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Love Hurts

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Starsky plunged his tongue deep inside of Joan, making her writhe on the bed, her little squeals of pleasure hardening his cock to an almost painful degree.

“Yes, Dave, yes!” she urged him breathlessly. He nibbled at her clitoris, and she arched her back, letting out a scream of pleasure as her climax ripped through her. Starsky eagerly lapped up her juices before shifting on the bed and driving his cock into her, fucking her until he spurt spunk deep inside her, his body shuddering.

As he fell on top of Joan’s soft, yielding body, he turned his head, resting on her breast, and saw Hutch standing at the door. The hurt in his eyes drove a stake through Starsky’s heart.

***

Starsky awoke, breathing hard, a puddle of semen coating his stomach.  Shifting his head on the pillow, he saw Hutch sleeping peacefully beside him in their bed, the moonlight shining through the skylight above giving an almost ethereal look to him. Reaching out, he grabbed some tissues out of the box on his night table and wiped up the mess on his stomach, his heart still beating double time.

He wondered why he had dreamed of going down on Joan Meredith. Was it because he knew he’d never go down on a woman again? He certainly didn’t have any special feelings for Joan, but she had been one of the last women he’d slept with, and she had also come on pretty strong with him recently. He supposed that was it, but he felt guilty all the same for having had a wet dream about her while lying next to the man he loved.

And he did love Hutch—with every fiber of his being. And he loved the life they were making. It was only that sometimes he balked at the thought of never being with a woman again. Would he miss it? Did he miss it? He was far from the fantasy he’d once had of a wife and kids. But what about dominating a woman’s body? Soft breasts and a tight pussy? Feminine scents and cries of delight? Did he miss all of those?

Turning over, he closed his eyes. But it was a long time before he fell asleep again.

***

August passed in a haze of heat and smog. Hutch and Starsky spent the hot afternoons swimming in the pond near their A-frame house, enjoying the quiet of the woods that surrounded them.

Hutch lay on his stomach, droplets of water sliding down his bare, wet skin, his head buried in his arms. Starsky finished his cold beer from the cooler, idly watching the breeze ruffle Hutch’s blond hair. He’d taken numerous photos of his partner like this: spread out on the ground, sometimes wet, sometimes dry. Starsky thought he looked beautiful.

Hutch wanted to rent a place and have some kind of showing of Starsky’s work, but Starsky finally talked him out of it. “It’s way too expensive to do something like that, Hutch. I’ve asked around, and I’ve heard that just getting your stuff out there is the best way to start out.”

“Starsky, we have enough money to rent a place and do it right,” Hutch argued, but Starsky wouldn’t hear of it. He had used enough of Hutch’s inheritance on his photography.

 So Huggy hung a few of Starsky’s nature shots in his restaurant, and reported that several patrons had complimented him on them. It made Starsky feel proud and sort of famous to visit The Pits and see his work hanging on the walls.

Starsky leaned over and gave Hutch’s rump a slap, and the blond’s head shot up.

“Hey! What d’ja do that for?” Clearly, Hutch had been asleep. There was a red mark on his forehead where it had been resting on his arm, and he was squinting into the light.

“Mosquito,” Starsky said innocently, his eyes softening at his partner’s lovably tussled appearance.

“Oh. Thanks.” Hutch laid his head back down, missing the mischievous grin that appeared on his lover’s face.

The sound of a car coming up the driveway sent both men to their feet, scrambling for their clothes. Starsky got his cut-offs on first and went to investigate.

Huggy got out of the old VW bus he’d acquired for a song and walked towards him. Starsky figured the song must’ve been off-key, considering what a piece of crap the bus was; Hutch, of course, loved it.

“What it is, Starsky!” Huggy said cheerfully. In his hand he carried a take-out bag from his restaurant.

“You bring us lunch, Huggy? Terrific! What’s the occasion?”

Hutch appeared from out of the woods, still mashing his wet feet into his shoes. Huggy took one look at the grass stuck in the blond hair and the haphazard buttoning of the shirt and burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny?” Hutch asked grumpily.

“Nothin’, my man! Nothin’ at all.” He held up the bag.  “I brought you two some lunch and a little nibble on Starsky’s line, so to speak.”

“A nibble on my what?” Starsky asked as the three men walked into the house. “Hutch, Huggy’s wanting to nibble my line, what should I do?”

“Sorry, Hug. Starsky’s line gets plenty of nibbling at home,” Hutch quipped, and slapped Huggy’s butt. Starsky waggled his eyebrows at him.

Huggy set the food on the kitchen table. “All right, come off it. I may swing both ways, but I ain’t ready to swing three ways. Are you bozos ready to hear this?” He looked from one man to the other. They both seemed more interested in the food than in what he had to say—a far cry from the attention he once got when he had information off the street for the two hot shot cops. He rolled his eyes. “Okay, well I’ll give it to you anyway. I got a guy who really wants to buy some of Curly’s photos.” Starsky was busy feeding Hutch a French fry and stopped with it halfway to his partner’s mouth.

“Really?”

“I speak the truth. I was wondering if he could come by tomorrow afternoon to look at your portfolio. I can vouch for him; I’ve known the guy a long time.”

Starsky looked at Hutch, who quickly bit the fry out of his wavering hand.  “Well, sure, Hug, that sounds great! Thanks!”

“It is my pleasure,” Huggy said, taking a seat and digging into his portion of the food spread out on the table.

“Who is this guy, Hug?” Hutch asked between bites of his burger.

“Just an old acquaintance who likes the look of Starsky’s work,” Huggy said, wiping his mouth with a napkin. “He’s a CPA downtown, but he wants it for his crib, is my understanding.”

Lady, the stray dog Starsky had begged to take in, came whining at the glass sliding doors. “Forget it!” Hutch told Starsky when he started to get up. “She’ll eat everything off the table as soon as our backs are turned.” Starsky settled back down in his seat.

Huggy pointed his burger at Hutch. “You been swimming, or what?”

“Yep, in the pond,” Starsky answered for him.

Huggy shook his head. “You wouldn’t catch me swimming in a pond! --might get something important bitten off by one of those snapping turtles.”

Starsky sent an apprehensive look Hutch’s way, and his partner laughed. “Oh, God, Hug. Did you have to bring that up?”

“Are there snappin’ turtles in our pond?” Starsky asked, looking worried.

“Probably. But what’s the likelihood of one getting hold of your pecker, Squeaky?”

Huggy’s brows went up. “Squeaky?”

“You don’t want to know,” Hutch told him, and Huggy went back to eating, certain that he didn’t.

Later that night, as the two got ready for bed, Starsky said, “What do ya think about this guy wantin’ to buy some of my photos?” He turned the covers down on the large bed and climbed in.

Hutch sat on the edge of his side and stretched, the muscles in his back moving under the skin. “I think he’s got good taste.”

Starsky blushed. “Aw, hell, Hutch.”

Hutch turned to him and smiled. “You’re so cute when you’re embarrassed.”

Starsky looked away, and Hutch lay down beside him. “Come on, Babe. Let me see if I can make you squeak.”

***

Mr. Jennings arrived shortly after lunch the following day. A short, balding man with clear blue eyes, he shook Starsky’s hand and smiled affably. “Call me Jeff. I’m so happy to meet you,” he said enthusiastically. “There’s just something about your work that I love! My partner and I are looking for some photographs to use in our new apartment, and I was thrilled to hear you’re willing to show me your portfolio!”

Momentarily confused, Starsky said, “You’re partner?” Was this guy a cop?

“My life partner, Kevin.” Jeff looked him in the eye. Starsky blushed, wondering how he could be so stupid.

“Oh, of course. It’s just that I used to be a cop, and that’s the first thing that popped into my mind. Hey, why don’t you have a seat in the living room and I’ll get you a drink.”

“A beer would be terrific,” Jeff said.

When Starsky brought him one, he took his portfolio off the mantel where he’d left it and waited nervously while Jeff looked through it.

“You’ve got a good eye,” Jeff said, slowly turning pages and considering each photograph thoughtfully. “Huggy told me he heard you say you’ve done some nude studies, though. I don’t see them here.”

Starsky’s eyes widened. “Uh…well, yeah. I’ve done a few.”

“Are they in a separate portfolio?” Jeff asked, looking up at him.

“I’ve only taken pictures of my partner, and some of the two of us. Just experimenting to see if I’d be any good at it.”

“And are you?”

Starsky took a breath. “Yes.” He nodded. “I’m proud of them.”

“I take it you’re talking about your life partner?” Jeff smiled.

“Yes, Hutch is my life partner. We used to be partners on the police force, though.”

Jeff nodded. “May I see the photos? Nude studies are really what I’m interested in; didn’t Huggy tell you?”

“No. He didn’t mention that.” Starsky hesitated. Hutch wasn’t home, so he couldn’t ask him if he’d mind.  He didn’t think he would, but he wasn’t sure. Hutch could be a little bashful. But hell…this guy was interested in his photos! “Okay, I’ll get them.”

He went to the dark room and returned with the envelope. Sliding them out, he handed them to Jeff, wondering if his own pride in his work was what kept him from being embarrassed at his own nudity; he thought the photos were a beautiful expression of his and Hutch’s love for one another. Hutch might feel they were too personal to share. He shifted nervously, wondering about that a little belatedly. Too late now, dummy!

Starsky had spent the better part of two days in the studio naked with his partner, tediously working with a shutter release cable in order to get the perfect shots of the two of them. None of the photos showed a full view of their faces, nor their cocks.

Starsky’s favorite was one of the two of them embracing, light against dark, each with their heads bent into the other’s shoulder.

“They’re beautiful, man.” Jeff shuffled to another picture. “And I love this one!” Starsky had posed them on a bed they’d moved into the studio for just that purpose. It was a spooning shot, Hutch pressed against him from behind.

“Nice,” Jeff nodded, as he looked at each one in turn. “Very nice. These are just what I’m looking for. This one is absolutely stunning.” He pointed to one of Hutch taken outside on the quilt. “I love the water droplets on the bare skin.  I’d like to buy several of these.”

Starsky blinked. “Um. Well, I’ll have to speak to my partner first. I don’t have his permission to sell those, and I’m not sure how he’ll feel about you displaying photos of him in the nude. Those show a little more than I think he’s comfortable with.”

Jeff shuffled back to the photos in question. “Oh, but they’re done so tastefully! They’re just perfect for what I want. These of him outside…” he took out several of the photos of Hutch and then a few of the two men together and laid them out on the coffee table. “… and these photos of the two of you.” He looked at Starsky. “You didn’t take them with the idea of selling them?”

“No, not really. I was practicing. The ones I took of us together were only the second time I’d used the shutter release cable. It was pretty difficult to get the results I wanted.”

“I’d say you did, though. Simply stunning! Kevin will love them. In fact, I’d like to give them to him for his birthday next month.” Jeff continued to look at the photos in awe.

“Well, I’ll talk to him about it and call you. You said you want to display them in your home?”

“Yes.”

Starsky nodded, biting his lip. He wasn’t at all sure how Hutch would react to this. “Why don’t you leave your number with me? I’ll give you a call as soon as I can. It may be a while, though.”

“Sure.” Jeff stood up, pulling a card out of his wallet and handing it to Starsky. “I’ll look forward to speaking to you again.

“I’ll talk it over with Hutch and get back to you,” Starsky promised.

After Jeff left, Starsky went into the dark room and spread the pictures on the table. They really were beautiful shots; he couldn’t blame the man for wanting them.

He heard Lady barking in the distance and wondered what the dog had gotten up to. A few minutes later, Hutch came in through the back door.  “Starsk?”

“In here!” he called, continuing to stare at the photos.

“That dog!” he huffed. “She’s out there chasing squirrels. What’re you doing?” Hutch set his gym bag on the floor and put his hands on Starsky’s shoulders.

“These are the photos Huggy’s friend wants to buy,” Starsky got right to the point.

“We’re naked in those, Starsk!” Hutch protested, appalled. Starsky looked up at him over his shoulder.

“It’s art, Hutch. He’s been looking for photos that show the love between two men.”

“What?” Hutch asked, incredulous.

“He and his lover, Kevin, want some for their living room, and he loves these photos of us.”

Hutch pressed his lips together, stepping back, and Starsky stood up to face him. “You’re beautiful, Hutch. We’re beautiful together. What’s to be ashamed about?”

“I’m not ashamed of my body, Starsk, but I don’t know if I want strangers seeing pictures of us naked together.”

Starsky frowned. “Oh, I see. You’re ashamed of our relationship.”

“Goddammit, Starsky, you know that isn’t true! But do you want all of Bay City to see us?”

Starsky suddenly grinned. “Well, somehow I doubt all of Bay City will be seeing my photographs, but thanks for the confidence. This guy just wants them in his living room.”

Hutch crossed his arms over his chest. “You know what I mean. You start selling those, and pretty soon everybody will know about us.”

Starsky shrugged. “I doubt it, but even so…Hutch, everybody’s thought that about us for years. And we’re living together—all our friends know we’re lovers. Why try to hide it?”

“I don’t want to hide it, but I’m not sure we should flaunt it, either!”

“Look, I don’t think Jeff and Kevin are gonna have loads of people parading through their living room, and the photos don’t even show our faces. He just wants to buy these I’ve laid out here. And from now on I can hire models to pose for me.”

Hutch didn’t know if he liked that idea, either.

“I told Jeff I had to talk to you about it. Think about it, Babe,” Starsky said softly, placing his hand on Hutch’s arm. The phone rang in the kitchen, and he left to answer it. Would it be so bad to have the photos displayed in someone’s apartment? Hutch wondered, frowning. He stared down at the pictures laid out on the table.

He could hear Starsky on the phone talking, and he quickly deduced it was Nick on the other line. Hutch had been doing his best to get along with the younger Starsky, but it wasn’t easy when he was still highly suspicious of him. And there was no way he was going to voice his thoughts to his partner without some proof. He’d gone so far as to visit Bart after he’d been released on bail, trying to get him to admit that he’d had something to do with the drugging at the fourth of July party, but he hadn’t gotten anywhere. Bart wouldn’t even admit having had anything to do with it. He claimed he didn’t know how Hutch had gotten into that state, that he’d just thought he’d had too much to drink, and Bart was pressing the advantage to get closer to him. There was no way charges of drugging him were going to stick without any proof other than traces of GHB in his urine, so Hutch dropped it. He wasn’t about to put them all in the news by saying Bart tried to rape him, either. This infuriated Starsky, who thought they should at least make Bart’s life hell by dragging it on as long as possible, but Hutch just wanted to forget the matter. The entire thing was a sore subject between them, and Hutch’s suspicions that Nick had orchestrated the entire thing in order to get him into a compromising position that Starsky might see had just been left to fester inside him.

 If Hutch could only get Nick out of their lives, he’d be content. As it was, he had to watch the little punk with his sister. He knew Nick only dated Caro to get on Hutch’s nerves. There was no doubt in his mind he was using her. But growing up with his strong-willed sister had taught him that the best way to get Carolyn Hutchinson to do something was to tell her not to. So he’d remained quiet, for the most part; a stern warning to be careful the only thing he’d really said to her on the matter. Huggy told him that he had warned her off Nick, too, but it hadn’t helped. Hutch felt sure that Carolyn wasn’t going to listen to anything Huggy had to say on the matter.

Soon after that, he’d gone by Joan Meredith’s apartment. Sitting in the chair Starsky had just vacated, h thought about that meeting.

Joan had been cordial, but less than happy to see Hutch. She’d invited him in, though, and offered him a drink.

“I just wanted to ask you about that evening of the party,” Hutch told her.

“Are you feeling okay now?” Joan asked, her eyes softening a little.

“Oh, yeah. The effects of the drug wore off fairly quickly, but Bart won’t admit to having done anything but take advantage of a drunken moment .”

