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California Dreamin'

Chapter Text

June 1983

Hutch paced at the foot of the escalators in Baggage Claim, barely sipping on his coffee as he kept glancing at the top of the winding stairs. The airport was exceptionally crowded today with tourists flying in from the cooler states for their summer vacation in the California sun. They were still technically on duty, with their guns in their shoulder holsters under their coats. Anything could happen to them at any moment and Hutch was glad they were prepared. The plan was to meet them at Baggage Claim, retrieve their luggage, and then it was off to the Dobeys' where Edith had offered to look after the twins while they finished up at the station.

He had spoken to his sister, Kendra, on the phone late last night and was a bit annoyed that she wasn't as worried as he was about letting the girls fly alone. 

"They'll be fine, Ken," she had said. "I'll be meeting with their attendant at the airport in the morning."

"How the hell did you become the calm one in the family?" he asked.

"Probably because I have a brother who worries for everybody else. They're really excited to fly tomorrow. We had a hard time getting them to calm down for bedtime."

Hutch laughed. "Starsky's excited, too. He said he has a surprise for them."

"Aw, that's sweet. What is it?"

"He won't tell. Says the surprise is for me, too."

"I'll bet it's Disneyland."

"Jesus, I hope not," he huffed.

"You'll call me when you have them?" 

"Of course, I will."

Hutch stood still in front of the escalators tapping his foot when Starsky approached him, eating a donut.

"Will you sit down?" he asked. "You're makin' me dizzy walking back and forth."

He sighed and joined his husband on one of the benches in front of the stairs.

"See?" he said, tapping Hutch's bouncing knee. "You can still spot them from here."

Hutch was tapping his finger on his styrofoam coffee cup.

"Will you relax? They're gonna make it."

"They've never traveled alone, Starsk, or have even been on a plane."

"I'm sure they're having the time of their life, watching the in-flight movie, filling up on all of that free soda."

Hutch grinned. "Kendra doesn't feed them a lot of sugar so no doubt they're taking advantage." He looked at Starsky. "Which, by the way, doesn't give you leeway to fill them full of sugar either."

Starsky frowned. "Why not? It's their summer vacation! I can't give them ice cream for dinner?"

"Not tonight, at least. Edith's gonna be cooking a big spaghetti dinner for the kids. Dobey said he dusted off his Clue board game for them to play."

"We should've warned them to never play that game with him. I swear he cheats."

Hutch laughed. "Bet you wouldn't say that to his face."

"Nah, 'cause he'd get me in the lounge with the lead pipe. Edith gonna save us a plate?"

Hutch raised his eyebrows. "With four kids and Captain Dobey in the house?"

Starsky sighed. "Guess it's sandwiches for us again."

"Baggage for Flight Fifty-Four from Duluth will be unloading at Carousel Eight-D."

Hutch looked around, but Starsky assured him, "It's down that way, babe. Well, guess they made it off the plane. Feel better?"

"I won't feel better till I see them," said Hutch as he eyed the escalators again, sipping his now cold coffee.

"Shame we gotta work late tonight...their first day here," said Starsky.

"Gotta finish up that wonderful paperwork before we can have the week off, hon."

"Still, it's rare we have one of those. I'm looking forward to it." 

He squeezed his husband's bicep, making him smile.

"I am, too, Starsk."

"Heyyyy, you guyyys!!"

They looked toward the escalators to see their nieces, Layla and Lola, waving at them with big smiles as they descended, having greeted their uncles with the customary Electric Company greeting they always gave them over the phone.

Hutch set his coffee cup on the floor, nearly tipping it over as he jumped from his seat. Starsky laughed as he watched him run up the escalator and picked them up in each arm as they hugged his neck. The attendant with them, a young black girl with a straight ponytail, beamed at their little reunion, and Hutch set the girls down so they could rush at Starsky.

Two eight year-olds grabbed his waist in a tight hug as Starsky tried not to drop his donut, but to no avail. They fell to the floor with it in a laughing heap.

"Hi, Uncle Davey!" they shouted.

He sat up and kissed the tops of their blonde heads. "Hey, Lay-Lo! How was the flight?"

"So much fun!" said Layla.

"Hey, Uncle Davey. Guess what the movie was," said Lola.

"Uhhhh, was it Citizen Kane?"

"Noooo!"

"The French Connection?"

"Noooo!"

"It was King Kong," said Layla. "The really old one!"

Lola bounced on her feet. "And we had two Cokes...each!"

Starsky winced as he got off the floor. "Each? Don't tell Uncle Ken."

"Too late. I heard," said Hutch before turning to the attendant. "Do you need my ID, miss?"

She laughed. "No, sir. This was all the proof I needed." 

"Well, thank you so much for looking after them...um..."

"Charlotte."

"Thank you, Charlotte. Girls! Come tell Miss Charlotte thank you. I hope they weren't too much trouble for you."

"Not at all. We had a blast. It made my long trip easier. I got one more short plane ride to go. Oregon, family reunion."

The girls ran over to her and said together, "Thank you, Miss Charlotte."

"You're welcome. Now you ladies have a good visit to sunny California."

She waved at them as she walked to the escalator going up.

Starsky clapped his hands. "Okay, Lay-Lo. Let's get those bags. Which carousel is it again?"

"Eight-D," said Hutch and the twins.

"Eight-B?"

"Nooo!" the girls giggled.

"Hey, Uncle Davey," said Lola, "did you bring the cool car?"

"Yeah!" said Layla. "Can we turn on the siren? Please, Uncle Ken?"

Starsky flashed Hutch a smug grin. He had sent a picture of the Torino to the twins with their last birthday card and they were excited to ride around in it.

"Why, yes," he said, rather loudly. "I did bring the cool car."

Hutch grinned back at him. "And no, you can't turn on the siren."

"Awwww!"

"Tomorrow," said Starsky.

"Yayyyy!"

They arrived at the carousel and Starsky playfully nudged Hutch in the side.

"Hear that? I have the cool car."

 

Chapter Text

The porter had helped the men and twin girls with their luggage and was tipped with a five-dollar bill. They looked like a happy, little family clamoring into a red sports car with the girls begging them to turn on the siren. 

These were the guys alright, although Fealy wasn't sure at first. He had heard that Starsky and Hutch had secretly gotten hitched and it was proven when he spotted the gold and silver bands on their fingers and the way they touched each other's hands, indiscreet to them but obvious to Fealy. He also spotted, however, the brown strap of Starsky's gun holster under his sports jacket as he reached up to close the trunk to the car. 

Fealy couldn't believe it. The rumors were true. Bay City Police Station had let two of their best cops marry each other. What a fairy brigade they were becoming. 

He went to the porter's desk and tipped his hat low over his eyes as he picked up the phone.

"Hey, it's me," he muttered into the receiver. "Yeah, I spotted them but they were armed and there's too many people here. How the hell did the boss think this was gonna go down here at the air--"

The voice on the other end stopped him and he gulped.

"Look, I didn't mean it that way. It's just...well, what do you expect? I couldn't do it....nah...I don't know where they're goin'...but I know where they live. I can do it there. Me and Lewis can stake 'em out. Give them a day to enjoy themselves. Then we'll make a move........sure, I remember what the boss said."

He cupped his hand around the receiver. "We only gotta take one of them."

------------------------------

Later that evening, Dobey stepped out of his office to find Hutch typing up his third report.

"Where the hell is Starsky?" he asked as he put on his coat.

"Went to get our cold sandwiches," said Hutch as he focused on his typing. He rubbed his eyes and stood to face him. "Look, if the girls are too much trouble--"

Dobey smirked. "You know how many kid's birthday parties I've survived in that house? I doubt the twins will be any trouble at all. Besides Edith's got the kids playing Twister while she's making dinner. Hopefully, they'll wear themselves out before I go to bed."

"Just play a game of Clue. That'll put 'em to sleep."

"You're just a sore loser, Hutchinson."

Starsky came through the door balancing two wrapped sandwiches in one hand and two soda cans in the other. 

"How long you think you're gonna be?" asked Dobey as Starsky sat at his desk. 

Hutch took one of the sodas and popped it open. "Another few hours, I think."

"Mildred's been kind enough to sort our filing for us," said Starsky.

"Did you buy her dinner, Starsk?"

"I tried to a long time ago. Learned my lesson." 

Dobey shook his head. "Just leave 'em on my desk when you're done. Don't worry about the girls. Edith said they're having fun."

Starsky grinned. "That's good."

"Playing Twister, too, Starsk."

He sneered. "Aw, man. I love that game."

"Night, you two. Have a nice week off." Dobey left the bull pen, leaving them alone.

Hutch took a bite of his sandwich and continued typing as Starsky grinned at him. He drew his eyes up from his paper to meet his. 

"What?"

Starsky leaned closer. "Wanna play our own game of Twister?"

Hutch swallowed his bite of sandwich and took a long sip of his soda. He leaned over the desk to meet Starsky's lips, making him moan as they softly kissed.

"Wanna get out of here early?" he whispered.

"You bet I do, baby."

Hutch sat back in his chair. "Then finish those triplicates."

Starsky sighed as he unwrapped his sandwich. "First Mildred, now my own spouse. What a world."

---------------------------

The Torino pulled up in front of the Dobey house at 11:00pm, and Starsky yawned as he put it in park. 

"Jeez, I'm pooped."

Hutch blinked his dry eyes. "I can barely see from all the reports I had to do. Seven of them."

"Thank God for Mildred."

"What a girl." Hutch looked at the single, dim light in the front window of the house. "Think they're still up?"

"Hopefully, the two Cokes they had wore off. I can't see Edith giving them anymore."

They got out of the car and approached the front door, and Hutch gave it a soft knock.

Edith's face peered behind the curtain and she smiled as she let them in, a finger to her lips.

"They all fell asleep," she whispered. "Watching Carol Burnett reruns."

"All?" said Hutch.

They followed her into the living room and Starsky had to cover his mouth to hold back his laugh.

Dobey was sitting on their big sofa, still dressed in his work clothes with his brown dress socks still on his feet. Rosie and Lola were asleep under each arm while Layla was leaning on Rosie. Cal had fallen asleep on the floor where he had been lounging on a blue bean bag.  

Edith nudged Starsky with a sly smile. "I took a picture."

"Frame it for us," Hutch said.

"Oh, by the way, I saved you boys a plate."

Starsky smiled at her. "You had enough left over?"

She giggled. "With four kids and my husband in the house? I cooked for a football team, honey."

Hutch patted Starsky's back. "Well, let's get 'em up. Try not to wake them."

"I'll do my best."

They soon had each twin cradled to their chest as Edith followed them to the Torino with their spaghetti dinner in a brown paper bag. She pulled a note from her dress pocket.

"Oh, Hutch. I almost forgot, but Harold wanted one of you to update him on what you finished."

He spied the note in her hand and noticed it was a checklist. 

He stood there holding a sleeping Layla to him as he marked each one.

"Nope...yes, yes, yes...nope, couldn't get to that one. He didn't need to do this. It's all on his desk."

"You wanna tell him that?" asked Edith.

Starsky took Layla from Hutch and put her in the backseat with her sister.

"Yes, yes...nope." Hutch finished and he and Edith nodded to each other. "Thanks again, Edith." He leaned in and kissed her cheek.

"My pleasure. Please bring the girls back before they leave. The kids wanna have a party."

Starsky kissed her cheek, too. "No problem. Thanks, Edith."

They got in the front and Hutch looked in the backseat at the sleeping twins.

"That wasn't so bad," he said.

"See? You were worried about nothin'." Starsky started the car. "Would it be evil of me to turn on the siren?"

"Very."

"I'm kiddin'."

-----------------------------

The next morning, Starsky set a fresh cup of coffee on Hutch's night stand and kissed his cheek. He groaned under the softness of his lips and rolled onto his back and rubbed his eyes.

"Mornin'..." he mumbled.

"Good morning, handsome." Starsky lightly kissed his lips. "Fresh ground coffee for you here."

"I didn't hear the grinder."

"Not surprised. You slept like a log last night, baby."

Hutch sat up and yawned as he leaned against the headboard. He glanced at the clock as he took his coffee. "Seven o'clock? Why didn't you wake me sooner?"

"'Cause you're on vacation, knucklehead." Starsky sat on the edge of the bed as he watched his husband take that first, satisfying sip. 

Hutch sighed. "God, that's good. The girls up?"

"They were up before the sun," said Starsky. "I heard Bugs Bunny on the TV."

A noise like a metal bowl falling to the floor came from the kitchen and Hutch jumped.

"What was that?"

Starsky grinned. "Lay-Lo asked if they could make pancakes with me so I told them to get bowls out."

"Sounds like they're emptying the cabinets." 

"Yeah, I'd better get back in there." He leaned in and kissed Hutch's forehead. "Take your time, sweetheart."

Hutch took another sip of coffee and closed his eyes until he heard spoons drop to the kitchen floor, and he laughed as he got out of bed and put on his pajama pants and robe. He walked down the stairs from the master bedroom to the den and saw the TV was still showing cartoons. This time it was Scooby Doo and the gang unmasking a monster. Hutch snuck past the kitchen and went through the dining room to the patio doors. He stepped out into the early foggy mist that greeted them every morning from the beach and he grinned as he heard the crashing waves in the distance.

They had bought this light blue, beach house after six months of marriage. Hutch had told his husband that they should wait longer before buying a house together, just to be safe and to continue keeping their marriage under wraps. However, Starsky was getting frustrated. He wanted to give Hutch a house on the beach, one that he always talked about that would be away from the city and nestled in the dunes. One day, Starsky found an ad for one in the newspaper and surprised Hutch on their lunch break when they met the realtor at the house. 

It was a bit of a fixer-upper in some spots, mainly the stairs and the garage under the house, but Hutch couldn't help but love the layout of the place, which made Starsky happy. The house was a bit big with four rooms and two bathrooms, but it would suit two bachelors converging all of their stuff under one roof, and the house would be a project for the both of them to work on together. The railing was replaced on the master bedroom patio and one of the spare bedrooms needed new wallpaper. That spare bedroom was where the girls were put last night, on a double bed with soft sheets and large pillows. It was decorated with a nautical theme with some of Starsky's model ships sitting in cases on random shelves, and there was a lighthouse scene he had painted on the wooden double doors of the closet. Starsky's studio was once an old sunroom behind the garage, and his charcoal drawings were laying in random places on the floor near stacks of stained, plastic palettes that were next to blank canvases.

The room offside from the kitchen downstairs was a make-shift recording studio for Hutch. He wanted to play his guitar more so this room was the perfect place to practice songs he had written years ago but never put a tune to. That was where their shared record collection and turntables were, as well, and they would spend some nights listening to them together, or Starsky would sit with his nightly glass of red wine as Hutch played for him.

But that first step onto their patio every morning was the part about their shared life Hutch loved. It was as if he breathed new meaning into his soul every time he stepped outside. They had their own spaces in the house, but the house itself was something that was all theirs. Hutch never thought he would have that again. Not since Minnesota, not since Vanessa. He came to California to be a cop and to live a bachelor lifestyle only to marry another bachelor with the same path. It made his heart full thinking about how his life worked out like this, so unexpected, so different, yet he had never been so happy.

He sat in one of the patio chairs and set his coffee on the round plastic table as the door opened behind him. He met Lola's tired hazel eyes and grinned. The twins looked so much like his sister when she was younger it was almost unreal. The girls were identical except for Lola who had a quarter-sized birthmark on the back of her left shoulder. She hated it, had called it ugly and wished she had "clean skin" like her twin. Kendra once told her that it was what made her unique and that everyone had a birthmark. She had relayed this to Hutch on the phone before their flight, about how Lola was becoming more distant in school because of how low she felt about her looks.

"She's so young, Ken," she had told him. "I don't know where she's getting these messed up ideas about beauty."

Hutch assured his sister that they would keep her mind off it, saying that he and Starsky had lots of fun plans for them.

He stretched out his arm to his niece as she approached him and helped her into his lap. Her blonde hair was in a messy ponytail and the purple t-shirt and jeans she slept in last night were wrinkled.

She rested her head on his shoulder and sighed as he kissed her forehead.

"Sleep well, honey?" he asked.

Lola nodded as she crossed her arms. "I had a weird dream, Uncle Ken."

"Wanna talk about it?"

"Well...um...have you ever been to Caribou Lake?"

Hutch smiled. "Years ago. I used to go ice fishing with my grandpa."

"My grandpa's dad?"

"No, grandma's dad. We went all the time. I caught my first bass when I was about your age."

"Daddy took us there last summer to swim."

"I remember your mom telling me. Was it fun?"

"Uh huh. But in my dream, I didn't have fun 'cause there was something in the woods."

Hutch smirked. "Was it Bigfoot?"

Lola giggled. "No. He's not real. I don't know what it was but I remember being scared and I tried to tell my sister, but she didn't hear me. It felt like someone was watching me but I couldn't see them."

He squeezed her tighter. "What happened after that?"

"I woke up."

He rested his chin on her head. "I think you had too much sugar yesterday on the plane. Made you have bad dreams."

"Can I have some?" She pointed to his coffee.

"You ever had coffee, my dear?" 

She giggled again. "Don't tell Mommy, but Daddy gives me a sip of his sometimes. He puts lots of sugar in it."

Hutch laughed. "Well, I don't take any sugar in mine in the morning, so I'm afraid it's not gonna taste as good."

"Please, Uncle Ken. I just wanna try."

He carefully held his black coffee in front of her and blew on it to cool it off. "Just a sip."

Lola took the smallest sip and then made the biggest scrunch-face.

"Ewww!" She hid her face in Hutch's robe and pretended to gag. "That coffee is gross!"

Hutch kissed her forehead again. "You'll think differently when you're older."

---------------------------

On a hillside that overlooked the ocean sat a black Lincoln with one man leaning on the hood while a second man sat in the passenger seat peering through a pair of binoculars. His sight was set on Hutch and one of the twins as they sat on the patio, the little brat laughing as he tickled her sides.

"God, I hate kids," muttered Fealy. "What about you, Lewis?"

The young man leaning on the hood of the car stared at the waves crashing on the beach. He was a new kid, a greenhorn who was still learning the ropes, one of which was being a driver for the boss's men. He had been stuck with Fealy for a few weeks now and he still wasn't used to him. The guy had no character; he was a one-dimensional grump who disliked everything but the money he was given after a job.

This job was going to be a big one. Stealing from the cops was one thing. Kidnapping one of their family and holding them for ransom was a bigger deal, and Lewis had noticed that ever since they got assigned this job a week ago, he had gone through more cigarettes in a day than he used to. He felt uneasy about doing anything to the cops. It was usually street thugs from other gangs that got the shake down, moving money along with drugs, and sometimes the occasional, old-fashioned mugging.

Lewis wondered what the hell the boss wanted the kid for anyway, and why from these particular cops. Was it because they were gay? Lewis didn't give a rat's ass about all of that. His own sister was a lesbian, one of the radical feminists that the eighties had been spawning lately in every major city, and she burned bridges along with her bra. 

He missed her sometimes, if he was being honest. Maybe that's why he was uncomfortable with this job. What if it was his own sister that got snatched? It happened all the time; you read about it in the paper, heard it on the news.

But the boss always got what he wanted, and if he didn't, someone was going to get paid in a shower of bullets.

Lewis took one last drag on his cigarette before flicking it to the dirt and snuffing it under his Cuban-heeled boot. 

"Not really," he replied to Fealy. "But I don't mind 'em. They're alright."

"Yeah well don't get attached to this brat, Mary Poppins," said Fealy. 

"How the hell are you even gonna choose the same one? They're twins, man."

"This one's got a mark on her back. I saw it when she walked past me to get into that flashy car of theirs."

"Like a birthmark?" Lewis rubbed his elbow and was about to reach for another cigarette.

"Come on, let's go," Fealy said, putting away the binoculars. "We'll get her tonight. They're sleeping in a bedroom in the corner of the house."

Lewis sighed and got into the driver's seat. "What are we gonna do? Shimmy up the drainpipe."

"I got supplies. You worry about the neighbors spotting us."

"What about Starsky and Hutch?"

