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Late Summer, 1969

 

The appearance of the Police Academy was always a shock––it looked like an expensive resort, all plants and Mission-style architecture. Where was the starkness that should have been the surroundings for an institution turning out rough and ready policemen? These grounds were as beautifully laid out as a movie set. The interior, though, was typical classroom drab.

After the morning's orientation session and welcoming speeches, he made his way to the administration building and the line of recruits slowly snaking its way through the registration tables, picking up lists of various sorts and class roster sheets. There were tables for books, tables for uniforms and athletic gear, tables for room assignments, parking permits, and library schedules. It reminded him of his freshman year at university—no one had done this before, so everything was new to everybody.

A recruitment officer for the Academy had convinced him that this would be a great plan for his future; with a college degree and one year of law school, there would be no limit to the heights he could expect to rise—no reason why he couldn't be a lieutenant in six years, captain in ten, and a commander before he was forty. Even with these promises of a rosy future to bolster his decision, his father had objected long and loudly to the plan—Kenneth was to carry on the family name and prestige by becoming the next in a long line of Hutchinson lawyers. And Vanessa—oh, Lord—nothing had made his wife agree to this change in direction from the life she had envisioned. All summer had been one argument after another. Was he insane? What kind of life did he think they were going to have? However, there was no time now for such distractions, and he deliberately shook off the memories.

He was soon laden down with books and clothes and notebooks and bags of “things” he might need. As he neared the parking area, he felt his assorted items slipping, threatening to avalanche their way to the asphalt. Suddenly, the escaping paraphernalia were steadied and then partially removed from his grasp.

“There. That should do it. What're you doing with all this stuff in the parking lot? The dorm's a lot closer if you cut through the quad.”

Kenneth looked at his two rescuers, noting that both men were in his section, but he hadn't learned their names, yet. He laughed, a bit embarrassed. “Thanks, guys. I'm beginning to wish I were in the dorm—it certainly would be handier. My car's over here.” He rested the stack of books on the top and then unlocked the trunk of the yellow and black Mustang—Vanessa's choice, not his. He preferred his old 1955 Volvo, black and falling apart though it was. Another argument that had waged between him and his wife—the car was hideous, old, unreliable, probably dangerous, too embarrassing to be seen in, and a total waste of the two-hundred dollars he'd paid for it. As if to take her side, the car had died this morning and refused to start again. He had called the garage to come and get the Volvo, getting a promise of a fast fix, and he'd been forced to drive the Mustang, an event Vanessa had taken personally.

A low whistle of appreciation and a look of pure envy came from the curly-haired man, as he gave over the bags he'd saved from falling and circled the car slowly, taking in its lines. He looked up and asked reverently, “How many horses?”

“You'll have to excuse him—a car junkie. I only keep him around 'cause he's connected.” The second man deposited the bags of which he was in charge in the trunk and smiled a bit condescendingly. “I'm John Colby, by the way, and he's David Starsky—Room 11, roommates.”

“Kenneth Hutchinson,” he introduced himself and offered his hand.

Colby shook hands and grabbed Starsky's arm, pulling him away from the object of his obsession. “Let the nice man go home. See you Monday at eight o'clock sharp.” He shoved his roommate toward the long block of the dorm, shaking his head a bit as Starsky walked backwards and continued to gaze at the car.

A seldom felt happiness suffused Kenneth as he placed the stack of books in the trunk, slammed it, and got into the brightly painted Mustang. Maybe he had just made his first two friends, here.

*************

Vanessa made good on her threat to give him no peace while he was idiotically pursuing this police career. She refused to listen to anything he tried to tell her about his day, and delivered her long list of complaints, which included not having a car for most of the day. The Volvo had been dropped off sometime that afternoon, she didn't know when, but would die before she'd be seen in that monstrosity. He wished again that he had chosen to live at the dorm and just come home on the weekends. His offer to go out to eat at a nice place and maybe catch a movie fell on deaf ears. They couldn't afford such luxury—didn't he remember? His father had cut off his generous checks after Kenneth's decision to quit law school. Another reason for her to hate him. And she did—he made no mistake about that.

He ended up leaving, driving his old Volvo through the Hollywood hills, trying to dial down the anger he always let Vanessa push him to. He was afraid of that anger—it took him over and drove out every civilized sense he measured himself against. Why did he bother? There was no love left between them, if there had been any to begin with. He had to admit she'd just been a convenient way to get away from his father's control.

He let the cool night air wash over him through the open window—something else he loved about the climate of Southern California. No matter how hot the days, nights were always cool or downright cold. He could feel the anger flowing away from him, leaving him tired and wrung out. What was he going to do? Give in to his father and Vanessa? Was that life worth preserving? Become a cop and let all of his previous life just fade away? He thought about calling his grandmother—she was the only person he'd been able to talk to since he was very young. She never judged his feelings or actions, letting him be himself, express himself, and come to his own conclusions. Any good that he'd turned out to be was due to her influence and trust in him. She was the one thing of Minnesota that he missed.

It was going after two in the morning when he pulled his old Volvo up to the security hut at the parking lot of the Academy. What on earth was he doing here?

“Your parking pass, sir.”

He fumbled for then handed over the new card, and waited for clearance.

“Very good. You do realize that entrance at any time past twelve midnight, Sunday through Thursday, will have to be reported to your commanding officer starting this Sunday.”

He took his card back and nodded. “Yes, sir.”

The gate bar lifted and he drove through. He parked and turned off the engine, sitting silently in the car for a few minutes and wondered why he felt so safe here. Everything was quiet, a breeze was blowing, and a stillness permeated the entire place. A strong feeling of belonging came over him. He got out of the car and walked slowly into the quad, drinking in the peace. A few windows in the dorm block were lighted, but nothing here disturbed him.

All of the offices were locked for the night—just as he'd expected—but he sat on the koi pond's circular bench and listened to the palm trees rustle in the early morning breeze and the splash of the fish as they jumped in their pool. These sounds of nature, unfamiliar though they might be, soothed him and allowed him to think.

“Hey, blondie, got a cigarette?”

He started and turned at the soft spoken words—the curly-haired guy from this afternoon stood just beside him. He had heard nothing of his approach. “N-no. All out.”

“Yeah, me too. What're you doin' here?” The t-shirt and jeans clad man sat down next to him, pulling one leg up on the bench and sort of turning sideways to slowly drag his fingers across the surface of the water. “Look, they think my fingers are food. They kinda tickle when they bite.”

“Oh, yeah?” Kenneth stuck his fingers in the water, but felt nothing.

“Wiggle 'em a bit, like bait.”

He wiggled his fingers and suddenly felt the odd sensation of little fish mouths on his hand. He laughed quietly and mirrored the other man's sitting position, looking with interest into the pond.

“They'll let you pet 'em, too. See?”

He watched one long, sensitive finger very gently stroke a little fish head. The fish seemed in no hurry to swim away. Other koi crowded round, though, pushing the first little guy out of the favored spot. He laughed again, leaning on his elbow to watch, and felt a wave of contentment engulf him. He raised his eyes to meet those of the other man, and a strange flash of recognition passed between them, even though they'd only met today. Kenneth had never felt that with anyone else in his entire life—what did it mean? He wondered as his contentment deepened, and he experienced a kind of euphoria that seemed to wash all cares and problems away. It made no sense, but it was true, none-the-less.

“I'm Dave Starsky, by the way, and you're...Ken Hutchins, right?”

“Kenneth Hutchinson,” he corrected, feeling a bit mesmerized by the continued direct stare. “I guess everyone here goes by their last name, though...Starsky,” he went on, a little awkwardly.

Starsky shrugged. “It's like the army—last name or number. Hutchinson, huh? Kinda long. How 'bout I call you Hutch—easier to remember and faster to say.”

Hutch...he'd never used a nickname. Vanessa called him Ken once in a while, but that was as far as it went. His parents had always insisted on Kenneth, a proper name, and his dad would have had apoplexy if anyone had used the shortened form of Hutchinson. Hutch...it felt good, right. He smiled and nodded his head. “Hutch,” he tried out the sound and liked it.

Starsky grinned and flicked some water on him.

He startled at the unexpected teasing. “Why you—” He reached over, missing the lightning fast man.

“Shhh, shhh. It's three in the morning,” Starsky giggled. “Shouldn't you be home in bed? Your wife's gonna be worried.”

