"You're doing this on purpose, aren't you?" Starsky asked his companion.
"What?" Hutch mumbled into his pillow.
"You're sleeping in on Christmas."
"I sleep in everyday."
"Yeah, but this is Christmas!"
Hutch turned over so he could look at Starsky. "We go through this every year."
"And you still haven't learned," Starsky teased, pushing Hutch's arm as if to force him out of bed. "Get up!"
Hutch watched as his partner jumped out of bed, seemingly having the energy of a five year old rather than the sixty-one year old man he actually was.
"You know," Hutch complained, pulling himself out of the warm covers. "You don't have to wait for me every year. You're capable of walking around the house on your own. You've been doing it for years now."
"It's not the same!" Starsky answered excitedly. "It's about the surprise, greeting the holiday together, seeing what Santa brought."
"Santa got lost in New Jersey. He didn't come by our house, okay?"
His partner groused at him. "Stop being a Scrooge."
"Insanity!" Hutch moaned, following his over-eager partner out their bedroom door.
Starsky quickly bounded down the steps, with Hutch slowly trailing behind. There would be no breakfast until Starsky had ripped through every present under the tree. The sacrifices he made for love.
"I want to open your sister's present," Starsky told him.
"Bring it over to the couch," Hutch said, sitting down.
Laura had sent back a package with them when they were out there for Thanksgiving. She told them that they were not to open it early, but as the days went by Starsky's curiosity began to get the better of him. He had to find out what was inside and he had to find out now.
"You want to do the honors?" Starsky asked, placing the gift on Hutch's lap.
"After watching you chomping at the bit for a month? No thanks, you take it."
Starsky quickly grabbed the present, ripping into it with a wide smile. Wrapping paper, tissue paper, it was all pulled away to reveal what was inside.
"Hey, look!" he picked up the card that lay on top. Opening it, he read aloud. "To Ken and Dave, the two best brothers a girl could have." He smiled at that before setting it aside to see what else the box held. "Hutch, look!"
His partner's eyes were drawn to the gift. Hutch picked up the silver frame and was struck by the picture it held. It was of Hutch smiling brightly and holding his three year old nephew in his lap. Starsky was sitting beside them, eyes beaming with joy as he held their newborn niece in his arms. The frame was engraved with one simple word, Family.
"This is..." Hutch began.
"Beautiful," Starsky finished.
"We were so young back then. And look at how tiny the kids were. That was, what? 1983?"
"Around that, yeah. Man, that was a lifetime ago."
"Seems like it," Hutch agreed.
"And now they're all grown up, going to college. Next thing you know we'll be going to their weddings."
"Don't say that word," Hutch groaned. "You're already making me feel old enough as it is."
"Years are marching on," Starsky teased. "It's how you use them that counts."
Hutch nodded. "We'll call them tonight, talk to the kids."
"Yeah, that'd be nice," Starsky said, looking down at the picture again.
They had indeed been young back then, embarking on the first years as their relationship took a turn. Everyone was feeling each other out before that Christmas, seeing where they fit within each other's families. But Starsky knew, they both knew, that the first time he heard the words Uncle Starsky was the answer to all his questions. He was part of the family, accepted by Hutch's sister.
"Ready for more?"
When Starsky silently agreed, Hutch got up to retrieve the gifts. He brought over the presents one by one to place them in a pile near the couch, their tags showed names of all their friends. Huggy, the Dobeys, Rosie Dobey-Harris and her husband, Cal Dobey and his wife, their neighbor Samantha, their friend Victor and his daughter Sally, and many more were in the pile.
One by one they were opened, revealing small and large items to add to their household. Some clothes, gift certificates, a few small items that they had their eye on for a few months. They were all opened and each was met with fond memories of their senders. Soon, the pile was done and all that was left was their own exchange. They had decided to limit their gifts to each other since they had put money into smaller gifts throughout the year.
"I know we promised that we'd only get each other one present this year," Starsky said, reaching for the gift intended for Hutch. Handing it over, he continued. "And technically it's only one gift."
Hutch opened the box and was taken aback by what he saw. Two rings, nestled together, one silver and one gold. They almost looked like wedding bands. There were stone chips on both bands, alternating colors, but it looked like there were less of them on the gold one than the silver.
"Starsk," Hutch breathed, unable to say much else.
"The stones are our birthstones, sapphire for you and bloodstone for me." Starsky took the box away from Hutch, taking out the silver band first. "Did you know that this year was our 25th anniversary?"
"Keeping track?" Hutch joked.
"Silver band for a silver anniversary." He slipped the ring on Hutch's finger, where it fit perfectly. "There's twenty-five stone chips on this one, one for every year we've been committed to one another as lovers."
"Best years of my life."
"When I got shot, a lot changed for us, but the one good thing that came out of it was us, together forever."
"Forever," Hutch promised.
Starsky smiled, picking up the gold band next. "There's ten chips in this one, five of each. They represent the ten years we knew each other before."
"Every year since the Academy, together as friends."
Starsky leaned in for a soft kiss before pulling back, Hutch's hand still in his.
"And every year we can add another stone to the gold one until we reach our golden anniversary," Starsky told him. "This is just the beginning."
He touched each ring again. "Friends," Starsky said, touching the gold. "Lovers," he said, touching the silver. Starsky touched both rings, "Partners."
"They look perfect," Hutch said, admiring the rings as they seemed to join on his finger. "Like they belong together, just like us."
"You really like them?" Starsky asked. "I know we promised to be simple this year, but it's special and I wanted to give you something that..."
"I really liked them," Hutch assured him. He took another look at the rings before continuing. "I have something to give you, but it's something I've had for a long time."
"Something old, something new." Starsky smiled at him.
