Shootout: Role Reversal
by Kassidy Rae
He carried me. I never thought he'd have been able to do it. Maybe adrenaline, I don't know. The movement sent fire in my back roaring up and outwards. White, blinding pain. I bit down hard against it, trying not to show it, but he knew. Hard to fool him.
He laid me down on the couch and I moved, trying to get away from the fire. Just made it worse. I felt his hand cupping my face and opened my eyes. His face reminded me there was more than the pain.
"Hutch, Hutch, try to be still, okay?" His voice was husky.
"Listen, I could put your partner out of his misery for you," a voice floated over Starsky's shoulder.
"Get out. Now," Starsky ordered. His voice was even but deadly.
"Don't forget cop, I want to see your hands in the clear when you come out of here, huh?"
I closed my eyes. A mistake. The room swirled. I felt sick. Sweat popped out on my brow. Starsky put something in under my head, and I grabbed his arm. He stopped, putting his hand over mine.
"Where are we?" I asked.
"Moron. Where in the restaurant?" I muttered, and his smile lit the room for a second. I guess he preferred a smart-ass me over a comatose one.
"In the office," Starsky answered, sitting down in front of me on the couch. I felt him leaning, looking over at my back. I winced.
"My head..it hurts."
"Bullet creased your scalp. Thank God for that hard head of yours, huh?" he said, trying to smile. "Hey, I need that stuff!" he yelled suddenly, in the direction of the door. I felt him shift as if to get up and I put my hand on his leg. He understood, and settled back. "What's she waiting for, the Second Coming?" he groused.
"You're Jewish, Starsk. You never saw Him the first time, remember?" I muttered. He laughed, but his eyes were worried.
"Tell me.. how bad," I said.
"Not great, but you're gonna be okay." I closed my eyes. "Hey. Trust me." His breath was warm at my ear, almost tickling. I had to smile. He patted my hip, then rubbed my arm, leaning into me.
Funny thing about us. Whenever one of us gets hurt, the other offers his touch and his closeness, his body warmth, almost as if it could heal. Who knows? Maybe it does. All I know is it's something we need. I began to relax. I drifted.
"Here are the things you wanted," came the girl's voice, rushing into the room. Then Starsky, pressing something against my back. "Give me your hand," he told her. "Keep pressure on it." I gritted my teeth and looked up at the window, at the blue lightning flashing almost constantly, and the watery shadows cast against the wall, trying to get a handle on the pain as he moved me around, binding up the wound. I heard his voice and the girl's, but I couldn't take in much of what they said.
My breath hitched, bucking against the pain. I watched the wall.
"Hutch? You okay?" I shut my eyes. "I'm gonna move your head, okay?" he said. He adjusted the towel or whatever it was beneath me. There was a cool wetness against my face as he wiped blood from it again.
I heard a voice from outside the room. Demanding. Starsky ignored it, still talking to the girl. Whatever he said, she didn't like it-that much I got. Then the voice came again, and suddenly Starsky was kneeling in front of me. "Listen, I've gotta go back out there. Theresa's gonna take care of you `till I get back. `Kay?"
I opened my eyes, managing a slight nod. "Got a plan?"
"Not yet. But I will."
"Come back and see me sometime," I said.
I heard him snort a little laugh. "Be back before you know it," he said, reassuring, touching my arm. I looked at his eyes, crinkled at the corners, warm, intent on mine. I tried to read his fear for me and so gauge my chances. What I saw made me feel better, though I don't know why it should. He always was the eternal optimist.
Starsk saw my relief, and it made him feel easier about having to leave me. Funny how you can exchange so much with a glance.
And then he was gone. I was glad. I couldn't keep the pain away. It took me over.
I don't know how much time passed, but I don't think it was nearly as long as it felt. Whether because of an injury, a serious illness, whatever, there's something timeless about pain, and not in a good way. Each minute stretches into forever, wearing down your strength. If you can't find that place in your mind, that plateau where you take control, make yourself function in spite of it, you're helpless. That's death to a cop.
So I found it, watching the rain and lightning through the window.
Where the hell was he? What was going on? I said his name to Theresa. Next thing I know, Starsky came barreling in to check things out. I mean barreling. My partner hauls ass. Sometimes it wears me out, but now I was glad to see it. To see him.
"It's gonna be all right, I know it is. They'll do what they have to do and then they'll leave," Theresa said, tagging along behind him.
"You believe that, I got some swampland dirt cheap," he answered and swiveled until he was nose to nose with her. "If you can't face what's happening here and help us do something about it, it's gonna be a bloodbath. Is that what you want?"
