House of Mirrors
by Hutchrules3

SHSVS, Episode 609, Part 5

Back to Part 4

"All right, Starsky, where do we start?" Brady asked, as he pulled the police cruiser out of the station parking lot.

"Old Lake Trail," Starsky replied without hesitation, restraining himself from leaning forward as if to push the car ahead faster.

"Why there?"

"That's the last place I saw him," Starsky explained. "Maybe, somewhere, he left us a clue."

They arrived at the trailhead in short order, and Starsky again leapt out of the car and left his door hanging wide open. Behind him, he heard Brady close the door with an impatient sigh, and reminded himself that, right now, they both needed to focus their attention on finding Hutch. He jogged up the trail to the spot where he had left his partner, then slowed to begin his exploration. A few minutes later Brady joined him and, without a word, began to do the same.

A hand in his hair jerked Hutch awake, as one of his captors yanked his head back at an awkward angle. For a moment, he played possum, again letting his senses take inventory of his surroundings. Now, he detected the scent of aftershave and carefully maintained leather; behind him, he heard the jingle of buckles. But though the technicolor snowflakes still danced in front of his eyes, something was missing from that trip back in time: there was no sense of detached, muddy lethargy. This time, his mental gears appeared intact, and now they began to click with furious speed.

Wade. It was Wade who was here, he thought rapidly. Not Monk. Couldn't have been anyway; he's dead, remember? And not Forest, either; he's still in jail. He could feel dried liquid coating his forearm, wrist, and hand. Blood, he realized, with an almost comical relief. Not heroin. That was a knife--they cut me, just like Polly and the others.

Wonder what they wrote.

Then: Starsky. Where the hell is Starsky? Did they get him, too?

"Well, well, the big-city detective," a voice interrupted his thoughts. "Not quite so cocky now, are we? It seems we're the ones in charge now."

The snowstorm vanished. Hutch swallowed with some difficulty and allowed himself a dry half-smile. "Think so?" he said sardonically. "It appears you've forgotten a few things, Mr. Caldwell."

Silence. Feet stepped closer, and this time he had a chance to prepare himself for the blow that split his lip.

Shit, that hurt.

"I guess that must be Mr. Todd," he went on, despite the pain in his mouth and jaw. "Which would make the man who smells like saddles Mr. Levine."

Bang, bang, bang.

Three more blows rained in quick succession, to his gut, his jaw, and the eye that was already swollen.

"Attacking four people and raping one brings some heavy time, even for teenagers," he told them, ignoring the ringing in his ears. "Think you'll still get your crown in heaven from the juvenile detention center?"

"Wade'll never give us up," Bobby growled. "We're his soldiers of justice; he promised he'd protect us."

"Not from this one, Bob-o," Hutch informed him. "Assault on a police officer? 'Fraid even Wade's best prayers aren't gonna save you from that one."

He braced himself, waiting for the fists to strike again, but there was only a brief, tense silence. Then the hand left his hair, the footsteps withdrew, and the door closed.

Despite the pain it caused his lip, Hutch couldn't restrain a grin.

Teenagers. All brass balls and no brains.

Come on, babe. Give me some kind of a sign.

They had circled the area for over twenty minutes and found nothing but footprints--Hutch's, a number of anonymous joggers, and two that Starsky knew looked familiar but couldn't quite place. He searched his mind frantically, replaying his conversations with Hutch, willing himself to remember something--anything--that might tell him where his partner had gone.

"Starsky," Brady called. Starsky whipped around and saw the sheriff holding a dully gleaming object in his hand.

"What is it?"

"Looks like a high-end silver lighter," Brady replied, using the same leaves Hutch had to hand the lighter to Starsky.

Starsky flipped open the top and fired up the lighter. "Still works," he noted, "but it's been here a while." He turned it over and found the initials engraved on the front.

A little more uptown compared to the other kids.

"Shit," he breathed, and strode back to the path where the two mysterious footprints had tickled his memory. Kneeling, he brushed his hands over the indentations--and knew.

