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Distant Shores

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CHAPTER VI

 

Starsky woke feeling warm. His eyes drifted open, then sank closed again, and he cuddled closer to the warm presence wrapped around him. Then, the image of what he'd seen when he looked came into focus in his mind. Hutch...

"I must be dreamin,'" he mused lazily, not attempting to move and disillusion himself.

"That's what I used to think," a silky voice told him. "But it wasn't a dream. It was real." Soft lips brushed his cheek.

Starsky raised his head, looking up to find himself the object of an affectionate gaze. "Hutch." He couldn't have stopped smiling if he'd wanted to. He felt good, complete as he hadn't in longer than he could recall, yet there was still a residual sense of something not yet being quite in phase. "Last night," he began cautiously, "last night was..."

"I know. For me, too." The blue eyes never wavered. Hutch said no more; he merely seemed to be waiting.

"Like some kinda fantasy come true." He felt shaky just thinking about it. The love Hutch had given him had been incredible, tender and unselfish. He'd closed off that part of himself so completely and for such a long time that he'd never realized the wall he'd built had no gate. Last night he'd wanted to open the gate and let his heart go, let the love in, but he couldn't. Instead, Hutch had patiently, lovingly, begun tearing the wall down. "You just seemed to know, to understand... You knew what I needed."

"You tried to tell me no." The soft voice was chiding, yet underlined by a need for reassurance.

"You knew best," Starsky offered simply. He reached out, placing his hand on Hutch's chest. His friend still wore Starsky's own blue robe, but the garment was disheveled, parted to reveal an expanse of fair, smooth skin. Starsky let his fingers slide down to where the belt held the sides of the robe together. Hutch closed his eyes, shivering a little under the touch and his scrutiny. Starsky felt awkward, unaccustomed to touching and being touched this way, and he flashed on a scene back at the nursing home in Adelaide. The first time he'd tried to do the motion exercises on Hutch, touching him had seemed a totally foreign experience. But I got used to it, he reminded himself. Touching you was good. I felt it creating a bond between us. We've always had that bond. I should just relax and let it function...

He slid closer, nuzzling his lips along Hutch's warm skin. "Last night... you were there for me. It was like a fantasy come true." He felt a hand slide into his hair, softly stroking his head. "But that was only half the fantasy. I want to be there for you." His fingers began to undo the knot in the belt.

"Starsky," Hutch sighed, "I don't know if..."

"Quiet," Starsky admonished softly. "Last night, you knew best. This morning, I'm gonna do what's best for you." He pulled the robe out of his way and slipped a hand down along Hutch's abdomen. Lower, hiding in the dark between his thighs, he found a partial erection. He wrapped his hand around it and began to pump gently. Hutch drew in a quick breath, and tried to protest once more.

"Starsky, please. That's just because it's morning. You know..."

"I know. But I remember reading somewhere that if it happens in the morning it means there's nothing physically wrong and it can happen other times, too. Relax, okay?"

"I've tried before. We tried last night."

Starsky stopped what he was doing and looked into his eyes. "Hutch, I love you. Let me help you. Last night... you were tired, we were both pretty emotional. It was even difficult for me. Well, it's a new day, now. I want to make love to you. I..." he hesitated, the words hard to say. "I don't want to yell and push you around. All I want to do is love you."

The blue eyes watching him grew large and luminous. "I love you, too."

"Do you trust me?"

Hutch nodded. "You trusted me last night."

Starsky kissed him. The full lips melted against his own, and he sensed both acceptance and need. He used his mouth lovingly, gently. Hutch needed his slow patience now but a response began to warm Starsky's insides and he pressed himself close to Hutch, wanting as much of his own body to be in contact with Hutch's as possible. He felt two strong arms close around his back, drawing him closer, and he lost himself in love.

Long moments passed with them just getting acquainted with each other's mouths. Finally, Starsky tugged on the velour fabric at Hutch's shoulders. "Get rid of this thing, willya?"

Hutch pulled away a bit and wrestled out of the robe, then returned to Starsky's embrace. He shivered slightly, and Starsky shivered, too. "Ever seen two people with this much performance anxiety?" he asked lightly, trying to break the tension.

Hutch giggled, lips brushing Starsky's neck. The contact sent a bolt of electricity through Starsky and he arched, sliding against the now nude body lying beside him. His own solid erection rubbed against Hutch's long thigh. A warm hand moved down to find it and before he knew what was happening, Hutch was stroking him, creating waves and waves of pleasure.

"Hey, slow down. I'm getting way ahead of you again," he protested. He adjusted their positions, making Hutch lie on his back. He moved as close to him as he could, lying on his side, one arm wrapped protectively around Hutch's shoulders. Then he reached down and took the partially erect cock in his hand. He pumped it carefully in a slow, definite rhythm. .

"Tell me," he whispered against Hutch's neck, "does this feel good?"

"Mmm." Hutch nodded, his breath catching in his throat.

"How about this?" Starsky changed his rhythm slightly. "Nice?"

"Yeah." Hutch was very still, as if throwing all his concentration into following the feelings. "A... a little faster."

"Like this?" Starsky could feel the response; the cock was harder and his own shaft ached to press itself against Hutch's.

A low moan was his only answer. Hutch's hips arched a little, his thighs opening. Starsky smiled. His eyes were hungry on the stroking action of his hand, turning him on even more. He realized he was pressing hard against Hutch's hip, and tried once again to control himself.

"You're so beautiful," he whispered, wanting to encourage Hutch and hoping that speaking would help him keep his own feelings in check. "Blond all over..." Hutch sighed, but Starsky thought he detected a tiny bit of frustration.

"Relax, just relax and go with the feelings. It's so good..." He slowed the pace, not wanting to overwhelm Hutch's shaky reactions. "That's it. Feel my hand around you. You feel so good." He kissed the skin over Hutch's collarbone. "Easy, babe. Easy. It's gonna be so easy."

For a while, he thought it might be working. Hutch was becoming relaxed, seeming to enjoy what was happening. Yet as time passed, it became obvious that the penis was not going to become completely rigid.

He wouldn't have minded if he had to keep trying all day, but Hutch eventually reached down and stopped his hand. "I'm sorry," the blond said quietly.

Starsky thought his heart might break. "Don't," he said somewhat harshly. Then he groaned, pulling Hutch against him in a regretful embrace. "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault." Hutch's hand trailed down his side, finally finding Starsky's own still erect cock.

"No." Starsky felt suddenly exhausted. "You don't..."

"I want to."

"I don't want you to. It's not..."

"We don't need to talk about fair."

