matter, anyhow? All that mattered was now...

"I... I don't know. A long time..." The talented tongue seemed to be everywhere at once and Hutch couldn't think past the electric sensations it was generating.

"Hmmmm..." replied his tormentor eloquently, sampling a nipple. "I was just curious," he continued, nuzzling a meandering path across Hutch's chest towards the other. "I'd like to make it worth the wait."

"Oh, God, Starsk..." How to communicate all that was filling to bursting inside? How to tell him it didn't matter, that whatever happened was bound to be perfect? The feelings defied verbalization.

"I wanna give you so much, Hutch... everythin' you need. Just... just lemme know what ya like."

The last words were whispered almost shyly and resounded within Hutch, echoing in heartfelt joy, and suddenly it was too much, all too much. "Anything, babe... Anything at all..." and then Starsky leaned into him, silencing him with a deep kiss that made words totally unnecessary.

Hutch held the body on top of him close, pulled it closer and closer, thrust his hardness against it, seeking more and more sensation, surrendering to the instinctive, driving need... He had never before been this turned on, this hungry for love, had never known before this concentrated intensity, this feverish heat burning him up from within... He felt the fire, knew it to be beyond his control, and suddenly understood that he had neither the will nor the desire to control it, that he had no choice but to be consumed by it, inevitably and gladly, and he redoubled his efforts, eager to reach the point of annihilation, desperate for the definitive explosion that would obliterate him, reduce him to ashes...

He was almost there when suddenly the friction fuelling the fire was taken away, the weight on top of him suddenly gone, rolled away... Unexpectedly deprived, he heard himself cry out in frustration, the disappointment nearly unbearable. He tried to reach for himself but was prevented by a stilling hand that grasped his, brought it to gentle lips. A voice whispered soothingly, "Shhhh... Hey, what's the rush? Take it easy..."

He opened his eyes to find Starsky looking down at him. Hutch couldn't speak but his look must have said something, because Starsky's next words were, "I know, babe, I know." Intrigued, Hutch watched as a blush slightly darkened the beautiful face. Looking suddenly very serious his lover continued, "But... but the first time only happens once. An' I want it to be special for you, not just ...well, you know."

The speech was so typically Starsky that Hutch could only think, Who wouldn't love you? before reaching up to bring Starsky's face to his, initiating a long, thorough kiss whose inspired course was thereafter mutually determined. As the kiss ended Hutch became aware of hands roaming his body, touches designed to soothe and cool the white hot flames of desire, to temper them, to bring the raging boil down to a slow simmer. The desire was still there, and the arousal, but he was no longer teetering on the edge. He could think now, and reason, and above all appreciate the gifts that Starsky was bestowing upon him.

God, Starsk, I love you so much ... The thought brought him up short. Hutch couldn't remember if he'd told Starsky yet, thought that maybe he had, but perhaps the words hadn't actually been spoken aloud.

"Starsk?"

"Hmmm?"

"Look at me."

His lover complied, gazing down at him with love and amusement as his fingers wove their way into the blond hair, playfully curling it behind an ear. "Yes?"

Hutch looked searchingly into the eyes he adored, finding in their sparkling depths the answer to every question he'd ever asked, the salve for every wound he'd ever suffered, the reassurance of every doubt he'd ever known. The first time only happens once ... "I love you."

He watched as Starsky's disarmingly blue eyes began to swim in a wash of sudden tears, incongruous against the dazzling smile. A droplet or two fell, splashed Hutch's cheek, and when his own vision blurred he knew that tears were in his eyes as well. The gentlest of fingers brushed at the dampness, the softest of lips kissed his eyelids. "I know, babe, I know. I love you, too."

Starsky moved to take his mouth in a kiss more eloquent than any words of love could ever be. Hutch felt its sensuous magic working its way through his body, the kiss a marvelous combination of tender reverence and erotic command that soothed and excited at the same time. He deepened it, burying his hands in the lush jungle of Starsky's curls, knowing that there was nothing to be held back now, no limits, no boundaries, and he joyously abandoned himself to the exquisite, fluid yearning growing within him, flowing between them, recreating them as one.

Starsky's mouth left his and began a slow, languid descent. He took his time, exploring Hutch's body with a deliberate thoroughness that Hutch had never known. He surveyed with mesmerizing precision and everywhere he touched, be it with hands or mouth, tingled in the aftermath. He seemed to know instinctively what Hutch needed and wanted, and at every maddeningly delicate caress Hutch wondered brokenly how he could have withstood the privation had not his lover touched him in just that spot at just that moment. The homage of those knowing hands was electric, agonizingly provocative, and eventually had Hutch writhing and squirming beneath the tender assault. He heard his own voice gasp and plead as Starsky kissed his sensitive pelvic hollows, as the talented, torturing tongue began to slowly lave the crease between groin and thigh and Hutch instinctively lifted his knees to give his lover better access.

Hutch felt Starsky turn his head, his curly hair tickling his inner thigh as hot breath bathed his groin. He thought he might melt, knowing that the moment was upon them, and then he thought that he did as the wet velvet magic engulfed him. Demand and surrender were indistinguishable as Hutch felt himself drawn into Starsky, into his moist heat, the incredible sensations unleashed by mouth and lips and tongue flowing like waves before the wind, and soon all remaining sense of himself as a separate being was lost in the tidal force claiming him, dismantling him, reshaping him ... He was wound up tight, threatening to snap, when the mouth was replaced by a knowing hand weaving its own distinctive enchantment as the attentive, magical mouth descended to his balls, sucking them in, first one and then the other. He heard his own soft moan rise like smoke as Starsky paid them lavish attention, swirling his tongue around and around them, laving a little further down and then back up and around, again and again, building up the heavenly, nearly unbearable sensations bombarding every nerve until Hutch thought that he might die if they continued, knew that he most certainly would if they did not.

