TITLE:  THE SMELL OF SEX

AUTHOR:  JEYLAN

EMAIL:  jeylan@earthlink.net

 

ADULT CONTENT.  Slash.  Not for minors. 

DISCLAIMER: I don't own them.

DISTRIBUTION & ARCHIVE: Anywhere except Venice Place.

 

 

      

They burst out of the showers and into the locker room laughing.  Starsky was pretending to threaten Hutch with a wet towel, and Hutch, making to defend himself, was grinning widely and skipping away.  Nothing, really.  Just the usual shit. 

       "Hey, Starsky, you gonna wipe his pretty ass for him too?"

       Instantly their awareness transformed from 'you and me' to 'us and them.'  In the blink of an eye and perfectly in sync they straightened and pivoted, facing the hostile voice and coming into defensive position, shoulder to shoulder, without noticing they were doing it.

       "Or you gonna just lick it dry?" Lacher finished.  He was over in the corner, crouched down over his shoelaces, smirking. 

       Starsky shook out his towel, looped it around his hips, and tucked it tight.  He glanced at Hutch, and Hutch glanced back.

       "Ah, hell no, Lacher," Starsky replied.  "We all know who the ass licker is."

       Hutch tipped his head slightly to the side, and watched as his partner's shot hit home.  Lacher flushed.  An awkward, slow-thinking bully by nature, Lacher was sweet-mouthed in front of superiors and mean when he thought he could get away with it.  What made him think he could get away with it here?

       "Oh, if anyone 'round here knows about ass lickin', I think it's the two a'you!" Lacher stood up and puffed out his chest, and his voice got louder.  There were a few other guys listening, now, beginning to take an interest, and Lacher glanced around for support, wetting his lips.  There was no mistaking the sharp, scared, aggressive glitter in his eyes.  Hutch knew the look --  the look of a dealer or a pimp on his home turf.  Lacher was invested in this.  He was afraid to lose face, and that made him, in whatever limited capacity, dangerous. 

       With guys like this the trick was to not let them get to you.  You just had to choose not to play it at that level.

       "Listen you moron--"  Starsky had taken a half step, his temper was hot, and Hutch moved forward at his side, murmuring, "Drop it, Starsk," into his friend's ear. 

       "See!  See!  Y' all see that?"  Lacher was jeering and pointing.  "Can't keep their hands offa each other, what'd I tell you!  Like a couple a little love birds!"

       Hutch realized with a sickening awareness that what Lacher was pointing at was his own hand, which had curled around Starsky's wet arm as naturally and thoughtlessly as breathing.  Involuntarily he flinched, and then made a conscious effort not to snatch his hand away.  Reminding himself that this wasn't Lacher's game, and Lacher wasn't calling the shots, Hutch squeezed Starsky's arm, and let go slowly. 

       "Love birds?" Starsky demanded.  "Love birds?  Didn't your momma teach you nothin' 'bout the birds and the bees, Lacher?  Or maybe you were out constipated the day your sixth grade teacher 'xplained about sex?"

       Oh shit, Hutch thought, but then one of the other cops cut in -- Corsan, trying in his own twisted way to take the edge off.  "Lacher's got a point," he said in a conversational tone.  "You guys are all over each other alla time, touching each other.  Sometimes I think you don't even notice you're doing it."  Corsan probably wasn't trying to be a jerk; it was just the way his mind worked.  Analytical. 

       It was a neutral remark, considering the source, and Starsky came back from the edge of his anger.  He looped his arm oh, so casually around Hutch's neck, turned his face towards Hutch, and smiled.  His eyes never left Lacher. Conspiratorially, he said, "Whaddaya think, partner?  We alla time all over each other an' not noticin' it?"

       "Not that I'm aware of, partner," Hutch replied evenly, leaning comfortably into Starsky's arm.

       "See?  My girlfriend ain't that friendly!"  Lacher sneered.

       "Yeah, I bet she ain't!" Starsky said.  "But hey, if you're real nice to me, maybe I'll introduce you to this hot little redhead I know--"  With one hand still draped negligently around Hutch's neck, Starsky's other hand traced a quick, short, curvy figure in the air. 

       "You're lucky to have a girlfriend, Lacher!" Hutch put in.  Everybody in the department knew whenever Lacher had a date; it happened so rarely, and Lacher was a guy who liked to brag.

       Starsky was making a loud kissing sound and touching his fingertips to his lips.  "'Course, you might not be able ta keep up wi' her!" he finished.

       "Yeah?  Yeah?"  That was it, that cut it.  Lacher was red in the face, and ready to blow.  "Little redhead, huh?"  His face had a scrunched up look, like he might have a thought coming.  Then it hit.  "Little redhead?  She suck your dick as good a big blond?"

       He shouldn't have said that.

       Before anyone else in the room -- even Starsky -- had a chance to react, Hutch had shaken off Starsky's arm, crossed in two steps to Lacher, and shoved him against the bank of lockers.  He got right in his face and dropped his voice, low and dangerous.  "Now you listen to me, Sergeant Lacher, and listen good, because I'm only going to say this once.  Whatever your perverted little fantasies are, you keep them to yourself, you hear?  The next time you get it into your head to talk crap, you better make damn sure you've got your facts straight first, because malicious rumor-mongering is not going to get you ahead in this or any other department.  And I'll tell you something else, you cretin.  You see the way me and Starsky move like a team, and it makes you jealous, isn't that right?  It makes you green with envy, it gets under your skin so you can't stand it, doesn't it?  Doesn't it?  And you know why?  Because he'll back me to the death, and I'll back him, and that's why we're a hell of a lot safer on the street than you're ever going to be until you get some things figured out.  It's your problem.  You got that?  You ever open your mouth about this crap again, I'll shut it for you.  Comprende?"

       After that they had plenty of elbow room while they got their clothes back on, and headed out. 

       Barely a word or a glance passed between the two of them until they were all the way outside and sitting in the Torino.  "Jeez," Starsky said, sticking the key in the ignition, "you're kinda scary when you're mad."

       Hutch smiled grimly.  "Yeah, I lost it, didn't I?" he said.  Shrugged.  "They'll get over it."

       "Yeah, they will.  I'm not sure I will.  What brought that on, anyway, if you don't mind me askin'?  I mean, you're usually better'n me at keepin' your head an' all...?"

       Hutch shrugged.  His hand was in front of his mouth, his sunglasses were on, and he was looking out the window, away.  Starsky thought for a minute he wasn't going to answer, and his hand hesitated over the ignition again.  Then Hutch said tightly, "I guess I just don't like taking the heat for something if I'm not having the fun, you know?"

       Starsky felt like someone had just hit all the air out of his lungs with an electrical jolt that snaked through his blood from his heart and stomach all the way out to his fingertips and his toes and his groin; he tried to pull in a breath but choked on it.  Some really twisted back-corner of the basement of his mind supplied a sudden, 70mm Technicolor vision of Hutch doing just exactly what Lacher had suggested -- sucking his dick -- and Starsky shifted uncomfortably in his seat.  He grabbed blindly for the ignition, revved up the engine before any Dolby Stereo Sound could kick in, and pulled sharply, too sharply, away from the curb.  "Fun?" he squeaked, as soon as he got his voice back. 

       Then he started to smile.  Hutch thought he was fun.  Well, that was cool.  Hutch was his partner and his best friend in the whole world ever, so Hutch should know, right?  In a way, if Hutch thought he was fun, then that was even better than some girl who said it was good for her, please call, please call, and then he never saw her again anyway.

       "It was just a figure of speech, Starsky," Hutch said, at the exact same moment that Starsky got up his nerve to say, "You think I'm fun, huh?"

       They both glanced at each other in confusion, and then looked quickly away.  

       "How the hell should I know?" Hutch said after an awkward pause.  He sounded put out.

       Oh.  Shit.  "How the hell shouldn't you know, you're my partner, ain't ya?"

       "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

       "Well, if my own partner don't know if I'm fun or not, then whadduz that say about me, huh?  About us?  I mean--"

       Hutch's brain was reeling, and at one compass point on the perimeter of the spin was the image of himself on his knees, doing just what Lacher had taunted him about -- sucking Starsky's dick and loving it -- and the harder he tried to get away from it the faster he kept coming back to that same idea -- again, and again, and again. 

       "--you know me in all my moods an' all, an' really when you think about it you know me better 'n any girl ever has, so--"

       "Yeah, OK, fine," Hutch said to shut him up and stop the spinning.  "I think you're fun.  You're fun at parties, you're fun at dinner, you're fun when you drink, you're fun on a stakeout, you're even fun at the station.  Why shouldn't you be fun in the sack?  In fact, I'm sure of it.  You, David Starsky, are a certifiably fun guy.  Are you happy now?"

       The hell of it was Hutch was convincing himself.  For some reason, though, Starsky looked discouraged.

       "What?" Hutch practically bellowed.  "What did I say wrong now?"

       "Nothin'.  Forget it."

       "What?"

       "Nothin'." 

       "OK, sulk."

       "I'm not sulkin'."

       They drove almost two full blocks in silence.

       Hutch cracked first.  "OK, I can't stand it, would you just talk to me already?"

       "C'mon, Hutch, it's nothin'. Really. It's just, you're talkin' like you don' know what I'm like in bed, an' all, and--"

       "Have you lost your mind, Starsky?  I don't know what you're like in bed!  And this is a ridiculous conversation.  Can you hear how ridiculous this sounds?"

       "Who's listenin'?" Starsky shrugged.  His eyes never left the road.  "Just us here.  An' you do too know what I'm like in bed, or have you forgotten those two girls that time in that hotel when--"

       "Yeah, OK, OK, I remember.  So?"

       "So, didn't you, like, I dunno, notice?  Somethin'?" 

       "Notice?  Notice want?  You?  You mean, was I watching you while I was making love to -- to -- Angie, Angelina, Annabeth--"

       "I think her name was Adrienne," Starsky supplied.

       "Yeah, that's right, Adrienne."  That information was strangely calming for some reason, and Hutch relaxed a little in his seat.  Of course.  Adrienne.  Long, silky hair, smooth skin, smelled like lilacs, yeah.  "So let me get this straight.  You want to know if while I was occupied with Adrienne, I took time out to evaluate your performance with Cindy Wheeler, superstar waiting to be discovered?"

       "She wanted t'be an actress, that girl?"

       "Yeah, Starsk, she did."

       "No kiddin'?"  Another silence.  After a thoughtful minute, Starsky said, "Well, yeah, I thought maybe you might'a snuck a glance or two."

       "Why would I do that, huh?"

       "Well, 'cause I did, at you."

       Regions around Hutch's gut and stomach clenched unexpectedly, and for a moment he wondered if he was going to be sick.  That'd teach him to agree to chilidogs for lunch.  "I knew it!" he said.  "You were hot for Adrienne, weren't you?"

       "I wasn't looking at her, Hutch."

       "You weren't?"

       "Naw, it was dark.  She was all down there in the pillows and everythin'.  I guess maybe I tried to see her, but I couldn't, and you were so -- pale and shinin' an' all, and you were really givin' it to her good, so sweet and hard and steady, and I was ... I guess I was jus' wishin' I could do half that good by Cindy, or whatever her name was."

       Hutch was speechless.  He clapped his hand over his mouth, reshuffled his long legs, and directed his attention steadfastly out the side window. 

       "I shock ya or somethin'?" Starsky asked.

       "No.  Yes.  I don't know.  This is a weird conversation, Starsky, can we change the subject?"

       "OK.  But just tell me one thing first."

       Hutch sighed deeply.  "What."

       "Didn't ya even look at me once?"

       He clenched his eyes tight closed and tried not to see Starsky as he had been that night, laughing and on and making love with all the exuberance of his heart, and ... and the way he'd kept glancing over Hutch's direction like that, it'd been almost ... almost like he was flirting or something, or like they were doing everything together, making love in tandem.

       "You know I did," he said finally. 

       "Yeah, I knew," Starsky said.  He rotated his shoulders and relaxed, and the satisfied smile on his face looked a little too cocky, in Hutch's opinion.  "I thought so, anyway, but it scared me if you weren't gonna admit it."

       "Can we change the subject now?  Please?"

       "OK, OK."

       "Thank you."

       "You're welcome."

       But the subject didn't really change in Starsky's mind.  It was kind of like it was stuck there or something.  Not like he was thinking about it a lot, 'cause he wasn't, not really, but just that it was always there, always bugging him when he didn't want it to be.  For one thing the more he thought about it, the more he was sure he remembered Hutch looking at him that night, and that raised the question of why Hutch was trying to act like it didn't happen.  And also he couldn't quite shake the fantasy image of Hutch sucking him off.  It was a stupid thing to have going through his head, and Starsky was man enough to admit it, but somehow there it was anyway and it wouldn't go away.  Not quite.  And then, too, there was the thing about how Corsan said they were all the time touching each other and not noticing. 

       All in all, it was a lot to think about ... if he'd been inclined to think about it.  Which he wasn't, of course.

      

==================================

      

"Where is it, where is it," Hutch was muttering, over and over.  He'd already searched his own desk for the Sims file, and was starting on Starsky's, working methodically left to right.  Starsky was reading the morning paper, with his feet up and a cup of coffee in hand.  He moved to put the coffee down on top of the stack of papers Hutch was reaching for, so Hutch lifted Starsky's wrist up out of the way and redirected it.  Starsky cradled the coffee against his chest compliantly and went right on reading.  The file Hutch wanted wasn't in that stack either, so he moved Starsky's feet next, not very gently.  Starsky just said, "uff," and paid him no attention. 

       "Hey, are you gonna help me, or not?" Hutch demanded finally. 

       "Yeah, yeah, gotcha," Starsky muttered, and took another sip of coffee.

       A scribbled scrap of paper slipped away from Hutch and fluttered to the floor.  Sighing, he grasped Starsky's leg for balance as he reached down to pick it up. 

       He didn't need to have done that.  Any other guy in the department would've just picked up the paper and been done with it, and so would Hutch if it had fallen under anyone's desk but Starsky's.  Starsky knew it.  He turned a page of the paper, and glanced at Hutch before he went back to the headlines.

       Later on they stopped for a fast lunch where Hutch drank most of Starsky's root beer, and Starsky finished off the last of Hutch's taco without asking.  When Starsky misplaced $10 under a crumpled napkin, he lifted Hutch's arm off the table first to check underneath -- not 'cause he really thought that's where the $10 had got to, but just because he figured he could get away with it.  And he was right.  He could.  

