Heatwave, by Syn Ferguson

Starsky reached for the phone when he saw that Johnny Carson was going to have a cheetah cub on the show, then he hesitated. Hutch needed a laugh, but his moodiness had made Starsky leery of saying or doing the wrong thing lately. He might think a friendly call was out of line. Then he'd be pissed. Multiply temperatures in the high ninties by Hutch in a bad mood and Starsky's life wouldn't be worth living. Starsky sighed, let go of the phone and went to the refrigerator for a beer, enjoying the draft of cold air on his skin. Even stripped to his Fruit of the Looms he was sweating steadily and too hot to sleep.

Johnny was dull, and the cheetah hid behind his trainer's chair. The half-gone beer warmed in the can, and Starsky's head nodded. He was dozing off when a whisper of sound under Johnny's monologue brought him back to consciousness. The door? He muted the TV and heard it again. Cop's friends do not announce themselves by scratching tentatively at the door. Someone was trying the knob. Starsky reached for his gun and padded across the room, easing the safety off. The doorknob turned as if someone were probing the lock mechanism.

As intent as a bird-stalking cat, Starsky was unaware of the incongruity of apprehending a thief while dressed only in briefs and a Beretta. Crouching to one side, he reached for the doorknob, turned it and jerked the door open.

A weight came with the door, all the way, light glinting on wheat-pale hair as Hutch fell into the room. Suddenly aware of how exposed he was, Starsky covered the outside dark with his gun and heaved Hutch's long legs over the threshhold with his free hand. Slamming the door shut, he turned to the limp form on the floor.

Hutch had been beaten, that much was obvious from his face, but Starsky's quickly exploring hands found neither broken bones nor bullet holes. Hutch's left fist was covered with blood and clenched tight.

"Hutch? Hey, Hutch?"

The blond made no response, and Starsky chewed his lip in indecision, then left his partner on the floor, doused the lights, and pulled on his jeans. He opened the door cautiously and peered around it before slipping outside and down the stairs, searching the night for any lurking menace. The streetlights rayed down as usual, the traffic whispered past, and no one appeared to notice him. Hutch's latest junker was pulled up to the curb. Starsky walked over to it, still cautious, but feeling the adrenalin subside. The car was empty, the front seat and the steering wheel wet with a dark stickiness Starsky had no trouble identifying as blood. Hutch had been hurt somewhere else and come to him for help.

Back inside, Starsky flipped the lights up again and brought a towel and a bowl of water to mop up the worst of the gore. Hutch had the beginning of a beautiful shiner with a good-sized goose egg on his left temple. The blood was mostly from his nose and one cut over his eyebrow. Starsky bathed the clenched fist but couldn't pry it open, so he tossed the bloody towel in the shower, emptied the bowl in the toilet, and came back with a bottle of ammonia. A good slosh of the pungent liquid waved under his nose made Hutch groan and roll his head to the side.

"Come on, Babe, wake up. That's a boy."

Hutch made an effort to focus his eyes and tried to sit up. "Gonna be sick," he said. "Help me to the john."

Starsky managed to hoist him up and Hutch held it until he bent over the toilet. He retched so hard the spasms shook his whole body. It was all Starsky could do to ease them both down to their knees. He braced Hutch, alternately flushing the toilet and stroking the clammy forehead, until the spasms subsided. When Hutch was ready, Starsky helped him up to the sink and turned on the water. Hutch rinsed his mouth and splashed water on his face with his right hand.

"Lemme get you to the couch, okay?"

"I'm all right," Hutch said.

Starsky doubted that. Hutch had his hurt hand clamped against his middle, and he was trembling like a thoroughbred at the gate. Starsky stayed close until Hutch made it to the couch.

"What happened? Who did it, Hutch?"

"Kids," Hutch said vaguely. "Doesn't matter. What are you doing?"

"I've gotta take a look at your hand. Open up."

Hutch let Starsky pry his tight-clamped fingers open. The pin fastener of his badge had been bent down at an angle and stabbed into his palm. Starsky's stomach levitated toward his diaphragm.

"You need a doctor."

"No doctor." Hutch was coming back into focus as the pain brightened his eyes.

"There's nerves in there," Starsky protested.

"Just pull it out and soak it."

Starsky's hand tightened on Hutch's knee. "I can't, Babe, I don't want to hurt you."

Hutch pulled away from the comforting touch, his sudden anger flaring. "God damn it, Starsky, I need you! I don't want a doctor who will have to file a report." He saw Starsky's startled reaction and modified his tone. "I'm not mad at you, but I mean it. If it hurts, I fucking well deserve it. Just get it out."

"Okay, okay--lean back for a minute." Starsky settled Hutch more comfortably and started toward the kitchen.

Hutch's eyes had closed. Now they flew open. "Where are you going?"

"I'm just gonna get us a drink."

Starsky poured two generous slugs of Scotch and nursed his own while encouraging Hutch to guzzle his down. The blond wasn't normally much of a drinker. Twenty minutes later he was sweating and vague again, but he seemed in less pain. Starsky took Hutch's nearly empty glass away and settled his own full one on the coffee table. He planted Hutch's right hand on the arm of the sofa.

"You hang on good. Don't get mixed up and deck me, okay, Hutch? Hutch, you in there? What're you gonna do?"

"Deck you." Hutch chuckled, but his right hand tightened on the padded arm of the couch and his eyes cleared a little.

Starsky turned his attention from the battered face to the wounded hand. The metal oval of the badge was flush against the palm. Moving as gently and quickly as he could, Starsky clamped Hutch's hand to his knee and began to pry under the metal. He felt Hutch stiffen, but concentrated on raising the badge high enough to get his fingers and thumb under it. When Hutch's head rocked back on the couch, Starsky stopped. He was shaking almost as badly as his partner.

"Halfway home," he said. "How you doing?"

"Okay--give me a minute." Hutch reached for Starsky's glass and downed the rest of the Scotch. Starsky needed to stay sober, but he could have used another belt himself. Hurting Hutch was worse than hurting himself.

"Wish it was me, Babe," he said, rubbing Hutch's knee.

"You don't know anything about it," Hutch said cuttingly. "Hell, I can't get drunk--let's go."

Starsky was ready, and this time one long pull did it, extracting the pin from Hutch's flesh and a curse from between his clenched teeth.