When Starsky's mouth finally reclaimed his tumescent arousal it was both a torment and a salvation. Hutch's sense of time and order and sequence ceased to exist as he lost himself in the consummate perfection of Starsky's loving, the fiery point of contact becoming the center of a coiling urgency winding itself tighter and tighter, and the key to its release was Starsky. Starsk ... loving me like this ... Overwhelmed by the poignant sensuality of the moment, Hutch felt tears spring up once again in his eyes but ignored them, allowing their flowing as a natural and inevitable part of the mystery unfolding within him ... He became aware of a sense of fate fulfilled, an internal chaos mystically transformed into a kaleidoscope ... He imagined its complex, colorful design in the form of a door that had been waiting, always, to be opened in just this way, awaiting his passage into the radiance beyond, into a blinding luminescence that was love, their love, acknowledged and fulfilled ... The brilliance was staggering in its intensity and blazed before him, within him, sucking everything towards its burning center like a star whose gravity could not be resisted ... He knew that only by plunging into its depths could he be released, reborn, but he couldn't bear for the sweet rapture to end, even as he knew it could not sustain itself a moment longer ... The password to that blissful extinction was the only word he knew and as he plunged into its white hot center, heart and body and mind and soul, willing himself to shatter into a thousand pieces, he repeated it over and over again and again ... "David ... David ... David . . ."

He was slowly emerging from a place beyond time and space, a place in which all sense of himself as a solid being had ceased to exist. A gentle, familiar hand was sliding over him, reincarnating him, its warmth recreating him as a physical entity as everywhere it touched -- his shoulder, his side, his hip, his leg -- quivered into new existence. He turned into the warmth beside him and gathered it close, burying his face in the pliant softness of a neck, inhaling deeply the scent of security, tasting the salt of the skin beneath his lips. He felt strong, supple arms curving around him and with a long, satisfied sigh snuggled even closer into the embrace.

"I've missed you," whispered a soft voice close to his ear.

Starsky ...As he mentally formulated a response, he wondered briefly if his ability to speak was still intact. "Hi." It was the most eloquent speech he could muster at the moment. It sounded woefully inadequate, but it would have to do.

"Hi, yourself." The voice sounded slightly amused. "You back in the land of the livin'?"

"Hmmmm . . ."

Starsky laughed, a rich, resonant sound that was music to Hutch's ears. "I'll take that as a 'Yes'," he said, leaning over to kiss the top of Hutch's head. Yes, there was definitely amusement in his voice, and Hutch wondered if he opened his eyes would he find an expression to match. He had no desire to move, but he suddenly wanted very much to see his lover, so he gathered all the strength remaining in his boneless body and stirred, lifting himself on an elbow just enough to peer into the beloved face beside him. Starsky was smiling at him, love and laughter and something indefinable shining in his eyes, and Hutch couldn't help but to smile back.

"Welcome back, lover." The endearment went straight to Hutch's heart, a bursting bubble of unadulterated joy.

"Was I gone for very long?" He had no reliable memory of anything beyond his mind-blowing orgasm, although he vaguely remembered feeling that his entire being had been obliterated in that sublime moment and that there was nothing left of him afterwards except the endless sensation of falling then drifting on a sea of absolute bliss. Obviously, he'd fallen asleep, but for how long he had no idea.

"A little while. I wasn't keepin' track." Starsky hugged him close then, chuckling. "It's understandable. You, uh ... you went pretty wild there, towards the end." The self-satisfied note was unmistakable and Hutch could feel himself beginning to blush when his partner wickedly added, "What some people won't do to get on a first name basis."

"Yeah, well ... self-control in the throes of passion has never been my forte," he defended, adding peevishly, "You were none too silent yourself, you know."

"I had good reason not to be," came the smooth rejoinder, and it took Hutch a second or two before he recognized it as a compliment and felt his blush intensify.

"Yeah, well... I guess I could say the same thing," he replied, somewhat sheepishly.

"Just call me the 'Tasmanian Devil of Delight'," laughed Starsky, sounding ridiculously pleased with himself. Hutch lightly bit the shoulder closest to him in response, eliciting a high-pitched yelp of surprise.

"Hey! That hurt!" complained Starsky, obviously not meaning a word of it.

"I'll kiss it and make it better," offered Hutch.

"You'll be sorry if you don't."

Hutch smiled as he made good on his promise and then, still smiling, sank back down into Starsky's light embrace. He rested his head in the crook of Starsky's arm as he began to absently run his hand up and down Starsky's chest, loving the way the hair there felt as it lifted and smoothed under his stroking fingers. So soft ... like petting a puppy . . .

The whimsical thought almost made him laugh aloud, and then it came to him in a flash, the reality of where he was, of what he was doing, of what it all meant. Had it really been only this morning that he'd imagined them together like this, sharing this very moment, fantasizing about how it could it be? Was it only mere hours ago that the very thought of being here like this with Starsky had been an extravagant dream, a dream whose undeniable impossibility had caused him incredible, almost unbearable pain? It had been a dream too dangerous to even own existence, a dream to be vanquished, a dream to be forever denied. Now ... now it was the pain that seemed so far away, so distant, so unreal. There was no denying the rightness of what had happened, no doubt whatsoever in his mind that what had transpired between them had been real, that the feelings had been fully shared, that the desire had been mutual, that the physical and spiritual fulfillment they'd found with each other had been in some crazy way preordained. He knew it to be true, allowed himself to believe it, to own it. Suddenly it was the most natural thing in the world to be here in bed with Starsky, both naked as the day they were born, holding and stroking each other, sharing an afterglow as languid as the lovemaking had been intense. Hutch didn't question the reality of here and now, but he did wonder how it had all come about, and so abruptly ...'What's happening?' he'd asked an eternity ago, in another life. 'The truth,' Starsky had replied. But ... but how had he known? He'd been absolutely right, but how had he known?

"Shut it off, blintz."

"Huh?"

"I can hear ya thinkin'. Bad habit ya got."

Hutch hauled himself up onto his elbow again and regarded his bedmate with a slightly bemused expression on his face. "Starsk?"

"Hmm?"

"What happened this morning?"

Starsky regarded him uncertainly. "Is that a serious question?" he half-joked.

"Absolutely." Hutch was suddenly in a very serious mood. "C'mon, you know what I mean."

