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You Quit Everything But Me

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Starsky was woken by a bang, that had him bolt upright and heart racing straight away. It sounded way too much like a gunshot for his liking. But then the unmistakable sound of keys falling to the floor made him realize it must just be Hutch returning from work. So, he glanced at his alarm clock, with its fluorescent digital clock and noted the time was twelve thirty a.m. which was late even for him coming in after the nightshift. But maybe he’d had a few. That was alright, if anyone needed to let their hair down it was Hutch and it would explain the slammed door and dropped keys. Starsky’s heart slowed down at the thought.

‘Starsk? Starsky!’
His heart ratcheted up again at the panic in his partners voice. That was the sound of his partner in trouble and no mistake. Starsky flew out of the bed and out into the living room. Please don’t be hurt, don’t be badly hurt. He sent a silent plea to anyone who was listening. He couldn’t bear anything happening to Hutch. Especially when he wasn’t there, because he wasn’t there to have his back.

He got to the living room in time to see the shadowy figure of his partner crumple to the floor. Starsky went straight to him and gathered him up into his arms.

‘Babe, babe what the hell happened? What’s wrong? You hurt?’ Starsky babbled stricken.

‘I…I he had me Starsk, he had me dead…I was a goner I swear. His gun was on me, right on me…’

‘It’s okay, babe…it’s alright, tell me what happened.’

‘I had to…I did, before he could, I shot him.’ Hutch was shaky in his voice and in his body Starsky could feel it.

‘That’s good Hutch, that’s fine. It’s okay. We don’t always have a choice, do we? Huh? And if it was him or you, I know what I’d choose every time.’

‘You’d be the only one, apparently I should have let him shoot me.’

Starsky thought that couldn’t be right, who would think something like that, never mind say it to Hutch. Not Dobey, he wouldn’t but that crummy new partner of his, yeah he could believe it of him.

‘Come on Babe, let’s get you off the floor and onto a seat, yeah?’ Starsky pulled at Hutch from under his armpits but Hutch wasn’t helping much and he’d need his cooperation to achieve this small task. Starsky wasn’t sure he could lift Hutch singlehandedly before the shooting but now it was impossible.

Hutch eventually got the message and helped out. They sat on the sofa, Hutch had gone quiet and Starsky could still notice the tremors running through him.

‘Why don't you start from the beginning.’ Starsky said reaching to take Hutch’s hand.

Hutch just stared into space haunted by something Starsky could only imagine.

‘I...I had to do it Starsk. He Had the gun pointed straight at me. If I hadn't shot him he would have shot me.’ Hutch finally spoke but like he was talking to the air or himself, not present enough to talk to Starsky or look at him.

‘I don't doubt it Hutch. But how did it come to that?’

‘It was Browning he was supposed to back me up but was nowhere. The suspects we're doing a deal down the alley I approached slowly and Browning said he was going round to cut them off at the other end of the alley. I waited in position but something must have tipped them off because they both turned in my direction and the bigger of the two guys pulled his g-gun out. I called a warning but he didn't stop, just went to fire and I…I h-had no choice.’

‘No you didn’t, of course you didn’t, anyone who says different is an idiot.’

‘He...he lied.’

‘Who? The suspect?’

‘No Browning he said I didn't call out a warning just panicked and shot the guy. That's not true Starsky, I swear it.’

‘I believe you, but I just don't get why Browning would lie.’

‘Neither do I it doesn't make any sense but then neither does the fact that it took him so long to come around the corner. It was like he abandoned me, left me to it.’

‘So was he even there when you shot the guy?’

‘No…um, I don’t think so but then my focus was on the guy with the gun and then getting the other to surrender.’

‘So Browning wasn’t there to get the other guy in cuffs?’

‘No, after the first guy went down, I told the other one to keep his hands where I could see them. He said, ‘Okay man, just don’t shoot.’ Then I told him to lie down with his hands out in front and then I went over and cuffed him.’

‘Then what happened Hutch?’

‘Yeah, that…that was when Browning arrived, I remember now because he said, ‘What the hell happened here?’

‘So I said; ‘Where the hell were you?’ And you know Starsk, he never did answer me. Just kept talkin’ about it bein’ a bad shoot an gettin’ in trouble. He was so intense about it, it made me feel jumpy and confused. I guess I musta seemed pretty off when the others arrived.’

‘This is Browning Hutch; this is all Browning. But we'll sort it.’

‘I had to do it…I had to shoot him Starsk.’ Hutch was still staring wildly into space, still in shock.

‘I know Babe, I know. Don't know what's going on but we'll sort it, we'll get to the bottom of it together. But you need rest now, so let's get you to bed okay? You come in with me tonight yeah?’

Hutch Just looked at him.

‘Those nights when you came in with me and held me when the pain was bad, all night sometimes. I need to do that for you now Hutch. You need me to hold you and I need that too. So come on darlin’ come with me take my hand and we'll get some rest together.’ Starsky took Hutch’s hand and led him to the bedroom.

 

Starsky held Hutch until he stopped shaking long enough to fall asleep but Starsky just lay there thinking, turning it all over in his brain. ‘What the hell is going on?’ he thought. He couldn't figure out what Browning’s problem could be, what game he was playing. What could he possibly have against Hutch? Had Gunther or one of their other enemies got to him, made him screw Hutch over like this? Was it a way to discredit Hutch, make him look incompetent, a bad cop or was there more to it?
Then a horrible thought occurred to him, what if it was more than that? What if it wasn't just meant to make Hutch look bad? What if the intention was to get Hutch killed? His heart started to race, someone wanted Hutch out of the picture permanently and he wasn't there to protect him. Hutch could have been killed tonight while Starsky slept away in bed. The thought chilled him to his bones. No one would do that, no one, he wouldn’t let anyone take Hutch away from him while he just sat back and let it happen.
He might not be in the form he used to be, wasn't as fit or fast but that didn't mean he still wouldn't fight with everything he had to keep Hutch safe. If they wanted Hutch, they’d have to get through him first. He would keep this man safe. He loved him more than anything and now it was time to prove it. He held Hutch a little closer and tried for the sleep he knew he needed for the task ahead of him.

 

‘You can’t be serious Captain.’ Starsky snarled as he paced back and forth across the Captain’s office.

‘I’m sorry Starsky but I have to take this seriously, a complaint’s been made and procedure dictates I investigate. Hutchinson is on suspension until we can sort this out and that’s all I have to say about this. You’re on leave Starsky and so this really had nothing to do with you.’

‘My partner has nothin’ to do with me. He’s innocent in all this Cap’n it’s that Browning who should be under investigation. You’ve only got the word of a low life drug dealer and an officer transferred in a month ago. You’d seriously take their word over Hutch’s, a decorated officer you’ve known, and I thought respected for nearly a decade.’

‘Starsk...’

‘I have to play this by the book, I don’t like it anymore than you or Hutchinson do but my hands are tied. The truth will come out and I have no doubt that Hutchinson will be cleared.’ Dobey said his face set in a ‘this conversation is over’ expression.

‘And that’s the best you can do?’ Starsky gave him his best ‘this is not acceptable’ look in return.

‘Come on, Starsky. This isn’t gettin’ us anywhere. Dobey’ll do what he thinks is best and, in the meantime, if I’m not gettin’ paid to be here, I’d like to go home.’

Hutch stood up from the chair he’d sunk into in shock at hearing he was suspended for something he hadn’t done and he grabbed Starsky’s arm. His hands had been rested on the Captain’s desk but he reluctantly allowed himself to be pulled away by Hutch.

‘This ain’t over…’ Starsky said under his breath.

‘Listen Hutch,’ the Captain said as they headed for the door, ‘I can’t say anything official but I don’t buy what Browning’s saying, I know what an exemplary officer you are. It’ll work itself out, son.’

