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Birthday Wishes and Sunshine Daydreams

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Caught up in sunlight

Come on out singing

I'll walk you in the sunshine

Come on honey, come along with me

 

-Grateful Dead, Sugar Magnolia

 

August 1, 1979

As soon as Starsky returned home from his physical therapy session, he carefully sat down on the sofa, a hand pressed firmly to his stomach as he tried to stem the inevitable wrenching of the tender abdominal muscles, and picked up the brochure that Huggy had given him earlier in the week. Leafing through its glossy pages, he grabbed the phone and called the number listed on page five.

After a brief conversation with the woman on the other end, he dialed Hutch at the station.

“Detective Hutchinson.”

“Hey, Hutch, mark your calendar for the 27th through 29th – that’s Monday through Wednesday – and don’t forget to ask Dobey for those days off.”

“What for?”

“Because I’m takin’ you away for your birthday.”

“Where to? The loony bin?”

“You jest, but you just wait and see. All you need to know is we’re goin’ somewhere where you can relax and fish to your little blond heart’s content.”

“And what’ll you be doing? Showing me up by catching more fish than me, like you did that time up at Pine Lake?”

“Would you prefer I lose your brand-new, expensive fishing rod like I did that other time?”

“Thanks for reminding me. I’m not so sure I want to go fishing with you again, pal.”

“Your choice, buddy-boy, but there’s more than just fishin’ where we’re goin’.”

“Such as?”

“I have it on good authority that there’ll be lots of beautiful, scantily-clad single ladies there.”

“Oh? Tell me more.”

“They’ll be paradin’ around all day in skimpy swimsuits and possibly less, so I thought you might get lucky and get laid on your birthday.”

“You sure you’re physically up to going fishing, Starsk? Or, for that matter, getting laid?”

“Don’t you worry about me, I’ll be fine. It’s your birthday. I’ll do what I can. Besides, I’ll be content to just lie on the beach all day and watch the pretty ladies walk by in their bikinis.”

August 26th

Starsky pushed his nearly-cleaned plate away from him towards the center of the table and leaned back in his chair, eyeing his partner. Hutch was nervously fiddling with what was left of his French fries, dipping them in the puddle of ketchup and swirling them around before putting them back on the plate, a strange ritual that Starsky had never observed him doing before.

It occurred to him that Hutch’s demeanor had been oddly distracted all night, as if the prospect of going on a relaxing vacation together was somehow causing anxiety instead of excited expectation.

“So, is the birthday boy all packed up and ready to go on his vacation tomorrow?” Huggy inquired, sauntering over and sitting down at their table. “Dinner tonight is on me, by the way.”

“Thanks, Hug,” Hutch replied absently, which Starsky astutely noticed. Hutch had been doing that a lot lately, becoming lost in his own thoughts and having to be jostled back to reality.

“What time are you two cowboys plannin’ on leavin’ tomorrow?”

“It’ll take a couple hours to get there and I’m hopin’ to leave early,” Starsky answered briskly, “but of course, it depends on what time Nature Boy here picks me up.” He looked at Hutch who seemed like he was halfway back to becoming lost in his thoughts again.

When Hutch answered, it was only after it seemed he’d missed a beat, and if Starsky hadn’t been paying close attention to his partner, he’d never have noticed. “You’re the one who likes to sleep late, Starsk. Just make sure you’re ready to go by 8am, okay?”

“Oh, I’ll be ready. I’m lookin’ forward to gettin’ away from the same, old boring routine for a few days.”

“Don’t that mean you’ll miss your physical therapy sessions, Starsky?” Huggy asked.

“Yeah, I guess it does. First time in two months, but I can’t say I’ll miss it.”

At the mention of Starsky’s physical therapy, Hutch flinched and looked down at the floor as if he’d suddenly noticed something interesting down there. Starsky noticed that a wave of sadness seemed to wash over his partner, and not for the first time that week.

Hutch looked at Starsky as he thought about how Starsky’s daily routine would be changing for the first time since he’d been discharged from the hospital two months ago.

After Starsky was shot, Hutch had spent most of his time grieving next to Starsky’s hospital bed and investigating who put out the hit on them. Then as Starsky slowly recovered, Hutch’s days and nights were spent visiting him in the hospital and preparing an ironclad case against Gunther.

But by the time Starsky had been released and sent home, most of Hutch’s time was spent going to work each day, alone.

When he could – on the days when he didn’t have to work late – Hutch spent his evenings relaxing with Starsky at the Pits, playing cards together in his greenhouse, or watching the game on TV at Starsky’s place.

But they hadn’t been able to spend three full days together since before it happened. Ever since they became partners, they’d spent the majority of their waking hours together, but after the shooting, fate decided it had other things in store for them, and Hutch couldn’t help but mourn the old days.

He’d asked Dobey for a leave of absence so he could spend more time with Starsky while he recovered at home, and had all but expected Dobey to be as accommodating as possible, so he was shocked when his captain turned down his request, arguing that he needed Hutch on the job. With Starsky out of commission, Dobey argued, he simply couldn’t afford to spare another detective.

But now Hutch would be spending three glorious days alone with Starsky in some as-yet unknown place where there was fishing. That part sounded divine. It was the part with the women that had him feeling anxious, and he creased his brow as he tried to push it out of his mind.

He hoped they were going someplace quiet and remote, but prayed it wasn’t anywhere near Pine Lake. Hutch had had enough of that place, cursed as it was by those weirdo Satanists, thank you very much. Starsky had mentioned women in swimsuits, so perhaps it was near the ocean. But his partner had refused to give him any more information, insisting that Hutch would have to wait until they got there.

“So what are you gonna wish for?” Huggy asked.

“Huh?” Hutch, lost in his thoughts again, didn’t quite understand Huggy’s question.

“On your birthday. You gotta make a birthday wish.”

“He wishes he’ll catch more fish than me,” Starsky interjected.

“I thought I’m supposed to wish for a beautiful girl to end up in my bed?” Hutch retorted, trying to keep up appearances.

“That too,” Starsky added.

But bedding a beautiful woman wasn’t what Hutch wished for at all.

August 27th

Hutch pulled up outside of Starsky’s place exactly at 8am, just as he promised, half-expecting his partner to be sound asleep, but Starsky surprised him by opening the door, blue duffel bag in hand, dressed in cut-off jean shorts, emphasis on short, and a short-sleeved button-down shirt, looking eager to get started. Hutch noticed that only the top button was unbuttoned. Starsky had been doing that a lot lately, Hutch realized.

They settled themselves into Hutch’s latest car, one in a long line of cars he’d gone through since his beat-up brown Galaxie had been blown to smithereens by Gunther’s goon, Soldier, several months earlier. The Torino, its bullet-ridden windows having been replaced weeks ago after finally being released from police impound and returned to its rightful owner, sat neglected in Starsky’s driveway because Starsky still hadn’t been cleared by his doctor to drive.

They sat in Hutch’s car awkwardly looking at each other.

“Well,” Starsky asked, “are you gonna drive this thing or what?”

“You haven’t told me where we’re going yet.”

“Oh, yeah, forgot. Just get on 101 North until I tell you to stop.”

“You know, Starsk, you really didn’t have to do this.”

“Do what?”

“Take me on vacation for my birthday.”

“Now you tell me. Coulda saved me a chunk of change if you’d mentioned it sooner,” Starsky teased.

But Hutch wasn’t in a joking mood. “Starsk, it’s not that I don’t appreciate it, because of course I do. It’s just that...” he trailed off, and Starsky carefully studied Hutch’s expression as his partner put the car in gear and began to drive towards their destination.

“It’s just what?”

“I couldn’t wish for a better birthday gift than just having you alive, buddy,” Hutch blurted out, immediately regretting it.

“Jesus, Hutch, what am I supposed to say to that?” Starsky was no longer in a joking mood now, either.

“You don’t have to say anything.” Hutch took his eyes off the road for a brief moment to glance over at his partner. “I’m looking forward to this trip, Starsk, I really am, but it’s not because of the fishing or the pretty girls, not that I don’t appreciate them. Fuck. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to kill the mood.”

“It’s okay. I just thought it would be nice for us to get away for a few days, ya know? Didn’t we calculate once that we used to spend 75% of our time together?”

“Waking time.”

“Whatever. Now I spend most of my days alone, tryin’ to pass the time until I can get back on the force. If they let me. And we both know there’s a good chance they won’t. And I’m tired of havin’ to take a cab or call Huggy every time I wanna leave the house, when I got a perfectly good car sittin’ in my driveway.”

“You’ll be able to drive it again soon, and then you can go anywhere you want.”

“But that’s exactly my point. What I want is to go back to work with you. To do somethin’ useful. We made a good team, didn’t we? I liked bein’ your partner, Hutch.”

Starsky’s use of the past tense made the hair on Hutch’s arms stand up, as an unpleasant chill passed through him. “MADE a good team? You LIKED being my partner? What the hell, Starsk? What’s with the past tense?” But Hutch didn’t really have to ask. He knew that Starsky had been feeling frustrated and lonely these past few months, and he was worried that the police review board would force him to take permanent disability.

There were many nights when Hutch had to work late, because of a bust going down or a stakeout he was needed on, and he’d had to cancel his plans with Starsky at the last minute. They used to spend 75% of their waking time together. But not anymore, and he missed it just as much as Starsky did. He just didn’t know how to tell him that without getting all soapy about it.

“Just forget I said anything. Let’s think about happier things, huh? It’s your birthday tomorrow, and you are gonna love where I’m takin’ you. They’ve got wine tasting, fancy restaurants, quaint little boutiques, horseback riding, hiking trails, you name it…”

Abruptly, Starsky clamped his mouth shut, becoming pensive as he realized that if Hutch wanted to go horseback riding or hiking, he’d have to go alone, because Starsky was in no condition to do anything involving strenuous exercise. Maybe someday he would be. But not now and perhaps not ever.

“Starsk, I thought we were just gonna relax, do some fishing, lay on the beach. I don’t need to do those other things.”

“Anyway, there’s supposed to be a botanical garden somewhere. I can probably walk around there.”

“Well, I’m looking forward to whatever we end up doing,” Hutch said. “It’ll be nice for us to spend some time together and not have to worry about Dobey calling me in to work.” But Hutch was thinking about the one thing he really wanted to do with Starsky. The one thing that he knew would never happen.

After about 3 ½ hours of driving north, they began to see signs for San Luis Obispo to the east, but instead of taking the turnoff to the right, Starsky told Hutch to continue straight, until they approached a narrow, gravel road about a half-mile further up.

“Turn here,” Starsky motioned, and Hutch turned west onto the narrow side road. A bit further up, the road ended as it approached a bluff, adjacent to a small white beach house.

“This is it,” he told Hutch. “This is where we’re staying.”

Hutch parked the car in the driveway and they walked up to the entrance. The small house sat on the bluff overlooking a narrow, curved beach surrounded by grassy dunes where wild grasses and scrub pines grew with careless abandon.

Twenty-five sturdy wooden steps led down from the little house to the beach below. At the back of the house was a deck that offered a magnificent view of the ocean, but the house was set far enough back that it offered a fair amount of privacy as well.

“Look down there,” Starsky pointed. “See that beach and the people on it?”

“Yeah,” Hutch answered.

“Do you know what you don’t see?”

“Satanists?” Hutch joked, thankful they weren’t anywhere near Pine Lake.

“Swimsuits. That, my friend, is a nude beach.”

“I thought you said there’d be women in skimpy bikinis here, not naked women.”

“From what I heard, some of them go completely naked, but some just go topless. Anyway, it’s clothing-optional, so I’m sure there will be some women wearin’ bikinis if you’re uncomfortable with the whole nude scene. I’m not.

