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Corduroy Starsky

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I almost died once. I was the focus of a hit from Gunther Industries, and Hutch says that by the time he got to me, I was as still as a stone, lying with my head in a wheel well, dripping red from bullet wounds he couldn't even begin to staunch. I don't remember any of it except that when I woke up from that coma, the first thing I saw was Hutch's eyes, like blue stars shining through a fog. Then, as my body and my brain woke up slowly, inch by inch, I was able to take in the rest of him. His shoulders were hooked forward as though they'd been bent by an enormous burden, and his face was lined and dark like he'd been traced with ink. He was tired, all over, tired and bruised and sore, and I hated seeing him like that. Oh, sure, he was elated to see me awake, but what it had cost him to stand guard over me echoed in every curve, every muscle, right down to the bone. I never wanted to see him like that again, never wanted him to worry about me like that, never wanted him to look like he would just up and die if I left him. I was never going to leave him, ever. I just needed a way to tell him that.

There was tons of medical stuff that got in the way, though, and we were never alone, not even the night he snuck in an Italian feast for me. Yeah, Hutch, he'd not forgotten he owed me a three-course and very expensive meal; the stuffed veal was the best I'd ever tasted, melting on my tongue like fine spring air and chased down by large gulps of good white wine. But better than that was Hutch laying himself down on the bed beside me, pulling the blankets over him as well as me, as if the blankets and the bed were his to arrange and I was his to lie down next to. In the slight chill of the hospital room, his thighs made me shiver with contact heat, his ribs, solid next to me, his arms and hands, as he waved them about, touching me without meaning to. And as he laughed, sniggering uncontrollably, he shook the bed. Giving solace unawares, telling me without words and, for the first time, making me absolutely sure I was going to make it out of that hospital and not in a body bag. Then the sprinklers came on, the nurses rushed in to make a fuss, and the party was over.

But before he left, Hutch, still staggering drunk enough so that he had to get a cab home, snuck past the nurses one more time. He came through the door and over to my bed, absolutely silent, his smile like a shy moon in the half-lighting of the hospital room. As he ducked over me, I could hear him breathe, could see the flicker of concern in his eyes that he tried to hide as he brushed his hand up my arm and cupped the back of my neck with the curve of his fingers.

"They're kicking me out, Starsk," he said. "But I'll see you in the morning. Early and with food, so be ready."

His fingers trailed away as we both heard the footsteps of the night nurse coming. Then, with a flicker of a smile, he went out the door. I slept very well that night, believe me, knowing he was coming back. And dreamed of blankets of gold velvet.

Sometimes, when I think back on this, I wonder who touched who first, as if it were a contest. Not one I'd be sorry to lose, mind you, but a contest just the same. Really, I think it was Hutch. To me, touching was only used for shoving and grabbing and pushing people down. Hutch used touch to reach out. I'm sure there are plenty of drug addicts, derelicts, and smelly old whores who still think of Hutch and how he touched them. And they smile as they remember the stirring of warmth left by the passage of his fingertips. Except, you know, I don't think he realized he was doing it, even from the start, even at the academy. Little reachings out, checking for the receptiveness of his fellows and withdrawing quicker than a barnacle when there was none.

Oh, I'm not saying I was the only one to ever be receptive to Hutch's kindness. There is a large, vast army of men, women, and children who will one day (God forbid) gather at Hutch's graveside. So many people that for miles there will be standing room only of those who will attest to having been the happy recipient of Hutch's reaching out. What I am saying is that I responded from the beginning and have always responded.

The first time was during one of our courses at the academy and he turned to offer me a stick of gum. Big deal, right? A whole nickel's worth, in those days. But as I reached for it, I suddenly realized how much I wanted that gum, because it was Hutch's gum. I'm sure my face reflected it in that Christmas-morning look my mom said I got when I was really excited about something. But there's a great deal of distance between that stick of gum and what Hutch eventually began giving me.

Although if you knew me before I knew Hutch, you wouldn't have believed it because when I was a kid, I wanted to be a gangster. In my neighborhood, the gangster was the cool guy. They all had slick cars, never walked anywhere, wore sunglasses that hid their eyes, and were made all the more interesting because our mothers warned us away from them. They hurt people when they wanted to, they took what they wanted, and you never ever saw them touching anything except to take it or to kill it. I never wanted to be a cop, though, because in my neighborhood that was some joker with a Billy club who would beat winos with it in one hand while holding out his other, palm up, for his monthly take. That was the take for looking the other way, while some guy in a hand-sewn suit coat calmly shot the corner grocer who wouldn't pay up his protection money.

Then my dad got killed. No one ever explained to me the hows or the whys of that, and I never wanted to ask my mom about it, either. Not with that expression she began wearing on her face soon after. The only thing I knew was that Joe Durniack paid for all the expenses of the funeral and took up a collection for what was left of the Starsky family. Even so, Mom never had a civil word to say to him when he would stop by of a Sunday, his hat in his hand, dark suit lint free.

And me? I ran wild in the streets. Joined a gang, and I felt like I really belonged. Kinda makes me giggle, we thought we were that tough. Only we said it like it sounded to us: t-u-f-f. In those days, if you wore dark sunglasses and your blue jeans were too tight, you were considered a bit on the dangerous side. I think the baddest thing we ever did was hassle the laundry guy who worked in the shop two blocks over from our apartment. His name was Mr. Chun. One day we were inside his shop, pulling our eyes tight to look Chinese and making fun of the way he talked. Usually he took it with good humor, for some reason, but that day my mom happened to be walking by, Nicky in tow, on her way back from some errand. She marched right into that store, plowed her way through the gang of tuff boys, and yanked me outta there by my ear. She was plenty pissed but waited until we were home to lay into me, asking what did I think I'd been doing? When I gave her some flip answer (I'd been practicing my casual air for about two solid weeks at that time) she smacked me so hard I almost fell over. Could taste blood in my mouth.

I remember looking up at her, my face stinging, my mouth tasting bad, and there were tears in her eyes. You want to set a bad example for Nicky, she demanded of me then, show him how to treat the world like scum, like that idiot Durniack and his goon friends? I didn't quite know what to say, never having liked it when I had to let Nicky tag along. Never, she said, never ever let me see you going at someone like I just saw you just because that person is different, talks different, is a different color. You hear me?

I didn't often see Mom get that worked up over anything. Not even when Dad died did I see that intense look in her eye that made me feel like she could pound her way to the center of the earth if she wanted to. I nodded and mumbled something that meant yes, while trying to act as if it didn't matter. But I guess it mattered, because after that, I made, like, hassling the laundry guy was chump change, and didn't we want more excitement than that? So we started shoplifting. It was a whole lot more exciting and definitely more profitable. We could sell the stuff at recess, or trade it for other stuff. Naturally, one day, we did some five-fingered discounts at the wrong store.

Wrong store, wrong day, wrong street, wrong state. Wrong everything. Who owned the store? Mr. Durniack, that's who. We got caught by the man himself that day. I had about a half-dozen 33 records stuffed in my pants when his hand clamped down on my shoulder. He dragged me home and demanded retribution of my mother. He never quite came out and said how ungrateful I was after all he'd done for me and my family, but you could almost hear the unspoken words in the room. At that point, he thought it would be a good idea if I came and worked for him and his company. Start as an errand boy, work my way up.

Errand boy? she asked. I could have almost heard her spit the words, she was that angry. Then, suddenly, she sank to the davenport, folded her hands in her lap, and looked very tired. She told him she'd think about it. Asked him if he wouldn't see himself to the door.

The next morning, I was on my way to LA. I got met by my Aunt Rosie and Uncle Frank, who tucked me into their brown station wagon before I could even get a good look around, and whisked me away to their small bungalow in Anaheim.

LA was good. I always wanted to live in a big city, I decided. Always wanted to live by the beach. Of course, I immediately started to get into trouble. Maybe I was away from the big, bad, east coast goons and all of that, but LA was wide open for a kid with far too much energy. I don't think Aunt and Uncle quite knew what to do with me, either. Trouble involved sneaking into movie theaters in the middle of the day when I should have been at school, and not just your regular movies. Grownup movies, with naked ladies that wore fancy nightgowns they were always slipping out of. And of course the shoplifting continued, mostly the small corner market stores, where lifting candy bars and car magazines made me feel like a man.

Being a man, of course, involved owning a car. And California cars were something else. Oh, yeah. Muscle cars, beach cars, cars with engines huge enough to pull a barn, should a nearby barn ever need pulling. Iron cast engines that threaded enormous quantities of horsepower between four rubber wheels. Paint jobs that gleamed in the never-ending California sun, making your mouth water. Venice Beach, in those days, was hopping with cars and girls and hot sand.

I wanted one of those cars, I think I always did. Didn't realize it 'til the reflection of the sun off the chrome hit me in the eyes.

I finally convinced Uncle Frank to teach me to drive early. By the time it came to get my license, I had probably more hours behind the wheel than any boy my age. Not that Uncle Frank would ever have known about it because I used to sneak out at night and hotwire the neighbors cars. Never got caught, though, not once. That was because I obeyed the speed limit and drove on the highway where it was less conspicuous. Okay, so I did a little speeding, and in the canyons tried out the breaks on more than one hairpin curve. Drove every kind of car there was, could start them all without the benefit of a key. But of course, what I really wanted was a car of my own. Something no one could tell me what to do with. Something that was mine, that no one would take away.

The question was, how to get one? I couldn't just steal it outright, and it wasn't because California cops were extra hard on car thieves. There was something else that kept me from just hot-wiring somebody's pet car and driving away with it. Maybe it was because it was just too easy.

In fact a lot of things were too easy. School, for one. I was horribly bored; everything in school seemed to move at a very slow speed. At first I couldn't help myself and got straight A's. This seemed to please everyone I was related to enormously, especially my mother when she would talk to me on her monthly phone call. The kids at school, naturally, wanted me to be like them, which I understood. So I toned it down a little, pretended to be a bit slower than I was, which worked out really well, because then they began to underestimate me, which was good. Then I could really surprise them. Shock them all when I brought home a car of my own. But who was going to sell a car to a sixteen-year-old kid who'd just barely gotten his license?