‘Thanks, Cap’n.’ Hutch said and nodded to his boss as they left. But Starsky remained suspiciously quiet, the Captain’s words didn’t mean much to him, it was his actions that spoke louder.

 

Hutch flopped down onto the sofa and let himself sink into the soft fabric. It had been a long day and he was thoroughly exhausted.

‘You want something to eat babe?’ Starsky offered.

‘No I'm not hungry, Stark.’

Starsky sat down next to Hutch on the sofa.

‘It’ll be oKay. Buddy?’

‘Will it? I don’t think so. And I’m past caring.’

‘Don't say that, can't let them win, Hutch.’

Hutch just shook his head.

‘You have to fight this Hutch someone is trying to set you up, discredit you, get you off the force and we're not going to let that happen.’

‘It’s already happened, I’m suspended and I don’t think I’ve got it in me to fight it…I’m not sure I want to, maybe I just don't want to do this anymore.’

‘What are you talking about? You sayin’ you don't want to be a cop up no more?’

‘I don't know what I'm saying I'm just so damn tired.’

‘Babe, I didn't want to bring this up, but you have to know I think this could be about more than just getting you kicked out.’

‘Yeah, figured it could be, all the more reason to quit. It’s not worth it anymore, Starsk. The cost’s too high, I don’t want to pay it, I can’t. If they want me out that bad then maybe I should resign.’

‘No, no we are not lettin’ ‘em win, Hutch. They don't get to do this to you, not after everything we've done to fight to get back on the streets.’

‘Oh Starsky, it meant a lot to me too, us getting back to being partners but it's not worth the sacrifice and I know what you're thinking this could be about Gunther, so I won't quit not yet not until after the court case.’

‘You can't mean it Hutch, you can't really want to quit, we're still partners.’

‘Starsk, we’ll always be partners. But this isn’t about us, it’s about the job. Every day it gets harder, dirtier and more soul destroying. I mean what thanks do we get, huh? We get beaten up, shot at, spat at and abused. And on top of that we get guys like Browning, fellow cops who want to stab us in the back. I mean the man’s meant to be my partner, have my back. If we can’t rely on each other in this job, with all the shit we get from everyone else, you tell me what the point of it all is, pal.’

‘We have you and me Hutch, I’ll be back soon and I’m your partner. Even if Browning wasn’t a total bastard, he wouldn’t have earned the right to call himself that. I know it’s hard but you can’t let them win, you can’t go out like that, if you leave it should be on your terms not because people think you screwed up and shot a guy who was gonna surrender.’

‘I just feel worn out and so alone out there, Starsky.’

‘I know Babe, but you’ve got me and we’ll fight this together. I’ve got your back, don’t I, like always?’

‘Yeah, you do. I know that but when I’m on the street I feel like if I get taken down no one will care, or even try to stop it. I got to have my own back and I don’t like it.
Without you there, I feel like the trust’s gone too and how can I go back feelin’ like that.’

‘We’ll get out there together, in a month I’ll be back on duty and if you get back before me we’ll insist you go on desk duty or get assigned a new partner, one that's worthy of you this time.’

‘You really think Dobey will go for that?’

‘We’re not gonna give him a choice.’

 

Starsky had it all planned out by first thing the next morning. They would go talk to Huggy and find out any contacts he had in Chicago and then call their own contacts from out there. They needed to get the dirt on Browning, find out what skeletons he had hiding. There had to be something that made him easily exploitable because just didn't make sense that he would have a personal grudge against Hutch. I mean Starsky knew what a moody sun of a gun Hutch could be but that was no reason to ruin someone's career. So there had to be more to it, someone wanted to get to Hutch and they were using Browning to do it.

He’d have to wake Hutch soon, but the blond looked so peaceful Starsky didn't want to disturb him. He’d managed to talk Hutch into staying again last night. He was exhausted and Starsky didn’t want him going home to brood alone. Using some of his patented David Starsky charm he’d also got Hutch to share the bed with him. He'd gotten used to sharing his bed with Hutch during his recovery and had to admit he didn't feel the same when Hutch wasn't staying over at his place. On the nights when Hutch went back to Venice Palace he never slept as well. His place only felt like home when Hutch was there.

The phone chose that moment to ring and woke Hutch. Starsky answered it and was a touch surprised to find it was Dobey trying to get hold of Hutch.

‘He wants me to go in, says there’s been a change in my case.’ Hutch informed Him after hanging up.

 

‘Absolutely not, no way, never, you've gotta be kidding me.’ Starsky said after Dobey had got done explaining to them that Browning had admitted he made a mistake due to being under a lot of stress in the new job and the suspect had also dropped the complaint.

‘Starsky this is not up for discussion. And I hate to repeat myself but this is nothing to do with you. This is about Hutch and his partner. I’m understaffed and need all the men I can get.’ Dobey said fixing Starsky with his usual no nonsense hard stare.

‘So sorry for gettin’ shot Captain and messin’ up your roster.’

‘I wasn’t talking about that and you know it. All I need to know is are you comin’ back to work Detective Hutchinson.’ Dobey emphasised the last word to make sure there was no doubt who he was addressing.

‘I’ll need to think about it Sir, I'm not happy to go back to work with Browning either. After what he did can you blame me?’

‘No son I can't but I haven't got much choice in this either, if there was anyone else I could partner you with I would but unfortunately there isn't. I can't break up longstanding partnerships and no one has transferred in yet or gone on leave, so I'm afraid it's Browning or nothing. Have a think about it and get back to me but Hutchinson, don't take too long. I need you back on the streets.’

 

They’d had a nice meal and were sitting on the sofa at Starsky’s place.

‘So what are you going to do?’

‘I don't know but I think I have to go back Starsk.’

‘Why?’

‘Dobey, I can't let him down. He’s done a lot for us buddy, kept our jobs open so we can go back to them. He’s given me all the time I needed to be there for you in your recovery and he's been very supportive of you coming back when you're ready. So I can't really throw that back in his face now by not goin’ in when he’s short on men.’

‘But you can’t trust Brownig.’

‘I know.’

‘And how can you keep your eyes on the suspects if you keep them on him as well, you can’t trust him to have your back.’

‘I know. But at least I know that now, I’ll be expecting it. I’ll have to take care of myself. I’m not sayin’ it won’t be hard, I got spoilt havin’ you there, always willin’ to stand between me and the bad guys but not everyone has a partner like that. Doesn’t stop them being cops. I’ll adjust. I’ve got to.’

‘Well I don't like it. You out there without me to have your back and that's what we always did had each other’s backs, you had mine as much as I had yours don't forget that. I'll be relying on it when I come back.’

‘You got it Partner.’

‘You make sure Browning knows if anything happens to you he’ll have me to deal with.’

Hutch gave him a knowing smile. ‘I think maybe I should go home to sleep tonight, Starsk, I’ll have to be up early and I hate disturbing your sleep.’

‘No, you won’t, I want you here where I can keep an eye on you, least I can do before throwing you to the lions tomorrow.’

‘I don’t think Browning’s quite that bad, let’s not make him into something more than he is.’

‘Whatever you say Buddy, whatever you say.’

 

Starsky dropped Hutch off at the station the next morning and waved him off. He then dedicated the rest of the day to finding out all the information on Browning he could. Between his contacts and Huggy’s he got what he needed. He found out that he was a good cop and no one had any complaints. It was his private life where things got interesting. His wife had kicked him out several months back and it was the reason for this that explained a few things. He was a gambler, up to his eyes in debt back in Chicago. His Problems had no doubt followed him here and he would need money badly to keep up his habit and that made him prime pickings for blackmail and bribery. He’d probably do anything for the money including setting up a fellow officer. So he knew the why but not who had paid him. And his biggest problem was how to stop him from doing something like that again. He needed to get to the station and talk to Hutch, let him know what he found out.

 

He couldn’t believe they were here again back at the hospital. Starsky had gone to the station to find Hutch only to be told by a fellow officer he barely knew that he could find him at the hospital. When he arrived Dobey told him that Hutch had sustained a beating.

