Note to reader:

Non-profit dreaming. I do not own the characters of Starsky and Hutch.

Thank you: Dawnwind for your kind beta read, you are a wonderful lady.

And

Thank you for dreaming with me!

Sunshine even in rain.

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BECOMING A COP

By: Karen B.

Summary: Make Hutch Hurl:: This was a contest entry from another site.

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Ever wanted to live in a cave?

Tonight I did.

I hunched over my beer bottle, listening to the babbling sounds of people, clacking pool balls and the ring of a miniature bowling machine in some dark corner of the tavern's flickering shadows. This was the third or maybe fourth bar I'd been to tonight. Bar-hopping usually wasn't my scene. But this night, I was alone and enjoying it. Sitting on that lonely bar stool, I wondered how many other desperate husbands where out there? Certain of the fact their wives had an complex plot to whack them?

I was sure my wife would be bringing into play that plot.

Vanessa was a well-kept, educated woman. She was style, sophistication and twinkling glamour. She was trendy clothes. She was private parties on private yachts. She was a sensual alluring, and sexy woman. I'll give her all that. Even at six am. lying in bed tangled between me and the sheets, she looked like she'd just stepped off the cover of Vogue.

But-- profound love? What did that mean? Deep insightful affection for another? That might have described my feelings for Vanessa in the very beginning. Before I knew what had happened to me, I was out of breath and married.

I was a tender, attentive, thoughtful guy. I trusted that I had all the things that made good marriage material, only to wake up one day and discover what that really meant. Apparently the only material that mattered to Van was the green kind that put status behind the name; Mr. And Mrs. Crusading Attorney at law, Hutchinson.

'I do, until death', was a promise that should have been bottomless, but it didn't take long for us to hit rock bottom.

Lifting my bottle, I finished off the rest of my beer. Stuff just wasn't numbing me fast enough. It was like drinking watered down glue, and I needed something more. Time to get out the turpentine. Looking up, I waved a hand at the bartender.

"Vodka on the rocks," I ordered, setting my beer bottle down and picking up another handful of salted pretzel sticks. "With a twist, and splash of tonic," I added.

"Hell of a formula," the bartender mumbled more to himself, between munches of chewing tobacco.

The man was brimming with character.

A moment later, he approached with my order and set the glass in front of me, not saying another word. I paid him and he walked away. If I didn't know any better, I'd have thought the guy had been peeled right off the pages of a history book. He looked like a Civil war veteran. His long blond hair was tinted gray, and he wore a starched dark blue shirt buttoned up to his neck in gold. But the most impressive thing was the wooly caterpillar draped over his lip. Growing that mustache must have been a major undertaking. Maybe I'd give it a go someday?

I downed my drink and ordered a couple more. On the third, fourth or fifth round, the bartender stood in front of me, squinting his eyes scornfully as he poured me another. I smiled at him, thinking I might ask for some marital advice, but he didn't smile back or say a word. Right off, I came to know he wasn't the stereotypic bartender you could shoot your mouth off to. He had a hard-look in his eyes, one that said:

Life happens, deal with it.

"You ever been married?" I plowed into uncertain territory. The result? A dark shadow seemed to settle over his brow and he squinted his eyes. He wasn't compelled to answer, more interested in filling my empty pretzel dish. "Know a good divorce lawyer?" I tried again, thinking I could have been one. Would have saved me from picking up every penny I could find.

The bartender's silence spoke for itself. This wasn't the place or time to have an intelligent conversation. I could tell he had enough thoughts and sage advice that could fill an entire set of encyclopedias. But his look told me he wouldn't be sharing any of his wisdom with me, or anyone else for that matter. He stuffed a wad of tobacco in his mouth, and continued to move on about his business, emptying ashtrays and wiping down the bar. I backed off, using my feet to swivel the barstool around.

Funny thing happens after you drink a couple drinks, your bladder fills to a painful size, and you find your reading has dropped a grade level or two. I squirmed, looking around for the men's room. Sighing, I swiveled back to the bar.

"Hey, can you--can you-- tell me where the john-- where the men's room is?" I asked Colonel Custer, not surprised when he didn't make eye contact with me.

"Over there," he said with a jerk of his head toward the back of the bar.

I wobbled off the stool, quickly dodging past a couple of drunken pool players. How'd I know they were drunk? The evidence was clear, as they suffered from extreme loss of balance, lack of coordination, and the profound idea they could drink one another under the table.

