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Distant Shores

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CHAPTER V

 

"I don't feel right about doin' this, Mr. Flavin."

The small, bearded man looked disgruntled as he drove the Cadillac. Kurt Flavin turned a disparaging look toward him.

"Why, Eddie? I should think you'd be glad to get home again. It's been almost three years."

"Yeah, time flies when you're havin' fun," Eddie Strouse grumbled. "What if there's still a warrant out on us, Mr. Flavin? We got no business comin' back to L.A."

"There is no warrant, Eddie. We left no witnesses. Nobody knows what happened to that cop, so we're off the hook. I admit, it was a good idea staying out of the country for as long as we did, but we've been in New York for almost a year, with no problems. Forget the whole thing. It's ancient history."

"We kidnapped a cop, Mr. Flavin. We took him out of the country and killed him. Somebody's gotta want to see us busted for that. They have partners, you know."

"Shut up, Eddie. You forget who runs this operation. I've had Victor check into things since he got into L.A. last month. There are no warrants out on us. Nobody knows a thing about us. Quit worrying."

Eddie sighed, trying to loosen his grip on the steering wheel. Killing that cop had never set well with him, and he'd always had the feeling that the murder would come back to haunt him someday. For two and a half years, he'd worked with Flavin on the international drug and gem market, and the venture had been profitable. But Flavin still talked and acted like the hood he'd always been. It would have been better never to come back to the States, even if the money here was better than anything they could make elsewhere.

********

Starsky ran the rough, air-dried towel across his back, his movements jerky and tense. He had just run home for a quick shower and a bite to eat, then he planned on heading for the airport.

Five days. It had been five days since Hutch had called to say he was coming home. Starsky's elation had faded now. In the intervening days he had not had any further word at all. At first, he had assumed that Hutch would call back with his specific time of arrival so Starsky could pick him up at the airport. When he did not, Starsky grew a bit anxious. Hutch had sounded so good on the phone, more like his old self. Starsky had thought that there might be a chance for the two of them to work things out after all. Yet that had been days ago. When he heard nothing from Hutch, he tried calling Minnesota, but the family had apparently left town on vacation. The only person he spoke to who had seen Hutch, the lawyer, told Starsky that Hutch had left Duluth three days ago.

Worried, Starsky had tried to conduct a quiet investigation. He had checked all the airlines and buses, but could find no record of Kenneth Hutchinson's departure for the West Coast. Not knowing what else to do, Starsky was prepared to fly to Duluth to try to track his errant partner down. Memories of a frantic search that had lasted much longer than a couple of days preyed on his mind. Starsky tried not to overreact, but he couldn't help himself, couldn't stop fearing that something had happened to Hutch again.

He yanked on a pair of jeans and selected a shirt at random from the closet. As he stepped into his boots, he heard a car pulling up outside and a horn begin to blare loudly.

Annoyed, Starsky moved to the window and pushed aside the shade. In the street below was a silvery blue Mercedes, brand new by the look of it. As Starsky stared, a tall blond man climbed out. Hutch looked up, spotted Starsky at the window. His face broke into a grin as he began to wave.

For a moment, Starsky just looked, his mind frozen. His first emotion was relief -- Hutch was all right. Then, something more sank in. There stood Hutch, obviously none the worse for wear, waving jauntily as if Starsky should have had no reason whatsoever to be concerned.

Damn him, he can be so inconsiderate... Like a parent whose wayward child has been found to be close by all the time, Starsky's relief metamorphosed into anger. Rage at Hutch, at himself, at their whole situation surfaced, no more to be denied. His overriding thought was that Hutch had not bothered to call him, and he let it dominate his feelings. Starsky turned, stomping through the apartment to charge down the steps. Seconds later, on the street, face-to-face with Hutch, he took a deep breath. The smile of pure joy on the other man's face staved off the explosion. Then Starsky judged the expression as one oblivious to all his pain, the suffering he'd undergone for three years as well as the worry he had gone through in the last week.

"Where the hell have you been, goddamn it? I was expecting you days ago!"

"Look." Hutch gestured with pride toward the sparkling new car. "Bought it in Duluth. I drove home instead of flying."

As if that made any sense, made amends to Starsky. His mouth dropped open, the total incongruity of the purchase of a car like this hitting him. "You bought this?"

"Yeah. Doesn't look much like my old 'squash' does it?" Hutch was animated, a kid with a new toy. "It's a 390, rides like a dream. I always wanted a Mercedes, believe it or not."

He's out of his mind, totally out of his mind. A Mercedes -- how much did it cost? And driving all the way alone. Incredible. Starsky looked closely at him. Despite his good spirits, Hutch seemed tired. Was he trying to get himself killed?

"Whatever possessed you, Hutch? Only an idiot would take to the road on that kind of trip after..."

"Goddamn it." Hutch's curse was soft, low, full of venom. "I knew it. I knew that would be the first thing you'd say."

He's actually surprised that I'm annoyed with him. "Well, what else should I say to you? You pull a dumb stunt, you deserve to hear about it. What'd you expect, that I'd congratulate you for driving cross country when any sane person would have taken a plane?"

"Something like that."

"You're wrong, buddy boy. I'm not in the habit of thanking people for being jerks. Don't usually enjoy being made a fool of, either."

Hutch's angry tone matched Starsky's now. "Nobody's making a fool of you but yourself, Starsky. Naturally you see what I did as an idiot stunt. You're convinced that I'll never be able to do anything on my own, no matter how many ways I can prove myself." Hutch turned, going to the driver's side of the car. He spoke again, his voice low this time. "And if I can't prove it to you, why bother proving it to myself?"

Starsky didn't understand, couldn't figure out where they'd gone so wrong with each other. I should let go, like he wants me to. Neither of us can live this way. It's over. Yet something about the tension in the departing figure made Starsky call out to him once more. "Hold it."

The order halted the retreat. Hutch stopped, turned to look at Starsky, his face anguished, between anger and hurt. Starsky couldn't deal with Hutch's pain, however. He had too much of his own that had never been dealt with. He'd pushed it aside for years, letting everything else take precedence, but now it was making its existence known. They'd walked on eggshells, fighting only about unimportant details, never really expressing their innermost feelings. Starsky didn't want to hurt Hutch. But maybe you have to hurt someone else some of the time -- if you're aching inside yourself -- if either of you wants to heal.

The light blue eyes fixed on him questioningly. Starsky realized they were standing in the middle of the sidewalk. Suddenly, he wanted to get back inside; there were things he wanted to say to Hutch, and he didn't feel like forcing his neighbors to listen.

"You're not leaving. Not after putting me through five more days of hell. You ran to Minnesota to avoid talking to me, but you can't get out of it any longer."