“You did look drunk,” Joan told him. “Really drunk. You were weaving around, and I went looking for Dave to tell him he might want to see about you, but I couldn’t find him.” She tucked her feet up underneath herself on the couch. Hutch could see where his partner would find her attractive. She was petite, yet feisty. Not really his type, but definitely Starsky’s.

“Is that when you went to Nick?” Hutch asked.

“Yeah. I told him that you were acting really wobbly. Your sister didn’t think you’d be drunk like that, but Nick insisted that was the case. He wasn’t going to go check on you; I feel sure of that. Carolyn was about to, but then Dave showed up, and it was like Nick turned on a dime. Suddenly he was all concern and leading Dave into the house to find you. That boy can really act.”

Hutch agreed. “That’s really what I came here for…to get your take on what happened. Is there anything else you can tell me?”

Joan thought a moment. “I don’t think so.” She seemed to be debating something. Finally, she said, “Frankly, Hutch, I thought maybe you came here to tell me to stay away from your man.”

Hutch got to his feet. “Starsky’s his own man, Joan. I don’t tell him what to do.”

 

Starsky appeared in the doorway, startling Hutch out of his thoughts. “You still in here?”

Hutch moved toward him. “Yeah. Just thinking. Who was that on the phone?”

“That was Nicky. He wants me to go see Alligator with him. It’s about a giant alligator in the sewers of Chicago; doesn’t that sound cool? Starts in an hour, wanna come?”

“No, thanks. I’ve been thinking about going to go see Carolyn. I’m pretty sure she’s off tonight.” His sister had been acting strangely lately, and this was the perfect opportunity to talk to her without the risk of being interrupted by Nick.

***

“You look terrible,” Hutch observed when he entered his sister’s apartment two hours later. “Did the boys take that much out of you during their visit last weekend?” Carolyn had picked her twins up from her ex-husband halfway between Bay City and Los Vegas and kept them over the long weekend.

“Nice to see you, too, sweet brother,” Carolyn said sarcastically, turning to flop onto the sofa. “No, the boys were great—I manage to look awful all on my own. Did you come all the way over here just to insult me?” She propped her feet up on the coffee table.

“No, I came to see you. What did the boys do while they were here? I thought you might bring them by.”

“I would’ve, but they stayed busy all weekend. Stan and Mom took them to a carnival one afternoon. Mom’s Stan, of course—not my ex, Stan. You think we Hutchinson women have a thing for guys named Stan?”

Hutch ignored her attempt to change the subject and sniffed the air, wrinkling his nose in distaste. “You been throwing up?” he asked, frowning disapprovingly. “Are you hung-over?”

“No, dammit!” Carolyn crossed her arms over her middle and scowled. “And what if I was? I’m only two years younger than you! I do have a right to tie one on if I feel like it!”

Hutch held up his hands in surrender. “You seem a little crabbier than usual. Are you having problems at work?”

Carolyn glared at him. “Would you stop with the third degree? I haven’t been feeling well, okay?”

Hutch took a seat and leaned forward, elbows on denim-covered knees. “Come on, Caro. This has gone on long enough. Tell me what’s wrong.”

Carolyn looked away. “Ken, just leave it.”

Silence.

“Don’t you need someone to talk to?” Hutch asked softly.

Carolyn’s chin quivered slightly.  “No. Go away.”

Hutch moved to the couch. Pulling her close, he said quietly, “Tell me.”

A sob escaped Carolyn’s throat, and she buried her face in Hutch’s shirt. “Oh, Kenny…I’ve fucked things up good this time.”

Hutch smoothed his hand over her long blond hair. “It couldn’t be that bad, honey.”

She nodded her head. “Oh, yes. It is. It’s bad. Ken…I’m pregnant!”

Hutch’s hand stilled.

“Aren’t you going to say something?” Carolyn sniffled.

Hutch was paralyzed. He couldn’t believe it. Carolyn was going to have Nick Starsky’s baby. This really was bad. She was going to be chained to that scum for the rest of her life. He should have done something sooner…anything to keep that low-life away from his sister!

Carolyn pulled away and looked into her brother’s face.

“Are you sure?” he finally asked, meeting her gaze.

“I’m positive.”

Hutch cleared his throat. “H-have you told Nick?”

Carolyn bit her lip. “It’s not Nick’s.”

Hutch’s eyes grew wide. “What? It’s not?” Relief filled him. “Who’s…”

Carolyn watched as realization dawned. “Huggy’s? Caro, how can you be sure?”

“I just am. I’m a nurse, after all. I’ve always been able to tell when I ovulate, for one. And Nick and I always use protection. There was this one night with Huggy…I hadn’t been expecting him, and well, it just happened. It all coincides. I don’t know what to do, Ken!”

Hutch was out of his element. He didn’t know what to say. “Uh…w-well, I guess you should tell him.”

“Who? Huggy? I can’t tell him! He doesn’t want me, Ken! I’m not going to tell him I’m pregnant and make him feel like he has to be with me!”

“Well, you can’t not tell him! It’s his baby, too!”

Carolyn got that look on her face that said the discussion was over.

“Caro,” Hutch tried a different tact. “He’s going to figure it out for himself soon enough.” He glanced down her body meaningfully.

“He’ll think it’s Nick’s. I won’t tell him otherwise.”

Hutch’s mouth dropped open. “Are you crazy? You can’t let Nick think this is his baby! Shit, Caro! I don’t like Nick Starsky, but even I don’t want him to be lied to like this. Besides, he’ll only have to take one look at it to know it’s not his!”

Carolyn sagged into the couch. “To tell the truth, I don’t even want to keep seeing Nick. I’ve completely lost interest in him. But if you think I’m going to tell Huggy about this baby, you’re crazy. And don’t you dare tell him!” She pointed a finger at him.

“He’s my friend, for God’s sake, Carolyn!” Hutch huffed, appalled. “I can’t lie to my good friend about a thing like this!” He pointed a finger back at her. “You are going to tell him the truth, or I’m going to do it.” Hutch’s stubborn look matched hers.

Carolyn tried to hold back her tears, but it was a losing battle. Hutch sighed. “Think about it, honey. You have to tell him. That doesn’t mean you have to let him insist on marrying you or anything else. You didn’t do this alone…he’s partly responsible. You have to tell him.”

Carolyn hung her head, her blond hair falling like a curtain on each side of her face. “I know,” she said quietly. “You’re right. Just give me some time. Okay? Let me do it. And don’t tell Mom!”

“Don’t worry, I won’t! You get that honor.” Hutch hugged her tightly. “Everything’s going to be all right. Even though you didn’t plan this, a baby is always a good thing.”

Carolyn rested her head on his shoulder and didn’t say anything for a long time. Finally, she whispered, “I thought about getting an abortion, but I couldn’t do it.”

Hutch smoothed her hair out of her face. “I’m glad you didn’t.”

Her blue eyes met his. “How am I going to make this work, Ken? How will I keep my job and have a baby, too?”

“We’ll all help, sweetie. Starsky and I, Mom… We’ll all help you do it. Don’t worry.”
She smiled shakily, and Hutch hugged her again.

***

Hutch woke up in a cold sweat, panting frantically.

“Hey, babe….” Starsky murmured hoarsely, half asleep, his hand creeping across the sheets to clasp Hutch’s. “Wha’s wrong?”

“Nothing. Bad dream. Go back to sleep.” Hutch squeezed Starsky’s hand reassuringly and lay staring out the skylight at the stars, waiting for his heart to slow. He’d dreamed he was helpless, unable to move, and a stranger had his hands all over him. And then the stranger became Nick Starsky. That’s when he’d awakened. Listening to his lover’s breathing evening out beside him, he tried to think of something happy before he went back to sleep. He’d had this dream several times since the party, and so far he’d been able to keep it from Starsky. Starsky had been so happy lately about becoming close to Nick for the first time in his life. Hutch knew that his partner had felt guilty for years about not being around for Nick as he grew up, even though it wasn’t his fault. Hutch felt sure that Starsky considered himself a good influence on his brother now. How would he feel to know what Nick was doing behind his back? Nick had more than likely paid two men to beat the hell out of Hutch, had begun seeing Carolyn only to annoy Hutch, and had conspired with someone to drug and rape him. And although Starsky had at first thought his brother guilty of the beating, he now seemed to have either changed his mind, or decided to forgive and forget. Hutch knew he’d played a big part in that. After all, he’d encouraged Starsky to put it all aside. Starsky seemed to think Nick had changed since he moved to California, but Hutch knew better; Nick was plotting to separate Hutch from his brother once and for all.

The thing about Carolyn was something that Hutch would never be able to prove. He just had a feeling about it. And Starsky seemed to have no suspicions at all that Nick had anything to do with what Bart had done to Hutch. So Hutch lay in bed and wondered what Nick would try next. Because he would try something—he seemed driven to pull the wool over his brother’s eyes as he took Hutch out of the picture. And Hutch had no one to believe him in this, save Huggy. Huggy was the only person who seemed to get it. And Carolyn had effectively made it impossible for Hutch to look his friend in the face until she came out with her secret. With a sigh, he rolled over, snuggling up to Starsky’s warm back, and tried to go to sleep.

***

Two days later, Starsky came out of the house and strode over to where Hutch was planting a rose bush.
“Carolyn broke things off with Nick!” he announced. Hutch looked up at him, shielding his eyes from the sun.

“Really?” he asked.

“Nick’s real upset. Why d’you suppose she’d do that?”

Hutch shrugged and went back to his planting. “Why does anybody break up with anybody? I guess things just weren’t working out.”

“But Nick adores her!” Starsky sank down to his knees on the grass. “I thought they were great together.” He watched his partner pat the dirt down with gloved hands. “I guess you’re pretty happy about this, aren’t you,” he accused.

“What?” Hutch looked at him again. “I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t hafta. I know you never thought my brother was good enough for your sister.”

Hutch sat back. “Starsky…I mean, come on! You didn’t think they were going to get married or something, did you?”

“Would it be the end of the world if they did?”

Starsky stood and headed back to the house. Hutch scrambled up and went after him.

“Now wait just a second,” he grabbed him by the arm and swung him around. “Why are you acting like it’s my fault they broke up?”

Starsky pointed his finger at Hutch’s chest. “You probably convinced Carolyn she should dump Nick.”

“I did no such thing. She decided that all on her own.”

“So you knew about this!”

Hutch sighed. “She mentioned it the other night, yeah. She said she just didn’t think it was working out.”

“And you cheered her on,” Starsky accused.

“No!”

“But you didn’t try to change her mind.”

“I’ve never tried to change her mind when she’s decided to end a relationship!”

“What about with Stanley?”

“He was her husband, for Christ’s sake! Starsk, you’re being irrational, here! I didn’t break them up, no matter how I felt!”

“So you admit you didn’t want them to date in the first place!”

Starsky was pushing all of Hutch’s buttons, and Hutch had had enough. “Hell, no, I didn’t want them to date! I don’t trust your brother as far as I could throw him. You think I want him seeing my little sister? How about when I had to listen to him bragging about what they did in bed? Fuck, yeah, I’m glad she broke up with the little shit! If I thought it wouldn’t have sent her running straight to a church to marry him, I would’ve forbidden she ever date him in the first place!”

Starsky’s face reddened with anger, and his left hand fisted as though ready to punch.

Hutch took a deep breath and let it out. “Aw, Starsk,” he said, running a hand through his hair. “When did our lives become such a soap opera?”

“I dunno, Hutch, but maybe it’s time to jerk this one off the air,” Starsky replied abruptly, turning away and walking toward the house. Hutch caught him at the base of the stairs leading to the deck.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he demanded.

“Figure it out, Mr. College-Educated-Know-It-All!” Starsky pounded up the steps and into the house, leaving Hutch staring up after him.

Would Starsky end their relationship over this? Hutch doubted it, but he didn’t like it that his partner was so upset. Hutch’s stomach clenched. He climbed the stairs and entered the dining room.

“Starsk?” he called. There was no answer. “Come on, Starsky, can’t we talk about this sensibly?” Starsky appeared at the top of the stairs.

“Why, so you can tell me I’m being childish? Unreasonable?” He came down carrying an overnight bag, and Hutch’s mouth went dry.

“Where’re you going?” he asked, heartsick.

“I’m goin’ to stay the night with my no-good brother who at least listens to me when I talk.” Starsky headed for the door.

“Starsky, I love you,” Hutch said quietly, and Starsky stopped.

Without turning around, he said, “Well, sometimes you sure don’t act like it, Hutch. Whether you like it or not, Nick’s my brother and a part of me. Makes me wonder what you really think about me, deep down.” He opened the door and walked out.

Hutch watched him go, knowing it wasn’t going to do any good to go after him when he was this angry. Hopefully he’d cool down and come home before bed time.

Could he possibly be wrong about Nick? Hutch wondered for the thousandth time. He’d never wanted to think poorly about Starsky’s brother, yet he always had. And Nick had proven him right. Hutch wanted to dig up proof against Nick, but if he did that, he’d only make things worse between him and his partner.

With a sigh, he sank onto the couch.

***

“So you and Blondie are in a lovers’ tiff, huh?” Nick asked amusedly, as he watched Starsky deposit his suitcase by the couch.

“Shuddup, Nick. I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“You don’t have to,” Nick said easily. “I know Hutch. He’s stuck-up and infuriating. He probably insulted you, me, or our family. We just ain’t good enough for him.”

Starsky eyed Nick but said nothing.

“Forget it, brother,” Nick said, patting Starsky on the back. “I know you love him, but I bet he’s impossible to live with. You can hang out here as long as you want. It’ll be fun. There’s a creature feature on the late-night channel tonight!”

Starsky tried to give Nick a smile, but barely managed it. He missed Hutch already, but God, he was angry. Why did Hutch have to belittle his brother? And why did he always have to assume that Nick had something to do with every crisis that came up? The guy had more to do than think up ways to make Hutch miserable. That asshole Bart was scum enough on his own to come up with drugging Hutch and making a move on him. They both knew he had a thing for Hutch. The thought of it sent Starsky’s blood boiling. Hutch should’ve pressed charges, for assault, if nothing else.

Nick plopped down on the couch beside him, propping his feet on the coffee table. “Wanna brewsky?” he asked. “There’s plenty in the ice box.”

Starsky sighed and went for one.

“Bring me one, while you’re up,” Nick called after him. When Starsky returned, his brother’s face was woeful.

“I tried to call Carolyn today, but she wouldn’t talk to me. I don’t understand it. We were so good together. I tried my best to make her happy.”

“For some people, that’s just not enough,” Starsky said, flipping his beer open and taking a drink. “I’m sorry about it, Nick.”

“I know you are, bro. It’s okay. I’ll find somebody again. Hey—I know these girls from work. One of ‘em’s been dying to go out with me. Wanna double date? I could call her right now.”

Starsky shot him a quelling glance.

“Oh, yeah, well, you must get tired of being with a man, Davey. And it’s not as though you and Mr. High-and-Mighty are married or anything.”

“That’s not exactly an option for us, in case you haven’t figured that out, Nick,” Starsky said coldly.

“Come on, don’t tell me you don’t get in the mood for some tits and snatch once in a while! What’s it going to hurt going out with a chick?”

Starsky stood up.

“Where you goin’?”

“I think I’m gonna stay with Ma.”

“Oh, come off it, Davey. Okay, okay, I’ll stop it. I won’t say another word about chicks. Siddown, will ya?”

Starsky sat back down, and Nick flipped on the TV, finding a game show to watch.

Starsky sat brooding, trying not to think about Hutch home alone. In his opinion, his partner deserved a night on his own, wondering what Starsky was going to do. He’d go back home tomorrow and maybe Hutch would quit acting so superior and consider his feelings for a change.

