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Disclaimer: These characters are not mine. But as many slash writers have done before me, I treasure a comment of David Soul's, made on a BBC special in 1980: "If you can think that way -- if you want to think it's a homosexual relationship, if you think that's what it is -- then that's what it is." In this story, I think that's what it is. If you don't like to think that, then hit that back button.
My thanks to Lutra Cana, Animasola, Dana Austin Marsh, and Raven Morgan Leigh for reading and making suggestions on the draft. Keri T. and Paula Wilshe were kind enough to publish it in Venice Place Chonicles 1 and to give me permission to add the illustrations by Julie Henderson.
Fools and Kings
(Or, There's Gonna Be a Heartache Tonight)
... as we talked of many things,
Fools and Kings,
This he said to me ....
—"Nature Boy," Eden Ahbez
As Hutch came into Starsky's apartment, he could hear his partner on the phone. He sounded impatient. "No, I'm tellin' you, thanks for callin' but no. All right, goodbye." And then a little embarrassed, "Sorry." The click of the receiver.
"Salesman?" Hutch asked as Starsky turned around.
"Uh, yeah," though Starsky didn't seem really sure of it. He grinned weakly. "Nuisance." And then seemed to get over it, rubbing his hands and grinning. "Pizza's in the oven," he said, "want to start?"
"What about Nancy?"
"Oh, she's meeting us at the bowling alley."
Hutch rolled his eyes, not understanding why Starsky had taken up bowling so persistently of late. It sure wasn't for Nancy's sake—the girl could barely lift a ball and couldn't hit a pin with it except by accident. She was good-humored about the repeated failure, but Hutch didn't see how she could possibly be really enjoying herself.
She seemed a good sort, though hardly the brightest light on the Christmas tree. Good in bed, Hutch supposed, as he moved around the kitchen with Starsky, pulling out plates and napkins for the table while his partner finished the salad he'd evidently been making before the phone rang. Hutch eyed his back speculatively. Salad? What do you know, food therapy.
Starsky had been practically babying him since Gillian's death.
Hutch leaned against the counter, staring into the sink, his eyes fixed on the dark hole of the drain while he dealt with a wave of grief. Gillian. Gillian. Honey-colored hair, sea-colored eyes, smiling, a warm bath of love in that smile ... the jasmine perfume she wore, the taste of her curving lips, all so sweet. That swelling flying feeling. A roomful of red balloons, she said, and yes, it was like that, like being a floating balloon in a room crowded with them.
Crowded with them. Just one more balloon on Gillian's string. He pounded one hand on the counter. Starsky was there right away, close enough for his body heat to warm Hutch's back but their only contact a hand on Hutch's shoulder. And no words. A mercy, since Hutch couldn't speak.
A lot of the time he could dam the feeling up; sometimes he released it deliberately, when he was alone; but sometimes it just ambushed him unexpectedly. A lot of times, if he was honest.
And Starsky was usually there, hanging on, until Hutch had a mental grip on himself. Now he raised one hand to lay it on top of Starsky's, and they stood like that for a minute or so. Then jumped, both startled by the ring of the phone.
Starsky lunged for it as if it were going to explode. "H'lo?" He frowned. "No, sorry, not on the market any more. Well, that's not my fault. Yeah, a classic, but ... " The grin that had started in the last few words snapped off like a light switch. "Hey, can the attitude." Then he pulled the phone away from his ear fast, flinching as if from a sudden noise. His mouth quirking, he hung up.
Hutch just looked at him. It hadn't sounded like another sales call ... and not like Nancy, though they'd both had women slam suddenly out of their lives ... "Old girlfriend?" he tried.
"Yeah." Starsky looked relieved.
"What was the classic bit?"
"Oh," said Starsky, "uh .... " He sniffed ostentatiously. "Pizza's burning, pal. Get it out?"
Hutch did, now thoughtful. Then he dished up a salad for each of them while Starsky cut the pizza with an enormous round rolling cutter that he said he'd learned to use as a kid, something to do with the restaurant his grandmother lived above.
While they ate, he watched Starsky as unobtrusively as possible, but the man seemed perfectly relaxed, even joking about making the salad for Hutch's sake. Hutch complained by rote about the anchovies in it, and they discussed the details of Caesar salad authenticity, Hutch maintaining that the summer squash alone made it just another salad and took away any reason to have to put those horrible little fish in it .... All the while he was thinking about the phone calls in the back of his head. Not an undercover detective for nothing, buddy.