John Blaine, that's who.

When I think back about it all, it amazes me how far out of his way he went for me. He'd no kids of his own, as I recall, and maybe I replaced that, just a little bit. Of course, at the beginning, I was sure I was going to hate him, just as I did all cops. I had gone over to his house next door, you see, one afternoon, to look at a Mustang that he'd advertised in the paper. I hadn't actually had any money for this, but wanted to try out the idea of talking car with a man as if I actually intended to buy it. And I hadn't known he was a cop until a squad car pulled up in front of his house, with a policeman sitting right in the front seat waving hello. Blaine waved back and the squad car rolled away.

I asked him, then, if he was in some sort of trouble with the law, having about as much sympathy as I could ever have for a stranger. I remember squinting into the sun, which was behind him, my hands in my back pockets. You in trouble with the law? I asked. His reply, I'm sure, was meant to be a joke, some line from a movie, but it made me take a step backward. 'Round these parts, he said, I am the law.

Well, I was shocked all right, and quickly told him that I wasn't interested in buying his car. He misinterpreted that, I think, 'cause he told me he guessed I hadn't the money, and would I like to earn it? I could work down at the gym where he volunteered his time on weekends teaching boxing to kids like me. I could take the car and work it off as I went.

Naturally, I wouldn't take the car until I'd actually paid for it and started working at the gym the very next week. Blaine must have put in a good word with the guy who owned the place since I didn't have to fill in an application or anything. I got paid under the table, which just proved again to me that all cops were crooked in one way or another. Only Blaine never did anything else that even smacked of illegal practices. He taught me how to box. How to put part of my pay away in a savings account. Bought me my first bottle of aftershave for my first real date with a girl. Becky something-or-other. Brunette. Biiiig tits. What a single-minded lad I was.

Then, being John Blaine, he introduced me to his cop friends. A lot of them came down to the gym to keep in shape, to hang out together. There were some which were donut eaters, who were only driving around in their cars until retirement took them out of the line of fire. But some of them were so flinty-eyed and sharp that I realized that what I always wanted was to be a cop. I begged Blaine to teach me how to shoot, to take me down to the firing range with him. At first he said no, then he said yes, after he realized I wasn't going to use the knowledge to hold up liquor stores, and then he said no. Told me I didn't want to be a cop.

I didn't speak to him for a week after that, until the day I realized that I had enough money to pay, finally, for the car. We'd worked together on it that summer, while it sat in his drive, waiting for me to take it away. Powder blue it was, softly shimmering in the late August heat. I left the money in the mailbox, took the keys from underneath the floor mat, and drove away. Was going to drive to the ends of the earth, I felt that free. I had about twenty dollars in my back pocket, along with a license that had my name on it. Today you are a man.

Okay, so I took the curve on LaVista Canyon just a bit too fast and, no, I didn't have both hands on the wheel. No seat belt, either, though in those days, it wasn't the big deal it is now. I went flying out the window, knocking my ribs very hard and getting a nice long scrape on my arms and legs while my beautiful blue Mustang went rolling down the mountainside. On its very first day out.

John Blaine came to visit me in the hospital, along with Aunt Rosie and Uncle Frank, who stood at the end of my bed and shouted at me. Blaine didn't say a word.

When I got out of the hospital, he took me down to the firing range. Made me promise to think really hard about being a cop before I actually signed on.

Of course, before that happened, I joined the army for a three year stretch, and learned a lot more about guns and stuff, more than I think I ever wanted to. Being in the army was okay, if you liked eating crap and taking crap from anyone with a higher rank than you. And afterward? Well, I had kinda forgotten about being a cop, I guess, until I ran into Blaine. And I do mean literally. What was it with him and me and cars? I had been driving an LTD at the time because it was cheap to own and run, and I had no skills to make money with other than what the army had given me. Mechanic. Not that I minded, but I hated that car.

Well anyway, I was driving too fast as usual, and hit his car in the front panel. This was at the corner of Pecos Blvd. and 48th street, which was not a busy intersection, but still, no excuse to not come to a full and complete stop, right? That's what John said, screaming at me, come to a full and complete stop. That's when I remembered about the cop stuff. A week afterward, when he'd cooled down, I called him and got a recommendation into the police academy. Even as he was stalling, I knew that he would agree. I could talk Blaine into anything.

So, I was off to be a cop. My mom was kinda shocked, and all Nicky had to say when he got on the phone was some sarcastic comment about how I'd be on the take, too. I let him snigger on and then told him he'd better watch his step. He sniggered back, knowing I didn't mean a word of it. Sometimes it was weird having a brother whom I hadn't seen in years.

Anyway, cop school was like regular school, I guess, except the subjects were more interesting, and no one called me names or tried to push me around because I was doing well. Blaine had found out that I was trying to play it cool in the smarts department and he told me to knock it off. There was a time and a place to play dumb, but school wasn't it. And cop school was not only where I was getting good grades and doing well, but where I met Kenneth Hutchinson.

When Hutch first told me he was from Minnesota, I imagined him there in a cool glade, surrounded by tall green trees. Wearing lumberjack clothes no less, or my version of them. And a Paul Bunyon axe, slung over his shoulder. Like that Walt Disney cartoon, ya know? Anyway, it turned out not to be the entire truth, though Hutch would allow that there were a lot of trees there and, at least in summertime, it was green. In the winter, it was blanketed in white snow. Even this seemed suitable for Hutch, all pure and pristine. Nothing like where I grew up, where the narrow city streets made the man-planted trees sickly and not very green, where there were no cool glades or blankets of white, only hot, tar-filled alleys in summer and gray sheets of snow in winter.

Years later, when we were first partnered together, I would look back at the first time we met and remember his expression of disdain, the lofty tilt to his head, and the ice-cool blaze of his eyes as he lifted his regulation pistol to get perfect scores on the firing range. We hung out together, as you do when going through tough times like the training we had, but I always knew he never thought much of me. And in return, I skillfully ignored his superior attitude and that face that never smiled, because I pretty much got what he was doing right away. His attitude was his defense, see, and behind that was a heart of butter; I was on to him from the first.

When we were partnered, the scorn continued, and he would say stuff like did you wear those jeans or did they walk here on their own? I'd just come off a very successful case (the details of which I can't remember at the moment), and his snippy look and remark just bounced off as I laughed at him. He was a jerk and everyone knew it. Dobey, my boss, thought we would work well together. I was too well trained, at that point, to question him and agreed to break him in gently.

If I didn't break his head in first.

He was always making remarks about my clothes, the little shit, and the things he ate made my stomach turn. He told me smartly one day that he ate healthy, took care of his body. But, when I offered him some of my burrito, he practically ate the whole thing with three huge bites. The body is a temple, my ass. How I got tired of hearing that, especially in light of the fact that he usually ended up polishing off whatever junk food I had ordered for myself.

But he was a good cop. Nothing was too boring, no detail too small. Of course, he never had a writing implement on him when he needed it, but when he did the reports that we were always having to do, you better damn well believe the thing was complete. Everything was in them, from the time of arrest, to the minute, to the description of every witness present. I would bust in first, ready to blaze away, and Hutch would pull a witness aside, the same witness who wouldn't talk to me, mind you, and then get them to spill their guts. When people talked to Hutch, they talked.

I started calling him Hutch, because his last name was just too damn long, and if you had to whisper it in a dark alley, it came out like a bunch of hairy cats arguing. The first time I did it, called him Hutch, he'd kind of looked at me through narrowed eyes, as if assessing whether I was making fun of him, and whether he should insist that I call him by his full and proper name. You could see it in his face, everything about him was getting all tight and worked up, and I just looked at him, I don't know how, maybe in that way you do when you are about to duck before the other person slams you one. Then he opened his mouth, he was going to say something serious, you could tell. And then he just stopped.

We started getting along much better after that, and soon he started calling me Starsk, at least that's when I remember it starting. My name was already short, and what difference did a Y make anyhow? I guess it did to Hutch, because he would say the shorter version to me when he wanted to make a point, when he wanted to reach inside of me on some low but constantly resonating emotional level. Either that, or he just thought it was way cooler to give in and give me a nickname than to kick up a fuss. It certainly created a club of just two, because nobody else called me that, at least not at the beginning. And even if they did, it was special when Hutch said it; I could feel it doing that resonating thing.

I made him change his clothes, too. He always looked so dapper when he arrived for work; no matter what shift we were on, he looked like he was heading for the office. And since we were street cops rather than beat cops, he looked sorely out of place. I got him some Salvation Army castoffs and made him wear them. He didn't like that one bit, but he complied. And of course, he never appreciated the fact that I actually let him sit in my car. Yeah, I'd finally replaced the Mustang with a Torino that I got a car friend of mine to paint up right, white coat first, then a red coat, leaving a white stripe along either side. Pin striping at 3/8" instead of 1/4" and with lifts along the back wheels so the nose almost touched the street. He hated my car almost as much as I hated his. He bought an LTD, naturally, it being the only car he could recognize on sight, and insisted that he enjoyed driving it. I only ribbed him about it a little bit, because he would get this sad look on his face, like I'd really hurt his feelings.

Guess I found out how deep those feelings actually ran. Oh, he'd gotten into some argument with some muckety-muck hot shot from Internal and they were really laying into each other. I wasn't shocked that there was yelling going on, heck, that went on all the time. And I hadn't even known it was Hutch until I came through the door and saw him standing there with his mouth open, yelling, his hands going into fists, and his face white as a sheet. It looked as if both men had reached a point where neither one of them could back down without loosing face. And with the audience they had, each of them was willing, it appeared, to risk suspension rather than do that. Playground ethics never leave a man, even when he's years away from short pants. Well, the IA guy didn't have any friends, none of them did, and no one was about to come close to the white tornado that Hutch had become. It looked about like the only person he had in the world at that moment was me.

So, I did what I was supposed to do, stepped in and pulled Hutch out of harm's way, making those noises you do when trying to stop a fight, the same noises which assure both men that you believed completely that either one of them was capable of killing with his bare hands. That way honor is satisfied and no one walks away shamefaced.

