Mirror, Mirror
by Elizabeth Alexander


SHSVS - Episode 504

**********

Guns.

One shot fired.

A dusty road, filled with afternoon heat, stink and noise.

Two sullen felons safely cuffed and guarded by cops.

Lizzie, her eyes wide with fear and her blouse damp with sweat. Flores, pale under the olive skin. Starsky, positively buzzing with zip. Himself, scared to death.

The pictures ran through his head again and again, in no particular order. His nose recalled the reek in the back alley, garbage cans and maybe a rotting animal somewhere, giving off an almost tangible odor. His ears replayed the noise of blaring sirens, loud voices—and that shot, over and over.

Hutch had a hard time trying to keep his burning emotions under control.

Together with Lizzie and Flores, they booked the felons. They wrote the required reports, and then all four went to Huggy's for a beer. Hutch held his peace throughout, responding appropriately to the small talk and the jokes. He was certain the other three cops hadn't noticed anything. They were just pleased about having solved another case, making their combined outstanding arrest record just that little bit more outstanding.

Captain Dobey had hinted that he might throw the two parties together more often, as this was already the second time within weeks they had brilliant results from their team effort. And he had given them a three-day weekend to celebrate, so everybody was in a good mood. Everybody but Hutch.

Now that he was sitting in the car next to his quiet partner, he slowly felt the old tension flow away, only to be replaced with a new and heated anger. He gazed at Starsky, his frustration a counterpoint to his love.

The dark beauty of the man struck him again. Brunet curls framed the strong profile, long black lashes stood guard over alert sapphire eyes focused on the road, and steady hands efficiently guided the Torino through the traffic. For all his bounce, Starsky didn't make any unnecessary movements. Hutch thought that the combination of seemingly endless energy and economic motion resulted in a sense of power that virtually radiated from Starsky. He loved that power—the assured, yet unassuming, strength—and he loved the almost cocky self-confidence. Today, however, that vigor had nearly frightened him out of his mind, and he wasn't going to forget that any time soon.

"What?"

The calm voice startled Hutch. "Huh?"

"What's the look for?" Starsky asked patiently, his eyes never leaving the rush hour mayhem around them.

"What makes you think I'm looking at you?" Better to keep the conversation light; he didn't want to confront the issue—or Starsky—in the car.

"Hutch, that look was drilling right into my brain. If you want to know what I'm thinking, why not ask straight out?"

Hutch took a deep breath. "So, I'm asking."

Starsky shot him a quick look and smiled. "I'm thinking you're likely to erupt like some volcano as soon as we get through the front door. You were already mad when you cuffed Sanders, and you've been steaming ever since."

"You oughtta be a cop, Starsky. That's good." Hutch realized he sounded more exhausted than mocking, and sighed.

"Can the sarcasm, Hutch. Better still, use it on somebody else. Tell me why you're pissed?"

"If you're such a good cop, you figure it out." Hutch let the anger leak, just a little bit, and it soaked into his voice and coated it with grouch.

Starsky smiled again, fueling Hutch's anger. "You reckon I can't do that? You think Arturo should have been where I was."

"So, why wasn't he?"

Now Starsky's delighted smile lit the dim interior of the car with its brightness. "Because I outran him."

Hutch gasped. He'd been afraid of that. "How many muscles did you pull along with that little stunt?"

"I've been declared fit for duty, Hutch." Starsky parked in front of Venice Place.

"Yeah. Doesn't mean you have to run faster than a guy much younger than you." Hutch got out of the car and slammed the door so hard it jumped back out of the lock.

Starsky frowned at him. "Bang your own doors, buddy. He ain't that much younger, y'know. You trying to make me feel like an old man?"

A sudden vision of Starsky—dark curls dusted with silver, sitting in a rocker on some porch with a patchwork quilt warming his legs—curved Hutch's lips into a smile. "C'mon in."

Starsky's frown deepened, and he pulled his door open again. "No, I don't think so. Not with the kind of mood you're in."

A few quick steps brought Hutch around to Starsky's side. He pushed the door shut and maneuvered his partner back against the car. "I said, come on in."

"Don't wanna."

Now that he was almost nose-to-nose with Starsky, Hutch could see the devilish lights dancing in the sapphire depths. Threateningly, he whispered, "It's so easy for you to pull my strings, isn't it, Starsk?"

Never intimidated by the invasion of his personal space, Starsky smiled indolently up into Hutch's eyes. "Yeah. Dead easy." Without moving, he inched closer. "Works both ways, though."

Responding to the husky murmur, Hutch smiled back. "It does?"

"Yeah."

"Well, I guess I'll see you tomorrow." Hutch turned and walked away. He heard Starsky's low chuckle and knew without looking that he had locked the car and was now following him up the steps.

**********

Hutch hung up his jacket and holster and turned to Starsky, who, arms folded, was leaning against the door and regarding him with amusement. "Oops. What are you doing here, partner? I thought you'd gone home."

Starsky smiled. "Fuck you, Hutch."

"Is that an offer?" Hutch propped himself against the doorjamb of the bathroom, his eyes lazily journeying his partner's body. He knew full well Starsky didn't mind the close scrutiny when he was dressed; he just hated it when Hutch took a closer look at the scars.

The trip started at the beloved face, that sweet smile and the glittering eyes almost physically drawing him in. Then down the chest, across the firm belly to the well-filled crotch. Hutch smiled and licked his lips at the sight, then met Starsky's eyes. His grin widened when Starsky flushed. "More like a request, huh, pal?"

"Come here."

Hutch tilted his head and held out a hand. "No. You come to me."

Starsky shrugged and closed the small distance. The special Starsky swagger turned him on some more. He was convinced that strut became more pronounced whenever they were alone. Pulling Starsky into an embrace, he looked at his tranquil face. "You drive me nuts, you know that?"

Starsky chuckled. "That's the whole idea."

Hutch swept a kiss across the welcoming lips. "Tease."

"You're a fine one to say that." Starsky snuggled closer. "You're all talk and no action."

"You want action?" The next kiss was less gentle. "I'll give you action." Hutch pushed the leather jacket off Starsky's shoulders and dropped it on the floor. The holster followed, more carefully. He brushed his thumbs across the already hard nipples, and Starsky moaned softly. "Think you can handle action?"

"Can." Starsky smiled and offered his lips for another kiss.

"Oh, yeah? Let's just see about that, shall we?" Their lips met tenderly at first, then with growing hunger and desperation. Hutch pulled Starsky's t-shirt out of the waistband of the tight jeans, his hands eager for that first taste of warm flesh. Starsky sighed and wriggled against him, as always, trying to make Hutch's fingers avoid the scars. Suddenly, anger flared along with desire.

One swift, overwhelming movement, and Hutch had his lover pinned against the wall. "If you hate the scars so much, why are you so eager to acquire some more?"

Starsky blinked, surprised at the sudden change in mood. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"Sanders had his gun pointed right at you."

"And I had mine on him. He dropped his when I told him to."

Starsky sounded too reasonable; the calm statement did nothing to soothe Hutch's frayed nerves. He tightened his grip. "What if he hadn't?"

"I would have shot him." Starsky shrugged. "Wouldn't have been the first time, and not the last."

"Why were you in the line of fire anyway, Starsky? Why weren't you under cover?"

"Damn it, Hutch. You and Lizzie were stuck behind that container. We were trying to flush them out."

"You did that all right. If he had shot..." Hutch swallowed, a taste of bile suddenly prominent in his mouth.

"I'm faster than most of these punks, Hutch, and you know it."

Painfully, Hutch became aware that he wasn't at all sure Starsky was still faster. Never mind medical reports and board statements—he would have preferred to keep Starsky off the streets a while longer. Then he almost snickered as it occurred to him what he really wanted—Starsky off the streets until retirement.

**********

Well, that foiled his little plan. Not that he had seriously thought he'd be able to distract Hutch from the source of his fury—Hutch had a one-track mind.

The mood spoiled, Starsky stepped away from Hutch and bent to pick up his jacket and holster. Observing his body's reactions to certain movements had become a habit in recent weeks, and he noted that he only felt a twinge as the muscles stretched. Since Hutch had begun to work on breaking up the scar tissue in his torso, the searing pain he used to feel in the evenings had lessened to a dull ache, and Starsky had finally begun to feel as if he were truly on the road to recovery.

He reflected grimly that Hutch seemed to become more protective the more independence he regained.

"You have nothing to prove, Starsky. Why take that kind of risk?"

"Risk is our business, Hutch. You're gonna have to learn to let me do my job, the way I did before."

"Or else—what?"

Hurt by the underlying hostility in the smooth voice, Starsky glared back. "I ain't making no threats, Hutch, and I ain't blackmailing you. I'm telling you a simple fact."

"Oh, yeah. You think it's simple, having to stand by and watch you trying to confirm you're immortal? Why not let somebody else take the bullet for a change?"

Starsky unclenched his fists by sheer willpower. "Who do you suggest should take that bullet? Lizzie? Flores? My partner, the man I love?"

Starsky walked into the kitchen, looked into the refrigerator, found he didn't really want another beer, and closed the door again.

"Look, Hutch. Remember the Henderson case? I told the goons in Dobey's office that we were willing to get burned on the streets. That's what being a cop is about; you gotta take that risk. I've been shot before. I sure as hell don't like some punk pointing a gun at me, but I ain't scared. What scares me is the thought that somebody might shoot you. I understand where you're coming from.

"But even when that kid's bullet came within six inches of your life, I didn't try to stop you from doing what you had to do. It's hard, and it's getting harder every day. But if I can do it, so can you."

Starsky didn't resist when Hutch pulled him into an embrace and buried his face in his hair. He felt the warm breath whisper against his scalp and moved closer, slipping his arms around his partner's waist.

"What if I can't do that, Starsk?"

Starsky tilted his head back to study the serious azure eyes. "Can't—or won't, Hutch? You gonna wrap me in cotton?"

"Wish I could," Hutch murmured.

"I can't live like that, and neither could you."

"A guy can dream."

"Hutch—what's changed? I mean, I've taken bullets before, and you never reacted like this. Is it because...?"

Startling Starsky, Hutch pushed him away. He saw the fireworks go off in those normally calm eyes and knew he had hit a trigger. The fury emanating from Hutch was so like a physical blow that he almost ducked.

"You jerk! You think it...it was easy before? You think I'm having trouble coping because I sl...sleep with you? Let me tell you, partner—I've had trouble with you g...getting shot for a long time. Longer than you can g...guess!"

The stammer was a bad sign. Starsky sighed. "You're the jerk if you think I don't know that. But you were still able to let me work."

"You are working, aren't you?"

Starsky tried to control his own annoyance. "What's this all about, Hutch? You helped me get back into shape, and now you don't like it?"

"I guess I expected you to be more careful."

"I've always been careful, damn it. Any more careful, and I'll be hiding behind your skirts."

"My skirts, huh?" Hutch snickered, his anger simmering down.

Puzzled, Starsky met the laughing eyes, then realized what he had said and held out his arms, smiling. "C'mere, Mama Hutchinson."

"Starsk...." Hutch warned with a low growl even as he moved into the embrace, but Starsky heard the smile in his voice.