But the point is, it’s mostly single people who come to this beach. So we’ll have our pick of women. And there’s supposed to be a little protected cove where we can go surf fishing. I figured we could meet some chicks today and then cook up whatever we manage to catch. And maybe tomorrow night for your birthday, we can go into town for dinner with the ladies. Sound good to you?”

Hutch forced a smile and patted Starsky on the shoulder. “Sounds like a plan.”

They brought their things into the house and looked around. At the front of the house was a small kitchen with an island and three stools adjoining a living room that opened out onto the deck. To the right of the living room was a hallway leading to two bedrooms. The larger bedroom, the master, had a magnificent view of the ocean, while the smaller bedroom had a view of the scrubby pines which surrounded the house.

After depositing the food and provisions they’d brought with them into the kitchen, they walked over to inspect the bedrooms.

“Since you’re the birthday boy, you get the room with the view.” Hutch nodded and carried his duffel bag into the master bedroom, depositing it on the large, empty bed. Then he walked back to the doorway and stood there forlornly, watching Starsky putting away his things in the other bedroom. As his thoughts drifted to later that evening, he imagined Starsky cavorting under the covers with a beautiful, sexy woman. Hutch frowned and turned away.

With their belongings unpacked, the two men headed down the steps towards the beach, donned in t-shirts, sunglasses, hats and sandals. Starsky carried two towels, a large beach blanket, a bottle of baby oil and the fishing rods, while Hutch carried two heavy coolers – one that held bait and tackle and the other filled with ice, cold drinks, and sandwiches which Hutch had prepared that morning.

“You sure you can make it down those stairs, Starsk?” Hutch eyed them with concern.

“Goin’ down is easy, it’s climbin’ back up that’ll be the hard part. But it’s only 25 steps. I climb the steps to your place all the time. Besides, I need the exercise since I’ll be missin’ my sessions.”

But Hutch wasn’t convinced. There were only 14 steps to his apartment, and he’d often noticed that Starsky seemed winded when he reached the top. He purposely walked behind Starsky as they made their descent, counting each step, and wondering how many steps Starsky would be able to climb on the way back up.

They spied a pair of young women sitting about 40 feet from the shoreline, and at Starsky’s urging, they spread out their blanket nearby. The women were slender and attractive, and Hutch judged them to be in their mid-to-late 20s. He quickly removed his t-shirt so he could soak up the rays, but he noticed that Starsky kept his t-shirt on.

He wasn’t entirely surprised, as he suspected Starsky was uncomfortable revealing the large ragged scars that marked his chest, courtesy of the messy exit wounds and the surgery to extract the bullets. Scars which had become a permanent part of him since the shooting.

The scars on his back from the entry wounds were smaller, more even and rounder. And, more importantly, Hutch thought, probably difficult for Starsky to see, even if he stood stark naked in front of the mirror and turned his head as far as he could.

Hutch remembered how Starsky had once commented to him how ugly he thought they were, running red, raised, and ragged across his chest, the thick wiry curls never quite growing back in those areas. But since that time, Hutch noted, they’d become a softer shade of pink, although they were still raised and rough around the edges. But Hutch didn’t mind them. All he cared about was that Starsky was alive, and he longed for the days when Starsky would wear his shirt unbuttoned almost all the way down to his stomach, exposing his muscled pecs and his dark, curly chest hair.

His firm and irresistible body, Hutch thought to himself, smiling.

But those days were gone now, because Starsky kept his shirts buttoned all the way up. The smile quickly disappeared.

Hutch was lost in thought when Starsky suggested they strike up a conversation with the two women and offer them some refreshments from the cooler. As they made small talk, they learned that the blonde-haired, topless woman was named Jane and the brunette in the string bikini that looked at least two sizes too small was named Susan. The women had driven there for the day from Bakersfield where they worked as a paralegal and an office manager, respectively.

Turning his attention away from the women for a moment, Starsky watched intently as Hutch grabbed the bottle of baby oil and began methodically applying it to himself. He watched as Hutch’s hands spread the glistening oil up and down his sinewy arms, over his strong shoulders, the smooth chest, the vulnerable neck.

He thought about asking Hutch if he needed help spreading it on his back, but it was too late, as Hutch handed the bottle to Jane, asking her to do the honors. Then he watched, enviously, as Jane slowly spread the oil over his partner’s muscled back.

When Jane’s hand reached the vicinity of Hutch’s birthmark, she hesitated, and Starsky noticed, curiously, that she seemed unsure about whether to apply it there or skip over it entirely. In the end, her hand moved on, the birthmark untouched.

After enjoying their picnic lunch and getting to know each other better, the four settled down on their blankets to soak up the sun and enjoy an afternoon nap. When they woke an hour later, the sun was high in the sky, the air had heated up noticeably, and Susan suggested they go for a swim.

Hutch and the women stood up and kicked off their sandals, but Starsky declared he was still tired and would prefer to stay on the beach and rest. Hutch suspected the true reason was because Starsky didn’t want to remove his shirt in front of the girls.

As he walked with Jane and Susan towards the water, he briefly wondered what Starsky was planning on doing if he was lucky enough to get Susan into bed later. Was he planning on keeping his shirt on while they made love? He realized that as far as he knew, Starsky hadn’t actually been with a woman since the shooting.

Starsky watched briefly as Hutch and the two women frolicked in the surf, and then he lay down on the blanket, concentrating on the feeling of the golden California sunshine warming his skin. He began to sweat, but he dared not go into the water.

Instead, he closed his eyes and began to daydream. But it wasn’t Jane or Susan that he dreamed about.

In Starsky’s daydream, the same one he’d had every day since the beginning of August when he’d first booked the little beach house, he imagined that he and Hutch had the beach all to themselves, with no one else around for miles and miles. It was just the two of them, shirtless, the golden sunshine warming their bare shoulders and the taste of saltwater lingering in the air and licking at their lips like a salty kiss.

Sunshine daydream, walking in the tall trees

Going where the wind goes, blooming like a red rose

Now come on over sweetly

 

He pictured Hutch moving towards him, his partner’s strong hand pressing against his chest and twining his fingers in the thick, dark curls. As he looked down, he was pleased to see there were no scars there, just the familiar wiry curls he’d had since he was a teenager.

Below his navel, the thin, dark line of hair that an ex-girlfriend had once dubbed his “treasure trail” meandered lazily down to his groin, and he imagined Hutch’s finger slowly tracing its path.

Then he took Hutch’s hand and led him towards the water, and as they stood together ankle-deep at the edge of the surf, he looked into Hutch’s clear blue eyes, a bottomless, bright shade of cerulean that dazzled in the sunlight and gave the blue of the ocean a run for its money. He watched, mesmerized, as his partner’s soft blond hair glinted like gold in the glittering sunlight.

Hutch’s hair was almost as bright a shade of yellow as the sun itself, Starsky mused, and could in fact out-compete the sun on that front any day of the week.

Ride out singin', I got you in the morning sunshine

As the breeze gently blew the fine golden tresses around Hutch’s face, some strands of hair fell over Hutch’s eye, and Starsky reached out, carefully brushing them out of the way as he moved his head closer to his partner’s, planting a kiss on Hutch’s soft, sun-kissed lips, as refreshing saltwater sprayed them lightly and the surf lapped gently at their feet…….

He was unceremoniously roused from his trance by cold water suddenly dripping onto his head. Opening his eyes, he saw Hutch’s face grinning above him as he held out a large conch shell he’d found.

“What do you say we head over to that protected cove you mentioned and see if we can catch some fish for dinner? The girls are getting hungry,” Hutch said, putting on his t-shirt and sandals, evidently enjoying this first day of his vacation.

Starsky got up reluctantly, and as the foursome walked south towards the cove, carrying the fishing gear, Hutch handed Starsky the shell and told him to hold it up to his ear. As Starsky listened to the faraway sounds of an ocean held within the shell that had been carefully crafted by an unknown sea creature, he imagined the shell was hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old, and wondered how many secrets it held within.

###

A few hours later and the foursome was lounging out on the deck of the beach house after enjoying a nice dinner of fresh-caught grilled halibut and vegetables and chilled California Chardonnay, as they watched the sun set slowly over the Pacific, the deep pinks, purples, and oranges staining the sky and turning it into the world’s largest abstract painting. Starsky’s arms were wrapped around Susan’s as they sat together on a lounge chair, and he watched as Hutch slung his arm around Jane’s shoulder as the two of them stood together near the balcony.

His attention focused fully on Hutch, Starsky watched as the blond hair fluttered around Hutch’s face in the evening breeze and Hutch flashed one of his winsome smiles at his female companion. Puzzled, Starsky thought he could see just the slightest hint of sadness in that smile, and he wondered what Hutch was thinking.

When the sun had fully set, each man took the hand of his lady and escorted her inside to his respective bedroom for the evening’s festivities.

“Have fun, birthday boy,” Starsky crooned, slapping Hutch’s ass as Hutch, arm around Jane’s shoulder, passed by him and Susan on his way to the master bedroom.

***

In the darkened room, a cool breeze wafted in from the open window as Hutch nuzzled his face against Jane’s long, graceful neck, grunting as he thrust inside her, but he thought only of Starsky, and as he crested and came inside the woman whose long, slender legs were wrapped seductively around him, he silently cried out his partner’s name in his mind.

Afterwards, as he lay in bed next to Jane, staring up at the ceiling, his sexual frustrations temporarily sated, Hutch berated himself for wishing for more than he had any right to wish for. Starsky was alive, and hadn’t he told his partner that was the only thing that mattered? What right did he have to wish for Starsky to be his lover? He should be grateful for what he had and not fixate on what was unattainable.

***

In the other room, Starsky stopped what he was doing to listen intently to the sound of Hutch climaxing, his partner’s muffled moans seeming to echo throughout the silent beach house, taunting him.

***

Several hours later, Hutch woke up in a cold sweat, despite the coolness of the night. For a few moments, he sat bolt upright, unable to move, frozen with fear, his breathing fast and shallow, and his heart pounding in his chest. He looked down at the figure lying next to him in the darkness, and noted with some relief that Jane was sound asleep. She was snuggled against him under the blankets.

He took several deep breaths in an effort to calm himself, and then he lay back down on the bed, moving as far away from Jane as he could manage without falling off the edge.

August 28th

It was early in the morning when the women quietly slipped out of their respective lovers’ beds, just as the sun was beginning to peek above the horizon to the east, having to make the 2 ½ hour drive back to Bakersfield in time for each to get to work by 9.

Starsky made sure to wake before Hutch and blearily made his way into the kitchen to prepare breakfast before the birthday boy made an appearance. A short while later, Hutch walked in, greeted by the familiar morning din of coffee percolating and eggs frying. The familiar sounds were pleasantly accompanied by the sound of ocean waves crashing against the shore, as heard from the open balcony door.

“Happy birthday!” Starsky blurted out excitedly, “How’d you sleep? I made us breakfast, thought we could eat it outside on the deck.” It took all of his willpower not to pull Hutch into an embrace and plant a birthday kiss on his partner’s lips.

“Thanks, I slept fine. I guess the girls left?” Hutch responded absently, knowing the women had been planning to leave early and not particularly caring one way or the other.

“Yeah. So what do you wanna do today? We’ve got lots of options. We can do whatever you want.”

“Let me have my coffee first and I’ll think about it.”

Hutch loaded up the breakfast plates on a tray and carried them out to the deck while Starsky followed with the coffee pot.

“Ah, this is the life, isn’t it?” Starsky beamed. “Just listen to that ocean. Wouldn’t you like to wake up every morning to the sound of the waves lapping at the shore and the taste of saltwater in the air? Not that you can’t just walk three blocks to Venice Beach from your place any time you want, but you can’t see or hear the ocean from your apartment.” Starsky was clearly enjoying the morning so far.

“What’s gotten into you all of a sudden? I thought you hated being away from the city and the nearest hamburger stand?”

