LIKE CHINESE WHISPERS

BY: Lyn

EMAIL: Lyn

 

"What did you say?" Dave Starsky stared in open-mouthed surprise at the lanky blond youth, who was perched on Hutch's desk, his legs swinging energetically back and forth.

Danny Hutchison gave Starsky a cheeky grin, looking like a younger copy of his uncle. "I asked if you and Uncle Ken have gotten it on yet?" he replied casually. "Mom and I were talking about it the day before I left. It's obvious you two are tight, and I said I always figured it was only a matter of time before you two were together. I mean, you really care about him, don't you?"

Starsky was flabbergasted. "Well, yeah, of course. Hutch is my partner, but I'm not… he's not…"

Danny nodded sagely. "Oh yeah, he is. Mom says that's the main reason Grandpa won't have anything to do with Uncle Ken anymore. He was pretty pissed when Uncle Ken said he was joining the force instead of the family business, but when he came out to Grandma and Grandpa, told them he was bi, well, the shit really hit, you know?"

"Watch your mouth," Starsky ordered automatically, though his mind was still trying to grapple with Danny's announcement. Hutch was bi? Hutch slept with guys? How the heck could he have been working alongside the man for all these years, hell, sharing rooms and dates and late night confessions, and not have noticed? More importantly, why hadn't Hutch ever confided in him? It wasn't the sort of thing you just casually mentioned over a beer, Starsky supposed, but they were partners, damn it! Best friends… And I've never once told him how I really feel about him, he concluded glumly.

Starsky had felt a growing attraction to his partner for the past year or so. He'd tamped it down, excusing it as a brotherly love, platonic and deep, worried sick that if he ever confessed his love for Hutch, his partner would have run for the hills. It wasn't a feeling that sat well with Starsky either. He'd experimented a little with other guys in his college years, but had always come to the conclusion that he much preferred the lithe softness of a woman's body to a man's… until he met one Ken Hutchison. He'd been so confused by his emotions, so stunned by them that he'd kept the feelings tucked away, too scared to examine them too closely, afraid of what he might discover, fearful of what he could lose.

Starsky shook himself from his thoughts and stood, walking over to stand beside Danny. He draped an arm around the teenager's shoulders and leaned in close. "That sort of information is something you need to keep to yourself, buddy," he whispered. "Some cops aren't known for their tolerance toward gays. If it gets out without Hutch wanting it to, it could cause a whole mess of trouble for your uncle, okay?"

"Chill, man," Danny replied, sounding affronted. "I'd never tell anyone else." He glared a little at Starsky. "Are you saying you're disgusted with him?"

"No!" Starsky replied quickly. "Surprised, maybe. Just… keep it quiet, all right?"

"This guy still talking your ear off?" Hutch's voice came from the doorway to Captain Dobey's office and both Starsky and Danny started a little guiltily.

"Nah, we're getting along great." Starsky gave Danny's cheek a firm pat. "Aren't we?"

Danny jumped off the desk and gave Starsky a high five. "Yeah, we're cool."

Hutch beamed. "Great! Well, then, we’d better get you over to the airport before the plane leaves without you. If that happens, your mom is never going to let you come visit again." He wrapped an arm around his nephew's shoulders and steered him toward the door, with Starsky trailing in their wake.

"Thanks for letting me come, Uncle Ken," Danny said. "It's been great. I'm going to look into the Police Academy back home, for sure."

"Yeah, well, you keep that piece of information away from your grandfather," Hutch chuckled, ruffling the boy's hair. He stopped and looked back at his partner. "You want to get a move on, Gordo? I have a hot date tonight."

Starsky swallowed. "Yeah, sure. So which one of the triplets is it tonight, hotshot?"

Hutch's gaze flickered away and he studied the wall above Starsky's head. "Old news," he said finally. "Somebody new."

Starsky's stomach churned uncomfortably as an unwanted, irrefutable thought popped into his head. A guy. He's seeing a guy. He swallowed nervously. "Let's move it then. Whose car are we taking?"

"Yours," Danny said quickly, aiming a quick grin at his uncle. "It's cool."

Starsky laughed, pushing his worried thoughts away to be dealt with later, when he was alone. "Now, this is a guy who knows cars."

~o0o~

"You're shitting me!"

Officer Stan Merrick poured a flood of ketchup over his fries and shook his head, a grimace of distaste crossing his ruddy features. "Heard it with my own ears," he replied. "Hutch's nephew was spilling his guts."

"Out of the mouths of babes. Hutch is a queer?" Merrick's partner, Bernie Lewis shook his head. "You think him and Starsky are doing it?"

Merrick chewed thoughtfully on a fry before replying. "Kinda explains a lot of things, doesn't it? I mean, partners are always close, but those two are just a little too tight, if you get my meaning."

Bernie nodded. "I tell you this, either of them comes into the locker room while I'm in there from now on, I'm keeping my back to the wall."

Merrick snorted. "Don't think you're Hutchison's type," he said, looking pointedly at Bernie's balding pate. "Seems like he likes them with lots of hair."

Bernie made a mock sound of puking and both men laughed.