"Put your head down," Starsky advised. "Back in a minute." He rinsed out the bowl he'd used as a wash basin, ran hot water into it, gave it a splash of ammonia, and settled on the couch next to Hutch. He guided the hurt hand to soak while he rubbed Hutch's tense neck and shoulders. Hutch gradually relaxed and leaned against Starsky until his head was resting on his partner's knee. Starsky kept up the massage, making it as soothing as he could.

"You wanna tell me about it now?" he asked.

Hutch tightened up again. Starsky kept up the smooth circling of his free hand. "How come?" Starsky persisted.

Hutch rocked his head against Starsky's knee. "Can't--" His voice was full of mournful alcoholic certainty.

"Sure you can," Starsky coaxed. "I'm unshockable. You rob a bank on the way over?"

"Thash shu-stupid. Bank's closed."

"But you did get in a fight?"

"How'd you guess?"

Starsky grinned. "How's the other guy?"

"'S a mess."

"Yeah? What'd you hit him with?" Starsky's hand circled. He ran his thumb down the spine, the way Hutch liked it.

"Wha's'at?"

"How come your knuckles ain't bruised?"

Hutch pressed his forehead a little harder against Starsky's knee, as if he were trying to clear his head or hide from the light. "Couldn't hit him," he whispered, and the rest was only a long sigh.

Starsky let his fingers wander up through the warm silk of Hutch's hair, counting on shock, booze and coaxing to get through the blond's defenses.

"Couldn't hit him, huh? Too bad he didn't feel that way about you. Awwww, Hutch. You're gonna have to tell me what's wrong, Babe. I can't fix it till I know." He gripped the drooping shoulder firmly. "You can't hide forever."

Hutch stirred and sat up, cradling his left hand in his right, but he kept his eyes on the floor and didn't respond to an affectionate hug. "You can't fix it," he said.

"So? I'll sympathize. Come on, buddy. What's happening that you let some punk kid beat on you?"

Hutch hesitated, pain and alcohol weakening reserves of silence he had built up over months. Starsky didn't push. Hutch was addicted to truth. Maybe now, in the aftermath of trauma, it would come out.

"He wasn't a punk," Hutch whispered. "He was a hustler. His friends beat on me when they saw my badge. They thought--" Hutch's long throat moved in a swallow. "--they thought I was setting him up."

Hutch wouldn't look at him, so Starsky kept up the encouraging pressure around his shoulder.

"So? What were you doing?"

Beads of sweat were forming over Hutch's upper lip. Starsky could see them in the drab blond of the mustache. Hutch wrenched away from him and stood up, blood draining visibly from his face, his eyes fixed on the blank wall behind the TV set as if some terrible vision confronted him there.

"I was--pricing a blow job--from a scared kid who had the bad luck to look just like you."

It sounded so much like an accusation that Starsky had trouble extracting the meaning from the sound. He almost said, "What?" And then he didn't know what to say. Hutch's secret. Hutch's problem. Wanting him.

Starsky's side was still warm from where he had pulled Hutch against him, and his hand still felt the exact structure of the muscular shoulder and jutting shoulder blade, the texture of the sweat-damp shirt sliding over smooth skin. He tried to pull a coherent thought out of the jumble Hutch had made of his mind.

But Hutch wasn't waiting. "Thanks for the first aid," he said and turned toward the door.

"Hey!" Starsky vaulted the couch and made the door before the unsteady blond could get there. Whatever else was coming down, Hutch could not be allowed to leave in his present condition. Not hurting like that.

Hutch stopped, facing the door, swaying slightly. He turned his head away, but not before Starsky saw something silver slide down his cheek.

"Hutch, are you crying? Shit--don't do that." Unaccustomed tears stung his own eyes.

Hutch looked at him then, making no effort to hide his pain or need. "I tried not to love you, Starsk. I'd die before I'd hurt you. But I can't help wanting--"

The longing in that shamed whisper, the faint hope in the drowned blue eyes spilled tears down Starsky's face, too. He didn't have any answer.

"We'll have to sort it out tomorrow. Right now you need some sleep. Come on."

He ignored the faint negative of the blond head and steered Hutch toward the bedroom, but his own hot tears wouldn't stop flowing while he stripped Hutch out of his bloody clothes and pushed him into the bed. They wouldn't stop while he tossed his own jeans toward a chair and slid into bed himself. "He's my partner!" Starsky wanted to say in defiance to something. The last thing he saw before he turned out the light was the slow leak of tears from Hutch's closed eyes.

Starsky woke to a solid sense of warmth and reflexively cuddled closer until the memory of the night before surfaced. Then his heart missed a beat and picked up tempo as he lay with his forehead pressed against Hutch's shoulder and his body curved around his partner's.

Hutch wanted him. Had been wanting him long enough and bad enough to go looking for a substitute on the street. And Hutch was the best cop Starsky knew. Remembrance of Hutch falling into the light, Hutch straining not to cry out as the bloody pin was pulled from his hand, tightened Starsky's gut. A chill prickled down his spine at the thought of all that might have happened--injury, discovery.

Damn you, Hutch, why couldn't you stay home with someone who loves you? But he knew why. Hutch didn't want the love of a friend or a brother. He wanted what he had to give--an intensity of passion that couldn't be feigned. "I'd die before I'd hurt you," Hutch had said, and Starsky believed it. He had to believe the rest of it, too. Hutch would never settle for accommodation.

I'd die for you, too, Starsky thought. I'd do anything. But there was a void where the kind of feeling Hutch wanted should be.

His mind drifted to problems he could solve. Hutch couldn't take that face to work. He needed time. Starsky disentangled himself and rolled out of bed, picking up the phone on the way to the living room. The dispatcher going off shift took the message that the dynamic duo was hors de combat with possible food poisoning.

"Tell the Captain that Popeye's ribs did us in--been sick all night. I'm gonna unplug the phone and sleep till Monday." That would give them three days. It was always best to be beaten up before a weekend.

As quietly as he could, Starsky put on coffee, brushed his teeth, shaved and showered, but no amount of lather or cogitation brought him closer to feeling what Hutch felt. He pulled on clean shorts and went back to the bed where he knew at once the huddled form was too still to be genuinely asleep. But he slid back in anyway and reached to pull Hutch close.

