Timepiece

by thayln

thayln@comcast.net

 

 

“Like a glowing jewel, the city lay upon the breast of the desert. Once it had known change and alteration, but now time passed it by. Night and day fled across the desert’s face, but in the streets of Diaspar it was always afternoon, and darkness never came.”

--Arthur C. Clarke, The City and the Stars

 

At first there was only darkness, silence and the slow trickle of water. Each drop of mineral-rich liquid fed them, built them, as it traveled downward through darkness to where they knew not, sensing only the minute ripple of water meeting its own. They slept, believing the darkness and silence were all.

Then came the day that their world cracked open and gushed fire. Many were lost, crushed and broken by the mighty heave of earth, consumed by uncaring magma. They had never known death before.

They mourned and waited for the end under the strange new vibrations of sunlight, but the movement of the world finally ceased; the hot flow cooled and new water came, blessing them with a billion scattering drops. They learned to grow roots deep into the still warm earth to find the water and the precious minerals it carried. They tasted the different vibrations of sunlight and starlight and wind.

It was the wind that taught them to sing and to understand the movement of time.

As they grew and learned they became aware of other resonances, other suns and other beings. There were so many beings, all different, each carrying its own song. They were awed and amazed, so glad to discover they weren’t alone. Their singing grew ever more intricate, rich with knowledge and joy.

Then they learned just how short other lives were.

 

Hutch sat sideways at the bar, cheek propped on a fist, watching Starsky gloat with Huggy over yet another new watch. Their curly heads were almost touching, bent over the voluminous instructions, reminding him of small boys with a new toy. It had been going on for about twenty minutes now, and it didn’t look like it was going to be over anytime soon.

“Starsk, we’re gonna be late.”

“No we’re not; just give me a sec.” Starsky didn’t even bother to look up.

Hutch sighed heavily and turned, caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror over the register and paused. For a moment he hadn’t recognized his own face. He scrubbed at the tired lines. His friends’ enthusiasm seemed a foreign emotion, an echo of ages past. A twinge of regret flared briefly back at him in the glass, and then he shrugged and grimaced. The price of police work.

Turning away from the disquieting reflection, his elbow brushed against something on the bar, and he looked down into a shoebox holding some rocks. Hutch rolled his eyes, but he picked through them idly, listening to the oceanlike ebb and flow of his friends’ conversation. There was a soothing rhythm to it, almost like music, and he let the familiar comfort of it wash through him as he looked at the strangely shaped stones. One of them looked like an almost perfect sphere sheared in half. It fit perfectly in the palm of his hand, and it was blue, so blue it was almost black. He felt . . . something . . .

“Hey, Hutch. Ya ready to go?”

Hutch started, glanced over his shoulder. “Yeah, Starsk. Give me a second.” He looked back at his hand and saw only an old rock, pitted and scored, its color indeterminate. He should’ve put it back, but instead he turned toward Huggy.

“Hug, what’re these?”

Huggy moved down the bar toward him like a hound that’d caught his scent. “Those, my brother, are genuine meteors, pieces of mysterious outer space. You can have one for your very own for the very reasonable fee of twenty dollars apiece.”

“Meteorites,” Hutch said distantly. The stone was cool in his hand.

“Huh?”

“Meteors are what you call them when they’re still in the air. Meteorites are what you call them after they land.” Hutch finally looked up at Huggy. “If they really are meteorites.”

Huggy stepped back and threw his chest out, slender hands rising in eloquent defense. “Would I steer you wrong? I’m telling you these are the real thing. My cousin picked them up for me in Arizona just last month.”

“Whatcha got there, Hutch?” Starsky had joined them.

Hutch had a strange impulse to hide the stone from his partner. Instead he held it out and shrugged. “Just a rock.” He looked back at Huggy’s face. “Or, okay, maybe a meteorite. Maybe.”

“What would you want something like that for? ’Sides, didn’t you call me a sucker when I acquired my pet rock?”

Starsky flashed him a shit-eating grin, but he was still too busy admiring his watch to really pay much attention. Hutch quickly handed over the cash, appeasing Huggy’s obvious outrage before casually dropping the stone into his jacket pocket.

“I don’t know. It has an interesting shape, and I think it might look good in that new planter I bought last week.”

Starsky gave him a quizzical look as he turned to leave. “You pick the weirdest stuff to get interested in sometimes.”

“Me? You’re the one who dragged me in here so you could show off some old watch.” Hutch waved at a grinning Huggy as they went out the door.

“Hey! It’s not old. It’s state of the art, Swiss made and everything.”

“Yeah, and it’s gonna break just as easily as your other one did.”

“Only if I let you get a hold of it, partner.” Starsky shut his car door with too much force and jabbed his key at the ignition. “Besides, it didn’t break. It was shot. You got it shot.”

Hutch reached for the radio to clock them back in. “And I saved our lives in the process, didn’t I?”

Starsky grunted and peeled out from the curb. Hutch turned his head to scan the storefronts on his side of the street, content to let it rest if Starsky was. In a distant way he felt bad for bringing up yet another close call just to divert his partner’s attention.

They never talked about it. Death had been too close too often, and to speak of fears and realizations might have made things worse, made them lose their edge. So they went through their days doing their jobs and trading barbs, orbiting each other like twin stars, putting out shared energy, and yet staying self-contained. It was better that way, easier. It was the price of police work.

Hutch fingered the chill lump in his pocket, only partially feeling the sidelong look Starsky gave him. It had been so blue.

 

A compact, oval form streaked across a burnt orange sky, discs whirring like helicopter blades under the light shell. The rust storms had come early this cycle and his cilia caught at a tangy particle or two as he dodged among the more placidly feeding adults. Early rust was a good omen after a harsh time of want. It was good, so good to be young and strong.

He savored the warmth and vibrations of life as he flew toward the distant sun. If only he could spin that far, far enough to discover all that was or could be. He wanted to grab all the wonders of the universe and savor their flavors. He flew as high as he could till lack of friction forced him down again, down to his clan and the rust that would keep them strong.

His cilia tangled in mischievous warning as he screeched to a halt bare inches from his mother, but she didn’t show any sign of being startled. She never did. It was almost impossible to get a rise out of any of the adults, though it never stopped him and the other young spinners from trying.

Suddenly a strange ringing filled his head, a sound he’d never known. He whirred with fear and scooted under his mother’s body to hide, seeking the comforting brush of her cilia . . .

 

Hutch mumbled and slapped repeatedly at his alarm, but it wouldn’t stop its incessant ringing. He finally woke up enough to realize that it was his phone and not the clock.

“What?” he barked into the receiver once he was able to snag it from its rest.

“Good morning, sunshine. Or should I say afternoon.”

Starsky’s voice was irritatingly cheerful and the low vibration of it in his ear moved through Hutch strangely. “Can it, Starsk. I’m up,” he grumbled.

Starsky chuckled, sending shivers through him again. “Pick you up in half an hour, grumpy.”

“Yeah, all right. Hey. Pick up some coffee, will you? I’m out.”

“You got it, partner.”

Starsky rang off. Hutch scrubbed at his face and tried to remember the dream, but it was gone, leaving only an odd sense of his own body as an alien thing, unaccountably heavy and awkward, with too few limbs.

He groaned and stumbled out of bed and into the bathroom. Maybe a shower would help. Switching to nights always threw his body off. He stood under the pounding water, letting it bring him back to life. And what a miraculous thing a shower was, really. That everyone had a virtual waterfall in their home and took it for granted was almost sacrilege. Water was a blessing and should be treated as such. He stood there awhile, listening as the drops hit the tub and disappeared to where he knew not. The last drip rang, a single note of music in his mind . . .

Someone was banging on his bathroom door.

“Come on, Hutch. Hurry it up, or we’re gonna be late.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming.” Had he really been in the shower that long?

Hutch threw on his robe, scrubbed a towel over his head and darted out of the bathroom past his smugly grinning partner into his bedroom. He yanked on his clothes over still-damp skin and reached under his pillow for his gun. The Magnum was lumpy to sleep on, but after the fiasco in the barn, he didn’t want to ever be unprepared, not even in sleep. As he pulled out the piece his fingers brushed something cool.

It was the half-circle of stone. Funny, he didn’t remember putting it there. Shrugging, he set it on the table and holstered the Magnum, turning to move into the other room. Halfway there, he stopped and looked back. The rock gleamed with the blue of twilight. I’ll just stick it in the planter on my way out.

As he came back into the living area Starsky handed him a still warm cup of coffee. “Cheer up Hutch, it might even rain tonight.”

“Oh, joy.”

Starsky shook his head and started down the steps. Hutch followed him out, the stone still tucked in his pocket.

 

The rain held off till halfway through their patrol, when dispatch radioed and asked them to fill in on a stakeout for a pair of detectives who’d been stricken with food poisoning.

“Probably ate at one of your favorite taco joints.” Hutch punched the button on the side of the mike. “Yeah, we’ll be there. Zebra 3 out.”

Starsky kept quiet instead of rising to the bait. An irritable Hutch was best left alone, at least till he knew what the underlying problem was, and right now Starsky didn’t have a clue.

Something’s off, though. He’s got some kind of bee buzzing under all that blond. Has had for days. He’s either a thousand miles away or acting like life is just one long interruption into something else he’d rather be doing.

Starsky would never have admitted it, but he tended to bask in Hutch’s attention, and to have it withdrawn made him feel disjointed, edgy. But Hutch had apparently already called dibs on being moody, making it his turn to be the rational one.

Starsky flicked the wipers on, deftly guiding the Torino toward the warehouse district through crazy eight circles of water.

“Sorry.” Hutch’s face was still turned to the window.

