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Winner Takes All

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Winner Takes All

They added another dimension to their midnight game of Monopoly – a chug of beer each time they landed on a property owned by the other. While they were still sober enough, they spread the game out on the floor so the pieces didn’t have far to fall, as they inevitably would. They’d gone through the motions often enough. When Hutch’s parents didn’t show for graduation, the day the process server came, when Starsky’s bullet took down Lonnie Craig.

Then there was Helen and Gillian and Abbie. Love found, then lost. And still they played.

Life was a game of chance, just like Monopoly. A throw of the dice could bring you everything you dreamed of or leave you destitute. As much as one wanted to believe he was the master of his own fate, too much was beyond his control.

Starsky gulped the last of his beer then popped the top of the next in line. The board was swimming before his eyes as if the linoleum was a lake. Was it Hutch swaying or the room? Were his blue eyes growing softer?

Starsky pursed his lips. They felt numb and trying to sound coherent was becoming an effort.

“Hey Hutsch,” he said once his partner had stopped staring at Ollie as if the stuffed bear might talk. “Truth or dare.”

“What?”

“Truth or dare,” he repeated. Terry had said he was a horrible Monopoly player and even now he was a few moves away from proving her right once again. Fuck this game anyway.

“You’ve gotta be kidding,” Hutch sat the bear down gently and slid his ass closer the board, folding his long legs underneath him. “I haven’t played that since junior high.”

“Good,” Starsky nodded approvingly. “Then maybe I’ll have a chance ta win. We useda play a lot in the army.” What he didn’t say was how the army’s version involved dares of who was going to cross the minefield first or truths about who missed home so much they cried themselves to sleep.

“You go firss.”

“Okay then, hot shot. Truth or dare?”

Starsky leaned across the board and grinned wolfishly. “Dare,” he declared.

“I dare you to swallow a spoonful of hot sauce.” Starsky’s courage was never in question, to Hutch’s way of thinking. He was the first to open Terry’s gifts after all, showing Hutch how to face his grief with grace. Hutch’s challenge paled in comparison.

Hutch toyed with the dice as Starsky got up and lurched to his refrigerator. “That’s too easy. I eat hot sauce for brefist.” He pulled out a bottle of El Pato’s Insanity Sauce, opened his mouth and poured a dollop directly on his tongue as Hutch winced.

“You’re right,” Hutch agreed, practically feeling the fire. “That was too easy. You have the esof . . . esof-oh-gus and stomach of a billy goat.”

Starsky sat back down on the floor and took a long swig from his beer, nearly finishing off the can he had opened only minutes before. Then stared Hutch down from across the color-coded squares. “Your turn. Truth or dare?”

Considering Starsky’s mood, ‘dare’ might be treading a dangerous path, Hutch mused. Anger mixed with helplessness floated just beneath the surface of his partner’s pain. It was plain he needed a distraction to deal with it. But what might he suggest? Jumping from the roof? Walking down the street blindfolded?

He envisioned a drunken Starsky stumbling after him, catching him as he fell or pulling him from oncoming traffic and berating himself in the morning if Hutch were to suffer so much as a scratch.

“Truth,” Hutch said softly as he lifted a beer to his mouth. At the moment it seemed the safer route for them both. What could he possibly admit to that Starsky didn’t already know?

Starsky considered the offer. He thought of the look he’d seen on Hutch’s face when they’d been together with Terry. A beautiful kind of aching he hadn’t been able to define. Now that it no longer mattered, and alcohol had lowered the few natural inhibitions he possessed, he felt driven to know.

“Were you jealous of me ‘n Terry?”

Jealous that Starsky had found a woman as warm and giving as Starsky himself? A perfect complement to his open and loving nature? No, never that.

Terry hadn’t clung to his partner the way other women had. She had her own life, too. She’d been content to share not only Starsky’s time but his heart, recognizing it was large enough to encompass them all. Hutch had felt like a brother to her – a feeling that had him longing to restore the relationship with his blood sister half-way across the country.

But could he honestly say that he wasn’t jealous Terry had shared a dimension of love with his partner that Hutch never could? Had felt his lips on her skin, heard his words of passion whispered in her ear?

Hutch looked away from the liquid blue of Starsky’s eyes and took a swallow of Milwaukee’s finest. “Ye . . yes,” he murmured softly into the can.

Starsky didn’t know what he’d been expecting to hear – had wanted to hear - but Hutch’s agonized admission stopped him cold. “What?” he breathed.

“You wanted the truth. Yeah, Starsk. I was jealous.”

“Jealous of what?”

“You asked – I answered.” Hutch turned back to face him. “Now it’s your turn. Truth or dare?”

“Truth,” Starsky drawled, as the pain-infused giddiness drained away.

It took long minutes for Hutch to pose his question. Starsky could practically hear the click as the rack they were stretched on turned one more notch, drawing them to the breaking point as he waited.

“Do . . do you ever think you could love a man the way you do a woman?”

“Waz that ‘spossed ta mean?” Starsky fidgeted, rolling the aluminum can between his palms and looking anywhere but Hutch’s perfect face, as much as it drew him like a flame.

“You know what I’m talking about.” It was Hutch’s turn to turn up his beer, finishing it off. He didn’t realize that he could be uncomfortable with Starsky, but for once he thought he might have gone too far, intimated too much, even for them.

“You started this fucking game, now finish it,” he practically spat out once he’d swallowed hard.

Yeah, Starsky knew. Hutch didn’t mean like being buddies or partners or even brothers. Not just sharing a desk or the front seat of the Torino, but a bed. Lying skin to skin. Breathing each other in. Touching each other in all the places meant for lovers only.

“Whaddya think?” Starsky got up and paced unevenly, leaning on the counter as he swayed.

“That’s not an answer,” Hutch pressed. “You need to tell me the truth.”

But what was the Truth?

“I never would have thought . . . I mean . . . men aren’t ‘spossed to . . .” Starsky’s words stumbled as if winding their way through an obstacle course. Then he paused and took a deep breath, as he collected himself and looked into the eyes he could never resist.

“But, with you . . .” he started awkwardly but didn't finish as Hutch reached up and stopped him.

“It’s okay, Starsk.” He stood and gathered him in his arms. They steadied each other as the ground pitched and rolled. His friend had gone through enough gut-wrenching for one day – for a lifetime, actually. Hutch wouldn’t force him to say words too difficult and confusing. Voice feelings he had yet to understand.

It was enough that Starsky was wearing his sweater. That was as close to his skin as Hutch could get – for now.

He’d wait for a day when they both could win.