He placed the ant farm on the top of the bookshelf and shook his head again. Starsky was such a kid sometimes. What the hell was he supposed to do with an ant farm, of all things? Maybe he should be thankful it hadn't been a kitten. Hutch smiled, a feeling of tender indulgence sweeping through him. It was times like this that he felt a hundred years older than his partner, almost parental in a strange kind of way. On the job, Starsky was as hard-nosed as they came if he needed to be. But let Christmas or his birthday roll around and suddenly he was ten years old again.
Holidays meant very little to Hutch. He remembered them as the loneliest days of his childhood—lost, empty days of expensive gifts and.... He shook his head to clear away the memories and turned back to the living room, where Starsky sat sprawled on the couch.
The dark head was bent, something about the slump of the shoulders bringing a frown to Hutch's face. Maybe he shouldn't have gone so far with this surprise of his. Although Starsky had put on an air of indifference, Hutch knew he had been deeply hurt by the impersonal nature of that damned tree-planted-in-his-name thing. At the time it had seemed like a funny idea. But now....
"Hey." The word choked on the lump in his throat. He tried again, "Hey." The blue eyes turned to him, wide and solemn. "You ready?"
"Yeah, let's go." Starsky stood up and walked to the door. There was a plodding quality to his step, the cushion of air on which he usually seemed to float, gone.
"Starsk?" Hutch moved up behind him, placing a hand on the nape of his neck and squeezing.
"I...I like the ant farm," he said lamely. He couldn't wreck things at this point, but somehow knowing everything was going to be okay in a few minutes didn't make this moment any easier.
"Really?" A slight smile lifted the corner of Starsky's mouth as he looked at Hutch.
"Yeah, really." He ruffled the dark curls and then pushed his partner out the door, pulling it closed behind them. "Come on, the Captain said five o'clock, and we have to stop by your place for Cal's and Rosie's gifts."
"Five's kinda early for dinner, isn't it?"
Hutch shrugged and started down the stairs. "Drinks first, I guess." White lie. Actually, the Dobey's weren't expecting them until eight, and then only for drinks. Everyone had helped with his plan, though. He only hoped he'd given Huggy enough time to get everything ready.
Dusk was falling as the Torino pulled up at the curb in front of Starsky's apartment. The reindeer ornament danced madly, and Hutch smiled, wondering if any other police car in the city sported such a thing.
"Be right back," Starsky said, opening his door and climbing out.
"I'll help you carry the packages." Hutch got out of the car and followed him up the stairs.
"They're not that big, Hutch."
"Then I'll look at your decorations."
"Huh?" Starsky threw him a puzzled glance as he inserted the key in the lock.
"Call it euphoric sentimentalism."
Euphoria was bubbling inside him as they stepped into the dark room. He actually felt giddy, ready to laugh aloud. Starsky switched on the light and stopped, total surprise wiping his face blank of all expression for a moment. A huge Christmas tree, sparkling with tinsel and multi-colored bulbs, stood in the middle of the living room. All around its base and across half the remaining floor space the tracks of a model train looped and curved. Two separate sets of cars, complete with cabooses, chugged along their separate paths, running through tunnels and over bridges.
"What the...." Starsky took a couple of steps toward the tree, and then turned to stare at Hutch in wide-eyed wonder.
Hutch smiled at him, feeling happier than he had in years. "Welcome to Westside Park," he said, watching an answering grin spread like sunlight across his friend's face.
"You're weird," Starsky said, his voice slightly husky, the grin fading. A flicker of something unfamiliar leaped in the blue eyes, turning them dark and strange.
An odd pain constricted Hutch's chest. "Didn't I get the right kind?" he asked. Something to bring the moment back into focus.
Starsky blinked, and nodded quickly, turning back to the miniature world spread out across the floor. "Exactly right."
"Well, let's see what it can do." Hutch shrugged out of his jacket and threw it on the couch before kneeling down by the elaborate transformers. "We could play Casey Jones."
He looked up at the serious face and sat back on his heels. "Yeah?"
"Why'd you do this?"
"Euphoric sentimentalism," he answered lightly, glancing down as one of the trains passed in front of him. A hand descended on his head, sliding down to the base of his neck.
He felt the warmth of a blush spread up his face and kept his head averted to hide the tell-tale sign of his emotions. "You gonna show me how to run this thing, or let me learn by trial and error?"
"Don't you touch anything. I'll be right back."
He watched as Starsky vaulted the couch, seeming to float over the obstacle. The cushion of air was definitely back.
"You're not messin' with it, are you?" Starsky called from the bedroom.
Hutch jerked his hand away from the control switch he'd been about to trip. "No."
Starsky reappeared, carrying a brightly wrapped package. He sat on the floor by Hutch and held out the parcel. "Here."
Hutch accepted the gift, hurriedly grasping it more tightly as he almost dropped the unexpectedly heavy box.
"What's this?" he asked, meeting the smiling eyes.
"Your Christmas present."
"But you already gave me my gift."
"That was just for fun. This is the real thing."
"Go on, open it."
Hutch set the package between his knees and tore off the wrapping, revealing a black leather case. He clicked the catch and lifted up the lid. His vision blurred and he blinked rapidly before reaching out to gently finger one of the exquisitely sculpted stone figures. The chess set he'd wanted for months. Light caught the striations of mineral, throwing flash-points of brilliance into the room. He looked up, finding the even more brilliant light of Starsky's eyes on him.
"I took a real risk buying that, you know."
"'Cause those things are gonna hurt when you throw 'em at me next time I win."
Hutch grinned, drawing in a deep breath. "Dreamer."
Starsky grinned back at him. "Merry Christmas, babe."