THE MAN WITH THE RIFLE
By: Karen B.
Summary: Hutch is having a great time camping out with his partner, until things go a awry and he blames himself.
Thank you, Dawn, for placing me on a path to discovery. I dedicate this story to you!
It all started out as a simple camping trip…
It was more than a modest hike up the hill, through meadows and thickets, and across a small running stream. The day was hot and long. The sky was so blue, it appeared freshly painted, and the autumn sun filtered in and out through the puffy white clouds.
Hutch had no real plan. He and his partner of five years had packed up his car and drove until they had left the filth of the city far behind them. They'd parked the LTD along a dusty old side road, and gone the rest of the way on foot into the foothills toward Fowlers Field.
Hutch sighed, running his fingers through his hair, it was nearing four thirty. They had gotten a late start. He had expected to be at the campsite and set up by now. Only a couple hours of daylight left before the sun dipped down behind the trees to end another day.
"What?" Starsky asked in anxiety, sensing something wasn't right. "The great blond Indian guide, lost?"
"Not lost, Starsky. Just...just..I don't notice anything familiar right now. It's been a few years since I've hiked this area," Hutch honestly replied.
"You got maps. Got a compass. How lost can we be?" Starsky's voice sounded uneasy, and he kept looking over his shoulder. "I don't like this. Probably going to be swallowed by a king size man-eating plant."
Hutch rolled his eyes at Starsky's logic gone AWOL again.
"Starsky, that's ridiculous. You should be more worried about coming face to face with that legendary hairy wild man who roams the wilderness," Hutch laughed.
"Bigfoot! Where?" Starsky shot a frantic glance all around."
"Oh, come on. You don't really believe in all that stuff? Do you? I suppose you packed wooden stakes and garlic too?"
Hutch sighed, letting his partner ponder the question he looked around taking in the changes of the area. The remainder of daylight was slowly turning into light gray shadows, touching the golden hillside. He watched the appendages of the native oak trees that surrounded them, their dusty olive green leaves stirring softly in the wind.
"Starsky? Did you?" Hutch asked again, looking back at his partner.
Throat clearing, followed by more silence.
"You did, didn't you?"
"Look, Hutch, there's more than oversized trout, warm sunshine, and rock strewn riverbeds out here."
"Don't worry, Starsk. If Dracula swoops down out of the clouds or Bigfoot comes knocking at your zippered door, I'll distract them while you make a run for it."
"You're all heart, Hutch. "'Are we almost there?" Starsky bellyached like a child. "My mouth tastes like dirt, there's a rock in my shoe, it's hot, and I think I lost ten pounds hiking up that mountain."
"Hill, Starsky. It was a hill. It's pleasantly warm, take your shoe off and dump out the rock, and I can think of ten things that taste worse than dirt." Hutch paused. A few yards away he could see what he was sure to be sunlight glinting off water. The river lay just ahead, its clear cool water rolling over gray shale and tan rocks. Beyond the stream was a dry grassy meadow surrounded by large old trees, one of Hutch's favorite spots. "There, Starsky." Hutch pointed. "You can quit squawking. Cross that river and we are home free, buddy.
"Terrific, 'cause my feet are killing me." Starsky lifted one foot and waggled it, feeling the stone inside slide from one side to the other.
'Course." Hutch turned toward Starsky with an evil grin. "Maybe I'm wrong."
"Hutchinson, now you're killing me," Starsky grumbled.
"Look, buddy. Hutch put a hand to his partner's shoulder. "After we get to the site and setup camp, I promise to cook dinner. You can gain back some of those pounds you lost."
"Can hardly wait," Starsky mumbled sarcastically.
The hike had taken three hours from start to finish. Both partners were hot and tired, but the sky was still sunny, and they made quick work of unpacking two small musty tents and pitching them. They unrolled their sleeping bags, and gathered rocks and wood to use for their fire. Soon the campfire crackled and the smell of burning wood filled the area.
While Hutch cooked dinner, Starsky busied himself with his camera, looking through his viewfinder at wildflowers, butterflies, and a couple of ducks paddling lazily about in a tiny near-by pond.
Hutch loved camping. Enjoyed everything about nature. He especially enjoyed this particular spot. Hutch scheduled camping trips the way he scheduled trips to the dentist; regularly. Healthy teeth, and healthy gums were as important as healthy minds. He knew when it was time to escape the city. When he needed the mental break from the job. When the world had spun around on its axis one too many times. When he and his partner, Starsky, had seen one too many crime scenes, and when the face starring back at him in the mirror everyday began to look much older than he truly was.
So they would pack up Hutch's car. Pack it full of beer, fishing supplies, his guitar, and Starsky's book of the month. The little weekend getaways were the best way Hutch knew to untangle the mind and un-fetter his and his partner's nerves. Although Starsky would never agree, he did come along as a willing participant.
The hours passed slowly and a faint blush of pink took over the painted blue sky. Dinner was finally done, and Starsky happily put away his camera to join his friend around the warming campfire.
"I'm dying of thirst," Starsky said, gently placing his camera back into its bag. "What's to drink?"
"Something special." Hutch smiled, pulling a bottle from the cooler. Pouring the liquid into two tin mugs, he handed one to Starsky. Hutch raised his own cup and clinked it against his friend's. "To living happy, buddy!"
"What is it?" Starsky blurted out, eyeing his cup.
"Wine. Ice wine." Hutch took a sip and worked it around his palate before swallowing.
"What the hell is ice wine?"
"It's made from grapes that are pressed while frozen. It's very rare, very concentrated and very sweet."
Holding the tin, Starsky swirled the liquid, then stuck his nose in the cup and began sniffing. He looked up at Hutch. "Where's the beer?"
Hutch shook his head. "Beer is for later. This is something different. It's good for you to try something different, Starsky."
"Hutch, what are you, my mother?"
"No, I'm your evil stepmother," Hutch said with a roll of his eyes, "and I put arsenic in your wine."
"If you were my evil stepmother, Hutch, I'd drink the wine." Starsky laughed, then took a sip. "Hey, this is good. Really sweet."
"No kidding." Hutch took another sip of his own wine, then set his mug down. Picking up the spatula, he bent over the cast-iron fry pan that sat atop a mass of glowing embers, and stirred its contents. "Smells great," he said, his shoulders raising as he inhaled deeply. Reaching for a bowl, he served Starsky a large rounded heap.
Starsky took the offered bowl, eyeing it strangely. "Hutch, this is grosser than gross," he said, tentatively poking his fork at the food. Carrots and onions were the only two ingredients he recognized. "What the hell is in this?"
"Plenty of everything," Hutch said. Slipping on a heavy potholder, he removed the frying pan off the fire.
Not knowing what the ingredients were scared Starsky, scared him more than the inkwell darkness of the shadowy forest that lay beyond the glow of their campfire. "This smells like someone who hasn't had a shower in a week," he complained.
"You know, Starsky, just because it's not a cheeseburger the size of your face that you're shoving down your throat, doesn't mean it isn't good." Hutch continued to watch his partner's reactions as he fidgeted over trying something new. "Lots of people eat my cooking, Starsky." Hutch dug his fork into the pan. "And-- live to tell about it."
"For some reason, partner, that doesn't make me feel any better." Starsky fidgeted, feeling rather ill, the look of the food making him feel nauseated.
Hutch had to smile at the absolute terror on his partner's face. "Look, Starsk, we'll try it together, okay?." Hutch gestured toward the food. "We go on three," he said, raising a brow.
