Story Notes:

First published in Venice Place Chronicles, Volume VI, October 2006.

Stay...ah, just a little bit longer. Please, please, please, please, tell me you're goin' to....

With only part of his mind, and even less of his body, concentrating on the intricate dance steps, David Starsky agreed wholeheartedly with the song filling the room courtesy of the beach band. Oh, please stay, Starsky pleaded silently with the blond boy he saw watching from the sideline, stay long enough for me to get over there and talk to you. The girl Starsky was currently shagging with, a sweet, friendly-faced girl who knew her stuff on the dance floor and had probably learned to shag before she hit high school, flowed along with his twirls and tandem turns as if they'd danced together their whole lives. She was a peach, but she couldn't hold a candle to the angel in khaki slacks and yellow oxford shirt. Sweet Jesus, if Starsky could take that male beauty somewhere and show him some real fancy footwork, then 1966 would be one fine year on Starsky's life calendar, and he could forget about his upcoming date with Uncle Sam for one night.

Oh, won't you stay...just a little bit longer? Please, let me hear you...say that you will. Won't you place your sweet lips to mine? Won't you say you love me, all of the time?

Starsky had to resort to counting his steps--one and two, three and four, five, six--to avoid stumbling when he caught the boy's eye. Christ, those soft blue eyes had a longer range than a 61-mm mortar shell. Kissing those naturally pale pink lips would be like running naked on the beach at sunrise. And not the Atlantic beach, but the Pacific with its jutting rocks and raw beauty.

Oooh whoa yeah, just a little bit longer. Please, please, please, please, tell me you're goin' to ...come on, come on, come on and stay...come on, come on, come on and stay....

Turning his dance partner again, and dipping her way down low to "step" over her legs in one of the more complicated Carolina Shag maneuvers, Starsky got another glimpse of male perfection. This time he frowned in sympathy with the boy, who stared into the distance with a troubled furrow to his brow. No one that otherworldly should have a moment's unhappiness, and Starsky wanted to stroke, tease, and flirt the sadness away....

~*~*~

Ken Hutchinson drank lukewarm soda pop and watched the dance floor, the snack stand, and the boardwalk. South Carolina twilight came on as seductively slow as Carolina girls talk, he had learned in five evenings of prowling the Myrtle Beach hangouts after he'd done his duty by his parents. By day, he helped them rub noses with the "royal family" behind the Pee Dee import/export concern his father hoped to include in the growing reach of Hutchinson influence. The nights belonged to him. But the South Carolina twilight, though lovely and refreshing, did nothing to soften the glaring dichotomy in any of the boardwalk dance "shacks." Hutch meandered through rooms wall-to-wall with people whose skin was no browner than the Atlantic sunshine could make them, except for the white-uniformed black boy sweeping the kitchen behind the snack counter, or the band on stage. The "Emeralds" or some such, all talented black musicians in green tuxedos with yellow shirts, providing the trademark beach music.

A pretty flower of the South, obviously proud of her perfect raven bubble-flip and expertly lined violet eyes, gave him a luminous smile from a table of giggling girls. He frowned back at her ruffled Confederate flag halter-top. Ruffled, for God's sake. If she made the mistake of giggling over his way, he'd have to tell her he only danced with Union girls.

No, that would be rude.

His activist mind whispered, Any ruder than wearing a symbol of oppression as a fashion statement? That was an unfair presumption. Hutch shook his head and swigged back more soda, wishing he could get his hands on a good cold beer. He didn't know the girl from the side of a barn. For all he knew, her favorite aunt had made the top by hand, and the girl wore it out of familial respect. Hell, some of the country club princesses in Duluth who would gasp in horror at the thought of standing in the same room with the rebel flag treated the club's dark-skinned wait staff with the contemptuous insensitivity Hutch wouldn't show a foam-mouthed mad dog. And the fact that the only dark-skinned people to be found in that Duluth country club belonged to the wait staff bothered Hutch as much as the society girls' treatment of them.

That was the problem with bigotry. It was too easy to stand in judgment of people over a thousand miles from home, when his own doorstep hadn't been swept free of racism and needed years of sweeping yet. And Hutch couldn't blame racially divided society for the whole of his misery on this sweet Carolina night. He hadn't wanted to join this family vacation, especially with his father's business affairs crowding in and reminding him how far into the Duluth soil he was mired, at least in the eyes of his parents. Looking toward his senior year in college, Hutch was slowly smothering, half crazy with the need to break out of the family mold before his fate sealed tighter than a mausoleum vault and he saw his money-driven father when he looked in the mirror.

Escaping upper class WASP America might save his soul, but Hutch would still be chomping against one more bit that conventional society forced between his teeth. If he hadn't discovered the works of James Baldwin at the University of Minnesota, Hutch might have managed a few more years of ignoring the simultaneous dull ache in his belly and fire along his skin when he saw a handsome masculine face. After a sojourn in Baldwin's country, Hutch still hadn't acted on the ache, but he no longer turned a blind eye inward.

"Better for your teeth if you bite down on this corn dog than that bottle," said a husky voice at his side. Hutch jumped and splattered Coca-Cola on his yellow oxford button-up sleeve. "Guess you'll need a napkin, too."

Hutch closed his eyes for a few bracing seconds before he looked into the darkest blue temptation he'd ever encountered. Oh, God. It was the curly-haired guy he had tried not to watch since he had seen the stranger and his beautiful dance partner clear the dance floor with their sparkling shag routine to the classic beach song, "Stay." With the slight bow to the guy's slender legs, the dance's knee bends and shuffle-turn steps were made for him. How the guy had the courage to wear those obscenely short denim cut-offs in polite Southern company was beyond imagination, but Hutch gave thanks for gumption. He nearly choked when he saw the guy offering him a fresh corn dog, its popsicle-stick handle wrapped in a napkin. There was no way--no way in hell!--Hutch could put his mouth over the top of that corn dog while those nakedly interested blue eyes watched him. His preppy manners kicked in, however, and he accepted the offering with a smile he hoped was steady. "Thanks."

"'Welcome." The guy made a pornographic statement out of tipping his own soda bottle back for a long swallow. "So, what had you looking like a thundercloud?"

He never hid his views, often accused of being overeager to express them. "Among other things, I can count on one hand the number of nonwhite faces in this crowd."

The Emeralds were paying tribute to Sam Cooke now, and Hutch, too hungry to resist the treat in his hands--so different than the food he ate at home--took a huge bite out of the corn dog. He heard a soft moan. Eyes going wide, he turned his head again, the corn dog still between his teeth, and saw something flash in those dark blue eyes that scared the activist right out of him and left him one giant mass of male hormones.

"Not from around here, are ya?" his new acquaintance asked.

Hutch hastily swallowed his bite of corn dog. "Only as much as you are." He got a grin that poured gasoline right on the fire building in his groin. "New York?" Hutch guessed.

"Brooklyn, originally, but now I live in LA. You?"

"Duluth, Minnesota." Hutch juggled the corn dog and soda bottle in his left hand and offered a handshake. "Ken Hutchinson." He wanted his hand to linger in that firm, warm, almost caressing handshake for the next decade.

Curly-haired guy flashed another grin. "David Starsky. So you don't like the nearly monochrome vibe they got goin' on here?"

"No. Do you?"

Starsky shrugged. "Nope. But this ain't my turf. This is the South the powers that be want people to see. If you're interested, I can show you a South you might like better."

"Really? How's a Brooklyn native going to manage that?"

"Oh, ye of little faith." Starsky smiled. "And if a good Jewish boy can quote the New Testament, I can show you a more colorful Myrtle Beach. Come with me?"

Hutch had to laugh at that, but his good-boy caution reared its head. "A few minutes ago, I didn't even know your name." His cheeks flamed, and he ducked his head.

Starsky didn't seem to mind. His eyes were warm, and his chuckles gentle. "Hey, I just bought ya dinner. Or at least a snack. I can't be all bad."

"What about your girlfriend?"

"What girlfriend?"

Hutch waved the last bite of corn dog at the dance floor. "The girl you were dancing with earlier?"

Again, Starsky chuckled. "Oh. She's not my girlfriend. Just met her tonight and asked her to dance. Anyway," he lowered his voice and edged closer. "I'm not looking to leave here with a girl tonight. To put it all right out there, I'd helluva lot rather dance with you, and I can't do that here. Okay?"

Hutch bit down too hard into the corn dog and felt his teeth grind painfully against the wooden stick. Wincing, grabbing at his mouth, he blushed harder when tears borne of tooth discomfort gathered in his eyes. Now he looked like a crybaby on top of everything. In front of a guy who wore his white cotton shirt untucked and open three buttons down, showing off chest hair that probably felt silky smooth against a cheek, and who had the balls to come on to a guy he didn't even know, in the Deep South of all places, where lynching "perverts" was probably still condoned by the local churches. And, damn it, there went Hutch's vow to climb down off the soapbox throne of judgment. He took the last swallow of cola and tried to look cool, calculating.

