"Captain, you can't be serious."
"I am serious, Hutch. You and Starsky going undercover as a gay couple would be our best chance at catching these killers. They're targeting the gay community. You're my best men, my best team. Plus you two've always had a unique relationship..."
"In other words, people've always wondered about us...," Starsky piped up. "We'd have credibility."
Hutch stood up and ran his hand through his hair. "Cap, what you're suggesting... I just can't do this. It would be incredibly awkward. And I have no intention of doing anything that would damage our working relationship or our partnership. Think of the strain this could put on us."
"Of course it's awkward!" Dobey argued. "Nobody'd be comfortable with this assignment. But we're professionals here. I'm not suggesting you hop in the sack together. You'd be going out to clubs, restaurants, in public places. There would be a limit to what would be expected of you. Holding hands, dancing, probably some kissing..."
"I'm not doing this." Hutch grabbed his jacket and started for the door.
"I dunno, Hutch. I think we could pull it off," Starsky stated.
Hutch froze. Slowly he turned to his partner, nailing him with a glare. "Starsk, don't tell me you want this assignment."
"I wanna get these guys, yeah. I think we could pull it off, Hutch. I'm not crazy about this set up either, but if playing kissyface with you is going to nail a coupla killers, I think I could swing it."
"Oh for..." Hutch threw his jacket back on the chair in exasperation. "It's not that simple, Starsky, and you know it! What if this makes it so awkward between us that it destroys that sync we have? Are you willing to risk that? Are you?"
Starsky got up and faced his partner. He reached out and grabbed Hutch's arm. "Hutch, it's us were talking about here," he said quietly. "There ain't nothing that's gonna change. A kiss ain't gonna hurt our friendship. We'll get through it. We trust each other." Hutch looked away unconvinced. "Hey," he added, "if we don't do this, who will, huh?"
Hutch stared at Starsky, his expression softened.
Taking his silence for surrender, Dobey asked, "So I can count on you two?" He was surprised. He had expected Starsky to be the hard sell on this case, not Hutch.
"Yeah, Cap," Starsky answered quickly, "you can count on us." He turned Hutch and marched him out of the office before he had a chance to protest, snagging his jacket from the chair as they passed.
Hutch's fury simmered until they were in the Torino heading for The Pits. "Starsky, are you out of your mind?!" he hissed. "You know I'm not comfortable with this! Why did you tell Dobey we'd take the case?!"
Starsky reached out and squeezed his shoulder. "Come on, Hutch. It'll be fine. We'll handle this. And we'll get those bastards. Don't worry about it."
"Don't worry, he says." Hutch rolled his eyes. "Did you ever stop to consider how this is gonna look to the rest of the guys in the precinct? You think they talk now..."
"Ah, let 'em talk," Starsky shrugged. "I'm not afraid of talk. Besides, when we get these killers, they'll all eat their words."
Hutch looked out the window in silence again. Starsky tried to keep the conversation going, chatting about the clubs they could frequent to get the most visibility. Hutch listened, but never responded.
At The Pits, Huggy left a pitcher of beer on the table with a couple glasses, then disappeared into the kitchen. They were seated in a booth facing each other, drinking their beers in silence. Finally, Starsky spoke up.
"Hutch, you gonna stay mad at me?"
"Starsk, I'm not going to pretend that I'm happy with this. I'm not. I don't feel comfortable with it, and I don't want to be taking this risk."
"What're you so afraid of, huh? Afraid you're gonna kiss me and I'm gonna like it?" There was a dark and mischievous glint in his blue eyes. "Or are you afraid you will?"
"Aw, come on Starsk!" Hutch plopped his now empty glass onto the table. "You know what I'm worried about!" He grabbed the pitcher and poured another drink. "When we go undercover, we're going to be getting rather intimate with each other. It's bound to affect the way we communicate, the way we interact. I know we'll get the job done. What I'm worried about it is how we'll relate once it's over with."
Starsky's voice was menacing. "Don't bullshit me, Hutchinson. I know you too well."
Hutch stared at him abashedly. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"You're afraid," he announced, downing the rest of his beer then slamming the glass on the table in anger. "Of me."
"That's ridiculous!" Hutch protested, unconvincingly.
"Just because we never discussed it doesn't mean it don't exist," Starsky retorted. "You can't make it go away by ignoring it. I think it's time we talked about it, don't you?"
Hutch went ice cold.
"Why can't you face it, Hutch?" Starsky challenged. "Why can't you face me? All these years, we couldn't talk about it. What did you think would happen?"
Years? Hutch shook his head. "Starsk, I don't know what the..."