‘I need more details Captain. What the hell happened?’

‘I don’t know, all I can tell you is Officer Wilson found him in the, um…parking garage, badly beaten.’

‘In the parking garage? On police property…but he won’t go out there not since…’

‘I know, but as far as I can tell he went to meet Browning, that’s where his car was parked.’

‘So let me get this straight, Browning is involved again? He got Hutch to meet him at his car, knowing he’d be alone there and then Hutch was jumped. How many guys? Can’t just have been one, to take Hutch down it’d take three guys on a bad day. Or if it was two, they’d have to be massive. And all that happened with no one around, no one to stop it.’

‘It was lunch, no one was out there and I think there were a few of them, was probably quick.’

‘And effective. How bad is bad?’

‘He wasn’t conscious when they brought him in.’

‘Shit.’

 

Starsky finally got in to see Hutch. He looked pale and lost lying in the bed with the blanket pulled up and his eyes closed. His head was bandaged and his face bruised. The Doctor had told him that Hutch had three broken ribs and a concussion. He also informed him that he was lucky not to have internal bleeding. It was a savage beating. And Starsky now knew Hutch must have been set upon by a few guys for his injuries to be so severe and extensive.

Starsky took the unbandaged hand in his and sat in the chair beside Hutch. After a moment or two Hutch’s eyes fluttered open.

‘Hey, how you doin’?’

Hutch let out a little laugh and then grimaced as his ribs regretted the action.

‘Oh, peachy, like a million bucks, don’t I look it?’

‘You always look peachy to me, sweet and good enough to eat.’

‘Starsk…’ Hutch looked like he’d just got another kick to the guts and turned his face away from Starsky.

‘Hey what is it? Come on look at me Hutch. You ready to tell me what happened.’

‘I got beaten up, what does it look like?’

‘I know that Babe, but do you know any more than that like who and why.’

Hutch just stared at him, like he might cry any minute.

‘Hey, hey…what’s all this, it’s okay you’re safe now I’m here.’

‘I’m tired and…I don’t want to talk about it now.’

‘Don't give me that Hutch, I know you're hurtin’ and tired but we need to talk about this, so talk.’

‘I…I can’t.’

‘Why not?’

‘Don’t push this Starsky.’

‘Right, now I know I have to stay until you tell me.’

‘Alright, you wanna know, you really wanna know?’

‘Yeah.’

‘They said…said they were doin’ it because it was about time I found out that queers like me and my Partner were not welcome on the force. And I don’t think they were talkin’ about Browning, do you?’

 

They had a few weeks at home, with Starsky helping with Hutch’s recovery this time. Hutch went back to desk duty after a couple of weeks but wasn’t cleared for the streets until his ribs healed. They had talked a lot about the beating and Browning but still were no closer to figuring out who had it in for them. This wasn’t just about Hutch; someone was clearly targeting the partners. That much was evident from what was said to Hutch when he received the beating.
Hutch was getting the worst of it but everything that happened to him hurt Starsky too. They didn't know who the guys who attacked Hutch were and if they were working for anyone else or just did it off their own backs. It was beginning to feel like it just wasn't one person who had in for them but everyone. It was like they were getting it from all sides, there was a lot of hate going round.

Starsky had hoped that he would be back on the job at the same time Hutch was cleared to go on the streets but it didn’t go that way. Starsky was back on duty but it was desk duty. Hutch’s ribs had healed enough for the Doc to give Dobey the go ahead for him to be on full duty and with that came the news that he would again be partnered with Browning. Something that both Starsky and Hutch took exception to, Starsky more verbally than Hutch. Not that it got them anywhere because Dobey stood firm. There was no proof that Browning had anything to do with Hutch's beating and so there was no official reason not to put them back on the street together.
Of course, all three men knew that it was too coincidental that Browning was in the mix both times trouble had come down on Hutch but without any proof the Captain couldn’t do anything. They are also all well aware that the three guys who attacked Hutch were most likely fellow police officers but they couldn't prove that either, since Hutch was attacked from behind first and then was on the ground and couldn’t identify his attackers, who only spoke once and only one of them. . But it would take some pretty brazen criminals to come into the police garage and attack a police officer. Nothing like that had happened since the shooting.

 

‘Long time no see, my brother.’ Huggy greeted Starsky as he approached the bar at The Pits. It was towards the end of the lunch rush and the place was pretty quiet.

‘Hey, Hug.’ Starsky said not even meeting his friend’s eye.

‘What’s up? I haven’t seen you lookin’ this down since our blond bro brought you in after one a your physio sessions and where is our Hutchy, anyhow?’

‘It’s one big mess, he’s back on the streets with Browning and as far as I know way across town right now on some robbery case.’ Starsky said sitting on the nearest stool.

‘What? He’s out there with Browning? That can’t be right what’s the big man thinkin’ pairin’ him with that bastard again. He tryin’ ta get our friend killed or what?’

Sometimes Starsky forgot that their old friend cared as much for his partner as he did. It was a nice thought and needed right now.

‘My thoughts exactly but can’t do a thing about it. Hutch is too loyal to the captain for his own good. Thinks he owes him for the support he gave us. But he’s also havin’ his doubts about the job and I can’t blame him, he should go on sick at least ‘til they let me back. I thought I’d be back by now but I forgot that the desk was what I’d have to work for a few weeks. I’m ready to get out there, Hug. And Hutch needs me to have his back. I’ve let him down enough as it is.’

‘Hey man, don’t do that to yourself, none of this is on you. I know Hutch has had it rough, with that shootin’ and those guys workin’ him over but you can’t help needing time to recover. Whoever’s behind this it’s on them, not you.’

‘That’s just it Huggy, chances are whoever’s behind this is doin’ it to get at me more than Hutch. Why do the people I love always get hurt because I love ‘em.’

‘Hey, you and Hutch both got enemies from bein’ cops and you both know the score, Hutch’d be the last person to blame you and for all you know this guy or guys are as much his enemy as yours. Got it in for both a ya most likely, so quit the guilt trip my man.’

‘You don’t get it Huggy. You Know what that guy said to Hutch when they were beating him up. They called us queers and why do you think that was huh?’

‘Ah, jeez, I dunno maybe the way you two are, you are quite affectionate, love each other you know, nothin’ wrong with it but others might not agree.’

‘Yeah we're affectionate Huggy, but there's nothing in it, you know that at least not from Hutch’s side,’ Starsky looked down then at the bar, ‘but what if…what if they’ve noticed how I feel…you know really feel about ‘im.’

‘Oh, that’s how it is…I thought maybe it was and I guess you haven’t told him.’

‘Are you kiddin, he’d run a mile.’

‘Yeah, maybe.’

‘No maybe about it, sure he's open minded but there's a big difference between talk and action. He's alright with other people doin’ that but us…I don't think so.’

‘You might be right; I don’t think he’s ever crossed that street but maybe you
should-‘

‘No Hug, and you better not say anythin’ either.’

‘Okay, okay, don’t get excited.’

‘But do you get it now, it’s all my fault, I’m the reason they beat him up, called him that. It’s on me.’ Starsky lowered his head to his arms on the bar.

‘I’m not Sure that's true but I know you ain't gonna listen to me, so I'll just serve the food and drinks and keep ‘em coming.’ With that Huggy put a beer next to Starsky’s arm and went to get his friend something to eat. He couldn't fix his friends problems but at least he could help him keep his energy up.

 

He was stuck doing paperwork again, for the second day since returning to work. His Partner was out on the streets with Browning. He wanted to hit something or preferably someone. He wasn't sure who he was most angry with himself for not insisting Hutch stay home, Hutch for insisting on doing his duty or Dobey for allowing this whole charade in the first place. Of course the person he really wanted to beat to a pulp was Browning but that wasn't an option, he felt powerless to change things. The one thing he learned to hate most in this recovery was that feeling of powerlessness. He was a good cop he should have been able to get the evidence needed to take down the guys who hurt Hutch and get Browning off the streets for good but he’d failed and let down his friend in the process. He hated the thought of Hutch out there, where anything could go down, and he couldn’t stop it from behind a damn desk.

