This story is a sequel to "Alternate" by Pam Rose, which appeared in TRACE ELEMENTS, and can now be found on the Archive. This story originally appeared in Who You Know, What You Know, and How You Know It from 1983. This zine is still in print and can be obtain from Agent with Style: www.agentwithstyle.com. Special thanks go to Lyndsay for typing and proof-reading. Comments about this story can be sent to: flamingolim@erols.com, and will be forwarded to the author.

Author's Note: This is a warning to anyone who cares to heed it. The "POV" in this story, as usual, bounces around with as much determination as those tennis balls at Wimbledon—to borrow a slick phrase from a reviewer. In my S/H stories, everyone has balls!

The Other End of The Line

by

Pamela Rose

Starsky hung up the phone with a frown. Weird, definitely weird. He tucked the report back into the folder, absently noting the mustard stain on the cover. He'd have to get a new one before he turned this in or Minnie would have his balls.

Kathy had emerged from the bathroom a moment before and was now in the kitchen. She came back with two glasses of wine. Starsky accepted his and sipped it thoughtfully.

"What was that all about?"

"Huh? What?"

"Was that Hutch on the phone?"

"Uh, yeah. He needed some information."

"Naturally. Every time I'm here he needs something. If I didn't know better, I'd think he was jealous."

Starsky hardly heard what she was saying. He nodded blankly, still studying the mustard stain on the manila folder.

She chuckled. "Are you agreeing with me or ignoring me?"

He started. "Oh...sorry. I was thinking about something else."

"Obviously." She snuggled closer. "Want to start thinking about me now?"

He kissed her, but broke away after a minute. "Listen, Kath, would you mind if we cut this short tonight? It's late, and I...I have some stuff to work on."

She stared at him, almost insulted, but the sweetly apologetic smile was too much to resist. "Sure, Dave. I've got a flight tomorrow anyway."

"Thanks, Kath, you're a doll." He started to reach for the phone.

"Dave, you have to drive me home, remember?"

"Oh. Yeah." He paused. "Uh, let me make a quick call first, okay?" He let it ring ten times before he dropped the receiver back on the hook. "Damn, where is he?" he muttered, looking confused.

"You ready?" Kathy asked huffily. It was becoming obvious that Starsky had almost forgotten she was there.

"For what?" he asked blankly.

"To drive me home!"

"Oh, I'm sorry, baby. I'm kinda worried about Hutch. He's been acting a little strange lately and—"

"I think you're both strange," she retorted, heading for the door.

Starsky shrugged and followed.

He dropped her off at her condo, and without thinking about it, automatically turned his car toward Venice.

Hutch's car was parked out front, but the apartment upstairs was dark. Starsky sat in the Torino for a long time, wondering if he should go up and wake his partner. If nothing was wrong, Hutch would kill him. But something had to be wrong. He could feel it. Had been feeling it for months now. But if Hutch had a problem, he would tell him. Wouldn't he? Wasn't that how it worked? And if Hutch didn't tell him, he'd damn well drag it out of him!

With a soft curse, he opened the car door. At the top of the stairs, he paused again. This was a rotten time to start a heavy conversation. Better to wait. But he couldn't leave without making certain Hutch was all right.

He tapped lightly on the door, not really expecting an answer. Hutch would probably be asleep by now. Slipping the key off the ledge, he unlocked the door and opened it as quietly as possible. The apartment was dark.

Feeling a little foolish and overly cautious, he moved silently toward the bedroom and peeked around the door. The bed was unrumpled and empty.

Puzzled, he turned on a light and made a quick survey of the rest of the apartment. Hutch's car was out front; where could he be at this time of night? There were no ladies in Hutch's life at the present—or none Starsky knew of. Hutch wouldn't go running this late, would he? Hutch had said he was at home when he called.

