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Oh, Holy Night

Written by Valerie Wells

It never fails, Hutch thought a little sourly as he strapped on his holster and flung a jacket over his shoulder. Christmas Eve, and here I am getting ready to go to work.

It wasn't that he didn't understand the logic. He and Starsky were single and the single cops routinely took the holiday – and the overtime pay – so the married cops could spend time with their families. They'd reciprocate on New Year's, and in fact, Starsky and Hutch were off both New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. And usually Hutch didn't mind the arrangement.

Every year he griped to Starsky about the Christmas "euphoric sentimentalism" and the commercial spirit that spoiled the holiday's true meaning for him, but the fact was – Hutch sighed as he coaxed his car to start – he did miss those big family Christmas celebrations they'd always had when he was growing up. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all together for dinner. Piles of presents. A big tree – a real one, too, not artificial.

His parents still sent a big box of presents every year, and always thoughtfully included a couple for Starsky. And Hutch usually managed to get home for a visit in January, but by then Christmas was over, the tree had been thrown out, and the relatives had gone home.

Maybe I'm getting old, he thought. It wasn't like him to get this melancholy and homesick. For pete's sake, he'd lived away from home for almost 15 years now. And in those 15 years, he'd only spent a handful of Christmases at home. And it had never been like it was when he was a child, because he didn't have that wonder anymore.

Still....

Starsky, of course, was all alight with Christmas kitsch. He was even wearing a Santa hat which made Hutch groan out loud when he got into the car with him.

"Oh, for cryin' out loud, Starsk. You aren't going to wear that on duty!"

Starsky just grinned, undisturbed. "Yes, I am. Come on, Hutch, it's Christmas!"

Hutch rolled his eyes, started the car, and proceeded to completely ignore his partner, in spite of Starsky's steady stream of Christmas songs. Hutch sat mute through "Rudolph," "Silver Bells," and "Winter Wonderland," but when Starsky started singing "Hark the Herald Angels Sing," Hutch couldn't contain himself anymore.

"For Chrissake, Starsk, you're Jewish!"

Starsky grinned again. "If you wanna sing 'Hava Nagila,' I won't mind."

"I don't know 'Hava Nagila.'"

"I'll teach ya." Starsky drew breath to launch into it, but Hutch held up a hand and he didn't. "Aw, Hutch, what's the matter with ya? What makes you hate Christmas so much?"

"I don't hate Christmas," Hutch said mildly.

"You act like you do."

"Well, I don't." Hutch turned on the car radio, since the police radio was mercifully silent (Maybe all the bad guys are home wrapping presents, Hutch thought with an inward grin), but when it poured forth John Denver's voice singing "Please, Daddy, Don't Get Drunk This Christmas," he snapped it off again.

"If you don't hate Christmas," Starsky said, inexorable, "then why are you such a damn Grinch about it? You won't get a tree. You won't buy presents, except those awful, practical 'duty gifts' you send home to your family. Last year you sent your niece house slippers, Hutch! She's four years old!"

"Karen said she needed them," Hutch protested.

"What a little kid needs her mom and dad can buy for her. At Christmas, she wants 'Uncle Kenny' to send her something fun," Starsky said sternly. "What'd you send her this year?"

Hutch flushed to the roots of his hair. That sentimental streak he couldn't account for that had surfaced this year had driven him to the toy store for the biggest, most beautiful doll he could find. Kristy was going to love it. But he felt like a hypocrite.

"A doll," he finally admitted grudgingly.

Starsky's mouth fell open. "Really? You sent her a doll? I'll be damned, Hutch. Maybe you're human after all."

Hutch rolled his eyes.

"What'd you get your mom?" Starsky asked curiously.

"A sweater." Hutch absolutely refused to elaborate, no matter how Starsky wheedled. He simply would not tell his partner that he'd splurged and sent his mom a cashmere sweater the same sky-blue color as her eyes. She, too, would love her present, but Starsk'd never let him live it down if he admitted he'd done such a thing.