Now any guy that I grew up with, any normal guy who knew the rules of the playground, would have shrugged me away and pushed my hand off his lapel when I suggested that we get something to eat, food being the panacea for many a hurt ego, I've found, Italian food being the best. But he didn't. Didn't move away, or make me take my hand away, or anything. I patted him then, on the shoulder, like I started doing some time after I met him, and he looked at me. That's it, just looked at me. His blue eyes were enormous, like he suddenly realized that he could have hurt that guy, like he knew he could have killed him, and I was the one and only reason there wasn't a dead body on the floor now. It wasn't conceit, I think, but a real fear that he'd had that much anger in him. Funny thing, though, he never said a word at the time, and I didn't, either, but it was like everything spilled out of him all at once. Ever know anyone like that, who talks to you without talking? I never had.

Well, I went on like nothing had happened, 'cause I think he preferred it that way. At least he seemed more comfortable being Mr. Ice Man. Mr. Slick. Mr. Cool Guy. But of course I know better now. And I knew better then, because he was always showing me that his cold surface belied a much warmer interior.

There was the one time we were called on a domestic violence some neighbor had reported in. We zipped over there, a little giddy over the cartoons Hutch had brought along to read aloud to me during our break, and were still chuckling when we pulled into the drive. Only we stopped laughing right then and there, because the man raced out into the front yard and blew his own head off with his hunting rifle. We called for paramedics and backup, etc., and then entered the house. There we found his dead wife and two little girls shot clean through the head. Only one of the little girls, the younger one, I think, wasn't quite dead. She wasn't going to make it, however, I could see that when I knelt beside her, Hutch on the other side. He'd taken her hand, and I guess hadn't quite seen that the back of her head was missing and that the blood, for all intents and purposes, had stopped flowing. But she was looking up at him, smiling, the way little girls do, and grasping his hand back. Oh, she couldn't have been more than five or six; she died right there, taking a little hitching breath and then it all stopped.

Okay, so I wasn't all that unaffected myself, but I'd gone into my deal-with-it mode, but Hutch nearly went inside out. I eased her fingers from his hand, and he got to his feet, her blood soaking into the knees of his jeans. I had thought for a moment that he was merely going into the bathroom to wash his hands, which had blood on them, too. But five minutes later, when the paramedics arrived and shoved me out of the way to take a stab at it, useless though their efforts would prove to be, I went in to check on him. There he was, sitting on the edge of the pink tub with those hippie flower skid resistors plastered all over the place, his head on his knees and his hands wrapped around his head. There was blood in his hair now, and some of it had streaked down his forearms before it dried. I was reaching over to make sure he was okay (because that's what Hutch would have done for me) when the whole of his curled-up body shuddered. He was crying, I realized, and when he did, his whole body cried with him.

Part of me was shocked at his emotionalism, the other part was saying hey, can you do that? Hutch showed me that day that you could. I guess Blaine was right, that there's a time and a place for everything, and so I let him cry. Watched the door so no one would come in. Hutch got real stone-faced after that, until he realized that I hadn't actually said anything about it to anyone, not even for the pleasure of teasing him. Somehow, when he did that, when he cried, it was like he cared so much about that little girl that her death cut him to pieces. There was so much of something locked away inside of him that when it got a chance to get out, it was like this huge monster. So, I took it as my obligation, my solemn duty, to not let it build up.

'Course, I didn't realize what I was doing at the time, but I would poke away at him 'til he would tell me what was eating at him, like letting out some of the water from behind a dam before too much pressure builds up. I'd prod and ask questions, and then he would talk. And talk. And talk. (Blaine had also said that cops look after their partners. So I did.) I got kinda nervous when he wouldn't talk, after seeing him fall apart like that, so when he would talk, I would listen really good and pay attention to every word. First time I got him to do that was after the little girl had died, and well, he talked a blue streak for about twenty minutes, then he put his head back on the head rest as if to structure the phrasing of a thought he had in his head and then, boom, he was asleep. Just like that. I let him sleep until the next call came in and woke him up real softly.

John Blaine had told me that a partnership was like a marriage, and I was finding out that he was right. But Hutch wasn't like my other partner that I'd had before him, except for the fact that they were both blond. Difference was, with a marriage, you have some affection for your partner going into the thing. Well, like I've said before, I thought he was a snob and he thought I was a slob. But when you work with someone the way I did with Hutch, with long hours in all sorts of weather, before you know it, you trust the guy. And from the trust, grew the affection. I mean, that's how I'd describe it now, my first year with him I would have said he was a pain in the ass. And I loved to rock him out of his snobby moods and make him laugh, or at least smile.

In the beginning, I did it out of spite, breaking through his façade by making him laugh almost against his will. And then it turned into a pleasure for me as well, and pretty soon it didn't take much. Me making a funny face, or trying on his sunglasses, or pretending to be more serious about something than I was, like vampires, just so he could laugh at me. I liked doing it; nobody else I knew could get him to crack an honest smile, except maybe Huggy. Oh, yeah, he would smile and be polite, but it never reached his eyes. He still does it, too, if you watch him trying to be nice and failing.

Anyway, one day I found out how much it meant to me to no longer be the only person who could affect him that way, and that was when he met Gillian. Oh, yes, her. At first I thought she was another four-weeker, you know, lasting about a month and then finding out that being a cop's girlfriend had very little going for it. But she kept on, and what's worse, he started to glow when he was around her, and then, even when he wasn't around her and was just thinking about her. And it's not that I hated her, I rather liked her. She was a lot smarter than the girl I was dating at the time (Nancy something-or-other), a lot prettier, and more, well, sophisticated. Not the usual lost-kitten girls Hutch'd brought home in the past.

But, I'll admit, I was jealous. I'm not very proud of myself about that, to be sure, and I didn't know what to do about it. But when we went bowling that one time, he was so glowy that even his teeth were shining, and they're already pretty white. I looked at him. I looked at her. I looked at Nancy. I didn't want to look at myself, because, of course, it's a horrible thing to wish that the love was gone when there's so little of it in the world. So, I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to admit that I was jealous. In the past, only I had been able to make him smile like that. And the touching, he always had his hands on her, fingers curved around her arm or laying gently on her waist. It killed me. I mean, I was glad for him and for her, but I missed those days when the pats and the strokes and the hands on the arm were only for me.

Well, later, all of it proved to be a moot point. Hutch's precious Gillian was a hooker, and I was the one who had to inform him of this little fact. And it was over her dead body, no less, because her boss had decided that her decision to leave was grounds for her death. Hutch was beside himself. He laid into me, and I let him do it, for, you see, I was the reason that Gillian decided to make a break for it. I had given her all of my savings and encouraged her to go back east and do something else. So she marched up to Grossman's mama, spit in her face, and it was all over but the shouting.

Though usually he's Mr. Cool, and I'm Mr. Calm, and we make quite a team, standing there arguing, over Gillian's fast cooling body as to whether or not she was a hooker, Hutch came apart. And I almost came apart, and that's something I don't do. I told him he was my best friend, that I hadn't wanted to tell him about her. The fact that I'd given her money to leave him has never come out in the wash. I hope it never does. But he looked at me then, in that way he has, when it feels that he's looking right into you, and then tumbled right into my arms, sobbing. Whole body sobbing, the way only Hutch does.

And running through my head? The fact that he was my best friend. I'd always wanted a best friend, I think, and now I had one. I may have known it all along, but it hadn't occurred to me in a solid form until that moment, until I had that solid form in my arms: this man is my best friend and I am his.

Some time after that, Hutch and I went bowling with Marie, and some chick, hell, I'll just call her Susie. She was my date at the time. I was sitting there idly watching Hutch. Still a little worried about him, seeing as this was the first time we'd gone bowling after Gillian. These were different lanes, but he'd fallen in love with her at one, so I wanted to be careful.

Anyway, he's sitting there, hunched over the board, keeping score for everyone, seeing as the girls, giggling, had insisted they didn't know a strike from a home run, and of course Hutch was sure that I cheated at every opportunity. Never could understand why it bugged him so much, it was only a game like chess, and besides, I never cheated when it was real life. Anyway, there he was, pencil in one large hand, sleeves rolled up, and the light reflecting up onto his face from the white paper. Grubby little bowling alley, and he managed to look like a monk, sitting in a casement window working on holy parchment. Only he never managed anything, see? It just happened, was just the way he was. Beautiful to look at.

I think I envied him sometimes, all that stuff that he had that ended up in one cool, blond self-assured package. At least that's the way it was at first, later I found out that he was a jumble of insecurities on the inside, which still never managed to show on the outside. But it was in the early days that I felt this envy, which might explain, er, Susie. She was in the fashion industry and I thought, well, I think I was thinking that she might help me with my image, the one Hutch was always scoffing at.

That evening, while Hutch was totting up the scores mid game (I was winning as usual), Susie was fingering the edge of my leather jacket that I'd thrown over the back of the seat.

"You should get rid of this," she said.

"Hey," I said, aghast, "I just got done breaking that in, it's practically my best friend!"

"Well," she said, her voice getting tart, "it might be your friend but it's not doing you any favors making you look like a drugged-out street bum."

My mouth opened to reply, and whether I was going to agree with her or not, I can't remember. But over my voice and the racket of the bowling alley, came Hutch's voice, cool as silk and crisper than a cucumber.

"Leave him alone. He's fine the way he is. He's perfect."

I looked over at him, and it was like he hadn't spoken. He wasn't looking our way or seemed concerned as to how Susie or I might take that. In fact, he was adding up a column of figures with relaxed concentration as if he were completely alone. It took a few seconds for it to dawn on us that he hadn't realized he'd spoken and though I felt kinda spooky at having that kind of insight into the workings of Hutch's mind, I giggled along with Marie and Susie. Just to cover my confusion, you realize.

I must have dropped Susie shortly after that 'cause I can't remember any more dates with that particular lady. I can remember listening to another lady, nameless and faceless now, screaming at me what an ungrateful prick I was. The language she knew would have burned a sailor's ears. Anyway, she was screaming and hollering and I must have infuriated her even more with my arms crossed and my yeah, uh-huh expression on. But I really couldn't care less at that point, 'cause I had, and still have, that cool voice in my head telling me that, at least in Hutch's eyes, I was perfect.