"Yeah . . ." he replied, propping himself up on his own elbow so that they now lay facing each other. "Yeah, I do." Starsky's eyes were downcast, the expression on his face at once thoughtful and shy. He looked suddenly very unsure of himself, very much the little boy lost. He finally looked up, met Hutch's unwavering gaze, opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again, frowning, once more looking away. Hutch found his hesitation endearing.

"Starsk? Hey, c'mon, it's only me."

Starsky smiled slightly at that, as if at some private joke. "Only you," he echoed with an odd, ironic emphasis. "Only you." He lifted his head to look at his companion and this time did not look away. "I loved makin' love with you, Hutch," came the candid, unvarnished declaration. Gone was the cocky playfulness of moments ago -- his expression was earnest, his sincere tone stripped of any pretence.

"Oh, Starsk ..."

"No, please, wait. Don't interrupt, don't say anythin' yet, please. Lemme ... lemme get this out, O.K.?" Hutch nodded, patiently vowing to bite his tongue, bide his time, though he desperately wanted to respond to the words in kind, to affirm them, to validate them. "It was ... it was like knowin' what it was really all about, for the first time in my life." Starsky shook his head slightly, as if in disbelief, his voice rising as he continued to speak, his eyes pleading for understanding. "I mean ... there's this little tiny part of me that even now is sayin', 'This is crazy, this is nuts, look at yourself, you're naked in bed with your best friend, what the hell d'ya think you're doin', you've just ... you've just had sex with your best friend, another man!'"

Starsky paused, pensive, and Hutch fought down a momentary panic at the words, willed himself to remain calm, and silent. When Starsky spoke again his voice was softer, suffused with quiet wonder, and his words set the blond's heart at ease. "But mostly inside is this ...this incredible feelin' of knowin' the truth, of ownin' it, of admittin' to myself that this is what I want, that nothin' that feels this ...this perfect could be wrong." He fell silent for a moment, then looked oddly defiant as he whispered, "And if God thinks it's wrong, then He's sorely mistaken."

"So much for omniscience," offered Hutch after a moment, wanting to clear the shadows he sensed forming about his lover.

He knew his instincts had been right when Starsky smiled, saying wryly, "Yeah, I never did trust know-it-alls. 'Cept maybe you."

Hutch returned the smile and after a brief pause Starsky continued. "If someone had told me yesterday that I'd be here like this today, with you, I'd've laughed and sent 'em packin' to the funny farm. But now? It's funny, the only things that seem crazy now are why all this didn't happen a lot earlier, and the thought of it not happenin' again and again and again. I mean, once it started, it was all so obvious that ... that this is exactly where I should be, where I belong. You don't question that kinda rightness, that kinda truth. You can't." Another pause, even briefer. "I guess it just all boils down to ... to I love you, an' I wanna be with you." The look he gave Hutch just then bordered on desperate. "Ya know?"

All that Hutch had been planning to say felt suddenly all twisted and tangled in the maelstrom of feelings filling him, flooding him, an emotional inundation that drowned coherent thought. Look at him, he really means that ... he's beautiful ... and brave ... "Yeah, I know," he managed to say in a voice suddenly gone hoarse with emotion. "Me, too." He knew he was on the verge of tears again, whether of relief or joy he couldn't tell, but he didn't want to cry, he wanted to talk. "God, if someone had told me yesterday that we'd be here like this today ... I would've decked him, would've wanted to kill him for being so thoughtless, so cruel, for playing such a mean trick. I've been in love with you for a long time, Starsk. I've ... I've dreamed about us together like this, I've thought about it a lot. I love you so much ... and there's a part of me that can't quite believe that I can say that to you now without the sky falling in, or the world ending, or something disastrous like that happening. I wanted to tell you, I really did. But ... I couldn't. I thought ... that you'd flip out, that I'd lose you, and I couldn't face that, not for anything. I never ... I never thought you could ever want this, too; never thought you could ever feel like I did ... like I do. But here you are, telling me, and I don't have any choice but to believe it, because . . ." His voice dropped to a reverent whisper as he reached to touch his lover's face. "Because making love with you was the most beautiful, right, and natural thing I've ever done in my entire life. It was like ... like it had to happen, like it had been waiting to happen since the beginning, and when it finally did, then nothing could stop it, it was that strong, that powerful, that ... that perfect." He paused, not quite knowing what to say next. Maybe he'd said it all, at least for now. Starsky's smile told him wordlessly that he was perfectly understood, wholly accepted, endlessly loved. He rubbed his face into the pillow, drying the wayward tears. Starsky laughed aloud at that moment, inching subtly closer, conspiratorially, his smile huge and his eyes alight with a mischievous glow.

"I've got it!" he proudly announced.

Things getting too soapy for you, partner? "You've got what?" Hutch asked suspiciously, because he knew that Starsky would expect no less.

"Ya know what else it was like?" The excitement was evident, Starsky as the little boy who couldn't wait to share the latest monumental discovery he'd made, like the fact that a magnet will stick to both the refrigerator and the toaster, or that Superman is really Clark Kent in disguise. "What?" He imbued the word with the appropriate long-suffering and humoring intonation. We'll always have this, too ... Don't know what I'd do without it . . .

"It was like Dorothy at the end of The Wizard of Oz -- you know, when the Good Witch tells her that she never actually had to do the yellow brick road thing at all, tellin' her that she could've gone home all along, 'cept she couldn't've, really, 'cause she just never knew how, 'cause she had to find out for herself!" The analogy was all Starsky, old movie buff extraordinaire, but he sounded serious, too, and Hutch realized that he wasn't being facetious at all.

Starsky flopped onto his back, now talking almost as if to himself. "That's exactly what it was like! Exactly!"

Hutch grappled with the analogy in earnest for a moment. "So... you're Dorothy?" he ventured. "Um . . ." Starsky thought about it for a second, as if the idea of actually assigning roles hadn't occurred to him before. "Um ... yeah," he decided. "Come to think of it, you could even be Glinda. That works. Hell, ya even got the hair color right," he added, reaching to tousle the blond locks.

"You've really got a thing about my hair, don't you?"