He snaked his arms around his lover, holding tight. "You're one hot mama, Blondie. I love your big, beautiful...."

Hutch snorted. "I've had it with you, pal. You'd better come up with something real clever. My big beautiful—what? If you say breasts, you're history."

"Love your big, beautiful..." Starsky smiled and slipped his hands down to cup and squeeze Hutch's buttocks, "...gorgeous," stole a quick kiss, "...irresistible," ground their hips together making Hutch moan, "...well-shaped," stole a deeper, more insistent kiss, "hot...cock."

"Oh, God, Starsky. Keep talking like that and I won't be responsible."

Starsky smiled to himself when he felt the warm lips opening willingly to his questing tongue. Later, there'd still be time to get to the bottom of the issue. Much later.

**********

Silver moonlight filtered brightly through the blinds, highlighting Hutch's fair skin and hair.

Starsky was on his back, contentedly listening to Hutch's even breathing. The blond head was pillowed on his shoulder, a confident arm draped across his chest, and his legs were ensnared by one of Hutch's. He felt safe, warm, treasured. And yet, he was edgy.

He had promised to make love with the light on, and he had kept that promise. It wasn't easy. He hated the scars. Frowning, he tried to figure out where the difference was—it didn't bother him much to have Hutch give him a massage. But as soon as it came to sex, he became self-conscious. And that was a whole new experience. He had developed early, and when his mother had sent him to California, he had felt free to explore the excitement his body had to offer. There was this girl.... Starsky grinned, fondly remembering petite and lively Sharon. Easy smiles and warm eyes, and loving hands. She had taught his fifteen-year-old self a lot. Summer days, fragrant with laughter and rock'n'roll and puppy love.

Hutch tightened his hold and pressed a damp kiss against his collarbone—as if he had sensed even in his sleep that Starsky's mind was on somebody else, and wanted him to come back.

Starsky smiled and affectionately ruffled the silky hair. "I'm here, lover. Ain't going nowhere."

"Mine." It was a drowsy mutter, yet spoken with certainty.

"All yours, babe," Starsky confirmed.

Hutch sighed, drew him in more tightly and opened sleepy eyes to look at him, then at the clock and back at his face. "Whatcha doin' awake? Somethin' wrong?"

"I'm fine," Starsky murmured. "Go back to sleep, Hutch."

"You hurtin'?"

Damn, Hutch was really waking up now. Annoyed with himself for not pretending he was asleep so his partner could get some rest, Starsky patted the warm arm on his chest. "Told ya, I'm fine. Just not sleepy."

Even in the uncertain light, he could see Hutch's eyes clear and then narrow. "How come? Not enough exercise?"

Starsky smiled. "Don't you worry about that."

Hutch shifted, pulling Starsky with him. He wrapped both arms around him, holding tight. "What do you need?"

Starsky felt himself relax against his partner's warmth, as if the love were seeping through his body, dissolving him and leaving only emotion. Tenderly, he combed his fingers into hair like fine-spun silver and drew Hutch closer for a kiss. The sweet lips opened to him like the first taste of an exotic fruit, and Starsky sighed, deepening the kiss. Kissing Hutch was becoming an obsession. He brushed his thumb across the moist, smiling mouth and followed that with another kiss. "God, Hutch. Do you know how much you mean to me?"

"Good thing the feeling's mutual, huh?"

Starsky closed his eyes and tensed, recalling a time when he had thought it wasn't—and would never be—mutual. That pain had been more intense and more immediate than the bullet holes in his chest.

The notion must have been discernible on his face. Hutch pushed him onto his back, covering Starsky with his body, shielding him as he did so often on the streets. Starsky felt long fingers tangle in his hair and a demanding mouth fasten on his. "Tell me," Hutch whispered between kisses.

"Love you."

Hutch lifted his head and smiled down at him. Starsky looked up into the striking Viking features framed by hair alive with moonlight, caught his breath and felt his heart would burst. When their lips met this time, there was nothing physical in the kiss. It was a pure merging of souls, an ethereal moment transcending time and space.

Their eyes held when the kiss ended, the sensation too delicate to put into words. Hearts whispered what mouths could not capture in language.

Side by side, they clung to each other, innocent as children, gazing into each other's eyes for a long time, forgetting the real world and creating one of their own.

Finally, Hutch brought his hand up to stroke Starsky's hair with slow, loving movements. He smiled and pushed his head into the caress.

A rough sound from Hutch, almost a groan of pain, and Starsky felt himself shoved back over and crushed against his lover. "Do you know what you look like, Starsk?"

"I have a fair idea, after all these years."

Hutch's eyes softened. "No, you don't. You have no idea at all, sweetheart."

Sweetheart? Starsky reached up to run his fingers through Hutch's hair. He often wondered what Hutch saw when he looked at him, but he'd swallow his tongue before he asked a question like that. Way too sappy. Even so, if Hutch wanted to go all mushy on him, he wasn't about to stop him.

"You want to know?"

Hutch's voice sounded like his eyes looked—sweet and adoring and very much in love. Damn. Starsky swallowed, feeling his insides melt all over again. He had absolutely no defense against the affection glowing warmly in those cerulean eyes. "Do I?"

"There's that hair," Hutch murmured. "Looks like it's got a life all its own. When you're out in the sun, it catches the light and there're thousands of tiny red flames burning in those curls, making me want to reach out and feel your warmth.

"In the shade, your hair is all dark. That reminds me of your mood sometimes, when all the light seems to go out of you. I want to hug you and protect you and bring you back out into the sun to see you smile again.

"But you know, moonlight is the best. Makes your hair look like water, clean and fresh. That's how you make me feel. That whatever happens in the day, I can bring it home to you and you'll somehow wash it away and make everything all right."

Starsky caught one of Hutch's hands and tenderly kissed the long fingers in a silent but eloquent pledge. The light in Hutch's eyes told him he understood the message.

"Then there's those incredible eyes," Hutch whispered. "Chameleon eyes. Changing color all the time, and hiding behind those long lashes are entire color codes, just for me to decipher. Most people miss them, y'know. They see the indigo innocence, or sometimes they see the cobalt cool cop. But me, I get to work out all the rest. Like rich ocean blue for laughter...and shadings of violet when you're sad. When I make love to you and you're falling over the edge, your eyes turn the most staggering shade of midnight blue, and when I glimpse that, I know you're flying sky high. Knowing I'm the one who makes you feel like that drives me crazy, and I want to see that color all the time.

"Right now, your eyes are dark. Can't have that. I think I'll kiss you until that darkness goes away."

Starsky closed his eyes and gave himself over to the kiss, trying to ignore the tears that dampened his lashes. So much love and so much trust. How many guys had the guts to voice such thoughts? He knew he didn't, even if he had had Hutch's way with words.

"Look at me."

Starsky complied.

"Not much better. Violet now."

"What d'ya expect? Mushball." He felt himself blush when he realized the emotion in his voice gave the lie to his words.

Wordlessly, Hutch took his mouth in another kiss, lingering and sweet. Starsky felt the emotion mingle with the sensation, and the mixture burned in his veins like liquid fire. When Hutch broke the kiss, he held tight, refusing to let go. "Don't you dare move."

Inches from his face, Hutch smiled. It was a tender smile, and yet, triumphant. "Oh dear, Starsky. I think you're in love with me."

"They oughtta make you lieutenant for figuring that out." Starsky grinned, and then the grin evaporated. "I love you. I'm in love with you. I feel like I got you under my skin, and it's still not close enough."

Their fingers interlaced and their eyes locked. "How close do you want me, Starsk?"

"As close as you can get. All around me. All over me. Inside me."

Hutch swallowed, his Adam's apple bobbing. "Starsk...."

Starsky felt the fire in his veins turn into molten lava. "Yes."

"You sure, babe?"

"Hutch, you discuss this to death, I'm gonna strangle you. In case you hadn't noticed, this is a bedroom, not a debate class."

Hutch hugged him close, more protective than passionate. "Think about it. Don't go there just because I sweet-talked you."

"You believe just because you gaze into my eyes and touch my hair, my hand, and murmur some sweet nothings I fall for your charms?"

"Yes."

"You're right." Starsky nestled closer and smiled, watching Hutch's eyes go from the light of laughter to the darkness of desire. "Make love to me. Make me yours."

**********

How was a guy supposed to resist that kind of offer? He wanted to, badly. Even as Starsky spoke, the craving was burning like a bright spot in the pit of his stomach. But could he? Should he?

He could almost feel himself sliding into that warm, welcoming body—and yet, he could not. Terrified, Hutch became conscious he had no idea how to...no visual concept, nothing. Just the vaguest of fantasies. That video they had watched at the major's house hadn't helped much. If anything, it had confused him. Maybe if he hadn't been too embarrassed and too distracted, and the images not quite so....

He felt the look and realized the expression in Starsky's eyes had changed. "What?"

"What are you thinking?"

Hutch had to suppress a grin as it struck him this conversation was similar to the one they'd had in the car earlier. With one difference, of course. Starsky cut right to the chase. His partner didn't play guessing games. "I guess I was wondering whether you really are sure about this."

Starsky's eyes narrowed and, fascinated, Hutch watched as their color changed. "You can lie to yourself all you like, Hutch. Don't bother lying to me. You were thinking whether you're sure. Not me."

"All of a sudden, you're Mr. Experience in this field, Starsk? What makes you so certain?"

Starsky sighed. "You really are gonna discuss this to death, aren't you? I don't think I'm certain—I feel it."

"Oh, that makes me more confident already, pal." Having said that, Hutch wondered why he had gone from loving to hostile. Did he have a good reason for his animosity?

Starsky frowned, his eyes heating with anger instead of passion. "Don't take it out on me, Hutch. It ain't my fault you gotta run a reality check on everything you do."

Hutch had the angry retort on his tongue when the phone cut him short. Which was probably a good thing. Automatically, he reached for the receiver.

"I can't believe you're doing that. We're having a pretty vital discussion here, y'know."

"Has to be important," Hutch mumbled. "Otherwise, who'd call at three in the morning?"

Eyes flashing, Starsky shifted away from him. Shrugging his apology, Hutch picked up.

"Yeah?"

He was already used to that voice on the other end, the soft Spanish a friendly sound. He replied in kind. "No, soy despierto. Justo teniendo una lucha con Starsky."

Damn. The second the words were out, he knew he shouldn't have said them. What was wrong with him tonight, shooting his mouth off like that? What possessed him to tell Flores—of all people—that he was having a fight with Starsky? Fortunately, Arturo wasn't interested in his troubles.

Dismayed, he watched Starsky slip from the bed, picking up his clothes on the way.

Torn between the need to run after Starsky and the need to help Flores deal with a bad case of midnight despair, Hutch decided to stay with Arturo. Would've been different if he hadn't answered the phone in the first place—or if he hadn't told him to call anytime. He couldn't go back on his word; surely Starsky would see that?

Listening with half his mind to Arturo talking about the dead baby, about how sad little Alicia was not to get the promised brother, and about how worried he was for his wife, Carolyn, Hutch wondered why he had answered the phone at all. To get away from his dispute with Starsky?

After Flores had finally reassured him that he'd be able to sleep now, and maybe even enjoy the rest of his weekend, Hutch hung up with the satisfying feeling of a job well done.