"You go on three. I'll go on five." Starsky slowly lifted his fork toward his mouth, and let it hover there.
"One…two….three." Hutch happily ate right out of the pan.
"Four. Five." Starsky placed his food into his mouth, chewing slowly.
For a time they ate quietly, and Hutch became mesmerized by a small mouth butter flying around the flames of their campfire, not a blemish on its fuzzy white body. It came to rest on his shirt sleeve, its wings raising and lowering in a dance. Hutch seemed fascinated by the tiny creature, and he didn't move. But suddenly, and without warning, the mouth gracefully fluttered upward, then streamlined into the orange flames of the sparking fire. Gone, that quick from this earth, like so many people from his past. Hutch, once again became strongly aware of the silence, it was almost unnerving, and he looked up at his partner needing to make a connection
"You know." Starsky swallowed heavily. "You don't need me, Hutch, to carry on your love affair with Mother Nature--" Starsky stopped suddenly feeling something crawling on his arm. "Ahhhhhhh!"
He jumped up flailing his arms frantically, after a few twists and turns, something large and hairy looking went sailing onto the ground, along with his dinner.
Hutch laughed watching the creature scuttle off, unscathed. "Starsky, take it easy , it's just a spider."
"Just a spider." He panted, wide eyed. "Sucker was huge." Starsky shuddered, gingerly picking up his bowl out of the dirt while still scanning the area for further attack. "First good decision of the day. I'm turning in for the night, Hutch. You want to sit out here with your eight legged pals, you be their guest." Starsky squirmed as if trying to escape his own skin at the thought.
"Starsky, I've seen you tackle guys 6' 8" and 100 pounds heavier than you. You mean to tell me you're going to let a little spider chase you off? What? You don't like my friends, Starsk?"
"What's not to like?" Starsky said with sarcasm, giving up on dinner, and heading for his tent for the night.
"They like you too, buddy," Hutch called after him, laughing. "Sleep tight. Don't let the bed bugs--"
Morning comes early to the hunter. For Hutch, it was 6:30am when he poked his head out of his tent and looked around. The sun just starting to rise and shine, the rolling hills still deeply in shadows. Seeing that it was a beautiful morning, he smiled. He took in a deep breath thinking if he could put that fresh air scent into a jar, he'd be rich.
After spending an entire evening around the campfire listening to his partner complain about bugs, cold wine, and his cooking, it felt good to be out and about, and alone. Hutch decided to rise early, letting his partner sleep off his crabbiness in his own private tent.
There was just something about being outdoors that made him feel just plain good. Hutch always loved to explore, and hike. He loved everything about nature. Even bugs. As a child he recalled collecting them; grasshoppers mainly. Spiders ran a close second. He never collected those, but loved to watch the tiny architects spinning their webs. Afterwards, he'd find smaller insects and toss them into the web, fascinated by the predator hunting its prey, spinning its silk around the tiny bodies and feasting on them.
Now as an adult, he took every opportunity he could to get away from the city, with its landscape of vacant lots, concrete walls, and artificial turf. Where things were mostly planted in formal pots, and hardly ever left to grow wild, except for the few weeds sprouting up between the cracks of the sidewalks.
Along with studying and collecting insects as a child, Hutch had also learned to hunt. Sometimes he'd go up into the hills around Bay City to embrace nature, other times, like today, he was their to hunt. Forage like a man from an earlier, simpler time, just man against nature, with his grandfather's rifle. A Browning 12-gauge shotgun. He never referred to the rifle as his. It would always, belong to his grandfather. The rifle felt different in his hands, unlike his holstered .44. The police--issue firearm used day in and day out on the job meant life or death for him and his partner.
But this, his grandfather's 12-gauge shotgun, held special meaning. It was something he treasured. The image of his grandfather walking tall, the gun slung easily over his shoulder, brought back many shining magical memories for Hutch.
His grandfather would often tell him tales on their hunting expeditions, and he could make you believe in anything. Hutch recalled spending many nights around a warm fire listening to the old man's wonderful tales. He'd spin the adventures of a brave knight who found himself trapped between his village and the den of a dragon. Forced to take a stand, the good knight fought with bravery, blocking the threatening beast's path, and never allowing him to endanger the villagers.
Like the tales he told, his grandfather was also an honorable man, living for loyalty toward those he loved and cared for. He walked with his head high, never seeming to have a doubt or regret about the way he chose to live his life. Hutch had severely mourned the day that life slipped away from his grandfather's heart. He'd felt cheated, the pain had been so deep. It was a wound that would never heal, knowing that this man he loved so much was gone from his life. A man who could never be replaced.
It was times like these, when he was alone in the woods with his grandfather's rifle, that Hutch would look into the mirror of yesterday, and think about the man. About the special occasions when he'd gone on hunts with his grandfather as a young boy. He recalled one Thanksgiving morning on a warm golden autumn day, in particular. His grandfather had taken him out into the orchard, pheasant hunting. They never talked much during the hunts, they didn't have to; Hutch could always read his grandfather's big blue eyes.
At most, the older man would smile at his grandson and say, 'Stay quiet and stay close, Ken. Might be fire breathing dragons out here.' The caring eyes would twinkle with delight.
Hutch smiled, still able to hear the words as if they were just breathed into his ear. Most people hadn't understood the man, but Hutch did. His grandfather was gentle and kind, hard-mouthed and hard-fisted only when pushed to the edge, and although he was old and his legs were failing him, he'd always acted young. He was a true marksmen. He'd spy the game and then swing his rifle around and fire off one round each time, dropping his target. He always let Hutch proudly carry the bird back home.
One time Grandfather Edward had allowed him to fire the rifle. Hutch had aimed, pulled the trigger and dropped a pheasant all his own. It was a proud day as he slung the gun over his shoulder. That day his grandfather had carried home the prize.
Hutch felt warm inside, thinking back to the time he'd felt six feet tall when he was little more than four feet. Now, here he stood, six feet. Now, he was that man. The man with the rifle, and from time to time, in remembrance, and honor of his grandfather, he would take the shotgun out and go hunting.
After traipsing through the woods for a couple hours, with his grandfather's rifle slung over his shoulder, Hutch stopped under a tree. He dug a bandanna out of his pocket and swabbed the sweat from his forehead. It was still early in the day, but the sun was already hot, and Hutch hadn't seen so much as a chipmunk or field mouse to aim at. He stretched his sore back muscles and took in a deep breath. Sleeping on the cold hard ground sure was easier when he was younger.
Hutch was about to move on when a feeling hit him. It was a feeling he got often, something he learned out on the streets. The word 'caution ' suddenly filled his mind. Something didn't feel right. He'd have thought after all these years that these instincts would be second nature to him. That he could shut them off and turn them on, as needed. But that wasn't the case, and Hutch knew deep down that if it ever came to that point where he ignored the prickly sensation of dread, it would be time to turn in his badge, hang his gun on the wall, and call it quits. Instincts couldn't be turned on and off like a car's engine.
Hutch froze, letting his senses heighten. He looked and listened for the suspicious activity his sixth sense had told him were there. Watching the morning sun dapple the leaf strewn forest floor, Hutch listened to the sound of the wind that caused the trees to creak and groan. He turned to look in all four directions, seeing nothing out of the ordinary, only matted grass where deer had nested over night. Nothing but a few birds chirping with delight in a nearby wild blackberry thicket and some falling leaves met his suspicious eyes.