***

Hutch couldn’t sleep. Starsky’s earlier words kept echoing in his mind…did he really want to end things between them? Surely he was just being theatrical, but shit! It was two AM, and he still wasn’t back. Hutch put his toothbrush in its holder and looked around for the dental floss. Finding the small dispenser empty, and crouched down and looked through the cabinets under the sink, finally getting aggravated and pulling everything out and sorting through it. He was mildly surprised to find a Playboy magazine tucked underneath some hand towels. Had Starsky been looking through this in the bathroom? Maybe jerking off? Hutch turned through the pages, looking at all the usual shots of women in various stages of nudity. Although mildly aroused, he couldn’t summon up much interest. Putting it back where he’d found it, he continued searching for the dental floss. Finally, he gave up.

He tossed in the big bed, missing his partner. He wondered if he’d gone to Nick’s. Hutch had already phoned his mother, before it got too late, not telling her that he and Starsky were on the outs, but nosing around for information. By the time he hung up, he was sure Starsky wasn’t over there.

Hutch gave up trying to sleep and got up, heading downstairs, the house eerily quiet. He went into the darkroom and looked over the pictures Starsky had taken. His partner was right—his very best work was the collection of nudes. What would be the big deal if they were displayed in someone’s home? The photos were very tastefully done, and although Hutch was embarrassed, there was nothing for him to be ashamed of. So why not give his okay? Hutch decided he would tell Starsky to go ahead and sell the photos to Jeff. That was, if Starsky ever came home.

Turning out the light, he left the dark room and went into the living room, curling up on the couch and staring out the window, willing Starsky to come up the driveway. Again, he questioned himself about whether he’d been too harsh about Nick. Was he a snob? Did he think he was better than Starsky? No, he didn’t. He had the utmost respect for his partner. But maybe Starsky didn’t know that. Maybe Hutch should tell him, because obviously he was feeling belittled. And what about Nick? Hutch thought, if it made Starsky happy, he could shove down his negative feelings for his brother once again.

Laying his cheek against the top of the couch, Hutch fell into a doze.

A noise jolted him awake, and he sat up straight, the stab of pain shooting through his back making him wince. Blinking owlishly, he looked around in the darkness. He caught the familiar scent of his partner, spicy musk that he’d recognize anywhere, before he actually saw him standing in the shadows.

“Starsk?” he called into the darkness.

“Yeah,” Starsky answered, stepping closer. Hutch stood up and went to him, wrapping his arms around him and pulling him close. So happy to have him home, he nuzzled his face into his neck. After the briefest of hesitations, Starsky held onto him, equally passionate in his embrace.

“I’m sorry,” Hutch said softly into the crook of Starsky’s shoulder. “I’m really sorry. Starsky, there’s nobody in this world better than you. If you don’t know how much I respect you and how proud of you I am, then I’m a fool.” He pulled back. Now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, he could make out Starsky’s face. His partner looked upset.

“Please say you forgive me, Starsk,” Hutch pleaded. He ran his thumbs along Starsky’s jawline, his eyes searching his.

“Of course I forgive you, Blintz,” Starsky told him, reaching up to run his fingers through Hutch’s silky, disheveled hair. “Why are you down here sleeping like that? Your back can’t take that kind of abuse.”

“I couldn’t sleep in our bed without you,” Hutch admitted, and Starsky smiled. Leaning forward, he kissed him softly on the lips.

“I couldn’t sleep over at Nick’s without you,” he admitted. “Come on…let’s go to bed.” He led Hutch up the stairs. Sleepily, Starsky undressed and climbed onto the mattress beside Hutch, entwining their limbs like vines.

Hutch slowly annointed Starsky’s shoulder with kisses. “I decided something today,” he told him.

“Yeah? What’s that?”

Hutch tucked his chin over Starsky’s collar bone. “I want you to sell the photos to that guy.”

Starsky looked at him. “Really? Why?”

Hutch shrugged. “What difference is it really going to make? I’m just being silly. Besides, the nude studies are your best work. And you need to get your stuff out there.”

Starsky examined his face in the darkness. “You’re not being silly, Hutch. Your feelings are important. And I don’t want you doin’ this just because you feel like you hurt my feelings, when you really hate the idea.”

Hutch pulled Starsky closer and kissed him on the top of his head, his hands caressing the softness of the skin at the arch in his back. “I did hurt your feelings, and I’m sorry. But that’s not why I changed my mind. You were right, that’s all.” His hands moved lower, and he smacked him playfully on the ass.

Starsky bent to kiss the long column of Hutch’s neck. “Thanks, partner,” he murmured against his skin. Hutch ducked his head and caught Starsky’s lips with his own, caressing and nibbling them.

“Mmm,” Starsky hummed with pleasure, opening his mouth and meeting Hutch’s questing tongue with his own. It had been upsetting being on the outs with Hutch, more so than usual. He and his partner had had many disagreements over the years, and he’d always felt off when it happened, but now that they were lovers, an argument left him feeling oddly incomplete and off-center. They kissed for long moments, their naked bodies pressed together and their hands roaming over each other’s backs. Starsky felt Hutch’s fingers trailing downward, running along the crack of his ass before sliding down his thigh to lift it and hook it over his own hip. His breath hitched in his throat as Hutch languidly ran his hand over the back of his knee and on up his thigh, sending shivers cascading throughout his body.

As their kissing grew more heated, Hutch’s fingers found Starsky’s puckered opening, the feeling so deliciously naughty that it had Starsky moaning and thrusting in seconds.

“I love you,” Hutch whispered into Starsky’s mouth, his eyes opening to look at him. “You’re the strongest, best man I’ve ever known.”

Starsky pulled Hutch tighter, squeezing the smooth cheeks of his ass in rhythm to his thrusting, reveling in the feeling of their groins meeting and rubbing together deliciously in an erotic dance. He felt the tip of Hutch’s finger enter him, and he arched, crying out with need. Hutch latched onto his Adam’s apple and sucked, then licked it before returning to his mouth, swallowing the pants of pleasure Starsky emitted. Hutch rolled onto his back, pulling him with him, spreading Starsky’s legs wide so that he straddled him. He continued tormenting him with his fingers as their tongues met again in titillating contact, and Starsky gave himself over to the sensations.

Hutch moved so that he was half sitting, half reclining against the pillows. He reached for the tube on the night stand and slickened up his hands. With Starsky perched on his lap, Hutch grabbed his partner’s long phallus with one hand, stroking it provocatively, while teasing his anus again with the fingers of the other. Starsky fell forward onto his hands, kissing Hutch franticly, his tongue dipping and sliding in his mouth. He couldn’t get enough of him; he tasted so good, felt so good.

“Oohh..Hutch,” he moaned as Hutch ran his thumb over the tip of his cock, stimulating sensitive nerve endings. He couldn’t help himself; he jerked in his hand, trying to fuck it. Hutch responded by inserting a finger inside his ass and sliding it up, twisting teasingly, and Starsky leaned back, trying to fuck that, too. His head fell back and he breathed hard, sweat running in rivulets down his hairy chest and onto his firm abs. Sex had never been so good…never, never, never.

“Come on, baby,  let it go,” Hutch encouraged, thrusting his index finger in and out, searching for and finding the nub inside and circling it languidly, sending electricity throughout his body. Drunk with pleasure, Starsky’s eyes glazed over, and he closed them.

“H-u-uttchh…” he moaned, moving his ass back onto the delicious, impaling finger and then thrusting his groin forward into the slippery palm. He was soaring higher, and knowing that Hutch watched his ascent added to his pleasure until he finally shuddered, ecstasy washing over his features as wave after wave of carnal bliss crashed over him. Starsky wilted onto Hutch’s chest, replete, small squeaks of contentment issuing from his throat as he recovered, followed by a long, satiated sigh. Hutch smiled, and squeezed him tightly. “That’s my Squeaky.”

Starsky growled at the moniker, then sighed again. “What you do to me, you blond witch!” he breathed a moment later, rolling onto the mattress.

“Shouldn’t that be warlock?” Hutch asked, wiping his hands on some tissue. He’d loved watching Starsky climax and knowing that he’d done that for him.

“Whatever. You’re magic; that’s all I know.”

Hutch chuckled, ruffled Starsky’s hair, and settled down, hands behind his head. He wasn’t interested in reciprocation; the intense interlude had satisfied him as though he had climaxed himself, although he hadn’t. Besides, it was highly likely that he’d be awakened in the morning by a hot mouth around his cock.  Weary but very happy, he closed his eyes. A moment later, Starsky nestled up beside him, nose pressing into the soft skin covering his ribs and arm encircling his waist. They fell into an easy slumber.

***

Starsky held onto Joan’s waist, fucking her from behind.

“That’s it, Dave, oh! Yes, take me! Take me!”

They were in an alley behind The Pits. Starsky had pulled Joan’s little skirt up and her lacy panties down. He held her against the wall, his hips pumping as he slammed into her. She was so hot and wet inside. So ready for him.

With a scream, she climaxed, and he immediately toppled after her.

He awoke with a jolt, guilt already washing through him. Why in the hell was he having these dreams? He looked over at Hutch, asleep on his side, his hands tucked beneath his cheek. Love for him poured over Starsky like warm water. Reaching for the tissues, he wiped himself off, staring into the darkness for a long time. Finally, he squeezed his eyes shut and willed himself to stop dreaming about Joan Meredith.

***

Starsky sat on his mother’s couch looking through the photo albums she’d gotten out for him to see.

“You and your brother were so cute in those matching suits!” she enthused, pointing at a picture of the two boys, their hair combed and greased back, uncomfortable scowls on their faces.

“We look like junior mobsters,” Starsky laughed, and Joanne swatted his arm. Another page had a photo of Nick laughing uproariously at something. “The little twerp always loved to laugh,” Starsky commented, noticing several more pictures of Nick giggling. “One time I got him laughing so hard, he peed his pants.”

Joanne smiled, nodded, but said nothing. As Starsky turned pages, he couldn’t help but see a definite change in his brother as he aged. He went from a smiling, happy child to a sullen, depressed looking…well, punk. He even dressed differently. Starsky frowned, trying to reconcile the differences.

“Nicky never really got over you leaving,” Joanne said sadly, as though she’d read her eldest son’s thoughts. “I often wondered if I’d saved one son just to doom the other.”

Starsky looked at her. “What do you mean, Ma?”

“I sent you to live with Rose to get you away from the streets. I couldn’t keep an eye on both you and Nicky and work, too. But after I sent you away, Nicky just stopped having fun. He turned inward. He kept his nose in a book all the time until junior high when he got caught up with that bad crowd. He really missed you, Dave. I sent his big brother away, and he was crushed. In some ways, I don’t think he ever got over it.”

“Aw, Ma,” Starsky put a hand on her arm. “You did the best you could. Stop torturing yourself.”

“I’m so glad the two of you are making up for lost time.” Joanne leaned in to kiss his cheek. “It means the world to me, and I know it does to Nicky, too. Thank you for giving him the benefit of the doubt.” Joanne frowned. “Although I don’t think Ken has done the same. I can tell he doesn’t approve of Nick, and Nick can tell it, too. He said something about it to me the other day. He really wants to be friends with him.”

“Ma, to be fair, Nick really isn’t the little angel you make him out to be,” Starsky said, instinctively defending Hutch.

“I know that! But everything that happens to Ken isn’t your brother’s fault, either! Like that horrible man at the BBQ! How could Nick have known that would happen? You told him to bring friends from work, and he did. He didn’t know the guy was going to slip Ken a mickey!” Joanne crossed her arms over her bosom and frowned.

“Here comes Hutch; let’s drop the subject, please,” Starsky put the photo album on the table and stood as Hutch and his mother came out of the bedroom.

“Ken, I know you’ll be able to make them just like Estelle did. Believe me.”

“Well, this recipe looks pretty complicated,” Hutch worried, staring down at the card in his hand. “I may be calling you.”

Barbara flapped her hands. “Oh, fiddle sticks. You’ve always been a good cook. You’ll do fine. But I’ll help you any way I can.”

“You’re gonna make cupcakes?” Starsky asked, standing and slipping his arm around Hutch’s waist.

“I thought I would for Huggy’s party,” Hutch answered. “My aunt Estelle used to bring these delicious homemade cupcakes to our birthday parties and other occasions. She always decorated them especially for each occasion. They were so moist; they just melted in your mouth. Mom dug up the recipe for me.”

“Great! I love cupcakes. You can practice and let me be the taster.”

Hutch laughed and ran a hand over Starsky’s washer board stomach. “Better watch it, Buddy. You’re not getting any younger…pretty soon all that food’s gonna sit on your waist, and you’ll have love handles.”

“The better for you to handle me,” Starsky said with a rolling growl. He pulled Hutch closer and kissed his cheek, sending a blush up his partner’s neck.

“We’d better go,” Hutch cleared his throat, bashfully ducking his head away from his mother’s amused gaze. Starsky winked at the ladies and followed his lover out the door with a swagger.

In the car Hutch buckled his seat belt and said, “Was it my imagination, or has your mother been giving me the deep freeze lately?”

“What? No, that’s silly,” Starsky scoffed as he turned his head to back out of the driveway. “You’re definitely imagining things.”

“I don’t think so,” Hutch replied. “She’s been miffed at me ever since I was hospitalized after the beating.”

“That’s ridiculous. She always kisses you goodbye, and she talks to ya and stuff. She’s not freezing you out.”

“She’s acting differently, though.”

Starsky sighed, not knowing what to say, so he went with the truth. “She feels you’re not giving Nick a fair shake.”

Hutch remained silent, thinking this over. “I’ll try harder,” he finally said.

Starsky glanced at him, and smiled widely. “You’re pretty terrific, you know that, partner?”

Hutch gazed out the window, wondering how the hell he was going to do it. But Starsky was worth the effort, so he made up his mind he would do his best.

***

Making the effort included inviting Nick to Huggy’s birthday party, so Hutch made the call himself the next day. Starsky walked into the kitchen to find flour prints on the receiver, gooey batter dripping off the stove, and various spices all over the countertop. Finding a bowl of what appeared to be icing on the table, he sampled a bit with his finger.

“Caught you!” Hutch said, coming in from the hall.  “Keep your fingers out of there.”

“This is delicious!” Starsky said around another finger full. “What kind of icing is this?”

“It’s made with cream cheese. It’s for the red velvet cupcakes I’m making,” Hutch answered, pulling the bowl out of Starsky’s greedy grasp.

“Is that what that wonderful smell is?” Starsky sniffed the air appreciatively.

“Yep. And yes, you still get to be official taster. But you have to wait until they’ve cooled and I’ve iced  them.”

Hutch began cleaning up. “I called your brother and invited him to the party. He said he’d be here.”

Starsky looked surprised. “Well, that was nice of you, considering he’s not really a friend of Huggy’s.”

The phone rang, and Starsky picked it up. “Hello? Oh, sure Caro. Just a minute.” He handed the phone to Hutch, sticking his finger into the icing as soon as his partner turned his back. Hutch walked around the corner to talk, and Starsky edged a little closer, picking up a word here and there. When Hutch returned and hung up the phone, he asked, “Is Caro coming to the party?”

“Yes. Definitely.”

“Won’t that be awkward, since both Huggy and Nick will be there?”

“She made her bed; she can lie in it.”

“Jees, Hutch. That’s unlike you. What’s goin’ on?”

Hutch looked up from where he was wiping down the counters and gave Starsky an innocent look. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’ve been acting weird where your sister is concerned. Since when do you go around the corner to talk to her? Come to think of it, she hasn’t been hanging around here as much as she used to, either.”

“Maybe she’s just embarrassed because she broke up with your brother,” Hutch suggested.

“I hope that’s not the reason,” Starsky said. “She should know she’s welcome here anytime.”

Hutch sighed and sat down at the kitchen table, resting his head in his hands. A second later, he felt Starsky’s hand on the back of his neck.