He turned and Hutch followed him inside. Starsky knew the other man was more angry than hurt now, too. That was good, because Starsky could yell at him all he deserved without feeling bad about it.

The door slammed behind Hutch and Starsky turned on him immediately. "So you bought a car. What precisely did you use for money? You said the will won't be out of probate for weeks."

Hutch looked at him as if he were crazy. "Since when do you make my financial status your business?"

"Since you made it my business. This is the same argument we've had a hundred times. It's okay with you that I collect your rent and pay your bills, but you don't have to check with me on any of the spending that you do."

"All right. I'll tell you where I got the money. There was an account the bank had in my father's name and mine. It passed to me outside the estate. Fifty-thousand dollars. I paid cash, in full, for the car."

"Good God, you are insane." Starsky stared at Hutch in utter disbelief.

Hutch turned and dropped heavily onto the couch. "Wonderful. First I'm an idiot, now I'm insane."

"What would you call it? Hutch, you spent a virtual fortune on a goddamn car. In the old days, you drove a heap you could have bought for a song. Granted, maybe now you'd like to have something in a little better repair, but whatever possessed you to get something like a fucking Mercedes? Why didn't you fly home and go car shopping out here, with me? You could have found something economical, taken out a loan... there're all kinds of cars on the market now that weren't available three years ago."

"Yeah, and with a loan I'd be in debt and saddled with a car you thought was best for me, one that I'd know nothing about because I'll always be two years behind the times. No way. I bought the car with my money, Starsky. It's done and there's nothing you can do about it. That's what you're really mad about. All you can do is condemn my actions, forget trying to understand my motivations."

The emphasis on the word 'understand' made something inside Starsky snap. "Understand? That's one word that's not even in your vocabulary. Ever since you've gotten back on your feet, you haven't been a bit concerned about me and my feelings, my 'motivations'."

"That's not true!" Hutch's eyes flashed denial.

"Shut up and listen! All you want to do is for yourself, because you need to do it. You'd rather set yourself up to get lost or hurt again simply to avoid taking any advice I have to give you. You're so set on proving yourself that you can't stop to take anyone else's feelings of concern into account at all."

Hutch looked defiant. "If it was only advice, I wouldn't mind. You've helped me a lot, Starsky, and believe me, I'm grateful. But you can't figure out where your obligation ends and where our friendship begins. If you don't stop smothering me, things are going to go down the drain after all. Neither of us can change what happened. When are you going to stop feeling guilty about my getting hurt?"

"I feel guilty? That's a good one. The guilt-trip king tells me not to feel bad about takin' two years to find him. Fine. Terrific. I'll just turn off my emotions. I'll forget all the sleepless nights I spent worrying. I'll forget all the people who kept telling me to give it up, to realize that you were probably dead." He looked away, closing his eyes for a moment before turning back to Hutch. "I used to try to make myself believe them, accept that you were gone -- so I could just get some rest, you know, but it didn't work. I knew that somewhere out there, you were in need."

He took one step in Hutch's direction, then backed off again, still angry, yet not inclined to hide his other feelings. "I'll pretend those years never existed. And I'll forget the last month and a half, too, when I thought I might never see you again. You don't need to know anything about feelings like that. You spent those two years in a blissful cocoon and you're all better now, so just get on with your life. That's what you've been telling me you want, isn't it?" Starsky turned away to stare out the window, his anger draining away into the empty kind of pain he had come to know so well.

Silence stretched out behind him. Finally a voice spoke, one born of the same defeated agony he suffered.

"Starsky, don't you think I feel guilty about those years, too? Gunther's men almost killed you. You needed me when you got out of the hospital but I wasn't there for you."

Starsky couldn't turn around, tried not to listen. It sounded too much like the old Hutch -- and even in those days, he was sometimes someone who played games with Starsky's heart. Better to have the new and unfathomable Hutch around, one not to be counted on, one that couldn't hurt him because he wasn't someone Starsky could love.

But he did hurt, because no matter who Hutch was, he was so much a part of Starsky that love didn't even begin to define the tie that held them together. Maybe they should have gone on stepping on eggshells, he realized belatedly. When you let yourself hurt the other person, you can't help inflicting some of the pain on yourself.

"If you think I'm going to coax you out of a guilt trip over something that wasn't your fault, you can forget it." His voice was dead, as were his hopes.

Behind him, Hutch drew a ragged breath, the sound breaking as if on unshed tears. Starsky sensed him moving to stand behind him at the window.

Don't do this. Why can't we save what little dignity this relationship has left? No matter how much I want 'my' Hutch back, Starsky thought, his pain doubled by determination, I've got to admit he's gone forever.

Starsky wanted to keep staring out the window, wanted not to care, not to hope. Yet the presence behind him was too compelling. He was drawn, physically and emotionally, to turn his gaze away from the setting sun and see who was there.

The man with Hutch's eyes stood looking at him. The soft, full lips that looked like Hutch's trembled as words began to form. A voice from Hutch's soul spoke out, touching Starsky where he hid from pain; finding him, knowing him, reaching him.

"Don't you understand that I waited for death knowing you'd probably never find out what happened? Knowing I wouldn't be there for you when you needed me most?"

Starsky could only shake his head. The wounds went so deep, for both of them.

The blue eyes that could tempt and hurt and heal and love him looked down into Starsky then, and he saw his own fears and his own guilt reflected, saw his own need mirrored. The voice of their past spoke to him again.

"Don't you realize I waited for them to kill me knowing I'd never make love to you again?"

The shape of the words on the lips penetrated Starsky's mind before their meaning. He had to visualize them forming again before he could make sense of their meaning.

"M-make love to me... again?" he repeated softly, incredulous. "You remember?"

Hutch looked away and his voice sounded small. "Maybe you wanted to forget -- or hoped I had."

"No! Never. I was afraid you didn't remember, or that you'd changed your mind. You never said anything..."

"Neither did you." Hutch was still looking away.

"You were sick. I felt awful thinking about... about wanting you when I should've just been grateful you were alive. I thought if you'd forgotten, maybe it wasn't meant to be anyway. If you remembered and didn't say anything it was because you didn't want to bring it up. Didn't want it ever again." Starsky's insides tightened with the weight of all his fears. It was out in the open at last, but that still didn't change anything.

The soft voice answered him. "I remembered. Not at first... it was like it had been a dream, something I wasn't sure was real. There were so many pictures in my head, and not all of them made sense. Some of them scared me so much... But you and me... I guess it was something I'd dreamed about for so long that I didn't consciously believe it was actually a memory of us being together. Then, as my mind cleared, I was sure. It had happened. At the time, it had felt right. But -- you didn't say anything. You'd had two and a half years to think it over. You saw me the way I was then... Maybe you'd fallen in love with somebody else."