“I do, but I could get used to this.”

“It is glorious, isn’t it?” Hutch concurred. “And Venice Beach is never this quiet, even early in the morning.”

As they ate, a seagull alighted on the balcony a few feet from where they sat having their breakfast, greedily eyeing their feast.

“Hey, baby, you want some of this, huh?” Hutch asked the gull, smiling at his new friend and extending his arm as he held out a piece of toast. Tentatively, the seagull edged closer, let out a loud squawk, and quickly grabbed the offering from Hutch’s outstretched hand. Then it flew off towards the nearest tree to enjoy its prize.

Hey, baby, you want some of this, huh? The words repeated themselves in Starsky’s brain as he looked over at his partner, and he had to suppress the strongest urge to wrap his arms around Hutch and pull him into a kiss right then and there. He closed his eyes and tried to picture what it would feel like to hold Hutch right now, out on the deck. His partner’s body leaning closely against his own would feel so warm and comforting that he’d never want to let go.

The sunsets would come and go, Starsky thought, and the ocean would continue its endless cycle of ebb and flow, and here they would remain, forever wrapped in a warm embrace, safe and sound in each other’s arms.

“Yeah, I could get used to this,” Hutch remarked, breaking the silence and stirring Starsky out of his reverie.

“I hoped you’d like it here. Guess I picked a good place for us to spend your birthday.”

“You picked a great place, Starsk. It’s just perfect. And I’m glad we can spend this time together. It means a lot.” He reached over and patted Starsky’s hand.

“So, uh, should we head down to the beach then? Or go into town?”

“I thought you said we’d go into town for dinner?”

“That was the idea, unless you wanted to do some more fishing.”

“You know, I really enjoyed having dinner last night out on the deck. Okay if we do that again tonight? Just the two of us, though. No girls this time. Maybe we could have lunch in town. How far a drive is it?”

“About a half-hour, I think,” Starsky replied. “We’ve got all day tomorrow, too, don’t forget.”

After they cleaned up the breakfast dishes, they changed into their swimsuits and headed down to the beach to relax.

It was still early and the beach wasn’t too crowded yet. Starsky spread out the blanket far away from the other beachgoers and they sat together facing the ocean. Hutch removed his shirt, but Starsky kept his on.

“Hey buddy, is there a reason you haven’t wanted to take your shirt off?”

“You know why, Hutch.” Starsky’s voice was flat and tinged with a slight edge of menace.

“Oh, come on, Starsk, there’s no one here but me, and I’ve already seen your scars a million times.”

Hutch watched as Starsky’s eyes suddenly grew cold. “I’d prefer to keep my shirt on, if it’s all the same to you.”

“Okay, okay, forget I said anything. I’m gonna go for a swim.” Starsky watched as Hutch abruptly stood up and walked towards the water. He soon disappeared into the surf and all Starsky could see was Hutch’s head and the tops of his tanned shoulders bobbing above the foamy waves.

“Fuck,” he muttered under his breath, angry at himself for pushing Hutch away like that. That was no way to treat his best friend on his birthday. Impulsively, he got up and walked into the surf, standing in knee-deep water as he watched Hutch swim parallel to the beach, eventually coming ashore a few hundred yards to the north. He watched as Hutch walked back along the shoreline to where Starsky stood.

“I see you’ve finally decided to brave the treacherous waters,” Hutch joshed, careful not to mention Starsky’s shirt again, which was now getting wet from the splashing surf. Hutch noticed how the wet shirt clung to his partner’s body, nicely highlighting Starsky’s well-developed pecs and shoulders, and he had to suppress the urge to reach his hand out and touch him.

But Starsky didn’t respond. Instead, he marched deeper into the water until he was submerged up to his shoulders. Then Hutch watched as Starsky’s head and shoulders suddenly disappeared beneath the waves, and when he didn’t see Starsky come up again, he began to panic. Splashing hastily into the water, he swam to where he’d last seen his partner, grabbing onto him as he pulled him towards shore.

“You okay?” Hutch asked, panting, when they’d made it to dry land.

“What the hell did you do that for?” Starsky yelled.

“What do you mean? I thought you were drowning.”

“Well, I wasn’t! I just wanted to go for a swim.”

Hutch breathed a sigh of relief. “Sorry, buddy. I saw you go under and I assumed the worst.”

“Why? You think I’m some kind of invalid or something?”

“No, of course not. But you’re still recovering, Starsk. You took three bullets to the back, remember? The ocean is strong -- stronger than both of us. I saw your head go under and I panicked. I was a lifeguard once, remember?”

What he didn’t tell Starsky was how seeing Starsky go under caused Hutch to flash back to that fateful day when the gunshots rang out in the police garage and Starsky didn’t answer when a panicked Hutch called out his name but got no response.

Starsky studied Hutch’s concerned expression and carefully considered his reply. “Lifeguards aren’t supposed to panic. Anyway, I’m sorry I got testy with you. I’ve been doin’ that a lot lately, haven’t I?”

“It’s okay. Forget it.”

“Race you back to the blanket?” Starsky asked playfully, hoping to lighten the mood.

“You’re on, partner.”

Starsky sprinted up the beach towards the blanket as Hutch followed closely behind, making sure not to outrun his partner, which he could have done all too easily.

When they reached the blanket, they both collapsed, out of breath, and Hutch grabbed the canteen of ice water from the cooler, handing it to Starsky.

“I know you ran slower than me on purpose,” Starsky gasped, taking a swig of cold water and handing it back to Hutch. “You didn’t have to do that. Even before I was shot, you could run faster than me any day of the week.”

“Yeah, but then I wouldn’t have had a nice view of your ass,” Hutch blurted out, and then immediately his face turned beet red as he realized what he’d just said out loud.

“What?” Starsky asked, wide-eyed.

“I…uh...I was just joking,” Hutch answered weakly, as he looked down at the sand, unable to meet Starsky’s eyes.

“Oh.” Was he though? Starsky wondered.

Mortified, Hutch flopped down on his stomach and closed his eyes, his arms outstretched away from his sides and his fingers resting in the sand. Hutchinson, you idiot. His face was still flushed with embarrassment.

Guess this conversation is over, Starsky thought. But he remained sitting up, watching Hutch as he laid face-down on the blanket, beads of water glistening tantalizingly on his golden skin. Starsky noticed that his partner’s well-toned shoulders and back were newly-tanned from the baby oil he’d used the day before, and he observed how finely sculpted the muscles of Hutch’s upper arms were and how baby-smooth his skin was.

Hutch continued to lie there silently, apparently oblivious to the fact he was being watched, and not just by Starsky. A small brown sandpiper flitted a few feet away from Hutch’s outstretched hand, looking at him briefly before poking its long, slender beak into the sand as it hunted for something tasty to eat; and then, finding nothing of interest, it skittered off towards the shoreline in search of greener pastures.

As Starsky continued to observe his prostrate partner, he became consciously aware of the fine, downy light hairs that coated Hutch’s forearms and noted that they were detectable only if you were close enough and in a decent enough light to see them. He admired how Hutch’s lean yet muscled triceps and shoulders merged together with the oblique muscles on his side, and with his arms held away from his body, Starsky could see the fine dark hair that grew under Hutch’s arms, longer and darker than the rest of his body hair.

He wanted desperately to reach out and run his fingers along those sinewy arms, over the shoulders and down Hutch’s side. When he reached the waistband of Hutch’s swimsuit, he would pull it away just enough to slide his hand inside.

Starsky wondered if Hutch’s pubic hair was the same shade as the hair under his arms or if it was darker. Then he realized that Hutch had stood naked before him on countless occasions, but he’d never actually paid attention to the color of the hair there. He tried to remember what it had looked like. Yes, yes, he remembered now: it was darker, wasn’t it? Not nearly as dark as his own, but it knotted itself into tiny curls just the same.

Then he turned his attention to the birthmark that adorned Hutch’s back, the one that Jane had carefully avoided touching, and began to study the small, round, dark splotch. The birthmark was unique to his partner, something that no one else possessed. But unlike his own newly-formed scars, Hutch’s birthmark had always been a part of him and had no association to any particular unpleasant event that had transpired, nor anything that would profoundly change him.

He wondered if Hutch could see it in a mirror, or if he was perhaps unaware even of its existence. Certainly, he was unbothered by it.

Starsky lay down on his side facing Hutch, closed his eyes, and began to daydream…….

***

Reaching over, he picked up the bottle of baby oil that was resting next to Hutch’s hand and slowly spread it on his partner’s shoulders, down his long arms, and over his back as Hutch made little contented noises while remaining face-down on the blanket. When his fingers reached Hutch’s birthmark, he bent down and kissed it gently, and then he lightly coated it with the baby oil as he traced all around it.

###

At some point, Starsky dozed off, but he was awakened a short time later by the raucous sound of laughter nearby. Opening his eyes, he watched as a young couple in their late twenties or early thirties cavorted playfully, and observed that both the man and woman were completely nude.

“Hey, Hutch,” he reached over and tapped Hutch’s smooth, tanned shoulder. “Get a load of that.”

“Huh? What’s goin’ on?” Hutch sat up groggily and rubbed his eyes. Then he spied the young couple who were now chasing each other up and down the beach. “Looks like they’re having fun letting it all hang out.”

“Think you could do that?” Starsky asked.

“Do what?”

“Run around the beach naked like that, with people all around.”

“No chance. I’m not into that sort of thing. Not in public, anyway. Although maybe if the beach was private and secluded, and I was with a woman who was game herself. But either way, Starsk, you’re not supposed to stare at them.”

“It’s kinda hard not to, doncha think?”

“You staring at the guy? Or the girl?” Hutch was curious to hear Starsky’s response.

“The girl of course. Why would I be starin’ at him?” But in fact, he’d been watching the man quite intently, and he realized he needed to quickly change the subject. “Hey, I’m gettin’ hungry. What do you want to do for lunch?”

“How ‘bout we get dressed and drive into town?” Hutch suggested, standing up and stretching.

“Help me up, will ya?” Starsky reached out his hand. Hutch grasped it and pulled him to his feet, but neither let go when the time came, and Hutch continued to hold Starsky’s hand. It felt like an eternity to both of them, while at the same time, it ended much too quickly.

Then they gathered up their things and made their way back up the flight of stairs. But as they neared the top, Hutch sensed that something was off.

“You hurting?” he asked, resting his hand on Starsky’s shoulder and feeling the damp shirt sticking to Starsky’s skin.

“It’s nothin’. Twenty-five stairs is a lot, I guess. Maybe I overdid it a little, between that and runnin’ on the beach earlier.”

“Why don’t you rest while I take a shower?”

Starsky nodded and settled himself into the lounge chair on the deck where he’d sat the night before snuggling with Susan. He watched as Hutch walked into the house and disappeared from view.

Hey partner, were you really just joking before? Starsky wondered.

When they were both showered and dressed, they headed into town 30 miles to the east. San Luis Obispo was bustling with quaint shops and intimate restaurants, and Starsky told the birthday boy to choose where he wanted to eat. Hutch decided on a cafe with an outdoor patio populated with lots of flowers and greenery, and they ate their lunch at a table for two under the shade of a large umbrella.

Hutch ordered a bottle of Pinot Grigio and Starsky raised his glass in a toast, clinking it against Hutch’s glass as he spoke.

“Happy birthday, pal. I’m thankful that I’m here to celebrate it with you. May you have many, many more.”

“Thanks, partner.”

Starsky excused himself to use the john, but before he went back outside to join Hutch, he searched out the waitress and ordered a special dessert.

After their lunch plates had been cleared from the table, the waitress, accompanied by two waiters, walked to their table carrying two dessert plates, one holding a slice of chocolate cake, and the other a slice of blueberry pie adorned with a large dollop of whipped cream and two lit candles. They stopped in front of the table and sang a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday to You,” in which Starsky joined in gleefully, happily noting that Hutch was suitably embarrassed.

