Ken Hutchinson cranked his eyes open in response to the hushed voice.
"Uncle Ken? You 'wake?"
"I am now, sweetie. Is something wrong?"
"No." Black curls bounced as the head shook. "Mommy said not to wake you, but do you want a drink?"
Hutch smiled affectionately; Rosie Dobey was taking her nursemaid duties very seriously.
"I would love a drink, thank you. And maybe one of those cookies you baked for me as well - unless Uncle Dave has eaten them all?"
"I saved the biggest one 'specially for you," Rosie smiled happily as she trotted to the kitchen.
Hutch sat up slowly and gingerly swung his legs around to sit upright on the sofa, dislodging the blanket that had been draped over him while he slept. Yawning hugely, he scrubbed his face and carefully rotated his neck, wincing at the crackling noises that induced. He gazed around the Dobey's comfortable room, remembering how he came to be there and not in his own apartment.
Captain Harold Dobey stood at the end of Hutch's bed, looking slightly uncomfortable as he always did when visiting his men in the hospital. Hutch was, at last, well enough to go home after several weeks of fighting, and recovering from, a plague that had come terrifyingly close to ending his life. Had it not been for his partner's single-minded determination to find the man who held the cure in his blood stream, Hutch knew that he, and many others, would have died. Even now David Starsky wore an expression of fatigue and fear, and he was reluctant to let Hutch out of his sight for longer than the time it took to go to the bathroom.
However, now that Hutch was being discharged, Captain Dobey was insistent that Starsky return to work.
"But..." Starsky began.
"No, Starsky. The department is shorthanded and I need you back."
Starsky opened his mouth again but Dobey raised an imperious hand. "You have cases to review and reports to write. It should only take a few hours."
"Starsky, I'll be fine," Hutch cut in, feeling slightly guilty that his partner would have to face the dreaded paperwork alone. "Just drop me off on your way in. I won't be very good company for you; in fact I'll probably sleep all afternoon."
"But..." Starsky's eyes swung back to Captain Dobey.
"Why don't you spend the afternoon at my house, Hutch? Edith and the kids would love to see you, and Starsky can concentrate on his work knowing you're not alone. What do you say?"
"That's very kind of you, Captain, but I don't want to put Edith to any trouble. And I'm sure I will sleep all the time." He glanced at Starsky to back him up.
Starsky shook his head. "I don't think you should be on your own, Hutch. Not so soon."
"I don't need baby-sitting!" Hutch tried to inject some anger into his voice but only succeeded in sounding petulant.
"Edith will be delighted to see you, Hutch," Dobey said. "In fact it will put her mind at rest to be able to see for herself that you're on the mend. She's been praying for you - we all have."
Hutch felt himself colour; so many people had been pulling for him while he lay in the hospital.
Starsky rested a hand on Hutch's arm and ducked his head slightly, capturing Hutch's gaze. "Please, Hutch. For me."
Well, how could he resist a plea like that? He could rarely refuse Starsky anything anyway, and he could both see and hear that Starsky was still reliving those days (probably in 'glorious technicolor') when Hutch's life hung in the balance. He placed his own hand over Starsky's and gave him a smile and nod.
And so he found himself dozing on the Dobey's sofa being lovingly cared for by his captain's wife and small daughter; Rosie had even donned her nurse's costume so she could look after him properly. The Dobey's son, Cal, had looked in on Hutch before leaving for soccer practice, awkwardly shaking his hand and, with an embarrassed smile, telling him he was glad Hutch was feeling better. Sometimes Hutch could scarcely believe he was loved so much by people who were not even family.
And yet in all the ways that counted they were family. The captain and Edith had become surrogate parents to both himself and Starsky, Rosie and Cal an honorary niece and nephew. And as for Starsky, depending on the situation and his mood, he was Hutch's older and younger brother all rolled into one.
Hutch looked up as Rosie slowly re-entered the room, her total attention focused on the plate of cookies she was carrying. She let out a small sigh of satisfaction as her precious cargo made its way safely to the table.
