I was a pretty big Hunter fan as a kid - watched every show - in the days before DVRs, I used to set my alarm for 1 in the am to sneak and watch an old rerun in the middle of the night. (Kids these days! They don't know how good they've got it!)

I recently saw an interview of Stephanie Kramer who talked about the fact that they never intended for the two main characters to be involved romantically, but rather wanted to portray a strong friendship/partnership over time. As a kid, I wanted nothing more than for the two of them to end up together, but rewatching it now, I like the idea of them having an enduring friendship.

So I wrote this ignoring everything after the end of the last episode of season 7, which makes this AU, I suppose. I hope you enjoy it and whatnot - and appreciate any reviews.

***H***

ONE

The knocking was constant and relentless. He stumbled forward annoyed, hoping that they would just leave, but after twenty minutes of knocking he realized he was going to have to open the door. He had come out here with the hope that no one would be able to find him. He just wanted to forget and not have any well-meaning people try to comfort him.

"What the hell is your problem?" He asked swinging the door open, surprised to see only the darkness of an unforgiving sky. Perhaps he had imagined the knocking.

"Down here, big guy."

One syllable was all he needed to recognize her voice. He'd been listening to it nearly fifteen years. Looking down into her familiar face, he is simultaneously hit with fear and relief. He had wanted to be alone; didn't want to have to face any of it. But now, he is face to face with the only person left on the earth who can get past any barriers he has put up.

"Ah, shit, Dee Dee. What the hell are you doing here?" Staggering back from her in shock, he finds himself unsteady on his feet - and it isn't just because of the half-empty whiskey bottle in his hand.

"That's no kind of greeting. I flew all night and this is how you say hello?" She reaches out with her small hand, patting his chest affectionately. "Seriously? You've lost your touch Hunter." Shaking her head she steps closer. "Invite me in."

"What?" He stares at her momentarily confused, and then shaking himself out of his stupor says, "Yeah. Come on in." He steps back into the disaster he's called home for the past few weeks, and she follows him inside. He watches her as she surveys the wreck; watches her as she fights down saying something to him about how much he's allowed things to fall apart. If the circumstances were different, he would have laughed out loud at her attempt to keep her thoughts to herself; staying quiet was never his partner's strong suit.

"I thought you were getting rid of this place?" She asks him, demonstrating impressive restraint. She moves to the counter and lifts up an abandoned bottle of whiskey before setting it back down with the shake of her head. It is not the only empty bottle. He shrugs, not willing to open his mouth and speak to her; knowing full well that she won't put up with any of his attempts at evasion.

"Where's Little Dee?" She asks, glancing around again, worry etched across her face.

"Jody has her." His terse reply hides the truth; that he and Jody had an honest-to-God shouting match over Little Dee that ended with him alone with his whiskey.

It figures McCall would go straight for the throat. She was never mild-mannered and time clearly hasn't changed it. A wave of shame and guilt washes over him, but he just shrugs and lifts the bottle to his lips.

"Apparently, I am currently unfit. Can you believe it?"

"Rick . . ."

"Don't start McCall. . ." He catches himself realizing she isn't McCall anymore; hasn't been for nearly seven years. "That's right. Wrong name. Sorry." He lifts the bottle again.

"Hey, how about some food? When's the last time you ate?"

"You gonna cook?" His eyes widen in shock. "I must be in bad shape!" Shaking his head, he continues. "Why they hell did you come here! Jesus, Dee Dee. You shouldn't be flying! Alex must be pissed as hell at you for this!"

"He drove me to the airport." She steps forward placing a hand on his arm. "You are family." He blinks at this, suddenly unable to swallow. The word family hits him square in the chest like a bullet from a gun.

"Come on, Rick. Sit down." She continues, gently. Stunned and dizzy, he allows her to lead him to the couch where he sits down heavily. Her gentle fingers lift the bottle from his hand. Setting the bottle on the coffee table, she sits beside him.

"You shouldn't have come." His voice is softer now.

"Well, you should've answered your phone then. You put me in a tough spot. In six weeks they won't let me fly at all." Her hand rests lightly on her swollen stomach. "It was now or wait three months. And it doesn't look like waiting three months would've been a good idea." She lifts a hand gesturing to the mess that surrounds him.

"Couldn't find the phone. Housekeeper quit." His tone is so bitter and sharp that it startles her. He turns his face from her. There is no way he is going to look into her eyes. He figures if he is enough of a jackass to her, she'll go away and leave him; leave him with his misery.

They sit together in silence and he can feel her eyes resting on him - no doubt she's reading him like a book. He is sitting slumped in an old surf shirt that he's had as long as she's known him. The colors have faded but it fits him still. His face is grey and worn and he has dark circles under his blue eyes. He won't look her straight in the eye; his tell-tale sign of trouble.

His eyes had surprised her when she first met him -a lifetime ago. Everyone said he was a hardass and he was, but there was a deep kindness in his eyes. She knew instinctively she could trust him; that there was a lot more brewing beneath the surface. Over time, she'd learned that it was true what they said, "Still waters, run deep." He wasn't a man for words - but he wasn't an unfeeling, tough guy by a long stretch. She had found that there was no one on earth that she could count on like him. Even now, married nearly, seven years, she still felt the strong urge to call him first to hash things out. It wasn't enough to talk to Alex about things, she needed him, too. And for the last seven years they'd talked nearly every day - a quick phone call, an email - never more than a couple of days had passed without the sound of his voice on the other end of the phone. She had learned how to read his moods without seeing his blue eyes; had to learn to distinguish the truth hidden in his grunts and silences.