Hutch was just about to blow out the candles when Starsky stopped him. “Wait a minute, you gotta make a wish first.”

“That’s okay, I don’t need—“

“Yeah, you do. Go on, make a wish.”

Hutch, still recovering from the embarrassment of being serenaded in public, rubbed his hand over his forehead, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes as he silently made his wish. Then he blew out the candles as Starsky clapped, causing him further embarrassment, which he assumed was his partner’s intention.

“So…what’d you wish for?”

“I can’t tell you that, Starsk, or my wish won’t come true. Isn’t that how it works?”

“You sure about that? How can it come true if you won’t tell anyone what it is?”

“I…this is silly, Starsk. I’m not going to tell you what I wished for, so let’s just change the subject, okay?” For a brief moment, Starsky thought he noticed a melancholy expression on Hutch’s face, but then it was gone and he was left to wonder if it had ever been there at all.

“Okay,” Starsky replied, wondering what Hutch had wished for that seemed to make him so sad, but he decided not to press the subject further. He reached out his fork and helped himself to a bite of Hutch’s pie, making sure to take some of the whipped cream as well. “This is pretty good. Want some of mine?” he asked, pointing to his chocolate cake.

“You know I don’t like chocolate, Starsk.”

“I know. I just thought maybe you’d want to try it anyway.”

“Okay,” Hutch replied, helping himself to a forkful of Starsky’s cake.

“Well?” Starsky asked, watching Hutch intently as he put the forkful of cake in his mouth, chewed it thoughtfully, and swallowed. He noticed Hutch’s Adam’s apple bobbed up and down slightly as he swallowed the cake.

“Too sweet. But thanks for sharing.”

“Hutch, you’re the only person I know who doesn’t like chocolate, ya know that? You and your goat’s milk shakes and breakfast granola with blackstrap molasses.”

“I don’t put the molasses on the granola. It goes in the shake. But as distasteful as you find my food preferences, you love me anyway, right, Starsk?”

Suddenly, Starsky found it difficult to swallow.

###

After lunch, they strolled around town and browsed in the numerous shops. As they passed by a florist, Starsky dashed inside on a whim while Hutch followed closely behind him. After browsing the selections, Starsky chose an arrangement of delicate native wildflowers wrapped in brown paper and brought it to the register to be rung up.

“What are you going to do with those?” Hutch asked, dimly wondering if Starsky was planning on giving them to Susan, before he remembered that Susan and Jane were back in Bakersfield and as far as he knew, there were no plans to get together with them again. Unless Starsky had made his own plans with her.

“Thought they’d look nice on the dining table out on the deck.”

“Huh?” Hutch was confused. Were the girls coming back to the beach house for dinner, even though he’d made it clear to Starsky that he wanted to be alone with him?

“For your birthday dinner tonight, dummy. I assume we’re eating outside.”

“Are the girls coming to dinner?”

“What? No. Did you want them to?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Nothing. Everything’s fine.”

“Good. Let’s go.” Starsky pressed the flowers to Hutch’s chest and walked out of the store.

Flowers in hand, Hutch stared dumbly after Starsky as he tried to process what had just happened. Starsky bought the flowers for me.

###

By early evening, they were back at the beach house and ready to catch their dinner. They changed clothes for the second time that day. Hutch grabbed the fishing gear and his pole, but left the second pole untouched.

“What are you gonna do while I fish?”

“I was plannin’ on comin’ with you,” Starsky replied, grabbing the other pole. “What do you think?”

“You sure you can make it back up those stairs?”

“I’ll make it. As long as I don’t tire myself out running on the beach. But if I have any trouble, you can carry me.”

As they walked across the beach towards the fishing cove, Hutch turned back briefly and glanced at the stairs that wound up the hill towards the house, imagining himself carrying Starsky up the stairs and over the threshold of the front door, like a young married couple moving into their first home together.

When they arrived at the cove, Hutch set down the fishing gear.

“See that over there?” Hutch asked, pointing south.

“I guess. What am I lookin’ at?”

“It’s a sand crab bed. That’s where we’ll find surfperch.”

“Surf what?” Starsky asked.

“Surfperch. It’s the species of fish I’m hoping to have for dinner tonight. Maybe catch some more halibut, too.”

“I thought we’re supposed to look for birds to tell us where the fish are?”

“That’s for halibut. You’re gonna cast your line over there.”

After they cast their lines towards their respective prey, it was time to wait. Dusk was settling itself upon the land and the sun would be fully down in less than an hour. But the tide was high so they had a good chance of catching what they needed in that time.

As they waited for the fish to bite, Starsky was unusually quiet. Hutch assumed his partner was trying to be considerate and not scare the fish off, but unknown to him, Starsky was feeling contemplative. He was really enjoying being here with Hutch, but by tomorrow night they’d be back in Bay City, and the next day they’d be back to the same routine they’d been in for the past two months.

A routine that Starsky found himself dreading more and more with each passing hour. Hutch would be at work and Starsky at home with too much time on his hands, causing him to spend most of it worrying about Hutch being alone out on the streets.

Suddenly, Hutch called out from where he was standing knee-deep in the water. “Hey, Starsk, I got one…hey, look at that, that’s a beauty!”

Starsky looked over towards where Hutch was holding up his catch, a decent-sized, rounded fish with white skin adorned with vertical orange stripes. But, hungry as he was getting, Starsky wasn’t terribly interested in the fish. Instead, he marveled at how happy Hutch seemed, smiling and giddy as he held up his prize, and Starsky thought there was nothing better on God’s green earth than a happy Hutch. His partner’s smile seemed to light up the area all around him, even as the sun began to fade from view.

By the time the hour had passed and it was almost fully dark, they’d managed to catch two medium-sized surfperches and a small halibut between them, enough for a dinner for two. And there was another bottle of white wine chilling in the kitchen along with the vegetables and bread they’d bought at the farmer’s market in town that afternoon.

“Ready to head back to the house, partner?” Hutch asked.

But this seemingly innocuous question only served to cause Starsky to become contemplative again as he pondered Hutch’s use of the word partner. Can we really still call ourselves that? Starsky wondered, if they don’t let me back on the force?

He followed Hutch slowly as they walked across the beach, Hutch periodically stopping to make sure Starsky hadn’t fallen too far behind.

“You okay going up those stairs, partner?”

“I’ll be fine!” Starsky snapped unexpectedly as Hutch turned to look at him, puzzled. But Starsky immediately regretted his tone and made a conscious effort to soften his voice. It was Hutch’s birthday, after all. “No need to wait for me on the stairs, I’ll catch up. I’m not the only one who enjoys the view of a nice ass, ya know,” he added brazenly, much to Hutch’s shock.

###

Starsky attempted to help with dinner, but Hutch, adamant that his partner get some rest, instructed Starsky to lie down while he cleaned the fish and chopped the vegetables in the kitchen.

When Hutch returned outside with the raw consumables on a platter, he saw Starsky laid out on the lounge chair on the deck, asleep. As he stood over the hot grill, his back to Starsky, he periodically glanced over at his slumbering partner, admiring the deep tan on Starsky’s arms and legs. He’d never realized before just how tan Starsky was able to get after just a couple of days in the sun. Hutch was never able to tan like that; if he tried, he’d end up with skin that was a red, blotchy mess.

Then he thought about how Starsky had refused to remove his t-shirt whenever they were on the beach, and wondered how much darker his partner’s arms and legs were compared to his chest and back. And he wondered if the scars would burn if exposed to the sun.

Only the top button of Starsky’s shirt was undone tonight, Hutch observed, frowning. If anyone hated closed buttons on his shirt, it was Starsky, and yet here he was, at night and alone with Hutch, and the buttons were still firmly in their buttonholes. As Hutch waited for the fish to cook, he closed his eyes and thought about what Starsky would do if he were to stand over him and slowly undo those buttons. Hutch smiled as he imagined following that up by undoing the button on Starsky’s jeans and then pulling down the zipper.

Suddenly, he noticed a burning smell and quickly opened his eyes, his fanciful reverie ungraciously cut short.

“Fuck!” The fish was charred black. Hutch grabbed the spatula and quickly removed it from the hot grates, almost burning his hand in the process. What the hell was he doing, daydreaming like that? Idiot! Now the fish was ruined.

Starsky, startled awake, sat up and looked around. “Whatsa matter?”

“Nothing. Go back to sleep.”

“Somethin’ burning?” Starsky asked, wrinkling his nose.

“I left the fish on too long.” Hutch said something else which Starsky didn’t catch, and then he realized it wasn’t directed towards him. Hutch was cursing under his breath.

“Hey, lemme help you.”

“It’s taken care of,” Hutch answered flatly. “Maybe you could set the table.”

Starsky eyed Hutch without responding, mulling over his partner’s sudden change of mood. Then he turned and walked into the house. When he returned with the bread, plates and utensils, Hutch was still bent over the grill, methodically arranging the vegetables around the charred fish.

Starsky put down what he was carrying and went back inside to fetch the glasses and the bottle of wine. As he set them down on the table, he noticed that Hutch had put the flowers in a vase and had placed it in the center, flanked by two long, tapered candles in fancy candleholders. The candles were unlit.

Starsky made one more trip back inside, this time to fetch a matchbox. After he lit the candles, he sauntered over to Hutch who was still standing at the grill, and placed his hand on his partner’s shoulder.

“Table’s all set, birthday boy.”

“Thanks,” Hutch muttered. As he turned towards the table, Starsky gripped his partner’s shoulder tightly.

“Hey.”

Hutch looked at Starsky but said nothing.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. If not, we could always order out for pizza,” he winked.

“Terrific,” Hutch answered, trying to hide the grin that was creeping up on his face.

Hutch set the platter on the table, but before he could sit down, Starsky took a step closer and awkwardly pulled him in for an embrace. “Happy birthday, Hutch,” he said before pulling away again. “Dinner smells great. I don’t care if it’s burnt to hell, I’m starvin’.” Starsky plopped down in one of the chairs and reached for the serving fork.

As they filled their plates and began to eat, neither said much until Hutch broke the silence with a comment which he immediately regretted for its awkwardness. “Flowers are beautiful, aren’t they?” God, why’d I say that?

“Huh? Oh yeah, I thought you’d like ‘em,” Starsky replied absently, evidently failing to notice the blush of red that was creeping up Hutch’s cheeks. “So what’d you think of Jane? Think you might wanna see her again?”

Jane? Why was Starsky bringing her up now?

“She lives more than two hours away, remember? Why? Do you want to see Susan again?” Hutch put his fork down and looked at the ground as he braced himself for Starsky’s answer, suddenly not feeling very hungry anymore.

“I would, but I had a…a…problem last night.”

“What kind of problem?”

“I…I couldn’t…you know.”

Hutch looked at Starsky and stared at him hard, not understanding. And then he suddenly realized what Starsky was trying to say. “You couldn’t get an erection?”

“No.”

“No, that’s not what the problem was, or no, you couldn’t get an erection?”

“I couldn’t get…I couldn’t get hard. I’ve never had that problem with a girl before. It’s this damn body of mine. I haven’t been able to get hard since it happened. And believe me, I’ve tried.” Starsky hung his head.

“What do you mean ‘you’ve tried’?”

“Whaddya think I mean? I’ve tried jerkin’ myself off on more than one occasion. Do you know how many goddamn hours I’ve spent alone in my apartment the past two months? I’ve had nothin’ to do but go to physical therapy, watch Huggy sweep the floor and set up the bar for the evenin’ rush, and wait for you to come home from work and relieve me of my boredom. What the fuck else is there for me to do all day?” Starsky sighed. “But I could never get hard enough.”