Starsky apparently didn't like that look on him. For the first time since their introduction, Hutch got a frown. "Listen, I've seen you try not to look at me 'least five times in the last half hour, and I've been looking at you since you came in off the boardwalk. I could show you a real good time, which I can tell you're not havin' here. That's all I'm saying."

If Hutch left with this stranger, he would have sex with a man for the first time before the night ended. He knew it. Starsky knew it, too, judging by the thought-provoking bulge in those cut-offs. Hutch had a bulge of his own, only his was more comfortable in the roomier khakis. He gave Starsky a light pat on the back. "Show me a more colorful Myrtle Beach."

~*~*~

Starsky's ride was a white Caddy. Not Starsky's ride, though, he found out. The car belonged to the friend Starsky had accompanied to South Carolina. His first cross-country road trip, Starsky explained, threading the big white car through the chaotic Myrtle Beach traffic like he'd cut his teeth on driving the Strand.

"So why'd your friend want to come here?" Hutch asked, enjoying the breeze that swept in from Starsky's half-open window and ruffled those curls.

"He has family nearby. Uncle of his owns a farm about fifteen miles or so inland in Conway. Huggy's big on making the rounds of his far-flung relatives whenever he can. He's got people in Detroit, the Caribbean, Harlem, and several states in Dixie."

"Huggy?"

Starsky's smile had already become a part of Hutch's life he knew he would never shake from his memory. "Huggy Bear Brown. And, no, I don't know his real name. He's the one who taught me to shag."

"If we were in Britain, what you just said would have a different meaning."

"I know." Starsky laughed. "Actually, it's not far off the mark in that context either. Huggy and me, we bounced around some right outta high school, but we soon learned we make better pals than fuck buddies."

"So when he decided to drive across the country to visit his relatives, you just tagged along? That's one hell of a friendship." And why, in the name of anything holy, did Hutch sound jealous, he asked himself angrily. He'd just met the man!

Starsky's face darkened or maybe it was that the bright lights of the pavilion had faded into the background as they turned off the main thoroughfare and on to a winding dirt road. The sounds of the surf were closer, the breeze fresher, and Hutch heard the calls of late roosting birds and cricket song. "It is one helluva friendship. But I got another reason to be out here. Come tomorrow, I'm on my way to Columbia. Fort Jackson. For basic training. When Huggy told me about this trip, I decided to come out a week or so early with him and live it up before I start answering to Uncle Sam."

Hutch's first thought, an irrational one in his shock, was regret that Starsky's curls would meet their death in the GI barber shop. Then he was trying desperately to forget Walter Cronkite pronouncing Southeast Asian locales Hutch planned never to see in person. "Drafted?" His voice broke halfway through the word.

"Enlisted. Don't wanna talk about it right now, though. We're here."

"Here" was a rambling barn of a tin-roofed board house that had never seen a lick of paint in its life, set well off the highway among palmetto trees and massive oaks draped with Spanish moss. The spacious front lawn allowed parking for at least ten cars, and Starsky maneuvered the Caddy into the last fraction of space. From the house, strains of music welcomed visitors. Someone had a top-of-the-line phonograph, because the song currently playing was the original Drifters, and Hutch couldn't imagine the group playing live in a backwoods shack.

"What is this place?"

"You'll see. Just let me do the talkin' until we're inside, 'kay?"

"Sure thing."

Hutch followed Starsky to the front porch and stumbled over the uneven ground several times because his eyes refused to leave Starsky's ass. When Starsky heard him take a misstep on the porch steps, he looked over his shoulder and gave Hutch a wink that might as well have been a hand stroking his hard-on. Swallowing hard, Hutch couldn't manage a smile, but he tried not to look panicked. Starsky knocked on the wooden front door bold as you please. A small square in the door opened at eye level, and a round-faced black man looked out. "Yeah?"

"Neshoba," Starsky said in the way of giving a password.

"Who's that with you?"

"Friend of mine."

"Friend of yoah's, but likely no friend of ouahs. Bet that blond hair goes ree-ahl good with a white sheet."

"He's no Klan boy, Jonah, and y'know I wouldn't waste a single breath on him if I thought he was. Look, if you don't trust me, get Huggy; he'll vouch."

The man left, and a couple of minutes later, a thinner black face appeared at the square. "Starsky, what you tryin' to prove, man, bringin' some strange dude here? I done told you--and look at him, what choir practice you drag him out of, huh?"

"I'm not--" Hutch bit off his angry reply when Starsky's sneakered heel came down lightly on his toes.

"He's good people, Huggy."

"How you know that? You just met him, right? 'Course you did. You don't know a soul 'round here."

"Neither does he; he's from Minnesota."

"That s'posed to make him ready for what he'll see in here?"

"I trust him, Huggy."

The simple words left Hutch lightheaded. Even more dizzying after less than an hour's acquaintance, he trusted Starsky--with his life, with his body, and probably before the night was out, with the rest of him, too. Still, Hutch had tired of letting Starsky speak for him. "I...I'm a James Baldwin fan, if that helps."

Huggy fixed him with a glare, and Starsky cringed. Then Huggy's pearly white teeth showed in a slow smile. "No, friend, it doesn't necessarily, but since you think it does means you're probably harmless. Fact that Starsky says he trusts you seals the deal. Come on in and make yo'self right at home."

Hutch wondered what they so carefully guarded. Home-grown cigarettes? Specialty moonshine? He stopped wondering the second he crossed the threshold and the door shut behind him. Naked of furniture except for the small table where a tall thin white man presided over the record player, the main front room served as a dance hall. The dancing couples were the well-kept secret. How appropriate to mention Baldwin, Hutch thought, because he'd stepped into the intersection of Harlem and Greenwich Village in the last place on earth he would have expected to find it. Women danced with women. Men danced with men. There was a white girl snuggled up to a black boy, slow-dancing to the love ballad. A straight white couple seemed as accepted and accepting as the more unconventional pairings. The one undercurrent in the room was trust. These people obviously knew they could count on each other to protect the freedom the world outside would wrest from them with bloodshed if necessary. Bohemia of the South. Who knew?

"He's wearing loafers, Starsky. Penny loafers!"

Hutch turned his attention to the human string bean in funky patched jeans and purple-and-pink striped Neru shirt. "What's wrong with loafers?" he demanded.

Huggy smirked. "Not a damn thing, Goldilocks."

Starsky stood shoulder to shoulder with Hutch. "Cut him some slack, Huggy. I'll bet he's magic in those loafers. Ken Hutchinson, this is Huggy Bear Brown."

Hutch held out his hand in his customary greeting and shared a smile between the two men. "I'd like both of you to call me Hutch."

He received another dart of lust from Starsky's eyes, and Huggy burst out laughing. "Hutch, huh? Starsky, m'man, I think you mighta done good this time out. You wanna hustle him on out back before the crowd in here expects y'all to be sociable?"

"Nah, wanna dance with him first," Starsky said, insinuating his hand into Hutch's and holding fast. "Let's get something good for shagging on, hm?"

The scoffing Huggy smirk was back. "I know you don't think you gonna teach White Bread here to shag in a few minutes. Hell, some people take years to get the basics."

"I've been watching the pavilion dancers for the last few nights. I'm a quick study." He looked at Starsky and asked Huggy, "How long did it take him to learn? He was tearing the floor up out there tonight."

Huggy reached out and tugged on the curls over Starsky's forehead. "When it comes to dancing, this dude's not most people, and he's an honorary soul brother, to boot."

"I had a good teacher," Starsky told Hutch modestly. "White folks may have invented the steps in shagging, but most of the music is the best quality black rhythm and soul. You haven't seen Shag 'til you see Huggy and his friend Joanie cut a rug. Ask real nice, and he'll give you a few pointers, too. What d'you think, Huggy; you think Hutch is an honorary soul brother?"

"I think he might just have the makings of one in him, yeah. I could be convinced to school him in the fine art of shagging."

"Thanks," Hutch said. "And I appreciate the offer, but I'd...um...like to learn from Starsky. No offense, Huggy, I know you'd be a great teacher."

Huggy put his hand over his heart and reeled backward. "I never been so insulted in my young life." Hutch shot a worried glance at Starsky, trying to gauge how badly he'd wounded his new crush's good friend. Huggy slapped Hutch on the back. "I'm puttin' you on. Any fool could see when you fellas walked in, you don't wanna be two inches from Starsky the rest of the night."

Leaving Hutch pink-faced, Huggy strutted over to the record table and whispered in the guy's ear. The bouncy rhythm of "My Boy Lollipop" filled the room, and the other dancers cleared a space. Hutch wanted to hang back, wary of an audience when he was likely to fall over his own feet at first, but Starsky pulled him forward with a smile that Hutch would follow straight into the flames of Hell without a second thought.

In the center of the floor, Starsky marked off the proper distance between them from the waist down. He cocked his head to the side, and snapped his fingers, counting out the beats. "Okay, this song is kinda fast for a rookie, but you can do it. Let's prove I'm right about those magic loafers of yours."

Nervous, Hutch tried to laugh through the lump in his throat. "You won't make me dance the girl's part?"

Starsky snickered and tugged Hutch close by the hand to wrap his other arm around Hutch's waist, bringing them side to side and turning them around in a semi-circle to the music. "Nah. As the teacher, I oughta, but I won't do that to you. We're gonna dance my own special version, what I like to call the Two-boy Shag."