And just like that, his feeling of peace and happy contentment fled, chased away by the mention of Van. He closed his eyes for a moment and then stood. “Yeah, you're right. See you Monday.” He started away, but stopped and turned, something making him reluctant to leave. “Uh...you wanna go get some cigarettes first? There's an all night liquor store over on Wilson.”

“What? Now?”

“Sure. Why not? Curfew doesn't start 'til Sunday.”

“Can I drive your car?”

The excitement coming off Starsky at the prospect was almost visible . Hutch smiled and shrugged. “Go for it.” They walked out to the parking lot.

“Where'd you park, huh?” Starsky turned in a circle looking for the yellow-and-black Mustang, finally turning to Hutch, puzzled.

Hutch laughed and pointed to the old Volvo. “Right here, buddy. This is my car; that other flashy thing belongs to my wife. Still wanna drive?”

The disappointment was plain on Starsky's face as he looked at the beat up old Volvo. “Nah, that's okay.”

“Sorry, pal. I'm not really into cars.”

“No kidding.” Sarcasm dripped from the dejected voice. He pulled at the stubborn door which finally opened with a teeth-grinding screech. Starsky got in and settled on the old cracked leather seat. “You really like driving this thing better than the Mustang?”

As Hutch fed the engine a bit of gas and eased the clutch out, they made a rough getaway. He was still smiling at Starsky's obvious dislike of the car. “I don't really see much difference—if it works and gets you where you're going, why like one over the other?”

Starsky shook his head in disbelief. “You're weird.”

Hutch laughed again. “Maybe so, my friend, maybe so.”

The twenty-four hour liquor store was Saturday morning busy—lots of smokers and drinkers out of their favorite vices. A couple of young guys looked familiar, probably fellow Academy students. Starsky nodded to them, confirming their identities. The line to buy merchandise moved quickly and efficiently. Hutch went first, asking for a carton of Benson and Hedges Gold, soft pack. The clerk rang up the $3.80 and accepted the twenty that was handed to him. When he received his change, Hutch stepped out of line and waited for Starsky who bought a pack of Marlboros, hard pack, paid for with a quarter, a dime, and a nickle. No change.

Outside the store, Starsky opened the pack and lit up with the free matches. He leaned against the Volvo while Hutch opened the carton, removed a pack, tossed the carton in the back seat, and mimicked Starsky's movements, substituting his gold lighter for the matches.

“Shit, man, are you rich or something?” Starsky asked, looking at him. “That lighter's real gold, isn't it?”

Hutch blushed, somehow embarrassed. “Uh...yeah, it w-was a college graduation present from my sister. An-and I'm not rich. I...uh...well, since I quit l-law school, my dad...uh...you know...he wasn't very happy, so he sort of quit sending any....” He fell silent, more embarrassed than ever, and quickly went around to the driver's side.

“College, huh? What'd you major in?” Starsky asked him across the top of the car and then slipped into the passenger seat. He finished rolling down the window, blowing the cigarette smoke out into the cool night, and then looked back at Hutch, eyes curious and expectant.

Hutch caught the flash of Starsky's eyes, narrowed against the smoke, as he analyzed him. The direct gaze was a bit intimidating, and he wondered why he cared so much what this man thought. After all, he'd only known his name for a few hours. “Law, of course; I was supposed to join my family's law practice.”

They sat in silence for a while, Starsky finally asking, “So why are you here?”

“Law is boring, especially anything that's not criminal law. I decided I'd had more than enough and quit after a year. Needless to say my father didn't agree with me—neither did Vanessa, my wife. They've both made life miserable the last couple of months; I'm glad classes start Monday.” He drew in a deep lungful of smoke and exhaled slowly. Starsky was still looking at him intently, and he wondered why. “You think that's dumb?”

“Hell, no, if that's what you wanna do, but how you gonna make the payments on that beautiful car and afford rent and food? The pay here is about minimum wage. It won't go very far. When you're used to having things, going without can be painful.” Starsky sucked in the last of the cigarette's goodness and tossed the butt out the window. He leaned back and blew a perfect little smoke ring at the roof of the car.

Hutch watched appreciatively—he'd always wanted to be able to blow a smoke ring, but had never mastered the art. “Yeah, I know—Vanessa has made that very evident. She acts like I'm doing this just to make her miserable. I guess she really married me for the easy life she thought she'd have.”

Starsky shrugged and smiled. “Being a cop's wife sure ain't gonna be easy. My mom could tell ya about that.”

“Your dad's a cop?” Maybe that's what Colby had meant when he'd said Starsky was connected.

“Yeah.” Starsky's voice dropped to a near whisper, and he turned his head to look out the window.

Hutch waited silently, finishing his cigarette and tossing the butt. Starsky turned back to him, his face still a bit solemn. For a minute, it seemed as though he were going to say something serious, but then like a cloud crossing the moon swiftly the solemnity was gone. He smiled and his eyes sparkled again.

“I got some beer in my room. Wanna come in for a bit?”

Hutch's eyes widened. “Isn't that against the rules?”

“Sure, but who cares? School hasn't really started yet. And besides, if I was living some place else, there wouldn't be any rule.” The blue eyes shone with mischief.

The Volvo's engine turned over sluggishly and then caught. He pulled out onto the relatively quiet street and drove the short distance back to the Academy. After the gate guard inspected both of their passes, he let them proceed to the parking lot. Hutch stopped, but didn't turn off the ignition. “It's late and I think you were right the first time, I'd better get home. I'll see you Monday.”

Starsky didn't say anything as he got out of the car slowly, but before he closed the door he leaned back in. “Sure you don't wanna come up for a beer. Colby's gone for the weekend, so you won't be disturbing anyone.”

Hutch wanted to say yes, but he'd already been gone for hours, and while Vanessa might not be exactly worried, she would be angry—the later, the angrier. “I really can't. Raincheck?”

Starsky smiled and nodded. “Sure. Anytime, blondie. See ya.” He closed the door and thumped the roof a couple of times in goodbye and loped off to the dorm block.

Watching him go, Hutch felt a sense of loss. He wished now that he had stayed with Starsky, gone in for the beer, anything to prolong this interval of happiness in the midst of his usual unhappiness. He fought a war with himself. Sighing deeply, he started the car forward and was almost to the guard hut when he suddenly made a quick u-turn and sped back across the parking lot, stopping at the spot closest to the dorm. He shut off the engine and got out of the car before he could change his mind. Room 11, that's what Colby had said. He hurried toward the lobby door and followed the signs to the left, finding the room he wanted at the end of a short hall. Raising his hand to knock, he hesitated, wondering what the hell he was doing. He almost turned away, embarrassed, but the door suddenly opened wide and revealed Starsky standing there.

“Hey! Change your mind? Great!”

The enthusiasm of Starsky's greeting warmed his soul. No one had ever made him feel this wanted and accepted. He smiled and walked into the small efficiency room. There was a half-size refrigerator and a one-plate cooktop, two beds, two desks with library lamps, a small closet, and a bathroom. His college dorm room had been large compared to this, but he liked what he saw.

A cold beer was shoved into his hand, and a sweeping gesture invited him to sit, which he did on one of the beds. He felt as though this was where he belonged. He smiled and looked at the label on the green bottle before taking a swig. “Nice place,” he offered, waving the beer in an encompassing gesture as he looked around the small room again. “Good beer, too.”

“Well, it's not Reingold, but it'll do.” Starsky sat on the other bed, pulling his feet up so he was sitting Indian style. He tipped his bottle back and swallowed the last of his beer. “So, why'd you change your mind? Or shouldn't I ask?”

Those deep blue eyes were hypnotizing him, making him want to confide everything to this man he hardly knew. He closed his eyes and drank the last of the beer. What should he say? Leave it alone? Confess all? He looked at Starsky again, and then quickly averted his eyes, his gaze coming to rest on the floor. “I can't...should...well, it's sort of....” He felt the telling blood rush to his face, silently cursing his fair skin.

“Hey, that's okay, forget I said anything. It's your business. Want another beer?” Starsky bounced up from the bed and bent over the little refrigerator, snagging a couple of beers and depositing his empty on top.