Starsky sat down on the couch and tried to think it out. The phone call had been strange, disjointed, and vaguely disquieting. Suddenly, without knowing why, Starsky was positive Hutch had not made that phone call from here. So where had he been? And why the snow job about that damned report? What was Hutch trying to say to him?

~~~

The hustler turned the collar of his leather jacket up against the cold. It was getting late and the street was lonelier than ever, the fog pressed down like cold smoke, smothering the city. He'd only had three customers all night—and one of those had been a big bruiser who slapped the shit out of him and took back his ten bucks. Maybe it would be better to hit a few of the bars—but he hated that. Meat racks, too much competition. He preferred to go it alone. Still...

He fished a lonely dime out of the pocket of his tight jeans and stepped into the phone booth. He shivered even more inside the glass box, feeling the dampness pour off the walls; drops of water clung to the dirt windows. The ring sounded distant and tinny in his ear.

"Snooky's Pool."

"Marty? Is Clint there?"

"Hey Clint! Your babykins on the line—" There was a snort of laughter and some loud voices mixed with the click of balls across stained felt. A long pause, then:

"Kid? I told you not to call here, dammit."

"Sorry. I... Listen, I'm not doing so good tonight. How about you?"

Tense silence. "Yeah, well..."

"No sense in staying out any longer," the hustler said quickly. "It's cold as hell out here and I'm having zilch for luck. I'm going back to the—"

"Don't bother."

"What?"

"The bastard pitched us out. Wouldn't give back our clothes even. Said he'd keep 'em till he saw some of the back rent. Ain't that a pisser?"

"Oh shit. Well, I've got thirty bucks; we can find someplace for tonight anyway. You want me to meet you there?"

The silence stretched out.

"Clint?"

"Yeah. I'm here. Listen kid, I been thinking. Things haven't been working out so good for me here. Time to split town. I met an old pal tonight and he's got something good on in 'Frisco. Guess I'll take a run up there with him for a few weeks."

The hustler clenched his jaw for a second to stop his teeth from chattering. He swallowed. "You coming back?"

"Sure...sure. A few weeks, a month maybe. You know how it is."

"Yeah, I know."

"I'll look you up when I get back, promise. Maybe I'll have some dough then and we can get a decent place for a change."

"Sure, Clint," he answered hollowly.

"Take care, kid."

The hustler hung up the phone slowly, tracing the scratches on the receiver with his forefinger. "Damn..." he said softly, feeling an emptiness creep inside him. "Who the hell cares," he snarled to himself, slamming back the door.

He paused on the sidewalk, wondering where to go now. He had thirty bucks. That would get him through a day or two, or longer if he stretched it carefully enough.

"You sellin', pretty boy?"

He swung around, straightening his shoulders instinctively. This john was old, paunchy and smelled like he'd taken a dip in a vat of Mogan David. "What are you buyin'?" the hustler asked coolly.

"Head. Twenty bucks, no more."

For a split second, he almost walked away. But the blackness inside him pushed him forward. "You got it. The alley?"

The man shook his head. "Let's go down a few blocks."

The john might be drunk, but he wasn't stupid. Too many times hustlers lured their customers into an alley to be rolled. Safer to pick your own ground.

Three blocks down, he motioned to an abandoned lot across the street. "Over there."

The hustler followed him silently, refusing to think or feel. The john paused to take a leak, and the hustler's stomach lurched uncontrollably. Shaking off the last drops, the man rubbed his cock lovingly and moved toward the boy. "Okay, hit the bricks, baby."

"Let me see green first," the hustler said flatly.

"You don't trust me, you little twerp?"

Before he could answer, there was a loud clatter from a few yards away.

The man tucked himself back in hastily. "Hey, what's going on? You ain't settin' me up, you punk!" He scrambled off.

The hustler started to take off as well, when he heard the moan. He paused uncertainly. It was probably an old wino. But the next moan spoke more of pain than delusions.

Through the fog it was impossible to see anything clearly. He moved closer very gingerly, ready to sprint away. A body lay wedged between some smashed garbage cans and a pile of broken cement blocks. It tried to sit up and a can clanked against another noisily.

The hustler approached slowly and pulled the cans away, then stepped back, a little startled. It was the blond of a few hours back. The side of his face and the light hair were black with blood.

"Jesus, somebody sure kicked the shit out of you, Ken/Hutch," the hustler mumbled to himself. "That's what you get for doing naughty things with boys."

Instinctively, he checked the pockets of the jacket and pants for money or credit cards. Stripped clean, of course. Gun was gone, too, naturally.

Then he caught sight of the wallet lying a few feet away. He snatched it up, wondering why they had left it. Then he opened it and saw why. The dude was a cop. He slapped it shut and pitched it back toward the blond, but as he started to leave a voice caught at him.

"Starsk...? Please...help..." It dissolved into a groan as the man failed to sit up. But he was at least semi-conscious.

For a full minute the hustler thought over the situation. The bastard was a cop, a fuckin' cop! But he'd sucked him off not more than three hours ago, so chances were he wasn't going to be throwing him in jail for it—even if he had been able to. And he was hurt. Pretty bad from the looks of it. If he left him here, he might even die. True, it wasn't his problem, but...the dude had been decent to him.

"Shit." The hustler knelt down beside the blond, and pushed back the blood-sodden hair to check the extent of the damage.

A cold hand closed around his wrist. "Starsk...?"

The hustler shook it off impatiently. "Sorry, wrong number. This is the mouth organ you played a little while ago. Lay still, will ya?"

The blond moaned and tried to sit up.

"Lay still, dammit! Wait here, I'll call an ambulance or something—"

"No!" The hand caught him again, stronger with sudden panic. "Please...I don't want anyone..." He trailed off again.

The hustler hesitated. He knew why the man didn't want that kind of help. Questions, answers; the blank, sterile authority of a hospital; no secrets safe there. But he needed help; he was shivering now in his mist-dampened clothes.

The boy bit his lip, then shrugged. What the hell. Maybe there'll be some money in it later. "Do you have a car around here?"

"No..."

"Okay then, I'll get a cab. Can you walk?"

"Yes...give me a minute."

The blond closed his eyes and took several deep breaths. Then his eyes flew open in alarm. "My gun...where's my gun?"

"In some dude's coat pocket, I imagine."

"Oh shit." He touched his cut lip shakily. "That's just great."

"You feeling better?"

"Yeah, I think so. My head feels like I hit a brick wall doing ninety." He looked at the hustler again, vision finally clearing enough for recognition. "You're the guy..." The hustler could almost feel the heat of the blush that burned the pale features.

"How quickly they forget," the hustler quipped.

"I'm sorry. I'm not thinking very straight."

The hustler laughed. "What you were doing an hour ago wasn't very straight either. Think you can walk now?"

"Yeah."

"Come on, then." The hustler helped him to his feet, and largely supporting the blond's weight, they staggered out of the vacant lot to the sidewalk. Christ, the cop weighs a fuckin' ton. He settled him down on a bus stop bench. "Wait a minute; I'll call a cab. It might take a while before we get one, though. You sure you don't want me to call—"

"No. A cab is fine."

A few moments later the hustler returned and sat down on the bench beside the man. The blond was slumped forward, head resting on his arms.

"I found your badge, Hutchinson," the hustler said suddenly, having had the chance to inspect it closer in the light of the phone booth.

Hutch straightened very slowly, clinging to the seat for balance. "So you know I'm a cop."

"I should be ashamed of myself for suckin' you off. Pigs ain't kosher."

The blue eyes regarded him sadly. "I wouldn't worry about it. I don't think I'm much of a cop anymore."

They both fell silent, then, "Why do you do it, Hutchinson?"

"Hutch," the blond corrected absently. "Your name is...David, right?"

"Sometimes. It's not as faggy as Bruce or as butch as Rex, but it works okay."

"So what's your real name?"

The hustler hesitated. "Since you don't like David, call me Pete. Is that his name? David?"

Hutch didn't answer. He dropped his head back down and shivered. "God, I feel awful."

"Well, here comes the cab. Didn't take as long as I thought."

Hutch jerked upright, and moaned at the jarring of his head. "I...I don't have any money... I can't."

"Just thought of that, huh? Don't worry, I'll get you home. Just put it on my tab as part of the service."

They slid into the back seat of the cab and Hutch gave the driver the address of Venice Place.

~~~

"Can you make it up the steps?"

"Sure."

Pete looked at him doubtfully and took a tighter grip around the blond's waist. "Just hang on. If you fall down, you'll take me with you—and in my business I lose money if my face ain't pretty."

They stumbled up the steps to the landing. He leaned the weak man against the wall. "Did they rip off your keys, too?"

"No...over the doorsill."

"Oh, real smart, copper. Why don't you hang out a sign that you support petty crime?" As the hustler fished the key from the ledge, the blond chuckled.

"You're right, Pete. I'm a born victim."

"You're a goddamn idiot, but at least you're hunky." With that, Pete opened the door and grabbed Hutch to help him inside.

"What the hell is this?" Starsky barked.

Hutch and Pete looked up. A man scrambled up from the couch, looking bleary and half awake. He frowned at the tableau in the doorway. Pete glanced up at the blond, who was amazingly whiter than before.

"Starsky?" he croaked in dismay.

"This is the dude?" Pete said and laughed. "Come on blondie, you could do better than this. I admit his bod's kinda nice, but his clothes are the pits."

Starsky spared a second to glare at the hustler, before turning back to Hutch. "What's this all about? Where have you been? Who's the smart mouth kid?"

Hutch opened his mouth, winced at the pain in his jaw, and shook his head helplessly. "I can't... Not now, Starsk. Please...I can't deal with..." He shook his head again and slumped back against the door.

"Hey slick, leave him be. Can't you see he's hurt?"

Starsky flicked on the brighter light and took a better look at his partner. "Hutch, what the hell happened?"

"He ran into a door, bright eyes. What 'dya think?"

"Shut up," Starsky snarled.

Hutch opened his eyes, squinting painfully in the light. "Starsky, why are you here?"

"I was worried. You sounded...weird. Why—"

The hustler broke in impatiently. "Can it for now, will ya? He's about to pass out—and I, for one, don't want to have to pick him up off the ground again. He weighs a fuckin' ton."

Belatedly realizing the boy was right, Starsky helped him move Hutch to the bed and lay him down.

"Where's the john?"

"Over there," Starsky pointed absently.