Earth boy, biker kid, and the unacknowledged fruit of your loins.

"Handkerchief," Brady said at his shoulder, startling him. "Ken's?"

Clutching the grimy white cloth, feeling his heart wrench as the familiar aftershave rose to his nostrils, Starsky nodded. "Wavy hippie earth shoes and a pair of biker boots," he said, and he pointed to the ground as his heart began to race again.

Brady peered curiously at the footprints, then at Starsky.

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"The church," Starsky said urgently, bouncing the lighter in his palm as he sprang to his feet. "We gotta get to the church."

As Brady floored the accelerator and the car leapt away from the trailhead, Starsky allowed himself a moment to inhale, the handkerchief under his nose.

Hang on, babe. You hear me? Hang on.

"He knows!" Dave yelped on a high note, as soon as the door closed behind them. "Godammit, Bobby, he knows who we are! I'm out of here!"

"Just calm down!" Bobby ordered, pushing the agitated teen into a nearby chair. "You go losing your head and we're nailed for sure. Pull yourself together so we can figure this out."

"What's there to figure out, Bobby?" Jake said worriedly. "You heard him...he knows our names, knows we did the jobs for Wade. I think it's time we got out."

"You two are beyond stupid," Bobby seethed, turning and putting several feet between him and the other two. "We leave here, they're on us before we get to the city limits. All that cop has to do is go to Brady and tell him what he--"

He halted. The other two boys stared at him expectantly.

"Unless he can't," he mused.

"What?" Jake said, perplexed. "What do you mean?"

Bobby turned and flashed them a brilliant white smile. "Simple, gentlemen," he said, having regained his composure and charm. "We make sure he can't tell anyone anything."

Jake's and Dave's foreheads furrowed in twin frowns. They looked at each other, then at Bobby, and back to each other. And then it struck them.

"Oh, no," Jake refused, as Dave buried his head in his hands, unable to do anything but hyperventilate and squeak, "My God my God my God."

"There is no way we're killing anybody, Bobby, especially not a cop."

"It's the only way we're getting out of this, man!" Bobby spat, the charming smile gone. "You think he'll just congratulate himself on his intuition and go back home? You heard him. He intends to make us fall for all of it!"

"I don't care!" Jake hollered back. "I agreed to this when it was just teachin' a lesson to a bunch of queers and dykes, but there's a limit, Bobby. I'm not killing anyone!"

For a moment they stood, toe-to-toe, chests heaving, sweat pouring down their faces. Bobby eyed Jake, wondering just how hard he'd have to push to get the big youth on his side--and then gave up. "All right," he conceded, dropping into a chair at the table. "Maybe there's another way to--"

He stopped again, then turned back to Jake. "Jake, you know where Wade put those pictures we took of him?"

"Yeah," Jake answered, mystified. "But what good are those gonna do?"

"You'll see," Bobby said, rising from the chair in one graceful movement, the charming smile back.

The door opened and closed again, and Hutch waited--for the kids to either assault him again or concede the game was his. He was surprised when, instead, they removed the blindfold from his eyes, then stood in front of him in a loose semicircle. He eyed Bobby, who was probably close enough for him to kick, but Jake, the big one, was farther away and watching vigilantly.

"Detective Hutchinson," Bobby began coaxingly. "We have a deal for you that I think will be the best thing for all of us."

He favored Hutch with a perfect smile--white teeth flashing, dimples denting his cheeks--and Hutch narrowed his eyes, struck by a sense of netherworld deja vu. The blond hair, the classic features, the lean, athletic frame. The kid at the Peacock, he realized. Dammit, am I destined to run into dark sides of myself wherever I go?

He shook his head to bring himself back to the present and the sticky situation he was in. He was still tied to the chair, and these three kids could take him if they wanted to. His eyes flicked briefly to a clock hanging over the door. If I can stall them, he thought, maybe Starsky'll find the lighter and figure out where they took me.

"All right, talk," he told Bobby. "I'm promising nothin', but I'll listen to what you have to say."