Fealy gave him a sly grin. "I've done this before, kid. Those fruits ain't gonna know what hit 'em."

Chapter Text

Hutch recalled how much he and his sister fought when they were kids. They were two years apart with Hutch being the younger sibling, so Kendra took joy in doing things like tripping him at church as they got out of the pew. Hutch would sometimes repay her by putting a frog down the back of her pants in the middle of Sunday dinner with their grandparents. One time, he and his friend threw firecrackers in the middle of Kendra's tea party she was having with her dolls. That resulted in a good hiding from his father, but it didn't stop either of them from keeping up their sibling rivalry, but the pranks stopped when they were in high school. 

Well, almost. Kendra replaced Hutch's toothpaste with shoe polish, but he didn't get her back on that. By that time, he had grown a sense of humor, so he let his sister have the last laugh. He was glad that he did as they were now closer than ever.

The fight the twins had that morning was nothing like the ones they had, however. There was an all-out brawl in their bedroom over a purple Scrunchie that became a slapping fight that he and Starsky had to break up. 

Both girls screamed at each other, their faces turning red as they wailed accusations and pointed fingers.

Hutch lifted Lola from the room as Starsky sat Layla down on the bed, who was still screaming at her sister as they left the room.

"Hey, that's enough," Starsky told her.

"She's such a little baby!"

Starsky knelt on the floor in front of her. "Stop it. Now what happened? Why are you fighting with your sister?"

Layla frowned at him and clutched the coveted purple Scrunchie in her hand as the green one holding her ponytail hung lopsided. "I asked her if I could wear this today and she said no, which isn't fair because she always gets to wear it and I like purple, too, and she always gets what she wants, so I took it."

"Even though she said no?" 

She sniffed and looked down at her sneakers. "In school, we learned that it's nice to take turns. Well, it's my turn to wear it!"

"But it's hers, isn't it? And she said no. She has every right to say no. Do you tell her she can't play with a toy that's yours?"

Layla huffed. "Yeah 'cause my toys were given to me. Mommy said we have to share, but just 'cause we're twins doesn't mean we have to share everything!"

"Which means Lola doesn't have to share any of her stuff with you...right? And you can't make her share by taking things from her and slapping her when she tries to take it back. Right?"

She pursed her lips, knowing he was indeed right, but she crossed her arms and glared at him.

"I hate her."

"Hey, now, she's your sister. You don't mean that."

"I do!" She looked at the Scrunchie in her hands and twisted it. "Mommy loves her more. That's why she's such a baby."

Starsky sighed as he sat next to her. "I used to think my mom loved my little brother more, ya know."

"You have a brother?"

"Uh huh. His name's Nick. We got into fights, too. I think it's 'cause we were jealous of each other. I thought Mom babied him too much and he thought I got too much attention. But we grew out of it, especially after our dad died."

Layla put her head on his shoulder. "How'd he die?" she asked him, her voice softer now.

"He was a cop, like me. Killed while on duty. I hate to say it, but I think that's what brought me and Nick closer together. But I couldn't stay home without my dad, so...I left. Came to California, met Uncle Ken. And now, we're here."

"Do you still see your brother?"

Starsky smirked. "A few years ago, I did. It's complicated with us."

"But you still love him?"

"Absolutely. Even through all the fights we had as kids and all the trouble he got into as an adult. One thing I regret is not keeping in touch with him as often as I should have after leaving." He put his arm around Layla. "I know there are days when you can't stand each other, but stick by your sister because your bond will be important when you're older. Especially since you're twins. You understand that, right?"

Layla nodded and then looked up at him, her hazel eyes shining. "I'm sorry."

"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to."

She sighed. "I know..." 

He kissed the top of her head and stood. "Come on."

Layla slid off the bed and followed him to the hallway. 

--------------------------

Hutch put Lola on the counter in the master bathroom and, fearing punishment, she tried to state her case.

"She knows it's my Scrunchie, Uncle Ken!" she told him as she wringed her hands in her lap. "She always tries to take my stuff when she won't even share any of her things with me! She's so mean!"

She whined when she felt her uncle hold her chin and press a cold, wet washcloth to her face.

"Calm down, honey," he said in a gentle voice. "Take a breath; you're turning red."

Lola took the washcloth and wiped her eyes with it as she showed him the spot on her arm where a deep red handprint was rising.

"Good Lord," Hutch said. "Does that sting?"

Lola nodded as she wiped her cheeks. "I mean...kinda...but she always hits me hard. I hit her back though."

"You shouldn't hit each other at all. You're not toddlers anymore."

"But Uncle Ken! She started it!"

"I don't care who started it. It's ending now. You girls have been here barely twenty-four hours, and we've already had to separate you." 

Lola sniffed and pouted her bottom lip. "Please don't send us back."

Hutch sighed and kissed her forehead. "Baby, we're not gonna send you back. You just have to keep the fights to a minimum."

"She hates me. She does stuff on purpose to--"

"Listen to me. Layla doesn't hate you. You think you're the only siblings that ever fought? Your mom and I used to have fights when we were little. We also played mean pranks on each other."

Her eyes shined up at him. "What kind of pranks?"

"Well, I remember once when she..." He stopped and met her grin. "Nice try."

Lola giggled and wiped her nose with the cloth. "I'm sorry."

"I'm not the one you should be apologizing to."

She groaned and rubbed the red spot on her arm. "Okay..."

Hutch smoothed down her disheveled hair. "You ready?" She nodded and he helped her off the counter. "Go on, then."

They went into the hallway where Starsky was escorting Layla out of the guest bedroom. The girls crossed their arms and hanged their heads, avoiding as much eye contact as possible.

Starsky leaned against the door frame as he glanced at Hutch, who had his hands on his hips.

“You know,” said Starsky. “I had a real fun day planned for us. In fact, I’ve been planning it for two weeks. But we’re not gonna go anywhere until there’s some making up here. Understand?”

The girls looked at each other but said nothing.

“Girls,” said Hutch, his voice low and firm.

Layla looked up at Starsky who gently nudged her.

"Go on."

She huffed and approached Lola.

“I’m sorry I took this from you,” she muttered as she handed over the Scrunchie. "And that I hit you."

Lola took the Scrunchie and said, “I’m sorry, too. And that I hit you back.”

"Can we see a hug now?" asked Hutch.

"Aw, sure, honey. Come here," said Starsky as he embraced his husband.

"I was talking to the girls, Starsk."

The twins giggled as their Uncle Davey squeezed Uncle Ken.

Starsky released him from his grip and said, "Okay, your turn."

The twins hugged and tried to squeeze the other tighter, giggling more.

“Okay,” said Hutch. “Are we good now?"

"Yeah," they replied.

"We’ll be leaving in a few minutes so take another bathroom trip.”

“Yeah, ‘cause we ain’t stoppin’," said Starsky.

The girls raced to the guest bathroom downstairs.

“Not bad,” said Hutch.

“Speak for yourself. Thought we were gonna have another Weaver-Holmes on our hands. I think I got my first grey hair. ”

“Don’t be dramatic. You mean to tell me you never got into scrapes with Nick?”

“If by scrapes you mean shiners…”

The twins were soon waiting for them at the Torino, their blonde ponytails pulled high and tight by their appropriate Scrunchies.

“Uncle Davey?” said Lola.

“Yeah?”

“You said we could turn on the siren today.”

Layla spoke up. “Yeah, you promised.”

They approached the car and Starsky opened the passenger door. “Knock yourselves out.”

“Bad timing, Starsk.”

“Oh, right. Lola, you go first.” 

 

 Forty minutes later

"Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, domo...domo!" 

"I am so sick of this song," Hutch grumbled as the girls sang off-key. 

Starsky smirked. "It's the new style, babe."

"I mean it was great the first few times around, but that's all every station seems to play now."

The girls weren't listening.

"Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto, for doing the jobs nobody wants to!"

Starsky looked in the rearview mirror. "We're changing the music after this."

Layla groaned, pretending to be annoyed. "Okayyy!"

The song eventually faded and Starsky turned on his eight-track jazz album and was met with groans from the backseat.

"This music is for old people," Lola whined.

Hutch tried not to laugh but Starsky noticed. "This is Miles Davis, young lady," he said. "One of the greatest trumpet players in the world."

"They don't care, Starsk. It's for old people."

"You want old? Should I put the Carter Family on for them, then?"

"Hey, watch it. Wait, it's in here? I've been looking for it."

"You left it last time you borrowed the car," said Starsky. "I got in and someone started yodeling."

"That someone is June Carter."

Lola put her chin on Starsky's seat. "Are we there yet?"

"Wherever we're going?" added Layla. "We've been driving forever!"

"We've been on the road for forty minutes," said Starsky.

"Lola, sit back, honey. Where are we going?"

He glanced at Hutch and grinned. "I told you, it's a surprise."

Lola gasped. "Is it Disneyland?"

"In the middle of nowhere?" Layla said to her. "Don't be dumb."

"Don't call me dumb!"

"You always say dumb stuff, dummy!"

"You're a dummy!"

Hutch turned to the backseat and pointed at them. "Hey, that's enough! Did you learn nothing from this morning? We'll turn this car around."

"I ain't turnin' around after driving for forty minutes," said Starsky.

“Well, how much longer, Starsk?”

“Another ten minutes…I think.”

Hutch frowned. “You think? You said you'd been planning this for two weeks.”

“I have but I’ve only been out here once. Huggy had to give me directions again.”

“Huggy? Is he—”

Starsky patted his leg. “Patience, my love. All will be revealed soon.”

Hutch looked out the window. “Not much out here but pastures and barns.”

When Starsky didn’t reply, he looked over at him to see the smug grin on his face.

“What are you planning?” he asked again.

“Shh, old person listening to his music, here.”

-----------------------------

"Excuse me?"

Fealy and Lewis turned to the old woman that was walking her Rottweiler close to the driveway, and they adjusted their white ball caps with the name "Termite Terminators" on them. 

Lewis's heart raced when he saw the dog. "Dammit..."

"Easy, kid," said Fealy. "I'll handle this." He took a few steps to the old lady, but kept his cap low on his brow. "Yes, ma'am? Do you need our services?"

"I'm afraid they're not home right now," she said. "Were they expecting you?"

Nosey neighbor. The worse kind to have around when you're on the job.

"Yes, ma'am. We're just here to spray."

"For termites? Don't you have to get into the walls?"

"It's only a mild infestation," said Fealy, pointing toward the back of the house. "Along one of the bedrooms."

The woman gripped her dog's leash as she narrowed her eyes at them. "Strange they have termites. I don't know of anyone else that--"

Fealy smiled. "Well, it's a good thing we're hitting this house first, ma'am. You don't want those things eatin' up your place. They move quick."

She pursed her lips and pulled on the dog's leash. It was staring down Lewis with unblinking eyes and the kid couldn't breathe.

"Well...okay. Have a good day, then."

"Same to you, ma'am." Fealy tipped his hat and waited until she was down the street and out of sight.

He turned back to Lewis. "Let's get this shit over with before she has time to tell the whole neighborhood. Get that ladder down, will ya?"

They went around to the back of the house to the corner window where the girls' room was, and Lewis held the ladder as Fealy climbed up with his glass cutter. He cut a fist-sized hole in the top pane of the double sash window and unscrewed the inside lock with a pocket screwdriver. He threw the screws and made sure the latch stayed in the locked position. He carefully replaced the glass and sealed it with Locite glass glue. He then used a clean rag to wipe off the excess and cleaned around the area he cut.

"Hurry up, man," Lewis hissed up at him.

"Can't hurry art," he replied, grinning as he pulled back and admired his handiwork.

"What makes you think they won't notice the lock?"

Fealy climbed down. "People with these kinda houses...it's like their own little hideaway. They're far from everything so, most of the time, they leave their doors unlocked thinking nothing and no one's gonna bother them. But these guys are cops. They know the value of locking things up, so they're not gonna check 'cause the windows are never unlocked. Get it?"

Lewis frowned at his tone.

"Then we just re-cut the hole, take off the lock, and we get the kid. Easy as pie, kid."

"I don't know, man. There's still that chance they'll--"

"I told you! This ain't my first time. Snatchin' kids is an easy deal. What's gonna be a pain is keeping the brat somewhere and looking after her. That's where you come in."

Fealy folded the ladder and handed it to Lewis who hoisted it over his shoulder as they walked back to the truck. 

"I just have a bad feeling," he said.

Fealy rolled his eyes. "It'll be a piece of cake. Just watch her and make sure she doesn't try anything funny or run off. That last part should be easy; that's what all the zip-ties are for."

"And then what?"

"Huh?"

"What'll happen to her?"

They got into the truck and Fealy lit a cigarette as Lewis started the engine. He handed the cigarette to him before lighting his own.

"Nothing," he said. "If they do what the boss tells them and not involve their friends at the station, all they have to do is deliver the goods and we'll let her go. If not..."

He slashed his thumb across his neck, making a cutting noise.

Lewis took a long, deep drag from his cigarette. "What do they have to deliver?"

Fealy let his cigarette hang from the corner of his mouth as he smiled.

"Sergeant Kenneth Hutchinson."

-----------------------

"Hey, Uncle Ken, lookit!" said Layla. "Look at all the pretty horses!"

He and Lola looked out of the car window to see a herd of brown, white, and speckled horses grazing in a field.

"Well, I'll be," he said.

Starsky bit his lip as he tried to hold back another grin.

"Are those wild horses, Uncle Ken?" asked Lola.

"Nah, they're in a pasture, sweetie. I'm sure there's a ranch up ahead."

"I've always wanted to ride on a horse," said Layla. "There's a ranch near our house, but Daddy says we're not old enough."

"Says it's dangerous," added Lola.

Starsky glanced in the rearview mirror to see the twins sulking, and then he noticed that Hutch was still gazing out the window at the green grass and blue sky. He saw the sign for the horse ranch ahead and turned on his signal.

"Well, I won't tell if you won't," he said.

He turned into the long driveway just behind the sign and the girls gasped.

"Oh my God! Are we riding horses? Uncle Davey! Really?" they screamed.

"Are you serious, Starsk?" Hutch's baby blues were wide. "We're really going horseback riding?"

"Surprise!"

"Seriously!?" the three Hutchinsons exclaimed.

He put the Torino in park when they reached the ranch house where a middle-aged man and woman were sitting in white rocking chairs. Hutch immediately opened his door but Starsky grabbed his arm.

"Hold on, honey! There's some rules."

He left his door open, with one leg on the dirt and his other leg bouncing. Starsky suddenly felt a burst of love for his overexcited blonde who always fancied himself a cowboy.

Starsky turned to the twins. "Okay, Lay-Lo, listen up. We're riding horses today and--"

"Oh my God thank you!!"

"Listen, please. The conditions are that, since you're under ten years old, you gotta wear helmets and a trainer is gonna be leading you." He looked at Hutch. "You can ride off into the sunset to your heart's content, and when I say 'sunset,' I mean within the confines of the ranch."

Layla hugged Lola's neck and whispered, "Oh my God this is happening!" 

Hutch was about to grab his face to kiss him, but grabbed his hand instead and squeezed.

Starsky saw the urge in his eyes. "Okay, girls. The two people on the porch are Mr. and Mrs. Doyle, the ranch owners. They're ready for you. Now, git!"

The girls tumbled out of the car and ran up to the porch, giving Hutch the opportunity to properly thank his husband with a kiss.

Hutch pressed his forehead to his. "You're amazing."

Starsky smiled, his cheeks warm. "Aren't I?"

They got out of the car when Starsky popped the trunk and pulled out his camera bag and a black cowboy hat. 

"Here you go, partner. Found that in our box of old undercover stuff."

Hutch put on the hat and adjusted it. "I was wondering where it went. How do I look?"

"Wild Ken Hutchinson."

"Funny, Starsk."

"Hutch Cassidy."

"I get it!"

They met Mr. Doyle at the ranch house while the twins stood on the fence with Mrs. Doyle watching the trainers lead two brown and white paint horses.

"Uncle Ken, look!" said Lola. "Our horses are twins, too!"

Mr. Doyle laughed as he shook the guys' hands. "Thank ya'll for comin' out. Nice hat, cowboy."

Hutch grinned and pushed it up his brow with one finger as Starsky beamed.

"Ya'll came on a nice day," said Mr. Doyle. "We'll get the girls squared away, start 'em off with basic riding, then trotting, and onto a soft gallop. Now, ya'll been on a horse before?"

"Been a while," said Hutch.

"It'll come back to ya once you take the reins. How 'bout you, pardner?" 

"I'm good."

"You're not riding, Starsk?"

"Nah, Hutch. I'll watch you and the girls."

Mr. Doyle laughed again. "No worries, friend. You can put your feet up on the porch with me. Got beer in the mini-bar inside. Oh and Huggy called. Said he'll be here 'round one with the barbecue."

Hutch smirked. "Huggy?"

"Told me his grandma's sauce was the best, so I asked him to make us up a picnic."

Mr. Doyle motioned toward the house. "'Round back in the oak shade there's a couple of benches. I'll have him set up back there."

The rancher walked to the fence to talk more to the twins, and Hutch quickly stroked the back of Starsky's hand.

"Babe, did you...how did you plan all of this? When did you have the time?"

"I made the time, darlin'. I remember Huggy talking about some gals he knew that worked part-time here, and he said the Doyles were family friends. 'Cause of that, my love, I got the whole ranch to ourselves. The girls will get in some riding, brush a few horses. Thought they'd get a kick out of it." He paused and stroked Hutch's wrist. "And I also remember you telling me...you know, how you used to ride on your grandpa's land. Said it was the best memories you had, horseback riding. Thought this would be a good opportunity for you to have that again."

"Starsk..." His eyes got misty.

"Come on, don't do that. We'll get sentimental tonight."

Hutch lightly placed his fingertips on his stomach. "We'll get more than that tonight, baby."

"Jeez. Go saddle up, Buffalo Blondie."

------------------------

The smell of stale tobacco hung like a thick cloak over Lewis as he stood in front of the long, shiny black desk. He needed a cigarette himself, but he didn't dare smoke in front of the boss, even if the boss offered one up. That's what Fealy had told him, and he was standing behind his partner's chair as they spoke.

"Everything is set for tonight, Mr. Huxley," said Fealy as his boss took a drag from his cigarillo. 

"You sure no one saw you?" he asked, his voice gruff and low.

Fealy laughed. "Oh, yes, sir. Very sure. We made quick work with the preparations. The pick-up will go as planned, nice and smooth."

Lewis gulped and nearly choked on his saliva. His partner had told him to keep quiet about the nosey neighbor. "She's harmless, Probably senile." But Lewis thought it was a big mistake to lie about her. If Starsky and Hutch's friends did get involved, they would interview everyone on the street, and neighbors like that old woman love to give their two cents.

"Good," growled Huxley. There was a tense pause as he stood up from his executive leather chair and slowly stepped toward Lewis. The kid held his breath so as not to choke on the sweet, brownish smoke coming from his mouth.

"You read the Bible, Mr. Lewis?"

Lewis quickly inhaled and muttered, "Not, um...not in a long time, no, sir."

"'And a man who injures his countryman,'" he bellowed. "'As he has done...so it shall be done to him.' Leviticus."

The kid understood and nodded. "An eye for an eye."

He realized what he had said as Fealy turned around, horror paled upon his face.

Huxley glared at Lewis with his left eye, his only good one, though it was black and hollow, and Lewis's heart raced as if he were staring down that woman's Rottweiler again. 

The sudden guffaw of the boss made both men jump. After his throaty wave of cackling settled, Huxley sneered as he turned back to his desk. He pulled a photo of Hutch from a file in front of him and burned a hole in one of his eyes with his cigarillo.

"Exactly, Mr. Lewis."

He singed the middle of Hutch's forehead.

"And a life for a life."

 

Chapter Text

Mr. Doyle was right; the rules of riding came back to Hutch the moment the horse trotted out of the gate and into open pastures. The estate was vast, spreading out in a blanket of green with patches of tall dry grass and rolling hills that dotted the horizon. The sun was shining down on him and his black mare, Darla, who twitched her tail impatiently as they walked along the trodden path.

"Steady, girl. You wanna run, don't ya?" he asked her, and Darla grunted.