“I-I don't think...well....” Hutch took the new bottle and handed Starsky his empty. “I guess I do,” he laughed, and saluted Starsky with the beer before he took a long swallow. Scooting back on the mattress to sit leaning on the wall, a feeling of peace came over him. The only other time he'd felt so good was at his grandmother's—no pressure to be someone other than who he was, liked for himself, made to feel special because he simply was. A thrill of euphoria washed through him again, a reaction to the little seed of happiness taking root inside him. Yes, becoming a cop was the best decision of his life, and making friend's with Starsky was the luckiest thing he'd ever had happen. He smiled at this bundle of energy, letting his feelings show.

“What?” Starsky smiled back, then let his smile turn into a grin.

“I don't know. It just feels right, that's all.”

The lopsided grin grew bigger. “It's my mojo.”

Hutch nodded, accepting that. “Pretty damn strong stuff.” He tipped back the bottle and let some more of the cold, crisp brew slip down his throat. Pretty damn good stuff.

"How long you been married?"

The beer had loosened his inhibitions, and he waved his hand dismissively. "Too long, I think." Starsky raised one eyebrow, and Hutch shrugged a bit half-heartedly. "Yeah, well, about four years."

"You must have been pretty young. Was she pregnant?"

In Hutch's world that was a rude question, but at the moment it made him laugh. "Pregnant? Vanessa? That's a joke." He got up and got himself a third beer, standing at the little refrigerator to drink most of it. "I don't want to talk about my marriage, okay?"

"Sure, whatever. So, where'd you grow up? Not around here, I'd guess."

"Why not? I don't sound Noo Yawk like you."

"Maybe not, but you have a little twang I don't think is native to here."

"Twang? I don't have a twang. What kind of twang, and how would you know?"

"You don't think I can hear a twang? Everything's aboot and oout and hoose."

"That's Canadian; I don't sound like that. Minnesota is still is the U.S., fancy cah lover. You're the one with the accent." He sat down on the bed, smilingly proud of his winning argument. Maybe he would have been a good lawyer. His head swam a little from the beer.

"We'll ask one of the California guys on Monday."

"Yeah, yeah. Can hardly wait. Why are you here, all the way cross the country?" Starsky could be on the hot seat for a while.

"Long story. I'll tell you some other time."

After the fifth beer made its way to his brain, and the conversation had dwindled down to monosyllables, he thought about leaving. It was after five in the morning, and Van was gonna be pissed. Shit! “Gotta go,” he mumbled, struggling to stand up. “Wife's gonna be madder 'an hell.” He fell back on the bed, laughing at his inability to keep his balance.

“She might be madder if you have an accident on the way home. Why don't you just sleep here? What's his name won't be back 'til tomorrow. He prob'ly wouldn't care anyway—'sides you're bigger'an him and could take 'im, if push came to shove. How 'bout it? You can borrow some sweats to sleep in.” Starsky had moved to the closet/bureau combination and pulled out a pair of gray sweat pants and tossed them to Hutch.

Now, what was he supposed to do?

Pee.

He shoved the sweat pants aside and made a more successful attempt to stand, and weaved his way to the bathroom. Maybe he could think better, after he'd emptied his bladder. It really felt good to pee, almost as good as drinking the beer in the first place. He stared at his reflection in the mirror—not an especially inspiring image—seeing someone who was visibly drunk. Smiling made him look worse, so he wiped the silly expression off his face, washed his hands and dried them. He was surely sober enough to drive home, after all, it was only beer—he couldn't be that drunk.

But when he opened the bathroom door, he was greeted by dim light and Colby's bed turned down with the sweat pants on the pillow. Starsky was already in bed, face turned to the wall. He stared at the man, listening to his obviously sleep-induced deep breathing. Someday he was going to be able to sleep like that—no worries, no regrets, nothing but peace. He sat down on the prepared bed, deciding he'd better wait 'til he was a bit more sober before he attempted to drive home. It would be really stupid to get arrested the weekend before the Academy classes started and get thrown out before he'd even had a chance to get started. Van and his father would never let him forget it. Of course, Van wasn't gonna let him forget this, either.

He stretched out on top of the covers, intending to close his eyes for just a moment....

The smell of coffee was what brought him around, and Starsky was sitting on the edge of the bed waving a steaming cup of the strong brew near his face.

“Thought you might wanna wake up before night got here again.”

“Huh? What time....” A huge yawn interrupted Hutch's struggle to sit up. “What time is it?” How long had he slept?

“Almost three.” Starsky stood up, still holding the hot cup of coffee.

He must have heard wrong. “No, that can't be right. I was—” He caught sight of Colby's little travel alarm, and he slumped in defeat. Oh, my God! Vanessa was gonna kill him, absolutely kill him! “Fuck, fuck, fuck! Why didn't you wake me? Sorry. I'm sorry,” he apologized instantly. “It's not your fault. Oh, God, God....” Hutch bolted to his feet, wavering a bit. He turned in place a couple of times and ran his hands through his already disheveled hair. He fumbled in his pocket for his keys and then stumbled to the door, turning around to say something to Starsky, but unable to think of anything.

Starsky made shooing motions toward the door and called after him, “See you Monday morning, Hutch. Take it easy.”

“Yeah, okay,” he answered over his shoulder, all his attention on what he was going to say to Van when he got home.

 

Mid Autumn, 1969

Colby was a jerk sometimes—that was the honest truth, nothing else to say. He'd promised to buy their Friday night beers this week, and where was he? At his new girl-of-the-week's apartment.

“Naturally,” Starsky said, and shrugged off Colby's repeatedly broken promise. “Okay, with me. He's been a drag lately, anyway.” He grabbed Hutch by the shoulders and turned him toward the door. “Come on, blondie. We'll have more fun by ourselves. Huh? Huh?” He gave Hutch a quick squeeze and a shove, grinning. “Huggy's working at this joint downtown. Told 'im we'd drop by if Mr. Snob Colby would agree. So now we can just go.”

Hutch smiled a bit sheepishly and left the room ahead of Starsky. Yeah, they did have more fun without Colby around—something he'd noticed a lot, lately.

Things had been different since the last part of September. Unable to turn her fledgling modeling cachet into an acting career, Vanessa had finally just left him, gone back to Duluth. He guessed one of these days he'd get a letter from her lawyer, but for now he was content just to pretend he'd never been married—at least in his mind. He'd moved into the dorms, a room to himself—quiet, spare, soothing. From that point on his life had been good—no more arguments, no more exhaustion from trying to live in two worlds. He rarely let himself think about his failed marriage, glossing over that part of his life, refusing to feel the guilt that he'd shoved down with brutal force. He was going to graduate in March and become a real cop. That thought was a bit scary, but exciting, too. At last he was going to get to do something worth doing. His whole life he'd been looking for a meaning, a reason to be—this was it.

“Hey, blondie, you wanna move? We're never gonna get there, if you stand here in the hallway day dreaming. Go, go!”

He was pushed forward by a hand in the middle of his back. Shaking his head, he glanced at Starsky over his shoulder and smiled. “Huggy givin' out free beer? Or pretty ladies? What's your hurry?”

Starsky looked pained. “Nah, just don't wanna still be here if Colby comes back. He can find his own fun—he never includes us in his plans, so he don't need no help from us.”

“Hey! You mad at Colby?” Hutch stopped again and turned back to Starsky.

“No, not really, but he's been talkin' 'bout leavin' the Academy—“

“What? Why? He's got the highest overall score of anyone. That's crazy!” Hutch was shocked.

“Yeah, well, he figures he can put those skills to better use in the Air Force, Special Ops, to be exact. So I say, good riddance.” Starsky pushed past him, and walked out to the parking lot, never once looking back to see if Hutch was following him—sure he would be. And after a second, Hutch did, hurrying to catch up.

“You know, he'll end up in 'Nam, don't you? How can anyone be stupid enough to want to be in that hell hole. You'd think he'd a heard enough horror stories from me to know better. Whatsa matter with him?”

By this time they'd reached Hutch's old Volvo, and Starsky pulled open the squeaky door and seated himself on the passenger side.

Starsky's accent always sounded more New York when he was bothered by something. Hutch used it as a measure of his friend's mood, and now that he'd heard about Colby's plans, he sort of understood why Starsky was upset. He'd really heard very little about Starsky's time in Viet Nam, but he supposed that Colby, as his roommate, had heard a lot more. In any case, it hadn't been pleasant. Besides, he was uncomfortable talking about the war with Starsky, a bit embarrassed that he'd been a government protestor in college, a firm believer that the United States didn't belong there. He still felt the same way, but there was no need to say that to Starsky—no one wanted to hear that their sacrifice had been for nothing.

