The barrage of gunfire on the estate had stopped almost as soon as Starsky had shrugged off the blanket and climbed onto the pier. He found his footing, with some effort, on the landing. Intermittent shots and shouts accompanied his climb up the steps, making him push past what his body had long since deemed enough. When the adrenaline wore out, he'd be presented with the bill, but not yet.
By the time he was at the top of the hill, the police were in control. Officers out of other precincts were everywhere, as well as those from Metro. He directed the questions to the familiar faces, and they were the ones who cleared his way, minus answers. Nobody knew where Hutch was, unless he was behind the only remaining locked door.
When Starsky reached it, the patrolmen had just broken through. He saw them surge into the room, then halt, noticed officers going into defensive postures and drawing weapons. "Drop it," several voices shouted.
Quickly, he ducked into the doorway. Over and around heads, he saw his partner quietly holding Marruzzi at gun point, and took a relieved breath. "Hutch," he called out. No response. Then he got a clear look at Hutch's face.
The other officers still had their guns drawn on the blond. "Drop it, or -- " someone was saying.
"No!" Starsky shouted, struggling to cut through the ranks, but he was held back.
"Let him go, that's his partner," came a voice and he was released. But he was aware, as he approached, that nobody had relaxed behind him.
"Hutch, put it down. It's over." No reaction. "Hey, partner, come on, lower it. Cavalry's all over the place." He put his hand over Hutch's holding the Magnum, and instantly got the impression that if he shoved real hard he might move his partner, but only as one solid piece of rock. He doubted if he could push the arms down, let alone pry the gun off. "Hutch, snap out of it! It's all right. It's over." Nothing seemed to register and he started getting frantic about the reactions of the patrolmen who didn't know Hutch as he did.
Or maybe didn't. He felt Hutch's fingers tighten inside his palm, totally unexpected. During the microsecond before the gun went off, the only thing he knew was that his body was protecting Hutch from the other cops. They wouldn't answer the fire right away.
The blast was deafening. It was a moment before he could register the echoes, the tinkling of a chandelier, and the thunks of plaster falling down. He realized that Hutch's hands, still cupped inside one of his, were raised high, the gun pointing at the ceiling.
I knew him after all, was the dizzying thought, then the Magnum simply fell into his palm. He fumbled to catch it as Hutch's arms dropped, clicked the safety on and stuck it inside his waistband. He started to turn toward Marruzzi.
His head whipped back around at the shaky whisper. Hutch's eyes didn't look glassy anymore. Neither did they seem normal. "Yeah, right here." His partner frowned, seemed to grope for something to say, stayed silent. "Hey, it's all right." From the looks of things, it was anything but.
The uniforms had approached, waiting to be told how to proceed by someone with more rank. Normally, Starsky would have considered the moment a crowning touch and relished pronouncing Marruzzi's arrest personally. Right now, though, he couldn't care less. "Read him his rights and get him outta here," he said, pointing over his shoulder without even a glance. "Conspiracy will do for now. I'll fill in the blanks later."
He detected a tremor in Hutch's frame, knew his partner was about to come down spectacularly. He raised his voice. "Everybody, clear outta here, close the door, and stay out. That's an order." There were advantages to being the highest-ranking officer on the scene. They had privacy fast.
He didn't quite know what to do, almost scared to touch his partner, lest he precipitate something. "It's all right," he said again, then decided it might as well be his touch that set Hutch off. Something had to, obviously. He reached.
Hutch instantly backed away. "So the joke's on me." His voice was unsteady. "Again."
"Hey, it's all right, really." He was aware that he kept repeating himself, and doing even that inadequately, but he was at a loss.
"No, it isn't all right!" Hutch pushed away the hand Starsky reached out to him once more. "Goddammit, it isn't all right. I thought you were dead. I believed it, dammit, but there you are, and you think that's all right?"
Starsky was bewildered. "Uh...isn't it?"
"No. There you are, a fucking miracle -- again! What happens when yours runs out? Nobody up there owes me one, dammit, don't you know that?"
"Hutch, are you...mad at me?" For being alive?
"Yes! No. Yes! I told you to get down, damn you, why didn't you?"
It took some effort for Starsky to comprehend. "Hey, partner, that's ancient history."
Hutch whirled away and continued as if he hadn't heard. "No, you had to stand and face it. You always have to. How the hell can I cover you on all sides at the same time? I can't, and I'm sorry, but how long do I get punished for it?"
