(Early October 1979)
“Is it too early to talk about it?”
Hutch craned his neck over the back of the sofa and stared toward the bathroom. “You want to talk about it now?”
The water splashed a little in the tub. “Can’t do much else at this moment, unless you wanna play I Spy.”
“You’re supposed to be soaking.”
“I can do both.”
“Yeah, but if we talk about it what else is going to happen? I don’t want a repeat of last time. And I’ll tell you exactly how I Spy would go,” He cleared his throat and tilted his head back, voice a little louder than usual, a little faster, mimicking Starsky’s accent; “’I spy with my little eye, something beginning with ‘E’.”
Starsky snorted, played along. “Epsom salt?”
“’E’, e-e-e-e-e—” He hummed barely audible, the water splashed a some more as he looked around; “Underpants elastic?”
“No, but warmer.”
“Oh, fuck you!”
“See, I told you! Right to your prick!”
“You were leadin’ me on! That’s all on you!”
Hutch grinned to himself impishly.
It was quiet beyond the bathroom door.
Hutch thought he could hear some tune or another, discordant humming. Starsky trying to amuse himself while the hot water and salts worked at his muscles.
“You know my ma’ soaks her bunions in this stuff.”
“Well, if it’ll work on the little ones, it’s sure to work on the big one,” Hutch turned the page in his book.
Starsky shifted in the tub, stretched his legs out and hitched his ankles on the spigot. Drew little curlicues in the steam on the walls near his head. Little stickmen cops and little stickmen robbers. “Did you just call me a bunion?”
“Yeah, sorry… You’re more of an ingrown nail than a bunion. A little trimming and you’ll come out fine.”
“Don’t be disgusting.”
“I’m not the one fondling himself in the bath.”
Water splashed loudly; “I am not!”
Hutch grinned to himself. “Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to play with that or you’ll go blind.”
Hutch turned back to his book. It was quiet for about thirty seconds, and Hutch thought that was probably the full extent of his partner’s attention span.
“I’m startin’ to think you’ve got one of those fetishes, and that’s why you don’t wanna talk about it.”
“You think I’ve got a fetish?”
“Yeah… Like—Okay, I was with this girl a couple years back. She –uh—she liked it all over her chest.”
Hutch hesitated, then closed his book; “What?”
“She liked it when I’d finish on her chest… Like—Her chest and neck.”
“And you think I’ve got a fetish like that?”
“Well, that wasn’t really a fetish— Those are different. Like some people like feet, or getting’ pissed on and stuff.”
“I don’t have a foot fetish, or a piss fetish.”
“But you do have one, don’t you! That’s why you don’t wanna talk.”
“It’s not feet, or pee, it’s not pearl necklaces… And it’s definitely not having hinky conversations with my partner through a door while he’s in the bath.”
Starsky was quiet for a moment; “You could come in, you know. That way we won’t have to worry about the neighbors overhearing.”
“You’re really that eager, aren’t you?”
“What, s’not like you’ve never seen me naked.”
“Same for you.”
“So, what is it? Like… Ropes and whips or something? Women’s underwear?”
Hutch made a noise in his throat, halfway between a giggle and a groan; “You’re not gonna give up are you!”
“I’m like a terrier. Once I get my teeth in somethin’ I don’t let go.”
“You’re definitely like a terrier… Only you’re more the leg humping kind.”
Starsky snorted in amusement. “Five months!”
Starsky sighed, “What time is it?”
“You’re the one with the waterproof watch.”
“I took it off in the bedroom.”
“Well, how pruned are your fingers?”
“Then you keep soaking… Maybe it’ll kill that stink you’ve been cultivating.”
“I don’t stink.”
“I don’t know how Lydia stands it. Like a public toilet.”
“You’re full’a shit.”
Hutch pushed himself off the couch and padded over to the bathroom, stood there beside the door and stared at the ceiling. “Is it working?”
“I guess… Water’s gettin’ kinda cold though.”
“Alright, I’m coming in.”
The room smelled of salt, warm skin, and the undertone of Starsky’s cologne. The man in question was squashed down into his tub with the water lapping at his chin, legs propped up in the far corners, all long stretched muscles and wet skin. He looked like a petulant child, lips compressed, eyes on the spigot, fingers drumming on his chest.
