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Open Wounds and Words Unspoken

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I was past irritated and still picking my way carefully through the razor-thin shards of ‘pissed off’ when Starsky finally blew into the squad room, his hair still damp from his morning shower. When women’s lib had put the pressure on the powers that be to start using masculine names for hurricanes, I’d suddenly found a descriptive reference point for my partner. He sure knew how to make an entrance, especially when he was running late, which seemed to be the norm lately. Everyone had learned to get a grip on whatever papers they happened to be working on, at least until the doors had stopped swinging and the storm had moved on past them and blown itself out by the coffee machine.

I didn’t bother to look up until his mane started dripping water on my desk. I snatched the case file I was studying to safety and thought he‘d get the hint that there was a ‘cold front‘ brewing in my neck of the woods if I bit my tongue and refused to acknowledge him altogether.

“Sorry, late again, huh?” he mumbled, lamely. Without even looking, I knew that he was checking the latest in a long string of watches that had replaced the old Yamamoto Reflex.

“Dobey wants you…in there,” I pointed at the door with my pencil, still without giving him so much as a glance and was surprised when the blue Adidas didn’t make tracks. When Cap’n Dobey was waiting, it was wise to move quickly.

“Well…?”

“Well, what, Starsky?” I asked, my patience starting to ooze out of that deep, dark place where I’d been packing it down for what seemed like forever. I was afraid if he didn’t get the hell out of there, something was going to give.

“Aren’t you gonna go in with me?” His voice quavered like a kid who’s being sent to the principal and is scared shitless.

The vulnerability in his tone finally got my attention. I focused on his face, intending to tell him that I’d already been in there, gotten briefed on a new case, tried to come up with yet another string of excuses to placate Dobey and that it was his turn to take it like a man and face the wrath of the big guy. I had a lot more to say, but it suddenly floated away like a helium-filled balloon.

He looked like someone had been using him as a punching bag. One of his eyes was swollen, he had a split lip and those were only the wounds I could see. His face was pale and when I grabbed his arm to help him to the nearest chair, he winced.

“Starsk, what the…?”

Unfortunately, Dobey stuck his head out at that particular moment to see if his errant detective had arrived yet.

I put my hand on the captain’s shoulder and gently steered him back into his office.

“Could you please put another team on the case, Cap‘n? “ I hated to beg, but I had to find out once and for all what Starsky’s problem was. “I’ve got to get him to talk. This has gone on long enough.”

“Under normal circumstances, I’d say that might be a good idea, but he’s closed the door on everyone who’s tried to help him…” Obviously, the captain was reaching the end of his patience, too. “I’ll give you a couple days, but if his attitude doesn’t change, I’m partnering you with someone else and he’s going to see the department psychologist.”

“Thanks, Cap’n.”

“Make sure you get the whole story this time, Hutchinson.” He said gruffly. “This soap opera of yours has got to stop!”

‘Ours?’ I thought. It had been mostly me pushing and Starsky resisting, but I guess whatever was on his plate was dinner for me, too, when you got right down to the nitty-gritty. Ever since the shooting and all the aftermath, Starsky’s brain had been like a mine field…try moving in the wrong direction either way and you could get badly hurt.

I thought the soap opera idea was amusing, though, and I was sorting through names to call it when I discovered that Starsky wasn’t docilely waiting for me on the other side of the door. He was long gone. ‘Why should that surprise me?’ I wondered.

I spent the rest of the day searching every dive, diner and disco that Starsky had ever frequented, grilling all his snitches, mutual friends and even calling all of the detective’s relatives. Even Huggy could not remember seeing Starsky hanging out at The Pits lately, except for the times he’d come in with me. I called all the hospitals. The beaches were nearly empty due to the unseasonably cold weather Bay City had been hit with, so I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t find him there, either. But I checked, anyway.

I drove by Starsky’s apartment several times, hunted down old girlfriends and had used up every resource that I had at my disposal. It had been so easy to find him before…I almost wished that the bright red Torino hadn’t died that day in May when all hell broke loose. He had shown no interest in restoring it, to everyone’s surprise, replacing it with what he called a sensible cop car…a black Ford Fiesta, for god’s sake. If anybody questioned his choice, he told them that he’d grown up and the Torino was too recognizable for undercover work, as if he hadn’t been hearing that for years. I think he picked it out just to spite me. Try chasing a bad guy in a Fiesta and it was “oh, so comfy” for long stakeouts. Most of the time, he seemed content to just let me drive the LTD, though. I drove by his place for the last time around eight o’clock and found his car parked in the usual spot, but the apartment was dark. Actually hoping that he’d gone to bed so I could wake him up after the day I’d had, I pounded on his door. When he didn’t answer, I took advantage of the key I had on my ring and let myself in.