Theresa broke away from Starsky, throwing a mutinous glare his way, but there was fear in her eyes. Maybe he'd gotten through.
After a minute he came to sit next to me, pulling in a deep breath. He leaned over, his voice considerably calmer, softer. "Hey. I'm back."
I laughed a little. "No kidding."
"Told ya I'd be back soon, huh. How ya doin'?" He patted my arm, pulling me forward on the couch, and I grimaced. "Easy, Blondie. Let me check you out, here…" he said, then leaned forward and grabbed a towel and the metal pitcher filled with water that Theresa had brought in earlier. "We're a couple a lucky guys, buddy. Looks like we're in the middle of a hit on Vic Monty. Those two guys out there are the hired help. They're not gonna want any witnesses left, except for Theresa. Being she's family."
"Yeah. Her brother got mixed up in the mob and killed in the process. She thinks Monty is the only one who's gonna pay."
"You always gotta go to where the action is, don't you?" I asked, trying to joke.
He froze, and his eyes went dark. "It, ah.. it was supposed to be a nice, quiet dinner." His voice was even, but the underlying strain came through to me, loud and clear. I blinked up at him, realizing what I'd said. God, I hadn't even thought about it. Why should I have? It wasn't his fault. But obviously he had.
"Starsk.." I tried to touch his shoulder. I missed. My hand batted around in the air, and he caught it in his.
"'S okay." He attempted a grin. "Stop moving, you big lummox. I gotta think." He pressed the towel to my back. Towels are supposed to be soft. It didn't feel soft. More like sandpaper. I wanted to yell, tell him to stop. I didn't. Instead I concentrated, trying to even out my breathing while he finished up. My back was one big screaming, throbbing ache. I looked out the window and tried not to make a sound. Starsky squeezed my shoulder. He looked as hurt as I felt.
"C'mon," I whispered. "What's next?"
He nodded, eyes hooded, and took another deep breath. "Okay. Need your watch, now." He felt around in my pocket, pulling it out. He looked at his, then adjusted mine. "Okay," he repeated. "I've synchronized your watch with mine, which is synchronized with the wall clock out there."
"Things aren't exactly calm out there, know what I mean? Wild Man Joey's got an itchy trigger finger. So we're gonna try something."
"Tell me," I said, trying to focus on him.
"Can you pick this up?" he asked me, hefting the pitcher before my face. "Heave it up against that wall there?"
Shit. The pitcher doubled before my eyes. "Sure," I said, and Starsky laughed in an oh-my-God kind of way. "Give it to me," I said, and cradled it against my body, hand wrapped around the handle.
"Make a lot of racket, okay?"
"Okay, okay. When?" I asked. I thought the damned thing was secure in my arm, but it started to slip. I clutched at it. "Stop looking at me, Starsky. I got it."
"I know, I know you got it. Listen.. if we get out of this, we're gonna quit the force. Find something less dangerous."
"Yeah? Like what?" I asked him, and then for some reason my partner was receding, retreating in darkness. No. I gripped the pitcher harder, gritting my teeth.
"We'll go down and knock off a few banks in Bolivia," he said, and there was that funny, sad grin, like he was afraid it was the last one he had to give.
I smiled back. "You bet," and then ruined it, letting a moan slip out when my back muscles suddenly seized up. Damn. "We could always use more money..."
"..less danger," he added, but his voice cracked. His hand had lowered to touch my shoulder when I moaned, and now he rubbed, trying to soothe.
"When do I let this thing fly?"
Starsky cleared his throat and looked at his watch. "Five minutes. Give me enough time to get settled out there without them getting suspicious."
I squinted at my pocket watch. Dammit, focus! "Fourteen to twelve."
"Yeah," he said, but he didn't move. "Hey." He hesitated. "Uh, the next time you want scrambled eggs, don't let me talk you out of it, okay?"
"Not your fault." I wanted to say more, lots more, but time was running out.
"My feelings ain't what this is about. I'm telling you something," he said, intent. His hand wrapped around my free hand and squeezed hard. He watched me.
"I hear you," I said, knowing he was apologizing, knowing there was nothing to apologize for. I closed my eyes before realizing maybe that was the wrong thing to do and opened them again. "Be careful?"
He nodded and then he was gone.
It all faded to darkness.
Open. Open your eyes. Except I couldn't. I bit the inside of my cheek, hard. Harder, until liquid copper spread over my tongue and suddenly I was looking at dull walls and faded carpet.
Better. Check the time. One more minute. What's he gonna do? The watch swung on its chain in front of me. Lightning flared, and the metal lip gleamed with cold light. The numbers on the watch face blurred. I blinked. Again. Okay.