Starsky glanced over at him briefly, watching how the angular movement of streetlight moved across Hutch’s face, and then returned his focus to the road.

“Yeah, okay.”

There was always a strange intimacy in nighttime stakeouts. The lack of engine sounds magnified everything. Word and movement and thought assumed larger meaning, and Starsky had been feeling Hutch’s discomfort grow since they’d parked. They exchanged a few desultory remarks, but then Starsky felt the shift of attention as Hutch finally gave up and turned his eyes and thoughts away, outward to the watery night.

Starsky took the opportunity to quietly check out his partner. It was Hutch’s turn to nap, but Starsky could see that his eyes were watchful, still in work mode, patrolling the landscape.

Starsky sighed and looked out his own window, counted the raindrops clinging to the glass. The streets were slick with reflected light, dimpled by spitting drops.

 “Hey, it really does sound like bacon frying.”

“Huh?” Hutch pulled his attention back into the car.

“Rain. It sounds like bacon frying. You know, like in that M*A*S*H episode where Hawkeye went blind. He’s talkin’ to BJ about being blind, and he starts describing what a rainstorm sounds like when you take the time to really listen.”

“Oh yeah, I remember.”

Hutch listened to the rain spattering for a moment, body settling further into the upholstery, eyes turning idly back to the warehouse.

“Hey Hutch, what do you suppose spiders think about?”

“What? Starsky . . . what are you talking about?”

“No really, think about it for a minute.” Starsky shifted in his seat, turning more fully toward Hutch.

“Okay, look. I’ve got this spider that’s moved onto my landing. Every night when I turn on the porch light there she is, sitting in the middle of this huge web, and every morning she’s still there in the exact same spot. So I started thinking—that’s about what? Six hours or so of just sitting at least, give or take the occasional fly. Think about it, Hutch. Hours and hours of just waiting in one place, day after day.” Starsky shrugged. “I just wonder what they spend all that time thinking about.”

Hutch shook his head a little to clear it. “Starsky, spiders don’t think. They just react to stimuli.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. Charlotte seems pretty smart to me. It can’t be easy to build one of those webs.”

“Starsky, it’s a scientific fact that . . . wait a minute. You actually named the spider? I don’t believe you. Starsk, there is absolutely no way that spider has a brain big enough to think about anything, much less be sentient and need a name . . .”

“You name your plants.”

“Wha—”

“You name your plants. You even talk to your plants.”

Hutch shifted uneasily. “That’s different.”

“How? How is that different? Because from where I sit plants have even less brains than spiders.”

“All right! All right already. You win! I hope you and Charlotte will be very happy together. Geez!” Hutch threw his hands up in exasperation, but his eyes were clearer, and a small laugh quivered somewhere around his lips.

Starsky hid his own smug grin as Hutch finally relaxed completely and slumped against the seatback, rolling his head a little to survey his partner.

“What?”

Hutch didn’t say anything. He just smiled and closed his eyes.

 

The Weaver sighed with contentment and blinked slowly at the comfort of the fire. The making of it was still a new skill for her people, its warmth an undreamed of luxury only a generation ago. She turned slowly and fluffed out her tail to dry it more thoroughly while her clever fingers worked mindlessly on the new pattern she was creating. It was best not to think too much about the weaving. The patterns were more vibrant and told better stories when they came from the place within. Adding a handful of the blue-veined leaves to her work, she turned once more to the fire. It was the perfect focus. Her eyes could watch its sparks chasing starlight while her hands worked the pattern.

There were other patterns out there, she knew. She was beginning to sense them a little, intersections of energy and thought and light, the weave of the universe. It was all connected in ways that no one could fully understand except for maybe the Singers, but they’d been alive since the universe had begun and no one of her people could ever hope to attain all their knowledge.

But there was knowledge and then there was wisdom, and maybe she was beginning to be a little wise. Perhaps true wisdom was simply the understanding of how much you didn’t and couldn’t know. She snorted. After having raised five litters she’d better have gained some wisdom. She’d earned it.

There. The piece was done. It had been her most ambitious work yet, had taken a full season to create, and now she could finally look at it and see what she’d wrought. The familiar buzz of excitement thrilled through her as she spread her work on the ground to see.

What met her eyes caused her to chitter with dismay. It was a confusing mess of broken lines and corners going nowhere, somehow managing to spiral down upon itself till nothing was left. Her mind kept trying to make order of the chaos, but the sense of it was gone. Her small hands worried at each other and all the fur on her body rose. Something in her looked more closely at the pattern, and . . .

Hutch was back in the barn, brain on overdrive, turning horror into calculations of combustion and mechanics as he tried frantically to get the tractor to start, to get Starsky out before . . .

The pattern skewed.

He was stumbling out of the house, broken watch in hand. Where was Starsky? Hadn’t he been inside the house? He scanned the barnyard quickly, turning in awkward circles, trying to see everything at once. The third time he eyed the trailer sitting in the yard, a sudden gust of wind brushed against him, raising goose bumps. There was a steady drip of blood that moved sluggishly out from between the bails on the back of the trailer. The wind rose. Hutch took a shuddering breath and looked down at his own feet stumbling across the yard as he doggedly walked toward the tip-tilted end of everything.

He stood mute, gazing down, frozen in utter defeat. Starsky was in the trailer, floating placidly in a still pool of blood, calmly looking at the empty sky. “You shouldn’t have gotten my watch shot, Hutch. Now it’s too late . . . too late . . .” His last words echoed as Starsky glanced reproachfully up at his partner and sank beneath the surface.

 

“Hutch, wake up! Dammit, Hutch! Wake up!” Starsky finally resorted to grabbing his moaning partner and giving him a shake. Hutch gasped and woke up, looking around blindly as he panted.

Starsky palmed the back of Hutch’s neck and rubbed at the tense muscles a moment. “Bad one, huh? Want to talk about it?”

Hutch slumped a little and looked through Starsky. “Nah, I can’t . . . it’s . . . gone. I don’t remember it.” He took a shuddering breath and fumbled in his pocket, wrapping stiff fingers around the comfort of stone. “What time is it?”

“Quarter to two. Shift’s almost over.”

Hutch looked up in surprise. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”

 “Wasn’t sleepy.” Starsky shrugged and gave his partner a careful look. “’Sides, you’ve been cranky for days. The peace and quiet was kinda nice.”

Hutch lowered his eyes, but Starsky caught the flash of rueful acknowledgment anyway.

“Zebra 3, come in.”

Starsky shot his partner a grin and reached for the mike. Hutch huffed and straightened up, rubbed the back of his neck, and ran his fingers around under his open shirt collar. Starsky found his eyes drawn to those fingers as he listened to Control confirm that the replacement team was in place.

Hutch hid a strained sigh as Starsky signed off. The Torino started with a quiet rumble, as if it were happy to be out of there, too.

 Starsky did a neat turn and drove past several dark buildings before he turned the headlights on.

“What do you say we head for the station and finish our reports before Dobey gets in?”

Starsky threw Hutch a conspiratorial glance, and Hutch suddenly wanted to ruffle his hair, give him a noogie, pull Starsky in and bury his face in his neck.

 “Yeah, good idea. Don’t want to give him a chance to cancel our weekend off.” Hutch tried to match Starsky’s tone, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong, like he’d woken up in a universe not his own. His head began to ache.

It had stopped raining, but the tires of the Torino still hissed gently against wet pavement as they drove, each puddle holding its own darkly wavering, upside-down world. They passed a Union 76 station and its tiny sun of a sign cast an orange glow over everything. Or was that just the glow of the city bouncing off the remaining cloud cover and ever-present smog? Hutch had a strange vision of all the separate streams of photons merging and intersecting, creating a net of light over the city, trapping its inhabitants in their own heads, binding them to the earth.

“Something’s missing, Starsk.” He said the words before he thought.

Starsky’s hands tightened around the steering wheel, and Hutch felt his sharp look. “Yeah, you’ve said that before. Sorry buddy. I don’t have any Russian ballerinas up my sleeve tonight.”

Hutch waved the words away as if they were gnats. “I don’t mean that. Can’t you feel it, Starsk? Don’t you wish there was more than . . .”

 “Hutch, look. It’s too late for philosophy—or too early. Whatever.” Starsky shifted in his seat. “Besides, you’re probably just out of whack from flipping shifts. You’ll feel better after the weekend.”

“Yeah, maybe. It’s just . . .”

Starsky sighed again. “What?”

“I don’t know. Something’s wrong.” Hutch’s words were soft, worried.

Starsky gave him a concerned glance as he stopped for a light. Hutch could almost feel his street sense clicking on. “What’s wrong?” Starsky’s head turned, scanning for trouble.

“I don’t know!” Hutch banged a fist into the armrest in a flare of frustration, and then dropped his head against the seatback. He took a deep breath and rubbed at the crease on his forehead. “Sorry. Maybe I’m just not used to rain anymore.” He shrugged and rubbed harder. “I don’t know.”

Starsky gave him a sympathetic look and eased the Torino through the intersection. “Just take it easy, partner. Whatever it is, it’ll come to you sooner or later. It always does.”

The utter confidence in his voice acted as a balm on Hutch’s nerves and he relaxed a little, fingers tracing the stone’s texture.

Then the Torino turned a corner and there was the moon, slipping down from behind the remaining clouds, a huge crescent above the narrow canyon of buildings.

“Wow, look at that.” Wonder seeped into Starsky’s words as he stopped for a light, and he turned with an eager look.

Hutch braced himself.

“Hey Hutch, did ya know that the moon is always the same size in the sky? That it just looks bigger closer to the horizon ’cause of an optical illusion?”

“Yeah.” Hutch’s lips twitched at the disappointment in Starsky’s eyes. “I took astronomy in college, remember?”

