YES, VIRGINIA HUTCHINSON, THERE IS A SANTA CLAUS

Title: Yes, Virginia Hutchinson, There Is a Santa Claus

Author: Elizabeth Helena

Series: Starsky & Hutch

Rating: PG-13 for language that will get me on the naughty list.

Gen or Slash: Gen with room for slashy interpretations. Hey, it’s canon!

Warning: The final draft was written under the influence of influenza and way too much Christmas chocolate (hey, starve a cold, feed a fever).

Spoilers: "Little Girl Lost" and "Sweet Revenge." What? You don’t think Molly was one of Gunther’s hired guns?

Disclaimer: It’s not my fault, I swore I’d never write a Christmas story! However, the fanfic gods knew I couldn’t resist Starsky when he pouted. So sue them, not me.

Summary: Hutch doesn’t believe in Santa Claus. Starsky is determined to change all that.

Notes: This is a Secret Santa Story for Izzie West who wanted the words Candle, Rose and Snow used, and Hutch h/c. She was kind enough to forgive my interpretation of these requirements.

Beta: Rebelcat, who was a very good girl this year and got me involved in a whole new fandom, which led to me writing my very first Christmas story … wait a moment! Rebel!

Further Thanks to: Adrienne who provided a safe haven while I had my annual Christmas flu bug, and inspired the ending. Also, Derek McCormick’s book "Christmas Days" was an essential source of Santa related trivia.

Feedback/Critique: Sugar plums and coal can be sent to elizabeth loves her thesaurus @ hotmail.com (no spaces) or on whatever list you found it (no ant farms).

Archiving: Just south of Santa’s Workshop, North Pole, Canada (Yes, Santa is Canadian) at http://rebelcat4.tripod.com/index.html

Quote:

"The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live."

George Carlin

____________________________________________________

Yes, Virginia Hutchinson, There Is a Santa Claus

 

December 1st, 1979

"Guess what, Hutch? I got a job!" Starsky yelled from his livingroom.

Hutch looked up from the mess of crumpled receipts and check stubs spread over the kitchen table. "What are you talking about? You’re still on medical leave until January."

"I’m talking about the best damn job in the world, partner!"

Starsky bounced into the kitchen, and Hutch bit his lip to stop himself from telling him to take it easy. Instead, he said, "That was Burrito Heaven on the phone, and they want you to be their new spokesman?"

"I’m going to be Santa Claus!" Starsky swung around one of the kitchen chairs and straddled it. Hutch noted that he did so without any signs of physical discomfort. "Social Services holds a Christmas Eve party for the kids waiting for foster homes. The guy who played Santa retired this year, so Perky just offered me the job."

"Santa Claus?" Hutch stared at him in disbelief. "Are you nuts?"

"Look, Mr. Grinch, just cause you’re not a big fan of Christmas doesn’t mean the rest of the us share your cockamamie opinion."

"It’s not that, I’m just worried --" Hutch snapped his mouth shut.

Shit.

"What else is new?" The question was light-hearted, but the look in Starsky’s eyes was not.

Hutch wanted to kick himself. Starsky had made tremendous gains over the last few months, but was still sensitive about any reminders that he wasn’t yet one hundred per cent, especially from his "overbearing, worry-wart, mother-hen of a partner." Hutch tried not to be that way, but Starsky’s impatience with his physical limitations made it very difficult. After his release from the hospital, he’d stubbornly resisted renting this bungalow by the canal, until he’d collapsed on the stairs of his old apartment and had no choice but to follow his partner’s suggestion. At least he hadn’t grumbled when Hutch had installed multiple phone lines in the single story house.

"I just think you should take it easy for a while longer, Starsk, that’s all."

Starsky refused to be mollified. "Hutch, if you’re worried about me being Santa for one afternoon, how are you going to handle me going back to work next month?"

Damned if I know.

Hutch thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick. "It’s only desk duty to begin with. You’ll have more time to heal before you’re back on the streets."

