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Starsky sat down at the table across from Huggy Bear. His friend looked troubled.

“I’ll have a Bud draft,” he told the waitress before turning to regard Huggy, who wore a beige leisure suit with a dark green shirt and colorful scarf. Starsky mused that Carolyn had wrought some changes in his friend. The short beard he’d recently grown gave him a cool sophistication, and the twenty pounds he’d put on in the past few weeks looked good on him.  Huggy was already on his second beer.

“What’s up, Hug?” Starsky asked casually, taking a few pretzels out of the bowl on the table and chucking them one by one into his mouth. It was unusual for Huggy to invite Starsky out for a drink without Hutch, and even more unusual for it to be somewhere away from The Pits.

“I’ve got a problem, Starsky,” the black man said, sipping at his beer, his eyes on the table.

“I gathered as much, or I wouldn’t have ditched Hutch when Nick’s expected any minute.”

Huggy sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Man, I didn’t know that---maybe you should get back home-- not that Blondie can’t hold his own, but there might not be much left of your house when you get back, if you know what I’m sayin’.”

“Ma’s taking him over there from the airport. She’ll referee,” Starsky assured him. “Now what gives?”

“I think I’m in over my head.” Huggy wiped a hand across his face, stretching the skin around his eyes before letting it go.

Starsky raised a brow but remained silent. He wasn’t at all sure where this was going.

Huggy finally met his gaze. “What do you think Hutch would do if I broke his sister’s heart?”

“That’s easy,” Starsky answered, “He’d kill ya.”

Huggy winced. “That’s what I was afraid you’d say.”

Starsky took his beer from the waitress and swallowed some. “What’s a-matter, Hug? I thought you and Carolyn were gettin’ along great. Wasn’t that you who recently told Hutch you really care about her?”

“I do care about her, man!”

“But?”

Huggy scrunched up his face. “Starsky, she’s got two kids! And in case you haven’t noticed, she’s as white as this table cloth, and I’m on the other side of the color spectrum, if you dig.”

“Doesn’t seem to bother her,” Starsky pointed out.

“Well, it bothers me. I’m not daddy material, and she seems to think we’ve got something long-term going.”

Starsky sighed. “You want to break things off with her.”

Huggy’s eyes were pained. “I think it’s for the best, Starsky. She’s a wonderful girl, but we’re too different. There’s no way we’d make it in the long run. It’d be weird introducing her to my friends, and I’m sure she’d feel the same about hers.”

“Don’t forget, me and Hutch are your friends,” Starsky reminded him pointedly.

“I’m talkin’ about my street friends, and you know it. This was just a bad idea all around.” After a beat of silence he said, “I was wondering if you’d do me a solid and pave the way with that protective brother of hers? Keep him from totally losing his cool. I hear you have an in with him.”

Starsky grinned. “I guess I can soften him for the blow.” He turned serious. “But make sure this is what you want, Hug. I don’t want to see Carolyn jerked around. You got it? Not to mention the fact that what hurts Carolyn hurts Hutch, and what hurts Hutch hurts me. Man, I just wish you hadn’t started all this in the first place!”

Huggy looked down at his hands. After a long moment of silence, he looked up at Starsky, his eyes soft pools of chocolate. “Wanna hear something crazy? I don’t.” He stood up, leaving a few bills on the table. “See ya on the flip side, Starsky,” he said before swaggering off.

***

Starsky let himself into the house, relieved to find that his mother was still there. The thought of Hutch and Nick alone together gave him the willies. It wasn’t that he thought Nick would attack Hutch or anything…he was too much of a pussy for that. But just thinking about Hutch straining himself to be nice to his brother---who they both knew was responsible for putting Hutch in the hospital recently—was too much. He didn’t deserve it.

“Hey!” He greeted the trio in the living room. Leaning back on the door jam, he took in the sight of his mother and Nick sitting side by side on the sofa with Hutch across the room in the big chair. Hutch looked relaxed—slouched back with his right ankle resting on his left knee—but Starsky detected lines of tension around his eyes. He also had a pillow placed strategically at the small of his back.

“David!” his mother smiled, beckoning him to come over to sit with them. She scooted over so that he had to take the place between her and his brother.

Starsky sat down and put his arm around Nick in a brotherly hug, even though he really wanted to slug him. His mother smiled at her two sons. “Nick, now that David’s here, tell us your good news.”

Everyone looked expectantly at Nick, who sat up, straightened his turquoise shirt where it had bunched up, and smiled brightly. “Sure, Ma. Well, there’s good news and there’s bad news.” He looked at each in turn. “The bad news is, Heather and I have broken up.”

“Oh, no, Nicky!” Joanne exclaimed, her hand covering her mouth. “She’s such a wonderful girl.”

“Uh, sorry to hear that, Nick,” Starsky said, even as he thought it was probably for the best where Heather was concerned. Hutch didn’t bother to comment, since he’d made it clear to Nick on his last trip that he’d hoped Heather would wise up and dump him.

“We just weren’t meant to be,” Nick sighed dolefully, before rallying. “But there’s good news coming out of this! I’ve decided to move here!”

Joanne let out a squeal and jumped up, clapping her hands together like a young girl. Starsky and Hutch shared a brief look of incredulous dismay before rearranging their expressions to polite interest.

“Well, what do you think, Dave?” Nick asked his brother.

Starsky cleared his throat. “Are you sure that’s what you want to do?”

“David!” Joanne exclaimed. “Of course he wants to be near his family! This is wonderful! Nick, you can start looking for a job right away.”

“I plan to,” Nick said. “I’ve already packed up all my stuff, and I’m going to fly home and drive it here as soon as I find one.”

Joanne threw herself into Nick’s arms, hugging him tightly. “You’ve made me so happy!” She kissed his cheek. “Now, I’d better get home. Nick, Barbara and I want you over for dinner tomorrow night. David, you and Ken are invited, too, of course. I think she’s already asked Carolyn.” She picked up her purse. “Bye, boys!” She kissed Starsky and then Hutch on her way out the door.

“Dave, I want to thank you and Hutch for letting me stay here. I really appreciate it, especially with all the misunderstandings lately.” Nick wasted no time getting to the point.

“Nick, Ma made me make things up with you, but I’m in no way convinced that you didn’t have anything to do with what happened to Hutch.”

“Starsky…” Hutch began.

“I know Hutch and me haven’t gotten along, Dave, but I want that to change.” Nick looked at Hutch. “Can’t we bury the hatchet? After all, you and my brother are practically married.”

Hutch frowned. “Weren’t you the one telling me not too long ago that I’d turned your brother into a faggot?”

Nick sighed, looking down at his feet. “I did say that, and I’m sorry. To tell the truth, it isn’t so much that you’re both men and together that was buggin’ me. I was just really jealous.” He looked at Starsky, who stood in the middle of the room with his hands on his hips, purposely not making things easier for his brother.

“We’ve never really been close, Davey. I wanted us to be, but I didn’t know how to make it happen. You moved away when I was so young-- I felt cheated. Every time I came to visit you here, you and Hutch were so close… I couldn’t stand it. I felt like he was more like your brother than I am. But I realized something recently after goin’ back to New York. I realized that your relationship with Hutch is different now. You’re more like mates than brothers. So why be jealous?” He looked from Starsky to Hutch and back to Starsky again.

Hutch wasn’t sure what to think. He’d been sitting listening to Nick spill his bullshit for an hour to Joanne, who couldn’t help but be taken in, since he was her son and she loved him. He’d been immensely relieved when Starsky had gotten home, for he’d imagined that when Joanne left, there would be trouble. But here Nick was apologizing, of all things! He didn’t know what to make of it. Added to that was the fact that his reasons made sense. Hutch knew that Nick had been jealous of his relationship with Starsky. He looked at his partner to see what he was thinking, but Starsky’s face was closed off.

“I realized something else,” Nick continued. “I really am responsible for what happened to you that night. See, I told Mike and Jorge about you two. About your relationship. That’s why he attacked you, because he hates gays.”

“That doesn’t exactly explain why they spent so much time on Hutch and hardly touched Scott,” Starsky said evenly. “Or why they hadn’t attacked Scott and his friends before.”

Nick shrugged. “Dunno. Might’ve been because Hutch stood up for Scott that night. Called Mike on the way he was talking about him. I’m just trying to take responsibility for my part in it. I may not have told them to do it, but I was the one who outed you to them.”

“We haven’t exactly been keeping it a secret,” Hutch pointed out.

Nick shrugged again. “Personally, I think you pissed him off. He was a loose cannon.”

Hutch looked at Starsky. “He’s right. That is a possibility."

Nick grinned widely. “See? I told ya it wasn’t me! But I am sorry I spoke about you in a bad way to Mike. I probably just made it all worse.”

Starsky let out a breath, rubbing his forehead with his fingers. “It’s getting late. Let’s shelve this for now, ‘k? Have you had any dinner, Nick?”

“Yep, they served it on the plane. I’m really pretty beat. My stuff’s up in the guest room…mind if I shower and hit the sack? I wanna get up early tomorrow and go job hunting.”

“No, go ahead. We’ll be goin’ to bed soon, too.” He watched Nick climb the stairs before turning to Hutch. “So whaddya think?”

Hutch shrugged. “He’s your brother. How good a liar is he?”

“He’s always been pretty good at it. I can’t tell if he’s sincere or not, but I suppose keepin’ the peace is preferable to fightin’ with him the whole time he’s stayin’ here.”

“How long do you think that’ll be?” Hutch asked.

“If it’s too long, we’ll just kick him out. Hell…” he lowered his voice even more. “I can’t believe he’s movin’ here!”

Hutch sighed. “I know.”

Starsky studied his partner’s face. “You look really beat, babe.”

“Thanks! You’re a handsome devil, too!” Hutch socked him lightly on the arm.

“You know what I mean.” Starsky pushed the hair out of Hutch’s tired eyes. “Your back hurtin’ you today?”

“A little,” Hutch admitted. “So what did Huggy want to see you about?”

Starsky looked away on the pretense of heading for the kitchen. “I’m gonna have a beer. You want one?”

“No, thanks. I think I might have to take one of those muscle relaxers tonight.”

“That bad?” Starsky turned and looked at Hutch with concern.

“It’s getting there.” Hutch followed Starsky into the kitchen, his gait a little stiff.  “Come on, Starsk. What gives? Does it have to do with Carolyn?”

Starsky got the beer and opened it. Leaning against the counter, he looked at Hutch. “I know Huggy really cares about her. But he’s startin’ to see how different they are…different backgrounds, and she’s got kids. And there’s the race thing. Seems like Carolyn isn’t thinking about that stuff at all, but Hug is looking ahead.”

“And he thinks he should break things off before they go any further,” Hutch guessed.

“Yeah.” Starsky took a long drink of beer.

“She’s going to be so hurt,” Hutch said. “Another rejection.”

“I know it. I hate it for her. Hug’s pretty worried about how you’re gonna feel about him for this.”

Hutch scratched the back of his head, his eyes on the floor. “Hell, I don’t know, Starsk. Hug’s been such a good friend to us, and I know my sister went after him with both barrels. He’s trying to do right by her. Better now than down the road when things are really serious.”

Starsky smiled softly. His Blintz was such a good guy.

After a moment, Starsky said, “Hey, I developed those pictures I took of you. Some of them turned out really well. Like the one of you standin’ in front of the window with the light pouring in around you.”

Hutch smiled. Starsky had made him pose nude in front of the window, bracing his hands on the sides, leaning so that the muscles in his back flexed. He’d even positioned his legs so that one of his ass cheeks tensed. He’d been very particular, fussing over the pose for about twenty minutes before he started taking pictures. “I can’t wait to see them.”