"You found out that wasn't true."

Hutch shrugged eloquently. "Thought I'd never be right, never be whole in mind or in body. I knew I once wanted you, but so much had been lost... I don't think either of us knew what it was we wanted. And... I wasn't sure I could love anybody, physically, again."

"Oh, babe." They stood still, side by side, touching only with their words. Their realization that they had been at cross purposes left them vulnerable, their emotions too delicate for an embrace of any kind, too subtle even to bear prolonged eye contact.

Yet more words were necessary. Starsky had to say what he really felt at last. "Hutch. I love you. I love you no matter what."

Hutch seemed to flinch from the sincere declaration. The blond head began shaking, as if he couldn't believe. "Don't you see -- I have to get well, all the way. Have to trust myself again, before I can let you entrust yourself to me."

"I do trust you. You are well now." Humbled, Starsky couldn't think of how to prove his true feelings.

"That's why I drove home instead of flying," Hutch went on as if he hadn't heard. "I... had to see if I was able to do it, all by myself. If I'd told you, you'd have tried to talk me out of it, and because I didn't want to worry you, and because I was afraid, I'd have let you." He turned to face Starsky tentatively. "I was... kind of testing myself."

Starsky raised a hand, let it settle lightly on Hutch's shoulder. The man was real, solid, substantial. It was only the emotions that were like wisps of dreams. They were becoming real now, too.

"I didn't even suspect you might try to drive." He tried out a cautious smile. "Didn't think you could -- " He broke the statement off, fearing Hutch would think he was belittling his accomplishments again.

Hutch was seeing more clearly now. "I had to take the test for my license. My second-cousin, Chelsea, taught me how to drive, helped me study for the written test."

"Who?"

"Chelsea. Stan's daughter. She's sixteen."

"A sixteen-year-old kid taught you to drive?" Starsky shook his head, not knowing whether the picture amused or frightened him. He felt a twinge of regret that he hadn't been there, hadn't been able to give that gift to Hutch, but the old demons, the feelings of having to be everything for him were falling into perspective.

"Why'd you buy the Mercedes, though? That money could have stretched pretty far."

"I know. But I thought about something less reliable breaking down out on the desert. I didn't want to take any chances. And besides, the more money I spend, the sooner I'll have to get out there and get myself a job."

Starsky shook his head, fondly smiling at the Hutchinson brand of dumb logic. He'd done what he thought he had to do, but he had been considering his own safety. Starsky's heart felt like it was going to overflow. His lifted his other hand, reaching toward him.

"Come here."

Hutch fit into his arms like he always had, as if they were two carvings from a single branch. Starsky held his breath, closed his eyes, reveling in the feel of him, the warmth, the weight, the texture. There was the roughness on his cheek from the collar of the suede jacket Hutch wore, the silk of the strands of hair caught in his fingers where he cradled the blond head, the trembling heave of the chest pressed against his. Starsky had never felt more complete than he did as Hutch's arms encircled him to seal the embrace. They tightened, bracing him, clutching at him, both supporting and seeking. The two of them held each other close until Hutch's weight began to fall too heavily against Starsky and he realized the man was staggering with fatigue.

They swayed as Starsky parted them a little. His eyes met blue pools of moisture; Hutch was crying silent tears of relief and exhaustion. Starsky made his fingers gentle as he wiped their traces from Hutch's cheeks.

"Whatever you say, that was still a hell of a long drive. You look beat. Come on inside. What you need right now is some sleep."

Hutch's lips formed a smile of rueful assent. He let himself be steered toward the bedroom and braced one arm against the wall as he pulled off his shoes while Starsky turned down the covers. He sank down on the blue sheets, shrugging out of his jacket. "I do seem to be crashing all of a sudden." He loosened his belt and wriggled out of his pants, then dropped down against the pillow.

Starsky was drawing the drapes against the glare of the setting sun. He turned to find Hutch's bleary gaze, expectant and anxious, still on him. He smiled. "Ain't goin' nowhere."

He got out of his boots and jeans and shirt and came to the other side of the bed. "Just wanta hold you for now." It was as much a question as a promise.

Hutch slid into his arms without a word.

********

Hutch woke slowly, savoring the comfort of the bed. Without opening his eyes, he tried to define the reason it felt so good to him -- all his senses seemed content, touch especially, as well as smell. Then it came to him; this was Starsky's bed. The subtle scent of him lingered on the pillowcase. He rubbed his nose against it, breathing in, breathing out. The pillow was soft, the mattress firm. He felt like he belonged here, and that was a very good feeling indeed. Sighing, he ran his hand toward the other side of the bed, stroking along the tumbled sheets, seeking his sleeping companion. When his hand encountered only emptiness, his eyes blinked open at once.

Stabbing disappointment prodded him fully awake. It had felt so good to sleep in Starsky's embrace; he'd longed to feel those sure arms around him upon waking, too. Now, he was alone. Was the rapprochement they had found a few hours ago mere illusion? Hutch sat up in the bed, listening, watching.

There was light coming from the rooms beyond, and an odd rattling noise, accompanied by a soft whistling. That was strange; it sounded like Starsky, but he never whistled. The musical sound came closer and Hutch saw that he'd been wrong. The figure framed in the doorway, backlit, stood tall on bowed legs, one hip jutting forward, an arm propped high on the doorframe. A froth of wild hair haloed the head, and Hutch couldn't say a word. Come closer, so I can see you, echoed plainly in his mind, but his dry throat couldn't force the words out. Starsky heard him, though; he stepped forward, switching on the overhead light as he did so, and Hutch could see his face. There was an open anxiousness in his expression that gave him a grave kind of beauty. The eyes that looked toward him, ringed with lines of worry, seemed haunted and hopeful at the same time. Hutch knew it was time for him to say something.

"I woke up and you weren't with me." He swallowed; his mouth was so parched he could barely speak. "I missed you."

The words seemed to release Starsky from his hesitation. His face relaxed into a wistful smile, as if he still could not believe Hutch was here, talking to him that way. Hutch smiled a little in encouragement, and raised his hand toward his friend.

Starsky came to him immediately, sitting at the bedside and taking his hand firmly in a needful grip. "You've been asleep almost five hours. I got kinda restless, so I got up. I didn't want to wake you when you needed the rest."

Hutch nodded, not taking his eyes from his friend. "I guess I was pretty wiped. What were you doing out there?"

"Hm?" Starsky seemed to have lost himself in Hutch's gaze for a moment. The realization touched the blond. "Oh. I was cooking. Figured you might wake up hungry."

"Hungry?" Hutch echoed, not really following the conversation. He'd been too preoccupied with watching Starsky's mouth as he talked.