"Hutch, please! I... I just can't take it right now." He pulled out of the embrace and bounded from the bed, closing the bathroom door tight behind him. He leaned against it for a moment, breathing deeply as his own aching hard-on subsided. Then he turned on the shower, hot, and stood under it for a good ten minutes.

When he emerged, wrapped in a large blue towel, he saw Hutch sitting up in the middle of the bed, the covers drawn up to his waist. He'd calmed down in the shower, and spoke gently.

"Go grab a shower, okay? I'll put some coffee on. It's Saturday and I don't have to go in to the office."

Hutch looked up at him, that little-boy vulnerability fully noticeable. "You don't?"

"No. We can have the whole day together. If you want, we'll go out to the beach, maybe take a long walk..."

"Sounds good. We can... talk things over."

Starsky looked away, fighting embarrassment. "Yeah." Then he turned back to meet the anxious eyes. "Don't worry, Hutch. We know we gotta talk. After all we've been through, I don't wanta blow it. We can work things out."

"I know." Hutch moved to get out of the bed, and Starsky turned deliberately toward the kitchen, offering him his privacy.

********

They walked side by side along the beach, leaving behind the crowds of sun worshippers. Starsky liked the lonely stretch of sand; it made him feel peaceful, just himself, the ocean washing in and out, and Hutch.

He turned to look at his friend. The clear-cut profile looked good against the bright blue of the sky, long light hair swept back by the breeze. The moustache was neatly trimmed, and Starsky remembered how it had felt against his mouth. And against other parts of him. He moved closer to the other man, coming into step with his long strides. Starsky could hardly detect any weakness in his gait, and a swell of pride for what Hutch had accomplished rose up in him. It felt so good just to be together.

"Hutch?" he asked quietly. "Wanta sit down here and talk?"

"Okay," the blond agreed easily. He sank to his knees in the dry sand well back from the surf and Starsky settled cross-legged in front of him. Tranquil, they just looked at each other for a long moment.

Starsky reached out to take Hutch's hand. The long fingers intertwined with his own, and the warmth and confidence in the clasp felt as good as an embrace. Starsky hardly knew where to begin, so many emotions were throbbing in his heart.

He shook his head slightly in wonder. "Look at the two of us. I feel like a kid or something, my tongue's all tangled. I wanta talk but I don't know how to put all I'm feelin' into words."

Hutch grinned affectionately at him. "Me neither. I feel like I'm out of breath, excited. Like I've been running, looking for something for a long time and I finally found it."

Starsky agreed, beaming across at his companion. "I've been such a jerk," he told him without malice. "Shoulda said somethin' a long time ago. I was just..."

"So was I. Let's not worry about what we should or shouldn't have done, okay?" Hutch sounded almost shy asking him that. "Maybe we just weren't ready before last night." He drew a deep breath, glancing out to sea for a moment. When he spoke again, it was without looking back at Starsky. "You know, except for a couple of things, I almost feel like none of it ever happened." His gaze returned to his friend. "Me gettin' kidnapped, I mean. Being in the coma. All that time apart from you, and all that time getting better. Last night and this morning -- it was almost like we took up where we left off." His eyes seemed to glow. "I feel happy, Starsk."

The dark-haired man nodded, a solemnity coming over him that did nothing to reign in his soaring spirits. "I hear ya. I'm happy, too." He ran a hand through his curls. "Isn't it amazing? It's just about perfect..."

The long fingers laced with his tightened and a blush of color rose in Hutch's cheeks.

"Don't be embarrassed," Starsky told him. "It'll work itself out."

"I hope so," Hutch said fervently. "I... want to be with you."

"I know. And I want to be good for you." He shrugged ruefully. "I figure we've just got to be patient."

The Adam's apple bobbed in the long throat as Hutch swallowed. "It felt good to be as close as we were..." He raised his eyes, locking his gaze with his friend's. "It meant a lot when you said we really were lovers, Starsk. I want you to know... I hate not being able to do everything yet." Starsky could sense his frustration. "But I don't want to stop. I want to hold you anyway, kiss you anyway." The frown line between his brows had appeared as the earnest words continued. Starsky leaned forward and kissed his mouth. Hutch continued quietly. "I want to be intimate with you. Seeing you happy is enough for me right now."

Starsky tried to demur, saying what he'd said before. "Hutch, that doesn't seem fair."

"Life hasn't been fair, has it?"

He had to look away from the intense gaze. "I guess not. But I'd feel guilty... like I'd be using you or something."

"You wouldn't be using me. I want to touch you. I'm offering, freely."

Starsky felt his emotions start into that same tailspin he'd gone into the night before. His heart wanted, his body needed, but it was so hard to let go and face all the feelings inside. Hutch had begun chipping away at the wall last night. Starsky couldn't help trying to tear it all down with him, to throw away all his restraints and suppressions. Still, it didn't seem right. "I waited for you a long time. I don't mind waiting a while longer."

"Why?" Hutch asked, rubbing the back of Starsky's hand with his thumb. "Why wait for me when I'm right here?"

Totally disarmed, a smile began at the corner of Starsky's mouth, and progressed until he felt flushed with pleasure. "You think you're really somethin', don't you?"

Hutch shrugged, eyes twinkling.

Starsky reached to catch hold of the man's other hand, shifting to sit even closer to him. "It's not all gonna be easy, you know. We'll probably start fighting again day after tomorrow."

"I don't care. Do you?"

"Nope. As long as I have ya to fight with, I guess I can handle anything else."

"That's pretty much how I feel, too. Starsk -- I really have tried, this last month I was away, to get better. I'm still not ever gonna be exactly the same as I was before. But I can handle things now. If you don't mind my... uh, problems, I'd like to be around you."

"I want you around. If you don't mind my problems." Starsky looked into the blue eyes; they were shining with such love it made him tremble. Hutch nodded slowly. Starsky felt a strange mixture of deja vu and clairvoyance. Just as they had been in a darkened hospital room so long ago, they were poised on a precipice, about to discover that world they'd been searching for all their lives. He glanced down at their joined hands, fingers wrapped around each other in a comfortable clasp, and a sweeping reverence filled him. He blinked, trying to believe the mist in his eyes was caused by the sun and windblown sand.

It was then that he saw that a few other people, perhaps as much in search of solitude as they, had found their section of beach. It meant they were outside, in public, not alone in the world after all. Yet it didn't matter that the people strolling only yards away were unknowing witnesses to the moment he and Hutch were sharing. The vows they were about to say to each other should be said in the presence of others.