"It’s been over six months, Hutch. I think I can handle a couple of kids sitting on my knee." He slapped one of his jean-clad legs for emphasis. "And in case you didn’t notice, I didn’t get shot in the lap."

Hutch sighed, and tried a different tactic. "You do remember you’re Jewish, right?"

"So? It’s not like I’ll be dressing up as the baby Jesus or nothin’. Santa’s for everyone, not just Christians."

He knew it was hopeless, but still couldn’t bring himself to surrender. "And what are you going to do when the kids ask you to name your reindeer?"

"You’re the one who can’t keep them straight, buddy." Starsky rose to his feet, and Hutch observed that he still needed to push upwards on the back of the chair to manage it.

"Oh yeah? Name them right now."

"Hey, I’ve got plenty of time to do the background research. By Christmas Eve, I’m going to know everything there ever was to know about Santa Claus." Starsky left the kitchen, humming a tune that sounded like an unholy marriage between "Deck the Halls" and "Jingle Bells."

Rose Perkowitz, you are definitely on my naughty list.

Hutch stood up and retrieved the white pages from the kitchen counter. He quietly flipped through the pages until he found the listing, then sidled up to the kitchen’s wall phone, and slowly dialled the number.

"And leave Perky alone!"

Hutch turned to see Starsky braced against the kitchen doorway. The look in his partner’s eyes told him to forget about dissembling. Replacing the receiver, Hutch asked, "How’d you know?"

"Lemme think," Starsky cocked his head, "either I gained psychic powers during the three minutes I was dead, and now tour California as the Amazing Starskineski. . ."

I really wish you wouldn’t joke about that, Starsk.

"Or I just know you. So no calling up Perkowitz and giving her hell. I’m goin’ to be Santa this Christmas Eve, and you can’t stop me."

As if I ever could.

Starsky frowned at the kitchen table, as if noticing for the first time the paperwork covering it. "You trying to balance my checkbook again?"

"Emphasis on the trying, buddy. If you don’t start keeping track of your finances, pretty soon you’ll be forced to trade in your Torino for a Volvo."

This warning made Starsky grin. "I’d drive ten tiny reindeer first, pal."

"Eight." Hutch corrected.

"Like you know." Head held high, Starsky left the kitchen again. Minutes later, the sound of enthusiastic singing came from the living area.

"Dashing through the snow, fa, la, la, la, la, la, la!"

It’s going to be a very long month.

 

December 10th

"So, I was talking to Perkowitz today." Starsky said, pushing the broccoli to the side of his plate.

Hutch had noticed while cooking dinner that his partner was unusually subdued. He felt a moment of hope. "Your Santa gig fall through?"

"You wish. No, Perky’s boyfriend Al had to go home to Arizona early. His dad had a stroke."

"That’s rough. Is his Dad going to be okay?"

"Still in the hospital. Perky’s keeping in touch with Al by phone, and she’ll be flying out on Christmas day. She’d leave earlier, but her boss is already on vacation, so she’s practically running the whole show down there. Plus organizing the Christmas Eve party for the kids on her own."

"Too bad." Hutch wished he could be more sympathetic, but he was still annoyed at Perkowitz. Starsky should be relaxing during the last of his medical leave, not volunteering to have dozens of sugar-hyped kids jump all over him.

Starsky sipped his milk. "Yeah, and now she’s short a volunteer."

Hutch lost his appetite.

Please God, no.

"Al was going to be my elf, but now he can’t . . ."

"Tell me you didn’t."

"Shit, Hutch, what’s Santa without elves, or at least one?"

"Starsky, I can’t be an elf!"

"Well, not yet. You’ll need a costume, and maybe a hat or something."

Hutch glared at him. "I’m 6’1", Starsk."

Starsky snorted. "In your dreams. Or in those kinky cowboy boots of yours, maybe."

Hutch counted to ten, and took a deep breath. "The point is, I'm not short."