Of course, I wasn't perfect, not even to Hutch, but it was statements like that that drew me in, into his own bright, glowy circle, regardless of who he was with, even Gillian. And I guess I got to know how he really felt about Gillian when I met my Terry. Oh, she was something. I loved her more than anything, I think, all the way to the bottom of my soul. Like she was a part of me. Naturally, I told Terry about Hutch and Hutch about Terry, and was very anxious for them to get along. Normally, my girlfriends either hate Hutch, because of what we do together, maybe, or they're ambivalent to him. Or they end up liking him better than me. I didn't think Terry would do that, but I at least wanted them to like each other. I stopped worrying after the first time I introduced them, when I brought Hutch over to Terry's for supper one night. She looked up at him, he was rather taller than she was, and he looked down at her.

And Terry had this smile, see, one that worked its way slowly from the center of her being, as if the pleasure and joy were being felt with every part of her body long before it reached her face. She had this smile for Hutch, and maybe it was because of the glowing report I'd given of him, or the fact that I talked about him so much altogether, that she warmed to him right away. She slipped an arm around his waist and gave him a quick squeeze. Hutch isn't normally the bashful type, but sometimes he gets shy, and I think he almost blushed when she did it, smiling as he looked away. Then he returned the hug, lightly. And about halfway through the meal, it was as if we'd known each other always. More often then not, after that, when we would get together, it would just be the three of us, like it had been that first night. Sometimes Hutch had a girl on his arm, and sometimes not. Mostly not, come to think of it.

Then when Terry was dying from that bullet in her brain, well, there are only three memories I have from then. There was the smell of the hospital, with that last, fading warmth of Terry's hand and her sweet smile as she slipped away. Then there was the look on Hutch's face when I came out of her room after she died. He was doing something with his gun, as I recall, like putting it away, though I never thought to ask why, and there was a group of people standing around, as if waiting for something. And Hutch's face? He had that look he gets, down-curled lip, eyes hooded and dark, like nobody better be crossing him. Usually, nobody ever did.

The thing that amazed me about Hutch and Terry, even after she died, was that Hutch genuinely seemed to care about her. About her and us together. Seemed really happy to be included on the edges of our happiness, without needing to look for it elsewhere. There was not a jealous bone in his body, not like with me and Gillian. Hutch never begrudged me Terry, because he was, simply, the better man. I think Hutch even loved Terry, in a way. Like a sister. Or even because I loved her. And he was just as wracked up about her death as I was, letting the tears flow when we had our wake. Pulling me into his arms when I finally started to cry, holding me close to him, tucking me into his heart, and warming me with the rhythm of its beat. I don't remember anything after that, really, like how I managed to get all that time off work without Dobey having a fit. When I think about it, only the scent of Hutch comes to me now, the third memory, the heated, dusky smell of the curve of his neck as he held my head there when I was sobbing my eyes out. That, and the particular angle of sunlight as it was coming through his bedroom window.

Course, that's not to say that he couldn't be a little shit when it suited him. Like that time he pretended to have amnesia. Oh, God, I thought I was going to kill him. He was trying to teach me a lesson about driving recklessly, as if I were a child, 'cause, well, yes, I'd double-clutched us into an accident. I admit it, okay? Not the smartest thing in the world, but it had been a beautiful day and my blood was up. And actually, I never really heard him say for me to slow down. Honest.

But afterward, in the hospital, before I knew he was pretending, I felt it was up to me to remind him how close we were, so I told him all about us and the stuff we did, all the things that had happened to us when we were together. My job was to bring him back to the Hutch that I knew, and that knew me. Somehow I felt desperate about this, because I realized, with cold certainty, that my world would be ended if I could not. What a walk through memory lane that was, and through it I was finally able to let him know how much I cared, at least a little. Then when he admitted that he'd been "just pretending," putting me through the wringer like that on a joke, I could feel the steam coming out of my ears as my blood began to boil. I believe I was going to kill him, would have done it without the least compunction with my bare hands. Remember shifting forward to do it. And then I caught the expression on his face.

By that time in our careers, he'd taken to wearing this noncommittal face, one that was carefully blank and gave nothing away. But this time he had that other face: round-eyed, the skin along his jaw very white even against the hospital sheets, and the whole of him tensing as if for a blow. From me, of all people. Oh, yes, the neck brace and the head bandage didn't help me hold onto my anger much, either. I'm not saying it vanished instantly, but his face told me he knew he'd screwed up and that he was sorry. All without saying a word. And when Hutch is sorry, well, you can't get any more contrite than that. Sometimes, I think that nobody in the world feels personal guilt as much as he does. So it was that, and the fact that I realized I cared about him enough to not be so very angry. Guess that's what happens when you love someone.

Did I love Hutch? Of course I loved him.

Only someone you care about can hurt you like he can hurt me. Like that time I caught him with his pants down at Kira's, for example. I'd been dating her a while, getting pretty comfortable to almost start making plans for the future, all while Hutch and she and I had been working undercover to trap this killer who liked blonde dance hall girls. It should have given me pause when I saw how well Kira played the part of a dance-hall floozy, but it didn't. Couldn't. She was so alive, and sweet, and strong. I was really falling for her, and one morning, after that last evening's stakeout had gotten mixed up somehow, I went over to her house. Early. With a present.

It was obvious right away that they'd been fucking. Him tucking his shirt in, her looking like the cat that's been at the cream. And the canary. Hutch looked sorry, like he usually does, but it was sort of hang dog, like I couldn't really be mad, could I? The taste in my mouth was as bitter as clay and that moment I hated him more than I've ever hated anyone in the world. Felt like I'd been kicked in the head, too, as well as other parts. And there was Kira, getting all worked up, like she was the one who'd been wronged, and Hutch reaching out toward me, saying that none of this mattered, that none of it mattered.

Well if it didn't matter, then we didn't matter, I realized suddenly, but I could hardly announce that I never wanted to see either one of them again, now could I. Not my style. Aggression was my style that morning, and I started whaling on him as if he were a punching bag. And though he tried to get away, not once did he raise his hand to me. Not once. Kira was in hysterics and threw us both out, slamming the door behind us. And there we were, the two of us, standing on her small front porch, each without a word for the other. I marched off to my car and drove away, and Hutch did the same.

But why did it hurt so much? It shouldn't have. Not like that, not really, not over some girl. Then I realized that I wasn't jealous of him being with her, it was of her being with him. It wasn't that I loved him, but that I was in love with him, I realized, and this was reinforced that night at the bar. Kira wanted us to choose, you see, but I knew, even before Hutch slipped his arm around my shoulders, that I had found that one, single person who I wanted to be with forever, during whatever was left of my time between being born alone and dying alone.

I think that I had been in love with him for some time, but it's hard to keep track when it happened exactly, especially when you've been through as much together as Hutch and I have; it's hard anymore to remember what our lives were like before we knew each other. But if I had to pin it down, I would say it happened the night we went to that damn Italian restaurant, when I'd been craving Italian food and had turned down Hutch's offer to make me some eggs. Hutch makes eggs like nobody's business, you know, he scrambles them up smooth and creamy, and cooks them soft, just the way I like them. I was probably insane with hunger is all I can tell you, to turn down a meal made by Hutch's hands. I know better now.

Anyway, that night, we walked into a firestorm that had been brewing just under the surface for quite some time. It included blackmail, mob debts, and a planned shooting, and that was before the antipasto was served. Hutch never blamed me for any of it, not to this day, though I can still see the sad, resigned look on his face as I refused him his offer of a simple meal at his place and insisted on the outing, and the flicker in his eyes that said, fine, we'll do this your way. Even at the restaurant, when the waitress insisted that the kitchen was about to close, yeah, he was right there, doing it Hutch style, going along with my plans for the evening, but with a twist. He ordered "vino de casa," like he knew what he was talking about, like he'd been to that place a hundred times and knew the inner workings enough to be confident that the place made their own wine. Of course, that's not true, not a little joint like that. The wine probably came in a box, just like all the others. But Hutch? Yeah, he was showing off a little bit, doing the wine thing to impress me. As if he didn't realize that he totally didn't need to.

Why he does it is another matter. Any other guy, I would figure he needed to prove something, like that he was smarter or better than me. Not that I would have cared, male posturing is all well and good, but I don't often posture back because I don't need to. After a certain point of working on the streets, hip deep in blood and lies, well, after a while, it just doesn't matter what the other guy thinks anyhow. As to why Hutch did it, that took me a while to figure out. At first I thought he was a rich kid with an axe to grind to prove himself and disabuse anyone of the notion that when things got tough he'd be winging it back home to mom and pop and leaving the madness behind. When that never happened, and Hutch still worked the holier-than-thou angle, showing me up when he could, me specifically with that little glitter in his eye, I figured that it was just a game to him, one that he didn't even realize he was playing. Pretty soon, I would just look at him and smile a little, to let him know I was on to him. It didn't stop him from doing it, but when he smiled back, with his eyes, it was our own game, between the two of us. I liked that, liked the layer that it added to the me and thee aspect of our relationship. I hadn't realized how much I liked it 'til he gave me that.

So there we were at that table with the little checkered tablecloth, me making smartass remarks, and Hutch leaning into his palm, snickering in that low way he has when he's relaxed enough to do it, laughing at me without realizing it, creating that little dome of everyone else keep out. He snickered even more when I started wiggling in my seat, and yeah, maybe I forgot to use the facilities before I left the house on purpose, just so Hutch could smile at me like that, and tease, and flicker like he was lit from within. Then it happened, just as I was coming from the bathroom, and Hutch was at the jukebox, picking out one of those smarmy songs he likes to torment me with. A couple came in, someone screamed, and bam, I stepped right into the line of fire.

Hutch said later that I flew across the room like I had wings, but all I could remember of that moment is that suddenly the room went sideways, and that loud clatter as I fell to the floor. My head started to feel woozy and Hutch was right there, patting me, touching me all over, like my body was his, and my life his dominion. It was a weird thing to think as I bled all over the carpet and his hands, but the second he touched me, I knew it. Then I got all hot and then all cold all of a sudden, and the next thing I knew, Hutch was lifting me up in his arms, straight up from the floor. I'm no lightweight, but he carried me seemingly without effort. His arms were like iron bands around me, and I knew I wasn't going anywhere near the pearly gates without Hutch's say so.