“Oh, jeez. Sorry about that, buddy. I had no idea. How did Susan respond? I guess she was disappointed, huh?”

“She was, at first. But I made it up to her in other ways, if ya know what I mean,” Starsky winked.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” Hutch answered vaguely, his mind suddenly elsewhere. What had he been thinking, fantasizing about him and Starsky being lovers? And making a wish on a stupid birthday candle, like a child. It was preposterous. Starsky was, and always would be, a ladies man. If he wasn’t thinking about food or his stupid tomato, he was thinking about girls and how soon he could bang the next one. That was his partner, hedonist to the core.

Then he thought about how Starsky kept his shirt on whenever they were at the beach.

“Do you think maybe you were anxious because of your scars?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Let’s face it, Starsk, you haven’t wanted to take your shirt off since we got here and especially not in front of the girls.”

“So what if I am? Jane wouldn’t touch your birthmark. Did you know that?”

“What are you talking about?”

“When she was puttin’ baby oil on you yesterday, I saw her deliberately avoid touchin’ it.”

“So? What’s that got to do with anything?”

“Because there’s nothin’ repulsive about it, that’s why. But see, my scars are different. If a girl can react to a simple little birthmark the way Jane did, who knows what a girl’s reaction to seeing my scars would be.”

“Doesn’t that prove my point, then? That there’s nothing wrong with your body, Starsk? You not being able to get it up is all in your mind. You were worried that your scars would be a turnoff, so you had performance anxiety. It’s a perfectly natural thing that can happen to a man.”

“Has it ever happened to you?”

“No, but I’m not self-conscious about any part of my body, not even my birthmark. You gotta learn to let go, Starsk. They’re just scars.”

“Just scars, huh? Maybe in five or ten years when they’ve faded, they’ll be ‘just scars.’ But right now, those scars are big and rough and ugly.”

“Let me see them.” Hutch stood up and reached towards Starsky’s shirt, but Starsky pushed Hutch’s hand away.

“Why don’t you just eat your dinner? Besides, you’ve seen them before.”

Discouraged, Hutch sat back down in his chair. “You haven’t said what Susan’s reaction to them was. It sounds like they didn’t bother her.”

“They didn’t bother her because I didn’t let her see them. I kept my shirt on and the lights off.”

“Oh, Starsk, don’t you see? You were so nervous and preoccupied with those damn scars that you couldn’t perform.”

“Let’s say you’re right about that, and that it’s my mind and not my body that’s the problem, never mind the fact that I have to take a goddamn nap after climbing a flight of stairs like I’m an invalid. What am I supposed to do about it?”

“I don’t know. Maybe take it slow. Tell the girl about the scars. Let her see them. Maybe she won’t even care. Susan isn’t Jane. Her reaction to your scars might be totally different than Jane’s reaction to my birthmark.”

“And if it isn’t?”

“Then she’s not the girl for you. There’s lots of other fish in the sea, pun not intended.”

“Speakin’ of fish, aren’t you gonna finish your dinner? You’ve hardly touched it. Here, have my piece, it’s less burnt.” Before Hutch could object, Starsky quickly slid his piece of partially-eaten fish onto Hutch’s plate.

“That wasn’t necessary. I could just eat more veg—“

“Hutch, will you stop arguing and just eat the damn fish? I’m not gonna let the birthday boy starve, ya know. What kind of friend would I be if I did that?” He flashed his partner a lopsided smile.

Much to Starsky’s relief, Hutch flashed a smile in return as he picked up his fork and poked it into the fish. It was just the slightest of smiles, but for a brief passing moment, it was there.

###

Their dinner just a memory now, Hutch stood up and began clearing the plates, but Starsky stopped him with a familiar grasp of Hutch’s arm.

“Lemme do that, huh?”

“You don’t have to—“

“For chrissakes, Hutch, it’s your birthday. Sit down and relax. Have another glass of wine or somethin’. I’ll take care of cleanin’ up.”

“I can help—“

“I’m not a goddamn invalid, ya know! I don’t need help carrying plates inside. I brought them out here, didn’t I?”

“I didn’t mean to imply you were infirm.”

“I’m sorry.” Starsky shook his head. “What am I doin’, jumpin’ down your throat like that? Why don’t we clean up together, okay?”

“Okay.”

By 9:45pm, the dishes had been washed, dried, and put away. The partners headed back outside and stood together at the railing looking out towards the ocean beyond. It was then that Starsky noticed how the crescent moon was considerably lower in the sky than it had been earlier that evening.

“Hey, look at the moon! Why is it so low? It looks like it’s about to sink into the ocean.”

“It’s time for it to set. It’s been in the sky since this morning, haven’t you noticed?”

“I guess I didn’t. Kinda hard to see when the sun is so bright. Hey, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sun and moon set over the ocean on the same day!”

“Happens all the time, dummy. They both set in the West.”

“Oh. That moon looks just like your necklace, ya know that? Except it doesn’t have the eyes and mouth.”

“It does, but we’d need a telescope to see the features clearly. Maybe we can visit Griffith Observatory one of these days. They have free telescopes available for the public to use. I went there with an old girlfriend once.”

Starsky stared at Hutch, mouth agape, and for the briefest moment he believed Hutch was telling the truth. And then Hutch winked, and Starsky realized his partner had been pulling his leg.

Starsky smiled, a big grin that stretched from ear to ear, as he playfully punched Hutch’s arm. Maybe Hutch wasn’t in such a melancholy mood after all. “So what next, birthday boy? Wanna drive into town, find a bar or somethin’?”

“No, I don’t think so. We’ve both had too much wine. Neither of us should be driving tonight.”

“Good point. How ‘bout we play a game of cards? I saw a deck inside.”

“Sure, I guess.”

“Don’t get too excited,” Starsky replied.

Starsky brought the cards outside and the two of them settled themselves once again at the dining table. Although it had been cleared of the dinner dishes, it still held the vase of flowers, the blooms giving off a sweet perfume in the night air. The candles hadn’t completely burned down yet, and they flickered gently in the light breeze coming off the ocean.

Wordlessly, Hutch began to deal the cards.

“You never answered the question, Blondie.”

“What question?” Hutch asked sincerely, a bewildered look on his face.

“About Jane. I asked if you wanted to see her again.”

In the dim light, Starsky thought he saw redness begin to creep up on Hutch’s face. He moved his head closer and squinted his eyes to take a better look. Yep, Hutch’s face was red, alright. But why?

“If I recall,” Hutch began coldly, “I did answer. I said she lives two hours away.”

“That’s not an answer. It’s a yes or no question. Do you want—”

“Will you get off my case, Starsky! The answer is no.” Hutch slammed his cards down on the table. “It’s your turn.”

“Okay, okay, jeez, you don’t hafta get angry. You didn’t like her?”

“She was fine! She’s a perfectly nice person. Can we talk about something else, please?”

“What if she lived closer—“

“For fuck’s sake, Starsk, will you stop asking me about Jane? I don’t wanna see her again, okay? Sometimes you can be so goddamn irritating, you know that?”

“Yeah, I believe you’ve mentioned it before,” Starsky sulked.

“Look, don’t take it personally. I know you brought me out here to this beach house so I could get laid on my birthday and I did. So mission accomplished. I appreciate the effort you put into planning this little getaway. But that doesn’t mean I have to see Jane again.”

Starsky didn’t answer, and they continued to play their hands in silence.

“There, I’ve got you beat, sucker!” Hutch proclaimed proudly as he laid his cards on the table.

Starsky smiled as he laid his own cards on the table. “I’m afraid you’re the sucker.”

Hutch frowned.

“So what do I win?”

“We never made a bet.”

“That’s because we were too busy arguin’ about how you don’t wanna bang Jane again.”

“Then I guess you don’t win anything. Besides, it’s my birthday.”

“So you’re sayin’ I shoulda let you win the game?”

“No, but how ‘about we play two out of three? Winner gets to pick what we do tomorrow.”

“No, the winner needs somethin’ different. You get to pick what we do tomorrow. We’re here for your birthday, remember?”

“Then what would you suggest?”

“How ‘bout the loser buys the winner a dinner of their choice when we get back home? A nice three-course meal—”

Hutch’s eyebrows furrowed at the mention, and a melancholy look appeared on his face. “Oh, Starsk…” he began, reaching out for Starsky’s hand and holding it in his own. It was the same bet they’d made right before Starsky had been gunned down.

“Shit.” Starsky squeezed Hutch’s hand. “Guess I should come up with somethin’ else, huh?” he asked quietly.

“It’s okay. We don’t need to bet anything. It’s stupid, anyway. We’re not little kids anymore. We’re too old for games.” Hutch sighed and stood up.

“Where ya goin’?”

“Think I’m gonna turn in for the night. See ya in the morning.”

“What?” Starsky glanced at his watch, alarmed. “It’s only 10:30! You feelin’ okay, Blondie?”

“Starsk, where do you see yourself in five years?”

“Huh? What d’ya mean? My job?”

“I mean everything.”

“Oh, is that all? Gee, that’s not a hard question to answer.” Starsky rolled his eyes. “Where do you see yourself?” he countered.

“I asked you first.”

“So you did. I’d like to still be a cop, but that’s not up to me. Is it?”

“No, not entirely. But it’s not completely out of your hands, either.”

“Hutch, it doesn’t matter how much physical therapy I get done in the next three months. If the police review board doesn’t want me out on the streets anymore, then there’s nothin’ I can do about it.”

“You can still be a cop, even if you have to take a desk job. Maybe something in Records and Information.”

“You gotta be shitting me, Hutch. Is that what you want for me?” He looked Hutch squarely in the eye.

“No, it’s not what I want, and you know that.”

“Do I?”

“Starsk, do you think I like being out on the streets without you? I want things to be like they were before, like they’ve always been. But at the same time, I feel guilty because at least when you’re at home, you’re safe and I don’t have to worry about you being gunned down again.”

“Are you worried about that?”

“I’m terrified, Starsk. And I don’t know what to do about it. I want us out on the streets again, together, but at the same time, what if something happened to one of us?”

Starsky sighed. “Then maybe it’s a good thing that it’s not up to you or me. It’s whatever the review board decides. So we don’t hafta make a decision or worry that it’s the wrong one. Not if they make the decision for us.”

Hutch’s frustration was becoming more evident even in the dim light. “I don’t like not being in control. I’ve never liked not being in control.” He looked at Starsky.

“You don’t hafta tell me that, Blondie. I know.”

“I don’t know what our future will hold, Starsk. It’s all a blur. I want to reach out my hand and touch the future, and feel the certainty of it in my grasp, and know everything’s gonna be okay. And if it’s not gonna be okay, I wanna know that, too. But whenever I try to reach out, there’s nothing there for me to grab onto. I look at my hand, and I can’t see it, because it’s been plunged into a heavy mist, where it’s obscured along with everything else.”

“But that’s always how the future is.”

“I suppose. But it’s never felt as uncertain as it does right now. I’ve always been in charge of my own destiny, but now…” Hutch trailed off, unable, or perhaps unwilling, to finish his thoughts.

“I feel the same way. I’ve been a cop for more than ten years, and I just assumed I’d always be a cop. Well, except for that time when we quit. But I also assumed I’d be married by now, maybe with a kid or two. And now I don’t know who I’m supposed to be anymore.”

Hutch winced at Starsky’s mention of getting married, but he forced himself to continue. “I should just be grateful that you’re alive, Starsk. I shouldn’t want more than that, but I do. And that makes me feel even more guilty, as if I’m being greedy. Greed is one of the seven deadly sins, you know.”

Starsky looked at Hutch, stunned. “I didn’t know. I mean…about how you felt. I know about the seven deadly sins.”

“Yeah, well, lately, I’ve had a lot of time to think about things.”

“Me too.”