"Come on, Hutchinson," he said to himself. "There's nothing here." He snickered at his own nerves, chalking them up to habit.
Habits that were formed over the years of working the streets were not easily shut out--even when you were off the clock. Hutch took a breath, ready to move on, but faltered, startled when he saw something rustling in the underbrush just off to his right. He willed his pounding heart to quiet, cocking a sharp eye in the direction of the movement. Slowly he raised the rifle. Sucking in a deep steadying breath, he began to squeeze the trigger, but stopped.
Hutch scowled, as he watched the largest rabbit he'd ever seen scamper off, escaping his sights. Darting for cover, the animal disappeared under the brush. There went tonight's dinner. Roasted rabbit sure would've beat out last night's hobo stew.
"Confound it!" he berated himself and then felt the warm presence of his grandfather. That had been one of the old man's most famous expressions.
He and his grandfather were so far apart from one another now. Edward had died when Hutch was still a boy, yet Hutch still felt close to the man he'd adored The man who walked with honor, held such grace; the man with a rifle. Hutch would always hold that image of his grandfather close to his heart.
Releasing a sigh, Hutch went back to wandering the woods, wishing he hadn't forgotten that thermos of coffee back at the campsite. As the morning wore on, the heat grew and a steady sprinkle of sweat prickled and dripped down the nape of his neck. Hutch stopped, once again retrieving his bandanna from his pocket to mop the moisture. If he couldn't find dinner soon he'd go back to camp, and wake Starsky. Then head for the edge of the pond to use those night crawlers they'd bought at the small bait store on the way up here. Surely they could land a few fish for dinner. Fresh trout or a couple bass filets ought to make his partner happy.
Out of the blue, the cracking sound of a large twig under Hutch's foot flushed another rabbit from hiding. This one was not as big as the last, but it would do nicely.
The animal was several yards away by the time Hutch elevated his grandfather's rifle to his shoulder, and took aim. Through the scope, he watched the rabbit scamper off in a sort of hide-and -seek game. Hutch and the rifle moved as one. He eyeballed the animal's every movement, watching it hop out of the grass, heading for a curve in the path. Just before it managed to escape, Hutch had the rabbit back in his sights.
After that, everything seemed to happen in one fluid motion.
A bumblebee buzzed past his ear, knocking him slightly off balance. He could almost feel the stinger as it whizzed by. Even as Hutch discharged the bullet, and felt the recoil of the rifle, he knew he shouldn't have pulled the trigger, but it was by far too late.
A hint of soft faded denim had crossed his field of vision. Bile rose up into his throat at the shocking realization. A shiver scraped up Hutch's spine, just before he heard a strangled cry. He couldn't move, only stood poised with the rifle still against his shoulder, still looking through the scope. Maybe he was wrong. What were the odds of such a thing? 500-to-one?
At that moment, the world slowed, then stopped, and a long stretch of sheer terror took over him. A breathless stillness.
After what felt like days of pondering what he was seeing, Hutch shook the cloudiness from his head, and slung the rifle to his shoulder. Breathing hard, he ran through the field, toward the direction that the bullet had gone. It wasn't a long run, but it felt like an eternity. Hoping against fear what he felt in his gut was not the truth. Hutch knew, from the simple fact of cold hard experience; it had been a direct hit.
"No! No! No!" he cried out, feeling raw emotion rushing through him.
What had he done?
Hutch ended his impromptu race through the tall weeds, skidding to a halt when he saw what he had feared. He couldn't move, staring incredulously at the crumpled form on the grassy ground. He ran nervous fingers through his hair. In the hush of the morning, all he could hear was his own heart beating.
"Starsky." He barely could whisper, a sick feeling coming over him. "Starsk," Hutch repeated dumbly, as if what he were seeing wasn't real at all.
For a moment he couldn't understand the truth, even though it was right there in front of him. Starsky lay motionless on the ground, the sun catching the highlights of his brown curly hair. It was an image Hutch would never forget. His legs quivering, he wanted to fall to his knees.
What if? What if Starsky were--?
How could he live with himself?
Hutch took an unsteady step forward.
It was a cruel twist of fate.
He had shot his best friend.
He charged toward his partner. "Starsky! No!" Hutch blinked, trying hard not to let his emotions incapacitate him. "Please. Please," he muttered
A moment of relief washed over him when he saw Starsky move. Hutch ran faster, but it was as if he were running slow motion in a dream. Overwhelmed to see that his friend was conscious, Hutch did his best to make his feet go faster.
Starsky struggled up on his right elbow, holding his left arm close to his side, blood already staining his shirt.
In what felt like a lifetime, Hutch finally plunged to his knees next to Starsky, and lay his grandfather's rifle unceremoniously in the dirt. "How-how bad is it?" Hutch's voice trembled. It didn't take him long to see where the single shot had gone. His fingers timidly reached out to Starsky's left shoulder, and for a moment they hovered there, afraid to touch, afraid of causing more damage.
This was all his fault.
"What?" Starsky asked, disorientated, struggling to emerge from the grayish twilight that seemed to encircle him. His body began to tremble when he tried to sit up, but Hutch's hand steadied him. "What happened?" Starsky said again noticing Hutch's odd expression.
"Don't…move….. I….just be still. It's okay," Hutch said, feeling no conviction in his comforting. "Lay back." He eased Starsky down and began to fumble to unbutton the soiled shirt.
Slowly, Starsky responded, allowing Hutch's gentle contact. Turning his head to look at his shoulder, Starsky suddenly felt the familiar sensation of burning. "Hutch, someone--" He took in a deep panting breath. "Someone shot me," he uttered, his gaze nervously roving around the area.
"I-I know." Hutch gritted his teeth to those words, his voice trembling along with his fingers as he frantically worked on getting Starsky's shirt unbuttoned.
Unable to undo the fastenings quickly enough, Hutch gathered material in each hand and pulled in opposite directions, popping buttons and ripping the shirt wide open, causing Starsky to flinch.
"Easy." Hutch gazed into Starsky's upturned face. His eyes looked bright and alert, but his skin was pale and sweat rolled down the sides of his cheeks. "Me," Hutch admitted in an ashamed tone. "Starsky, it was me." Hutch looked Starsky straight in the eye, letting him know he spoke the truth.
It was he who had caused such pain. Consciously shelving the awful truth in the back of his brain, Hutch set himself to the task at hand. He had caused Starsky's injuries, but he was also the only one around to get the wounded man to medical attention. Examining the wound, Hutch ignored unshed tears as he realized the slug had entered his partner's left shoulder and was lodged there. Thank God it wasn't a chest wound, but it still needed a doctor's care, and fast.
Hutch glanced up, scanning the surrounding grasslands and hill side. They were in the middle of no man's land, with the car parked miles away down the old dirt road. They would have to hike out, and Starsky was hardly in a position to do so. Hutch looked back down at his wounded partner.
"You?" Starsky closed his eyes, his mind a jumble, not quit understanding.
"Slug is in there good," Hutch muttered to himself, hesitating before touching along the wound.
He could feel the heat there. He could see it wasn't life threatening, not yet, anyway. Starsky was conscious, which was a good thing, and didn't seem to be going into shock, but Hutch kept watch for the tell-tale symptoms. As long as he could get the bleeding stopped and get Starsky to medical attention soon, they could probably avoid a serious infection.
First things first. Get down to the camp. There Hutch had a first aid kit and could tend the wound before trekking off for help.
