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.
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."
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?"
"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?"
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."
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."
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.
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."
"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?"
"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.
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?"
"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?
"You haven't met."
"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 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?"
"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."
"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?"
"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."
"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?"
"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?"
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?
"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?"
"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."
"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."
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."
"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 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, 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."
"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.
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