Dark Side of the Moon

by Dawnwind

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Summary:The former United States of America has dissolved into numerous countries, many of which are ruled by corporations and consortiums. In some of these independent fiefdoms, slavery is now legal. Initially used as a way to control the criminal population, vulnerable citizens are now being kidnapped, forcibly enslaved, sent to slave training facilities in Nevada, and later sold to the highest bidder in a demanding market.

Bay City, the capital of Southern California, is run by a corrupt corporation. Jack Dunfey, a dangerous mobster, plans to take over the BC government so he can control the West Coast underworld from a position of authority. Starsky and Hutch are detectives working under B.C.'s private Special Police force. Lovers since the academy, their relationship has been at odds over the last few years. They're still two of the best cops B.C.'s ever had, and they've been trying to nail Dunfey for years without success. When Starsky gets a call from Hutch to meet him at one of Dunfey's warehouses so they can arrest him, he doesn't think twice about going. But Hutch isn't at the warehouse when Starsky gets there. Fearing for his partner's safety, Starsky acts impulsively and makes the biggest mistake of his life. Or was his mistake in trusting Hutch in the first place?

Dark Side of the Moon is a complex love story with a four pieces of color art by Suzan Lovett and Flamingo. This slash alternate-universe novel also depicts non-consensual sex, BDSM, and graphic violence. It is not related to Dawn's Bound to the Law universe.

Edited and published as a stand-alone zine by Flamingo in 2012.

Categories: Slash
Genre: AU Alternate Universe, E-Book, Zinefic
Warnings: BDSM, Non-Consensual

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AUTHOR'S INTRODUCTION from the zine

The novel begins and ends with Flamingo. Years ago, possibly in 2004, she put out a challenge to a few of us: write a plausible rape story where either Starsky rapes Hutch or vice versa. I didn't think it could be done, but I gave it a try. The first 75 pages or so of this novel have changed very little from a three-day writing marathon-the rest of the story has been written, rewritten, torn apart, spindled, refocused, and sewn back together like a quilt. From early on, Flamingo has been my drill sergeant, cheerleader, supporter, tough editor, and friend. She coaxed a story out of me I didn't believe was in there. I envisioned a darker Bay City than the one in the original series, where democracy has been thrown out the window and slavery is the norm. How would this change Starsky and Hutch, and how would it bring them closer together in the end? Flamingo challenged every one of my writing skills and made me dredge deep to discover new abilities and new ways to express myself.

Thank you, Flamingo, for pushing me, making me change the villain of the piece into a completely different person, and mostly, for showing me what I could do.

Eight and a half years in the making-what I occasionally called the albatross around my neck is finally a real zine.

DAWNWIND

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From the Bird's Beak:

Years ago, I found an old Trek zine in Rosemary's apartment. There was a gorgeous illo of Spock with long hair, wearing a skimpy loincloth, in chains, enslaved. I remember shoving it in Rosemary's face and demanding, "Why don't we have this in Starsky & Hutch?" I didn't particularly care who was in chains, though in honesty, Hutch would've been my first choice, but then and there I decided this fandom needed more leather codpieces.

I never envisioned what Dawn would send me years later. But she wrote something that pushed every button I had, even though the "wrong" partner was in chains. Even she didn't realize how rich, how complicated, and how unique her story was. That's why God created editors. So great literary opportunities don't get lost.

I'm going to miss working with her on this novel. Editing it was an adventure, and trying to let her know how fabulous, unique, exciting, dark, titillating, and moving it was, while demanding so much more, wasn't easy. I don't know why she kept listening to me. I've worked with a number of very cooperative writers over the years, who've appreciated how editing can improve their stories, but I've never worked on a story of so much length and complexity. That really ramped things up.

We all know I have strong opinions and can be painfully blunt. I know there were moments when Dawn probably wanted to wring my neck, or shove the printed manuscript, all 550 pages, down my throat. But she never lost patience with my demands. I imagined sometimes she must've responded to my edits with a blistering email, typing away furiously in San Francisco. But whatever she wrote first, what she sent me was always complimentary and accepting. If she disagreed with a "suggestion" (yeah, my "suggestions" are as subtle as a hammer!), she would respond with a reasonable discussion of valid points. I marveled at her patience. And whatever I asked for, what she sent back was always so much more.

Putting a zine together is often a group effort. I have to thank my beloved partner, Saint Anne. After working on this story for so long, I couldn't attempt to copyedit the final. Anne did the whole thing in record time.

I'd like to thank Elfqueen for the early drafts of artwork she supplied. I very much appreciate the time she spent responding to my requests.

There's a special place in fan heaven for Suzan Lovett, who took my sad attempts at producing visuals for Dawn's story-the artistic equivalent of stick figures-and said, "I can clean those up." That was like writing the piano piece, "Chopsticks," and playing it for your friend, Mozart, who kindly says, "Let me jazz that up a little for you." Suzan insisted we both produced this art, but I was just a Sorcerer's Apprentice to her Master Magician.

And I've got to thank Dawn, who gives me too much credit. Her story is so much more than either of us imagined. This is her world, her story, her imagination at work. It's a major work for our fandom, and I, for one, am so grateful to have it. I hope you will be, too.

Flamingo

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"Every man is a moon, and has a dark side, which he never shows to anybody."
                                                                                                            Mark Twain

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Starsky slammed against the metal flooring hard enough to see stars, which was odd considering that his head was covered with a canvas bag, and he couldn't see jack. The sound of doors clanging shut assaulted his ears. He was locked in. He tried to scramble to his feet just as the floor lurched under him. The rumble of an engine proved he was in some kind of truck that gained speed immediately. The forward momentum toppled him to his knees, and he couldn't catch himself when he fell sideways against the smooth metal sides, not with his hands bound tightly behind him by plastic strips that cut mercilessly into his skin.

Lying on his side, Starsky forced himself to feel the movement of the truck, to listen to the pattern of acceleration and stops. Three stops, then a surge of speed. They were on the freeway, and moving rapidly away from where he'd been captured. Mission and Ninety-first. The closest on-ramp to Mission was three blocks south, leading away from Bay City.

He'd walked into the warehouse on Mission and Ninety-first without backup and without notifying dispatch.

Damn.

Hutch, where were you?

Hutch had called him. It had been Hutch's voice, he was sure of that. Not frightened, but urgent, telling him to meet him at the warehouse, that he'd tailed the suspect and had seen him go in. The address was altogether too familiar: Jack Dunfey's lair. He was the fucker who'd risen from mid-level criminal to crime lord running all of Bay City in under a decade.

Focus!

Hutch had called him, so why hadn't he been there? The LTD wasn't around; Starsky had circled the block twice before parking his '83 black Torino on a side street and approaching cautiously. If Dunfey had gotten the drop on Hutch, his goons would have hidden his car. Starsky had gotten scared, and that made him reckless. Afraid that Hutch might have been captured or hurt, Starsky had ventured inside the cavernous building alone.

Big mistake. Possibly the worst mistake of his life.

The place had been as dark as the far side of the moon although it was the middle of the day. High windows were painted black, emitting very little ambient light. He'd gripped his gun tighter, suddenly freaked. Where was Hutch? How could he find him? He'd barely gotten past a small side door when hands gripped his arms, and plastic bindings looped around his wrists so fast he couldn't fight back. His gun dropped to the ground, and a bag was shoved over his head. He'd kicked at shadows, then bit a fleshy hand as the bag descended, but he never had a chance. It had been a set-up from the start.

His mouth dry, Starsky considered his options. None of them were good. He didn't know where he was going. He was a prisoner, bound, blindfolded, and partially gagged. With every breath, the canvas bag clogged his mouth, tasting of animal and dirt. He could feel straw under his fingers. What kind of truck was this?

And where the hell was Hutch? It had been his voice on the phone, Starsky would swear to it. His inflections, his soft intensity. He'd used the nickname Starsk. Could someone mimic his partner well enough to fool him? There were impressionists who could imitate Elvis, John Wayne, and Brando perfectly, fooling the ear even when the eye could see it was really Rich Little or Frank Gorshin. But would that really fool someone who knew them well?

It had been Hutch. Starsky remained firm on that point, even when his belly lurched sickeningly as the truck took a wide turn, rising as it did. They were going over an overpass, connecting to a different freeway. Damn, damn, dammit to hell. Every mile took him farther away from Bay City and any chance of finding out what had happened to Hutch.

He had to think logically and analyze everything. The voice on the phone had sounded like Hutch, so he immediately believed what Hutch told him. If it wasn't Hutch, then who? How? A recording? But they'd spoken, exchanged words, hadn't they?

"Starsk, Dunfey just went into the warehouse on the corner of Ninety-first where it crosses Mission. Hurry. I'll meet you there."

That was all Hutch had said. Starsky remembered saying, "I'm on my way." Had there been anything else? Any proof Hutch was on the other end of the line? Only his gut instinct.

It had been Hutch. He'd already staked his life on it.

Get past the phone call -- get to the warehouse. It looked deserted, with signs of a forgotten time, when goods were actually manufactured in the United States and not in some robot factory overseas. Now, warehouses were the stomping grounds for the gangs and mobsters that crowded the field when the street people disappeared. Before the Economic Revolution of '80, the warehouse districts had become wastelands, inhabited by only the most hardened criminals.

Starsky recalled those turbulent years before the end of the Vietnam war. Monopolies like the California Economic Corporation took advantage of the social chaos and encroached on state and federal governments with malice. With all the protests and riots turning daily life upside down, few citizens noticed the big corporations hiring military leaders away from the armed forces for their own private militias. By the time the federal government fell apart, the military complex had been absorbed into the corporate sector. After the huge monopolies used their armies to restore order, the citizens saw them as benevolent. Soon, a conglomerate of corporations were funding state projects, restoring the economy the war had decimated, and backing their own political candidates with bundles of cash.

Finally, during the Economic Revolution, when the California Economic Corporation, or CEC, and other monopolies had completely overwhelmed state and federal governments, the CEC proclaimed that criminal acts would not be tolerated. But that didn't mean crime was eliminated. Instead, it had escalated. For Starsky, that had been a strange form of job security.

Starsky's recovery from James Marshall Gunther's assassination attempt was partly due to the CEC's influence. The corporation CEOs had seen the downfall of Gunther as a boon to their rise in power, and had paid Starsky's medical bills, providing him with the best doctors and therapists. When he'd regained his health, he and Hutch had been actively recruited into the CEC's new state police force. They'd gotten a raise in pay, enjoyed considerable prestige, and suddenly had all the might of the government behind them as they went after drug dealers and murderers.

The rapidly changing political climate hadn't really bothered Starsky until far too late. But Hutch had noticed long before he had. Hutch hadn't liked it. He'd watched the CEC's increasing monopoly as it encroached on all aspects of local government, then the restructuring of power in the state government, and finally, on all aspects of daily life.

Then, soon after the Economic Revolution, everything changed.

Except for crime. That never changed. Like back in the thirties when prohibition had outlawed alcohol, current laws made drugs and imported untaxed tobacco from other now independent states just that much more desirable. Dunfey had seen the opportunities presented by the chaos and used it to his advantage. Always a prime mover and shaker in the criminal underworld, he soon was the kingpin, the Godfather of all Godfathers, more powerful than Gunther had ever been. He had a reputation for ruthless dealings and a wide base of operations. Word on the street was that he had the CEC's president of Southern California in his pocket. Nothing in the state, never mind Bay City, happened without his stamp of approval. How he maintained his power was unknown, but his favorite base of operations was Bay City. The man was truly scum of the earth.

So, Dunfey might have been at Mission and Ninety-first; that was believable, but Starsky never got a chance to find out. Was it Dunfey's goons who had grabbed him, tossed him in a truck? Why? If they'd wanted to kill him, they would have done it already. Starsky's mind skittered away from more frightening possibilities -- could they want him as a hostage for ransom -- or maybe...to torture for inside police information? He wouldn't let himself consider the most frightening possibility -- legalized slavery --

Get back to Hutch.

Thinking of Hutch centered him, making it easier to endure the bumps against his spine as the truck raced toward the unknown.

Hutch had gone out that morning on one of his mysterious outings. He used to do that a half dozen times a year, but lately, the frequency increased dramatically. Starsky always assumed it was with a woman, but it could as easily have been a man. Hutch had always enjoyed both sexes, and to a lesser extent, so had Starsky. Usually, Hutch would be gone for the morning, then return refreshed and charged with energy. But where he went, or who he was with, was something he'd never confided to Starsky. Starsky accepted that, telling himself it was as it should be. They didn't need to know each other's every secret just because they'd been partners for so long.

Partners.

And lovers.

In his heart, Starsky would have liked to think that he could have kept Hutch satisfied sexually. But he couldn't deny the evidence. Hutch was never satisfied. Satiated for a while maybe, but always looking for more. Starsky assumed that was the reason for Hutch's secret outings. He never asked. Hutch was entitled to his secrets.

Starsky had his own. He had never told Hutch -- or anyone else -- about his hard teen years when he'd dabbled in every drug he could get, and used his body to buy them. That was in the past. In the last ten years, so much had changed for everyone that many used the excuse of the recent revolution to erase any bad periods in their past.

So, Starsky had barely noticed that this was one of those mornings. Hutch had told him not to pick him up, that he would arrive at Metro after twelve. He'd called at noon, just when Starsky was expecting him to arrive. Starsky had been cursing the newest advancement in computers, fighting with the machine's latest version of a fingerprint ID program when the phone rang. It had been Hutch's voice. He was sure of it.

He wanted to be sure of it, but now, miles away from the Metro squadroom and even farther away from knowing what was going on, he wasn't confident any more.

The truck changed lanes, swerving so fast Starsky slid forward, crashing into the metal basket attached to the sloped wall. Straw scratched his hands and tangled in his clothes, making him glad that his leather jacket and jeans protected his limbs. What kind of truck was this? The smell of horse was strong here under the basket. Wiggling his body around, he was able to hoist himself into a sitting position by laboriously grabbing hold of the bottom rungs of what he assumed was a metal manger with his nearly numb fingertips. It felt much better to sit up, even though he was facing backwards as the truck moved forward. His belly lurched again, acid churning in his throat, but he swallowed it down. He'd never liked riding backwards, although what difference did it make when he couldn't see anyway? He tried to breathe evenly, slow his heart rate down, but inhaling sucked the canvas bag between his teeth, which only made things worse.

Hutch... Why would he have been near Mission and Ninety-first, anyway? All the state-sanctioned brothels and legal slave houses, places Starsky assumed Hutch frequented on his outings, were across town on Lincoln. Maybe the LTD broke down? That damned car was a relic. Even Starsky had traded the old tomato for a new Torino two years ago, one of the '83's with the interceptor engines and a spoiler on the back. It wasn't red but midnight black, with a single pencil thin red line along the chassis.

The LTD must have broken down. If Hutch had seen Dunfey going into the warehouse, he should have informed their current captain, CEC's handpicked man, Len Roschenzky, and then called Starsky. But, he hadn't even used dispatch to contact Starsky. He'd called from an outside line, not the police radio.

Had Dunfey's men grabbed Hutch the way they had Starsky? Recorded Hutch's voice and then killed him?

Starsky refused to believe that. Hutch would never have said those words in such a normal sounding way. He'd have thrown in some clue, wouldn't he? He'd used the nickname Starsk.

That was what made Starsky so sure. Starsk. Hutch's special nickname. The way he sometimes said it, soft and low, just like on the phone, could make Starsky quiver. The way he'd say it when asking Starsky to go down on him. Like that. Sexy, longing.

Spitting out the canvas bag, Starsky shook his head. No, not like that. That couldn't be what he'd responded to. The sound of sex in Hutch's voice.

They'd been casual partners in bed from the first week in the academy, when Hutch had grabbed him, stinking of sweat after a long run, and pulled him into the showers. He'd pushed Starsky down in front of him, under the stinging spray of water splashing over their nude bodies. Hutch was solid and hard as a rock. Starsky was sure Hutch knew, then, what he'd done as a teen, but when he looked up all he saw was desire and need in Hutch's face. Hutch didn't know anything about his past. This was just how Hutch celebrated. He had sex. Nothing complicated or involved, just a simple act between friends.

That was how it remained. Whenever things went well, after a big bust, or a celebratory dinner for some citation of merit, Hutch would push Starsky down in front of him. Never forcefully, but Starsky had come to understand that this was his special job in their partnership. Keep Hutch happy with sex. Only oral, though, no penetration, but an occasional hand job or frottage for variety. That was Starsky's limit. For the most part, Hutch seemed satisfied with those boundaries, although after a while he intimated otherwise and eventually made specific requests. When Starsky refused the kinkier fare, Hutch would drop the idea. Things would be cool between them, but that would pass. Most of the time, Starsky could bedevil Hutch into a better mood with silly trivia and goofy jokes. They would trade barbs about each other's weird eating habits and insult each other's taste in cars.

The truth was, Hutch wanted more from their sex life. Because Hutch wanted more sex. Starsky had come to the conclusion that Hutch needed sex, like a junkie. He'd once escaped an enforced heroin addiction after only a few weeks of hell, but he remained well and truly addicted to sex. That was why Starsky never paid much attention to Hutch's occasional disappearances. He assumed Hutch was getting his fix.

"Starsk." Hutch had said when he'd pushed Starsky down into the spray of the academy shower. That's when it had begun. All the promises Starsky made to himself when he joined the police force, all his ideas of putting his past behind him had been shattered when Hutch uttered that one word in the showers. And he couldn't explain why.

"Starsk, just take the edge off," Hutch had whispered, his voice like whiskey, rough and intoxicating, and Starsky was utterly drunk. He'd never noticed the hard tile under his knees, the water going up his nose and almost drowning him. All he'd felt was Hutch. Hutch in his throat; Hutch holding the back of his head; Hutch bracketing his shoulders with his muscled thighs.

He'd never known how Hutch had so easily breached his defenses and slipped inside the barricades. Maybe there hadn't ever been any where Hutch was concerned. After that, they'd become a team. Partners. Starsky'n'Hutch: one word. He'd never examined their connection. Their bond was so powerful, he'd never wondered when he'd ceased to have an identity separate from Hutch's.

And Starsky could not deny that he enjoyed the sex. When they had it. In between their trysts, there had been a parade of women in Starsky's bed: Nancys, Kathys, and even a Carmelita. But none stayed. None defined him as Hutch did with that simple diminutive of his name. "Starsk."

Starsky almost let down his guard there in that dusty truck, thinking about servicing Hutch, remembering the long, hot stakeouts when Hutch would simply point downward, and Starsky would capitulate. Once or twice he'd thought about refusing to see what would happen, but he never did. He had to admit he loved the feel of Hutch's firm, taut flesh filling his mouth.

"Starsk." It worked like a magic spell, though Starsky didn't know why. But he'd go to his knees every time, and look up at Hutch's elegant face awash with lust. Was it the needy sound in Hutch's voice, a promise of sex with a hint of violence? Or was it because Hutch would talk while Starsky was on his knees?

"I went into this pissant job to help people," Hutch would complain. "To change the world...and look what's happened. The world is changing...mutating into something ugly. I've lost all control of the situation. There has to be something..." His rants would soften as his cock hardened until he'd climax, panting with release.

Starsky could be aroused just from the sight of Hutch sprawled in a relaxed heap on his bed. Or in the backseat of the Torino. Or once in a booth at Huggy's, after closing time. But there were other days, usually the ones when Starsky wouldn't fulfill one of Hutch's special requests, that he was left to pump his own oil. Most of the time, though, once Hutch had his drug of choice, when he was well and truly relaxed and sex had smoothed out all the tension in his face, he'd reach out with that long- fingered hand and finish Starsky off. It was usually short and sweet, since Starsky was often so aroused by then he could have humped a table leg.

Almost forgetting where he was, Starsky let himself drift away on the memory of those moments. When the truck jerked to a stop, he lost his grasp on the basket and sprawled forward. He was trying to right himself when the doors opened, letting in a blast of hot, exhaust-scented air. Someone grunted, and Starsky felt the floor sway as a man swung up onto the bed of the truck.

Starsky skittered to one side. He had no hope of battling his way out, not with his hands tied behind him and a bag over his head, but he wouldn't make it easy for them.

"Kidnapping a cop will put you in prison for the rest of your lives!" he shouted, the bag snatching half his breath. A hand closed around his right ankle, so Starsky struck out with his left foot. He connected and there was a curse of pain. A second man grabbed him, shoving him hard against the side of the truck. Stunned, Starsky fell, but fought to stay conscious as they manipulated his body like a doll's.

"Don't damage the merchandise," a gravelly voice said. So, there were three of them.

Starsky lay face down, nose pressed against the unforgiving metal floor. He wanted to run, but he couldn't get his limbs to cooperate. A sharp blade snicked under the edge of his pants, slitting up the legs and through the waistband. The pants fell away, leaving him naked from the waist down. Calloused hands roughly caressed his bare ass, and Starsky jerked violently.

They pinned him to the cold, straw-laden truck floor, hauling his legs out straight. Panting raggedly, Starsky attempted to kick and twist away from his captors, but they quickly locked his ankles into metal cuffs attached to a long length of bar, spreading his legs so far apart he could feel his hips rotate painfully. That was when Starsky was forced to realize why they'd kidnapped him.

No, this isn't happening. His brain refused to accept it. NO.

They flipped him over like a human pancake, neglecting even the most basic methods for protecting a prisoner. His head bounced against the floor. Lying on his back, his bound hands now dug painfully into his spine. A sweaty palm closed around his cock, making Starsky shout inarticulately. Someone sat down on his abdomen, driving all the air out of his lungs until he nearly passed out from asphyxiation. But what came next blew away the dullness in his brain like a flame-thrower in a field of dry grass.

Incredible pain shot through the end of his penis, blood red bursts going off behind Starsky's closed eyes as the man gripping his cock punctured the crown with a sharp tool. Starsky screamed, but the sensation only intensified as the man immediately forced something cold, hard, and metallic through the new hole. When the man released the metal, heaviness dragged his cock down, magnifying his agony.

No. No!

Starsky tried to unseat the man straddling him, but the hand still holding his cock squeezed tightly. Through the pain, he heard his captor laugh.

Starsky couldn't breathe. He'd been pierced. Marked as a slave. Robbed of his citizenship by a single hoop of surgical steel.

"Yeah, cop," a gravelly voice spoke above the laughter of the others. "You went along with the company line when they passed the slave laws as a way to handle the ‘criminal element.' Get 'em off the street, right? Do away with the riff-raff, and the homeless, and the lawbreakers?"

Starsky forced himself to inhale past the searing agony and the oppressive heaviness on his abdomen while hands fumbled with the ring being threaded slowly through the new hole. The process seemed to take forever. Even though he couldn't see, Starsky knew what they were doing. To secure the ring, one end had to be seated tightly inside the other.

"I can't get it in," Gravel Voice complained.

"I've got a hammer," another replied.

Starsky flinched, the thought of a hammer smashing down on his traumatized flesh too fearful to contemplate.

The calloused hands holding his throbbing cock steady shifted and Starsky screamed again, his ass muscles bunching in a fruitless effort to flee. Then, all of a sudden, whichever part of the ring that resisted finally slipped into place. The kidnappers chuckled their approval.

"Didn't think this could happen to you, huh, cop? You ever seen one of them rings once it's put on a slave? Can't be removed once the ends are joined. After ten seconds, a chemical reaction bonds the ends so it becomes one solid ring."

Starsky drew in an unhampered breath when the weight on his chest lifted. He could hear some of the men moving away. There was a sudden burst of intense heat in the ring that threatened to singe his cock, as the metal soldered itself together.

"Never thought I'd say it, but I love the CEC." One of the men kicked Starsky's spread legs, making the pain flare sharply. "Found a way to bring the cops down, and it's legal."

"My brother had one a' them rings, back before." There was clumping and clanging as the trio moved around the truck. "Before the CEC made 'em slave rings. He ran for Chink-ville up in 'Frisco, and took it out. No slaves in my family."

"Your brother had a ring? Shit. Never saw one before I had my first slave girl. Remember the first house? On Lincoln and 30th? I was riding her and didn't even notice 'til after that she was a cheerleader from my high school. Once I knew, I did her twice."

There was more laughter as the men recalled the early days after the take-over when all the U.S. was in turmoil.

They pushed Starsky onto his side. The ring in his cock hit the ground when he was shoved over, the sensation like a razor slicing him in two. Calloused fingers cut the plastic strips from his wrists. His hands were so numb he couldn't feel them.

Slavery. He was now someone else's property, not even allowed to own his own name or hold a real job.

"Put some a' that 'septic stuff on there, asshole," one of the men said, "and let's get on the road. It'll take a couple more hours, and the border crossing is always a bitch."

Starsky tried to roll away as more hands grabbed his penis. The tip must have mushroomed to twice the normal size and echoed the beat of his heart. Movement exacerbated the horrible soul-eating agony, but with his legs still locked in the spreader, he didn't have the strength to shift fast enough to evade his captors. They slathered something cool and wet all over the end and some of the pain receded a little.

Then the men began removing his leather jacket. Hutch had given him that jacket after he was shot. With leather goods now so expensive that only the richest bigwig could afford them, vintage leather was precious. He wasn't going to let these shit-faced slave dealers steal it from him.

"That's mine!" Starsky cried out as they pulled the jacket off him easily, grieving for what he had lost, but the canvas bag stuck to his dry tongue and his words were almost unintelligible. He needed to hold onto something.

"Good quality, maybe even vintage '40s," Gravel Voice said appreciatively, holding Starsky's arm away from his body. Agonizing pins and needles jabbed its length as circulation returned, and Starsky swung out blindly with his unfettered left arm.

His captor laughed. "Slaves can't own stuff like this. You know that, cop."

The other man grabbed Starsky's arm in mid-swing and snapped a thick metal cuff around his wrist. They hauled Starsky to the rear of the truck, his feet dragging heavily behind him.

"He ain't a cop no more, huh? Brought down to the dregs, now, huh? Never thought this kind of thing could happen to one a' the almighty state police, huh?" He locked the cuff to the top rung of the manger.

Starsky struggled, fighting his fate, but the ankle spreader impeded his balance. He was like one of those inflatable clowns, his lower half weighted to the ground, but easily knocked over. When one of them squeezed his newly pierced cock again, he nearly fell to his knees. The stress on his torqued thighs was incredible, and he bit back a scream as fresh pain shot down both legs. He ended up hanging by the arm from the hay basket, unable to get his feet under him for support. The guy with the calloused hands seized the opportunity, and quickly locked Starsky's right arm to the top rail of the manger.

They ripped Starsky's t-shirt off his body and wrote something on his back with a grease pencil. Seething, Starsky couldn't move enough to evade the debasement.

He went cold inside. He would never be a slave. However long it took, he'd hunt down whoever paid for his capture and rip their heart out, but not before piercing them with their own goddamned slave hoop.

The heavy metal collar that closed around Starsky's neck only reinforced his servitude. Finally, the men pulled the bag partially off his head, allowing him to take a few gulps of fresh air. Even that that minor freedom was cut short when they then forced a ball gag between his teeth and buckled it tightly behind his head. Starsky howled his displeasure, wrenching away from the hands that gripped the sides of his head.

Calloused fingers yanked Starsky's cock once again, and he froze in reaction to the renewed shock of pain and to avoid being emasculated. The men replaced the bag that covered his eyes with a standard blindfold, too quickly for him to see who'd kidnapped him. Starsky was familiar with the blindfolds; he'd seen them when he'd joined a taskforce to break up the slaving rings that were supposed to be illegal in B.C. Many slaves were blindfolded when being transported to increase their disorientation and keep them from knowing the routes in and out of the city.

Blindfolded, gagged, and pierced. He was now fully a slave, nothing more than merchandise, as the first captor had called him. A commodity to be sold or traded.

Oh, Hutch... Had they done this to him, too? Stripped him of his humanity, his goodness, and subjected him to similar treatment? Hutch wouldn't stand for this. He'd find some way out of the situation. Starsky's tendencies were for rash action first and thinking later, but Hutch could be calm, almost detached, until he came up with the right solution.

In the last year, Hutch had grown disillusioned by the current state of affairs in California. He'd railed against the CEC's increasingly draconian laws, and talked about joining an underground movement to effect change through civil protest and social reform. Starsky thought they would be better off to escape, run away to a less militaristic state like New Mex-Arizona or what was left of Michigan and Minnesota, where Hutch's mother used to be governor. There, anti-corporate protests weren't stopped with enslavement or death. Then they could fight from the outside, where they could get help from other like-minded people.

He could clearly hear Hutch's voice. "They claim they're different, that a corporation -- a board of greedy business men -- can change things for the better. This is communism except with money. Capitalism, with a capital C, and it won't work, Starsk. We need to take a stand for what is right. Protect the people from their own government."

Hutch had grown morose, letting his mustache grow back. Starsky saw the mustache as a barometer of Hutch's mood. It had come in lush and blond under his nose, a testimony to Hutch's deep depression. His mysterious outings had doubled in frequency, too. Starsky realized he should have been paying more attention. He could have asked where Hutch was going any number of times.

But would that have changed anything?

He was getting lost in his memories to avoid the present, but it was easier than anticipating what his captors might do now that he was shackled and nude. He could actually breathe when they finished their lewd inspection of his body and climbed noisily out of the truck.

The truck started up again, gathering speed. Starsky was sure they were headed for the old state of Nevada, away from the contradictory laws of California, where owning slaves was legal, but kidnapping and training them was not.

Thinking of Hutch brought him back to their case against Dunfey. The crime lord was involved in the wholesale trafficking of human beings. It was one of the things he and Hutch had been investigating. Dunfey's group secured slaves for customers with particular tastes. Tastes Dunfey probably shared. But he'd managed to keep ahead of the cops, as if he had inside information. He'd evaded every raid, every trap they set. That's why Starsky had believed Hutch's phone call so completely. Nailing Dunfey had been their goal for over a year.

Starsky forced himself to examine all he knew about the mobster's operation, glossing over the black market sales and gun running. Most of the people Dunfey's henchmen enslaved had been legal citizens until his hand-picked goons grabbed them out of their mundane lives and spirited them away to the infamous out-of-state slave farms. On paper, that was the one thing the CEC didn't allow -- the wholesale marketing of slaves. Slaves were supposed to be convicted criminals or prostitutes who couldn't pay the state taxes to keep their brothels open legally. Slaves were not supposed to be private citizens kidnapped at the whim of someone's pleasure. Since most slave farms were in the old state of Nevada, they were out of the CEC's jurisdiction and beyond prosecution.

So, that's probably where they were taking him. Starsky shuddered, but it helped to have that tiny bit of knowledge in this completely out-of-control situation. He might be immobilized and nude, but he knew where they were going.

Now for the why? And the who. Who would want him as a slave? Some member of the Corporation he'd pissed off? There were so many he couldn't pick just one.

Starsky was a rabble-rouser, a rebel. For all his anger at the system, Hutch kept it bottled up and played the good cop with their superiors. Probably why Captain Roschenzky had recently offered Hutch a promotion over Starsky. Hutch refused the offer, but they both knew that Starsky would never qualify for advancement through the new corporate organization.

Thinking about anything but that he'd been locked to a manger in an old horse trailer, yoked, and pierced as a slave, helped Starsky stay sane. He wanted to panic, to freak out and cry, but what good would that do? It wouldn't free him, and it wouldn't help him find Hutch any faster.

Hutch's last words repeated endlessly in his head. "Starsk, Dunfey just went into the warehouse on the corner of Ninety-first where it crosses Mission. Hurry. I'll meet you there."

Hurry. I'll meet you there.

I'll meet you there.

Hutch hadn't been at the warehouse when he called? The pay phones in that area had long been destroyed; there wasn't a working phone in a two-mile vicinity. So, where had Hutch been?

The little nagging doubt was back, but Starsky pushed it firmly away. Hutch wasn't involved in this. That wasn't possible.

By curling his fingers around the metal bar he was cuffed to, and going with the sway of the truck, he could keep his balance and prevent the ring in his cock from clanging against the hay basket. Every time the ring connected with metal, he felt the sharp spike of pain all the way up to his breast bone. To think some guys used to do this for sex appeal!

His mouth was so parched, his tongue kept sticking to the rubber ball clenched between his teeth, even as it caused a tiny line of drool down his chin. He wanted to lick that drool to help quench his thirst and wondered if he were becoming dehydrated. How long had it been since he'd been grabbed, anyway?

He'd arrived at the warehouse around 12:20 and they'd captured him immediately. It was approximately a four-hour drive from Bay City to Las Vegas -- if that was where they were going. Starsky had driven it often enough with Hutch back when the states were united and gambling was a fun pastime instead of the way states filled their coffers.

Had they been gone longer than two hours? Closer to three?

Starsky twisted his arm awkwardly inside the tight cuff, feeling the tiny wrist bones grind against the metal. These were far bigger and thicker than the standard police issue handcuffs he was used to. These were slaveware, impossible to remove without a hacksaw. He suddenly realized he wasn't wearing a watch. The bastards had stolen his Yamamoto Titanium Special with the depth gauge and compass.

He could no longer own anything. Slaves were owned. Everything they wore, touched, or used was the property of their master.

Starsky took a shaky breath, biting down on the ball of the gag. He'd get through this and escape. No one owned David Starsky. He'd protect the last thing he had, his name, no matter what.

Slaves were usually given variations on their original name, diminutives, or childish nicknames to further enforce their lowly status. They'd probably call him Davey, something only his mother had ever gotten away with. Hutch called him Starsk.

Starsk. Hutch's special nickname for him. Not childish or demeaning. Strong, masculine, and...Starsky refused to wander that dark path, past the memories of going down on Hutch to stumble over the new idea that Hutch might have done this to him. That he could be that duplicitous. No. Never.

Oh, God, Hutch, what happened?

The ride was long and arduous. Starsky kept falling whenever there was an abrupt turn or stop, and one time smacked his lip so hard on the manger rail that it swelled, pressing painfully against the ball gag. Maybe they were going farther than Nevada?

Then the truck ground to a halt, inching forward as if in a slow line, and Starsky knew where they were -- the border crossing between the independent states of California and Nevada. All those decades of trying to keep Mexicans out of California had provided good experience. California knew how to hold a border. There were checkpoints and double checkpoints. No dissidents or undesirables were allowed in, period. Just exactly who those undesirables were was decided from on high. It wasn't quite as cut and dried as the Nazis who had hated anyone who didn't conform to their idea of Aryan perfection. No, the CEC's ideals were more nebulous.

The doors of the truck opened, and Starsky shivered as a hellishly hot gust of wind swirled around him. He hated the thought that people were seeing him, naked and bound, blindfolded like a common slave.

"Cargo?" a bored voice asked.

"Human slave, bound for the farms," Gravel Voice responded, chewing gum loudly. He popped a bubble, the sugary-sweet smell totally alien in the dusty, horse-scented trailer.

Starsky tensed, very aware of the two men so close to him. A finger tapped him on the shoulder. "Invoice number's on his back, all official-like."

"Gotta inspect the merchandise," the bored voice said, as the man clamored into the truck. He smacked Starsky hard on the butt, making him jump in surprise. The heavy weight hanging from his penis swung from side to side and Starsky gasped, clamping down on fear and pain. "Good reflexes," the guard laughed. "For this kind of freight, there's a fee."

"You new around here?" Gravel argued. "Dunfey has a free pass, alla time."

"Things change fast." The guard's hand slid around Starsky's hip, caressing the skin over his pelvis.

Even with the blindfold, Starsky closed his eyes, more afraid than if he'd been standing in front of a drug-crazed maniac with a sawed-off shotgun. He didn't move, willing the questing hand away from his genitals.

"Six hundred dollars or I get a taste of this sweet whore."

Starsky shifted his weight to evade the guard's hand, but he couldn't move very far.

"Just keep it quiet. I'll go get the paperwork," Gravel said, the truck bed jouncing when he left them alone. "And don't bruise him any. We'll probably get gypped on the price with all the dings he's got."

"Feisty, ain't you?" the guard said once the man was gone. "Well, we can fix that quick." He bracketed Starsky's body with his own, pressing full length against him. Starsky could feel the smooth fabric of a polyester uniform and slick boots against his bare legs and ass. The guard's erection was hard beneath his pants, pressing into the one place that Starsky never allowed human flesh to breach. When Starsky had plied his body on the street, he'd protected that place religiously -- like a girl guarding her virginity with her very life.

Hutch had never touched him there. In fact, Hutch didn't always reciprocate sexually. He kissed Starsky often, nearly every day, but as far as other sexual acts were concerned, Hutch was a one-trick pony. He wanted to be serviced, and then would return the favor after the fact. Starsky could easily count the number of times Hutch had gone down on him first. Usually on his birthday, though the most memorable time was after the shooting when he'd cleared the medical board to get back on the force. Six years ago.

The rasp of a zipper being pulled down jerked him back to his immediate problem. The sound was so loud it drowned out the cars and other border guards outside. There was no one else in the world except Starsky and the guard. He pulled Hutch's image back, his shining blond hair and clear blue eyes, comforting and strong. If anyone was going to be pressed against him, he wanted it to be Hutch. But not back there -- never there. At fifteen, he'd declared that place off limits, and no penis had ever penetrated him since. He panted around the gag, unable to stop what was about to occur.

Hutch, what did you do to me?

Starsky could no longer deny the ugly thoughts. Hutch might have lured him to the warehouse. Hutch must have lured him to the warehouse. For what reason? He replayed Hutch's words over in his head to barricade himself from the guard's actions, but the pressure of an alien cock pressing against his backside was too strong to ignore.

No. NO.

"Hey, Rato, get out of there!" an urgent voice cried. "Boss is on the way from the security booth."

Starsky's attacker cursed with disappointment, fumbling with his engorged cock. He'd never made it past the initial advance. When he moved away, zipping himself up, Starsky sagged, exhausted.

The back doors were slammed shut moments later and the truck started up, trundling through the border after a brisk "All Clear" called by another guard. They were now in Nevada. Did that improve the situation or make it worse? Nevada was a wild, dangerous place, governed by only corruption and greed. Stephan King's novel The Stand had set Las Vegas as the capital of sin, and this had come to pass. Whether the devil really lived there was a matter of debate. Many criminals who'd been out of prison when the revolution began had gone to ground in Vegas. There was no extradition to California from Las Vegas, and no police. Many of the Corporation CEOs kept homes in Nevada for exactly that reason -- as did those in the criminal element. Although Starsky had heard that Dunfey's stronghold was farther south, possibly in New Mex-Arizona.

Starsky hadn't been to Las Vegas since he and Hutch had gone undercover to help investigate a serial killer. They'd won a great deal of money and given it all to a dancer for her crippled child. He hadn't thought of them in years. The girl would be in her teens by now, if she lived. Few people with handicaps remained. The disabled were among the first to be exiled, which had frightened Starsky when he'd thought he might be included. But he'd recovered well from his gunshot wounds. Perfectly, in fact. The new laser treatments had all but erased many of the surgical scars on his chest.

He tried to shut his mind down after the near rape, and was barely cognizant of the rumble of the truck under his feet or the metal cuffs holding him in place. For the next few hours he merely existed, banking down his need to fight until he found an opening. He couldn't escape from the truck, but once at the farms -- wherever they might be -- there would be more opportunity. There had to be.

Starsky would not be any man's slave.

When the truck finally came to a halt and the doors opened again, Starsky shook himself out of his haze. He had finally arrived.

"This is what all the fuss was about?" a man's voice with a British accent said. Starsky could hear his footsteps as he approached, and the tone of his voice made it clear he was appraising Starsky's worth. Then cool hands suddenly felt him up and down, but in an impersonal way, not designed to illicit a sexual response. More like a horse trader checking out an animal's lines. "Not really what I expected, but the buyer is always right. Especially at the price he paid."

"Good commission?" Gravel laughed.

"Darling, you couldn't even imagine."

Someone had paid enough to impress this man from the Farms? Starsky digested this interesting nugget with a surge of hope. Hutch had no money, certainly not enough to pay what must have been an exorbitant price for him. So Hutch wasn't involved...or if he had been, it was only peripherally, against his will. Maybe he was mixed up in something he couldn't get out of -- a bad debt or blackmail. Maybe he'd slept with the wrong person -- a CEC official or something. He'd been forced to make the phone call. That was it.

Caught up in new ideas, Starsky barely acknowledged the handlers freeing him from the leg spreader and the metal rail in the horse truck, and hauling him out. His legs had gone stiff and numb in the long hours, making him clumsy and uncoordinated. He was marched along a corridor with cold marble flooring, his arms quickly bound behind his back, a handler on each side holding him up. The agonizing drag of the ring in his penis brought home his servitude with every step.

The Brit followed behind, giving orders. "Step lively, chaps; this one has to be processed quickly. We only have a few days before the buyer arrives."

Suddenly, an alarm rang. Starsky turned his head in the direction of the raucous clanging, anxious to learn anything he could about the layout of the place. They'd come in from the left, and gone down in an elevator, possibly one or two floors, but emerged onto what felt like an identical marble floor. Starsky had been frog marched down another hallway to this place with the horrible alarm.

"Hear that, Davey?" the Brit asked sweetly. "If you try to escape your cell, everyone in the compound will hear that sound. Unpleasant, isn't it? Nod your head."

Starsky nodded. What other choice did he have?

"If you attempt to escape, it will be doubly unpleasant for you, I guarantee it. Your master has specifically ordered that you not be harmed, but there are punishments that won't mar your pretty flesh unduly." Starsky heard a series of beeps, like computer-pad buttons being pushed as the Brit continued. "I am programming a pass code into the door, and only myself, two specially picked guards, and your owner will be given that code."

When the door opened with a hissing slide that reminded Starsky of the electronic doors on Star Trek, he was pushed to his knees.

"Dismissed, Denato. Fortun, stay for now and get out the equipment."

Starsky swallowed, but there was almost no moisture in his mouth, the ball-gag nearly glued to his lips and tongue. He had no idea what to expect. He'd never visited a slave house as a patron, and had only been inside one a few times as a cop. Since owning slaves wasn't illegal, he'd only glanced at the slaves' living quarters while searching for suspected contraband, and on one occasion, a CEC Vice President's wife. He'd been involved in the investigation of her kidnapping. They found her four months later in the slave quarters of a competitor VP. Her owners had dyed her brown hair blond, covered her body with tattoos, and forced a diamond-studded ring through her clit. Her husband refused to take back what was now a sex slave, even if she was the mother of his children.

He now had something in common with that woman.

Would Hutch really want him like this? Or would he reject Starsky the same way?

A male hand tugged at Starsky's curls and strayed over his blindfolded face. "Your owner left explicit instructions. No shaving the head or dying the hair. No extra piercings. Such a pity; you'd look divine with a ring through your nose." He pinched the end, making Starsky sneeze. "Altering a new slave's appearance so helps with the acclimatization process. Helps the slave settle into his new role, but so be it. The buyer is always right." He said that ironically, and Starsky could easily imagine the overly dramatic lift of one shoulder and eloquent sigh. He'd seen men like this; they were called flaming queens and were often the object of derision. Obviously, not this man.

"I'm sure you're wondering what we're going to do, Davey."

Starsky jerked at the name, anger and humiliation burning in his gut. The Brit gave a sardonic chuckle and straightened Starsky's shoulders, unlocking his bound hands from behind him, and placing them just so on his thighs. Starsky had seen this before -- presentation position. All slaves were required to show themselves like this when a master came into the room. When he'd poked his head into the slave rooms looking for the VP's wife, every slave there had assumed this pose.

"Remember to show your best assets, Davey," the Brit said with a self-important laugh, twitching Starsky's limp penis lying lax between his spread knees.

Starsky screamed inside, but outwardly didn't give the man the satisfaction of wresting a reaction out of him.

"Not interested in me, are you? I'm sure you're hungry and thirsty, too, poor lamb, but that's all part of the plan. You'll be isolated here for a few days in your own cell. You'll be cared for, but rarely touched or spoken to. An IV will take care of fluids going in, and a Foley catheter for fluids out." He giggled as if this were a witty bon mot. "There will be other discomforts, of course, but you won't be really harmed. We have higher standards than those run-of-the-mill training houses. Most new slaves are relieved to hear that. Nod, Davey."

Starsky nodded, hating this queen in ways he could hardly describe. Taking the one chance he had while unrestrained, he launched himself in the direction of the Brit's voice, grabbing at silk clothing and a slender leg, knocking them both over.

"You heathen!" the Brit shrieked. "Get him off me. He's a menace. Use the sedation, now!"

Pushing, shoving strong arms subdued him as Starsky fought like a captured animal unwilling to be caged. Someone -- Fortun, Starsky realized -- jabbed a needle straight into his rump, sending unwelcome narcotic languor through him. It didn't knock him out or paralyze him, but left him completely unable to resist. Weirdly, the drug made him all the more aware of the sensations around him. The Brit's silk clothing slid over Starsky's skin like the belly of a snake, making him want to throw up. Fortun's hands dragging him up were like huge meaty paddles.

Fortun must be built like a wrestler, Starsky thought, as the guard manhandled him over a metal frame that was shockingly cold against his naked skin. Fortun draped his body forward against a center brace that supported his chest, then strapped him into place. The guard stretched Starsky's arms just above shoulder height on two parallel supports, and used leather bindings to secure him tightly at bicep, elbow, and wrist. This centered his head on a small metal depression that hugged his chin. Fortun, and now the Brit, wrapped leather straps around his head so that he couldn't turn even the barest inch. They strapped his legs and arms at regular intervals, but kept his feet resting on the cold marble floor. He could not escape the bindings, but the open design of the framework left every part of Starsky's body available to any master who wanted to use him.

At least, according to the wretched Brit, who talked incessantly through the ordeal. "You'll become quite accustomed to this place, Davey; it will be your home until you're claimed by your owner. We've worked long and hard to make this frame both welcoming and functional for the recently turned slave. Consider it an introduction to your new life and a way to retrain your body into one pleasing for your master." He brushed his fingers over Starsky's abdomen, feeling the ridges of his taut muscles. The center support brace had openings so that he could pinch and tease Starsky's nipples and chest hair with ease.

Starsky groaned, fighting to maintain an ounce of dignity, but with his chin jammed into the cup, even swallowing was a chore.

"You'll notice how easily I could use any part of your body. That pretty dick hangs free, and your glorious ass sticks out, all ready to be reamed. Fortun?"

With Starsky totally restrained, Fortun inserted an IV into a vein in his groin. He squirmed ineffectually as the needle jabbed him. When Fortun threaded the tiny tubing in, it felt like a million worms invading his body. Starsky screamed, his muffled voice hoarse and barely audible over the Brit's constant yammering.

"The IV is for long-term use," the Brit said, "so, once sutured in, we will maintain it carefully."

Starsky could hear the Brit walk around the frame as Fortun finished quickly. "It hurts, doesn't it, lamb?" The Brit kissed Starsky's cheek, leaving a wet place, but it was obvious that humiliation and torture turned the man on. "It will be over all too soon and we'll leave you alone. Just a few more things to do. Your body isn't your own anymore. We can control every one of your natural functions."

The guard shoved another catheter up his penis to evacuate his urine. Starsky remembered this from the hospital, but that had been a cakewalk compared to this ordeal. The rubber tubing forced the ring up against the swollen tissue of his crown, triggering pain so intense Starsky thought he'd black out, but he didn't. He bit down hard on the ball gag, no longer caring that they could see his pain and degradation. Just make them stop!

"It's cleaner this way, lamb," the Brit explained in his maddeningly cheerful and eerily aroused voice. "Don't want you to pee all over that nice new piercing. That would sting so badly."

Rubber tubing penetrated his anus twice. Once to clean out his bowels and a second time when a dildo plugged his rectum like a cork in a wine bottle. They fed the last tube through his nose to his stomach to feed him, if he earned the privilege of food.

The sedative was short acting. Just as Fortun finished with all the tubing, Starsky slowly regained some of his wits. For nothing. He couldn't move, couldn't fight, couldn't help himself in any way. He was more of a thing than a man now. He couldn't imagine any master seeing him suspended like this, plugged with rubber tubing, and be aroused. Disgusted would be more like it.

Then he was left alone.

The solitude was the worst. There was no sound, even though Starsky wasn't wearing ear plugs. He was overcome with the urge to move, and wiggled each of his fingers and toes just for the supreme pleasure of controlling a part of his own body. He had been robbed, pure and simple. Robbed of freedom and deprived of the most ordinary acts. Each tube that breached his body defiled him. He was filled with loathing. How could they do this to him? How could they do this to anyone?

Again, the image of the VP's wife came to him. Had she been bound to this hideous frame? Had this happened to every slave he'd ever seen on the streets, staring vacantly into space as they followed their masters?

He'd always assumed there would be whips and maybe thumb screws. A rack like in movies on the Spanish inquisition. Not IVs, Foleys, and feeding tubes like in the hospital. Those had once helped him heal. Here, these innocuous items were objects to torture and debase. It was not what he'd expected, yet all the more horrible. Degradation. Humiliation. Invasion. Rubber shoved into him, including the one place he'd protected since the age of fifteen. The plug in his anus felt wide, wider than anything meant to be inside the rectum, and as the hours passed it seemed to swell, bruising his inner walls.

Torture.

His mind skittered away from the word, but that was what the Brit and his underlings had done. Torture.

Hutch.

Hutch, I went to the warehouse like you told me to, but where were you?

He was never sure whether he slept -- some hours seemed like the unfathomable depths of dreamland and others like the endless tedium of being awake and unable to sleep. He remembered so much, things he didn't want to remember, and things he could never forget.

Being sent away from home to relatives who were nearly complete strangers. Rebelling against child-rearing techniques more strict than his mother's, and taking to the streets. He'd been popular -- on the small side, curly haired and charming. He'd gotten lots of clients quickly who paid for his services in drugs and candy. Or candy and drugs, he was never sure which was the most addicting. They'd press him against the rough surface of a brick wall in some dank alley and push him to his knees. It only took a few moments to satisfy most of the men who bought him. Just a few slurps and the rasp of a zipper closing. Sometimes he'd see the glint of a knife in the darkness poised against his unwhiskered cheek, or feel the pain of penetration when one of the regulars pushed that blade into his skin --

Fuck.

He opened his eyes into darkness, his body drenched in sweat. The decade old scar on his shoulder ached with the fierceness of freshly sliced flesh. He needed to run, to hide, to get away from those hands, but he was pinned like a butterfly in a museum case, displayed for his new owner.

Hutch?

No. Older, tall, blond, and powerful -- with a handful of cash. Starsky desperately wanted to escape the memories but they piled on, trapping him on the slave frame. A blond man with whiskey on his breath and cigarettes -- long ago, not Hutch, but so much like him. Ready to pay a lot of money as long as fifteen-year-old David Starsky would go down on his knees in a swanky hotel room. The money wasn't for his mouth, though, but for the other opening in his body.

No.

He'd refused. But the handsome stranger didn't take no for an answer. So he'd fought, scratched, and then screamed when the man shoved something big, hard, and metal into his ass.

Starsky dreamed of Hutch running up, apologizing for the misunderstanding. It was all a big mistake. This wasn't supposed to happen -- not to him.

He awakened to hear people in the room, walking around the frame, speaking softly to one another, too low for him to make out their words. They were watching him; the hair rose on the back of his neck. They could see him. See his naked body shackled to the frame, limbs held rigidly, all dignity stripped ruthlessly away. He could hear the rustling of their clothes when they walked, hear their breathing and soft tread of their shoes on a hard floor. But no one spoke to him. He'd never been so completely ignored while being the center of attention.

They replaced the IV bag, and a few drops of water dripped on his leg in the process. Someone wiped it away, caressing his thigh, making the slave ring bounce against the rubbing tubing in his cock. They cleaned the penile piercing gently and applied gel to the tip. For a moment it burned but cooled quickly, taking away some of the awful pain. Starsky was powerless, inanimate.

He wept. The tears pooled on the lower edge of his blindfold, but only a few escaped to roll down his cheeks. He felt one wet tear on his lip and rejoiced at this small freedom.

"This is pretty Davey, our newest acquisition," the Brit said to the crowd.

Starsky was nothing more than an object, something to play with and tease, not human at all.

"He's barely used, which is probably why his master bought him. The uninitiated are so wonderfully vulnerable." There was a smattering of laughter from the audience.

Starsky strained, trying to guess how many stood around him, viewing him like some exotic display.

How could they?

How could they use him this way? Yesterday, or maybe the day before -- he was no longer sure of the date -- he'd had a life. Been a person, dammit. Not a slave.

Not a slave.

Starsky felt hands moving the buckles strapped around his head, fingers threading through his curls, kneading his scalp. It was wonderful and terrible. He didn't know whose hands they were or what more they would do. His whole body tensed, anticipating pain.

Someone removed the blindfold. Although the room was fairly dark, his eyes stung as he struggled to adjust after the long darkness. He could see a wide metal door directly in front of him, tantalizingly open to an expanse of corridor. Where were they? In Nevada, but where? In the mountains? The desert? If he walked out that door and down that hallway, would he be free?

His audience, including the Brit, stayed out of his limited visual range, although he tried to peer sideways to get a glimpse of his captors. When a feminine hand trailed over his tightly bound hip, slipping a finger underneath the thick leather strap, bile rose in his throat. But at the same time, he had the oddest, almost terrifying need for that hand to linger, grab hold of his cock and pump him dry.

"This new frame is a vast improvement over the earlier one," a mellow female voice said. "The design is elegant but imminently functional. The way the leather holds the body..." she gave a strap a tug making it dig deeply into the sensitive area between Starsky's scrotum and thigh, "...is highly provocative."

Starsky jerked in his bonds, but hands caressing his head stilled what little motion he could achieve. Who else was there besides the Brit? Although they had removed some straps, enough remained to prevent him from turning his head. His chin was still wedged in the depression, and his arms and legs immobilized against the metal bars.

"Yes, I love how accessible his body is," the Brit agreed. "I can touch every part."

There were two sets of hands touching him; those cupping his head slithered down his sweaty body to his back. He was poked in his old bullet scars. The nerve endings there were damaged, making the sensation surreal. When a finger dipped into the largest of the thickened scar tissue, it felt like a zipping flash skittering down his torso, like a rock skipping across a lake.

"Very nice," the woman said. "So easily stimulated. He would be wonderful to play with." The slick surface of her long fingernails slid along the plane of his hipbone to his groin over the IV port to tangle in his pubic hair.

The Brit laughed. "You've gone all goose flesh, lammy-boy. Are you cold?" He licked Starsky's shoulder, his tongue warmer than any part of Starsky's body. The sensation was horrible and yet incredibly right at the same time.

No more. Leave me alone.

"You say he was a cop?" said a different woman's voice, sensual and snide. "Doesn't look much like one."

He heard more laughter from the peanut gallery.

"They all look the same on the frame." The Brit continued his slow, vile washing, all tongue and slippery fingers. "Sweet, frightened, and in pain. That's the best part. The pain sweeps away all vestiges of their old life."

Starsky cringed, shame heating his body better than anything his captor was doing. Some damned queen was using him like a party doll while people watched as if this were some fucking sideshow, and he couldn't resist in any way. He'd never imagined anything like this. Never considered the utter helplessness of a slave, forced to perform for a master without any regard for the slave's needs or wants.

"This is taking too long," the first woman said, sounding bored. She cupped his sac, her nails just a fraction too sharp against his flesh. "I have a dozen things to arrange before I leave for the council meeting."

"Take your time, Harriet," a male voice said. "I'll make some phone calls."

Starsky caught a glimpse of a broad back clad in a forest green shirt walking out the door and strained to see where he was going. His eyes could only swivel so far, but just as he despaired of seeing anything else, a naked man followed Forest Green out -- a naked man plugged up the ass with chains hobbling his ankles. Another slave. So there were others being trained as he was. How many? Who were these people? Why did they watch him, toy with him without giving him any answers?

"Thank you, Sebastian, you are such a gentleman," she called after the retreating man.

"Then, will you do the honors, my dear?" The Brit finally stopped licking him, leaving Starsky damp and slimy.

"Well, with that damned Foley you always insist on shoving up their dicks, Neville, I don't know what you expect me to do," she complained, finally coming into Starsky's view.

She was an older woman with gray hair coiled into a French knot, wearing an expensive but severe navy suit stating clearly that she was with the CEC -- an executive or VP. Were there many female vice presidents? Off to one side, he was aware of shifting bodies and murmured comments, but the woman demanded all his attention.

"Ah, you are pretty, aren't you, Davey?" She bent to slip one finger into the heavy ring on his cock. Starsky moaned, horrified when he felt an involuntary arousal crawl down his spine in spite of the pain from her rough examination.

"This will be so much fun to play with once it's healed. Only takes a short time. I've heard it hurts for a lot longer, though." She twisted the metal, sliding her hand up his length in a parody of a handjob.

Starsky arched as much as he could, desperate to get away from her ruthless torture. Her skin was as soft as a child's against his icy flesh, the heavy scent of magnolia clogging his nose when she leaned close to kiss his gagged lips. "There are so many nerve endings down there."

She flicked the ring, sending waves of pain up his abused genitals and across his abdomen. He couldn't breathe.

"I've heard that in some men, it hurts for the rest of your life." She smiled, all elegant beauty and power, and released the ring, tapping it so it would swing, then gently touched the side of his face. "You've been crying, sweetling. How novel. So few men give in to their own fears."

Starsky tried to look away to avoid seeing her terrible appetite, the way her eyes ate him alive.

"Who bought him? Someone I know?" she asked.

"Davey's master prefers to remain anonymous." As always, Neville seemed to add something vaguely dirty to everything he said.

"Too bad he's not going for auction anytime soon," a German accented voice commented from the back of the room.

"I was hoping to have more time to play." Harriet pushed back Starsky's eyelids, exposing his eyeballs until they watered and his vision blurred. Then she pushed his lips away from the ball gag, inserting her long blood red fingernail into his mouth.

That hurt. His lips were cracked and bleeding, his jaw extended far wider than ever before, the muscles and ligaments in his cheeks searing with pain.

She probed inside his ears, scrutinized his neck, shoulders, and chest with rapt attention. She gave every inch of Starsky's body a minute examination as if he were a horse she considered buying. She left no part of him alone.

He could have cried again, but wouldn't. Not in front of his abusers. He had to maintain some tiny remnant of pride. How did anyone else endure this? Why didn't every kidnapped slave go crazy?

"Fine specimen, though," she said, standing so close to the side of his body that he could feel her breasts under her suit jacket heaving against his ribs. She reached around and slowly removed the dildo, twisting it slightly to prolong the agonizing stretch of Starsky's muscles. "How is this, little Davey? Doesn't it raise the hairs on the back of your neck? It's such a unique, exquisite pain."

The low-level arousal that he'd been fighting slammed in when the plug came free. He panted, but got no joy or release from the sickening sensation. He squeezed his eyes shut to get rid of the sight of Harriet, concentrating on resisting her intrusions. She slotted a finger into his anus and scraped her nail against his prostate.

He would have jumped, if he could. Would have run, screamed, fought to get away. All he could do was gasp around the gag.

Not there. No.

Not there. God, please.

Only Hutch.

His muscles automatically clamped shut around her, trying to prevent any further entrance.

"He's not a virgin; I can feel scar tissue." She jerked her hand free, stepping back into his line of sight to hold out her soiled finger impatiently.

"That will lower his resaleability," the German said with a click of his tongue.

A female slave moved into Starsky's view for just a second to wash Harriet's hand with a wet cloth. The slave kept her head lowered the entire time, her body so tense she practically vibrated with fear.

"My recommendation would be to leave him on the frame for several days," Harriet said to the Brit over Starsky's shoulder. "And he needs a higher dose." She regarded him without apology for the way she'd treated him. This was normal operating procedure, making sure the merchandise was worth the money invested in it. "Poor Davey. There's not enough Phenine in your system yet or you'd have enjoyed that a great deal more." She pinched his nipple, eliciting a sharp shiver that trapped his breath in his lungs. "But just wait. It will hit so fast, and then you'll want to be touched so badly. But no one will be here to give you a hand." She smiled, her gray eyes frightening, filled with a false kindness. "Isn't it sad, my dear?"

"Just a pity," the Brit agreed, and rammed the butt plug home.

Starsky screamed, his throat spasming to force sound past the gag, but his cry was nearly mute to his own ears. Metal and leather bit into his body when he fought to get free. His struggle was futile, a useless battle that left him bruised and sore.

"Give it time, Davey," Neville soothed into his ear, flicking a tongue into the curved shell. "Donato, draw up a double dose this time. He has an incredible tolerance for the stuff. Who knew he would be such a natural slave?"

The Brit once again strapped the blindfold over his eyes. Starsky tensed when he felt the brush of Neville's silk shirt against his belly as the man bent to inject more drug into his IV. His body recognized the languor when the sedative took over with a sweet longing. Next would come the need, the desire for so much more, and that frightened him. He couldn't even control his own reactions anymore.

The door hissed shut as Harriet and the others left. He was alone, spread on the frame, open to anyone who chose to come in and touch him, abuse him, look at his nakedness. He cried again, alone. Waiting for them to come back and use him again.

Wanting to be used.

A fervent need built inside him, kindling a fire that burned hotly. He sweated, panting, which only exacerbated the dryness of his tongue and mouth. He imagined Harriet's hands covering the parts of his skin not crisscrossed by leather restraints, then pulling at his nipples, fisting his cock, pressing into his anus.

Not her!

Hutch, only Hutch would ever be allowed to do those things. Hutch taking him like a virgin with those sky blue eyes that could see past Starsky's barriers to his innermost thoughts.

There was no one in the room, yet it was full of his past lovers. Starsky dripped sweat, his belly writhing with need. He'd never felt such a powerful craving for sex, such a desire to fuck and be fucked. He couldn't move, not even to reach down and relieve the ache in his balls. He couldn't manage an erection, not with the tube stuck in him, but the rest of him roiled with lust.

A trickle of sweat slid down his nose. Starsky could feel it dangling off the tip, tempting him, and envisioned Hutch reaching down to flick that droplet away, his mouth slightly open, moist tongue peeking out as he concentrated. Starsky yearned to suckle on that tongue, draw in some of the sweet moisture, and taste Hutch's essence. Then he'd kneel, slurping up Hutch's cock like the finest ice cream.

It was too much.

Forcing himself to think past the seething madness, he realized that whatever was in the IV drug left him hot and bothered without any recourse. What had she called it? Phenine? He didn't know what that was, but it was working, making him crave sex. So he'd be willing when they came for him. So he'd perform.

David Starsky would never be a slave for any man.

He had to focus on something else. Going over the events of his kidnapping helped alleviate the intense sexual hunger. In his mind, he drove the streets around the warehouse again, turning right on Mission, left onto Ninety-first, left onto Cassio and Ninetieth, and then back to Mission. Making a wider sweep onto Ninety-second, but seeing no one. No mobsters, no gang members, not even a dog.

When had the streets ever been so completely deserted? Something had been planned, and he'd fallen into it with his eyes wide open. He'd been so sure Hutch would be waiting for him that he'd never given a single thought to anything else.

Hutch, where were you?

It had been Hutch's voice. That was established.

But it had been a bogus call; that seemed certain. But what else?

Hutch, did you know what they were planning to do?

He couldn't have. He wouldn't have gone along with it if he had. So, where was Hutch now? Back in Bay City, roaming the streets looking for him? Had anyone even noted Starsky dashing out of the squadroom?

Before his shooting, before Harold Dobey had been forced out, there had been good, reliable men on the squad that Starsky had been proud to call friends. But recently, as older cops resigned in disgust, the men replacing them were corrupt cops who accepted graft and pay offs. Starsky and Hutch and a small handful of detectives still struggled to do their jobs, but it had become a downhill battle.

There had been no one in the squadroom Starsky could trust when he'd left, even if they'd noticed his departure.

Then he remembered...Len Roschenzky had seen him leave. As Starsky grabbed his leather jacket off the back of the chair, he'd seen the captain watching him from his office door, his feral dark eyes like a predatory hawk's watching prey from a lofty perch. Starsky had never trusted the man. Dobey had been so good, such a solid, dependable leader, but Roschenzky was his complete opposite. It was almost as if he tried to control certain investigations, manipulating the outcomes for the benefit of the CEC.

"Got a lead, Detective?" Roschenzky had taken a coffee cup from the stack.

"Lunchtime. Gotta meet Hutch," Starsky had said, still not entirely sure why he'd lied to his superior.

Finally, he slept and dreamed of Hutch again. This time, Hutch kissed him as he often did in the morning, and pushed Starsky down to suck his cock. Starsky tried to, but his mouth was dry as dust, his lips chapped and split and his tongue cracked. Hutch held him close, imprisoning his arms, and kissed him again before pulling on his penis. Starsky gasped in surprise; Hutch never let him have first dibs.

Then he screamed as the Foley was pulled out, leaving a burning swath as if the inner skin of his penis were being dragged out the pierced hole. The screaming just ripped up his lips and throat more, and Starsky could feel blood in his mouth. Why would anyone want a slave like him? He was grotesque.

"There, there, I know it hurts, Davey-lamb." The Brit was talking again, but his words made little sense. "You've been so good for so long, we're allowing you a few more freedoms. The IV fluids are turned off. You get to eat and drink. Isn't that charming?"

Something thick and warm flowed through the tube inserted in Starsky's left nostril and into his stomach. It landed like a pile of lead, sickening him. It had been so long since he'd had food, he cramped up. It could be lethal to vomit while wearing a gag. He held his breath, struggling to keep it down.

"More, my lamb?" The Brit gave a nasty laugh. "You can't move your head to nod, can you? Oh, well, Fortun, give him another thirty cc's. He looks hungry."

The whole process was repeated twice, but Starsky had to admit, grudgingly, that eating, if he could call it that, did make him feel stronger. He was surprised to realize he could now move his arms and legs more freely.

"Fewer straps, Davey. And if you're good, tomorrow there will be more rewards."

He'd been good? How could he have been bad? He couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't do anything on his own volition. How could that be defined as being good?

Starsky didn't want to know what the rewards might be, and yet he did. Maybe he'd be taken down from the frame.

Maybe.

More time passed.

Hutch haunted his dreams, sometimes coming close, taking Starsky in his arms and loving him. Other times Hutch was a frightening stranger having sex with anything on two legs. Starsky saw Gillian, Kira, even Terry with Hutch. Then he was the border guard when Starsky was tied in the truck, and tried to force his way in, but Starsky was suddenly behind glass, only able to watch as a slave with his face was taken roughly from behind. He was terrified. He wrote his name, Starsk, on the glass, but the only thing he had to write with was blood.

Coming awake with a gasp, Starsky could feel his heart hammering in his chest, practically bouncing off the broad strap wrapped around his middle. In this dream, he wasn't the only one terrified. Hutch had been scared, too. Of what?

He needed answers to questions he didn't even know to ask. Maybe he should go back farther in his investigation of the day's events. Back before the phone call. Even back before that morning.

What had happened to make Hutch take off on one of his mysterious trips? He'd taken a whole weekend just one month earlier, and another two months before that. That didn't count evenings Starsky hadn't been with him. They didn't live in the same house, just spent -- what had Hutch once said? -- over seventy-five percent of their time together. So conceivably, Hutch could have been gone more often. Did he really need sex that badly?

The girls they'd once shared between them, forgettable bimbos with fluffed hair and pearlescent lip gloss, had long since been given up. Starsky wasn't quite sure when, but he had stopped seeing them before his shooting, that he was sure of. Before the debacle that was Kira. Since then, he hadn't had a single girlfriend, and only a few casual dates. Sex -- not in ages, except with Hutch.

Only with Hutch.

As for Hutch, it was hard to say. He no longer dated. They hadn't attended the police department's annual picnic with girls on their arms. They hadn't double-dated in years. If they went out, they went together. Stag. And yet, there were many evenings that he'd spent watching old movies, without Hutch.

Where did Hutch go? Why hadn't he ever been curious enough to follow? Because it felt like betrayal? Or -- Starsky managed to find enough fluid in his throat to swallow, but the action just seared a raw path to his stomach -- was it because he was jealous and didn't want to admit it? Jealous that Hutch found his release with strangers, possibly sexual slaves, instead of with Starsky?

What was he to Hutch? When it came right down to it, he was nothing more than a sexual slave. Hutch pointed, and Starsky sucked. The rest of the time was fine -- great even -- but Hutch's sexual appetite had always come first. He knew Hutch loved him. It was palpable when they were together; the little pats, the gentle gazes just before a firefight with some crook, but Hutch's dissatisfaction had become the norm. They were skewed, with no way to come back into plumb.

What was Hutch to Starsky? Everything. He wanted Hutch in his life, every day, every minute. So what was the problem? Why did Hutch go out so often without a word of explanation? Where was the trust they'd once sworn to one another?

Bound and gagged, with nothing to interfere with his thoughts, Starsky faced the ones he didn't want to acknowledge. The ones that made him see his partner in a different light.

Hutch had wanted more from him sexually. Much more. Starsky had not only refused, but ridiculed his requests.

When Hutch gave him a studded collar with a silver S charm and a long leather leash, Starsky joked that he'd forgotten to go to the pound for the dog. He'd called a pair of solid gold nipple clamps, nested in a box like fine jewelry, fancy clothespins, and used them to hang his wet boxers in the bathroom. He'd teased Hutch about the stunningly crafted crystal butt plug Hutch bought him, telling him to put it in a museum where it belonged because it was never going up inside of him. Never. Nothing went in his anus. Not since that terrible moment in his youth.

Not until he'd arrived here.

Hutch wanted a sex slave. He'd made that obvious. Starsky knew Hutch didn't want a fawning, bowing, subservient domestic to wash his clothes and cook his meals before kneeling to suck his toes at bedtime. He just wanted free reign to control the sex, whenever he demanded. Hutch liked it rough and hard, but Starsky wouldn't provide. He'd made a vow at the age of fifteen that he never would allow any man to take him like that, ever.

In the process, he'd lost Hutch. Because of a vow made so long ago, a vow to forget what happened that night. The problem was he never had, although he'd buried the memory deeply. He couldn't bear to remember the particulars because that would rip off the partially healed scab and he'd bleed out in Hutch's arms.

But he'd already done that. In the parking lot, after Gunther's bullets tore him apart. And he'd survived. He was still alive -- if he could call this living.

"How is our little Davey doing this morning?" Neville called out gaily as the electronic door slid open. "Hungry? And craving so many things, I'll wager." When he giggled, Starsky wanted to cut his vocal cords in half. But when the Brit's soft, long fingered hand caressed his throat, he moaned.

Touch. God, he craved touch.

"I thought so. That higher dose worked wonders, didn't it?"

Starsky wanted to pull away, but there was no way he could. The hand stroking his cheek was so warm, so deliciously wonderful, that he could have kissed it. Then, incredulously, the Brit began to work the buckles at the back of Starsky's neck free, loosening the gag. It was plastered to his lips and had to be pried out. Starsky groaned in pain, his jaw muscles practically locked in the open position. He'd been wearing the gag for such a long time that he couldn't close his mouth on the first try, and every movement brought fresh stabs of pain in his cheeks and neck.

"You are not allowed to speak, but your poor lips look so sore, lammy-pie." He squirted a tiny bit of water into Starsky's mouth.

It was nothing but flat, unflavored water but it tasted like ambrosia. Starsky swallowed, grateful. If he wasn't allowed to talk, he wouldn't. He hated himself for wanting to please this man just so he could get more water. Another squirt of water was even more heavenly, and a third was divine, but after that, the water was put aside.

"Your master finally called; there's been some sort of unfortunate delay, but he'll arrive tomorrow. Which is good, because it gives us more time to get acquainted, don't you agree?" The Brit touched Starsky's cracked lips with the end of his finger. "Remember, no talking. Just nods. I do so love it when my little slaves agree with me. It's so gratifying."

Starsky couldn't nod; with the blindfold on, he couldn't see. All he could do was wait. He endured the Brit's exploration and treatment of his pierced penis and fondling of his balls without a shudder of revulsion.

"You're better looking that I first realized, Davey. Much. I would really enjoy a go with you in my dungeon, but your master won't allow it. Such a pity, really. But I always say, the buyer is always right." He kissed Starsky's brow. "Fortun is going to take you down from the welcoming frame. Get you spruced up for the morrow. Wash off some of this stink. Then, I'll come take a look at you this evening."

Starsky trembled. He couldn't stand the man's fleshy soft hands lingering on his body, the slither of those silk shirts across his bare ass.

Fortun was much less demonstrative. He undid the straps and buckles with efficient speed, and held Starsky up when he nearly fell to the floor. His legs were wobbly after all the hours -- possibly days -- of being restrained.

Still, with nothing to lose, Starsky butted his head into Fortun's abdomen, kicking out at anything near him. His right foot connected with solid flesh, the blow reverberating all the way up to his thigh, and he heard a heavy grunt. Hands closed around his ankle, but Starsky shoved off the metal frame and rejoiced when he scored a glancing blow off Fortun's head with his left foot.

"Fucker!" Fortun shouted, letting go.

Starsky's balance was off, and he couldn't get his bearings because of the damned blindfold. He sucked in air, listening for the guards, then twisted fast and came up with both hands extended, grabbing hold of the Brit's damned silk shirt. Fabric shredded as Starsky sunk his nails into soft skin. Neville screamed like a girl, and Starsky kneed him, aiming for his balls. For those few moments when he had freedom, he had power. It was incredibly satisfying, and he got half an erection before they overpowered him. By the time another guard, possibly Denato, had Starsky in a stranglehold, the Brit was berating them for letting things get so out of hand.

A sudden blaze of pain struck across his backside like nothing Starsky had ever felt before. He didn't have time to react before the second blow covered the first, and a third snaked a line of fire in the same exact spot. He didn't know what had hit him, but it had a fearsome power. Supported by both guards, Starsky couldn't move.

Neville panted, tapping something narrow and snappy against Starsky's abused butt. "That was the crop, darling," he crooned. "You get three swipes every time you misbehave. Do you understand?"

Starsky refused to give him the satisfaction of an answer, but that didn't prevent the Brit from forcibly bobbing Starsky's head in an affirmative.

"Now, Fortun, give him the fireman's shower and then chain him. He'll be a docile slave by the time his master arrives!"

"When hell freezes!" Starsky shouted, but Fortun smacked him on the back of the head hard enough to stun. A red haze covered his vision even with the blindfold in place.

Since he was momentarily unable to resist, Fortun and Denato dragged Starsky over to another marble-floored room, and made him stand in a shower stall, his hands locked to an overhead bar the same way he'd been restrained in the truck.

The water was freezing, a spray that slammed into him full force, leaving him battered and gasping. He could barely hold his head up, but his thirst drove him to desperately gulp mouthfuls of water. He aspirated fluid into his lungs and start coughing. Afterwards he shivered, goosebumps riddling his body as he felt the rattle of water in his chest. Fortun made quick work of another enema, jamming the butt plug back in with stunning force. He swabbed a medicinal wipe to the healing pierce hole with a dirty laugh, and led Starsky back into his cell.

Starsky dug in his heels, suddenly terrified of being strung up on the welcoming frame again. Too torpid to fight, he resisted by going limp. It didn't matter. There were two of them and only one of him.

Instead of dragging him to the frame, Fortun pushed Starsky onto the floor and pretzeled him into place with his hands grasping his own ankles, knees bent up until they were level with his shoulders. Starsky refused to be restrained, but the guards were bigger and stronger, and simply smacked Starsky's head against the wall for his insubordination. They clipped the D rings on the ankle and wrist cuffs to lock them together, which would prevent him from removing the blindfold. The worst insult was when they linked a chain from his piercing ring to the floor. Finally, Fortun injected something into the IV sutured into Starsky's groin and then fed him more slop through the feeding tube.

The guards were silent as they worked in contrast to the chatty Brit, which only reinforced Starsky's solitude. It was a miserable experience, but better than being restrained on the frame like a quilt left on a line to dry. Or a rug to be beaten, as his grandmother used to do. The welts on his ass burned, and he'd been positioned perfectly to sit on the raw wounds.

Was that what they did here? Beat the slaves for every infraction? He realized he'd been so turned off by the idea of sexual slaves when the CEC passed laws legalizing ownership that he'd paid little attention to what happened to the unfortunates enslaved. He'd believed the party line, at first. That slaves were criminals or prostitutes who wouldn't pay their legal fees. People who -- in some way or another -- deserved their fate. His eventual disillusionment with the way the CEC ran things had forever altered that bit of wishful thinking long before he found the VP's wife pierced and tattooed, serving her former husband's colleague. He remembered the marks flayed across her once-flawless white skin -- marks made by a bamboo cane. He'd seen it propped in the corner of the room.

Would that be his future? Restrained and flogged, welts crossing his bare back as the straps had recently done? Or held down on a bed...over Hutch's knee...feeling the stinging slap of skin against skin, the sound of it like a firecracker exploding on a hot summer afternoon.

Starsky shuddered, appalled at his wandering thoughts.

Sitting in a corner with his knees under his chin, Starsky listened as Fortun left, the door's whine grating to his ears. It was weird to be restrained like this, as if they'd been aware of the way he often sat. He couldn't count the times he'd sat on the couch in front of his own TV with his knees up under his chin, clasping his ankles while watching Dracula stalk poor Lucy Hawkens. Only he'd had a choice then. He'd been free. In his own home. On his own couch.

Not on an unyielding marble floor.

Fortun had smeared Vaseline over his chapped lips, and on the rubber butt plug. Chain looped around both of his legs, cutting into his groin, holding the plug in place. Those were an inconvenience, but the chain attached to the ring in his cock was ignominy. Chained like a dog in the back yard. Whenever he moved he could feel the drag of the chain along the cold marble pulling on the end of his penis. It hurt but in a strangely alluring way. As if someone's hand, holding his penis gently, would soothe away the ache.

Hours passed, and Starsky grieved. Grieved all that he had lost. He'd pushed Hutch away by mocking his needs and what had it gotten him? Trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey in a slave farm. Without Hutch. Without anyone.

When had Hutch's behavior changed? He'd always needed sex more than Starsky, but recently, in the post-Corporation era, he'd grown increasingly demanding, yet remote and sarcastic. Not the same Ken Hutchinson who used to enthuse about wheat grass and fasting with Vitamin E chasers to improve performance and stamina. If he had stamina, Starsky never saw it. A blow job was over in minutes. Then Hutch was happy for a short while, but the coldness that froze Starsky out would return all too quickly. They hadn't been emotionally intimate in months.

That's why the murmured "Starsk," said so endearingly on the phone, had enticed him. That was the Hutch he knew; the one he trusted.

Therein lay the problem. He trusted Hutch so completely, so absolutely, that he hadn't given a thought to other possibilities. That Hutch might not be his trustworthy Hutch anymore. But Hutch couldn't have ordered his capture. Couldn't have paid exorbitant amounts for his slavery. So who did? And why?

Starsky felt like a rat running round and round in a maze, never able to find the exit. He was caught. He'd never imagined that an honest cop could be enslaved. A cop with a partner the top brass liked so much that he'd been offered a promotion. A promotion Hutch had refused because it would take him away from Starsky.

He waited there on the cold, hard floor, naked and chained. Waited because he could do nothing else. The waiting gnawed at him, tearing apart his masculinity. He should be fighting, or devising a scheme to break out of this freakish place. Not languishing like Sleeping Beauty dreaming of the Prince's kiss. But even after he squirmed around so that one hand almost touched the chain connected to his cock ring, he realized he still couldn't have gotten it loose or released the links attaching his wrists to his ankles.

Stupid.

He was stupid. No doubt Hutch would have figured out an escape plan by now. Hutch always thought things out logically, methodically walked through every step.

Hutch, where were you? And where are you now? Are you looking for me? I've been missing for days.

Starsky heard the series of beeps turning off the alarm code before the door slid open. He lifted his chin to give an impression of pride and strength. It was a sham, but the Brit didn't know that. If he could convince Neville he couldn't be subjugated, maybe he'd convince himself as well.

"You've gotten twisted all around, haven't you?" the man tsk-tsked, leaning in to whisper in Starsky's ear. "Not allowed to touch yourself, Davey. I thought you understood that. You were trying, weren't you? But couldn't get the right angle for a good handful."

He palmed Starsky's penis, milking it with the kind of action Starsky usually adored, hard, and fast -- but every squeeze brought white hot shocks of pain from the piercing, An erection was impossible. His penis did not give one twitch, not a hint of swelling. Starsky turned to ice, the stimuli no more sensual than the brush of his jeans over his skin, or the feel of his sheets when he climbed into bed. Nothing. Not erotic, not the pleasure his body had craved for hours. He despaired, but only Hutch had what he wanted. Only Hutch.

"I usually elicit more of a response in my slaves," the Brit said frostily, clamping down hard around his handful.

Starsky couldn't move, the pain paralyzing. Even dragging a mere breath of air into his lungs was too much work.

"Under normal circumstances I'd have you back on the frame with half a dozen lashes of the strap for that."

Starsky willed himself away from the pain, imagining ways to kill this guy with a piercing gun and two long leather straps.

At long last the Brit stepped back, panting. "You're a trial to me, Davey, I must say. Luckily for you, your master is on his way, and he doesn't want you harmed. Otherwise...Fortun! Come in here!"

"Fortun can't come right now," a familiar voice said.

Behind his blindfold, Starsky's eyes popped open.

Hutch!

"This is a prohibited area. How did you get in here?" Starsky felt Neville straighten, his silk sleeve sliding like oil against Starsky's overly-sensitized skin. "You don't have to pull a gun on me, cowboy, I'll come peaceably."

"I knew the password. Get away from him and leave us alone. I own him."

Hutch's declaration was still shocking, even though Starsky had suspected the truth. Now he couldn't deny it any longer. Hutch had paid a huge sum to have him kidnapped and brought here. Even without the gag, Starsky couldn't speak. He didn't know what to say.

"Well, you'll have your hands full, I must say," the Brit rambled. "You're not quite what I expected, but then who is?" His voice took on a mincing sexuality that made Starsky grit his teeth. "Your chit of ownership?"

Starsky heard a clinking sound as something changed hands, and willed himself to stay still. Strangely, Hutch's arrival didn't give him the relief he expected. He felt off-balance, at a disadvantage. Did Hutch really want him like this, chained and dehumanized on the floor? Disenchantment sat in his belly like the slop they'd been feeding him, only more nauseating.

"Everything does seem to be in order," the Brit said. "I'll leave you two alone to get acquainted."

"The key?" Hutch reminded him as the door hummed open again.

"Oh, you would want that," he tittered, starting to leave.

Starsky heard Hutch move. He imagined the hard, fast lunge he'd seen hundreds of times when they were questioning suspects. People never expected Hutch to be the angry one -- he looked too blond and beautiful -- but he could be a jungle cat, powerful and lethal. The Brit gasped, and Starsky knew Hutch had grabbed him in a tight hold around the fleshy part of the forearm.

"I specified that no one could harm him."

"We processed him like any other slave!" Neville protested. "Restraints, deprivation, alienation from all they used to know, isolation until the slave responds..."

"You. Didn't. Follow. Instructions." Hutch spat each word separately, as sharp as the blade of a filleting knife.

Starsky was riveted, almost panting. He should say something, but why? Not to defend the Brit, that was for certain. "Hutch."

"Oooh, he knows you? That does make it more complicated," the Brit said, breathing quickly, too. "You've got quite a grip, cowboy. I guess it wouldn't do any good to tell you that unprovoked speech is a punishable offense. Usually three blows with a strap will show him his place."

"Get out," Hutch said in a voice that sent shivers up Starsky's spine, and not in a good way. This Hutch was pissed and deadly.

Starsky had seen him that way before. Hutch was well known for his simmering anger. He let the small things get to him too easily, raging over gas bills and automated phone messages. But this was a volcano compared to those petty rants. This was the Hutch who had brought down Gunther by himself. Starsky had heard the stories and they scared him.

When the door slid shut behind the Brit, the silence was deafening. For a moment, Starsky thought he was alone again. Then Hutch took a single step and Starsky could hear his harsh intake of breath. The quiet lasted a long time, but it wasn't the comfortable silence of the two of them on a stakeout, sharing the same Coke. This was painful, a slow agonizing slash that opened the wound between them with surgical precision.

"Oh God, Starsky."

Starsky nearly flinched. Did he hear desire under the despair in Hutch's voice? He had to swallow to bring up enough saliva to speak. "What are you doing here?"

"It's simple. I bought you."

Savage, intense rage burned through Starsky so fiercely, it nearly blotted out Hutch's words. He wanted to refute that bland statement, force Hutch to retract the words, and make him beg forgiveness. This wasn't what a man did to his lover. They'd been allies, partners, equals! Now he was chained to the floor like some half-breed mongrel while Hutch loomed over him, probably with a whip in hand. Starsky was almost glad he was chained so securely or he would have launched himself at his partner, battering Hutch against the wall for what he had done.

"How the hell is that simple?" he ground out, his belly on fire.

"Because if I hadn't, you would have been killed." Hutch's earlier anger at the Brit was gone, evaporated like rain off a sidewalk on a hot day.

"Yeah? Couldn't be any worse than this."

"There are many things worse than this."

Starsky inhaled sharply. He craned his neck, feeling the hard bite of the collar on the back of his skull, as he sought out Hutch despite the leather-imposed darkness. Maintaining his dignity under these circumstances was impossible. He needed to be on equal footing. "You gonna rescue me?"

He wasn't certain if Hutch was going to remove the chains, and remembered, with the weird clarity that comes at the most inopportune times, Hutch fumbling with Starsky's restraints at Cabrillo State. He could still feel Hutch's big hands cupped around his wrists and the warmth of his breath on his neck.

This time, Hutch managed the locks handily, and Starsky groaned as he straightened his knees for the first time in hours. Damn, that hurt. It felt like millions of bees were stinging him from the inside, and his feet were numb. His fingers barely bent, but he reached up to pull the blindfold off.

Hutch pushed his hands away, working at a series of buckles and tiny padlocks that Starsky hadn't even been aware of. The light was overly bright when the leather mask fell away. He squinted, blinking, staring at Hutch's face. He needed to understand, to fathom just what Hutch had done to him. They'd always been able to read each other at a glance from the first day as partners. Right now, the man in front of him was a stranger.

Still half-blinded from the overhead lights, Starsky peered up at Hutch. His hair was wrong, a shaggy dark brown, and windblown as if he'd driven the car with the top down. A wig. Strangely, the mustache was gone, replaced by the peach fuzz down Hutch got when he hadn't shaved in a few days. But the oddest thing of all was his expression.

Hutch looked aroused. And he looked gorgeous. There was no other word for it.

Starsky clung to his anger, refusing to give in to sheer gratitude. He'd anticipated this rescue for so long he wasn't thinking straight. But he hadn't expected to feel like a rabbit about to be taken down by a coyote.

"Hutch."

Whatever motivation Hutch had started with was hidden behind those summer blue eyes, but there was no doubt what he was staring at. If this were an animated cartoon there would have been a dotted line from his eyes to Starsky's pierced cock.

Suddenly aware of his aching bladder, and that sometime during the day he must have lost control, Starsky realized he was sitting in a cold puddle. He wanted to move, needed to get away from that gaze, but the chain linked from the ring on the end of his penis to a metal bolt in the floor held him fast. There wasn't enough slack in the chain for him to stand.

"I've had fantasies about what that would look like," Hutch said in a strange, erotic voice.

"You can't be fucking serious," Starsky said, his own anger growing stronger with every moment that Hutch continued to stare at him. "Get this thing off me, and let's get out of here."

The blow across his cheekbone came so hard and fast Starsky was knocked against the wall. The chain yoking him to the floor pulled taut, pain ricocheting up his cock to the back of his spine. He tried to pull in enough air to stay conscious, unable to believe what Hutch had done.

"You're mine, understand? My property, under the law of this state and about half the other former states of the old U.S. And a slave never makes demands."

"What the hell are you playing at?" Starsky eased his hip forward just enough to loosen the tension on his penis.

"We're not playing, Starsky."

Starsky had faced Hutch down before; he just had to stay cool. Find Hutch's vulnerable spot and exploit it. Hutch might have freedom of movement on his side, but Starsky knew his weakness -- sex. Hutch was putty in his hands whenever Starsky had his mouth on that oh-so tender part of his anatomy.

He stuffed his wrath down hard, sliding a seductive hand inside Hutch's pants leg. "You want to act out a fantasy, I'm there, Hutch." Sitting up, he was not quite level with Hutch's groin; he tongued the lower edge of the zipper close to his mouth. Hutch hissed, responding instantly. "But I'm better on my knees, baby...with the ring off, I can move...give you so much more."

"Starsky." Although Hutch hadn't moved, Starsky recoiled as if he'd been struck.

Starsky, not Starsk. This was different. He refused to cower, lifting his chin and staring at Hutch with defiance. David Starsky was no man's slave.

"The ring can't come off." Hutch threaded his fingers through Starsky's curls, pulling him up to his knees, the grip on his hair just a shade too tight. This was no caress; it was a show of power.

"Why not?" Starsky kept himself as still as possible, held in check on both ends. If he moved at all, some part of his flesh would be torn free.

"It's made of a metal alloy that is impervious to most cutting tools." Hutch bent Starsky's head back just far enough that his lungs burned with the effort to breathe. The kiss that stole the rest of his breath was barbaric, a claiming. "Listen to me. This was the only way. We have enemies." Hutch examined him intently as if he'd never seen Starsky before. It was unnerving and strange. But as close as they were, Starsky could see him now, too. The wig gave him a different persona, someone aggressive and tough, an alien with Hutch's eyes.

"Things had to change," Hutch said finally. "I tried to think of another way, Starsk, but there wasn't. To keep you safe."

"I haven't felt safe in a long time."

"No," Hutch agreed, teasing out one of Starsky's curls, his breath against Starsky's cheek. Barely maintaining his balance, Starsky was bent back so far Hutch was the only thing keeping him upright. Starsky wanted to fight the lassitude, the languor Hutch's caress brought. He was still angry and scared, but the old feelings kept asserting themselves. When Hutch beckoned, he came, in all contexts of the word.

Hutch worked his hand down Starsky's arched body to the piercing, closing his hand over Starsky's cock, causing the chain to rattle. He eased him to the floor, standing like a feudal landowner over his slave. "As my slave, they can't touch you because legally you're my property, and this chit proves that." He brought out a silver disc, bigger than a silver dollar.

Starsky had seen them before; they were practically legal tender down on Lincoln Street where the slave houses were.

Starsky squirmed, not wanting Hutch's proximity to sway things. He wanted to nurse this anger until he got his explanation, but Hutch was making things far too hard, in more ways than one. Starsky covered his blossoming erection with one hand, as if hiding it would make it go away. "Where'd you get the money, huh? The trainer said it was a big wad of dough. Where'd you get the money?"

Hutch pushed Starsky's hand away. He began to tug gently on the ring. "You're chained to the floor and all you care about is the money? I had it. Cash on the barrelhead. The CEC put out a contract on you -- to get me to toe the line."

"They don't know you very well, huh?" Hutch was far too close. Starsky needed to move, to get away from the overpowering scent of him. Sweat, gunmetal, and dust mingled with that essential smell of Hutch that had always lured him so easily. This wasn't right, wasn't how he wanted things to be. And it was difficult to talk with his mouth so dry. He needed water and about two days worth of meals. He wasn't sure he had the strength to evade Hutch's advances. Was the Brit's drug still affecting him, or was this all his own weakness?