Hutch dug in his jacket, producing his bandanna, and pressed it on the injury. A soft moan escaped Starsky's lips.
"Try to relax." Hutch bent down so close, Starsky could feel his breath wash over his cheek. "Give me a second here, buddy," Hutch said, his free hand moving to stroke down the side of Starsky's face.
Starsky tried to recall what had happened, but the memories were sketchy. He had just used a tree for a urinal, and used the creek for a quick wash-up. He'd spied some wild blackberries growing nearby and thought that Hutch would love those with his granola. Before Starsky had even plucked one from the tangled vine, something hit him in the shoulder, sending him flying backward to sprawl on the ground.
Now there was blood and pain. His shoulder seemed to sizzle, making every nerve in his body come alive. Using his right hand, Starsky clung to Hutch's jacket. He licked his dry lips, orienting himself. "Hutch." Swallowing the sudden sickness growing inside, Starsky tried to understand what had just happened. "Hutch, you-you shot me?" he grunted. Hutch's touch was gentle but didn't take away the fiery pain in his shoulder.
"Was an accident. I-I-" Hutch's brow furrowed, and he choked back a sob, unable to look his friend in the eye. Blood still flowed from the wound. Starsky's shirt was damp with sticky wetness, and the body beneath Hutch's hand trembled involuntarily from shock and weakness. "What - what have I done? My God." Hutch bowed his head. "Starsk, I thought--I thought I'd--" Hutch shook. "I had a rabbit in my sights," he said softly. "Then I saw a flash of blue, tried to pull up, but wasn't fast enough. I'd already squeezed off a round."
"Always were trigger happy." Starsky gave a small snort of laughter, needing to get past the pain.
Hutch 's eyes snapped up to meet Starsky's, and he desperately blinked to keep the tears back.
"Hutch," he said calm and quietly. "It's not that serious." Starsky gave a curt nod of understanding for what his partner must be going through.
Hutch applied steady pressure to the bloody wound, mulling over his thoughts It was only a shoulder injury, true enough, but that didn't bring him much comfort. How could he have been so stupid? Not many people shot their best friend during a camping trip. Hunting accidents were for amateurs. He was an experienced cop. He should have been more alert. Had his aim been lower, his partner could be dead. Hutch shuddered with self loathing, breathing hard.
Starsky wiped the sweat from his forehead with a shaky hand. "Stop blaming yourself. Just get me out of here. Don't let me down."
"There's no one else to blame," Hutch said in a tight voice, noting his partner's sheet white face. "Damn it, this is bleeding good," he whispered.
"We should get you back to camp," Hutch interrupted, only interested in one thing. Getting Starsky to safety. "Think you can make it? Maybe I should carry you?" he suggested.
"No." Starsky slowly sat up weakly, not willing to let Hutch shoulder his guilt by carrying him. "I can walk."
It wasn't far to the camp, less than a mile downhill. Hutch's heart burned with shame, but he knew he had to pull it together. If Starsky could walk, it would increase their speed. If he had to put him in a firemen's carry, it would be uncomfortable and slow going. Without another thought, Hutch gave his friend a weak grin, trying for reassurance.
"Put your hand right here, partner," he instructed, lifting Starsky's fingers to press them into the bandana against his shoulder. "Ready?" Hutch gave a small nod. "On three," he said, easing Starsky up to sit and wrapping a secure arm around his waist.
"On five," Starsky said, with a crooked grin. He struggled to stand as Hutch pulled him upward. "I got it now. Can walk on my own, Hutch," he stated firmly, taking a step with his right hand firmly planted on the wadded up bandanna. He drew on every reserve he had to stay on his feet. He wasn't going to have his partner feeling worse than he already did. Wasn't going to show his weakness.
Hutch looked closely at his friend. He knew damn well Starsky wasn't going to make it far without a helping hand. It angered him that he was refusing his help. "Starsky, what the hell were you doing in the woods anyway? I thought you were asleep?" Fear and worry took over his guilt.
"I had to take a leak," Starsky raised his voice, feeling heated anger. Hutch had shot him and now was placing blame on him. "Saw some blackberries. Thought you might like them with your bowl of nuts. I don't know why I have to explain myself you're the one--mmmmph!"
A haze of pain had stolen the ground out from under his footing, and Starsky swayed, ending the arguing.
"Easy!" Hutch stepped in, swiftly pivoting the lax body next to his. "Starsky--"
Starsky knew his friend was about to apologize again. He couldn't take that right now. "Hutch, don't," he said, meeting Hutch's intense blue gaze.
"Don't what? Geez, Starsk, how do you get yourself into these things? Always at the wrong place, at the wrong time." Hutch didn't want to show his guilt, hiding it in petty annoyance instead. He had to be strong and concentrate on getting his partner out of this mess.
Hutch kept his facial features neutral, knowing his partner was right this was not the time nor the place. "You still want to try it on your own?" Hutch asked with uncertainty.
Starsky felt woozy, and he scrunched his eyes tightly closed. "Was thinking maybe I'd just sit here awhile," Starsky swayed, hot arrows of pain shooting through his shoulder almost made him pass out.
"That's not such a good idea, partner."
"K." Starsky gave in. "'Fraid you'll have to do the honors then," he said, leaning deeper against Hutch.
Hutch signaled his agreement without words, hugging Starsky close. The grass underfoot was dry and brittle, but not hard to walk on. Even so, Hutch was glad to find a dusty old deer trail and followed the dirt path, slowly moving them downhill. Starsky concentrated on ignoring his dizziness and the warm dripping of blood down his arm. He conserved his draining energy as they scuffled their way back toward the campsite.
Hutch held Starsky up as much as possible, to make the trip easier on him.
Stupid. He was so stupid. Hunting accidents were for amateurs. Not professional cops. The same thoughts went round and round inside his head.
"How you holding on?" Hutch asked.
"'Em holdin'." Starsky scowled. "Don't worry, not ready for the grave yet." He gave a half snort.
Hutch rolled his eyes. "Good. 'Cause I'm too tired to bury you. We're almost there," he said, clamping down on his lower lip, not finding the conversation funny.
Starsky clenched his hands into fists, fighting hard to stay with it, but everything around him became blotchy. "Hutch," he huffed under his breath. Unable to prevent it, Starsky felt himself go down.
Darkness drifted away, and he woke to the sound of bustling next to him. Starsky opened his eyes and stared curiously at his partner. He seemed to be flooded with numbness. Even his mind was frozen. The only thing he recognized was his partner sitting right at his side. He noticed Hutch's forehead was wrinkled, an indication that he was in pain. He seemed too busy rifling through a small white box to notice him. Starsky stared at his frantic partner a long moment before licking his lips and testing his vocals.
"Hutch," he barely heard himself utter.
Hutch glanced up only for a second. "Hey, lost you there for a minute, buddy. Welcome back." He gave Starsky an uncomfortable smile, then dropped his head, rummaging through the first aid kit.
"What?" Starsky frowned. "What went wrong?"
Hutch took a small bottle marked alcohol and dumped some onto a thick gauze pad, before turning back to gently wipe Starsky's shoulder.
"Try not to move, Starsk, this will probably hurt." Hutch's voice was sad and shaky as he cleaned around the edges of his shoulder wound.