Feeling the cold steel barrel of a gun pressed to my temple wasn’t one of the scenarios I’d imagined.

“Starsk?” I whispered, half scared out of my mind.

I was relieved when the gun went away and the lights came on.

”You know how close you came to getting’ your damn head blown off?” He yelled.

Dropping into the nearest chair I could find, I stared at this alien who was wearing my partner’s body.

“Yeah, I think I got the message, loud and clear.” I growled. “I’m just wondering why you think you got the monopoly on ‘pissed.’ I knocked, I let myself in, just like I’ve done a hundred times before. This is the first time you stuck your gun in my ear. So help me, if I don’t start hearin’ why by the time I have the strength to get up, I’m gonna have to hurt you.”

He snorted. “Might as well, seems to be open season on Starskys. At least this time I’ll see it comin’.”

“Yeah…about that. I really wanted to hear what happened. Even resorted to begging Dobey to throw the case at someone else, so I could help.” I was building up a full head of steam and was pleased to see that the moron had the decency to look ashamed of himself. “I’ve been all over this god-forsaken city, looking for you, and I’m stickin’ around until this gets hashed out, if I have to handcuff us together. We have a couple days off before Dobey decides to have you committed.”

I was pleased to see a flash of blue fire blazing out of midnight eyes, but then the weariness returned. Still, it was a start.

I got up and went to him. “Come on, Starsk. Let me help you.” I put my hand on his shoulder and watched a smile start in those eyes and and spread across his face. He laid his hand lightly on my stomach.

“Haven’t you had enough of mothering me yet, Blondie?” He leaned against me and I wrapped my arms around him and maneuvered him over onto the couch.

“Never, you’re my favorite charity case.” For a few minutes, he tolerated my hands roaming over his body, trying to catalogue his various injuries, but he soon tired of that and pushed me away. “Promise… I don’t have any concealed weapons on me, Sergeant. What I really need is a couple aspirin and a good night’s sleep.”

“Swear you’ll stay put tonight and I’ll help you get settled, but I’m not leaving. Looks like you do have a couple cuts on your arm that should be cleaned and bandaged, though.”

Starsky chuckled. “Some things never change, do they?” He held up two fingers and mumbled, “Scout’s honor. Lead me to my bed, Bones, and you can play doctor all you want.”

I pulled him up and steered him in the direction of his bedroom. “Three fingers, moron.”

“What’s…?” He was almost out on his feet.

“The Boy Scout pledge…it’s three fingers, not two.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t get a one-finger salute at this point.” Starsky’s lop-sided grin told me that there was no animosity behind the words. I smiled back and he was out cold within minutes after he had his aspirin and didn’t even stir as I cleaned and dressed his wounds.

I scooped a clean t-shirt and a pair of boxers out of Starsky’s dresser, made sure the door was locked and took a quick shower. I grabbed the extra blanket and pillow out of the closet, but wasn’t ready to sleep yet, so I padded through the apartment, touching familiar things… pictures of the two of us grinning like a pair of idiots…his guitar… books I’d read to him in those early days home from the hospital.

I wandered back into the bedroom and watched him sleeping peacefully, bringing back many times in the last year-and-a-half when the pain had been so intractable that he’d lain there, eyes squeezed tightly shut, tears and sweat mingling to run into his hair, as he clung to the sound of my voice until his body finally relaxed and his pain meds gave him relief.

I had meant to sack out in the big recliner next to the bed. We’d found it at a thrift store and I’d spent many nights there, finding it a lot more comfortable than the couch, but the brief bit of contact and the hope that we could actually talk through whatever problems we dredged up made me yearn to be closer and I carefully lay down next to him on the bed, covering up with the extra blanket.

The light that spilled from the hall was just enough to look up and distinguish our reflection in the mirror above the bed. On a couple of occasions, Starsky and I had double dated and I’d ended up making love with the “fille du jour” in that very bed and I knew that it could be somewhat of a turn on. I tried hard to put faces with the names of all the girls I’d been with and found that there had been so many that very few of them stood out.

I wondered just how many women had shared this bed with my partner and found that counting women instead of sheep was a bit too stimulating to be an effective cure for insomnia. I hadn’t dated anyone since the traumatic events that nearly killed Starsk and I’d been taking care of my own needs for too long. The chore was becoming routine and about as exciting as milking a cow.

I realized that just thinking about Starsky’s lovelife was intriguing and definitely not providing me with the relaxation I needed to get to sleep, either. But my cock had joined the party now and I couldn’t force myself to let go of the idea. What would it be like to make love to someone as caring and passionate as I knew he was…what would it be like to have Starsky’s hands all over me…his mouth teasing…nipping…sucking…kissing me. What would it be like to make him so needy…to make him want to take whatever I had to give him and love it. I looked at his mirrored image and imagined what he would look like with his mouth red and swollen with my kisses. I had a sudden desire to see what his scars felt like under all that dark fur and…

I propelled myself off the bed so fast that I startled him and he whispered my name.