Over the next half-hour, Hutch had the most fun he could remember in all his nearly twenty-one years. He tripped over the dance's footwork, nearly pulled Starsky down with him one hilarious time, but then he found his Shag legs, and he relished the hand-holding that made the dance famous. He loved the routine in which he put his hands on Starsky's shoulders and felt Starsky's warm hands on his sides at waist level, while their legs moved in flawless teamwork approved by the claps and whistles from their audience.

When the other dancers crowded in and the dancing became more freestyle, Hutch and Starsky joined Huggy in the kitchen for velvet-smooth Tennessee whiskey. They sat at the table, passing the bottle around between them, and Hutch found himself talking about his family, the monotonous weight of life in Duluth, his need for something better, more exciting, and real.

Starsky raised the whiskey bottle high and swayed side to side in his chrome-and-vinyl chair. "I got it!" he giggled, sounding tipsy rather than all the way shit-faced. "I got an idea!" Not yet drunk either, Hutch and Huggy leaned forward at the same time, their ears perked. "Ya need to come to LA."

"And do what?" Hutch asked him.

"You don't wanna be in Minnesota, do ya?"

"No."

"You don't want a handout job in your pop's business?"

"No."

"Then move."

The answer was more basic, and profound, than just the two words. "Why LA?" Hutch asked, not to be contrary, but more than halfway wanting to hear that he should choose LA since Starsky lived there, because if Starsky said that, even next-door to drunk on good whiskey, the words were gospel. Starsky gospel. Perfect.

"We gotta all be in LA together, that's why." Starsky grinned and waved the whiskey bottle by its neck. "No, really. If we're not all three of us in LA come '69--"

Not precisely what he had wanted to hear, but close enough, Hutch decided. "If we're not all three of us in LA come '69, then it's up to the others to find the stray and bring him home," Hutch said with the solemnity of swearing an oath in court.

"I can dig that," Huggy agreed.

"We gotta shake on it." Starsky thrust out his hand. Hutch shook his hand, shook hands with Huggy, who then shook Starsky's hand. That wasn't enough for Starsky, who rested his folded fist dead center on the table. Staring into Starsky's eyes, Hutch covered the fist with his hand. Huggy giggled and put his hand over the other two, commenting on how he sealed them together.

"Wanna go out back?" Starsky asked Hutch, tilting his head toward the kitchen screen door and the sultry Carolina night outside.

"What's out back?"

Starsky licked his lips. "Trees, grass, mosquitoes the size of bluebirds, privacy for us to do the things Huggy doesn't need to see us doing."

"That's it." Huggy snatched the bottle from Starsky's grasp. "No more whiskey for you, or you won't get it up when you get out there. I'm heading back in the other room to let Jonah and Joanie fight over me. And maybe I'll let them both win."

His inhibitions sufficiently lubricated by alcohol, Hutch found that more amusing than shocking. He also didn't mind Starsky holding open the screen door for him. He did mind the rickety back steps and his tendency to look like a fool on any steps with Starsky around. The ocean wasn't visible from the backyard, and Hutch doubted that changed with daylight, considering the surrounding trees, shrubs, and undergrowth, but the surf joined the woodsy noises all around them and made Hutch feel a thousand miles away from civilization. Good thing, too, because Starsky backed him up against a towering palmetto tree that had grown into a curve very much like a large thin erect cock, and he began sucking on Hutch's collarbone.

In the moonlight, Hutch could make out the hungriness in those shining eyes when Starsky looked up from leaving a wet spot on Hutch's shirt over his collarbone. "Am I your first boy?" Starsky whispered.

Hutch wouldn't have thought him capable of whispering, but he liked the effect and so did his cock. "Yes, but I've wanted it...wanted to try it for a long time."

"Wait. Wanted it or wanted to try it? There's a difference."

"Wanted it." Hutch nodded in admission of the truth to himself.

"Good, so you won't hate me in the morning?"

The answer in Hutch's mind was "of course not," but he could only say, "Morning?"

Starsky smiled and nuzzled his cheek. "Wanna spend the night with you. Will your family send out a search party if you don't get back tonight?"

"Hah! Hardly. My parents are okay, but they're just not the type to bother themselves with worry. I did my duty today, so I'm out of sight, out of mind, until I'm needed again. Chrissie, my sister, she won't notice, because she's sixteen and much more interested in running up an enormous telephone bill, calling her friends in Duluth. They won't mind that either, because she did her duty, too, and that's her reward." Hutch sank his hands into Starsky's hair and caressed the scalp underneath. "This is my reward."

"Never been somebody's reward before," Starsky giggled.

Hutch doubted that Starsky ever giggled without the benefit of hard booze, and Starsky didn't seem the kind to overindulge in the hard stuff, so Hutch made a point to enjoy every giggle he heard. "Starsky?"

"Hm?" Starsky had found Hutch's right ear and was being quite perverted with it. Hutch wanted him to pull his tongue out before he got deep enough to taste earwax.

"Why do I call you Starsky? I called you Starsky before I heard Huggy call you Starsky."

"You can call me David if you want. Dave might sound kinda weird in your voice."

Hutch considered the notion. "I think you're a Starsky, that's all."

"How 'bout you call me David when I make you come?"

"Come?" Hutch heard the squeak in his voice and grabbed onto Starsky's waist for balance.

"Why else are we out here?" Starsky eyed him then, let out another harsh moan and pushed his hands into Hutch's hair. "Don't usually, but I just got to--"

"Got to what?" Hutch wondered out loud.

Then Hutch was being kissed, and not coming in his pants became top priority. When he opened his mouth and shared his tongue and the taste of boy and corn dog and cola and whiskey with Starsky, he didn't care if his dick did go off in his underwear. Kissing another boy really was different than kissing girls. All their masculine sounds in the kiss, somewhere between humming and moaning, a tongue equal in conquest to his, the hint of stubble on Starsky's lower cheeks and chin, combined to leave Hutch quivering by the time Starsky pulled away swearing creatively at how good the kissing was.

"Did you lose it?" Starsky pressed a warm palm to Hutch's crotch.

"Oh, oh God!" Hutch thrust helplessly against the heat and pressure. "No, but it was a close thing--and getting closer with you doing that!"

"Can't have that." Reaching for the top clasp over the zipper on Hutch's khakis, Starsky started to go down on his knees.

"Wait, what about our shirts?" Hutch definitely wanted his fingers on the dark hair he could see in the opening of Starsky's shirt. He wanted to see just how much of the hair there was and how far down it went, where it was heaviest... Oh, hell, he wanted Starsky all the way naked, but he knew they probably couldn't risk that out under the stars in South Carolina, however far off the beaten path the house stood.

"Babe, last thing on my mind right now is your chest." But Starsky was kind even when close to exploding, and apparently a mind reader, because he hastily stripped off his own shirt and flung it to the grass.

Hutch gasped. He'd built up some musculature of his own, thanks to collegiate competitive-level wrestling, but Starsky's biceps and pectorals were naturally toned, conveying a solidity and strength Hutch found both erotic and soothing. He ran his hands up and down Starsky's upper arms and chest while Starsky fumbled with the difficult khaki slacks. His cock suddenly freed and bobbing in the breeze, Hutch cried out, and Starsky made a smacking sound.

"Not a boy at all. I'm lookin' at a man here," Starsky said.

"So am I. I'd like to see more of him."

Starsky sat back on his heels and unzipped his cutoffs, arching his hips. Hutch wasn't surprised to see Starsky's cock spring free with no barrier of underwear. He looked at it as carefully as he would touch it. With only the moon to guide him, he guessed it to be a dark ruddy color. Thick and more than respectably long, it was framed in dark curls, cut, the cock head as impressive in size and shape as the rest of the shaft. If he hadn't already been blessed with a cock of his own, Hutch would have wanted that one. Starsky winked and loosely curled his hand around his own cock, stroking up and jerking downward, moving his hips. Hutch let the tree trunk take the brunt of his weight, molding himself against its curve, and began to pant, feeling moisture gather on the tip of his cock. Starsky rose up on his knees again and inched forward.

"You're...going to...suck me?"

Starsky nodded. "That's my plan."

"And touch yourself?"

"Um-hm."

"Don't."

Starsky frowned up at him in obvious confusion. "Don't, what? Suck or touch?"

"Touch. Think I can make you come without it...while you're sucking me, I mean. And I want to see you come. Want to see it all come out."

"God, Hutch, you're a real fox. Fuckin' sly and hot under that choirboy cover."

"Never said I was a choirboy."

"Damn glad you didn't."