Starsky had gotten up to fetch another round of beers and Hutch had just put another slice of pizza on his own plate when the phone rang again. Hutch stood up and snagged it across the table and Starsky, almost to the set in the kitchen, froze. Stared. Hutch stared back as he said, "Hello? Starsky residence."
"Hey, man," said a breezy, stranger's voice, "lookin' to buy that Torino o' yours. Sold it yet?"
"Uh," said Hutch, "no," puzzled. Starsky's immobility wasn't helping.
"Well, don't play with my mind, man, tell me. The Bear said askin' price was three thou? I'll give you thirty-two, the first two thou cash on the nail, pick it up tonight?"
"No," said Hutch, feeling on firm ground about that, at least. There was no way Starsky was selling his car. No way.
"No, man? What'd'you mean no?"
"No, the car's not for sale." Starsky closed his eyes. Then opened them.
"Don't give me no jive, man," said the telephone. "I got this news straight from the Bear. He says you guys are tight—he ain't wrong, is he?"
"No, I mean, yes, Huggy's our—" Hutch remembered the man obviously thought he was speaking to Starsky— "my friend, but you've just got it wrong about the car. He must have meant some other friend, different car, something. Some mistake." He was speaking as much to Starsky's still face as to the telephone by this time.
"No mistake, man! If you sold it just be straight with me—if you ain't, then deal!"
"It's not for sale!" Hutch shouted. "It was never for sale!" He slammed the phone down and swung back to face Starsky. "Right? Your car is not for sale, is it?"
And he saw Starsky pulling himself together, putting on the mask of light humor and astonishment. "Me? Sell my Torino? What was that guy, nuts?" He turned back to the refrigerator, got out the beer and brought it back to the table. "C'm'on, sit down, Hutch."
But Hutch didn't. "Wh-, what," he said, "why ... what's this about?"
"Everybody gets crank calls, Hutch," Starsky said, his voice sincere and the statement grating falsely in Hutch's ears.
"Look," Hutch growled, leaning down to take a handful of Starsky's shirt at the shoulder, "I don't give a flying fuck what you do with that tomato of yours—just as well if you do sell it, far's I can see—but when you lie to me about it, buddy—" The thought was just too close, too sharp, a needle, a blade, and his voice roughened; his eyes closed. "Don't lie, Starsk, don't." The way she lied.
In one movement, Starsky was out of the chair and holding him, hard, as hard as in Gillian's apartment with her body not six feet away. And just as it had then, the sensation of Starsky's strength supporting him, Starsky's caring focussed on him, just opened the floodgates and Hutch gasped, sobbing before he knew what was happening. It was wildly frustrating because he had a lot more to say, a lot more to hear from Starsky, and he couldn't get his lungs to do anything but heave, or his voice to work at all.
"No, sorry, no, no lying," Starsky said, and his voice was rough too, as it had been then. "Tell you in a minute, just a minute, all about it," rubbing Hutch's back as the muscles clenched.
After a time, Starsky must have decided Hutch was together enough. The chair was under him, he was lowered into it, and his partner was crouching in front, running gentle fingers back from Hutch's temples into his hair. Hutch shuddered, clenched his teeth, his body wracked with anger and frustration and grief and gratitude while his head was held firmly still. When he opened his eyes, there was Starsky's open, concentrated stare, the look he only got when Hutch was hurting and there was something serious to say.
"Did you really ever think I didn't like her?"
"Gillian. You said, you said," and Starsky swallowed, "that I was making it up that she was a hooker because I never liked her."
Hutch hardly remembered what words he'd spoken over Gillian's corpse, thought that wasn't quite right but didn't have the energy to argue. He shrugged.
"It wasn't true, Hutch. You've gotta understand that. I liked her fine when we met, and I loved—" one hand skimmed down his cheek and up again— "how dreamy and happy you looked about her, and then I saw her in the massage parlor and, man, it was like a gut-punch. I didn't know what to do. And then I had to climb right into the car with you and ... I should have told you right away." His eyes fell; so did his hands, to rest against his thighs.
Hutch took a deep breath. He wanted to say, of course you should have, you turkey, you moron, how could you keep me in the dark? but really he knew that was unreasonable as well as unkind. He sighed the breath out and said, "What would have happened?"
"You'da punched me right in the car?" Starsky said with a little sad smile.
"I don't know," Hutch said. "I would've gone back in for sure, though."
"Maybe that would've been best," Starsky said. "Nothin' the Grossmans could've done to stop you finding out, not like she told you on purpose ... mighta," he swallowed again, "kept her alive, you think?"