My cheeks flamed as I wrapped myself in the blanket and quickly settled down on the couch, willing myself to stop shaking and get my breathing under control. It took a strong will and a firm hand to convince my dick that to stray onto that path would lead to a rubber room at Cabrillo.

It took me even longer to convince myself that it wasn’t necessary to lock myself in the bathroom for the rest of the night to keep my partner safe from me.

The smell of coffee woke me and I smiled at the thought of spending the day with my partner, even if there were some tough issues that needed to be addressed.

Then the embarrassing thoughts that had kept me awake half the night came flooding back. I tried to dismiss them as the sexual fantasies of a man who’d gone without close physical contact for too long and determined that I’d look up one of my old girlfriends as soon as possible. It didn’t dawn on me that no faces or warm bodies came to mind and my obdurate cock showed no excitement at the idea.

I rolled over and came face to face with the object of my night’s unrest, sitting on a chair across the coffee table from me, obviously waiting for me to come to. My heart immediately leaped out of my chest like a magnet attracted to its opposite polar mate and the nights strange restlessness jumped out at me like a 3-D movie…somewhere, sometime during the events of the last couple years, I’d allowed myself to fall in love with Dave Starsky!

“Hey, Blintz…for somebody so anxious to get at the truth, you sure have wasted a lot of time. It’s afternoon already. I thought you’d be bringing out the rubber hose and patented Hutchinson interrogation tactics at the first crack of dawn.”

I grabbed the cup off the coffee table and took a big gulp, just to cover up my embarrassment and ended up coughing and choking as the burning liquid seared my tonsils. I ran for the kitchen sink, hoping he would stay put long enough for me to come to terms with my discovery before I had to face him again.

That didn’t happen. He was right there with a kitchen towel, trying to wipe off what I’d spewed all over myself. His touch burned me in places the hot coffee hadn’t even reached.

“It’s boiling hot, babe I would’ve thought the steam would give it away. Recognizing clues is the first thing we learned in the academy.” He grabbed a glass, filled it with water and stuck it in my hand, pulling the offending cup out of the other hand. “What’re you so shook up about, anyway?”

You…you just spooked me, I guess.” I stammered.

“I know, I think I counted about five different shades of eye shadow this morning.” He laughed and went into his rendition of ‘I Feel Pretty.’

‘Geez, Hutchinson, get a grip.’ I lectured myself. Out loud, I mumbled something about having to hit the head.

“If you need me to come hold your hand…” Even the stupid remarks he’d been coming up with for years suddenly held a whole new meaning for me.

I bolted from the room. I used the john and flushed it, grateful for the normalness of the sound in a world which had turned upside down in one night.

“If you want a shower, you know where everything is.” He called. “I’m gonna fix us something to eat.”

Thank god…a reprieve. I took my time and was remarkably more composed by the time I left the room (and the problem) behind me. It was something to bring out and examine later…when I was all alone.

“Feel better?” he asked, pouring me another cup of coffee, as I sat down at the kitchen table. “You know, you didn’t have to sleep on the torture rack last night.” He indicated the couch. “You could have slept in the recliner or even stretched out on the bed. I don’t think a bomb going off next to me would have disturbed me any.”

I thought ‘one very nearly did, buddy, and it would have disturbed you plenty.’

“I know, Starsk, but I wanted you to get a good nights sleep.”

“Yeah, I feel like I’m ready to get some stuff off my chest. I’m sorry I’ve been giving you such a hard time.” He held out his hand. “Still love me?”

I grabbed his hand and squeezd it. “That’s not about to change.” I felt like bawling. It had changed and in a way I never could have imagined.

“Thanks for patchin’ me up yet again. I don’t even remember you doing that.” He chuckled. “You know, Ma had a saying. ’Like open wounds, become words unspoken, they can fester and burn, till the silence is broken.’ The woman had a saying for everything.I always thought it was kind of weird, but it came to mind when I woke up this morning and looked.in the mirror. Guess I’ve gotta deal with both of them, whether I want to or not.”

“Your mom is a wise woman, Starsk.” I grinned, anxious to change the subject. “What I‘ve never understood is how she raised such a stubborn ass.”

“Hope you’re talking about Nick, partner.” he growled, falling back into the easy banter we’d always had up until recently.

“Now that I think of it, you both fit into that category.” I grabbed my plate and got up to carry my dishes to the sink. A muscle spasm twitched in my back and I stood for a minute, waiting for it to pass.