       It was just how they were.  Corsan had a point, they touched each other all the time.  He knew it, not like he was dense or anything, but maybe, so, he'd never really thought all that much about it before, but so what?  Right?  Except he couldn't stop thinking about it now, how easy it was, how good it felt.  How he liked it if Hutch touched him when he didn't need to, or moved him around instead of telling him to move.  He liked being able to lean back against Hutch like he was in a comfortable chair, didn't matter where they were, squad room, anywhere, and he could rest his arm on Hutch's knee if Hutch was sitting on the table, or on Hutch's shoulder if Hutch was the one in the chair.  And he liked it that he could move Hutch around too, the way Hutch could him, and Hutch would always let him.  That was something, when you come to think of it.  Any other guy in the world tried to pull that with either one of them, and there would have been trouble.  But between the two of them, really he wasn't sure Hutch even noticed.  That was nice.  Wasn't it?

       Was it?

        

==================================

      

Hutch noticed.  In fact, Hutch noticed a lot of things.  He noticed with fond annoyance how Starsky got so comfortable with his morning paper that he couldn't even be bothered to lift his own feet up off the table and help him search for the Sims files.  A bomb could have gone off, and Starsky wouldn't have minded.  He noticed for the thousandth time, like a scratched record that got stuck in the same groove, how Starsky could tune him out when it suited him, and take him for granted like he wasn't even there.  And that was the way they both liked it, the way it had been between them since almost the beginning.  They made space for each other.  That was fine.  It was why they almost never got on each other's nerves.  Hardly ever, in fact, considering the time they spent together and the level of familiarity.  But Hutch noticed right away when it changed, when Starsky started ... flirting.

       He didn't figure it for flirting right off the bat, of course.  It could have been a lot of other things, and he thought about all of those first.  Top of his list of suspicions was that Starsky was up to something, some elaborate scheme or maybe a practical joke.  For several days Hutch became very watchful and quiet, waiting for the other shoe to drop, until Starsky finally asked why he was so jumpy -- and patted his thigh reassuringly while he drove, and wiggled his eyebrows.  Then Hutch really knew something was up.  No birthdays or holidays coming, no other special events he could think of.  He ticked possibilities quickly off his list, and found to his frustration that it really wasn't such a long list of possibilities after all.

       He looked out the window, and then quickly back at Starsky ... and caught Starsky doing the same thing.  Starsky tipped his face down to look over the top of his sunglasses at Hutch, and his eyes flashed in an unmistakable way Hutch had seen many times -- only it had always in the past been directed at some girl, never at himself.  Something twisted in Hutch's gut.  What the hell was going on?

       He opened his mouth to say something, he wasn't sure what, but no sound came out.  And then he was saved by the police radio.

       "Zebra 3, Zebra 3, see the woman, 1013 Wilshire."

       And then things were happening, and Starsky was all cop again.  So there was no good way to bring it up.  And what was he going to do, anyway, accuse his best friend of smiling at him? 

      

==================================    

      

It was almost a week later, hanging out watching late-night 'Night Gallery' reruns in Hutch's apartment when the brooding storm finally broke.  Sort of.

       "Green fingers, green fingers!" Starsky kept saying, wiggling his fingers suggestively at Hutch like a boogey man and making faces.  "I got green fingers!  Everything in my garden grows!"

       "Cut it out, Starsk!" Hutch laughed.  "It was bad enough when she said it."  He switched off the TV.  The room was suddenly darker, lit dimly from the side with splash-over light from the kitchen.

       "Yeah?  You scared?"

       "Yeah, real scared.  Scared of little old lady corpses growing where they're planted.  I don't know why I let you talk me into watching this stuff."

       "Aw come on, you love it!  Admit it!  You jumped about two feet  when that old lady's fingers started wiggling up out of the ground..."  Starsky undulated his fingers in Hutch's direction again, making 'Twilight Zone' noises.  "Thought I was gonna have to put my arms around you to protect you, you was so scared--"

       "I wasn't--" Hutch tried vainly to push the wiggling hands away.  "I wasn't scared!  All right?  I was not scared.  Would you cut that out!"  They were tussling like kids, almost on the edge of a tickle fight, but Hutch wasn't sure he wanted to play.

       Starsky just kept muttering, "Do-do, do-do," and going after him, half on top of him--

       "Hey, would you keep your hands to yourself!" Hutch blurted, suddenly a little panicked.

       "What for?  Ya ticklish?  Huh?"  Starsky went right for his ribs.

       "Quit flirting!"  Hutch couldn't take it anymore.  He couldn't.  And those two simple words cut across the air like the crack of a whip.

       Starsky froze.  He let his hands rest on Hutch's chest for a minute, and then took them away.  Hutch was all curled up protective-like, with his fists up by his flushed face, and he untensed and uncoiled slowly.  They stared at each other.

       "Flirting?"  Starsky echoed the word uncomprehendingly, like it was Spanish.

       "Yeah, flirting."

       "You think I'm flirtin' w' you?"

       "Aren't you?"

       "Am I?"  For some reason Starsky sounded genuinely confused.

       "Are you asking me that?"  Hutch straightened up and turned to face his partner more directly.  This presented a smooth opportunity to edge discretely away, so he took it, trying to re-establish some sort of normal distance. 

       "Why would I be flirtin' w' you?"

       "Oh, I don't know, Starsk, maybe you're hot for my bod all of a sudden?"

       Starsky snorted.  "Yeah, fat chance."

       "Been known to happen."  Hutch shrugged.

       Starsky was still staring at him like he had green fingers and was likely to sprout any minute.  Hutch rubbed a tired hand over his face, and took a deep breath.  "Look, it's no big deal, all right?  I'm not--  I haven't been taking it personally, or anything like that.  You know how you get, Starsk, it's like auto-pilot with you.  Once you start you can't stop.  You flirt with little old ladies if you think they like it."

       "You think I think you like it?"  Starsky was sounding more confused by the minute, and Hutch couldn't help but empathize. 

       "No," he said firmly.  "No, that's not what I meant.  I just meant -- once you get started, you don't know how to stop.  That's all.  Something started you with flirting, and now you're just -- stuck.  The way you get.  So just stop, OK?"  He reached for what was left of his beer and sipped it.  Warm.  He made a face.

       "Stuck since when?"

       Hutch shrugged again.  "Couple weeks." 

       "Coupla weeks?  I can't believe you're sayin' this ta me!  My own partner!" 

       "It's no big deal, buddy.  Just forget it, OK?  Forget I said anything."

       "No big deal?  If I'd been flirtin' w' ya, I'd a--  I'd a--"

       "You'd've what, Starsky?"

       "I'd of known it?"  There was again, that helpless, confused sound in Starsky's voice like he wanted Hutch to explain it all to him. 

       Hutch stared at his friend, exasperated.  "That a question?"

       "No."  Suddenly Starsky was right in his face, in his space.  "If I ever start flirtin' w' ya, you'll know it," he said, and kissed Hutch fast and rough on the mouth.

       The adrenaline punch took his breath away, just the shock of it.  Hutch's body froze, and his mind raced so fast he couldn't grip hold of a single coherent thought.  Starsky leaned back away from him slowly, breathing hard, looking his face up and down from his eyes to his mouth and back again.  It occurred to Hutch that he had never really noticed Starsky's eyelashes this close up before, the way they seemed all thick and tangled, and cast shadows on his cheeks in the dim cross-light.

       "Wh-what was--" Hutch stammered.

       "Nothin'.  Never mind.  Forget it.  Just I'm not flirtin', OK?  You'd know if I was flirtin'." 

       "OK," Hutch repeated numbly.  Starsky suddenly seemed very real, and close, and touchable, and he was aware of his own heart beating too fast in his throat. 

       "Jus'-- I'm sorry, all right?  I shouldn't'a done that.  I--  Too much ta drink.  Tha's all.  OK?  I'll go.  Not like we don't have work to do tomorrow, ya know?"  And without really looking Hutch in the eye, Starsky was gathering up his stuff, shoving his feet back into this shoes, and getting out the door. 

       Speechless, Hutch watched him go.  He sat for a long time in silence, unmoving.  And then, slowly, he raised his fingers to his lips.  

      

==================================

      

They were careful around each other for the next few days.  Polite.  Considerate.  It was boring as hell. 

       And stakeout's were boring as hell.  Beyond boring.  More boring than the most boring thing ever.  Especially this stakeout.  They had been brought in at the last minute as fifth backup for a high-profile drug bust being run by a couple of narco cops they barely even knew.  This wasn't their show, not their bust, and that was pretty damn clear to everybody.  They were only here to watch a street, guard a possible line of escape, and it wasn't even a big street, or a convenient street.  In fact, the odds of any bust-related action going down on this street were way, way lower than the chance that they might be in the right place at the right time to stop an assault, or catch a prostitute trying to scuttle away to a dark corner with a trick. 

       They'd been here for hours already.  Starsky yawned, raised his eyebrows and wiggled them around, trying to keep his bleary eyes focused on the darkened tattoo parlor across the street.  It had to be after midnight.  He pawed around on the floor by Hutch's feet, patting for the bag of sandwiches.  Half a roast beef left, not too dried out.  He pulled the wrapper back, and took a bite, then shoved it wordlessly at Hutch.  Hutch took hold of his hand, bit into the sandwich, and let go again.  They chewed for a while in silence.

       Too much silence.  It had been silent for a long time.  Starsky's eyes traced over the tattoo parlor one more time.  He had it all memorized, now, the little neon sign, and the shapes of the darkened windows.  The lights had just gone off about an hour before, right after a couple of greasy looking biker types came out the door.  Place didn't look clean. 

       "Hey, Hutch."

       "Hmmm."

       "Wanna get tattooed?"

       "Huh?"

       "I said, ya wanna get tattooed?  We could do it together, you know, like..."

       "Like what?"

       "I dunno.  I just thought, you know, with us riskin' our lives together every day, an' all.  Well, not today looks like, but you know what I mean.  Just thought, maybe, you know, tattoos."

       Actually, he hadn't thought at all.  It was just something to say.

       "Hmph."  Hutch didn't sound impressed.  On the other hand, he didn't sound unimpressed either.  "Like what were you thinking?"

       "I dunno," Starsky said honestly, "I didn't get that far.  You mean you'd do it?"

       "Are you serious?" Hutch countered.

       "I dunno.  Maybe.  You'd get tattooed with me?"

       Hutch thought about it, and rubbed his chin and his cheek.  "I guess so, yeah."

       "Really?  You ever think about getting' a tattoo before?"  Starsky suddenly felt much more awake.  The idea of a needle pressing ink into Hutch's flawless pale skin for no other reason than that he, Starsky, suggested it, was...  Well, it was weird. 

       "Yeah, sure," Hutch said.  "I thought about it."

       "Really?"  Starsky could barely believe it.  Here he'd thought he knew every last thing about Hutch.

       "Thought about it a lot, back in college.  Some guys from the frat house went out and did it on a dare."

       "Why didn't you go too?" Starsky wanted to know.

       "Didn't feel like it.  Didn't seem important."

       "But you said you thought about it...?"

       "Yeah, sure."  Hutch moved his legs, trying to get comfortable.  "It wasn't that I didn't want one, I guess that just wasn't the one."

       "But you'd get one with me?"

       Hutch picked the last bite of sandwich right out of his hand and ate it.  He took his time chewing and swallowing.  Then he said, "Is this some kind of trick question?"

       "Huh?  No!"

       "You're not thinking of mermaids and anchors, or anything like that?"

       Starsky was genuinely surprised.  "Wasn't thinkin' nothin' in particular," he said.  "Just, you and me, we're closer 'n family, and...  I mean, it was just a thought."

       Hutch nodded slowly.  "I know what you mean," he said. 

       Starsky scratched his head.  He figured it was good Hutch knew what he meant, because he wasn't so sure himself.

       "How long you been thinking about this?" Hutch asked.

       "'Bout five minutes."

       Hutch laughed.  "You mean you never thought of getting a tattoo before?"

       Starsky shook his head.

       "Well, if we do it, we won't be going to that place," Hutch nodded at the place across the street.  "Looks like hepatitis central."

       "Shit, Hutch, they're all like that.  But if -- if we did it, what'ud we get?"

       Hutch turned to him in the darkness, and smiled.  It felt weird to Starsky, because there was nothing unusual going on at all but for no reason suddenly he was very aware of being alone together, sitting in his car in the dark.  Just him and Hutch and no one else awake in the world.  And like they could talk about anything at all, or like--  He wasn't sure what it was like, but it felt good all of a sudden.  Really good.

       "What would you want to get?" Hutch asked him.

       Starsky blinked, trying to focus on the question.  "I dunno.  Nothin' too big.  Maybe--" inspiration hit-- "maybe Z3?"  He felt excited when he said it, and then as soon as the words were out he realized his mistake.  "Naw, forget that.  You don' like numbers."

       "Better than zebras," Hutch said.

       "Huh?"

       "Well, you're more likely to convince me to get tattooed with 'Z3' than with three zebras," Hutch said reasonably.  "Anyway, it might be OK.  It'd be discrete.  Symbolic.  Maybe we could even find someone to do it up stylized for us, you know, so it'd flow together or something." 

       They both thought that one over.

       "You mean so it'd look kinda like a cattle-brand?" said Starsky doubtfully.

       Hutch made a face.  "Oh.  Yeah.  Good point.  Well, we can think of something else."

       Starsky could barely believe what he was hearing.  "We can?  You'd do it with me?"

       "Sure."

       "Really?"

       "Really."

       Starsky settled back in his seat, and tried to adjust to the idea.  "OK, then," he said slowly, with a warm glow starting up in his gut.

       "I will if you will," Hutch said comfortably, and leaned his head back.

       Starsky felt giddy, like something really important had just happened but he wasn't quite sure yet what it was.  It occurred to him to wonder what else he didn't know about Hutch.  And here he'd thought he knew everything important about him, from his first time -- which had happened at the ripe old age of almost twenty with some Hippie chick named Beverly in her apartment above her uncle's garage with another couple on the other side of the room -- right up to yesterday.

       Starsky cast around in his fertile brain for likely topics of unusual conversation ... and came up with something he'd been looking at that morning in the john.

       "Hey, Hutch," he said, "Can I ask you somethin'?"

       "Sure."

       "Other 'n like a double date or somethin', you ever make it with, you know, more than one other person in the bed?"

       "You mean a menage a trois?"

       "Yeah, sure.  That."

       "What kind of question is that?"

       "I dunno.  Just a question." 

       Hutch was quiet for so long Starsky didn't think he was going to answer.  Then he said, "No."

       "So whatcha so touchy about if ya never did it anyway?"

       "I guess I'm just trying to figure out why you're asking," Hutch said.

       "Aw, I was reading this article--"

       "Oh-oh.  And just where, pray tell, was this article?"

       "'Hustler.'"

       Hutch laughed.  "Well, as long as it was a reliable source."

