Starsky slouched against the entry into Hutch’s bedroom and surveyed his partner. Hutch was asleep, a shadowed question mark of rumpled sheets and restless, dreaming eyes.
They’d gone to the hospital after all. Dobey’s barked command had shut up Hutch’s complaints and he’d submitted sulkily to the exam and x-rays, but refused the overnight stay. Bruised ribs and a mild concussion were things they had dealt with before, and Starsky had agreed to watch him at home. He’d been rewarded with a smile of gratitude as Hutch had all but run from the emergency room to the safety of the Torino—but once home Hutch had gone opaque. He’d showered and crawled into bed without a word.
Starsky’s watch beeped and he gave up on deciphering his partner for the moment. Straightening, he padded across the moonlight-spattered floor and tilted the shade of the bedside lamp a little before clicking it on. He sat on the edge of the bed and touched Hutch’s shoulder.
“Hutch? Need ya to wake up, partner.”
“Uhg . . .”
Starsky tightened his grip, shook the shoulder a little. “Come on, Hutch. Let me see those big, beautiful eyes.”
Hutch showed him something else—namely, a sleepily raised middle finger.
“Oh, ha-ha. Very funny.” Starsky’s breath caught at Hutch’s answering grin, but then Hutch woke all the way up.
“Yeah?” His voiced cracked with uncertainty and Starsky watched his gun-hand clench. He gentled the tense shoulder.
“It’s okay, Blintz. Just time for your head check. Gotta make sure none of that soft cheese is leakin’ out your ears.”
Hutch’s body eased a little. “Yeah . . . okay.”
“Can you tell me your name?”
“Detective Sergeant Ken Hutchinson.”
Starsky looked closely at his pupils. “What’s today’s date?”
“August 9, 1977.”
“Who’s the president?”
Starsky felt his own tension ease.
“Okay, now for the hard part.” Starsky’s eyebrows waggled a little and he assumed a horrible British accent. “What’s your name? What’s your quest? And what’s your favorite color?”
Hutch rolled his eyes, “Arthur. Grail. Off yellow. Can I go back to sleep now?”
Starsky chuckled softly. “Yeah, okay. See ya in an hour, partner.”
Hutch grimaced and searched for a comfortable position. He finally settled and blinked slowly up at Starsky a couple of times before letting his eyes fall shut completely. Starsky squeezed his shoulder before easing away. Hutch’s breathing deepened.
Starsky clicked off the light and backed off the bed. He scooted across the floor to sit against the wall by the window, wedging himself in between the leaning stacks of canvas, just another thing that Hutch had left unfinished. He raised his knees and crossed his arms atop them, noting the slight buzz of adrenaline still left in his fingertips. He took a deep breath, propped his chin on his arms and sat for a long time, watching fingers of moonlight move over Hutch’s face.
“Come on, time to wake up again, buddy.”
“Detective Sergeant Hutchinson, Ken. Call sign Zebra 3. Badge number 12. Now go away and lemme sleep.”
“I ever tell you you wake up mean?” Starsky poked Hutch in the side. “Come on, Hutch, roll over so I can check your pupils.”
Hutch couldn’t stop a groan of pain as he lurched over. His head throbbed sickeningly, and the dim light glared through his eyelids. Starsky’s hands brushed across his forehead, blocking the light. They were warm, slightly sweaty. Hutch wanted them to touch him some more.
“Headache came back?” Starsky kept his voice low.
“Okay, Hutch. It’s okay. Just let me check your pupils real quick, and I’ll turn the light back off and get you a couple Tylenol. I promise.”
“All right.” Hutch gritted his teeth and endured the quick exam and its required questions, but couldn’t suppress a sigh of relief when the lamp went off.
He lay as still as possible and waited for the pain to ebb as Starsky moved into the other room to get water and pills. He let Starsky help him lift his head up enough to take the medicine, his palm warm against the lump of pain. The water was cool and soothing and he finished it all. Starsky smiled with satisfaction.
Something in his smile made Hutch’s insides twist and he had to suppress a strong urge to pull him down into the bed. It wasn’t even really sexual. He just wanted to lie beside Starsky, feel his warmth, fall asleep to the sound of his heartbeat.
And Starsky would do it, too. All Hutch had to do was reach out, and Starsky would crawl into bed with him, let him sleep in his arms. He’d sleep till the pain went away, and then wake to Starsky’s morning breath and his beard stubble and his smile and his touch. And God help him, he wanted it, all of it. He wanted it so badly that his muscles twitched, fighting him. His eyes dropped.
“Thanks.” His voice sounded weak in his own ears.