"They offered me a job, a promotion." Hutch came down on his knees on each side of Starsky's legs, taking Starsky's swollen penis into his mouth, cock ring, chain, and all. For a moment, an eternity, Starsky couldn't think with his aching cock dipped in warm honey. He wanted to protest, to reject the sex. Hutch rarely went down on him! How could he hold out against this?

Cold air hit his wet skin when Hutch jerked back, scrambling to his feet with a curse. "Hey, it's wet!" There was a dark stain on both knees of his khakis.

"Unfortunate side effect of not being able to use the john." Starsky shivered at the abrupt change and took a deep breath. What exactly was going on here?

"You peed on the floor?"

"Yeah, you wanna make something of it? I was chained, Hutch, like some dog! And unless you unlock this thing pretty damn quick, I'm going to do it again."

"They held your life out to me like a damned carrot on a string. Your fucking morality threatened a lot more than Roschenzky's ability to restrain our investigations. In their eyes, you were expendable." Hutch had the key in the same pocket he'd kept the chip, which made Starsky unaccountably angry again. He barely tolerated the few seconds it took to insert the key in a tiny lock, releasing the chain from the ring.

Standing on shaky legs, Starsky braced himself against the smooth, cold walls. He still needed to go, but Hutch's words stopped him. "Why?" He found Hutch's brown hair distracting, like he'd met Hutch's doppelganger.

"The Corporation, the CEC. The job they offered me came with conditions -- provisos. They wanted me to head up their private version of Internal Affairs. Roschenzky was moving up to oversee a whole secret network to spy on other cops." Hutch's jaw was tight, and he thrust up a violent hand up to jerk off the wig, throwing it to the floor.

"Because you're corrupt-proof," Starsky said softly. "They saw that."

"They wanted to use me." Hutch shook his head, but Starsky wasn't sure which statement he disagreed with. Hutch coiled the chain into a pile, stepped over the puddle, and walked into the bathroom.

Starsky followed him into the small marble-walled room, taking the opportunity to relieve himself while Hutch found a rag and cleaned the wet spot on the floor. It felt incredible to finally empty his own bladder, to have the freedom to walk around unfettered, but Starsky was still very confused. What was going on that Hutch wasn't telling him?

"But they weren't trying to weed out the bad cops," Hutch said. "They wanted to get rid of the good ones. Like you."

"You're a good cop," Starsky said, acutely aware of a distance between them that went far beyond their recent inability to read one another. Hutch was operating on a whole different level than he was, and it was damned disconcerting.

"Starsky, I'm not like you..." Hutch wiped up the urine and dropped the rag into a trash bin next to the toilet. "I...never took money under the table to look the other way, or banged some hooker for information, but I've been tempted. More than tempted...I accepted favors..."

"Who hasn't, Hutch?"

"You! You see everything so black and white!" Hutch bristled, his intensity returning so fast Starsky wanted to take a step back, but they were both crammed into the tiny bathroom with no room to move. "There are shades of gray you don't even notice. Little pockets of shadow where good and bad don't mean anything."

"I don't follow you."

"No, you never did, did you?" Hutch moved too close. "All those times I went out without you, you never did follow me."

Starsky could feel the heat of Hutch's arousal in the front, and the press of the hard porcelain sink against his buttocks from behind. The plug in his anus shifted when he tried to ease away from Hutch, sending a wave of dizzying pain up his chest, just over his heart.

"I always wondered why," Hutch said. "I kept expecting you to come after me. I thought you'd be jealous."

"I was." Starsky couldn't move, caught between the sink and the toilet with the outline of Hutch's erection pushing up his slacks as if it could skewer Starsky for barbecue.

"You never showed it. Just watched me walk out." Hutch's voice was low and sensuous, but scary. "I wanted you, Starsk, didn't you understand that? I had to go out and get whores, slaves, whatever I could find."

"You had me. But you wanted a sex slave, and I'm not that, buddy." Starsky infused the nickname with venom even though he was as turned on as a light bulb. Sweat dripped off the back of his neck, itchy under the edge of the collar.

"That's exactly what you are." Hutch trapped him with an arm around his waist, pulling him closer. He sounded bitter, cynical. "I made you that way."

Starsky exhaled noisily when Hutch jerked him close. There was not a millimeter of space between their bodies. He wanted to negate those words, force Hutch to retract them. Wanted to tell him to go to hell. "I would have done whatever you wanted if you'd ever asked," he said instead.

"Funny, all I remember is ridicule. The collar was for a dog? Well, this one looks like it was meant for you." Hutch traced the tight collar around Starsky's neck, stroking a long line down his Adam's apple to the dip just above his clavicle.

Starsky couldn't breathe. He kept trying to inhale, but his arousal was making it too hard to get in air. Glittery sparkles twinkled in his eyes when Hutch clamped his big hand around Starsky's throat and pressed his thumb against the pulsing artery below Starsky's jawbone. Just a bit more pressure and Starsky would pass out. He nearly straddled the sink to relieve the strain, but Hutch tightened his arm around Starsky's back, his left hand toying with the chains that held in the anal plug.

"I've got all the control now, don't I?" Hutch whispered.

"H-h-hutch?" Starsky whimpered, barely conscious. When Hutch released his thumb, it caused a wave of afterimages to flash across his retina and an instant headache when the blood flooded back into normal circulation. His eardrums pounded as if he'd ascended from the depths of the ocean too rapidly.

"Starsk," Hutch whispered in his ear, biting down on the lobe.

The tiny shock of pain was like a perfectly cut jewel, all sharp facets. It was too much, too fast, and too soon. Starsky was hard inside of a minute; the blood swelling his cock was intensely painful yet gloriously wonderful, making him finally understand the oxymoron of pleasure/pain. His cock tried to force its way between their closely pressed bodies, the metal ring jarring against Starsky's warm flesh.

"All I ever wanted was you," Hutch said. "But you ridiculed my desire, humiliated me for it. Even though I could tell you wanted me. Every time you went down on your knees, I saw it in your eyes. Your mouth on me was like...sweetness, ambrosia. I waited and fantasized that someday you'd present your ass and beg me to take you. But you never did."

"All of this is about what you wanted," Starsky ground out, the edge of the porcelain sink digging into his waist. "You never asked me what I wanted."

"Funny. I really thought you wanted the same thing." Hutch bared his teeth in a feral smile, and ran the flat of his hand down Starsky's belly, fisting a tangle of pubic hair. "You went down on your knees the very first time we ever did it, Starsk. You practically came on command -- except when I wanted to take it one step farther with the collar and clamps. Then you balked."

"I had my reasons," Starsky said flatly to downplay the raging need inside him. He was ready to orgasm if only Hutch touched him just right. Around the cock, hard and fast.

"Starsk," Hutch whispered, tugging gently on the chains stretched over his hip bone between cock and anus. "I know. I know all about you -- more than you think. And I know you want me."

"No..." Starsky began, but the idea of Hutch sliding inside him could no longer be ignored. And it scared the hell out of him.

"Yes, babe." Hutch pulled Starsky closer, enveloping him, and levered him out from the cramped space between the sink and toilet.

Starsky thought about fighting, about refusing to give in. But that was so much work and his defenses were in tatters. Trembling, he let Hutch bring him back into the main room. Grabbing hold of the door frame, Starsky put up a last resistance. In his condition, it was all he could manage. His anger banked, but not forgotten, he held firm. Except, he'd never been able to hold out on Hutch for every long.

"It's now. It's here. It's time." Hutch ran one hand down the curve of Starsky's ass, following the path of the chain. "It has been for a long while, Starsk."

"Not there." Starsky squirmed, but Hutch unhooked the chains to the plug, investigating what was tucked into his core. "Not there." All he could imagine was Hutch's long fingers probing inside him just before Hutch's giant cock claimed his forbidden territory.

Hutch let the links drop to the floor and wrenched the plug out fast. Starsky gasped, his rectum cramping. Hutch rimmed the outer edge with his finger, slowly, rhythmically, making hypnotic circles around Starsky's sensitized hole.

"Roschenzky knew I went to the slave houses," Hutch said, his hand still tickling Starsky's anus. "He was there a couple times; saw who I was with, what I did. Offered me the promotion then and there. Promised me unlimited access to every kinky little thing my heart desired. Money, a penthouse in the new apartments over in Long Beach, power, prestige...as long as I let the CEC keep on doing what it did best, fucking the population to death."

"How would I have gotten in the way?" Starsky tried to think rationally, but couldn't ignore the distracting finger pushing in and out of his butt hole.

"They knew you were out to bring down the abusers like Dunfey..." Hutch tilted his head back so they could look eye-to-eye. "Roschenzky implied that if they killed you, it would be easier for me to go along with them. He discussed it as casually as he would drowning a cat. Did I want you murdered...or have you enslaved?"

"So you did it for them!" Starsky shouted, pulling away. Hutch's grip was stronger, and he reeled Starsky back in, pinning him against the wall with one foot rammed into Starsky's instep.

"I did it for us."

Arousal warred with Starsky's fear, tightening his belly. The overriding desire was winning out against his objections. He couldn't fight both Hutch and the drug. Because he wanted to be touched, wanted to be...hurt, as irrational as that seemed. He wanted to have Hutch in his ass, but couldn't let Hutch go there. Not here.

Not like this. Not like...that night so long ago when he'd had no options. Surely Hutch would listen to reason -- give him time to adjust.

He tried to wiggle away from Hutch's hand on his ass, the edge of the doorframe like a hard bar along his spine.

Without warning, Hutch jammed three fingers upward, impaling him. Starsky thought they might go right out the top of his head. Gasping, he ground out, "Go to hell, Hutch."

"Be careful, slave." Hutch thrust his groin against Starsky's. "I could punish you for less than that."

"You want me, Hutch?" Starsky hissed. "You got it all, right here, right now; so take it. Then get out of my life."

"Can't do it, buddy. You didn't ask nice." Hutch licked Starsky's whiskery cheek, leaving a wet path from his jaw to his cheekbone, crossing over the feeding tube taped so inelegantly to the side of his face.

Starsky panted, forcing himself past the debasing physical desires that lured him. "Seems to me that was the problem on both sides. We didn't ask."

Hutch abruptly stopped all sexual advances, regarding Starsky for a long time in silence. He removed his fingers one by one, Starsky's body ejecting them almost reluctantly, and took a step back to restore some modicum of personal space. "Roschenzky really wanted you out of the way. He even discussed selling you to Dunfey and making a small fortune off the transaction. Wanted to know if I liked the irony of that. The moment Roschenzky threatened you, I had to do something, find some way to protect you without revealing myself. So, I put the plan in motion."

"What plan?"

"If you'd have followed me the last few months, you'd know. Sex wasn't the only thing on the agenda." Hutch turned his back, grabbing a towel from the bathroom to wipe his fingers.

Starsky didn't move, sublimating all the contradictory emotions he couldn't begin to sort out, and really looked around his prison cell for the first time. It was bigger than he'd expected. The huge metal slave frame dominated the space, leaving aisles about six feet wide on three sides, with the largest area in the back, where Starsky had been chained to the floor. Track-lighting like most art galleries used hung from the ceiling, creating weird pockets of shadow in the corners of the room. Hutch stood in one such pocket, the dark half of his face indecipherable and remote.

Forcing himself to examine the rest of the room, Starsky pretended he was at a crime scene, looking for evidence. It was a functional room without a single concession for the slave held captive. There was no bed, or any place to sleep. The bathroom was the only sign that a human being might spend the night here. Starsky closed his eyes briefly, bile rising in his throat. This was where he'd been tortured, abused by unknown people who gave no thought to his discomfort. He'd simply been another piece of the furniture, albeit one with openings to misuse and exploit.

Three black leather chairs faced the welcoming frame. For spectators. Starsky shuddered, remembering his examination in front of an audience. Not ready to look at the brutal frame for any length of time, he scrutinized the cream painted wall instead. Floor to ceiling shelves held every sort of cruel device meant to punish and humiliate. He saw the crop the Brit had used against his ass and a long-tailed whip. There were chains, gags, and leather bindings.

Starsky abhorred every inch of the place, and eyed the large metal door hopefully, but Hutch didn't seem to notice.

"Abbey League meetings were on the top floor of Slave House number seven, on Lincoln," Hutch said, moving around, taking in the chairs set to the right of the big door. Starsky tried to read his thoughts. Did Hutch know exactly what had gone on here before he'd arrived?

Interested that his assumptions about Hutch's whereabouts had been on the money, Starsky stayed still, listening.

"We had to vary the meeting days to avoid suspicion. Anti-Corporation activities are a treasonable offense, and we were plotting the overthrow of the CEC."

"When were you planning this coup?" He wasn't even sure he meant to ask that. Starsky wasn't sure what to ask, he was so astonished. He'd known Hutch was dissatisfied with the current regime, but overthrow the government?

Eschewing the chairs meant for torturers, Hutch sat on the floor with his back against the wall, face suddenly earnest and open. "When we have the strength. Up until now, the Abbey League groups have been too scattered, tiny cadres of resistance holed up wherever they could meet. The growing connections on these new computer networks have spawned a fledgling movement that aims to bring about a return to the old democratic government. But we have to be cautious. They could intercept us as any time, especially over the internet."

"You're crazy!" Starsky blurted. "If Roschenzky saw you there, then he knew the whole thing."

"I couldn't be sure. That's why I went so often, to different houses. To throw them off track. And then Tompkins died."

"Jerry Tompkins?" Starsky asked, surprised, the information so unexpected he had a hard time assimilating it.

Tompkins was an upper level CEC lawyer who had once been a District Attorney dedicated to helping the downtrodden. He had died from a highly publicized drug overdose. Police found illegal contraband near the body -- non-CEC-produced whiskey and cigarettes, and Superhero, a synthetic heroin, the most addictive drug ever manufactured.

"He was one of the first Abbeyites," Hutch said. "He was ready to run to Arizona where the movement is gathering, preparing for the initial strike. When they killed someone as well placed as he was, I panicked. If they could get to him, they could get to you. I had to act fast."

"I don't even know you anymore," Starsky said. He couldn't fight like this, naked and vulnerable with a ring through the end of his penis. They were unequal now; it felt wrong. "You used to be my friend, my partner. I was closer to you than anybody else on this Godforsaken planet." He wanted to kick Hutch, punch him, but those blue eyes mesmerized him and the sense memory of those fingers digging into his most protected spot weakened him. He'd once fantasized about subduing his kidnapper, his owner, and threading a cruel ring though his cock. He could never do that to Hutch. "You talk about the CEC using your golden boy charms -- well, you used me like a chump! I'm not your slave, Hutch, and I'm never gonna be!"

"Yes, you are."

Hutch's voice was maddeningly sweet, a gumdrop of persuasion, a drink of water on a hot day, and Starsky was so damned thirsty. He hadn't drunk more than a few ounces in days, hadn't eaten real food since he'd been kidnapped.

"Before we leave here," Hutch continued in that same enticing tone, "you're going down on all fours and beg me to take your ass. Like a real slave."

Starsky shook his head. He was standing and Hutch was sitting. There was no fucking way.

"Because, slave, that's the only way you'll find salvation," Hutch said with utter certainty.

"No. I never needed to be saved from anyone but you, Hutch."

Hutch cocked his bright head to one side, all beauty and bedevilment. "Do you know why the movement is called the Abbey League, Starsk?"

That infuriating nickname had the power to bring Starsky to his knees, but he remained standing.

"Edward Abbey is an anarchist -- devoted to preserving the wilderness. Refusing to give in to big business," Hutch explained in that lecturing tone he got when he was lording his knowledge over Starsky. "He said, ‘A patriot must be ready to defend his country against his government.'"

There was much to honor in a man like that, but Starsky didn't say it aloud, as he dropped into defensive mode. He couldn't let Hutch coerce him.

"He hid in the Southwest, waiting for the downfall of the CEC, but I think you'd like him. His motto is, ‘Resist much, obey little'."

Starsky shifted minutely, abruptly very tired. He barely had the strength to stand. How could he resist Hutch's entreaties? Why hadn't he heard very much about this Abbey League? Why hadn't he known what Hutch was doing?

Hutch rose gracefully to his feet, reaching out to take Starsky's hand. "We have to tear down the old life to start a new one, Starsk. My sweet slave."

Oh, God. Starsky was suddenly sliding off his high horse, tumbling down a long shaft. He couldn't. He wouldn't. No.

"No." He pulled his hand free, and Hutch didn't stop him.

Instead, Hutch walked over to the big metal door and for one instant Starsky thought he might slide it open and let them leave. But Hutch only retrieved a bag from the floor and carried it over to the looming welcoming frame where there was more light. It hadn't occurred to Starsky until now that he was almost unfettered, the chains binding him to the room unlocked. Why didn't he just open the door and walk out? He just had to figure out the code.

Hutch rummaged in the old leather satchel, his back to Starsky.

Taking the opportunity, Starsky scanned the large exit. He'd heard the sequence of numbers on the keypad more than once, but there could be hundreds of combinations. He had to try. Pressing the top three keys across the pad did nothing. The numerals in a downward slant -- one, five, and nine, were equally useless. He quickly reversed the code without success.

"Stop," Hutch said with total authority.

Starsky ignored him, straining to hear the individual tones when he pressed each number.

"Starsky, you won't get out that way."

"Fuck off."

"I have food."

His treacherous belly rumbled loudly. Starsky cursed, resting his aching head on the cool, impervious metal. "Hutch, I can't."

"Eat? Never known you to refuse food before. C'mon. I'll even take that ugly tube out of your nose."

"I can't...submit to you."

"You already have. That first week, when you knelt at my feet in the shower."

"That was..." There was no way to rearrange the past. He had submitted then, and every day of their partnership since. He'd always been Hutch's slave, simply waiting for the time when Hutch would formally claim him.

"Did you think I didn't know about your days on the streets, Davey?"

Starsky looked at him, the back of his throat spasming around the hated feeding tube, his belly threatening to expel bitter bile.

"I didn't know that first time. But later, I heard the older cops talk, Starsk. They remembered a small, curly-haired chicken on the streets." Hutch came close to him again, taking him by the scruff of his neck, fingers tangled in his curls. He pushed Starsky to his knees into his usual position. "I just knew what you needed, lover. I could read you like a book. You needed me. We're two halves of a whole, Starsk. The giver and the taker."

"Not always."

"No -- but it's because we fit so well together sexually that we could mesh so perfectly on the streets. We know each other inside and out. There's nobody else like you, Starsk." Hutch zipped down his pants this time, and guided Starsky to his erection. "Just take some of the edge off, 'cause I need to stay hard for later."

"Me and thee," Starsky whispered against that fleshy log touching his lips. "On the streets, we were a team. Equals. How could that work now with me wearing your collar?"

"Fill your mouth, slave, and let me do the talking." Hutch arched back with a wordless cry when Starsky swallowed him completely. "We're on the run, and it won't be long before the CEC bigwigs...ahhhh." He grabbed Starsky's shoulders, gripping him tightly, panting.

Long before Starsky expected, Hutch pulled free of his mouth.

"That's enough." Hutch pinched down on the base of his own erection, easing the pressure. His penis still jutted straight up from the gap in his pants.

Starsky sat on his heels, wiping the drool off his chin with the back of his hand. He felt stupid and confused, and weirdly, totally inappropriately, in love. His whole being ached to bring Hutch to completion, to finish the job he'd started, and his anus clenched as if in response.

No, not there.

In the back of his mind, the words "not yet" tried to force themselves out. Over twenty years ago, he'd resolved never to allow anyone inside. The huge metal rod his rapist had used to plunder his virginal ass in that plush hotel suite had ripped him apart inside. A maid found him the next morning, bleeding onto the white silk brocade bedspread. He never went back to that life. He'd gone cold turkey off the drugs, and made a vow to change. Becoming a cop had been the culmination of that promise, to fight against those who raped, forced, and victimized.

How could he allow himself to become a slave after that? How could he reconcile that he'd already become one?

"Hey." Hutch held out a sandwich. It was squashed, peanut butter slopping out on both sides, but it smelled like manna.

Starsky ducked his head, ashamed of his own neediness, and widened his thighs, assuming proper presentation position for his master.

Hutch's sigh promised so much more. Starsky suddenly understood that this was what Hutch had been waiting for. And Starsky could give it to him. Hutch's eyes roamed Starsky's body possessively, focusing on the permanent jewelry in his cock. "So pretty, Starsky. That ring looks so good on you."

Starsky stared down at the ring in his penis. He hadn't really looked at it before. Almost as thick as a pencil and heavy, it went through the urethral opening and out the fleshy underside of the crown. Staring at it for the first time, it frightened him, enslaved him...and enthralled him.

No, please, no. I can't be thinking like a slave.

"You took away all my rights!" Starsky remained kneeling, and focused on Hutch's scuffed silver-tipped cowboy boots to keep from obsessing on the peanut butter sandwich. He hadn't noticed if there was jelly on it. Hutch liked boysenberry. "This ring changes everything."

"I had to, Starsk. I told you."

"To keep me safe, as your property." Starsky swallowed against the foul taste in his throat.

"And as my property, you're suddenly invisible."

Starsky stared up at Hutch.

Hutch smiled, and put the sandwich between his lips. Starsky's mouth watered as Hutch took a bite and chewed. "You want this?" Hutch asked, a hint of smugness in his tone.

"Yes, Master," Starsky answered dully and wanted to weep.

Hutch nodded, and placed the sandwich on a crumpled sheet of waxed paper on the floor. "First, let's get rid of the tube. Take a deep breath and swallow." He touched the edge of a glass bottle against Starsky's lips. "This will help."

Starsky swallowed the water as Hutch pulled. It was awful coming out, more dreadful than it had been going down, and he gagged continuously, vomiting up the water when the tube slid out of his nose.

Hutch didn't say a word, just got a towel and solicitously wiped Starsky's bare chest clean. He kissed Starsky's face, and tenderly caressed the slave collar. "I imagined you like this so many times, Starsk." Hutch spoke so softly Starsky had to lean to hear him; for the moment, the food was forgotten. "With the collar I gave you around your neck, my golden clamps adorning your nipples, and my cock up your ass...you'd be perfect."

Close to swooning, Starsky vainly tried to gather his swiftly diminishing wits. "I'm not invisible."

"Not to me, no, never. But as a slave, the CEC won't notice you. If you joined the Abbey League, you could be our secret weapon."

"If I joined...?" Starsky protested. "Doesn't look like I've got much of a choice."

"No one pays attention to a kneeling slave. Slaves aren't even considered human anymore, just receptacles. Mouths and tongues, openings to plug..." Hutch pointed to each of Starsky's body parts, his face hard and cold.

Starsky was repulsed until he realized Hutch was leading him on, trying to make him angry.

"I could rent you out to the President-CEO. Roschenzky's told me on more than one occasion that Cosgrove said he'd like to ream your tight little passage. He'd sodomize you in a room full of VPs, and then chain you to his chair while they held a board meeting, laughing because the mighty, righteous cop was licking his boots like any other slave."

"You want me to be bait?" Starsky asked slowly. He rubbed his neck just above the collar, his throat raw inside. The thought of eating now didn't hold much interest, but he had to keep up his strength.

"I want you to be our secret weapon. You could hear things and report back."

"While getting fucked by everybody concerned?"

Hutch said nothing, just handed him the sandwich.

Inside, Starsky was screaming. Not again, not again.

"Your ass is mine," Hutch said, and tore open a bag of chips.

"Italwayshasbeen," Starsky muttered around a mouthful of peanut butter and jelly. He'd been right; it was boysenberry.

"What did you say?"

"It always has been," Starsky repeated, realizing he was sitting flat on the floor. When had that happened? He couldn't remember. Taking a minute to get back into presentation position, he added, "Master."

Hutch used the toe of his silver-tipped cowboy boots to push Starsky's thighs farther apart. "That's better." He ate some potato chips, and slipped one salty piece into Starsky's mouth.

Starsky nearly bit Hutch's finger in the process of taking it, but stopped in time.

"I want to see that ring at all times."

"When do we get out of here?" Starsky finally managed to ask, taking another bite of the sandwich. He didn't know when he might get another.

"When your training is finished."

"What?" He came to his feet in a single motion.

Just as quickly, Hutch caught hold of the swinging ring, putting enough weight into it to stop Starsky in his tracks. That hurt, so much so that he had to remember to breathe through the pain.

"What good will it do if you don't act like a real slave?"

"I'm never going to be a real slave!" Starsky needed to move, to get away, but not with Hutch holding onto his most vulnerable asset. "You're the one who said we were on the run. What kinda sense does it make to stay here?"

Hutch took his hand away to pick up the bag of chips. "I had to arrange your kidnapping through Dunfey. It was the only way to make it look like I'd gone bad, yet keep you from being killed or sold off. Dunfey's people took you out the main trade route in the horse trailer. I got out of Bay City and went through Oregon and down. That's why it took me so long. If they were going to follow one of us, it would have been me. I had to be sure no one did."

"You can't be sure of that."

"Is anyone sure of anything?" Hutch asked with maddening calm for someone who was still completely erect. "The queen who runs the place can train you in proper behavior in just a day or two. The rest, I'll do."

That knocked him for a loop. Hutch was going to abandon him again to that bastard?

"You don't know a master's behavior any more than I know a slave's," Starsky said when the aftereffects of that shock had reduced to a dull anger.

"How do you know?" Hutch glanced down at his own erection, the tension around his mouth finally betraying his inner pain.

"You were going to Lincoln Street for Abbey meetings." Starsky knew there had been times when it was for sex, but he needed to be obstinate, to argue.

"Had to make it look authentic, didn't I?" Hutch closed his eyes, fatigue etched in his features. But when he opened his penetrating blue eyes, everything was hidden again. "Starsk, I know it's not easy, but there are layers here you don't know about yet."

"Then tell me!"

Hutch went so still he could have been carved from the same marble as the floor. "That's what I'm talking about. You react to a command like that, slave, and you'll get yourself killed, along with the rest of us." He held out a potato chip like a peace offering, but Starsky chose to ignore the gesture. "I needed to protect you."

"You're repeating yourself."

"It bears repeating. I don't want you dead. Or worse...sold to Dunfey or Cosgrove or one of the other CEC VPs. Every person reduced to a commodity to be traded. You are worth so much more to me."

Starsky stared at the potato chip so he wouldn't be coerced by Hutch's enticing eyes. "You just want me tortured, pierced, and enslaved?"

"No, not tortured, but..." Hutch said softly, and crumbled up the chip.

"Pierced is okay," Starsky finished, feeling Hutch place the final bricks on his prison walls. "Hutch, he likes to hurt me."

"And there are others who could hurt you a whole lot more. You don't know what torture means, yet. What I've seen..."

"What about you? You want to hurt me?"

Hutch looked away. "It's not that simple."

"What do you want to do to me?" Starsky persisted. What did he want Hutch to do to him?

"Make love -- but not the way...we once did."

That wasn't what Starsky expected. Not at all. As much as he'd always wanted Hutch's love, there were now so many conditions attached to it. So many traps inherent in the plan.

Hutch suddenly shifted tactics. "It's safer if you don't know everything until we're away from here. So you can't reveal too much."

"Right now I don't know shit!"

"Right now," Hutch said, "right here, as bad as it is, you're safe. The minute we step outside of this place, we're fugitives. Knowing how to act like a slave is your protection."

"What's yours?"

"You." Hutch started to reach out, but stopped short of actually connecting.

Starsky copied the gesture; their fingers brushed in midair.

Hutch inched his hand closer, grasping Starsky's finally, and tugging him down to sit next to him. "You've always been at my back. Trust me on this. A couple more days of...training and we're out of here."

"Then onto Arizona?"

"You're catching on." Hutch nodded, his eyes raking across Starsky's naked body with searing desire. He wanted Starsky. There was such raw anticipation in Hutch's gaze, Starsky shivered. He was suddenly very aware that he hadn't worn clothes in days and Hutch was fully dressed. "But first," Hutch said, in that hungry, dark tone, "you have to ask me to take your ass. Nicely."

Starsky stared at his partner and forced himself to finish the sandwich. He could barely swallow; the peanut butter cemented his tongue to the roof of his mouth. He would not submit. He would not. "Go to hell."

"I'm a patient man, Starsky. I always have been." Hutch shrugged, opening a bottle of fruit juice and chugging most of it. "I've waited this long, a few more days doesn't matter. Though, I expect some of that time you'll have to be strung up on that frame." He tipped his head back as if taking in the monstrous frame for the first time, seeing the leather straps and restraining metal for the torture device it was.

"You said they hadn't followed instructions," Starsky said stubbornly, sitting down. His brain refused to accept what was currently happening and looped back to earlier, less volatile events. "When you first got here."

"There are crop marks on your butt, and you're bruised. Didn't you know that?" Hutch touched his forehead with a feather-light caress. "One eye is practically black."

"From the truck." Starsky evaded Hutch's touch even though that was the last thing he wanted to do. "I hit my head in the truck." That reminded him of Hutch's phone call and walking into the warehouse. "So, that's what you did? Went in with Roschenzky and Dunfey, you sick bastard? To arrange all this?"

"It had to look legit. They had to believe I was as corrupt as they were. And, Starsky...Roschenzky was one of the older cops."

Starsky nodded, his eyes fixed on the fruit juice Hutch placed so casually by his own knee. If Starsky picked it up and drank some, would he get cuffed? What exactly was their relationship now? What were they to each other?

"Roschenzky was the one who told me, just after we got out of the academy, what you used to do."

Just breathe. Starsky closed his eyes, feeling the betrayal all the way to his toes.

"I beat him up that day, pounded his head against the brick wall in back of the old Ramparts building. Remember it?" Hutch seemed surprisingly anxious for him to understand his reasoning. "I didn't want to believe him, but then I asked around. A couple of the other old farts remembered you, too."

Starsky recalled seeing Roschenzky with a fat lip and a gash over his eyes. Odd, what the memory dredged up. He'd been so small at fifteen, not at all the same kid as the one who came back from the war, angry, scarred, and trained to fight. He'd had vain hopes that maturity and rage would have altered him enough that those old bastards wouldn't remember. Vain hopes.

"That's what kept you from rising up through the ranks," Hutch said. "They didn't care if a low level sergeant used to do those things, but..."

When Starsky opened his eyes, wanting to believe that Hutch cared enough about him to have beaten Roschenzky over his honor, Hutch was quenching his thirst with the rest of the juice.

"Roschenzky reminded me about your past when he saw me in the slave house. Reminded me about the heroin ride I took with Forrest, too. Reminded me that there were things he could blackmail both of us with. But if I wanted to cooperate, I could be their poster child for playing both sides against the middle."

"He didn't know...about the Abbey League," Starsky said reluctantly. God, he was thirsty. And hungry, too. The sandwich had barely filled a corner of his belly.

"I don't think so. I just knew I had to act fast or you'd be right there in the headlines where Tompkins had been." Hutch unwrapped another sandwich and a second bottle of juice. Grape, this time. He pushed it toward Starsky as if knowing his touch wasn't welcomed. "Eat. I'll bet that British queen won't stay away forever."

"Hutch, how are we going to work this?" Starsky gulped the juice, trembling. He needed to be Hutch's partner again, needed to truly believe that Hutch had done all this to save him. But it was a hard pill to swallow. He had nothing left except his trust in Hutch. Right now that was as badly bruised as his eye. "Do I kneel at your feet? Or am I your partner? I just gotta understand this."

"Starsk," Hutch whispered, his voice husky with sex.

Starsky had to wonder how much longer he could keep talking with such an erection.

"I won't lie. Yeah, I want a slave. Not just any slave; I always wanted you. I want to ride you, feel you moving under me, begging for release. But I want the Starsky I knew before. Not some blank-eyed captive who can't think. I don't want you to change."

"Make up your mind, Hutch!" Starsky shouted. "You already changed me!"

"And you changed me. Are you the same man I met in the academy? Is any man the same after nearly fifteen years on the streets of Bay City?" Hutch spread his hands in a helpless gesture. "I wanted to protect you."

"I'm ringed. I'm a slave. You want me to work with you in the damned Abbey League so maybe you can forget during daylight what I got in my cock, under my jeans. But can those others, huh?"

"They won't have a choice."

"Like I don't," Starsky said hollowly. He didn't want to ask, but he had to know. "If I don't...agree, what will happen to me? I can't go back to BC."

Hutch looked startled, caught in the act of paring an apple with a small knife. The glint of the blade in the overhead lights made Starsky shudder.

"You didn't even consider that, did you? Some plan! You thought I'd just bow down, go along with everything?"

"Yes. I trusted you."

That simple statement floored Starsky, and snatched away his anger. How could he keep fighting when Hutch was so...what? Pitiful? Not hardly. Hutch had the coiled watchfulness of a prowling cougar. He was still and patient, but not calm. Not calm at all. Again Starsky's eyes were drawn to Hutch's very prominent cock.

"I will be your slave -- " Starsky stopped, watching Hutch's eyes.

For one second neediness and desire showed through, but then Hutch schooled his expression.

" -- In private," he continued. "I will kneel at your feet or submit to you in public only as is necessary to maintain...our cover. You want a secret weapon? It's on my terms, and I'm in on all stages of the plans to infiltrate the CEC, whatever comes up."

"Agreed." Hutch still didn't move.

Starsky stood, prowling around the confined space, trying to avoid any contact with the huge curved frame bristling with leather straps. He tried telling himself he had some modicum of control now, that the scales might slip slightly back into balance. "How much did you pay for me? I'll find some way to get money out of my account, pay you back -- "

"Starsky, you can't. The moment I arranged to buy you, all that was yours became mine." Hutch had the honesty to look ashamed. "The money doesn't matter, buddy. I'll give it back to you, but you can't get access to it without revealing where we are."

Starsky could almost see a statue of a lady holding a scale aloft -- the side that represented Hutch rose high, while the Starsky side fell lower. "I need...to find my way here, Hutch. I can't just accept all this so easy."

"I didn't think it would be easy. It was just -- "

"The only way. You said that." Starsky accidentally stepped on the coiled links of the chain still attached to the ring in the middle of the floor. His belly lurched, coming perilously close to returning all the food he'd so recently consumed.

He could no longer deny his reality. He was a slave. This was his future.

"Would you have left me here?" Starsky asked. "If I didn't agree with your plans?" He was suddenly fearful, considering the possibility of a life with nothing but the welcoming frame, pain, and anonymous hands in the darkness using his genitals like playthings. At least with Hutch he had a chance of doing something significant, and the idea of obeying Hutch in the bedroom wasn't a new one.

"Starsky, you don't realize your own worth," Hutch said obliquely.

Starsky shook his head, uncomprehending.

"You are so tough, such a fighter. Most people who meet you see this uncompromising cop, the one person on the force they couldn't corrupt." Hutch stood, his long legs going on for miles, his cock like a granite obelisk sheathed in crimson.

Starsky was so close to going down on all fours, giving up his last remaining possession, but he planted his feet, immobile.

"You're what we all covet, such strength with the face of an exotic gypsy. You've been taken down, I know, but I never wanted you to stay there, Starsk. I just wanted you to go there willingly -- for a few hours. If you'd only asked me."

"You never asked me." Starsky remained stubborn, although his knees almost bent of their own accord.

"Every time I went out, I was looking for you. Curly hair, a crooked smile, those are the ones I chose every time, Starsk." Hutch paused, guilt and something like despair crossing his face so quickly that Starsky wasn't quite sure he'd actually seen it. Closing his eyes as if the memories were too painful to bear, Hutch spoke, his voice catching in his throat. "If you do this for me, I swear it's forever. I'll never leave you again."

Starsky waited without breathing. This was too hard. He had to believe in Hutch before he could give up everything for him. He was going around and around in a rat's maze, trying to understand, trying to rationalize. There was no logic here; it was just him and Hutch, bound together in that indefinable way they'd always had since that first time in the academy shower.

"I love you," Hutch said, barely above a whisper. He spread his broad hand across his chest, over his heart.

This was the Hutch Starsky knew, the man who had been his partner for so long.

"And I know you love me. You're mine, but I am also yours," Hutch declared, his sincerity bound into every syllable of every word. He put out his hand, palm up.

Starsky exhaled, thunderstruck. It was the first time Hutch had ever said it aloud. Was he only using the word because Starsky was finally his slave? Or was this the truth? Starsky wavered, working out the myriad subtleties of their long-standing connection. He'd loved Hutch from the very first, without rational cause -- and always assumed Hutch felt the same, that he just had a different way of showing that love.

This had to be real. Why else would Hutch have gone to so much effort? Hutch loved him enough to risk changing every single aspect of their relationship. He must have believed that Starsky could see past his enslavement to find the love.

He did love Hutch. That was the basic truth. And he had to believe what Hutch said was real, or he had no hope left to cling to.

Starsky held out one hand, grabbing Hutch's fingers tightly. Still, the memory of his rape overshadowed everything. How could he submit? How could he not? Did he have any choice? If he refused, would Hutch allow the Brit to take him by force for "training"?

He paused, mired in conflict -- if he did this with Hutch, it would be the first time he yielded to someone he loved.

Still holding onto Hutch to anchor himself, he took a deep breath and reached out with his other hand to touch the welcoming frame. The feel of the cold hard steel was weirdly right.

"Please, Hutch...Master, take me..." Starsky said, barely able to get the words out. He was scared; he couldn't deny it. It wasn't just fear of the pain of penetration. It was relinquishing all he'd ever held on to. Of being laid bare on the altar, sacrificed in the name of love and trust. This would tear down his old life to start anew in a way he could never have imagined. But he would be starting over with Hutch.

Joy suddenly suffused Hutch's face with such radiance, Starsky was dazzled. "That first time," Hutch said softly, "in the academy shower, I pushed you down. I used you. But this time -- you asked."

"I'm..." Starsky had to strain to speak, quivering all over in anticipatory shock. He leaned his head against the cold frame. For the first time he could feel how swollen and sore his eye socket was. "I've never..."

"I know, Starsk. I know." Hutch crooned like a man who'd found his most precious treasure. He kissed Starsky on the shoulder, stroking his spine with the touch of a lover. "You inspire me. You never give up." He placed sweet kisses along the line of Starsky's jaw, one hand gently cupping the back of his head, while two fingers touched the collar.

Starsky wanted to melt into that love, accept it as his due, but he was scared. Scared of being sucked up into Hutch's need until he couldn't think for himself. Where were the boundaries?

"This will be so good, baby. So good, if you just give it a chance." Hutch encircled him with strong arms.

Finally relaxing, Starsky let Hutch take his weight. Resisting was so hard, and it hadn't changed anything anyway. He turned his head, blindly seeking out Hutch's mouth and was rewarded with full lips pressed against his. The insistent push of his master's tongue parted them, and he took that long silkiness into his mouth, sucking on it like a nursing babe. He'd been so thirsty; this was all the moisture he needed to survive.

Hutch was right; this was good, better than it had been since...his addled brain couldn't come up with a example. Hutch was surprisingly tender for someone who'd forcibly enslaved his lover, gently hugging Starsky so closely that he could feel the thud of Hutch's heart against his own chest.

"You're my slave," Hutch whispered, his eyes shining. "And because you are, I'll adore you. I'll protect you. You're mine." He backed Starsky up to the welcoming frame, trailing the palms of his hands down Starsky's torso. Both their cocks jumped when he grasped Starsky around the waist, pulling them together until their bodies were aligned, mirror images, opposite and yet the same. "My possession -- to take when I want. And you'll give me everything because you are my everything. What you have is all that I've ever wanted."

Starsky was stunned to realize that as Hutch's slave, he would be taken care of in a manner he'd never anticipated. He'd only thought of slavery as a demeaning, humiliating position, one of servitude without gratification. But with the right master, the slave could be so much more, a cherished being. His brain skittered away from all the other implications. There was only so much he could assimilate at one time.

"I know you're having a hard time accepting this," Hutch said softly. "And I know you'll resist. You're a proud man, Starsky."

Starsky was caught in the allure of Hutch's summer blue eyes, as if sinking in quicksand with no vine to grab hold of to hoist himself out.

"We'll fight," Hutch said, "but then we always have." Hutch kissed him one last time and stepped back.

Starsky realized then Hutch was waiting for his final capitulation. Starsky raised his head, unwilling to lose sight of the eyes that held him in such thrall.

"Eyes downward," Hutch commanded, going from lover to master with those few words.

Starsky dropped his gaze, unsure of his part. Should he kneel? Drop into presentation position with knees spread widely to show off the piercing? With his heart fluttering in his throat, Starsky knew what Hutch wanted. He turned to the welcoming frame, the curving steel bars a cruel but strangely compelling abstract sculpture. Made of black metal, the tallest point was the arched shafts that held the arms out to each side. The bars could be adjusted for anyone, and the leg stanchions could be raised so that the slave would be unable to stand on his feet. Leather straps hung from every part, enough to completely immobilize the prisoner. Once Starsky faced the brutal contraption, he couldn't force himself back into its unyielding embrace.

"That's it," Hutch said encouragingly. "You're so beautiful. So incredibly strong. Show me."

"I..." Starsky so rarely admitted he couldn't do something on his own. Hutch was the only person he'd ever revealed his fears to. "I need your help."

"We're both in this, Starsk. You and me, bound together." Hutch took Starsky's arm, helping him mount the apparatus carefully, then pressed Starsky's head into the depression for his chin, centering him.

So right and so wrong, all mixed up. Just then, Starsky would have done anything to keep Hutch's hands on his body. The Phenine was still fueling his desires, but then Hutch had always had that affect on him without any drug. Hutch was Starsky's aphrodisiac. He leaned back, desperate to keep contact with Hutch, but his master had stepped back.

"If you don't move," Hutch promised, "I'll leave the straps off."

"I won't," Starsky vowed. At the same time, he wanted to beg Hutch to buckle the leather bindings so tightly it would be impossible for him to move. How could he endure this without support?

Hutch placed his hand on Starsky's buttocks, right over the burning welts.

Starsky gasped, instinctively grasping the metal supports under his fingers. He had to accept his master's touch, then realized that was all the support he needed. He couldn't shut his eyes. He half turned his head, keeping Hutch in view, because without him, the visions threatened to drown him. The cloying odor of Glenfiddich came back with the memory of his rapist pressing him firmly against a white brocade bedspread. He felt the man push his buttocks in the air --

"I love you, Slave," Hutch said, pulling Starsky's attention back to this reality. "This may never get easy for you, but we've never done things the easy way. We've always fought, and then made up."

"I love you, too." Dispelling the dark memories, Starsky accepted Hutch's love and took it deeply in every molecule of his being.

"Remember Kira?" Hutch asked suddenly, and ran a gentling hand down Starsky's body. One finger lingered on the rubber port for the IV, sutured in the space where Starsky's right thigh met his groin. Hutch's touch was as delicate as the brush of a spring breeze. "That was such a fiasco. I was an ass, I'll admit. But after everything, we came back together. Because there was no other choice. We're bonded." He paused, keeping one hand on Starsky's butt while moving around, obviously searching for something with the other. Then, there was the sound of a tube being squeezed, and Hutch applied a cool ointment all around Starsky's anus.

He shook, barely able to stay in place. This was going to happen. There would be intense pain like knives splitting him in half and agonizing cramps gripping his abdomen. He resolved not to scream. Hutch wanted this -- had waited years for this moment. Starsky would not ruin it for him. Maybe afterwards, if he were conscious, he could bargain with Hutch -- his master. Maybe negotiate -- two hand jobs a day, plus oral, if only...not up his ass? Because, after all this time, after all the deliberate amnesia, the nightmares of that first time returned so clearly. He remembered every second of the smooth blond head bending over him, whiskey smell so strong little Davey had gagged. Imagine that, a boy so used to having cock jammed in his throat he could doze off during a blow job, had gagged from the fumes and screamed when the metal shaft was rammed into place.

"Sssh," Hutch whispered. "Nothing's happened yet, Starsk."

Starsky couldn't believe that he'd failed so completely. He'd cried out before anything had actually happened. He felt an insinuating pressure between his buttocks, and leaned forward, away from the intruder. "I can't...tie me up, please."

"This is for you as much as me, lover. I'm not locking you in." Hutch leaned over his back and caught Starsky around the waist, holding him in place with the blunt head of his cock nosed against Starsky's core. Hutch didn't let him move, but didn't push forward, either. "Tell me."

"S-scared."

"You were hurt once?"

"A metal...thing," Starsky ground out, his eyes squeezed shut. "It hurt. Blood." He could barely think coherently enough to say more, but Hutch seemed to understand.

"Babe, it will be so good this time, just let me in." Hutch kissed his right shoulder and then thrust forward just enough to breech the opening.

Starsky whimpered, his whole body clenched so tightly he could barely breathe. There was no way Hutch could be enjoying this; it must feel like trying to punch a fist through solid rock.

"Relax." Hutch repeated the spinal caress, once, twice, and a third time, all the while singing softly.

At first Starsky couldn't hear the words, but he exhaled and the thrumming in his ears died away, filling up instead with the sound of Hutch's voice.

"You belong to me..." Hutch whispered. "Every move you make."

Starsky surrendered, utterly and completely, hanging onto the frame in limp resignation as Hutch continued his painstakingly slow entrance. At first, Starsky just willed himself into compliance, taking short little breaths to relax his clenched muscles until Hutch was fully sheathed. There was some pain, mostly because he hadn't given in enough, he realized with surprise. Light cramps rippled up and down his gut, and the feeling of fullness in his rectum was almost too much to bear. But it wasn't the horror from the past. Maybe, just maybe, this could be a tolerable, even a pleasurable, experience. Now there was a mind-blowing thought.

"This is a gift, Starsk. Perfect, you and I -- like one..." Hutch's adoration was evident in every catch of his breath. He pulled halfway out, drawing Starsky's pelvis with him, and pushed in again more quickly, his full length fitting inside Starsky as if made to order.

Starsky shuddered, feeling the play of his muscles contract and release Hutch's cock, and wondered just who was screwing whom.

Hutch moaned with ecstasy and rocked forward, his cock shifting inside Starsky in a most provocative way. He reached around, grabbing Starsky's pierced organ with his big hand, milking it.

Starsky shouted, from pain or pleasure, he was no longer sure. Hutch's hand on the still-healing wound sent bolts of pain up his cock, which spiraled around the quickening clamps clutching his belly. But this wasn't really agony. More like something without a word, something raw and sexual.

Hutch was thrusting faster now, guttural grunts signaling his ascent into climax. Starsky was nowhere near orgasm; this was too new and frightening, but he felt Hutch's release in every cell of his body. Hutch's semen flooded his bowels, filling him, claiming him. The release was too sudden and too much; he wept.

"Hey." Hutch slipped out, then pulled Starsky into his arms. "That was everything I've waited for. Why are you crying?"

"I don't know." Starsky tried to knuckle the tears away, but they kept falling. "Put that thing back!" He looked around at the mess they'd made on the floor -- piles of leftover food, chains, and some of Hutch's clothes -- He felt frantic. He clenched his butt muscles down tightly, suddenly afraid of losing something valuable.

"What?" Hutch held his own deflated cock, as if thinking there was no way that was going back inside soon.

"The plug. Quick, before it all leaks out." Starsky reached out blindly, still searching. He didn't even know what it looked like; he had been blindfolded when it was shoved in and highly distracted when it was pulled out. In the bathroom. Hutch had removed it in the bathroom. He stumbled through the debris, unsteady, aware that he couldn't preserve what was already leaking out.

Hutch was faster and his reach was longer. Two steps and he'd retrieved the thick red rubber anal plug from where it lay near the sink. "This?"

"Put it in, put it in," Starsky begged, feeling Hutch's essence dribbling down his thighs. He clenched his inner muscles and leaned against the wall outside the bathroom. After being thoroughly fucked, even the gentlest stimuli hurt. Starsky bit down hard on his bottom lip when Hutch carefully settled the plug into place, trapping some of the semen inside him. "Yes."

"Starsky, are you all right?" Hutch clicked the links of the chain closed around Starsky's groin to keep the plug secure.

"I don't know." Starsky sat with his back to the wall, pulling his knees up under his chin and wrapping his arms around his calves. This was too similar to the way Fortun had left him chained, so he straightened his legs, feeling the plug shift oddly inside him.

Somehow that cleared his mind, and he looked up at Hutch. "I'm all mixed up. I just don't... Only you can have me, Hutch. Only you. Not him." He jabbed a finger toward the metal door, sure that the Brit would come back any moment and order Hutch away. Then he'd be strapped into the frame again, and what? Raped?

The only good thing about all this was that Hutch had done it first.

"He can't have you. I left strict orders about that. You're safe," Hutch assured him. "You don't have to wear that plug for me."

"I want to. This way I own part of you," Starsky said fiercely. He needed to regroup, get his thoughts on something else. "When do we leave?" He was sure Hutch had already said something about that. Shouldn't they be making plans? Then he remembered that Hutch wanted him to have more training. Well, fuck that.

"I have to get another car." Hutch zipped up his pants and stuffed the last of their meal back into his bag. "Huggy arranged for me to meet a guy in Vegas. It'll take some time -- maybe most of a day to drive there, finish the transaction, and drive back here."

So they weren't actually in Las Vegas. Good to know. Any knowledge was important. "I ain't staying here." Starsky mourned the disappearance of the fruit juice bottles and bread crusts. He was still hungry.

"I'll tell Neville he has two days to teach you what you need."

"I can fake anything I don't know," Starsky said stubbornly, getting back into presentation position. "See? And I'll keep my mouth shut, Hutch, but I ain't staying..."

"You are, and that's final." His voice was like the crack of a whip, sharp enough to draw blood. "One wrong move when you're alone with some master, Starsk, and it's all over. You need as much knowledge as possible to pull this off. I'll get some pointers too, when I get back."

Starsky stewed, but didn't break position. "Huggy knows about all this?" His chest ached when he realized that one of his oldest friends would see him collared and chained.

"Huggy's got connections. He's leaving BC soon; we just couldn't chance all of us disappearing at the same time. He sold the Torino for you."

"What?" Starsky shouted, jumping up.

"Starsky, that car is like a billboard spelling out your name. After you were picked up, Huggy drove it away so that no one would know you'd been there."

"That was my car!" Starsky slugged the wall to bleed off the anger, but all he succeeded in doing was breaking the skin across his knuckles. Anger burned brightly again for all that he had lost.

"Starsk," Hutch said. He didn't fight when Hutch took him in his arms, holding on tightly. "Hurt yourself?"

"Yeah."

"Don't hurt my property, or I'll have to punish you."

"Would you?" Starsky asked, unsure if he wanted to know or not. Neville had whipped him with the crop. He'd never before imagined what it would be like to be whipped or claimed as someone's property. He'd never imagined that he would ever willingly submit to being fucked, either.

"I've thought about it," Hutch said, and there was a huskiness in his voice like the texture of raw silk against dry skin, just a tad too rough, but sensual, too. Hutch picked up Starsky's hand, kissing the wound, and drew him down until they were cuddled together on the floor, their heads pillowed on the carryall bag. "I would press my hand into the small of your back, watching the way your ass curved down over the..." He seemed to be setting the scene in his mind, arranging details. "...Padded bar, and you'd stay like that, not moving a muscle, totally on my say."

Starsky closed his eyes, almost afraid, but it was too easy to see that picture, Hutch's words coloring every aspect. He could feel the thick leather under his belly and the firm placement of Hutch's hand, holding him down.

"I'd use my belt, because I don't have anything else." Hutch wiggled around, sliding his belt out from the loops. He laid it across Starsky's naked hip, one end just touching his bare butt. "Five strokes, to remind you. Not punishment. Just for us, because I want to."

Starsky shuddered, sure the belt had slammed into him, leaving a long red mark. Hutch hadn't hit him, but suddenly Starsky wanted him to. Badly. "Not here," was all he said, and Hutch nodded.

Somehow, they both fell asleep.

***

"Well, you two certainly made yourselves at home," a fey voice commented.

Starsky woke with a start, surprised that the whine of the door opening hadn't brought him out of sleep. Hutch still held onto him as he woke up, too. Twisting out of his lover's grasp and turning to face the speaker, Starsky had his first view of his captor.

Neville was all length and almost absurdly thin. Viewed from the floor, he looked like the reflection of a man in one of those funhouse mirrors, altogether too long and narrow, his height accentuated by sinewy muscles in his arms and legs. Starsky started to stand, if only to retrieve some of his stolen self-esteem, but Hutch pushed gently on his shoulder, urging him to his knees.

When Hutch got to his feet, Starsky was glad to see that the Brit only topped Hutch by a mere inch, maybe two at the most. He wasn't a giant, just used to looming over his cowering slaves, relying on his height to keep them low.

"You've got two more days," Hutch said, finger combing his tousled hair and buttoning his green shirt. "I need him day after tomorrow, so I expect his training will be completed ASAP."

"That's not at all possible, beautiful," Neville said with a smirk, but there was that inkling of sadism in his voice that creeped Starsky out. He longed to buckle a collar around that narrow throat, extra tight, and then shove a stun gun into sensitive areas. "These things take time, and you've got yourself a fighter. He tried to bite me, did you know that?" He rubbed elongated fingers over his right bicep in a coquettish manner.

He was flirting with Hutch! Surprised at his own jealousy, Starsky shifted the weight on his knees, preparing to get to his feet. Once again, Hutch seemed to anticipate his thoughts and touched him on the shoulder.

"Ripped one of my best shirts," Neville said. "There are definite penalties for that." The coquet's voice dripped with the desire to cause pain and a lot of it.

"I told you, I don't want him injured." Hutch pulled out his pocket watch, glancing at the time with a distracted air of someone who had to leave and soon.

Starsky could see the future clearly. Hutch would leave him and the asshole Brit would have him strapped to the frame and tortured inside of a minute. The fact that the IV port was still sutured into his groin gave Neville frightening access to his body.

"Any and all punishments, beatings, sexual intercourse, anything like that, have to go through me, and I say no." He re-pocketed the watch and shouldered the carryall, preparing to go.

Just hearing Hutch -- his master -- say those words loosened the tightness in Starsky's chest. Hutch wanted him protected. But Hutch would have no way of enforcing his rules when he wasn't around. Starsky had full trust in his partner and none at all in the Brit.

"Too lenient on your pet," Neville said, cocking a gold eyebrow. He was all gold. Starsky wondered what kind of hair dye the man used to get it that unique color. Hair like old flatware, gold without a sheen, skin tanned to an unnatural shade of golden brown, and gold rings adorning half a dozen fingers. Even his irises were the gold of a cat, as if he weren't quite human. The silk shirt he wore had small gold figures printed over a blue background. Tiny slave figures with their legs spread wide open for their golden masters.

"However, the owner is always right." The Brit waved a manicured hand as if shooing away flies. "It's my credo, you might say. I'd advise you to keep this one on a short leash, because there's no way I can break his spirit in that space of time. He's liable to go for your throat one day."

"Or I could go for yours." Hutch slid his long barreled pistol from the carryall, bringing it out casually, as if he was showing off the weapon instead of making a threat. "I like his spirit the way it is. I find a mark on him that I didn't put there last night, and I'll put one right between your legs."

"You are such a brute," the Brit simpered. "With such a long...gun. But speaking of marks, that brings up the question -- which do you prefer, a tattoo or a brand?"

Tattoo... Starsky inhaled sharply, which earned him a stern look from Hutch. There was something significant about tattoos. He could visualize the memo typed on official BCPD paper, but not the contents. All he could remember was the VP's wife, her naked back a panoply of ink. She'd been servicing her new master orally when they burst into the house, and had dropped to the floor with her forehead on the carpet and arms outstretched when the VP jumped to his feet with his open dressing gown barely covering his withering phallus.

Hutch glanced at him again, a question in his eyes, but Starsky couldn't answer.

"Haven't I made myself clear?" Hutch said with menace. He stepped in close, the gun still held loosely in one hand. Neville went a sickly color under all that gold, but didn't back away. "I'm not interested in ostentatious marks on my slave. The ring is sufficient."

"Funny. You said you were a CEC cop. Yet, you're not up on the current legislation." Neville shrugged eloquently, and took two steps to the side so he could lean decadently on the welcoming frame as if displaying his wares to Hutch.

Hutch didn't look the least bit interested. "What current legislation? I don't read up on every new rule some Corporation bigwig dreams up. Next week, it'll be obsolete." Hutch started to move past Neville when the Brit's laughter stopped him.

"You really don't know! How delicious!"

"Electronic trackers," Starsky said. He might be forced to stay on his knees like a placid dog, but his brain still worked. The new law stipulated that slaves must have tattoos placed either on the left hip, left flank, below the back of the neck, or on the left shoulder, with an electronic tracking device the size of a rice grain buried beneath it under the skin.

"Speaking out of turn." Neville swung his arm back to strike Starsky, but Hutch moved like lightning, grabbing the Brit's wrist in mid-swing, nearly crushing the delicate bones. Neville squeaked with pain and then moaned, his face taking on a dreamy quality. "I could get used to having you around, cowboy. And it seems your slave is the one who's been reading up."

"Why would I want an electronic tracker?" Hutch released him and dusted off his hands as if ridding himself of something foul. "He'll wear my collar."

"I've wondered the same thing, myself." Neville tapped the collar around Starsky's neck.

Starsky had to force himself to endure the touch and not pull away in disgust, but consoled himself by making a gruesome face behind the queen's back, which almost made Hutch grin. He saw his partner lose composure for a spare second before tightening his jaw.

Starsky went still inside, suddenly aware of how tenuous Hutch's position was. If the Brit realized that this master and slave weren't on the up and up, he could call the CEC authorities. Hutch was right, damn him. Starsky needed to learn how to be a slave to protect both of them. He could see how little attention the free paid to a kneeling slave even when they were discussing his care. How hard would it be to kneel under the desk of some high-ranking official in the CEC, maybe catch a glimpse of some eyes-only document before sucking the asshole's dick? Would it be any different than doing it in some dirty alley for a few bucks when he was a kid? He'd been training for this role since he was fourteen.

"If you have your own collar," Neville said, "feel free to buckle it on him. It really improves a slave's demeanor to know that his master has absolute control." Neville stroked Starsky's bruised cheek and tsk-tsked. "But wanting something and obeying the CEC's ever-changing laws are two different things. Since you're new to the master's life, Detective, a little history might help you. When the slave law was first enacted, the ring through the male phallic organ, or the clitoris in the female, was enough. But some slaves escaped and removed their piercings." He glanced down at the thick, gleaming steel ring through Starsky's cock and raised an eyebrow. "So, we produced a special metal nearly impervious to cutting tools. But those anarchist rebels in the border states got their hands on a laser. Cuts through anything." He laughed as if imagining desperate slaves running naked through the hot sun to the border to be free. "Owners wanted to keep tabs on their property, which I'm sure you can now understand."

"Get to the point," Hutch said impatiently.

"Tattoos have always been popular, therefore the owners of the most organized slave farms agreed that slaves should have them in certain designated areas for ID purposes. But a laser can remove a tattoo, as well. Leaves a scar." He cocked his head with a smarmy expression. "Which is obviously not a problem for you."

"I can give you a few scars of your own if you don't finish with this overly long lecture," Hutch growled.

"Electronic trackers under said tattoos," Neville said. "Enhances the slave's physical beauty, and logs him into a central data base so the owner can keep tabs on his property."

Starsky watched Hutch, afraid. They couldn't afford to let him be fitted with a transmitter. The only way he could tolerate his slavery would be if it helped the rebellion take back power from the shitholes who ran things now. David Starsky not going to be tagged like some endangered animal, and he wouldn't be of any use to the rebellion with such a marker. If he had to, he'd attack the Brit now and cause as much damage as possible so Hutch could escape alive. If only one of them could get out, it had to be Hutch.

"You mentioned branding," Hutch said. He was quiet, so calm, but Starsky could sense his tightly reined anger. He was once again a crouched cougar, ready to strike at the slightest provocation. It was obvious that Hutch hated this situation.

Starsky wanted to cheer. Instead, he held himself in perfect presentation position. He couldn't dwell on the idea of branding. Hutch would think of some way around it.

"Ah, my favorite," Neville said. "The mark left from a burning metal iron isn't quite as pretty as a delicately drawn tattoo, but it's permanent. Impossible to remove -- and some owners who buy and sell human merchandise frequently are not as interested in chipping a slave, since they don't care where they end up." Neville smiled and placed his palm on the V of skin revealed by Hutch's half-buttoned cowboy shirt.

Hutch removed the hand with a look of disgust. "I want him branded," Hutch declared.

No.

No.

Hutch did not just say Starsky would be branded like a side of beef.

Starsky was frozen in place, unable to move, unable to look at Hutch or anything but the floor in front of him.

"Finish his training in positions and commands," Hutch continued, as if he'd said nothing of consequence, "and I'll be back soon to put him through his paces." He moved to Starsky for the first time since they'd awakened, grabbing a fistful of curls to tip his head back so they could look into each other's eyes.

Starsky could see the desperation in Hutch that mirrored his own. But they couldn't say anything aloud.

"Starsk, you behave, or I'll take the belt to you."

What Starsky heard was I love you in code.

Hutch nodded once, his jaw so tense his cheek muscles twitched, and toed Starsky's knees apart a fraction wider before releasing him. He glared at the Brit. "I will be there for the branding." Hutch turned on his heel, and stalked out, leaving Starsky alone.

The steel door was still open.

Starsky scrabbled to his feet, compelled to run, to escape. Running naked through mountainous terrain suddenly didn't seem as stupid as idly waiting to have his flesh cooked with super-heated metal.

He made it five steps before hearing Neville scream for Fortun, and then a bruiser of a man tackled him to the floor. He pulled in a breath to shout Hutch's name, but the guard roughly shoved a ball gag into his mouth before he could get out the H. Starsky fought like a wild thing, arms and legs striking out, too enraged to place his blows with any precision. Fighting was fruitless anyway. Over the pounding blood drumming in his ears he could hear Neville yelling for Denato to bring a syringe, and then the sound of running feet.

It took three to subdue him, then strap him tightly to the frame and jam the contents of the syringe into his IV. Starsky hurt all over but within seconds he could barely move, restrained not only by thick leather but by the sedative. He howled around his gag, barely able to make enough sound to matter.

With Hutch gone, what would they do to him?

The Brit stood in the front of the frame, smiling like a cat who'd caught a mouse and was getting ready to eat him.

Starsky wasn't blindfolded, and he stared defiantly at his captor. His arms, now attached to the metal struts that curved forward, made it seem as if he were reaching out to hug Neville -- a repulsive thought -- and yet he was utterly unable to defend himself in any way. The Brit had the upper hand, and Starsky could only wait and watch for an opportunity. That had always been the hardest part of police work. Leaping without looking first rarely worked to his advantage.

Strategy, Starsky, always strategy, was Hutch's credo. Starsky vowed to follow his partner's lead. He just had to lay low and keep his head down until Hutch returned.

Being brutalized would only give him more incentive to help the rebels. He'd never paid much attention to the plight of the slaves before. Sure, he hated the way the CEC could twist people's lives so that one day they were just poor, and the next they were slaves subjected to every kinky whim a master could dream up. But he hadn't really looked at the issue from a slave's point of view.

How things had changed. Now, all he could think about was liberating the oppressed.

"Think you can fight me?" Neville sneered, his face so close to Starsky's that their noses brushed. Starsky wanted to squirm to evade his proximity, but his chin was firmly planted in the metal depression made for that purpose, with leather straps wrapped around his head from chin to crown and ear to ear. He was forced to stare straight into those uncanny golden eyes. He preferred the blindfold.

The Brit seemed to read his mind. "You loathe me, don't you?" Neville stroked Starsky's injured cheek again, as if fascinated by the bruising pattern. "You itch to reverse our places and do to me what I've done to you." He laughed, low and sensual, the cruelty clearly turning him on. "But my lamb, that's never going to happen. Your owner is a fool. Someone like you, with such fire, needs to be beaten often and maybe..." He grinned, and turned to the two hulks lurking out of Starsky's visual range. "We won't feed our Davey today so he'll be needy when his master returns. He's like a wild dog. You can't turn your back or he'll attack, but that's what makes him all the more attractive when he eats out of your hand." Their affirmative grunts were punctuated by chuckling.

Starsky clenched his fingers, pushing on the smooth cold metal under his palms. As before, the sedative wore off quickly, leaving a tingly, half-numb feeling in some parts of his body and an almost unbearable need to be touched in others. He yearned to move, to run, to fight. With Hutch in the room, he could suppress those urges, but now the straps were the only things stopping him.

"Fortun, fireman's shower," Neville ordered sharply, wrinkling his long beak of a nose. "He stinks of that cowboy."

Starsky saw Neville move away and a dark mass with a mono-brow take his place for a few seconds before the blindfold descended. He'd been expecting it and almost relaxed. He had to be let down for a fireman's shower, right? To be taken to the bathroom?

The full force of freezing water hit his back with such power that he screamed around the gag, emptying his lungs. There was not enough air to fill them up again. The water was so cold it burned, filleting him to the bone. Then, insult of insults, Fortun pulled out the butt plug, directing the spray up inside him.

That hurt.

Bad.

Starsky screamed again, but no one paid any attention. They'd stolen the one small part of Hutch that he'd been able to hold onto, reducing him to nothing. He screamed until he lost sense of what was going on, and kept screaming in his nightmares, feeling the silver dildo repeatedly bludgeoning his fifteen-year-old virginal hole until he was cleaved in half and lay dying on a white brocade bedspread.

***

He came to later. Time was nebulous without establishing sights and sounds. Starsky wanted to float in semi-consciousness, pretending he wasn't pinned like a frog about to be pithed in a high school science class, but his own thoughts kept intruding.

Hutch said he loved him. He'd said the words aloud, even while admitting he'd paid cash to strip Starsky of his freedom and every vestige of his old life. How did that work exactly? How could someone just turn a citizen into a nonentity? Why hadn't this ever bothered him before? He'd been fully aware of the inhumane practices, but had done little except toe the party line.

He'd once been considered a rabble-rouser who'd just as easily bite the hand that fed him, but how true was that? He'd enjoyed the prestige of being a State cop and the attractive, fatter paycheck. The CEC turned So. Cal into one of the strongest of the now un-united states. They controlled everything, using their handpicked police to enforce their will.

So many things changed in a short time, like prostitution and slavery as two examples. Laws came and went like passing fads. It became hard to remember what was legal and what wasn't. No wonder neither he nor Hutch had known much about the new tattoo ordinance. Around the squadroom, CEC memos were often treated like so much birdcage liner since the information could be obsolete the following week. Still, the Corporation played hardball, prosecuting those they determined to be criminals, and enforcing strict penalties and even death. They allowed no dissonance or upheaval. No vice that wasn't sanctioned by their lawyers. Something once considered as mundane as importing out-of-state cigarettes could result in years of jail time, but there was no penalty for boffing a sex slave on the street.

The first time Starsky had seen that, he'd rousted the slave's molester. For that public-minded spirit, he'd received a reprimand and a docked paycheck. He'd learned to look the other way, at least some of the time. Most of the time, to be honest. So much for the vow a fifteen-year-old had taken to protect the victimized.

The years on the street as a cop had changed him; there was no doubt about that. What ethics had he lost along the way? Had his blindness to the welfare of the slaves led him to this place? Or could he rest the whole weight of that on Hutch's shoulders?

He could admit now he'd been Hutch's slave from the first moment they'd laid eyes on each other. But in a strange way, Hutch was his slave, as well. Hutch might never go to his knees, but he'd debased himself in other ways to wait Starsky out. To wait for the so-called rabble-rouser to humble himself and consent. All the while, Hutch had been working for the rebels -- preparing for a revolution. So who was the real agitator here?

Starsky had always hated self-examination. He liked simple, straightforward explanations. Except there were none here. Just layers on layers -- sex mixed with politics, and love tainted by betrayal. The emotional morass hurt more than what Neville and his minions had done to Starsky's physical body.

Hutch, do you realize what you've done to my soul?

As much as he ached inside, Starsky now knew the truth. He would go with Hutch. He would accept what Hutch had made him, because Hutch loved him. And he'd always loved Hutch.

Forgiveness, that would be harder. But even as he recognized the anger still closeted deep inside, he couldn't stay angry at Hutch. From the moment Hutch arrived for his "rescue," Starsky hadn't been able to hold onto his anger for ten minutes at a time.

What did Hutch do to him?

He tried returning to his previous musings, walking the now familiar route of Ninetieth to Mission to Ninety-first, circling the warehouse for a way in. He wanted to change the outcome, fight off Dunfey's goons and find Hutch, tell him there was another way.

But was there another way? Or was Hutch right?

"Starsk, Dunfey just went into the warehouse on the corner of Ninety-first, where it crosses Mission. Hurry. I'll meet you there."

Oh God, if there was a supreme being listening, why hadn't he questioned that? Why hadn't he wondered for one minute longer? Or noticed that Hutch never spoke again. Hutch had meant to draw him out. He'd trusted his partner too far.

He loved his partner too much.

Was that possible?

If there had been another way to escape the CEC, Starsky could not think of one. Hutch's way had become the only way, and Starsky had to believe that, ultimately, it would be the solution. He had to believe it or he would be lost.

He allowed himself the luxury of reminiscence, deliberately recalling the moment of their joining on the frame. He felt Hutch enter him again, those warm, wonderful hands gripping him around his hips. The smell of Hutch -- leather, guns, and peanut butter -- all merged together with the heady aroma of their lovemaking. And it had been lovemaking, not just sex.

He trembled and cried, alone in that horrible place, robbed of the tiniest bit of decency.

***

Starsky was surprised when he was taken down from the frame after only a few hours. The day took on an unreal quality as Neville trained him, putting him through his paces, forcing him to repeat the same moves and positions over and over again. His belly rumbled loudly, and Neville laughed, snicking Starsky's shoulder ever so lightly with the knotted tip of a leather cord. Starsky swallowed with difficulty around his gag, correcting his posture, the small wound stinging. A few peanut butter sandwiches hadn't offset days of near starvation and his weakness showed. He tired easily and couldn't hold the more complicated poses for long, which just earned more wasp stings on his arms and legs.

Was this the way all slaves were initiated? Or was it worse for the ones without a master like Hutch to protect them? He didn't want to think about what could have happened to him if not for Hutch's refusal to allow him to be sexually abused. Now he understood why so many slaves seemed empty-eyed, clinging to their masters.

Starsky changed while kneeling at the feet of a man he despised. He learned how to be a true slave. Not for this foppish sadist who delighted when he messed up, but for Hutch. Helping the cause was secondary, however important. If he had to be a slave, he was going to be a damned good one until the time when slaves revolted and snapped their chains in two. He had Hutch, someone he trusted, and, more important, someone who trusted him in return. That was the key. Trust became hope and hope was freedom.

"On your feet, head to the floor, grasp your ankles, pretty ass as high as it will go," Neville commanded, the lash biting Starsky on the sole of his bare foot as he tried to move quickly into the proper stance. "You have a knack for this, Davey. A positive gift."

Starsky breathed in, his head pounding in the downward position. He was afraid that if he stayed like this too long he would pitch forward, and locked his knees.

"Use that whip on him one more time, and I'll wrap it around your scrawny neck and hang you with it," Hutch said harshly, almost too loud in the confined space of the room.

"Cowboy!" the Brit exclaimed, all signs of cruelty disappearing beneath a simpering flirtation. "You move as stealthily as a lion!"

Starsky would have laughed if he weren't practically kissing his own knees. The blood pounding in his ears was as loud as a hurricane force wind. He swayed, coming perilously close to falling, but concentrated on maintaining his posture to show Hutch. He wanted to prove he was doing his part.

If only Hutch would do his and get them out of here.

"You startled me," Neville said.

"Then don't leave the door open so anyone can walk in," Hutch replied tightly.

"The whip is a necessary part of the training process, but it's only used as a reminder, not punishment." The Brit caressed Starsky's upturned buttocks, finding the tiny marks from the whip with unerring precision. He pressed just a little too hard on one at the top of Starsky's thigh, where the hips joined the butt.

Starsky clenched his teeth on the gag, the pain like bright fireworks behind his retinas. Struggling to stay perfectly still, Starsky wasn't sure what would happen first. Either he'd pass out from all the blood rushing to the top of his head or he'd vomit from the jackknifed position.

Both possibilities were in the running when Hutch said, "Starsky, presentation position."

Starsky dropped so quickly his already bruised knees protested violently, pain roaring up to his hips, but at least presentation was a right-side up pose. He raised his chin, almost reeling from dizziness, and tried to rearrange himself properly. The familiar coolness of a silver toe tip nudged his thighs farther apart, and he rested his hands on his legs, palms down, waiting further orders. A part of the old Starsky stirred in the back of his brain, swearing and calling him a quitter, but he inhaled through his nose, straining to see through the blackness of the blindfold.

"You see, a mongrel cur can be taught to heel," Neville said.

Starsky would have liked to prove the Brit's assessment correct by biting him just above the ankle, but he held his place to prove to Hutch that he could do this. That he could learn what was needed and be of service to the cause.

Who was he kidding? In the end, he wanted to please Hutch. It had always been that way. For all their affectionate arguing, Starsky had always listened to Hutch and usually went along with his suggestions. There had been days when he'd been the one to lead investigations, especially when the case was illogical or bizarre. Starsky had a knack for those. But in the partnership, Hutch was the leader.

"You treat slaves like animals and they'll turn around and bite you in the tail," Hutch said dryly, and for once Starsky welcomed the gag, because otherwise he would have laughed aloud. "I know five positions; how many more is he expected to know?" Hutch asked.

Finally, finally, Starsky felt the brush of soft corduroy against his shoulder and a welcomed hand in his hair. He leaned into the warmth of Hutch's body, catching whiffs of the outside world. The scent of the forest; wood, fresh air, and the sharp tang of eucalyptus were like exotic flowers after so many days in a sterile torture chamber.

"Presentation, obeisance, punishment, submission, and deliverance are the most common," Neville began, and Starsky suspected he was about to start one of his long-winded explanations.

"I know those. What else is there?" Hutch unbuckled the gag, easing it out of Starsky's mouth, but left the blindfold in place.

Grateful, Starsky sucked in the long finger that wiped spittle off his lip, but his mouth was too dry to provide enough moisture. It was like dipping a stale donut into an empty cup. Unsatisfying.

"What about more complicated ones?" Hutch asked.

"Spread-eagle isn't hard, but requires the slave to remain immobile for long periods of time despite what the master is doing to it," Neville continued. "Even the smallest movement is cause for punishment. And of course, there's relinquishment, which you saw him demonstrating when you came in."

Hutch put Starsky through his paces with exacting precision. He was an even harder taskmaster than the Brit. Without the whip correcting his mistakes, Starsky had to be alert for changes in Hutch's tone. He listened carefully for tiny sounds of disapproval while holding absolutely correct positioning. One harsh word from Hutch stung far worse than the whip. He'd always relied on his ability to read his partner with a quick look or a glance before they rushed a building or brought down a criminal. The blindfold made things more difficult because he couldn't judge Hutch's body language. Starsky grew increasingly frustrated with his repeated mistakes of simple maneuvers. He was exhausted before Hutch called a halt to the exercises.

"He's improving, but you really should leave him here for a full month to get the complete training," Neville said.

"Didn't you say the buyer is always right?" Hutch retorted.

"Touché, my dear."

"There must be some decent food around here. A place to sleep that doesn't look like a movie set for some Marquis de Sade flick." Hutch crossed the room.

Starsky was aware of the click of his boot heels on the marble floor now that Hutch wasn't trying to sneak up on the Brit. That could be something to remember when he might be restrained in some other master's bed. He had to use all his senses, not just his eyes, to learn what he needed to know.

"The owner's rooms are on the upper floors. I can provide you with a pretty slave with the meal, if you'd like, at no extra cost," Neville said. "Chicken or steak?"

For a moment, Starsky thought the Brit was offering a choice between a virginal boy and an older man, but that was just the dinner menu. His belly rumbled loudly.

Hutch chuckled. "Starsky wants both."

"He isn't allowed above ground until his training is complete -- or, until you take him away. He gets neither."

"Now, why would I want some other slave when I paid good money for this one?" Hutch said in a voice that could have cut through the steel door. "I want a good night's sleep after days in the damned car in the heat, with my slave, and a large, rare steak. For each of us. You understand?"

"Forceful indeed," Neville said, but without his usual swooning. He obviously didn't like Hutch's take-over attitude. "He'll have to be restrained and blindfolded while in the hallways. Who knows what an unbroken slave could do?"

"Who indeed?" Hutch hooked an arm under Starsky's and pulled him to a stand, linking his wrist cuffs together in front of his body. "Just for the walk upstairs," he whispered.

Starsky was reassured. This was all a show for Neville. Once they were alone, Hutch would revert back to his old friend and partner, right? The kinky stuff was only for sex play. He wouldn't have to wear all this hardware daily.

The issue of the brand still had to be discussed, though.

He would not wear a brand.

But then he remembered...he'd said he would not be any man's slave...and yet he was.

Starsky responded to the pressure of Hutch's hand on his back and walked out of the torture chamber for the first time since he'd arrived. How long had that been? He was not sure, but his feet felt strange walking down the cold marble hall. Neville had made tiny wounds on both Starsky's feet with his whip and each step renewed the fire in those welts. The ring made his cock hang heavily, and it swung when he moved, pushing against his fettered hands with every step.

They all went upwards in an elevator. Starsky wanted to know the layout of the place, the exits and entrances. Which direction was west, and how many guards were there? He'd never been held prisoner for so long without calculating all the escape routes. Come to think of it, he'd never been held prisoner for so long, period. He wanted to talk to Hutch, find out more of what he knew, but he remained silent as long as Neville was nearby.

"Oh, silly me," Neville simpered in what Starsky now recognized as the voice he used when he was going to say something particularly unpleasant. "I totally forgot to mention the branding."

Starsky bit down on his lip to stop himself from blurting out something that would get him punished. His belly twisted into a knot.

"Yeah?" Hutch grunted, tightening his grip on Starsky's arm.

"Since you insist on taking this slave out before there's been sufficient time to mold him into a proper specimen, he'll have to be branded tomorrow morning before he leaves."

Starsky bristled at being called a specimen, but that reaction paled in comparison when he considered the idea of having hot metal pressed into his skin. Sweat dripped down his back, stinging all the lash wounds.

"He'll need to be shaved, of course," Neville added, with a slow, dark chuckle. He sounded more than ready to take a straight razor and do the deed himself.

"Where does this brand go?" Hutch asked as if it was of very little consequence to him, but Starsky could feel how tense he was.

Fuck! C'mon, Hutch, use that college education to get us out of here. The tattoo and tracker were sounding better all the time. Surely, they could dig out the tracker once it was inserted? Throw it in a lake, smash it with a rock.

"The most common place is on the left inner thigh -- where the owner will see it when he spreads his slave's legs." The Brit tittered nastily.

Starsky swallowed against the sick taste in his throat. He was reduced to a thing, like a schoolbook with a name written in marker on the front so others would know who owned it.

"I can send a slave in the morning to shave his leg. Could shave his whole body while we're at it -- a complete change of appearance really helps the slave settle into his role."

"Hey!" Starsky blurted and would have said more, but Hutch's nails bit down hard into his forearm.

"Starsky," Hutch said sharply.

Resentment washed over Starsky. He didn't want to resent Hutch, but he did. This wasn't some game. Hutch was really going to have him branded!

"Should take a crop to his back. Beat the spirit out of him," Neville said.

"If I want your opinion, I'll ask," Hutch retorted, rubbing his thumb over the small dents he'd made on Starsky's arm. "I know how to use a razor. I'll shave him myself."

"I'll have it delivered with your steak."

When they stepped out of the elevator, the difference from the training floor was immediate, even to someone wearing a blindfold. There was carpeting underfoot and the air was warmer. The beautiful strains of Bach played softly from a sound system. At least Starsky assumed it was a sound system. There might be slaves sawing away on violins and tinkling the ivories of a piano, for all he knew.

"Here we are, kiddies, room twelve," Neville said, unlocking a door. "The steaks will be up in less than half an hour. Don't do anything with your slave that I wouldn't do." His parting chuckle had such a depraved sound that Starsky had no problem guessing what he would do.

Starsky didn't relax until he heard the door shut behind Neville.

"You stink," Hutch said, unbuckling the blindfold and easing it off Starsky's face.

Starsky blinked in the light, looking around at the sumptuous room. This was no austere space filled with implements meant to punish and hurt. This was pure fantasy, complete with a four-poster bed draped with swags of silk and a white brocade bedspread.

A white brocade bedspread...

Starsky shivered and turned his back on the white spread, his stomach rumbling loudly.

A large armoire occupied one corner, and a love seat took up space in the other. Only someone with a keen eye would notice that the furniture was heavy and built to withstand writhing bodies restrained on the frames.

He didn't know what to say, and yet was overflowing with questions. His feet hurt and his head was pounding. All he wanted to do was sleep, but the specter of the branding and the similarities of this room to the one of his nightmares gripped him. He told himself a branding wouldn't be all that different from the time he'd accidentally bumped a hot iron with his hand, but couldn't even convince himself.

"Do you want a shower?" Hutch asked.

"No." Starsky hunched his shoulders, his hands still cuffed in front of him. He could still feel the savage battery of the fireman's shower on his aching muscles.

"Okay," Hutch agreed, sounding puzzled. He unbuckled and removed the wrist cuffs, leaving them linked together when he tossed them aside, and massaged Starsky's chaffed wrists. "A bath, then? I need to relax."

"A bath...with you?" Starsky asked, and hated how plaintive his voice sounded. He wanted his anger back, but it had been ground out of him. Hutch's warm hands on his skin felt so good he could have stayed there all day, attached to Hutch more intricately than by any of the leather bands buckled around his body.

"Yeah, with me. While we wait for the food." Hutch led the way into an elegant bathroom. Golden fixtures gleamed. There was a claw-footed bathtub, big enough for four, a glass-enclosed shower, and even a bidet for freshening up after a prolonged assignation.

"How are you doing?" Hutch asked softly.

That question broke the dam, the anger rushing back so suddenly that Starsky staggered. "How the hell do you think?" He braced himself against the green-veined marble counter. What was it about marble in this place? "I hurt in places I never even thought about before. That son of a bitch limey used a whip on every part of me, and then you act like I'm some kinda trained dog doin' tricks."

"Starsk."

"How long have I been here, Hutch? Huh? Just tell me that. How long until we leave, 'cause I'm gonna kill that bastard."

"Today is Saturday. Saturday evening, by now."

Four and a half days since he'd been thrown into the truck. Starsky hissed as if he'd been stabbed and thrust out a hand to keep Hutch at bay. Why were they always having these confrontations in bathrooms? He'd picked up a telephone in the squadroom on Tuesday at noon and changed his entire life. He fought to catch his breath and would have fallen if Hutch hadn't gripped his arm. A life saver -- or was it a destroyer? How could he ever know Hutch's true intentions anymore?

"Hey," Hutch crooned, and wrapped his arms around Starsky's trembling body. "Let it go. Let it be."

"Who are you, John Lennon?" Staying in those strong arms was enticing, but Starsky couldn't let his guard down. "Fill up the tub."

It was heaven to finally slip into warm, soothing water and lean back against Hutch. Starsky winced when his various wounds made themselves known, and it was far too easy to let the brutality float away for a while. Hutch soaped his back, murmuring soothing words that made no sense; they were alien to the world Starsky lived in now.

Baby.

Lover.

He wanted to give in to Hutch's sweetness, wanted it to go on and on, but the longing for what they'd left behind was powerful. They might not have had a perfect life, but it worked -- most of the time. Sure, Hutch had been distant the last few months and Starsky had found more reasons to pick fights, but that would have passed, right? Things could have been resolved without such drastic measures...if he'd asked. Hutch had said that he was waiting for Starsky to ask. Ask to take it up the ass, ask to be treated like a slave.

So, after years of waiting to be asked, Hutch had laid down the law. Literally.

Starsky closed his eyes, feeling Hutch's arms holding him tightly, feeling the friction of the washrag on his genitals, his cock rising effortlessly in the water. Hutch washed down Starsky's right leg, negotiating around the prominent rubber-capped IV port, and then repeated his actions on the left, lingering for a long time on the inner thigh, right up against the scrotum.

"This is where I will shave you," Hutch whispered, his breath tickling Starsky's ear. "And then you'll be branded there, as my property."

"Hutch," Starsky protested, but it was weak, without any substance behind it.

Hutch continued to massage his thigh, brushing the sac so enticingly, then moving away, engraving secret code into his skin. "I kept thinking about it, Starsk, all day. Thinking about seeing you naked in front of me, wearing my collar and my brand. Knowing it was all for me..."

Hutch took Starsky's hand and guided it over to his own body. Hutch's substantial erection seemed to levitate into his hand, so Starsky automatically began to rub the pulsing length.

"And then I thought of you dressed, looking the same as before...all this, in those jeans that are too tight for any sane mortal and a red shirt with some nipple showing." Hutch was panting.

Starsky wasn't breathing too well himself. How did Hutch do this? Turn the both of them on with just a description?

"You wouldn't be wearing boxers," Hutch murmured, "so in the front, the outline of the ring would be obvious, but not the brand. The brand would be a special secret. We'd be talking to people, doing normal things, and all the while I'd be waiting until we were alone so I could decorate one of your nipples with a clamp and take you -- just push your jeans down far enough to see your ass and push on in."

Hutch arched back as Starsky increased the tempo of his fisting, crying out. He came, his semen pumping into the soapy water. When Hutch opened his eyes again, he was staring straight at Starsky, those Nordic blue eyes like unending pools that could drown a man if he wasn't careful.

"Get up on the edge. Pull a towel around you if you're cold," Hutch said.

Starsky wasn't even sure why he responded, but something deep inside him needed to obey Hutch's husky, sensuous tone. He sat on the edge of the big tub with his legs spread wide, leaning against the towels hanging from a gold rod. It was so warm and steamy in the room, he wasn't cold, or maybe he was just becoming accustomed to being naked all the time.

He wasn't prepared for Hutch's next move. Hutch's lovely mouth attached itself to Starsky's cock, sucking for all he was worth. Hutch's tongue slid around the barely healed piercing, irritating the raw wound, but it was oh so good in every other way. Hutch bit down on the metal ring, tugging gently, making Starsky shout inarticulately when sensual pain shot up his cock. How could agony and bliss be so intimately tied? Starsky panted, gripping the towel rod, his whole body trembling, and looked down with amazement at the wet blond head bobbing between his thighs. Hutch rarely gave him a blowjob, and now he'd done it two days in a row. Was this worth all the humiliation? All the pain? All the loss? It shouldn't have been, but in that instant, it was.

He orgasmed and it was like an explosion demolishing whatever was left of his old life.

Wearing a thick terrycloth robe with a small moon embroidered on the left breast pocket, Hutch drained the tub and toweled Starsky down, then prepared a small basin of warm water. Just when they needed it, the razor arrived. A knock at the front door revealed a small, dark skinned girl with thick gold chains linking her pierced nipples to a collar around her neck. She pushed in a cart laden with silver-domed plates of food.

Starsky could smell the tantalizing odors of grilled steak and baked potatoes, but Hutch paid them no notice. He calmly took the straight razor from its case and laid it next to the basin.

"The beard's got to go, too," Hutch said. He swirled a towel around like a matador, a sly grin on his face as if he knew this might make Starsky smile.

In spite of himself, Starsky did smile. He was so mixed up. Half of him wanted to bolt and run like hell, escape this whole madness. The other half liked this very attentive Hutch. This turned on Hutch. He suddenly made the connection between the Hutch he'd known in the last six months and this new one.

"You've been planning this for a long time," Starsky said bluntly, staring at himself in a full length mirror. He'd hadn't seen his own reflection since before the kidnapping. Now he stared at the five-day-growth of beard on a surprisingly gaunt face covered in fading bruises. His long torso was pocked with black-and-blue marks and small welts. They'd removed all the leather cuffs and belts before the bath except for the collar, since Hutch did not have the key for it. The collar was tight against his throat, and seemed to grow tighter with every inhalation. The collar and the ring in his cock marked him so absolutely that Starsky couldn't imagine why he would need a brand.

His body was no longer his. Hutch owned him.

"Even before Tompkins died, I knew that we'd need to get out at some point." Hutch waved Starsky into a chair. He lathered Starsky's face and ran the razor down his right cheek, leaving a smooth, naked patch behind. "And I'm making no apologies, Starsk. When Roschenzky first brought up the idea of slavery, I went hot all over."

"Why'd you make me feel like I was an outcast half the time?" Starsky turned his head, feeling the cold swath of the razor against his jawbone and gently around his mouth. This was too close to being pampered, and he didn't want to pay the price. "And if you say it was to protect me, I don't wanna hear it."

"Yeah," Hutch agreed, and wiped the last of the lather off Starsky's face with a hot washrag. "I was preoccupied. People to talk to, favors to call in, markers, taking it slow with Dunfey so he wouldn't suspect anything. You were always on my mind." He turned the chair around so Starsky could see himself in the mirror again. He was smooth shaven, his own eyes dark and guarded...and standing above him, Hutch. The man's magnetism hit him like a bullet. This was how Hutch had done this, by sheer force of will and determination.

"Now spread your legs," Hutch commanded, totally in control. He was the master again. Starsky's owner.

"Fuck off." Starsky snapped out of the daze and launched himself out of the chair. But days tied to the frame had sapped his strength. He was weak and slow. Hutch simply grabbed his arm and slammed him back into the chair, jamming a finger into the soft spot under his chin until it almost impossible to breathe, much less swallow.

"This could be the razor, Starsk," Hutch growled. "This could be so many things that could get you killed for doing something like that." His face was so close Starsky saw two masters. "So spread 'em like a good slave in presentation and do not move a muscle, or I could cut your balls so damned easy."

Starsky never moved when the razor scratched over his skin, creating a bare circle in the hairy forest on his thigh. There was no turning back, no fairy tale ending where he was rescued from the dragon. He wouldn't think about the morning, and fell back on the trick that had gotten him through the entire ordeal. Focus on something else. "Where'd you go after you left? Didja get what you needed?"

"Las Vegas," Hutch said shortly, eyeing the shaved area critically. Then, in a surprising and sweet gesture, he bent and kissed the naked skin of Starsky's inner thigh with amazing reverence. "Starsky, this is a major commitment -- for both of us. Things will be very different for a long time, but I guarantee you that everything will be better in the future."

"I don't want to know about the future; I just want to know about now."

"I got a car, made sure our funds were safe. Talked to Huggy on a secure line. He's going to meet us in Arizona in a couple of days." Hutch flipped the razor closed like a gang member would a switchblade and placed it back in its case. "You'll like the car."

"Yeah?" Starsky took a slow deep breath, trying to assimilate. Trying to chart his course in this new world. Should he be kneeling now? When was he Hutch's slave and when was he the best friend? The line was so blurry it was invisible.

"It's metallic blue. Some kind of Ford. A sedan with a bad paint job." Hutch actually shuddered with a rueful grin. "I guess that's what sells in Las Vegas."

"Fluffy dice on the mirror?"

"No dice." Hutch laughed. "I draw the line at dice." He held out his hand, inviting and warm. "You hungry?"

There was no honest way to answer that one. Starsky nearly beat Hutch to the food cart. The steaks were excellent and the potatoes overflowing with melting butter. Starsky ate until his belly hurt, and then polished off the rest of Hutch's steak for good measure. He sprawled in his chair, almost happy. No thoughts of the next morning, just blissing out on good food. The meal would have been absolutely perfect with the addition of a glass of red wine and a slice of chocolate cake for desert, but he wasn't going to complain.

"Huggy told me that Dunfey disappeared," Hutch said, "but not before spreading it around town that you'd been taken as a slave."