Hutch glanced at him, amused. “You’re all pink.”
“Well, the water was hot,” He splashed some in Hutch’s direction, “I think you’re trying to pickle me.”
“Nah, I’m making a limp noodle out of you.”
“Past that, now I’m all mush,” Starsky tried to withhold a giggle.
“Sit up and rinse off will ya?” Hutch grabbed the chain tethering the plug to the tub itself and tugged it from the water. Caught a glimpse of Starsky from the corner of his eye as he sat up and pulled his knees up, readying himself to stand. “Alright?”
A nod, “Not really doing our civic duty with the water conservation though.”
“I think they’d understand given the circumstances,” Hutch loaned a hand and shoulder, pulled his partner up to his feet and got the shower running. “Towels are out here when you’re done.”
Hutch gave the toilet a spiteful flush and jumped out of the way as Starsky took an open-handed swipe at him from behind the curtain.
“SHIT! You just wait, Hutchinson! Just wait!”
Hutch ignored the damp handprint on his arm and went back to his book. He got three pages farther before the water shut off and he heard Starsky shake his head like a dog, splattering water everywhere. Could smell shampoo, soap, and steam carrying the warmth of clean skin. He glanced over his shoulder, bewildered at first, to see that he’d accidentally left the door open, but Starsky could be an immodest creature when the mood struck him. Or, oblivious like now, when he was so used to the gaze of doctors and nurses and surgeons. People constantly hovering and taking away any kind of privacy and dignity a man had, all in the name of healing him. Sometimes he just forgot that he could have privacy again.
Hutch watched him warily over the top of his book. The way he scrubbed his hair, face, neck and arms. Then chest, back and abdomen, scratched rigid fingers through the hair on his head, shaking out the excess water while he rubbed the towel over his lower body.
Starsky may look small, when standing beside Hutch, but he wasn’t. He was broad and lean, and normally the thickness of his body was solid muscle carefully disguised under a forgivingly plush layer of hearty meals and one too many candy bars. All poured into denim, sneakers, and threadbare shirts. Softness concealing immeasurable strength, anger, love, and loyalty so sharp it was difficult to look at sometimes. Naked, he was still all these things, just strikingly human. Almost vulnerable. Scars and marks, little freckles here and there. Body hair and stretch marks from growing too much too fast as a teen. A bruise here and there from little things, bumping into this or that, the physical therapist’s firm fingers kneading a spasm. The vermilion lines across his side and stomach. Healed bullet holes on his back, old and new, red, pink, and silver. The hair on his head wet and clinging in inky tendrils nearly to his shoulders, longer than it looked with water pulling the curls down. His eyes however tired, were amused and trained directly on Hutch.
“Like the show? Usually I get dinner first, but, for you I’ll make an exception,” A wink and he wrapped the towel around his waist.
Hutch felt heat flare in his face, neck and ears. Looked away quickly and stuttered out half an apology before he heard Starsky giggling. “Laugh it up. See who helps you out of the bath next time.”
“I ain’t complaining… Look all you want.”
“I’ve seen plenty of jackasses before. Seen one, seen ‘em all.”
“Yeah, but any of ‘em this cute?”
“I’m cute, remember?”
“Well, Cute, would you give me a hand covering these things up?”
Hutch looked up again, found Starsky holding a package of gauze patches and medical tape. “Just leave it. Nobody but us. That tape’s tearing your skin. Hurts just to look at it sometimes.”
“It doesn’t bother you?”
“What, the scars?”
Starsky turned his gaze inward, still picking at the roll of tape.
“Do they bother you?”
“No… not really.”
He shrugged. “It’s stupid,” He put the packages away and escaped to his room. Came out a few moments later in a pair of cutoffs, knuckles white where he was mangling the towel he’d used.
“Come here,” Hutch put his book aside and turned on the couch, tucking his right leg beneath him and patting the cushion in front of him.
Starsky sat, still holding the towel tightly in his fist.
“Wanna talk about it?”
“Nuthin’ much to say.”
Hutch pressed both palms to the other man’s knees, absorbed the heat and softness of newly washed skin. The soft, springy dark hairs on his legs and thighs. “Say it anyway.”
