THE BEST FRIEND

I NEVER MET

By: Karen B.

Summary: What if SH never met challenge. Starsky pov.

Word count: 4,343

Thank you, Dawn! Dawn...Dawn...Dawn... You are my shining … 'em…Dawn!

Author's note: Thank you, Marion, so much for this fascinating challenge.

Challenge: What if Starsky and Hutch never met. Or met at a later date in life

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Your life is an occasion -- rise to it.

-- Dustin Hoffman as Edward Magorium in Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium

I couldn't help but feel there was something more out here. Yet, there was nothing this early in the morning, the sun hadn't even risen. It was just me, the road, and a few lousy rocks. I didn't even know who I was anymore.

To my captain -- I was born to be a cop. To my mother -- a good son. To Uncle Sam -- a brave soldier. To myself -- a guy who had nothing left to give. Yet, I couldn't help but feel there was something more, something I was missing.

My heart was racing as fast as my car. I was driving on autopilot. What was I out here searching for? All I was doing was adding miles to an old car, a car she hated.

Starsky's rule number four. Never argue with a woman about your ride. At least, I tried not to. She never liked this car. From the day I bought it, I had to hear about how it looked like an orange on wheels. I loved my orange on wheels. Not as much as I loved her, but I loved the car -- still do. Okay, so on the outside, my Javelin had a few scratches, dents and rust holes, but on the inside it had the engine of a race car.

I never could convince her -- sad thing now was -- I didn't have to any more. She was here one minute and gone the next. She had said she felt like a child watching her ball roll out to sea -- that ball didn't just float out to sea for me -- it sank. It wasn't fair -- but that's the way it was.

Keep her memory alive in your heart. That's what they all had said, in their well- meaning and pitied voices. How was I supposed to do that? I slept in a haunted bed. Saw her everywhere. We'd never share another kiss, a laugh, a knowing smile -- I didn't even get the last word.

"I'm not afraid anymore."

After that, she never spoke again.

She was no longer afraid, but I was. There was a huge empty spot deep inside of me -- and it wasn't only for her loss. There was something more. Something in this great universe that eluded me. It always had -- even when she was alive, I felt the emptiness -- although then, the void had been gossamer thin. But now that she was gone -- the ghost-like feelings came in even stronger waves.

So many times I swore I could feel someone beside me. A hand to my shoulder, or a sudden rush of heat sweeping over me -- but no one was there. I wasn't scared or threatened by the ghostly sensation, it felt good-- I felt protected.

There was something out there.

Something I'd overlooked.

A dream I couldn't remember.

Something big, and I didn't even know if it was real. Maybe it was my childish imagination of dragons, and giants -- or maybe I was just losing my mind.

I always did get the feeling there was something out there. Standing guard. Every once in awhile, I'd see things. Always out-of the corner of my eye things. Now you see it, now you don't.

I remember the summer my dad was killed. I was twelve, and out of my peripheral vision, I saw flashes of blue and a tall man. He was leaning against the doorframe of my bedroom. Arms crossed and one leg crossed over the other, smiling at me. I wasn't hallucinating, and I wasn't afraid, and somehow I knew he wasn't evil. By the time I turned to look directly at him, he was gone. At first I thought it was my dad's ghost come to say goodbye, but I knew it wasn't him -- and we never did get to say our goodbyes. I thought I was going nuts. I told my mom and she said it was my dad's spirit. I told her I was sure it wasn't, the man was too tall. That seemed to upset her, and after that day, I never mentioned the vision again.

Sometimes he would invade my dreams, even as an adult.

Ghost or angel? I didn't know.

In any case, nothing much mattered to me anymore. My heart had been torn into a thousand pieces and scattered a million different ways.

I didn't know where I was going --just was driving. Driving in silence. A silence that had been killing me for over a year now. She always loved this mountain road overlooking the sea. I don't know why -- I hated it. There weren't even any guardrails to protect you from going over the edge. She liked this time of day best. At least there wasn't much traffic this early in the day. Today, I didn't care much about any of that, as I sped at high speeds around the twists and turns.

