It was like trying to catch lightning. The glint of his eyes, his chest a flash/blur of blue motion, always at the edge of Hutch's fingertips. Starsky was always just out of reach.
At night, alone at home, Hutch would recapture the day, isolating the moments that were real, meaningful, usually contained within a quick glance beneath dipped lashes, there and then gone again. He would savor them and then bottle them away. He had a storehouse filled with them, some more important than most—the pressure of a curly head against his before he took the cheap automatic and tucked it into his waistband, or the press of a leather clad, trembling form. 'It hurts, Hutch. God, it hurts.'
Some memories would have no obvious significance at all. Just odd moments, like face cards in a deck—the look of outrage when Hutch would steal his burger, or when he'd made Starsky smile with some lame joke. 'Runs better that way.'
Some were deeper than his bones, like the moment he had crawled into Starsky's hospital bed after Gunther failed to destroy them, and Hutch had felt the eternal rightness of belonging. The lightning had been caged for a time after that, and Hutch had had leisurely hours and days of observation while Starsky recovered. But the price was too high, and it hurt more to see the quickness tamed. Those moments were tainted by sorrow.
And then there were the two he stored in a museum vault, the moments when Starsky had turned to him, stilled by his own accord, seeking Hutch's lips and arms and solace after Helen, after Terry. Those images were too precious to pull into the light, for fear it would leach them of their colors.
They were running. Starsky was just ahead, his windbreaker flapping as he took the corner and then dove back from a shot fired to collide with Hutch in a tangle of limbs and heavy weight. The air left Hutch's lungs in a rush, and the hand holding the Magnum smacked painfully against the brick wall. They scrambled to disengage and then shared a glance.
Starsky held up two fingers and Hutch nodded. Starsky moved, and Hutch snaked his arm around the edge of the building to give cover fire, the cannon bucking in his numbed hand as Starsky crossed the open space before ducking behind a dumpster.
Two beats, and then Hutch took his turn to dive behind a steel barrel on the opposite side. His hasty glimpse of the alleyway had revealed the two perps hiding in plain sight behind a parked car. He heard their taunts and semi-hysterical laughter echoing down the walls. Hopped up. Angel dust? At the very least. The carnage they had left behind at the liquor store was the work of someone seriously unhinged. Hutch looked across at Starsky and saw he had picked up on it, too. There was dread in the set of the shoulders beneath the blue jacket. Dusters never went down easy.
Starsky nodded to him, and Hutch was glad to hear the sound of sirens around the corner as he scoped out the next bit of cover. Just as he prepared to move, painful thunder roared beside his head, deafening him and shocking him forward. He turned and saw a smoking hole in the barrel next to where his head had been. What the fuck? He shot a glance at Starsky and saw the panic in the blue and suddenly he was afraid.
Get out, get out! cried the voice in his mind, and he shouted the message to Starsky as he moved to give cover, because these hopheads must have a fucking .22 rifle or an elephant gun or some shit, but even as Hutch started to fire, he felt something smack him on the shoulder and heard/felt the deadened report like a whuff in his already deafened ears, and then heat and ice both flashed through him and he knew he was hit.
Cheaters. It was so unfair. Didn't they know he always played by the rules?
More faint crackle sounds, like distant firecrackers, and then he was being pulled backward. He couldn't even remember going down, but he must've, because his ass was dragging along the ground, the heels of his boots skittering over the cracked cement until there was a solid wall beside him, and Starsky's concerned face staring down at him, his mouth moving.
"What?" Hutch said, but he couldn't hear his own voice, either, and anyway it was just as well, because right then the pain grabbed his shoulder in a vise and his back arched off the ground trying to escape the pressure. From Starsky's hands, he realized. They had never caused him pain before, but they were now, and he tried to writhe away but there were more hands on his legs, holding him down.
He thought he might've screamed then, but he couldn't hear it.
'Hutch! Hutch! NO! Oh, God!
He was swaying, speeding over the ground. Ahead of him, he could see the blur of Starsky's legs flashing fast, and he tried to give chase. He reached out, so close, so close...and then a jolt shot through his chest and he fell.
The lightning fled.