Once in the back room, he laid me on the couch, and I was in and out of consciousness so often, it felt like it matched my heartbeats. Sometimes Hutch was there, sometimes he wasn't. At one point, he packed something against the bullet wound in my shoulder, and I remembered saying something about Gene Autry getting it there, too. The bullet wound wasn't fatal by any means, Hutch wouldn't have lied to me about that, but it hurt like a bitch. So did the cold cloth he placed against the crease in my head. That one bled like a mother, and for a second, all I could see was my blood on Hutch's hands. That scared me more than anything, my thinking what if I die and leave him like that? To cover my fear, I made some crass remark about him getting his teeth capped, and he laughed a little and patted me, his hand lingering on the only place on my body that seemed warm.

It was a struggle for me to stay awake as he gave me instructions on how and when to create a diversion, and it was so like Hutch to count on me when I could barely focus on the shape of his face, or the way his eyes watched me ceaselessly. To make me feel useful when I was, at that time, about as handy as a slug. He even gave me his pocket watch to hold, and the feel of that solid, cool thing in my hand gave me not only something to hold onto, but something to concentrate on. Hutch's watch, which never left his possession, in my hand, the warmth of his body fading from it even as he left the room.

Well, when the time came, I did as I was told, tossed the water pitcher, and somehow ended up on the floor. This gave Hutch another chance to laugh at me when he came back, which told me everything was going to be all right. He propped me up, and as the sweat dripped into my eyes, I looked up at him. It was one of those moments where everything else had been pushed away, and I could see right into his soul. Don't ask me to explain; the doctors, when I told them, said that it was the effect of endorphins in my system. They brushed it off like they do everything they can't replicate or measure. But really, I could see inside of him, through those blue eyes of his, right into his heart, where the real love resided, and I said something about not meaning what I said about his teeth. It had been a mean thing to say to begin with, Hutch had perfect teeth anyway. But the funny thing was, Hutch understood everything I didn't say, everything I couldn't say on account of me being lightheaded and all. Or at least I felt like he did. In response, he gave a little laugh and lowered his forehead to mine, his hand on my shoulder. I felt the heat of his skin, it was like a kiss, something soft and sweet, and my ability to explain it away, to pretend it was something other than what it was, what it felt like, was erased by pain and sweat. I had no defenses against it, and as his touch soaked into me, I had this bright, floating feeling that I couldn't go another moment without letting him know how much he meant to me.

Then the ambulance came and carried me off, and this particular thought became buried beneath the operation on my shoulder, physical therapy, and the urgency with which our lives pushed us back on the streets. At that time, you see, we still had the matching egos to believe that we made a difference wherever we went and that the battle couldn't be won without us. Hutch bragged to me later that he managed to bring the place down single-handedly. Then he would add that my pitcher throw had been the turning event that saved the day. This of course was said with that lofty tone of his, so that everybody within earshot would know he was being condescending simply to bring me down a peg or two.

But really, I know he didn't mean any of it, and he knew that I knew, so the rest of it didn't matter. Besides, Huggy told me that shortly after that, while I was still in the hospital, that Hutch had drunk-dialed him. And while Huggy believes in keeping in strictest confidence any secrets given unto his care, he assured me that everything Hutch said to him expressed nothing but the purest love and devotion. Hell, I think Huggy knew about Hutch and me even before I did. As for the waitress, when I called her on the phone just to follow up, ask how her mother was, she told me something else. That night, she'd been scared, really scared, having not realized, up until the point the shootings started, just how deep she'd walked into the shit. The mob goons were scary, the guns were scary, the unpredictability was scary. And she was terrified that it might go wrong and that her mother would be next on the hit list. To make her feel better, I told her she'd handled herself pretty well, for a civilian.

She told me that that wasn't it. I made myself listen, and the hair on the back of my neck started to walk upright. It was Hutch, she told me, Hutch who had been the scariest thing of all that night. His cool demeanor calmed her, his confidence in the face of danger settled her and enabled her to help him get the gun and the clip without being seen. But then when he'd gotten up to go in the back room, when the goons told him to sit down, everything had come to a head. Hutch had stood up and faced the barrels of not one but two guns, and with eyes of ice, told them exactly how it was going to go down and she almost peed her pants, she was so freaked out. Then she told me that Hutch had said, "You want to waste me? Go ahead, but do it now, because I'm going to my partner," and I felt cold all over. I hadn't, up to that point, known any of this. Hutch had never told me any of these details, not even to brag. In fact, now that I realize it, he tended to say very little about that night, except to give me shit about family-owned Italian restaurants whenever I wanted to go to one.

The fact that I'd needed him that night, placing all my trust, my life, into his care, was, in his mind, my way of expressing love. I'm not saying Hutch knew this consciously, no. But you look back over two lives that were becoming one, and at a moment like that, you can say, here is where we connected. Here is when it began to matter just a little bit more. And after that, yeah, I noticed something else. I've never told him this, because I don't want him to become self-conscious and stop doing it, but he started watching me.

Or maybe, and this is probably more likely, he'd been doing it all along and it was only after the shootout at the Italian restaurant that I became aware of his eyes watching me. Tracking me like a faithful hound, because now I was his to track, his to take care of. I could even say, looking back now, he was watching me because he was waiting for something from me. Some signal that he perhaps, and most likely, wasn't aware that he was waiting for. Now, of course, I could say with some certainty that he was waiting for a response, a love to echo his own, or some signal that what I had wordlessly said to him that night was no mistake. But since I didn't know this at the time, I never answered him, and my body became used to his gaze of ownership. And I guess I rather liked it in a way, because with anyone else I would have punched their lights out.

Our jobs being what they were and all, I never had a chance, at the time, to follow up on that. Then Blaine died. It hit me like a punch, and I tried to tell myself that it was because he lied to me, not because of the lie itself. I kept telling myself that. For days afterward. A man's entitled to his privacy, I've always thought that, but the second I found out, man, I did not know what to think.

I don't like to admit that a part of me freaked out utterly, knowing what I now knew about Blaine, and seeing back into the past, to those times, all those hours and days that Blaine spent with me. Some freakish part of my brain refused to let it go, and instead wanted to examine every minute. Maybe that part of my brain wanted things to get uncomfortably interesting and wanted to locate that time, that event, where Blaine had crossed the line, where he had touched me in a bad place, or made some move, some gesture that I could point to and be aghast at and thus justify my anger. But I couldn't find it, nor could my freakish brain, and could only see with a completely blank slate that the man had been circumspect in all things, in all ways.

He'd been a father to me, in all the ways that a father should be. I didn't need Maggie to tell me that, but the idea of him being gay kept trying to superimpose itself over the top of all of my memories, as if because he was gay, that would change the man he had been. Part of my problem came from the fact that my interaction with gays had been limited to arresting them, always in the seediest parts of town, where the parties went all night and carpet burns were just part of the fun. Yeah, a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do, but it always seemed to me that gay guys took the idea of party-hearty completely to their bosoms and continued the party long after it should have stopped.

But the whole of it, the whole question about love thing, yeah. It started in that hot room, where the dank, dark walls were burned into hard reality by the cheap bulbs overhead. The smell of mold rose from under the carpet, tainted by the bitterness of rust and wood rot, the layers of wallpaper folding into seams like an old man's skin. I'd been in a thousand rooms just like it for similar reasons, to clean up after the careless dead, but the memory of this room has seared itself into my bones, my insides. With Hutch, standing there by the spotted window, sweat dappling his forehead, making his hair dark. He could hardly look at me when he told me, instead staring out the window as he said the words, here in this room, Blaine rented, six months with the same man. His eyes were hard, blue stone, and he hated telling me. I think he would have rather cut his own arm off than tell me. But he told me because Hutch is never one to shrink from hard truths. What it meant to him, this news about Blaine, didn't matter to him except for the fact that it mattered to me. I was reeling and I didn't want to think about it anymore.

But then, Hutch, you know, he could never let a thing lay there in peace. He'd always have to poke at it indecently until it twitched, until it responded in such a way that he could understand it. And being Hutch, he would insist that I be interested, too. Well, I was, you see, because when Hutch had something to say, it was always interesting to me. I'd never known anyone who bored me as little as Hutch did. Okay, maybe when he talked about his plants I got a little bored, but it was enough to see him happy, so I never stopped him even if I was yawning on the inside.

It was after the case was over that Hutch started doing the math. Now, he's not spectacular at math, especially not in his head like that. No, he was the kind of guy who needed to read it, write it down, go over it, and then go over it again. So he talked, like he does. About stuff. Laying out his argument about men who spend a lot of time together having certain tendencies.

Not the same as a cold, I said. You're not that sophisticated, I said. Well, he wasn't, not to me anyway. Not after I got to know him. To anyone else, I knew how he came across: a well-heeled, well-educated, slightly snobby, introspective cool guy. Yeah, right. Pull the other one. I knew Hutch like the back of my hand, and whether or not he knew it, he was trying to tell me something with those numbers. Something he wasn't even aware of. I'm not trying to say he's stupid, just unaware.

That he rattled off all those figures and percentages meant that he'd been doing sums. I could just see him in my mind's eye at the crossword puzzle at breakfast, writing numbers down along the edges. Or perhaps on a scrap of paper, the back of a pizza flyer, whatever. He'd figured out the number of hours in a week, hours in a workweek, and then calculated from there. But it wasn't the numbers, you see, even I knew that, because I did the math and all of his figures were wrong. It was what they meant. And then he finished up with, and you're not even a good kisser.

What's a guy supposed to do with that? Any other guy, nothing. But me? For a second there, I wanted to prove him wrong, and because it was Hutch saying it, I realized then how much I wanted it. Wanted to kiss him. Which was me being stupid. Hutch didn't even know what he was asking for, or even that he was asking for it. He never asked, and I never answered. Then, of course, things got much worse, as they usually do.