Starsky slid his hands up Hutch's thighs and put his mouth over the head of his cock. Hutch registered the caressing suction of Starsky's lips carefully covering teeth, the wicked swirl of a tongue, and then his whole cock was drowning in a tight, wet tunnel. No mouth had ever touched Hutch's cock. He'd heard that some boys were flexible enough to bend over and suck themselves, but he'd never been that bendy. He'd sure as hell tried. Now he knew why guys went to that much trouble if they couldn't find anyone to take care of it for them. He started babbling in between shouts. He reached for Starsky's shoulders, then his hair, and began thrusting, dimly aware that the devilish mouth had reduced him to grunting. He mustered a pleading cry when Starsky abruptly released him with a wet popping sound, and he was on the verge of calling Starsky an impolite name when he realized that his tormenter was only fulfilling his request. Starsky reared back, bracing his palms behind him as if in the middle stage of doing a handstand, and with his eyes locked on Hutch, he jerked his hips, once, twice, and then howled as his cock jumped, shooting thick drops of fluid on his stomach and chest.

"Starsky, Starsky, Starsky!" Hutch screamed, coming just as hard all over his still-buttoned shirt. He started to slide down the tree into a heap on the ground, but Starsky was suddenly there to prop him in his arms and they devoured each other's mouths, drawing in their scent, making wordless promises that Hutch imagined only existed in that time-out-of-time right after such a uniquely strong connection.

"I'm..." Hutch sucked in breath. "Still hard."

Starsky drew Hutch's hand down to fondle a cock that was admittedly sticky but also quite hard. "Me, too. Never been this hot for anyone."

Hutch nibbled at Starsky's neck. "Think I forgot to call you David."

Starsky laughed. "That's okay. I like knowing I had you too far gone to remember something from ten minutes ago."

"So what do we do about--?" Hutch angled his hard-on to nudge Starsky's.

"That's exactly what we're gonna do about 'em." Starsky unbuttoned Hutch's shirt roughly and cast it aside. Chest to chest, pelvis to pelvis, he pushed Hutch over on his back. "Let's go for a roll."

A roll meant rolling around on the grass, hampered by shorts, and in Hutch's case, pants and underwear, but the right friction and shock of skin-to-skin contact from the thighs up made for a quick and lovely death of their erections. Hutch loved that he ended up with more of Starsky's wet stickiness on him than his own.

Again, he forgot to call Starsky "David" at the right moment.

Hutch would have been content to lie there in the sweet, cool grass tangled with Starsky until kingdom come, but Starsky had the presence of mind to pull them to their knees and then to their feet. Hutch realized for the first time that the palmetto tree he'd leaned on had a twin just the right distance away for the hammock stretched between them. Twin trees. Hutch laughed out loud and knew he sounded like an idiot, but Starsky's goofy smile was clearly approving. They left their discarded shirts on the grass, but pulled up their shorts and slacks. Though the night temperature this time of year in South Carolina apparently never dipped below warm, neither of them wanted their private parts exposed to sea breeze all night long. The hammock tried to get the best of them at first, but their rapidly developing teamwork won out and they stretched out in each other's arms, the hammock's soft sway better than a lullaby.

"That was clean outta sight," Starsky said, petting through Hutch's hair.

"Is that what it's like to be fuck buddies?"

Starsky's headshake sped the hammock's sway. "No. We're buddies, I can tell, but that was a helluva lot better and scarier than a buddy fuck."

"What was it then?"

His cheek pressed to Starsky's chest, Hutch felt him take a deep breath. "When I find a word for it, I'll let you know."

"Okay." Hutch yawned. "We'll be gamy and disgusting tomorrow if we don't shower before sleep."

"You up to moving?"

"Nope."

"Me neither."

"What's to keep us from being devoured by those bluebird-sized mosquitoes?"

Starsky yawned wide enough to swallow a colony of mosquitoes. "The dried come'll keep 'em off us."

"I'm scared to ask how you know that."

"I don't know that; I'm just hoping."

~*~*~

Starsky woke from a white-hot dream about having his way with a very special blond in a real bed, and looked into the world's most tender blue eyes. Worried blue eyes. He wanted to see that beautiful Hutchinson smile and then kiss that smile, but Hutch seemed to be waiting for a reason to smile. Oh. Hutch had never done this before. He didn't know what to expect from Starsky. Didn't know whether to be nonchalant, sentimental, or just get up and get lost, which would be kind of hard to do without transportation of his own.

In the gray-blue light just before dawn, Starsky rubbed his hands along Hutch's back and gave him his best sugar smile. "Great to wake up from a really sexy dream and find out it's even better to be awake."

That got him the look he wanted. Hutch's lips curved so sweetly, Starsky had to catch his breath. No matter what the Army threw at him, no matter where Uncle Sam sent him, he could take it and keep on taking it as long as he could see that smile in his mind and in his dreams. "We smell like the dirty towel hamper in a gym, but if your hand doesn't object-"

"My hand doesn't object at all."

Somehow they worked out the mechanics of unzipping and delivering a rousing double hand-job without spinning themselves into a hammock cocoon. Afterward, they licked each other's hands clean, and Starsky loved the intimate, known-each-other-forever feeling that gave him.

"Neshoba," Hutch said. "The password? Does it stand for Neshoba County, Mississippi, where the civil rights workers were killed a couple years ago?"

"Yeah. Jonah's idea. A tribute to fallen brothers in arms, I guess, and a reminder that the fight for freedom sometimes comes with a pretty heavy price tag. If the wrong people found this house at the wrong time, there'd probably be casualties when the dust cleared."

Hutch shuddered, and Starsky tightened his arms around his special boy. "How long do we have?"

Forever and ever, Starsky wanted to say. "I have to be at the local recruitment office at eight to meet the bus to Fort Jackson. Got my duffle in Huggy's car. I can get a shower here. Guess that means we have at least a couple hours. Unless you need to leave sooner'n that?"

"I want every minute I can get." Hutch squeezed Starsky's waist. "May I ride along to the recruitment center?"

"No, Hutch. Huggy and me'll drop you off at your hotel first." At Hutch's flinch, Starsky began petting his back again. "Lookit, I'd never be able to get on that bus without kissing you one last time, and that'd be the end of my Army days before they got started."

Hutch muttered something that sounded like "Be doing you a favor." Louder, he said, "You enlisted? How'd you miss the draft?"

Starsky yawned and twisted so Hutch had a better mattress to lie on than just half a hip and hammock knots. "I went through the physical right out of high school like everybody, but I didn't get a draft notice. LA's a big place and my last name ends with 'S.' Aunt Rose said it was God's way of keeping me at home where I was needed. My uncle Al had a heart attack a couple years ago, and I sorta helped run his garage. How'd you miss the draft?" Starsky lifted his head and grinned down at his buddy. "You didn't burn your card, did you?"

Hutch laughed. "No. I'm in college on full academic scholarship, and my father's a powerful man with a lot of connections. To tell the truth, I've tried hard to not think about how I might be missing the draft."

"I understand that. I stopped trying to figure it out, too. The auto repair business is taking off, and Al hired on some new help. He's doing a lot better now. I decided my borrowed time was probably close to being up, and instead of waiting for the notice, I just signed up. I like doing things my way."

"But why, Starsky? You know where you'll--"

"I know," Starsky interrupted. "Pop was in North Africa and Sicily with Patton. Took some shrapnel in the ass and got sent home. Didn't keep him from getting busy with Ma, though. I popped out just a few months shy of V-E Day. Now, in that war, our guys were over there really doing something worthwhile. Liberated Italy, France, put a stop to those goddamned concentration camps, and rescued the survivors."

"And he wants you over there in the jungle, helping turn Vietnam into an Americanized democracy?" Hutch sounded like he wanted to grab Pop by the throat and shake him.

Starsky tensed. "He's past having a say-so about it, actually. Pop died when I was a kid, and that's when Ma sent me out to live with my aunt and uncle in LA."

"God, Starsky, I'm a bigmouthed nitwit."

Oh, that soft Hutchinson voice went straight to Starsky's cock by way of his heart. "Shh, Hutch, you didn't know." He squeezed the back of Hutch's neck tenderly and teased the softly curling strands of blond hair there to show no harm was done. "This so-called Vietnam conflict, I dunno, I don't think it's all it's cracked up to be. Doubt we're gonna leave anyone better off, and we might even be doing more harm than good. But if we're over there, the Army needs to be sending guys that give a damn."

"And you give a damn."

"Yeah."

Hutch gave another shudder, and Starsky rocked them both gently, letting the hammock provide much of the rhythm. "Hey, easy," Starsky whispered. "It may all be over but the shouting by the time I come out of basic and get my overseas ticket on a transport."

"You don't really think so, Starsky, and I don't either. Listen, I agree with you about World War II. If I'd been twenty in '41, I probably would've been ready to join up before Pearl Harbor! But with this Vietnam conflict, military action, whatever euphemism we want to give it, there's an agenda to it I find hard to stomach. Let's face it; we're over there under the command of a president dumb enough to lift his beagle by the ears. Who's gonna get us out? LBJ sure as hell won't."

Starsky felt a pang of respect for his new friend. He'd have to remember this guy was smart as a whip and tended to see all eight or ten sides of a story. If he had to go and fall for a guy after just one night with him, why'd he have to pick one with a brain even bigger than his balls? "I know all that. Yeah, I'm bettin' on seeing action before my tour's up. But 'least I ain't a Marine. They raise the hell, and the Army goes in to put out the fires."