Hutch hadn't thought about it and could hardly bear to now. Nor, for that matter, could he bear the look on Starsky's face. Hutch's hands went out without conscious decision and cupped his partner's cheeks, cradled his head. He opened his mouth, but had no words for what he wanted to communicate, and closed it again, just gazing. Then he frowned a little, asking, "But what does all this have to do with the Torino?"
"Then, you know, you ... in the alley ..." Starsky paused and Hutch shook his head, not wanting to remember how he'd frozen, not covered Starsky when the Grossmans' two bully-boys were shooting at them. "And that was the first time I thought, I was worried, afraid ...."
"Spit it out, Starsky."
"I thought I could lose you." The voice was low and full of pain. "So many ways. More than I thought before. I mean, we've known about the guns, the bad guys. But because you might not want to do it any more or be too, I don't know, hurting too bad if she told you, or, well, just too many ways."
Hutch pulled him forward, slowly, until they were hugging again, Hutch perched on the edge of the chair and Starsky still kneeling. It reminded Hutch a little of the day Starsky had been poisoned, the way he'd sagged against Hutch's chest and held on to his jacket. Hutch rested his cheek in the curly hair as he had then, felt the utter importance of the man in his arms. "I hate that I froze up," he said softly.
"Doesn't matter now," Starsky murmured.
Hutch wanted to protest as he had in the alley after it happened, but was aware that he was being sidetracked again. "The Torino, Starsky," he insisted. "Explain to me about selling the damn Torino."
"I couldn't tell you." Starsky didn't raise his head. "I kept trying to work it in and there just never was a time. So I got all the money from my checking account and I told Hug to see if he could find a buyer for the car, and I went to see her."
Hutch shifted his grip, held Starsky off, stared into the shamed eyes. "You took money along and you went to see her," Hutch said, and blood was rising in his face, he could feel the heat and a pounding in his temples. "Y-, you, you thought," he got out, "she was that expensive?"
"No, my god, what do you think I am?" said his partner, his best friend. "I took the money 'cause I was, I meant to, I asked her—" He pulled away, stood, a step back from Hutch and half-turned to one side, rubbing his face. "I was buying her off, trying to get her to go away, and I didn't think there was anything worse I coulda gone there to do until you told me so! Jesus fucking Christ, Hutch!"
Hutch leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands. He wanted darkness and silence.
The phone rang.
Starsky nearly tore it off the wall and snarled, "Will you guys leave me the fuck alone? " And then gulped. "Ohmygod," he said in a totally different voice, and Hutch looked up. "Nancy, I'm so sorry. No, no, babe, I didn't mean it, I thought it was somebody else ... no, Nancy, sweetheart, don't cry, please .... yes, it was wrong ... no, I didn't think ... oh, what time is it? Uh, yeah. We're kind of in the middle of something, actually, babe, so if maybe we could ... no, I do understand, whatever you ... Bye ...." He looked at the phone in his hand as if he were not sure how it had gotten there, then put it into the cradle. Sighed. "Fuck."
Hutch made a sound like a cough, surprising himself—and Starsky, by his expression. And then another one, and by the third they had both figured out that it was laughter. Starsky leaned against the wall and began to chuckle, and Hutch put his face back in his hands and went on laughing.
"T-take it off the hook," Hutch managed at last.
Starsky did, then picked up one of their abandoned beers, walked over to Hutch's chair and collapsed on the floor, leaning against his leg. Hutch put a hand in the slightly-squashed curls and sat back. Starsky drank, wiped his mouth, took a deep breath, and handed the bottle to Hutch, who also drank.
"You know, I hate that car," Hutch said some time later.
"'M not selling it."
Starsky just shook his head and settled his shoulders as if in for a long evening.
The evening had been fairly long, with lots of beer and a really slow game of Monopoly, and Hutch sacked out on the couch sometime between turns, when Starsky had gone to the bathroom. "Hey, your go," Starsky said when he got back, sat in his spot on the floor, and saw that nothing on the board had changed. Hutch just blew out his lips. Really sleeping, maybe not even reacting to Starsky's voice.
"Hu-utch," Starsky whispered, leaning over, bracing himself against the coffee table, imagining the beer-laden air blowing into Hutch's ear, tickling it the way they both liked. Hutch turned his head away a little, then back, rolling onto his side and frowning slightly in his sleep. Starsky watched, close enough to see the lenses under Hutch's eyelids as they moved. Then he sat back down on his heels, one elbow on the table, and watched some more. His own eyes were tired, itchy, achy, but there was all the time in the world for him to ease them, do his own dreaming. They were off tomorrow. Hutch would go quickly, embarrassed about all the emotion and the drunken sleep, and then Starsky would have empty hours enough to get some of his own shuteye back.