Hutch waited until he was out of sight of the ranch house and clicked his tongue twice.

"Let's go," he said as he tapped her with the heels of his boots.

The horse let out a short whinny and picked up speed, and the sound of hooves galloped in time with Hutch's heart.

He spotted two small herds on either side of the path. Mrs. Doyle told him that they would pay him no mind, that they were too busy grazing. As soon as he passed them, however, the sound of hooves grew louder and he looked back to see the herds were running after them.

He panicked but didn't stop; he let Darla run and soon the horses caught up to them. They spread out in a V-formation as they galloped close, and Hutch looked at the painted horses around him, into the spirits of their faces, and he smiled at the foals that ran beside their mothers. 

The thundering of hooves was near deafening, but it filled Hutch with overwhelming joy and he couldn't contain himself. He laughed, he hollered, and he even let out a shrill "Yee-haw!" that veered him back to when he was a boy riding his grandfather's white horse, to the days he would pretend that he was The Lone Ranger riding the plains to stop bandits from robbing a stage coach. He gripped the reins with one hand and held his hat with the other, his boots pushing into the stirrups as Darla tried to keep up with the herd. 

The horses moved further away and Darla slowed to a trot again. Hutch lightly pulled the reins. "Good girl. Feel better? I sure do!" he said with mile-long smile. Darla shook her mane and he laughed as his heart raced.

A soft whinny came up behind them and he turned to see a brown foal tottering next to him.

"Hey, little fella. You get lost?"

The foal flicked his tail at him and ran after the herd. Hutch followed him at a leisurely pace.

Hutch scratched his horse's neck. "Come on, girl. Let's get this baby to his mama."

-------------------------------

"Was that Uncle Ken?" asked Lola. Her horse, Patches, was being led by his trainer in a walk. She was a girl with long, blonde hair that was pulled back into a low ponytail, and she wore dark denim Wrangler jeans with a red flannel shirt.

Starsky laughed. "I knew he wouldn't be able to resist a few 'yee-haws' once he was out there."

"Can we make the horses run?" asked Layla. Her horse's name was Pongo and she had braided some of his mane before she climbed into the saddle.

Her trainer was a brunette in a Dodgers ball cap wearing cut-off shorts with a Huggy's Place t-shirt. Her new red boots were getting dustier as she led Pongo around the fence.

"We'll work up to a light gallop," she said. "You gotta get used to the saddle first."

"What do you mean?" asked Starsky.

She covered her mouth as she giggled. "I tried to gallop the first time I rode and I couldn't sit down for hours."

"Blistered backside," her friend added.

The twins looked at each other and Lola said, "Okay. We can wait on that."

Starsky laughed and took a few more pictures of the kids on their horses until he heard a car pull up to the house. He went to meet the black Cadillac as Huggy got out, donning a light brown leather jacket with long fringe on the sleeves. His denim jeans were tucked into white cowboy boots and he wore a shiny silver belt buckle with a horse's head on it. 

Starsky immediately aimed his camera at him, but Huggy stopped him.

"Wait for the finishing touch, my man," he said as he opened the backseat door. He pulled out a large, white cowboy hat complete with a leather cord that hung loose under his chin. 

"Jeez, Hug. You're dressed for the rodeo."

"It's Huggy the Kid today, Starsky," he exclaimed as a woman got out of his car and opened the trunk. "And I'm here to fill your bellies with some brisket, ribs, beans and rice, cornbread, and lots and lots of my homemade sweet and spicy barbecue sauce."

Starsky grimaced. "How spicy?"

"Don't worry. No one'll be burning their tongues to a crisp today. I toned down the recipe a bit, for the kids' sake. But the real recipe will soon be in every barbecue joint and every grocery store."

"Your grandma okay with you selling her sauce?"

"She's passed away ten years ago. You tell me."

He posed for Starsky who took his photo before helping him unload the car with all the food.

"Where's Hutch?" he asked.

"Way out in the wild, blue yonder."

------------------------

Hutch caught up with the herd that was now grazing on a new patch of grass. The foal whinnied and his call was answered by a brown mare that trotted up to him. He smiled as she nuzzled her baby which immediately began to suckle. Hutch found a tree and guided Darla to it where he slid off the saddle and tied the reins to a branch. 

"How 'bout a snack?" 

He dug into the saddle bag and pulled out a couple of carrots and fed one to Darla. After she chomped it back, Hutch glanced around him and saw it was just the horses watching, so he put one end of the other carrot in his mouth and offered it to Darla. His grandpa used to feed his own horse in this way so he was grateful when Darla accepted the snack.

"Good girl," he said as he scratched her nose. 

He went back to the saddle bag and pulled out a shiny red apple for himself and leaned against the tree, but Darla tried to swipe it from him.

"Oh no," he laughed. "You can't have this, you sneak."

The foal they had followed trotted up to him, keeping some distance between them as they looked at each other.

"You can't have my apple either."

The foal jumped and kicked his legs, shaking his head back and forth as he whinnied. Hutch laughed again as the foal continued frolicking around the tree before returning to his mother. 

He looked out over the herd of horses that was now spread out in front of him and a sudden breeze blew over them, flattening the grass and rustling the tree's leaves above him. The wind was so strong that his hat nearly flew off his head and Hutch held it down as he walked out of the shade and into the sun.

The cool wind gave him an odd feeling. He had just experienced a burst of pure joy on the way out to the middle of the pasture, and even though it was all picturesque and perfect, Hutch suddenly felt a twinge of unease. 

He sighed, thinking of what his husband would say to a feeling like that.

"You're too cynical, sometimes, babe. Why you always gotta think on the negative?"

Hutch couldn't shake the feeling that something was off, that something was going to happen, and it didn't sit right with him.

Maybe he was just worried about the girls riding horses for the first time, but they were well supervised with the trainers and Starsky had stayed behind to watch them. Hutch had wished that Starsky was out in the pasture with him so he could share this quiet moment. They rarely had moments like that except when they were in bed. The rest of their time was spent in all of the noise and mess of the city, of car tires peeling out, police radios blaring, telephones ringing. It was why Hutch wanted a place on the beach where none of that noise could get to them. 

On the other hand, he knew why Starsky didn't want to ride with him, why he was excited to get Hutch on a horse. Apart from knowing that it was a cherished childhood memory, he was sure that Starsky did it because of how stressed he had been lately, even before the girls booked their tickets to California. He wanted Hutch to have a moment to himself, something that was all his to keep or to share as he pleased. The thought of this made him grin and think of how lucky he had become.

Darla grunted and beat the ground with her hoof. Hutch went back to her and gave her his half-eaten apple.

"Okay, you win," he told her, patting her neck. 

He untied her reins as she ate and they were soon trotting along the path again away from the herd.

Hutch looked behind him to see that the foal had followed him a few yards before his mother called him back.

-------------------------

Lewis leaned against the car as Fealy ordered their lunch at the burger stand. He wasn't that hungry, but his partner insisted that he eat like normal before they carried out the job since they would be staked out late at night. They would park across the beach house and Fealy was grateful that there weren't any streetlights dotting the road; only the occasional porch light. 

"Folks move out to the beach to be under the stars," he had said. "No doubt these homos are like that." He noticed the look Lewis had given him and he laughed. "You got a soft spot for the faggots, kid?"

"My sister is gay, man," was the only reply he gave him, but it made his partner laugh even more. 

"Well...I'll try not to offend your sensitivities."

He took one more drag off his cigarette as Fealy approached the car with their food. They got in and Lewis slowly unwrapped his hot dog as Fealy took a big bite out of a burger.

"Got you a Coke, kid," he said, his mouth full of meat and raw onion. 

Lewis took big gulps and finally bit into his hot dog. 

"You're welcome," said Fealy.

He cut him a glare. "No relish?"

Fealy took another bite of his burger. "Didn't know you wanted it."

Lewis frowned.

"You still got that funny feeling?" Fealy asked him. 

He shrugged. "I don't know, man. Long as the girl doesn't get hurt, is all. The boss ain't gonna really kill her, is he?"

"If Hutchinson cooperates, the kid will go free. Can't say the same for him, though."

The image of Huxley's cigarillo burning the cop's picture flashed in Lewis's mind, but he pushed it back so he could eat his lunch.

"Why does he want him dead?" 

Fealy finally stopped wolfing down his burger and took a long drink of his soda. After a wet burp, he wiped his hands and mouth with a napkin. 

"Remember when you so cordially told the boss 'eye for an eye?'"

Lewis grinned. He did remember and felt a bit proud for having made Huxley laugh with it. 

"Yeah. What, did Hutchinson take out his eye or somethin'?"

"In a way. It was in a shootout. The cop's bullet ricocheted off a wall and piece of brick went right into his eye. The surgeons couldn't get it out so he lost it."

"Why was there a shootout?"

"They booked Mr. Huxley's godson, Joey. He was a good kid."

Lewis put down his soda and stared at him. "Was?"

Fealy smirked. "Poor guy was booked on drug charges. Heroin possession. Mr. Huxley was gonna pay his bond, get him a good lawyer, but before bond was ever set, Joey was shanked by a junkie who was being held with him." He sighed and took another sip of his soda. "Not surprised, really. He used to wear a lot of gold rings, so..."

"That's what Mr. Huxley meant, then...a life for a life."

Fealy nodded. "Hutchinson was the one who picked him up. Joey had shot at his partner and he didn't take that well. When he heard Joey was killed, Mr. Huxley blamed it on him. Now, don't you dare say a damn word of this to him, but I think he should'a just let it go. It's been three years now. But who am I to tell a man who pays my rent what kind of grudges he can have? Not my place, certainly not my business. You'll do well to remember that yourself, kid. Capisce?" 

Lewis agreed, but it didn't reassure him. He had heard about how crazy those two cops could get if either one of them was hurt. If they ended up killing Hutchinson, then no doubt Starsky would be out for blood.

Then again, if it were his own spouse, Lewis would do the same.

-----------------------

"Howdy, pardner!" shouted Mrs. Doyle as she waved her hat at Hutch as he came through the gate. "Everyone here thought you were just gonna keep on ridin'!"

Hutch laughed as he guided Darla to the barn. "Heck of a temptation, if I'm being honest."

She laughed. "Ain't that the truth! Well, you just hand over Darla to one of the gals and wash up. It's just about chow time."

He met the trainer in the Dodgers ball cap inside the barn and she took the reins as he slid out of the saddle. He took a moment to stroke the mare's mane and scratch her nose. 

"Thanks for the run, old girl." 

As he washed his hands in the basin outside of the barn, he heard two pairs of sneakers rushing toward him and smiled.

"Howdy, girls!"

"Howdy, Uncle Ken!" they replied. 

"Have a good ride?"

Lola bounced as she hugged his waist. "It was so much fun! Better than the plane ride!"

"Well, the plane was pretty fun, too," said Layla. 

"Yeah, okay, but the horses are the best thing so far!"

Hutch heard the familiar click of Starsky's camera and turned his smile toward him. 

"There's my Roy Rogers," he said, quickly stroking his hand.

Hutch giggled. "I can't compete with him, hon."

"You're a singing cowboy, ain't ya?"

"Hardly a cowboy."

Starsky gave the girls a wink. "Oh, yeah? Then what was all that hootin' and hollerin' we heard out there?"

Hutch's eyes grew wide. "Um...you heard that, huh?"

"Everybody did," said Lola and her sister giggled as she hid her face with her hands. 

Starsky took Hutch's hat and put it on. "Were you rustlin' up some bandits?" 

Hutch cleared his throat. "Lunch ready? I'm starved."

"Uncle Ken!" said Layla. "Can I get on your back?"

"Sure, hop on!"

He knelt down and Layla put her arms around his neck as he held her legs. When he continued walking, she shrieked, "Yee-haw!!" 

Hutch immediately stopped and knelt down again. "Okay, ride's over."

Layla giggled again and whispered, "Uncle Davey told me to do that."

He looked at Starsky who was kneeling behind Lola to "hide" as she laughed. Hutch pointed at him. "I'll get you later for that."

Starsky stood and Lola took his hand. "I look forward to it. Come on, Lay-Lo. Let's see how many ribs we can eat. Bet I can eat more!"

"Nuh uh!" said Lola, letting go of his hand and running toward the back yard. Layla followed her, leaving them on their own.

When they were out of sight, Hutch gave Starsky a solid slap on his ass. Starsky returned the favor and Hutch winced.

"Oh, come on," he said. "Wasn't that hard."

"Not that. Saddle sore. Think I got a blister."

"Aw, poor baby." Starsky gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "Don't you worry; I'll take care of your ass later."

--------------------

The black car drove slowly past the beach house as two cops and two little girls got out of the Torino. Hutchinson was carrying one sleeping twin as Starsky held the hand of the one rubbing her eyes and leaning into him.

Fealy looked at his watch and saw that it was just after 7:00pm, and it looked like the girls would be going to bed early. But they couldn't do anything now. It was still light out.

The car reached the cul-de-sac and turned around, and Lewis noticed that a light had turned on upstairs. Master bedroom, it looked like. Maybe everyone was turning in early.

“Midnight,” said Fealy. “Everyone should be fast asleep by then.”

Lewis nodded and left the quiet neighborhood on the beach. He had to admit it was a nice area and wouldn’t mind having a place of his own here. Lots of privacy, too. He could see why these certain cops lived out here.

He gripped the steering wheel as they headed back to town, trying not to think how it would all go down in just a few hours.

--------------------------------

“How you doin’ over there, Hopalong?”

Hutch grimaced as he shifted on the sofa, moving his legs out in front of him as he sat on a pillow. When he got comfortable, Starsky began rubbing one of his feet.

“Ugh, that’s so good, baby…” he moaned as he lent back his head.

Starsky smiled. “You got blisters on your feet, too.”

“New boots.”

“They looked good on you. Very sexy.”

Hutch huffed. “I don’t feel very sexy. I’ve got sore feet and cream on my ass. Why did you put so much?”

“Got carried away.” He got the tube of cream from the coffee table and put dabs of it on Hutch’s blisters before continuing to rub his feet. “Worth it, though, huh?”

Hutch gave him a big smile. “Oh my God, Starsky. It was so amazing. The ride, the open land…who knew Heaven was just an hour from home? And me and Darla…it’s like we connected. Don’t laugh! That kinda stuff happens. It was like that with my grandpa. He had a way with animals, especially horses.”

“Maybe you got it from him,” said Starsky.

“I wish you could’ve been out there with me, hon. It was…just…incredible!”

Starsky laughed, his heart full as Hutch recounted his experience for the third time, though he would gladly listen to it all night if it meant he could see how happy his husband was.

Hutch leaned back and grinned. “Thank you.”

“My pleasure. I like rubbing your feet.”

“Starsk, you know what I mean. You put a lot of thought into this surprise, for the girls, for me. I can’t begin to tell you how much—”

“It was nothin’, honey. You deserved it. It’s your vacation, too.”

“And yours. You deserved to ride, too.”

Starsky shrugged. “Well, I wanted to do something special for you guys.” He paused as he thought of something. “You know, I didn’t think the twins would take to me much.”

"The girls adore you.”

“I know, I know, but I was still nervous when we went to Duluth three years ago. I mean, I’m usually good with kids but…they’re your sister’s kids. I wanted to make a good impression.”

"Looked like you did, especially when I walked in on your tea party. The tiara was a bit much.”

Starsky lightly gasped. “Excuse you, I was the princess, and it was a royal occasion.” They giggled until he accidently touched a blister.

“Ooh! Careful, babe.”

Starsky winced. “Sorry. Anyway…when we got home, and I never told you this…but when we got home and went to bed that night…I felt like my family got bigger, ya know?”

“Well, it did get bigger.”

“Yeah, but…it suddenly hit me that night that, wow…they’re my nieces, too. And out of the blue, I started tearing up.”

“Starsk…”

“Yeah, I was a big baby, but it was a happy thought for me. I, uh...I had a family again.”

Hutch sighed as he moved off his pillow and closer to him. Even though Starsky was close to his mother and his aunt and uncle, Hutch remembered him admitting that he felt distant, that after his father died his family split up. He moved to the West Coast and Nicky became a wanderer, and they both left their mother back in Brooklyn.

He kissed him, gently holding his chin. When he pulled away, he looked into his blue eyes and smiled.

“I love you,” he whispered.

Starsky smiled back. “Love you too, baby.”

They kissed again, and then kissed deeper, more heated.

Hutch sighed against his cheek. “It’s late.”

Starsky ran his fingers through his hair. “I know.”

“Let’s go to bed. I still think you deserve a ride.”

“Only if I can wear your hat.”

------------------------------------------

It was just after midnight when Layla got out of bed. She rubbed her eyes as she pushed open the bedroom door and went to the bathroom across the hall. She got a drink of water from the tap using a pink plastic cup and went back into the hallway when she heard a thud.

"Uncle Ken?" she whispered. Layla noticed that her uncles' bedroom door was closed and their light was off. It couldn't be either of them because they were asleep. Maybe Lola got up, too.

She crept from the bathroom and peered around their door frame to see a man dressed in all black with a flat cap that covered his eyes. He was pressing something to Lola's mouth as her legs kicked. 

Layla let out a loud gasp, alerting the man, and he pulled a gun out of his coat and aimed it at her. She trembled and wanted to scream for her uncles, but all she could focus on was the end of the gun.

Lola stopped kicking her legs and went limp. The man put the cloth that he had pressed to her face into his pocket and stepped closer to Layla. She squeaked as he knelt in front of her and he covered her mouth with his gloved hand, ripped leather that creaked and smelled dirty.

He pressed the gun to her cheek and Layla closed her eyes as she wet herself, leaving a dark stain on her green pajama bottoms.

"Hey!" a voice hissed from the window. 

Layla realized there was another man, but she could see this one better. He had bright, blue eyes and dark hair that was slicked back.

"Leave her alone, man," he whispered. "We got the kid, so let's go!"

The man in black put his gun into his coat as he squeezed her face. "Can you count to a hundred, little girl?"

Layla let out a shaky breath as she nodded. 

"Good. Get in the closet and start counting. If you stop, then we'll kill your sister. Understand?"

She started to cry as the man pushed her into the closet and shut the door. She wiped her face and looked through the crack in the double doors and saw the man gently pick Lola up and hand her to the man in the window. The man in black looked toward the closet and Layla started counting as she sat in her wet pajamas and cried.

----------------------

Lewis held the limp child to his chest as Fealy climbed down the ladder and approached him.

"The ladder, man!" 

"Doesn't matter what kinda evidence we leave, kid," Fealy said. "They're gonna know soon enough what just happened."

They got to their car that was parked at the end of the driveway and Lewis laid the girl in the backseat.

"Not there. Trunk."

Lewis frowned. "What?"

"In case she wakes up, dumbass! She can't see where we're going in there. Now, hurry up!"

He picked her up again and set her down in the trunk. He looked at the state of her and worried for a minute that Fealy gave her too much chloroform.

"Hey! Come on!" 

Lewis drove at a slow speed until he left the street, then he sped up and made his way back to the city.

His funny feeling was turning into a reality. They had just stolen a kid. A cop's niece, at that. He can only imagine the kind of desperation Starsky and Hutch were going to have once they received that phone call, and that made Lewis's throat dry.

-----------------------

Starsky woke up to the sound of little hands pounding on their door, and he rolled out of bed, slipping on his pajama bottoms.

Layla ran into the room and wailed. "Uncle Davey! It was a man! A man in black! He came through the window!"

Hutch awoke and bolted out of bed, putting on his robe. He rushed to her and knelt down.

"Honey, what's the matter?" 

"A man! He had a gun! He went through the window!"

Hutch noticed her soiled pants and sighed.  "Baby, did you have a bad dream?"

Layla stomped her feet and shrieked, "Noo! He took her! The man in the window took her! She's gone!!"

"What?"

"They took her!"

Starsky ran to the girls' bedroom to find the bed empty. He looked in the closet and under the bed, then went into the bathroom to look behind the shower curtain. When he went back to the girls' room, he finally noticed that the window was wide open and his heart thumped in his chest when he saw the ladder.

He went back to the master bedroom where Hutch was holding Layla as she sobbed. 