"Yeah, well, you better be careful putting out those fires. If you don't show in LA come '69, I'll be going after you and dragging you home. And I'll know, because I'm not waiting until '69 to move out there. I'm going to ask Huggy if I can ride back with him when he leaves for the West Coast."

Shocked witless, Starsky sat up far too quickly for the hammock to handle or Hutch to compensate with balance, and with a rapid tangling loop-de-loop, they landed on the grass underneath the hammock, smacked in the heads with the offended swing. Starsky scrambled out from underneath the knots and dragged Hutch with him. "Are you out of your mind?" he nearly shouted.

"What? You said last night--"

"Last night I had a fifth of Jack in me!"

Drawing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his long arms around his shins, Hutch looked like a little boy cut to the bone. "You didn't mean any of it? You don't want me out there?"

Starsky slammed a fist down on the grass at his side. "No, I meant it, but I didn't think you'd burn all your bridges the next damned day. What about your family, Hutch? Family counts for something."

"Really? You don't know my family. My parents stopped caring long ago about what I want or what I need in life that doesn't fit in their prearranged plan. I'm not planning to move to Outer Mongolia. I'll keep in touch with them."

"And your scholarship--"

Hutch shrugged away his scholarship. "Thanks to that U of M scholarship, I have my own money that I'd saved up for tuition since I was a kid. I'll transfer to UCLA for my senior year. I'll be twenty-one shortly, Starsky. I can make my own way in life."

"But why not wait until you finish U of M? I don't get it."

Hutch smiled at him. "You'll get breaks. Not during basic, I know. But afterward, you will, and there'll be furlough, right? And you'll come to LA. So that's where I want to be. I've been looking for a reason to change my life. Last night I found it. Found him."

"Oh, my God, are you for real?!" Starsky flung himself at Hutch and bowled him over in a laughing sprawl. Resting in between those long, long legs, pressing Hutch gently into the grass with his weight, Starsky kissed him until Hutch started gasping and squirming beneath him. The very large, very hard part moving against Starsky's cock felt wonderful, but the guy needed to breathe. He rose up and looked into Hutch's overjoyed eyes. When the joy turned serious, Starsky wanted to kiss him again.

"Starsky, I mean it. You go astray over in that jungle somewhere, I'm coming after you."

The idea of the angel-faced Hutchinson sloshing through mud with a pack and GI-issued weapon made Starsky want to laugh and cry at the same time. Hutch must have seen the warring emotions because Starsky got a punch to the shoulder. "I might look like I belong to the Student Council, but I'm on the U of M Greco-Roman team, and I'm perfectly capable of taking whatever you can, Starsk."

"Say that again!"

"What? Perfectly capable of taking whatever you can?"

"No, no."

"Starsk?"

"Oh, yeah." To his acute embarrassment, Starsky heard himself purr. "Again."

Hutch kissed his jaw. "Starsk." A kiss landed on Starsky's nose. "Starsk."

"Damn, that's fine. I'll be hearing that in my dreams."

Proving his wrestling capability, Hutch flipped him over on his back before Starsky saw the move coming. Then Hutch yanked Starsky's hopelessly grass-and-semen-stained cutoffs down to his knees.

"What the--?"

"Want my mouth on you."

"Hutch! I'd need about two showers before it'd be decent for you to--"

"Shower, hell! I'm not afraid of how you'll taste. 'You're my boy lollipop; you're as sweet as candy'."

Starsky laughed. "You're full of surprises. If you can quote song lyrics at me with a hard-on like you got in those khakis, I guess you can handle what you'll find down there."

Hutch treated Starsky's erection like a lollipop. What he lacked in expertise, he made up for in personal style, and he got extra points for keeping his teeth well away from sensitive areas. Watching Student Council Guy do all kinds of slurpy oral things brought Starsky to the edge faster than anything ever had. Hutch didn't swallow him down, but did something even more startling. Keeping his head down, he gently gripped Starsky's cock and angled it to bathe his throat and neck. His golden skin glistening with come, Hutch sat back on his heels, straddling Starsky's hips, and freed his cock through his open fly. He began to shake, stroking himself awkwardly with his left hand while he held Starsky's cock through its final spurts. The sexy jerks of those khaki-covered hips made Starsky cry out again as Hutch came with fast, shallow breaths.

"We're such a mess," Starsky said when he could form words again.

Hutch lay down on his back beside Starsky and stretched like a sun worshiper paying homage to the golden ball in the sky. Dawn was upon them now, gray sky giving way to blue, and Starsky looked at his watch. How the hell was he supposed to tear himself away from this beautiful creature? If he had to go, he could at least stake his claim before he left. He rolled over on his side facing Hutch and drew a fingertip through the drying streaks of his own fluid on that smooth, warm throat. "Hutch?"

"Yeah, Starsk?"

Good God. He would hear that in his dreams. "Will you do something for me?"

"Anything."

"Be my girl?" Starsky bit his lip. That wasn't the way to put it! Hutch gave him a startled look and then jumped to his feet and strode away. Starsky begged his orgasm-gooey legs to get in gear so he could keep his whole new life from walking out on him. "Hutch!"

"I think you have the wrong idea about me!" Hutch said angrily, plucking his abandoned yellow shirt from the ground and slipping into it.

"No, you've got the wrong idea, and it's my fault for not explainin' it better. Hutch, listen to me, please!"

Hutch stopped and turned around. He zipped up but let his shirt hang loose, unbuttoned.

Starsky brushed his hand through his tangled hair. "I wanna write to you, okay? Like we're goin' steady, you know? But sometimes I'll get mushy and write about your hair, your eyes, that beautiful mouth of yours, and in this man's Army, I can't do that unless I write to a 'girl,' you get it? I'd be risking a lot more'n a Section 8 if letters like that to a guy got snagged by the censors."

Hutch sighed. "You want...you want to go steady with me?"

"Yeah. I know it sounds kinda dumb and corny, and it's way too fast, but yeah."

"Not dumb or corny. And who cares about the rule book on fast or slow? Starsk, thing is, you need to know--I've been to peace rallies. I've carried signs."

"You're all man here..." Starsky put his hand gently to Hutch's sensitized groin. "...and here." He moved his hand up to Hutch's chest. "A man's convictions are his own. I'm big enough to know you can support me and what I gotta do, even if you don't support the war I have to do it in."

Hutch gave him one more of those all-soft, all-love smiles that made Starsky feel like an entire platoon of Marines. Forget the Army! Still smiling, Hutch said, "All right, then, now that we have that out of the way, you can write to...uh...hm... Write to Kimberly Hutchinson. Have the letters sent to Huggy's address until I've had a chance to get settled with a place of my own."

"And Kimberly will write back to me?"

"You can damn well count on it. I'm a girl of my word. Just, for God's sake, don't give me fictional breasts, Starsk, please? You can write about my hair, my lips, all that. I know you can't write about my cock! But I don't want boobs."

Starsky snorted laughter through his nose and had to bend over double to get rid of the giggles. "I'll--no, babe, I won't do that to you. Can I 'least mention your nipples, though? They're sweet as anything."

He looked up to see Hutch's face flaming. "Yes, okay, nipples are fair game, even if you have to describe them a little larger for realism."

For that, Starsky had to hug Hutch, show his main squeeze the real meaning of the term. Hutch squeezed him with equal enthusiasm. When Starsky drew back, he had to disguise his roiling emotions by hunting around for his white shirt. Coming back to Hutch with his shirt halfway buttoned, he saw that Hutch held out his hand, palm up, and on that palm rested a gold ring with black antiquing and a blood red center stone in the square setting. A brilliant gold M topped the stone.

Oh, Christ. The guy's college ring.

And red had always been one of Starsky's favorite colors.

"If we're doing the steady thing, I think we should do it right." Hutch's voice was quiet, shy, uncertain.

Starsky hurriedly snatched the ring before Hutch could change his mind. He turned the heavy gold ring over in his hand, letting the early morning sunlight catch the golden "University of Minnesota" in the black background. "I can't wear it," he said sadly. "Not without getting questions I can't answer. But I'll keep it with me. It'll go where I go." He tucked the ring carefully into his front pocket and pulled his Romans class ring off his left ring finger.

Hutch accepted the ring with its blue oval center stone and gave it a thorough scrutiny. "Los Angeles Senior High." He rubbed the ring's left side panel with the pad of his finger. "You played football?"

"Defensive back, yeah."

"I love the stone." Hutch polished the setting against his shirt sleeve. "When I look at it, I'll think about your eyes."

Starsky had to swallow three times before his throat felt less lumpy. He was glad he'd gone with the blue stone in honor of his school's blue-and-white colors.

"Put it on me, Starsk, I'll wear it."

"Hutch, it's too dangerous. I don't want you getting hassled over a ring."

"I'll wear it. I know you can't wear mine, but there's nothing stopping me from wearing yours. Hell, at UCLA, who's to know it's not my own high school ring?" He held out his left hand. "Please, Starsky."