"You know you were right before," Starsky said, squeezing the long fingers. "It does feel almost like none of it ever happened. Here we are again, makin' plans. And they're gonna work out this time. We've got a second chance."

"Second chance," Hutch mused, his voice a little shaky. "I'll do everything I can to make sure it works out this time."

"It's going to," Starsky assured. "But we're not going to go around worrying about what went wrong before, or what might go wrong now. What we've gotta do is take each day as it comes."

"I'll go along with that." Hutch's smile flashed, then his eyes looked into Starsky's once more. "And we shouldn't keep secrets from each other. We should promise that, too."

"Okay. We won't keep secrets. We'll always tell each other what's going on in our hearts." The earnest words didn't sound corny or sappy -- or if they did, Starsky didn't care. Words of love were meant to be that way.

Hutch looked down at their intertwined hands as if memorizing the way they looked. When his eyes lifted again, they were bright with hope and expectancy. "We're going to be together. Always."

Starsky nodded, the reverence of the moment capturing him again. "Always, babe. Me and thee." He tugged on Hutch's hands, pulling him near enough for another kiss. It was brief, but enough to seal the pledges they had given. When they parted, Starsky couldn't help a quick glance out of the corner of his eye. No one was paying any undue attention, and his eyes went back to Hutch. They helped each other up from the sand and walked slowly, side by side, back to the car.

********

Huggy Bear put the heavy tray down on the bar, stretching to rub at his aching back. He listened to the clamor in his restaurant, but refused to turn around and identify any of what was going on. A much repeated phrase floated through his thoughts, I'm gettin' too old for this. Still, this was his life, the way he made his living. Running a restaurant was the only way he'd ever been able to keep his head above water -- honestly, that is. Yet things had changed. The Pits had been in a neighborhood where he knew everyone, where he enjoyed meeting the friends and acquaintances that made up his clientele. Here, in his newly renovated steakhouse, although the atmosphere was casual, he sometimes felt like a stranger. Though some of the patrons were old stand-bys who kept him up on the word on the street, he really didn't recognize that many of those who came to eat. And he wasn't very close to the waitresses here, either. It seemed he managed the running of the place, but didn't have time to get friendly. But every so often, like tonight, I get stuck doing double duty as manager and busboy. Standing behind the low partition dividing the serving area from the dining room, he began removing the used dishes from the tray, dropping them noisily in the larger bin so they could be put in the dishwasher.

"I said, I want to see Huggy Bear!" An indignant voice rose to catch his attention. Huggy glanced around the room divider, eyes widening the minute he realized who the speaker was. And who was with him.

"Well, look what the cat dragged in!" He emerged from his corner, an impossible-to-hide smile on his face. Starsky and Hutch both turned toward him at the same time.

"Huggy!" Starsky was positively effusive, his manner so cheery that Huggy was taken aback. Starsky reached out and grabbed his hand, pumping it half a dozen times before releasing it. He grinned at Huggy, but before the handshake was over, his eyes were back on his companion.

Huggy also looked at Hutch, surprised at finding a similar smile on the blond's face. He blinked, unable to stop staring as the expression in Hutch's eyes took all his attention. There was something... different. He was so much more there than he'd been before. Huggy had often had the feeling that Hutch didn't really remember him after all.

"Hello, Huggy," the soft voice now offered. "We came to have dinner."

"Well, my man, dinner is what you'll get. Damn, it's so good to see you!" He turned to one of his waitresses. "Milly, get these friends of mine the best table in the house." The waitress came over carrying menus and escorted the duo to the corner table near the large fireplace. The lighting there was muted, the area around the table spacious. Huggy nodded to his friends, telling them he'd be over to chat in a few minutes. Watching them go, he noticed the gentle hand Starsky placed at Hutch's elbow as if to steer him on his way. But Hutch didn't look as though he needed steering. As they approached the table, Hutch's hand went around Starsky's back, gliding down in the lightest of touches. As if he just wants to touch him 'cause he's there.

Huggy smiled at the affection in their manner together. He knew that Hutch had left town about a month ago to visit his relatives in Minnesota. He'd spoken to Starsky a couple of times on the phone, and found him depressed and distant. This was like the old Starsky. And that had to be because of the additional change in Hutch.

The restaurant owner went to the cash register to ring up a bill for some departing customers, still maintaining a watch on his old friends. They were looking over the menus, talking quietly, showing smiles. It looked as though Hutch chuckled at something Starsky said, and even from a distance, Huggy could tell his eyes were shining. The time apart must have done both of them good, he decided.

By the time he got back to their table, they had already ordered. Huggy approached, feeling a warmth emanating from that corner while he was still several steps away. He pulled a chair from an adjoining table and sat down with them.

"You two really are a sight for sore eyes," he said with a grin.

"Yeah, I know we haven't been to eat here in a while," Starsky told him, eyes still on Hutch's face.

"I thought you were in Minnesota, Hutch," Huggy went on. "When did you get back?"

"Last night," the blond said, at last glancing away from his partner. "I bought a car and drove here."

"What?" Huggy yelped in surprise.

Hutch began to laugh. "You're as bad as he is," he said, nodding toward Starsky.

The dark-haired cop rolled his eyes, his voice teasing. "No. Just like me, Huggy is a sane person. Do you know he drove all the way by himself?" he asked in a tone that mixed pride and astonishment.

"Sounds like a bone of contention to me," Huggy protested. "I'm not getting into it."

"I bought a Mercedes." Hutch defended himself.

"Whew -- comin' up in the world. If you're that rich now, I guess I'd better tell Milly to make sure you get the best steaks in the house tonight."

"It is kind of a celebration," Starsky said more quietly. His eyes, a bright, deep blue, stayed on Huggy a moment, then returned to Hutch. Huggy was instantly reminded of the way Starsky had looked when he got off the plane with him. An indefinable something had returned to Starsky's eyes. He no longer wore that haunted look of desperation, of hope torn by chronic defeat. Hutch had come home now, seeming more at ease with himself, and with Starsky. There was a new peace between them, as if for the first time since Hutch's illness, they envisioned a future.

"Well, I'm glad you decided to do your celebrating here," Huggy pitched his voice low, too. "Can I send you over a bottle of bubbly? I stock better champagne than I used to at the old Pits."

"Sounds great," Starsky said, and Hutch nodded.

Duty soon pulled Huggy away from their table again. Though he longed to talk with them, they didn't have eyes for anyone but each other anyway. Their meal was served and he watched them covertly, memories of yesteryear making his heart feel very full. He'd never thought they'd recapture the way they'd been before, but he was pleased to see himself proved wrong.