Starsky moved across the kitchen to the dark room, opening the door and flipping on the lights. The two men took a moment to take in the room, proud of what they’d built. They’d had to call in a plumber to put in the sinks, but otherwise they’d done it all themselves, including the cabinets that housed the chemicals, photo paper, and photo guillotine. Starsky crossed to the long table at the side of the room and picked up a large, brown envelope. Hutch came up behind him, watching as he slid them out.

“These were my favorites,” Starsky told him, placing eight photos side-by-side on the table and standing back so Hutch could study them.

They were all done in black and white. The first was the shot Starsky had spoken of with Hutch in front of the window. Enough light was coming in through the sheer white curtains to cast him in shadow, but not enough that one couldn’t see the lineation of his muscles. Hutch had to agree that it was a striking pose. Starsky’s talent lay in clarity of line and choice of subject and position, and Hutch told him so, enjoying the blush that suffused his partner’s cheeks at the sincere compliment.

In the second photo, Starsky had posed him sitting on the floor, right knee up with the other leg stretched out in front of him. His right arm rested on his knee, bent with his forearm falling casually in front of his chest. His groin area was slightly visible but not prominent in the picture. More noticeable was the look on Hutch’s face. What had Starsky said to give him that look of intense interest? Hutch tried to remember, but couldn’t. His partner had kept up a constant litany of talk, ranging from serious matters to the absolutely ridiculous. The latter was illustrated in the photo of Hutch with his head thrown back, laughing. Somehow, his partner had managed to make the long column of Hutch’s throat the main focus of the photograph, as if it was some exotic natural formation or exquisite architectural piece of art. The only thing Starsky hadn’t talked about during their photo session was sex, because Starsky said he wasn’t interested, at least for the time being, in doing shots of Hutch fully aroused. It was too personal.

Because Starsky’s first thoughts of photographing Hutch emerged when they’d been outside by the pond, the last four shots were taken of Hutch lying on the quilt in dappled light, the shadows of the trees above making patterns on his skin.

“You made me look beautiful,” Hutch said softly.

“I didn’t make you look anything,” Starsky came up behind him, wrapping him in his arms. “You are beautiful.”

Hutch set the last photo down and turned in his partner’s arms. “Not as beautiful as you,” he told him, bringing their lips together in a soft, loving kiss. Pulling a breath in through his nostrils, Hutch deepened the kiss, angling his head and pushing into his partner’s mouth with his tongue. Starsky groaned, bumping Hutch with his hardening cock.

Hutch wrapped his fingers in Starsky’s soft curls, controlling the movements of his head as he ravished his partner’s pliant mouth. His lips moved to Starsky’s jaw, kissing and nibbling, causing his lover’s breath to accelerate audibly. “Hutch,” Starsky whispered, whimpering as Hutch shifted so that their groins rubbed together through their pants.

“Let’s go up to bed,” Hutch suggested into his mouth.

“You read my mind,” Starsky answered, “but what about your back?”

“You’ll just have to take it easy on me,” Hutch smiled, flipping the light off on the way out.

***

Nick was just drifting off to sleep when he heard it.

A low, needy moan.

He opened his eyes and blinked in the darkness, his ears straining to hear.

Again, that low, vibrating, begging-for-more moan.

Nick sat up in bed, revulsion filling him even as his cock twitched in his pajama bottoms. His brother was disgusting. Nick used to look up to him as everything he thought a guy should be---strong, brave, a real ladies man. But Hutchinson had taken him and made him into something else entirely. First as a friend, then as a partner—when, no doubt, Hutch had used their necessary life-and-death dependency on each other to reel Dave in so he could cross that line with him. It made Nick sick.

And now Dave was living with this guy and letting him fuck his brains out. He couldn’t help but picture, when he let himself go there, his brother on the bottom, taking it from the blond because he felt he had to under some sick sense of obligation to the man.

Nick got out of bed and padded to the door, opening it soundlessly. He might as well go down to the kitchen for a snack until it was ‘safe’ to come up again.

Another moan and the sound of a breath being sucked in between teeth.

Oh, God!

Yeah, right there…right there!

Man, Hutch, you’re so hot…so tight…gonna give it to you good, babe. So good.

Please, Starsky…please! Ooooh!

Heavy, accelerated breathing and the sound of the mattress squeaking rhythmically.

Nick quickly headed down the stairs and into the kitchen, trying to block out the noises. It was hard to ignore what he’d heard and what it implicated as far as his brother’s part in what was going on. Shaking with rage and revulsion, he took several deep breaths in an effort to calm himself down. Getting all freaked out now would defeat his purpose just when everything seemed to be going his way. Dave would be fine once he got away from Hutch. He’d go back to women and be just like he used to be.

Shaking off his disgust, Nick opened the refrigerator and looked in. Lots of health food. Must be Hutch’s—that was fag food if he ever saw it. He pushed things around until he found a leftover sandwich from a local deli. Unwrapping it, he took a large bite and looked around the kitchen. He wasn’t going back upstairs until he was good and sure they were finished with what they were doing.

Spotting a door that he’d never noticed before, he opened it and flipped on the light, confused at first when the room shone red. He found the correct switch and the room lit up brightly. He entered and looked around at the two sinks built into a long counter, the clothes line strung across the room, what looked to be a photograph enlarger, and the thermometer hanging on the wall. He turned and saw a few of his brother’s framed photographs hanging on the wall opposite. Impressed that Dave had his own darkroom and was evidently pursuing his hobby, Nick stepped toward a long table where several black and white photos lay.

“Oh, God,” he muttered, picking up the first one and staring at a nude Hutch. They were all of Hutch nude.

“Jeezus, Davey, don’t ya know how to take pictures of anythin’ else?”

The last couple down by the pond showed full frontal nudity, although Hutch wasn’t aroused, thank God. He looked over the lines of the man’s body and the heavy genitals hanging between his legs. He had to admit that his brother’s partner was well-endowed.

Nick felt a tingling in his groin as his cock moved slightly within his pajama bottoms. Abashed at his body’s response, he slapped down the picture he was holding of Hutch laid out on a quilt stretching languidly, and left the room, shutting off the light and closing the door behind him. He stood on the other side, breathing hard. Goddammit to hell! If he stayed here much longer, he was going to become a goddamned fag, too!

Well, that wasn’t going to happen. He was going to fix things so that neither he nor his brother had to worry about Hutch, one way or another. He just had to give it some thought, because whatever happened, he wasn’t going to look guilty. It might take a while, but he would get Kenneth Hutchinson out of his brother’s life once and for all.

***

The next night everyone sat around the dinner table at Joanne and Barbara’s.

“Easter’s coming up…”Barbara announced to everyone at the table as they passed around platters of food. “Shall we do something special? Get together to eat?”

Carolyn shrugged. “I guess that would be good. I’m going to have the boys. Stan and I are meeting halfway between here and Vegas so I can pick them up.”

“Oh, it will be wonderful to see them!” Barbara cried. “I’ve missed them so much.”

Hutch couldn’t help but notice his sister’s lack of enthusiasm. He wondered if Huggy had already broken things off with her.

Nick turned to Carolyn. “How old are your kids?”

“They just turned seven,” she told him a bit listlessly. “Twin boys.”

“Wow, they must really be a handful. I remember the kind of things I got up to when I was that age.” Nick looked at his brother. “Remember that time I took apart Pop’s favorite chair and put it together again?”

Starsky chuckled around his bite of potatoes. “Man, he sure was sore about that! Fell right on the floor when he sat down to watch the news.”

Carolyn smiled. “Did you get in trouble?”

“Me? Naw.” Nick’s eyes flashed boyishly and for a moment Hutch could see the resemblance between the brothers. “Blamed it on Davey, here. He was grounded for a week.”

Joanne put her fork down. “What? You let your brother take the rap for that?”

Nick grinned. “He’s the one who told me to do it in the first place.”

Starsky nodded. “Sure did. It was worth it, though, to see Pop’s face when he landed on the floor!”

They all laughed. After a few moments, Barbara said, “Caro, I’ve got those lovely home movies we took of you and Kenneth figure skating.”

“Mom!” Hutch protested. “You are not showing those.”

Carolyn laughed. “What are you worried about? I was the one who stunk. You were fantastic!”

“I would love to see you on ice skates!” Nick told Carolyn. “I bet you were great.”

Hutch barely suppressed an eye roll at Nick’s obvious flattery.

“If you get those out, Mom, I’m leaving,” he threatened.

Starsky kept silent, rock hard just thinking about Hutch on figure skates, and watched the battle.

Barbara huffed. “You are being so difficult, Kenneth! And by the way, you might as well know now that I will be inviting my friend Stan for Easter, and you had just better get along with him! I don’t want any scenes like the last time you were here.”

Carolyn smirked at her brother behind the cover of her hand.

“I’ll invite Bill and Scott and Joey,” Joanne decided. “Anyone else? Carolyn? Do you have anyone you’d like to invite for Easter dinner?”

Carolyn shook her head and Hutch and Starsky exchanged a look.

“Good, then we can entertain each other,” Nick said smoothly. “What are you fixin’, Ma?”

Conversation turned to the menu, and after a while Hutch and Starsky excused themselves, saying they’d like to get home. Nick had decided to stay the night with his mother and go out on the beach the next day, so they left him there.

“Couldn’t help but notice your brother flirting with my sister,” Hutch commented in the car on the way home.

“Don’t worry about it. That’s just the ole Starsky charm. A pretty woman brings it out every time.” Starsky glanced at his partner, who was driving. “You get the feeling Huggy already spoke to Carolyn?”

“Yep,” Hutch nodded. “She looked pretty down.” Clenching his teeth, he slapped the steering wheel forcefully with the palm of his hand. “Dammit! Why couldn’t Huggy have just kept it in his pants in the first place?”

“Hey, now,” Starsky said soothingly, reaching over to rub Hutch’s thigh. “I know for a fact that the Hutchinsons have their own brand of charm, and it ain’t easy to resist!”

Hutch relaxed a little, reaching down to squeeze Starsky’s hand and smiling softly.

“Caro will find someone else soon enough, just wait and see,” Starsky assured him. “Hey, it’ll be great to see Simon and Bobby next weekend! Bet they’ve grown a bunch since Christmas.”

“Yeah, I’m looking forward to it. What I’m not looking forward to is seeing Stan again.” Hutch made a distasteful face.

“I guess it wouldn’t do me any good to point out that you haven’t even given the guy a chance, would it?”

Hutch looked at him pointedly. “Has Bill grown on you?”

“Hell, no.”

“Okay, then.”

Once they got home and in the front door, Starsky tossed his keys on the table and whistled for the dog.

“You’re going to scratch the hell out of the wood if you keep doing that,” Hutch told him, placing his keys in the dish set there for that purpose.

“Sorry, Mom,” Starsky said lightly. When Lady came down the stairs, Starsky called her outside to go to the bathroom.

“God, Starsk,” Hutch called from upstairs when he heard Starsky close the front door. “She’s left a big turd on the floor in the hall!”

“No wonder she only peed just now,” Starsky answered, heading that way. “Oh, that’s totally flushable, Hutch.”

“So flush it. I’m taking a shower.” Hutch went into the bathroom and shut the door. With a sigh, Starsky grabbed some tissue out of the guest room and picked up the offending, odiferous lump, taking it into the other bathroom and sending it down the toilet with a whoosh.

“Starsky!” Hutch hollered from the shower, evidently getting scalded as a result of the flush.

“Sorry, buddy! Wasn’t thinkin’.” Starsky called back, grinning as he perched on the edge of the bed and took his sneakers off.

A minute later, as Starsky peeled off his socks, Hutch came barreling around the corner, a streak of white, and jumped on him, pinning him to the bed.

“Ugh! Hutch, you’re wet!” Starsky sputtered, laughing. “Get offa me!”