Starsky turned his head to look at what had his partner so worked up. At first he was fascinated. It was like the shoulder didn't even belong to him. But the more Starsky looked at the torn flesh, and half dried, half wet blood, the numbness he'd felt faded fast, and his memory flooded back. The pain scorching his shoulder was like a white-hot poker jabbing him. Starsky rolled his head back and forth, trying to get a grip on his agony.
He'd been shot.
By his own partner.
He stiffened, feeling Hutch's every touch, even as gentle as it was. He wanted to cry out, but he held it in, only his chest hitching as he took in a small gasp of air.
"Errr….." Starsky bit his lip at the wimpy sound that escaped against his will.
"Sorry, Starsk." Hutch didn't look up. "I gotta clean it, take a better look at this," he stated, still not making eye contact. "What a mess," he mumbled more to himself.
"Hutch, don't worry so much." Getting no reply he tried again. "Been shot like this before. Gets easier with practice," Starsky baited, but Hutch didn't bite. "Hey, how-how long was I under?"
Hutch still didn't answer, working intently to get the bleeding to stop. He lifted Starsky slightly so he could wrap his shoulder in some clean cloth he'd found in the first aid kit.
"Guess I can't blame you if you never spoke to me again." Starsky gritted his teeth, turning his head away so Hutch wouldn't see his misery.
"Me?" Hutch questioned loudly, finally looking at his partner, and suddenly realizing what Starsky was trying to do. "Course I'll talk to you. Just a little preoccupied at the moment, pal." He finished wrapping the wound and then laid a hand to Starsky's chest. "You've lost a lot of blood," Hutch informed with a guilt ridden voice. He turned to the first aid box and pulled out a bottle, shaking several aspirin into his palm. Slipping his hand to the nap of Starsky's neck he raised him up a bit. "Here, I want you to take these. They're better than nothing." Hutch popped the white tablets into Starsky's mouth and helped him to drink from a cup of water.
Starsky choked, drinking in too deeply, and the cup was being quickly pulled away. Hutch elevated his head a little higher to help him swallow better. Starsky kept his eyes on his partner, tightening his jaw against the fiery pain in his shoulder.
"Hurt very much?" Hutch sat back on his heels, concern and guilt filling his eyes. He ran his fingers through Starsky's hair, cursing himself.
"Nah." Starsky grimaced shaking his head.
"Bad enough I dragged you up here, now I've gone and shot you," Hutch spoke under his breath.
Trickles of warm sweat rolled down the sides of his face, and Starsky's body shook at the effort to fight back the pain. Despite his best heroic effort, he grunted.
"Starsk." Hutch's eyes were soft, and his bottom lip quivered. "I hurt you. I'm so sorr--"
"Not going to die, Hutch. Not today." Starsky stopped him. "If that's what you're worried about." Hutch dejectedly brought his hand back down, and Starsky caught it and squeezed tight. "Was an accident. Your aim is improving."
Hutch put on a brave face. "Look, this isn't that bad," Hutch said to ease his own mind, yet he knew that anytime a foreign object entered the body, it was bad. "But you do need a doctor. You got a bullet in your shoulder, and it's bleeding good. Think you can stay here alone for a while? I have to get to the car and call--"
Starsky sat up instantly a wave of dizziness plowing through him. "Can't leave me behind," he gritted.
"Starsky, it's about two and a half-three miles back to the car. I don't think you can make--."
"Not staying here alone, Hutch. I can make it to the car."
Hutch pressed his lips together. "Stubborn."
"So, I'm stubborn, still not staying here, alone."
Hutch checked the bandages one more time. "That should just about do it," he said, sitting further back on his heels to gaze at his friend. There was nothing more he could do. "Okay. Okay, Starsk. You win." Hutch gave in, not comfortable with the idea of leaving his wounded partner alone either. "Just rest a little, buddy. I'm going to pack a couple things, and then we'll make our way slow and easy down the hill to the car."
Hutch didn't notice the fresh air anymore, nor the brush of color as wildflowers danced softly in the wind. The floating warm memories of his grandfather and his rifle were long gone, turned down a dangerous windswept path. All he noticed was how hard Starsky was breathing, and how his body brutally quivered with each ungainly step, straining against the pain.
"Easy, pal." Hutch could tell his partner was hurting a lot. "Ready for a rest?" he asked. Feeling Starsky slump downward, Hutch stopped to readjust the weight of his partner, the rifle, and backpack.
"Keep going." Starsky let out a deep sigh
"You sure you still want to do this? I could--"
"Sure. I'm sure." Starsky's voice was rough and his body tight as he took another step, holding back a grunt.
Hutch regrettably moved with him. "Try to relax, Starsk. The more you tense up, the more it will hurt. Relax." Hutch repeated the word in a one-two musical beat. "Relax. Relax. Relax."
Starsky did as Hutch said, trying to let his body loosen up. He willed his heart rate to slow. Drew in deep breaths, to disconnect his shoulder from the rest of his body. It seemed to work for a moment. The pain dulled. He could feel himself growing heavier in Hutch's arms, a cloud of gray smoke filling his vision, and his chin dropped to his chest.
"Not that relaxed," Hutch chuckled uncomfortably. "Don't cut out on me, buddy." His partner was slipping from his grasp and he tugged him closer. He could carry Starsky for awhile, over his shoulder, but it still was a ways to the car, and he knew he couldn't make it the entire way with all that weight on his sore back.
"I'm good," Starsky breathed out, but his vote of confidence did little to ease Hutch's guilt, which was a destructive force. "'S okay, Hutch, I'm--" Starsky unexpectedly stumbled, heading toward the ground.
Hutch was quick, catching him halfway, and lowering Starsky to the dusty trail so that he could crouch next to him. Hutch stretched out a hand and gathered a few nearby leaves and arranged them as a pillow, lifting Starsky's head to place on the natural softness.
"Easy." Hutch peered down at his friend, his own heart pounding as he took inventory of Starsky's worsening condition. The shoulder wound seemed to be bleeding again, although not heavily. "How-how was your trip, huh, buddy?" Hutch asked, with a small smile, working to distance himself from his own pain. He was to blame for this. He had shot his partner. God, that hurt like hell.
"Trip was just fine, thanks," Starsky played along. Looking over at Hutch, he gave a lopsided smile, forcing down the knife-like stabbing that had returned to his shoulder. "You do nice work." He gave a small laugh.
"Me?" A tight knot formed in Hutch's chest when he'd recalled the river they'd crossed to get here. "You're the one with the bad timing, buddy." Hutch stared deeply into Starsky's eyes, wanting this all to just be a bad dream.
"Just couldn't take another night of your cooking," Starsky said, sternly, closing his eyes. It was time to play it tough, he wasn't going to be dragged down by weakness, or let his partner be taken down by guilt.
Hutch's jaw squared. "Just rest here a minute, pal." He stood, taking a breather of his own, he leaned on his grandfather's rifle, studying the area. Not far off, he could hear the river's flowing water. Hutch recalled that it wasn't that deep, but the water tumbling over moss covered rocks would make it hard going for his partner. Trying to make their way around the stream would take them out of their way and waste precious time. Hutch listened to Starsky's slow and deep breathing. He had finally succumbed to the pain and weariness of blood loss. It somehow gave Hutch relief. At least his partner could rest a minute.
Hutch looked at his grandfather's rifle. What once gave him such pleasure now seemed to haunt him. Hutch's shoulders stiffened, his whole body tight, at the memory of his partner seen through the scope of a rifle was a tough thing to forget.