Starsky glared at him. “Well excuuuuse me!” The light changed and the Torino’s tires skidded a little as Starsky took off. Hutch could have sworn he heard a muttered “spoilsport” and his lips twitched again.

Something in him eased open.

And then he knew.

“Starsk! Turn around. It’s that grocery store!”

“Which grocery store?”

“The one we just passed, dummy. Turn around!” Hutch grabbed the mike. “Control, this is Zebra 3. We are responding to a 211 at the corner of Twelfth and . . .” He ducked his head and peered behind them while making an impatient circling motion with his hand. “. . . Mechanic. You got that, Control? This is Zebra 3 requesting backup for a 211 at Twelfth and Mechanic.”

“Roger, Zebra 3.”

Hutch braced himself against the dash as Starsky swore and squealed around.

“Go in quiet.” Hutch started digging in the glove compartment, ignoring the look Starsky threw him.

 Starsky cut off the lights and crept the Torino back toward the corner. He double-parked and took the extra clip Hutch handed him, but then he touched Hutch’s shoulder for a moment and held his eyes. Hutch looked back at him evenly. Whatever Starsky read seemed to satisfy him and he gave Hutch a grim little nod, stretched a kink out of his neck, and slid smoothly out of the Torino. Hutch dodged down the sidewalk, keeping close to any shadows offered by sparsely placed awnings. He felt the rightness of Starsky’s presence behind him like a shield. He smiled.

They got to the end of the block and peered in the window of the corner grocery, but Hutch already knew what they would find. One kid: strung out, starved, and scared to death. He couldn’t have been more than thirteen.

Hutch pointed to himself and made a motion with his finger, and Starsky glared at him for moment. Then he took a deep breath and a tighter hold on his gun. Hutch did a quick check of his own gun and then leaned in close, feeling the energy radiating off Starsky’s coiled body. He kept his voice low, felt the outer curve of Starsky’s ear against his lips.

“At least this time you get to keep your clothes on.” He pulled back, looked into slightly glazed eyes and smiled. He gave Starsky a quick pat and a grin and moved into the circle of light near the shop door.

Showtime, folks. Hutch whistled as he jogged up the steps and made a lot of noise with the door. The kid at the counter spun around and pointed a shaking gun at him and Hutch grunted with approval even as he pulled the scared bystander act. That’s it kid, look at me. I’m the one you need to worry about. That’s it, just keep looking at me and everything will be fine, just fine.

Hutch felt wonderful, like a pressure valve had been released, or subliminal pain had disappeared. He saw everything so clearly, felt the patterns of everyone’s movement like ripples in water, like wind against his face: the resonance of the scared kid in front of him, the equally scared shopkeeper hiding under the counter, Starsky moving into place from the back. There was music and rhythm to it; the smooth melody of his own voice, talking, talking, talking; the racing beat of the kid’s heart and his feral, desperate eyes; the bass line of Starsky’s movement, felt more than heard.

The kid had his eyes locked on him now, and Hutch softened his voice even more. The kid swayed a little, the gun wavered. Hutch felt the exhaustion in him, the hopelessness.

“That’s it. Easy now. You know, we could just walk out of here. I could take you somewhere, get you something to eat, find a place for you to get some rest. That would be good, wouldn’t it?” The gun wavered again, and Hutch held out his hand, felt Starsky suck in breath behind him.

“Yeah, sleep would be real good, wouldn’t it? Clean sheets, pillows.” The kid sniffled and the gun dropped into Hutch’s hand. Starsky moved around him and the kid started, then looked back at Hutch as Starsky pulled his hands behind his back.

“I . . . I’m going to jail, aren’t I.” His dark eyes filled.

Hutch looked at him a long time, then smiled faintly and clasped his shoulder. “Yeah, you are. But you can get help there, too.” He bent lower, looked the kid in the eye. “You can change your life, if you want. It’s up to you.”

They took him in and booked him. But they stopped and got him a couple of hamburgers first.

By the time they had everything settled and their paperwork done, Dobey had come in, morning neat and freshly shaven. Starsky gave Hutch a quick look over their shared desk and they moved as one, grabbing their jackets and shoving several files into the Captain’s hand as they tried to breeze past.

“See ya later, Cap.”

“Yeah, have a good weekend, Captain.”

They barely made it out the door before he shouted after them, “Starsky! Hutchinson!”

Hutch shrugged at Starsky’s frustrated sigh and stuck his head back through the door. “Yeah, Captain.”

Dobey gave him a long look. “Good work this morning.”

“Thanks, Captain.” His voice held a note of surprised pleasure.

“Well, what are you standing there for? Get out of here! And get some rest. You look like hell!”

They got out of there.

Back in the car, back in the car. Seemed anymore like they lived in the damn car. Hutch stared out his window, feeling his partner’s eyes on him like a laser, or maybe a telescope. Finally the tension was too much, and he turned and faced Starsky head-on.

“What?”

“You tell me.” Starsky’s voice was even, implacable.

Hutch squirmed inside. “Tell you what?” he snapped.

Starsky ignored his irritation and simply asked again. “What happened this morning?”

“What do you mean what happened? We stopped a 211. That’s what happened.”

Starsky nodded to himself a moment, then pulled into a vacant parking space. He carefully set the gear and with the same precision, turned to face his partner. Hutch squirmed again but held the searching eyes.

“What happened Hutch? How did you know the 211 was going down? What tipped you off?”

“I saw something.” The words slipped out.

Starsky nodded again. “Saw something?”

“Yeah.” Hutch looked away, stared unseeing through the windshield. “I saw him go in, and it just . . . I don’t know. I just knew. I knew.” His voice had gone soft, hesitant, and he looked back at Starsky for reassurance or disbelief or something. “How else could I have known? I must have seen something, right?”

Hutch hated when Starsky looked at him like that, eyes slivers of lapis, remote and considering. He resisted the urge to just get out of the car and walk.

“Okay, partner. You must have seen something. Unless you’re getting psychic on me. Been hanging out with Joe again?”

Hutch managed to choke out a laugh as the tension eased. “Yeah, that’s it. Been taking the same lessons as Huggy.”

Starsky shook his head and pulled back out in traffic. “I’ll tell you what, Hutch. Those instincts of yours are almost scary sometimes.”

“Yeah, scary.” Hutch’s voice was very soft and the hand in his pocket clenched around the stone.

 Finally they were at Venice Place and Hutch almost bolted from the confines of the car. “Want to come up? I think I can scrounge us something to eat.”

Starsky considered it for a moment. “Yeah, okay. Long as it’s something edible.”

Hutch shook his head and preceded Starsky through the downstairs door, then remembered he’d left his badge in the glove compartment. He turned and . . . he was never quite sure how he ended up tripping into Starsky and slamming them both back against the door. They'd been tangled up before, but this time it was like they couldn't move anything without running into or falling into each other. At one point Hutch felt the scrape of Starsky's beard against his face, felt Starsky’s breath in his own panting mouth, and almost . . . almost felt the brush of his partner’s lips against his before they both reared away, Starsky hitting his head on the door again.

"Dammit Hutch, will you watch it? Here . . . jus . . . jus . . . just quit movin' around!"

Hutch leaned awkwardly against the door, bracing himself with one arm to keep his weight off his partner. Starsky rubbed at the back of his head and glared at Hutch while he pushed his back against the door and maneuvered himself completely upright. Hutch shrugged and gave Starsky a sheepish grin as Starsky shoved against his shoulders till he rocked back on his heels and caught his balance. He felt a little drunk.

Starsky shook his head and made a big show of straightening up his clothes and then he made a grand flourish toward the stairs, giving Hutch an expectant look.

“After you, partner.”

“Yeah. Just . . . let me get my badge and I’ll be right up.” Hutch pulled open the door.

“Hutch?”

His head whipped around, almost hitting the door. “Yeah?”

Starsky’s eyes narrowed. “Think you might need the keys?”

“Oh, yeah.” Hutch chuckled uneasily and took the keys. They held Starsky’s warmth.

When Hutch got back upstairs, Starsky had his head in the fridge, muttering. He finally pulled out a couple of beers and a leftover box of pizza.

“How long’s this been in the fridge?” He gingerly raised the lid as if he expected it to explode.

Hutch reached past him for his beer and shrugged. “I don’t know, couple of days.”

Starsky looked at it closely and gave it a tentative sniff. “Seems okay.”

Hutch took it and started to shove it in the oven.

“Hey!”

Hutch looked back at Starsky over his shoulder. “What?”

“Don’t treat a good pizza that way. What do you want to do, cremate it?” Starsky started rifling through Hutch’s cupboards. “Don’t you have a pizza pan somewhere in this mess? Ah.” Starsky made a satisfied sound and took the pizza out of Hutch’s hands. “Here, let me do this. You go sit down or something before you hurt yourself.”

“Yeah, okay. Guess I’m a little wired.”

“A little?” But Starsky’s voice was mild, and Hutch took another sip of his beer and wandered out to the sun porch to check on his plants.

As he checked water levels and trimmed dead leaves he began to settle. His mind stopped churning and focused in on what he was doing. He took a deep breath and another sip of beer as Starsky ambled out with a couple slices of pizza. Hutch took his and watched as his partner flopped down on the lounger after drying it off with a rag. Starsky ate his pizza in about four bites and finished off the beer, wiping his hand across his mouth before settling back and closing his eyes. He shifted a little, giving a small grunt of contentment. His body was latticed with sun, squaring his jaw line and framing his lips.

“What’re you staring at?” Starsky hadn’t opened his eyes.

Hutch started. “Nothing.” He turned back to his plants.

He knew exactly the moment when Starsky slid into sleep.