"A deal," Bobby repeated and pulled a chair in front of Hutch. Planting a second one to a spot outside Hutch's reach, he straddled it, then jerked his head at Jake. "Show him the pictures, Jake."

Apparently confident that Hutch understood the futility of trying to ambush him, Jake laid a half-dozen pictures on the chair's seat, then backed off. Puzzled, Hutch glanced from one teenager to another. His charming smile intact, Bobby nodded down to the photos. "Take a look, Mr. Hutchinson, and tell me what your daddy will think when he gets a load of those."

Hutch dropped his eyes to the first picture, then rapidly to the other five. Though he made every effort to keep his expression neutral, he conceded that this was indeed a betting card.

609-2V.jpgThe pictures were of him and Starsky, from the one time they'd gone to the park for pleasure rather than business. Though two of them were innocuous enough, showing only him and Starsky with their arms around each other's shoulders, the others--of them kissing tenderly, hands laced in each other's hair--told another story, all too well. He swallowed, imagining his father's reaction to the pictures, and glanced up at the kids once more.

"That takes care of the show part," he said, with more bravado than he felt. "Now give me the tell."

"That's just it," Bobby said, leaning forward as if discussing the latest scores at Wimbledon. "You don't tell, we don't show. You leave here, forget you ever saw us or who we were, and we hand these over to you."

Hutch stared at him, astonished and saddened by the boy's ability to coldly dismiss the physical and emotional damage he and his comrades had done. "Extortion's illegal, too," he informed the teen. "What makes you think I won't blow the whistle about that?"

"We keep the negatives and a set of prints in a safe place, and tell the local press where to find them," Bobby told him. "Sure, you'll get us, but you'll go down, too, because the whole town, including your father, will find out that Ken Hutchinson is a dyed-in-the-wool queer." The corners of his mouth curved up farther, turning the smile into something wicked and mean. "Think about it, Hutchinson. You can go home and pretend this never happened. But your parents will have to live with that ridicule for the rest of their lives."

Hutch sank back into the chair with an inaudible sigh.

There was no doubt what he had to do. Polly, Terry and Jim, and all the other people who had lived in fear since the attacks began deserved nothing less. He was a good cop and an honest one; he had never taken a deal when one had been offered to him. He felt too strong an obligation to those he had sworn to serve and protect.

But then the movie ran through his head again--the one where his father found out about him and Starsky, but this time accompanied by the rest of the town. Hutch would become the ultimate disappointment--the ultimate pariah--not only for choosing an unacceptable lifestyle, but for shaming his father before the entire town. Richard's reputation was gold here. He was respected and trusted, and that status meant the world to him. Bobby was right. If these pictures got out, Richard Hutchinson would find it hard to hold up his head for years to come.

You should be ashamed of yourselves, bringing this kind of disgrace on your family.

But protecting his father--and, if he were honest, himself--meant more than denying his duty. It meant, in essence, denying Starsky. Admitting that his own hide and his father's good name meant more to him than coming clean to this part of the world about his love.

A sigh escaped his lips. In the mental movie, he saw the young Ken Hutchinson, waiting hopefully for the final, approving, accepting word from his father. I'm sorry, kid, he apologized wistfully to that long-ago figure of himself. But I just can't do it.

The boy hung his head and turned away.

Hutch raised his eyes and looked levelly at Bobby.

"Nice try, boys, but no sale," he said coolly. "Now if you've got a nice Picasso or Monet, I might be interested in that--"

Bobby's smile turned to a snarl, an ugly one that lifted the hair on Hutch's neck. "You're gonna be sorry you said that," he hissed. "Jake, Dave, we've got no choice."

Dave didn't even bother to respond. He simply turned and fled from the room. Jake gave Bobby a long, measuring look, then resettled his flowing shirt on his shoulders. "No way, Bobby," he said firmly. "You wanna do this...you're on your own this time."

He followed Dave out.

Bobby turned to Hutch, eyes blazing, and suddenly a knife was in his hand.

"You don't wanna use that," Hutch warned. "It's tough to make a killing stroke with something that small, and as soon as you get near enough, you're pretty much mine."