I would have made it to the john without incident, had it not been for the chair that jumped out in front of me, making me slip to the right. This caused one of the drunken fools to accidentally butt the blunt end of his cue stick just below my left eye. I should have felt it, but I didn't, just kept on walking. Despite the chair's assassination attempt, and after a few sniggering apologies from the drunken pool players, I finally made it to the can.

Once inside the john, I was happy to see it at least appeared to be clean. There was however, one small problem. I couldn't get the door to the single stall to open, jiggling and pulling on the handle for a good five minutes. I was just about to go back out into the bar and offer ten bucks to anyone who could work the world infamous lock, when I finally gained access. I made quick work of my business there and fumbled my way back to the bar, carefully watching for any more chairs that should try and stop me.

The Colonel was ready for my return, promptly serving another shot of vodka.

"One thing," he said, setting the drink down, still munching on his wad of chew. He bent down real low over the counter toward me. For a moment time stood still, even though I knew in reality the clock ticked on. "Want a piece of cheap advice there, buster?" he whispered.

Finally, some help.

"Yes," I answered in all honesty, bellying closer to the bar, readying to take in all that he had to offer.

"Zip up your pants," he whispered his recommendation, spit on the floor, then walked away.

Anyone ever tell that guy he was a rare gemstone in a black velvet pouch full of everyday diamonds? I snuffed in annoyance and without needing to look, zipped my fly, and sat back down.

I felt beaten. I stared down into the drink that was automatically placed before me, remembering our fight earlier this evening.

"Is this what you really want to do? Instead of becoming someone worthy?" Van yelled.

Did she think I'd change my mind? That if she waited long enough or bitched long enough I'd give it all up, just for her?

"You'd rather hang with that thug of a partner all day? Is that it, Ken? Rather walk the streets with a gun slung over your shoulder? Waking up sore? Eating leftover pizza every night and dragging criminals out of dirty back allies?"

"He's not a thug!" I yelled back, the friction lingering between us.

We'd only been married two and a half years and already I was lonely. It's not a good sign when you feel like an outsider in your own marriage. Van was a stonewall. She didn't care how I felt. I suddenly realized, as we stood toe to toe, when she was screaming at me with a red face, that I was the one carrying the torch in this relationship. All she wanted to carry was the checkbook. We got married young, too young, and now that love had faded to a whisper. I'd been a cop only one year, and the career path that I'd chosen sent our marriage into a totally different direction from the one Van had chosen for me-us.

Like my father, she simply expected me to become a lawyer. She didn't want the world to take notice of me, only her. She insisted we weren't going to be like all those other couples who struggled to pay the bills for a one bedroom apartment. I was the perfect fool, agreeing to limit myself to dreaming somebody else's dreams.

I tried.

For the longest time I tried to fill those shoes that weren't mine. But you can only be who you are. I finally discovered, the shoes I was shoving my feet into were ten sizes too big, and to continue doing so was not an option anymore. So, I stopped shoving.

I had gone against the wishes of my father and Van by dropping out of Law school, and joining the Police Academy. My wife wasted no time in telling me I was a failure. I thought she'd get over it, but I've come to learn, Van never held my feelings or my dreams in very high regard. She was self-absorbed. It was all about her, and I'd been bullshitting myself the whole time we were married. The Marriage contract, that I signed was worthless.

"Damn her!"

I picked up my drink. "Bottoms up." I swallowed, then slammed the glass to the surface of the scratched wood of the bar. Feeling eyes watching me, I looked up to see the bartender following my every movement.

"Pour me another round." Was all I said, and although I could tell he was reluctant, he honored my request. Something Vanessa never would do.

Satisfied my order was filled, I looked back down into the clear liquor that he placed before me. I never wanted to be a Lawyer. As a kid all I ever dreamed of becoming was a cop. Chasing the robbers. Picking apart every single lie until I found the truth, won the battle, and arrested them. In my dreams, the bad guys never got away and they always went to jail. I know that's not how it really is out there on the street, but reality never quite meshes with fantasy. And what had I done? I'd stood back with my hands in my pockets, letting others try to squash that dream.

