by librathree (8231282)
Gen, mushy, 2,258 words.
ETA: There's not much here, but comments are welcome. Including criticism. I'm a big girl; I can take it.*g*
Hutch closed the door behind him with a sigh, glad to be alone although he wasn’t sure why. After giving Starsky his ‘present’ and joining in the general amusement, he’d grown gradually irritated with the joyful noise and bustle at the Ramos place. The tree lights strained his eyes, the laughter and caroling hurt his ears, and the random comings and goings of Maria Ramos’ countless jolly relatives chafed his nerves. After Starsky left to visit his aunt and uncle, Hutch made his own farewells with a promise to take Molly and Kiko to a movie the next weekend.
Now he leaned against his door and breathed in the silence and peace – for a moment. Inevitably, with other distractions erased, the issue that had been bothering him all along welled up in his mind and stomach like magma.
Starsky’s face. Not at the moment he’d realized what the present was, and not when everyone laughed – he’d laughed along, gamely. But the moment right between those two – between startlement and grudging good-humor – the moment when Starsky’s expressive face fell. Just a little, invisible to those who didn’t know him well, maybe, but clear as a cry to Hutch.
He pulled off his jacket and threw it on the couch with a snarl. No sugar-coating it. Hurt. Starsky had been hurt. And he’d done it.
It was stupid, the stupidest, most trivial matter in the world, and he hated that it was eating at him like this. No grown man needed presents at Christmas, for God’s sake! He didn’t have to cater to the whims of any 35-year-old child, not even his partner.
Then why is it bothering you?
Hutch stopped, realizing he’d been stomping around the room during his mental tirade.
He looked at the forlorn little Christmas tree on his table. “Fuck.” His own damn’ apartment was mocking him. He sat on the back of his couch and flipped his legs over to slide into a disgruntled lump on the cushions. He reached out one hand, clicked on the tree lights, and stared blankly into them.
Molly, bent over her father’s body in the alley, grieving with the control of someone who’d grieved a lot. Molly, saying her father never loved her, in the same tone you might observe that your favorite team always lost. Starsky, insisting on taking her shopping for presents, constantly singing those ridiculous Christmas songs, shoving turkey and stuffing into his face like a kid.
Flying backward from the impact of a hitman’s bullets. Lying on the floor, still, in a spreading pool of dark blood. Flat on his back, white-faced, barely breathing, minutes from death by slow, inexorable poison.
Hutch shuddered, looked at the phone reflexively. He had to blink fast to make it come into focus, realized in those moments that Starsky was probably still at his aunt’s house. Celebrating. He’d probably forgotten all about what Hutch had done.
“Shit.” Hutch knew better, knew like a knife in his chest. He got up, grabbed his jacket, and headed for the door. Then remembered it was Christmas Day.
“God damn Christmas,” he muttered, then stopped, laughing at himself. He dropped the jacket and looked around the room, his jaundiced gaze replaced by a look of calculation.
*** *** ***
Three days later Hutch was banging away at his prehistoric typewriter when Starsky sauntered into the squadroom and hung his jacket over his chair.
Still typing, Hutch listened to his partner pour a cup of coffee, then said, “You’re late.”
Starsky looked at his watch. “Not by my watch I’m not. And I’d like to point out that my watch cost a hell of a lot more than that piece of junk.” He nodded toward the wall clock.
Hutch got up and pulled the finished report out. “Come on. Cap’n Dobey wants us to talk to whatsername about those high-rise burglaries on the west side.”
“How’re we gonna find her?” Starsky said, deadpan. “You know how many whatsernames there are in the phone book?”
“Whatsername,” Hutch repeated, as if that clarified things. “You know, used to be the bearded lady at the circus?”
“Oh yeah.” Starsky’s scowl cleared. “Whatsername.”
“That’s her. Dobey thinks she’s heading a burglary ring with a bunch of ex-circus people.” Hutch grabbed his coat and came around the desk, scooping up Starsky’s jacket and draping it over his partner’s shoulders. “Let’s go.”
