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HAVE I TOLD YOU LATELY HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU?

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“Hutch? You ‘wake?”

“I’m talkin’ to you on the phone, what do you think?”

“I think I can’t sleep.”

“So I need to be awake too?”

“Hey, I’m sorry. Go back to sleep.”

“Starsk. What’s wrong?’

“I don’t know. This week has been hard. That little girl being murdered, then Babcock getting shot. I just can’t sleep.”

“I know Buddy.”

“Could I… do you want… what if…?”

“Yeah… all the above Starsk.”

“I’ll stop and pick up a couple six packs. You want anything else?”

“No. I got food. And before you say anything… I have food even you’ll eat. Plus I just ordered a pizza.”

“Have I told you lately how much I love ya’ Blintz? See ya’ in fifteen minutes.”

“Yeah yeah… same here Gordo.”

Hutch hung up the phone and quickly called the pizza place for a delivery. He knew Starsky had been deeply affected by the events of the last week. So had he. He was just glad they would be able to talk about it. Get it off both of their minds.

He put some albums on the turntable and started it. He got plates and napkins out and put them on the coffee table. He was more than ready to talk to his partner and help him deal with this week. And truthfully, he could use an ear too.

*****

Starsky stopped at the liquor store halfway between his and Hutch’s place. He was happy he didn’t have to spend tonight at his place… alone. He was whistling as he walked into the store, totally unaware of what was happening.

“Stop right there! Don’t move!”

He looked up and realized he had walked into the middle of an armed robbery. He saw the clerk behind the counter with a gun being held to his head by a young punk who was sweating and shaking. He held his hands up, hoping his jacket didn’t gape open enough for his gun to show.

“Move over by the cooler. Real slow and keep your hands up.”

Starsky thought it looked like the robber was high on something. He was probably looking for more money to buy enough stuff to keep him high. “Look buddy. I just came in to buy some beer.” He moved over toward the coolers as the robber had told him to do.

The store owner knew he was a cop. He just hoped he wouldn’t do anything to let the punk know that until he’d had a chance to figure out what to do.

“You… you’re a cop! Do something!”

Well so much for that idea.

Starsky reached for his gun as he saw the robber shove the store owner to the floor, fire a shot at him then turn the gun toward him. He had his gun out of his holster and fired it at the robber, as he felt an excruciating pain in the center of his chest. His hand dropped the gun even as he looked down to see red bloom over his shirt.

He saw the robber fall to the floor.

His knees suddenly got weak and wouldn’t hold him up anymore. As he fell to the floor he thought of Hutch. Of how mad he would be that he had gotten himself killed. He closed his eyes, the pain overwhelming him.

He escaped into the blackness swirling around him.

*****

Hutch paid for the pizza and put it on the coffee table. He walked over to stand by the window and look down the street. “Starsky must have gotten sidetracked or something. He should have been here by now.

“Come on Starsk. I wanna’ eat this while it’s hot.”

Ten minutes later he called Starsky’s house. There was no answer. “Maybe he got stopped by a train or wreck or something.” But there was an uneasy feeling in the pit of his stomach.

He waited another five minutes and ran down to his car. “Zebra 3 to dispatch.”

“Go ahead Zebra 3.”

“Has Starsky called in… anything in the last hour?”

“No. There’s been no traffic from him.”

“Would you try to radio him? He was supposed to meet me at my place over thirty minutes ago.”

“10-4.” Hutch heard the page go out for Zebra 3. He waited to hear Starsky’s voice. Dispatch radioed twice more. “Hutch?”

“Yeah. I know. Thanks.” He slid out of his car and stood there looking up and down the street. “Where are you Starsk?”

He didn’t have his gun on him so he went back upstairs to get it. If he was going to go looking for his missing partner, he wanted to be ready… in case. He slipped on his holster and grabbed his car keys. He decided he would drive the route Starsky usually took when he came over.

*****

Halfway between his place and Starsky’s he saw the Torino parked in front of the liquor store they usually shopped at. It was parked in a red zone which was so typical of his partner. He pulled up behind the Torino and started walking toward the door.

Something wasn’t right. He couldn’t see anyone standing behind the counter. That uneasy feeling was back… ten times worse than it had been. He pulled his gun as he approached the door.

His vision was snagged by the sight of something blue and white on the floor at the end of one of the aisles. His heart started to pound. He quickly but carefully entered the store listening for any sound that would indicate that anyone else was in the store.

He kept glancing back at that blue and white… something. Everything in him urged him to rush over to it, but he knew he had to make sure there wasn’t still a threat.

