Several years ago I took a
singing lesson from a Sufi singing master, and he told me ... "Singing is 90 percent listening. You have to learn to
listen." ... A few weeks after that, I sang in tune with a friend for the first time in my life and thought for sure I had
HUTCH was good at listening.
This was a lucky thing, considering
the number of times he’d had to rely on his hearing to save his or his partner’s life. Listening for the fall of a footstep in an alley, a sharp intake of breath, the snap of a safety as it
He found pleasure in the act
of listening, as well. A song well-sung, a guitar solo well-played, even
the high pitched tone of a thumb run casually around the rim of a crystal glass….
Hutch’s girlfriends sometimes complained that he didn’t understand them, but they never accused him of
In any ordinary day he did a
lot of listening. He listened to his captain, and he listened to the radio dispatch. He listened to frightened victims, hostile witnesses, and defensive suspects. But most of the time – at least seventy-five percent, give or take a few waking
hours – Hutch listened to Starsky.
It hadn’t always been like
that. There had been a time when the constant flow of questions and trivia, teasing
comments and outright jabs at his ego had annoyed him to the point of tuning Starsky right out. Not anymore. These days Hutch was far more likely to kick
back and relax, appreciating the ebb and flow of Starsky’s voice, letting the words fill the space around him.
you even listening to me?
course I am.
what did I just say?
about the mating habits of banana slugs. Right?
I knew you weren’t listening! It’s
leopard slugs, and they do it hanging upside down from this mucus rope…
What Starsky didn’t understand
was that it didn’t matter anymore what he said, so long as he was saying
it. Because the alternative was silence:
Starsky bleeding out on the cold cement of the precinct garage, three bullets in his chest.
are you looking at me like that, Hutch?
reason. You were saying something about slugs?
you got to keep up here. I’m onto dolphins now. Flipper looks all innocent, right?
But really he’s a big pervert…
Then there was the other sort
of listening Hutch did, the best kind of listening of all.
Because Hutch loved the deep,
throaty timbre of Starsky’s voice when he was aroused by a girl he’d just tumbled into his bed, and the higher
pitch he achieved when he was struggling for control. The strangled sounds
as Starsky tried not to make too much noise when he came, and the way he always failed.
Starsky kept no secrets from his neighbors.
Or from Hutch, occupied with
his own date, on the couch in Starsky’s living room.
He told himself there was no
harm in listening. If he thought of Starsky’s thick curls when he ran his
fingers through Veronica’s long soft hair, that was his own business, wasn’t it?
There was no harm in thoughts, especially if they were never shared.
Hutch slid his hands down the
length of Veronica’s back, his fingers tracing the small hills and valleys of her spine.
Smooth skin, unmarred….
his free time, Hutch also enjoyed working with sound. For his own enjoyment and
for the entertainment of others, he shaped it with his voice and with his fingers. He
sometimes considered that there wasn’t much of a difference between singing a song, playing a guitar, and making love. The end result was pleasure and pride, and also – Gillian had understood this
part, being a writer herself – just a touch of bittersweet disappointment. Because
what he achieved was never quite what he’d envisioned before he began. The
notes of the music were always slightly off, and the words of the song said less than he’d intended. The sounds slipped out of his grasp, or fit together wrong, and perfection forever eluded him.
didn’t mind. Learning to let go of discontent and accept that some desires
were out of reach was, he thought, a sign of maturity.
Veronica made a quiet noise,
and the sound brought Hutch back into the present. She arched her back as his
mouth found the soft curve of her breast. He could love her, Hutch thought. There was innocence in her eyes, belying the warm burr of pleasurable experience in
her voice. She was easy to please, and eager to return the favor. And it had been a long time since he’d had a steady girlfriend.