“Like acrobats, trapeze artists?” Starsky said. “That’d explain how they get in where they’re gettin’ in.” He drained the coffee and made a face. “Okay, let’s get swingin’.”
“Clown,” Hutch muttered. They banged out the door and strode down the hall side by side, and he waited a measured six steps before saying, “Hey. Doin’ anything tomorrow night?”
Starsky blinked. “Nah. Why?”
“Well, I got a new recipe I want to try out.” Hutch shrugged. “No sense cooking just for one.”
“So you wanna test it on me to see if it kills me before you use it to lure some unsuspecting woman into your bed?” Starsky said. “Oops. I mean, arms?”
Hutch said nothing. One side of Starsky’s mouth smiled.
*** *** ***
Head in the oven to check on the turkey, Hutch barely heard the knock on the door. He turned to yell, “Come in!” then went back to prodding the big pan with both oven-mitted hands, trying to make room for the smaller pan of rolls.
Finally he squeezed both in, then turned around to see his partner standing in the doorway, staring at the strings of colored lights draped around the rafters and the tiny, richly bedecked Christmas tree twinkling on Hutch’s circular coffee table – with one big green-foil-wrapped box, complete with silver bow, resting prominently beneath.
“Close the door, will ya,” Hutch said, smiling. “You’re letting flies in.”
Starsky jumped, glanced at his friend and shut the door, advancing timidly into the room.
“Hutch …” he attempted.
“Sit down,” Hutch said, returning to the kitchen. “Dinner’ll be ready in about 15 minutes. Want a beer?” He pulled out the glossy brown turkey and put it on the stovetop, then demitted himself and set the timer.
Silence. He turned again. Starsky had managed another two steps into the room, but he still looked ready to bolt.
Hutch covered the turkey, passed a critical eye over the table to be sure everything was ready, then collected two beers from the fridge and went into the living room. He handed a bottle to his partner – who took it automatically – then clinked his own against it and smiled.
“Merry belated Christmas, partner.”
Starsky glanced right, then left, as if trapped. “Uh … am I on Candid Camera or something?”
“No, you’re not on Candid Camera or something.”
“Hutch, what’s all this about?”
“It’s about you and Christmas. And you and me.”
Starsky’s voice went small. “You did all this for me?”
Hutch smiled, although a part of him acknowledged that his recent behavior had earned his partner’s surprise, and he wasn’t proud of that.
“Yeah, I did it for you,” he said. “Something wrong with showing my partner how much I appreciate him once in a while?”
“Well, no, but –” Starsky looked hard at him. “Are you sure you’re okay? You’re not – I mean, is something wrong?”
Hutch responded to the seriousness of his partner’s tone. “Starsk, there’s nothing wrong. At least, nothing I can’t try to fix by giving you the Christmas I should’ve given you last week. Sit down. Relax. It’ll be a few minutes before the rolls are done. You can open your present.”
Starsky pulled off his jacket, working it deftly around the beer, and draped it over the back of the couch. “Present.” The word was an accusation.
Hutch followed him around the couch, watched as Starsky sat down, gingerly pulling his gift onto his lap, making no move to open it.
“Now you gonna tell me what’s going on?”
Hutch sat next to him. “You don’t want to open your present first?”
Starsky fingered the bow as if it might bite. “Hutch, I’m afraid to.”
Hutch sighed. He knew Starsky was kidding – mostly – but he also knew he’d earned the distrust. He set his elbows on his knees, turning his beer bottle back and forth between his fingers.
“I know you’re wondering what’s going on—“
“I’m wondering what you gotta tell me that’s so bad you feel like you gotta do all this first,” Starsky grumbled, taking a long pull at his beer.
“Nothing bad,” Hutch insisted. “It’s ... it’s just … Molly and her dad. You know?” He glanced at his attentive partner, saw by the softening of his expression that he understood.
“Starsk, I didn’t plant that tree in your name to be an asshole. I really didn’t. I thought I was … making a gesture, not compromising my principles against the commercialism of Christmas.” He snorted. “That was what I meant to do. I didn’t mean for it to be a slap in the face to you.”
