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Tuesday, February 3, 1981

The sun was setting over the bay, igniting the clouds with a riot of celebratory color. The sand glowed with a warm orange hue, and even the air itself seemed briefly tinted with gold.

David Starsky leaned back on his hands and smiled contentedly. He knew it was a transitory thing. In a moment the sunset would fade, and the warm colors would cool as the shadows slid in, but that didn’t diminish his current feeling of wellbeing in the slightest.

Below him on the beach, he could see Becky chasing Monster. The dog had something, a stick maybe, and she was trying once more to teach him to play fetch. He would happily run after anything she threw, but he never ever gave it up once it was in his possession. In a while, Starsky thought he might try to entice her back to the house.

An odd thing had happened last night. She’d stared at her hands with a bemused expression and said, “My fingers feel funny.” Then she bent her head to stare down the length of her rather lovely body and said, “My feet, too.” And just when he’d been starting to wonder what in the world he’d done to her, she suddenly laughed and said, happily, “You made my toes tingle!”

It was true that it was possibly one of the strangest compliments he’d ever received in bed, but he still liked it. It was definitely something that warranted further investigation.

A familiar sound behind him caused him to turn and look over his shoulder at the cottage. Sure enough, Hutch came into sight after a moment, his red-faced, angry infant in his arms. The kid was talented, certainly. He could cry like a champion, for hours on end. Starsky waved to his friend, and wearily, Hutch changed direction. He slogged over and dropped down heavily onto the sand next to him. He turned the baby around so that he was braced against his knees. The grim annoyance in Hutch’s expression was contradicted by the gentleness of his grip, and the care with which he supported the child’s head.

They stared in silence at Jack’s ferociously howling face for a minute, and then Starsky leaned over and said, “You know, I think he’s loud enough, we could strap him to the top of the Torino instead of the cherry.” He grinned at Hutch’s surprised laugh, and then reached over to take the baby. “Ah, give him to me. I bet I can get him to tone it down a little.”

It was a safe bet. Starsky and Dawn were getting along cordially these days, but there was one sore point remaining between them. And that was the simple fact that Starsky was better than any of them at getting the child, however briefly, to stop crying.

Hutch, having none of his ego tied up into how well he could handle his own son, was more than happy to hand the infant over. “He just never quits, Starsky. Ever.”

Dawn was trying her hardest to manage him, but between the physical drain of nursing, and the lack of sleep, it was clear she’d reached her limit. When Hutch had arrived home this evening, she’d been waiting at the door for him. She thrust the baby into his arms and said, “He won’t need to eat for at least two hours. I’m going to bed!”

I must have been insane to think I ever wanted more than one.

“Oh, sure he does. You get a minute here, a minute there.” Starsky wrapped his hands around the baby’s torso, his fingers behind the tiny boy’s head, and held him up where he could see him clearly. Jack’s looks had not improved appreciably in his first eight weeks of life. He’d gained weight and he’d lost the cone-head look, but his skin had acquired a rather startling case of spots and it was peeling in places. He had indeed lost all of the downy hair on his body, as predicted, but he’d also lost patches of it from up top, as well. He had a bald spot on the back of his skull from rubbing his head restlessly back and forth on his crib mattress. He also still cried tearlessly, a fact that gave him a particularly fierce look.

Defying all of the maternity nurses’ wisdom, his eyes had only lightened and turned bluer after birth. He definitely had Hutch’s eyes, and as far as Starsky was concerned, the baby was showing a fair bit of Hutch’s character, as well.

“He’s always miserable,” complained Hutch.

“He’s got colic! He’ll outgrow it.” Starsky draped the baby facedown over his knees and bounced his legs. Jack’s high-pitched screams gradually faded to a steady grumble that wavered with the movement of Starsky’s knees, “Urh-urh-urh…”

Starsky drummed his hands on the baby’s well-padded rump and laughed as the sound varied in time with his beat. “This is fun!”

“Starsky…” warned Hutch, ominously. “You’re hitting my baby.”

“Aw, he likes it.” Starsky turned the baby over in his hands and jiggled him, leaning back on the sand so that he could stand the infant on his stomach. Wide blue eyes stared at Starsky’s face, as if uncertain as to what exactly was happening here. “Hey, Hutch! Your baby’s a genius! He’s already walking!”

“That’s a reflex.”

