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“Remember, Starsk, I won’t be in tomorrow.” Hutch dropped one last sheet into his out box and shoved his chair back. He got to his feet, stretching slowly in an attempt to smooth out the kinks resulting from two straight hours of monotonous paperwork.

Starsky glanced at him, and then away. Hutch standing tall, sensuously rolling his broad shoulders, throwing his chest out, tilting his head back to reveal that long, golden throat, full lips parted in a yawn – that was a sight he could have gazed at for a while. But not here in the middle of the busy squad room with Simmons and Babcock sitting a few feet away, and Dobey passing through on his way to the men’s room. Long, scorching looks, the kind that smoldered with appreciation, that glowed with promises of carnal delight – those were best reserved for more private settings, more intimate tete-a-tetes.

Not that those occasions happened very often. Starsky sighed.

“Yeah, yeah, rub it in, why doncha?” he grumbled, fixing his eyes back where they belonged, on his typewriter keys. He still had most of a report left to do. Why hadn’t he learned to type faster? Hutch was faster. Hutch’s fingers practically flew over the keys by comparison.

Hutch’s long, beautiful fingers….

He blinked to chase the picture away, and hit the carriage return hard. “I know you and whatshername are takin’ a three-day weekend at Snow Valley. Don’t forget your vitamins.”

Hutch stepped to the coat rack and plucked his jacket off it. “Wendy. And I won’t forget. See you Monday, partner.”

“Hutch.”

Hutch paused with a hand on the doorknob.

Starsky looked him in the eye. “You have any problems, you call me.”

To Starsky’s surprise, Hutch’s eyes widened for a moment. Then he blinked, and the slightly shocked expression was gone. He huffed out a little laugh. “Problems? I think I can handle it, Starsk. My dad gave me the talk a long time ago.”

“Ha, ha. You know what I mean.” The very first time Hutch had taken a long weekend off to be with a girl had resulted in such catastrophe that the memories, even years later, still had the power to chill Starsky’s blood.

Hutch’s eyes went soft. “I know. Don’t worry, Starsk. I promise, I’ll be fine.” His lips twitched into an odd little smile. “See you later.” And with a wave, he was gone.

Starsky stared after him, brow wrinkled. Hutch had looked almost guilty.


*****


Starsky didn’t much enjoy the next twenty-four hours.

Friday was a drag. Working without his partner was always a drag. They weren’t in the thick of any really hot cases at the moment – if they had been, Hutch couldn’t and wouldn’t have left – which meant more paperwork and routine patrol duty, alone. Starsky was amazed, as always, at how big the front seat of the Torino seemed with no Hutch on his right, how quiet the car was without Hutch’s voice telling him where to turn when he already knew, or bitching about the suspension or the paint job or the inadequate head room, or some damn thing, even though the Torino was perfect and Hutch damn well knew it. He missed having frequent opportunities to remind Hutch of that obvious fact.

Even his lunch break was no fun. He went to the Dog House and got a beautiful foot-long work of art – dripping with chili, cheese, relish, onions, and as much ketchup and mustard as he could stand – because wouldn’t it be great to inhale such a monstrosity without having to suffer disapproving frowns and barbed comments about cholesterol? But it wasn’t great, Starsky reflected forlornly, even as he licked every last speck of grease off his fingers, and belched. It was only a surface kind of satisfaction, hollow at its core. Like jerking off and pretending it was someone else’s hand, it felt good, but not nearly good enough.

He was home at last, shuffling through the small pile of mail he’d found in his box, when it occurred to him that he ought to go over and pick up Hutch’s mail, too. He’d always done it before when Hutch was away, just as Hutch did it for him. It was kind of funny that Hutch hadn’t mentioned it this time, but maybe he’d been too distracted with thoughts of his wild weekend. Well, Starsky had nothing else pressing to do at the moment; he’d just drop by Venice Place and take care of it.

He did drop by, parking the Torino at the curb behind Hutch’s LTD. Hutch had told him he and Wendy were taking her car, news Starsky had received with a combination of smugness and relief. He wouldn’t trust that disgraceful old bucket of rust not to die in the wilderness somewhere and leave Hutch and his lady friend to hitchhike back to Bay City.