Her dreams were taken from her, and mine as well. With the eyes of helpless children, we had watched her life being swept out to sea, unable to do anything to stop it. Her heart had shrunk away from mine too soon. So soon and so fast-- I hadn't -- couldn't even cry for my loss. I had to keep everything self contained.

I stared out the windshield at the road in an almost trance-like state. I was a take action kind of guy -- standing around and thinking would send me over a different kind of edge. The kind of edge that leaves you strapped to a bed with a glazed look in your eye. I looked out the driver side window out over the ledge, and didn't even wince when I pictured myself deliberately aiming my car toward the cliff. I could go out fast and furious. The only thing between me and getting out of this hell was a few feet of road. Without having to really think about it, I could take myself out of this world--with the wind in my hair -- and sweet freedom ringing in my ears. This would be easier than jumping -- I was afraid of heights, and killing myself was easier than ending up sedated in a metal ward.

Suddenly, that unseen hand of protection was there. Only instead of feeling hot, I felt cold. My ghost was angry at what I was contemplating. That theory was confirmed when I felt my rear wheel bumping along the ground.

"Shit!" I banged a fist to the steering wheel.

Thump!

Thump!

Thump!

Flat tires were normally just a nuisance, but today the coincidence was as flat as day old beer. The tire disintegrated quickly and I lost speed, lost my chance to rid myself of this misery.

Popular Mechanics 101 -- try speeding your car over a cliff with a tire at zero inflation pressure. Not going to happen.

I wasn't happy listening to the tire flap wildly in the wheel well as I slowly pulled over to the shoulder of the road. I got out of my car and could hear the "ssssssss" coming from the rear right tire. Crouching down for a closer inspection, I found what had caused the damage I pulled a nail from the ripped lining.

"Terrific."

I tossed the nail aside, and stood to get my keys from the ignition. Pop open the trunk, repair the flat and get back to business. That was all I had on my mind at the moment.

Peering into my trunk and rummaging around, I realized I was missing one very important 'how to' ingredient -- the jack.

"What kind of shit do you think you're pulling? You think this is funny!" I kicked at a rock, not knowing who the hell I was ranting at. "Why can't you just leave me alone!" I threw my tantrum, pulling my hair and stomping about in a small circle. "Cut me a break! Why won't you let me do this? Why?"

"Because." A disembodied voice rang inside my head.

Who was this person, this ghostly friend who'd seemed to be there my entire life?

"I'm not crazy!" I yelled, wearing a path in the gravel.

"Couple more tries like that, and you will be," the voice said.

"What do you suggest I do?" I stopped circling, slammed the trunk closed, placed both hands against it and hung my head low.

"Fresh out of ideas," my ghost chanted.

"But…"

"Destroying yourself isn't the answer."

"But…"

"What do you want out of life?" he asked.

"I don't know, you tell me. You seem to have all the answers."

"Sorry," the voice said as it faded away.

"Please," I lifted my head and begged the unseen for help.

He was gone, just like everyone else in my life. Gone.

I looked around. What was I going to do now? A phone booth was miles away and no garage would be open this time of morning. Breathless, I turned toward the horizon and watched as twilight burst into dawn, the sun painting the sky with her favorite color -- carnation pink.

I felt so cold and shivered hard as I leaned against my disabled car. I looked out over the sculptured rock and watched the growing sunrise, feeling lonely, incoherent, and angry. But mostly I felt lost, even though I knew my way around this city better than anyone.

My life was nothing more than a ritual. I drank my morning coffee, but didn't taste anything. I looked at the paper, but never read the words, and I went to work -- every day going by in mind-deadening slowness.

I closed my eyes, and took a step away from my car. My senses were on high alert. I could hear the calming flow of water against the sand far below. I took another step. The wind that blew through my hair sounded like a sad song. I took another step. I could almost taste the salt and I swore I could smell the molten lava that bubbled from the earth millions of years ago to form this place.