There was coolness on his forehead, and the darkness receded to the green-blue of hospital walls. Tight heat in his shoulder made him wince, and the coolness went away. He blinked a few times and the brown fuzz above him resolved into Huggy Bear's friendly face. Huggy's mouth moved.
Hey. He felt the vibration in his throat and lips, but heard only a muffled murmur of sound. Where's Starsky?
Huggy frowned with concern, and panic made Hutch's heart kick. Did they get him?
A quick headshake, but the frown remained. Then a bunch of words. Hutch couldn't peel the meaning from the moving lips and he closed his eyes again, hiding in the black.
The next time he woke up his mouth was parched as an old newspaper. He swallowed and whispered 'Water' to the empty air. A nurse appeared and gave him a few chips of ice. He let them evaporate into the desert of his mouth.
"More?" she asked, and Hutch realized with relief that he could hear her well enough to understand. He nodded, and she gave him a few more pieces of ice.
"Are you in pain?" she asked.
Stupid question. Only it wasn't so bad right now, a burning ache instead of a devil with teeth. He shook his head and wondered how bad his injury was.
And where was Starsky?
He dozed a few more restless hours and then awoke fully when Huggy returned. He was carrying some flowers and cards. He started talking some jive about not knowing Hutch even had that many friends but Hutch stopped him with a glance.
"Where is he? And speak up, would ya? I can't hear so well yet."
Huggy sighed and put down the flowers on the side table. He pulled up a chair.
"I don't know. He called me and told me you were here, could I look after you for a while? Then the dude just hung up."
What'd I do? Hutch worried at it, but made an effort to smile at his friend. It must've been a pretty dismal attempt, because Huggy's long face drew even longer, and he put his hand on Hutch's arm.
"I think this just hit him pretty hard, so soon after what happened to him. But it'll be okay, Hutch. You know our boy. "
Yeah, he knew. The old duck and hide. Starsky had learned, too young, to shield others from his pain. But Hutch had thought he'd earned the inside track. Maybe it was because this time Hutch was the cause, not the cure. But it's not like I meant to get shot.
"If you talk to him, tell him..." Hutch didn't finish. The pain decided to make a play for his attention, and he lay gasping for a while. He didn't even notice Huggy had left his side until he returned with a nurse who had a syringe full of something good.
Hutch went away for a while.
His surgeon had nothing amusing to say. A pin in his collarbone and a fair amount of muscle damage. More physical therapy than he could shake a stick at, all waiting in his future. He remembered each painful moment of Starsky's rehabilitation as if it had been his own, and dread sank in.
They changed his bandages, and two brilliant burn marks on his chest stirred his memory and told him what no one had mentioned to him, as yet.
I guess I died.
Okay, so it was his turn. No white light, no tunnel, just as he'd always suspected. But he had seen Starsky, so he knew there was a Heaven.
Where are you?
When Hutch woke up again, Starsky was there. The tangled mass of brown curls looked dirty, dull. So did the blue eyes staring down at him.
Hutch opened his mouth and cleared the stickiness in his throat to say, "Came to see if I pulled through?"
Starsky winced and looked away. "I been keeping tabs."
"Good of you." But the sarcasm was only a feeble disguise. It was wrong, anyway. One look at his partner showed him Starsky had been going through something bad—worse, maybe, than a gunshot wound. But Hutch couldn't push past the hurt to ask; he just didn't have the energy.
He turned his head to the side, relieved by the comforting crackle of linen shifting against his cheek. His hearing was now almost at a hundred percent, and every creak of Starsky's leather jacket registered as a complaint against the tension Hutch sensed in the taut form.
"I'm going home tomorrow," Hutch said, for want of anything else. It was neutral enough.
"I know. I'll take you."
When he didn't say more, the silence stretched like nerve-endings, humming with painful impulses, until Hutch couldn't take it anymore.
"I'm sorry. They shot me through two layers of steel for chrissake. How is that my fault?" He tried to sound angry, but it came out pitiful, begging.
Heavy sigh. "It's not."
He felt a warm touch on his good shoulder. A brief squeeze, and then it was gone.
"I'll be back tomorrow," Starsky said.
Hutch waited until he had turned away before following him with his eyes.
