Right in the Kisser
Starsky was completely silent as he drove, staring straight over the steering wheel, his jaw muscles flexing.
Hutch alternated wildly between concocting some blatant lie or pretending amnesia. As if that had worked so well the last time. He touched his aching cheekbone just once, enduring the censure from Starsky. He’d brought it on himself. He could have walked the eight miles home—with a possibly cracked rib and swollen lip. If he hadn’t called Starsky, then who? Was he trying to hide or lay himself bare?
If he hadn’t called Starsky for the ride, would Starsky have forgiven him the slight? Would Starsky ever forgive him now?
Parking the Torino directly in front of Helene’s, Starsky got out, stalking to the curb.
His whole body throbbing like an exposed nerve during a root canal, Hutch climbed wearily out of the car and fumbled for the keys to the door.
Starsky unlocked it, waiting until Hutch went slowly, step by excruciating step up the narrow staircase and into the apartment.
“Tell me what happened,” Starsky demanded, his voice hard and tight, brushing past Hutch to walk into the living room.
Hutch flinched, unable to meet his partner’s eyes. This was not the Starsky he joked with on a stake-out or played roshambo over finishing an arrest report. This was the Detective Sergeant who interrogated criminals and forced a confession faster than any other cop in the department.
How did he begin? Was tonight the beginning, or ten years ago, on a day he could remember as easily as his own birthday?
Tonight had been the end, that was for certain.
“I—“ Hutch sucked briefly on his split lip, the tang of blood salty and sharp in his mouth. He sat down at his kitchen table, closing his fingers around the coffee mug left over from breakfast. “Went out, to a bar. I told you…”
“You told me you had a date.” Starsky sounded like he was scolding. He turned on the faucet, letting the water run for a long moment before thrusting a dishrag under to get it wet. “Cindy.”
“Sidney,” Hutch said, glad to have something safe to cling to. He’d never told Starsky that Sidney was a guy. Only given a vague description of blue eyes and dark curls, grateful for the unusual name that could be male or female. His own grandmother had been a Sydney Anne.
It hadn’t been the first time with Sidney. They’d met in a bar four months ago—Hutch had certainly known what kind of bar it was. Had gone in because he knew Starsky never would set foot in the place. Had frozen to stone when he’d seen the dark curly haired man nursing a beer at a quiet table, and then breathed out in a rush because the man was not Starsky. Just a general resemblance—not even really similar to Nick Starsky, except for the froth of curls and blue eyes they all three shared.
Sidney had a square jaw and was just a shade taller than Hutch. He wasn’t left handed, didn’t have a devilish sense of humor or know how to shoot a gun. But he’d been kind, and good and recognized a fellow traveler on the road to a new experience. The first time for them both—both with a string of failed relationships behind them.
“Hutch, what happened at the bar?” Each word could have sliced metal in half, edges sharper than swords.
“I got rolled, mugged, I told you on the phone,” Hutch muttered, surprised when Starsky placed the cold, wet rag on his bruised cheek. The dichotomy between Starsky’s harsh questioning and the gentle way he washed the blood off sent shivers down Hutch’s spine. “Sidney—we were having drinks and walked out to go to…” his place wasn’t apropos, “to the car when four guys surrounded us.”
“Did you have your gun?” Starsky asked, turning his back to rummage through Hutch’s cupboards. He brought out Band-Aids, aspirin and a bottle of brandy.
“Starsky, I was on a…” date wasn’t something he was going to admit to, either. “Evening off, I don’t wear the holster every minute of the day.” His ire was rising, taking away some of the pain from talking with injured ribs.
Starsky raised his eyebrows skeptically and held out the aspirin bottle. Hutch shook out four while Starsky poured two fingers of brandy into the coffee cup. The alcohol didn’t improve the bitterness of the aspirin as it went down his throat, but Hutch accepted it as his due.
He’d fucked up royally. Should never have started down that path with Sidney. Should have thought—just once—what this would do to his career, to his reputation…to Starsky when he found out.
“You used to,” was all Starsky said, peeling off the paper from a Band-Aid. He leaned forward to plaster it on Hutch’s cheekbone. “Nasty part of town to get caught in.”
Hutch held up a hand out, fending of the first aid. “Not putting that on my face.”