Hutch held Starsky’s wrists above his head and kissed his nose, water dripping off his hair into Starsky’s eyes. Then he began attacking his lover’s neck with his lips, nipping at the warm skin. Seeing water rolling from Starsky’s face and into his ear, Hutch lapped it up with his tongue, making his partner struggle harder to get away. Lady appeared in the doorway and began barking loudly, wanting to join in the fun.

“Shuddup, you useless turd shooter!” Hutch threatened over his shoulder before covering Starsky’s mouth with his own, kissing him senseless. He straddled him with his legs, and taking his hands from Starsky’s wrists, began unbuttoning his partner’s shirt as his lips and tongue continued their assault.

“God, Hutch!” Starsky gasped between kisses, “what’s gotten into you?”

“I didn’t get dessert. I want my dessert!” Hutch demanded before thrusting his warm tongue inside his lover’s mouth. Starsky surrendered, kissing him back, thrusting his hips forward, his cock a rigid outline in his jeans.

Hutch moved a hand down to rub at it, eliciting a long groan of pleasure from the man pinned beneath him.

“Ahh…I’ll give you exactly two hours to stop that,” Starsky breathed, arching into his partner’s hand. Hutch chuckled dirtily and undid Starsky’s jeans. He relinquished his perch on top of him long enough to peel the denim from the sun-bronzed, hairy legs. He paused to kiss and lick at muscular calves.

“Roll over,’ he ordered, and Starsky did, gasping when Hutch’s tongue ran over the backs of each knee. His hands trailed up Starsky’s thighs and moved over the twin globes above them.

“I love your ass, Starsk,” Hutch whispered reverently as his fingers danced along its roundness. He planted a light kiss on each. “I love, love, love it.” He ran his tongue up one cheek and down the other, and Starsky shivered. Hutch’s mouth moved upward, kissing just above Starsky’s crack, and then licked the divots on each side of the small of his back. Hutch’s fingers and mouth moved slowly upward, tracking his partner’s spine, kissing and licking, tickling and stroking, until Starsky was moaning nonstop and humping the mattress.

Hutch tickled Starsky’s ribs with his fingertips, before moving underneath to play with his nipples. Starsky’s cries became louder and he thrust his ass up, pushing against Hutch’s swollen groin.

“Oh, shit…”Hutch breathed, moving so that his turgid prick settled between Starsky’s soft ass cheeks. He moved it back and forth, breathing into Starsky’s shoulder. “I love you so much,” he whispered into the dark curls.

“Show me,” Starsky breathed back, and Hutch sighed happily. He got the lubricant out of the drawer and slicked himself up, knowing that topping Starsky was something special. It wasn’t that his partner didn’t enjoy being on the bottom, it was just that he felt more comfortable on top. That was alright with Hutch, for he honestly preferred to bottom most of the time. But then there were times like these…times when he wanted to either show his dominance in a display of strength or, like now, take the lead in making love to this special man.

“Up on your knees, love,” Hutch whispered, moving back to give him room to comply. He encouraged Starsky to kneel upright so Hutch could move his hands over his chest, pausing to play with the tender buds of his nipples before dipping low to stroke his rigid sex. When Hutch had his lover writhing with need, his head thrown back on Hutch’s shoulder, he turned Starsky’s face and kissed him before gently urging him to bend over. He took several more long moments to run his hands over Starsky’s back, ass, and legs, listening with pleasure to his lover’s labored breathing before finally positioning his throbbing prick between his cheeks. Slowly he pushed forward, moving past the barrier and slipping into the hot, cramped tunnel that never failed to send shivers of ecstasy down his spine as it squeezed his cock in its tight grip.

“Oooohhh….” Hutch groaned low and long as he began to pump steadily. Starsky’s moans echoed his own as he met each thrust with a backward tilt of his ass. Hutch continued to smooth his hands over Starsky’s skin, massaging while thrusting his cock inside him, bumping relentlessly against his partner’s prostate until he had Starsky nearly mad with desire, tingling with sexual charge.

Panting and sweating, Starsky begged from the depths of a sexual fog, “Hutch, Hutch…love you. Love you…God, do it, please!

Hutch accelerated his pumping, giving it to him faster and harder until Starsky was shouting his release, his body jerking so hard that Hutch had to hold onto his hips to keep from disengaging before his own spunk spurted from his body in a mind-numbing orgasm that pulled a loud shout from his lungs.

Hutch fell sideways, slipping free, and panted, staring dazedly at the stars through the skylight above.

Starsky slowly rolled over, his hands thrown above his head and his chest heaving as he came down from the intense experience. The corner of Hutch’s mouth twitched when his partner emitted a series of faint squeaks as his breathing slowed, but he said nothing. Instead, he pulled a blanket over them, tugging Starsky close and kissing him on the head and then shoulder before settling back on the pillow, his cheek resting on Starsky’s head.

“That was….really good,” Starsky sighed after a few moments. The palm of his right hand pressed against Hutch’s heart. He could feel it beating steadily.

“Sure was,” Hutch agreed. “Did you mind being on the bottom?”

“’Course not. I woulda said so if I did.”

“I hope so. I just wanted to show you how much I love you,” Hutch said softly into the dark curls.

Starsky move to wrap his arm around his lover’s waist and pull him even closer. He pressed his lips to the hollow of Hutch’s neck. “You did, partner.”

After a few moments, they both succumbed to the tug of sleep.

***

Nick stood outside in the darkness smoking a cigarette. His mother and Barbara Hutchinson had long since gone to bed, and Hutch’s sister Carolyn had driven away only moments before after spending a long time laughing and talking with Nick. He felt good. Part of it came from conversing with a lovely lady, and another part came from the knowledge that Hutch wouldn’t appreciate him doing so. Throwing his cigarette into the sand, he started to walk up the beach, enjoying the sound of the surf. Maybe moving to California was an even better idea than he first thought. He rather liked it there. He was tired of the cold New York winters, and the fast-paced frenzy that was a daily thing there. Bay City gave off the feeling of continual holiday, and Nicky, being lazy at heart, liked that a lot. He liked the beach and would have opted to stay every night at his mother’s, except he knew he needed to be at Dave’s. But he had to have this one night away to get his bearings. He couldn’t handle any more amorous noises coming from the other bedroom just then.

The sound of voices from a nearby yard drew him, and he moved closer.

“Hey!” came a male greeting from the darkness. “Aren’t you Dave’s brother?”

Peering into the shadows, Nick recognized Scott Wethersby. He was the guy who’d been attacked with Hutch.

“Nick Starsky,” Nick offered his hand when the man stepped out of the shadows. “I believe our parents are dating?” Both men chuckled at the odd way that sounded. Scott shook his hand.

“Yeah, that’s right. Why don’t you come over and join us? A few of us are just having some beer.”

Nick followed him to his small yard where four men lounged, smoking, talking, and drinking. A radio perched on the low brick wall played The Rolling Stones softly in the background. Nick sat down next to a bearded man and accepted a beer.

“This is Nick Starsky…he’s Dave’s brother,” Scott told them. “Nick, this is Bart, Jimmy, Joey, and Benny.”

“Dave and his scrumptious partner sometimes hang out here,” Bart told Nick, who tried not to flinch. He didn’t much like sitting around with a bunch of faggots, but hell…Joanne and Barbara went to bed practically at sunset, and he was bored shitless. He lit a cigarette and took a long drag, blowing smoke out into the breeze.

“You straight?” Joey asked Nick.

“As an arrow,” Nick assured him.

“Too bad,” Scott smiled. “But we can overlook it. Come to think of it, you had a girl with you last time you were here.”

“Yeah, Heather. We’re through, though. I’m moving here as soon as I can find a job.” Nick took another drag off his cigarette, looking out into the darkness.

“What kind of work do you do?” Benny asked.

Nick shrugged. “This and that. Never found anything I liked too much. Most recently I worked at an amusement park.”

“There’s an opening where I work,” Bart said, stretching out on the grass, his tan, muscular arms raised and work-roughened hands cradling his head. “Candy factory. Pretty tedious work, but it pays pretty well. You should come by for an application.”

Nick considered. “Yeah, that might be good.” Bart gave him directions to the factory.

“You got anything more interesting than cigarettes on you?” Nick asked after a moment.

“I got a joint we can share,” Bart said. The two men stood up and started to walk. Bart shielded the rolled joint from the wind and lit it, then took a hit and passed it to Nick. They walked in silence for a while, passing the dope back and forth.

“You get along pretty good with your brother?” Bart asked Nick when they stopped and sat behind a sand dune, sheltered from the ocean wind.

Nick shrugged. He was feeling loose from the weed and didn’t even mind having a conversation with a homo. “Used to be closer, until he started up with Ken Fucking Hutchinson.”

“Oh, yeah?” Bart asked. “I’d like to be the one fucking Ken fucking Hutchinson!” He laughed throatily.

“Be my guest,” Nick spat into the sand. “I’d like him to be as far away from my brother as possible.”

Bart leaned back. “Your brother doesn’t like me too much; he made that pretty plain. He ain’t willing to share his pretty blond with me, that’s for sure.”

Nick didn’t care for the way the conversation was going. Thinking about his brother and his partner in bed together made his stomach churn. Plus he knew first hand that the “pretty blond” had a mind of his own, and this turkey had to be delusional to think otherwise. He decided he’d had enough.

“Thanks for the doobie and the heads up on the job,” he told Bart as he stood and wiped sand off his ass.

“No problem. I’ll put in a good word for you with the manager.” Bart got to his feet and headed back to Scott’s at a casual lope. Nick turned and started for his mother’s.

***

Hutch reached the bottom of the long driveway and took a right on the county road, running at a steady pace as he enjoyed the feel of the spring sun on his face and neck. He’d had to get out of the house and away from Starsky’s brother, who was driving him crazy. Everywhere Hutch turned, there Nick was, trying to buddy up to him. And he honestly didn’t know whether the man was seriously attempting to befriend him, or if he was pulling one over on them all. Hutch could already tell that Starsky was starting to mellow concerning Nick, but that was understandable. After all, it was only natural for him to want to think the best of him.

Hutch knew he only had a few more days to put up with him before Nick left for New York to get his stuff. He’d gotten a job at some candy factory, and Joanne was helping him get a place to live. Hutch was so happy to be getting him out of the house, he was about to burst.

As he ran, Hutch’s thoughts turned to last weekend and Easter. It had been horrendous. He’d had to fight to keep his temper under control around his mother’s boyfriend. He couldn’t stand the guy-- his big paws were always all over Barbara. It sent Hutch’s blood pressure soaring to watch them. And to top it off, Nick, Carolyn, and the twins had gone to the park that day, and since then, they’d been spending a lot of time together. Carolyn sang Nick’s praises every chance she got. Nick’s so wonderful with the boys. Nick played football with Simon and Bobby. Nick insisted they go to a kids’ movie. Hutch wanted to vomit. When he’d mentioned it to Starsky, his partner had bristled.

“Well, Nicky isn’t all bad! He has a few good points. He happens to love kids.”

Hutch had had to watch what he said about Nick after that. He didn’t really want to put a wedge between Starsky and his brother anyway, but now he’d lost his sounding board. He really needed someone to vent to. As he rounded the corner and headed back to the house, he decided he’d go see Huggy as soon as he had the chance.

The opportunity afforded itself that evening when Starsky announced he was going with his brother to see some sci-fy movie that Hutch would rather eat his arm off than watch. He hadn’t seen Huggy since the day they’d moved Carolyn into her apartment.

“Hi, Hug,” he greeted the man when he walked into the smoky bar. “You’re looking good.” It was true. Huggy’s extra pounds, goatee, and slightly less flamboyant wardrobe had given him a somewhat suave appearance. Hutch noticed that he’d upgraded some things in the restaurant, too. New tables, better lighting, nicer pictures on the walls. “The place looks good, too.”

“Thanks, my man,” Huggy pulled up a chair and sat in it backward, reminding Hutch of days gone by when he and Starsky would come to The Pits to pick Huggy’s knowledge of what was going down on the streets.