 

Hutch couldn’t sleep. He kept finding more things that needed to be done. After meticulously going over each plant, he stepped back in the apartment to put up his pruning shears and noticed that the tool drawer was so full that he almost couldn’t get it closed. He looked into it and suddenly saw the pattern that would make everything fit. Humming a little, he pulled the drawer completely out and sat cross-legged on the floor to sort the contents.

Starsky woke up and wandered back in. Hutch felt Starsky’s eyes on him, heard him settle on the couch without a word. The sounds of the game rose from the TV.

By the time the game was over, Hutch had half the contents of his kitchen spread across the counter and table. Hutch felt Starsky stretch and get up, look at the mess for a moment, and move to grab his jacket.

“You’re welcome to stay if you want.” Hutch didn’t look up.

Starsky eyed the piles again. “Nah, got some errands. I’ll catch you tomorrow.” He moved oh so casually toward the door.

“What’s the matter, Starsk? Scared?” Hutch hid a grin as he started rubbing water spots off the silverware.

“Hey, I’m not scared. You wanna play Molly maid all weekend, you go right ahead. I got stuff to do. See ya later, buddy.” Starsky made good his escape, ignoring Hutch’s chuckle.

Hutch cleaned out every drawer and cupboard and was thinking about the medicine chest in the bathroom when his eyes caught a flash of gold by the window. He turned and there was his guitar, gleaming in the late afternoon light. Something in him grew quiet, still at last.

He crossed the room and sat on the floor in front of the window, raising his face to the sun. He closed his eyes and let colored shapes form behind his lids. A slight breeze drifted through the window, carrying the scent of garlic, the faint smell of exhaust, and even fainter tang of salt water. He felt it play through his hair and move on. There was a tiny thrum of guitar strings vibrating, and somewhere underneath, the heartbeat of the ocean. There was a note in there that moved through him like Starsky’s voice. He raised his hand to the guitar and plucked a string. It seemed to vibrate forever. On the street below, a wave of traffic rolled by. He tried another note, and presently another, searching . . .

When Hutch came back to himself, the sun was low in the sky. He tried to remember what he’d been thinking about, but he couldn’t hold the memories any more than he could hold the wind. Oh, man. What is going on? What is going on?

Hutch scrubbed his face and slowly stood, working the cramps out of his joints. The light across the street flickered on, and he turned to find his apartment full of shadows. He looked back out the window. The sky was so blue.

Maybe a run.

The air outside was charged with the peculiar energy of twilight. Hutch ran stiffly at first, jogging to the first light, and stopping to stretch some more. The moon came up over the city just as the last of the sunlight fled.

An old black man shuffled across the street in front of him, wearing dirty bedroom slippers and clutching a small brown sack of food against his sunken chest. He watched the moon, too, ignoring anything else. He laboriously climbed the curb onto the sidewalk and passed Hutch without a word. The light changed.

Hutch paid attention to his running, the pocketed stone bouncing against his hip with every step. With each breath he felt better, more focused. The sweat started to come, smoothing his movement. The pounding of his feet became the pounding of his heart; became the pounding of other hearts. He looked at the newly risen moon, and suddenly he saw it out of a thousand different eyes. And he knew . . .

There was a coyote in the desert, sitting on a bluff with ears pricked forward, watching the lights of Vegas come on. He raised a long nose and called to his brothers. From somewhere to the east they answered. He scratched at an ear, looked once more at the glow, and then turned and loped off into the dark.

It was later in the southeastern marsh, the moon higher in the sky. A heron speared his dinner, swallowing it whole before taking off with a soundless rush. The marsh grass sighed at his passing.

In the dawn on the other side of the world a baby was born. His mother swore he would be the last. He had ten sisters.

Down the street a hooker leaned in a doorway and tried to remember her prom.

A long time ago, a young black boy had learned to ride his bike on a summer night like this one. He’d laughed and flown down the dirt road, racing the moon.

The spider stared at the porch light through compound eyes, waiting for the insects night would bring. She tested the strength of her web and admired its pattern, its perfection.

Starsky was dreaming of the barn.

He looked up to see Hutch sitting, propped on top of the tractor in scrubs and a nasal canula. His hair and clothing were plastered to him with sweat, and his breath was a harsh rasp that overrode even the roar of the fire. He was doing calculations on his knee with a pencil and scrap of paper.

He glanced over at Starsky and gave him a gentle smile— the smile Starsky only got to see when things were completely screwed. “Don’t worry, buddy. I’ll get you out of here.”

Hutch turned back to the paper, chewed on the pencil. His body had become a hunched shadow against the rising flames.

“Now let’s see, the fire has to reach at least 1400 degrees before it will cremate a body. And wood burns at about . . .”

Starsky tried to move, tried to cry out, but he could only lay there, paralyzed. Hutch continued to calculate, ignoring the flames that had begun licking up his own legs.

“ . . . utch!” Starsky woke to his own shout. At least he thought he was awake; he was sitting bolt upright in his bed. But he wasn’t entirely sure because Hutch’s shadow was somehow still there, a dark hunch in the bedroom doorway.

“Hutch?” His voice cracked. The shadow straightened a little, and Starsky caught a glimpse of Hutch’s eyes, all pupil and moonlight.

“I can’t.”

Starsky had to strain to hear the words over his own heartbeat, the pulse still pounding in his ears.

“You can’t?” he croaked back.

Hutch swayed. “It’s . . . too much. I can’t. Too many . . . Starsk?”

“It’s okay, Hutch. It’s gonna be okay. Come here. Come in here.” Starsky found himself holding up the covers. His teeth were chattering.

Hutch fumbled toward him eagerly, crawled into his bed like an animal seeking its den. He sighed. Starsky could feel slight tremors running through the tense body beside him, or were the shakes his? Not knowing what else to do, he moved closer and slung an arm over Hutch’s waist, felt him shudder once, then slump back against him. Starsky’s arm tightened reflexively, and slowly he, too, relaxed. Hutch’s hair smelled of starlight and sweat.

He knew exactly the moment when Hutch slid into sleep.

 

Starsky woke again, still unsure if he was dreaming. It was day. He blinked up at the ceiling for a moment, feeling the emptiness of the bed. He turned his head. The other side looked rumpled. He resisted the urge to sniff the pillow, and stretched instead. In the other room, the shower came on and his muscles relaxed a little.

He got out of bed and knocked briefly at the bathroom door before going in to relieve himself and wash his hands.

“Flushing,” he warned, and gave Hutch a second to step back from the water. “You want coffee?”

“Yeah, thanks.” Hutch’s voice was quiet, muted in the spray.

Starsky nodded at himself in the mirror, carefully not looking at his wet, barely concealed partner, and walked back through the apartment to the kitchen. He got the coffee going and stepped out to get the paper.

Hutch came out in borrowed jeans as the coffee finished and Starsky handed him a cup as he went to take his own shower, carrying the slight press of Hutch’s fingers with him. When Starsky came back in, dressed and scrubbing the last dampness from his hair, he found Hutch at the table reading the paper.

Starsky took the chair across the table and sipped at the cup Hutch had poured for him. Hutch slid him the sports section and they settled into the silence.

It was good for awhile, comfortable, but suddenly Starsky realized that he hadn’t heard any paper sounds. He cast a surreptitious look at Hutch, and something inside twisted. Hutch was frozen, staring at the words but gone, somehow both faded and timeless in the same moment.

“Hutch?”

Hutch looked at him from somewhere across a divide, and the thing inside Starsky twisted tighter, knotting in his gut. Easy Davey. Easy boy. We gotta handle this right or he’ll bolt for sure. Starsky leaned forward a little and folded his hands on the table. He watched quietly as Hutch pulled his attention back from . . . wherever. When Hutch really looked at him, Starsky could almost feel his partner’s strained tension battering at him. The tension held . . . grew . . . and finally . . .

“What?” It was a minor explosion, merely rattling the paper.

Starsky just looked at his partner, let Hutch watch him mentally piece together the evidence. Finally, Hutch dropped his eyes and his hands thumped limply against the table. He slumped back against the chair and closed his eyes.

“Okay, let’s have it.”

Starsky almost flinched at the weariness in Hutch’s voice. He kept his own voice even. “Have what?”

Hutch looked up with a small return of irritation, of energy. “Don’t play games with me, Starsky.”

“What do you want me to say, Hutch? You gonna feed me a bunch of jive bull if I ask the question? You’ve never lied to me yet, and I’d hate like hell for this to be the first time, but I’ve just got a funny feeling about this one, partner. So you tell me.”

Hutch shrugged, at his most irritating. “Tell you what?”

Anger flared through Starsky, clenching his jaw, and he decided to play his trump card. “Okay. Why don’t you tell me about the hunk of rock you’ve been carting around everywhere?”

Hutch looked up, shocked, and for just a moment Starsky could have sworn he actually felt the utter confusion and fear that flared in Hutch’s eyes. The knot inside him froze. Oh, yeah, this was gonna be some heavy shit. Dammit all to hell.

He sighed. Might as well lay it all out and see where it went. He gentled his voice.

“Did you really think I didn’t notice? You’ve suddenly become permanently attached to a hunk of supposed space rock. You’re having nightmares bad enough to drive you over to my place in the middle of the night. Not to mention this weird intuition thing you’ve got going on . . .”

The phone rang. Hutch jumped, then grabbed for the wall handset like a falling man clutching at a cliff side.

Starsky sighed and listened to the mostly one-sided conversation with a strange sense of fatalism. Dobey’s voice barked loud enough to be heard, if not exactly understood, and Starsky watched his partner flinch, then close his eyes.

“Okay, Captain.”

The phone barked some more.