"Damn." Starsky's heart pounded against his sternum unpleasantly. With his full belly, that hurt.

"No, actually, I think that gives us an advantage."

"Funny way to put it." Starsky pushed his chair back from the table, thinking of all the people who might have heard that he was naked and wearing a cock ring. "Makes me the butt of jokes -- pun intended."

"Yeah, and if they forget about the old Starsky and only see the new one, then you really will be a secret weapon." Hutch pushed holes in what was left of his potato with the fork tines. "You want anything else?"

Oh, how many ways could he interpret that innocent question. Starsky looked up at Hutch and was once again caught in the strength and salvation those pale blue eyes offered. If he could only turn off his brain, stop thinking about betrayal.

He needed to forgive. Because if he forgave Hutch, would he then be able to forgive himself? Stop obsessing about all the times when he knew Hutch wanted something more and pretended not to understand. Hutch was right -- he should have asked. But if he should have asked, Hutch should have made himself clear instead of paying criminals large sums of money to get his own partner in chains, even if it was, as Hutch insisted, to save his life. Ah, there was the crux of the matter -- secrecy. Not lies so much as sins of omission.

Forgiveness. Letting go of the past. Resolving to change. He'd done it once, in that seminal moment when he was fifteen. Then, he'd had nobody. Now he had Hutch. Someone he trusted, but wasn't sure he forgave. That had to be enough for now.

"I'm going to bed," Hutch said, stepping out of his clothes.

Under other circumstances, Starsky would not have found that perfectly ordinary action interesting, but so much had changed now. Hutch was naked in front of him, just as he was. Suddenly they were equals again. Except it felt odd, and he had to resist the weird urge to rearrange himself and slip into presentation, or the nose-to-knees redemption pose.

"I can't." Starsky had managed to avoid looking at the white brocade spread all evening. He'd kept his back to the bed as much as possible. When that blond head bent over the covers, pushed back the pillows and then the spread, Starsky nearly threw up, the phantom smell of cigarette and whiskey choking him. He had been fighting overwhelming nausea every time he faced the bed, and now, he bent forward with his head between his legs. Even there, he was nose to cock ring and had to close his eyes at the sight.

"Hey," Hutch murmured, one hand rubbing the sweat off the back of Starsky's neck. He massaged the place where the collar chaffed just below the hairline. "What's wrong?"

"Not used to sleeping in a bed, I guess."

"It's more than that."

Starsky wet his lips, glad that he could. Would he wear a gag tomorrow when the superheated iron pressed into his flesh? He raised his head, seeing the bed out of the corner of his eye. Hutch had pushed back the spread so that now the ivory satin sheets gleamed in the light from the bedside lamp, and the white brocade was no longer visible.

"It's stupid -- I just never liked that kind of... whaddyacallit, comforter."

"I can put it in the armoire." Hutch bundled up the puffy coverlet without batting an eye and stowed it in the spacious rosewood cupboard. "Never knew you to be so particular about the décor."

He'd kept that night bottled up for so long. Never told anyone, not even Huggy Bear who had been his only real friend back then. How could he begin such a tale? Where exactly was the beginning, anyway? With Mary Elizabeth, the girl who'd taken his virginity, or with the blond man who'd stolen what was left of his self-worth?

"You said you heard about me, when I was a kid," Starsky started, bracing his elbows on his knees. He couldn't look at Hutch, but he could feel his partner's support as if Hutch were holding him close.

"Yeah."

"This ain't easy to say." Starsky stared down at the ornate pattern on the Oriental rug. "Wasn't one of my regular...y'know, clients."

"Were you raped?"

Starsky sucked in air fast with that disorienting sense of falling through space while remaining perfectly still. He was glad he was sitting down.

Raped.

He'd said it to himself, privately, but never used the word out loud.

Men didn't get raped.

"Starsky?" Hutch ran a gentle hand through his hair, teasing curls around his fingers. "Can you talk about it?"

"He...uh..." Starsky went hot and cold and thought about throwing up again, but swallowed, his Adam's apple rough against the hard collar. "He looked like you."

"Damn." Hutch's fingers tightened on Starsky's head, but he realized it quickly and rubbed circles on Starsky's scalp to sooth the hurt. "How did you ever give in to me after that?"

"You didn't smell like him," Starsky confessed, and pulled Hutch in close, burying his face against his lover's -- his master's thighs -- preserving the rich aroma of Hutch in his sense memory. "You...weren't him. I knew that. He had blond hair -- it was creepy. He had something big, metal, I think, and shoved it up my ass. I just about died on a white bedspread in a big swanky hotel room." Some of the deep down fear drained away, the wounds from that night no longer festering.

"That's what you were talking about the other day. No wonder you never wanted what I did," Hutch said in a strangled voice. "You never said."

"No." Starsky barked a strange laugh, the past pain sharp enough to slice him in half. "I just wanted to forget about it."

"And I shoved it right back in your face."

Starsky looked up, expecting to hear some kind of an apology, but while Hutch looked sad, he made no admission of guilt.

"I told myself that was the last time," Starsky said raggedly. "No more tricks for old farts who got their rocks off with underage kids." He released Hutch's legs and fell back against the mattress with exhaustion. From that angle, Hutch looked impossibly tall. "I stopped, cold turkey, changed -- went into the army, then to the Academy -- and now you've got me back on my knees again."

He hadn't meant to let that resentment creep back in. He loved Hutch. Loved that they were finally communicating. But hated that Hutch was proud because he was wearing a damned ring in his penis.

"It's impossible to make promises I can't keep." Hutch sat down on the bed next to him. "I can't even predict what's going to happen when we leave here. But I swear, Starsky, I am not in this to hurt you." He interlaced his fingers with Starsky's. "I wish I could go back and beat that blond guy senseless and save that boy."

"You might have saved him," Starsky said.

"I didn't save him, I just believed in him." Hutch kissed Starsky, snuggling up against him, hip to hip, and then chest to chest. "He saved himself."

"I don't know how to do this, Hutch." Starsky melted into him, so tired. "Every instinct tells me to fight hard and run like hell."

"As long as you don't run away from me."

"I wouldn't even know which way to run." Starsky closed his eyes, so very aware of his cock against Hutch's thigh, the ring warm with their combined body heat, the throb of his pulse making the metal vibrate in time with his heart. "You're stuck with me."

"That's all I ever wanted." Hutch smiled at him, pushing back the sheets. "Now will you come to bed? 'Cause, I'm beat, Starsk. And I would like to sleep next to you."

Starsky waited until Hutch was stretched full length, curled onto one side, facing him, before lying down himself. Who was he right then? Hutch's partner? Hutch's slave?

No one had issued him the official slave handbook, but weren't slaves supposed to sleep on the floor? Or maybe across the end of the bed like some pet? He couldn't assimilate all the scattered parts of Starsky back into a whole. His past was bleeding into the present, the scrappy kid on the street corner high on uppers merging with the slave wearing leather cuffs high on Phenine. Where had the tough soldier in 'Nam gone? Or the respected Bay City detective?

"C'mon, get some sleep," Hutch murmured, half asleep himself. "Got enough to worry about in the morning."

The branding.

Starsky stiffened, but Hutch pressed his big hand, palm flat, against Starsky's abdomen. "Move again and I'll chain you to the bedpost." The threat was said in jest, with a chuckle for punctuation.

Starsky breathed in deeply, feeling Hutch's hand move with his respirations. This was similar to those long nights before a dangerous undercover assignment, when they'd go over and over everything that could go wrong, searching for loopholes and pitfalls.

Everything had gone wrong. He was a slave.

I have Hutch.

One thing had gone right.

Sleep came long after Hutch was snoring softly beside him. Starsky turned away from him, facing the window, only to have Hutch's hand slide down his abdomen onto his thigh, the fingers curling over the newly shaved skin.

***

Sunlight streamed through the mullioned window when Starsky opened his eyes. He lay unmoving, trying to adjust, but half a dozen welts and abrasions vied for attention, all reminding him of his status.

"Got about half an hour, Starsk." Hutch was dressed, the green shirt from the day before replaced by a familiar sight, a blue button down the exact shade of his eyes. Starsky had given it to him on his birthday the year before.

Half an hour until --

Starsky knuckled sleep out of his eyes, fear pricking his throat. How could he endure a red-hot iron pressed into his flesh branding him for life?

"Hey." Hutch sat on the bed, the mattress dipping with his weight so that Starsky slid toward him. "You didn't sleep much, huh?"

"Got a lot on my mind," Starsky ground out, and started to get up.

Hutch stopped him, inserting his finger through the slave ring like a just-married groom. "Don't move. I want to see you one last time unmarked."

"Then don't have me marked!" Starsky shouted, but he didn't dare pull away and risk further injury to his most sensitive organ. "You can stop this with one word, dammit. Hutch, it does not have to happen."

"Yes, it does," Hutch said with an intensity that shook Starsky deeply. "Because I want it to. It legitimizes you as a slave." His eyes burned into Starsky's, hot enough to sear. "And it makes me hot in ways you will never understand, Davey." He closed his fist around Starsky's cock, pumping hard and fast.

Davey.

Not the beloved Starsk, but the enslaved Davey.

"Fuck off."

"I am, baby." Hutch increased his friction, jerking Starsky off with expert technique.

Starsky didn't want to enjoy the ride. He wanted to be angry, blame Hutch for torturing him, but the slide of skin against skin was bliss. He felt stretched across a precipice, dangling over the gorge with only Hutch's hand on his cock holding him safe. Starsky came fast, the afterglow not enough to offset what was to come, but almost enough to let him forgive his master.

He watched through slitted eyes when Hutch unzipped his slacks, taking himself out with the same hand he'd used on Starsky. Starsky's semen coated Hutch's cock, providing lubrication for him to masturbate. Starsky had never watched Hutch like this before, watched the strong, masculine face go slack, head thrown back, eyes closed in coital bliss. If Starsky could have managed another erection, he could have orgasmed on the sight alone.

"Starsk!" Hutch climaxed with a joyous cry.

Starsky shut his eyes, torn between adoring this man and wanting to slug him right in the nuts.

A knock on the door startled them both. "Master Ken, I've been sent to escort you to the treatment room," a male voice called out.

"We'll be right there!" Hutch scrambled off the bed, trying to stuff his shirttail into his pants and zip himself up simultaneously.

Starsky simply wiped himself off with the sheet. There was something to be said for going nude to the party. Flicking the wet bedclothes away, he took one last look at his unmarked, shaved thigh.

This was it.

***

The walk down the hall was nerve-wracking. Since his destination was only a few doors down, Starsky was allowed to go there without a blindfold. This was his first real glimpse of other slaves. Like the girl with the serving cart, all were pierced and tattooed. He hadn't seen another person with a brand, but unless the slave spread his or her thighs widely, would it be visible?

Their slender young usher stopped in front of a heavy white door and dropped to his knees, never once looking up at Hutch. "Please go inside. Master Neville is waiting for you."

He assumed that Hutch would go in first, but Hutch, no doubt, expected him to bolt. He gripped Starsky's arm, pushing open the door so they entered together. The room was unlike any Starsky had ever seen except in some sci fi action flick. It had smooth, white, featureless walls with stark, angular furniture, all upholstered in shiny black vinyl, and a large brazier filled with glowing red coals. Bristling along one side of the brazier were three long handled irons. Instinctively Starsky shrank back against the comforting bulk of Hutch standing behind him.

"Enter the room, slave," Neville said coldly. "No dawdling."

"Starsk," Hutch said sotto voce, rubbing Starsky's goose-pebbled arm. In a louder voice, he added, "Starsky is my slave; I'll give the orders. I'm assuming you want him restrained on that table?" He pointed to one with a Y-shaped opening on one end, and leather straps to secure a slave in any position.

"You have done this before," Neville said coyly, all but batting his golden lashes.

Starsky hated him.

Hutch didn't raise his chin to acknowledge the Brit's height advantage. "Give us ten minutes alone, and I'll have him ready."

"There's a right way and a wrong way to everything, cowboy. Don't assume you know every angle, or you could slip up in the worst way." Neville walked past Hutch, almost too close, but Hutch never moved, forcing Neville to swerve so that they didn't bump when he went out the door.

Starsky looked back, past the departing Neville, and caught the flash of fear in the otherwise dulled eyes of a naked slave standing outside. Every slave in the place was probably terrified of this room, especially with an angry Neville inside.

Heated metal on fragile skin.

Just like the accidental brush of the arm against an iron or stove burner. Not bad at all. That had become his mantra.

But if he touched a burner, he could pull away immediately. Here, the heated iron would be held down for a count of five, according to Neville. He was afraid he'd scream. Maybe a gag would be a good idea.

"This is it," Hutch said unnecessarily.

"Yeah." Starsky tried for a grin and knew he failed miserably. "Personally, I always liked my thighs fried 'stead of grilled."

Abruptly, Hutch looked like he was going to cry, and shook his head to abolish the emotion. "I've seen you fried in the sun, it isn't pretty."

"And this is?"

"It can be." Hutch inserted one leg between Starsky's two, the twill from his pants indescribably erotic on the bare patch of Starsky's skin. "It will be to me." He kissed Starsky's mouth, latching on with a fierceness that surprised them both, and then his lips moved southward, over the jut of Starsky's jaw and onto the artery pulsing strongly above the slave collar. Hutch suckled like a vampire needing blood, raising a hickey in the process. Starsky couldn't believe how turned on he was by the forceful way Hutch was handling him. Who knew that this was his trigger?

"I've got your real collar," Hutch said breathlessly. "Neville sent me the key for the Luna one this morning." Without stepping back far enough for Starsky to see what was happening, Hutch unlocked the thick collar from around his neck.

"Luna?"

"The name of this place." Hutch pulled several things out of his roomy pockets and placed them on the black vinyl table. "That's why the brand will be a crescent moon."

"So now I'm a lunatic," Starsky joked, feeling desperate. He wanted Hutch's mouth back sucking on his skin, and his neck felt weirdly vulnerable without a collar.

"Touched by the far side of the moon." Hutch fastened a newer, stiffer collar around Starsky's neck so that a small ‘S' charm bumped his collarbone. It was the collar he'd refused to wear when Hutch offered it as a gift years before.

Starsky dragged in air, perilously close to passing out. The collar was so tight, yet so incredibly right. He remembered feeling trapped as he'd walked into the warehouse on Mission and Ninety-first, sure that the place was as deserted as the moon and twice as remote. Had Neil Armstrong felt this way? Stepping out into uncharted territory without a net, into a whole new world?

"One small step for mankind..." Starsky quipped, and then cried out when Hutch twisted his nipple to a point and attached a small, savage nipple clamp. "Fuck, Hutch! That hurts."

"Ever hear of fooling the brain with adverse stimuli? If something already hurts, the second pain doesn't seem so bad." Hutch kissed his sternum, holding down Starsky's left arm, the one that wanted to reach up and pull off the offending clamp.

It hurt more than he'd ever imagined a tiny silver ornament could. "G-got the concept, but only one, okay?" Starsky panted against the pain radiating across his chest, but Hutch didn't listen. He gave the right nipple an even sharper tug and the second clamp bit down with unrelenting intensity.

Starsky hadn't given much thought to his nipples. They were small and half hidden in chest hair, nothing to write home about. He'd never been a breast man when admiring the ladies, either. More interested in faces and legs. But -- shit! There were a hell of a lot more nerve endings in a nipple than he'd ever known. Each breath jittered the hanging clamps, doubling the pain. Like the ocean waves pounding on a shoreline, the clamps felt like an unceasing elemental force of nature.

"Take them off!" Starsky demanded, and was rewarded with the Hutchinson finger leveled at him with deadly precision.

"Get on the table, slave. Lie back with your legs spread."

"Hutch." The fear was so strong Starsky couldn't think. He'd endured a great deal in his life -- shootings, poisonings, but nothing voluntary. If this could be called voluntary. Nothing had been his choice since he'd landed head first in the truck.

Except Hutch. Hutch was his choice, and always had been. It was just so hard to give in, to accept. He belonged to Hutch, and in turn, Hutch would belong to him. Was this pain the price of love? How much more would he have to endure to prove that love?

How much more pain could he take?

As if in a dream-state, Starsky sat on the glossy black table and lay back. The vinyl stuck to his naked skin, holding him fast while Hutch wrapped heavy leather straps around his body, arms, and legs. Hutch gathered Starsky's genitals into a tight leather bag, tucking them away from the damaging heat. Starsky tried to move, dread forming icebergs in his belly, but the straps completely immobilized him.

"Just look at me, Starsk," Hutch whispered. "Don't close your eyes; don't look anywhere else in the room."

A lighthouse in the wilderness, a sanctuary in the storm, that was his partner. Starsky locked onto Hutch's face, desperate for reassurance. This would turn out all right. It would be over soon.

Just as the door opened and Neville returned, Hutch pinched down on both nipple clamps at the same time, tightening their grip.

Starsky howled, hating the vicious things.

"Keep looking at me," Hutch ordered, filling Starsky's vision with blond hair and summer blue eyes. "Nothing else exists, just you and me. Like before. In the beginning, before the Corporations took over, when they were just irritating vultures who broke down the monopoly laws and impeached the governor. Before, when we used to cruise the city in that old red-and-white striped tomato."

Starsky could see those two impetuous cops so clearly. Impossibly young and so idealistic. Ready to save the world. They hadn't even been able to save themselves.

He feasted greedily on Hutch's love, basking in the glow, but he couldn't tune out the sound of Neville moving around and speaking imperiously to some other hapless slave. The temperature around the table suddenly rose, and Starsky broke out in a sweat, rivulets pouring down his back to pool under his butt. The heat was so intense he could smell it, like a car overheating in the sun. He whimpered.

"Starsk. Davey," Hutch said, blocking any view of the lower half of the table with his body. He grabbed both of Starsky's hands, leaning over Starsky's bound body to do so. "Just you and me, babe. Together forever. Riding in the car with the wind in our hair, the highway so long and straight it goes on forever."

Searing, agonizing fire stamped Starsky's thigh, binding him to the pain. He couldn't escape, couldn't fight it, so he simply stared up at the center of his universe as Neville burned a crescent moon into his flesh. It smelled like meat burning on a barbecue.

The branding iron had been back in its brazier for over a minute before Starsky realized that the eerie, keening wail he could hear was coming from his own mouth. Hutch still held tightly to his hands. Had the nipple clamps helped? Starsky couldn't say. How much worse could the branding have hurt without them? He'd never know, because he was never going to get branded again. Was he?

"Ssh, you're doing great, Starsk." Hutch kissed his wet cheeks and took possession of his mouth.

Starsky shuddered, reassured, although by no stretch of the imagination could this be called doing great. His leg was on fire, an inferno that was eating away at his flesh and threatening to bore a hole right through the bone. He was glad Hutch still held his hand tightly.

"There, it's finished for all your fuss," Neville said gaily. "And it will look quite pretty when it's all healed. Just the thing for the master to play with when spreading his slave's legs."

Starsky resolved to murder this bastard someday, and bit down on the lip that Hutch had just kissed. He wished he could taste his partner there.

"He can have two doses of morphine," Neville continued, "as long as there's no silly problems with allergies and such. And usually there's a check-up in a day or two, but since you're so resolved to be on your way -- "

"We are." Hutch let go of Starsky's hand, but patted his belly once before turning to talk to the slave trainer. "How about something for the road? He can't just go without anything."

"We're not entirely heartless. He'll get some Phenine. Slaves seem to do very well on the stuff."

Drawing in strength from Hutch's brief contact, Starsky lay very still. He didn't have the energy for much except breathing. Now that the initial pain was dampening, he could think more clearly. He was now a branded slave. Even if, someday, the slave laws were abolished, he'd still bear the marks of that life. Even if no one ever knew, never saw the brand and pierce hole under his clothing, Hutch would know. Hutch wanted him like this.

He'd gone through this pain for Hutch's sake. To bind them together. Hutch would be part of him for the rest of his life, and he a part of Hutch. They were now conjoined twins with something extra, a love that only revealed itself fully after so many years of hiding in the shadows. It was a scary, exhilarating love that was both life-affirming and darkly twisted.

The real question was, now that David Starsky was this man's slave, did he want to regain his freedom?

How far had he come since that fateful Tuesday when he'd vowed never to bow to any man?

"This is Tink," Neville said, waving a limp wrist at a smaller Asian man. "He'll do the bandaging and whatnot. Cheerio, chaps, I'm off to polish a miscreant's rosy ass."

"Hello," Tink said with the careful consonants and syllables of someone who had learned English as a second language. He was barely as tall as Hutch's shoulder, delicate and spare with a narrow, angular face and sharply canted black eyes. He wore nothing but the usual ring in his cock and a small caduceus charm on his collar to denote his former profession. "I was a doctor, before."

Before. The word echoed in Starsky's head. From now on, everything would be reckoned as Before Slavery and After. Even Hutch had used the term.

"I have worked with many burn patients. This is deep, as all brands are, but will heal well as long as it is kept clean."

Starsky hissed when Tink touched the wound lightly. The doctor spread a cooling gel over the entire area and taped a light bandage in place. "One dose of morphine now and another in six hours," Tink explained, injecting the narcotic into Starsky's rump. "That is all slaves are allowed."

Starsky wanted to curl over on one side and let the drug take him under for a while, but the straps still held him fast to the table in that uncomfortable legs-spread position. Morphine was good stuff, even if it gave him vivid dreams. After the surgery to repair the damage of Gunther's bullets, when he was still on regular doses of the painkiller, he'd had a dream that had never made sense.

Until now.

Prophetic, really. He'd dreamed he'd been strapped to a table with surgical implements clamped to various open wounds while the surgeons did their work. Only in the dream, they hadn't been repairing his bullet wounds, they'd been changing something inside, turning him into some sort of bionic man. He'd been awake but unable to speak, only able to listen to the nurses' comments on his well-formed body and heavy sac. They would touch him, fondling his cock and giggling, not the least concerned for his modesty. As a doctor cauterized some vessel, the sizzle and pop sounded like gunshot, underscoring the nurses' raunchy talk. Oddly, he hadn't been so much frightened as resigned. Somehow, this was his fate, to be some sort of lab rat, without any right to protest his violation.

In the dream, the name "Starsk" uttered in a low sensual voice had caused him to open his eyes. Hutch stood at the end of the operating table dressed all in black leather -- jacket, slacks, and a low-brimmed hat -- watching. The surgeons gave Hutch no mind, continuing to place more bits of metal and wire inside Starsky's body. Just when the stink of heat against skin had been overpowering, Hutch had leaned in and kissed him. Immediately, he'd been healed, the incisions magically closed. When Starsky looked down at his body, the scars spelled out the word "Hutch" from just above his cock straight up to his breastbone.

Starsky had always considered it the result of morphine-induced paranoia and watching too many reruns of the Six Million Dollar Man. Now, held down with straps, with Tink carefully snipping the stitches that held the IV port in place, he knew differently. He'd seen his future in that dream, and it was here. He cried out once when the snaky IV tubing slithered from his body, and looked over to see Hutch press his fingers against a gauze pad to staunch the bleeding.

"Sssh," Hutch whispered, and stroked the tangle of hair just above the black bag protecting Starsky's manhood. The bag seemed to rise of its own accord, the knots holding it closed suddenly far too tight, and Starsky moaned. He wanted -- no needed -- Hutch's hand there, warm against his belly, but it was too much. System overload; all circuits fried.

"Almost over, tiger, then some food and a nap. You look like you could use it," Hutch said, the corners of his mouth turning up at the sight of the dancing codpiece.

"No food." Starsky shook his head, and was proud that he had that ability. Apparently, he had less control over his nether regions, because the erection was growing limp as his nausea level rose. That nap sounded good. How long would he be kept here? Hours, like on the hideous frame?

"You must eat and keep up your strength," Tink advised. "I can only give you a small jar of ointment, but aloe vera works well. Be very careful to keep the brand clean and lightly covered. If infection sets in, that could be fatal. More and more doctors will not treat slaves. In fact, recent laws have made it impossible to give more than a single dose of antibiotic to a slave."

"That's ludicrous!" Hutch exploded, and pressed too hard on the gauze pad.

"Hey," Starsky reminded him, and caught the apology in Hutch's eyes. Hutch looked haunted, as if the whole experience had been more than he'd bargained for. "It won't get infected," Starsky said, but he was still appalled by the law. Was there anyone left in the world that gave a damn about slaves' welfare?

"It may be different in other areas." Tink shrugged, obviously used to schooling his emotions around owners. "I only know our small patch of Nevada, and little enough of that."

"Where were you from?" Starsky asked, deciding it was about time he entered the conversation. The ointment and narcotic were taking effect. It must have been a low dose of morphine because he wasn't drifting off in a languid daze. His leg still hurt, but he felt disconnected from the pain. Quite a nice feeling.

"When I was taken? San Francisco." Tink pursed his lips together. "I couldn't pay my medical school loans, so my bank called in the hunters."

"Your bank!" Starsky responded too quickly, forgetting the straps that held him. He jerked upward and was rewarded with a huge backwash of intense hurt from all over his body. The straps dug into the flesh of his chest and belly, cutting off his oxygen for a moment and he panted, waiting out the agony. Both nipple clamps seemed to pinch down twice as hard, and he was sure there would be bloody pinpricks circling his nipples when Hutch removed them.

"What was that Phenine Neville mentioned?" Hutch asked with concern, when Tink taped a clean gauze pad in place. Hutch's hand went back to that nest of hair over Starsky's groin, but this time there was no arousal.

Starsky recognized the name of the drug and thought he knew what Phenine did, but was loopy enough that he couldn't put his finger on why he didn't want Phenine again.

"A painkiller made especially for slaves." Tink ducked his head, tidying his scissors and bandages on the procedure tray. "It is a new formula. So many drugs are available only to those who can afford high prices charged by private physicians."

"The CEC cut off health insurance late last year," Hutch agreed.

"Just so," Tink said. "That alone had a huge impact. We've had many slaves added to the fold since then -- those who've lost everything because of astronomical medical costs."

"Barbaric." Starsky sounded hoarse to his own ears, and swallowed, feeling the pressure of the collar on his Adam's apple. Not his collar, Hutch's.

"This whole thing is barbaric," Hutch snarled, unbuckling the stiff leather straps. His anger made him clumsy and Starsky would have loved to help him, but Hutch had started with the ankle bindings first.

"So now, a whole new market," Tink said. "Drugs for citizens and others for slaves. Phenine isn't strong, but it is better than having nothing at all." Tink took no notice of Hutch's frenzied movements, and scooped a portion of ointment from a larger tub into a small white jar. He tucked that and a bottle of pills into a bag marked with a crescent moon. "I will come to your room, Master Ken, later, to administer the second injection. Thank you for speaking so kindly with a humble slave." He bowed formally, and went to his knees, touching his head to the floor for a moment before backing to the door on his knees.

With half the straps unbuckled, Starsky was able to see this remarkable sight just before Tink stood with his head lowered and keyed the door opening sequence. Starsky shuddered at the tangible example of what he might become. Then the clamps hanging off his chest jittered violently.

"Take 'em off!" Starsky hissed, at the limits of his endurance. He would have thrown up if he had eaten anything.

Hutch obeyed without comment, taking the wind out of Starsky's sails. Yesterday, Hutch had been predatory, totally turned on by Starsky's debasement. Today, he seemed shell-shocked, his face pale and unreadable.

The removal hurt, sensation coming back to his nubs with sudden intensity. Starsky bit down hard on his lip, refusing to play the victim. If only he could rub the offended areas, but Hutch had somehow left the straps holding his wrists down for last.

"Having second thoughts?" Starsky asked, confused.

"Just finding out that reality is a great deal different than fantasy," Hutch muttered, releasing the buckles restraining Starsky's left arm. Starsky half sat up and awkwardly unthreaded the strap from the buckle on his right arm by himself. "I had these daydreams. You down in front of me, wearing the collar and cuffs...so damned beautiful." He turned away, picking up the bag of medications absently. "But the rest of the time our lives would be like they were..."

"Before," Starsky said.

Hutch sighed, nodding. "What you just did for me, Starsk." Hutch put the bag into the pocket of his jacket, looking down the length of Starsky's body, his gaze so hot that the dried sweat on Starsky's back rehydrated, drenching him. "It's unbelievable."

"Like I had a choice?"

"No." Hutch touched Starsky's left thigh, fingers delicately poised at the edge of the bandage. "Neither one of us have since I got caught up in this mess. If you want to blame someone, blame Roschenzky." He dropped to his knees, head bowed as Tink had done.

Starsky was appalled. This wasn't Hutch. This wasn't how it should be.

"Master," Starsky said, his voice breaking and twisting so that he could barely get the words out. "Hutch, please." He wanted to pull Hutch up, but when he swung his legs over the side of the table, the world tilted like an amusement park ride.

"I've turned your life into hell," Hutch said.

Starsky was stunned to see that Hutch knelt directly between his knees, his mouth so close to Starsky's cock he could have opened up those narrow lips and sucked him on in.

"I didn't mean to," Hutch said in a tight voice. He loosened the ties on the leather bag protecting Starsky's genitals, easing out his penis and sac with infinite care. "I was so busy with my own agenda I didn't think out every angle."

"Not hell." Starsky was as astonished as Hutch to hear himself say that. If this wasn't hell, what was it? A life with Hutch, forever. How could that be hell? "Just different."

Hutch rubbed his fair hair on the inner skin of Starsky's right thigh, a ticklish yet wonderful sensation. If he hadn't been about three-quarters high on morphine, it would have turned him on, but his cock only twitched once. Then, Hutch leaned in and bestowed a reverent kiss up in the junction of his left thigh and groin, right above the newly minted brand. That did it. Starsky sucked in a startled breath, even the gentle pressure of Hutch's lips causing pain, but his cock jumped for joy, nearly poking Hutch in the ear.

"Baby," Hutch murmured, rubbing his head against Starsky's erection. "Lover, slave. You're all I ever wanted, do you know that? After stakeouts, on those nights when you'd do me with your head practically under the steering wheel...I had the best dreams after that. I knew it was sick, but I loved you most then."

"I loved you, too." Starsky closed his eyes, aware of nothing except the feather light brush of hair against his sensitive organ. A few strands caught in the metal of the ring, pulling sharply until Hutch reached up and untangled himself. Even the most minimal touch of skin to skin was perfection. Starsky came suddenly, splattering Hutch's hand with semen.

"Lick it." Hutch stood, raising his sticky fingers to Starsky's mouth. "Clean me off."

When Starsky opened his mouth to obey, Hutch did the same, both of their tongues lapping up the cum together. Salty, almost bitter, musky, Starsky's own essence. Wet tongues met fleetingly, warm breath mingled, foreheads so close together that Starsky was convinced their thoughts could transfer back and forth without a single word spoken.

Desire. Need. Infatuation. Devotion.

That described how he felt about Hutch. Then, other words filtered up through his consciousness.

Enslaved. Owned. Branded.

Scary words, but they described him as well. Just as master, owner, and enforcer marked Hutch.

And partner.

Always partner, no matter what other things were said.

"Partner," Starsky said aloud.

"Yes," Hutch agreed and helped him down off the table.

Starsky wobbled, his legs shaking, and remembered Hutch helping him down off another treatment table after he'd been injected with a deadly poison. They hadn't known how to save him then, but had worked together to find the culprit as Starsky got sicker and sicker. He wasn't sick now, just stripped of all that had once given him status in the world. But with Hutch beside him, maybe they could restore order. Return the world to the way it had been before the CEC moved in. He remembered that Hutch had to go on alone once Starsky was too sick from the poison to help.

This time, he planned to be right at Hutch's side. He forced himself to stand erect, ignoring his trembling knees.

***

Tink came in when the afternoon sun was slanting through the windows of Hutch's suite, casting weird shadows that made alternating black and bright patterns on the ornate carpet. Starsky had slept since the branding and endured a second injection without comment. He still didn't feel like eating, but knew he should because there was one more hurdle to jump over before they could leave that evening.

Despite the stupefying effects of the morphine, the fresh wound on his leg, and his weakness, he had to show Neville that he'd learned the basics. Going through the slave positions with the new brand would be an ordeal and really brought home his status. No one was concerned about whether he felt well enough to perform; they just expected that a slave must satisfy his master.

"Get any rest?" Hutch asked, looking up from some papers.

"Feel like crap," Starsky muttered, his mouth furry. Low-level nausea still sat heavily in his belly. He tottered over to the bathroom to clean up and brush his teeth. The brand felt huge, like it covered him from groin to knee, and throbbed with every step. In fact, it was fairly small; a four by four inch gauze bandage covered the entire thing. Starsky had the urge to pull the tape off and look at his new adornment, but wasn't sure of the protocol. It was on his body, but he didn't own any part of himself. Hutch probably wouldn't punish him for such a minor indiscretion, but Neville might. Still, Starsky just wanted to see what it looked like.

Unable to staunch his natural curiosity, Starsky carefully slid a fingernail under the edge of the gauze, and gasped, pain flaring up with fiery intensity. "Shit."

"You want to see it? Wait until it heals," Hutch said, leaning against the doorjamb. "It will look better then."

"It's part of me," Starsky said, gritting his teeth to remain strong.

"And every part of you is part of me." Hutch took his arm, leading him out to a small table covered with scattered papers and some bread and cheese. "If nothing else, slavery may teach you some patience, Starsk. Bravery, you already had." He poured a glass of orange juice. "Now eat something before we have to go see that ponce, Neville."

"What's all this?" Starsky indicated the papers as he placed some cheddar on slice of sourdough and chewed without much interest. Surprisingly, it went down well, and his stomach was quite happy for another piece, which he supplied.

"Reports that the Abbey League needs; information that the CEC didn't want to fall into the wrong hands." Hutch grinned.

"But it did?"

"Only if you consider ours the wrong hands." Hutch shuffled some of the pages then pulled one out to show Starsky. "Names of the major players, CEOs, who knows what about who..."

"Shouldn't that be whom?"

"When did you suddenly become the grammar expert?"

"A lot has changed recently."

"Yeah." Hutch put down the list he'd been squinting at, looking at Starsky with something of the old Hutch.

This silly back and forth, as if they'd been whiling away the hours on a stakeout instead of ensconced in an overly decorated bordello, felt like old times. Starsky could ignore for a moment that he was naked and Hutch dressed. He could ignore all the ways the CEC had fucked them over as long as what Hutch and he had between them stayed essentially the same.

"Anyway," Hutch said after a pause, "we're learning the ways to squeeze back, to grab them by the nuts and make it hurt. Which ones regularly use slaves is the most important, because that's who we -- you can target first."

"I thought you said we were wanted men in BC. How can we go back there?"

"We're not. The transfer of power happened a while back. Very few of the bigwigs live in Bay City anymore. Many have places in states without extradition to California like Vegas, or in neutral territory like New Mex-Arizona. My assignment is to infiltrate the mob, get an invitation to the council meeting supposedly taking place in Phoenix, and take Dunfey down anyway I can."

"Hutch!" Starsky dropped his piece of cheese and didn't bother to pick it up. He'd never suspected that his partner had such a devious scheme. "But he's gone."

"There are logical places he'll have to surface," Hutch said enigmatically. "We'll be there first."

"So suddenly we're the perps? Breaking laws 'stead of bending 'em?"

"When was the last time you felt like we were upholding any law worth having, huh?" Hutch went hard and cold in a second.

"Seems like the day we left the academy," Starsky admitted, thinking back on all the assignments he'd been a part of that had rubbed him the wrong way. Jailing old men because they cheated a little on taxes, looking the other way when those in power used the less fortunate for their own means, rapes that went unreported, robberies that were recorded as misunderstandings... He'd always been the maverick, accused of taking the law into his own hands to arrest those who broke the real laws -- the ones that said murder, stealing, and extortion were wrong. It had gotten him into hot water more often than he could count.

"Exactly," Hutch said. "The men running the government are the biggest criminals of all. So, we switch sides to fight back."

"You think they'll believe we went traitor?"

"We never went traitor to ourselves, Starsk." Hutch entwined his fingers in Starsky's, squeezing tight. "Unless you consider this..."

"No." Starsky exhaled with a loud whoosh. "I'm still getting my brain wrapped around this whole thing, but I get why you had to do it. At least, I understand intellectually; the rest'll come eventually."

"Your brain's working just fine, lover." Hutch picked up a square of cheese and popped it in his mouth. "You've already got the physical in line. The emotion will follow."

Nodding soberly, Starsky poked at the remains of the meal, piling cheese cubes into a mini stairs and walking his fingers down. His emotions were all over the map. He wanted to kneel in front of Hutch, but not that British prick. He gloried in the way Hutch looked at him now, lusted after him in a way that had never before been so obvious. It was the rest of the world he worried about. What would happen once they left this place? For all that Starsky hated the cruelty, humiliation, and punishments at Luna, they were nothing compared to what it would be like to walk in public nude, collared, and branded. Could he hold Hutch to the promise that he would only have to be a slave when it was necessary? Could he withstand the pity in the other Abbey Leaguers' eyes?

"There was a woman here..." He thought back, not sure which day he'd been so roughly examined. "Harriet." He stuffed down memories of being watched by an unknown audience while Harriet and Neville had played with him, and the shame that drugs coursing through him made him crave their callous handling. "Sr09;she mentioned going to a council meeting. That she had to leave soon." He couldn't trust his own senses anymore, though. He could have conjured her up just as he'd done visions of Terry and Hutch making love.

"Harriet." Hutch rifled through his papers. "I'm sure I saw her name here. Good. The more information we have, the better." He located the right document and circled a name with a pencil. "Harriet Roget. She owns Luna."

"Looked like a VP, one of the CEC's lawyer or something." Starsky hated the fear that her name brought.

"She is. Probably bought this place as an investment and found she liked having men at her feet."

Not me.

Not ever.

"Is today Sunday?" Starsky worked hard to keep the sound of a whiny child from his voice. He had to maintain dignity, prove that he was still a man.

"You know it is. Why, you plan on writing a diary?"

"I need to keep track," he snapped. "Take about a day to drive to Arizona?"

"I think so."

"Where are my clothes? Cause I ain't driving through the desert naked."

"Don't worry. When the time is right, I'll give them to you."

"When the time is right?" Starsky bristled. "I'm not some baby that needs to be led around by the hand, Hutch. Give me my clothes."

Hutch didn't move; his eyes were the pale chips of a glacier. He licked his lips and seemed to come to some decision. "The other day we agreed that you would be my slave in private." His gaze raked across Starsky's nude body with blistering heat, but there was censure for Starsky's behavior. "I'm the one in charge here, Davey."

Starsky felt the slave name like a punch in the gut.

"Once things have settled," Hutch continued in a softer tone, "once we're really in private -- it won't matter so much. But there are so few people we can trust. You have to believe that. Follow my lead or you could get badly hurt."

"Worse than what you've done to me?" Starsky retorted bitterly.

"Worse than what you did to me for all those years, buddy."

Starsky went down on his knees, his belly burning with shame and anger. "Master, accept my apology for ridiculing your fucking fantasies."

Hutch smacked Starsky so hard he fell back against the bed, his lower lip split. Starsky stared up at his partner, knowing he'd provoked the blow, and fascinated by the montage of rage, guilt, passion, and confusion that played across Hutch's face.

"Why?" Hutch demanded.

"To prove that you would." Starsky tasted his own blood and sucked on his lip. "Even in private. What's that old saying? Absolute power corrupts absolutely. Hutch, you gotta be careful. Playing in their sandbox could change you forever."

"And as you said, so much has already changed." Hutch massaged his temples, a sign that he was getting a major migraine. "Your clothes are in my bag. I went to your house and got a few things before I left the city." His jaw muscles spasmed before he continued. "I stood in your bedroom feeling like I'd killed everything we ever had together."

"What we've got now is different, but I'm beginning to think it's a lot more honest." Starsky judged that it was safe to reassert his independence and stood. He was about to rummage through the suitcase for something to wear when a knock on the door stopped him.

"Get back on your knees," Hutch said, flashing him a sympathetic smile. He brushed his hand fleetingly through Starsky's curls and keyed the door open.

Neville stood in the hall, dressed all in green and gold. A silky kimono covered a gold net shirt that revealed a hairless chest. The sprayed-on leather pants were eye-popping green, but Neville was far too skinny to pull off the style.

Starsky knelt stiffly in proper presentation, his eyes cast toward the floor, hands resting loosely on his thighs and his legs spread as widely as he could tolerate. Even so, Neville made a rude sound and grasped Starsky's shoulders, pulling them back until he thought his backbone would snap. Starsky imagined snapping the twig-like trainer in two without breaking a sweat.

"Shoulders back, and work on keeping those legs spread, Davey lamb. Need to show perfect posture at all times." He snickered. "I see that you'd delivered a bit of necessary discipline to the lad, Hutchinson. With his gypsy boy looks, he really should have a couple of bruises and that oh-so winsome smear of blood at all times."

Hutch stood just behind Starsky. The solid warmth of his legs against Starsky's back was exactly what Starsky needed to sustain him.

"We've got somewhere to be, so get this over with," Hutch snapped.

"A demonstration of all the common slave positions," Neville said, sounding bored. "Showing that the slave has learned at least the most basic of skills and listens closely to his master's voice." He circled Starsky, gold alligator-skin shoes and slick green leather all that Starsky could see. "Hutchinson, put him through his paces."

"Obeisance, Davey," Hutch said formally.

Moving as quickly and gracefully as he could, Starsky bent forward at the waist, still on his knees, and placed his cheek on the floor, arms stretched out in front of him. The next command was for Punishment, which only required raising the buttocks up in case the owner wanted to paddle his slave. Submission was the first of the standing positions, hands clasped behind the waist, head bowed, legs spread. Starsky found it appallingly similar to the Army's parade rest. Everything he'd done in his teens was coming full circle, even his stint in the armed forces. Hutch's uninflected tone sounded exactly like the whip-crack voice of Staff Sergeant Morgan, back in basic training.

"Slave!" Hutch roared.

Starsky looked up, astonished. He'd been daydreaming instead of paying attention.

Hutch was fearsome in his anger, his jaw as pale as marble and just as hard. His blue eyes bore straight into Starsky's soul.

Dropping to his knees, Starsky didn't even notice the pain of hitting the floor, only aware of a hot blush of shame that burned across his cheeks. He'd made Hutch look bad.

"Well, you'll have to punish him now," Neville drawled, a delighted grin making him look like a ghoulish jack o'lantern. "Breaking position. Eye contact. Can I interest you in a whip or an old fashioned tawse?"

"I prefer a belt," Hutch said as if he did this every day. "Punishment position, slave, and don't move a muscle. Five strokes for disobedience."

Steeling himself to hide his trembling, Starsky folded himself into the pose he'd held shortly before. He wasn't sure that he could maintain it without flinching. The brand on his thigh throbbed; heat radiating off the wound. How hard would Hutch hit him?

"I'd use my belt first, because I don't have anything else."

What Hutch said that first night left Starsky incredibly aroused, but reality was another matter. He wasn't turned on by the prospect of a beating.

"Five strokes, to remind you. Not punishment. Just for us, because I want to."

He waffled between anger and desire, with a bit of fear to spice things up. The five strokes were Hutch's code for love, that much was clear, but he didn't really have to do the deed, did he? He didn't have to prove his worth as a master to Neville. Or did he?

Hutch slipped his belt out of the loops and wrapped the end with the metal buckle in his hand, holding it down to Starsky's mouth. "Kiss it, Davey," he said loudly, then added, "Starsk, I..." almost too softly to hear.

"Just do it," Starsky hissed, pressing his mouth to the leather. His bottom lip stung, and left a tiny drop of blood on the pressed leaf pattern on the belt. With Hutch this close to him, he could smell Hutch's musky arousal. Hutch wasn't doing this to prove himself to Neville; he was proving his domination, and love, to Starsky.

Starsky held himself immobile when the first blow slapped his bare bottom. He suspected Hutch wasn't putting his whole weight into the swing because the pain wasn't bad. But when the second and third blow landed in exactly the same spot, Starsky had a harder time remembering this was a show of love. He bit down on his abused lower lip, tasting the bright, sharp tang of blood. The fifth blow landed precisely over the first four, blistering that one place on his left ass cheek. Starsky hiccupped, barely able to keep from crying. He hadn't moved, but it was a near thing.

"Magnificent artistry, cowboy," Neville crowed. "I knew you'd look right at home striking another man."

"Now, Davey." Hutch stepped in front of his partner, banishing the Brit from Starsky's view. "Let's start from the beginning. Presentation pose."

Despite nipples still tender from the clamps, his aching butt, and the renewed pain from the brand, Starsky did his routine flawlessly, determined not to lose concentration this time. Deliverance was the hardest of the standing poses, staring straight ahead without looking at the master, hands locked behind the neck with the elbows stuck out like angel wings. Hutch took the opportunity to palm the welt on Starsky's backside, and it was all Starsky could do not to squeak in pain. The touch hurt, and yet, perversely he liked Hutch's hand there, covering the hurt, soothing it away. The same hand that caused pain also brought pleasure.

"Spread eagle," Hutch directed, pointing over at the bed.

Starsky didn't hesitate, lying down on the rumpled bedclothes without pushing them out of the way. He knew the drill -- nothing was done for his comfort, even though the twisted sheets made a lump in the small of his back. Everything was for the master. Whatever the master wanted, the slave provided. He grabbed hold of the upright posts on either side of the bedstead, which were just far enough apart to strain the muscles in his shoulders. He reached out with spread legs to touch his toes to the posts at the foot of the bed and waited.

Spread eagle was always a test of the slave's endurance and ability to obey without being restrained. When Neville had trained him in the position on Saturday afternoon, he'd used the whip on him again and again, creating tiny stinging welts on his feet, belly, and cock. Starsky caught his breath, wondering if Hutch could top that, and if he could hold out against whatever pain Hutch inflicted without removing his hands or feet from their stations.

Hutch trailed the end of the belt down Starsky's body. It was provocative as hell, and scary, too. Was Hutch planning to smack his front? The leather flicked lightly against Starsky's penis, sliding between his legs, but never to the left, only on the right, the unmarked thigh. It snaked under his balls, making him gasp and want to writhe, but that was not allowed. Starsky tensed, he could barely stand the pressure of the sheets against his blistered ass, and the ticklish sweat dripping under his collar into the hollow of his throat and down his back burned like fire on the welts.

Oh, God, Hutch. What you do to me.

The belt was narrow and fit through the metal ring piercing Starsky's cock. It was a tight fit. Hutch had to curl the edges of the belt to get it in, but once through he was able to thread the leather strap to the midpoint.

Starsky closed his eyes, his breathing erratic and labored. How could he remain motionless with this going on? Each time the belt inched a little farther, the ring tugged on the end of his cock, sending the most amazing and alarming sensations to his brain -- to every sensitized part of his body. He was abuzz.

Hutch held Starsky's organ tightly, pinching down on the base as he pulled and prodded the belt along its course. The feeling of that hot, big hand on his skin was the most electrifying thing Starsky had ever encountered. He literally had to hold his breath not to thrust up into Hutch's hand, and cried out when Hutch tugged the belt up to wrap it around Starsky's waist.

"Lordy, cowboy, you do know how to play a mean flute..." Neville said faintly.

Starsky had forgotten he was in the room. The only person he was aware of was Hutch. His whole universe was Hutch. He moaned when Hutch pushed the belt under his body, and tightened his grasp on the bedposts.

"Hu..."

"Sssh, no talking, mushbrain." Hutch straddled him, knees tight against Starsky's hipbones, his hands scrabbling under Starsky's back to get a purchase on the buckle of the belt. He finally tipped Starsky's body over to the right to snug one end of the now sweat-slicked leather into the tight fastener.

His body twisted like a piece of Christmas candy, Starsky panted, feeling the hard jut of Hutch's knees holding him firmly, and the moist heat of Hutch's penis pressing into his side through a layer of clothing. Hutch was incredibly turned on.

Starsky grunted when Hutch finally secured the belt; his cock was strained to the limit of its length, pressed tight against his abdomen. Every breath, every movement, was agony, but incredibly erotic at the same time. Starsky had managed to keep contact with the four posts, but felt more wrung out than he'd ever been after an hour at Vinnie's gym.

"Good work, Starsk," Hutch breathed into his ear as he eased Starsky back onto the mattress.

"I'm all aglow, I'll tell you that much." Neville fanned himself with one limp hand. "Oh, Hutchinson, we could go places together, you and I. You have the gift, my dear."

"It takes the right partner," Hutch said dryly, holding out a hand to Starsky. "Did you get my car all gassed up and pack some food for the road?"

"As you commanded, lover." Neville tittered, watching Starsky stand gingerly. "It hurts, doesn't it, lamb? We always have to suffer for the good stuff. That's what makes it so good."

Wanting to smack the limey scarecrow across his supercilious mouth, Starsky almost started to speak when Hutch dug his fingers into his wrist.

"We're out of here, then." Hutch looked at Starsky.

"Oh, I did forget to tell you something." Neville paused at the large door, standing coyly like a winsome model in some fey fashion magazine.

"Why am I not surprised?" Hutch ran a long finger down Starsky's spine, tugged once on the belt, making Starsky grunt, then turned away to pick up a piece of luggage.

Starsky swayed, standing unsupported, his cock tight and hot on his belly. God, Hutch isn't going to make me sit in the car like this, is he? He looked down, staring at his imprisoned organ. The pull on the ring strained the head of his cock, making it look like the point of a rocket. That's exactly how he felt, like he was about to blast off. If Hutch touched him even one more time, he would climax with Neville still in the room.

"These little details always seem to get away from me," Neville sighed. "He'll have to be masked and cuffed until you are past the gates of Luna -- house policy, Davey." He glanced over at Starsky, golden eyes smoky. "Not that I don't prefer most of my slaves wearing a mask and manacles, but in your case that pretty face with all the bruises really shouldn't be covered for too very long."

"I'd like to see a few bruises on your face, too, but then we don't always get what we want, huh?" Starsky managed to get the whole sentence out before Neville slapped him hard. It was an open-handed womanly slap, which stung but didn't do much damage.

"He deserves days alone on the frame with a rocket launcher shoved up his butt," Neville shrieked, high color on his bony cheeks. "Tell your slave to apologize, Hutchinson!"

"If he's speaks the truth, why should I punish him for it?" Hutch shrugged, but pointed a dagger finger at Starsky.

Knowing he'd probably crossed the line, Starsky dropped his head, tucked his hands behind his back and took an absolutely perfect submission posture. "I would never lie in front of my master," he said through his teeth.

"See, he obeys me to the letter." Hutch stepped in front of Starsky like a shield. "Why the blindfold if he's leaving?"

Neville sighed as if both ex-detectives were totally stupid. "So he won't know the location of our little haven, of course. In case he turns rogue and wants to come back to murder us in our beds."

"I know the location," Hutch said ominously.

Starsky risked raising his head, knowing both were ignoring him. Hutch was once again the sleek, tawny cougar on alert, ready to strike. He didn't move, but Starsky could see the muscles of his back rippling with suppressed energy under his shirt.

"But why would you tell, cowboy?" Neville asked, but his voice had this odd little squeak of fear, and he smoothed the lapels of his kimono nervously.

"Why wouldn't I?" Hutch countered, holding out his hand. "You'll have to supply the mask, we're traveling light."

"I'll have Neela bring one pronto. She so enjoyed serving you last night." Neville palmed the door and was out before Hutch could take another step forward.

"I think you scared him." Starsky chuckled. He relaxed his stance, groin now continuously aching in competition with his brand. And he had to go to the bathroom. He fingered the buckle in the back, trying to work the belt loose from the opposite direction than he was used to.

"Damn fool," Hutch muttered. He looked up and down Starsky's bound body, and licked his lips like a man who hadn't eaten in a long time. "You'll still be wearing a mask when we leave here. And leave that thing alone."

"I gotta go," Starsky said belligerently. "Especially if we're going to be driving a long way." Still, he'd wanted Hutch's hands on him for the last ten minutes, and thrust his hips toward his partner. "I can't take a wiz like this."

Hutch wrapped his hand around Starsky's cock, and, amazingly, it swelled, a tiny pearl of fluid appearing on the upright end. Starsky gulped, but held steady, all of his nerve endings praying for Hutch to bring him off.

"Don't come," Hutch said.

Starsky's heart stalled, then restarted, slamming against his chest with startling force. He clenched down, forcing all his pleading hormones to back off. "Wr09;what?"

"I have a few things planned for later -- once we're away from here." Hutch squeezed, not enough to hurt, but enough to take the edge off Starsky's rampant need. Then he swiftly unfastened the belt. Starsky had to make a mad dash to the toilet, but he made it.

When he emerged from the bathroom, Hutch had laid clothes over the footboard of the bed. Familiar clothes. His own clothes, from his own drawer back in Bay City. Jeans as soft and worn as flannel pajamas and a red Henley shirt, most of the buttons missing from the open placket. No underwear, which didn't surprise him. And no leather jacket, which was probably on the back of one of those mouth-breathing mooks who'd stripped him in the truck. Real, old leather, soft as the hide of a baby calf, the heady scent a comfort on those days when he was cold and alone because it smelled like Hutch.

Hutch favored leather almost more than Starsky did -- and it suited him the way popcorn went with movies or peanut butter with jelly. Perfection. That blond hair just dusting the folded down collar of his sleek, tan jacket with the blanket stitching down the lapels...

"You looking at me?" Hutch half turned from stuffing his papers back into the carryall, knowing Starsky's mind, his heart, his very being so completely. Even more than Starsky knew himself.

"Is there a law against that, too?" Starsky jerked his pants all the way up and hissed when the denim crushed the brand and fresh welts.

"If there is, I can always give you a warning and then release you into my care for safekeeping. C'mere."

"I'm not so sure I'm safe around you." Starsky pretended to protest, but he liked the give and take, the easiness of the moment. He couldn't quite find his footing anymore with Hutch. He wasn't sure of the new protocols, but told himself their basic bond hadn't broken, just shifted to one side.

Hooking a finger into Starsky's empty belt loops, Hutch reeled him in. "I went over to your place to look for that old pair of jeans you used to have. Remember them? With the rip on the right knee?" He ran one hand up the inner seam of Starsky's pants, but instead of a rip in the knee area, he split the thin fabric right over the brand, fraying the edges all the way around until the white gauze showed through like a tiny flag.

Starsky couldn't move, caught in a tractor beam of those hungry summer blue eyes like the Millennium Falcon being towed along by the Death Star.

"And right here, under the fly, the threads were so loose I could have just grabbed hold and yanked." He suited action to his words, but didn't touch Starsky's flesh, just eliminated the last vestiges of denim, bringing the silver cock ring into view. "But I couldn't find them. So I had to bring these."

Starsky had to try twice before he could speak, rampant desire leaving him weak and trembling. "I cut 'em off...t'wash the car."

"Ah." Hutch nodded as if he were a music lover hearing Bach for the first time. "I knew there had to be a good reason why they weren't in your drawer. You never throw anything away. Which is why I was able to find the collar and the nipple clamps." He reached up languidly and pinched one pert nipple hard, using his fingernails like the teeth of the clamp.

Starsky hissed, but had learned enough to remain absolutely still. Weirdly, the sharp little pain just intensified the ache in his groin, his erection jutting out like a beggar hoping for a hand job.

"Finish getting dressed, slugger," Hutch said, "so we can blow this pop stand."

"Kinda hard with you attached to me like that." Starsky looked straight at his lover, his partner, his master, and his best friend, and knew exactly what Hutch was doing. This was his anchor.

"I'll always be attached to you," Hutch said fiercely, letting go. The pain of release, millions of starving cells finally reclaiming circulation, was as piercing as the initial pinch had been. "Owner and slave are yoked together, Starsk." His voice was raw silk, raking over Starsky's ravaged soul. "Others might sell their property, but you should have been branded ‘all sales final, no returns.'"

"Yeah?" Starsky had to look away from all that intensity or he'd lose whatever remnants of self-reliance he had left. He jerked the red shirt off the bed with a shaking hand and yanked it over his head while trying to arrange his thoughts. Not being able to see Hutch, even for that short period, helped. "Hutch, I gotta have some...independence. I ain't gonna be on a leash from now on or..." Or what? He couldn't fathom leaving Hutch, but being branded and pierced had never been something he'd imagined, either. The world was changing too fast.

"Starsky, I promise."

"You keep saying that." Starsky tugged the shirt down, hiding what he could of his body. It felt good to have a boundary, even something as thin as cotton fabric between his nakedness and prying eyes. "But how can I be sure? Slavery is legal, and you seem pretty happy about that." He hadn't meant to add the last, and couldn't hide the bitterness in his voice.

"You don't trust me?" Hutch had backed up, an expressionless mask hiding his face.

"I trust you. It's the rest of it I don't trust." He'd hurt Hutch, but couldn't stop. "What if we can't change this? What if everyone in the Abbey League gets picked up and enslaved, too? Huh? If you're a slave, Hutch, who's my master then?"

"You are." Hutch jabbed that long pointed forefinger at him. "You have my permission to take down as many people as possible before you break free and save yourself. If that happens, Starsk, don't look back."

"Then all I'd see would be you," Starsky whispered bleakly, wondering how the conversation had gotten so twisted around. Just like everything else. He was saved by a knock on the door.

Hutch shook his head as if shedding cobwebs, blond bangs flopping into his eyes. He brushed them aside, walking rapidly to the door. Hutch didn't like the way things were turning out any more than Starsky did.

"My apologies for being so tardy, Master." It was the girl from the night before, Neela of the dark skin and luscious curves. This morning, chains linked her pierced nipples with matching rings in her labia. When she walked into the room, Starsky could see the chains tighten and loosen with every step. It must have been excruciating, yet somehow arousing at the same time. He knew the feeling.

"No problem," Hutch assured her, laying a pale hand on her brown shoulder. He took the black mask she held out, but didn't remove his hand from her body. "Neela, may I ask you a few questions? There's no right or wrong answers, but I want an honest opinion, not one dictated by Luna or any of the masters."

The girl's dark eyes flashed fear, but she didn't look up at him. She was too indoctrinated to look into the face of a master. Instead, she glanced over at Starsky, seeking solace.

"You can talk to him, Neela."

"Yes, sir. I'll try," she mumbled to the floor.

Starsky could see her knees start to bend. She wanted to kneel in front of a master, but Hutch's hand on her shoulder prevented that.

"What did you do before you became a slave?" Hutch asked.

"B-before?" Neela shifted uncomfortably, the chains linking her nipples and labia stretched as taut as a tightrope against her flat abdomen. "My father couldn't pay the fines imposed by the Corporation. He'd had his own shoe business, but taxes went up and he lost customers..."

"Go on," Hutch encouraged in the gentle tone that had soothed many frightened witnesses. Hutch was a master at this, as well.

"My father sold me," she said, her voice breaking with tears. "Me and my sister, Nasha. To pay the CEC."

"Damn," Hutch said softly. If there had been any lingering illusions that all slaves were prisoners and criminals, this blew them out of the water. "If slavery was abolished, would you want to be free?"

Neela looked up, her obsidian eyes boring into Starsky's, but she was speaking to Hutch. "Yes. Yes." With that, she fled the room.

"We have to stop the CEC, before every person in this country but corporate CEOs are on their knees giving VPs blow jobs," Hutch ground out, his face savage. "C'mere."

Starsky wouldn't have disobeyed for a million dollars. He knelt at Hutch's feet, but looked straight up with defiance. "This comes off once we pass the Luna gates."

"That was always the plan," Hutch said, and strapped on the heavy black leather blindfold. The band was tight, bringing on an instant headache. Starsky wanted to rip it off just to read the determination in Hutch's eyes. As if sensing his thoughts, Hutch quickly cuffed Starsky's hands in front of him with the heavy leather manacles.

Starsky hated the darkness. It was too easy to remember when he'd been a prisoner bound for who knows where, almost raped, and freshly pierced. He raised his bound hands to feel the small charm that bumped against his collarbone. This was Hutch's collar. Wearing it felt like winning a prize and losing the battle at the same time.

"That looks right on you," Hutch said softly and helped him stand.

Starsky appreciated the hand at his back; his knees were wobbly, but he couldn't let Hutch know.

"Sit on the bed," Hutch said. "I want to check out the brand before we leave." Hutch levered him down onto the mattress; his fingers probed into the hole in the jeans to rip away the bandage.

"Fuck!" Starsky suppressed an urge to scream. The wound was too fresh to tolerate much handling. His thigh muscles twitched when Hutch spread the cool gel over the raised brand. It was all Starsky could do to stay still.

"How's the pain?"

"It hurts."

"You can have that stuff..."

"Phenine," Starsky said. Was it really a painkiller? He recalled the weird sensory effects all too well, not so sure he was willing to endure that kind of induced desire again. What about aspirin? Would that work on the deep pain of a burn?

"That's all I've got, Starsk." Hutch sounded apologetic. At least the gel was working, cooling the fearsome heat of the burned flesh. "I'll get a glass of water for the Phenine. They're as big as horse pills."

There was nothing to do but sit on the bed, blindfolded and cuffed. Starsky clenched his hands, pressing the palms together to sublimate some of the pain from the rest of his body. He was a slave about to go out into the world for the first time. A non-entity, a possession, with no rights whatsoever under the current constitution of most of the once democratic Western states. There were some states that didn't recognize slavery, just like in the 1860's when the Southern states battled the North over the same issue. Would it come to civil war again? Did the Abbey League have the power to start an uprising, or was Hutch deluding himself?

Starsky had to trust Hutch or he had nothing. He had to trust in their bond.

"Swallow this." Hutch put a huge tablet into Starsky's mouth and held a glass of water to his lip.

The pill was massive and got stuck halfway down his throat. Starsky coughed and sputtered, nearly choking before the painkiller made it to his stomach. It was hardly worth taking if it took that much effort just to get it down.

"You okay?"

"I'll manage." Starsky raised his manacled hands to wipe his lips. He had a brief flash of himself, masked and cuffed, kneeling at Neville's feet like a good supplicant. Then, striking upward like a rattlesnake, he'd jam his joined hands into the Brit's groin, smashing his so-called manhood into purple pulp. Starsky smiled. Even a bound slave had some ability to fight back; it just took planning.

Together, he and Hutch could do just that.

***

Hutch told him the new car was a convertible. Starsky was amazed Hutch hadn't included that pertinent fact in his first description of a metallic blue Ford with a bad paint job. Driving away from Luna, with the hot wind in his hair and scent of pine trees in his nose, Starsky was exhilarated. If he could have moved freely, he would have been over the moon.

Neville, as expected, managed to cop a last feel and make a snide comment as they climbed into the car. "A little more training, cowboy, and you could have had yourself a real stallion there. Of course, some people like that raw, untamed ride. I'd just be afraid that an unbroken horse would buck me off."

"That's the difference between an English saddle and a Western one," Hutch drawled in his Charlie McCabe, Texas oilman voice. "I've always preferred to go bareback, myself."

"You all come back now, you hear?" Neville reached down to insert the buckle into Starsky's seat belt, lingering a beat too long before breaking contact. His hand brushed the ring in Starsky's cock intimately. Starsky was so repulsed by such close proximity to his trainer, he didn't pay much attention to the strange tingling spreading warmly across his pelvic area.

The engine started with a roar that rivaled Starsky's lamented Torino, and they were off. Neville yelped as the car pulled away. Starsky hoped that the rear tire rolled over his foot.

"Take this thing off me," Starsky insisted when they'd been driving for a while. He'd enjoy the wind whipping across his face a great deal more if he could see the road, take in the night sky, and most of all, their location. So he could come back some day and burn Luna down until there was nothing left but scorched earth.

"We're not off the property yet," Hutch said.

"How big is this place?"

"Remember that map that caught fire in the opening credits of Bonanza?"

"We're on the Ponderosa?" Starsky was appalled. He wasn't about to let bucolic memories of his favorite Western TV series be warped by the likes of Neville and Luna. Although the image of the burning map was apt.

"In the right vicinity."

"That's just terrific!" Starsky kicked the floorboards. "You see any of Little Joe's brides' graves around here?"

"It's dark; hard to see much," Hutch said dryly. "Mostly live oak, pine, and old growth trees. Some eucalyptus. But if we hit a crudely lettered headstone, I'll let you know."

"Was Luna a big underground enclave or were there buildings? Like a mini-town?"

"One main above-ground structure with several smaller buildings. I didn't wander around after I found where they kept you."

Starsky swallowed. It was still hard to reconcile his feelings about Hutch having paid money for his enslavement with the memories of their previous partnership. But he could not deny he was glad Hutch owned him instead of a vicious sadist like Dunfey or anyone else from the CEC. He blew out a noisy breath, antsy and on edge. He wouldn't feel safe until they were far, far away. Maybe not even then.

"Is Lake Tahoe close by? There are houses there. You think we could stay a night?" Starsky was tired. He didn't want to say it out loud, but fatigue dragged at him, compounding his achiness. He tried to tell himself that getting away from Luna was too important to give in to petty physical frailties.

"Starsky, I think the lake is over to our right, but not actually within the boundaries of the property."

"Good, then it's not actually Ben Cartwright's land."

"I can't be sure, however."

Starsky nearly stuck out his tongue in Hutch's direction. He could hear the amused sarcasm in Hutch's voice. "How long until we get to Arizona?"

"Roughly two days; I told you that."

"And towns around here? I mean, if we're near Tahoe, there used to be hundreds of houses. Casinos. All that stuff."

"When I drove to Las Vegas the other day, many of the houses were boarded up. Bank foreclosure signs on a lot of them."

"Which way was Vegas?" Starsky fidgeted in his seat. His head was killing him, and the tuck and roll upholstery was uncomfortable on his abraded butt. He was also becoming aware of a low level but growing nausea combined with a strange itchy need to be touched.

"Starsky! Will you shut up? It's that or a gag, I swear."

Starsky shut up for all of thirty seconds. The threat was an empty one, anyway. He was fairly sure Hutch didn't own a gag -- unless he'd brought along one of Neville's. "You really get off on this."

Hutch apparently had taken his own advice; he didn't say anything.

"I mean, I know you had a thing for all this kinky stuff -- I've seen you whenever we rousted Milty at the Triple X House of Love, looking at all the leather stuff."

"I've never made any secret of what I wanted."

"Yeah. Me. Trussed up like a virgin in one of those novels written by Anonymous." Starsky held up his hands, the twin urges to throw up and be ravaged so strong he couldn't take in enough air. He coughed, lowering his arms until he could grasp the end of his penis with both hands.

Oh, sweet Jesus. Hutch, please...

Pleasure coiled up his spine to the top of his skull, threatening to blow his brains apart. All from one touch.

Hutch grabbed his hands to release their hold. "What the hell are you doing? Are you jerking off?"

Starsky orgasmed suddenly, cum spurting forth and splattering his jeans. He'd rarely come so fast or so hard, and riding on the coattails of the climax came the undeniable compulsion to puke -- now. His throat spasming, Starsky screamed, "Stop the damned car!"

As the vehicle slowed, he fought with the door handle, shoving the heavy car door open and falling out of the rolling vehicle onto hard, packed earth, heaving up his guts. Nothing else mattered, not whether Hutch stopped and came back for him, or if the planet continued to revolve around the sun. All he could do was rid his belly of its contents. He'd eaten very little in the last day -- hell, the last week -- and soon all he could do was dry retching, his stomach cramping as if it might implode.

"Starsk! What the hell?" Hutch must have jumped from the Ford. He skidded to a halt, his silver-toed shoes digging into Starsky's leg.

That small nudge, barely felt, sent Starsky spiraling back into hyper-arousal. "Fuck," Starsky panted between heaves, pounding the flat of his hand on the ground. "That bloody Neville." He heaped curses on the Brit when he could speak, and hauled in huge gulps of pine-scented air when he couldn't.

"The Phenine," Hutch guessed, rubbing Starsky's back.

It should have been a soothing massage; instead, it was a lit match thrown into bone-dry tumbleweed. Instant conflagration. Starsky rolled over his right shoulder, ending up on his back, which pulled Hutch almost down on top of him. Only Hutch's quick reflexes saved him from covering Starsky like a big blanket.

"Drive it in, Hutch," Starsky wheezed, sweat dripping off his body like rain. "Fast! Like you wanted to that first night."

"No." Hutch scrambled out of reach, his anger crackling in the heated air.

Starsky reached his cuffed hands out imploringly, hating his urgent need. This was worse than when he was thirteen and first found out how much fun sex with someone else could be. Mary Elizabeth Dominico, three years his senior, had taken him into a boarded-up grocery and popped his cherry. After that, she gave him uppers and taught him how to go down on a girl. He'd joined her in that abandoned dusty store, between counters that had once held fruit and vegetables, for six weeks until she declared him too old for her exacting standards. She left him literally with his pants down. Needing more drugs, he'd used the lessons she gave him to supply his fix.

Just like Hutch later used me to supply his.

Things did come full circle. He'd have cried, but he couldn't bring up any tears.

"That shit, Neville, gave me somethin' in the IV when I was on the rack." Starsky lay on the ground, not caring that there were prickly things in his hair and dried evergreen needles spearing his palms. "Phenine. It was like this, only since there wasn't anybody around, I just hurt. Had a hard-on like a tree limb with that damned ring stuck through the end. I kept thinking of you. Of sex. Your hands all over me. But nobody touched me at all."

"It's some kind of aphrodisiac," Hutch said, his voice coming from a safe distance.

"Please, Hutch. You wanted to before." Starsky tried to get up, but he was so damned tired. At least his belly had stopped complaining. "I need..."

"Not here. Not on their property."

"You said you had plans," Starsky insisted. He strained to orient to Hutch's voice, aching to see through the dark blindfold. "You had plans!" He staggered to his feet, lunging at where he thought Hutch had to be, the siren song of desire humming in his veins. "You and me, naked. Please, Hutch..."

Hutch caught his arm, but didn't bring him close. "Starsk, they can monitor us while we're inside Luna's fence. There are cameras on the telephone poles, and a guard at the gate. You want them to see everything?"

Resentment threw water on his raging inferno. Starsky jerked out of Hutch's grasp, slamming into the hot metallic side of the car hard enough to hurt. "Don't touch me if you're not gonna help me." He still wanted that big cock in his mouth. Still wanted those beautiful hands closing around his penis, tugging on the ring and wringing the semen out of him. But the intensity had faded enough for him to climb wearily back into the passenger seat. He couldn't do the seat belt with his hands locked together and couldn't bear to have Hutch close enough to snap the buckle into place.

Hutch started up the car without another word. Huddled down in the seat, Starsky shivered in spite of the heat, his belly roiling from the exhaust fumes. The drawbacks of having a convertible.

"I think I see a light up ahead," Hutch said eventually. "The gatehouse."

"You think I give a shit?" Starsky lashed out verbally because he couldn't do anything else. He was sick, his stomach rebellious, and his head pounding. Perversely, the brand didn't hurt at all. Wonder of wonder, the Phenine was good for something. "That Limey bastard just had to fuck me over one more time. God, I hate this." It was impossible to think straight when all he wanted was sex, rough and fast. Need burned through him, crowding out any intelligence. It was all he could do not to hook a leg over the gear shaft and impale himself on the rounded end.

"Stop the car!" an authoritative voice called out.

Starsky shuddered when the engine vibrations changed and the car slowed. He could have orgasmed from that alone, but the presence of guards dampened his arousal. Hutch was right; he didn't want Luna personnel seeing them grapple like hormone-crazed teenagers.

"Hutchinson," a guard said.

Starsky wasn't surprised they recognized his partner; Hutch had been in and out three times in the last week.

"Finally got your slave trained? He's a real looker. Must have put down a wad for a piece of ass like that."

"Open the gate." Hutch sounded angry.

Immediately, a creaking groan signaled a metal gate sliding open. The car bumped over a hump in the road designed to keep speed to a minimum, and then Hutch let out the throttle.

They must have hit sixty in thirty seconds, a feat that would have impressed Starsky on any other day. The engine whine deepened as they accelerated, wind whipping Starsky's hair around in a frenzy. The ends of his hair snapped painfully against his cheeks and neck. It almost hurt to breathe with the dry, hot air pushing against the back of his throat. Hutch never, ever drove like this. Not this raw, aggressive, let-the-gas-pedal-bleed-off-your-anger speed.

Starsky did -- frequently. And long, flat roads like this one were perfect. He dimly recalled the first car he'd owned, a busted up Thunderbird that he'd overhauled, sweating out the withdrawals from the drugs he'd given up, using the frantic, desperate need to change his life to fuel his labors. When the car was drivable, he'd sped across the emptiness of the Mojave, letting the wide-open spaces scour the nastiness from his brain. Like Hutch was doing now.

Starsky pulled his knees up, bracing his feet against the dash, sure that if they hit something he'd go flying through the windshield. Like they'd done years ago. When Hutch drew the line at Starsky's reckless driving and played amnesiac for twenty-four hours. Scared the crap out of Starsky. But not as much as this did. Hutch's demons were busting loose.

The car jerked violently to the right, Hutch using a sharp turn to bleed off the forward momentum and slow the car. Starsky was thrown sideways against the door, centrifugal force gluing him to the vinyl. He clung to the handle with both cuffed hands, waiting out the car's power. It was shockingly quiet when the engine finally switched off, the softer sounds of the wind in the trees and the car ticking as the metal cooled suddenly audible.

"Hutch?" He felt hesitant, uncertain. At least it had distracted him from his rampant arousal.

"C'mere." Hutch pulled Starsky roughly into an embrace, kissing him so hard their teeth knocked together.

Desire blazing up all over again, Starsky leaned into his master, the gearshift between them poking him in the groin. He couldn't have cared less. His hands were caught awkwardly between their bodies, but he felt Hutch's cock stiffen and grow rapidly hard. Hutch bit him on the bottom lip, sucking and kissing with a need that matched Starsky's own.

Growling with lust, Hutch scrabbled at Starsky's jeans but there were too many barriers. He sucked in a deep breath, blowing it out. Starsky felt the warm whoosh on his wind-chapped cheek, and knew whatever had bedeviled Hutch was waning enough to be manageable.

"Time for this thing to come off." Hutch unfastened the complicated series of buckles at the back of Starsky's head.

The night sky was overly bright when the blinders fell away. The yellow moon, like half of a Dutch cheese, rode just above Hutch's head. His blond hair shimmered in the moonlight, dazzling Starsky's starving eyes.

"Do you hate me, too?" Hutch rasped, his hands shaking when he unlinked the cuffs, and then miracle of miracles, removed the tight leather bands from Starsky's wrists. The cuffs were lined with a soft chamois, but over time, the close fit had left abrasions.

Starsky massaged his wrists, enjoying the feeling of his own bare skin, and pondering Hutch's question. "I wanted to hate you." He waited, sorting out his thoughts, listening to Hutch breathe. "I kept tryin' to convince myself that you wouldn't do this to me. That you -- the partner I thought I knew -- wouldn't pay money for my body like all those shits did when I was a kid."

Hutch gasped, but said nothing.

"But you know what, Hutch?" Starsky put out his unfettered hands, reaching for his lover. "Given the right circumstances, I might have paid money for you."

Their hands connected in the middle, fingers wrapping around each other in solace. Arousal slammed back, and Starsky had to clench his jaw to keep from going off like a rocket. Most of the need was from the drug, but Hutch had always had that effect on him. He'd always been attracted -- and frightened -- by the big blond, but Hutch's resemblance to his long ago rapist had only registered recently.

"So, where do we go from here?" Hutch asked plaintively.

Starsky was confused. Hell, he was more than confused, he was lost -- on a tree-lined mountain road with a crazed person. One moment Hutch was loving, the next strict, then by turns angry, demoralized, and aggressive. It was difficult to decide if he'd always known this Hutch and never fully seen him or had just met a whole new Hutch.

"Didn't you bring a map?" Starsky had to let go of Hutch or risk ravaging him for his own ends, which would not be wise considering Hutch's volatile condition. "S'been a while but far's I know, it's a straight shot down past Vegas to Arizona."

"My motives may have been suspect -- and calculated," Hutch said as if it was hard to talk. "But your safety was always the prime concern."

"Your methods left a little something to be desired."

"Yeah." Hutch kissed him with such tenderness that if Starsky had been standing, his knees would have wobbled. "Let's get out of this car. Give me a minute."

"Not goin' anywhere, you big idiot."

Starsky got out and looked around while Hutch opened the trunk and arranged a blanket a few feet from the car. The far off call of some bird sent a chill up his spine. What kind of birds flew around at night? He finally pulled up "owl" out of long-term memory and relaxed, inhaling deeply to slow his palpitating heart. He was too old for crap like this. Out in the middle of nowhere, wearing a pair of holey jeans. It was surprisingly warm, the air soft and fragrant, but there was a hint of chill in the air. Typical when in the mountains.

Watching Hutch, Starsky felt a curious twinge in his heart. Was he insane to still be in love with this man? "Babe," Starsky said softly. "I missed seeing you."

"I missed seeing you, too." Hutch pulled Starsky close against him, burying his face in Starsky's curls.

This was home.

Assuming their accustomed roles like misplaced robes, Hutch gently pushed Starsky down on his knees. Starsky unzipped his partner joyfully and extracted his hidden treasure. He knew how to comfort Hutch, how to give him what he needed. With pleasure, pure and sweet.

"Star-ssk," Hutch moaned, drawing the syllables out in a long hiss of pleasure when he climaxed, pumping into Starsky's mouth.

Reaching down, Starsky palmed his own organ. That was how he often satisfied himself on those long stakeouts when Hutch wanted relief from the boredom of sitting in a car for eight hours. His cock felt like someone else's, the prominent piercing changing its familiar contours; the crown was far more sensitive than before. Still sucking Hutch, Starsky slid one hand down his own length, wincing. The Phenine drove him on, whispering its dark desires, forcing a desperate need for sex even though handling himself hurt. He panted, pulling off Hutch, feeling the rampant need take over again.

Please, Hutch...

"Hey." Hutch went to his knees, cupping his hands around Starsky's. "Sssh, it's okay. Slower." He gentled Starsky's frantic pace, then fondled his heavy scrotum,

"Oh, yeah!" Starsky shouted, pain transforming into ecstasy. Hutch closed his thumb and forefinger around the base of Starsky's penis, giving four rapid strokes. That did it. Starsky came, panting with the exertion. "Thank you." He dropped his head onto Hutch's shoulder, the after-sex euphoria a far better drug than Phenine. And almost as good a painkiller. He was numb.

Remarkably hungry, to boot. He sat down on the blanket to investigate what was packed in the carryall this time.

Swigging a beer, Hutch settled next to him, drawing Starsky into the circle of his arms. He looked relaxed and tender, all signs of his anger wiped away. Tracing a finger across Starsky's eyebrows, he smiled. "I hated covering up your eyes. Like hiding precious jewels behind a tarp where no one can see how beautiful they are."

"You think my eyes are beautiful?" Starsky joshed. He tipped back the beer Hutch provided, savoring the luxury after so long. Slaves couldn't buy alcohol -- or be seen consuming it without a master's permission. Just one more right he'd lost with a single monetary transfer.

"Sapphires or something really rare and valuable." Hutch played his finger down Starsky's eyelid, his touch lighter than a butterfly's wing.

Starsky blinked, feeling the brush of lashes against Hutch's palm. "Is that why you paid Dunfey? So you could own my eyes?" Starsky couldn't regret the words even though they spoiled the moment.

Hutch pulled back his hand as if burned.

"Tell me how much you paid, Hutch? Where'd you get the cash that easily?"

"None of this was easy." Hutch snatched up his own half-empty beer bottle and tossed it against an oak. The glass shattered, contents spraying the surrounding area with fermented malt and hops. "You want to keep harping on this? Fine. My father died; I inherited a fortune."

"You didn't tell me." Starsky thought back, remembering Hutch taking off one weekend and coming back looking dazed and stiff instead of content with his usual post-coital languor. "I mean about the money." Even the announcement about the senior Hutchinson's funeral had been after the fact, as though Hutch needed to explain his abrupt departure to forestall future questioning. Well, the future was now, and Starsky had questions. "Did you find out about the inheritance right away?"

"Not the total amount, but I suspected it." Hutch busied himself with the food, cutting up apples and doling out salami. "I knew how much he was worth, and I'm the only son."

Never one to refuse food, Starsky helped himself. "How did he die?"

"Heart attack. I got the call one day when you'd gone to a court appearance, last November," Hutch recounted, sounding exhausted. "My aunt said come right away, but it's not that easy to leave California these days. She didn't understand. My mom might have..."

Starsky nodded. Hutch's mother had been a lovely woman, bred from generations of politicians. She'd served as governor of the sovereign state of Minnesota after the break-up of the United States. But the job had killed her quickly, two years ago. Hutch's father, a bastard who'd made millions by foreclosing on the poor and indigent, had lived without a heart for decades. Starsky was surprised that a heart attack could kill him. He'd always assumed only a wooden stake would fell the old man.

"I had to pull some strings," Hutch added. "Had to agree to things..."

"Which set the ball in motion."

"You know why we never got Dunfey, even when we had him dead to rights over that cigarette smuggling thing?" Hutch folded a slice of salami between two wedges of crusty bread. "One of the CEOs had paid for the cigs. He ordered me to drop the charges."

"You were forced to do that?" Starsky jumped up, furious at what Hutch had had to go through, and angry that they hadn't arrested the mobster six months before. Maybe he never would have been kidnapped if Dunfey's operation had folded then.

"Schaffer -- the CEO, traded his -- " Hutch gulped reflexively, his face anguished. " -- traded his own daughter for the contraband. Dunfey took the girl away -- to Luna."

"Did you see her there?" Starsky felt the girl's debasement and humiliation to the bottom of his soul. Sold by her own father. Like Neela and Nasha.

"No. I saw her a few months later, in Slave House ten on Lincoln, with track marks on both arms and nothing left in her eyes." Hutch bit his sandwich savagely as if biting off part of Dunfey's anatomy. "I tried...to get her back. Tried to buy her, but she was already spoken for. It had been planned all along, which is why I was ordered to drop the charges. I was already peripherally involved with the Abbey League, but this spurred me to fully commit to the cause."

"How much, Hutch? How much did I cost?" Starsky repeated, his words slicing open wounds. He paced around the scrubby ground cover, keeping as far away from his partner as possible.

"Half a mil, Starsk." Hutch's eyes pleaded, begged, for forgiveness. "I paid top dollar so they wouldn't hurt you worse than they had to."

"Had to?" Starsky spit. He wanted Hutch inside him so badly he could feel the withdrawal pains ripping up his guts. Wanted him and hated him at the same time. "So, because you had to go to a fucking funeral to get your inheritance, you got special permission to leave Bay City without papers, handed over a girl to a slave ring, joined up with the rebel forces like Luke Skywalker, then gave your alliance to the dark side, and sold your best friend up the creek to keep him from bein' enslaved by the CEC. Is that about it, buddy?"

"They would have killed you. Or Dunfey would have, if he'd gotten his hands on you."

"So you keep sayin'. And you said something about being a fugitive, but here we sit out in the open like picnickers waiting for the ants."

"I don't have to explain everything to you."

"You being the master, I guess not." Starsky had tears in his eyes -- from rage or sadness, he wasn't sure. "You paid five hundred thousand dollars to let Neville string me up and torture me."

"They didn't follow my orders...but yes, I did." Hutch's voice held remorse, but also something else. Not pride and not quite satisfaction.

"How much money do you have left?" Starsky stared hard at Hutch, trying to comprehend, and knew what he'd heard in Hutch's voice. Resolution; that was it. But what exactly had been resolved?

"What?" Hutch asked.

"How much money do you have left?" Starsky repeated, having purged some of his anger. He was still a slave and couldn't change that. Acceptance would come slowly, and possibly someday, forgiveness. "A couple of thou? What?"

"Twenty million." Hutch looked up from his half-eaten sandwich. The moon was doing incredible things to his hair. He was stunning, a paragon of beauty from some far off land to grace the citizens of the former United States of America. To grace Starsky's life with the illusion of perfection.

"How much are you giving the Abbey League?" Starsky willed himself to be strong against Hutch's beauty.

"As much as they need."

"Give me one million."

"You're not allowed to have money."

"Then spend one million on me."

"I will," Hutch vowed. "Ten million, Starsk. If you'll forgive me."

"Forgive you?" Starsky was surprised how closely Hutch's thoughts paralleled his own. He let the words sink in until he felt them in his bones. If only forgiving Hutch would take away all the pain, degradation, and cruelty from the last week. "You are the only person who ever meant anything to me in my whole life. But...I don't know how to forgive you, yet. This hurts, down deep."

"For what Neville -- and the rest of them at Luna -- did to you, I'm sorry," Hutch said.

"What about what you did to me?" Starsky asked. He didn't expect Hutch to answer.

Hutch had wanted this for a long time. He obviously hadn't expected it to come at such a cost, and that wasn't even factoring in how much he'd paid.

Half a million dollars.

Starsky had only seen that much money once, while they were undercover. It had filled an entire suitcase. It boggled his mind. Hutch paid five hundred thousand dollars for the right to fuck Starsky whenever he wanted.

The owl hooted again, wind rustling the leaves in the Ponderosa pines.

Starsky looked up, still spooked by the eerie sound of the birdcall. He could feel the damned sex drug thrumming in his veins, pushing him into irrational desires. All he wanted was to thrust into Hutch's naked body, pound him into the ground. Take back some of what was stolen from him. He tried to banish such thoughts with Hutch sitting so near. Starsky could feel the heat coming off his body, smell spilled beer mingling with Hutch's distinct odor. He'd never been able to ignore Hutch's presence, but with the Phenine on board, it was harder than usual.

Get back to forgiveness.

If he totally forgave Hutch, would that mitigate the anger he had for what had been done to him? Could he hold onto any kind of self-respect if he prostrated himself to the man he loved? He tucked his anger away, forcing it down to a manageable size that didn't rip his heart in two.

Starsky let himself look at Hutch and see his flawed partner. He'd always understood that Hutch needed sex like a drug. Understood and accepted it. It wasn't much more difficult to understand that Hutch wanted sex with bondage. Bondage with pain.

"D'you forgive yourself?" Starsky asked.

"That's forever a work in progress," Hutch admitted.

"I keep goin' over all the stuff in our past -- reliving conversations...You never came right out and said you wanted to tie me up or take me hard, but it was there. I just didn't want to hear it." His brand sparked a sudden flash of fresh pain as if reminding him of what he'd gone through.

Hutch raised his chin, fingering the neck of a second beer bottle. "I've been into this for as long as I can remember."

"I want you bad, Hutch." Starsky whooshed out a pent-up breath. "I want you so much sometimes it scares me. I always wanted more than we had before, but I wasn't ready for anything like this."

"And now I've pushed you too far," Hutch said as if his last hope had just gone headlong over a cliff.

Making a decision, Starsky knelt next to Hutch on the ground. Maybe it wasn't true forgiveness, but acknowledging Hutch's nature and his own tendency to bend to Hutch's will was as close as he was going to get tonight. "I'm your slave," he said, supplicating.

"And I'm your master," Hutch said breathlessly.

Starsky pulled off his shirt and started unzipping his jeans, but Hutch pushed his hands away, then stripped him quickly. When Starsky lay back naked on the earth, he saw tears on Hutch's face, the moonlight caught in each drop. "Take me, Master. I'm asking you."

"Yes." Hutch had never zipped up his pants. Now, he palmed his big cock, bringing it to full size.

Starsky tented his knees, watching in amazement as the thing continued to swell. His own was of decent proportions when completely aroused, which it had been for some time, but Hutch's was of mythic stature. To Starsky, he was Michelangelo's David in living flesh. Starsky had felt it inside him once before, but this time he would be able to fully appreciate the experience without the terrible memories of his rape ruining the pleasure.

"Legs up on my shoulders," Hutch said, producing a tube of something squishy from the carryall on the blankets. "Eyes front, right at me. Never look away, ever."

"I thought -- " Starsky grunted, raising his feet to hook them around Hutch's neck.

"Slave rules are made to be broken." Hutch smoothed ointment into Starsky's anus, probing with his finger in that forbidden place. "Gotta keep you on your toes, Starsk." Hutch said that name like a long drawn out hiss of desire.

"Sometimes you'll be my love slave," he continued, "but most of the time, you'll be my partner. That's a given."

Starsky gazed into Hutch's eyes to see the inner man. He barely noticed when his lover tossed away the crumpled tube and eased himself forward. A blunt thickness pushed against Starsky's opening, and he sighed, emptying himself of everything but Hutch. The huge bulk entered him, stretching Starsky's inner walls until he was sure he couldn't take any more. It was not pain exactly, but there was excruciating pressure; his body felt too full to be believed. He cried out once as he merged with Hutch. Small cramps came and went as fast as lightning on a hot day, but he focused on being part of Hutch and Hutch being a part of him.

Hutch yelled, thrusting faster, pushing Starsky into the dirt. Underbrush and pebbles scratched his bare skin, but Starsky didn't care. Arms spread wide, he felt like a midsummer sacrifice on Mother Earth. Not a virgin and definitely not a sacrificial lamb, he was forging an alliance of his own. Their union instilled strength in his ravaged body.

"Davey," Hutch whispered, pumping faster. He'd started gently, but like driving the car, revved up quickly.

Starsky rocked in Hutch's rhythm, arching up to take each thrust until only his shoulders and the palms of his hands were in contact with the ground. The rest of his body was bowed like a sapling in a windstorm, his lover planting seed deep inside his core.

"God, I love you, Starsk." He caught hold of Starsky's cock, twisting the ring around, the pain singing in Starsky's blood.

Starsky came so hard he thought his back would snap, and he shook, unable to stop the overwhelming shudders. Hutch was still pumping semen into him, chanting the name Starsk over and over. His arms buckling, Starsky slumped back on the ground, Hutch coming down on top of him with Starsky's ankles still locked behind his neck.

"Baby?" Hutch shifted around so that they were lying side by side. He drew his hand down Starsky's cheek, stroking his eyes and brows.

"That's how it's gonna be from now on?" Starsky curled against Hutch's sweaty side, feeling every ache and pain he'd received at Luna overlaid with a wonderful lassitude. He could sleep here for a week, at least, with the crushed leaves and bugs...Were there scorpions in Nevada?

"Yep," Hutch said, answering Starsky's question about their future. He tidied a damp curl off Starsky's forehead, twining it around his forefinger.

"I can live with that." Starsky bumped his head on Hutch's ribcage. "Gonna sleep now."

"Inside the house would be a better idea."

"There's a house?" Starsky sat up too abruptly and bit back a scream. The Phenine had definitely started to wear off. The brand felt as fresh as the moment the iron had imprinted his thigh. "Whoa." He panted, accepting the hand Hutch held out to haul him to his feet. Starsky swayed, glad of Hutch's support. Peering past the car, he could see a jumble of houses far enough away to be shrouded in darkness. At this distance, it was impossible to make out the architecture, but none of them had lights or any outward sign of habitation.

"They're deserted," Hutch said.

"Where'd all the people go?" With civilization in sight, Starsky was suddenly conscious of his nakedness and cast about for his clothes.

"Don't know. I think some states had more..." Hutch paused, contemplating the houses, "...more objections when the CEC took over."

"You think they were killed?" Starsky asked softly, pulling on his shirt and ragged jeans as if they were armor against dangerous forces lurking out of range.

"Killed, chased off, who knows? Many people from California disappeared, too."

"Like we have."

"Help me clean this stuff up," Hutch said. "With any luck, we can get a bath and clean sheets. The Abbey League maintains the first two houses." Hutch balled up scattered food wrappers while Starsky stuffed the beer bottles and uneaten food back into the hamper. "It's like an Underground Railroad for modern slaves."

