The Death of the Six-Week
At fucking last. Hutch turned in the direction of the door. “I want to go home, Starsky. Get me out of here.”
Starsky’s voice was coming from beside the bed now. “You sure that’s a good idea? It’s 100 degrees in the shade and you don’t have an air conditioner. Maybe you should just stay here a while longer.”
The walls were closing in on him. Literally, for all Hutch knew: it sure as hell felt like it. He waved his arm in the direction of Starsky’s voice until his hand was taken in a hot, damp grasp.
“Starsky, I’m blind, not sick. There’s nothing they can do for me that you can’t help me with at home—you’re coming home with me, right?” He was vastly reassured to hear Starsky’s indignant assent. “Okay, I was just checking. You might have had something better to do.” The walls were keeping their distance now that Starsky was here, but it couldn’t last. He lowered his voice. “If I’m not going to see for the next week or so, I’d rather do it someplace familiar. It’s not like the heat’s anything new. I feel so damn helpless here it’s driving me nuts.”
His hand was squeezed, and Starsky, relief evident in his voice, asked, “So they’re sure it’s only gonna be a few days? There’s no way it’s permanent?”
He’d told Starsky himself over and over, even had the doctor explain it, but Starsky was a little gun-shy when it came to blindness. He’d even started apologizing again for the time he let Hutch take a tumble down his stairs.
“No, Starsk, Ava hasn’t maimed me permanently. She wouldn’t have hurt me at all if I hadn’t tried to wipe sweat out of my eyes with her milk on my hands. My eyes are really stinging and it looks like I got a sunburn around them, that’s all.”
The side of the bed sagged. “I told you no good would come of keeping that jungle in your place. Next thing you know, one of ‘em’s gonna gnaw your leg off while you’re sleeping,” Starsky told him with morbid relish.
A recitation of Hutch’s views on Starsky’s “Little Shop of Horrors” fixation was cut short by a nurse with the news that Hutch’s doctor had signed off on his release and he was free to go. “Thank God,” he muttered, and tried to throw the covers back, forgetting that Starsky was sitting on them.
This was going to be the longest week of his life.
He’d made it without incident into his clothes, the wheelchair and Starsky’s car, and now he groped for the window’s handle as Starsky swung out of the hospital driveway. Even this late in the afternoon the air was sultry, weighted. The light bandage over his eyes was already sweat-soaked where it lay against his temples, and the hot breeze that swirled into the car offered only marginal relief. The bandage was coming off as soon as he got home. There was only Starsky to see him, and Starsky had certainly seen him in worse shape than this.
However, Hutch’s biggest Venus Flytrap would be getting sicced on Starsky’s ass if his partner didn’t cut him a little slack about his aveloz plant.
“You’re throwing her out over my dead body, Starsk. Euphorbia tirucalli is an ecological goldmine. Aside from all its uses in folk medicine, it can potentially produce 50 barrels of oil an acre. What kind of impact could that have on the energy crisis? They’re making everything from rat poison to rafters with it, and lately they’ve been researching it as a possible cancer cure—think of it!”
Starsky remained unmoved. “I’m thinking of it, and I’m falling asleep at the wheel. That plant’s going to get us one way or another.”
Hutch slouched in his seat. The mild burns around his eyes from the plant’s caustic sap were annoyingly itchy; only the bandages were keeping his hands off them. And what the hell was he going to do with himself at home? He couldn’t read, he couldn’t garden, he couldn’t cook, watch TV or even do his laundry. He was going to go crazy, he thought glumly. He’d end up spending the entire week jerking off and calling in to NPR talk shows. He imagined Starsky finding him on day seven, a gibbering, dehydrated wreck clutching his raw dick in one hand and the phone in the other, and the image surprised him into laughter.
Starsky demanded to know what was so funny about murder by horticulture, and by the time he had finished describing Day Seven Starsky’s wheezes of mirth had cheered him up considerably.
The car made a U-turn and came to a halt, and Starsky switched off the engine. “I turned the car around so you’re right at the sidewalk there. There weren’t any spaces right out front, so wait until I come around.”
There was a brief argument over whether he would take Starsky’s elbow, but he finally bowed to the inevitable logic of it and suffered himself to be guided upstairs. He refused any help with the lock, and fumbled the key into position while Starsky advised him of the exact number of steps that led to his apartment.
Inside, Starsky opened windows while Hutch made a first cautious circuit of the interior. He was going to have to ask Starsky to fold up the screen and his easel, but the rest wouldn’t be a problem if he was careful.
He was edging out on to the balcony, hands raised, when Starsky called, “Hey! You want some dinner? You got cold cuts in here; how about I make us a couple of sandwiches and beers?”
“There’s a pitcher of iced tea; I better stick to that. Sandwiches sound good.” He sighed. Last thing he needed was to get drunk and set himself on fire or something.
Long, long week.
And to add insult to injury, this was supposed to have been his San Diego weekend. No way he’d be seeing Jesse now. And no way to let him know he was being stood up, since last names and phone numbers hadn’t entered into the equation.