"Yeah. I made us some hamburgers and salad." Starsky got up from the bed, tugging on the hand he still held.

Hutch sat where he was, confused. "But I thought..." He broke off, not knowing what he meant to say.

"What's wrong?" Starsky asked, his concern immediate.

"I just..." Hutch shut his eyes, rubbing his fingertips across his brow. So many things had gone wrong because they'd been afraid to speak. "I thought we... Starsky, did I dream something happened a little while ago... or was it real?"

His friend smiled then, more fully than Hutch had seen him do so in a long time. He shook his head, overlong curls swaying, mouth curved endearingly. "No," he whispered, apparently overcome by the emotion he felt, "you didn't dream. It was real."

"Then...?" Hutch ran out of words. His fingers simply lifted toward the supple lips he'd been watching, their tips just grazing, sensing warmth and inner secret moisture. He longed to know that mouth, realized he'd had that longing forever, but he didn't know how to ask...

Starsky gave him permission. He leaned forward, eyes carrying only the barest trace of his own hesitation, and Hutch sensed that it wasn't from doubting the feelings, but because he, too, wasn't quite sure how to take the next step. But take it they must, Hutch decided, homing in on the mouth, never so sure of anything but that this was their destiny.

The contact was sweet, dizzyingly so, waking new memories on a tide of nostalgia. Starsky's mouth was warm, gentle, unexpectedly soft, Hutch discovered. He raised his hands, delved them into the abundant curls at either side of Starsky's head and pulled the man closer to him, deepening the kiss. A warm rush of excitement spread down through his chest, tingling through him, reaching places he'd feared would be closed off to sensation forever. He threw his worries to the wind, convinced that Starsky was the key to the lock that had imprisoned him. He'll wake up the rest of me now, just the way he brought me out of the coma in the first place...

Starsky's lips parted under Hutch's insistent mouth, allowed the probing of his searching tongue. Hutch felt a little smug that he remembered how to do this so well. Starsky had begun trembling, and as Hutch plundered the sweet mouth, the other man suddenly whimpered, moaning in an anguish of love and hunger.

Starsky pulled back then, gasping for breath, holding Hutch's shoulders and looking into his eyes a little wildly. The black, long lashes framing his eyes were wet, blinking, and there was a blush caressing the high cheekbones. He rubbed his hand across his face, as if aware of the reddening and trying to wipe it away.

"What's wrong?" Hutch breathed, his eyes searching for nuances on the expressive face.

"I..." Starsky sighed, unable to put his feelings into words. "For so long, I've wanted... waited... now it seems like things are goin' so fast."

Hutch didn't know how to answer. "You mind? There's a lot of time we have to make up for."

The Adam's apple bobbed in the slender throat. "I know." He looked over Hutch's face, eyes full of love and a measure of chagrin. "How about we eat the burgers I fixed first, and then..."

"Then?" Hutch asked again, smiling, reaching up to pluck a stray curl out of the eyebrow in which it had tangled. He rubbed his thumb lightly over the dark brow line, smoothing lines of concern on the forehead.

"We've taken so long to get here," Starsky went on, his voice hushed, "don't you think we should take the time to get everything just right?"

"Okay," Hutch nodded. "We wouldn't want to let the burgers get cold, either."

Starsky moved back and Hutch climbed out of the bed. His clothes had been folded on the back of the chair, and he slipped into his jeans and shirt, leaving the shoes and socks where they were on the floor. Starsky turned toward the door when Hutch turned around, and he secretly surmised his friend had been watching him dress. As he followed him out to the kitchen area, Hutch left off buttoning his shirt; he'd fastened the third one down, and that would do.

They sat facing each other at Starsky's table, and the hamburgers Starsky had prepared were the most delicious Hutch had ever tasted. It could have been because he hadn't found much decent food on the trip, or it could have been that they'd been prepared by someone who loved him. The salad was good, too, crisp and tasty with a fresh Italian dressing Hutch knew Starsky had learned to make from his grandmother who lived over the Italian restaurant. Memory brought a smile to his lips. That night, so long ago, he'd been able to care for his injured partner... that's what he wanted to do now, if he could. Care for him, and never stop.

When they had finished, Starsky started to clear the dinner things away, saying, "I showered while you were still asleep. Why don't you grab a quick one -- my robe is hanging on the hook on the bathroom door." His eyes slid down the bared length of Hutch's chest.

"Okay." Hutch took the suggestion and left Starsky to the domestic chores, tingling inside at the realization that their loving was being planned for this time, not just happening. That night in the hospital had been spontaneous, beautiful, but now the anticipation, the build-up, was giving this event a special significance. Hutch showered carefully, washing himself with slow patience, letting his body know it was about to be touched by someone who loved him, willing himself to respond when the time came. He was almost giddy with nervousness. It's okay. It's gonna be okay. Starsky's the one. With him, everything will be fine.

He ran a big towel over himself, hurrying to get rid of the moisture, but more anxious to get back to the bedroom. He pulled Starsky's navy blue robe on, not bothering to wrap it tight, just knotting the belt once. As he walked, he felt the cool caress of night air on his thighs and chest where the robe parted.

Starsky had been sitting on the bed, but stood when Hutch came into the room. He moved to stand facing him, eyes still a little shy. It occurred to Hutch that Starsky had said the proper words, but that he himself hadn't as yet. He wanted to let him know that this meant everything to him, that the love he felt was the kind that was eternal. What he wanted for them was to love each other for the rest of their lives. His mind sought the right words to explain all that, some vow that would let Starsky know all that was in his heart, but his intellect seemed determined to frustrate him as it so often did when speaking eloquently mattered. He took Starsky in his arms, moving as close as he could get to him. "I love you," was all that he was capable of uttering. He hoped the feelings in his heart were evident from the way he said the words.

Starsky's arms went around him, tightening, offering their own assurance. Hutch bent his head and found his lips once more.

********

When Hutch whispered those three words, Starsky fell in love with him all over again. It was going to be easier than he thought, he decided, just flow with the feelings. At first, he'd been so startled by Hutch's eager kiss that he'd backed away, not knowing quite how to handle the demonstrativeness. The decisive way Hutch had kissed him had come as a surprise. He'd expected the same cautious reticence Hutch usually displayed with new activities. Yet this one wasn't so new, he told himself. Maybe making love was like riding a bike -- once you knew how, you never really forgot, no matter how out of practice you were. At least, he told himself as the warm, hungry mouth took possession of him again, he hoped that was how it would be for himself, too.

He hoped he would remember how... it had been so long. Now, so close to what he'd dreamed of, he didn't know if he could release the ingrained inhibitions that had built up over the endless, lonely years. It's easy. It feels good. He feels good... just go with it and let it happen... it's natural...