“Listen, I’m sorry I haven’t been around before this. I’m not angry with you or anything.”

Huggy let out a pent up breath. “Glad to hear it, Hutch. I was real worried about that. It was never my intention to hurt your sister.”

“If it’s any consolation, I think she’s over it,” Hutch replied, taking a sip of beer.

Huggy cut his eyes to him. “Meaning?”

“She’s become rather enamored with Nick Starsky.”

Huggy leaned back, a look of disgust on his face. “You gotta be kidding me. Carolyn’s too smart of a lady to get caught up with that no good piece of work!”

Hutch chuckled. “My sentiments exactly, but I wouldn’t say that around Starsky.”

“Don’t tell me Starsky’s letting his little brother pull the wool over his eyes again,” Huggy scoffed.

Hutch shrugged.

“But he paid that guy to beat the stuffing outta you!” Huggy objected.

“We don’t know that for sure,” Hutch said, remembering the conversation he’d had with his partner just two nights before.

“Why don’t you wanna go to the ballgame with me and Nick, Hutch? You aren’t still holding things against him, are you?”

“Like the surgery I had to have for internal bleeding?” Hutch hadn’t been in the best mood to begin with, and Starsky needling him about the baseball game wasn’t helping.

Starsky had sighed. “I thought we’d gotten past that. Nick says he didn’t do it, and as far as I can see, he’s been tryin’ real hard to get along with you.”

“Starsk---it wasn’t so long ago that you were insisting Nick had paid that guy to work me over. Are you saying you no longer believe that?”

“I’m saying I’m lettin’ it go. I wish you would, too.”

Hutch had been trying to let it go, but it wasn’t easy. He had really thought that what he wanted to do was forget it all and for Starsky and his brother not to be at odds. Now he wasn’t so sure anymore. The Starsky brothers had been spending an inordinate amount of time together, and even though Hutch couldn’t put his finger on it, he felt that Nick was doing it on purpose. He also felt that Nick was moving in on Carolyn in order to goad him.

“Not everything’s about you,” Starsky had pointed out to him when he’d voiced that suspicion.

He told all of this to Huggy, and the black man shook his head. “You’re stuck right in the middle of this, Hutch. When is Nick getting his own place?”

“He’s leaving for New York the day after tomorrow to drive his stuff here. He’ll be moving into his apartment by the end of the week.  Couldn’t be soon enough, if you ask me.”

Hutch stayed a couple hours, eating dinner and chatting with Huggy when it wasn’t busy. By the time he got home, it was dark. Nick and Starsky were lounging out on the back deck. Hutch slid the door open. “You two have fun?”

“It was a great movie, Hutch. You shoulda come with.” Starsky began regaling Hutch with details, and he listened intently, trying hard to be a good sport.

When he’d finished, Nick stood up and stretched. “If you two will excuse me, I’m going to shower. I have a date tonight.” He moved past them into the house, and Hutch slid the door closed, taking the chair that Nick had vacated.

“Wonder who he has a date with,” Hutch said sardonically.

“Don’t start,” Starsky warned, taking a drink from his beer bottle.

Hutch raised a brow. “What?”

“I know what you’re thinking. You’re hoping it ain’t with Caro. Well, it is. Now what have you got to say?”

Hutch bit back his first four choices and went with, “Oh.”

Starsky cleared his throat. “Listen, Hutch. I’m thinking about going with Nick back to NY and helping him with his stuff. I figure the road trip back here will give us a chance to mend a few things between us.”

“Okay,” Hutch said, watching his partner’s face.

“Just okay?” Starsky asked, surprised. “You ain’t got nothing else to say about it?”

“I’ll miss you,” Hutch added with a soft smile. Starsky’s features melted, and he moved toward him, setting the beer bottle on the deck.

Kneeling between his partner’s legs, Starsky took his face in his hands. “I’ll miss you, too, Blintz. You don’t know how much.” He kissed him gently, lips soft and warm, tongue even more so. When they pulled apart, Hutch’s eyes were misty.

“I love you, Starsk,” he whispered.

Starsky grinned. “I know.”

***

Hutch missed his partner even more than he’d imagined while he was gone. He didn’t know what to do with himself. He realized that he really needed to find something he was interested in doing. Starsky had his photography, but Hutch wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He thought about how he’d asked his partner what he enjoyed, so he asked himself the same question. He came up with nature, his plants, and music.

So he dug out his guitar and fiddled with it the first evening, trying out some old songs and jotting down some new ones. The next day, he built a bird house and washed off the deck. That lasted him until lunchtime. After he ate, he washed the car, thinking about how depressing it had been to drive Starsky and Nick to the airport. It had just about killed him. He and Starsky hadn’t even been able to say a proper goodbye.

When Hutch finished with the car, he played a few games of fetch with Lady, then decided to take her to the beach for a run. He spent the evening watching TV and reading. The following day was similar, except he mowed the lawn instead of washing the deck and his car. That night, he ate a TV dinner in front of the news and dabbled with his music some more until bedtime. That was the worst part—going to bed by himself. The big bed seemed even bigger without Starsky in it. Colder, too. He lay on his back, his fingers absently rubbing at his bare chest as he looked at the stars through the skylight above. It took him a very long time to get to sleep, and he dreamed of his partner.

The next morning, Starsky called at 4 AM.

“Hello? Starsky? What’s wrong?” Hutch’s heart was beating a mile a minute. For a moment, he couldn’t remember if he was a cop or not. Bellamy’s poison popped into his brain as it had with every early morning phone call he’d had since it had happened.

“Nothin’s wrong, calm down, buddy. Sorry, Hutch—forgot all about the time difference. We’re heading out today. Got the U-Haul all packed up. Just thought I’d call now and let you know we’ll be there in a few days.”

Hutch had collapsed back onto the bed at Starsky’s first words of comfort, although his heart was still beating fast. He ran a hand through his hair. “I miss you so much, Starsk. I’m going nuts without you. I never realized just how entertaining you are.”

Starsky laughed good-naturedly “Well, why don’t you have some of the guys over tonight for company? And before you know it, we’ll be together in our bed.”

“Sounds wonderful,” Hutch said in the tone of voice he knew drove his partner wild. “The part about us in our bed, that is.”

“Don’t start,” Starsky warned, his breath hitching. “I ain’t exactly alone.”

“Okay, okay. I’ll see you soon. Be safe. Love you.”

“Right back atchya.” Starsky hung up, and Hutch sighed.

Did he really want to have company tonight? It might be fun to have a few people. Huggy, maybe. Scott and Joey. It didn’t have to be a big deal. He’d give them a call at a decent hour.

That night, Hutch grilled hamburgers and laid out a few bowls of chips. He had plenty of beer, and a cake he’d picked up at the bakery. It was cool outside, so he kept the deck door open. He felt kind of bad for not inviting his sister, but that would’ve been really awkward with Huggy there. Plus, all the other guests were men.

Huggy was the first to arrive. He helped Hutch finish grilling the burgers while Lady sat on her haunches on the deck, watching their every move with hopeful eyes.

The doorbell rang, and Hutch came out of the kitchen wiping his hands off with a towel, calling to Lady to quit barking. When he opened the door, he was surprised to see Bart standing on the front porch with Joey and Scott.

“Sorry, he was at our place and wouldn’t leave,” Scott murmured into Hutch’s ear as soon as Bart was out of earshot. Introductions were made to Huggy, and soon everyone sat down and began eating. Huggy told a few stories about the colorful people he’d met over the years, giving them a few good laughs. The conversation turned to sports, and then movies.

As more beer went around, everyone moved to the living room, where Hutch moved the coffee table out of the way and they all lounged on a variety of large pillows. Joey sat between Scott’s legs and leaned back on him, Scott’s arms wrapped around his middle. Watching them, Hutch missed Starsky so much, it hurt. Huggy had put a mellow Eagles tune on the stereo.

“Can you tell me where the bathroom is?” Bart asked after a while.

“Down that hall,” Hutch pointed over his head and continued listening to Joey’s tale of a weekend in Maui.

“So there we were, snorkeling, and here’s this school of fish swarming all over something—in a real feeding frenzy, darting in and out. And Scott’s pointing at it, making these faces behind the mask. I get a good look, and it’s a fucking turd! The fucking boat driver had climbed down the ladder and shit in the fucking ocean, right where we were snorkeling! And these fish were having at it, man, it was gross!”

“I almost puked there in the water,” Scott said, laughing hard. “Ugh, it was nasty! I wanted to kill that motherfucking boat driver!”

“That was some honeymoon,” Joey agreed.

Hutch raised a brow. “Honeymoon?”

“Well, that’s what we call it, anyway. Hey, speaking of shitting, where’s Bart?”

Hutch stood. “Maybe there’s a problem with the plumbing.” As he went down the hall, he heard Huggy start up a story about a drunk named Sammy who came into The Pits every Tuesday night wearing a dress.

The bathroom door was ajar and the room obviously empty. Hutch continued down the hall and found Bart in the darkroom.

“What are you doing?” Hutch asked, anger lacing his words. He could plainly see what the man was doing, and it made his blood boil.

“I’m just admiring these pictures of you,” Bart said, turning so that Hutch could see he was looking at one of the shots of him on the quilt. “Did Dave take them?”

Hutch moved quickly, plucking the photos out of Bart’s hands and returning them to the envelope. “Yes, and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t go snooping through our things.”

Bart laughed. “Okay.” He turned and crossed his arms in front of his chest. “I must say, Ken, you are even better-looking in the nude.”

Annoyed, Hutch moved toward the door and flipped out the light. Bart followed. Just before Hutch could make it through the door, Bart caught him off guard, grabbing his arm and swinging him around. The next thing Hutch knew, the man’s arms were around him and he was kissing him on the mouth, his tongue seeking entrance.

Enraged, Hutch stomped on Bart’s instep with his foot.  Yanking his left arm to pull him off balance, he swiftly kneed him in the groin. As Bart crumpled, Hutch grabbed him up by the collar and hoisted him up against the wall.

“Don’t you ever lay hands on me again, you fucking bastard!” He threatened in a soft, steely voice. “Now get out of my house!”

While Bart limped straight through the living room and out the front door, pausing to sarcastically thank everyone for a wonderful time, Hutch picked up the phone and called him a cab.

“What the hell happened” Scott asked as Hutch returned to the living room and sat down on the couch, his face red and eyes feiry. Joey was peering through the curtain at Bart staggering down the driveway. “Why’s he walking like that?”

“I kicked him in the nuts,” Hutch answered. “He isn’t welcome here again,” he added, his jaw tightening.

Huggy put a hand on Hutch’s knee. “What’d he do? Break something?”

Hutch shook his head. “I found him snooping through Starsky’s photos in the dark room, and then he made a play for me.”

Joey made a face. “I never liked him much anyway. He just added a certain spice to our get-togethers.”

“You mean your orgies,” Hutch said sourly, and Huggy raised his brows.

“Okay, if that’s the word you want to use. He’s just very…well, forceful. And he lasts a long time.”

“Orgies?” Huggy asked.

“We just like to trade off a little,” Scott said. “Ken makes too big a deal out of it. Which way do you swing, Huggy?” Scott asked.

Huggy looked at Hutch. “Well, hitherto unknown to my blond friend here, I swing both ways.”

Hutch’s mouth dropped open in surprise.  “Why didn’t you tell me? Does Starsky know?

Huggy shook his head. “It’s not something I do regularly. Just when the time is right.”

“Sorry I brought Bart over here, Ken. He wouldn’t take the hint!” Scott said ruefully.

“It’s okay. He’s just really persistent.”

The rest of the evening went enjoyably, but Hutch was thankful to say goodbye to everyone. Huggy was the last to leave. As he shrugged into his jacket, he asked, “Carolyn doing all right?”