He was up and by my side in a flash. “And now who gets to spend the day with spasms, just because he was too stubborn to sleep somewhere comfortable? C’mere, let me rub your back.”

There was no way I was going to let those talented fingers anywhere near me until I had this whole thing figured out. After all, I knew that they were capable of sending dozens of women off into shuddering ecstasy. Castigating my unrepentant cock for taking control again, I moved away, a little too quickly, obviously, and knocked over the chair I’d been sitting in, sending a painful, but not unwelcome message to my body to keep my mind on the business at hand.

“Okay, go sit down somewhere and let me clear the table. It beats me how somebody as blond and gorgeous as you are can’t even walk across a room without bumping into things like a blind bull.”

Happy to go, I took one end of the couch. Starsk made short work of cleaning up and plopped down on the other end. Before I could breathe a sigh of relief for the space between us, he turned and stretched out, resting his feet on my right thigh. There was nothing different about it; we’d often sat watching TV in this same configuration. Since I’d been testing the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, however, it was almost unbearable. I couldn’t see any way of getting him to move without hurting his feelings, though, so I grabbed a pillow and positioned it over my abused cock.

“S-so, have they found the guy who blindsided you, yet?” I quickly picked a topic.

He seemed a little uncomfortable with the subject matter I’d chosen.

“I didn’t even report it.” he muttered, actually blushing a little, I thought.

“Starsky, that isn’t like you.” I was shocked. “You’re going to just let him get away with it?”

“At least I still have all my teeth, and just maybe I was looking for a fight, anyway.” he said flippantly. “I thought we were here to talk about us.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, ‘you’ are one of ‘us’ and I don’t like…”

“Case closed.” he snapped. “Stop mothering me.”

I held my hands up in surrender. “Okay, for now, at least.” My hands fell back to my lap and I found my right hand actually rubbing his stockinged foot. It felt good, so I didn’t force myself to stop. “So…is that what I need to do to get our partnership back on line.”

He sighed. “I guess I might as well just come out and say it…I’ve decided that there isn’t going to be any partnership anymore. I've made the decision to quit.”

I’d had all kind of things coming out of left field lately, but this one sent me reeling.

I pushed his feet off of my lap. “Just like that…you decided…no discussion?”

“Do you think I want to stick around and someday have to see you go through what I’ve been through the last year-and-a-half?”

“I kinda thought I went through the whole thing with you.” I felt like he’d decked me.

“I don’t ever want to see you have to go through that again, either.” He scooted up closer and laid his hand on my shoulder. “Hutch, I’m sick of thinking’…what it we’d driven your car that day…what if we’d picked a different parking spot…what if you hadn’t ducked in time? You know why I didn’t drop? ‘Cause I thought I could at least save you in case they took another swing at us.  No job's worth having to make decisions like that.”

“Okay, so you’re a hero. I suspected as much, but I’m glad it’s finally out there, so I can take that guilt to my grave.”

“Guilt, okay…let’s talk about that.” Starsky’s eyes blazed. “At first, I thought we could get over it, but it’s become something that I dread facing every day. You invented guilt, Hutch. I know you…I know what you’re thinkin’ all the time. You deny yourself…you do everything for me…you give in to whatever I want and why? Just because I got shot and you didn’t.” He slumped back onto the other side of the couch. “You’re just gonna go on crucifyin’ yourself for the rest of our lives and I can’t stand here holdin’ the nails for you anymore.”

“That’s not …” In my heart, I found the truth that I’d been denying.

“Yeah, there it is. Shit, Hutch, I know you don’t do it on purpose and I know you don’t want to admit it, but it’s part of you, babe, part of who you are and I really don’t want to change you, either.  But I can’t stand livin’ with it. We had a good thing going for a long time, but it’s over…we just got too close. There’s no way of getting past this.”

“Why couldn’t you tell me this before it started eating you up? Everybody’s been trying to get through to you, but you just clam up and refuse to talk about it.”

“That’s what I told my shrink…”

“But I thought you refused to see the psychologist.”

“I’ve been paying through the nose for months to sit and talk about crap that’s not ever going to do any good. I didn’t want to go through the department and have it all go on my record.” He smiled tremulously through the tears in his eyes. “Do you really think I like driving a Fiesta? I can’t afford anything else.”

‘Okay, you want to quit. That’s not a problem.” I had a few tears running down my cheeks, too. “Do you think I haven’t felt like quitting? We’ll find something else that we can do together.”

“No way! I knew that was going to be the next bargaining chip. That’s the only reason I tried so hard, I thought maybe I could take it. If you quit now, the guilt is flipped on its head and back to me. You’re a damn good cop…you’re going to stay here, make Lieutenant and replace Dobey.”

“Starsky, you can’t just…” What he’d said suddenly registered. “What do you mean, stay here?”