"Lola's gone," he said.

Hutch's eyes went wide. "What?"

"The window, Hutch..."

Layla's voice was muffled against her uncle's shoulder. "They came through the window..."

He kissed her cheek and rose from the floor, looking into Starsky's anxious eyes as he passed him.

"Lola?" He went into the bedroom and saw the open window and the ladder. He ran to it and stuck his head out to look around, but he could only see darkness. 

"Lola!!" The only reply was the sound of the waves from the beach and the rustling of grass in the dunes.

He bolted down the stairs before Starsky could stop him. When he got outside, he ran around the house, calling her name, getting more panicked when he didn't get an answer. Hutch went back inside and rushed up the stairs. Starsky was helping Layla clean up in the master bathroom and setting out a clean pair of pants. Layla sat in the bathtub with her knees to her chest, and Hutch knelt at the edge and lifted her chin. 

"Layla, what happened? What did you see?"

She hiccupped, her hazel eyes red from crying and her nose puffy. Her breath hitched as she told him, "I got up and...went to the bathroom. I heard something...like someone knocking into something. There was a man...in black and...a hat...he was..." She paused and wiped her eyes. "He was doing something to her."

Starsky clutched a folded towel as he listened to her, and Hutch gripped the edge of the tub.

Layla sniffed. "She was still asleep and then he saw me...he had a gun...and pointed it at me..." She sobbed again and Starsky joined Hutch's side. 

"Come on, honey," he said. "What else?"

"He...he grabbed my face and told me not to scream. He said...count to a hundred...or he'll kill her. And I did. I counted. And he took her!"

Hutch stroked her hair to calm her. "You said there was a man in the window, too? Yeah?"

"Yeah. The man...in black gave Lola to him."

"What did he look like?"

"I don't know! His hair was all shiny and dark. Like how Daddy's looks when he combs his hair for work."

Starsky took a breath. "Did they say anything else?"

Layla cried and thought for a moment. "Um...the man on the ladder said...to leave me alone...because they...um...he said they 'got the kid.'"

Hutch slid to the floor, dumbfounded. "Who...who the hell would..." He put his hand to his mouth as he eyes filled with tears.

Layla looked up at Starsky and mumbled, "I'm sorry I had an accident."

He smirked. "Don't worry about that, sweetie. Come on, I got you some clean clothes."

Hutch didn't move as Starsky helped her out of the tub. He stared straight ahead of him, his thoughts reeling, wondering yet knowing that this was not a random kidnapping.

"Got the kid..." That's what Layla heard. But who did it? Who would do this?

He came to his senses and got off the floor, running down the stairs again and going into the living room to call the station.

When he reached the phone at the end of the sofa, it rang before he could pick up the receiver. He stared at it, the shrill ringing vibrating in his head. He picked up the receiver and slowly put it to his ear.

"Detective Hutchinson," came a gravelly voice on the other end. "I believe we have something of yours."

Chapter Text

Hutch pointed to the phone hanging in the kitchen as Starsky came down the stairs. Layla was clinging to his arm as he carefully picked up the receiver. 

"Who is this?" said Hutch. "Where have you taken her?"

"Don't worry. She's not harmed."

"What do you want with her?"

The voice replied with a throated laugh. "She's not the one I want, Detective. But she'll do just fine as collateral...until you pay what you owe."

"I'm not giving you anything."

"Don't be so hasty. You really want her to die?"

"What is you want?"

There was a pause on the other end, and Starsky could hear a sound like someone inhaling and then sharply exhaling, like they were smoking. 

"In due time," the voice hissed. "For now, I think you need to be taught what it's like to have one of your own taken away."

Hutch started seeing red. "If you lay a hand on her..."

"You took someone from me, Hutchinson. Consider yourself lucky that I'm willing to negotiate...a chance that my Joey never had."

Starsky frowned as he gripped the phone. That voice. There was something familiar about it. He had heard it before, but where? And who was Joey? 

"Uncle Davey?" whispered Layla.

He put his finger to his lips before putting his arm around her.

"What do you want, then?" asked Hutch. "Money?"

"Money ain't gonna bring my Joey back," the voice growled. "And it certainly won't substitute the pound of flesh you owe."

Hutch sat on the arm of the sofa. "I owe you nothing."

"I'll keep it simple, Hutchinson. It's either your head...or the girl's. You have three days to decide."

"Wait a minute!"

"And don't even think about getting your cop friends involved, or I'll deliver the girl back to you one piece at a time."

There was a scream in the background and Hutch stood. "If you hurt her--!"

A muffled voice in the background said, "Where should we put her, Mr. Huxley?"

It suddenly clicked in Starsky's head. Joey DiMaro, killed in his holding cell by an addict. He was also the godson of one of the biggest syndicates in Bay City.

"Gordon Huxley..." muttered Hutch into the phone. 

"You remember me. That's good. This time I'll make sure you never forget. Three days, Hutchinson. I'll call with instructions. I know you'll do the right thing. You cops pride yourself on that when it comes to your own, don't you?"

The scream came back and Lola called out to him. "Uncle Ken!"

"Lola!"

The call ended with a loud click and Hutch dropped the receiver. He slumped onto the sofa and stared ahead of him at his distorted reflection in the television screen. He was angry, confused, and worst of all...helpless.

Starsky hung up the phone in the kitchen and knelt to Layla. "We'll get her back, okay?"

Layla was staring at Hutch who was gripping the arm of the sofa, looking lost. She approached him and put her hand on on top of his, bringing him out of his trance as they locked eyes. Hutch let his tears fall as she climbed into his lap and hugged him. He squeezed her to him as Starsky picked up the phone again.

"Starsk, wait..."

His finger hovered over the first number of Dobey's home, but Hutch's voice gave him pause. "We need help," he told him, his voice as calm as he could make it. "Dobey will make sure this is kept under wraps. I know you're scared, Hutch, but we can't wait three days."

Hutch sighed and stroked Layla's hair. "I know." He looked at Layla and said, "You're gonna need to tell Uncle Dobey what happened, okay? What you told us."

Layla nodded and he wiped her wet cheek. 

"And anything else you might remember," he continued. "About the man in black...and the one in the window..."

"I don't know..." she whined. 

He patted her back. "It's okay, baby. Anything you can tell him." He glanced at his husband and nodded. As Starsky made the call, Hutch held onto his niece and rocked her.

-----------------------------

Lola woke up and realized she was being carried. Her vision was blurry and she felt dizzy as she looked around in the darkness. She was outside but the beach house was gone, and the man carrying her was not one of her uncles.

She gasped as she straightened and came face to face with a young man with dark, slick hair, looking just as surprised. Lola immediately began to kick at him and tried to push herself out of his arms, which she almost did, but the man picked her up again and held her wrists.

Lola screamed when a heavy door slammed behind them and a man dressed in all black took off his flat cap and glared at her.

He stepped closer and grabbed her chin. "You keep the noise down, you little brat, or I'll cut out your tongue."

"Hey, knock it off," said the man holding her. "What do you expect? She's scared outta her mind."

"I'll cut yours out, too, you whiny prick! You're a part of this as much as I am, so can the Mother Teresa act." He got a couple zip ties out of his coat pocket and slipped one over her wrists, pulling it tight.

Lola squealed in pain and landed a swift kick under the man in black's chin, making him stagger backward. 

"You little runt!" He pulled a switchblade from his other pocket.

"Fealy! Calm down, man! Look, I'll tie up her legs. You go tell the boss we got her."

The man rubbed his sore chin and threw the zip tie to him. "You do that." He pointed the switchblade at Lola. "You're lucky this time, kid. Pull a stunt like that again and I'll--"

"I got this, man. Just go!"

Fealy pocketed his knife and rubbed his chin again as he walked away. 

The man holding Lola paused after the other man disappeared and gently set her down, his hand still tight around her restrained wrists. 

"Okay, kid," he muttered. "I'm gonna be looking after you while you're here, okay? I'm gonna have to tie your ankles up. If you do as your told, you'll be able to leave soon. Just don't do anything to make him mad again, got it?"

Lola started shaking as she realized that she was far away from the beach house. Her eyes filled with tears as she felt the zip tie circle one foot. 

"Where's Uncle Ken and Uncle Davey?" she whined, although she already knew the answer. There was still a shred of hope in her, though.

He sighed as he pushed her other foot into the zip tie. He tightened it just enough so as not to leave a mark. "Just...just do as we say, alright?"

He picked her up again and carried her down a long hallway and through two large, wooden double doors where they entered a room that smelled sickly-sweet and layered in smoke. 

Lola saw an older man on the phone behind a big desk and she blinked as her eyes burned. He smiled at her, but all Lola could see was a face with yellow teeth and a sunken hole where an eye should be. She screamed and flailed against the grip of the man holding her again as Fealy asked, "Where should we put her, Mr. Huxley?" 

---------------------

"Joey DiMaro," said Dobey as he held a cup of coffee to his lips. He sat at the dinner table with them as Layla slept on the sofa. "I remember that incident very well. Had been in the holding cell for just a few hours before that junkie turned him into a pin cushion."

Hutch glanced over his shoulder to see that Layla was still fast asleep with the TV playing low a repeat of Johnny Carson. He didn't want her sleeping alone tonight, for obvious reasons, but he still dreaded what she might be hearing. She looked deep in slumber with a patch quilt, a wedding present made by Edith, wrapped tightly around her.

"Huxley was outside the station soon after it happened," added Starsky who noticed Hutch watching Layla. "Soon as we stepped outside, all hell broke loose."

"Never could quite figure out who told him," said Dobey. "The superintendent wouldn't hear of a possible mole in his own unit."

Hutch turned back to the conversation. "But there had to be one then, and there has to be one now."

"Explain."

"How the hell did Huxley know our nieces were going to be here?" He stared into his pitch black coffee. "We talked about their visit at the station, at our desks. Had to be someone in there taking notes."

Dobey cleared his throat. "That's a strong assumption, Hutch. Are you prepared to tow that line and accuse one of our own of providing aid in a kidnapping?"

Starsky shook his head. "It's possible, Captain. But we need to be absolutely sure before we point fingers."

Hutch turned to him. "What other explanation is there, Starsk? The only people who knew outside of the station was Huggy." 

They locked eyes and Starsky could see the anxiety building in him. "Babe, we can't just barge in there and blame everyone that was within earshot."

Hutch covered his eyes and exhaled. "Why is he doing this? Joey wasn't our fault."

"We put him there, Hutch."

"True," said Dobey. "But he's singling you out. Why is that?"

"Joey shot Starsky," he said, "and he had bags of heroin in his pocket so I booked him on drug charges and assaulting an officer. I was only doing my job."

Starsky put his hand on Hutch's arm. "He was doped out of his mind and panicked. He just knicked my shoulder."

"He still shot you!" 

"Hutch..." Starsky motioned to the sofa where Layla was still sleeping.

He lowered his voice. "Look...it's obvious that it's me he wants. What if I just made the trade...give him his pound of flesh."

"What are you saying?" asked Dobey.

"Hutch, are you nuts? He'll kill you."

"I'm prepared to die to keep my family safe."

"Well, I'm not prepared to lose you!"

"Starsk..." He motioned toward the sofa and his husband sighed as he rubbed his eyes. "You know I'll have to see him eventually, hon."

"I'm not gonna give you up so easily."

Hutch grinned. "That's what I'm counting on."

"Okay, that's enough, you two," said Dobey. "Let's start with finding some leads before we bait the hook." He took a large gulp of coffee before getting up and refilling his mug. He brought the carafe to the table and topped off the men's mugs for them. "I'll do what I can with the statement Layla gave me, but just be aware that she could be describing anyone." He paused and added two sugars to his coffee. "Maybe I can arrange for her to look at some of our photo albums. I can bring 'em here."

"Maybe she won't have to see photos," said Starsky. "Why don't we just go after Huxley? I'll call Huggy and let him know what's going on. Maybe he or someone else knows where Huxley's location is."

Dobey smirked. "He's bold to come back to this city after what he did at the station. The media had a field day with that one." 

They sat in silence, sipping their coffees, all three of them juggling possibilities in their minds of what could happen in the next three days. Their reverie was interrupted by rustling noise on the sofa and a little girl with disheveled blonde hair wrapped in a thin quilt joined them at the table.

Layla climbed into Hutch's lap and he kissed the top of her head. "Did we wake you, honey?"

She shook her head and looked at his coffee. "May I have some?"

They laughed as Hutch let her take a small sip. 

"Just like your sister..." he muttered and he squeezed his eyes tight to keep new tears at bay. 

She grimaced at the taste before saying, "Uncle Dobey? I remember something else."

He leaned forward. "Go ahead, sweetheart."

Layla rubbed her eyes. "The man in the window...he had big blue eyes. Maybe they were big 'cause he was scared. I mean...he looked scared."

Starsky frowned. "Why do you think he would be scared?"

She shrugged. "'Cause he was the one who told the other man to leave me alone...'cause he had his gun on me. I think he's scared of the man in black, too."

"Can you remember anything else?" asked Dobey. "Skin color, white, black...?"

"His face was white," she said. "And it looked like he had a t-shirt on...I think...green? No...wait...I'm sorry. I can't remember his shirt."

Hutch patted her leg. "It's okay."

"Oh, wait!" she said, sitting up. "He had gold on...like a bracelet?"

"Right or left?" asked Dobey.

She held up her right arm. "This one. I think it was a watch. His nose was kinda small, too...like flat." She pressed down the tip of her nose.

Dobey straightened as he furrowed his brow. "Was he young or old?"

Layla nodded. "Um...young, I guess. He kinda looked like that actor Mommy likes."

"Which actor is that?" asked Hutch with a grin. 

"You know, Uncle Ken. He goes 'Stella!'"

Starsky laughed. "Marlon Brando?"

"Excuse me a moment." Dobey got up from the table and went out to his car.

Layla looked at Starsky. "Did I do it wrong?"

Starsky nodded. "You did just fine."

"I mean, that's what he says."

Hutch squeezed her. "Spot on, honey."

Dobey came back into the house with a folder in his hand. He opened it and laid a mugshot on the table in front of her.

Layla gasped. "That's him! That's the man in the window."

Dobey sighed again as he sat down and drank more coffee.

"Who is he, Captain?" asked Starsky. 

"Nathan Lewis. Seems to be a new one. He was brought in not too long ago for petty theft. An anonymous person posted his bail and was able to convince the judge to let him off easy. Going by that alone, we can assume it to be Huxley. He lines the pockets of a few judges, I've heard."

"Why would Huxley post his bail in the first place?" added Starsky. "Is he running out of men?"

"Maybe he wanted someone the police didn't recognize," said Hutch. 

"The theft charge was his first offense. It makes sense." Dobey addressed Layla again. "Are you positive this is the man in the window?"

She looked at the mugshot once more and recognized the wide eyes and nervous expression. "Yes, sir. I'm positive."

He nodded and put the photo back in the file. "Well, now we know where to start. Starsky, I suggest you mention this Nathan Lewis to Huggy on your call to him. Maybe we can find out who this man in black is in the process." He swigged back the last of his coffee and set the mug in the kitchen sink. "I wouldn't advise coming into the station. They may have eyes on it. If I find anything, I'll phone or send someone."

They said their good nights and Starsky walked him out to his car. "Thanks, Captain."

"We'll find her, don't you worry about that." He opened his car door. "Oh, and Starsky...I know you two aren't religious, but...Edith wanted you to know that she's praying real hard right now. For all of you."

Starsky felt his eyes water, but he grinned. "Well...we need all the help we can get."

-----------------------------------

The one-eyed man led them to a room that was wallpapered in light blue with a bed in the corner. It was a small twin mattress on a rusty frame, and it creaked as Lola was made to sit. Lewis stepped away from her and joined the one-eyed man who was chewing on a brown, smelly cigarette.

"This will be your room for a while, little girl," the old man said. "You behave or I'll put you in the basement. Then, you'll be on a cold floor in the dark...where the monsters are."

Lola's bottom lip trembled as she cried but she didn't say anything. She twisted her wrists that were still in the zip tie. 

"Lewis!" The younger man snapped to attention, his eyes moving away from Lola's. "Keep watch over her. I don't think she'll give you much trouble."

"Yes, sir," he replied. 

"Fealy, get her a peanut butter sandwich." He turned to Lola and grinned. "You like jelly, too?"

Lola sniffed as she nodded.

"Peanut butter and grape jelly with a glass of milk," he ordered.

Fealy sneered, but the old man glared at him with his one good eye and he rushed out of the room. "Yes, Mr. Huxley."

Lola fidgeted on the bed, working her ankles to try to get the zip tie loose. Lewis was watching her, but said nothing. 

"Cut those things off her, for Christ's sake. Who's idea was that?"

Lewis pulled out a pocket knife and Lola whined as he moved closer. "It's okay," he whispered. The zip ties popped off her wrists and ankles.

Huxley pointed out the TV on the wall across from the bed. "Plenty of cartoons for you, girly," he said, motioning to the stack of VHS tapes on a shelf next to picture books. "So be good, stay quiet, and you'll see your uncles again." He then took a long drag on his cigarillo and blew musty smoke out in one long, steady stream. He gave her another yellow smile.

"Remember what I said about the monsters."

He left the room and closed the door, leaving Lewis standing next to the bed where a little girl in wrinkled pajamas continued to cry. He gulped and put the cut zip ties in his coat pocket as he went over to the TV. 

"Um..." He opened one of the VHS cases and put a tape into the machine. "You like Bugs Bunny?"

-----------------------------

Starsky woke up hours later in the master bedroom. Layla was fast asleep next to him, but his husband was out of bed. He looked at the clock on his bedside table and saw that it was almost seven in the morning, and he got out of bed and pulled on a t-shirt. When he got downstairs, the coffee pot had been turned on again, but the carafe was full and two mugs sat beside it. Starsky walked over to the sliding doors next to the dining room table and saw Hutch sitting on the patio in the early morning haze. 

He went outside and sat beside him. Hutch's robe was pulled tight over his chest as the cool breeze fluttered through his hair. Starsky could see that his eyes were red and his cheeks were streaked with tears.

"Hey, baby," he said. "How long you been out here?"

Hutch sniffed. "A while. I couldn't sleep."

"Yeah."

"Where's Layla?"

"She's still in bed."

"You left her alone?"

Starsky stroked his hair. "She's fine, honey."

Hutch wiped one of his eyes. "Yeah...I guess they already got what they wanted, huh?"

They listened to the crashing waves in the distance until Starsky said, "Coffee's ready. You want some?"

Hutch huffed. "Why the hell are you so calm?"

Starsky pulled his arm away and looked at his frown. "You think I'm not worried, Hutch?"

"I'm on the verge of a breakdown and you want coffee. Why aren't you upset?"

"Whoa, wait at minute. What makes you think I'm not upset? She's my niece, too, Hutch. I want her found as much as you do."

He shook his head. "You always do this."

"What's that?"

He glared at him, his blue eyes shining with tears. "You always have to act calm and collected, like nothing can get to you, but I've seen you at your breaking point, Starsky. And who's the one that has to keep you from exploding?"

"What do you think I'm doing now, Hutch? You said it yourself, you're gonna have a breakdown, and I'm staying as level as possible to keep you from exploding."

Hutch clenched his fists as he took a deep breath and then another one, until his hands relaxed and were pressed against his face. His sob muffled against his palms and Starsky embraced him. Hutch grabbed him and moaned into his shoulder. 

"I'm sorry..."

"It's okay, baby. I'm hurting, too, you know?"

"I know...it's not just that, though."

Starsky kissed his cheek. "Talk to me."

Hutch pulled away. "Kendra...I have to call her... but I can't call her."

"Maybe you don't have to right now. Wait till we get some leads. I'll call Huggy in a bit and--"

"Lola's her daughter, Starsk. She has to know what's going on." His voice cracked. "God...she's never gonna trust me again."

"Hey, now, don't get ahead of yourself. This wasn't your fault."

"I should have checked on the girls last night. Maybe I could have stopped it."

"We couldn't have predicted this."

Hutch held his head in his hands and groaned. 

"You okay?"

"My head hurts."

"Come on, let's have some coffee. You should have breakfast, too."