The dream had all begun innocently enough. My fate, sealed at the age of ten. When I decided to follow my true heart's desire that I was going to be a cop, I told my wife that I was dropping out of law school to join the Police academy. She looked at me like I had some sort of disease or something. We argued for weeks, but in the end I'd won out. I could feel our marriage breaking apart, but I'd figured I could turn her around. Make her see. And if I couldn't-- I'd cross that bridge when I came to it--well I'd come to it.

Earlier tonight it all came to a head. I started off taking the stage with quiet diplomacy, and before I knew it, I was shouting and cursing like a wolverine; our heated words volleying back and forth, until she finally came back with words with twice the punching power as mine.

"I hate you, Ken. You've ruined my life!"

The words hung in the thick air between us, ringing through the silence.

At first I was totally stunned. Her statement was jaw breaking, a venomous strike, running deep into my blood. It hurt, and I knew, although the wound was the non-bleeding type; it would never heal. I thought I'd loved her. Thought she loved me. Enough that we could work things out. I thought wrong. All I could do was stand before her, my mouth hanging open, unmovable. I didn't think it was all that bad. I mean, I could think of worse ways to ruin someone's life. Becoming an officer of the law who was sworn to protect and serve, wasn't one of them. My choice of careers wasn't our only problem, just the worst one. I felt a sense of guilt. I'd let Van down. Let my father down. I was angry. I had been living in a prison, but I realized just then, there were no bars on my cell.

I couldn't be both cop and lawyer. I'd made my choice, over a year ago. Right then I made another choice. I couldn't accomplish married life and a cop's life. As it was, I couldn't sleep at night knowing how I'd disappointed everyone, and thinking of ways I could do both. I became overwhelmed with a mixture of sadness, failure and relief.

My throat tightened. "Is that what you really think? Van? I ruined your life?"

Her eyes burned with fire, looking straight into mine. "Yes!"

It should have come as no surprise, but it did. All this time all I was to her was a gravy train ride. Looking at Vanessa right then and there was like looking at a paper moon. Our marriage was a fake, and things would never be the same.

A growl rumbling deep in my throat pulled me from my thoughts. I picked up my shot, poised it in front of me, then took a few sips to quiet the rumble in my throat.

Staring through the half-empty shot glass, I recalled wanting to attack, to bite Vanessa back, but instead I bit my lower lip, afraid of releasing the savage animal inside of me. Afraid of saying what I really wanted, all the while knowing, she was no Little Red Riding Hood herself. I backed out of the fray. She had won. I should have been able to dig at that truth sooner. She always won.

I had given her a nod, acknowledging that we'd come to a turning point in our marriage.

I turned, calmly took my keys off the end table, and left the apartment, letting the door click softly behind me. Even though I was the one doing the physical leaving, I knew, Vanessa had left emotionally a long time ago. I wouldn't be coming back. Not ever. I'd send my best friend to pick up my clothes, and personal effects.

Where was I going now? I was going to a place where I knew I'd embarrass myself, but I felt hollow inside and needed something to fill the space.

I was confused, twisted and tangled up inside, determine to drink myself straight.

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There is a fine secret--a balance to drinking yourself straight. Too much liquor and you wind up with your essential components in a bunch. Too little? You don't even want to think about that one. I tossed back the last few drops of liquor, staring at the vacant bottom.

"Pour me another," I said, without even looking up. How many times had I repeated that verse? I shuddered feeling cold and alone, empty as the glass in my hand.

But this time another drink didn't come. Raising my head, the rugged authority of Colonel Custer stood before me. His eyes glaring like polished granite stone, he shook his head 'no'.

Soaking in the look, I knew if I wanted to live longer, I wouldn't rebel.

"Cutting you off, Buster," he said in a leathery voice.

"Time for you to dance your way out of here."

I hunkered over the empty glass.

"I-I need a drink."

Didn't The Colonel know?

You could take the man out of the bar, but you don't have to take the bar out of the man.

"You've had enough!"

"Hey," I slurred. "Haven't you ever heard of the 21st amendment?"

What was the Colonel saying anyway? I had a few, but was mostly sober, only a little tipsy. Okay, so I was falling-down, vomit-drunk. Couldn't even remember what I'd started drinking for. My brain had stopped working , but my body kept going. I knew enough however not to drive home.

I wiggled awkwardly off the bar stool. It was surprisingly difficult. With the herky-jerky rhythm of an impaired dancer, I staggered about the bar until I found the payphone. Steadying myself against the wall, I managed to somewhat gracefully produce my last dime. I stared at the phone, presented with a choice.