"That make you Harriet Tubman?" Starsky asked.

"I prefer to think of myself as a conductor."

"I always did want to ride in the caboose." Something loosened in Starsky's heart. Could he live like this long term? Could anyone? He had to jettison the past and look forward or the weight of all those memories would surely kill him.

***

The house had been lovely at one time. Remnants of the former inhabitants still remained: a few pictures of a blond happy family on the wall, a pinball machine in the rec room, and tins of rattlesnake meat in the back of one cupboard. The furniture was mismatched, probably culled from more than one formerly elegant house, and there were two to three beds to a room to accommodate as many people as possible.

Starsky found it odd to walk freely through the echoing halls, peering into rooms empty of all furnishings except beds and mattresses, many just lying on the floor. Besides the main living areas, the place had six bedrooms and as many bathrooms. The water was still on as well as the electricity. But no one lived here. There were a few hand scribbled notes in the kitchen, from the slaves that had passed through recently. Many just said thank you, or, "You saved a life." Hutch had added a handful of twenties to a small cash box that had a sign reading, "Take what you need to make a new life."

Feeling creepy, Starsky reversed direction and headed back to the room he and Hutch had selected. Hutch was finishing his shower. Starsky had let him go first in exchange for a chance to wander the house without an escort or chains binding him. He'd been a slave for a week and already understood how precious these rights were.

Starsky paused in the doorway of a library. Bookshelves covered most of the walls, but what captivated him was a framed piece of parchment. Elaborate curly-cue writing on the top declared this to be the Declaration of Independence. It looked like it could have been one of the original copies. Priceless.

Thomas Jefferson knew the truth. All men had the inalienable right to be free.

He touched the collar still encircling his throat, fingering the silver S charm. He'd been given no choice. He wondered what would have changed if Hutch had come out and asked him again, a few months back. What harm would it have done their already bruised relationship at that point?

"Starsky?" Hutch's voice echoed eerily in the hall. Starsky stuck his head around the doorframe to see Hutch bare-chested, wearing only a pair of old khakis. "What did you find?"

"Something precious." Starsky pointed to the antique document.

"Oh, my God," Hutch said reverently. "We should take this to a safe place."

"Why'd you think they left it?"

"This looks real." Hutch touched the glass and tried to slide his fingers under the frame. "Well, there's the answer; it's bolted to the wall."

"It's the kind of thing that oughta be here, anyway." Starsky stood shoulder to shoulder with Hutch, trying to make out the familiar words in the old-fashioned script. "Where people come to escape -- "

"Captivity?"

"‘We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,'" Starsky read. "‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.'"

"‘But when a long train of abuses and usurpations,'" Hutch read farther down, "‘evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their duty to throw off such a Government, and provide new guards for their future security.'"

"That's what you're doin', Hutch." Starsky slipped his hand into his partner's.

"At the expense of your freedom."

"Yeah, y'know, I've been thinking about that." Starsky turned from the document to look at Hutch. "That pursuit of happiness thing. This made you happy, didn't it?"

"I thought it would, yes." Hutch's face was grave. "I rushed so fast toward the goal, I never stopped to think about what it would be like for you." He blushed, all sign of the strong, tough master from Luna gone. He looked tired and older than the cop who'd policed Bay City a few weeks before. "What you had to do as a kid..."

Hutch was so close that when he spoke, Starsky could feel his voice rumble through his skin. Hutch touched his lips to Starsky's closed eyelids, but didn't actually kiss him, just maintained that slight pressure until Starsky wanted to sink to the floor.

Was I fooling myself when I thought I could escape this life? Starsky gulped, trying to keep breathing steadily. He wanted to see Hutch, look into his fathomless blue eyes, but he couldn't move, chained to his master by nothing more than two lips.

Hutch completed the kiss finally. His tongue washed down from Starsky's nose to his mouth and pushed between his parted lips. "You're beautiful, Starsk." His breathing was ragged as he plundered Starsky's mouth.

Was it worth losing one freedom to gain another? Starsky had no time to think about such esoteric things with Hutch's tongue halfway down his throat. Lifting his arms, Starsky tried to signal that he needed air when Hutch drew back, sucking on his bottom lip one last time.

"We have to stop," Hutch panted. "You need a shower."

"With you?" Starsky opened his eyes, briefly distracted by the odd colors and flashes that flared across his retina.

"Not tonight. I want to get on the road in the morning, rested."

"Take off the collar?"

"No." Hutch stroked the leather band.

"Why? You said I didn't always have to kneel to you when we were alone."

"You don't have to, but the collar stays on."

Enraged, Starsky stalked away, trying to loosen the collar from the back. Like the blindfold, it seemed to have extra buckles, and he couldn't pull the ends free. Surprised that Hutch didn't try to stop him, Starsky fingered a miniature lock. Giving it a tug, he discovered it was fastened securely at the back, looped through one of the D rings. There was no way he could get the damned thing off by himself. He swore and kicked the dark-paneled wall.

"Are you finished?" Hutch asked in an annoyingly reasonable tone.

"What the hell do you care? I can't get it off." Starsky glared at him. "Are you satisfied?"

"I am, and do you know why?" Hutch looped a finger through the ring holding the S charm. "Because I like the way my collar looks on you."

"So you've said."

"Pursuit of happiness, Starsk." Hutch held up one finger, but there was smug amusement on his face.

"I think I need to propose an amendment," Starsky muttered. He didn't strip off his clothes until he'd closed the bathroom door behind him. Hutch got to see him naked often enough. However, he had nothing else to wear to sleep in. He'd once thought nothing of sleeping in the nude; now it was one more thing he had no choice in.

He luxuriated in the shower, washing away the stink of Luna. The water softened the tape around the bandage on his groin and Starsky started to pull it off, but stopped, thinking of Hutch. This whole thing was so confusing. He lived in his own skin, but didn't own it.

Hutch owned him -- everything but the thoughts in his head.

Starsky stood with the water sluicing over him, staring at the sodden gauze. He'd waited weeks to see the healing surgical wounds on his chest after the Gunther shooting, but he hadn't really wanted to see them. They'd stretched obscenely across his shaved chest like tumbled railroad ties. Just looking at them had scared him, and made him ashamed of his own body.

The brand was small, judging from the size of the bandage. He'd have to crane his neck and swivel his leg to one side to see the wound. The only time it would visible was when he knelt with his thighs spread and eyes lowered. The brand was something shared between master and slave, not for the whole world to see.

Shame welled up again. Shame that Neville planted the mark and shame that Hutch wanted it.

Starsky growled low in his throat and pulled off the dressing. Water landing on the burned flesh nearly made him scream. He shut off the tap, bending to examine the brand more closely. A sickle moon rode the curve of his inner thigh, only inches from the base of his scrotum. It was reddened, puffy, and warm to the touch, but strangely, Starsky could see the appeal. When it healed, the result would be eye catching. Something for the master to play with, as the damned Brit said. Something, perversely, to be proud of if Starsky had had it done on his own. He'd withstood the pain for Hutch. He tentatively traced the contours of the moon, hissing softly from the renewed burning.

He toweled off quickly and emerged from the bathroom naked. Despite all his conflicted feelings, he wanted to be with the man he loved.

Hutch was sprawled on the bed, still clad only in khakis, reading a briefing.

"Will you put more ointment on this?" Starsky canted his leg to let the brand show.

"Dressing came off in the shower?" Hutch asked dryly, and pulled the carryall onto the bed, extracting the first aid supplies.

Starsky held himself carefully when Hutch swirled the cooling gel around the wound. It was difficult to avoid getting some on his sac, and every time Hutch touched him there, he had to remember to breathe. The Phenine had completely worn off, but having Hutch between his legs was an aphrodisiac on its own.

Taping the bandage back in place, Hutch banged the thick penis ring with the back of his hand. It swung like a pendulum, doing amazing things to Starsky's libido. He dropped down on the bed, barely aware of the ache from the brand with so many other sensations bombarding him. He suddenly wanted to be up inside Hutch, something he had never considered before. Since he'd always guarded his own ass, he'd assumed Hutch wouldn't welcome penetration, either.

Now, like Alice, he wanted to go down the rabbit hole to see what was inside. He used to imagine anal penetration to be brutal and agonizing, but recent experience had taught him otherwise. Hutch preferred being on top. Would he take it from the bottom, as well? From his own slave?

Starsky pulled Hutch down beside him, enjoying the feel of skin gliding over skin, their arms tangling together and heads bumping when they tumbled around on the sheets. "Hutch...I want to do you like you did me. Like when we were out under the stars."

"Yeah." Hutch's voice rasped, raw and turned-on. He nipped at Starsky's ear lobe, ticking the interior of the ear with his tongue. "But the ring..."

Starsky knew it was too good to be true. That must be what the ring was for. Not just to visually mark him as a slave, but to prevent him from using his own body to pleasure another. "It's too big to fit in."

"No, it'll fit. After a while." Hutch panted, relinquishing Starsky's ear.

He could feel a throbbing hickey there, where Hutch had marked another part of Starsky's body. Would Hutch really let him do that? Or would he keep putting it off with one excuse after another?

"It's an open wound, Starsk," Hutch said softly. "Once it heals more, we can do it."

"You gave me oral," Starsky said.

"Not the same thing." Hutch mouthed Starsky's shoulder. He sucked the skin stretched over his collarbone, then kissed the small hurt. "I promise. My ass will be yours -- as soon as it's safe."

Starsky mourned the missed opportunity, tucking away the promise for the future. It was more than a promise of reciprocation -- it promised equality. This was a big change for Hutch. He'd always wanted complete control, and rarely had given back much sexually. As convoluted as it seemed, was it possible that becoming Hutch's slave would reestablish their partnership?

Hutch was getting undressed, his eyes caressing Starsky in a way that sent shivers over his scalp. He scooted all the way to the middle of the bed, ready and willing for anything Hutch might have in mind.

Hutch rolled over onto him, their cocks bumping with rising heat. Sweaty friction, incredible lust, and frantic thrusts soon propelled them. Starsky howled, Hutch joining him as if they were two coyotes rutting under the moon. Mutual need quickly brought them to the point of no return.

Afterward they slept, Hutch still draped across Starsky's body.

***

Every city/state and territory now had border crossings. Starsky soon discovered how low his status was. Even with his master standing beside him, as a slave he had to endure lewd glances, groping hands, and cruel remarks. Entering the Las Vegas city limits had been bad. The guards frisked Hutch and took him into a small office to interrogate. While he was gone, an acne-scarred cretin with foul breath forced Starsky to undress to access his slave markings, even though the ring showed plainly through the rip in his jeans.

"Kneel when you're in the presence of your betters, slave," Acne-face snarled.

Starsky was ready to stand his ground. If the guards kept Hutch away long enough, he was sure to be raped, and he wasn't going down without a fight. If Hutch was right and they were on any fugitive lists, then the Las Vegas authorities could imprison them for an undisclosed length of time for no specified reason. The BC authorities did it all the time. He'd just raised his fists to prepare for attack when a hand pushed him down from behind.

"Do as you're told, Davey," Hutch said. "Grab your clothes and thank the nice man."

"Oughta put a chain on that one," Acne-face leered, staring directly at Starsky's penis. "He's the kind that could get took right out from under your nose."

"Not likely," Hutch said over his shoulder. "He's got the clap and about four other VDs besides. Taking him for treatment, but there's not much hope of recovery at this point. Syphilitic dementia. You can have him, though, if you want him?"

"Aw, get out of here."

Starsky stuffed his jeans and shirt under his arm, not needing the push Hutch gave to get him back into the car. They were over the border of Las Vegas and driving on the outskirts of town before he had a chance to pull his jeans back on. "What the hell did you tell him that for? I don't have the clap!" He'd had it once, while in 'Nam, but a single dose of penicillin had cured that quickly.

"They'll enter it into the records." Hutch grinned roguishly at him. "Not a guard on the way out of Las Vegas will touch you."

"Smart thinking." Starsky buttoned his fly. "For a blond." He wrestled the shirt over his head, afraid to be bare-chested in the relentless sun for too long. "Where'd you get my papers? The goons that grabbed me at the warehouse took my ID and badge when they stole my jacket."

"I own you, Starsk, remember? Your old ID isn't even legal any more. But I picked up your passport and some other stuff when I went to your house."

"Didn't grab any shades while you were there, did you?"

"Sorry." Hutch grimaced as if thinking he should have.

They didn't stop, bypassing downtown Las Vegas and all the casinos for the open road and miles of cactus and Manzanita. Getting out of sin central took even longer than getting in. The exit guards demanded an even higher bribe than the entrance guards had, and Hutch had to break into a locked box from the trunk. Starsky watched in amazement when he pulled out two bundles of hundreds and handed them over. Two thousand dollars, to get them out. He hadn't asked how much it cost to get them into Las Vegas.

Hutch's warning had worked like a charm, not one guard fondled Starsky other than to look at the brand and piercing. And they did that with rubber gloves on, although that didn't stop the raunchy comments about his prominent assets. He almost laughed, staring at a mid-point past the jack booted legs planted in front of him. It took supreme effort not to react when two guards checking off license plates proposed chaining his cock to the back of a moving car just to see if he'd come that way.

"Everything seems to be in order." The booted guard waved them back to the Ford while another counted the money.

Starsky looked back at the car behind them, watching a homely woman and six small children pile out. The guards seemed fascinated by the oldest child, a lovely girl of about 16. Where the hell had all the goodness gone? All the morals and values the average person had once held true? Nothing was left -- the old United States was now a wasteland, stripped bare and raped. Even if the Abbey League succeeded in their plans to restore order, would there be enough left to start again? Who could bring back democracy when the anarchists had taken over so completely?

"Gonna go broke quick if you keep handin' out Grants like that." Starsky focused on the flat desert in front of the car, once again wishing he had dark glasses for protection against the glaring sun.

"Doesn't matter how much I hand out, as long as we keep moving and the guards keep their hands off you..." Hutch held the steering wheel tightly, his face grim. "I have a great deal of money."

"This ain't what I meant when I asked you t'spend a million on me," Starsky said softly, touched but confused. Hadn't Hutch realized what would happen when he enslaved Starsky? How was he going to react when Starsky went undercover as a true slave to bring down the CEC from the inside?

"You hungry?" Hutch asked as if Starsky hadn't spoken. Or maybe he had heard, after all. He was pointing to a wooden board covering an old official green US highway sign. Black painted letters spelled out McDonald's, Last one on Earth, 17 miles. "You think that's for real?"

"Ain't had McDonald's fries in years," Starsky said wistfully.

"I never thought they'd go under." Hutch squinted even with his sunglasses on.

Once again, Starsky wished he had something to cover his eyes as long as it wasn't the blindfold. Putting up the ragtop on the car would help. His nose was boiling in the sun.

"But Taco Bell bought out every single place in the west," Hutch added.

"You see a burger place when you went to Duluth?" Starsky asked. It was the first time he'd ever asked about that fateful trip. Hutch had been so distant and closed off afterwards. Now Starsky knew why.

"Wasn't exactly looking for a burger, Starsk," Hutch drawled with half a grin. "But now that you mention it, no. Lots of Dairy Queens. Lots of them."

"A Blaster," Starsky said reverently, his mouth watering. Ice cream covered in chocolate, so cold his brain seized up and his nuts shriveled when he ate the heavenly concoction.

"Is that all you ever think about? Fast food? I bring you peanut butter sandwiches and fruit, and you want charred beef and potatoes dipped in grease."

"With cheese," Starsky reminded him. "Charred beef topped with cheese. Just to really piss off the Jewish ancestors."

"You're weird." Hutch laughed, looking at him with happiness.

If he hadn't already loved this complicated, mercurial man, Starsky would have fallen hard right then. Hutch was shiny in the sunlight, all golden beauty and subtle strength. He had been the captain of the football team, the favored child of rich parents, and an awarded member of the police force. He was also a fierce defender, loyal friend...and kinky master.

"You willing to spend some of that inheritance on burgers and fries? Just to feed me. That ain't the old Hutch." Starsky grinned fecklessly at him. "I call that weird."

"Pot calling the kettle cracked," Hutch intoned with just the right amount of snootiness and they both began to giggle.

Starsky put his head back against the car seat, totally happy. Every once in a while another giggle would bubble up, rising up into the cloudless sky like party balloons filled with helium. He'd waited so long for Hutch to come back to him. Who knew it would be at such a cost?

Golden arches were visible from a mile off. Lots of golden arches of every height and width. The proprietor of this roadside diner must have purchased every cast off piece of McDonald's architecture left after the fast food giant folded. The largest set of arches curved over the off-ramp, directing the traveler to this fantastical destination. The rest ringed the white enameled building like a fence made of yellow M's. Inside the perimeter were plastic Ronalds, his loony smile offering fake cheer for all the hungry passersby. There was an old play area with tunnels and tubes for children to crawl through, a plastic replica of a hamburger with a face and legs, and a dozen picnic tables. The fare, while probably not up to McDonald's standards in 1980 before they closed, was decent. The menu was simple -- grilled burgers, French fries, and vanilla ice cream shakes -- but Starsky wasn't disappointed.

"This is terrific." Starsky slurped loudly on the last of his shake and eyed Hutch's with greedy intent. He shrugged innocently, dragging a French fry through the catsup.

"You want mine?" Hutch offered as if that weren't quite obvious. He'd eaten most of his French fries but Starsky had finished both cheeseburgers.

"You sure?" Starsky took the paper cup without waiting for an answer and stuck his straw into the hole in the top of the lid. Thick, creamy milkshake melted in his mouth and down his throat.

"You need the calories more than I do." Hutch ran a gentle but ticklish hand down Starsky's ribcage. "Doesn't take much for you to drop a couple of pounds."

"The Luna diet." Starsky shivered, the cold from the shake suddenly going to his bones. Just the name stirred up bad memories. "That's the last time I ever mention that place."

Hutch's hand had traveled south, under cover of the table, and was carefully investigating the gap below Starsky's fly. He turned the ring around in the pierce hole like a child from a century before playing with an old fashioned hoop. "Were you pierced at Luna, or before?"

Starsky put down the cup, his mouth inexplicably dry. "In the truck. Two guys, I never saw their faces, held me down and..." The remembered pain swamped him, needle bright and as sharp as a laser. He jerked back, trying to escape Hutch's touch.

"Hey, hey," Hutch whispered, one hand firmly on his back to keep him at the picnic table. "I didn't mean to start something, but...I think I knew when they did it."

"Huh?" Starsky braced his head with tightly closed fists, shaking. Hutch's hand stayed at his back, unmoving but so good.

"I was maybe two hours out of Bay City, maybe two o'clock, when...this sounds ridiculous, but I felt you. Here." Hutch tapped his chest.

"Yeah." Starsky stared at him with astonishment. "I don't know what time it was, but that would be about right."

"Strange. Maybe it was because I was thinking about you so much. I didn't expect to feel such a connection..." Hutch trailed off, his face grim, the furrow between his eyebrows deep enough to hold an ocean.

"We always had a connection, babe," Starsky pressed his thumb against Hutch's forehead, smoothing out the wrinkles. "Just sometimes the wires get crossed."

"You saying I've had bad reception lately?"

"Goes both ways." Starsky mimed holding the police radio mic, hissing and sputtering against his fist. "Ze -- brazzzz three, psst fsst calling Hut ckh -- sssss."

"Wise ass." Hutch swiped at him and ended up with a finger in the catsup.

"Can't take you anywhere." Starsky handed him a napkin, looking around at the kitschy drive-in with satisfaction. "Hutch, you ever thought about owning a McDonald's?"

"No."

"What do you plan to do once we run the CEC outta town?"

"Go back to the way things used to be," Hutch said.

"You really think that's possible?" Starsky felt a strange fear in the pit of his stomach. That there was nothing left for them, one way or the other. They'd lost their jobs as cops. How the hell could things ever go back to the way they were in the '70s when life seemed so promising? Once, the scariest things on the horizon were gas shortages, drought, and a bunch of companies banding together in what they claimed were not technically monopolies.

"I don't know." Hutch tossed the greasy wrappers and wadded napkins into the trash, showing great potential for some future over-the-hill basketball team. "But with democracy, all things are possible, so I have to hope."

"You optimistic. This I gotta see." Starsky laughed, getting up from the picnic table and arching his back in a vertebrae-cracking stretch. A family with two small brown-skinned boys had been about to take the table next to him, but when the father saw Starsky's ring, he shooed the children over to the play area, whispering to his wife.

"Damn," Starsky said softly, the ache in his groin and penis suddenly ten times stronger. Those people saw nothing but a slave when they looked at him. He glanced at Hutch, trying to smile to cover up the hurt. "Me, I could go for a place like this. Have to find a chocolate concession, that's a must, but I bet the owner would sell for less than a million."

"Keep dreaming, Starsk," Hutch said, his voice like a caress. He didn't touch him, not in front of strangers, but Starsky could almost feel the print of a kiss on his lips. "I did see some Ray Bans in the gift shop, though. Take your pick, and I'll throw in a pack of gum and some peanuts."

"You like gum and peanuts," Starsky groused. "I hope they got Snickers, or anything chocolate."

Chocolate didn't keep in the desert; at least, that was the excuse. Starsky ate slightly stale Lorna Doones one by one as they sped down the highway. He'd complained about the decreasing number of sweets available in recent years, but it had never seemed as bad as this.

He insisted on taking a turn driving, which helped a lot. Driving had always been his balm and his salvation. Taking control of something tangible. Those long ago solitary races through Death Valley had saved his soul. He felt invigorated behind the wheel, despite the enervating Nevada heat. He floored the gas pedal, sure Hutch would say something, but not caring one iota.

"You wrap this Ford around a cactus, you're walking the rest of the way to Phoenix." Hutch braced himself against the dash. The car hit a crack in the pavement, launched into the air, and came back to earth with a teeth-rattling thud.

Starsky laughed, with the wind in his hair and sand in his teeth, gunning the motor for all it was worth.

He found himself staring at his wrists on the barren, straight-aways where he didn't have to pay much attention to the road. There were few cars going either direction to distract him. His hands looked foreign, not the same ones that had driven the Torino.

Hutch had buckled the wrist cuffs on tightly before they left the safe house. Smooth, brown leather, a color similar to Starsky's lost jacket, wrapped around his wrists, accenting the paler skin of his hands. He'd always been told he had nice hands, small for a man of his size, but he'd never paid very much attention to them. They were just part of his arms. Now, he was very aware of how the narrow column of the cuffs put his hands on display, reducing them to playthings for some master waiting for a handjob. No longer the hands of a free man.

Every time he turned his hand on the wheel, the twist of wrist bones under the form-fitting leather cuffs reminded him of what he had become.

Night found them over the border into the incorporated territory of New Mex-Arizona, but not yet at their destination. Starsky could see a blue shimmering light on the horizon that turned into a neon Indian teepee as they got closer. The blue coalesced into a huge neon sign mounted above ten conical cement huts shaped like the apocryphal native dwellings.

"Wouldja look at that!" Starsky pointed, sitting up straighter. "We gotta stay there, Hutch."

"That's the plan."

"So sometimes you do have plans I like," Starsky said with a grin and steered off towards the motel.

The inside of the first teepee was not quite as cute as the pink and blue trimmed outside; a round office in drab tan with a long counter complete with a bell, a rack of out of date brochures, and a plastic sign advertising credit cards that had stopped being accepted two years ago. The whole place seemed like set decoration from a movie in the '60s just waiting for Hitchcock to direct a scene.

A nut-brown woman who had to stand on a box to see over the counter watched greedily while Hutch counted out the fee in advance, her black eyes darting back and forth between the two men. Since Starsky still had no official ID other than his slave papers, Hutch had to sign in for the both of them, showing his California passport and detective's badge as proof of citizenship.

The woman glanced at Starsky with contempt, and pushed the key toward Hutch. "Slaves gotta be dressed around here. We're good Christian people. We don't abide by any of those free sex shenanigans they do up in Vegas."

"Just passing through, ma'am," Starsky said quietly, the joy of staying in a teepee completely drained away.

"He don't talk to me, either, you hear?" she snapped at Hutch, disapproval pinching her face.

"Lady, we're giving you our business, so I'd suggest you behave like a civil inn keeper unless you want a lawsuit on your hands," Hutch said quietly.

"Slavery ain't even legal in this territory."

"Exactly why we're coming here instead of Vegas." Hutch towered over her. The counter was between them, but Hutch could have easily picked her up and shaken her like a rat. He didn't. He simply stared at her with pale, ice-cold eyes, picked up the key, and walked out.

Starsky glanced back at the woman who was rooted to the spot. He wanted to laugh except the fist-sized ball in his chest kept getting in the way. He had to get another pair of jeans without a ring-sized rip in the groin.

Number seven was painted yellow with a red zigzag all around the exterior. "Looks like Charlie Brown's shirt," Starsky said, trying to lighten the tension. He plucked the keys out of Hutch's fingers and opened the door. The usual musty smell of a cheap hotel wafted out.

"I wanted to shove those keys in her nasty little face and arrest the shrew." Hutch kicked at the old-fashioned air conditioner.

"Hey, turn that thing on 'stead of abusing it." Starsky raised his arms, he was covered in sweat and even the insignificant breeze from the open door was a relief. The room was stiflingly hot. "This is the only hotel for miles around. Let's get some shuteye and get out at first light."

"Starsk..." Hutch began, and his eyes slid down Starsky's body with heat that had nothing to do with the ambient temperature.

"She don't take with none of that free sex stuff," Starsky said wolfishly, pushing the door shut with his sneaker.

"Good, I won't try anything with her." Hutch leaned forward just enough to nip Starsky in the sweet place where his neck met his shoulder. "You smell like sweat."

"Big surprise." Starsky slid his arms around Hutch, his cock jutting out with insistent demands. "We gotta turn on the A.C. or we'll bake in here."

"I like sweat." Hutch took a big sniff, snuffling under the edge of Starsky's T, which sent a delightful shiver down Starsky's spine. "You know, every time one of those guards patted you down, every time somebody pointed or made some crude remark about the slave, I had this rush of anger, and following it came..."

He looked up, their eyes locking and Starsky felt a visceral sensation of absolute love. "Madness?" Starsky asked, just to see the play of annoyance, embarrassment, and adoration play across Hutch's classic features.

"Love, babe. Love. Passion." Hutch molded his hands around Starsky's skull, pressing his hair flat and kissing him. "That you were all mine and they'd better get their filthy hands off you or..." They grappled for supremacy, each trying to take control of the kiss, sucking and licking each other until they had to declare a tie. Hutch breathed in deeply, his chest expanding and contracting against Starsky's, and gently pushed him downward.

Starsky settled on his knees, Hutch still holding his head like a precious treasure, and unzipped Hutch's fly. That magnificent phallus sprang forth right into Starsky's mouth. He knew what to do and did it gladly, giving Hutch all his expertise. That they were master and slave had no meaning at that moment. This was the greatest freedom, giving and taking without expecting anything but joy in return.

"Wait." Hutch stopped Starsky, and bent over him, fumbling just a little with the tight buckle on the collar.

"Hutch?" Starsky asked, and waited until the leather band was removed from his throat. His neck felt wobbly, as if he needed the support of the collar. But his head didn't tumble off its perch and he smiled, looking up at Hutch.

"No slaves in here tonight," Hutch whispered and pulled him onto the bed.

The air conditioner eventually got turned on, sometime after they showered together in the miniscule stall. They slept close together on one bed, sheets pushed down to their bare feet, Hutch's lips touching Starsky's chest the whole night.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Starsky had never before been to Phoenix but it looked like any large city in the post-Corporation era. Huge stone buildings dominated the cityscape. The streets were clogged with cars, buses, and every conveyance possible, all belching noxious pollutants and sending the already mind-boggling air temperature even higher.

Hutch directed them to an area outside the main city where a huge mall had once reigned. The CEC owned all the department stores and it was difficult, if not impossible, for small shop owners to make a living. Most of the spaces that once housed boutiques and specialty shops were now used for housing and storage. Zoning laws were a thing of the past. The average citizen could barely afford to pay for telephone service, much less electricity or gas, so many families had just moved into the abandoned malls where there was water, air conditioning, and support from other folk.

The place was packed with people, all engaged in various aspects of everyday life. Women washed clothes in what had once been an ornamental fountain. A circle of small children surrounded a teacher giving a lesson in adding and subtracting oranges. A man wearing leathers so old they appeared to be crumbling off his body was repairing motorcycles under the watchful eyes of two Hell's Angels.

After asking for directions more than once from the inhabitants of this improvised town, Hutch pointed down one wing of the mall. Halfway along was a sign cobbled out of mismatched letters from other storefront signs: The Pits, part deux.

"Huggy didn't waste any time!" Starsky skirted a gang of surly teens who called out insults as he passed. The ring showing through his holey jeans, plus the wrist and ankle cuffs made his ownership obvious. Hutch had attached the cuffs lovingly this morning, but for some reason known only to him, left the collar off. That small freedom had meant a lot to Starsky -- until now.

Hutch casually flicked his jacket open to reveal the long barreled Python that he'd strapped under his arm. Their comments quickly changed to admiration and speculation.

"You think he has any beer?" Starsky continued, ignoring them. He'd developed a tough hide in his years on the street, but it took all he had to remain passive with the cruel remarks the ring and his slave cuffs generated. Slavery might not be legal in Arizona, but it certainly was recognized, and from what he'd seen when they were in downtown Phoenix, well practiced by rich businessmen.

"When didn't Hug..." Hutch started but got no farther when a loud voice called out cheerfully.

"Bay City amigos, come inside!" Huggy Bear, as usual, was wearing a peacock array of colors that shouldn't go together peacefully, but somehow worked on him.

"Huggy!" Starsky had rarely been so happy to greet an old friend. He and Huggy did have some past history, but none of that mattered. Seeing him was like coming into a safe harbor after a brutal storm. "Some place you got here."

Hooking a long arm around Starsky's neck and a big hand on Hutch's back, Huggy drew them into the low-lit saloon. A long bar stretched along side one wall, and the place was obviously popular judging from the many patrons. "My Southwestern cousins have been here for a while, and found the bar trade to be surprisingly lucrative. I'm just giving them a hand."

"Looks a lot like your old place." Starsky started to sit down on a bar stool, but he'd been in a car for nearly two days. The fabric of his jeans had rubbed the welts on his butt raw, and standing suddenly was a much more comfortable position. Hutch hitched a leg over a bar stool, perching on the edge so that his knee pressed against Starsky's hip. Starsky was aware of the heat from Hutch's body along his right side, reminding him of the way they'd always been; unconsciously touching whenever they were near one another.

"The original Pits had style, my man," Huggy scoffed, drawing beer from a wooden keg with a spout on one end. He slid the mugs toward his friends, and, with practiced ease, poured shot glasses of rotgut for two men at the other end of the bar. "This is just bargain basement cast-offs masquerading as a bar until Raoul can get some more cap-i-tal."

Starsky gratefully accepted the mug, tapping his to Hutch's in celebration of having made it this far. He took a long swallow of the cold beer. It had a strong flavor of malt and hops. "This ain't Coors."

"A local brew. That crap the CEC sells tastes like gorilla piss water," Huggy groused. "I took the liberty of securing rooms for the two of you on the second floor here. Hutch, there be a few friends waiting impatiently for you. Seems you're a day or so late."

"Couldn't be helped." Hutch grabbed a handful of pretzels out of a bowl on the bar. "Who's here?"

"I am." The bass voice seemed to come from the bowels of the earth.

Starsky turned around to see a giant of a man, probably six foot six at least, with smooth chocolate-colored skin and shoulders that could have fit on an ox. He had the thick neck and broad chest of a former football player, which he was. "Gary Manetti?"

"The same." Manetti flicked a glance at Hutch then looked down at Starsky, lingering on the ring showing through his jeans before looking him straight in the eyes. One of the few people who'd ever done that since he'd been pierced. Starsky liked him immediately. "You're Starsky. Heard stuff."

"Good or bad?"

"Depends." Manetti grinned, revealing a gap in his front teeth, and stuck out an enormous hand that engulfed Starsky's own. "Glad you got here in one piece."

"More or less." Starsky held up his glass. "You a drinking man?"

"Been drinking, waiting for the Blond Prince."

Hutch blushed at the nickname and started to protest, but Starsky laughed. "The Blond Prince, huh? I'll have to remember that."

"People anxious to talk, Hutchinson," Manetti said, his face apologetic. "Alone."

"Starsk, I gotta straighten a few things out before we bring you into the fold." Hutch frowned, obviously unhappy about something, but he didn't say what. Starsky appreciated the way Hutch kept his hand on his arm until he drained his beer mug, imprinting a warm memory there that stayed for a long time after Hutch had disappeared.

"Big things going down around here. The moon's full and the tide is turning," Huggy said cryptically, dunking half a dozen glasses into a basin of soapy water.

"Lunatics, all of us." Starsky bit into a pretzel and grimaced when the remaining half looked like a crescent moon. "Me most of all."

"Starsk..." Huggy started and blew out noisily. "That place -- it's considered one of the best -- which ain't saying a lot, I know, but..."

"The best? You knew where I was?" he asked savagely.

"No! Not specifically. I figured it out after Hutch left. He asked me -- months ago -- which slave farm produced good..." Huggy shook his head. "I figured Hutch got some bug up his ass to roust the slave houses and then go after the trainers. You two were always trying to bust Dunfey, and he had an interest in Luna." Obviously trying to avoid Starsky's gaze, he rinsed off two glasses, setting them carefully on the drain board.

Starsky felt like a pawn in a chess game, buffeted by forces he had absolutely no control over. Luna's gold star rating didn't change his mind one iota. He wanted to burn the place to the ground with that bastard Neville inside -- and Harriet Roget, too.

"I asked around. No slave's ever died at Luna," Huggy said after a long time. "The trainers follow the buyer's orders, and the slaves..."

"How long did you know?" Starsky said low and nasty, tensing his belly, his body still expecting Neville's blows after two days.

"Hutch had some agenda goin' on. He'd asked me... some specific questions, over a long period of time, and when shit started hitting the fan, I put two and two together and got some really bad vibes." Huggy paused, his black eyes pleading with Starsky to stop him from going on, while his hands were still immersed in sudsy water. "I hear things. I already knew where Dunfey took those folk that got spirited away."

"So you suggested I get spirited?"

"No! He didn't tell me that part," Huggy said a little too loudly, grabbing a dishtowel. "Raoul!" he called to a small-boned man with the same elfin cast to his face that Huggy had. "Take over the bar while I get me a smoke."

"Sure thing, Unc...uh, Huggy." Raoul grinned toothily, pouring a frosty mug for someone farther down the long bar.

"Your cousin, huh?" Starsky observed wryly, even though he was still churning inside.

Huggy came around the shorter end of the bar to where Starsky was, gesturing for him to follow. When Starsky didn't, Huggy stared at him, a strange anger warring with something else in his expressive eyes. "What is it you want?"

"The truth," Starsky answered. He followed his old friend out the back into a cramped indoor alley filled with the debris of hundreds of people all living in the same space. The smell of rotting food and rank humanity was overpowering, especially since the air conditioners didn't seem to operate this far behind the businesses.

"Garbage detail ain't been keepin' up their end," Huggy said shortly, and went up a flight of metal steps to the second floor. Here the mall had stores on one end and, what had once been an apartment complex on the other. He inserted a key into apartment sixteen, swinging open the door. The place was pure Huggy, bright colors and fabrics all vying for attention; although it had the unfinished feel of a place someone had just moved into.

"Hutch says that the CEC offered him a job, but a partner wasn't one of the side benefits," Starsky said before the door had even closed behind him. "That they wanted me out or dead, so he went to Dunfey to make a deal. You set that up?"

Huggy swore under his breath. "I didn't know you were the pigeon. Not at first. And when I found out, I tried to talk Hutch out of it. But he thought you'd be killed unless he got you out fast -- and in a way that would convince Roschenzky."

"So everyone was in on this plan but me, huh?" Starsky snarled. "Keep Starsky out of it; he's bound for the slave farms anyway."

Huggy exhaled noisily, clearly at a loss. "Starsk, I'm nothing but a bartender, and my opinion rarely changes anything."

"And what was your opinion?"

"On that, Hutch and me agreed. Getting out of town was the right thing to do, so I did." Huggy leaned against the wall of his kitchen. "That puppet President Cosgrove drove Bay City into a shit hole; the city was emptyin' out like rats fleeing a sinking ship. Dunfey went out the same day you did. He's here in Phoenix."

"I been going after that whippo for a fucking year, Hug. And you were tight with him the whole time?"

"If you think that then we ain't got much to talk about, Starsky."

"So tell me how it was, cause I wanna hear."

"I done tol' you all I know. I'm not even the middle man; I'm more like a sign post. You wanna talk to him, he wants ta talk to you -- I whisper in ears, direct traffic. I didn't know Hutch wanted to get you out of Roschenzky's way until it had already happened, Starsk, and he told me to go get the car."

"Hutch was with you? On Tuesday?" Starsky whispered, nearly reeling.

Huggy nodded, his earring glinting in the sun slanting through wide windows in the western wall of the apartment.

That made sense, Starsky realized. The Pits was about five blocks over -- a world away from the warehouse. Hutch had been safe, sitting at the bar, nursing a drink while two goons threw Starsky into a truck with a bag tied over his head. He wanted to throw up.

"I heard him call you," Huggy said, barely audibly.

"Starsk, Dunfey just went into the warehouse on the corner of Ninety-first, where it crosses Mission. Hurry. I'll meet you there."

He'd been so afraid Hutch had been captured, too. Captured or dead. Maybe Starsky had had a concussion, his brains all scrambled from hitting the truck, because Hutch had never been the one in danger. "He set me up."

"Hutch sat there with his hand on the phone, looking like a man who'd just shot his best friend," Huggy continued. "Tossed back a finger full a'Jack Daniels and told me to go get your car. He looked like Superman carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders when he left."

"Think how I felt."

"Dunfey was crowin' all over town that he'd caught one of BC's finest. Was gonna get you for himself, that's what he said." Huggy patted his jacket as if looking for a cigarette, but came up empty. "Don't know how Blondie managed it, but he bought your chit right out from under Dunfey's nose. The big man was outta his mind -- had his goons out looking for Hutch. One of 'em came in just after I got back from moving your car."

"Hutch went to my place..." Starsky trailed off, the puzzle still missing a few pieces, but forming more solidly in his mind. Hutch had been like one of those performers at the circus, twirling plates on flexible wands. One wrong move and everything would have come crashing down on his head.

"Musta cost Hutch a bundle of cash, and I don't wanna know where that kinda scratch came from." Huggy licked his lips, standing despondently in the middle of the room. "I knew I had to take my curtain call before it was too late."

"You ever going back?" Starsky looked around the room, taking in familiar keepsakes and pieces Huggy had kept with him for years. This move was permanent.

"Maybe. Maybe not. I was never one to abide by the strict letter of the law, but BC turned into Dodge City when my back was turned." He made a derisive sound. "When the ones running the place are more corrupt than the criminals, then the Bear takes a powder." Huggy began to shift boxes, digging into one before poking around in another, obviously looking for something. "Worked my way up from mopping floors to owning my own place in BC, and now I gotta start all over again."

"Meanwhile, I'm back on my knees, getting fucked." Starsky sat down on a pile of pillows heaped in one corner of the room. His brand hurt. There was no telling when Hutch would be back, and the ointment was out in the car.

"Arizona's a whole new place, Starsky." Huggy's voice was muffled with his head half buried in a box, triggering a memory.

Huggy's first place, a hole in the wall a mile from the once and future Pits, called Chez Huggy's. Not much to look at but all his own; paid for in cash after a phenomenally lucky weekend of craps. Starsky had been just back from the war, jangly as a pair of hooker's earrings, sweating out the last of in country, and wondering where his next meal was coming from. He'd gone from three squares a day and a cot in a shared tent in Southeastern Asia to nothing back in the old U.S of A. No job, no home, and no prospects.

Huggy was his oldest friend, someone who'd once kept an eye on an undersized fifteen-year-old plying his trade to barrel-chested bankers and businessmen. Huggy had always had a job and a place to hole up in, even if it was the back of a bar. He'd let Starsky curl beside him on many a cold winter night, especially the year Starsky was fresh meat on the corner. Huggy used to coax him inside with the promise of food and friendship, and they'd bonded, two teenagers living on the streets. Their friendship had lasted through many changes in both their lives.

The barware for Chez Huggy hadn't even been unpacked when Starsky showed up on the front stoop, jet-lagged after a fifteen-hour flight from Vietnam. He'd walked in to the same sight, skinny butt upturned over a box, and felt like he'd come home. What twist of fate had put them on two sides of the law? Not exactly opposite, more like one hand washing the other. As a cop, Starsky overlooked minor infractions, like the possession of stolen goods or the occasional working girl plying her trade in Huggy's bar in return for information that he couldn't get from any other source. Huggy had been the man to go to for so long now that Starsky sometimes wondered if he didn't owe the Bear more. Well, all debts were paid up now, that was for sure.

"Chez Huggy," Starsky said.

"Oh, yeah." Huggy pulled out a pair of fairly disreputable jeans. Very old jeans, with Starsky's old Army squadron insignia sewn on the back to cover a hole. "Knew these must be in here. Kept 'em."

"The question is why?" Starsky was stunned. Memories surfaced, him and Huggy curled against each other, pale skin against dark. They'd never been anything more than a safe haven when life was too hard to handle alone, but Huggy had saved his butt on more than one occasion. And his pants, apparently.

"The night you got your cadet uniform." Huggy grinned triumphantly. "You came in wearing these and went out a cop."

"Last time we ever..." Starsky breathed in and breathed out, weary.

"I don't do it with cops, Harpo."

"Ever do it with a slave?" He hurt so much. The revelations of Hutch's whereabouts on Tuesday at noon opened wounds he'd wanted to ignore. He'd tried to forgive his lover, but that didn't change the fact that he'd feared for Hutch's life when Hutch was throwing Starsky to the hounds.

"Never had the pleasure." Huggy knelt down and tentatively touched the ring so prominently displayed between Starsky's sprawled legs. "That hurt?"

"Yeah, it hurts!" Starsky bristled, acutely aware that he wore slave gear: the leather wrist and ankle cuffs. "It still does. You try having something like that shoved in your dick."

"Pierced my ear with my mama's sewing needle and a cold potato," Huggy said. "Got the damned thing stuck half way in and was sure I'd have to go around with a needle poking out my ear."

Starsky laughed, wishing Huggy's hand would venture farther, just wrap around his cock for a little while. To make him feel something other than anger. Until Hutch got back.

His erection pushed the ring out even farther, nudging against Huggy's palm.

"Had to get my brother to pull it out," Huggy continued. "He liked the earring so much he took the needle and did him one, too."

"Brothers and nephews and cousins. You got one for every state and country, Hug?"

"Just about." Huggy sighed, just once, his eyes closed, long, elegant fingers still resting lightly on Starsky's ring. He coaxed it around as Hutch had done once, turning it in the pierce hole before letting go. "I don't do slaves, and I don't trespass on another man's claim."

"Huggy."

"There's you, and there's me, and there's Hutch, you dig?" Huggy said roughly. "The minute I met that man, I knew I was yesterday's news. Didn't surprise me, 'cause we weren't ever more than fuck buddies, so I never looked back. Starsky, there's no use in it." He stood, tossing Starsky the jeans. "Put 'em on; cover up that damned thing."

"Thank you," Starsky said because there was nothing else to say. That one decorative piece of metal, curving through a body part, could change so much. Huggy had worn an earring long before anyone else Starsky knew. That was a time when an earring might hint that a man was gay, or maybe bi, or possibly a pirate.

A Prince Albert, like Starsky's, had meant even more. It was a definite come on, an indication that a man was ready to have a certain kind of fun. Now, it signified that the wearer had no rights over his own body. He wasn't straight, gay or bi; he was simply a slave, available to all. That Huggy had refused Starsky's opening spoke much about the man's integrity.

"You get a tattoo?" Huggy hunted through a different box with his back turned while Starsky changed. "I heard of a guy who's got a do-hickey that'll turn those tracker chips off."

"Yeah? Won't do me any good, but get his name." Starsky grit his teeth, buttoning up the fly. He'd lost some weight so the pants weren't tight, but the lightest pressure on the brand still hurt like crazy, and it was the first time he'd ever imprisoned his ringed cock so securely. The ring felt cold resting up against his perineum. "The Abbey League will be interested."

"You were branded?" Huggy asked, horrified, as he unearthed a can of coffee beans and two mugs.

"You know an awful lot about Luna for someone who doesn't use slaves."

"I talk to people. All people," Huggy emphasized, plugging in the coffee maker and then grinding up the beans. "Don't matter to me if they got rings in the places your mama always said to hide from strangers. They all got a story to tell, and the Bear don't discriminate."

"No, you never did."

"Helped a few of 'em fade into the woodwork, too."

Starsky knew that. He remembered a girl Hutch had tried to help -- blonde and vapid -- what was her name? Jeannie. How could he forget after her former owner had hooked Hutch on heroin and left him for dead? Hutch had first brought Jeannie to Huggy, sure that he would know what to do. Once Hutch went cold turkey off the H, Jeannie had disappeared as if she had never been there.

"You with the Abbey League?" Starsky asked.

"Nah, the Bear doesn't do organized sports, but never let it be said that I didn't support the underdog."

"You think they have a chance in hell of ousting the CEC and bringing back democracy?" Starsky drew in the heavenly aroma of freshly brewed coffee.

"At least they're trying, which is more than anyone else is doing." Huggy handed over a cup of coffee and some Oreos.

Starsky could have kissed him. "Where'd you get the cookies?" He popped one whole into his mouth to savor the mix of chocolate wafer and creamy filling with his first sip of coffee, and then unscrewed the second one in the proper manner.

"I always have connections." Huggy drank his coffee fast. "I gotta get back to the bar. Raoul can draw beer like a pro, but he can't mix a drink worth shit."

"Go ahead," Starsky encouraged. "Mind if I sack out here? I haven't had down time in a while."

"I can believe that." Huggy carried his cup back to the kitchen and rinsed it out, the habits of a bartender deeply ingrained. "You and Hutch got a place next door; I put the keys on that hook." He waved a hand at a set of keys hanging on the wall. "You could go over there, but there's no furniture. Stick around until Blondie shows up."

"Thanks, Hug."

"Oh, hey, I forgot." Huggy paused on his way out. "Hutch wanted a computer. One'a my cousins scrounged one up and tol' me it had all the right parts, but I don't know one end of a computer from t'other. It's in your apartment, waiting for his Blondness."

"As long as I don't have to wrestle with the damned fingerprint ID program, I know how to set a computer up," Starsky said, wondering why Hutch needed one. He was beginning to feel like the pawn in a chess game -- moved around from space to space but without any knowledge of the rules of the game.

He was tired, but once Huggy left, Starsky prowled around the small apartment cluttered with boxes. He didn't know what to do with himself. How exactly would he fit in here? He was no longer a cop, and legally a slave, at least by the laws in states that recognized slavery. He wasn't clear exactly on the laws here in Arizona. If he was found alone on the streets and his brand or ring discovered, what would the police do? Send him back to Luna? Shuttle him into some privately maintained slave house? He doubted if anyone would look the other way, or help him get to a city where a pierced man could walk freely. Only the Abbey League seemed to have maintained a liberal ideology.

He couldn't keep still, and the wild mélange of colors in Huggy's place was suddenly too bright. Grabbing the keys off the hook, he investigated the apartment next door. The layout was identical to Huggy's but flipped; a main living room with a small kitchen off the left and a bedroom suite to the right. The computer monitor, keyboard, and tower were in the front room with about a mile of electrical cord coiled around everything. There was nothing in the apartment except a mattress in the bedroom with some blankets and towels piled neatly on top, and a couple of boxes with dishes and non-perishable foods on the kitchen counter.

Starsky ate Oreos while he looked around, planning to set up the computer, but the mattress beckoned. Unfolding a scratchy wool blanket, he curled up, falling asleep in an instant.

***

"Da-vey," Neville said, elongating the syllables in a caricature of an upper crust British aristocrat. "All alone?"

Starsky froze, staring into the feline gold eyes of his trainer. He should be on his knees, thighs spread, eyes downward. Shit, he was going to be punished now.

He struggled to get into presentation, but he couldn't make his limbs coordinate and was hopelessly tangled in the blanket when the Brit's cool hand smacked hard against his bare butt. The gag was next, a huge thing that stretched his mouth.

"This simply won't do, darling." Neville drawled. "Your cowboy lets you get away with murder. A session on the rack for you."

Starsky was bound upright, arms tight to the curved struts of the welcoming frame, legs pulled apart a shade too far. His groin ached, inner thighs burning from the pull of his muscles. This couldn't be happening! Hutch had promised they'd never go back.

"Fortun will be in for a fireman's shower, and then something to cure you of that insolence..." Neville floated away, one hand trailing down Starsky's cock to tug on the ring.

"Starsk."

Starsky thrashed, trying to break free of his confinement, moaning with frustration.

"Starsky, wake up!" Hutch said more sharply.

Starsky gasped, opening his eyes. He was still in the empty apartment, staring into Hutch's soft blue eyes, safe.

"Hey." Hutch unwound the blanket, freeing Starsky's tangled legs. "Having a nightmare?"

"Something like that." Starsky pushed his hair off his sweaty forehead, dispelling the last of Neville.

"Thanks for leaving the key over the door," Hutch said with a smirk. "You hungry?"

"I smell Chinese!" Starsky scrambled to his feet, following his nose.

"This place is amazing, so many folks banding together to make a community. There are restaurants, shops selling handmade items, barbers, and daycares." Hutch looked over at Starsky with an odd expression, but smiled when his partner discovered the food. "The spring rolls are great; I already had one."

Typical Chinese restaurant cartons were waiting on the breakfast bar that separated the kitchen from the living room, smelling of orange peel and soy sauce. Starsky dived in, practically inhaling his first spring roll whole. "What's going down with the Abbeyites?"

Hutch made a vague gesture like brushing annoying pests away. "They were put out because I didn't announce Project Grab Starsky in advance. Some of the members felt I was taking matters into my own hands."

Project Grab Starsky. Starsky winced inwardly at the title. "Well, weren't you?"

"If I'd run it by the committee ahead of time, we'd still be waiting for authorization, and you'd belong to Dunfey or Roschenzky. You'd be gone for good." He turned away, ostensibly to grab plates from the box of provisions, but his voice was rough with emotion when he spoke again. "I couldn't let that happen."

"They forgive you?" Starsky asked quietly.

"They always do," Hutch said evasively, making Starsky wonder what else Hutch had done to disrupt the group. "Especially with the information I brought with me."

"The stuff you were reading the other night?" Sitting on the living room floor with his back against the wall, Starsky spooned Kung Pao chicken onto his steamed rice, popping a few peanuts into his mouth before using his fork like a proper gentleman. Did slaves have to follow Emily Post etiquette anyway?

"That info was far too valuable to get into CEC hands." Hutch leaned against the bar to make himself a plate. "More and more people are sending stuff through computer servers, but they're too easily intercepted."

"Hacked," Starsky said with his mouth full. "That why you wanted a computer?"

"Hacked?" Hutch mulled the word before taking a large bite of rice and chicken. "Yeah. There was a raid on an Abbey group in Ore-Washington because they'd revealed too much in a communication sent by computer."

"What happened?"

"Only a few escaped. Those who weren't killed that night were taken into custody. Ore-Washington doesn't have the bloodthirsty tendencies that prevailed in So Cal; they just send them to slave labor camps to work them to death." He shook his head, blond hair falling into his eyes. He suddenly looked like a man carrying a heavy burden, one that wouldn't get any lighter for a long time. "Those papers I had were information that survived from the group in Oregon -- luckily, the courier hadn't reached the meeting when they were raided. I got there a few days later..." He didn't go into it further, but it was obvious that whatever he'd heard was terrible.

"So, based on that, you think it's a good idea to keep sending this stuff through computer channels?" Starsky shifted on his abraded buttocks trying for a more comfortable position. The floor was hard, but a chair wouldn't be much better.

"One of the older Abbey members had sent coded messages in World War II." He ate more rice and Kung Pao chicken, crunching down hard on a peanut. "They used a code that incorporated the Navaho language back then, but we're using numerical-based codes now. I'll send scrambled batches of numbers and letters, and whoever receives it in BC will have the key to unlock it."

"You never knew that much about computers before," Starsky said. Hutch kept surprising him.

"Had to learn, didn't I?" Hutch answered irritably, putting down his plate. He sat down next to the computer on the floor, the length of his thigh brushing Starsky's. "We're in the forefront of a revolution, Starsky. Lots of things had to change. All over the country, people are joining us. If we can chip away at the foundation, we can pull the CEC down brick by brick."

"Been taking Inspirational Speaking 101?" Starsky asked sourly. "I'm all for having a positive attitude, but the U.S. fell apart damned fast once the military disbanded. Who could blame 'em? The Corporations paid the military way more after our dipshit president labeled half of the generals incompetent and the rest traitors. Once they were gone, and the states started declaring their independence, there was nothing left to hold it together."

Hutch shook his head, probably remembering those disastrous days when no one could predict what might happen next. After the president had proclaimed Washington D.C. a sovereign state and declared war on Maryland, he'd been pronounced insane. He apparently hadn't even noticed the rest of the country falling into ruins during his two terms of office. He was the last president of the former United States.

"Where were all these people when the battles first broke out? When families were killed and regular people enslaved?" Starsky demanded, suddenly angry.

"Not believing that it would go this far, same as you and me?" Hutch rubbed Starsky's right thigh, slow and easy, not sexually, but as a reassuring gesture.

Starsky wasn't sure who it was supposed to reassure, him or Hutch, but it felt good. "You think that fifty states that couldn't get along before are gonna just meld back together into one big country again, like nothing happened?"

"No." Hutch looked around with a frown. "Thought I brought some drinks up -- couple of beers and some orange juice. Must have left it in the Pits."

Starsky was almost dizzy from the abrupt change in subject, but it helped to cool his head. "There are glasses in that box on the counter. I'll get water from the tap."

"Right now, there are twenty-two territories and city-states, although that threatens to change from month to month. Some are well established, others mostly banded together because there's strength in numbers."

"Like Proto-Canada that used to be upper New York and Vermont and the Original Colonies back east." Starsky carried over two glasses of water. He bent to sit back on the floor, his brand protesting as the denim scraped painfully over his sensitive skin. Damn, they needed to get some chairs in this place.

"New jeans?" Hutch asked lightly.

"Ancient." Starsky schooled his face against the pain and crunched his spring roll.

"They look good...but I'd like them much better off."

The temperature in the room rose about ten degrees in less than sixty seconds. Starsky could feel sweat beading on the back of his neck. Hutch hadn't moved, but he was staring at where the ring hid under blue cloth. If looks could ignite fabric, Starsky's clothes would have gone up in smoke.

"When we're alone, I want you naked," Hutch said, his voice both whiskey smooth and rough as silk.

Starsky could have gotten drunk on that sound, but it confused him. How had they gone from discussing politics to sex so fast? His hand went to the five buttons that protected his privates, the flame from Hutch's ice blue eyes bringing his blood to a boil.

"Now?" Starsky asked lamely.

"I could rip that pair, too, but then you'd have nothing else to wear. That would be a pity." Hutch rose to his feet. From Starsky's perspective his legs suddenly seemed ten feet long.

"Hutch, what about the Abbey League? Aren't they all about changing the system?" Starsky undid the first button, finding it strangely difficult to breathe, the air suddenly as thick and humid as a sauna.

"Exactly, giving the government back to the people -- the way our forefathers did. A democracy." Hutch watched greedily as if he'd never seen the package Starsky unwrapped. "We aren't far from our goal -- bringing down Cosgrove's rule any way we can. We have a number of influential and very committed Abbey members, all poised to strike when we can make the most difference. And that will be soon."

"So, do any of them hold slaves, too?" Starsky asked bluntly, without unbuttoning another one. He was surprised that he was so turned on, almost as if his anger were fanning the fire.

Hutch glanced up from Starsky's groin to his eyes, going still and remote. "I haven't asked."

"But they met at slave houses."

"Doesn't mean any of them kept..." Hutch paused as if realizing that he was putting his foot in his mouth and changed subjects abruptly. "Talk around town says Dunfey has arrived, as I'd suspected. I've sent word that I want to join his organization, that I'm on the run from the BCPD, that I have CEC information he'd want such as who uses slaves, who are the easiest people to blackmail, and other information." He reached out to slip one of Starsky's buttons free, but Starsky batted his hand away. He was too aroused to tolerate Hutch's hand on his groin.

Hutch made an urgent, needy sound but backed off, talking all the while. "My fee for all this would be a seat on his council. That would prove I've switched sides."

"Then you'd let him use me..." Starsky forced himself to think logically past the smoke clouding his brain. He'd managed only three buttons and the tight pants were about to strangle his erection. "So I could take him down?"

"Killing him would be best." Hutch pulled Starsky up to a standing position and bracing his chest against the breakfast bar. Pushing Starsky's hands away, Hutch shoved them against the edge of the breakfast bar as if he were under arrest and about to be frisked.

"Hey!" Starsky yelled, but Hutch forced him forward over the bar with his elbow in the small of Starsky's back.

Pulling Starsky's arms behind him, Hutch snapped the links on the wrist bands together. "You were taking entirely too long."

Their bodies were so close Starsky could feel the jut of Hutch's erection pressed against the warm place between his butt cheeks.

Hutch reached in front of Starsky, holding him in place with his arms, and palmed the V of skin showing between the flaps of his jeans. "Things could get rough with Dunfey. And he might not be the only one."

Starsky's heart jumped into his throat. He had a sudden vivid image just as Hutch had described it: Starsky kneeling at the feet of the most powerful people on the west coast...naked...fondled and abused by strange hands moving over his body, sliding lower towards his cock -- the way Hutch's hands moved now.

"This isn't just for fun," Hutch said. "This could be a rehearsal for your debut."

"I didn't prepare a show tune," Starsky gasped.

Hutch turned him around so they were facing each other. Then Hutch shocked him when he sank down to mouth the heated space his hand had left.

Starsky shouted loudly as Hutch's warm lips sucked his cock out of its hiding place in his jeans. "Ah! I know this song by heart..." Starsky's legs shook, his whole body trembling when Hutch licked down his length and did incredible, indescribable things to the pierced end. It burned and stung, but sent Starsky into orbit, his will to protest his captivity gone. The last two buttons on his jeans were still fastened when he orgasmed, panting with the aftermath.

Leaning his weight against the breakfast bar barely kept him standing, with Hutch slumped on his knees, head bowed. "Hutch?"

Hutch gave no response.

"What are you thinking about?" Starsky asked.

"I'm putting you in a dangerous situation without backup." Hutch raised his head to gaze up at Starsky with haunted eyes. "All I wanted to do was keep you safe, with me. But this is more dangerous than what we were running from."

"I got some tricks up my sleeves," Starsky boasted, even as his heart thudded against his breastbone.

"You'll be naked. Can't carry any weapons."

"Did you know I was double jointed?"

Hutch smirked. "I've noticed."

"Watch this," Starsky said, hoping that he hadn't lost too much mobility. Easing himself to the floor, he moved away from Hutch who sat on the floor cross-legged, alert and interested.

Starsky sat, his arms still bound behind him, then bent forward until his forehead touched the ground. Slowly, he worked his arms and bound hands inch-by-inch around the widest part of his hips. The strain on his wrists and shoulders was excruciating, the short length of chain linking his wrists had no elasticity. For a few tense seconds, he wasn't sure it was possible. Then his left shoulder shifted, ligaments and tendons loosening, and his hands cleared his butt. Sitting back with his hands now directly underneath him, Starsky took a deep breath and tried to relax. This was harder than he thought, but gave him a cocky optimism, nonetheless. Being restrained didn't mean being helpless. Starsky finished his act by bending his knees and sliding his legs through his arms while pulling his hands up until he could stand with his cuffed hands in front of him.

"That's fantastic." Hutch grabbed Starsky, kissing him enthusiastically. "As long as you have enough time alone to wiggle around like that."

"Got more than one." Starsky winked and knelt in perfect presentation, his head bowed. "Stand directly in front of me as if you were gonna grab me." He watched Hutch's cowboy boots come into position, the overhead lights winking in the silver toe tips. In one graceful move, Starsky shot straight up, his bound hands clasped together. He stopped short of slamming Hutch in the gonads, but the implication was clear.

"Okay." Hutch smiled. "You're no babe in the woods. You ever use any of those techniques when you were on the streets?"

"Nah. I didn't let any of 'em tie me up." Starsky held out his wrists, hoping Hutch would get the message and unlatch them. "Used to be fast, though. I was small and flexible, and could hide in unorthodox places."

"You're still flexible." Hutch unclipped the cuffs apart and pulled Starsky's jeans off completely. "Do I want to hear about the hiding places?"

"Probably not." Starsky toed the rumpled jeans on the floor.

"Leave them there and take your shirt off," Hutch said with quiet authority.

"This how it's gonna be?" Everything was off-kilter. One minute they were bantering and the next he could feel the persuasive strength of Hutch's need to dominate him thrumming in his veins.

"Today, yeah."

"Am I ever gonna know which way is up?"

"This is all new, and I want..." Hutch laid a seductive trail down Starsky's naked hip with the back of his hand. "I need...to discover what we have right now. Learn to use it."

Starsky could have backed away so easily, out of reach of that sweet swirl of skin on skin. He could have done a lot of things, but he didn't. He just let it continue, feeling like a sex toy about to be used and like he'd won the lottery all at the same time. This was so damned complicated. "What if I don't want to?"

"I own you, dammit!" Hutch smacked him hard on the butt and stalked into the kitchen. "Starsky, I don't have answers here! I'm not sure I even have the right questions."

Starsky didn't move a muscle, the sting of the slap taking his attention away from the pain of the brand. He and Hutch had thrown a few punches in their day, but he'd never been hit so often by the man he loved. "Don't do that again."

Hutch was breathing so loudly that Starsky didn't hear his response at first. "God, I want you so much, Starsk. All the time. All the time. For years, it tortured me that you didn't want this, too."

"What about all the times I went down on you? That was nothing?"

"That was...everything...if it was all I could get. I was grateful."

"But you never gave back." Starsky still wouldn't look at him. Hutch was a shadow in the corner of his eye. It was easier to talk this way, when he could resist Hutch's enticing allure.

"I'm a bastard half the time. I know it -- you call me on it," Hutch said harshly. "I punished -- both of us. You wouldn't play it my way, so I didn't give you any. At the same time, I denied myself your body. Then I'd spend a lot of time with those dark gypsy boys in the slave houses."

"So you said." Starsky was losing this fight. He'd already discovered that forgiving Hutch came as easily to him as loving the man. He couldn't help it. But he wasn't a damned sex toy, and didn't want to be treated like one. "I can't kneel for you every day of my life, even in private." He stripped off his shirt and knelt, expecting to feel defeated. Strangely, as he lowered his gaze and widened his thighs in presentation posture, he felt a curious sense of anticipation. When Hutch came to stand in front of him, Starsky thought his heart would burst.

Damn, I am so screwed.

"I, Kenneth Hutchinson, being of sound mind and body..." Hutch recited, "I think...."

Starsky looked up. Hutch stood with his right hand over his heart as if pledging allegiance to the flag that had once hung in their squadroom, valiant stars and stripes that no longer represented a United States. The old pledge was gone. Was Hutch supplanting it with something new and startling? A pledge of loyalty...to his slave?

"...Promise to hold what we've always had as sacred -- " Hutch continued. "As friends, partners, and lovers. I will honor the autonomy of David Starsky as a man, giving him all rights as a legal citizen. I maintain the right to use him, within reason, as my slave." He gave a funny little shrug as if suddenly self-conscious, and touched Starsky reverently. "I can't change what I am, Starsk."

"Neither can I." Still kneeling, Starsky spread his arms. "We're goin' around in circles, Hutch. It was simpler before."

"Maybe. Now I'm getting what I want -- are you?"

Starsky considered that while trying to sift through the abusive minefield of the last week. "I never thought I'd...like is the wrong word...but I do get off on what you do to me. Not anyone else...."

"What about being restrained?" Hutch asked, a strange mixture of hope and eroticism giving him a husky tone that went straight to Starsky's cock. Hutch cupped Starsky's cuffed wrists in both hands, rubbing his thumbs on the shiny leather bands.

"If I said no," Starsky began, willing himself not to simply fold automatically. Hutch had promised autonomy; Starsky didn't have to earn it. So where had his will power gone? He could say no, but he didn't want to. " -- It would be a lie."

"My collar, tight around your neck?" Hutch whispered.

He was so close that Starsky felt Hutch's breath on the side of his neck, just where the collar had been until that morning. His mouth went dry, remembering Hutch's big, warm hands curved around his neck, removing the thick leather band.

"I..." Starsky said, failing miserably at asserting any control here. "I get to say when and where. With all of it. The cuffs, butt plugs -- "

Hutch raised one eloquent eyebrow. "Even nipple clamps?"

Starsky didn't want the bite of metal on his nipples, but he wanted Hutch's hands on him, cock inside him. Compromise, always compromise. He clenched his jaw, and nodded once.

"Starsk," Hutch said like a judge, stern and hard. "You already know what I want. State your demands."

"I want the freedom." Starsky bit down on the word, emphasizing how important the concept was. "To be me. To...do you and then have you reciprocate. To ask for you to come inside me, and know it's what we both want."

"Are we going to have to negotiate terms every time?" Hutch was fighting anger. Starsky could hear it, feel the vibration in the air. "Can't I just establish rules you'll stick to?"

Bursting out laughing, Starsky shook with mirth. "I've never been too good with rules, Hutch."

"You're the one the CEC was afraid of..." Hutch hunched his shoulders, coming down to his knees. "I want you on whatever level we can make work."

Starsky kissed him, hard, without touching any part of his lover but those luscious lips. Hutch's mouth opened, letting himself be plundered, taken. There was no battle for supremacy here, no challenges. Simple give and take.

"Got those nipple clamps?" Starsky whispered, bracing himself.

Hutch looked startled, then grinned fiendishly. "As a matter of fact..."

It was Starsky's turn to look shocked when Hutch pulled them out of his pocket. "You come prepared," Starsky said, unnerved.

"I have to, I was a scout."

"Sea scout," Starsky corrected, his whole body shaking.

Hutch leaned forward to suckle one of Starsky's nipples. "Don't move unless I tell you to." Hutch's lips brushed across Starsky's chest like wet silk, setting off little incendiary bombs. When Hutch kissed and then bit his skin, he baptized Starsky into the tantalizing realm of pain and pleasure with the sweetness of honey mixed with the bite of chili powder.

Staying still was harder than anything he'd ever done. He wanted to beg Hutch to continue, yet push him away from his overly sensitized skin at the same time. Finally, Hutch paused long enough to adjust Starsky's hands, making him clasp his ankles instead of resting them on his thighs. Nothing Neville had ever done had been this erotic or this adoring.

"You're all mine tonight, lover." Hutch kissed each eyelid, his fingers toying with an already tingling nipple.

Starsky had forgotten that he'd asked for the nipple clamps until one sank heavily into his flesh. "Fuck!" he exploded. Somehow, the pain was even worse than the first time Hutch had used them on the branding table. He couldn't possibly handle this for very long. "Hutch, get it off!"

"One more." Hutch attached the second clamp, then added a light chain to connect the two fearsome things. So tiny and yet so awesomely powerful.

Starsky moaned.

Hutch toyed with the chain, making it sway, tugging lightly on one nipple, then the other.

Red bursts of stars exploded behind Starsky's retina. Yet, he couldn't imagine being anywhere else on earth at that moment. How did Hutch do this to him? Every slight pull on the chain jacked his libido higher. He'd been erect since before unbuttoning his fly, which was too long by half. He needed relief, now. His cock pulsed in time with his heart, standing up against his belly. Was it possible to get addicted to erotic pain? And if so, how had it happened so quickly? This was bliss wrapped in metal spikes, like smelling a rose while the thorns pierced his skin.

"Can you take more?" Hutch blew lightly on Starsky's right nipple, causing goosebumps to flush across his skin.

No, no! What the hell did he mean?

"Yes," Starsky hissed on an exhalation.

Hutch added tiny metal teardrops -- three of them -- to the chain.

Starsky cried out, his hands leaving his ankles to pluck off the erotic weights.

"Sssh, Starsk."

That sound, the one he'd heard on the telephone, the way Hutch said Starsk, went in deep. He left the weights hanging as he breathed raggedly.

Hutch pushed firmly on Starsky's wrists, resettling them on his ankles. "Feel the weights lift you up. How it feeds into your arousal."

Starsky didn't have a clue what he meant, but he was so turned on, he could have shot a load if only Hutch would take Starsky's penis in hand, maybe milk it for all its worth. His swollen cock arched higher, as if trying to reach out to its abused siblings.

"Get up on all fours, carefully," Hutch instructed him, kissing and stroking whatever bit of bare skin he could reach as Starsky released his ankles and changed position.

The drag of the weights intensified when gravity pulled everything down. Yet, the pain diminished as long as nothing disturbed the tenuous modicum of control he'd managed over his own body. Starsky hung his head so that he could watch Hutch, who was kneeling behind him, between his legs.

"This is the last chain," Hutch promised, slipping a link through the cock ring and attaching the other end to the center of the nipple chain.

Panting, Starsky discovered a whole new level where he couldn't decide what hurt and what felt good. Layers on layers, oil sliding on water, never quite mixing, yet never just one or the other. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt, it was heaven.

Hutch slid into him so quickly, Starsky didn't feel his initial breach. What had once been so wrong, felt so right. He swayed, and would have fallen if Hutch hadn't been holding his hips in place with both hands.

"Hutch?" Starsky asked, the quaver in his voice a surprise. He didn't have a clue what he was asking for.

Fortitude, or just some time to adjust?

Or maybe, release?

Starsky's balls were so tight, he wondered if it were possible for them to burst.

"Starsk," Hutch said against his back. "This is what I'm giving to you."

Hutch came out as quickly as he went in and then re-entered more slowly, stretching Starsky exponentially until there was nothing but the amazing burn in his ass and the firm grip of Hutch's hands against his hipbones. The pain from the nipple clamps and the insistent drag from the silver drops were background sensation as long as Starsky kept very still. He didn't move when Hutch shifted, coming halfway out. Starsky gasped, barely holding on, the pain sending shockwaves of pleasure zipping through his core.

"More," he heard himself whisper.

Hutch thrust in so hard he rocked both their bodies; the connected chains swung in constant motion, weights clacking together, the vibration of their collision adding yet another layer of sensation. Starsky didn't have time to experience one sensation before another slammed into him. He fell adrift in a fantastic welter of opposing stimuli. He moaned when he came, as Hutch jerked a final time, depositing his semen deeply inside Starsky. Blanketing Starsky's body with his own, Hutch curled them onto their sides, scattering the remains of the Chinese take-out.

An all too brief respite. Hutch didn't even give him long enough to take a post-coital nap. Hutch sat up, holding out a hand to pull Starsky into a sitting position, too.

Only then did Starsky realize that the chain connecting the clamps to his cock ring was too short. Without an erection, the chain pulled viciously on his nipples, elongating the sensitive tips.

"Don't look at them," Hutch said, tilting Starsky's chin up so that their noses almost touched. "Look at me."

Starsky tore himself away from obsessing on the pain, and how different the clamps felt during sex and afterwards. A whole new world.

Each time he inhaled, the chain shivered; he and Hutch were so close that when Hutch breathed, the chain shivered again. The pulling tug of the chain quickly became a potent reminder of the metal gripping his flesh.

"Can you think straight like this?"

"You have something in mind?" Starsky said slowly, sitting back on his heels because it was the safest way to keep his thighs from brushing against his stretched cock. It was hard to concentrate.

Hutch eyed him critically, miming for him to put his hands flat on his thighs in proper presentation position. "If you were in some CEO's office chained at his feet, maybe wearing clamps or something else that caused pain, could you still pay attention to what was going on around you? Memorize conversations? Read documents?"

"Oh." Starsky closed his eyes, internalizing the hurt. This was his life now; he had to learn to use it. "I'm distracted, but I can get past that."

"Good." Hutch turned his back and walked across the room to grab the familiar carryall. It lay in a heap near the front door, along with other things from the trunk of the car. He extracted the collar with the S charm and a long leash. Kneeling beside Starsky, Hutch quickly locked the collar in place, attaching the leash in front. Then Hutch stood, tied the leash to a drawer handle in the kitchen, and went about tidying up, leaving Starsky kneeling on the cool linoleum.

Silently, surreptitiously, Starsky watched Hutch's long legs going this way and that. Hutch unpacked the rice, beans, and flour from the box and stowed the single frying pan and saucepot under the counter, turning the cookie cutter apartment into their home piece by piece. He pinned the Chinese takeout menu to a cork board beside the sink, and put the red chopsticks in a glass to create an odd bouquet. The carryall went into the bedroom closet.

Hutch whistled while he worked, and Starsky latched onto the tune, the words of the song running through his mind. Sweet dreams are made of this, who am I to disagree? Travel the world and the seven seas, everybody's looking for something --

Hutch stopped whistling and started singing in his husky tenor. "Some of them want to abuse you; some of them want to be abused. Hold your head up; keep your head up..."

Strange song. Starsky had never thought about those lyrics, but realized that if he focused on what Hutch was singing, it helped take his focus off his nipples. He'd almost get used to the clamps, and then the chain would vibrate, or the weights would shift, or both would reassert the fearsome pain, adding to the discomfort of his brand. Focusing on Hutch's voice worked, helping to clear the fog of pain he could so easily lapse into. Starsky tucked that knowledge away, adding it to his arsenal. Keep listening. Stay aware of your surroundings.

Hutch ignored Starsky as if he weren't there. When Hutch stepped directly over him, he didn't say excuse me. It was a sobering reminder of the disregard most men had for slaves. Slaves were furniture, useful and amusing object to bring out when wanted, and keep tied to the wall the rest of the time.

Similar to a pet.

Humiliating.

Degrading.

Starsky understood why Hutch was doing this. He didn't like it, but if he was going to act like a slave then he had to think like one. Hutch was toughening him.

A piece of paper drifted to the floor on one of Hutch's trips through the kitchen. Starsky could see it was a memo with the subject line: "FYI -- all CEOs must change their passwords weekly." After that, there was a list, combinations of letters and numbers similar to license plates. Starsky had always been good at memorizing plates. He scanned the list, committing about a third of it to memory before Hutch made a noise and scooped the paper off the floor.

While focusing on the numbers, Starsky could almost ignore the nipple clamps as long as he stayed still.

Then Hutch plucked off the first clamp.

Starsky gulped air fast and screamed. Millions of oxygen-deprived cells shrieked their displeasure as the blood rushed back to his nipple. The second removal was just as bad. Damn! Starsky fought to maintain presentation, clenching his fists against his thighs, because everything in him begged to reach up and to rub away the sensation of needles jabbing into his nipples.

Hutch unhooked the nipple chain from the chain trailing off the ring in his cock, but left that chain attached, slipping a tiny weight on the chain's end. Starsky was loath to even try to stand up with that hanging off him.

Hutch eyed him in full master mode, then signaled him to rise. Starsky stood, regretting it instantly. He wanted to cup his genitals to relieve the strain. The dangling chain and weight was probably an ounce or less, but it felt like much more.

"Repeat after me -- dog, horse, cow, cat, man," Hutch said fast, then motioned for him to turn around. He was holding something in his right hand, but Starsky didn't have a chance to see it before he was facing the counter.

"Dog, horse, cow -- " Starsky froze, as something long, smooth, and far too cold to be human entered his recently stretched rear opening.

"Keep going," Hutch said in a flat way that did not reveal what he was thinking. His detective voice. The one that kept criminals in their place and soothed victims.

"Cat." Starsky tried to arch away from the intruder, but Hutch kept him still. It had to be the solid glass dildo Hutch had bought for him so long ago. He could barely speak when it was fully seated, and the notion of walking around was laughable.

Hutch blew a raspberry, rude and explosive, startling Starsky out of his funk.

"Cat? Man." Starsky finished the string of words, looking up at his master.

Hutch gave nothing away. He stood like a drill sergeant, leaning into Starsky's face. "What song was I singing?"

His nipples were so tender the air hurt, his brand throbbed in time with his heart, his cock hung longer than it used to, his asshole felt like it was plugged with a tree trunk, and he was supposed to think? That was the exercise; this wasn't a maniacal sex game. Starsky squared his shoulders. "Annie Lennox, Sweet Dreams."

Hutch nodded his approval and Starsky felt relieved. He had to wonder, though if this would be worth it someday.

"And for the final Jeopardy question, contestant," Hutch said, "what was the list of numbers?"

Starsky blinked. "Passwords. CMZ 134, K..." He paused, distracted by his body's complaints. He could usually do better than this. "KTA 755, and LMA 430."

"The five words, in reverse order."

Reverse? This was like some bizarre drunk test. Touching his nose with both forefingers, Starsky recited, "Man, cow, cat, horse, dog."

"One out of order, but on the whole, you passed." Hutch grinned this time, a full-on, sunny, the-world-is-a-wonderful-place thing that crinkled up his cheeks and brightened his eyes. "Touching your nose could have got you punished for insubordination."

"It's a lot like bein' in the Army," Starsky groused. He looked down at the silver bauble hanging nearly to his knees. "Going fishing?" He shifted slightly, feeling the butt plug move inside him, sending weird sensations that were half mild discomfort and sharp aches along his lower back and upper thighs.

"For a lot more than salmon." Hutch kneed the teardrop, making it sway maddeningly.

Starsky had to close his eyes and filter out all other distractions to keep from grabbing hold of the deviant pendulum. Luckily, Hutch came so close that their chests touched, their breath synchronizing immediately.

"This is going to be the most dangerous undercover you've ever done," Hutch said. "We need to work out the kinks ahead of time."

"The kinks, huh?" Starsky chuffed a laugh, feeling Hutch's erection rubbing against his stretched cock. He'd once humped his own billy club, back when they were both rookies and Hutch had left him aching with need after a quick one behind Huggy's bar. This was nothing like that and yet the same. Hutch's organ was rock hard and velvet soft, sliding with just the right amount of friction against his. The pull of the weight on his ring intensified every sensation to a degree he wouldn't have thought possible before. He emptied out everything but Hutch, filling himself up with Hutch. His scrotum drew up, his groin tightening, cramping around the glass rod stuck up his ass.

Back and forth, slip and slide, grind and thrust.

So good, so good. Pain built up in waves, drawing power from a primal source, until his body simply couldn't contain it. Starsky jerked against Hutch, losing all sense of self, amazed that he'd come again.

***

Walking next to Hutch down the hall of an old building in downtown Phoenix the day after their arrival, Starsky relived Hutch's training sessions with every step. He ached, and not in a pleasant, post-active-sex way.

They'd gone for a run just as the sun was rising over the Phoenix Mountains, jogging along the desert near the mall. Hutch wanted them in shape for whatever came up -- but Hutch didn't have to deal with bruises from nipple clamps, residual pain from weights hung from his cock, and aches from the rigid positions he'd held while Hutch scrutinized every line and curve for flaws. Starsky was tired. It had been a long time since he'd had a day off just to rest. Everything he did, every move he made, reminded him of the ring in his cock and the healing brand. Even though he wasn't wearing the damned cuffs and collar, he felt as if they'd been burned into his flesh like the crescent moon on his thigh.

Starsky glanced over at his -- what should he call Hutch? Not master, not in public. He realized suddenly that they were walking in sync. It had been months since they had been on the same page, starting a new investigation together, standing shoulder to shoulder, knowing they could be walking into danger. Especially here, where the Abbey League held court. Just then -- for the first time in so long -- partner suddenly felt right.

Even though he wasn't carrying a gun. At least Hutch was packing.

This office building had picturesque architectural touches, inlaid wooden floors, wainscot molding, and air conditioning that wasn't up to the ninety-degree heat outside. There was a dusty, forgotten feeling about the place. It wasn't the part of town Jack Dunfey frequented, so it was unlikely he would crash their party. But it didn't mean they were safe from the CEC. The raided Oregon group proved that the Abbey League was vulnerable.

So far, Starsky had only seen one other person in the hall, a man in the lobby who had recognized Hutch and nodded them on. The elevator they'd entered rose so slowly Starsky thought they could've saved five minutes by walking up the five flights of stairs.

"There you are!" Manetti poked his head out of a doorway as soon as they exited the lift. The hallway was lined with the closed doors of dark, abandoned offices. Manetti's door read A Division of Underhill-Blaylock Publishing, with a smaller hand-lettered sign that read "Author's reading in progress -- Private." Glancing up and down for stragglers, the ex-football star beckoned them in.

"We're not late," Hutch said huffily, wiping sweat off his forehead.

"Nah, I got here early to help set up." He grinned at Starsky, giving him a slap on the back that almost sent him sprawling. "Good to see you again, Starsky."

"Good to be here." Starsky ignored the sparks of pain from Manetti's friendly gesture and looked around. He liked to keep his eyes open for anything interesting, different, or potentially dangerous.

The room was filled with mismatched chairs and folding tables leaning against the walls. A typical office once, it had marks on the floor where heavy desks had sat and scrapes from chairs from people working to publish books. But that was before the takeover. Now, like the rest of the building, it was just empty space.

The low hum of a fluorescent bulb diminished as the room filled with people and conversation. Several people assembled chairs into short rows, and Manetti walked over to join them.

Hutch's shoulder brushed Starsky's, pulling him out of his head. They were by themselves for the moment.

"You've been hobnobbing with some influential people..." Starsky said. He didn't want to sound jealous, nor probing, but recently, Hutch had more layers than an onion.

"I really haven't been with the group all that long," Hutch said, looking around with an air of apprehension. "For a long time, I hovered on the outskirts. Only really started attending the meetings last year because I recognized a cause I could believe in."

"Did you meet Manetti right off?" Starsky asked, intensely curious to find out all he could about what Hutch had been doing without him.

"No."

Hutch lay his hand gently on Starsky's belly, an old gesture that brought back memories of working the streets, when that pat -- often done in passing -- assured that they were there for one another. Starsky wished that hand would linger but Hutch turned to survey the people coming into the room.

"The Bay City meetings were limited to three to five members," Hutch said. He was speaking softly, making sure they weren't overheard. "Most of the people here today will be meeting the others for the first time. The less we knew about the organization, the less we could reveal if we were caught. So a small group would meet, make plans, and then connect with another small group later to share information. None of us ever knew more than four or five of the other members. It kept the organization safe."

Starsky listened, but didn't react. This was Hutch the Partner bringing Starsky up to speed on the case. The familiar rapport, so suddenly in place, made the hair on his arms rise.

This was the way they used to be -- at least, until the last few months. More than just their relationship had slid off its foundation. Their work had suffered. Hutch's preoccupation -- his self-proclaimed punishment -- and Starsky's lack of response had fundamentally altered how they investigated cases, leaving them out of step with each other, fumbling when they once had been so in tune. It was no wonder they hadn't been able to bring Dunfey down. They'd been at cross purposes, running solo investigations without consulting the other each step of the way.

An older man with a face like a hawk entered from the hallway, greeting a few of the members.

"That's Victor Sinclair," Hutch said quietly. "He's the President of Bay City's biggest bank, First National Holdings. One of the A-list in Bay City and a trusted insider of the CEC."

"I've heard of him," Starsky murmured, impressed.

"He's been involved with the League since the beginning. As the Chief Treasurer, he's quietly bankrolled a lot of our operations."

"Double agent, huh?" Starsky asked softly.

"He's not the only one."

Starsky figured he had to be at least sixty-five, but looked like he was in great shape, with a full head of white hair and a posture that spoke of past military service. His business suit was definitely not off the rack. Starsky was oddly relieved that Hutch wasn't the only funding source for the League.

The banker stopped to talk to a mousy, middle-aged man with a bad comb-over.

"That's our Chief Secretary, John Smith -- "

Before Hutch could continue, Starsky snorted. "His real name?"

"I don't know." Hutch smiled slightly. "He doesn't work out of Bay City, so I've only met him once before. No idea who he is in his ‘real life' or what he brings to the group."

Starsky nodded. The less you know --

Sinclair and Smith threaded through the gathering Abbey members, acknowledging each one until they'd walked over Starsky and Hutch.

Sinclair grasped Hutch's hand in a firm shake. "Ken! It's so good to see you again," the banker said sincerely.

"We've all been really worried," Smith said, speaking the same quiet tone everyone in the room was using, so their voices wouldn't carry to the hall. "None of us were able to learn anything about you once you went underground."

Hutch nodded and put a hand on Starsky's shoulder. "Victor, John -- this is my partner, David Starsky."

Sinclair smiled, grabbing Starsky's hand in the same hearty grip. "You mean the famous Detective Starsky. Whenever you two broke a case in BC, you were always front-page news, pictured side-by-side. You can't know what it means to the League to have you joining us."

Startled, Starsky returned the man's handshake. Joining us...? Did Sinclair have any idea how Starsky had arrived in Phoenix? Did he know about the slavery? He glanced at Hutch, but his partner was making small talk with the innocuous "Smith".

Hutch greeted other Abbey members, calling them by name, introducing them to Starsky as his partner. He was obviously well-known and respected. If they knew about Starsky's enslavement, they weren't making an issue of it. Are there other slaves here undercover? he wondered. Perhaps legally owned by other members?

As more people arrived, several sought Hutch out, anxiously asking questions about what was happening in Southern California and, in particular, what had caused the tragedy in Oregon. Hutch deferred each time, explaining that he'd report to the group later.

Throughout the meet-and-greet, Hutch stayed close to Starsky, clearly working to re-establishing their partnership. Easily falling into old habits, Starsky stayed alert for trouble, tuned into Hutch's slightest signals.

When the room was almost full, Starsky saw an attractive woman entering.

Manetti inclined his head in her direction. "There's Ariadne. I gotta get her briefed before the meeting comes to order." He walked quickly over to greet her.

Taking Starsky's arm, Hutch guided them to a table piled with bagels and raw vegetables. Hutch food, Starsky thought disdainfully.

Hutch started filling a plate with carrots, celery, and broccoli. "Do you want to grab a bite?" Hutch indicated the meager spread. "These meetings can drag on. I don't know when we might get to eat again."

There wasn't any cream cheese, butter, or even jam to smear on the bagels. Starsky glanced up, ready to gripe, and caught Hutch gazing at him intently. Something primal rushed through him. The head of his cock suddenly throbbed in time with the ache in his nipples. Instead of complaining, he tried to speak, his voice catching in his throat. "Yeah, uh, thanks..."

Hutch looked away with obvious effort, and surreptitiously adjusted himself. He picked at his vegetables, biting down on a celery stalk as if he really wanted to be putting something else in his mouth.

Starsky grabbed a bagel and bit into it. At least it was fresh.

Aware of his new status, even though it wasn't visible in his clothing, Starsky felt vulnerable in a way he'd never imagined. If what Hutch had paid was any indication, Starsky was worth quite a lot. If Hutch were incapacitated or killed, Starsky would be a commodity that could be sold for a handsome profit. He could be hunted, captured, sent back to Luna, and resold to the highest bidder. He eyed the wealthy banker surreptitiously. Sinclair had plotted with the Abbey League while doing business with the CEC. Starsky suspected he might not be the only one.

He had no reason to trust any of these people. Hutch said the Abbey league recruited members from all over the former United States. Any of them could just as easily be double agents working for the CEC.

"Would you like a cup of coffee to go with that bagel?" Hutch asked, one hand pressed lightly against the small of Starsky's back.

"I'm hungry, not thirsty!" Starsky stuffed the rest of the raisin bagel into his mouth. Hutch's hand grounded him, pulled his mind away from his concerns, if only for the moment. He was glad to change the topic. "You had us running five miles after only oatmeal -- with no sugar -- for breakfast, you slave-driv -- " Starsky stopped abruptly. The title might have been a joke a year ago, but now it was appallingly apt.

Hutch went very still and removed his hand.

Starsky regretted the loss and tried to catch Hutch's eye, but Hutch looked away, clearly stung. They had a long way to go before the old partnership was back on track.

"I've got to sit with the governing board," Hutch said stiffly. He turned back to Starsky, his eyes soft, as if pleading for understanding.

Starsky felt like he was inching across a minefield. "Where am I supposed to be...while you're governing?"

"Right there." Hutch pointed to a chair in middle of the front row.

Where Hutch can see me.

Starsky felt conflicted. He wanted to be near his partner, but he didn't want to feel like he was kowtowing to his master's whim, even one as simple as where to sit. "I thought slaves were supposed to kneel at their master's feet," he said, intentionally snide.

Hutch flinched and toyed with a carrot stick. "So you did read Ariadne Underhill's book." He glanced over at the woman speaking privately to Gary Manetti.

"Just the one...And the picture on the back of that novel didn't do her justice."

The tall, slender woman was easily recognizable from her bio photo, with dark red, silver-streaked hair. She'd braided it into a thick plait that coiled over her head like a crown, held in place with an ornate barrette. Large gold discs glinted at her ears, catching the light. She wore a red, yellow, and blue skirt, white blouse, and rakish scarf with a South American design. Her bright, primary colors contrasted sharply with the staid suits and informal work clothes of the other members. She was the center of attention, with a circle of admirers around her and Manetti.

"Why do you think Cosgrove made her his press secretary?" Hutch said.

"I figured it was because she wrote fiction," Starsky said to get Hutch smile. It worked. "Everything that came out of his office was make-believe from the start."

"Touché." Hutch raised a mocking eyebrow. "I suspect that he wanted her because she was hugely popular, had credibility with the people, and the camera loved her -- far more than it did him."

Starsky paused, thinking of Sinclair. "I'm trying to get my head around the fact that someone as rich and comfortable as Sinclair and as famous as she is -- who's written so many books, and works side-by-side with President/CEO Cosgrove -- is a member of your bunch. People like her and Sinclair -- can you really trust them?"

"Believe me, Starsk, they've been checked out every way possible." He cut his eyes to Starsky, clearly nervous about being with the governing board despite the warm welcome he'd gotten. "One of the advantages of being a detective. You don't have to settle for the ‘official' word. You can find plenty of dirt out on the street, as you well know. Ariadne isn't just a pretty romance writer. She was the campaign manager for the last legitimate California governor. Another reason Cosgrove wanted her."

"You're the one who brought her book, Railroad North, to our last stake-out," Starsky reminded him, intrigued.

"But you read it before I did."

Starsky shrugged. "The lady's got a way with words." He'd practically inhaled the novel. The relationship between the master and his main slave started out as a brutal coercion, but had evolved into a passionate, deep love affair rife with kinky sex and complex human emotions. With a start, Starsky realized that Hutch had probably loaned him the book as subtle plea for the sort of relationship Hutch wanted. Starsky had never admitted how arousing Railroad North was. When Hutch had asked him what he thought, he'd dismissed it with a shrug, tossing the book in the back seat during the stake-out. Suddenly, he couldn't look at his partner.

Hutch recognized the awkward moment and changed the topic. "Ariadne has more to lose than anyone else. As Cosgrove's press secretary, she has clout and influence, she's part of the CEC's inner circle. If any of the rulers and shakers of the CEC find out she's working to overthrow them, she'd become their primary example on how to handle their enemies."

Starsky saw the fear on Hutch's face, remembering Huggy telling him that no slaves ever died at Luna. If they found out what this woman was planning, he shuddered to think where she'd be "trained."