“Well, he ain’t crying, anyway.” The child’s arms were splayed out to either side of Starsky’s hands, and his face was rapidly disappearing into the neck of his sweater. It was one Starsky had made, though only Hutch, Dawn and Becky knew that and all of them had been sworn to secrecy. He’d knitted it in navy blue and the front had the letters BCPD stitched on rather crookedly. It was much too large for the baby, but Hutch had rolled up the sleeves nearly to the shoulders, and Starsky knew Jack would grow into it before long.

Jack’s face crumpled, but before he could decide to start wailing, Starsky flipped him back over his knees and began bouncing him again. “Ah-yah-yah-yah…” said the baby.

Hutch wondered if it was simply that, by jostling him like that, Starsky was preventing Jack from ever taking in a big enough gulp of air to let go with a real wail. Maybe that grumble was the only noise he could make when he was being bounced. Whatever the case, it was certainly less irritating than his regular high-pitched scream, the one that grated on his nerves like a buzz saw.

Starsky was drumming on Jack’s back as he said, “So, I never got a chance to congratulate you on that decision by IA.”

Hutch gave him a disbelieving look. “Starsky, you know exonerating me was a political move. They should have taken my badge, but they didn’t because it would have looked bad for the department.”

“They didn’t,” said Starsky, firmly, “because every cop in that room has a family of their own, and they all knew they’d have done the same thing you did, if they were in that situation.”

The baby on his legs suddenly let loose with a burp that would have been worthy of the most disgusting old drunk ever found passed out under a bar. Sudden damp warmth engulfed Starsky’s knee and he realized that the infant had spit up. Actually, ‘barfed’ would have been more descriptive of the volume and consistency. Jack stopped complaining and looked pleasantly surprised by this unexpected turn of events.

Hutch passed over a pale blue flannel cloth with yellow ducks printed on it. “But, the commissioner saying he committed suicide, Starsky? For crying out loud, even if it was hyperbole, it was a dumb thing to say!”

“Sure he did,” Starsky’s grin had teeth. “The moment Reg decided to threaten Becky and Dawn, and this little guy, was the moment he chose to step in front of that gun. It just took a while for the bullet to get there, that’s all.”

Hutch groaned and flopped limply backwards onto the sand. He folded his hands on his chest and closed his eyes. He was quiet for so long that Starsky thought he’d gone to sleep, but then he said, “I saw a part of myself under those docks that I don’t like very much.”

“So, the armor’s a little tarnished,” said Starsky, lightly. “You’re still the white knight.”

Hutch’s response was only a quietly dismissive snort. He was too tired to debate this. Between work and Jack, he was discovering entirely new levels of exhaustion. At least Missing Persons allowed him a certain amount of flexibility, though, in his insistence on using his skills as a homicide detective on every single case, Starsky had somehow managed to turn an assignment ‘for ancient or defective guys’ into the kind of job that could have easily occupied an entire department. He’d even been talking to the FBI, lately.

If this were grade school, the other kids would be laying in wait for him after class to pound on him for being such an over-achiever. Well, maybe once. Then they’d know better.

The baby was quiet. Starsky leaned forward and realized that his eyes were closed and his breathing had leveled out. “Hey,” he whispered, excitedly. “Jack’s sleeping! Hutch, why don’t you go back to the house and get some sleep yourself?”

Hutch shook his head, without opening his eyes. It would mean hauling his sorry carcass off the sand and dragging it all the way home. That was too much effort. He was comfortable here.

He drifted for a while in a haze of contented exhaustion, in a place between sleep and wakefulness. Somewhere in the distance, Monster barked, and beside him, he heard his baby begin to fuss. Starsky’s voice gradually inserted itself into his consciousness, a constant murmur of words. “… You know, you shouldn’t mind what the rest of them say, because I think you’re really cute. You’ve got great eyes and terrific dimples, and I love what your face does when you’re trying to figure something out…”

Hutch pried his eyes open. “Huh?”

“Do you mind,” asked Starsky, with an air of slightly offended dignity. “Jack and I are having a private conversation here. Go back to sleep.”

Hutch shrugged and settled back down into the sand. He was sliding once more into unconsciousness when, distantly, he heard Starsky saying, “Now, listen up, because there’s a thing or two I wanna tell you on the subject of girls…”

Fade to Black