He made his way to the counter and glanced behind it. He saw the store owner lying on the floor with a bullet hole in the center of his forehead. The cash drawer was open and empty. There was a young man lying on the floor at the end of the counter. His eyes were open and fixed. Hutch picked up the gun that was on the floor close to him and tucked it in the back of his jeans.

He glanced in the security mirror that allowed the owner to look down the aisles. His heart almost stopped as he saw Starsky lying on the floor in a spreading pool of blood. Only part of his blue and white Adidas had been visible from the door.

“Starsk! NO!”

Hutch ran over to where he lay. He slid to his knees and for a second was frozen, unable to move. ”Starsk?” He reached out a hand to feel for a pulse on his neck. He could feel a faint pulse. But there was so much blood. “Hold on Buddy! I’m gonna get you some help.”

He ran back to the counter and grabbed the phone, calling for an ambulance and crime scene crew. He saw some white towels on display at the end of the aisle where Starsky was lying and grabbed a handful of them. He quickly folded several towels together and put them over the wound in Starsky’s chest. He put pressure on it to stem the flow of blood.

“Starsk… hang on. I’m here. It’s gonna be okay. Hang on.” He could hear sirens heading toward them and kept talking to him. When he saw the ambulance and police cars pull up, he started yelling.

“Get in here!! Hurry!!”

The EMTs and police rushed into the store. Hutch told them about the store owner and possible robber and one of the officers went to double check on them. The EMTs physically moved Hutch to the side so they could begin to work on Starsky. He stayed as close to his partner as he could. They quickly moved him to their gurney and rushed him to the ambulance where they loaded him. Hutch started to climb in with him when his arm was grabbed and he was stopped.

“Hutch? What happened?”

“Captain Dobey! Starsky was shot. I have to go with him!”

But the doors were shut and the ambulance was pulling away with its lights and siren going.

“Captain?”

“Hutch, I’ll take you. They need the room to work on him. You might have slowed them down while they were trying to save him.”

Dobey asked Hutch for his keys, and for Starsky’s, knowing the partners had keys to each other’s cars. He called over two of the officers and asked them to drive the cars to the police garage.

He took Hutch by the arm and started him in the direction of his car. Hutch slid into the car and looked down at his hands. They were covered in Starsky’s blood. “Cap?”

Dobey looked over to see Hutch holding his hands out. He saw the blood. He had also seen the blood that had soaked into Hutch’s tan cords. There seemed to be a lot more blood than what he thought a body might hold. But he just reassured Hutch that Starsky was in good hands and they would be at the hospital in a few minutes.

*****

By the time they arrived at the hospital Starsky was already in surgery. Dobey pointed Hutch toward a bathroom and told him to wash up. While Hutch was doing that Dobey called Huggy and filled him in. He asked Huggy to go by Hutch’s and pick him up some clean clothes.

When Hutch came out of the bathroom he paced the waiting room. He kept looking at the doors leading into the surgical suite where they were working on his partner. Captain Dobey kept a close eye on him, afraid he might try charging into the OR.

Hutch would pace, sit for a few minutes then stand up and start to pace again. Dobey finally got him to sit down. “Tell me what happened son.”

While Hutch told Captain Dobey his gaze remained fixed on the doors. “He… he said… ‘Have I told you lately how much I love ya’ Blintz?’ And I… I just said ‘yeah, same here Gordo’. What if that’s the last thing he ever hears from me, Cap’n?”

Dobey put his hand on Hutch’s shoulder and squeezed. “Ken, Starsky knows how much you love him. He knows.”

Hutch stood up and started pacing again, running his fingers through his hair. He was surprised to see Huggy show up. Even more surprised when Huggy handed him some of his own clothes and pointed him to the bathroom to change out of his blood-soaked ones. “Thanks Hug. Thanks Cap’n.” He stopped before he went into the wash room. “You’ll come get me if…”

“Yeah my blond brother. Go change.” Huggy motioned for Hutch to go on.

As soon as the door shut Huggy turned to Dobey. “What’er his chances?”

Dobey looked to be sure Hutch was still inside the bathroom. “Not good Huggy. Not good at all. He took a bullet to his chest at close range. He lost a lot of blood.” He looked at the bathroom door again. “I don’t know if Hutch will be able to handle this if…”

“Yeah... if.” Huggy nodded.

They both fell silent when Hutch came back out dressed in his clean clothing.

*****

Four hours later Hutch was ready to charge through the doors and Dobey wasn’t sure if he would be able to stop him. Dobey saw a nurse heading into the surgery area and stopped her. “Could you please check on David Starsky? He’s in surgery. Could you let us know how it’s going?” Hutch had come up to stand right behind Dobey.