“You think he's serious?” Hutch asked. The old car seemed undecided as to whether it was gonna start or not, but then it gave an intense shudder and moved forward. “I mean, maybe he's just blowin' smoke. You know how he is.” He waved to the gate guard and pulled out of the parking lot onto the access road.

“I don't know. Who cares?”

Under cover of checking right at the stop sign, he gave Starsky a long look, trying to decided whether or not he was upset about Colby's decision to quit the Academy. Yes, they'd been a tight threesome since the beginning, but lately Colby had been drifting away, seemingly not as interested in becoming the cracker jack cop he'd bragged about in August. And his leaving would only make the competition less for everyone. Hutch would miss his quicksilver wit and wicked sense of humor, but that, too, had been different the last few weeks, meaner. What bothered Hutch most was his tendency to rag on Starsky and to out and out make fun of him when he wasn't with them. It was the type of humor that irritated Hutch enormously––unfair and untrue. Yes, Starsky wasn't as educated as he or Colby, but he was as sharp as a tack and fully capable of outsmarting either or both of them.

“Whatcha staring at, blondie? Got shaving cream on my nose?”

Hutch smiled at the words. “No, goon, on your ear. Here,” he reached out and poked his finger into Starsky's ear, giving it a quick twist as Starsky pulled away, slapping at the offending finger.

“Will you quit? Jeez!”

“Only if you do.”

“What's that supposed to mean?”

“Figure it out, smart ass.”

“You think I should care whether or not Colby leaves,” Starsky ventured.

“Yeah, well, we are the Corsican Brothers.”

“Big deal. We'll change our name then—the Dynamic Duo sounds good to me. In fact, it sounds damned good. The two of us can do more than the three of us ever did. Colby's always too busy makin' time with the newest babe to care about anything anymore. Not like before.”

“Is that why you're upset?”

“Who's upset? Told you—good riddance.”

Hutch sighed to himself. Starsky would talk about it if he wanted to, and until then he'd just have to let it go.

“Huggy's working at a joint called The Pits, over close to Mike's Place.”

“Oh, a really good neighborhood,” Hutch laughed, remembering their one trip to the seedy Mike's Place. “Must be pretty classy, then.”

Starsky grinned and relaxed.

*******

The two envelopes postmarked Duluth sent his stomach into free fall—a thick manilla one from a law firm with which he wasn't familiar, the ivory, thinner one from his father's firm. This was what he'd been expecting, at least from the other law office. He closed his eyes a moment, took a deep breath, and opened the first one—divorce papers, a sheaf of them. He'd have to read them carefully when afternoon classes were over, but for now he shoved the papers back into the envelope and stuck it in the pocket of his binder. He looked at the second envelope for a long minute, before sticking it in the binder pocket, unopened. Whatever his father had to say wouldn't be pleasant, and he'd rather read it later when he was alone.

He headed over to the cafeteria to meet Starsky for lunch. Colby had left a couple of weeks ago, and it was still strange not seeing him around, but he had moved in with Starsky, which was turning out to be a lot of fun. Suddenly, he stumbled a bit as his vision wavered and shimmered, warning him of an impending migraine, a problem he hadn't experienced in the last few years. In the cafeteria he grabbed a cup of black coffee and sat by himself in the darkest corner of the room. Maybe it would just go away. He closed his eyes against the swirling shimmer, willing the encroaching headache to subside. If he could just spend a few minutes in a cool, dark place....

“Hey, Hutch, whatcha doin' way over here?”

The cheery voice stabbed his head like a ten penny nail, and it was all Hutch could do to keep himself from groaning as the lancing pain knifed behind his left eye. “Ah, shit!” The expletive escaped as a hiss, the excruciating agony familiar even after all these years. Of course, the violent nausea also followed, and he barely managed to hurry out the courtyard exit before he fell to his knees and threw up the coffee and his breakfast and what felt like everything else he'd ever eaten; cool hands held his forehead and the back of his neck. Afterwards he felt some better, although he was embarrassed to have someone witness what he'd always been made to think of as a weak, female problem. His mother had suffered with migraines since he could remember, and his father had always been unsympathetic and somewhat derisive, claiming that if she only tried hard enough she could defeat the problem. Hutch had been paranoid about his father finding out when he'd begun to suffer from the pain and visual distortions that came with his migraines. He could pass the nausea off as stomach flu, which he seemed to have a lot—another weakness like his silly concern for stray animals and his fondness for music.

Starsky helped him to his feet and over to a nearby cement bench, hunkering down in front of him, a hand on his knee. “You okay?”

Hutch nodded carefully, attempting to keep himself from throwing up again. “Fine,” he said quietly. “Thanks.” He tried not to move or speak more than he had to, he closed his eyes against the pain. At least it was cold out here, and empty—no one else wanted to be out in the chilly dampness.

Starsky patted the knee his hand rested on, stood and swung around to sit beside him. “So, what's wrong with you? You seemed okay this morning. You got the flu?” He'd turned a bit, so he could see Hutch's face.

It was too much effort to explain right now. “I'm fine. Go on to class.” He just wanted to be left alone.

“I can see how fine you are. Y'look great—green's really your color.” He rose to his feet, pulling Hutch up by his forearm. “Come on, I'll—”

A soft moan escaped, as Hutch felt his equilibrium start to slide. He grabbed Starsky's arm, holding on with an iron grasp as he stood still and tried to steady the world. “Don't move. Just don't move,” he murmured frantically and sat back down on the bench.

“Hutch! Are you really sick? I'll get someone. Stay right here.”

Hutch grabbed for his fleeing friend and caught Starsky's sweat pants leg in a desperate attempt to stop him. “No! I'll be fine. Please, don't get anyone...please.” He held on with grim determination. “It's nothing. Just let me sit here a bit.”

“You call this nothing? You throw up everything you've had to eat since yesterday, and you can't even stand up. I think you're sick enough you need—”

“I said, no!” He squeezed his eyes shut against the pain that accompanied his louder voice.

Starsky peered at him searchingly. “What's the matter with you, then?”

“Headache,” he mumbled, embarrassed.

“Headache? What kind of headache makes you throw up?” Starsky sat back down next to him and reached out to touch his head gently.

Hutch winced, pulling back, and Starsky jerked his hand away. “Sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you.”

“Not your fault,” Hutch whispered.

“You had this before?”

Hutch nodded carefully. The nausea had receded somewhat, and he braced himself to make his way back to his dorm room.

“Shouldn't you see a doctor? I'll drive you.”

“No.... Nothing they can do.” Hutch stood, using Starsky's shoulder as leverage. “Tell Sgt. Baird I had a family emergency, or something.”

“Yeah, yeah. Don't worry about that. You gonna be okay? Where you goin', huh?” Starsky had risen and stood awkwardly with his hands close to Hutch, but obviously afraid to touch him anywhere.

“Back to the room, I guess. I'll lie down for a while, stay in the dark, maybe sleep....” His voice trailed off as he slowly moved toward the door. “Don't say anything 'bout the headache. Promise.” And even though his vision was still multicolored and wavering around the edges, he tried to look Starsky in the eye. “Really.”

“Sure,” Starsky assured him, a frown marring his face. “Can you get there okay?”

“I'll be fine.” He walked back into the cafeteria and picked up his binder before he left for the dorm.

*******

Two hours later, sleep and an ice pack had dulled the pain to a somewhat tolerable level and faded the visual distortions—perhaps this one was not to be one of the three day marathons that had felled him in the past, at least he hoped not. His binder sat on his desk where he had left it, and the two envelopes waited for him in the pocket. He really didn't want to face the contents of either one of them just now, but putting them off wasn't going to make reading them any more pleasant. He carefully sat up on his bed and reached for the Academy logo labeled denim and flipped the front cover open. There they were, looking just as sinister as they had when he'd pulled them from his mailbox. Well, at least the divorce was finally real—not something far off but always waiting.

He pulled the sheaf of official looking papers out again and flipped through them, noticing all the post-it tabs indicating his need to sign or initial. The legalese was daunting, and even with a year of law school behind him, he figured he'd better get an attorney of his own to read over them before he signed anything. He set them down and picked up the letter from his father's office, opening the envelope quickly. A sharp pain went through his eye again, a reminder that the migraine hadn't finished with him yet. He closed his eyes and tried to breathe slowly—this was just a headache—and pulled out the typed pages, but when he tried to read them, the letters ran up the paper and mixed into the slowly moving edge of his vision.