Forest shadows cast dark patches between the trees, the air was balmy, gentle, and the birds sang sweetly. He stretched his cramping limbs that were sore from holding up most of his friend's weight. Fear and guilt gutted Hutch, but he forced it to leave his body. There was no time to allow precious energy to be wasted on his wildly impulsive emotions. The situation at hand demanded he get his partner the help he needed. Right now, that was all that mattered. He watched the wildlife around him, trying to turn his thoughts off while guarding over his sleeping friend.
Hutch thought more about his grandfather. About snow covered trees. Of sleeping in a small canvas tent for two. Waking in the morning to his grandfather scrambling eggs over a crackling fire. Then later making for the open meadow, in search of their prey.
As a young hunter of 12, Ken had once almost made a huge mistake. He had caught a glimpse of something in the tall grass. Lacking experience, and wanting nothing more than to impress his grandfather, he quick stepped toward his prey. It was a large bird, and Ken was excited. He took aim, and tightened his finger on the trigger.
Just before he could take the shot his grandfather had come up behind him. A hand to his shoulder instinctively made the young Hutchinson recoil. He watched as the bird took flight, the large wingspan identifying it as a bird of prey. It had left behind its dinner, the carcass of a rabbit. Ken had mistaken the raptor for a turkey. He hand not taken the time to get a good look at the eagle before getting the bird in his sights. His grandfather's quick action had stopped him from killing an endangered species. He had nearly killed a young bald eagle who hadn't even grown it's white head plumage yet.
make mistakes, Ken," his grandfather's words rang out clear.
"Always face up to what you have done and
accept the consequences, then move on," was all the older man had said.
A sound shook Hutch from his thoughts, the image of his long ago near mistake replaced by the present one.
"Humph." Starsky gritted his teeth.
Hutch scrunched his brow, fighting the oncoming headache as he crouched down next to his partner.
"Awe," Starsky grunted, feeling a lot of pain.
"Hold steady, partner, He thought he heard Hutch say, but everything was spinning around and he could barely see straight. Starsky looked up at Hutch, concentrating on taking in deep breaths to keep himself from throwing up.
"Hey, buddy," a voice tenderly called to him. "Just me."
Starsky cautiously lifted his head, the measly task sapping him of energy. Hutch's hand came to the nape of his neck for support. "Take it slow, Starsk. You feel better after your little snooze?"
The wave of dizziness spun Starsky around for a few moments, before he was able to gain his bearings again. "Wasn't sleeping," he stubbornly said, averting his eyes.
"Sorry, partner, my mistake," Hutch offered in a soft voice.
"All the way around," Starsky grumbled, under his breath.
Well, now that we have that straight, you ready to get going, Starsk? Few yards ahead we need to cross the river. The car is not far after that."
Hutch's conscience nagged at him but he resisted giving in to the guilt--he would deal with that later. Right now, Starsky was more than likely in a lot of pain and needed his full attention. His only responsibility was getting Starsky proper treatment. Hutch had to focus all his thoughts and energy on that one goal.
Silently Starsky tried to sit up, but with a growl of pain, he fell back.
"Starsk, hey, I got this." Hutch bent to slip a hand under Starsky's back, intending to help him up.
"I can do it myself, Hutch!"
Hutch backed off, a cold place settling in his heart. He watched Starsky's breathing accelerate as he struggled to sit up. Seeing that he could hardly move, Hutch didn't let him struggle for long. "Can I help now?" Hutch stretched out a hand, noting his partner's grit and tough guy attitude.
Starsky peered up at Hutch, scowling, without saying a word. Hutch took that as a sign of acceptance. He gently wiggled his hand under his partner and eased him to a sitting position. Then he wrapped his arm around Starsky's waist and with a grunt, Starsky was finally on his feet. They made their way down the widening path toward the river, Hutch supporting most of his friend's weight.
Hutch snuck a peek at his partner. Starsky was shaking with weakness, and pale, beads of sweat popping out all over his forehead, with every step he gritted his teeth.
"Relax," Hutch whispered, soothingly, stopping just as they came to the sandy edge.
The water was clear and not very deep. Hutch blew out a slow breath, he could see the rocky bottom, watched the water flow steadily over slick boulders. They had easily crossed over the day before but now it would be perilous.
It would be foolhardy to try and carry Starsky across. The current was fast, and his footing wouldn't be very stable, but it appeared that was Hutch's only choice. The water was cold, and could send his partner further into shock
"Starsk, I'm going to have to carry you." Starsky opened his mouth to argue, but Hutch wouldn't listen. He pulled away, turning Starsky to face him, and steadying him with both hands to his forearms. "Look, I don't want you getting the chills."
The truth of the matter was, Starsky didn't think he could make it across, anyway. The pain in his shoulder was cutting off the light of day. Everything seemed hazy. As if he were in a dream. He already had the chills, assumably from a drop in blood pressure, caused by blood loss. Starsky didn't like feeling this vulnerable. It scared him. Made him angry. It wasn't Hutch's fault. It really was an accident. But right now the pain kept him from thinking straight.
"Okay," Starsky ground out, looking away.
"Hey, buddy." Hutch recognized Starsky's reluctance to be so needy. "I'm right here. Going to get you out of here."
"Good thinking," he said sarcastically.
Hutch ignored the bite in his partner's voice, and brought Starsky's good arm up to encircle his neck, then swept him clumsily into his arms.
"This is a little bit embarrassing," Starsky said.
"More than a little," Hutch joked, as he waded in.
The water lapped just below Hutch's knee-caps as he sloshed through the river. He could feel Starsky becoming heavier in his arms. Only once did he nearly fall, loosing his balance on a slippery rock. "I got you, partner. I got you," he panted heavily to convince himself. Hutch took each step slowly, very alert of his footing, as the icy coldness of the current kept pushing against him.
It didn't take long to reach the opposite side. Hutch kept walking several feet, intending on carrying Starsky awhile more. "Just put me down. I can earn my own keep," Starsky said, struggled in his arms.
"Okay. Easy, easy, don't fight me." Hutch quietly said, as he carefully lowered Starsky back to his feet, without releasing his strong grip on his partner's waist.
Starsky was shaking with weariness, his face drawn, and skin shining with sweat. He swayed, ready to give up. Unable to think clearly, he moaned. "Oh-h-h, Hutch."
"I got you. I got you, buddy."
"Yeah, you sure did," Starsky said, wincing hard.
Hutch sucked in a deep breath ignoring his friend's smart-assed comment. "Think you can go just a little further?"
Painful as that thought was, Starsky nodded, "Not much choice," he groused.
Walking over clumps of rocks, fallen leaves and tangled tree roots wasn't easy going. Each jarring step brought flaming red agony to Starsky's shoulder. He feared passing out. Everything around him seemed distorted, his vision nearly failing him, and he could feel his pounding heart trying to escape his chest. He clutched tighter to Hutch's jacket.
"Still hurts bad, huh, babe?" Hutch asked, guilt coloring his tone.
"This isn't going to work," Starsky groaned, trying to keep his feet moving.
Hutch gently tugged his partner along. They were almost to the car, and couldn't waste anymore time resting. The longer it took to get medical help might increase the danger of Starsky going into shock. They had to keep going. "You can make it, Starsk. Got me here helping you," Hutch encouraged.
"Says you." Starsky's eyes rolled up, and he sagged forward.
"Says me!" Hutch pulled him closer, keeping him moving. "Hey, pal," Hutch began, trying to distract his friend from the pain. "Take a look around. Isn't it beautiful? Just beautiful."