She smiled and said, “I’ll see if I can find out anything for you.”

“Thank you.” Both Dobey and Hutch told her.

They watched as she went through the double doors. Dobey kept a hand on Hutch’s arm, just in case.

“It’s been too long Cap’n. They’re losing him. I’m losing him.”

“Ken, he was shot in the chest. Remember when you were shot? It took them almost five hours. Starsky was sure you were dying. But you didn’t. Have faith son. Have faith.”

Hutch walked back to one of the chairs and slumped into it. He put his head in his hands. Dobey thought he could hear him saying prayers. Dobey said a few more himself.

When the nurse came back out Hutch jumped up to meet her. “Well? Is he… is he going to make it?”

She smiled at him. “They’re finishing up now. He’s still in critical condition, but he made it through the surgery. It’s going to be touch and go but his doctors are cautiously optimistic.” She reached out and squeezed his shoulder. “Keep praying. And believing. That’s the best thing you can do for your friend now. The surgeon will be out as soon as he’s sure Mister Starsky is stable.” She walked away, leaving Hutch standing between hope and despair.

*****

It was another hour before the surgeon, in blood-splattered scrubs, came out the doors. He walked over to Dobey and Hutch who had both stood up.

“Doctor… ?”

“He’s alive. We got the bullet out and the bleeding stopped. The bullet split into three pieces when it hit his breast bone. One piece lodged there, one was close to his right lung and the other piece nicked his heart.”

Hutch paled and swayed on his feet. Dobey grabbed him and made him sit down. He sat beside him. The surgeon sat down across from them.

“He lost a lot of blood, but at this point he’s stable. As stable as someone could be in his situation. We should know more in the next twenty four hours how he’s going to do.”

“Can I see him?” Hutch looked at the doctor with a desperate look in his eyes.

The surgeon knew about the partners. He had heard other doctors talking about how they seemed to be able to ‘heal’ each other just by their presence. “I’ll have someone come and get you. I would tell you ‘short visits only’ but am guessing that would be wasting my breath, right?”

Hutch managed a small quick smile and nodded in affirmation.

“Thank you.” Hutch shook his hand.

“I need to go check him in recovery. It’ll be about thirty minutes before he’ll be settled in a room in ICU.” The surgeon stood and walked back through the doors to the surgical area.

“I’m going to go call the station and get some blood donors down here. Between you and that partner of yours, I’m surprised any of my officers have any blood left.” Dobey could have kicked himself for mentioning all the blood Starsky had lost.

But Hutch just flashed him that quick small smile and nodded toward the phone. “Tell them thanks from me and Starsk.”

*****

Almost two hours later a nurse came out and told Hutch to come with her. Dobey left to go to the station. He told Hutch to call with an update or if he needed a ride home. Dobey figured that wouldn’t happen because Hutch wouldn’t leave until Starsky was out of danger. Unless he died.

Hutch knew what he would see when he walked into Starsky’s room, but he was still shocked. It was hard to see his vibrant and full of life partner so still. He took the chair that was by the wall and moved it close to the bed. He sat down and reached out to cover Starsky’s hand with his own. He made himself as comfortable as he could in the hard chair and resolved himself to stay as long as the nursing staff would let him.

He began to talk to Starsky in a low voice. He knew the first thing he had to say to him.

“Starsk, I… uh… I need to apologize to you. When we talked on the phone you told me you love me. And I kinda blew you off by saying ‘yeah me too’. I should have told you that I love you too. Because I do. Love you. You’re the best thing that’s ever happened in my life. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without you in it.” He had to stop to compose himself. He didn’t want to start crying now. He’d managed to hold himself together so far and didn’t want to lose that control now.

“Huggy and Dobey and all the guys at the station are pulling for you Starsk. Dobey said he’s surprised any of his officers have any blood left because of how much the two of us have needed. But he was just kidding. He’d give up half of his blood for you. For me too, I suppose.”

“Billings drove the Torino back to the garage at the station. I’m sure he was careful with her. He knows you’ll put a dent in him for any and all dents on her.”

“Starsk, I know… that some part of you hears me. I can remember hearing you talking to me when I was where you are now. Maybe not the exact words but I heard you. So I hope you’re hearing me now. I hope you hear me say ‘not to go. Not to leave me’. I don’t think I could go on without you.

“You’re my rock, my anchor. You keep me from flying off on some tangent. You don’t let me get all full of myself or take myself too seriously. You’re good for me Buddy. I need you. I’m sure you know that. Just like you need me.