The next morning Hutch felt better than he had since getting shot. He'd finally gotten used to sleeping sitting up, and the good sleep had helped ease the ache in his collarbone. He begged off his pain medication and had the nurse help him get dressed and refasten his sling tight. By the time Starsky arrived—promptly, for once—Hutch was fully dressed and waiting, eager to escape.
Starsky looked better, too. His hair was clean and his eyes looked less weary. He even had a smile for the nurse as he charmed her into letting him push Hutch's wheelchair. But she followed alongside anyway, and Hutch bit his tongue, conscious of her presence and anxious to be alone with his partner.
There was an awkward moment when both tried to help him up out of his chair and into the car, until Hutch waved them off and did it for himself. He settled into the seat, trying to find a comfortable position, and listened to their muffled goodbyes.
Once Starsky had started the Torino and moved into traffic, the words wouldn't wait any longer.
"Where were you?" Hutch asked gruffly.
Starsky's hands tightened on the wheel, and there was a pause while he looked over his shoulder and changed lanes.
"I'm sorry I wasn't there, Hutch. I was going...I-I had to go think."
When nothing more followed, Hutch whispered, "What'd I do?" He must've done something. What else could have kept Starsky away when he was laid up in a hospital bed? He had been trying to figure it out for days now, had shuffled obsessively through his memories of the past weeks searching for his hidden sin, but had found nothing. All he could think of was Starsky had found out, somehow, how badly Hutch wanted to hold him, to catch the lightning. To make it his, forever. But he knew Starsky, knew that the worst that could happen would be a kind refusal. It couldn't be anything worse than that, could it?
Unless finding out had changed the way Starsky looked at him. As a man. As a partner.
"You didn't do anything, Hutch," Starsky said finally, so patient, like he was talking to a child. Hutch felt the sting, a burn to his face, and he looked out the side window, not wanting to hear the rest.
But Starsky continued, "It's...what you are. What we are—"
Starsky looked over at him, startled.
"I said 'pull over!'" Hutch said, gritting his teeth. Starsky took a quick survey of the traffic and then shot across three lanes to pull them to the curb. Hutch made the awkward reach across his body, yanking the door handle with this good hand and hauling himself out of the car. He heard Starsky get out and slam the door behind him, but Hutch didn't pause in his slow steps.
He saw a bus stop halfway down the block and headed toward it. His feet moved through molasses.
The universe was imploding, a big bang in reverse, and all he could do was wonder if he'd bottled enough memories to hold him the rest of his life. How many winks? How many grins? How many times had Starsky tilted his head at him in exasperation, or nudged his shoulder, or kicked him in the ass?
Or kissed him?
Two times, for that last, both still burning so brightly, untarnished by review.
Hutch dropped down onto the bench, grateful for the distracting flare of pain. A pair of strong legs in faded denim stopped before him, but Hutch didn't look up.
"I'm sorry." Hutch's voice failed him for a moment, and he swallowed heavily, the taste like bile. "Nothing changed, it just grew so strong, you know? But it was always there. Always. It's nothing new. Nothing so terrible."
Starsky squatted down and his hands came up to rest on Hutch's knees. Absently, Hutch memorized the touch and wondered if it would be the last.
"What the hell are you talking about, Blintz? Huh?" Starsky's voice was gentle—his hands, too, as they squeezed his legs lightly. "Why did you run away? Why can't I ever...."
Curiosity did what the touch could not. Hutch raised his eyes to look into Starsky's face. Sadness. Gentle humor. Something else that made his breath hitch, although he didn't understand why.
"Can't ever?" Hutch said. A breeze lifted the hair from his cheek, then trapped it against his temple.
"Catch you," Starsky finished, giving a wry smile.
"I'm here," Hutch said numbly, not understanding. "I've always been here."
"Yeah, always. Always right next to me, but not where I could see you. These past two years, it seems like you're always running, somehow or other."
Hutch looked down again. The confusion was pushing some of the hurt from his chest, but he was still afraid, so afraid.
Starsky sighed and rose to sit next to him on the bench. "Most of the time it's just your eyes running from me."
Hutch had to admit the truth of that, even as he protested in a mumble, "You're the one who can't be caught."