And he'd endure torture before he'd admit he'd gotten Starsky a present this year, too. A real present. No silly certificate announcing a tree had been planted in his name. He'd found an antique caboose for Starsky's train set that was going to make those blue eyes pop out of his curly head. He had the present stashed in the trunk and he wasn't going to give it to Starsky until they got off work and he was letting Starsky out at his apartment. Then he was going to hand it over and get the hell out of there before Starsky had time to react. Though he did wish he could watch his face when he opened it...

It was getting dark, and the houses they passed were beginning to light up with Christmas displays. Starsky was goggle-eyed, and kept pointing out each display to Hutch, as if Hutch couldn't see them otherwise.

What a big kid you can be, buddy, Hutch thought fondly, though he kept his eyes resolutely on the road and pretended to be as grouchy as ever. He wished...it was stupid. He felt stupid expressing it even to himself. But he wished he could let go and let the child inside of himself out as easily as Starsky could. The houses were beautiful, even though Hutch had never gotten used to Christmas displays on lawns that were green, under trees with leaves still on them. He missed the snow.

I'm dreaming of a Minnesota Christmas, he thought with a grin that didn't stay inside this time.

"Whatcha smiling about, buddy?" Starsky asked.

"I was just thinking how weird it looks to have Santa and his reindeer flying along under palm trees," Hutch said, more or less truthfully, as he pointed toward a house with that display on the lawn.

Starsky grinned. "You're right. It kinda taxes the imagination."

They had a quiet night. One or two domestic disturbances. A couple of vagrants they took to a homeless shelter. A stolen car that turned up, unharmed except for an empty gas tank. It was getting close to the end of their shift when Hutch turned down a downtown street for one last pass through the district.

Starsky had reached for the radio to call in and log them out when he froze mid-movement. "Hutch."

"Hmmm?" Hutch was watching his side of the street, but he turned his head at the urgent note in Starsky's voice, expecting to see something going down on the other side. But Starsky was staring longingly at a large church on the corner, lit up and glowing, with people going in. "What is it, Starsk?"

Starsky turned to look at him. "Let's go to the service, Hutch."

Hutch stared at him. "You're kidding."

"Huh-uh." Starsky had that pleading look that usually got him whatever he wanted from most people, but Hutch wasn't most people.

"Starsky, we're on duty."

Starsky tapped his watch. "Not anymore. It's almost 11." He picked up the mike. "Zebra Three, Control. Log us out at 10:58 p.m."

"10-4, Zebra Three. Logging you out at 10:58. Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to you, too," Starsky said warmly. He hung the mike back on its hook. "There. We're not on duty now. Please, Hutch."

"Why in the hell," Hutch demanded, "do you want to go to a church service? Starsky, you're–"

"Jewish," Starsky finished, half-impatiently. "I know that, Hutch. But when I was livin' with Aunt Rosie and Uncle Al, we always went to midnight service on Christmas Eve. It's part of what I associate with Christmas. And this year..." he paused and dropped his eyes. "I don't know, Hutch. I been feelin' kinda..."

"Homesick?" Hutch asked, more sympathetically. Starsky's aunt and uncle had retired and moved to Oregon to be near their son. Hutch knew Starsky missed them more than he let on.

Starsky shrugged one shoulder. "Yeah. I guess."

Hutch pulled over into the church's parking lot and shut off the car. "Okay, buddy. Let's go to church."

Starsky stared as if he couldn't quite believe his ears, but it didn't take him long to recover and scramble out of the car. Hutch put a companionable arm around his shoulders and gave him a quick hug before they walked into the warm, incense-scented sanctuary. They took seats near the back, and Hutch unaccountably felt moved to cross himself. Starsky glanced at him, but didn't comment.

The quiet, candle-lit service, with all the pomp and ceremony the church could muster, soothed something in Hutch's spirit that he hadn't known was even there. The minister's resonant voice reading the story from Luke faded, for Hutch, into the voice of Linus from "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and that made him smile and wish he'd bothered to watch the cartoon when it was on television a few days ago. He hadn't seen it in years.