Edith followed behind with a tray of drinks. "I hope she didn't wake you, Hutch?"
"I was only resting my eyes," Hutch winked at Rosie before glancing at Edith with a rueful smile. "I'm sleeping far too much these days."
"You've had a close call, Hutch. Your body is telling you that you need to rest and recover."
Hutch could not contain the shudder that ran through him. "Too close, Edith. Too close."
Edith laid a hand on his knee. "I'm so glad it's all over."
"Yeah, me too," Hutch whispered.
"Just give yourself a chance to heal, Hutch. You'll be fine in no time." Edith patted the knee beneath her hand before passing Hutch a cup of coffee.
"D'you want your cookie, Uncle Ken?" Rosie raised her eyebrows in anticipation.
"Of course I do, Miss Rosie. Mm mm." Rosie giggled as Hutch took a huge bite and mumbled, "Delicious," around the mouthful.
Rosie drained her milk and scampered away, returning almost immediately with a large box. Out came two beautifully dressed dolls. "Princess Poppy and Princess Lily," she informed Hutch. These were followed by a tea set which she used to lay four places at the small table.
"Don't tire Uncle Ken out, Rosie," Edith warned. "He has come to rest, not to play with you."
"We'll be fine, won't we, Rosie? Your royal friends seem to have forgotten their crowns. Perhaps you could make some while I finish my coffee?"
"Thank you, Hutch," said Edith as Rosie hurried off to get her art materials. "She has been really looking forward to seeing you again but she doesn't realise just how sick you have been; don't let her wear you out. Now I'm going to get dinner started - you will stay?"
"Thank you but no, Edith. I don't want to put you to any more trouble."
"It's no trouble. In fact I was hoping you would help me persuade David to join us. I'm sure he didn't eat while you were in the hospital."
"Well, when you put it that way, I'd be delighted to have dinner with you. We can't have Starsky wasting away!"
Edith smiled before looking sternly at her daughter. "Play quietly, Rosie, and let Uncle Ken rest."
"I feel like I've been resting for ever," Hutch grumbled, but even as he spoke he felt his eyelids drooping.
He awoke with a start to the sensation of something on his head - not heavy or constricting, just 'wrong'.
"Oh sorry, Uncle Ken," Rosie muttered. "I didn't mean to wake you up."
Hutch raised a hand and encountered something sticky.
"That's your crown." Rosie had a matching strip of sparkly paper perched precariously on top of her curls.
"Are we a prince and princess?" Hutch asked. "Or a king and queen?"
"Prince and Princess of course! Mommy and daddy are the King and Queen," Rosie explained, seriously.
"Silly me. Of course they are. So we are Princess Rosie and Prince K... oh!" Something trickled onto Hutch's eyebrow. Rosie attempted to smother her laughter as Hutch removed his crown and wiped away the glue with a finger, pretending annoyance. Then she was suddenly subdued as she realised she had disobeyed her mother. "Sorry, Uncle Ken."
"That's okay, Princess. Perhaps we need to let the glue dry before we wear them? You do know I'm not really cross, don't you?"
Rosie nodded. "Shall I make a crown for Uncle Dave?"
"Oh no! I don't think Starsky is a prince. He's a brave knight – Sir David the Bold, riding to the rescue in his trusty red and white steed."
"You're funny, Uncle Ken!" Rosie declared, making Hutch smile again - this little girl never failed to bring a smile to his face.
Hutch snapped his fingers as a sudden thought came to him. "I know! Have you ever made paper dolls? I remember my sister used to make them when we were little."
"Ooh! Show me... please."
Rosie watched intently as Hutch folded a piece of paper and drew a person in a long dress.
"Cut around that carefully then open out the folds."
Rosie did as she was told, the tip of her tongue peeking out the corner of her mouth, a frown of concentration wrinkling her forehead. Her eyes grew wide when she saw the four little figures holding hands.