Two strong hands were moving on his back, sliding down from his shoulders in a learning caress. The hands ended up on his rear, squeezing and pulling at him until they were pressed groin to groin. The reaction of Starsky's body was immediate. He felt himself hardening, lengthening, and he couldn't deny the urgent motion of his hips that caused him to rub against Hutch.

He could feel him, a long shape beneath the velour of the robe, but Hutch wasn't hard yet. His own feelings lurched to a halt as he demanded his body slow down. He felt almost guilty for giving in to the sensations. Though it felt good, something inside him kept repeating no. But that was crazy, he told himself. Hutch wants this. It's okay now. Yet something he couldn't control forced him to clamp down on his reactions. Take it slow. There's no rush. We're in this together. His mind was a swirl of confusion, need and desire bound up with guilt and repression.

Hutch moved one hand around to his front, sliding it between their bodies to rub up and down over the still-evident bulge in Starsky's jeans. He gasped aloud, twin bolts of pleasure and distress jolting through his frame.

"Feel good?" Hutch's whisper was a suggestive rumble that caressed his ear. Starsky's only response was a shudder. He rested his head against Hutch's shoulder and trembled when soft lips slowly nuzzled his exposed neck.

"Hutch... Hutch..." His own ragged voice surprised him. He pressed closer to the man he loved, every part of him needing, yet his heart still enchained by the years of suppressing his own desires. He didn't know what to do. A part of him feared that if those chains broke, he'd rush things, be too forceful with Hutch, maybe hurt him. Every time he touches me, I kinda go crazy. Being touched was not something Starsky was used to. But he knew how to touch Hutch. That was easy, that pleasure manageable. That was safe.

He unlocked his arms from where they had clung to Hutch's waist, and brought his hands up, one stroking the long back and broad shoulders, the other sliding into the silk of fresh-washed hair. The long strands were baby fine, cool and clean smelling, the skin of his nape warm and soft. A little whimper broke from Hutch's throat as Starsky pressed a kiss against his Adam's apple. His fingers followed, caressing the long throat, eyes drinking in its tawny contours. He's beautiful, he marveled, kissing again and again, his lips descending to the smooth chest. Hutch sighed, stilling all motion as Starsky's mouth found a nipple. He leaned into the caress, holding his breath as if to miss not a dram of the sensation he was being given. Starsky was pleased that he could make his friend feel so good. His lips tugged gently at the soft, puckered flesh, tongue licking, his breath cooling the wet skin and causing tiny shivers in his companion. Emboldened, his hand traveled the length of Hutch's torso, encountering the robe's belt and pulling it out of its loose knot. As the ties fell apart, his fingers snuck inside to stroke the satin skin underneath.

The belly was smooth and flat, the hip flowing into a graceful thigh. Starsky moved toward the center, his fingertips finding the brush of curling hair at the base of Hutch's groin. Hutch gasped and Starsky looked up to meet his eyes. There was a plea in them, an eagerness that the next step be taken. Anything you want, love.

His fingers descended. The shaft that filled his hand was not quite erect, but it had stiffened a little from the preliminaries and Starsky stroked it now, closing his eyes to savor the warmth, the life he held in his grasp. Hutch grew still and held his breath, as if to capture every nuance of the touches, to let the feelings go all the way through his needful body.

It was strange to touch him so freely, Starsky thought absently, as he continued to stroke the penis. He had touched it before, when Hutch had lain insensible in the coma, when his newly awakened friend had needed his help, but those touches had been for practical reasons, not designed to produce pleasure nor to give Starsky any, either. Now, Starsky closed his eyes, letting the reality of what he was doing soak in. It feels good to do this for you. I could stand here like this all night, just enjoying it.

The caressing was having its effect on him, but he finally realized not quite as much on his friend. The long column was still not all the way hard, and though Hutch did seem to enjoy the stroking, he soon sighed unhappily when his response remained incomplete.

"Let's lie down," Starsky suggested. He smiled bravely and stepped back from the embrace, tugging open the buttons on his shirt. Hutch's own smile was hopeful as he let the robe fall from his shoulders. He turned to drop it on the chair and Starsky began to undo his pants. When his friend turned back, Starsky was embarrassed to be displaying his own full erection, so he hurried to the bedside and climbed under the covers. Hutch followed, a whimsical look on his face.

The blond moved eagerly into his embrace, and Starsky gave a wondering chuckle. "I can't believe this is really happening," he stammered in explanation. "I almost... don't know what to do with you now that I've got you."

Hutch chuckled, too. "It's real. And you can do anything you want with me." There seemed to be an unconscious seduction in his tone. Starsky gulped guiltily, still not knowing how to handle the sudden changes in their relationship. He'd held back his true feelings so long, never giving them up, but never believing Hutch would echo them. Now to actually have him in his arms... his mind was having trouble catching up with his body.

Hutch moved in to kiss him again, and the surety and expertise knocked the earth from beneath Starsky this time. Hutch stole his breath away, made him feel things he'd forced himself to believe were forbidden. It's good. It's bad. It's right. It's wrong. Hold on... let go... don't start... don't stop... don't...

"Hutch." Gasping, he pulled out of the kiss, a fear he couldn't even name making him shake all over. Hutch looked disappointed, and the remorse that then stabbed through Starsky made him feel even worse. "I'm sorry. I just..." He tried to laugh again, to cover his dismay. "Like I said, I don't know what to do..."

"What's wrong with what we did the last time?" Hutch whispered, disarming him completely. That he remembered the fact of their loving had been one thing, but that he could recall the substance... Starsky sighed in wonder and surprise. He looked at Hutch, putting all his devotion into his gaze, then, realizing he hadn't really taken the time to get a good look at his soon-to-be lover, the last time or now, he pulled back and let his gaze descend over the golden body that was stretched out in his bed.

Hutch's eyes glittered and he moved restlessly under the scrutiny. Starsky just peered in disbelief. "What did you do to yourself back there in Minnesota? You've put on weight..."

"You mean I'm fat?" the soft voice teased.

"I mean, muscle." He looked back into Hutch's eyes. "You been workin' out?"

A shrug. "Running with my cousin."

Starsky swallowed; his mouth had gone dry. When he'd last seen Hutch, he'd still seemed frail and too thin to him. Perhaps it was merely the time apart that now gave him fresh eyes to see with, but Starsky didn't think that was all. In the intervening weeks, he had become more like the Hutch he remembered. The long body had filled out, become wound tight with muscle and sinew. Still slender, he was more like the youthful Hutch than the heavier, more tired cop who'd brought his partner home from the hospital. His long legs stirred, hips shifted. He was beautiful, desirable. Used to choking down those kinds of feelings, Starsky shook his head, gaze returning to the tender, open expression on Hutch's face.