He sighed. He’d liked Jesse, too: good-looking, easy-going, good sense of humour and fun in bed. Damn. They’d been pretty close to the six-week limit, though. In fact, in a way this could be looked on as serendipity, because for the first time Hutch had been tempted to forget about his “six weeks, no strings” rule, and that could only have ended badly.
He wondered if Starsky had remembered that this was a San Diego weekend.
He’d only been seeing men again for the past year or so, and had told Starsky immediately. Forrest and the botulism scare had taught him hard lessons about keeping his whereabouts from his partner, but the more important reason was that he never wanted to be responsible for the stunned, hurt look that John Blaine’s secrecy had left in Starsky’s eyes.
Starsky had let him talk without interruption about his failsafe for not getting too involved with anyone, and keeping it out of Bay City. He was quiet for a while after Hutch finished. Finally, he said, “I’m not going to say ‘congratulations,’ but I’m glad you told me. I trust you to keep it on the outside of this.” He’d gestured in a way that Hutch understood encompassed not just the city, but their jobs, their relationships with women and even their friendship.
“I’m going to do you the same favour, but I’ve got some conditions.” He’d waved off Hutch’s bristling attempt to speak. “You gotta tell me when you’re going, and call me at least once while you’re gone and as soon as you get back. And that’s all we’ll say about it, Hutch. Ever. I don’t want to hear any details.”
And when Hutch had gotten over being mad at Starsky for laying down an ultimatum, he’d realized the good sense of it. “Going to San Diego” became code for a subject that otherwise remained closed between them.
Starsky called him to eat then, and he made his careful way, hands outstretched, to the table and felt around for place settings. “Where am I sitting?”
Starsky’s response was muffled. “On the couch, like usual.” A pause, then in a clearer voice he asked, “Want me to come get you?”
Hutch suppressed a jolt of irritation. “No, I want you to bring my food back to the table. I don’t intend to try and balance my plate on my knees and feel around for my drink, and end up wearing everything.”
“Sorry, Hutch. I never thought of that.” Starsky’s voice was chagrined. “Sit down and I’ll bring it over.”
Now he felt guilty. Shit.
No sight, no air conditioning, no jogging, no beer, no sex. This week was never going to end.
Hutch edged over to the bathroom, rolled his head on stiff shoulders and groaned. After what felt like hours of holding himself tensely in anticipation of a collision, his neck and back were killing him.
“Starsk? I’m going to have a shower and see if I can work out some of these kinks.”
He was stepping out of his jockeys when Starsky’s voice came from behind him. “Take these, and after your shower I’ll give you a neck rub.”
“Take what?” he asked, turning, and caught his foot in the pile of clothing he’d dropped on the floor. He lurched sideways, paralysed by pure panic, and was brought up hard against Starsky’s body. He hung there, panting, while Starsky petted his shoulders and back and murmured meaningless nonsense about getting in enough trouble for one day and trying to fly without wings.
“You ought to watch where you’re going. Seventy-three per cent of all domestic accidents happen in the bathroom, you know.”
It was completely tasteless, and exactly what Hutch needed. He relaxed a little, and Starsky held him a little closer. “I guess I should have looked before I leaped, huh.”
“Look on the bright side. I caught you, didn’t I?”
By now both were sniggering, as much from the adrenaline rush as the black humour. “I’ll try not to go looking for trouble, but some days a man needs eyes in the b-back of his h-head.”
“Day like this, it couldn’t hurt,” Starsky agreed with a chortle and a final pat, and Hutch became conscious of sweat-saturated tee shirt and jeans against his bare skin. “Don’t move,” he added. “I’m bending down to pick up your clothes, and I don’t want you tripping over me and splitting your skull.”
Hutch leaned against the counter and listened to Starsky put his clothes in the hamper, then start the shower. He was verging on comfortable for the first time since he’d left the hospital’s air conditioning, and he wondered whether Starsky would mind if he just stayed naked. Starsky could get naked, too, if he wanted; it wasn’t like Hutch was going to be judging him. He grinned to himself, and Starsky wanted to know what was so funny.
“I’m trying to decide what’s the smallest article of clothing I could wear and not offend your modesty.”
“Hey, stay naked, for all I care. Nothing I haven’t seen before. Where the hell did those aspirin get to?” Starsky still seemed to be on the floor, for some reason; Hutch reached out to get a fix on him, and came up with a handful of wet tee shirt.
“Starsk, I don’t know how you can stand being in these clothes. You must have a pair of shorts around here somewhere.”
“Yeah, I’m pretty much dyin’, to tell the truth. Hey, would you mind if I took a quick shower ahead of you? Then I can get set up for your back rub while you take yours.” By the sound of it, he was already making his way out of his clothes. “Do you want some more aspirin?”
“More? I haven’t had any yet.”
“That’s what I was trying to hand you across your booby-trapped floor. I dropped them when I caught you—Jesus, that freaked me out. I was scared you were going to split your head open.” A hand brushed over his hair and cupped the back of his head for a moment, then slid away.