       "OK, fine.  You don't wanna talk serious.  I gotcha."

       "What do you want to talk about, Starsky?"

       Starsky shrugged, feeling sullen.  "Nothin'," he muttered.

       Another long silence.  Then Hutch said, "So have you ever?"

       Should he answer him?  Starsky wasn't sure he should answer. "Once," he said.

       "Really?"  Hutch sounded interested.  Was that possible?  Was Hutch interested?

       "Long time ago," Starsky explained.

       "With who?"

       "Coupla girls."

       "Well, I kinda figured."

       "Why's that?  Could'a been a girl and a guy."

       Hutch looked at him again in the darkness.  "You, sharing a woman with another guy?  Huh-uh.  Not very likely."

       Starsky's heart started beating so hard it shook him.  Hutch had just handed him an opening more perfect than he knew, and Starsky wasn't sure if he was brave enough to take it.  "You'd hafta trust a guy a lot to do that," he said slowly.

       But Hutch just sat there nodding, not looking at him.

       "That article," said Starsky hesitantly, "that article said as how usually in threeways there's one person kinda in the middle like, and the other two don't, you know, touch each other.  Much.  Usually."

       "Oh," Hutch said.  Then he asked, "Did those girls you were with touch each other?"

       "Not much, not that I remember."

       "Would you have liked it if they did?"

       "Hell yeah!"  Starsky grinned, and then he got nervous again.  "But I think you and I could do that," he said very fast before he could lose his nerve. 

       "Do what?"

       "Share a woman."  There it was.  Right out there.  Starsky tried not to hold his breath.  Hutch seemed to be thinking it over.

       "Yeah," he said after a while.  "I guess we could do that."

       "I mean, if anybody could, we could, right?" Starsky prompted.

       "I don't see why not."

       Nobody said anything else for a while.  Hutch busied himself with bundling up all the food wrappers, while Starsky stared fixedly at the deserted street, and tried to picture how it would be in his head.  Him and Hutch, making love like partners.  Did funny things to his gut, to think about it.  She didn't have a face, this hypothetical woman, but he imagined her between the two of them, getting good lovin' from both sides at once, and he knew without having to think about it that him and Hutch would know just what to do to make everything right, make it great.  Teamwork.  Funny thing was, he could almost picture Hutch's face, rapturous with loving, he could hear Hutch laugh with pleasure when he got touched the right way... 

       Hutch's fumbling hand bumped his ankle in the darkness, scooping up discarded napkins and wrappers.  Starsky was kind of hot, all of a sudden.

       Hutch stuffed all the trash together in the sandwich sack and rolled the top, tossing it in the back seat.  He didn't know what to think.  It wasn't that he minded Starsky's flirting -- he kind of liked it, actually.  He liked to see his friend happy, and his eyes flashing.  That was one of the things he'd always loved about Starsky was his energy.  When Starsky was flirting, the whole world lit up, and Hutch loved it.  He thrived on it.  He just didn't know what to do when the spotlight was directed right at him.

       Could it be possible that Starsky was serious about this threeway thing?  Sometimes it was hard to tell, with Starsky.  He snuck a sideways glance.  His partner was sitting still, staring glazedly straight ahead out the front window.  More likely he was just punchy, half asleep, trying to keep himself awake.  Probably didn't mean anything at all by any of this talk.  But the picture was in Hutch's head, now -- Starsky and him, in the same bed, making love at the same time to the same woman.  Oh, they could do it, all right.  No question.  If there was one single thing in Kenneth Hutchinson's life that he was sure of it was that Starsky and he together could do any damn thing they set out to do.  Never any problem between the two of them.  They lived in each other's pockets anyway, each other's cars, apartments, lives -- trying things on, tossing things around, switching roles when it suited them.  Good cop, bad cop, tough guy, nice guy, smooth operator, clumsy shill.  Friend.  You buy, I buy, your money, my money, your food, my food, tonight, tomorrow, makes no difference.  Your safety, my safety, your life, my life.  No difference.  And there were no secrets between them, either, not that he knew of.  If he'd ever stopped to think about it before he would have thought that it wouldn't be possible for two people in the world to be closer than he was with Starsky.

       But this...

       What difference could it possibly make, he asked himself sternly.  He'd seen Starsky drunk and seen him bleed, seen him angry as hell, seen him fuck up and agonize over it, and seen him victorious.  He'd heard him pour out his heart over a bottle of tequila when life was good and when it wasn't, and if he himself was hurting Starsky was always there, touching him, reaching out to him -- one way or another, with hand or word or deed -- and holding him up till he could pull himself together again.  What difference could it make?  There was nothing at all he could possibly learn about Starsky that he didn't already know, right?  No unfamiliar expression that might possibly cross his face...  Except maybe ... ecstasy.  Hutch swallowed hard, and cleared his throat.

       "Ya think--" Starsky mumbled, and then shut up.

       "Hmm?"

       "Never mind," said Starsky.

       "Do I think what?"

       "Never mind, it was a stupid question."  Starsky wouldn't look at him.  That was weird.

       "What kind of stupid question?" Hutch prodded.  All at once he felt like he really had to know.

       "Nothin'." 

       "Starsky, goddamn it--"

       "OK, OK!  Keep your pants on!  I mean--"  Starsky was squirming suddenly, acting really weird.  "I mean, I was just gonna say, you know like in that article how it was sayin' mostly it's one person in the middle an' all, and I was wonderin' if we -- you know -- would we -- I mean, that's all.  See?  It's nothing."

       Good thing when it came to Starsky, Hutch was practically a mind reader.  "Would we touch each other?" he asked very quietly.  "Is that what you're asking?"

       "Yeah.  Somethin' like that."

       Hutch's mind was spinning in a panic.  He knew instinctively that there was something important here, but he just wasn't sure what.  Was Starsky worried that Hutch might embarrass him by not being able to keep his hands to himself?  Didn't he trust him?  Was that it?  Or maybe he was trying to tell him something else?  Like that he was maybe touching him too much?  It wasn't like Starsky to say things indirectly -- when he had something to say he usually said it right out -- but maybe this topic had him too spooked, maybe he felt trapped, and he was trying not to hurt Hutch's feelings?  Could that explain the recent flirtatiousness?  Some sort of weird reverse psychology defense mechanism? 

       Except right from the beginning Starsky had always been the touchy-feely one.  Not Hutch.  Hutch hadn't started the touchy stuff.  It wasn't his fault.  But maybe Starsky didn't want it like this anymore?

       In fact, all the physical stuff used to make Hutch uncomfortable at first, and he hadn't known how to take it.  It wasn't the way he'd been brought up.  He didn't know any guys back home who touched each other the way Starsky touched him.  But after a while he'd realized it was just the way Starsky was.  And then he'd relaxed, and, OK, so maybe he'd gone a little overboard for a while.  It was a new freedom, to touch a friend like that, to be affectionate, and kid around, and take care of each other like that.  It was a whole new language for Hutch, and he had been excruciatingly aware of a long phase in their early friendship when, like any beginning language learner, he just didn't have it right.  When Starsky did it it was always natural, but he, Hutch, sometimes guessed wrong, touched wrong, made it seem too serious, or too -- weird -- or something.  But the point was he liked touching Starsky, of course he liked touching Starsky, why shouldn't he?  And it didn't feel awkward anymore.  If someone really put him on the spot, though, and asked for him to account for it, he couldn't honestly claim anymore that all the touching was just because Starsky started it.  Not the way things were between them now. 

       And maybe that wasn't OK with Starsky.  Maybe that was what he was trying to say?  Maybe he thought Hutch was getting off on--

       Hutch took a fast deep breath and rubbed his hand briskly over his face. 

       "Hey, hey, I'm sorry," Starsky was saying.  "I wouldn't, if you didn't want me to.  You know that.  I'm sorry."

       Hutch swung his face around and looked at him.  "OK," he said, because he didn't know what else to say.  "I know you wouldn't."

"I mean, I wouldn't wanna like gross you out or nothin'."

       "Gross me out?  By touching me?  How're you gonna gross me out by touching me?"

       Starsky looked really surprised, and like he didn't know what to say.  "Well, you're the one who's all freaked alla sudden--" he muttered lamely.

       "I'm not freaked," Hutch denied.  "I'm just starting to wonder if you've got something planned I should know about."

       "Planned?  No, no plan.  Just a for instance."

       "Well, that's fine then.  For instance we should happen to be in bed together at the same time with the same woman, and for instance you should happen to touch me, I won't be grossed out, all right?"

       "You won't?"

       "The woman might think it was a little strange, though."

       "Oh, yeah," Starsky said blankly.

       "Oh yeah," echoed Hutch, "the woman.  Remember her?  Jeez, Starsky, what is with you tonight?"

       "I dunno, I just--"  Starsky was fidgeting, and he looked miserable.

       "Hey, forget it, all right?"  What Hutch said next was not the product of rational thought.  It was just a gut instinct kicking in, part of his internal radar and tracking system that told him when things were out of balance between himself and Starsky.  Starsky was way out on a limb here and he wasn't, so he said, "Anyway, I've got no objections to your touching me.  You know that.  In fact I -- I like it, OK?  You could never gross me out."

       "Yeah?" Starsky sounded relieved.

       "Yeah."

       "Yeah, me too."

       "OK, now that's settled," Hutch said, "I think I'd like to catch a nap, if you don't mind."

       "Yeah, yeah, sure.  Go ahead."

       Hutch had been short on sleep several nights running, and, this present weird conversation aside, the stakeout had been long and boring.  By rights he should be dead on his feet.  Everything had taken on that unique, uncanny surrealness of over-fatigue and late city night streets.  Sleep, that was the answer.  What he should be doing was sleeping, not trying to figure this out.  He scrunched down in his seat, closed his eyes, and tried to get comfortable. 

       Starsky turned on the car radio, very low.

      

Well, you can tell by the way I use my walk,

I'm a woman's man: no time to talk. 

Music loud and women warm,

I've been kicked around since I was born. 

And now it's all right.  It's OK. 

And you may look the other way. 

We can try to understand

the New York Times' effect on man.

      

Whether you're a brother or whether you're a mother,

you're stayin' alive, stayin' alive. 

Feel the city breakin' and everybody shakin',

and we're stayin' alive, stayin' alive. 

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive, stayin' alive.

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin' alive.

 

       Hutch moaned a wordless protest.

       "OK buddy, no Bee Gees," said Starsky quietly, and searched around for another station.  He swung the dial past "Rhinestone Cowboy," and tuned in,

      

And where do we go from here?

Which is the way that's clear

      

Still looking for that blue jean, baby queen

Prettiest girl I've ever seen

See her shake on the movie screen, Jimmy Dean

James Dean

(rock on)

 

       Starsky settled back, and stole a glance at Hutch.  Hutch's eyes were closed, but he wasn't asleep yet.  Couldn't be.  And anyway, he didn't have that innocent look he got when he was sleeping.

       Hutch's mind played a repeating loop for a while, the way it sometimes did, going over and over the conversation with Starsky, and even though he was really very tired, he couldn't quite doze off.  He kept seeing it in his mind the way it would be, the two of them together making love like a team.  Like partners.  And for the first time it occurred to him to wonder if Starsky was asking about touching each other because he didn't want to, or because he did.  That was a really weird thought, but he wasn't going to figure it all out tonight in any case.  Deliberately, Hutch willed his mind to shut off, and he shifted around again trying to get comfortable.

       Starsky couldn't seem to take his eyes off Hutch, off the long, slouching athleticism of him, the physicality of him -- a strong man with his guard down, trusting him completely.  Hutch was attractive.  Starsky'd always known that, but usually didn't really think much about it, just something he took for granted most of the time, and when he did stop to notice it, he was just proud: his partner.  He knew how they looked together, he knew the figure they cut.  More important, though, was what the two of them could accomplish; pair them up and they were unstoppable.  He was proud of Hutch, yeah.  That was all.  So why was his breath catching up in his throat all of a sudden?

       'Cause Hutch'd said he liked it when he touched him, that was why.  It made Starsky weirdly excited just thinking about it.  It'd never really occurred to him before, well, OK, so maybe the question had crossed his mind once or twice these last couple weeks after Lacher went blowing his mouth, but so what?  So Hutch liked it when he touched him.  That was cool.  He liked touching Hutch.  Nothing wrong with that, right? 

       So maybe, if Hutch liked it...  Starsky's arm was across the back of the seat, his hand behind Hutch's head.  Carefully, stealthily, feeling like a kid on his first date, he slid his fingertips down and let them rest lightly on Hutch's shoulder.  No response from Hutch.  Maybe he was asleep, or maybe he just couldn't feel it through all the layers of cloth and leather.

       Debbie Boone started singing 'You Light Up My Life.'  Great.  Couldn't throw a dead cat in this city anymore without hitting a boombox playing 'You Light Up My Life,' but it was slow, and smooth.  Starsky let his fingers stroke back and forth with the music like he was petting a cat, and he held his breath.  Hutch sighed softly.

 

You give me hope to carry on

You light up my days and fill my nights with song.

 

       Hutch's shoulder was warm under his fingertips, and then incredibly Hutch moved, shifting ever so slightly into the caress.

       "Feels good," he mumbled.

       "Mmm," said Starsky, half hypnotized, and all by themselves his fingers slid up past Hutch's collar into his hair, weaving through the silky softness to discover the hot, smooth neck underneath.

       "Nn!" Hutch turned his head, and his eyes flickered open and then closed again.  Starsky pulled his hand away fast.

       There was a frozen split-second when neither of them breathed.  Then, incredibly, Hutch whispered, "Don't stop."

       It was such a quiet whisper Starsky wasn't sure he'd heard right, but he took a chance anyway, and slid his hand back where it most wanted to go, back into Hutch's hair.

It can't be wrong, when it feels so right,

Debbie Boone was singing, and, much as Starsky had to agree with her, what he really wanted was to turn the damn radio off.  But that would mean moving, and moving would mean breaking the spell, and there was no way short of being interrupted by drug lords that he was doing that. 

       Braver now, he stroked the glossy, smooth hair, and caressed and lightly massaged the back of Hutch's head and his neck.  He felt something tearing at his heart so sweet and so strong it shook him.

       "You've found my secret weakness," Hutch murmured. 

       "Oh yeah?"

       "Oh yeah.  Long as you keep doing what you're doing, I'm at your mercy."

       "I think maybe I like the sound of that."  Starsky was shocked at the roughness and unsteadiness of his own voice.

       Hutch, without moving, opened one eye and sized him up.  "Watch it buster, I know karate."  His eye closed again, and he settled back into Starsky's hand.