Starsky realized Hutch wasn't railing at him, at least not as much as the blond was railing at himself. He wanted to protest, but the dam was finally crumbling after a year and a half. He let it come, wishing Hutch would face him.
"So, okay, a warning isn't enough, but you think I wouldn't've covered you if I could've? Did you have to die on me for that? I kept telling myself, Starsky's gonna die, he's dying, so maybe I'll be ready, but I didn't believe it, and then Dobey tells me and I still don't believe it, but I have to believe it, then the doctor says you're all right and I think it was just a joke, a sick joke, so I walk into the room, there you are, just the same, but there are all those papers out of that damned monitor all over the floor, and it's all there, in white and blue -- no joke. You died. What could I do? Do you know how it feels to be totally helpless?"
"Hutch," Starsky started, but was overridden.
"I never did. Not before. Before, there was always something I could do. And all at once, I could've torn the world down and built it up again and it wouldn't've made one bit of difference in that room. There wasn't a thing you needed from me. Nothing. I was careless once and all choices were taken away. I don't ever want to feel like that again, can't you understand?"
"Babe, yes, I understand. You should've told me sooner." That was unfair, he knew. Hutch had been telling him in many ways. Just because it hadn't been spelled out clearly, he'd felt at liberty not to pay enough attention. "I'm sorry," he mumbled, weakly. Hutch was still riding his adrenaline high down, but his own had bottomed out suddenly. His body was only waiting to fall.
The blond paced, swinging out his arms. "So I think if I'm never careless, if I try real hard, it won't happen again. But you won't let me, nobody does. I let them hold me back tonight, so that's why I believed you were on that boat. What else, right? If I'm late, what can I expect?" Abruptly, he glanced back. "Weren't you on it?"
Hutch's eyes were on him, Starsky knew, but his mind was far away, or how ridiculous his question was. Starsky looked like a drowned rat. "I was. I got out in time. Luigi didn't make it."
Starsky thought that maybe the news would make Hutch feel better. "You don't have to worry 'bout him no more, Hutch. I promised you he wasn't gonna get away and he didn't." Hutch turned away from him again. A silence followed. Vaguely, he wondered if he'd said the wrong thing.
"That's why you stayed under," Hutch said finally. There was accusation in the quiet voice. "Keep your promise or die trying? What the hell makes you think I'd pay that price for anything?"
Starsky tried to explain he hadn't planned on its turning out this way, but the room was swimming in and out of focus. Anyway, Hutch didn't sound too angry.
"Damn it, Starsky. I can spout all kinds of drivel for why I do what I do, but past everything that's already knocked out from under my feet, past anything we can invent...the bedrock is you. Don't you know that? That's something I can't let even you yank out from under me. Yes, I'm that selfish. I think 'What about me?' when something threatens you, and okay, it's not noble, maybe I'm not proud of it, but it's the truth, and there's not a thing I can do to change it. I know you don't like it much, but...."
The words had been registering so far, but now they were getting distant. Folding up on his partner wasn't in the rules, but Starsky didn't have a choice. "Hutch, please...look, I know...I mean, I hear you, but -- Hutch, I'm cold, I ache in the places I didn't know I had..." If I was sure I wouldn't miss the floor I'd fall. He didn't know if the last was thought or spoken.
A beat of silence. Then a whisper, "Oh, my God." Hands wrapped him in a jacket, warm from Hutch's body. "I'm sorry. I keep running my mouth, and -- I can't believe I didn't notice; damn, Starsky, I'm sorry."
"Are you hurt?"
"Tired, 's all. Just take me home 'n tuck me in."
He was laid on the couch. That steadied the room, so he opened his eyes, saw Hutch look around searchingly and go to a window. The blond grasped a panel of the velvet drapes and yanked hard. He covered Starsky with it.
"I'll be right back," Hutch said and went out.
Now that he was horizontal, Starsky didn't feel so bad. He closed his eyes, relaxed. From the sounds outside, he figured higher authority had arrived. He heard Hutch assure somebody his partner was okay but not available tonight, probably Dobey. The blond told somebody else to bring a car to the door and get the lead out, and yet somebody else that they'll get to something or another when they were good and goddamned ready for it, that Starsky was going home, and if late reports didn't suit the man he could take them and --
Starsky smiled to himself. The person on the losing side of that exchange had to be the DA. Aw, we didn't put the bows on his present yet. Gee.