“What about your ribs?” Starsky asked caustically, rolling the sticky plastic between his fingers. “Or your swollen cock?”
Stunned, Hutch tried to draw in a breath but there wasn’t enough air and it fucking hurt more than he could deal with. He refused to cry in front of Starsky and stood, feeling the cleansing anger damp down the pain. “I got kneed in the junk, that what you want me to admit?”
Starsky got right in his face, too close, too familiar, too—God, what a lost opportunity. Hutch would have normally welcomed that proximity, had dreamed of swooping in for a kiss. Now there was no chance in hell of that ever, ever happening. He backed away, sitting down to distance himself.
“I—“ Starsky began, teeth bared. “Want you to admit you were out whoring with some damned male chicken in a shithole homo bar. Four guys gay-bashed you and left you in an alley like some....” He turned back to the sink and threw the bottle of brandy against the porcelain. The glass shattered, glistening shrapnel littering the counter and floor.
“He wasn’t a chicken.” Hutch felt the need to defend at least one point in the damning truth. Starsky was not usually so intentionally crude, especially with Hutch. “He’s in his twenties—“
“You wanna know how I heard, buddy?” Starsky bit off the affectionate term as if beheading a snake. “Even before you called? I was comin’ home from The Pits, thinking about calling you, and it was on the fucking police band. Guess your—what’s his name, Sidney, called the cops.”
Hutch spared a single thought for Sidney Greene, the victim in all this. He’d never call Sidney, never even had his number. At least he’d been alive to report the crime.
“I was thinking…” Something in Starsky’s voice caught, and he plowed through the awkward pause roughly. “Damn, that’s terrible, y’know? That human beings—men like you and me could h-hate anyone that much to beat—“
About to drink the rest of the brandy, Hutch stopped with the mug halfway to his mouth. Was Starsky crying? How could that be?
“I knew the location, Hutch, had heard it on the radio.” Starsky didn’t turn around, just leaned against the counter with his head hanging. “So when you called, said you’d been mugged and where t’come pick you up…” He spun around, face blazing, pain, anger and almighty fear mixed in his eyes. “I knew they’d beat you up for being with another man.”
“Yeah, about sums it up,” Hutch said very quietly. He literally didn’t know what to do or say. His chest ached so badly he could barely speak. “I’ll put in a requisition in the morning for a transfer.” That was the most difficult thing he’d ever had to say in his life.
Starsky gasped and looked straight at him, his nose running. He wiped irritably the snot with the back of his hand. “Why?”
“Because it will get out, Starsk,” Hutch explained. How had he come to be the reasonable one here? “Innuendo, rumors—some cops already say you and I are…”
“So fuck them,” Starsky said roughly, grabbing Hutch by the arms and hauling him to his feet.
The movement hurt. Hutch yelped and Starsky jumped back with alarm.
“I don’t give care what anyone else thinks.” He touched Hutch’s right side carefully, probing the ribs. “Any cracked?”
Hutch shook his head. They were used to patching each other’s wounds, had assessed and dealt with bruised ribs before but he felt confused. “I’m sorry. This will never happen again.”
“Damned straight it won’t,” Starsky said violently, his hand still feather light on Hutch’s sore chest. He raised one finger and touched Hutch’s swollen lip. “I’ve been the coward here, Hutch.”
“What?” Something rushed through him, astonishingly erotic and unexpected.
“I should have admitted…” Starsky was obviously fighting an internal battle and losing. “We’re gonna hunt those bastards down and arrest them for this. For assault of a police officer, not some random gay-bashing—you must have seen their faces? Did you get a description?” He was talking far too fast as if keeping something at bay.
Hutch knew what Starsky was afraid of. Saw it as clearly as if he were looking at his own battered face in the mirror. This had started with him—had started when he met Starsky ten years ago, at the police academy. If he had to walk away right now, he’d walk with his head held high, owning up to the truth. The thing was, he was beginning to believe, to hope, that the truth was in Starsky, too.
“I love you,” Hutch said around the lump in his throat.
“Dummy.” Starsky grit his teeth, tears glinting in his blue eyes. “Loved you so long, it hurts. You’re never gonna scare me like that again, you hear?”
“I do,” Hutch said, and kissed him.