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"Here you go."

Davy looked up, and up, at the man he had been told to greet as Uncle Joe. Unsure, he leaned back against his father's knees.

"Go on, Davy." His father knelt down and gave him a slight push. He took a step forward, causing him to have to crane his neck back even more to keep 'Uncle Joe's' face in view.

As if realizing this, the strange man knelt down as well. He had bright eyes like Davy's father had, above a rough, jovial face. Automatically, Davy reached out to touch it. The man jerked back and Davy heard his mother gasp. But his father only chuckled, so Davy pursued until he could run his hands over the man's big stubbly chin in fascination.

He smiled back at the crinkled blue eyes, and he giggled when the man in turn traced a line down Davy's forehead, ending with pressing his nose down like a button. He made a 'beep' sound with his mouth at the same time, and Davy laughed delightedly.

"Now will you take this?"

This time, Davy paid better attention to what Uncle Joe held in his hands. It was a creamy yellow teddy bear, almost as tall as Davy was. Its eyes were shiny black and round, and it had a real sewed-on nose above its stitched mouth. Eagerly, Davy opened his arms and accepted it. The fur was soft. It smelled clean and sunshiny.

"Thank you, Uncle Joe," he said, without prompting. He hugged the bear to him close.

***

"Here. For you."

David looked up. "What's this?" he asked suspiciously around his cigarette.

"Don't know. Maggie said you'd like it."

His wariness eased, and he took more of an interest in the foil-covered bowl John had brought over. From experience, John was an even worse cook than Aunt Rosie. Maggie, however, was god's gift to menfolk's tastebuds.

The porch swing creaked and swayed a bit as John sat down beside him. "How are you holding up?"

David almost dropped the bowl as he accepted it. "Fine," he mumbled.

"That's good." John didn't try to force him to say anything more. David liked that about him. "Your aunt know you're smoking again?"

David scowled at the sharper tone, but he turned away and stubbed out the butt quickly, hiding his brief flash of shame. "What she don't know won't hurt her," he grumbled, shooting a quick glance at the front door. With his uncle in the hospital, he doubted his aunt even noticed what her wayward nephew got up to lately. Anyway, the smokes helped him to get rid of the smell of antiseptic and sickness.

Clearing his throat, David folded back the foil to peek inside. His "Oh, wow!" of appreciation was shocked out of him. Golden yellow, covered thickly with dark jam, the sight came close to making tears well up in David's eyes.

"Something like crepes?" John inquired. "Maggie said your mom gave her the recipe. She's been messing about in the kitchen all morning working on those."

"It's, uh-- They're blintzes." David smiled and leaned forward to sniff up the heavenly flavor that smelled of home.

***

"Here he is."

Starsky gave a skeptical glance toward the doorway. Colby stood and waved over a tall blond man with a starched shirt collar and a long-legged no-nonsense stride. He looked like he'd just marched out of a Nazi camp.

Pausing for a moment to shoot Starsky a frown, the man greeted his friend instead. "Hey, Colby. You said you wanted to get together a study group?"

Colby spread his arms, encompassing the three of them and the round library table. "This is it."

Starsky didn't try to hide his snort of derision at blondie's pinched expression.

The man bristled. "You have something to say?" he demanded.

"Do you?" he challenged back, standing. He was no more than an inch shorter, for all the other guy's stiff-backed length. "You been lookin' at me like I'm somethin' you scraped offa your shoe."

"Well, from where I'm standing, you're lucky I haven't decked you one."

"Oh, you'd like to try, wouldn't you!"

"Hey, whoa!" Colby cut in, squeezing his sturdy body between them. Starsky hadn't even realized how close they'd been, enough to literally spit in each other's eyes. "C'mon, Starsky, you want to pass that next test, don't you? Hutchinson here has the highest marks in our year. You know that. And you," he said, poking Herr Hutchinson in the chest, "What's got your goat, anyway?"

The fair-colored man looked about ready to explode. "You'd better ask him that."

Starsky sniffed. "Oh, I've heard it all before. We're stealing your jobs. We're taking over your government. We're all dirty, money-grubbin' scoundrels out to scam your families and eat your babies. Have I got it?"