~o0o~

Starsky forced himself to ignore the blade that pressed into his partner's neck and glared instead at the punk holding Hutch in a chokehold. Hutch's grip was white-knuckled where he clutched the drug dealer's hand, trying to ease the strain on his throat. Behind Starsky, a teenaged girl sat in the passenger seat of the Torino, sobbing noisily, mascara staining her cheeks, and two uniformed cops took cover behind their own vehicle, their weapons trained on the man holding Hutch.

"Drop the knife," Starsky ground out.

The perp shook his head and pressed the gleaming blade slightly into Hutch's neck. Hutch grunted a little as blood trickled from the cut and stained the collar of his shirt.

Starsky lifted the barrel of his weapon a little higher and shifted it to a two-handed grip. "I'm telling you now, man. This is only going to go down one way, and that's with you in a body bag."

The kid, for he was scarcely more than that, took a step backward at the menace in Starsky's words, dragging Hutch with him. Slightly unfocused, drug-addled eyes stared out from a thin, unshaven face, framed by lank, greasy hair. He licked dry lips. "All I want is out, man," he said. "You let me go or I kill the pig."

"Can't let you do that," Starsky said, his tone almost apologetic. He gave Hutch a brief nod and pulled the trigger the second his partner exploded into action. Hutch threw himself forward and sideways, clearing Starsky's view and fell to the ground as the perp flew backward, smashing solidly into the wall behind him. The drug dealer collapsed, moaning, one hand clutching a bloody shoulder.

Starsky holstered his weapon and ran forward, dropping to his knees beside Hutch, and tossing orders at the uniforms who had followed him. "Cuff him and read him his rights. Where's the ambulance?"

"Easy, Starsk," Hutch panted. "I'm okay, cut myself worse shaving." He levered himself to a sitting position and leaned back against Starsky's legs, his actions increasing the flow of blood, which ran in thick rivulets down his throat.

"You're crazy," Starsky muttered. Pulling a handkerchief from his pocket, he pressed it to the ugly-looking gash in Hutch's neck, his hand shaking a little as the adrenaline wore off. "He could have slit your frigging throat."

"You weren't going to let that happen," Hutch countered. He closed his eyes. His face was pale and coated with sweat, his forehead creased as he dealt with the pain.

"You got that right," Starsky replied, reaching down to squeeze Hutch's hand. "You hang in there, all right?"

"Detective?" A uniformed officer whose badge said Merrick stood beside Starsky. "Perp's ready to go to the hospital. You want to process him?"

Starsky shook his head. "I'll leave that up to you. I'm gonna ride to the hospital with my partner."

A look of discomfort passed over the cop's face and he looked away quickly. "No problem."

Starsky stood back while the ambulance officers tended to Hutch's wound, wrapping his neck in a thick bandage before lifting the protesting man onto a gurney.

"I'm fine. My partner can drive me there," he insisted.

"No way, Blintz," Starsky replied firmly. "That hole in your neck's gushing blood. You are not leaking it all over my upholstery."

"You're all heart, Starsk," Hutch commented dryly.

"I know," Starsky said, relief allowing a grin to ease the tension on his face. He followed the stretcher to the ambulance. "With any luck, you'll still make that hot date tonight."

~o0o~

It had been too close again, Starsky thought. Granted, in their line of work, the risk of injury or death occurred every time they stepped out on the street, but with his confused feelings for Hutch at the forefront of his mind since Danny's revelations, the thought of losing his partner seemed more than Starsky could bear. He looked down at the blood on his hands and wiped them off jerkily on his pants.

"The waiting's the hardest part," a reed-thin voice said to his right.

Starsky looked over into a pair of wrinkled, sad eyes. "Yeah," he husked out.

"Tougher on those waiting than it is on those who are hurt, I think," the old woman said. She stood and gave him a small smile. "My husband died a few minutes ago. I'm waiting for my daughter to come."

"I'm sorry for your loss," Starsky replied earnestly.

She patted his shoulder and cast a longing gaze at the trauma room behind her. "We were married for forty years. Never an angry word between us." She turned back to Starsky. "Never miss the chance to tell them you love them. It can happen so fast… you might never get that chance again."

Starsky nodded. "I know. He's my partner. We're cops," he said by way of explanation.

"You care deeply for him, that's obvious," she replied. "I must go. Good luck, dear."

"Thank you." Starsky stood and watched her leave.

"Detective Starsky?"

He turned at the summons and strode over to join the doctor at the doorway to the trauma rooms. "How's my partner, Doc?"

The doctor smiled and nodded. "Just fine. A few stitches to close the gash and we're running through an IV, just to replace his fluids. He should be ready to leave in a few minutes."

"Can I see him?"

"Sure." The doctor held open the door and ushered Starsky through. "The nurse will let you know when he's free to go."

~o0o~

The ride to Hutch's apartment was uncomfortably silent, and though his throat welcomed the rest, Hutch could stand it no longer. "Something bothering you?" he asked, clearing his throat a little as the words exacerbated the irritation.

"No," Starsky replied tersely. There was a moment's pause. "Yes. Hell, yes!" He gave Hutch a quick glare before turning his attention back to the road. "What the hell did you think you were doing?"

"My duty," Hutch replied evenly. "Protecting the public." He sighed and straightened in his seat with effort, suddenly feeling enormously weary. "Look, Starsk, he was holding that young girl with a knife to her throat, and she was so hysterical that the slightest move was going to get her killed."