The feeling dispersed when—dressed in a loosely tied bathrobe—he walked into his shadowy living room, where Starsky sat on the windowsill, fully dressed.

"I suppose I'm lucky you're still here," Hutch said quietly.

Starsky didn't turn his head. "You bet."

"C'mon, Starsk. You'd better get over this childish jealousy. Flores is no threat."

He heard his partner take a deep breath. "I'm running out of patience here, buddy. Watch your tongue a little, will ya? Don't call what I feel childish. I don't have a problem with Flores. I have a problem with you."

"With me?" Hutch echoed and wondered whether this was about their earlier discussion or his answering the phone.

"I don't expect you to run away from a...situation, Hutch. If you can't talk about something there and then, just tell me. That's fine. But don't walk out on me, not physically and not mentally, like you did when you took that call."

Hutch had an angry answer to that. Then a sarcastic reply. He swallowed both and decided to be honest. This was one relationship he couldn't afford to mess with. He dropped onto the couch, leaning his head back and closing his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, he said, "Guilty as charged."

Starsky shot him a quick look, and Hutch knew he hadn't expected to hear that.

"You're not asking whether Flores is okay."

"If he wasn't, you wouldn't have your butt planted on the couch. You'd be in that heap of yours, screeching tires and all, going over to check on him."

"And you'd mind?"

Starsky stabbed him with a sharp look that almost made him squirm. "Thanks for that vote of confidence. If you're looking for a fight, you're getting there."

"I'm not looking for a fight," Hutch said wearily, "I need to know."

"You said he could call you anytime. I don't have a problem with that, even though I think he ought to start turning to Lizzie so his wife can get used to her being around."

Starsky paused and moved into a more comfortable position, and Hutch thought the incision must be aching or itching again.

"Only next time you want to discuss me with somebody, at least wait ‘til I'm out of the room. You tell him what we were fighting about?"

"Of course not," Hutch said indignantly.

"Of course not," Starsky repeated quietly. "This gonna be a problem for you, buddy?"

"What?"

"Not being able to discuss the relationship—outside the relationship."

"Is it going to be a problem for you?"

"I asked first," Starsky pointed out, and Hutch could hear the strained patience in his tone. "No, it's not a problem for me. I got somebody I can talk things over with, if I need to."

Hutch felt a sharp prick of—what? Anger? No, there was more hurt in that than there would have been in anger. Irritation? No, wrong again. He had felt this before...when? When he had seen Vanessa with that guy.... Jealousy? Was he jealous?

"Who, Starsk?"

"You haven't met."

"How come?"

"You weren't interested. When I wanted to introduce you, you said you could live without meeting another one of my bimbos."

They must have met shortly after Kira. Hutch had made very sure he stayed away from Starsky's girls. He had been too afraid of seeing suspicion in his partner's eyes.

Hutch had a good memory for case files, and now put it to good use. Who could this be—the librarian? No, Starsky hadn't dated her for long. The cop? Again, no. He'd never feel safe discussing what they shared with a fellow cop. It had to be the third lady then. By which time Starsky had no longer even tried to pique his curiosity with the girl's life history. He only happened to know her name because he had overheard Starsky talking to her on the phone. Now he had it. "Joyce?"

"Close, but no cigar. Grace, actually."

"How come you trust her so much?"

"That's what I do. I trust my friends." Starsky turned his head again to look at him, and despite the dimness of the room, Hutch could feel the twin lasers pierce his bare chest. "You haven't answered my question."

"I don't discuss us with other people."

"Neither do I. But sometimes you need to talk about things with an outsider, to get a fresh perspective. You did about Vanessa, a lot."

"Leave my marriage out of this, will you?"

From the way Starsky lowered his head, Hutch knew he'd hurt him. Again. Damn.

"You haven't given this a lot of thought, have you, Hutch? We ain't gonna last long, if we have to fight the world both on the job and on the home front."

"We knew we couldn't tell anybody," Hutch said, surprised to hear the defensiveness in his voice.

"We just have to be careful who we tell," Starsky said wearily. "How about Huggy?"

"What?" Hutch grumbled. "Are we now going to divide the world into those who know and those who don't?"

"That's the only way it's going to work, Hutch. Will you tell your parents?"

"No!"

No comment. Hutch knew that was a lot worse than the tirade he had anticipated. For a long while, the silence hung between them like a veil.

Starsky cleared his throat. "Your sister?"

"No. I don't see the point in telling any of them. They wouldn't understand."

"'Cause you're not giving them a chance to understand."

"Are they my family or yours? I know these people, Starsky. They're going to be disgusted. Right now, we're barely on speaking terms. You want me to stop talking to my mother altogether just because...?" Hutch trailed off, horrified. What was it he had been about to say, just because—of you? God, and he thought he had exorcised the ghosts of the past year. "You wouldn't tell your mother, would you?"

"I already have."

The calm voice dropped into Hutch's heart like a stone into water, creating running ripples and sloshing waves. "And...what's the verdict?"

Starsky looked at him, his eyes bright in the first dusky stirrings of dawn. "You're not her idea of a daughter-in-law. She's a bit disappointed there aren't going to be any grandchildren. She said Nick would have to cover that ground for me, and to tell you to call if you need any more recipes."

"You can't tell me it's as easy as that," Hutch said, disbelieving. Knowing Starsky's mother, that wasn't all she had said. But he also knew he wouldn't find out, not right now.

"Like I said--depends on the person you're telling it to. I don't think Huggy would freak out."

"Why are you so keen on telling people? Why not just keep it to ourselves?"

Starsky's eyes narrowed and he squared his shoulders. "You can't hide me in the closet forever, y'know."

"Don't give me that, buddy. First you get yourself a reputation as the modern Casanova of Metro, then you almost faint when you find out about John Blaine, and now you vote on coming out to all our friends?"

"I hate it when you do that," Starsky said softly.

"Do what?" Hutch asked, irritated and thrown by the sudden change of topic.

"You ever notice you use words like other people use tools? Like your hands--gentle one moment, and firing a gun the next." Starsky slipped from his perch and grabbed his holster and jacket. "I'll call in the morning."

Hutch jumped up. "You can't just walk out on me like that."

"You're getting angry, or maybe it's still the same anger from the bust today. And you're rubbing me the wrong way. If I hang around, I might say something I can't take back."

"Aw, come off it, Starsky. Let's shelve it for now and get back to bed."

"You go to your bed and I'll go to mine. G'night, Hutch."

Stunned, Hutch watched the door fall shut behind his lover.

**********

Starsky parked the Torino in front of his house and slowly walked up the steps. He knew he wasn't physically tired, just yet. The fatigue was mental.

Why the hell was he so upset? Okay, so Hutch turning him down smarted. Hurt. A lot. Truth be told, it was a pretty heavy blow to his ego. He had been so convinced they both wanted it.

Of course, that was before Flores had interfered. Starsky took off his jacket and holster and slipped them over the hook in the wooden frame. Flores, Flores, Flores. Damn, he was fed up with Flores. Or rather, with the way Hutch reacted to Flores.

He grabbed a beer from the refrigerator.

Be honest, Starsky. You're jealous. Of course, I'm jealous. Is that why I'm pushing Hutch to tell somebody? Anybody? So our relationship feels more real, more committed to me?

Hutch babies the new kid on the block—and I want him to confirm he's mine to the world at large? Ah, but that's it, isn't it? Hutch is supposed to be my mother hen. Exclusive rights.

That's sick, Starsky. Get a grip.

Damn, no. That's not all there is to it. Why do I get the feeling I have to prove I'm still doing my job? While Flores gets the benefit of the doubt. Thing is, I know I'm doing my job—it's Hutch who doesn't think I'm doing it. Is Flores getting the trust I thought was mine, and mine alone?

Fuck. I wish I could turn back time—so that the shooting never happened.

Oh, yeah. And not have Hutch. Terrific choice, Starsky. No contest. Even when he hurts me, I'd give anything to have Hutch. Pound of flesh, huh? And just where did that come from?

Starsky was about to get himself another beer when the phone rang.

"Hutch," Starsky said aloud, wondering whether to answer. Aware that Hutch would worry if he didn't, he grabbed the receiver and sighed. "Do you know what time it is?"

"Sixteen minutes to five. You've been gone for just over an hour, and I already miss you like crazy. Any other information you need?"

"Yeah, like what do you want?"

"Talk?"

"Go ahead."

"Not on the phone, Starsk. You coming back here, or you want me to come over?"

"Neither. I've had too much beer to drive again, and besides, I already told you I need a bit of space."

Hutch fell silent, and stayed silent. Starsky finally gave in, relieved that he managed to keep the amusement out of his voice. "You still there, Hutch?"

"Yeah. I'm trying to think of something to say that won't make me look like I'm begging, or angry, or both."

"Why is that so difficult? Damn it, Hutch. I told you, just ask."

"Okay. I'll bite. Why do you need that space?"

"You hurt me."

"Starsk—"

"Not now, Hutch, please. You gotta give me some time here."

"I love you, Starsky."

"I love you, too."

"So, are you coming back?"

"Not now. Look, why don't we get some sleep, and I'll come over around lunch time?"

"You bring something to eat?"

"Chinese?"

"Sounds good."

"Okay. See you later, babe." Starsky replaced the receiver, smiling.

**********

"What is this place, Times Square?" Despite the grumble, Starsky grabbed his gun and went to answer the knock on his door.

"Don't shoot me, Officer. I'm just a harmless burglar."

"Trespasser, honey. Unless you came to lift my stereo or something." Starsky slipped the gun back into the holster and motioned the slender woman in.

"Nope. But I might steal a beer."

"And you call yourself harmless?" Starsky grinned, then noticed the traces of tears, and sobered. "What's wrong, Grace?"

"The bitch kicked me out. You were right, that's one mean cat. Brought another woman home and told me to leave when I refused to put up with it."

"Terrific."

"Yeah. I should have listened to you and kept my apartment. Mind if I stay the night?"

"Of course not."

"How come you're home at this time of day? Did you get kicked out, too?"

Starsky grinned. "No. I left before he had a chance to do that."

"Your relationship is too young for that kind of thing, Dave."

"The relationship isn't young. What we've added to it is."

"You don't regret that, do you?"

"Heck, no." Starsky sighed. "Beer okay or you want something else?"

"Beer's fine."

"You going to drown your sorrows, Grace?"

"Of course not. I was crying because I was so angry, that's all. I'm already over it."

Starsky smiled at her over the open door of the refrigerator, observing that he could stand on tiptoe without any major complaints from his muscles. "Women are weird. Why not kick something when you're angry? Need a glass?"

"'Cause I'm not wearing Adidas; kicking things would ruin my shoes, and then I'd have to be mad at myself. You know I can drink from the can as well as you do."

"Okay. I almost hate to bring this up—but you ruined your make-up instead."

"Mind if I use the bathroom?"

Starsky snickered. "I don't mind you staying the night, but the bathroom is off limits. Now what're you gonna do?"

"Jerk." Grace gave him a quick smile and vanished.

Starsky put the two beers on the coffee table and dropped onto the couch. He glanced at his watch, wondering whether there was any point in going to bed.

