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It’s half past the middle of the night when they finally give up, pulling over at the first seedy roadside motel that has its open sign illuminated. Starsky’s fingers have been curled in Hutch’s hand on their quiet ride back, his opposite hand pressed against his mouth as he looks out thoughtfully over the passing landscape.

Night changes the desert, though he’s still been breathing dust and the faint scent of cactus flowers and every so often the stinging pods rush out from a bloomed agave, thudding against the glass of the windshield in low rattling clicks. 

Starsky calls Hutch out on his road hypnotism when they drift over the center line, and they find themselves in the unlikely town of Halloran Springs, beneath an illuminated sign that directs them where to get gas, where to eat. The hotel is trucker fare, with long, boxlike rooms that run front to back and only have one window. 

“Good thing you stopped,” the sleepy looking proprietor tells him. “You boys look beat. Lotsa folks kill themselves out there in the desert after a weekend in Vegas. Gets worse on Sunday nights, too. Here’s a key, you’ve got thirty five cable channels, but looks like all you could use is some sleep.”

Starsky agrees, grabbing Hutch’s sleeve and the key complete with its giant wooden toggle proclaiming their room number to be 13. As he unlocks the door, he shows the number to Hutch. “Hey. Is this lucky or unlucky, do you think?”

“Maybe our bad luck came on the front end,” Hutch says, a bit zombielike and unfocused. He uses exhaustion as an excuse, but it's not that.

Hutch tries to shake himself from his funk, realizing belatedly that Starsky has grabbed all their bags without asking for help. “Thanks.”

He considers the week they've had, and it's much easier to not think at all about Jack. “You gonna call Vicky? I bet you could rearrange your schedule to get down here every other weekend.”

Starsky shakes his head, reaches out to put his hand on Hutch’s arm. “I don’t wanna make it weird, and to be honest, I couldn’t do this Vegas thing that often. I’m worn out, and she should get somebody who can be here all the time, right? Better for her and her kid.”

“You could transfer,” Hutch suggests, almost teasing, but it's a little too wistful for that. He only ever tries to get rid of Starsky when he really needs him. “I think she really liked you. And cute kid.”

“I don’t wanna work Vegas,” Starsky says, because it’s easier to say than ‘I don’t want to get serious with anybody that isn’t you.’ 

Hutch doesn't push it, and a mighty yawn unhinges Starsky’s jaw as he steps into the double room, pushing the door closed behind them and immediately stepping out of his shoes, finding a place for the luggage, dropping himself face-first on the pretty hard mattress. It doesn’t creak, it barely budges. Starsky groans a little in protest. 

“Anyway, how are you doing?” he wonders, looking up at Hutch. His partner is still standing in the doorway, looking lost. “You gonna be alright, after all that? After, uh…”

They’ve never really had to talk about exes like this before. Sure they had a lot of them, but Starsky hadn’t known Jack before this weekend. The prince and the pauper, they’d said.  

“Yeah, sure. I mean, hadn't seen him in what, ten years? Fifteen? And he was...basically gone already. A different person.” 

Hutch doesn't like talking about this, so it stirs him to move away from the door, to remove shoulder holster and shirt, the motions of getting ready for bed, though he's not sure he'll sleep.

“Tell me if you think your mattress is made out of plywood like mine,” Starsky says, shifting, working to unsling his holster, which he plops onto the nightstand. “And don’t set any alarm, okay partner? Just sleep.”

“Got it,” Hutch says, going to the small bathroom. There's soap at least, and hot water, and he cleans himself like he can wash that man right out of his hair, or however the song goes. He remembers wanting to kiss Jack, once or twice, before it got really bad, before it got obvious something was wrong with him, though Jack was acting there was never anything between them in high school except being good friends. At first Hutch had been offended, and hurt, a little. Maybe, he had hoped, Jack just wasn't sure if he was out to Starsky, and so was being careful and considerate. But after Hutch found out about the tumor, all he was was sad. 

The darkness isn’t kind to Starsky, either. He’s thinking about Vickie, about how his life might be different, if things weren’t the way they were. He might find a family, settle down. Instead, he’s got his job, his dedication to his partner, and… whatever nebulous thing the world was willing to give them around the moments when they had girls in their life. Or, he guesses in Hutch’s case, other men.

Hutch returns to the darkened room to hear Starsky shifting on the bed: still awake. But Hutch doesn't care enough to turn on the light or get dressed, so he crawls under starchy sheets to lay down with the towel still around his waist. 

“Starsk?” he says after a second. He waits before continuing, wondering if this is a good idea for either of them. “My bed’s not so bad. You want to come over here?”