“Yeah, Captain. I got it. We’ll be in as soon as possible.”

Hutch hung up the phone and looked down at the table for a moment, then shook his head and laughed softly.

“Seems I owe you an apology, buddy.” Hutch looked up and Starsky watched a kind of rueful mirth battle hysteria in his eyes. “Yeah.” Hutch cleared his throat. “Seems Del la Rosa and Peters didn’t have food poisoning after all.”

Starsky quirked an eyebrow in question.

“Stomach flu; a third of the force is down. Dobey’s calling us in.”

Starsky slumped back and rubbed his face. “Shit.” He scratched at his head and stretched his neck. Finally, he dropped his arms across his chest and looked over at Hutch.

“You sure you’re up for this?”

Hutch’s eyes kindled with defensive anger and he tilted his chin up a bit.

“Aren’t I always?”

The knot in Starsky’s stomach ached. “Well, we’d better take off, then. Gonna have to go by your place and pick up your piece.”

Hutch nodded.

When they got down to the street, Starsky stopped in surprise.

“Hutch, where’s your car?”

Hutch’s forehead creased. “I . . . um . . .”

Oh man, really heavy shit. “Uh-huh. Come on partner, I’ll drive.” He patted Hutch’s shoulder and walked around to the other side of the Torino, pulling his sunglasses out of his jacket pocket.

Just another beautiful fucking day in BC.

 

Hutch’s hand was twitching. Instead of reaching in his pocket he rubbed it up and down his thigh, avoiding Starsky’s too-knowing eyes. His partner’s palpable concern had grown more oppressive as the shift wore on, like being smothered in a half-dried blanket. Hutch tried again to remember last night’s run through the dark streets, but it was all a discordant jangle. His head hurt. His leg jumped.

Starsky sighed.

Hutch shifted in his seat. Was the air getting thicker? Something was itching under his skin. The streetlight had such hard edges, sharp and cutting. He couldn’t seem to catch his breath.

“Zebra 3, respond to disturbance at Hotel Garvey.”

Hutch jumped. His hand reached for the mike and stopped. He felt sweat break out on his lip. Dread swallowed him. He couldn’t do it, couldn’t reach for the mike. Starsky gave him a look and grabbed it instead. Hutch choked back a protest.

“This is Zebra 3; we are responding.”

The stone grew heavier in Hutch’s pocket.

 

Too late . . . too late . . . the words echoed through Hutch’s head, pounded in his footsteps as he ran. He knew—knew it like his own mortality—he would be too late. And still he ran, almost jumping down entire flights of stairs. Too late . . . he flew out of the hotel’s doors and ran toward the dark alley. Two . . . there were two of them, not just one . . . Starsky . . . too late . . . “Starsky!”

Hutch screamed it as he rounded the corner but the second gunman had already fired and Starsky never even saw it coming. He dropped like a stone, already gone. Hutch knew that, felt the sick certainty rising like bile in his throat, but still he ran, firing wildly at the fleeing gunman even as he slid to his knees by the still body. The perp jumped the fence and was gone.

Hutch snatched his partner up, looked into empty eyes staring calmly at the sky. One limp hand slid back to the pavement, the watch around his wrist broken.

Too late . . .

Starsky hadn’t even had a chance to be surprised. He was just . . . gone.

“Starsk?”

Somehow, stiff fingers brushed over his partner’s eyes, closing them.

Too late . . .

Starsky was limp and heavy in his arms. Warm, God, still so warm. Hutch watched from some detached place as stringless arms jerkily lowered his partner to the ground, carefully cradling his head. Watched futile hands press against the wound, trying to catch life that had fled. His mind skittered.

Gone. Starsky’s laughter flashed through his mind. Gone . . . all his intelligence and humor and affection, just . . . gone. And Hutch felt nothing. Sightless eyes scanned the alley. Nothing.

He curled over, rested his forehead gently against Starsky’s, and closed his eyes.

There was nothing for a long time.

Then something . . .

It stirred in Hutch like wind through wilderness, thin and cold, beyond hearing. But somehow, Hutch heard. The wind rose, sighed through his mind, blew him back into himself. Memories began to swirl like dead leaves, scraps of newspaper; or was it pages of text? Every page he’d ever read, every scrap of knowledge he had, fluttered then whipped away from him, going . . . somewhere. The wind rose, eddied.

Knowledge began to flood back into him, filling him and more. His head pounded. His pulse was loud enough to echo between the buildings. He panted and sweated. His hand clenched around the stone, embedding its texture into his palm as the wind built to a wail. It tore at his mind and he screamed . . .

And then it was all there, and he understood. It was easy; child’s play, really. God, how could he have not known before? It was so easy.

 He calmly watched as his hand blurred and sank into the body beneath it, even as he knew that in another part of the pattern, his hand was still lying on Starsky’s chest.

Oh, the gentle slide and bump of Starsky’s molecules against his, like smooth pebbles pouring through his hand. He slid further in, felt a flicker of life, followed it down.

Pain, screaming pain, cellular ruptures.

Blood? Yes, he would share his blood. Give him life; give him everything, everything he was, blood and bone and sweat, the breath out of his body, the thoughts in his head. There was a wrenching feeling and then blood flowed between them. His chest heaved in great lungfuls of air. His heart began to beat for two.

He followed the terrible path that the bullet had taken; found the offensive metals, filtered them out through his own blood, froze them with the coldness of his rage, shattered them into nonexistence. Then he took a deep breath and began to repair the damage.

He made soft noises at the torn cells, nudged them with his own, coaxed them to grow and rebuild as he would newborn seedlings reaching for the sun. And finally Starsky’s heart lay whole in his hand, perfect. Hutch cradled it, soothed it with wordless songs, and slowly, very slowly, he began to squeeze it in time with his own heart; once, twice, three times, four . . . suddenly the heart jerked and began its own rhythm. Hutch leaned over and fitted his mouth to Starsky’s; fed him breath till his own lungs remembered how to breathe. Then there was another wrench, a tearing sense of separation, and Hutch was suddenly looking down at his hand resting on Starsky’s healed chest.

For a long time he just watched his hand as it rose and fell to the renewed rhythm of his partner’s breath. He finally rubbed the sweat from his eyes with his shoulder and fumbled at Starsky’s jacket, zipping it up to hide the bloody, damaged shirt. Then he raised his head and met an open, curious gaze, and all he could do was slump against the wall and shake.

“Hutch?” Starsky’s voice was conversational.

“Yeah?”

“Why ’m I layin’ on the ground?”

Hutch opened his mouth and a sound between a sob and an insane giggle escaped. He stopped, tried again, and finally found words. “You, uh, fell.”

“I did?”

“Yup.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah, I figured you must have slipped or something. Went down right in front of me, smacked your head pretty good.” Oh great, now he was babbling.

“Yeah?” Starsky looked up at him, carefully turned his head. “Funny . . . head doesn’t hurt.”

“Yeah? G-guess you lucked out, partner.”

“Huh, guess so.” Starsky raised a hand to finger the back of his head. “How long was I out?”

Hutch tried to shrug. “A minute, maybe. Not long.”

“So.”

“So.”

“So, you gonna help me up?”

Hutch started. “Yeah, sure.” He tried on a smile and stood up, trying to hide how shaky he still was. He took a deep breath and reached down, managed a firm handhold and hauled Starsky to his feet. “Okay?”

“Yeah, I’m okay.” Starsky was carefully patting himself down. “Hutch?”

“Yeah?”

“Why’d you zip up my jacket?”

Hutch’s mind scrambled. “Shock!” He darted a glance at Starsky. “You know—if someone’s injured, you’ve got to keep them warm. Don’t want them to go into shock.”

“Uh-huh.” Hutch watched as Starsky decided to let it go, but then he raised their still-clasped hands with a questioning look.

Hutch started again. Was there blood on that hand? Starsky’s eyes narrowed. Hutch gave a little laugh and let go. It hurt. He saw a flicker of something pass over Starsky’s face. Hutch shoved both hands in his pockets, turned and started the long walk back to the car.

 

Starsky drove toward Venice on automatic pilot. Something was wrong, very wrong. He just couldn’t put his finger on exactly what.

Hutch had calmly dealt with their backup’s questions, turned his gun over to the lab guys, and scrawled an awkward signature at the bottom of a quick statement. Even more calmly, he’d given the best description he could of the shooter that got away, but his eyes had darkened dangerously as he’d watched them haul out the one perp Hutch had been able to capture.

Starsky glanced over at Hutch’s averted face. His partner hadn’t said a word since he’d wearily logged them out. He’d slumped in his seat and turned to the side window. Starsky eyed the hand jammed in Hutch’s jacket pocket and just knew that Hutch was playing with that damned rock again.

But there was something more, something . . . wrong. It lay just beyond his reach like an ache for something lost that he’d never known he had. He hurt everywhere and yet nowhere. He realized that he was leaning to the left against some pull, like his cells were straining for contact with Hutch.

And why wasn’t Hutch insisting that he go to the hospital and get his head checked? After all, he had lost consciousness, even if it had only been for a minute. Hutch had never let him off the hook before, no matter how trivial the injury. Starsky tried again to remember what happened, but all he could come up with was moving down the alley to get to the building’s fire escape and then . . . nothing. Except he’d woken up on the ground and Hutch had been acting shell-shocked ever since. Enough’s enough, partner. Whatever this is, we’re hashing it out tonight.

He parked behind Hutch’s car and followed his silent partner up the steps. Once inside Hutch went straight to the fridge, pulled out a beer and then just stood there staring, letting all the cold air out. Starsky shook his head and headed for the john. “Be back in minute, Blintz.”