Starsky took Hutch's hand in his and was glad to notice he wasn't the only one who had the shakes. He slid the ring onto Hutch's left ring finger. Not a snug fit, Hutch's fingers were thinner and longer than Starsky's, but the ring wasn't loose or in danger of slipping off. Starsky ached with happiness over the look of the ring on Hutch's finger and wanted to kick himself for all the sentimentality, but couldn't seem to turn off the sap running in his veins. Somebody needed to be practical, so he tried to find the nerve to say something important.

"Hutch, we're guys. We know how it is, huh, when the rooster starts crowing? I'm not asking you not to touch anybody else while...yeah, just--"

"Touch them with my hands and not my heart?"

"Yeah. And no guy, okay?"

Hutch took the plackets of Starsky's shirt in hand and buttoned up to the third button down from the collar. He flicked his fingers over the hair that showed in the open vee left. "Starsky, I'm a man, but I've got control. Rooster doesn't have to crow unless I let it. Are you planning on hitting all the Army hot spots as soon as you're out of basic?"

"Nope. Might hit the hot spots, but I can keep it to booze and dancing. After all, I got a steady 'girlfriend' at UCLA, remember?" He chuckled when Hutch made a face at him. "For what I need, when you're not around, I can go a long way with my left hand, and my right's not half bad either." Starsky looked away for a minute. "I'm just saying if you do feel the need to--"

"Do a little crowing?"

"Right. Then there won't be any hard feelings."

"Likewise, Starsky, but don't worry; what I want I can't get from a pretty little UCLA co-ed. And my heart is safely tucked away right there." He patted the pocket where Starsky had put the college ring. "I can wait for my soldier boy."

The distinct warmth of the sun made Starsky glance at his watch again.

"We have to go?" Hutch asked, and though Starsky didn't see any tears in the wide blue eyes, he heard telltale gruffness in Hutch's voice and knew he was trying not to cry.

"In a little while, yeah. Just...let me look at you a minute? It'd be too dangerous to take a picture of you with me, even if you had one to give me. Smile for me, babe?"

Hutch's eyes did water then, but he smiled, and no tear fell. He did sniffle and then flushed bright pink. "Damn it! All this talk of being your letter girl and fidelity and these rings, and I'm feeling like a war bride."

"Oh, hey, none of that shit, Hutch. I'm not even in a war, yet. Might get some live ammo in my ass during basic and end up shipped home. Seems it's a Starsky family tradition."

Hutch laughed, and Starsky took a mental photograph of that look as well. "Starsky, gorgeous as your ass is, I wouldn't be sorry to see it banged up just a little if it kept you out of Vietnam."

"Hey! This is my ass we're talkin' about!" Starsky took Hutch's hand and started them toward the house. "Come on, we have time to get a bite to eat. Huggy does something with eggs you wouldn't believe. Wants to have his own bar and restaurant someday."

"Starsk?"

Starsky stopped, and Hutch took his face in gentle hands and kissed him, oddly hard and tender at the same time, until Starsky knew he'd carry that kiss on his lips all the way into Southeast Asia. "Because I know I won't be able to do that when you and Huggy drop me off at the beach house," Hutch explained.

"Beach house? Your folks aren't at a hotel?"

Hutch looked embarrassed again. "No, they rented a beach house. Told you, Starsky. Connections."

Starsky grinned. "That's okay. You overlook how sexy I am; I'll try to forget you're rich."

"Smart ass!" Hutch hustled Starsky up to the back steps.

At least when they faced the others in the house they'd be laughing.

~*~*~

Hutch dashed up the back stairs to his room and didn't breathe until he had his bedroom door closed behind him. He looked utterly debauched and had to smell even worse with stains all over his shirt and slacks, not to mention those he'd willingly gotten on his naked skin! He couldn't face his parents or his sister until he'd had a thirty-minute-long shower and donned a fresh change of clothing. Thank God his room had an adjoining bath.

In the old clawfoot tub with its wall-mounted shower curtain rod, Hutch stood under the spray and hated allowing the water to remove the physical proof of sex with Starsky. He'd never forget--and a thousand showers couldn't wash the memory away--watching that white Caddy pull away with Huggy behind the wheel, taking Starsky to meet his bus. Huggy had broken the news that he planned to leave for LA within an hour of dropping Starsky off at the recruitment center. Faced with so little time to prepare, Hutch wondered if he shouldn't go back to Minnesota and make later arrangements, but Huggy had patted his arm and told him he would drop by the beach house around 10:00 a.m., and if Hutch didn't show by 10:15, Huggy would be on his way without him.

Showered and dressed, questioning the possibility of paranoia when he could swear he still smelled Starsky on himself, Hutch defiantly slipped the high school ring back on his finger and went downstairs to find his parents. He spotted his mother out on the beachfront patio. She sat at the glass table under its impressive sun umbrella and daintily poked at a huge breakfast plate the cook had probably spent half an hour preparing. A tall Bloody Mary with a fresh celery stalk got more attention from her.

He sat down in the chair across from her and reached for a cup and saucer on the table's silver coffee service. She looked up from her drink. "Oh, good morning, dear. Did you have a good time last night?"

"Yes, I met some new friends and went to a party. Where's Dad?"

"Playing golf with his prospective business associate, I imagine. I hope you behaved yourself at this party. You're an ambassador, you realize, Ken, of refinement, breeding, and good taste."

"Yes, Mom." He poured the coffee and hoped the shot of caffeine would steady him instead of making him more jittery than he already was.

"Would you like some breakfast? This is the last of it, but I'm sure Lula would be happy to prepare something fresh for you."

Hutch bit his tongue. There was a difference between Huggy fixing breakfast for his friends because he loved to cook and wanted to show off his talent, and Lula being thoughtlessly shoved back into the kitchen when she'd no doubt cleaned everything to sparkling after the first round of breakfast preparation. He also knew he'd never make his mother see that difference. "No, thanks. I've already eaten. Mom, I need to tell you something."

She stirred the drink with the celery stalk and gave him a slightly bored smile. "Yes?"

"I want to transfer to UCLA for my senior year. I'd like to move to California."

"Well, that's something we can discuss with your father when we get back to Duluth. Now, Ken, when your father and Mr. Carmody return from their round of golf, they plan to take Mr. Carmody's boat out for deep sea fishing, and they'd like you to join them. Be sure to tell Mr. Carmody about your childhood Sea Scout hobby. Mr. Carmody's a retired Navy man, and he'd be certain to find that amusing."

And God knows, amusing Mr. Carmody was more important than discussing the rest of her son's life. He reached left-handed for another lump of sugar he didn't even need for his coffee, just to put the blue-stoned man's high school ring in his mother's line of sight. "Mom, I'm serious about California."

If she noticed the ring, she said nothing about it. Instead, she took another ladylike sip of the cocktail. His decision made, Hutch rose from the table without bothering to finish his coffee. He went around the table and leaned down to press a kiss to his mother's cheek. "Love you, Mom."

She gave him a strange look and then took refuge in the Bloody Mary. "Yes, of course. You, too, dear."

He left to find Chrissie. His little sister would laugh at him and call him stupid until she realized he meant business about leaving, and then he'd at least get a hug and maybe a few tears while he promised to write her and have her come out to visit.

At two minutes after 10:00 a.m., thankful that the round of golf had not ended, Hutch carried two suitcases down the back stairs and out to the circular rear driveway where a white Caddy waited for him. He dumped his suitcases in the backseat and settled up front beside Huggy. He took a deep breath.

"You sure about this?" Huggy asked, looking very sympathetic.

"Yes."

Huggy lit a cigarette and smoked thoughtfully for a few puffs before he said, "I must really dig you."

He realized Huggy didn't mean the remark sexually. "Why?"

"Sure I'm gaining a friend, but I'm losing one, too, and I'm still helping you get out there."

"Losing a friend?" Hutch frowned at him. "How?"

Huggy smiled and puffed on the cigarette again. He lifted Hutch's left hand, letting the sun through the windshield glint on the ring. "From here on out, he'll never be as close to me as he is to you. Aw, hell, I don't mean fucking. Him and me, we only did a little experimenting right after we got outta school. Nothin' heavy. So tame it don't hardly count. Don't even know what he kisses like. But I bet you do."

Hutch stared, knowing his face had to be a visual accusation.

Huggy laughed. "Nah, young blood, I didn't peek out the door at y'all. Just figured he didn't put a ring on you 'cause he likes penny loafers. I ain't jealous of that. Starsky's not my type when it comes to men."

"What's your type?"

Huggy blew a circular puff of smoke in the air. "You saw Jonah? That's my type. And it ain't the color. It's the size. Not the cock size, the man size. If I'm gonna bounce with a guy, he needs to be a big, hulking mountain of man. Can be gentle as all get-out, fine, but I want him big. So's I feel I got good reason to be in bed with him instead of spending that same time romancing some willing hot mama, you know what I'm saying?"

"Yeah, I think I do." And in a way, it made sense. Hutch enjoyed being more evenly matched, as he was with Starsky, but the world didn't spin without variety.

Huggy cranked the engine. "It's okay, Hutch. I'm not sitting over here sad. I sure as hell don't mind bein' one of the ties that bind you cats. Fact, you can stay at my place until you find somewhere else to your liking."

Hutch smiled and squeezed his shoulder. "Thank you, Huggy."