“She’s fine. Working a lot at the hospital.”

Huggy nodded, looked like he wanted to say something but changed his mind, then left.

Hutch left the cleaning for later, went upstairs, and collapsed in bed, exhausted. Just as he closed his eyes, the phone rang.

“Hey, babe. Still up?”

“Barely.” Hutch rubbed his eyes. “You stopping for the night?”

“Yep. We’re bushed. Some one-horse town in Kansas. Expect us around lunch-time day after tomorrow.” Starsky’s voice sounded tired.

“Wish you were here. I’d rub your back,” Hutch said softly.

“Me, too, babe. Hey, Nick!” he called to his brother. “You wanna rub my back?” Hutch heard retching noises in the background followed by Starsky’s chuckles. Starsky yawned into the phone. “Did ya have people over tonight?”

“Uh, yeah. A few. It was pretty fun.”

“Yeah? Who all came?”

Hutch could hear water running. “Hug. Joey and Scott. Bart, but not at my invitation.”

He heard Starsky rinse his mouth and spit. “Bart? That guy we met at Scott’s? Ugh. How did that go?”

“It was okay. You two be careful driving, Starsk. Can’t wait to see you.”

“Come on, Hutch. What’s the hurry? Something’s buggin’ you. What happened?”

Hutch sighed. “Can’t we talk about this later, Starsky? I’m really beat.”

He heard the water turn off. “No, now spill. The faster you tell me, the quicker you can go to bed and get your beauty rest. Not that you need any.” The last part was said fondly.

Hutch waited a beat and then hedged, “It’s not that big of a deal. It just made me mad, that’s all.”

What for Pete’s sake?”

Hutch sighed again. “I found Bart in the darkroom looking at photos you took.”

“O---kay,” Starsky replied. “Did he say they were awful or something?”

“No, he liked them alright. They were the ones you took of me.”

What? Why that sonovabitch...”

“After a few comments…”

“What comments?” Starsky wanted to know.

“That doesn’t matter, he…”

“Hutch, what comments?” Starsky’s voice was firm and even.

“Just some crack about me looking even better naked.”

The silence was deafening. Finally, Starsky prompted in a tightly controlled voice, “And then? There’s more, isn’t there.”

“He just made a play for me, and I let him have it.”

“Made a play for you, how.” Starsky’s tone had turned deadly.

“Starsk, don’t go making a big deal out of this, I took care of it. I kneed him in the groin and kicked him out.”

“How, Hutch.”

“He just grabbed me as I was leaving the room and kissed me.”

Starsky’s breathing was loud through the phone. “I. Am. Going. To. Kill. That. Motherfucker.”

“Starsky.”

“I’m gonna KILL that motherfucker!” Starsky shouted, surprising Hutch so much, he almost dropped the phone. This behavior was unprecedented. Sure, Starsky had been angered before on Hutch’s behalf, but this was…this was something else entirely. Hutch didn’t have time to examine it though, because Starsky was in a rage. “Goddamn it, Hutch, he had NO RIGHT!”

“Of course he had no right, Starsky, that’s why I roughed him up and kicked him out! Would you please calm down?” He could hear Nick talking in the background and Starsky telling him to fuck off.

“Come on, Starsk. I’m not some damsel in distress you need to defend, here.”

Starsky took a couple of deep breaths, and Hutch could imagine him struggling to calm himself down. “Okay, yeah. I know it. It’s just…I don’t like it that he saw those pictures, and I HATE it that he touched you like that.”

“I get it. I don’t know why he zeroed in on that envelope of pictures, but he saw them and there’s nothing we can do about it now.  But everything’s okay. He knows how mad he made me.”

“Yeah, okay.” Starsky became quiet.

“Get some sleep, buddy. I can’t wait to see you,” Hutch said softly into the phone.

“’Night, Hutch. Sorry I lost my cool.”

Hutch hung up and lay back down. That had been a weird experience. He tried to imagine the shoe on the other foot, and a similar feeling of outrage enveloped him. It was odd to be in this new relationship with his partner.  Something akin to possession and ownership had entered into the mix of their already volatile feelings for one another. From friends and partners to lovers, yet everything they had as friends and partners still remained. Sometimes it seemed that he felt so much for Starsky, he might explode.

***

A week after Nick moved into his apartment, he took Carolyn out on a date. He’d just received his first paycheck, and it was burning a hole in his pocket. They decided on a movie, but as they had over an hour to waste before it started, Nick suggested they go into The Pits.

Carolyn hesitated. “What’s the matter? You don’t like this place? They’ve got really cold beer.” Nick pulled to the curb and waited for her answer.

Carolyn looked toward the bar. “Well, I guess so. It’s just…well, Huggy and I sort of have a past.”

“Huggy Bear? The guy that owns this place? What sort of a past do you have with him?”

“We dated for a short time. Just before you and I started dating.”

Nick was floored. He couldn’t believe that a woman like Carolyn would date a guy like Huggy. It made him look at her differently. She evidently wasn’t as classy as he’d thought, but what did he expect? She was Hutchinson’s sister. But he wasn’t willing to give up Carolyn until he’d had her in the sack at least once, and so far she’d turned down his every advance.  “Well, you’re with me tonight. Just ignore him.”

He got out of the car and went around and opened her door for her.

“Thank you,” Carolyn smiled at him as she took his hand and got out of the 1975 red MG he’d recently bought. He paused to kiss her lightly on the lips. He liked the way she felt in his arms, but he liked it even more that being with her drove her brother up the wall. He smiled and took her arm. “Shall we?”

Carolyn could feel her hands shaking as they entered the bar and was glad to have the solidity of Nick’s arm to keep them steady. She hadn’t seen Huggy since the night he’d come over and told her he couldn’t date her anymore. She had been so shocked, she hadn’t known what to say, and most of the reasons he’d given her where drowned out by the roaring in her head. How she could’ve been so wrong about somebody, she didn’t know. She had thought he’d been happy with her.

Nick led Carolyn to a booth in the back, and she kept her attention on him rather than risk making eye contact with Huggy. She missed him. She still wanted him. But he’d made it plain that he didn’t want her. What really rankled was that Carolyn had given her all to Huggy. She had thrown herself at him and shown him a side of herself she’d never shown anyone else. And now she was ashamed.

A pitcher of beer appeared on the table before them and when Carolyn looked up to thank the server, her breath caught in her throat.

“Carolyn,” Huggy greeted her softly. “It’s really good to see you.”

“Hi,” she said, blushing to her roots as the sudden memory surfaced of his face buried between her legs as she writhed and moaned in his bed.

Huggy looked at Nick. “Well, if it isn’t Nick Starsky. This pitcher’s on the house.”

“Thanks! It’s good to see you again, Huggy. We’re just wasting a little time before the movie.” Nick leaned closer to Carolyn and threw his arm around her. Carolyn wanted to crawl through the floor. She had to get out of there.

“Excuse me a minute, Nick. I’m going to the ladies room.” Sliding out of the booth, she headed across the room, not taking a breath until she was on the other side of the closed door. Walking to the mirror, she looked at her reflection. Flushed cheeks, long blond hair, pink silk blouse. She washed her hands and breathed in and out a few times before she was ready to leave the room.

Huggy waited for her in the hall. “You okay?” he asked, concerned.

Her face turned red all over again. “No, I’m not. I’m uncomfortable as hell,” she spat, annoyed that he rattled her so.

“I don’t want to be enemies, Carolyn,” Huggy said sincerely, his brown eyes luminous. She turned away and started forward, but he grabbed her by the arm.

“You made it clear you don’t want to be with me,” she said, exasperated.

Huggy squeezed his eyes shut a moment. “It’s not that I don’t want to be with you, Carolyn! It’s that it’s too hard to be with you! The world don’t want us to be together.”

“That’s a cop-out if I ever heard one,” Carolyn said icily, but found that ice melting as she looked at him.  Grabbing Huggy’s hands, she entwined her fingers with his, remembering how they’d felt on her body. She searched his face. “I really care about you. I really want to be with you.”

“You don’t understand what you’re saying—what the consequences would be. We can’t be together, Carolyn.” Huggy squeezed her hands. “And you need to steer clear of Nick Starsky. He’s bad news.”

The rejection seared Carolyn’s heart. She let go of his hands and stepped back. “I’ve got to go. Nick is waiting for me.”

She held her head high as she moved across the room, making up her mind then and there that before the night was over, she would sleep with Nick Starsky.

***

The next couple of months were quiet ones. Starsky continued to take photographs of Hutch, experimenting with lighting and different lenses and backgrounds. He also took pictures of still life that he hoped to use in a showing of his work.  Hutch wrote a few songs, studied the bats that lived in the bat houses he and Starsky had made, and toyed with the idea of taking some masters classes at the local university.

Nick became a frequent visitor to their house, often showing up with Carolyn. It set Hutch’s teeth on edge to know that the two of them were dating, but he refrained from saying anything about it to Starsky, who was of the opinion that Nick was turning his life around. The idea made Starsky so happy, Hutch didn’t have the heart to voice his doubts. It was true that Nick was working steadily at the candy factory and seemed to be doing well, but Hutch still didn’t trust him.

Barbara and Joanne decided that everyone needed to get together for Independence Day, and Starsky and Hutch had the biggest house, so they needed to host it. They planned to invite family and friends, serve food and drinks, and shoot off fireworks. It was weeks in the planning, as the women argued about the menu and who would make what. In the end, it was decided that Huggy Bear would cater the event, instead, leaving the women free to simply bring their own specialties. Hutch made it clear to his friend that he should bring a date, as he didn’t want any misunderstandings between him and Carolyn. Huggy rolled his eyes at this, but agreed.

As the event drew near, it brought anxiety. Hutch in particular was crabby. He didn’t want to be nice to Stan, he didn’t want to see his sister with Nick, and he was unhappy about Starsky’s insistence on inviting Joan Meredith in an attempt to extend an olive branch and preserve their friendship. Starsky had told him of Joan’s bold attempts to win him over, and he wasn’t too happy about it, although he understood.

Starsky was more concerned that nothing go wrong with the food or fireworks. Everyone was to arrive by seven o’clock, they would eat, and the fireworks would begin at dark. Nick, Scott, and Joey were in charge of alcohol, including bringing a keg of beer. Starsky and Hutch were providing the fireworks.

As the day approached, the guest list got longer and longer. Hutch thought it was too long, but who could they possibly leave out? Minnie’s family was in town, so of course they extended the invitation to them. Stan’s son was visiting, so he was invited, too. Joan Meredith agreed to come, but wanted to bring a date. The Dobey’s asked if they could bring Edith’s mother and her sister as they suddenly found themselves without plans for the holiday. Huggy’s long-time waitress, Anita, was going to be alone on Independence Day, so they invited her to come. Nick insisted on inviting a couple of pals from work, and Carolyn invited a coworker.

Squinting at the sky on the afternoon of the get-together, Hutch began to worry that it would rain. “Oh, my God, Starsky, how awful would that be? We’d all be stuck in the house!”

“Don’t get your panties in a wad, Hutch, it ain’t gonna rain. There’s not a cloud in the sky.”

Hutch finished repotting the fern that was beginning to take over the window, and crossed to the kitchen to wash his hands.

“Glad to see you’re using that scrub brush I bought ya,” Starsky commented, coming up behind him and laying a kiss on Hutch’s shoulder on his way to the refrigerator. “Gets your nails nice an’ clean.”

“Guess it’s the least I can do, considering where you like me to stick my fingers,” Hutch replied easily. He dried off his hands and turned to his partner. “Starsk, if I disappear at this party, I’m just taking a breather from having to smile at my Mom’s boyfriend. I won’t be long.”