Who to call?

It was easy to decide. I called the only person I could remember. It's not what you know, it's who you know. I knew the best buddy a guy could ever hope for. My backup, my partner, my best friend.

"Starch." I tried to put on my most convincing 'I'm not drunk', character.

"It's late, Hutch. What's going on?"

"Conscience call," I answered.

"Conference call--Hutch, where are you?"

"Somewhere on the plant earth."

"Planet--you been drinking?"

The 'I'm not drunk, no way, no how' strategy didn't work.

"If you mean, am I suffering from vision and speak impeachment--"

"Blondie, you mean, speech impairment?"

"Sure, that too."

"Hutchinson, where are you?" He wasn't happy, maybe it was a mistake to call him. "The Pit's?" he asked.

"Nope."

"Sullivan's, on San Vincinzo?"

"Nope."

"Poncho Tequilas, South of Beachmont?"

"Nope."

"I'm a cop, Starch, not a road map. Oh hell, I need another drink."

"Before you get that other drink, pal, I need you to tell me where you are. "

"Starch, man, I'm wasted."

"I know that partner, let me come and get you. Tell me where you're--"

"Oh, my head is pounding. Can hardly stand. Starchky, I'm so pastured."

"Plastered-- if you can't tell me where you're at, how about calling yourself a cab?" Starsky suggested.

"Anybody got a dime?" I yelled out. Geez, nobody even glanced my way. Was like I were invincible--invisible.

"Come on." I heard my buddy holler over the phone. "Hutch, you there? Hutch?" My head lolled and for a moment all I could do was concentrate on breathing. "Damn it, Hutch, answer me!"

"Starch," I breathlessly said. "'My catch cow is slow."

"Your cash flow is low?"

"Right." That's what I said. What was he deaf? "Catch cow," I repeated louder. "Nobody here will lend me any. Got a dime I can borrow, huh, Startch?" I laughed loudly at my own drunkenness, knowing how stupid I sounded, but unable to really care. The booze had magnified my humor ten fold, but I don't think my best buddy was seeing it, as he yelled back at me.

"Hutchinson! I'm here. You're there. How can I lend you anything?" Starsky lowered his voice. "Look, Hutch, just tell me where you are and I'll come get you. It's real easy, pal, look for a sign."

I blinked rapidly, trying to read the neon sign above the bar.

"You looking?"

It was useless.

"Hutch?"

The sign blinked pathetically back, and I couldn't read the words. It did look pretty funky, but the only thing I gained from it was a dizzy spell.

"Hutch, you looking?"

"Can't." I swiped the sweat from my brow. "Got a problem."

"What's that, buddy?"

Dizzy." I told my best friend on the other end of the line, feeling myself spiral. "Floor is trying to suck me up," I mumbled, just as my feet slid out from under me. "C-come get me, Stars, please," I begged, now sitting on the grungy tile.

"Okay. Okay, pal. Just stay put, Blondie. I'm going to have this call traced, and then--"

The bartender suddenly appeared before me, we scuffled for possession but he managed to snatch my friend from me. "You know this guy?" He growled into the receiver.

"Hey, man, I was talking," I howled, reaching up to pull on the phone cord. All that got me was a soft kick to my shoe from the big guy. My hands fell to my lap, and I hung my head feeling really tired, unable to fight. I tried to ask for the phone back. "Paper moon. She's a paper moon." Was what came out instead.

"Partner, hey?" The bartender continued. "Well, he's close to passing out, babbling incoherently and trying to chug everyone in here under the table. I think you better come get him, right away. 26674 Surfside. Pink Flamingo Grill. That's right, pink! You come get this guy now, before I call the cops!"

The Colonel slammed the phone to its cradle. "He's coming to get you!" he said, his voice like a loudspeaker booming in my head.

"I'll be around." I laughed.

Slipping away from the wall, I fell to my back, arms spread-eagled on the floor, staring up at the spinning ceiling fan--thinking it must be going 67 in a 35 mile an hour zone.