Somehow, it was pleasant to lie there while his partner held the world at bay. It suddenly struck him how in charge and in control Hutch was sounding out there. Not at all like the man teetering on an edge a few minutes ago. Maybe, unknowingly, he'd given his partner something he needed at this point. He'd dropped himself into the blond's hands to be cared for. Maybe he'd been wrong in trying to adjust things to his own comfort between them. That might be just as unreasonable as Hutch wanting to hover over him just because that suited the blond best. Of course, these were special circumstances, and there was no way he could live with it as a lifestyle. However, at the moment, it seemed to be working for both of them. He'd worry about later...later.
He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder, struggled to crack open his eyes. "How're you doing, son?" Dobey asked. "Hutchinson's displaying his Viking genes out there and there's no talking to him. Thought I'd check for myself. You need a doctor?"
"No, Cap'n...nothin' serious. I'm...just...beat."
"Okay. Let Hutch take you home now -- what army's going to stop him anyway? Both of you, rest, and I'll hold things off at Metro."
Starsky mumbled thanks, felt the hand pat his shoulder. Shortly, Hutch was back, stripping the drapes and the now-damp jacket, wrapping him in a dry blanket. Shit, gotta walk, he thought and made an attempt, felt cramped as an infant in swaddling clothes.
"Sssh, take it easy," Hutch said, scooping him up into his arms, grunting with the effort.
"Let me give you a hand, Sergeant," a stranger's voice offered. Probably a patrolman.
"I got him. I got him." Starsky had to smile at the proprietary tone in his partner's voice. I ain't heavy, huh? "Just secure the blanket behind him, will you?"
"Got the car you've requested. Right at the door," the same voice said. "Need a driver?"
"No, uh, yes, good idea. Thanks. Call you tomorrow, soon's I can, Captain."
"Fine, fine. Get going now."
Starsky freed one arm to hook around his partner's neck, hoping to be less of a burden. Hutch heaved his weight up into his arms more securely, until his head rested on the blond's shoulder, then they left the room. He felt a little self-conscious being carried out through the crowds like a cradled baby, but was too tired to care all that much. Going down the steps, Hutch was barely able to stay steady. He took them one at a time, pausing on each until they were balanced enough to attempt the next.
"Put me down, I can walk," Starsky said, but he had timed it right and they were already at the car. The patrolman had the door open. Hutch eased him into the back seat, picking up and swinging in his legs afterwards, then rounded the car and got in from the other side. Starsky considered the shoulder and lap for prospective head-rests and opted for the shoulder. It was closer. Hutch's arm went around him to hold him in place. The car started.
"Any specific reason you want to go to your place?" Hutch asked. "Mine's closer and your stuff's still there."
"Whatsa difference?" Starsky mumbled, already dozing off. "Just...home."
He slept until Hutch and the patrolman woke him up by trying to get him up the steps of Venice Place. He rallied, and got into the apartment on his own. Then Hutch was peeling off his wet clothes, and he was helped into the full tub. At first, the hot water made Starsky's cold skin tingle uncomfortably, stung the scrapes and the cuts, but soon he got used to it and sighed, content, at the warmth seeping through his pores. "T'rrific."
"Lean back. Right. Not that far! You idiot, you'll drown. What, you didn't give it a good enough shot already?" Hutch's hands firmly arrested his easy slide into the warm water, held him in place.
He floated until his body heat matched the water's as his partner gently sponged him. It tickled. Helplessly, he giggled, and Hutch seemed to consider it enough. "Out you go." He was helped out of the tub, given a hand with the toweling, then supported to the bed. "Must be all that Italian pasta. You weigh a ton."
"Nope, waterlogged," he quipped.
"You nut. Lie down." Hutch wasn't done with him. Soon some antiseptic, cold and stinging, was dabbed onto the various cuts and scrapes. He winced, squirmed, even tried a little whining, but he already knew Hutch wouldn't be swayed in this case. "Good, you're rallying," was the blond's only comment when Starsky gave up on trying to elicit sympathy and let out an oath.
Finally he was tucked in, and felt expansive enough to say, "Thanks." The phone rang. Hutch went to answer it. Can't leave us alone for nothing, Starsky thought, but felt obligated to pay attention once he realized his partner was talking to Dobey.
"Yeah, he's okay, Captain," his partner was saying. "Me, too. What? Hey, that's great." He called out to Starsky. "Linda's going to be all right, not even on the critical list."