“Tell me what’s wrong, Babe.”

Hutch looked up into his lover’s eyes. “She’s pregnant, Starsk.”

“What?!” Starsky sat down in the chair next to Hutch’s. “And she’s not gonna tell Nick?” He blinked. “I’m gonna be an uncle!”

Hutch shook his head. “You are, but not by blood. The baby’s Huggy’s.”

Starsky’s eyes grew wide. “She cheated on Nick with Huggy? I mean, how can she be sure?”

“She says she is.”

“Has she told Hug?”

“No, and I told her she has to. I’m hoping she’ll do it after the party tomorrow night.” Hutch sat back and gazed unseeingly at the wall.

“That’s some birthday present,” Starsky said.

“She didn’t want to tell him at all, but I told her if she didn’t, I would.”

“Good for you. He deserves to know.” The timer on the stove went off, and Starsky stood, looking eagerly at the oven.

“Down, boy. You’re worse than Lady,” Hutch crossed over to the stove and turned off the buzzer and the oven. “Where is Lady, by the way?”

“Upstairs. Probably on our bed. We need to finish that enclosure--I picked so many burrs out of her coat last night, my fingers are sore. She just won’t stay outta the woods.”

Hutch pulled the cup cake pan out of the oven, and Starsky looked at the rows of little cakes. “They’re red!” He said, amazed.

“Thus the name Red Velvet,” Hutch said, setting the pan on a rack to cool. “Now get out of the kitchen; I don’t trust you.” He hustled Starsky through the dining room and into the living room. “You want to go out and work on the fence for a while? Maybe we can get it finished by the time it gets dark.”

“Sure, that’s a good idea. We’ll be able to put Lady in there for the party.”

Starsky started to head that way, but Hutch pulled him back. “Com’ere, Squeaky.” Putting his hands to each side of his face, he kissed him thoroughly.

“I’ll show you squeaky…” Starsky growled and Hutch smiled against his lips. “Later, let’s go change our clothes—you’ll ruin that shirt.” They went upstairs and pulled on some old shorts and T-shirts. Hutch put away the icing and covered the cupcakes, and they headed out to finish the fence.

It was just past dark when they hammered in the last nail and came inside, heading immediately for the shower, where they got in together and soaped each other up. “I’m too tired to work up a squeak tonight,” Starsky admitted, rinsing the suds off his body.

“That’s okay,” Hutch said, taking a turn under the spray. “I’m too tired, too.”  They stepped out and dried each other off, heading to bed.

Sometime in the night, Starsky awoke to Hutch thrashing about, frantic noises coming from his throat.

“Babe,” he took him by his bare shoulder and shook him. “Hutch!”

Hutch shrank away from him. “Stop!” he whimpered.

“Buddy, it’s me. Starsky. Wake up. Come on.” Starsky shook him again, getting up on his knees to get a better purchase.  After what seemed like an excruciatingly long time to Starsky, Hutch began to surface from his frightening dream.

He blinked, eyes wild.

“Hey,” Starsky ran the back of his fingers over Hutch’s cheek. “You okay? You’re shaking.”

Sweat beaded on Hutch’s forehead, dampening his hair. He struggled to sit up, and Starsky helped him.

“What were you dreaming?” Starsky asked him, putting his arm around his partner’s trembling shoulders.

“Someone…was holding me down. Doing things.” Hutch shuddered.

Starsky swallowed, thinking of Bart. He pulled Hutch close. “It’s okay. It was just a dream. You’re okay, and I’m here. Want me to get you a drink?”

Hutch shook his head. Starsky eased him back down onto the bed and pulled him so that Hutch’s head rested on Starsky’s chest. Gently, he ran his fingers through his partner’s blond hair, staring up through the skylight at the stars. “I’m sorry that happened to you, Babe, and that it’s revisiting you in your dreams. This isn’t the first time, is it?”

Hutch shook his head against Starsky’s chest.

“What can I do to help?”

Hutch didn’t answer.

“Maybe you should talk about it.” Starsky felt Hutch swallow against him.

“I was so scared because I couldn’t move,” Hutch said quietly, his mouth against Starsky’s skin. “I finally realized what was going on…that Bart had given me something. That he was going to fuck me.”

Starsky winced, but kept carding Hutch’s hair with his fingers, trying to soothe him. He knew he would’ve killed Bart if he’d raped Hutch.

“I-I didn’t like his hands on me. I was helpless to s-stop it.”

“I know, Darlin’. You couldn’t help it.”

Starsky felt hot tears falling on his chest and leaned down to kiss the top of Hutch’s head. “Shh, it’s okay. I’ve got you.”

Eventually, Hutch fell asleep cradled in Starsky’s arms. Starsky lay there a long time, stroking Hutch’s soft hair and staring out the skylight. A screech owl called outside, sending a shudder down his spine. Hutch loved the big nocturnal birds, but Starsky’d always thought they were creepy as hell. His mind moved to a year ago, trying to remember what life was like then when he and Hutch weren’t lovers. Starsky remembered he was dating Jackie at that time, a waitress at a diner down the street from the precinct. She was fun and good in bed, but he’d felt empty when he was with her. Usually, no matter what girl he was with, he still missed being with Hutch. This was even true with his more serious relationships. He wondered how he’d lived all those years without the kind of love he now had with his partner. Yet if he felt that way, why did he continue to have dreams about Joan Meredith?

***

The party for Huggy was a small gathering of some of their mutual friends. Hutch could immediately see how uncomfortable his sister was with both Nick and Huggy there and not even being able to imbibe some liquid courage. On several occasions Nick tried to sweet-talk her into conversation, but Carolyn cut him off at every turn. Hutch caught Huggy looking at her more than once, an unreadable expression on his face. He hoped that both his sister and his friend would stay after the party broke up and talk.

A Billy Joel album played low on the stereo as the group sat in the living room having drinks and talking in small groups. Scott and Joey were there, as well as a few of Huggy’s friends, Wildcard and Boozer being two of the more colorful ones. Hutch could see the lines etched around Carolyn’s mouth growing deeper by the minute as Boozer regaled her with a story about the last time he was drunk in public, so he rescued her by asking for her help in the kitchen.

Hutch looked around for Starsky and spotted him out on the deck with Ginger and Ada, two of Huggy’s newest waitresses. He was obviously flirting, and although Hutch would’ve been surprised if that had not been the case, he couldn’t help but wonder if his partner missed the company of women, particularly in light of the reading  material he had found hidden in the bathroom.

“These are out of this world!” Carolyn was saying, her mouth full of Red Velvet cupcake. “They taste just like Aunt Estelle’s!”

“Thanks,” Hutch said, watching Starsky shift his hips in a way that displayed his ass to its best advantage.

“Ken!”

“Huh?” Hutch dragged his eyes away from Starsky and looked at his sister.

“You aren’t listening to me!”

“Yeah, I am! You said Red Velvet’s always been your favorite,” Hutch answered.

“That is what I said—five sentences ago! What’s got you so absorbed out on the deck?” She peered out the window and a knowing smile crept on her face. “Ah, I see. My big brother is jealous!”

“I am not!” Hutch snapped. “Listen, are you going to tell Huggy tonight, or not?”

Carolyn frowned, licking white icing off her lips.  “I’m not sure. I might wait a while. I’m not showing yet.”

Hutch leaned against the counter and sighed. “Do it tonight, or I’m doing it.”

“Ken!”

Hutch gave her a look that told her he wasn’t kidding. Wildcard, a man in his middle thirties with freckled, light mocha skin and an auburn afro, entered the kitchen and tossed his empty beer bottle in the trashcan. “Mind if I have one of those cupcakes, man? I hear they’re out of this world!”

“Sure,” Hutch offered him the plate, and he picked one up. When he bit into it, his eyes rolled back in his head rapturously.

“Wonderful! You ever make any chocolate ones?”

Hutch crossed to the refrigerator. “I made a batch of them this morning because they’re Starsky’s favorite.” He handed one to Wildcard. Carolyn took advantage of the distraction and slipped out of the room.

In the back hallway, she ran into Huggy coming out of the bathroom.

“Too much beer,” he commented, pausing. “You look beautiful, Carolyn.”

“Don’t,” she said, stopping in the bathroom doorway.

“Don’t what? Compliment you?” Huggy asked.

“That’s right.”

“Carolyn…”

Carolyn shut the door in his face. With a sigh, Huggy continued on into the kitchen.

“I want to see these pictures Starsky’s been taking of you two,” Huggy told Hutch. “Jeff has been talkin’ nonstop about them.” He swiped a cupcake off the plate. “Man, I can’t believe you made my favorites!” He took a bite of the red cupcake, licking the creamy icing off his upper lip and smiling.

“Starsk!” Hutch called out the kitchen window. “Hug wants to see your photos!”

Starsky slid open the door to the deck and came in, along with Ada and Ginger, who were giggling and each hanging onto one of Starsky’s arms. Boozer, Scott, and Joey entered from the living room. “We want to see ‘em, too,” Boozer said with a barely suppressed belch.

Starsky looked at his partner, silently asking his permission to show the pictures. Hutch smiled and nodded. He wanted their friends to know just how talented Starsky was. Hutch watched him happily lead them into his dark room and listened as everyone commented on the pictures. Hutch wasn’t comfortable enough to go in while they looked at them. Instead, he headed for the living room where Nick sat nursing a beer. Plastering a smile on his face, Hutch sat down and tried to make nice.

“Starsky’s taken some new photos,” he said.

“Are they of you?” Nick asked neutrally, studying his fingernails.

“Mostly. His best work seems to be nude studies, so I guess I’m going to have to get used to people looking at me. A few of them are us together, and he has some wonderful nature shots.”

Hutch was sure he saw Nick make a face before he covered it up with a cough. “He oughta take some pictures of those two ladies that’re hanging all over him. He’s always been good with the chicks.”

Carolyn entered the room and sat down beside her brother as Hutch bit back a caustic reply.

 “Hey, Hutch,” Nick suddenly said. “Why don’t you show me that fence you and Davey built?”

Surprise grappled with annoyance, but Hutch’s promise to himself to try to get along with Nick won out, and he agreed. Carolyn declined her brother’s invitation to join them and sat alone in the living room listening to Billy Joel belt out “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” She could hear the group in the dark room talking and laughing. She zeroed in on Huggy’s voice, loving the cadence of it. She sighed. If she didn’t tell him tonight, her brother was going to do it, and she had no doubt that he would. She knew she owed it to Huggy to tell him about the baby, but she dreaded doing it. What if he felt he had to marry her? Of course, she didn’t have to do anything she didn’t want to do, but she hated the idea of him feeling he had a responsibility to her.  What she longed for was for him to come to her himself and tell her he loved her, but that was never going to happen.

She sighed. She was so tired lately. She remembered the feeling from her first pregnancy. Suddenly she wanted nothing more than to go home and crawl into bed. She decided to get the unpleasant task of telling Huggy about the baby over with so she could do just that.

Standing up, she walked through the kitchen and into the dark room. She hesitated in the doorway a moment before calling to Huggy.

“Would you mind taking a little walk with me?” she asked. Huggy was visibly surprised, but agreed. He walked through the house with her and out the front door.

“I thought you didn’t want to talk to me,” he said as they headed toward the pond.

“I-I have to tell you something,” Carolyn said. She bit her lip, working up her courage.

Huggy stopped and turned around. “What is it, Carolyn? Just spill it.”

She closed her eyes tightly. “Huggy, I don’t want you to think I’m asking anything of you. But you deserve to hear this from me.” She opened her eyes and looked into his face. “I’m pregnant. It’s yours.”

The look on Huggy’s face was one of absolute shock. “What?”

“You heard me. I’m having your baby. And I don’t want you to feel like we have to be together because of it, because I know you don’t want to be with me. And I don’t think it’s right for two people to get together just for a baby. But I am having this baby, and you are its father, so I felt I should tell you. You can be as present or as absent in its life as you want to be.”

Huggy stared at her, dumbstruck. Finally, he licked his lips and said, “How did this happen?”

Carolyn barked out a humorless laugh. “You remember coming to my apartment and fucking me up against the wall? That’s how it happened.”

Huggy looked away. “And you’re sure that’s when you got pregnant?”

“Yes, dammit! If I wasn’t absolutely positive, I wouldn’t be telling you this now. It was the right time. We didn’t use protection. If you want a fucking paternity test, we’ll get one when the baby comes, but I bet it will be pretty obvious who the father is by then.”

Huggy looked at her, then down at his feet. “Man. This is just really a shock, you know?”

“Yeah, I’ve had a while to get used to it. I didn’t want to tell you—you should know that. Ken made me do it.”

Huggy’s eyes met hers, his flashing fire. “What makes a woman think that just because she carries the baby inside of her, it’s all right not to tell the man?”

Carolyn sighed. “Oh, I don’t know; what makes a man think it’s okay to run off and leave the woman with the sole responsibility of the baby?”

“I would never do that!”

Carolyn looked away. “I know that,” she finally said. “And that’s what scares me.” She turned and headed for the house, leaving Huggy to slowly follow her.

When Carolyn had gotten her purse from the hall closet, she called to Starsky that she was leaving. Huggy had disappeared onto the deck. Starsky came out of the kitchen with a chocolate cupcake in his mouth. “Why are you going so soon?” he asked, dark pieces of cake crumbling out the side of his mouth.

She kissed him on the cheek and wiped chocolate off his chin. “I’m tired. Thanks for inviting me. Tell Ken I’ll call him later, and that I did what he told me to do like a good little girl, so he can stop threatening me.” She headed out the door to her car.

Starsky looked at Huggy, who had come into the living room when he'd seen Carolyn leave. He finished chewing his cupcake and swallowed. “She tell you?” he asked.

Huggy nodded. “You knew?”

“Hutch told me yesterday. He’d promised Carolyn he wouldn’t tell you, but he let her know he would if she didn’t.”

“Man, I can’t believe this shit.” Huggy sat down in a chair.

“Never imagined being a father, did you, bro?”

Huggy shook his head.

“Happy birthday, Buddy,” Starsky said, patting him on the back. He looked around the room. “Where’s Hutch?”

“Outside.”

Starsky walked to the sliding glass door leading out to the deck and spotted Hutch and Nick out by the fence. He grinned. “Well, will wonders never cease? My brother and my best friend look like they’re having a civil conversation.”

Huggy joined him at the door. “That’s great, Starsky. I know that makes you happy.”

Starsky looked at him. “You don’t trust him either, do you, Hug?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think, my man. You’re his brother and know him better than we do. Hutch is obviously trying hard to forget his doubts.”

“Yeah, he is. He’s a pretty special guy.” Starsky blushed crimson at how soapy the words sounded, but Huggy just laughed and slapped him on the back.

“You’ve always been good for each other.”

The party wound down around eleven, and Huggy was the last to leave.

“I appreciate the little soiree, my brothers.”

“Glad to do it, Hug,” Starsky answered, putting a hand on his shoulder and squeezing. Hutch embraced his friend.

“Take care,” he told him. Huggy nodded and left.

After they’d cleaned up and headed upstairs, Starsky came out of the bathroom brushing his teeth to find Hutch lying in bed reading.

“Huggy looked like he was gonna pass out after Carolyn told him about the baby,” Starsky said through the toothpaste.

“I bet it blew him out of the water,” Hutch replied, turning a page. “He probably never expected something like that.” Starsky went back into the bathroom and spit, then rinsed his mouth. Turning out the light, he went over to his side of the bed and crawled in.

“The guys really liked the pictures of you,” Starsky said when he’d settled down. “The girls, too, of course. I had to be careful they didn’t drool on ‘em.” He smiled. Hutch put a piece of paper in his book to mark his place and set it on the night stand.  “I didn’t show the ones of us.”

“How come?” Hutch asked, wondering if Starsky might not want to confirm their suspicions on the exact nature of their relationship.