“Whatever gets you through it, partner. Now lighten up! This is supposed to be a party, not a funeral!” He came closer, getting into Hutch’s space without actually touching him, bringing his lips whisper-close to his face and looking at him with sexy eyes. “You’re so tense,” he breathed, tickling Hutch’s face with each exhalation.

Hutch remained very still as Starsky looked him over speculatively, not two inches between them. “I know what’ll loosen you up.” He abruptly fell to his knees and began opening Hutch’s shorts.

Hutch sucked in a breath as Starsky yanked the denim down his legs.

“Well, well, well! What have we here? Taking a page outta my book and going commando, are ya, Hutch? I like it.” Starsky breathed on Hutch’s long cock, watching it grow longer before he’s eyes. “Wouldja lookit that. It recognizes my voice.”

Hutch chuckled brokenly as he grasped the counter behind him with both hands. Starsky ran his palms up Hutch’s legs and, putting out his tongue, began licking his sack. Hutch shuddered and let out a moan.

“Yeah, babe, I’m gonna eat you right up. You won’t be able to stand on your own when I’m through with you.” Starsky promised, nosing at his balls before lapping at them some more, chuckling throatily as Hutch jumped and cried out.

“Oh, oh God, Starsk…”

“Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but I’m pretty good,” Starsky mumbled against his leg, nibbling on his soft inner thigh. Hutch threw his head back and panted shallowly as his partner’s mouth moved to his waiting cock and sucked in the tip.

“OH!”

Starsky got a grip on the base of his lover’s cock and sucked and licked at Hutch’s jutting sex until he had him begging. Hutch grabbed him by the arm and pulled him up, covering his mouth with his own as he fumbled with Starsky’s zipper. When he had Starsky’s shorts down, he pushed their groins together and began rubbing them against each other. Starsky cried out into his mouth, and Hutch sent his tongue inside, eagerly exploring. Hands on each other’s asses, they pushed and tugged, writhing against one another until they were panting, mingling their heated breaths. Starsky flung his head back and Hutch attacked it, giving him a hickey the size of Montana at the base. Another couple of jerks and Hutch was over the top, crying out. Starsky reached between them and stroked himself, coming all over Hutch’s belly.

“Oh, shit,” he sighed, sagging against the counter.

Hutch swallowed. “Man, that was just what I needed.” He smiled and turned to wet some paper towel and then staggered to a chair to wash up.

“Glad I could help,” Starsky grinned, mopping up his stomach and sensitive groin with a dish rag. “Now how’m I gonna get the energy to finish putting up these decorations?” He turned and tossed the rag into the laundry room.

“We have plenty of time. Let’s take a rest,” Hutch suggested. They went into the living room and flung themselves onto the couch, their bodies limp and wasted.

“How did we get roped into having this party?” Hutch wanted to know.

“Well, we’ve got the biggest place.” Starsky raised his eyes and looked back at Hutch sprawled on the other end of the sofa. “Aw, it’s gonna be fun, buddy. You worry too much.”

“I guess,” Hutch said unenthusiastically.

Before they knew it, a pounding sounded at the door. Starsky looked around. The light in the room had shifted.

“Holy shit! What time is it?” He struggled up onto his elbow and looked at his watch. “Hutch! It’s six-fucking-thirty! Wake up!” He jiggled his partner’s foot. When Hutch stirred, Starsky jumped up and went to the door.

“What took ya so long?” Nick asked. He had his arms wrapped around a paper bag. Carolyn walked right past him carrying a giant cake.

“We fell asleep!” Starsky exclaimed, running a hand through his hair. Nick cast a look from the hickey on his brother’s neck to his unzipped shorts, and Starsky hurriedly fastened them. Hutch had been peering over the sofa and caught the look of disgust on Nick’s face before it could be quickly neutralized. Carolyn had carried the cake into the dining room and called for Hutch to help her. He rolled off the couch.

“I was gonna put up these streamers,” Starsky said, grabbing a mass of red, white, and blue off the kitchen table.

“I’ll help,” Nick offered.

 “Fire up the grill while you’re out there, Starsk!” Hutch called to him. “How you doing?” he asked his sister, giving her a peck on the cheek while thinking what a stinking, lying little rat Nick was. He’d been acting all tolerant and even supportive of their relationship ever since he’d decided to move to Bay City, but now Hutch knew how he really felt.

“Pretty good.”

“Caro, you know Hug’s going to be here. Is that going to be too uncomfortable for you?” Hutch asked, pulling the trays of hamburger patties Huggy had brought over earlier out of the refrigerator.

“It’s okay, Ken. We can’t avoid each other all the time.” She busied herself pouring chips into bowls, her mind wandering to a month previously when Huggy had shown up at her apartment late one night.

She’d been in her robe and had stood there open mouthed until he’d asked if he could come in.

“What are you doing here?” She asked, after closing the door.

“I had to see you, Carolyn. That night at The Pits, I felt like you weren’t down with what I was sayin’.”

Carolyn stood with her hands on her hips, staring at him. “What do you mean? You broke things off with me. What’s not to understand?”

“You think I did it because I don’t care about you.” He took a step forward and touched her hair. “But I do. It’s for the best. Can’t you see that?”

Carolyn’s eyes filled with tears, and Huggy pulled her close, burying his face in her thick blond tresses. “Man, I’ve missed the smell and feel of your hair,” he moaned. And then his hands were on the belt of her robe, opening it, and the next thing she knew, she was up against the wall, her legs around his waist while he fucked her into the next room. It was so much better than with Nick. Huggy knew just where to touch her, and he was such a giving lover. She climaxed twice before he pulled out of her, his seed damp between her legs.

“Carolyn…you’re like a drug. I shouldn’t have come here,” Huggy’s eyes were tormented when they looked into hers. “You gotta believe me, I didn’t come here for this. I just couldn’t stand for you to think I didn’t care about you.”

Carolyn stood heaving against the wall, her legs shaking. Apalled at what had happened, Huggy apologized again. Carolyn couldn’t stand it. She told him to leave.  

She hadn’t seen him since.

Shaking herself out of her reverie, she watched her brother descend the stairs, tugging a white shirt over his head. Opening the door to the deck, he handed a navy pullover to Starsky. Several people had arrived while Carolyn had been lost in thought, including her mother and Stan Jenkins, and were congregating in the back yard. She knew Ken didn’t care for their mother’s boyfriend, but she couldn’t see anything objectionable about him. Just because he found Barbara sexually attractive and didn’t appreciate Ken attacking him, didn’t necessarily make him a bad person in her opinion, as it evidently did with her brother. With a sigh, she finished putting things out on the dining room table and joined the hubbub outside.

Hutch grabbed a beer from the refrigerator and took a long drink. It was his fourth one of the day, but he figured he was entitled, with the stress this event was putting on him. Looking out the window over the sink, he noticed that Scott and Joey had arrived and set up the keg. Nick had fashioned a portable bar under the oak tree, and Bill Wethersby and his son carried one of the coolers of ice over to him.

He turned toward sounds of people coming in the front door. Barbara entered the kitchen with Stan, who carried a box of food. She directed him to set it on the counter, where she began to unload everything.

“I made the baked beans you like, Kenneth, and that Heavenly Hash Starsky asked for.”

Hutch grinned. “He’ll be thrilled. Hello, Stan.” He reached out to shake the older man’s hand, doing his best to be friendly. Stan wasn’t very enthusiastic when he reciprocated, and a chill hung in the air between them. Cheap Trick singing “I Want You to Want Me” suddenly blasted from the backyard before lowering to a more reasonable volume. “Starsky’s hooked up some speakers out there,” Hutch explained to his startled mother.

“Oh, my,” Barbara said. “Whatever happened to good music, Stan?”

“There’s nothing but junk on the radio now,” Stan commiserated.

Joan Meredith entered the kitchen with Huggy, who had been in the dining room supervising two employees while they unloaded food.

“You brought enough to feed an army, Hug,” Hutch said with a smile, giving his friend a light slap on the back. “You two come together?” He looked at Joan.

“Sure did.” Huggy slid an arm around Joan’s slim waist. “Joan asked if I had a date, and I said no, but I’d been ordered to bring one by one of the hosts. So here we are.” Huggy looked at ease in a pair of white shorts, a green pull-over shirt, and white deck shoes, his one concession to his former flamboyance a colorful scarf tied around his neck.

“Huggy’s brought all kinds of delicious food!” Joan enthused with a smile.

“I’m glad you could come, Joan,” Hutch said politely.

“Let’s hope you don’t get sick and have to leave like last time,” Barbara said pointedly.

“I brought some extra fireworks for the big show,” Huggy rushed to fill the tense silence that followed Barbara’s remark.

Hutch showed him where to put the sack. He didn’t really know what to make of Joan and Huggy showing up together. As he popped another beer open, he watched the two of them interact. Joan had on a short denim skirt and a red halter top with red heeled sandals. She looked very nice, and for a split second he felt a twinge of jealousy. Jealousy that Starsky had once been with her, and jealousy that he might want to be with her again. He turned away and headed for the deck where he found his sister leaning against the rail looking down at the guests below. The night before, Hutch and Starsky had put some twinkling lights in the trees, and Hutch saw that Starsky had turned them on in anticipation of the approaching dusk. The effect was magical, and Hutch settled next to Carolyn, enjoying the sight.

After a few minutes, he asked, “Is something wrong?”

Carolyn looked at him, surprised. “Why do you ask me that?”

“Is that a yes?”

Carolyn put her hand on his arm. “I’m fine.”

“What’s bothering you, Caro? You look really distracted.”

“Nothing, Ken, I’m just tired from a long shift at the hospital. Do you need my help with anything?”

Hutch shook his head. “Mom’s putting food out. Starsk’s got the hamburgers on the grill. Everything’s set. You want a beer?”

Carolyn declined. “I’m just enjoying watching everybody talking.” She turned and looked through the glass door into the house. “Who is that woman in the red top? She looks familiar.”

“That’s Joan Meredith. She’s a police detective at Metro. You may have met her when we had that house warming party…but she left early.”

“Oh—she’s the one who wanted to date Dave and got mad about you two being together.”

“Right.” Hutch paused. “She’s here with Huggy.”

“Oh,” Carolyn said. “She’s very pretty.” She looked away.

Hutch downed his beer and decided to go see what Nick was up to and perhaps find out if he knew what was bothering Carolyn. Because something was, Hutch was sure of it. He could see Nick by the bar talking to some guy Hutch didn’t know. He figured he was one of Nick’s friends from work. They stood very close with their heads together, for all the world like two punks on the street up to no good. Hutch pushed that thought out of his head, knowing his partner wouldn’t appreciate him going out of his way to be suspicious of his brother. He heard Starsky calling out for everyone to load up their plates, and Hutch found himself walking against the flow of people heading up the stairs to the deck to get to the food. He greeted a few on his way, including the Dobeys.

“Hey, Nick, having a good time?” Hutch asked when he reached him, stopping to lean against the oak, beer bottle dangling from his fingers.

“Sure. It’s great,” Nick answered.

“Caro’s up on the deck. She seems kind of down. Happen to know what’s bugging her?”

Nick turned, instantly on the defensive. “What’s that supposed to mean? Are you accusing me of makin’ her unhappy?”

Hutch raised his brows. “No. I would just like to know what’s making my sister look so pensive, and since you seem to be glued to her side these days, I thought you might know.”

Nick’s eyes narrowed. “Oh, I know what you’re trying to say. You wanna know what I’m doing to make your precious sister sad. Well, let me tell you…I make her plenty happy. Have her howling every night.”

Hutch’s fist crashed into Nick’s face before he had time to think, sending the younger man sailing backward onto the ground. A gasp and shriek from the deck told Hutch that his sister had not joined the crowd in the dining room and had seen everything. She came running down the steps and was beside them in seconds, kneeling by Nick, cradling his lolling head in her lap. If Hutch had looked up, he would’ve seen Starsky vaulting over the lower end of the deck in his haste to get to them, but Hutch's eyes remained focused on the man on the ground. He wanted to jerk Carolyn away from him and tell her what the scum bag had said, but before he could get the words formed, Starsky’s presence overshadowed everything else.