“Of course you have, Starsk. Sorry. I didn’t mean to imply—“

“No, it’s okay. I guess we’ve both been doin’ a lot of thinkin’ lately. We’re both 36 now, Hutch. You ever think about gettin’ married again? Or havin’ kids? You’ve never mentioned it.”

Hutch shook his head as a sad smile began to form on his face. “No, I don’t think about those things.” Then he added vaguely, “Unfortunately, I think too much about some things and not enough about others.”

Starsky wondered what ‘others’ referred to, but thought it best not to probe too much. It was still Hutch’s birthday, damn it, and they’d both gone and gotten all melancholy. He needed to change the subject, to lighten the mood. To see Hutch smile. A truly happy smile, not one of those goddamn wistful, sad ones he’d been sporting all weekend.

“Hey.”

“What?”

“We still got each other, right? No matter what happens. Even if we can’t be partners anymore, you’ll always be my best friend, Hutch, you know that.”

“Do I?”

“Of course. You’re gonna question that? What the hell’s the matter with you?”

“I’ve been questioning everything lately.” Hutch looked down at the ground.

“Look, Hutch, I don’t really understand what you’re gettin’ at, but do you think we could change the subject? It’s your birthday. Let’s do somethin’ fun. Come on. We can talk about things tomorrow. We can talk all you want.”

“Something fun? We’re not kids anymore, Starsk. I wish you would get that through that thick skull of yours.”

“Hey, I don’t know about you, but I’m not gonna let a little thing like my age determine whether I can have fun or not.”

“What kind of ‘fun’ did you have in mind? We’re out here in the middle of nowhere and it’s nighttime, and the only thing we have to play with is this stupid deck of cards.”

“You’re a real barrel of laughs, you know that? You said earlier you should be grateful that I’m alive, but yet you weren’t, and now I’m startin’ to believe it.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Then what the hell do you mean?”

Hutch shook his head. “I don’t know. Forget it. Maybe we should just go to bed.” Hutch grabbed Starsky’s wrist and looked at the time. “It’s 11 o’clock now. Is that late enough for you?”

“No. It’s not. Come on, there’s plenty of things we can do. You’re the nature lover. You’re tellin’ me you’d rather be back in the city right now? Don’t you like it out here?”

“No. I mean yes, I love it out here.”

“See. I knew you would.” Starsky stepped away briefly to turn off the deck light. “Look up at the sky, Hutch. What do you see?”

“Stars. Maybe a planet or two. The vastness of space.”

“Exactly. Look at all those stars up there. Between the lights and the smog in the city, when can we ever see all that? Tell me about the constellations.”

“Why don’t we just visit the observatory some time—“

“We can still do that, but I want you to tell me now.”

“What exactly do you want to know?”

“Well, you know more about them than me. Show me where the Big Dipper is. Or the North Star.”

“You really wanna know?”

“Yeah, and I want you to show them to me.”

Hutch allowed himself just the tiniest smile, and then he turned and pointed northwest, the breeze coming off the ocean ruffling the edges of his hair. “Look over there.”

“Where?”

Hutch took Starsky’s hand and raised it up towards the northwest sky, not far above the horizon, and then he extended Starsky’s index finger so it was pointing towards the Big Dipper.

“Here.”

He leaned his head against Starsky’s as they looked together in the direction Starsky’s finger was pointing. “Do you see it? It looks like a big ladle, with the scoop at the bottom and the handle reaching upwards.”

“Yeah, I think so!”

“That’s the Big Dipper. It’s part of the constellation Ursa Major, also known as the Big Bear. It can help us find the North Star. When I was young, my grandfather took me out to his field once, in the dead of winter, when everything was dark and cold and there were no lights visible anywhere. And he showed me how to find my way home if I was lost, by locating the North Star. Years later when I joined the Sea Scouts on Lake Superior, they taught us the same thing.”

“So how do you find it?”

“See the two outermost stars on the bottom of the Big Dipper’s bowl?” As Hutch continued to lean his head against Starsky’s, their raised hands still joined as they looked up together at the night sky, he could hear his partner’s even breathing, and he felt the tickle of a dark curl against his temple. “Just draw a line between those two stars and trace your finger north, about five times the distance, until you come to Polaris, the North Star. That’s the star at the very tip of the Little Dipper’s handle, and the brightest star in the constellation Ursa Minor.”

Starsky looked up at the sky in awe. “I see it! Look at that! That’s terrific, Hutch! I knew you’d know all about it. But why do you need to locate the Big Dipper first? Why not just look for the Little Dipper?”

“You can do that if it’s visible and not obstructed by clouds or light pollution. But it’s often easier to spot the Big Dipper because its stars are brighter.”

“Oh. Hey, is it true what they say? That the stars we see are all gone now? That they’re so far away and their light has to travel such a long distance, that by the time it gets to us, the stars we see no longer exist?”

“Yeah,” Hutch replied, the glum, wistful tone in his voice suddenly returning. “Some of them are long dead. I guess you could say it’s as if we’re seeing their ghosts.” He released his hold on Starsky’s hand and sighed, exhaling loudly, and Starsky could tell that his partner was once again distracted by his thoughts.

“Hutch?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m right here, you know. I’m not a ghost, even though sometimes I feel like one.”

“I’m sorry, buddy,” Hutch replied, reaching out to stroke Starsky’s face. Starsky tried not to flinch, as the move was unexpected and he was caught off guard. He wanted more than anything to put his hand over Hutch’s and hold it against his cheek forever, but he was afraid of doing anything that would make Hutch try to leave again.

“You have no idea how grateful I am that you’re alive, Starsk. I cherish every moment we have together. Even if it doesn’t seem like I do.”

Fuck it, Starsky thought. He placed his hand over Hutch’s and held it there against his cheek. “Then why do you keep tryin’ to run away?” he asked quietly.

“That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it?” Hutch sighed. Again, his answer confused Starsky more than it enlightened him. But Starsky was glad that Hutch didn’t try to pull away. Instead, Hutch kept his hand against Starsky’s face as he looked into Starsky’s eyes, evidently searching for something elusive that he believed he’d never find.

For a brief moment, Starsky considered kissing Hutch right then and there. He could just lean in and place his lips against Hutch’s. It would be so easy. But with his partner in such a strange, melancholy mood this evening, Starsky was afraid that anything he did would scare Hutch off.

And then, unexpectedly, Hutch turned his head and yawned, and with that, his hand was back at his side. Suddenly Hutch looked so tired that Starsky thought his partner must be exhausted from trying to balance the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“Maybe you’re right,” Starsky said.

“About what?”

“About goin’ to sleep. It’s gettin’ late now, and we probably wanna be up early tomorrow morning. We got lots of stuff to do before we head back to the city tomorrow night. We haven’t visited the botanical gardens yet. And there’s a dolphin-watching cruise we can take, just a few miles north of here. Maybe we can do more fishin’, too, catch some to take back home with us, to make up for the fish you burned.”

“Yeah, okay,” Hutch nodded. “Thanks, partner.” He allowed himself a small smile. One of those damn wistful smiles again, Starsky thought to himself.

“Happy birthday, Blondie.” Starsky smiled back. Then he blew out what was left of the candles and put his hand on Hutch’s shoulder as they walked back inside the house, closing the door behind them.

###

Sometime in the middle of the night, Starsky woke to get a glass of water, but as he walked through the darkened house towards the kitchen, he noticed that the balcony door was open. That’s strange, he thought. He remembered they’d closed it before turning in for the night. Is Hutch out there?

He stepped through the open door onto the unlit deck, breathing in the humid, salt air as his eyes adjusted to the darkness that was illuminated only by the celestial bodies watching over them. He could just barely make out Hutch standing several feet away. A solitary figure, he was leaning against the railing and looking out towards the ocean whose white foam-topped waves were just barely visible in the distance.

Starsky could hear the gentle splashing sounds of the surf at low tide as it lapped at the shore and the chirping of the crickets in the dunes.

“Trouble sleepin’?” he probed, but Hutch didn’t answer.

As Starsky approached, Hutch turned his face towards his partner for a brief moment before looking away again, and Starsky thought he saw something glisten on Hutch’s cheek. Upon closer inspection, Starsky realized what it was. A tear had streamed down Hutch’s face and the starlight had caught it in such a way as to make it visible in the near darkness.

Concerned, he put a hand on Hutch’s shoulder, rubbing it softly.

“You okay? Whatsa matter?”

“I’m fine,” Hutch sniffed, scrubbing his face with his hands, a move that Starsky was all-to-familiar with, a gesture Hutch made whenever he was upset or fretting about something.

“You’re standin’ out here in the middle of the night on your birthday, cryin’. That ain’t fine by my book.”

“It’s after midnight, so technically it’s not my birthday anymore.”

“You gonna argue semantics now?” Starsky asked, reaching up to stroke Hutch’s hair. As he ran his hand soothingly over the fine strands, Hutch stayed perfectly still and quiet.

“You wanna talk about it?”

“Not really.”

“Did I do somethin’ to upset you?”

“No.” Self-conscious now, Hutch turned away, not wanting Starsky to see his eyes welling up with more tears.

“Hey.” Starsky felt as if his heart was about to burst with the love he felt for his partner, and he pressed himself against Hutch’s back, wrapping his arms firmly around Hutch’s waist as he pulled him close.

“It’s okay,” he murmured softly into Hutch’s ear. But he wasn’t sure how it could be, since he had no idea what the hell was going on. But when he noticed Hutch made no effort to pull away, he added on a whim, “I’m right here, and I ain’t never lettin’ go.”

Hutch let out a startled sob at the unexpected pronouncement, and his body went slack as he leaned back against Starsky.

His cheek pressed close against the side of Hutch’s neck, Starsky could hear his partner’s slow, deep breaths, and he could smell the heady aroma of Hutch’s English Leather aftershave and the combination of sweat and saltwater that infused Hutch’s fine, golden hair. He closed his eyes and breathed in deeply, savoring his partner’s scent.

Starsky could feel his heart thudding in his chest, beating fast against Hutch’s back, and to his surprise, he realized he was beginning to sport a healthy erection. He wondered if he should pull away before Hutch noticed.

But as Hutch basked in Starsky’s embrace, he dimly registered something hard pressing against him, and when he realized what it was, he began to press back.

“Starsk…” Hutch sighed, the sound coming from deep within him, low and throaty, and he thrust his hips out, pushing himself against Starsky’s groin as he reached behind and rested his hand against the smooth curve of Starsky’s hip over his pajama pants.

Still leaning his face against Hutch’s neck, Starsky began to nuzzle him, kissing the warm skin there as he slowly made his way up to Hutch’s jaw. “I’ve wanted you for so long, Hutch. God, how I’ve wanted you…”

Hutch was still wearing the clothes he’d worn to dinner. His arms still wrapped around Hutch, Starsky pulled the shirttails out of the front of Hutch’s jeans and began to undo the buttons on the soft chambray shirt. As he drew the shirt apart to expose his partner’s naked chest, he ran a hand over the silky smoothness, savoring the lean, hard muscles, and he thought of all the times he’d watched Hutch subconsciously rub his chest whenever he was worried or pensive, a move which Starsky had always found strangely seductive.

“Oh!” Hutch exclaimed as Starsky’s roving hand found a nipple, hard and pert, almost impudent in its perkiness, and his fingers began to roll the nipple between them as they explored this strange new territory. As Starsky fondled the hard nipple, his cock began to get harder as well and he began to grind himself against Hutch’s rounded, supple ass.

“Mmm…” Hutch moaned as Starsky’s other hand pressed itself against the bulge in Hutch’s jeans. “Oh…”

“Why are you still dressed?” Starsky murmured in between kisses to Hutch’s neck. “Need to do somethin’ about that…”

Still pressed against Hutch’s back, he began to undo Hutch’s jeans as his partner squirmed in his grasp. When he’d gotten the zipper all the way down, he slipped an eager hand down the front of Hutch’s underwear and ran it over the semi-erect cock while he greedily sucked on Hutch’s neck.

