(Early October 1979)
Once he stopped and thought about it, he couldn’t pinpoint when it started. Not really. Didn’t become uncomfortable with it until he realized how comfortable he was with it, and then the questions and worries and doubts popped up in his head like fireworks; What is this? Why doesn’t it feel weird? Isn’t it supposed to feel weird? What does it mean?
Starsky was tucked up under Hutch’s arm on the couch, spread out in a pair of sweats and a t-shirt with one foot on the far arm rest, the other propped across the back of the couch. There was some western on—He couldn’t remember the name, and he was gnawing halfheartedly on a slice of pizza.
He wasn’t hungry. His stomach had been upset all day, he ached through his chest and middle, and he’d had pins and needles up and down the entirety of his right arm since about four that evening. Hutch had said it was the weather. Storm fronts moving in, something about barometric pressure. Hutch himself hadn’t been feeling well either, stiff back and knee, the blonde was half asleep with his head propped on his fist, feet on the coffee table.
It had been a long few weeks. Settling back in at home, relearning how to sleep for long periods without nurses coming in to poke or prod or just the general noisiness of a hospital keeping him awake. He thought that coming home would mean a fall back into normality, but he’d been very wrong. All being at home did was make him acutely aware of the scheduled pain medication he’d got from the nurses. That two pills a day was very different from what he’d been receiving before. It felt, at first, as if he was becoming ill, an allover ache and weakness in his limbs. Chills and nightmares that ramped up like some freakish picture show straight from Hell. Things Starsky didn’t think it was possible for a healthy mind to think of, let alone dream about repeatedly. He’d asked the doctor about it, at a checkup a week or so after he’d been released, and been assured that it was normal. A type of withdrawl from the level of pain medication his body had become used to.
He hated it.
Felt some sense of new sympathy for every junkie he’d ever arrested—for Hutch who knew the suffering first hand.
The chills and sickness had tapered off toward the last week of September, thankfully. Now he was only plagued by the nightmares, though they had tamed down a little, and this ache that had settled in his muscles and core. He’d taken to keeping his right arm tucked to his chest. Supporting the line of scar tissue that formed a red sickle from below his right nipple to his shoulder blade, and the bold line across his middle. The odd shaped little pucker to the right of center from the second bullet making it clean through his body, unlike its siblings.
He'd peeled the gauze up and stared at it that morning before physical therapy. Thought maybe it looked like Saturn. Mused about the possibility of having the scar decorated with a tattoo of the planet, because he found the sight of it, red, soft, and raised; kind of ugly. Maybe he could turn the smaller marks on his back into flowers, though he’d never see them unless he twisted his neck around to stare in the mirror. Count them like freckles. The scars he could see bothered him a little, though he didn’t let himself think about it much because it made his head feel weird. Thinking about it all made his whole body feel weird. Hyper aware of the fact doctors had put their hands inside him and messed around in there. Picked out shattered pieces of his ribs and carved out pieces of his body he’d been born with.
Starsky tossed the pizza back into the box and slouched lower, arms crossed loosely on his belly. Leaned a little heavier into the solidity alongside him, tilting his head until his ear was pressed into Hutch’s ribs and he could have found the pillow of Hutch’s stomach so easily. Turned himself into the contact and let the press of their mass ease the hurt.
Hutch shifted, inhaled deeply and straightened his spine; rubbed his face and glanced down at his partner; “Alright?”
He got a grunt in return.
And it happened. Hutch’s arm slipped lower and caught him by the elbow, a hug—squeeze really, and Hutch bent forward, pressed his face into Starsky’s hair.
Starsky twitched, eyes not leaving the TV, “Did you just kiss me?”
Hutch yawned. “So?”
“On the hair?” He turned his head and stared up at the underside of Hutch’s unshaven chin as the blonde settled again with his head propped sleepily on his fist.
Hutch grunted but said nothing else, rubbed gently at his partner’s shoulder. Fading back into half consciousness.
Starsky settled down again, nose still crinkled in thought. Since when did Hutch kiss him?
There’d been once or twice over the years, Drunk Hutch had hauled him in with a rough arm around his neck and placed a dry brotherly peck on his cheek. Or they’d made obscene smoochy faces at one another to get a laugh, but this? He’d meant it this time, and he’d meant it a few other times too. Starsky could remember them happening, but couldn’t understand why it hadn’t bothered him.