"What? Of course not!" The tousling turned into a sweeping caress. "Well, maybe. A little." He rolled back over, leaning to mouth the delicate strands, his hot breath sending goose bumps down Hutch's neck. "O.K., a lot. You've got me, I'm addicted to it, I can't get enough of it. Satisfied?"

"For the moment, maybe," Hutch smiled, then something clamoring for attention in the back of his head finally clicked, and there was a question he still needed to ask.

"Starsk? Starsk ... how did you know?"

"How did I know what? Better watch it, blintz, you're beginnin' to sound like me."

"I mean ... the last time I saw you was last night around one in the morning. The next thing I knew it was six-thirty and you'd shown up on my doorstep after walking around all night. You fell asleep on the sofa for maybe an hour or so, and then when you woke up ..." He didn't even have to finish the sentence to revive the memory completely, the tentative wonderment of that precious moment glowing within.

"You wanna know about the yellow brick road, doncha?" Starsky sounded oddly reluctant.

"Well ... yeah. You said yourself that yesterday you wouldn't have thought it possible. I mean, that's a pretty big jump to make in less than a day. I'm not complaining, believe me -- but I am ... curious. I mean ...what happened last night?"

"Last night . . ." Starsky began, then paused, evidently deciding that he needed to be a lot closer to Hutch for the proper telling of this particular tale. He molded himself to Hutch's side and snuggled close before trying again. "Last night was really . . ." A longer pause this time, then, "I mean, thinkin' about everythin' and then feelin' like I was an' then ..." The voice trailed off into silence. He ran his hand slowly up and down Hutch's chest and for a minute or two Hutch just let him think, himself savoring the miracle of the moment, of being able to hold him, of simply lying there with him, the two of them together in his bed, holding each other close. Hutch closed his eyes and listened to the rain, waiting for his lover to gather his thoughts.

Starsky finally shook his head, glancing up at Hutch apologetically. "It's ... it's hard to put into words," he admitted, then lay back down, exhaling a sigh of defeat. "I mean, I know what you wanna know, an' I know what it is, it's just that it all gets so complicated when I think about actually explainin' it." The side of his mouth quirked up in a wry grimace. "I guess there's so much there I just don't know where to start."

Hutch regarded him affectionately, compassionately. Words so often seemed to fail his friend when it came to talking seriously about his feelings. He could be extraordinarily articulate when the situation warranted it, but more often than not he tended to be economical with the English language, and especially with Hutch, given that verbal speech had long ago become a secondary mode of communication between them. Hutch understood his dilemma completely and now the only possible response to the hesitant, fractured speech he'd just heard was to lift his lover's chin in order to bestow a kiss -- brief, chaste, and wonderfully affirming. When it ended he rubbed Starsky's shoulder, giving it a slight squeeze, the tried and true shorthand they'd established long ago for 'It's O.K., I understand, take it easy, we'll see this through.' Aloud he suggested helpfully, "Why don't you just start from the beginning?"

Starsky sighed, then smiled. "O.K.," he said, "I'll give it a shot." He paused for a deep breath, then started to speak. "I was born in Brooklyn, New York at two fifty-three p.m. on ..."

Whatever he'd been saying was lost in the muffling of the pillow that Hutch was smothering him with. After a brief tussle the larger man finally relented, lifting the pillow and glaring at his partner. "Are you ready to get serious?" he demanded.

"Well, you said ..."

"I know what I said, birdbrain! You're incorrigible!"

"Yeah, and you love it."

"Sometimes," Hutch admitted. He paused, trying to gauge his friend's mood. "Is this really that hard to talk about?" he finally asked.

Starsky reclaimed his big blond human pillow and settled back down. "I guess not. It's just really weird, ya know? I mean ... Oh, hell, I don't know what I mean. Ever since Dobey sat down that mornin' to tell us about John I've been feelin' so messed up inside -- really confused, really angry, really down -- but I just totally threw myself into the case and didn't really let myself think about it, about what his death really meant to me, so it didn't really all hit me until yesterday. Funerals do that, I guess."

Hutch nodded his understanding.

"An' when it was all over I still felt so churned up inside, and thinkin' about John just brought so much other stuff back." He reached out to grab Hutch's hand, held it tightly. "I don't hafta tell you all this stuff. You were there, you know all about it." He craned his neck backwards, looking up soberly into Hutch's crystal blue eyes for a moment. "You were there for me, you listened to me, you helped me sort through a lotta stuff. Like always. You're always there for me, Hutch. When I told ya that last night I was thinkin', 'Who else could I be like this with? Who else could I spew this stuff to? Who else would wanna slog through this emotional muck with me?' For as long as I can remember you've been the one I count on more than anyone else, an' maybe sometimes I take that for granted."

"Hey, it's a two-way street, buddy," Hutch felt compelled to remind him. "And like I said, being there for you is where I want to be. Always. You know?"

"Yeah, I do know. An' ... an' that's sorta the point, isn't it? Two people wantin' to give to each other, wantin' to be there for each other, not havin' to feel weird about takin' what's offered? Seems like it's been that way between us for a real long time."

"But that's a far cry from this," Hutch remarked, kissing Starsky's hand meaningfully.

"Is it? Well, yeah, sorta, I guess. But I wasn't even thinkin' about that part of it yet. Even after you left -- and oh, by the way, you might be interested in knowin' that I started missin' you not two minutes after you drove away. I've never told'ya this before, but that happens a lot." Starsky shook his head, laughing, an almost silent quiver, as if to himself. "It's crazy, but it's true. We can spend the whole day together an' even half the night, yet the minute you're not there I start wantin' to be with you again. Even if we've been arguin', even if you've been drivin' me crazy. I guess that shoulda told me somethin' long ago, but it didn't. At least not in any way I was prepared to listen to. I mean, it's been that way for years."

"It's the same for me, Starsk," Hutch was quick to interject. "Sometimes I feel like ... like I measure time itself by when I'm with you versus when I'm not."

"Oh, yeah? Go figure. Anyway, what I was sayin' was that when you left I was feelin' better in some ways -- thanks to you -- but my head was still spinnin' with all this other stuff, all these really big questions."

"Questions about me? About us?"