And then, one by one, the lights were extinguished and the acolytes walked down the aisle, lighting the little hand-held candles everyone had been handed at the door. A soprano with an operatic-quality voice in the balcony sang "Oh, Holy Night." Then a young man with longish hair appeared and sat down on the chancel in front of a microphone and strummed his guitar. And as he began to sing, the congregation joined in.

Silent night

Holy night

All is calm

All is bright

Hutch knew all three verses without needing a hymnal. His strong tenor rang out with the other voices, and it wasn't until near the end that his voice faltered and tears came to his eyes. Starsky, singing along, glanced at him again, and reached out unobtrusively to put a comforting hand on his back.

After the service, the people streamed out in silence. Starsky and Hutch also were silent, until they'd returned to the car and Hutch had started it.

Finally, Starsky said, "You okay?"

Hutch nodded. "I don't know why I..." he shook his head. "Guess it's just been a while since I went to church."

"Feel better now?"

"Yeah." Hutch smiled at him. "Thanks."

"For what?"

"For that," Hutch said, hooking a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the church. "For making me go. You thought I didn't know what you were up to, didn't you?"

Starsky had the grace to blush, but he also grinned. "Aunt Rosie and Uncle Al did take me to church on Christmas Eve."

"But you really wanted to go to make me go."

"Well, yeah."

Hutch smiled at his partner, then he turned on the radio and he didn't even flinch at Karen Carpenter's rendition of "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire..." And when he pulled up outside Starsky's apartment, as Starsky started to get out, he said, "Hang on a sec, Starsk." He got out, too, and opened his trunk. He pulled out the gaily wrapped little package and handed it to Starsky. "Merry Christmas, buddy."

Starsky gaped at him, then at the package, and made no move to take it.

"Well, go on. It's not a tree this year," Hutch added with a grin.

Starsky suddenly grabbed his arm and pulled him toward the stairs that led to his apartment. "No, not yet. You come up with me and let me give you yours at the same time."

"Okay." Hutch allowed himself to be led up the stairs and when Starsky opened his door and motioned Hutch ahead of him, Hutch gasped out loud. Starsky had his apartment decked out like a department store's decorations department. His tree glowed with hundreds of lights. More greenery festooned every surface. He even had a toy reindeer about the size of a child's rocking horse, with a wreath around its neck. "Good grief, Starsky," Hutch finally said. It had been several days since he'd been inside Starsky's place. This looked like it had taken hours to arrange.

Starsky grinned, a little self-consciously. "I hoped you'd come over here for Christmas dinner tomorrow, and it was gonna be a surprise then. But I figured, it's Christmas now since it's after midnight, and if we're gonna exchange presents..." He suddenly dived under the tree and came up with a little package, whose bow was as big as it was. "Merry Christmas, buddy."

Hutch handed Starsky his present and took the little box. Starsky, of course, immediately tore into his present like an excited child and the look on his face when he saw the little caboose was worth all the trouble Hutch had gone to to find it for him.

"Wow, Hutch! God, this is terrific! It's exactly what I wanted, where'd you find it...?" Starsky went on, all but babbling, turning the car over and over and exclaiming over it. Hutch grinned, well satisfied with the reaction. But then Starsky looked up. "Ain't you gonna open yours?"

"I wanted to watch you open yours," Hutch admitted, but he carefully tore off the wrapping to reveal a jeweler's box. He stared at the cover for a moment before pulling back the lid to reveal a fine silver chain, and attached to the chain was an elongated silver piece that was shaped like a shark's tooth.

"I thought that looked like something you might like," Starsky said quietly, "and they say wearing a shark's tooth protects you from danger."

Hutch lifted his eyes to Starsky's for a moment before lifting the chain from the box and putting it around his neck. He smiled at Starsky. "Having you watching my back protects me from danger," he said. "Merry Christmas, partner."

The End

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