“What the hell is goin’ on?” His partner asked incredulously. Hutch shook out his hand and continued to look daggers at Nick, who was still sprawled on the grass playing up to all the attention he was getting from his distraught girlfriend. Carolyn pushed the dark curls from his eyes and looked up at her brother.

“Ken! Why in the hell did you punch him?”

“Believe me, he deserved it!” Hutch ground out through his teeth.

A small crowd gathered around them, and Starsky pulled Hutch to the side. “Tell me what happened,” he demanded.

“He just pissed me off, that’s all.”

“How?” Starsky was up in this face, his blue eyes a mixture of concern and annoyance. Hutch didn’t want to say anything that Carolyn could overhear, so he just shook his head again.

“Can’t you try to get along with him, Hutch?” his partner asked with exasperated annoyance.

Hutch turned on him, flabbergasted. “What? Hell, I’ve been trying to get along with the little shit for months now!” He felt, rather than heard, Carolyn’s appalled reaction to his words.

Starsky’s eyes flashed. “You can be a real S.O.B., Hutch.” He shook his head and moved to help Nick up off the ground. Hutch grabbed a fresh bottle of beer out of the cooler and headed for the woods. He didn’t want to talk to anyone or eat anything. He just wanted to be alone.

It burned him up that Starsky would defend Nick. Didn’t he know Hutch wouldn’t have hit him without real provocation? Wasn’t it just a couple of months ago that Starsky was refusing to even speak to his brother because he was convinced that Nick had hired those guys to beat the shit out of him? So what had happened?

Hutch took a long swig of beer as he walked. He knew what had happened. Nick had pulled the wool over Starsky’s eyes, blinding him to everything. How could Starsky really think that his brother had accepted their relationship? Or that he was good to Carolyn or planned to hang onto his job, for that matter? Hell, if Joanne hadn’t stepped up and helped Nick buy that car, Starsky would’ve done it, Hutch knew. Anything and everything to help Nick Starsky out, whenever and however he needed it. It didn’t matter whom he hurt or whom he stepped on to get what he wanted. An ache in the middle of Hutch’s back reminded him of what he had suffered at the hands of two lunatics with a baseball bat. There was really no doubt in his mind that Nick was responsible for that beating, but he’d been willing to try to forget about it for Starsky’s sake.

But he couldn’t…wouldn’t… let him hurt his sister. Hutch was going to put a stop to that relationship.  He kept walking, fuming and making promises to himself, finally exiting the woods a couple of miles down and walking back through the perimeter of a neighbor’s overgrown backyard.

The gunshot sounds of fireworks met his ears when Hutch finally made his way back to the house. He hated to admit it, but he was hurt. Hurt that Starsky had as well as chosen Nick over him. Tilting his head, he stood and watched the next volley of firecrackers. They whizzed into the sky, exploding with a loud *pop* and showering colorful sparks through the air. Hutch looked around. He didn’t see Starsky anywhere, but he spotted Nick seated in a lounge chair with Carolyn nestled between his legs. Hutch skirted the yard, wanting to avoid everybody. He felt a little bad for being such a poor host, but in his present mood, no one was going to enjoy being around him anyway.

When he entered the kitchen, there was a fresh, icy beer opened on the counter with no one around. Hutch wondered if someone had forgotten it. Thirsty from his walk, he picked it up and began drinking. Rubbing at the small of his back, he took a seat at the table and nibbled on some chips and dip. He knew he should go back outside, but he just couldn’t face anyone right then. The cold beer felt good sliding down his throat.

He still fumed about what Nick had said about his sister. He wondered if Carolyn would dump Nick if Hutch told her, or if the smooth-talking New Yorker would weasel his way out of it, like he did everything else. Hutch sat stewing for twenty minutes or more until all the beer he’d been drinking caught up with him, and he had to go to the bathroom. As he headed for the hall, he heard the powder room door click shut and the fan come on. He turned toward the stairs and the bathroom on the second floor. To his surprise, he staggered a bit as he climbed. Better let up on the beer, he thought. Flipping on the bathroom light, his surroundings seemed to swim before slipping into their normal position, and Hutch closed the door, leaning against it briefly. He wondered if the beer from the cooler outside was somehow stronger than what he had in the refrigerator. He certainly felt drunk. He decided it would be a good idea to eat something. He’d swallow his pride, get a plate of food, and join the others outside watching the fireworks.

As he relieved himself, he thought he heard someone calling his name but felt strangely removed from it, almost as if he were dreaming, or listening to the radio. He flushed and stepped toward the sink where he washed his hands and face, pausing to stare in the mirror. He thought he looked flushed, and leaned forward, pressing his nose to the glass and watching as his eyes crossed. Backing up, he stood staring at himself, losing all sense of time.

When Hutch finally exited the bathroom, he ran into someone in the hall. Someone familiar.

“What are you doing here?” He tried to focus on the bearded man and remember why it was he didn’t like him.

“Nick invited me. I work with him at the factory. Didn’t he tell you?”

Hutch shook his head and the walls seemed to expand and contract. He reached out to put his hand on one and stumbled.

Bart caught him around the waist.

“Boy, you’ve had a few too many, haven’t you? You need to lie down. Here, let me help you.” He led Hutch toward the master bedroom.

“No,” Hutch said weakly, feeling more strange by the minute. “I threw you out…you aren’t welcome here.”

“Aw, come on, Ken. You aren’t really mad about that, are you? Dave’s so talented…I was just admiring his work.” Bart helped him stretch out on the bed and began to remove his shoes.

Hutch knew that wasn’t why he was mad, but he couldn’t remember the facts. Bart did something to make him angry, and it wasn’t just looking at the pictures, although he’d had no right to do that. He put a hand to his head; he was dizzy…the bed was rocking back and forth. He felt Bart pull his socks off and tried to sit up and object, but he couldn’t.

“S-s-starsky…” he said with effort.

“Oh, he’s somewhere around here. At least, he was a while ago. He was looking for you. Seemed a bit worried since you headed out to the woods. Maybe that’s where he is—in the woods. Looking for you. Should take him a while, don’t you think? Why don’t you relax.”

Hutch could hear gunfire. Someone was shooting. Was Starsky in trouble? He had to get to his partner. Rolling onto his side, he almost fell off the bed, but someone caught him.

“Whoa now, beautiful. Where’re you going? The fun’s just starting.” Hutch watched fuzzily as Bart crossed the room and closed the bedroom door. Returning to Hutch’s side, he tugged the defenseless man’s white shirt over his head and tossed it across the room.

Hutch felt like a ragdoll, unable to control his movements. Bart’s voice came from a long way away, and outside the shooting continued. He felt his shorts being removed. What was going on?

The mattress dipped beside him and Bart was suddenly hovering in his face. Hutch could make out every hair in his dark beard. He felt a hand on his chest, smoothing it.

“You’re such a gorgeous man, Ken,” Bart said appreciatively. He bent to kiss his neck.

Hutch didn’t want him to touch him, but the most he could seem to do was bat at him ineffectually. He was so sleepy. Everything had a confusing, dreamlike quality. And where was Starsky? He was in their bed, but Starsky wasn’t there. Starsky should be there with him.

Somewhere in the back of his mind, he blamed Nick. Nick had brought Bart here. Nick was the reason Starsky was mad at him. Was Nick the reason he felt so funny?

The popping outside continued, with an occasional long whistle and sizzling noises filling the gaps. Hutch fought to stay conscious, but he was losing the battle fast. He felt a hand reach into his briefs and fondle him. Then his briefs were gone. He moaned. Starsky?

“So fucking beautiful,” a voice whispered hoarsely as a hand worked at him.

Not Starsky’s voice, and this hand wasn’t touching him the way Starsky did. He tried to roll away, but couldn’t, and then lips were on his, strange lips, pressing, seeking. Hutch tried to bring his hands up and push the unwanted contact away, but he couldn’t make them work properly. He was frustrated, angry, afraid, and very, very confused.

“Starsky,” he said again into the mouth invading his.

“Whatever you need to make it happen, gorgeous,” came a voice in his ear just before a wet tongue filled it, and he tried to roll away again.

Outside, Starsky returned from the woods for the second time that evening. After the first time, he’d gone to the house for a flashlight, calling Hutch’s name just in case he’d come home undetected. Why the hell did he walk off like that? Starsky knew that his partner didn’t haul off and hit somebody for no good reason, but he also knew that his emotions ran high where his sister was concerned. What really bothered Starsky was the hurt he’d seen in Hutch’s eyes just before he’d gone off in the woods, and the fact that Starsky had called him an S.O.B. And now where was he? Here they had a party going on, and Hutch was nowhere to be found. He remembered Hutch saying that if he disappeared for a while not to worry. Was that what had happened? He’d gone off somewhere to cool down? He’d been gone a long time.

He scanned the area. Scott and Joey had started the fireworks, and the guests were all gathered in the backyard on lawn chairs or blankets enjoying the show. Starsky caught sight of Nick and Carolyn standing with Joan and Huggy, and he headed that way. Nick was developing quite a bruise around his right eye.

“Have you seen Hutch?” Starsky asked when he got close enough for them to hear him over the fireworks display.

Joan, who had been talking animatedly with the others, turned and started to say something, but Nick beat her to it.

Taking his brother by the elbow, he steered him toward the house, the other three following in their wake. “Hutch is in the house. We saw him go in about forty-five minutes ago.”

“But I’ve been inside since then. I called to him.”

“Joan says she saw him again through the window about fifteen minutes ago, and he was going upstairs. She said he looked drunk.”

“Ken wouldn’t get drunk,” Caroyn said emphatically, doubling her steps in order to keep up with them. Starsky tended to agree with her.

When they entered the house, Starsky looked around and saw the empty beer bottle on the kitchen table. “He’s only had beer today. He doesn’t get drunk off beer.”

“He was definitely staggering and weaving,” Joan said adamantly.

“Maybe he went upstairs to sleep it off,” Huggy suggested.

“I’ll check on him.” Starsky left his friends downstairs and went to their bedroom. The door was shut. He reached out to turn the knob and was surprised to find it locked. Putting his ear to the door, he called out, “Hutch! Open the door.” There was no answer. He knocked. “Hutch! Open the door!” He called again. He looked around for something to pick the lock with. If Hutch was truly drunk, then he probably was just asleep, as Huggy suggested. In that case, he would feel silly kicking the door down. But why would Hutch have locked it? And Hutch was fine when they’d argued outside…how could a couple more beers get him so drunk he was staggering? Turning, he went with his gut. Lifting his leg, he kicked the door hard with the heel of his foot, just beside the door knob. Wood splintered, and he did it again. The door swung open, revealing a tableau that confused and enraged him at the same time.

Two naked men lay on the bed, one almost covering the other. Several things rolled through Starsky’s mind like a snow ball downhill: It was Bart, the creepy guy from Scott’s. The other man was Hutch. His Hutch. Bart had his hands all over Hutch. The door was locked. Hutch was cheating on him. He was going to kill Bart, and then maybe he’d kill Hutch.

Even as he reacted, secondary thoughts were fighting for recognition: Hutch wasn’t participating. Hutch didn’t like Bart. Something was very off about the scene.

Fire coursing through his veins, Starsky moved forward. “What the HELL is going on?”

Bart had already rolled over when the door slammed open. He scooted back up the bed, his body shielding Hutch from Starsky’s view. He didn’t even try to cover himself when Carolyn, Huggy, Joan, and Nick appeared in the room behind him. Gasps and murmurs of incredulity filled the air.