I opened my eyes, and looked down only a few feet from the edge of the cliff -- no one would care -- who would miss me?

Just as I was about to take another step, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a black car pull up. I didn't care, just kept my gaze on the sunrise. The grief I felt was undreamt of -- and overpowering everything else in my mind.

I heard the car door open and shut as a ray of sunshine cascaded over me and warmed my coldness.

With each footstep that neared, something welled inside me, an indescribable something. Images of giants and dragons flashed through my mind. I didn't know what was going on. I only knew one thing -- I wasn't afraid. If I was lucky, it'd be a stickup, and I'd be saved the hassle of working up enough courage to --

"Hey." A whisper of a male voice -- strange yet familiar.

The wind blew across my face, taking the tears that had welled in my eyes. I could feel someone's breath on the back of my neck -- but I didn't move. A seamless current of time and space hung between us, and it kept me from taking another step toward that cliff. A hand came to my shoulder -- I didn't even flinch.

"You okay?" I turned to him, half-expected no one to be there. For a split-second I saw flashes of blue. "Are… you… okay?" a tall blond man asked again in a stronger tone.

I nodded, surprised he hadn't disappeared when I'd looked directly at him. I couldn't say a word as the strange feeling continued to reign over me. All I could do was stare.

"Look, I didn't mean to disturb you," he said softly, still keeping a hand on my shoulder.

I wanted to take another step toward the cliff, but couldn't. I was mesmerized by the tall blond man with pale blue eyes standing before me. I looked him up and down. He was dressed in a blue turtle neck sweater, a leather sport coat, tan twill pants -- not a wrinkle in them. An expensive pocket watch dangled from a gold chain, and a pair of brown Hush Puppies that had that comfortable broken-in feel to them were on his feet. He looked like weekend on Wall Street, but worked his gum like a Minnesota farm boy.

"Got a flat, huh?" He chewed and hitched a thumb toward my car.

"What was your first clue?" I rolled my eyes.

"No spare?" he asked.

"No jack," I replied. "You got one?"

"Fresh out." He shook his head, and said, "Sorry."

The words sent a jagged bolt of lightning up my spine. I ignored it. Instead, I glanced at his car.

A 1968 Bentley T1 Pininfarina coupe special. No jack -- my ass, that beauty probably came with every luxury known to man. Probably even had heated leather seats.

"Car carries a hefty price tag," I grumbled with a twinge of envy.

"More pain for your buck," he said.

"Huh?"

He looked at me. I looked at him.

This guy looked familiar. I flipped through my mental notebook of mug shots. I felt my eyes pop wide. My ghost? I never saw him eye to eye. I shook my head -- couldn't be.

Not understanding, I groaned and moved out from under his hand back to my spot and leaned against my car. My plan was on hold now that I had an audience. I was surprised when Blue Eyes followed suit with sloth-like movements.

"Did you lose something?" he asked as he took up position real close next to me.

"Yes."

"I thought so." He frowned. "Won't find it down there." He pointed toward the bottom of the cliff. "Just so you know."

His black gallows humor wasn't working on me. I just stood there silent, watching his mouth move. Chomping on his gum like it had thirty-one flavors and he was afraid he wouldn't get to them all if he didn't chomp fast enough.

"Chewing gum won't fix a flat." I finally spoke up, still eyeballing him suspiciously. "Just so you know," I added.

He looked at me for a moment -- like I couldn't possibly be serious, then he laughed -- a small but genuine, caring, laugh.

"I fixed my rearview mirror with chewing gum once," he said with a smile.

I glanced past him and eyed his Bentley with raised brows, certain that car never got so much as a fingerprint on it, let alone had parts falling off.

"Not that car." He chuckled. "Belongs to my ex-wife now. I borrowed it just for a few days. Mine's in the shop."

"Oh." I now understood his early comment, about the pain of the buck. "I used gum once to plug a radiator leak," I said, playing his game. "Didn't work."

"Why not?"

"Wrong kind of gum." A chuckle escaped my lips, the sound of it so unfamiliar it made my belly ache.