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I opened my eyes, but couldn't see anything beyond my nose. The details of what I'd been doing were muddled. Where was I? I couldn't wrap my head around anything. The last thing I recalled seeing was an old pair of jeans and blue athletic shoes tapping very close to my face, and the vague sense of being carried out of the bar by two men, one on each arm. I turned to look to the right, my nose now pressed up against a cold window. I could see stark black blobs rushing by, making my stomach clench. Then I caught sight of my own reflection in the glass, my wind-blown hair startling me. I had been uprooted from my bed on the grungy tiled floor and was in a car.

"Ahhh!" I moaned, just because.

"Hutch, just take it easy, we'll be home soon."

It was then my brilliant mind started thinking again. Under my own power, my head flopped from the right to the left, and even though it was dark, I knew I was with the owner of the blue footwear.

Starsky.

"Ahhh," I groaned, unable to bring myself to utter his name.

I struggled to sit up away from the door I'd been leaning on, a normal skill that should have taken no time at all took on superhuman strength. I felt horrible, shaky and really rattled. How could a few friendly drinks make me feel this bad? Starsky must have pulled some crazy stunt, like driving his car off a bridge and landing it on a yacht.

"Hutch, what have you been drinking?"

"Vodka." I shielded my eyes with my hand. "Just a few."

"Just how big were those few drinks, huh, Hutch?" Starsky fired a few foul words my way "You look like shit, partner," he said, his voice calmer now.

I'd say that was a fairly accurate description my partner just gave. I closed my eyes, then reopened them, having to take a second look to be sure he was really there.

"Says you," I croaked. "Don't you own something besides tennis shoes and denim?" I ogled his attire.

Oh man, my partner looked hot-headed again. I began to remember more, recalling a lot of cigarette smoke, a pay phone, and knotty pine paneling. Now here I was, in my partner's car, and feeling like--like--suddenly the feeling I couldn't describe made me gag.

"Hutch? You're not going to be sick again? Not in my car! You know that bartender wasn't too happy you barfed all over his floor. I had to spot him a twenty, just to help me get you out to the car."

"Starsk," I swallowed hard. Time to get serious. "It's over--my marriage." It all came crashing down.

"I know, partner. I called over at your place." His voice full of understanding.

My stomach clamped in embarrassed failure. "And?"

"And, Kablam!" Starsky looked up from the wheel. "That lady of yours is one spicy bowl of chilli. She let me have it all."

"Smart move," I drawled out sarcastically. "Now you know I couldn't hack it."

"Hutch, you can only be who you are."

His comment was followed by complete silence, as I only could nod in agreement, knowing this divorce wasn't going to go down easy. My file would look like a bad rap sheet and Vanessa would get a lawyer that would smear a friendly golden retriever's reputation, if it meant getting what she wanted.

I started to feel really hot and sweaty, and I moaned again.

"You're going to be sick, aren't you?"

"No," I said, swallowing again, feeling something unpleasant pumping in my stomach. I coughed raggedly. "I'll be okay."

"You don't sound like you'll be okay, and you're not looking so good there, Hutch."

Again I could see my reflection in the driver's side window, and I got real serious. This incredibly deep and really profound thought came to me, and I had to share it with my best friend.

"Gotta tell you something, Starsk." I laid a hand to his shoulder, and squeezed. " Listen, partner. It's really important." I waited a minute to be sure I had his full attention.

"What is it, buddy?" Starsky asked in a really low and caring voice.

"I look better 'n this red fetish on parade." I laughed loudly, seeing my stupid grin reflecting back at me. Where'd that come from? I wondered. I really wanted to say something profound about love and marriage. Instead I'm babbling about his car.

"That's incredibly important," my partner said, taking a good long look at me.

Something in my gut suddenly shifted, and my skull felt like it'd been plowed head on into a rock. I let my head flop back to the headrest and took a few panting breaths.

"Hutch, you look green."

"Feel sick," I admitted, one hand gripping my thigh and the other holding on to the door handle.

"Not a good combination," Starsky said.

I looked back out the window. The car seemed to be going faster, sailing smoothly around the curves in the road. The scenery sped by . What did Starsky think this was? Some sort of National racing competition? I tightened my hand around my thigh and gulped. Was this his victory lap?

"Slow down," I barely could whisper. It quickly became clear to me we were not slowing down, as he swerved right to pass another driver. "Slow down." Did I say that out loud? Starsky didn't even seem to be paying attention to me. Maybe he was too busy listening to the spectators in the stands jumping up and down and cheering him on.