Wasn’t this a little weird? Hutch wondered. He and Starsky were both naked, crammed together in a bathroom that was so small their bare hides kept brushing against each other. This should probably be kind of embarrassing him, except he was so relieved to have Starsky within reach that he didn’t have room to be bashful.
He jumped when a strong stream splashed into the toilet next to him. “I’m sweatin’ so much I don’t know how I have anything left to piss out,” Starsky informed him. “You wanna go before I flush?”
“Might as well. Put the seat down so I don’t fall in.” Much as he hated peeing sitting down, it was the only practical course of action.
“You want me to…?” Starsky’s voice trailed off; Hutch pictured him gesturing toward the bathroom door.
“Nah.” He settled gingerly down. “Strangely enough, you’re not bothering me.”
“What do you mean, ‘strangely’?” Starsky asked over the sound of the toilet’s flush. “I’m getting into the shower now, so take it easy.”
Starsky didn’t think anything was strange? That was food for thought. He shifted off the toilet seat, closed the cover and sat down again to consider it.
They’d seen each other naked hundreds of times, so it couldn’t be that; they’d peed side by side just as often, so that wasn’t it either. They’d each spent their share of time in hospitals, and had taken turns there giving personal help to each other that Hutch would bet a year’s pay no other partners did. He had shared intimacies with Starsky that would have been out of the question with any of his six-week guys, and none of it had ever cost him a moment’s reflection.
But he’d never done all that in the dark before, when Starsky could see. So he should be feeling kind of twitchy, shouldn’t he? Exposed.
“Hey! Did you get that stuff in your ears, too? Get in here!”
“Get in where? You know, you might as well be miming for all the good you’re doing me.”
The shower curtain rustled. “I want you to get in the shower while I’m still in here, so I can show you where to put your hands and stuff when you’re climbing in.”
Starsky had that “don’t argue with me” tone in his voice. Hutch’s first impulse was to tell him what a ridiculous idea it was, but here was the thing: Starsky was freaked out, and if Hutch could make him feel better by getting into the shower with him, so be it.
“You’re smiling again,” Starsky said suspiciously as Hutch reached for him. “When you step into the tub, take a good-sized step so your foot doesn’t slide down the side.” He took Hutch’s right wrist and guided his hand to the wall behind the tub; Hutch reached with his left to find the shower pipe, and found Starsky instead.
For some reason he’d been expecting Starsky to be behind him in the tub, not in front of him. It sent him off-balance for the second time, and for the second time he was pulled against the solid safety of Starsky’s chest.
This time, though, the barrier of clothing was gone, and Hutch’s shifting brought him against the soft bulk at Starsky’s groin for such a fleeting moment that he thought he’d imagined it. But he didn’t imagine the startle that ran all along Starsky’s cool, wet skin, or the way he slapped soap and washcloth into Hutch’s hands and hastened out of the shower, muttering.
It took just a few minutes in the shower for the tension and adrenaline overload to suddenly drop away, leaving him light-headed and staggering with fatigue. He managed a hoarse call to Starsky, who practically lifted him out of the tub and guided him, towel-wrapped and dripping, to the edge of his bed. He sat, numb with exhaustion, while Starsky patted him dry and rubbed the towel over his hair, chiding him gently about thinking he was Superman and telling him he looked like he’d stuck his finger in a light socket.
His skull had become an impossibly heavy burden, pulling him forward until it was cradled safely against Starsky’s breast; he rested it there, breathing in the familiar and arousing pong of sweat-kindled male musk. He inhaled with deep, if muzzy, contentment as Starsky’s deft hands smoothed the tangles in his hair and eased the last knots from his shoulders. Good thing Starsky wasn’t one of his six-week guys, he thought happily. He wanted Starsky around for fucking ever.
“Your tits are hairy,” he told Starsky, huffing ineffectually at the damp tendrils tickling around his nose and mouth, then rubbing his forehead against them. He finally laid an ear there, hunting for Starsky’s heartbeat.
“No shit, Sherlock.” Starsky’s voice was fond. “You’re so tired you’re stoned. Lie down before you fall over.”
Hutch fell over anyway, and barely stayed awake long enough to be aware of Starsky pulling the sheet over him.
On day two Starsky woke him before he left for work, easing him through the instant of panic before he remembered why the world was black.
“Dobey called last night after you fell asleep. Here, have some shorts.” Knowing Starsky as he did, Hutch immediately lifted his hands in front of his face. His shorts sailed right into them. “Spoilsport,” Starsky complained with faint admiration.
“What’d Dobey say?” Hutch laid them in his lap, trying to figure out which way they went, and grunted with satisfaction when he found the label. “Wouldn’t have killed you to turn these right side out before you threw them at me.”
“And deprive you of an important learning experience? Anyway, Dobey roared a while about you pulling a damn-fool stunt, and then said Edith was busy cooking a week’s worth of dinners for you that you sure didn’t deserve for being such an idiot. So it looks like you’ll only have the joy of my cooking at breakfast, which is being served, so get a move on.”