Starsky felt a weight lift off his chest, thought he wouldn't blame her if she never wanted to work with them again.
"I see." His partner was continuing into the phone. "Yeah. He wants what? Oh, okay. Hang on, I'll check." The blond head appeared around the partition. "They got Sal and Brasi Fontane. Sal wants to use his one call to talk to you. Feel up to it?"
The nap and the bath had restored him a bit. "Sure."
"Stay there. The cord's long enough." Hutch told Dobey to put Sal on and handed over the receiver.
"Yeah, Sal," Starsky said into it.
"Tony -- uh, that's wrong, huh? What is it? I-I can't remember."
"Okay, but that's -- feels strange."
"Not to me."
There was a chuckle, discordant, hollow, but still, Sal didn't sound too spaced out now. "Right. Okay...D-David. You, uh, you don't mind talking to me, do you? I thought -- but they told me you were okay, and I had to -- "
"I don't mind," Starsky assured. "I'm glad you wanted to talk." There was silence on the line. "Sal?"
"I'm glad you're all right, To-David, I really am, I never wanted you to get hurt, you know that, don't you, believe me, that other officer, I didn't want to hurt her either, please, believe me, I didn't know what to do, how to, but I never -- "
Starsky interrupted the rush of words. "Yeah, I know all that. In case they didn't tell you, she's going to be all right, too."
"I'm sorry, I never meant to harm anyone, I'm sorry."
The young man sounded about ten years old. Thirteen, Starsky amended, he was never really allowed to grow up after that. "I know, kid, I know. I'm sorry, too. I didn't want to deceive you, and in a lot of ways I really didn't. Not where it counts. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yeah." It was barely more than an exhaled breath. "I wish -- "
"Nothing. Just...thank you. Goodbye."
"Is there anything you -- "
"Goodbye," Sal repeated, and hung up.
Hutch took the receiver back. Starsky noticed he had a steaming mug in his hand. He was blowing on it to cool it down, and Starsky figured he was about to be the recipient. "Whazzat?"
"Hot toddy. Here, drink some."
Hutch raised his eyes heavenward. "It's how my ancestors survived the arctic. If it was manly enough for them, it'll certainly do for you. So, drink it or wear it."
Catching a whiff of the sharp aroma as Hutch held it out, Starsky wrinkled his nose. "Hutch, if I tried holdin' that now, I'd be wearin' it anyway," he argued in a tiny voice.
"Bet your mother couldn't stand your Camille routine, either," Hutch grumbled, putting the mug on the nightstand, but his hands were gentle as he sat Starsky up, lowered himself on the bed behind him, his legs on either side of his partner's body, and made a prop of his chest to rest against. He brought the mug around to Starsky's mouth. "Careful. It's very strong."
It was. But a few seconds after the liquor hit his stomach, warmth was spreading all through his insides. Halfway through, Starsky decided that it was delicious. By the last drop, an easy lethargy had enveloped him, loosening all tension, and the aches and pains were distant echoes. He dropped his head back against Hutch, enjoying being held there, totally warm now, relaxed, hazy. "'M sorry."
Hutch's breath brushed against his cheek. "What for?"
"Bein' a...burden," he mumbled.
"Idiot," Hutch softly retorted.
He smiled, or thought he did. "Tomorrow," he made his tongue form, "your turn."
"Sssh. We got one. That's enough."
Starsky's breathing had turned even and the body against him felt boneless. Hutch only had energy to press his lips to the living warmth of his partner's temple, softly, in an instinctive, mute expression of... gratitude, he supposed. If there were any divine beings hanging around, waiting for their due, they'd just have to wait; his system was fast shutting down. He eased out from under his partner, covered Starsky, then blindly navigated to the couch.
The phone rang. Hutch scrambled up from sleep to reach it, understanding the reason for his haste only when he'd picked it up and automatically checked to make sure it hadn't awakened Starsky. It was Dobey. Hutch listened quietly. "It'll probably be in the morning editions," his captain concluded, and that's when the blond realized it was light outside. "Wanted to let you know before you read about it. Tell Starsky I'm sorry."
He mumbled something to get across he'd heard, hung up, sank back onto the couch. Never ends. He glanced back at the slumbering figure of his partner. I'm tired, he thought, knowing he'd have to pull himself together before Starsky woke up. More than one piece of bad news this morning, partner. I can't go on like this. It's not just watching you jump into where angels fear to tread and hoping for a miracle. Last night I've learned that I can be a cop, or I can be your partner. I can't do both. Like a Roman candle, I start burning at both ends, and that makes me dangerous. What am I supposed to do now? Please, babe, you got any answers?