"So you walk right up and offer yourself instead," Starsky muttered.

"Yeah, and you know damn well, you would have done the same thing. I'm just glad we'd already dropped Danny off." Hutch waited until Starsky pulled the car into a parking space outside his apartment building. "Are you sure that's all that's bothering you?" he asked.

"I just don't want to have to break in a new partner," Starsky replied gruffly.

Hutch smiled and patted the other man's shoulder, then squeezed it gently. "No one else would put up with you," he said good-naturedly. "You want to come up for coffee?"

Starsky stared at him for a long moment, his face inexplicably sad. "Nah," he said finally. "Got to go write up this report before Dobey gets on my case." He shook a finger at his partner sternly. "Remember, the doctor said you take tomorrow off."

"I'm fine…"

"Doctor's orders," Starsky reiterated, "and mine. I'll swing by tomorrow night, see how you're doing."

"Yeah, okay. Night, Starsk."

"Night, partner."

~o0o~

The man seated behind the polished oak desk shifted the phone receiver to his left hand and, plucking a white silk handkerchief from his breast pocket, dabbed at the small spot of dust that marred the glass appreciation award in front of him. He sighed as his caller asked somewhat frantically if he was still there.

"I'm here," he ground out impatiently, "and I'm telling you again I want this done. He's an abomination."

"He's a cop," the other man said.

"All the more reason to have him off my streets. If you see no problem with him, perhaps I can arrange for you to partner him."

"No, no!" His caller took a shaky breath. "I'm just saying he's one of us. What if he figures it out or recognizes us?"

"Use Dabrowsky and Charles. They're new, he won't know them. Tell them it's their initiation. If they pull this off successfully, there'll be a nice little bonus coming their way."

"What about my bonus?"

The man picked up the envelope from the desk and placed it in his outbox. "It's in the mail. Call me when this unpleasant situation is over."

"What about his partner?"

"If he gets in the way, teach him the same lesson. He might even appreciate us doing him this little favor. I can't imagine he wants his name connected to something as disgusting as this."

"I'll call you tomorrow."

The man hung up the receiver then gave it a thorough wipe with his handkerchief. He stared at the expensive silk swatch for a moment, then, with a grimace of distaste, tossed it into the trash.

~o0o~

Starsky drove around the block twice before finally parking in front of Hutch's apartment. He sat for a moment, his hands clenched on the steering wheel as he looked up at the lit window of Hutch's living room.

He still wasn't sure what he was more troubled by: Hutch's unwillingness to take his best friend into his confidence, or the fact that he apparently did not feel the same attraction for Starsky that he did for other men. That thought, despite his own growing attraction for his partner still sat somewhat uncomfortably with him. He loved Hutch, of that he had no doubt, but whether he could ever actually act upon that feeling, was something that still caused his stomach to churn… with what? Distaste, fear… or apprehension that Starsky, stereotypically het, man's man, might actually like it.

Deciding he couldn't put it off any longer, Starsky climbed out of the Torino and entered the building. Knocking loudly on the front door, he tried to still the quaking of his insides, but felt his knees almost give way when Hutch opened the door, dressed, but obviously fresh from the shower, his blond hair standing up in damp spikes, his cheeks flushed.

"Hey, Starsk." Hutch gave him a welcoming smile. "Am I glad you're here! I've been going stir-crazy. Anything new?" He stood back to allow his partner to enter, then walked into the kitchen and pulled two beers from the refrigerator, holding one out to his partner.

Starsky took the cold brew, forcing himself not to pull away as their fingers touched. "Same old, same old," he said. He took a large swallow of beer, hoping to wet his suddenly dry mouth. "Another bashing, the Chief is getting antsy. He's worried the Press is going to start asking questions we can't answer."

Hutch slouched down into a chair and rubbed gently at the stitches in his neck. "I'm surprised he gives a damn," he said sarcastically. "It's only a few gays, after all. I'm sure he's more worried about his reputation than he is about some poor kids getting their heads kicked in."

Starsky slammed his beer bottle down on the table, ignoring the liquid that sloshed over the top. "What, you think you're the only one who cares?" he asked vehemently.

Hutch stared up at him in surprise. "No," he said slowly. "I'm just saying that until the newspapers started asking questions, these beatings have taken a back seat to getting hookers off the streets." He frowned. "What's up, partner? Was this one worse than the rest?"

"No." Starsky ran a shaking hand through his hair. "I'm just saying I care too, you know."

Hutch stood and laid a hand on Starsky's shoulder, squeezing lightly. "I know that, Gordo," he replied softly.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Starsky asked, startled at the unbidden words coming out of his mouth.

"Tell you what?"

Starsky took a deep breath, knowing there was no going back. "That you're bi? I'm your partner, Hutch. Damn it, you're my best friend and you keep something like this from me!"

Hutch took a step away and turned his back on Starsky. "Damn Danny and his big mouth. Look, there was no reason for you to know," he said. He turned then. "I'm entitled to a personal life, aren't I?" he asked defensively.

"We've been like this for the past three years," Starsky shouted, holding his thumb and forefinger barely apart. "You know everything about me. Every damn time this lousy job gets to me, I come to you and spill my guts. Now I find out that you've been holding out on me, that I didn't really know you at all."