"My name's Ken." He held out a hand. "Ken Hutchinson."

"Starsky." I hesitated a moment, then took a deep breath and said, "David Starsky." I reached out, gripped his hand and shook.

Suddenly, I felt the color drain from my face, and electricity seemed to jolt through me. I felt shaky, and had to press myself up against the hot metal of the car further to keep from falling to my knees. The feeling I got was really weird -- like carrying a memory you never had -- like this man was the best friend I never met.

"What were you looking at down there?" He gestured with a jerk of his head toward the cliff.

"Why?" I asked warily.

"Oh, I don't know. Have you considered a little thing called gravitational pull?"

Why was this guy still loitering around? Asking questions? Shaking me down like --- like some cop. I shuffled my feet, my body trembled, my fists clenched, and I bit my lip hard. I swallowed, trying to find my nerve, I should just dodge past this guy, and hurtle myself over the edge, but his eyes alone held me -- glued to my spot.

"Huh?" I pretended like I didn't know what he was talking about. "I got a flat tire. What? You think I'm stupid enough to jump?"

"I can give you a ride," he smoothly danced around my question. "Look Mr. S-St-- Star -"

"Starsky. Just Starsky."

"Starsky, it's just a ride. I'm going that way anyway."

"Listen, Ken --"

"Just, Hutch." More dancing.

"Hutch, right." I nervously took one step away from the car. "Look I --"

"I'll even let you drive," he said, standing stiff and tall, and taking a gliding step directly in front of me -- blocking any fast move I might think of making.

I thought about that last offer for a moment. This guy was a straight shooter, and smart. He wasn't about to leave me alone, knowing what was going on inside my brain.

"It'll get better," he said and I could hear the twinge of panic that invaded his voice.

"How?" I asked.

Mouth full of gum, Hutch stopped in mid-chew and stared at me.

"Just got to keep chipping away at it," he said before spitting his bubblegum into his hand then tossing it out over the cliff. "You can't give up."

"This is getting too soapy now," I said, taking a sliding step to the left out of his looming shadow.

"Wait a minute." His hand was back on my shoulder only with a little more force this time.

His eyes were wide, shoulders squared, ready to wrestle me to the ground if he had to. Guess he liked playing knight in shining armor so much when he was a kid that he never gave it up.

"Let's try something." He moved a little closer.

"Yeah, let's," I growled. "Let's try you… taking your hand… off me for starters."

Hutch sighed and his hand immediately fell away. "Look, Starsky, just come with me now. I'll take you to the next town. There's a garage that opens at ten. They can come out here and fix your tire. I know a few places, we can get something to eat while you wait."

I was in some sort of magical grip. As I contemplated the water below and my bloated corpse being found weeks later, I was unable to move. I listened while Hutch rattled off the name of the garage, and the menu of a few food places.

Why the hell did he care so much? Was this my ghost?

"Why the hell do you care?"

"Life doesn't mean shit if you have no one who cares."

"Neither does having a million dollars in Monopoly money -- you still can't win at the game."

"It's not about winning or losing."

"What's it about then?"

"Investing in the right things."

"Terrific."

Hutch leaned back against my car, arms crossed and one leg crossed over the other, glaring at me without saying anything. It was as if he understood me, like I'd told him my whole story in just the few seconds we'd been together. But, for all he knew, I was a skid-row bum. The guy might be rich and he might be a poet, but somewhere along the line he learned what to say and the right times to say it, causing me to lose my nerve.

"Well?" Hutch asked in a calm and patient voice.

I was drawn away from my thoughts when he had stopped rattling. Hutch was sweating and he looked really scared. His brow was so scrunched up, he had this terrible crease between his eyes. I looked closer, staring into those big baby blues. It was so obvious, this guy -- this Hutch guy -- really cared. He was doing everything but getting down on his knees to beg.

"You come with me n--n--now," Hutch stuttered. "Eat. Maybe talk a little. You can always come back here later." He swiped a strand of blond hair out of his eyes. "When - when I'm not around to watch you."