"Yeah, well, at least I can shut you up," Bobby growled and surged forward, the knife aimed straight for Hutch's throat.

At the last minute, Hutch lunged, turning self and chair to the side, and grunted as the knife sliced open his arm. The momentum took both him and Bobby to the ground. With a cry of rage, the boy scrambled to his feet.

"Freeze! Hold it right there!"

Distracted by the shout, Bobby hesitated in his onslaught. Hutch's legs whipped out and he dumped Bobby to the floor. In an instant, Brady was on top of him, hauling the raving teenager to his feet and dragging him out of the room.

Simultaneously, Starsky knelt beside Hutch, hands pulling quickly but carefully through the rope. As the knots loosened, Hutch felt the chair fall away and heard it clatter as Starsky tossed it across the room. He was pulled close, head cradled in Starsky's hands. "Easy, easy," he heard his partner croon above him, as the loving hands wiped away blood and sweat. "Are you okay, babe?"

"Yeah," Hutch whispered. "Just...okay."

"Okay," Starsky echoed, his voice a little giddy. "Yeah, it's okay," he amended, holding his partner tightly. "You're gonna be all right."

"Starss?" Hutch said faintly. He could tell he was just about to slip out of consciousness.

"Yeah, buddy?" Starsky leaned down close. "Tell me."

"Starsk...love you."

"Yeah," Starsky breathed. "Me, too."

And just before Hutch drifted away, he noticed Brady watching from the doorway.

"Hutch...Hutch..."

He drifted in sleep for another few minutes, then gave in and let himself float to the surface. He opened his eyes slowly, to find Starsky leaning over his bed with a loving, worried expression. As he blinked, the worry transformed into a brilliant, welcoming smile.

"Hey, Sleeping Beauty," Starsky greeted him. "Welcome back."

"Hey," Hutch returned, knowing without looking around that he was in the hospital. "What'm I doin' here?"

"That kid Jake must have hands like jackhammers," Starsky told him. "He gave you a mild concussion. The doc just wanted to keep you here for a while."

"D'ya nail 'em?" Hutch asked, groping for his partner's hand and gripping it tightly.

"Yeah," Starsky said. His smile deepened, though whether in response to the question or the touch, Hutch was too drowsy to tell. "All of 'em."

"Bunch of crazies," Hutch sighed, feeling sleep nibbling at him again.

"Yep," Starsky agreed. "Too bad about Wade, though. You know what? I think he really believed in that mission of his."

"Pretty lousy way to make it happen," Hutch commented.

"True," Starsky said. "But I think once he decided he was saving 'lost souls,' he let himself forget how it was happening."

"No 'scuse." He was fading.

Starsky could tell; the grin widened.

"No, it isn't." He leaned down and kissed Hutch's forehead gently. "Better go and let you get some more sleep. You're lookin' pretty bad."

"Thanks."

"Any time."

Hutch closed his eyes again, preparing to drift back down into sleep, but then the door opened and his parents and Cathy entered. He felt Starsky discreetly withdraw his hand, then the decrease in warmth as his partner stepped back from the bed. He sighed, pushed to a more upright position as Starsky tucked another pillow behind his head, and resigned himself to the inevitability of being awake.

"Well, Ken," his father said, clearing his throat, apparently not sure what to say in this setting. Hutch had rarely admitted to being seriously ill while he was growing up, partially because it made his father so uncomfortable. "How are you? How are you feeling?"

"Good enough," Hutch replied, still somewhat fuzzy. "About ready to get out of this joint."

"Yes, well..." Richard glanced around, then spotted Hutch's chart at the foot of the bed. With a visible expression of relief, he snatched it up and flipped through the pages, nodding as he read. "Well, it looks like your injuries are relatively minor," he said, eyes on the medical information rather than his son. "It doesn't appear your concussion is serious, and one laceration on your arm took twenty stitches, but should be fine."

Starsky and Hutch exchanged amused glances.

"The other one--" Richard stopped. A frown crossed his face, as he reread the entry.