"Don't."

Starsky settled for a slow massage of Hutch's available shoulder. "I called us in sick. You okay?"

Hutch's silence was eloquent. Starsky sighed, got back out of bed and poured two cups of coffee.

The blond pushed himself up against the pillow. "What are you going to do, Starsky, wipe my nose and get me off out of pity?"

Knowing the deliberate crudeness hid fear, Starsky only shrugged. "I had something else in mind, but if you want it, you've got it." He tried to keep his own voice even, because he meant it and he didn't want to sound scared himself. But what if Hutch-

"Yeah?" Hutch was sneering. "Finding out about Johnny Blaine made you sick. If some faggot put his hands on you, you'd freak out like a fucking virgin."

Hutch wouldn't look up, so Starsky squatted down, still balancing the two cups of coffee. He looked Hutch straight in the eye.

"Well, you ain't 'some faggot,' you're my partner. And I ain't a fucking virgin--least not most ways. Now you want a hand job or a cup of coffee?" He could be crude, too.

Hutch turned pink and reached for the coffee. Starsky relaxed a little, pulled a chair up and propped his feet on the bed next to Hutch's.

"Giving me a treat?" the blond asked. But he sounded more like himself.

"I like it when you look at me," Starsky said. "I like to look at you. It's about seven years too late for bunny suits, and this can't have been going on all that time. How`d it get started?"

"After Gillian, I guess. I hurt so bad, Starsk. The ladies never work out for me, and you were right there doing everything but stand on your head to make me feel better. I don't know why--I just got to thinking. I thought you might notice something after a while--but you didn't. Then I got scared someone else might guess--other guys used to think I was gay, but I never did."

Starsky nodded. No one could help noticing Hutch--and he took his manhood seriously, with that pretty-boy image to fight.

"So then?" he prompted.

"So then I tried other girls, tried jacking off--" The color deepened in Hutch's face. "Tried the streets."

Starsky was examining his coffee cup. "Were you that scared to tell me?"

"I'm still scared."

Starsky looked up then; they both did. "Me, too," Starsky confessed. He felt about ten years old. "I don't want to let you down."

"You never let me down," Hutch said, almost angry.

Until now, Starsky thought, what if I just can't-

"For God's sake, Starsky, you don't have some kind of obligation--" Hutch stopped, took a deep breath. "I've been thinking about this for a long time. It's all new to you. You want me to clear out and give you some breathing space?"

The last thing Starsky wanted to do was let his high-strung partner out of his sight.

"I'm breathing just fine. I wanna look at your hand, grab some breakfast--then maybe head down the coast. Take along some trunks and go swimming if you feel up to it." He realized the innuendo a second after Hutch did. Neither of them commented.

"Sure," said Hutch.

They ate a silent breakfast while Starsky wondered what other pitfalls he would have to avoid. Hutch's hand was a little swollen and inflamed, but only clear fluid oozed out of the puncture when Starsky pressed the skin on either side of it.

"It's all right," Hutch said impatiently. "Let's go."

The tide was full when they got to Huntington Beach, and Starsky parked and led the way to the sand with a tattered quilt over his shoulder. They left jeans, shirts and sneakers on the faded patchwork and trotted out into the surf.

Hutch dived cleanly under an incoming wave, surfaced, and swam out beyond the breakers while Starsky played in the bottle-green swells and waist-high foam, keeping an eye on him.

Hutch was beautiful in the sunlight, smooth muscles working down his back as he cut through the waves in measured strokes. He looked good. He felt good. Starsky had always liked touching his partner, had liked Hutch touching him. He couldn't imagine Hutch doing anything that would hurt or disgust him. But that didn't add up to desire.

Which was funny. Because Hutch, in Starsky's opinion, was not only a good cop, but a nearly perfect person: guts, integrity, strength and compassion in equal balance. It was inconceivable that anyone Hutch wanted wouldn't want him. He'd had women so beautiful they got their names up in lights, that bitch Vanessa most beautiful of all. It just didn't add up that Hutch would want plain, ordinary David Michael Starsky--a man.

The solitary swim didn't improve Hutch's mood. He was as silent as ever when he came back and stretched out face down on the quilt. Starsky sat with him for a moment, not knowing whether to go or stay, his eyes on a group setting up a volleyball net. When Hutch showed no signs of conviviality, Starsky decided he might nap if left alone, so he ambled over to the players.

"Need a hand?" he asked.

An hour later, exhausted and rank with sweat, Starsky returned to find his own things on the quilt and Hutch's gone. He looked up and down the beach for a halo of silver-gilt hair and then struggled into his clothes in a near panic until he found the keys to the car still in his pocket. He squinted at the dazzle of sun reflecting off the water, but realized he wouldn't be able to identify Hutch there.

Although he told himself he was over-reacting, he couldn't stop himself from sprinting across the road for a quick tour of the ice-cream stores, yogurt stands and art galleries. When he actually caught sight of Hutch through the glass front of a bookstore, relief made his knees weak. A clerk approached Hutch and pulled a book from the shelf, opening it to show him something inside. Hutch jerked away and stalked toward the door. Starsky went to meet him. Hutch's face was flaming.

"Evidently I've got 'fag' written on my forehead. Did you have fun?"

Starsky matched the rapid stride of the long legs. "Yeah. I thought you were asleep. Why didn't you come over?"

"Why'd you come after me?"

"'Cause I was hungry," Starsky lied. He made a long arm and anchored his partner, pretending he didn't feel him flinch. "How about a milkshake?"

"How about going home," Hutch said. "I'm not going to grow a whole new personality in one afternoon."

"No reason I should suffer. You got any change?"

Automatically, Hutch dug in his pocket, although they had both been paid only three days before. "What do you do with your money?" he groused, coming out with a handful of change.

"I'm a big tipper. Can't distort my manly form with nickels and dimes." Starsky grabbed the coins and dodged into the ice-cream shop before Hutch could see him blush. He felt the blue eyes on his ass all the way. He was half-surprised to see Hutch still standing there when he returned with two milkshakes.

"Uh--I'm sorry," he said.