“Oh Jesus,” Hutch muttered. “Oh God, Starsk.”

“You have no idea how long I’ve wanted you, Hutch.”

“I didn’t know. I never thought—“

“Turn around,” Starsky instructed, somewhat reluctantly removing his hands.

Hutch did as he was told and faced his partner.

“Birthday boy,” Starsky murmured as he grabbed Hutch’s face with both hands and pulled him in for a kiss. “My beautiful boy…” he purred, just before he plunged his tongue into Hutch’s mouth.

For the next several minutes, there were no more words, only the sounds of yearning and long-unresolved sexual tension finally beginning to resolve itself.

Then, breaking the kiss, Starsky slid down to his knees while Hutch remained standing, leaning against the railing for support. Starsky pushed Hutch’s jeans down easily, their already-opened zipper aiding him, and then in one swift movement, he followed the jeans with Hutch’s underwear, took the shaft of Hutch’s cock in his hand, and plunged his mouth over the rigid member as Hutch uttered a loud, surprised groan. “God…ohh….”

In the dim light, Starsky could just make out the color of Hutch’s pubic hair and he took a moment to study it. It looked to be a dark blond color, almost a light brown, and he pressed a hand against Hutch’s groin, feeling the tight, wiry curls between his fingers as Hutch moaned, a deep guttural sound that told of pent-up want and desperate need.

It was a sound that Starsky had never heard coming from his partner before, not even last night when he’d listened to Hutch climaxing with Jane. Not even when they’d go back to one of their apartments for a double-date with their respective girlfriends. During those times, he’d been too busy with his own love life to listen to what was going on with Hutch’s in the next room.

But he decided now that Hutch’s moans of pleasure were just about the greatest thing he’d ever heard, aside from Hutch’s voice itself, which he’d always found curiously arousing, its deep throaty timbre never failing to make Starsky feel longings in his groin that, until recently, he’d never fully understood the meaning of.

And now, each time Hutch uttered another moan, Starsky got harder, until he began to wonder if his cock would just push its way out of his pajama pants all on its own.

“I don’t want to come yet. Make love to me, Starsk…ohh…”

Starsky pulled his mouth away and looked up at his partner. “You mean?”

“Yes. God, yes.”

“Don’t we need lube or somethin’?” He began to gently kiss Hutch’s cock lightly up and down.

“Yeah. Abby and I used petroleum jelly, but I didn’t bring any with me. But there must be something here we can use.”

“What do you mean, Abby and you?”

“Whenever she was on her period, we’d…you know. That way, she could keep her tampon in. It was her idea, actually, not mine.”

“Oh.” Starsky paused to digest this interesting bit of information that Hutch had never told him about before. “How ‘bout your baby oil?” he asked.

“Sure, that would work. Wait, shit—“

“What?

“Abby told me that baby oil should never be used as lube.”

“Why not?”

“If I remember right, it’s because it’s a real bitch to wash off, and it can sometimes cause an infection.”

“Oh,” Starsky grimaced, suddenly feeling ill as he looked down at his groin.

Hutch glanced over towards the grill. “Olive oil! There’s a bottle in the kitchen, Starsk. I used it to grill the fish.”

“That safe to use?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

Starsky pulled away from Hutch and stood up. “I’ll get it.” He ran into the house and when he returned, he triumphantly held up the bottle of oil, looking like the winner of the neighborhood scavenger hunt.

Hutch noticed, concernedly, that Starsky was breathing heavily from his quick jaunt inside the house and frowned as he looked around the deck. “Maybe we should go inside where you can be more comfortable.”

“I’m fine.” Starsky protested. “Besides, I wanna make love to you out here, beneath a million stars, so the entire universe will know how much I love you.”

“Oh, Starsk…” Hutch suddenly had tears in his eyes again.

“We could go down to the beach,” Starsky suggested.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why not?”

“Think about how sand has a tendency to get everywhere.”

“You have a point,” Starsky winced. “On the lounge chair?”

“No, that would ruin the cushions for the next people who rent this place. I know…the beach blanket.”

“Good idea, wait here.”

Before Hutch could stop him, Starsky ran into the house, returning with the beach blanket and some pillows from his bed. They spread the blanket on the deck and quickly removed their clothes, discarding them carelessly, and then they lay down on the blanket facing each other, their lips finding each other as their warm, naked bodies writhed together under the watchful gaze of the constellations.

And in all the commotion, Starsky forgot all about the scars on his chest.

Hutch got up on his knees, placed a pillow under Starsky’s head, and began to move slowly down Starsky’s body, twirling the wiry chest curls in his fingers as he settled his mouth against Starsky’s neck and over his collarbone. As Hutch’s fingers trailed over the long, elevated scars, he felt the texture of Starsky’s chest change from tight, wiry curls to smooth skin bordered by ragged, rough edges, and he pulled his mouth away from Starsky’s neck so he could get a closer look at them.

But Starsky moved his arm up and grabbed Hutch’s wrist, pushing Hutch’s hand away from the scars. “Don’t, Hutch.”

“Why?” Hutch asked. “Why can’t I touch them?”

“Because I don’t want you to. Because they’re ugly.”

“Not to me. Nothing about you could ever be ugly, don’t you know that, Starsk? You’re the most beautiful person I know, both inside and out, and those scars…they’re just as beautiful to me as the rest of you.”

“You’re weird, ya know that? Okay then. How about because they’re a constant reminder of who I used to be and what I no longer am?”

“No.” Hutch shook his head in protest, but Starsky persisted.

“Hutch, I’m not the same man I was before, and it’s about time we both admit it. I’ve got limitations now. I can’t even climb a flight of stairs without gettin’ winded. They’re never gonna let me back on the force.”

“Oh, come on, you don’t know that.”

“I’m different now. The bullets changed me.”

“The bullets may have won the battle, Starsk, but you won the war. We both did.”

“Hutch—“

“You’re alive, damn it! That’s the only thing that matters.”

Starsky sighed, knowing that Hutch was right. Hutch was always right. “What am I gonna do with you, huh?” he smiled, letting go of Hutch’s wrist. “Okay…proceed.” He breathed deeply and waited to see what Hutch would do next.

Slowly moving his fingers lightly over each scar as he traced its outline, Hutch bent over and gently kissed each one as Starsky sighed once again.

“I’m alive because of you, Hutch. You know that, right?” he murmured, his hand stroking Hutch’s hair.

“You getting sentimental on me now?” Hutch teased.

“I love you, Hutch.”

Hutch sat up and lifted his head to look at Starsky. “I love you too, buddy. All of you. Even those damn scars.”

Then he moved further down until he reached Starsky’s groin, and as he gripped Starsky’s cock, which had temporarily gone limp, he began stroking it up and down as he watched it grow and become harder, eliciting moans of ecstasy from his partner.

“I love all of you, Starsk,” he repeated, as he lowered his head and took Starsky inside his mouth, pulling him in deep.

“Oh God, Hutch. Mmm.” Starsky closed his eyes, breathing deeply through his nose. “We shoulda done this sooner, doncha think? Ohh….”

“Better late than never, I guess,” Hutch mumbled, his mouth full.

“Oh…mmm…that feels so fucking good...oh God…fuck…”

“Speaking of that, are you ready?”

“Are you?”

“Yeah. Where do you want me?”

“I don’t know. You’re the expert, not me. I’ve never done this before.”

“Oh. Well, how about I get on my hands and knees and you kneel behind me. That’s usually what Abby and I did. As long as that’s comfortable for you.”

“Don’t worry about me. Let’s just start with that and see how it goes, okay?”

“Sure, babe.” As Hutch bent down on the blanket, Starsky rubbed a dollop of oil on his cock.

“What do I do now?”

“Just place your…your dick at the opening of my rectum and go slowly until I relax and open up.”

Starsky ran his hands over Hutch’s bare ass cheeks, savoring their muscular feel, and then he gently pushed them apart and positioned the tip of his cock against the opening. Gripping Hutch’s waist for leverage, he took a deep breath.

“You ready, Hutch?”

“Ready when you are, partner.”

Starsky slowly pushed against the opening and then withdrew after a few seconds. He repeated the action again. “Like this?”

“Yeah. Keep going.”

Starsky repeated the motion, pushing in a little farther each time before briefly pulling out, until he could feel Hutch’s sphincter muscle becoming relaxed.

“You okay, Hutch?”

“Yeah.”

“I think I can go in all the way now.”

“Okay.”

Grunting, Starsky pushed in as he felt Hutch’s rectum loosen around him, and then he pulled out once more.

“Ohh.”

“You ready?”

“Yeah. God, I want you inside me, Starsk.”

Bracing himself, Starsky thrust all the way inside, slamming his thighs into Hutch as his partner cried out in pain.

“Shit! You okay?” Starsky felt himself begin to soften as he worried that he’d hurt his partner.

“Yeah. Ohh. Keep going.”

“Did I hurt you?”

“Only for a second. It feels good now.”

“Was it supposed to hurt?”

“I think. It always did for Abby at first.”

Tightening his hold around Hutch’s waist, Starsky began to thrust rhythmically inside his partner, slowly and methodically, imagining himself in sync with the ebb and flow of the tides, and as his cock rammed against Hutch’s prostate gland, Hutch’s moans mingled with Starsky’s until they became one.

It was then that Starsky noticed Hutch’s birthmark illuminated in the starlight, and he leaned over and kissed it gently.

As he neared climax, Starsky’s thrusts became faster and more urgent, and he slammed himself into Hutch, rocking his partner forward as Hutch pressed his hands into the floorboards of the deck to steady himself.

Both men came at nearly the same time, the electrifying waves pulsing through their bodies as the foamy ocean surf crashed against the shoreline below them, as it had always done, and as it always would do.

Exhausted and spent, Starsky withdrew from inside his partner and they collapsed together on the blanket. Breathing heavily, he laid on top of Hutch with his arms still wrapped around him, his entire weight pressing on his partner.

“Happy birthday, Blondie,” Starsky murmured, out of breath. “I’ll always love you, even if they won’t let me be your partner anymore.”

“Hey, if they don’t let you back on the force, I’ll quit. You think I want to be a cop without you? It’s been hard enough these past few months going to work alone every day. When you were shot, Dobey wanted to assign me a new partner but I refused.”

“You did?” Starsky asked, applying gentle kisses to Hutch’s hair, his eyelids, and his cheekbone.

“Yeah. I told him I already had a partner, and I meant it. No matter what happens, Starsk, we’ll always be partners, even if we’re not cops anymore. The way I see it, we’re two men who love each other who happen to be cops. But we could be anything – doctors, attorneys, even bricklayers – and I’ll still love you.”

“You will?”

“Of course I will, dummy. Now do you mind getting off me so I can breathe?”

“Oh, sorry.” Starsky rolled off Hutch and they faced each other as Starsky gently stroked Hutch’s face.

“Hutch?”

“Hmm?”

“When you blew out your birthday candles this afternoon…what did you wish for?”

Hutch beamed widely, and this time, there was nothing sad or wistful about his smile. “Let’s just say that sometimes birthday wishes do come true.”

###

A few hours later, Hutch woke up in a cold sweat, his heart pounding in his chest. Fuck! he muttered under his breath, trying not to disturb Starsky who was sleeping peacefully beside him on the deck. When they’d first arrived at the beach house, he stupidly believed that the bad dreams would cease once they got away from the city and the job and the reminder of all the terrible things that had happened to them.

But the bad dreams didn’t stop, not even with Jane sleeping beside him.

He chastised himself for stupidly being convinced that tonight the nightmares would finally stop when he held Starsky in his arms as they drifted off to sleep. And he realized now that he was still a lot more traumatized by Starsky’s shooting than he’d wanted to admit.