Starsky would approve. Since the day he’d been released from the hospital, Starsky had been on a single-minded
mission to get everything back to normal. At first it had been fairly straight
forward, a matter of regaining strength and rebuilding endurance, working his way to a complete physical recovery. But of late, Starsky had been focusing on the more ordinary details of their daily lives. Normal, it appeared, was a concept embracing everything from
Hutch’s mustache (that has to go), to his clothes (when did you become such a slob?), to his diet:
what are you doing? You don’t eat burritos for breakfast.
that. I’ll buy you a bran muffin, or something.
was what Starsky wanted. And a girlfriend would be a very normal thing for Hutch
to have. Still, his attention drifted back to the couple in the bedroom. They’d excused themselves shortly after the four of them had arrived back at
Starsky’s apartment. Amber had been giggling, and Starsky had blushed as
he explained that they were exhausted. We’re going to bed, he’d said. Can’t
keep our eyes open.
Old excuses, and a comfortable
routine that they’d played out many times before. Starsky would make love
to his date in one room, while Hutch entertained his own date in another. At
first, it had been Starsky’s kink, but Hutch had stopped trying to protest long ago.
There were certain rewards, after all. Listening to Starsky was always
Except this time, Hutch listened
– and heard nothing.
He paused, unsettled by the silence. The moment stretched, the quiet hum of the fridge and the rhythmic tick of the wall
clock magnified all out of proportion.
And Hutch suddenly realized that
the tables had been turned.
Starsky was listening to him.
Afterward, Hutch lay on the sofa
bed, with Veronica’s head heavy on his shoulder. He could hear her quiet
breaths, slow with sleep. He listened to the creak of the building settling, and the sleepy sound-scape of the city outside. He heard a mechanical hum, rising and falling with the passing of each car and truck,
and in the distance, the faint whistle of a train. Somewhere far beyond that
would be the rhythmic sound of the wind on the water of the bay. In this town,
he was never quite sure whether he imagined the sound of the shore, or not. The
smell of salt was pervasive, making memory and experience even harder to tease apart.
It didn’t matter. There was another sound, constant, and much nearer, that interested him far more than
any others. It was the hoarse sound of Starsky’s breathing, something that
was not quite a snore. It was a sound he only made when he slept, roughened since
He thought, Starsky was listening.
Then he thought, Starsky knows
There wasn’t anywhere useful
Hutch could go with this line of reasoning. Nowhere comfortable, anyway. Instead,
he thought about Starsky, and about the shape of Starsky in his life. He felt
around the edges of it, probing delicately. Then he tried to imagine that space
It could have been true. It almost was. When Starsky had been
shot, he’d died. Twice, though Hutch had never told him about the first
time, when his heart had stopped in the operating room. By the time Starsky had
come out of his coma, such details were no longer important. All that counted
was making it back.
Back to normal, back to the way
things used to be, back to double dating and the girl-of-the-week, back to work....
Where someday, Starsky would
die for real, because how many second chances could a person get in one lifetime? When
that happened there would be a Starsky-shaped hole right in the center of Hutch’s life.
And the little bit of Hutch left intact wouldn’t be anything particularly recognizable.
He rolled over, dislodging Veronica,
who turned onto her own side with a sleepy complaint. Hutch ignored her.
I don’t want to do this
Morning banished most of the
shadows from his mind. Hutch woke to the sounds of birds competing for territory,
the garbage truck rumbling by, and the paperboy yelling at his brother. Energy
and life were in the air; the slow music of the night giving way to a cacophony of sharp edges and vibrant color. In contrast, Hutch’s thoughts of the previous night took on an ungrateful, unworthy aspect that made
him grimace silently to himself.
Self-pity never looks pretty
in the light of day.
Veronica rolled over and blinked
sleepily at Hutch, her expression brightening at the sight of him. “Hey,
Hutch kissed her lightly, his
hand cupping her cheek. Pretty lady.
So what if Starsky had caught
him listening, this one time? It didn’t have to mean anything. Didn’t have to change anything. Except perhaps Hutch
might want to be a little more circumspect in how he listened, next time.
Amber padded into the living
room to sit on the edge of the sofa bed where Veronica was making wry faces at Hutch’s morning breath.
Amber giggled, and nodded toward
the bedroom. “Shh! He’s
still sleeping. I think I wore him out.”
Hutch’s good mood dimmed. It wasn’t hard to wear Starsky out these days.
He was better, but not a hundred percent. He wondered if Starsky’d
had a rough night, nursing over-stressed muscles, and whether Amber would have noticed if he did.
