"Thanks, Mrs V," Hutch said, as he shrugged off his jacket. It was, as always, good to be home.
"You're very welcome, young man." She always called him that, even though Hutch was pretty sure she was only five years older than him.
She gathered up her bag and jacket, getting ready to leave. "Pete's in the garden catching snails. Robbie's reading in his bedroom."
Hutch smiled. Those two sentences summed up his sons pretty well.
He waved Mrs V off and then went to check on Pete. The eight year old boy was sitting cross-legged in the middle of their tiny patch of lawn, a line of snails in front of him. Some of the snails had blue dots affixed to their shells. Pete was peeling off the blue dots and replacing them with red. He looked up and waved at Hutch. "Dad's not gonna win this week."
Hutch sighed, he had been forbidden by Starsky to tell the boy that his father would spend the next day undoing all of Pete's hard work.
Hutch smiled and pushed open the window. "You need anything, Petey?"
"Naw, I'm good. Mrs V brought a homemade cake with her."
"Oh, did she?" Hutch shook his head. "Just remember to wash your hands when you're done playing."
"Sure, Papa. Oh." There was a pause while Hutch waited for the boy to catch up with his train of thought. "Miss Somers made Robbie cry today." The boy had gone back to his snails and Hutch, heart sinking, hurried off to find his youngest.
"Robbie?" He pushed the bedroom door open but at first glance the room appeared empty. Hutch stepped into the room, scanning it with his policeman's gaze, noting all the little details.
The boy's bag was lying on the floor at the foot of the bed, a couple of sheets of paper had been pulled out, and Robbie's storybook was crumpled on the floor on the opposite side of the room as though it had been hurled violently at the wall.
Hutch picked it up and tried to straighten the cover. The title read, 'The Best Father's Day Present', the cover showed a boy and girl standing next to a man and woman. He frowned and placed it down on Robbie's bed.
When he had entered the room there had been silence, but now he could hear sobs, and it didn't take much of a detective to know they were coming from the closet.
"Robbie?" Even knowing the sobs were for his benefit Hutch couldn't stop his heart aching for his son. He pulled the door open and then sat cross-legged on the floor. Robbie crawled onto his lap.
"Papa." Then he was crying for real. Hutch held the shuddering body and whispered endearments into the mop of blond hair, waiting for the tears to subside.
Eventually the tears stopped and Robbie wriggled away from Hutch, just a little. The boy looked over at his bed where the book lay and pressed his hands over his eyes. Watching his son Hutch could have cried himself, Robbie and Pete had done a lot of that when they had first arrived in their new home. Pete had explained it to them. "If we can't see the bad thing then that means it ain't happening." Starsky had been ready to kill somebody the day Pete had told them that and Hutch hadn't been far behind.
"I'm sorry about the book. Miss Somers will be really cross."
"Did Miss Somers give you the book?"
Robbie nodded and snuffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve. Hutch decided to ignore that, just this once.
"Pete said Miss Somers made you cry." Hutch stretched out his legs and Robbie scrambled back onto his lap. "You want to tell me what happened?"
Robbie looked up at Hutch. The little boy's eyes were red from crying, his mouth curving downward. "Will I get into trouble?"
"No. Come on, Robbie, if I don't know what happened I can't sort it out, can I?"
The little boy appeared lost in thought for a short while and then he nodded decisively. He crawled back into the closet and then came back out holding a piece of coloured card. He handed it to Hutch.
"We made Father's Day cards in class." Robbie tapped the card. "I made this for you."
Hutch looked down at the card. Robbie had drawn a picture of Hutch and himself, the yellow scribbles that surmounted each figure gave away their identities. "It's lovely."
Robbie gave a small smile. "I told Miss Somers I wanted to make one for Daddy." Tears were once more trickling down the boy's face. "She said that people only have one father and then she gave me that book." Robbie shook his head. "I don't want to read it."
"You don't have to." Hutch said keeping his voice low. "I'll talk to Miss Somers, okay?"
Robbie wiped his face with his hand and nodded.
"Go on, go out and play with Pete. I'll make some macaroni and cheese."
Magic words to soothe any child in Hutch's experience, and a much happier boy ran off to find his brother.
He rang the school while the meal was bubbling in the oven. Miss Somers, he was told, had gone home for the day but an appointment to speak with her could be made tomorrow if he would like. Yes, Hutch said, he would very much like. Then he rang Mrs V to ask if she would be able to look after Pete and Robbie.
"I know you don't normally work on Fridays, but is there any chance you could look after the boys tomorrow?"
"It would be a pleasure."
Hutch hung up the telephone feeling a little better. Now he just had to talk to Starsky.
"I thought Robbie's teacher was Mrs Tanner."
"When?" Starsky acted like the woman had retired solely to annoy him.
"About a month ago," Hutch said with a small smile. "You read the letter?"
"There was a letter?"
The meeting was scheduled to take place in Miss Somers's classroom. The teacher wasn't there when they arrived and while Hutch perched himself on the corner on the desk, facing the door, Starsky prowled around the classroom, looking at the wall displays.
"I'm going to give that woman a piece of my mind," Starsky growled, stopping to admire a flower made entirely of hand prints.
"How about we try the softly softly approach. We're not cops anymore, remember."
"No, we're parents. That's much worse."
"Mr Hutchinson?" The teacher had walked into the room and Hutch stood up. She was a lot younger than Robbie's last teacher.