Hutch sighed. "It isn't as if I never noticed. I don't know how to talk to you or look at you or touch you now. I did want to tell you I appreciated your not spending the night on the couch. I'm not going to--"

"Shut up and don't be dumb, then maybe I can manage. Let's go back to the car. I feel like driving."

Back in the car Hutch finished the milkshake he hadn't ordered and tossed the container in the back seat. His own car, poorly maintained and none-too-reliable, was a rolling compost heap. After a moment he slid down and braced one knee against the dashboard, leaned his head back on the top of the seat. Starsky made no concessions to the Friday traffic, but the rhythm of braking and acceleration was as familiar as a rocking chair. Hutch's eyes closed, his bruised lips parted, and the frown line between his brows smoothed out in sleep.

Starsky drove south beside the glittering sea. The steady hum of the engine was soothing, and he let the miles and minutes flow. Short of La Jolla he stopped to gas up, thinking Hutch would wake, but the blond only turned away from the sun and hunched into a more comfortable position. His forehead and cheeks were pink, and his left hand, resting open on the seat, showed a center of white around the puncture and then a red ring.

"You got a temperature or a sunburn?" Starsky asked, feeling Hutch's forehead. Hutch's eyelashes, colorless blond or tinsel-bright as the sun caught them, stirred against his cheek, but he didn't wake. The iris-hued bruise under his eye made him look like a fallen angel.

"Got to do something for that hand," Starsky said. He signed the credit slip for the gas and pulled away from the reek of the station into a Payless parking lot. "Mind the store," he told Hutch as he left the car.

The temperature in the Torino was up twenty degrees by the time he got back. Hutch only cracked an eye when Starsky spread ointment on the wounded hand, then settled back to sleep again. Starsky slid back into traffic, grateful for the breeze and turned east toward the mountains.

"Nobody can say you ain't a good listener," he told Hutch. Hutch didn't stir.

The air cleared but didn't cool as they climbed toward Alpine. For long stretches the red Torino was the only car on the road, popping bubbles in the asphalt. From time to time a meadowlark spilled song through the burning afternoon, or a gust of sage or pine puffed through the open window. Starsky gave the little mountain town the go-by, heading south and down. The road descended in a series of curves to the salt-white desert floor, then straightened out for the run to the Mexican border.

They crossed into Tecate with a wave from a bored guard, and Starsky paused just long enough to counter the effects of dehydration with a dark beer so cold it had icy slush in the neck of the bottle.

Hutch finally woke up when the back road from Tecate joined the toll road along the coast. Starsky handed him a warmer version of the beer. The sun was heading for China down the cloudless sky, colored like a California poppy, and Hutch's long throat took color from it as he tilted his head back to drink.

"Where are we?" he asked in a voice husky with heat and sleep.

"Coming up on the world-famous Rosarita Beach Hotel. Thought we might stay over. Go snorkeling tomorrow."

"Oh." Hutch flicked him a pale unreadable look, then stared ahead again, his eyes ice blue and indifferent.

In the dim, cool hotel lobby Starsky waved Hutch toward the dining room. "I'll check us in. Order me lobster, two of 'em and nothing else."

In spite of that, the lobster was preceded by a crisp salad and accompanied by fritata, pilaf and a bottle of Gewurztraminer. Hutch worked his way silently through the meal as if he were paid to eat instead of the other way around.

Starsky leaned back when the coffee came and indicated their surroundings--the arches, French doors, potted plants, white linen and heavy cutlery. "Reminds me of Casablanca. I could get used to living like this."

"It's a little too far from L.A. to commute."

Starsky flung an arm over the back of his chair. "Wouldn't be a cop if I was rich. Hang around with the jet set."

"In a tatty leather jacket."

Starsky leaned forward earnestly. "Listen, Hutch, if you're really rich you don't have to give a shit. That's probably why the service was so good. They figure anyone sloppy as us must not give a damn."

"You're sure it doesn't have anything to do with the twenty I slipped the maitre d' to let in two scumbags without ties?"

Starsky tossed his napkin on the table in disgust. "Spoilsport. You finished? We're in a bungalow down by the beach."

"Sure."

Hutch relapsed into silence again, and Starsky led the way through gardens heavy with scent where oleanders and hibiscus edged the paths and bird-of-paradise fought stiff anthuriums for space. The bungalow was whitewashed adobe inside and out, with a red tile roof over heavy exposed beams. A handful of fire, mere symbol of hospitality, crackled and hissed in an angle between two walls, and the hush and whisper of the gentle surf drifted in through louvered windows. There was one king-sized bed with a gilded headboard and a brown velvet spread.

"Nice, huh?" Starsky took off his jacket and tossed it at a chair. "There's some things I picked up in the bathroom. I got some medicine for your hand and some toothbrushes and junk."

Hutch obediently went into the bathroom to investigate. Starsky walked to the fire and stood watching the flames.

"Starsk?" Hutch had taken off his jacket too and was standing in the door holding a blue-and-white tube in his hand. Starsky could feel the blue crystal stare clear across the room. Hutch's voice was soft, carefully neutral, as he asked, "Did you pick this up, too?"

Starsky faced around and looked from the tube of KY to Hutch's intent face. "Figured we might need it," he said. His voice was almost steady.

For a long moment Hutch just looked at him, then down at the tube in his hand. He put it aside and came closer where the firelight set up a moving play of light and shadow over his face. His height and the width of his shoulders were suddenly noticeable, making Starsky feel small.

"Is this what you want?"

Starsky forced his eyes to stay steady on Hutch's. "I don't want to lose you, and I don't want you goin' on the streets. You'll have to show me the rest."

Hutch nodded, accepting the truth of that. He bent his head. It was a gentle kiss--just the butterfly brush of Hutch's lips and the faint tickle of mustache--gentle but warming.

"Bad?" Hutch murmured against Starsky's lips.

"Could be better."

They tried it again, more thoroughly, and it was definitely better. Starsky felt the second kiss--and the third--slip directly into his bloodstream and tingle through his entire body. Hutch was hardly touching him, not asking for response, but moving ceaselessly from lips to eyes to temples, bestowing kisses as he went. This was not what Starsky had expected or what he thought Hutch wanted, but it felt too good to stop in the name of altruism, especially when the lips parted under his ear and a wet tongue licked its way down the side of his neck and around the base of his throat. He tilted his head back helplessly as the tongue continued its path to the other ear and Hutch's hands contributed a soft circling on his back.