The whole Blaine thing pales in comparison to what happened with Lionel and that freaking judge. I thought I was doing the right thing, giving Lionel up as a snitch, but looking back I realize that I was acting like a prissy fourth grader who rats out classmates to earn points with the teacher. Plus, Hutch was furious with me in that cold way he gets, teeth bared, frost glinting in his eyes. I tried to explain to him, I really did, but I don't even think I understood it myself. By that time everything was so fucked up, and then Hutch's car got blown up,

I remember running out of that stupid apartment, down to the street, where Hutch was sprawled and almost non-responsive. I gathered him up in my arms, and he struggled, reaching for that damn LTD of his, saying my car, my car. Well, fuck the fucking car, I hated that fucking car. Hutch was okay, a little dazed but okay, and that was all that mattered. As long as he was okay, I could have handled any of it, all of it, except that Hutch could not.

Then Lionel got shot out of a window, and every rule that I had ever lived by and believed in walked out the door when the judge walked free. But if it was bad for me, the sensitive soul that was my partner had at last been rent to shreds. The harshness that I now realize had been all around us all the time, but which up until that point I had been shielded from by Hutch, had finally gotten to him. He got away from me that day, and it took me ages to track him down. I finally found him at the beach, because I knew that's the last place we saw Lionel happy and alive, playing his drums, doing his thing. It made sense that Hutch would go there to mourn, not only the loss of Lionel, but of himself. He was staring at the smudged horizon, pushing his windblown hair from his eyes. He could hardly look at me; his shoulders were curled down as if bearing up under a tremendous weight, and in his hands he carried his badge. He didn't need to tell me the reason why though, I just knew.

What he held in his hand was everything that he believed in, everything that he felt, everything that he was. It was his badge, and he was going to throw it away.

So, I took out my badge, and looked at it. Flipped it out of its case. It was my life to me, my job and my joy, my responsibility to serve and protect. But as much as it was, it would never mean to me as much as the man standing only three feet away from me. It would never hold me in the night while I cried, or bring me illicit burritos while I was in the hospital, or tell me jokes, or sing to me. It would never be anything other than what it was, a designation of my position on the force. And so we threw them away.

We went from being two people standing side by side to being one person in two bodies. That, or he completely drew me inside of him. I'm never sure which. But it always seemed to me that I was on my own, you know? Okay, put it down to my dad dying and my mom sending me away. Fine. Let's do that--but I'm not going into all of that crap because it seems to me to be self-evident. Separate a kid from his folks and you'll get that. But it didn't stop there--my aunt and uncle, though childless, were preoccupied with their own lives. John Blaine treated me like a son, but only when he had time. See?

But with Hutch it was different. He showed me a way to be that I wanted, that I hadn't known I wanted until he showed me. And I never knew I wanted to be part of another person's life, part of another person, until he pulled me inside of him.

Hutch had been pulling me toward him ever since I met him. Just like the color of the sky, in its remoteness, draws us toward it, so Hutch did me to him. You know, I don't think he did it on purpose, he was just naturally a little remote to those he didn't know or who didn't know him. But I couldn't resist a challenge, you know? No, I've never been one of those lunkheads who tries battering their head against a brick wall just because someone told me I couldn't. Especially if there was an easier way around. And nobody ever challenged me to be Hutch's friend. No one said: you can't. But, on the other hand, no one said: you can. Besides which, he had that air, that blue-sky air, you can look and look and never touch.

By the time I realized what he was doing (maybe by the time he realized what he was doing) it was really too late. He made me know what I wanted and needed just by giving it to me. Hutch had this way of opening all these little doors in me that I never knew existed. Doors into cubbyholes filled with emptiness. And into each one, he would pop the appropriate need, all met and filled. Accommodated. And maybe, for a while, I really didn't know it, 'cause when Hutch and I got going, in the beginning, it really set my head to spinning, all the things he showed me. Making me want them. Making me want him. Only I met Terry before I realized all of this, and she sort of stopped the process. So had Gillian, come to think of it. And Kira.

He made me feel less like the stiff outsider that I had been, without even knowing it. That was his funny way. When he would hand me a candy bar, I suddenly got this incredible yen for sugar. If he patted his thigh for me to sleep on, I suddenly realized I was tired. If he made me dinner, I was hungry; touched my hair, how much I needed human contact. His contact.

I wanted to tell him, after Lionel, but by that time, all the things Hutch and I had gone through had left their mark. I wasn't as easy with saying things right out as I used to be, and Hutch seemed so distracted by some inner struggle that I didn't want to bother him 'til I was ready. I began to practice what I would say, how I would say it, and all the while, I sensed Hutch waiting for exactly that, even if he didn't know it. But first, I had to get us out of there, which wasn't as easy as you might think, given how exhausted both Hutch and I were at that time. I knew he would be loath to just walk away from what he considered his civic duty and his obligation and those promises made oh, so long ago, to protect and to serve. That he was protecting only me by that time, I'm sure he wasn't fully aware of; that I needed to protect him was always foremost in my thoughts. As for myself, I didn't know how to do anything else anymore, and I wasn't fit for a normal life

There seemed to be no real solution that I could think of, then one day, I was down at the firing range, talking with Sergeant Bud Ryan, who ran the range and taught classes in firearms and safety. I wanted to know if it was true that there was an upgrade to a particular gun currently out on the streets that Joe criminal could use to make it untraceable. He said there was not, and then we got to talking about the new plastic guns being developed in Russia that were able to go through airport scanners. Then he asked me to try out a 1911 Colt revolver that he wanted to add to his personal collection. If it shot straight for any man, he said, then he'd be willing to buy it. I slipped on the goggles and the ear protectors and took my stance at the end of one galley. The Colt was a joy to use, and two hours later, Ryan got a phone call. It was Hutch, he said, looking for me.

I slipped off the goggles, gave him the thumbs up on the Colt, and hurried back to the squad-room to find Hutch sitting at his desk, papers piled in front of him, waiting for me so that he could go home. By his scowl I could tell he was in a foul mood, but it wasn't really aimed at me and my absence. It was just at the day in general, the million ways the job was pulling him, and it would take an entire evening, I knew, filled with letting him make me dinner and then maybe an evening's drive through the hills to make it better. But as he sat there, tapping his favorite pen against the desktop, I realized something. Maybe it was me and the fact that the sight of him there, safe and sound behind a desk, that made me think of it, but I didn't want Hutch out on the streets anymore and I sure as hell wasn't going out there without him. Let someone else watch my back? No way.

So, I suggested a change to him that night, once he'd had two glasses of wine and I had polished off his homemade lasagna, which to him is a huge compliment. I told him he should go into forensics, I told him I'd go down to the firing range. When he asked why instead of dismissing the idea out of hand, I was stunned. But then I realized that this was his way of saying yes to me, yes in all things, be mine, be mine forever. I don't think he realized he was saying it, but he was. That he was that easy to convince, that my single suggestion went over so well, so quickly, told me that this was part of what he'd been waiting to hear. All I had to do was figure out how to say the rest of what he was waiting to hear and I'd be in like Flynn. As to our career changes, Hutch, you'll be glad to know, rocks at forensics work, and as for me, I've never been happier with a gun in my hand not shooting at a living human being.

Then I got a lucky break, and God bless Dobey forever and for always. It was because he had been talking about selling his place at Pine Lake, you see, that allowed me to introduce the subject of us being together a little more, using the cabin as the icebreaker. I got bold one morning as Hutch and I drove into work, and brought it up that maybe we could buy it together. Hutch not only said yes, he suggested that we move in together to save money. I think it was my idea that we get a new place instead of one of us moving into the other one's apartment. I'll be honest with you, part of that was because I didn't fancy fitting my life into Hutch's, nor did I think he should have to fit his life into mine; I wanted us to create a new life together. Did he know what I was saying, did he know that I was answering him? I don't think so, because at the time, he kind of drifted off, staring through the windshield, not saying anything for a while. But he was all gung ho afterwards, signing the papers and the whole packing and moving thing. I knew he was good with it, because if he hadn't been, I'd have heard about it.

We found a place that was not too far from work, nor too close to the highway. It was a nice old-fashioned little bungalow with two bedrooms, a large, square kitchen that opened out into a good-sized living room, and a dark, L-shaped bathroom that could only accommodate one of us at a time, unless, as we found out later, both of you were in the shower together. There was also this odd little side room, which I think was meant to be a storage closet, except it had windows, and seemed a little big to just store stuff. Maybe it had been a kid's playroom. Whatever. I pretended to ignore its existence until Hutch relented and moved his damn plants in there. That way, when he was in there, humming merrily away, watering things, I could have the entire couch to myself. We had a nice balance going most of the time, and I began to realize that I enjoyed knowing there was somebody else just down the hall. Some time after we moved in together, Dobey decided he wanted to keep the cabin, so we never did buy it, but Dobey let us use it whenever we wanted. And Hutch, you know, with his country boy's heart, wanted to be out there all the time. I went along with it because I had no reason not to. It made him happy and that was good enough for me.

And I enjoyed living with him much more than I would have thought. But the guy, he was a morning person like I have never seen. I would wake up in my bedroom, that for many weeks still felt new, and struggle through the layers of sleep like I was coming up against Muhammad Ali or something. Then stumble to the kitchen where I heard whistling, for Christ's sake, and it was all I could do to make it past all that cheerfulness streaming out of there. I usually would have to pause at the doorway and lean against it for a minute, and Hutch, hearing me there, grunting under my breath, would turn and give me that smile. That, plus the sunshine coming through the windows and bouncing off his hair, was enough to blind a person, so I would ask, grumpy, "Would you please turn the wattage down?" And then slump into a chair at the table and lay my head in my arms.

Like I said, it took me a while to wake up and I never expected him to do anything other than go about his business, but the first time I did this, one of our first mornings together in the new place, I heard this clink and then smelled coffee. As I lifted my head, I saw that there was a large mug of coffee sitting there, already soft with cream and sugar. And the smell, my lord, I guessed I'd never realized that Hutch ground his own beans. I took a sip and groaned. It was delectable.

"Hutch," I said, joking, "marry me, will you?"