A tsunami was kicking me in the gut. Suddenly I lurched forward, both hands gripping the dash "Haa!" I grunted.

"What?"

"Khaa," I grunted again. "Stop the car!" I stated in a urgent enough tone. Everything I saw waved about like a checkered flag. "Dal." Another spasm wracked my throat as I tried to hold back my innards.

"Oh shit! Hold on to it, Hutch!"

I felt every bump as the car's tires rode along the edge of the road until we came to a stop.

I heard the driver side car door open and slam shut. I slumped back into the seat, taking deep breaths, holding up better now that everything wasn't hitting 82 miles per hour. Starsky opened my door. The cool night wind had a bite to it and I quivered.

He put one hand to my shoulder, to help me out.

"Just let me sit here a second. I'm okay."

"Okay." Starsky kept a hand on my shoulder. "How'd you get that black bag under your eye?" he asked.

I pressed my lips tight together, unable to answer. It was one of those things you don't try to explain to a sober person. Starsky seemed to understand and went on to his next line of questioning.

"Why didn't you call me, before you decided to head off on a drinking bender, huh?" he asked, brushing my hair off my forehead with his other hand, his touch cloud-soft.

I couldn't answer. Couldn't move.

"Hutch?" Starsky frowned. Letting go my shoulder, he waved a hand in front of my eyes, trying to gain my attention, I supposed. "You with me, buddy?"

"You…You couldn't fix it." I shrugged.

"No. But I could have been there for you." He massaged my shoulder. "Don't you think I'd want to be there for you, Hutch?"

I hadn't thought about it enough to give an answer. I swallowed, feeling more guilt. "Sorry," I breathed out. "Thal!" My body convulsed, and I sat forward, throwing up a little in my mouth and quickly swallowing the burning liquid back down. "You're my best friend," I managed.

"That's it. Out of my car." Starsky pulled me quickly to my feet. "Right now, I'm your only friend, Hutch," he said softly, as he maneuvered me to the side of the road by a ditch. With one hand flat against my back, he gently bent me forward. "Let it out, dummy. You'll feel better after you finish reciting the Arabic Alphabet."

"Huh?" What was he talking about? With my hands griping my knees for support, I shook my head. "No. Okay."

I hated getting sick. I felt weak. Was stupid getting so trashed. I fought the sickness back. But it would do me no good. I wished for a decent place to puke up my liver. Wished to God I had a porcelain shell, but in the end, the dirty roadside was going to have to do.

"My father, and--an--she--she," I stuttered. "Oh, man, I hurt everyone." My stomach clenched, and a small cry slipped out.

"It's okay. It's okay. Hutch, you didn't hurt anyone." Starsky stroked my hair. I lifted one hand and tugged at my shirt collar, to loosen it, still trying to produce enough saliva to wash down the flavor of vomit in my mouth. My shirt was damp with sweat and the cool night air made me shiver. "Here." Starsky eased me down to my knees. "C'mon, Hutch, you're only hurting yourself. Let go of it."

His hand ran up and down my back in a gentle way. I coughed raggedly, teeter-tottering until my right shoulder leaned against him. "Don't like this," I uttered. "Was all my mistake. All of it."

"Look Hutch, I'm no physiatrist or marriage counselor, but you don't have to like it. Just accept things. It's your life. You need to be able to live with yourself." He locked a hand to my shoulder. "Now let it out."

Like some stray dog sniffing the dirt, I picked up the scent of greasy motor oil, burnt rubber, and possibly someone's tossed tuna wrapper. I grunted, my body convulsing again. This time vomit of varying degrees shot from my mouth.

"That's it, partner. There you go."

Large bits mixed with small bits of pretzels and liquor, spewed over the dirt, splashing onto my jeans and my partner's.

When I was done, my stomach felt completely gutted, and I grew colder, shivering harder. Starsky pulled me back away from my mess to a dry spot, and held me close, wrapping his arms around me. I was grateful for the warmth and started to drift.

"You feelin' better, buddy?"

The sound of his voce startled me. "What?" I jerked, barely able to keep my head upright.

"Easy. " A hand patting my cheek slowly brought me back around. "Hey, take it easy."

"I'm drunk," I stated the obvious, trying to get back in the game.

"Record breaking drunk, Hutch."