He forced himself to look at Starsky, to show his remorse. True to form, Starsky flushed as if he had done something wrong.
“I know you didn’t mean it as an insult,” Starsky countered, his fingers running nervously along the edges of the box. “At least, I knew it after I got over feeling insulted.”
Hutch shook his head. “Looking back, I don’t see how you could’ve taken it any other way. I’m sorry, buddy. It wasn’t meant like that.”
“Is that what all this is about?” Starsky asked, incredulous, gesturing around the festive room with his beer. “Couldn’t you just, you know, apologize?”
Hutch smiled. “I just did.” He sipped his beer and Starsky did the same, careful, Hutch noted, not to drip on his present.
“No, this isn’t about that. I just wanted to say that first. I’ve got a lot of makin’ up to do to you.”
A comical expression of disbelief tweaked Starsky’s face. “I got no idea what for, but I ain’t gonna try to stop you now.”
Hutch’s smile grew. “Okay. Part two. Molly and her dad. I mean, Molly losing her dad. It just reminded me of how important love is. And how fragile it is.”
Starsky’s posture eased. “Hutch, you gotta know you don’t need to go to all this trouble for me to know you love me.”
“That’s not quite it either,” Hutch said, shaking his head.
“You mean you don’t love me any more?” Starsky pouted.
“Of course I do – idiot,” Hutch said, realizing four words too late – thanks to his own guilty conscience – that he’d been suckered. “Open your present.”
Still wary, Starsky ripped the package open, piling the wrappings neatly on the table beside the tree, and opening the box to reveal—
“The sweater! You got me the sweater I wanted!”
“Careful,” Hutch warned as Starsky grabbed the green knit sweater by the shoulders. “Something else is wrapped in it.”
Starsky delicately unfolded the thick sweater to reveal a gleaming HO scale caboose, nestled safely in soft green cotton. His hands fell to his sides.
“And my caboose,” he said. “You got me my caboose too. Hutch …” He looked at his partner, beaming, eyes shining.
“Merry Christmas, buddy,” Hutch said. This was what it was about. He didn’t understand how he could have forgotten that, but he vowed to himself he never would again. “And I’m sorry it’s late.”
“That don’t matter,” Starsky said, his voice thick with emotion. “I mean – Hutch, you know you don’t ever have to buy me anything—“
Hutch laid a staying hand on his partner’s arm. “I don’t feel bad about not buying you presents. I feel bad about refusing to do a small thing that would give pleasure to the most important person in my life. If I make nonmaterialism a more important principle than love – if I make some abstract point more important than you – my priorities are really screwed up. It isn’t about presents, about things. It’s about … I wanted to see that smile on your face and know that I’m the one who put it there. That’s all.”
“You say the sweetest things, Blondie.” Starsky grinned. “No wonder you can charm all those ladies into your lair.” He carefully set the caboose aside and pulled out the sweater, hugging it to his chest with the whole-body enthusiasm Hutch loved to see.
“No ladies tonight, pal,” he said softly, seriously. “Just you and me and the Christmas we should’ve had in the first place.”
The timer dinged, and they both jumped.
“You know what they say,” Starsky remarked. “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.” He made a show of peering at Hutch’s back and Hutch pushed him away.
“Goofball. That bell just means the rolls are done.” He got up and hauled his partner to his feet. “Come on. Let’s eat.”
“I donno, Hutch,” Starsky said as he followed him. “I think I can see ‘em sproutin’ back here.”
“If you’re expecting an angel as a partner, Starsk, you’re in for a world of disappointment.” Hutch collected mitts and turkey and set the bird in the middle of the table.
Starsky paused, as if genuinely considering it.
“I’d rather have you.” He sat down, eyes on the turkey, while Hutch stood, struck by the matter-of-fact honesty of his partner’s remark.
“What’sa matter?” Starsky asked. Hutch shook his head.
“Nothing. Merry Christmas, Starsk.”
And then Starsky, watching him, smiled that smile again.
“Merry Christmas, Hutch.”