The birthday cake was a triumph, red and white frosting expertly smoothed over a Madeira cake, with 'Happy Birthday, Hutch', piped on in blue. Starsky grinned.
"That's brilliant, Mrs Clarke, thank you." He couldn't help himself, maybe if he just took the corner off the frosting no one would notice. His hand was slapped away.
"Don't you want it to be perfect for the party?"
Starsky grumbled but had to concede that yes, he wanted it perfect for the party, he wanted everything to be perfect for the party.
"Hutch has had a hard time recently. I want him to relax, have some fun," Starsky said.
"You're a good boy, to do all this for your friend." Mrs Clarke smiled and Starsky grinned back.
"Huggy will come by to pick up the cake later today," Starsky said. Huggy had said he would host the surprise party and Starsky had accepted with alacrity. Having the party at Huggy's would make it a lot easier to get Hutch away if it all got too much for him.
Hutch had been unusually crabby the last couple of weeks. Starsky hadn't asked but he was pretty sure it was connected to the drunken fumble the two of them had engaged in just about a fortnight ago. At the time Starsky had been sure his feelings were reciprocated and he had been filled with a wild joy that had perhaps lead him to misread the situation.
But in the cold light of morning Hutch had rolled over in his bed and looked at him with the eyes of a stranger.
Hutch got up, showered, dressed and made breakfast all without saying a word.
"It'll get cold." Just three words as Hutch pushed the bowl of oatmeal across the table and Starsky ate it without complaint.
"You wanna talk about it?"
Hutch looked up and the look in those blue eyes, the eyes that Starsky had lost himself in last night, made him recoil.
"There's nothing to talk about." And Hutch stood up, picked up the bowls and walked across to the sink to wash them up.
/Nothing to talk about?/ Starsky wanted to stand up and shout at Hutch. /How can you say that? Maybe we could talk about the way your cock swelled as soon as I touched it. Or the way you cried out my name when you came? What about the look I saw on your face as you wrapped your fingers around my dick? How about the fact that you fell asleep in my arms?/
Starsky looked at Hutch's back, rigid and tense, and shook his head.
From that point on they had gone back to normal. Although Starsky was all too aware that it was anything but normal. Hutch was unhappy and he would turn his back every time Starsky looked at him.
They weren't spending much time together outside of work either and Starsky had it on good authority that Hutch was doing his best to work his way through every even remotely attractive woman in Bay City.
It broke his heart but Starsky didn't say anything, even when Hutch turned up three days in a row wearing the same clothes.
The birthday party was an attempt to show Hutch that they were still friends, that despite everything Starsky was still there for him, no matter what.
"Happy birthday, partner." It seemed that age had not mellowed Hutch because no sooner had Hutch looked at Starsky, then he was looking away.
"It's just another day," Hutch mumbled as he pulled his chair out. He ignored the gift that Starsky had placed on his desk and the curly haired man pretended not to notice.
"Sure it is." He was careful to keep his voice light and upbeat. "You're only one of 20 million people celebrating their birthday today." Hutch gave him the look that Starsky thought of as the 'You're an idiot' look but at least it was better than being ignored. "So, you got any plans for tonight?" Starsky asked, keeping his voice low and neutral. He had already planned with Huggy a surefire way of getting Hutch to the party.
"No different to usual." Hutch resolutely refused to look at Starsky.
"Which woman is it going to be tonight?" He wasn't going to do that. Had told himself that no matter what he shouldn't allude to Hutch's conquests, but in the end the words forced themselves out of his mouth.
Hutch looked up at him, blue eyes hard and challenging. "I don't think that's any of your business."
Starsky gave Hutch his best mournful look. It had always worked on Hutch in the past but not today, today Hutch turned away.
"Ready to go?" Sitting side by side in the Torino had been torture recently, but they still had to do their jobs. How long, Starsky wondered, will it be before Hutch asks for a new partner? If that happened Starsky had every intention of quitting. He'd become a beach bum instead, they seemed to do all right, or perhaps he'd go into business chauffeuring old ladies around, that might be quite fun actually. It was comforting to think he had options.
They sat in silence, Starsky racking his brain trying to think of some way to start a conversation, he would even welcome one of Hutch's exquisite put downs, but he kept coming up blank.
"Zebra Three, Zebra Three."
The lack of conversation must be getting to Hutch too given the speed with which he snatched up the radio.
A 211 at a grocery store was a welcome distraction and Starsky put his foot down.
The sound of the siren had alerted the robbers and they opened fire as soon as the Torino arrived. Exiting the car under fire was never Starsky's favourite way to arrive at a crime scene. Hutch, hunkered down behind the dashboard, glanced across to him and Starsky might have cheered, because at last Hutch had relaxed into their usual way of working.
