“Hey, babe, you done with that coffee?”
Hutch looked up. His unfinished (fourth) cup of the stuff was all but pulling Starsky’s eyes out of their sockets. “It’s cold by now.”
“It’s still coffee,” said Starsky, eyes glued longingly to the cup.
Hutch waved Starsky at it. “Be my guest.”
“I could kiss you!” Starsky swooped up the cup and put it to his lips.
“You kiss him all the time,” said Rosinski.
“Yeah,” said Jones, “it’s not like we don’t see you guys with your hands all over each other every day.”
Starsky purposefully knocked back the coffee. “And it’s not like we don’t see the same thing with you two,” he replied, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“That’s different,” said Jones.
“Damn right,” said Rosinski. “I had to pull him out of a burning building last week!”
“Yeah, and two days ago I had to push him out of the way before he got hit by a car,” said Jones.
“Yeah? Well me and Hutch do that, too. What are you trying to say?”
“Well, you touch each other in here,” said Rosinski. “You know, where there’s no cars.”
“So we’re friends,” said Starsky. “So what?”
“So friends don’t touch each other all the time,” said Jones.
“They don’t share a brain, either,” said Hutch, drily.
“We don’t?” said Starsky.
“God, I really hope not,” said Hutch.
“Yeah, well, just let us know when the wedding is so we can take a vacation that day,” said Jones.
“Yeah, to Outer Mongolia,” said Rosinski.
“There’s not going to be any wedding because you gotta be in love for that, and we’re not,” said Starsky.
Hutch felt his heart sink without warning or expectation and then noticed the awkward silence. “And one of us would have to be a woman. Last I knew, neither of us was named Renée.”
It was very gratifying to see Jones and Rosinski wince and walk as though they’d just been kicked in the balls.
Starsky was normally a pretty good bartender, which was why he was undercover doing exactly that in Marty’s Joint. But he was about to blow said cover because he couldn’t keep his ears off his partner, who was crooning something he’d never heard before to a riveted audience. And then Hutch was looking straight at him, stars in his eyes, singing so beautifully that the words melted into the air leaving only the tune carried on that soft, shimmering voice to pierce Starsky’s psyche.
It was when the effect of Hutch’s voice reached his groin that Starsky knew he had a problem. He cozied up to the bar mixing a whiskey sour he was pretty sure someone had ordered.
There was a hand in front of his face.
“I said a Ward 8, not a whiskey sour!”
“Sorry,” said Starsky, discarding the drink and starting again.
“That’s okay.” The customer leaned in closer. “He is gorgeous, isn’t he?”
“Oh, it’s okay,” the guy said near Starsky’s face. “We’re all allowed to look, right?”
“Yeah, I suppose,” said Starsky, squeezing the lemon half a little too forcefully.
“Ohh, you’re jealous!”
“Of his singing voice? You bet!” Starsky squeezed the orange half.
“Of course,” said the customer, knowingly.
“Look, I’m not in love with the guy, okay? I just like how he sings.” Starsky added the grenadine and shook up the drink, willing his boner away. That wasn’t difficult with a nosy customer prying into his feelings for his partner. “Cherry or flag?”
“You have Boston flags out here in Bay City?”
Starsky waved one in front of the man.
“Put it in!”
Starsky did as asked, wishing the guy would shut the hell up.
Starsky wasn’t wild about watching French movies, especially at overpriced art houses where one could smell the snobbery wafting through the door. Hutch knew this. Hutch also hadn’t told his partner what they were about to see, most likely because he knew Starsky would have insisted that someone else help with the night’s assignment.
Starsky seethed inwardly. The last thing he wanted was to sit in a penguin suit and watch an actor sitting next to him in real life strip himself lasciviously on screen for his blond lover—his character’s blond lover, Hutch would remind him—and rub his very impressive hard-on against every available inch of the guy’s skin.
Hutch would talk about the lighting and the camera angles and how beautiful it all was, if Starsky let him.
Starsky wasn’t gonna let him.
Hutch would point out the metaphor of freeing society from oppression when the naked guy—Philippe, the guy they were guarding, Starsky reminded himself—unzipped the blond guy’s pants to free a burgeoning erection that made Philippe’s look average. He checked his ‘souvenir program’ in the dim light to find that the blond guy on screen was played by Jean something-or-other. He glanced across Philippe at Hutch, who was gazing at the screen in rapt attention. Why did this film have to star two guys who looked like they could have been his and Hutch’s body doubles?
Starsky wasn’t going to let Hutch talk about that metaphor, either.
Hutch would say that Philippe running the tip of his dick over the Jean’s half-closed eyelid showed how a man could accept another man’s sexual power without threat or surrender.
Starsky might deck Hutch for trying to talk about that scene, especially since he had to resort to picturing Aunt Edna naked in order to remain on the job for this assignment. Why couldn’t they have guarded another Russian ballet dancer? Why did it have to be a French porn star?
Okay, so Hutch would call the guy an “auteur”, but all that seemed to be was French for porn star.
And now Jean was stripping (or rather, being stripped by Philippe) who was rubbing his dick all over Hutch. Jean! Not Hutch…definitely not Hutch! Hutch would never let himself be rubbed all over his body by someone else’s dick.
And Hutch would never sit there like a mannequin and let another guy—or a woman, for that matter—deep-throat him without even acknowledging that it was happening. It never went that way in the dreams….
Aunt Edna naked.
Aunt Edna naked in mud.
Aunt Edna naked in mud with a—
The audience screamed as Hutch dove on top of Philippe and Starsky bulldozed into a guy in an usher’s uniform at exactly the right moment in the confusion to force the gun in his hand to discharge into the ceiling. Starsky disarmed the guy, knocked him down, rolled him onto his belly and cuffed him before standing him up and removing his mask. “Hutch!”