There was no mail in Hutch’s box. Funny. Hutch nearly always got something, even if it was nothing more than Indoor Gardening magazine or a letter informing him that he might already have won a million dollars in the Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes, might being the operative word, of course. But there was nothing.

Well, I’m here, Starsky thought resignedly. Might as well give the old jungle a drink. Maybe I’ll have one, too. Pop a cold one, watch a little TV. Why not?

He climbed the stairs to Hutch’s front door, groped around on the lintel for the key Hutch kept there when he was out, and failed to find it. Funny. It wasn’t like Hutch to forget to leave it there, but maybe he’d finally decided it was unsafe. Starsky shrugged and opened the door with his own key.

Inside, the apartment was cool and quiet. The setting sun shone through the greenhouse glass, falling on Boston ferns and spider plants, spilling across the living room floor to the couch. And on the couch lay Hutch, covered to his t-shirt-clad torso with a blanket and sound asleep. Next to him, on the coffee table, rested a messy stack of unsorted mail.

Starsky stared at his partner for a moment, aware dimly that the place wasn’t completely quiet. A faint, repetitious scratching sound niggled at the edge of his consciousness. Looking to his right, he saw an LP turning on Hutch’s stereo, the needle riding uselessly on the inner groove. James Taylor gazed broodingly from the album sleeve propped against the player.

Sweet Baby James. Hutch must have been feeling particularly sensitive.

Starsky took a step toward the couch, and Hutch’s eyelids fluttered. He shifted under the blanket, blinked at Starsky, and his eyes widened.

“Dammit,” he said. “I forgot about the mail.”

“Yep. Nice weather we’re havin’ here at Snow Valley. Been on the slopes yet?”

Hutch reddened a little. His hand rooted under the blanket for a moment, and reemerged. “We, uh, we didn’t go.”

“Yeah, I sorta gathered that. Unless it’s like that Star Trek episode where everybody had an evil double in a parallel universe. Remember that one?”

“Starsk – ”

“Only you don’t have a beard.”

Hutch sighed. “You know I never watch that show.”

“It’s an American institution, Hutch! How can you not watch it?”

But Hutch didn’t seem to be listening. He reached under the blanket again, and Starsky saw him wince.

“Hey, whatsamatter?” Starsky asked softly. “You sick?” Sure he’s sick, you dummy, he thought, kicking himself mentally. Why else would Hutch have called off a weekend getaway with a beautiful girl like Wendy?

“You need me to get you anything? You got a bellyache, or a fever….”

Hutch jerked back from the hand Starsky tried to place on his forehead. “Starsky, I’m fine, really. It’s nothing.”

Starsky frowned. “Okay. You want a beer, then? I was gonna have one.”

Hutch sighed, and moved slowly to a sitting position. “Sure, go ahead.”

Bewildered, Starsky went to the icebox. Something strange was going on. Hutch looked okay, but he was acting – funny. Not sick exactly, just – funny. Maybe Wendy was sick. Or maybe, he thought with a pang, Hutch had made up the whole skiing story as an excuse to be alone for a few days, away from Starsky. That was a possibility Starsky didn’t like. If Hutch needed some space, he could have just said so. They didn’t have to spend so much of their free time together. Starsky just liked it that way, and he’d always thought Hutch did, too.

He got two cans out of the icebox, turned around, and saw Hutch returning from the stereo, which he’d evidently just turned off. He was wearing the loose, old-man boxers Starsky delighted in teasing him about, and secretly found oddly sexy. But Starsky registered this only in passing. What he focused on was the stiff, almost bowlegged way Hutch was moving, a sharp contrast to his usual easy, loping stride.

“Hey! What happened to your legs?”

Hutch gave him an irritated look as he lowered himself to the couch. “Nothing happened to my legs, gordo.”

“You’re walkin’ funny – ”

Hutch snatched the beer Starsky held out to him. “I had a vasectomy, Starsk, okay? Happy now?” He popped the top off the can and took a swig.