Hutch sat at the table and ate the scrambled eggs and toast Starsky had made for him, and only burned his finger a little pouring himself a second cup of coffee. The apartment was oppressively silent with Starsky’s absence, and he turned on the radio while he carefully washed his dishes, then stretched out on the couch to listen for all of half an hour before he started getting fidgety. He’d only watered a few of his plants before the accident, so he made his way out to the balcony and felt around for the watering can, went back to fill it up at the kitchen sink and returned to his plants, this time counting the steps he took.
He was feeling pretty confident after the second trip. In his confidence he lengthened his stride, throwing off his step count, and crushed his bare toes against the balcony door. It hurt like a sonofabitch. He was still hopping and cursing when the phone rang.
It continued to ring until he limped over and fumbled it off its cradle. “What?” he snarled, dropping to the couch and rubbing his throbbing foot.
“Nice way to greet your only link to the outside world,” Starsky admonished him. “What if it hadn’t been me?”
“Nobody else would have let the phone ring that long. What time is it?”
“Eleven-thirty. I’ll be home in four and a half hours, honey.”
Hutch could hear the sniggers from Starsky’s bullpen audience. “Fuck you, sweetheart,” he answered amiably, and lay down again. “What are you working on?”
“A yard-high stack of reports, what else? You screw up, and I get detention. Hey! I’ll call you back.”
Hutch scowled at the dial tone in his ear and hung up the phone. Eleven-thirty! He was going to go insane. He wanted company now.
The phone rang again, and he snatched it up.
“Hutch! I pointed out to Dobey that you don’t have to be able to see to dictate a report. He’s agreed to let me bring the files to your place so we can work on them together. See you in an hour or so with lunch.”
The dial tone made Hutch a lot happier this time.
“Lucy, I’m home,” Starsky yodelled from the door. “Come and grab this bag, will you? My arms are breaking, here.”
Hutch tucked his toes in and shuffled toward the door. “You just missed Edith,” he said, finding the bag of lunch on top of the box Starsky was juggling. “She dropped off all kinds of stuff. Chicken, lasagne—ribs! Hey, this smells great. Souvlaki, right?”
He stopped babbling long enough to realize that Starsky was… giggling. “What the hell’s so funny?”
“Is that what you were wearing when she was here?”
“Well, I put a tee shirt on after she got here, but… yeah. What’s the big deal? She’s seen bare-chested men in shorts before.”
Starsky was past giggling and into guffawing. Hutch heard the box hit the ground. “What?” he repeated testily.
“You’re not wearing shorts, Hutch. You’re… wearing the purple underwear with ‘Home of the Whopper’ on the front that I gave you for Christmas.”
The laughter was coming from floor level now.
“Oh, my God,” Hutch said blankly. “I just flashed my boss’s wife.”
“I wish you could see your face,” Starsky choked.
“You son of a bitch.” Hutch dropped to the floor to grope for him. “I may be blind, but I can still take you down.”
Despite his best efforts, Starsky, rendered helpless by his laughter, was no match for a determined Hutch, who didn’t need eyes to find all the places Starsky was most ticklish. A round of sweaty skirmishing left Starsky prone, arms outstretched, with Hutch settled firmly atop him.
“You knew she was coming,” he panted into Starsky’s ear. “You set me up.” His hands and legs were already occupied with pinning Starsky down, so he gave a shove with his hips and was rewarded with a grunt.
“I didn’t know when she was coming. Besides, how could I ever in my wildest dreams imagine that you wouldn’t put some clothes on to answer the door?”
Starsky was giving off that hot, delicious musky smell again. Must be true about how when you lose one sense the others compensate, Hutch mused. If Starsky was one of his six-week guys, great sex would be starting any minute now.
“Is that a souvlaki in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?” Starsky’s voice still held traces of laughter.
“Oops,” Hutch said, unabashed. “Guess I’m starting to feel better.” He let go of Starsky’s arm to dig at an especially sensitive place under his fifth rib, and Starsky whooped and bucked him off. He rolled to his back, enjoying the feel of the cool floorboards against his bare skin.
Fingers trailed down his temple and stroked soothingly over an itchy patch by his eye. He could feel the heat radiating from Starsky’s skin, feel his breath against his cheek. Starsky’s fingers were calloused from years of shooting practice.
He followed the path of Starsky’s arm to his neck and toyed with the open buttons of his shirt collar and the soft, damp hair at the base of his throat. “How do I look?”
“Only mildly mutilated. You puttin’ on that salve the doctor gave you?”
Starsky’s hand dropped from Hutch’s cheek to his shoulder. Hutch tugged a little at Starsky’s shirt. He wondered if Starsky would be shocked if he unbuttoned the shirt, stuck his face against his chest and just breathed. God, he smelled good. Hutch suddenly wanted to have a little taste of that smell.
“You ready for lunch?”
Starsky’s voice sounded sort of odd. Hutch hoped his face wasn’t giving anything away, then remembered that his shorts were probably telling the whole story. Ah, hell. It was Starsky’s own fault for being such a smorgasbord.