An hour, a shower, and three cups of coffee later, he had come to no conclusion, but had read the accounts of the case in the morning edition of the Times. He sat back, glad that it was all over. He was also surprised at finding in himself not only relief but a measure of satisfaction. Once a cop, always a cop? He started folding the scattered papers, noticed a slight tremor in his hands, wondered if it were too little sleep, too much caffeine, or lingering reaction from the night before.
"Did we make 'em?"
He gave a start, turned to see Starsky still in bed, but awake. "How're you feeling?"
"Sore. All over."
"Go back to sleep. Talked to Dobey. We don't have to be in until two."
"You don't look too hot yourself. Where did you sleep?"
"On the couch."
"What was wrong with the bed?"
The blond shrugged. "I toss and turn. Didn't want to disturb you."
"Hutch, you could've held the World Series in here and I wouldn't've known." He indicated the papers. "So, did we make 'em?"
Hutch finished folding them away. "Yeah."
"Get some more rest, huh?" He went to the bed and attempted to replace the covers Starsky was attempting to throw off.
"I'm okay. Gotta get up."
"What's the rush?"
Starsky frowned irritably at the reverse tug-of-war they were playing with the covers, which he was losing. "For starters, I gotta go to the bathroom -- you mind?"
"Oh," Hutch backed off, squeezing his hands into the pockets of his jeans.
Starsky sat up slowly, gingerly, as if movement hurt. "Also, I think we oughta see Sal. He sounded funny on the phone."
"Uh, Starsk...." He couldn't continue, unsure how best to word it.
Starsky misunderstood his hesitation. "Oh, hey, if you don't wanna deal with Sal in his condition, I mean, considerin'...it's all right, really. I'll go."
"It's not that." Right out, Hutch decided. "Sal was found dead in his cell this morning. Hanged himself." For a long minute, Starsky kept staring up at him, then his head fell to his chest. "I'm sorry. Starsky?" Hutch reached to hold his partner by the shoulders.
"I'm all right." His eyes met Hutch's, one side of his mouth tilted upwards, his expression equal parts of sadness and irony. "I still gotta go to the bathroom," he said with an apologetic lift of his shoulders. Wordlessly, he put on the robe Hutch found him, and disappeared behind the door.
After a long wait, the blond was considering knocking on that door, when Starsky preempted him, and they almost collided. Hutch stepped back. Starsky stayed still in the doorway, looking directionless. A push on his elbow was enough to steer him back into the bedroom. He stretched out on the bed again, lifted one arm with a grimace to prop his head, staring up at the ceiling. Hutch sat next to him, his elbows on his knees.
"You know, he tried to save my life last night -- not very well, but he tried. Come to think of it, maybe he did. If he hadn't delayed Luigi.... Dammit, why couldn't he have waited long enough to give me a chance?"
It sounded like a rhetorical question, but Hutch answered anyway. "Who knows, really? But I know how low you can hit coming down." He still distinctly remembered wanting any kind of cessation of the pain, except in his case he'd had a stubborn presence who wouldn't let go, wouldn't give in to his pleas one way or another, except just hold fast until it had passed. "Maybe he couldn't take it."
"I should've gone last night."
"It wasn't your fault! You were dead on your feet. You couldn't have possibly -- "
Starsky just smiled up at him and interrupted. "Relax. I'm not going to beat my breast. I really don't think it would've made that much of a difference. He wasn't a fighter. Takin' the easy way out, quittin' on himself -- hell, he'd been doing that for years. Maybe he was never given a chance and I wish...but, I'm tired, Hutch. I can't keep holdin' people up when they don't have any interest in stayin' afloat." The dark blue eyes shied away. "God, I sound cold. I don't mean to."
Hutch patted his shoulder. "No, no, you don't." His hand felt right there, so he left it In place, rubbing.
"It isn't that I'm not sorry for the kid, but -- I begged him to help Linda last night; he just rushed off to shoot up. When that's your only answer to everything...if he'd done one thing, just one thing, to try and break out by himself, then maybe -- " He cut off to look back at Hutch. "I forgot. You don't know what I'm talking about."
"No, but it's okay."
"I guess it is. Just strange."