Starsky’s mouth fell open. “You had – what?”

“Vas-ec-to-my,” Hutch said, enunciating each syllable with care. “Look it up, it’s in the dictionary.”

Starsky sank down beside him, and settled on something cold and lumpy. He sprang up with a yelp, groped under the blanket, and came up with an ice pack.

Hutch grabbed it from him and stuffed it between his thighs. “You can shut your mouth now, Starsk,” he said. “The slack-jawed look doesn’t do much for you.”

Starsky blinked, and clamped his mouth shut.

“You see?” Hutch said, jabbing a finger at Starsky. “This is exactly the way I knew you’d react. That’s why I didn’t want to tell you.”

“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” Starsky demanded. “What way am I reacting?” Shit, Hutch was acting like he’d clutched his heart and fainted dead away or something. He was just – surprised, that’s all. Okay, stunned. But hell, who wouldn’t be? What unmarried, childless guy in his mid-thirties got a – a –

“With your balls,” Hutch snapped. “You’re reacting with them, and you’re thinking with them. You’re thinking, Jesus, Hutch, you let somebody take a knife to your nuts?

Starsky winced involuntarily, shifting on the couch. “C’mon, I’m not – ”

“And you’re thinking, Jesus, that must hurt like hell.

“Well, yeah – ”

“And you’re thinking, Why would an unmarried, childless guy in his mid-thirties get a vasectomy?

Starsky shrugged. “Okay, you got me. Why would an unmarried, childless guy in his mid-thirties – ”

“Starsk, I don’t wanna talk about it.” Hutch leaned back and closed his eyes with a sigh.

“Okay,” Starsky said, after a long, puzzled moment. “You don’t hafta talk about it.” He cast about for a substitute topic of conversation, well aware that nothing would loosen Hutch’s tongue more quickly than feigned indifference.

“You wanna watch TV?”

“No.”

“Ah, c’mon.” Starsky picked up the TV Guide from the coffee table and flipped through the listings. “Hey, look, The Public Enemy’s on! You ever seen that?”

“I don’t – ”

“It’s during Prohibition, see, and Jimmy Cagney plays this bootlegging gangster, and he’s in love with Jean Harlow, but he’s got this other girlfriend, too, and he smushes a grapefruit in her face – ”

“Starsk – ”

“And at the end, his mom’s expecting him for dinner, but this other gang shoots him and delivers his body to his mom’s front door like it was a new fridge from Sears or something.” He slid from the couch and knee-walked over to the TV. “C’mon, let’s watch it, it just started.”

“Why should I watch it when you’ve just told me everything about it, including the ending?”

“’Cause it’s good!” Starsky turned the TV on and twisted the channel selector.

Hutch gave an exasperated sigh. Starsky ignored it and settled back on the couch, keeping one eye on the movie and the other, surreptitiously, on his partner.

Despite his professed disinterest in the film, Hutch watched it, or seemed to. But Starsky noticed that his partner was also shooting him frequent wounded glances when he believed himself unobserved. Starsky suppressed a smile and kept his eyes on the TV screen.

At the first commercial break, Hutch abruptly rose, leaned over, and turned the TV off.

“Hey!” Starsky protested. “I was watchin’ that!” He checked his watch. Twenty minutes. Not bad.

Hutch sat back down, carefully, and fixed Starsky with a narrow-eyed gaze. “No, you weren’t. You were waiting for me to tell you about my vasectomy.”

Starsky shrugged. “Who cares about your vasectomy? I wanna watch the movie.”

“Who cares about my vasectomy, huh?” Hutch snorted. “Starsky, you’re dying to know all about it.”

“Am not.” Starsky paused. “Well, not all about it. I got a sensitive stomach, so you can leave out the gory stuff. Just tell me why.”

Hutch sighed. “Starsky, do you know what the total population of the world is?”

“You know I hate math.”

“Four billion, four hundred fifty-three million, eight hundred sixty-three thousand, eight hundred twenty. At least, that’s what the current world almanac says, but that’s already dated.”