Starsky was startled out of his thoughts by a loud sound from behind him, he turned to see Dobey fly out of his office.

His boss’s worried eyes fixed on his and he could have predicted the two words before they were spoken; ‘It’s Hutch.’

 

It had only been a few weeks Since the last time Starsky had sat waiting in a hospital waiting room for Hutch. He couldn’t believe he was here again.

Starsky looked angrily across at Dobey who wisely had not sat next to him but across and to the left a tad.

‘You know if this doesn't go our way, there’s nowhere Browning can hide, he’ll wish he’d never been born.’

‘Starsky…’

‘Don’t Captain…because if It doesn’t…he won’t be the only one wishin’ that.’ Starsky let all the pain and anger show in the roughness of his voice.

He wasn’t accustomed to threatening his boss but that didn’t mean his words weren’t sincere, he meant every word. This was Hutch they were talking about, and as much as he respected his Captain and wouldn't normally say a word against him, when it came to Hutch no one was off limits, no one was safe from his anger if he thought they were to blame for Hutch getting hurt.

To his credit the Captain didn’t respond to the threat or try in any way to reprimand his officer. He knew he dropped the ball on this one, he could concede that it was partly his fault that Hutch was here. He should have done more and he knew it. He let down one of his finest officers and couldn't blame Starsky for being angry with him. He deserved it.

 

It was hours later when Starsky was finally allowed in to see Hutch. He looked like a little lost boy in the large hospital bed. His arm was bandaged up neatly but he was so pale like the life had been leeched out of him. It had; it wasn’t the position of the bullet that caused the problem but the blood loss. He was finally stitched up and with the help of a transfusion, mostly out of immediate danger. He needed time to rest and recover, a short stay in hospital inevitable.

Hutch opened his eyes and squeezed Starsky’s hand.

‘Hey Buddy, how are ya feelin’ huh? Starsky asked his voice low and gentle.

‘Been better…Starsk, it wasn’t my fault…he…I can’t believe I’m sayin’ this but Browning he shot that kid. He did it for no reason…a-and then he shot me. My left arm, I’m not sure if he was aiming for that or my back, I mean after he shot the kid I…I turned to shoot him, stop him, he shot a kid for fuck’s sake but he…he got there first. I couldn't do anything, you got to believe me. I never thought he'd do anything like that and I couldn't stop him.’ Hutch's voice cracked on those last few words he looked utterly miserable. Like he alone was responsible for all the worlds ills.

Starsky just stared at him, trying to take in what he’d just been told. A cop, a fellow cop had shot down a kid in cold blood. It was unthinkable and unfathomable, what the hell was happening? It was like the whole world had turned upside down.

‘What is its Starsk, don't you believe me?’ Hutch was struggling to sit up and getting agitated in the process.

Starsky had to reassure him. ‘No of course I believe you Buddy, shit I’d never doubt a word you say…it’s just so damn wrong, it’s so hard to think a cop would…’ Starsky trailed of lost in the thoughts of bad cops, or desperate ones who had gone against everything they believed in and taken the law into their own hands or plain out broken it.

‘I know…I was there and I still can’t, can’t seem to take it in. I knew Browning was no choir boy but this it…it’s, I don’t have the words.’

‘I know pal, I know but try and lie still…think of your stitches huh. He’ll get his, don’t you worry. We’ve taken down bad the cops before. He won’t get away with this.’
Hutch settled back down and was soon sound asleep. Starsky sat there thinking about what to do. Browning was a dangerous man and yet again it was Hutch’s word against his and no doubt he’d have his own version of events.

 

While Hutch was sleeping Dobey came in to talk to Starsky. He told him that Browning had made a statement saying that Hutch had fired on a couple of kids with water pistols. He’d seen the gun and started firing. Browning had shouted at him to stop but when he didn't listen, he had to clip Hutch to stop him from hurting any more innocent civilians. From what Dobey said he made it sound like Hutch was a loose cannon, who after being traumatised by Starsky’s shooting just flipped out at the mere sight of a gun. Starsky knew Hutch had been struggling since his shooting and had talked about quitting but there was still no way he would open fire on a couple of ten year old kids. The guy was way too soft hearted to ever hurt a kid. Browning was full of it.

He had sat by Hutch’s bed for twelve hours straight watching over him. He wasn't going to let Browning or anyone else get to his friend. But Dobey had practically ordered him to get some rest, take a break and get some food promising that he would stand guard in his absence. So Starsky reluctantly took off for a while. He went to The Pits to get something to eat before he went to Hutch's place to get some stuff for Hutch before taking a quick shower and returning to hospital.

 

He’d only been sat at the bar for about twenty minutes when something on Huggy’s face alerted him to the man who had just entered the bar.

‘Isn't that..’Huggy said recognizing the man from a picture Starsky had showed him.

Starsky turned and said, ‘Yeah, yeah it is,’ just before he jumped off the stool and launched himself towards Browning.

Starsky grabbed the man by his shirt and shook him.

‘You rotten bastard.’ He shouted just before he let go to clock the guy.

From the floor Browning looked up at him defiantly and calmly said, ‘I know why you're angry pal and I don't even blame ya but I only did what I had to do. We all know what Hutch has been like since the shooting. I'm sure he was a good cop before, but he's been all jittery and set off by the slightest thing. He's a real jumpy guy and he's really down too, I think he might be depressed or something. And it’s really not my fault he got all trigger happy on me. I had to do it, he left me no choice, I had to shoot him.’

Starsky had to admit it was a good performance, Oscar worthy. I mean he might even believe this guy, if he didn’t know better. His face showed what looked like sincere regret at his actions and he did come across as apologetic. That it was a bad situation all round and he took no pleasure in it.

‘I don’t know what your game is yet, why you’re doin’ this but it ain’t gonna fly especially with me. Hutch is a good cop, the best we got and there’s no way he would eva shoot a kid.’

‘He didn’t mean to, it was pure panic I’m sure, he’s traumatized or somethin’ and needs help. He’s not a bad guy, just a damaged one.’

Browning was being so reasonable and all Starsky wanted to do was punch him again but that was clearly what he wanted, to make them both look like they’d lost it, were volatile and out of control and shouldn't be on the job. That was his game and Starsky wasn't gonna play it.

Huggy came over to try and keep the peace and Starsky simply said, ‘Don't worry about it Huggy I'm leaving, don't wanna spend any more time in this guy’s company. Then he simply shook his head and walked out of The Pits.

 

It was when he was on his way back to the hospital that Starsky had some Unhelpful and disloyal thoughts. He'd been to Hutch's place and found it in a bit of a mess, piled up dishes, rubbish left around the place and dirty clothes too. It was nowhere near the way Hutch normally had it. Maybe that shouldn't have been a surprise, Hutch had spent a lot of time at his place, helping him with his recovery and taking care of him. He wasn't at his own place that much and between work and spending time with Starsky, he wouldn't have much left over for chores. But the look of the place reminded Starsky that Hutch really hadn't been himself lately. He cast his mind back to that night of the shooting, when Hutch was so distressed and shaky, sure it was never nice to have to shoot anyone but it was a bit of an overreaction for an experienced cop.
If he considered Browning's accusations. maybe Hutch wasn't coping with the hard side of the job that well anymore. Was it possible is it that affected his ability to do the job as well as he used to? He had even talked about quitting.

Starsky really didn't want to doubt his friend but he had to concede it was possible that Hutch had been rattled and even traumatised by his shooting. Had that made him quick to draw his gun because after all you have to shoot before you get shot and maybe the sight of any gun did set him off, putting him into defence mode. Could it be that Starsky was so wrapped up in himself and his own suffering that he hadn’t noticed just how badly Hutch had been affected by everything that happened?

