Five hours after they’re admitted to the hospital, the doc tells him Hutch is free to go. Besides him, Dobey snorts and stands up. Starsky can just make out him telling him to take Hutch home and for both of them to have the rest of the day off, but he’s too busy focusing on keeping his breakfast inside himself and memorising everything the doctor’s saying about aftercare. After all the times they’ve been shot, recovering from a bullet wound is kind of easy, but it’s Hutch.
It always is, isn’t it?
His knees crack when he stands up and he winces- he’s getting old, old for a cop, anyway, and with each passing year Starsky is starting to think about throwing in the towel more and more seriously.
Hutch was right, though. What’d they do if they weren’t cops?
Hutch usually is right.
Damned if he’ll admit that to him, though.
A huge smile breaks over Hutch’s face when Starsky enters his hospital room; he’s sitting upright on the edge of the bed, but slumped over and the way his expression softens and practically melts as he grins tells him his partner is high as a kite on painkillers. A part of Starsky rears up with fury at that realisation, fury because he knows if given a choice Hutch would do without the drugs and- well, it’s not anger, really, just worry. God, he was so fucking worried. “Hey buddy,” Hutch is practically clamouring for his attention as the nurse butterfly clip the bandage in place. “You’re here.”
“Here I am,” he agrees, plastering on a smile. “They tell me I can spring you now.”
“That’s right,” the nurse interjects softly, looking up and then back down where her slim white fingers put the final adjustments on the dressing. “Everything he needs is in that bag on the side. You’ve signed the paperwork?”
She nods, stands back and admires her handiwork. Very neat. “That’s that, then, Detectives.”
“Thank you,” he just barely remembers to say as she leaves the room. The second the door’s closed, he’s at Hutch’s side, one hand gripping his (good) elbow protectively. “You sure you feel ready to go, partner?”
“My place or yours?” he bats his eyelashes, posture slowly surrendering until he’s slumped against him, eyes heavy with medication.
“Well, normally I’d say he with the bullet wound got first pick, but seeing as you scared the shit outta me, that’s my prerogative and I’m saying my place.”
“Aw, Starsk,” he slurs, gaze in and out of focus as he struggles into his jacket and doesn’t make mention of how Starsky helps him stand and walk out into the corridor. He must be really out of it. “’M fine, buddy. Just... just dandy.”
“’Just dandy’” he repeats, opening the car door and helping him sit. When he climbs into the driver’s seat, he sees Hutch fumbling with the seat belt and without thinking leans across and buckles him in. “Just dandy.”
It isn’t in anyway fine and he has to bite his tongue all the way back to his house to call Hutch out on it- it’s not his fault, after all, that he got shot. And if it is, well he got shot, and that’s punishment enough.
Maybe, Starsky tries to reason with himself as he waits for the pasta to boil, maybe it’s just because this their first case together after the whole mess with Gunther, maybe that’s the reason the whole thing’s got him so rattled. The scars across his back twinge, not with actual physical pain but the phantom of it; the so-called ‘spidey sense’ left over from the day he nearly died in a parking lot. Today was nothing like that: an easy drugs bust, one of the dealers tried to run and there was a struggle and the gun went off and Hutch went down. Officer down! Starsky had shouted, not even bothering to check if he’d cuffed the guy properly before running to his partner. In hindsight, it was kind of an overreaction. The bullet did little more than graze Hutch’s shoulder deeply. It was painful and it will scar, but it’s not life threatening. Hutch can even go back to desk duty on Monday.
There was just- there was just a lot of blood and it was his first case since recovering from being shot by Gunther and it was Hutch and- there was just a lot of blood, that’s all.
Starsky looks down at the jar of pasta sauce in his hand and grimaces, losing his appetite. An ABBA song starts playing on the radio and he can hear Hutch’s voice in the living room, humming and singing along like he hasn’t got a care in the world. He mixes the words up and then giggles at himself. Starsky is loath to disturb him, but...
He balances two plates of pasta carefully, relieved when he puts them down on the coffee table without incident. “What’s on the TV?”
Hutch’s nose crinkles with childish distaste, “Just the news.” He takes the fork Starsky hands to him, then pokes listlessly at his food, is he- yeah, he’s actually pouting. “I’m not hungry.”
Slowly, he stretches his arm out along the back of the sofa, just close enough to barely touch his neck, “You need to eat, Blondie, else you can’t have your painkillers.”
He starts to eat without arguing. Part of Starsky curls up and dies a little at that, wishing he’d insist he still wasn’t hungry and he didn't want the stupid painkillers anyway.
It should be illegal for someone as doped up as Hutch is right now to be so observant, but the glimmer of recognition and concern pierces through the cloud over his eyes anyway and he slides sideways so they’re shoulders are touching. “Not gonna die, Gordo,” he tells him, smiling widely. “Gonna live to a hundred and forty eight, remember?”
Yeah, he remembers. He remembers saying the same thing then as he does now, “Gee, Hutch, what d’you want to live ‘til a hundred and forty eight for?”
“Well I want at least a hundred years with you,” he replies without hesitation. It’s mushy, it’s soppy, it’s bringing tears to Starsky’s eyes and he has to look away.