Grace returned and settled next to him. "So, what were you guys fighting about?"

"Damned if I know," Starsky sighed. "He was ticked off about how I handled a situation earlier, and we didn't really finish discussing it before...well, y'know." He grinned.

"I don't know." Grace took a sip of beer, her eyes twinkling. "But I can guess. So you got up in the middle of the night to have an argument?"

"Wasn't exactly what I had in mind," Starsky smiled. "One minute we're talking about one thing, and all of a sudden Hutch goes off on a tangent."

"What tangent was that?"

"Flores."

Grace grinned. "You ought to see your face. You don't like the guy?"

"Actually, I do. He's a good cop and a decent fellow. We'd be fine if—" Starsky broke off. If what? If Flores stayed away from his Hutch? Or if Hutch stayed away from Flores—and everybody else in the world?

"You're jealous."

"Yeah. I'm jealous as hell. And I haven't even got a reason to feel that way." He took an appreciative swallow of his cold beer. Nice. Just what his dry throat needed right now.

"What's he doing?"

"Flores? Nothing I wouldn't do; nothing I haven't done. He likes Hutch, so he tries to be friends. I guess I feel excluded when they start babbling in Spanish."

"You understand Spanish, don't you?"

Starsky shrugged. "I picked some up along the way. I'm not fluent."

"Does Hutch like Flores?"

"Too much."

"How did you feel about Flores before you and Hutch became lovers?"

Starsky thought for a moment, and remembered that seeing Hutch wrestling with Flores had sent him running to that house on the beach. "I guess...it seems like they're more evenly matched than Hutch and I are. Y'know, college degrees, speak several languages, all that."

"Hutch fell in love with you, not him."

He shrugged. "Yeah. I tell myself that. I don't like Flores competing with me, though."

Grace smiled. "I expect Hutch doesn't like you competing with Flores, either."

Startled, Starsky stared at her. "That's what he was so mad about."

"What do you mean?"

"You know, if we ever need an interrogator at the precinct, I'm going to suggest you for the job."

"I already have a job I like, but thanks anyway." Grace hesitated, and then asked, "Do I bug you?"

"No, not really." Starsky finished his beer and went to get another one, tossing the empty can into the trash on the way. "You want another beer?"

"No thanks, I haven't finished this one yet."

Starsky returned to the couch. "I just can't forget you're a shrink."

"I can't forget you're a cop, so I guess that makes us even."

"What d'ya mean, you can't forget I'm a cop? The gun bother you?"

"It's not the gun, Dave." Grace grinned. "In the car, you keep checking the mirror for tails—even when I'm driving. When we go into a restaurant, you give everybody the once-over, and you never sit with your back to a door. When we walk down the street, you keep looking at people's faces and hands, and you whip around like anything when you hear somebody running behind you. You never, ever go into a shop without checking through the window first."

"I'm that bad, huh?" Starsky wondered whether he had acquired new habits since the shooting.

As if she had been able to read the thought, Grace said, "You already did all that before you got shot."

"I see."

"No, you don't. What I mean is—I work in psychotherapy. But you...you're a cop. You judge people as a cop. Like what you just said about Flores."

Starsky shrugged. "I don't know. What did I say?"

"You said he's a good cop and a decent fellow."

"Makes me sound pretty one-dimensional."

"Yeah, you fool people with that."

Starsky smiled. "Thanks. I think."

"I was just wondering—do you ever talk about stuff like music or literature with Hutch? Or are you both so busy being cops that you don't make time for that?"

"We used to be too busy. I guess we only really talk since we started to share a bed."

Grace snorted into her beer, and Starsky realized what he had just said. He threw a cushion at her, laughing, "That's not what I meant."

Grace giggled; the merry sound was the first thing that had drawn him to her. "Oh, Dave. It just seemed so very romantic, you know. Starting to talk when you...."

"Now wait a sec. What I meant is—after the shooting, Hutch started to sleep with me."

More giggles. "Yeah, you told me all about that."

"I meant—" Looking into her laughing eyes, Starsky grinned. "I give up. You know damn well what I meant."

"Yes, I know. But you're so cute when you get into hot water."

Starsky grunted. "Good thing I get to ask the questions at work. I'd be in trouble if IA thought some punk laughed himself to death over me."

"They'd probably call it police brutality," Grace agreed, grinning. "Talking about IA—have you discussed coming out with Hutch yet?"

"Not in depth, no. He keeps avoiding the subject."

Grace shrugged. "Understandable, I guess. You have to be even more careful about who finds out than I do."

"Hutch would prefer it if nobody were to find out. Not even friends or family."

"You're upset about that?"

"I guess. Some. Makes me feel like a second-class citizen."

"Have you told anybody?"

"Well, I told you, didn't I? And I told my mom."

"Weren't you worried about how she'd react?"

"I suppose. But I don't like keeping secrets, or lying to people. I don't want to watch what I say when I talk to my own mother."

"Wasn't she upset?"

"Sure she was. First I get myself shot, and then I come up with the idea of sleeping with a guy. She wanted to know whether one of the bullets detoured through my head, whether I knew what I was risking. I figure she had to let off steam. She did say she'd get over it. Sooner or later. I guess my close call put a lot of things in perspective."

Silence.

Starsky grinned. "Out with it, Grace. I wouldn't want you to suffocate on it."

Reluctantly, she said, "I was just thinking it's a shame that it doesn't work like that for you. The perspective thing, I mean."

Starsky frowned. "I don't get ya."

"I don't want you to get mad at me, Dave."

"I won't."

"Mm. I don't believe you." Grace smiled. "I guess I'll take the risk. But only if you stop looking at me like that."

"Like what?"

"Like I'm a suspect. All alert and sharp, and you're watching my hands. You waiting for me to pull a gun on you?"

Starsky groaned and made a conscious effort to relax taut muscles ready for action. "Sorry, honey."

"That's all right. I'm more used to watching body language than other people." She took a mouthful of beer and grimaced. "Is it okay if I make some coffee?"

Starsky got up. "I'll do it. You'd rather talk to my back, anyway."

"You'd make a damn good shrink, you know that?"

"I'd be dead if I couldn't read people. Cops and shrinks have a few things in common." He busied himself in the kitchen, wondering what Grace found so difficult to say. They'd been completely at ease from the moment they'd met, and he knew by now that she always spoke her mind. "Well? You gonna tell me, or do I have to read your mind, Houdini-style?"

"He couldn't really read minds, could he?"

"I have no idea, Grace. Quit stalling."

"You won't get mad?"

Starsky turned to her, laughing. "I'm already mad. Will you spill it, woman!"

"All right. Since you asked." Grace took a deep breath and then blurted, "When are you going to get back to normal?"

Frowning, Starsky flipped the switch on the percolator. "Back to normal? Run that by me again?"

She said quietly. "I haven't seen you wear an open-neck shirt since the shooting. It's either sweaters or t-shirts. The scars can't be that bad."

"I've been wearing shirts," Starsky replied, but knew it sounded weak. Heck, it sounded weak to him.

"Buttoned to the chin, no doubt," Grace said bitterly. "You can't hide the damn scars from Hutch, so why hide them from everybody else?"

Mind racing, Starsky turned to get coffee cups and sugar. He hadn't heard Grace move and was surprised when she grabbed his arm.

"Dave. You're going to have those scars for the rest of your life. You never gonna go to the beach again? Never just pull the t-shirt off when you get hot? Will you make love to Hutch only in the dark?"

He yanked his arm free and turned his back to her. Now he was mad. None of her business, damn her.

"Now you are angry with me," Grace murmured, and she sounded so unhappy that Starsky relented.

"Yeah. I have to admit that. The damn scars make me feel like Frankenstein's monster, and I don't much like discussing them."

"You're crazy, Dave, you know that? Who do you think is even going to look at those scars?"

"Grace...."

"Grace, nothing. You're one hell of a sexy guy, and even a gay woman can appreciate that. You really think the scars are more important than that stunning smile of yours? Or your beautiful hair, or your eyes?"

Starsky knew he was blushing. When she mentioned his eyes and his hair, Hutch's voice flooded his mind with his softly spoken words, and he was tingling all over again with that willingness to give himself to his lover, no holds barred, scars or no scars.

"What does Hutch have to say about the scars?"

Feeling stupid all of a sudden, Starsky admitted, "I think I'm getting on his nerves there."

"Let me look."

Starsky hesitated.

"Come on," Grace insisted. "Let me look. I'll be honest and tell you if they really are awful."

What the heck, Flores had seen the scars, and so had a whole lot of medical personnel. He trusted Grace far more than any of them. Decision made, he pulled the t-shirt over his head and put it over the back of a chair. Tilting his head, hands on hips, he waited for her reaction.

Nothing in her face changed as she studied the scars on his chest. "Do they still hurt?"

"The scars? No. The muscles, sometimes, when I do too much."

"Okay to touch?"

Starsky felt himself stiffen, but bravely said, "I guess."

She ran cautious fingertips over the smooth scar tissue, looking up into his face once or twice—to see whether she had hurt him, he knew.

"I don't know what you're worried about. You can hardly see them; your hair conceals so much. Turn around."

Reluctantly, he did.

The same gentle inspection, her fingertips mapping the marks so lightly that he hardly felt them.

"Dave—there's nothing to worry about. They're already fading."

Starsky moved away from her and pulled the t-shirt back over his head. "Wish they'd start fading in my mind."

"You won't let them." Grace sighed. "That scar you got when you were shot in that Italian restaurant—did that ever bother you so much?"

"No. It didn't bother me at all." He didn't want to face her, not right now.

"Where's the difference?"

"I don't know." Starsky stared at the percolator as if it had the answer.

Finally, startling him, Grace slipped her arms around his waist for a hug and slowly brushed her lips across the exit wound on his shoulder. It was an incredibly intimate, loving and healing contact—as if he had finally found the sister he had always wanted as a kid. If she could touch him like that, maybe the disfigurement wasn't as bad as he thought?

He turned in her arms and hugged back, tightly. "I love you, honey."

"Love you, too, Dave. And, hey. You are gorgeous. Nothing at all wrong with that body."

**********

The angry adrenaline surge almost knocked him off his feet, and Hutch had to hold on to the doorframe to steady himself. Don't overreact. Calm down. There has to be an explanation, other than the obvious one. The blood was flooding through his veins so powerfully that he could only hear the rush of his own blood, and not the softly spoken words between Starsky and the woman.

As if he had felt the heat of Hutch's infuriated glare on his skin, Starsky looked up, straight into his eyes. "Hey, how long you been standing there?"

There was no guilt reflected in his eyes, or his stance. Nor mortification at having been caught. Didn't let go of the woman, either, Hutch noted.

"Ever since the lady started touching you," he growled.

"You must be Handsome Hutch."

The bitch seemed amused, and Hutch felt his rage surge. "You know more about me than I know about you, it seems." He knew he didn't sound very calm, or even polite.

"That's because Dave talks about you all the time, and I bet he doesn't mention me much."

Very reasonable. Annoyingly reasonable. "Maybe he's got cause to hide you?"

"Don't talk about me like I wasn't here, Hutch. And come in and shut that door."