“Lunch is good,” he said at last. “Do I have to get up from the floor?”
The paper bag rattled nearby. “You really want to eat Greek food lying down?”
Lunch was sloppy and delicious. Starsky spread newspapers over the table and tied a dish towel around Hutch’s neck, and laid before him warm souvlaki wrapped in pitas and redolent of garlicky tzadziki; Greek salad, with its cool crunch of cucumber and green pepper, bitingly briny olives, lush tomatoes and soft, salty feta; and tiny, bland dolmades richly marinated in olive oil and lemon juice. Hutch thought it was quite possibly the best meal he’d ever eaten. Starsky told him that was just because he didn’t have to clean up after himself, and gave him a frozen lemon yoghurt cone for dessert.
Hutch asked Starsky to marry him.
By the time Starsky finally called a halt early that evening they’d blown through most of their case reports. The apartment turned into a heat sink at that time of day, and Hutch was eager for some fresh, and marginally cooler, air. He pulled on the shorts and tee shirt Starsky handed him—after threatening dire retribution if Starsky was making him look like a clown—and they drove down to the beach. Hutch waded carefully into the surf, shoes in one hand and Starsky’s elbow in the other, and San Diego had never seemed less important.
He was still far too full from lunch to do justice to Edith’s cooking, so he let Starsky talk him into getting hot dogs from a vendor. They ate sitting on a bench where the breeze from the ocean reached them, and every so often Hutch slid his hand sideways to make contact with age-softened cotton or the frayed threads at the hem of Starsky’s shorts.
He tried to imagine sharing this comfortable silence with Jesse, or any other of his six-week guys, and failed.
Day three was Starsky’s day off. He made French toast for breakfast and served it topped with sugar-sweet strawberry slices and a sifting of cinnamon, and wrapped prosciutto around slices of cantaloupe so ripe that they dripped down Hutch’s chin when he bit into them. He wiped himself down with a paper napkin, grimacing when it shredded against his whiskers.
“Damn it, I wish I had an electric razor. Let’s go down to Murph’s after breakfast so I can get a shave, okay?”
“Why waste money on a barber? I’ll shave you for half the price Murph charges.”
“Funny. What do you know about shaving other people?” Not that he actually cared about Starsky’s experience. His blindness was making him uneasy with the idea of being touched by just anyone, and he’d much rather have Starsky’s hands on him.
“I’ve been shaving myself almost every day for more than twenty years and haven’t slit my throat yet. So you do the dishes, and then I’ll shave you. Deal?”
When Hutch finished drying the griddle Starsky sat him at the table again and ordered him to take off his tee shirt so his face could be wrapped in a steaming towel. He’d put the radio on, and Hutch hummed to himself as he listened to Starsky moving through the apartment, asking Hutch questions and answering them himself. The towel had just started to cool when it was pulled gently from his face; the feel of the relatively cooler air hitting his skin was almost refreshing.
Starsky had unearthed his shaving mug from some uncharted territory in his bathroom. Hutch had been using his hand soap for the sake of convenience for so long that he’d forgotten how much he enjoyed the gentle massage of the badger-hair shaving brush and the lather’s eucalyptus and menthol scent. He closed his eyes—it felt odd to do that, when he couldn’t see anyway—and was encouraged to lean his head back until it rested against Starsky’s chest.
“Okay, here goes nothing.” The razor stroked down his cheek, riding comfortably against the shaving cream’s moisturizers. “This shavin’ stuff is great, Hutch. Why’d you stop using it?”
“Beats me. Leave it out where I can find it, will you?”
“Yeah. I like the smell on you.” Starsky pushed his nose sideways and stroked again. “Oops.”
That got Hutch’s attention. He touched his upper lip. Starsky had sliced off a quarter of his moustache.
“Goddamn it, Starsky!”
“Sorry, Hutch. Really.” His voice was suspiciously cheerful. “Well, I can’t just leave it half on and half off; you look like you lost a bet. You can always grow it back if you really want to.”
Disgruntled, Hutch leaned back again and let Starsky finish shaving him. Now Starsky was the one humming. What the hell the man had against his moustache he’d never know, but he should have seen it coming the second Starsky had volunteered to shave him. He let it go with an effort, and wished the back of the chair was lower so he could enjoy the feel of Starsky’s bare chest against his back. He was particularly fond of hairy chests. His partner’s was the best kind, too: not a shag rug, but not so weedy that it looked like he’d had a haircut and forgotten to brush himself off.
He had always liked looking at Starsky.
Starsky went out for a while after that, telling Hutch to be ready to go when he got back and refusing to divulge any additional information. Hutch heard him clattering up the stairs and was waiting at the door, but Starsky blew past him to retrieve something from the fridge.
“Where’s your backpack?” he called from the bedroom.
“In the closet out here. Where are we going?” Hutch couldn’t decide whether to be annoyed or intrigued. He’d learned early that it was a common condition when dealing with Starsky.