Like last night—we didn't even do anything, he remembered Hutch saying about Gillian. We just sat there, and looked at each other. Beautiful, you know?
"Yeah, babe, beautiful," Starsky whispered, his throat tight, staring. "I know."
He knelt up again, then got to his feet, watching the bright still head, listening to the deep even breaths. He reached over Hutch for the afghan on the back of the couch and draped it along the lean form, made sure it covered stocking feet and round bent knees and as far up the top arm as the cloth would go. Not all the way onto the shoulder. For a moment he held the edge of the afghan between his fingers, not quite touching the sleeve of Hutch's shirt. And then he let it go and went to bed with that warmth still in his fingertips.
He laced his hands together behind his head and looked up toward the mirror where he couldn't really see himself, in the dark. He really was a mushbrain, like Hutch said. What a stupid time for his own feelings to go into overdrive. Not what Hutch needed to deal with when he was already dealing with so much. Grief was just poison—look at the way Hutch had let himself think even for a second that Starsky could have wanted to buy Gillian in any other way than to send her to Cleveland or some other end of the earth.
Starsky had liked her, well enough. Hardly knew her, as even when she'd come along bowling she'd stuck to Hutch like glue, gazed adoringly into his face, just plain hung on to him. Not that there was a problem with that! Obviously it was just what Hutch needed. And his gentleness, the way he didn't insist on sex, what a relief that must have been to her after taking the Grossmans' clients one after another. Come to think of it, she had some of the same wonder in her face when she looked at Hutch that Sweet Alice did. Even a call-girl as obviously high-class as Gillian wouldn't often meet a genuine gentleman like Hutch.
Hutch could be wild, too, fierce, loud, deadly fast; he could come on strong; there was an edge to him that Starsky wouldn't have traded for anything even when it came out in harsher ways. Those tender flowerlike girls with their need for protection never saw that. Van had, and not just because they were married and Hutch couldn't hide it. She had a sharp edge herself, did the ex-Mrs. Hutchinson, and little desire to be saved from herself.
It was the best thing Starsky knew about her.
Ah, sometimes, sometimes he wondered why they bothered with women. Nothing but hassle and heartache.
And, of course, some really nice sex, soft voices, pretty features, sweet smells .... well, okay, he wasn't planning on giving them up any time soon.
Starsky closed his eyes, reminding himself that he needed to call Nancy tomorrow and mend that particular fence.
And slept. Until a dip downward on the bed woke him.
He opened his eyes, then blinked, but the pale glow was still beside him: Hutch's face and hair and light blue shirt, the one with the guitar on the back. The same he'd worn the previous evening. So this probably wasn't a dream.
"Hey," he said, sleep still clogging his voice, "Hutch. What'd'ya need?"
A warm clasp on his shoulder kept him from trying to sit up. "I'm okay," said Hutch. "I just ... was looking at you, sleeping. So sound."
"Yeah?" Starsky cleared his throat, wished he could see Hutch's face more clearly, the light eyes, the set of his mouth. "Seemed to me you were, too, when I went to bed. What happened?"
The ghostly blur of the head turned, and an even more ghostly blur above copied the movement. "A dream. A-and I, I woke up, thought for a while, couldn't sleep. Kind of wandered around a little. Came in here."
"Yeah?" Starsky knew he wasn't adding much intelligence to this conversation, but he felt like he still didn't know what was going on. What do you need, buddy? He wanted to ask that again too, and give it, whatever it was. He was pretty sure he knew what it wasn't, despite appearances: Hutch knew how to ask for that, and he wasn't asking. No hunger in his touch, no sensual drop in his voice.
Neither of them spoke for a little while. Hutch moved his hand to Starsky's wrist, on top of the covers on his chest, and lay there in a loose clasp, undemanding.
"What did you dream about?" Starsky broke the silence at last.
"Hsh, listen," said Hutch.
As far as Starsky knew, it was as quiet as he'd expect in the middle of the night. But he tried, since Hutch asked, and there was a bird singing, the same few notes over and over. "Sounds like a tiny little squeeze-box."
Hutch's hand closed on the bone of Starsky's wrist and waggled it back and forth.