Starsky whistled.

Hutch nodded emphatically. “Pretty damn shocking, right?”

“Not as shocking as you. How the hell do you do that? Reel off numbers like that without even writing ‘em down?”

“Starsk, that’s not important. What’s important is that we don’t need more people on this planet. We’ve got too many already.”

Starsky shrugged. “Maybe. We definitely got too many in this town, anyway. My car damn near overheated sitting in traffic on the way home yesterday….” He shut up. No need to give Hutch more ammunition to use against the Torino. She was just overdue for a tune-up, that’s all.

“I read an article in Time not long ago that really made me stop and think. It said by the year 2000, overpopulation will be so out of control there won’t be enough food to feed three-quarters of the people in the third world.”

“Hate to tell ya, Blintz, but you’re not in the third world.”

Hutch ignored him. “And then, a few weeks ago – remember Mrs. Martinez?”

Starsky nodded. He remembered her. Small, disheveled, tired-eyed, pregnant. They’d answered her call about a prowler at her paint-peeled house in the barrio. A search had turned up no intruder, but a grateful Mrs. Martinez had invited them to stay for dinner. They hadn’t, not after seeing that dinner consisted of potato soup and cheap soda for the lady and her seven children. Her husband, she said, was out looking for work.

“That was the last straw, buddy. I just decided I had to do something.”

“Hutch,” Starsky said gently, “those kids weren’t yours. You gettin’ yourself cut ain’t gonna help that lady.”

“It’ll help me, Starsk. I feel better already.” Hutch shifted his weight. “Okay, I’m a little sore. Small price to pay for a clear conscience.”

“Okay.” Starsky shrugged. “You can always get it reversed if you change your mind, right? I mean, if you meet the right lady and she wants kids.” He paused, surprised by the expression on Hutch’s face. “Right?”

Hutch looked away. “I don’t think that’s gonna happen.”

“Whaddaya mean by that?”

“Starsk, come on. I haven’t exactly had the world’s best luck with women, have I?”

That was true, of course. In fact, Hutch’s luck with the opposite sex had been quite spectacularly bad for as long as Starsky had known him. He had no difficulty at all attracting women; it was keeping them that seemed beyond him. Not, in Starsky’s opinion, that most of them deserved to be kept. It wasn’t jealousy that led him to that conclusion, he told himself firmly. It was simply a cold, hard fact that none of those girls were good enough for Hutch. Starsky didn’t even consider himself good enough for Hutch, though he’d found himself more than willing to overlook that on numerous beer-fuelled evenings when one touch, one look, was enough to land them in Hutch’s bed, or his, locked in each other’s arms, sweating, thrusting, coming….

Starsky gave himself a mental shake. “Well, no. You’ve had shitty luck, but you know what they say. Try, try again.”

“I’m tired of trying.” Hutch drained his beer and set the can on the coffee table. “I’m thirty-six years old, and I’ve had it. I told Wendy I didn’t want to see her anymore, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s it. No more relationships.” He spoke the word with scorn. “Just sex.”

Starsky blinked at his partner in amazement. If it was hard for Hutch to hold onto a woman, it was almost impossible for him to dump them. They left him, not the other way around.

As for the rest of it….

“Uh-huh,” he said. “Sure.”

Hutch’s head whipped around. “You think I can’t do it?”

Starsky didn’t even bother to hide his grin. “Buddy, I know you can’t do it.”

“You give me one good reason – ”

“You’re a sap.”

Hutch’s mouth fell open. “I’m a – ”

“A sap, Hutch. A great big, soft-hearted, mushy-headed, romantic sap. Every time you get your heart broken, you come right back for more. You can’t just have sex. You can’t be that hard-assed about it.”

Hutch was staring at him, as though struggling to absorb this blunt assessment of his emotional make-up.

“Yes, I can,” he said, after a moment. “I am with you.”

Starsky stared at him. They didn’t talk about their – whatever it was. That was part of its charm, actually, that they didn’t have to talk about it, or even acknowledge it. It was just something they did sometimes, though not often (nowhere near often enough, anyway). It was a kind of escape from their normal lives, a pleasant – very pleasant – vacation from reality.