Shit! The visual distortions were back, not quite the same as before, but still enough to make reading an exercise in futility. He set the letter down and closed his eyes again. He simply could not allow these headaches to become a common occurrence, just couldn't. They were too debilitating and the board would never okay him as a police officer—all this work for nothing. He leaned back against the wall and tried to send himself somewhere outside of the pain, a place soothing and cool and peaceful....

Hutch tensed as the door opened slowly and Starsky's voice came softly.

“Hey, Hutch, feeling any better?”

He sat up, opening his eyes. “Sure,” he answered, trying to smile. “What are you doing here? Don't you have another fitness class?”

“Yeah, yeah. Don't worry about it. You still don't look so good.” Starsky sat down gingerly on the bed next to him. “Can I do anything?”

“Nah, I'll be okay. Don't miss class 'cause of me.” The headache was already causing problems.

“It's just the obstacle course, an' I got that mastered—you're the one who needs the practice.” Starsky teased. “We'll do a few rounds tomorrow....”

Starsky's voice continued on, but Hutch stopped listening and fell into a state of light meditation, the only thing he knew that sometimes helped.

“Hey, are you okay?” Starsky's voice broke into his thoughts, bringing him back to the present.

“Huh? Oh, yeah, I— I don't....”

“What?'

Hutch couldn't help putting his hand to his head and groaning, as the pain throbbed with a vengeance. “Oh, God....” Suddenly, he leapt to his feet and tore for the bathroom. His stomach rebelled again, with very little remaining to throw up. He wished he'd been issued his weapon, 'cause he definitely could have used it, now. Being nauseated was one of the worst feelings in the world.

Starsky followed, obviously wanting to help, but he could only watch until Hutch flushed the toilet and sat back on his heels, looking miserable. Hutch accepted a hand up and turned to the sink to rinse out his mouth. “Sorry,” he mumbled and walked back into their room to slump down on his bed.

“Hutch....”

“Just don't. This hasn't happened for years—thought they were gone.”

“What? What's happening?”

“Migraine—you know, the kind of headache that makes you sick. I used to have them a lot, but not for years. Can't have them and be a cop....”

“Migraine? You mean like women get?”

“Yeah, like that.” Yes, just like that—jeesh! Wasn't there any humiliation he could avoid?

“So, you wanna tell me something?”

“What, that I'm really a girl in disguise?

“No––why'd you say that?”

Hutch shrugged and winced, looking away. “My father...uh...he thought the...the same thing. Maybe it's true.”

“That's stupid! If you get them, then guys get them.” Starsky's voice rose a bit as he tried to emphasize his belief in the seriousness of the headache.

“Thanks.” Hutch murmured, curling up on the bed, facing the wall. After a couple of minutes, he felt a blanket being spread over him, and smiled warmly over his shoulder at his roommate. He fell asleep feeling how good it was to have a real friend.

*******

Except for a head that felt as though it had been put through a hand wringer, the next day was fairly good for Hutch. Saturdays meant a time to rest and study for the next week's topics of police procedure, and a chance to blow off some steam. This Saturday would be spent making sure nothing started his headache again. No one at the Academy could know about these migraines, no one. He knew he could trust Starsky, but he was the only one. Knowing he wouldn't be up to obstacle course practice this weekend, he encouraged Starsky to visit his aunt and uncle with whom he'd grown up. His roommate had left pretty early this morning, dirty laundry gathered up in a pillow case and stuffed in an old army duffle bag. Hutch had pretended to be asleep, not wanting to talk about the headache anymore. If things went as they usually did on these weekends, Starsky wouldn't be back until after dinner tomorrow. That meant he'd have two days to recover, which was great, but he really missed his friend. He felt a bit down knowing there would be two days when he wouldn't see Starsky.

He sighed and looked over at his desk. The divorce papers were waiting as was his father's letter––two things with which he needed to deal, but two things that had already brought on one migraine. Maybe he could delay the whole thing for a bit, a few days at least. His father must have found out about the divorce, although surely he knew a letter now could make no difference. Oh, what the hell––he'd just wonder what his father had to say until he opened the damn thing.

Grabbing up the velum envelope, he pulled out the thick paper, unfolding it quickly. He scanned the crisp typewritten contents, seeing Vanessa's name, his name, the word divorce, a number of dates, and terms like must, advisable, and vital. Sighing deeply, he straightened out the page and went back to the beginning. The gist of the letter was that, if he intended to go through with this divorce he had better show up in Duluth for the court date on the seventeenth of December, if he didn't want Vanessa to take him and his future to the cleaners. A friend of his father would act as his attorney in the negotiations, which would all be handled without his presence, but he had to present himself to the court in person to clench the deal. He was advised to sign nothing until his lawyer met with him. A subtle subtext ran through the words: Vanessa had made the mistake of thinking she could get money from the Hutchinson family, and no matter how his father might object to his son's choice of career, he was still part of the family, and no one got one over on a Hutchinson. He almost felt sorry for her.

December 17th meant he'd miss an entire week of classes. Of course, his father wouldn't care about that, but Hutch certainly did. The Academy was giving them three days off for Christmas, starting the 24th of December––he didn't know how they'd react to a request for a week more. Shit! This was not the sort of record he wanted following him. Maybe he could get his father to change the date––it was worth the effort, at least.

The door opening took him by surprise, and he turned to see Starsky peeking around cautiously and then grinning when he saw Hutch was awake and sitting up.

"Hi, buddy. How're you doing? Headache all gone?" He spoke quietly and a bit nervous, like he was afraid of causing more pain.

"Yeah, all gone. How come you're back? I thought you'd stay till tomorrow night." Hutch had to admit how glad he was that Starsky had come back. He grinned at his roommate, who shoved the door closed and tossed his duffle bag onto the end of his bed, sitting down across from him. He could hear the relief in Starsky's sigh.

"Man, I was scared. You looked like you were dying last night. Are you sure you're okay?" The blue eyes regarded him closely, looking for any hint that Hutch was lying.

"Fine. Sorry I pulled that number yesterday. I was caught by surprise when it hit like that––I hadn't had a migraine for years, thought they'd stopped for good. You know the Academy would throw me out for sure if they ever found out. That was a question when I took the physical––Do you have migraines? I said no because I was seventeen when I had the last one."

"What causes 'em? You know?" Starsky toed off his shoes and scooted back on his bed to lean on the wall.

Hutch shook his head and shrugged. He really didn't want to talk about the headache any more––the less said, the sooner forgotten, but he was feeling guilty. What if he got one while on duty? What if he couldn't react when he needed to? What if his partner was depending on him and he didn't come through? What if that partner was Starsky? They'd talked about that possibility a lot in the last month, trying to figure out how to make it work. Now he wondered if they should be quite so anxious––not that other lives weren't important, but he had to admit in his heart that Starsky's life mattered much more to him than that of anyone else.

"Vanessa finally sent the divorce papers." He indicated the manilla envelope, but picked up the letter from his father.

Starsky wasn't fooled by the distraction. His eyes narrowed as he looked at Hutch speculatively. "Is that what caused the headache?"

Hutch shrugged and fiddled with the letter from his father. "I don't know, maybe. Or maybe this from my father." He tossed the letter to his friend and waited while Starsky read it. He was being a bit deceptive, intimating that he'd read the contents of the letter before the headache had started, but he was embarrassed that the very idea of a letter from his father could cause such havoc.

Finally, Starsky looked up from the letter with a sort of puzzled expression. "He always write to you like this?"

It was Hutch's turn to be puzzled. "Like what?'

"This formal, like you're a client or somethin'."

Again, Hutch found himself shrugging and shaking his head. "Sure, I guess. But did you see the part about having to show up in court the seventeenth? How can I do that? They'll never let me out of a whole week of classes, especially that close to Christmas." He really didn't know what to do. This was one instance in which he could not ignore his father––family money was at stake, something to which his father brooked no threat. On the other hand, he had no intention of throwing away the many months of hard work and walk away from a career to which he was really looking forward.

"I think I know someone who can help with that," Starsky told him, smiling. "You remember Lieutenant Blaine? I introduced you to him at Thanksgiving. Anyway, he'll probably tell you how you can go or clear it for you or something."

