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The Day the Universe Changed

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Stepping off the bus, David glowered at the scene in front of him. Fifty or more men and women were marching in a circle, blocking most of the street, and shouting slogans as they waved their signs. The bus had even been forced to a halt more than half a block down from its usual stop because of the protesters. Just the sight of them sent shocks of anger through him, and he tried skirting the crowd, going around a dilapidated VW bus parked haphazardly on the edge of the group. One of theirs, no doubt.

Squinting from the flat smog-hazy sunshine that was so different from the intense yellow brilliance he'd gotten used to in the last month, or the misty humidity from the before, David put on a pair of battered dark Ray Bans, and considered his options. The crowd was between him and the place he wanted to be dimly lit, smoke-filled din of iniquity simply called "Sam's." No one named Sam worked there, of course, but some former owner had christened the place, and the name had never changed. For all David knew, it could have been the former owner's dog. The peculiarities of fate had placed an Army recruiter office smack up next to Sam's, and therein lay the problem.

Anti-war protesters had taken up the cause in front of the recruiting office, their ever growing circle of resisters and pacifists spilling out all over, and barring David's way into Sam's. He could feel the resentment, the stark hostility broiling in his chest against these people. Fucking peace mongers. What did they know about him? What right did they have to prevent him from the only place in the goddamned city that let him just be? That's all he wanted, just to be and not think of any of it any longer. But with these rabble rousers and their slogans--"Hell no, we won't go!" and "Send Johnson over instead of our boys!"--he couldn't forget. He couldn't even get inside the bar.

Deciding to just go for it, David lowered his head, stiff-arming his way through the throng. Voices shouted and chastised him, mocking his clothing, his actions, and the angry thrust of his middle finger when a girl complained that he'd pushed her.

"Get outta my way." David growled, so close to violence he could feel the snakes winding their way up into his head again, the rattles on the ends of their long sleek bodies announcing danger.

"Hey, buddy, you wanna watch where you're going?" a voice challenged.

David looked up, startled that someone would chance speaking directly to him instead of shouting his insults at his fatigue-clad back. The man was tall, blond hair gleaming in the afternoon sun, hair so bright it was blinding; David closed his eyes to stop the fearful images that flashed in front of him.

"Did you hear me?" the blond asked again, reaching out to grab his arm. "We're staging a peaceful . . ."

"Get. Outta. My. Way," David forced out through clenched teeth.

His heart pounding like mortar fire in his chest, he gained the doorway to Sam's and exhaled, some of the adrenaline bleeding off with the proximity of the murky, smoke-filled room. This was where he belonged, not out there with humans like that. In here he was left alone, welcomed only because he had money to pay for whiskey. No one spoke to him, no one approached him. Even the song that had been playing on the dusty jukebox petered out shortly after David sat down at a table in the rear. He faced the door, back to the wall, watchful and cautious, all senses on alert. The protest seemed ominous, mustering so near to his refuge, and he couldn't help thinking that this could portend something. What, he wasn't sure he knew, but he didn't really want to think about it too much.

Pouring a large portion of the bottle into his glass, David drank the caustic liquor with a quick motion. He hated the taste. It burned his throat, seared his lungs, and fogged his brain. The latter was the most important, because if he got drunk enough David didn't--couldn't--think anymore. He was sometimes able to fall asleep without hearing the beat of the helicopter blades overhead, and the boom of the bombs detonating small villages. He let out another breath, trying desperately to sink into the oblivion that allowed him to relax just a little, but it wouldn't come. The protesters had ruined it for him.

Setting down the damp glass, David was dismayed to see that his hand was trembling. The whiskey hadn't killed the pain, either mental or physical. His right shoulder ached; the shrapnel was buried so deeply into the muscle fibers the doctors had decided to leave it in rather than chance damaging the joint further. So, he had his souvenir to bring home--a splatter of scars roughly the shape of Viet Nam, curving like a sensuous serpent from shoulder to ribcage.

Rubbing his arm absently, David stiffened, instantly on full alert, when the front door flew open, the panel banging back against the wall, letting in a shaft of milky light into the gloomy bar. Two men hurried in, talking with great speed, gesturing behind them. It was easy to discern the cause of their distress; the sound of police sirens filled the street, obliterating for a moment the Joan Baez song the protesters had started.