       Starsky felt weird.  No, he didn't.  But he didn't remember feeling this way before, or he didn't think so anyway, until it occurred to him that he felt -- he felt kind of like he used to feel when he was about to make his move on some classy lady, and he didn't know if she was going to go for it or not.  But that was crazy, because Hutch wasn't any classy lady.  Hutch was just ... Hutch.  His buddy.  And he couldn't possibly want to put the moves on his buddy, that really would be weird, so if it wasn't that, what was it? 

       It was tenderness, Starsky decided.  More specifically, what it seemed to be was an overwhelmingly physical craving to hold Hutch close, pull him into his arms, and bury his face in his hair. 

       OK, so maybe that was a little weird.  But it certainly wasn't crazy.  Not the way they lived, the way their job was.  That made sense, right?  Hutch would understand, right?

       Just at the moment when he was feeling very precariously right at the edge of doing something dangerous, the police radio crackled to life and Starsky nearly jumped out of his skin.  Hutch started too, and straightened up rubbing his eyes.  Starsky reached for the radio.

       Listening to him handle the call, Hutch tried to get his thoughts together.  Two o'clock, and they were being relieved by a back-up team.  They'd never seen any action in this one, so there was no pressure to file the paperwork, and they had two days off, consecutive, which seemed like a rare occurrence in their schedule these days.  Happened to be a Thursday and Friday, but what the hell.  "Zebra 3 out," Starsky was finishing, clicking the radio off and putting it back down.  Hutch felt like he'd been drifting on an especially pleasant dream, and now...  He glanced sideways at his partner.  Starsky looked very serious, very alert.  He didn't meet his eyes.  Hutch turned his head further, and squinted at the road behind them.  A car was pulling up, and its headlights flashed once, quickly, before they went off.  Their relief.

       "Guess that's it," Hutch said.

       "Yeah."

       Starsky started the ignition and pulled out, steering the Torino effortlessly through deserted streets.  Everything seemed surreally vivid to Hutch.  He felt refreshed and strangely awake after his cat-nap. 

       Then he noticed that Starsky had missed the turn to Venice Place. 

       "Where we goin'?"

       "You got someplace to be in the mornin', huh?" Starsky replied.

       Hutch didn't answer.

       "Didn't think so."

       But they weren't headed for Starsky's place, either.

       "Come on, Starsk, where are we going?"

       "I just thought, you know, maybe we could take a little drive."

       OK, this was getting weird.  "Starsky, it's two a.m.  Maybe I don't want to take a drive."

       "Well, maybe you do and maybe you don't," Starsky said equably.  "But you ain't drivin'.  So why don't you just sit back and enjoy it."

       Hutch frowned.  "You know what?"

       "What?"

       "I think you're making me nervous."

       Starsky swallowed, and grinned.  He didn't look at Hutch, but Hutch could see the flash of teeth.  "Tha's OK," he said so quiet and breathy Hutch almost couldn't hear.  God, that smile. 

       Why did Hutch suddenly feel that he might be in trouble?

       Starsky pulled out onto the freeway, and the radio just went right on playing love songs.  'Let Your Love Flow,' 'Killing Me Softly With His Song,' 'Just You 'N' Me,' and 'How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You.' 

       Somehow the night seemed very quiet, as if the music were only drifting on top of a deeper stillness, and nothing was happening, nothing was moving, just Starsky and him awake in all the world.  A weirdly beautiful sense of rightness took hold of Hutch, like nothing better could possibly be happening right now than this, whatever this was.

       And then Starsky turned off up into the hills, while the voice on the radio sang,

 

And sometimes when we touch

The honesty's too much

And I have to close my eyes

And hide

I wanna hold you till I die

Till we both break down and cry

I wanna hold you till the fear in me subsides

 

       When they were just barely high enough to look down at the city, Starsky pulled an illegal U and brought the car up beside a guardrail.  "Jus' look at it!" he said, waving his hand imperiously at the city lights stretched out to the horizon below.  "City of Angels, City of Lights."

       "That's Paris."

       "No, dummy, it's L.A."

       "No, Paris is the City of Lights."

       "If you say so," replied Starsky, "but that sure looks like one hell of a lot of lights to me. "

       "It is a lot of lights, that's not the point--"

       "Anythin' you want, right down there," Starsky interrupted.  "Jus' name it.  Whaddaya want, Hutch, huh?  Jus' say the word, an' I know where to find it for ya."

       Hutch stared at him like he was out of his mind.  Stared at him like he was beautiful.  "If you wanted to do something in the city, it's late," he said finally.  "And you've been driving the wrong way."

       Starsky shrugged.  "We're off for two whole days, so whadda you care?  Anyway, the city never sleeps."

       "New York never sleeps--"

       "Well, this one never sleeps neither.  An' you know somethin'?  It's not a toilet, it's a garden, only half of it's weeds.  And a lot a' the most expensive flowers are made a' plastic w'out any scent to 'em, an' some a' the weeds, despite all you might say against 'em, sure smell great.  Some are even beautiful, ya know?  An' it's all wild, and tangled like, an' filled with snakes an' bugs an' creepy-crawly things, but ... you can have anythin' ya want down there, jus' the same.  Any kinda life."

       "A fix?" Hutch said bluntly, and then instantly wished he'd kept his mouth shut. 

       It was just that it really freaked him out when Starsky started talking like poetry.  He didn't do it very often, and probably most people would have figured between the two of them that Hutch would be the one in love with words, but the reality was that Starsky was the reader.  It was Starsky's apartment that was crammed with books -- old books, musty, magical, hardcover books -- and Starsky who had the whimsical imagination.  Hutch tended more towards paperback spy novels himself, and sometimes privately feared that his own soul-of-a-poet image was undeserved, founded on nothing but blond hair, a little music, and a college degree.  He felt like an imposter half the time, and that made him freeze up.  It made him self-conscious.  Starsky, though, was the real thing, all radiant and blazing with a pure, natural poetry, raw and untutored, that put cultivated eloquence like Hutch's to shame. 

       But when Hutch said "fix," Starsky flinched.  "Think about it much?" he asked, just as blunt.

       "Not much," Hutch said.

       "How much?"  Starsky put the car in park, but left it running.

       Hutch shrugged.  "Sometimes.  Not often.  Hardly ever."

       They didn't look at each other.  There was a long, loaded silence.  "Yeah?" Starsky said finally, "Well, that makes one of us, buddy.  Shit, the places we go, it's in your face practically every day, and--"

       "You're more uptight about this than I am, you know that?"

       "Am I?  Well, maybe one of us needs ta be up-tight."

       Hutch smiled softly.  "OK," he said.  "Maybe you're right.  And thank you.  But Starsk -- you gotta understand something.  I didn't choose it.  Not once.  And that makes a difference.  It felt good, sure.  Lot's of things feel good.  But it was never part of me.  Who I am."

       "You think that makes a difference," Starsky asked cagily, "choosing?"

       "Sure.  I mean, if I ever once, oh ... I don't know, say if I was ever lonely in the middle of the night and figured all I needed to get me through to morning was a fix, then the next time I couldn't sleep I might choose the same thing.  But I never did."

       "Yeah, you can say that again."  Starsky snorted.  "When you can't sleep, you jus' call and wake me up outta perfectly good dreams an' make me talk work or football, never fails.  Or girls.  Work, football, or girls."

       Hutch chuckled.  "See?  My point exactly.  If someone tried to take you away from me, I'd have a hell of a time breaking the habit.  Heroin's easy."

       "You tryin' ta sweet-talk me, Hutch?"  Despite his sarcastic tone, Hutch could see out of the corner of his eye that Starsky was almost smiling.  Happy.

       Just then a car passed them, swerving across the center line to pass.  "This ain't such a good place to stop," Starsky muttered, checking his mirrors.  He pulled another U and headed back up the hill.  Hutch looked out over the city lights, and then back at his partner.  He was trying to figure out how to ask what he wanted to ask when Starsky went on, "Anyway, ya know what I mean, right?  We're off for two days, an' it's all out there.  Anythin' we want.  After-hours clubs--"

       "Beaches," Hutch put in, "except you're still going the wrong way--"

       "--We could pick up some ladies, go dancin'."  Starsky's voice trailed off hesitantly.  "'Cept, that's the same as we always do," he added softly.

       "Or one very brave lady between the two of us," Hutch offered.  "For variety's sake."

       "Brave?"  Starsky grinned.  "Yeah, I guess she'd hafta be, huh?"

       "To take us on as a team?" Hutch smiled back.  "You better believe it!"

       Starsky's smile slowly faded.  "Well, ya see my point then," he said, steering around a curve, and paying scrupulous attention to the road.  "Hell, not like we'd even need a lady, necessarily.  You ain't the greatest dance partner in the world, but ya ain't that bad, neither."

       "Well, thanks.  I think."  Was it Hutch's imagination, or was Starsky trying a little too hard to sound casual?

       "Remember the Olivier last spring?"

       "The--?"  Hutch frowned as the memory clicked into place.  "Oh, yeah," he said, feeling more confused than ever. 

       The Olivier was an ultra-exclusive gay club where rich glamour queens came out to play in a sort of wood-paneled Disneyland, amidst all the trappings of a more elegant age, laid on in excess as only Southern Cal could do it.  The Olivier was more Old Boys' Club than any real Old Boys' Club ever was.  The men there where as neatly manicured as the topiary on the lawn, and as elegantly composed as the flower arrangements.  Most of them could be easily classified into one of two categories:  The ones who had already made their first fortunes, and the lovely youths who flocked around them as starlets always do to power, delectable and inviting as trays of colorful hors d'oeuvres.  It had been a fascinating place to be a fly on the wall for one evening, but Hutch didn't immediately see what bearing the Olivier had on this conversation.

       "Funny," Hutch muttered, almost to himself, "I wouldn't have thought you'd go for that."

       "Huh?  What?  Go for what?"

       "Oh, that whole black tie thing, you know.  I mean, if you're talking about a night on the town -- that is what we're discussing, right?  I've just never known you to choose the Ritz,  that's all."

       "Oh."  Starsky shot him a fast glance, then back at the road, then back at Hutch in a quick double-take.  "I'm not talkin' about black ties, dummy, I'm talkin' 'bout dancin'!"  He waited for Hutch to answer, but Hutch looked like he was a million miles away.  "I'm sayin' we could -- I mean, supposin' we felt like it -- we could go dancin', just us, together, that's all I'm sayin'."

       "Starsk, we're not on the guest list.  We'd have to pull strings before they'd even let us in the door," Hutch replied mechanically.  But in his mind's eye, he was seeing Starsky as he had been that night...

       They'd gone in undercover, partly on a lark and partly as a favor to a friend of a friend.  Just to check things out.  Just to make sure someone's blue-eyed boy wasn't in over his head.  They'd arrived separately and worked the room from different angles.  It hadn't taken Hutch long to get comfortable, and begin to suspect what they'd later confirmed -- that the place was legit.  If there were any minors present, they were there with fake ID's, and not as a matter of club policy.  Drugs were in evidence of course, but no one seemed to be dealing, and though there was sex going on in the back rooms, no one appeared to be paying for it.  The place wasn't squeaky clean, but it wasn't any dirtier than most of the discos they went to themselves.  It was just LA.  Just a very swanky club, with unusually good live music.

       And then he'd spotted Starsky.

       Lounged with his back up to the bar, elbows propped behind him, hips slung loosely forward, moving with the music, strobes of blue and pink light splashing and shimmering through the dark waves of his hair, Starsky was laughing.  For one tilting fragment of a second when he first saw him Hutch had not recognized his friend, but had seen instead the only man in the whole place worth looking at.  The one man whose charisma and energy drew him helplessly, like addiction, like instant fire racing through his blood.  Starsky looked at ease, that was it.  That was what made him irresistible to the eye.  He looked confident, like he belonged here, belonged in these nice clothes.  He smiled like he was not only sure of himself, but like he was having a good time.  And yet beyond the smooth, cool facade, Starsky was the real thing.  Hutch knew that the other guys just looked cool, but Starsky really was. 

       He was, in that moment, everything Hutch admired, and everything he sometimes felt to be unattainable within himself.  He could never be cool like Starsky.  Starsky was cooler than James Dean, affecting a posture of indifference, but with a hot, fearless honesty of emotion burning inside.  From the very first day they'd met there had been a very quiet, secret, hidden part of Hutch's soul that had idolized Starsky.  Still did.  Always would.  He didn't come face to face with it very often, and he'd die sooner than admit to it, but there it was anyway, nevertheless.

And when he'd seen Starsky leaning against the Olivier's bar, the rush of excitement he'd felt had been pride:  My partner. 

       And then he'd gotten around to noticing who Starsky was smiling at -- a willowy blond boy, with doting, flirtatious eyes.  Obviously smitten.  And Starsky was playing it up, flirting confidently like he would with a girl.  That was when it was first really driven home to Hutch that Starsky was indiscriminant about his flirting, and that it honestly didn't mean anything.  Starsky could flirt with anyone. 

       Hutch turned away, and found someone else to talk to for a while.  It was some time later that he heard a quiet voice say right behind his shoulder, "Hey, hotstuff, wanna dance?"  And a strong hand grabbed his ass.  Hutch spun around in surprise, right into the blinding brilliance of Starsky's best smile. 

       "Shit, you scared me!" he said.

       "Jus' me, babe, your ass is safe."  Starsky draped his arm around Hutch's neck.

       "That's how much you know!" Hutch responded.

       "Had some offers, huh?"

       "Haven't you?"

       "Well, I didn't wanna brag..."  Starsky took Hutch's hand, and wove their fingers together.  "Come on, beautiful, let's talk shop."  He led him off to a more discrete corner.

       It took them all of five minutes to compare notes and agree that there were no red flags, and no leads worth following.  Their friend's friend's little boy hadn't been ensnared by any sort of opium den, and if his father didn't like the life his twenty-two year old son was leading, there was nothing the law could do about it.

       "OK," Hutch concluded.  He was rather self-consciously toying his fingers through Starsky's hair, enjoying the pretense and feeling a little guilty for enjoying it. "We're done here.  Let's split."

       "Whaddaya mean, split?  The night's young!"

       "Yeah, exactly.  Don't you want to go out somewhere?"

       "We are out somewhere," Starsky pointed out.  "And I wanna dance.  I already asked ya, remember?"  He illustrated his words by grabbing Hutch's hips, and shoving them playfully back and forth.

       "Dance?"  Hutch couldn't quite bend his mind around the idea.

       "Don't strain your brain.  I'll lead."

       And Starsky had hauled him off bodily to the dance floor, and danced with him.  They'd had some laughs.  A few drinks.  Then they went home.  No big deal, right?

       So why was Starsky bringing it up now?  In the darkened car, Hutch swallowed thickly, and glanced sideways at his friend.