A couple more rattles and thumps, and Starsky was apparently ready to head out. He went down the stairs first, reminding Hutch of their number, and once they were outside walked him along the sidewalk for a few steps before stopping.
“Okay, reach out and tell me what you feel.” Starsky was excited, that was for sure. Hutch reached per instructions.
“A bicycle? Starsky, that’s a pretty lousy joke.”
“No! Keep feeling along. You’ll know when to stop.”
So he gritted his teeth and ran his hand over the centre rail, the bicycle seat, and—he’d be damned—another set of handlebars immediately behind. Starsky had somehow begged, borrowed or stolen a tandem bicycle.
“So what do you think? Ready for a little exercise?”
He could hear the anxiety in Starsky’s voice, but he wasn’t quite ready to turn around yet. Instead he stroked the second set of handlebars, and worked on easing the sudden tightness in his throat.
“Let me guess—Huggy has a cousin, right?”
“Is it okay? We don’t have to try it if you don’t want to.”
Hutch reached a hand backward, and it was clasped strongly.
“It’s great, Starsk. It’s really great.”
He wanted to give Starsky more, but they were on the street, and it would have to do.
They pedalled up and down a few side streets while they got the hang of it. Once they figured out Starsky needed to call out the turns so Hutch could lean into them, they headed off along a route Starsky refused to name.
Hutch surrendered to Starsky and the day, and was exhilarated beyond words. The wind was blowing into his face, feeling oddly intimate against his newly naked upper lip and making a shambles of his hair, and he had no idea where they were. Somewhere over the rainbow, and Starsky was the Wizard.
“Starsky!” he shouted impulsively. “I love you!” And if that offended somebody on the street, fuck ‘em.
They pedalled for almost two hours, during which Starsky learned to his astonishment that “Daisy, Daisy” had a second verse. Hutch learned that there was a destination attached to their ride when Starsky pulled them up, locked up the bike, and escorted Hutch through a set of doors into another world.
“Surprise! It’s the Arborio!” Starsky announced triumphantly. “Ain’t it great in here?”
It was so great that Hutch didn’t even correct Starsky’s pronunciation. For one thing, it had to be a good 15 degrees cooler than it was outside, which still put it around 85—but what an 85. Hutch inhaled deeply. God, it was like being in Hawaii. Flowers instead of carbon monoxide; birdsong rather than sirens.
And Starsky, who led him through each zone describing the flora and fauna and reading every sign, and keeping an eye out for the attendants so Hutch could get good and close when he wanted to read the messages his fingers and nose could send him.
Starsky’d even brought lunch in Hutch’s backpack: Edith’s cold fried chicken and cheese scones, boiled eggs, wedges of tomato and apple, kosher dill spears and cookies, along with iced coffee in a bottle, kept cold with layers of newspaper. They ate furtively in a corner of the temperate zone surrounded by the chirruping of tiny frogs and the music of water over rock, and Starsky sat close enough that the prickle of his hair sang against Hutch’s skin.
By the time they got home they were sunburned and starving. They heated up Edith’s lasagne, and Hutch made garlic butter for the French loaf they’d bought on the way home. “We got forty minutes till the lasagne’s ready. Race you to the shower,” Starsky said, and let Hutch win.
Dinner was a subdued affair thanks to mutual exhaustion, and afterward they slumped together on the couch. Hutch’s hand—which apparently had developed a mind of its own now that Hutch’s eyes were out of the action—walked itself over the small gap between them and laid itself on Starsky’s thigh. His leg was bare, as expected, and Hutch’s fingertips brushed back and forth, savouring the crispness of hair and solidity of muscle. Starsky’s arm slid around his neck. The skin of his inner arm was surprisingly smooth, and his hand squeezed Hutch’s shoulder lightly before relaxing across his back.
“Want to watch TV?” Starsky asked.
“I don’t really have the patience for it. You ready for bed?”
“Naw, it’s too early.”
They sat that way for a moment, and Hutch breathed Starsky in. He’d used Hutch’s shaving soap. It smelled subtly different on him, the woodsy undertones of the eucalyptus seeming to assert themselves more on Starsky’s skin. Hutch resolved to shave Starsky when he could see again. He wanted Starsky to experience the easy pleasure of being taken care of by someone who loved him.
“Hold out your hand.”
Startled out of his reverie, Hutch obeyed. His hand closed around the neck of his steel-string guitar.
“Starsky, I don’t think I can.”
“Aw, c’mon, Hutch. If Jose Feliciano can do it, so can you. Please?”
After a shaky start, he played Bruce Springsteen and Mose Allison and Dr. John and Van Morrison, and some Shel Silverstein to make Starsky laugh and good old “Black Bean Soup” to hear him sing. And then Starsky brought him his classical guitar, and he murdered “Concerto d’Aranjuez” and sang Feliciano’s arrangement of “Light My Fire,” and at the end of it Starsky packed him off to bed.
He was pulling the covers to the foot of the bed; he could hear Starsky making up the couch. In this heat, that only involved draping a sheet over the cushions and throwing down a pillow.