"What?" The man blinked a few times, rapidly. Then his scowl returned, even darker than before. "You think I'm some kind of bigoted jerk or something?"

Starsky crossed his arms, a niggling of confusion interfering with his righteous anger. "All I know is, you've been givin' me the evil eye, an' with us hardly having said two words to each other." Colby looked back and forth between the two of them like a man sitting on top of a grenade lever.

Hutchinson pointed an accusing finger at Starsky. "You and your asshole buddies threw my bike off the roof last week. Don't tell me you don't remember that. You may have been drowning in a brewery at the time, but I heard you laughing about it yesterday at lunch."

"Your... bike?" Realization hit Starsky. Last weekend, while Colby had gone home, Starsky had hooked up with a few other cadets to get smashed and have a little fun. Part of the fun had been hurling more and more creative objects off of the three-story academy rooftop. "Oh my god. That piece of junk was yours? We thought it'd been abandoned."

That was, apparently, the wrong thing to say. Hutchinson's face went frosty.

"That piece of junk was the only way I had to get here, and you guys wrecked it. I've had to walk all this past week. My wife says I oughta skin whoever did it, future cop or no, and I'm not too sure I disagree with her."

"N-Now, wait a minute. We saw that bike in the same spot every day since we got here. And it was even there on the weekend. How could we know it belonged to somebody?" Starsky tried to put more reasonableness into the words, but a guilty conscience did not a steady voice make.

"It was there because I'm here early and staying late every day to study and train and practice -- yes, even on the weekends -- unlike you bunch of buffoons. Why do you think I have those top marks?"

"I just..." Starsky shrugged. "I just thought you were smart."

"Which is exactly why we should form a study group together," Colby broke in smoothly. "Hutchinson can help us figure out a better study regimen. And if we all work together, maybe he can get home earlier every day, too." He looked straight at Starsky with a warning in his eyes. "Speaking of which... I'm sure Starsky and the fellas will replace your bike. Right, Starsky?"

"Yeah, of course! Brand new. I promise." He would find the guys later and collect some money. He felt honestly bad about the incident now.

Hutchinson grimaced, seeming somewhat mollified. "You don't have to get a new one. Second-hand is fine."

"Oh, no. We ain't getting you another dingpot like your last baby. That thing was about ninety percent rust, and the wheels hardly had any spokes left. It woulda fallen apart on you pretty soon anyway." He ignored Hutchinson's look of renewed outrage. "We gotta get you a sleek ride. Somethin' that will impress your lady. Get a custom paint job on it. Racing tires. One of those drink holders and a horn." He was starting to get into it now. "Matchin' helmet and gloves. Hey, do you have a pair of shades yet?"

"Wait, wait!" Hutchinson looked faintly horrified. "I don't want to look like Evel Knievel. Just get me a nice, sturdy bicycle, okay? Maybe something with a basket for my books."

"Like a little girl bike?" It was Starsky's turn to cast a look of shock on the other man. "Hell, Hutchinson, why don'tcha just put some tassels on the handlebars and stick flowers in the spokes?"

To his surprise, Hutchinson smirked. "Because then some kid like you might steal it."

"Ha. Ha." Starsky scowled, but mostly for show. He was relieved that Hutchinson seemed to have forgiven him. "Hey, I am sorry. I'm not kiddin' around about that."

"Sure," Hutchinson said, gruffly. "You didn't know."

"And I'm sorry about what I said. Earlier."

Hutchinson regarded him for a moment with raised brows. Then he smiled. The look lit up his face, making his formerly ice cold eyes sparkle and his sunny hair sort of shine. "Sure," he said, more warmly than the first time.

Starsky grinned back. "Guy who rides a rustbucket like that can't afford to look down on anyone else, huh?"

He saw Colby tense and glare at him out of the corner of his eye, but Hutchinson only cuffed Starsky over the head, this time with a half-smile.

Starsky shuddered suddenly as a thought occurred to him.

"What?" Hutchinson asked.

"I was wonderin' what your taste in cars is like."


END.