"Like that?" Hutch whispered in his ear.

"Uh--" Starsky's hands were pulling Hutch closer of their own accord, and it seemed like a waste of time to discuss the obvious.

"Thought so. I'm going to kiss you everywhere," Hutch promised, nuzzling his hair. Starsky let himself relax against the solid body, his head on Hutch's shoulder, while the soft lips found the back of his neck, inside his collar. His shirttails were tugged free, and Hutch's hands stroked his back--soothing, relaxing the chills his kisses and words were creating. "I've wanted to kiss you forever."

Starsky pulled back and offered his mouth again, let Hutch's lips open his, met Hutch's tongue halfway in slick exploration. Hutch brought his hands forward, pulling the front of Starsky's shirt loose, playing gently with the soft pelt fuzzing his chest and stomach. A tingling, prickling pleasure answered his touch. Starsky became aware that he had closed his eyes, and he opened them again as Hutch took his hands away. Hutch was smiling as he reached for the shirt's top button, and the happiness on his face pierced his partner like a knife. How long had it been since Hutch had been happy?

"Take yours off, too," Starsky whispered, fumbling past Hutch's hands to unbutton his shirt and return this delicious stroking. Hutch was silky to touch, but the strong muscles of his back worked under Starsky's hands as the blond bent to kiss and nip along Starsky's collarbone. Starsky was achingly aware that none of that strength was being used to hold him. Hutch's hands on his back and sides were as gentle as his kissing exploration down Starsky's chest.

The firelight was striking gold from Hutch's hair, and the fire-laced sweetness of his mouth was settling right through Starsky's flesh to the marrow of his bones.

"You taste salty," Hutch said. "Sea salt and sweat and the Torino. Soupçon of sagebrush."

Starsky himself thought he smelled more like Vinnie's gym on a hot night. "Maybe I should grab a shower, huh?" he suggested uneasily.

"Mmmm," said Hutch against his neck. "Maybe we should."

An unusual absence of gravity under his belt buckle reminded Starsky that showers were generally taken without clothes, and he experienced a sudden, absurd anxiety about the etiquette of removing one's shorts: In the bedroom? In the bathroom? Back turned or full front?

Hutch read his mind, because his warm fingers slipped firmly inside Starsky's waistband, thumbs resting on the belt buckle. "I'll take care of it," he said.

Starsky raised his chin a little at the challenge and the understanding grin. After all, he was the one who had made the remark about bunny suits. For a moment he thought, That was just this morning? Things seemed different when you weren't involved. Right now he felt awfully involved. Hutch was waiting for permission, and Starsky's lips felt stiff as he said, "Go ahead," and thought, I'm lightheaded. There isn't enough oxygen in here.

Hutch kissed him again, confirming the anoxia, and tugged his belt momentarily tight to unfasten it, unbuttoned his jeans, and slowly pulled the zipper down. Starsky could hear the distinctive sound, feel his cock shift to take advantage of new freedom. His body felt real and present, but his mind was somewhere in an upper corner of the room, looking down from a distance. Hutch let go and the jeans started to slide. The blond followed them down with eyes, hands, and lips, and Starsky watched dizzily as he lifted each foot, pried the sneakers off, and pulled the socks and jeans free. Slowly he raised his eyes and hands up the bronze legs with their feathering of dark hair.

"Anybody ever kiss your knees before?" he asked, and did it.

Starsky dropped from the ceiling back into himself with a rush. "For God's sake, Hutch!"

But knowing hands were lightly skimming the edges of his briefs, around his legs, his belly, the small of his back. He couldn't flinch away from the delicate attack; he was far too close to Hutch. But he couldn't stand still either, or he would explode with tension. The mouth struck as suddenly as a snake and covered his navel, sucking hard.

Starsky grabbed for his shorts himself, only to have his wrists caught and held away from his body as Hutch ran the tip of his tongue from hipbone to hipbone along the top of the elastic. It was more than Starsky could stand. His cock jumped, and he thrust forward against Hutch's face and then froze.

Lazily, deliberately, the blond stroked first one side of his face and then the other against the warm bulge under the fabric, like a cat asking to be petted. He sighed, and Starsky felt the warm exhalation on his balls. A tremor shook his thighs, and his knees where Hutch had kissed them felt liquidly weak.

"Kiss you everywhere," Hutch repeated as he released Starsky's hands and drew the fabric down at last, freeing the scimitar curve of Starsky's cock. He gave it one kiss as a reminder and moved away, around Starsky's groin and hip and ass, turning his half-hypnotized partner like a mannequin, kissing, licking, breathing in the scent of arousal until the straining, lifting cock rubbed once again against his cheek. Starsky's hands were combing the blond silk out of his eyes as he looked up, blue gaze meeting blue.

Hutch opened his mouth and deliberately licked the hot, pulsing shaft. "Still want to shower first?" he asked.

Starsky saw Hutch's lips parting, saw the glint of white teeth, and the red tongue reaching for his wine-dark cock. Every image was haloed in a burst of light against surrounding dark--unfocused, yet shockingly, erotically explicit, as Hutch sucked him in in slow motion and he thrust deep and came at the first touch of his cock at the back of the hot, constricting throat. The explosion was so strong it broke him in pieces, so sweet he almost died.

When he could breathe again, Starsky was flat on the floor and Hutch's bright head was pillowed on his stomach. Starsky reached down with a shaking hand and traced his partner's profile--forehead, nose, and passion-swollen lips. "What's it like?" he whispered.

Hutch closed his eyes and smiled. "Heaven." After a moment he rolled his head so he could look at his partner. His clear blue eyes were brilliant with pleasure. "You're like satin, Starsk--so smooth--and hard as steel underneath. You curve just right to fit my mouth and throat. With my tongue I could feel your pulse, and when you came, so hot and strong, I wanted to swallow your whole cock. I did swallow you. You're inside me." Hutch laid his hand on his stomach.

Starsky blinked back tears. He didn't deserve that much love. He hadn't earned it.

"And you know what?" Hutch continued. "Your cock is the most beautiful color in the world. It's the color of desire."

Hutch, you're killing me. Don't love me so much I can't match it.