He kind of barked out a laugh, and then, with a weird look in his eye, he walked back to the stove where he proceeded to make me some of his special scrambled eggs and fried bread without being asked, and without, I noted, giving me the lecture on watching my cholesterol. Nobody, but nobody, can cook like that man.

Oh, sure, it wasn't always domestic bliss like this. Hutch could never realize that we didn't live in a hotel, but it wasn't really his fault; putting things away was never on the top of his list. And he could never understand my love for old Gene Autry movies, or the serial westerns that the public channel would show, or even Sci-Fi Flicks, which came on very late Saturday night. Saturday night, which everybody knows, is the time to take out your sweetie and escort her around town, spending the wad of cash you saved through the week in order to get her in the sack. But every time Thursday came around, it felt so lame to be making a phone call to set something up for the weekend. Besides, in spite of Hutch not understanding about my love for Gene Autry, I got spoiled so fast it would have made my mother's head spin.

And this is how it would go down. I would lay myself full out on the couch, sock-footed, and scan the TV Guide for something good. Usually there was some old black and white thing on, a western if I was lucky, and long about nine o'clock, when everything was settling down, in would wander Hutch. Then after looking at me for a minute, he would walk up to the couch and say, "Scoot." Which I would, and then he would sit down next to me so close that the only place I could rest my head was on his lap. Which I would, and then his hand would be on my shoulder, doing that touching thing, and after an hour of the news or whatever, waiting for the old stuff to come on, he would ask, "Popcorn?" And then go off and make it.

And I don't mean just make it, he also would whip up some kind of caramel butter sauce to pour over that, and even though I always had half a mind to tell him to sit so that I could make it, Hutch always made it better. And it made the movies better. So why on earth go out on a Saturday night when I could have that?

I made it for many, many years without him, survived all on my own, though when I look back, I'm not really sure how. Because he spoiled me, like I was his to spoil, cooking for me like he did, making my favorites, letting me rest my head on his lap if I'd had a hard day, all kinds of things. If I went out to get the Sunday paper, I would come home to freshly made pancakes. If I had a cold, there was chicken soup. If I needed to stay up late talking, or go for a long, midnight drive, Hutch would do it with me, even if he had to get up early in the morning. It got to be almost too much, and I was desperate to find a way to restore the balance. To make him feel as cared for as he did me.

One time, Hutch went up to Seattle for a three-day forensic conference. He invited me to go with him, but I thought about how he would be, and should be, all absorbed in what he was doing, making connections, drinking tons of great Seattle coffee with his new forensic pals. So I said no, told him maybe I had a cold or something, muttered about all that rain, and drove him to the airport. Then, while he was gone, I got busy. I did everything.

I replaced the old disposer with a new one, and then scrubbed every inch of that kitchen. I cleaned the fridge inside and out, mopped and waxed the kitchen floor, and all the other ones besides. I even, if you can believe this, did the broom closet and the front hall closet. Then I dusted and vacuumed everything I could reach, fixed the doorbell, and oiled all the wood. I cleaned windows and mirrors, dusted pictures and furniture, and touched up the grout in the bathroom. I figured I could re-tile the whole bathroom at some point, but at least for the meanwhile, it would look cleaner in there. On the day I was supposed to pick him up at the airport, I had to hustle to get the new mattress and box spring on his bed, and thank God for Huggy, 'cause I never would have gotten all that set up in time. He helped me make up the bed with the oldest sheets in the place, so Hutch wouldn't guess right away, and we both giggled like little kids as I walked him to his car.

"Make sure and tell me how it goes, my man," said Huggy, tilting his head back to laugh, like he does. "He's going to think he's in the wrong house."

When I picked Hutch up, I was grungy from all the cleaning. He told me I looked like crap, and I told him to fuck off with absolutely no malice at all. Hutch just rolled his eyes, and dozed most of the way as I drove, this telling me with absolute certainty that he'd had a good time, the flight had been hell, and that he was glad to be home.

And because he was so tired, he didn't notice. He simply didn't notice any of it, just shuffled in, carrying his bag, dumping it on his new bed, taking a shower in the sparkling bathroom. All without any comment at all. He even threw his coat on the couch like he expected at some point that someone, namely me, was going to come along and hang it up for him. I'll admit, I did pick it up, it was his suede one, and it smelled like cigarettes and beer, that stale airplane smell, and like Hutch. Who smelled like sweat and warm silk, and I closed my eyes and hung my head, my fingers digging into that jacket. Stood there while I heard the shower run, and knew that I couldn't take back a gift that I had given. Either he would notice, or he wouldn't.

I hung up the jacket and then jumped in the shower after Hutch, who was practically nodding off as he passed me in the narrow hallway, and then went to bed myself. He was flicking lights on and off, bumping around in there as he moved his suitcase; I could hear him humming, which usually sent me right to sleep. Then, just as my eyes were finally closing, I heard a thump, and a "What the hell?"

My door was opened with a brilliant slam, light streaming in from the hallway, and Hutch, outlined in black.

"Huh?" I asked, sitting up. "What's wrong?"

"What the fuck did you do to my bed?" He turned on the overhead light in my room.

"Uh," I said. I rubbed my eyes, blinking, trying to think of a way to explain it. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, but maybe Hutch had actually liked that old bed of his. "You got a bad back, so I got you a new one."

"A new one?" Hutch asked, like he suddenly couldn't understand perfect English.

"Yeah," I said, waving my hand in the air, "a new one. It's okay you don't like it, I can take it back in the morning if you don't sleep on it."

He stepped into the room, his brows drawing together as though I had gone quite mad in his absence. I could see his face now; he looked really tired. And confused.

"And what the hell's with the floor?" he snapped, to cover this. "I practically slipped coming out of the bathroom."

It was all going terribly wrong. I couldn't even laugh at the fact that his hair was standing straight up on one side, on account of he'd gone to bed with it wet.

"I waxed it," I said, muttering, wanting nothing more than to lie back on my pillows and sleep until morning.

"You what?" He was practically spitting, one hand gripping the knob of the door. Like no one had ever waxed a floor before.

"I washed it," I said. "I washed it and then I waxed it. S'probably why it's slippery."

"You wa--" he began, and then he stopped. He tilted his head to the side in that way he has when he's done listening to you and is figuring it all out.

The way I see it, the only reason it took him as long as it did was because he was flat out exhausted. Otherwise, it would have been all smiles and praise from the get-go, and I would have felt like a million bucks instead of old gum on the bottom of a shoe. As it was, he turned around and walked out of my bedroom and started flipping on all the lights in the house. I got out of bed, too, and with my bare feet, followed him as he walked around, his mouth open, staring. Silent, like he was in a museum or something. He looked at everything. At the windows, the mirrors, the furniture, the floor. He stood stock still in the middle of the kitchen for a full minute, turning slowly around, and then finally, when I opened the broom closet and gave it an elegant ta-da wave on the off chance that he might miss it, he laughed out loud.

"Oh, for cying--Jesus, Starsk, this must have taken you--did you work all weekend?"

"Even took Friday off," I said, not bothering to hide my smile, or my pride. "The disposer even works now. It's new. " I added that at the end because I couldn't wait around for him to cook something so he could see how well it worked.

Then he got that little frown, the one that always let me know there was something I'd done that he didn't like. And the guy didn't just frown, he worked it, like he was trying to hold back his temper, trying to keep a rein on exploding all over the place. But just as I was trying to figure out whether pointing out the new paper towel dispenser was a good idea, he ducked his head, and looked up at me through those dark, gold eyelashes of his.

"Starsky," he said. "Starsk. I--I don't know what to say."

I folded my arms across my chest. "Tell me it's beautiful," I said, thinking of the time I'd gotten him a new LTD and he'd practically burst into tears when he saw it in the parking lot.

"It's beautiful," he said. Obedient. Meaning it. Eyes shining like sea stones, mouth soft as it tried not to bend into a smile. Because if he smiled, I got the feeling that he felt he would come apart.

His t-shirt that he'd put on to sleep in was a little rucked along his neck, so I walked up to him and tugged on it. His eyes watched me, never leaving mine, and in them I saw something of the Hutch from the time when we were new. Like he couldn't believe that someone would go to all that trouble for him, though really, he should have known it by that time. And then he blinked, shifting into the now Hutch, seeing me and thinking of all the ways he could get back at me for this.

"Starsk," he said again, voice dipping into a low, honey-sweet place that I found I rather liked.

I laughed a little and shrugged. "Make me chocolate-chip pancakes sometime. Then we'll call it even."

He made a little huff sound in the back of his throat, and I knew he was thinking that there was no way a pancake breakfast could ever equal a new disposer and a house that looked like it had been turned over by an army of maids.

We were both in our p.j.'s, barefooted, practically toe-to-toe, almost arguing about who owed what to whom, and I realized I'd never been happier in my whole life. Never. I eventually made Hutch go to bed after he tried to thank me some more, but I swatted him on the shoulder to make him stop, because I couldn't really explain that the look in his eyes and the way he said my name was all the thanks I needed.

I loved that man. I adored him. But I could never really say it, not the way he could, always saying, I love ya Starsk, or even full out I love you, Starsky. But maybe I didn't have to say it with words, maybe I could find a way and he would still understand.

Funnily enough, it was almost as if Hutch beat me to the punch in saying it the way I had been considering saying it, and that was during an argument about, of all things, the bread. Hutch constantly left the bread unwrapped and in the heat of summer, it got hard as a rock. I kept telling him to wrap the bread, I kept asking him to do this one small simple thing so that I could have my midnight p.b. and j's without breaking a tooth on the first bite. You'd think he'd comply, you'd think that a guy like Hutch would be the most considerate roommate ever, but no. The truth is out now, he's a bastard when he wants to be, and his response to that the whole bread issue was to blow me off.