Should it bother him?
It hadn’t been on the hair all the time either.
There’d been a few to his forehead, temples, cheek—hell even his eyelids a couple times when he’d been breathless, cramped up and hurting in his hospital bed, waiting for some nurse with a syringe. Gentle passes of Hutch’s big hand over his jaw and shoulder, pushing his hair back off his forehead after physical therapy, when he ate too much too fast, or something spicy enough to make his healing liver and stomach wig out. Rubbing his back when Starsky presented the fetal curve of his spine while his body relearned to function without so much pain medication. The warm, comforting pressure of lips to the back of his neck and shoulders.
“Is this it?”
“Huh?” He pried his eyes open and looked downward curiously.
“I said, ‘Is this it?’”
Hutch blinked tiredly at the pizza; “You want something else? Sandwich?”
“No—This!” He pushed at Hutch’s side with his head and elbow. “This—US!”
“You’re gonna be fine. Should be reinstated in a month or two,” Those blue eyes were drifting shut.
“That’s not what I meant!”
Hutch rubbed his face and blinked rapidly, hoping to make himself more awake to deal with whatever it was Starsky was upset about. “Okay, okay. What is it?”
“You kissed me!”
“On the hair!”
“Is that what you’re all worked up about?”
“Well, why did you do it?”
“On your hair, or at all?”
“Because your hair is four inches taller than you, a-and…” And Hutch’s face made a funny dash through about six different emotions, among them panic and self-consciousness. “Are you angry?”
“I don’t know—When did that become something we do anyhow?”
“Does it bother you?”
“I don’t know—What’s it mean? Is this a thing? Are we doing things now?” He still hadn’t moved much, just twisted himself so his head was on Hutch’s stomach and he could hear the soft living noises of his body. Digestion, breath, visceral sounds. “Are we a thing? Is this it? Are we actually going there?”
Hutch took a deep breath, brow wrinkled pensively, and let his right arm curl under Starsky’s, palm warm and heavy on his chest. “Are you askin’ me to the prom, Starsk?”
Starsky’s face registered shock, then a little bit of humor under the brief anger; “Aw, screw you!” He pushed upward against Hutch’s chin and rocked the blonde’s head back.
Hutch’s chest rumbled with soft laughter, and he caught the hand, folding slim fingers in his own. Trapped them under his chin.
“Last time I try to have a meaningful conversation with you—”
“Starsky, just—just calm down a second, will ya?”
He went quiet, staring at the ceiling with his jaw clenched.
“You know I love ya.”
Starsky felt the fire go out of him.
“So, what’s the problem?”
He shifted uncomfortably, either from the conversation or the ache in his body; “I didn’t know it—it was the whole— Love with kissing and stuff.”
Hutch was quiet, took in the fact that Starsky hadn’t moved away, hadn’t pulled his hand back, or made any loud declarations of discontent. Noticed the contemplative, far-away look in his partner’s eyes. “If it makes you feel better, I didn’t really know either.”
Dark blue eyes looked up at him, “That’s not actually making me feel any better.”
“Yeah,” Hutch rubbed his face, “How did this happen?”
“I mean, I’ve loved you for years, and that hasn’t changed.”
“I’m sensing a ‘but’.”
Hutch was still, he seemed to shrink in on himself slowly, lost in thought, or memories. To Starsky he looked impossibly young, freshly pulled from a nightmare.
The blonde didn’t say anything, his breathing was rough.“Hey, Hutch, look—I-I’m not mad… I-I don’t know exactly what I’m feelin’ right now, but I’m not angry.”
“We just realized I’ve been kissing you for months and you’re not angry?” He sounded almost disgusted with himself. Had he been taking advantage? Even unconsciously, it was unforgivable.
“No… I’ve felt like shit. If you hadn’t been there, I don’t know what I’d have done,” He took a breath and reached up to tug at the blonde’s sleeve. “I need you. I—I don’t know when it changed, but something’s changed. Like you said, I love you same as I always have… it’s not different, but it’s—It’s grown a little. Like a new room on a house.”
“Houses don’t grow new rooms—”
“You know what I mean.”
Hutch looked at him, expression pinched; “I thought I’d lose you. For real this time. I—” He hesitated, as if unsure of his next words. “It’s not different, but it’s not the same anymore. It’s not the same and I can’t lose what we’ve got I-I couldn’t live without it—without you,” He cleared his throat; “I let it happen and I didn’t even recognize it…” His voice faded to nothing.