"Her position with Cosgrove makes her our most important ally." Hutch's earnest, I-want-to-change-the-world enthusiasm was back, like a snapshot of a much younger Ken Hutchinson. "She's been working behind the scenes for years, gaining power and influence where it matters. She's determined to reunite the United States, reinstall the Constitution, and bring back a democratic government."

"You think she can fix what the CEC fucked up?" Starsky asked. It wasn't Underhill's being a woman that was unsettling -- Hutch's mother had been governor of Minnesota. It was her lack of experience as a leader.

"She's got a Ph. D. in political science and history," Hutch said. "And she's been a driving force behind the Abbey League since the beginning."

Okay, so not just a pretty face.

"We're ready to bring the meeting to order," Manetti called out. "Can we have all the officers up here at the main table?"

Hutch glanced at Starsky again, starting to walk away.

Before he could leave, Starsky grabbed a folding chair at the end of the front row, flipping it around so that he could straddle it backwards. Not exactly where Hutch had asked him to sit, but close enough. He saw Hutch's mouth quirk as if fighting a smile.

"Hey!" Starsky caught sight of a familiar face over Hutch's shoulder as the board convened at the front of the room. "You didn't tell me Peter Whitelaw was involved, too."

Hutch paused, then leaned over to speak to Starsky privately. "After the CEC dismantled the Senate, Peter lost his seat." They watched Manetti lock the door after the last few stragglers entered.

Starsky nodded, remembering. "Then he had that radio show on KBAY. I used to listen to him on the way to Metro."

"That's right," Hutch said. "Although the press was censored, he got access to important information. Even if he couldn't reveal it to the public, he wanted the info to get out, so he joined the Abbey League."

Hutch sounded so comfortable around these people. Starsky told himself that he had no reason to feel insecure about Hutch's casual use of Whitelaw's first name. But each revelation of how much Hutch had kept from him hurt.

Hutch could obviously read Starsky's expression. "Starsky..."

"I know, you wanted to protect me." Starsky turned away from his partner, watching the people take their places at the front table. "Did you ever think I didn't need -- or want -- so much protection?"

Looking stricken, Hutch started to speak, but Manetti called his name. Clenching his jaw, Hutch walked away.

Five people, including Hutch, sat down at the front table. Manetti called the meeting to order, and identified the officers. Ariadne sat in the center, with Sinclair on her right. Whitelaw was on her left, with Hutch beside him. The two spoke quietly together. John Smith, their secretary, sat on Hutch's left, scratching industriously on a legal pad. Manetti stood at the other far end, next to Sinclair, as sergeant of arms. Fifteen others were in the audience, including Starsky.

The meeting came to order with a brief account of their last one and a short report from the treasurer. The coffers were full. Starsky wondered how many of those dollars came from Hutch's bank accounts.

Then Ariadne Underhill, the president of the Abbey League's Western Alliance, had the floor. "All right, let's get started. As some of you have heard, about a dozen members from our Oregon group were having a strategy meeting like this one at Dominic Pace's home outside Portland." Ariadne took a deep breath, clearly finding it difficult to tell the news. "It was the first time most of them had gotten together -- they were from all over Ore-Washington. Paramilitary troops broke into Dominic's home. Four League members were killed resisting arrest, five were captured, and only three managed to escape."

She paused, shuffling her notes, composing herself. The grim news rocked Starsky as much as it did the rest of the group. No one made a sound, giving her the time she needed.

She touched the bright scarf around her neck, giving it a minute adjustment and continued. "Ken Hutchinson was on his way there, but hadn't arrived yet. Another member who was also late was Eduardo Pace, Dominic's brother. Eduardo had copies of the information the group had planned to share with each other. Because Eduardo arrived after the attack and escaped, he managed to get the information they'd gleaned about the CEC's activities in the Northwest and news of the attack to Ken."

The silence in the room was unnerving; the grief palpable. A woman sitting off to the side covered her face, weeping silently.

While Starsky felt bad for their loss, he couldn't help but focus on one thing. If Hutch had been taken in that attack, Starsky wouldn't even be here -- he'd still be at Luna. If the CEC had taken Hutch into custody, Starsky would have been sold to the highest bidder. Probably to Dunfey. Realizing how tenuous his rescue had been, how much danger Hutch himself had been in while fleeing Bay City -- without a partner, without backup -- made him view things differently. Hutch's seesawing emotions when he arrived at Luna, his anger and hyped up sexual need, suddenly made much more sense.

"The truth is, we weren't prepared for this sudden, well-orchestrated, savage assault on a small, unarmed group," Ariadne said forcefully. "Before this, the CEC only went after individuals, usually within Southern and Northern California borders. Now, they've stepped up their offensive. This means we must be even more cautious and practice better security. What can you tell us about the attack, Ken?"

Hutch colored slightly with the same expression he always wore when he had to report to the Metro brass. "I arrived two days after the attack, but was able to find Eduardo and the three survivors. They believed the CEC has improved their technology and is getting our messages off computer servers -- tracing email back to the source and using it to find our meetings."

That gave Ariadne the opening to introduce John Smith. He had a report on hackers, computer specialists who were developing sophisticated codes on global community bulletin boards and new software with safer encryption. "Most of the hackers we've talked to are, basically, kids," Smith explained. "They're anarchists who love the idea of working against the current corrupt system. Some of these kids are brilliant, and they're developing not just codes and software, but even new hardware systems. However, they are just kids. Dealing with them is risky. And if they get caught...I'm sure the CEC can convince them to work for them instead."

"So, realistically, we're barely a step ahead right now," Ariadne said. "Without the fledgling internet, we have no way to communicate. We'll be giving you floppy disks with the new codes and software before you leave."

Remembering his own battle with the newest fingerprint software, Starsky quickly lost interest in the software discussion. Instead, he watched Hutch. He was finding out he didn't know as much about his partner, lover -- and now master -- as he'd thought. Hutch had always more liberal leanings than Starsky, but he had never realized the true depth of Hutch's convictions. Hutch had been with the Abbey League long enough to be a leader.

Shoulda paid more attention to your partner, he thought ruefully, looking away from Hutch's blond beauty before he lost himself. As if in response, his nipples throbbed from the touch of his shirt. Hutch had bought those clamps as a special gift. Hutch almost never gave him presents, and when he did, it was never what Starsky wanted.

A tree planted in a park.

A collar to enslave him.

But, they'd been important symbols to Hutch.

That hadn't occurred to him before. Starsky should have looked deeper, examined the motives for the erotic restraints instead of brushing them aside as jokes. He was meeting a whole new man in Ken Hutchinson -- a man willing to risk everything to overthrow a corrupt government, a man who needed something from his lover so badly, he'd risk everything to get it. Starsky was surprised that he wanted to know this man better.

Even if it has to be on your knees in presentation position?

His cock answered for him, swelling slightly in the tight confines of his old jeans.

He was suddenly very aware Hutch was watching him. Starsky lifted his chin, meeting his partner's eyes. Here, in this room, Hutch was the same man who had stood beside him as a cop for so many years -- the only man Starsky had ever trusted. Right now, that's all Starsky cared about.

"We can't let this set back stop us," Ariadne said, pulling his attention back to the meeting. The audience was eagerly listening to her every word. "We know what information the CEC captured in Oregon. The system we've set up -- revealing only certain parts of any plan to specific leaders in certain groups -- means they still don't know the true scope of our strategy. But because of the Oregon raid, we've had to redirect certain actions. And every time we have to do that, we lose precious time. It's still important to stay focused. All our regional leaders agree that we have no choice but to overthrow this corrupt government, and bring down any groups supporting it."

As the other members murmured approval, Starsky remembered Hutch reading from the Declaration of Independence --  "...it is their duty to throw off such a Government...."

"Reports from Bay City are grim." Ariadne stood resolute, the high color in her cheeks accenting her beauty. "And I can personally confirm that Cosgrove -- as if he weren't bad enough -- has done so much business with Dunfey, he's become his puppet. Many of us suspect that Dunfey will arrange an accident for President Cosgrove at some point in the near future. And that Dunfey plans on becoming Cosgrove's ‘legal' successor. So our time to effect change is growing short. If Dunfey takes over, with the power of the criminal underworld behind him, Southern California could slide into total anarchy, and the rest of the citystates could follow. The CEC has already destroyed our democracy and demoralized the people they govern. Now, more than ever, it's imperative we bring down the CEC and reestablish a democratic state. Once we prove it can be done, other states have pledged to join us and maybe..." she paused, speaking directly to every person in the room, "...just maybe we could live in the United States of America again."

Starsky got caught up in her excitement, no doubt the same way she'd once caught Hutch. Ariadne Underhill oozed confidence, intelligence, and power. The Abbey League members murmured approval, keeping their voices low, ever conscious of being discovered.

"First, we'll take control of the Bay City government and establish order and legal rule," Ariadne continued. She'd abandoned the papers she'd brought and was now speaking from her heart. "We'll have to convince our citizens that they're safe, that they can run a business without fear of foreclosure or illegal seizure, that they can again raise a family, own a home, drink clean water, afford to buy food. They won't trust us as a new government until we prove that our citizens can walk the streets without fear of being snatched in broad daylight and sold into slavery."

Her words suddenly slammed Starsky into a brutal flashback. He heard her statement superimposed over the last words he'd heard Hutch say before he was kidnapped.

"Starsk, Dunfey just went into the warehouse on the corner of Ninety-first where it crosses Mission. Hurry. I'll meet you there."

He had to force himself to stay in the present without being distracted by terrible memories. Starsky brushed a finger over his hidden brand, welcoming the flare of pain because it helped clear his mind.

"We've been working with many groups," Ariadne said, referring to her notes again, "on the actions that will give us control of Cosgrove's seat of government. The timing is undecided, but strategies are in the works." She nodded at Manetti with a look of pride and determination. "Gary, you have the floor."

Manetti stood as she resumed her seat. "We have former military leaders training ground troops in hidden locations for an assault on the CEC. While we can't reveal our timeline, we want you to know that myself, Peter Whitelaw, and Ken Hutchinson, are coordinating with these groups."

Starsky tried to keep the surprise off his face.

Manetti continued, "Our backgrounds -- Hutchinson as a police officer, mine as an attorney and football player -- " He smiled briefly, and there were chuckles from the audience. " -- And Whitelaw in politics and the media -- give us specific knowledge to help these groups develop an aggressive plan."

A woman in the back row raised her hand, and Manetti recognized her. She stood and asked, "And if we lose? What then? My husband was captured in the Oregon raid. How many more will die?"

Starsky glanced around, seeing the faces of several audience members. She wasn't the only one with that concern.

Peter Whitelaw murmured something too low for Starsky to hear and raised his hand.

"Mr. Whitelaw?" Manetti recognized him and stepped aside.

"We're looking at every possibility, and a nonviolent takeover is, of course, what we would prefer. But the organization we're fighting doesn't play fair. They're corrupt, brutal, and won't hesitate to destroy us. Oregon proved that. And if Dunfey succeeds in ousting Cosgrove, he'll bring every other city and state under his thumb. Frankly, we have to win. Or there's no future for any of us."

Whitelaw's experience as a public speaker gave his words power. "The CEC has stripped away every one of our human rights. Yes, opposing them is dangerous. Yes, we will suffer casualties. Our only other choice is to tolerate living in a totalitarian state." He paused as if giving the audience time to decide for themselves.

In the growing silence, Hutch signaled for a chance to speak. When Manetti recognized him, he leaned forward and spoke with a quiet conviction. "We need to remember history. During the Nazi regime, every country they overwhelmed had a resistance movement. Most of the resistance fighters had few weapons, few chances to communicate with the Allies, and no way to know if their own comrades might betray them -- but still, they resisted. They used their brains and raw courage to fight a monster. Their actions gave them hope for their future. While we have better resources than they did, we can't kid ourselves. The risk is huge. But it's still the right thing to do."

Starsky watched him, feeling his passion and wondered how he had completely missed it for so long. Hutch was right -- even if it was the most dangerous thing they'd ever done.

Members of the audience murmured their agreement and Manetti gave the floor to Ariadne again.

"Before we separate into our planning committees, I have another matter to discuss." She looked troubled. Manetti frowned, glancing at Hutch and shaking his head. "President Cosgrove has ordered me to attend Jack Dunfey's meeting -- this was supposed to be secret, not mentioned publically because he is at odds with some of his cabinet. Cosgrove wants me to make connections for him with members of Dunfey's inner circle and other underworld and criminal elements of the west coast."

The entire membership reacted strongly, clearly upset. Several voices clamored for attention, two or three people raising their hands to demand more answers.

"What possible good could come from that?" Sinclair demanded.

As Manetti restored order, Ariadne laced her fingers together. "It's a direct order from the President. I can't refuse it without raising suspicion. Dunfey is powerful and has gotten dangerously close to Cosgrove. I'm Cosgrove's press secretary. He feels my presence will give Dunfey's meeting legitimacy."

Hutch met Starsky's gaze, obviously troubled. Starsky knew they shared the same concerns. If Ariadne attended Dunfey's conference, they'd have to watch her back as well as their own. That would complicate things considerably.

When both Whitelaw and Manetti started to protest, she shushed them, her bangles clattering. "We have two objectives here -- and they're not in conflict. We want to overthrow the current despots to form a legitimate government, and we want to take down Dunfey's organization. Knowing what Dunfey's plans are can help."

Starsky leaned forward, communicating silently with his partner. Hutch frowned. It was plain that he and Starsky were in accord.

"Dunfey has been close to Cosgrove for years," Hutch spoke up.

Starsky suspected he knew exactly what he was going to say.

"He evaded every single raid on his warehouses," Hutch continued, "and got out of every single charge ever brought against him. He had Cosgrove in his pocket, and if Ariadne's right, plans to replace him as soon as possible. It's risky, but does give us a possible chance to turn the tables on him."

Starsky watched his partner with new insight. Hutch was a dichotomy inside a beautiful blond exterior. The cop was the one Starsky knew best. But this man, who could sit comfortably with movers and shakers, who was used to having money and power, was a left over from Hutch's childhood, when his mother had been governor of Minnesota and his father head of a bank. Because Hutch had shunned his privileged past, Starsky had forgotten about that. Hutch seemed at home here.

"It's too dangerous," Sinclair protested. The membership seemed inclined to agree with him. "Ariadne -- I'm not sure the League could survive if we lost you!"

Manetti struggled to maintain order as the group muttered comments, most agreeing with Sinclair.

Ariadne shook her head as the room quieted down. "You give me too much credit, Victor," she insisted. "The Abbey League, like the other resistance movements, is stronger than any single individual. And as for the danger -- I'm fully aware of the risks. I take similar risks in my position as Cosgrove's press secretary. I've asked Gary Manetti to attend the meeting with me, posing as my fiancé. And both Ken Hutchinson and his partner, David Starsky, will be attending the meeting undercover. What better back-up could I have?"

Starsky felt a flush of conflicted feelings. Hutch's blue eyes bore into him, and Starsky looked directly back at him. Your partner...He wondered if he'd still believe in that partnership while kneeling at Hutch's feet at the meeting.

Sinclair sat back, defeated, but not convinced.

Manetti once again established order. "It's time for our individual committees to confer. I'll pass around a sheet with assignments. We can separate into some of the empty offices to do our work."

The single list passed from hand to hand, every person accepting their job with serious resolve.

Hutch broke away from a quiet moment with Manetti and Ariadne, and came over to him.

"Lemme guess," Starsky said, once they were shoulder to shoulder again, "you're in charge of launching the primary attack."

Hutch almost smirked. "Not me, Manetti. Whitelaw and I are just...lieutenants, I guess."

"Lieutenant Hutchinson." Starsky tried the title out. "Has a ring to it."

"Better than master?" Hutch asked distantly.

"Fuck off, Hutch!" Starsky whispered, not exactly sure why he was instantly hot and bothered. Because he liked the idea of Hutch as his master a little too much for comfort? Hutch went poker-faced as if he'd pulled shutters down over his soul.

Without looking at his partner, Starsky headed for Whitelaw and Manetti's enclave. "Can I sit in?" he asked.

Hutch was right behind him. He was sure Hutch wanted him there, but felt manipulated.

"Starsky!" Peter Whitelaw said warmly, extending a hand to shake. "What have you been..." He trailed off, obviously aware of Starsky's situation, and not quite sure what to say. "Your experience as a police officer, soldier in Vietnam, and...recent events, gives you unique insights that can only help our operation."

"Thinks he can sweet talk me," Starsky said to Hutch as an olive branch. "Just like a politician."

Peter and Manetti laughed.

"I don't know," Hutch said, clapping Starsky on the back, restoring the balance between them for the moment. "Manetti, do you remember Peter's senate campaign?"

"Before my time," Manetti joined in with just the right amount of mockery. "I was just a poor boy from Watts praying for a visit from the Buccaneer's recruitment fairy."

"All kinds of fairies around here," Peter said with a straight face.

A faint smile turned up Hutch's mouth.

"You fought in Vietnam?" Manetti asked Starsky. "What branch?"

"Army," Starsky said, unconsciously standing straighter.

"I was in the Marines -- but never saw action."

"You had some luck." Starsky reclined in a chair, tipping it back.

"You managed law school, too," Hutch added.

"Most people don't know that Peter helped me get my scholarship," Manetti said.

That surprised Starsky. Hutch's expression said it was news to him, too.

"You earned it," Peter said with fondness. "Shall we discuss the updated plans?"

"Both what I brought from BC and what Ken smuggled out of Oregon." Manetti unrolled some schematics onto a table. Whitelaw leaned forward, his head almost touching Manetti's to examine them.

Starsky watched, seeing their closeness, their ease with one another. Was he reading something into simple friendship? Was this what people saw when he and Hutch worked together? Or had Manetti earned his scholarship the same way Starsky earned cash and drugs when he was a kid? He immediately felt ashamed of that thought, especially after both these men had treated him as an equal.

Hutch sat close, leaning against him lightly, pulling his attention away from his dark thoughts.

"There are four doors on the main floor of CEC's headquarters," Manetti said, pointing out the exits. "This back door, used for maintenance and deliveries might be the easiest to breech."

Hutch circled his finger on the side of the blueprint. "The Mulberry Street entrance is used less, and the trees there make it easier to get a large group close to the building without being seen."

The four men discussed different assault and infiltration scenarios for the rest of the hour.

***

By the time the smaller committees rejoined the governing board to close the meeting, Starsky was worn out. Hutch also seemed beat. Strategizing had never been Starsky's favorite activity. He was more inclined to jump first, not talk the what-ifs to death. But he could see the need for planning something this ambitious, and admired the Abbey members who'd taken on the burden of command -- including Hutch.

Gary Manetti helped Starsky and Hutch fold and stack chairs after most of the membership had left. "Listen, Ariadne wanted to invite you both to dinner with us."

"Really?" Hutch said, clearly surprised. He grinned. "Starsky never passes up free food."

"Hey, all we've got at our place is oatmeal and canned soup," Starsky joked. He folded the last chair, handing it to Hutch. "Good thing I read her last book, the one with the slave uprising. Might need it for small talk."

Manetti laughed. "She tol' me she used t'watch the Buccaneers play while she was writing, and that she based Constantinople, the slave who fights off the owner, on me. And that was before she found out what a charming, witty guy I am."

"As if getting a Superbowl ring wasn't enough," Hutch teased. "Now you'll be insufferable to live with."

"Ariadne says I already am."

"You and Ariadne?" Starsky remembered her saying that Manetti was posing as her "fiancé."

"Looking more like that every day."

"You dog." Starsky punched him in the bicep. Manetti didn't flinch, but it was like hitting a brick wall. Manetti had to be a decade younger than Ariadne, but if they found each other in this chaos, he was all for it. He glanced at Hutch. The hard times were so much easier with a partner at your back.

Ariadne had a car, less than a year old, with California plates. Starsky gave a wolf-whistle when she pulled it up, admiring the sleek lines of the gleaming gold vehicle. Not many people could afford a Mercedes. Manetti took the driver's seat and Ariadne slipped into the passenger seat beside him. Starsky settled next to Hutch in the back, missing his Torino with a pang. He'd never see that sweet machine again.

"Close your mouth; a Mercedes was always out of your league," Hutch said quietly, the length of his thigh pressed against Starsky's.

"You sold my car!" Starsky couldn't resist the dig.

"And I bought you." Hutch just looked at him, giving nothing away. "Which do you think meant more to me?"

Brought up short, Starsky started to speak when Ariadne leaned over the front seat and pointed to a non-descript three-story building. "This is one of the most exclusive places in Phoenix, and may be the last time we can be extravagant before the excrement hits the fan."

"You're a writer; you can't come up with something more descriptive than that?" Manetti laughed, piloting the car easily.

The drive to the restaurant took moments, but was less taxing than walking in ninety-five-degree heat. Just standing on the sunbaked sidewalk long enough for a valet to take the car nearly cooked Starsky. He was grateful for the air conditioning as they entered the plush restaurant. There had been no sign out front, just a discrete notice, "For members only." He didn't expect to be eating here again.

The maitre d' led the four of them past the main dining room to an area where there were separate private rooms. As they walked, Starsky glimpsed kneeling slaves serving a group of well-dressed men. Surprised, he stopped abruptly. After being treated like an equal at the Abbey League meeting, and helping the others plot the overthrow of the government, he'd been able to forget his status -- until now. Then Hutch latched onto his elbow, urging him forward. Having Hutch at his back -- covering his back -- was just what he needed.

The maitre d' showed them into their room. "Patricia will be your waitress," he said. "The sommelier is opening a bottle of Silver Oak, and will pour it momentarily."

Starsky kept his eyes on Hutch as they were seated, following his lead. He'd always been ill-at-ease in fancy places, but Hutch would know all the right moves, like which fork to use.

A server brought bread, while a man with a pencil-thin mustache poured garnet red Cabernet Sauvignon. Starsky had already taken a gulp of the heavenly stuff to settle himself by the time the sommelier left after depositing two more open bottles.

"To the Abbey League," Manetti said, holding up his glass, his eyes on Ariadne.

Hutch elbowed Starsky and raised his glass to Manetti's. Belatedly, Starsky did the same, feeling the wine's warm glow all the way through his chest. This was more like it.

"To the Abbey League," the others chimed in. The ring of crystal glasses clinking sounded like bells.

Starsky took another healthy mouthful. Best tasting wine he'd ever had. Since he no longer had a watch, he wasn't sure when he'd eaten the bagel at the meeting, but it wasn't like he was drinking on an empty stomach.

"David," Ariadne said, leaning over to cover the hand he used to hold the wine glass. "I've wanted to meet you ever since I heard about the sacrifice you made for the Abbey League."

"Well, it wasn't exactly my idea, ma'am," Starsky said honestly, glancing sideways at Hutch. What had his partner told them? Why hadn't he thought to ask? He felt unprepared and Hutch's nondescript expression wasn't helping any.

Her touch was seductive, sincere and very distracting. He couldn't shake the feeling she was inviting him to her room even though she hadn't said a word.

"My friends call me Starsky," he said, aware of her earthy sensuality. This was a woman used to the finer things -- food, clothing, and -- he glanced at Manetti -- men as well. Having had sex with Hutch so recently didn't make Starsky immune to her. It unnerved him. He pressed his leg against Hutch's and felt the warm pressure of Hutch's palm on his knee.

"Starsky," she said on a slow exhale. Raising her glass, she tasted it. "I wanted the best tonight. Partly in your honor," she nodded at Starsky, "partly to acknowledge the risk we're about to take together...at Dunfey's." She took another sip, and indicated the glass. "Wine is one of my passions."

Manetti grinned. "But not the only one."

"Behave!" She laughed.

Starsky was fascinated by the two sides of her -- commanding leader and sensual woman. Did she come on to everyone this way? Had Hutch felt the tingle of her allure?

"Whenever I start a new novel, I order a case of Silver Oak," she admitted. "It smoothes out the rough spots."

"I'll have to remember that the next time I read one of your books," Starsky said. "Written to be read with an expensive bottle of vino."

"Instead of beer?" Hutch asked.

"Gotta go with my gut." Starsky liked Hutch's little smirk. It softened him. He could feel Hutch's eyes on him, and that felt nice, too. As if they were on a double date instead of the last meal before they went to war.

"So, you've read one of my books?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.

"Hutch brought it on our last stakeout," Starsky said. "The Civil War story, Railroad North."

"He couldn't put it down," Hutch teased. "Left me doing all the work!"

"Well," she prodded, "I have to ask -- what did you think of it?"

"It was -- compelling," he admitted. He wasn't ready to admit to his other feelings about it. "How long does it take you to write a novel?" Starsky forced himself to look away from Hutch.

"Depends on the subject," she answered. "The research takes the most time."

"What attracted you to such different eras as ancient Rome and the American Civil War?" Hutch asked. "The politics and philosophy of the times? Comparisons between Cesar Augustus and President Lincoln?"

"You didn't read Fires of Pompeii, did you?" Manetti rolled his eyes. "Not much philosophy in that one."

"I was just following the standard romance formula in the early days." Ariadne pursed her lips. "Once I was established, I had more freedom to express my own ideas. But, I'll admit I was never interested in writing about politics."

Starsky recalled the scenes that had aroused him so much on that last stakeout.

"Well, since your Civil War novel kept Starsky's attention the entire time he read it -- " Hutch said, " -- a feat in itself. It must have had some pretty intense -- "

"Sex scenes," Starsky said boldly, turning to him. Which is why you brought it. Now we both know.

Ariadne and Manetti laughed at the same time. "Well...true," she admitted. "But I'm writing about more than just sex. I'm interested in the emotion in the scene, the intensity. The ability to hurt someone we love so intimately, yet still be bound by that person in every way."

A perfect, disquieting description of him and Hutch. A thrill ran down his spine when Starsky caught Hutch looking straight at him with haunted eyes. Disconcerted, Starsky grabbed a slice of French bread and a pat of icy cold butter. His hand was so hot he thought the butter would melt.

"What I hope people get from my novels," Ariadne added, "is the depth of two people who come together through passion under harsh circumstances."

"Unfortunately, I didn't have a chance to finish Railroad North," Hutch said, never taking his eyes off Starsky.

"Babe, you barely started it," Starsky shot back. They were connecting, their ability to speak without words reforming between them. It was like electricity sparking down a wire.

"I've had...other things on my mind the last few months," Hutch said, that predator lion back again.

Starsky breathed in, suddenly and improbably aroused. Hutch's voice echoed in his ear from that first moment when he found Starsky, chained and collared, at Luna. "Oh God, Starsky..." As if everything was impossibly wrong and yet so erotically right.

"Not much time for reading," Hutch said, and Starsky was jolted back to the present.

"I can identify with that," Ariadne said. "This has been the longest I've ever gone without writing."

"Like me throwing a football." Manetti nodded. "Helps draw those convoluted legal phrases outta my brain when I'm working on a brief. But my writing will never be anything but dry, five dollar words next to your beautiful prose. I kneel at the altar of your talent."

Ariadne palmed his cheek. "You have your own way with words."

"Words are powerful weapons." Hutch unfurled his napkin, but seemed uncomfortable. "Ariadne, do you write your own speeches?"

"I've had to." She leaned back, her bangles jingling softly. "As Cosgrove's press secretary, I couldn't trust anyone else. It made Cosgrove believe in my loyalty. I wrote everything, even when I had to...say things I hated."

"Which makes her a damn sight more qualified to be a president than Cosgrove," Manetti said.

"Also makes a person more dangerous," Starsky said softly.

"Why?" Ariadne asked, apparently both amused and curious.

"Because you're smart."

"Thank you, Starsky." Ariadne clinked her wineglass with his. "That's one of the nicest things anyone has said to me in a long time."

Starsky swallowed more of his wine. "Smart people can be devious."

Hutch sat up straighter as if he was hearing something more than the surface conversation.

"An important talent," Ariadne agreed. She didn't appear the least insulted at being called devious. "But since we were initially speaking of research, I would like to ask a few questions...if I may."

All four sat back as Patricia, the waitress, brought in appetizers. Plates of caviar and pate arranged beautifully with sprigs of parsley and slices of lemon. Hutch and Manetti both scooped up caviar, topping it on the bread. Manetti fed the first slice to Ariadne.

Hutch caught Starsky's eye over the caviar, handing him a portion. Starsky had never much liked fish eggs, but Hutch's gesture brought him back to the first time he'd eaten the delicacy. Their first Bicentennial bribe, he recalled --  the mobster Amboy had offered them caviar. Taking the sliver of bread topped with caviar that Hutch prepared sent Starsky's memory into fast forward. They'd brought Amboy down, together, despite his money, his power, his lawyers. Just two cops working doggedly for what was right. Starsky ate the caviar, his eyes never leaving Hutch's. Hutch heard the silent message and smiled back.

Feeling like the memories could drown him, Starsky wanted something new, so he tried a sliver of pate. It smelled like his grandmother's homemade liverwurst. This French version was richer and heartier. He took another slice of bread and heaped on the pate, suddenly ravenously hungry.

"The food is wonderful, Ariadne," Hutch said. "What did you want to ask us?"

Starsky noted Hutch didn't agree to answer. He phrased it like an interrogator; as if he were working a suspect, hoping she would reveal herself. He and Hutch exchanged a glance.

Ariadne delicately dabbed her mouth with a napkin. "I'm asking as a researcher. Someday, this period will be history, discussed as a dark time we survived. As a writer -- and an Abbeyite -- I need to know as much about it as possible."

"Gotta survive it first, my lady," Manetti commented wryly.

"You make it sound like we're going to lose." Starsky's belly dropped at the thought. He didn't know how long he could go on, caught between what he had been forced into and what he once was.

"Just bein' realistic," Manetti said. "You learn right away in football and in court...somebody's gonna win...and somebody's gonna lose."

"We're not going to lose," Ariadne said quickly with that same bright confidence she'd shown at the meeting. "We can't. Too many have sacrificed so much. Like our friends in Oregon. And...you, Starsky. Which brings me to what I wanted to ask. I don't want to pry, but I think it's important I understand...your sacrifice. How bad was it?" She glanced at Hutch, including him in the question. "Since your capture? And since Hutch rescued you?"

Hutch's expression was grim. He started to interrupt, placing his hand on Starsky's arm. "Starsk, you don't have to -- "

"Of course, only talk about it if you're comfortable," she said sympathetically.

Starsky looked at Hutch, trying to gauge what Hutch was objecting to. He regretted not pressing Hutch on what he'd told the Abbey League members about "Operation Snatch Starsky." But he hadn't, and now this was becoming one of those times when there was a disconnect between them -- because the whole incident was a disconnect of massive proportions.

"Wha'd'ya think? It was hell," he said, speaking more to Hutch than Ariadne. He had a burning urge to see Hutch squirm, to make him understand exactly what had happened to him. The memory of being held down and pierced was so vivid, he could still feel it. As much as he wanted to shove that in Hutch's face, he didn't want to reveal how deeply humiliating it still was.

The steel ring was tucked up in his jeans so it wouldn't pull on his cock, but he was constantly aware of its presence. That rhythmic pulse that echoed his heart rate when he was scared or turned on was even more accentuated; the slightest touch hurt, but conversely, in Hutch's hands, it was a hurt that felt incredibly right.

"I was grabbed by three men," he started, reciting the events emotionlessly, the way he'd make out a verbal report to his superior at Metro. "And cuffed and tied down like an animal, with a bag over my head." Starsky remembered the stifling press of the canvas sack like a shroud. "I had no idea what was happening and wondered if...my partner had been grabbed, too. I was almost more worried about Hutch than -- "

"You don't have to talk about this." Hutch's voice sounded strangled. It tightened a wire around Starsky's chest. "It was a decision made in desperation. I should have -- "

"You wanted me pierced," Starsky said sharply, to wound. He regretted saying it in front of the others almost immediately.

Hutch hid his feelings behind that damned poker face of his. "Starsk," he said without a hint of emotion, but Starsky could hear the pleading.

He stared into the depths of his red wine. "They threw me in a horse trailer. At first, I kept thinking -- this is some kinda mistake. Or, maybe they'd just shoot me in the head and be done with it. 'Cause that would have been more -- what'd you say earlier?" He pointed his glass at Manetti before taking a swallow. "Humane? For a long time after I was snatched, nothing that happened to me coulda been called anything close to humane."

He watched Hutch over the rim of his glass, feeling the alcohol permeate his body, loosening the tension and opening the dam. Or maybe he was just getting used to the freedom.

Starsky hesitated before reliving the next part. No amount of wine could ease those memories. "After driving me out of the city, they stopped the truck long enough to strip me, hold me down, and pierce me. No warnings. No explanation. No anesthetic, either. It was barbaric. Then they wrote an invoice number on my back. Letting me know I was just another piece of livestock. And that was just the beginning."

Hutch flinched as if he'd been struck. Neither Ariadne or Manetti said a word. They had all stopped eating.

"When we got to the border, on the way to the slave training facility, one of the guards tried to rape me." He could feel his captor's hot breath on the back of his neck, feel the aggressive thrust of the man's body against his own. "He didn't succeed, but that was luck. I was chained, blindfolded, my legs spread apart by a metal bar. I couldn't do anything to stop him."

Hutch's hand was still on his arm, but he seemed unaware that his fingers were pressing down so tightly they made dents in Starsky's skin. Hutch's face was pale.

"I didn't...didn't know why they took me, who'd arranged it. I had no idea who my master would be for days. Days when I was restrained, unable to move, to eat, to piss by myself -- drugged on that damned Phenine."

Although Starsky didn't want to further damage what he and Hutch once had, he had to make all of them understand how demeaning his experience had been. If he and Hutch had had the luxury of starting over, of coming together through a mutual understanding of what each other wanted, that would have been sublime. But they couldn't. However, it was in his power to alter how they continued.

Hutch let out a noisy exhalation, his eyes like pale slate. He seemed almost shocky as he pulled his hand from Starsky's arm. "Do you want me to say I was wrong? Again?"

Starsky was wiped out, all his fight gone. His urge to shake everyone out of their comfortable, privileged lives drained away. His experience was not yet over, might never be -- but he would survive.

"No," he said quietly to Hutch, "not anymore."

A footstep in the hall alerted them that the waitress was coming. Ariadne caught her breath, taking a quick sip of wine. Manetti glanced surreptitiously at her, tapping the edge of his plate. Hutch was frozen in place, high points of color on his cheeks.

Patricia entered the room carrying a tray laden with steaming bowls of soup. Starsky was no longer certain he could choke down a mouthful of food.

She placed the bowls in front of the silent group, and Ariadne immediately dived in as if determined to save the meal. Starsky stared at the bowl without appetite. Somehow the chef had divided the soup into green and white halves like a yin and yang symbol. Starsky had never seen a menu or put in an order, so he had to assume the menu was fixed. No choices, just like everything else in his life.

He forced himself to pick up a spoon, aware of the widening rift between him and Hutch. To give himself something to do, he dipped his spoon into the bowl, breaking the borders of dark and light, mixing them together. He couldn't bring himself to try the unappetizing mess. What was that green stuff, anyway? Spinach or broccoli, maybe, neither of them vegetables he'd eat except under duress.

"I can't imagine how you got through that," Ariadne finally murmured when Patricia left.

"Man, that's horrible," Manetti said. "I don't understand -- I mean...they act like slaves are a valuable commodity. If they're valuable, why don't they use a humane, clean, surgical way to do that, to minimize pain and damage." Manetti didn't look at Starsky as he spoke.

"I'm so sorry you were forced," Ariadne said, staring into her glass as if she couldn't bear to face him. "No one should ever have to endure something like that."

There was a long moment of awkward silence while the four of them swirled their spoons through their soup, though no one actually ate. Hutch's jaw flexed, his eyes shadowed.

As if to break the impasse, Ariadne shifted position, sliding her finger around the rim of her glass. "As a student of history, I've studied the development of nations for years -- the rise and fall of Rome, the beginning of slavery in the United States in the 1700's, the rise and fall of Nazism, of Communism, Pol Pot's regime.... It was all so distant and impersonal...until it was my country, my people...my friends. When I was very young and adventurous and foolish, long before the CEC, when we were all enjoying the sexual revolution of the 60's, I dated a man who -- " she hesitated as if unsure she should continue, then shrugged and went on, " -- had had himself pierced. He'd had it for years before we were together."

Starsky remembered his kidnapper joking about a relative who'd removed a piercing so he wouldn't be mistaken for a slave.

"Back then, it was just a piece of body jewelry." She shrugged again, apologetically. "I hope someday it will again be a matter of personal choice, not a mark of... ownership." She looked at Starsky without pity.

He grimaced, downing the last of his wine. Grabbing a bottle, Starsky splashed more into his glass. Hutch frowned but didn't say anything.

"At the time I dated that man," she continued, speaking directly to Starsky, as though they were the only ones at the table, "I thought his piercing made him look...exotic and provocative. Even beautiful."

Starsky banged the wine glass on his front teeth, stunned. He didn't dare look at his partner. Hutch, no doubt, agreed with her. He wanted to say something, but stopped when Hutch suddenly tucked one hand into his left back pocket, sliding it down the curve of his ass. Atonement? Regret? Or just the simple need to reconnect -- something they had been struggling with since they left Luna.

"Well, mine's not real provocative," he finally said, his belly burning. "They shoved a fucking needle through the end of my cock, then jammed the ring through. They weren't worried about how provocative it might look. They just wanted to make sure it never came out." He threw back the rest of his Cabernet and glared at the empty goblet.

The room started closing in on him. Hutch's hand in his pocket was the only thing connecting him to his body, and he wasn't entirely sure he wanted it there.

"There are other Abbeyites who are serving masters," Ariadne said finally. Her intelligent brown eyes were full of compassion. "And there are masters among us, too. Some own slaves to avoid suspicion. Some took on slaves to rescue them from a worse fate." She nodded at Hutch.

Starsky shifted, moving just enough to escape Hutch's hand. Hutch looked away and pulled his hand back to adjust the perfectly aligned silverware.

"Paradoxically," Ariadne continued, "I also know slaves who wouldn't want to be freed. But those had chosen their roles long before the CEC takeover, when so many personal freedoms were lost. Surely, as police officers, you've met people involved in that lifestyle?"

Lifestyle? Starsky thought, confused.

It must've shown on his face. "She's talking about people active in bdsm," Hutch said quietly, but wouldn't meet Starsky's eyes. "Like at leather bars and sex clubs. People who take on roles of dominance and submission."

"Yeah," Starsky said quickly, wanting him to stop explaining. He felt flushed all over. When he tried to pour more wine in his glass, he almost knocked it over. Hutch took the bottle from him, poured a smaller amount than Starsky wanted, then moved the bottle out of his reach.

"In those days, that was a lifestyle choice," Manetti said. "If that was your thing, it was no one's business if you wore a collar, or a Prince Albert, or a tattoo -- "

"Or a brand," Starsky said softly. He doubted anyone except Hutch heard him.

" -- But," Manetti continued, asking Ariadne directly, "when you chose -- I mean, did the people you knew who chose that lifestyle have any idea what was looming on the future horizon? Could you foresee a time when the country would fall apart and enforced slavery would become a state-approved institution?" Manetti looked around the table as if he didn't know how to phrase his question.

"No, of course not," Ariadne said. "We were young. We were sexually adventurous. Rebelling against bourgeois middle-class mores of marriage, home, family. It was exotic and sexy...at the time -- "

"Slavery has to be outlawed," Starsky said tightly. He felt like he was losing track of the conversation.

"No question," Hutch agreed. "But what they're talking about is different."

"Is it?" Starsky said, reaching for his wineglass. Hutch had only poured him a swallow. Of course. Slaves weren't supposed to get drunk. He'd love to get blotto, but that wouldn't help his argument any.

"In those days, before the CEC, people choosing to be slaves were thrilled to serve their masters," Ariadne said. "The relationship involved mutual trust, respect, and often love. The slave was cherished, a treasured prize. The master had the responsibility to care for his slave, nurture and protect him, and satisfy him. Or lose him to a better master."

Starsky felt slapped. Images of himself on the welcoming frame while Hutch penetrated him blindsided him. Hutch's gasp was nearly inaudible, but Starsky saw him flush red. He knew they were seeing the same thing.

Ariadne tipped her glass, watching the play of dark liquid coating the crystal. Even when she wasn't looking at him, Starsky could feel the intensity of her attention. He still didn't know what Hutch had told her about the circumstances surrounding Starsky's capture and "rescue," but she obviously had figured out their current relationship. And he realized something else. She wasn't talking about other people's lifestyle. She was talking about her own. Something she'd participated in. Something she'd enjoyed. And missed. Was that why Manetti was asking those questions? What was he willing to sacrifice for a relationship with her?

"Of course, everything's changed now," she said regretfully, lifting the glass to her mouth and taking a taste. "We had no idea what was coming. It's interesting how perspective alters your attitude."

"The truth is, I never paid much attention to slaves before," Starsky began, staring hard at Ariadne. He could still feeling her intoxicating charisma, but he was angry and confused by talk of "choice" and "lifestyle." What did that have to do with the ring in his cock and the brand on his thigh? "But this got personal for me real fast. You want to reinstate a democratic government? Then you have to abolish slavery!"

"Absolutely. But there hasn't been a United States of America since the fall of Washington D.C. and the secession of the East Coast," Manetti said mournfully.

"The Abbeyites consider the U.S. Constitution a sacred document," Ariadne agreed. "We're committed to restoring it completely. Including the Thirteenth Amendment."

"I'm sure you're aware," Hutch said to Ariadne, after taking a spoonful of soup, "that both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington owned slaves. It's ironic that a number of us do, too."

She nodded and started to respond, when Starsky interrupted her.

"You own slaves yourself? Now?" He was asking about her lifestyle choice, but realized too late that in the context of Hutch's comment, she would take him more literally.

"Yes, I do. I had no choice," she said. "Cosgrove would've suspected my motives if I didn't have at least one. I was able to purchase the young man who'd been my assistant at Underhill-Blaylock when he lost his job and went bankrupt. Robbie's still with me."

"Did you get him before or after his training?" Starsky asked pointedly.

"I didn't even find out he was enslaved until he was on the auction block." She met his eyes coolly. "If I could have spared him that, I would have. But he's safe now."

"As your slave."

"My personal slave. He lives in my house, works only for me, and answers to no one else."

Starsky nodded.

As if she wanted him to put this in perspective, she added, "As I said, other Abbeyites own slaves. Like Sinclair. He has at least ten, all of them rescued from terrible circumstances. All of them safe with him now. We're doing what we can, Starsky."

What we can... Starsky felt like he'd been stabbed in his chest. He understood now. He wasn't getting out of this. Not ever. After all, he was safe with Hutch. And the what-ifs were too large...what-if they didn't succeed in overthrowing the government? And if they did, what-if they couldn't reestablish the Constitution? Or if they could do that, but couldn't reinstitute the Thirteenth Amendment -- ?

Starsky pushed away his soup.

"Starsk, once we have the government in hand -- " Hutch started. He wore a frown usually reserved for an argument about how to question a suspect or whether to bend the rules to get results.

Starsky stared straight into his master's eyes, in defiance of Neville's rules. "You believe nobody here has any kinda bias?"

Ariadne raised her eyebrows. Hutch tightened his mouth, and Manetti seemed to be wrestling with an internal demon.

Starsky swallowed. "Well, I guess it's okay, as long as slaves get rescued, huh?"

"That would depend," Ariadne said so softly, he had to stop speaking to hear her, "on the master."

That blew some of the air out of his sails. An uncomfortable silence descended on the table.

"Starsky," Ariadne said at last, with sympathy and something else that Starsky couldn't decipher in her tone. "I'm humbled by your courage. This subject can't be easy for you to talk about. If I ever do write a book about this era, I hope I can create a fictional character with your resilience."

Starsky tried to get a grip on his emotions. Struggling to dredge up his sense of humor, he grinned. From the disturbed expression on Hutch's face, it probably looked like a death mask. "At your service, madam."

Ariadne inclined her head graciously. "I know some time has passed since your ordeal, and you have Hutch by your side. But I wanted to offer some of my resources if you need them. I know a doctor who will care for slaves. Do you want to see her? Are you still in pain?"

Surprised by her offer, Starsky shook his head. "I can handle it. Had enough Phenine to last me a year."

"I'd like the name of that doctor," Hutch said quietly. "Just in case."

"Of course." Ariadne took a last swallow of soup, then set the bowl to the side of her bread plate.

"What's Phenine?" Manetti asked.

"A drug used as a painkiller for slaves," Hutch spat out. "With one convenient side effect -- makes the slave horny as hell."

Ariadne nodded, obviously familiar with it. "I suspect the analgesic properties are a side effect. I remember when one of the CEC chemists discovered it about a year ago. Under the right conditions -- "

"Turns anybody into a fucking nymphomaniac." Starsky reached for the bottle closest to Ariadne, bypassing the one Hutch had moved away. He poured a healthy amount into his glass, but when he took a mouthful, he could no longer taste the expensive vintage. It was just something to get drunk on.

"Man." Manetti squirmed in his seat. "They used it on you?"

"Unfortunately," Hutch said in a tone that brought the topic to a close.

Ariadne sat back, and ran her hand down Manetti's arm. "Call the sommelier? We seem to be out of wine. And find out when we're getting the main course?"

"Sure thing, my lady," he said amiably, leaving the room.

"We should focus on the upcoming meeting at Dunfey's," Ariadne said to Hutch.

"Good idea," Hutch said.

Being reminded of the undercover assignment he'd never volunteered for didn't help the wine settle in Starsky's stomach.

Patricia entered to clear away the soup bowls, and the conversation ceased. Manetti returned with a man pushing a small cart containing a mini wine cellar. The sommelier poured fresh glasses all around, and removed the used stemware.

As Ariadne swirled her new glassful with a contemplative air, Patricia served the salad course.

"The chef has prepared a salad of radicchio, purple cabbage, and dandelion greens with goat cheese garnished with a dressing of raspberry vinaigrette," Patricia recited before leaving.

The plateful of brightly colored leaves did nothing to inspire Starsky's appetite. Instead, he reached for his refilled wine glass.

"Eat," Hutch said into his ear, his breath warm as summer in a room that was suddenly too cold.

He waited to see which fork Hutch selected before picking up his own to move his greens around. He found a lump of white cheese. Even though it was from a goat, he tasted it, enjoying the tangy flavor. Starsky distracted himself from thought of Dunfey's meeting by poking through the salad for another.

"Hutch," Ariadne said, "you told me you sent word to Dunfey. How soon do you expect a reply?" She sprinkled pepper on her salad. "Gary and I are relieved you'll both be there. While I'm used to working with Cosgrove and playing the double agent, Dunfey's is a whole different ball game."

"I expect a call any time now," Hutch said, tucking into his salad as if it were the best thing he'd ever eaten.

Starsky was grateful to find candied walnuts underneath a mound of what looked like yard clippings.

Ariadne smiled. "We don't have the experience undercover you two have, so you being there is reassuring."

"Having amateurs involved is risky," Starsky said.

"He means going undercover is never safe." Hutch touched Starsky's thigh, high up, his long fingers just brushing where the ring was hidden. "There's always an element of chance, even for us."

Starsky considered shifting out from under Hutch's touch, but chose not to. What was the point? Instead, he spread his knees, forcing Hutch's hand against the ring, welcoming the sudden, sharp sting that caused.

"Dunfey doesn't trust me yet," Hutch said. "But doing some things I'm not proud of helped establish my cover as a cop gone bad."

"Have you met him yet?" Ariadne asked Hutch.

He shook his head, finishing the last of the salad except for several small lumps of goat cheese. All that remained on Starsky's plate was a pile of leaves. He dumped it onto Hutch's dish, startling him.

Hutch smiled, fishing out his goat cheese and placing the cheese on Starsky's plate. It was a familiar routine between them, one Starsky had almost forgotten. Feeling a bit warmer, Starsky ate the crumbly white cheese.

"I've met him -- unfortunately," Ariadne said. "He's loathsome. Establishing a democracy is critical, and Dunfey's a serious threat."

"The action can't come too soon for me," Manetti agreed. He polished off his food. "I'm ready for launch. There's an army in the San Bernardino mountains just waiting. Peter's on his way to coordinate with them."

"First, we've got to deal with Dunfey." Hutch forked up Starsky's lettuce.

Manetti leaned forward and said to Hutch, conspiratorially, "You've been a cop a long time. You must know a bunch of ways to kill someone and get away with it."

Hutch didn't respond, but the look in his eyes said volumes. Hutch's cold, deadly calm was so unlike the man Starsky once sat beside in the Torino. He understood some of Hutch's skewed logic, now.

Finally, Hutch spoke. "I don't know if it'll come to that. If it does...so be it. If not, we'll press Dunfey to let me into his organization."

"But if we can pull that off -- actually kill the son-of-a-bitch," Starsky said, pleased that he could still speak clearly when he'd had so much wine, "that would prove Hutch is the baddest mother on the block. After all, he's a man who collared his own partner. Removing Dunfey would let him step in to control the biggest criminal organization on the west coast."

Ariadne nodded, her eyes bright with interest. She and Manetti listened intently.

"Even if some of Dunfey's lieutenants jump ship," Hutch continued, "word will go out that an ex-cop went over to the dark side. I'd be the man in Bay City to go to. Then, if we can take the CEC out of the picture -- we can use my position to wipe out organized crime in the west."

Starsky had to admire Hutch's chutzpah; this was the loosest plan they'd ever come up with. Neither of them knew what they might have to do to prove Hutch's conversion once at Dunfey's.

Hutch nodded at Starsky, smiling softly although his eyes were still unreadable.

Starsky was afraid. Would Hutch enjoy his role too much?

"Once you have the mob under your thumb, you go back to Bay City?" Manetti asked.

"Yes. Starsky has a key part to play there." Hutch's hand went down the length of Starsky's thigh and back again. His fingers slid up the inside of his left leg, high in the groin, as if the brand were a magnet that attracted them. Starsky stifled the gasp that pressure on that painful spot brought.

"I purchased a slave house on Lincoln to use as a base of operations. The one where we always had meetings," Hutch continued.

Starsky was surprised by how much forethought Hutch had put into this. The row of old Victorians and Edwardian houses on Lincoln had been a tourist attraction before it became part of the most notorious street in town.

"As my personal slave," Hutch continued, "Starsky will help around the place, be there during appointments between me and the customers -- and other criminal types, and act as a go-between. He'll also have access to listening devices, cameras, and whatever he needs to record what's going on in every room in the place."

Starsky noted what Hutch didn't say, that there could be occasions when the only thing that might satisfy one of the rich and powerful bastards might be Starsky's immediate and personal attention.

Starsky clenched the stem of his wine glass so tightly, he had to stop before he snapped it in two.

"You've put a lot of thought into this," Ariadne said, raising her glass in acknowledgement.

"And if Dunfey doesn't go for it?" Manetti asked. "What if he isn't willing to give you a place on the council in spite of your ‘corruption'? I heard he's a mean motherfucker." Manetti poured himself another glass of wine.

Ariadne peered through lowered lids at the two cops. "Starsky and Hutch look like they can handle whatever comes up."

"That guy you talked about with the Prince Albert," Starsky blurted, looking straight at Ariadne. "You weren't dating him, were you? He was your sex slave. You were his master...uh, mistress. You were in that whatchamacallit -- lifestyle. And the assistant you saved. Isn't he the same thing to you? Your slave? You probably don't even want slavery abolished, do you?" He'd definitely had too much to drink, the wine filling him with fire. At this moment, he hated her, he hated Hutch...hated anyone who'd enslaved another human being.

Ariadne blinked hard and drew back. "Just a minute! Robbie is my assistant. While it's true, I legally own him, I bought him to keep him out of the Lincoln slave houses. He was my friend before he was enslaved. He's still my friend. He's my trusted assistant, and nothing more. I've never laid a hand on him, and that's the truth. And I never will."

"And the guy with the piercing?" Starsky pressed.

Hutch looked back and forth between them as if trying to figure out how the conversation had changed so abruptly. He grabbed Starsky's glass out of his hand, moving it away. "You've had way too much to drink."

Starsky glared at him.

Ariadne amazed him by answering. "It's all right, Hutch. His question is only fair. I asked him hard questions, too. And he answered me. It's his turn." She looked at Starsky with clear eyes. "You're absolutely right. ‘The guy with the piercing' was my willing slave for two years. He introduced me into the life, took me to the right places, and made sure I met the right people. He made sure I played safe. And I liked it. I liked the power. It wasn't easy for a woman to have any power in the late sixties, but as a man and a cop, that isn't an issue you'd be very familiar with, so I'm not sure you could understand. But, like I said, that was a lifestyle choice. We were two consenting adults enjoying a sexual relationship that pleased both of us. When our relationship cooled, and we decided to go our separate ways, we did. As friends." She turned to Manetti. "Now you know."

Manetti stared at her, clearly surprised, but just as clearly still interested. "Now I know."

Starsky wasn't sure what he'd expected Ariadne to say, but this bald admission wasn't it. And Manetti's cool acceptance was more than he could handle. He stood, his whole body vibrating with anger and resentment he couldn't contain or articulate. How nice that she and her pierced lover had chosen this path. What choice had he had?

Hutch clamped a hand on his wrist as tight as one of the wristbands. It was the only thing keeping him in check. Starsky felt the unrelenting grip of the collar around his neck, even though it wasn't there. Did Hutch have it in his pocket? Would he put it on to stake his claim in front of Ariadne and Manetti? To show them what Hutch had chosen for them both?

He was drowning, pulled under by his abrupt plunge into slavery, and kept in check only by his reluctant willingness to submit to Hutch. He was very aware of Hutch staring at him, all at once his partner and his master, and felt his master's undeniable draw.

He wanted out. He wanted what once had been normal. But what was normal? He and Hutch were so good together now, so powerful. Before, he'd submitted to Hutch without question and enjoyed friendship with sex, but he'd never felt he had Hutch's heart. Now he was bound to Hutch by law, and their relationship had changed drastically. If he had submitted to Hutch all along, would that have prevented his enslavement?

Still standing, he opened his mouth before he even knew how to respond.

"Hey," Manetti said suddenly, before he could get the first word out. The big man gestured at the stunned waitress who had arrived with their main course.

Starsky had no idea when she'd arrived, how much of their argument she'd heard.

Hutch tugged his arm, and he finally sat down as Patricia placed a plate of salmon in a Dijon sauce in front of each of them. There was asparagus on the plate. He hated asparagus. No choices, no turning back. This was the way it had to be. Hutch was still gripping his arm, his thigh pressing against Starsky's was a physical anchor, as much a part of his body as the ring and the brand.

The four of them ate in silence, sobered that the waitress might have overheard personal details. Starsky ignored the vegetable, shoveling the fish into his mouth. It was nice and spicy, and he needed energy. He would rather have had a good steak, but fish was brain food, and right now, his brain wasn't any too clear.

When they were almost finished with the fish, the sommelier arrived to pour another vintage. He filled new glasses with a pale white wine that caught the light.

Starsky downed the wine before Hutch could remove it. How many glasses had he had? He'd lost count. It was nice, for a change, to feel disconnected from reality. He let his anger drown in vino.

The conversation, though strained, had drifted into lighter subjects when dessert, a dish of chocolate mousse, was served, but Starsky was no longer following. He couldn't help worrying about Ariadne. She said she believed in the rights of free men, while practicing something darker. He was afraid of her influence with the Abbey League.

"Ariadne?" Starsky said, words liberated by the wine, "be honest. All those Abbey League meetings you had in the slave houses. When they were over...did you have sex with the slaves there?"

"Starsk!" Hutch admonished, clearly surprised.

"Starsky," Ariadne said, sounding weary. "You of all people should understand. We were using those houses as cover for our illegal activities. If we'd been discovered discussing the overthrow of the government, we would have been enslaved. So, the simple answer is, yes, Starsky, I covered my activities there by using those slaves. Just like every one of the Abbeyites who met there with me. Including Hutch."

He'd already known about Hutch's activities, but he didn't like being reminded of it. For a moment, he gazed at his partner, and thought of him in those houses, finding a young man with dark curly hair --

"Ariadne..." Starsky could tell he was slurring his words, but he was past caring. "Is...are you more on their side than ours? You like having slaves way too much for my taste."

"How dare you accuse me of siding with the CEC!" She was angry now, and spoke quickly. "I was involved with the Abbey League from the beginning, before any of you, actively working to overthrow those despots." She pushed away the dessert dish, wiping her mouth with a linen napkin big enough to diaper a baby. "I've spent years working from the inside to bring about an overthrow." She lifted her chin in defiance.

Starsky put his hand flat on the table, half to steady himself. He thought back to Manetti's comment that she was more qualified to be president than Cosgrove. That idea scared him. With her sexual interest in slavery, would slaves ever be freed? Would he have a chance of ever being his own person again?

"Are you trying to weigh my use of a few slaves -- something I had to do to maintain my own safety -- against my ability to govern?" Ariadne went very still.

"If the shoe fits, lady," Starsky growled.

Hutch said his name, pitched for his ears only. Starsky was ready to slug him.

"Hey, this isn't accomplishing anything," Manetti said, playing the peacemaker.

"Starsky's right to have concerns," Hutch said quietly. He was staring at the table, as if facing his own failings. "Were the slave houses the best places for us to meet? Possibly. But every time we went there, we compromised our own values. We used the slave houses instead of taking a stand against them. We say we're operating on a better value system than the people who took over, but instead, we've -- "

"Allied ourselves with the ones we despise?" Ariadne dipped her chin, her deep brown eyes troubled.

Hutch leaned forward, about to say more, but the maitre d' opened the door.

"Miss Underhill," he said formally. "Do you have a Mr. Hutchinson in your party?"

Starsky froze. Who knew they were here? Very few people even knew he and Hutch were in Phoenix.

"Why do you ask?" Ariadne said, all evidence of their dispute gone.

"There's a telephone call," he said, glancing at the other three in the room.

"Who's calling?" Hutch asked, as calm and in control as Ariadne. But Starsky felt the coiled tension in him even without touching him, and for some reason, that released a little of his own.

"A Mr. Dunfey."

Manetti swore under his breath, looking at Hutch in surprise. "You really did get his attention."

"Never doubted it," Hutch said softly. He touched Starsky's hand with the back of his own; a caress, or maybe for luck, Starsky couldn't tell.

"Frederick, please bring us a phone," Ariadne said. "It's a private business matter."

"Of course, ma'am." He gave a slight bow and the phone was delivered moments later.

Hutch set aside his barely touched mousse, and placed a hand on the phone. He looked at Starsky as he shifted into his cover.

"Dunfey?" Hutch said into the phone without preamble. "How did you find me?"

Gone was Hutch-the-cop who tended a greenhouse full of plants and gave twenties to addicts on the street. This was Hutch-the-master, dominant and dangerous. Starsky gritted his teeth, fighting the attraction he had for this side of Hutch.

Hutch frowned, listening to the other man speak. Nothing on his face gave any indication of the subject matter. "Yes, I just met her. I'm having dinner with her right now. In fact, we're still eating." He glanced at Ariadne with a tight nod. "All right. I'd like that. I'll be expecting him." He hung up the phone quietly, staring at it worriedly.

"Well?" Manetti asked, scooping up more mousse as if he needed to do something to ease the strain.

Hutch looked at Starsky, though he was speaking to the group. "We're in. He's very interested in having an ex-cop like me at the meeting."

"How did he find you?" Starsky asked. Were they followed after the Abbey meeting? Were their covers blown already?

"Apparently," Hutch explained, "President Cosgrove suggested Ariadne find a way to connect with me before the meeting. Told her to ‘keep an eye' on me. Cosgrove assumed you did as he asked, and that we'd be together. He told Dunfey you always ate here when in Phoenix, so he took a chance. Told the maitre d' to check your table."

"Actually, Cosgrove suggested I sleep with you," Ariadne told Hutch. "So, I could find out what you were up to. You're considered a very dangerous man. People in power like to know everything about dangerous men." Ariadne pushed her mousse in front of Manetti with an indulgent expression. "Have mine; I enjoy watching you enjoy it."

Hutch peered at Starsky, transitory questions flitting across his features, but didn't ask them aloud.

Starsky heard them just the same. Can you stay in character -- be a slave -- for the entire time? Can we pull this off? And, more importantly, Do you know that I love you?

"In spite of working for Cosgrove, I don't have the training or experience the two of you have in dealing with criminals," Ariadne said. She was all business now, the dispute with Starsky forgotten.

"Since we don't know what will come up during the council," Hutch said, "we'll just have to play it by ear, being careful to keep each other informed without being obvious. At least Dunfey knows we've connected on a social level. And with Cosgrove's blessing. This is how most undercovers pan out."

Starsky felt torn in two. Part of him wanted to kneel for Hutch, to be the slave Hutch wanted. But the rest of him needed to fight, to defend all those enslaved.

"I think it's time we got going," Hutch said, his tone thick with concern.

"I agree." Ariadne paused as the maitre d' returned to collect the phone.

"The bill is all taken care of, Miss Underhill," he said graciously. "We hope you'll come again, soon."

"Of course, Frederick." Ariadne smiled. "When I'm in California, I long for your cuisine. Gary's polished off two servings of mousse."

"Couldn't eat like that when I was in training for a game..." Manetti trailed off with a wolfish grin, but it was a show. He was in training for a far greater battle than on the football field.

The waitress came to clear away the dishes and Starsky snatched the last of the sauvignon blanc to splash into his glass.

When Patricia left, Manetti nodded, all signs of the goofy jock gone. "There's a lot to do and very little time to do it in." Like all of them, he had two sides, and this was the lawyer who would commandeer the attack. "Coordinating with the team is critical -- but being secluded at Dunfey's will make that harder." He swirled Ariadne's bright colored scarf around her shoulders, drawing her into him; protecting her while he could.

"Do you need a ride?" Ariadne asked them, briefly leaning against Manetti before she picked up her purse.

"We'll walk," Hutch said abruptly, standing directly behind Starsky's chair, effectively trapping him. "It'll be cooler now that the sun has gone down."

"Then we'll be in touch in the morning," Ariadne said, smiling at Manetti. "Gary loves driving the car on these flat desert roads."

"Gets the blood running," he said to her. He held the dining room door open, inclining his head to her.

Starsky hid a smirk, Ariadne wouldn't have to frequent the slave houses on Lincoln any longer. Manetti knew what she was into, and he was willing to accept that. For some reason, thinking of that big man subjugating himself to her made his belly churn. Why was that worse than what he and Hutch were into? He was too drunk to figure it out.

Starsky tossed back the last of the wine, not even tasting it. It was just something to dull the pain.

"What exactly is your problem now?" Hutch asked through clenched teeth after Ariadne and Manetti left.

"Nothing." Starsky tried to shove the chair back, but Hutch was too close. "I just love getting fucked, master."

"You're being an asshole."

"Isn't that what you want?" Starsky jerked his elbow, which would have been at groin height if Hutch hadn't already backed up.

"No," Hutch said softly, his face blank, but Starsky could feel all the conflicting emotions bleeding off him. Hutch filled him up even when they were three feet apart.

"No?" Starsky stood and the room swayed like a porch swing. He really had had too much to drink.

"I just want us -- together. We've always worked best that way, Starsk. Whatever else is going on between us, we are partners. And that's what I need now."

"Yeah?" Starsky snapped. "What if Dunfey discovers you're a spy, Hutch? What then? What if they kill you?" If Dunfey decided to eliminate Hutch, Starsky was as good as dead, too. "I gotta get out of here." Starsky concentrated on exiting the room and walking slowly through the restaurant, looking neither left nor right, confident that his partner was behind him.

The air outside was like an oven, although cooler than two hours earlier. Starsky's head hurt and his belly roiled. He wasn't sure if he could walk back to their car. Without glancing back at Hutch, Starsky set out down the sidewalk -- no way was he walking two steps behind his master.

But his head and stomach had other ideas. Within a block, he was hunching weakly on his knees in the dim cavern of an alley. Pressing against the warm metal of a dumpster, he wished he were dead. Would he actually have to service a room of executives after they talked business with Hutch? To have Hutch watch while Starsky sucked another man's cock brought back too many memories of his teenage years, when he'd often get paid to service one man as someone else paid more just to watch.

"Starsk?"

Starsky spat onto the cracked sidewalk. The stink from the garbage rotting in the heat was nauseating. "We're fucked, Hutch."

Hutch stood just out of reach at the mouth of the alley. "You always feel like crap after too much wine."

"Vino de casa..." Starsky focused on Hutch's cowboy boots when he stepped closer. Somehow, Starsky felt comforted by the tooled silver toe tips. This was just the two of them, bound together inexplicably. He reached up without looking, feeling the soft khaki of Hutch's slacks, the warm, inviting bulge just under his fly, and pulled Hutch's zipper down. Hutch made no move to stop him. Instead, he wove fingers through Starsky's sweaty hair, kneading and caressing away the headache that plagued him.

"Please," Starsky whispered against the soft steel of Hutch's cock, not even sure why he said it. He was dying every second, evolving into someone who had never been a cop in Bay City. Someone he was afraid to be. The only thing real was the flesh jutting near his lips.

"You're mine, Davey," Hutch said. With his fist bunched in Starsky's hair, Hutch tugged Starsky's head up, away from his groin. Then he pulled a thick loop of leather out of his jacket.

So Hutch did carry the collar in his pocket. Starsky ached for the loss of his prize, but held still as Hutch buckled and locked the collar around his neck. He swallowed against it. The snug fit was exactly what he needed to ground him. He belonged to Hutch and the erect phallus hanging right at mouth level, ready for him.

Hutch laid the back of his hand on Starsky's temple, murmuring something low. The simple sweetness of Hutch's touch overwhelmed Starsky's soul. He latched onto Hutch's thick penis as if he'd never get enough.

This was what Starsky knew. He dredged up every old trick guaranteed to satisfy, his nose nearly buried in Hutch's wiry blond thatch, almost suffocating from the blockage wedged in his throat. He didn't think, didn't feel; he existed only to serve.

Hutch gasped, his feet planted on either side of Starsky, and leaning half against the wall, he thrust more and more of himself down Starsky's unresisting throat.

It could have lasted seconds or hours, Starsky didn't know. He sucked and licked, the cock in his mouth expanding, growing longer and wider until he couldn't contain it no matter how hard he tried. Forgetting his surroundings or if passersby could see them, Starsky hung on, completely absorbed in giving pleasure to his master. Hutch's fingers dug into his neck and shoulders, but Starsky paid no attention to his own needs, just pumped that throbbing length, intent on swallowing every drop of the fluid that threatened to drown him. He choked, close to blacking out, but stubbornly refused to let go of his life preserver.

"Starsk!" Hutch said, cupping his chin. "Starsky!" The wilting penis slipped free of Starsky's mouth, and Hutch stared down at him with the strangest look on his face. "Hey, what's going on?"

"I don't know anymore." Like a switch being turned on, sensation slammed back into Starsky and he had to close his eyes to keep from screaming. The pain from the piercing and brand were the worst. Hutch must have dug his fingernails into Starsky's shoulders, because the tiny indentations burned like the welts from Neville's whip.

"You're drunk." Hutch pulled him to his feet. Starsky's knees buckled and he would have fallen, but Hutch kept him upright.

"Damn straight," Starsky slurred. "I thought it would stop everything from hurting, but it only made things worse."

"For a minute, I wondered if you'd taken Phenine." Hutch tucked himself in, zipping his pants. "Can you walk?"

"‘Course." In his condition, it was unimaginable, but he'd follow Hutch anywhere. He'd already followed him into hell.

"Car's only down two blocks, remember?" Hutch pointed.

It seemed like years ago when they had parked there, kissing twice before getting out to attend the Abbey meeting.

"Hutch, have you ever seen Dunfey?" Starsky could hear himself talking, but he seemed completely unattached to his body. The collar was the only thing keeping his head connected to his neck.

"In person? Not close up." Hutch looped an arm around Starsky's waist, helping him off the curb to cross the street. "But remember that time we arrested Jerry Kuyt?"

"His..." Starsky's head was buzzing and his tongue was covered with fur. "Lieu...Lieutenant, who's just as kinky."

"Right." Hutch made a sound like a chuckle but Starsky ignored it, concentrating on walking without tripping over the sidewalk cracks. "Dunfey was in a car. I saw him drive away when we grabbed Kuyt."

"But when you..." Starsky let the sentence dangle. What should he call what they'd done to him? Kidnapping? Enslaving? "Arranged to have me picked up, you didn't go to him directly?"

"No. Everything was done on the phone, or with go-betweens. Just like tonight. He thought I was trying to entrap him." Hutch fished the keys out of his pocket.

Starsky swayed, putting a hand on the metal hood of the car. After sitting in ninety-degree weather, it was hot enough to burn. Dropping his hand, he watched Hutch unlock the door. "Where do we go from here, Hutch?"

"Onward," Hutch said, but he sounded strange. "Because we can't go backward."

***

"Out of bed, slave," Hutch ordered.

"It's not even morning!" Starsky groused, rolling over to avoid the sunlight spilling through the bedroom window. His head was splitting. He'd never been much of a wine drinker and if this was the result, he was never going to drink anything fermented from a grape ever again.

"It's seven-thirty. I want a five-mile run before the sun gets too high."

Starsky blearily opened an eye to stare at his partner. "Have you lost your mind? I'm sick as a dog here."

"Whose fault is that?" Hutch jogged in place, his blue nylon running shorts riding up on his long, well defined thighs. "A good run will blow the cobwebs out of your brain and get your blood flowing."

"My blood flows fine when I'm lying down."

Hutch stopped moving. "Starsky, up now, or it's an hour with the nipple clamps kneeling by the computer while I wait for the next message."

Licking his dry lips, Starsky knew Hutch would do it, too. He'd turned into a weird combination of drill sergeant and slave master with just enough of the old Hutch to remind Starsky of the person he used to know. Now with a definite goal in mind, Hutch was going to be even more insufferable.

"I ran with you yesterday," Starsky insisted, sitting all the way up.

That was not a good idea.

He scrambled off the bed, dashing to the bathroom to empty his stomach. When he straightened, feeling miserable enough to do what Hutch asked just to get him off his back, Starsky was surprised to have a glass of water and two small white pills thrust at him.

"They're too small to be Phenine." Starsky took the proffered aspirin, downing the glass quickly. He drank two more glassfuls and started to feel halfway normal.

"Feel better? A good run will sweat the rest of it out of you." Hutch motioned for him to sit down on the edge of the mattress. He was holding a small leather circlet with more leather bands hanging off the back.

Starsky regarded it warily, spreading his legs for his master. "What's that?"

"To prove you're mine," Hutch said huskily, running his hand just once down Starsky's cock. For all his gruffness, Hutch looked very, very interested in the foreplay.

The single stroke woke Starsky up far better than the aspirin had. He swelled immediately and widened his thighs, his cock springing upward with surprising vigor. Hutch laughed and grabbed hold, strapping the leather around Starsky's penis until it was striped with leather bands. The last one threaded through the heavy ring at the end and was buckled into place. No padlock.

"You don't need all that to prove anything." Starsky just managed to keep the need out of his voice. God, he wanted Hutch to slide his long forefinger over the crown one more time to relieve the ache. With the bands holding his erection in place, there was a thick throbbing in his groin that didn't go away.

"Get used to it." Hutch cupped his hand around Starsky's jaw, the hold domineering, but with a wistful sweetness that turned Starsky's heart over. "I need to know you're near me." Picking up some more items from the end of the bed, he clipped a leash onto Starsky's collar. He then wound the long leather strap of the leash around Starsky's waist like an obscene belt.

Starsky had a feeling this was going to becoming routine, despite his protests. At least Hutch allowed him a t-shirt and shorts to run in. Starsky knew there were slaves in California that never wore clothes unless the temperature dropped below sixty.

"I'd feel better sleeping for six more hours and having pancakes for breakfast this afternoon," Starsky whined, pulling the clothes on.

"I think Huggy knows how to make pancakes." Hutch held open the front door, waving his hand with the flourish of a circus ringmaster. "C'mon, get the lead out. I want to run behind you, watch your ass moving."

Hutch took them on a circuit around the immense mall parking lot, which was full of early risers going about their everyday chores. There were several plots of vegetables and herb gardens in the meridian strips that had once decorated the lot. Starsky jogged past two women harvesting corn and tomatoes, and almost stopped to ask for some. He was hungry, and Hutch was making him run on an empty stomach.

He ran onward, eventually letting Hutch take the lead, and ignored his hunger pains.

Pancakes on the horizon didn't make up for having to wear the damned leash. It shifted and pulled every time he took a step, constantly reminding him of his status. He kept flashing on one of the old movies he used to watch, when Gene Autry would twirl a lasso over his head and bring it down over some wild pony, dragging it bucking and screaming into captivity. Now, he was roped and branded, like a prized animal. The David Starsky who'd driven a car, owned a condo, and been able to walk freely was so far from what he was now that his past life could have been a dream. Starsky felt trapped in the middle of his past and future, teetering on the edge.

Pain gripped his side and he stopped, bending over to relieve the cramp, sides heaving. Sweat made his shirt stick to his body. It wasn't even eight a.m. Who would choose to live in a place like this?

"Five minutes?" Hutch panted, doing a few jumping jacks to keep his heart racing.

"How about we just walk home?" Starsky rubbed his aching side, glancing down the long flat road. They'd come almost to the apex of the route that they'd taken the day before. All he could see was a broad expanse of dirt, cactus, and more cactus. Probably snakes, too. Cars drove past at regular intervals, but traffic was light here, making it a good track for running. "Or better yet, hitchhike?"

Hutch rolled his eyes good-naturedly; the run had put him in a better mood. As the stitch eased, Starsky was surprised to discover that he felt better, too. Good enough to notice the way Hutch's shorts glistened, trails of sweat outlining the long curve of his cock in front.

"You are the laziest son-of-a..." Hutch laughed, trailing off when a black limo drove up, pulling alongside them. "Damn," he said softly.

"What?" Starsky shaded his eyes, then suddenly he knew.

Hutch had said Dunfey was keeping tabs on them. The sleek black limousine was long enough to house a mini-bar and a hot tub behind the driver. With the sun riding low in the sky just above the car, the shadows reaching out across the tarmac were like an encroaching evil coming closer and closer to swallow them whole.

Starsky had to resist the urge to back away from the menace. But he knew that wouldn't work, so he held still, turning into a block of ice shaped like David Starsky. He went cold inside, so cold the sweat dripping down his back was like icicles, despite the relentless sun. Didn't that damned star know it wasn't supposed to be this hot so early?

"It's all been dress rehearsal until now," Hutch said, taking a deep breath. "Curtain's going up."

The driver's side door opened and a chauffeur emerged. The man was obviously a slave. The collar around his neck was attached to a leash that locked him to the dashboard of the car. He had enough length to open the backseat door on the same side, but couldn't have gone around the car to the right side.

Starsky dropped his gaze to the pale gray cement under his feet. Was that man ever allowed away from the car? Did he live there, chained to a huge piece of metal? It twisted his guts until he wanted to kill everyone involved.

A second man got out of the car, dismissed the chauffeur back to his seat, and walked around to face Starsky and Hutch. His black suit and thick oily hair said gangster as if he'd been cast by Hollywood. The suit was all wrong for the Arizona heat, and he perspired freely.

Starsky could smell him, his rank odor overpowering his last scent of Hutch. He didn't dare look at his master. He'd never be able to look away. Pulling on his slave role like a disguise, he lowered his eyes, repressing every instinct to ram this criminal into the side of the car and slap handcuffs on him. Too bad he wasn't carrying any -- he wasn't even wearing any.

"So the mighty detectives fall," Jerry Kuyt said. Wanted on a slew of charges so long his police file was six inches thick, Kuyt was an equal opportunity sadist. Rape, torture, murder -- it was all fun and games to him.

Starsky could hear the leer in his voice. He remembered trying to get a frightened girl to ID Kuyt in a line up once, but she'd shied away, shaking her head and mumbling that she didn't remember the man who'd beaten and raped her. Her eyes had betrayed her when she'd stared through the window at Kuyt.

"Not a fall," Hutch said with an ironic lilt in his voice. "Just a shift into a different phase of life. Accepting the inevitable, you might say."

Kuyt stood still. From his view of the man's scuffed shoes, Starsky's couldn't read his expression. He suspected it was slightly perplexed. Jerry wasn't known for his intelligence, just his highly inventive methods of inflicting pain.

"You might say," Kuyt finally parroted back as if repeating something witty. "Your slave ain't much. He looked taller with a leather jacket and a gun."

"Too bad the same can't be said for you," Hutch replied smoothly. "Dunfey inside? I'd invite him to run back to the mall with us, but it might put a strain on the old man's heart."

Glancing up cautiously, Starsky saw Hutch peer into the car windows, but the mirrored finish only reflected back his handsome looks.

"We were going to have pancakes," Hutch said, "when we got back."

Starsky watched from under lowered lashes, poised to run or follow Hutch's lead.

Apparently unable to come up with a rejoinder for Hutch's insult, Kuyt simply opened the door directly opposite them.

And there was Dunfey. He never moved from his throne in the dim interior of the limo, but Starsky saw enough to know he beckoned Hutch forward. "Hutchinson," Dunfey said in a voice that rumbled like stones in an avalanche. "I wanted to get a chance to know you before the conference."

"So you have your henchmen accost me on a public street?" Hutch tsk-tsked. "What do you want, Dunfey? I've got business in less than an hour."

"You mentioned pancakes. I can offer you a delicious breakfast here in the car, and you won't have to run for your meal," Dunfey said. "If you're interested, please join me."

Hutch appeared to consider the idea, hands on his hips. "For one hour. The slave, too?"

"Of course. Slaves complement any meal. He has to remove his clothes. I don't allow them to hide their assets from me."

"You heard the man." Hutch turned, blocking Dunfey's view of Starsky, skimming the t-shirt off Starsky's body in seconds. The shorts didn't take much longer, but the press of Hutch's hot hand against his icy flesh was the only thing Starsky could feel. Hutch stared into his eyes, communicating without saying a word. We're in this together. He shook out the length of leash, uncoiling it from Starsky's waist, and depriving him of his last vestiges of cover.

Strange how unprotected the body felt without clothing. Starsky was reluctant to slip off his sneakers and add them to the pile. Even the tiny shorts and thin tee had been some sort of armor between him and the world. Starsky shivered, humiliated, forced to tolerate Kuyt's purulent growl of appreciation. He withstood it only because Hutch was standing beside him.

Hutch showed no fear. He was once again the lion who ruled all he surveyed. "Davey, in the car, presentation position."

For a moment, Starsky wasn't sure he could move. His left foot simply refused to take that first step forward, but then his knees were sinking into the lush carpeting of the limo as if he'd levitated between the hot road and the coolness of the car. He was weirdly glad that Neville and Hutch had insisted on drumming the hated slave poses into his tired body. He moved without thought, arranging himself flawlessly into perfect slave posture with thighs spread so that the brand showed plainly, hands resting gracefully on his thighs, chest thrust out, but eyes cast downward. Staring down at a pair of expensive men's shoes, he realized that he was directly across from Dunfey.

"I had to wonder why a man would pay me so much money to have his partner turned," Dunfey said shrewdly. His Italian leather shoe rubbed against Starsky's left thigh in a distinctly unpleasant way. "He does make a fine looking slave, but you could have bought a stable full for the price you paid for one untrained man."

Starsky stilled his urge to pull away from the repulsive caress, desperately trying to keep his sanity so he could provide help if he had the chance. He tried to tune out the blunt leather insinuating its way to his pierced cock, glad that Hutch had buckled him into the black harness.

"The question is, what's in it for you besides the use of your partner's body?" Dunfey continued.

"You helped me accomplish something I'd wanted to do for a long time," Hutch said, settling into the roomy interior next to Dunfey. He appeared to ignore the mobster's advances. "And now, I think there are countless ways you and I could work together. I have information and influence; you have contacts and established ties with the underworld."

The toe of Dunfey's shoe was far too close to Starsky's raw brand. Starsky flinched in pain, and looked straight up into a pair of narrow eyes. Their color in the murky light was indiscernible, but there was no humanity there, only cruelty. And an odd familiarity that rattled Starsky to his core.

"Move your foot away from my slave." Hutch didn't raise his voice or move a muscle, but the deadly force was there. This was the lion, and a lion doesn't allow anyone to muscle in on his kill, not even a potential associate. "What's in it for me? You won't get an answer by damaging my property." Hutch gave the slightest tug on Starsky's leash.

Starsky dropped his eyes out of respect for his master, not the pig Dunfey. His brand ached like an exposed nerve, the thud of his heartbeat doubled in his groin. Dunfey pulled his foot back incrementally. There wasn't much floor space to move between the bar and the seats, but Starsky managed to shuffle closer to Hutch's leg. That also allowed him to observe more with his peripheral vision. How many times had Hutch drilled into him the need for accurate peripheral observations?

"So the slave's that good, is he, Hutchinson?" Dunfey took a sip from his glass of juice.

"My partner's body was always of great use to me -- in or out of the squad car." Hutch tapped Starsky's shoulder, ostensively to correct his posture, but the touch helped. Starsky gritted his teeth, calming. "He just can't say no any longer."

"A prize like that should be shared." Dunfey sounded intrigued. He picked up a plate of fruit at his elbow and pinched a grape off the stem.

"I only share if there's incentive. And this slave has -- let's call it sentimental value -- not to mention monetary, so I never let him out of my sight." He ran a gentle hand down the back of Starsky's hair to his neck, and kept his fingers curved around the collar while he spoke. "Now, if someone gave me incentive I might consider allowing him to be used -- "

"And abused," Dunfey joked.

"Used without any damage whatsoever," Hutch corrected in a voice that was pure ice. "That might be arranged. I bought him for my pleasure, for my use. I only share -- occasionally -- with those I actually call friends."

"I have no problem watching a fine display between master and slave," Dunfey said smoothly. "Grapes or kiwi, Hutchinson? There's pastries in the bread basket."

Kuyt had lowered himself onto the fold down seat and was pouring coffee from a carafe as the car started up again. The carpeted undercarriage of the car vibrated against Starsky's naked buttocks like an expensive sex toy, grating on his nerves. He was so tense that no amount of Phenine would have aroused him.

Hutch accepted the coffee and fruit, declining a croissant. Starsky felt queasy, but from hunger, car sickness, or the remnants of his hangover, he wasn't sure.

"As alluring as your slave might be, I'm not sure what incentive I could provide. I suspect you want to horn in on my territory." Dunfey plucked grapes off the stem and popped them into his mouth. "I know all about you, Hutchinson -- your addiction to drugs, the little problem with IA because of the ex-wife and her klepto tendencies, all the barely legal-aged boys who looked like your partner..."

"Common knowledge," Hutch retorted, but Starsky could hear how much it was costing him.

Some of it was well known, especially about Vanessa, but how had Dunfey found out about the heroin? Had Jeannie talked? After she'd promised to run to a state that didn't have legalized slavery? Starsky had never trusted her.

"I'm very interested in establishing a base of operations here in Phoenix, maybe branching out into Vegas," Hutch said. "BC is your focus -- you only keep a vacation house here. I don't intend to tread on your toes, but I think we can benefit each other financially. I've got the start up money, I just need..." Hutch paused, drawing in his prey. "Your expertise. Your experience with slaves and contraband."

"You said you had information." Dunfey was hooked, his greediness overcoming good sense. He tapped his foot absently.

Starsky concentrated on their voices. There was something eerily familiar about Dunfey. He'd only gotten a glimpse of the man before dropping into slave mode, but Dunfey scared him down deep.

Why did Dunfey make him feel trapped as if he were an insignificant bug about to be obliterated?

"When we have a better rapport," Hutch said. "It'll be more effective if I present my offer at the meeting." Sipping coffee, Hutch deliberately blocked Dunfey's access to Starsky by stretching out his long legs. "Fine brew."

"My sources bring it up from Columbia with the cocaine." Dunfey said. "I have to admit I can see the advantages of having an ex-cop in our group, but some of my associates are skeptical of your motives."

"Police work wasn't challenging anymore," Hutch said simply and popped a grape into Starsky's mouth. "I found my tastes were running to more..." he fed Starsky another grape, "exotic fare."

Starsky wanted the whole bunch and a croissant, but he chewed what was in his mouth, grateful to have something to eat.

"Couldn't maintain my lifestyle on a cop's salary." Hutch gave a rueful laugh, showing no evidence of the detective Starsky had worked with. "Even with half the liquor store owners on our beat paying protection."

"Always heard you two didn't take bribes," Kuyt said.

"Starsky didn't take bribes," Hutch corrected him. "I took whatever wasn't nailed down. Including my partner when he'd outlived his usefulness. His lofty moralistic attitude was getting in the way." Hutch placed a grape between his lips, leaning forward to transfer it to Starsky's mouth. "Davey is a natural. I should have collared him years ago."

Starsky felt the slave name like a knife. He wanted the husky whisper of Starsk, with the soft S's and crisp K at the end, not the cutting D and V of his childhood nickname. Without turning his head, he moved his eyes left, just far enough to see Hutch.

Would he be able to go through with the council meeting? Hearing Hutch talk about him like that, enduring abuse because he wore a ring though his penis...

"I never trusted cops." Kuyt sneered. "Least that one's got a collar and leash."

"He's not a cop any longer, and neither is Hutchinson." Dunfey chuckled. "Even the CEC wouldn't trust him after his latest escapade. They do have some standards, and having your partner kidnapped for slavery, and then slitting your superior's throat before skipping town doesn't qualify."

Slitting your superior's throat? Starsky didn't make a sound, intent on hearing the rest. What hadn't Hutch told him? Was it even true, or was Dunfey baiting Hutch? What superior? He eased air out of his lungs, struggling to maintain a blank expression. He visualized the names on the offices in Metro, but got confused between the old inhabitants and the new. Simonetti had been promoted to head hunter for the CEC, his bully-boy tactics just what they liked.

Then there was Roschenzky...

Oh, fuck, Hutch. What did you do?

"The man knew too much," Hutch said blandly. "It was a mercy killing." Starsky could hear hidden anguish in his voice. It must have been self-defense; there was no other reason Hutch would resort to murder.

No wonder Hutch had said he was on the run, a wanted man, when he arrived at Luna. But why? Why do it when he was already leaving town? Had Roschenzky been the one who knew all the secrets? Maybe he'd figured out too much about Hutch's visits to the slave houses, seen Hutch with Ariadne or Manetti instead of some naked slave boy with dark curls and a pierced cock. Forced to kneel, staring at the floor, Starsky's mind ran in circles.

"Was James Gunther a mercy killing?" Dunfey raised his coffee cup in a salute.

"That was revenge, pure and simple," Hutch said in a hard voice, cutting off any more discussion about his infamous assassination of the mobster who had ordered Starsky's shooting. "And you profited from that on all fronts. You took over Gunther's entire operation. Seems like you owe me a debt of gratitude."

"I don't have outstanding debts," Dunfey answered coldly. "We'll give you a seat on the council. Don't push your luck so early in the game."

"I'm a good poker player." Hutch finished his cup and flicked a look at his wrist as if surprised not to see a watch there. "Oh, yes, I forgot. Your goons stole my watch and leather jacket when they grabbed Davey. I want them back."

"Not a problem," Dunfey assured him. "Jerry will talk to Gomez and Mertz when we return home."

Gravel Voice and Calloused Hands, Starsky realized. The names of his kidnappers. They were first on his list to be collared and pierced.

"Y'know, I kinda liked it better when we knew who was the good guys and who was the bad guys." Kuyt started to pick a grape from the cluster, but Dunfey smacked his hand. Kuyt stuck his finger into his mouth, talking around it. "Easier to figure out who was on your side."

"There are more sides these days than in my high school geometry text," Dunfey said with sardonic wit. He stuck out a hand, shaking Hutch's grandly. "A pleasure to meet you, Hutchinson. I'm looking forward to working with you in the days to come. Welcome aboard."

"I'll see you at the meeting on Friday," Hutch agreed. "You won't regret this, Dunfey."

***

The car left them outside the mall in view of the women tending their plots. They stared, the friendly smiles they'd given Starsky two hours earlier now expressions of disgust. They turned away, hoeing the dirt with quick, nervous movements.

"You got my clothes?" Starsky snarled. When Hutch held them out, he jerked the t-shirt on and pulled the shorts over his ass. Without stopping to untie the laces, he jammed his feet into the sneakers. "I want food, and lots of it."

Hutch didn't say a word, simply held up his hands in surrender.

"What?" Starsky snapped, jerking the leash off his collar and throwing it at his partner. No, his master.

"It went well."

"For you, I'm nothing more than a lap dog!"

Hutch picked up the leash, coiling the length around one hand as if to give himself something to do. "I'm sorry about a lot of things, Starsk."

"Yeah, well, so am I." Starsky balled a fist, ready to fight, just to bleed off some of the anger he'd built up on the insufferable ride. "There is no way this is going to work, Hutch. You want to see me swallowing some bastard's cum? You get off on that?"

"No." Hutch hadn't moved since he got out of the limo. "Never. Makes me sick inside."

"You sure don't act like it." Starsky smacked Hutch hard on his chest. "So it's okay for you to hurt me, but not them, huh? Pretty fine line, Hutch."

"Pain is never the object." Hutch raised his hands hopelessly. "It's a conduit, a catalyst to something much more powerful. It amplifies the sex."

"Which is all you ever cared about in the first place, isn't it? That's what it comes down to, what Hutch wants." Starsky couldn't look at Hutch's stony expression any longer and strode away, kicking at rocks and debris in the parking lot. He didn't care that a gang of teen-aged boys wearing black and red shirts were watching him from the mall fire escape. "What about what Starsky wants?"

"Have I ever denied you love? I've had your back," Hutch said despairingly. "You were -- are my best friend, the only person in the whole world who ever meant anything to me. I had to keep you safe. Roschenzky was planning to have you taken out, or sell you directly to Dunfey."

"So you took him out first," Starsky said flatly. "Were you planning to tell me, Hutch?"

"When the time was right. When you were ready to hear it."

"When was that going to be, huh?" Starsky swallowed the bitter gall in his throat. He'd known Hutch was capable of killing a man, and considering what Roschenzky was planning, this hardly counted as murder in cold blood. But he'd expected more from Hutch. "That's why you couldn't go back to Bay City." Again, he remembered Hutch confronting Neville, looking like a stranger with dark hair and eyes as turbulent as a winter sea.

"Yeah." Hutch's knuckles blanched white from clenching the leash.

Starsky considered prying his hand loose, but didn't. Couldn't. They had too much to work out first.

"If Roschenzky was already dead," the words ripped out of Starsky, making his throat raw, "why did you make me a slave?"

"It was too late by then. They'd already grabbed you." Hutch shook his head, the mistakes so blatantly obvious now. "I should have known Roschenzky and Dunfey were tight. I was so worried about you, about what Roschenzky might do to you, I didn't pay enough attention. He called when I was at your house, getting your things. Huggy had already gone to get your car. You were -- "

"In the truck with a fucking bag on my head."

"I met Roschenzky alone in the police garage. I opened the trunk and showed him the money." Hutch gave a weird bark of a laugh. "He was too greedy. He shoved a gun in my ribs and disarmed me, laughing at how he'd won everything -- you, the money, and how he was going to get rid of me. But he'd only taken my gun. When he turned to grab the cash, I slit his throat. He was still alive when I drove away."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Starsky's voice sounded too small, too naive.

"Because...I didn't want you to see me as a murderer," Hutch said.

The words shredded Starsky. This was ripping them both apart just when they need to have a united front against Dunfey. "We've both killed. It doesn't change the fact that you used his...threat to have me enslaved. For your own reasons, Hutch!" Starsky hitched a breath.