Starsky sighed. He couldn't possibly get all excited about some city bird dumb enough to be awake when all the lady birds weren't, and all bent out of shape about it. He shut his eyes and wondered about Hutch's dream. Maybe he didn't even remember it. Starsky couldn't remember the one he'd been having when Hutch woke him. Maybe it would come back to Hutch later, when they were bowling, in the noise of the balls rolling down the hollow wood of the alleys and crashing into the pins, people laughing and shouting at each other ... Starsky would look around and there Hutch would be, all pensive, face soft, and he'd go over in those stupid shoes that always felt strange on his feet and put a hand on Hutch's shoulder. Hutch would look up, a little startled, and then he'd relax and say, 'I remember now, Starsk, that dream ...' and the feeling that had been growing so much more intense, since Hutch took up with Gillian, would swell up in Starsky's chest again, like a balloon inside, all he could do to stand still and let Hutch lead.
A warm hand touched the side of Starsky's face and snapped him out of the half-sleep he'd been in, dream and all. Hutch's thumb stroked an arc from mouth to temple and the bed shifted—he was getting up—the hand was gone—"Hey," said Starsky, reaching out himself, "Hey!" He caught Hutch's arm.
"Go back to sleep," Hutch said.
"I don't want to," Starsky said, sitting up, holding on, with both hands now. "I want you to tell me what the hell's in your head."
Hutch took a deep gasping breath and said, "Gillian. Gillian all day long and all night, too. Don't you ever get bored hearing about it?"
"No," Starsky insisted.
Hutch pulled his arm away, folded both of them across his chest, and the set of his shoulders, the tilt of his head, radiated so much skepticism that Starsky didn't even need to see his face clearly.
Starsky was getting irritated. So that wasn't the whole truth, so what? Hutch kept saying he was the brains of this outfit. Starsky shouldn't have to spell out that what he meant was that yes, hearing nonstop about Gillian was not really on top of his list of favorite things, that sometimes Hutch repeated himself, that sometimes it seemed like he was dwelling or working himself up to those bursts of grief that embarrassed him so, that really it was a little hard for Starsky to believe that everything from eating at hot dog stands to hearing birds in the middle of the night reminded Hutch of Gillian when really they hadn't done all that stuff together or anything ... but none of that mattered in the end. The pain was real. Hutch's pain. "You can bore me for a hundred years if it'll make you feel any better," Starsky said at last, and Hutch's shoulders sagged. He seemed to melt back down to the bed and hunched over, arms crossed on his knees, bent entirely in half. Starsky put his arms as far around his friend as he could and just held on.
"You'd do the same for me," he said. Then, after a pause, "Well, you'd pick at me more, but you'd basically do the same."
Their heads were close enough together for him to see Hutch's lips twitch.
Asleep, Hutch was back again in the flickering dark of a movie theater, Starsky beside him laughing and stuffing handfuls of popcorn into his mouth. If Hutch hadn't known better, he might have thought a cartoon was showing from his partner's reactions.
But instead, on the screen was a deep pink room, rosy and soft everywhere as if it were some sort of body cavity. In the center of the room was a large circular bed, covered in some quilted, shiny material, also pink. Across the bed lay a woman in a pink satin negligee. Honey-colored hair. Big sea-blue eyes. Slim, elegant hands roving her own body, around her breasts, along her sides, across her thighs, fingertips pressing to show the edges of her pubic hair under the satin, pressing in more to define the opening of her labia. Her face showed that smiling blankness of the porn actress. She lifted a languid hand and drew circles around one nipple, then the other, until they stood up distinctly under the sheen of the material.
Hutch had seen this before, he had been here before, and he knew that later, when the man arrived, Starsky would touch him, unzip his fly, suck him off or give him a hand job. He shifted impatiently in the velveteen seat and saw the flash of Starsky's teeth in the corner of his eye.
There was a knock at the door, and Gillian rose slowly, one hand still stroking down her body and the other across the quilted pink bed. As she grasped the knob, she pushed her other hand into her hair, lifting it, letting it fall through her fingers as Hutch had so often done to feel its warm feathery weight.
She opened the door and smiled as Hutch stammered hello, pulling his hands from his overall pockets. "Television repairman?" Gillian asked with a bright, sweet smile, and all he could do was nod, drowning in the jasmine of her perfume.
Taking his hand, she led him across the room to the television; he didn't even look down at it. She wet her lips and smiled again, slowly pulling the string bow that held the top of her negligee.
He reached out, never wondering where the TV had gone (or the movie theater, or Starsky, or the rest of his familiar dream)—he took the warm round breasts in his hands. They filled, even overflowed, his palms, and he was surprised. They never had before. She purred, eyes slitted, the falsely sensuous tone ringing in his ears.