"Well ... sorta. In a roundabout kinda way." Evidently deciding that having sustained eye contact with Hutch was now more important than using him for a pillow, Starsky sat up. "I was gettin' ready for bed an' I was still thinkin' all about John at that point, an' about death in general, really depressin' stuff. I was wonderin' how many people die without ever really gettin' what they wanted outta life, figurin' it was probably a lot of 'em, an' that got me really thinkin' about myself, about how if I was to die tomorrow, would I -- oh, for Pete's sake, Hutch! It's a hypothetical question!"

"O.K., O.K. Sorry. Go on." Is it that obvious?

"So I started thinkin' to myself, 'O.K., you're thirty-two years old, you're not a kid anymore. If you died tomorrow, what would you regret not doin', not havin'?' Ya know what I figured out?"

"What?"

"Interestingly enough, I figured out that I was pretty satisfied with my life, on the whole. The only gapin' hole was ... was havin' a relationship. A real relationship. You know what I mean. An' this is where all the Jewish stuff I'd been thinkin' about started comin' into it. I mean, marriage is like the most important mitsvot there is. Katz would ..."

"Mitsvot?"

"Commandment. Sorry. Ain't'cha ever wondered about the Jewish mother stereotype, about how they're always buggin' their kids to go out an' find some nice Jewish boy or girl to marry? I'll tell ya somethin', the stereotype ain't that far from the truth. You should just listen to my Aunt Rosie, it'd drive ya crazy. Anyway, I was gettin' ready for bed and thinkin' about Katz talkin' about how the first commandment in the Torah was 'bear fruit and multiply', and about how that's why Jews gotta get married -- to other Jews, of course. He said it was that, an' also 'cause people hafta have a 'helpmate' for ... for 'mutual comfort and companionship'."

His eyes bored into Hutch's, who felt his insides go molten at the intensity of the gaze. Starsky's voice lowered as he continued. "I started thinkin' about how it was after Terry died, about how angry I'd been. Back then I'd pretty much decided that there was no way there was a God, no fuckin' way. I also started thinkin' that I'd probably never get married. But as the weeks went by an' life started makin' sense again, I started thinkin' a lot about you, about how if it hadn't been for you I probably wouldn't've survived it at all, and one night as I was lyin' in bed it occurred to me that if there was a God, and if He was ultimately benevolent an' all, like they said, an' if He did have a soft spot in His heart for Jews, then maybe ... maybe He was the one who made you a part my life, so that even if I didn't ever get married, I'd have ... a 'helpmate'. I mean, I was still callin' it bein' best friends, but even back then I think maybe I knew deep down it was more than that, that 'best friend' wasn't really the right word for what you were to me. But I didn't have another one, so that's what I kept calling it."

Hutch knew he should say something, desperately wanted to, but the lump in his throat was too big. The look on Starsky's face told him that words weren't necessary, anyway. They never have been ... not where it counts . . .

"On that incredibly soapy note," continued Starsky, "I am going to go to the bathroom." He paused. "But I don't wanna get out of bed." He looked plaintively at Hutch, who shrugged.

"Sorry, lover," he whispered, finding that his voice could be squeezed past the lump if he kept it very small. "If you want bedpan service, check yourself into Memorial."

"O.K., fine, I'm goin'." He bent over to steal a kiss and Hutch couldn't help but hold him there for a very long time, finding the deep, sweet contact a suitable substitute for words, wondering how they'd survived before without being able to share this magically eloquent form of speech. Starsky was a little breathless when Hutch finally let him go, his eyes a little glazed. "On second thought, maybe I can wait ..."

"Go!" Hutch commanded, before he could succumb to the temptation himself. Starsky still hadn't really gotten around to telling him how he'd come to be here this morning, initiating the contact like he had, and Hutch still very much needed to know. "You're not squirming out of this one," he informed him. "So just go and hurry back." He gave the figure a playful slap on its behind as it rose. "I'll keep the bed warm," he promised.

"You'd better," warned the retreating form. "I hate cold beds."

"Me, too."

Hutch closed his eyes after Starsky left the bedroom, thinking how silly it was to miss someone who was just in the other room, listening to the sounds he made, following his movements and progress in his mind's eye, wondering at the detour to the kitchen, counting the seconds until his return. It wasn't a long wait, for which Hutch was grateful, and his lover soon reappeared with a couple of large glasses of orange juice and a plate of buttered toast which he set between them on the bed. Hutch took one of the glasses from him and guzzled half of it at once, wondering how he could have possibly been so thirsty and not have realized it. He didn't know if it was his thirst or his circumstance that made the juice the most delicious thing he'd ever drunk. Except for you ... The thought bordered on lascivious and Hutch put it aside with the half-empty glass. Later . . .

They munched in silence for a minute or two, Starsky sitting cross-legged on the bed next to and facing Hutch, himself reclining against the pillows he'd propped against the brass headboard, the plate of rapidly disappearing toast between them. "You know what they say about time healin' all wounds?" Starsky eventually asked, slowly sipping his juice. The other nodded, mouth full, watching Starsky's Adam's apple bob in his throat as he swallowed.

"Well, I sorta wonder about it."

"How do you mean?"

"Well ... I don't think it woulda worked if Prudholm had done somethin' to you like he did to Terry." He silently sought Hutch's hand, found it, held it. "That's what I was thinkin' about last night as I got into bed. Thinkin' about Terry, about losin' her an' all that meant, then thinkin' about you, thinkin' about if things'd been different, about maybe not havin' you in my life anymore, about how ... how inconceivable that was. I mean, life went on after Terry, eventually. I don't think the same could ever've been said about you. I wondered about that, about what it meant that I loved you more than anyone else, needed you more than anyone else. And I wondered about how fair it would've been to Terry if we had gotten married. I mean, that was one of the things that was so special about her, ya know? The way she accepted you, your place in my life, never makin' me feel like I had to make a choice or anythin'. But the fact is -- an' I knew this even then -- that there was no one ever gonna mean more to me than you did. I knew it, but I never really thought about it. I mean, it was just somethin' I took for granted. But last night I was thinkin' about it a lot, wonderin' what it meant." He fell into a pensive silence, slowly drinking his juice.