As much as Starsky hated Browning, and he did (But he’d have hated anyone who was partnered with Hutch, wouldn’t he?) It was unfathomable to think that a cop would purposefully hurt a kid, whatever was going on in their private life, however desperate they might be. It was more palatable to think that a cop would panic and shoot a kid after noticing a very real looking gun, not realizing it was just a water pistol. Even Hutch, even a cop of his experience and calibre, it was possible. I mean the kid might make it but he was in a coma. Could Browning really have done that deliberately? But if he didn’t that only left one alternative.

 

When Starsky entered the hospital room Hutch was sitting up in bed.

‘How ya doin’ buddy, you feelin’ better?’

Hutch shrugged and then regretted the action as pain shot through his arm.

Starsky sat on the chair next to Hutch’s bed.

‘I need to ask you something and I want you to try not to get mad about it.’

‘That's a great way to start a conversation Starsk, but go on spit it out.’

‘The kid, you know with the gun…is it possible you, well you may be made a mistake.’

Hutch looked at him like he had two heads. He was in total shock.

‘You think I could shoot a kid? You really think that? I don’t understand, it’s been… and I know I’ve…’

‘What?’

‘I’ve been finding it hard; I'll admit that but not because I'm suddenly trigger happy. I've been struggling because I've been finding it so damned hard to pull the trigger. That night in the alley, with that drug dealer he had me cold. I could tell by looking in his eye he was gonna shoot to kill. And I still hesitated. If I'd hesitated a second longer it would have been me killed that night not him. That’s why I was so badly shaken, that and Browning. How could you take his word over mine? You think I could shoot a kid, let me tell you something buddy even if those kids had had real guns and pointed them right at me, I couldn’t have shot them. I’d rather get killed; don’t you know that?’

‘Of course I do, geez Hutch I’m so sorry…I don’t know what I was thinking. I guess I let Browning’s goading get to me.’

‘Don’t you remember Vivian?’

Of course Starsky remembered her, the cold, bitter young woman who shot his partner. It’s kinda hard to forget the person who came frighteningly close to killing his best friend.

When Starsky was silent Hutch continued, ‘I couldn’t shoot her because she was just a teenage girl, a kid. I let her shoot me coz a that. So how do you think I could shoot a ten-year-old? How could you think I could do that?’

‘I’m sorry Babe, I take it back…please don’t get upset.’

Hutch just looked down at his hands and shook his head. After a few minutes silence Starsky said, ‘Forgive me, huh….please?’

In a quiet, sad and defeated voice Hutch said, ‘Please go now, Starsky.’

‘No, I don’t want to go like this, with you upset with me…and besides I’ve got to stay, we don’t know who might try an hurt ya.’

‘Can’t trust anyone, huh? Not even each other.’

‘Don’t say that, please. I’m sorry okay, I’ll get down on my knees and beg if I haveta.’

‘I want you to leave…there’s a man outside. I’ll be safe enough.’

‘Giles is a good man, but we can’t be sure. We still don’t know who attacked you or…who’s been got to.’

‘Yeah, been betrayed by…feels like all my fellow officers. Can’t rely on anyone, guess no one’s got my back. Only interest they got is stabbing me in it.’

‘Hutch…I am on your side…I shouldn’t have said it, I’m an idiot.’

‘Browning is gunning for me…and you just loaded his pistol…if you’re doubting me, who’s gonna believe me, huh?’

‘He’s tryna turn us against each other don’t let him.’

‘He already has…hasn’t he? I want you to leave, I mean it…I’ll get security in here if I have to.’ The hurt in Hutch’s eyes caught Starsky in the chest. Hutch was getting worked up and that was no good for him.

‘I’m sorry…I’ll make it up to you Hutch I swear.’ Starsky lightly tapped Hutch’s hand and then silently left the room. He couldn’t have felt like more of a treacherous heel if he tried.

 

Starsky sat drowning his sorrows at The Pits, He was on his third beer and even Huggy was keeping his distance gauging the foul mood he was in. He was going over and over in his head what a disloyal, traitor he had been. How could he ever have doubted Hutch? His best friend, partner and the man he loved. How could you make it up to someone for something like that? Even if he had the courage to tell Hutch he loved him, he couldn't expect him to believe him after this.

It didn’t make sense to him, how could he have thought any of that when he knew Hutch wasn’t trigger happy, never had been. He had always been slow to draw, preferring to disarm or overpower a suspect. He wasn’t the kind of person who actively wanted to hurt anyone. He did it only when he absolutely had to in order to protect innocent members of the public, his partner or himself and even then hated himself for it. Hutch had been right of course, reminding him about Vivian that incident was a clear example of Hutch never being prepared to just shoot and ask questions later. He couldn't bring himself to hurt someone who was just a kid even to save himself. He hadn’t just doubted his best friend, he’d doubted them and everything he’d learned about the man who had stood next to him through think and thin for the last nine years. After the blood Hutch had spilled for him, risks he’d taken to protect and save him, to believe so little of him and doubt his word on the say so of a stranger was nothing short of unforgivable.

‘Starsky?’ A familiar voice brought him out of his indulgent, self-pitying thoughts.

‘I thought I might find you here I need a word.’

Starsky turned around to find Dobey standing behind him. Barely awake enough to keep his head up and looking at the Captain he turned back to his drink. Dobey sat behind him.

‘I don’t know what’s up but I haven’t got time for any attitude and you better sober up fast. I’ve got an update on Hutch’s case I thought you’d be interested in.’

‘He shouldn’t even have a c-‘

‘Listen Starsky I know your still angry with me and hell, with Hutch gettin’ hurt again, I’m not happy with myself but you need to listen, carefully. Hutch’s gun wasn’t even fired.’

‘What?’

‘I guess Browning wasn’t expecting that patrol car that happened to be passing and couldn’t finish setting Hutch up. Lucky for us, not so much for him. We also found the boy who ran off and he confirmed that it was the older dark-haired man who shot his friend and shot at him not the younger blond cop. And he even picked Browning out of a selection of mug shots. For a kid he’s a solid witness.’

‘How’d he expect to get away with it.’

‘After firing Hutch’s gun, I suspect he’d have gone after the kid and scared him into keeping quiet.’

‘It all backfired on him, good. But there’s still the kid…’

‘There’s hope for the kid and Browning’ll get his we’ll make sure of it. We’ve also found evidence linking Browning to John Tinker. Yeah, I thought you might recognize the surname, he’s the uncle of Dan Tinker who as you know was killed by Prudholm, so his grudge is obvious. It was on the telephone records, a call between Browning and Tinker. We did some further digging and another number came up on Tinker’s telephone record, a call with one of Gunther’s lawyers, it was short and probably a mistake. He was most likely told not to contact the guy directly but luckily for us he did. So, the whole thing looks like a set up. It might be hard to prove it, but we will. You’ve got my word.’

‘You’ve been busy Captain…so this is all to discredit Hutch before the trail. That bastard!’

‘Yes, but he’ll go down, we’ll make sure of it and don’t sound so surprised I went to work hard on this. Had to call in a few favours, to get the information this fast. No one accuses one of my best men and gets away with it.’

Starsky felt lower than a worm's belly, Dobey had done a lot of digging and maybe stayed up all night to do it, to prove Hutch was telling the truth. He clearly believed in his Sergeant. He never thought he would feel less loyal to Hutch than anyone, even their steadfast Captain, he had been put to shame.

‘Thanks, Cap’n.’ He said but the words didn’t come close to what he owed the man. He’d done what Starsky should have, used his time to back Hutch up instead of betraying him.

‘Uh…Starsky there is something else I need to talk to you about…it’s about Hutch.’

