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Myriad Ways

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The rain fell, and Hutch's eyes marked the motion, following the paths of the droplets as they crawled down the windowpane set above the desk. The pattern was unpredictable—two drops that started at the same point wended their ways to different destinations without reason.

No reason. Starsky went to the bathroom. Hutch went to the jukebox. Starsky got shot. Hutch could only watch.

The lightning flashed. Hutch counted the seconds like a little kid, waiting for the thunder. Waiting for the storm to end.

The warmth huddled next to his side was the only other thing Hutch was aware of, and he tracked time with Starsky's labored breathing. Every so often Starsky's breath would end on a low sound, not quite a moan, and Hutch would whisper, "Just a little longer, buddy. They're on
their way."

He heard Lockly give a groan from where Hutch had dumped him next to the wall. Hutch's right hand rested on the Magnum, though, so he didn't spare the wounded assassin a glance. Even if Lockly were to jump up and come at him, Hutch wasn't sure he could move. He didn't have
anything left. All his adrenaline stores had been used up in the previous hour, while he tiptoed on the high wire between one moment and the next, threading past one ugly future or another. Each second was a junction point to the myriad ways they could fall, together and

Hutch would've been alone.

Starsky mumbled something and Hutch tilted his head to let it rest against his partner's.

"What's that, Starsk?"

"Where's...other one...beady eyes?"

"He's dead," Hutch said, not without a little satisfaction. The tiny gun had barked in his hand like a toy poodle, but it had done the job without exploding in his face. No caps in Hutch's future. A misfire had been one possible. Another had been that Hutch's lack of
familiarity with the crappy automatic would throw off his aim, and then they would've had him.

And, by that same path, Starsky.

Starsky made a noise, as if he were swallowing back a sound. Hutch shifted his grip on the napkin now glued to Starsky's shoulder with his blood.

"Sorry. I'm sorry, babe. We have to wait," Hutch said. He'd briefly considered trying to get both Starsky and Lockly into the Torino to take them to the hospital himself, but the logistics were too complex for his tired brain, which felt like a squeezed-out sponge, dry and
useless. How to get them both in, and still keep the prisoner under control during the process, and while driving...impossible. Not to mention leaving the scene was against procedure.

He heard one of the customers babbling nervously in the next room and Theresa's voice riding over, soothing. Good girl. Hutch hoped she would get off lightly for her involvement. In the end, she'd come through like a star.

He could almost forgive her for her part in getting Starsky shot in the first place. Because in the end, Starsky hadn't died. That was the other possible future, the one that had repeatedly choked Hutch's heart and almost kept him from being able to act. Every time he'd left
the dingy office he'd been afraid that on his return Starsky would be gone, dead from the blood loss and the shock, or the concussion.

Too many futures, most of them ugly beyond bearing, because in most of them Starsky ended up dead.

Hutch stared at the window, not wanting to see it again, the compact form flying from the impact of the first bullet, then the second. When he'd wanted to rush to Starsky's side, Joey had stopped him with a snake's eyes. That had been the first decision point. But Lockly
had interceded, and let Hutch go to his wounded partner.

But maybe it went back further than that. Hutch frowned at the thought. Maybe it had started with the argument over scrambled eggs versus Italian. Or even before that—when the rain forced them to duck into a Chinese restaurant for lunch, so Starsky was starving after shift,
unwilling to settle for a light dinner.

The thought felt like a chasm gaping at Hutch's feet. How far back did it go?

A bell rang in the other room, and Hutch heard a deep voice.

"Hutchinson? Starsky?"

Dobey. Hutch smiled at the sound of the familiar bellow.

"In here, Cap," Hutch yelled, then gave Starsky an apologetic squeeze when he jolted from the noise. "It's over, Starsk. It's over."

But still the rain fell.