"Is that why you couldn't sleep?" asked Hutch.

Starsky shook his head, draining his glass and setting it next to Hutch's on the nightstand, followed by the empty plate. "Nah. It was all spinnin' around in my head, though, as I was fallin' asleep. I didn't sleep long, though. An hour, maybe a little more. I, uh ... I had this really weird dream and it was after that I couldn't sleep."

Hutch waited for his partner to continue, but it soon became obvious that a little prodding was in order. "Well?"

"Well, what?"

Hutch gave an exasperated sigh. "Well, what did you dream about?"

"Hold your horses! I'm tryin' to remember it all!"

"Sorry." The apology was only slightly chagrined.

"I can't remember how it started," Starsky finally admitted. "I remembered when I first woke up, but it's gone now. Somethin' big was goin' on, some festival or big event of some kind. I dunno. It was weird. I do remember that there were all these people around, an' they were all really happy, really excited, an' they were all goin' to this ... this thing, whatever it was, an' everyone was singin' an' shoutin' an' just havin' a great time. I wanted to go, too, but I couldn't find you, an' I knew that I didn't wanna go without you, so I started lookin', tryin' to find ya in the crowd. Then ... I don't know how it happened, but suddenly I was in this great big house, this really old Victorian-type house with really high ceilings an' lace curtains in the windows an' all this fancy woodwork all over the place." Starsky paused, smiling.

"What?"

"I love houses like that," he said.

"Me, too." One step at a time . . .

"Anyway, I started wanderin' around lookin' for you, checkin' out all these different rooms, but you weren't in any of 'em. At one point I'm comin' outta this one room and there's Maggie an' Terry standin' in the hallway. Funny, in the dream it didn't seem strange to me that they were there, an' I asked 'em if they'd seen you and Maggie said that she hadn't seen you since breakfast and Terry said, 'Why don't you look upstairs?' So I go up this weird curvy staircase an' the upstairs was really different from the downstairs, like it was a different house or somethin'. I mean, downstairs it was all furnished like a real house, but when I got up these stairs there was just this really really really long hallway with doors on both sides, rows of identical doors like in a hotel or somethin'. An' I started walkin' down this hallway but insteada lookin' in all the rooms like I'd been doin' before I just kept walkin' past 'em, not even botherin' to open the doors. Finally I got to the end of the hallway an' there was this other door there, an' for some reason I was sorta scared to open it, so I just sorta stood there. Then I started hearin' voices an' I got curious, so I opened the door even though I was still a little scared an' I'm in this enormous bedroom, this huge bedroom that's bigger'n my whole apartment. I didn't hear the voices anymore, but on the other side of the room -- an' this is really far away, this room's so big -- I can see these people in bed, an' I figure I should just leave, but for some reason I can't, for some reason I can't help gettin' closer an' closer to the bed and suddenly I see it's these two guys an' I'm thinkin', 'Oh, my God, it's John and Peter, does Maggie know they're here?' but then all of a sudden I knew that it wasn't John an' Peter, that it was ... that it was you an' me, an' we were ...we were makin' it together, an' I just stood there like this peepin' Tom watchin' us ..." He paused for a deep, tremulous breath, as if preparing to force the next words out of his mouth. "I was watchin' us fuck, an' that's when I woke up."

Starsky gave Hutch an assessing look. "Don't tell me -- you're thinkin' to yourself, 'Freud would have a field day', aren't'cha?"

"Jung, actually. Close, but no cigar. "

"Whatever. Ya know, it seems pretty obvious tellin' it now, but at the time I was well, pretty weirded out. I mean, I'd never dreamed about us like that before! Never! An' of course to make matters even more complicated, I had to wake up with a hard on."

"You're blushing," Hutch teased.

"It's still kinda embarrassin'," Starsky admitted.

"Hey... I don't mind. Starsk, you never have to feel embarrassed with me. O.K.?"

"Well, I'll try not to ..."

Remembering his own awakening that morning, Hutch couldn't help but ask, "So, uh did you jerk off?"

Starsky's blush spread, but he didn't hesitate to answer. "No, as a matter of fact I didn't." He looked curiously at Hutch. "What, does that surprise you?"

"Uh, yeah, a little. I dunno, I sort of thought that you might. I mean; I woke up this morning in the same condition, and I did." I can't believe we 're actually talking about this.

"Well, jolly for you," came the somewhat sarcastic rejoinder. "I happened to be a little too flipped out at the time!" He was sounding defensive.

"Hey, c'mon! I'm on your side, remember?" Hutch reached out to rub an arm, his loving, supportive gaze never leaving Starsky's as the latter visibly calmed.

"Yeah, O.K., sorry. This is ...strange to talk about, ya know?"

"Believe me, I know. But it's good, too, isn't it?" The insecure blond suddenly needed very much to be reassured himself.

"Yeah, it is. It's more than good, it's ... somethin' we gotta do, I guess." Hutch nodded his agreement. "Anyway, like I was sayin', I was flipped out. I just lay there, shakin', scared to death of touchin' myself 'cause I couldn't get the scene outta my head, couldn't stop thinkin' about you an' me in that bed, doin' what we were doin', an' I started thinkin', 'This is crazy, this is just 'cause of tonight, 'cause of John, 'cause Hutch was huggin' me so tight an 'cause we were talkin' about John an' Peter an' all an' 'cause I was thinkin' before about how much I love him an' it's just a dream anyway an' it don't mean nothin' at all,' an' ... an' ... an' then . . ."

Starsky had started speaking so rapidly that Hutch could barely keep up with the flood of words, and now just as suddenly he'd stopped, catching his breath, looking truly confused.

"And then?"

"An' then from outta the blue came this voice in my head tellin' me to shut the fuck up an' listen." He shrugged, helplessly. "I dunno what it was, all I knew was that all of a sudden I couldn't stay in that bed for another second an' I just threw on my clothes, grabbed my jacket an' I was outta there. I guess ... I guess maybe that was around three or so; I think I remember noticin' the time as I passed the clock at the bank down the street. I ran outta there so fast I didn't even put on my watch."

"That's fast."