Starsky cleared his throat. “I meant, with women. You know.”

“Starsky, I can be a complete bastard with anybody. I can be a cold-hearted user. You should know that better than anyone.”

“What the hell are you talking about? You’re not like that – ”

“I’ve been using you for years.”

Okay, this was getting surreal. Not only was Hutch talking about it, he was telling lies about it. What the hell?

“You’re nuts,” Starsky said, flatly. “That doctor musta cut the wrong wires.”

Hutch sighed. “I’m just telling you the truth.”

“Yeah, well, the truth is, you’ve never used me. Or if you have, I was using you, too. Ya think I don’t like it? Ya think I’m doin’ you a favor when I come in your mouth, or – ”

Hutch cut him off. “I’m pretending it’s not important. I’m pretending it’s an accident, or a – a fluke. I’m pretending I don’t really want you.”

A memory grabbed Starsky by the balls. The last time. Months ago, right after he’d gotten cleared to return to active duty. They’d celebrated. He’d been dizzy with joy, blurry with beer, but, oh, he remembered. Hutch under him, on his knees, long, lean back flexing, mirroring Starsky’s every thrust, raspy-voiced, panting, “Harder, dammit, harder…”

“If you’re pretending you don’t want me,” Starsky said, “you’re doin’ a really shitty job of it, partner.”

Hutch colored a little. “I’m using you for sexual gratification, when I’m drunk, or lonely, or when finding a woman is too much trouble. You’re my partner, Starsk, and I treat you like some – some sort of sex toy.”

The note of real anguish in Hutch’s voice tugged at Starsky’s heart. Big dummy. If he’s got nothin’ real to worry about, he’ll invent something.

“Hey,” he said aloud. “I do the same with you. Where do you get off thinkin’ I’m some kinda victim? I don’t sleep with nobody I don’t wanna sleep with, buddy boy. And I got my own sex toy, right here.” He clapped a possessive hand over his partner’s crotch.

Hutch gasped, and Starsky snatched his hand away as if from a flame. “Jeez! I’m sorry, babe.” He felt himself cringing in sympathy. “Where’s that damn ice pack?” He glanced around, picked it up off the end table, and noted its squishiness with disgust. “Needs more ice. Hold on, buddy – ”

Hutch caught his arm as he started to rise. “Starsk, never mind, it’s okay, it’s not that bad. It’s not swollen much anyway.”

Starsky eyed Hutch’s shorts suspiciously. “You sure?”

“I’m sure. I’m wearing a jock. The doctor said that would help.”

“But it hurts, right?”

Hutch shrugged. “Yeah, a little. I’m taking Tylenol.”

Starsky spoke firmly. “I wanna see it.”

Hutch rolled his eyes. “Starsk, come on – ”

“Come on, nothin’. Some doctor cracks my partner’s nuts – without my permission, I might add – I at least got a right to inspect the damage. Shuck the skivvies, Blondie.” Seeing the look of righteous indignation in Hutch’s eyes, he played his ace. “Hey, you looked at my chest every day when you were takin’ care of me after Gunther. No way this is that ugly.”

Hutch’s face registered a slight wince, as it always did when reminded of Starsky’s shooting and its aftermath. He sighed in resignation, raised his butt off the couch, and wiggled carefully out of the boxers and the jock strap.

Starsky gazed with morbid fascination. He wouldn’t have thought the hairlessness would be so striking, since Hutch had so little there anyway, but the newly shaved scrotum looked pathetically bare and vulnerable. Much worse was the bruising. Hutch’s testicles were almost black.

“Jesus, that looks – ”

“It looks a lot worse than it is, believe me.”

“But – the bruises. It looks like you went five rounds with Bruce Lee.”

Hutch huffed out a laugh.

“And those stitches….” Gingerly, Starsky touched the tiny, jagged line of sutures with a fingertip. “When do you get ‘em out?”