       "Hutch, we're in LA," Starsky was saying.  "You think we can't find a club to go dancin' where they don't have a guest list?"

       "Starsky, is this just a for instance, or..."

       Hutch's voice dried in his throat, and he felt stupid for asking.  Starsky made a point of checking his rearview mirrors.  He didn't answer right away.

       Hutch made himself stop looking at his partner and directed his attention forcefully ahead, but in his mind's eye he was not seeing the road.  He was seeing himself dancing with Starsky...  It had been so easy, so graceful, so freeing.  So much simpler to follow than to lead, and Starsky knew all the steps.  He didn't have to worry about making a fool out of himself with some corny move, because Starsky was leading, and Starsky wouldn't let him look bad.  There was no competition, like when you danced with a woman.  Funny, but that was always how he felt about it, as if the only time he ever really had to compete with a lady was on the dance floor, and then he was doomed before he started because he didn't only have to keep up, he had to lead.  But with Starsky it wasn't that way at all.  He didn't have to wonder what Starsky was going to think of him, because he already knew.  He didn't even have to worry about following, or about the mechanics of rhythm and motion, because all he had to do was look in Starsky's eyes and he could find all the rhythm he needed right there.  They were in sync, as always, playing off against that weird energy and rapport they always had between them.  Dancing with Starsky was the most fun Hutch had ever had on a dance floor. 

       "Ya ever consider that maybe I might jus' like dancin' wit' ya, huh?" Starsky's voice broke into Hutch's thoughts.  Hutch grunted, and went on staring straight ahead.

       What Starsky didn't know, couldn't know, and better not find out, was that Hutch privately felt like that one night with Starsky was the only time in his life he had ever really danced.  Compared to dancing with Starsky, which was pure grace, and joy, and freedom, everything else was nothing but doing the Hokey-Pokey at a children's party.  He remembered not being able to take his eyes off Starsky, the way Starsky was all lit up and shining with life and grace.  And he remembered how weird it felt when he first realized that he was not the only one looking.  Starsky had pulled him in close for a turn, and Hutch'd whispered over the music, "Hey, buddy, you sure got a lot of admirers here.  They're all looking at you."  He'd felt a furtive, thrilling sort of guilt that he was the one in Starsky's arms.  More than that, it had actually kind of turned him on to know that all those interested, envious guys had no idea about the deep truth between him and Starsky.  If those guys thought it was just sex, they didn't have a clue.  It felt like a sharing secret, right out in public.

       And then Starsky had pulled him even closer, so his breath was hot in Hutch's ear, and murmured roughly, "I got news for you.  They ain't lookin' at me, blondie, they're lookin' at us.  We're the hottest couple on the floor, don't ya know that?"  And then there had been a strange fleeting warmth just in front of his ear that could almost have been a fast kiss -- or anyway Hutch might've liked to think it was a kiss, if he'd let himself think about it at all -- but it was over almost before it had begun, and the music kept flowing...

       Why the hell was Starsky bringing all this up now?

       Starsky pulled completely off the road into a deserted lookout point, shoved the gear shift to park, and turned the engine off. 

       "What are we doing?" Hutch asked quietly.  He felt all charged up -- on -- electrical, and very much awake.

       "Parking," Starsky said.

       "Yeah, I got that part."  This couldn't be what it seemed like.  Not possibly.  But then he remembered Starsky saying, 'If I ever start flirting with you you'll know it.'  Hutch took a deep, slow breath.  "Now, tell me what we're doing here, all right?  Is this part of that consciousness raising program that girl was trying to sell you on that time?"

       The girl had a name, of course, which Hutch didn't bother to use, and the time was only a couple months ago so he knew Starsky would remember.  No point in wasting energy on extra words, when Starsky always knew what he was talking about anyway.

       "Nope," Starsky grinned.  It was a real, flirtatious, cat-that-ate-the-canary grin.  "I solemnly swear that my consciousness has not been raised."

       "So what are we doing here?"

       "I already told ya -- parking." 

       "Parking."  Well, that much was obvious, wasn't it?  The Torino was clearly, indisputably parked. 

       Starsky settled back in his seat, and started tapping his fingers on his thigh in time to the music.  Rita Coolidge was singing,

 

Your love, is liftin' me higher

Than I've ever been lifted before

So keep it up, quench my desire

And I'll be at your side forevermore

 

       Starsky glanced at him, an impish, glittering glance, and then away.  It took Hutch's breath away.

 

You know your love (your love keeps liftin' me)

Keeps on liftin' (your love keeps liftin' me)

Higher (liftin' me, liftin' me), higher, and higher (higher)

I said your love (your love keeps liftin' me)

Keeps on (liftin' me, liftin' me)

Liftin' me (liftin' me) higher and higher (higher)

 

       Hutch didn't know what to do.  "Define 'parking,'" he said finally.

       "You know, parking."  Starsky patted the key in the ignition.

       "I know parking, Starsky.  There are two definitions of parking."

       "There are?" his friend asked innocently.

       "OK, forget it."

       "Maybe I don't wanna forget it," said Starsky.

       Hutch groaned, and rubbed his eyes.

       "So which do you wanna do?" Starsky asked.  "Park or park?"

       His tone was light and teasing, but the bluntness of the question sent adrenaline through Hutch like an intoxicant.  He knew he'd heard right.  No mistake.  Slowly, very slowly, he lowered his hand and looked at Starsky.

       "Oh come on, I'm not gonna bite," said Starsky nervously.

       "Start talking, buddy."

       Starsky's eyes dropped.  "Look, I'm sorry, I just--  I been thinkin'--"

       "--Oh-oh--"

       "--an' how come the only time we get to touch each other is when we're pretendin' not to notice, huh?  You like it, I like it, everybody else in the whole damn city seems pretty damn sure we like it, so how come we can't just ... you know...?"

       "No, I'm not sure I do," said Hutch.  "What exactly are you suggesting?"

       "I'm not suggestin' nothin'!"  Starsky sounded really worried.  "Jus'-- Hutch, when I was pattin' your hair, and you were so -- kind of beautiful and happy -- an' I wanted to put my arms aroun' you so much I was achin', Hutch, all over.  So much I could taste it.  But it seems we can't never do that, can we?  Why's there always gotta be some excuse, and never just 'cause ... 'cause we ... maybe 'cause we want to?  I mean, while we're thinkin' about it, you know?  Can't we ever just touch each other 'cause we want to?"

       "Of course we can," Hutch asserted.  "We can."

       "OK..." said Starsky, and he edged closer and reached for Hutch's leg.  He put his hand on Hutch's thigh, right above the knee, and squeezed ... then he started to rub, firm and steady, up and down.  Even though he'd agreed to it, Hutch sat stunned looking at Starsky's hand moving on his thigh, trying to make things make sense.  Starsky touching him.  Starsky wanting to touch him.  What was so weird about that? 

       Starsky touched him all the time, and it didn't feel like this, didn't make him feel dangerous like this, like he might do something crazy, didn't make his heart thump like this.  What was so different now?  The only difference was that he knew right now Starsky was really thinking about what he was doing, doing it on purpose, because he wanted to.  And he didn't know what else Starsky wanted.  Maybe something, maybe nothing.  More to the point, he didn't know how he was supposed to respond.  His whole skin and body felt so sensitized and so on that all he really wanted was to relax into it, growl in pleasure, reach for Starsky and just go with it.  But if he did that, Starsky was going to think...  Well...

       Glancing sideways at his partner, Hutch wasn't sure that was what Starsky was hoping for -- wasn't sure at all -- and Hutch didn't want to be the one to blow it.

       "Are you sure you want to do this?" he asked, in a voice that had dropped low and rough all of a sudden.

       Starsky took a long, shaky breath.  "I'm sure you're the one person I don't ever wanna lose, and you're the one person I never get to hold on to," he said. 

       Hutch groaned.  Twisting around in his seat and making a grab for Starsky, he got his hands on him and pulled him close.  "Me too, buddy, me too," he whispered into Starsky's curls.

       They hugged for a long time, and hugging felt good.  He'd always liked hugging Starsky.  Nothing wrong with hugging, between friends.  Then Starsky's left hand started roving.  Down Hutch's shoulder, side, hip, leg.  And back up again, slowly.

       The feeling of Starsky's hand moving over him sent shivers of warning and alarm through Hutch's body.  He didn't want to do anything in the world to break the spell of this moment, the pure, simple happiness of just holding each other because they loved each other.  It was perfect exactly the way it was, but Starsky better stop with what he was doing, or... 

"Wh-why are you doing that?" Hutch asked.

       "I already tol' ya," Starsky murmured, nuzzling deeper into the hollow of his shoulder.  "I like touchin' ya, babe.  You said you liked it too, didn't ya?" 

       "I--  I--  Shit, this is gonna sound crazy!  Are you coming on to me, Starsk?"

       Starsky grabbed him tighter, and he felt hot breath and a hot kiss on the side of his neck.  "I dunno," Starsky managed finally, in a strangled, shaking voice.  "I dunno.  I might be.  Goddam, Hutch, I think I might be."

       Hutch's breath caught so tight in chest he felt himself panting trying to get air.  Breaking away from Starsky was not an option that crossed his mind.  "Why are we doing this again?" he whispered, feeling desperately sure that, like on one of their cases, they must have missed something, some clue that was going to make everything else make sense once they realized what it was.  His own hand had wrapped itself into Starsky's curls, threaded through, grasping and massaging like he couldn't get enough.

       Starsky understood him, though.  Starsky understood that they had to think about the evidence, work this through systematically.  "We're doin' this 'cause I want to touch you when I'm thinkin' about it for once, not just by accident like.  Premeditated, you know--"  His voice was shaking too bad, and he broke off.

       "I think the word you want is 'deliberate.'  'Premeditated' is for crimes."

       "Yeah, yeah, sorry," Starsky laughed roughly.  "Bringin' the work home."  His hands were all over Hutch, searching out the shape of his shoulders, his chest, his knees, his legs.  Firm, rough hands, not afraid to use force.  Hutch squeezed his eyes closed.

       Starsky, god, Starsky.  It was almost too much, almost overload.

       "You know what you're d--?" Hutch whispered plaintively.

       "--Not really--"  A shaky laugh.

       "--doing to me?"

       "Yeah?"

       "God, Starsk, I--"  Hutch was starting to get turned on.  He could feel it happening, knew things were going to get very serious very fast if this kept up the way it was going.  He had to find a way to warn his friend, but didn't want to warn him because if he did everything might stop.  Starsky, meanwhile, seemed to be sniffing behind his ears.  "What are you doing?" Hutch asked suddenly, in a different tone.

       "Know what, Hutch?  You don't smell like sex."  He said it like he'd just realized it.

       Hutch tried to laugh.  "Well, I got news for you, partner.  Neither do you."

       "I don't?"  Starsky sounded interested.  He pulled back a little, just enough to look at him, and then leaned in again, grazing their cheeks together so that their beard stubble rasped oddly.  "Whadda I smell like?"

       Oh god, oh god.  Hutch slid his cheek against Starsky's cheek, tracing the corner of his lips over the salty skin, and pushed his nose into Starsky's hair.  He wasn't going to be able to hold back much longer, and he knew it -- Starsky was going to get more than he bargained for when he started this little experiment.  Hutch breathed in deep, and knew that what Starsky smelled like to him was happiness.  But he couldn't say that. 

       "You smell like my best friend ever in the whole world," he murmured into Starsky's ear, and then sucked the lobe into his mouth, and slid his hand down Starsky's back to his ass.

       Starsky gasped and cried out, went suddenly yielding in his arms, and everything changed, the energy changed, "Hutch, god, Hutch, I can't--  I--"  He sounded really scared.

       Starsky's distress was probably literally the only thing in the world that could have made Hutch stop what he was doing, and back off.  It took every bit of will power he had, but he did it, he broke away and sat back and stared at Starsky with wild, dilated eyes.  Starsky was looking pretty wild-eyed himself.  He was breathing hard, lips parted, staring fixedly at Hutch's mouth.

       "Let's go, we gotta go," he said suddenly, throwing himself back to his side of the seat and twisting hard at the ignition.  The Torino roared to life, and Starsky slammed into reverse, squealing backwards out onto the road with more force than he needed to. 

       "Hey, hey, slow down.  Why don't you let me drive, huh?"

       "Not a chance," Starsky said tightly, but he wouldn't look at him.

       Starsky's world had just opened up and threatened to swallow him whole.  When Hutch said he smelled like his best friend, something happened inside Starsky that was so right it scared him.  Better than sex.  He'd meant what he said that Hutch didn't smell like sex.  Sex was supposed to smell a certain way.  Anybody knew that.  There was a way that women smelled that did something to his back brain like fire, like chemistry, like five million years of genetic evolution -- and Hutch didn't smell that way at all. 

       He hadn't been able to put it into words until Hutch said it first, but Hutch was right.  Just exactly right, but then Hutch always did know the right words for things -- Hutch smelled like 'best friend.'  Just exactly like 'best friend.'  And when your best friend sucked on your ear and grabbed your rump just how the hell were you supposed to feel, anyway?  Were you supposed to get hard at a rock, and ready to cream in your jeans?  Starsky wasn't sure he'd ever been so turned on so hard so fast in his life.  Shit, what was wrong with him, anyway?  And the worst of it was that he was pretty damn sure his partner wasn't ready for this kind of head trip, and what's more he didn't deserve it.  He deserved better than to have his best friend go weird on him like that. But back there when that happened, if he hadn't gotten a grip on the steering wheel in about another two seconds he was gonna've kissed Hutch for real, a deep, diving for pearls sort of kiss, and probably tried to rip his clothes open and make it with him right there, and then wouldn't he've been surprised, huh?  And here Hutch was being such a good sport and all... 

       Shit, this just couldn't be happening. 

       OK, so when it came right down to it, Starsky knew he really had been flirting.  He'd sort of denied it to Hutch, but he wasn't stupid.  He knew it.  Well, he'd realized it as soon as Hutch pointed it out, but he wasn't about to admit that.  And no way was he ever gonna admit that it wasn't just auto-pilot, either.  It wasn't like Hutch'd said, he didn't get "stuck" flirting with him, he had wanted to flirt.  He'd been enjoying it.  Starsky could admit that to himself.  But flirting was...  Well, flirting was flirting.  Didn't mean nothing.  Friends could flirt, right?  Why not?  But the way he was feeling about Hutch right now had nothing at all to do with being friendly.  And he couldn't do that to Hutch, he just couldn't, because that wouldn't be right -- if your best buddy put the moves on you for real, instead of just horsing around?  No, that wouldn't be right at all.  Not sportsmanlike.