"I love them! Thank you, Uncle Ken!" She threw her arms around Hutch's neck. "You are so clever!"
"Why don't you draw their faces now and some clothes?"
As Rosie set to work, Hutch felt himself slipping into sleep once more.
It was the sound of Starsky's voice floating through from the kitchen that roused him. "...been okay?"
"Yes, we've been fine," Edith replied. "Hutch has slept a lot of the time and Rosie has been in her element looking after him. You must stay for dinner, David. It won't be long."
"Oh, no, Edith. We couldn't possibly impose on you."
"I insist; I always make plenty. To be honest I was hoping you would persuade Hutch to stay - I know he will if you do. He's lost so much weight and I think he needs some good home-cooking to build up his strength."
Hutch's lips twitched in amusement as he realised how easily Edith had manipulated both him and his partner into accepting her invitation.
Starsky's voice came nearer. "How's my best girl? You look very busy."
"Uncle Dave!" Hutch felt the sofa bounce as Rosie leapt up and when he sneaked a peek, Starsky was spinning her around. The little girl's laughter did his heart good.
"What are you up to there?" Starsky asked.
"Uncle Ken showed me how to make paper dolls." Hutch could just imagine Starsky's expression at that! "And I made crowns before... look!"
"They're beautiful, pumpkin," Starsky said, pride and delight in his tone.
Hutch cracked his eyes back open to see Starsky placing one of the crowns on Rosie's head before picking up the other.
"That's Uncle Ken's."
Starsky plonked the no-longer-sticky paper unceremoniously on Hutch's head with a grin, obviously aware that Hutch was no longer asleep.
"Queen Rosie and King Ken. Your majesties," he announced with an extravagent bow. Quickly snorting a laugh, he repeated, "King Ken! Sounds like King Ko..."
Hutch's index finger nearly made contact with the tip of Starsky's nose as he growled, "Don't say it! Just don't say it!"
Starsky quivered with barely suppressed laughter and Hutch could not resist joining in – it was so good to see the merriment on Starsky's face, easing the lines of tension that had been marring his features. Rosie looked at them both, bemused, before beginning to laugh as well.
"We're not the king and queen, that's mommy and daddy. We're the prince and princess, silly."
Hutch didn't dare look at his partner; they were both giggling, almost hysterically, but fortunately Starsky was able to regain his composure more quickly than he.
"So where is my crown? How come Hutch gets to be a prince? I want to be a prince too!" Starsky's exaggerated pout did nothing to help Hutch regain his poise.
"You can't be a prince. Uncle Ken said you are 'brave Sir David, riding to the rescue'."
Hutch abruptly sobered up when he heard Starsky's quiet exclamation, unsure of his reaction to Rosie's statement He caught his partner's gaze and knew that Starsky understood the 'thanks' he was sending as clearly as he received the 'any time, buddy' flowing his way.
"So what are these paper dolls, Hutch? I didn't know you were into that kind of thing?" Starsky's eyebrows waggled above eyes that shone with impish glee.
Hutch felt his face flush. "My sister used to make them all the time. I thought Rosie might like them too," he said defensively. He ruffled Rosie's hair. "Hey! You've done a great job decorating them."
Rosie smiled proudly. "It's my family." She pointed to each figure in turn. "That's mommy and me." Rosie had drawn their clothes in a matching floral pattern.
"That one's daddy and that's Cal." Rosie had very carefully cut the dresses to form pants; Cal in jeans and a tee shirt, Captain Dobey in a suit and tie.
There were two more dolls, clearly Rosie's attempt at making her own figures, glued alongside the others to make a string of six people. "And that's you and Uncle Dave, 'cause you're my family too."
Hutch's eyes met Starsky's above the little girl's head. Rosie had unknowingly echoed his own earlier thoughts on family and he knew Starsky felt the same way too.
Starsky gave a nod. "You bet we are, kiddo. You bet we are."
Snatching the crown off of Hutch's head and placing it on his own, he marched towards the kitchen. "But I still think I should be a prince too."