It had certainly been a whiplash of a week, a veritable Tilt-a-Whirl of lows and highs.
Low: He'd gotten roughed up by a guy named Paco when he’d nosed around the wrong bar looking for an informant.
High: Paco turned out to be an undercover cop who was just trying to keep his cover, and who helped nail the dirty immigration officer they were chasing.
Low: The bust hadn't gone as smoothly as it should have.
High: No one had gotten killed, and Starsky had fulfilled his lifelong dream of going undercover as a Charlie Chaplin street performer. He'd done a bang-up job, too; at least six people had thrown change in his hat.
Low: While chasing down the big bad, Starsky had jumped from a flight of stairs and badly twisted his ankle.
High: Laura Stevens—an up-and-coming fashion designer and part-time model he'd met on the case—liked him so much she'd all but forced him to invite her to dinner at a high-end restaurant.
Which was why he was currently wearing a tie around his neck and a brace around his foot. The dinner had gone well enough. Fancy suits and thirty dollar entrees might not have been Starsky’s first choice, but Laura seemed to have a good time. And the way she kept smiling at him expectantly meant it was very likely he’d be invited up for a nightcap when he dropped her off at home.
It was a nice thought, but Starsky realized he wasn’t ready to settle in for the night. He wanted to check in with Hutch. Today had been their day off, and he hadn’t seen his partner since yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t like he was getting bad vibes; he just wanted to touch base. Then he could turn his full attention to his lovely and brazen date.
He figured they could just swing by Hutch’s place on the way to Laura’s. Laura was skeptical. “Should we call first?” she asked.
“Nah, Hutch and me never call first with each other,” Starsky explained as he started the Torino’s engine. Behind them, L'Etoile and its sophisticated customers glittered in the growing dusk. Andrea Gutierrez’s tiny apartment flashed in his mind, homey and clean despite the run-down tenement building. It was strange how many worlds could fit in one city.
“What if he’s out?”
“No, I know his plans for tonight. He invited Paco over. That’s Officer Ortega. He helped us solve Elena’s murder and take down the crooked immigration officers. Paco got shot during the sting, so now that he’s out of the hospital Hutch wanted to make him dinner and keep him company.”
“Hutch sure sounds like a sweetheart,” Laura commented. Starsky was gratified that she didn’t sound envious. She wasn’t a woman who’d decided she’d made a mistake in picking the rougher-round-the-edges partner over the somewhat-more-polished partner.
Laura had a habit of sideways insulting Starsky every other minute, always with a teasing glint in her eye, but it was obvious she liked him. Starsky liked her, too. What he didn’t care for were fancy restaurants with strict dress codes. He’d much rather enjoy Laura’s company at a place where he felt comfortable. Like Hutch’s apartment.
“Hutch is a sweetheart. And he and Paco’ll be happy to see us. They’ve already had a couple’a hours alone. Their conversation’s probably started to dry up. We’ll be turning their quiet evening into a party. Who wouldn’t want that?”
“Um,” Laura said. Starsky took that as agreement.
But Hutch wasn’t happy to see them. He opened the door, guitar in hand, and stared at Starsky balefully. Then he sat down on the couch without so much as a smile to ease the sting of his deliberately cold shoulder.
“You said they’d be glad to see us,” Laura complained.
Starsky shrugged, a little perplexed. “They are. They just lack couth.” Maybe Hutch and Paco had been in the middle of a great conversation. They certainly seemed cozy. Hutch was wearing a striking yellow tunic that Starsky had never seen before. The airy garment — paired with sky blue bellbottoms and sandals — made Hutch the very picture of a laid-back hippie. The guitar in his hands was the perfect accessory. It was only his dour expression that soured the peace-and-free-love image. “Sure, come on in,” Hutch offered flatly.
Paco at least didn’t seem to mind the interruption. In contrast to Hutch’s bright colors, Paco was wearing a black turtleneck and black slacks. It was a flattering outfit. With his mustache, he looked a little like a beatnik. Both he and Hutch would look at home at a coffeehouse dressed as they were. Starsky felt an odd pang of alienation.
Paco listened intently as Laura recounted their dinner date. Hutch, on the other hand, glowered and made snide comments.
So when Hutch finally offered them drinks and went to the kitchen to grab the wine, Starsky followed close behind. “What’s the deal?” he asked, trapping Hutch between himself and the fridge.
Hutch sighed. “Paco and I were having a nice quiet evening.”
“I mean, it’s only four of us now. It’s not like we’ve turned this into Grand Central Station.”
“I was going to sing Paco some folk songs I know.”
Starsky grinned. “That’s great! Laura will love your singing. You have such a great voice, babe.”