"Yeah?" Starsky stroked the golden head softly. "Well, I ain't no poet, but you look like sunflowers and vanilla ice cream to me. Don't know if I should keep you to look at or gobble you up."

The brilliant eyes smiled at him. "Whatever makes you happy."

Starsky knew Hutch meant it. He could stop now, leave Hutch pinned down under fire--just walk off and leave his partner without a backup. Starsky hadn't done anything. Nobody could call him names. He squirmed free and settled Hutch's head gently on the carpet. He knelt up and reached down to trail his fingers over Hutch's chest. Satin? Hutch's whole body was like satin, skin as tender as a baby's. Starsky trailed his knuckles down the line of the long throat, the hollow between the collarbones, the midline of Hutch's chest to his waist. Muscles tensed then, as he unfastened Hutch's jeans. He was careful as he pulled the zipper down over the obvious bulge at the crotch.

"No games, Babe. I wanna look at you. Lift up."

Hutch raised his hips, and Starsky slid jeans and shorts down his thighs. Look what he's been hiding, Starsky thought. Hutch's cock was thick and long, and it lifted toward Starsky as he looked at it. He took it in his hand, and Hutch thrust up once, his hands gripping the shag carpet, his head rolling.

The cock swelled and hardened in Starsky's hand. More? What a monster. But Starsky tightened his grip and began to pump strongly from the golden fleece to the rose-flushed tip, timing his rhythm to the thrust of the bond's arching hips. Hutch's whole body was trembling, and clear drops oozed from his cock. He wouldn't be able to hold it long. He wouldn't be able to handle this without a backup. When it's just too much for one person, that's when you need your partner.

Starsky turned parallel to Hutch, reached across his belly to brace himself and bent down. He kissed the pink glans, let it part his lips and slide in, until Hutch's cock stretched and filled his mouth. He heard Hutch from far away, cursing or calling his name as he stroked, sucked, swallowed and gagged, pulling response from the thrashing, ecstatic blond who shouted and spurted the scalding result into his partner's mouth. Starsky swallowed and swallowed until the last drop was gone and Hutch went soft and slipped away. Starsky's heart was pounding as if he'd been in a shoot-out, and an unexpected tenderness flooded through him. He'd made it. They'd both made it. He cupped Hutch's relaxing balls in his hand and kissed the wrinkled velvet.

"God, Starsk. Come and kiss me up here. I'm too weak to move."

He slid up and Hutch kissed him deeply, holding him tight, silently communicating his love, his gratitude. Starsky cuddled closer, reveling in the sensation of that long, strong body pressed to his. Earned now. He kissed Hutch's neck, felt the shiver he caused travel through Hutch's entire body. He couldn't believe he felt so much sensation, couldn't believe he caused so much.

"If you're so smart," he whispered, "how come you never thought of this before."

Hutch returned the kiss. "You give me so much, babe. It seemed greedy to want more. I still don't know--" A different shiver shook him, not desire. "I'm not doing you any favor--"

"That's funny, it sure felt like a favor," Starsky said, but he knew what Hutch meant. He could give Hutch covering fire, but he couldn't make the bad guys stop shooting. Maybe, even after this, maybe Hutch couldn't handle it. "We don't have to decide anything yet," he offered, feeling a little lost.

Hutch relaxed against him again, seemingly unable to stop the slow glide of his hands over any part of his partner he could reach. "Oh? I thought you had decided something...." His tone was teasing now. "Or is there some other cocksucker in the room?"

It was said to shock him, and Starsky had to admit that it did, though not as much as Hutch's hand moving between them to touch his cock again, to cup his balls and hold them. It was true. He had sucked Hutch's cock, kissed his balls, and he was starting to tingle again, wondering about the next step. His cock showed it, nudging Hutch's hand for more. Cocksucker--

"There better not be," Starsky said, "'cept you. And watch who you're calling dirty names. You might give me ideas."

Hutch pulled back so he could see his partner's face, and Starsky looked down between their bodies to watch Hutch's hand on his cock. Hutch was making him hard again--on purpose. Starsky reached down and stopped him, then leaned forward to kiss the beautiful, bruised face.

"It was your idea first," he whispered.

Hutch had turned away from the fire, so the light that swept his face had to be an illusion--or pure love--but the sight of it strengthened Starsky's commitment. If it meant that much, he would have given Hutch his heart on a platter. He wanted Hutch to have everything beautiful and good in the whole world. Everything he wanted.

"We're going awfully fast, Starsk. You sure you're not scared?"

Starsky was sure, under that celestial gaze. "I've seen a lot, Babe. Only thing that scares me is seeing it without you. I love you, Hutch."

"I love you too, Starsk--God, how I love you!"

For a long moment, Hutch just held him close, then he pulled back again, propped himself up on an elbow. "Let's not rush, okay? Let's get that shower and go slow."

Starsky nodded and Hutch unfolded himself, kicked his impeding jeans away, and pulled his dark-haired partner up after him. In the bathroom two showerheads sprayed into a tile tub big enough to swim in. The soap was real, honest-to-god soap and not two slivers wrapped in paper. The towels were bathsheets.

"How much did you pay for this place?" Hutch asked as he turned on the taps.

"Enough to get my back scrubbed. It's great, isn't it? Shoulda brought the snorkels down here." Starsky tested the spray and stepped under it. "C'mon in, the water's fine."

Hutch didn't need persuading, and in a moment the water was beading and trickling down both bodies. Starsky reached for the soap, but Hutch took it out of his hand.

"What's a partner for?" he shouted over the rush of water and began, none too expertly, by holding Starsky's head under the spray. Since drowning was accompanied by the press of Hutch's body, Starsky resigned himself, but the knee between his and the nip on his shoulder had an amazingly enlivening effect, as Hutch lathered first his hair, then his chest, transferring the suds to his own person through a series of serpentine contortions. Starsky went under the spray again.

"You're supposed to be washing my back!" he sputtered.

"I will. You're supposed to be relaxing!" Hutch shouted manically back.

"I'll relax you." Starsky shook his head like a retriever, momentarily blinding Hutch, and grabbed for his partner's ribs.

The blond curled away from the tickling fingers, and the soap escaped to the floor. "Starsk, d-d-don't!" And Hutch followed the soap, laughing too hard to protect himself.

"Say Manischewitz!"