It had been a great day. A great day, and he wasn’t sure he’d expressed to Starsky just how great it had been.
“Starsk? Can you come here a minute?”
“You need something?”
“Yeah, I do.” Hutch held out his arms, and Starsky was against him in a full-body press. He savoured the ever-present crinkle of hair against his skin and Starsky’s “oof” when he squeezed his ribs, and he breathed in that intoxicating smell, and he couldn’t figure out how a guy with two functioning eyes could have been so blind.
But hadn’t Starsky’s touch always kept the shadows away?
He fell asleep smiling.
On day four the Oakland A’s were playing a double-header against the Twins. He carried his transistor radio on to the balcony and spent the afternoon playing with his plants and listening to the first game. He’d gotten the hang of his apartment now, and carried buckets of carefully fertilized water back and forth without a splash. His hands knew what had to be done: plucking withered leaves and dead flowers, staking foliage that nodded under its own weight, carefully pinching away delicate new growth to encourage plants to thicken. His herb pots gave him particular pleasure. He lifted each one close to his nose and inhaled deeply, thinking of the arboretum and wishing Starsky were on hand to enjoy this with him.
He put the bucket away with a sense of accomplishment and called downstairs to Hélène’s for Tony, who came up and got the ribs in the oven for him. Starsk had stopped by earlier with several ears of corn, and he stripped their husks and silk away and put them in a pot of water for Starsky to start when he got home.
Starsky, when he got home, was impressed.
“I dreamed about these ribs last night,” he announced as the oven door creaked open. “We got a few minutes before the game starts—where’s your radio?”
Hutch was setting the table over more sheets of newspaper. “I left the transistor on the balcony, but why don’t you just bring the TV over?”
“Nah. Baseball is a radio sport.” Hutch heard the fridge door open. “Want a beer tonight?”
“What the hell. Why not? You’ll catch me if I trip over the coffee table, right?” Radio sport, he thought with fond exasperation. Starsky was spoiling him rotten.
He went back to the counter for the butter, salt and pepper, and bumped into Starsky. When strong hands steadied him for the millionth time in the last four days, impulse sent a hand to Starsky’s cheek, damp with sweat and spiky with a day’s whiskers. “Have I told you lately that as friends go you’re not such a bad deal?”
He could feel Starsky’s smile grow under his hand.
“Hairy tits and all?”
“Nothin’ wrong with hairy tits.” With great daring, Hutch stroked his thumb over the edge of Starsky’s cheekbone, along his eyebrow. Starsky’s lashes brushed against his thumb, once, twice.
“Long as they’re not in bed with you, huh?” Starsky’s voice was soft.
“Nothin’ wrong then, either.”
“Sorry.” He never did know when to back off. His hand dropped to his side. He could still feel Starsky imprinted on his palm.
“I understand, pal. You’re looking at the world differently right now, and it’s easy to get confused. But let’s get clear: this ain’t San Diego, Hutch, and I’m not disposable.”
What the hell was wrong with Starsky? Did he think Hutch would treat him like he was six-week material just because he couldn’t see him?
“Disposable? I thought I was the blind one here.” He ran a shaky hand through his hair. “Starsky, you’ve got to know I’d do anything, anything for you.”
“Even forget this happened?”
There was something in his voice… God, he wished he could see Starsky’s face.
“Is that what you want?”
“Damn it, I’m not gonna play games with you. I gotta be able to trust you, or nothing’s worth a damn. Can I trust you, Hutch? Would there still be something left of us when you got done with this?”
Hutch started as his hand was grasped and pulled firmly against Starsky’s groin. It was soft, unresponsive, and doubt began to burn low in his stomach.
No. No. He had felt something different from Starsky, had seen it with his ears, his hands, his very skin. But, damn it, Starsky liked girls.
Or maybe Starsky was scared of his own feelings. Maybe the six-week rule made it impossible for him to believe Hutch capable—or desirous—of anything significant with a man.
So who the hell was the one playing games here? He was starting to get a little pissed off, and he really hated not being able to look into Starsky’s eyes.
He pulled his hand away. “Starsky, I never—not once, in all the years we’ve known each other, have I ever thought about you as anything other than my best friend. And yeah, those lines have blurred a little for me the past four days—but I wasn’t expecting anything from you. Nothing had to change, Starsk. So why did it? I didn’t get us here single-handed. What are you looking for?”
“God damn it, Hutch!” Something clattered onto the counter, and Starsky stomped away. “Four days ago there were boundaries! We weren’t huggin’ naked in the shower and feelin’ each other up on the couch! I knew what our jobs were in this partnership, and I don’t know that any more, and that’s—I don’t know what the hell to do with that!”
“Nothing has to change,” Hutch repeated helplessly, his budding anger dissolved. Footsteps rushed back toward him and suddenly Starsky was on him, kissing him with shock and urgency and terror and tongue, then leaping away.
“Oh, God.” Hutch could hear him pacing the room in agitated circles. “Shit,” he said, and charged at Hutch, plastering their bodies together from shoulder to knee, then flung himself away again, chanting “God, shit, shit, shit!”