Starsky sighed, strangled the towel in his hands a little more; “It’s stupid.”
“Let me be the judge of that. Come on, out with it, partner.”
“Okay… just—look,” He shifted in his seat, motioned to a faint scar on his upper left chest, barely four inches long, years old. “Know what that one was?”
Hutch studied it, “Knife, right? Kid came at your throat but you managed to lean back?”
“Twenty stitches…” He pulled his leg up and displayed the marks on his right shin and calf. Pink, newer. Then pushed his hair away from his temple and traced a shallow divot in his hair. “All of ‘em… more or less,” Then he hesitated and scratched gently at the fresh lines on his chest and stomach. “I think this is the first time I’ve had someone’s actual hands inside me. Not just surgical instruments, but their whole HANDS.”
Hutch swallowed and felt a lump growing in his throat.
“Those surgeons had me open for hours… It—” His voice broke, “—It smelled like a slaughterhouse in there.”
Hutch’s brows pulled down and he gripped his friend a little tighter. “Just breathe for a minute—”
“I’m alright—” But he took a few seconds to draw deliberate breath before he continued. “I remember the smell of it—taste of it, just salt and metal and dirt—” Hutch’s hands were on his face, he had no idea how that happened, felt gentle little kisses on his brow and cheeks, gripped the blonde’s wrists like a lifeline.
“Did you tell the psychotherapist about this?”
He nodded, “It didn’t scare me until just a few weeks ago… Maybe this is a delayed reaction kind of thing. It’s all just startin’ to hit me. I-I saw myself in the mirror and all I could think was ‘that doctor had his hands in your chest.’ Now that’s all I can think about. Just ugly reminders that people had their hands all over my vital organs.”
Hutch was staring at him, calm, and familiar. “That’s not stupid. Not stupid at all!”
“Those doctors saved you… They made miracles with those hands. You—you’re a walking miracle, ya’ know that?”
He laughed and coughed and bowed his head against Hutch’s shoulder.
“What brought this on?”
Starsky looked up at him, somewhat guiltily; “I started wondering why you didn’t—didn’t want to talk about it. Thought maybe it was because of… I know they’re gross—”
“What?” Hutch gripped his head a little tighter, gave him a little shake for emphasis, “They’re not gross.”
“Then why do you look like you wanna throw up every time I take my shirt off?”
Hutch breathed in and held it for a three count, finding his words; “Because you won’t look at them. You cover them up even though you don’t need to anymore. I-I knew they upset you, and they upset you enough that you wouldn’t tell me about it,” He combed his fingers through Starsky’s hair, pushing the wet curls this way and that. “I love you. The scars aren’t gross. You aren’t gross.”
Starsky nodded, leaned into the pressure of Hutch’s hands and arms. “So, if it’s not this, then what is it? Did you change your mind or something?”
“Then is it a fetish or something?”
“It’s not a fetish. It’s more of a… a concern.”
“What, worried I’ll flake?”
“I’m worried we’ll get too into it and I’ll hurt you.”
“Unless you’re planning to get freaky I think we’ll be fine.”
Hutch bowed his head.
“Uh—That’s not what you’re into is it? The acrobatics? Because it’s one thing with a woman, but I—getting manhandled isn’t exactly my thing.”
“Yeah, only one you let manhandle you is Lydia.”
“That’s what she gets paid the big company green for.”
Hutch snorted in amusement and lifted his head, brushed his thumbs across Starsky’s lashes and eyebrows to clear them of moisture and pushed his hair off his brow. Pressed his lips there instead. Rubbed his palms on the brunet’s rough cheeks; “You going to go finish cleaning up?”
“In a minute.”
“Brush your teeth maybe, so we can see if we’re any better at kissing when we’re not exhausted?”
Starsky pushed up and away and disappeared into the bathroom again without a word. Gagged himself a few times on the toothbrush and Hutch tried to ignore the colorful expletives each one pulled forth.
“Exactly how do you expect to make love to a man, if your gag reflex is so sensitive you can’t brush your teeth.”
His eyes were round. He spat into the sink, “Who implied I was doin’ the giving of such pleasures?” He started scrubbing again.
“Oh-ho, no-no-no. That isn’t how this works.”