“The songs are in Spanish.”
“That’s all right. I don’t need t’know what you’re singing, and I think Laura knows some Spanish.”
“Solo un poco,” Laura said, and Hutch jumped slightly. Starsky hadn’t heard her approach, either. She smiled sheepishly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but I wanted to talk to my date for a minute.” She put a possessive hand on Starsky’s arm and squeezed gently. “As much as I’d love to stay and drink and listen to Hutch sing, I’d love even more to have a nightcap with you at my place, Dave.”
Well, how could you say no to a lady who knew what she wanted? Starsky glanced between Laura and Hutch, noting that Hutch looked oddly relieved. “I guess I’m going, then,” Starsky said as Laura led him to the door. “It was good seeing you, Paco.”
“Enjoy the rest of your night,” Paco said with a knowing smile.
Looking friendly for the first time since he’d let them in, Hutch sat down and took his guitar back into his arms. “Goodnight, Laura. See you tomorrow, Starsk.”
As he closed the apartment door behind him, Starsky heard a gentle strumming and the first few strains of music.
“I’m sure we would have had a blast, but it’s better this way,” Laura told him as they walked to his car. “You and I get some alone time, and Hutch and Paco do, too.”
“What do Hutch and Paco need alone time for?” Starsky muttered to himself. Laura heard, though, and laughed.
“The same reason we need some alone time, I imagine.”
Starsky rolled his eyes. “I’m pretty sure Hutch and Paco ain’t planning a night of romance.”
“They looked pretty romantic to me,” Laura said with that bright, breezy confidence that Starsky found so bewitching. “Wine and a homemade dinner. I saw candles set out on the table, too. And then they were pretty cozy there in the living room, Hutch serenading Paco.”
With dawning shock, Starsky realized Laura wasn’t joking. “Hutch was not serenading Paco!”
“He was definitely serenading Paco. The only debatable point is whether it was romantic. And it looked pretty romantic to me.”
To Starsky’s surprise, he felt a surge of annoyance. It usually didn’t bother him in the slightest what people thought of him and Hutch. And yeah, there’d been rumors and speculation in the past. This wasn’t even the first time a date of his had wondered about Hutch’s sexuality…but that was the thing. It had always been speculation about Starsky and Hutch together. When Starsky’s dates wondered about Hutch, it was because they wanted to know if a threesome was in the cards. When there were rumors about Hutch, it was always because of how close he was to Starsky, and vice versa.
He’d never heard someone speculate about Hutch and another man. And certainly Starsky had never wondered about Hutch’s feelings for another man.
No, that wasn’t completely true. Starsky had wondered about Hutch and Jack Mitchell. Hutch’s childhood friend sure had stirred up a complicated storm cloud of emotions in Hutch.
Hell, before Jack had died, Starsky had found himself jealous.
So maybe Starsky was a little possessive of Hutch. And maybe that possessiveness meant that Starsky didn’t always see the obvious. But was it really so obvious that Hutch was serenading Paco? Hell, Hutch sang for Starsky plenty. That didn’t mean anything.
It was hard work reining in his defensive impulses. They wanted to break free like a stampede of horses, trampling any notion that Laura could be right, that Hutch could be dating Paco. But Starsky wasn’t interested in living in denial. If Laura saw something he didn’t, he wanted to hear about it.
Get a statement, evaluate the evidence, and then make up your own mind. It was just good detective work, after all.
“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” Starsky conceded, aware that he’d left the silence hanging too long. Laura was looking at him oddly. “Paco is a great guy. You think Hutch really might like him…that way?”
Laura bit her lip. Confident, uninhibited, motor-mouthed Laura suddenly seemed hesitant. “Sure, Paco’s great, but don’t listen to me. I’m just kidding around.”
“Really?” She’d seemed so certain just a moment ago. Why the about-face?
“Yes, really.” She flashed him a brilliant grin. “I say everything that pops into my head. Most of it is pure fantasy.”
She’s done a one-eighty because I started believing her, Starsky realized. She noticed that I was seriously considering her words, and now she’s worried she might have outed Hutch, so she’s backtracking.
Warmth bloomed in Starsky’s chest. Laura was a fun date and he liked her just fine, but hearing her try to protect Hutch’s privacy in her own rambling way made her suddenly twice as attractive. She barely knew Hutch but here she was, lying straight to Starsky’s face for him.
Starsky reached out and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear, before leaning in to kiss her. She responded eagerly, tasting like the after-dinner mints they’d had at the restaurant. When they broke apart Starsky let his gaze linger on her eyes. He knew his own eyes were one of his best features; lots of his dates had commented on his long, dark eyelashes. He used his smoky stare to his advantage.