"Milly," he said, catching the waitress by an elbow, "you got the check for my friends' table?" She nodded, and handed it over. Huggy tore it in two, and waved the halves at his guests, touching his forehead in a brief salute. The two men beamed back at him, draining their glasses of champagne.

********

"I said, I want to drive!" Hutch reached for Starsky's car keys as they approached the black Camaro.

"Not my car, buddy." Starsky pulled his arm out of Hutch's reach.

"Hey, I've driven your car -- your beloved Torino -- plenty of times. Don't tell me you like this hunk of tin any better."

Starsky just stopped under the streetlamp, eyes going up and down Hutch's frame. "You've been drinking." But he didn't sound as stern as he had.

"I only had one glass. You had three," Hutch pointed out logically. "See -- nothing wrong with my memory now."

"You only remember what it serves you to remember." Sounding acutely disgruntled, Starsky sighed, and handed over the keys. "Okay. You can drive. But no speeding, or I'll have to give you a ticket." The order was delivered with an admonishing swat to his rear end.

"What'll my fine be?" Wide blue eyes twinkled as Hutch looked over his shoulder while unlocking the driver's door.

Starsky was so surprised at the suggestive comment and look from his friend that he was momentarily speechless. Shaking his head, he went around to the passenger side and slid into the car.

Hutch put the key in the ignition and the Camaro roared to life. He turned excited eyes to Starsky as the engine settled to a purr.

"This has got a little bit more power than that sedate Mercedes," Starsky warned. "Take it easy."

Hutch lifted a shoulder expressively. "Easy is my middle name." His eyes moved to the rearview mirror and he put the idling car into reverse. Starsky found himself holding his breath as he tightened his seatbelt.

The car was gradually backed out of its parking space, and Hutch leaned forward to check the street for oncoming traffic. Then, with a delighted gleam in his eyes, he stepped hard on the gas and pulled out. Starsky just gritted his teeth at the sound of squealing tires.

"Here we go!" Hutch cried in his most jovial voice. He patted the steering wheel, adjusted the mirrors, and pulled around a slower vehicle to pass. Starsky felt his Adam's apple gulp in his throat.

He forced himself to relax. They didn't have to take the freeway, and fortunately the traffic wasn't that heavy. Hutch was actually doing quite well. Starsky tried to blot out the idea that a sixteen-year-old girl had taught him to drive again. He looked over at his friend, smiling despite his nervousness, appreciating the proud look on Hutch's face, the eager desire to please, the subtle need for Starsky's approval. He realized he was seeing a sight he'd never expected to view again. Overcome with the delight of the moment, Starsky couldn't speak. He slid his arm along the back of Hutch's seat, resting his hand just above the collar of his shirt. Feeling the touch, Hutch tilted his head back a little, like a cat asking to be petted. It was easy for Starsky to comply; he let his fingers comb through the long, silvery blond strands while they drove.

They arrived at Starsky's apartment without mishap. Hutch leaned forward to turn off the ignition, then turned to drop the keys into Starsky's hand. Starsky took them, then twined his fingers through Hutch's, wrapped his other arm around the broad shoulders, and pulled his friend into a tight embrace. His mouth found Hutch's parted lips and he kissed him as though he would never stop.

A few moments later, they made their way into the house, arms draped around each other, moving in the warm silence of love and belonging. Without discussion, they entered the bedroom and stood close, kissing again, beginning to undress each other. Starsky sensed his heart pounding fast. He pressed his hand to the center of Hutch's chest, not too surprised to find a similar trip-hammer beat. For a moment, he stroked his palm across the smooth flesh, eliciting a few goose bumps. Then he hugged Hutch close, and tumbled him down on the bed, pressing his entire length against the other man's lean form.

"God, I love to hold you!" he said in a growl, lips nuzzling along one stubbled cheek. Hutch wriggled closer, rolling over with him. They played together, rumpling the covers and the remaining clothing they wore. Legs parted, gripped, tightened, fingers stroked and pulled and teased. Capable hands stripped Starsky out of his jeans and briefs, sweeping up his now-bared torso. A shiver of arousal followed the touch and Starsky hurried to divest Hutch of the rest of his clothes. Soon he lay naked across the bed, an expanse of tawny skin, long legs and tousled blond hair. Starsky wanted to gobble him up, but not knowing where to start, he lay down on top of him, taking the full lips possessively once more.

The kisses became hotter, more insistent, full of true passion. Starsky's hips began rocking, causing his full crotch to rub against Hutch's groin. His friend urged the movement, gripping and stroking his ass until Starsky thought he might lose his mind in the sweeping pull of arousal.

Feeling delirious, he was rolled again to his back, kissed thoroughly on the lips and gently on the nose and chin. Then Hutch turned, wet, deliberate kisses following the change in position, and Starsky moaned aloud when the expert mouth took his cock to suck. Needing to share the exquisite sensations, he found Hutch's shaft with his own mouth, and began a more careful version of the intimate act.

Hutch had the same partial erection as before, but Starsky allowed his own inhibitions and guilt to fade away. Hutch wanted to be with him, no matter how complete his own response could be at this point. And Starsky couldn't resist his loving for anything. Hutch was enjoying the sensations, pausing every so often to gasp as Starsky ran his tongue up the underside of his shaft or mouthed his balls. Starsky was delighted by the taste, the texture of him, feeling totally at ease with what they were doing together. Nothing else had ever seemed so right.

He was quickly losing touch with the real world, with the notions of up and down and light and dark. He closed his eyes, breathing through clenched teeth, gripping Hutch's thighs with desperate hands. The loving mouth bore down on him, accurately assessing his needs, wringing every morsel of pleasure from his hungry body, sending him into orbit. The orgasm broke swiftly, the universe blanked out, leaving Starsky alone with the only thing he needed to survive, Hutch. The gentlest of hands cupped his ass, the smoothest of tongues bathed his throbbing organ, the thirstiest throat drank the seed he offered. When every drop was spent, Hutch's mouth drew away and the hands began to silkily wipe away the perspiration that had broken out on his body. Starsky realized with wonder that this time he didn't feel like crying at all. Instead, he caught himself chuckling with pleasure. Hutch rearranged his position again, falling into a heap at Starsky's side, reaching up for a kiss as if to ask if it had been good.

"You bastard," Starsky managed through panting breaths. "How'd you manage to get so damn good at this?"

"I don't know," a confident voice responded while long fingers ran through the hair on his chest. "Maybe I could always do this stuff. Or maybe it's a side effect."