Starsky nodded and as one the two men flung the doors open and leapt from the car, diving for cover. Starsky fired his gun just once. Might as well let the perps know they were in trouble.
"I can see three gunmen," Starsky yelled over the sound of gunfire. "Those aren't bad odds."
"I think there's two more out the back." Hutch was checking his pockets. "Shit."
"What?" Imagining the worst Starsky dived towards Hutch.
"I haven't got any more ammunition. What about you?"
"Don't worry about me." Starsky grinned, he wasn't going to admit to Hutch that he too was decidedly short. "How many hostages?"
Hutch stuck his head up briefly. "I can see one."
Starsky put his hand on Hutch's arm. It was a grounding gesture, something they did without thinking about it. He was fully expecting Hutch to shrug his hand away, but instead the man said, "What do you want to do?"
"Go in through the back. Ready?"
Hutch nodded and the two men moved. The door was guarded but Starsky distracted the guard long enough that Hutch could slip past and then Hutch returned the favour. The inner door however was locked and as the pair hurried back to the outer door, they found that locked as well.
"Great. We're trapped." Hutch sank down onto the floor, gun trained on the inner door in case anyone came through it.
"Back up's coming," Starsky said, more in hope than anything else.
"I've only got two rounds left." Hutch stretched his legs out and winced. "That's not going to be enough."
"We're no threat to them like this." Starsky sighed and put a hand on Hutch's leg. He felt his partner tense but Hutch didn't pull away.
"Starsk, they'll come and shoot us once they're done." Hutch laid his gun on the floor. "Unless of course they decide to shoot us before they're done."
"Maybe they'll surrender." Starsky, despite the situation, really wanted to smile.
"I wouldn't count on it." Hutch looked at his partner. "Are you smiling?"
"I've missed this."
Hutch sighed. "Yeah, me too."
Silence fell between them, broken only by the muffled shouts from the armed robbers as they did whatever it was they were doing. But it wasn't the tense silence of recent times and that was an improvement.
Starsky began to fidget and Hutch frowned. "What's up?"
"I'm just hoping we get out of here on time."
"You've got a date?"
The way Hutch said it, it shouldn't hurt that much. Was there any point explaining to Hutch that he didn't want to date anyone if they weren't him?
"A party actually."
Hutch looked blank and Starsky nudged him with his elbow.
"A birthday party."
Hutch shook his head. "Birthday party? Whose birthday?"
"Yours, dummy. Who else's party would I be going to on your birthday?"
"You were the one who said that there are millions of other people celebrating today," Hutch pointed out. "Who organised it? You?"
"With a bit of help from Huggy."
"Because it's your birthday." Starsky grinned. "Why'd you think?"
"After the things I've done, the way I treated you." The blue eyes that turned to look at Starsky were full of so much pain that without stopping to think about it Starsky put his arms around his partner.
"No matter what else happens you're my partner, you're my friend, Hutch. I love you, in so many different ways I can't count 'em. You think you acting like an idiot for a few days is gonna change that?" Starsky searched Hutch's face, looking for a sign that showed Hutch understood what he was saying. He meant every word but his partner had pushed him away so effectively that Starsky was no longer completely sure that Hutch would understand him. "'It was my fault anyway, shouldn't have forced myself on you when you were drunk."
"I wanted it." Those three words spoken in a voice that seemed to come from a million miles away made Starsky want to cry. "I wasn't as drunk as you thought I was and I enjoyed every moment."
"Then why?" Starsky turned to Hutch with a look of complete confusion on his face. "Why wouldn't you talk about it the next morning? Why..." He couldn't say anymore, the confession that Hutch had just made didn't fit with the way he had been behaving and Starsky was flummoxed.
Hutch didn't reply straight away. Starsky could hear his own heart beating and wondered if Hutch could hear it too. Did Hutch realise that what he said next would define their partnership from that point on?
He could feel Hutch shifting next to him. Stretching out those long legs of his, getting comfortable. Then Hutch drew in a long breath.
"You ever do something bad, Starsky? Something you knew in your bones was wrong, but you did it anyway?"
"Sure." He half shrugged but he could feel how tense Hutch was. "Every kid does."
"What about as an adult? Have you done something as an adult that you knew was wrong?" This time Hutch didn't wait for an answer. "And while you were doing it, it felt good, right? Only afterwards there's the guilt and the self loathing."
"Cut to the chase, will ya? Those guys might come out and start shooting at any point." Starsky was keeping his eyes trained on the inner door. His insides felt as though they were tied in knots and he wasn't sure if it was because of the situation they were in or because he was pretty sure he already knew what Hutch was trying to tell him.