My gaze fell away from his face and I stared at my shoes, reconsidering my position.

"Just talk?" I asked tentatively.

"And eat."

"Okay, Hutch," I agreed, finally able to look up at him.

"Okay?" Unsure, Hutch frantically fumbled in his jacket pocket. "Okay!" he stated in a more convincing tone as he produced his car keys, and jangled them. "After you," he said, waving me ahead of him.

He didn't trust me. Hell, I didn't trust myself.

"You don't trust me?" I asked, wondering myself if I would ante up or fold. "Think I might be trying to pull some kind of diversion?" I smiled when his eyes looked like they would roll out of his head.

"What kind of diversion?" Hutch asked.

"The kind where I make you look away while --" I couldn't look him in the eye when I said it -- so I kept myself busy, toeing a rock and digging ditches in the dust. "While I botch up my life," I admitted.

He approached me, gently took me by the arm, and this time I let him. "It's okay, everyone botches up sometimes." Earnest blue eyes met mine. "You coming?" he asked permission.

"Yeah," I said too weak and tired to argue and really not wanting to.

I shuffled along beside Hutch as we walked to the car. He opened the passenger door and I gratefully slid in.

I watched him jog around the front. He seemed like a real stand up guy. I knew he was endlessly loyal, trustworthy, and he smiled a real smile -- it wasn't fake. I don't know how I could know all that in such a short time, but I did. He wasn't someone just doing their duty. Caring, protecting, being a friend -- meant more to him than that. I meant more to him then that. It was really strange. How could I know all this in just the first few minutes that we'd met.

Hutch got in behind the wheel, put the key in the ignition, and looked over at me. "You okay?" he asked.

I wasn't really, but didn't want to tell him that. I fidgeted in my seat running my fingers back and forth over the dash.

"Bet you don't need to tap on the dash with a wrench to get her going," I said nervously, not knowing what else to say.

"Nope --" Hutch started the car and pulled the Bentley out onto the road. "But tap her dash with my wallet -- watch her whirl." He smiled.

"The car?"

"My ex."

"Oh."

There was a foul taste in the back of my throat, and for several miles neither one of us talked. I watched the road ahead, feeling a thunderous sick sensation in my gut. Felt like something heavy was crushing my chest. The motion of the smooth riding car made everything weave and blur into one sick soupy liver color. I fidgeted some more, thinking I should open the car door and jump, like somehow that would save my life.

"Dammit," I muttered under my breath, grabbed hold of the door handle, and swallowed.

"Relax, Starsky." Hutch pinned me with a worried look. "You with me?"

I restrained the impulse swirling in my gut, promising myself I wouldn't hurl all over this guys ex wife's fancy car.

"I'm still here," I mumbled woozily as my mind skirmished with my stomach.

"We'll be there soon. Just hold on."

I couldn't speak anymore, and was glad Hutch filled the silence with small talk. I still felt sick, lost, scared and angry. Like Old Yeller staring down the barrel of his boy's gun just before he's about to be shot.

Finally, I couldn't resist asking the question that had been on my mind since Ken Hutchinson had first stepped up to me and said 'hey.'

I took in a deep breath and turned toward him.

"Hutch," I said interrupting his Spanish lesson, which was much more interesting than his top ten-health drink tête-à-tête. "Why are you doing this?"

He kept his eyes on the road, shrugged and said, "Because, you need the same thing I do."

"And what's that?"

He sighed and gave me a little sideways glance.

"A friend."

After that word, I didn't feel so sick, and you couldn't shut us up. I don't know how long we stayed at the all night diner, but our breakfast flowed into lunch and straight on until long after dinner. The streetlights came on, and my car was long since fixed, and still we sat at the back of the restaurant, in a window booth, sipping coffee. Between us, we shared a plate of fries and a large amount of information.

We talked.

We laughed.

I think we even cried.

By the grace of something I would never understand -- he had burst through the double doors of my heart, and had saved my life.

The end