"Don't mention it. What's say we get out of here 'fore your folks get the idea you're elopin' with a black boy? Never met your parents, but I don't wanna be the cause of 'em keeling over."

Hutch laughed. "Huggy, they can think what they like. Anybody you'd ask to elope with you could count themselves lucky--boy or girl."

Huggy's smile was a bit startled as he maneuvered the Caddy onto the beach road. "Starsky was right. You are an honorary soul brother. On the inside. On the outside, you're white as snow, so I hope you took care of nature's call. Pit stops in Dixie are few and far between, 'cause in lots of places, us being seen in the car together could get us in a whole lotta fist-flying trouble we don't need."

"I'm fine, thanks." Hutch rolled down his window and turned his face to the breeze.

At first, he succeeded in not thinking about Starsky on that bus. He thought about Starsky laughing. Starsky watching him eat the corn dog. Starsky coming for him without even touching his own cock. Starsky's face when he saw the college ring on Hutch's open palm. Starsky's almost shy pleading for Hutch to be faithful.

But then the ache in his chest from missing the first person he'd ever pledged his fidelity made Hutch think about that bus to Fort Jackson, and the path to war. He grew cold all over and rolled up the window, finding the breeze unwelcome. He could only too easily imagine all the worst case scenarios, all the ways Starsky could suffer injury, or be reduced to dog tags and a War Department letter. Hutch hugged himself tightly, fingering the ring's stone with his left thumb. Even shy of worst case, war could change a man. No other trauma compared. Starsky could come back wanting nothing to do with Hutch or the love they'd made under the stars. War could make a man forget....

No. Starsky could never forget those kisses they'd shared.

Could he?

Huggy turned on the radio, and Hutch made a mental note to buy the guy a huge dinner for that small kindness. As long as Starsky came back alive, nothing else mattered. Nothing else was too big for them to tackle together. And if Starsky lost his way home over there in some Vietnamese rice paddy, Hutch would make good on his promise to go find him. Whatever it took, whatever convictions Hutch had to toss out the window.

Meanwhile, he had letters to look forward to. Until he could put his arms around Starsky and kiss him again, he'd just settle in to life in LA and enjoy being Starsky's "girl."

Hutch smiled and rolled the window back down, letting the breeze kiss his face.

Kimberly Hutchinson was the luckiest girl on earth.

~*~*~

The first guy Starsky asked for paper just threw back his head and guffawed. "Wanna write to your gal already? Man, you in sad shape. Good thing you're in the Army. Drill Sergeant'll kick that softness out your ass."

Starsky flipped him the finger with a predatory smile, and the guy just laughed harder. From the back of the bus, a friendlier voice said, "Hey, Curls, come back here and sit with me. I'm writing my girl, too. We can be sad shapes together."

Starsky grabbed his duffle, excused himself as he pushed by the guy sharing his seat and walked to the back of the bus. He sat down next to a brown-haired guy whose smile flashed faster than he talked. "Good to meet you. I'm David Starsky."

The guy shook his hand. "J.D. Turquette. Just call me Turkey. Here's some paper, and--" Turkey put his pen between his teeth so he could rummage in his duffle. He produced a sawed-off pencil and shrugged apologetically as he handed it over.

"Thanks," Starsky said. He brought his foot up to rest on the seat and spread the paper over his thigh. Not the best writing surface, especially with a poor excuse for a pencil, but Starsky had something important to get down on paper.

Dear Kimberly,

I'm missing you already. Part of me hopes you're missing me just as much, but part of me doesn't, because I don't want to think about you being sad. I should've said this when I had you standing in front of me, but I'm not good at saying it, and I'm not even sure I'm good at writing it. Maybe I thought you'd be scared because it seemed weird for me to feel I could say this so soon, so I didn't say it. But I'm going to try writing it. So here goes. I love you.

~*~*~

"Hey, Sandra Dee! Don't make us sit through some Diana Ross crap!"

Hutch fought his temper and stood his ground at the jukebox. The barkeep didn't need a furniture-busting brawl. In early celebration of Starsky's thirtieth birthday, Huggy was treating them to a night of greasy finger foods and draft beer at a cozy bar out of the Ninth Precinct, where they could relax and preserve Huggy's role as confidential informant. Just their luck that some brute took exception to two men sitting close together in one side of the booth and their black friend sitting across from them! With Starsky on his second trip to the rear hall restrooms, Hutch regretted leaving Huggy alone in their booth. He was about to put money in the music machine, when he heard Huggy curse loudly, and could guess the reason without looking. The pest behind Huggy had "accidentally" spilled beer on him. That did it! Hutch didn't stand for that kind of harassment. He whirled from the jukebox, and bar patrons intelligently scattered to either side, clearing a path for his angry-faced march to the booth. The jerk responsible for Huggy's beer shower jumped up from his table, all 6'4", two-hundred something pounds of him, and stared Hutch down in the narrow walkway.

"Got something to say, pretty boy?"

"You don't want to do this with me tonight!" Hutch snarled, ready to wipe the table with the son-of-a-bitch. To calm that impulse, he reached for his badge. "I'll slap a drunk and disorderly charge on you faster than you could repeat the words back to me, do you understand?!" Hutch saw the man's eyes widen, fear emphasizing the bloodshot whites, and noticed that the unsteady gaze hadn't even reached his badge, landing instead on the trident insignia pinned to Hutch's over-shirt lapel.

Raising both hands in an obvious plea for mercy, the man stumbled backward. "I--sorry, I--hell, if I'd known! I mean, hey, I did a stint in the Navy. I know better'n to tangle with a frogman."

"Former frogman!" Hutch snapped.

The stranger laughed nervously. "Hey, once a frogman, always a frogman, way I hear it. Look, why don't I buy you and your pals a round of drinks? Make us even?"

"No thanks. You apologize to my friend here, then you go back to your table, make nice to your girlfriend there, and leave my friends and me the hell alone, and maybe we'll call it even."

"Yessir! Long live the Teams!" The man tried a salute but missed his forehead by several inches.

"Do you see cover on my head, sailor?!" Hutch barked.

"No, sir."

"Do I look like some fancy-pants Annapolis officer to you, sailor!?"

"No, sir!"

"I came up the hard way, do you hear me, sailor!?"

"Yes, sir!"

"Then why the hell are you saluting me and calling me sir?!"

"Sorry, sir, I mean--sorry--yeah, you're r-right. Just sh-showing my respect." After a mumbled apology to Huggy, the gentled giant wobbled back to his table and sat down meekly beside his date.

Smiling, Hutch pocketed his badge and returned to his seat. Huggy shed his soiled denim jacket and gave Hutch the "V" sign. Hutch didn't know whether Huggy meant victory or peace, but both applied. "When I open my own joint in a few months, this won't be a problem," Huggy told him.

Hutch was surprised. "You'll let us hang out there? That might raise your profile as our source, Huggy."

"If someone has a problem with my friends in my place, they'll have a problem with me!"

Back and griping about the crowded men's room, Starsky slid into the booth beside Hutch. "Why do I think I missed something?" he asked, elbowing Hutch lightly in the side.

Huggy lifted his beer glass in tribute. "Hutch defended my honor."

"No kidding?" Starsky glanced around the smoke-filled bar. "Who'd he take on?"

Huggy tilted his head back to indicate the man behind him. Starsky leaned to the side to look around Huggy, and whistled. "Holy shit! I'd want an elephant gun and a cage."

"Not a drop of blood was shed. The elephant didn't wanna go up against a SEAL." Huggy smacked his lips down on a chicken wing in a pantomime of tearing some creature limb from limb.

"Former SEAL," Hutch said immediately, but he smiled at Huggy's play on words.

The pride and respect in Starsky's look matched the love in his squeezing of Hutch's knee. "That's my Hutch. Takin' care of business."

"So, tell me, Starsky, what makes you so special you get to celebrate your birthday early?" Huggy teased.

Hutch answered while Starsky flung stale peanuts across the table at Huggy. "Might be too busy later. Dobey's putting us on a Narco stakeout next week, and there's some last minute prep for the Tallman trial."

With his arm along the back of the booth, purposely draped low to brush Hutch's shoulders, Starsky nodded at the platters of snack food. "Thanks for this, Hug. Helluva birthday party."

Huggy raised his glass again. "For a helluva guy."

"And I love my present, partner," Starsky added with a look at Hutch.

Hutch pointed at the Fats Domino album on the table. "Does that mean you'll be belting out all those songs in the car from now on?"

"Already thanked you for that present. Now I'm talkin' about my real present." Starsky's hot blue stare hit Hutch with the force of a kiss. From the stocking cap perched on those soft curls to the light cammo jacket and half-open denim shirt and those skin-tight jeans, his lover was even sexier than on their first night together. Hutch flushed with arousal. "You hold that thought, 'cause I like it!" Starsky ordered. "I'll find us a good tune on the box. What's your pleasure?"

In a nostalgic mood, Hutch said, "Bet you a chocolate cake you can't find 'My Boy Lollipop'."