Studying the two men, David momentarily forgot to refill his glass. One had the unfocused paranoia of someone high on drugs--LSD unless he missed his guess. The other was the blond marcher sans his sign, his hair bright even in the half-light of Sam's interior.

Blondie was trying to calm the druggie, his actions comforting and detached but the smaller man, who wore a T-shirt proclaiming "Make Peace Not War" in rainbow colors, seemed to get more agitated and despondent every time he was offered a bowl of peanuts or a chair to sit in.

Pretending he wasn't really interested in the unexpected drama, David poured more aromatic whiskey into his tumbler. The distinctive scent wrinkled his nose, and he lit a cigarette. Just another detested habit he'd acquired in-country that he would have liked to have left back there. The smoke had helped mask the smell of death, blood, and decay that pervaded the wretched place. He'd wanted so much just to abandon that old David--become a new, different person once he'd reclaimed his old life, but instead he'd brought back a David he didn't even like. Everyone saw that--he'd noticed old friends eyeing him with uncertainty in the week since he'd been stateside. Afraid of contaminating his family, he hadn't even gone back to New York or visited relatives in California. A cheap hotel with walls as thin as rice paper had been his home since he stepped off the plane.

The blond's hand on his arm had been the first physical contact he'd had since Hawaii. Brief, assertive, but surprisingly intimate, all things considered. Just the thought of the intrusion raised David's ire again and he gulped whiskey to flush the bitter bile out of his throat.

"I can't stay here!" The druggie's voice rose up with vibrating fear. "The cops are out there!" Several alkies deep in their cups looked over at him, grumbling at this deviation from their routine, but no one made a move in his direction.

"That's right," the blond said soothingly but David couldn't hear the rest, just the taller man's gentle intonation.

Scowling, he wished he could turn his back on them, but he needed to see the door. Needed to see all the exits, and who was nearby. Fucking peace mongers, ruining his afternoon with their demands. They'd probably burned their draft cards--sidestepping their responsibility to Uncle Sam. Not that he wouldn't have liked to pass on that opportunity to "See the World" and the tour of Southeastern Asia. But the Starsky men didn't shirk their duties. He'd heard that all his life. They did what had to be done. And where had it gotten him? Burned out and in a bar mid-afternoon, drinking alcohol until it left him in a stupor. There had to be something better.

"The walls are caving in! Don't you see them? The boards are moving closer," the druggie insisted, rushing the long warped bar so quickly that the burly ex-biker bartender reacted automatically. He had a baseball bat in his fists in a matter of seconds.

"One more step and you're toast, boy," Jobe threatened, waving the bat like Mantle stepping up to the plate.

Druggie took one look and fled, running out the back door to the alley screaming. The blond started to follow, but David put out a foot, nearly tripping him.

"He's trouble. Cut him loose," he said in a low voice, almost convincing himself that he wasn't addressing the blond.

"Hey, Blondie, you, too! Out!" Jobe called, stashing his weapon under the bar after a last threatening shake.

"He's with me," David said, and was as surprised as any of them to hear that particular sentence come out of his own mouth. Nobody had been "with him" since most of his squad had been blown away in Phan Rang. "Siddown," he ordered gruffly, staring boldly up at the blond.

The tall man frowned, his serene, comforting persona from earlier replaced by a distant, imperious demeanor. David was reminded of a hanging judge condemning some poor horse thief to the gallows. That irritated him all over again; those washed out blue eyes staring coolly at him. The urge to grab the blond by the throat and shake him hard swept over him in a rush, and he had to drown out the sensation with a drink.

"Toady will get lost alone," Blondie said finally, and added unnecessarily, "He's high."

"No shit," David said with contempt. He'd never liked LSD. Never taken it, preferring liquor so he could maintain a modicum of control when stoned. And alcohol was legal. Half the G.I.'s in 'Nam spent the war spaced out on acid, endangering their comrades. "Police'll get him. He'll be tripping all night, but jail's safer'n than the street."

"He drove. Has the keys to the van."

Probably the psychedelic one parked in the bus stop. With any luck it would be towed, David thought maliciously. "Then you're stuck here, huh?"

"I'll call...Nancy. She won't be home for a few hours." Blondie frowned again, with the superior expression of someone who rarely found himself in such a low class establishment.