“I’m goin’ back east, Hutch. Nicky moved away…ma’s all alone, rattling around in that big old house.”

It couldn’t have hurt worse if he’d sucker-punched me. A burning rage started to consume me and I knew I had to get out of there. I stood up and looked back down at him. I could feel his agony and I knew on some level he was right. But I did love him and he had no clue how that love had spun on its axis. He’d played the one card I couldn’t match, though, and he knew it. I couldn’t compete with his love for his mom and I didn’t want to. Still I hurt and I had to hurt him back.

“You’re right…I don’t need a quitter watching my back. Thanks for arranging my life for me.” I strode to the door and opened it. “Keep the nails…you just might need them to seal my coffin.” I slammed the door on my past and my future without looking back.

Weeks and then months passed. I didn’t see him again, but I heard all the news, whether I wanted to or not. He’d come in and placed his gun and badge down on Dobey’s desk, along with his resignation. I was constantly fielding the question of 'why', until I finally punched one unlucky young patrolman out for asking. Even Dobey left me alone after that. I was considered a loose cannon and they shuffled me around from one department to another to avoid having to let me go entirely.

I didn’t care about anything other than coming in to work, doing whatever job they gave me and going home. I ran through a succession of women…fucking them and discarding them until I finally figured out that I was punishing them for not being Starsky and I gave that up. I hung up on my parents until they left me alone. Huggy tried to get in touch with me, but I ignored his calls. Liquor bottles started to replace the plants in my apartment, as each leafy green friend died from lack of care and I threw them out without a twinge of regret.

I drove by Starsky’s apartment occasionally, even though I knew he’d made the move back east.

Time passed with me in self-distruct mode for what seemed like years and I gave up all hope of ever being happy again. Then one night the phone rang and I decided to amuse myself and answer it. It was a voice I knew well…Rachael Starsky. I’d called her every night while Starsky was in the hospital until he’d recovered sufficiently to talk to her himself. She caught me on a night when I was just sober enough to wonder what she had to say, so I listened.

“How are you coping, Ken?” For the first time in a long time, I thought I heard caring from another human being.

“Not good, Rachael, nothing’s good without Starsky.”

“Have you been drinking?” I heard the voice of her son in her tone and smiled.

“Seems to be the only sane thing to do. Keeps me from throwing myself into the Pacific.”

“Kenneth!”

“I know…I’m sorry.” I wanted to drop the phone and cry until the tears dried up, but I hung in there. “How’s Starsky…Dave doing?”

“About as well as you, it seems.” She sighed. “Men are such fools. I‘m afraid for him, Ken. He hangs around in a bad section of town. He‘s come home a couple nights all beat up. He won‘t let me help him, says he deserves it. I wish you’d come out here and talk some sense into him.”

I laughed for the first time since Starsky had left. “That’s a tall order, Rachael. You can lead a horse to water and so on, you know.”

She chuckled. “I know, but if anyone can get through to him, it’s you, dear. You have no idea how much he loves you.”

“I love him, too, but he doesn’t seem to want me around.”

“Do I have to spell it out for you?” She sounded like she was getting exasperated. “Just come, Ken. If I have to sit the two of you down and explain the facts of life to the both of you, I will. Davey needs you, promise me you‘ll come soon.”

I promised…what else could I do? You don’t say no to Rachael Starsky, unless you want to get your ears pinned back. I played the conversation back in my head a dozen times. Could she really have been saying what I thought she was or was I just drunk enough to be hearing what I wanted to hear.

I booked a flight for the next day. Then I poured enough coffee down my throat to sober me up and decided to visit the only other person who knew Starsky well enough to maybe clear things up for me.

The Pits was busy, but I found a barstool and ordered some coffee. Huggy spotted me right away, but made me wait until he felt like talking to me and that was all right. I’d been a shit.

Finally, he came around the bar and punched my arm, lightly. “You look kinda familiar, but the name eludes me. That’s right, you remind me of a friend of a friend of mine.” He studied me closely. “Nah, can’t be. They both turned out t’be assholes.” A booth had opened up in the back and he propelled me toward it.

“Hug, I am sorry. I’ve missed you, just been feeling real sorry for myself. But I need to know something.”

“Would this be something a snitch would know or something only an old friend could tell you?”

“Starsk and me…what the hell category would you put our relationship into?”

He shook his head. “You can’t even say the word yet, can ya?” He laughed. “You’re both ridiculous. I’ve got half a mind to just let you suffer in ignorance.”

“Huggy!”

“My man…you two turkeys have been lighting flames all over Bay City for years.”

“Does he know?”

“Mr. Machismo? If he’s got any sense in his head, he does. But then this is Starsky we’re talkin’ about. The real trick is gonna be dragging it out from whatever closet he’s been lockin’ it in.”