Starsky finally released her, got another coffee cup and added cream to the tray for Hutch.

Hutch banged the door shut.

Starsky looked back at him over his shoulder, eyes dark. "Thanks, partner. The neighbors will appreciate that at this hour, I'm sure." He brought the tray over, while the woman carried the coffee.

"Grace, you guessed correctly. Hutch, this is Grace."

"Nice to meet you," Hutch said between clenched teeth. "May I ask what you're doing crawling all over my lover?"

Had he really said that? He watched as Starsky flushed, and wondered whether it was with anger or embarrassment.

Grace seemed unruffled as she poured the coffee. "He's hard to resist, don't you think?"

"Cut it out."

Starsky spoke so sharply that even Hutch looked at him in astonishment; it wasn't very often he heard that tone from his partner. Hutch shifted uneasily as angry eyes focused on him.

"You mind explaining what you're doing here, and why you're acting as if I cheated on you?"

Hutch shrugged. One sentence, and he felt like an idiot. "I was in the vicinity. And as for you cheating on me, that seems pretty evident."

Starsky's eyes darkened and it was as if somebody had punched Hutch in the stomach. "As obvious as seeing you and Flores in a clinch in the restroom, Hutch?"

Momentarily at a loss for words, Hutch stared at him. This was what Starsky had felt? That burning fury at somebody getting something that was supposed to be exclusively yours? The crushing feeling that you should be the only one to touch and hold your lover like that? The desperate anxiety that it was all over before it had properly begun?

"I'm sorry, Starsk."

The expression in Starsky's eyes told him that he had been forgiven.

Grace cleared her throat. "I guess I'm out of here, guys."

"No, wait," Starsky said. "Where you gonna go, anyway?" He turned to Hutch and explained, "Grace just left her girlfriend, and she gave up her apartment to move in with her."

Hutch hesitated, then ventured shyly, "If you come back with me, Grace can stay here until she finds a new apartment."

"Okay," Starsky said instantly.

Hutch held out a hand, "Grace, I'm a heel. Will you accept my apology please?"

Grace smiled at him, and Hutch thought it would be easy to like her. "Sure. I'd be jealous if he were mine. Hell, he almost makes me sorry I'm gay."

She met his eyes candidly, with a wink, and for a split second Hutch knew himself understood. Unexpectedly, he was looking forward to getting to know her better.

**********

Starsky slipped into the passenger seat of Hutch's beaten up Ford without a word, and Hutch stole a quick look at the serene face. Clearly, Starsky didn't want to give away what he was thinking. Oh, right. He was supposed to ask, wasn't he?

"Starsk?"

"What, Hutch?" From the way that sounded, Starsky was ready to laugh his head off.

Hutch found an answering smile creep into his voice. "Tell me what you're thinking?"

Starsky chortled. "Fast learner, aren't you? I was thinking how beautiful your eyes become when you're angry."

Hadn't he heard that somewhere before? When had he said that? Oh—they had been working on that arson case. But he had been joking then, hadn't he?

Hutch reached over to tousle Starsky's hair and was surprised when his partner followed his hand, so the dark head ended up in his lap. Hutch remembered a very drunk Starsky and a pair of black pumps, and smiled. "That's not standard procedure, Detective."

"'S not?"

He felt Starsky rub his cheek against his crotch, and swallowed as his whole body responded to the sensation. "Sit up, Starsky. This isn't safe."

"For whom?"

Looking down at him, Hutch decided there were a few teeth too many in Starsky's smile and didn't answer.

Shrugging, Starsky sat back up.

"Starsk?"

"Mm?"

"Can I ask you something?"

"You know you can. What?"

"Did that turn you on? What Grace did?"

"Did hugging Flores turn you on?"

"I asked first."

"So?"

"No, it didn't. He's just a friend, for heaven's sake. And not even a close one, yet."

"Is he going to become a close friend?"

"What if I said yes?"

"I just wanted to know."

"Okay. Now you know. Wait and see, okay?"

He saw from the corner of his eye that Starsky shrugged. "Okay."

"So, what about Grace?"

"She's just a friend, Hutch. Didn't do a thing for me, and if you'd bothered to look closely, you'd have known that."

"I was just wondering. She's a pretty woman."

Hutch pulled up in front of Venice Place with an uneasy sense of déjà vu.

"Quit wondering." Starsky got out of the car—and Hutch saw with awe how fluent that movement had recently become again—and slammed the door.

"Hey, don't go banging..."

Starsky rested his folded arms on the roof of the car, grinning. "Y'know, Hutch, we're beginning to sound like we've been married for a long, long time."

"Let's get inside, Gordo." Hutch grinned back, thinking once again how well the color of his car matched the color of Starsky's eyes. He still could hear Merle's laughter at his insistence the car had to be painted indigo.

"And then what?"

Hutch didn't bother to answer.

**********

Hutch watched Starsky hang up his jacket and holster and said, "Starsk?"

"What?"

"We are exclusive, aren't we?" He held his breath.

Starsky whirled. "Of course we are. What kinda question is that?" Then his eyes darkened. "That's what you want, isn't it?"

Hutch exhaled. "No, of course not. I'm asking because I want permission to have a fling."

"Can you be serious for a minute? Why the hell did you ask that? I thought we'd discussed this before."

Hutch shrugged. "I guess...seeing you like that with Grace...."

"Seeing me like what, Hutch? I was hugging a friend, and I ain't going to stop doing that, so you better get used to the idea."

Hutch knew he ought to drop the subject, and drop it now, but couldn't bring himself to do that just yet. "C'mon, Starsk. You have to admit...."

Starsky sighed. "You come on, Hutch. What makes you think I'd leave your bed to go home and fuck somebody else?"

"I didn't say...."

"No. But you thought. Loud and clear, partner. I could hear it across the room."

"What are you—psychic?"

"Where you're concerned, yes. I know all there is to know about you, Hutch."

"So, what was I thinking?"

"You thought I was about to take her to bed."

"That's what it looked like. You telling me you're not attracted to women anymore?"

Starsky thought for a moment, and Hutch knew it was because he wanted to give him an honest answer. "I ain't looking, Hutch. I want you, and I don't think I'd keep you if I cheated. And I can't believe you'd even think I'd go from you to her in the space of an hour."

"I didn't even know I could be this jealous," Hutch whispered. "That's scary, you know that?"

"Kinda weird. I never knew you were possessive."

"Neither did I. I never felt like this about Vanessa, or anybody else. What about you?"

"No, I'm cool," Starsky grinned. "Only don't hug Flores again, okay?"

"What's your problem with Arturo, Starsk?"

"There is no problem."

Starsky sounded cold; it made Hutch shiver as if the room temperature had abruptly dropped several degrees. "Yes there is. Otherwise, why are you forever challenging him?"

"I'm not."

"Starsky...you are. The first time was when you insisted on going undercover with Major Lotsoff, and you haven't stopped since."

"Come off it, Hutch. I insisted on going undercover because I was the right choice."

"What about the bust this morning? You didn't agree with his plan."

"Because it was stupid. You and Lizzie decided to go along with it, but I had warned you it would get you trapped behind that dumpster, and I was right. That's exactly what happened, and if I hadn't been faster than Arturo, Sanders would have crept up on you."

"Arturo would have—"

"No, he couldn't have. ‘Cause he thought his plan was brilliant, and he didn't see the flaw. He wasn't even headed your way, he was gonna go around the back to get Sanders and Barrett."

Hutch swallowed a lump of fear. It slipped from his throat into his stomach, tying it into knots. "I thought...I thought you were just competing with him."

"God, Hutch. I'm a grown man, I wish you'd remember that."

"Hey. That's not it, and you know it. I just figured...that you were trying to prove you're the better cop."

Very patiently, Starsky said, "I don't have to try and prove that. I am the better cop, partner."

Hutch smiled. "I know."

"Do you?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Why were you so pissed at me? Thought I couldn't handle two lousy punks anymore? Or did you think I had lost my head, trying to prove something to ya?"

"I was scared, Starsky. I heard that shot and...."

"That's only part of it. You think I've lost it. You think I'm too slow. You think I'm trying too hard."

Damn. Starsky did know him. What had he been thinking earlier—that he wasn't certain Starsky was still faster than the crooks? Double damn. Starsky had warned him about undermining his self-confidence.

"You don't trust me."

The unconcealed pain in the gruff voice reverberated through Hutch as if it were his own, and he realized he had no answer to that accusation.

With a heavy sigh, Starsky went to get something out of the inner pocket of his jacket. He shoved the two pieces of cardboard at Hutch. "Here. That make you feel better?"

Bewildered, Hutch unfolded the cards. Starsky must have been waiting to show him these. Shooting reports, with last week's date on them, from the target and the pop-up range. The results were staggering, even for Starsky who was one of the best shots he knew. He folded them again and handed them back.

Starsky stuffed the cards back into his jacket. "I was using guns in ‘Nam, when you and the other college kids were having sit-ins to protest the violence. I can clean and load weapons blindfolded, and even on a bad day I'm still a damn sight faster than you."

"What are you saying?"

He heard Starsky take a deep breath. "What I'm saying is—when we became lovers, I lost my partner."

"No! That's crazy, Starsk."

"It is?" Starsky smiled, but it was a sad smile, and Hutch was very aware of the color of his eyes. Violet. "You're not using your head, Hutch. You're letting fear rule our working relationship. I'm not gonna be able to cope with that for long."

Hutch crossed the room and pulled Starsky into his arms. He was shaking, and it wasn't because he was cold. "Don't you think I got a right to worry?"

"Worry, yes. Stifle me, no."

"I'm not—"

"Hutch. Accusing me of trying to confirm I'm immortal—that's stifling. I'm doing my job, and the results show I'm doing it as well as I did before Gunther got to me. Are you trying to help him achieve his goal?"

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Gunther wanted us off the street. You keep going the way you are, we will be off the street. ‘Cause neither of us can work like that."

Glad that Starsky didn't move out of his arms, Hutch held tight. "I didn't realize I was that bad. I'm sorry, babe."

"You want me to trust you, scars and all. Question is—can you trust me?" Starsky leaned back to look at him. It was a critical look that almost made Hutch fidget.

"Of course I can."

"Don't be so quick about it. Can you really, Hutch? Or are you going to keep thinking that I'm fragile and need your protection?"

"Tell me what you want from me, partner."

"I want you to believe that I know what I'm doing."

"Okay. I'll work on it. I'll try to be more aware of my mother-hen instincts."

Starsky gave him a gentle squeeze. "That's all I'm asking, lover."

They stood quietly for long moments, simply enjoying their closeness. Starsky finally stepped out of the embrace, clearing his throat.

Hutch half expected an announcement that he was starving, and wondered what he could feed him. Pancakes?

"Is that why you didn't...?"

This wasn't about breakfast then. Starsky looked at him, head cocked to one side, with the same analytical expression he had worn before. What the hell? "Why I didn't what?"

Starsky cleared his throat again, indicating to Hutch that his partner was self-conscious about something. Now he bit his lip, and Hutch wished he had caught his drift to spare him the discomfort. Gently, he prompted, "What, Starsk?"

A deep breath, and then it came in a rush. "Is that why you wouldn't make love to me the way I wanted you to?"