"You want some?" David pushed the bottle of rye over with an elbow wondering why he was even making the effort. Blondie was still looking him over like he was a bug on the bottom of his shoe. David was uncomfortable under such scrutiny, and yet something inside insisted he forge a connection, reach out to at least one human being. The shrink back in Hawaii had said that. Reach out. The problem was, most people's touch hurt, which brought on the rage again. Strangely enough, he hadn't noticed until now that Blondie's hand on his arm hadn't ended in the usual conclusion. He'd wanted it to continue.

"Uhh..." Blondie hesitated, and in that instant David saw his imperious attitude was an act, a facade to hide uncertainty. Maybe he scared Blondie, too. He didn't want to, but the anger crackled along his skin like live wires that refused to be grounded. He wasn't fit to be near, that was evident.

"Not my . . .can I buy you a beer?" Blondie asked lamely.

"Nobody's stopping you." David lit another cig, realizing he'd let the first one burn out in the overflowing ashtray without taking more than a single drag. He inhaled deeply, blowing smoke into Blondie's face. The other man coughed, covering his mouth with a long-fingered hand. Lily-white college boy, David thought disdainfully, wanting to order him to leave now. He'd had enough of that steady gaze, those blue eyes boring into him as if they could see farther than any of the useless doctors had.

"Two beers?" the blond called over to the bartender.

Jobe snorted, eyeing the two of them with an incredulous expression and not budging an inch from his comfortable slump over the end of the bar with its panoramic view of the skirmish outside. Police in riot gear were rounding up the protesters left and right. David caught a whiff of some acrid smelling smoke--tear gas?

"Jobe," David chided. As he'd expected, the man was suddenly drawing up two draught beers without a word. He'd known Jobe since high school and although they didn't see eye to eye on many subjects, they'd never come to blows, either. Maybe Jobe was wary of him, too.

Jobe plunked the steins down at the curved part of the bar, not bothering to carry them all the way to their table two whole feet further. He returned to his perch to peer out through the dusty front window at the show. They could hear shouts, and what was probably the crack of a billy club against flesh, with a whine of sirens backing up the chaos like a wailing Greek chorus.

After a long moment in which Blondie sat looking over at the mugs as if he expected them to walk over to their table, he went to fetch them. He seemed distracted by the noises coming from the melee outside and hunched over the table staring at his foamy beverage, then taking a drink.

"Duckin' the fuzz?" David asked in amusement. He tasted his beer. Good ol' Miller. A million times better than the pisswater back in 'Nam.

"I can't get arrested."

"Jail too good for you?"

"I'm in law school."

Well, no wonder he was practicing his judicial sneers. Guy must have avoided the draft by going into college after all. All on Daddy's money, no doubt.

"What're you doing hanging around here then? Not exactly your side of town."

"It's imperative to get involved. Spread the word that America wants out of this war. It's an abomination." Blondie straightened, up on his soapbox now. "Millions of our young men are going over . . ." he paused awkwardly, belatedly realizing who he was speaking to.

David bristled, his belly clamping down around the sloshing liquor. The urge to smash and damage was back. He wanted to grab onto Blondie, grab him and . . .

"You were there. You'd know."

"I know who spit on me when I came back," David ground out bluntly, pain lodged right over his heart.

"We can't condemn those who have already served," Blondie said sanctimoniously. "It's not your fault, but we have to stop any more..."

"Thanks for your concern," he responded sarcastically. "You can go back to your law classes after the paddy wagon takes away your friends. No blemish on your record, huh?"

"I'm the only one who can bail them out."

There was some wisdom in that David had to admit. He took in a lungful of pungent smoke, forcing himself not to cough or show any sign of weakness. He was strong, invincible in the face of adversity. "Got money, do you?"

"My family does."

"Then pay for the drinks."

The blond pulled a five out of his pocket, and gestured for another round. Jobe was much more accommodating this time, not one to turn down a paying customer.

Studying him through the veil of cigarette smoke, David was again aware of the urge to extend one arm, for a fraction of a second, to touch that unsullied splendor. There was a war waging inside of him, the black hatred that kept him alive lately battling with a straining desire. All because Blondie had grabbed his arm, and ruined his day.

