By the time we got a few miles from Sally's place, my neck was aching, and my right leg felt like I'd been kicked by a guy with size twelve steel-toed boots. I didn't think I'd hit the floor that hard, but as the adrenalin wore off I could feel the muscle strain starting to come through. I knew I'd be limping the next day. The real problem wasn't the pain: I was pissed off. Angry, embarrassed, feeling like I had when I was fourteen and Lucy McGuire had whispered around to all her girlfriends how the skinny little kike tried to put his hand on her tit. I wanted to pound my hands on the dash, and yell out all those four letter words about women that Ma used to wash my mouth out with soap for saying. Something hard and dark had started crawling around in my gut, and I knew I was right on the edge of bein' dangerous to be around.
Hutch was quiet too, just sitting there with his jaw tight. He'd lost the gentlemanly smile the second we got in the car, and hadn't said squat since. Good thing too, because if he'd made one 'a his highbrow comments to me right then, I'm not sure I wouldn'ta slugged him. I could tell from the way he kept shiftin' around that something was hurting him, but I didn't ask. That's how bad it was.
We hadn't talked about where we were going; I think both of us knew before we even left her house. When I pulled up at my place, I just sat there a minute, with my hand on the key. If he'd said, "Take me home, Starsk." I would've, even then, but I already knew he wouldn't ask. We looked at each other, and he kinda raised one eyebrow. I nodded, feeling like my neck might crack, and he shoved the door open. For once, I didn't give a shit when he slammed it.
Going up the stairs, I could feel that dark crawling thing inside me tryin' harder to get loose. My skin was hot and prickly all over, and I could hear my heart goin' a mile a minute. The anger wanted the driver's seat—wanted to slam the pedal to the metal and ram down the wrong side of the highway at a hundred miles an hour—and I still had enough sense left for it to worry me. I never went near a girl when I was like that; hell, a lotta the time I wouldn't even go near Hutch. The only reason I'd risk it was because I knew he was strong enough to take it, and strong enough to stop me if I did go over the line. Even so, I'm pretty sure I hurt him once or twice, but the stubborn son of a bitch wouldn't let on.
When we got inside, I didn't even look at him, just turned to lock the door and said "Strip down." Hutch shrugged, took off his jacket and headed for the bedroom. That, at least, got through to me: the only time Hutch goes all quiet like that is when he figures I'm not really in control any more. I hung up my holster and jacket and stood there for a minute, leaning back against the door and breathing hard, tryin' to hold the darkness down, reminding myself that this was Hutch, my partner, my friend, the one person I could trust with anything. Tryin' to make myself remember he still had to be able to trust me come morning.
There's a lot of cool things about Hutch, but one of the really great things is the way he always knows when I need to be the alpha dog. It doesn't bother him either. Can't figure out why, 'cause sometimes, like that night, I knew he had to be pissed as hell, too. But he just—went with it.
Not that I always needed to be the alpha dog. Not even most of the time. Most of the time, if it was just the two of us, we'd be fooling around, wrestling and tickling the shit out of each other and laughing and rolling all over the bed until finally somebody ended up on top. Didn't much matter who. Didn't even have to be going all the way. You'd think at my age I couldn't get off on just doing some rubbing and stroking, but Hutch always had a knack for lighting my firecracker. But that night was one of those times when the darkness inside me raised up its head and wanted to prove who was boss.
I headed for the bedroom without turning on any lights. Didn't even go to grab a beer, I was that wired. In the door, I stopped dead. Hutch had turned on the lamp beside the bed, and was bending over to take off his pants. I saw a bruise up high on his hip, about where his belt might be. When he straightened up, I saw another one on the back of his shoulder, and I remembered that was where he'd landed. The dark blue stood out real clear on that honey and cream skin of his, and suddenly all the dark stuff inside me started draining out like somebody had pulled the plug on the bathtub. I was still pissed off, but now it was for Hutch, not me.
"Hey pal, are you okay?" I stepped in closer, and ran my fingers very lightly over the bruise on his hip. I felt him flinch. "Dumb blond. You forget how to fall without gettin wrecked?"
He twitched away from me, and I didn't blame him. Feeling Hutch hurt had stoked up the darkness again and the words had come out in a snarl. I clamped down hard on it; at least now, I could hold it in. Five minutes before, I might've put a matching bruise on him.
"I've had worse." He shrugged, and winced. This time when I put my hand on his hip, he didn't move away. He could tell just from the feel of my hand the dark part had slunk back off into the night where it belonged.
"You sure about that?" I reached up for the bruise on his shoulder. "This looks nasty." Watching him twist around to try to get a look at his own back made me feel better; if he could move like that he couldn't be too bad off. But still, seein' him marked bugged me.