Hutch reached for him automatically, but of course, Starsky knew what he was going to do before he himself did and moved out of reach. "No. What makes you think that?"

Starsky shrugged, his face mirroring his embarrassment. "What am I supposed to think, Hutch? After all that flattery, I...." He hesitated, and then added hurriedly, "I didn't expect you to turn me down, you know?"

"I didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable," Hutch said, aware the words were inadequate.

"Uncomfortable? Uncomfortable. More like a sucker." Starsky exhaled. "I ain't offering twice; you can beg on bended knee before I go there again."

Thinking about his own awkwardness, Hutch grinned.

Starsky glared at him, irritation obvious. "You think that's funny, Hutch?"

Hutch shook his head. "No, I don't think you're funny. I was laughing at myself."

"Well," Starsky mumbled, "I hope you enjoyed it. Ain't often you can do that."

"Can I please hug you?"

"I guess," Starsky said charitably. "I ain't carrying a grudge."

Hutch wrapped his arms around him and smiled into his eyes. "You gonna blow my head off if I try to kiss you?"

Starsky's eyes twinkled with sudden humor. "You that lousy a kisser, schweetheart?"

"Jerk," Hutch said tenderly, brushing his lips across Starsky's. "You want to know what's funny?"

"I'm not sure. Do I?"

Hutch tightened his hold, his kiss a bit more resolute this time. Starsky sighed and rubbed a stubbly cheek against his shoulder. Hutch could feel the bristles through his shirt. "I wanted to, y'know. But...I didn't know how."

Starsky moved his head back to stare at him, eyes wide with surprise. "What do you mean, you didn't know how? What's there to know?"

"You know," Hutch said uneasily. "The...mechanics, if you will."

Starsky grinned. "You have no idea about mechanics, Hutch, but you still drive a car."

"Funny," Hutch grumbled, ruffling the dark curls affectionately.

"Stay out of my hair," Starsky muttered, pulling his head away. "Tell me more about your problem with...uh, mechanics."

"Well," Hutch said, "I just suddenly realized I had no idea...and anyway, I didn't think we should do this on the spur of the moment. Without preparation."

"Hutch," Starsky said sternly. "You been reading up on this, haven't you?"

Hutch felt the color creep from his neck to his hairline. "Yeah."

"Preparation means...clean sheets, shower, flowers, champagne, enemas, lubricant and all that jazz?"

Starsky obviously considered this entertaining. Hutch tried not to feel provoked, but if he were honest, his partner's attitude did needle him. He didn't deign that with an answer.

Starsky smirked. "Did I forget anything?"

"Yes," Hutch heard himself burst out, and was immediately chagrined. "You better include a drawing in the preparations, because I have absolutely no idea how to go about it, Starsky. Now go ahead, laugh."

"Aw, lover," Starsky murmured soothingly, "I won't. Why didn't you tell me?"

"Because I already felt like a total twerp."

"And you thought I'd roll out of bed laughing?" Starsky evidently had trouble suppressing his rather wide grin.

"You're making fun of me," Hutch complained.

"No, babe. I just wish you'd said something."

"Right," Hutch said. "When we were watching that flick, you thought it would take lots of practice to make it as easy as it looked. How come you changed your mind?"

Starsky snickered. "I asked somebody who knows."

"You did what?" Hutch was certain he had misunderstood that one.

"Reminds me of something Grace said. I guess she was right about me—I'm a cop. Through and through." Starsky winked at him, infuriating Hutch. "I got myself an eye witness. Uh, maybe not eye witness. More like...."

"Starsky," Hutch warned. "Get to the point. Who did you ask, and what did you ask?"

"Now you sound like a cop."

"Starsky!" Hutch raised his voice a little.

"Okay, okay. Keep your pants on." A lewd grin. "Come to think of it...."

Hutch grunted, tackled Starsky and pushed him down on the couch. He thrust both hands into the tumble of curls, roughly. "Get. To. The. Point."

Starsky smiled and rotated his hips against Hutch's. "I asked. I figured if anybody would know, this guy would." Hutch tried to get his body to ignore the suggestive movement underneath him. His body ignored him and reacted. "Stop teasing me."

"Uh. Is that the verbal teasing you mind, or...?"

For a while, there was no more talk, as Hutch plundered the maddening mouth and invaded his lover's t-shirt and tight jeans. Starsky blissfully rubbed his cheek against Hutch's. "You got these mechanics figured out all right, don't you?"

"Mm."

"I think we can manage to graduate to the big league, y'know?"

"Shut up, Starsk. Tell me who you asked."

Starsky chuckled. "What now—shut up or tell?"

"Tell."

"I don't think you want to know."

"Yes, I do. So tell me already."

"You don't know him. One of John Blaine's friends."

Dumbfounded, Hutch halted his roving hands and stuttered, "Y-you asked one of John's friends? Are you nuts? What if he spreads the word?"

Starsky grinned at him, apparently delighted with his resourcefulness. "He won't. He only knows me as Dave, and he doesn't know I'm a cop. All he knows is that I knew John. So, he already assumed I was gay. I told him I was new to this thing and needed a few tips. He didn't mind."

"I bet he didn't," Hutch said weakly and got to his feet. He perched on the edge of the coffee table. "What...what exactly did you ask him?"

Starsky sat up, grimacing as certain muscles obviously reminded him Hutch was too heavy to lie on top of him. "Well, you know. All that stuff about...the preparations...didn't exactly seem like a big turn-on. I mean, it makes you kind of wonder why anybody would want to go through with it, if it's so much bother. Beforehand, I mean."

Hutch couldn't believe Starsky had actually done that. He was used to his partner being perfectly candid about things that would have turned his ears red if he'd had to discuss them. Not for the first time, he wondered how much of a smoke screen they needed. Did they need a smoke screen?

Reading his mind, Starsky said, "He said he asks ladies out because of his neighborhood, Hutch. He said they were all too observant, and too conservative to be confronted with—now, what did he call it—that kind of lifestyle."

"What about our neighborhoods?" Hutch murmured. "Aren't people going to wonder about us?"

Starsky stared at him. "Has it occurred to you they might have been wondering for years? We've been hanging out at each other's places almost from day one. You think anybody is gonna start wondering now that hasn't before?"

"I feel more...conspicuous," Hutch admitted.

"The new Hutchmobile is conspicuous, but it hasn't gotten you arrested yet. Which continues to surprise me, I might add." Apparently reading the expression Hutch knew was in his eyes, Starsky added, "Look, why don't we worry about that when the time comes?"

"What if we ever decided to live together?"

"Live together? You mean, as in one house, one name plate on the door?"

Hutch nodded, shyly.

"That's a giant leap, partner. Not for mankind maybe, but certainly for two cops. Besides, what would your family say?"

"I've been thinking about that. That's why I called you earlier. When you left, I realized I only care what you think about me. If they don't like it, they can lump it."

Starsky frowned at him. "Does that mean you intend to tell them about us?"

Hutch smiled. "I phoned Cathy and told her."

"You called your sister in the middle of the night to tell her you're suddenly gay? Wow. How did she take it?"

Hutch felt himself blush. "She was already up. She's always up early because of the baby. She said she'd thought I had left Van for you. And you know, in a way, she was right."

"Whoa," Starsky blinked. "Not so fast, pal. You lost me there. What's this about leaving Van for me?"

"I didn't see what was going on at the time, Starsk." Hutch took a deep breath and then plunged ahead. "But being with you was more fun, more gratifying, and more important than spending time with an airhead like Vanessa. All she ever thought about was jewelry, clothes and money, and how to impress our friends. With you, I felt like I was dealing with things that mattered."

"Yeah," Starsky grinned. "Homicides and armed robberies."

"No, seriously. And you know, most women I went out with were a lot like Van."

"Next, he's gonna tell me he's never met a girl like me," Starsky groaned theatrically.

Hutch could tell his lover was torn between being flattered and being embarrassed. He grinned. "I haven't. Most girls don't go all shy when you pay them a compliment."

"That's because I'm a big, tough cop, and I'm not used to having people go all schmaltzy over me."

"Schmaltzy, huh?" Hutch settled on the couch next to Starsky and teasingly ran his hand up his bare arm, spider-fashion. "Does schmaltzy scare you, babe?"

Starsky grinned, playfully swatted at the "spider" and settled into the curve of his arm with a soft sigh and a yawn. "Like I said, I'm tough. I don't get scared."

Hutch grinned back. "So, if I wanted to go all syrupy, you'd let me?"

Starsky yawned again. "If you want to turn up with flowers and chocolates, that's okay by me. Tell you something—forget the flowers, just bring the chocolates. I won't kick ya out."

Hutch chuckled, with the seeds of an idea planted in his mind. "How about you getting some shuteye? You're yawning your head off here."

"I'm getting sleepy," Starsky admitted. "But we haven't finished talking about the mechanics."

"I was afraid you'd say that," Hutch sighed. "So, what about the...uh, preparations?"

"Well, for starters, all that stuff about enemas is crap."

Hutch chuckled, "Did I ever tell you I love your way with words, babe?"

"Right," Starsky scowled at him. "Showers are optional, but as you've been all over me like some teenager, I don't think you can make it that far."

"Thanks!" Hutch said, disgustedly.

An evil twinkle in his eyes, Starsky brushed his lips across his cheek. "You need a shave."

"So do you; worse than I, actually." Hutch tightened his hold and closed in for a quick kiss. "And I'm not complaining."

"Lubricant is optional, too. Any other questions?"

"Wait a sec. What do you mean, that's optional? It's gonna hurt like hell if you don't use any, isn't it?"

"Not that I'm an expert or anything." Starsky grinned devilishly, and for a moment, Hutch seriously considered strangling him. "But he said that if you're careful, it's okay." He rubbed his cheek against Hutch's shoulder, and grew serious. "And I know you'll be careful."

Hutch exhaled. "I think I'm too scared, Starsk. I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't hurt me. I just figured that all the messing around in advance won't be much fun until we got the mechanics down pat."

"If you say mechanics one more time, I'm gonna throttle you," Hutch warned.

"You coined the phrase," Starsky pointed out, in a little boy's voice that always made Hutch smile. "What do you want to call it?"

"Let's not even go there, okay?"

"Come on, Hutch. You can get all squishy, but the facts of life bother you? How about IA?"

"IA?" Hutch echoed, disbelieving. "As in Internal Affairs?"

"No, as in intercourse, anal," Starsky shot back.

"You're an ass."

Starsky stared at him, eyebrows raised, until his words registered, and Hutch felt the heat pour into his face like a bucket of hot water.

"Pretty, Hutch. You match the Torino."

"You ought to match your own car."

"I don't blush that easy."

"That's what you think. Wanna bet I can make you blush?"

"Can't."

"Can."

"Try."

"Wanna know what to call the first time?"

"I'm sure I don't."

"How about—D.S.?"

"Dal segno?" Starsky asked, clearly puzzled.

"Deflowering Starsky."

Starsky colored, violently.

Hutch chuckled. "See, I can, too."

"You know what's so much fun about this relationship?"

"You mean, apart from making each other blush?"

"Things work both ways. I get to deflower you, eventually. You can't have that with a lady."