Starsky doesn’t hesitate. After all, they’re a good team, and when they feel bad no matter what the cause, they’re around for each other. He leaves his own bed behind and joins Hutch, still warm and wet from the shower, and he leans in to kiss him without hesitating. Because they could talk about it, but he’s not sure that’s what they need, at least any more than to exhaust themselves and get a chance to sleep.

Hutch kisses him like he’s welcoming him back. Maybe, for a little while at least, Vickie and Jack don’t matter, and he wraps his long limbs around Starsky. Everyone’s the same height in bed, they say, but Hutch has always liked how he can wind himself around any partner. Him and Jack in bed was just miles of leg…

“I…” Hutch stops, draws back a little. He finds Starsky’s cheek in the dark and pats it, running his fingers back into his hair. He doesn’t want to, but maybe they need to talk a little. “I was lying about the bed. Just wanted you here.” 

At least Starsky should know how much Hutch wants and needs him. 

Starsky actually laughs, but it’s not as cheerful a sound as it might have been otherwise. He winds his body up with Hutch’s in the artificial cool of the air conditioner, and strokes his thumbs over Hutch’s cheeks, cups his hands against his neck, and just keeps touching him gently, with reassurance. 

“Yeah that’s a hell of a thing, isn’t it?” Starsky says. “Normally you check into a hotel the mattresses are all broken down already.”

He leans in to kiss Hutch, and it’s as much an apology as it is impassioned. Hutch is distinctly Hutch and Starsky likes that, most days. Sure he’s prickly and difficult and frequently seems to think that because he eats chicken feed he’s got some kind of superiority, but Starsky loves him anyway. “Guess that means we’re gonna have to do our part to break this one in, huh?”

“Yeah,” Hutch laughs, pulling Starsky on top of him, appreciating his weight, his warmth, his hair, his smell, his presence. Maybe they didn’t need to talk about this. Maybe they can just ignore it and that little sad ache will just go away. “Guess so.”

Hutch slides Starsky’s underwear down his legs, leaning in to kiss his neck, but Starsky can tell his heart isn’t in it. 

A hand between them stops Hutch up, and Starsky tilts Hutch's head back to kiss him, soothing. “Just what you need right now partner. If it's just for me to listen, that's okay. But I'm here. Gonna always be here, right? Me and Thee.”

“Right, I just—right,” Hutch says, closing his eyes. Even if it’s dark in here, it still helps to close his eyes. He doesn’t instantly know what he wants, so he tries to focus. He hugs Starsky tight, like he’s worried he might move away. “I’m just so angry , Starsk. At—at Cameron, at Pruitt, at the tumor. I’m mad at Jack, I guess, too. And I miss him.”  

“Of course you’re mad,” Starsky says. “They all thought the worst of him, and none of them even knew him. How could they?”

Starsky rubs Hutch’s shoulders, gently, his back and arms, just touching him to ground him and comfort him. “I”m sorry. It stinks, the whole thing. I’m sorry they put you in that situation for it to end the way it did.”

Hutch just lets himself absorb Starsky, his attention, his touch, his love. It moves him from feeling sorry for himself to just feeling sorry, and towards feeling grateful. “You’d’ve liked Jack, before. He—he wasn’t a crazy party animal, normally. Just, I dunno. More like you. Loved life, but not manic, like you saw. Like he knew everything he needed would come back to him.”

“I saw parts of that,” Starsky says, which is true. “I mean, when my eyes would stay open for more than ten minutes.”

Hutch chuckles, buries his face against Starsky’s shoulder apologetically. “I’m sorry you didn’t get to meet the real Jack.” 

“I did,” Starsky says. “I saw him in the way you looked at him, the way he still remembered you. I mean, not perfectly of course, but I can kinda get the shape of it from the way you talk about him.” 

Hutch nods, feeling a little better already. “I’m glad you’re here, Starsk. And not just because he isn’t. There’s no way this doesn’t look bad right now…” 

Hutch hadn’t slept with Jack, again, though there really wasn’t time. He wonders if Starsky slept with Vickie. Maybe Hutch would feel less guilty if they were both rebounding.

“What’s so bad about it?” Starsky wonders, pushing Hutch over on his back at last, leaning down to kiss his chest, and over his sternum, sitting up over him. He wants Hutch to feel good, he wants to feel good. The two things can go together. “I thought that was how all this worked, right?”

Maybe it’s not supposed to be exactly this way, but sometimes it’s going to be. He kisses lower, over Hutch’s belly. “Just let me take care of you, huh?”

Hutch laughs, but it’s half to stave off a sob. “Starsky, that’s all I ever do. You’re always taking care of me.” 

“We take care of each other,” Starsky reminds.

Not just with sex. Starsky is always there for him, that’s the thing, and Hutch can’t settle down, can’t commit, except in the moment, like he is now. He’s distantly guilty about that: like apologizing for something you’re about to do wrong. “I am glad you’re here, Starsky. I love you.” 