Starsky eased his hand from under Hutch’s head, patted his shoulder and left. He moved into the other room and Hutch tracked him by the small sounds he made: the tink of glass in the sink; the sound of water being poured from a kettle; the rhythmic clinking of metal against porcelain, probably instant coffee; the crinkle of a bag of chips. The couch sighed when Starsky finally settled and the low voice of the TV rose, along with blue flickering shadows. The sound was too low for him to pick out words, but the music was foreboding and slightly cheesy, and Hutch figured it was a creature-feature. He watched the blue light make shapes behind his eyelids and thought about why a man who faced real monsters on an almost daily basis would choose such fare.
“Do you really think I have some kind of death wish?” Hutch’s words drifted like smoke through the darkened room, stopping Starsky at the entry. He slumped against the corner, rubbed at his eyes.
“Can’t sleep, huh?”
“What? No. Doesn’t matter. Answer the question.”
Starsky looked at the floor and shrugged, desperately wanting Hutch to leave it alone.
“I was . . . scared, pissed. It was just too soon, after . . . well, you know.” Don’t be asking questions you don’t want the answers to.
Something in Hutch’s tone niggled at Starsky; too much surprise, perhaps. As if some deep part of his partner was always shocked to find out that someone actually cared about him. It was starting to piss Starsky off.
Hutch moved a little in the dark, shoved the pillow up higher and leaned back against it. He turned the lamp on and scooted his legs over enough for Starsky to sit. Starsky took the invitation without thought.
“How’s the headache? Better?”
“Yeah, a little. It’s okay, Starsky.”
Hutch’s forehead creased. “What do you mean?”
“Never mind.” Starsky shook his head. “I just hope you like that flak vest, cause you’re gonna have to wear it every day from now on.”
Hutch chuckled and looked at him. The chuckle choked off. “Wait a minute! You don’t mean . . . you’re serious?”
Starsky just looked at him.
“Aw, Starsk. Come on. You know I hate those things. They weigh a ton. How the hell do you expect me to chase down a perp wearing a sack of lead? Besides,” he tried wheedling, “I don’t need it. I got you to back me up. Best protection a guy can have. I trust you, partner.”
Starsky stiffened and then dropped his head, rubbed the back of his neck. “Yeah, well. Maybe that’s part of the problem.”
“What do you mean?”
“You say you trust me. I’m the only damn one you do trust. I mean,” he straightened up and his hands waggled, “you kinda trust Huggy and Dobey, but only to a certain point. You kinda trust yourself, but only to a certain point. And as for your family . . . we don’t need to talk about them, do we?”
Hutch winced. “I’d rather not.”
“Right. So that just leaves me, the only guy that you can trust. And yet, I just let you get shot.”
For some reason the blank shock on Hutch’s face made him mad, made him want to rub his face in it.
“You got shot, Hutch.”
“B-but I was wearing a vest. Everything’s fine.”
“Everything is not fine. You were fucking shot. Again.” His voice cracked and he turned away.
“It’s a good thing you were wearing that vest, Hutch, because I wasn’t fast enough. I let you down. I just couldn’t get there in time. And it’s not the first time this has happened. And you’ve only been out of the damned hospital a couple of weeks . . .”
“Hey. I was cleared for duty, and we flipped, remember?”
“Yeah, but we didn’t have to flip, Hutch. You could have just let me go just this once. You could have really trusted me and let me go. You didn’t have to be the one to face that creep. But no. Had to prove you’re the baddest cop around, that your life means so little you can just throw it away any time you want. ’Cause after all, nobody’s gonna really miss poor ol’ you. So it doesn’t really matter if you get killed as long as you can go down in some kind of grand self-sacrifice.”
Starsky jerked up and turned to the end of the bed, pacing in the small space. He felt the rage rising like a storm front, powerful, cleansing. He couldn’t stop it. He didn’t want to stop it
“Jesus, Hutch! Do you have any idea how hard that is for me? Yeah, I see you. I see right into that thick skull. You’re so caught up in your own damned head, so sure that you’re cursed or something. Which is a pretty fucking arrogant presumption, by the way. I mean, to fuck you is to die?”
“Now, wait just a damned minute!” Hutch started to sputter, but Starsky wouldn’t stop. He turned at the end of the bed and paced in a little circle, spitting words over his shoulder.
“So okay, I got it, us sleeping together is dangerous on a lot of levels and you don’t want to risk that. I got it. And it was damned hard, but it was getting good again, finally. We were good again.”
“Starsk, please . . .”
“And then you almost died of the fucking plague, of all things. And I had to think about it. About what it was gonna be like without you and what I was gonna regret. And then you didn’t die, but you turned around and got shot again.” He turned and faced the bed, unseeing, fists clenching in unconscious rhythm. “I still dream about it, sometimes, coming around the corner on the bike and seeing that bastard with a rifle on you.” The older memory faded into the newer one and he was mad all over again.