Hutch hesitated. "So, why don't we...."

"'Cause you're not ready, Hutch."

"But you are?"

"Yeah. Whenever you want, babe." Starsky leaned over to kiss him gently. Hutch could tell he had a hard time trying not to yawn into the kiss, though, and grinned.

"Bed, Curly."

Starsky blinked, and then smiled languidly. "Is that a challenge?"

"No. An order. Off you go, before you fall asleep on the couch."

"You coming with me?"

"How much sleep are you going to get if I do?"

"I'm not that tired."

"Yes, you are. C'mon, I'll tuck you in, but that's as far as it goes."

Yawning, Starsky got up. "I have to admit, bed sounds good right now."

Hutch shook up the pillows while Starsky slipped out of his clothes. Hutch held the cover open invitingly.

Starsky settled down and asked sleepily, "What are you gonna do?"

Hutch smiled, the idea he'd had earlier coming to bloom. "I have a few errands to run."

"We could do that together."

"No, you get your beauty sleep. I'll be back before you know it."

When Hutch came out of the shower, Starsky was fast asleep.

**********

Starsky woke, disoriented for a moment because of the sunlight filtering into the room. Had he overslept? Then he remembered. Saturday, the first day of their long weekend. He stretched, aware his muscles seemed only stiff, but didn't hurt. He sighed contentedly. Listening, he heard Hutch rummaging in the kitchen. He glanced at the clock; he had slept for six hours. Well, he was wide awake now, so he swung his legs out of bed, grabbed a shirt and a pair of cut-offs, and went into the bathroom.

Running a hand across his cheeks, he grinned. "Either grow a beard or shave NOW," he said to the man in the mirror. He grabbed Hutch's razor and went to work, humming. Finally satisfied, he brushed his teeth, and then climbed into the shower stall.

"Nice, Starsky. I like your rendition of Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. Jim Croce, eat your heart out, huh?"

Starsky chuckled, "What are you doing creeping up on me in the shower? Got any ulterior motives?"

"None that I'm aware of. Disappointed?"

"Yeah." Starsky pushed the shower curtain aside to grab Hutch and kiss him, splattering him with droplets in the process.

Hutch smiled, running a loving hand down his wet back. "Wrong again, love. I like you wet, not me, remember?"

"I like you wet," Starsky murmured. "And I like you hot."

Hutch pulled out of the deepening kiss with a grin. "Oh, no, you don't. Get out of there and dry off."

"And then what?"

He didn't get an answer. Hutch left the bathroom singing his own version of Leroy Brown, making it sound like blues. Starsky rolled his eyes and sniggered.

He closed the shower curtain again to get rid of the last soapsuds and rinse his hair, and then toweled himself vigorously.

He noticed that Hutch had apparently come into the bathroom to dump their used sheets. "You trying to tell me something, partner?" Anticipation was a tiny flame that burned eagerly in his stomach, and he knew it wouldn't take much to fan it into an inferno of passion.

He had pulled on the cut-offs and was about to button up the shirt, when he caught sight of his moving hands in the mirror. Reluctantly, he met his own eyes. "She's right, you know. The scars aren't going anywhere." Sighing, he stopped his hands, quickly ran the brush through his damp hair, and left the bathroom.

"Hutch?"

"Kitchen, Starsk."

"Got any coffee?"

"No."

Starsky raised his eyebrows. "If you give me any of your vivisected liver...."

"Desiccated."

"How come you like me wet, but your liver dehydrated?"

Hutch chortled, and Starsky smiled at the welcome sound. "Would you prefer it the other way around, Starsky?"

"Maybe not. So, if I don't get any coffee, how do you expect me to wake up?"

"Who says I want you to?"

"In that case I'm going back to bed." Grinning, Starsky faked a huge yawn.

Hutch drew closer, wrapping his arms around him from behind. "Brilliant. That's exactly what I hoped to hear."

Starsky felt his smile widen. "Why did you let me get up in the first place?"

"So I could make some...preparations."

Starsky leaned back into the embrace, as Hutch trailed tiny kisses down his cheek, moving his damp hair aside to continue down his neck. He pushed the shirt over his shoulders and drifted down to his shoulder blades. Starsky went rigid, then forced himself to relax again.

Hutch copied Grace's gesture, his arms firmly holding him around the waist, lips sweeping across the scar. "Don't ever, ever let me catch you like that again. With anybody."

"Mh. I won't," Starsky murmured, trying to enjoy the feel of Hutch pressed close without allowing his perception of his mutilated back to intrude.

"Starsk. Do you know that I love these scars?" Maybe, after all these years, he shouldn't be surprised that Hutch could read his mind.

"Now you're taking it a bit far," Starsky smiled, still skeptical.

"I'm not," stated Hutch. Starsky felt him push the shirt back up over his shoulders, and he speculated what his lover had in mind now. Unerringly, Hutch's warm hand covered the scar lowest on his back, and Starsky was aware for the first time that Hutch knew where those marks were as well as he did. Without looking.

"This one here says guts because it's the lowest, and it tells me you were standing tall when they hit you, trying to protect me." Hutch nuzzled against him, and Starsky felt one hand tangle in his hair before it traveled to the second wound.

"This one here says how close a call it was, but you made it because you're tough."

Light fingers traced the third scar. "This is the scariest. So close to your heart that it stopped beating. You came back for me, and it reminds me to be really careful with that heart; mustn't ever hurt you or let you down because your heart now beats for me."

Starsky lowered his head as those words touched some chord within him. For a moment, it felt as if all were silent inside his heart and mind—and then, unexpectedly, the tiny and hard spot of diffidence gave way to a sharp tune that swirled through him hot and bright, and was gone.

Behind him, the soft voice continued, "And this here tells me of your determination, your courage and your love for me. Nothing of that could ever be ugly, Starsk. You're beautiful." Hutch touched his lips to the shirt where it covered the fourth scar.

"Love you. So much." Starsky turned in the embrace, putting both arms around Hutch's neck. "You know, if anybody else said that, I'd think it was just a pep talk. But with you, I know you mean it."

"I meant it before."

"I know." Starsky cleared his throat. "I'm beginning to believe you."

"Finally."

Starsky grinned. "Did you say something about preparations?"

"Come and see."

They wandered into the bedroom. Hutch pulled Starsky to one side, but not before he spied the bedspread. "What's the point in making up the bed, Hutch? Since when are you that house-proud?"

"I'm not. I'm Starsky-proud." Hutch stood behind him again, steering him to the side of the bed.

Starsky caught sight of himself in the large mirror leaning against the wall. He recognized it as the one they had seen in a garage sale. Hutch had taken the Victorian creation home, thinking Van would like it. Van didn't; she wanted a proper make-up mirror, with good lighting. Therefore, the mirror had vanished, and Starsky had forgotten all about it until now. "Where did you keep it?"

He could hear the smile in Hutch's voice. "Closet. I knew you liked it, but you already have enough mirrors to start a shop. So, I kept it. Until now, I didn't know what to do with it."

"And now you do?"

"Yeah."

"What?"

"Turn you on."

Their eyes met in the glass and Starsky smiled. "Doesn't take a mirror. All you need to do is look at me like that."

Hutch smiled back and slipped his arms around his waist again, his chin on Starsky's left shoulder. "I love holding you like this. Makes me feel like you're mine."

"I am. Don't ever doubt that."

"You know something else? You look so hot, babe. That white shirt would just look innocent on anybody else. But the way you wear it...takes my breath away."

Starsky felt the tiny flame of anticipation flicker higher.

Smoothly, Hutch pushed the shirt down to his hips—now his arms were caught, and he knew that was the way Hutch wanted it—and placed a soft kiss where the necklace with the three coins touched his neck.

Starsky caught his breath and moved backwards, when the firm fingers slowly, appreciatively traveled up his back again, massaging his tensing muscles back into suppleness. A moist tongue trailed a throbbing path of delight down his spine, from his nape to his shoulder blades and farther down. Starsky fought for breath.

Hutch lifted his hand to brush the unruly curls back behind his ear; the fingers of his other hand journeyed down his chest to his navel. Starsky closed his eyes and gave himself to the sensation, forgetting to breathe.

Sweet torment as one finger slowly circled the belly button, and damp lips fastened on his earlobe. Then the teasing fingers dipped into his navel and a moist tongue slipped into his ear at the same time. The effect shuddered through Starsky's body, and he heard himself moan.

Hutch whispered, "I so love to hear that sound from you. Don't close your eyes, babe, look in the mirror."

Starsky opened his eyes to look at Hutch's glowing face.

A gentle gibe. "At yourself, not at me."

Reluctantly, Starsky looked. Looked at tousled hair, smoldering eyes and a burning body with a proud erection displayed to perfection by the tight cut-offs. He sighed and closed his eyes again when the determined hand cruised from his navel up his chest to play with one nipple. The tiny bud bloomed under the experienced fingers, and Starsky moaned again.

"I said to look, didn't I?"

Impossible to resist that warm voice, husky and full of need. He opened his eyes again in time to see them widen in reaction when Hutch's teeth fastened on the artery in his neck, the gentle sucking and nipping tingling all the way down to his toes.

"Tell me what you want, Starsky."

"I want you. What do you want?" Starsky was amazed he was still coherent. Hutch's fingers were melting him like snow in the sun, and he was fairly certain that if Hutch let go, he'd just drop to the floor right where he was, his knees unable to support him much longer.

Hutch smiled, and it was a dangerous smile. Starsky loved that—it told him just how much Hutch desired him right now. Someday, it might be fun to pretend he wasn't interested, just to see what Hutch would do. But not here, not now.

Softly, Hutch whispered, "I want you...to want me...to seduce you."

At those words, the small glow of anticipation became inferno. "God, Hutch. Yes."

"My show?"

"Yours."

"Love you, Starsk."

"Love you."

**********

Hutch pulled his lover around for a kiss, his tongue roaming slowly along Starsky's lower lip, taking his time to experience the unique Starsky taste. There was always a hint of sweetness there, as if his character were something that could be sampled when you touched your lips to that exciting body.

Tenderly, Hutch let his tongue travel the quivering upper lip, then made the same aloof journey with his own lips. Delicately, he pulled Starsky's upper lip between his teeth for more tasting. Starsky produced an odd little sound in his throat, almost a purr, and Hutch pushed his tongue between welcoming lips, parting his teeth, eager for more sweetness. It was as though an electric jolt went through Starsky, and he thought he could feel the heat increasing under his roaming hands.

Hutch explored the tempting mouth at a leisurely pace, and his partner's clinging became more and more desperate. Finally, Hutch figured he had better stop there if he wanted any action actually in the sheets. He grinned and ran his tongue over the open lips in farewell, then broke the kiss.

Starsky moaned, and Hutch thought that had to be just about the hottest sound in the whole wide world. Cautiously, he cupped the erection that burned in the cut-offs. "Need some help with that, lover?"

"Mm."

Aw, good. Starsky was always at a loss for words when he got caught up in sensation.

Hutch dropped to his knees in front of him, his face on a level with that tempting sight presented by the cut-offs.