"I..." No more words would come. He blinked, eyes tearing.

"I know." Hutch moved close again, surrounding him with warm, comforting arms. "I think you're beautiful, too, Starsk. Let's make love." He kissed him encouragingly. "Like I said, the way we did the last time."

Head swimming, Starsky let himself be pulled into the tightening embrace. He hadn't realized Hutch would be looking at him, too. The scars... He forcibly quelled that thought, trying to let himself go with the feelings, not with the incongruous thoughts that kept interrupting his pleasure. Hutch's hands were sliding down his sides and all he wanted to do was experience the sensations. He was struck suddenly with the picture he'd once seen of a long-caged lion who wouldn't try to run, even when the door to his cage was finally thrown open. Hutch wants this, needs this, he tried to tell himself. It's for him, not for me. That thought made it a little easier, those patterns of behavior had been ingrained for so long. Yet when Hutch's hand swept around to grasp his penis, the sparks of pure pleasure flooded him with only thoughts of himself. And that he couldn't handle. He's the one. He's been sick, been lost. Not me. I don't need, shouldn't take... I can't!

Hutch's hips shifted closer to him, the warm hand bringing his own shaft nearer, nestling it with Starsky's in his clasp. Helpless desire made Starsky feel faint; he was terrified of losing control, letting go. He fought the impulse to wrench himself out of Hutch's hold, needing the touches, wanting to beg for them. He felt the pleasure as a punishment, his heart pounding like a captured animal's. He threw his arms around Hutch's shoulders, holding on, clinging in a panic of hope and despair. No one had touched him or held him or kissed him in so long... Gasping, he sobbed against his friend's neck, his hips accepting the rhythm Hutch set with his caresses.

"Easy, easy," Hutch breathed against his ear. Starsky tried to catch his breath. Don't ruin this for him. He's scared, too. He knew that was, true, that despite his desire, Hutch's body was not responding all the way. Starsky closed his eyes, felt his own full cock sliding along the softer one in a clasp that piled thrill upon thrill for him, but seemed not to do the same for his friend.

"Okay. It's okay." He forced himself to calm. His hand stroked down Hutch's side, massaging the smooth hip and ass, eliciting a moan of pleasure, a shiver, from the man. "Shhh. Let yourself feel it..." His hand moved on, replacing Hutch's on the tight-pressed cocks. He wrapped the two of them close, pumped slowly up and down. His own was hot and tight with desire, Hutch's still that same partial erection. He felt guilty to be so close and his friend still so far away from completion. Please, he prayed, don't let me fail him.

Hutch shifted position, as if he were becoming uncomfortable, and Starsky wanted to cry. He kissed the soft cheek, the trembling lips. "Hutch, what can I...? Do you want me to...?"

The blond head shook once; Hutch groaned bitterly.

"It's okay. It'll happen," Starsky tried to reassure. "Just let me..." But he didn't know what he was saying, couldn't understand his own feelings, much less direct his friend's. Was their love meant to be? He wanted it with all his heart, but he didn't know if that would be enough.

He shifted back an inch or so, looked down at what he was doing. He let go of his own swollen shaft, tenderly took Hutch's in his palm. His thumb rubbed the tip, he milked it carefully, tried to be gentle and loving, to bring forth desire. It was still slightly erect, but nothing else was happening. Finally Hutch gave a cry of despair and wrenched away.

They lay in silence for a long time. Starsky's heartbeat gradually returned to normal and his erection subsided on its own. He didn't feel disappointed for himself; what he felt in that department was more like relief. He'd been terrified of what would happen if he'd finished, yet he knew he could never let Hutch know that was the way he felt. It was all right, though, he'd grown used to concealing his feelings from this man he loved. Hutch, on the other hand, was bitterly disappointed. It was poignantly obvious. He wasn't quite crying, but his breathing was punctuated with raw torment. Starsky, as always, needing him to feel better, slid closer to him in the bed.

He could feel his friend's despair radiating from his tense position on his side. "Shhh. It's okay. We'll... try again..." His words died away. How? I can't...

"No. You don't understand," the muffled voice protested. "I thought I'd be okay, but... you can see... I'll probably never..." He sighed, drawing in a breath and turning over to face Starsky. "I wanted us to be lovers."

Starsky framed the shamed face in both his hands. "Hutch," he whispered with the sincerity of his own lost soul, "we are." He kissed him, trying only to soothe. "We are lovers. We're together. We love each other. Whatever happens, we are lovers."

Gradually, Hutch seemed to calm. He let himself be pulled close and the two men, each in his own separate fantasy, drifted off into sleep.

********

Hutch woke at the sound of Starsky sighing in his sleep. The darker man's hands tightened their grip on him for a moment, then released. Starsky rolled away and his body tossed fitfully without waking.

Hutch couldn't really sleep either. He'd already had a long nap and now it was only -- he stretched to look at the bedside clock -- twelve-thirty. Carefully, he eased himself out from under the covers and left the bed. He found Starsky's robe on the chair and slipped into it, quietly padding out into the living room. There, he sank onto the couch, put his feet up on the coffee table and sat, brooding.

He tried to be philosophical about what had happened -- or, more precisely, hadn't happened. After all that's gone down in the last couple of years, I should know by now that things don't get fixed so easily. He closed his eyes, clenching his hands on his knees, wishing that, for once, things had gone the way he'd hoped they would. Dreams... that's all I have... should've learned by now not to put too much stock in them. But Starsky hadn't made him feel inadequate; he'd been both patient and accepting. Hutch tried to believe his dreams hadn't been destroyed, that instead they'd only been postponed a little while longer.

He settled lower on the couch, resting his head on the back, crossing his hands over his stomach. He gazed upward, watching the patterns of light and shadow on the ceiling. As passing cars went by outside, the light from the street lamps wavered, and looked to Hutch like lights from a ship on the moving waters of the ocean. He smiled at the whimsical illusion and, unbidden, words filtered into his thoughts, recalled from somewhere nameless. He wasn't sure if they were the words to a song or a poem, but the graceful images pulled at the strings of his heart, seeming poignantly appropriate to his life...

Soft reflections hiding my eyes, fill my darkness with the warm harbor lights,

Oh, babe, you came and I was saved...

That's you, Starsky. I was dying in the dark, until your light broke through.

I lost you on a stormy night, understanding swept away...

That really was some storm. Swept away understanding, knowledge, everything...

From distant shores, you have brought me home again.

You came, found me when no one else could, brought me home despite all predictions that it'd never happen.

Across the water, you can follow the stars,
Look a lifetime, still not know who you are...

That's for sure, Hutch realized ruefully. Even before he'd been hurt, there had been times when he'd had doubts about what he was doing, who he was. Accepting that helped him now to put the current confusion into perspective.