"You really think so?" Hutch couldn't quite believe his good fortune. But he trusted Starsky and if Starsky said Blaine could help then Blaine could help. Not that he wanted to go back to Duluth, but at least his stint at the Academy might not be ruined.

"Sure, why not? It's not like you're tryin' to get some extra days off or somethin'. You don't even like Christmas, Scrooge," Starsky laughed, and flipped him the bird, mocking Hutch's frequently expressed negative opinion of Christmas.

Hutch smiled in acknowledgement, although secretly he thought he might enjoy Christmas spent with Starsky.

 

Early Winter, 1969

Minnesota in winter wasn't a place for the faint of heart, nor for someone who had lived in California for a while. Cold he hadn't felt in two years knifed through him as he exited the plane and started down the landing steps. Jesus Christ! When had he enjoyed this? His father's town car awaited him and he gladly entered it to escape the cold. Akerman took his baggage claim checks and went into the small terminal to await his two items––some habits were never forgotten.

As he rubbed his hands together to warm them some, he wondered where Starsky was right now––in class, probably. He'd waited 'til Sunday night to leave L.A., unwilling to spend more time with his father than he had to. Starsky had come with him to LAX, and driven his car back to the Academy. He'd hated to say good-bye, wishing his friend was coming with him––he knew he would have felt braver with Starsky by his side.

The stop over in Chicago had been hours long, and it was after noon when they pulled up in the circular drive way. The house was the same as always––big, elaborate, over-whelming, intimidating, suffocating––a place he'd mostly avoided since graduation from high school. No one except the housekeeper was there to greet him––a bit of a relief, actually. He'd never felt like this was home.

Madeleine opened the door to his light knock, greeting him with a somber smile and a reserved, "Welcome home, Kenneth. Your flight was satisfactory, I trust."

"Yes, thank you, Madeleine. You look well." He smiled at her briefly, before asking, "Are my parents at home?"

"I'm afraid not. Your father has court this afternoon and your mother has a garden club meeting. Akerman will put your luggage in your old room. Would you like something to drink or eat?"

"No, thanks." He walked to the end of the hall and climbed the stairs. Already, he wished that he were back in his small dorm room. When he opened the door to his bedroom, he immediately felt the strangeness he'd known ever since the family had moved here in his seventh grade year. He still missed the smaller ranch house that had been their home when he was a child. It had been closer to his mother's parents, and he had been able to run over there when the weather'd permitted to visit his pony and play with the dogs and cats. This place, however, suited his dad's success better and his parents' new status as leaders of the Duluth social set. He hated it.

He sat in the fancy desk chair in front of the fancy desk and gazed out the window at the covered pool and snow laden trees––the yard still the perfection of landscaping it had been eleven years ago when they had first moved in. The coating of snow and ice matched its cold beauty.

A knock sounded at the door and he turned to say, "Come in."

Akerman entered with his luggage, and set it in front of the walk-in closet. "Would you like me to unpack for you, Kenneth?"

Hutch stood, shaking his head. "No, no, that's okay. I'll do it, thanks."

The man nodded and left––a non-interruption in this place of solitude. For that was his primary memory of his life here, always alone. He'd never felt comfortable bringing school acquaintances here, and there'd been no other friends. Jack Mitchell's house'd had a basketball hoop and a stereo in his room, so they'd ended up at his house most of the time. His parents had been no more involved in his life than the Hutchinsons had been in Hutch's, but they'd been far less interested in how their son 'looked' to their friends. Success in school had been demanded, and he'd spent most afternoons and evenings here, doing endless hours of homework. Not that he'd really minded, at least he hadn't had to spend the time answering his father's questions.

He'd wondered off and on over the years why he had such a hard time getting along with his father. It was easy to put all the blame on his father, but he knew there was probably a lot that was his own responsibility. The thought of his family interaction was unpleasant, and he most often chose not to think about it, pushing it down somewhere deep enough that it could be ignored. Coming here was bringing all of those feelings into focus again––not what he wanted, at all.

During the time he had been in the Academy, he had managed to keep his background mostly secret from the other cadets. Oh, he had mentioned his sister and parents, vaguely, keeping them firmly in Minnesota and not an active part of his life. Starsky knew his father didn't approve of his choice of police work as a career, but he had never elaborated on the topic. It hadn't seemed important. Now that he had to think of it again, he found himself unwilling to fall back into old habits.

Another knock on his door broke into his thoughts. "Come in," he called and stood up as his mother rushed through the door to hug him tightly.

"Oh, Kenneth, my darling! It's been so long since you've been home. Oh, I've missed you so!" She leaned back, holding his arms, to look him up and down. "Did you travel in that? Of course, you will change before your father gets home. You don't want him to see you looking so...casual, now do you dear?" She patted his arms and then turned and exited, waving over her shoulder. "Come down when you're ready, dear."

The door closed softly, and he was alone again. Like the wind off Lake Superior, she blew in, scattering leaves of greeting and advice, and blew out again. All one had time to do, was anchor oneself and hold on. She'd always been that way, ever since he could remember––no time for listening to or interest in anyone's answers, certainly not his. He shook his head and began to unpack his proper clothes.

*******

Dinner was much the same as he remembered––uncomfortable. Nan had arrived that evening, too, home for the Christmas holidays from college. She was a freshman this year and he'd hoped his sister would be full of stories to fill the awkward spaces, but he should have known better. No one interrupted his father, and his father spent most of the meal lecturing Hutch on the follies of hasty marriages and quick divorces, never mind that Vanessa had initiated the current proceedings.

It was difficult to eat, though the food was good and well-prepared. Hutch could feel the familiar anger at his father start in the pit of his stomach and rise to his throat. The only way he could keep himself from exploding was to let his mind think of other things––police procedure, California beaches, the twisting little roads of the Hollywood Hills, the lights of Los Angeles as you looked down from those hills, laughing with Starsky....

"Kenneth! Are you listening to me?"

He jumped at his father's loud voice. "Wh-what? Yes, I-I.... No, sir," he admitted quietly, his head falling forward in remembered submission to his father.

"Richard, let him be. Surely you can see he's exhausted from the flight."

He gave his mother a half smile of thanks, but her attention was still on his father, who was obviously displeased by her interruption.

"Very well," Richard Hutchinson finally conceded, "but you'll need to be more alert tomorrow when you meet with Nillson. He will go over the agreement he has worked out with Vanessa's lawyer, and have you sign the various documents. This has been rather painstaking, but I believe he has done a competent job. Be sure you thank him for his time and help. You are to be in his office at ten o'clock tomorrow morning." With that, his father stood, indicating that dinner was finished.

Thank God. Hutch stood and excused himself to his room. Almost over; it was almost over. The first day was done––five more to go. He could do this. He would bite his tongue and sit on his hands and get through this. He didn't know this Nillson, but he couldn't be any worse than his father, only why did his father trust him if he weren't? It didn't matter. He could do this.

When he got to his room, he locked the door and threw himself on the bed, covering his eyes and taking deep, calming breaths. After a half hour or so, he felt like he'd managed to send himself into the right frame of mind. A quick shower in the en suite bathroom––the one thing about this house that he liked––and he was ready for bed, his body, anyway. It was still eight o'clock California time, and he was wide awake, but he was not going downstairs again. He'd brought his never worn pajamas with him and put them on now. They felt a bit strange, since he'd been wearing old sweats and a t-shirt for the past five months, a habit he'd acquired from Starsky, but had known would be unacceptable to his family.

The thought of Starsky made him smile. How he wished he were here now, and he looked at the phone longingly, but knew there was no way to explain what was happening to someone who hadn't grown up here. Besides, what would he say? His father was a royal pain in the ass? So what––Starsky's father had been killed when Starsky was only nine. A little voice down deep inside said he wished he could say the same. He felt immediate guilt for the thought, and said a quick prayer of contrition. Things weren't ever going to change––they were just the way they were.

*******

The next morning he hunted up a ski parka he hadn't worn since he was a teenager and pulled it on over his sport jacket he'd brought to wear while here. The parka was a bit tight in the shoulders, but otherwise okay; at least it would keep him warm. He borrowed his mother's Alfa Romeo to drive himself into the lawyer's office, because he definitely was not going to be driven there by Akerman. Hutch drew in a shocked breath from the cold as he stepped outside the heater warmed interior of the car. Jesus Christ! The expletive came automatically––not from any habit from home. No matter how he was feeling, taking the Lord's name in vain was not tolerated in the Hutchinson household. Starsky swore like the proverbial sailor, old standards and interesting variation thereof––he said he'd learned a lot in the army.

