"We'll never make it now," Hutch announced dejectedly, looking at his watch for the fourth time since they'd been out there, at least by Starsky's count. Standing as he was behind his partner's chair, Starsky couldn't be positive he'd caught every impatient glance downward toward the flannel-covered wrist.
"Maybe not the whole trail, but this can lift any second. You know how it is with this stuff--quickly here, quickly gone. Right?" Starsky folded his arms across the chair's top rail and leaned over to sweep his chin against an enticingly soft, silken mass of blond hair. Hutch's moods often required finessing if one wanted to avoid having a dark cloud descend over the entire day, but Starsky had become a master of that art ages ago, the changes in their relationship over the past year only sharpening the skill. "Besides, it's kinda pretty, don't you think? I like fog."
"You like fog?" Maneuvering his head back far enough to be able to look up into Starsky's eyes, both Hutch's tone and expression suggested that Starsky had just committed the spoken equivalent of putting ketchup on caviar.
"Yeah, I like it. 'The fog comes in on little duck feet--"
Starsky grinned. "See? You read poetry about it. Can't hate it all that much."
Hutch opened his mouth, then snapped it shut with an audible puff--his standard reaction when confronted with irrefutable evidence that he'd been baited and hooked. "If we'd have gone last evening like I suggested--"
"We'd have either fallen into bed exhausted by dusk, or solved the entire problem by plunging off some fog-hidden bluff." Or turned into handily packaged bear snacks. "Think about it, would you really have wanted to run into this at night?" Starsky drew in a deep breath, drummed the armrests lightly, and added in his most patient tone, "Besides, when you consider how we did spend our time, well, don't know about you, but if I had to choose between the two "
"Yeah, I know."
"Hey, it's not so bad. Still our day off, we're still together, and you've gotta admit, there's something about a really good bank of fog."
Starsky narrowed his eyes and plastered on his best mock-stern expression. Most of Hutch's current grumbling, he knew, was play, but to let on to that fact would ruin the entire game. Planting one foot on the chair's stretcher, he deftly tipped Hutch backward. "Magical," he corrected. "It's like it throws the world just a little off-kilter for a while. You know, everything looks the same, only different."
"Looks the s--? Looks the same?" Hutch extended a hand and gestured dramatically toward the expanse of gray. "We're stuck in the middle of a damned cloud! I can't even make out the cabin across the way in this soup." He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Admit it, the only reason you're standing there like a cross between Carl Sandburg and that meteorologist on channel five who always looks like someone slipped him a joint before air time--"
"Bucky Turner? You're saying I'm like Bucky Turner?"
"--is because fog reminds you of every late-night B horror flick you've ever seen and fallen in love with."
Head resting on his arms still crossed on the top rail, Starsky regarded Hutch for a while in amused silence, trying to determine how much of what he was hearing was a reflection of his partner's true feelings on the matter, and how much was just talk. If he honestly didn't see Decision made, Starsky righted the chair abruptly, swept past Hutch's left, down the steps, and ordered, "Off the porch."
"Get offa the porch."
"But--" The unexpected command seemed to fluster Hutch, and his voice turned from petulant to conciliatory in an instant. "Look, I wasn't I mean, I'm not trying to pick a fight with you. Honestly."
"That's good," Starsky replied, flashing a grin as he turned around and leaned over the railing. "'Cause you'd lose this one, buddy. Come on, I wanna show you something."
With curiosity thinly veiled in what Starsky immediately decoded as decidedly forced nonchalance, Hutch followed closely down the path and joined him on some boulders that were strategically located near the lake's outer bank. Starsky plopped down on the flattest, most horizontal specimen and patted the space next to him until Hutch obediently sat down. Needing a few moments to collect his thoughts, Starsky folded his arms and took in the field of view, such as it was. Hutch was bound to break the silence eventually, but he didn't need long to accomplish this task. Years of training and practice made it almost second nature.
Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, left side pressed against Starsky's right, Hutch predictably cleared his throat after a longer than expected pause, asking tentatively, "You wanted to show me something?"
Starsky nodded and pointed to a shrouded area to the west. "Tell me what you see."
Playfully cuffing Hutch in the arm, Starsky growled, "Try again."
"Well, I can see the outline of a tree."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean describe it. Big tree, small tree, pine, cedar, dead, alive, what? Come on, after all these years of describing fleeing suspects, this should be a piece'a cake."
Hutch grew quiet for a few moments, then nodded. "A pine, about forty-feet in height, medium build--"
"Okay, okay. I can only make out some of the branches on the northern side because the rest is totally obscured at this point, and I'm guessing at the height since the top isn't visible. It looks odd incomplete." He turned to Starsky, nudging him lightly with a shoulder. "So how'd I do?"