"There's nothing wrong with what we did." He made up his mind that Hutch was more important than the fear of being shot, and so Starsky turned round, straddled Hutch's legs so he could look directly into his partner's blue eyes. "Nothing."
Hutch refused to meet Starsky's gaze. "When you're raised like I was, yes there is." Hutch drew in another shaky breath and then he looked at Starsky. "Church every Sunday, the vicar standing in the pulpit ranting about sinners and the wrath of God." Hutch paused and his eyes went back to gazing at the ground. "I don't remember one time that the love of God was ever mentioned. And over Sunday lunch my father would ask questions about the sermon."
"Let me guess, if you couldn't answer them you didn't get any apple pie."
Hutch forced a smile. "Something like that."
Starsky reached out and took Hutch's hand. "He didn't?"
Hutch neatly sidestepped the question. "When I got older, when I realised I was feeling things that I shouldn't be feeling, I panicked. I stuffed every last one of those feelings down inside me and then I went out and I got on with life, just like every other heterosexual male out there."
"Is that where Vanessa came in?" Suddenly Hutch's ill advised marriage started to make a lot more sense in Starsky's mind.
"She thought she could change me, I hoped she could. Eventually we realised that I was a hopeless case."
"Not completely hopeless," Starsky said, hoping to provoke a smile.
"I felt broken, Starsk. My mother always said that God made me, that he made me perfect. But I never told her who I really am. She wouldn't think I was perfect if she knew, if she knew who I'm in love with."
Now it was Starsky's turn to take a deep breath, to pull his back straight, to clear his throat before he could speak. "Who are you in love with?"
Hutch smiled, this time it wasn't forced but warm, a little soft around the edges. "You."
Starsky felt himself held by Hutch's gaze and he shifted forward, one leg either side of Hutch's hips.
"I love you too." Starsky ran one finger around Hutch's face and a gentle smile curved his lips, lips that made contact with his partner, almost hesitantly, Starsky still not sure that he wouldn't be pushed away. Sure, the pair had kissed before, but it hadn't been like this and the curly haired man put his heart and soul into it. He was going to have to spend a lot of time working to erase Hutch's guilt, letting his partner know that what they felt for each other wasn't some dirty little secret, that even if the rest of the world was against them, they had nothing to be ashamed of. At the back of his mind where he kept all the thoughts he didn't share with other people Starsky admitted that it was going to be an uphill battle.
Starsky had given up caring what people thought of him a long time ago but not Hutch. Hutch, he knew, did care what other people thought, probably cared more deeply than he would ever let on. Eventually he had decided it was because Hutch was blonde, more noticeable and therefore more likely to be watched and judged. For a brief moment Starsky thought about suggesting to Hutch that he dye his hair, but it likely wouldn't go down well. And it wouldn't solve the problem anyway, only time would do that.
Gunfire boomed out, so close that Starsky's instantaneous response was to push Hutch flat on the ground.
"How about we go back to mine," Hutch suggested, pushing his mouth against Starsky's ear.
One hand stretched out searching for his gun, but Starsky took the time to reply, "As long as we get out of this alive."
"I want you, Starsky."
He could hear the tremor in Hutch's voice and while he knew he should be pleased about his partner's volte face, he couldn't help think that there were more pressing matters at this moment in time.
"And you can have me, as soon as we get out of here." Starsky paused for a moment, straining his ears. "Hunker down, Hutch."
"Cavalry's here. There's going to be more shooting." His body liked being on top of Hutch, his body responded accordingly and Starsky reminded himself to be careful when standing up. "Lie still." To be honest that last instruction was directed more at himself than Hutch, his partner was already still beneath him. /God, what if he's been hit?/
"Hutch?" He kept his voice low and raised himself up so he could see his partner's face. "Hutch?"
"I thought we were keeping quiet?"
There was nothing but silence now. Was that good silence or bad silence? Well, they would probably find out soon enough.
That sounded like Babcock, and Starsky was about to reassure the detective that he was all right when he remembered the rather large erection he was concealing, except from Hutch.
"Starsky? Oh God, Starsky. Simmons, get over here."
They thought he was dead and erection or no erection he couldn't do that to them. He pushed himself off of Hutch.
Babcock's look of relief was almost comical and then he caught sight of Hutch as well and his eyes went back to Starsky.
"We were hunkering," Hutch said, reaching up with one hand. "Help me up." Simmons was closest and he pulled Hutch to his feet.
"Thanks to Starsky." Hutch smiled and Simmons checked his watch.
"Don't you two have a party to get to?" Then he looked at Starsky and groaned. "Sorry. I forgot it was supposed to be a surprise."
Starsky grinned. "Cake, candles and criminals, what else could a cop want for his birthday."