Hutch squared his shoulders and walked into the office building. The entire place was the home of Nillson, Bergstrom, and Sjoquist, Attorneys at Law. He'd lived in California long enough that the Swedish surnames on the name plaque seemed odd––Jewish or Hispanic would have been more familiar, now. God! he hated this place.

The receptionist's desk was a curved and carved majestic representation of the Scandinavian talent for wood working. It was huge and beautiful, a real masterpiece, that had cost a fortune––obviously another reason Nillson was a friend of his father.

"Hello, I have an appointment with––"

"Mr. Nillson, yes, Mr. Hutchinson. He is waiting for you. You may go right in––first door on your left."

An impersonal smile sent him on his way, wondering how she knew who he was. He opened the door of the indicated office, and walked into the very large, quietly elegant room. The carpet was a plush blue-gray, thick enough to trip on if he weren't careful. This office was more over the top than his father's, if that were possible, and he wondered what his father was doing for Mr. Nillson to rate his attention in this matter.

"Ah, Kenneth! It's so nice to see you again. You probably don't remember me, though." The man walked around his desk to shake hands, smiling all the way. "How are you? Sit down, sit down."

Hutch took the comfortable side chair indicated and waited while Mr. Nillson reseated himself behind the desk. "Thank you, for representing me, Mr. Nillson."

"Oh, of course, Kenneth. And call me Hans. Now, I think this can be cleared up rather quickly. I'll go over the agreements we arrived at and you can tell me if there is anything that you want to change. Is that satisfactory?"

A quick nod was Hutch's answer, and his first impression of Nillson as a typical glad-handed lawyer faded as the business he had come to discuss was brought to the fore immediately. Maybe this was going to be all right.

After an hour of reading and discussing, signing and initialing, things were pretty much arranged––all to Vanessa's disadvantage. She virtually received nothing from him, not support nor compensation. He'd known this was his father's wish, and, with the very real threat of a counter suit from Hutch charging her with desertion, she had been convinced to accept what was offered. Hutch insisted that she be allowed to keep the Mustang, free and clear, as well as any household items she still possessed. His father had wanted her to pay back the money these things cost, but Hutch thought she should get something for the years she had wasted with him. After all, she could have found someone else more suited to her if she had been free. No matter how he tried to deny it, and no matter how often Starsky called her a mercenary bitch, he had misled her concerning what her future would be.

"Our court appearance time tomorrow is 9:30. There won't be much for you to do. You'll be asked if there is any chance of a reconciliation and if the terms of the agreement are satisfactory. It should take no more than an hour."

"Thank you again for your help. Send me your bill." Hutch stood up and moved to the door.

"Your father and I have settled all that, so there's nothing for you to worry about."

"But––"

"No, no, I just hope all will work out for you. Say hello to Richard."

Hutch left without looking back. He'd ask his father about the money––he couldn't see his desire to pay being refused.

*******

He grinned as he bit into a piece of gingerbread—his grandmother had never lost her knack with the traditional Christmas foods of Sweden. He was stuffed with everything from lutfisk to kattbullar—all delicious. “Mormor, what are you doing for Christmas day? Why don't you come home with me? You'd love California.”

His grandmother laughed and shook her head. “What would I do with California Christmas?”

He laughed and sat forward on his chair, gesturing with the piece of cake. "Sit on the beach. It's great!"

She shook her head again, standing up to clear the table. "Sit on the beach? Your old grandmother and her swimsuit 1930? Nej tack."

"You'd wow all the young men,” he assured his seventy-one year-old grandmother. "I'd be with you; so would Starsky."

"Jag tror att det skulle vara du som skulle wow dem. Perhaps this Starsky, also."

He blushed at her words, and dipped his head in embarrassment. Yes, Starsky certainly would. He wondered what his grandmother would think of him? He had no doubt Starsky would adore her. He wished he could see the two of them together––talk about cute!––the Christmas Jew and the Swedish grandmother. Suddenly he was hit with an overwhelming homesickness for California, the Academy, and especially Starsky. He'd missed the man ever since he'd left L.A., missed his laughter, his easy camaraderie, his quick mind, and his never failing friendship. The curly haired bundle of unquenchable energy was the first real friend he'd ever had. Oh, he and Jack Mitchell had been high school friends, gone places together, worked the same job in the summer, gone to the same college, but he'd never been able to talk to Jack like he could to Starsky, nor had he ever trusted Jack the way he had immediately trusted Starsky. He couldn't wait to get back to where he was.

"You should bring your friend here to home. Skulle han vilja det?"

"Yeah, he'd like. He loves Christmas and food." Sighing, he said, "Look Mormor, I've got to get back to the house Mom's upset because I'm leaving tomorrow, but I can't stay with Father the way he is."

Wednesday and Thursday had been a replay of his worst high school nightmares. His father went over and over all the mistakes Hutch had made in his lifetime so far. Choosing law enforcement as a career was the final mistake, and having Hutch there in person he couldn't resist pressing the point home––in nastier and nastier terms. Although he tried, Hutch couldn't always hang on to his temper, which was why he had come out here to see his grandmother again.

He stood up and walked around the table to hug her. She was tall and thin--a family trait––and he supposed she would never look like the fairy tale grandmothers of story books, but she felt perfect to him. He kissed her lined cheek, smelling the familiar scent of lavender and lemon water––the only cologne he'd ever known her to use.

She held him away from her a bit. "It will be all right, min pojke. He is the very hard man––does not see the bad he does. You are brave, ja? Be brave now."

He nodded as she patted his cheek softly. "I'll try, Mormor...I'll try." As he turned to leave, she blew him a kiss and smiled sweetly. Always on his side, her love for him had been the only love on which he had been able to count when he was a child––true and strong, like between him and Starsky....

Starsky....

Love?

Was that what it was? A shock of knowing snapped his head up, as he suddenly realized what he felt for Starsky was more than friendship, much more. The implications of that were tremendous, and brought up so many questions that he was buried in confusion.

"What's wrong, min lilla pojke?"

He looked at his grandmother blankly, not understanding her question. How long had he felt this way? How did Starsky feel? The same? Would he be horrified? Could he walk away from the friendship, too? He and Starsky had promised to tell each other the truth––no matter how painful or embarrassing that might be. Could he tell him? Should he tell him?

"Kenneth?"

"What, Mormor?" What would Starsky do? If he told him how he felt.... Should he just shut up? Oh, God! What should he do? "I'm fine, fine," he muttered distractedly. "I'll talk to you before I leave. Love you." He walked outside to his borrowed car and climbed in, still wrapped up in his dilemma. Did he feel this way because he was merely homesick for the life he had grown used to? Maybe that was it, and all this weird physical attraction was just confused feelings of longing for his new life. The feelings would disappear once he was back in California––that was it. He tried to laugh at his leap to disaster, but a catch in his throat made it sound more like a moan. But what if it were true? How? Why now?

Without thought, he pulled off to the side of the country road and parked the car partially in the snowbank that had accumulated against the trees––the ever-present snow and cold. He closed his eyes and leaned back against the headrest. Somehow, he had to figure out an answer to this situation. How was he to see Starsky again and not reveal what he was feeling? Would Starsky notice a difference? What reaction would Starsky have to the difference? What was he going to do about this? Why was he feeling these things?

He tried to pinpoint an exact place and time when these new feelings had begun. That first night when he had drunk Starsky's beer and slept until the next afternoon? He remembered how happy he had been for one of the few times in his life, how easy it was to talk to the guy from New york who was, in most things, Hutch's complete opposite. Maybe that's when he had fallen in love. Oh, lord! was that what had happened? Had he fallen in love? Was that why he had stopped trying with Van? Had even been a bit relieved when she'd left? Had loved moving into the dorm after Van left?

Or had it been after he'd moved in with Starsky? He had felt completely happy, content to the point of a type of euphoria. He'd looked forward to every day, to every weekend, to any chance he had to spend time with Starsky––a feeling he'd only experienced as a very small child when he spent time with his mother's parents.