A few moments later the hustler returned with a wet cloth, some antiseptic, and some pills. "Here, Blondie, sit up. Take these. Don't worry, just aspirin." Hutch swallowed obediently, and Pete began to carefully clean the cuts and scrapes on the bruised face.

"I'll do that," Starsky said angrily, suddenly very much aware of the possessiveness in the boy's actions.

"Get lost. This is your fault anyway. Go play with...yeah, Kathy."

Starsky stared at him. "My fault? How—" The second part sank in. "How do you know about Kathy?" His eyes widened. "Were you with him when he called me earlier?"

Pete laughed. "Yeah, was I ever."

Starsky's face darkened, angry but unsure as to why. "Hutch, who is this creep?"

The light blue eyes opened to meet dark blue. "Starsk... Go home, okay? I...I can't explain now. Please..."

Worried by the weak tone, Starsky stood. "I'm going to call a doctor. You're really hurt—"

"No! Damn it, Starsky, leave it be, will you?" Hutch's head dropped back onto the pillow with a moan. "I'll be alright. Just need some...rest."

Reluctantly, Starsky agreed. Within minutes, Hutch was asleep, his face pale and strained against the pillowcase.

The hustler tugged off Hutch's shoes and socks and was reaching for his belt when Starsky stopped him with an iron hand. "I'll do that," he said grimly, more disturbed than he could understand by the thought of this stranger undressing his partner.

The hustler shrugged. "Sure. Just don't get carried away."

Starsky felt like slugging him, but Pete had already moved away from the bed. With great gentleness, Starsky removed as much of Hutch's clothing as he could without disturbing him too much, then pulled a blanket over him. Pete was still watching from the doorway, but Starsky shouldered by him and went to the kitchen to pour himself a drink from the bottle under the counter.

"I gotta admit, he's the prettiest cop I've ever seen. You a cop, too?"

Starsky looked up from his glass, the wave of irritation he felt making his hand shake. "Who the hell are you, anyway? What are you doing with Hutch?"

"You figure it out, smart guy."

Starsky sat down on the couch, feeling the whiskey burn down his throat. "You're a nickel and dime hustler, I can tell that much."

Pete sighed dramatically. "And Momma told me it didn't show."

"Are you one of his snitches?" Starsky demanded, still trying to make sense out of the situation.

The hustler's mouth twisted wryly. "Let's just say I took a load off...his mind. Did him a quick favor."

"What happened tonight? Who worked him over?"

"Now that, I truly do not know. I found him in that lot on Holloway Boulevard."

"What was he doing there?" Starsky asked in surprise. They didn't have any hot cases at the moment, and he couldn't figure any earthly reason for Hutch to be in that neighborhood at that time of night—especially when he had tried to imply that he was at home when he called.

"Listen, David dear, I wouldn't ask any questions that you don't really want answers to. Ignorance is bliss—and you're about the most ignorant dude I know at the moment."

Starsky's hand tightened on the glass. "How do you know my name? Who the hell are you!"

"Name's Pete."

"Okay, Pete, it's time for you to hit the road. I appreciate you helping Hutch out, but I can take it from here."

The hustler didn't move. "No."

"What do you mean, 'no'?" Starsky glared at him, then reached into his back pocket for his billfold. "Okay, how much does he owe you for the information?"

The boy's eyes hardened. "Blondie doesn't owe me anything but cab fare—and I'll collect that from him personally."

"Do I have to toss you out of here? I said beat it."

Pete took a step back in reaction to the fire in the blue eyes, but his jaw clenched stubbornly. "Yeah, you can throw me out. But you'll have to explain it to him afterwards. I think he'd want me to stay. What do you think?"

Starsky started to answer, but stopped. He realized with a pang that for once he couldn't answer for Hutch. Didn't know what he would want. It was an uncomfortable realization.

~~~

The morning sun found them both still there, Starsky having woken up from his uneasy doze on the couch, Pete curled up in the corner with a book.

Starsky checked on his sleeping partner, put on some coffee, and returned to the living room. He noticed the cover of the book—Stranger in a Strange Land. "Hey, that's mine."

Pete didn't look up. "So? You wanta charge rent?"

Starsky's lip curled. "Didn't think cheap hustlers liked to read."

"Didn't think pigs did either."

Starsky flushed angrily. "Listen, you twerp—"

"Starsk?"

He turned to see Hutch in the doorway of the bedroom, looking decidedly worse than he had the night before. He was wearing a robe turned inside out.

"How ya feeling, Hutch? You look awful."

"You got it. How come you're still here?"

Starsky snorted. "Didn't want to leave you alone with Peter Pan over there. Afraid he'd rip you off and smother you with a pillow."

Hutch's gaze darted to the corner, and a blush burned hotly as he met the eyes of the hustler. He swallowed, and looked back at Starsky before dropping his eyes to the floor. "I... Yeah, well, I think it would have been all right."

The hustler stood and tossed the book on the seat of the chair. "Blondie, you owe me thirteen fifty." The defiance was evident in the tilt of his chin.

Hutch looked at him again, and smiled gently. "I think I owe you more than that. Why don't you make yourself some breakfast?"

Pete relaxed a trifle. "You okay? Your head must be poundin' something awful."

"I took some aspirin. I feel better." He turned to his partner. "Listen, Starsk, I don't think I'll make it in to work today, but you'd better go or you'll be late."

Starsky regarded him helplessly, waiting for the explanation, which obviously wasn't going to be offered. He felt shut out, unwanted. "You sure you don't want me to stick around? You still look a little shaky," he added lamely.

"If he needs anything, I'll get it," Pete broke in abruptly.

A sharp reply came to Starsky's lips, but Hutch spoke first with another grateful smile at the hustler. "It's okay, Starsk. I'll manage. This isn't the first time I've been beat up, you know."

It's the first time I haven't known how and why, Starsky thought angrily. "Sure. Anything you say." He grabbed his jacket from the back of the couch and slammed out the door.

~~~

The hustler scrambled some eggs and poured a fresh cup of coffee for the man seated at the table. Neither had spoken in the minutes since Starsky's explosive exit.

Hutch pushed the plate back untouched and drained the last of the orange juice in his glass. Pete ate his own food hungrily, reminded that it had been some time since his last solid meal. He hoped Clint had made enough at pool to get some chow as well as booze. Between bites, he surreptitiously watched the blond.

Hutch's face was a mess. Bruised, swollen, lip cut and eyes slightly bloodshot. But he had taken a quick shower, and his hair was drying out fluffy and golden.

Finally Pete spoke. "Your friend's kinda hostile, ain't he?"

Hutch shrugged, but the movement of his shoulder made him wince. "Right now he's just trying to figure out what's going on."

"He sure left here in a huff." The hustler smiled with satisfaction. "I think he's jealous."

Hutch looked startled, then shook his head. "No way. Confused maybe. I should have explained, but..."

"But you didn't have a good explanation, huh?"

The blond smiled ruefully. "Got any suggestions?"

"I think he'll figure it out for himself."

Hutch took a deep breath. "God I hope not. I don't think he could handle it."

The hustler poured himself another glass of milk and sat down again. "From what I've seen, I think you're right. He's a dope."