"Never!"

Starsky followed up his advantage in spite of guarding elbows and knees and a distracting view between Hutch's legs. "Say it!"

"All right, you win-Manischewitz, Manischewitz!" Hutch blinked tears of laughter out of his eyes, and they sat under the spray, catching their breath, grinning at each other like idiots.

"Put the plug in," Starsky advised. Hutch got up on hands and knees to do that and switched the water from the shower to the tub spigot, a modest affair of bronze and crystal in the form of a flying swan. His ass, milk white and beaded with crystal drops, was too much temptation for Starsky. He kissed one cheek and licked up a drop of water. Hutch flinched away.

"Don't make me feel too good, Babe. There's a method in my madness. Can I see how tight you are? Just lie back."

Hutch had the soap again, and he rubbed the tight curls in Starsky's groin to foam before clasping his balls gently and then sliding his hand under water to feel between his cheeks. Starsky relaxed to the swirling water and the soft touch. He felt one finger penetrate, and then, with a little discomfort, two. Even with his eyes closed, he could feel Hutch watching his face, and he deliberately tightened and relaxed around the motionless fingers without changing expression.

"You doing anything yet?" he asked.

Hutch began to move his hand, spreading his fingers, forcing the strong ring of muscle back while his other hand did delightful, distracting things to Starsky's cock and balls. Starsky thrust up against the penetration, testing his limits, and Hutch let him set the rhythm until they could both feel the muscle relax a little. Hutch added a third finger, easing in, just letting Starsky hold him.

Hutch's hand, thought Starsky. Nobody touched me there before Hutch. Doesn't hurt much. Three fingers ain't a cock either. Yeah, but it'll be Hutch, right to the hilt. Right to the heart.

"What are you thinking?" Hutch's voice was soft, almost awestruck.

Slowly Starsky opened his eyes. By his expression, Hutch could have been watching a miracle instead of plain Dave Starsky with his knobby knees against his chest and his partner's fingers up his ass.

"You," Starsky said, seeing a miracle too. He didn't think Hutch's eyes could get brighter, but he was wrong.

"Yeah," Hutch said, pulling free. "Let's go to bed."

Getting patted dry with a lush towel was a luxury Starsky thought he could get used to-although hardly a necessity. The way he felt, the water ought to disappear in a puff of steam, and Hutch, his hard-on clumsily poking Starsky's belly and hip, totally forgot to dry himself. Starsky let himself be led to the king-sized bed, but he was the one with enough foresight to toss back the blanket and spread. Hutch was too busy stroking and kissing whatever portion of Starsky's anatomy he could reach. Starsky pulled the excited blond after him into the sheets, and for a moment they rolled and wrestled with so much intensity that Starsky thought Hutch would come right then and spoil it all. He gripped the broad shoulders and pushed Hutch back.

"You forget what we came for?"

"I remember who I came for. God, Starsk, you're so sexy-feel good, taste good-"

"Fuck good," insisted Starsky with a little more bravado than he actually felt. He ran his hand down the lightly tanned chest to Hutch's white belly and the golden curls around his cock. He watched Hutch's eyes brighten again, his lips part. Heat swirled through Starsky, with an icy excitement that would have been fear with anyone but Hutch, feeling the length and hardness of that monster cock, wondering what it would feel like in him.

Hutch nodded and reached for the KY on the stand. He squeezed clear jelly onto the first two fingers of his right hand. He gave the tube to Starsky and said, "Put it on me," as he urged his partner's knees up and began to spread the coolness between his buttocks and around and into his anus. Starsky bent almost double to reach Hutch's cock and polish it 'til it shone. He shivered, contrasting the probing fingers and the hot shaft in his hand.

Hutch was starting to shake too, and he pulled back, hands on Starsky's thighs, eyes intent. "I can stop any time, Starsk. Promise you'll tell me if you want me to."

You could do it, Starsky thought. Not sure I could. "Promise," he said, and rolled over. Hutch guided him into the new position, spreading his knees apart, pulling his ass up and back against the stiff rod behind him. Starsky's heart was thundering, and a core of excitement speared through him, constricting his vitals.

Hutch's hands parted him, squeezed his ass, and then his paired thumbs slipped inside, rubbing, stretching, making room for his cock. Starsky felt the head of it press against him and tightened reflexively. Hutch froze, and Starsky made himself relax, open. Come on, Hutch, he thought stupidly, door's open. And somewhere Hutch was pleading, Let me in, Babe, please let me in, and the slow slide in and in was like falling back together from two mountain peaks, two prison sentences, two separate lives. This is where we really live.

"God, Hutch, move, do it again!"

He did. Six billion newborn nerve endings reported withdrawal, re-entry, withdrawal in a speeding rhythm beyond control or endurance until the whole universe was flooded with one white flash that broke up into glittering confetti and vanished into the dark.

Dark of reality in a firelit room, sheets tangled and damp around them. Hutch was heavy on Starsky's back, slipping wetly out of him. The edge of a tooth grazed Starsky's shoulder, panting breath scorched him. His whole body was so consumed with sensation he was afraid to move-gray curl of newsprint after a bonfire-one touch and he would crumble to ash.

"S-Starsk?"

It seemed open for debate. Starsky had enjoyed sex since he was fourteen, alone or with a partner, but he had never, never felt anything that intense. Hell, being shot wasn't that intense.

Hutch slid off, keeping one leg over his, wrapping one arm around his ribs. Starsky felt a kiss against his shoulder and seriously considered returning it. Sometime next year.

"Thank you," Hutch said softly.

Thank him? The universe had just exploded and Hutch hadn't noticed. "Put your hand under me," Starsky said, raising his hips just enough. Hutch's hand slid into the sticky wetness there, and Starsky settled down again. "If you don't notice anything else, that's because it exploded like a rocket. Probably never grow back."

"Idiot."

Starsky rolled over. "My God, Hutch, you don't have any idea. I fainted." Hutch reached for him in concern. "From sex," Starsky said with emphasis.

"I didn't hurt you?"

"I guess. Doesn't matter. No kidding," he said, his voice softening. "Nothing was ever like that. S'pose I've been gay all along?"

Hutch pushed the curls back from his forehead, petting, but a frown was furrowing his own brow. "Doesn't it bother you?"