“Do you regret it?”
“Kissing your hair? Well, considering you haven’t showered in two days—”
“Jeez,” He sighed perturbed.
The blonde fidgeted uncomfortably. “I don’t know. This—I don’t know where this is going.”
“Me either,” Starsky seemed at peace at first, comforted by the fact he wasn’t alone in his confusion but then gave himself a little shake. His began shoving thoughts forward like remembering the steps to some arcane recipe, reminding himself of what it took to be a man, and what it didn’t. “But—but what does it mean? Is this it?”
“Are we gay? Is that what you’re asking?”
Starsky looked up at him with a half fearful gleam in his eyes.
“Is that what you’re afraid of?”
“I dunno… Aren’t you?”
“Not really… There’s nothing wrong with it. Love is love—”
“Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with it, but—”
“This is usually the part of the evening when the clothes come off, and I’m not even sure how— I mean, who goes where? Do we flip for it? Or what? The guys in films make it seem easy—”
Hutch blinked, then released Starsky’s hand and massaged the bridge of his nose; “How did we get from you being upset that I kissed your hair, to negotiating sex?”
“Well, isn’t that where this is goin? I mean, you’ve been kissing me for months now—”
“Starsky, I didn’t even realize I was doing it until two minutes ago!”
The man in his lap went quiet. “So… you-you don’t want to?”
“Right now, I’m not even sure if I want to believe this conversation is actually happening.”
“Are you angry?”
“No. I’m just shocked, I suppose.”
“I’m the one being seduced and you’re shocked?”
“What? I’m not seducing you! You’re the one who was talking about porno!”
“I’m just tryin’ to figure out what’s going on!”
“Me too, pal. It’s not every day you realize you’ve been putting the moves on your best friend without knowing it. I’m kind of invested in this relationship as it is—”
“Oh, and I’m not?”
Hutch dropped his head back on the couch cushions and let out a groan of frustration. “Jesus, now my head hurts,” He slouched a little lower on the couch and passed his palm down the length of his face. “Can we take this one step at a time, instead of an Olympic sprint to the finish line?”
Starsky folded his hands together and looked up into Hutch’s eyes as if barely controlling a nervous fit.
“Okay,” Hutch stopped, then started again; “Okay.”
“Okay,” Starsky parroted, fingers flexing. If he’d had a pencil or pen or something he’d have been twirling it, or bouncing in his seat. But in deference to his aching body he started picking anxiously at the front of his shirt, pinching and twisting the fabric until it creased.
“Look,” Hutch inhaled slowly; “I care about you… I care for you… I don’t want that to change, and if you’re not sure about any of this other stuff, then forget about it. Nothing is happening unless we’re both absolutely sure.”
“Yeah. This—what we have—regardless of the kissing and stuff; means more to me than anything, and I won’t risk losing it.”
Starsky took a deeper breath and let it out slowly, seeming to solidify this promise within himself.
“You’re my best friend and I love you. You’re my—” But he didn’t have words to finish. They all fluttered away like startled birds, letting a silence stretch between them like cobwebs.
Starsky’s nervousness returned and his mouth opened and closed a few times before he started, rambling almost because the feelings were too raw, too powerful to be ignored a second longer. “I knew something was different. From the moment I woke up and knew I wasn’t gonna die. I knew something was different. But I was just—I was just so glad, and you were—I remember you jumpin’ around. I don’t know what you were sayin’ things were still fuzzy, but I remember your face. How—how happy you were. And I was just so relieved that you wouldn’t have to hurt like that. That I wasn’t going to hurt you like that. You’re more to me than anything… I needed you… I still do. I—I don’t know how to not need you,” His voice faded off to nothing and his hands flexed on his chest, open and closed as if barely restraining himself from reaching out. His eyes were bright, cautious but alight as if from within, hopeful.
Hutch stared at him, felt something tight in his chest melting, something inside him sliding into place. He pushed his hair back out of his face, “I love you.”
Starsky took a shaking breath and let it out. Let the words sink in. “I-uh—I love you too.”
“The whole kissing and stuff type of love?” Hutch smirked, hoping to lighten the mood a little, because Starsky looked half scared to death.
“I-I think so… I mean it-it isn’t bad…” He tightened his jaw, brows pulling down, a brief flare of anger again, like a match being struck.