Hutch straightened. "No, he's not. A little na´ve at times, but... He just wouldn't want to believe I would—" He broke off and rubbed his eyes cautiously. "Damn, I don't want to believe it myself."

"Thanks loads," Pete said in a voice heavy with sarcasm.

Looking up quickly, Hutch touched the hustler's arm across the table. "Listen, I'm sorry. I didn't mean it the way it sounded. And I owe you a lot. You helped me when I really needed it. I won't forget that."

Pete felt the heat of the fingers on his wrist. His gaze shifted to the hand, remembering how they twisted in his hair as the cock had surged in his mouth. "Don't worry about it," he said gruffly. "I was lookin' for a place to crash last night. So you getting beat up was really lucky for me, if you know what I mean."

Hutch smiled. "Glad it was lucky for somebody." He became serious. "You don't have any place to go? Where do you live?"

"Kinda footloose at the moment. I'll get by."

There was a moment of hesitation, then, "You could stay here for a while."

Dark brown eyes darted up hopefully. "For real? I—" In a flash he was defiant again. MISSING LINE "'Cept the thirteen fifty, which I still ain't seen."

Hutch stood immediately and moved to the bedroom. He returned shortly and carefully counted out a ten and three ones. Two quarters rang on the tabletop, and the hustler slapped his hand on one to keep it from rolling away.

Hutch sat back down across from him and met the startled gaze seriously. "Now I don't owe you anything. Will you stay?"

The hustler grinned, tucked the money in his jeans, and tilted his chair back jauntily. "Sure, why not. It's a nice place."

"Thanks." Hutch took a deep breath. "God, I still feel like shit. I'm going to sack out for awhile. Make yourself at home."

"Want some company?"

Hutch stopped midway to the bedroom. His pale skin flushed red. "Listen, I...uh, didn't mean that you had to—"

"I know," Pete cut in. "I don't have my meter running, blondie."

If possible, the face glowed even redder. He was obviously at a loss for an answer.

With an impish grin, Pete leaned back even farther in the chair, spreading his legs wider to display the bulge in his crotch. "Don't sweat it. Maybe later."

Still without an answer, Hutch dodged into the bedroom.

Pete's grin widened, suddenly very sure of himself. He's hot for me all right. All this crap about that Starsky cat is a cover-up. He's as gay as Crisco. He paused, recalling the expression in the two men's eyes when they looked at each other. Okay, so maybe that's real, too. But, shit, what are they hiding from? Why all the dancing around? Just because Hutch is a cop?

Shrugging away the whole issue, Pete retrieved the book and headed back to the refrigerator to rummage for something sweet.

~~~

Three days later Starsky and Hutch sat on their separate sides of the Torino with a wall between them as thick and barbed as the one in Berlin. Starsky was playing a cold war, remaining aloof and brooding, refusing to ask the questions that chewed on him incessantly. Hutch on the other hand, had adopted a kind of forced cheeriness—breezy, light and evasive. Busy dodging the questions Starsky stubbornly refused to ask but which hung in the air like a layer of ozone.

"Wanta stop and get a chilli dog?" Hutch asked, trying again to stretch his long legs in the cramped space. It was always a sure sign that Starsky was pissed when he jerked his seat up closer to the steering wheel, consciously or unconsciously punishing Hutch's larger frame.

"Not hungry," Starsky mumbled, turning a corner with more speed than necessary.

Hutch glared at him. "That was stupid."

"So give me a ticket."

Hutch didn't reply and Starsky snuck a quick look at his partner's averted face. The bruises were nearly faded except for one high on the cheekbone, and there was still a nasty cut by the eyebrow. It made him even angrier to be reminded of Hutch's secret.

The rode in silence for some time until suddenly, without warning, Starsky laughed. Hutch looked at him, curious but cautious.

"What's funny?"

Starsky chuckled again. "Us. Me. The way we act sometimes. I think we take turns being assholes."

Hutch grinned. "Obviously, this week it's your turn, right?"

"You noticed."

"Hey, Starsk..." Hutch paused. "Let's stop for lunch and we'll talk about it, okay?"

A brief glance was exchanged, apologetic and sheepish on both sides. "Okay."

The Torino pulled into the nearest drive-in and they both ordered. Neither spoke while waiting, but Starsky obligingly pushed the seat back, and Hutch nearly groaned with relief.

"Starsk," Hutch began finally, "I know you're wondering what went on the other night."

Starsky pulled the lid off his coke before answering. "Yeah, well, it was a pretty strange scene."

"I know. Actually I'm kind of embarrassed about it. Makes it hard to talk about."

"He said it was my fault."

Hutch stiffened. "What?"

"That kid...he said you got hurt because of me."

"No, that's crazy," Hutch said quickly. "I just... I was mugged. It was stupid, careless—"

"At least you got your gun back," Starsky put in.

Hutch bit his lip nervously. "I was going to report it, but... Well, Pete was able to get it back. He's got more connections than Huggy—"

"What were you doing out there?" Starsky demanded.

"I...I felt restless that night. I just wanted to get out for awhile."

"Seems like a strange place to go." Starsky was watching him carefully now, and Hutch's eyes were glued to the dashboard. "Why did you call me? You weren't at home, were you?"

"I...no..." The questions were coming faster now.

"So what was going on? Why didn't you tell me then? What the hell were you doing with that cheap hustler—?"

"Stop it!" Hutch crumpled the rest of his sandwich in the paper and tossed it neatly into the trashcan beside the car. "This wasn't supposed to be an interrogation, dammit. Don't push."

Starsky looked away, hurt. "Sure."

Hutch sighed. "Come on, Starsk. I want to tell you, but it's kinda complicated. I don't know if I can explain...or even if I should. I'm not trying to hide anything, it's just..."

"Skip it," Starsky said abruptly. "It's none of my business. I'll back off."

There was a silence, then Hutch said very softly, "Don't back off too far, okay?"

Starsky looked over and something in the blue eyes melted his anger. He smiled. "Okay, blondie. You ready to go?"

Hutch nodded.

~~~

The hustler was sprawled on the couch engrossed in another book when Hutch returned home that evening. Hutch hung up his jacket and unsnapped his gun as he spoke. "Good book?"

"Ummm."

"What's for dinner?"

The dark eyes appeared over the top of the cover, wide with mock innocence. "I don't do windows either, sweetheart."

Hutch laughed. "I just wondered what you'd like. I can't handle any more of your scrambled eggs. It's my turn anyway."

"My scrambled eggs are excellent," Pete answered with a twinkle. "And if I could cook anything else, you'd marry me in a minute, right?"

"I was married once already. All she could cook was eggs, too, now that I think of it."

"Why don't we go out for chinks?"

Hutch unhooked his coat. "Tell you what, I'll go get some take home."

"Hey, pick up a pizza, too, will ya?"

The blond chuckled. "God, you're starting to sound like Stars—" He broke off, and shrugged into his coat self-consciously. "Be back in a while."

The door shut softly behind him, and the hustler stared at it thoughtfully, wondering what was going on in that area.