Starsky shrugged. “I don’t know.  I just didn’t.”

“I was too embarrassed to go in there,” Hutch admitted, turning off the lamp and scooting down in the bed.  He tried to ignore the little voice that was telling him Starsky didn’t want those waitresses to know he’s gay.

“I figured as much.” Starsky rolled onto his side, propping his head on his hand and looking at his lover beside him in the bed.

Hutch’s blue eyes peered shyly at him.  “I can’t help it, Starsk. It’s really embarrassing.”

“But most of ‘em don’t even show your cock. I like the pose where you’re all oiled up and I positioned you standing with your shoulders twisted off axis from your hips. It gives the look of fluid motion. Oh, and I love the one where you’re sitting with your knees up and your head on your arms. Neither of those show anything private --In fact, I think there’s only three or four that show full frontal nudity.”

“It’s not that I’m so embarrassed about my cock showing…” Hutch struggled to explain, “It’s just having people staring at me. Saying things, even though they’re good things. I don’t like the attention. I’ve never been comfortable with it.”

Starsky reached out and touched Hutch’s bare arm. “I’m sorry, Babe.”

Hutch smiled. “Nothing to be sorry about. It’s my problem, and I’ll deal with it. I’m the one who made the decision that it’s okay for you to sell the photos of me and of us, and I’m not going back on that. You’re very talented, Starsk.” He reached out and touched Starsky’s face. “I wanted our friends to see that—and I’m so proud of you.”

Starsky smiled, scooted toward Hutch in the bed, and kissed him softly on the lips. Leaning back, he studied his face. “Sometimes this all seems so surreal. You and me in bed together like this. Living together. The whole fact that we belong together like this. I don’t regret it, Hutch. Any of it. I want you to know that.”

Hutch smiled, feeling a little bit better than he had a moment ago. “I don’t regret it either.” He took his hand. “You’re everything to me.” Moving down in the bed and leaning in, he ran his tongue over Starsky’s nipple, licking it before taking it into his mouth and sucking. “Starsk?” he asked suddenly.

“Mmmm?” Starsky had closed his eyes and rested his head on the pillow.

“Do you miss being with women?”

“What?” Starsky opened one eye. “Why do you ask that?”

“I just wondered.” Hutch nibbled on the tiny nipple.

“I haven’t given it much thought,” Starsky gasped, clutching at the sheet.

Hutch’s hands moved over the indentation of his partner’s lean, muscled hips as he laid his head on his chest. Starsky ran his fingers through his hair. “Hey, what’s wrong?” he asked softly.

“Nothing,” Hutch said, kissing his stomach. “I had a good time tonight. Did you?”

“Sure,” Starsky said, continuing to card through the silky strands.

Hutch moved down lower in the bed, throwing off the covers.

Just seeing Hutch’s blond head between his legs was enough to stiffen Starsky, even before his hot mouth enveloped his cock. There was just something utterly erotic about his long-time partner on the streets sucking so eagerly on this dick…When he couldn’t stand the torture anymore, he nudged Hutch upward and onto his back, kissing him deeply before rising and positioning himself between his legs. Slowly, he ran his hands over Hutch’s bare chest, feeling every muscle with questing fingers. Hutch reached for the tube of lubricant and squeezed some onto his hands, then coated Starsky’s hardness with it, pulling and stroking with slippery fingers. Starsky gasped, tugged Hutch forward, spreading his legs wide, and slowly pushed into him, watching his lover’s face register his presence inside him, inch by inch. Hutch sighed contentedly, something he did often when Starsky moved inside him, and Starsky loved to hear it. Slowly, he started pumping, kissing the sole of Hutch’s foot before taking his three middle toes into his mouth, sucking on them, his eyes never leaving Hutch’s. Hutch moaned low in his throat, undulating against Starsky’s groin as he moved against him. Hutch brought his slippery hand to his own cock and stroked it as Starsky slid in and out of his body, breathing hard as the sensations grew stronger.

“Oh, God, Starsk…”

“Feel good?” Starsky asked hoarsely.

“Hell, yeah.” He gasped as Starsky hit his prostate with the tip of his cock and ran over it, back and forth, back and forth, until Hutch pleaded with him for release.

Starsky quickened his strokes, holding onto Hutch’s legs as he stabbed into him, gyrating his hips with each thrust. His own climax built, driven forward by the sight of his partner wantonly writhing on the bed, arching his back, his mouth open and eyes closed, pulling frantically at his cock with his hands until, with a cry of pleasure, it finally erupted onto his stomach. Starsky closed his eyes and gave himself over to sensation as every fiber in his body gathered into a tight knot, clinging briefly before blowing apart. He gave a couple more strokes and gasped, jerking with a second, residual orgasm, his body shuddering from the intensity of it. The sensation seemed to run through his cock and into his partner’s body, as Hutch gave an answering quake and moan.

Gently, Starsky disengaged from his partner and lay down beside him, pulling him close until their foreheads pressed together.

“I love you,” he rasped. Hutch was still breathing hard. He looked at Starsky and a single tear rolled from his eye. Starsky caught it with a kiss.

***

 

Starsky charged Jeff a couple of hundred for each picture, so he made a decent sum. Of course, the money had to go toward buying film and new equipment, but still, it was money they didn’t have to delve into their savings for.

One day soon after Huggy’s party, Hutch stayed behind while Starsky went to lunch with Nick. He thought he’d spend the sunny afternoon working on a flower bed by the front door. Dressed in his oldest clothes, he went into the shed to get the wheel barrow and his gardening tools, fumbling in the darkness for the chain that hung from the ceiling so he could turn on the light. Finding it, he gave  it a yank, but the light didn’t come on. Squinting in the dank , musty darkness, Hutch could just see that the bulb was missing. “How the hell did that happen?” he asked out loud. Deciding Starsky must have started to change it and then forgotten about it, he moved to the side, feeling for the wheelbarrow, which he left parked next to the wall, and suddenly tripped over three bags of dirt, landing in a sprawl across the floor of the shed, wrenching his back in the process. He lay there panting through the pain for long moments, wondering why in the hell the bags were out in the middle of the floor rather than piled neatly in the wheel barrow where he’d left them a week earlier. Wincing, he slowly rolled over and pulled himself to his feet. It took him three times longer than it normally would to get inside and onto the couch, where Starsky and Nick found him a couple of hours later.

“What the hell happened?” Starsky asked, sitting on the edge of the couch and putting a hand on Hutch’s leg. It was obvious by Hutch’s face that he was in a considerable amount of pain.

“I tripped over some bags of dirt in the shed and pulled the shit out of my back,” Hutch answered between clenched teeth. He left out the part about the light bulb, not wanting his partner to feel guilty about forgetting to change it.

“Gee, that’s too bad, Hutch,” Nick said with regret. “You won’t be able to go bowling with Davey and me. We just came back to get you.”

“I’m not goin’ and leaving Hutch here like this,” Starsky told him irritably.

“Go ahead, Starsk. Have fun,” Hutch told him. “Just get me the heating pad and one of my muscle relaxers, and I’ll be fine.”

Starsky looked dubiously at him, but did as he said, giving him a gentle kiss before heading out with Nick.

 

Several days later when Hutch’s back was feeling better and Nick was over watching a ball game with them, Hutch opted to go trim some limbs at the edge of the woods that jutted too far out into the yard. He’d been talking about doing it for days. Starsky was too afraid of heights to climb so high. He got the wooden extendable ladder from around back, locked it into place, and climbed up with the clippers.

A cooling breeze blew, and Hutch thought about how much more enjoyable this was for him than sitting inside and watching TV. Give him a physical task and the outdoors any day, and he was one happy man.

Just as he got close to the lowest branch of a pine, which was almost twenty feet off the ground, he heard a popping noise and felt the rung he’d just placed his foot on give way. Teetering precariously, the ladder began to sway away from him, and Hutch lunged toward the tree, dropping the clippers and making a grab for the nearest branch. Fortunately, it was one of the sturdier limbs of the old pine. Hutch made a grab for the ladder with his feet, trying to steady it and bring it back under his body, but it fell with a crash to the ground. Hutch found himself dangling eighteen feet above the hard ground without any branches to put his feet on. Feeling his hands slipping on the large limb he held onto, he let out a yell for help, hoping Starsky could hear him in the house over the ball game. As he dangled, he bent his knees and attempted to walk up the trunk enough to relieve his hands of his dangling weight, but he couldn’t stay that way for long. His feet slipped, and the movement sent him rocking precariously, his hands scraping raw on the rough bark.

“Starsky!” he yelled as loudly as he could. “Starsky!”

The branch creaked and bent a little, sending Hutch’s heart into overdrive. He looked down. The ground seemed a long way off, and the ladder had toppled directly underneath where he was hanging; taking a fall onto it would be more injurious than landing on the hard ground. His heart beat frantically in his chest.

“Starsky!” he yelled again, straining his throat muscles. “Help!” He thought he heard a noise and yelled again.

Just when he thought he couldn’t possibly hang on much longer, the sound of running feet reached his ears.

“My God, Hutch!” his partner’s voice sounded from the ground. He looked down to see Starsky and Nick struggling to get the ladder upright and underneath him. His hands were sweating profusely, and he was afraid he’d lose his grip on the limb.

“I—can’t hold on much—longer!” Hutch wheezed.

“Put your feet on a rung,” Nick directed, and Hutch struggled to do so. He finally gained purchase and balanced on the ladder. Starsky was already behind him, steadying him, despite his fear of heights, before helping him to slowly descend.

“Shit, Hutch, are you okay?” Starsky caught him in an embrace the moment they hit terra firma.

Hutch nodded against his shoulder. “Yeah. That’s a brand new ladder, and the rung broke off! I’d never noticed it being loose before.”

“We’ll return it and demand a new one,” Starsky told him. “I wish you wouldn’t climb up there with nobody with you, Hutch. Think what could’ve happened if Nick hadn’t heard you over the TV!”

‘I kept thinking it was the crowd at the game,” Nick told them. “Then I got up and opened the door and heard you again.”

“Thanks, Nick.” Hutch patted his back. His own back was killing him. Starsky helped him inside, got him his muscle relaxers and some water, and made him lie down in bed. He could hear the two brothers yelling at the television set as he drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, Hutch’s back was a little better. He showered and got ready to go to the store for the week’s groceries. “Aren’t you gonna shave?” Starsky asked, watching Hutch tie his shoe laces.

Hutch reached up and felt his beard. “I didn’t think I needed to.”

“You’re looking a little Grizzly Adams-esque.”

Hutch laughed. “I don’t think I could look like Grizzly Adams if I left off shaving for a year. But maybe you’re right—I do need to shave.” He stood and went to the bathroom, looking for his electric razor. Starsky never used it, preferring disposable razors, but evidently he’d straightened up the bathroom and put it somewhere different. Finally finding it, he unwound the cord and plugged it in the outlet by the sink. The moment the prongs entered the socket, a jolt of mind-numbing fire zipped up his arm, through his body, and down to his feet. He let out a yell, dropping the razor as the lights flickered and went out. Starsky was immediately beside him.

“What happened?” he asked, looking at his white-faced, shaking partner with concern.

“The razor,” Hutch panted, clutching at his still-fluttering heart. “I-it shocked me. Pretty bad.” He clenched his shirt in his fist. Wrapping an arm around him, Starsky led Hutch to the bedroom and carefully lowered the quivering man to the bed. “You all right?”

Hutch covered his face with his hands. “Just…just give me a minute.” He took several long, deep breaths while Starsky rubbed his back soothingly.

“Starsky, I’m beginning to think someone’s trying to hurt me.” Hutch whispered after a moment.

“Whaddya mean, Babe?” Starsky sat close to him and smoothed the hair back behind Hutch’s ear.

Hutch turned his face to look at him. “First that fall in the shed. Stuff had been moved around. The bags of dirt—did you touch them?” When Starsky shook his head, Hutch brought a shaking hand to his mouth and rubbed it. “Then the ladder rung broke…a brand new ladder we’ve only used a few times, and the rungs were never loose before. And now this.”

“How could somebody get to your razor?” Starsky asked. “And what could they do to it to make it shock you?”

“Starsky, I don’t know how they got in, but I think it was rewired to shock me!”

Starsky looked at his partner with concern, but Hutch could see the doubt in his eyes. “I don’t know, Hutch. I mean…couldn’t it just be a series of coincidences? Even if somebody with a vendetta came after you, why would he go to all this trouble? Why not just shoot you in the head when you walked out the front door?” Starsky couldn’t help wincing as he spoke the words, the thought of such a thing happening too awful to contemplate.

Hutch shook his head. “I don’t know.” His heartbeat slowed down a little as he took several deep breaths. He rubbed at the small of his back, which he’d pulled when he jumped from the shock. “I guess I’ll forget the shave and go to the store.”

 “Forget it. You rest; I’ll go. Lie down.” Starsky moved away from the bed. Hutch didn’t argue. The incident had left him more than shaken--He was scared. He had a terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach that someone was out to get him, and he didn’t want to dwell on who he thought that someone might be. He allowed Starsky to remove his shoes and help him up to the head of the bed.

“You just rest until I get back.” Starsky spread a quilt over Hutch and smoothed back his hair. “Do you want me to stay here for a while?” He looked worriedly down at him.

“No. I’m okay, really.”

Starsky put a hand over Hutch’s heart. “Is your heart beating regularly? You were clutching at it before.”

Hutch swallowed. The fluttering of his heartbeat had frightened him, but he didn’t want to unduly worry his partner. “It wasn’t bad. Yeah, I’m fine. Go on.”

“I’ll flip the breaker on my way out.” Starsky smiled and leaned down to kiss him gently. “I’m sorry you’ve been having so much bad luck, Babe.” Patting him on the shoulder, Starsky turned and made a pit stop the bathroom, shutting off the light switch. Hutch heard the sound of his electric razor hitting the trash can and then Starsky’s footsteps on the stairs. The garage door closed.

Bad luck. Hutch wished it were only back luck, but instincts told him otherwise. Somebody was trying to scare him, and if they injured or killed him in the process, he had the feeling they were willing to live with that. And what would be next? He could only think of one person who could be doing this to him. Starsky was right; no ex-con would take the time and the risk of going through all this trouble. Only one person wanted him gone and had access to their house, and voicing that concern to Starsky wasn’t something he could do lightly. He had to have proof, but waiting for that proof could very well get him killed. He didn’t really think that Nick would try to murder him; it was more likely he wanted to scare him and somehow make him look bad in front of Starsky. But Hutch didn’t trust the punk not to kill him by accident.

His back ached. He rolled over onto his side, trying to alleviate the pain. He wished he could talk to Starsky about Nick, but his partner was too blind where his brother was concerned. Hutch was just going to have to be really careful from then on.

 

***

Nick sauntered into the house and helped himself to a beer from the fridge. Starsky watched him as he finished dusting the dining room table.

“What’s up?” he asked, putting the dust cloth under the kitchen sink.

“I just had an interesting conversation with Carolyn,” Nick said, leaning against the counter. “She says she’s pregnant with Huggy’s baby.”

“I heard,” Starsky said, looking at his brother sympathetically. “Sorry, man. That must’ve hurt.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Nick said. “I suppose it’s for the best—Carolyn and I are from two different worlds. How could we expect to have the kind of relationship that would still be solid twenty years down the road? It’s better the baby isn’t mine.”

Starsky remained silent. Finally, Nick asked where Hutch was.

“He’s lying down. His back’s been hurting so much, I convinced him to take a muscle relaxant.”

“Do you think that’s wise? He’s been taking them a lot lately. Couldn’t he be getting hooked?”

“What? Of course not! Hutch only takes those when he’s in really bad pain, and he’s wrenched his back several times in the last few weeks.”