Hutch turned from where his face was sort of attached to Philippe’s dark, curly hair. His eyes widened. “Seems like you two aren’t as cozy off-screen,” he quipped.
“Not any more,” said the blond guy.
“So you’re not French, either, ‘Jean Piaget’,” said Hutch, rolling off Philippe.
Starsky considered roughing Philippe up a bit for the look of disappointment on his face when Hutch got up.
“No! That’s what the pervert called me. I’m Scott Masters.”
“Well,” said Starsky, “Scott Masters, you’re under arrest for attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon and being very, very stupid. You have the right to remain silent—”
“That guy’s a pervert! He’s the one you should be arresting!”
“You may actually get that last charge to stick, Starsk,” said Hutch.
“Such a shame that the beautiful ones always ruin it when they try to speak,” said Philippe.
As the uniforms arrived, Hutch turned toward Starsky, a quizzical look on his face. “You okay?”
“I may have to scrub out my brain after the dick on the eyelid thing,” said Starsky.
It took Hutch a fraction of a second longer than it should have for the smile to start, and when it did, it was odd. “Yeah,” he said, sort of laughing. “Me, too.”
Starsky spent the rest of the night reminding himself over and over that he wasn’t in love with his partner.
Hutch found Starsky sitting on a swing in the park. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” said Starsky, though he didn’t sound it. “What are you doing here?”
“You called in sick, so I’m checking on you during lunch. You hungry?”
“Not really. But you go ahead and eat, if you want.”
“I’m not all that hungry, either. Listen, Starsk—”
“You, first,” they both said, and there was awkward laughter.
“I’m sorry, Hutch.”
“I’m sorry, too.”
“What are we going to do?”
Hutch sighed and sat down in the swing next to Starsky’s. “I don’t know.”
During the silence between them, all Hutch could hear was the squeak of the swing set and Starsky’s breathing, reminding him that a good partner is hard to find.
“Kira told me that you’re in love with me.”
Hutch swallowed. “What?”
“She told me you’re in love with me,” said Starsky again, more agitated than before.
“No, no…yes, I mean…she told me that you’re in love with me.”
“I’m not,” said Starsky immediately, as if by rote.
“I’m not, either,” said Hutch, with a lot more irritation than he’d meant to let out.
“I mean, I love you,” said Starsky. “You know that, right? I love you, just…not…I’m not in love with you.”
“I love you, too. And yeah, I know.”
“She’s got us by the balls, Hutch.”
“Yeah. But I think I’ve got a way to sort everything out.”
“Yeah?” Starsky’s hopeful smile was the best thing to happen to Hutch since they met Kira.
“Yeah. Let’s force her to make the decision between us.”
“What if she still wants both of us?”
“Then we walk away.”
“And what if she chooses one of us?” said Starsky. “What do we do then?”
“I don’t think I could ever walk away from you,” said Hutch, when his soul unclenched enough.
“I couldn’t walk away from you, either,” said Starsky.
Hutch took Starsky’s hand and squeezed it. “Me and thee.”
“Me and thee,” said Starsky, thickly.
Starsky has spent so many days in this hospital that he knows every nurse, doctor, orderly and candy striper by name. And he should pare it down to weeks—months, even—because there was the plague and the poison and Terri and the shootings and the ‘amnesia’ and Gunther and now there’s Hutch, lying unconscious after a stray bullet caught him so close to his heart that it stopped twice during the surgery to get the thing out. It took them a long time to get him back, but they did. And now Starsky can only wait beside his partner and hold his hand and talk to him.
He takes Hutch’s hand between his own. “When Gunther shot me, you stayed here. I heard you, even though I couldn’t wake up. I heard you calling to me. I never told you ’cause it was just too weird, you know?” He strokes Hutch’s fingers. “I miss you. I miss you at work and I miss you at home and I miss you even when I’m here because you’re not awake to call me stupid or tell me how uncultured I am or how much more education you have than me.” The tears are coming and this time he’s probably not going to try to pretend otherwise because he’s been here all night. “Please come back to me, Hutch. You’re breathing on your own and they say you’ll come around, but….”
Starsky’s so tired that his voice is hoarse. And it’s four o’clock in the morning, so there’s hardly anyone around. He checks to make sure that nobody’s within easy earshot, though he’s not sure he cares, anymore. “I’ve been dreaming about you for years,” he murmurs. “At first it was just the job stuff—you know, the kind of thing where we’d be late getting the paperwork done for Dobey or one of us would get shot or poisoned or beamed up to the Enterprise or something.”
Starsky checks for listeners again and then leans in closer and murmurs next to Hutch’s ear. “But then something happened and I started dreaming about us in bed. Together. Doing…things. I always woke up hard or sticky from those dreams, Hutch. I never wanted to admit it or freak you out, but…I think Kira was right.” He pulls himself back to reality and tries to clear his throat. “But look, it’s okay. I can handle it. Just because I’m in love with you doesn’t mean that you have to be in love with me, you know? I mean, I love you, no matter what, and I really don’t need to have sex with you, even though it would be great. I just need you.”
Exhausted, Starsky lets his head land on the mattress near Hutch’s waist, even as he keeps hold of Hutch’s hand. “It’s Christmas Eve,” he says, “and I just need you.”
There is a twitch against his palm, which Starsky attributes to the involuntary movements that the doctors and nurses have explained repeatedly. He squeezes Hutch’s hand anyway, as he always does, but starts to let himself drop off to sleep.
Starsky is almost certain that he’s dreaming, so he digs a thumbnail into his cheek to convince himself that he’s awake and looks at Hutch’s face. “Did anyone ever tell you you’ve got beautiful eyes?”
Hutch manages a smile. It’s genuine, but it’s all that he can do and Starsky kisses his cheek because it’s impossible not to.