Starsky leaned over to unlock the passenger door for his partner. They were headed back out on the streets for the last hour of their shift after finishing the latest round of paperwork.
"I think I'm scarred for life after that last one, Hutch," Starsky said as he started the car.
They'd just arrested their third Santa of the day, and while it was California, a minimum amount of clothing was still required. A Santa hat alone wasn't anywhere near enough and it hadn't even been a strategically placed Santa hat. It had been Starsky's tackle that had finally taken their streaking Christmas-present-stealing thief down and he still couldn't get the image out of his head.
"Me, too," Hutch agreed. "Hell of a take-down though," he said, smiling at his partner.
Starsky reached for the radio in search of some holiday cheer, only to have Hutch knock his hand away.
"Do you want to live 'til Christmas? Because I swear, if I hear Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree one more time, they will never find your body. And I am a cop; I know all the good hiding places."
"Speaking of which," Starsky said, "it's not under the tree again, is it?"
"Nope. And you already looked there. You should just give up already; you're not going to figure it out this year," Hutch said with confidence, sure that he'd win this year's version of their holiday competition.
As many good traditions do, it had started by accident with Starsky driving Hutch crazy bugging him about his Christmas present. The first year, Hutch had hidden it in the bottom desk drawer at work only to have Starsky complain that was too easy. After that, the game had been on and it had been evolving ever since.
The basic rule allowed Hutch to hide Starsky’s present in any mutually accessible location, but once hidden, it couldn't be moved. Starsky's present for Hutch was always under the tree, "Where presents belong, Starsk. That is, when they're for people who don’t go around shaking boxes and carefully peeling back tape so they can peek when they're not supposed to. Santa doesn’t bring presents to naughty little boys."
Santa might not but Hutch was a sucker for naughty little Starskys. But, although he enjoyed buying his partner presents, having Starsky open them before Christmas just wasn't right, and Hutch thought it his duty to keep Starsky from peeking. One year, Hutch actually had hidden Starsky's present under the tree, mixed in with the ones from family and friends. Starsky found it a week later but Hutch fooled him the next year by doing the exact same thing. Now, last year’s hiding place was the first location Starsky checked, and under the tree was a running joke. They'd never really kept score but Hutch figured it was about fifty-fifty, just like the rest of their partnership.
The gold necklace had been the easiest to hide; he'd carried it with him. That led to a ban on that strategy going forward, although Hutch had argued that since they lived in each other's pockets, that counted as a mutually accessible location. The 1/10-scale radio-controlled monster truck had been the hardest. In retrospect, the out-of-season order of five large bags of mulch had been a dead giveaway. Starsky had found it in the greenhouse the next day.
“Still got five more days to figure it out.”
“Four, Starsk. We’re off for the whole weekend starting on Friday.”
“Got plans for you for Friday.” Starsky smiled at the lecherous look on Hutch’s face. “Not those kinds of plans, although I’m sure we’ll get around to that, too.”
They both laughed. “Wanna take you somewhere for the day. We can do Christmas with the feast and presents and all the trimmings on Saturday," Starsky said.
Hutch knew Starsky was up to something but since it was a Christmas something Hutch wasn't too worried. “Sure. We've got four days off to have our Christmas before we have to be back to work."
Christmas was on a Wednesday and they were scheduled to work through the holiday and Thursday the 26th with Friday through the next Monday off before working again over New Year's Eve and Day. It could have been worse but Hutch didn't mind working the actual holidays. They always had their own celebration whenever their work schedule allowed for it and Christmas had pretty much taken over the whole month of December anyway. Sappy as it sounded, he was just happy to be spending it with his partner.
Sunday they'd head over to the Dobeys' for a late post-Christmas lunch and would probably wind up at Huggy's afterward. The motley collection of friends and family he'd acquired in Bay City was worlds away from his childhood back in Duluth and Hutch wouldn't trade them for the biggest tree heaped with presents he'd ever had growing up.
"Zebra Three, Zebra Three."
Hutch picked up the mic. "This is Zebra Three, go ahead."
"Corner of Washington Boulevard and Marr Street. Hit and run. Suspect heading south on Washington Boulevard. Suspect is a white male, approximately five-foot seven, with red hair, wearing an elf onesie and a reindeer hat. Considered armed and dangerous; just held up Marina Del Ray Quick Stop with a knife. Carrying knife and a plastic bag when he jumped out of the car."
"10-4. Zebra Three responding," Hutch replied to Dispatch, then said to Starsky, "Day just got weirder," as he slapped the Mars light on the roof.
"Christmas Eve isn't even until tomorrow," Starsky said, shaking his head and gunning the engine.
Reindeer slid off the dashboard into Hutch's lap as Starsky took the corner. "Your Christmas cheer is attacking me," Hutch complained.
"Just trying to get you in the spirit, schweetheart."
"Someday some cop is gonna pull you over for distracted driving with all that--" Hutch waved at the collection on the dashboard—reindeer, menorah, tiny tree, mistletoe. "Surprised you don’t have the three wise men up there, too."