"No, don't!" Starsky pointed at him. "Don't! Don't tell me you don't know what the hell I'm talking about. You've known since the academy! Don't play games with me!"
Hutch sat back, confused.
"You were trying to protect me in there with the Cap, and it pisses me off. Yeah, okay, you know I'm attracted to you. That doesn't give you the right to make decisions about our cases based on my feelings for you. I get a say. I don't need you protecting me."
"Let me finish! I want this out in the open. In all the years you've known me, I've never made a move on you. Not once. I've never let my feelings have any impact on our work. I've never let it affect our friendship. Why the hell would you think this would change now?! Do you think if you kiss me, I'm gonna lose all control? Do you think I'll forget you're straight? What's the matter with you! Dammit, I can handle this! If I didn't think I could, I would’ve said so. I know it won't mean nothing. It's just a show, Hutch. Don't worry about it – I ain't gonna read nothing into it. And I sure as hell ain't gonna take advantage of you."
Hutch sat there stunned.
Huggy approached the table, placing a shot in front of each of the two men. "Thought you could use this," he said quietly, then disappeared.
"You know, Hutch, maybe this will be a good thing," Starsky smiled sadly. "I'll finally get to hold you and kiss you. When you don't respond, maybe I'll finally be able to let it go. It would be good to finally have it behind us, don't ya think?" He raised his shot glass as if in a toast, then tossed down the shot in one quick gulp.
"I can't drink to that," Hutch replied in a hoarse voice. He got up and walked from the table, leaving the full shot behind.
In the men's room, Hutch splashed cold water on his face and grabbed for a paper towel. Looking in the mirror, he saw Huggy come up behind him.
"You didn't know, did you." Huggy stated sympathetically.
Hutch shook his head.
"He told me you knew, before he introduced you to me. Over the years, there were times that I wondered..."
"I don't get it, Hug. He's straight!"
"Starsky may be a lot of things, but straight ain't one of 'em."
"Oh, come on, Huggy! I've never once seen him take a second glance at another guy!"
"No, me neither," Huggy agreed. "Not since you. But I knew him before you, my friend. And you ain't the first guy to turn his head, or win his heart."
Hutch leaned back against the wall, sagging into its support. "How could I not know?"
"He learned real young to keep his feelings secret. He took a hell of a beating back in New York when he confessed to the wrong kid. I think it had a lot to do with why his mama shipped him off to California."
"Jesus. Why the hell didn't he ever talk to me about this?"
Huggy shrugged. "Like I told ya, he said you knew. If you ask me, he's still got some open wounds. That's why he don't talk about it."
Hutch slammed the paper towel into the trash. "Damn! I should have been told!"
"Would it have made any difference?" Huggy asked.
He whirled around and faced Huggy. Anger, then confusion flitted across his troubled face. He raised his hands, then let them fall to his sides. "Hell, Hug, I don't know," he replied honestly. "Maybe." His soulful eyes were filled with pain and regret. "I could've at least been a better friend." Huggy patted him on the back as Hutch left him to rejoin his partner.
Starsky was absently playing with the empty shot glass when Hutch approached the table. His own shot was still sitting forgotten at his place. Without taking his seat, he placed a hand on Starsky's arm to gain his attention. The music in the bar had increased in volume, and the crowd was growing thicker. "Starsk, let's get out of here. Come to my place. We'll talk some more."
Starsky nodded and got up to follow his friend.
The ride to Venice Place was quiet. Hutch entered his apartment first and took a seat on the couch. He leaned his elbows on his knees, burying his face in his hands. Starsky approached, but as soon as he was near, Hutch reached up and grabbed his arm, roughly thrusting him into a seat beside him.
Hutch turned to face his partner. "Starsky, I want to make one thing very clear. I did NOT know any of this. I didn't know you were attracted to me, and I didn't know you weren't straight."
Starsky sputtered, "Now wait a minute, Hutch. Colby said you guys talked about me, about this..."
"Colby was wrong! Or he lied. But I didn't know. And I wasn't trying to protect you with Dobey, and I didn't think you were trying to take advantage of me or the situation. I didn't know!"
Starsky stared at Hutch in disbelief. He looked into those intense eyes, and knew he spoke the truth. Dread swept over him. "Ah SHIT!" He fell back into the couch, covering his face with his hands. "SHIT!"
Hutch reached over and squeezed Starsky's knee. "Starsk, how could you believe I would just ignore this and hope it would go away? Why didn't you ever talk to me about this?"