There was silence, then Starsky whispered, "When did you last try, huh?"
Hutch thought back. When had he? He'd shoved the memory away as painful, even though the rebuff had been gentle. It was just after he'd been sick, and they'd dropped Judith at the airport. Hutch had been feeling like a million bucks, in spite of losing the lady. She wasn't important, anyway, except as a symbol.
Starsky had driven him home to tuck him in as promised, and Hutch had felt it all well up and crest like a wave, and had tumbled his partner onto the bed. But Starsky had turned his head aside in favor of just holding him, stilling his eager hands. Hutch had been so exhausted he probably couldn't have gotten it up, anyway, but it had hurt. Badly.
"Two years ago," Hutch said at last. Try as he might he couldn't raise his voice over the traffic noise. He sensed Starsky's nod.
"Maybe you should try again."
Hutch raised his head at that, staring with utter disbelief into the dark blue eyes.
"But first," Starsky said, "there's something I have to tell you. What I figured out while you were laid up. And maybe you won't like it so much. Maybe you won't want to...go along."
Go along? The man was a nutcase. Didn't he know that Hutch would go along with anything he asked? Always.
"Just name it," Hutch said hoarsely. But his shoulder took that exact moment to cry murder, and he groaned involuntarily.
"C'mon, let's get you home first," Starsky said, sounding eager for a reprieve. Hutch let him help him to his feet, and they went back to the car.
On the drive, Hutch had to keep looking over at Starsky's profile. He's still here. Starsky caught him at it, turning his head to glance at him, and for once Hutch forced himself not to look away.
He was rewarded with a shy smile.
Maybe the universe wasn't ending, after all.
"Is that good?" Starsky had him propped up in bed. He'd raided the place for every available pillow until Hutch felt like he was drowning in feathers.
"It's good. It's fine." Hutch was impatient. And in pain, although he'd just taken another pill at Starsky's insistence. He was worried at this point he would fall asleep before Starsky could explain what the hell was going on in that Byzantine brain of his.
"Need anything to drink? You hungry?"
"Cut it out."
Starsky sighed and sat on the side of the bed, bending one knee so he could face him. He looked down at his hands, and then up at Hutch's face.
"Hutch, you ever think how crazy our life is?"
Hutch gave an involuntary snort.
"Yeah, okay," Starsky said, "but you have to admit that, even for cops, we get more than our share of bad luck." Starsky looked to the side. "And good luck, too. I mean I got you as a partner, didn't I?" His voice dropped low. "That's about the best luck there is."
"You going soapy on me?" Hutch said, trying to ignore the catch in his voice and the swelling in his chest.
Starsky looked down at his hands again, and Hutch realized it he was looking at the twin rings on his pinkie. His father's rings.
"I've never really trusted to luck, much," Starsky said quietly. "Guess I stopped believing in it a while back. Not for any of the real important stuff."
Hutch cleared his throat. "Not surprising, buddy."
"Yeah, well. It doesn't mean I don't believe in Fate, though. I believe in her, plenty, and I don't believe in tempting her, if you get my drift."
Not really. But keep talking. Because I can't stop looking at you. He finally had Starsky close and staying still for him.
"I always knew, see, that you and me, we could...we could be something else, you know?" Starsky sounded embarrassed, now. "You and me, together, I mean."
The swelling in his chest grew to a sharp almost-pain, and Hutch exhaled quickly to relieve the pressure.
Starsky looked up at the sound and examined his face. "Aw, Hutch. You had to know that's what I thought. What I've always thought."
"No, I...don't. Didn't."
Starsky stared at him. "Jesus," he said softly. "You know, for a smart guy you can be pretty damned stupid."
Hutch gave a painful laugh, the tightness clutching his throat almost unbearable. He wanted me. All this time. But then, why?
His eyes must've revealed his confusion, because Starsky shifted forward. "Hutch, I'm sorry, but I just wasn't ready. I couldn't put all my eggs in one basket. You do something like that, and Fate is sure as hell gonna notice. And then she...she takes it all away."
Hutch tried, but he couldn't escape the intent blue of Starsky's eyes drilling into him.