"Oh, I don't know. For some reason, whatever happens to me, I expect you to know about it -- strange. Anyway, I'll tell you later, huh?" He looked down at Hutch's fingers rubbing his arm. "Must be all that swimming. That feels good." Hutch shifted sideways, drew the arm to his lap and started massaging earnestly. His partner sighed and closed his eyes. "He was a quitter," he said softly. "I can't help that. Wish I could've, but I can't." After a while, Starsky rolled onto his side and held out his other arm. "Guess we couldn't salvage anybody from this case."
Us, Hutch thought. "What we set out to do, we did. That's something."
"Sure is. Hope you're hearin' yourself." Starsky pulled his arm away, flexed both of them. "Much better. Uh, you tired? My back's killin' me, too."
Hutch laughed softly. "Big baby. Roll over."
Starsky decided to stop Hutch before he fell asleep again. "Is that coffee I smell?" He didn't move to help himself, though. It wouldn't have worked normally, but he knew this morning Hutch would serve his coffee without fuss. He propped himself, and sure enough, a mug was soon in his hands.
Hutch was munching on a slice of buttered toast. "Don't have much in the way of breakfast. The bread was in the freezer, so that's okay. I can get you some toast."
"I don't want any," Starsky said, while simultaneously reaching to pull at Hutch's hand to take a bite of the toast.
"Then why are you eating mine?"
"Because it's there."
Hutch's eyes went heavenward again. He took another bite out of his own toast, looked down at the last piece, and with a sigh, stuffed it into Starsky's mouth. "I'll get some more."
"I don't wanna eat. I wanna talk to you."
His partner made an uneasy sound that was evidently meant to pass as a laugh. "Not very nourishing."
"Shows how much you know. Sit." He patted the side of the bed. Hutch sat, but didn't seem inclined toward conversation. "I cut you off last night," Starsky started. "But, believe me, I heard. Actually, I've been hearin' for a long time. I should've paid better attention."
Hutch held up a hand. "Starsky, please. Drink your coffee. I don't want to talk about last night. I don't even want to remember last night. Leave it alone."
Starsky had learned long ago that when Hutch posted one of his 'No trespassing' signs, it was time for a well-placed kick. "Too bad. You've already used up your amnesia allocation in one big bash. No way you get another turn, especially while the account's still open on the first one."
The blond managed to look embarrassed and indignant at the same time. "What? Now I owe you?"
"Got that right," Starsky told him bluntly.
Hutch spent some time charting the depths of the comforter. "What am I supposed to remember? What I said? I said too much. What I did? Jesus, how could I forget? I even remember the lecture I gave you, what, a month ago? All that noble talk about revenge, and how futile it is -- and I almost killed an old man. In cold blood. I would've, too, if you hadn't pushed my hand up. Now I have to remember what I've turned into? How do -- ?"
Starsky paused in the middle of taking a sip of his coffee. "Whoa, hold it right there." He placed the mug on the nightstand. "What're you talkin' about? I didn't push your hand up."
"Of course you did."
"No, really. Yeah, I was tryin' to talk you into givin' up the gun, but I never thought for a second you'd actually shoot. I was more worried about the patrolmen who might think you would; I was afraid one of 'em might get trigger-happy. I felt your finger tighten, but by the time that sank in you'd already fired. I didn't have time to react."
"Then..." Hutch faltered, "...then, how?"
"You pulled up yourself."
The blond looked at him, all skepticism. Starsky could follow the progression in his partner's head as if he were inside it: Is he telling the truth? Is he lying to spare me? Is he fooling himself as well?
"Is that for my benefit or yours, Starsk?"
"I swear to God, Hutch. You know I don't lie to you. And as for my benefit -- " All Starsky's conviction had been in his voice, but suddenly it broke and he looked away. "Hell, I'd have to have a lot of nerve to judge. When I stood in those shoes, I didn't aim away, did I?"
It didn't seem to connect readily for Hutch. "What?"
"You know what."
"No, I don't. What?"
"The Haymes kidnapping case, what else?"
Hutch shook his head. "I remember the case, but I still don't know what you're talking about."
"Come on, Hutch!" Starsky felt impatient, wished his partner would drop the subject, realized that he himself hadn't granted the man the same break earlier. "We almost didn't find her in time, remember?"
"Yeah, because the explosion killed Mo-Mo and the other one, whatever passed for his name. So?"
For the first time it dawned on Starsky that maybe Hutch honestly didn't know. "How did that happen? Tell me. All you remember."