‘What about Hutch? Is he alright?’ Starsky asked jumping out of his seat.

‘Calm yourself down son, ‘Dobey said with a firm pat to Starsky’s arm, ‘he’s just fine. Got a good man guarding him. I wouldn’t have anyone protecting him who I didn’t trust completely. Almost as much as you an your partner, that is.’

Starsky sat back down and Dobey continued. ‘This is a delicate subject, private but also professional and I do feel like I’m breaking a confidence here. But I think it’s important that you know what's going on. Hutch's gonna need a few weeks to heal, at least three for his arm and with his newly healed ribs, bruised again he's requested a month off and I've granted it. So that means he won't be back at work until- ‘

‘The trial?’

‘Yes. He's told me he wants to make sure everything goes smoothly, with his giving evidence and all the preparations for the trial. But he’s also informed me that once the trial’s done with he's going to resign.’

‘What?’ Starsky’s mind swirled with resistance to the idea.

‘I think he’s just had enough and frankly I can’t blame him. Especially with what’s happened lately, him gettin’ attacked at work where he should feel safe, by colleagues he should be able to trust and bein’ landed with that sorry excuse for a human being Browning as a temporary partner. Hell, even I let him down, as you rightly said. It’s damned hard to come up with a reason to convince him to stay. He’s too good for us right now, maybe always was.’

It was rare for their Captain to give them unabashed compliments, so rare Starsky could barely remember the last time. He had called them brave and ‘damn fine cops’ just after the shooting but that was all. And those were extreme circumstances. But he knew of his Captain’s regard for them. And that he had a soft spot for them and Hutch in particular.

But it wasn’t that he needed to say in that moment.

‘But captain, what about me, aren't I reason enough?’

‘I don't know Starsky, are you?’

He was shocked by the bluntness of the question.

‘He told you, didn’t he?’

‘He didn’t say a thing about you Starsky and that spoke volumes. And I haven’t been a cop for more than twenty years for nothing. There was a sadness in his eyes, I haven’t seen there before. Like he’d lost the most precious thing in his life.’

‘I guess he did, so did I and I’ve only got myself to blame.’

‘What did you do?’

‘I doubted him.’

Dobey nodded and then got up and left the bar.

 

He wasn’t sure how he found himself there but just knew it was where he needed to be. He used his badge to get in after visiting hours and nodded to Giles who was still on duty guarding Hutch’s door. The man simply whispered the word ‘sleeping’ at him. He said it maybe to deter Starsky but despite the fact he wasn’t expecting a warm welcome he wouldn’t consider turning around and going home. The few more drinks he had after Dobey left gave him courage and made this stupid idea seem like a good one.

He kicked off his shoes and threw his jacket on the chair and then stood over Hutch’s bed. The man was curled up on his side lying, faced away from Starsky, on his good arm, the right one and was clearly fast asleep. ‘Please don’t leave me Hutch.’ Starsky whispered.

After just a moment’s hesitation he pulled back the covers and got into the bed with Hutch.

‘Don’t leave me Babe.’ He whispered running his fingers through the golden hair. Then he leant in and kissed it. He leant over further and kissed the cheek he could access. Hutch turned over in his sleep sensing his presence. With Hutch on his back now Starsky leant down and kissed his partner’s lips. He kissed the lips again and again, couldn’t seem to stop. The sleeping man woke then and after a minute took in what was happening.

‘What the hell are you doin’? Hutch said after pushing Starsky hard, off him with his good arm. ‘Starsky stop it!’ Hutch growled as Starsky tried for another kiss.

‘Please…please…Hutch…please.’ Starsky begged.

‘What…what do you want from me?’

‘I want you…I need you to be my friend, my partner…more than that I need you to be…everything.’

‘What are you talking about Starsky? Whatever you’re tryna say, just say it.’

‘What I’m tryna say is…is I love you alright.’

‘Love me, love me. What are you talkin’ about? You’re drunk, you smell like you drunk The Pits dry…don’t say you love me, it’s ridiculous and feels like you’re only saying it to distract me from what you’ve done and that’s not gonna happen. I have a right to be angry and it's gonna take a long while for me to forgive you, if I ever do. You gotta give me some space, I haven't changed my mind I'm going to quit the force and you might as well know I intend to quit you too. I might even skip town.’

‘Hutch please, please don't say that. I need you, okay. I want to be with you, want us to be together.’ Starsky said leaning in again wanting to kiss Hutch.

‘Damn it Starsky! I said stop it,’ Hutch said pushing at Starsky’s chest, ‘I don’t want this, don’t think I eva will. Can’t trust you as my Partner, my friend…you really think I could trust you as more.’

‘I know I have a lotta work ta do, buddy but come on. We could be so good together. Love ya, love ya so, so, so much.’ Starsky said breathing fumes onto Hutch’s face.
Hutch turned his head from Starsky’s breath. ‘You’ve got a funny way of showin’ it. You’re not listenin’ to me. But hear this, I want you out. If I have to I’ll call Giles in here to throw you out. Now get out of here, go home and sleep it off.’ Hutch gave another shove to his chest. It was hard but not so hard that Starsky should have fallen out of bed but he wasn’t in full control of his body. He hit the floor and groaned. When he had struggled to his feet Hutch was turned away from him and he realized there was no point staying. He would have even more regrets to go with his hangover the next morning. He slunk out of the room with his head down.

 

Starsky wasn't allowed in to visit Hutch at the hospital, he didn't really know how he was doing and worse he didn't know how he was feeling. And then he found out from Dobey that Hutch had been released from the hospital. He tried his best to stay away but finally gave in and went round to Hutch's place. When he didn't get an answer, he let himself in. But he found that Hutch wasn't there. There were only a few places Hutch would have gone if he wasn't home. Starsky hoped he hadn't left town.
Starsky entered The Pits and found what he was looking for. Hutch was behind the bar and by the looks of it was polishing glasses, like any other one of Huggy’s staff. Except slower and more careful, hampered by his healing arm. It was almost such a ridiculous sight that Starsky nearly laughed out loud. He held it in though because he needed to get Hutch on side, not piss him off.

‘I’ll have a beer please, barman.’ Starsky said failing to keep the distain from his voice.

‘I’m not in the mood for this Starsky.’ Hutch warned.

‘If you’re gonna act the role of barman, you pour the drinks. Been undercover enough to know that.’

‘Fine.’ Hutch said clearly irritated but got the beer and put in front of Starsky.

Starsky took a sip. ‘Not bad…but what are you doin’ here? This ain’t you, pal.’

‘Is now.’

‘No, it’s not and never will be. You know that as well as I do. You're a cop Hutch, through and through and yeah it hasn't been good to you lately, but you can't help what you are. Being a cop’s in your blood just like me, can't deny it, can't hide from it. So, what are you doing here?’

‘Huggy gave me a trial and if it works out I'll be working here. I'm not playing around Starsk, this is for real. I need a job while I get things sorted and this is it.’

‘I know you hate me…hell you hate all of us, can't blame you not wanting to be around cops right now but I can't let you give everything up. Can't let the likes of Browning win.

And if I’m the problem I'd rather quit than let you do that.’

‘I’m not goin’ back and I need to get on.’ Hutch turned around and went back to polishing and putting away glasses.

‘What do I have to do, huh? You tell me and I’ll do it. But you can’t keep this up. Forget the job, this is about us. And bein’ like this has got to be hurting you as much as me.’

‘You can't expect me to just rollover and forgive you. It's not going to happen so you might as well get out of here.’ Hutch said without even turning around.

Starsky jumped off his stool raced around the bar. He grabbed Hutch so forcefully by his good arm that the move made Hutch drop the glass he'd been holding, and it smashed into many pieces on the floor.

‘Shit Starsky! Now look what you've done.’

‘Forget the fucking glass Hutch and just look at me will you.’

‘Why what exactly do you want me to see? Sure, as hell ain’t my best friend, he’s gone.’