I dropped the pitcher down in front of me, below the couch cushion, handle tight in my hand, and swung out and up. The pitcher slammed into the corner of the window. There was a good loud crash, and water flew over the wall. The pain in my back was immediate, immense, and I writhed before getting control of myself.
There were voices, raised. A gunshot.
I rolled off the couch and hit the floor. I hung my head, fighting the ballooning, tearing ache that was my back and tried not to pass out.
Goddammit. No time for this. Find him.
I crawled, but then suddenly there was a dark shadow crouching next to me. "Hutch!" He sat down and held me to him.
"I'm right here," Starsky said, his voice as gentle as I'd ever heard.
"Jesus," I said, and swallowed. The words I'd wanted to say died out, stuck in my throat.
"I'm good, I'm okay, you hear?" he said, supporting me. A good thing, because I couldn't do it anymore. "You goin' after the bad guys now?" he asked. I thought I laughed, but maybe it didn't sound like laughter. Starsky bent down low, to my ear. "Hey. You'll get 'em next time."
"Did you? Get them?" I asked.
"I wish. Theresa's Mr. Macho boyfriend decided enough was enough. Asshole was probably late for the college panty raid. Something." I laughed at the disgust in his voice, and this time it sounded right.
"Think we can get you back to the couch?" he asked. I nodded, wondering if it was true. It was. Actually, by the time Starsky dragged me back over to the couch, I realized that the pain had disappeared, leaving me with the drunken euphoria you get when your body realizes it's no longer hurting. But I couldn't help him move me at all, and there was a dark corner of my mind that thought about that more than I wanted.
"You want me to sit you up?" he asked, panting.
"You think you can?"
"I'll try, you big lug. C'mon." Finally he got me sitting up on the floor, leaned against the couch, and put some pillows behind my head.
"What do you want me to do next?" I asked, watching him. It was like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. Damn I was tired.
"I'll let you know," he answered, finally satisfied with my position. He was sweating, breathing hard. "Just take it easy." I nodded and he raked a hand suddenly over the top of his head, clutching at his hair like he does when he's agitated. And I knew.
"I'm not going anywhere, Starsk." He gave a brief nod of assent, but stood quickly and walked away, over to the wall, leaning a hand against it.
Theresa came into the office. The pitch of her voice and his as they talked, the urgency in them made me think something new was in development, and it turned out that I was right. Starsky came back and knelt next to me. His voice was lighter, excited. "Hey hey, look what I got," he said, showing me a gun.
"Where'd you get it?"
"Theresa. Older than hell, and hadn't been cleaned in forever. Hope it doesn't blow up in my face."
I could feel the blood draining from my face. "Yeah well thanks for sharing that lovely possibility," I said before I could stop the words. "Gives me something to think about when you walk out the door."
His hand was on my shoulder, massaging. "C'mon, Hutch, huh?" I didn't move, didn't speak. Couldn't look at him. Finally he leaned his head against mine. "It'll be over soon."
That's all he had to offer me and I knew it. I nodded and did my best to smile at him. Probably looked pretty sick. Hard to smile when you're scared shitless this is the last you'll see of your best friend outside of a body bag.
I clutched his fingers once and let them go. "See you soon."
Within minutes there were more shots fired in the restaurant, voices shouting. My heart climbed up into my throat and I counted the seconds and prayed to a God that rarely heard from me, hating that I could only sit and wait.
Sometimes just when you think the chances of things ever returning to normal are non-existent.. they do. Starsky walked into the office and said, "It's all over, partner." Just like that. He looked pale, shaky, but the strut was back. My first clue that things were heading towards normal. "Ambulance should be here any minute."
A few hours later saw me settled in a hospital room, pleasantly looped on pain pills while Starsky sprawled in the chair beside my bed. "C'mere.." I whispered, going for pathetic, and Starsky jumped up and leaned in over me. "Do me a favor, would you?"
"Go eat something. The only thing I hate more than being in a hospital is you eating all my food while I'm here." I kept on while he drew back, giving me that squinty-eyed warning look. "Or maybe not. How can you eat that stuff? You know, Starsk, you probably shattered a personal record tonight. You missed a meal."
"I save your life and this is what I get. Asshole," he said companionably, and threw himself on the bed with me.
"Injured man here," I pointed out, raising my brows at him.
"Oh. Sorry." He wiggled, trying to get comfortable. Somehow he always takes up more space than he needs.
And sudden as that, against all the odds and despite my injury, I realized that we were back to normal, that what I'd asked for back in that office had come to be, at least for a short time. At least until next time.
But next time wasn't here yet.