“I don’t. They’ll dissolve on their own in a few days. And I can go back to work on Monday. It’s really no big deal, Starsk.”

“How long before you can, uh….”

Hutch shrugged. “About a week. The doctor said as soon as I’m comfortable.”

Starsky shook his head. “I still don’t get it. I still don’t see why you wanted to do this.”

Hutch looked away. “I’m not like you, Starsk. I don’t want a wife and kids and a white picket fence. I got over that a long time ago. It just took me a while to get around to doing something about it.”

“Yeah, but…” Starsky hesitated, because dammit, it was scary, what he was about to say, the voicing of a fantasy he’d only dared entertain in secret, and not too often at that. But hey, Hutch had started it. He was the one who’d suddenly started talking about it, after all those years of not talking about it.

He forged ahead bravely. “You didn’t have to get yourself cut. You coulda just stuck with me. For all your, y’know, sexual gratification.”

Hutch’s eyes widened. “All my – ”

“In fact, you still could. Starting now.”

Hutch just stared at him.

“No, really.” Starsky affected a casual air, though his heart was starting to pound the way it had when he was thirteen and trying desperately to summon the nerve to ask Sharman Crane to the junior high sock hop.

He’d blown it then. Please, God, don’t let me blow this.

“Okay, I know it sounds a little nuts – ”

“You could say that.”

“But just look at the advantages, Hutch. No more blowin’ your dough on flowers and fancy dinners. No more This week’s not a good time for me. No more tryin’ to pretend you can dance.” He ignored Hutch’s affronted expression. “No more chicks tellin’ ya to hit the road when you cancel the third date in a row because you and me had to sit a stakeout.” He paused. “No more heartbreak.”

Hutch’s eyes flickered at the last words, softening until he looked downright wistful.

Starsky pressed his advantage. “And, hey, we already know how we feel about each other, right? That’s something else you wouldn’t have to worry about. No more does she or doesn’t she, no more wondering when she’s gonna get bored, or when you are. I mean, how long’ve me and you known each other? And we ain’t bored, right?”

Hutch gave him an affectionate smile. “Starsk, you are many things, a lot of them annoying as hell, but you’re never boring.”

“See, that’s what I mean! I could say exactly the same about you, except you’re a hell of a lot more annoying than me.” He grinned at Hutch’s warning growl. “So, really, when ya think about it, I mean really examine the whole issue from every possible angle, taking into account all the ins and outs, all the whys and wherefores, it just makes good, practical sense for us to – ”

“Get married?”

“Uh, well, I understand that you’ve got bad associations with that word, but, basically, yeah. On an informal, sub-legal, nobody’s-business-but-ours basis, of course.”

Hutch’s smile had faded. He was looking at Starsky searchingly. And hopefully, Starsky thought with a thrill.

“Starsk, are you really serious about this?”

“Yes!” He cleared his throat, trying to bring his enthusiasm under control, and said more quietly, “Yeah, I really am.”

“But I never thought you wanted more than what we had. I didn’t think it was that important to you. That’s why I….” He trailed off.

“What?” Starsky asked softly.

“That’s why I tried to keep limits on it, not let myself get too involved or too – emotional about it.” He scowled at Starsky’s triumphant expression. “Okay, turkey, I admit it. I’m not very good at just sex.”

Starsky patted him on the shoulder. “Takes a big man to know his limitations.”

“But Starsk, what about you? You’ve always wanted a family. Kids and – ”

“Not always. I mean, yeah, I used to, but it was kinda like a reflex. I never really thought a lot about it, I just assumed I’d get married and have kids some day, like everybody does. Or almost everybody. But my luck’s been pretty damn bad, too, y’know.”

Hutch nodded silently.

“Except with you. It’s never been bad with you. Maybe that’s a sign.”

“An omen? That we were meant to be?”

Starsky cuffed him. “Okay, make fun’a me. I’m just playin’ the odds here, Hutch. Bad shit happens to us with women, but not with each other. And we ain’t gettin’ any younger, and I already died once, and you’re losing your hair, and – ”

“I don’t like where this is going.”

