A/N: If you've read my other two S&H stories, "The Hero" and "For the Love of a Child", you're already familiar with precious little Ashley. If you haven't, I suggest you go back and read them before letting your fingers flip through these virtual pages; that way, you'll be familiar with Ashley's relationship with Starsky. Enjoy! :)
Ten-year-old Ashley sat in the passenger seat of the Torino, and she glanced at her step dad as he drove her home from the skating rink. Her friend Karen had just turned ten, and her parents had thrown a skating party to celebrate. When Dave walked in to pick Ashley up, Karen had asked, "Ashley, that's your dad, right?"
"My step dad; why?"
"He's just a step?" Karen sounded like she couldn't believe it. "But…you look like him."
The thought had made Ashley smile, but honestly, she had no idea how she looked like Dave. Nobody had ever said that before; then again, most people she knew, knew she wasn't his real daughter. And no matter how much he loved her, it wouldn't make him her real dad.
She remembered her real dad and how abusive he could be, especially after he'd been drinking. After her mom had left him, they'd moved here to California and had met Dave. And he'd tried so hard to prove to Ashley that she could trust him, that he wouldn't hurt her like her dad had. She soon believed him, but it wasn't long before her father showed up and almost killed Dave.
In the fading light, Ashley could just barely make out the scar on Dave's left arm where a bullet had hit him, and she knew there was one to match just below his rib cage. Her father had tried again at the hospital to kill Dave, but Dave's friend Hutch had shot him.
It was a big deal for Ashley to know that he'd never be able to hurt her again, but it was an even bigger deal that before Hutch had even gotten there, Dave had tried to protect Ashley, who'd been in the room when her father attacked Dave the second time.
She glanced at Dave again as her thoughts turned to the night he'd asked her mom to marry him. She'd been so glad her mom said yes, but something else had bothered her.
"Dave," she began when he entered her room to tuck her into bed, "When you marry my mom, will I have to call you Daddy?"
"No," he answered after a moment, "not if you don't want to."
"I love you a lot, Dave, but 'Daddy' makes me think of my real dad."
Dave ran his fingers through her red hair. "I know you love me, Ashley, and me marrying your mom has nothing to do with what you call me. Do you know what it means? It means I get to help your mom take care of you, and tuck you in every night, not just when I come over. And it means that when you get married someday, I get to give you away at your wedding. And you get two people that love you very much, that will come to all of your soccer games and every school play you're ever in. Do you get what I'm saying, Ashley? I don't care if you call me Daddy or Dave, as long as you know how much I love you."
She almost asked Dave if she'd hurt his feelings, but when he kissed her good night, somehow she knew he didn't feel bad.
Ashley also thought about the cop that died a few months ago. She hadn't ever met him, but she knew he'd worked at Dave's precinct. He was a captain and had been killed on his day off. He'd gone to the bank for his wife, and the bank was robbed while he was there. His death had been announced at school the next day, and all of the classes had had a moment of silence for his family.
The rest of the day, Ashley had worried about Dave. What if something happened to him and Hutch? As soon as he'd come home, with Hutch in tow for supper, Ashley had raced from her room into the living room, jumping into Dave's arms as he sat down on the sofa. She'd started crying as he wrapped his arms around her.
"What's wrong?" she heard him whisper to her mom.
"She heard about Captain Jamison in school today," her mom responded softly.
Dave hugged her tightly for a few more moments, then pulled away. "Ashley, look at me. Look at me." He wiped away her tears. "I'm fine. I'm right here, and I'm okay. Nothing's gonna happen to me."
"You don't know that; how you can say that?"
"I do know that, and I can say it, 'cause look." He pointed at Hutch, and Ashley's eyes followed Dave's arm.
"I got Hutch backing me up. Hutch takes care of me every day. He won't let anything happen to me, and he will always make sure I come home safe."
Dave hugged her again, and she did feel a little better, but later that evening, Ashley asked - almost begged - Hutch to make sure he took real good care of Dave.
Her mind wandered to the first time Dave had punished her. It was almost a year ago, just a couple months after the wedding. Ashley had been playing with her soccer ball in the house, and once she kicked the ball too hard. It had knocked one of Dave's ships-in-a-bottle off its shelf, and both the ship and the bottle had broken into a hundred pieces. Dave and her mom had both come from the kitchen into the living room to see what had caused the crash, and immediately Dave had sent her to her room. He joined her a little while later, and he looked angry.
"Dave, I'm sorry. It won't happen again," Ashley said quietly.
"It shouldn't have happened this time." He also sounded angry. "Ashley, you know better than to play ball in the house. What were you thinking?"
"I don't know. I guess I just forgot." Suddenly all the fear Ashley had ever felt for her father welled up inside of her, and she was so scared that Dave was going to take off his belt and beat her with it. She almost didn't hear what Dave was saying now.
"How do you forget? We've told you over and over to practice your soccer outside, and this is exactly why. Ashley, that ship-in-a-bottle was a gift, and a very rare set at that. I don't know if I'll ever be able to replace it."
Tears began to fall from Ashley's eyes, and she moved into the corner of her bed farthest from her step dad. "Dave, I'm really, really sorry. Please don't hit me."
Dave's expression and voice softened. "Hit you? Is that what you think I'm going to do?" He knelt by her bed. "Ashley, you know me better than that. I would never lay a hand on you. I love you too much." He reached his arms out, and she cautiously went into them for a hug.
"I'm sorry too, Ashley. I shouldn't have yelled like that. But what you did was wrong, and you're going to have to be punished. That sleepover at Sarah's house this weekend…you're going to have to tell Sarah you can't come; you'll be grounded."
Ashley opened her mouth to protest, then closed it again when she realized there was no way Dave would be talked out of his decision. Instead, she said, "Okay…I'll tell her when I see her at school tomorrow."
Ashley was brought out of the memory by Dave's voice.
"Hey, we're home. You gonna get out or are you gonna sleep out here tonight?" He smiled his big toothy grin when she looked at him. "You were real quiet on the ride home. Everything okay?"
"Yeah, I was just thinking about some stuff." She smiled back so he'd know she was all right. "Thanks for the ride home, Dave."
They both exited the car, and on the way up the stairs, Dave asked how the party was.
"It was a lot of fun," Ashley responded. She stopped walking as she waited for Dave to unlock the door, and she couldn't help but stare at the scar on his arm. "Hey Dave, can I see your arm for a second?"
He gave her a confused look as he held out his right arm, then switched when he noticed she was looking at his scar. Ashley somewhat absent-mindedly rubbed her thumb across the slightly discolored skin, and after a few moments of doing so, she heard him ask what she was thinking. She didn't answer right away, though; she wasn't sure how to put into words what was on her mind. "I don't know…I guess I was just thinking what your scars remind me of."
Ashley looked at her step dad and smiled. "How much you love me."
Dave knelt down and rubbed his hand gently across her cheek. "I love you more than anything, and I'd take another bullet for you in a heartbeat."
Ashley thought again about what Karen had said, that she looked like Dave. She knew it had been Karen's birthday party, but Ashley felt like maybe she'd sort of been given the present. Being told she looked like him made her feel like she actually belonged to him, and she really liked that feeling.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, and whispered, "I love you, too…Daddy."