Starsky finished at the toilet and turned to the sink to wash his hands. He started to push up the sleeves of his jacket and then decided to take it off instead. He finished washing and reached for a towel, glancing in the mirror.

The world stopped; Starsky had to take a step sideways to catch his balance. There in front of him was a black T-shirt with a neat hole torn in it right over his heart, the fabric stained even blacker with dried blood. Stiff fingers lifted the fabric, moved over bloodstained yet whole skin. The world started up again, whirling away from him, and he fought to keep his balance. He turned and tried to see the back of his shirt, but there was nothing back there. But Hutch said I fell. Hutch said . . .

His ears filled with sound like the howling of a distant storm. He leaned against the sink and closed his eyes, but he couldn’t seem to get a handle on his thoughts. Everything spun, and in his head he kept hearing Hutch’s voice shouting his name, then nothing, then . . . something. What the hell was that? Hutch. Hutch would know. Hutch could explain. Except Hutch had lied, stared him in the face and lied. No more. No more lies, no more hiding. No more.

Starsky turned and stalked to the door, pulled it open with a jerk. He took two strides into the room and saw his partner leaning against the kitchen wall behind the piano, half-hidden in its shadow, unopened beer on the counter next to him. Starsky started to say something, but then Hutch looked up and all words fled. Hutch was staring at the hole in his shirt. The look on his face was . . . terrible. Starsky fought the ocean roll of the floor and took a step toward his partner.

“Hutch, what did you do?” The words hissed out cold, like breath from a grave.

“I don’t know.” Hutch’s voice came from someplace else. “I just . . . I don’t know, Starsk.” He looked up and Starsky felt his eyes like a blow. “You’re here. That’s all I know. That’s enough.” His eyes fell. “That’s enough.”

“I’m . . . here?” Starsky looked down at his shirt, heard an echo of Hutch’s voice calling him. He cleared his throat, forced words out. “Does that mean that I . . . wasn’t here?” He shook his head. What am I saying? He looked up. “Hutch? What the hell happened?”

“Starsk, I . . . don’t know what to tell you.” Hutch shrugged, raised a bloodstained hand to rub his forehead.

Blood.

There was something . . . pain, and warmth, and . . .

Starsky gasped. His very cells shook, felt like they were losing cohesion, like they would scatter to the four winds, leaving him a ghost.

“Hutch, you . . . your hand . . . it was . . . Hutch, what did you do?” His voice rose, panic choking him.

“I don’t know!” Hutch’s hand slapped the wall and he slumped back against it, dropped his eyes, then looked mutely back up at him.

The fear in his eyes pulled at Starsky. He felt the jerk of his legs moving him across the space between them. His mouth opened. “Is . . . is this a dream, Hutch?” Hutch reached for him, pulled him in, wrapped long arms around him. Starsky closed his eyes, leaned his head against a solid shoulder.

“It’s not a dream.” Hutch’s words were a sigh of warmth in his ear.

“Am I dead?” The words slipped away from him.

“No.” Hutch’s voice turned fierce and his arms tightened, defining Starsky’s shape, his mass. Starsky slumped. He could feel Hutch’s heartbeat against his chest. It echoed in him, made him ache. He made an inarticulate sound and moved his head up just as Hutch moved his, and Hutch’s mouth was so close, and Starsky felt himself lean in just a little. Hutch’s lips brushed over his for a bare moment, and then he pulled back, changed angles slightly and leaned back in. Again, Starsky meet him halfway. Their lips lingered against each other, slid, and then Hutch pulled back once more.

“Is this really what you want?” Hutch’s voice was quiet, and his eyes were clear— bottomless.

No more lies. Starsky watched as his hand moved to tangle in Hutch’s hair, cupping the back of his neck. He pulled.

They fell against each other, into each other. Their lips worked wider, tongues moved deeper. Starsky heard a faint hum of sound and envisioned Hutch’s hand stroking down his guitar, pictured those same hands on his body. He shuddered and went hard. Hutch groaned into his mouth and pulled Starsky’s shirt up, working his hands underneath, shoving it up and off. And then those hands were back, their warmth binding his cells together. But it wasn’t enough. Starsky’s hands anchored themselves in Hutch’s hair. He pushed back against Hutch’s agile tongue with his own, tilted their heads this way and that, searching for the perfect fit. Closer; he needed Hutch closer.

Hutch’s hands moved to his ass. Starsky writhed, rubbing their groins together. The blood pulsing through his cock felt brand new. He sucked in Hutch’s gasp as they slid down the wall, then gasped himself as he collided with Hutch’s knee and fell back on his ass.

“Ow.” He rubbed at the sore spot on his ribs.

“Sorry.” Hutch’s voice was breathless, and Starsky felt a twinge of suspicion.

You’d better not be laughin’ at me, pal.

Hutch must have read his look because he shook his head a little and flashed him an unrepentant grin. He was flushed and panting.

So fucking beautiful.

“Come ’ere.” Starsky pulled Hutch over on top of himself, arching up to meet the hard press of Hutch’s cock. Hutch’s eyes turned to storm and his mouth came down hard against him, hungry, almost biting into his mouth. There was something desperate in it, some terror half-remembered, and Starsky surrendered to the discordant longing instinctively. He let Hutch draw his hands up over his head and pin them against the floor. His head swam with the feeling of Hutch’s lips trailing down his throat and across his shoulders.

“Starsk . . .” The word was humid against his skin. Then Hutch’s hands were moving again, and Starsky realized that somehow he lay naked beneath a still fully clothed partner.

“Hey!”

“Hmmm?” Hutch’s hands were wandering over his body. They found the still-pink scar on his shin, stroked over it softly.

Flames . . .

Starsky shook his head. “It’s okay. Doesn’t hurt any more.”

Hutch’s hands moved on, found a faint raised line above his knee. He bent and ran his lips over it.

“Wish I could go back and pound Bobby Fishburne for you.”

Starsky snorted. “Oh, he’s gettin’ pounded. Ma said he’s paying alimony to three exes.” Had he told Hutch that story? Starsky felt the slip and slide of a tongue moving up the inside of his thigh.

“Oh!”

Hutch made a hum of pleasure and nuzzled at his balls.

“Shit!”

Hutch chuckled, flicked his tongue around the base of Starsky’s cock.

“Oh fuck, oh fuck.” Starsky was panting.

“Yeah? You wanna?” Hutch looked up at him, the challenge in his eyes only half-playful.

Starsky swallowed hard, felt something contract and open inside. “Yeah.”

Hutch shivered and closed his eyes for a moment, then looked back up at Starsky. He’d never seen Hutch’s eyes that color before. He began tugging at Hutch’s shirt.

“Off, get . . . this . . . off.”

Hutch shrugged off his hands and sat up. But then he went further, threw a leg over Starsky’s body and sat down astride him, right on top of his cock. Starsky flopped back down on the floor and panted. Hutch shifted a little and Starsky’s hips tried to lift them both off the floor.

“Dammit, Hutch!”

Hutch didn’t answer him. He just raised his hands and slowly started to undo the buttons on his shirt, his eyes hot on Starsky’s face. Starsky’s eyes traveled to the glimpses of skin being so slowly revealed, to lips still wet from his kisses. He groaned and rose under Hutch, rubbing against him, feeling the tension underlying the casual movement of his partner’s hands. Starsky’s own hands settled on Hutch’s thighs, fingers clenching and kneading, and Hutch’s eyelids fluttered as he shrugged the shirt from his shoulders. Starsky’s breath hitched and his hands reached eagerly for the bared skin, but Hutch evaded him and leaned to the side with a grunt and started digging in the cupboard.

“Hutch? What . . .”

Hutch made a satisfied sound and pulled out a bottle of olive oil. He set it on the floor near his knees and sat back up, eyes on Starsky’s, considering, waiting. Starsky could feel slight tremors running through the muscles snug against him.

Deliberate bastard.

Starsky licked suddenly dry lips. “Take you pants off, Hutch.” He watched the long line of Hutch’s throat as he swallowed, watched his long legs unfold as he stood, backed up a few paces. Starsky spread his legs.

Show you deliberate.

Hutch suddenly lost all grace. Starsky’s own heart raced as he watched Hutch fumble and yank at his pants, almost tripping as he tried to shove them off over his shoes. His eyes never left Starsky’s cock, which strained and bobbed under the attention. Then Hutch stood shaking before him: naked skin, furious cock, and pleading eyes.

Just gotta make me say it.

“Fuck me.” It came out as a croak.

Hutch dropped to his knees, crawled up between Starsky’s legs and tried to swallow his cock.

“Shit!”

Hutch bobbed his head up and down a few times, and then he looked up at Starsky through those pale lashes and for just a second Starsky could have sworn that it was his mouth wrapped around Hutch’s cock. Hutch’s eyes widened and he let Starsky go. Starsky blinked at the change from warm mouth to cool air, but it was the dangerous curiosity flooding Hutch’s face that made him shiver as Hutch slowly lowered his mouth back over Starsky’s aching flesh and tried an experimental suck. They both moaned, and then Hutch grinned madly around his mouthful and began to search for the rhythm and suction that would drive Starsky mad.

He found it.

Starsky couldn’t even breathe. Every muscle in his body was paralyzed except the ones that forced his cock to throb and jerk and spend itself in his partner’s thirsting mouth. Hutch sucked him in with a groan of such mixed delight and terror that Starsky wanted to pull Hutch all the way inside himself, let Hutch’s thoughts fill him like breath. Somewhere inside he remembered density and he wanted it back, wanted to feel Hutch’s solidity in his own bones.

“Want you . . . I want you . . . want . . . “

“Yes.”