“Yeah,” he rasps after a while. “Me too. Eat your dinner.”
It’s early when he helps Hutch into bed, sunlight still peeking through the blinds, but the blonde’s blue eyes are already struggling to stay open, heavy under the weight of the long day. “Don’t forget you’re not in work, tomorrow,” Starsky reminds him. Just in case, he leans over to the bedside table and switches the alarm clock off. “No jogging, either. And I’ll be here before work, to make sure you eat breakfast.”
Hutch frowns, fist clenched over the collar of Starsky’s shirt with no desire to let go, “Yes mother. But...”
He raises his eyebrows, “But?”
“You’ll have to go home then come all the way back.”
Really, he was planning to crash on Hutch’s couch and listen out for any hint of distress instead of sleeping, but he won’t shatter his idealism like that. “Don’t worry ‘bout it, Blintz.” Gingerly, he swings Hutch’s legs up onto the mattress and pulls the covers up to his chin. “Worrying’s my job for tonight. D’you need anything?”
Starsky freezes. He may as well have just have had a gun pulled on him. “I- what?”
“I mean it, Stark,” he insists, eyes fever-bright. “I need you. Me and thee, remember?”
This is no different to any of their heart to hearts after a long night of drinking, he doesn’t mean anything by it, he doesn’t mean what Starsky wants it to mean, he can’t.
The hand clutching his shirt tightens and he lets loose a strangled yelp as his partner yanks him down beside him, half on and half off the mattress, legs all askew. “Just stay here, buddy, that way you don’t gotta drive all that way.”
“Hutch, listen, Blondie, I really don’t think-“
“You don’t want to stay?”
He swallows, forcing all the words he wants to say back down. “It’s not that I don’t wanna, Hutch, only that it wouldn’t be-“
“No!” he sounds far too certain for a guy he doled out painkillers to an hour ago. “Who cares, Starsk, Who. Cares?”
“Any of it!” Hutch lets him go and rolls onto his back, hands gesturing wildly in the air above them. “Who cares about any of it, huh? I got shot and you’re still worried and you nearly died, so wha’ss any of it matter?”
For some reason- the only reason it could be is that he is a stupid, stupid idiot- the only thing he can think to say in response to that is: “I did die.” Not that Hutch ever said as much to him. He had to find out the story in drips and drabs from Dobey and the doctors.
Hutch’s voice is soft, calm, “You’re really not disproving my point here, pal.”
Starsky stares at the ceiling, “I don’t think I really want to.” It’s open to interpretation, because if he’s wrong about this he’s taking advantage of a wounded man and, possibly even worse than that, he risks losing everything. Or at least their partnership.
A little sound escapes Hutch’s mouth and Starksy turns to look at him. When he catches his gaze, his mouth quirks up in a tiny smile. “You don’t have to... you know. You could stay or you could leave right now, just come back in the morning and we’ll blame it on the meds.”
It takes him a moment to find the words. “You wanna know what I was thinking, when you got shot?”
“You call that getting shot?” He laughs and the sound tapers off. Now he’s the one looking at the ceiling. “No. What?”
“I was thinking I really didn't want you to die.”
He shakes his head, “Don’t want you dying on me, either, buddy. When you were... when Gunther-“ choking off, he reaches out a hand and immediately Starksy clasps it. There’s his answer right there, just in that one little gesture, but he lets Hutch carry on anyway, sensing the blonde needs to say it out loud.
“How long have we known each other? I know about all your girlfriends and all the books on your bookshelf and how you like your coffee. When you were in the hospital, I just had to keep praying you’d live, because otherwise ...” He sniffs, a few tears leaking out. “This morning, when I offered to get you coffee, I just thought.... ah, fuck, Starsk, you don’t know how many times these last few months I asked if you wanted coffee and then looked up to realise you weren’t there.”
He can’t put an exact figure on it, but he bets he has a rough idea. All that time, he was pottering round his apartment bored out of his mind and waiting for Hutch to come by after work. He squeezes Hutch’s hand tightly. Hutch squeezes back. “I’d- I’m glad you’re alive too, pal. Don’t know where I’d be without you.”
Hutch turns his head and looks him square in the face, gazing at him through his eyelashes. “That mean you’re gonna...?”
Starsky toes his shoes off and lies on the bed properly next to him, “Yeah.” Hutch smiles, which makes him smile, then all of a sudden they’re both laughing with tears running down their faces and clinging to each other. “Ah shit,” gasps Starsky when they’ve calmed down, closer together than they need to be given the size of the double bed. “You know something? We’re both idiots.”
“Total idiots,” agrees Hutch, looking sleepier and sleepier with every second. A jaw-cracking yawn interrupts whatever he was about to say next and Starsky wiggles under the sheets next to him, marvelling as he shifts even closer and rests his head on his shoulder instead of the pillow. “Kiss me now and I’m so doped up I won’t remember it,” he slurs tiredly. “But first thing in the morning, you kiss me, okay?”
Starsky feels a huge smile stretching over his face, “Okay.”