Hutch frowned. "I wasn't there. I was out of it. Let me see. You saw the kidnappers' car, shouted a warning at me. I got hit, went through the store window. You gave chase on the motorcycle, took a short cut. The car came out of the alley into your path. You got thrown off, shot at the fleeing car. It hit the gas tank and the car exploded. Then you came back for me."
"What did you do, Hutch, memorize the report?"
"Yeah," his partner said, looking a little surprised himself. "I guess I did. I remember reading it over and over. I don't know why."
Starsky did. Hutch had instinctively known something was wrong with it, probably more so because Starsky had clammed up. "You really didn't figure it out."
"Starsky, you're giving me a headache."
"I always thought you did, and I guess.... I didn't lie in the report. I listed everything that happened in order, but nobody ever asked me the next question. Hell, Hutch, I could've righted the motorcycle and gone after them again. Nothing was wrong with it. I rode back on it, remember? I could've called for a backup -- there was a black-and-white right around the corner and I knew it, but I went for the rifle...." He trailed off, twisting the ring on his little finger.
Hutch let the silence stand a beat. "And hitting the gas tank was not an accident."
"I aimed for it. I didn't stop to think how we were gonna find the girl. I didn't think about anything, except what I'd just seen, and all I knew was that they weren't going to get away with it."
Hutch's fingers stilled the nervous twisting motion of his own. "Aw, babe, it's all right."
"Even though it...'lessens' me?"
"It -- ? Oh." Hutch pulled his hand away. "Damn. I didn't mean to -- " Silence fell, stretched, until the blond broke it. "People who live in glass houses.. I'm sorry."
Starsky shrugged. "You didn't know then. Now you do. Warts and all."
"I'll take it."
"You got it, as long as you know that neither one of us can afford to throw stones."
"I hear you."
Starsky went on to the next subject. "I've been thinkin'. Lately, when I thought you were just moody, or tired, or contrary, you've really been scared, haven't you?"
"Terrified," Hutch admitted.
"Hey, it's not so bad. It's over now."
Hutch leaned back onto his elbows, an attempt at looking relaxed. "Well, you know what they say about trial by fire. The worst part is dreading it. Once you've been through it, it won't faze you anymore. After last night, I just might be over it."
"Do you really believe that?"
"I'm not sure," his partner first said, his confident pose wavering, then crumbling, and he added in a tone of confession, "No, Starsky, I don't. I've been trying to decide -- I don't know what's best for us, for you, for me...but I know that we can't -- I mean, I can't, so we should...God, there's no easy way to say this, but -- "
Whatever it was, suddenly, instinctively, Starsky knew he didn't want to hear it. He rushed to interrupt his partner, get his own piece said. "You don't have to. This is it. We're off the streets as of now."
"Don't humor me," Hutch snapped irritably, sitting up.
"I'm serious." He raised his hand to stop Hutch from arguing. "No, just shut up and listen for a change. You know that bein' a cop is the only thing I ever wanted. Okay, I've been that. I've been a good one, and I also know how much of that I owe to you. Yesterday, I had to face something. I'm older now, slower. But you know something? That didn't bother me as much as I thought it would. It had to end sometime. There's no sense in waitin' around until I can't measure up anymore, get myself killed, get you killed."
Starsky sat up, leaned close to his partner. "Either fate'll decide sooner or later -- or we can, now. We won't exactly be goin' out with a whimper, will we? We're off the streets; that's from me. If you want to quit altogether, I'm with you, no regrets, and that's the God's honest truth."
"Starsky, you worked so hard after Gunther to make it back."
"Yeah, but I proved I can do it. Now, I can leave outta my own choice."
"Not yours," Hutch pointed out.
"All right. Ours. I don't see a difference." The distinction had blurred through the years. He didn't think either one of them could untangle it any more.
"Very. What do you say?" The blond wouldn't speak. Instead, he turned away. "Not in the rules, babe. Look at me and talk to my face."
Hutch obeyed. "You know, in all my life I don't remember one single person doing anything simply because I wanted it done -- until you."
"Aw, Hutch, don't go blowin' it all out of proportion. I mean, all this time you wanted out, but you stayed because of me. What's so different about this?"
"I'm not that selfless, Starsk. Obviously I wanted to stay with you more than I wanted to leave without you, or I could've just left, right?"