“Then how does it work? I thought you were just as blind in all this as I am?”
Hutch scowled, “If I do it, you have to do it.”
“What if I don’t like it?” He had foam on his chin.
“Have you ever even touched another man’s—”
Hutch propped his cheek on his hand, “Oh? Whose?”
“Frisked a guy once who had a Thirty-eight special hidden in his pants. Thought I wouldn’t look there. He was very wrong.”
“That doesn’t count.”
“Had to get the weapon away from him somehow—”
“No dice, try again.”
“Well, what about you?” He scrubbed furiously at his teeth.
Hutch felt his cheeks heating; “Yours for one.”
Starsky choked and bent over the sink coughing. Decided his mouth was clean enough and turned on Hutch with a glare; “That don’t count!”
The blonde started ticking off on his fingers; “I wasn’t frisking anyone in the line of duty. I wasn’t drunk and didn’t fall on anyone’s lap or make a mistake on a dark dance floor. And I certainly didn’t cop a feel while I was being helped out of the bath.”
“I was sick! I was sick, I couldn’t walk or stand up on my own— I almost passed out!”
“You know, you’re kinda cute when you’re blushing.”
He chuckled, “Okay, okay, it doesn’t count.”
“Thank you,” He turned back to the sink and began cleaning up the sprayed toothpaste foam. “You can’t call it sexy if a guy’s not healthy enough to take himself to the john.”
Hutch hummed loudly, thoughtfully; “The guy from college.”
“Thought you said that was only kissing.”
“Mostly kissing… and groping through our clothes. Hand jobs.”
“Did you two do it?”
“No. It never got that heated.”
“Then what’s the hold up?”
Hutch hesitated, tried to gage the expression on Starsky’s face. Glanced away as he spoke. “I experimented on my own once or twice. Got real friendly with a girl named Sally, works at a sex shop—no I’m not telling you where— and it-uh—It hurts.”
Starsky blinked a few times but said nothing.
“So, that’s why I haven’t said anything.”
Starsky sat on the closed toilet lid and scratched compulsively at his cheek; “It hurts?”
“The films don’t make it look like it hurts.”
“Porno is bogus, you know that,” He rubbed the back of his neck self-consciously; “I’m just trying to be straight with you about it. We tried, it wasn’t any good for me.”
Starsky didn’t say anything for a long while, just sat there with his hands folded between his knees, thinking.
“Was it OK on your own?”
“It was alright.”
“How’d you do it? Fingers?”
Hutch rubbed his jaw, gave Starsky a long look. “Is that what you were doing in the tub?”
“Thought about it, but no. I was just soaking.”
“Why don’t you come back in here, huh? Stop acting like I scare you.”
“You don’t scare me.”
“Then why are you hiding in there?”
Starsky rubbed at his hair again. Shook some more wetness out of it. After a moment he stood and let out a deep sigh; “I think I just realized what’s wrong.”
“Oh? Enlighten me?”
“I was expecting fireworks. Earthquakes—”
Hutch rolled his head to the side, grinned; “Thunderbolt and lightning, very, very, frighten—”
“—Hey, cut that out!”
Hutch dissolved into quiet giggles.
“I’m tryin’ to be serious and here you are—” He shook his head and turned to stare into the mirror.
“Aw, come on! I was kidding.”
He got no reply.
“Starsky, come on… Just come here and talk to me. I was kidding!”
Starsky moved out of the room silently, stopped at the couch and loomed over the blonde, staring down at him with an unreadable expression. “That’s the point… Here I was expecting Serious Hutch, with those come-hither baby blues, all machismo and confidence. Direct and to the point. No fuss, just— There to fold me up and knock my socks off—And instead I get this chump cracking wise when I try to get him to talk to me, and making awkward chitchat about how we can’t make love even though I’ve got enough blue in my pants to paint the entire west coast!”
“Is that what you want? Me to fold you up and blow your mind?”
“That’s what I thought I wanted. But that isn’t you, is it… That’s the face you put on for ladies and the rest of the world. This—this is you. Insecure, nervous, silly… Too serious for his own good sometimes. THIS is you. I know that, I’ve known that for years,” He took a slow breath and let it out. “I’m sorry.”