The words stung but Starsky didn’t let it distract him.

‘What do you want me to do, huh? I’ll ask again. Anything I mean it. I’ll get down on my knees, beg…anything.’

‘And while you’re down there will you kiss my feet? Will you kiss me full stop, on the lips? In front of anyone who walks in.’

‘If that’s what it takes. I’d rather do that in private, just for us. But if that’s what you need for me to prove what you mean to me, how much I care about you then-‘

‘You can't just flick a switch and I go back to trusting you. Has to be earnt Starsky and you need to give me time and space to figure things out. Stop being so angry and think about forgiving you. Can't do that with you demanding things from me. So just go will you. I need you to leave me be for a while. Can you do that for me? Can you be my friend that way? I’m telling you what I need, will you leave me alone for a while?’

‘Alright Hutch but just remember this isn’t where you belong.’

‘Maybe it is. Huggy believed in me, never doubted me. He told me not in a million years would he think that of me, he knows I couldn’t ever hurt a kid. I asked him how he knows, and you know what he said? Because I know you. I never thought anyone would know me better than you do.’

Starsky let go of Hutch’s arm then and just watched as Hutch turned and left, to go in the back. What could he say to that anyway? He did know Hutch and that’s exactly why he shouldn’t have doubted him.

Hutch shot back over his shoulder just before disappearing, ‘And clean up that mess, will you?’ And then Starsky was left alone with the mess he had made.

 

He only heard about the incident through Huggy. Outside The Pits shots had been fired at Hutch. It was sheer luck that he wasn't hit. A well-timed dive out of the way. Some well-placed bins and the fact that a squad car just happened to be in the area at the time to chase off the bad guys (Starsky suspected Dobey might have got those officers to swing by and check on Hutch). If not, Hutch would have had his third visit to the hospital in recent times. Starsky knew it said something about the way they were at the moment, that Hutch hadn't said a word to him about it. But that wasn't going to stop Starsky from putting an end to things once and for all. Yeah it was down to him to make sure nothing like this happened again.

He knew it could be the dumbest thing he'd ever done. He also knew he could easily be walking into a trap but he had to go anyway. He might be playing right into their hands. Because yes this wasn't just one man’s doing. He didn’t know how many were involved. But he had to face this straight on and that's what he was going to do.

 

They met in an old abandoned carpark each of them vowing that they had come alone.

‘So you did come alone then?’

‘Yeah, like I said I would, this ends here Browning.’ And one way or another Starsky was determined to make sure it did.

 

Hutch knew he couldn’t keep it up forever, they needed to talk. The problem was he couldn't find Starsky anywhere. He ended up at The Pits, , determined to get his partners where abouts out of their closest friend.

‘Hug, I need you to tell me my where Starsky is.’

‘You two finally gonna patch things up?’

‘Maybe, either way we need to talk.’

‘Well I’m sorry bro, but he ain’t here and I don’t know where he is.’

Hutch raised his eyebrows.

‘No really I don't know.’

‘Really?’

‘Sorry but I don't, not messing Hutch I don't know.’

‘Okay, well I’m gonna go find him, if he calls tell him I’m lookin’ for him. I’m worried he’s gonna do somethin’ dumb.’

Hutch turned and walked towards the exit.

‘You really are worried, ain’t ya?’

Hutch turned back to look at him with earnest eyes. ‘Yeah Huggy I'm worried.’

‘Well honest I don't know where he is. But I do know his car wouldn't start. Gave him a bit of grief about it as it goes but I got Merle to take it away and then called him a cab. You could find out where they dropped him.’

‘Thanks Hug.’

 

Starsky only just had time to think that the whole thing was a total cock up before he hit the ground. Then he vaguely heard the one thing he was in no way expecting to hear, the sound of his partner’s gun, booming in the silence of the night.

‘Starsky! Starsky, how bad is it?’ Hutch was crouching beside him what seemed like a second later. He was then running his hands over Starsky’s torso, presumably checking for a bullet hole.

‘At least take me to dinner first or wait ‘til we’re in private.’ Starsky quipped.

‘This is no time to joke, you could…could be bleedin’ ou…shit Starsk. I’m sorry I didn’t get here in time.’

Starsky looked at Hutch, as much as it hurt to move, he had to. The blond was shaking and his eyes looked glassy.

‘Hey. Hey, don’t panic buddy, I’m wearin’ a vest.’

‘What do you mean don’t panic…wait, what? Did you say you were wearing a vest?’ Without further ado, Hutch tore Starsky’s shirt open to confirm the words. Relief then flooded him.

‘Shit buddy, I thought he’d got you, thought you were…’

‘Well I’m not okay?’ Then a thought occurred to Starsky, ‘What about Browning?’

‘What about him, I got the bastard.’

‘But if I was-‘ Starsky didn’t get to continue because Hutch was up and running in the direction of where Browning fell.

Starsky struggled to sit up and find out what was going on. And it was just as well he did.

‘Hutch look out!’ Starsky shouted.

Hutch had been checking for a pulse in Browning’s neck and hadn’t noticed the hand on the other side of the man raise up to point a small gun at him. At Starsky’s warning he shot to his feet and then shot Browning in the face. It was the only place he could be sure would stop the man. Because like Starsky it was clear the man must have a vest on.

On shaky legs Hutch made his way back to his partner.

‘Thanks.’ Hutch said as he sank to the ground next to his partner.

‘Welcome. But I should be thanking you if you hadn’t turned up, he’d’ve finished me off for sure.’

‘And just what were you thinking comin’ here alone, with no back up? That was pretty damn stupid buddy.’

‘Yeah but I was thinkin’ it was you or him, he’s been gettin’ closer an closer to killin’ you and I couldn’t let that happen.’

‘So, you were gonna take him out first, that the plan?’

‘I’dve done whateva I had ta do. We might not be a team right now but my job’s always gonna be to protect ya.’

‘I appreciate that and I’d do whatever it took to protect you too but sometimes the lengths you go to scare me.’

‘Yeah, sometimes I scare myself.’

Hutch just nodded, sighed and sunk further until he was lying on the ground.

‘You okay? Might’ve known the tricky bastard had a second gun.’

‘Should’ve checked. Don’t know why I didn’t. Just coz the other piece was on the ground.’

‘Even you can’t think of everything Hutch. And it’s not every day a guy has to kill his partner. Evan one who’s as much of a bastard as ‘im.’

‘Bastard or not he was never my partner and never would have been.’ Hutch gave Starsky a sad smile.

‘I'm still really sorry Hutch.’

‘Not now huh, soon but not now. I need a few minutes, okay?’

They returned to lying there on the cold ground in silence. Both just glad that Browning hadn't won this one. Anything else could wait.

 

They both had some questions to answer for Dobey. And this time Starsky had more explaining to do than Hutch. But the investigation that followed uncovered the true level of Browning's corruption. The bullets from one of his guns was matched to the casings from the incident where Hutch was shot at outside The Pits. So their actions were justified and after that the other people connected to the case were arrested, including Tinker and the process began to add further charges to the long list Gunther was facing.

 

Starsky was still on desk duty, despite his bruised ribs he’d convinced the doctor and Dobey to let him come back for light duty. He’d had enough of being home. But Hutch was still on leave. Starsky was taking a break and getting some fresh air at the back of the station when he bumped into an officer, he was about to apologize when he turned and saw a look of disgust on the man’s face and somehow just knew this was on of them. One of the guys who beat Hutch up.

‘So you were one of them Reynolds?’ Starsky snarled.

The man didn’t bother to deny it just sneered.

‘Hutch is a good cop, any coward who’d attack him, three on one is pure scum.’

‘Didn’t want to touch your pervert boyfriend, but can’t have the likes of him or you on the force.’

‘And the likes of you is better?’

‘Don’t you dare compare me to a cocksucker like you two are.’