Hutch was feeling like he’d been hit by a train. “Starsky, what the hell?” was all he could manage before the Starsky Express roared up again.
He twisted his fists in Hutch’s tee shirt. “You treated me like shit all last year, Hutch. You’ve said and done things to me that, if you’d been anybody else, I’d have dumped you like last week’s trash. So why do I still love you? Even after Kira, why were you still—even more—the first thing I thought about in the morning and the last thing I thought about at night? Why can’t I go a day without getting some kind of hold on you, like you were a damn security blanket? Why does thinking about going day after day and not having you there give me a sick feeling in my gut?”
Starsky grabbed his shoulders and shook him hard. “Do you love me?” he demanded, so close Hutch could feel his breath. “Never mind; I know you love me. I mean could you be in love with me? If you tried? Not the six-week kind, but the ‘burning your little black book’ kind?”
In love? With Starsky? But Starsky liked girls, he thought again.
“I’m not a girl, Starsk,” he said, and rubbed his eyes. Maybe he was still asleep, and the whole day had been a dream.
“Hutchinson, keep up, for God’s sake. In 12 years, how many girls have loved me as much as you do? One. Only one who would have done anything for me, and she’s dead. I loved Terry, and it turns out that I love you.
“Don’t insult me with stupid shit like ‘nothing has to change.’ It’s already changed, and I want to find out what I’m missing.”
“Starsky… if we do this, there’s no going back. Are we ready for that?” Please be ready, he prayed, and reached for some part of Starsky to hang on to, he didn’t care which: all of him felt good, smelled good, was good.
“Going back? Ready? Hutch, I’m—what was that word you used on the bike?—exhilarated. This is a terrific idea. Can’t you feel it?”
What Hutch could feel was definite evidence of Starsky’s exhilaration. “You do know that boys and girls have different parts,” he murmured between Starsky’s hot, intent kisses. Good, he tasted so good.
“Hutch, I’m putting the ribs back in the oven, and then I’m taking off my pants. After that I’d like to rub my parts all over your parts. You with me on this, or you got questions?”
Hutch had so many questions he was afraid his brain was going to explode, but all he could come up with was, “Pants?”
Oh, he thought vaguely a little later. This was what it was like to have all of Starsky’s attention. Not just the quick comfort of a passing squeeze or restorative neck-rub, but all that fiercely focussed energy, a million watts of it, devoted to making Hutch forget he’d ever been touched before.
In the few seconds he’d had to think about it he’d formed some notion that Starsky would bow to his superior experience with men, let go of the reins he’d held for the past four days and let Hutch lead this time. Then Starsky lifted Hutch’s hand in both of his own, and rubbed it over his chest like it was a sex toy.
His nipples were warm velvet and his hair clutched at Hutch’s fingers, and God, he smelled like heaven, like fresh-turned earth, like the centre of Hutch’s universe. He pushed Hutch’s hand down toward the thicket of curls at his groin.
Even without his eyes to help him, Hutch could write an ode to Starsky’s belly. He spread his hand out on it as far as he could. The pad of muscle that cradled Starsky’s navel twitched beneath his skin, and he made a helpless little groaning sound that Hutch wanted to drink like champagne.
But without his eyes, the contact between his hand and what it covered wasn’t enough.
“Starsk. Can we—would you just come and lie on top of me, this time? Let me feel as much of you as I can, while I still can’t see you? Let me kiss you?”
“Hutch.” Starsky’s voice was ragged. “If I lie down on you—just thinkin’ about our cocks touching makes me—”
And suddenly he was a warm and welcome weight, hips already moving, and Hutch reached between them to get Starsky’s cock into that sweet spot where hip joined thigh—Starsk probably didn’t know about that, he thought wildly—and his cock was stropping the tense stretch of skin behind Starsky’s balls, and he had about one second to get Starsky’s tongue in his mouth before he grabbed Starsky’s ass like it was his last best hope for salvation and blew like a Roman candle.
As soon as he could see again, he thought dazedly, he was going to go out and buy Ava a little friend as a thank-you present.
“Hutch? Can we go eat ribs and then do this again?”
They sat naked at the table like extras in a Fellini film, and feasted on spicy barbecued ribs falling off the bone, corn on the cob dripping with butter, and vinegary coleslaw that they fed each other with their fingers, all washed down with a bottle of plonk that Starsky exhumed from the back of Hutch’s kitchen cabinet. For dessert there was crème caramel from Hélène's. They shared the last silky bite, tongues taking turns in each other’s mouths, until Hutch dragged Starsky back to bed and immersed them in the sensations and flavours and music of falling in love.
“Yeah?” he answered through a yawn.
“What are you doing seven weeks from now?”
There was a silence, then: “What, is that a trick question? That’s the weekend our vacation starts, right? The one where we’re going to Minnesota to visit your folks?”
It was hotter than hell, the sheets were swampy and they both pretty much stank.
He slung a leg over Starsky’s hip and pulled him closer anyway.