"So?"

"Elves are short."

"You think Santa discriminates against tall elves?" Starsky shook his head. "Not this Santa, I’m bringing affirmative action to the North Pole."

"Then why don’t you get Huggy Bear to volunteer?" Hutch asked between gritted teeth.

"Can’t. He’s busy being Santa for his younger cousins that afternoon."

"What about Dobey?"

Starsky shook his head again. "Busy too."

Then Hutch remembered he had the perfect excuse, and relaxed. "Sorry pal, but I can’t either. I’ll be working Christmas Eve so cops with families won’t have to."

"Don’t sweat it, Hutch, Dobey’s already got all the Christmas Eve shifts covered. Said that when he’d heard Perky wanted me to be Santa, he figured I’d need you for back-up."

Harold Dobey, you’re on my naughty list too.

"Listen very carefully, Starsky. Hell can freeze over and be taken over by Frosty the Snowman, but you’ll still be on your own Christmas Eve. I am not volunteering to be an elf."

"Okay, you don’t have to be an elf."

Hutch felt a prickle of uneasiness down his spine. Starsky had given up far too easily. "I don’t?"

"Nah. Perky’s got another costume. Course she was going to wear it, but I think you’d make a much cuter Mrs. Claus."

"Stuff it, partner."

Starsky dropped his cutlery with a heavy sigh. "Fine Hutch, go ahead and ruin Christmas for me."

Christ, give me strength.

"And ruin it for Perky, and all those poor kids too."

Whatever you do, Starsk, don’t pout.

Starsky pouted.

Fuck. Just when did I become a total pushover?

Glancing at his partner’s chest, Hutch remembered the terrible scars hidden under Starsky’s shirt.

Talk about a stupid question.

"Alright," he mumbled.

"Sorry, I didn’t quite catch that."

"I said alright!"

Starsky grinned. "You won’t regret it, Hutch. Trust me, it’ll be great!"

I can see it now, surrounded by screaming brats, while a smug, Jewish Santa reminds me to be merry every two minutes. Yeah, it’ll be fantastic.

Starsky got up from the table. "You really outdid yourself with dinner again, Hutch." He picked up his dishes. "But you forgot it was my turn to cook."

"What?" Hutch shook himself, and the visions from the Ghost of Christmas Future faded. He began gathering up his plates.

"It was my turn to cook. Again."

"Don’t worry about it." He carried his dirty dishes to the sink.

"I’m not, I’m just --" But Starsky’s voice was drowned out by Hutch turning the hot water on full blast.

Taking Starsky’s dishes from him, Hutch nodded toward the livingroom. "I’ve got these, you go relax and watch TV or read."

Starsky stayed put. "Y’know, Hutch, if you’re gonna balance my checkbook and make me dinner all the time, I should just make an honest woman out of you."

"Very funny." Hutch didn’t bother looking up from his task. "It’s bad enough you’re making an honest elf out of me."

"An elf, leastways."

Hutch ignored this last mutter, too busy contemplating an appropriate revenge for Dobey and Perkowitz.

I wonder if it’s too late in the season to find some live turkeys to leave in their offices overnight?

 

December 15th

"Hey Hutch, did you know that in the 1930s, the first college for Santas opened in Albion, New York?"

Seated in the white armchair in Starsky’s livingroom, Hutch pretended to be engrossed in reading the Daily Chronicle newspaper.

"The course lasted a week, and afterwards you got a B.Sc., a Bachelor of Santa Claus."

It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate his partner in full research mode, but only when it was related to a case.

"Charles Howard, the guy who started this Santa school, he also built a factory to manufacture Santa suits."

When Starsky followed his own curiosity, it inevitably led him off the beaten track into a fairytale forest populated with vampires, sasquatches, UFO’s, and now Santa Claus.

"Hey, some of his suits had inflatable rubber stomachs, sewn right into the jackets. I wonder if I could find something like that before Christmas Eve. I bet it would look way better than a pillow."