Starsky gave Hutch’s hair a quick ruffle. “Truth hurts, huh?”

Hutch made an exasperated noise and batted Starsky’s hand away. “That’s not what I mean. You’re making this seem too practical, too cold. It sounds like a business merger. And it has an air of defeatism about it that bothers me.”

Starsky gave him an I’ll just sit here patiently and wait while you explain what the hell your problem is look.

“Defeatism, Starsk. The way you put it, it sounds like we’re throwing up our hands and saying, Okay, we give up. We can’t hack it with the opposite sex, so what the hell, let’s settle for second best.”

“Hey, I didn’t mean – ”

“Can’t you just tell me you’re in love with me? I mean, that’s the usual reason people make commitments to each other, right?”

Starsky set his Coors can down. He knew he hadn’t had that much, really, but Hutch was saying the damndest things tonight. “I, uh, I didn’t think you wanted to hear that.”

“But it’s true?”

Starsky didn’t, couldn’t, say anything for a moment, until he felt Hutch’s fingers under his chin, lifting it. He stared into Hutch’s eyes, and there went his last chance.

“Well, yeah.” He swallowed, steadying his voice. “Now you gotta tell me, Hutch. That’s only fair.”

But first Hutch kissed him, and that was fair, too. A hell of a lot better than fair, in fact.

They broke apart slowly, reluctantly, breathlessly. “I love you,” Hutch said in a whisper.

“Oh, man,” Starsky said, weakly. Not exactly profound, but it was the best he could manage under the circumstances.

“I – I don’t, uh,” – and Hutch was sounding dumb, too, fumbling, uncertain, and Starsky’s heart swelled to hear it – “I don’t have a ring to give you…. ”

Starsky grinned. “Gimme your letter jacket. And I’ll give you my rings, if you think you can get ‘em over those big knuckles.”

“Or we could go to Rae’s and get matching tattoos on our asses. DS hearts KH – ” Hutch broke off with a spluttered laugh as Starsky hit him with a sofa cushion.

“Only one way I wanna celebrate, pal.” Starsky glanced ruefully at Hutch’s naked crotch. “But I guess we gotta put that off a while.”

“Only a week or so, Starsk. And in the meantime, I can….” He reached for Starsky’s zipper.

Starsky slapped the groping hands away. “Uh-uh, no way, buddy.” His cock was sending him forceful signals of disagreement, but, heroically, he ignored it.

“But – ”

“It’s not fair, that’s all. Besides, you know how excited you get when you do me. You’d end up bustin’ your stitches even without any help from me.” He almost laughed at Hutch’s chagrinned expression. “And then I’d have to take you to the emergency room, and they’d ask what happened, and – ”

Hutch held up both hands. “Okay, okay, I won’t touch you. We’ll find other things to do.” He thought a moment. “Dinner. You haven’t eaten, have you?”

Starsky’s eyes lit up. “No.” He’d been planning to raid Hutch’s icebox after he brought the mail in. “What’ve you got?”

“Beef stew? Baked potatoes?”

“Ice cream?”

Hutch stood, reaching for his discarded boxers and jock. “You want ice cream, you go buy it. I’ll start on the real food while you’re gone.”

Starsky grabbed his jacket. “Be back in three shakes of a lamb’s tail.”

“Three shakes – ”

“That’s, uh, about twenty minutes, give or take a shake.”

Hutch rolled his eyes and headed for the kitchen. “Go, before I change my mind about marrying a moron.”

Whistling, Starsky fished the Torino’s keys out of his pocket. At the door, he turned around. Hutch was watching him from the kitchen and smiling. Just smiling, but it made Starsky’s chest warm, down deep.

Crazy. A guy in ugly boxers and a white t-shirt, barefoot, with stitches in his balls, who thought ice cream wasn’t real food and never watched Star Trek. But when he smiled, Starsky wanted to lay the world at his big, clumsy feet.

Yeah, Starsky thought, he’d always wanted a family. But I don’t need to want one anymore, babe. You’re it.

He smiled back, and slipped out the door.