"If it's a side effect, I don't know if I can handle the medicine that started it." Starsky knew they were talking nonsense as they cuddled, but he imagined the conversation to be the most clever of his life.

"I think you can handle anything I dish out." His chin was nipped lazily.

"I think you'd better make sure I try." He wrapped his arms around the smooth body and squeezed.

 

********

I hate Mondays, Sally Hagan grumbled to herself as she poured a cup of the strong coffee brewed in the office percolator. It was ten minutes to seven a.m. and she was due in the chalk room to be briefed on her assignments for the day. She yawned as she added a liberal amount of cream and sugar to her Styrofoam cup, remembering the date she'd had Saturday night, the one that had lasted all day Sunday, too. She'd hated to return to the real world this morning.

With her fellow cops, Sally made her way to the chalk room, finding a seat just in time for roll call. She noticed that Starsky wasn't there yet and wondered why. He was seldom late for work. She still worried about him, though she hadn't really talked with him since that night a month ago when he'd come to her apartment drunk and despondent about Hutch. He'd grown quiet, pale and exhausted. Sally knew others were talking about Starsky, too. Some other cops believed it was only a matter of time until he'd get careless on the street and be blown away. Sally didn't know if he was that bad yet, but she knew he wasn't the same man who'd taken her and Hutch to Dobey's anniversary party. There had been hope in his eyes then. It was a damn shame the way things had worked out.

"All right, folks, listen up." The watch sergeant brought the roll call meeting to order.

Sally looked up from her cup, picking up her pen to make notes. Before the sergeant could begin, Starsky opened the door and hurried in, mouth curved in a barely repressed grin, and paused only a moment to throw a jaunty wave toward the sergeant before finding a seat along the wall among the other ranking officers.

As the sergeant began speaking, he settled into his chair, not realizing that Sally was watching him. The cheerful wave and smile were not things anyone expected of him these days. Now he sat, not -- as usual -- ramrod straight, all business, with his eyes on the blackboard, but leaning back casually, one leg crossed over the other. His face still bore evidence of tension and strain, but looked more relaxed than it had in months.

As if realizing someone's eyes were on him, Starsky peered around. When he saw Sally gazing toward him, he gave her a nod and a quick wink in greeting.

Sally returned the look with a smile. If I didn't know better, I'd think his weekend was as good as mine, she thought. She resolved to ask him if Hutch had come home as soon as roll call was over.

When the crowd of officers began to leave the room, someone pulled at Sally's sleeve and she turned to speak to another of the women cops. By the time she was through, Starsky was disappearing out the door. Sally sighed; her assignment was going to keep her out of the building all day. It didn't matter, though. There was really no reason for her to ask what had changed. Only one thing -- having Hutch back -- could have brought the life back into David Starsky's eyes. Smiling at the thought, Sally headed out to find her squad car and her own partner.

********

It was hard to concentrate. All day, Starsky fought to keep his mind on the job. But his thoughts kept drifting to the man he'd left at home. God, I act like I'm completely smitten, he thought without embarrassment. Actually, he enjoyed the feeling. I'm in love... The love had always been there, bound with the cords of concealment and frustration, and remembrance of pain greater than the hope that had survived. Now, the joy had broken free once more, and he could hardly hold it in.

He smiled to himself at the memory of Dobey's face when he'd announced Hutch's homecoming. The dark eyes had opened wide, not so much in surprise that Hutch had returned, but due to the way Starsky told him the news. Guess I should try to rein in the exuberance a bit, Starsky tried to tell himself. My feelings for Hutch have gotta be pretty obvious. Then he thought, So what? They didn't intend to sneak around, did they? Didn't plan on hiding their feelings from the world. Making some grand announcement didn't really fit their style, but then neither did playing games. He finally figured they would go on together as they always had, not trying to cover up the depth of their caring. Let the rest of the world make of it what they would.

He felt as though his life were finally following the path he had expected it to. He and Hutch, together, going through the years at each other's sides. Only one item was out of kilter with the picture. Hutch wasn't with him on the job. Years ago, another lifetime seemingly, when he'd been the one in the hospital, Starsky had thought about Hutch being on the streets alone, and himself unable to follow. There were still times when he wondered how the situation had gotten so reversed. Perhaps, in time, Hutch really could come back on the force. He leaned back in his chair, eyes closed, imagining them as partners for real again, riding through the L.A. streets. The fantasy felt very good.

At last it was time to leave for the day. Starsky felt like a kid on Friday afternoon as he walked out of the building. He opened his car door and tossed his briefcase in the back seat, knowing full well he wouldn't touch it until he pulled it back out tomorrow morning. He stopped by a store to pick up a couple of steaks and the makings of a salad for dinner, then headed for home.

********

The dark-colored sedan wound its way through the streets of downtown L.A. Kurt Flavin was at the wheel, re-familiarizing himself with the town he'd left three years ago. Now he was back, looking for his old haunts and cronies to start up business where he'd left off.

"I think coming out like this might be a mistake," Eddie Strouse spoke up from the passenger seat. "I thought you agreed we should call a few people and check things out without leaving the hotel first."

"Eddie, you worry too much. I have a lot of old friends in this town."

"I know a lot of people here, too," Strouse answered. "Some of them are on our side -- and some aren't. Some of them are cops. You remember, I knew him."

"Shut up about that." Flavin threw the cigarette he'd been smoking out the car window. "You've talked about nothing else since we crossed the Continental Divide."

"If he hadn't recognized me, none of that shit would've happened in the first place," Eddie said stubbornly. "He wouldn't have been on my tail, wouldn't have stumbled onto our operation."

"Just shut up. The guy is dead and forgotten. Nobody witnessed a thing."

"We killed a cop. They don't get forgotten. And there was a witness or two. What about that guy we paid to fly us into Australia?"

"What about him? He got paid good to keep his mouth shut."

"You never know, Mr. Flavin. You just never know."

"Eddie," Flavin pronounced slowly, "I'm gonna say this just one more time. Either you shut up about that dead cop or I'm gonna feed you the same syringe highball as we gave him. Then you won't have anything more to worry about."

Eddie just looked at him, feeling the chill of the man's glance sink all the way to the bone. "Okay," he finally conceded. "I'll shut up about it." But, he told himself, that didn't mean he would forget the subject.

"All right," Flavin said, the scowl leaving his face. "Look. Here we are." Eddie noticed that they had pulled up beside a rundown bar. Flavin parked the car and the two men climbed out.

They entered the smoke-filled front room, Flavin waving his hand as if to push aside the thick air. A man at the bar looked up, stared for a second, then broke into a wide grin.

