TARNISHED HERO

By: Karen B.

Author's note: This is a sub snippet to a story 'Leapy' (Leap Year) has been working on. I credit her with the lovely idea. I couldn't get this image out of my head. Leap Year allowed me to play in her sandbox and I thank her greatly. She is a fantastic writer! Everyone wave hello to her!

Summary: MS. SR. Angst Hutch. That white jacket without a drop of blood on it...is disturbing. Leapy decided he should do something with it.

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Fringed palm trees rustled in the breeze, making Hutch shiver. It was dusk, the pink blush of the sun turning to deep purple. Hutch watched the tide going in and out. The ocean seemed endless, and the moonlight glinting off the waves magical. Normally this view would ease the stress of his day, bring him tranquility, but that was not why he'd come. Several empty liquor bottles lay haphazardly tossed in the sand next to his white jacket.

He breathed deeply, feeling boxed in by all the beauty, and it made him sick. Later, he figured he'd pay the price and puke up what he'd just drunk. This view was not magical. Life was not beautiful. Life was cruel. It built you up, gave you high hopes, and then smashed you to new lows.

It was easy hauling the driftwood, and Hutch stacked it in a nearby pile. Finding small pieces of sticks, he began to build a teepee, leaning together the small pieces. After placing dried grass under it, he struck his match and lit the kindling on fire. Slowly he added larger and larger pieces of wood, using the same teepee pattern until he had a rip-roaring fire. Hutch stood back, watching the gold sparks rise from the bonfire, the embers disappearing when they hit the cool night air.

He had been to plenty of beach bonfires in his life, especially during college breaks. Summer didn't seem the same without them. Plenty of friends, skinny-dipping, beer, hotdogs, marshmallows, and laugher. But this fire was nothing like those from happier days gone by.

Looking skyward, Hutch staggered drunkenly. Normally he would have been awed by the millions of silver stars, happy and content, but not this night.

"Why?" he yelled at the stars. "Why didn't you get down?" Tears streaked down his cheeks.

This night, his world was turned upside down.

Starsky was a quick draw, but not quick enough.

Hutch picked up another log. With haunted intensity, he tossed it onto the fire. He was tormented with guilt, a man agonizing over not what he had done, but what he had not done.

Hutch's torment sat in the middle of his chest at the very core of his being -- his heart. He bent down and picked up his jacket stalking around and around the blazing bonfire, feeling like such a coward, feeling like such a failure. As a friend, as a partner, as a fucking human being. Hutch couldn't shake the ugly feelings that spat like the fire itself.

How could he have caved in to his own fears? He had let his best friend down. Most of his peers, and fellow officers would say Hutch was a damn good cop. Sharp. Clear headed. Front and center. Always there to back you up. Ready to dash into danger. But not this day. This day, that candy-colored portrait of a hero was not the case. Hutch gripped the plain and lousy truth tightly between both his hands.

His jacket was that truth.

Untarnished.

White and spotless and clean as the day he had bought it. Not one drop of blood, of shattered bone or of splattered flesh had damaged the pristine garment.

But, instead, machine gun bullets had jaggedly torn through glass. Jaggedly torn through metal. Jaggedly torn through a tan leather jacket, while Hutch and his jacket had miraculously escaped.

Why had he stood still, the strong and silent tough guy? While others had taken care of his fallen partner? Seeing Starsky lying near death, amid the controlled chaos, drained of his color, drained of his blood, was surreal, and unsettling. It transformed Hutch into a frozen ice sculpture. He couldn't move. The horror of it all stripped him of all rational thoughts.

Hutch continued to stalk around the bonfire chasing his own shadow. What had he and Starsky been fighting for all these years out on the streets? They had always protected one another. Now Hutch had failed. He may as well have put the razor's edge to his partner's throat and cut. It was his fault that Starsky was in a coma. Close to death. There was nothing he did then to stop that fact, and nothing he could do now to change it. Why was he here? Building illegal fires on a private beach instead of holding his friend's hand?

The question lingered.

He was going to burn the jacket. It wouldn't create a time machine, allowing him to go back and re write history. Wouldn't bring back his partner's happy smile or steady heartbeat. Wouldn't cleanse his own soul.

The bottom line was that, burning the jacket wouldn't change a Goddamn thing. It wouldn't take back the bullets. Wouldn't put blood back into his partner's veins. Wouldn't take away his anger or his pain. It wouldn't change a thing.

Hutch staggered closer to the flames. The heat was intense, and sweat beaded on his forehead, trickling down the sides of his cheeks. He saw his partner's blood dripping to the ground, the police garage now turned butcher shop. He watched Starsky struggle as his breath dwindled away, about to die. He watched as fellow officers ran to aid his partner while he stood doing nothing, and he wondered who had shaven off his balls.

Rockets of red from the roaring fire only heated his guilt. Hutch fiddled with the jacket he still grasped in his hands. With each passing second, his frustration and anger and sorrow built to the point of exploding inside him like napalm.

"Partner," Hutch gritted out clenched teeth, feeling as though he did not live up to that name.

Taking one more step -- Hutch dropped his jacket into the flames.

The end.