"It wasn't like that!" Hutch shouted back. "I wanted to tell you, but the thought that you'd hate me, be disgusted by me… I couldn't take that chance. If it got out at the precinct…"

Starsky took a step forward. "That's what you think of me? That's how low you think I am? You think I'd go leaking something like that? I held you in my arms while you puked your guts up after being shot up with heroin, comforted you while you cried over Gillian…"

Hutch's mouth curled up into an ugly sneer. "Don't worry, Starsky, you can't catch it…" His words were abruptly cut off when Starsky grabbed his shirt and pulled him forward, taking his mouth in a fierce kiss, and just as suddenly, Starsky found himself flat on his back on the floor as Hutch's fist connected with his jaw.

Hutch glared at him, blue eyes blazing fire as Starsky struggled to sit up and wiped a thin ribbon of blood from his mouth. "What the hell was that for?"

Hutch shook his head in apparent bewilderment, his chest heaving with the effort to stay in control. "You're asking me, you dumb schmuck? Answer this, Starsky, did it taste as foul as you thought it would, kissing another man?" He pulled his jacket from the dining chair and turned on his heel. "I'm going for a walk. There's mouthwash in the bathroom, just be out of here by the time I get back."

With that, he strode across the room, pulling open the door and slamming it shut behind him, leaving a stunned Starsky staring after him in mute shock.

~o0o~

Hutch looked down at his bare feet in bemusement as he sloshed through a puddle of water. It was dark now, and raining steadily. He didn't know how long he'd been walking, his angry words, and Starsky's, echoing in his ears. Pausing, he slumped, hunching his shoulders against the rain, shivering a little as cold droplets of water snaked past his collar.

He was the stupid one here, he knew. His fear at telling his father he was bi didn't hold a candle to his shame and apprehension at sharing that same revelation with his partner. He'd fallen in love with Starsky slowly, as their work and partnership merged to friendship. Dreading losing the man who had stolen his heart, Hutch had kept silent, taking small comfort in Starsky's closeness, his unashamed way of touching and embracing those he cared for, their comfortable banter and obvious love for each other as brothers of the heart. It wasn't enough. Too many nights, Hutch had gone home and jacked off in the shower, allowing his fantasies of Starsky to take the place of his hand, and always at the end, he'd feel ashamed and disgusted… and empty.

Now, his wildest dream had come to fruition, and Hutch had lashed out. He wouldn't lose Starsky, he realized now, by his admission of love, but by denying it existed. Lifting his head, Hutch closed his eyes against the raindrops on his face, allowing the chill to quell his temper. Squaring his shoulders, with his resolve strengthened, he turned back the way he'd come. He only made it a few feet before a hand came out of the darkened alley he was passing by and dragged him into it.

"Hey -" he began indignantly, then a fist slammed into his belly, stealing his breath and cutting off any further protest. His gut on fire, he sagged and would have fallen to his knees, if not for the hands that held him up. Hutch lifted his drooping head, panting harshly and caught a brief glimpse of a balaclava-covered face before a second brutal blow smashed into his jaw, snapping his head back. His sight began to gray out, and he felt blood running down his chin.

A fist clutched at his hair and his head was dragged back, and he realized he was on his knees, cold water soaking into his jeans. He blinked dazedly at the men standing in front of him. "What… What do you want?" he managed to get out.

His attacker shook his head. "Just your kind off the streets, scum." He nodded his head, and Hutch was pushed to the ground, but before he could make any attempt to stand or protect himself, the attack began in earnest. Fists and boots smashed into his head and chest, the blows coming so closely together that he had no time to recover, and no idea of how many there were. Something hard slammed against his lower back and Hutch arched up, a raw scream of agony torn from his throat.

He lifted one flailing hand, desperate to fend off the agonizing blows, and his fingers clenched around something smooth and solid. Wrenching his hand back, attempting to curl his body in to protect his vital organs from further damage, Hutch lashed out blindly with his acquired weapon, gratified to hear through the roaring in his ears, a startled shout of pain.

"We got company," a voice said, sounding muted and far-off.

Hutch's hair was grasped in a cruel grip once more and a voice spoke close to his ear. "If you know what's good for you and your partner, you'll resign, and leave town, faggot. Your boyfriend will be next."

His head was suddenly slammed into the ground and then a heavy blow caught him in the neck and he felt blood gush hotly over his skin. He lay, fighting off insensibility, as he heard footsteps rushing away, and then, moments later, the slow, measured tread of someone approaching. Gathering his waning strength, Hutch levered his aching body upward and squinted through rapidly swelling eyelids at the mouth of the alley several yards away.

"Help me," he called out hoarsely, wincing when his voice caused fiery pain to surge through his throat. Reaching out with shaking hands, he let his body fall forward and began to slowly drag himself toward the street.

Darkness encroached on his vision after only a few scant feet and he collapsed to the ground, trying to pull in air through a throat that seemed to have closed up. Warm wetness trickled down his neck and soaked the front of his shirt, and through the rapidly approaching oblivion of unconsciousness, he heard a welcome voice call his name.

"Hutch? Oh, Jesus!"

Hands lifted him gently from the wet ground and he was cradled against a solid chest. Dragging open heavy eyelids, he stared into the frightened eyes of his partner. He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out and he groaned silently in frustration.