He listened, and under the bright
noise of the girls’ voices he heard Starsky breathing, the sound steady and reassuring.
The cloud passed, evaporating quickly in the sunlight.
Hutch was surprised by how much
he enjoyed making breakfast for the two of them. They were pleasant company, and Veronica in particular had a wry sense of
humor that caught him off guard more than once. His amusement was genuine.
Starsky’s onto something with this return to normal.
Nevertheless, by the time he
ushered them out the front door, Hutch was looking forward to having some quiet time on his own.
Hutch paused with his hand on
the doorknob. Outside, he could hear the girls clattering down the stairs, chattering
to each other. But inside the apartment it was silent.
Hutch walked to the bedroom,
and paused in the doorway. Starsky was curled up under the sheet, with his eyes
closed. He didn’t move. Hutch
suspected he was holding his breath.
Torn between worry and anger,
Hutch crossed his arms over his chest. He didn’t know why Starsky would
want to ignore Amber the morning after he’d made love to her. Had something
happened? It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Hutch had
been caught listening.
Hutch said, “I know you’re
Starsky’s head popped up
immediately, his eyes bright with mischief. “Thanks for not blowing my
Shoving Starsky’s legs
over, Hutch sat down on the edge of the bed. Starsky’s unrepentant cheer
relieved the worry he’d been feeling, but it also heightened his irritation. “Any
particular reason you didn’t want to say goodbye to the girl you just fucked?”
“You all sounded like you
were having so much fun, I didn’t want to spoil it,” explained Starsky, in a reasonable tone of voice.
Hutch’s anger abruptly
drained away, leaving behind something disturbingly akin to disappointment. He
said, “They’re nice girls.” He meant to add that Starsky had
been rude to let them leave without saying goodbye, but last night’s shadows were back, moving in from the corners of
I don’t want to do this
He was silent too long. “But?” Starsky prompted.
Hutch looked down, and realized
that he’d pulled the sheet up into a tangle by his leg. He smoothed it
back down, carefully, trying to put his own thoughts in order. “I don’t
know... I think I’m getting a bit old for one night stands.”
Starsky pushed himself up onto
his elbows, his forehead creasing. “You mean, you wanna get serious? Get married?”
That was so far from what Hutch
wanted that he was almost shocked into laughter. “God, no! I’m not... I mean....” His hand tightened
into a fist, rumpling the covers again and undoing all of his earlier work.
“Then what?” asked
Starsky, freeing the sheet with a sharp tug. “I don’t get it.”
Hutch was suddenly angry again. That was the root of the problem, wasn’t it?
Starsky didn’t get it. Sure, he’d been listening to Hutch
while he made love to Veronica last night, but that didn’t mean he felt anything close to what Hutch felt when he
listened. Starsky had probably just been curious.
And once again Hutch was letting
himself get all tied up into knots over something that didn’t even exist.
Hutch pushed himself up off the
bed, saying, “No, I didn’t think you would understand.”
He felt the back of his waistband
seized and, off-balance, he fell back onto the bed. Starsky scrambled on top
of him to sit on his thighs, his hands pushing down on Hutch’s shoulders. “Hey,
you can’t blame me for not understanding when you won’t explain!”
Starsky was leaning close, and
Hutch could feel the warmth of his bare thighs through his own jeans. He was
painfully aware that their crotches were only a few inches apart. Hutch looked
at that darkly stubbled chin, the mole under his eye, a face he knew better than his own.
He was trapped. More exposed than Starsky, for all that he was dressed and Starsky wasn’t. And he knew, he knew what it was he couldn’t explain. I can’t tell you if you don’t already
Recklessly, Hutch lifted his
head and kissed the very tip of Starsky’s nose.
Starsky sat up, surprised. Hutch was hardly less astonished by his own actions, but he still recovered first. Taking advantage of that moment of distraction, Hutch rolled over onto his side and
dumped Starsky on the bed. Now, he was the one on top, and in control. And Starsky....
Starsky was naked. Beneath him.
“Hey!” bellowed Starsky. “That’s cheating!”