Hutch's amusement vanished. He knew what his father was looking at--he had been "tattooed" like all the others.

"Well, uh," Richard stammered. "It, uh, appears the assailants made something of a mistake this time, didn't they?" He glanced up from the chart with an overly bright smile.

Hutch's gaze moved swiftly around the room. Starsky's eyes were steady on his, rich in love and understanding as they always were, and then his partner shook his head slightly, almost imperceptibly. Don't, the gesture said. There'll be another time, another place. Cathy's eyes were wide with worry, as they shifted from Richard to Hutch and back again. Miranda was composed as usual, but a tiny furrow between her brows betrayed her concern about what Hutch would say, and how his father would respond.

Hutch looked back at his partner, who had been by his side through all the horrors they'd imagined in the Academy, and a few they had never dreamed existed. The mental movie returned, but its focus shifted, from Richard's outraged response to his partner's unwavering love: Starsky, sticking by him through the pain of withdrawal, through Gillian's death, through that terrible, cynical year when he'd nearly lost his mind from bitterness and doubt. And then himself, sitting by Starsky's bed after Gunther's hit, fearing he'd lost him forever, and vowing he'd do anything if God would only give him back.

He took Starsky's hand back in his and realized the decision was no longer in doubt.

609-10.jpg"No, Dad," he said simply. "They didn't."

Richard's head snapped up so abruptly that Hutch winced. Pale eyebrows raced in to meet each other in a dangerous scowl, while the chart's pages flickered, suspended in stilled fingers. Hutch watched as Richard took in his and Starsky's joined hands, saw the disbelief gather ominously in his father's eyes, and braced himself for the disapproving fury he knew would soon follow.

No one moved. It seemed, in fact, that no one breathed.

When Richard spoke, his voice was deadly. "Would you care to explain that?"

"They didn't get it wrong," Hutch repeated, amazed at how steady his voice was, now that the moment was here. "Starsky and I--we're more than partners at work, more than friends. We've been--"

He struggled for the words to describe their unique relationship, but those words were hard enough to find when the tension wasn't unbearable. Finally, he gave up and chose a term he knew even his father would understand.

"Lovers," he said bluntly. "For over a year now."

There was another moment of absolutely frozen silence. Hutch watched the thoughts flash across his father's face. Homosexuality is a recognized psychiatric disorder, he remembered his father saying, and now his son "had" it. Richard's lips tightened, along with his grip on the chart, and the crackle of crumpling pages sounded like thunder in the dead quiet.

"I...see."

Carefully, precisely, Richard closed the chart and replaced it at the end of the bed. His eyes flicked toward his son, then quickly away, as if he couldn't bear what he saw. He turned to his wife. "You knew," he accused, his tone low and harsh.

"Yes," Miranda replied, without apology or elaboration.

The whiplash eyes turned to Cathy, who flinched, but met them steadily. Richard cocked one imperious, inquisitive eyebrow.

"Yes," Cathy answered bravely, as if her father had spoken. "I did, too."

"Well," Richard began coldly, and not once did his eyes return to Hutch and Starsky. "I guess there's little left to say to either you or your...partner." He made the word sound like something distasteful and toxic.

Hutch waited for the cowed adolescent to emerge, for shame and fear to wash over him and bring with it that desperate desire to earn his father's approval, no matter what it took. But all he felt was warmth pulsing between him and Starsky--the warmth of his partner's skin, of the love and support they had exchanged and that had sustained them, one way or another, for nearly a decade.

Quietly, he said, "I guess not."

"Well, then," Richard repeated, with a That's that breath that told Hutch he was about to be dismissed. "I will ask your mother and your sister to pack your things and bring them here. I would...appreciate it if you...neither of you...returned to the house."

Ever again hung in the air.

"If that's what you want," Hutch said softly, his voice tinged with regret..

"Yes." His voice firm, with no trace of emotion, Richard stepped back from the bed, brushed his hands together as if dusting off something dirty, then strode to the door and pulled it open. "Miranda," he said. The word was an order.