Hutch moved to stand at the door of the mall. His face was so unreadable he could have been a stranger. The same stranger who'd arranged to have Starsky kidnapped and pierced, and then showed up wearing a brown wig and hungry eyes. It was then Starsky knew how scared Hutch was. It lit the anger inside him.

"Are you coming upstairs with me?" Hutch said softly, and this time it was only Hutch behind his eyes. Hutch scared out of his mind, afraid that he was losing his lover and best friend.

Starsky was spoiling for a fight; there was no other way to put it. He wanted to hurt, crush, beat someone else the way he had been. Hutch wasn't the right opponent, but he was the only one Starsky had.

"Starsky?" There was a hint of pleading and regret. Hutch could read his moods so easily. Surely, he recognized Starsky's fury.

Just a few days ago, Starsky had been ready to follow Hutch anywhere. But that path only led farther down the road of pain and humiliation. He decided it was time for Hutch to follow him.

Starsky shot past him through the door and set off down the wide people-filled corridor of the mall, feeling Hutch shadowing him without ever looking behind to be sure. He took the unmoving escalator risers two at a time to the second level, his sneaker-clad feet coming down loudly on the metal steps. The sound of Hutch's footfalls were like an echo to each of his own.

At the door to their apartment, he stopped, feeling the pull of the ring on his penis, the burn where hot metal had seared his flesh, and the hand-shaped bruises on his upper arms where Hutch had held him the night before, when they'd made rough love over and over. "You're a bastard, you know that?"

"Always have been, Starsk."

Oh, God, the way he said that. It broke through Starsky's defenses like an ax splitting a tree. Starsky swung, hard and fast, with a roundhouse punch that had felled many a punk, and clocked Hutch in the face. Hutch went down with such an expression of surprise that it enraged Starsky even more. Hutch should have known this was coming.

Starsky grabbed his partner while Hutch struggled to get off the floor, shoving him against the door of their apartment. In the tiny portion of his brain trying desperately to stay rational, he knew they should get out of the public hallway, but testosterone was taking over, turning him into something primitive. He crashed a knee into Hutch's abdomen and pummeled him in the ribs with unrestrained fury.

Until then, Hutch had not resisted. Hunched in half to protect his belly, he shoved back, tackling Starsky and pulling him to the dirty floor of the hallway. They rolled, punching and kicking, grappling for the upper hand.

Starsky bit down, teeth sinking into Hutchinson flesh in a wholly satisfying way. His arousal exploded, his cock suddenly far too big for the leather bindings. His heart stuttered against his heaving ribs, then accelerated, if that was possible after the intensity of the battle, catching him unawares. He had blood in his mouth, some from his own split lip, some from Hutch. He spat it sideways.

Lunging, Hutch bucked and flipped Starsky over, straddling his body.

"Hutch," Starsky panted.

"Stop it!" Hutch yelled savagely.

Arching up, Starsky practically climbed up Hutch's body, pulling his legs out from under him. Then Starsky kissed him, all teeth and stabbing tongue. Hutch bit down hard enough to send skyrockets off behind Starsky's eyelids, and took possession of the kiss, refusing to relinquish control.

"Inside," Starsky managed, breathless. "Inside." Hutch nodded, the motion vibrating through the base of Starsky's skull, transmitting subtle messages of nonverbal communication through his entire being.

"K-key's in my jacket." Hutch pushed a hand between their bodies, fingers scrabbling into his pocket.

"Get it, now!" Starsky dry humped Hutch's hip aggressively. This was his party.

Hutch dragged them both to their feet, shakily inserting the key in the lock. When the door opened, they tumbled inward, barely able to get their clothes off quickly enough. Starsky's tiny shorts came off with a single jerk, his penis fully erect in its leather cage, the ring on the end like a bull's-eye. He shoved at Hutch, pushing his resisting body against the wall, but this time, Hutch strong-armed him back.

"Slow down!" Hutch ordered, but he was obviously as turned on as Starsky, his cheeks flushed, chest heaving. He felt hot to the touch, almost feverish, as if lust had brought him to a boil.

Starsky couldn't take his eyes off the bloody mark he's made high up on Hutch's smooth torso, just above his nipple. If he sank his teeth there again, would it scar? Leave a permanent impression of his teeth on his partner? His master?

"Me inside you -- now," Starsky said gutturally, pushing down on Hutch's shoulders as Hutch had so often done to him.

It didn't work. Hutch glared at him and hooked a foot around Starsky's ankle, one of those wrestling moves he'd learned in college designed to bring down an opponent. Starsky attempted to counterbalance, but only succeeded in smacking his head against the wall hard enough to stun. He lay on the floor between Hutch's legs with an eyeful of enraged penis.

"You don't get to change the rules!" Hutch shouted at him, his finger not as much of a threat as the stiff cock jutting into his face.

Blinking the world back into focus, Starsky lurched to his feet, adrenaline giving him clarity. "Why not? You sure as hell did. You stole my goddamned life right out from under me, you shit. Barged in and changed everything, so don't go all holy and self-righteous. Suck my cock, or I -- "

Hutch's big hand clamped down around Starsky's erection and balls, twisting, the leather bands constricting like tourniquets. Starsky forced himself not to react, but it felt like his genitals were being fed through a wringer. It also sent his arousal skyrocketing. He could have climaxed right then, but held himself back, hands flat on the wall behind him, staring into those glacier blue eyes. Neville's cowboy was back, all savage beauty with his blond hair and ferocious strength.

"You'll what?" Hutch asked with deadly calm. "Leave me? You did once. You died, and you came back, Starsk. You always come back. Just like I always come back to you." The pressure of his fist let up fractionally, and Starsky had time to take a breath before Hutch reached between his legs and thrust his finger up with violent force.

Starsky snarled with rage and blocked the finger fuck by clenching his butt cheeks. He tried to wrench free, but couldn't get leverage with his cock imprisoned in that big hot hand.

"Wasn't me who changed the rules," Hutch pulled his finger from between Starsky's thighs and tapped it against Starsky's mouth. Defiant, Starsky didn't open up. "You kept me on a leash for years, Davey. You said no to me over and over, and I obeyed. Now, it's your turn. I saved you from them so I could have you for myself."

"And now you're handin' me over like a Christmas present."

That seemed to take the fight right out of Hutch.

"It's not what I want either..." Hutch loosened his grip and unbuckled the cock harness with a narrow-eyed glare. Releasing Starsky, Hutch stalked away. When he was at the window, far enough away that Starsky couldn't quite hear him, he mumbled something as he stared out at the parking lot that served as their view. He suddenly looked alone and vulnerable, silhouetted against the stark blue sky. The sight drained the rampant sex right out of Starsky, leaving him dizzy and empty. He had to protect his partner; it was elemental to his life's code. Had to keep Hutch safe because he didn't have anyone else. And the truth was...he didn't want anyone else.

"What did you say?" Starsky asked irritably. "And get away from the window. Don't know who could be watching."

Hutch looked up as if surprised by Starsky's concern, but he took two steps forward before sitting wearily on a bar stool. "This whole thing scares me."

"You have no right to be scared." Starsky shoved it back in his face. "No right to any of this, but we gotta deal with what we got. You took control from the start, Hutch, so keep it, dammit! Keep that sharp edge that turned the Brit into a fawning whore, and use it to take away Dunfey's power and strangle the CEC. Otherwise we got nothing."

His body vibrated like a car engine pushed to the maximum, about to blow a gasket. He was too fucking tired to submit anymore. The council meeting was looming like a storm cloud on their horizon, and they had to walk straight into the maelstrom that could get them both killed or worse. Starsky didn't care about living if he had to be a slave. He would die to let Hutch live, though. In spite of everything, he realized he still loved his partner.

"I'm doing this for you," Starsky said tiredly, "nobody else."

"I don't..." Hutch paused as if reluctant to admit what he was about to say.

"Say it!"

"I don't deserve what you give me."

"Yeah, you don't." There was the strangest pricking behind his eyes, but Starsky ignored it, rubbing the back of his head where he'd hit the wall. "Now get on your hands and knees or I walk away. Last chance."

Hutch stood, one hand braced against the bar between the living room and kitchen, as immobile as granite. Starsky gave him four beats -- that was it, no reprieves. If Hutch didn't submit, he was out. This would never work. He was too tired and too demoralized with all the slave shit. He loved Hutch so much, but right then he despised him.

"Down, asshole." Starsky surged forward, shoving his partner, toppling Hutch from his stance. "You like the ring in my dick so much, take it!"

Hutch twisted away, body hard and slick with sweat. His height gave him a slight advantage, but Starsky had a savage need for retaliation. He straddled Hutch, wrapping his strong thighs around Hutch's hips and trying to thrust while holding on at the same time.

Hutch slammed one shoulder against the wall to unseat his rider and strode into the bedroom, one long finger held up, a stop sign Starsky barely acknowledged. "Starsk!"

That came through loud and clear. Starsky halted in his tracks, panting, breath searing his lungs.

"You didn't give me enough time."

"How much is enough?" Starsky shot back, needing to attack, to brutalize. He'd dropped back in evolution, back to Neanderthal man.

"I gave you years," Hutch said.

"So time's up, golden boy."

"I'll do it," Hutch said simply.

For a moment, Starsky paused, stunned.

"We need lube," Hutch said. "Can't do it dry." Hutch waved a hand at his carryall as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

But Starsky could see Hutch's fear now even more than when he'd confessed in front of the window. He could feel it, smell it in the air. Maybe he had regressed to a more primitive state. Starsky could almost taste Hutch's nervousness, and wanted to feel that quiver of fear when he forced his ringed cock into Hutch's tight hole.

"You know what to do, then do it," Starsky commanded, unsteady and harsh.

Hutch fumbled with his bag, uncoordinated from their battle, and retrieved the lube. He slicked Starsky carefully with the gel, never once looking up at his partner. One long glorious slide from those slippery fingers and Starsky would have promised him anything, but he had to keep his agenda straight. This wasn't for the sheer satisfaction of getting laid; this was more, much more. It was payback.

He expected to feel triumphant when Hutch knelt on the edge of the mattress with his head bowed, but he didn't. There was a curious sense of relief that he wasn't in this alone, that Hutch was still his partner. Partners shouldn't fuck each other over, but they did. So what was this? Retribution, or something less tangible? Something he'd wanted, even needed for years. Acknowledgement of his desires. Reciprocity, perhaps.

Equality.

Bracketing Hutch's pale hips with his hands, Starsky knelt behind him, his cock as hard as a tree trunk. "You ever -- ?"

"No," Hutch said, words practically strangled. He braced himself on stiffened arms, as if offering himself as a sacrifice.

Good.

Starsky didn't relish hurting Hutch, but at the same time, Hutch had to understand. To really comprehend what he had done in the name of lust -- even using the excuse that it would save Starsky's life.

Positioning himself over the target, Starsky closed his eyes. The ring made everything different. What if it didn't fit into Hutch? He'd never done this before. Yet, the memory of Hutch taking him -- easing in with a sweet stretching and then that shock of pain that receded surprisingly quickly -- spurred him on.

He thrust, just hard enough to breach Hutch's defenses. The ring seemed impossibly wide, and Starsky could feel fine tremors running down Hutch's body. He clutched at Hutch's strong back, holding on, not thinking about what he was doing, just doing it. The ring finally popped through, sliding the rest of his cock in almost too fast. Starsky gasped, stunned at the incredible tightness squeezing him.

Hutch cried out, panting. The scent of masculine sweat and sex perfumed the room.

"Oh, damn..." Starsky could barely think past the muscles that held him in a vice. He wanted to move, to thrust deeply into that fantastic space, but Hutch was clenched down too tightly, his body rigid from the invasion.

"Hutch." Starsky breathed out slowly, shifting his pelvis upwards for better depth. "Relax, baby, relax. Take it deep!" He kissed Hutch's smooth skin just above the curve of his buttocks, feeling Hutch breathe in and out, in and out, gradually loosening his constricted muscles. "Hutch?" Starsky repeated. Hutch was usually far more vocal, far more animated when having sex.

"I never knew it felt like this," Hutch ground out.

Starsky had nothing to compare it to, either. The ring had flipped back onto his crown when he'd entered, and now it pressed into his own flesh. The feeling was peculiar, unique. It didn't hurt, except when Hutch's inner walls spasmed; then there were moments of almost-pain and nearly too much sensation. Hutch's body heat conducted through the ring burned the tip of Starsky's hyper-sensitive cock like a match, but the rest of it was so phenomenally intense, it was mind-altering. Whatever reasons Starsky had had when he'd first gone after his partner had melted away with the extraordinary reality of penetrating Hutch. Sex with a woman had never been like this -- so tight, so...different in ways his sex-numbed brain couldn't begin to describe.

Hutch cried out again, but whether it was from pain or pleasure was difficult to tell. He rocked back, driving Starsky more deeply inside him. They found a rhythm, their cries mingling in concert. Starsky imagined the whole mall had to know what they were doing.

Starsky clutched Hutch's smooth back, fingering each vertebrae as if reading words of love written in Braille. He wanted to follow his cock deep inside Hutch, just crawl right into Hutch's skin and be. They were no longer master and slave, just partners. Lovers. Maybe for the first time. It was sublime -- but far too fleeting. Starsky almost mourned his mounting climax because he wanted to remain in that suspended state of oneness with Hutch forever. He held his breath as he came, his entire being vibrating in concert with Hutch's orgasm.

They toppled over together onto the mattress, still connected like links on a chain. Before he fell asleep, Starsky realized he would always be connected to Hutch. Forged steel...an unbreakable bond...like the ring that pierced him.

He woke when he tried to turn over, only to find himself trapped. The crown of his cock, with the ring, was still inside Hutch, and a gentle tug didn't release it.

"Ow, don't!" Hutch protested irritably, reaching back to prevent Starsky from moving. "It's caught!"

"I know." Starsky clenched his teeth, damning everyone involved with the fucking slave system. "Whadda we do about it? Hurts like hell."

"You're telling me." Hutch's voice was muffled by the mattress, but he scooted carefully onto his bent knees, Starsky coming along because he had to. "Lube, idiot."

"Oh, yeah." Starsky cast about on the bed with his left hand, locating the flattened tube. With a few applications of the stuff and some delicate maneuvers, Starsky finally slipped free. Hutch's anus was reddened and swollen, but there didn't seem to be any injury.

"Starsky, you shouldn't have..." Hutch said, touching the ring.

"Well, you should have thought of that a long time ago, buddy!" Starsky jerked away from his partner's hand. His crown was still far more sensitive than it had ever been before his enslavement, and whenever he was erect, the swollen flesh compressed the ring, causing weird sensations that both enhanced sex and distracted him. He was no longer erect, but he still ached.

"I don't mean the sex," Hutch snapped, the brittle, holier-than-thou attitude that flared when he felt stressed was back in full force. "I mean you could get infected. It wasn't exactly in a nice clean place."

Starsky digested that.

Hutch got up, grimacing slightly when he stood, and walked stiffly into the bathroom.

Sitting on the edge of the mattress, Starsky didn't know how he was feeling right now. Had this changed anything? He still had a damned ring proclaiming him a slave. Hutch still owned his chit. They still had less than -- what? He looked over at the calendar advertising "Best Bar in Town, Raoul's Pits" -- two days before the council meeting. Where he might be part of the entertainment. A chained slave available for a price. A high price, at least...

What about him and Hutch? Where were they? Was it possible to sort out the tangled mess of their friendship? He needed a partner, not a master. He wanted a sex partner, and maybe -- it was possible under the right circumstances -- which these were not -- that he wanted a sexual master. Some of the time.

Now he'd fucked Hutch for the first time. It helped balance the scales, but had it changed their relationship one iota? Would Hutch look at him the same way?

What way did Hutch look at him? As a friend, lover, and partner? Or simply as a chained slave?

"Come here," Hutch said from the door of the bathroom. There was a rumbling gruffness about him that made Starsky think of Dobey. It wasn't until he came close to Hutch that he knew why. Hutch was trying to disguise his discomfort and worry for Starsky under a layer of grouchiness.

Hutch took a washrag and knelt, tenderly washing him clean. He worked silently, soaping and rinsing the pierce hole and the end of Starsky's cock several times over.

"Thank you," Starsky said. Apology and forgiveness in the form of a bath.

"I'd take this out, if I could," Hutch said, and kissed the ring, his thumb glancing over the brand on Starsky's thigh. But he didn't say it never should have been put there in the first place.

"No." Starsky pulled Hutch up. The bite mark on Hutch's chest was an angry red. Starsky kissed the brand he had made, and fitted his teeth into the indentations, biting down.

Arching his neck, Hutch cried out, despair and desire so intermingled they were one and the same.

Starsky rejoiced at the sound. "I need it," he said, referring to the ring. "While I'm undercover."

"I've got your back, partner," Hutch said softly. Blue eyes flicked over him, skimming his body, and came to rest on his face. "Dunfey'll think I beat you."

"Look in the mirror, blondie. I got in some pretty good jabs of my own." Starsky stretched and rotated his neck, cracking the ligaments, the leather collar tight against his throat.

Hutch glanced in the bathroom mirror and touched a shiner on his right cheekbone where Starsky's fist had connected. Starsky could feel the corresponding bruise on his own knuckles. "Yours will be a lot more visible, Godiva," Hutch said dryly. "And you're going to need antibiotics. The piercing could get infected."

"Now you tell me," Starsky threw over his shoulder, standing over the toilet to take a leak.

He could see the results of their fight in the mirror: a tender purplish mark along the curve of his jaw, and a goose egg on his forehead where he'd hit the wall. "Where are you going to find any? Doctors don't treat slaves."

"That was in Nevada, Phoenix should be better." Hutch came up behind him. "Besides, Ariadne gave me a name."

They were so dissimilar, even to the way their hair grew. Starsky's chest hair grew in dark swirls, almost hiding his nipples. Hutch's fair, almost hairless chest looked like milk where he wasn't lightly tanned. Light and Dark. Opposites. Once equal partners, now master and slave.

The kiss Hutch bestowed on the back of Starsky's neck, as if blessing the collar, was too intimate for Starsky. Their closeness was suddenly cloying and oppressive, reinforcing his slavery far more than the collar did. "Give me some space; I want to take a shower."

"Sure." Hutch's blue eyes were hooded, his expression bleak. "I'll call and see if I can find a pharmacy, get something to protect you...from whatever I could have given you."

Standing under the sputtering showerhead, water stinging all the sore places on his body, Starsky pondered Hutch's odd wording.

"...Whatever I could have given you."

Hutch's protection left a lot to be desired. Was slavery better than death? A bullet in the back of the head, just about where Hutch had kissed him? Starsky touched his neck, feeling water tightening the leather collar. The little S charm bumped against his collarbone, and Starsky stilled the motion with one finger, tracing the letter. What did the letter stand for? Starsky or slave?

Could he get past this? This violation? He'd trusted Hutch with his life and where had that gotten him? Enslaved but alive.

Still able to fight. He'd proved that well enough. If he and Hutch had anything left from the shambles of what they had been, then he had to prove that being a slave was not all that was left of David Starsky. A slave might be naked, but he was by no means powerless.

Hutch held Starsky's very life in his hands. If Starsky was ever going to forgive his friend, and trust his master the way he had once trusted his partner, then he had to believe that deep down, Hutch would protect him.

The only way that could happen was if Starsky protected Hutch. They had to move past what had been done and step into a different life, one filled with uncertainties and pain, but with the hope of a resolution. If they succeeded in their part of the Abbey League's plan, there would be a whole new California, a whole new life, and possibly the future abolition of slavery.

He had no illusions. He was not the lynchpin of the plan. Bay City could become a democracy once more without Starsky's contribution, but by supporting Hutch and playing his part in the strategy, he increased the possibility of a positive outcome.

Drying off, Starsky examined himself. The brand was raw and peeling, too tender to tolerate much touching. He smeared cooling ointment over the wound. His cock was sore on the end, but mostly from use and not because of the piercing, which was healing well.

"You okay?" Hutch asked tonelessly, leaning against the door of the bathroom. He had gotten dressed in a green t-shirt and khaki slacks.

"I'll live." Starsky pulled on his Army insignia jeans, pretending that didn't hurt, and looked around for a shirt. He had so few clothes to call his own anymore, and nothing was clean.

"There's a blue one in the box over there." Hutch pointed. "You used to wear it..."

The soft cotton flannel was as familiar as pulling out a faded photograph from years earlier. A happier time when politics hadn't mired them in a quicksand of half-truths and betrayals. "Hutch..." Starsky began, working the buttons into the holes.

"Huggy's making you some breakfast. He also called the doctor Ariadne told me about. A freelance doctor who...will check you out." Hutch walked to the bathroom and closed the door, locking himself in. Self exile.

Starsky stared at the drab white door for a long time, thinking. There was so much to say, so much to get through, he couldn't even figure out where to begin. The remnants of his hangover didn't help. He was light-headed, dizzy, and drained from an overload of emotional extremes. It was almost eleven a.m., and he still hadn't eaten anything other than a handful of grapes while on his knees in Dunfey's car.

Huggy showed up while Hutch was still showering and he did have pancakes on a plate.

Starsky stood by the breakfast bar, staring at the plate in resignation. He forced himself to eat them since Huggy had gone to so much trouble, but skipped the fake maple syrup. He munched on a slice of bacon while listening for the end of Hutch's shower.

"I never knew there could be earthquakes inside an apartment," Huggy said, surveying the wreckage left over from their brawl. Clothes were scattered across the floor, the leash was hanging off the bar, and the leather cock harness lay in the middle of the room. "You redecorating or going for the night-after-a-kegger-frat-boy look?"

"Need to do some laundry," Starsky said instead of explaining. "Don't know where the Laundromat is."

"Mrs. Jefferson and her ladies will do it. In the fountain downstairs." Huggy nudged Starsky's arm when he pushed the plate away with food still on it. "You better finish that, or you're gonna be skinnier than me."

"Hug," Starsky said, and heard the bathroom door open.

Hutch emerged, once again dressed in the green shirt and slacks. With his wet hair plastered to his head, he seemed about twelve-years-old.

Starsky spread butter on another pancake, concentrating on covering the entire surface to avoid looking at Hutch. The first bite was way too buttery and he had to wipe some off to take a second bite.

"You look like something the cat dragged in outta the rain," Huggy said to Hutch. "You want a couple of the Bear's fa-mous griddle cakes?"

"Coffee would be great," Hutch muttered, sitting gingerly on the floor about as far from Starsky as possible without leaving the living room.

Huggy poured coffee from a carafe into three cups and passed one over to him.

Starsky flicked a look at his partner's bare feet, toes curled into the carpet, and wanted to do something to comfort him. Did Hutch's ass feel like it had been reamed out with a wine bottle opener? Did he feel weird new sensations every time he moved or clenched his butt? Exactly what Starsky had been feeling since Fortun first shoved a rubber butt plug inside him.

Clearing his throat, Starsky directed his conversation at Huggy, even though he knew Hutch could hear him. "Huggy, you ever get a good look at Jack Dunfey?"

"He doesn't associate with the common bartender." Huggy splayed his long fingers across his chest, covering the green, black, and yellow stripes of his shirt. "Any parlays between me and him go through his man Jerry."

"Kuyt." Starsky nodded. The pancakes had filled him up faster than he expected. He put the plate down.

"But rumor has it that Captain America over there could pass for his son." Huggy raised a critical eyebrow, assessing Hutch's hair, which was drying in cowlicks worthy of Dennis the Menace. "In another life maybe."

His breath stuck in his throat, Starsky had to struggle to inhale. Dunfey looked like Hutch?

Couldn't be.

Couldn't be the same man, but the voice was so familiar. Too familiar.

"He did look like he could be in my father's family, now that you mention it," Hutch said. He bunched his toes in the carpet, then crossed one leg over the other. "You going to eat that other piece of bacon, Starsk?"

Strange how six letters of his name could be pronounced so differently depending on mood and tone. That was an olive branch and a mea culpa all mixed up in one sentence.

"Go ahead, finish off the pancakes, too." Starsky handed the plate across the space dividing them. His fingers brushed Hutch's outstretched hand.

"Too much butter for me," Hutch said, his eyes soft again. He ate the bacon in two bites, washing it down with coffee. "Thanks for the meal, Hug. Did you get a line on the things I asked for?"

"Well, now that you two white boys shook hands and made up, my job is done." Huggy grinned, flipping a silk bomber pilot scarf around his neck like the hero in a WWI movie and sauntering to the door. "Never let it be said that the Bear doesn't come through. A Dr. Darkfeather will grace you with her presence in the next hour while I go hunt up some of the more unusual items on Hutch's grocery list." He paused, licking a finger as if testing the air. "Yep, the hurricane's died down in here -- won't have to give out storm warnings to the rest of the floor. Hutch, Manetti sent word that he'll be 'round later to talk."

"Yeah, thanks, Huggy." Hutch got up, padding barefoot across the room to boot up the computer. As usual, the thing groaned and hummed like an old man complaining of arthritis.

"Don't those electronic messages usually come about two-thirty or so?" Starsky asked.

"Just..." Hutch shrugged, propping one knee against the wall. There still was no chair for the computer table. "Just checking."

The air was heavy in the apartment. Starsky couldn't remember a time when things were this awkward between them. They'd always been able to talk about anything. Even if they'd been together all day long in the Torino following up leads or trailing suspects, there was still something to talk about later over pizza and beer. Maybe that was the problem; pancakes and coffee weren't their usual fare.

"You think there are any good burrito joints in this town?" Starsky began piling the dirty clothes in one corner, tidying up the place.

"Starsky, Arizona shares a border with Mexico; I should think so." Hutch was still bent over the computer, but Starsky could hear an exasperated smile in his voice.

"Near here? 'Cause I haven't had any green chili burritos with extra cheese and salsa since we went to Juanita's last -- " It had barely been three weeks ago when he'd parked the car under the overhang of Juanita's whitewashed stucco restaurant and had Mexican beer with Hutch while waiting for orders from Roschenzky at headquarters. Three weeks earlier, he'd been free. Two weeks ago, he'd lain in Hutch's brass bed with nothing on and sucked his partner dry before curling against his long body all Sunday afternoon, content enough except for the nagging feeling that Hutch's attention wasn't entirely on what they were doing.

Two days after that, he'd been thrown into a horse trailer.

"Uh..." Starsky cleared his throat. "Last month. When we went to Juanita's."

"Will you take a rain check?" Hutch turned his head and everything fell into place. Whatever had shifted off kilter was back in alignment. "I have Abbey League duties this afternoon, and later we'll need more...practice."

"Why?" Starsky blurted, smacking the counter. "Because you like having me butt up?"

Hutch slammed his hand down hard enough to make the computer wobble on the unstable desk. "Because I want to believe that something good will come out of all this crap and you and I can -- " He slugged the wall, bracing his arm against the window frame to hold himself up. "That maybe someday I won't be your master..."

"Just my lover?" Starsky said harshly. "Or are you gonna get so used to the power that you -- "

"Starsky," Hutch snapped, then stopped abruptly, as they both suddenly became aware of someone knocking on the door. They'd been loud enough to be heard in the hallway. He looked at Starsky, pain evident in his pale eyes and shrugged.

"I'll answer the door," Starsky said. He touched his shirt and blue jeans to assure himself that he was sufficiently covered to greet an unknown guest and swung the door open.

A woman with hair the true blue black of a Native American waited, her face impassive. She'd obviously heard them, but wasn't about to express an opinion.

"Doctor..." Starsky couldn't remember her name.

"Darkfeather," she supplied, stepping inside. She had a round, nut-brown face, unlined but ageless and could have been anywhere from twenty-five to forty-five years old. Her hair hung in a braid down her back, as thick as a small child's arm and perfectly straight, reaching to the tops of her thighs. "I'm supposed to examine David Starsky?"

"That's him," Hutch said quietly, moving away from the computer. "I've got a meeting. I'll be back later." He left without a backward glance.

The doctor raised one smoothly arched eyebrow in what Starsky had always thought of as a ‘Spock expression' and set the bag she carried on the bar. "Huggy Bear says you need antibiotics."

"Hutch thinks so," Starsky agreed, feeling the loss of Hutch as if someone had ripped duct tape off his skin. Was he going to have to drop his pants for this woman? Reveal his secret again? Couldn't there be one moment of the day when his piercing wasn't on public display?

"I take it you're an escaped slave?" She paid little attention to him, pulling a stethoscope and other medical supplies out of the bag, including a sheathed needle attached to a syringe. The needle was long; he grimaced.

"What, it's written on my forehead?" He didn't want this attention. It would have felt more normal to accompany Hutch to meet Manetti, the way they would have before, detective partners who rarely separated.

"No." She hooked the stethoscope into her ears.

He was fascinated to notice that she had many tiny gold hoops in her ears, starting at the lobe curving up to the arch. Even the fleshy protrusion in the middle was pierced, totaling seven rings in each ear. He thought he'd seen everything pierced, but that was a first.

"I'm not the first doctor a rich white man calls for medical attention," Darkfeather said. "Most of my patients are slaves."

"Hutch is..." Starsky unbuttoned his shirt to give her access to his chest. "My master." It hurt to say the words aloud. He thought he'd accepted his position but it kept slapping him in the face. Would it ever get easier?

"Oh." Those black eyebrows rose again, but she bent to listen to his heart and lungs, concentrating for a moment. "He cares for you deeply, then."

Starsky wanted to believe that, but it was hard to acknowledge. "What makes you say that?"

"New Mex-Arizona laws may give lip service to prohibiting the sale and possession of slaves." Darkfeather looped the stethoscope around her neck and carefully felt the lymph nodes in Starsky's jaw. Lightly skimming the edge of the leather collar around his neck, her fingers poked gently behind his ears. "But it's a lie. And most who arrive here with their contraband human cargo came from citystates that have passed laws against medical care for slaves. So few even consider the health of a single slave; there's always another naked body when the last one keels over." She pressed both thumbs between his eyes. "Does that hurt?"

"No."

"Nothing is swollen, you don't have a temperature -- at least not that I can determine without using a thermometer -- and your lungs are clear." She crossed her arms, giving him a "tell-me-the-truth" look. "Why does this Master Hutch, who left so quickly he didn't even give me any instructions, think you need antibiotics?"

"I -- uh -- was pierced recently."

"Oh, a penile piercing." She gestured with one blunt-fingered hand at his zipper, allowing him to expose himself. He almost thanked her for that small courtesy. Anyone else would have just yanked down a slave's pants, reprimanding him for being dressed in a free citizen's presence. "Frequently done in unsanitary conditions by barbaric men."

"You don't exactly hide your feelings, do you?" Starsky grinned at her, and was surprised to see a crack in her impassive expression. Those jet black eyes twinkled for a moment, and her mouth twitched as if repressing a smile. He felt more at ease and lowered his pants, not quite able to stop a hiss of pain when the fabric scraped over his sensitive cock.

"What would be the point in hiding them?" She squatted to examine him thoroughly. "Slavery is a deplorable situation perpetrated by weak men who only think with their gonads." Her hand was cool and professional, rolling his scrotum between her fingers before probing the ring at the end of his cock.

Starsky clenched his fists, fighting the urge to pull away and protect what he had so recently abused. Hutch had been right. He'd put the healing wound into a cesspool of bacteria and the chance of getting infected was high. He'd never had so many people touch his genitals in such a short time. It hammered home how little he possessed any longer. No part of his body was his own; slaves had no right to resist.

Slaves had no right to force themselves on their masters, but I did.

So what did that make him? What had it proved?

Pain flared from his penis to his breastbone when Darkfeather moved the ring back and forth and then pushed the skin away from the healing opening to peer at his piss hole. Starsky panted, the wound too sensitive to be ignored.

"Well, you're bruised and slightly swollen at the tip, but I don't see any signs of obvious infection." Darkfeather straightened, taking a small wrapped square and ripping it open to wipe her hands. She used another to cleanse his cock, which stung just enough to make his eyes water. "Whoever pierced you did a good job. Didn't damage the urethra so you won't dribble all the time."

"That can happen?" Starsky leaned against the bar, shaky after her inspection. He didn't want to think about it.

"You're lucky." She selected a small vial filled with white powder from her bag, holding it loosely in her hand. "Many slaves are treated so poorly when they're first taken that they don't survive the training, much less a master who doesn't give a shit for their upkeep."

"Hutch isn't like that," Starsky said more sharply than he'd intended. She wasn't talking about anyone in particular and didn't know his partner from Adam. The need to defend Hutch was deeply ingrained.

"Apparently not, since he's asking for prophylactic drugs."

Starsky had an instant knee-jerk reaction, his whole body remembering the Phenine even though he'd never seen it injected in those first terrifying days when he'd been constantly blindfolded and restrained.

"So again I ask, why does he think you need antibiotics?" Darkfeather picked up a second vial labeled water and a syringe. "‘Cause I get these things off the black market, which makes them expensive. Most owners rarely give them to a slave unless there is a very good reason."

"Is that Phenine?"

"Phenine is a painkiller and a poor one at that," she answered with mild annoyance. "This is Ampicillin."

"Hutch thinks I could be infected -- " Starsky touched the base of his penis, which he had buried deep in Hutch's ass. "Because we had sex this morning."

"And you were on top?" Darkfeather specified, her implacable calm back in place.

Starsky nodded stiffly. "Can I zip up my jeans now?"

"Not until I give you the injection." She added some water into a vial of white powder and shook the contents until it had dissolved. Inserting the long needle with expertise, Darkfeather drew off a small amount and flicked bubbles out of the syringe. "Are you allergic to Penicillin?"

"No." He let out the breath he hadn't consciously been holding.

"Then bend over; this goes in the tush." That rare smile resurfaced briefly, softening the sharp lines of her high cheek-boned face. She aimed the needle when he presented his left hip and pushed the plunger home.

Starsky nearly bit his tongue when the needle pierced deeply; the drug burned as it entered the thick muscle of his buttocks.

"Sorry about the horse needle." Darkfeather taped a Band-Aid over the tiny mark. "I get those off the black market, too. Regular ones are only available to those doctors who abide by the law."

She's almost as restrained as I am.

"I've had worse," Starsky rubbed his hip. "What do I owe you?"

"Don't worry about that; Huggy paid me already." She packed her bag again, practical and efficient. "Can I make a personal comment?"

"You've held my nuts in your hand; can't get more personal than that." He fastened his jeans, shifting minutely to alleviate the chaffing over his groin.

"You don't seem like a slave." Darkfeather looked him straight in the eye with no interest in sex or in lording her free status over him. "Even brand new ones are more cowed than you -- more ashamed."

"It ain't what I thought it would be," Starsky said obliquely, not explaining what he meant. "But it's what I should have expected, given the circumstances."

Darkfeather took out a small sheet of paper and Starsky expected her to write out a prescription to be filled at some corner drugstore. But then again, there were no pharmacies that would cater to slaves. Instead, she counted out three white tablets into a fold of the paper and twisted it around the pills. "This is all I can give you -- slightly different antibiotic, but effective. Take them every twelve hours, starting in the morning."

She had gone above and beyond what he'd anticipated. He'd expected to be treated like a slave, like he had in Luna. It was a galling realization that hurt more than the injection.

"I have a name..." She glanced down at his groin and then back to his face, frowning. "A woman who discovered how to remove the new rings with a laser that doesn't damage the surrounding tissue."

His heart thundering in his ears, Starsky almost grabbed her hand. There was a way out!

"It's successful?" he asked as casually as he could.

"She's one of the few who've managed, from what I've heard." Darkfeather nodded, her many gold earrings jingling softly against each other. "Phoebe."

"Phoebe," he repeated. "Last name? Where does she live?"

"That I don't know. In some circles, it's dangerous enough just knowing that much." Darkfeather opened the door, her long braid sweeping the backs of her jeans as she walked.

Starsky almost demanded that she give him everything she knew, but maybe that's all there was.

A name.

Hope.

"Give me a call if you feel feverish or your penis becomes hot and swollen." She touched the front of his pants. "Don't put that where it shouldn't go, David Starsky."

He felt like he'd been kicked in the gut.

Spock's brow made a repeat performance. "You're rebellious. You're the first man I've met who may actually survive slavery without self-destructing."

Starsky didn't know what to say. "Hutch wouldn't let me," he said finally. "Self-destruct."

"You wouldn't let yourself." Darkfeather regarded him again, as if analyzing not only his outward appearance but his character as well. She seemed satisfied. "I don't know your Hutch, but from what I saw, he seemed like the one who's embarrassed. Listen to yourself first, Hutch second."

She left, pulling the door shut behind her.

"That's not how it works," Starsky murmured, and knelt on the floor, lowering his head to the carpet, too tired to stand up.

"Your Hutch," she'd said.

"My Hutch," Starsky whispered. He'd taken Hutch like some john off the street interested in rough, brutal sex. And it had felt good, satisfying. So what did that make him? What had it proved? That he was a rebellious slave, or Hutch was a weak master?

Or that they were two sides of the moon, the dark side and the light side, each vying for a chance to show their faces, but equally culpable in all things. Equals. Partners.

Not master and slave.

He could live with that.

***

Hutch returned several hours later with, of all things, burritos, and an enigmatic expression that clearly said don't ask questions.

"Shredded beef and beans," Hutch identified the food, handing over the bag.

Starsky could have figured that out simply from the smell. Heavenly. Like home.

"Any beer?" He wanted to go home, back to Bay City, back to the life he'd taken for granted even after corruption ate the foundation of goodness and truth. If he sucked enough cocks, let the bastards ream him from the inside out, could he go back and find a place? A place where Hutch was by his side and they were comfortable and whole? Where there was a chance for freedom with slavery banished like a bad dream?

"Nope." Hutch sat heavily on a barstool. "I told you we needed more practice."

"And I told you I didn't want any more!" Starsky retorted.

"Eat," Hutch ordered.

Starsky had the petulant urge not to, just because Hutch was being so high-handed. But the aroma was more than he could resist, and he settled on the floor to sample the first tortilla wrapped around a spicy mixture of beans and meat. The chilies didn't clear out his sinuses the way Juanita's used to, but they were sharp enough to burn the roof of his mouth. Beer would have gone down perfectly, but all he found when he prowled in the kitchen was water.

"How was the doctor?" Hutch asked, taking a tentative bite of his own burrito.

"A good woman," Starsky said shortly after downing a glass of water. "She gave me a shot in the rear. There ain't no place on my body that hasn't been poked, smacked, or bruised."

"At least you won't get infected."

"No, hell, that would ruin everything if I couldn't get Dunfey and his committee off, huh?" Starsky pressed his tongue against the roof of his mouth, the burn from the chilies familiar and painful at the same time.

Hutch looked at him, eyes so bleak and devoid of life that Starsky wanted to take back what he had just said, to reassure his lover that everything would be all right. Except he didn't believe that it would.

Starsky decided to change the topic. "So what'd you do with all your free time?"

"We had to work out strategies, prepare for anything that could go wrong," Hutch explained. "You've been undercover before. You know how those planning sessions can go."

"Manetti couldn't say his piece in front of a slave, huh?"

"Shut up!"

Taking in a deep breath, Starsky nodded, very aware he'd been baiting Hutch.

"Starsk," Hutch sighed, his stress pushing through the consonants and vowels. "It's not to keep you out of the loop, it's to protect the entire League. The fewer people who know the whole operation, the better. To prevent another massacre like in Oregon."

"Did you get everything worked out?" he asked, choosing his words more carefully.

"I hope so, for your sake," Hutch whispered, pale. He picked at the tortilla wrapper, ripping off pieces and leaving them on the bar.

"For all our sakes." Starsky glanced at his wrist, naked without his watch and for once uncuffed. Strange that Hutch had kept the collar on him all day, but never placed those tight bands of leather around his wrists and ankles. "How much time do we have?"

"Two days. Dunfey's sending a car for us at nine a.m. Friday morning." Hutch looked across the bar at Starsky, his whole demeanor changing as if he'd come to a decision. "You're mine, Starsk. You remember that? No matter what happens, no matter what anyone does, I will not abandon you."

Starsky was caught in the pull of his lover's eyes, sucked in, enveloped. He was owned, adored, and desired, subjugated against his will, and yet promised a freedom most slaves weren't allowed. It was confusing as hell and exactly right. "I came back to you once, Hutch. I'd come back ten thousand times if I had to."

Hutch put out his hand palm up and Starsky took the offering, holding on tightly. They were all they had. If he didn't trust Hutch, he had nothing left.

***

"What it is, gentlemen?" Huggy greeted them the following morning, loaded down with an assortment of sacks and boxes.

Coming out of the bedroom, Starsky was glad he'd gotten dressed before Huggy's arrival. He and Hutch had spent the evening with more slave practice, with Hutch drilling into him the importance of maintaining strict positioning and stiff control no matter what was happening around him or to him. Exhausted, Starsky had fallen asleep naked, every muscle aching and his hands still clipped together behind him. He'd woken in the morning to find Hutch removing the bands on his arms and legs, kissing the red marks left behind. It almost made up for sleeping restrained. Starsky wouldn't have minded letting the wonderful treatment continue, but Huggy had banged on their door a half hour ago to tell them he'd be bringing breakfast.

"I see there's been some improvement in the housekeeping since I was here last." Huggy set a bag of bagels on the bar, producing cream cheese and fruit to accompany them.

"Starsky cleaned up yesterday." Hutch favored his back as he got up from the floor where he'd been responding to some computer correspondence. The messages had been sent from another Abbeyite, Michael Warren, the VP/CEO under Cosgrove, who was one of Ariadne's secret associates. "Did you find everything?"

"You will be amazed at the...shall we say, sexual accoutrement," Huggy gave the word a fanciful French pronunciation, "that I have procured for you, oh Master Hutch."

"Hey." Starsky put up his fists in a mock challenge, comfortable enough with his two friends to make light of his status. "He's my master, bud."

"Then Ah shoulda said massah," Huggy drawled in a thick Southern accent. "Here's your morning repast, Starsk." He tossed something over and Starsky caught it in mid air. He smiled appreciatively. Poppy seed, with the right texture for a New York bagel.

"Bring that over here." Hutch held out his hand, waiting until Starsky broke the bagel in half to share. Hutch winked, took one bite and gave the rest back. "I prefer sesame seeds," he said with a haughty lift of one eyebrow.

Starsky laughed, tossing the morsel at him.

Huggy lugged over a large duffle bag, dumping it at Hutch's feet before getting a bagel for himself.

Feeling a little unnerved because he suspected that whatever Huggy brought was for him, Starsky watched intently as Hutch unzipped the bag. Inside was a knot of leather straps and other oddities.

It wasn't until Hutch arranged the straps on the floor that Starsky realized what they were. He had an immediate visceral response at the sight of a full body harness bristling with metal rings that could be used to restrain him in any number of ways. Icy sweat broke out down his spine. It reminded him too much of the rack and the bindings Neville and Fortun had used, too much like the nightmares he still had of those first nights confined to the welcoming frame, unable to move a muscle.

No, God, no.

Silence roared in his ears, blotting out the conversation Hutch and Huggy were having about the bondage wear's attributes. Starsky set his jaw.

Hutch vowed never to abandon me.

"Starsk?"

That broke through his fear. Starsky stared at his master, forcing himself to breathe slowly and relax.

"This is for you -- to keep you safe," Hutch said firmly. "Take off your clothes."

He didn't expect to hear that command with Huggy still in the room. While Huggy had seen his piercing peeking through the holey jeans, he hadn't witnessed Starsky's full submission. Having to humiliate himself in front of his oldest friend, the man who had supported him when no one else would, violated him on a whole different level.

Starsky wanted to refuse, cutting his eyes over to Huggy, but Hutch's voice was like steel wrapping around his body, stilling his tongue.

"Do as I say, Davey. This is slave practice, and what I say goes, or I will punish you just as I did back at Luna." Hutch stood. He was wearing the high-heeled cowboy boots and Starsky had never put on shoes after his morning shower. With the extra two inches from the boots, Hutch towered over him, giving off a hard, dominating aura that would have brought any drug dealing punk on the streets to their knees.

"Listen, I'm not really into -- " Huggy started.

"Stay." Hutch raised one long finger, his blue eyes blazing. Huggy didn't move, but the muscles in his jaw twitched angrily. "Starsky is my slave. If he can't do this in front of a friend, he'll never be able to in front of Dunfey's whole frigging council."

Remembering Kuyt's raw, purulent lust, Starsky took a ragged breath. Hutch was right. It shouldn't matter who saw him nude, or saw him kneel and accept whatever his master dished out. Except that it did. Was it so strange to want to preserve some tiny vestige of his old self? He dropped his gaze to the floor and knelt, a flush of embarrassment heating his face. His fingers trembled so much he could barely manage the buttons on his shirt.

Once the shirt was off, Hutch pulled Starsky's arms up, snapping new leather bands around his back that felt remarkably like his old familiar gun holster. The tightness across his shoulders was almost soothing, a reminder of his life as a detective, and he relaxed slightly as Hutch continued to buckle and fasten the many straps over Starsky's upper body.

"Stand up; take off your jeans," Hutch whispered, his voice now a seductive coaxing, full of promised sex.

So much for so little.

What you do to me, Hutch.

Starsky obeyed because he couldn't possibly do anything else. His body was no longer his own. He belonged to his master. He forgot everything else but the feeling of Hutch's hands on him, Hutch's breath puffing against his skin, Hutch's eyes boring into him, looking past the humiliation and debasement and filling him with something powerful, a sense that he could play a vital part in bringing Dunfey down, maybe even the whole system. Starsky didn't make a sound, as if Hutch had already gagged him, and Hutch never spoke, but the communication was there, down deep, part of their very make-up. They didn't have to say the words; he heard them loud and clear.

Leather crisscrossed his chest, stretching from one shoulder down to his groin, around one muscled thigh, and then up to the other shoulder and back down again to the other leg. The bands were heavier and thicker across his hipbones, almost rigid. Hutch snapped two small padlocks onto the buckles snug up against the flat of Starsky's inner thighs. He attached a narrower, more flexible Y-shaped strap to the hard leather bracketing Starsky's buttocks, centering his anus in the opening of the Y and pulling the lower section around, tight on the perineum and up to the genitals where it snapped into place on a slim leather cock ring. A series of smaller bands girded his cock at regular intervals all the way from the crown to the tip. Lastly, Hutch locked a broad piece of leather to the back of Starsky's collar and brought it down to the heavy bands above his ass. Starsky was completely wrapped in restricting belts of shiny black leather.

Hutch looked him up and down with a remote expression. Starsky could see himself reflected in his master's eyes. Even tiny, his naked flesh glowed pale in contrast to the straps.

"Where'd you leave the wrist bands?" Hutch's voice was a raw scrape like sandpaper on Starsky's psyche.

He was flayed open and vulnerable to whatever his master requested. Still barely able to speak, Starsky pointed to the bedroom, very aware of Huggy's scrutiny of the leather harness.

"I just gave Marv the dimensions Hutch wrote out -- didn't have a clue how it'd look."

"It's tight." Starsky found his voice when Hutch left the room, irritated by Huggy's interest. The bands were taut and yet flexible. He bent forward, feeling the pull of the wide band attached to his collar. With his hands braced on his knees, he almost strangled and had to straighten to breathe. The harness would hamper some movement, but he could still fight to save their lives, and get Hutch to safety.

"He did a remarkable job." Hutch returned with the four cuffs for Starsky's ankles and wrists and buckled them on without fanfare. "This establishes without a doubt that Starsky is my property." He hooked the round silver chit denoting his ownership onto a ‘D' ring centered between Starsky's nipples where the straps crossed. "There's a reason that the leather is so thick here." His fingers skated along the slick surface of the yoke girding Starsky's pelvis, delving into a tiny opening that was impossible to see without knowing where it would be, hidden in the intricate stitching. "You have the knife, Huggy?"

"Knife?" Starsky repeated, suddenly understanding. The harness wasn't just set dressing; it was a holster.

"Wicked little thing." Huggy grinned fiendishly, displaying the five-inch blade over the back of his wrist like a sommelier offering the finest of wines. "Made specifically for gutting a certain pig." The pommel on the knife was blunt, not even half the length of the blade, designed to disappear into the pattern of the harness and lie hidden under the edge of a buckle. There was an ornate H worked into the leather grip, just another reminder of who owned the slave wearing the handmade harness.

"Or a turkey," Starsky muttered, both fascinated and fearful when Hutch slotted the sharp blade into the sheath. He didn't like having a knife so close to his jewels, but it was comforting to know he had something to defend himself with. The handle might be too short to grasp tightly, but the knife was a cunning piece of craftsmanship. "Dunfey's the main target," he said.

"The only target," Hutch answered grimly, straightening with one hand on his back. "You won't get a second chance. Just having that weapon on you is punishable by death, but I couldn't let you go in there..."

"I know." Starsky curled his fingers under the edge of the flat hilt, drawing out the sinister little blade. It was tricky to hold because there was no real grip to close his hand over, but it was still a weapon, and a very sharp one.

"There's another for the back," Huggy said, giving Hutch the second knife. "For whichever way your hands are -- " He stopped, looking askance, as if realizing how dangerous the situation was, and pursed his lips. "Starsk, you never been one to step down from a fight, but you do what you gotta do and keep a low profile, you dig?"

"You don't like my profile?" Starsky joked, turning to display his nose and chin to hide the lump in his throat. Damn, if his own friends were this worried, should he be terrified? He had been, but now, with every step of preparation, his brain seemed to be disconnecting from his physical being, taking the old Starsky some place deep in his soul where there was a semblance of safety. He felt like he was floating, anchored only by the leather bisecting his body, numb to what might happen. This was scarier than the idea of Dunfey raping him. What if he got lost in his head? The cops in Bay City often referred to submissive slaves who followed their masters anywhere as ‘slave drunk,' no longer a functioning person, but simply a used husk. This would not -- could not -- happen to him.

"Like your profile just fine," Huggy was saying when Starsky forced himself to focus on the conversation. "Your person-ality could use some work though, bro."

"Least I dress well," Starsky retorted with as much normalcy as he could muster.

"Hey." Hutch's hand was hot against Starsky's suddenly chilly flesh. "I designed the couture; you're just the coat hanger."

Huggy guffawed without smiling. "I got my eyes on the streets, and Dunfey in my sights. Keep me in the loop."

"Always," Starsky promised, pretending that Hutch's hand wasn't the only thing keeping him upright.

Waving his long fingers gracefully, Huggy swung the door shut behind him. Starsky had an overwhelming jolt of panic. So much for being slave drunk and lost in his head. He inhaled heavily, the press of the bands constricting his breath so that he was acutely aware of them.

"Makes it too real, huh?" Hutch pressed his fingers hard into Starsky's buttocks, slotting the second knife into the back sheath. His fingers pinched, sending a spiky little pain up Starsky's spine.

"Hutch." Starsky turned too quickly, Hutch's fingernails raked his skin when he moved, but he didn't care. Only that Hutch's hands were touching him, igniting him, banishing the frightening nothingness of slave drunk. "Hutch, give me something right now to hang onto."

"Oh, yeah." Hutch encircled him with strong arms, tighter than the leather bands, supporting and capturing him. He kissed him purely, not with the demanding, claiming kiss of a master, but the kiss of a lover, one Starsky had missed in the last year. With their bodies pressed together, skin to skin, Hutch still managed to slide one hand between them to unzip his slacks.

Starsky could feel the scratch of Hutch's fingers against his belly and then the heat of Hutch's cock jutting insistently between his thighs, cajoling his own dick to come out and play. His erection bounced against a velvety hardness, a vibrant, pulsing pleasure that was suddenly very enticing. He had to move, to rub against the wonderful length of Hutch, every inch of his skin quivering with need. Hutch caught his breath, gasping and moaning, winding his fingers around the straps binding Starsky's chest, hanging on. His lips caught Starsky's again, their breath buffeting, puffing, and hitching as arousal mounted.

Starsky hooked an ankle around Hutch's leg, the rough fabric of his slacks an irritant on his skin, but it was minor compared to the absolute bliss when Hutch's thickness stroked against his. The sense of pain and immense pressure built slowly but undeniably until Starsky couldn't ignore the bands confining his cock. He'd explode if his erection got any bigger, and the more he focused on the ache, the worse it got.

"Hutch, take it off!" he hissed, hands so tangled in his lover's long hair that he wasn't sure how to unclench his fists to separate them. "On my...!"

Hutch came, hips humping aggressively against Starsky's inflamed cock. Starsky tried to pull away, his gonads too sensitive for the slightest pressure, but Hutch was lost in the haze of orgasm. He yelled, gripping the body harness with both hands, splattering Starsky with his seed.

Starsky was close to the edge in spite of the fierce pain that made his cock feel like a finger caught in a closed door, but he couldn't jump off into oblivion. "Hutch..."

They clung to each other, barely standing, breathing raggedly, covered in sweat and cum. Starsky longed to sink to the floor, but he was afraid to move with his imprisoned cock throbbing in time to his racing heart.

"Champion," Hutch whispered, keeping one hand clamped around the strap snug against Starsky's spine. "You're a champion." He dug into his pocket to find a key and awkwardly fit it into the lock that hung down under Starsky's trapped balls.

Like a detonated bomb, Starsky climaxed violently the moment his cock was freed, falling against Hutch with a force that sent them both to the floor. They lay sprawled together, Starsky pillowed on Hutch's chest and content to be there. He didn't even protest the way Hutch caressed his cock, milking the last of his semen from its pierced end. It hurt and didn't, all at the same time; Starsky wanted to say stop but couldn't -- not to his master, and not to Hutch.

"How long until?" Starsky asked, closing his eyes, only allowing himself to feel the pain/pleasure of Hutch's hands on him. His cock was flaccid now, but still sore.

"One day -- exactly," Hutch said into his ear. "We should clean up; make sure everything is in place before we go under."

"Take this damned thing off," Starsky demanded, suddenly restless and peevish. He couldn't get a handle on his emotions. He wanted back that weightless, cherished sensation of Hutch's hands on him, owning him, but right now he felt scoured and raw.

"No."

"Huh?" Starsky came to his feet, rage giving him strength he didn't feel. "I feel like race horse all decked out for the final lap. Use the key and get me outta this contraption."

"This is part of your skin now. If I took it off, you might not let me put it back on." Hutch pulled himself up, weariness evident in his long lean body. He stripped off his stained, sweaty slacks and unbuttoned his shirt, using the edges to fan his chest. "Starsky, believe me, this is all the protection I can give you if we're separated."

"Then don't ever leave me."

"If I promised you that, you'd hate me if it happened." Hutch turned, severing contact.

"If I didn't already hate you for all this." The rage had left as quickly as it came, leaving a gaping emptiness that only Hutch fit into. Starsky looked down at the ring piercing his crown. It almost looked like it belonged there. Would he forget what his cock had looked like before? "How could I hate you at all?"

"Because I hate myself." Hutch gazed over his shoulder, finally allowing Starsky into his depths.

There was such sharp-edged self-loathing there Starsky almost recoiled. Instead, he stood his ground, not yet ready to let Hutch off the hook. "Then you're a stupid-assed prick," Starsky said steadily, seeing the effect of his words reignite something in Hutch's soul. A flame of anger directed outward instead of inward.

"But if you want one more screw to grind into your guts, how about this one? I think...I'm pretty sure Dunfey is the son of a bitch who...raped..." Even now he could barely say the word. The whole incident held such power over him. He'd seen the blond stranger's face leering over him in his dreams for so long that the reality of Dunfey was too terrifying to contemplate. He wanted to destroy this man. "If I'm right, Dunfey used some big fucking dildo and ripped me open when I was fifteen-years-old."

"Starsky!" Hutch inhaled sharply. "How do you -- ?"

"In the car yesterday, I thought there was something familiar about his voice." Starsky leaned against the wall, suddenly spent. He slid down until he was resting on his heels, elbows braced on his knees. "I only got a quick glance at this face, and it was so long ago...but I keep hearing his voice in my head. I didn't want it to be him, y'know? Didn't want this thing to come all the way around and bite me in the butt. Even though I couldn't look him square in the face, I'm as sure as I can be that it's him." In this position, the thick back strap pulled his collar downward almost choking him, but Starsky was too tired to stand up again.

"After the car ride...I dreamed of that night, and that voice...It's Dunfey's voice..." He focused on his hands instead of Hutch's stark white face. His hands were shaking, the leather cuffs knocking against his wrist bones with every tremble. "He's the one. I don't even care what your motives were when you started this shit. I don't care about the politics or Ariadne's ambitions. This is mine now. You gave me the way to get back at Dunfey."

"Tell me what you want from me?"

"You started this, damn you. You have to finish it -- with me. You hear that? With me."

***

Dunfey's limo swung alongside the mall at nine a.m. Ariadne was in the back seat where Dunfey had been, Manetti jack-knifed almost in half on the fold-down seat. Starsky was relieved to see neither Kuyt, nor any of Dunfey's other goons, accompanied them. Starsky dutifully loaded Hutch's luggage in the spacious trunk, alongside Ariadne's and Manetti's. The driver operated the trunk's hydraulic system from his seat, since his leash didn't reach that far. When Starsky closed the lid, he heard the hydraulic locks snap into place.

"Good morning, gentlemen," Ariadne greeted them as she opened the door the driver couldn't reach. She moved over, making room for Hutch.

Starsky knew his place was on the carpeted floor, exactly where he'd been the other day. The reminder of his status rankled, but this was just the beginning. After all Hutch's drilling, and their discussions of what might happen at Dunfey's, he was prepared. The carpet on the floor of the limo tickled his naked butt as he settled into position.

"Good morning, Ariadne, Manetti," Hutch said, settled into the lush seat. He nodded toward the front of the limo, silently reminding them that the driver belonged to Dunfey. It was his way of warning them to watch what they said. "You're even more beautiful this morning, Ariadne. You remember my slave, Davey?"

The last time Ariadne and Manetti had seen Starsky, he'd been dressed in regular clothes. Starsky caught the momentary surprise in both of their eyes at the full view of his elaborate slave harness and cock cage. Ariadne masked her emotions quickly, but Manetti seemed to have a harder time suppressing his reaction. He finally turned away to look out the window.

"Certain men were meant to wear nothing but leather," Ariadne commented when Starsky sank into presentation. She'd said it clearly enough for the driver to hear. Of course, she worked for Cosgrove, so she was used to being undercover. This was a new ball game for Manetti.

"It's -- " Starsky began but Hutch shut him up by poking a silver toe tip against his brand. Hissing from the contact, Starsky clamped down on his retort. He was annoyed at himself for breaking his role so quickly. He took a deep breath and dropped more fully into his personae. They couldn't afford any slip-ups like that at Dunfey's.

Starsky glanced up through his eyelashes and saw her sympathetic expression. He clenched his fists on his thighs, acting the perfect slave, and mentally prepared himself. Manetti was watching Starsky worriedly; he nodded without speaking.

Last night, right before bed, Hutch had logged onto a computer message board for fans of Ariadne's books to get the latest coded messages before they went undercover. Starsky had read over his shoulder. The news was positive, although some of Dunfey's people were in evidence in the CEC main headquarters, Peter Whitelaw was back in Southern California, preparing for the assault. Manetti's insurgents were ready and waiting in the hills above Bay City. When they planned to storm the main headquarters of the CEC was uncertain, but the Abbey League was counting on a number of the CEC's top brass being at the council meeting. That would allow them to overwhelm the less organized second-string leadership before they could be stopped.

Starsky shifted. The leather straps were tight, reminding him of Hutch's hands buckling and locking every restraint. No matter who touched him during the meeting, Hutch had done it first and better.

He cast his mind back to the night before...

***

They'd lain together in the quiet apartment after Starsky's confession and explosive orgasm, curled against each other.

"It'll be a long time before we can be alone like this again." Hutch kissed Starsky from breastbone to knees, as if bestowing a blessing on every inch of him. He skipped over the snug leather straps, concentrating on the patches of exposed skin. Once he had kissed his way down, Hutch started up again, adding tiny nips with his teeth and the occasional lap of his tongue.

"Feels terrific." Starsky shivered, reveling in Hutch's exquisite worship of his body. Wrapping both arms around Hutch, Starsky fit his lips over his partner's, kissing him tenderly. No matter what else happened, he wouldn't forget that he loved Hutch.

"I know you don't get the allure, the..." Hutch scooted back an inch so they could look into each other's eyes, "the draw all of this had on me..."

Starsky didn't reply, watching the way Hutch's mouth moved as he tried to find the right words. He could lie there watching Hutch's eyes shift colors with his moods. Right now, they were a gray-blue, the unspoken fears for the future deepening his usual sky blue irises.

"I've never been sure why I like the darker, kinkier play, but it satisfies something deep inside me," Hutch said softly, toying with a stray curl at Starsky's temple. "But nothing was right without you. You were always the person who fit me, who grounded me, who...made me who I am." He ran his finger down Starsky's cheekbone. "Who I want to be."

Starsky only had to turn slightly to press a kiss against the inside of Hutch's wrist. "You changed me, right from the get-go. Not into someone different, not better, not worse -- " He shrugged, afraid that after today, nothing would ever be the same again. "I wanted to be with you. Your partner -- forever."

"I love you, Starsk -- "

***

Starsky was drawn back to the present when the car went around a curve, throwing him out of perfect presentation position. He shifted on his knees, and Hutch sent him a private smile that summed up the words they'd said to each other just over twelve hours ago.

"I love you," Starsky mouthed silently.

"Do either of you know how long this conference is expected to last," Hutch said, clearly trying to make safe small talk as they rode. It would appear odd if no one said anything all the way to Dunfey's.

"I've been told the meeting could last anywhere from two to three days, depend on how much business is transacted," Ariadne said quietly. "At least, according to Harriet."

"Harriet...?" Hutch looked at her quizzically.

"Harriet Roget. I hesitate to call her a friend, but I've known her for years -- and she's attended these meetings before."

"Oh, yeah. She owns Luna." Hutch touched his sapphire blue tie as if he wanted to pull it off and run his fingers over his chest. Starsky knew that gesture. Whenever Hutch was tense, he unconsciously touched himself.

"I saw her there," Starsky said quietly. From where he was perched on the floor, it would be hard for the driver to determine who was actually speaking. The car ride might be the last time he could easily share knowledge with the others without risking punishment. Once at Dunfey's, he would no longer be able to act as part of this group, but be simply a slave. "There was man with her, too."

"Probably Anton, her slave." Ariadne said as she put a hand on Manetti's thigh.

His large hand covered hers, giving it a gentle squeeze, their contrast in size and color dramatic. Starsky remembered Manetti was pretending to be her "fiancé" for the meeting.

"She's had him for years. He'd been her assistant -- before she had him trained. He accompanies her everywhere as a good slave should." She patted Manetti's knee before straightening her skirt. "Just one of the many interesting people -- " she emphasized ‘interesting' with sarcasm only the group could hear, "we shall soon meet."

The car slowed as it entered Dunfey's compound, though, sitting with his back to the driver, Starsky couldn't see much. He took a deep breath, fighting the adrenaline surge flooding him as they neared their destination. He jerked in surprise when Hutch put a hand on his shoulder.

"Hey, it's just me," Hutch murmured, his worry plain to see.

Starsky looked straight into his partner's eyes and let himself fall into their depths. A sense of peace settled over him. He could read exhaustion and worry in every line of Hutch's face, but there was tranquility, too. Things were settled between them; they had renewed their partnership. He accepted what Hutch had done, understanding Hutch's flawed motivation. If Hutch's self-hate had lifted, it was because Starsky had come to terms with his actions. Now, they were working together undercover, this time to gain Starsky's emancipation and help change society. This meeting was their best chance to change the course of their future.

"You ready for this?" Hutch leaned over and pretended to adjust one of the harness straps.

Ariadne and Manetti were watching their interaction. While the question had been for Starsky's ears, Hutch might as well have been asking all of them. The other two nodded; they were all in this together

"On with the show," Starsky murmured to the group as the car stopped.

***

Starsky wasn't sure what he'd expected to see at the crime lord's lair, but a one-story Mexican-style villa with a red-tiled roof wasn't it. Two wings stretched out across the desert landscape. Beyond the furthermost walls stood an electrified fence and acres of cactus and scrub. No easy escape routes.

How many people were here to align with Dunfey's organization and corrupt the government into something worse than it already was in the hands of the CEC? If they succeeded, what would happen to all of them?

He only had a glimpse of the house before Hutch gave a gentle tug on his leash, pulling him inside the door. Good thing, too, because his bare feet hurt from the hot flagstones leading from the driveway to the house. Manetti had already helped Ariadne out of the car before Hutch exited. As the slave, Starsky had to trail behind.

A broad-shouldered slave with the features of a Native American opened the front door. His black eyes showed no interest in the guests he admitted.

Jerry Kuyt stood just inside the foyer, checking off names on a clipboard. He greeted Ariadne and Manetti with smarmy charm. "The boss'll be so happy you were able to attend, Miss Underhill."

Starsky kept his head down, but imagined Ariadne giving the obsequious toad a withering glare.

"Mr. Manetti! Pride of the Bay City Buccaneers. It's a thrill to meet you." Kuyt pumped Manetti's hand, getting a bland murmur of thanks. As if finally getting the message that neither were interested in him, Kuyt cleared his throat. "Mr. Dunfey's greeting the council members in the walled courtyard with a brunch. Your luggage will be taken to your rooms; your room keys are in small envelopes with your name at your designated table."

"Thank you, we can find our way," Ariadne said coolly, hooking her arm through Manetti's.

"Hutchinson, former pride of the BCPD, and his little copslave." Kuyt chuckled, sneering, as he checked his list. His attitude, in stark contrast to the respect he had shown Ariadne and Manetti, was blatantly contemptuous.

Like a snake going for the kill, Hutch had the smaller man up against the wall instantly, one hand tight around his throat. "You'll treat me with respect, ass-wipe, or I'll do to you what I did to my partner. Except, I wouldn't keep you. I'd sell you to the highest bidder and watch while they ripped open your virgin ass for sport."

His face a bizarre shade of reddish-purple, Kuyt tried to sputter a reply.

"Sorry, couldn't hear you." Hutch opened his hand, letting Kuyt collapse. The Native American door slave turned his back as if he hadn't seen anything. Leveling a stiff forefinger at Kuyt, Hutch dared him to try retaliating.

"You're ex-pected, Mr. Hutchinson," Jerry gasped, rubbing his throat. He stood shakily, regaining his composure with the clipboard clutched to his chest. "The...the slave's gotta obey all house rules. Any infractions are -- "

"I'll give you infractions," Starsky said in a voice pitched so low he wasn't sure Kuyt heard.

" -- Punishable by Mr. Dunfey himself," Kuyt finished and deliberately moved so that Starsky had to sidestep to avoid coming into contact with him. He couldn't slide past fast enough.

The smile on Jerry's ugly face was too pleased, too oily. He reached down and pushed his fingers around the edge of the broad straps angled over Starsky's pelvis. Exactly where the front blade was hidden. Kuyt rubbed, chuckling lewdly when Starsky's cock bounced once. The cock ring kept him semi-hard, annoying enough, but at a moment like this, completely humiliating.

"Lookee there, copslave." Kuyt chortled. "Meat's all ready for the spit."

"Kuyt," Hutch said in the deceptively soft voice he used when really angry, "get your hands off him. You touch a hair on his head again -- ever -- and I'll personally put a bullet through that empty space where your brain should be."

Starsky let out the breath he didn't realize he was holding when Kuyt jerked his fingers free. Still, Kuyt managed to brush Starsky's abdomen in a way Hutch couldn't see.

"Ken, are you coming?" Ariadne called sweetly, allowing them both to move away from the entrance.

"Just wait, copslave," Kuyt whispered.

The next room was busy with people meeting and greeting over the clatter of plates. The sounds of laughter, light-hearted chatter, and the chime of champagne flutes clinking faded. Starsky was only aware of the warmth of Hutch's hand on the curve of his skull above his collar, and the cold place Jerry's hand had left.

"Starsk," Hutch breathed in his ear, exactly what he needed to hear.

He was scared to face so many people for the first time as a slave. Would people he'd known as a detective in Bay City see him bound with leather, his pierced cock on display? Would criminals he'd arrested, or mobsters he'd once taunted, now be his superiors?

There were at least twenty people at the brunch, but the elegant room was spacious. Being able to hide behind Hutch gave him a chance to observe surreptitiously. Men and women filled their plates with scrambled eggs, sausage, hash browns, corn bread, sweet rolls, and assorted fruit. Most of the guests were finding places to sit at tables arranged in a semicircle around a stunning turquoise blue swimming pool where three slaves in mermaid costumes posed. Other slaves circulated with champagne, orange juice, and coffee, their eyes cast downward. If a guest wanted to make use of them, all he or she had to do was push the slave over a convenient chair and do whatever they pleased. It was allowed, if not expected, by their host.

Jack Dunfey himself moved through the crowd like a potentate. He was there, after all, to negotiate for more power through a political coup.

Starsky scowled. He and Hutch had scarfed down toast quickly before leaving the mall, but the smell of the rich food was making him hungry. He suspected that slaves wouldn't be eating from the same dishes their masters did. Those guests who'd brought their own slaves were settling small bowls on the floor by the side of their chairs. That was where slaves ate.

"Refill your champagne, master?" a quiet voice offered. The female slave held out a sweating bottle wrapped in linen, then blushed when she realized that Hutch had no glass. "I'm so sorry, master. I'm -- "

"Don't worry," Hutch assured her. "My slave can get me a glass. But I really want my...Davey to have something to eat first."

"You can, of course, feed him from your plate if you choose," she answered, obviously reciting a memorized response. "Slaves will be allowed to eat a meal of whatever is left over once all guests have arrived and taken their fill."

"And when will that be?"

"I b-believe there are three limousines left to arrive, sir."

"Do you know the names of the latecomers?" Hutch asked with a touch of impatience. "I thought this was going to be a well-run affair."

"No, sir." The girl blushed scarlet, cowering as if she wanted to melt into the floor.

"Hey," Starsky said softly, touching her bare arm. "Show me where the glasses are. He doesn't like champagne anyway." He glanced at Hutch who gave a small nod. He needed to learn the floor plan of the house and find out how many slaves, servants, and, most importantly, guards were here.

"Ol' Jack usually has some expensive whiskey tucked away," Hutch said loudly. "None of this bubbly wine at this time in the morning."

"Come this way," the slave whispered, inclining her head. She was much less frightened of Starsky than his master.

Starsky judged her to be barely over what used to be legal age. Her pierced nipples were tight pink buds on small rounded mounds. Next to her, Starsky felt old.

"How long've you been with Mr. Dunfey?" he asked when they'd passed through a small hallway into a bustling kitchen where slaves and dressed cooks were busily preparing food.

"Two years," she said, glancing at an older man with salt and pepper hair and a bushy mustache, dressed in a chef's white uniform. He was stirring a large pot.

The aroma in the kitchen made Starsky's belly growl. "Two years?" Starsky realized belatedly that he'd spoken too loudly.

The chef glowered at him, pointing at the girl. "Glory, unless you want another day in the punishment room, you'd better get to work and stop talking so much."

"She was helpin' me find some whiskey for my master," Starsky covered smoothly.

"Shot glasses are there. You have to go to the bar for the whiskey." He went back to his soup, stirring too fast. Hot soup splashed on his hand and he hissed. "She knows better than that."

"Didn't mean to get you in trouble, Glory." Starsky took a shot glass and helped her replace her nearly empty champagne bottle with prefilled flutes on a tray.

"He's my father." She shrugged miserably. "I mess up all the time."

"That's your father?" Starsky asked, looking back at the burly chef. She must take after her mother's side of the family. "Is he a slave, too?"

Glory shrugged and shook her head. "It's complicated, but he can't leave. He had a good job working at a restaurant, but Mr. Dunfey lured him away for more money. When we arrived in Bay City, he pierced my nipples, and my mother's, enslaving us. He told my father he could buy us back when he'd earned enough money."

"Which never happened?" Starsky picked up the tray for her, leading the way back into the main room.

"No, and now my little sister's -- " Her eyes filled briefly with tears, but she blinked them back, stiffening her spine. "Thank you, I have to work." She took the tray back from him, balancing it carefully. "If he sees us talking, we get in trouble. The bar is over there -- beyond the pool."

"I'm St -- Davey," Starsky introduced himself. "Thank you."

Glory ducked her head, her long brown braid swishing the curve of her waist as she circulated among the crowd. Starsky hadn't made it to the bar before he saw Glory grabbed by an acne-scarred man in a black pin-striped suit and pushed against a chair for a rough groping. He was so focused on her that he didn't see where he was going, but the sixth sense that always alerted him to Hutch's presence kicked in abruptly.

"Where have you been?" Hutch's voice demanded, his hand on Starsky's arm a tight, almost desperate hold.

"I got the glass you wanted, master." Starsky held it out like an offering, his heart speeding up at the sight of Hutch leaning against the bar, drinking from a highball glass.

"If you'd have just gone to the bar in the first place, I wouldn't have had to wait." Hutch shook him, pushing him to his knees.

Starsky hit the flag-stoned floor with a wince.

Hutch fisted a handful of his hair, preventing him from getting up. "I've already had a shot of the good stuff."

"Hutchinson, you've outdone yourself." Jack Dunfey was the congenial host, full of good cheer. "He's even prettier wrapped in leather than he was soaked in sweat. Slaves like him look best chained to a wall, mouth ready."

"He's got a good mouth as long as he doesn't speak," Hutch said, tracing a finger around Starsky's, then pushing it between his lips.

Starsky used his tongue as if Hutch's finger was his cock, but closed his eyes. He couldn't afford to see if Hutch reacted.

"Is that an offer?" Dunfey asked coyly. "I wouldn't mind trying him out."

Starsky froze, Hutch's finger pressing into the roof of his mouth.

Hutch, no.

I can't.

Without looking into his lover's eyes, Starsky knew this was a pivotal moment. They'd discussed it endlessly. Hutch had to prove he'd truly gone over to the other side. And Starsky couldn't refuse, or risk public punishment.

"What's in it for me?" Hutch removed his finger, wiping it against Starsky's hair.

"That depends." Dunfey shrugged, obviously enjoying the byplay.

People standing around them caught the exchange and watched. Starsky saw Ariadne step in front of Manetti as if to say something to Hutch when Dunfey continued.

"You know, Hutchinson, originally, Roschenzky was supposed to deliver Davey to me." He tapped Hutch on the chest. "You put the screws to that. A man after my own heart."

"I only did what had to be done to eliminate a problem," Hutch said, but Starsky could hear the strain in his voice. He wasn't pleased to be discussing this so soon.

"Killed his own boss!" Dunfey announced to the crowd, spreading his arms in a what-do-you-think-of-that gesture. "Slit the guy's throat, and left him to bleed to death."

There was a buzz of comments and some applause. Starsky couldn't look up to see Hutch's reaction, but he could see Ariadne. She sat heavily into a chair, and reached for her drink. She gulped it down, obviously stunned. Manetti leaned over her, speaking rapidly.

"Dunfey..." Hutch growled.

"Killing Roschenzky makes me wonder," Dunfey chuckled, addressing Hutch but working the crowd as well, "if you can be trusted? How can I know that you wouldn't stab me in the back just as easily?"

"You want me to prove my loyalty, Dunfey?" Hutch took a step back, his voice as hard as steel. "Right now, I have no loyalty to you. We'd have to work together to develop that." He glanced at the people listening attentively. "You've got a gorgeous home, dozens of slaves catering to your every wish, and toadies like Kuyt to order around."

Starsky, in presentation position, stayed alert to the crowd's reactions. He couldn't scan their faces, but memorized shoes and the faces of slaves closest to him.

Peripherally, he saw Hutch tug at the cuffs of his suit. "I not interested in being on your payroll as some two-bit player. I didn't take out the road blocks to suit your needs." Hutch bit off the last words.

"As I told you the other day," Dunfey said, "I had you checked out."

"I wouldn't have expected anything less of a potential business partner." Hutch sank his fingers into Starsky's hair, holding tight. "I intend to move up in the world, carve out a niche with my name on it -- Davey was my partner, and now he's my slave. For my own amusement." Pulling back, Hutch tipped Starsky's head upwards.

Starsky swallowed, his Adam's apple jammed against the collar, trying to remain passive. But Hutch's fingers digging into his head hurt enough to make his eyes water.

Dunfey's lascivious smile was nasty. "You and I have similar tastes -- particularly since I bid for him -- "

"And lost," Hutch said without gloating. Loosening his hold, Hutch rubbed circles against Starsky's scalp, massaging away the pain. Starsky didn't lower his head, relishing the chance to watch the two men without censure.

"To the victor go the spoils," Dunfey said, conceding gracefully. "Would you be willing to negotiate for the slave's favors?"

Starsky swallowed. This was it.

Hutch didn't answer at first. He picked up his glass from the bar and sipped.

Starsky tried to relax. Hutch was in his element -- this was where they wanted Dunfey, interested and willing to barter. Cash was not the currency here; influence, control, and authority were.

"You want to use Davey?" Hutch asked. "What have you got to offer to make it worth my while?"

Dunfey motioned to the bartender who poured both of them another round from a bottle of Glenfiddich. Holding his glass aloft, he said. "Hutchinson, we are more alike than I'd realized. We have the same taste in slaves, and the same drives. I know what all men want: power. I can offer that."

Hutch accepted the toast, clinking his glass with Dunfey's. "Then we have something to negotiate."

Starsky shivered. He didn't want to watch this, but Hutch was still holding his head, absently stroking him.

"Regarding the use of my slave, I have strict limits," Hutch warned Dunfey. He seemed to be notifying the crowd as well. "No private parties. I have to be present when anyone uses my slave. He was damned expensive. I have to protect my property against damage."

"Another similarity between us. You like to watch. Just the kind of man I need on my team!" Dunfey's laugh was deep, a rumbling sound.

Starsky's skin crawled. This close to the man, Starsky could smell the permeating odor of Glenfiddich, bringing back memories of that hotel room with the white brocade spread.

Please, God, no. Hutch, find a way out --

"What team position would that be?" Hutch countered. "You already have Kuyt to lead around by the nose."

Kuyt must have just entered from the foyer, because Starsky heard him protest. "Hey! I ain't no -- "

"Jerry," Dunfey said quietly, stilling him.

Starsky could see Kuyt's legs as he turned and marched off.

"Touché, Hutchinson. I certainly don't need another Kuyt."

"I need a guy to fetch my coffee," a man at the bar joked. "What'd you pay him?" Several others laughed.

"More than he is worth," Dunfey said dismissively. He looked down at Starsky's upturned face, as if just noticing him. "Any slave of mine would receive ten lashes for such impertinence."

Flushing angrily, Starsky lowered his chin, watching the proceedings through his lashes.

"But he's not your slave, Dunfey," Hutch said imperiously. "He's mine. And I like seeing his eyes."

"You're ambitious, Hutchinson," Dunfey said, savoring his drink. Glory came through with a tray of shrimp and he plucked two off, the fingers of his other hand lingering against her pierced breasts. Glory moaned, but didn't refuse his caress. "Impressive in a man who once toed the line as a cop," Dunfey continued, giving Glory a smack on the left breast to move her along. He glanced at Hutch. "You were always the more -- shall we say -- corruptible of the pair of you. Another admirable quality."

"A left handed compliment if I ever heard one," Hutch said. "Davey's the left-handed one. If you've got a serious offer -- lay it out."

Dunfey narrowed his eyes, chewing the shrimp. "How about Vice President of Operations in California?"

"My mother was the politician," Hutch said. "I'm not interested in glad-handing assholes at cocktail parties and sitting through boring meetings."

"Like you're doing here?" Dunfey leaned back against the bar, pleased with himself.

"Jack." Ariadne suddenly insinuated herself between the two of them. She patted Dunfey's arm. "I'd think a former police officer would be well suited for something more...forceful?"

"I see where you're going with that, Ari." Dunfey kissed her hand gallantly. "Since Roschenzky's no longer available and Simonetti's about to lose his job, the position of Chief of the Special Police is open."

"That's more like it," Hutch said, shaking Dunfey's hand. "It's a deal."

Starsky let out a pent-up breath. They'd gone over the first hurdle.

"The way you handled collaring your partner proved to me you were a man I wanted on my side," Dunfey said.

Several people called out well-wishes and slapped Hutch on the back before drifting away.

"Congratulations, Hutchinson." Ariadne stood close enough that Starsky couldn't see her face anymore. "You're moving up in the world."

"About time," Hutch agreed.

"And your slave's pretty mouth is just what I want to seal the transaction," Dunfey said confidently.

Starsky didn't dare move, though it took every bit of control not to bolt from the room. Find a way out, Hutch. Don't make me --

"Well, I said you'd have to make it worth my while... and you did, so...Davey," Hutch said, without a hint of sympathy in his voice, "service Mr. Dunfey."

In front of this room full of people. He was undercover, he reminded himself. This was his job. Starsky had to play his part or put them both in danger. And Hutch would have to watch. Hutch had promised not to abandon him...

"Yes, master." Starsky stared at his own pierced cock. "Whatever you wish." What he wished was to draw the dagger and shove it in Dunfey's belly. Instead, he flexed his hands over his thighs, showing perfect presentation.

"Good boy, Davey," Hutch murmured, stepping sideways, but still cupping the back of Starsky's head.

Hang on to me, Hutch. Don't abandon me now --

"Unzip me, boy," Dunfey commanded, his body filling Starsky's field of vision.

Starsky didn't have to be told to do it with his teeth. Hutch had drilled that into him. Gripping his hands together to prevent himself from using them, Starsky rose up on his knees, concentrating only on the immediate task. Hutch's fingers on the back on his head kept him in place and supported him. The sounds in the room faded to indistinct noise, but Starsky was aware he was the floor show.

He drew inward, seeing himself as a boy. A fifteen-year-old with messy curls and a concave belly. A boy who'd gone up to an expensive hotel room with a blond man because he'd been promised food and big money in exchange for sex. Instead, he was raped. He pushed the images away, focusing on the feel of Hutch's hand.

He had no problem pulling the zipper down with his teeth, and got slapped with Dunfey's penis before he opened his mouth wide enough to take it in. The smell nauseated him: whiskey, cigarettes, and something spicy but foul. The same smell, the same taste --

Tricks he'd learned as a teenager came back to him: caress the head using lips and tongue, but not a hint of teeth, before going down farther on the shaft, sucking, licking...

This was how he'd begun long ago, with a man's cock in his mouth. Ruthlessly locking away the old memories, Starsky went quiet inside. He was undercover; this was not forever. This was not all that he was, a mouth to be used by other men. Hutch was not Dunfey.

Dunfey's penis lengthened, engulfing his mouth. Starsky performed, the trained slave on display, hearing murmurs of approval from the audience. He brought his enemy to completion quickly, swallowing Dunfey's semen as it flooded his throat. He was too professional to choke; closing his eyes, he disengaged his gag reflex to take it all in.

Memory overlapped the present again, and he imagined his own boyhood eyes boring into his adult ones, dismayed at what he'd done. Starsky reached out to his younger self, embracing the humiliation, the hurt, and his own rejection of his past. This was who he had been. He'd climbed out of the gutter before and emerged -- he would do it again. Turning his face into Hutch's big hand, he refocused. He was a cop turned slave -- or was he a slave who was playing at being a cop?

He was jerked out of his reverie by the audience praising his performance with wolf-calls and clapping. Humiliated, Starsky felt a hot flush across his cheeks.

"Good boy, Davey," Hutch said, stroking him. But Starsky felt his hand tremble. For once, he was grateful he couldn't look into Hutch's eyes.

"Beautiful job!" Dunfey praised, ruffling Starsky's hair like a well-trained dog. "You're right, Hutchinson, he was born to be on his knees." He zipped himself up, obviously thrilled at the public display. "I'm looking forward to his next performance."

Starsky shuddered at Dunfey's remark, and felt Hutch tighten his grip on his hair. Don't let it happen, Hutch. Not with him again --

"He was a cop in BC," Starsky heard a gruff voice say. "Busted me once. I like him better this way."

Abruptly, Starsky felt the rim of a glass against his bottom lip and Hutch whispered, "Drink this. Get rid of the taste."

Obediently, he swallowed without thinking, Cold, and syrupy sweet Coke, then the bite of Glenfiddich for a chaser. Hutch must've dumped the rest of his own drink in the Coke when Dunfey wasn't watching. The Coke obliterated Dunfey's bitter flavor, and the small amount of scotch warmed his belly. It helped. He looked up at Hutch, meeting his eyes for a second. Hutch looked haunted. But they were working together.

The show over, most of the people drifted away, back to plates of food and friendly chatter.

Hutch gave Starsky's leash a quick tug as he walked to a table with Dunfey. Starsky rose stiffly and followed, watching Hutch's boots tread across the tiled floor..

"Nothing better to get me up in the morning than an unwilling slave's mouth," Dunfey said, commandeering a chair, and waving Hutch to another at the same table.

Starsky knelt gracefully at Hutch's side. His eyes were about level with the table top: Dunfey had steered them to their designated table. Hutch's name was on an envelope beside the plate. Envelopes for Ariadne and Manetti were propped against the glasses on the other place settings.

"Glory, tell your father Hutchinson needs some breakfast. And none of those congealed eggs that have been sitting out all morning." Dunfey slapped Hutch on the back, the generous, benevolent host. "What'll you have? Omelet with mushrooms?"

"Eggs Benedict," Hutch ordered, which surprised Starsky. Hutch didn't like Hollandaise sauce.

"Glory, you heard the master. Run back there and bring some out," Dunfey ordered. "And bring some for the slave. That pretty mouth deserves a reward."

That surprised Starsky even more.

The girl trotted off, her braid swinging.

"When do we discuss specifics?" Hutch asked.

"I like a man with goals." Dunfey checked his watch. "I have to do some of that glad-handing you dislike this morning. We'll be convening my cabinet next week in Bay City. I'll expect you then." Dunfey shook Hutch's hand and left, moving through his constituents.

Trying to keep his brain in the here and now, Starsky licked his lips, wanting the flavors of scotch and Coke, not the lingering taste of his enemy.

"Starsk?" A whisper, meant solely for him.

He looked into Hutch's concerned eyes, the music of his nickname as clear as a bell. Hutch frowned, his hand curved protectively around Starsky's neck, fingers lingering on the collar before caressing his shoulders.

"It worked. You're in," Starsky said, swallowing his bitterness.

"Eat what Dunfey gave you," Hutch said. He thrust a plate of eggs Benedict into his hands. "Eat."

Starsky looked at the food, unsure. Seeing his hesitation, Hutch scooped up some eggs and leveled the forkful into Starsky's mouth. They were still being watched, so Starsky didn't dare refuse his master. Once he swallowed the hollandaise and poached egg, he felt better. Hutch held out another forkful with a troubled frown.

Starsky took the fork from him and finished the meal. Dunfey had given him the same thing he'd served Hutch, not just leftovers -- a significant reward. With something in his belly, he rediscovered his hunger and wanted more, but there was nothing left.

Dunfey was standing at the front of the room at a more elaborately decorated table, raising a whiskey tumbler with a satisfied look on his face. "Welcome friends, business acquaintances, and future colleagues. We have come together to restructure our future. You'll find a prospectus of what we hope to achieve in the envelope with your room keys, sitting by your plates."

Applause and cutlery tapping crystal sounded like malevolent thunder.

Hutch dumped some ham and the rest of his eggs, with all of the Hollandaise sauce, into Starsky's bowl. That's why you ordered eggs Benedict? He tackled Hutch's portion. He had a feeling he was going to need it.

Acting as though he wasn't paying attention to his slave, Hutch clapped along with the rest. Those nearest Hutch's table congratulated him, seeming eager to meet Dunfey's newest associate. Hutch stood when the rest of the crowd gave Dunfey a standing ovation, blending in like the undercover pro he had been in Bay City.

Chewing on the ham, Starsky surreptitiously looked around, watching the other crouching slaves through a sea of legs. There were five tables situated in a semi circle, all facing the main table where Dunfey sat. There were three to four guests at each table. He saw Ariadne and Manetti stop at the table on his right, talking to people she obviously knew. From the CEC, he guessed. About half the guests attending had brought a slave. That made eighteen or so guests, and approximately ten slaves. There was also Dunfey, Kuyt, and a man Starsky recognized as a former mob enforcer named Frankie Patello. How many people were at the compound?

He knew some of the men nearby; he and Hutch had arrested quite a few over the years. What if they didn't take Hutch's conversion at face value? Had his convincing performance with Dunfey, and Hutch's elevation to Dunfey's circle, settled that?

Starsky glanced around as the crowd sat down. Besides the visible muscle around Dunfey -- Patello and another thick-necked Neanderthal -- Starsky had seen armed guards around the hacienda providing another layer of protection, or imprisonment, depending on your viewpoint. How many slaves served Dunfey? How many of those slaves -- both Dunfey's and the guests' -- would fight for their freedom or would they protect their masters?

"With your help, we can turn California and New Mex-Arizona into a power great enough to take over the whole country," Dunfey continued. "We can select a CEO who will support our constituency, allowing us to continue the commerce that keeps our economy alive. With that kind of support, we can expand trade even further, and re-unite the former states. We can make this country strong again, the way it was meant to be! With total control!"

The crowd cheered, electrified by Dunfey's vision. Starsky shivered, remembering other leaders with similar plans to control the population. Dunfey would turn the United States into a Nazi-Soviet-style government.

"My people are passing packets out with a schedule for the next two days detailing the reorganization necessary to bring the western territories under one umbrella government," Dunfey explained, sounding more like a CEO than the gangster he was. "We need a leader who understands the population." Dunfey paused, hands outstretched as if blessing his audience. "And by the end of this council, I know we'll all agree on how to bring this country out of chaos and into a new reign."

The applause was thunderous. Starsky knelt on the unyielding stone floor, suddenly afraid for his and Hutch's safety. Right now, getting his old life back, with Hutch as a cop, seemed as impossible as flying to the moon.

"Gillespie," Dunfey called on one of the men to his left as the council meeting began. "What's the current status of your operations?"

"We're in the red, and profit margins are slippin'," Leo Gillespie, a heavy set man with acne scars, began.

The same guy who'd abused Glory not half an hour ago. He was out of San Diego, if Starsky remembered his mob genealogy correctly. Younger brother of a Don killed by Dunfey a few years back. Specialized in moving large quantities of pure grade heroin. Clearly expanding his trade.

"Since we got the border guards in our pocket, we haven't had any problems bringing stuff up from Mex'co." Gillespie burped, apparently he'd taken a little too much of the early morning bubbly.

After a long detailed description of the current avenues for increasing drug smuggling to other states and countries, and strategies used to evade border patrols, Hutch glanced at Starsky, raising his eyebrows. What they could do with this information as cops! Names of important dealers, cartels who specialized in running the drugs in foreign markets and domestically, made the whole thing sound like simple import and export. With the CEC outlawing the importing of most liquor and tobacco from other states, there were many more ways to make a crooked buck these days.

In a lull between speakers, Ariadne and Manetti changed tables, joining Hutch and Starsky to pick up their room keys.

"We need to be vigilant," Manetti said softly, pulling out a chair for Ariadne. "Most of the CEC bigwigs Ariadne's introduced me to are eager for Dunfey to replace Cosgrove as quickly as possible."

"And you look..." Ariadne sat down, her eyes sympathetic, "very uncomfortable, dear David. Stand up and shake the tingles out of your feet." She offered him a hand.

"Thanks." Starsky grimaced, curling his toes under to get the circulation going.