Starsky jumped in. It wasn't often that Hutch dug himself into a hole during a discussion and he wasn't going to let the opportunity pass. "By the same token, I could've just said 'Go.' Obviously, I wanna go with you more than I wanna stay without you, and there's still no differ -- " He paused and listened to what they'd just said. "Hutch, I think we're havin' the silliest conversation we've ever had."
The blond chuckled. "You topped this many times all by your lonesome. If you mean mutually silly, well, maybe, I don't know. But I think we've just had a textbook example of talking in circles and getting nowhere new."
At least, nowhere we haven't been at for the better part of a decade, Starsky decided. "So you wanna quit the force?"
The blond took a while to answer, and when he did, he sounded like it was a revelation to himself as well. "No, no I don't. We've got a lot of years invested. We have knowledge, experience, things that make a difference. I don't want to waste all that. I don't know if I could even if I tried. We can at least pass all that on. There've got to be ways we can be useful off the streets. Any ideas?"
Starsky nodded. I knew it, he crowed privately. When it comes right down to it, you're not a quitter. You can't stop caring. All you wanted to do was to shed the really heavy load. Happy to oblige, partner. "Lots, but we've got time to discuss 'em. Let's wrap up this case first. Then we'll just take some time off, go somewhere, and plan."
"Take time off? I've got a suspension coming up, remember?"
"Fine, I'll take leave." Starsky sank back down into the bed. "So, where would you like to go?"
Generously, Hutch left it up to him. "Your choice."
Briefly, tempting visions of lively clubs, exotic settings, comfy rooms and room service beckoned. Then he looked up at the blond head bent over him, watching over him, remembered how the quiet wilds revitalized his partner, smoothed the tensions out of his face and body, how healthy he'd start to look in just a few days. The whys and the hows of that change were a total mystery to Starsky, but that didn't change the fact he wanted to see the transformation, hear him laugh freely, without a care, more than he cringed from being footsore and all the creepy, crawly things he knew would haunt him. "Take me campin'."
Hutch's expression was predictable. "You mean it?"
"Yeah, just be gentle with me, huh?"
His partner laughed, and already, just at the notion, a measure of that unfettered, clear ring was in the sound. "How many times can you be a virgin? Don't tell me. In the woods, forever. Okay, I'll take good care of you. I won't push."
Starsky started to say something which ended up in a huge yawn.
"Still tired?" the blond asked.
Starsky stretched, feeling as lazy as a cat basking in the sun. "It's gonna take me days to catch up on the sleep I lost on this case."
"So take a nap. We got time."
"Good idea. Set the alarm and join me, huh? You lost more sleep than I did."
"Yeah, okay." Hutch set the alarm, then started to rise.
"If you're goin' to the couch, I'm gonna wrestle you into this bed, and think what would happen to our reputations then."
"I don't want to -- "
"You won't disturb me," Starsky jumped in. "Got news for you, partner. I don't know how you sleep otherwise, but you hardly even move when I'm around."
Hutch looked intrigued. "Really?" He chuckled when Starsky held up the scout's-honor sign. "Hmmm. Guess it figures."
Starsky didn't ask. With him safely in bed, Hutch probably had one less thing to worry about. The blond unceremoniously pushed him to clear a space for himself, then settled in. "Don't let the -- " Starsky started, got interrupted.
"You watch your own teeth and the rest of the bedbugs will behave just fine, thank you."
"Oh, yeah?" Starsky made a mock-ferocious lunge toward his partner, but when he completed the move, he had left a soft kiss on the blond's temple. He grinned into the surprised eyes. "Tit for tat," he explained. "I owed you that one."
"I t-thought you were asleep. Didn't t-think you'd notice." Hutch clamped his mouth shut, looking peeved.
Starsky recognized his partner's reaction to his own stammering. Mercilessly, he added to it. "You're blushin', too." Hutch glared at him. Starsky was about to continue the teasing, but got caught by a yawn again. "Damn, I'm sleepy."
"So sleep already, and give me a break."
"Okay. Promise to do it in my own bed tonight. You might think yours is gettin' too populated."
Hutch tugged away a portion of the cover. "In case you haven't noticed, candidates aren't lined up at the door."
Starsky closed his eyes. "Oh, by default, huh?"
After some companionable minutes, Starsky shifted to a more comfortable position, found his forehead against his partner's shoulder. Drowsily, he leaned into it, only marginally awake.
"Maybe landslide," he thought he heard Hutch whisper. Then he was asleep.
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