"Aw, come on Hutch, everybody knows they don’t show up until January sixth."
"And that's how long you're going to leave this stuff up, isn't it?"
Starsky just grinned, a little too ferally for Hutch's taste. They'd both learned which battles to pick over the years, not that they had that many. Christmas was one Hutch had lost long ago but he found that he didn’t entirely mind the surrender.
Two blocks later, they caught up with their suspect and this time Hutch was the one to take him down. Thankfully, this one stayed clothed, although the resulting paperwork made them an hour late getting home.
"I don’t suppose getting you to close your eyes is an option?" Starsky asked, as he started the car. It was their first day off after the holiday shift.
"I love you, Starsk. I would, and have, jumped into a dumpster with you. I will fight Dobey and anyone else for you. I'd die for you. But I’m not getting into your car with you driving with my eyes closed."
"Was worth a try," Starsky conceded with a smile.
Hutch didn't really care where Starsky was taking him. It promised to be a lovely day, temps in the 60s, and more sun than clouds. They weren't chasing anyone, they were together, and it was still the Christmas season even if it was two days after the actual day. Life was good.
Once they got to San Marino Drive, Hutch had a pretty good idea of where they were going and as soon as they turned onto Oxford Road he was sure. He didn't say anything though, not wanting to ruin the surprise. Starsky loved giving presents almost as much as he loved getting them and Hutch knew he had put a lot of planning into this. And he must be real excited about giving this one, seeing as he'd volunteered to wait until tomorrow to open his own gift.
Starsky glanced over. "It's okay, babe. I know you know where we're going. I just hope you like it."
"I can't remember the last time I've been to the Gardens. Always mean to go and never seem to get there," Hutch said as they parked near the entrance.
"Open up the glove compartment," Starsky told him as he turned to look at Hutch.
Hutch did and found an envelope with a membership card for admission to the Huntington Gardens for a year.
"It's good for two people and you can come anytime you want. Figured I'd go with you sometimes but I know you; it'll be good for you to come and wander and clear your head when things get to be too much. Commune with the plants and nature and all that stuff that makes you happy." Hutch was speechless so Starsky continued, "Know you like your gifts to be under the tree, but I figured you wouldn't mind this year."
"It's perfect, Starsk. Absolutely perfect," Hutch choked out, looking over at Starsky, who was smiling his huge grin at him. And it was--not just the gift or giving up a free day to be with Hutch at the botanical gardens when Hutch knew Starsky would rather be at the movies or the beach--but knowing Hutch so well he could give him the perfect respite, a place to go and just rest and be. And he knew Starsky would give him the time and space to go whenever he needed it.
"Wish I could kiss you." Hutch settled for squeezing his thigh as a promise for later. "Thanks, Starsk, this is wonderful."
"Let's go kibitz with the flowers. Although if you wander into the gift shop, you're on your own," Starsky warned him.
Tucking the envelope in his pocket, Hutch got out of the car and Starsky followed, but instead of walking to the front gate, Hutch went to the back of the car and opened the trunk with his key.
"Can you check under the blanket in the back?"
Starsky started rummaging near the tire jack.
"No, over to the right. I think I left something in there." Hutch stood back and admired the view as Starsky bent over, and then almost had an armful of partner as he jumped up, Christmas present in hand and a broad smile on his face.
"How long has it been in there?" Starsky asked, laughing.
"Since mid-November," Hutch replied, an answering grin on his face. He was very pleased with himself.
"You mean to tell me that I've been driving around with my present in the trunk of my car for the last month and a half?" Starsky was gently shaking the box and holding it up to his ear.
"Yep. Gotcha, Gordo. Gotcha good this year."
"You're amazing, blondie. All the years we've been doing this, I think this is the best place you've ever come up with."
Hutch had no idea how he was going to top this next year, but he'd worry about that then. "Aren't you going to open it?"
"Thought I had to wait until we celebrated our Christmas tomorrow," Starsky replied, although from the way he was vibrating, Hutch knew there was no way he was going to last another five minutes, let alone until tomorrow.
"It's December 27th, so unless you want to wait until next year…"
Hutch hadn't even finished his sentence before Starsky ripped through the silver snowflake paper. "A Canon T80. Wow, this is awesome!"
"I was going to wait until tomorrow but I thought you might want to try it out here."
Starsky already had the camera out of the box and was halfway through installing the batteries. "This is incredible, Hutch. I love how you know me so well. Ooooh, film. And a case, too! You thought of everything. Thanks, babe." Starksy chucked the box back in the trunk and slammed the lid. Camera safely around his neck, he pointed it at Hutch. "Smile, " he told Hutch with a grin of his own.
And Hutch smiled back, content to let Starsky take as many pictures of him as he wanted in the warm California sunshine. It was two days after Christmas with a lifetime of joy yet to come and as long as Hutch had his partner, there would always be a reason for celebrating.