He should have been aroused. Dropping his chin, he saw that he was nude and that he was erect, swollen and leaking, but he felt nothing. No, he was angry. In fact, what he felt, looking down at the writhing naked body laid out across the bed, was rage so strong that his hands were shaking, his heart pounding, and now her throat was between his palms, tendons rigid as he tightened his grip.
—and he woke, breathing so harshly that he was making rasping noises. He held one breath and forced another as if meditating, slow, calm, remembering where he was.
On his couch—why hadn't he gone to bed?
He sat up, wrapping his arms around his quaking body and saw the phone on the coffee table.
If only it would ring ... if only Starsky would call him ... but that wasn't going to happen, and Hutch couldn't call to report a bad dream. Anyway, he knew Starsk had been out on another date with that new girl, Tricia, Terry, something like that. Yes, Terry. Smart and warm and pretty, but not stunning—she wasn't a casual bedbunny, Hutch hoped Starsky realized.
But judging from the look on his face after the last date, Starsky realized just fine. That roomful of balloons expression. It felt strange to see it on Starsky's face.
It felt lonely to see it on Starsky's face.
Hutch remembered Starsky saying how glad he was to see —how had he put it?— how dreamy and happy you looked about her, said the voice in Hutch's memory. For all their competitiveness and all Starsky's fiery and possessive loyalty, he was better at that, at letting the bond between them loosen when it had to, when one or both of them found another love.
Sitting on his couch in the dark, Hutch told himself that he had to learn how that was done.
Hutch's hovering was driving Starsky completely crazy.
Hutch had needed this, after Gillian, somebody around almost all the time to hold him when he cried, somebody to listen to every moment of Gillian-time replayed, somebody to make sure he worked and went home and ate .... Starsky didn't need it, and having it anyway made him such a bear he couldn't stand himself. Or Hutch.
And he knew it was his own fault, not only because when Hutch had hurt like this, Starsky had needed the comfort of caring for him almost as much as Hutch had needed the care. Because when Hutch had driven them that last time, when Terry was dead, he parked the car in front of Starsky's place and just looked across the front seat. "I'm," Starsky had said shakily, "okay, just wanna be by myself, I gotta ... get hold of ... this thing." He'd looked out the passenger window and felt that if Hutch touched him, he'd fall apart in a million pieces.
"If that's what you want," Hutch had said softly, after a pause, and Starsky had nodded and gotten out of the car without looking back. Climbed up the stairs feeling like an old man, stiff all over, into the apartment that was as alien to him as if he hadn't been there for years. Took a shower. Got a sandwich together and sat staring at it for he wasn't sure how long.
His mind was just blank, which was okay when he had stuff to do—worked fine in Nam, mostly—but this time he was just sitting on the couch and looking in the direction of the TV, and he could feel the little squirrel in his brain beginning to run on its wheel, and when it got up enough speed he wouldn't be able to block out ... what had happened ... any more. He got up in a rush and put on some music, loud; he got out the vacuum cleaner, turned it on, pushed it back and forth across the floor, sang along with where he knew the music had gotten to, and it was a couple of minutes before he realized that he'd actually not taken a step. Pushing back and forth over the same place, mindlessly repeating.
He shut off the vacuum, a huff of distress coming unexpectedly out of his mouth and sounding like it might be a sob next time. No, couldn't start that. No. He ground his jaw shut, clenched so hard that by the time he'd coiled up the cord and put the machine away, his face hurt. He was breathing hard. Damn it, damn it, damn it to hell .... The telephone was burning a hole in his back, like a laser beam was coming out of it, like one of those magic beams in a sci-fi movie pulling him over. I want to be alone, he thought, not convincing himself.
He turned around and looked at it. It was just hanging there on the wall like always.
He gave in and let his shoulders sag, went over and took the receiver in his hand, dialed the one number he knew in his sleep, drugged, whatever. "Hutch?" he said, and stopped.
"I'll be right there," Hutch said, and his receiver hit the cradle so messily that Starsky flinched.
So now when he said he needed to be alone for a while, Hutch obviously didn't believe it. Starsky was lucky to have ten minutes to himself while Hutch ran to the health-food store, and the things he'd had to eat were indescribable ... well, the casserole had been good. He'd even said so, and Hutch had smiled, a rare expression lately.