“Thanks, Hug.” I put some money and my key on the table. “I’m gonna be gone for awhile. Could you get someone in to maybe clean up my place?”

“Does this mean…?”

“Yep, I’m going to give Starsky some help cleaning out his closets.

La Guardia was a zoo, as it had been the only other time I’d visited. I’d been with Starsk and he didn’t have any trouble navigating the huge place. I’d really enjoyed meeting all my partners’ relatives…definitely a lot different from my uptight family.

I managed to gather my luggage and picked up the rental car without a problem, but the traffic was heavy and it took me longer to get where I was going than I thought it would. The row of white houses all looked alike, but I remembered the blue door. There weren’t any driveways and parking on the street was a hassle. I had to circle the block a few times, but finally found a space I could wriggle into and walked back to the house. I couldn’t wait to see Starsky again, but wasn’t sure what kind of reception I was going to get.

I couldn’t help being a little disappointed when Rachael answered the door.

“Ken! You’re here already. Why didn’t you call? Davey could have met you at the airport and saved you a lot of trouble.”

“That’s all right. I made it. New Yorkers sure aren’t as laid back as Californians, though. And driving is a real experience.”

“Oh, did you rent a car? Most of us have learned just to take a cab.”

I grinned. “Should‘ve thought of that. Where’s Starsk?”

“He went out again, Ken.” A worried look crossed her face. “If he’d have known you were coming…”

“It probably wouldn’t have made a bit of difference.” I finished the sentence for her. “Where does he spend his time? I’ll go hunt him down.”

“That would make me feel a lot better, but he doesn’t fill me in on his itinerary.” She winked at me and grabbed a matchbook up from the table. “I’ve had to resort to playing detective myself. I sneak in and go through his pockets after he falls asleep. A little trick I picked up when Nicky was living at home.”

“We could use somebody with your talent in the department, Rachael.” I chuckled. “Looks like Starsky learned his detective skills from his mom.” I looked at the bright red scrap of cardboard. “The Pied Piper…do you have any idea where this place is located?”

“Out by the airport somewhere. Let me call and ask Tim real quick. He’s the desk sergeant for our precinct and they belong to our synagogue. It’s not wise to ask directions in that part of the city.” She headed into the kitchen, then turned back. “Why don’t you bring in your bags while I make the call?”

“I’ve got a hotel room out in that direction. Don’t worry if we don’t show up until tomorrow. If I know Starsky, he may not be thrilled to see me. It might be best to go someplace where we won’t disturb your neighbors.”

“I’ll let you get by with that tonight, dear, but I’ll be insulted if you don’t stay here the rest of the time. We have plenty of room and I’d love to have two boys to spoil again.” She darted out of the room.

It had been a long time since I’d been called a boy, but Rachael Starsky’s warm welcome put me at ease. I only wished my own mother was as affectionate.

“Here you are, Ken.” She handed me a neatly printed slip of paper. “Be careful, Tim says they have a lot of trouble at that bar. You know, I was so happy to know Davey was going to be here with me, but he’s been no joy to live with.”

“I know the feeling, Rachael.”

She hugged me again. “I’ve got to warn you…Tim says it’s frequented primarily by gays. Knock some sense into him, if you have to. Both of my boys are pretty hard headed. I’m so glad you’re here, honey.”

“Me too, Rachael.”

‘A gay bar?’ That was a lot to absorb and might make my mission a disaster, I thought. ‘What was Starsky doing there, trolling for my replacement?’

I took the time to put all my things in the trunk. Then I set off to see if I still had a future.

Finding the place was the easy part. Once again, locating a place to park was a bit more challenging. The parking lot was full, but I finally saw a car pulling out and I took their place. I was glad that it was close to the building, as there would be less chance of theft.

I’d seen the Fiesta, so I knew he was there. My plan was to find a place where I could observe for awhile, see what kind of mood Starsky was in before I made my presence known. I spotted him right away…he was sitting in a booth, but he wasn’t alone. He was involved in an animated conversation with another man. I watched the action for a few minutes and it seemed to be deteriorating, veering toward ugly. I decided to intervene.

Starsky didn’t see me coming, but the other man definitely did. His eyes appeared to be warning me to stay away. There was no way that was going to stop me. This man was mine and he was an interloper. It’s amazing how confident you can be with a little intimate inside knowledge under your belt.

“Is there a problem here, Starsk?” I asked, keeping my tone light.

“Hutch?” He was glad to see me, although he did his best to hide it. “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Trying to find you.” I offered my hand to the other man. “Ken Hutchinson.”