Something slithered inside me. I was bathed in sweat, my heart beating fast, while gut-busting dry heaves twisted and bended my body, as my stomach continued on with its objective; to overthrow first my liver, than my heart and lungs.

"Remind me again how much I enjoy a cold brew." I groaned, raising a hand to wipe the spittle from my mouth. "Oh, Starsk!"

"Don't, buddy." Starsky caught my hand. He dug inside his jacket pocket, "Right now, I don't think you need reminding, partner."

"Wha-what are you doing?"

"Looking for something I can use to wipe your mouth with, dummy."

"Check my pocket."

Starsky dipped his hand in my left pocket, searching. "Other pocket," I uttered.

Switching pockets, he produced a handkerchief. Right when he began to wipe my mouth, I gagged, turning my head away. "Ahh! Don't, Starsky. You want me to puke on your head?"

"Hand--easy now." He turned my head back toward him and wiped my mouth. "You gonna throw up any more?"

Starsky's eyes were full of concern and as dark as the night. "I'm fine." I looked away. "I do have one request," I said under my breath.

"Hey, partner, whatever you want to do here, I'm with you. You can crash at my place, long as you need." My buddy's voice was smooth and affectionate.

My gaze shifted back to him. Should have known I didn't have to ask. We lingered there a moment, Starsky's friendship warming that cold place in my heart.

"Let's get you up." Starsky finally broke the moment, supporting my weight he unbent my body and brought me to my feet. "How you doing?"

"Wond--" My voice was harsh, and I was out of breath. "Won-wonderful." My legs felt like they had turned to water.

"Just breathe," Starsky said, holding me at arm's length. I clung to him to keep upright, steeling myself against the chill. "Breathe. Breathe." He hooked a hand to the back of my neck. "Just Breathe--"

"Starsky, I am breathe--ahhh!"

Right on cue, my shoulders drew up to my ears and I bent forward, projectile vomiting all over my partner's shoes. "Ohhh," I moaned my apologies. Starsky had plenty of morons out on the street to cover, he didn't need to be covering this drunken moron as well. "Starsk," I muttered, wanting to tell him to just leave me on the side of the road to die a slow, painful, and agonizing death. I swayed back and forth, and was surprised when he pulled me closer, my head resting on his shoulder. Starsky's hand stroked down my back and he pressed it there for support.

"Didn't think you had anything left to yak, Hutch," he laughed quietly.

"Just my stomach lining."

In response, my belly contracted and I winced, praying I wouldn't throw up down his back now. "Starsk--" I wheezed. " I wouldn't do that if I were--"

"Sh--I got you."

I stiffened, swallowing down hard, desperate not to be sick anymore, especially all over my partner "But--"

"But, I'm here." Starsky cut me off. "That's all you need to know."

He rubbed my back a few minutes and I couldn't help but relax and fall more heavily against him. Starsky shifted my weight carefully as I could tell he was kicking off his shoes. "Hold on, Hutch." I couldn't open my eyes, all I could do was grit my teeth, and shake to my very core. I was useless.

Starsky dropped a strong arm around my waist and slowly moved me until I felt him sit me back inside his car. I heard rustling and finally managed to open my eyes. He was reaching over to the back seat, and had brought out a thick blanket.

"Here we go." He unfolded the square and spread the fuzzy warmth, quietly covering me. "How's that feel?"

"Good," I answered.

Starsky shut the door. I heard the trunk pop, guessed he was tossing his shoes in there. A second later my partner slid in behind the wheel, starting the engine we headed down the road. All I could think about was how embarrassed I was. So drunk I couldn't even get home on my own. Some officer I turned out to be. And I wanted to take the detectives exam next month? I couldn't even handle my marriage.

I'd been pushed and pulled and dragged, and I don't think even my partner understood how far I fell this time. Maybe I should go back to Van. Become that respectable lawyer, move out of the one bedroom apartment into that mansion. Stop dreaming about turning this world around. Stop--

"Hey." My partner turned to me. "Hutch, what is the best thing you've ever done in your life?" His voice soft-spoken.

"Becoming a cop." The words tumbled out without thought. There it was. The truth. The bottom line.

"I got that feeling, Hutch." His face was passionate with concentration.

It wasn't what my partner said, but how he said it. With pride and conviction. It was the best thing in his life too. Starsky slapped a hand hard to my shoulder and gripped tight--his way of saying--

I love you, man.

The end