       Just a few minutes ago Starsky had felt like he was on top of the world with Hutch right there beside him, and now he didn't know which way to run to get away from it, so he just drove.  Drove too fast.

       Hutch gripped the dash, but didn't tell him to slow down.  Didn't say anything.

       Hutch had his own problems to think about.  He'd wanted Starsky back there, wanted him desperately.  No denying it.  He'd felt an arousal in his body that went right down into his blood and bones and right up into his head and his soul, so that there was no corner left to hide in.  An arousal too big to deny.  If Starsky hadn't pulled away when he did, there would have been no stopping, and Hutch knew it.  He didn't understand it, but he knew it. 

       The strange thing was he'd never really thought about wanting Starsky, not like that.  Well, OK, maybe the thought had danced across the margins of his mind once or twice when he was just idly daydreaming, but he'd never actually stopped to think that... 

       Well, the point was that neither one of them was gay, that was the point.  For the first time it occurred to Hutch to wonder if not being gay might be a problem, if things might have been easier for them if they were.  Maybe life would make a lot more sense for both of them if they could just be there for each other in the way that their women never could.  But Hutch wasn't any sexually-inexperienced babe in the woods, he was a man who knew what he liked.  Same with Starsky.  And what they both liked was women.  It wasn't just something you could change your mind about, like deciding to start wearing jeans instead of cords.  Was it?

       Hutch snuck a glance at his friend.  Starsky looked positively spooked, and he was gripping the wheel so tight his knuckles were white. 

       There was only one explanation Hutch could think of:  Starsky, who was fluent in that foreign language of interpersonal contact which still sometimes mystified Hutch, Starsky had just been being friendly.  Well, OK, so maybe he'd been a little more than friendly, he'd admitted as much himself.  But he obviously hadn't been serious, that was the point.  He'd been goofing around, the way he did sometimes.  The way he could afford to do because all this stuff about touching and playing came so naturally to him.  It was Hutch in his ineptitude who'd taken the game too seriously, assumed too much, crossed some line, and maybe -- Hutch cringed -- maybe Starsky had known it when he got turned on.  Yeah, that had to be it.  And that was why Starsky was running scared now. 

       Hutch concentrated on trying to relax, reminding himself that there was less chance of injury in an accident if he stayed loose -- not that he doubted Starsky's driving any more than usual -- and telling himself that whatever it was that just happened, and however badly he'd goofed, Starsky was his best friend and this too would pass, like every other misunderstanding between them passed.  By tomorrow they'd be laughing about it.  He wasn't quite sure how, but he felt confident of at least that much.  There was just too much history between Starsky and him for it all to fall apart over something so stupid.

       The minute he thought of it like that, the clutching fear in Hutch's stomach eased, and he sat back more comfortably in his seat.  Me 'n thee.  Whatever was going on, they'd sort it out.  They always did.

       He glanced again at Starsky.  Starsky carried energy about himself in an electric haze, an almost visible aura.  The air around him was practically crackling with it, like the jittery tingling of the wind when the barometric pressure drops before a storm.  Sallies of street lights illuminated and back-lit his face, and plundered wildly through his hair.  His thigh tensed and relaxed rhythmically on the gas and break, and he'd finally relaxed his grip on the wheel -- he was driving with the heel of one hand, his elbow up on the doorframe, and the other hand rested tensely on his thigh.  He was very cool.  It turned Hutch on to look at him. 

       God, where did that feeling come from?

       Hutch looked quickly away.

       Starsky tapped his thigh with his fingers, hard, and then put his hand down flat on the seat between them, palm down.

       An invitation?  Hutch glanced at the hand out of the corner of his eye, and seriously considered reaching for it.  

       "Hey, I'm sorry," Starsky said tightly.  "OK?"

       "Yeah," said Hutch.  "Sure.  Me too."

       Starsky had switched the radio off, and the rest of the drive passed in complete silence.  Neither of them seemed to know what to say.  By the time they pulled up in front of Venice Place, Starsky was looking pretty glazed -- if Hutch hadn't known him better he might have suspected road hypnosis.

       "G'night," Starsky said, without looking at him.

       "Why don't you come up for a cup of coffee."

       "Naw, I'm fine."

"Well, then you're fine for a cup of coffee.  Come on."

       Starsky shrugged, and got out of the car.  He still wouldn't look at Hutch.  His face was expressionless, and his eyes seemed focused far away.

       In the kitchen, they collided at cross purposes.  Hutch was trying to make coffee, and Starsky was going for a bottle of red wine.  "Hey, pal, you're kinda zoned already," Hutch commented dryly.  "Wouldn't you rather have coffee?"

       Starsky shrugged, shouldered past him, and felt blindly for the corkscrew while he read the label on the wine.  "This one's OK to open, right?  Not somethin' you were savin'?"

       "It's fine," Hutch answered without looking at the bottle.  "If you're planning to sleep on my couch."

       Starsky shrugged again.  "I'm OK.  Just a little wound.  I'll have a drink, and then I'll get out of your hair."

       "You'll have a drink, and then you'll be wasted," Hutch countered reasonably.  "Which is fine with me, but I think coffee would do you a better turn."

       "Naw, I'm wide awake," said Starsky, at the same time as Hutch said, "You've been acting weird all evening."

       Starsky abruptly stopped messing with the corkscrew, and stood very still.  He didn't look at Hutch.  "Hey," he said defensively, "I already said I was sorry."

       "Sorry for what?  Being a space cadet?  That's nothing new."

       Starsky smiled a little, and set down the wine.  "I guess you're right," he said.  "Coffee'd be good."

       Hutch hesitated.  He couldn't get a read on his friend.  Starsky seemed very withdrawn, suddenly, sort of pulled in on himself.  The direction of his gaze flicked restlessly around the kitchen, the counters, the floor, but still he wouldn't look at Hutch.  "If you'd rather have wine..." Hutch offered, his voice trailing off.  He was starting to get a weird feeling in his gut, like a sixth sense.

       "Naw, I--  I better not relax too much.  I'm in kinda a weird mood, seems like, and I don't wanna piss ya off more."  While Hutch stood there feeling frozen, struck dumb, Starsky raked his fingers through his hair, and turned nervously partway toward the door.  "In fact, maybe it'd be better if we just called it a night, huh?  'S late."

       Instinctively, Hutch reached out.  He gripped Starsky's shoulder, and his friend flinched.  Starsky's eyes shot up into his, and all at once, very suddenly, Hutch knew everything there was to know.  It only took an instant.  "I'm not pissed off," Hutch's voice said, but neither of them heard it.  Now Starsky was the one who was frozen, tensely immobile and staring while Hutch's hand slid of its own accord up the slant of his shoulder to his neck.  "Hey," Hutch said softly.  "Hey." 

       Skin touched skin, and Starsky's eyes fluttered briefly closed.  He drew a deep, shaky, obvious breath.  And then he jerked away, but not very far. 

       "I gotta go," he mumbled, looking at the floor.  "'M sorry."

       For one terrible moment, Hutch thought he was going to stand there and let him go.  He thought he wasn't going to be able to make a move to stop him, and then they'd have to work up their nerve all over again some other time.  Then he got back control of his voice, and to his relief Starsky hadn't actually moved very far.  Only half a step away.  "Stay," Hutch said, very quietly.  "Have a glass of wine with me."

       There was a long, heart-pounding silence.  "I thought coffee...?" Starsky said uncertainly.

       "No, you were right the first time.  Wine.  I think you and I need to sit up and drink wine and watch the sunrise together, huh?  Been a while since we did that."

       Another pause, during which Hutch had the creepy sensation of his life flashing before his eyes.  It might have seemed absurd, here in the safety of his own kitchen, if it hadn't run so deep.  Then Starsky said, "OK," very softly.  He glanced quickly at Hutch, and then away.  Enough for Hutch to know he was right.

       "Go light some candles," Hutch told him.  And Starsky went.

       Turning to the countertop and setting down the can of coffee, Hutch propped himself against his palms, hung his head, and tried to focus on breathing in and out.  All of a sudden he felt light-headed.    

       He knew without needing to think about it that if there was to be a seduction, he was the one who would have to do the seducing.  There were many roles the two of them shared equally, or passed back and forth between them on a whim, like good cop/bad cop.  But other, deeper things rarely changed.  Starsky was the one for playing with things and pushing at limits; his boundless exuberance and enthusiasm kept life exciting, and made everything worth it.  But Hutch was the one who was supposed to make things make sense.  Down in the deepest part of the unspoken foundation of their relationship, that was Hutch's role, and he knew it.  It hadn't been required of him much, recently.  As the repertoire of their partnership had grown, their original roles had become more fluid ... at least on the surface.  They rarely needed to get this deep anymore.  But it went without saying that on those rare occasions when the envelope needed pushing -- not playing with, but real pushing -- it was up to Hutch to decide how it should be done. 

       Telling Starsky to light the candles had been the first step.  It wasn't the way he'd have played a heavy date with a woman, but somehow Hutch couldn't see himself telling Starsky to go "make himself comfortable."  The point, though, was that he'd never told Starsky to go light candles before either, not like that.  Not in that voice, god, that voice!  He'd never used that voice with Starsky before.  And Starsky had done it, done what he said.  Or, at least he assumed from the small noises behind him that that was what was going on.

       OK.  Offer made, offer accepted.  Cautiously opening his eyes, Hutch found himself staring at the coffee can.  He smoothed the top back down, shoved it out of the way, and picked up the wine.  Then he set that down, too.  Food.  They needed food.  A quick check of the refrigerator turned up a block of cheese he'd bought a couple weeks back for a date that hadn't panned out.  Methodically, Hutch pulled out the cutting board, and began slicing cheese. 

       He heard music start behind him, too loud for a moment before the volume was quickly turned down.  Then came alternating splices of hiss and music as Starsky searched for a good station. 

       A couple of minutes later Hutch stood at the edge of the kitchen, with the opened bottle of wine and a couple glasses in one hand, and a plate of cheese and crackers in the other, watching Starsky.  The lights were out in the living area.  It looked like Starsky had lit every candle he could find, and incense too -- the sweet, pungent smell was a sort of familiar seduction all its own.  He often lit incense when he was with a girl, and he knew Starsky did, too.  Sometimes when they'd double-dated they'd had incense, in the quietest, most intimate hours of the morning when one couple would take the couch, and the other the bed, and they would try very, very hard to be quiet.  But never before when it was just the two of them.  Hutch swallowed.  Starsky was down on his haunches in front of the stereo, fine-tuning a jazz station.  "This all right?" he asked, glancing over his shoulder in Hutch's general direction.

       Hutch cleared his throat.  "Fine," he said, and hit the kitchen light switch with his elbow.

       He went and put everything down on the coffee table, and then sat down on the couch -- not on his usual end, but in the middle.  Starsky came and sat beside him, not too close, and helped himself to some cheese and a cracker while Hutch poured the wine. 

       "Mmm," Starsky said appreciatively.  "I was hungry." 

       "Figured I better feed you," Hutch smiled, and handed over a glass of wine.  Their fingers brushed.  Starsky kept his eyes down.

       The room was quiet, dim and sweet, flickering with candlelight, and smoky with midnight music.  Hutch took a slow, deep breath, and leaned back with his glass of wine.  Everything seemed different, and he didn't know what to do.

       Covertly he watched Starsky.  Starsky was sitting right at the edge of the couch, holding his wine glass in one hand, and eating with the other.  Nervous?

       It occurred to Hutch that he didn't actually have to do anything.  If he didn't make a move, maybe Starsky wouldn't either.  They could just sit here drinking their wine like nothing had changed.  Just enjoy each other's company, and eventually say goodnight as friends the way they had been doing for all these years now.  But he wasn't sure that was what he wanted.  He wasn't sure it wasn't, but he wasn't sure it was, either.  Hutch felt himself losing his nerve, and felt with a sick certainty that he wasn't going to be able to go through with this.  It was too unprecedented, too new, too ... hell, it was too weird.  He hadn't had enough time to consider possible repercussions.

       Then Starsky put another slice of cheese on top of a cracker, and looked up and met Hutch's eyes.  "Here," he said abruptly, and fed him the cracker.  And looking into Starsky's eyes very quickly before he couldn't anymore and had to look down, Hutch knew that he didn't want to dance around this anymore.  It seemed like a precipitous development between the two of them, but maybe it wasn't.  Maybe it was just ... them.

       He ate the cheese and cracker, and thought about it.  Go slow, he decided.  Slow enough to stop at any point.  Try it out.  See how it feels.  He washed down the cheese with a deep swallow of wine, and set down his glass.

       "Come 'ere," he said.  "I'll rub your neck." 

       Starsky went very still, and looked at him. 

       "You said you were wound," Hutch reminded him.  "Come on."  Then a weird inspiration hit, and he toed off his shoes, and climbed up to sit on the back of the couch.  Not exactly the most comfortable perch, but it would allow Starsky to sit comfortably between his knees.  Starsky, who had been quietly watching him, hesitated only a moment, and then he moved over, sat between Hutch's knees, and bent his head. 

       Hutch put his hands on Starsky's shoulders, resting his palms against the soft red of Starsky's jersey, and letting his thumbs trace lightly back and forth over the bare skin of his neck.  After a moment, Starsky, who was cradling his glass, took another sip of wine.  His curls tickled Hutch's fingers.  The music was good -- low, and mellow, and good -- and Hutch willed himself into a different sort of perception, willed himself in tune.  He began to rub the tight muscles of his friend's neck and upper shoulders, kneading with increasing pressure, working to loosen the tension of a long week.  This wasn't so different.  Not the first time he'd given Starsky a neck rub.  Like always, it felt good to touch Starsky, and it felt even better when Starsky responded, when his muscles began to relax, and his breath came deeper. 

       Hutch's hands strayed further and further, by gradual degrees exploring a wider territory.  Very consciously he allowed his touch to become less efficient, and more sensual.  He bent forward to slide his palms down the whole length of Starsky's back, and then pulled back up again with a slow scratching of nails.  Starsky gasped. 

       Hutch held a quick breath.  That was good!  Starsky gasping was good.  It surprised him, and he smiled to himself behind Starsky's back.

       More than a little hypnotized, he traced his fingertips over Starsky's neck and up into the wonderful glossy mass of his hair, and began rubbing his scalp.  He really did have beautiful hair.  Making a very quiet sound of contentment, Starsky tipped his head back.  His eyes were closed. 

       Hutch knew all the best places to rub.  Starsky had no idea what he knew, not when it came to stuff like this, and it excited Hutch to realize that for the first time in a long time he was going to be able to surprise his friend.  This was their first first together in what seemed like forever.  It felt giddy, like old times, like first meeting Starsky all over again.  He wanted to savor this feeling, bask in it, make it last.  Working through the tangle of curls, finding and caressing every pressure point, Hutch eventually let his fingers slide out the other side and onto Starsky's face.  He began to massage his eyebrows, and his forehead, searching out the small indentations where nerves and fine facial muscles connected.  Starsky moaned. 