“He was just leaving.” Starsky said brusquely,

The guy spent a couple minutes sizing me up, but evidently thought that flight was the better course of action and slid out of the booth without a word. I took his place and studied the dazed look on my friends face.

“That was kind of rude, buddy.”

“Yeah…well, you just can’t sit here and have a beer without some idiot wantin’ to buy you a drink or bothering you for something. They‘re persistent, I‘ve to give 'em that."  He grinned ruefully. “I’ve managed to get myself in a few scrapes defending my honor.”

I took a cursory look around. “Well, you are about the tastiest-looking dish here. You really can’t blame ’em.”

I’d rarely seen Starsky at a loss for words. He sat there with his mouth hanging open.

“You might want to close your mouth.” I chuckled. “That could be construed as an open invitation here.”

His eyes narrowed dangerously. “Are you makin’ fun of me?”

“Oh, hell no. I didn’t come all this way to do that.” I indicated his almost-empty glass. “Buy you a drink?”

“How about I buy you one?” He flagged an attractive young man down.

“Need something, Dave?”

“A couple beers here…and quit ogling my friend. He’s not on the menu.”

“Boy, that’s a shame.” He pouted, hurrying away to fetch the drinks.

I decided to turn up the heat a little. Either we were going to end up together or we were going to kill each other. If it was going to be my last night on earth, I planned to enjoy spending it driving Starsky crazy, one way or another.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“How do I know what?”

“That I’m not on the menu.” I couldn’t stop grinning and my teeth were beginning to ache.

“I guess I have to spell it out for you, this is a gay bar.”

“I wouldn’t have guessed it from watchin’ all these guys dancing together.” I knew I was flirting with danger, but I could handle myself. “Wanna give it a whirl?”

He snorted. “You’ve got to be able to walk across a floor without falling over your own big clodhoppers before you try dancing.”

Just then our drinks came. Starsky paid the man and he left to attend to another table.

“Speaking of dancing, you’ll never believe what that kids name is.”

“What about…Ramon?”

“How’d you know that?” Starsky was wide-eyed.

“Just superior detective skills.” I leaned over the table, motioning for him to come closer. “Didn’t you ever notice he’s got his name on his shirt?” I whispered.

Starsky smacked me on the back of my head and the resulting forward progress brought my face close enough to his to break both of our noses. ‘Or to steal a kiss,’ I thought.

He blushed, but recovered nicely. “I’m not exactly here lookin’ for suspects, dummy.”

“Oh yeah?” I took the opening he’d unwittingly gifted me with. “Then just exactly what are you here looking for, babe?” ’Tread softly, Hutchinson, and pray.’ I thought to myself.

“Somethin’ I’ll never get to have, Hutch.” he said sadly.

“Like…maybe…someone like me?” I asked.

“Ain’t nobody like you.” He said petulantly.

“Then how about the genuine article?”

“Don’t mess with me, Hutchinson. My nerves are pretty raw.” His eyes glinted dangerously.

“Good Lord, Starsk, your mom’s right. I’m going to have to spell it out for you in great big Kindergarten letters.”

“Ma?” He said incredulously. “You’ve talked to Ma?”

“Let’s talk about that later. Right now I’ve got a message that’s gonna rock your world. Focus on my face, David Starsky.”

“You never called me David before.”

“There are a lot of things I’ve never done with you, but once you get this through your thick skull, I think we might just have a chance to try them all. I love you, man…not like a brother, partner, friend or even the family dog. I love you like half of a soul loves the other half, as a lover, your only lover, I might add. Because, if you’ll have me, if you’ll let me love you, it’s a ’from this day forward’ kind of thing. I don’t care if we’re cops, construction workers, garbage collectors, or end up living in a cardboard box, as long as we’re together.”

A wild round of applause startled us. There had been loud music playing when I’d started my declaration and at some point the band had stopped for a break.

I fell back against the seat, weak and shaky. Now that I’d finally made him understand, I wasn’t sure what to do next. I felt drunk with relief and need. Starsky recovered first and grabbed me by the arm. “Let’s take this party somewhere else, okay?” He dragged me through the crowd and out the door. Pinning me up against the concrete wall of the building, he stared into my face for a long moment.

“You really mean it?” He asked, his tangled curls blowing in the chill night wind, his eyes full of love and his face flushed with passion. He was going to kiss me. I gasped, thinking that this was just the beginning of many ’firsts’ that I hoped to have with this man.

“I do.”

He laughed, the expression of childish joy on his face more than making up for all of the many months I’d spent wallowing in self pity.

“I do, too, and I now pronounce us man and…” He stopped, puzzled as to what should come next.

“Lover,” I helped him out. “Man and lover, me and thee in a whole new way.”

He cupped my face and took my mouth in a kiss so sweet, so loving and yet so innocent that it made me want to laugh and cry at the same time.