Given the amount of gunfire that had greeted their arrival the Torino was in remarkably good shape. Babcock and Simmons had declared that they were going to deal with the aftermath of the 211 so that Starsky and Hutch could make the party.
But when seated side by side in the car Hutch put a hand on Starsky's leg and Starsky felt his cock stiffen beneath the denim of his jeans. He turned to look at Hutch and saw that the blue eyes that had been regarding him with such coldness were instead filled with tenderness. His heart filled with love.
"Yours or mine?"
Starsky considered the question. He had both condoms and lube sitting hopefully in the drawer of his nightstand. Would Hutch have those things? He was about to ask when he remembered something. "The cake." Starsky groaned.
"Your birthday cake. I knew I should have sneaked a taste when I had the chance. Aw, Hutch, you should see this cake."
When he looked at Starsky, Hutch was smiling. "Let's go to the party."
"But I thought..."
Hutch shrugged. "You and Huggy organised it, it would be a shame not to at least show our faces. And then there's the cake."
"We go to the party, smile, eat some cake, and then." Hutch slipped one hand around the back of Starsky's neck. "We can go back to yours and have a private party for two."
Starsky grinned. "So I get to have my cake and eat Hutch too."
They had to park half a block away from the the party venue, but as Starsky was about to open the car door he was stopped by Hutch.
"What?" It was dark inside the car. The only light came from a street lamp. Its pale glow made Hutch look eerily beautiful.
"I think it's about time I apologised to you."
"For the way I've been behaving."
Starsky shrugged, it actually hurt thinking about what Hutch had been doing every evening, but he wasn't going to admit to that, Hutch didn't need any more guilt.
"I don't own you, and if you want to sleep with every woman in Bay City that's up to you."
"Is that what you think I've been doing?"
Hutch gave Starsky a quick glance and then looked away, his hands clenching into fists. "I thought I wanted to. I did, but when it came to it all I could think about was you." Hutch grabbed hold of Starsky's hand and squeezed it.
"But you haven't been going home."
"I've been walking around, sitting on the beach thinking. Trying to convince myself that I don't want you."
"I'm sorry." Starsky rubbed a hand across his eyes. "I wish you'd said something."
"I wish I had too." Hutch smiled but Starsky could see it was an effort for him. "How about that party."
"C'mon then," Starsky said, doing his best to sound upbeat, but there was a small flutter of worry in his stomach. "Let's go eat some cake."
"Surprise!" Huggy lead the cry and Starsky could see that Hutch was doing his best to appear surprised.
"Look, Huggy, can we have the cake early." Starsky cornered his friend. "Hutch and I have had a long day."
"You're taking him home to tuck him in?" Huggy raised an eyebrow.
Starsky grinned but he couldn't come up with a response and Huggy smiled.
"If the birthday boy wants cake then cake he shall have."
It was as beautiful as Starsky remembered and he turned to Hutch to share in his admiration.
"Just look at that cake, Hutch." He draped an arm across the man's shoulders.
When he responded Hutch's reply wasn't exactly the response he was hoping for.
"Why are there three candles?"
"Because you're 33, it's a nice round number. C'mon, Hutch, blow them out and make a wish." Starsky was practically vibrating with anticipation.
"Starsk, 33 isn't a round number." But Hutch did step forward and take a deep breath.
Later, when Starsky asked Hutch what he'd wished for, Hutch pulled Starsky close and kissed him. Starsky stepped back and took Hutch's hand, tracing its outline with one finger and grinned as Hutch shuddered.
"I think we've got somewhere we need to be."
Their love-making was everything Starsky would have wished for, had it been his birthday. Their first time which seemed so long ago had been nothing like this. Then they had both been desperate for a connection, carried away by a flood of sensations. It had been selfish sex, both men more focused on what they could get out of it than what they could give the other.
Now, for what was their second time, Starsky took care to put Hutch first, and knowing that Hutch was still conflicted about their relationship Starsky was careful not to push too hard. He let Hutch take the lead, only doing what the blond man asked him to do.
What surprised Starsky the most was the way they moved together so effortlessly. This was a dance they had been skirting around for a very long time and in the fulfillment of it there was so much pleasure to be had that, for a moment, Starsky felt like crying.
Hutch must have felt it too because Starsky's thumb wiped away the damp on his face, following with a kiss.
Hutch was tired, Starsky could see it in the way his limbs trembled and his flushed face contained half-lidded eyes. Hutch was sliding towards sleep, hardly surprising given the day they'd had.
"Time for sleep." He smiled at Hutch, pulling the man close against him. Hearing the beat of Hutch's heart was soothing and Starsky smiled, they would both sleep well tonight.
"Love you, Starsk," Hutch mumbled as his eyes fell closed.
Starsky responded with a kiss. "Happy birthday, Hutch."