“Where the hell do you get off, thinkin’ you’re the only one with something to lose? I’ve lost people, too, dammit. I lost my father! I lost Terry. And I’m gonna lose you. I feel like I’ve already lost you, like I’m still standing outside the window in that damned hospital and I can’t . . . I can’t touch you, Hutch.”
Starsky found himself at the end of the bed, looking down at his partner’s feet. Hutch always pulled the sheet out from the bottom of the bed. Starsky wondered if it was cooler sleeping that way. The room wavered. He looked up. Hutch was sitting up. The sheet had dropped to his waist, revealing the deep coin-sized bruise that was starting to spread into the surrounding tissue, and Starsky’s eyes lingered there, anchoring himself to the present before slowly sliding up to Hutch’s face.
“And I wanna touch you, Hutch. All the time. All the damned time.” The words made his throat hurt.
Hutch’s eyes closed. “Yeah. Me, too.” It was a thin whisper of sound.
“Then, why . . .”
“Because there’s a difference between want and need.” Hutch’s voice was stronger, now, but he still couldn’t look up. “I . . . I want you, Starsk. Don’t think I don’t. I want you more than you’ll ever know. But, I need you to be my partner, and I’ll do anything, sacrifice anything, to keep that partnership intact.” He did look up then, and Starsky almost flinched at the naked fear in his eyes.
“Hutch you’re the best damned cop I know. The way you put evidence together, how you think . . . I don’t know anyone better.” Hutch’s fear became astonishment and Starsky’s lips twitched. “Well, almost anyone.”
“The problem is you’re too close to this case. You’ve made a conclusion without having all the evidence, partner.”
“Us. Being together. Hopefully years of it. Everything we’ve already survived. When you’re a hundred and forty-eight, which are you going to regret more, that we took the chance or that we didn’t?”
“God, I don’t know.” Hutch pressed the heels of his palms against his eyes.
Starsky finally calmed a little, took a deep breath. He crawled up the bed and sat beside Hutch, close but not touching, deliberately relaxing against the headboard.
“Relationships change, Hutch.” He said it carefully, gently.
“Change doesn’t have to mean loss.”
“You’re not a coward, Hutch.”
Hutch sighed and let his hands flop down on the bed. “Yeah, yeah. ‘The only thing we have to fear . . .’”
Starsky turned a little toward Hutch. “Actually, I prefer, “‘’Tis better to have loved and lost . . .’”
Hutch looked at him in surprise, and Starsky watched the struggle in his eyes. Finally he shrugged and scooted down to lay flat on his back. “‘Once more, into the breech?’”
Starsky felt a grin begin to stretch his face as he turned fully on his side and propped his head on his hand. “‘Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!’”
“‘The early bird catches the worm?’” Hutch had said it without thinking, just trying to keep up, and Starsky watched in delight as a blush spread from his face down his neck and into his chest when he realized what he’d said.
“I can do that.”
“Get up early.”
Hutch made a derisive sound. “Since when?”
“Hey!” Starsky smacked him on the arm. “I can. If it’s worth it.”
Hutch looked away. “How can you be so sure it would be?”
“Are you kiddin’ me? That has to be the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”
Hutch wouldn’t look at him.
Hutch reluctantly turned his head, and Starsky caught his eyes, held them with his own.
“It’d be worth everything.”
Something happened in Hutch’s eyes, then. They seemed to gather all the light in the room and fracture it into a kaleidoscope of fear and longing and trust and affection and something else that Starsky couldn’t put a name to.
He was suddenly aware of his hand still resting on Hutch’s arm. He watched in fascination as it seemed to move of its own volition, sliding up and across Hutch’s shoulder. It hovered, not quite touching the bruised flesh, feeling the heat radiating. The hand moved higher, and a single fingertip traced a clavicle, dipped into the shadowed hollow. God, Hutch’s skin was so soft there. His hand moved higher, noting the change in texture, soft skin under prickles of hair, the lump of Hutch’s Adam’s apple fitting into his palm. Hutch swallowed and Starsky felt the movement of it. His thumb lay against the artery, feeling its beat—Hutch’s life running fragile beneath a thin layer of skin. He always radiated strength, sometimes to the point of stubborn immobility, yet here was this vulnerable spot bared beneath Starsky’s hand. All Starsky had to do was press hard just there and Hutch’s life would end, yet Hutch lay quiet under his touch, accepting, trusting. Could Hutch really trust him that much, bare body and soul before him, let him in?
The reality of where all this was going, just exactly what he was asking of his partner shivered through him; stopped him. Starsky’s eyes crept back up Hutch’s face, to his eyes, where black pupils crowded back the blue, and reflected his own uncertainty. And then Hutch did the most amazing thing.
He closed his eyes and relaxed his mouth.
And Starsky fell.