       "Oh, god, whatcha doin'?" he whispered.  "That feels, wow--"

       "Like that?"  He leaned forward, so he could whisper in Starsky's ear.

       "Feels really good."

       "Good."  He pressed a kiss just below Starsky's ear, noting with pleasure the way his friend breathed in deep and tilted his head to further expose his throat.  Hutch's heart was pounding very fast all of a sudden.  It was going to happen, he could feel it--  Tracing his lips lightly back and forth over Starsky's skin, he let his hands go roving, one down and one back.  His left hand skimmed delicately over Starsky's face, his cheekbone, his lips, his throat, and lingered over his Adam's apple, which was bobbing up and down nervously.  His right hand, meanwhile, smoothed back over Starsky's hair, exposing his ear, and Hutch kissed his way up with butterfly kisses, feather light.  Then with just the very tip of his tongue, he teased the edge of his friend's ear.  Starsky didn't even breathe.  "Want me to stop?" Hutch whispered, letting his breath blow hot across the damp skin. 

       "Nnnn," Starsky answered.  He was still holding his wineglass in one hand, but with the other he had been gripping Hutch's ankle, and now he slipped his hand up under his pant leg to his skin in wordless appeal. 

       Hutch liked feeling this way, loved this breathless in-tuneness between them.  He began to nibble on the edge of his ear, and then sucked the lobe into his mouth and toyed with it.  He could feel Starsky tense, and start breathing so fast he was almost gasping.  His left hand slid down from Starsky's throat onto his chest, fingers splayed out, holding him and soaking up the pounding of his heart, the sudden raggedness of his breath.  And then Starsky moaned. 

       And the arousal was right there, right where they left off, ricocheting between them just as before, and Hutch felt a deep sound dragged from his own throat, tangling and vibrating into the damp, receptive, sensitive recesses of Starsky's ear, and he was suddenly hugging Starsky around the shoulders with both arms, clutching at him, and plunging his tongue into his ear while Starsky cried out wordlessly and trembled in his arms.

       Hutch didn't remember ever being so turned on in his life, and Starsky felt himself going down fast, losing control, sliding into a kind of lustful haze that blind-sided him -- couldn't be trusted.  Too much, it was too much.

       "Stop!  Stop!  Oh, god, stop, Hutch!  You're killin' me!"

       Panting, Hutch stopped.  "Uh..." he said.  "Sorry?"

       "No, it's--  It's--  Goddamn, lemme catch my breath--"  Still gripping Hutch's bare shin, Starsky let his head drop and rest against his friend's hard thigh.  He felt vulnerable in his arousal, exposed and unexpectedly alone.  Hutch was doing this to him, no question about it, forcing his excitement, making him helpless, seeing him need like this, but nothing in their years of partnership gave them a context for this, gave Starsky reason to hope that ... well...  Very unexpectedly, Starsky felt something he usually never, ever felt when he was with Hutch, not since so long he couldn't even remember the last time: he felt like he might fall with no net.  Without stopping to think, he tipped his head the other way and discretely dried his ear on Hutch's jeans.  "You're scarin' the shit outta me," he mumbled finally.

       Loving Hutch he could deal with.  He was used to loving Hutch; he was good at it.  Getting turned on by Hutch was OK too, in an unexpectedly familiar sort of way.  They'd always been dynamite when they were together, nothing new about that.  Hutch'd turned him on lots of times, in lots of ways -- made him laugh, got him lit, reminded him who do we trust, and which way was up.  Hutch was his compass.  But this -- this -- this thing with the ear, here, this was below the belt, really.  This was a direct short-circuit to some kind of hard-wired sexual response in Starsky, and it wouldn't have mattered a good goddamn whether it was Hutch or Huggy or somebody's grandma off the street doing it to him. 

       "Bad idea, huh?"  Hutch sounded apologetic.

       "'S not that.  Jus' ... thought we were gonna go slow."  Of course, come to think of it, it wasn't like they'd exactly agreed to 'go' anywhere, slow or otherwise.  But Starsky had sort of assumed...

       "You saying you wanna stop?" Hutch asked carefully.  He was going to tear apart if he had to let go of Starsky, his heart would burst, his blood would jitter through his veins so frantic he wouldn't be able to do anything but run -- run hard, run it out  -- and he wouldn't even do that well, because he was too hyped.  He definitely wasn't letting go unless he was convinced he had no other choice.  One hand had found its way back into Starsky's hair.

       "No, I don't wanna stop," Starsky said clearly.  "I jus' -- Hutch, I like touchin' like this, babe, but you're jus' makin' me crazy, that's all.  I can't think."

       "You need to think?" Hutch asked, his breathy voice teetering precariously on the edge of laughter.

       Starsky chuckled.  Then he swallowed.  "I wanna get closer, babe," he whispered.  "You're too far away up there.  Why doncha come down here w' me, huh?"

       Starsky was waiting, not moving.  Hutch considered his options.  If he sat down beside Starsky, something was going to happen very fast that he wasn't sure either of them was ready for, but...  His eyes fell on his discarded flannel shirt, draped over the back of the couch beside him.  Grabbing it and wadding it up, he stuffed it in front of himself like a makeshift codpiece and let himself slip down, wedging into the tight press between Starsky's back and the back of the couch.  He ended up squashing the cushion edgewise and sitting on it, which raised him up just a little.  Starsky had leaned forward to drag the coffee table closer so he could put up his feet, and when he leaned back again he fit easy, and sweet, and snug into Hutch's arms.

       A very quiet, very gentle sound of wordless contentment passed between them.  Then Starsky took hold of his wrists and pulled, and wrapped himself up in Hutch like a blanket.  He leaned his head back on Hutch's shoulder.  "'S good," he murmured.

       "Mmmmm."  The kaleidoscope of Hutch's world had just shifted into focus.

       Starsky leaned back into Hutch's body and soaked him in, the soothing rhythm of his breathing, and the big, hot comfort of his hands, stroking softly over his forearm and his stomach. Electrifying adrenaline from when Hutch had sucked on his ear was still flowing through his blood, but cooling now.  Sweetening now.  And he was still just as hot.  So hot it scared him, awed him, made him want to laugh for pure happiness.  Didn't matter if Hutch was sucking on his ear or not, he still wanted him.  God, he really did!  Starsky rolled his head deeper into the crook of Hutch's neck, and nestled their cheeks together.  He squirmed a little, wiggling deeper into Hutch.  Tuning in to everything, he was trying to figure what Hutch was feeling right now, and if this was mutual, and whether he had a real shot...

       "Hey, Hutch?"

       "Mmmm?"  Hutch was nuzzling his hair.

       "What, ah...?"  Starsky cleared his throat.  "Whatcha got that shirt there for, huh?"

       Hutch tensed slightly, and didn't answer right away.

       "You really need that?" prompted Starsky.

       When Hutch still hesitated, with a rushing thrill Starsky was suddenly sure Hutch wasn't just being shy about intimate contact; he was hiding something.

       "Ah--" Hutch said.  "Ah--"

       "You hard?" Starsky asked bluntly.

       "Yeah."

       "Me too.  So lose the shirt, huh?"  Leaning forward, Starsky reached behind his back to pluck at the offending flannel.  After a stunned pause, Hutch helped, and tossed the shirt away.  Starsky, starting to lean back again, checked himself.  "Get comfortable," he ordered gently.  "I wanna feel ya."  And he reached for his glass of wine.

       Slowly, Hutch did as he was told.  He started to slide his hand down into his jeans to ease and straighten himself, and then, slowly and with a heavy-beating heart, he opened his jeans instead.  Rescuing his erection from the awkward crease where it had been trapped, he let it spring gratefully, blindly upright against his belly inside his shorts.  And then Starsky leaned back, and the heat and solidness of his body pressed directly against Hutch's hard-on.  Hutch drew air through his teeth. 

       Starsky seemed tense.  He sipped his wine, and took a minute to relax.  "Hutch, why're you hard?"

       "Huh?"

       "Well, I know why I am, but your ear wasn't the one getting reamed."  Starsky passed the glass back over his shoulder.

       "You--  Ah--  What do you mean?"  Hutch was floundering.  He accepted the glass from Starsky's hand, and, gulping from it blindly, passed it back again.  Starsky took it from him, drained it, and leaned forward to set the empty glass back on the table.  "I-- well it, I mean, it -- Starsk, it turned me on when you got turned on."

       "It did?"  Starsky glanced over his shoulder at him, before grabbing the wine bottle and slowly, deliberately leaning back into his arms, back against his body.

       "Well, yeah?"  Shouldn't it? Hutch wondered.  He realized all at once that he didn't know what to do with his hands.  He touched Starsky's elbows awkwardly, his arms, his hips, and then feeling foolish, let his hands come to rest on his own thighs.

       "You nervous?"  Starsky's voice was a soft friction like a caress.  Putting the wine bottle down carefully on the couch beside them, he put his hands over Hutch's hands, palm to back, wove their fingers together, and moved their joined hands onto his own body. 

       Hutch found that there was a lump in his throat.  He nodded, letting his cheek brush quickly back and forth against Starsky's, and allowed Starsky to move his hands around like a puppet.  He felt his palms brushing over Starsky's chest and stomach, and then sliding down lower to rub between the heat of his thighs.  Trembling, Hutch kissed Starsky's throat as his right hand was moved up again to his friend's muscular abdomen, while his left hand -- his left hand was smoothed hesitatingly, quickly over Starsky's hard-on.  For one shocking moment he felt its humid bulk in his grip, and then Starsky was depositing that hand onto his stomach with the other, releasing it, and reaching for the wine.  He took a swig from the bottle, and passed it.

       Hutch drank gladly, deep, handed the wine back, and put his hands back on Starsky.  Starsky settled against him, and sighed.  Hutch began to rub his stomach.

       "It's like I jus' can't get enough a you," Starsky said after a while, muttering and rubbing his head in the hollow of Hutch's neck. 

       "Me too."  He kissed the dark curls, so soft and springy and available, and breathed in deep the scent of Starsky's hair.

       "Hold me tight, wouldya?  I feel like, Hutch, this is crazy, but I feel like if we just stayed like this an' din't move at all till we hadta go back in ta work again in a coupla days, that'd maybe be almost long enough.  God--"  His voice broke.

       Tenderly, with his whole heart, Hutch pulled Starsky tighter into his arms, and then draped his legs up over Starsky's legs, so that he was holding him in a four-limbed bear-hug.  Starsky.  Center of his life, center of his world.  More precious to him than anyone else ever.  He couldn't believe he was holding Starsky like this.  He never wanted to let go. 

       For a long time they just sat together quietly, listening to the music and slowly working through the bottle of wine.  Hutch ran his hands over Starsky's belly, and his arms.  Starsky stroked Hutch's thighs, and his hips.  Hutch's erection pulsed quietly, persistently between them.  He knew that Starsky could feel it.  He liked that Starsky could feel it.  But nothing seemed urgent right now.  Everything in the universe was in harmony.  Hutch couldn't ever remember feeling so happy.

       Starsky felt hungry all over.  He drank in the feel and smell of Hutch, and it was like all along he'd been starving, and never understood why.  And now he'd finally found what he needed, he couldn't get enough.  He wished there were no clothes between them.  He wanted to turn around, and hold Hutch naked in his arms.  If he could've figured a way to climb right inside his skin, he'd have done it; there was just no possible way to be close enough, long enough, deep enough.  But Starsky knew that as soon as he turned around and put his arms around his friend, it was going to turn into just sex.  The same as with anyone, right?  An easy thrill.  And he didn't want Hutch to be just anyone, he wanted Hutch to be Hutch.  Holding him, loving him.  Touching him.  But Hutch was still hard, and Hutch's fingers drifted timidly down to skim Starsky's erection, making him shiver and jerk, and he knew it couldn't stay innocent like this forever.  It was going to happen.

       Irrationally, Starsky wished he could figure a way to get up and get away from Hutch without touching any more, and go off by himself for a minute to cool down, slow things down.  But he knew that as soon as he moved...

       "Hutch?" he said, a long time later, in a choked voice. 

       "Mmm?"

       "I think maybe I wanna turn around?"

       No answer, just a continued rhythmic stroking on his thigh.

       "Hutch?"

       Hutch kissed his throat again.  "I think maybe I want you to turn around," he whispered. 

       "OK," Starsky said, but he didn't move.  Then, involuntarily, Hutch's hips jerked -- a quick, shallow, helpless thrust against the small of Starsky's back.  Starsky grinned and wiggled back against it, testing the shape, size, hardness and heat of his friend's arousal.  Hutch whimpered.  They were both breathing deeper now, faster, he could feel Hutch's breath puffing open-mouthed against his throat. 

       And then Hutch was shoving him, turning him roughly, and Starsky was half-falling trying to rotate around without letting any unnecessary air come between them.  The wine bottle crashed to the floor, spilling unheeded, and Starsky fell into Hutch too fast for thought, knocking him back sideways and tackling him, coming down on top of him, their tongues in each other's mouths, hands groping, cocks straining and bumping, incendiary.  Sex.  Just like sex.  Mindless as sex.  Mindful as love.  The best love ever, higher than high, because it was Hutch.  Because it was Starsky.  Because it was the two of them.

       Starsky didn't know anything else clearly until he fell off the couch, and his ass landed in the spilt wine.  Even that didn't make too much of an impression, though, and he would have just pulled Hutch down on top of him and gone on with it if Hutch had let him, but Hutch grabbed him by the armpits and lifted him bodily up.  "Bed," he announced, and hauled Starsky away, half-tripping.  They were both giggling insanely by the time they got there and neither one of them could have said why, but then they looked again into each other's eyes, and everything was dead serious again, deep serious, soul serious.  

       And clothes were flung off, half-torn off, and then they were together, really together, rolling around with nothing between them, and for a few vital moments it was heaven, purely.  

Their orgasms came fast and sharp and blinding, and all too quickly it was over, and tangled they lay in a sweaty panting heap with Hutch on the bottom.  Both breathing ragged, they shook each other with their hearts.  Hutch slowly became aware that Starsky had started licking the sweat off his shoulder, and, squirming his way into tighter contact, abdomen to abdomen, was amusing himself by sliding around sensually side to side and up and down, mixing their semen together.  He noticed it, but to comment would've taken effort.  And breath.  So for a while he just panted, and enjoyed the slippery cuddling.  Then Starsky seemed to come to himself a bit more, and got his hand into the mess, and started spreading it around, down between their thighs, and up between their throats, and then cuddled those places, too.