/I wonder how long she's been qualified for./ Hutch smiled. "That's me."
"And you would be?" She was addressing Starsky who had turned round reluctantly. Hutch almost smiled when he saw the look on the man's face. Robbie's new teacher was extremely pretty, just Starsky's type, well if he hadn't been with Hutch.
Starsky smiled and then, Hutch thought, he must have remembered how upset Robbie had been, because he frowned. "I'm Mr Starsky. Robbie's other father."
Her eyes widened, just a little, and Hutch went to stand by Starsky, a united front.
Points to the teacher, Hutch thought, she had covered her surprise very well.
"You're not the one in tears because he wants to make a card for his Daddy," Starsky pointed out. "A card you wouldn't let him make."
"And then," Hutch added, pulling the much abused book out of his jacket pocket. "You gave him this book." He held it out towards Miss Somers, cover prominent. "It's not exactly representative of his family, is it?"
The woman's cheeks were flushed but despite her seeming youth there was a steely glint in her eyes. "I thought Robbie might enjoy the book, that's why I gave it to him."
"And what about the part where you told him he could only have one father?" Starsky growled.
She looked down at the ground for a moment and then back up. "I will admit that was a mistake. I haven't had time yet to review all the student files."
"You haven't had time?" Starsky was bristling with anger. "We entrust our precious boy to your care and you don't have the time to find out about him?" He took a step forward.
"Starsk." Hutch put a hand on the man's arm. "Miss Somers," Hutch said, keeping his voice as reasonable as possible, "might I suggest that you spend the upcoming weekend going through those files. You may find there are other children in your class who have families that don't fit the supposed norm."
"I will certainly do that, Mr Hutchinson, Mr Starsky. I am sorry that Robbie was upset."
Starsky clearly was thinking of something else to say and Hutch squeezed his arm gently.
"Thank you for listening to our concerns, Miss Somers. Have a good weekend, won't you."
It wasn't until they were back in the car that Starsky spoke. "Why did you stop me?"
"She's Robbie's teacher, we should try and work with her." Hutch put a hand on his partner's shoulder. "We'll get further with her if she thinks we're allies."
"She made him cry." Starsky's petulant tone of voice bore a marked resemblance to his eldest son in that moment.
"She apologised for that. I don't think Robbie will have any more problems."
"We did good parenting today, huh?"
"Yes, Starsk, we did good parenting." Hutch rested his hand on his partner's leg and they drove home. Both wearing their seatbelts.
"We're parents now, Starsk," he had said the first time when his partner complained. "Time to start behaving responsibly."
"Dad, Papa." The two excited boys ran down the hallway to greet their parents. Mrs V walking behind them.
"Hey, Pete, Robbie." Hutch reached out to ruffle Pete's hair and pull him in for a hug, while Robbie held up his arms to be lifted.
Starsky obliged, lifting the boy high into the air. Giggling, Robbie wrapped his arms around Starsky's neck.
"I'm glad you're home, Daddy."
"So am I, Robbie, and you won't have any more trouble with Miss Somers."
"She's going to let me make you a card?"
"Hundreds of them if that's what you want," Starsky murmured into the boy's hair. "Hundreds and hundreds."
"I know why don't we do something special this weekend, huh? It is fathers day after all," Hutch said.
"The zoo?" Pete said hopefully. "Papa, you said next time we go somewhere we were gonna go to the zoo."
"No, the science museum. Please, Papa." Robbie twisted round to look at Hutch.
"Why not both," Starsky suggested. "Zoo in the morning, museum in the afternoon."
"Yeah!" Both boys cheered at the top of their voices and Hutch winced.
"That's going to be a very full day. So I think you two had best go and get ready for bed." Hutch smiled as his sons raced each other up the stairs.
"Sounds like you four are going to have a lot of fun," Mrs V said. "Those two will run you ragged tomorrow."
Starsky grinned. "I think you're right. How much do we owe you for the extra hours?"
The woman shook her head. "Nothing. Consider it a fathers' day gift. I'll see myself out. Oh." She turned back towards Starsky. "I put a supper for you two in the oven. Half hour and it'll be ready, plenty of time to get the boys into bed first."
"Mrs V, you're a peach," Starsky declared, stepping forward to kiss her on the cheek.
Hutch waited for the woman to leave and then he pulled Starsky into his arms. His partner's lips were warm and sweet, every bit as sweet as the first time they had kissed each other. At first Hutch had thought it was a mistake but then Starsky had kissed him a second time and then a third.
"It will be our anniversary soon," Hutch said. "Do you think Mrs V would look after the boys overnight for us? Maybe we could book a hotel."
Starsky smiled. "I'll ask her but I can't imagine she'll say no, she loves them almost as much as we do."
"Daddy, Daddy." Two childish voices called from upstairs.
"Bedtime story time." Starsky disappeared upstairs and Hutch, following his nose, went into the kitchen.
He stood by the window and gazed out at the yard beyond. From upstairs he could hear the low mumbling of Starsky's voice as he read to Pete and Robbie. His heart was full of love, both for his sons who had filled a hole that four years ago he had not even been aware of, but also for the wonderful man who had chosen to share his life. He was happy, Hutch realised, he was finally happy.
Minutes later Starsky slipped his arms around Hutch and the man lent back into the embrace. His heart overflowing with gratitude and love.
"I love you, Starsk."
Starsky pressed his lips to Hutch's neck. "Love you too."