Hutch reached under the sofa and brought out a book. It had a worn appearance, but no notation as to what there was inside. No title, no words, nothing but the pure black leather surface.
"That looks familiar."
"You remember that journal I used to keep in the Academy?" Hutch asked him, absently running his hands over the leather cover.
Realization dawned in his eyes. "Of course," Starsky replied, smiling. "You were writing in that thing every night. Colby kept asking you if you were writing a novel."
"I guess, in a way, I sorta was." He handed the leather-bound book over to his partner. "I just didn't realize where the story would lead."
Starsky traced the smooth cover, opening it tentatively as if he wasn't sure what he would find inside.
"You didn't have this before. Where were you keeping it?"
"It was in the stuff back home," Hutch told him. "After Van, I packed up a lot of the stuff and sent it to my sister, remember?"
"This was in it?"
"Yeah. I found it during Thanksgiving when you were out with the kids. Laura said she was holding it for me all these years."
Starsky just nodded, accepting, as he looked at the book. The pages were all written by Hutch's young hand. Starsky stopped on one in particular.
August 14th, 1969—
Maybe I made a mistake coming to the Academy. I can't help thinking that I'm just running away from Jake's memory, but there was nothing for me at college. I have to make it on my own, prove myself. Helping people, doing good for the world, that's what I want. Maybe being a cop is what I'm supposed to do. Or maybe I'll fail and have to run back home like everyone expects. But either way, I have to find out for myself.
My roommate, Colby, thinks I'm pushing myself too much, but what's the harm in that? He's good at what he does and the instructors notice. Him and that other guy, David Starsky, are blowing us all away on the firing range. I'm lucky if I land in the middle. But Starsky doesn't seem to let it matter so much. He's a good shot, but he never holds it over the rest of us. I'm not quite sure what to make of him. Colby's friends with him, they go out drinking sometimes. How'd a kid from New York get to handle a gun so good? And how did he end up half-way across the country in the Academy? Lots of questions, but I've never really looked for the answer. I'm too caught up in making the grade that I don't have time to make friends.
"That's the first night I went out drinking with you two," Hutch told him, tracing a line along the page. "I found out the answer to my questions that night, too."
"Beer helped," Starsky mumbled.
"You were pretty keyed up the whole time, asking me about where I came from and how I got there."
"And then you asked me why a kid from New York was out here and I clammed up," Starsky said.
"But you told me eventually, told the whole story and made me admire you all over again."
Starsky looked up, into his partner's eyes. "You admired me?"
"Of course I admired you," Hutch responded gently. "Here I was, a young kid totally out of my element and then there was you. You knew what you wanted and why you wanted it. Determined, strong..."
"And scared half to death."
"Never let it show."
"One of my better qualities, I guess," Starsky half-joked, starting to flip through the pages again. Time passed by on the pages, changes occurring in the way Hutch talked about the Academy, about his place there, and about Starsky.
August 29th, 1969 —
Colby left the Academy today. Starsky and I tried to talk him out of it, but he said that he wasn't cut out for police work. He's going to join the Air Force and be a hero, according to him. I wish him luck, but I really wish he would have told us why he had the sudden change of heart.
I knew we shouldn't have left him alone these past few nights, but it's not like we didn't try to get him to come out with us. Every time we asked he would beg off and we didn't think anything of it. In a way, maybe we were selfish, we definitely had more fun when it was just Starsky and me. Maybe Colby's right, though. Maybe he wasn't cut out for the police force, not like me and Starsky. The whole time we were planning on what we'd do once we were out on the streets, it was always the two of us and Colby. He was becoming the third wheel and we didn't know how to change it. I hope he finds what he's looking for in the Air Force. I certainly found what I was looking for in the Academy . The Three Corsicans are down to two, but isn't that the way it was supposed to be anyway?
"You think Colby felt left out between us?" Starsky asked.
"I think he knew that he didn't fit in anymore. And maybe he was looking for a place to fit in, somebody out there who was just as good a friend to him as we were to each other."
"Wish he had found it," Starsky sighed.
"Can't change the past, Starsk."
"I know," he said, looking up. "I wouldn't change ours for anything, but I can't help but wonder why other people couldn't be as happy as us."
"We've been really lucky."
"Yeah, we have," Starsky said, leaning in for a kiss. "I couldn't imagine my life without you."
Hutch leaned in, smiling against his partner's lips. "You're getting mushy in your old age." Pulling back, he turned the pages to the back so that Starsky could see the rest of his present.
"What's this?" Starsky asked, looking at the collection of pictures filling the back pages.
"Us, through the years."
Images dotted the pages, captions underneath telling a story of their lives as the two men changed, aged, but ultimately seemed to remain the same. Academy graduates, standing tall in pressed uniforms, gave way to friends hanging out at the bar, to the partners standing amongst others at a barbeque, older men dressed in suits at a friend's wedding, partners sitting together on the front steps of their new home. Memories melded together with captures of their life spread over the years. And then Starsky got to the last page of the journal. There, in Hutch's strong hand, was a final entry.
December 2nd, 2004 —
Starsky's asleep upstairs as I sit writing this. He's getting more and more excited as the holiday nears. I have to wonder where all his energy comes from, a young soul eternally. Even after all these years, he's stayed the same at heart. That's what amazes me time and time again. So much pain, so much destruction we've seen in our lives, and he still looks at the world with love and wonder. He still looks at me with love and wonder, too. I hope he never changes that either.
We've grown up together, grown older and wiser, but we're also grown closer. I never expected my life to lead to such places, to experience this much love and joy in one lifetime. He is the reason for that, the reason I feel like I'm 30 again and can take on the world. As long as he's with me, I can do just that. Together we've gone to the ends of the earth and back, never giving in, because we had each other. How can I fathom my life without him? I can't, I won't, because he is my life.