Knotted

"I've never been to Africa," Hutch says.

It's one of those things that Hutch says sometimes, speaking into the silence inside the car, aiming the words nowhere in particular. In Starsky's mind, those kinds of statements fall into the same category as the occasional sweep of headlights across the ceiling or the crinkle of take-out wrappers crushed under a restless foot. Hutch doesn't expect an answer and Starsky doesn't give him one. Instead, Starsky shifts around to ease the crick in his neck and balls Hutch's jacket up tighter under his head so that he almost can't feel the armrest on the door. The backseat of a Torino isn't exactly luxury accommodation for a full-grown man. He drifts. Headlights, like the swell and ebb of waves. The smell of leather and mustard and bitter coffee. Hutch's aftershave, fading.

Africa.

Starsky dreams of elephants. Hutch--in the dream, maybe, or not--strokes a thumb across his lip and stares out the windshield, waiting. There aren't any elephants in Bay City, Starsky tells him.

You're dreaming, Hutch answers.

Oh, Starsky says, and keeps watching Hutch waiting for elephants.

^^^

Starsky's feet hit the asphalt while his brain is still on safari, so the cool, grey air is a shock like a bucket of water in the face. Hutch is already on the move, his ungainly shadow lunging away from the headlights of a passing car, rippling across the slats of the plank fence. Hutch catches up with it, then, and together he and his shadow spider up the fence and over and gone.

"Wait," Starsky whispers to himself. "Wait, wait, coming. I'm coming, damnit." He shakes the dust of the savanna out of his head and edges along the fence. At the corner, he holds his breath, listens. A bottle, kicked, empty and spattering echoes as it rolls in the laneway. The scrape of sneakers on gravel. Starsky goes low, pivoting around the corner, his jacket catching on a nail, tearing.

The punk is all eyes, wild and frightened and old, old, old in a young face. He tries to stop, skids on the gravel, goes down on his hip and scrambles away in the other direction. But Hutch is there, just a shape against the dawn-still bay at the end of the laneway. Seeing him, the punk spins again, heads for Starsky and the street, away from the shadow and the dead end at the water.

The gun gets tangled in the lining of the punk's pocket and he has to stop to look down so he can yank at it. When he raises the gun, his pocket is inside out and there's the glitter of falling coins. That's what Starsky remembers, later, the pocket inside out and the coins frozen in the air, each one gathering the meager light.

He doesn't remember them falling.

He doesn't remember the shot, either. Or the second one. He doesn't remember which one came first.

He only remembers the scattering of coins hanging in the air, and beyond them, Hutch, a shadow against the dawn-still bay.

"Nice one, buddy," Hutch says. "If you don't like my company, you could just say so." There's blood on his teeth. He laughs tightly and twists his fist into the sleeve of Starsky's jacket.

"Hutch," Starsky says. Hutch. Hutch. Hutch. He's snagged on the word and the harder he pulls on the thread, the tighter the knot gets.

"I guess he zigged when you zagged, huh?"

Headlights grope the laneway and pass on. Somewhere beyond the fence, and the one just like it and the one just like that one that mark out lives in neat squares of lawns and swing-sets and inflatable pools, there's a siren.

Later, when Dobey asks him, Starsky will say that he remembers coins and the siren narrow and thin and far away. Dobey will listen and sigh and go get them coffee which they won't drink. Next day, or the day after, when Hutch is out of ICU and back again in a bright room bitching about the food and flashing the pearly whites at the nurses, then Dobey will ask Starsky again. But now there's just coins frozen in the air, and a shadow against the bay, and the non-sound of a shot that went wrong. Time is knotted around that moment.

"Me neither," Starsky says into the silence of the recovery room.

Next day, or the day after, or six weeks from now, Hutch will look up from whatever he's reading, or he'll pause with his fork halfway to his mouth, or his face, creased with pain, will smooth into thoughtfulness and he'll say, "You neither what?"

"Africa."

Hutch will look at him like he's crazy and wonder out loud what the heck Africa has to do with anything, and Starsky will talk about elephants until Hutch rings for the nurse and begs for painkillers, Starsky being the pain needing killing at the moment, and he'll mean it. In his eyes there will be a spark of anger and it will be coins and light and Starsky will forget to breathe. But then Hutch will throw his book, or his mashed potatoes or his pillow at Starsky, and time will untwist.

Today, Starsky rests his chin on his folded arms on the back of the uncomfortable chair and closes his eyes and waits for elephants.

--the end--

THE END


Notes: This is for [info]kassidy62 who asked for "angsty Hutch and worried Starsky." I'm sorry, Kass, but I only got the second part in there, sorta. It's kind of an odd little snippet, with some whumping and so on (and, sorry, no penises or man-sexin' of any kind, alas!). Thank you to [info]mara_snh and [info]caersmane for the helpful prompt words: car, fences, time, twisted and Africa. ETA: and [info]droneish who psychically infused "drift" and "bitter" in there as I was writing.

Feedback welcomed at troyswann@yahoo.ca.

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