Hutch had hardly mentioned his partner at all, except to say that he was a cop, too, and they worked together—had for years. That he was head over heels lost on the scrungy Jew was obvious to Pete, although it was almost as if Hutch preferred to keep it as a fantasy—as if the possibility of it ever being reality scared the shit out of him.

As far as that went, Hutch hadn't laid a hand on him either in the three days he'd been here. Pete hadn't pushed the idea, realizing the beating Hutch had taken didn't lend itself to enjoyable sex. But he was better now, the stiffness and bruises had pretty much faded, and that beautiful mouth was healed. Pete had also seen the blue eyes follow him when he moved, taking in his body with unconscious hunger. If Starsky was a dream, Pete intended to be the incubus that took advantage of it. He doubted if Hutch would put up much of a struggle.

The rap on the door startled Pete. He put on his toughest fašade and went to answer it.

"Hey, buddy—" Starsky stopped cold.

They stared at each other for a long moment, Starsky slowly taking in the fact that the hustler was wearing Hutch's green tee-shirt and a pair of his old jeans—that fit Pete almost as well as they fit Starsky. Pete smiled wickedly, knowing he had the advantage. He was inside. "How ya doing, Starsk? Bent any tailpipes lately?"

"What are you doing here? Where's Hutch?"

"He went out for Chinese. As for what I'm doing here, I'm taking a much-needed vacation. Welcome to the Hutchinson Home for Indigent Hustlers. If you want to make a reservation, you'll have to take a number. He's really booked up."

Starsky's jaw clenched. "He's letting you stay here?"

"Looks that way." He opened the door further. "Come on in."

Starsky hovered in the doorway. "No...I..." He swallowed. "Tell him I'll see him tomorrow." He turned abruptly and clattered down the stairs.

"You asshole," Pete muttered, shutting the door. He felt a slight twinge of guilt. There was a good chance Hutch wouldn't appreciate his treatment of Starsky. But the guy deserved it. Although Hutch had never said as much, Pete had the impression that he had ached for that curly-headed slob for years, and Starsky's overly na´ve and pseudo-innocent attitude had been as effective as a forcefield in keeping Hutch in his place.

Pete went to the kitchen to set the table and get beers from the refrigerator. A short time later Hutch returned, take-out cartons in one arm, pizza box in the other. He set them down on the table and looked at Pete warily.

"Just don't tell me you plan to put the Chinese food on top of the pizza."

"Nah, the pizza's for later. I love cold pizza."

As they ate, Hutch regarded him curiously. "You know, you really haven't said much about yourself. Where are you from?"

Pete looked uncomfortable. "There's nothing much to tell. I'm from Houston originally."

"When did you come out here?"

Pete stirred the food on his plate. "Long time ago."

"Couldn't be that long. How old are you anyway? I know you can't be twenty-two like you said."

"I'll be twenty in a couple of months." He looked up defiantly. "So? Does that matter?"

Hutch paused, face coloring slightly. "No, I guess not. Listen, I don't have any right to pry. It's none of my business—"

The hustler pushed his chair back and met Hutch's eyes squarely. "I was fourteen when I left Houston. I was hustling in Montrose even before then. I hitchhiked out here because I figured the business would be better. Does that make your conscience feel better, Officer?"

Hutch's eyes dropped to his plate. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I've enjoyed myself."

"You're luckier than most, then. You don't do drugs, do you?"

The hustler chuckled. "No, but it's not because I have religion, Officer. Anything harder than grass or beer makes me sick as a dog. I'm allergic or something. Is there anything else you need to know, Officer?"

"Stop it, Pete," Hutch said angrily. "I'm asking as a friend, and you know it. I hear worse stories than yours every day. And I don't feel sorry for you. You're smart enough to get out of this if you want to."

"But I don't want to!"

"Fine! Go at it then, be my guest!"

"Is that a proposition, Officer?"

Hutch's eyes flashed and he stood up abruptly and walked away.

Feeling he'd pushed it too far, Pete followed him. "Hey..."

Hutch didn't turn.

"Truth is, I don't hustle much anymore. Just when I have to."

Hutch looked up. "Don't you ever want to go home?"

"To what? There's nothing there."

"No parents? Relatives?"

Pete shrugged. "I've got a dad somewhere, but he used to beat the shit out of me. Busted my arm once. That's when they took me away from him and... Well, take my word for it, I was better off with him." There was a short silence before he added softly, "I loved him anyway, ya know?"

Hutch nodded. "Have you ever thought of trying to find him?"

"Nah, he's probably dead by now. I was only nine when I saw him last. Things change a lot. I don't need him anymore."

"Now you're going to say you don't need anyone," Hutch predicted.

Pete opened his mouth to reply, then shut it and sat down on the couch. "No, I always hook up with somebody. I hate being alone." He laughed humorlessly. "Christ, you must be fantastic with the rubber hose during interrogations. I haven't told this shit to anybody but Clint in years."

"Who's Clint?"

"My old man. He takes care of me...most of the time. Well, we kinda take care of each other. He's terrific. Makes me feel good to be me...most of the time." He hesitated. "He doesn't like me to hustle either."

"Where's he at?"

Pete began picking threads nervously from the couch arm. "Around. He had some...business to settle...up North."

"He left you?"

Pete's head shot up. "No! I mean...just for a while. He'll be back. He always comes back. Always." He blinked back the sting of tears. "Damn you!"

Hutch sat down on the couch, realizing he'd hit a raw nerve. "You want another beer?" he asked lamely.

"Sure."

Hutch got two from the refrigerator and returned to the couch. After a while the atmosphere became more relaxed.

"What are you reading now?" Hutch asked.

Pete grinned. "The Marquis de Sade. I wanted some pointers on how to tie you to the bed."

Hutch blushed but smiled. "I don't own the book. And I've been tied up too many times in the line of duty to ever do it for fun." He leaned over and picked up the book to read the cover. "Asimov. This isn't mine either. Starsky's the science fiction freak."

"It is yours. It has your name in the cover. From Starsky."

"Oh yeah. He gave it to me for Christmas the year after he gave me the ant farm."

Pete snickered. "He gave you an ant farm?"

Hutch smiled reminiscently. "Yeah. Unfortunately I dropped it at his place and the ants went everywhere."

"Boy, you are mean!" Pete laughed.

"Sometimes. You like science fiction, huh?"

"Most of it. I suppose if you don't do dope you have to have some bad habit. I started reading. Ripping off paperbacks from drugstores...hanging around libraries. They are good places to pick up tricks, too."

"Mixing business with pleasure?" Hutch drained his beer and started to get up, but Pete caught his arm.

"I wouldn't mind a little pleasure right now. What about it?"

Hutch's eyes widened and he pulled back slightly. "I don't think..."

"Why not?" Pete insisted softly, sliding closer. His hand moved to Hutch's leg, caressing up the long thigh. "It's not like we haven't done it before, is it? This time it'll be a hell of a lot better."

Hutch stood abruptly. "No."

The hustler stood too, irritated. "Why not, for Christ's sake? You've got a fuckin' hard on right now, just thinking about it!"

"Listen, when I asked you to stay, I didn't mean for this to happen."

"Oh, come off it, Snow White. You knew exactly what would happen—wanted it so bad your mouth watered. Stop kidding yourself."