Starsky could see it bothered Hutch, but he couldn't summon the guilt he should. "If I started groping little kids it would-but I ain't expecting to get charged up over any guy but you."

"What if they get charged up over you?"

"Who but you would?"

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Nothing, just that you're the beauty-contest candidate around here. How can you blame 'em, Hutch, when you go around looking like that?"

The blue eyes hardened. "Like what?"

"Beautiful." Starsky clamped a hand over Hutch's mouth before he could deny the compliment. He repeated it. "You're beautiful, Hutch. You look like the Fourth of July with flags flying and blue sky and a brass band-and then you look like something to put on top of a Christmas tree all full of candles and snow. Everybody notices you. It ain't no comment on your personality. You're special."

The mustache tickled his palm as Hutch kissed the silencing hand, but his frown only abated; it didn't disappear.

"What bothers you, Babe," Starsky removed his, "don't you want to love me?"

"God, yes. It's not that. If we were the only ones in the world it would be fine, but I don't want to have to hide how I feel. Hell, I don't know if I can. This way-- The department, our friends, every punk on the street is going to have something to say, and I'll feel like I'm bringing it all down on you-"

Starsky gathered the lanky blond close and cuddled him. Shit. People were trying to kill them five days out of seven, and Hutch was worried about what they would say? How could he get through the endlessly recycled guilt that was a Hutchinson specialty? So useless to worry about tomorrow. They might never have one. As far as Starsky was concerned, people could keep their opinions to themselves-with their teeth-or send out for dentures.

"You're not," was all he could say. "Don't worry so much. We can handle it." He settled more comfortably against the moist body, enjoying the newly familiar textures-silky skin, round velvety balls, soft, spent cock in its wiry curls. "One day at a time, Hutch."

The blond relaxed a little at the familiar reminder. "Hell of a day," he said, his chin resting on the top of Starsky's head.

Starsky's jaws cracked in a gigantic yawn, and he grunted agreement. "It'll be okay," he said again, as if repetition were some kind of guarantee. "See you in the morning."

"Mmmmm" was all the answer he got.

It really will, Hutch, Starsky reiterated mentally. Because if the world ain't the way you want it, I'll start taking it apart tomorrow.

Starsky woke still wondering about that shadow on Hutch's happiness. Enough, he thought. There's better things to think about. The sunlight stretched across one white wall in thin stripes from the louvered windows. Birds in the garden outside were challenging anyone to trespass in their domain. Hutch had burrowed down during the night. His face was pressed against Starsky's waist and his arms were loosely curled around his hips. A welling warmth gathered in Starsky's groin. He wasn't about to disturb that grip, but he had to reach down and stroke the tangled wheat-pale hair where it tried to curl on Hutch's neck.

His partner. His lover. A thrill went through his body at the memory of that explosive ecstasy. Starsky's side was alternately warm and cool as Hutch exhaled and inhaled. The regular alternation was stirring some very good feelings not far south. Starsky's resolution about not waking Hutch wavered, and his hands tightened in the shining hair. He let go guiltily as Hutch sighed and lifted his head.

The azure eyes blinked open and focused on the darker stare bent down on him. He realized his position, Starsky's arousal, and what had gone before all at once, and a tide of crimson burned up his face clear to his hairline.

Starsky was fascinated by the display. What was so different about daylight, he wondered. But then Hutch ran a hand up his side and onto his chest, pulling the hair softly, rimming one nipple with his thumb. Starsky gasped and arched up, his cock throbbing. Hutch scooted up and glanced down at the result of his caress, then repeated it, only this time he pinched both nipples hard, and Starsky almost bucked him off the bed, thrusting helplessly upwards, his cock jabbing the air.

It was obvious that Starsky was almost out of control at that first touch, and it took Hutch a moment to capture the straining erection and start a rhythmic sucking and stroking to channel its release into his mouth. He sucked the last drop and quiver out of his partner's body and then moved up to kiss the dazed face. Starsky's whole body was misted with a sudden dew of perspiration, and his eyes were bewildered.

"We met last night," Hutch reminded him.

"You, I know," Starsky gasped. "Me, I'm not so sure about. Hutch? How did you do that?"

Hutch shook his head, toying with the springy hair on Starsky's chest again, this time with merely pleasant results, not electricity. "I hate to tell you this, buddy, but I didn't do much at all. You always wake up that hot?"

Starsky blinked back a tear or two and sat up shakily. He was still staring at Hutch as if he didn't quite believe him. "Well, I will if you will," he said after a moment. "'Least, until my heart gives out. How you doing?"

"I don't think I've recovered from last night," Hutch said. "You were-" He shook his head. "I don't know enough words, Starsk. You're strong and brave and beautiful-" embarrassment at so much sentiment was bringing the blush back "-and you've got a world-class ass!" He pasted a sudden sloppy kiss on Starsky's smiling mouth and bounced off the bed. "Haul it out so we can go get breakfast."

Starsky hauled it and managed to shower, shave and brush his teeth with only a few collisions with the tall white-and-gold body getting ready around him, but he hesitated as he picked up his jeans.

"I hate to get dressed again."

"You'd be a little conspicuous if you didn't."

Conspicuous. He zipped his jeans and shrugged into his shirt. The whole hot, gritty, opinionated world was waiting outside their door, and they weren't the only ones in it. He couldn't really change how other people felt.

"What's the matter?" Hutch asked, acutely sensitive to his mood.

"Kiss me again," Starsky said. "I just realized I'm gonna have to wait a while."

Hutch obliged, and Starsky leaned into him, cherishing the strength of the arms around him, the solidity of the warm body, the way they struck the right balance with a single center of gravity between them, new but familiar. Could that shared center really make up for the other things that had cut Hutch so deep?

" I'll try to make you happy, he promised.

Hutch opened the door and a new, cool breeze blew in. There was no scorpion sting to the light. The air was fresh with flower scents, not overburdened with hydrocarbons.

"Hey, Starsk, air worth breathing." Hutch lifted his shining head and took a deep breath. "Heatwave's over."

Hutch's face was as bright and rested as the morning. I'm good for him, Starsky thought with a lifting heart. He pulled in a lungful of coolness.

"The air's fine," he said. "But, Babe--the heatwave's just beginning."

The End


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