“For tryin’ to make you be something you’re not.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I could still fold you up and blow your mind every so often.”
“Yeah,” Hutch caught him by the back of the neck and pulled him down. The angle was just right and he felt the muscles in Starsky’s neck and back jump in surprise, then melt. Starsky’s blunt, strong fingers pushed into his hair, pulled him closer into a quick clash of teeth on supple lips, pinching and sucking in a quick reminder that there was danger here. Dragons lurked in this ocean. Hutch felt a shudder run through himself, catch where his body touched the other and continue through, like an electrical current.
Starsky shoved at his shoulder and scrambled bodily over the back of the couch onto hands and knees, braced over the blonde as he seemed to flow like molten gold into the pressure of fingers over his waist, neck and chest. Plucking at the buttons of his shirt. A melodic sound bubbled from between them, rapture-ecstasy-torture.
Hutch grabbed him, pulled him down by the back pockets of his cutoffs and wedged his left knee between the brunet’s thighs. Tilted his head back, surrendering to the scrape of teeth down his neck, and tough fingers pulling him up by the hip and nape.
And then Starsky stilled, breathing ragged, body heavy and trembling. Voice thin; “Oooh,” He swallowed audibly, “This was a bad idea.”
Hutch lifted his head, dazed; “What?”
“J-just don’t move.”
“What happened? Are you hurt?”
“No,” He sounded confident, if quiet. “But if you move, I’m gonna come in my pants like a kid.”
Hutch didn’t move. “Five months, huh?”
“I’ve been too drugged up to manage it until now.”
“That why you haven’t been taking your pain meds?”
“How’d you know?”
“I keep count,” Hutch pushed a hand through Starsky’s hair, pressed a gentle kiss to his brow.
“I told you don’t move—”
“I know. Take it easy—Let-let me give you some fireworks, huh?”
“I really am a leg-humping-terrier,” He shuddered almost violently, fingers bruising where he gripped the blonde; “Fuck, this is embarrassing.”
“Uh-uh. No, it’s not—It’s beautiful,” Hutch’s other hand slid carefully from his hip across his stomach, pulled playfully at the soft hairs trailing south and sent shivers coursing up and down. “You’re here, breathing, warm—Alive in my arms. It’s beautiful,” There was just enough room, just enough weight still missing from Starsky’s frame that his hand fit perfectly in between flesh and cotton. “You’re beautiful.”
Starsky groaned loudly, head bowing forward, brow to brow, lashes just sooty crescents on flushed cheeks. Lips plumped from friction and pressure.
Hutch curled his hand carefully around him, pressed gently up against the solid heat he found. “You’ve waited five months for this, huh?”
That hand. Starsky thought maybe the universe had condensed down to that hand. Rough places on his palm from gripping a gun, a pen, a steering wheel. Fingertips firm from guitar strings. His insides felt like jelly, heat pooling down-down-down where Hutch cradled him, careful but surely. “Years… Waited years for you.”
He nodded, tried to focus on breathing past the almost painful pumping of his heart. He knew that hand, knew that voice, and the face of the man beneath him almost as well as his own. He thought for a moment that it should be weird that Hutch had hold of him like this—Fingertips pressed into his balls, palm curled gently against his shaft—but it wasn’t. Thank everything that it wasn’t! That hand was warm and almost trembling in withheld want. The tension building in his legs, and the bottom of his pelvis grew, almost itching with the need for release. He bowed his head with a groan, arm snaking beneath the blonde’s neck to pull him closer. Please, closer, because this already felt capable of something world altering.
Hutch held him for a moment, hand splayed at the back of his head, breathing assurances and soft words of love, then he smiled, tilted his lips toward one ear and whispered; “Well, let’s see about those fireworks, yeah?”
Hutch claimed his mouth again, relished in the joyful breathlessness of the man in his arms. Body warm and glowing with a sheen of sweat, muscles trembling from pleasure. Face lax and open. Three strokes and Starsky made a noise, deep in his chest, somewhere between agony and epiphany.