‘Make me shut my cock sucking mouth then. Try your luck with me one on one or would that take more balls than you got.’

A punch was thrown and someone hit the concrete hard.

 

Hutch made a strong coffee and came to sit down on the sofa.

‘You can’t afford to keep gettin’ in fight’s Starsk, your head’s not as thick as you think it is and now you’ve got a mild concussion to go with your bruised ribs.’

‘Yeah well it would’ve been worth it,’ Starsky mumbled.

‘What?’

‘I said I’m sorry I let you down Hutch.’

‘You didn’t let me down, but you can’t let the likes of Reynolds get to you.’

‘You didn’t hear what he said about you…and he was one of them I’m sure of it. He’s one of the guys who beat the shit out of you.’

‘Not like we can prove it though and you’ll just get yourself in trouble.’

‘You think I care about that? He hurt you Hutch, put you in hospital and I didn’t even get a punch in. Wanted to wipe the smug look off his face and I’m so useless I couldn’t even do that.’

‘Can’t expect a coward like him to fight fair. One lucky punch, he took it quick coz he knew in a fair fight you’d have the edge. Even with bad ribs, my money’d be on you.’

Starsky had to smile at that despite everything Hutch still had faith in him. But he was still racked with guilt.

‘It just grates on me ya know. I couldn’t protect you from them…and it’s my fault they attacked you.’

‘How’d you figure that?’

‘They can tell Buddy…how I feel about you.’

‘There’s been rumours about us for years. People can’t handle how close we are. How much we care, that’s all.’

‘Except it’s not…I let my guard down and…before I was shot I think I started lookin’ at you….you know like I shouldn’t, especially at work and I think maybe some of the guys started to notice.’

‘I…I didn’t, so maybe you’re wrong.’

‘No, um…Weldon noticed.’

‘Weldon? How do you know?’

‘He um…made some comment about my partner bein’ like a candy bar…you know my tongue hanging out and-‘

‘Yeah, yeah I get the picture. But why I mean you can’t have been that obvious if I didn’t pick up on it.’

‘Do you remember the Walkers’ case?’

Hutch looked thoughtful.

‘That guy… the drunk one who threw up on me?’

‘Yeah, it was hot and you smelled pretty bad when we got back to the station. So, you went straight up to have that shower remember?’

‘Yeah. but you didn't come with me Starsky.’

‘I know that, geez hutch I wasn't pervin’ on you in the showers.’

‘Then what?’

‘Well after you came back to the office and…well you, you hadn’t really done your shirt up properly and you uh…sat in front of me typin’ the report. And you know that habit you have of sorta rubbin’ your chest just inside your shirt. Well you were doin’ that and your chest was glistening from uh…the shower or sweat and I guess I was kinda…well..ur…’

‘Kinda what Starsk?’

‘Mesmerized.’

‘Mesmerized?’

‘Well yeah.’

‘You were mesmerized by my chest?’ Hutch laughed at the thought, couldn’t help it.

‘Yeah, yeah so sue me…you got a nice chest, okay.’ Starsky got quiet towards the end of his confession.

‘Okay so Weldon might have put it about but hey, pal…look at me will you?’

Reluctantly Starsky did just that.

‘I don’t blame you…I blame them, for being bigoted, small minded bastards. Bet no one ever loved them like we love each other either.’

Starsky couldn’t miss the opportunity. ‘How exactly do we love each other Hutch?’

Hutch looked away then and let out a breath. ‘I’ll always love you Starsky and I think we might want the same thing. We got so close, even closer when I was lookin’ after you but I’m not sure it can be like that. I have to be sure of you as my friend first.’

‘I know…but if we agree to take it slow…do you think-’

‘Maybe…but that’s the best I can do.’

‘Okay.’ Starsky agreed it was good enough for him.

 

It had been the best day; Hutch had been amazing. He’d sat in the witness box in full dress uniform with medals pinned to his chest and not a hair out of place. His blue, impenetrable eyes locked on the defence attorney and he had never flinched. Strong commanding, formidable. His voice neutral, unemotional. Setting out the facts of the case in a way that the biggest idiot could not fail to conclude that that Gunther was guilty as charged. To sum up he was nothing short of compelling.

They had left court feeling jubilant, victorious like winners for a change and the warm feelings continued the rest of the day and into the night. Predictably they found themselves at The Pits. They ordered the finest bottle of champagne they could and celebrated hard. Thankfully, it wasn’t the most expensive champagne on the market or they might have broken the bank. but they could never ask for more than Huggy’s best, he'd been a good friend to both through this whole thing and all the years they've known him.

They arrived home and had a couple more beers, sat next to each other on Starsky’s sofa feeling giddy and triumphant. But they were a little worse for wear. Hutch’s eyes were heavy and his head dropped until it was resting on Starsky’s shoulder. Starsky started to stroke his fingers through Hutch’s hair, ‘You were wonderful today you know that?’

‘Was I?’

Starsky put a couple of fingers under Hutch’s chin and Hutch straightened up. ‘You know you were.’

‘So you...believe in me again?’

‘Oh Hutch I never stopped, honest.’

‘Didn't you? So why did you doubt me, believe a stranger over me? I couldn't have done that to you.’

‘I know, I was an idiot Babe.’

‘So why?’

‘Guilt, plain and simple. We've been through a lot Hutch and in a lot of ways it was worse for you. I don't know what I'd have done in your place. I thought maybe I'd missed something like how much you were struggling or not realised how badly affected you were. It wasn't good, you were wanting to quit. I couldn't take it if you were b-broken but I could understand it.’

‘He used our feelings for each other against us, didn't he?’

‘Maybe but that doesn't excuse what I did.’

‘No it doesn't.’

‘But I'd rather cut my own arm off than doubt you again. I mean it, you deserve better Hutch, so much better.’

Hutch looked into Starsky's eyes with more intensity than he had in the courtroom, a response to the vow in Starsky’s eyes, Starsky moved forward then and gently kissed Hutch, then he sat back unsure how Hutch would take it. But a second later Hutch moved forward and wrapped his arms around Starsky’s neck and the kiss then was harder, longer and more passionate.

They ended up in Starsky’s bed having lost their clothing on the way. They enjoyed the delicious friction and Hutch’s big hand wrapped round them both to help as they rubbed and grinded. They kissed excitedly and got lost in the moment.

‘Hutch…oh shit…oh my Hutch!’

‘Starsk. Starsk. Starsky!’

As they came back to themselves Hutch rolled away and stared up at the ceiling, panting.

‘You okay?’ Starsky asked.

‘Yeah I…I’m just…’

‘Overwhelmed?’

‘No, I… I want to do more but I…I…’

‘You're just not ready yet? Okay, I know it'll take time and going further… I know it’s not just about you fully trusting me again. It's about showing you that I trust and believe in you, so I want you to make love to me face to face, that way, you know? Coz I wanna look in your eyes and I want you to look in mine and see all the love, respect and trust I have in you, okay?’

‘But I don’t want it to be about proving something.’

‘Hutch, look at me will ya?’ Hutch turned his head to look at Starsky.

Starsky looked at him intently in the eye. ‘It won’t be…I want you to…I know you’ll take care of me. Sure it’s gonna hurt some but it’ll be wonderful too, especially with practice, ‘Starsky waggled his eyebrows at Hutch and made him laugh, ‘I want you to make love to me Hutch, will you, please?’

With that Hutch turned onto his side, smiled his widest and most beautiful smile and rolled towards Starsky. They went into each other’s arms.

‘I know it’s gonna be beautiful.’ Hutch said his voice full of love.

‘You bet it is, you’re beautiful, so we’re beautiful, you and me.’ Starsky confirmed.

‘I’m lookin’ forward to it.’

‘Yeah, me too Babe, me too.’

They still had some work to do and Hutch still wasn’t sure he could go back to being a cop but they would always be partners. And would be stronger for the renewed trust they had built.