Starsky dropped his hands with a deep sigh. "I believed it 'cause I was just glad as hell you didn't throw away our friendship when you found out. You weren't the first person who wanted to pretend I was straight. I thought you and my mother and Nicky were all in good company. Not to mention Uncle Al and Aunt Rose. I didn't talk about it because I figured there was nothing else to say. You knew I was in love with you, and you rejected me. It's not like I coulda talked you out of being straight." He kept looking up at the ceiling, unwilling and afraid to see the look in Hutch's eyes. Afraid the abandonment he narrowly avoided all those years ago might yet take place.
"How could you think I would act like that, huh? You can't even look at me now, can you! You're worried I'll freak out and turn my back on you. Dammit Starsk, look at me!"
He turned and looked into Hutch's eyes, so sorrowful and concerned. He saw no rejection, no fear; just his friend. "Aw Hutch."
Hutch pulled him up into his embrace, holding him tight. "I'm not going anywhere, you got that? And I'll be damned if I let you clam up on me again. You're gonna talk to me!"
Hutch loosened his grip, sliding his hands to grasp him by the arms. "I can't believe you kept silent all these years." He thought for a moment and then asked, "Starsk, I can understand you taking Colby at his word, but how come you never confronted me yourself? How come you never once spoke to me about this?"
"What's there to talk about? Nothing's changed. Maybe you haven't ignored my feelings for all these years, but it's not like you're gonna return 'em either."
Frustrated, Hutch turned away. "How the hell can you be in love with me, Starsky? You believed that all this time I was rejecting your love, I was ignoring your feelings, I was shutting out the fact that you're bisexual, I couldn't talk to you, and if you talked to me you would risk losing my friendship! I sound like a damned monster!"
"Well when you put it that way..." Starsky kidded. When he saw the infuriated glare from his partner, he grew serious. "Come on, Hutch. You're the best friend I got in the whole world..."
Hutch rounded on him. "That's right, buddy. We're friends! Our friendship has grown. We've changed, I've changed. Even if you thought I couldn't handle this when we were so young, why do you think I couldn't handle it now? Maybe Colby wasn't far off when he spoke for me then, who knows? I'll never know because I wasn't given the chance to find out. But this is me now, the guy that's been your partner and your friend, through hell and jubilation. Tell me now how you feel about me. I've never heard you say it. I want to hear what you have to say!"
Starsky swallowed hard. "I love you. You're a good man, the best. You're my friend and my partner, and more - everything. There're times I look at you, like right now, and I think my God, you're beautiful. I want you. I want you to look at me with the same desires I feel. I know that'll never happen. But I consider myself lucky to have you by my side every day. You're the best friend I got in this world. You're the best thing in this world. I love you."
He looked into Hutch's eyes, and shut his own. The onslaught of the love he saw there was too hard to bear. Hutch was showing all the love he had for him, wearing his heart on his sleeve and in his eyes, and Starsky had to fight to remind himself that he looked upon him with the love of a friend, nothing more.
Suddenly he felt the gentle touch of Hutch's lips. Hutch glided his lips in a caress across his own, then pressed more firmly, savoring him with his kiss. When his tongue brushed across his lips, inviting, Starsky's eyes flew open. Hutch's arms came around him, preventing him from pulling away. Starsky closed his eyes again, surrendering, opening himself up to the kiss. A groan escaped him.
Hutch responded to that groan with a stronger passion. He pulled Starsky tight against his body, burying his hand in his thick curly hair as he continued to kiss him with a growing heat and strength. Hutch stopped and placed a gentle kiss upon Starsky's closed eye. The touch of his lips so light, so tender against his eyelid; it brought his own vulnerability to his awareness. The walls he had painstakingly built up in his defense shattered. Hutch's tenderness had been given to him before in his hands, holding him and caring for him when he was sick or in pain, but never had he felt that gentleness in the touch of lips, first against one eyelid, then against the other. Hutch kissed along his jaw, stopping to say softly at his ear, "David, I love you, too."
Starsky pulled back and looked again into Hutch's eyes. He could see the passion and love in his eyes, and was overwhelmed with confusion. He pulled away. "Hutch?"
Hutch reached out and stroked the back of his fingers down his cheek. "When you said tonight that I was afraid of you, you were right. I knew I loved you. You mean more to me than anyone ever has. I had no idea if I could cross that line, introduce a physical intimacy between us, and ever cross back. Yeah, I was afraid. Like you said, I was afraid I'd kiss you, touch you, and like it. I was afraid I'd want more. I was afraid what that would do to our friendship."
"So, was it everything you feared?" Starsky grinned.
In response, Hutch pulled him back into his arms and assaulted him with an impassioned kiss. Starsky felt his hot breath against his ear again, sending shivers through him, as Hutch murmured, "all that and more."