It has been six weeks since the last time she saw him, but he seems to have aged years, which is understandable considering the situation. She can tell he is determined to push her away; push everyone away, so that he can suffer all alone. She can feel his pain, not just because he's her dearest friend, but because it is familiar pain. It is a pain she knows and her heart wells with compassion for him, and a deep sorrow that he has to feel this loss too. It is clear he is in deep pain. She can see past the anger, the alcohol and even his attempts to make himself unloveable. She had been so worried. Their last conversation had gone so badly, and she could see him alone, bitter, pushing everyone away - even imagining him here, in the old beach house, broken and alone.

In the last few weeks, she had called him over and over but he wouldn't pick up. In desperation, she had finally called his cousin who had fairly wept with relief, "Oh, thank God! No one could find your number! Please, you've got to talk to him."

Facing her husband, she wasn't sure how he would react. She didn't know what Alex would say. She was five and a half months pregnant and he was insanely cautious on a good day, but he had surprised her completely and told her to go without any hesitation. "He needs you. He's got no one really, especially now. Bring him back with you!"

The look of surprise on her face made him laugh, and taking her hand in his, Alex had said, "Dee Dee, it was kind of a package deal when I married you. He came along as a bonus! He's family to you and that makes him family to me." He pulled her closer then and she rested her head against his shoulder. "Besides I can't imagine his pain." He shuddered at the thought. "He needs you honey. You have to go. Tomorrow."

She'd been stunned by his compassion toward Hunter. Early on in their marriage, Rick had been a touchy subject until Alex had finally confessed that he was jealous of Rick - afraid that she would one day decide to pursue him. She'd nearly collapsed in a fit of laughter which had led to even greater misunderstanding between them. Finally, after all was said and done, she had explained it to Alex, "I love Rick. I really do. But the two of us together? That would be a disaster! Besides, he was never interested in settling down, and I was. I wasn't willing to be just another girl he used to date. I don't know, I guess he's like a brother."

Now, sitting beside him on his couch in his empty house, she wondered if her coming here was helpful at all. What could she possibly say to him? This wasn't a homicide that he couldn't solve without her help. This wasn't some problem that had a solution. Nothing could be done to change it, and there was nothing she could say or do that would really help. She sighed studying his familiar face feeling completely inadequate.

"Aren't you supposed to say something about everything being alright?" He asked bitterly, turning his head slightly so that he could watch her react to this.

She turned to him, a look of utter shock and disgust on her face. "Why the hell would I say that?" She asked, nauseous at the very thought of offering him something so meaningless. "Nothing can fix this. There's nothing that can make it right."

"I don't think they explained the whole help-Rick-not-be-depressed thing to you." He's turned to face her now, surprised by her honesty, and hopeful that his joking, bitter tone will dance them away from the precipice of truth.

"Damn it, don't joke about it!" She responds angrily. "Hey! I'm not some neighbor with a plate of cookies and empty platitudes about the hereafter! This is me." She rests her hand against her chest, leaning forward so he's forced to look into her eyes. "I'm here now, Rick."

He finally looks directly into her eyes, but only briefly. Her eyes mirror the pain he feels, and he can't bear the anguish of it.

"Leave it alone. I'm drunk anyway." He turns his face from her but she leans closer, one hand gripping his upper forearm tightly.

"You think you can play me?" She shakes her head at him. "I've known you a hundred years! And I'm just about the only one who can read through that tough-guy crap! And I know this."

He turns toward her, but this time lifts a hand to cover his face. "McCall . . ."

"That's not my name." She says pointedly. Her voice softens. "The right to that name is buried with Steve. You think I'm gonna leave you alone now?" She brushes tears out of her eyes. Her small hand grips his and they say nothing at all. Her words pierce through his armor, and he can feel his control slipping away. He shrinks down as she continues.

"It hurts so much that you can't even breathe; you don't even want to breathe. You just want to go backwards to before. You want it not to be true. And there's nothing anyone can say or do to fix it." The truth pierces his heart like an arrow that has found it's mark. He can't look at her; can't open his eyes; can't even breathe.

She still holds his hand in hers, but he tries to pull away; to get away from her - to escape the brutal truth that he is so desperately running away from. He is trembling now and he finally escapes her grasp, lifting both hands to cover his face. "Stop it." His voice isn't angry. He is pleading and desperate. "Please, I don't . . ."

Watching him thoughtfully, she relents. "Okay, okay." She whispers gently. She rises from where's she been sitting beside him, and kisses his forehead.

"Lie down. You need to sleep." Helpless, he complies. He allows her to lift his legs up onto the couch, unlacing his shoes, and tucking a blanket around him, as though he were a small child.

"I'm so sorry, Rick. I am just so sorry." Her hand rests on his forehead briefly. His eyes are already closed, the alcohol pulling him under and into an oblivion without any pain.

"You shouldn't have come Dee . . ."

"Sleep, Big Guy. Just sleep."