Starsky shook his head and squeezed his hand tightly. "No, babe. Don't try to talk. I've got to go call for help, partner, all right?"

Hutch reached up a trembling hand and clutched the front of Starsky's jacket weakly, feeling the tidal wave of oblivion pulling him under. He felt solid pressure on his throat that seemed to steal his remaining breath, and when the agony became too much to bear, he let the blackness take him.

~o0o~

Starsky stared unblinkingly at the unconscious man in the bed and willed him to wake up. Leaning forward, he gently traced a finger over Hutch’s bruised and scraped cheek and along his puffy mouth. Hutch didn’t stir and Starsky sat back with a dejected sigh.

Christ, he was tired. He’d been sitting here for four hours now, six hours after he’d found Hutch in that alley, battered and bleeding, the gash in his neck reopened and pumping blood at an alarming rate. Hutch’s feet had been bare, reminding Starsky of the bitter argument they’d had before Hutch had stormed out into the clutches of his attackers.

He felt impotent sitting here, wanting nothing more than get back on the streets and track down the fuckers who’d done this. But he was afraid to leave, needing to be here when Hutch woke. Not just to find out who was responsible, but achingly desperate to put to rights their partnership, to tell Hutch how much he cared for him, needing to be forgiven for having kept his silence for so long.

Seeking comfort and reassurance, Starsky reached out his hand and stroked down Hutch’s cheek once more then without thought, leaned forward and pressed a gentle kiss to the bruise that discolored Hutch’s jaw-line. "See, tastes fine," he whispered. "Why don’t you wake up, so I can tell you that?"

He looked up to find dazed blue eyes peering at him from beneath swollen lids. "Hey, Blintz," he said, grinning widely, feeling the knot in his gut dissipate. "About time you woke up." He hesitated only a moment before pressing another chaste kiss to Hutch’s lips. "I’ve been worried sick," he admitted softly.

He felt Hutch’s hand touch the back of his head, then fist gently in his unruly curls, the fingers rubbing tenderly at his scalp and he sighed, accepting the forgiveness in the gesture.

"St… Starsk…" Hutch’s voice was a barely there whisper and he broke off, wincing, his hand going to the bandage encircling his throat.

"Shh, don’t try to talk," Starsky said, taking Hutch’s hand in his own, squeezing gently. "The gash in your neck got torn open some. Doc had to do some fancy stitching." He sat back and drank in the battered features of the man he loved. "Jesus, Hutch, I was so scared. I’m so sorry. I should never have let you leave."

Hutch shook his head. "My fault," he mouthed carefully. Then he whispered, "Love you."

Starsky smiled, unashamed of the tears that filled his eyes and trickled down his cheeks. "Yeah? You’re not just saying that to make me feel better?" Hutch made a shaky gesture of crossing his heart, his eyes drifting closed. "Well, that’s good," Starsky said, allowing himself to relax for the first time since he’d walked into the alley, "because I love you too."

"Starsky?" Dobey stepped into the room, his dark, round face solemn. His eyes flickered to Hutch, his frown deepening at the damage inflicted. "How’s he doing?"

Starsky wiped at his cheeks, then stood and stepped over to meet the captain. "He’s awake and hurting, but he’s going to be fine."

Dobey nodded, relief evident on his face. "What’s the damage?"

Starsky scruffed a hand through his hair, his anger mounting again as he listed Hutch’s injuries. "Cuts, bruises, a concussion, possibly a bruised kidney. He lost a lot of blood from the gash in his neck."

"Has he been able to tell you who did this?"

Starsky shook his head, his shoulders slumping, his exhaustion finally catching up with him. "Doc doesn’t want him to speak for a few days. His throat…" He looked away briefly then returned his gaze to the captain, his rage tightening his chest, making it difficult to speak. "Someone kicked him in the throat, bruised his larynx. He’s lucky they didn’t crush it."

Dobey looked sickened at the words. A rhythmic thumping came from behind Starsky, and he turned to see Hutch awake once more, smacking the mattress weakly with his fist. He hurried back and leaned over him. "Hutch, what is it? You need the doctor?" He reached out for the call button, but Hutch’s hand waylaid his own, then lifted a little, making purposeful circles in the air. Starsky watched for a moment, frowning, then nodded. "You want to write?" At Hutch’s careful nod, Starsky cast his gaze around the room. "Okay, buddy. Give me a minute here."

"Here." Dobey thrust a notebook and pen into his hands.

"Thanks. Here you go, Hutch. Let’s just do this slowly, all right?" Starsky sat on the bed next to his partner and carefully lifted him until Hutch’s upper body rested against his chest. He placed the pen in Hutch’s hand and handed the notebook back to Dobey. "You want to hold that, so he can write?"

"Sure." Dobey gave Hutch an encouraging smile and held out the pad. "Take your time, son."

With a trembling hand, Hutch began to write. It only took a moment before he dropped the pen onto the sheet and closed his eyes once more.

Starsky gently shifted out from behind his partner and laid him back against the pillows, gently brushing a matted strand of hair from Hutch’s eyes. "What’s it say?"

There was a moment of silence and Starsky looked up to see a look of horror on Dobey’s face. The captain lifted his gaze from the notebook to stare at Starsky. "It says cops, nightstick."