“You sometimes want to jump in head first without knowing if the water’s deep enough or not. You need me to test the depths, to make sure you’ll be safe when you do jump.

“So you have to come back now because I’m not there to test the waters for you.”

Hutch quit talking and just sat holding onto Starsky’s hand. Letting him know though his touch that he wasn’t alone, anchoring him to this world. He rubbed his face with his other hand feeling it come away damp from tears he hadn’t known he was crying. He blinked away the tears and took a deep breath.

He had to be strong now.

For both of them.

*****

Hutch had slept on one of the couches in the waiting room for thirty minutes at a time during the night while the nurses worked with Starsky… turning him and changing dressings. Sometimes he stayed in the room but some of the nurses made him leave. They would come and get him when they were through. The rest of the time he dozed in the chair by Starsky’s bed. He kept holding Starsky’s hand and talking to him. He told him that the robber had died and that he had been wanted in connection with three other deaths during liquor store robberies.

Every now and then he would squeeze Starsky’s hand and pray for a return movement. But so far his hand had remained still. He would have willed his own life into Starsky if he could have. He hated to see Starsky’s perpetual movement stilled.

Huggy and Dobey stopped by the next morning. Hutch told them both there hadn’t been any change but the surgeon said he was still holding his own. They both tried to get Hutch to leave for a while but Hutch refused. “My place is here with my partner. I have to stay until… “ Hutch faltered for a few seconds. “Until he’s awake and moved out of ICU. It’s what he would do for me.”

After they left Hutch read the comics in the paper to Starsky. He knew his partner read them first. He hoped they might spark something in him. But Starsky remained unmoving.

He had left the ICU to go to the bathroom that afternoon. As he was coming out of the bathroom one of the ICU nurses was running toward him. He ran the few steps to meet her. “What?!”

“Come quick! I think he needs you!”

They both hurried back into the ICU room. Hutch stood and stared as Starsky’s hand moved over the sheet searching for… ? He noticed Starsky’s body seemed tense.

Hutch quickly sat down and grabbed his hand in both of his. “I’m here Buddy. Had to go to the bathroom but I’m here now. It’s ok. I’m here.” He squeezed Starsky’s hand and felt a slight squeeze in return. He had tears running down his face but he didn’t release the hand he was holding to wipe them away.

After a few seconds Starsky seemed to relax. The nurse had gone to page the doctors and they came walking in. Both the nurse and Hutch told them what they had seen. Hutch refused to move or release Starsky’s hand. The doctors quickly checked Starsky from head to toe. One of them wanted to check his pulse in the hand Hutch was holding, so he let go of it, reluctantly. As soon as he did Starsky moved that hand over the sheets and frown lines appeared on his forhead. Hutch took his hand again. “I’m still here Starsk. I’m still here.”

The doctors were amazed and both told Hutch they were more hopeful than ever about Starsky’s chances of recovery. “You hear that partner? Docs say you’re gonna come out of this!”

When the doctors and nurses had left the room, Hutch brought Starsky’s hand to his mouth and kissed the back of it. “Damn Babe… you’ve come this far… come the rest of the way back to me. I need you to come back. I… I really can’t make it without you. I wouldn’t know how to… live without you. My world would be empty… black.”

Hutch put his head down on the bed on top of the hand he was holding. He was so tired yet he was encouraged by Starsky moving his hand. He allowed his emotions to overwhelm him for a little while. He tried to be quiet but he knew his sobs were probably heard by some of the nurses. He couldn’t help it. He couldn’t hold in his emotions now.

As he quietly cried he felt Starsky moving his hand again. Out of his grip. He kept his head on the bed and reached for his hand again. But Starsky pulled it away and Hutch felt it drop on the back of his head. He felt Starsky’s fingers comb through his hair.

He sat up reaching up to grab his hand in his again. He wiped his tears away with his other hand. When his vision was clear he looked at Starsky’s face. His eyes were open and fixed on Hutch. “Starsk?”

“Hu..sch. K’?”

Hutch closed his eyes for a moment. “Yeah… yeah Starsk… I’m okay. Just… just glad to have you back with me.” He smiled even though new tears were falling down his cheeks. “Welcome back Starsk. Have I… have I ever told you… how much I love you?”

“All… the… time… Hu..sch.”

*****

Three weeks later Starsky was back on duty. He swears it was mostly Hutch’s mother-henning of him. Hutch would just smile and remind Starsky that he himself was a master at that. Then they would both laugh and life would go on.

But Hutch had learned a crucial lesson. He still teased his partner unmercifully. But anytime Starsky told him that he loved Hutch, Hutch would immediately tell him the same thing. He never wanted to feel that regret again.