"Does it hurt much, Dave?"
"Nah, mostly just itches a lot."
Starsky's smile was a masterpiece, Hutch thought as he raised his beer glass for another drink. Brave, self-deprecating, with just enough of a twist to the lips to let anyone with half a brain see that, yeah, his shoulder really did hurt, but he'd be damned before he'd admit it. The girls were eating it up, of course. Starsky might be a duffer at hooking fish, but women he could reel in with the best of them. The redhead actually had tears in her eyes, and the brunette was leaning forward, hanging on every word, her cheeks flushed.
"Hutch was the real hero," Starsky went on, waving casually across the table in his direction. "He got the gun, got the bad guys, saved the day. He'll probably get a commendation."
Hutch smiled a little and looked down at the table. Inside, he felt a knot of sickness. This was his part of the performance, the "aw, shucks, t'weren't nothin', ma'am" country-boy act that he could pretty well pull off in his sleep by now.
Through his lowered lashes, he saw the brunette's attention switch instantly to him from Starsky. It usually worked out that way: in any pair, there'd be a nurturer and a hero worshipper. He and Starsky were both set for the night.
"Wow." The brunette—Judy? Janice?—was watching him with open admiration. "That must have been so scary for you. "She reached out to touch his arm.
"Well, it was a little hairy—" Hutch broke off. He couldn't keep up the lie, couldn't go on with the nonchalant "all in a day's work for a cop" spiel that was supposed to follow. It hadn't been a little hairy, it had been a goddamn nightmare from start to finish. He could still feel the hot stickiness of Starsky's blood on his hands, the utter stillness in the body he had carried into the back room, a body so limp and so heavy he hadn't been sure that Starsky wasn't already dead. He'd pulled it together because he'd had no choice, because he wasn't going to lose Starsky to blind chance and a craving for Italian food, but he couldn't forget how close it had been. There hadn't been any heroism involved, just a gut-deep terror.
Starsky had needed him that night. Clutching on with all the strength he had left, letting himself hold and be held if only for those few moments of weakness and pain.
And now he was using the memory of all that closeness and need as just another round of bait in a honey trap.
Hutch looked up, to see the two girls were on their feet. They both met his eyes sympathetically for a moment, and the brunette patted his hand before turning and heading over to the washroom.
"Way to go, Hutch!" Starsky crowed softly, grinning from ear to ear, his eyes alight with laughter. "You got 'em, buddy boy, with that little it's-too-painful-to-talk-about look. All we gotta decide is your place or mine."
Hutch carefully set down his beer glass and pushed away from the table.
"Looks like it's yours, Starsk. I'm outta here."
When he had to, Hutch could move fast and gracefully. He made it all the way out to the parking lot and was actually opening the LTD's door before Starsky, still hampered by his sling, managed to catch up to him.
"Hey! What the hell's the matter with you, huh?" Starsky grabbed his arm and tried to pull him around. Hutch resisted, trying to make his own weight as difficult to budge as Starsky's had been that night, staring fixedly at the blurry moths swirling under the streetlight.
Starsky shook him, lightly at first, then harder. "C'mon, we got it in the bag now, don't—"
"Shut up!" Hutch managed to say. "Just shut the hell up."
"I can't do it, okay? I can't turn your blood on my hands into more fodder for the pick-up mill, not tonight, I can't, so just shut up!"
With a grunt, Starsky got up the momentum to swing Hutch at least partway around. Too fast and too unexpectedly for him to hide anything, and too damn sharp, always too damn smart, too easy for Starsky to see right through him.
Starsky dropped his hand and took a step backward, his eyes fixed on Hutch's face.
"Hutch?" He took another step back and ran his free hand through his hair, tugging at a fistful of curls. "This is heavy, man," he whispered, and partly turned away. He took a stride one way and then another, still yanking at his hair. "Heavy."
Hutch dragged in a breath, made his voice slow and calm. "Nothing heavy, pal. I've got a sinus headache, and I'm going home. You've got your choice of lovelies for the night. Have fun."
He hauled the car door open. For once the LTD started on the first touch of the key, without even a sputter to delay him as he wheeled out of the parking lot.
By the time Hutch got back to the cottage, the headache wasn't a lie. He prowled around the small space for a few minutes, debating among aspirin, brandy and putting his fist through the wall. Finally, common sense won out long enough for him to wring out a towel under the cold-water tap and flop onto the bed. He draped the wet cloth on his aching forehead, wincing at the chill. It didn't really help much, but it at least gave the illusion he was doing something useful.
What a fuck-up, he thought bitterly.
Well, with any luck, a night of dancing, beer and two willing ladies would make Starsky forget all about Hutch's little lapse into weirdness. And if he didn't, by morning the headache excuse should be well and truly viable.
After a while, Hutch dozed off. At least there were some distinct gaps in time when he couldn't remember feeling any pain in his head, so he supposed he'd been asleep. He came out of one of them to find Starsky standing over him, pulling the towel away from his eyes. The light made him gasp and squint, and Starsky muttered a curse and replaced the towel with a fresh cool one that dripped water down the side of his face.
"You make a better Camille than I do," Starsky said dryly.
Hutch lifted a corner of the towel and peered up at his partner through watery eyes. "What are you doing here?" A thought struck him. "Oh, Jesus, tell me you didn't bring those girls—"
"Nope." Starsky folded the towel back down. "Told 'em we got an emergency call and had to report in. Good thing about bein' a cop: girls actually believe that shit. Here." Hutch felt a glass push at his mouth, and obediently took a gulp of water, and then the aspirin that Starsky held to his lips.
"Starsk," he said, and then stopped. There wasn't anything to say, nothing to even say anything about. The best for all concerned was for him to keep his mouth shut and hope that Starsky would write it all off as a bad headache and bad memories.
He felt the bed dip as Starsky settled down beside him, and then two soft thumps that had to be the adidas hitting the floor. Hutch kept his eyes closed and the cloth pulled down over them.
He felt a nudge to his ribs, a shoulder pushing lightly at his.
"C'mon, blondie, shove over and give a wounded man some room here."
"You're gonna milk that for all it's worth, aren't you?" Hutch groused, but shuffled his rear sideways a couple of inches.
"Yep. Might as well get something out of bein' shot."
Hutch wasn't quite sure what was going on—wasn't sure he'd know even if his head didn't hurt too much to think straight—but the feeling of Starsky shoving in beside him to take up slightly more than his share of space was so normal and comforting that he found himself relaxing at last.
"You know what happens in Camille?" Starsky asked suddenly.
Hutch wracked his brains for a minute, and then shrugged. He wasn't up to remembering twenty-year old school plays.
"Well, it's pretty soapy," Starsky said. "Pretty dumb, too. See Camille loves this guy, but his dad convinces her she's no good for him, so she gives him the kiss-off and splits. By the time her guy tracks her down, she's dying, and it's too late."
"Yeah." Hutch's throat felt dry and achy.
"Now, the way I see it," Starsky said in a tone of great satisfaction, "we got a couple things going for us. Your old man doesn't give a damn what you do, and I'm not gonna die. So we're already way ahead of the game."
"Starsky." Hutch couldn't quite get his head around what was happening. "What happened to 'heavy'?"
Starsky's good hand came to rest gently on his chest. "You carried me. That's heavy enough for anybody."