"Pete, drop it. It won't work."

"Why? Because it isn't dark enough for you to pretend I'm Starsky? Wanta give him another call on the phone?"

Hutch's face had paled, his breath caught in his chest painfully. Pete ignored the pain he was inflicting and pushed on.

"Don't you think he knows what's going on here? What you are?"

"No," Hutch whispered. "He doesn't want to know."

"I'm sure he doesn't but he can't be as stupid as you want to think he is. Actually I think you want him to know—you just don't have the guts to look him in the eye and tell him."

Hutch turned away. "You're right. I don't."

Pete put his arms around Hutch's waist and laid his head against the sharp shoulder blades. "Hey, blondie. I'm sorry. Listen, Clint ran away from me...Starsky is running away from you. Maybe tonight can be good anyway."

Suddenly Hutch swung around and held Pete tightly, buried his face in the dark curls. "Goddammit, Pete. I want you to be Starsk. That's not fair to you."

The hustler held him back, tighter. "And I wish you were Clint. Since when is love fair?"

With a moan, Hutch moved his mouth down to Pete's. Their lips opened slowly for their tongues to touch and taste. Pete broke away and pulled the tee-shirt over his head with a quick motion. He walked into the bedroom and Hutch followed. Pete slipped out of Starsky's jeans and moved, naked, back into the blond's arms, feeling the large hands roam hungrily down his back and over his ass.

He pulled back enough to unbutton Hutch's shirt, tongue leaving a wet trail as the shirt opened down the front. He pushed it off the tanned shoulders, and dropped to his knees in front of Hutch. Pete's arms circled the narrow hips, rubbing his face against the bulging crotch. With his teeth, he tugged on the snap until it opened, then worked the zipper down with careful slowness, using his teeth and tongue.

Hutch moaned at the eroticism of the act, tangling his hands in the black hair, his own head bowed to watch with fascination. Pete's hand reached to free the cock from its confinement, easing it out with careful squeezes. He licked the tip, tasting the salty semen as Hutch cried out at the sensation. For a few seconds he took it all in his mouth, down his throat, letting the blond hunch wildly into him. Then he released it and worked the slacks over Hutch's hips and the long legs until he stepped free.

Pete stood and took him to the bed, pushing him back on the mattress and laying his body full upon the other's. They kissed, hands caressing and kneading, cocks building friction against each other. Pete licked Hutch's neck and sank onto a nipple with ferocious delight, biting unmercifully, pinching the other until Hutch's head arched back in the strange pain/ecstasy that sent lines of fire from chest to groin.

The hustler slipped down the writhing body to hold the cock again, pumping it in his fist to direct the rhythm of the thrusts. He knew when to quit, when the pleasure was too intense to hold. He paused to stroke gentle hands over Hutch's torso, letting him sink back to a lesser level of arousal.

"Fuck me," he whispered hoarsely into Hutch's ear, and felt the cock in his hand jump in instant reaction.

"God, yes..." Hutch moved on him wildly, too aroused to think of anything but taking, possessing...

"Wait a minute," Pete murmured, holding him off with some difficulty. He reached over to the table, locating the small bottle of hand cream. "Found this in your medicine chest. You need to buy some KY, blondie, if you're going to entertain."

Hutch was burning too hotly to listen, his mouth and tongue exploring Pete's shoulder, teeth scraping lightly over the skin with animal appetite. Pete applied the cream to himself and Hutch, knowing the man was at the end of his patience. He turned to his stomach, and Hutch was on his back immediately, hands spreading his legs, cock finding the slick ass. He thrust inside and Pete didn't try to hold him back, eager to feel it raging inside him.

Hutch fucked him like a tiger, purring and rumbling with delight, clawing at his hips as he slammed inside. The passion was infectious, and Pete was lost in it just as deeply, pushing back for more, demanding a new peak of sensation with each thrust. It didn't take long for them both to reach their limit. Crying out as he felt the first electric burst gush forth, Hutch clamped his teeth in Pete's shoulder and rammed harder. Pete cried out beneath him, his own cock pumping into the tangle of hot, sweat dampened sheets.

They lay exhausted, still shaking from the force of their lust. Eventually, Hutch rolled off to the side, breath still gasps, blond hair plastered wetly to his forehead. Pete recovered more quickly. He pressed against Hutch's side, settling his head close beside the blond one.

"So, how was it?"

"God..."

"I don't mind endearments, but that's a little blasphemous, don't you think?"

Hutch laughed shakily. "You're not going to believe this, but...I've never felt quite like that. Sex is usually pretty good, but...I was lost." He looked at Pete wonderingly. "Lost in you."

Pete smiled. "I don't think it was me, exactly. It was something you wanted to do for a very long time. You've never done that before have you?"

"No."

"But you've wanted to."

Hutch looked confused. "I don't know...I never thought..."

"Of course you have. All the time. But it's Starsky you really want to do it with. Or him with you."

"No! I..." Hutch shook his head. "I don't want to talk about that, okay? Ever."

Pete was amused. He'd read about people being so uptight, so terrified of what they wanted and who they were, had met many of them in his line of work—but these two were really a trip. The little he had seen of Starsky had told him all he had needed to know. He loved Hutch and was just as hot for him, whether he wanted to admit it to himself or not, and now he was feeling jealous and left-out—and rightfully so, because Hutch obviously wanted him left out of this; was afraid for it to go farther than fantasy. It was almost as if they actually relished the game they were playing with each other. God knows how long they'd been playing it. Macho cops playing hide and go seek. Looks like Hutch was 'it' this week.

~~~

Starsky wasn't at work the next day. It was slow, so Dobey didn't bitch too much, but Hutch was left to catch up with the week's paperwork. By early afternoon he was in a sour mood, increased by his inability to get hold of his supposedly 'under the weather' partner, who was either refusing to answer his phone, or not at home pampering his cold as he should have been.

The events of the night before weighed heavy on his mind along with a nagging feeling of guilt. He wasn't sure what he felt guilty about, however. Being gay, bisexual, he corrected himself, was a matter he had settled with himself long ago. That aspect didn't bother him too much intellectually. He truly believed, as he had once told Starsky, that it was 'no big deal'. His erratic forays into the streets and alleys looking for a fantasy substitute for Starsky upset him far more. He tried to intellectualize his need for that outlet as well, but his basically fastidious nature hated the secret sordidness of it all. In spite of that, he refused to consider the alternatives. He always hated pickup bars—gay or straight—and when it got right down to it, he didn't really want a steady lover—gay or straight. Except Starsky. And he obviously couldn't have Starsky gay, so loving him straight presented the same problem. The safety valve he had taken was dissatisfying and painful, but it managed to keep their partnership on an even keel for quite some time now. Last night rocked the boat like a typhoon. It was going to be hell going back to jacking off and dreaming.

With a sigh, Hutch closed the folder and rested his chin on his hand, staring across the desk to Starsky's empty seat. For a moment he let himself dwell on the possibility Pete suggested. Did he really want Starsky as more than a fantasy? Was it worth the risks? That was an easy one to answer. No, nothing was important enough to risk what they had now. Don't mess with success. For the first time in his life he had a partner, a brother. He'd lost Jack, lost Van. Lost Abby and Gillian and almost everyone else he'd made any effort to keep and hold. Maybe he'd driven them off. He wasn't going to chance it with Starsk. Certainly not for something as fleeting as sexual pleasure.

Resolutely, he opened the folder and went back to work.