"It's kinda sore, but not bad. Won't be the first time we've fucked hurt." Hutch sat down on the bed, looking up at me with a grin that slowly went away when I didn't move to get undressed. "What, I get beat up by a girl and you don't think I'm sexy any more?"
I plopped down beside him. My hand went out for his knee almost by itself—it was like I just couldn't keep from touchin' him. It's always that way with us: put us in the same room and we end up sitting on the same chair, drinkin' out of one cup, movin' next to each other like both of us had magnets built in somewhere. I watched my fingers drift along his leg, feeling the soft fine hair and warm skin, tryin' to figure out a polite way to say what was on my mind. After a minute I gave up. I figured he'd get what I meant underneath, even if all the words didn't come out like I wanted.
"It doesn't feel right: you getting beat up by a girl and then getting fucked by me to make me feel better for getting beat up by a girl."
"Starsky, it's not—" he shook his head. "It doesn't bother me that way. Don't make a big deal out of it."
"Havin' Sally flip you like a burger doesn't bother you? Don't give me that." It was true: Hutch didn't look mad, more the look he gets when he's thinking something through from all the angles. But I was still havin' trouble believing he could just laugh it off like that. We're not that different.
"Well, yeah, I guess it does bother me. Big tough street cop getting taken down by a girl half my size. But the way I see it, Sally's a cop, too. Would you rather she was out on the street and couldn't take care of herself?"
That stopped me cold. "Hell no! She needs every edge she can get out there, even more'n we do."
Hutch nodded. "And it's not like it was accident, or she cheated. She beat the crap out of us fair and square."
I suddenly got a flashback to the Academy, with our martial arts instructor going over and over the moves with us, pushing us to understand the ways we could use our bodies in a fight. Remembered all the nights I'd crawled into my bunk so stiff and sore I wasn't sure I'd be able to walk the next day.
"I guess I never did get the hang of all that Bruce Lee stuff," I admitted. "Probably took her a lot of hard work and practice, right? Just like learnin' to shoot."
"That's right. And we were overconfident. So we walked straight into it, and it bit us in the ass. That's not Sally's fault."
"Hutchinson, you think too much." I wiggled my neck around a little, trying to ease the kinks out. "You take all the fun outta bein' mad." I gave his leg a little squeeze.
"That's my role in this partnership." One big hand found the sore spot on the back of my neck and started working on the pulled muscle there.
"Thinking or spoiling my fun? Oh, man, that feels great."
"Hey, I can do two things at once. You gonna come to bed?"
"Might as well. You want a beer?" I pulled my shirt over my head in time to see a nod, and headed out to the kitchen. By the time I got back with the beers, Hutch had moved over to what we'd worked out was his side of the bed, and pulled back the covers. From the way he was twisting his shoulders and shoving the pillows around, I figured the bruises were a little worse than he was letting on, so I pulled down an extra pillow and pitched it at him.
"Ya know, this ain't the way I planned on spending the night," I grumbled as I handed over the brew.
He snorted. "Yeah, you might as well have had 'double-decker' written on your forehead in neon lights. If I were Sally, I'd'a kicked your ass too."
"Hey, two for one—she don't know what she's missin'!" It felt so good to stretch out on the bed and take the weight off my leg. A cold beer, a warm blond—life was startin' to look, maybe not great, but a whole lot better anyway.
Hutch snorted again, but he drank his beer and kept quiet. Before I took my second swallow, my hand was back on his leg. By the time we were half way through the beers, we were all over each other. That tickling and fooling around stuff—Hutch is pretty good at it. I managed to snag both the bottles and get them on the floor just before I ended up with a beer shampoo. Then the touching got serious and we were rolling around until Hutch ended up on his back laughing up at me.
"You okay with it this way?" Usually we don't need to ask, but that night I wanted to make sure he knew I was back in control, that the dark side wasn't gonna be runnin' the show for us.
"Just let me stretch out a little more," he said, and I moved so he could put his legs around my back. "That's better." I could feel the sigh of relief.
"Snag me a pillow," I told him.
I fussed around getting it under his back in just the right place, until he put his hand over mine. He gave me the warm sweet smile he keeps for special people and special occasions; it made me choke up a little, getting it right then.
"I'm not broken, Starsk," he said very gently. "And you won't break me either."
We almost never kissed—it just seemed weird. (And how weird was it that it seemed weird? I'd stick my cock in his mouth, but not my tongue? Go figure.) But that night, I needed to kiss him, and he seemed to need it just as bad. We ended up with Hutch pretty close to sitting in my lap, his arms and legs wrapped around me, with my hands bracing behind him. It was a lousy position for both of us: he had no leverage to hold himself up, so I was going in a lot deeper than I usually did, and all of our weight was pressing down on my sore leg, which was pretty unhappy about it. Not that any of that stopped us. We needed that kiss, and neither of us would let go until we couldn't breathe any more.