When the man turned back from the bar with the new beers David barked, "Upstairs," jerking his head towards the stairwell across from their table.

Blondie's eyebrows slid up under the sweep of flaxen hair that covered his forehead, but he wasn't shocked, more like intrigued, but with that annoying air of superiority. "What about the beers?" he asked unperturbed.

"Take 'em with you," David ordered, his palms sweating. That fearsome impulse drove him on, whispering violent secrets, indecent acts no sane person would agree to. "Now."

"I don't do that any..." he started, with the tiniest hesitation then changed what he was about to say. "I'm married."

"No wedding ring," David observed. Not even the pale reminder of one on the fourth finger of his left hand. And Blondie tanned--no doubt about that. The stark contrast between hair and skin proved that. David itched to see if the tan extended all over his body or just on the places not covered by clothing.

"Never have had," Blondie replied coolly, glancing over at the stairs.

Infuriated again, David grabbed his arm, propelling the taller man to the second floor. Some of the beer sloshed over the sides of the mugs, dripping down the banister. None of the other bar patrons took much notice of their passage; Jobe didn't even turn his attention from the clash out front.

There were three rooms on the second floor. One was Jobe's, with a handwritten sign taped to the closed door informing all of this. The other two were spartanly furnished--just bed, chair and table. Only what was necessary for the oldest, lowest, and most common profession on earth. David hadn't ever used the rooms before, but he was well aware of their existence. Now he pushed the unresisting blond into the nearest open door, shoving him hard against the wall so that the two steins fell to the floor with a loud clatter.

"You're getting under my skin and that pisses me off," David threatened, so close to the taller man he could smell the sweat and musky scent of attraction coming off of him. So Blondie was interested. That just made things so much better. "I don't want people tryin' to analyze me, you get that?" He slid a hand under the gauze cotton embroidered shirt, feeling the warm flesh beneath.

Blondie took a breath, his belly rippling under David's hand. "You told me to sit down. Are you telling me to leave now?"

"No way, man. No fuckin' way, I got other ideas, you hear me?" David hadn't been this close to anyone in so long. It was intoxicating and scary. He wasn't ready for this, and yet his own body betrayed him, his cock trying to force its way out of the baggy, Army issue-fatigue pants he wore. He needed to thrust, to grab, to enfold--get Blondie out of his head, and get into his shorts. He'd never been so compelled to connect with another human being in his life. Sex was just an act to relieve stress and boredom, so he could stop thinking about the marches into alien territory, alert for every sound that could mean a Viet Cong just beyond the next clump of trees. He'd boffed anyone; tiny Asian whores, sweet faced American nurses, and other guys in his unit. Got so it didn't matter as long as he felt good afterwards. But he hadn't, in the end.

So why this, here, now? Why Blondie, and why did he want to grab that neck with his bare hands?

His hand was already around the slender column, almost without his knowledge. He could feel the rapid beat of a pulse under his thumb and realized that was his own trip-hammering heart. Shifting his fingers over the exposed ridge on the neck, David felt Blondie's artery pulsing almost as quickly as his own. But still Blondie kept that maddeningly detached expression. David squeezed firmly, compressing the flexible ridge, the stress inside him building like a steam kettle ready to scream.

"You trying to kill me or fuck me?"

David shuddered, his emotions so volatile he had to move away not to explode from the close proximity. "Fuck," he said, not really answering the question. He backed against the wall, rubbing the ache from the shrapnel, holding his right arm tight to his body. He'd been so close, it scared him. He wanted to feel that validating pulse again, proof of life. Proof that he was alive.

"You got condoms?" Blondie asked.

"Never use 'em," David spat, anger roaring through him. He didn't know how to act in this situation any more. It wasn't high school, and a grope in the back of his uncle's '58 Chevy.

"I do." And a clutch of individually wrapped condoms fell out of his pocket onto the bed. "You want this, you do it my way."

David sucked in air to hide his surprise and lust at that statement. The dominant role had just been swiped right out from under him, and he wasn't about to let that happen. "On the bed. Lemme see if that ass is as brown as the rest of you."