"I couldn't lose you, Hutch. Not anyway—even if we never had anything more...but to be with you, and lose you, both...." Starsky shook his head, finally breaking the lock he had on Hutch's eyes, and Hutch looked away, mind racing, trying to absorb the information.
He could feel Starsky waiting for him, but all he could think of to say was, "But then, what's changed?"
Starsky smiled like it hurt. "Still don't get it, do ya? Hutch, you died! Right next to me, in the ambulance. Shock and blood-loss, they said. And I couldn't do anything except sit there and watch them try to bring you back. We've had some close calls, but you never up and died on me before. It hit me like lightning. It's like Fate was saying, 'If you won't claim what's yours, I'm gonna take him for my own.'" Starsky's voice turned fierce. "But you're mine, Hutch. And I ain't gonna let that bitch have you."
Hutch's head started buzzing and he suddenly realized he was breathing too fast.
Starsky looked down again, as if to give him a moment, and his voice calmed. "The only thing I ever wanted most in this life was to be a street cop. Until now." He lifted his eyes, and they glistened at Hutch like dark gems. "Now there's something else I want more. Only," his voice broke, "it won't work unless you go along with me." He took a ragged breath. "So here's what I was thinking—"
Starsky's head startled up.
"But you haven't heard—"
"Anything. Doesn't matter." Hutch spoke fast. "You want to drive a desk? You want to take the lieu's exam? You want to quit the force and open a fish store?"
Starsky pulled away, looking concerned. "Hutch, you haven't had time to think about this at all...."
Hutch choked on a laugh. "Starsky." He tried to lean closer, but had to wince back. "You idiot. Have you forgotten? Who died first?"
After a moment, he saw the concern melt into something unutterably tender. Starsky's mouth moved without sound. 'Oh, babe.'
And then...then Hutch felt it hit his chest—everything he'd been trying not to feel for fear it would overwhelm his ability to hear, to understand, to speak—and his throat closed up like a trap and he lowered his head.
"You runnin' again?" came Starsky's rough whisper.
Hutch shook his head, but still couldn't raise it.
The bed moved as Starsky shifted forward. Now Hutch was staring at Starsky's right knee, and his hands, which rose slowly to hold his face.
Then Starsky's lips touched his forehead.
Hutch closed his eyes and put it in the vault. That, and the brief tender touch to his right eyelid, and then his left, and then the feel of Starsky's cheek pressing against his, rough sand, and the silk of his lashes brushing by just after. And then their lips met, and Hutch could no longer keep up with the sensations flooding through him, over him, into him. Later, I'll remember later. But right now there was only the heat of Starsky's tongue in his mouth, demanding, possessive, until Hutch moaned and took back some of his own, diving in and tasting, each moment better than the last. Unthinking, he tried to raise his hands to touch, and reality made a swift, ugly reappearance. He cried out involuntarily, and Starsky pulled back.
They said it simultaneously, and then Starsky busted out laughing, almost hysterically, apologizing between gasps. "Sorry. Sorry, babe."
"So goddamn romantic, the way you laugh at me," Hutch mumbled, but he knew it was just as well. The sensations had been building too fast, the emotions overwhelming him, and he wasn't sure he'd survive it even if his body were at a hundred percent. Hutch sagged back against the pillows and regarded Starsky, who was still laughing a little, his mouth split in the widest grin Hutch had ever seen on him.
But the quicksilver face suddenly turned grave. "Don't ever die on me again, Hutch." Starsky's voice trembled. "Those were the worst forty-four seconds of my life. Ever."
"Starsk." Hutch couldn't speak. How could Starsky say that, after everything he had been through, everyone he had lost?
But the blue eyes holding his were dead serious.
"I promise it won't happen again, Starsk," Hutch said. He laughed ruefully. "Lightning can only strike twice, you know?"
It had the desired effect, for his partner snorted in disgust. But then his mouth drooped and he bent over to lie beside Hutch, his head resting on Hutch's stomach, one arm wrapped around his waist to hold tight.
Oh, babe. Hutch dropped his hand into the thick curls to press him closer. To hold him still.
"Caught you," he whispered. "I caught you at last."
San Francisco, CA