~o0o~

"Starsky?"

Startled by the voice, Starsky shot up in his seat, almost toppling from it in the process. Captain Dobey stood at his side, his face furrowed in concern. Starsky stole a quick glance at Hutch, but his partner slumbered on, his rest aided by pain medication. "Sorry," he croaked, rubbing a hand over his face. "Must have drifted off."

Dobey nodded and rested a hand on his shoulder. "Why don't you head home? Catch a few hours' sleep."

"I'm fine, Cap," Starsky replied. "He's been having a few nightmares. I'd rather stay close by." He caught sight of the folder in the captain's hand. Eyes narrowing, he led Dobey over to the door. "You got something?"

Dobey tapped the manila folder with a finger. "They found the nightstick in the alley. Looks like they dropped it and forgot about it in their hurry to get away." He paused for a moment, his gaze going back to Hutch. "Hutch's prints were on it… and someone else's."

"Who?" Starsky husked the word out, rage curling in his gut, causing a fiery ache.

"Patrolman Don Charles. Fresh out of the academy."

Starsky reached for the door handle. "He's mine."

Dobey's meaty fingers closed around Starsky's. "We've already got him in Interrogation. You're too close, Starsky."

"Cap…" but Dobey was already vehemently shaking his head.

"I said no, Detective. Besides, I thought you wanted to stay near your partner."

There was something in the way he said the last word that caused Starsky to stare at him uneasily, but the captain's face was impassive. "You know about Hutch," Starsky said finally.

"Regardless of what I know, he did not deserve this," Dobey replied firmly. "But, yes, I've had my suspicions for some time."

"Does it need to come out?"

"The man was attacked and assaulted. As far as I'm concerned, that's all the court needs to know."

"Thanks. I still want to talk to Charles, Cap. I want to find out what this is all about. I mean, as far as I know, Hutch doesn't even know him."

"We suspect it's some kind of vigilante group," Dobey said. "Recruiting men while they're still at the Academy."

"Any idea who's behind it?"

"That's what we're hoping Charles will tell us."

"Let me give it a shot, Cap, please," Starsky asked again. "I need to do this… for Hutch. I wasn't there, didn't back him up."

"Starsk?"

Starsky turned at the hoarse summons and saw Hutch was awake, his eyes still dazed and drowsy.

"Hey, partner." Starsky stepped back to the bedside and gave Hutch a grin. "Didn't realize you were awake."

Hutch swallowed carefully. "Still tired," he admitted in a whisper. "You go. Talk to this guy."

"You heard that, huh?" At Hutch's nod, Starsky picked up the notepad and pen from the cabinet and placed it in his partner's hand. "You're not supposed to talk, remember? Write it down."

Hutch nodded, then concentrated on writing for a few moments. When he was done, he held the page out.

Starsky frowned in mock annoyance at what he read. "Keep my cool? Me? Look at this." He held out a hand, "steady as a rock," then touched it against Hutch's forehead, "cool as a cucumber." Hutch's raised eyebrow showed he didn't believe him for a second. Starsky looked back down at the note, smiling as he read the, 'I love you' scrawled on the bottom, meant for his eyes only. "Ditto," he said, folding the paper and stuffing it into his jeans' pocket. "I'll be back soon. Don't annoy the nurses."

Hutch waved him away and Starsky turned to the captain. "Cap?"

Dobey sighed and pushed open the door. "Don't make me regret this, Starsky."

"You won't, sir. You won't."

~o0o~

Patrolman Don Charles shifted nervously in his seat when Starsky entered the room. Starsky said nothing, grabbing a chair and turning it so the back faced Charles, then straddling the seat, his arms wrapping around the backrest. The move was casual enough, but there was menace in the set of his jaw, the tense stance of his back, and the steely glint in his eyes.

"I got an offer for you, Charles," Starsky began. "You share some information with us, and I'll talk to the DA about a deal." He held up a hand as Charles opened his mouth to speak. "You're gonna do time, hard time, but the right word from you now, might just swing how long and how hard you do it." He leaned in closer, his eyes fiery and black. "You know those rumors you hear about what they do to crooked cops inside? It's all true."

He waited for a heartbeat. Charles licked his lips and Starsky gave a feral grin.

"M… Merrick," Charles finally stammered. "I didn't know we were doing a cop… not till we got there."

"Why?" Starsky ground out, barely keeping himself under control. "You look like a decent guy, come from a good family, did pretty well at the Academy. Why throw it away to go beat up on people?"

Charles stared at the floor. "Money," he whispered. "Good money. My wife's pregnant… I got myself in deep, gambling. Merrick told me he could help me out, get me up the promotion ladder quick too."

Starsky stood, the scrape of the chair legs against the linoleum deafening in the suddenly quiet room. "You did this for money? Not some idea that you were righting wrongs, getting scum off the streets, making the city a better place…"

"That's Merrick's deal," Charles replied sullenly. "He acts like he's on some kind of crusade. I heard he gets a kick out of it."

"And you don't?" Starsky's words dripped sarcasm. He spun on his heel and strode to the door. Pulling it open forcefully, he brushed by Dobey and ran for the men's room, reaching a stall just before he brought up his coffee.