He clutched the end of the metal-framed bed, his sweaty palms slipping on the rail as he watched the blond strip down. All that fair hair shone like moonlight, like a bright beacon in the foliage, a perfect target for Charlie. Growling, he shoved that blondness down into the pillow and finished pulling the jeans down to the lanky man's bony ankles. Blond above and below, shining, lovely purity, like the kitten a bunkmate had smuggled onto a plane after a visit to his wife in Japan. David grabbed a handful of pubic down, forcing the cock in the middle to stand up like a rocket ready for take-off.

"You just take what you want?" Blondie held himself still, his voice betraying the pain from David's tight grasp, but he still didn't look frightened, just wary. And he kept his summer sky blue eyes directly on his attacker, as if challenging him to greater assaults.

"Yeah," David insisted, shoving away stray thoughts of kittens and bunkmates. No point on dwelling in the past. Nothing there except pain. He bent over the straining thickness, searching again for the pulsing proof of a heartbeat. It was there, daring him to commit, to take a stand and rejoin the human race.

They always say the last step is the hardest. He bowed over the bulging red cock and licked the end, his tongue searching up under the edge of the foreskin with brazen effrontery. Under him the blond shuddered, grabbing at his arms but David shook him off, pushing those grasping hands away. He couldn't let that longed-for caress distract him. He had to be forceful and fearsome to keep the demons away. Otherwise he'd never win.

Blondie rocked his pelvis, pushing into David's mouth, almost shoving the cock down his throat, and he grunted with irritation, resting his full weight on those long beautiful legs.

Blondie wasn't a nude sunbather; that had been established. His groin and ass were virginally pale, the perfect outline of a pair of short shorts bronzed in place by the sun's kiss.

David applied himself to the task of wrenching every last ounce of life from his throbbing mouthful. He sucked, lapped, and scraped his teeth along the length, drawing out the cruel seduction to its ultimate conclusion. Blondie blew sky high, his cum spattering down the front of David's shirt as he pulled away, not willing to swallow the life-giving seed.

"What's your name?" Blondie's voice was husky with the aftermath of sex.

Long fingers wrapped themselves around David's wrist, stroking the angular bones at the base of his arm, sending shivers up his spine and closing off his throat. Oh God, he wouldn't survive this. This was a more excruciating torture than anything the VC had ever cooked up. This was forever and always, this was peace. He jerked away with what sounded suspiciously like sob, but the hand kept hold, moving up his arm to the shoulder, and then enfolded him close. He couldn't breathe, he couldn't think. "N-no . . ." David scrambled back against the metal pipes that curved over the foot of the bed, pressing back against their cold hardness.

"Starsky?" Blondie said softly, just sitting and watching him with such compassion.

"Y-yeah," David answered, not realizing how he'd known until the other man pointed at the name stitched onto his dull green jacket.

"How long have you been out?"

"You here to talk, or have sex?" David asked crudely. If he let this beautiful blond in there'd be no stopping him. He'd pry, he'd dig, and eventually find out how unworthy David Starsky really was. About 'Nam . . . "Spread your legs." If he kept moving, nobody could keep up with him. He was quick, always had been, always able to avoid getting caught in any of the traps life set out. Until the last time . . .

Clamping down hard on any treacherous memories, David switched his focus to the beautiful sight in front of him. That long body, sleek and smooth, legs splayed wide on either side of him, cock now limp but still offered up to him on a beautiful platter. He wanted to weep, but tears of release had been denied long ago, branded a weakness, a show of cowardliness.

But again he thought of that little yellow kitten, all softness and warmth, blue eyes trusting and pure. Rage filled him up, and he had to push, to grab, to obliterate, before he was torn in half.

Trembling, he couldn't get his pants undone and finally those fine, tanned hands did the job for him. Without a word, the blond unwrapped a rubber condom, enveloping David's penis like a sandwich wrapped for lunch. He wasn't used to the sensation and felt trapped, but one look at the steady strength in those blue eyes and he gave in, his heart thundering in his ears. How could he? How could he just take this beautiful soul and darken it with his own savage pain? Sucking Blondie off had been one thing--but this--his whole body shook with need--was different. It was intimate, and he was a junkie salivating for one fix--probably the last one.

"Starsky?" Blondie said again, and David decided he didn't ever want to know the other man's real name. It was so much safer this way--no connections to sever when Blondie understood how really screwed up he was. It was already painful to hear his own name used, because it sounded so good in that man's mouth--so right, and he wanted to hear him say it again.