Hutch’s eyes were on the
pulse in his neck, tracking down to the hollow of his throat. Starsky’s
skin was coarse, and darker than his. “Yeah? Then what’s this?” With no hope of achieving anything
other than complete self-immolation, he allowed his lips to rest on the side of Starsky’s neck. He felt Starsky shudder, and he pulled back to find his friend staring at him in wide-eyed shock.
Never guessed I felt like
that about you, huh, buddy?
This last thought snapped him
back to reality.
he must have been suicidal. This was certainly one way to ensure he’d never
have to do this anymore. Never mind double dating. He’d be fortunate if he still had a partner after this.
“Sorry,” Hutch said,
as he pulled back. There was still time to assure Starsky he was joking, and
avert disaster. Or control the fall-out, anyway. He supposed he should just be
grateful Starsky hadn’t punched him in the nose yet, but right now he wasn’t feeling particularly lucky.
I shaved my mustache and cut
my hair, and even started running again, all because you wanted things to be normal again.
But what I feel for you has
never been ‘normal.’
Hutch turned away.
“Hey!” Starsky grabbed
the tail of his shirt.
They stared at each other for
a long moment. The pupils of Starsky’s eyes widened, the black nearly swallowing
the blue. His cheeks flushed, but not with anger.
He doesn’t mean it, thought Hutch, desperately. But they
hadn’t been partners this many years without learning to read each other.
does mean it. He wants to do this. With me.
Hutch suddenly found that he
couldn’t breathe. The enormity of his error was terrifying. He hadn’t meant to start this. It wasn’t supposed
to go this way. It wasn’t supposed to go any way at all. What they had together was too good to screw up.
The irony of it was almost enough
to make him cry.
Hutch saw Starsky swallow hard,
his throat moving convulsively. Hoarsely, Starsky said, “You started this, you can damn well finish it!”
It was a gift. Or a challenge. Or maybe just a can of gasoline and a match.
Hutch felt as if he was standing
on the edge of a conflagration that would almost certainly reduce their relationship to ashes, destroying them both. But the timbre of Starsky’s voice had shifted, deepening towards arousal, and
Hutch couldn’t have refused him even if he’d wanted to.
He gripped Starsky’s waist,
and leaned back over him, covering him with his body and feeling the heat of his skin.
Falling into flames. Starsky
stared up at Hutch. Their eyes locked and his breathing quickened. Then Hutch’s fingers curved behind his hip, finding the sensitive skin just above the curve of his
ass, and Starsky jerked beneath his hands.
sounded shocked as his crotch bumped into Hutch’s hip. Hutch felt his groin
tighten at the contact, at the realization that Starsky was already hard.
“No, not Christ,”
said Hutch, breathlessly. “Just me.”
He buried his face in the side of Starsky’s neck, his lips finding the same spot he’d discovered earlier. He tasted salt on Starsky’s skin, and his nose filled with a blend of odors:
stale sex from the night before, Amber’s perfume, and Starsky’s own scent.
He felt another shudder in the body beneath him, and Starsky’s hips jerked again.
Hutch lifted his head, found
Starsky’s ear, and nibbled at the lobe. “Are you sure?” he
whispered. As if there was any going back now.
As if they weren’t both of them in the fire already.
Starsky twisted, his nose hitting
Hutch’s cheek. They struggled for a moment, fighting for the upper hand. Hutch fell onto his side and Starsky attacked him, mashing his lips against Hutch’s. His hands fumbled with Hutch’s belt, yanking it out of the loops.
“Slow down!” Hutch
slid his hand down the inside of Starsky’s thigh, feeling the coarse hair and the soft heat of his balls against the
back of his knuckles. Starsky made a sound like a sob and Hutch’s breath
caught in his throat at the realization that he wasn’t just listening to Starsky anymore. It really wasn’t so different from making music. He hadn’t played this particular song before, but he knew the tune by heart.
And just maybe, if he played
this perfectly, neither of them would get burned.
“Slow down,” he said
again, but Starsky ignored him and continued trying to work on Hutch’s zipper.
He was all frustration and need.