Miranda did not look at him. "You go ahead," she instructed him calmly. "I'll be right there."

He opened his mouth, then snapped it shut and left the room.

Suddenly, the oxygen seemed to return, and Hutch breathed for what felt like the first time in an hour. He felt the side of Starsky's head press against his, a tender gesture that abruptly filled his eyes with tears.

His mother moved gracefully to the side of the bed and brushed the hair from his forehead. "I'll make sure everything makes it to the hospital," she promised him gently. "You boys be careful going home."

She turned to go, but Hutch stopped her, catching her hand in his. "Mom," he said hesitantly. "How do you...what do you--?"

She gave him an uncertain smile, then patted his hand with the one he wasn't holding. "I don't really know yet," she admitted. "But I know I love you, and I've always liked David. I guess we'll just have to go from there."

"Okay," Hutch whispered, feeling foolish as the tears threatened to spill over. Miranda kissed his forehead, reached across the bed to briefly squeeze Starsky's arm, then slipped out of the room.

Wordless, seemingly sobbing for all three of them, Cathy hurried to Hutch and threw her arms around him. Hutch couldn't help wincing as her well-meaning embrace pressed on the knife wounds. "I'm sorry," she wept, drawing back, and Hutch wasn't sure whether she meant for the inadvertently painful hug or the scenario they had just witnessed. "I don't understand--why can't he just. Dammit, he's such a bastard!"

Hutch raised a surprised eyebrow at this vehement outburst from his rarely angry sister, and released Starsky's hand so he could pull her close. "It's okay," he whispered soothingly, rubbing her back in his best big-brother fashion. "Trust me, it's not the end of the world."

"I'll work on him," she vowed fiercely, pulling away again and swiping impatiently at the tears streaming down her cheeks. "Mom and I both will, you'll see."

Hutch started to dissuade her, to tell her not to bother because it really wasn't important, but he could tell it mattered to her. So he only drew her in for one last hug and a gentle forehead kiss, and then nudged her toward the door. "Go on," he urged. "Don't let them leave you here, too."

She squeezed his hand a final time, told him, "I love you," then left the room, still sniffling.

A hand stroked through his hair, and, though Starsky was silent, Hutch knew what his partner was saying. He caught the hand in his and pressed it softly to his lips.

I love you, too.

The minute they walked into Hutch's apartment, they were on each other, barely taking time to close and lock the door. Hutch felt he had never kissed, or been kissed with such passion, and yet with such unerring gentleness. He sighed as Starsky captured his mouth and covered every inch of his face with his lips, kissing bruised and sore areas with healing tenderness, and devouring unmarked spots with ferocious hunger. Feeling his knees begin to tremble, Hutch returned the kisses, guiding them both down to the floor.

He had intended to take the lead, but his partner shifted, pushing Hutch slowly onto his back while the kisses continued. Somehow, a pillow was behind Hutch's head, then, Starsky unfastened the buttons on his shirt, touching his tongue to Hutch's skin between each one. Gently, while Hutch could do little but lie there and ache, Starsky worked the shirt off. The injured arm received special attention, with little kisses feathered along the edges of the bandage.

"Better than any medicine the nurses ever gave me," Hutch groaned, as Starsky's lips worked their way back up to his shoulder, then took a lazy, spiraling route down his chest and abdomen, to the area above his belt. He could feel his jeans straining, become almost unbearably tight, and then a hot hand was there, grazing the increasing bulge, then darting away.

"Starss--"

"Shhhh," Starsky whispered, and goosebumps sprang on Hutch's arms as the wisp of warm breath brushed across his skin. "Easy, Blintz, we got all night."

They may have had all night, but clearly their bodies had other things in mind. Despite Starsky's deliberately slow beginning, it seemed only seconds before he had undressed Hutch completely. A cool breeze titillated, as Starsky pulled away for a moment while he removed his own t-shirt and jeans. Then the lips were back, and the naked contact after such a long fast drove Hutch into a frenzy. For long moments, he knew nothing but the delicious friction of Starsky's skin on his, of Starsky's mouth on him, seemingly everywhere at once, until he thought he would burst--and did.