"Really. Anyway, I started calmin' down eventually an' that's when I knew I had to really think about this stuff goin' on inside of me, think about the fact that every single train of thought I had ... led me somehow back to you. I couldn't get you outta my head, Hutch. I couldn't. An' then it hit me that that wasn't actually so surprisin', 'cause I think about you all the time. An' then I started thinkin' about what that meant, about why I think about you all the time, an' then I remembered talkin' to you about John, about how I thought that maybe he didn't listen to his heart soon enough, an' then I knew, deep down, that I had a lot to figure out."

He started drawing invisible patterns on Hutch's chest, tracing them with a fingertip. "So there I was walkin' down Sepulveda in the middle of the night, thinkin' about how my best friend was ... was already everythin' to me. I kept askin' myself, 'What does it mean? What does it mean that I always wanna be with him, what does it mean that nothin' makes any sense unless I share it with him, what does it mean that the only thing I don't think I could handle is a life without him in it?' An' that voice kept comin' back to me. 'Listen to your heart,' it kept sayin', 'Listen to your heart.' An' all of a sudden I did."

Starsky's eyes closed and his hand stilled, as if he were transfixed by his inner vision. "I'll never forget that moment, Hutch, not for as long as I live." He opened his eyes. "It just hit me. Like a tonna bricks. I was standin' in front of this drug store when I realized that everythin' I've always wanted was ... was you, an' that it was all right there under my nose, that we already had it all -- trust, commitment, laughter, love... everythin'! The only thing missin' was... was sex, and that's no big deal when ya think about everythin' else. I was just standin' there, leanin' against the store window, thinkin' about the dream, an' about John, an' Katz, an' suddenly I knew what I wanted. An' it reminded me a little about how it felt a long time ago when I realized that I didn't wanna date just Jewish women, an' kept wonderin' why everyone thought it was so wrong when it seemed fine to me ... I remembered decidin' that I was just gonna do what I felt was right, that if my family or my rabbi didn't agree, well, fuck 'em, that it was their problem, not mine. I know it sounds silly now, but it was a really big deal for me at the time. An' it occurred to me then that ... that maybe this wasn't so different. I mean, I'd really thought about John a lot, an' I'd really decided that it was O.K. that he was ... gay. That it didn't make him any less of a man, any less who he was. An' then I thought, 'Well, what's gay, anyway?' Men lovin' men? Peter in love with John, John in love with Peter? Me lovin' you ... me bein' in love with you? An' suddenly, it made so much sense! I mean, we were already so close, an' we'd always been comfortable touchin' an' stuff, an' I thought about how good it felt, how good it's always felt when you're holdin' me, how safe an' wonderful an' warm an' all ...an' I remembered gettin' hard 'cause of the dream, an' then I suddenly thought 'Well, why not?' An' then of course I thought, 'What the hell are you talkin' about! That's crazy!' An' then I thought ... no, then I knew that no, it wasn't crazy. What was crazy was runnin' away from it all. It was like this thing that'd been hidden just sorta blew up in fronta my face, right there in fronta the drug store, and I just knew that I had to see you, that I had to tell you about all this stuff, to tell you that ... that I loved you an' that I ...that I wanted to ... to try it, to see if we really could have it all. An' that's when I started headin' towards Venice. I felt ... like I'd finally recognized somethin' really important in myself, like just maybe everythin' would be O.K., an' I was really excited about comin' over an' tellin' you an' all."

A note of bemusement crept into his voice then, and he cocked his head to the side for a moment, reminding Hutch a little bit of the RCA Victor dog. "An' then it crossed my mind that maybe ... that maybe you might not want the same thing. But then the second it crossed my mind -- an' this is gonna sound crazy -- but just when I thought that maybe you wouldn't feel the same way, I somehow just knew that you did." He shrugged. "Intuition, I guess. Or maybe you were sendin' out signals. I mean, I do know ya pretty well an' if you've been feelin' this way for a while, then I may've picked up on it somehow. Maybe. I dunno. Anyway, that's when I started second guessin' myself, all the way here. Thinkin' about tellin' you this big revelation I'd had about wantin' to be with you, thinkin' about how I'd do it, thinkin' about what I'd do if you told me to get lost. But it was funny, I couldn't even really take that part very seriously, 'cause I just had this ... this feelin' that it would be O.K. I mean, the thought, 'Hutch is in love with me, too,' never crossed my mind in so many words, but I just couldn't imagine you sayin' no. Maybe that's why I wasn't so surprised when you said that you'd been thinkin' about it for a long time. I guess maybe subconsciously I already knew." He began to laugh. "Listen to me. That sounds so cocky. But I knew what I knew, an' I was determined to just ...to just talk to you an' to see what would happen. I mean, once I figured it out, I wasn't about to keep it to myself. An' I knew that if I didn't do it right away, then I was probably gonna lose my nerve." He gave Hutch a rather intense look before asking, "Does any of this make sense to you?"

Hutch, who'd been listening to the long, involved tale with avid fascination, nodded as he voiced the conviction that had taken shape in his mind as Starsky had been speaking. "Yeah, it does. But, I mean ... you were right. About everything. You've always been real intuitive, Starsk. It all makes perfect sense, now that I think about it."

"What does, exactly?"

"That once it hit you you'd act so impulsively. I mean, it's what you do, you know? Me? I think, I consider, and when there's a big decision to make, I stew. You know that about me. Hell, you complain about it often enough. How many times have you told me, 'Loosen up, you're too uptight, relax, go with the flow?' Right? Right. It's just the way I am. But you? You're really different. You ... you figure out all the angles in the wink of an eye and just ...just go with it. You're a doer. Do you disagree?"

Starsky considered the words and shook his head. "Nah. I learned a long time ago that for me, even makin' a wrong decision was better than sittin' an' stewin' about what decision to make in the first place. 'Cause even a wrong decision brings consequences, and consequences are always easier to deal with than possibilities."

"Yeah, 'cause you like things tangible. Like I said, you're a doer. So it makes sense that once you'd come to some sort of realization that you'd want to act on it. Me? I ... I couldn't. And it was hell." Hutch suddenly felt inadequate. "You know something, Starsk?" he asked softly. "I wish I were as brave as you. I wish ... I wish I could've trusted myself the way you did."