~~~

Pete was bored.

He'd read all the books on the shelf that struck his interest, watched TV, and strummed tunelessly on Hutch's guitar. Now he felt restless. He wasn't sure if he wanted to leave the apartment, though. He'd left this number at the pool hall just in case Clint came back. It wasn't likely this would happen so soon, but it was hard to give up the hope.

Rummaging around in the bedroom closet for some more clothes that would fit him, he discovered a box stuffed back in the corner. Curiously, he pulled it out. Sitting on the bed in the afternoon sunshine, he sorted through the motley contents with amusement. Old ticket stubs, newspaper clippings, a birth certificate, old car keys, outrageous get-well cards with "Starsk" sprawled at the bottom, and dozens of photos of Hutch himself taken with a varied progression of cameras. Some of the older pictures were terrible, with the top of Hutch's head cut off or totally out of focus, but the newer ones showed some talent. The blond's head was framed in sunlight, his smile glowing, the pose natural and bright. Another was a mood piece, dark and somber against a grey sky and sullen sea. Hutch's head was lowered, shoulders hunched against the cold and damp, eyes shadowed. It had a stark beauty brought as much by the feelings of the photographer as by the subject or scenery. Pete didn't even have to read the name on the envelope to realize who had taken them. It was a history of self-education in photography with a not-always patient Hutch (as illustrated in some of the photos) as the focus.

Pete tossed the pictures back in the box and lay back on the bed to think.

~~~

Without bothering to question his motives, Hutch found himself making the turn to Starsky's house. When he knocked on the door it seemed to take forever before it opened.

"You feelin' better?" Hutch asked cheerfully.

His partner didn't answer, just returned to the TV set and flipped the channel to "The Dukes of Hazzard." He dropped down on the couch, propped his feet on the coffee table and continued to drink his beer.

Hutch stood in the doorway a moment, then shrugged and came inside. "Got any more beer?"

Starsky jerked a thumb toward the kitchen without looking up from the cloud of dust as the orange car tore down the dirt road.

Hutch got his beer and settled down on the couch a careful three feet from Starsky. "So what's going on?" he demanded finally. Before Starsky could answer he continued, "Do you really watch this crap?"

His partner shot him an angry look. "Look, don't start on my crummy tastes. Yours certainly aren't much better...judging by the company you keep."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Forget it."

Hutch was silent for a moment. "You weren't sick today were you?"

"Depends on what you mean by sick." Starsky replied cryptically.

"Stop talking in riddles, dammit. If you have something to say, shut off that damn TV and just say it!"

Starsky stood and did just that. He faced Hutch. "You mean you want to have a deep, honest discussion? The kind we had the other day? The kind where I tell the truth and you play twenty questions? Maybe I am sick, buddy. Sick of that kind of honesty. You want secrets, fine, keep 'em. Just don't come off giving me any more of this let's-talk crap when I know you're just going to fuck me around."

"I don't know what you mean," Hutch said defensively.

"Oh yeah? I'll spell it out. All the time we were having that 'talk' the other day, you didn't once mention that that two-bit hustler was still at your place...pretty damn settled in, in fact."

Hutch opened his mouth, shut it, turned red. "I didn't see where it mattered."

Starsky's chin jutted out. "You know I don't like him."

Hutch's eyes widened, then he laughed. "You don't like him. Are you kidding me? You expect me to toss him out on the streets just because David Michael Starsky is offended by his personality? Give me a break. What's it to you?"

It was Starsky's turn to blush. "Nothing. I didn't mean it like that. It's just... Damn it, you could have told me."

"You've already said you didn't like him, I didn't think you'd be interested. I didn't know I was required to check my house guests through you now, buddy."

"Stop it, Hutch. You know you wouldn't like it any better if you came over here and discovered some cheap broad had taken up residence and I hadn't seen fit to warn you."

"There have been a few times—"

"Not like that. And not for more than a day or two. He acts like he's there to stay. Is he?"

Hutch didn't answer.

"Well? Why is he staying, Hutch? Just answer me that."

The blue eyes met Starsky's suddenly, firmly. "Because I want him to. I like him." His head dropped, suddenly uncomfortable. "Besides, he doesn't have any place else to go right now. Maybe in a few weeks..."

"Why should he leave!" Starsky exploded. "He's got a cushy place now. And a new sugar daddy."

Hutch jumped to his feet angrily. "I don't have to take this shit. I'll see you at work...if you come back."

Worried that he'd pushed too far, Starsky called after him, "Wait. Hutch, I'm sorry. I know it's not like that. However it looks, I know—"

Hutch spun around. "You don't know anything, Starsky! You sure as hell don't know me. What you're really asking is if I'm screwing the kid, but you just can't choke the words out, can you? Okay—yes, I am! And it's great. You should try it sometime!"

With that, he jerked open the door and slammed it after him.

Starsky stood there, feeling as if all the breath had been knocked from him.

~~~

Pete jumped upright in the bed at the jarring sound of the doorbell. He glanced groggily at the clock. 1:47 a.m. Then he recalled that he'd moved the key from the ledge, and Hutch might not have a spare with him. Yawning, he jerked on his jeans, flicked on the lamp, and made his way to the front door.

An impatient pounding and a slurred voice alerted Pete that it wasn't Hutch.

"Come on, dammit! Le' me in!"

Pete paused by the door, considering. Letting Hutch's angry, drunken partner inside might not be the wisest of moves. He shrugged. Whatever happened, it shouldn't be boring. He unlocked the door and swung it open. Starsky almost fell inside.

He glared at Pete accusingly. "Hey, you moved the key."

"I don't have the faith in mankind that blondie has. What do you want?"

Starsky swaggered in, walking with self-conscious caution until he stumbled against a potted fern. "Where is ole blondie? Did you tuck 'im in already?"

Pete's eyebrow rose. "Did the penny finally drop, or did he confess?"

Starsky peered at him blearily. "Huh? Where's Hutch?"

With total deadpan, the hustler lifted his wrist limply. "He didn't come home for supper, and I'm just worried sick. My quiche is simply ruined."

The act went over Starsky's befuddled head. He staggered toward the bedroom, barely catching himself on the doorframe. "Not here," he said blankly, then stood for a moment trying to get his bearings. "Not here," he repeated, swaying slightly.

"You don't miss a trick." The hustler settled on the arm of the couch, enjoying the show. From the reek of it, Starsky must have put down enough whisky to numb a rhino. "Did you have a particular reason for stopping by?" he asked innocently.

It took a moment for the question to register. Starsky looked up, blinked. "Reason? Uh...yeah. I...uh..." He shook his head to clear it. "Yeah, I came to see Hutch. Gotta talk."

"He's not here," Pete pointed out once again.

Starsky's eyes were suddenly able to fix upon the hustler. "No, I came to see you, you lil' bastard. What did you do to Hutch?" he accused.