“Is that why you’re so crabby lately?” Nick asked pointing the neck of his beer bottle at him before taking a swig.

Starsky ran a hand through his curls. “If you really wanna know, Nicky,” he answered irritably, “I haven’t had much of an outlet lately, what with Hutch either in pain or zonked out on muscle relaxants.”

Nick hid his repulsion. “Sorry to hear that, bro. Maybe he’ll feel better soon.” Not.

He went to the living room and took a seat on the couch. Starsky followed him and took a seat opposite. “Sold any more of your photos?”

Starsky was distracted. “Huh? No, no I haven’t.”

Nick slapped his brother on the back. “Pretty soon you’ll be sellin’ them like hotcakes, bro! Your photographs are terrific. Not that you need to do that to make money. I tell you what, you got it made here with Hutch supporting you.”

Starsky gave him a murderous look. “He’s not supportin’ me, Nick.”

Nick was all innocence. “He’s not? Oh. Sorry. I thought he came into a lot of money when his pop died, and you guys were living offa that. It’s cool, whatever.”

“The whole reason I’m getting into photography is to earn money doing something I love, just like I loved being a cop!” Starsky jumped up off the couch, agitated. “Don’t you have somewhere you need to be?”

Nick casually rose and grabbed his jacket off the coat rack. “Sure, yeah. I gotta work early in the morning, and I’m beat from last night with Stacy. Man, she’s a real looker.” He made an hourglass figure in the air with his hands and winked. “One of the Starsky brothers got some and good! And her tata’s!” He shook his head. “Man, oh man. Well, you know what a handful of those feel like.” He stopped and considered. “Well, you remember what they feel like. See ya, bro.” He patted his brother on the back and went out the door, turning at the last minute. “Don’t forget we’re goin’ to the movies tomorrow night! My treat. I’ll pick ya up.”

After Nick left, Starsky sat in the dark nursing his beer. When the clock on the mantel struck midnight, he headed upstairs. He stood over the bed for a long time just staring at his partner sleeping so deeply. He was worried about Hutch. He was suffering with his back, and his judgment seemed to be impaired lately. He kept getting hurt, and Starsky couldn’t help but wonder if he just wasn’t being careful. Had he perhaps touched the prongs when he plugged in his razor? Or gotten it wet somehow? Or had it just been a freak accident? And what about the ladder? He should never have been climbing it alone in the first place. Starsky shuddered to think what might have happened if Hutch hadn’t been able to get a grip on the limb and hold on. Falling down in the shed could’ve happened to anyone. So why was Hutch being so paranoid about it?

Slipping off his clothes, he walked to the other side of the bed and climbed in, scooting close enough to Hutch to feel the warmth emanating off his body. He loved his partner with a ferocity that scared him sometimes. They hadn’t had sex in a week, and his body ached for him. Hutch was in a deep, drug-induced sleep. Starsky reached under the covers and grabbed hold of his own stiff cock, pulling on it. He tried to come up with an appropriate fantasy to bring himself off quickly, but couldn’t latch hold of one. The memory of his one night with Joan Meredith surfaced, and he tried to push it away, but he grew harder as the recollection of her slim body and high, pert tits insinuated itself into his mind. The way she rode him, making little whimpering noises the whole time, egging him on with whispered dirty words.

When he came into his hand, Starsky wiped himself off with tissues, thinking soon he was going to have to replace the box, and settled down to sleep. Hutch rolled over, his face only inches away. Starsky felt guilty for thinking about Joan in their bed; he hadn’t meant to. Thinking about her while jacking off was different than dreaming about her; he couldn’t help what he dreamed. Reaching out, he traced Hutch’s bottom lip with his finger, an ache in his heart building as love overwhelmed him. Hutch had been so many things to him over the years: friend, partner, brother, lover. He absolutely couldn’t be without him. More than anything, he wanted to be held by the man he loved, but Hutch was so out of it, Starsky knew he wouldn’t get his wish. He settled for grasping Hutch’s hand in his as he tried to fall asleep.

It took a long time.

***

The following morning Hutch seemed well-rested.

“Your back better today, Babe?” Starsky asked as he pushed scrambled eggs onto two plates with a spatula.

“Much,” Hutch smiled. “I’m glad, too, because I’d decided not to take any more muscle relaxants. I hate the way they make me feel.”

“You’ve certainly been out of it for a while.” Starsky put the plates on the table while Hutch filled two cups with coffee.

“It feels like it. This past week’s been a blur.” Hutch sat down across from Starsky. “What have you got going on today?”

Starsky began eating his eggs and toast. “Not a lot.” He looked at Hutch, Nick’s words of the night before nudging at him. “Hutch, do you feel like I’m living offa you?”

Hutch put his fork down with a clatter. “What? No! Where the hell would you get that idea?”

Starsky shrugged. “I just feel kinda useless sitting here not making any money.”

“You’re making more than I am. You sold those pictures of us,” Hutch pointed out .

“And I shoulda paid you for posing for them,” Starsky said reasonably.

Hutch sighed. “Buddy, it all goes to the same place anyway—our joint account.  I’m just saying if anybody needs to be thinking about earning some money, it’s me, not you. You’re a talented photographer, and I want you putting all your attention on that.”

Starsky’s heart warmed at his words.  “Gees, Hutch, you’re talented at lotta things too. You can play the guitar and piano and you can sing. You’re great with plants, and you speak Spanish fluently. There’s plenty of ways you can earn money if you want to.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, but I don’t see how I can use any of those things to make any money. With this back, I certainly can’t work in landscaping. I don’t like performing in front of people, and speaking Spanish doesn’t help unless I want to teach, and I’ve already vetoed that due to our lifestyle.” He went back to eating his eggs.

Starsky leaned back in his chair. “What if you started your own business? Like a music store…or a plant store.”

Hutch drank his coffee and considered it. “I think it’s awfully hard getting a business off the ground,” he said after a while.

“Yeah, but if anybody can do it, you can. Maybe we can do it together. I’ve been thinking that maybe I should look at my photography in a more realistic way. Advertise it out—do portraits of kids or something. Meanwhile, if you have a plant shop, I could hang my photos in there for people to see.”

Hutch thought it over. “It might work. Let’s think on it a while.”

After breakfast, Starsky went to the dark room to develop some film. He hung the sign on the door preventing anyone from walking in and exposing them to the light. Lady had come into the house and she was pawing at the back door, whining.

“What is it, girl? No, you don’t need to go out there.” Hutch got her leash and took her out back and into the fenced area. When he returned to the house, he washed the dishes, straightened the kitchen and started some laundry, then picked up his guitar and played a few songs. What kind of store would he most like to open? Music? Plants? Books, maybe? If he chose books, Starsky would be interested, too. He was a big reader; their closet was stuffed with paperbacks.

He played a few more chords before beginning to strum in earnest. He began singing “The Letter” by the Box Tops.

 

Gimme a ticket for an aeroplane

Ain’t got time to take a fast train

Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home

‘Cause my baby just wrote me a letter


Starsky came out of the kitchen, smiling. He sat down on the couch across from Hutch to listen.

 

Don’t care how much money I gotta spend

Got to get back to my baby again

Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home

‘Cause my baby just wrote me a letter


Starsky crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back into the sofa and enjoying Hutch’s voice. His partner didn’t sing often enough, in his opinion.

 

Well she wrote me a letter said she couldn’t live without me no more

Listen, Mister, can’t you see, I got to get back to my baby once more?

Anyway, yeah gimme a ticket for an aeroplane

I ain’t got time to take a fast train

Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin home

‘Cause my baby just wrote me a letter


Starsky sang the repeat with him. When the song was over, Hutch put the guitar down, wincing slightly when the movement caused a twinge in his lower back. Starsky stood and went to him, putting his hand against his cheek.  “I could listen to you for hours,” he said softly before bringing his lips to his. Hutch wrapped his arms around him and sank into the kiss, drawing Starsky’s tongue into his mouth and sucking on it. Starsky’s hands moved up under Hutch’s shirt and skimmed over his smooth skin. “I’ve missed you,” he said into his mouth, and Hutch drew him closer.

They made love on the floor, slowly and intensely. Hutch felt as though he were falling into something deep and wonderful as sensation upon sensation overtook him. Starsky played him so well; he knew exactly where and how to touch him. Hutch rose on waves of feeling as his partner entered him, filled him, moved within him, rolling him on a sea of desire. He called out Starsky’s name as he started to shatter around him, his body trembling. He gripped the carpet with his fingers as he went over the edge, and Starsky soon followed with a low moan.

They lay on the beige shag, both of their pants around their knees, catching their breath. Starsky ran his hands up under the front of Hutch’s shirt, tracing his abs and dipping into his wide navel. Moving his head up off his partner’s shoulder, he kissed Hutch softly, tracing his lips with the tip of his tongue.

“Why don’t we go check out some greenhouses around here? Just see what kind of stuff they sell. And maybe we can look in a music store or two. I wonder how many are in the area?”

Hutch rubbed his nose against Starsky’s. “I was thinking about a book store. Would you be interested in that?”

Starsky grinned. “Yeah! That’s a great idea!”

They rested a few more minutes, and Hutch remembered something he’d meant to ask Starsky.

“Starsk, the light bulbs are in the pantry. Did you mean to change the one out in the shed?”

“No, why?” Starsky turned his head on the carpet and looked at him.

“That day I tripped…the bulb was missing, so it was really dark. I figured you’d taken it out, meaning to change it.”

Starsky frowned, getting to his feet. “No. I’ve haven’t even been in the shed in ages.” He reached down to help Hutch up. “Come on, my love. Let’s go wash off a little and then go out for a while. Nick wants me to go see a horror flick with him tonight, by the way. You wanna come?”

“I don’t think so, Starsk, but thanks anyway. I’m going to catch up on some reading.” Hutch mused over what Starsky had said. It was weird that a light bulb had not burned out, but gone completely missing. Too weird. But he didn’t want to spoil their day by bringing up his suspicions.

Later that day, after the two men had returned from perusing book stores and other shops, Starsky changed his shirt and got ready for the movies.

“You’ve ruined more shirts by spilling stuff on them,” Hutch said, eyeing the mustard stain on the red pull-over Starsky had just taken off. He followed him down the stairs, telling him he was going to buy him a bib for Christmas. The doorbell rang, and Starsky let Nick in.

“Hey, bro! Ready to see the movie?” he asked.

“Yeah. You sure look happy.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Starsky asked. “We just got back from a great day looking around shops and stuff. We’re thinking of opening a business—not sure what kind yet. And we had a great lunch at that foot-long hot dog place that just opened in Venice.”

“And Starsky got most of his on his shirt,” Hutch held up the red shirt with the prominent yellow stain. “I’m going to try to get this out while you’re gone, Starsk.”

“You sure look like you feel better, Hutch,” Nick observed.

“I do, thanks, Nick,” Hutch smiled.

“Well, I gotta go to the john before we leave,” Nick announced, heading up the hall. When he was sure his brother and Hutch were occupied in the living room, he crept past the bathroom and quietly opened the back door. Reaching down into the corner by the concrete steps, he pulled out the bag he’d put there the night before. He’d gotten a friend to procure this little beauty for him. Silently, he crossed over to the laundry closet and the dryer. Nimbly, he opened the bag and tossed in the whole thing before shutting the door. “Perfect,” Nick said, smiling. With any luck, Hutch would spend that night in the hospital.

He hurried back down the hall, stopping in the bathroom to flush the toilet and wash his hands.

“Let’s go, bro!” he said to Starsky when he re-entered the living room. He’d caught his brother and his lover in yet another clinch. Didn’t they ever quit?

“Okay, sure,” Starsky stepped back and gave Hutch’s ass a slap before following his brother out the door. “See you in a few hours, Babe,” he called.

Hutch waved and took another look at the stain. With a sigh, he headed for the laundry room.

In the car, Nick whistled a happy tune. “Hey,” he said after a few moments. “Remember those great apple pies Ma used to make?”

“Yeah,” Starsky’s stomach growled just thinking about the perfectly flakey crust and the juicy, seasoned apples. “Wonder if she’d make one?”

“I doubt it,” Nick said. “All she thinks about is that boyfriend of hers and the poetry readings she’s started going to. She’s changed so much since Pop died. Mainly in the last coupla years. Seems like it’s been ever since she became friends with Hutch’s mother, you notice that?” Nick glanced at his brother in the seat next to him.

“What’re you getting at, Nick?” Starsky asked.

“Nothing. Just that she’s changed.”

“Everybody changes.”

At the theater, Starsky was getting popcorn when he felt a tap on his shoulder. Turning around, he was surprised to see Joan Meredith.

“Joan! Hi, how’re you?”

“I’m good, Dave! You and Hutch here to see a movie?”

“Naw, I’m here with my brother.” He indicated Nick, who was looking at a movie poster across the room.

“What’re you here to see?” Joan asked. Starsky felt uncomfortable seeing her after his jack-off session. Joan looked good in a tight navy tank top, short-shorts, and wedged shoes that brought her just about to his height.

“Uh, we’re seeing Motel Hell. What about you? You here with someone?”

“Yeah, my friend, Cathy. We’re seeing the same movie! Want to sit with us?”

“Sure,” Starsky said. What else could he say? They went and joined Nick, then waited for Cathy to come out of the ladies room. She was a tall blonde with a pretty smile and cute figure. Nick immediately turned on the charm. Starsky wasn’t surprised when he sat on the other side of her rather than by him.

“I hope Nicky’s not coming on too strong with your friend,” he whispered to Joan as the previews began.

“Aw, no. I’m sure she’s just eating it up,” Joan replied. “She’s only here with me because she didn’t have a date.” They chatted about people they knew mutually from work until the movie started and then fell quiet. Starsky wondered if Joan was wearing a bra. He didn’t think so; her pert little tits were sticking out. He purposely brushed one with his elbow as she shared her popcorn with him, and he heard her sharp intake of breath. Down Davey, he thought as his cock grew in his jeans.

There were moments in the film when Joan latched onto Starsky’s arm, reminding him of the many times he’d taken a date to a horror film just so she would do just that. It felt odd being here with her like this, but good, too. It had been so long since he’d been out with a woman. She smelled really good sitting beside him, and he couldn’t help but like how protective he felt over her when parts of the movie had her clutching at him.

As soon as the show ended, Starsky thought of his partner at home and announced that he was tired. Nick wanted the four of them to go out to a bar, but Starsky nixed the idea.

“Come on, Dave!” Nick hissed into his ear. “What’s it gonna hurt you to have a few drinks with your friend Joan while I talk up Cathy?”

Starsky rolled his eyes, giving in, but insisted on going to The Pits, where he felt less like he was having some kind of clandestine meeting with a woman. They got a table and ordered some beer. Huggy spotted them, giving Starsky a look that made him feel even more guilty. He wondered if Huggy had been with Joan since the fourth of July party, and the thought didn’t sit well with him. Joan kept touching Starsky on the arm when she spoke to him, and Starsky tried to remember if she always did that, or if she was really flirting with him. After the last time, when Starsky had laid out in no uncertain terms the fact that he was with Hutch and planning to stay with Hutch, he shouldn’t have to worry that she was misinterpreting the way the evening had turned out. But he’d been doing his fair share of flirting with her that night, and she knew it.

Starsky was beginning to wish he and Nick had taken separate cars. His brother showed no sign of wanting to leave any time soon. Joan’s bare leg kept brushing up against his, and he was squirming in his seat. Finally, Starsky insisted.

“Nick, I gotta get home.” He stood. “It’s been fun, Joan. Cathy.” He nodded at the blond. Joan gave Starsky a look that was so knowing, he had to glance away. Nick reluctantly stood, said his goodbyes, and followed his brother out the door.

“What is your problem? Are you afraid Hutch is at home staring at the clock or something?”