Oh, babe, I know I'm here to stay,
From distant shores, you have brought me home again.

Hutch sat up, thinking intently of the next words he recalled.

Winds told me that you would hold me again.
Ocean breezes would soon release me,

And all my searching would end...

I was only waiting for you to come and find me so I could wake up. I knew you'd be there eventually. The coma would let me go, and I'd find what I'd been searching for... it took a long time, but you did hold me again.

He got up from the couch, crossing silently to the bedroom. There, he stood looking down at the silent, uneasy figure in the bed. Starsky wasn't relaxed, he tossed and turned, face wearing a worried frown even in the abandon of sleep. Yet he was beautiful. Hutch had only had a few brief glimpses of the shapes the sheets concealed, but the raw beauty called to him even now. The body was ripe, loveable, wrapped with the muscle of a mature man. Hutch could see the sensuous curve of ass and flank, knew that a washboard belly descended to an abdomen dark with hair, where a cock as beautiful as the rest of him nestled between downy thighs.

There you go, inviting my eyes...

Hutch smiled, drawn nearer, wanting to ease the tension in the restless body, to give the man what time and injustice had stolen from him.

Oh, babe, you came and I was saved...
Just laying down in your loving arms, takes the emptiness away,
From distant shores you have brought me home again.

Ah, Starsk, let me do for you, let me give you something back...

From distant shores you have brought me home... again...

The light from the other room created deep shadows, blended colors into a chiaroscuro dream. 'We are lovers.' The words reached out to him, soft as smoke, ardent as a marriage vow. Hutch knelt beside the bed, smoothing back tangled curls that fell over the furrowed brow. With breath-holding gentleness, he lifted the covers draped at Starsky's bare shoulder, pulling them down to his waist. His friend shifted, but still didn't wake. Hutch drank in the sight of him, the angular beauty of his face, slender throat with deep-carved hollow, broad muscular chest with its pattern of dark hair and interwoven scars. He had never touched them before.

He did so now, lightly, afraid to wake the sleeper who might not understand his exploration. These are the only things that makes you a stranger to me. Life had been cruel to Starsky, given pain to this man who loved so unreservedly. There were scars inside him, too, Hutch was aware. He'd glimpsed Starsky's anguish many times in the months since his recovery had begun, but his own torment had interfered with his ability to reach out to the other man. Now he could step outside his own fears and problems and look to someone else. And Starsky needed the care he could give. A swell of protective love rose up in Hutch, calling to him as surely as if Starsky breathed his name.

He leaned close, eyes following the curve of the vulnerable mouth, fingers tracing the line of cheek and jaw. Drawn in to the aura of the man he loved, Hutch kissed him, lightly at first, then with more firmness, lovingly, until he woke.

"Hutch?" The sleepy voice sounded shocked and uncertain.

"It's me. Who'd you expect?" Hutch answered with a smile, leaning in again for another kiss.

"Hey..." Starsky moved back. "You don't... I mean... it's not necessary to..."

"Yes, it is," Hutch demurred. He captured the retreating man with a firm hand around the back of his neck and found the lips again with his own. He kissed him with all the authority he could muster, wanting to feel the tension of arousal that he knew he'd caused before.

Starsky groaned into his mouth, body twisting. Hutch kept his lips prisoner, wrapping arms around him and climbing onto the bed to take possession of him. He broke away for a breath, and Starsky's hands clenched on his shoulders.

"What are you doing?"

"I want to love you," Hutch explained, tasting his lips again briefly. "Don't you want me to?"

Starsky swallowed, looking uncomfortable. "But, I... if you can't... I mean..."

"Shhh." Hutch kissed his brow, the tip of his nose. "What I can and can't do doesn't matter right now. You... that's what matters."

He didn't allow a reply. Instead he dropped to feed on the warm sweetness of Starsky's mouth again, using his tongue, sucking, savoring the heat of the contact. He felt Starsky begin to tremble beneath him, and, without breaking the kiss, let one hand wander down the length of the virile body, skimming with fingertips to increase the shivers. His hand unerringly found the cock stirring from its nest of dark hair. He clasped it gently in his palm, wrapped his fingers around it and began to pump.

Starsky shook in his clasp like a storm-tossed tree limb, hands at his shoulders half clenching to hold on, half struggling to be free. Hutch's fingers encountered moisture at the tip of the engorged cock, and he knew his friend wanted his loving. He was elated that he could provide such pleasure.

But Starsky, it seemed, had other ideas. He groaned almost like he was in pain, and finally twisted himself out of Hutch's embrace, harshly crying, "Don't!" He rolled over, turning on his side with his back to his dumbfounded friend.

Hutch just sat there a moment, trying to understand the rebuff. He didn't know what to do, what to say. Finally, listening to the harsh breathing of the other man, he lay down close at his side, pillowing his head on his own folded arm.

"Starsk?" he asked when the silence had stretched to an intolerable length. He received no answer.

"Starsky." He tried again. "Please talk to me. Tell me what's wrong."

A shaky sigh preceded Starsky's words. "I don't know." He swallowed wetly. "I... can't talk about it. Just... leave me be, okay?"

Hutch considered, but he couldn't do that. "No. Something's wrong. I just want to help you. Don't you... need me?" He ventured to place a hand on a cool, bare shoulder.

The muscles contracted to stone at his touch. "Oh, God, Hutch," came the breaking voice. "Yes, damnit, I need you. But... Jesus, I just can't talk about it."

Hutch kept his hand where it was, gently stroking the tense muscles. He didn't understand, but he knew Starsky's pain was deep-seated, and he knew he himself must be the source. Why should he fight what he wanted and needed so badly? Was it so hard to open up to him now, when for all this time he'd been the one taking care of Hutch?

Hutch leaned closer, pressing a gentle kiss on the man's shoulder blade. A desperate gasp escaped Starsky, but he didn't move away. "Listen," Hutch told him quietly, "everything's gonna be all right. Let me help you."

"Hutch." There was infinite patience in the voice. "It's okay. Really. Please don't feel bad. If you can't..."

"Like I said, what I can or can't do doesn't matter."

Starsky turned a little, glancing over his shoulder. "You... want to try again? I'm sorry..."

"It's not that I want to try. I just want to make you feel good."

"I can wait until you're ready." Stubborn blue eyes looked at him, then Starsky turned away again.

"You shouldn't have to."

"Hutch, I just want to be fair to you."

"Who's been fair to you all this time?" He leaned close and nuzzled the bronze skin of shoulder and bicep. A sigh, part anguish, part desire, floated to his ears. Hutch reached around the tense body, stroking the chest with the palm of his hand. "That's it, babe. Just relax. Everything's gonna be all right now."