Even after we came, we stayed wrapped up together, Hutch's forehead leaning on my shoulder, both of us sweating and panting like we'd run an obstacle course. When I finally started to notice the world again, my leg was screaming for mercy. I really didn't want to let go, but I ruffled Hutch's hair a little and said, "Hate to mention it, blondie, but you're packin' on some weight."
His laugh turned into a yelp halfway through. "And you're putting on some inches. Help me off here."
I leaned back a little, he slowly pushed away, and this time the sound wasn't a yelp, it was a moan. That worried me enough I tried to move too fast. My leg cramped and we ended up lying there, all tangled up with each other and groaning and swearing and laughing.
"Well, that's a nice romantic ending," Hutch managed to get out when he finally quieted down. That got me going again; Hutch can pick the damnedest times to be funny. He gave me a swat on the butt and rolled off the bed. I kept an eye on him, just in case his legs were a little wobbly, but he made it to the john in one piece.
With a last groan, I hauled myself up, and fixed the bed. Pretty well everything was on the floor; lucky the beer bottles were still standing. By the time Hutch came out, I had the sheets tucked back in and the covers straightened out. We swapped over, and I went to clean up.
Another really great thing about Hutch is the way he likes to cuddle after sex. Getting up and hittin' the road is supposed to be a guy kind of thing, but we both enjoy a chance to be close and talk before we go to sleep. Not that we have much to say we couldn't say in the Torino, or down at Huggy's—or in the middle of the squad room, come to that—but in bed it feels, I dunno, warmer, somehow. Cozy. More like it's for us. Even with the way it had started, that night was no different. While I was gone, Hutch got another beer, and when I came back to bed, he flopped one long arm over me, and sprawled most of his head and shoulders on my chest.
"Hey, get back on your own side." I pretended to try and push him off. "And don't hog all the beer."
"You know I need a good firm pillow." He handed over the beer long enough for me to take a swig, and then settled back down. "So, you gonna call Sally tomorrow?" I could hear the grin in his voice.
I thought about it for maybe half a second. "Nah, don't think so. How 'bout you? I'd say she liked you better."
"Well, of course she did. She's an intelligent girl, with good taste." Hutch was trying for the 'I can appreciate a different kind of girl' attitude, but I was pretty sure Sally wouldn't be getting any calls from him either. "She might be interesting."
"Yeah, like the Chinese curse." I couldn't help it. I still had enough of a bruise on my pride that I didn't care if I never saw Sally Hagen again.
"You know: 'May you live in interesting times.' It's a Chinese curse. Means your house will catch fire and the warlord will steal all your gold, stuff like that."
Hutch laughed. "If I want interesting, partner, I'll call you."
"So you think I'm a curse?" I didn't know that was coming out until I said it, so I hoped I'd put enough of a whine into it that he'd think I was joking.
Hutch surprised me then. He sat up and looked down at me with a strange little smile. "You're a blessing."
"Yeah, let's hear you say that when you try getting out of bed in the morning."
He shook his head impatiently. "Look, you idiot, do you know what I'd be doing tonight if you weren't here? I'd be sitting at home, brooding, feeling stupid and sorry for myself, having a beer. Or six. Maybe going out to some bar and picking up a girl I don't know or care about and using her to make myself feel better. Or even worse—calling some girl I do know, who might think I did care. Either way, I'd be feeling guilty tomorrow and even more stupid and sorry for myself, getting angry, maybe making bad judgment calls on the street. And instead, you make me laugh, you put my head back on straight. So my ass will be sore come morning. Big damn deal."
"You do the same for me, ya know. What was going through my head—"
"And do you think I couldn't tell to the second when that changed? Do you know what a gift it is for me to know I can turn you around like that?"
"Hutch, I . . . I want . . . I wish—" The words locked up in my throat. I wanted so bad for them to be able to come out. But I knew they couldn't. We were partners, friends. It was okay for us to fool around and make each other feel good, or use each other to take the edge off a bad scene. But nothin' else. There were some words neither of us could say, because it would change too many things that just couldn't change, not if we wanted to stay cops, not if we wanted to have real lives some day. So I made myself shut up. But there was a big part of me that wanted to say it anyway. Put it all on the table out in the open. Throw everything else away as long as I could hold onto Hutch.
Hutch let out a deep breath that sounded like it came from his soul, and settled back down on top of me. I grabbed him, wrapping my arms as hard as I could around his shoulders, and running my fingers through his hair over and over. Maybe I couldn't say the words out loud, but I could let my hands do the talking.
Hutch got it. "Me too, buddy," he whispered, so soft I could hardly hear it. "Me too."
The last thing I thought before I fell asleep was that maybe someday one of us would be able to say it. And maybe throwing everything else away wouldn't be such a bad deal after all.