"Honey..."

"You're gonna eat, Hutch." 

He sighed. "Fine...maybe just some toast." Starsky held him again. "I guess I should be grateful you're so calm."

Starsky grinned. "You wanna thank me? Have an egg with your toast and then go straight to bed." He held his face in his hands and kissed him. "Me and the girls need you."

Chapter Text

The loud ranting of Yosemite Sam greeted Fealy as he came into the bedroom where Lola was still curled up on the bed. She was turned away from the TV and his partner was sitting on the end of the bed with a purple teddy bear in his lap.

Fealy came through and let the door fall heavy on the frame, and the sound made Lola flinch. He noticed the glare from Lewis as he set the sandwich and glass of milk on the night stand. 

"Better eat while you can, brat," he growled, rubbing his hurt chin. "The roaches'll find it soon enough."

He looked at Lewis, challenging him for a rebuttal, but he just looked at the teddy bear in his hands.

"No use being a bleeding heart now, kid," he told him as he opened the door to leave. "You can always sit out here if you get too depressed."

"I'm cool, man," Lewis muttered. 

"Cool..." Fealy shook his head. He slammed the door behind him again and locked it. 

Lewis turned to Lola and saw that she had rolled over and sat up, her cheeks were still wet with tears. She scooted close to the night stand and picked up the plate to set it on the bed, but then looked at him with wide eyes.

He smirked. "You can eat on the bed. Just don't make a mess."

She sniffed as she poked at the sandwich.

"Something wrong?"

Lola hugged herself. "Um...it still has crust on it..."

Lewis couldn't help but smile. He took out his pocket knife and moved the plate to him. Lola watched as he cut the crust off of the fluffy white slices, still hugging herself but her tears were waning. He held the knife above the sandwich. "Rectangles or triangles?"

Lola hesitated as she looked at him, then replied, "Triangles."

Lewis cut the sandwich as she requested and moved the plate back to her. "My little sister liked rectangles. Wouldn't eat a sandwich any other way." He wiped the blade with the end of his sleeve and sucked at the bit of grape jelly from the cloth. He watched her take a big bite and then another without chewing the first one. "Slow down, kiddo. You'll get a tummy ache."

Lola chewed as she took a moment to look around the room. "Where am I?" 

"I can't really tell you that," he said. "We're in the city, though."

"Is that far from the beach?"

"Not too far." He showed her the teddy bear in his lap. "Found this in the box over there." He motioned to a small charity box by the TV. "All kids like teddies, right?"

Lola nodded. "He's cute. I like the color purple."

"You do? Well, that's a stroke of luck, huh?" He reached over to set it next to her, but pulled back when she flinched. "I'm not gonna hurt you. I promise." He set it beside her and she petted its head.

"The other man will though," she said. "Hurt me."

Lewis gulped. "Well, you did kick him in the face, kiddo." When she shrugged, he snickered. "Wouldn't mind kicking him myself, if I'm being honest. I'm Lewis, by the way."

"I'm Lola."

"Hey, we have the same letters."

"My sister is Layla. My mom and Uncle Ken have the same letters, too. But they're not twins like we are."

Lewis shifted on the mattress at the mention of Hutchinson. He thought about what was said on the call from Huxley. He had only heard on his side the threats made about the girl and how long they would hold her. He didn't know why he wanted to keep her here, especially since they would involve the cops anyway. How could they not?

Or is that what Huxley really wanted? What if it wasn't just this particular cop he had a vendetta against but all of Bay City PD? His godson was killed in their building after all, under little supervision. 

"What's your sister's name?"

Lola's question snapped Lewis out of his thoughts and back to reality. 

"Uh...Janie."

"Different letter."

He grinned. "Yeah."

"Where is she?"

"Last I heard, she was in Boston." 

Lola took another bite of her sandwich. "You don't talk to her?"

He shook his head. "Been a while."

Lewis looked at his hands and thought. Janie was kicked out of the house for loving another woman, and had stopped writing to him when she left California to drive to Boston. He wondered if she ever made it, thought several times about whether or not he should find her number or address. He still loved her and just wanted to know if she was okay, but he feared what she would think of where he had gotten himself, and of how he was making a living. He wondered then what she would say if she suddenly walked in and found him with a kidnapped child.

He went over to the TV and turned up the volume when as a Daffy Duck cartoon began.

------------------------

"Gordon Huxley, huh? Yeah, I remember him." Huggy was on the phone behind the bar at The Pits, an establishment he had to shut down due to certain issues with his liquor license only to open it back up a few years later after doing a favor for an administrator from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. He never said what that favor was, but Huggy simply put it as helping out an old friend who had a penchant for gambling with the State's money, so the guys never pried any further. "Nearly shot out the station, didn't he?"

Starsky sighed on the other end of the line. "He tried to, Hug. Now he's back wanting Hutch's head in exchange for Lola."

"I take it this has to do with his godson."

"Yeah. Dobey said the super didn't want to hear of a mole in our own unit, but it's too much of a coincidence. How else would Huxley know about the girls?"

"Wouldn't be the first mole at Bay City PD, Starsk. You know that." He paused in wiping down the counter. "How is he?"

"I made him go to bed after breakfast. He stayed up all night. Huxley said three days he'd call us back, but we can't just sit here twiddlin' our thumbs waiting for a scumbag syndicate to give us instructions."

Huggy leaned on the bar. "What kinda information you got so far?"

Starsky told him about who Layla saw and identified and Huggy pursed his lips. "Nathan Lewis must be a new cat; never heard of him."

"He kinda looks like a young Marlon Brando, ya know from Streetcar?"

Huggy straightened. "I'm more of a Paul Newman kinda guy. You might wanna check on a dude named Fealy, though."

"Fealy?" 

"Yeah, F-E-A-L-Y. He was with Huxley when he shot up the police station.  Not a Number Two to him, but he was loyal and word on the street was that Huxley paid well for loyalty. If he's back in town, then Ambrose Fealy would be lookin' to reapply for his former position."

"I'll run it by Dobey," said Starsky. "If you think of anything or hear--"

"I got ya, Starsky. Don't worry. And hey...we'll get her back."

"Thanks, Hug."

He ended the call and continued leaning on the counter as Cassidy, one of his bartenders, walked in with a load of tumbler glasses fresh from the dishwasher. 

"You okay, Huggy?" she asked.

He picked up the bar towel. "I'm good, Cass. Just worried about a friend, is all." He helped her dry the glasses. "How's that new fella of yours?"

She smiled. "He's okay. Been busy lately, but he's coming here tonight for a few drinks."

--------------------

Lola looked at the wallet-sized photo Lewis had given her. "She's pretty," she said.

Lewis took the photo back and grinned at the brown-eyed brunette smiling back at him from the picture. "Yeah. We've been seeing each other for a few months."

"What's her name?"

He put the photo back into his wallet and pocketed it inside his blazer. "Cassidy. She works at a bar. I'm supposed to meet her there later tonight, but I don't know if that's gonna happen."

"Why not?"

Before he could reply, the door opened and Huxley walked in with a big smile. He was lacking his cigarillo which Lola was relieved about, but she moved away from Lewis's side and pushed herself up against the wall at the head of the bed.

Huxley approached the night stand and saw the empty plate and glass. "I see you finished your late night snack," he said. "That's a good girl." He looked at Lewis. "Fealy will be watching her tonight, Mr. Lewis. He said you had a date."

Lewis promptly stood. "I-I can call it off, Mr. Huxley, if you--"

He waved his hand. "Nonsense. I was a young strapping guy like you once. Fealy will take over at seven. You be back by midnight, though, you understand?"

Lewis suddenly felt like a renegade teen again. "Yes, sir. Uh...will he be in here with her, sir?" 

"I don't know. Should he be?"

He glanced at Lola and took a step closer to his boss, his heart pounding at what he was about to request. "If I can speak freely, sir?"

Huxley put his hands in his pockets. "Of course, son."

"It's just that...well, he and the girl didn't have a great first encounter, if you get me."

"Is that where he got that bruise on his chin?" he snickered. "I get ya. You're worried he's gonna try something."

"Maybe, sir, but--"

"Don't you worry. I'll make sure he stays outside the door." He turned to Lola. "And he'll stay out there as long as you behave. Monsters...remember?" 

Lola nodded, her eyes wide as she stared at the indention where his eye should be. 

Huxley moved to her again and sat on the bed. "I never did get your name, sweetheart."

She gulped and looked away. "L-Lola."

"That's a pretty name." He reached out and stroked her cheek, making her curl into herself more. He gave Lewis one more smirk and left the room. Lola relaxed as Lewis sat on the bed again.

"What happened to his eye?" she asked.

He chewed on his cheek as the image of Hutchinson's bullet flew past his head.

"Accident. Wanna watch more cartoons?"

"You'll come back, right? I don't want that other man here."

Lewis sighed and put his hand on her back. "I promise, kiddo. If he tries anything...you'll let me know, yeah?"

---------------------

Starsky went to the master bedroom to check on Hutch and found that he wasn't in bed, so he went down the hall to the girls' bedroom. He found his husband sitting on their bed staring at the window and at the ladder that was still leaning against it. 

He approached the bed and motioned to the ladder. "No use dusting this thing for prints since we know who it belongs to." Hutch didn't reply as Starsky sat next to him and kissed his shoulder. "You sleep?"

He nodded. "A little."

"If you're still hungry, I can make you something."

"I'm okay for now, hon." He looked at the window again. "You call Huggy?"

"Yeah. He wasn't familiar with Lewis but he did say to check out a guy called Ambrose Fealy."

Hutch frowned. "I remember him."

"What? How?"

"When Huxley and his men came to the station, he was the one behind the wheel of the car. I remember 'cause Huxley shouted at him to drive off when they got outnumbered."

Starsky turned to him. "What did he look like?" 

"Dark hair, pointed nose. His eyes were dark, too, like a shark. Remember that scene in Jaws? Like a doll's eyes? That's him." He sighed. "If we don't have anything by the end of today, I'll call Kendra. She's gonna want to come out here." He put his face in his hands. "I keep asking why this has happened, Starsk, but it all comes out to the same answer."

"What's that?"

Hutch locked eyes with him, crystal blue that was tired from crying and lack of sleep. "I'm a cop. It's always the reason, isn't it? Vendettas from the past...old scores to settle...grudges that turn into bullets. I almost lost you to one of those grudges."

His voice broke and Starsky put his arm around him as he continued, "And now Lola...my sister's child. I can't do this anymore."

"What are you saying?"

"I did a lot of thinking last night, when I couldn't sleep. Everything that's happened in the last few years, all the close calls...all the total misses and failures. I didn't know how to tell you, Starsk, 'cause I didn't know how you would react, but...I've been thinking about something for a while now. What happened last night sealed the deal for me."

Starsky stroked his hair. "You know I'll stand beside you, Hutch. No matter what."

"I know you will. That's why when we find Lola and...if I make it out alive...I'm quitting the force."

They were quiet a moment until Starsky kissed his temple. "Not gonna lie, I had a feeling this would come up. I've thought about it, too."

"Really?"

He shrugged. "We've been at it a while, you know. Maybe it's time for a change. Plus, we've been married for three years now and we still haven't had a honeymoon."

"It's hard to take off at the same time."

"That's not the only reason. I've almost lost you, too." He felt Hutch rest his head on his shoulder. "By the way...it's when you make it out alive 'cause I'm not letting that asshole get you."

Hutch smirked. "Like I said, it's what I'm counting on."

"Don't tell Dobey about your retirement just yet, okay? We got work to do. I'm gonna call in to him about this Fealy character, find out where we can find him or Lewis."

They sat for another moment and Hutch turned and embraced him. Starsky squeezed him, running his fingers through his hair.

"You would really leave the force, too, Starsk? Just 'cause I--"

"If you think I'm gonna work with anyone else, then you need to go back to sleep."

--------------------------

Later that night

"I'll be back before you know it," Lewis told her. "Just eat your dinner and watch TV and he won't bother you."

Lola sat on the floor next to the cabin she built with a canister of Lincoln Logs. It was missing a few pieces but she was able to replace some of them with big blocks of Legos. Lewis had brought her a bowl of macaroni and cheese from the Italian restaurant a block away and it sat on the night stand in its Styrofoam container next to a glass of milk. 

"Is he gonna stay outside?" she asked.

"Mr. Huxley said he would. If he doesn't, he'll be in big trouble. You just let me know." He pointed to her little cabin. "You ever stay in one of those?"

She nodded. "With Mommy and Daddy and my sister. At a place called Caribou Lake. Daddy taught us how to swim."

"Is that like the cabin you stayed in?"

"Kinda. This one doesn't have windows though." She sorted more logs and looked up at him. "Please come back."

Lewis glanced at his watch and then at the door, knowing that Fealy was sitting outside. "Eat your dinner, kiddo. I'll see you later."

-------------------------

There was a knock at the door and Hutch found Edith Dobey on the other side with Rosie next to her holding the box for their Connect Four game. 

"Hi, Hutch," she said in a gentle voice, and it was enough to bring tears to his eyes again. She put her arms around him and patted his shoulder. "I thought ya'll could use a little company."

Hutch pulled away and wiped his eyes. "Sorry. Feel like I can't stop crying."

"Don't apologize."

"Come in, please."

They came in as Starsky appeared from the kitchen with a dish towel over his shoulder.

"Edith? What are you doin' here?" he asked as he kissed her cheek. 

She put a hand on Rosie's back. "She wanted to be with Layla so we brought over a game and a movie. Sorry we didn't call first but...well, I knew you'd be here. Harold is still at the station and Cal is at a friend's house tonight."

"You're welcome here any time," said Starsky. "Funny you showed up 'cause I'm warming up the spaghetti dinner you gave us." 

Rosie looked up at her mom, who grinned. "Need any help?"

"You can watch over the pot while I make the garlic bread." He spoke to Rosie and motioned to the stairs. "Take a right and it's the last door on the left."

Rosie rushed up the stairs as they went to the kitchen. Starsky handed her a glass of red wine.

"Have you two heard anything yet?" she asked.

Hutch leaned on the counter next to the stove and crossed his arms. "Not yet. We've got someone on the street right now with his eyes and ears open. Apart from that, we're sitting on our hands."

"We think we may have some leads, though," Starsky added.

Edith sat at the dinner table. "Have you called your sister?"

Starsky looked at Hutch, who sighed. "If we don't get anywhere tonight, then--"

The phone on the wall next to the fridge interrupted him, and Starsky answered it.

"Hello........what? Speak up, Hug, I can't......when? Now?" He looked at Hutch as he threw the towel on the counter. "Keep him drinkin'. We're on our way."

Hutch stepped closer to him when he hung up the phone. "What is it?"

"It's Lewis. He's at Huggy's bar, right now. Turns out he's dating the bartender."

"Is he sure it's him?

Starsky slipped on his shoes that were next to the door leading to the garage. He tossed Hutch's sneakers to him. "He said his name is Nathan and that he looks like the actor from The Wild One. He's our guy."

Hutch paused and looked at Edith who stood from her chair.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" she said. "I'll hold the fort."

He kissed her cheek. "You're a godsend."

Chapter Text

Lola sat on the floor as she ate her macaroni and cheese, finally calm enough to watch the cartoons that had been playing nonstop since she was put in that small room. She used all of the Lincoln Logs, Legos, and Tinker Toys to build a small city with cars that had big wooden wheels.

She wished Layla was with her and wondered why she wasn’t taken, too. They had fought, but she still missed her. She thought back to their horseback riding, how they laughed together when their ponies trotted and galloped around the pen. She tried to imagine that she and Layla were there again, that they were back at the beach house playing in the sand and swimming with their uncles, but the noisy cartoons were beginning to bother her.

She set down her dinner and turned off the TV. Barely a minute later, there came a loud banging on the door.

“Keep the TV on!” came Fealy’s voice from the other side.

Lola switched it back on but turned it down to a low volume. She went to pick up her macaroni but was interrupted by another banging on the door.

“The TV! Now!”

A clicking noise came from the door and she ran behind the bed and dropped to the carpet. She scooted underneath and tried not to breathe much of the dusty floor as she watched his feet stagger across the bedroom.

“I said…” He went over to the TV and turned the volume up all the way.

Lola could smell something that stung her nose and knew that it was liquor. She didn’t know that was the word, but her grandfather smelled like it all the time. She scooted back closer to the wall as Fealy sat on the bed.

“I know you’re here, little girl.” His words were slightly slurred, and he hiccupped. “Come out and watch TV. I may not be as soft as the other guy, but if you behave I’ll get you some chocolate.”

She peeked across the carpet and saw that he had knocked over her macaroni and cheese, and she knew that she may not get food again for a while, but she stayed put.

“Come out, you brat!”

He threw the whiskey bottle and it shattered against the wall. Brown liquid dripped down the dirty plaster as he got off the bed and kicked her toy village underneath it.

A block knocked into her forehead, and she snapped her hand against her mouth to hold in her cry. Lola’s eyes watered as she watched his feet walk to the door.

“You’re lucky I’m too piss drunk to sort you out,” he muttered. “Don’t think for one minute I forgot about the kick you gave me.”

Lola laid frozen on the dirty carpet and kept quiet.

“You better pray your friend comes back at midnight…or I’m gonna be the one looking after you.”

The door slammed, but Lola stayed flat on the floor under the bed and released her mouth.

Tom and Jerry played on TV as the smell of whiskey filled her nose.

--------------------------------------------

Cassidy looked like a million bucks.

Lewis didn’t mind that other guys looked at her. It does weird yet wonderful things to a man’s ego, to know that you have a girl that everyone wants but can’t have.

He finished his gin and tonic, his third one that night on a stomach full of bar nuts when there was a commotion by the door. Through his drunken haze, he saw the towering figure of Hutchinson looming toward him and he was off his bar stool like a bullet out of a gun.

“Lewis!” His voice boomed over the noise of the jukebox and people protesting as he barreled through the crowd. He heard Cassidy scream, “Leave him alone, Hutch!” and Lewis darted to the back toward the men’s room and jumped onto a toilet in a stall. The window didn’t look that small and he figured he could squeeze through, but as soon as he lifted himself with his hands, he got dizzy and let himself drop backward.

A pair of rough arms caught him and threw him against the toilet where he promptly vomited, missing the bowl.

“Aw, nice…” came an annoyed voice.

He turned and squinted at Starsky standing behind him as he examined his shoes Their eyes met, and Lewis’s hands were cuffed.

“You’re lucky you missed,” said Starsky. “Hutch, I got him!”

His partner came in with his Baretta locked and loaded. Lewis’s heart raced when he saw the size of it.

“I give up…you got me…” His voice was weak as he spit between words.

“Damn right.” Starsky pulled the cuffs and turned him to fully face Hutch. “I think you owe someone an apology.”

Lewis met Hutch’s heated glare as he holstered his gun. The eyes were an azure blue, but he swore he saw flames.

“Look…” he pleaded. “You can’t arrest me.”

“Oh, really?” asked Starsky, pushing his arms into his back.

Lewis groaned. “I have to be back by midnight! Mr. Huxley made me promise to come back. If I don’t…I don’t know what he’ll do…”

“Where is she?” Hutch asked.

Lewis hanged his head and burped, and Starsky spun him around to put his face in the toilet as he vomited again.

Huggy came into the men’s room and pinched his nose. “Hey, man! Why’d you let him puke on my floor?”

“Sorry about that,” said Hutch. “We need an interrogation room, Hug.”

He pointed to the hallway. “Last door on the right, my office.” He peeked into the stall where Lewis was still vomiting. “Make sure he’s really done before you take him in there, okay?”

-------------------------------------------

Lola coughed as she crawled from under the bed. She felt the dust in her nose and, even though she knew it wasn’t ladylike, she disobeyed her mother and picked it to clear it out. It didn’t matter if she wiped it on the floor anyway since that was already gross.

Her glass of milk was still on the nightstand, and she drank it down as the VHS stopped and automatically rewound.

The clock on the VCR flashed 12:00 and Lola looked for another clock and found nothing on the walls but sticky patches of wallpaper glue and cobwebs. She set down her empty glass and climbed onto the bed.