In a kind of daze, he restarted the car and drove back to his parents' house. He still didn't know what he was going to do about this new problem, but he did know it would have to be worked out once he saw Starsky again––whether or not he ever told him.

*******

The return flight to Los Angeles on Friday was the longest seven hours he'd ever spent in his life. He could think of nothing but what he was going to do when he got back, and how Starsky would react to whatever he did decide to do. He hadn't slept the night before and he sure couldn't sleep on the plane, so by the time he made it back to the Academy, he was exhausted. His car was missing from the parking lot, but since he'd told Starsky to use it while he was gone, he wasn't surprised by its absence. In fact, he was glad, as that probably meant his roommate wouldn't be back until Sunday, giving him a bit more time to figure this whole thing out.

He stumbled into the room in the early evening, carrying his suitcase and garment bag, dumping both onto Starsky's bed as he walked by on his way to the bathroom. After a quick pitstop, he pulled off his traveling clothes and crawled beneath the covers of his bed. He was so tired he might sleep till Monday morning, ignoring the big problem that still waited for a solution.

He awoke in the dark, sleep-fogged and sort of confused about his location, to the sound of someone swearing softly. "Dad?" He sat up, reaching blindly for a bedside table that didn't exist, and hit his hand on the cinderblock wall. "Ouch!" Suddenly, a light snapped on, causing him to squint his eyes and blink several times.

"Hutch! What are you doing here? Thought you were coming back tomorrow." Starsky was obviously glad to see him. "Oh, you were asleep, huh. Want me to turn off the light again?" But he made no move in that direction. "When did you get home? How was it? Did you get everything worked out about the divorce? What'd you bring me?"

A grin that could light the room all by itself split the happy face and set Hutch's heart racing––nothing at all had disappeared, not the longing, not the wanting, not the needing....

"Hutch, are you okay?" Starsky's voice sounded anxious as he sat down by the silent Hutch and put an arm around his t-shirt clad shoulders. The grin had been replaced by a worried frown.

"Yeah, y-yes, I mean...." What if he just leaned in and kissed Starsky? His mouth looked inviting and soft, just waiting to be taken. What would happen?

"So, tell me."

Maybe it was jet lag or insanity or because he had thought of nothing else for the last twenty-four hours, but he found himself stroking Starsky's cheek gently, mesmerized by the cobalt eyes fixed on him. These were the eyes that had haunted him––so blue, so honest. "Kiss me, Starsk," he murmured, leaning closer so that his lips were only a hair's breadth separate from his friend's.

For the space of a heart beat both men were perfectly still, held in a freeze-frame of time, but then their lips met and nothing was the same as before. A deep groan of 'finally' escaped Starsky's throat and mingled with the almost whimper of Hutch's sigh of 'yes'. They lay back on Hutch's bed, mouths never losing contact, tongues dueling now, breathing harsh and fast. Never had he felt so turned on; never had he wanted someone so badly; never had his control been less. He felt Starsky's hands move up and down his arms with impatience, tug at his undershirt, pulling it up and sliding his hands beneath to grip with desperate need. Hutch pulled his mouth free to lean back and whip his undershirt over his head, then push off Starsky's jacket and pull his t-shirt up and off.

He immediately recaptured the willing mouth, now feeling the hair-covered chest pressed to his bare skin––an erotic sensation like he had never known. Oh, God! Inundated with pleasure that was almost painful in its intensity, he moved restlessly, thrusting his swollen cock against the denim of Starsky's jeans. He was pushed away, as Starsky rose quickly and divested himself of his remaining clothes, standing naked and proud, his cock jutting up. Hutch gasped at the sight, undone by the eagerness Starsky obviously felt. He had so thought that his friend would react adversely to any move on his part that he could hardly believe what was happening.

With shaking hands he pushed down his boxers and kicked them away and lay back spreading his arms in welcome. In slow motion, Starsky came down to fit against him––warmth invading his body, excitement flooding his senses, desire swamping his soul. It was as though he had waited his entire life for this moment, waited and watched for this one person. Even if his experience was limited, his know-how rudimentary, he had no doubts; he was complete.

Starsky captured his mouth again, hungry and wild, driving Hutch half-insane with hands that roamed his body with hard, demanding touches; tongue going from exploration of his mouth to long, shattering sweeps of his throat and collar bone, interspersed with little bites that stung briefly before that sweet, sweet tongue took away the pain. Never had he been so on fire, so desperate for more.

"Tell me what to do, Starsk." He managed to push Starsky over, and hover above him, propped on one elbow, the other hand skimming through the soft chest hair. His fingers found one flat nipple and began to squeeze and stroke it to hardness.

A deep groan escaped Starsky's throat as he threw his head back, his face stretching in an almost grimace. He captured Hutch's hand and pushed it down to his straining cock. "Touch me," he panted. "For fuck's sake, Huuuutch!"

The desperation in Starsky's voice sent thrills of pleasure through Hutch's very soul and ignited his body to the breaking point. He grasped the swollen cock, pumping it roughly, only to hear a choked keen escape, dragging him further into this other worldly experience. He felt his partner shudder in release and warm semen spill onto his hand and body, but no time was allowed for him to comprehend this wondrous event as he was grabbed in eager hands, turned, and devoured by Starsky.

His lips would be sore tomorrow, but for now he knew nothing except the tongue ravishing his mouth, only to skim his chest down to his abdomen, where they burrowed into the pubic hair to nuzzle and kiss the base of his rigid cock. A quick lick up the shaft brought Starsky's mouth to the head, where it opened and consumed him in one deep plunge. He came with lightning speed, shooting his seed into the eager throat, which swallowed all, sucking the last bit from him and licking up any trace he had missed.

For the moment, he simply could not move, destroyed and gasping. "Starsk...Starsk...." His voice refused to cooperate, and he lay there like a dying fish, unable to say anything more.

Starsky moved up, cuddling him close, stroking his sweat dampened hair away from his face. "God, you're beautiful! All gold and white and delicious, like a perfectly done blintz."

"I love you," Hutch managed to say at last, gazing with adoration into the mobile face.

The deep blue eyes sparkled with delight. "I call you a blintz and you say you love me. Sounds like I got the best of that trade."

"I do, you know, more than I can tell you."

Starsky's face quickly sobered, his eyes filling with tears. "I know––God! me, too." His voice barely audible, he pulled Hutch closer, burying his face in the safety of his lover's neck.

It wasn't anything Hutch had expected––thinking Starsky would be more likely to deck him and demand he vacate their room, he was deeply shocked by his response and wonderfully delighted. To find out Starsky not only shared his feelings, but was more than eager to take those feelings as far as he was, came as a reason for deep rejoicing. His hands stroked the warm skin and his lips planted little kisses every where he could reach as he breathed in the heady smell of sex and essence of Starsky. And he felt that euphoria again, the soaring happiness that seemed to fill him so that he was floating somewhere in the clouds, untroubled and unconcerned, unknowing of any problems that might bring him back to earth.

Starsky relaxed in his embrace, his breathing smoothing out and deepening, sleep taking over his body. The light shone brightly down on them, but Hutch was too exhausted to do anything about it. There was so much that needed saying, but right at the moment he couldn't remember what any of it was. He snagged the rumpled blanket at the foot of the bed and managed to pull it up over them, covering his face as well, and fell into a dreamless sleep.

*******

When Hutch finally awoke on Saturday, it was the middle of the afternoon, and he was a bit disoriented. He felt oddly bereft, as though something precious had been ripped from him. A quiet moan of pain escaped.

"Hey, Hutch!" Starsky came over smiling and sat down on Hutch's bed, leaning down to kiss him. "How you doin'? Thought you was gonna sleep all day."

Starsky had kissed him, so last night hadn't been a dream. He looked up at the happy face in wonder and smiled gently in relief––everything was right again. "How was I supposed to do that with you bouncing around?" He settled a hand on the worn denim covered thigh, delighting in the warmth he felt there.

"Want me to go 'way and let you sleep some more?"

"No. I want you to kiss me again," Hutch said softly, reaching out to pull Starsky down to him. Their lips met softly at first, but as the remembered heat flooded his senses, the kiss grew deeper and much more intense. This...this was what was important, this was the meaning of existence. Everything else in his life fell away to this recognition, to the feel of this body writhing beneath him, to the absolute truth that here was where he was supposed to be, would always belong.