"Kurt! Am I seen' things? What are you doin' here?" The tall thin man came forward, one hand extended.

Flavin shook the offered hand, nodding toward Eddie. "You remember Vic Underwood, don't you, Eddie?"

Strouse remembered having met the man. "Sure. Hi, Vic."

The bar owner led them to a corner booth, shouting an order for beers to one of his waiters. When the three were seated, he pulled a cigar from his pocket and lit up.

"Kurt, I heard you left town a couple of years ago. Where've you been all this time?"

"We moved the whole operation out of the country," Flavin explained. "It was time to get out. The heat was getting pretty close." Eddie rolled his eyes and Flavin glared hard at him.

"I heard you ended up in Australia or some place," Underwood continued.

"You heard right. We holed up in the outback, managed to get a couple of hundred thousand bucks together buying up some opal mines and then moved in on the drug trade in Sydney. We ran the whole show down there until last year."

"What happened then?" Underwood questioned, leaning back to take a long drink from the mug that had just been served.

"What d'you think?" Eddie spoke up. "The heat got wind of our operation, so we moved back to the States."

"You been here long?" Vic wondered.

"Went back to New York, first," Flavin explained, already finished with his mug of beer. "Last week we decided it was time to come back here again."

"I see." Underwood sat for a long moment, staring into his mug. "You know what I heard?"

"What?" Flavin asked.

"I heard you had to make a pretty quick getaway from here. Something about kidnapping a cop."

Eddie sat forward, nerves already winding taut.

Kurt Flavin remained cool. "Where did you hear something like that?"

"The pilot who owned that plane you used," Vic said quietly. "He came through here a couple of weeks later and said how he knew what had happened to that cop everybody from the locals to the Feds was looking for."

"Maurice Jenkins?" Flavin said. "He didn't go shooting his mouth off to the cops, did he?"

"Not that I know of. At least not at that time."

"What do you mean," Eddie asked, "not at that time?"

"I heard he got busted over a year ago. Charged with smuggling. I think he's in the Federal prison up in San Quentin." He expelled a large puff of acrid smoke, which seemed to hang over the booth. "He might have told the cops anything they wanted to know then -- you know, trying to get his own sentence reduced."

"Shit!" Eddie moved as if to get out of the booth. Flavin reacted by grabbing his jacket collar and shoving him back down.

He fixed Underwood with a cold stare. "If you know something else, Vic, you'd better spill it now."

A shrug. "What else is there to know? The cops don't tell me all their business."

"You look like there's something more."

"I was just wondering. Did you kidnap that cop? That musta took balls, man."

Flavin relaxed slightly. "When you know how to do something without leaving any evidence, you can pull anything off."

"Without evidence?"

"Jenkins may have seen us with that cop, but that was all he knew," Flavin explained.

Underwood flicked ash into the large glass tray on the table.

"He didn't see what happened to him," Flavin went on, his voice growing more cordial. "We left that cop's body to rot where nobody would ever find it. He's nothing but bleached bones in the Australian outback by now."

"That so?" Underwood asked quietly. "I guess you didn't keep up your subscription to the local papers, then."

"What are you talkin' about, man?" Eddie couldn't stand the complacent look on Underwood's face.

"That cop is no more dead than I am," Vic said with a smile. "He was found in a hospital somewhere in Australia. It made all the headlines here when his partner went over there and brought him back."

"Brought him back?" Eddie's clenched fist pounded on the table. "You mean to tell me he's back here alive and working the streets again?"

"I don't know about whether he's working as a cop again or not. I haven't exactly saved clippings on him, you know. I think the story went that he suffered some kinda brain damage, but he was walkin' and talkin'... and probably rememberin' what you guys did to him." A white-toothed grin hovered for a moment over the lit cigar. "And when you stop and think the Feds have Jenkins... it doesn't sound like you're gonna be shown the welcome mat around this town, does it, Kurt?"

Flavin's mouth was drawn into a tight grimace. "Of all the fucking..." he muttered. Then he looked up at Underwood again. "Do you know whether there's a warrant out for us or not, Vic?"

Underwood put his cigar in the ashtray, meeting Flavin's cold eyes. "I guess there's ways of finding that out, Kurt."

********

Starsky pulled into a parking space beside the shiny blue Mercedes and looked up at the pink facade of Venice Place. When he'd called Hutch that afternoon, they'd decided to meet back at Hutch's apartment for this evening. Seeing the car there confirmed that Hutch had arrived on his own. Though Starsky had known he could do it, a small part of him, unrealized until this moment, was relieved that Hutch was indeed capable of getting there all right.

He grabbed his sack of groceries from the back seat and headed up the stairs, whistling as he went.

His friend was inside, but since he was running the vacuum, he didn't notice Starsky's arrival. Starsky put down the grocery bag and moved stealthily up to the tall blond. He quickly wrapped his arms around the slim waist, grinning at the jump of surprise Hutch gave. The vacuum was shut off abruptly, and Hutch turned in his arms. In seconds they were engrossed in a welcome-home kiss.

"Mmm..." Starsky said with his lips reaching again for Hutch's warm mouth. "I'll take seconds on that..."

Hutch obliged and for a few minutes they stood close in the embrace, savoring the joy of their reunion. Finally, Starsky tried to shift the grocery bag that was becoming steadily heavier and Hutch released him. As Starsky moved toward the kitchen, the blond followed on his heels.

"What'd you do today?" Hutch asked as he watched Starsky unload the steaks and other items.

"Oh, not too much. Paperwork mostly. It was pretty boring."

Hutch sighed. "I was bored, too."

Starsky turned and looked at him. The tone of Hutch's voice concerned him. "What do you mean, bored?"

"I don't really have much to do, Starsky." He pulled out his small notebook and turned pages. "Here's today. I came over here, dusted, vacuumed, watered all the plants, cleaned out my closet, read a book... and vacuumed the living room again." He ducked his head in slight embarrassment. "Guess I forgot I did it the first time." Then he sighed, putting the notebook away. "I can't go on like this, Starsk. You're gone all day. I really don't need to go to the Rehab Center for physical therapy anymore. I've got to have something to do."

"What do you wanta do?" Starsky asked quietly. The realization that Hutch had forgotten vacuuming gave him a slight twinge of concern. On the surface, Hutch seemed much as he had before -- but some things might never be as they once were. His short-term memory might never come back all the way. And that would prevent him from doing a lot of the things he had been capable of before... like being a cop again?

"I..." Hutch was speaking hesitantly. "I want to get a job, Starsk. I don't really need much money... but I want to do something useful."