Hutch worried that the anger would dredge up something else and everything would shift again, like a knife blade coming down. Now that he realized it he didn’t think he could look at the other man and not feel this deep longing to be near him. To touch, and reassure himself of his continued vitality. Now that he’d realized what this new feeling was he didn’t know if he could stand to exist without it. It had become as essential to his existence as breathing, as natural and involuntary as his heartbeat.
But, Starsky let his breath out in a soft whoosh, eyes flicking away and back again; “No. No ‘isn’t bads’. Nothin’ bad about it… ’s nice. Real nice.”
Hutch choked felt his sinuses burning and curled his fingers in Starsky’s hair. He gave a few hiccupping chuckles and felt the shoulders in his lap jump with their own amusement. After a few seconds they fell quiet, just gazing at one another openly.
“Can I try somethin’—curious?”
“What do you have in mind?”
He fidgeted with his shirt a little more, considered making an absurd smoochy face because the mood around them felt heavy and a little to humid and he didn’t know how to maneuver because it was Hutch making him feel this way, not some lady in a bar, or on the street, or in his arms. HUTCH, with untidy blonde hair, day old scruff on his face and that furry line on his upper lip that looked kind of like a starving caterpillar, though he’d never say it aloud. He swallowed, tried to ignore the dry clicking sound in his throat; “J-just not on the hair this time, ‘kay?”
Hutch’s eyes softened and Starsky felt the strange urge to poke him hard in the ribs because he didn’t really know how to express what the naked emotion on Hutch’s face made him feel. Kind of like that time he’d pulled girls’ pigtails in school and made ugly faces at them. Impotent in his rage at their ability to make him feel mushy inside in a way that didn’t always leave him comfortable. He’d learned how to deal with that feeling when it came from women, but this was different. This was Hutch and it felt deeper than his very soul.
His hand lifted, brushed the backs of his fingers across jaw and ear, sank them into the wavy bits of gold hair at the nape of his partner’s neck and pulled a little, urging him to bend forward. At the same time levering himself upward a little with right elbow pressed into the couch cushions.
The angle was awful. Noses bumping cheeks, muscles cramped and aching. Hutch hooking an arm around Starsky’s shoulders and supporting some of his weight because his right arm was shaking as if it may give out.
Starsky kept his eyes shut. Focused more on what he felt than trying to finesse anything into the open. Because if anything about it felt weird, or wrong, he knew it would stop. Hutch would stop and nothing would be said of it ever again. But, it wasn’t weird. It reminded him of those dry smacks of Hutch’s mouth on his cheek when the blonde was drunk and giddy, the only difference being the scrape of rough unshaven skin. A burning tickle of moustache above the warm press of lips.
Hutch grunted and pulled back a little, muttered ‘hold on’, and shifted against the couch. Looked him in the eyes before gently leaning in again.
It started out the same as before. A hesitant brush of lips, but there was something different about it. A quickened flutter of his heart and Hutch’s other hand fitted against the nape of his neck, drawing him into it, tilting his head a little to the side. Warmth blossoming in his chest and a tightness in his throat that took his breath. A tingle rolling down his spine and deep into his belly.
Kissing Hutch was at once exactly like and totally different from kissing a woman. Lips themselves felt pretty much like any other pair of lips. Unless there was scar tissue, or lipstick, or in this case the tickle and burn of that underfed caterpillar—
But it set a flame to burning somewhere in his core. A curl of desire soaring up through him to curl his fingers and tighten his stomach in anticipation.
Starsky drew back quickly scratching at the edges of his lips with his teeth. Eyes wide, the tingle settling deeper.
Hutch was looking at him with a brow lifted, face gone red. His pupils were like drops of ink; “What?”
“I can’t relax,” His voice was shaking.
Hutch let out a huff of air; “You could sit up and spare my aching back. That’d make it better.”
“But I’m comfortable.”
“Of course, you are,” He pressed a heavy, warm hand to Starsky’s chest, rubbed a little. “Don’t worry about it.”
“So, what do we do now?”
“I don’t know, my back hurts,” Hutch sighed.
Starsky scowled. “That ain’t fair! You got me thinkin’ all sorts of things now. I don’t know what I’m doing! This is—Jeez. What’re we supposed to do? What happens next?”