Hutch caught his hands and pushed
them away. At the rate Starsky was going, it would be over before they’d
even begun. Trying to cool his own arousal, Hutch said, “You rush things. It’s like you think that sex is all about getting on top and driving until you
hit your climax. You act like five minutes of foreplay is doing your date some
sort of huge favor...”
Starsky didn’t appear to
be listening as Hutch criticized his technique. He was holding onto the pillow
above his head, his eyes screwed shut. Hutch would have laughed, except that
Starsky was by far the hottest thing he’d ever seen in his life. And the
He wanted to explore every inch
of Starsky and fix every detail into his memory, because God only knew if he’d ever have a chance to do this again. Starsky’s chest was lined with scars, like a road map through his thick hair,
through his life. The older ones were pale and easier to trace by touch than by sight, the passage of time having thickened
and raised them even as it made them less visible. The newer ones were still
vibrantly red and stretched flat, more sensitive than the others. When Hutch’s
fingers trailed across them, Starsky hissed.
Too sensitive… Hutch paused a moment, and then lowered his lips to Starsky’s shoulder. With his tongue, he found an old scar. He tasted salt, felt
the shape of it, and then he let it draw him down to the center of Starsky’s chest, where it connected to one of the
newest ones. Starsky whimpered, and
Hutch felt his hands on his head.
Hutch paused, waiting to see
if Starsky would push him off. But instead his fingers only threaded themselves
into Hutch’s hair. Not pushing, not pulling, just hanging on. Encouraged, Hutch used his lips and tongue to carefully trace the scars, discovering by touch and taste
the quaking landscape of Starsky’s body.
As he worked, Hutch recalled
the story behind each mark. The knife in the warehouse. The bullet in the restaurant. An older scar, more faded than
the rest, where he’d had his appendix removed. A scattering of tiny scars
near his navel, where he’d fallen on a beer bottle, and it had broken beneath him.
And the most recent ones, from the three bullets he’d taken in the police garage, and the surgeries that had
followed. The long curving scar around his side where they’d had to open
him up again, and the marks left by the drains put in when infection had slowed his healing.
All the times Starsky had nearly
been lost, every one of them precious for what hadn’t happened. For he
was still here, in the center of Hutch’s life, and now lying beneath him as well. Starsky’s back arched and his
ribs stood out in stark relief, his stomach tight with tension.
Starsky was babbling. “Please,” he said. “Please, please...”
Still, Hutch took his time, his
arm across Starsky’s abdomen, holding him as he worked his way down, pausing briefly to play with the swirl of hair
around his navel.
While Starsky was distracted,
Hutch used one hand to shuck off his jeans, hooking his toes into the legs to pull them all the way off. His underwear quickly followed.
He knelt between Starsky’s
legs now, having traveled down to his crotch and finding the thicket of hair there impenetrable. Hutch stopped and stared at Starsky’s rigid erection with fascination. He’d had no particular plan in mind, but now that he was here, he thought, what do I have to lose?
he was only going to get one shot at this, he might as well make it memorable. After
all, Hutch told himself, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t already had his mouth on every other part of the man’s
Starsky shouted as Hutch’s
lips settled around the head of his cock. The sound almost undid Hutch right
then and there, and he grasped his own shaft, attempting to stem the desperate urge.
Hutch tasted bitter salt and
knew Starsky was close to coming, and he wasn’t far behind. He used his
tongue to experiment, tracing the contours of Starsky’s cock, the shape of his head, the slit at the top, and the thick
vein on the underside.
Who’d have thought he’d
like it? From me?
Hutch knew he’d hit on something good, when Starsky suddenly grabbed him by the ears and thrust hard enough
to gag him. Hutch drew back, and coughed.
Starsky released him immediately
and threw his hands up, burying them in his own curls with a whimper of frustration. Hutch grinned.
this won’t be the only time Starsky will let me do this.
Hutch grabbed himself in one
hand and worked Starsky’s shaft with his other, his lips still on the head of Starsky’s cock, his tongue massaging. It was an awkward position. He was folded
over like a pretzel. His back complained, trying to be heard over the flood of
other sensations, with little success. Because damn, he felt good.
he’ll even let me do other things to him.