Letting out a primeval growl, Starsky launched himself onto Bart, wrestling him off the bed and plowing his fist into the bearded man’s nose. Blood spurted everywhere. Nick ran to try to pull him off, but Starsky was uncontrollable. Huggy moved to help, while Carolyn threw the coverlet over her brother’s nude form. Hutch’s mouth moved in an effort to speak, and then, in a desperate attempt to get up, he lurched forward and fell off the side of the bed. Carolyn rushed over to him.

“Ken? Ken, are you all right?” He looked at her with a dazed expression. “M—dizzy,” he whispered. His eyes rolled to the side. “Starsk?” Then, with a great heave, he turned and threw up all over the floor.

“Call an ambulance,” Carolyn told Joan, who was hovering behind her. When Hutch had finished retching, Carolyn grabbed him by the chin and looked into his eyes, noting the dilated pupils. The scuffle continued on the other side of the bed, punctuated by sounds of flesh hitting flesh and grunts of pain. Nick and Huggy weren’t having much luck tearing Starsky off Bart, who was systematically working himself toward the door and escape.

“He wanted it, man!” Bart insisted just before a fist connected with his teeth, and he fell backward.

“Dave!” Carolyn yelled. “Dave, Ken needs help!”

Starsky immediately backed off, breathing hard and looking murderously at the bloodied man before him. Pointing his finger at him, he threatened, “If you EVER come near Hutch again, I will personally make sure you are permanently out of commission. Got it?” He turned swiftly and rushed to the other side of the bed to find his partner sprawled on the floor, sweaty and shaking, a pool of vomit beside him.

“Help me lift him to the bed,” Carolyn ordered. Together, they managed to half-lift, half-pull Hutch’s lax form onto the mattress, where Carolyn spread the coverlet over him once again.

“What’s wrong with him?” Starsky asked, worriedly.

“He’s been drugged,” Carolyn said. “Joan’s gone to call an ambulance.”

Starsky’s eyes darted toward the door, but Nick had already escorted Bart out. Huggy came forward. “Man, I can’t believe this! What was that low life even doin’ here?”

“Hug, will you go out and watch for the ambulance, please?” Starsky requested. Huggy nodded and joined Joan in the hallway. Starsky sat on the edge of the bed, shaking with reaction. He reached out toward Hutch, touching his cheek softly with cold fingers.

“Buddy?” he whispered.

Hutch’s head lolled bonelessly sideways, immediately reminding Starsky of when Hutch had been drugged by the nefarious Doctor Matwick during their undercover stint at the mental hospital. “S-starsk…”

“It’s okay. The ambulance is coming.”

“W-what happen’d?”The sound of fireworks outside the window became more sporadic with longer intervals between. Starsky turned to Carolyn. “You’d better go talk to your mother. People are going to be wondering about the ambulance when it gets here. Just say that Hutch is feeling really bad from something he ate.” He shook his head. “No, no. Don’t say that; Huggy catered. Just say he’s sick or something.”

Carolyn nodded and left the room. Starsky pushed sweaty hair out of Hutch’s eyes. “I’m sorry, babe. I’m sorry this happened.”

Hutch blinked, trying to focus. “What happened? Wha’s wrong?”

“I think that Bart put something in your drink. You were drugged, Hutch. He had you in here naked. I dunno what he planned…he—he was touching you.”

Hutch frowned and tried to lift his hands but couldn’t coordinate the movements. He looked up at Starsky with foggy blue eyes. “No…?”

Starsky rubbed Hutch’s arm, noting the tremors that ran through his lover’s body. “It’s okay, buddy. Just lie still. I think I hear the sirens.”

“No, Starsk. Th’s our bed.” Hutch tried to grasp his partner’s hand. “Our bed.”

Starsky felt his gut tighten. “Yeah, it’s our bed, buddy. Nobody but us should be in it, I know.”

Chaos ensued as Huggy escorted the paramedics in just as Barbara came through the back door demanding in a high, slightly hysterical voice to know what was wrong with her son. Stan put an arm around her, soothing her, and they stood watching the two men in white go up the stairs with a stretcher.

Starsky stepped back from the bed, allowing the paramedics to look Hutch over. He stood against the wall, clutching and unclutching his hands, feeling helpless and frustrated. It was an effort, but he was keeping his anger tamped down. Once they had Hutch strapped on the stretcher and began to carry him out of the room, Starsky saw that Hutch had slipped into unconsciousness. Nick was waiting in the hallway and put a comforting hand on his brother’s shoulder when he appeared. “I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

“What was that asshole doin’ here, that’s what I wanna know!” Starsky seethed as he followed the paramedics downstairs.

“That’d be my fault, bro,” Nick said, trailing behind. “He’s a friend of mine at work. I had no idea he was some kinda maniac.”

Starsky whirled on him. “A friend of yours?”

“Well, yeah. He’s the one who got me the job at the factory, don’t you remember? You and Hutch said I could invite a coupla people. I’m really sorry, Davey.”

Starsky let out a breath and grabbed his keys. “If you wanna help me, take care of things here, Nick.  I’m sure Huggy’ll help you.” He turned to find his friend a couple of steps behind him.

“No problemo, Starsky,” Huggy assured him. “We’ve got it covered. Just concentrate on Hutch.”

“Starsky!” Starsky heard a familiar bellow. “What’s going on here?”

“I’ll call you from the hospital and explain, Cap. I gotta go.”

Starsky, Carolyn, Barbara, and Stan drove together and spent the better part of an hour in the waiting area.

“Blood tests confirm it was GHB, commonly used in cases of drug-facilitated rape,” the doctor informed them when he’d gathered the group in a private room to update them on Hutch’s condition. He spoke directly to Barbara. “Your son was thoroughly examined, and does not appear to have tearing or any other indications of rape. Alcohol consumption has maximized the sedative effects of the GHB, slowing his heart rate and lowering his blood pressure. Mr. Hutchinson is currently asleep and being monitored. We expect, barring complications, that he will have a full recovery.” He looked around the group. “I understand that Carolyn Hutchinson is the patient’s brother. As a nurse on staff, she has requested to remain with her brother tonight.”

“Oh, that’s good,” Barbara sighed, leaning into Stan. “I feel better knowing Carolyn’s staying with him.”

When the doctor left, Starsky sat down heavily in a chair. “How much does he have to go through?” he wondered out loud. “Seems like he’s been in the hospital more the last six months than in his entire career as a cop!”

Barbara sat down next to him and put a comforting hand on his knee. “He’s going to be fine, David. This was just one of those freakish things.”

“Our relationship is getting him hurt,” Starsky said quietly. “Even when he got hurt out at your barn, he was out there alone in the snow because the two of us had been arguing about it.”

“Ken wouldn’t want you talking that way, David.” Barbara smoothed the hair back over his left ear. “He loves you very much. Anything he has to go through to be with you is worth it to him. You know that.”

Starsky nodded solemnly, fighting the tears that threatened. He’d been staring at his lap while they talked and he suddenly looked her in the eyes. “How can you not resent me?”

Barbara smiled. “I told you before that I’ve thought you and Kenneth have been together for a long time now. I got used to the idea. Besides, you make him happy. What mother doesn’t want her son to be happy?”

“There you are.”

Starsky looked up to find his brother standing in front of him. “I’ve been looking all over, then I finally found a nurse who told me you were all in this room. How’s Hutch?” Nick’s apparent worry touched Starsky deeply. How he needed someone to lean on!

“He should be okay. He was drugged, and he’s sleepin’ it off.”

“Thank God.” Nick sagged into the chair beside him. “Everyone left your place, and we got it cleaned up.”

“Thanks, Nick.” Starsky patted his brother’s knee. “You really came through for me.”

“What are brothers for?” Nick grinned.

“Did you happen to notice a beer bottle on the kitchen table?” he suddenly asked. “Do you know if it got thrown away?”

“Gee, we threw all the beer bottles away, Dave. Why?”

Starsky shook his head, angry at himself for not thinking of it earlier—there could be traces of the GHB in the bottle. Of course, he had no way of knowing for sure if that was even the bottle Hutch had been drinking out of. “Nevermind. What were you and Hutch arguing about at the party?” Starsky asked.

“Just a misunderstanding. Nothing major. I guess I took him wrong when he asked about Carolyn lookin’ unhappy, and spouted off. He had every right to hit me.”

Starsky frowned. “What did you say?”

Nick colored. “Do I really gotta tell you, Davey? I admit I shouldn’t have said it.”

“I’d rather hear it from you first,” Starsky answered seriously.

Nick sighed. He looked across the room to make sure Barbara was out of earshot. “I made a crack about how I make her happy in bed.” At Starsky’s expression, Nick hurried on, “Aw come on, Davey…he really pushes my buttons sometimes. I didn’t mean to say it, but then it was out, and he hit me. I told ya I know I deserved it.”

Starsky shook his head. “I’d like to think you have more respect for women than that, Nicky. Especially a special lady like Caro. You’re not just using her, are you?”

“Heck, no! I care about her. I just said that because Hutch was in my face.” He suddenly started in his seat. “Oh! I’ve gotta call Ma. She made me promise.” He got up and headed for the hallway and the phones.

It was three more hours before Hutch was awake enough to recognize his partner’s presence. Carolyn had gone to the cafeteria to get something to eat.

“Starsk?” he asked, blinking heavily. Starsky got up from the chair he’d parked near the bed and took Hutch’s hand.

“Yeah, I’m here, pal.”

“Where…” Hutch looked about in confusion. “…am I in the hospital?”

“Sure are. It’s getting to be a regular habit with you, Blintz. We’re gonna have to break you of it.”

“Why? I mean…why am I here?” Hutch was frowning so deeply the line between his brows was very pronounced.

“The doctor said you might not have any memory of it,” Starsky reassured him.

“Of what?” Hutch asked, becoming agitated.

Starsky squeezed his hand. “Settle down. I’ll tell you everything. Do you remember getting into an argument with Nicky?”

Hutch thought for a minute, then slowly nodded his head. “Yeah. Outside. I—I hit him.”

“Right. Then you and I had words and you disappeared into the woods. I was worried about you and went looking. Turns out you must’ve looped back and gone in the house. I found you in our bedroom…the door was locked.”

Hutch continued to frown. He didn’t remember any of what Starsky was telling him.

Starsky swallowed. “I got worried. I dunno, I just had a bad feeling. I kicked down the door and…you were in bed with that Bart guy. Fuck, I don’t even know the shithead’s last name.”

Hutch’s eyes had grown round as saucers. “I was….what?

“He’d given you liquid ecstasy. Must’ve put it in one of your drinks.”

Hutch jerked. “The date rape drug?”

Starsky patted Hutch’s shoulder. “You weren’t raped, don’t worry. But he had his clothes off and your clothes off and he was touching you.” Starsky took a shaky breath. “I beat the holy hell outta him, Hutch. I just saw red.”

Hutch closed his eyes for a long moment.

“We called the ambulance. For you…not him. He left. But I talked to Dobey a while ago, and they’re gonna pick him up. I gave him Scott’s number so they could find out where he lives. We’re pressing charges, Hutch. You coulda been killed.”

Hutch opened his eyes and nodded. Something really bothered him. The last time he lay in a hospital bed, he remembered waking in it and just knowing that Nick Starsky was to blame.  He had a similar feeling now. Why was that?

“Starsk…” he began. “Why was Bart at our house?

“You remember tellin’ Nick he could invite some guys from work? Well, just so happens that Bart was one of them. ‘Course, Nick didn’t know we don’t like him, and Bart totally disregarded that he wasn’t welcome. Pretty shitty coincidence, huh.”

Hutch somehow doubted it was a coincidence. Things just didn’t add up, but he needed to think on it a while.

___

Carolyn stood in the lab staring at the test strip that told her she was without a doubt pregnant. It was the third test she’d run in a week.

“Shit,” she moaned, putting it down. “Shit, shit, shit!”

 

Finis

To be continued