Starsky couldn’t tell anymore if either of them was speaking aloud. He could only lay there, head lolling, as his partner grabbed the bottle of oil and fumbled off the cap. His hand shook and he almost upended the thing over Starsky’s cock. It was way too much oil. Starsky felt it slide over his balls, and down the cleft of his ass, pooling on the floor beneath him. Hutch’s curious, gentle fingers began exploring the ridges and dips hidden in the cleft.

Starsky looked up into Hutch’s eyes and they were blue. God. So blue they were almost black. Starsky shivered and felt his body open, accept. Hutch’s thumbs slid into him and heat ran through the bottoms of his feet and out the tips of his hair. There was stretching and twisting, and then it wasn’t Hutch’s thumbs anymore; it was his cock, and Starsky gasped as Hutch slid deep.

Hutch’s head was thrown back, neck and shoulder muscles straining. And then his head lowered and he looked at Starsky—looked into him, and began to fuck.

Starsky tried to hang on as the bowing of Hutch’s cock over his prostate sent vibrations thrumming through him, resonating in empty places he never knew he had. The pleasure was sharp, consuming, and he only half-realized he was chanting “in me, in me, inmeinmeinme . . .” Bass notes rang in his balls and up his spine, buzzed in the bones of his skull. He looked up wonderingly at Hutch and saw his reflection in Hutch’s eyes. Saw Hutch looking at his own reflection in Starsky’s eyes. Something twisted, cracked open, and he found himself looking down at his own body, felt the clench of his ass around the drive and twist of Hutch’s cock. He heard Hutch’s voice crying out in his head, felt Hutch’s orgasm like his own. There was an explosion of sound and then everything turned to black light.

 

It was dark, so dark that he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face, wasn’t even sure if he had hands. Up and down somehow had no meaning in this place, and the feeling was slightly nauseating.

“Hutch?”

“Yeah.”

“What happened?”

“I don’t know.”

They groped blindly for each other.

“Where are we?”

“Starsky, I don’t know.”

“Why don’t you?”

“What do you mean why don’t you? How in the hell am I supposed to know?”

“Hey, don’t get pissy with me. This is all your fault, after all.”

“My fault?”

“Well yeah, you’re the one that started all this.”

“Me? Oh, that’s rich, buddy.”

“Hey! I’m not the one who lied, Blondie. I’m not the one who got possessed by some damn rock.”

“Starsk—”

“I’m not the one who’s been acting all weird for days.”

“Star—”

“I’m not the one who got us in—”

“Starsky!”

“What!”

“What’s that?”

“What?”

“That.”

“What that?”

“That light.”

“Oh. What is that?”

Hutch sighed. “I just asked you.”

“Hey, Hutch?”

“Yeah?”

“Is it getting bigger?”

“Yeah, I think it is.”

The pinpoint of light grew slowly, became a blur, then many pinpoints, hundreds, thousands, millions of pinpoints. They stared as an entire galaxy bloomed before them in the suddenly expansive night. They shared one shocked look as they started to fall.

 

Hutch knew even before he opened his eyes that they weren’t home. The light was wrong, too bright. It hurt even through his closed lids.

“Hutch?”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.” Hutch felt a ripple of strained laughter move through him but he wasn’t sure if it was his or Starsky’s. Slowly he sat up, felt Starsky do the same till they were sitting back to back. They opened their eyes and squinted into the light, but it was too bright to see anything. Hutch felt Starsky’s movement as he patted his pockets looking for sunglasses.

They were wearing clothes?

“Starsk, I don’t think those are going to be dark enough to help.”

“Better than nothing.”

“Yeah.” Hutch started his own search, grunting softly when he found his sunglasses in his jacket pocket. Surprisingly they were dark enough to make the light bearable, and he blinked a couple of times to clear his vision.

Then, as one, the partners stood cautiously, still back to back, and looked around.

It took them awhile to understand what they were seeing. Towers of rock lay before them, spreading across a vast valley. They were shaped like cave formations at the bottom, like stalagmites. But as they rose they became more ordered, more complex, crystalline shapes that flowed into each other, soared into bridges and arches of every color imaginable and some that weren’t.

Above them three suns burned in a white-hot sky.

“Definitely not in Kansas.” Hutch’s throat was dry. Still, there was something familiar about the place, as crazy as that was.

“Familiar how?”

Hutch started. He didn’t know which worried him more, the not-alone feeling of Starsky in his head or how quickly he’d gotten used to it.

Then there was a sound, like both the crack of distant thunder and a whisper in their ears. Both men gasped and drew guns they hadn’t realized were there a moment ago. They circled slowly, looking for the presence that loomed in their minds, but no one was there. Wind rippled over them in a jangle of sound like chimes. And Hutch had the definite feeling that something was amused.

Starsky picked up his thought. “All right, we know you’re here so why don’t you show yourselves?” His voice was strained, combative.

There was another jangle of sound.

 “Hey! Why don’t you quit playin’ games and . . .”

“Starsk.” Something niggled at Hutch. He stared at the rock formation before him. It had grown in such a way that there were openings here and there, threaded with filaments of crystal that flickered and hummed with the movement of the wind. Then he realized that all of the formations were freely pocked with the holes, catching and using every breath of wind to make sound.

“Yes.”

“Hutch? Wha . . .”

“Starsk, I think . . .” Hutch shook his head, huffed a disbelieving laugh.

Starsky gasped. “You really think these rocks are . . .”

“Alive.” The wind rose briefly, cleanly. It left a scent like rain on cement, like water, like life. Both men lowered their guns, stared in wonder at the towers of crystal.

“Hutch, you don’t suppose someone slipped us a mickey?”

Hutch turned to look at him, eyes wider than he’d ever seen. “I’m afraid not, buddy. I think this is really happening.”

Starsky muttered, “Was afraid you were gonna say that.” He holstered his gun. “All right, partner. What’s next?”

Hutch shrugged, put his Magnum away. “I don’t know.”

“You know, I’m getting kinda tired of you sayin’ that.”

“Starsky, I swear . . .” Hutch cut himself with a wince, realizing his partner was picking up on the surge of confusion and self-doubt.

“Yeah, well. I guess I figured that.” Starsky looked up around them and barked, “What’d you do, wipe his memory or something after you fucked with him?” Hutch felt the full emotional force of Starsky in partner protection mode, and was surprised by the depth of feeling under the bluster. Starsky cut him a look. Well, what did you expect? He raised his voice, almost shouting. “I think it’s about time someone comes clean before I get really pissed off.”

“Starsk, I think they can hear you.”

“Yeah, well I don’t like talkin’ to people I can’t see.”

Their answer was a low ringing that slowly filled the valley. The resonance of it built in Hutch’s brain till he was deafened by it, absorbed into it . . . and then Hutch was remembering everything, dragging Starsky helplessly along into the morass. He had spent whole nights living in alien minds, learning their songs, their thoughts. So many different beings, all so precious, all just flickers of life. Here and then gone like the lights of the fireflies he’d caught as a child.

And it was all because of the Singers, the sole of inhabitants of this world. They had been born while the Earth was still nothing but swirling gas, had lived so long that time moved both slowly and at dizzying speed. Hutch realized that to the Singers, both he and Starsky had yet to be born and were already lost, all in the same moment. The Singers had shared with him songs of other beings and other worlds: the Spinners, the Weavers, and so many others. And in return, they’d used him to learn the songs of the people of Earth. And then . . . and then . . .

“I really died?”

Hutch stood frozen, helplessly remembering.

“Jesus, Hutch. It really happened. I died and you . . . healed me. How?” Panic was skittering along the edges of Starsky’s thoughts.

They gave me the knowledge. Hutch was shaking. He realized he was on his knees and Starsky’s arms were wrapped around him.

“I tried, Starsk. I tried but I was too late.”

“It’s okay, partner.” Starsky rubbed his back. “Its okay, Hutch.”

Hutch looked up at him. “And then I . . . I . . .”

“Hey, the rest was sort of my idea, remember? ’Sides, you’re always welcome in my apartment, you know that. Why should my brain be any different?”

“But Starsk, I don’t think I can turn it off.”

 Starsky stood. It gave Hutch a chance to pull himself together, and he felt a surge of pure affection for this man he’d almost lost. Starsky looked down at him, his answer burning in his eyes.

“Well, it’s not your usual thing, but I don’t think I want to turn it off. Do you, Hutch?”

Emptiness, silence, only the dreary cycling of his own thoughts for company. Hutch realized that he’d only been orbiting himself all along, distancing himself from the truth of what he was. But now he couldn’t ignore it, not when he could see endless pictures of himself through Starsky’s eyes, feel the emotions tied to each one and know that no matter what happened there was someone that understood.

“No, I don’t want to turn it off.”

A symphony of seemingly random sound swelled around them and swept over Hutch like a wave, drowning him in images and memories and sorrow, sorrow that he recognized like his own. It had pulled the Singers toward him, the fear of loss and the sense of purpose stubbornly overriding that fear. Hutch began to pick through the sounds till he caught single threads of thought, understood them. He came back to himself in increments, realizing that he was once again on the ground, held securely in Starsky’s strength. Then another wave of sound, and thought washed him out of himself again.

“It’s a timepiece.” Hutch stared unseeing into the distance, concentrating on what he had heard.

“What’s a timepiece?” Starsky’s mind was steady, something to cling to in the storm of thought.

“The stone. It’s a timepiece . . .” Hutch squinted in concentration. “. . . a piece of time.” Then he looked up with wondering eyes. “My god, Starsk. It really is a meteorite.”

The music around them changed, wind through flutes of stone.

“Wait a minute.” Starsky shook his head. “None of this makes sense. Are you telling me that we’re inside that hunk of rock you’ve been carting around?”