"What the hell are you talkin' about? Brave, nothin'! I felt so dumb, I mean, you're the one who figured out what was what long before I did. I feel like I shoulda known, that I shoulda felt it a long time ago. It's like ... like I was blind or somethin', or for some stupid reason runnin' away from somethin' that was right in fronta me all the time. I mean, I had to get really shaken up before I stopped runnin' away from myself an' started listenin' to what I really wanted."

"So ... so you're not mad that ... that I was keeping this from you?" Damn it, he was going to say it, come clean. "Lying to you, sort of? Like John?"

Starsky looked thoroughly taken aback, as if that thought had never occurred to him. He gave it due attention, then just shrugged. "What choice did you have? Knowin' me the way you do, knowin' my assumptions an' all ... I don't even know how I woulda reacted if you'd've told me before. I mean, I'd like to think that maybe I'd've been O.K. with it, that I'd've let it happen, an' after that I don't think the end result would've been any different. But who knows? Maybe I would've been a first-class jerk about it. Maybe ... maybe I just had to be like Dorothy an' figure it out for myself, ya know?"

Hutch, immensely relieved, nodded. "For everything there is a season?"

"Somethin' like that. But ya know, I'm sorta glad that you'd been thinkin' about it an' all."

"Oh, yeah? How come?"

"Well, I feel really bad that it was so hard for you for so long, I really do ... but it sure as hell made it easier for me. I mean, not sayin' 'no' is still different from bein' ready to say 'yes'. An' you were ready to say 'yes'."

Suddenly something occurred to Hutch.

"Starsk? If you were so gung ho about telling me your big revelation and so sure that I wouldn't say no, what the hell were you doing sitting out in the hall?"

"Cold feet," was the immediate, succinct reply.

"Oh. And I suppose I didn't help matters any by yelling at you."

"Well, no. But that's O.K.. I just figured I'd take things as they came, that I'd play it by ear and see what happened. I dunno, I wasn't plannin' on fallin' asleep but after not sleepin' a lot an' walkin' around all that time, I guess I couldn't help it. And then wakin' up, seein' ya there lookin' at me, watchin' over me . . ." His voice dropped low. "You were lookin' at me with so much love on your face ... God, Hutch, I swear I don't know how I coulda been so blind. It was all right there, shinin' in your face, everythin' you felt, an' suddenly I knew I could do it, that I could show you how I felt, too, without even sayin' a word ..."

For a long moment then they were still, gazing at one another, sharing the memory, sharing the wonder of how far they'd both come, together. Hutch opened his arms in wordless invitation and Starsky went eagerly, tumbling into the loving embrace. Hutch nosed aside the curls covering an ear and whispered simply, "I'm glad you reached out."

"I'm glad you were there," came the heartfelt reply and then Starsky snuggled close, pressing his ear to Hutch's chest; "I can hear your heart beatin'," he whispered. "It's beautiful."

"So are you."

They said nothing further for quite some time, measurelessly content to simply share their silence and the sound of ceaseless rain. Starsky was the first to stir, turning in his lover's arms and reaching up to stroke his hair. "I was thinkin' about how much I missed it," he explained in a hushed whisper, combing his fingers through the longish blond strands. "I've never touched anything so soft. It's so delicate, which is real strange, 'cause you're so strong. God, I love this." He looked penetratingly at Hutch. "Not as much as I love you, of course," and whatever Hutch might have replied was lost in a kiss that was undeniably Starsky's. Hutch followed his lead at every turn, thrilled to the core by his wanton inventiveness, meeting his demanding tongue stroke for stroke, passion for passion, loving the way his own heart soared as he held his spirited lover close, sharing the love so long denied by both, each in a different way. Starsky ended the kiss with a series of moist touches to Hutch's still parted lips and as he drew away Hutch couldn't help but to follow, demanding just a little more, unwilling to relinquish the succulent treasure.

"I was wrong, Starsk," he finally said, lips still tingling. "You are an exceptional kisser."

"So now you know," was the smug reply.

"Snot."

"Is that the best you can do? Tsk-tsk. I'm disappointed."

"Give me a thesaurus."

"Mr. Eloquence needs a thesaurus?"

"To describe you?" All that you are, all that you mean to me? "You'd better believe it," he affirmed, unable to resist returning to his lover's mouth. I can tell you now, I can show you ... His heart had wings and gravity seemed non-existent as the long kiss took him to far away places and distant shores, and then he was swimming in a warm sea, floating weightless, letting the waves wash over him and take him away ...and then the waves grew solid, taking on substance, assuming human form, and that form was his lover, warm and real, pulling him down, and he had no desire to resist ...

"Hutch?"

"What?"

"What are we gonna do now?"

Hutch wanted to tell him to shut up and keep kissing him, that the question was absurd, that the answer was obvious, but something in the words made him open his eyes. "What are you talking about?"

The answering voice was as breathless as his own. "Well, I was just thinkin' about us kissin' an' all, thinkin' about how addictin' it's gettin', an' about how it's gonna be now that, well, you know ... I mean, what are we gonna do about everythin'?"

Hutch had no interest in thinking about anything except following the kiss to its inevitable conclusion. He rolled over, pulling Starsky with him, effectively pinning him underneath his larger frame. "Let's take an ad out in The Times," he breathed into Starsky's open mouth between kisses, feeling the first twinges of a burgeoning erection that he had no intention of ignoring. "Full page."

"No, Hutch, I'm serious," protested Starsky. "What about mrpmph . . ." Hutch's hand over his mouth effectively silenced him.

"Problems later," he urged. "We'll talk about it, I promise, we'll figure it all out later, together, O.K.?" He removed his hand, replaced it with his mouth, and was soon rewarded with a whimper of need and the stirrings of an arousal to match his own. "But for now? Please, Starsk, just ... just let me love you?" Hutch watched as Starsky's luminous blue eyes seemed to melt in front of his own and he sensed his acquiescence.

His dark lover gathered him close and whispered into his ear. "We'll love each other ..."

********************

For those who love, nothing is impossible." Elizabeth Barrett Browning