"I've counted four guards here in the main room," Hutch said softly, his eyes roving to check for anyone listening.

Luckily, a pair of male slaves wearing nothing but smiles had slipped into the pool and were swimming languidly back and forth to the amusement of the attendees.

"We need an accurate count of how many people are here." Starsky started a mental tally.

"Not to mention the layout of the grounds," Hutch finished, placing his hand against Starsky's back. "Unfortunately, the three of us," he indicated himself, Ariadne, and Manetti, "are trapped here listening to this...drivel. If we leave during the presentation, it would be suspicious." He and Starsky exchanged a look.

"There's a guy in the kitchen, the cook," Starsky said. Glory had just emerged from the kitchen carrying cups of coffee on a tray. "Her dad. Didn't get his name yet, but Dunfey pierced her mother and sister."

"As a way of keeping him in line?" Hutch followed her progress around the room. "How many are here just for the meeting?"

"I can help with that," Ariadne said. "There are eighteen registered." She pursed her lips, inclining her head at a woman who had just entered from the hallway.

Starsky was stunned to see the new arrival, but managed to keep the surprise off his face. Harriet Roget, from Luna. Sweat broke out under his leather harness. He hated having such a visceral reaction to her.

Roget greeted several friends, but didn't stop until she'd reached the main table and whispered in Dunfey's ear. He chatted briefly with her before calling up the next speaker.

"Starsk?" Hutch asked. "Who is that?"

"Harriet Roget," Ariadne replied before he could. "A bitch of the first order. Still, we maintain civil relations, as well brought up ladies should," she said with a liberal helping of sarcasm.

"Couldn't have said it better myself." Starsky bowed to Hutch as if he'd just received an assignment. "Since you three are stuck here, I'm gonna circulate, on the pretense that I need to go."

"That's always your pretense," Hutch said out of the corner of his mouth. "Be careful."

"I'm always careful," Starsky shot back, walking past their table to the back wall. From there, he could easily take in the entire room. None of the council members paid him the slightest attention. He was just a slave on some errand for his master. Besides the visible guards Hutch had mentioned, Starsky could see at least two patrolling outside the house through a large plate glass window on the far side of the indoor pool. A dark haired man carrying an automatic weapon on his shoulder walked past another man and paused, making a circular motion.

Six guards, at least. No doubt there were more.

Shifting his shoulders under the heavy leather banding his shoulders, Starsky took a moment to assess the other slaves. He found he wasn't the only slave sporting elaborate decorations -- there was a giant, ebony-skinned man with so many piercings through his flesh, he appeared to be wearing chain mail. Most of the slaves had eyes devoid of hope, but the black man had a presence that came through his outward submissiveness. He glanced up, catching Starsky's eye briefly before staring straight ahead.

"What are you doing here?" a rough voice asked. It was a guard on the door to the main part of the house.

Starsky froze and ducked his head. "I need to..." he said so softly that the guard had move closer to hear. Which also brought his holstered Beretta into reach. It would have taken two seconds to slide that gun out and train it on the guard's belly. Starsky stored that bit of information away. The guards were careless because they didn't expect a slave to fight back. "Go to the..." Starsky added, shifting from foot to foot, hoping he didn't have to drag this conversation out too long.

"About to wet yourself?" The guard laughed crudely. "Slaves use the shithouse in the rear, behind the kitchen. You better have your master's permission."

"Yes, sir." Starsky hurried down the hallway in the right direction. He found the bathroom and relieved himself quickly, so that he'd have more time to look around.

Starsky stuck his head into a different entrance to the kitchen than the one he'd used before. The space was massive, with the gleaming stainless steel surfaces of a professional kitchen. Five people worked under Glory's father's supervision. Unlike the slaves in the meeting room, all the cooks were dressed in white uniforms.

Starsky walked purposefully away from the kitchen. Just before a set of double doors that must lead to the rear of the compound, the hallway forked into two long corridors. Deciding on the left passageway, Starsky slowed, keeping his eyes cast downward, passing a few other slaves doing menial work. He counted four more household staff. That made at least twelve -- and who knows how many more that were simply used for amusement? How did Dunfey keep that many people in line?

As he passed a long row of windows facing the back of the house that showed a large yard planted with native flora, he realized the climate and isolation helped. Unless an escaping slave stole a pair of shoes, walking across the desert was dangerous. Starsky knew there was an electrified fence, because he had heard the whine of the gate opening when the limo drove through, but he couldn't see it from the window.

Fixing a map of the house in his brain, he glanced at each door as he went by. Most were locked, although he did see one of the housekeepers use a key to open what appeared to be an office.

Hearing voices, Starsky pushed against two nearby doors and found one unlocked. He slipped inside the empty office just as a man walked by. Holding the door open barely enough to see, Starsky recognized Russian-born mobster Mikhail Lvoff, who was well-known in Southern California. He had been sitting at a table two over from Hutch. Trailing him was the muscle-bound slave with all the piercings.

Lvoff knocked on a door directly across from Starsky. He and his slave were admitted at the same time that a housekeeping slave arrived with a garbage can on a cart to empty the office's trash. Because the slave propped that door wide open with her cart, Starsky could see that Lvoff had entered a room filled with an impressive array of state-of-the-art communications equipment. He could even make out a bank of video screens showing locations inside and outside the house. Two screens had views of large beds. Was Dunfey keeping tabs on certain council members without their knowledge? The men watching the monitors were in business attire, and were clearly familiar with the equipment.

The housekeeping slave nodded to something one of the men at a monitor station said and backed out, shutting the door and trundling her cart down the hall. Easing his door shut, Starsky counted to five hundred. When he let himself out, there was no one in the hall. He walked sedately down the corridor and passed a guard just beyond the kitchen. None of the guards seemed to take much interest in a lone slave running errands for his master.

Gillespie was just finishing up his talk when Starsky padded quietly over to Hutch and knelt at his side. Hutch nodded slightly, obviously glad to see him. He slid his hand down Starsky's neck, caressing the collar in what was becoming a comforting habit -- for both of them. When Hutch glanced at him, Starsky winked, satisfied with his walkabout. Hutch gave him a small smile.

Glory and a pretty girl wearing nothing but slave piercings brought carafes of water for each table.

"Even with the A/C on, it's damned hot in here," Manetti said irritably. "Anyone else want water?"

"Yes, please," Ariadne said, pushing over her glass. "Gillespie acts foolish on occasion, but he has a lot more business acumen than I'd ever give him credit for."

"You run with some interesting people, Ariadne." Hutch leaned back, surveying the room with a cop's eye.

"I'd really like to call my publisher." She gave a sly smile over the edge of her glass. "But there are no phones. There must be a communications room somewhere. I'll have to ask Dunfey if I can make a call."

"Good God!" Manetti blurted, knocking his water glass over. "I can't believe he got turned!"

"Be careful!" Ariadne mopped at the spill with her linen napkin, but not before Gary's silver and lavender tie was soaked. She looked at the man he was staring at. "That tall black slave?"

"He's a football player, isn't he?" Hutch asked, frowning, as if he trying to remember the name.

Starsky glanced around Hutch. Lvoff had returned to his table, and was talking quietly with another man Starsky didn't know. Probably one of the CEC execs. The big slave knelt impassively beside Lvoff.

"That slave is Douglass Watson." Manetti wiped furtively at his tie, never taking his eyes off the man. "Played for the Seattle Sharks a couple years back. I heard he had some problems with gambling debts but... I'm just...stunned to see him here...like that." He turned to Ariadne with a naked expression of shock and confusion mixed with something else Starsky couldn't recognize.

Ariadne shook her head, and started to unknot his tie. "You can't wear this now. Hutch, you don't mind if I send Davey on an errand, do you?"

"Go right ahead," Hutch said graciously.

"Davey, go to our room to get Manetti his red silk tie." She held out the dripping tie between two fingers. "And while you're at it, be a dear and find out where the ladies' room is? And make sure it's clean. If there's even one of those large desert insects...those giant scorpions..." She shuddered dramatically, handing him the key to room nine. "His suitcase is brown. The tie should be in there, unless Dunfey's slaves have already unpacked it. In that case, you'll just have to poke around."

Starsky almost laughed, knowing what she meant. He bowed his head to her. "Master?" he asked Hutch with the proper amount of deference.

Hutch ran his hand over Starsky's hair and, when Starsky stood to leave, smacked him lightly on the rear. "Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

"No specifics?" Starsky said out of the corner of his mouth, wrapping the soggy silk tie around his hand.

Starsky started down the broad corridor to the bedroom wing. Now that he knew there were cameras monitoring activity in the house, he kept an eye out for them. He'd seen two in the main meeting room and one in the front lobby. There was a camera in the intersection of the hallways, but once he got to the corridor leading to the bedrooms, he didn't see any.

Room number nine was spacious and elegant, decorated in a Southwestern theme. After depositing the wet tie in the bathroom and finding no cameras anywhere, Starsky knelt by the side of the enormous bed. He ran one hand along the edge of the wooden frame, feeling for listening bugs. He didn't find any, but did discover several thick metal rings for securing a slave. Standing up on the coverlet patterned with American Indian designs, he investigated the beam that ran around all four posts of the bed. A trapeze bar hidden in the canopy frame had an attached chain that could secure a slave in any number of uncomfortable sexual positions. He shuddered, but was confident that the room wasn't bugged for sound or video.

Other than the paraphernalia to secure slaves, the room looked like any other luxury hotel room. Two suitcases sat side-by-side on luggage stands. Starsky opened the brown bag and found the red tie, flipping it over his arm like a waiter. He didn't want to risk being disciplined for disrespecting a master's property. But did Manetti still qualify as a master? After what Ariadne had said about her sexual preferences, Starsky wondered how it would affect her relationship with Manetti. Of course, they could choose to practice that in private, while displaying a traditional relationship in public. If he'd taken Hutch's desires seriously while they were still in Bay City, would they have been able to negotiate a similar relationship? It was too late to worry about that now. They had to play the hand they held.

Coming out of Ariadne's room, Starsky ducked his head, seeing a guard patrolling the long passageway.

"Boy!" The guard suddenly blocked his way.

Starsky froze, automatically assuming submission position, hands tucked behind his back and his eyes downcast. The red silk tie tickled the back of his left thigh.

"What are you doing in the masters' sleeping quarters without a pass?" the guard demanded.

"Mistress Ariadne asked me to bring Man -- " Starsky stammered, remembering to use honorifics. "Master Manetti's tie. His other one got wet."

"You don't have authorization to be here," the guard said gruffly, walking around him. He took the red tie off Starsky's wrist, examining it closely. "Who's your master?"

Starsky looked up to see the name "Walters" on the man's uniform. He was guard number twelve in Starsky's mental count. "Master Hutchinson," he answered, flicking his eyes down to the man's utility belt. He carried a small hand gun, a walkie-talkie, and a pair of handcuffs, like any city cop.

"I've got my eye on you, boy," Walters warned. "This is your first offense. Step out of line again, and you'll find out what the whip feels like on your bare ass." He deliberately dropped Manetti's tie on the ground.

Starsky clamped his mouth shut. Squatting, he picked up the tie, aware of Walters' scrutiny.

"Scurry on back to Hutchinson, copslave," Walters said, proving he knew exactly who Starsky was.

Starsky reentered the meeting room to see Dunfey shake the latest speaker's hand. When the speaker left the podium, Dunfey smiled at the group. "There's one custom from old Mexico that I've always embraced, and that's the siesta. Let's take time to relax and get to know each other better before we meet again."

"Starsk?" Hutch acknowledged his partner's return. "Be glad you missed Marco's sleep inducing babble." Despite his light-hearted words, Starsky knew Hutch had been worried about him. "You were gone quite a while."

"Help yourselves to the free drinks from the bar," Dunfey said. "My lovely Glory is bringing out special drinks for the slaves, so no need to feed and water them right now. Isn't she a gorgeous handful of tit?"

There was more laughter as Glory circulated the room handing out cups of a pink frothy juice to each slave. She was blushing, but kept her gaze down, apparently used to having to negotiate while half a dozen men and women fondled her and tugged on her pierced nipples.

"Had a little encounter with a guard," Starsky said quietly under the chatter of the council members.

Hutch gazed at him, asking silent questions that Starsky couldn't answer right then. Except for one.

"Nothing happened." He handed Manetti the strip of red silk without ever taking his eyes off Hutch. He wanted to be alone with Hutch as much as Hutch did -- not just to talk strategy.

"Anything we should know about?" Ariadne asked quietly. Manetti pretended to focus on donning his tie, but he was clearly listening for Starsky's report.

Starsky shook his head, kneeling beside his master. "Didn't see a single beetle or scorpion."

"I know you're all anxious to stretch, rest...or do whatever strikes your fancy," Dunfey said from the podium with a laugh. "When we reconvene at two p.m., be prepared to discuss the CEC candidates you think would be best to replace the current governing slate."

"That's your cue, master." Starsky couldn't quite keep the edge out of his voice. The idea of Hutch entrenched that deeply into Dunfey's operation wasn't one he wanted to contemplate.

Hutch smiled tightly, locking eyes with Starsky, and Starsky could read his partner's thoughts as if they were his own. If the coup failed, his position in Dunfey's organization was their only other option. "I'm completely confident Jack wants me on his team," Hutch said clearly so that nearby attendees could hear him.

"I've been waiting for you to step up to this kind of position." Ariadne clinked her water glass with his. "A much more suitable place for a man with your ambitions than street cop, Ken. I can't think of a better person to replace that brown-noser Simonetti." Ariadne turned to Manetti. "Sweetheart, I've got to speak to Harriet or she'll think I'm avoiding her."

"Which you are," Manetti replied toothily.

"Appearances." She adjusted the collar of her blouse. "She has Dunfey's ear..." She hurried away, greeting several council members on her way across the room.

"And his bed," Manetti added, tying his new tie in a Windsor knot.

Starsky settled back on his heels while Frankie Patello unzipped his pants and pulled Glory's mouth down on his cock. He looked away from the debasing spectacle to other slaves who were sipping their beverages. None of them were toppling over from poison, so why did he have a really bad feeling about drinking the stuff? Would he be punished if he refused to drink it?

The majority of the council members had gone to the bar for drinks. This left Starsky, Hutch, and Manetti alone, except for Glory still servicing Patello a few feet away.

"I wasn't sure what to expect here," Manetti said. "But -- contradictory ideologies aside -- Dunfey has clearly thought this overthrow out. However the reform comes about, change is inevitable."

"The CEC already changed just about everything," Starsky put in. "See how well that went?"

"Which is exactly why I think that we need to fight, and soon." Manetti clenched his fists. "All this sitting around talking leaves me restless."

Hutch shrugged, depression coloring his words. "How do we win against totalitarianism if we can't make things any better than a vicious criminal?"

"Don't let him hear you, for one thing," Ariadne said sharply, coming up behind them.

"Perhaps this would be a good time for some...recreation, darling?" Manetti said, his tone light. His eyes were tracking Dunfey.

Starsky watched Glory stagger away from Patello when he finally released her, before picking up her tray. Patello had the look of a lion after mating, well satisfied and sure of his place. Starsky wanted to smash his face in.

Manetti kissed Ariadne's hand. She smiled and whispered something to Hutch, who shook his head.

Starsky took the drink Glory handed him. "Thank you, schweetheart." She looked like she needed someone to offer her a scrap of kindness. He put the drink down without tasting it.

"You haven't been a slave long," she murmured, her lips puffy from the encounter with Patello.

"How can you tell?" Starsky felt a twinge of concern, and realized he'd have to work harder on his demeanor.

"You're...bold." She ducked her head, moving on to the last two slaves, a pair of identical twins who were linked together with a long gold chain locked around each one's waist.

Ariadne and Manetti left their table; Ari greeted a CEC cabinet member as she did. Leading the man toward the pool, she introduced her fiancé, Manetti, as they strolled.

"Times change, don't they?" Patello said directly to Hutch, giving Starsky a dismissive glance. "Once the two of us were on different sides, but here you are, acting like you bought up the sleazy side of town."

"Nice to see you, too, Patello." Hutch inclined his head at the thick-bodied man. "Break any knees lately?"

"You're funny." Patello smiled, slapping Hutch on the back as he sat at their table. "Ain't done none of that since I took down the Jersey Kid in the ring."

"I saw that fight -- bet on the Jersey Kid," Hutch said mildly.

Starsky in proper posture on his knees, stayed alert.

"Aw, you lost, huh? See, you never bet against the knee-breaker. I'm on Dunfey's team now. He's gonna control Bay City, and pretty soon, take over the whole country."

"The smart money's riding on him," Hutch said. If Starsky hadn't known better, he would have totally believed his partner's cold, sinister attitude. Hutch's new persona, a man who would enslave his own partner and then horn in on the most powerful criminal in Bay City, was a brutal, calculating risk-taker without scruples. "I plan to prove that having a former cop by his side will be a real advantage to him."

"What are you into? You came off like the incorruptible duo back in the day." Patello glanced over at Starsky, this time openly staring. "You coulda made a fortune auctioning him off by the hour to guys he used to arrest."

"I already have a fortune. I have no need to sell my partner." Hutch raised an eyebrow as he made a show of scrutinizing Starsky's position. "He's all mine, every single solid inch." Hutch pushed one boot between his thighs, forcing him to widen his legs. "Make yourself look pretty, Davey."

The leather banding his cock kept him firm; as Hutch's boot touched the brand, his cock jumped in reaction, emphasizing his length. There was a time when Starsky would have reveled in his glory, but this was not one of them. The leather protected him and put him on display at the same time. Starsky wished he could be anywhere else when Patello inspected his dick at close range. At least he didn't touch him; Hutch made it plain he wouldn't tolerate it.

"I've seen better." The criminal adjusted his own recently serviced equipment with a smirk.

"I want to expand in the slave market," Hutch continued. "Bought one of the houses down on Lincoln. With Dunfey's blessing, I might buy up the entire street, so we'd have a monopoly. And with slaves, you've got to have drugs -- "

"To keep 'em easy." Patello nodded as if they'd become the best of friends. "You got a line on Super Hero? That shit is selling like hotcakes on the street. Fastest high in town."

"I have my sources, but always glad to learn new names," Hutch said with confidence.

"D'you know Gillespie?" Patello beckoned over the first speaker Dunfey had introduced. He glad-handed the newcomer, introducing him to Hutch. Patello explained Hutch's interest in the drug business.

"Let's talk over drinks tonight," Gillespie said. "I got a sweet one for the next hour, and don't want to miss a minute of it."

Patello snickered. "One of Dunfey's babies?"

"Just picked." Gillespie winked, rocking his pelvis forward. "Only driven once, by Jack himself."

"Quite an honor," Hutch said. Starsky was the only one who noticed the angry set of his jaw and the undercurrent of anger in his voice. To anyone else, Hutch looked disinterested. "How young is she?"

"If they're over sixteen, I don't touch 'em," Gillespie boasted. "In the Blue room, if you're into watching."

"Not today," Hutch answered politely.

Starsky struggled to slow his heart rate. Under sixteen? Had to be Glory's younger sister. Starsky feared that the longer they stayed here, the more he and Hutch would be scarred by the pervasive evil. He wanted to run, push, shove, do anything to bleed off the anger in his belly. He sat in perfect posture because he was undercover.

"Something smells good," Hutch said, standing up. Slaves were wheeling in a fresh urn of aromatic coffee and trays of delicate pastries near the swimming pool. Many of the guests collected cups in anticipation.

The mermaid slaves had disappeared sometime during the morning meeting, and now two men with fish tails lounged on the edge of the pool, their arms tied tightly behind them and their cocks featured prominently above the edge of the form-fitting fish scales.

"You want some coffee, Frankie?" Hutch asked, staring at the naked mermen with a thoughtful expression.

"I've got to talk to somebody -- see you at the afternoon session." Patello smacked Hutch on the back again, and sauntered off with a confident air.

"Hutch," Starsky murmured as he stood once they were alone. They needed to get back to their room to exchange information.

"You look even better off the frame than on." A melodic voice crawled up Starsky's spine, followed by the delicate run of fingers along his back.

Harriet Roget. He shuddered, but didn't pull away from the unwanted caress. He had no right to refuse her touch. Starsky saw Hutch turn when he did, both acknowledging the woman at the same time.

Hutch gripped Starsky's arm. "Presentation, Davey. Show the woman what you've got."

"Oh, no -- I want to see him standing." She slipped her fingers under the strap that crossed between his groin and scrotum, preventing Starsky from kneeling, and tugged. "This leather harness is highly provocative."

Starsky stiffened, breathing carefully as her hand slid down to trace the contours of his thigh. She curved her palm around his sac. The feeling of being trapped, bound to the frame, was overwhelming; the memory of Harriet using him as if he were an inanimate object was all too fresh. He ducked his head; looking her in the eye could bring automatic punishment.

Harriet laughed when Starsky couldn't control the tightening of his balls from her touch. "You respond perfectly."

He pressed back against Hutch's body, almost forcing himself against his master's hipbone. Better to say nothing than speak and risk public discipline.

"He's got a phenomenal mouth," Dunfey said as he approached. Moving closer, he cupped Starsky's chin and squeezed just enough to force his jaw open. "Worth every penny you paid, Hutchinson."

Starsky couldn't move, sandwiched between the two men. He was so close to Hutch they were practically conjoined and Dunfey had moved in until they were groin to groin, his tongue darting out to capture Starsky's. The moist sliminess of Dunfey's tongue against Starsky's soft palate and the whiff of whiskey on his breath was enough to make Starsky gag. He only kept his stomach in line by closing off his throat. That made it impossible to breathe.

"This would be so much better in the Gold room..." Harriet began.

Hutch suddenly inserted an arm between Starsky and Dunfey, stepping back so swiftly that Starsky's feet left the ground. He hadn't realized Hutch could lift him.

"If you want favors from the slave," Hutch pushed Starsky to his knees, stepping around so that he had one booted foot between Starsky's thighs, "it will cost you." His voice was flat and hard, the long column of his pants leg all that Starsky could see without looking up.

"Spoken like a true business man." Dunfey chuckled, but there was menace in his tone. "I agree with Harriet, the Gold room would suit him to a T. You'll like the ambiance, Hutchinson, but we'll have to negotiate terms later. Play time will have to wait, my dear."

"Truly a pity," Harriet drawled, her smoky eyes raping Starsky. "Mr. Hutchinson, is it?"

Hutch nodded, the heel of his boot pressing against Starsky's brand. It hurt, sending a sharp pain zinging up his thigh, adding to the aches from the cock cage, the leather straps stretched tightly across his groin, and the pull of the big strap on his collar. Starsky welcomed those reminders that he still had all of his senses and most of his brain cells. Remembering to feel and react would save him, keep Hutch safe, and get them both out of here.

"Harriet Roget, Ken Hutchinson," Ariadne said suddenly, moving deliberately between them and slipping an arm through Harriet's. Manetti was close by her side.

"Miss Roget." The ice in Hutch's voice thawed slightly. "I've heard a lot about you." He took a step to the side, which allowed Starsky to see those around him better.

"As I have about you." Harriet nodded elegantly, appraising his worth. She turned to her old friend. "Ari." The two women blew air kisses at each other, smiling as benignly as a pair of sharks circling the same prey. "I wondered where you'd wandered off to earlier."

"You seemed preoccupied with being..." Ariadne cocked her head. "What exactly is your title? First lady? Or have you already grabbed a VP appointment?"

"That's in the works," Dunfey confirmed.

"Well, then congratulations are in order!" Ariadne clapped her hands together, her bangles clinking softly.

"A business women with your expertise will be a boon to the new regime," Manetti said politely.

No longer the center of attention, Starsky sucked in a breath, alert to the slightest nuances from Hutch or Ariadne. He could not afford to lose it so easily with Dunfey again. The man had way too much power over him.

"Sounds like we could be working closely together," Hutch said to Harriet.

"Now that I know your name, I realize I am in the presence of a changed man." Harriet turned all her attention to Hutch. Starsky raised his head just enough to see her smile wickedly. "I've known many former officers of the law who have turned their backs on what they used to uphold, but never have I met one who enslaved his own partner. That takes balls of steel."

"Nothing stands in my way for long," Hutch said flatly, stepping over Starsky's bent legs to sit in his chair.

"You've raised my interest level," Harriet said. "Join me for dinner this evening."

"Harriet." Ariadne waggled her finger. "You have Jack. My fiancé and I have already asked Ken to dinner."

Manetti opened his mouth, but closed it just as abruptly.

"Should I get out my dance card?" Hutch teased lightly, smiling at Manetti. "I haven't had two women fighting over me since high school." He closed one hand around Starsky's neck, rubbing circles with his thumb behind his ear like an owner calming his pet.

"Very well, Ari. Perhaps tomorrow." Harriet shrugged. "I heard Jack offered you the position of Chief of the Special Police, Ken."

"I reward those who'll work to support me," Jack said as if he had already taken command of Bay City.

"The whole force needs an overhaul," Hutch explained, the picture of an ambitious man. "We need to be sure anyone with the Special Police understands who'll they'll be working for when Mr. Dunfey is in charge."

"Well said," Harriet agreed. "Anton!" she called to a smoothly muscled, dark-haired man who had hovered nearby during the conversation. Anton knelt beside her, turning his face to her leg, his stolid expression giving nothing away. "You see, Ari? He responds instantly. As we discussed before, you must only buy your slaves from Luna. My training center is the finest in the country. Ken's Davey is another example; you saw how perfectly he responded to my touch. It's all in the training."

"I wasn't aware that there was a Michelin guide for that." Hutch waved over one of the slaves with a tray full of canapés. "Something for the ladies?" He offered Harriet first.

She selected a small slice of cucumber with soft cheese. Ariadne took a piece of shrimp and fed it to Manetti, whispering in his ear. Dunfey motioned for the slave to stay put while he tried several items on the tray.

"Oh, but there is." The tone of Harriet's voice was almost hypnotic. Starsky found himself listening to her even when he didn't want to. "You wouldn't believe their stringent criteria."

"The right sized whips, the perfect temperature to heat the branding iron..." Hutch said, sounding bored. "Yet, I found fault with Davey's training. They didn't follow my orders, and damaged my slave."

Her friendliness disappeared instantly. "I personally saw to every aspect of your slave's first days," Harriet said coldly. "He was not damaged at Luna; he arrived that way. Since you are so critical of our methods, I insist that you allow me to put him through his paces to ascertain that his training was up to our standards."

"That sounds fair, Hutchinson," Dunfey added, selecting a slice of toast with caviar from the slave's tray.

Stalling, Hutch took the same canapé and bit down on it. Starsky gasped when Hutch thrust his thumb, coated with caviar, into Starsky's mouth. The salty, almost bitter flavor worked well to counteract the lingering taste of Dunfey's tongue.

"Will you include a customer satisfaction form for me?" Hutch asked with dark sarcasm.

"I'll be the impartial judge," Dunfey said. "This should be an interesting evening."

Looking up quickly, Starsky saw Ariadne glance at Manetti. Both of them struggled to compose their expressions, but he could tell they were alarmed.

"Only if the price is right," Hutch said, his fingers pressing into the slope of Starsky's neck.

Starsky didn't move. This was the only means Hutch had of communicating his concern. They needed to get Dunfey alone, but, Starsky thought, if Harriet came along for the ride, so much the better. He had two daggers...

"I'm sure Harriet can make it worth your while, Hutchinson. She's well connected in Bay City and all through the West. Patello mentioned you want to expand in the slave trade. She's the conduit to do that. We'll use the Gold Room, as Harriet suggested." Dunfey took another canapé from the waiting slave and sent her off. "It's my private playroom. Only the finest toys. We can come to an agreement on the trade for services before we start."

"Tonight at nine," Harriet added. She glanced at a diamond-encrusted watch on her slim wrist. "Unfortunately, I have to take a business call. Jack, I'll need access to the communications room." She nodded at Hutch. "I look forward to the inspection." She bent, grasping Starsky's chin with fingernails as sharp as talons. "I think Davey here will remember that I'm very thorough."

"I'd like that siesta now, Jack," Hutch said, his fist wrapping around the thick strap running the length of Starsky's spine. He was starting to hate that strap. "And Ariadne, Manetti, and I have an appointment for playtime with the slave."

"Just ask any slave in housekeeping if you have any special needs in your room, Hutchinson," Dunfey said, but his attention was already elsewhere. He walked off to a speak with Patello and two other goons. A slave wearing shackles that prevented her from straightening her legs enough to stand crouched on her knees beside them, long fair hair covering her face.

The four of them left the meeting room together, with Starsky trailing dutifully behind. A few people lingered in the intersection between the meeting room and bedroom wing, but the corridor was mostly deserted. Long woven carpets with Navaho designs covered red tiled floors and aboriginal art decorated the walls.

"Ken, we'll meet you shortly," Ariadne said as they walked down the passageway. "I want to wash some of the desert sand off my face."

"Stars -- I mean...Davey, did the rooms have computers?" Manetti asked, glancing at the hallway camera. "I'd hate to bother Dunfey for permission to access his communications, but I haven't seen a single phone."

"Computers, yes," Starsky said, glad to be walking. "Phones, no."

There were a dozen doors in north wing of the hacienda, which was nearly deserted. Most of the guests had already retired to their rooms, either to escape the heat of midday or enjoy a romp with a slave. Starsky could hear raucous sexual activity behind room five. Hutch's jaw tightened under his façade.

"You're across the hall from us," Hutch noticed, sketching a wave when Manetti unlocked their door.

Hutch slid the key into their lock, glancing around carefully when he opened the door.

"Don't leave the key over the lintel," Starsky murmured softly, stopping just inside the room.

"It's been a while since I did that," Hutch answered just as quietly. They had the same Southwestern décor that Ariadne had, with the same huge, rough-hewn furniture. He stuck the key in his pocket, eyeing the ceiling.

"Unless Dunfey -- uh -- decorates each room differently, we won't need to clean up anything," Starsky answered Hutch's unasked question.

Nevertheless, Hutch paced the room, stopping to feel around all electrical outlets, lamps, strip molding, and the computer monitor and tower sitting on a side desk.

Turning to the bed, Starsky stopped short, his heart speeding up. "Hutch."

A large white box sat in the middle of the comforter, the kind department stores once used to deliver elegant clothing. It could be an innocuous gift, but at the same time, he was loathe to open it.

Hutch walked around to the far side of the bed, and picked up the small envelope taped to the box. He showed it to Starsky. "Kenneth Hutchinson" was spelled out in calligraphy.

"You want to open it?" Hutch asked.

"It's addressed to you, dummy," Starsky said. "From Der Fuehrer, Dunfey, unless I miss my guess."

Hutch exhaled noisily, perching on the edge of the bed to slide the note out of the envelope. He showed Starsky that "Jack Dunfey" was embossed in gold leaf on the back flap. Hutch scanned the note quickly. "It may be addressed to me, but the box is for you," he said, something brittle and indefinable in his voice.

"What?" Starsky lifted the lid. Nestled inside was his leather jacket and watch, both exactly as they had been before they'd been stolen. His breath catching in his throat, Starsky touched the smooth leather, inhaling its familiar scent. Something essential slotted back into place inside him, like a puzzle piece that completed a picture. But at what cost? "Dunfey's the last person to give anyone back something from a slave's old life," Starsky said reluctantly, without taking the coat out. "What's he want?"

"Me." One side of Hutch's mouth quirked up. "It's almost a mash note. He can't wait for us to work together, etcetera."

"Terrific." Starsky sucked in his bottom lip. "He's already got access to me later tonight, huh?"

"Starsk..." Hutch paled, crumpling the note in his fist. He sat down beside Starsky on the bed. "This is -- "

"Hard. Yeah. I know." Starsky couldn't keep out the sarcasm. "You told me. It was all impulse. You weren't thinking on all cylinders." His pierced cock bobbed with his anger. This is what you did to me. But that argument would accomplish nothing. They didn't have time for it now. "We gotta deal with the situation we're in," he said finally, searching for words that wouldn't wound. "We need a strategy, or we're up shit creek without a paddle."

"Succinctly put." Hutch pulled the leather jacket out of the box, spreading it across Starsky's knees and covering his leather-bound genitals. Picking up the watch, he checked the time, and held it out, flat on his palm like an offering. "I wish you could wear these now," Hutch said softly. "It would seem more -- "

"Like old times?" Starsky finished. He didn't know how to feel any more. Angry at what Hutch had done? Angry at the bastards who had grabbed him and stuffed him in a truck, stealing his belongings -- all on Hutch's say so. And Dunfey's. "Nothing's ever going to be the same, pal. Not ever."

"How are you holding up?" Hutch didn't touch him, not even with his thigh though they were sitting so close.

"I -- uh -- think my libido is in the toilet. How about you?" Starsky lay back with the jacket warm on his bare knees. He wanted nothing better than to hide here for the next two hours, away from pinching fingers, explicit comments, and the sight of blank-eyed slaves being raped.

"I -- " Hutch started and then stopped. "I'm sorry, Starsk. So sorry. I h-hated seeing you go down on Dunfey."

Starsky held still, just listening, Hutch's words sinking into his soul.

"I knew it might come to that. We talked about it. And I thought I could handle it. I thought..." Hutch shook his head, hitting his fist against his chest. "But now, it's indelibly inked on my brain, you...with him. And I hate that I..."

Starsky wasn't going to finish this sentence. Hutch had to shoulder the blame. He wished he could hate Hutch as much as he hated Dunfey, but ultimately, in spite of everything Hutch had done to him was one truth: he couldn't leave this man. He loved Hutch too much. Right now, that hurt with an ache that lingered.

"I hate that I made you do that. Especially knowing what Dunfey's done to you. It nearly destroyed me. Starsky, I love you so much."

The open declaration took Starsky by surprise. Almost as much as when Hutch leaned over, brushing Starsky's lips with his own. Starsky hadn't expected to want his kiss, but the moment he felt Hutch's mouth cover his, he surged forward. Gripping Hutch's shoulders, he deepened their kiss, healing some of the wounds that going down on Dunfey had ripped open. Hutch accepted his responsibility, understood what he'd done, and still wanted him, despite how Dunfey had used him. Hutch's kiss, more than scotch and Coke, more than caviar, erased all traces of Dunfey. Starsky felt cleansed.

Hutch brushed his palm over Starsky's belly, and gently pulled away. "Want to tell me what you learned when you went strolling? Were you able to get any numbers on Dunfey's manpower?"

"There's at least twelve guards and maybe eighteen household staff." Wanting to regain what Hutch had hinted at earlier -- old times, he donned the leather jacket, oddly soothed by the silky lining against his bare arms.

"That means there could be twice that many guards out on the grounds," Hutch surmised. "This place looked immense when we drove in. Ariadne may be able to find out more specifics as to the size and breadth of it." He got up slowly, like a man older than his years. "How do the guards treat you when you're not with a master?" He said the word matter-of-factly, but Starsky could hear tension in his voice.

"It's tricky," Starsky said. "Half of 'em couldn't give a rat's ass what a slave is doing wandering around. One stood so close to me that I could have just taken his pistol out of the holster and shot him." He zipped up the jacket, shrugging his shoulders to adjust the set of the leather harness underneath. It didn't take much to pretend that the straps binding him were part of his old holster. The gift of the jacket was such a cunningly complicated gesture, designed to deceive. Dunfey had dangled memories of their old life as a lure -- entangling Starsky and Hutch in his trap. "That guard acted like he didn't think a slave -- someone who once was a regular member of society, for God's sake -- would even think of fighting back."

"Very few slaves have your bravery." Hutch's voice was pitched low. This could have been any of their undercover debriefings, as they caught up on events that forced them to work apart.

Starsky had to clear his throat to continue. He could feel Hutch watching him closely, the old comfort of their partnership as palpable as the jacket around his shoulders. "And other guards harass slaves just for the fun of it. I bet that if I'd been a girl, I wouldn'a been able to get past this -- "

"Who?" Hutch asked sharply, frowning.

"Whippo named Walters." Starsky assessed his reflection in the mirror. Even with the jacket on, he still looked like a completely different person than the cop from Bay City.

"Starsk," Hutch said. The unstated concern, the I-know-you-and-I'm-worried-about-you was there, wrapping around his heart.

Starsky looked at Hutch's reflection in the mirror, his anger at his situation flaring suddenly. He whirled around, jabbing a finger at his partner. "You wanted a slave; now you've got one, Hutch! I actually get hot at the idea of kneeling for you -- but I'm still a cop."

"I know." Hutch's voice was barely audible. He lowered his eyes.

"You drilled me hard in all those fucking slave poses, so I know how to act, and I can use that to my advantage."

"But the last thing I want is for some dumb-ass guard to have any excuse to use you as a punching bag."

It was so damned hard to maintain an even keel. Starsky pulled the cuffs of the jacket down far enough to hide the leather banding his wrists. "This is gonna be like storming the beach at D-day," he said roughly, using banter to hide his concerns.

"Is this another story about one of your uncles?" Hutch asked fondly.

"Hey!" Starsky straddled a chair next to the desk, resting his arms on the back of the chair. He always thought best in this position. "The Allied forces planned that attack for months! We're behind the eight ball here."

"We know that Manetti's advanced guard is poised for the takeover." Hutch got up, talking as he paced. "That computer message that came in last night reported that Dunfey is moving people into position to take over the CEO's office. That's why Ariadne needs to make that phone call. She needs to let Whitelaw know that Dunfey's moving forward with his power play. If we can be one step ahead, just one, the Abbey League will get there first, and can take out the CEC and Dunfey's group all at once. If you and I can take out Dunfey..."

But if they couldn't kill Dunfey in the Gold Room, then Starsky would be the evening's entertainment. And if they discovered their plans or aborted their attempted assignation, so would Hutch.

"Yeah, but two of the most important people who need to be in Bay City when that happens are here!" Starsky drummed his fingers on the chair. "You really think Ariadne has what it takes? She's ambitious, but..."

Hutch leaned his forehead on the heavy bedpost, despair wrapped around him like a shroud. "In spite of your concerns about Ariadne, she has the intelligence and connections to make radical changes in the government the country needs, and that's all I care about right now. Change." He lifted his head, the blue of his eyes grayed out to mere shadows. "Not the only thing, no."

In spite of his mixed emotions, Starsky realized he suddenly needed Hutch badly. He wanted to hold him, to make fierce love with him, but he needed to keep focused.

"If Dunfey turns on me," Hutch said somberly, "you turn on him. That's why you have the weapons." Hutch closed his eyes, as if shoring something up inside.

"Hutch." Starsky realized that at this moment, he was Hutch's equal partner. This was the two of them -- everything thing else was secondary to getting the two of them out safely. "If we kill Dunfey...there are way more of them than there are of us."

Hutch ran a hand through his hair. "We will succeed, Starsky. We have to. We have no alternative."

Starsky looked around their room, suddenly focusing on the blank monitor. "Is there any way to use that computer to get information without Dunfey knowing?"

"I doubt it." Hutch crossed the room, switching it on. "It's fairly easy to hack into other people's systems."

"Even with that complicated code you were working with?" Starsky couldn't help wanting to be near Hutch -- whether for simple physical proximity or just because they worked better when hip to hip, he wasn't sure. He joined Hutch at the computer, watching him log onto the global connection.

It took several minutes to boot the machine up, then several more to log into several different bulletin boards until Hutch found a relevant message.

"Here's something...Looks like there are problems in Bay City." Hutch hit a button to pause the screen. He ran his finger along a string of numbers and letters, an obvious code. Moving his lips silently, Hutch tapped the screen every third letter. "This says that there've been riots around the CEC's headquarters." Scrolling down, he translated slowly. "This is updated daily. Even if we can't get information out, we're not totally cut off."

"Did it say anything about Whitelaw's guerrilla band?" Starsky asked.

"Doesn't name names," Hutch said distractedly. He hit a few more keys, staring at the screen.

There was a quiet knock at the door. Hutch instantly broke the connection and blanked the screen. Starsky automatically went for the gun that should have been holstered under his right arm and closed his hand on empty air. Instead, he eased the door open, the proper slave.

"Davey!" Ariadne said, her voice carrying. "We're here for the playtime your master promised."

"Tell him yourself." Starsky let Ariadne and Manetti inside. Although he still had concerns about Ariadne Underhill's leadership ability, he could not deny that she was working as hard as they were to bring down Dunfey.

"Unusual outerwear for the desert." Ariadne flicked her eyes down his body.

Starsky hadn't thought about it when he zipped the jacket up, but covering his chest just emphasized his exposed bottom. He had to fight the urge to cover himself completely.

"I just got the latest off the Abbey message boards." Hutch stood, rubbing his back. "The militia have surrounded the downtown area, just waiting for the right moment to attack."

"That was my take on it, too," Manetti said. "Ariadne and I need to get out of this meeting soon. I've got to get back to Bay City, to confer with Whitelaw, and get in position."

"Unfortunately, we can't push Jack Dunfey," Ariadne warned, sitting on the edge of the bed. She swung her feet up, crossing them at the ankles and arranged her long skirt over her knees. "Even a hint that we're at cross-purposes with him, and we'd be lucky to escape alive."

"Starsky's managed to scope out the area this morning." Hutch leaned against the computer table, rubbing under the edge of his shirt collar.

Unconsciously comforting himself, Starsky thought. The stress was getting to them all.

"Report, soldier." Manetti waved a hand at Starsky.

Giving a quick account of what he'd seen and the layout of the house, Starsky finished with, "You were in a better position to see the compound when we drove up. There has to be more than two guards in the yard."

"Two more on the main gate," Hutch said, frowning. "And I think I saw a guard tower on the west side when we came down the drive."

"Yeah, I saw that, too," Manetti agreed.

"This place is locked up better than Fort Knox used to be," Starsky said grimly, leaning on the computer desk next to Hutch.

"Even Fort Knox was broken into -- more than once." Ariadne tapped a manicured finger against her top lip. "We have to assume that most, if not all the council participants would be hostile to us. However, the slaves and servants are a different matter."

"Most of them will have little love for ol' Jack." Hutch moved his thigh enough that he and Starsky were touching shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip -- the way they often stood in Dobey's office, working out a strategy.

"If we're supposed to while away the afternoon in amorous play," Ariadne beckoned Manetti, patting the side of the mattress, "we'll need some refreshments -- which could give our Davey here a chance to poke around more, maybe talk to some of the slaves."

"I can always go for food," Starsky agreed.

"We definitely need to know who would back us, if push comes to shove," Hutch said pessimistically.

"Things could go bad fast if we're not prepared." Manetti unknotted his tie and unbuttoned the top few buttons of his crisp white shirt. "But there's a problem. Dunfey told us if we needed anything in our room to ask one of his slaves to provide it. Why would we send the slave we're supposed to be having playtime with? It's suspicious."

"No, it isn't," Ariadne insisted. "You're just not used to having slaves. A great deal of it is mind games." She left the bed and went to the desk, pulling open its small drawer. Taking out a stationary pad and pen, she scribbled something, and handed that to Starsky.

He looked at the list. "What's this for? Oysters?" Starsky grimaced at the thought of anyone eating the slimy things.

"And a rare Bordeaux wine from 1950," she explained. "If anyone questions your errand, you can show them this list and tell them your master ordered you to get these items for our session."

"Oysters are supposed to be an aphrodisiac," Hutch said thoughtfully.

"Oysters are not in season," Ariadne said with a sly smile. "And that wine is terrible; Dunfey prides himself on the quality of his cellar. He won't have it. You'll be forced to return to us without it -- "

"You have quite a knack for this sort of thing," Manetti put in.

Ariadne winked at him.

"Starsky comes back empty handed and the guards will assume we'll have to punish him," Hutch concluded.

"It gives us a reason to not send one of the household slaves, one that Dunfey would understand." Ariadne sat down in the bed, leaning against a decorative pillow. "Sending a slave on an impossible errand is a common game that the upper levels of the CEC like to play."

"Cruel," Starsky muttered, thinking of all the slaves he used to see when he'd have to go in and out of the CEC headquarters.

"It's impossible to plot everything out in advance." Hutch nodded. "But if Starsky can make any connections among Dunfey's slaves, it might give us an escape route, allies..."

"I may know just the person to talk to." Starsky laid a finger on the side of his nose in the classic ‘got a secret' move. "And I can bring back some food, in the bargain -- in addition to oysters they won't have."

"Starsk." Hutch looked at him, catching him in the laser beam of those blue eyes. "I want you..." He left it hanging, but Starsky knew exactly what he was going to say.

I want you with me, always.

Be careful.

"Bring me a roast beef sandwich," Hutch said instead, with a lame attempt at an encouraging smile.

"Roast beef sounds good, I'll have one, too." Starsky pretended to check off an order form and added the sandwich to the Ariadne's page. "Mistress Ariadne, your pleasure?"

"Well, when you put it that way," she joked in a Mae West accent, patting her hair and fluttering her eyes. "Red blooded meat always does it for me."

"Just get enough for four," Manetti added, sitting on the bed beside her. The big man rubbed her ankle absently. "But don't forget the oysters!"

"Coming right up," Starsky said with more bravado than he felt. Reluctantly, he shed the jacket, hanging it carefully in the old fashioned Southwestern wardrobe. Because of the air conditioning, he immediately felt chilled.

"I'm becoming more concerned that we're here when things are escalating in Bay City," Ariadne started to say as Starsky slipped out the door.

The hallway was deserted. Even the few stragglers he'd seen earlier when he and Hutch went to their room were gone. Everyone was taking the mid-day siesta. When Starsky reached the main junction of the corridors, he paused. Not even a guard around. He headed for the kitchen. If there was anyone who had his fingers on the pulse of the household, it would be the head chef.

The kitchen activity was slower than earlier in the day, although there were several young female sous-chefs chopping fruit and rolling out pie dough. Glory's father was seated at a metal table on the far side of the room, near a giant walk-in refrigerator. He was talking softly to an older woman with the pierced nipples of a slave.

Glory's mother?

She looked up nervously when Starsky approached, but the chef clasped her hand, saying something soothing in Spanish. She tried to smile, but it never reached her eyes.

"May I speak to you, sir?" Starsky asked.

"I am not your master," the chef said, motioning Starsky to a chair. "Do you need something? Food or drink?"

"Yes, but...first, I wanted to ask you some questions," Starsky said carefully. "My master, Kenneth Hutchinson, will be working with yours -- "

"Jack Dunfey is my employer, not my master," the old man said abruptly.

"Giuseppe..." the woman whispered, her face pinched and tight. She glanced nervously at Starsky. "Don't speak like that!"

Giuseppe glanced around the room but the other chefs were out of earshot. "Go find our youngest, Rosa. Take care of her once...they're done with her."

Starsky remembered Gillespie boasting about taking a sixteen-year-old.

Giuseppe swallowed hard, but regained his composure and kissed Rosa's cheek with poignant gravity. "Once it is over, she'll need her mamma. And stay away from that pendejo cabron."

Rosa bit her bottom lip, tears in her eyes, but she did leave.

Starsky still had to tread cautiously. Just because Giuseppe felt like this didn't mean all the servants and slaves were in accord. He remembered the devoted Anton. "How long have you worked for Mr. Dunfey?"

"I've been with him for two years." He lifted his chin. "In that time, he took everything from me, including my name. I was once Giuseppe Flores, but now I'm nothing until I can buy -- " he bit down on the word savagely, " -- back my wife, Rosa, and our daughters, Gloria and Serafina."

"Have you been able to save enough?" Starsky kept his eyes on the entrances, alert for any guards.

"Not yet. There's always some extra cost, something broken or wasted that's deducted from my wages," Giuseppe answered. "Or an extra fine because Glory disobeyed him. It's never enough." He shook his head, a man caught in a trap he couldn't escape.

"Two years. I can't believe you've lasted this long." He hooked a thumb under the thick bands of leather criss-crossing his body. "I was grabbed barely a month ago in Bay City."

"Yes, I've heard. You were once a cop." Giuseppe dropped his eyes,. "The police have so much power. If they can enslave a policeman, what hope is there for any of us?"

"Not they," Starsky said. "Jack Dunfey."

"Glory told me..." Giuseppe regarded him shrewdly, as if judging his worth as well, "that he said your partner ringed you."

The chef wasn't stupid. Starsky chose his words carefully. "That's true." He swallowed, threading on unsteady ground. "My partner did that to save me from Dunfey. And Master Hutchinson is not Jack Dunfey. My situation is not at all like yours."

Giuseppe looked at Starsky shrewdly, mulling something over. "Glory said you were different from the other slaves. That you were...bold. She said you were kind to her, and that your master was kinder to you than he had to be. We don't see that kind of...caring here."

Starsky smiled grimly. "My master was my partner before. That part of what we were is still there, although a little changed around."

Giuseppe's eyes flicked across to the two women who were sliding the pies into the oven.

Starsky followed his gaze. "If someone were to tell you that...something might happen...that could change your situation for the better...would you trust them?"

"I shouldn't, but if someone told me that, it would be the first bit of hope that I've had in a long, long time." Giuseppe ran a thumb over his thick gray mustache.

"My master has wondered...how many men and women work here?"

"Six in the kitchen including myself. I insisted on workers who knew what they were doing. Only two of my staff are ringed." He gestured toward the sous-chefs.

Another man, obviously a slave wearing a few straps of strategically placed leather, walked in and waited about ten feet away from where Giuseppe and Starsky talked.

"Get what you need out of the fridge, Carlos," Giuseppe said kindly.

Carlos nodded mutely, his eyes dull. Starsky suspected that he'd been a slave a long time. Carolos got a bottle of white wine out of the refrigerator and two glasses from a nearby shelf.

"He's one of the oldest slaves here," Giuseppe said sadly. "He and his twin brother used to be Mr. Dunfey's favorites, but the twin died. They once dreamed of being actors."

"Damn," Starsky said softly.

"Carlos can barely function now; his light has died." Giuseppe gripped the edge of the table, but never raised his voice. "This is why -- "

"You continue to work and save," Starsky finished for him. "How many others are like him?"

"There are twelve household slaves, three more in the garage," Giuseppe said, barely above a whisper. "Beware of Lady Harriet's Anton. He's totally indoctrinated and relishes his position."

"Guards?" Starsky mouthed, as quietly as the chef.

"Fifteen, ten in and around the house, five more in the grounds. They rotate every four hours," Giuseppe answered. "This does not count Patello and Kuyt, who are directly under Mr. Dunfey. What are you planning to do?"

"What would you like to do?" Starsky countered.

"Take back what is ours," Giuseppe said simply, the muscles in his cheeks gripping hard.

"That's what we intend to do." Starsky clasped the chef's hand tightly. "Your staff looks up to you. Stay alert I'll -- "

Anton, Harriet Roget's slave, came in from the hallway carrying a champagne bucket. He glanced around with a supercilious expression and saw one of the sous-chefs washing dishes. "You. Get champagne and brie for Lady Harriet."

Starsky was surprised that Anton had the effrontery not only to treat another slave like that, but also to refer to his mistress by her first name. There definitely was a pecking order, even among slaves.

The smaller woman ducked her head and dried her hands quickly, about to do what he asked.

"Sabine." Giuseppe stood, showing that he was the superior in the kitchen. "Please get Davey what he needs for his master. I will deal with Anton."

"Thank you, sir," Sabine murmured. She didn't even look at Starsky, just stood waiting like a robot who had to be programmed.

"Slut," Anton said distinctly, dropping the champagne bucket on the counter. It hit with a clang that sent a shudder through Sabine.

"Anton?" Giuseppe said frostily. "What does your mistress require?"

"She and Master Dunfey," he said, as if announcing the names of the king and queen, "Are together, and would like champagne and a brie at room temperature."

Starsky took one last look at the chef. He hoped he'd found an ally. If this man was on their side, and if he was strong enough to lead his crew, if Hutch and he could bring about a radical change in power, they would need Giuseppe.

Starsky slipped an arm around Sabine's shoulders, giving her a gentle hug. He could feel her nervousness, uncertain of what she was about to be asked to do. How long had she been ringed? "You're safe," he whispered. "How about you tell me where the roast beef is, and I can make some sandwiches."

"Oh." Sabine let out a long sigh, her tense muscles relaxing slightly. "That's easy enough. I'll get it for you." She finally looked up at him, her almond shaped eyes bright with fear, although she tried smiling. It came out like a grimace, her lips stretched too wide and too forced. She got out meat, cheese, bread and mustard, and they assembled four sandwiches quickly. Since Ariadne's list was just a subterfuge, he didn't even ask about the oysters and wine.

Carrying the bag of food, Starsky crossed the main lobby to go back to his room, but curiosity got the best of him and he peeked down the other corridor. Long windows let in shafts of hot afternoon sun. In the distance, he could see a tall, metal fence with barbed wire along the top. A dark figure trudged in front of the fence, patrolling.

Hearing footsteps and voices from inside one of the rooms opposite the windows, Starsky ducked his head, and began to walk back the way he'd come. A door opened and shut behind him.

"Well, who do we have here?" Jerry Kuyt's voice grated on Starsky's ears. "It's the copslave."

Frankie Patello's laughter boomed overhead as a pair of Nikes came into Starsky's view, far too close to Starsky's right side.

There was no way he could walk faster to get away, or pretend he hadn't heard them. Free citizens, no matter how abhorrent, had all the rights and Starsky had none. Strong fingers closed around his bicep, propelling him into the wall between two banks of windows. Starsky jerked to the left, but a heavy hand in the small of his back stopped him by gripping the leather girdle.

Dropping into the same mindset he did when dealing with any criminal, Starsky grit his teeth, resisting. "If you want to arrange a session with me," he said, "you must contact my master -- "

"Hutchinson's toy," Kuyt said into Starsky's ear, shoving him to the tiled floor.

Putting out his left arm to break his fall, Starsky still hit with a thud that knocked the breath out of him, jarring his arm from elbow to shoulder. The sack full of sandwiches bounced out of his hands, spilling bread and roast beef across the tiles.

"Been waiting for recreation time," Kuyt said. "Let's have fun." Kuyt's laughter had an edge of mania.

"What do you have in mind?" Patello did not sound so sure about Kuyt's idea.

"Dose him up, see what a little vitamin P does to his kind." Kuyt snickered. "Got some of Dunfey's stash with me, in case of emergencies."

"Well, what are you waiting for?" Patello groused, glancing around nervously. "Give him some. Just don't let Dunfey find out."

Starsky's heart ratcheted up so quickly he couldn't catch his breath, the pounding of his pulse filling his chest with a panicky ache. This wasn't how it was supposed to happen! He was supposed to find some useful information, not end up a rag doll for Kuyt and Patello's games. He squirmed, kicking out one leg, but Kuyt simply stepped down on his foot, using his standing weight to subdue him.

"I'm running low on my private stash. Dunfey's got more in the Gold Room, but it's only for his slaves." Kuyt straddled Starsky's body, sitting on his butt, grinding Starsky into the floor. Now he truly couldn't breathe. "You're gonna have some fun today, butthole."

"Help me hold him still so I can stick him!" Kuyt told Patello, giggling insanely.

"Give me a minute, Jer!" Patello whined. "What if one of the guards -- ?"

"We'll tell 'em to get their own slave," Kuyt said as if explaining to a child.

Starsky felt constricting weight rise up off him briefly, and gathered his energy into his limbs, tucking his feet under him. Just as he shifted forward to use the wall as leverage, Kuyt gave a roundhouse kick to Starsky's midsection. Stars burst behind his retinas, agony ripping through his belly. While Starsky lay curled in a fetal position on the cold tile floor, Kuyt stuck a syringe in his buttocks.

The drug burned, immediately trampling coherent thought, filling Starsky up with an intense craving.

Phenine.

Not again.

"Never fails," Kuyt said, sounding like he was a long way off.

It took Starsky a moment to realize he was no longer restrained, but sprawled between the two men. His body tingled as if millions of ants walked under his skin. The sense memory of hands caressing him, holding him, squeezing his cock, made him squirm.

"He's immediately horny," Kuyt said. "Only a true slave reacts like that." His fingers walked up Starsky's flat abdomen to one nipple and twisted it cruelly.

Starsky cried out, arching into the pain, trying to increase the stimuli, hating himself the entire time.

Goddamn fucking Phenine.

"Pick him up," Kuyt ordered. "Need to get him out of the hall before anyone sees him. Dunfey's taking one of his siestas. He'll be incommunicado for a while, so we'll have plenty of time to play."

Patello and Kuyt used the straps that crisscrossed Starsky's torso to yank him to his feet.

"It's not him you need t'worry about," Starsky said, his words slurring. He tried to get away but their grip on his sensitive parts prevented movement. "My master will grind your nuts into paste..."

"Shut up!" Kuyt ordered, digging his thumbs under the leather straps that bracketed Starsky's genitals.

That hurt a lot, but Starsky had to bite down on his tongue not to moan in appreciation.

"Hutchinson's nothing." Kuyt gazed down at Starsky's body with an open-mouthed lust. "Said he'd put a bullet in my head for touching his property," he recalled, laughing as though he'd gotten one over on Hutch.

Starsky reared up, ramming one knee into Patello's groin and twisting fast, feeling the dragging weight of Kuyt's grasp on his harness before momentum pulled him forward. Patello shouted and went down on all fours, gasping in pain. Kuyt's sharp fingernails gouged into Starsky's thigh for a moment, and then he was free, running. Starsky shot down the hall, the stinging wound from the shot singing with poisonous pleasure through his blood.

God, this is sick.

"Get him!" Patello howled, one hand cupping his privates.

Kuyt wasn't big, but he was quick. He tackled Starsky, slamming him down on the tile floor. Starsky lay stunned, forcing air past his cramped lungs. His body aching, panic swamped the rampant desire of the Phenine. He was about to be raped by a couple of shits.

Hutch.

Hutch was going to kill Kuyt for this. Starsky gulped air, feeling Kuyt clamp down on his ankles to spread his legs apart. He really needed one of those last minute cavalry saves right now. Hutch running down the hall, the blond avenger with his Colt in that big, long fingered hand. Hutch always rescued him, right?

"What the hell is going on here?" demanded a voice of authority.

Somewhere off to one side, Patello squeaked in surprise.

Befogged, Starsky felt such a wash of hope that he didn't even notice when Kuyt let go.

Hutch!

Except it wasn't. He would have felt Hutch's presence from across a room. Starsky twisted around to see Manetti standing like a statue over them, seething with rage.

"Disciplining a slave, Mr. Manetti," Kuyt answered, getting to his feet. His demeanor rapidly changed to the obsequious toady he'd been that morning greeting guests. "Dunfey has authority over all the property -- "

"Master Hutchinson made it plain that nobody, not even Dunfey, has authority over his slave," Manetti cut in sharply. "I distinctly recall Hutchinson saying he'd collar you and sell you to the highest bidder who wanted a virgin ass if you touched his slave again."

Kuyt paled at the threat but held his ground.

"Davey? Are you all right?" Manetti bent down, putting out a hand.

Brushing away the assistance, Starsky got to his knees. Defying all slave regulations, he glared up at Kuyt, grinning with revenge. "Looks like he's gonna sing soprano from now on," Starsky said as Patello leaned against the wall, hunched over to protect his aching genitals.

"Davey, you'd do well to keep your mouth shut," Manetti snapped, his heavily muscled arms crossed over a wide expanse of chest. The ex-Buccaneer dwarfed Dunfey's two henchmen.

Stung, but unrepentant, Starsky ducked his aching head, listening to the siren song of the Phenine in his veins. Damned stuff. He wanted to get his rocks off -- immediately. Even high on the drug, he could resist the asshole Kuyt, but Starsky needed relief bad. He needed Hutch.

"Kuyt, you're an idiot to have touched this slave. Hutchinson is gonna come gunning for you." Manetti shook his head.

Sounding desperate to defend his actions, Kuyt protested, "He kneed Patello in the balls."

"From what I've seen, he probably had it coming." Manetti put a hand on Starsky's forehead. "Davey looks sick. He's sweating. Hutchinson sent him to get us some food -- which I see he did, food you caused him to lose -- and he was in perfect condition when he left."

"Doesn't matter. He struck a free man." Kuyt puffed up his chest, awkwardly patting Patello on the arm. "Dunfey will punish him for it. Those are the rules."

"They dosed me," Starsky said between grunting inhalations.

"With what?" Manetti asked, his eyes grave with concern.

Starsky managed to stand with his help. "Phenine." He tried to get his breathing under control. "Just give me a minute, and I'll be fine."

"We'll still report him," Kuyt sneered.

"I can't stop you from acting like a puerile sycophant without a brain cell in your head," Manetti said, showing off the law degree vocabulary. "But this man needs medical help. Where's the nearest doctor?"

Kuyt gaped stupidly before regaining some composure. "For a slave?" He chuckled. "That stuff is made for slaves."

Patello nodded nervously.

Kuyt couldn't stop talking. "They feel no pain, only -- "

"I suggest you give yourself a nice big dose, then," Manetti interrupted again. "Because you're gonna have a heap of pain soon enough. Come on, Davey."

Starsky shuddered, arousal crawling up his spine from just the brush of Manetti's hand on his back. The Phenine messed with his mind. He wanted to scrub his whole brain with soap. He needed Hutch.

Manetti wrapped one of those huge hands around Starsky's arm, leading him back toward Hutch's room. "You're with me." The fact that Manetti stood so close, and was taller and larger than any one of them was a nice safeguard against further attacks from Dunfey's goons.

"Don't have to tell me twice," Starsky muttered, not so sure he could walk a straight line. But he'd kept his wits and his feet under him in worse situations. The memory of Hutch pulling him close the day he'd been poisoned and given only twenty-four hours to live was as vivid as if it just happened. He could feel Hutch hugging him, Hutch's long fingers around his head, caressing him. He wanted Hutch's hands on his chest, his legs, and wrapped around his cock. Sweat rolled down his spine, adding to the irritating arousal.

Manetti grasped the knob to room ten just as Hutch yanked the door open.

"What happened?" Hutch's voice cut off anything Manetti might have said. "Starsk?"

"I'm all right," Starsky mumbled. Just the proximity of Hutch's body was enough for a moment.

Hutch smelled like raw sex. He could have tracked Hutch down by scent alone. Hutch grabbed his arm to haul him inside the room, and Starsky nearly went into orbit from the stimulation.

"Kuyt and that douche bag, Patello, dosed him with Phenine," Manetti said succinctly, locking the door to ensure their privacy. "They were about to get down and dirty..."

Hutch went white with rage. "I'm gonna pull out Kuyt's balls by hand and slice them -- "

"Hutch!" Starsky panted, his fingers itching to pull down Hutch's fly.

"Did he...?" Hutch cupped Starsky's face, examining him frantically.

He must feel me trembling, Starsky thought, distracted by how blue his partner's eyes were. He shook his head, both in answer to Hutch's question and to get rid of his disturbing urges. He itched to get at Hutch's zipper.

"Start from the beginning," Ariadne said forcefully.

Distracted from his lust, Starsky realized that was the power that might someday lead a nation.

"And will the two of you let Starsky sit down; he looks terrible," she chided.

"You're hot enough to have a fever," Hutch said, brushing his fingers across Starsky's forehead.

"Phenine," Starsky snarled when Hutch and Manetti helped him settle on the bed. "I gotta do something, Hutch. Now, or I can't think straight."

"Slow down." Hutch ran his palms over Starsky's torso, as if looking for injuries.

"I can't!" Starsky said, scrabbling his fingers on Hutch's fly. "Don't you understand?" He stared down at that big shaft bulging through Hutch's slacks. But at the last moment before all rational thought fled, he drew back, using anger to dull the need. "Do you see what this stuff does?" he raged at everyone in the room. "This damned slave drug?"

"Tell me from the beginning," Ariadne said, sitting down on the edge of the bed. There was no erotic titillation in her interest, only sympathy and concern. "I want to hear, Starsky. What did they do?"

Digging both thumbs into his temples to dial down his headache, Starsky was still very aware of his partner's support behind him. Standing at the edge of the bed, Hutch was keeping a barely-there hand on his back. He had seen Starsky under the effects of Phenine before and knew how much effort it took just to be able to speak, let alone think.

"I d-did talk to Giuseppe, Glory's father, in the kitchen." Starsky took the glass of water Manetti handed him, and drained it. "I think he'll work with us. He'll be a lot of help -- " The crawly feeling of Kuyt pulling apart his ankles, exposing him, kept breaking up his linear thought. "I was coming back here with the sandwiches when Kuyt and Patello grabbed me. They -- " He'd heard something pertinent, something Kuyt said, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember what. " -- Grabbed me and shoved a needle in my ass. I kneed Patello in the family jewels."

"Good!" Hutch interjected. "Dammit, Kuyt knows that Starsky is my property. He was going after him -- "

"Because I used t'be a cop," Starsky finished. "Payback for everything we ever did to him."

"I'm appalled." Ariadne put one hand to her mouth, gazing up at Manetti as if seeing someone new. "It's repugnant. I've had to deal with CEC executives who used slaves indiscriminately. I've always despised them for it. But I never -- "

"Did you know about Phenine?" Hutch yelled at her. He looked at Starsky and visibly calmed.

"I've only seen it used once." Ariadne bit down on her bottom lip. "Harriet likes what it does, loosening the inhibitions, with a small dose..."

"You don't know the half of it. I've had Phenine a couple of times." Starsky rubbed his arms. He was sure there were bugs were crawling under his skin. "And I don't think Kuyt was careful about how much he gave me. This feels bad. Worse than I've had before."

"An overdose? They could have killed you -- " Hutch said, stricken. "I'm going to Dunfey. I'm pulling out. I can't stay here after those fucks almost -- "

"What the hell did you expect?" Starsky lashed out, surprised at his own vehemence. "D'you even notice how they treat all the slaves? It doesn't work both ways, Hutch." He panted, wanting Hutch's cock in his mouth and wanting to be far away from all of them at the same time. "Once a person's got a ring hanging off them, the rest of the fucking world stops seeing them as human."

"I see you -- " Hutch swung around, going very still.

Starsky should have been more circumspect with their friends in the room, instead he had a reckless need to chatter. "You see me. And for whatever reason, I'd go on my knees for you in a heartbeat, you big shit. It ain't the same."

"Kuyt likes to hurt," Manetti put in.

"There is a world of difference between willing submission and forced slavery," Ariadne said, sounding very tired. She glanced over at Manetti again, her eyes veiled.

"Dunfey's gonna hear what I have to say about Kuyt and Patello," Hutch said with renewed anger, even as he caught Starsky's eyes with something like pleading. "Let's see what he says when I tell him I'm done with him and his whole revolution. I'll -- "

"Kenneth, you can't." Ariadne stepped in front of him, baring his way. "We're in too deep for you to jeopardize the operation now."

"The operation?" Hutch retorted in disbelief, his eyes blazing. "Right now, I don't give a damn about the Abbey League. This was a declaration of war. Kuyt and Patello were going to rape him."

"Which is exactly why you need to stay here." Ariadne jabbed a finger at the carpet. "We need cool heads to remain on course. We are not the only ones in danger here. Many factions are coming together and lives are at stake."

"There's respect involved," Hutch snapped. "If I step down from this, Dunfey will never take me seriously again. I have to fight back to regain face. His people stole my property -- I've got to tell him I will pull out of the deal unless there are reprisals."

Manetti held up his hands like a referee in a fight, the lawyer coming out. "I can talk to Dunfey, man to man," he said. "Act as a witness to Starsky's assault and complain about Kuyt's brutality and the dosing. I don't know about Arizona specifically, but in Southern California, it's illegal to use Phenine on a slave without the owner's permission."

"So I just let this slide?" Hutch growled. He thumped himself on his chest. "Bow down like a -- "

"Slave?" Starsky couldn't bank the need spiraling through him much longer. He wanted Manetti and Ariadne gone, now.

Hutch stared at him, guilt and aggression warring on his face.

"That's good," Ariadne agreed with Manetti as if Hutch hadn't said anything. "Perhaps Hutch can get compensation for the assault."

"I want Kuyt punished," Hutch said more quietly, common sense overcoming his banked fury. "I'll bring charges against him and Patello. Even in a non-slave city state, robbery is against the damned law."

"Which Dunfey will fully understand." Ariadne took Manetti's arm. "Starsky -- "

He was surprised to read a humble apology in her eyes, even though she never said anything aloud.

"We'll be in touch," Ariadne said, her long skirt swirling out the door, almost wrapping around Manetti's legs.

"Damn, Hutch." Starsky hunched his shoulders, the tremors back. If he didn't get something soon, he was going to explode. "This is the worst yet."

"He overdosed you," Hutch said softly, hovering without touching. He knew not to get too close when Starsky was high on Phenine. "You could have died."

"But I didn't." Starsky latched onto Hutch, fumbling for his groin. "But I will if -- "

"I know," Hutch soothed, tangling his fingers in Starsky's hair. "I know what you need, babe. Take it all."

His breath jamming in his throat, Starsky palmed Hutch's fly, barely coherent enough to pull down the zipper. It was easy enough to locate Hutch's prominent organ, which was fully erect thanks to the friction from Starsky's hand. He wasn't at the right angle, sitting on the bed. Without thinking about the implication, he sank to his knees.

Starsky engulfed Hutch's turgid flesh as if he were starving and Hutch gasped, panting. He buried his nose in Hutch's wiry blond pubic curls, inhaling his musk, all leather and arousal-warmed sweat. His belly churned at the scent. He huffed through his mouth, then pulled off Hutch's cock to nip his taut balls.

"You are the bravest man I know," Hutch said tenderly. "But you shouldn't -- "

Starsky came off just long enough to snarl, "Shut up. Just shut up!" Everything was all wound together into a complex knot that was impossible to untie. The Phenine compelled him in ways he couldn't fight, anymore than he could fight his attraction to Hutch. He'd been forced into slavery and now assaulted. He was taking back what was his. His self-worth.

Butting his head into Hutch's thighs to force them farther apart, Starsky tongued his scrotum before giving Hutch's penis his full attention.

Hutch latched onto the back of Starsky's head, keeping him on his knees with his mouth claiming Hutch's heated cock. "You're high," Hutch whispered, as if he was about to say more but there was an edge to his voice that proved his arousal was peaking. "We should sto..." His fingers bit painfully into Starsky's scalp, sharp spikes of pleasure/pain blossoming under Starsky's breastbone and down his groin.

So good.

Hutch had always been easy to bring off. He got hard if Starsky looked at him right. And Starsky had always known just how to look at Hutch.

The Phenine gave him a sudden insight. Hutch's cock was his. He realized it always had been since that first week in the police academy. He owned Hutch as surely as Hutch owned him. He could lead his master around by the balls even without a ring.

Starsky butted Hutch again, pushing him back against the bed until Hutch sat down. The movement jostling him, Starsky came perilously close to biting into Hutch's cock. His jaws ached with the effort to keep them from snapping shut on his lover's swollen flesh.

"Starsky!" Hutch howled. "Don't..." He bucked harshly, almost unseating his slave, but Starsky stayed attached, limpet-like, sucking all the juice from his master when Hutch climaxed with a roar.

Not even close to satiated, his blood roaring in his ears, and cum dripping from his mouth, Starsky chanted, "Fuck, fuck, fuckfuck." He clawed at the straps and locks wrapping his cock, palming the patches of purplish erect flesh that showed between the bands, panting with the effort. The Phenine negated the pain from the beating; he didn't even notice the bruises Kuyt had given him.

"Slow down!" Hutch grabbed his arms, tearing Starsky's hands off his own bound penis before he managed to rip the ring right out of the end.

"You know how this stuff makes me feel," Starsky growled, needing relief. "You got to...do...something, Hutch, and I'd better not have to explain what!" There couldn't be enough sensation to satisfy him. The small still-rational place in his brain understood this was the biggest dose he'd ever had.

Hutch panted from the brief battle. He ran his hands down Starsky's chest rhythmically, stroking and soothing the bruises starting to purple along his ribs. "Try to calm down; then I'll unleash that monster." He urged Starsky onto the bed, with his back against the tumble of pillows.

Starsky groaned; he'd brought Hutch off too soon. He could have had that huge, beautiful cock rammed up his ass where it belonged.

"We go slow, easy -- like working an investigation," Hutch said. He stopped before he palmed Starsky's cock, waiting for a response from Starsky.

The straps strangled him, digging deeply into his swollen organ. It should have been agonizingly painful; instead, it aroused him even more. "Get it off!" Starsky struggled against Hutch, yelling obscenities when Hutch grabbed his wrists, holding on until Starsky stilled. "Hur09;uutch!"

"Slow and steady, Starsk," Hutch reminded, releasing his wrists. "Can you get some control?"

Heaving a breath, Starsky grit his teeth. God, he wanted control but that seemed completely unobtainable. Hutch was watching him warily and Starsky hated that, too. He didn't want Hutch cautious around him, or careful. He wanted fast, hard and angry...but apparently wasn't going to get that.

His hands trembling visibly, Starsky clenched his fists, forcing down the rampant Phenine-fueled fire. Hutch waited for him, his hair tousled from the struggle. After a long moment, Starsky reached up and finger-combed Hutch's fine blond locks.

"I'm better," he admitted. "But -- "

Hutch leaned down and kissed the end of Starsky's bound cock.

Arousal, pure and vivid, shot through Starsky. It wasn't forceful or nasty, and he wanted more. "Yeah."

"Nice, huh?" Hutch smiled beatifically. He took a key out of his pocket and unlocked the tiny padlock tucked into Starsky's groin. Running his tongue down the length of Starsky's shaft, he kissed and licked, covering the leather straps and the exposed flesh.

Starsky could have come from the contact alone but he held on, waiting for his reward. Alternating lapping and unbuckling, Hutch removed the leather cage with loving sweetness.

Freed from confinement, Starsky's cock swelled even larger, the throbbing pulse drumming a solo through his entire body to the core. So amazingly good. This was how it should be. Hutch caught the tip, sucking like a vacuum while he ran his fingers lightly over the sensitized strip of muscle on the underside. Starsky nearly levitated off the bed, his climax both horrible and magnificent, too long in coming and too powerful to be forgotten.

He panted, drenched in sweat, feeling Hutch pull him into an embrace.

"Did the trick, huh?" Hutch asked, with a hint of amusement.

The nauseating effects of the Phenine caught up with him abruptly. Starsky gulped spasmodically to quell the rising sickness in the back of his throat.

Hutch saw his discomfort and waited, one hand resting on Starsky's convulsing abdomen as if to keep his belly where it should be. "You gonna heave?"

When Starsky couldn't answer, Hutch hauled him to his feet and helped him into the bathroom. Starsky barely made it to the black marble sink before vomiting in gut-wrenching heaves that narrowed his vision to a section of the sink and mirror above. Gasping, Starsky raised his head to peer at his reflection. He looked awful -- skin bleached almost to chalk, highlighting the old the rainbow of bruises circling his right eye.

"How're you doing?" Hutch asked gently. He turned on the faucet to wash down the sink, then filled a cup of water and held it up for Starsky to drink.

"Terrific." Starsky rinsed out his mouth with the water and spit it out. He was so shaky that he had to lean against the basin to stand. "This ain't gonna work, Hutch. I can't think. I can't concentrate... How the hell can I be of any use when I'm either sick or have something shoved in my mouth?"

"Where were you, and what did you see?" Hutch enunciated with razor sharp clarity. "You're surviving the hardest undercover either of us has ever had to face."

I hate him.

He had to be strong, fight this or he was nothing.

I love him, he realized with dismay.

"Fight this, Starsk," Hutch said. "You're stronger than you know, and Phenine is just a bunch of chemicals messing with your brain."

"Just like the heroin messed with yours." Starsky licked his lips. God, he was weary. Couldn't Hutch see that he was exhausted? "I'm still horny."

"That's not you talking, it's the Phenine," Hutch said. He tossed the washrag he held into the sink and retreated to the door.

"Yeah, Phenine makes me do things I don't want to do, but then, it ain't the only one," Starsky lashed out, seeing his barbs hit home when Hutch flinched. Somehow that helped and hurt at the same time. "I still want you to get me off, after I came less than five minutes ago. Ain't that a kick in the head?"

He shuffled out of the bathroom. After a few seconds, Hutch slung an arm around his waist to give him support.

"First things first," Starsky said carefully, letting go of his partner when they reached the bed. The thick mattress looked incredibly enticing, but he tore the lust-filled images of him and Hutch coupling out of his brain. In spite of his attire, his position in this society, his debasement at the hands of Dunfey and Kuyt, he was still a competent undercover cop.

"There are twenty-one people -- free men and slaves combined -- on Dunfey's staff for cooking, house and grounds maintenance, car repair, stuff like that." Starsky focused on getting the words out the way he had when he was a rookie and not used to giving reports yet. Hutch didn't make a sound, staying far enough away to avoid tempting him. "That's not counting his lackeys or the fifteen guards -- ten in and around the house and five more outside. A lot of manpower, Hutch."

"But you said this Giuseppe might help us?"

Starsky nodded, still not looking at Hutch. "He's angry as hell. And the other slaves look up to him, I saw that. He's kind to them." He swallowed, the pounding throb in his genitals overwhelming. His belly spasmed again, which only added to the fuel. What hell had spawned this vile stuff that kept him continuously turned him on? "God, Hutch...please..."

Starsky hooked an ankle around Hutch's leg and toppled him onto the bed. Hutch grunted when he hit the mattress, but his eyes were trusting. Hutch didn't fight back, but he didn't give in, either. He rolled quickly onto one side, taking Starsky with him.

Starsky stared back at his partner, half ashamed, completely aroused. It didn't matter if his extreme yearning for contact was brought on by the Phenine. It made him feel vulnerable and weak, which he hated. With his forehead pressed against Hutch's cheek, Starsky took a shuddering breath, sorting out his riotous thoughts. His cock still demanded immediate attention and his whole skin seemed to hum with a low voltage current that was so utterly painful and yet delicious that he sank his teeth into Hutch's neck to see if the feeling could be transferred.

"Shit!" Hutch roared, rearing back. "Starsky, that'll leave a mark!" He rubbed the side of his neck, keeping his distance again.

"Like I give a damn about that." Starsky shook his head, feeling like a prize fighter who'd gone five rounds in the ring. Everything ached, his cock most of all.

"You should. Can't have one of them out there thinking I allow that kind of thing. Tell me what else you learned."

Starsky gasped when Hutch's hand brushed his balls, feeling the last vestiges of sense leave him in a heated rush. He orgasmed for the second time, shaking all over. He'd never come twice in such a short time. Like being hit by a truck and amazingly fantastic at the same time. He could barely think, he was so tired.

"Hey, hey..." Hutch murmured, kissing him gently on the forehead. "Did that help?"

"Finally drained away the worst of the drug." Starsky heaved a shuddery breath, melting into Hutch's arms. "An' not much else to report..."

"You did good, Starsk." Hutch kissed the new bruise, and helped Starsky into the center of the bed.

Starsky closed his eyes, exhausted, and let himself be tucked in without protest.

***

He woke when the phone rang, listening as Hutch talked angrily into the receiver.

"Kuyt injected him with Phenine," Hutch said tightly. The edge in his voice could have sliced through steel. "He's my property, which your men damaged. They could have killed him! There are legal precedents here, in California and -- " He stopped, obviously seething before bursting out with, "If Kuyt spent the rest of his miserable life in your employ, he could never repay my investment in this slave."

There was another significant pause, then Hutch growled, "He belongs to me, and I reserve the right to deal with him as I see fit... Are you willing to risk the future of our business partnership over the actions of a flunky?"

Starsky rolled onto his side to watch his partner struggle to control his temper. It was imperative that Hutch maintain a good relationship with their host and abide by his rules if they had any hope of completing their task.

"I understand," Hutch said through clenched teeth. "Then forget about the appointment in the Gold Room. Between what your goons did, the Phenine, and now a mandatory punishment, Starsky will be useless for extracurricular activities for the next week."

Mandatory punishment? Starsky sat up abruptly, his heart pounding.

"We are not finished discussing this," Hutch said remotely, his lips pinched down to a sour line. He hung up the phone with such carefully controlled movements he could have been a robot.

Starsky swung his legs over the bed, noting that his cock hung limply between his thighs for the first time in what seemed like days. Reddish marks circled the length where the straps had been. His whole body ached. The Phenine still sang in his veins, but weaker now that he'd slept. He felt like his skin had been sanded off, leaving only raw nerve endings. Even the expensive cotton sheets irritated him.

"What's going on?" he managed to grunt.

"Dunfey demands a public punishment." Hutch barely moved, but fury crackled off him like summer lightning.

Starsky flinched, easily imagining the whip tearing into his back. Would the thickness of the leather harness be any sort of protection? Or was Dunfey so good he could curl the tail around the straps girding Starsky's body?

Closing his eyes, he remembered Hutch punishing him with the strap at Luna. "Can't you do it?"

Hutch stared at him, the muscles in his jaw flexing. "You want me to do it?" He thrust his hands into his pockets. The sound of keys jangled, his fist delineated sharply through the thin fabric of his pants as he toyed with the key ring. "No. I can't. I've hurt you enough -- "

"You have to!" He couldn't endure a beating from Dunfey's hand. Not Dunfey. Starsky was quaking inside, but didn't let it show. "You already said it, I'm your property. Yours to discipline. You threatened Kuyt -- "

"And only let Dunfey have you after I got something in the bargain," Hutch finished, regaining his composure. He turned anguished eyes on Starsky, but there was a flicker of something else there. "We need to turn this around, use it to our advantage."

"How?" Starsky hadn't intended to sound so needy.

"Give me a minute to think this through." Hutch blew out a breath between his teeth, perching on the edge of the computer table. "I was angry enough to say no to the Gold Room -- which means, we've lost the chance to get Dunfey alone for an attack."

Starsky was having trouble thinking past the public discipline. He knew exactly what Hutch might have to do -- might have to make him do, but he didn't want to have to say it out loud. If was far too hard, for both of them.

Hutch turned his head, looking steadily at Starsky without speaking. Starsky could see the fierce slave master, the intense cop, and Hutch's gentle soul all combined into his enigmatic partner.

"We don't have any choices left, do we? We've got to get him alone. The Gold Room is our only chance."

The Phenine in Starsky wanted to lash out and yell, but that wouldn't help. They had to deal with what they were facing. "Looks that way. If we want to get out of here alive -- and that's looking slim right now."

"You're such a ray of sunshine, Starsky." It was the only way Hutch could respond with a hint of banter.

Starsky closed his eyes, taking a moment to summon up the courage to say what he had to. "You gotta find a reason to tell Dunfey that the session in Gold Room is on." The very idea terrified him.

Hutch nodded, tugging at his unknotted tie. "He's going to have to pay for it, though, somehow. If I just give it to him, after refusing with logical reasons, it'll seem suspicious. This afternoon's session is for ‘networking' -- connecting with the other criminals and corrupt CEC officials Dunfey considers allies. Maybe we can use that to find out information critical to the Abbey League offensive. Some of the CEC execs that are cozy with Ariadne will swing whatever way the wind blows."

"Back at the apartment, you said something about me..." Starsky felt the tightness of the leather harness girding him, surrounding him. Hutch's attempt to keep him safe. "Kneeling during board meetings...listening. If you need what I can...offer." It was harder to say than he expected. That troubled fifteen-year-old who once gave blow jobs for drug money kept screaming in protest. "I can deal with it. Bringing Dunfey down is paramount."

"No!" Hutch said vehemently, startling him so much he moved back on the bed. "You had the shit kicked out of you this afternoon, and were nearly overdosed on that damned drug. If I can't find some way to minimize this public punishment -- what kind of shape are you going to be in after that? And I'm supposed to offer you up for a session in the Gold Room? If we can find a way back in there, you've got to be in good enough physical condition to be able to be able to handle whatever happens, which at some point, we hope, might include killing Dunfey and possibly some of his guards."

Starsky said nothing, just let Hutch rant.

"Starsk..." he stroked his upper lip as though he could feel his mustache there, "I let the King of All Scum use you. I can't watch that again. Especially not with the ugly low-lifes that are working with him. And logically, I gave you to Dunfey. None of them are anywhere close to being that important. It...would diminishes your value, and the gift to Dunfey...if I'd give you to just anyone."

I love you, too, Starsky thought, hearing all the things Hutch wasn't saying.

"Hutch," Starsky said quietly. It was weird with all the Phenine running through his veins that he might have to be the sensible one right now. "You might have to -- "

"We've had to do a lot of terrible things when we worked undercover," Hutch agreed. "But we also avoided a lot worse things by using our heads. This is no different than working the streets of Bay City. We've just got to be smarter than them."

We, Starsky heard.

"While you were gone on your errand to the kitchen," Hutch told him, "Manetti and I logged on again, going through Ariadne's private encrypted email -- Abbey members in Bay City are ready to launch the siege at CEC corporate headquarters. But -- there was no email from Whitelaw."

Starsky sat wearily on the bed, feeling his stomach grumble. He wished he hadn't dropped the roast beef sandwiches. "Wouldn't he be in the hills with the militia on standby?"

"Manetti said Peter's checked in with him or Ariadne every day until yesterday."

"Maybe he's out of range?"

"Manetti's worried." Hutch sighed with a shake of his head. "What if something major's gone wrong?"

Starsky wet his mouth. "That ain't good. We have to consider the possibility that he's been captured."

"Yeah." Hutch nodded soberly. "Which makes it imperative that we find some way to get Manetti and Ariadne back to BC. It's part of our duty to protect them."

Starsky nodded. "You mean, besides assassinating Dunfey? Because if that doesn't happen -- "

"Ariadne and Manetti won't have a prayer." Hutch caught Starsky's chin between his thumb and forefinger, forcing eye contact. "Whatever happens tonight, know that I have always loved you more than anything. You were right -- I lost my focus, torn between wanting you and the whole militant rhetoric until I wasn't paying attention to anything but my own selfish needs. Now we're smack in the middle of hell, and it could all explode."

"Hutch."

"The Abbeyite militia hopes to take down the CEC. If it happens, it could cause a news blackout. Or it could be broadcast. If Dunfey hears about it, he might think the collapse of the CEC will work to his advantage. There's no way to know how things will work out."

"Then we wing it, just like we always do undercover." Starsky grinned; the Phenine increased his tendency to be reckless and wild. He didn't have to have his jacket on to feel like old times. He and Hutch were working together.

"You scare me when you're fearless and impulsive." Hutch kissed him hard on the lips, opening his mouth and letting their kiss grow into something more.

"Calling the kettle black..." Starsky said, kissing him back just as hard. It felt right to have Hutch completely back by his side. The two of them had always been stronger than either of them were separately. When the kiss ended, he straightened his shoulders, feeling the thick leather back strap pull on his collar. He swallowed, the impression Hutch's fingers left on his jawbone throbbed slightly, but to his Phenine-addled senses that felt good.

Hutch ran his hands delicately down Starsky's torso as he'd done earlier, his touch light as a feather. He gently tugged on each locked strap, checking the bindings. Starsky wanted to pull away, but every time Hutch's fingers ghosted across his exposed skin, he couldn't breathe, waiting for the next sensual touch..

"We gotta go," he reminded Hutch.

"Let me finish," Hutch snapped, the fine strands on his head brushing Starsky's abdomen when he leaned forward to gird Starsky's cock in its leather cage. Hutch took his time, buckling each band into place with careful precision.

Starsky hissed, his sensitive genitals sore. Once again, he was barred from the freedom of touching his own body.

"Can you still pull the knife out?"

Starsky demonstrated, pulling on the hilt just enough to show the blade, but not completely unsheathing the small weapon. Hutch snicked the lock closed on the cock ring and his knuckles pressed into Starsky's thigh just to the side of the brand. His hair again tickling Starsky's skin, he reached around the back to slide the rear blade in and out. Starsky could feel the odd sensation through the thick leather that sat tight against his tailbone.

Hutch finished his inspection, and leaned back on his heels.

Starsky was sure he could feel the earth rotate, taking them one step farther into the unknown. He was the slave; he should be kneeling instead of his master. But he liked having Hutch at his feet. He understood now why Hutch wanted him that way, and felt a perverse pleasure in it. No wonder Hutch was so mercurial.

"Do you still hate yourself?" Starsky asked bluntly. "For doing this to me?"

"No." Hutch got up, dusted off his slacks and straightened his shirt, tying his silk tie. He hid every emotion he'd just displayed, the anger at Dunfey's plans, concern over the possible coup, and lust for his slave, behind those calculating blue eyes and imperious profile. This was the undercover Hutch, focused and strong, intent on his prey. He was dazzling. "Because I love who and what you are too much."

***

The afternoon was stifling, the temperature well over eighty even with air conditioners going full blast. Too many people, too much body heat. The odor of perfume and the musk of sex was overpowering.

After the fight and having little food, with the Phenine coursing through his veins, turning every casual glance into an erotic come on, Starsky felt hyper and over sensitized. But he didn't let it show, walking one pace behind Hutch like a good, collared slave. He longed for the security of his leather jacket and Yamamoto three thousand watch instead of the confining leather harness with the bands constricting his penis.

"This could get ugly fast," Manetti murmured to Hutch as they entered the main meeting room. "My lady has done all she can, and I discussed the legal ramifications very sternly with Dunfey, but one step over the line in any direction, and we're all toast."

"Acknowledged," Hutch said sourly. "But we don't have to make it easy for him."

Starsky looked at the back of his partner's blond head and felt a certain perverse pride in ownership. Hutch looked regal and proud. Starsky would have followed him anywhere.

Ariadne breezed up, inclining her head at the front of the room where Harriet Roget leaned on Dunfey's arm. "Ken, you're wanted by his Majesty." She gave a little sniff at the word. "He wants to announce his newest acquisition -- or should I say, associate, a certain ex-Bay City cop."

"And you don't mean me." Starsky wiped sweat from under the leather strap down his chest.

"No, I do not." She laid a gentle hand on Hutch's cheek. "Do us proud. This could help shore up our position."

Hutch glanced at Starsky, conveying his reluctance to be apart. "Duty first; isn't that the old saying?"

The noise level in the room intensified as Hutch walked between the tables to the front. In spite of their argument over the phone, Dunfey greeted him warmly, slapping him on the shoulder and introducing him to a large man near the dais. Starsky remembered him sitting with Ariadne at the table with the other CEC executives. Harriet Roget stood on Dunfey's right side with a calculating look that reminded Starsky of a cat who not only had all the cream, but all the mice, as well. Starsky could hear some members wondering aloud why Hutch, of all people, was getting such preferential treatment.

Starsky also noticed Kuyt lurking in the far left of the room, a long way from Dunfey's side, with a foul expression. He was obviously in the dog house. Patello was nowhere to be seen.

Still icing down his balls, I hope.

"If I can have quiet in the room!" Dunfey called, his voice barely above a normal conversational tone, but almost instantly, the crowd settled. "I know you're all excited to dive into the minutiae of facilitating drug distribution into under-utilized areas and broadening our scope of effectiveness..."

The attendees laughed on cue, as they were expected to, and Dunfey grinned, secure in his power.

Starsky settled at Ariadne's feet, resenting Manetti's right to sit where he wanted. For all Starsky knew, he was Ariadne's slave in private, but without a ring through his flesh. In this world, those distinctions were significant.

Dunfey folded his hands and waited for silence. "Some of you have heard about an altercation between one of my men and a slave. This incident concerns me greatly. This slave's owner had already warned my employee against using his slave without permission." He glanced at Hutch, subtly letting the crowd know which master was involved.

Starsky steeled himself, willing a calm, cool exterior. His belly had gone cold again, which was fine, because he preferred that to sweating under leather.