“Shut up, Nick. I didn’t want to go to the bar in the first place. Things are weird between me and Joan, okay? I was uncomfortable sitting there with her.”

“Well you coulda waited another half hour or so. Gees.”

They got into Nick’s MG and started for Starsky’s.

“Wasn’t Cathy hot? I really think she’s into me. I got her number.”

“That’s great.” Starsky’s mind wasn’t on what he was saying. He wanted to get home; it was even later than he thought. He should’ve excused himself and called Hutch from The Pits. He hoped he wasn’t worried.

When they pulled up to the house, Nick insisted on going inside with him. “I gotta use the john,” he told him. “I drank all that beer.”

The house was quiet. “Hutch must’ve gone to bed,” Starsky said.

Nick headed to the bathroom. As he entered the hallway, Hutch stepped out of the shadows, startling him.

“Jesus Christ, Hutch!”

“Surprised to see me standing upright?” Hutch asked in a steely voice.

“W-what’re you talking about? I just came in to go to the bathroom.”

In a lightning move, Hutch slammed Nick into the wall. “I found the present you left me in the dryer,” he growled.

“What present?” Nick looked into the hard blue eyes and panicked. “Davey!” he called, and Hutch’s hand came up around his throat.

“You lying little son of a bitch!” Hutch growled. “I am sick of your games! I want you out of here!”

Starsky appeared in the hallway. “What’s goin’ on? Hutch?” He stood staring at his partner with his fingers digging into his brother’s neck.

Hutch didn’t turn his head. His eyes never left Nick’s. “Your brother left a gift for me in our dryer, Starsk. A Southern Pacific Rattler. And just when I was about to do the laundry!”

“What?” Starsky looked at Nick.

“I don’t know what he’s talking about, Davey, I swear!”

“Swearing doesn’t mean two cents coming out of your mouth, you little shit!” Hutch yelled.

“Let go of him, Hutch,” Starsky took his partner by the arm. “He’s leaving, aren’t you, Nick?”

“He put that snake in there, knowing I was about to do the laundry! He was hoping it would bite me. Weren’t you, you little weasel? You were hoping I’d be dead or close to it when you got back.”

Nick’s face was turning red above Hutch’s hands.

“Hutch, let go of him,” Starsky demanded, pulling hard on his arm.

Hutch tightened his hold and then let go.

“Get out of here, and never set foot back in this house!”

Nick scurried backward toward the front door. Hutch stood seething, eyes fiery and fists clenched at his sides. His face was stark white.

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Nick,” Starsky said without looking back.

When the door closed behind him, Starsky stroked Hutch’s arm with his hand, the look on his partner’s face scaring him almost as much as the thought of a highly venomous snake having been so close to him. “Tell me what happened.”

Hutch crumpled like a marionette whose strings had been cut. He walked trembling into the living room, Starsky close behind. Taking a seat on the couch, Hutch put his head in his hands.

“What happened, Babe?” Starsky asked, rubbing the back of Hutch’s neck.

“I-I had soaked and washed your shirt. I opened the dryer and almost stuck my hand in. I came so close to doing it, t-to get the clean clothes out. But something stopped me. I don’t know what. I looked in, and there it was. A snake. A big snake. It started shaking its rattle at me. I slammed the door.”

Starsky’s eyes were wide. “Is it still in there?” He glanced toward the hall and the laundry closet.

Hutch shook his head. “I got someone from animal control to come get it. Had to call in a favor, because they were closed.” He took a deep breath and looked at Starsky. “I’m sorry, Starsk. I know you love your brother, but he hates me. He wants to get rid of me.”

Starsky swallowed, choosing his words carefully. “Hutch, I admit that all this stuff that’s been happening to you is a little weird, especially this snake thing. But—why Nick? He’s accepted us. I mean, I know he doesn’t love the idea that we’re together, but he isn’t trying to get between us. He wouldn’t try to hurt you—“

“Why do you say that, Starsky?” Hutch turned to face him, his eyes face pleading. “A few months ago you were more than willing to believe he’d hired those guys to beat the shit out of me. Now you act like there’s no way he could be behind any of this stuff. Do you really think it was just a coincidence that Nick invited Bart here and the guy drugged me? Joan Meredith told me that Nick wasn’t the slightest bit concerned about the fact that I was acting funny that night. Not until you walked up, that is.”

“You been talking to people about my brother?” Starsky asked guardedly.

“I talked to Joan about him, because she’s the one who was there that night. She was concerned about me and couldn’t find you, so she went to Nick. He blew it off, saying I was drunk. Then you walked up, and he was suddenly all worried. And this stuff that’s been happening lately, Starsk! Me falling in the shed, and…”

“How is you falling down in the shed my brother’s fault?”

“You said you didn’t take that bulb out, so who did? It was so dark, I couldn’t see the dirt that had been moved from the wheelbarrow to the middle of the floor. I’m positive I didn’t move it. And if I didn’t, and you didn’t, then who did?!” Seeing Starsky wasn’t taking him seriously, he went on. “And what about the rung of the ladder breaking when I was twenty feet above the ground, huh? He knew I’d been talking about trimming those branches.”

“Nick’s the one who heard you yelling when the ladder broke,” Starsky pointed out. “If it weren’t for him, you would’ve fallen!”

“He was just covering for himself,” Hutch replied testily.

“Hutch, that doesn’t make any sense.”

“He wants you to doubt me!” Hutch insisted. “He’s planned all this out!”

“Seems a little elaborate for my brother, if you ask me.”

Hutch leaned back and stared at his partner. “You don’t believe me.”

“I believe that something’s going on. Someone may be trying to hurt you. I believe that you believe it’s Nick. But I don’t believe it is.”

“Starsky, it is Nick! I just know it is. Who else could it be? He has access to our house!”

“What about Bart? Maybe he’s mad about what happened. I heard he was fired from his job.”

“When did he put the snake in the dryer? How’d he get in here to do that and to mess with the razor? How would he know I’d use it and not you? Who in the hell besides your brother knows you prefer a disposable razor?”

“Just about every stewardess who flies the friendly skies,” Starsky answered reasonably.

“You think a stewardess is out to get me? Starsky, you haven’t been with a lot of women in the last couple of years.”

“Maybe not, but if it was Bart, he could’ve picked the lock. He might’ve not cared who got hurt—you or me. I roughed him up pretty good that night. I’m tellin’ you, Hutch. You’re giving Nick too much credit. He just isn’t clever enough to do all this.”

Hutch pointed a finger at him. “Don’t underestimate him, Starsky. Your brother has street smarts, and when he wants something, he goes after it. And what he wants is me out of your life.”

“So he’s willing to murder you? ‘Cause that’s what you’re accusing him of, Hutch.”

“He wants to scare me and make me look bad. I think he wanted that snake to bite me. He probably doesn’t even know the difference between one venomous snake and another. His ignorance is what’s going to get me killed if he keeps playing these games.”

Starsky stood up from where he’d been sitting on the back of the sofa. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore, Hutch. I’m tired.”

“I don’t want him back here, Starsky. You go visit him at his place, but I don’t want him here. I’m serious about that.”

Starsky stared at his partner for long moments before nodding. “Okay. If that’s what you want.” He climbed the stairs to go to bed. “Are you coming?” he asked when he’d reached the landing.

“I’m too worked up to go to bed,” Hutch said irritably. “I’ve been sitting here for hours just stewing over this. What took you so long? The movie had to have been over by nine!”

“We ran into Joan and her friend Cathy. Nick wanted to take them for a drink after the movie.”

“I see.” Hutch’s face froze over.

“No, Hutch, you don’t see.” Starsky took a step down.

“Starsky, who are you fooling here? Certainly not me. I know you’ve been wanting to sleep with Joan.” When Starsky opened his mouth to protest, Hutch held up his hand. “No, hear me out. When we started this relationship, I’d had some time to think about it; you didn’t. You never made that decision to leave women behind like I did. I don’t want you wanting something you aren’t getting.”

Starsky snorted, descending the stairs. “What exactly are you sayin’, Hutch? You want me to bring a woman into our bed?”

Hutch looked into his eyes. “Do you want that?”

Starsky turned away abruptly. “Hutch, I don’t understand what you want me to say! Yes, I sometimes think of having sex with a woman. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed, and I can’t just turn it off!”

“Then you should do it,” Hutch told him.

Starsky swung back around to face him. “I’m not gonna go out and use some lady just because I want to have sex with a woman.”

“Why not? It wouldn’t be the first time you’ve had meaningless sex. Starsky, is it something you want? Is it something that’s going to build and fester inside you? Because if it is, I’d rather you take care of it now.”

“And what if sleeping with a woman doesn’t take care of it? What if I just want it again and again, huh?”

“Well, if that’s the case, then maybe we shouldn’t be together.”

“I can’t believe you’re saying this!” Starsky ran a hand through his hair. “What’s gotten into you? Is it the strain you’re under? Worried about these things that have been happening?”

“Starsk, these things have been attempts on my life. And you and I both know that there’s only one person who’s had access to our house while this’s been going on. Nick took out the bulb and moved the dirt in the shed. He intentionally weakened one of the highest rungs on the ladder.”

“Do you know how ridiculous this sounds?”

“And he has been here a lot this week and could’ve hidden that snake somewhere anytime, then gone to put it in the dryer after I said I’d be doing laundry while you were gone. In fact, the dog had been going crazy at the back door…he probably hid it somewhere out there! It would’ve been easy for him to get it and slip it into the dryer.”

“Hutch, this is nonsense.”

Hutch shook his head. “No it isn’t, Starsky. Think like a cop and not like a big brother. Nick despises me for a lot of things, including what our relationship has become. He told me so months ago. You really think he did a big turn-around in so little time? He wants me out of your life! You used to be able to see it; why can’t you now?”

Starsky threw his hands up in the air. “I gotta get outta here.” He grabbed his car keys and headed out the door.

Hutch slumped against the couch, feeling defeated. Rather than sit around and stew, he decided to go see Huggy. He got into the Camaro and drove, his mind a cyclone of thoughts. He was still shaken up  from opening his dryer to find a large, rattling viper, and although Starsky hadn’t given him any flack about kicking Nick out, he was far from believing his brother was trying to hurt him. It was like he’d been completely blinded once Nick had made the move to California.

The Pits was closed, but when Hutch tapped on the door, Huggy appeared and opened it.

“What it is, my blond brother? What’re you doing out this late at night when you could be home with that handsome, hairy man of yours?”

Hutch walked passed him and waited while Huggy relocked the door.

“That handsome hairy man has been out with a woman tonight,” Hutch said crabbily. He took a seat at the bar.

“Only Joan Meredith. She’s just a friend, right?” Huggy went behind the bar and poured his friend a cold beer.

Hutch raised a brow. “How did you know it was Joan?”

“Because they came here.”

Hutch looked into his beer and sighed. “I know he got roped into it by his brother, but sometimes I wonder if Starsky misses women.”

“Do you?” Huggy asked, pulling a stool up to the other side of the bar and regarding him thoughtfully.

“Miss them? No, I really don’t. But Hug, I had feelings for Starsky long before he had them for me…or at least realized he had them. I had a lot of time to think about it and to say goodbye to my former sexuality. Starsky was blindsided by it last Christmas, and he hasn’t been with a woman since.”

“So what are you thinking? I hope that blond brain of yours isn’t considering sacrificing your relationship so your partner can go have a one-night stand and get things out of his system.”

Hutch blushed to the roots of his hair.

“I thought as much,” Huggy shook his head. “That would be really stupid, my man. Listen to the Bear, and don’t go that route.”

Hutch looked up at him. “Too late.”

Huggy sighed. “Aw, shit, Hutch. Why do you invite pain into your life like this?”

Hutch sighed and rubbed his eyes. He was so tired. “There’s something else, Hug.”

“Yeah? Lay it on me.”

“I think I told you about the razor incident?”

Huggy nodded.

“Well, tonight I found a poisonous snake in my dryer.”

Huggy’s mouth dropped open. “No shit? Damn! What kinda sicko are you dealing with here?”

Hutch met his gaze. “I think you know. A really dumb one. Nick is the only one with access to our house, but Starsky just won’t see it.”

“Do you think he’s tryin’ to kill you?” Huggy’s look was incredulous.

“No. I think he’s just trying to scare me, but he might kill me in the process. He’s more than just angry because I’m with his brother. ..I think Caro’s dumping him hit his ego hard. When I talked to her yesterday on the phone, she said she’d told him about the baby and assured him it wasn’t his. I bet he was relieved, but also mad as hell that she was with you while they were together.”

“Well, then you’d figure he’d be after me,” Huggy reasoned.

“I doubt it. Caro’s my sister, and all blame eventually falls on me.”

Huggy shook his head and looked away. “Hutch, ever since Carolyn told me about the baby, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking.”

“Yeah?” Hutch said, taking a sip of beer. “Huggy, Carolyn is serious when she says she doesn’t want you to feel like you have to be with her because of the baby.”

“I think you know that I’m in love with your sister, Hutch,” Huggy said levelly, looking him in the eyes. “I broke up with her because I saw big problems ahead for the two of us. But now there’s a baby in the mix, and hell…the kid deserves two parents. That’s more than I had growing up.”

Hutch didn’t know a lot about his friend’s childhood, but he had always intuited that it had been rough.

“So what are you saying, exactly?” he asked.

“I’m saying that I want to marry her. Only I’m not so sure she’d gonna want to marry me, now.”

“I guess all you can do is ask her,” Hutch smiled.

“Is it okay with you? I guess I’m asking your permission first. Are you down with me marrying your sister and becoming part of your family?”

Hutch’s face registered his surprise. “Huggy, of course I’m down with it. You know how I feel about you, don’t you?” He put his hand on his shoulder.

Huggy smiled. “Just wanted to make sure. She’ll be taking my name, after all.”

Hutch scratched his head and frowned. “Which is what, exactly?”

Huggy laughed. “Horatio Bartholomew Brown, the third!”

“Are you serious?” Hutch chuckled. “Where the hell did Huggy Bear come from?”

“How long you think a kid named Horatio Bartholomew would last on the streets?”

They laughed together, and it felt really good. Hutch began to relax.

“I’d be honored to have you as part of the family, Horatio,” Hutch hid his smile behind his hand.

“Okay, that’s between us, my man. I guess you can share it with your other half, and Carolyn’s gonna find out, but other than that,” he made a locking motion with his fingers against his lips.

“If you insist.” Hutch sighed and stood up. “I guess I’ll be getting home. Things are just a little strained with Starsky not believing Nick has anything to do with this stuff. And I’m starting to look over my shoulder all the time, even in my own house. That must make the little shit, happy!”

“Hold on, my brother. Something’ll give soon. Do you want me to talk to Starsky about this?”

“I really don’t think it’ll do any good, Hug, and it might put a strain on your relationship with him.”

“He already suspects how I feel on the matter,” Huggy said. “I won’t say anything, though, unless it comes up. See you on the flip side, Blondie.”

Hutch drove home, his thoughts in a jumble. He honestly didn’t know what to do about the situation with Nick. It seemed no matter what he did, he was screwed.

***

Of course Starsky knew where he was going. Hadn’t he known the moment he decided to leave? And hadn’t Hutch known it, too? He drove straight to Joan Meredith’s. She answered the door in a short T-shirt.

“Hello, David.”

“You don’t seem surprised to see me.”

“Frankly, I’m not.” She stepped back and David walked in, shutting the door and pulling her to him for a long, drawn-out kiss.

Her hands moved to circle his waist, and then one slid around to rub his sex suggestively. Her breath hot in his ear, she whispered, “You miss women, and you want to fuck me.” He grabbed a handful of her hair and pulled her mouth back to his. Moving his hands up, he yanked her T-shirt off, taking her breasts in his hands. They were small and fit perfectly in his palms. His thumbs brushed over her erect nipples as he kissed down her neck, tonguing the skin there. Joan made frantic, needy noises as he brought his hands to her hips and hooked his thumbs in her panties, sliding them down and off.