Taking a walk by himself in the middle of the night, after Hutch had gone to sleep, Starsky gave in to the nervous, frustrated energy in his body and began to run, then ran harder and faster, for a long time, pumped his arms up high and almost closed his eyes—and heard the Blp-blp of a warning siren, stopped so fast he stumbled and had to grab at a lightpost, then leaned against it getting his breath as the two uniform-cops got out of the patrol car. Nobody he knew. He couldn't talk right away, but he pointed to his pocket and held up his hands so one of the cops could get at it, and though he didn't really remember picking up his shield when he left, it was fortunately there. "Jogging," he told the two puzzled faces, and they said "All right, Sergeant, sorry," and got back in the car and left.
He didn't tell Hutch about that. Even though the blintz was awake when he got back, sitting on the couch all disheveled and worried. "I'm okay," Starsky said, skipping past hello. "I'm fine. Just wanted some air."
Hutch nodded, his pupils large in the half-light of the small lamp. Or it might have been fear.
God damn it, what right did Hutch have to be afraid for him!
The right Starsky had given him, over and over, until a time like now when it felt as though he'd kept no rights for himself. He walked with a measured step alongside the shelving unit, to the bedroom doorway, and then felt Hutch looming up close to his back, and whirled. "Back off!"
And Hutch did. Two steps, which with those long legs of his put him almost in the middle of the room. He turned his hands palm out by his sides as if to show he didn't have a weapon.
And he finally seemed to have acquired a clue, because he said, "Should I go home for a while?"
But he looked so bewildered and sad when he said it, as if he were the one who'd lost a lover, and Starsky realized it must feel pretty much like that. He sighed. Made himself walk forward, put his hands on Hutch's face, feel the warm skin and the way those big hands settled at his waist. "You're my best friend," he said, and drew Hutch's head down till he could lay a little kiss on that worry-line between his eyebrows. "Best pal in the world," and his voice broke because that was what Terry used to say, that they were best friends, but it was true that the friendship of his life was here. "Now go on home for one night, Hutch, please." If Hutch didn't take his hands away, Starsky was going to really cry, and he didn't want to.
Hutch let him go, then reached out delicately and caught the one tear from Starsky's lashes on the end of a pale finger. "Sleep tight, Starsk," he said, and carried the tear away out the door.
Hutch, leaning against the hood of the LTD with his arms folded across his chest, saw a remote jiggling smudge on the path and knew before he could really see anything that it was Starsky. Running.
As the smudge became a little flailing figure and then a recognizable runner, Hutch realized how fast Starsky was going, how hard he was belting along the path, as if there were a felon ahead of him. As if Hutch were in danger.
As if he were outrunning his own thoughts.
So Rosey Malone must be gone, somehow. Probably going to leave the country with her father. Hutch didn't know how to feel about that.
The path Starsky ran was the same they'd been on when they saw the tall blonde woman for the first time, all coltish long legs and flowing long hair, jogging easily and gracefully. Starsky had slept at Hutch's the previous night, after some frankly unremarkable sex, and the next morning had insisted grumpily on jogging with Hutch to see why he bothered with it. So Hutch had taken him to the park; he couldn't remember why. Often he just ran in the street, especially along Ocean Front Walk. Though he sometimes did run laps in the park, he should have known Starsky would grow bored with it. Maybe he had known. Had he wanted to make sure they wouldn't jog together again? To tease Starsky about being childish and impatient, or out of shape? To work up some sort of competition about something safer than how long they could suck and tease each other and how well they could make each other come?
And then they'd seen Rosey and that old game had kicked in: Starsky had decided she was a prize he'd race for. She was gorgeous—Hutch more than admitted it; he'd wanted her as well. Before they found out who she was, or more accurately, whose daughter she was. Before the Feds popped up in Dobey's office and Starsky went under cover to get information about the gangster boss Frank Malone. Before Starsky fell in love.
Uncomfortably, Hutch shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and though he wasn't directly at the end of the path, he knew Starsky had seen him by the way that even running stride faltered. Slowed, then speeded up again, then stopped.
Hutch felt caught out, and didn't move. Starsky's hands were fists, hanging by his sides, and his whole body was tense. Hutch let his own arms drop, hands relaxed, and as if Starsky were mirroring his partner in some weird way, he folded his arms. He seemed to be looking at a spot on the path a few yards ahead. Stood breathing hard for a while.
It was too fragile a moment to disturb with more than breath, and Hutch grudged even that. He didn't know what he'd do if Starsky turned away. Or didn't turn away.
When Starsky took a step toward Hutch, then another, there was nothing to do but wait. And then his partner's walk abruptly normalized, took back the territory of the park with a familiar swagger; his chin was up and jaw set; his smile was tight. "Didn't know you were tailin' me."