Then it was his turn, and he took the dark head in his hands and trailed his lips across the fine features and luscious mouth, then down Starsky's neck and through the hair on his chest and stomach. With each touch of his mouth, he tried to kiss away all the doubts, the arguments, the inches of distance, until he felt his partner buck and squirm beneath him.

At long last they lay, together and alone, on the brass bed in Hutch's bedroom. Fingers entwined, lying side by side, every possible inch of skin touching, they had both been silent for several minutes. Hutch gave a relieved sigh, and something in his chest, something that had been tight and painful for weeks, loosened, broke apart, and floated away. He squeezed his partner's hand and reveled in the returned pressure.

"How you doin'?" came drowsily from the curly head beside his.

"Just fine," Hutch all but purred. "Better than I've been in a long time."

He heard a throaty chuckle, then silence. Absently, he scratched the flaking skin on the inside of his left elbow.

"Itchin'?" came from Starsky, who had apparently felt the movement.

"Yeah."

There was a tender sweep of fingers across his skin, and he felt Starsky shift. Lips followed fingertips, pressing softly, sending pleasant shivers up Hutch's arm.

"The doc said it was superficial, right?"

"Yeah," Hutch confirmed, unable to hide his relief. "He said it shouldn't leave any noticeable scar, unless you're really looking for it."

Starsky chuckled again. "Good thing. I don't think the Bay City PD's ready for us to flash this in their faces."

It was Hutch's turn to chuckle softly, and then both men were quiet, watching the play of lights across the ceiling.

"Your dad took it pretty well," Starsky murmured at last.

Hutch didn't restrain his snort. "Right," he said sarcastically. "I always consider 'leave and don't bother coming back' to be a kind of blessing."

"I think he was startin' to come around," Starsky insisted. "When we ran into him at the hospital, right before we left, I could've sworn he wanted to take some of that back."

He was lying and Hutch knew it, but he loved his partner for making the effort. And he wasn't particularly worried about his father. He suspected that time, his mother, and Cathy would eventually bring Richard around--if not to acceptance, then at least to tolerance.

"Nah, in some ways my dad'll never change," he said, pulling Starsky onto his shoulder. "Though I have to admit, I saw a side of him on this trip I hadn't seen before."

"With Polly?"

"Yeah." Hutch pursed his lips, then winced from the pain the movement still brought. "I mean, I'd seen him be kind with his patients, but...I mean, he knew Polly was gay, and he didn't seem to care. He treated her with the same compassion he does all his patients--like she was a person to him, and not just a sexual orientation." He paused.

609-3V.jpgStarsky stared at him, and, despite the afterglow of the lovemaking they had just shared, he felt his chest constrict with sadness for his partner. For, once again, Hutch didn't seem to notice the discrepancy--the incredible gulf--between the effort and concern his father showed others, and the almost surgical swiftness with which he had severed his ties to his son. And for what? For loving differently, outside the psychiatric "norm."

I haven't forgotten my promise, babe. I'm gonna spend the rest of my life giving you everything that man never did. Starting now.

Throat working, he tightened the arm that lay across Hutch's chest, as his partner went on, reflectively:

"Remember that fun house you mentioned, Starsk--the one with all the weird mirrors? It's something like that. Sometimes everything's distorted, and sometimes it's not."

Starsky shifted, then drew his hand back to massage Hutch's chest. He felt Hutch catch his breath, then shudder, and he could almost see the shot of sexual electricity that went straight to Hutch's groin.

"Starss..." Hutch murmured, as Starsky's hand followed the lightning.

"Well, you know, Hutch, fun houses got all kinds of mirrors," Starsky whispered into his ear, stirring the blond strands to trigger another electrical charge. He knew he had succeeded when, shivering, Hutch drew in a trembling breath as Starsky's hand encircled him and began to move gently.

"As in," Hutch gasped, "some objects may be larger than they appear?"

Starsky kissed him soundly. "You got it, partner."

And the ride began.

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