"Take all you want, it's yours."

No, that couldn't be. He couldn't be offering himself like this--pure of heart giving up to the devil's spawn. David had been to hell. He knew the devil's name; it was tattooed on his psyche. Struggling to keep his whole being from imploding with the strain of holding himself back, David said, "Nancy? Your wife?"

"Yeah," Blondie said shortly and David could see so clearly that things were not good. Something was off that this perfect man could give himself so freely to a total stranger instead of to his own wife. "She sees other men."

And so do you, David thought abruptly, and was oddly pleased with that. So Blondie wasn't so innocent after all. Stained just a little, so he wouldn't be as tainted by someone already far more soiled than he. "Turn over, lemme see that ass."

Obediently, the man went onto all fours, his face turned back to see what David was doing. David didn't waste any time, he had long since used up any patience, and needed to force his way in, to push, shove, and batter down the gates that kept him out. But there was no need; Blondie accepted him like a lover, pulling him in with sweet generosity.

And he found what he was searching so desperately for--that heart beating on every side of him, anchoring him and protecting him. David flew halfway out of hell, floating freely in the air, moored to the earth by only one man. His heart wrenched open, pain spilling out like pus from a wound, to find that the salve he needed to heal him was waiting right there. Blondie didn't reject him, didn't judge, and he could breathe again.

Pulling free from his new found home, David was repentant, which made him angry all over again. He'd used this wonderful man for his own ends and regained life. What had he given Blondie? He had so little, nothing of any consequence to offer after that unselfish gift. He'd meant to attack with meaningless sex, and instead received something special.

"Came back last week," David mumbled, answering the original question, fumbling with his clothing. He'd never removed anything but his pants, but suddenly he was cold, shivering in the overheated little room.

"From Viet Nam?"

"Hawaii." David smiled contemptuously at that. Most people would have loved to visit the island state, but he'd hated every minute spent in that clinging, oppressive place.

"R and R?"

"You could call it that--an all expense paid vacation to the V.A hospital courtesy of the Pentagon. And I didn't even win the lottery."

"C'mere," Blondie coaxed, his big hands once again roaming cautiously over the expanse of Army issue clothing.

David froze when fingers skimmed his right shoulder and slipped the jacket off. He couldn't breathe, couldn't think without seeing explosions detonating in a sun-drenched rice paddy, body parts flying through the hazy blue sky.

Think, think of something, anything else...a kitten, there one day and gone the next, into some starving Viet family's stew pot. Oh God, he'd never survive this.

"You all right?" Blondie asked, his fingers still resting lightly on the partially exposed t-shirt covering David's shoulder.

How could he answer that one? What lies would smooth over the truths? Or could truth heal his pain?

Pulling the jacket back into place, David didn't mind the fingers that toyed with his long curly hair as much. "Why'd you come here, today?" he asked finally.

"The recruiting office--Toady got called up."

"The druggie?" David snorted; it was so much easier to stay on a neutral subject.

The beer that had spilled when they'd first come in was stinking up the room as the temperature increased, and he was reminded of late nights in high school with his friends, hanging out in the back of his uncle's garage, getting smashed on beer and talking about girls, life, and the future. Only he didn't have a future. So why did this feel like something real and solid?

"And you let him drive when he was tripping?" He'd met the blond less than an hour ago. "Probably seein' pink hippos in tutus dancin' around with alligators."

"He dropped a window pane after we got here, or I wouldn't have. You've seen Fantasia?" the blond asked, sounding surprised. He'd slipped a finger through one of the sausage ringlets that hung over David's collar and just left it there.

"Walt Disney makes it, I watch it."

"Snow White, Bambi?"

"Bambi's a classic, man," David said staunchly, and astonishingly there were tears in his eyes. He refused to let them slip, but it was the first time in years, maybe over a decade, that tears had even formed. What was this blond doing to him?

"You a straight popcorn man, or jujubes?"

"Raisonettes, Hershey bars, MandM's." David gulped a breath. It was surreal sitting here talking like they'd known each other for all time. This was so beyond the way he had imagined his day would end up. If he was dreaming, let it last forever. "Popcorn's good, but you gotta have the chocolate."

"My mom never let us have snacks for the movies, so I'd have to share with my friends. Jujubes were big in Duluth."