Sleep had tried to come to her, but she had fought it. What if Uncle Ken came in and he missed the room? He would be calling out for her, but she wouldn’t be able to respond if she was asleep.

The VHS tape played Tom and Jerry again and the sound of the music carried her into a deep, dreamless slumber.

---------------------------------------

“There is no mole with the cops,” Lewis told them, sipping his glass of tap water through a bendy straw between sentences. His vision was clearing but there was a pain in his head from the gin. “It was Fealy. He disguised himself as a janitor. He overheard you talking about your nieces while you were at the snack machine.”

Hutch was sitting across from Lewis at the table while Starsky paced behind him. It made him nervous to have his hands restrained in case either of them was to haul off on him.

“He was also at the airport,” he continued. He hesitated before taking a long drink of water. He looked Hutch in the eye. “He was the porter that helped with the girls’ bags.”

He heard Starsky’s pacing come to a halt as Hutch leaned closer across the table. Lewis couldn’t breathe suddenly.

“Where did you take her?” he asked.

He shook his head. “I wasn’t told the address. I just followed Fealy’s directions.”

Starsky’s firm voice piped in. “To where?”

“I know it’s the warehouse district,” said Lewis. “There’s a lot with a building in the middle that has a white roof…not very discreet, I know, but that’s where she’s at. No clue why Mr. Huxley wanted her there. He put her in a makeshift bedroom. Used to be a supply closet. But she’s being fed and she’s not sleeping on the floor. She’s got toys and cartoons and—”

“Nathan.”

His attention snapped to Hutch's glare again. He had never had a cop call him by his first name.

“Yeah?”

“How old are you?”

He felt Starsky lean against the back of his chair and gulped. “Twenty-two.”

“How’d you get mixed up with one of Bay City’s biggest syndicates?”

He twitched his nose as it started itch and wiped the tip against his shoulder. “Uh…I stole drugs off a dealer and beat him to a pulp when he fought back. I was high out of my mind. I don’t do that stuff anymore.”

Starsky addressed Hutch. “The drug charge Dobey told us about.”

Lewis nodded. “Yeah…I had never been arrested before. Funny how you guys missed me when I was a kid on the street. Then I make a scene like that? I belong in a cell. I needed help.”

“And Huxley did just that, didn’t he?” asked Hutch. “He bailed you out and got the charges against you dropped. Why did he do that?”

“Yeah, enlighten us,” added Starsky.

Lewis sighed and took another sip of water. “He saw me in the police record in the paper. Told me I looked like I could use a hand, being so young. His words. He offered me a job working for him, driving him around, his guys. Helped me get clean, too. Then he stuck me with Fealy to do the job with your niece. I guess in his eyes it was my opportunity to pay my debt to his kindness.”

He stared at a groove in the table as he spoke, realizing his luck at the trap he had fallen into.

“I didn’t wanna do it, man. You gotta believe me. I like kids and I kept telling Fealy that I had a funny feeling, but…what the boss wants, he gets.” He looked at Hutch's glare again. “And he wants you awfully bad, Detective.”

Starsky looked at his watch. “Eleven-thirty.”

Hutch stood from his seat. “You may have to do some time, but if you want to end this, then you’ll help us.”

“And we’ll make sure you get the real help you need,” said Starsky as he pulled him to his feet.

He led him to the door and uncuffed him. Lewis rubbed his sore wrists as he stood up straighter. “Remember: a white roof. Go around the east side of the building and there’s an entrance. Go through it and she’s in the room at the end of the hall.”

Hutch opened the door for him but then blocked him.

“You’re doing the right thing,” he said. “Thank you.”

Lewis took a deep breath and nodded before sprinting out the back exit of the bar.

------------------------------------

They drove home in silence, both of their minds reeling about the possibility of a rescue without an exchange. Hutch doubted it would come to that and was still prepared to take her place.

When they got home, Edith greeted them from the sofa. Layla and Rosie were asleep beside her, and she turned off the TV.

“Well?”

Starsky grinned. “We got him. We’re about to call it in to the Captain.”

“And he told you where she was?”

“He gave us a location but told us what the building looked like. He said Lola was okay.”

Edith pressed her hands together and whispered to herself, “Thank you, Lord.”

Starsky went into the kitchen to find Hutch standing in front of the telephone on the wall.

Hutch flexed his fingers before picking up the receiver and dialing a number. Starsky came up to him and leaned on the kitchen counter.

They locked eyes as Hutch addressed the operator. “Yes, I, uh…I’d like to make a collect call, please? Duluth, Minnesota.”

------------------------------------

The telephone on her nightstand shrilled and woke her up with a start. She turned on the lamp and blindly fumbled for the clock.

Two in the morning. No good news ever comes at that time.

She picked up the receiver. “Hello?”

An automated voice came on the line. “You have a collect call from…”

“Kenny.”

She sat up straighter. “Yes. Yes, I’ll accept the charges.” There was a click and she said, “Kenny? What’s wrong?”

“Hi, Kendra.”

His voice was low, and she shut her eyes as the tears came. “Are the girls okay?”

She heard him sigh and her heart broke.

------------------------------------

Day Two, Late Morning

Kendra Hutchinson-Larsen tapped her toe as she stood from her seat in first class of Flight 54 from Duluth as she waited to disembark. A male attendant had to help her reach for her shifted bag from the overhead compartment since she had inherited their mother’s height, the Pederson side of the family. She gave him a quick, cordial smile as she shuffled her feet along the aisle to the cabin door, her calves aching to sprint.

She told herself that she wouldn’t, that she would keep a pace that was more business than anxiety, more steadfastness than stress. When she got through the gate, she puffed out a breath as she went into her airport power-walk until she reached the escalators.

Kendra hesitated before approaching them, closing her eyes as her heart pounded. She was anticipating seeing Ken’s face, his big eyes framed by the blonde locks of their father, looking up at her from the stairs…searching for forgiveness.,

But she didn’t need to forgive him. She knew that there was nothing he could have done to prevent Lola from being taken, that she knew that his heart was breaking as he beat the blame into it.

She gripped the strap of her leather bag and took a deep breath as she made that first step forward. Kendra lowered her gaze until five stairs down when she raised her eyes to find her brother-in-law waiting for her.

“David!” she gasped and bounded down the moving stairs. She pulled him close, her eyes filling with tears yet again as his arms wrapped around her.

After a moment, Kendra pulled away and held his cheeks, kissing the apple of one of them.

“Ken?”

He smirked. “He’s back at the house…took Layla to the beach.”

She lowered her hands. “David…”

Starsky took her bag, knowing what she was really wondering.

“He’s torn up, Kendra.” They walked together to Baggage Claim.

She sighed, crossing her arms. “I shouldn’t have hung up last night like that. I wasn’t angry at him; I was in a panic. I couldn’t sleep on the plane either, but it gave me time to think about what he’s going through. It’s not his fault.”

“I’ve been telling him that since it happened,” said Starsky. “Maybe he’ll believe it if it comes from you.” They waited at the baggage station, and he cleared his throat. “Where’s Jerry?”

Kendra shook her head. “I can’t reach him. He’s on a…business trip.” Starsky raised a curious eyebrow, and she waved her hand. “Long story.”

When they later pulled up to the house, Kendra got out of the car and looked around.

“How do you get to the beach?”

Starsky got her bags out of the Torino and pointed to a sandy trail to the left of the house.

----------------------------

Hutch watched as Layla knelt on the shore’s edge as she let the water rush past her so she could dig into the wet sand. He was sitting farther away on a small, grassy dune, his white cotton pants whipping in the wind.

He wondered about Kendra’s flight, whether she got enough sleep…and whether she would look him in the eye. Hell, how would he bring himself to look at her? He had let her down. The girls would never come back to California, and from now on, her trust would have to be won back. Could take months, even years.

“Uncle Ken, lookit!”

He grinned as Layla showed him the sand crabs she found.

She smiled and watched them race against the current as the tide ebbed, but then she saw someone in the distance rushing down the sandy path.

Layla shot to her feet. “Mommy!”

She forgot about the crabs and ran past her uncle as he slowly got to his feet. He didn’t want to turn around as he knew it would break his heart. His sister should be greeting both of her children right now.

“Kenny?”

Her voice was suddenly behind him, and he turned to see her wet green eyes.

She hugged his waist and sobbed into his chest, her petite frame almost disappearing in his arms.

Hutch squeezed her as he let out a soft sob. “I’m sorry…”

“It’s not your fault.”

His knees went numb, and he knelt in the sand as Kendra dropped with him, not letting go.

--------------------------------------

“I don’t doubt you’ll get her back, Kenny. It’s you I’m worried about.”

“I second that.”

Hutch sat at the head of the dining table with his sister and husband on either side of him. He felt like this was an intervention.

“The demands won’t change,” he said. “He wants me, and he took Lola to trade.”

“But how did he know?” asked Kendra. “Who told him about the girls?”

They had tried to give her the brief version of what happened, the guys going into full cop mode while Kendra kept interrupting them to ask for more details. This was her motherly mode mixed with her lawyer self.

Kendra put a cigarette to her lips and paused in lighting it. “Oh…is it okay if I…?”

“Yeah.” Hutch opened a cupboard in the kitchen and took an old, stained-glass ashtray from the top shelf.

“I wanted to make sure since you don’t smoke anymore.”

Hutch glanced at his husband as he smirked at him. “Well…kinda…”

She inhaled and got up from the table to blow the smoke out the open window. “Hon, if it bothers you, I’ll step outside.”

“It’s fine.”

Kendra leaned against the counter. “So the only reason this Huxley guy wants to kill you is because of an old vendetta?”

“I think it’s more than that,” said Hutch. “I think he wants to kill every cop at the station.”

“His godson was there, after all.” Starsky handed her a cup of coffee with cream. “I’m sure he knew we wouldn’t work alone.”

Kendra took a careful sip of her coffee, her cigarette ash getting longer.  “What about the guy you got at the bar? Lewis, right?”

“We let him go,” said Hutch.

“What?”

Starsky added, “He was assigned by Huxley to watch after her and last night was his day off. He said Lola would be in more danger if he didn’t go back at midnight.”

“He didn’t exactly know the address, but he told us it was the warehouse district. There’s a plain patrol car out scanning the perimeter and as soon as they find the building, Dobey will contact us.”

Kendra extinguished her cigarette and sipped her coffee again. “So…we just wait? And then we let you go to him?”

“It’s the only way to get Lola back.”

“He’ll kill you…”

He stood and approached her. “It’ll be okay.”

“My child gets taken and my brother might get killed by a vengeful maniac.” She huffed. “But it’ll be okay?”

“Sis—”

“Don’t pretend you’ve accepted that, Kenneth Hutchinson! I know you better than that!”

Starsky spied Layla peeking between the beams of the banister from the stairs and beckoned her to come closer. When she came downstairs, she rushed to her mother and hugged her.

“Mommy, Uncle Ken and Davey know what they’re doing. They’re cops.”

Kendra sighed as she squeezed her. “Honey, I know. But I’m still worried.” She stroked her cheeks. “How are you doing?”

Layla pouted her lips a bit. “I miss her.” Kendra stroked her ponytail. “But I know that she’s okay.”

“How do you know that?” said Hutch.

“Me and Lola have a special bond ‘cause we’re twins. Uncle Davey told me so.” She looked at him. “And I know she’s okay and that she knows you’ll save her.”

He smiled. “Darn right, sweetheart.”

Hutch looked down at Layla and patted her hair before leaning to his sister. “Where’s Jerry?” he whispered.

Kendra smirked as she covered Layla’s ears. “With his secretary.”

Chapter Text

Day Two, evening

Hutch had given in and took one of Kendra’s cigarettes while she was settling Layla into bed. He knew that Starsky would say something about it since he promised him that he would quit, for good this time. However, his husband just came up behind him mid-smoke and kissed the top of his head before opening the patio door just a crack to let out the smell. He sat at the dining room table as Hutch crushed the half-smoked cigarette into the ashtray.

“Don’t mind me, babe,” said Starsky with a half-grin.

“It’s okay. I shouldn’t be having one anyway.”

“I don’t blame you for having one.”

Hutch tapped his socked toe against the table leg. “Dammit, Starsk, why can’t we just move in now?”

“Dobey’s pulling together uniforms,” he said. “We move when he says so.”

“I know. I just…I can’t help but be anxious when we know where Huxley is now.”

“We can’t just rush in. He’s got a car tailing Lewis, tracking his moves. He left early this evening again.”

“Who’s in the car?”

“Carson and Sanchez. Car is a black Ford. Last time they checked in was two hours ago. Lewis appeared to be running errands at Frank’s Hardware.”

Frank’s Hardware was a cover, and Hutch smirked. “Ammo.”

“Yep. Huxley’s expecting a crowd after all.”

Hutch sighed. “Was Fealy with him?”

“He was alone.” He saw that the update wasn’t enough to quell the impatience in Hutch’s eyes. “It’ll happen tonight, babe. In the meantime…we need to talk about what’s gonna happen to you.”

Hutch bit his bottom lip and leaned back in his chair. “There isn’t much to talk about, Starsk. I go in and get Lola out.”

“And then?”

They locked eyes, Starsky’s a cold blue as he glared at him.

“I think I can get the jump on them. If there was some way to—”

“Hutch. You’re gonna be unarmed and outnumbered.”

“If you can find a way inside the warehouse,” said Hutch, “you can cover me. But…we don’t know how many more men he’ll have out there keeping watch if he’s expecting a crowd. You may not be able to get in.”

Starsky frowned. “What happens then?”

Hutch gulped, keeping his eyes on his husband until a cold well in his stomach made him pull away.

“You really think you’re gonna die tonight.” Starsky said it as plainly as he could, but the slight break in his voice showed his fear. “I told you…I’m not giving you up so easily.”

Hutch reached over and took his hand. He kissed the knuckles and nuzzled his nose against his fingers.

“Me and thee,” he said. “Right, partner?”

Starsky’s eyes shined at him as he squeezed his hand.

“Me and thee, baby.”

-------------------------------------------------

Lewis had spotted the black Ford when he came out of Frank’s Hardware with a paper bag full of bullets and clips. He knew what they were there for and told himself that he shouldn’t be scared, that they knew that he was the one helping them get to Huxley. Still, his heart pounded every time he saw them, every time they took the same turn, stopped at the same stop sign.

It was nighttime again. Should he risk going to The Pits to see Cassidy? Get one last kiss before tonight, before the shit hits the fan?

He decided against it. Huxley was expecting him back, having let Fealy keep watch over Lola again. Lewis couldn’t understand why, but he had a feeling that Mr. Huxley knew about Fealy’s penchant for the bottle. Maybe that’s why he was okay with Lewis going out on a date and then running errands for him.

When Lewis had gotten back after his interrogation with Starsky and Hutch, he had found Fealy snoring in front of the door and sneaked past him to find Lola curled up on the bed.

He had gently shaken her awake and whispered, “I talked to your uncles tonight. They know where to find you.”

Lola had sat up immediately. “When can I leave?”

“Soon. Maybe tomorrow night. But you have to pretend like you don’t know they’re coming, okay?”

She peeked past him at the sleeping Fealy. “What about him?”

Lewis huffed. “He’ll probably be passed out again.”

“Will you stay here tonight instead?”

“I don’t know, kiddo. That depends on Mr. Huxley.” He glanced at the door again and then leaned closer. “If I have to go out tonight, I’ll leave the door unlocked. Wait until he falls asleep…until you hear snoring again. Then, make a run for the lot and hide until the cops get here.”

Lola stared at him in the darkness and then put her arms around his neck in a hug. “Why are you helping me?”

Lewis put one arm around her. “’Cause I need to sort some things out in my life, kiddo. And you’re the first step…”

He let her go and turned on the lamp by the bed. He saw the state of the wall, liquor-stained with broken glass in the carpet. Her dinner was still laying in a sticky heap where it fell out of its container.

“He did that,” said Lola. “I hid under the bed, so he didn’t do anything to me.”

Lewis gulped as he stood and wiped his sweaty palms on his slacks. “Stay on the bed while I pick up the glass.”

---------------------------------------------------

Kendra flicked her cigarette into the ashtray where Hutch’s half-smoked one was still crushed. She couldn’t get Layla to relax enough to sleep, so Starsky went upstairs to give it a shot with a bedtime story and to give the Hutchinson siblings a chance to talk.

After taking a long drag and exhaling it in one slow stream, Kendra took a sip of her bourbon and ice and sighed.

“Jerry’s been having an affair for almost a year,” she said, her tone nonchalant. “I found out months ago. He told me he would stop seeing her, that he wanted to make our marriage work…even agreed to go to counseling. He went to one session with me and blamed everything wrong with our marriage on me. ‘She doesn’t give me enough intimacy,’ ‘She’s too into her work,’ ‘She’s too stubborn’.”

Hutch crossed his arms. “I’m sorry, sis.”

She shrugged. “I gave him an ultimatum. It’s me and the girls or the redhead who types his memos. You already know the outcome, so…” Kendra took another long drag and then an even longer sip of bourbon.

“How long have you been separated?”

“Three months.”

Hutch’s eyes grew wide. “Why didn’t you tell me then?”

She grinned. “What would you have done, Kenny? Arrested him? I know you’re my brother, hon, but I’m okay…really, I am.”

“What about the girls?”

“They understand that we’re separated…that we’ll be divorcing. They want to stay with me, though, which is easy for Jerry since he doesn’t want custody anyway.”

“Bastard…”

Kendra giggled. “Yeah…yeah, he is.” She finished her drink. “Kenny?”

“Yeah?”

“Do me a favor. When you and David get the call tonight, I want you to…just…” Her eyes filled with tears.

Hutch moved his chair closer and put his arm around her. “I’ll bring her back to you, whether or not I’m on a stretcher.”

“Don’t say that,” she whispered as she leaned into him. “You’re going to be okay; you hear me? You better!”

Hutch felt the cold well in his stomach again and kissed her temple. He suddenly grinned. “Remember when I put plastic wrap on the toilet bowl?”

She tried not to laugh. “Oh my God, Kenny. Please…”

“You screamed so loud. Made a mess, too.”

Kendra lifted her tear-stained face to him. “Because my dumb brother made me get pee all over the place!” She wiped her eyes as she smiled. “Ugh! Mom was so pissed!”

“So were you…literally…”

She gave him a playful slap on the arm as they both giggled.

-----------------------------------------------

10:17pm

Lola waited in the dark of the room until she heard Fealy’s snoring and knew that she had a chance to find a way out of this cold, metal building. She went over to the door and slowly turned the knob to find that Lewis had kept his promise. It creaked when she opened it, making her halt in place and hold her breath.

Fealy didn’t stir but she wanted to be prepared. She crawled over to her log village that had been destroyed (by a monster, she thought to herself) and picked up one of the small red blocks that she used for a chimney. It had two blunt points parallel to each other, and it was easy to put into her pocket.

She pushed the broken door again, and it only squeaked once before she pushed her body through to freedom, from her caretaker, from that dusty, old room with the old, broken TV. She ran to the exit but stopped when she realized that it would certainly wake up Fealy since this door was closer and heavier.

Lola moved fast down another hallway that was dimly lit and found a white door with a silver knob. Hoping she didn’t need a key, she turned the knob, and the door flew outward, making her land hard on the pavement outside. She had scraped her knees, but the burning pain didn’t stop her. The cool evening wind greeted her and carried her shaking legs farther into the lot. The jagged rocks on the soles of her small feet were painful, but it only made her run faster. She had to hide; Lewis told her to hide until the police came. He had fulfilled his part of the promise and now it was her turn.

When she reached a patch of metal tanks, she hid in the shadow of one of them. Lola took a few deep breaths as the sound of a slow-approaching car stepped on squeaky brakes. She peeked around the corner and saw a long, dark car with Lewis in the front seat. He was back from his errands, and she watched him look around the lot as she took another deep breath. When he went inside, she brought her knees to her chest and breathed out in one long, slow exhale.

Lola waited, listened for the sound of sirens, but the gravelly sound of a man’s voice cut through the quiet night instead.

It was the one-eyed man, and he was angry.

--------------------------------------------

Sanchez lowered in her seat. “Hm…weird.”