Hutch was petting his hair again; “Well, I’m too tired—You’re too tired. Neither of us can relax enough to even kiss better than teenagers on their first date. I say we just sit here until this movie is over. Then sleep on it and try again tomorrow.”
Starsky swallowed; “Sleep, like together?”
“Probably not a good idea when you’re cramped up. You should take a pain pill and stretch out.”
“So, that’s it?”
“Starsk, I’ve been in relationships before where we’ve moved too far too fast and by the time we realized it was a mistake we were in up to our eyeballs. I-I don’t want to take that chance with this. If we’re really going to do this I want to do it right.”
“Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve made it with anybody?”
“Months, Hutch. Five months!”
“Impressive… And what about me, huh? Looking after you isn’t exactly a daydream.”
“I don’t know what you were doin’ when you weren’t languishing at my bedside. Or who for that matter! Meanwhile I was flat out in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of my date night essentials!”
Hutch felt himself laugh, couldn’t help it. Felt an aching sympathy, but still couldn’t contain it.
“If we’re gonna do this, I wanna do it! I’m ripe for the pickin’!”
“Do you think you could get it up right now—either of us?” He couldn’t stop giggling.
“That’s beside the point, you gotta give me something to look forward to! I mean—Okay, I mean, this is new to me. All of it. It’s kinda—kinda freakin’ me out a little bit.”
“What, the five months?”
“No, the wanting it with you.”
And all the humor was suddenly gone. In its place Hutch felt his ears, face neck, and chest go warmer. Saw a ruddy tinge collecting on Starsky’s cheeks and the tips of his ears.
“Would you stop lookin’ at me like that?” Starsky grinned nervously, tried to swallow it.
“Hey… What freaks you out? The idea of—”
“The idea that I want that with you, and the fact it doesn’t freak me out is kind of freakin’ me out.”
“You’re gonna make me say it?”
“I’m not going to make you do anything.”
Starsky nodded, as if reassuring himself; “It freaks me out a little that the next time I… it could be with you. You know me, know me better than anyone I think, and I know you. It-it feels,” He twisted his fingers tighter in the front of his shirt.
“Natural… And it’s—It’s new, and weird, but a good weird.”
Hutch felt himself grinning.
“It’s…” He cleared his throat, voice dropping almost to a whisper. “Never thought I’d be an excited virgin twice in my life.”
Hutch bowed his head and met serious eyes in a blushing face, “Yeah?”
Hutch giggled, tried to stifle it but Starsky rolled his eyes.
“What about you, huh? Know anything about dudes who do dudes?”
“More than you apparently… But it’s-uh—pretty much all hypothetical. Unless you count watching films.”
Hutch rubbed his cheek; “Didn’t think so. Though, I have kissed a guy before… In college, just experimenting.”
“We didn’t get much farther than that. I liked it, he didn’t so much. End of story.”
“That why you’re not freaking out like I am?”
“You’re not freaking out… Not as much as you could.”
Starsky had found something infinitely fascinating on the ceiling. “You know something?”
“I know a lot of somethings.”
“If you’d have asked me six months ago if we’d be having this conversation now—”
“You’d have punched me in the neck. That’s how I know you’re not freaking out.”
“I wouldn’t have punched you in the neck. Maybe yelled, but I wouldn’t have punched you.”
“If I’d asked you if you wanted to have sex six months ago, you wouldn’t have hit me?”
Starsky said nothing, just tried to focus on the fingers still petting his hair, twirling each curl around and around until the mass lay in scattered ringlets. Hutch looked down at him and saw the answer in the look on his face. He could imagine it clearly. The initial bright anger, but the slow realization—the acceptance and barely withheld excitement. How long? How long have we been in denial of this? A year, two? More?
“You were right,” Starsky tilted his head into the gentle petting, “It’s the same now as it was before. Houses don’t grow rooms,” He yawned, “Guess it was always there, we just never looked for it.”
“Maybe we weren’t ready to go in.”
Starsky hummed thoughtfully. “Maybe not.”
Hutch rubbed his face tiredly, stifled a yawn into his hand. “When we are ready… It’ll happen.”
“Oh-yeah.” After that it was quiet for a while, just the movie playing on incongruous sounds of soft women’s voices and gruff men, the pop of guns and the sound of horses. Hutch tucked his arm back around Starsky’s ribs, and laced their fingers together.
“How ‘bout now?”
“Go to sleep.”
“What about now?”
“God help me…”