A hand came to rest on his bowed back, and Starsky knew without looking up that it was his captain. "Stan Merrick," he said in disgust. He accepted the dampened paper towel from Dobey and scrubbed at his mouth as though he could wipe away the foul taste that still lingered there. He straightened and eyed the captain speculatively. "There's got to be someone else. Merrick doesn't have the brains to keep something like this quiet."

Dobey's eyes narrowed. "You be careful what you say, Starsky." He held up a piece of paper and sighed. "Merrick called in sick today. This is his home address." Before he could react, Starsky had plucked the paper from his hand and was halfway out the door. "Starsky!"

Moving surprisingly quickly despite his bulk, the captain was still no match for Starsky's hurried stride. Passing two of his men, Dobey summoned them with a wave of his hand. "Parker, Wright! Go with Starsky." He paused for a moment, panting heavily, watching the two detectives scurry after the running Starsky. "I'm right behind you," he puffed.

~o0o~

Starsky sent Parker around to the rear of Merrick's dingy apartment building before entering and climbing the stairs to the second floor. He motioned Harry Wright back then rapped sharply on the front door, announcing their arrival loudly. "Merrick, Bay City PD. Open up."

Growing impatient when the door didn't open immediately, Starsky took a step back and kicked it in, over Wright's protest. Merrick was on the far side of the room, one foot lifted to step out of the window and onto the fire escape. Rage threatening to overwhelm him now Hutch's tormentor was in his sights, Starsky crossed the room in a couple of long strides and dragged the man back inside by the scruff of his neck. He spun the rotund body around and manhandled the shouting Merrick back against the nearest wall, his hands bunching against Merrick's ample throat. "Who's your boss, Merrick?"

Merrick uttered a choked plea, a meaty hand coming up in an attempt to drag away Starsky's chokehold, but the detective was like an enraged bulldog, his grip fierce and unrelenting.

Starsky shook the sweating man like a rat and slammed him back into the wall, the thud of Merrick's head sending a picture frame crashing to the ground. Starsky leaned in close, ignoring the pungent smell of garlic on the patrolman's breath, and asked again, his voice low and deadly. "Who's behind the beatings?"

Merrick took a strangled gasp of air. "Jack Peters."

Starsky was taken aback by the name. Jack Peters was well known in local government, an outspoken but popular councilman. "You'd better not be screwing with me, Merrick."

Merrick shook his head vehemently. "That's how we could cover it up," he babbled. "His brief's with law enforcement. I met him at my church; we had the same feelings about them."

"By them, you mean gays?"

Merrick's face took on an open expression of disgust despite his obvious fear. "Scum," he spat. "A pox on good people."

Starsky stepped back then, letting Merrick sag to the ground. He walked to the door without giving the patrolmen a backward glance. "Book him." He nodded at Dobey as the captain arrived at the door. "Jack Peters. Let's go get him."

~o0o~

Starsky glanced at Dobey as they entered Peters' office. "You want to do this one, Cap? If I get my hands on him…" He shook his head. "I promised Hutch."

Dobey patted him on the back. "The pleasure will be all mine."

Jack Peters was blustering officiously as he was led out of his office. "You can't do this to me! I'm an important man. I have contacts!"

"We just want to ask you a few questions, Mr. Peters," Dobey said evenly.

Peters would not be silenced. He speared a venomous glare at Starsky. "Call yourself a good cop, letting scum walk the streets. If it wasn't for people like me, this city wouldn't be safe. When I'm through with you, you'll never work these streets again and neither will that faggot partner of yours."

It was more than Starsky could take. A vision of Hutch crawling, bleeding, from the alley came to mind, blinding everything else, and before he realized he had moved, he had Peters up against the receptionist's desk, one bunched fist hovering over the councilman's smirking face.

Hands grabbed at his shoulders, dragging him away and he struggled briefly, wanting only to smash the son of a bitch's satisfied smile off his face.

"Starsky!" Dobey's voice was deafeningly loud in his ear. "Enough!"

Starsky stiffened and abruptly sagged, breathing heavily. He shook Dobey's hands off and strode to the door.

Dobey followed him, grasping one arm and pulling him around to face him. There was a half grin on his face that seemed to be warring for dominance with impatience. "While I don't approve of your methods, we've got everything we need to take the bastard down," he said tightly. "I'll get a warrant, see if we can find any paperwork to secure all of this." He paused for a moment, his eyes softening in understanding. "You, go see your partner."

~o0o~

TWO DAYS LATER:

Hutch looked on in fond exasperation as his partner rushed around the apartment. Pillows had been fluffed and pushed carefully behind him, with a muttered "sorry" when Hutch winced at the pain on his bruised back. A glass of juice sat on the coffee table nearby, alongside a sandwich - salad - in deference to Hutch's more health-conscious leanings. Now, Starsky stood by the stereo system, thumbing through a stack of records, looking for something that would help his partner relax; something that Starsky himself seemed desperately in need of right now, Hutch decided wryly.

Finally, Hutch could stand it no more. "Starsk?"

Starsky turned immediately, the discs dropping onto the nearest chair without thought. "You need something, babe? You comfortable enough? I could get you…"

Hutch shook his head and beckoned Starsky over. "C'mere."

Starsky looked surprisingly reluctant at the invitation and Hutch frowned. "Starsky, just come and sit here for a minute."