In the driver seat, Carson kept his gaze on Lewis as he went inside the warehouse. “What’s weird?”

“These big-time bosses have all this money,” she said. “They could build armored buildings to store kidnapped kids, but they rent out old, dilapidated warehouses instead.”

“They’re cheaper.”

Sanchez looked at him with a smirk. “We callin’ this in or what?”

“Give it a few minutes. Don’t wanna be suspicious.”

They waited until they heard Huxley’s voice screaming at some poor schmuck that was trying to stand upright. Sanchez straightened in her seat when she saw a flash-bang from a gun.

“Fuck suspicion, man! He’s gettin’ trigger-happy!”

------------------------------------------

The first thing Lewis noticed was the heavy, growling snore of Fealy and he rushed down the hall to the bedroom to see if Lola had escaped. As he got closer to his partner, his heart leapt when he saw the open door, but it quickly cowered down again when he heard another door open and close. The sound of whistling made Lewis’s stomach drop. He forced himself to walk again when he smelled the cigarillo.

He stayed in the bedroom as Huxley approached the open door, accompanied by three armed men in suits. He turned to Fealy and kicked him soundly in the side, making him produce a horrible wheezing snort as he fell to the floor.

“Where’s the girl?!” he shouted down at him.

“Wha…?” Fealy shielded his eyes from the sudden brightness of the lights above and tried to stand up, but another kick to his ribs made him vomit bile and Scotch.

“The door’s open, you idiot! She’s gone!” He noticed Lewis in the doorway, and he saw red. “You…”

Lewis put up his hands as his boss pulled a small pistol from his coat pocket. “Sir…Mr. Huxley…” His voice was steady, but his heart was racing. “I just got back, sir. I found the door open. He was asleep when I got here!”

Huxley turned back to the men behind him. “Take your positions.” He hauled Fealy up by one of the lapels of his coat. “My police scanner picked up word that the cops are on their way.” He eyed Lewis. “They must have tailed you, kid. Not your fault, though. I was expecting those pigs to call in reinforcements.”

He pushed Fealy toward the exit, making it open outward where he fell on the packed dirt. Fealy scrambled up and saw he was within just two feet of Huxley’s gun.

His mind suddenly became aware of the situation despite the pounding of the residual whiskey in his head.

Huxley waved the gun toward the lot behind him. “Go find her! Don’t come back without her, you god damn drunk!”

Fealy held out his arms to his boss to offer an explanation, but his boss aimed the gun at his feet and fired.

He jumped backward and landed on his heels, waving his arms to keep his balance. Lewis watched him, thinking that he looked like he was in one of the Bugs Bunny cartoons he watched with Lola, but as soon as the little girl popped into his head, his heart sank.

He knew that he couldn’t say or do anything as it would raise suspicion and he would rather not be on the other end of Huxley’s gun like his partner.

I hope you ran like hell, kiddo.

----------------------------------

Hutch missed the telephone cradle as he tried to hang up the receiver. Starsky handed him his gun and holster as he ran to the locked gun safe in the garage to get more bullets.

Kendra heard the commotion from upstairs and Layla followed her as she went to investigate.

“What’s going on?”

Hutch looked at her as he adjusted his holster. “It’s time to move.”

Kendra rushed up the stairs and brought down her shoes and coat along with Layla’s. Hutch noticed them rushing to the garage.

“Where the hell are you going?”

“She’s my child, Kenny. I should be there.”

“There’s gonna be a standoff for sure. That’s no place for you two!”

“I’m going so you’ll just have to get over it!”

She tried to brush past him, but he grabbed her arm.

“Dammit, Kendra. I can’t let anything to happen to you, too!”

“That’s good to hear, ‘cause I’m going!”

Starsky came back into the house. “Hutch, come on!”

Layla ran past them and into the garage where she jumped into the Torino and climbed over the front seat.

Hutch rushed out and opened the passenger door. “Layla, get out of this car!”

“Lola needs me!” she screamed at him.

Hutch sighed as he pulled back his seat to let his sister in the back. He and Starsky got in, and he turned to them. “Promise me you’ll stay in the car and lay low until it’s over.”

Kendra held Layla. “Promise…”

“I mean it. No matter what happens. Stay in the car.”

They locked eyes and Kendra saw a sadness in them, but she didn’t protest. She knew he had already accepted the possible outcome, and all she could do was let him do it.

She put Layla into a seatbelt as Starsky reversed and then floored the Torino down their quiet street. The sound of the siren made her jump as she buckled herself in, the light on the roof the only beacon shining as they pulled onto the back roads that led to the city.

Kendra moved to the edge of her seat and squeezed her brother’s shoulder. She noticed that Starsky was gripping Hutch’s hand as he concentrated on the road, as if he also understood that his husband had made up his mind.

She squeezed his shoulder again as her eyes welled with tears.

-------------------------------------

Lola heard faint sirens in the distance and her heart raced as she shot to her feet. She pressed her back against the tank and could feel the old paint chipping off onto her shirt as she crept to the edge. There was a small green shed across from her and across from that was a tall chain link fence.

She gasped when she saw the blue and red flashes of three black and white police cars, and her eyes darted to the fence. She had climbed over one before but not as high as the one bordering the lot, but she had to take a chance.

With one more glance behind her, she ran from her refuge to the back of the shed. The police lights were brighter now, and the sirens were deafening until they cut off. Then, she saw the unmistakable cherry red of Starsky’s Torino and bolted toward the fence.

Her second run was cut short when a pair of rough hands grabbed her arm and pulled her back into the shadows. She smelled stale whiskey again and knew it was Fealy, and Lola pulled the pointed Lincoln Log block from her pocket and whirled around with her free arm, punching his cheek bone with it.

Fealy fell back with a pair of cuts on his face, but he rushed forward again and pushed her against the back of the shed, slapping her face.

She didn’t cry out; Lola had been slapped lots of times by her twin and even though she was no grown man, Layla packed a meaner blow than this wobbly version of Fealy. When he reached his hand out again, she grabbed his wrist and bit the meat between his thumb and forefinger.

Fealy cried out in pain but shook her off his wrist. He picked her up with both arms, her mouth facing away from him, and ran into one of the flood lights as he rushed back to the warehouse.

----------------------------------

“Holy shit, he’s got the girl!” Sanchez yelled as she and her partner got out of their car.

Carson got on the loudspeaker. “This is Bay City PD. We have you surrounded. Surrender the girl and or we will be—”

A strong hand touched his shoulder and he turned to see Hutchinson next to him. Carson immediately handed him the receiver.

----------------------------------

“Huxley!”

Lola heard her uncle’s voice and screamed. “Uncle Ken! Help me!!”

Fealy put a hand over her mouth and went through the door where Huxley had opened it for him.

“Take her back to the bedroom,” he ordered.

Lola was put into the small room once more, and she looked at Lewis who was pressed against the wall on the other side of it.

“Help me…please…you said…”

Fealy dropped her on the bed and turned to glare at Lewis.

“You said what?” he growled.

He turned off the light and slammed the door, and Lola screamed as she blindly ran to it. She heard something that sounded like a punch and then a squelch. Lewis groaned on the other side of the door and Lola pounded her fists against the old wood.

“Don’t hurt him! Please!” She sobbed against the door. “Uncle Ken! Help us!!”

--------------------------------------

“If you want her, Sergeant,” Huxley yelled from the door, “then come and get her! It’s your blood I want, Hutchinson…but I’m willing to reconsider!”

“I’m here, Huxley. Bring her out and we’ll make the trade.” He felt Starsky stroke his wrist and he took a shaky breath. “I’m giving you what you want. Now let her go!”

Huxley took a drag on his cigarillo. “Come to me, you dirty pig! Alone!”

The door slammed shut and Hutch gripped the receiver as the glow of police lights blurred in his vision.

Starsky laced his fingers with his and brought him out of his trance.

“Hutch, come over here.”

He let him pull him away from the police car to a back gate in the fence that had just been cut through by another officer.

“Look.” Starsky pointed to an open window above a stack of wooden pallets. “It looks like it in the other end of the hallway, or at least close to it.”

“Huxley wants me to come through the front door,” he said.

“Then I’ll go through the back door.”

“Starsky…”

“I can easily fit through that. There’s probably a goon on the other side, but I can take him.”

“I don’t think this is gonna end like you think it is, hon.”

Starsky stared at him as a hollow feeling shot through him. “Don’t tell me you’re just gonna let him—”

“I told you. I think I can get the switch on him.”

“And I told you that you’ll be outnumbered!”

Hutch looked at the window again and took another deep breath. “You said you wouldn’t give me up so easily…”

“Baby, he won’t even have the chance to—”

Hutch cupped his face in his hands and kissed him; he kissed him like he would never have the chance to ever again.

Starsky put his arms around him, and they embraced, breathing against each other’s neck, gripping the other’s back, both telling their hearts not to break just yet.

“I’ll see you later, partner,” Hutch whispered in his ear.

Starsky’s throat tightened. “Me and thee, baby.”

Hutch’s eyes watered but he blinked back the tears. “Me and thee…”

Chapter Text

Lewis cupped his fist as he watched Fealy spit. He had hit him square in the gut as his partner, still sobering up and regaining his balance, had rushed him after locking Lola in the bedroom. Fealy was reaching into his pocket and Lewis knew that he was pulling his switchblade, and his fist landed hard enough against his soft stomach that it made him fall to his knees where he vomited.

Huxley sneered down at him. “Clean that up, you drunk.” When he lifted his hard gaze to Lewis, he saw that the kid was still clenching his fist. “Go to the back of warehouse and take up post. Just in case either one of them tries to…” He noticed that Lewis was staring at the bedroom door, and he sneered again.

“Your job’s done, kid,” he said in a low tone. “Good work. I just hope you haven’t grown attached to her.”

Lewis’s heart skipped at his boss’s words, and internally cursed himself for having the audacity to think that his boss would let the girl live. He gulped as he took out his gun and locked eyes with Huxley.

He glared at him with his one good eye. “Don’t do anything stupid, Nathan. Don’t forget who got you out of the hole you buried yourself in. You owed me, but your debt won’t be paid until Hutchinson is dead.”

Lewis felt sweat drip down his temple as he stared at the drooping, concave eyelid. He swallowed back the bile that was threatening to rise, and replied, “Yes, sir.”

He left his boss in front of the bedroom door where Fealy was finally getting to his feet, and where Lola was left alone.

Alone with the monsters.

--------------------------------------------

Carson smirked as he watched the two detectives kiss at the end of the fence until Sanchez put a hand on his shoulder.

“Take a picture,” she said. “It lasts longer.”

“I just…they’re really married, huh? How’d they manage that?”

“They exchanged rings and said, ‘I do.’ How else do you get married?”

“Yeah, but…how did the Captain allow that?”

Sanchez saw that the two men were now embracing one another for the longest moment until Starsky pulled away and slipped through the cut hole of the chain link fence. Hutch watched him before turning back.

She brought her hand up to her necklace, a gold chain with a dolphin pendant, the first gift her girlfriend ever gave her.

“You’d allow it, too, if you knew what real love looked like.”

--------------------------------------------------

Hutch met Dobey at his car. “Starsky found a way to get in.” He pulled his gun from his holster and hesitated before holding it out to him. “Kendra and Layla are in Torino. If anything happens…”

Dobey looked at Hutch’s Baretta and slowly took it from his hand. “You’ll see them again,” he said, his voice trying to stay firm. “Be careful in there.”

Before Hutch turned away, he offered his hand to him. “Thank you, Captain.”

The corner of Dobey’s mouth twitched, but he took his hand and squeezed it hard as he shook it.

“I’ll see you soon, Hutch.”

--------------------------------------------

Starsky couldn’t watch his husband walk away, so he went first, crouching as he side-stepped across the back of the lot, his gun at the ready, until he reached the stack of pallets. He was able to slip through the open window even though he almost lost his footing when a board in one of the pallets snapped. He had paused under the window then, sweat pooling in the small of his back as his heart raced.

He took a deep breath and exhaled as he holstered his gun and slowly lifted his head to peer over the frame. The warehouse was dark save for the dim light coming from the floodlights outside, but Starsky couldn’t see anyone. He carefully lifted himself onto the frame and climbed down, his sneakers bracing himself against the wall.

There was a pipe next to the window that led to the concrete floor, and Starsky moved his hands along the window frame, moving carefully so his sneakers wouldn’t slip. He knew that sliding the pipe would make some noise, and once that noise happened, he had to hide, and the nearest hiding place was a run across the room where a stack of crates sat.

There was sweat on his brow now and he wiped his hands one at a time on his jeans before latching onto the pipe. He partly slid partly fell down along the length of the pipe and ran as soon as his feet hit the floor. He moved quickly, crouching once again, and when he found refuge behind the crates, a door opened.

Starsky drew his gun and pressed his back against the wall as the heavy door slammed and light footsteps sounded on the other side of the stack. He closed his eyes and licked his lips before sneaking along the shadows and turning the corner, his gun aimed and ready to fire.

He met Lewis’s gun as the kid round the other corner.

--------------------------------------

Hutch approached the door and removed his baseball jacket to fold it over his arm. He closed his eyes and took a few deeps breaths, like he did when he meditated. His mind would not stop reeling with the fact that everything that was about to happen…to him, his husband, his life…was meant to be.

One final slow exhale made Hutch step forward and open the door.

Huxley stood on the other side with a man in a suit next to him holding a handgun at his side. Hutch let the door close behind him and put his hands up as he took another step forward.

“I’m unarmed,” he said as he continued taking cautious steps toward him.

Huxley made a gesture and the man in the suit approached him and ripped the jacket off Hutch’s arm and tossed it to the floor. With one hand, he patted him down as Hutch kept his eyes on Huxley.

“You’re a man of your word, Sergeant,” he said with a grin. He pulled a silver case from his coat pocket and opened it to pull out a cigarillo. The case clicked shut in the quiet of the hallway and Huxley rolled the thin cigar between his thumb and forefinger.

“Where’s Lola?” asked Hutch as the man in the suit stopped patting him and started rummaging through his coat pocket.

The man pulled out his badge and Huxley snapped his fingers.

“Give that to me, Mr. Frye. It’ll look nice on my desk.”

Hutch’s ears burned as he watched his badge being handed over to the scum that had taunted him on the phone the night Lola was taken. He kept his hands up though as Huxley pocketed it, but the muscles in his calves twitched when he noticed that they were the only people in the hallway.

He wondered if Lola was still in the makeshift bedroom at the end, and if there was someone in there with her waiting for him to make a wrong move. He flexed one of his feet to stretch his calf.

He had to get closer first.

“Where is she?”

“She’s in her room,” growled Huxley, the smug grin still plastered on his face, his one eye beaming at him. “She’s a good little girl, but I’m afraid she got on the wrong side of one of my men, Sergeant. A swift kick to the face is not a good first impression.”

The corner of Hutch’s mouth pulled into a half-grin, and Huxley returned it.

“Doesn’t surprise me, really,” he said. “She’s your blood after all.”

He made another gesture and the man in the suit grabbed Hutch’s arm and escorted him down the hall, stopping him in front of windowless door. He heard the muffled crying behind it and his heart thumped in his chest.

“Open it,” Huxley told his guard.

Lola was crouched on the floor on the other side, her pajamas wrinkled, her feet dirty, and her face stained with tears. She squinted into the light and crawled through the door toward Hutch.

“Uncle Ken…” Her voice was shaking as she got to her feet and rushed to him.

Hutch knelt down and squeezed her to his chest, kissing her cheek as she wrapped her arms around his neck.

“Honey…” he whispered. “…thank God…”

Lola sobbed into his neck, and he rubbed her back as his eyes burned with tears. He was able to sniff them back as he pulled away to look at the state of her.

He moved a tendril of blonde hair from her face. “Are you okay?”

She nodded as tears streamed down her face. He wiped them away with his thumbs, his large hands cupping her cheeks.

“Did they hurt you, baby?”

Lola shook her head and hugged him again. “I wanna go…” she whined.

Hutch glared at Huxley, who was still smiling at him, and he saw red but kept his cool.

“We’re gonna go,” he told her. “Don’t worry. I’ll get us out of here.”

Huxley shook his head. “You cops really are dumb animals, aren’t you?”

Hutch frowned as he began to pick Lola up from the floor, but Huxley whistled and Fealy suddenly appeared from the darkness of the bedroom. He ripped Lola from Hutch’s embrace, making her scream and reach out for him. Hutch heard the schlick of a switchblade and rushed at Fealy, planting a fist on the bridge of his nose.

The man cried out in pain as he stumbled back. A cough sprayed blood all over his hand that was shielding his nose, and he roared as he rushed at Lola again. Hutch stood in his way and punched him in the stomach, but then felt a sharp, burning sensation under his ribs.

Fealy’s switchblade was in his Hutch’s left side.

He yanked the knife out of him and stabbed him again, blade hitting bone, and Hutch groaned as he pushed him off with a hard punch to the cheekbone.

His knuckles throbbed as Fealy fell on his side and spit out blood and molar, the bloody knife skidding across the concrete. Hutch felt the warmth of his blood leaving him, and he fell on his hands and knees.

Lola screamed and rushed over to him, but Huxley’s guard grabbed her. He held her chin in his calloused hand and placed to tip of his gun to her temple.

-------------------------------------------

Starsky and Lewis watched everything through the window of the door at the end of the hallway. They watched from afar Lola hugging her uncle only to be taken away from him again, but this time getting a blade in his gut.

Starsky’s heart pounded so hard it vibrated in his head. His trigger finger itched as he put his hand on the door.

“What now?” Lewis whispered.

He watched Hutch as he struggled to lift himself up as blood soaked thought his dark green t-shirt.

“I’m gonna open this door,” he said. “And you’re gonna aim for the goon holding my niece. You shoot…then I shoot. Got it?”

Lewis nodded and went to crouch at the door so he could aim through it, but Starsky grabbed one of his lapels and glared at him.

“Don’t you dare miss.”

------------------------------------

Hutch tried to straighten his spine as he knelt in front of Huxley’s gun, but the wound in his side was burning fire into his belly. The gunmetal was cold against his forehead as it pressed into his skin and sweat beaded at his hairline.

He knew this would be his fate, was ready to accept it, but when he saw that Lola was forced to watch while she was restrained by Mr. Frye, Hutch wished he could turn back time.

“You’re fulfilling your bargain, Hutchinson,” said Huxley with a satisfied grin. “I would give you a last request…but that’s something my Joey wasn’t privy to.”

Hutch shifted his eyes to his sobbing niece. “Lola…close your eyes.”

Her voice broke. “Uncle Ken…please…”

“I love you, sweetheart.” Hutch tried to swallow the lump in his throat, but a tear streaked his cheek. “Make sure Uncle Davey…” He paused to sniff back a sob. “Take care of him…okay?”

Lola nodded as best as she could in Mr. Frye’s grip. She looked at Huxley, her hazel eyes shining.

“Please…let him go…”

“Don’t be sad, honey,” he said in a fake coo. “You’ll be joining him soon.”

“That wasn’t the deal, Huxley.” Hutch tried not to take shallow breaths, knowing that it would raise his heart rate. “You wanted your pound of flesh…and I’m giving you that and more.”

He huffed. “And Bay City PD vows to serve and protect. My Joey—"

“What happened to your godson was not my fault, Huxley. I’m not the junkie who killed him!”

“But you’re the one who put him in there with him!” he shouted. “Who was watching the cell? Who was protecting him in your castle, huh?”

Hutch saw the unhinged glow in his eye as spit pooled into one corner of his mouth.

He took one final deep breath and glared back at him.

“You can kill us…but it won’t do Joey any good. And you won’t make it out alive.”

Huxley pulled the hammer back on the gun. “Neither will you, pig.”

Hutch closed his eyes as Lola screamed.

-----------------------------

He felt the wind through his hair and heard the thundering of hooves all around him. He was riding Grandpa Pederson’s white horse, the one he would pretend was the Lone Ranger’s as he galloped over his land.

Over the hooves of the herd, he heard a joyous cry beside him.