Starsky didn't try to push him away, but he remained restive, muscles clenched in what seemed like an attempt not to feel. Hutch was patient, taking his time, touching him only on his chest as his hand gently circled, resting his own cheek against Starsky's arm. After a long time, he felt a gradual relaxation, and he let his fingertips become more inquisitive, finding a nipple to stroke and explore. The bud of flesh rose up to meet him, greedy for sensation, which Hutch gladly gave. He moved on to rub and fondle its twin, planting kisses along Starsky's arm and shoulder, drawing a line with his tongue up the back of his neck. The wet stroking made Starsky shiver. Hutch captured his earlobe with his lips, hand moving lower on the man's tender body.

Starsky sighed again, and relaxed more fully. Pleased, Hutch continued his slow caresses. His hand warmed and smoothed the dark belly, circled the narrow waist, drifted around to his back and up his side. They lay like that for long, peaceful moments, Starsky accepting the petting, Hutch contentedly repeating his actions over and over. He sat up, leaning over to see better. Starsky stayed on his side, and his eyes were closed, black lashes trembling on his cheeks. Hutch sensed that he couldn't show his acquiescence any more fully at the moment. He hurt inside for the wounds that had cut Starsky so deeply. Don't act like you don't deserve this. You do. You were made for loving. Your body, your spirit, everything about you brings out the desire in me to make love to you. Hutch kept the words to himself, not wanting to make his skittish friend any more reticent.

He leaned forward, mouth finding and sampling the erect bud of a nipple. He took his time, giving Starsky all the sensation he could before moving on, kissing his way down lower. His lips skimmed the taut belly and waist, dusted kisses over the hip and flank, pausing to lick and suck soft skin here and there, eliciting whimpers and sighs from his friend.

Finally he sensed that Starsky was his, and carefully turned him onto his back. He sat up, hands modeling the firm thighs, massaging away the last vestiges of resistance. One glance showed Starsky's eyes were still closed tight, but his body was open to him, expectant and grateful for the stimulation. Hutch's fingers traced veins under the delicate skin of the lower abdomen, brushing the soft pubic hairs before moving on to the join of thigh and groin. He watched the stirring of the fine cock. It was hardening, lifting toward him in need. The rosy tip was moist, the column elegantly sculpted. Hutch was reminded of the shape of Starsky's hands, economical, refined, graceful, as if designed by an artist. His penis was the same, in perfect harmony with the rest of his body. Hutch bent closer to it, drawn to find out how it would taste, realizing as he opened his lips that he'd never been this close to another man's cock. The idea slid away, totally inconsequential, as he took his first taste of the only man, only person, he truly loved.

He closed his eyes to savor, giving first a gentle, cautious kiss, then taking the tip into his mouth, holding it between his rounded lips as Starsky sighed and went totally still beneath him. He moved down on the shaft, tongue sliding against the underside as his mouth descended and drew back. He felt Starsky's thighs part further and he quickly lay between them, settling himself to the precious task. He took the base of the cock in one hand, supporting it, slowly drawing it deeper into his mouth, going down on it as the hunger in Starsky called to him. The art and intimacy of the act created a hunger in Hutch, too, a swift addiction to Starsky's essence, his smell, his warmth. His other hand stroked and rubbed his belly and thighs, descended to cup the vulnerable sac beneath. Starsky trembled again, but this time from pleasure, not denial, and Hutch was enchanted. His own heart began beating in time with his actions; he feasted on the column of flesh, reveling in his ability to give favor and delight. There was an echoing tingle in his own groin, but Starsky was what mattered now; he was the only jewel in the crown of Hutch's life.

His adoration of the other's sex continued, and he heard pleasured cries cutting the air, held on as hips began to thrust in the inexorable journey to completion. Starsky was sobbing his name, hands clenched in his hair, urging the motion of Hutch's head. Hutch took his satisfaction from the apparent ease with which he understood what Starsky needed. I always knew you better than anyone else, didn't I? Can I prove it to you, now? Will you come for me?

He drew wet lips up the length of the throbbing cock, swirled his tongue around the head while Starsky thrashed beneath him, head tossing on the pillow. He closed his fingers around the base, forming a tunnel with his hand, drawing his tightened lips down the heated length. Starsky cried out, the sound wounding Hutch right in his heart. He sucked the cock deep into his throat, marveling that having it there felt so right, so comforting, as Starsky bucked up from the mattress, hips arching to propel himself further into the wet tightness of Hutch's mouth. One more cry pierced the night, an almost savage yell, and then Starsky was spasming, hot fluid jetting into Hutch's mouth, leaving him insensible, only knowing that he had to swallow and swallow over and over again as the bursts of release continued. Starsky's climax went on and on, dying out in little shudders, ending slowly, leaving the man weak and shaking. Hutch drank all he had to give, proud of what they had achieved together, finally drawing off the spent cock, licking it lovingly as Starsky's breathing returned to normal.

Only it wasn't returning to normal. Hutch raised up, leaning over him, dismayed to realize his friend was crying. Huge tears squeezed from beneath the tight-shut eyelids and he seemed unable to stop them. Hutch wrapped himself around the inconsolable man, whispering words of encouragement and patient soothing.

"I'm here, babe. I'm here. I've got you."

Starsky's sobs seemed to come harder at the words.

Shaken by their intensity, the crazy thought came to Hutch that it might have been as long for Starsky as it had been for him. At first, that didn't seem possible. Did you lock yourself away from these feelings, too, all this time? If so, no wonder it had seemed to cause as much pain as pleasure, no wonder it had gone on so long, and brought forth copious tears as well as semen. Hutch drew him near, memory directing him in all the ways Starsky liked to be held, to be stroked and comforted. Hands sought and found him, clenching tight at his shoulder and waist. Gradually, the tears diminished. Hutch smoothed the curls back from Starsky's forehead, wiped at the wet cheeks with careful fingertips.

"Shhh. It's all right, babe. It's fine. Wasn't it good, darlin'? I just wanted you to feel good..."

A tremulous breath was drawn, held, a hand closed around his wrist. Starsky drew the hand to his mouth, solemnly kissed the palm, then at last opened his eyes and looked deep into Hutch's. "It felt good." The words were the tiniest whisper. He raised his head to kiss Hutch's mouth, a reverence in the gesture that warmed Hutch's soul. "You're beautiful, you know that?" He closed his eyes as if gathering his meager strength. "Thank you for..."

"Don't say thanks," Hutch told him, laying his head next to Starsky's, rubbing his cheek against the other's stubbled jaw. "Say you love me."

"I do..." The words died out in a sigh of pure contentment and, exhausted, Starsky fell asleep.

********

 

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