Daringly, and hoping he hadn't read Starsky wrong, he ran his tongue down the incision, his hands holding on to the back of Starsky's legs. Starsky drew in a sharp breath, but when Hutch looked into his face there was no distress there, only desire. He repeated the movement, reflecting briefly how far they had come from that first timid encounter by the fireplace. Starsky's hands gripped his shoulders hard.

Hutch smiled to himself and then fastened his teeth on the catch of the zipper, glad that Starsky had never bothered with the waist button. He pulled it down gently, tiny tooth by tiny tooth, reminding himself that no way was Starsky wearing anything else under these.

Starsky sighed when his cock sprang free, and then moaned when Hutch swirled his tongue around the tip. Hutch smiled and surrounded the rosy head with his hot breath, and followed that by closing his lips around it. Starsky whimpered, his fingers digging deeper into Hutch's shoulders.

Smiling, Hutch tilted his head back to look at Starsky's flushed face. "Hey, babe."

Burning indigo eyes met his, bright and sparkling with desire. It took Starsky only a moment to catch on. "I didn't mean that literally, Hutch."

"So?" Hutch pressed a gentle kiss on Starsky's navel, his tongue dipping into the small indentation teasingly.

"Since you are begging on bended knee..." Starsky smiled. "...I'm not gonna say no to you."

Hutch got to his feet in one swift motion, and whispered, "Don't move. Close your eyes."

Starsky complied, and Hutch quickly got rid of the throw and undressed. Gently, he guided Starsky to the bed. Starsky wanted to take his shirt off first, but Hutch halted the movement, pushing him down.

"Satin sheets, Hutch?" Starsky chuckled. "You must be nuts."

"Mm. Nuts about you. Can you make room for me?"

"Oh, so you're not just here to tuck me in again?"

"Not really." Grinning, Hutch waited for Starsky's next discovery. He had a reason for keeping that shirt on his partner.

Starsky's hand touched something wrapped in paper, and with a small frown he picked the object up. His expression told Hutch he had already guessed about the item.

"Hutch? Can I look?"

"Sure. But only at what you're holding."

"That's too difficult," Starsky muttered, but opened his eyes. His grin widened. "Chocolates. Cute, Hutch."

"Close your eyes again," Hutch murmured and kissed his lover. "No eating them in bed."

"Spoilsport."

Hutch deepened the kiss, and Starsky sighed appreciatively. Tantalizing touches fanned the flames of passion back up, and Starsky clutched the sheet. Hutch sensed the exact moment the impression registered. Clearly puzzled, Starsky turned his head, his eyes widening when he saw the sheets were covered in rose petals.

He hesitated for a moment, then flung his arms around Hutch's neck. Hutch held tight, heard Starsky swallow convulsively, and knew he had gotten it right. For a moment, he feared he'd gone overboard and Starsky would laugh at him.

"Imaginative, aren't you?"

Hutch smiled at the choked whisper. "Gotta keep surprising you. Otherwise you might get bored."

Starsky drew a shaky breath. "You really are nuts."

"I'll drink to that."

Starsky sniggered at the wry statement. "What with?"

"Ah," Hutch grinned. "How about—champagne?"

"I'm not going to burst your bubble by asking how many pay checks you blew on this little escapade," Starsky said, leaning back. Their eyes met, and Starsky smiled. "But I will ask whether you're postponing things."

Hutch smiled back. "I am. Can we do this at my speed, babe? Please?"

"Whatever you're comfortable with."

Leaning over for a kiss, Hutch whispered, "Thanks, Starsk." He retrieved the hidden bottle from its nest of ice and handed Starsky a champagne flute. The cork popped with a satisfying thump, and they passed the first glass back and forth silently, content to be alone together.

Hutch made sure that Starsky drank most of the second glass, and the third. When they were into their fourth glass, Starsky was snuggled into the crook of Hutch's arm, and Hutch waited for a moment when Starsky held the flute to steal an ice cube from the champagne cooler.

He ran the small piece of ice lightly around one of Starsky's nipples, and Starsky's breath hissed against his teeth. "Stop teasing me, Hutch."

"I'm not."

"Does that mean you're getting down to business here?"

"Want me to?"

"Whenever you're ready."

Hutch dropped the ice on the floor and took the glass from Starsky. "Lie down, babe." He dipped his middle finger into the champagne, traced Starsky's mouth and traveled from the lower lip down the chin onto his throat, leaving a thin trail of cool moisture. Starsky's breath quickened.

His finger dived into the champagne again, then pushed Starsky's lips apart and inserted itself into his mouth. Starsky sighed softly and opened his mouth willingly to the questing intruder.

Hutch withdrew his finger and repeated the game. "Suck."

Avidly, Starsky did, his teeth lightly scraping Hutch's skin.

Hutch knew his eyes kindled at the suggestive view. Pulling his finger from between Starsky's lips, he pushed the shirt out of the way and trailed a champagne spoor along the collarbone, down his sternum to the navel. Deliberately, he dripped a little pool of champagne into the small well. Starsky's hands clutched the sheets.

Hutch drew circles of champagne around each nipple, rubbing a none-too-gentle damp nail around and across each nub until it was hard and sensitive to the most delicate touch. Starsky's breath caught.

Hutch bent over his lover and tracked the liquid with his tongue, licking. He closed his champagne-cool mouth around the first hot nipple, sucking. Starsky gasped.

He followed the alcohol traces to the other nipple, running his tongue around it, then locking his teeth on it. Starsky whimpered, his body squirming with pleasure. Hutch placed his spread hand on the flat abdomen, pushing down firmly. Starsky obediently tried to stay still, but Hutch could tell it was difficult. Well, he was determined to make it even harder. He increased his assault on the bruised bump, nipping sharply. Starsky moaned, his fingers tightening on the sheets.

The cool tongue lapped at the champagne down the furry stomach, plunged into the navel before Hutch's mouth fastened on the opening. Starsky drew an urgent breath between clenched teeth, the sound almost one of pain.

Hutch reclaimed his champagne, the moisture of his tongue and the dampness of his mouth scalding Starsky's flesh. One hand moved along strong thighs, venturing farther inward when they parted at his caress. Each move brushed the silky head before the willful hand darted away again. Starsky's desperate fingers crumpled the satin, his breath labored.

Hutch poured some champagne from the glass into his hand and then placed the flute on the floor. He slid confident wet fingers around Starsky's enlarged cock, masturbating with slow, methodical strokes. Starsky pushed into the enclosing warmth, fervor overtook reason.

Hutch put a warning hand on Starsky's stomach, while the left hand moved to cup the velvety scrotum, expertly massaging the tender testicles. Starsky tossed his head, the first drops of desire oozing from the column now milked by Hutch's demanding fingers.

Hutch moved, put his middle finger between Starsky's parted lips, rubbing across his gums. The intrepid invader was accepted, greeted by a loving tongue and a demandingly sucking mouth. Hutch allowed the contact, while the other hand returned to one nipple, renewing ecstasy. Starsky emitted a low cry, lust paramount.

Satisfied, Hutch retracted his moistened finger and swiftly pushed it deep into Starsky's tight rectum, his ring softly scratching at rigid buttocks. Starsky's breath sobbed in his throat and he arched his back to impale himself farther.

"Easy, babe," Hutch cautioned, as he worked his finger even deeper and harder into Starsky's heat, driving him wild, tormenting him with the promise of passion.

"Look at me."

Starsky opened dazed eyes, pupils dilated, clouded with wanton desire.

"You sure, Starsk?"

"I'm sure." Starsky pulled him down for a lingering kiss. "Love you."

Dipping it in the vaseline he'd put ready on the bedside table, Hutch smuggled a second finger into Starsky's body, marveling at how easy this was. Much easier than he had thought. Suddenly, he wanted to bury himself in that tight heat, desire and need almost crushing reason.

Hutch controlled the reaction. He knew he couldn't let his own feelings run rampant this first time, not when Starsky trusted him to be careful. And he was aware how deep that trust was—there was no tension at all in Starsky's muscles, and it wasn't just the alcohol that kept him so relaxed. Cautiously, Hutch scissored his fingers. Starsky exhaled, a sharp sound.

"Starsk?"

"Don't stop."

Hutch slipped a third finger past the tight guard and was rewarded with a small gasp. He bent over to flick his tongue at Starsky's cock, and Starsky bucked violently.

"Hutch. Quit teasing. Please."

For an answer, Hutch closed his mouth over the smooth head and slid down as far as he could. Starsky whimpered.

As always, his body responded to the sounds made by his partner, and Hutch realized he couldn't delay much longer. There was an awkward moment when he considered positions. Then he became aware of Starsky's eyes on him.

"What's the matter, babe—forgot all your anatomy lessons? C'mere, I want to look at you."
Hutch obeyed the gentle voice and the firm guidance of strong hands, and knelt between Starsky's legs. Starsky used the vaseline to coat him, and Hutch felt that those hands knew how to manage him better than he did himself.

"C'mon, babe. Now."

And then, miraculously, all awkwardness was gone when their natural synchronization took over. Hutch moved forward, and Starsky met him, and before Hutch fully appreciated what he was doing, their bodies were joined as firmly as their hearts and minds.

Stunned, Hutch felt for a split second as if their positions were reversed, as if he could feel Starsky inside his body. Their eyes met, and Hutch knew Starsky had shared the sensation.

Hutch inched forward, mindful of Starsky's legs on his shoulders. As always, Starsky knew what he wanted. He reached out and their fingers locked.

He needed a moment to fill his eyes—to drink in the sight of his partner covered in rose petals that had begun to cling to him when he writhed under Hutch's hands. The scent of wine and flowers mingled with the musk and the sweetness that was Starsky. Hutch felt his head swim as if he were drunk. Drowning in desire.

Starsky smiled, a lazy smile, his eyes hot with passion and alive with love. "Time to take off, angel airlines."

But Hutch was already moving; he had known when the moment was there. Slowly, gently at first, then with growing urgency. Somehow, each movement seemed to carry him closer to Starsky, to the very essence of the man. Suddenly, Hutch was impatient to get there. Only dimly he realized Starsky was surging toward him, uniting their thrusts. Flawless teamwork, whatever they did.

Warmth, tightness, scent, sight and sound—the blend was powerful, and Hutch couldn't resist. One, two more nudges against that small nub inside Starsky, and he knew they were falling over the edge together. Was that his scream or Starsky's? Did it matter?

They collapsed on the rutted satin, cuddling closely, arms and legs entwined.

When Hutch regained his senses he pressed a kiss to Starsky's temple. "That was..."

"...overwhelming."

"Yeah."

"So—you wanna try that again sometime?"

"I guess."

"Don't be too enthusiastic now."

"I was scared stiff, you know that?"

"I know about stiff," Starsky sniggered. "But I thought I was turning you on."

"Definitely."

"Not that I was doing much."

"All you need to do is be there."

"I can manage that."

"Starsk?"

"Mm?"

"You here now?"

A soft chuckle. "Oh, yeah. I'm here."

It was all the encouragement Hutch needed.

**********

Send your comments to :
ZebraThree Productions: z3prod@yahoogroups.com
Author: KSPonFarr@aol.com

Next week on Starsky & Hutch:
"Faithful to Thee, Cynara," by jat sapphire

SHSVS Home || Zebra3 Productions || Episode Main Page