Tomorrow he would tell Starsky about his nightmares. But tonight, he didn’t have the heart to wake his partner. Instead, he closed his eyes as he snuggled against Starsky and held him tight, one hand wrapped tightly around Starsky’s hand, and the other pressed flat against the scars.

###

It was still dark when they awoke, the cool breeze coming off the ocean caressing their skin as they slumbered on the deck in a tangle of warm bodies wrapped in a soft passel of blankets and pillows.

“Hey,” Starsky purred, leaning over to give his lover a kiss.

“Hey yourself.” Hutch accepted the kiss eagerly, bringing his hands up around Starsky’s face to grab a handful of dark curls, the memory of the nightmares temporarily pushed to the back of his mind.

“I got an idea…come on,” Starsky grabbed Hutch’s hand and pulled him up. “Let’s go.”

Hutch laughed, expecting Starsky to bring him inside the house to the bedroom, but instead, he tugged Hutch towards the stairs.

“Where are we going?”

“The ocean.”

“Are you crazy, Starsk? We don’t have any clothes on!”

“It’s a nude beach, remember? Besides, there’s no one around, and we’ve only got a few minutes before the sun comes up. You game?”

“But I have to pee!”

“So do I. We can pee in the ocean. Come on!”

Giddy, Starsky practically ran down the stairs in the near darkness, Hutch following closely behind him, and when their bare feet touched down on the sand, Starsky broke out into a sprint towards the sea.

“You ARE crazy!” Hutch called, laughing as he caught up to his partner, grabbing his hand to try to slow him down. But instead of slowing, Starsky pulled Hutch along with him and they soon reached the edge of the surf.

When they were ankle-deep in the water, Starsky stopped and took Hutch’s hand as the water lapped gently at their feet.

“Think we’re standin’ at the end of the world? Or the beginning?” Starsky asked, panting.

“I think you’re crazy,” Hutch laughed again as he squeezed Starsky’s hand. “You’re gonna hurt yourself.”

Silently, they emptied their bladders into the foam as the tide washed in, and watched as it was carried out by the receding waves.

The darkness was slowly retreating over the land, but had yet to reach the sea, which was still hiding its secrets. Turning behind them, they watched as the sunrise slowly approached from the east.

“Starsk, I need to tell you something.” Hutch’s mood had suddenly become brooding.

“Whatsa matter?” Starsky squeezed Hutch’s hand, his face clouded with concern.

“Every night….” Hutch hesitated before continuing. “Every night since the shooting, I can hear them in my dreams, and I wake up in a cold sweat. Even last night.”

“Hear what?” Confused, Starsky looked at Hutch closely, studying his face in the dim pre-dawn light.

“The gunshots.”

“Every night?” Starsky reached out and stroked Hutch’s cheek. “Every single night you’ve woken to the sound of…?”

“Yeah.”

“Even when you were with Jane?”

Hutch nodded.

“Did she know?”

“No. She was sound asleep. And I wouldn’t have told her, anyway.”

“Why didn’t you ever tell me? Why didn’t you wake me last night?”

Hutch attempted a nervous laugh, but it came out sounding more like a sob. “I didn’t want you to know. Figured you’ve got enough on your plate to worry about.”

“Oh, babe.” Starsky bent forward and leaned his head against his partner’s. “You shoulda told me sooner. I’m so sorry.”

“Starsk, it’s been terrific being here with you…being with you,” Hutch blurted out suddenly. “Thank you for this wonderful gift.”

“We’re not leavin’ yet, ya know. We still got the rest of the day, remember?”

“I know,” Hutch sighed, and Starsky noted just how wistful the sigh was. “I wish we could stay here longer. Three days doesn’t seem like enough. But I guess that’s just me being greedy again.”

“Some people say the glass is half-empty. Others say it’s half-full.”

“What are you going on about now?”

“Think of it this way, Hutch. Today might be our last day here, but it’s the first day of the rest of our lives, and here we stand together, on the edge of forever.”

“But don’t you get it, Starsk? Everything will change when we get home. You’re gonna turn back into a pumpkin at midnight.”

“What are you talkin’ about?”

“Last night was wonderful, Starsk. It was everything I’ve ever dreamed of. But you know it’s not realistic for us to remain lovers once we get back. Besides, you have a longstanding reputation of being a ladies man. If you stop dating women, people are gonna notice.”

“So let ‘em notice.” Starsky cupped his partner’s face in his hands. “You think I wanna go back to the way things were before? I told you I was never lettin’ go, didn’t I?”

“Yeah, but—“

“But nothin’. The way I see it, Hutch, we can either go with the flow or swim against the tide.”

“Since when did you become so philosophical?”

“Almost dyin’ has a way of doin’ that to a man. And so does fallin’ in love.”

Hutch’s breath caught in his throat at Starsky’s words, and he leaned in close, his kiss catching Starsky’s lips at the exact moment the new day reached the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

 

Caught up in sunlight

Come on out singing

 

As the rays of early morning sunlight shone down upon the newly-minted lovers, they walked slowly hand-in-hand across the beach, trailing indelible footprints behind them on the cool sand, and Starsky noticed how Hutch’s hair, blowing gently in the breeze, lit up as the sun glinted off it.

I'll walk you in the sunshine

Come on honey, come along with me

 

As they made their way towards the top of the stairs, Starsky slowed down noticeably, his breathing shallow, as if he was too tired to continue. Wincing, he pressed a hand to his chest.

“You okay?” Hutch turned behind him and reached down to grab hold of Starsky’s hand.

 

“Think I might have overdone it again. This damn body of mine!”

 

“Here, come on.” Hutch put his arm around his partner, helping him up the remaining steps. When they reached the top, he impulsively picked Starsky up and began carrying him towards the open patio door.

“You can put me down now.”

“Not yet.”

“Where we goin’?”

“You’ll see.”

To Starsky’s surprise, Hutch carried him over the threshold, through the living room and into the master bedroom, depositing him carefully on the bed. He climbed in beside Starsky and their lips found each other once more, hungering for the other as if they’d been separated for a thousand years and were only now finding their way back.

“Be right back.” Whistling as he strolled happily out of the room, Hutch disappeared briefly from Starsky’s sight, while Starsky wondered where his partner had gone off to.

When Hutch returned, he was holding the bottle of olive oil.

Hutch sat on the bed, leaned over, and began lightly kissing Starsky’s stomach. He’d never much thought about that area of Starsky’s body before, but the sight of the taut muscles intrigued him. How does that saying go? Hutch pondered. Something about the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? He smiled at the thought.

“Hey, Hutch?”

Hutch had expected Starsky’s eyes to be closed, but when he looked up, Starsky had lifted his head and was watching him intently with an expression of adoration. Hutch hesitated as he waited for Starsky to finish his thoughts.

“Have I ever told you how beautiful you are?”

“You have,” Hutch answered, trying hard not to break into a smile as a faint blush crept up his cheeks.

“When I was shot, you were the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes. I didn’t know if I was alive or if I’d died and gone to heaven. It was like seeing an angel.”

Hutch was suddenly overcome with emotion. Nodding his head, he squeezed his eyes shut as they filled with tears. Then he took Starsky’s hand and held it to his lips as he remembered that day more than three months ago. When he finally managed to compose himself, he kissed the hand tenderly and placed it back at Starsky’s side.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to get all maudlin on you and kill the mood.”

“This isn’t all just a dream, is it, Starsk?”

“Not anymore,” Starsky replied, and Hutch understood exactly what he meant.

Turning his attention back to his lover’s stomach, Hutch spotted the dark line of hair that meandered its way from Starsky’s belly button to his groin, and he traced his finger slowly downwards until he reached the treasure he was seeking. Then he took the treasure in his mouth as Starsky sighed deeply, reaching out a hand to stroke his partner’s hair.

“Ah…Hutch. My angel.”

The feeling of Starsky’s hand twining in his hair was as comforting as it was sensual, and as Hutch slowly bobbed his head up and down the shaft of Starsky’s erect cock, he thought about all the times that Starsky had stroked his hair in an act of consolation.

There was that time two years ago when he’d been shot at by the men who kidnapped a teenage girl, sending him crashing through a plate-glass window, saved only by the bulletproof vest he was wearing. He and Starsky had simultaneously reached out their hands and touched each other’s heads, as if they each couldn’t believe the other was alive without confirming it by touch.

The day their friend Jackson Walters was murdered in cold blood by a racist, rookie cop, Starsky had ruffled Hutch’s hair as they cried together in the hospital waiting room.

Then there was that awful week, not long before Starsky was shot, when their friendship was tested to its limit. When Hutch went to Starsky with a heartfelt, tearful apology, Starsky accepted his act of contrition by tenderly stroking his hair, before punching him hard in the shoulder, grinning mischievously as he admonished Hutch to “Never pull that shit again.”

And then there was last night.

Hutch lifted his head off Starsky’s cock before his partner got too close to orgasm. Absently, he smiled as he began stroking his shoulder where Starsky had hit him all those months ago.

“You ready, partner?” he asked.

“For what?”

“For the rest of our lives together.” He reached over and grabbed the extra pillow, leaning down to kiss Starsky before situating himself once more beside Starsky’s hips. He placed the pillow underneath them so that Starsky’s ass would be slightly raised for better access, but before he pulled his hands away, he took time to caress the firm, supple cheeks that he’d so long admired beneath their tight denim confines.

Then he kneeled between Starsky’s legs, spreading them apart and resting them on his shoulders.

Starsky lifted his head and watched as Hutch dribbled some oil on his finger and pressed it against the opening of Starsky’s rectum.

“Ready and willing, partner, although I’m not so sure about the able part.” Starsky sighed, leaning his head back against the bed.

“You did pretty well last night,” Hutch grinned, pressing his lips to the inside of Starsky’s thigh and kissing it there, as he lightly probed Starsky’s rectum with his finger.

“I meant me not bein’ a cop anymore.”

“I know what you meant, and we’ll cross that bridge together when we come to it. Okay, partner?”

“Okay.” Starsky sighed contentedly and closed his eyes, savoring the feeling of Hutch’s light, tender kisses on his sensitive inner thigh and the curious sensation of Hutch’s finger probing his rectum. “Mmm. Feels good.”

Moving his finger in small, circular motions, Hutch inserted it deeper after each rotation as Starsky began to moan, the volume intensifying when he took Starsky’s cock in his mouth and brought him to climax.

Starsky’s rectum was now fully relaxed. Hutch spread the oil on himself and placed the tip of his cock against the opening, entering his partner in two quick thrusts accompanied by a contented grunt, as Starsky moaned appreciably.

Hutch noted that Starsky didn’t cry out in pain, not even for a second. He wondered if Starsky had gotten so used to pain since the shooting that a slight sting of discomfort didn’t even register.

Taking hold of Starsky’s hands, Hutch began to thrust steadily forward and back. Just like the ebb and flow of the tides, he thought. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, concentrating on what he was doing. Forward and back. Forward and back. Forward and back.

The police board might have the ultimate decision over whether Starsky could return to the streets, but he and Starsky would make their own destiny when it came to the rest of their lives. Who do we trust? Hutch thought, smiling to himself. The same people we always trust. Me and thee.

“Hutch?”

“Yeah, babe?” Forward and back. Forward and back.

“I’m sorry we couldn’t stay here longer. I know you’re not lookin’ forward to goin’ home.”

“Home?” Hutch asked wistfully. “For the longest time now, Starsk, I’ve felt lost. But now I’ve found my home, and it’s wherever you are. And there’s nowhere else I wanna be.”

Outside, a gull cried, the ocean lapped furiously at the shore, and a warm saltwater breeze wafted in through the open windows, gently rustling the sheer curtains that adorned them.

-The End-