"But this gives me a chance to caution all of my guests -- we have a stable of available slaves, both males and females, ready and waiting for any of you to use. We recognize that any owner has the legal right to keep his slave to himself." Quiet murmurs rippled among the crowd. "There will be repercussions for the employee involved, of course. However, during the altercation, the slave viciously injured a free citizen, so there will be repercussions for him as well. Simple fairness all around!" The murmurs grew louder, and Starsky saw a few slaves look around nervously.

Anton, Harriet's slave, turned his head just enough to stare directly at Starsky. Raising his chin, Starsky accepted that challenge, and stared back.

Then Starsky noticed Douglass Watson, Lvoff's big pierced slave, watching him. What the hell did he want?

Whatever Hutch was thinking was hidden behind a tough, impenetrable mask.

"On to the good news." Dunfey clapped Hutch on the back hard enough to make him take a step forward. "When I set up my government at headquarters," Dunfey continued, "I'll appoint Ken Hutchinson as my Chief of Special Police in Bay City. He'll be my right arm, reporting to me directly."

Hutch smiled faintly, as if accepting an honored position.

The crowd's comments grew louder, even belligerent. Starsky heard grumblings about, "You can't trust a cop!" and "He busted me, and I'm supposed to work through him?" Ariadne and Manetti looked worried.

Dunfey raised his hands, taking control of the room again. "Those of you who want special latitude in the city for setting up drug operations, prostitutes, slave houses, gambling -- you'll negotiate terms with Hutchinson."

"Thank you, Ja -- " Hutch started to say.

"I'm supposed to trust a cop with my business?" Leo Gillespie stood up.

"Yeah!" another voice yelled. "He busted me. I just got out, and now I gotta do business with him?"

Starsky couldn't help himself and started to crouch, ready to come to his partner's defense.

Ariadne pushed him down until his butt hit his heels. "Simmer down," she said, barely above a whisper. "Let Hutch handle it."

The light touch of her feminine hand on his bare back was a shock and set bolts of arousal through him. Starsky clamped his jaw shut, fighting the overwhelming urge to respond to her. He struggled to get his libido under control.

"As a former cop," Dunfey said, "Hutchinson already knows the ins and outs of just about every one of your business enterprises. He knows where the secrets -- and the bodies -- are buried in the old BCPD." He looked over at the table with the CEC executives. "And he knows who among the brass has the kind of vices that can be used against them. More importantly, he's got the backbone to turn the Special Police into our own private militia."

The murmur among the crowd grew louder, but Starsky couldn't gauge the thoughts of the attendees without seeing some of their faces.

"Thanks for the vote of confidence, Jack," Hutch said tightly. "You're right, I do know a great deal about most of the men in this room. When I was working for the BCPD, I used that information against you. But now I work for Jack Dunfey. That means I'll use your inside information to facilitate your business. I'll make the Special Police work for you. What are your needs, and how can they help Dunfey run the new government? You let me know, and I'll ensure the Special Police make your life easier."

That brought more chatter from the attendees, but Starsky still couldn't determine if it was favorable or not.

"I'll let Hutchinson mingle and get to know the rest of you," Dunfey said expansively, "while I attend to some private business." He stepped back from the podium, whispered something to Harriet, and gave a curt nod to Kuyt.

Kuyt slunk after his boss like a whipped dog.

Starsky wondered if Kuyt would be subjected to the same punishment he was. He hoped so.

"I think that went as well as could be expected," Ariadne said, running her hand down Manetti's sleeve. She seemed nervous and concerned.

"If this is what it means to have friends in high places..." Manetti replied dismally.

Starsky fidgeted on his knees, reluctant to get sucked into their concern on top of his own. Hutch was in a dangerous, potentially deadly spot. Starsky didn't feel like either he or his partner were safe until Hutch walked back across the room and stood next to him. Ariadne and Manetti made eye contact with Hutch, then drifted away to "chat up" Ariadne's group of executives.

"Shall we meet and greet?" Hutch hooked a finger under Starsky's leather collar and hauled him up, surprisingly roughly, kissing him when Starsky was standing erect.

"Nice, but what was that for?" Starsky asked, panting into his partner's open mouth. He was also aware they were the center of attention. He didn't care in the slightest; he ground his groin into Hutch's with drug-spiked need.

"A little demonstration of dominance," Hutch whispered back, pushing him back until they were no longer touching. "Because I wanted to. Needed to."

That, Starsky believed most of all.

An elegantly dressed man wearing an expensive lightweight suit with a gold pin securing his tie walked over. He stuck out a hand, shaking Hutch's. "I remember you," he said. "Although, you may not know me. Harry ‘the Horse' Dolesky. I used to run a gambling establishment in San Francisco, but I was in and out of So. Cal all the time."

"You must have known the Professor and Myron Kaplan," Hutch said, still holding onto Starsky.

"I did, indeed. Sorry to learn that the Professor passed last year, but we all gotta go sometime, right? I still keep in contact with Kaplan, even though he's gone to the Eastern seaboard for, shall we say, his health?" Dolesky eyed Starsky up and down. "Nice piece of meat. I wouldn't mind getting a ride on a stallion like that. Especially after the way he took care of Dunfey this morning."

Starsky forced down his reaction and kept his eyes lowered, watching Dolesky's suede shoes.

"Then you saw what Dunfey offered me for the privilege," Hutch said dispassionately. "I might consider granting favors -- but it would have to be for something of commiserate value. In particular, it would have to be something of specific value to Dunfey."

"Of course; excellent management strategy," Dolesky said. "Perhaps we can talk further in your office in Bay City. I think I can give you what you need."

Starsky glanced around as Dolesky and Hutch said a few final words. Hutch was definitely popular. A cluster of men were gathering near, jockeying for a chance to talk to him. When Hutch noted the group, he glanced at Starsky with a raised eyebrow, then pulled over a comfortable chair. Starsky dreaded the hours he might spend on his knees as Hutch conducted Dunfey's "business."

Before sitting down, Hutch waved over one of Dunfey's serving slaves. Starsky recognized Carlos, now wearing chaps with nothing under them, his ringed cock fully exposed. "I'm going to be doing business here for a while," Hutch told Carlos. "Davey's had a difficult afternoon. I want him to be rest. Please bring a floor cushion for him, and, we'd both like a roast beef sandwich and a cold soda."

The slave bowed nervously. "Of course, Master Hutchinson. Right away!"

Starsky blinked, wondering what the effect would be of Hutch treating him to such luxury. "Hutch?" he murmured, low enough that only his master could hear. "Is that a good idea?"

Hutch leaned down, stroking Starsky's hair. "You're still high on Phenine. You've got to reserve energy for whatever is facing us tonight. I've just shown everyone how valuable you are to me. The more valuable you are, the higher the price for your services. It'll give me more leverage to argue against Dunfey's punishment."

Yet make me more desirable for the Gold Room, Starsky realized. Hutch was getting too good at this.

An angular man with a wicked scar across the bridge of his nose was next. Starsky knew the unforgettable face without the scar; he'd arrested the man's older brother Harlan. He filed away the name, Horace Marlow, listening to the conversation, as he settled himself comfortably on the large, plush cushion Carlos brought him.

As Hutch unwrapped his thick sandwich, Carlos leaned down to hand Starsky his, and whispered, "Giuseppe made this with his own hands. The best bread. The best meat. He says for your strength."

Starsky polished off the sandwich with all speed, fearful that someone would find an excuse to take it from him. The food and drink did give him energy, and seemed to ramp up the lingering Phenine even more. The persistent hum of desire was starting to manifest as physical pain in his groin -- every part of him, to be truthful. But even so, Starsky dreaded being the pay-off for Hutch's negotiations. He remembered Hutch's fierce declaration in the hotel room, and hoped he could live up to it.

"I've been bringing in a hundred tons of cigarettes every month from the south to Bay City," Marlow said between puffs on a foul-smelling example of his product. "I pay Dunfey ten percent off the top. But I need you to guarantee me safe passage."

Finishing the last of his meal, Hutch nodded as if unconvinced, one hand poised against his cheek.

"Listen, I know you're a hard dealer," Marlow said quickly, waving his cigarette around until Starsky was sure everyone in the vicinity was going to expire from smoke inhalation. "You want the straight dope. I got something for you." He lowered his voice. "My brother Harlan lives in BC, runs one of them slave houses on Lincoln."

"Thought your name sounded familiar," Hutch said blandly. "I know the place; specializes in underage boys."

"Exactly!" Marlow tapped Hutch on the chest with the same hand holding the cigarette. Hutch wrinkled his nose and backed up. "We could make a deal? A little info, a little give and take?"

Starsky couldn't stifle a cough any longer. He was surprised when pleasure/pain blossomed in his chest, whetting all his repressed arousal for just a moment. Somehow, the need seemed worse than before.

"Dunfey uses my brother's place, exclusively," Marlow said sotto-voce. "And Harlan keeps one special slave for his use only. Curly-haired boy, a lot like your slave, so Dunfey can do as he pleases with him."

Hutch raised his eyebrows.

"Thing is -- there's no love lost between me and my brother, if you catch my drift." Marlow dropped the lit butt to the floor, almost on Starsky's floor cushion, and ground it out. "I heard you're looking to expand, buy another slave house. If you eliminated Harlan, you could take over and have Dunfey's special playpen under your thumb."

"You have an appallingly devious mind, Marlow," Hutch said.

Starsky could hear the anger Hutch was hiding. What a low life -- selling out his own brother so he could sell illegal cigarettes, and using abused, underaged slaves to profit from it.

"That's the kind of currency I'm looking for," Hutch said. "When I get to Bay City, I'm sure it won't be hard to shut down that house on any number of code violations. New ones, if necessary. Get in touch with me next month. It shouldn't take long to work out the details."

Marlow glanced down at Starsky, and leaned forward to say quietly to Hutch, "What's the chance of getting a little bonus from your boy there?"

Even though he'd been expecting this, Starsky had to swallow hard to quell his instant nausea, the roast beef suddenly roiling in his gut. At the same time, his cock swelled against the cage at the very thought of having sex, any kind of sex. How the hell could he be both repulsed and turned on by the idea at the same time? Fucking Phenine! He glanced up at Hutch, wanting nothing more than to curl against his master's leg. As if Hutch was a lodestone, and he a magnet, he found himself doing just that, leaning slowly until he was pressed against Hutch's leg. The physical contact was like an jolt of electricity. Hutch put his hand against the back of Starsky's head, fingers digging into his scalp. Starsky couldn't help moaning low in his throat, the pressure on his skull exactly what he wanted. That little frisson of pleasure gave him a moment to collect himself, so he could pay better attention.

Hutch's eyes went cold as he stared at Marlow. "Your safe passage through Bay City is your bonus. Don't push your luck." His voice was low, deadly, but only Marlow and Starsky heard him.

"Right," said Marlow, drawing back as if he'd been slapped. He looked at Hutch with new respect. "Good doing business with you, Hutchinson!" Marlow shoved another cigarette in his mouth so he could pump Hutch's hand.

Starsky closed his eyes, trembling. He couldn't look at Hutch. The afternoon wasn't over.

He squared his shoulders, feeling the tight pull of the leather harness. Looking up through his eyelashes, Starsky was startled to realize Hutch was talking with Gavin Haley, a silver-haired CEC executive who'd helped Cosgrove take power. He'd been one of Roschenzky's higher-up pals. That he was here, working with Dunfey, just showed what a crooked bastard he was. Ariadne had warned Hutch to never turn his back on this guy, that he was angry about Roschenzky's death. She was also certain that he'd attained his position with Cosgrove through fraud and blackmail. She'd referred to him as "The scum of the earth in a tailored suit."

"Hutchinson, you know what kind of influence I have," Haley said arrogantly, without introduction.

"Had," Hutch said tightly. "How much influence you'll have in the future will be up to Dunfey. And me. You don't have Roschenzky to cover your ass anymore."

Haley nodded, tightly. "You made sure of that, didn't you?"

Hutch let a slight smile play around his mouth. "He dealt the hand. I just played it out."

"You underestimate how far-reaching my influence is," Haley growled. "When Dunfey takes over the presidency, I'll still be in the office next door. That's why I'm here. That's why the rest of the CEC board is here. To make sure negotiations for the transfer of government power go smoothly. You don't want to rock that boat."

Hutch snorted in contempt. "You're worried about me rocking it, when you and the rest of the CEC flunkies are here to sink it. What a joke. Where are you going with all this?" Hutch asked, still fingering Starsky's head. He traced the curve of the ear and pinched Starsky's lobe between two fingers.

It felt fantastic and dialed down the Phenine to almost half. But it made it harder for Starsky to follow the conversation.

"Very simple." Haley chuckled. He looked a man who usually got exactly what he wanted. "I want to fuck the cop whose enslavement was the real motivation for you killing Roschenzky. Call it a revenge fuck. Roschenzky would like that. Y'see, since you were just a street dick before, you had no idea how much Roschenzky did for the CEC. He was indispensible to us, and how he's gone. So, you're gonna have to fill those shoes -- if you want to survive in your new job, Hutchinson. In fact, every man at that table -- " he indicated the CEC brass watching from the prime location they'd occupied throughout the meetings, "figures they deserve a piece of your little toy's ass. Because, just like Cosgrove before him, after a month, Dunfey will move onto other things and be just a figure head. We'll will be doing the real work of running the country, just like we do now. And if you think you can manage your little corner of heaven without our cooperation, think again. Dunfey didn't tell you there was a tariff to get into your office. So, I'm telling you now. We'll all take a turn with him. I get to go first. We'll be happy to let you watch."

Starsky held perfectly still. Most of this was news to him and Hutch. He shuddered, wondering how deep they were going to have to go if they lived long enough to return to Bay City.

"That will never happen," Hutch said flatly. "My slave is worth more than your whole sorry bunch put together. And here's a news flash. I'm not here to make your life -- or the life of your fat cat friends -- any easier. Roschenzky's not here to hold your dicks for you? How sad. Do your own jobs for a change. And if you don't, well...I'll be doing mine. We're bound to run into each other. Now, get lost before I lose my patience." Hutch turned away to finish the last of his soft drink, completely dismissing the corporate executive.

Starsky saw Haley's look of intense anger before Hutch did and almost spoke out of turn, nudging Hutch's calf with one elbow.

"Haley?" Hutch turned, his quiet authority equaling his opponent. "We can make this as difficult as you want." He removed his hand from Starsky's ear, leveling his finger at the other man. "The matter is closed."

"I'll speak with Dunfey himself about this," Haley said angrily.

"Go ahead," Hutch replied with a cold austerity. "You'll still have to deal with me in Bay City. You won't get very far if the head of the Special Police doesn't cooperate with you." He stared at Haley a moment longer until the man finally turned and left.

"Having fun yet, Ken?" Ariadne asked, as she and Manetti returned in time for Dunfey's meeting to resume.

"Is that what you call it?" he asked quietly enough so only they could hear.

She and Manetti sat at the table. Manetti picked up a freshly filled glass of water with ice and downed it, obviously thirsty.

Hutch glanced around and leaned close to Ari as if flirting. "Any word from outside?"

She shook her head subtly, then laughed as though he'd said something outrageous. "Can't seem to get to Dunfey long enough to get permission to make a call out." While smiling, her voice was soft enough to be private. "I no longer think that's a coincidence."

"No good news over email," Manetti said with the glass still against his lip. "In fact, no news at all."

Hutch glanced at Starsky, frowning worriedly.

"It was lovely having the pleasure of Davey's sweet mouth earlier," Ariadne said loud enough to be heard by those nearby. "Worth the price, that's for sure." She bent down, tilting Starsky's chin up so he could look at her.

The Phenine was waning, but he still had to force down a jolt of rampant desire.

"How are you, David?" she asked quietly.

Surprised by her genuine sympathy, he hitched a shrug. "Waiting for my master's orders, mistress."

"You're the hottest thing in this room, David. You put all the other slaves to shame." She kissed him tenderly on the cheek, close to the bruising around his eye. Every hair on his body stood up in response. Ariadne smiled. "Harriet's right about you. Lucky Hutch."

"Sweet talker," he said so only she could hear. "No wonder all the boys are so crazy about you!"

Manetti muttered something to Ariadne and they stepped away from the table to talk to nearby attendees.

The crackling tension around Hutch after the meeting with Haley had discouraged the rest of the hangers on, and they had all drifted away. For once, he and Starsky were relatively alone. Was it possible they might get through this afternoon without Starsky having to service one of these bastards? He refused to think past the next few hours as Dunfey's voice droned on in the distance.

"As soon as he takes a break, I'm going to ask Dunfey his plans for that shit, Kuyt," Hutch said softly. "But rest while you can. Considering what Dunfey said about using other masters' slaves earlier, I think you'll be safe for a few minutes. Okay?"

Just the thought of being separated from Hutch even for a moment caused a jolt of Phenine-spiked adrenaline to shoot through Starsky. He closed his eyes. He was a cop. This was his job. It didn't matter if he was drugged out of his gourd. "Yeah, okay. Hurry back."

"Your wish is my command," Hutch teased, but he was surveying the room the entire time.

Starsky did the same, although his vision was limited to what he could see. Mostly table legs and shoes, and other slaves crouched beside their masters, no doubt envying him the luxury of his cushion.

Starsky kept his eyes and ears open as Hutch left, listening in on whatever private conversations he could. The common attitude that slaves were just mindless toys worked to his advantage. No one considered he might actually do something with the information he overhead.

Russian mobster Mikhail Lvoff and Harry "the Horse" Dolesky sat at the table next to Hutch's. Neither of them apparently had any confidence in Dunfey's goals, bolstering Starsky's faith that the Abbey League could undermine Dunfey and the CEC. The criminals' lack of trust in their self-appointed leader was exactly the lever the Abbey League needed. That just proved they weren't as closely aligned as they'd feared. Starsky wondered how many of Dunfey's brotherhood truly trusted him.

"Dunfey wants to run these criminal enterprises like a business, but he's in over his head," Dolesky said.

"He's a leetle frog trying to take over the big pond," Lvoff said, nodding. "He's a great friend if he likes you, and a bastard if you are on his bad side. Luckily, we've been on good terms, but..."

His slave, Douglass Watson, knelt on the other side of Lvoff's chair, as still as a statue. Unlike some of the other slaves in the room, Starsky got the impression Watson was listening, too, and biding his time.

"Gonna have to grow eyes in the back of his head," Dolesky observed, "once he's crowned himself king. Of course..." He grinned fiendishly. "He has Hutchinson to be those eyes..."

The Russian suddenly reached over and grabbed Starsky by the hair, hauling him off his cushion and pulling him closer to the two seated men. "You belong to that blond one, da?"

The difference between Hutch's gentle hair tugs and Lvoff's brutal yank was light years apart. Phenine surged up to maximum, the pain so extreme that even the Phenine couldn't dampen its affect. Tears sprang into Starsky's eyes, but he knew his place all too well. A slave didn't look up into the face of a master, didn't speak unless directly told to, and didn't move when a man had him by the hairs. Hutch was yards away talking to Dunfey, his mouth in a firm line. He looked pissed and too preoccupied to notice what was happening to Starsky.

Starsky inclined his head just enough to answer Lvoff in the affirmative without causing his hair to be pulled out by the roots. The pain was sharp, but kept him focused. He kept hoping Hutch would turn, see the Russian mauling him, and interfere.

When the Russian tugged even harder, Starsky actually considered crying out.

"He obviously beats you," Lvoff said, the oily lust in his voice as menacing as a knife laid against Starsky's throat. He traced one blunt forefinger around the bruises coloring Starsky's eye, smiling. "So much prettier when it is random, abstract art on living canvas. Tell your master that Lvoff will speak with him."

"Hutchinson," Dolesky put in, "used to be a cop."

"I am even more intrigued. So what made him change sides?" They talked over Starsky's head, totally ignoring him although Lvoff tugged and pulled at his hair once in a while, apparently enjoying the play of soft curls coiled around his hands. He let go finally, and the abrupt release nearly made Starsky fall into Dolesky's lap.

"Get outta here," Dolesky said roughly, nearly knocking him to the floor in his haste to push Starsky away.

Dolesky's command was his escape, and he took advantage of it since Hutch was still preoccupied. Landing on all fours, he used the opportunity to scuttle back to his cushion. Before Starsky could move clear of their table he felt the rasp of something slide against his rib cage, just under the straps that banded his chest.

Dolesky slid something in there! he thought. A small piece of paper? He couldn't bring any attention to the hidden slip, not in the middle of a room full of enemies. The stinging in his scalp was hard to ignore, but as it subsided, he realized something else. Dolesky shoved him away as if having a naked man near his groin repelled him. Which is an interesting response from a man who'd been bartering to "ride" this stallion earlier.

Starsky watched with relief when Hutch nodded and shook hands with Dunfey. He wore a troubled expression.

Starsky caught his master's eye when Hutch sat down again, and knew Hutch understood they needed some privacy to talk.

"If we could get back to order?" Dunfey called out, waiting until the room quieted. "Volume, sales, and distribution are the key to profits in the drug business," Dunfey said. "Take the phenomenal rise in Phenine... It was only created a short time ago, but use has sky-rocketed because the product fit a niche in the market."

Starsky couldn't stop thinking about Dolesky, and the secret under his harness. Who exactly was Dolesky? Starsky itched to pull out the little paper.

Dunfey rapped a knuckle sharply on the podium and four slaves trotted in, their bodies held stiffly upright but eyes cast down in submission. "These were citizens, earning a wage. Now they're slaves." He chuckled. "My slaves."

Two naked men, Glory, and an almost identical younger girl, knelt directly in front of Dunfey. Starsky could see Glory's eyes, her shame radiating in the flush of her cheeks. Her sister wore heavy chains looped around her body, weighing her down until she almost sagged, but she kept her back stiff. A punishment? He shuddered.

"Anyone with enough money can own a slave. It's impossible to keep up with demand." Dunfey's voice boomed out. "Slavery is big business with one of the largest profit margins. Just a minimal outlay to enslave the individual, and a small investment in training. Turn around is swift, and the revenue is in the tens of thousands."

The raucous clapping and comments buzzed in Starsky's ears.

Slavery is big business.

Without warning, big hands slipped under his armpits, lifting him to his feet. "Let's blow this pop stand," Hutch whispered, leading him out of the room as Dunfey restored order.

"For the next hour we'll hear reports from my main suppliers of different products -- human and pharmaceutical -- on how best to keep profits up..."

Starsky stumbled on the uneven floor, playing up his own weakness, happy for any excuse to escape their host's presence. When he caught sight of Hutch's stricken face, he realized Hutch needed the diversion just as much.

The restroom adjacent to the meeting hall was too public to speak freely, even though there wasn't anyone else in the place. Starsky turned on the taps full-force and shoved his head under the flow, gasping at the cold water splashing over his face. Leaving the water on so the noise could be a sound barrier against any eavesdroppers, he looked over at Hutch leaning against the door, watching him.

The guilt in Hutch's eyes was palpable. He lifted his chin, anger and repentance a volatile combination that could go off at any moment.

Starsky felt like they were back at Luna when he'd demanded to know how much Hutch had paid for him. He shook his head, the water droplets from his hair spraying across the tile. After drying his hands on the plush linen hand towels neatly folded in a basket, he plucked the small folded paper out from under the straps crossed over his sternum. Dropping it into Hutch's cupped hand, he said, "Dolesky shoved this in my harness. He's up to something."

Hutch pried open the tiny square as Starsky tried to read the cramped writing beside him.

"‘Fundamental Business; Important we meet.'" Hutch read, clearly confused.

"Fundamental bus...?" Starsky said, impatiently. "He's darkened the first letters of Fundamental, Business, and Important."

"FBI?" Hutch frowned, pocketing the note. "Southern California branch? New Mexico's? Arizona's?"

The situation with the FBI was mysterious to outsiders. Even though the United States no longer existed, the FBI's bureaucracy was so strong, it reorganized into branches in separate state units, while keeping a governing body of its own that oversaw the investigation of organized crimes that crossed state and citystate borders. These days, the FBI acted more like Interpol within what had once been the U.S. By maintaining their own rules and regulations, and strong-arming weak governments into financially supporting them, they were still a powerful law enforcement agency. Many regular cops had heard rumors that part of the Fort Knox bullion that had disappeared when the states dissolved resided in the basement of the main FBI headquarters back East and helped fund their work.

"In the past," Hutch continued, looking over the note, "we've never played well with them, but that was before everything fell apart. If Dolesky is an agent, he might be on our side."

"What if it's a ruse?" Starsky couldn't help the disconcerting feeling of being watched all the time. "What if somebody's on to us, trying to draw us out? What if he thinks we're genuinely bad guys?"

"You think somebody's blown our cover?"

"I don't know!" Starsky smacked the wall. It didn't make him feel any better, but it bled off some of his anger and frustration. "This whadda you call it -- aura of paranoia is rubbing off on me."

"You're not the only one. Maybe Ariadne knows Dolesky." Hutch absently pushed a finger under his blue silk tie, tapping on his chest. "But this comes out of left field. I can't possibly trust him."

Starsky bent down to drink from the roaring tap, washing out his mouth with fresh water. "There's only two people we can ever trust...." He stood up and they locked eyes. "Hey. What did Dunfey have to say about Kuyt?"

Hutch looked at the floor, frowning. "We're still discussing it."

"And...the other thing -- " He didn't want to name the public punishment and the Gold Room out loud.

"We're discussing that, too. I've made it clear if he insists on one, the other's off the table."

Neither of them said anything for a few minutes, as if they both had to gird their strength to return.

Finally, Hutch broke the impasse. "We'd better get back inside."

"How much longer?" Starsky asked. He was tired and revved up at the same time, thanks to the Phenine. If he could just get about six hundred hours of sleep. That and a burrito. Yeah, and freedom.

"Another hour?" Hutch guessed, pressing the flat of his hand to the bare space on Starsky's back just above the thick leather band that girded his pelvis.

Starsky leaned into the support long enough to imprint the feeling of Hutch's palm. As he did, Hutch grabbed his back strap and pulled him against his chest. They kissed for long minutes, almost desperately, as though they might never get another chance.

Finally, reluctantly, they broke apart and walked out of the bathroom together. At the entrance to the conference room, Starsky lowered his head as Hutch preceded him. How much longer could he do this?

Hutch flashed him a look that said be careful when he sat at their table. Starsky knelt beside his feet, more grateful than ever for the comfort of the cushion on his knees.

After the last droning report, Dunfey signaled to the four slaves still kneeling in front of him, and ordered them to hand out drinks and hors d'oeuvres. "Bonnell makes an excellent point," Dunfey said, coming back into the discussion. "We need to establish ground rules so that we're all working with a common understanding of the scope of slave trading. This will be the focus of tomorrow's meetings, but for now, it's time for a break. I have some surprises in store." He inclined his head at the slaves circulating with trays. "Again, the strawberry drink was made especially for your slaves. For the rest of us, only the best, Krug Clos de Mesnil, a champagne which recently sold at a wine auction for nine hundred dollars a bottle."

The audience applauded as slaves delivered champagne to their tables. The golden bubbly looked like any other champagne Starsky had ever seen. What he received was a paper cup full of a syrupy sweet party drink. He looked up at Hutch, while the other kneeling slaves, thirsty from the heat, sipped their treat eagerly. Got to be laced with Phenine, Starsky thought, worriedly.

"Everyone have a drink?" Dunfey called out, holding his cut crystal flute. "Then a toast to our future success."

Hutch raised his glass high, clinking it with those on both sides of him, then turned his hand as if to bring the delicate glass to his lips. His wrist twitched and his fingers slipped, dumping nearly all the contents onto the linen table cloth. "Damn!" Hutch swore, bending over. He mopped at the spreading stain with his napkin, using the ruckus to pass Starsky a miniature gin bottle.

For a moment, Starsky was clueless until Hutch looked pointedly at the Phenine-laced refreshment and back at the opaque gin bottle. Then he remembered the tiny bottles of liquor lined up near the ice bucket in their room. Neither of them would drink while in such a dangerous undercover, so Starsky hadn't paid much attention to the bar. Hutch must've emptied one while Starsky slept off the effects of Kuyt's attack, and stashed the bottles in his pocket just in case. What did he plan to use the Phenine punch for?

Huddling low over his cup, with his back to the room, Starsky tipped the contents into the bottle, but the neck was so narrow most of it spilled over his hands and onto the floor. Even so, he filled the bottle to the top. It was little enough, maybe only an ounce or two. Was it worth anything?

Hutch dropped his wet napkin over the pink mess, glancing down to see if Starsky was done.

Starsky gave the bottle a quick wipe with the napkin and passed it back to his partner. His fingers suddenly tingled, a surprising warmth creeping up his arms. He was right, the drinks were laced with Phenine. Surreptitiously, Starsky cleaned his hands on the tablecloth. The last thing he needed was more Phenine in his system.

"Good enough," Hutch murmured, brushing the back of his hand down Starsky's chest as if establishing his dominance. Starsky didn't care what it looked like to others; it felt amazing. Just the small amount he'd absorbed through his skin bolstered what was still in his bloodstream. He got hard from Hutch's fingers trailing across his bare belly, and ached in frustration when Hutch sat up to focus on their host and stopped touching him.

Then he noticed the twin blond slaves joined at the waist with a gold chain had started kissing each other, breathing rapidly. A female council member watched with bored interest; leaning over, she whispered in Lvoff's ear. Starsky struggled to clear his mind, wondering why they'd given the slaves Phenine now during the meeting. There was a reason for everything Dunfey did.

"As those of you who have shared my hospitality before are aware," Dunfey said smugly, sipping from his champagne flute, "I find finishing off a work day with entertainment is the best way to relax. And combining entertainment with a certain type of physical exercise is one of life's special thrills."

Coarse, ribald laughter rippled through the crowd. Starsky noticed other slaves reacting to the drug in their system. Several were rubbing against their owners' legs, while others simply rocked quietly in place.

Two brawny slaves came through the front doors, wheeling in a large wooden X secured to a solid platform. They set it up next to the main table. Chains hung from various places along the wood, clanking ominously as the slaves moved it into place and locked the wheels.

Starsky felt a tremor course through his body that weighed down his legs and curled his toes.

With everything else that had gone on that afternoon, he had almost forgotten about his public punishment. Hutch said they were still discussing it --

Hutch hitched a breath and reached down to curve his fingers around Starsky's neck, but his expression was suddenly remote and hard. Starsky didn't have to guess why he'd pulled on the mask once again.

"I haven't played a game of tennis since we moved to this over-heated citystate, but I can't let my swinging arm get weak. So, I've had to depend on the whip to stay in shape." Dunfey smiled, his smooth blondness a perfect cover for the calculated pleasure shining out of his blue eyes.

There was a roar of excitement from the crowd and applause. The man knew what his audience liked.

Suddenly, all the Phenine-drugged slaves cowered in terror, not knowing which of them would be sacrificed. That's why he distributed the drug, Starsky thought. So all the slaves would be ramped up to the max, since Phenine enhanced their senses. Their sex drive would be overwhelmed by their fear. They wouldn't forget this lesson soon.

Just as affected as they were, Starsky checked the exits frantically, but they were all guarded. His need to run was so strong, he would have chanced the risky move if Hutch hadn't already anchored him. Hutch's fingers on his neck brought the Phenine to a boil again. He'd had so much of the drug that part of him ached for the sting of the lash, for the sublime orgasm it would bring. But the sane part of him recoiled in dread, the fear overwhelming. He wasn't a cop undercover anymore. He was suddenly only a slave, terrified and helpless before his master's wishes.

He stared at his partner, knowing Hutch would read his feelings. Hutch, you can stop this...can't you?

"We have a special miscreant today." Dunfey waved a hand effusively at the whipping frame. "Isn't that a great word? Harriet gave it to me. Says one of her trainers loves it. Miscreant. So much better than convicts, or inmates, or prisoners -- all those words the legal establishment used to throw at those of us unlucky enough to spend time in their slave system, the one they call prison." Resentment sharpened his words, giving them a razor's edge that gave power to every criminal in the place. "Well, no more. From tonight on -- we take control!"

The audience bounded to their feet, cheering him.

Still planning to make a break for it, Starsky watched as Hutch sat brooding, his demeanor fierce. He couldn't imagine what Hutch was thinking, planning, and he needed to know. It was the worst time for them not to be able to communicate. He sat back on his heels, gathering his body, preparing to flee.

"Our special miscreant needs no introduction if you've spent any time in Bay City in the last few years," Dunfey said once the noise level died down. He clapped his hands together expectantly.

Kuyt walked forward carrying a long black leather case, Patello stiffly keeping pace beside him. They stopped beside the wooden X, waiting for their leader to acknowledge their presence.

Starsky couldn't help noticing that they were suddenly acting even more like servants, almost like slaves, than they had a few hours before.

Dunfey drew out an elegant flogger with a long tail of knotted leather strands, contemplating the implement for a moment. "You may think that I look forward to punishing this disobedient slave because I enjoy the spectacle of watching a bound body writhe in pain." He smiled when his audience laughed. "And you would be right. But this discipline has more purpose. It's a lesson to all slaves, especially my own. To maintain control, it is important that all my slaves know who they are dealing with. I want them frightened."

And they were. Every slave in the place was wrapped in fear heightened by the Phenine in their blood. After this was over, Starsky could only imagine how willing they would be to satisfy any of their masters' needs. Dunfey's own slaves seemed almost in a paralyzed state of shock.

Looking away from them before their terror infected him even more, Starsky realized Hutch was looking down at him with an unreadable composure.

"I will not abide a slave who lifts a hand against a free man," Dunfey growled, all lightheartedness gone. "And this slave did considerably more than that. He may have permanently injured one of my men. This is a severe crime. If he was my property, I would have put him to death, but unfortunately, I don't own this piece of shit. However, since this is my home, I can still punish him as he deserves." He slapped the flogger as hard as he could against the wooden cross.

Starsky jumped at the sound, then rose onto his toes in a sprinter's crouch, ready to run rather than submit.

Hutch grasped the thick leather strap spanning Starsky's collar to his pelvis and hauled him upright. "I've got you," Hutch said against his skull.

Starsky jerked in shock. He was so focused on running that Hutch holding him forcibly in place felt like being hit with a jolt of electricity.

"If this has to happen, Starsk, it'll happen our way."

Starsk.

God, how he wished Hutch hadn't used that nickname. He could fight almost anything else, but the way Hutch said Starsk made him weak in the knees. His cock, already hard from fear, tried to double in size, straining against the leather straps corseting his length. He snarled, trying to coax his arousal into anger to subdue his terror.

"Former Bay City detective, Davey Starsky!" Jack Dunfey announced, with a piranha's smile.

Every head in the room turned toward them.

"That's my slave you're summoning!" Hutch shouted. "Something only I have the right to do."

The room suddenly stilled, as everyone's focus shifted.

Hutch hadn't moved from their table, one hand holding Starsky's leather strap to keep him close. He had Dunfey's attention now. "You told me this subject was still open to discussion!"

As much as he wanted to watch the interplay between his partner and Dunfey, Starsky knew his part. He lowered his eyes, playing the submissive. He found himself staring into Douglass Watson's eyes. Far from being drunk with Phenine-induced arousal, the big slave seemed more sharply alert than he'd been the rest of the day. Starsky felt like the man was trying to communicate with him, maybe even offer support.

"Are you challenging me, Hutchinson? After I've given you the ripest of plum assignments?" Dunfey flicked the flogger lightly in the air, the thick knots snicking against each other, then cracked it sharply against the frame. "This is my house. You can't possibly think I'd let this opportunity slip by. Flogging a cop? It's the wet dream of every man in this room."

"He's not a cop anymore; you said so yourself." Hutch pressed his knee into the back of Starsky's leg, urging him forward. "This is my slave, my property, and by law, I can refuse any man the use of my property."

He and Starsky marched in lockstep to the main table, stopping twenty feet away from the St. Andrew's cross. Starsky found himself unable to take his eyes off the massive frame.

"You'd quote the law to me?" Dunfey raised a blond eyebrow. "Apparently you can't shake off that cop mentality as easily as you thought."

"This is a damned poor excuse for a discipline session, Dunfey." Hutch was clearly working the crowd, using the power of his authority, his tough persona very much in place. Every eye in the place was on the two powerful men going head to head. "You didn't mention to your followers that Davey was under my orders to go for food before some friends and I were due to start a session with him." He stroked his thumb under the edge of the leather strap as if asking for forgiveness Starsky was unable to give. "Davey knew his place and what was expected of him. When he didn't return, I grew concerned, and sent one of those friends, Gary Manetti, to find him." Hutch pointed out Manetti where he sat next to Ariadne.

Peering out from under his lashes, Starsky caught Manetti's heavy scowl. Ariadne, beside him, looked close to tears. They done everything they could to stop the punishment, but it was in Dunfey's hands now. And Hutch's. With every second, Starsky's fear grew. He'd come to terms with being naked in a room full of fully clothed people. But having to be restrained, beaten, and humiliated in front of men he'd busted was worse than going down on Dunfey.

"Hutchinson..." Dunfey said in a warning tone.

Hutch ignored him, anger crackling from his entire being. "Mr. Dunfey's flunkies, Kuyt and Patello, came across Davey while he was doing what I ordered. They accosted him, despite the fact that I had specifically told Kuyt not to touch Davey under any circumstances. They overwhelmed my slave, knocked him down, kicked him into submission, and shot him up with an overdose of Phenine."

This struck a chord with the audience. A number of men started muttering together, and a few shook their heads, glancing at Dunfey. Making use of a slave who had been offered freely by a host was one thing, but deliberately abusing a privately owned slave without permission was considered an attack on personal property, no different than breaking into a private home, or stealing a valuable car.

"I never ki -- " Kuyt started but a growl from Dunfey shut him up completely. Kuyt glowered, glancing at Patello who refused to make eye contact.

"Kuyt violated and damaged my property." Hutch outlined Starsky's ribs with his hands. "See the bruising there? Boot prints." The muttering grew louder. A slave with bruised ribs would have a hard time servicing his master, never mind a party. Hutch tucked a finger under Starsky's jaw, raising his chin.

Starsky swallowed forcefully and struggled to contain his emotions as Hutch talked about him as though he were a costly object, not his lover...not his partner.

"It's no secret that I've hit him a few times," Hutch now had the members completely with him. They chuckled appreciatively. "But new bright marks around his eye are a gift from Kuyt and Patello. They injected him with so much Phenine, he could've died. He threw up convulsively, and had to sleep it off for hours. Needless to say, we had no session, and I had to spend the time nursing him back to some semblance of usefulness. He's still affected by the Phenine -- drugs Kuyt stole from you, Dunfey! I guess that's okay with you?"

Hutch caught Starsky's eye for a moment of silent communication, all they could afford in front of the group. Starsky felt his partner's power buoying him up; Hutch's caress along his cheek sky-rocketed his arousal.

"This is not a case of Dunfey's house, Dunfey's rules," Hutch said angrily in the voice that had once convinced a jury to convict a drug dealer even though the prosecutor's case was completely circumstantial. "Dunfey's rules were broken by his own men; he was robbed of valuable drugs by his own men; and I am forced to defend the ownership of my -- " he emphasized the word with a jab of his forefinger, " -- property, and my right to prevent its abuse from anyone other than myself!" Hutch pushed against Starsky's spine, signaling him to sink to his knees. He dropped instantly, without thinking. "When Kuyt and Patello attacked him, Davey defended himself, kneeing one of his attackers -- and for that, Dunfey insists he be punished. For self defense. For following my orders. For defending my property. While Kuyt and Patello stand there, free men, unbowed. Justify that, Dunfey."

Everyone had plenty to say now, all of the attendees arguing together, agreeing, disagreeing, each of them realizing where their own property could have been involved.

Dunfey didn't speak, clearly seeing the mood of his audience changing, obviously trying to figure some angle he could work. Starsky nursed a morsel of hope. Hutch had been masterful; he had completely swayed the crowd. They might get out of this.

"Kuyt!" Hutch roared.

Starsky saw a couple of slaves jump at the sound of his voice, and even their masters shifted nervously. Good. Hutch was an incredible sight, bright as a flaming comet.

Kuyt looked like he wanted to disappear into the floor, but he faced Hutch with a veneer of self-importance that Starsky was surprised to see.

"I told you that if you disrespected me again, I'd do to you what I did to Davey," Hutch sneered at the toady.

Kuyt opened his mouth, sucking in air, and pointed to Patello. "It was all his fault!"

"Hold your tongue!" Dunfey said curtly, barely raising his voice. "Don't compound the situation."

Starsky glanced at the audience. They were riveted, awaiting the outcome of the battle of the two titans in the room. Just about every one of them had a slave that cost money; they understood the problem.

Hutch stared Kuyt down with a superior, amused smile. "Dunfey, you told me Kuyt and Patello would be punished. When I asked you about it just now, you were still ‘thinking of an appropriate response.' Let me suggest one. Mr. Dunfey, I want you to sell me that... piece of shit." He pointed to Kuyt.

Starsky barely managed to keep his composure. He hadn't anticipated that! Neither had anyone else in the room. There was some ribald laughter at Hutch's use of Dunfey's words, and then abruptly, Manetti jumped to his feet and applauded loudly, and within seconds, the entire room joined him. Apparently, everyone hated the toady, Kuyt.

Kuyt made an oddly inhuman noise and started to inch away, but Walters, the same guard Starsky had encountered earlier, blocked his way. "Wait! You can't! Mr. Dunfey, no! I'm a free man!"

"So was Davey, before I collared him," Hutch said ominously.

Dunfey raised his eyebrows, taking a step closer, looking speculative. "I hadn't considered that solution..."

"How much do you want for him?" Hutch asked coldly, one hand inside his pants pocket as if he could pull out a wad of cash instantly. "Name any fair price. You know I'm good for it."

"A very intriguing offer, Hutchinson." Dunfey grinned, having regained some of the authority in the room.

Standing side by side, their uncanny similarities were evident. Two incredibly powerful, beautiful men who could easily have been father and son. Same sweep of fine, golden hair across the forehead, same pale, arctic eyes, but the resemblance ended there. Dunfey was a ruthless sociopath who used people without regard to their humanity. Intelligence and insanity, in nearly equal measure, burned like a fever in his eyes.

"I'll calculate his worth to me and get back to you. But I do know you're good for it. So, until then, feel free to use him as you would your own slave."

"Mr. Dunfey!" Kuyt protested. "No! You can't!" His voice ended on a squeak.

"Stealing from your employer is a crime, Kuyt," Dunfey said coldly. "A crime punishable by enslavement."

"Okay, Jerry-boy," Hutch growled. "Strip. I don't allow my slaves to hide their assets from me."

"You heard the man," Walters ordered, poking a gun in Kuyt's ribs. "Take 'em off, now."

The crowd applauded, then started hooting and cat calling as a shamefaced Kuyt started dropping his clothes.

Starsky almost laughed in triumph at the shock and absolute terror on Kuyt's face as he reluctantly stripped off his pants until he stood completely nude before the jeering crowd. Having fun yet, Jerry?

Patello had slunk toward the door, but another guard stopped his retreat and was standing watch over him. The big man was sweating profusely.

Hutch removed his blue jacket with great ceremony and rolled up his sleeves. Tapping Starsky once on the head as if to say "stay," he stalked over to the naked Kuyt, who was trembling all over, pitifully hiding his male organs with his hands. Hutch made a show of walking around the man in a circle, shaking his head as if assessing the worth of a broken down horse. Kuyt was shattered. He didn't have the nerve to look Hutch in the eye.

When Hutch came around again to the front of the man, he called his name. When Kuyt looked up, Hutch raised his fist and punched him full in the face, just once. Kuyt dropped like a puppet, knocked out cold.

Starsky swallowed the cheer that rose up inside him like a helium balloon, the effort to stay on his knees all consuming. He wanted to jump up and down in celebration.

"That's for Davey," Hutch said with satisfaction. "Someone get a collar on this slave, and a good set of shackles. I'll deal with him later." He started walking back through the crowd to Starsky.

Nasty laughter erupted around the room.

"Impressive, Hutchinson." Dunfey regarded his former henchmen with the air of a man putting out the garbage as Walters and another guard picked up the unconscious Kuyt and carried him out. He swung the flogger casually, the individual strands fanning out like streamers. "But you don't need to audition for the job of Chief of Police, I already gave it to you. You certainly have the cojones for it."

Hutch inclined his head.

"And you got your payback on Kuyt. An appropriate punishment." Hutch hadn't reached Starsky yet, so Dunfey walked slowly around his kneeling form, trailing the limp strands of the flogger softly over Starsky's shoulders, and then pushing one shoe against Starsky's left knee to widen his thighs.

Starsky kept his composure, staring at Dunfey's elegant Italian shoes with loathing. Hutch, make this right!

"There are multiple factors going on here, as with any situation," Dunfey said. "You've got a new slave, and Kuyt's been justifiably punished. However, Kuyt dragged Patello into this against his will. Kuyt was Patello's supervisor, and had the right to order him around. Davey, here, kneed Patello hard enough in the nuts that he may never have children...and he'll be of limited use to me for a while. And Patello is a free man."

A low ugly murmur started spreading across the room the minute Dunfey added the details about the nature of Patello's injury.

"So, we're back to where we started. No slave can strike a free man, even to defend himself. Right now, the issue still is about...punishing Davey here." Dunfey looked Hutch in eye, throwing down the gauntlet.

Because he was at eye level with the crime lord's knee, Starsky saw the small movement Dunfey made with the hand he held down at his side. Two guards stepped forward on his command.

"No one flogs my slave," Hutch repeated in the voice that could make grown drug-dealers wet their pants. The guards hesitated. Hutch finished striding up to Starsky's side. "If you want this to be a challenge, so be it." The crowd grew still again with every member waiting for the duel.

Starsky watched Hutch through his lashes. His partner was no longer there, replaced by a blond predator chiseled from granite. He would not have recognized Hutch, except for careful way he stroked the curve of Starsky's back, as if Hutch put all his love into the fingertips of his right hand.

"Jack, technically, he's correct," Dolesky said, standing up. "Whoever has the ownership chit has every right to restrict access to his slave, including the right to punish."

"You take up jailhouse law while you were inside?" Dunfey snarled, tossing the flogger onto the table. Two expensive champagne flutes fell to the flagstones and shattered, but no one paid any attention. "Okay, Hutchinson, where's your proof?"

Hutch stared at his rival, and Starsky realized command of the situation shifted. Even Dunfey was sweating, the back of his white silk shirt sticking to his skin in the overheated room. Hutch loosened his hold on Starsky's arm, ostentatiously giving him the signal for obeisance.

Without thinking, Starsky dropped immediately into position, knees bent under his hips, chest to the floor, hands stretched out as far as they would go. He pillowed his cheek on Hutch's cowboy boots with his arms extended to either side of Hutch's heels.

"Davey?" Hutch ordered sharply, "who is your master?"

"You, sir," Starsky answered loudly.

"Who do you answer to?" Hutch asked again.

"You, my master, and no one else."

"Who did I tell you to go down on today?" Hutch continued as if this recitation were routine.

"Whoever would pay your price," Starsky said. This brought a smattering of laughter from the crowd. But the only thing that mattered to Starsky right then was Hutch's voice, keeping him steady, keeping Dunfey away.

"Specifically, who did I offer you to this morning?"

"Master Dunfey," Starsky replied, his lips brushing against the tan leather of Hutch's boots.

"He answers to me," Hutch told the crowd. "I am a generous man, Dunfey, but there are some things on which I remain resolute. No one flogs my slave."

"His training is impressive," Dunfey allowed. "But you never produced an ownership chit."

"Are you nearsighted?" Hutch asked dismissively. "Davey, deliverance position."

As Starsky stood, he felt the small silver disc rap his chest between his nipples where it hung from the cross section of leather straps. He'd been wearing the ownership chit the entire time, and Dunfey hadn't noticed. Placing his hands behind his head, his elbows out, Starsky presented himself for all to see.

Taking a step in, Hutch tapped the disc. "It's right there, Dunfey. My chit. My slave."

Dunfey's jaw clenched. He was angry. "He damaged a free man. A man in my employ, in my house." He slammed a fist down on a nearby table. "Hutchinson, when you're maintaining a stable of slaves, you'll understand how important this level of control is." He turned to the audience again. "How many of you will sleep well tonight knowing that this slave got away with striking a free man? Any of you?"

Starsky remained in position, but he could feel a trickle of sweat running down his face. Most of these bastards slept with at least one slave, if not more. He could tell by the grumbling that they suddenly felt at risk.

"I hereby order the slave, Davey, to receive fifteen lashes for assaulting my man," Dunfey announced.

The crowd roared its approval, their blood lust whetted. It's what they had wanted from the beginning. They were pounding on the tables, shouting in excitement.

Starsky went from hot to freezing in seconds. He panted, forcing a calm he didn't feel. He had to be strong here. Had to hold on. Fifteen lashes with Dunfey's flogger...by Dunfey himself!

Hutch clutched the strap down Starsky's back and looked him straight in the eye. He tapped his own belt with his other hand.

Starsky remembered Hutch at Luna, holding that belt wrapped around his fist and swinging it back to bring it down on Starsky's bare skin. Five strikes had hurt badly. Fifteen would blister his skin, could break him.

He stared into Hutch's eyes. No. He refused to show that kind of weakness or fear. He held his position firm.

Dunfey gestured imperiously to one of the guards. "Shackle Davey to the cross."

Hutch blocked him, raising a single finger at the guard, freezing him in place. Hutch swung around to face the crowd again, his voice ringing out clearly over the excited roar of the blood-hungry council members. "TEN!"

The room suddenly stilled.

Hutch hadn't moved from where they stood, one hand holding Starsky's leather strap to keep him close. He had Dunfey's attention now. "Ten lashes. And I mete them out."

"I gave you Kuyt, and you're still bargaining -- ?" Dunfey said in dismay.

Harriet Roget suddenly rose from her chair only a few feet from the punishment cross. Staring at Hutch, she said, "Neville warned me about Hutchinson. He's a hard man to negotiate with -- just the kind of man you want running Bay City." She turned to Dunfey and gave him a significant look. "Let him punish his own slave. You've always said you don't get enough opportunity to watch."

Dunfey must've had a high regard for Roget's advice. Starsky realized with a shock that he might actually back down.

Roget turned the force of her personality on Hutch. "Perhaps, if you concede to Mr. Hutchinson's request, Jack, he might reconsider his previous offer."

Previous offer? Starsky thought, confused. Having to hold the position this long was making his arms ache.

Dunfey frowned at her, also not following. But apparently, Hutch understood the significance. Starsky could tell by the dark glower on his face.

"Before all this tedious conflict," Harriet said coldly, "brought about by those two idiots of yours, Jack, we had an enjoyable evening in the Gold Room scheduled. Entertainment provided by Mr. Hutchinson. He's right to refuse now, of course. Fifteen lashes delivered by Jack with his favorite flogger will render Davey useless for any recreation. But he's quite a solid specimen. He could certainly handle ten by his own master, and still be ready for play with some rest and a little more Phenine. Here's my offer, Mr. Hutchinson. If Jack concedes to your demand, and you, in turn, bring Davey to play in the Gold Room, I'll throw in Kuyt's piercing. I'll show you how to do it yourself. You're just the kind of man who'd enjoy that. And I'll have Kuyt trained at Luna, no charge. He'll be there by tomorrow. You'll be able to sell him for quite a profit once he's finished."

Hutch glanced at Starsky, clearly feeling trapped. If he was the man he'd been insisting he was, this offer was too good to pass up. Starsky swallowed. We wanted to get Dunfey in the Gold Room. We gotta make it work, Hutch.

Hutch wet his mouth. "Sounds like an offer I can't refuse."

The Godfather quote broke the tension in the room, and the audience laughed.

"Never let it be said that I'm an inconsiderate host," Dunfey said lightly, though he hid repressed rage poorly behind his reptilian eyes. "Harriet drives a hard bargain. I agree. The punishment is yours." There was another round of hearty applause and cat calls. Everyone seemed to relax now that the conflict had been settled, and the show about to begin. "I can send a slave to your rooms if you need your whip," Dunfey said graciously. He put his flogger away.

"I've always preferred my belt." Stepping in front of Starsky, Hutch looked him in the eye. I love you, his gaze said. "Davey...you have to be punished. Position yourself on the St. Andrew's cross."

It was everything Starsky could do to get his limbs to move. Lowering his arms, he stepped onto the platform where the large cross loomed. Hutch, I don't think I can go through with this --

As if Hutch heard his mental plea, he moved quickly to the cross where Starsky waited. Taking Starsky's leather-bound wrist, he pulled it up, enclosing the unyielding metal shackle around Starsky's cuff. Testing the tensile strength of the chain, Hutch leaned into Starsky, pressing him heavily against the wood.

"I would use my belt, because I don't have anything else..." he whispered against Starsky's temple, repeating the words he's first used in the holding cell at Luna.

Starsky's heart beat so fast, he thought it might leap out of his chest; he took the words as a balm when Hutch raised his second arm, and allowed himself to be shackled.

"I press my hand into your back and you stay, on my say so, because I am yours," Hutch said in a voice meant for Starsky's ears only, his long hair brushing Starsky's shoulder in a feather-light imitation of the lash. "First five strokes, to remind you, not for punishment, just for us. Because I want to." He snicked the locks closed. "And then five more to remind you that you are -- " Hutch forcibly twisted Starsky's neck around and kissed him hard, using bruising force on his mouth, until their teeth hit together. "Mine."

Staring straight into Hutch's eyes, Starsky believed. Hutch had done what he'd have thought was impossible, made him ache for the punishment. Part of it was the Phenine, but most was simply the power of his master's words.

Starsky groaned, barely able to take in an unhampered breath with his ribcage pressed against the cross. The spiky need of arousal further robbed him of breath -- the dread of Dunfey whipping him transforming into a fear that Hutch wouldn't. The thick band of the leather down his back would protect his skin to a certain extent, but the flat end of the belt would still sting where it hit bare flesh, especially across his nearly bare ass. Starsky struggled, arching back to gain some breathing room. Hutch shoved him forward, kicking his feet apart, forcing him to widen his stance. Gasping, he could feel Hutch's erection through the cotton of his pants, pressing into his buttocks.

With his chin resting on the cross beams, Starsky was forced to stare at his audience. All eyes were on him, ready to be entertained. Hutch ran possessive hands down the curve of Starsky's calves and secured his ankle cuffs to the cross. Somehow, even this heightened Starsky's anticipation. Hutch knew exactly what this was doing to him. No freedom. No escape.

This was far too similar to when he was strapped to the frame at Luna, and despite his arousal, Starsky's fear grew again. He tried to twist, to move in some way that proved he still had a modicum of freedom.

"Stay still!" Hutch ordered. "Prepare."

The room was suddenly quiet, as if the audience was holding its collective breath along with Starsky. In the silence, Starsky heard the sinuous slide of leather being pulled free of belt loops, and knew without looking that Hutch had tucked the buckle into his palm and wrapped the thick band of leather around his fist to make a solid grip.

"This is not just because you broke an established law," Hutch said, holding the heavy belt up to Starsky's mouth for an obligatory kiss.

Starsky pursed his lips, touching them to the leather.

"But to prove, to all those watching -- " Hutch swung his arm, snapping the belt in the air with an audible crack that made every slave in the room cringe. "Who holds the power, and the consequences of trying to alter the status quo."

He was putting on a show for Dunfey -- warning him, even if the crime lord couldn't interpret the coded message.

Dunfey sat directly in front of the whipping cross, right in Starsky's view. Harriet sat beside him, her eyes bright with anticipation.

"That's right, Davey," Dunfey said, "eyes front. It's incredibly arousing to witness a slave realizing he can never win, ever. When he understands that, for his master, pain is the ultimate aphrodisiac." He poured a glass of champagne and held it up, motioning for the others to follow suit. "To the pursuit of happiness."

Hutch's belt hit fast, snapping with whip-like speed on the largest unprotected place on Starsky's butt, leaving a burning welt. Starsky held in the cry that clogged his throat, clenching his teeth. The second and third strokes hit exactly in the same place, intensifying the pain.

Ten, Hutch had said ten.

Back at Luna, it had only been five. First five strokes, not for punishment, just for us. Because I want to.

Twice as many.

The belt was Hutch's secret code, imprinting his love with every strike. Starsky struggled to remember that with each blow. But that didn't make it hurt less.

"Put him in his place," Dunfey demanded, watching with rapt attention. "Slaves must be reminded of who owns them."

Fighting to maintain his self-control, Starsky stared at the salivating group, searching for some sign of compassion. All he saw was the thrall of violence akin to Romans cheering while their slaves were slaughtered. Some of the slaves, drugged on Phenine, were watching with both dread and longing, but several others had curled inward, their heads bowed, not in obedience, but fear. One pale face caught his eye. Glory crouched against the wall by the buffet table, tears running down her cheeks.

Starsky struggled to stay mute, gnawing on the inside of his cheek. When number five struck him with the force of a pile driver, he cried out, unable to withstand the shocking impact. Hutch was not holding back as he had at Luna; that had infused the beating with kinky love. This time, Hutch had to convince Dunfey that he was the master of his former partner.

Captivated by the display of raw violence, the audience cheered Starsky's first show of weakness. Ariadne and Manetti stood against the wall, separated from the crowd both physically and emotionally, and Starsky could see Ariadne's look of horror. She wouldn't inflict this true punishment on any slave.

Behind him, Starsky could hear Hutch's breathing as he swung the belt down hard for a sixth time, blazing a new trail across Starsky's exposed thighs. Because his legs were spread apart, the tail of the belt licked the inside edges, striking the brand on the left. Starsky howled, trying vainly to dance away, but Hutch only went in harder, the seventh stroke raising another welt on his ass. The pain was phenomenal, arousal rekindling from some hidden place, not-pleasure but a strange satisfaction satiating his Phenine-laced need. It was too much, but not enough.

No more, Hutch. No more.

No more.

It was too hard to stay present. Too hard to hold onto Hutch's words and his own self-respect without falling apart.

Hutch grunted as he swung, and number eight scorched the back of Starsky's thighs. Starsky sagged, no longer able to stand, hanging from his wrists. With the shackles supporting his whole weight, it felt like every little bone connecting his arms to his hands was crumbling.

Yielding, Starsky closed in on himself, pulling his vulnerability deep inside. Hutch was only doing what he had to do to keep their cover. This wasn't punishment for fighting off Kuyt and Patello; it was survival of the most basic kind. Except that it hurt all the more because Hutch wielded the belt. He'd thought that would help, but it didn't. All those eyes watching him, getting off on one man beating another. Marlow and Halley who'd wanted a piece of him and didn't get it. Lvoff, and Dolesky. But worst of all, that bastard, Dunfey, who was loving every minute of this.

Dully, Starsky watched Ariadne lean over to Manetti and speak into his ear. He nodded gravely and walked quietly out of the room as the rest of the council members focused on the spectacle up front.

Starsky heaved in a breath, his throat raw, and tried to regain his feet as he waited for the ninth blow.

"Exactly what this country needs," Harriet said loudly. "A man who can inflict his will on the weak. Don't you require him to count out the blows and then thank you for each one, Hutchinson?"

"I don't need to hear him speak. I'd rather he save his breath -- " Hutch paused, panting from his exercise, " -- and his mouth for more...useful endeavors."

Ribald laughter rippled through the group.

"The only reason for any of 'em to open their mouths!" yelled one of the men.

"Letting him wait for the last strikes of the belt prolongs the experience," Dunfey said with an assured nod. "You hold the fate of his entire world in your hand. It's heady power." He laughed.

"Two more to go, Davey," Hutch murmured, placing one large hand directly over a raw welt on Starsky's butt. "You're magnificent."

It could have been the glowing brand pressed into his skin again. Starsky hollered, rising up on his toes, the fight or flight impulse all consuming. No more. I have to get away! He gouged his fingertips into the wood of the cross when stroke number nine landed heavily across his shoulders. The tenth and last one returned to his ass, slamming across the other welts with finality.

Deafening applause hammered against Starsky's battered body, and he closed his eyes rather than look at the members' raucous approval of his undeserved punishment.

"Starsk..." Hutch said into his ear. "God..." No one else could hear the remorse-filled murmur.

Starsky opened his eyes, breathing past the pain. Twisting his body to the left, which painfully torqued his wrists, Starsky craned his head to see his partner. "Hutch, you did what you had to..."

"Bullshit," Hutch said, his expression furious. He disengaged the pins that held the shackles closed.

That had been the only thing holding Starsky up. He couldn't fight the momentum when his arms dropped abruptly. Hutch caught him just as his knees buckled, and eased him to the ground.

"Shit!" Starsky cried when his abused rear touched his heels. His back and legs felt fried. He struggled to arrange himself in presentation, but it was impossible. He panted as his nerve endings screamed.

"I love you." Hutch kissed him quickly just as Dunfey and Harriet came up to them.

"I have to admit, Hutchinson, I had a few moments of doubt that you'd come through," Dunfey said expansively. "But you showed who has the balls -- and knows how to use them! This is what I'll be expecting when we take over the government in Bay City and rule that town the way it should be."

"Do you have a doctor?" Hutch snapped, icicles hanging off every word.

"For him?" Harriet rested a cool finger against Starsky's face to tip his chin up. He jerked away in disgust. Her long fingernail left a sharp line down his cheekbone that stung. Dunfey watched with fond indulgence.

"Still insolent!" Harriet raised her hand to smack Starsky.

"Lady!" Hutch closed his fingers around her wrist, a murderous gleam heating the ice in his voice. Harriet gasped in surprise at his reaction. "You lay one hand on him and I swear -- "

"Hutchinson," Ariadne warned, suddenly appearing beside them. She raised her palm, the gesture of peace oddly out of place, but it cut through the tension.

Starsky bowed his head, grateful Hutch's fury hadn't irrevocably undone everything, and grit his teeth against the fire on his back. He found himself staring at Hutch's belt lying at the base of the St. Andrew's cross.

"My apology," Harriet said softly. "He is your slave, of course."

Hutch turned away from her, briefly touching Starsky's hair.

The caress, as fleeting as it was, was more than Starsky expected while surrounded by the enemy. The energy from Hutch's presence could keep him going indefinitely.

"It's only sensible, after all," Harriet said calmly, saving face, "that he'll need attention and some rest. A good dose of Phenine will help ease some of his discomfort. We'll want him fresh, of course, for our appointment in the Gold Room. You won't disappoint us, will you, Ken?" It was a cold warning wrapped in polite language.

Starsky glanced at Hutch and saw him grinding his teeth. "Don't worry," he growled. "We'll be there. He just needs some time to recover."

"Harriet, there are more important matters to address," Ariadne said sharply. "Jack, I came to tell you that Manetti has been monitoring the web news out of Bay City."

"I have staff for that, my dear, in the communications room." Jack waved her off. "We've got some time before the dinner is served and I have some tedious but necessary business to attend to." He held up a bottle, waving it at a knot of slaves still cowering in terror by the pool. "Serve our guests more champagne so they can relax after witnessing that incredible spectacle! That'll be something to write home about." He chuckled.

Starsky itched to grab Hutch's belt, bind Dunfey's wrists, and jam his knife into the man's gut.

"I think you'd better take this seriously," Manetti said urgently, coming up behind Ariadne. "It's on TV -- "

"Bay City is under attack!" Lvoff dashed up to the group, urgency on his face, but he kept his voice low so the rest of the room could not hear. "President Cosgrove has been assassinated! CEC headquarters has been overtaken by a radical liberation group..."

"What the hell?" Dunfey exploded. "That wasn't -- " He stopped abruptly and rubbed his forehead. "Explain!"

Starsky lifted his head, the alarm damping down his pain. This was not how it was supposed to go. Peter Whitelaw was supposed to lead his guerilla fighters into an armed, but hopefully, bloodless takeover of CEC headquarters, take Cosgrove prisoner, and wrest power away from the Corporation.

"Ari?" Hutch's mouth moved, but no sound came out.

She shook her head, her lips pursed tight. Starsky sensed she was trying to hold herself together.

Damn.

Hutch bent down to help Starsky stand. "We keep to the plan," he said sotto voce.

Kill Dunfey.

Starsky nodded and surveyed the crowd -- most of the council members were chatting happily and sipping champagne. A few were making use of the Phenine-dosed slaves in creative ways. Apparently no one outside the group around Dunfey was aware of the situation in BC.

Jack Dunfey straightened his tie, shouldering command, despite a look of concern. "Everyone remain here until I can talk to the technicians in the communications room."

"Probably a little too late to keep this under wraps," Manetti pointed out, looming over him.

Ariadne gave an impatient nod. "It can't be true about Cosgrove. I'm his press secretary! I should be there, by his side. He'll need me -- "

Hutch started to speak, but Dunfey cut him off.

"I'm not hiding a thing," Dunfey said to Manetti, baring his teeth, going from civilized to feral in seconds. He raked them with a scathing glance, and took Harriet's arm. "This is my party. I'll deal with whatever occurred, and twist it to suit my own purposes." He clamped a hand on Hutch's shoulder, nearly causing Starsky to stumble. "Hutchinson, you're promoted as of now."

"Th-thank you." Hutch straightened.

Starsky was still close enough to feel the shiver run up his partner's spine at the responsibility.

"Ariadne," Dunfey continued, "you're right. If it's true about Cosgrove, and even if it isn't, you're his press secretary. You should be in headquarters. We need your way with words. I don't want anyone giving any speeches that you haven't approved. I'll need you to take control of the president's office until I can get there. I have a helicopter that can take you to Bay City."

"We won't even need a pilot," Manetti added. "I can fly just about any chopper made."

"Excellent, Jack," she said calmly, with no indication that he'd played into her plan. "Manetti will need to go with me, of course."

Harriet curled her lips into what looked only vaguely like a smile, but insinuated so much about Ariadne and Manetti. "Of course, darling Ari. He's obviously quite indispensible in any situation."

Ariadne ignored her. "I need to pack. I'll speak to you as soon as I get back to the city, Jack."

"Harriet," Dunfey said, "come with me to communications. We'll have to figure out the best spin to put on whatever's going on."

Waiting until Jack and Harriet left, Ariadne grabbed Hutch's arm. "Come on. We've got to talk while I pack." She started towing him out of the meeting room, but he resisted.

"Starsky needs help," he hissed at her, leaning down to get his partner to his feet.

"You two need to confer," Manetti said. "And you can't afford to look so indulgent, master. I can help him."

Reluctantly, Hutch nodded, stroking Starsky once on an unmarked part of his shoulder.

Manetti leaned down, putting out a hand to Starsky. "Here, man, grab hold."

Grateful, Starsky gripped Manetti's arm and stood up. They trailed behind Hutch and Ariadne. It was hard to walk, but Manetti's support made a big difference.

"Starsk?" Hutch said quietly when they'd gained the safety of the empty hallway. "Do you want to lie down?"

"That'd be peachy." He looked up at Ariadne's face, seeing her undisguised worry.

"We'll use our room," she said, unlocking the door. "I really do need to change out of these damned shoes. Heels are the curse of the working woman. Gary and I are ready to go, but we all need to talk."

Starsky hated being dependent when the others had more important things to think about. He hurt but wasn't about to take anymore Phenine, that was for sure.

"What the hell is going on?" Hutch asked once they were all inside the privacy of Ari's room. He loosened his tie, absently rubbing his neck.

Starsky ached all over, but was afraid to stretch out on the inviting bed. If he did so, he feared he'd never get up. The Phenine had completely drained away. Without it keeping him aroused and anxious, he could barely put one foot in front of the other -- and the welts from Hutch's belt burned like the brand once had.

Kicking off her gold pumps and pushing up her sleeves, Ariadne immediately took control. "Gary, pull out those big towels from the bathroom and spread them on the bed, please. And get me a tall glass of water."

Without hesitation, Manetti did as she requested. He carried a load of thick towels and a glass of water over to the nightstand. After handing Ariadne the water, he covered half the surface of the king-sized bed with the towels.

"David, drink this. It's just plain water." She pressed the glass into his hand.

Starsky hesitated, looking to Hutch for direction.

"Please trust me," Ariadne said, impatiently. "We don't have much time and there's a lot to do."

Hutch nodded.

Starsky drank the water in one gulp. He hadn't realized how thirsty he was.

"It was hot as hell in that room," Ariadne said to Hutch, scolding like an authoritative aunt. "When was the last time you hydrated him? He's been sweating all afternoon. And he was overdosed on Phenine. It's rough on the kidneys."

Hutch seemed taken off guard. "Uh...well, I got him a sandwich and a soda around -- "

"He needs water regularly." She turned back to Starsky. "I'll want you to have another glass in half an hour. Your muscles need more liquid or you'll start cramping. Now lie face down on the towels, please."

"What are you going to do?" he asked.

"Sweetie, I told you I've been in the lifestyle a long time," she said, brushing a lock of hair off her face and reclipping it with a wide barrette. "I've learned some ways to mitigate the pain and get a..." she pursed her lips, "slave back on his feet quickly. No Phenine, no tricks."

Sounded promising. Starsky climbed stiffly onto the bed and sank into the soft towels with a groan.

"Gary," Ariadne directed, "soak two more towels in cold water, and wring them out dry."

As she went to her suitcase, Gary trotted back to the bathroom sink to douse the towels. Ariadne pulled out what looked like a standard makeup kit. Starsky glanced at Hutch, baffled. Hutch only shrugged. Starsky could easily interpret what he didn't say: I'm glad you trust her.

Ariadne pulled out a medium-sized unmarked bottle of lotion. "You've got a lot to learn about being a master," she said to Hutch in the same tone she might use on a particularly dull student. "Slaves have to be kept hydrated at all times if you expect them to perform. And welts have to be treated if you want the slave to be ready for play anytime soon. They hurt. They make the slave stiff and unresponsive. If David has to be ready for a session in the Gold Room, he'll have to be in perfect shape to withstand what they'll put him through."

"I don't intend to let them put him through anything!" Hutch said, keeping his voice low.

"You have no idea how things might go in there," she snapped. "He has to be ready. And so do you." She showed him the bottle. "This is a medical ointment used by masters to treat their slaves after rough play, especially after a whipping. It'll treat the welts with an anti-inflammatory, some cortisone, and a topical anesthetic. The ointment and cold compresses will take the swelling down."

Manetti showed up with the wrung-out towels. "I've got 'em, Ari."

"Okay, give me a minute. Hold still, David, this will sting at first, but in a few minutes it'll get better."

He tensed before she could apply the lotion. He had to trust her methods if he wanted to stay in the fight. And he hurt enough to need relief. "As long as it keeps me on my feet. Thanks."

"This stuff has been used in the bdsm scene for decades, when we were role playing. Voluntary submissive-dominant. Now, hold still." She slathered the cooling gel over his shoulder, back, and butt welts efficiently, like a doctor.

Hutch looked abashed, and ran a hand over his hair. "I guess I do have a lot to learn. I've never heard of that."

"It's an underground product now, just like the voluntary bdsm scene has to be," she said, finishing up. "Gary, the towels. You know what to do."

I bet he does, Starsky gasped when the cold weight of the towels covered him from neck to knees. Within seconds, as Ari predicted, the fire from the welts subsided and grew numb. He sighed in relief.

"Just rest, David," Ariadne said, getting up from the bed. Turning her attention to Hutch, she said, "If we all live through this, I'll arrange for you to get some proper training before you do him damage you can't repair."

Hutch flinched visibly.

Little late for that, Ariadne, Starsky thought, thinking of his slave ring.

"It's true about Cosgrove," she told them, washing her hands. "He's dead. And Bay City is in chaos."

"Not having a line to our fighters is problematic, to say the least," Manetti said, blowing out an explosive breath. "From what we gleaned earlier, it's possible that the demonstrations and low level street clashes between protesters and cops evolved into all out war. So, Whitelaw may have felt the need to attack sooner than planned. It's also possible that Cosgrove had more militia amassed -- because of the civilian protests -- than we knew about."

"You were supposed to have decent intel!" Hutch snapped, crowding the other man.

"No intel is fool proof, Hutchinson," Manetti shot back.

"Gentlemen!" Ariadne said sharply, waiting until they'd stepped away from each other. "Our chance for a bloodless coup is past. Cosgrove's been murdered, we don't know by whom, and most of our strategies are out the window." Ariadne sat down in the desk chair and rubbed her feet. "We've got to think our way out of this."

"Killing the president/CEO," Starsky said, "will just incite more violence. But it plays right into Dunfey's hands. Could he be responsible?"

Hutch frowned. "He seemed just as shocked as we did."

Taking a deep slow breath as if bleeding out all his anger, Manetti knelt in front of Ariadne with his head bowed. He kissed her right foot and began to massage it. What Starsky found fascinating was that Manetti never lost the competent air of a lawyer or the aura of a powerful man, and he was still listening to what everyone was saying.

"This must have been what Dunfey was alluding to," Hutch said grimly, meeting Starsky's gaze, "when he acted shocked and said to Ari, ‘That wasn't -- ' He cut himself off before he said too much." Hutch knuckled the back of his neck, concentrating. "Wasn't what? Supposed to happen? Or supposed to happen now? We all knew he was planning to depose Cosgrove. He isn't the kind of man interested in a bloodless coup." A flash of guilt and self-recrimination crossed Hutch's face, but it was gone in an instant. "He knew this was brewing. He had his own team in place."

"Yes, but the timing took him by surprise." Ariadne sighed when Manetti dug his fingers into her instep. "He wasn't pleased, by any means. I suspect he thought there wouldn't be any opposition so soon. He'd never expect the people to rise up. He thinks they're sheep. This is our chance to hit back hard -- there's already chaos in the ranks here. Some of Dunfey's confederates were only backing him to win. If he loses, we might bring down the entire CEC."

"You think this could work to our advantage?" Hutch asked in surprise.

"While I'm worried that the situation has steamrolled right past us," she wiggled her toes in Manetti's hand, "I think we still have a chance of winning. Luckily, Jack took my suggestion at face value," she gave a short, sarcastic chuckle, "and is providing the helicopter so we can fly back to BC immediately. It's both ironic and exactly what we need."

"He's already designated himself dictator and king," Hutch said. "I wouldn't put it past him to fake surprise and take advantage of this ‘unexpected' turn of events."

"Which leads us back to square one," Starsky said. "Take out Dunfey."

"Unfortunately." Ariadne pursed her lips and laid a hand on Manetti's bowed head. "If we are to establish any kind of stability in the new government, the old regime has to be eliminated. He has to be dealt with."

"With the two of us leaving, you and Starsky will be on your own." Manetti sat back, extending his legs, no longer subservient. "Can you handle it?"

"Or die tryin'," Starsky quipped.

Hutch shot him a tight, almost angry look with a hell of a lot of underlying emotion that Starsky could barely untangle. "I've already agreed to a session with Starsky into the Gold Room against my better judgment," Hutch said. "He's in no shape, and I'm not either. But by giving Dunfey a show, we can should be able to get him alone, and hopefully, separated from the others."

Starsky grimaced, the idea beyond repugnant, but he knew what had to be done.

"Which could be to our advantage." Ariadne got up and located a pair of low-heeled shoes from her wardrobe. "Keeping him distracted is the key -- he's smart, but he does have his weakness."

"Don't we all?" Manetti said to her. They exchanged a knowing look.

Starsky saw Manetti watching his mistress, and wondered if he looked half as needy when he gazed at Hutch. Probably better not to know.

"Because of the upheaval in Bay City, Manetti sent out a coded warning to the Phoenix police," she added.

"I'm sure they know that Dunfey keeps slaves here, but I have a connection in the department, a man I worked with on a case awhile ago, Lieutenant Grimes. I sent him the names of six of the council members. Gillespie, Lvoff, Marlow, three others. I'll bet at least four of them have active warrants." He flashed Ariadne an unrepentant smile.

Hutch looked at Manetti with interest. "If Grimes is any kind of a cop, he'll be able to read between the lines. Where there are six men with records like those, he'll figure Dunfey's hosting a criminal enclave. He'll want to know why, and who else is here."

"I also sent him the names of the CEC executives holding hands with King Dunfey," Manetti said, smiling at Ariadne. "I left your name out. Of course, by now everyone knows what's happening in Bay City. Grimes is sharp. I'm hoping he'll investigate, maybe keep an eye on the perimeter." He mimed using binoculars. "But he's a good man. He can't enter without probable cause."

Starsky rested his head on his arms, feeling a great deal better. Ariadne's treatments had helped take the fire out of his welts. They were sore, but not as tender.

"Ariadne." Hutch clicked his fingers suddenly. "With all the news from Bay City, I forgot to ask. Do you know anything about Harry Dolesky?"

"I know him," Manetti said. "He's FBI."

"He revealed himself to you?" Ariadne closed up her suitcase.

"Technically, he got in touch with me and I showed the note to Hutch," Starsky said. "He must have known I was a cop -- maybe not that Hutch and me are working together. Is he worth his salt?"

"You can trust him, although I don't know his angle here," Ariadne said pensively. "Especially with Dunfey giving Ken the keys to the kingdom."

"I recognized him earlier," Manetti said, "but presuming he's here undercover, he's not working under the auspices of the Abbey League. There are a lot of underworld figures here. He might be making connections for RICO investigations. It's possible he decided to let you know about him because you've spent most of your time associating with us. He knows Ariadne and I are Abbey League."

Starsky was surprised to hear the FBI was still doggedly prosecuting criminals under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. Well, if that was the case, there were more than enough bad guys here to keep Dolesky busy for the next couple of years.

"Good to know we might have an ally once you two are gone." Hutch gave Starsky a sideways glance.

"Keep your friends close but your enemies closer," Ariadne said cryptically.

"Quoting The Godfather is apropos here," Hutch said.

"I always find inspiration in the literary world." Ariadne smiled. "Gary, we're ready to go. I want to leave now to confront whatever is occurring in the city. Whitelaw might need us."

"I'm ready when you, my lady." He picked up both suitcases as if they weighed nothing.

Hutch moved over to the bed, gently touched Starsky as if afraid he would be rebuffed. "How're you feeling? Thinking you can make it to our room? Maybe catch a quick nap?"

Starsky enjoyed the feel of the warmth of his palm, wanting so much more. Then his stomach growled.

Hutch gave a odd, twisted laugh, waggling his fingers against Starsky's side before pulling his hand away. "Somebody needs some food."

"Yeah, and not some damn scraps thrown to the slaves," Starsky snapped, thinking about a handful of aspirin to go with his dinner.

"I'll get you real meat, carnivore," Hutch said. He peeled the damp towels off his partner, and gave him a hand up. "Good luck, Ariadne, Manetti. Be careful."

"With luck, we will see you in a few days," Manetti clasped Hutch's arm briefly and waved goodbye to Starsky.

"Listen," Ariadne said sternly, "you're the ones who need to be careful. I mean it. I'm worried about you two."

Starsky traded a look with Hutch, he was worried, too.

"We'll keep in touch," Hutch said quietly, still holding onto Starsky.

***

Two hours later, Starsky and Hutch entered the main meeting room where dinner was being served. Just as they drew near their table, Kuyt approached. His eye was swollen and bruised. He hadn't been pierced, but otherwise looked like a common slave in a thick collar, with leather cuffs on his wrists and ankles. Starsky had expected a feeling of triumph at seeing his adversary brought so low, but instead he had a hollow, angry knot in his chest. Nobody deserved the degradation of slavery, not even a worm like Jerry Kuyt.

"M-master." Kuyt gritted his teeth, his cheeks blazing with shame. "Mr. Dunfey invites you -- " he glared with undisguised hatred at Starsky, "and your slave to a private dinner in his suite."

"Now?" Hutch closed his fingers around Starsky's arm.

"I'm only relaying what he said," Kuyt retorted.

His heart thumping from a sudden influx of adrenaline, Starsky glanced around the large open room to keep the anxiety off his face. Two mermaids were cavorting in the pool, swirling their long green and blue-scaled tails around one another in a sensuous ballet. Harry Dolesky was at a table nearest to the entryway. He raised his wine glass in a greeting to Hutch, inviting him over to the table. Starsky very much wanted to join him.

"Davey?" Hutch said severely, as if still angry at him after the discipline session. "Eyes down. We'll be eating with Mr. Dunfey." He pulled Starsky away from the tantalizing smells of roast beef and mashed potatoes, turning him into the curve of his arm.

Starsky ducked his head, practically getting a nose full of Hutch's maroon tie. While Starsky was napping in their room, Hutch had showered and changed into a dark gray suit. In some other place, at some other time, Starsky would have very much liked to peel that suit carefully off, unwrapping his partner like a gift.

"Sorry," Hutch whispered against his skull, brushing his hand across one of the welts. He moved his fingers lower, extending onto the leather girdle, tapping on the hilt of the hidden knife.

The sudden sharp pain helped center Starsky, reminding him of his place, and what they were there to do. Ariadne's ointment had cooled the sting enough that he didn't think about the welts every moment. He was a slave, an object for menial labor and sex. Dunfey rarely looked twice at slaves unless he wanted something, so he'd never expect someone so worthless to revolt. This was Starsky's power.

Hutch left his hand on Starsky's ass just a fraction longer than necessary as if shoring up strength inside.

"What exactly was your job with Dunfey, Kuyt?" Hutch said, already sounding like his master.

"I'm his -- " Kuyt froze, his reedy voice choked with anger. He poked under the collar with one finger. "I was his right-hand man! He was going to make me a VP/CEO. Now it's all -- "

"Looks to me like nothing's changed, except the wardrobe." Hutch raised his eyebrow with that supercilious expression Starsky had always hated when it was directed at him. "You're still doing his bidding."

"There's justice in this world!" Kuyt insisted. "I'll regain my position -- "

"When hell freezes over," Hutch said mildly. "Davey, heel. We're going to dinner."

Turning to leave the meeting hall, Starsky saw the big slave, Watson, look over at him. The ex-athlete radiated intensity even when crouched on the floor next to a bowl of mashed potatoes. Wishing he had time to speak to the man, Starsky lowered his eyes and followed Hutch down the hall.

They stopped beside of a heavily armed guard standing sentry in front of Dunfey's suite. He gave Kuyt a curt nod and the three of them entered a small, brightly lit ante room.

Patello stood at attention just inside. He sent Starsky a dirty look.

Hutch grabbed Patello's arm, nearly bending his wrist in half. "Don't you even look at him, you understand me? I see you even glancing his way, and I'll have your cock in a ring, too."

"He's been waiting for you, Hutchinson," Patello said in a tight, breathy voice, but he didn't acquiesce.

Hutch looked down his patrician nose at the scum and released him with a shake. Starsky was immensely satisfied to see that Patello held himself as if his gonads still ached. Kuyt didn't say a word to back-up his co-worker.

They could all hear Dunfey in the next room swearing at someone unseen. "Tell me the moment that plane is ready to fly. And I need reports hourly, if not more often..." That was followed by the crash of a phone receiver hitting the cradle hard enough to crack plastic.

Patello cleared his throat loudly. "Boss?"

Dunfey turned to find that he had an audience, his irrational anger vanishing as if it had never been. In spite of his friendly veneer, a crackling tension filled the room, a dark malevolence that made the hairs on the back of Starsky's neck rise under the edge of the leather collar.

"Come in!" Dunfey said expansively, waving them into his private apartment. "I thought we could discuss our future." He pulled out a chair from a table set for three. Patello and Kuyt hung back, obviously not invited to share the meal. "And then we can enjoy a few hours of play afterward. We have complete privacy -- the other slaves know not to disturb me when I'm in the Gold Room." He raised a blond eyebrow, clearly king of all he surveyed. "The whole apartment is soundproofed."

"A good touch with so many people in the house," Hutch said politely.

Starsky wanted to run, now. Dunfey unnerved him in ways few criminals he'd dealt with had, and that included serial murderers.

"Can't be too careful." Dunfey nodded, looked Starsky up and down with undisguised interest. "I like to keep mementos of my...recreational pursuits. There are cameras in the playroom, for recording special events to watch later. I'm sure Harriet will insist on filming this session."

"I'm impressed already," Hutch said, though Starsky could hear an undertone of concern.

"We'll be spending a great deal of time together, Hutchinson," Dunfey said. "We should become better acquainted."

"I like the sound of that." Hutch shook Dunfey's outstretched hand.

"You just missed Ariadne and Manetti. They left for the landing pad and are flying to BC to get a closer perspective of what's going on at the CEC headquarters."

"I helped her pack," Hutch said, intimating that he knew all about her activities. He looked around the room, one hand just touching Starsky's arm, keeping him close.

The style was a surprise after the Southwestern décor of the rest of the villa. The suite could have been lifted straight out of a seventeenth century French chateau; gold velvet and white marble were the main colors. Three elegant white chairs with padded seats embroidered in gold were set around a small table laden with appetizers. Gold curtains framed French doors that opened onto a patio with a small fountain illuminated by a floodlight. A male slave wearing a white leather mask, his body bound by a macramé web of silken cords, with his gonads tied into an abstract sculpture of bulbous shapes, stood on a pedestal beside the fountain.

Starsky grit his teeth, wondering who the unfortunate living statue was.

"This whole business in Bay City concerns me greatly," Hutch continued. "Not the loss of Cosgrove, who was a puppet ruler if there ever was one. I'm concerned how we'll gain power with the government in shambles?"

He tapped Starsky's thigh near the brand, and Starsky sank to his knees, gingerly resting his abraded butt on his heels. The room had plush white carpeting, so that, at least, was a relief to his knees.

"I have some people keeping tabs on that," Dunfey said dismissively. "They'll let me know when there's something to report." He held up a bottle of scotch. "Can I interest you in a drink? I've got a full bar."

"Jack," Harriet called out, coming through a door on the left side of the room. The door had been partially concealed by a large folding screen painted with shepherdesses and their flock. "Oh! I didn't realize you weren't alone," she said coolly, eyeing Hutch and Starsky at the table. "You didn't start without me, did you?"

Starsky had never heard a question framed in such a way that it was clearly meant to be an order.

"Wouldn't dream of it, Harriet," he assured her. Standing, he pulled out the remaining chair. "We were just getting ready to order drinks."

As she sat down between Hutch and Dunfey, Starsky caught a glimpse of the room beyond the screen. Seeing the Gold Room nearly drained his confidence. A large welcoming frame squatted ominously on the incongruous white plush carpet. It looked exactly like the frame at Luna, only painted gold. White leather straps dangling from the beams seemed to be beckoning him.

Damn.

He licked his suddenly dry lips, dredging up every ounce of training he'd ever had as an undercover detective. He would not end up strapped to that fucking frame again. Not today, not ever. The confidence and inner resolve of Detective Starsky warred uneasily with the whipped persona of the subdued Davey, but he couldn't afford to let either one take over. This was the performance of his life.

Anton appeared suddenly from the Gold Room, his eyes cast demurely downward. He stood stolidly in front of the folding screen.

"Harriet, it's good to see you," Hutch lied. "Jack's right. We were discussing drinks just as you walked in." He turned to Dunfey with one of his warmest smiles. "This may be an odd request, but I'd like a strawberry daiquiri."

Starsky almost lost his composure. Hutch hated syrupy sweet drinks.

"That is an odd request from a man of your... stature," Harriet said, looking him over.

"Have you ever had one?" Hutch asked her.

"Can't say as I have. I like my liquor the way I like my men -- hard, yet smooth." She gave Hutch a tight smile, but it never reached her eyes.

"Well, I reached this stature," Hutch said, "by mixing up health drinks. Especially for breakfast. Which led to a fondness for fruit drinks like strawberry daiquiris -- a health drink with a kick. Have one. Try something new."

The look she gave Hutch reminded Starsky of the cold unblinking stare of an alligator. "If you insist."

Dunfey laughed, clearly amused at the thought of Harriet having such a girly party drink. "Kuyt, mix up a batch for them. I'll stick to the scotch."

"The strawberries at breakfast this morning gave me the idea," Hutch said, moving away from the table and walking to the bar. "I haven't had any in years. They're hard to get on an average cop's salary. Jack, where do you get fresh ones around here?"

"The perks of power, Hutchinson." Jack laughed, taking the tumbler Kuyt handed him. "Got a source in the central valley, right on the border between Southern and Northern California."

"Which is where you also have a major marijuana crop." Hutch leaned against the bar. Less than a foot away, Kuyt was taking the hulls off the strawberries to pop them into a blender.

"You did keep tabs on me." Dunfey winked, obviously delighted with his associate. "And don't sell yourself short, Hutchinson -- an average cop? You did plenty of favors for that asshole, Roschenzky. You must have squirreled away thousands under the table in bribes. That's a man who thinks on his feet, in my book."

"Well." Hutch shrugged modestly. "Money management was never a problem, but I couldn't flaunt it in front of my fellow officers, so I had to stay within certain means."

Starsky hated listening to this perversion of Hutch's career.

"Not to mention having the balls to enslave this prime specimen." Harriet stood and circled Starsky slowly without touching him.

He held himself in rigid presentation. He wouldn't give her an excuse to lay hands on him.

"He's going to look amazing on your frame, Jack, with his dark hair and that magnificent harness. You really know how to dress a slave, Hutchinson." She beckoned Anton over, pointing to a place on the carpet near Starsky. He knelt passively, but Starsky felt a malicious vibe coming off him.

He wouldn't let himself think about the mental picture she projected. He would not be strapped to that frame tonight. Never again.

"Hey, Jerry, not like that." Hutch walked around the marble bar, grabbing the toady's arm before he could dump rum into the blender. "Stand aside and let an expert take over."

With Harriet in front of him, Starsky couldn't see his partner. And Hutch was no bartender. Starsky was the one with mixology experience, and he'd taught Hutch to make one fancy drink -- a banana daiquiri.

"Kuyt," Dunfey snapped, "let Hutchinson mix his own drink. Tell the chef to serve our meal."

Harriet took her chair, letting Starsky see what was happening at the bar with his peripheral vision. Kuyt glared at Hutch and slunk out of the room. That left Patello lurking in the ante room, and the guard in the hallway.

"I think you'll really enjoy this, Harriet," Hutch said, mixing and pouring. "Lots of Vitamins A and C. Gives you stamina." He handed her a short tumbler filled with a slushy pink mix; a strawberry perched on the rim of the glass. He brought over the exact same thing for himself.

Harriet tasted her daiquiri hesitantly. Then she sipped it again. "This is actually quite refreshing. Especially after the heat today." She drank some more. "It's good. I never would have tried it on my own. Seems so frivolous."

"I can understand why you'd want to drink something more in keeping with the business men around you," Hutch said, touching his glass to hers. "A woman in your position, as the owner of Luna, has to maintain a certain...decorum. Men in power often try to reduce women in the workplace; you have to be harder just to keep their respect. It's unfair, but it's the world we live in." He drank some of his own drink.

"That's very astute, Mr. Hutchinson," she said. "Not many men can see things from my perspective."

Was Hutch actually softening this barracuda up? Starsky couldn't imagine how it would help, but he trusted Hutch's judgment. Quickly glancing at the table, he saw Harriet almost smiling at Hutch as she sipped at the drink.

"Sit down, Hutchinson." Dunfey pulled out one of the gilt chairs. "What ideas do you have to straighten out Bay City? I'm eager to dive into some new projects once we get the government back in order."

"First off, I'd say you ought to clean house and get rid of those executives you invited here. Haley told me they think you can't run a government without them." Hutch said this off-handedly as he put appetizers on his plate.

"He said that?" Dunfey sounded dismayed.

Starsky had to stifle the urge to smile.

"Among other things," Hutch continued blandly. "As far as new projects, I think we should reexamine the slave system." Hutch put his glass down. "It's large, unwieldy, and poorly regulated. Too many slaves are permanently damaged when they're first taken, or die from infection after being pierced in filthy conditions. That's expensive and was