“Um, not all of us.” Hutch looked up and flushed slightly. “Ju . . . just our minds.”

Hutch felt Starsky’s realization. “Our clothes, sunglasses . . . we pulled them out of our imaginations?”

“Yeah, we must have.” Hutch pulled out his gun. “I turned this over to the crime scene team last night, remember?”

Starsky scooted around to look him in the eye. “Are you trying to tell me that rock sucked out our brains and left our bodies layin’ on the floor, like . . . shit, like we were?”

“Gonna be kind of a shock to whoever finds us.” Hutch didn’t know if he wanted to break into laughter or just go insane.

“So . . . what? We’re dead?” God, I don’t believe that’s the second time I’ve asked that today.

Hutch gave him a sympathetic look. “No, we’re not dead.”

“They want us to be safe. The timepiece is a kind of . . . of bridge to a place where time doesn’t exist. Where the songs, the thoughts of other beings can be preserved.” Hutch stood suddenly, began to pace. “My God, Starsky. They’ve trapped whole worlds in time.” Hutch looked up at the Singers. Shouted at them in sudden frustration. “Why? How can you do that? How can you take people’s lives away from them? Damn it, if you’re so fucking smart, then talk to us!” He was answered with a glissando of notes, and Hutch stood panting and speechless, fists clenched.

“Hutch.” Starsky’s voice pulled him back. “You’re tryin’ to interrogate a bunch of rocks.”

Hutch realized that that was exactly what he was doing. The thought steadied him somehow, put him on ground he felt familiar with. And it gave him an idea.

“Starsk . . .”

“Here it comes.” Starsky shook his head.

“Starsky . . .”

“I don’t like it, Hutch. What if you can’t find your way back out?”

Hutch looked over at him. “Well, it’s a good thing you’re here, then, isn’t it.”

“Do you have any idea how much I hate when you do this?”

Hutch shrugged. “You got any better ideas?”

“No.” Starsky gave him a disgusted look, but Hutch read the worry underneath.

“Starsk, I’m . . .”

“Never mind.” Starsky cut him off again. “Let’s just get this over with.” He looked around, avoiding Hutch’s eyes. “Here, why don’t you sit here?” He pulled Hutch over and pushed him down, and Hutch obediently sat. He crossed his legs Indian style and braced his back against a smooth wall of stone, watching as Starsky settled in front of him. Starsky eyed the stone again. “Sure hope it doesn’t open up and eat you or something.”

Hutch sort of half laughed, and felt Starsky’s tension ease a bit. Then he looked up at the dizzying tower he was leaning against and his hand reached for contact. Starsky grabbed for him, locked wrists with him.

“I got ya, partner.”

“Don’t let go.” Hutch tried to hide his nervousness.

“Not a chance.”

Hutch gave his partner one more look and then he closed his eyes and let the wind take him.

“So old. God, so much death.” Hutch’s voice was rough, hoarse with some emotion. “They remember everything, Starsk. Billions of years of memories. They’ve seen countless civilizations rise and fall.” Hutch shook his head. “I can’t hold it all, can’t . . .”

“Then don’t try. Hutch? You listening to me?” Starsky tightened his hold on Hutch’s wrists, and Hutch responded by nodding a little, but he didn’t open his eyes. “Okay, partner. You’re doing fine.” Starsky couldn’t keep his voice from shaking. “Just . . . ask why. We need to know why.”

“They’re desperate.” Hutch’s breath hitched. “They’re tired. They’ve outlived everyone they’ve ever known and they just . . . they don’t want to be alone anymore and they don’t know anything else to do.” Hutch shook his head again. “How can we . . . I tell them they’re wrong?” Hutch raised his head and his eyes were open and burning into Starsky. “I didn’t know what else to do. Couldn’t let you die . . . couldn’t . . . I’d have done anything, Starsk. Anything. I’d have stolen, killed . . .”

“You wouldn’t have doomed me to a half-life, Hutch. I know that. You’d have let me go before you did that.” Starsky raised his head to address the Singers. “I’m sorry for your problem, but you just don’t have the right to do that, especially without asking permission. People . . . um, beings, uh . . . everyone has the right to live out their lives, not be trapped in time like some kinda bug in amber.”

“But why? Why would you choose death?”

“Is that you askin’ me, or them?”

Hutch huffed a little and then laid his head back against the wall and groaned. “Them, I think. Why . . . why . . .”

“Because for us, death is not necessarily an end.” Starsky was surprised by his own calm certainty. “Because staying here would stagnate us. We couldn’t grow or learn, and that would be death of another kind, maybe a worse kind.”

 Hutch shook his head. “Starsk . . .”

Starsky raised his voice. “I thought you said you explored Earth.”

“They did, through me.” Hutch barked a short laugh. “Guess I wasn’t such a great example of stable humanity, huh?”

“Yeah well, we have our problems, but we also tend to learn from our mistakes.” Starsky turned once more to the curtains of stone. “And if you suck everyone’s brains out, then we won’t have a chance to learn anymore.”

“You really believe that?”

Starsky looked back at Hutch. “Believe what? That the human race can learn from their mistakes and grow? Don’t you?”

“In theory, yes. It’s just that lately . . .”

“Hutch, you’re tired. And we’ve had a rough year. But I know . . . I know that you have faith. Otherwise you’d have quit by now.”

“And leave you without a partner?”

“Do you want to quit?”

Hutch thought about it. Really thought about it, and was surprised to find resistance to the idea somewhere inside. Something was still alive in him that he’d thought long dead. It felt an awful lot like hope.

“That’s my partner.” The satisfaction and pride in Starsky’s mind made Hutch blush.

Hutch stood with Starsky’s help and looked around, felt for the now familiar sense of the Singers, tried to find words they would understand. “Please send us back. We have . . . many songs left to sing. Many lessons to learn. We can’t do that, trapped here.”

Both men flinched at the sense of loss that filled the air. The music around them grew dissonant.

Hutch spoke gently. “You don’t have to accept every loss. You can take more direct action in people’s lives. Help others as you helped us.”

“Yeah.” Starsky was getting excited. “Interplanetary healers. You can help prevent needless deaths without trapping everyone in time.”

The oppressive sense of mourning lightened, was replaced by a jangle of sound that even Starsky realized was an animated discussion.

“There ya go.” Starsky bounced a little on his toes. “So . . . about us?”

There light around them dimmed, sputtered out like a flame caught in a last breath.

Starsky found himself on the kitchen floor beneath Hutch’s panting, sated body. He automatically wrapped both arms around as much of Hutch as he could and hung on till the room stopped spinning. Hutch’s breath against his skin and the slick feeling of a softened cock slipping out of his body reassured him of his solidity in a way that nothing else could have. Slowly he peeled open one eye and raised his head a little to meet his partner’s cautious gaze. The room smelled of sex. They exchanged one surprised look and then Hutch jerked off of him, accidentally elbowing him in the side. Hutch barely muttered a “sorry” to Starsky’s oomph of pain before diving for his jacket. He fumbled in his pockets while Starsky checked his watch for the time, only then realizing that it was broken. He gave it a sad look.

“Well, I’m still not sure how much of what I think happened really happened, but I do know one thing.”

“What’s that?” Hutch’s mind was distracted.

Starsky eyed the handful of dust that Hutch pulled out of his jacket pocket and looked again at his broken watch. “When I get my new watch, I’m not letting you anywhere near it. You’re hell on timepieces, partner.”

Hutch looked over at him in blank surprise for a moment, and then he began to laugh.

 

Hey Hutch, can you hear me?

Yeah.

Huh. It was a satisfied grunt.

Hutch tried the measure again, but his voice cracked on the top note. Disgusted, he laid his guitar aside and moved to the kitchen to tackle the pile of dishes waiting there.

How ’bout now? Can you hear me still?

Yes, Starsky. I hear you fine.

Cool.

Hutched plunged his hands into the soapy water and pulled out a coffee cup. Maybe if he changed the key . . .

How ’bout . . .

Starsky! What are you doing?

I just want to see how far our range is. Hutch heard a delighted chortle in his mind. Boy, I almost pity the next perp we go after. This is gonna be so cool.

Hutch flashed on a picture of a much younger Starsky with a new pair of walkie-talkies.

Yeah, well as long as you don’t get so caught up in listening for me that you stumble over your own feet. He felt the answering flash of outrage.

Me! I’m not the clumsy one in this partnership. Hutch caught the faint echo of Starsky’s feet pounding up the steps to his apartment. He grunted and returned to the dishes, chord changes running through his mind.

Hey, Hutch. Do you always have music running through your head?

Hutch shrugged. I guess so. Never really thought about it. Why?

Nothing. Just . . . Hutch felt a twinge of Starsky’s embarrassment. That’s what you sound like in my head, like music. The thought was almost shy.

Hutch blushed, felt warmth move through him. There was silence for a moment, then the next question came tentatively. What do I sound like in your head?

Like joy, laughter. The thought escaped him before he could pull it back.

Oh.

Hutch picked up faint traces of smug satisfaction mixed with the embarrassment in his partner’s mind. Yeah well, don’t let it go to your head, Gordo.

Too late.

Hutch sighed and wondered how he’d ever survive Starsky in his head 24/7. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he heard a snicker.

Speaking of head . . . Starsky thought of a very specific act and Hutch gasped, felt himself go hard. Oh, you like that idea, do you?

Starsky!

How about this idea, then . . .

Hutch slid to the floor and let Starsky paint dirty pictures in his mind.

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgments:

Sincere apologies to L. Frank Braum and E. B. White. No spiders were harmed in the making of this story.

Endless thanks to Molo and Kassidy Rae. Without them, this story would probably never have been finished.

 

counters
Coupon Code for OfficeDepot.com