It was Starsky, and he was riding the black mare Darla from the horse ranch and was smiling at him. It was the same smile he wore after their first kiss, the first time they made love…on their wedding day when they broke crystal wine glasses under white handkerchiefs under a borrowed chuppa. He remembered how handsome he looked in his blue kippah that was pressed and pinned into his wild curls, blue eyes shining nothing but pure love his way as they exchanged rings, how his voice shook as he said his vow to him.

Now in his final thoughts, Starksy rode beside him, like he always did since their academy days. “Attached at the hip” was the phrase around the station as years went on.

If only they knew how connected their souls were…

----------------------------------

There were two gunshots, and his hearing rang like a bell…and his heart was beating.

He opened his eyes to find that he was still in the hallway kneeling on the cold concrete floor. Mr. Frye was on the floor, too, and he was choking on the blood that was oozing from the bullet wound in his neck.

Lola rushed over to Hutch and hugged him.

He thought he was dead and that this was an afterlife where everything worked out, especially when he saw Huxley’s body in front of him on his back, his good eye bleeding from a bullet.

The pain in his side jolted him back to reality and he tried to hold Lola, but he collapsed.

“Uncle Ken!”

A voice split through the slight ringing in his ears. “It’s okay, honey.”

It was Starsky.

Hutch tried to keep his eyes open, but the pain in his side was explosive as he groaned. He knew it was deep by the feeling of his own blood dripping out of him and soaking his shirt.

“He’s hurt!” Lola sobbed.

Hutch felt warm hands on his face. They smelled of gun smoke.

“Baby…I’m here,” said Starsky as he kissed his forehead.

Hutch tried to press into his lips but grunted at the pain.

“Stay awake, Hutch baby. I got you. Hey! We need a medic in here! Officer down!”

Hutch had neither noticed nor heard the door open after the shots rang out. Dobey and several officers had been waiting on the other side to jump Huxley and his men. Two guards were already taken out and put into cuffs.

He turned his head to see Fealy being cuffed and hauled to his feet, his nose still dripping blood. Lewis stood over them and gave up his weapon to an officer. When another cop cuffed him, Starsky said to him. “Easy with him. We’ll need to talk.”

Fealy spit on the floor, leaving pink foam on the concrete. “I knew all along, kid! You dirty fuckin’ rat!”

“Get him out of here!” Dobey said at the door.

 Starsky ripped off one of his shirt sleeves and pressed it hard into Hutch’s wound.

He cried out as he jerked his body upward, and his husband caught him with one arm.

“You’re okay, baby. I got ya. Help is on the way. Just stay awake for me.”

Hutch reached up to touch his face, and Starsky saw the confusion in his bright eyes and kissed him.

“You’re alive, partner,” he said against his trembling lips. “You’re here. This is real, okay? You’re gonna be alright.”

“We were…” Hutch struggled to speak.

“Shh, honey, it’s okay.”

“You…were…riding with…me…”

Starsky pressed his forehead to his.

“I’ll always ride with you, baby. Just keep still for now.”

“Lo…Lola…”

She stood beside Starsky. “Uncle Ken…please stay awake.”

There were fresh tears on her cheeks, and he reached up to wipe them away, but the pain stopped him and he groaned as his arm recoiled.

“Don’t move, Uncle Ken.”

“She’s right, Hutch. You’re bleedin’ pretty bad.”

They locked eyes and Hutch gave him a small, tired smile.

Starsky’s eyes grew wet as he kissed him again.

“I love you, baby.” He whispered against his lips as he tried to control the tremor in his voice. “Love you so much…”

Hutch was laid on his back as the medics showed up with the gurney. He gasped as he was lifted onto it.

“Starsk!”

He picked up Lola and held her on his hip. “We’re right behind you, darlin’.”

Dobey met the medics as they came down the hall. “How bad is he?”

“Stab wound,” one of them said. “Pretty deep. We gotta get him to surgery, fast.”

Officers Sanchez was coming in to see if further assistance was needed, and Dobey stopped her. “Give them a police escort to the nearest hospital. Run red lights if you need to!”

She followed the medics out. When they bypassed the fence to the ambulance, a woman with sandy blonde hair and a little girl that looked like the one Starsky was holding rushed to them.

“Mommy!” Lola screamed and Starsky gave her over to Kendra.

She fell to her knees and held her close. “My baby! Oh my God!”

Layla ran to her other side and hugged her sister as they cried.

“Mommy,” said Lola. “Uncle Ken is hurt. He’s bleeding…”

Kendra suddenly noticed the stretcher and saw her brother’s pallid face.

“Oh, God, Kenny!” she shrieked and Starsky put his arm around her as he escorted the three of them to the squad car.

“Sanchez, right?” he asked her.

She opened the back passenger door. “Yes, sir.”

“Give them a ride to the hospital.” He looked at Kendra who was clutching her daughter but staring at the ambulance as her brother was boarded onto it. “He’s been stabbed pretty bad. I’ll stay with him.”

She sobbed. “David…”

He motioned to the squad car. “Go with them. They’ll get ya there.”

Starsky left them and jumped into the back of the ambulance and immediately took Hutch’s hand.

He tried to squeeze back but was too weak.

“Relax, Hutch,” said Starsky, his voice trembling. “You’re gonna be fine, doll.”

“Lola…?” His breathing was short.

“She’s with Kendra. They’re with our escort. Hold tight, baby.” He met Hutch’s tired eyes and grinned. “I told you I wasn’t letting you go.”

Hutch gave him a weak half-smile. “Starsk…I…I lo—” He suddenly gasped as he winced from the pain when the medic applied pressure to his wound.

Starsky kissed his hand. “I know, Blondie.”

Chapter Text

It was the longest hour Starsky had ever experienced.

He paced the lobby of surgery as Kendra held Lola who had fallen asleep in her arms. Layla was on her other side watching the TV that was on a stand in the wall. She wasn’t interested in what was playing (she didn’t like Bonanza), but it was all she could do to keep from staring at her Uncle Davey as he took deeps breaths and sat against the wall in between paces.

Officer Sanchez was standing guard over the little family that might have seemed strange to most, but she recognized it as a loving one. Starsky wore the same expression that her girlfriend had worn when Sanchez was shot in the leg while on a call. Her girlfriend had to lie and tell the head nurse that she was her sister in order to see her after surgery.

It was different with Starsky and Hutch. They didn’t have to lie because they had always been partners.

She approached Kendra and asked if she wanted a cup of coffee.

She replied with a shake of her head, but Layla said, “Mommy, can I get something to drink? I’m thirsty.”

Starsky, who was sitting against the wall for the third time, stood and pulled out his wallet, handing Sanchez a couple of dollars.

“Layla, honey, why don’t you go with Officer Sanchez to the snack machine?”

She slid out of the plastic chair as Starsky handed over the money.

“I got it, sir,” Sanchez told him.

Starsky smirked. “You’ve helped a lot tonight. It’s the least I can do.”

She took the money. “Would you like anything?”

He looked at her for a moment and shook his head. “I’m okay…”

He sat next to Kendra after they left the lobby and put his arm around her.

“Your brother’s strong,” he said. “He’ll be okay.”

She sighed. “I know. He’s always been stubborn.”

Starsky chuckled. “Tell me about it.” He reached over and stroked Lola’s cheek. “The nurses should examine her.”

“For what?”

“Any injuries.”

Kendra raised her eyes to him. “You don’t think they…”

“She said they didn’t, and I believe her. Still…she needs her vitals checked and she’s got a small bruise on her head.”

Kendra stroked her forehead. “She said it was from a Lincoln Log.”

He nodded, knowing the conversation was over.

The double doors opened, and the surgeon appeared. He was taking off his gloves and discarding them into a bin as he went to the lobby to meet them.

Kendra stood as she still clutched Lola and went to stand beside her brother-in-law.

“You his partner?” the surgeon asked in a solemn voice.

Starsky folded his arms. “Yeah. How is he, doc?”

He nodded. “He’s fine. We were able to stop the bleeding just in time.” He smiled as they both sighed with relief and hugged each other. “He’s just coming out of anesthesia so give him a couple of minutes before you see him. Room Four-D.”

Starsky shook his hand. “Thank you…ah, God, thank you so much.”

The surgeon left and Lola woke up as they continued hugging.

“What’s going on?” she said. “Is Uncle Ken okay?”

Starsky kissed her forehead. “Yeah, baby. He’s okay. We can go see him in a bit.”

Kendra held his arm. “You go first, hon. I’ll go get Layla.”

------------------------------------------

Dobey made it to the hospital and Edith followed him as she held Hutch’s baseball jacket over her arm. He had called her at her behest; she wanted to know what happened immediately regardless of the outcome. She left Rosie with Cal who was playing video games with a friend and told them to call the neighbor if they needed anything. Cal was old enough to watch his sister, but Edith’s heart was too cautious tonight. She left the phone number on the fridge.

She had taken the coat from her husband and tears filled her eyes.

He hugged her. “He’s in surgery. A stab wound.”

So she followed him to the second floor, but on their way there, Dobey spotted Layla and Lola with a blonde woman and Officer Sanchez.

Edith gasped when she saw the state of Lola’s clothes and dirty feet. “Oh, sweet Lord.”

“Honey, please,” her husband assured her. “She’s just fine.”

Layla and Officer Sanchez were smiling, and Lola ran up to them.

“Uncle Dobey! Uncle Ken is okay!”

Edith finally cried as she pulled Lola to her and hugged her.

Dobey smiled as he quickly wiped the corner of his right eye. “Good…” He put his hands on his hips. Edith took his hand and squeezed it and Dobey finally exhaled the breath he had held since the ambulance left.

---------------------------------------

Hutch groaned as his eyes fluttered open to a dimly lit white room. He suddenly flashed back to when he was severely ill, under plastic and struggling to breathe.

But his lungs were clear, and he felt lucid, at least. There was a humming in his ears, and he shut his eyes as he looked up at the light above his bed.

“Hey, handsome.”

He felt fingers caress his forehead.

“Starsk…”

He felt the mattress shift as his husband sat on the edge.

“Take it easy, baby,” he said. “You’re on a lot of meds right now and you’ll need your strength when they wear off.”

Hutch lifted his bedsheet and saw that his torso was wrapped in white bandages. He noticed the specks of blood soaking through and lent back his head with a sigh.

“Hey. You fuckin’ scared me tonight, you know?”

Hutch grunted. “Baby…”

“You had me believin’ what you were believin’. That you were gonna die. Just like that.”

“I knew you wouldn’t let it happen…”

“Damn right.”

Hutch squeezed his hand. “Forgive me?”

Starsky stared at him and then laughed. “Of course I do…ya big dummy.”

He leaned in and kissed him. Hutch’s lips were soft, yielding, and no longer trembling.

“Are you okay for more visitors?” asked Starsky. “The girls are in the lobby.”

Hutch gave him a big smile and Starsky felt a rush of love warming his body. He thought he would never see that smile again.

“Yeah…but we need to talk.”

Hutch tried to sit up, but his husband stopped him. He sighed as he settled on his back again, taking Starsky’s hand.

“Remember…when we told Dobey that were engaged?”

Starsky laughed again. “You have it wrong, Blondie. I told him we were dating, and you blurted out that we were engaged. Even though we agreed we wouldn’t mention that part.”

“Honey, come on. I’m trying to talk to you.”

He noticed his cheeky grin and continued.

“Anyway, I couldn’t sleep that night. I thought I had messed everything up. You said it didn’t matter…we could elope…drive off in a Winnebago…stop wherever and whenever. Only the road following us…you said that, remember?”

“Yeah.”

Hutch pulled his hand to him and kissed it.

“Let’s get that Winnebago.”

Starsky blinked. “Are you serious?”

“Yeah…like you said, we never had a honeymoon. And since we’re leaving the force…”

“We’ll have all the time in the world.” He looked down at their hands. “You still wanna leave, huh?”

Hutch nodded. “I’m tired, Starsk. I know I’ll miss it, but…it’s time for a change. I can’t keep putting you through this.”

Starsky climbed into the bed and stroked his cheek. “I love you, Kenneth Hutchinson. It’s me and thee, baby. Always has been.”

“It has…sometimes I wish…I could have realized it sooner.”

“Better late than never, hon.” He kissed his cheek. “So…that’s a go on the Bago? Still wanna hide out in your grandpa’s cabin. No offense, doll, but given my experience with cabins, I think a hotel would be better.”

Hutch lightly giggled, the pain slowly returning to his injured side. “No Satanists in Two Harbors, Minnesota. The only thing you gotta worry about are phantom kangaroos.”

Starsky paused in stroking his cheek. “Excuse me?”

“You’ve never heard of them?”

“No such thing.”

“But you believe in Bigfoot.”

“Bigfoot’s been seen.”

“I’ve seen the kangaroos.”

Starsky frowned as they stared at each other. “I’m gonna tell the nurse to go easy on the morphine.”

“I saw one go into my grandpa’s chicken coop. Its eyes were glowing.”

“Sure, hon…”

“The locals call it ‘Big Bunny.’”

“Hutch, don’t make me press the button.”

------------------------------------------

Three Months Later

Starsky found Hutch in the kitchen chopping lettuce for the burgers.

“Babe, I told you to sit down. I got this.”

“I’m not an invalid, Starsk.”

Kendra and Edith were on the beach with the twins and Rosie and Cal. Kendra decided that she needed to spend time with the twins before flying back to Duluth, so she put in a Leave of Absence to the firm citing “family matters.” They stayed in the beach house and helped Starsky keep his head when he stressed about Hutch’s recovery.

When Kendra gave him a break, Starsky would teach the girls simple painting, and they would practice sketching or painting bowls of fruit or pictures from books. When Hutch got the stitches out from his surgery, Kendra drove him to his physical therapy appointments in his beat-up lemon so that Starsky could go to work. When he completed his sessions, he was given a cane to use for at least two weeks, but Hutch only used it for a few days before chucking it in the closet. His side got stiff sometimes but he was still able to keep his balance.

Dobey watched the water from the patio of the beach house. He was grinning to himself as the sun shone on his skin and the can of beer grew wet in his hand, but then he heard Starsky scolding his husband again and decided to intervene.

“Need any help?” he asked as he went inside.

“Yeah,” said Starsky. “Cuff him to the radiator so he doesn’t move.”

“Babe, I’m fine. I’m not even that stiff today.”

“You’re still recovering from a broken rib.”

Dobey smirked. “Are we grillin’ burgers or aren’t we?”

Starsky nudged Hutch. “See what happens when you feed the grizzlies?”

“What?”

“Nothin’.” He passed by him with a tray of burgers, hot dogs, and chicken breasts. “Hey, Hutch?”

“Yeah, hon?” He started slicing a tomato.

“You gonna tell him?”

Dobey looked between his two men. “Tell me what?”

Starsky was already out the door and tossing food onto the grill, so Dobey went into the kitchen and stood across the island from Hutch.

“We, uh…” Hutch put down the kitchen knife. “We weren’t gonna do this until I was fully healed but, um…Starsky and I are…”

His eyes suddenly burned but he blinked back the tears.

“We’re leaving the force. At the end of the year.”

Hutch wiped his hands with a sheet of paper towel and raised his eyes to his captain.

Dobey was actually grinning.

“I had a feeling that was coming,” he said and took a sip of his beer.

“It’s just time for us to move on, you know.”

“You don’t have to explain yourself. In fact…maybe it’s time I told you anyway. I’m retiring next year, in March. The kids are growing up and I want to be there for them more…and for Edith, too. We have enough saved, and the pension won’t be so bad, so Edith and I are gonna plan a second honeymoon. You know we went to Vegas for our first?”

Hutch laughed. “Never would have guessed Edith to be a gambler.”

“Her father would be rolling in his grave. No she wanted to go see a show. We ended up going to a magic show and ate too much buffet food. Don’t tell her I told you, but I snuck down to the casino and won fifty dollars. Quick game of Blackjack. That fifty dollars started our first savings account.”

Hutch picked up his beer and tapped Dobey’s. “Thanks, Captain. For everything. And I mean…everything.”

They drank and Dobey asked, “What about the two of you?”

“Starsky’s looking into a Winnebago. Gonna road trip across the country. First honeymoon.”

Dobey frowned. “Yeah…you never had one, I forgot. Sorry about that.”

Hutch laughed again and finished slicing the tomatoes.

-----------------------------------------

“Lewis! You got a visitor!”

He was cuffed and escorted to the visitor’s lounge of San Quentin. The guard sat him at the round table in the middle of the room where he was the only one sat amongst empty seats. It made Lewis feel cold in his thin prisoner’s garb.

A door squealed open, and another guard walked in with a girl with a short haircut that was dyed jet black. She wore high-waisted yellow and black plaid trousers with a torn Misfits t-shirt. Her black leather jacket was too big for her as she walked into the cold, empty room in her Doc Martens.

Lewis stood as his eyes brimmed with tears. “Janie?”

His sister walked to him as she cried, and they hesitated before hugging. Lewis glanced at one of the guards, who turned his head.

They embraced and held hands as they caught up. Janie was nineteen now and had never run away to Boston. Instead she hitchhiked with her girlfriend up to Portland, Oregon and they were crashing with the girl’s cousin. She got a job at a coffee shop and was playing bass in an underground lesbian metal band.

Lewis asked how she had found him, and she told him that a guy named David called her from Bay City Police Department.

“I never got to meet him to thank him for calling me,” she said. “But here we are.” Her eyes welled with tears again. “I’m sorry I never told you where I was.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I’m sorry you had to find out where I was.”

Nathan Lewis was able to arrange a plea deal since he fully cooperated in the rescue of Lola Hutchinson-Larsen. He would serve nine months and then perform one year of community service. He was grateful for the sentence, and he found out that his service would be in a local soup kitchen where Starsky and Hutch volunteered every Thursday night. It was their idea, they told him, just to be absolutely sure he was serious about a second chance.

-----------------------------

April 1984, Four Months after retirement
Fourth Wedding Anniversary
Grand Canyon, Arizona

The horse was named Butterscotch and she was a beauty of a golden mare with a blondish-white mane and tail, and Hutch eased her beside his husband who was riding a painted gelding named Caesar.

“Don’t grip the reins too tight, hon,” he told him. “Give him a little slack.”

“I still can’t believe you talked me into this.”

Hutch smiled. “Babe, come on, look around you. We’re at the Grand Canyon! One of the many natural wonders of the world and you’re sulking.”

“I’m not sulking.” He paused to straighten his black cowboy hat again as the horse bounced. “He keeps hopping like he wants to take off.”

“Then pull the reins a bit to slow him down.”

“You just said not to grip them!”

“Don’t grip them too tight, is what I said. You’re the one in control.”

Starsky smirked at him. “Apparently I’m not since I’m on a horse against my will.”

Hutch rolled his eyes. “You promised…”

“I know…I know,” he sighed.

They heard the light rush of water and turned a curve in the trail, and Hutch stopped his horse.

“Whoa, girl,” he muttered. Starsky tried to stop his horse, but Hutch reach over and pulled his reins, too.

“Thanks.” He looked out toward the blue that was snaking through the red soil. “What’s this?”

Hutch smiled. “That’s the Colorado River, Starsk.”

“No kiddin’?”

They shared a drink of water from Hutch’s canteen as they watched the river.

Hutch said, “Hey…you can pick the stop when he get to New Mexico.”

“Already decided.”

“Okay, then. Where are we going?

“I’ll give you a hint.” He ceremoniously cleared his throat. “In the late forties, an Air Force balloon crashed under mysterious circumstances. Those circumstances ended up being…”

Hutch let him have his dramatic pause.

“…aliens.”

He laughed and clicked his tongue, making Butterscotch continue down the trail.

“Aliens.”

“Yeah, it’s true! There’s pictures.” Starsky flopped the reins against the horse’s neck. “How do you start this thing?”

Hutch whistled and Caesar let out a grumpy huff as he bounced on his front legs before following them.

“We’re gonna go to Roswell on a conspiracy? What makes you think they’ll let us in, Starsk?”

“I was thinking of parking the Winnebago under the stars so we can make contact.”

“Contact?! I think the heat’s getting to you, hon.”

“Oh, so aliens don’t exist, but Minnesota ghost kangaroos do?”