"I'm that good," Hutch said.
"Not bad," Starsky answered after a long pause. "Good thing I taught you—" he cleared his throat— "everything you know."
Hutch leaned back, braced his hands against the car and locked his elbows. The sun fell across his forehead and warmed his scalp and back. Starsky just looked, his eyes narrowed against the sunlight, or emotion, or both.
"Not everything," Hutch said.
"No," but Starsky didn't pursue the joke, or turn it to conversation either.
"Where's the Torino?" Hutch asked after a while.
Starsky jerked his head back and to one side. "Over there. Ain't lost it."
"No," said Hutch, smiling, "you haven't lost it."
"Then let's get back to work," his partner said.
It wasn't over, of course. Rosey and her father didn't even leave town for several days, and then there would be the Senate hearing, and Rosey had her shop to sell .... Hutch kept his mouth shut, and watched out of the corner of his eye when Starsky picked up the phone. Sometimes he'd just hold it for a while, looking at the keypad, and then put the receiver down. Hutch knew better than to let on he'd noticed.
But then it happened while they were at Hutch's place, and he just couldn't stand it any more. He went over to his friend and put one hand on each shoulder, and just stood feeling the muscle and bone, cloth and shoulder holster, holding on to the man who seemed as elusive as a shadow even now, under his hands.
Starsky raised his head and stood, not especially resistant, but silent. After about half a minute of that, Hutch began to rub the shoulders, then really massage, up his partner's neck and down to his back. "Strung pretty tight," he said.
"Can't imagine why," Starsky answered. And then tilted his head back as Hutch's thumbs touched the base of his skull again, ruffling the short hair that grew along the nape of his neck. "Ah, you are the good guy," he said. "Like I told Mr. Tires."
Hutch grinned. "Goodyear, Goodson, Goodgoddamn."
"I'll try that one next time."
Hutch cleared his throat. "Take off the holster," he said, as his hand nudged the edge of the hard leather again, "and let me do your back for real?"
"I'll fall asleep," Starsky warned, his eyes already shut. Hutch rubbed his neck again, not bothering to answer verbally, and Starsky stepped forward and began to unsnap the dark overshirt he wore.
They went into the bedroom alcove and Starsky stripped to the waist, kicked off his tennis shoes and lay on his stomach. "Hope this ain't a come-on, Hutch," he mumbled, half his face in the pillow, "'cause I swear to god I'm not up to it."
"See what you're up to later, maybe," Hutch said, sitting with one leg tucked under him and the other foot on the floor. "Right now, buddy, I'm only up to seeing you relax for the first time in a week."
"Two or three weeks, 'less you count ... well ..." the voice trailed off as Hutch put his palms against the warm solid back, began first to rub and then to find the edges of muscles, the knots and stiff spots, moving handfuls of Starsky's flesh and drawing firm lines along his bones. He wished he had oil handy, but he didn't use it for sex, preferring a more controllable and thicker lubricant, and it had been too long since he'd needed it for massage. He rubbed circles on each side of Starsky's lower back, riding a long sighing breath, and thought it wouldn't really take all that much massage anyway, to put his friend to sleep.
He hoped Starsky was getting as much pleasure out of this as he was. He thought so, by the way the body under his hands was loosening, almost melting into the bed, face completely slack, lips a little open. Hutch kept rubbing until a little snore came from Starsky's mouth, and then he bent over slowly, carefully, and kissed the nearer shoulderblade. Tugged at the coverlet and pulled the edge over Starsky so he wouldn't wake with a chill.
Hutch sat on the couch with a book, but he didn't read it; it sat open on his lap while he thought about what Starsky might be up to doing later.
But he was doomed to disappointment, that day. When Starsky came out of the bedroom and sat on the other end of the couch, he was sheepish, embarrassed about the nap if not the massage, and soon he got up and said he had to go.
"No, Starsk," Hutch said with a smile. "You don't have to go."
Starsky's eyebrows knit together. "Yeah, I do." He was standing; he looked down at his seated partner and folded his arms across his chest. "It's not over for me, Hutch. I can only—" now his crooked smile mocked himself, with enough pain to make Hutch fold his own arms in empathy— "I can only have one tall gorgeous blond in my bed at a time. And she's not really gone yet. For me."
"Fine," said Hutch, trying not to be put out. "Let me know when she is gone, buddy."
"Oh," said Starsky, "you'll know. Don't worry." He leaned over and touched Hutch's shoulder with just the tips of his fingers. "Later," he said, then left.
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