Pete stifled the urge to reply 'moi?' He chuckled. "Anything I could think of. He's a real beauty, in case you didn't notice."

Starsky took a step forward as if to strike out, but drunk as he was, he realized he was at a disadvantage—in balance if nothing else.

"Listen, man," Pete said reasonably, "why does it bite your ass so much? It's not like you want him, right?"

Starsky retreated back to the doorframe to steady himself.

"Christ," Pete observed, "hope you didn't drive here."

"Cab..." Starsky muttered, leaning back and closing his eyes. "Too drunk...to drive. Knew that much..."

"Hutch told you he was gay? That's why you tied one on? Jesus, if he ever gives you any bad news, you'll blow your fucking brains out."

Starsky didn't open his eyes, but his teeth gritted. "He's not! I just pushed him too far. Wanted to shock me. Not true."

Pete stood, irritated now. "Come off it! Just what's the big fucking deal? This is 1983, not the 50's. Anita Bryant has pie on her face and a divorce under her belt. Gay is bustin' out all over. Wake up, stupid. Hutch didn't get castrated."

Starsky took a deep breath and muttered, "It's no big deal, Starsk...doesn't change any of the other things..."

Pete only caught part of it. "It doesn't change anything except how he prefers to get his rocks off. Variety is the spice of life. You should try it sometime."

A degree of Starsky's drunkenness seemed to drop away. He straightened, eyes opening, chin jutting out. "Okay, I'll try it. How much?"

It was the hustler's turn to be a little stunned. "You kidding?" He laughed. "You want me to do you?"

Starsky fumbled in his pocket and pulled out some bills. "Why not? What have I got to lose, damn you! You're a hustler—so hustle. Give me my money's worth. Let's see what Hutch finds so great." Starsky's voice broke a little and the money floated heedlessly to the floor.

The hustler watched him a second, trying to figure this change. He's jealous still, he thought with amusement. He's pissed that Hutch didn't ask him. And he's so damn scared to find out, to ask Hutch why me instead of him. Wants to get even. Pete felt a momentary flash of contempt, but it faded quickly remembering the same catch in Hutch's voice during the scene in the phone booth—the same pain that was in his voice when he knew Clint was leaving. It wasn't funny anymore. Didn't anyone ever have shit work out right for them. Why's it have to get so complicated?

Making a lightning decision, hoping the vague plan might work, Pete walked toward the bedroom door. "Okay, asshole, let's go to bed." He grabbled Starsky's arm and more or less pushed him over to the bed. Starsky fell down limply.

Pete stripped while Starsky watched uncertainly, looking as if he was torn between making a break for the door or a dash to the bathroom to be sick, but not quite up to either.

Naked, Pete stood by the bed, hands on his hips, cock already hardening. "You chickening out, sweetheart? Too much to handle?"

Starsky flushed but shook his head.

"Want some help out of those crummy jeans?"

Starsky brushed the hand away nervously. "No...I can do it..."

But after a few futile movements, Pete did assist and Starsky let him. Pete lay down beside him, pressing close. His tongue flicked over the dark nipple, then slid slowly down the muscled side. His hand circled the blunt cock, but it remained limp and unresponsive even though Starsky shuddered at the touch and actually moved closer.

Pete's mouth engulfed the cock and sucked hungrily. Starsky moaned and his hand reached down reflexively to cup the dark head. The organ remained soft, just as Pete had expected it to. Within minutes Pete's actions were interrupted by a soft snore.

He sat up, wiped his mouth, and grinned down at the unconscious form. "Man, blondie can really pick 'em." His eyes swept down the sleekly muscled body appreciatively. "Gotta admit, though, you are kinda hot lookin'."

He got up and went to the kitchen to fix a sandwich.

He was halfway through his second avocado and cheese when there was another pounding on the front door.

"Where's my damn key?" came the mumbled voice from outside.

Pete tossed the rest of the sandwich in the garbage and moved cheerfully to answer it. "Ah, ze plot thickens."

Hutch staggered in, his condition not far different from his partner's. "What hap'en to the key?"

"The key-fairy got it. Come on in. What juice is in your tank, big fella?"

Hutch stared at him with a look of blankness equal to Starsky's.

"Some whiskey, s' gin, s' beer...whatever..."

"Be sure to lift the lid when you puke, dear heart. Did Starsky make you blue and you decided to wash it all away in a sea of alcohol?"

Hutch collapsed on the couch, ignoring him. He stared broodingly at the floor.

Pete shook his head sadly. "Nothing worse than a somber drunk."

The blond's head lifted, and Pete saw the sparkle of tears in the blue eyes.

"Except a drunk on a crying jag," Pete said hastily, sitting down beside him. "Don't start that, huh? He's not really worth this melodrama."

Hutch glared at him. "Shut up. Starsky's right...you really are a smart-ass. And you don't know what the hell you're talking about anyway."

"Sorry. Listen, it'll work out. I'm sure of it."

Hutch shook his head. "You don't know Starsk. What I said to him... Shit, why'd I lose my temper? 'S all my fault. He's gonna hate me now."

"Oh, I wouldn't be too sure of that. At this point, I imagine he's done a little reconsidering."

Hutch looked at him, finally seeing him. "You're naked," he observed dully.

Pete grinned. "I was told the way to keep a man was to meet him at the door wearing a smile."

The blond snickered and reached out for him impulsively. "Can't have Starsk...might as well..."

"It's so nice to feel wanted."

The passionate assault continued but Pete quickly discovered that drunkenness wasn't the only state the two cops shared tonight. Hutch's cock was even less responsive than Starsky's. The spirit was obviously more than willing, but the flesh was absolutely impotent. Not that Hutch was bothered by the problem, as he was barely semi-conscious by the time Pete got him undressed.

"Oh no you don't, Romeo. No way can I carry your blond hulk all the way to the bedroom. Just keep your balance for a few steps...yeah...okay...lay down...that's right."

Hutch collapsed on the bed without opening his eyes. Unconsciously, he snuggled over to the warmth on the other side of the bed. The warmth snuggled back. Both were snoring softly, Hutch's face buried in Starsky's dark curls.

Pete stood for a moment watching them, a strangely sweet feeling flowing in his stomach. He hummed a few bars of "Matchmaker, Matchmaker" as he rummaged through the closet for some nice clothes that would fit him well enough. He dressed quickly, then paused for a while by the bed.

"What a picture," he said to himself with a pleased grin. "You two are made for each other...although I'm not quite sure which one I pity the most." He was sure they would both wake up with raging hard-ons and even more raging hangovers. But whatever happened, there would be an end to this particular game. Fantasy would be waking up with somebody else's cock between his legs, and the dreamer would have an armful of reality. They would either get it on and over with, or break their fool necks trying to run from it for the final time. Pete figured if Clint had ever had odds like this to play, they would be rich men today.

Pete carefully locked the front door behind him and replaced the key on the ledge. Wearing all of Hutch's gold jewelry, his pockets nicely filled with cash, he skipped down the stairs trying to figure out how to set the barometer reading on Starsky's fancy wrist watch.

end