"Seen enough," Starsky snapped, losing his footing, desperate not to blackout.
"Buddy, you okay? I could carry you." Hutch knew that would slow them down to a snail's crawl, if that's what it took to get Starsky to safety, he would shoulder the burden.
"I can manage," Starsky stubbornly answered, feeling the need to be in control again. "I'm fine." His voice became harsh. "Look, do me a favor, Hutch. Next time you decide to shoot me, think you could use a squirt gun?
Another groan of pain came to Hutch's ears. "Starsky, are you done now?" Hutch's frustration and anger surged. He'd never have done anything to hurt his friend. Not on purpose. "Because, I-I-" At a loss for words, Hutch pressed his lips grimly together.
"Sorry," Starsky muttered, shaking his head, the pain was near unbearable. "I'm okay, Hutch." Starsky kept his eyes downcast, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other without falling.
'You're the worst liar in the world, Starsk.'' Hutch thought, 'I applaud your efforts there, partner, but I know you better than that.'' He studied his partner. Starsky's face was snow-white, he was sweating all over the place, and his breath seemed to be picking up speed with every step. Hutch's insides burned with guilt. He decided to stop just for a minute to let his friend catch his breath.
"What are you thinking about, Hutchinson?" Starsky could feel Hutch's pain, could see the emotions changing his face with every thought, knowing that he wasn't being the best of company, Starsky tried to rectify his earlier anger. "You better only be thinking about a half dozen sexy lovesick woman in bikinis on a deserted island somewhere. And we're the only two men around for miles." Starsky waggled his eyebrows at his partner.
"Starsky, that's a load of bull."
"Okay, a tiny load, but it's what you're thinking about. Right, Hutch?" Starsky's teasing grin went serious. They were in danger, they both knew it but the easiest way to alleviate the stress was to ignore it completely.
'Whatever you say, buddy.' "Ah, actually, Starsk, I-- I was thinking about how cute you look in your red thermals." A twinkle came to Hutch's eyes.
"More--more like how--" A shiver shot through Starsky and he tore his gaze from Hutch. "incredibly handsome," he mumbled under-the-breath-of pain.
Hutch gave a snort of laughter even though he tried to hide the shudder in his own body. "Come on Casanova, the car's right over here, just a few more minutes." It was a good thing too, Hutch thought, as they started walking again. Starsky couldn't go much further, he was near collapse, the car was just around the next bend, and once there Hutch planned to call the nearest hospital, letting them know the situation and that they were on their way.
"Hutch, where'd you get that damn rifle, anyway?" Starsky asked out of the blue.
Hutch was quiet for a long moment feeling his own heart beating. "My grandmother gave it to me," he solemnly answered, "the day we buried my grandfather."
"You know, he would have loved this place. Would have called it a birdwatcher's paradise," Hutch gave a small laugh, images of his grandfather flooded his mind. "Used to love watching him trim his mustache, and man he could whistle a tune. Anything you wanted to hear, he could whistle it for you." Hutch smiled. "I miss him so much. This old rifle-" he shrugged his shoulder jostling the weapon. "Its kept me connected to him somehow. Every time I touch it, see it, I remember my grandfather, as if I were standing right there next to him." Hutch's lower lip quivered. Now every time he'd look at the Browning, he'd think of the time he near killed his best friend.
"How'd, how'd he die?" Starsky asked softly.
Hutch drew his lip between his teeth, remembering his grandfather's gravelly smoke worn voice the last year of his life. "Lung cancer. Forty years of smoking cigarettes finally caught up to him."
"You never told me."
"I like remembering him alive, Starsk. I think of his smile, of how he loved to plant things, growing his tomato's in coffee cans out on the back porch, hunting with his rifle. I don't concentrate on his death. I concentrate on his life. Good times. You know?"
"I know." Starsky's feet faltered and he stumbled again, desperately trying not to blackout.
The ground here was dusty and full of rocks. Hutch maneuvered them around a particularly large cluster of stones, that was blocking the path, but Starsky's feet were dragging. He could hardly walk, the pounding rhythm of his heart lulling him into blackness. He let out a small gasp. "What's going on?" he asked, eyebrows drawn together in confusion
"Hold on," Hutch said, taking in deep breaths. The last few yards weren't an easy thing. Starsky had sagged heavier against him, and Hutch desperately struggled with the backpack, grandfather's rifle, and the increasing weight of his friend. If he didn't hurry they'd both be down on their knees. "Almost there, partner."
Finally making it to the car, Hutch, dropped his backpack to the dirt and propped his grandfather's rifle up against the rear bumper, before nearly dragging Starsky to the passenger door.
"Here we are. Time to leave this place," he said, guiding Starsky up against the car. "Just stay right there, for a second, pal." Starsky suddenly went limp, slowly sliding down. Hutch quickly took hold of him, helping to get his partner settled against the car. "That's it. Just rest here, Starsk." Hutch gave Starsky's tummy a gentle pat, then started to dig about in his jacket pockets for his keys. "Not one of our better camping expeditions, huh, Starsk?" Hutch asked, still searching for his keys.
"'S good to mix it up, Hutch." Panting breaths. "Bored doing the same thing all the time."
"Yeah," Hutch said, laughing softly.
Starsky closed his eyes, feeling for a moment that the ground just might swallow him. He tried to find someplace to put the pain that rippled down the length of his arm. He could feel Hutch's regret as if it were a bowtie knotted too tightly around his throat.
"Where are my keys?" In frustration, Hutch patted his front jeans pockets. "Damn it." Not finding them there either, he patted his rear pockets.
Starsky remained quiet, with his eyes closed.
"How you doing, buddy? All right?" Hutch asked, hurriedly moving to the rear of his car and squatting to unzip the flap of his backpack. Maybe his keys were in there?
Hutch looked up when he got no answer. "Starsk? You're not going to bail out on me are you?" Hutch's hands fumbled inside the dark pack, keeping his eyes locked on his partner. "Huh?"
"No. I'm terrific."
The words sounded clipped, tight, and pain filled. Hutch knew Starsky had rehearsed them in his mind before saying them out loud. "You're not looking too terrific."
Starsky opened his eyes, and blinked away the spots he saw. "When was the last time you looked in a mirror, Blondie?"
Hutch admired his friend's staying power. "Keys!" He yanked them jingling from his pack. "Wait just a second, Starsk." Hutch rose to his feet and quickly opened the passenger door, then wrapped an arm around Starsky's waist, easing him away from the car.
Hutch rose, and quickly helped Starsky into the car. He tossed the pack to the backseat, before retrieving his grandfather's gun from the back bumper, and getting into the driver seat.
Adrenaline surging, Hutch fumbled to get the keys into the ignition, but in his haste he dropped them to the floorboard. "Damn it!" Hutch could hear Starsky's labored breathing, and his brow furrowed when he looked at his friend. He could see that the last few moments had taken their toll, and it squeezed his very soul to know he was the cause.
Starsky sat quietly, feeling as if he were in a dreamy haze. He had to stay clear- headed but the pain dug deep into his shoulder, ripping away his focus. Using his right hand, he clasped the left shoulder to maintain some semblance of control as he struggled to get comfortable in the seat. Starsky's shoulder throbbed, and it was impossible to ignore. Shutting his eyes, he sank back against the seat. He had been pushed to his limit and beyond that was unconsciousness.