       "What the devil are you doing?" he asked, finally.

       "Stickin' us together," answered Starsky matter-of-factly.

       "You're weird, you know that?  Huh?"

       "So I been told."  Starsky started licking the slick-sticky mess off his throat, muttering something that sounded like, "Anyhow, this's way better."

       Better than what? Hutch wondered dazedly.  "Huh?"

       "Bein' stuck," Starsky explained.  "'S better 'n sex."

       Hutch felt warm inside, and didn't understand why.  "How ya figure?"

       "'Cause ain't no question who 'm stuck to."  Starsky reared up suddenly, and looked him right in the eye.  "Hutch?"

       Hutch had gone all unexpectedly soft inside.  His eyes traced over Starsky's wild hair, sweat-beaded face, and his deep-deep blue and falling-into, so-serious eyes, and he knew all at once that he never wanted to be anywhere else, anyway else, with anyone else.  Just here, just like this, with Starsky.  "Hmmm?" he said.

       "Can I ask ya somethin'?"

       "Mmmm?"

       "Later, I mean, after we're ready again, could you--  I mean--  Would you--?"

       "What?"

       "Wouldya--  That is, could we like look at each other when we--  Ah, shit."  He ducked his head back down under Hutch's chin.

       Hutch chuckled.  "I think that could definitely be arranged," he said, and patted Starsky's hair.  "So," he said a while later, "you wanna do this again, huh?"

       Starsky reared up fast.  "You kiddin'?  You're kiddin', right?"

       "I'm kidding."

       "Good."  The dark head snuggled back again.  He didn't want to say so, but Starsky wasn't sure he ever wanted to let go.  That was OK, though, because secretly in his heart of hearts Hutch felt just the same way. 

       For a while they were both perfectly contented, but then the slick got less and the stick got more, and it started to be uncomfortable.  Hutch felt like he'd been painted in glue, and when he reached for Starsky's half-mast erection, that was gluey too, so they gave up, hauled each other out of bed, and headed for the shower. 

       Starsky turned on the water, and then found himself standing stupidly beside Hutch's tub, staring at a ruffled pink shower cap.  "Uh, Hutch?"  Turning his attention to a bottle of lily scented bubble-bath, he picked up the shower cap and waved it over his shoulder like a flag, at Hutch who was pissing behind him.

       "Oh," said Hutch.  "Yeah.  Uh, Sheila left that stuff a couple weeks ago, she said she'd, uh..."  His voice trailed off.

       "'S OK.  I jus' didn't know you were seeing anybody, that's all."

       "Well, it's not--  It wasn't very serious."

       Starsky turned around, his eyes seeking curiously for Hutch's.  "'S OK," he said again.  "I mean, it's not like we gotta both stop havin' sex jus' 'cause we--  I mean-- "  He frowned.  "That didn't come out right."

       "Just 'cause we started having sex?" Hutch filled in the sentence dryly.

       Hutch was standing there with his hair all mussed up, his eyes kind of glazed, swollen lips, a hickey on his collar bone, crusted all over with semen that wasn't only his, and his dick hanging long, and flushed, and full...  All man.  Nothing about the way he looked that had ever touched any part of Starsky's fantasies before, nothing he'd ever desired ... except those eyes.  And there Starsky was, standing with Hutch in his bathroom taking a good look at him, and the bathroom smelled familiar, smelled like Hutch.  Hutch's cologne, Hutch's soap.  Hutch's smell.  Friend.  Buddy.  Safe.  Home.  Not sex.

       It was like stumbling backwards through a dream, or like the inside-out of deja vu.  Sex was supposed to be mixed up with romance, and romance might normally be assumed to include things like lily scented bubble-bath, which you were supposed to pretend not to care about one way or the other, because that was part of the game of being a guy -- letting ladies talk you into stuff you actually would've liked anyway.  But this was obviously the wrong side of the looking glass, now, and Starsky felt confused.

       "I mean, if you don't want me to see her again..." Hutch offered uncertainly, but Starsky didn't hear him right away, and Hutch had to repeat it.  "Starsk, I don't have to see her again."

       And while he was waiting for Starsky to snap out of it and say something, Hutch took a good look at Starsky, messy and glowing with sex, and he wanted violently for Starsky to say, 'Don't see her again.  You're mine.'

       But Starsky didn't say that.  He said, "Uh...  What?  I mean no, I mean...  Hutch, you're talkin' crazy.  I don't want ya ta hafta give up your girl."

       Hutch's heart sank.  "Yeah, you're right.  Sure."

       Hutch looked so gentle standing there, so lost, and the longing in his eyes when he looked at Starsky was enough to make his knees go weak.  Which was especially weird, because Starsky figured he must look worse than Hutch, what with his chest hair all matted and stuck down with crud.  How could Hutch look at him like that, like he was beautiful?  "Come on, ya big sperm-wad, I'll wash ya off," Starsky said.  Turning back to the tub, he switched the water back from shower to faucet, and put the stopper in the drain.  Then he grabbed for the bubble-bath.  He glanced back over his shoulder at Hutch, and Hutch was smiling again.

       "I'll bring some candles," Hutch said.  "You want anything?"

       "How 'bout champagne?"

       "Fresh out.  How 'bout chocolate milk?"

       "That'll do."

       For some reason everything seemed less weird again by candlelight, with both of them in the bubble-bath together, drinking Ovaltine.  Hutch was just Hutch again, now that he was mostly covered up with bubbles, and Hutch's eyes were sparkly blue and filled with love.  His maleness no longer seemed too familiar or too unfamiliar, and they were both in the same hot, sweet water together.  It felt good.  It felt right.  The taste of chocolate was cold and delicious in Starsky's mouth, and he tickled Hutch's balls with his toes.  Hutch smiled.  It was a lazy, sensuous, dangerous smile, and it made Starsky's heart flutter in his throat.

       Hutch wasn't sure he'd ever seen anything in his life as sexy as Starsky was right now.  There wasn't much of him to see except his shoulders and knobby, hairy knees, and he was spangled with soap, his hair was all tendrilling and wild like Medusa snakes, and none of that mattered at all.  It was his eyes.  His slow smile.  The way he was just lounging there in the bubble-bath, being Starsky.

       Hutch licked the chocolate off his lips.  He was starting to get excited again.  "You know," he said slowly, very quietly, "I'd do it.  I mean if you wanted, if it wouldn't be too weird for you."

       "Huh?"  Looking confused and happy, Starsky smiled a charmingly lopsided smile and cocked his head.  "What?"

       "Uh..."  Hutch felt himself blushing, and nervously he laughed.  "Shit, this's so weird.  I don't think I can say it."

       "Oh," said Starsky.  And he grinned.  He knew right away what Hutch was talking about.  "That."

       "Yeah?" whispered Hutch.  "I think ... I mean, I think I'd like to?"

       The look in his eyes took Starsky's breath away.  "Babe, you can do anything you want to me.  But if you do that how'm I gonna see your eyes?  Ya got such beautiful eyes, Hutch."  He said it straight from the heart, not turning it into a joke like he might've before, and the soft, serious sound of the words hung between them in the air like music.

       Putting down his chocolate milk, Starsky reached for the soap and wiggled closer.  "Come 'ere, I wanna look at ya."  He felt under the water for Hutch's cock.  "Know what I'm gonna do?"

       "Oh god," Hutch whispered.

       "I'm gonna look in your eyes and make you come."

       Nothing but a quiet whimper from Hutch, who bit his lip and closed his eyes for a moment, feeling around to put his glass down on the floor beside the tub, so that his hands would be free to reciprocate.

       "Unless ya got a problem with that?"

       "You kidding?  Mmm-mm.  No problem.  No problem at all."

       Starsky let touch guide him; he didn't need to see.  Submerged maleness, familiar as his own flesh, sweet and lily bubble-bath slick and pulsingly alive in Starsky's hands.  He could feel Hutch's heartbeat, and the shuddery rise and fall of his breath that trembled the frothy bubbles.  Right now he could see everything he needed to see just by looking into Hutch's eyes, and watching Hutch yield.  Watching Hutch surrender to him, and his defenses dissolve, until, sinking deeper in the bath, Hutch was revealed and exposed as his most basic, gentle, inner self -- the Hutch Starsky always knew was in there somewhere, underneath the cool.  And Hutch was moaning, flushing, crying out his name. 

       And Hutch was his. And the moment before he came their eyes met, and they both knew.

       They held each other to sleep that night like children.  Gently, like they were on some sort of date, or something.  Like they were supposed to be nice to each other.  But it was OK.  Weird, but kind of ... great.

 

==================================

 

       It was a couple months later, and they were laying on the beach, on the afternoon of one of their rare days off.  Starsky found himself staring at Hutch's feet, for no reason in particular.  Big, bony, ungraceful man feet.  Sexy as hell.  He wanted to crawl down next to them and kiss them, play with the toes, but he figured this probably wasn't the place for it.  "Hutch," he said quietly, "you know somethin'?"

       "Hmmm?"

       "Ya got beauty-ful feet."

       "I wha--?!"  Hutch tipped his head up and looked at Starsky through suspiciously slitted eyes.  "You really got it bad, pal," he decided, closing his eyes again and dropping his head back down.

       "Tell me about it," said Starsky. 

       He sounded so sad that Hutch groped blindly for his arm, and caressed the inside of his elbow.  "Don't worry," he said, "you've been looking pretty good yourself, all of a sudden." 

       "I have?"

       Hutch rolled over, propped his head up on his hand, and looked Starsky in the eye.  Starsky's eyes were vulnerable, hopeful, guarding nothing.  His heart was in his eyes.  "Ravishing," Hutch whispered with a smile.  "Stunning.  I can't take my eyes off you.  Your smile makes me dizzy, and you have the most beautiful body I've ever seen in my life.  I don't know why I never noticed before."

       "Aw, Hutch, cut it with the sweet-talk."

       "But it's true," Hutch insisted.  And the funny thing was he meant it, with every cell of his body and every dream in his heart.

       "Jus' 'cause you love me," Starsky said.  "Tha's all."

       "Yep," said Hutch seriously.  "You got that right."

       "Come on," Starsky said, lurching to his feet and holding out a hand to Hutch.  "Let's get someplace more private before I do somethin' that'd shock these nice people on the beach here."

       And it was the taste of Hutch's dick that was on his mind as they headed back to the car.  Sexy as hell.  When did that happen?

      

==================================

      

"Oh god, oh god, oh god!"  Starsky was seeing spots, and trying to catch his breath.  Hutch lovin' him was all the magic world-moving stuff that everyone always joked about like it wasn't so, except with Hutch for some crazy reason it turned out it was true after all.

       "Jesus that was good!" Hutch whispered, clutching him.  They were the way they most loved to be: stuck together by sweat and semen, and practically breathing each other's breath.  Almost close enough. 

       "Yeah, yeah, I get that all the time," Starsky said lightly between pants.  "Hey, how come sex never felt like this before, huh?  This's the best ever, Hutch.  I mean it."

       "Me too, babe, me too."  Hutch cradled his cheek on Starsky's sweaty, hairy chest, and felt like he might die if he ever had to give up Starsky. 

       "Ya think this means we don't like ladies anymore?" Starsky wanted to know, but he sounded more curious than worried.  Even though they hadn't talked to each other about any kind of commitment, neither of them had had time or interest to go looking elsewhere.  "I mean, ya think we're gonna start noticin' other guys?  That'd be weird, huh?"

       "Not a chance."

       "Me neither."  Starsky rolled Hutch over and got comfortable, snuggling his head into Hutch's armpit.  "I don' think I'm ready to be gay," he said.

       Hutch chuckled.  "Don't worry about it."  He ruffled his fingers through Starsky's hair.  He'd learned that he could play with Starsky's hair very happily for hours, for as long as Starsky would let him, in fact.  "Gay, straight, makes no difference anyway," he murmured.  "All the same thing.  Nothing to do with us."

       "Huh?  How ya figure?"

       "Well, you know," Hutch said slowly, "I've been thinking.  You know how they say sexual preference is not a choice..."

       "Yeah?"

       "Well, you and I made a choice, that's all."

       Starsky thought about it, wiggling around a little, and kissing Hutch's armpit.  "Yeah," he said.  "So?"

       "So, gay or straight, all most people do is just follow their dicks around and call that love."

       Starsky snorted.  "Hey, chauvinist, better not let the ladies hear you say that!"

       Smiling and kissing the top of his head, Hutch said, "Yeah, well, better not let the next lesbian we meet hear you call her a lady!"  He swatted at Starsky, and Starsky swatted back, and pretty soon they were rolling around wrestling, trying for advantage, faking each other out.  Much more fun than it used to be when they only did it with clothes on.

       Right in the middle of a clinch Starsky stopped, and breathed in long, and loud, and deep.

       "What are you doing?"

       "Smelling you," said Starsky, matter-of-factly.  In fact he was tracing his nose over the secret places of Hutch's body like a dog on the scent.

       "That ripe, huh?"  Hutch made a move to extricate himself and head for the shower, but Starsky pulled him roughly back. 

       "That great," he corrected.  "You know something Hutch, I was wrong before."

"'Bout what?" Hutch mumbled, with his mouth full of Starsky's throat, and the tingling certainty that the next round was about to start any moment now.  Maybe with Starsky inside him this time.  Hutch hoped so.

       "You do smell like sex.  I thought for a long time you didn't, but you do.  You smell just exactly like sex."

       "You too, babe," Hutch said reverently.  "You too."

       "Me 'n you, we're lucky, ain't we Hutch?  We got the real thing."

       "You know it."  Hutch cradled his best friend's face in his hands, drank in the depths of his soul in his eyes, and kissed his eyebrows, and his forehead, and his cheeks, and eyelashes, and the bridge of his nose very softly and very seriously.  "You know it."

       And then Starsky, after sighing a long, deep, shuddering sigh, grabbed Hutch hard and flipped him over rough, pinned him to the bed, and began to love him in earnest.

       And as the love-making renewed itself again, this unique love-making, all their own, that had been their own special, private language between the two of them in one form or another ever since the day they met, Hutch had the giddy godlike sensation of stealing fire from heaven and looking down from far above on the plight of mere mortals bound to the limits of their own labels -- 'gay' and 'straight' -- and he flashed unexpectedly on a scene from an old Star Trek episode they'd seen a few weeks ago:  A beautiful android, designed to be immortal, staking her own unique claim to sentience, free will, love, passion, Humanity ... and mortality ... by thumping herself on the chest, crying her first tears, and declaring herself:

       I choose, I choose, I choose.

       "I choose you, David Michael Starsky," Hutch whispered, and then he was lost. 

      

 

 

 

~fini~

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