Hutch’s lips were a little chapped but plush underneath. Starsky let his own lips drift across them, barely touching, feeling the arousal build like static. Hutch made a small sound and Starsky grew more daring, pressing them closer. His right hand stole under Hutch’s neck, fingers toying with a soft ear lobe. He turned Hutch a little more toward him and ran his tongue along the tips of Hutch’s teeth, sampling their texture, comparing it to the softness of the inside of his lips. The pulse captured within his hands began to race, and he finally dipped his tongue fully into the heat of Hutch’s mouth. He groaned at the pleasure and slid in and out, inviting Hutch’s tongue to play.
Hutch moaned and his tongue pushed forward, tangling with Starsky’s till he couldn’t tell the difference between them anymore. His cock jumped against his fly like a puppy begging to be let out, and he pulled back a little, gasping for breath. Hutch grumbled a complaint and tried to follow, wincing at the sudden movement.
“Easy, babe. “ Starsky eased him back down as he tried to catch his breath.
Hutch glared up at him. “I’m not broken, Starsk.”
“No, just cracked.” Starsky sighed. “Hutch, you have a probable concussion and definite bruised ribs and we’re going to play this my way or no way.”
Hutch looked up at him, still panting slightly, till something finally let go in his eyes and he went quiescent in Starsky’s hold, relaxing against the pillow. “Okay.”
Starsky felt liquid heat rush through him, and he raked his eyes from the faint glint of sweat on Hutch’s forehead to the trust-filled eyes and the kiss-bruised mouth. His gaze fell on the length of throat he’d encircled and he had a vision of it straining back in soul-wracking pleasure, tendons tight, while he licked the salt from it and planted his cock so deeply inside Hutch that he’d never be able to question their connection again, never count his life as cheap, never doubt that he was loved.
Starsky felt the breath sobbing out of him as his eyes lowered, locking on the length of Hutch’s arousal, still swaddled in cotton. He tugged the sheet away and Hutch’s cock rose and filled even more under the heat in his eyes, the tip becoming milky with need.
Starsky groaned and moved down the bed, planting himself between Hutch’s spreading legs, wrapping his hand around the hard column of flesh. Hutch gasped.
Starsky moved his hand, keeping the rhythm slow and steady, and ducked his head to breathe in Hutch’s scent. He felt his own cock surge again, and reached his other hand down to unzip his cutoffs, giving himself some relief. Then he bent his head and laid his lips against the crinkly skin of Hutch’s balls. He bathed them with his breath and Hutch sighed. He touched them with the tip of his tongue, tracing wordless patterns, prodding a little at the hard lumps under the skin until Hutch moaned.
Starsky peered up through a blond haze of fuzz across the expanse of heaving chest and tight nipples to catch Hutch’s eyes. He was still moaning softly at the sure movements of Starsky’s hand and the look in his eyes was wild and a little lost. Starsky held those eyes as he moved his head up and finally tasted the tip of Hutch’s cock. He let the slick fluid float across his tongue, watching Hutch’s eyes widen even more before they slammed closed. Starsky swirled his tongue around the tip, dipped it into the little cleft where the head met the shaft to feel the blood rushing there. His own cock throbbed in time and he moaned against the slick skin, moved his mouth lower and began to suck. He didn’t try to take it all, just let his mouth cover what it could while his hand moved below, thumb rubbing little circles over the main vein.
Hutch cried out and Starsky felt the heavy warmth of his legs wrap over him, felt Hutch’s shaking hands tugging at his hair. It was like an earthquake, the rumbles of movement growing till finally the body under him exploded. Starsky shoved one hand down to clench around his own cock as he swallowed the strange tasting fluid. It was slightly acrid and a little salty and something else that made him think of rain on freshly turned earth. It tasted like life, Hutch’s life, within him. Starsky’s body quaked with completion at the thought.
Finally he withdrew and let his head drop against Hutch’s thigh.
“God, oh God, oh God.”
“Yeah.” Hutch’s voice was ragged, but a kind of peace stole through it. Starsky smiled and kissed the damp skin beneath his head.
They lay tangled for a while, catching their breath, till Starsky finally shifted and Hutch moved his legs so Starsky could get up. He shoved his cutoffs the rest of the way off and wiped them over the sheet before tossing them on the floor. Crawling back up the bed, he collapsed next to Hutch, blearily setting his watch alarm to go off in an hour. Hutch reached over to turn off the light. It was too hot to cuddle, but their hands brushed together, then clasped as their breath finally slowed. Starsky had almost drifted into sleep when Hutch’s voice floated toward him through the dark.
“If I have to wear a damn flak vest everyday, then so do you.”
Starsky chuckled. “We’ll see, partner. We’ll see.”
Somewhere across town, a lanky black man smiled in his sleep and rolled over to drape a possessive arm around the warm body sharing his bed.