"You from up there?"

Blondie laughed at that, nodding. David heard the residual burr of his own Eastern upbringing in the word "there," which came out sounding far more like "theah" than anyone born in California ever said.

"You can't possibly be from here with an accent like that."

"New York, a long time ago." David let himself admire Blondie now. He was still too near, but it wasn't nearly so scary. They'd forged some strange, tenuous connection that he sensed wasn't as temporary as he'd feared.

And damn, the man was handsome. Movie star good looking with all that fair, shining hair. David wanted to bury himself in all that sunniness and forget that there had been a before. Become a new man. Lose the old one.

"You come out here for the law school?" David asked, knowing he had to at least make an attempt at two-way conversation. His therapist should be pleased. He was making an effort, reaching out. Except that man had never showed a moment's approval, ever. Blondie had been far more nurturing than that fool with a Ph.D. had ever been.

"I got married, started school in Duluth, but there are a lot of good law schools in the Los Angeles area. Nancy is studying business."

"Your wife's in school, too?" David asked far too casually, seeing what a gulf there was between them. Blondie had a good life--even if he and his wife were stepping out on each other; he had school, a future as a judge, and probably children. The All-American dream.

"She has...aspirations," Blondie said after a long while. "I'm still . . .well, law isn't quite what I'd expected."

"Boring?" David asked, surprised to be interested in someone else's life. He'd been so drowned in his own, he hadn't been able to sit up and pay attention to anything else.

"Dry . . ." Blondie conceded. "I wanted to make a difference -- effect change."

"Like protestin' a war you can't end?" David arched his eyebrow sarcastically. "Uncle Sam wants to lay waste to Viet Nam, chase those commies out, but it's like we dropped into a--bar fight we didn't start and don't understand. Language is different, their whole . . .way of life is different. We can't change them, but they sure as hell can fuck us up." He shut up quickly, horrified he'd revealed so much.

"Too different to come together and evoke a peaceful exchange of ideologies?" Blondie said so softly David had to strain to hear him. That big, long fingered hand enclosed his, and for once he didn't feel captured. Blondie's hand was lightly tanned, but it was still paler than his own olive-toned skin with the curly dark hair growing over his wrist and arm. "You ever hear about Eastern philosophy? Yin and Yang?"

"Saw a medallion." David nodded, a little breathless from the feeling of skin touching his, but he didn't pull away. "One half black and the other white--like two snakes curled together." Around the neck of his bunkmate, lying with his head back in the water, hair floating loose, rice plants falling all around him.

"They are the two forces who both oppose and attract one another. There is no darkness without light, no life without death. It's all one continuous circle."

"Which is which?"

"Yin is darkness, death, and hardship. Yang is birth, springtime and brightness."

"You," David whispered, and knew he'd tumbled so far down he'd never recover. He couldn't exist without this glorious man.

"I have two sides like everyone else. Like you do," Blondie promised. "Balance and harmony is all important."

David doubted that he'd ever attain equilibrium in his life--hell, just the fact that he'd rejoined the human race was a big step right now.

"Oh, crap, I've got to go..." The blond jumped up, searching around for his discarded clothing. He pulled the Indian style shirt over his head. "Street's quiet now, police probably took them down to the station two blocks over. I'll have to walk over, I guess."

"You're going?" David asked wretchedly.

"You want to come?"

"No." Not into a police department to bail out a bunch of protesters. He couldn't.

"Then..." Blondie fastened up his pants, "we can continue this discussion on..."

"Eastern philosophies?"

"I've got class in the morning. You know where the campus is?"

David bit his bottom lip, afraid to let this shining one out of his sight. Tomorrow would be different, strange, and they'd stumble over words, not finding any subject to fill the silence. It would be awkward, more than awkward. And he'd be lost forever.

"I can hot wire the van," he said without inflection.

"Toady'd never survive the city bus ride--if they let him and the rest of them out tonight." Blondie tightened his belt, looking over at David with a warm friendliness.

"Sure, show me how, and I'll pay for dinner, too. The pub on campus makes a decent burger."

"Sure," David agreed and sealed his fate forever, letting go of the past without regrets. "W-what's your name?"

"Ken Hutchinson." Blondie put out a hand as if they'd just met and hadn't had sex already, to shake David's. "Starsky."