“How’s that for fantasy?” he asked with a crooked smile.
“That’s a fantasy I’d like to make into reality,” Laura responded, and tugged him towards the Torino.
A couple hours later Starsky found himself back in the Torino, alone.
Things had gone well enough with Laura. He’d driven her back to her place, but not before driving her wild with some front-seat action. Then they’d made great use of her queen-sized bed. He’d briefly thought about spending the night. Instead he’d told her he had an early morning and kissed her goodbye.
The truth was his heart wasn’t in it. Oh, he’d enjoyed himself and made sure she’d had a good time, too. But Starsky’s traitorous mind kept sneaking back to Hutch and Paco.
Okay, so what if Hutch did—every once in a blue moon—like to make it with a guy? If—for the sake of argument—that was true, the next question that came to mind was, why Paco Ortega?
Well, he was a fellow officer. He had a good head on his shoulders. He was out to protect the people of Bay City, and the thought of profiting off of others’ pain disgusted him.
Huh. Often, Hutch went for the damsels in distress. His protective nature zeroed in like a heat-seeking missile on those who were in trouble. This time his affections had landed on a fellow Knight of the Round Table, it seemed. A mistake, or a deliberate change?
Starsky wanted nothing more than a long conversation with Hutch. He wasn't sure if he had the nerve to out-and-out ask if Hutch was dating Paco, but he could at least return to the scene and reevaluate the evidence. Never one to deny his impulses, Starsky steered the Torino towards Hutch's neck of the woods.
Hopefully Paco had gone home by now. He was injured, after all. Unbidden, the moment of Paco's injury flashed through Starsky's memory. Hutch had shouted a desperate warning to Paco when Sterling’s hired gunman came up behind him. But it had been too late; Paco had been shot in the leg. Hutch had dashed towards the fallen man. Starsky had been hot on Sterling’s trail by then, but as he’d rounded a bend, out of the corner of his eye he’d seen Hutch kneel down beside Paco. Hutch had been off and running a second later, but that split-second image of Paco’s hand clasping Hutch’s arm seemed stuck in Starsky’s memory.
There was no answer when he knocked on Hutch’s door.
He held his breath, listening, but he couldn’t hear anything—no voices in soft conversation, no strummed folk music. Hutch must have left to drive Paco home.
Starsky fished out his copy of Hutch’s key and opened the door. At first his initial assessment seemed correct and the apartment was empty, but after a second he registered the sound of the shower.
It was just as well. This way, Starsky wasn’t risking Hutch’s wrath by interrupting a second time. Paco was gone, and Hutch was showering before bed. Starsky cast his eye about the room. There were the candles on the table that Laura had mentioned, but Hutch had used those for meals with Starsky, too. Was it really so romantic?
He made his way to the fridge, suddenly feeling the long day take effect. He and Laura had driven all over town, and then they’d had sex. It was close to midnight. Starsky grabbed a beer and headed towards the couch.
Unbidden, the image of Hutch stretched out on the couch earlier that evening—guitar in hand and glower on his face—flashed before him. Starsky decided to sit out in the greenhouse instead.
It was peaceful out there. Not that he was planning on telling that to Hutch any time soon, but the jungle of plants made the room feel like a tiny oasis set apart from the rest of the city.
It only took half a beer and five minutes off his throbbing ankle before he was dozing, lulled by the familiar surroundings.
He didn’t know how much time had passed when he suddenly sat up. He could hear Hutch’s voice, but muffled, through the open greenhouse door.
“I can’t believe I spilled that all over you,” Hutch was saying, laughing.
To Starsky’s shock, Paco answered. “Most of it got on you. Besides, you tripped on my crutches. It’s at least half my fault.”
“I’ll pretend it was intentional. Got us out of our clothes, didn’t it?”
“Smart man. I like that.”
And then there was the sound of something—or perhaps two somethings—settling onto Hutch’s squeaky bed.
Starsky sat frozen as the noises continued. Shifting mattress springs. A wet smacking. An appreciative moan from Hutch.
Oh. It was true. It was all true.
Laura was right. Maybe she should be the detective. They could switch places. Starsky was sure he could pull off a good strut down a catwalk.
He slapped a hand over his mouth, stifling his shaky laugh. He needed to get out of here. This was a huge trespass. Sure, it was all an accident, but Hutch wouldn’t see it that way. He’d be scared and furious and humiliated, and he’d take it all out on Starsky.
Starsky crept to the greenhouse door. The only light on in the apartment was the kitchen light. A dim glow reached the bedroom nook, but a dim glow was all Starsky needed to get an eyeful.