"So? What kind of a job?"

"Well, I guess being a cop is out. After the mess that happened down there before..."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that." Starsky couldn't help trying to make the forlorn expression disappear. '"That was a long time ago, Hutch. You're doing lots better now."

The wide mouth curved in a regretful smile. "You always try to make me feel better, don't you?" The blond head shook. "No. I don't even think I really want to be a cop again. I-I've changed, Starsky. I don't need to prove what I used to need to prove out there. I just want to do something useful. Maybe with my hands. Maybe... making things grow." He turned to finger the lush green leaves of a Boston fern hanging from the kitchen ceiling.

Starsky moved closer to him, watching the strong hands grow gentle with the delicate foliage. Hutch's eyes were lit from within with his obvious caring for the plant. "Sounds like a good idea," Starsky told him softly.

"When I was out today, I saw a sign at a florist's," Hutch mused. Then the faraway look left his eyes and he eagerly brought out his notebook again. "On Pacific Avenue, down by the beach. They had a 'help wanted' sign."

"Did you go in and ask about the job?"

"No. But I was thinking -- maybe someday I could have my own shop."

"Working at a florist would be a good way to start," Starsky encouraged, lightly brushing a strand of hair over Hutch's forehead.

A big grin lit up his friend's face. "That's what I thought."

"We'll go down there after we eat and see if you can apply for the job." Two strong arms went around Starsky then, and Hutch squeezed him tight.

********

The night breeze coming through the open window teased the naked skin of the men entwined on the bed. Starsky shivered, reaching for the blankets, then realized that they'd been thrown all the way off the bed as the two of them had tumbled down on the mattress together. Hutch moved closer to him, either instinctively realizing he was cold, or needing warmth himself. Starsky huddled against him, enjoying the sweep of hands down his back, of a long leg thrown over his flank. Hutch made the best kind of blanket he could think of.

"I should let you get to sleep. You start your new job in the morning," he whispered, nuzzling Hutch's ear with his nose. The suggestion of going to sleep was purely perfunctory. For his own part, Starsky felt restless, more keyed up than tired. Just being in Hutch's arms right now was enough to excite him.

The investigating hand smoothed over his ass, fingers teasing between his cheeks. Starsky shivered again as an arc of swift desire surged through his loins. He sought and found Hutch's mouth, invading it with his tongue as he rolled the blond onto his back. His knees came up on either side of Hutch's hips and he continued to kiss him deeply while his lower body began to thrust against the man pinned beneath him.

Hutch accepted the dominance and the feeling of sexual power began to carry Starsky away. It was so good to be in Hutch's arms, to hold him, to love him. So good to be able to do all the things he'd only dreamed of for so long. Starsky left the moist mouth he'd been devouring, and proceeded to tongue and kiss his way down Hutch's body, sucking and nibbling along his throat, wantonly laving his nipples, the reality of the act turning him on hotter than he'd been in years.

Coherent thoughts fled, burned away in the bright heat of desire. He needed... he needed... What they'd done together in the few days since Hutch's return had been good; sweet, beautiful, totally romantic lovemaking. Now Starsky needed more. Control was burning to ash, need consuming him, and he let himself go in the delicious tide of full arousal. Hutch's legs spread wide apart, his hands on Starsky's hips urged the thrusting motion. Starsky reached under Hutch, lifting his ass, fingers delving deep. His fingers grasped his stiff, aching sex, positioning it, wanting to thrust it hard within the moist heat he sought, to feel the contractions of the muscles deep within the body he was ravishing.

Hutch groaned, panting as he tried to ease his position under Starsky. The dark man looked up, peering with lust-hazed eyes at his lover. There was a struggle going on in Hutch's eyes, desire to be everything to Starsky lost within the hurtful knowledge that his own physical capacities had not yet returned.

"God, what am I doing?" Barely realizing he was speaking aloud, Starsky let go of Hutch, rolling off of him and away, ending up with his back to his gasping partner. He sat shivering on his side of the mattress, quaking not from cold but despair.

"Starsk?" The voice of his friend sounded far off and scared, the hand that fought his shoulder seemed to be trembling. "What's wrong? What did I do?"

Starsky swallowed, trying to find his voice. "You didn't do anything wrong."

"Then why are you turning away from me again?" Hutch moved closer, and without his volition, Starsky's body reacted to his nearness. Every inch of his skin was still sensitized to Hutch's proximity, and he damned himself for the need that would not be quenched.

"I..." he began, voice barely controlled, "Don't you know what I almost did to you?"

"You wanted to fuck me."

Hearing it stated so simply like that, Starsky nearly cringed. "I'm sorry, Hutch. I... guess I got carried away."

"But there's nothing wrong with that." The hand on his shoulder rubbed soothingly. "We're lovers, remember? I want us to be able to do everything two people can do." There was a moment of contemplative quiet. "What's hurting you, Starsky? Just because I'm a man and you're a man... I mean, labels don't mean a thing. I don't mind if you..."

"Hutch, please." Starsky turned quickly to face him. "I wasn't thinking. I started without realizing where it was gonna lead. I'm sorry. I can't do that to you..."

"Why not? I could feel what was goin' on inside you." The ingenuous blue eyes were so certain as they regarded him. "You needed to be inside me..."

"Yeah." Starsky couldn't take the frank scrutiny any longer. He turned his head aside. "But I can't..."

"What?"

"All right." He met Hutch's gaze again. "I can't do that to you now... like this. I won't... use you like that when you can't..." His voice trailed off. "Shit. I don't want to make you feel bad or anything. You're terrific. But I won't do that to you while you can't do the same thing to me."

"I don't think of it as you using me," Hutch said quietly.

"I know that. But I can't help it if that's how I feel." He stroked Hutch's face. "I don't want to hurt you, babe. But for now, I just can't do that. Okay? Even if you don't mind, even if you're willing to let me... I just... won't."

"What if I want you to?"

"Don't, Hutch. My head is messed up enough. Just, please accept what I'm sayin' here. We have plenty of time. When the time is right... then both of us will do everything. Okay?" His voice carried an order in it and Starsky regretted having to sound that way, but he had to make Hutch understand.

"Okay."

They lay down in each other's arms then, eyes still holding an intent gaze. The look drew them closer than any embrace, and gradually Starsky felt himself relaxing, felt Hutch relaxing with him. The wide mouth moved in to kiss his lips.

He moaned in the kiss, arms reaching to pull Hutch closer. I love you so damn much... He had to say it out loud, tell him in words how much he was treasured.