His partner walked over, lowering himself to the couch, and Hutch reached out and clasped their hands together. "You want to talk about what's bothering you?"

"Nothing," Starsky replied, a little too quickly. "I just want to make sure you're okay. The doc said you still have to take things easy for a few days…"

"We don't have to do anything, you know," Hutch began softly. "I mean, if the thought of us having a sexual relationship is just too much, that's fine. I can live without the rest. Just knowing you feel the same about me as I do about you…"

Starsky reached up his free hand and pressed it to Hutch's lips. "Shut up, Hutch." He took a deep breath. "I want to make love to you. It seems like now that it's out in the open, I can't think about anything else. How it would feel holding you, kissing you… the whole nine yards. I'm just… nervous, you know? I mean I've given a guy a hand-job before, but making love to a guy…"

"It's not a whole lot different to sex with a woman, you know," Hutch said, smiling. "I wouldn't force a woman to do something she didn't like, and I'm not going to force you either. This goes as far as you want."

Starsky nodded. "Okay," he replied a little shakily.

Hutch grinned. "Okay." He leaned across their joined hands and took Starsky's mouth in a gentle kiss, not demanding anything but a taste of the man he loved. Starsky moaned softly, his mouth opening, his hands leaving Hutch's to frame his partner's face. Hutch let his arms enfold his lover in a tight embrace, pushing Starsky back until he lay flat on the sofa. He pulled away then, and sat back, watching Starsky's eyes darken with passion, his chest heaving a little, his cock straining against the denim that restrained it.

Reaching out, Hutch slowly unbuttoned Starsky's shirt, then ghosted his fingers over the lush chest hair until he found a hardened nipple. He leaned forward, sweeping his tongue over one dark bud, tweaking the other with his fingertips, taking delight in Starsky arching up beneath him.

Starsky reached for him, pulling Hutch's tee shirt from the waistband of his pants, his hands massaging Hutch's strong back, gentling over the bruises he knew were there. He froze though when Hutch touched the button on his jeans.

"Too far?" Hutch asked, unable to hide the disappointment on his face.

"No!" Starsky interjected. "Jesus, Hutch, I want you so bad. I'm just… what if you don't like what you see?"

Hutch stroked his hand over Starsky's flat belly, the tip of a finger dipping in to tease his navel. "I'm pretty happy with what I've seen so far."

Starsky flushed and Hutch laughed outright, pressing another kiss to Starsky's eager mouth. "You're beautiful, babe. Let me love you."

At Starsky's nod, he unzipped Starsky's jeans and had them off in no time, Starsky's boxers following them to the floor. Starsky's cock was already erect, a drop of precome snaking down the rigid length. Hutch traced its path with his finger then brought the liquid to his mouth, sucking gently. Starsky's taste exploded on his tongue, igniting his hunger and he stood and quickly stripped then stood straight, allowing Starsky to see him fully for the first time.

"We're gonna do this slow and easy, Starsk," Hutch said as drew his lover up from the couch, pulling his shirt from his shoulders before leading him into the bedroom. "Doctor's orders, right?"

Hutch waited until Starsky lay down before positioning himself beside him. He stroked his hand down Starsky's firm body until he reached the erection that waited for him. He kept his strokes light at first as Starsky shivered through the initial contact, then when Starsky moaned his name, he moved, sitting up and moving between Starsky's splayed legs. Lowering his head, he took the sturdy cock into his mouth, exploring the hard shaft with his tongue. One hand crept down to cradle the lightly furred sac beneath, pulling it gently away from where it had drawn up close to Starsky's body. He took his mouth away, smiling at Starsky's muttered curse. "Don't want you coming without me," he whispered silkily.

"If you don't do something soon, I'm gonna come anyway," Starsky groaned. One hand stretched up to stroke over Hutch's back, then shifted lower to cup Hutch's buttock and pull him closer.

"Your wish," Hutch conceded. Wrapping his hand around the base of Starsky's cock, pumping firmly, he lowered his mouth again and slid his lips down the shaft, letting his tongue draw lazy patterns over the satin flesh.

Starsky pushed up, his hips pistoning as he cried out. "Shit! Hutch, oh God! That is…"

Hutch grinned a little at Starsky's obvious pleasure, then set to work sucking, tonguing and stroking his lover into oblivion. His own neglected erection was throbbing now with need, and he brought his free hand down, pleasuring himself, imagining what it would feel like next time when it was Starsky's hand or mouth on him, knowing from here on, there would be no shame, no emptiness in the loving.

A wordless shout and a stiffening of the body beneath him brought him back from his lustful reverie and he sucked hard as Starsky came, pulling the spasming cock further into his throat, shuddering as his own completion splashed over his hand a moment later.

He milked the softening cock for a few more moments, savoring the taste of Starsky's essence, not wanting to let go of the moment, feeling Starsky's breathing quiet beneath him, his lover's body relaxing beneath his soothing touch.

Hutch slumped forward, his upper body cradled between Starsky's trembling thighs, his head pillowed on Starsky's belly. Starsky's hand touched his head, massaged his hot skull and combed through his sweat-drenched blond locks, before moving to trace lightly over the puckered scar on his neck.

"No more secrets, okay, Hutch?" Starsky husked out. "From now on, it's me and thee."

FIN