"You're gonna owe me a cake, heavy on the icing!" With an X-rated wink, Starsky drew the tip of his tongue across his upper lip, promising serious tongue action later that night. He snagged the dime Hutch tossed him and strutted off to the jukebox.

Huggy smiled. "Seein' you cats like that with each other takes me back a few years or nine."

"Me, too," Hutch agreed. "Out there on the street, with him so ballsy and full of life, it's easy to forget that it's a miracle he's alive."

Huggy looked around and lowered his voice to reach Hutch's ears only. "You dudes are each other's miracle. You went and found him just like you said you would, and over there, he kept living for you. I know you do the swingin' bachelors thing to keep your asses out of slings on the job, but Starsky's yours, man, dig it? He fell for you twice, first the college boy he met down South, then the SEAL who helped pluck his ass out of that backwater Vietnamese village! When he was in that Army hospital and thinkin' clear enough to realize those two blond dudes under his skin were one in the same, he had to feel he had two Hutches for the price of one!"

Laughing into his beer glass, Hutch nodded. "He had a pleasant surprise, yeah. I was the one who had a kick in the ass coming. My big plan backfired on me. When my platoon uncovered that village, my six-month deployment wasn't nearly up. Only way I could get out was desertion, and I knew I wouldn't do Starsky any good in the brig, so I had to leave him at that rear echelon hospital and head back into the jungle with my platoon. Couldn't even check on him except when I was on leave, and then we had to be so damned careful!"

"And he got a taste of worrying himself sick over you! At least when he got back stateside you could write him. Turned that letter 'girl' thing right around on him, Blondie! What was Starsky's girl name again?"

Hutch tipped his glass back for the last swallow. He pushed the empty glass over to join the other empties. "Della. I wrote letter after letter to Miss Della Starsky. He remembered the name from Perry Mason." Hutch felt the chill of what-ifs descend and wished for another beer. "We were damned lucky he hadn't been a prisoner. Bad enough to be wounded, fighting sepsis, cut off from his demolished unit, and holed up in that village trying to evade the VC. If Charlie had gotten hold of him and put him through their brainwashing game, he wouldn't even have recognized his aunt and uncle afterward, much less me!"

The ex-Navy troublemaker walked by with his girlfriend clinging to his arm. He paused at Hutch's table. "Long live the Teams!" Hutch lifted Huggy's beer glass in acknowledgement. The couple passed on by, wobbling against each other, and Huggy laughed long and hard.

Hutch joined in the laughter. "God, sometimes it's hard to believe I'm where I am right now."

"You mean how you went from sweet, naïve peacenik to the rough-n-tumble street cop sitting in front of me now who'd probably hop in the shower with his hardware strapped under arm if he could?"

"Essentially. Nine years ago, I thought I had life all figured out. Twenty years old, and I just dropped everything and ran thousands of miles from my old life after one night with a man!"

"Listen, blood, you were young, tired of the same old rut, mad at your parents, hatin' the state of the world. Then you went and fell in love, and your brand-new sweetheart was heading off to war. You wouldn't've been normal if you hadn't gone a little crazy."

"The logic in that last remark completely escapes--" Hutch bit off his scoffing. "No, it doesn't. You're right. Well, anyway, fate is still laughing at me. My mother's indifference to anything but Dad's business deal with Mr. Carmody helped push me out here, and damned if it wasn't Mr. Carmody who mapped out my way into the SEALs. Turned out he was one of the original underwater demolitions guys in World War II. Talk about a live or die frogman. He thought I'd ring that 'let me out' bell at Coronado on the first day of training!"

Huggy reached over to flip Hutch's lapel up and down. "He didn't know you like I do, then. I knew you'd get into a shit-kickin' contest with the Big Guy Upstairs for our favorite Army boy if you had to."

Hutch pulled his lapel free of Huggy's teasing fingers. "Well, I'll tell you this. When I made it out of SEAL training in one piece, if Mr. Carmody had figured out the buddy I was so hot to get to Vietnam and find was much more than a buddy, he didn't say one damned word about it!"

Huggy's smile was bittersweet. "I know what it took for you to toss away all your convictions and throw in your lot with the war machine, but man, Starsky wouldn't be here if you hadn't, and you know he knows it. He knows the hell you went through to get over there to him."

"Huggy, BUD/S training was the ass end of a living hell, no doubt about it, but it was nothing compared to the constant fear that I'd never find him, or that I wouldn't be in time. You don't become a SEAL overnight. It's not like you can go in the nearest naval recruitment office, say 'I want to join the SEALs,' and the guy behind the desk assigns you river gear and a Swift boat!"

"That's what I'm talking about. Listen, I saw what it took for you to get there. But you never told me what it was like for you in-country, trying to get a lead on him, having to hide the real reason you were over there 'cause the guys in your platoon would've tied you up and drowned you upside down in the Mekong Delta for it!"

Hutch munched on a few peanuts. "The military taught Starsky and me a lot: how to shoot and when, how to wait, how to survive and endure. But the best skill we learned for the lives we lead now is how to hide who we are. The hiding wasn't the roughest part, Huggy. Roughest part was walking away from Starsky at that hospital. The guys in my platoon were over there with undying loyalty to the SEAL Teams. My undying loyalty was to Starsky. That's why I'm one of the few SEALs who don't make a ten-year or more stretch out of it."

Fingering his lapel, Hutch removed his SEAL Trident. He ran the pad of his finger over the eagle and the US Navy anchor, trident, and pistol it clutched. He could never explain to a fellow SEAL why he'd left the Teams the very instant he could do so honorably. He could never express in words how he'd yearned for partnership with Starsky in the LAPD. It was time to pass the Special Warfare "Badge" to someone who had helped him keep that dream alive. He nudged the insignia across the table. Huggy's eyes bulged. "Take it, Huggy."

"Hutch, man, that's your SEAL pin! You don't go giving that away!"

"When Starsky was listed MIA, you lived up to our pact in Myrtle Beach, too, Huggy."

Huggy frowned at him and swiped viciously at his chicken-greasy hands with his tattered napkin. "Listen at you! What'd I do 'cept sit around and worry my fool self into losing half a dozen poker games with Julius until he told me he was glad I'd left the neighborhood 'cause I was worth shit to him in that state o' mind."

"Can it, Huggy, this is me you're talking to! You called in every favor from every friend, acquaintance, or connection you'd ever made in life until you got a line on where Starsky's unit was last heard from. If you hadn't, I would never have known joining the Navy and putting in for the SEALs would be my best bet to get to him. I won't ever forget that. So take the damned Trident!"

Huggy accepted the pin with a reverent smile and closed it tightly in his fist. "Don't you wanna keep it in case you run into more overgrown shitheads like the one tonight?"

Hutch smiled and turned his head for a look at the gorgeous man pondering the jukebox selections in search of his request. "I don't need that pin, Huggy. Only nostalgia kept me wearing it this long. What makes me tough isn't the pin or the stint in the SEALs it represents. What makes me a man to contend with is what I have with that guy at the jukebox. Time I quit holding on to the past. Starsky's my future."

"Before you lock the past away, do me the favor of telling me what went down for you over there?"

Hutch smiled. "I will. Someday."

"And maybe someday he'll tell me what it was like for him, trying to be that village's one-man protection gig when his own body and brains were too scrambled to be doin' more than lie around in a bamboo hut."

"Don't know if you'll ever get the full story out of him, Huggy. Sometimes there aren't words for things."

"Yeah, I get the feeling he's told you all about it."

Hutch nodded. "We don't always talk with words."

Huggy waved him up from the table. "Don't I know it! Go on, get your man outta here and celebrate."

Huggy was no naval officer wearing "cover," but Hutch gave him the crisp, palm downward salute he'd learned as intimately as naval time and the bells at sea. "See you around, Huggy."

Meeting Starsky at the jukebox, Hutch risked sliding a hand up his back to squeeze his neck. Starsky's shiver and erotic smile made the risk worthwhile. "I found 'My Boy Lollipop,' but the damned machine ate my dime. Put in a fresh dime and the friggin' thing wouldn't let me punch a selection at all. I'm on my third dime here, and if it doesn't work this time, I'm picking the piece of crap jukebox up and throwing it out of the bar!"

Hutch handed him the Fats Domino album. "How about we just get out of here and I give you some more of your real present?"

Damn, but Starsky's big blue eyes could make mincemeat out of Hutch's resolve not to show dangerous emotions in public. Those sharp eyes never did miss a detail about Hutch. "Hey, where's your Trident!?"

"Gave it to Huggy. I needed to repay him for some of the best information he ever gave me. I'm not a SEAL, Starsky. I'm a cop, and your partner. Take me somewhere private, and I'll show you what else I am!"

"Where? Your place or mine?"

"With you, Starsk? I'll take it wherever, whenever, and however I can get it!"

Chapter End Notes:

This story is dedicated to all gay and lesbian military personnel who have written to "girls" and "boys."

The lyrics of the following songs were used without permission, but with respect and no intention of copyright infringement: "Stay"--Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs; "My Boy Lollipop"--Millie Small

Research complete, writing has begun on a follow-up novel entitled Starsky's "Girl": In-Country Rescue, with hopes of future publication by Venice Place Press.

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