“It’s ok, I’ve got you—Feel it, that’s it, babe. Listen to you!” Hutch groaned himself, rocked down against the thigh pressed between his own. “Come on, I’ve got you—"
A rolling shudder down his spine, like an earthquake, hips following the motion. Starsky muttered a curse, a beseeching soft noise into the blonde’s neck, and his body tensed, trembled; starbursts behind his eyes, explosions along every nerve. Heat and passion and Hutch purring in his ear, kissing him dizzy.
It was over too quickly for his taste, he wanted it to last forever. It had been so long, climax almost felt foreign to him. New and exciting. It left his body utterly spent and heavy, pressing Hutch’s down into the couch with a horrible mess between them, gluing the blonde’s hand to his intimate essentials.
Starsky’s left arm was trapped under Hutch’s head, right arm and leg dangling somewhere over the side of the couch. Cheek to cheek he caught his breath. The position was by no means comfortable for either of them, but they didn’t move. Just fit together like puzzle pieces.
“That was great,” Starsky thought his face was numb, words slurred; “Give me thirty minutes and we’ll do it again.”
Hutch laughed, low and deep. “Thirty minutes?”
“Well, maybe I can push to fifteen, but—”
Another reverberating chuckle.
“What about you?” He shifted gently against the solidity he could feel pressed to his hip. “I-uh—I can’t promise fireworks, but…”
“I’ll be OK,” He breathed deeply, free hand making short passes over fresh numb scars. “Think you need another shower though.”
“Fuck that… After I finish you off, let’s just go down t’the beach, scandalize some old ladies.”
“It’s October. You’ll catch pneumonia.”
“You’re no fun.”
“Come on, at least rinse off, or we’ll smell like sex at your appointment tomorrow.”
He hefted a sigh; “Fine. Can’t scandalize the therapists. Need ‘em to sign my ‘back to work’ papers.”
Hutch grinned, followed him to the bathroom and scrubbed his hands clean, watched as Starsky peeled out of his soiled shorts and stepped back into the tub, immodestly soaped and cleaned himself, then climbed out, chest and lower half dripping. Hutch shook his head and watched as the brunet staggered to his bedroom, rolled into bed and snuggled into the pillow with a deep sigh, back rising and falling without a hitch.
Hutch leaned on the door and looked at him. Taking in the gold light of late afternoon playing across his skin. Body still slightly flushed from activity and excitement, but firm and vital and glowing with returning strength and health.
Starsky grinned wickedly, “Like what you see?” He shifted his hips a little, the line around his waist from a tan still making the contrast between his ass and back, even after months of being on medical leave.
He patted the bed beside him and yawned. “Gimmie five minutes and I’ll return the favor.”
“Five minutes?” Hutch approached, eased himself down beside his partner and turned to him.
Starsky’s eyes were already closed; “Yeah… My stamina isn’t what it used to be.”
“That’s alright, we’ve got time,” Hutch found himself devoting every detail to memory. The sounds the other had made. Breathless and overwhelmed, as if he wasn’t sure he was supposed to ever feel that good. The taste of his mouth beneath the toothpaste. The weight and reality of him pressed so close, so perfectly. How his pulse had played against Hutch’s fingers, every twitch and roll of his hips transferred, written on his skin. The helpless yearning in his voice just seconds before he’d come. Each muscle twitching and contracting and pulling against his grip—
Five minutes came and went and Starsky slept. Hutch found himself eventually sitting up against the headboard and playfully twirling every curl on his partner’s damp head into a ringlet. Leaving the brunet nude and somehow cherubic, curled close as he was in sleep and satisfaction. Hutch would probably get an earful for messing with the other man’s hair, but he couldn’t help it. Felt it somehow suited Starsky, made him look younger, innocent in a way, even with the scars of battle on his skin and soul.
The day wore on into evening, dusk, night, and Hutch settled himself down, unfastened his slacks so they didn’t bind during the night and drew the blankets over Starsky so he didn’t catch chill. Hummed softly to himself, and the night around them. Drifted off gently, fully. Found he didn’t know until that moment how tired he was. How little sleep he’d allowed himself since the incident in the parking garage. Since he’d almost lost everything.
Starsky murmured something unintelligible at close to midnight, threw a heavy arm across Hutch’s chest and drew him close. A dreamy kiss to his jaw and a yawn in his ear and he was asleep again.
Hutch grinned, settled down with his head on Starsky’s pillow and drifted back to sleep.