“Oh, Dave…” she moaned, clutching at him as he massaged her ass, then picked her up. She wrapped her legs around him as he moved toward the bedroom, his mouth once again devouring hers. God help me, but this feels good! He thought as he tossed her on the bed and began removing his clothing. Joan watched him with lustful eyes as the last of it came off.

“Got a condom?” Starsky asked, and she pointed to the nightstand drawer. Starsky pulled one out and crawled onto the bed, handing it to her. Shaking with desire, Joan opened it. Pausing, she started to bring her lips down to his jutting sex, but he moved away. “No,” he whispered, not wanting her mouth there. Joan took out the condom and rolled it over his thick cock. He moved to cover her with his body.

She was soft and pliant beneath him, and he couldn’t deny he was turned on. He kissed her, and she kissed him back, and it was familiar, yet different. He was now very accustomed to kissing Hutch, whose full lips could be soft and yielding, or hard and aggressive. And in the case of the latter, it was a battle for Starsky to remain dominant. Sometimes he didn’t, and he enjoyed being taken by Hutch—pushed to the limits of his desire. Other times he won the battle and then Hutch was a soft, moaning supplicant in his arms—releasing his power to his partner and becoming the most yielding and grateful of lovers.

Here, even when Joan became aggressive, he was still in control. He held the reigns and there was no give and take. Her cries of passion hardened him, as did the dirty words she whispered, but he didn’t get the same feeling he got when Hutch called out his name—the pride in having conquered the strongest of men, of having caused him to beg, sigh, and moan in his arms. At those moments, Starsky felt like a king.

And when Starsky entered her, the feeling of her smooth, wet channel was familiar, yet it wasn’t the tight cavern he’d become accustomed to in his bed, and probably most obvious to him--there was no connection between them on an emotional level. He and Hutch had had that link long before their relationship became physical, and when they’d come together as one, it had defied any other sexual experience Starsky had ever had.

Joan screamed his name, clawing at his back and his ass. She was just as he’d remembered, yet fucking her didn’t satisfy any need other than for peace of mind. This—being with a woman-- was what he’d been missing for the past ten months, but oddly enough, he didn’t want it any more. It wasn’t what he was used to and yearned for. He was hard, he was fucking her, but it wasn’t what he wanted for the rest of his life. She wasn’t the one he loved more than anything else, and she didn’t have what he wanted and needed in the bedroom. He was with a woman again, but he didn’t want it.

Joan came hard, shuddering around him, and he pulled out. He hadn’t climaxed.

“What’s the matter?” she asked. She was breathing hard, her small breasts and sweat-covered belly quivering.

“Nothing.”

She rose up on her elbows and looked down at his dick. “You’re still hard as a rock.”

“It’s okay.”

Joan frowned. “What do you mean ‘it’s okay’? Here, let me help you…” she reached for him, but he moved away.

Starsky smiled softly. “I’m sorry, Joan. I’ve been thinking about you lately, and Hutch insisted it wasn’t fair that I hadn’t had the time to come to the same conclusions he had when we started this relationship. I just had to see if I was really missing being with women.”

Joan got out of the bed and took her robe off the chair, putting it on. “And you’re not,” she said coldly.

Starsky pulled the condom off his fading hard-on and eased off the bed. He sat for a minute on the edge staring at his hand and the ring Hutch had given him last Christmas. “I’m sorry. This has been unfair to you, I know. But you were one of the last women I’d been with, and I…I had to get you out of my system.” He began to dress.

Joan sat on the bed and put out her hand. “Come back here, Dave. You haven’t given me half a chance to convince you.”

Starsky scrubbed his hands over his face. “I’m sorry,” he said again.

She leaned toward him. “Dave…”

“No, Joan. I mean it this time. I’ve been confused, but I’m not anymore, and I’m sorry I used you. I think it would be best if we ended our friendship.”

Joan watched him with a mixture of want and anger. Starsky turned to leave.

“Fuck you, Dave Starsky!” Joan yelled after him. He didn’t look back.

Once in his car, Starsky put his head in his hands. So many feelings assaulted him at once. He was relieved to really feel closure about his sexuality, but he was also sorry it had to come down to this: he hated hurting Hutch this way. He thought about Hutch and the suspicion and pain he’d been holding back where Nick was concerned. He’d thought all along that Nick had been lying to them, yet he’d really tried to get along with him. Starsky cleared his mind of everything else, taking a few deep and cleansing breaths, then went over what had gone on since Nick’s arrival piece by piece.

After considering things from all angles, including the way Nick had been baiting him lately with talk of women, his being dependent on Hutch, and their mother changing after meeting Barbara, he came to a decision, and it wasn’t even a difficult one.

He must’ve been blind not to see it, and as he thought of all that Hutch had suffered alone, the anger rose within him.

***

 “Davey!” Nick was in his pajamas and looked half asleep, but seemed pleasantly surprised to see his brother. “Come in!” He leaned on the door frame. “Did Hutch kick you out, too?”

“You’d like that, wouldn’t you Nick?” Starsky pushed his way into the apartment, forcing his brother to take two steps back.

“Of course I wouldn’t, bro! Don’t worry,” Nick patted Starsky’s shoulder. “Hutch will be in a better mood tomorrow, and you two can kiss and make up.”

“I’m tired of this act, Nick! I know you don’t like him and don’t want us together.”

“I guess he’s been talking about me, huh? I swear, I’ve tried to get along with him. I don’t know anything about a snake in the dryer, either--sounds crazy to me. Maybe he’s been taking too many of those muscle relaxants.”

Unable to hold back any longer, Starsky grasped his brother by the collar and shoved him up against the wall, his face inches from Nick’s. “I want you to tell me the truth now, Nick, and maybe I won’t beat the fucking shit outta you!”

“W-what’re you talkin’ about? Have you gone whacko, too?” Nick gave a feeble laugh, but his eyes were fearful.

“I’ve spent a lotta time doubting my partner, all because I wanted us to be family, Nicky. I wanted us to be close like we should be. I wanted to believe what you said about accepting me and Hutch’s relationship and caring about me enough to try to get along with him. But it was all lies, Nick. I was right the first time---you paid those guys to beat Hutch up, didn’t you?” He shook him hard. “Didn’t you?”

“No, Davey, no! You gotta listen to me. Who’s been telling you things?”

Starsky took a tighter grip on his shirt. “Stop lying to me, you little shit! You hired those guys to beat up Hutch, and you’ve been playing dangerous tricks on him for weeks.” He shook him harder. “He coulda fallen out of that tree and been killed! That snake coulda killed him! Are you some kind of a moron? Southern Pacific rattlers are deadly! Is that what you’ve sunk to, Nick Starsky? Murder? And all to get me away from Hutch---someone who’s never done a thing to you!”

Nick’s face turned red, and he pushed Starsky away, breaking his hold on his shirt. “Never done anything to me? Are you serious?” He laughed shakily. “He took you away from me! He stole you from me! When you left Brooklyn, I kept telling myself that one day I’d be old enough, and we’d be together again. But by the time I turned eighteen, you were already a cop! And you and Hutch were as close as brothers. If that wasn’t bad enough, now you’ve found a way to be even closer!” Nick was breathing hard. “I remember the few times we’ve gotten together over the past few years. We went on double dates---we could always talk about women. Now what the hell have we got to talk about?”

“What do you mean?” Starsky asked incredulously. “We’ve been spending a lot of time together! We’ve watched ball games, gone bowling, gone to the movies…”

“Yeah, and why? All because Hutch was otherwise occupied. If he hadn’t been, you’d have been with him, not me.”

“Aw, would you stop all this poor-pitiful-me shit? You could’ve had a close relationship with me plenty of times, but you don’t really want that. You want to control what I do. You can’t stand it that I have someone in my life that I love and that loves me back! You don’t know what love is!”

“But Davey…” Nick held his hands out, his voice suddenly pleading. “If you would just try it—go back to the women. You’d remember how good it was! You wouldn’t want him anymore!”

Starsky shook his head. “That’s where you’re wrong, Nick. I did try it. I slept with a woman. And I didn’t like it---couldn’t finish. You know why? Sure, it was exciting, but there was no love in it. It’s the love that makes it special, and I don’t know if you’ve ever had that. I don’t know if you could let it in. Heather probably wanted to love you, but you’re too much of a self-centered son-of-a-bitch to let her!” He grabbed Nick again. “And you’re gonna tell me the truth for once, you hear me? Admit it! Admit that you’ve been trying to hurt Hutch!” He shook him until Nick’s teeth clanked together.

“All right, damn you! All right!” Spittle ran down Nick’s chin, and his eyes blazed. “Yes, I did it. I gave those guys five hundred bucks to beat the shit out of Hutch with a baseball bat! And I moved stuff around in the shed in hopes that he’d fall down and break his damn neck, the bastard! I broke the ladder and put the snake in the dryer! And I wish it had bitten and killed him!”

With every bit of hatred Nick spewed forth, Starsky began to shake a little bit harder. As the last words left Nick’s mouth, he reared back and slammed his fist into his brother’s face.

“How could you do that to me!” he screamed, yanking his collar forward and throwing him on the floor. “How could you hurt me like that? Don’t you understand? He’s everything to me! EVERYTHING! And not only did you try to take him from me, but you made me doubt him! I stuck up for you!” He began pummeling Nick with his fists until Nick crab walked backward and hit the couch. Throwing his hands up in front of his face, he yelled, “Stop it, Davey! Stop it!”

Starsky saw the blood running out of Nick’s nose and down his face and moved back, breathing hard. “I want you to get out of town, Nick,” he said raggedly.

“What’re you talkin’ about?” Nick put his hands down and licked blood off his lips.

“I want you to leave. Pack your things up and go. Tell Ma you got a job offer somewhere that you can’t pass up. If you don’t, I’m telling her everything, Nick. Everything.”

Nick wiped his face on his sleeve. “You wouldn’t do that.”

“Yeah, I would. You can count on it.”

“Come on, Davey…” Nick put his hands out, palms up. “You can’t mean this.”

“I can and I do.” Starsky staggered when he stood. “Tell her tomorrow that you’re moving, Nick, and be out of here by the end of the month. Or I swear, I’ll tell her how you’ve admitted everything to me.”

“Think how she’ll feel if you do that!” Nick argued.

“That’s what you need to think about, because I will do it,” Starsky promised. He turned and walked out.

 

Hutch was downstairs drinking coffee when Starsky got home. He took one look at his partner, and he knew. Although he’d been the one to push Starsky into it, now that it had happened, he felt lost. He stood up from where he was sitting at the dining room table and turned to look out the sliding glass doors at the slowly lightening sky. He heard Starsky deposit his keys in the dish in the hall and move toward him. When his arms came around him, Hutch felt the first tear slide down his cheek.

Starsky’s face pressed against his back. “You were right,” he said into Hutch’s shirt.

Hutch stiffened. “Would’ve been nice to be wrong this time,” he said quietly, and Starsky detected the wetness in his voice.

“Hey, now,” he said, turning him to face him. Cupping Hutch’s damp cheek with his hand, he said, “You were right that I needed to find out. And I did, Hutch. I went to Joan’s. I took her to bed. But even though it felt good, all I could think about was us. How it feels to be with you, and how very much I love you. I didn’t even finish…I left.” Starsky tried to put everything he felt in the look he gave his partner.  “Hutch, I love you, and I’m more than certain now that I don’t want a woman…just you. Only you.”

Hutch’s eyes swam with tears, and as his face crumpled, they all overflowed. He burrowed into Starsky’s neck as his partner held him tightly to him.

“I’m sorry, Buddy. As soon as I got in bed with her, I started to figure it out. And you know what else?” He pushed back from Hutch, forcing him to look at him. “I realized that you’re the one person I’ve always been able to believe in. I’ve always known it, but somehow I forgot. I went to Nick’s and confronted him. I made him tell me the truth—I had to beat it out of him. You understand what I’m saying? It’s not all on you anymore. I’ve stepped up to the plate like I shoulda done a long time ago.”

To his dismay, Hutch began to cry in earnest. All his bottled up feelings and fears came tumbling out, as Starsky held him and stroked his head and back. “Shh…It’s okay, Hutch. Everything’s gonna to be okay now.”

After a few minutes, Starsky started talking again, still holding onto his partner and soothing him. “He just spewed all this hate…I was stunned. He’s been feeding me lines about loving me and being close to me and accepting us. I had so much guilt, because Ma’s been harping on how sad and lonely Nick had been after I went to California. How much Nick changed after that. But I never shoulda lost sight of you and me. Of the strength of your instincts and the fact that I trust you so much.” He took Hutch’s hands in his and stepped back to look into his face. “Please forgive me, partner.”

“Of course I forgive you, Starsk,” Hutch said, taking a shaky breath. “Who wants to believe something like that about your own brother?” He wiped his face with his hands.

Starsky shook his head. “I should’ve believed you.” He pulled Hutch to him again, his voice catching. “If anything had happened to you…if you’d been killed…Hutch, you got every right to have him arrested!”

“Shh, it’s okay. I’m still here.,” Hutch tightened his hold on Starsky. “I doubt Nick even meant to kill me. He was trying to scare me off while at the same time driving a wedge between us. But it didn’t work. We’re okay. I don’t want to send the little twerp to jail.”

Starsky took Hutch’s face between his hands. “I want you to know that I love you. I don’t regret what we are together. I’m happier than I’ve ever been, and things are just gonna get better for us. You were right that I had all these questions in the back of my mind—wondering if one day I was just gonna want to go back to sleeping with women. If…oh, hell, I don’t know. I can’t even explain it. I was really confused. I’m just sorry I’ve put you through hell lately.”

“Starsky, you haven’t—“

Starsky silenced Hutch with his finger. “Yes, I have. I didn’t believe what you were telling me about Nick, and I’ve had you second guessing our relationship and the way I feel. I’m sorry.”

Hutch removed Starsky’s finger from his lips and pressed his lips to his. “If what happened with Joan last night was necessary for you to get things straight in your mind, then I’m glad it happened,” he whispered against his mouth. “It was my idea in the first place.” He kissed him again, more deeply this time.

When they pulled apart, Starsky looked into his eyes. “Yeah, but you knew what was going on with me, and that had to hurt. And nothing hurts me more than knowing I’ve caused you pain.”

“I love you, Starsky,” Hutch whispered, his eyes mirroring his heart.

He took his mouth again in a searching kiss. Starsky felt all of his love and wondered how he could ever have thought he could want something else.

***

“Starsky, I’ve been thinking,” Hutch said as they lay in each other’s arms in the darkened hotel room, satiated from hours of pleasuring one another.

“Yeah? ‘Bout what?” Starsky’s finger dipped in and out of Hutch’s navel.

“About the business…we were talking about opening a bookstore.” He waited until Starsky grunted, then continued. “We saw a few fancy bookstores sprinkled around town, but what if we opened one where we bought people’s books after they were finished with them—if they were in good condition—and resold them for a profit?”

“Hey,” Starsky said, sitting up. “That’s a really good idea! And we could maybe do the same with record albums.”

And we can display your photos in our store!” Hutch smiled.

Starsky looked down into Hutch’s eyes. “I married a genius,” he said proudly.

Hutch's smile widened, and he held up his left hand to meet Starsky's. They wore matching bands on their ring fingers. Starsky had gotten down on one knee and proposed, and they’d been married that morning in a small chapel in San Francisco, Huggy and Carolyn acting as their witnesses. They were enjoying the first night of their honeymoon on the top floor of an expensive hotel. The Dobeys were taking care of Lady.

“I love you,” Hutch said quietly as Starsky covered him with his body.

“And I love you. Don’t you forget it, Blintz.”

 

finis