“We’ve got to find a place to…uh, the car’s over this way.”

“There’s no way you’re going to stuff me into that sardine can right now.” I dug in my heels. “It’s bad enough that my pants are a couple sizes too small for me all of a sudden.”

“What am I gonna do with you, Hutchinson? I can’t believe that you outted us in the middle of a crowded bar.”

“At least, it was a gay bar, as you so helpfully pointed out. “ I started to giggle, half drunk on love, but found myself wrapped up in his arms and the sound ended up in his mouth. I whispered, ‘I love you’ against his lips and he growled in frustration.

I finally found the strength to pull away from the wall and fished my keys out of my pocket. I staggered the few steps to the car and opened the trunk to make sure all my stuff was still there.

“What’s this?” He indicated the car.

“It’s a rental and I’ve got a hotel room around here somewhere.” I explained. “You can either follow me or leave your car here.”

“Why didn’t you tell us you were coming, Blondie? Ma’s gonna be mad when she finds out you’re staying in a motel. How did you find me, anyway?”

“Can’t we chat later, Starsk? “ I asked wearily.

He yanked the keys out of my hand, unlocked the passenger door and slid me into the car. I slumped in the seat.

“I’m going back and have Ramon drive my car home tonight. You don’t look like you’re in any shape to drive.” He warned, “Don’t go anywhere!”

I was glad to be by myself for a few minutes, so I could figure out what my problem was. This was what I wanted, I knew that…but I hadn’t allowed myself to think much past kissing and a little mutual fondling. I didn’t know anything about making love to a man, especially one as macho as Starsky. What if I couldn’t please him…worse yet, what if I hurt him or he didn’t like it and wanted to quit? Hell, what if he hurt me and I couldn’t take it? Worry had already deflated my cock, as well as my confidence. Wondering what it would be like and being faced with actually doing it were miles apart. I put a name to it…performance anxiety.

Starsky slid into the driver’s seat. “Hey, hey…Blintz, you all right? You’re shakin’ like a leaf…” He started the car and cranked up the heat. “I should’ve left the car running; you’re not used to this weather. I’m sorry, babe.”

“I-I’m all right, Starsk.” I was cold…cold, tired, needy and scared, but I knew he’d take care of me. He always had.

“Where’s this hotel room, gotta get you warmed up. I should have my head examined, but they probably wouldn’t find anything.”

“Oh, just shut up and drive, moron.”

He sat there looking at me for a minute. “Moron? Who are you, callin’ me a moron? You haven’t told me where to go yet.”

Oh, sorry…I withdraw the moron part.” I pulled a business card out of my shirt pocket. “I’ll be happy to tell you where to go, though.”

“So that’s the way it’s gonna be, huh?” He glanced at the card and pulled the car out of the parking spot. “Wow, this is a nice place. You must’ve got a raise.”

“You know, it stills ticks me off.” I wasn’t quite ready to let go of the past. “The last time I saw you, you were telling me where to go. Go back to work…make Lieutenant…replace Dobey. And all the time, you were just running away…away from me.”

“Aw, Hutch, I was dead wrong.” He put the car back in park and turned to face me. “ I was so in love with you that I couldn’t hang in and maybe have to someday watch you die.”.

“I don’t know if I could’ve done what you did, been the man you were…by my side every minute, pushin’ me, holding me when I was pukin’ my guts out, wiping the tears, pickin’ me up when I fell down, singing and reading to me. Do you know how many times I lay in that hospital bed and thanked god that it was me there and not you?”

“I know, I heard you. And I know now that you came all that way back just for me, not because you wanted to.” I reached into the glove compartment and took out a box with a red ribbon around it. “But if we’re going to be together, you’d better promise you’re not going to run out on me again or all bets are off.”

“You got it, Hutch. I’m really sorry I hurt you.” He leaned over and planted a chaste kiss on my cheek. “I’ve been trying to think of some way to get back in your good graces. You’re a bigger man than I am.”

“That remains to be seen, doesn’t it?”

I loved the blush that colored his face, but it didn’t last long.

He eyed the package. “That for me?”

“Nobody else. You want to open it?”

“Sure.” I laughed at the look on his face when he lifted the lid off the box.

“Nails?”

“My promise to stop crucifying myself. Now would you drive already, before I lose my nerve?”

“Aw, Blintz, I don’t have anything to give you..”

“Yeah…you have, since that first day at the academy…unconditional love…something I’d always wanted, but never found with anyone else.” I felt the sting of tears again…'no more wounds, please god…and may there never be anymore unspoken words.'

“Starsk, can’t you go any faster? I’ve got some virginity to lose!”

True to form, he floored it.

THE END

 

 

End Notes:

Sequel in the works...can't leave them hanging.