I was ticked. I was boiling inside, and as I tried to talk to him, calmly, yeah, right, he laughed at me. Well that was it, I'd had it, so I decked him. I told him not to laugh, and when he kept doing it, I pounced on him like a bad boy at recess on the playground. But this was Hutch, you know, so I couldn't really hurt him, but I wanted him to stop. Only he wouldn't. It was getting infectious and very hard to stay mad at him, when I felt like giving up and rolling into his arms, when all of a sudden he sat up and kissed me. Right on the mouth. Then he pulled away, got up, and walked off, this big smile on his face, and that look that said he'd bested me, and he was pleased to be keeping score. Or maybe not. I couldn't be sure because it'd been a long time since he'd wanted or needed to keep score for something like that.

I sat on the floor 'til he came back with an apple in his hand. He took a bite and looked at me, still smiling as he chewed.

"What did you do that for?" I asked.

"Felt like it," he said, taking another bite of his apple. Then he gave it to me because he knew I wanted it. Watching me as I took a bite and tried to give it back to him.

"No, you keep it," he said, giving me that little sideways look he has, that little flirty move with his eyelashes.

I wanted to respond in kind, but in my own way. I couldn't bring myself to actually start talking about the kiss and what it meant, because it was very likely that that would make Hutch even more nervous than it was making me just thinking about it, so I tried something else. I had to wait for my chance while he was doing something, washing the dishes, I think, and I came up behind him. Slipped my arms around his waist and laid my head against his back. He smelled good, of salt and warmth, and I could feel his heartbeat beneath my cheek. For a moment we just stood there, my Hutch and I, our breaths matching, and the slight sound of his hands in the water.

"What are you doing back there," he asked. It felt like he was teasing, but then, it felt like he really wanted to know, and it was at that point that I was suddenly horrified that I'd interpreted everything, every last little word and gesture, totally and completely wrong. That living together didn't mean anything more than a financial arrangement, that his feelings for me were as they always had been, brothers of the street, close friends, confidants. Not lovers.

I began to pull away, trying to come up with a million and one ways to explain everything when suddenly he turned to grab me. I froze. Breathed hard in and out and then said, in the same manner that he had, "Felt like it."

My heart was hammering as he let me go, but out of the corner of my eye as I walked away, I could see him dipping his chin to his chest, smiling into his soapy hands as though he'd unlocked the key to a golden treasure.

I hadn't been wrong after all. And we never really talked about it, though I kept doing it, and Hutch kept accepting it. He liked it, I could tell, and sometimes, he would lean into me, tipping his head back so that it rested for a brief second on my shoulder. Then he would sigh. Then he would straighten up, and go about whatever thing he'd been doing when I'd interrupted him in the first place and that would be it. Which kind of surprised me, because Hutch, as I've said before, was never one to let sleeping dogs lie. This time, though, there was a whole kennel of them, bedded down in the proverbial straw and fast asleep.

I guess things came to a head, so to speak, one weekend when we were up at Pine Lake. Hutch got it into his head that we were going to make ourselves useful, as he put it. Which was totally out of sync with my plans, which was to lie on the couch and read. Yes, I read, don't be shocked; Hutch was when he found out, but he mostly gave me grief about it to be mean, like we were back in the days when that was what he did best. Anyway, he talked me out of reading and into helping, and after a bit of painting and pounding, he sent me to the store, like a little kid on an errand.

"Don't get lost," he said, giving me a ten spot. "Don't talk to strangers, and hurry back, you hear?"

"Yes, mother," I said, pretending it got to me more than it did. It didn't.

But as I walked to the store, which was two miles down a dirt road that curved through the pine trees, I realized that if things continued the way they were going, I was going to lose my mind. I bought the things that he needed and stuffed the change in my pocket. At the little grocery store, I bought myself a nice, ice-cold root beer and sat on the wooden steps with my feet planted in the dust to think about it. I watched the afternoon grow long, with the shadows painting the blacktop street, the slow movement of people as they went around doing their thing, and thought about it.

I couldn't go backward to the days when I couldn't stand Hutch, and I didn't want to. I didn't much care for the idea of going on as we had been, best friends and roommates, because then the whole question of the next Kira or Terry or Gillian would come up, and I had a feeling that could get messy. And frankly, I didn't want to share him with anyone. Not anymore. As to how I would tell him this, or how he would take it, I didn't know. But maybe that didn't matter, because at least then it would be out in the open. Once there, Hutch, being Hutch, would take a stick and poke at it until he understood it. Then maybe he could help me understand it, too.

I stood up and tossed the empty glass bottle in the trash. Then with the trees sighing overhead and the heat soaking through the pines, I made my way back to the cottage. I was late, and naturally, Hutch was worried. Only his way of expressing that was to snap at me. I handed him the little paper bag of screws and wires and shrugged. With a scowl, Hutch turned away and started working again, like I wasn't even in the room. Yeah, I'd pissed him off as well as worried him, but at that moment, I loved him so much, I didn't care. Just the sight of him, wham, like I'd been whapped upside the head yet again and when was I going to pay attention and do something about it?

The impulse was raw, like some barrier had been ripped out of me. I stepped up behind him and circled my arms around him. Snugged him close to me, wanting to pull him inside of me like he was always pulling me inside of him. I could feel his heartbeat surge beneath his ribs, the ripple of his skin, where my hands had shifted up his t-shirt and found bare skin.

"Don't you think for one minute I'm going to forgive you--" he started, his voice rough.

This had gone on long enough, I'd decided, and so I moved around, keeping my arms circled around his waist, until I was chest to chest with him. And while I wouldn't say I was shaking or that he was about to jump out of his skin, we weren't calm. But Hutch, he's the brave one, I don't mind telling you, because instead of trying to move away, he moved closer, and then he kissed me. Soft, like bird's wings, sweet, like Hutch's smile.

"Felt like that, did you?" I asked, making sure he knew what we were doing.

"Yeah," he said, the smile now shining from his blue eyes.

Hutch pulled me into his bedroom like that had been his plan all along. I let him because I knew he liked it like that, even though my knees were knocking together like it was my first time, but then again, it was my first time with Hutch. As we stood there at the end of the bed with the sun pouring through the windows, spilling over the morning-rumpled sheets of his bed and lighting up the dust motes that were sprinkled through the air, he stroked my face. And then, like he couldn't help himself, his hands moved to my neck, and then he pulled me full against him, shuddering as his arms wrapped around me, as his hands tucked themselves into my hair. For all he was so strong, the spread of his palms was gentle, like feathers, stroking my sweat-soaked spine, teasing my breath out of me. Pulling my face to his and licking into my mouth, his tongue tasting sweet, and his eyes, half-hidden by lashes, sparkling as he looked at me.

My knees gave out and I sat on the bed, wondering how the hell I'd gotten here to this sunsoaked afternoon, with Hutch kneeling on the bed, crawling to lay down on it, pulling me with him. His hands were all over me, and his sandy hair tickled my arm, my neck, as he leaned in close and started tugging on the hem of my dusty t-shirt. I could smell the silk of him, see the gold wisps of hair stuck to his skin.

"Hutch," I said.

"What is it, Starsk?" he answered, still pulling. Not looking at me, concentrating on his task.

I let him do it then, not saying anything more, and helped him pull off his shirt, so our skin could connect, hearts thumping beneath our ribs. I think he laughed a little when he brushed his fingers across my chest, covered with hair, you know, and dark. Not like the ladies he was used to, or that I was used to for that matter. But he was beautiful all over, pale gold, with long muscles under the skin that I stroked with my hand. And he lay back and let me, until I was totally immersed in the feel of him, and like an unwanted spark, my fear went out, and I started peeling off the rest of his clothes.

He took off mine like he'd been practicing for years, laughing with his eyes, his hands strong on my thighs as he stroked my cock and gathered me up in the palm of his hand. And if you would have told me years before that I'd be letting another man do that to me, then I would have taken my own gun and shot myself in the head. But it was Hutch, this was Hutch, and as he turned me and pressed himself full along the length of my back, I could feel his heat soaking through me. Warming me, sending a shiver along my hip as he traced it with his fingers before pushing his hand through my legs.

"Starsky," he said, his voice burry and low.

I bent my head into the pillow and let him push me, let him cup his knees behind mine, felt his hardness nudging in beside his hand. As he leaned in, his hair whispered against my neck, and I felt him sweep his mustache along that place, and then nip at me with his teeth. I swear to God, I almost came right then and there, and then he reached around to grab my cock from the front, this time, and as he started to suck along the curve of my neck, he stroked me, fingers twisting as they gathered up the moisture, just right, pressing just right, man, after three pulls of his hand, I came like a teenager, messy and all over the place. Screaming. Buried my head in the pillow, groaning, feeling stupid and foolish for having gone off too soon.

Hutch had been gripping my hip, he released me and pulled me to him, licking the sweat from my neck, his eyes level with mine. Saying it was okay, without words; his body was hot and, I realized, shaking against mine.

"Let me," I said. "We'll do this, we'll--"

He nodded at me, shoulders dipping, and I reached down, and covered his cock with my hand. Smiled because my hand wasn't as big as his, getting used to the silky feel of his skin over the hard muscle, the tip of him beaded with wet, and his eyes, diamond blue, his mouth falling open a little as I started to stroke him. It didn't take long for him, either, he was silky and hard under my hand, his eyes closed as he bit into his lip, and I leaned in to kiss him there, to relax his mouth, to taste him, right then as he came, his hips stuttering forward, come spilling over my thigh like hot ribbons.

Then he fell into me, ducking his head in the curve of my shoulder, warm, whiskery breath as he said, "I love you more than my own life." Arms wrapped around me like he wasn't going to let go, ever. Heart hammering beneath his ribs, the dampness of his skin against mine, and something unseen swirled around us, binding us in that hot afternoon.

I think I must have passed out or fallen asleep after that, because when I woke up, the covers and sheets were rumpled and stained, and Hutch, the romantic one, snored by my side as the sun went down, his long body golden against the pale cotton, hair spilled on the pillow, shimmering like promises. My throat was raw, there were bruises on my hips, and a very large hickey on my neck. I could feel the blood moving beneath it. Hutch owned me now and I wanted that. Hadn't realized I wanted it 'til it happened. And we were safe now, safe together. Yeah, on Monday we had to go back to work, but that time, that pure, unmarked afternoon, it stays with me.

Everyone should have a Hutch of their own. I got mine, but I think it's the only one, so that makes me the luckiest guy on the planet.