Hutch was coming now, trying
not to bite down because if he did Starsky would never ever let him put his mouth there again. Trying hard to keep up the
rhythm on Starsky’s cock even as he dripped down over his own knuckles, stickiness between his fingers. Hutch shut his eyes, every ounce of his concentration on doing this right.
Just one chance, can’t
screw this up...
Then Starsky cried out. Hutch was overwhelmed as a warm thick fluid flooded his mouth. It was bitter. He coughed and choked, and pulled away. Starsky had his head thrown back, and both hands clamped tight over his mouth, trying
unsuccessfully to muffle the sounds he was making. Despite the unpleasantness
of the final result, Hutch felt a ridiculous surge of accomplishment at the sight.
I can make him come.
Hutch straightened. He started to wipe his hand on his shirt but then stopped, feeling the stickiness of rapidly cooling semen. Yuck. He slid out from between Starsky’s legs and sat on the side of the bed.
Pulling his shirt off, Hutch used it to clean himself up.
Common sense was returning as
rapidly as his erection was wilting. Hutch’s pleasure faded, replaced by
an uneasy sense of foreboding. He looked over at Starsky, who was squinting at
him through reddened, watering eyes. Hutch couldn’t read his expression at all.
Time to pay the piper.
“I think....” Hutch paused, feeling a sudden lump in his throat.
“I shouldn’t have....”
Disbelieving, Hutch said, “But
this isn’t....” This couldn’t be what Starsky wanted. It wasn’t normal. And Starsky had
been all about getting back to normal these last few months.
repeated Starsky, emphatically. “You were great!”
Hutch blinked. I was great? He’s okay with what I did to him?
It’s a funny thing about
self-immolation, Hutch thought giddily. Every now and then you find yourself reborn from the flames.
Starsky rolled over onto his
belly and waved one hand awkwardly behind his back. “Now scratch my back. Right there.”
“There” was a vague
concept at best, but Hutch obliged him, dropping his shirt on the floor and using both hands to scratch the broad back. As he worked, he couldn’t resist making fun of Starsky. “Shut up, goddammit, I’m happy!”
“Damn right,” mumbled
Starsky, his face buried in the mattress. As Hutch kept scratching, Starsky tried
to direct him. “No, not there. Down
a little. Lower. A bit to the left...”
Hutch knew he’d hit the
spot when Starsky melted into the mattress with a sigh of ecstasy. It occurred
to him that he honestly didn’t know which Starsky would pick if offered the choice – a good back scratch or a
blowjob. He sounded equally delighted with both.
“So,” said Starsky. “Did you save me any breakfast?”
Hutch started, the question an
unpleasant shock. So, was this the way Starsky wanted to play it? Just pretend nothing had happened at all? Pretend it was as
unremarkable as a game of Monopoly, or a friendly wrestling match between buddies? “What?”
Starsky sat up and punched him
lightly on the shoulder. “I’m hungry!
Are you telling me you’ll have sex with me, but you won’t make me breakfast?”
Hutch’s laugh was closer
to a sob. “Is that all I am to you?
The guy who fucks you and feeds you?”
“And scratches my back,”
said Starsky. “Don’t forget that part.” He deliberately bumped Hutch with his shoulder as he climbed out of bed, and then paused briefly, turning
to kiss him on the forehead.
“Thanks,” said Hutch.
for letting me do this to you.
Starsky looked puzzled. Then he grinned, lopsidedly. “You
got that a little backwards, buddy. I should be thanking you.” He wandered off whistling a few bars of some unrecognizable tune. At the bathroom door, he paused and called back, “And I will be thanking you, if in a couple
of minutes you’re overcome with a sudden desire to make me pancakes.”
Hutch laughed again, despite
Okay, so it wasn’t normal. But the quest for normal had been all Starsky’s deal in the first place. If he was okay with this, then Hutch had to be as well.
Hutch picked up his discarded
underwear and jeans and pulled them on. He wants pancakes, huh?
He remembered Starsky’s
words. You were great.
And he thought, I can be better.