Now he kisses him like he means it. 

Starsky is just as glad Hutch is here, and if he gets a little thrill when Hutch says those words, it’s not that he ever doubts , or that he doesn’t ever believe it’s not true, but sometimes he thinks maybe Hutch gets so distracted by things that it’s less true. Then again, sometimes he gets distracted, too. It’s just the way things are. Constants remain. 

Starsky kisses his way down Hutch’s bare body, running his hands appreciatively over Hutch’s side, then over his thighs, kissing his hips, running his thumbs through the still-damp thatch of pubic hair. “This okay? I figure if we fall asleep in the middle it’s almost a relief.”

“I'm not going to fall asleep in the middle,” Hutch says, and wrestles Starsky off of him. “But just in case…”

Hutch doesn't want to just lie back and watch: he loves Starsky just as much as Starsky loves him. He flips himself over and kisses Starsky’s furry thighs. He laughs as they arrange each other: Starsky gets a hand beneath his balls, Hutch pulls Starsky’s knee up to support his head. Hutch giggles, over-tired and over-stimulated. “Now I might fall asleep after, with your cock in my mouth…”

“Hang on a second,” Starsky groans, pressing a kiss against Hutch’s thigh. He rolls back halfway, groping around on the floor for his jeans and fishing two little condom packets out of the pocket before he drops them back on the floor, offering one first to Hutch before he tears open the other one and rolls it onto Hutch’s cock before he applies his mouth to it, slow and considerate. It’s like he doesn’t have to think about anything else, just this, and right now that’s a blessing. He doesn’t have to think about Jack and Hutch knowing each other for so long and eventually breaking up no matter how good it had been between them. He doesn’t have to think about the woman and her daughter that he could almost love. 

Just the way Hutch, in this moment, reaches for Starsky with the same enthusiasm and they both know each other well enough that even exhausted, Starsky knows how much pressure to use, how to work his tongue (upside-down like this is a little different than he’s used to, though), how to keep Hutch right on the edge for as long as he wants. 

Hutch loves Starsky’s cock, honestly, the thickness, the tufts of hair surrounding it on all sides, the smell of him. He gets a hand around his ass and just pulls him in, teasing only a little before he's swallowing him down. If he can make Starsky half as happy as he makes Hutch, he'll count that a win.

The pleasure of Starsky’s mouth on his dick blends seamlessly with the delight of having Starsky in his mouth, and Hutch groans, squeezing him with his arms in a big hug. Thank you. I don't deserve you. Thank you

There’s an edge of desperation to the whole thing that leaves them both hanging onto each other tightly, and it’s good , somehow. Electrifying to Starsky, like cold air before a storm. Before they started, he was sure he was exhausted, but now he can take his time with it and pay attention, work his mouth over the head of Hutch’s cock, and then down, not teasing but making sure every part of his cock gets some attention.

When he finally cums, it onrushes like a train, intense, complete. Starsky has to draw off Hutch long enough to make a surprised noise, body tense and shaking before he dives back in, determined not to leave Hutch behind.  

Hutch likes Starsky coming apart for him so much that he makes a little noise of surprise, and Starsky’s enthusiastic release alone nearly pulls him along with him. Hutch shudders and folds around Starsky, and groans, and it’s all natural, all automatic, instinctive, when he flips back around and kisses Starsky lazily, gratefully, sleepily. 

“You...you’re…” 

He doesn’t finish the sentence. Maybe he doesn’t need to. Starsky is , and that matters more than anything to Hutch. Maybe that’s the problem: he’s too wrapped up in Starsky already, Starsky is so important to every sphere of his life already, and Hutch is afraid to get any further obsessed. It’s better if there are girls, occasionally, and boys, sometimes, too, at least, if nothing else, to make them coming together like this all the sweeter.

On the other hand, it’s easy in the afterglow to see this lasting forever like this, with a lot less heartache. But in the morning Hutch knows he won’t believe that. Hutch slides over the top of Starsky, smothering him, too tired to clean up. He sighs, “Starsky.”

“Mm-hmm?” Starsky is drifting, relaxed, but not so gone he doesn’t get his arms around Hutch’s neck in a loose hang-on, to keep him close like he might actually go somewhere otherwise. He cracks one eye open, and looks at Hutch, though they’re really close anyway and it takes his eyes a second to focus. “Hutch?”

Hutch doesn't quite know what to say. What comes to mind is too much or not enough, and either way a lie. 

The easier things get between them, the more complicated they feel. 

“Hold me,” he says, because that is safe, and honest. 

“You got it,” Starsky says, pulling the blanket over them comfortably, and kissing Hutch’s cheek. “Any time you want.”