"Not bad, considering." Before Hutch could ask the requisite, Considering what? Starsky launched into his own appraisal of the scene before them. "I see one tall pine with two shorter companion trees; the tall one's jutting right into the thickest part of the fog, while the small ones are just veiled. It throws the color off, makes them look muted, like you're seeing 'em through thin gauze that only lets a small amount of light through. Can't make out the bark, but I can still tell the trunks from the branches--at least until about a third of the way up. The texture's gone, but the shadowing makes them all look more dimensional than they would in full sunlight. And..." He pointed toward the base and moved his hand slowly upward. "...look at how the tree goes from almost clear at the bottom and fades as you look up. Every now and then, you'll get this glimpse of the very top when the sun's trying to break through, but blink and you'll miss it." Starsky dropped his hand back down and rubbed it vigorously up and down his pant leg to disperse the chill. "Wisps of fog swirl around even in a slight breeze, and if you're looking at the darker part of the trunks at the right time, they're pretty distinct. It almost makes it look as if the trees themselves are moving. You know? Shifting, like they're not really there at all." He shrugged. "That's what I see."
As expected, Hutch gave all appearances of a man temporarily stripped of the ability to speak, his jaw doing a practice run a few times before any sound was forthcoming. "Wow. That's it's where did all that come from?"
Starsky laughed. "You're forgetting what I do as a hobby, Hutch. Photography, remember? Wouldn't be much of a photographer if I couldn't size up a scene. Do you have any idea how much I paid for a filter that only does half the job Mother Nature's doing now? Can't beat fog for creating mood and interest. It's great. Take that cabin back there--"
"Let me," Hutch requested softly, and Starsky nodded. Hutch took his time now, answering only after a few full minutes had passed. "The basic shape is still visible, but there are no sharp edges anymore. Its lines are softened and there's nothing harsh. The roof is so light, it's more of a suggestion than something you can really see." He leaned forward and squinted. "Can't even begin to guess whether it's shingles or tiles. Huh " He pointed toward the southern side of the small structure. "From here, the windows look blue, and the outside looks almost, I don't know, looks more metallic--copper?--than wooden. You're right, it's haunting."
"Yeah, well, it's also getting thicker." Point made, Starsky stood up and stretched lazily. "Wanna head in while we can still see?"
"Not quite yet." Head down, toe-to-toe with Starsky, and presumably lost in thought, Hutch stood motionless for brief seconds before meeting Starsky's gaze and gracing him with a shy smile. "I forget sometimes that I'm in love with an artist. I shouldn't."
Starsky opened his mouth to respond with one of his usual rejoinders, then quickly swallowed the quip, sensing that this was not the time for that type of humor. He'd been paid a serious compliment, and it deserved a serious response. "Thank you." Starsky extended his hand, palm forward, fingers splayed, and delighted in the sensation of the large hand that mirrored the gesture, exerting gentle pressure, finger against finger. Thank you for always finding a way to remind me who I am.
"You're not the only artist who appreciates the aesthetics of fog and mist. Have you seen the paintings Monet made of the Houses of Parliament? I've got the prints in a book at home; have to drag it out when we get back."
Starsky chuckled. "You inviting me in to see your etchings, Detective?"
"Something like that," Hutch whispered, suddenly and without warning interlocking his fingers with Starsky's, in a display of strength that sent an unexpected surge of sensation down Starsky's arm, quickening the pulse of both men.
Starsky's left met Hutch's right hand next, fingers stroking and gliding across their counterparts in deliberate exploration, the purely instinctive rhythm resulting in a strangely graceful dance. Nothing existed here but them. Even time dared not intrude in this place, and Starsky closed his eyes, not wanting sight to distract from the tactile sensuality of the moment. Moving in closer, the fact that every touch was answered in kind registered on a nearly subconscious level, the boundary of who was doing what blurred beyond any hope of distinction. It wasn't until the dance extended beyond their hands and he felt Hutch's caress on his chest, that Starsky permitted sound to invade their sanctuary, and when he did it was under protest. "Too public," he objected thickly. "People might--" Reluctantly, he opened his eyes at the sound of Hutch's baritone laugh, then had to smile himself. In the time they had been lost in one another, the fog had become their unwitting ally, becoming so dense that not even the boulders at their feet were visible anymore. "When did this happen?"
"I don't know, but I'm never going to complain about this stuff again."
It wasn't until Hutch stepped back a pace, kicking the tulle fog until it swirled in a dramatic ballet of arching vapor, that Starsky became acquainted once again with the downside of this particular weather phenomena, and shivered. Hutch, whose left hand was still pressed firmly against his partner's chest, must have felt the tremor, for he moved in immediately and pulled Starsky into a warm embrace.
"You must be freezing, and this damp If it's playing havoc with my back, I can only imagine what it must be doing to you right now."
Starsky nodded, suddenly very aware of the ribs that had not so very long ago been shattered and pinned back together. "Gotta admit, for all its virtues, it does have a downside. Think we can find our way back to the cabin?"
Hutch laughed. "We've navigated rougher paths than this blind. I'll start a fire, and maybe we can go to work getting the cold out of each other's bones, huh?"
Starsky smiled, but said nothing, reflecting on a fire that already warmed him to his soul, and consumed without destroying. For this was the rarest type of blaze, he knew, and one whose flames would never be extinguished.
Poem excerpt from "The Fog":
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
-- Carl Sandburg
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