"Going to get help, very soon, buddy. Hang tough."
"Don't--don't think hangin's such a good idea--Umphh!" Starsky's jaw clenched, and he shifted again.
"Hey. Hey!" Hutch reached a protective hand over to pat Starsky's thigh. "Easy, buddy. Deep breath," Hutch encouraged. "Starsky, it's not such a good idea be moving around, pal. It'll hurt more if you do, and start the bleeding up again." Then he added. "Man, no offense, but you look like hell."
"None taken. C'mon, Hutch, forget it." Starsky's Adam's apple bobbed. "Where would I be without you, huh?"
"Pretty much right where you are now, partner," Hutch said, feeling something cold and icy stick in his throat that he couldn't gulp down. He couldn't forget it, but for now he would. He had to concentrate on getting his partner to a doctor. With a closed-lipped smile on his face, he could only nod. He quickly bent down and snatched the keys, this time not fumbling as he started the engine.
With one hand on the steering wheel and the other covering Starsky's hand that lay curled in a fist on the seat, Hutch pulled out onto the dirt road. "Gotta drive now, buddy." Hutch gently squeezed his friend's fingers. "Just keep with me."
"Go on," Starsky whispered, closing his eyes and trying to suck up the pain. "I'm with you."
( A couple days later)
"Hey, how you feeling, pal?" Hutch asked, his face doing a vanishing act behind a huge vase of colorful flowers.
"Where do you want these?"
"Over by the window with the other half dozen you brought me."
Hutch set the vase down, and nervously arranged a few stems, before going to sit in the chair near his partner's hospital bed. For awhile they just exchanged small talk, tap-dancing around the tender subject of two days ago.
"The ceiling, mostly." Starsky shrugged, bored out of his mind because he was forced to lie in a hospital bed when he felt well enough to go home.
"How's the food?"
"How do you think?" Starsky moved his shoulder stiffly, wincing.
Noticing his partner's pain, Hutch felt his heart turn inside out, and he clenched his fingers, his hands twisting into tight fisted balls. He was the cause of it all. "Well, at least you got the pretty nurses tending to your every need." Hutch tried to cheer.
"Might be pretty, but they come in here with only one motive in life."
"Oh yeah, what's that?" Hutch asked a sympathetic look on his face.
"Poking holes in people with their spears." Seeing the look of dismay on Hutch's face, Starsky added, "Just pretend I'm not here, Hutch, that's what I'm doing."
Hutch wrung his hands together, he felt shaky. It was odd that two days had passed and he felt worse now then he had when the shooting first happened. He wanted to run. Run from the room, but he forced himself to stay put. Was he really man enough to shoulder his grandfather's rifle? Maybe he was still that small boy who never learned from his first mistake of nearly shooting an endangered species? He never wanted to be in this position again. Starsky meant everything to him and he'd always had his back. How could Starsky trust him now? He didn't even trust himself.
"Dobey said to take as much time as you need. Mean time he's got me going through all the old files and reorganizing."
"What else he say?" Starsky asked, he could tell there was more to it then that.
Hutch clammed up.
"Come on, Hutch, tell me?"
"Not much to tell. He called you a faker."
"He's on to me," Starsky said, a glint of laughter in his eyes.
"Got the lecture after he talked to the doc, confirming my story."
"Ah." Starsky waved his uninjured hand in the air. "Dobey's not that scary."
"That's a matter of opinion, Starsk." Hutch scrubbed at his chin, recalling the roof--raising in the man's office.
"Want to tell me about it?"
"Nope." Hutch looked right into Starsky's eyes.
"Starsky, leave it alone." Hutch's jaw was visibly tight, and he looked away avoiding Starsky's intense gaze.
"Hutch." Starsky raised a shaky hand, but hot fire shot through his shoulder and an involuntary whimper left his lips.
Hutch turned toward his friend. "Hey, you okay?" Hutch reached for his friend, but froze, yanking his hand away and clasping them once again in his lap, his heart squeezed with guilt.
"How's the shoulder?" Hutch sat forward, eyeing the heavily bandaged wound.
"Another couple weeks, and I'll be able to hit one out of the park." Starsky looked sideways, not wanting Hutch to see him wince in pain again.
Hutch's stomach twisted into a hard knot, and the words he had held in for two days after his friend's surgery came tumbling out his mouth. "I'm so stupid, Starsky." He swallowed the bile that coated the back of his throat. "I put you at risk. Could have gotten you--"
"Will you forget it?" Starsky turned to look at Hutch, noting the ice-cold fear in his eyes. "I'm fine," he said softly.
Anger suddenly hit him and Hutch could feel his blood beginning to boil. How was he supposed to forget that? "Starsky!" Hutch's voice high-pitched. "Catch a clue, partner! I-I almost got you kill-killed." His voice broke.
"Hutch, I forgive you. Wasn't like you shot me on purpose."
Hutch jerked at the words "Yes, but--what if?" he trailed off.
"But, nothing, partner. I don't want to have this talk. I'm okay. It was an accident. From now on just aim at the bad guys or those funny paper targets on the firing range. Just remember if you're going to aim anything at me again make sure it's either a squirt gun, or your finger." Starsky gave a small chuckle, then got serious seeing the concerned look on his partner's face. "Look, Hutch, don't argue with me. You've saved my life more times than I care to count. You took care of me. Got me help. You always have my back. Just like I have yours. Now, go home. Take a shower. Eat. Get some rest. Couple more days, we'll be back out on the streets, and--"
"Bossy, aren't you?"
"Not your boss, just know what you need to be doing." Starsky inclined back into the pillows. " I still trust you." Starsky was quiet for a second. "Don't you trust us, huh, Hutch?" He whispered, closing his eyes again.
"I'm so sorry, buddy." Hutch sat unmoving, so many things still running around in his brain.
"Hutch." Starsky's own heart ached for the pain and regret burning inside his partner. "Confound it!" Starsky's eyes flew open. Hutch's heart jumped at the word his grandfather so often used. "Even good guys make mistakes. You faced up to it like the man your grandfather taught you to be, now, accept it, and move on."
Hutch's heart stalled then started again. The words were so familiar. Different, yet the same. He could almost feel his grandfather's hand upon his shoulder. "That's what he would have said," Hutch whispered.
Starsky continued. "If I didn't have you by my side it'd be something-- I'm the one who'd be sorry for the rest of my life, Hutch." Starsky titled his head to the side, and closed his eyes, feeling exhausted. "Stop picking on my partner. Partner. Or I'll have to take you out. Catch my drift?"
There was a long silence as the words settled into Hutch's heart, and he sat quietly unable to take his eyes off his friend. He had almost let everything his grandfather had taught him be stripped from him, by guilt and fear. If that happened then his grandfather would truly be dead. But because of his best friend and partner, Hutch would always be able to feel his grandfather inside of him, and honor his life, through his own, joyfully, until they met again.
Finally Starsky peeked open an eye. "What?" Hutch asked, under the heavy scrutiny
"I'm wondering why you're still here? Don't you know this is a hospital? People need to get their rest."
"Okay, I'm going." Hutch stood straight and tall, heading for the door, just as he pushed it open he was stopped by his partner's voice.
"Hey." Hutch turned around. "Thanks for saving my life."
"One tries one's best," Hutch gave a small nod, he started to close the door but stopped. "Starsk, thank you, for--."
"I know." Starsky stopped him. "One tires one's best," he smiled, as Hutch quietly closed the door behind him.