“I know it, and everything’s gonna be alright,” Starsky said. His own hands were starting to bother him as much as his leg, and he let go of the jacket pressed to Hutch’s belly so he could try and pick out some of the glass shards from his palm. The last thing he needed to do was to cut his partner up, while trying to save him.
“Bad guys… get away?”
Starsky really didn’t want to admit that he couldn’t remember who the bad guys were. That would mean admitting that he’d hit his head and that he wasn’t in control of what was happening to them. Hutch liked nothing better than to make order out of disorder, but it was Starsky’s turn to take care of things this time.
“I guess so,” Starsky said. “They weren’t here when I woke up.”
“G-got the drop on me. Wasn’t thinking straight after you went down, Starsk. Sorry.”
“We’ll get ‘em next time,” Starsky said. But he had something else to confess. “They got my gun, Hutch.”
“Dammit.” Immediately, Hutch groped for his own holster and cringed when he found it empty. “Mine too.”
“Paperwork,” they groaned in unison, and each snorted back a painful laugh.
“IA’s gonna kill me if this bullet doesn’t,” Hutch said, and then, Starsky didn’t feel much like smiling any more.
“I gotta get help, Hutch. You got a bullet in there, and that bleeding’s not slowing down any time soon.”
“Nothing to be sorry bout,” Starsky said, still trying to keep his partner’s hands away from the wound. “Leave it alone, willya? You’re not helping things. I’m gonna get you out of this. I promise.”
“You don’t have to. Just…just don’t leave me.”
Hutch’s breathing was starting to rattle in his chest. They were both shaking so hard, Starsky couldn’t tell where one left off and the other man started. A dandelion had sprouted in a crack between chunks of concrete. Foolishly, he almost reached for it, as if to pick off the petals. He loves me, he loves me not. Damn it all, if you love me, Hutch, don’t make me choose between saving you and staying with you while you die.
The streetlight abruptly extinguished itself again, and Starsky couldn’t see anything, until his eyes adjusted to the gloom. The city at night in shades of gray. At that moment, he hated the desiccated city that he’d dedicated his life to protecting. The only thing Starsky wanted to protect was his partner.
Hutch was scared. Starsky could tell.
“Don’t worry. It’s just dark. Nothing to be afraid of.”
A fellow could drown in this kind of dark.
Starsky could feel the city all around them, pressing in. And yet there was a hush at night that was almost a roar. In the distance, he could hear traffic, but all those drivers and cars could have been a world away for what good they did them. It was all too much. In desperation, Starsky looked up at the sky, trying to decide what to do.
In the swath of sky, he could actually see a few stars competing with the city’s light. Starsky knew a lot about stars. Hutch liked to lecture him about things like galaxies and constellations, like he was slumming it as a professor, but Starsky didn’t have the heart to tell him that he knew all about stars and the ancient light they threw. He’d gotten his own telescope for his birthday when he was nine - his dad had saved all year for it. Best present he’d ever gotten, and he gotten his first library card so he could get some books to learn all the names. But it made Hutch so damn happy to point the stars out to him that Starsky pretended he was hearing it for the first time.
“Hey, keep your eyes open for me, willya, Hutch? C’mon…look at the stars with me. Which one do you think that is?”
Hutch nodded groggily and tried squinting up, just as the streetlight blinked on again.
“Too late,” he mumbled. “Can’t… s-see stars any more.”
For some reason, the words made Starsky want to heave a brick at the damn streetlight.
“Help’s on its way.” Starsky knew he was lying more to himself than to his partner.
“Didya call for back up… ‘fore we went in?”
Starsky flinched. He really couldn’t remember what he’d done or hadn’t. Hell, he couldn’t even remember how they’d gotten into this mess in the first place. Time to fess up.
“I don’t know.”
“I called in last…your turn.”
“Oh hell, I’m sorry. I don’t know if I did. Don’t remember.”
“My head’s a little fuzzy, Blintz. Sorry.”
“Got hit by the proverbial bus?”
Starsky could almost see a hint of a smile in the moonlight.
“Talkin’ in metaphor, are we? Can’t be too bad off then.”
“Be alright. Just need to sleep for a minute… Starsk.”
“Don’t!” Starsky said sharply. “C’mon, Hutch, c’mon. Stay awake. I need you to stay with me.”
“I’m…I’m not leaving you.”
Liar. Starsky always knew when his partner was trying to protect him. Hutch could masquerade as anyone or anything while undercover, but he could never lie to his best friend.
“I need to get help.”
“Y-your leg won’t make it.”
“I’ll drag it.”
“Let it bleed.” Awkwardly, Starsky wiped at his eyes. “I gotta get an ambulance for you, buddy. You gotta let me go.”
Starsky could hear his partner’s ragged breathing, even as Hutch found his hand again. What a pair of hard-ass detectives they were - crying and holding hands in the dark.
“Hutch, nobody’ll find us here till morning. I’ll come back…you know I’ll always come back for you.”
But Hutch held on tight, shooting a hard glare at his partner. “Don’t make me do this alone.”
Starsky pulled his hand away and wiped furiously at his eyes. “You’re not doing anything,” he growled, angry right back. “You’re going to lie here and wait for me. Now, that’s an order. D’you understand?”
“I’m going,” he said and started pushing up.
But Hutch grabbed him by the arm and held on. “Don’t,” he gritted out, “tell me you’re sorry. Do…do what I want you to. You owe me…”
With a start of confusion, he realized that Hutch was actually blackmailing him. You owe me. He was playing out his hand, but Starsky couldn’t even remember the rules of the game.
I’ll forgive you if you stay.
That’s what it felt like Hutch was saying. But why the hell did he need that forgiveness anyways?
“Whatcha talking bout, Hutch?”
“Should’ve stayed down…” Hutch mumbled, closing his eyes.
Starsky was about to give his partner his best “what the hell?” look, but something nudged itself back into his memory. The muddled edges came into focus, and it started coming back to him. With a sick feeling inside, he remembered how it had gone down.
They’d been this close – so damn close to nailing Cheap Eddie, a squirmy but dangerous dealer, and his band of teenage cocaine runners, once and for all. Classic scum of the earth. Cheap Eddie took the corner into the alley, and Starsky was so sure they had him. Even though he didn’t see the other two punks poised in the shadows of the alley, Hutch sure as hell did. Yelled at Starsky to drop. That should have been enough. That’s how it was with partners. One caught what the other one missed, but Starsky didn’t play his part. The last thing he remembered was his partner’s terrified shout when the shot rang out. The impact to his leg was more surprising than painful. And then he was going down, hitting his head hard on the broken pavement….
Which was why Starsky owed Hutch, big time.
There was no question that Hutch took off down the alley, after the perps who’d shot his partner. Starsky knew that Hutch took that bullet in his gut because he’d been too terrified and furious to think like a cop. Starsky didn’t blame him - he’d been there. If one was going down, the other was going with him. No forks in the road for the two of them…they’d made that choice a long time ago.