The two men on the bed were… preoccupied. There was a tiny chance Starsky could sneak out undetected, but he’d have to walk right past them to get to the front door. It was too risky. He silently cursed the open floor-plan of Hutch’s apartment. Who the hell had a bedroom with no walls?
He’d just have to wait until they left, or went to sleep, or, at the very least, turned off the light.
Starsky sat back down in the greenhouse. He felt a little less like a voyeur out here, although the image of Hutch and Paco on the bed was refusing to fade, begging to be mulled over. He’d mostly just seen Hutch’s back. Hutch had been lying on his side on the bed, facing away. Paco had been half-facing Hutch and half-leaning over him, one arm braced behind Hutch’s head. They’d been kissing.
Hutch groaned loudly, and to Starsky’s chagrin he felt himself harden.
He’d long known that Hutch was a loud lover. Neither of them was shy about getting hot and heavy with a date while the other was nearby. Starsky had even openly watched Hutch make out with women before, and yeah, it turned him on a little. But that was normal, right?
Ah fuck, what was normal? Hutch certainly wasn't normal, but that had nothing to do with the fact that he apparently really enjoyed that Paco was... what, kissing his neck? Sucking his cock? Maybe sliding a thick finger up his ass?
"Careful of your leg. Here, lie down here. Let's try it like this," came Hutch's voice.
Starsky had seen porn of all varying types and flavors. He'd even seen gay sex in the wild a time or two, back when he'd been in uniform and had been called to check out complaints of indecent exposure at a beach or park. So he knew just enough for his imagination to run wild.
Maybe they were still face-to-face, lying on their sides, thrusting together into the tight grip of Hutch's large, capable hands.
Maybe Hutch was bent over Paco's supine body, head nestled between Paco's legs, coaxing him towards orgasm with his hot, wet mouth.
Maybe Paco was prone, a stack of pillows beneath his hips, and Hutch was preparing him with fingers and lube, his erection straining eagerly.
Or maybe Hutch was the one who was slicked up. With his wounded leg, Paco probably couldn't thrust from a kneeling position, but he could spoon up behind Hutch. Hutch would have one of his ridiculously long legs pulled up to his chest, and Paco's hands would be gripping Hutch’s hips. Paco would fuck him slow and sweet, exactly the kind of fuck that Hutch had earned with a home cooked meal and a private concert.
Starsky pressed the heel of his hand against the bulge in his jeans. He couldn’t do this. He couldn’t keep thinking about them together. It was the worst frustration Starsky had ever felt; one part arousal and one part irrational jealousy combined to ignite within him a territorial desire to take Paco’s place.
Starsky gave himself a punishing squeeze. This was wrong. But there was no way to muffle the pornographic sounds coming from the other side of the wall. In between Hutch’s gasps and groans, Paco started talking in Spanish. Hutch responded in Spanish, sounding nearly undone.
Head swimming, Starsky couldn’t decide if it was a blessing or a curse that he’d never learned more than a few phrases. Shit, it didn’t matter whether he could translate; he could damn well guess. Paco was telling Hutch how good his hand felt, or how well he sucked dick, or how his ass was the hottest and tightest he’d ever felt. What had Starsky done to deserve this?
"Por favor,” Hutch moaned. “Por favor, por favor…”
Fuck. Hutch was begging.
Starsky unbuttoned his jeans and pulled down the fly, clumsy with haste. He spit in his hand, then had to try two more times because his mouth was so dry. By the time he started stroking, he was already there. He came to the sound of Hutch’s climax, and one inescapable, engulfing thought: that should be me in there with Hutch.
It was as if a bell had been struck in his head, vibrations rocking his body and a tolling in his ears, drowning out everything else. He wanted Hutch. He wanted everything with Hutch.
He might have sat there for three minutes or three hours. When he finally sat up, his body was stiff and the apartment was completely quiet. The semen that had landed on his hand was mostly dry. He wiped it off on his jeans; they were due for a wash anyway, and god willing no one else was gonna see him tonight.
The kitchen light had finally been killed, and judging by the deep, even breathing he heard, both Hutch and Paco were fast asleep. Starsky knew which floorboards creaked and expertly avoided them.
He was at the front door and almost home-free when he heard a murmured, “Starsk…”
He whirled, some dumb excuse on the tip of his tongue. “Hutch, I…”
But there was no movement from the bedroom nook. Hutch was speaking in his sleep. “Ah, that’s nice, Starsk.”
Starsky smiled and slipped out the door, carefully locking it behind him. “Yeah, it’s gonna be nice, babe. Just you wait and see.”