But Hutch spoke first. "You still need me, don't you?" The quiet voice expressed truths Starsky couldn't keep hidden. He felt Hutch's hand surround his still tumid cock, and he gasped, sensitive nerves jolting to life. "Come here," Hutch whispered. "Do it this way."

He pulled Starsky's body to him, thighs opening just enough for his cock to slide between them. The smooth flanks closed against him, muscles tightening in a delicious caress.

"Ahhh..." Starsky gasped, pulling at Hutch's hips with both hands. They rolled around on the bed, adjusting and improving on the position, snuggling closer, tighter, sweat breaking out on their bodies, creating helpful lubrication wherever they touched and rubbed together. Starsky ended up on top again, thrusting between Hutch's thighs, feeling the head of his cock brush Hutch's balls with every stroke. Hutch's penis was trapped between their bellies, and just having it there, hard or not, excited Starsky beyond belief. If he couldn't be encased within the body he loved so dearly, this was the next best thing, and he marveled again over how thoroughly Hutch understood him, how devoted he was to satisfying him. Head and heart spinning in a soaring new ecstasy, Starsky felt the spasms of release begin. His semen flooded Hutch's thighs, the sheet beneath them, a prolonged outpouring that was as emotional as it was physical.

When it ended, he slid down beside Hutch, sharing a few languorous kisses. He felt a hand move between them, slipping down to encounter the warm fluid and he looked down to follow the gesture with his eyes. Hutch was smoothing the semen over his abdomen, stroking his own flaccid penis with the sticky result of Starsky's pleasure. The taller man sighed deeply, and Starsky looked up again in time to see the blue eyes sink closed as the sensuous self-caresses continued.

"Let me," he murmured, replacing Hutch's hand with his own. He used his fingers and palm gently, assuredly, calling forth all the skills he'd developed on himself while experimenting as a teenager to elicit delight from his lover now. Hutch stretched and sighed again, face soft with enjoyment. "Come on, babe. Feel how good it can be," he urged, moving closer to caress a nipple with his lips while still working his hand. "That's it. Just go with the feeling. You can do it." He breathed along Hutch's rib cage, causing shivers. "Good... so good... don't you feel good?"

"Mmm." Hutch nodded, one hand clenching on Starsky's shoulder, the other gripping the rumpled sheet. "Starsk... ahhh..."

"Shhh, nothing to worry about, just good feelings." Starsky's voice dropped to a suggestive whisper. "Feel my hand on your cock, feel my fingers rubbing your balls. You're getting hard... getting hard... just relax..."

"Starsky," Hutch's breathing was growing ragged. "When I was... in the coma... what was I like? How did you touch me then?"

"Hmm?" With difficulty, Starsky dragged himself out of the fantasy he'd been creating, wondering where the odd question had come from.

"Did you ever... touch me like this?"

"No," he told him quietly. "I touched you all the time, but never like this. I... I did kiss you sometimes. I told you I loved you." He kissed the soft lips, remembering how he used to silently beg them to respond. This time they did. "Ah, Hutch, I love you. I love you so much. I want you to feel good. Come on, let me take care of you."

"Mmmnnn... take care of me..." The soft echoing words drifted into a sigh. Starsky kept stroking the long penis, willing to repeat the caresses forever to get a response. He kissed him deeply again, silently urging Hutch's body to relax, to surrender to the feelings.

And gradually, he felt the cock in his hand hardening, lengthening. Hutch's breathing became harsh, all his muscles tensing, his brow furrowed with anxiety and need. Starsky tried to keep him calm, fearing too much tension would overwhelm the dawning pleasure. He eased his ministrations, chanting encouragement, but he felt the penis softening despite his best efforts. Hutch reached down to still the motion of his hand.

"No. It's all right." He let his words be gentle. "You can get hard, Hutch. That's something."

"I want to come."

"I know. But every step takes time. You'll get there, if you don't worry about it." A light went on in Starsky's head. "We had to train your body to do everything over again. You couldn't turn over in bed, you couldn't feed yourself or walk. We had to retrain your bladder, had to teach your body what control felt like again. Maybe you have to learn how to let go, too."

"Like you did, you mean?" The voice at his ear was gently teasing.

"Yeah, like I did," Starsky agreed. He began again, encircling Hutch's penis with his fingers, stroking its length, pumping languidly, trying to stimulate it as he had before. He didn't talk this time; he put his mouth to better use. He centered on the right nipple, tongue swirling flat on the swelling tissue, then licking and sucking. Hutch gasped again and his whole body relaxed. Starsky felt the cock begin to harden once more.

That's it. I've really gotta stimulate him, make him feel good all over. He moved to the left side of Hutch's chest, treating the other bud of flesh to the wet caresses, still fondling the growing penis. With his free hand, he tugged on the other nipple, pinching gently, rubbing with his fingertips until it stood out hard and tight from the smooth chest. Starsky spent time sucking more insistently on the other one, and Hutch's body seemed to come alive underneath him. The cock Starsky was pumping grew to new proportions, the hips gradually beginning to rock in time to the motions of his hand. Hutch was moaning, legs spread wide, hips thrusting, his cock stiff and full. Starsky looked down, anxious to see his success, and he found the arousal he'd created beautiful. He continued stroking Hutch for long, exquisite moments, sure in his own body that the pleasure was sweet for his friend. He thought at first that Hutch might actually orgasm, but as the moments passed, he realized that might not happen this time either. Still, a climax wasn't the only reason to have sex. He looked up, trying to read Hutch's expression.

The blond looked transported, face awash with tenderness and joy, lips parted, eyes tightly closed as if to deepen his concentration on the physical sensations. With a sudden, almost desperate need to kiss him, Starsky bent to his lips and Hutch responded, welcoming his tongue, sucking on it eagerly, grinding their mouths together. The rocking movements and the caresses of Starsky's hand seemed to peak, then gradually ebb, until the only motion was in the slowly calming throb of their heartbeats.

Finally, Starsky drew his sticky hand away, reaching up to cup Hutch's face and look into his eyes. "Okay?" he asked in a whisper.

Hutch nodded, eyelashes misted with what might be teardrops. "It was good," he paused, catching a breath, "even though I didn't really come."

"I know. I could tell." Starsky kissed the corner of his reddened mouth gently. "Coming isn't the be all and end all, you know. We've made some progress tonight, haven't we?"

The blond nodded again, arms wrapping themselves around Starsky at shoulders and waist. "Sleep this close to me, all right?"

"Anything you want." Starsky burrowed even closer and allowed sleep to steal him away.