Hutch almost replied that the chances of finding such a specialty item by then was unlikely, but caught himself in time. At first, he’d commented on the interesting bits of lore Starsky managed to uncover, but he’d learned that playing along was far too encouraging.

"Get this, the best Santa beards were made out of yak’s hair. Says here that they were the ‘gold standard’ back in the thirties, and cost hundreds of dollars. And that was during the Depression!"

Then Hutch had tried just grunting acknowledgements, but the flood of Clausian trivia had not abated.

"Geez, I should go into yak farming or somethin’."

He’d hoped that the silent treatment would discourage Starsky tonight, but he was beginning to doubt its effectiveness.

"Hey, I bet you didn’t know --"

"Will you knock it off!" Hutch threw his newspaper onto the coffee table.

"What?" Stretched out on his couch, Starsky looked up from the book propped open on his chest.

"Starsky, not everyone is as obsessed with Santa Claus as you are."

"Geez Hutch, I’m just trying to expand my mind here. I’d think someone who went to college would appreciate that."

"In college we learned about the real world."

"Hey, this is history. This Howard guy really existed."

Hutch rubbed the back of his neck, trying to release some of the tension there. "But it’s the history of Santa Claus."

"So?"

"Santa Claus, Starsk. Fantasy -- not history, not reality -- a fantasy concocted by a Christian poet and a bunch of soda pop marketers.

Starsky snapped his book shut. "Whaddya mean fantasy?"

Dear God, no.

"For your information, Mr. Doubting Thomas Scrooge, Santa Claus is real."

Hutch stared at him. "You can’t be serious."

His partner’s intense gaze indicated otherwise. "Of course I am. C’mon, Hutch, remember back when you were a kid and you believed in Santa."

Hutch massaged his forehead with his fingertips. "I never believed in Santa Claus."

"You’re telling me you never wrote a single letter to Santa."

"I didn’t." His partner’s look of disbelief forced him to explain. "My parents told me the truth from the beginning. They believed that all the fantasy fed to young kids wasn’t healthy for their mental development, so . . ." Hutch noticed that Starsky was staring at him in genuine horror.

"They never had you hang up a stocking, or read you ‘A Night Before Christmas’? Not once?"

Hutch squirmed in the armchair. "We read ‘A Christmas Carol.’"

"What, your parents didn’t think that Christmas ghosts were fantasy?"

"It was Charles Dickens, so it was considered okay. Besides they explained that the ghosts were a social allegory for . . . Starsky, will you stop looking at me like that!"

Starsky struggled to get up. "Shit, Hutch, you were that kid!"

"What kid?" Hutch asked, more concerned about Starsky’s difficulty sitting up.

"The one in ‘A Miracle on 34th Street.’ You know," he propped himself up with a cushion, "the kid played by Natalie Wood."

"I was not Natalie Wood," Hutch growled.

"Yes, you were. Her mom told her Santa wasn’t real, and then she met the real deal and--"

"You know, it’s not too late for me to return your present." Hutch interrupted him.

"Okay, okay, you weren’t Natalie Wood."

Hutch reached over to pick the newspaper back up.

"She never had a mustache."

"That’s it, your gift’s going back!"

"Oh yeah, like they’ll let you dig up a tree."

I swear, if I hear about that damn tree one more time . . .

"Y’know, Hutch, Perky asking me to be Santa this year was meant to be. I’m going to fix the damage your parents did to you by getting you to believe in Santa Claus!"

"Starsk, grown men do not believe in Santa."

"Sure they do."

"Name one that does." He lifted his index finger in warning. "And you don’t count."

"Dobey believes in Santa."

"He does not!"

"Does too."

"Does -- Oh, for Christ’s sake." Hutch snatched up the Daily Chronicle, and tried to hide behind it.

"Giving up already?" Starsky asked. "It’s cause deep down you know I’m right."

Hutch lowered the paper. "Starsky, if I promise to listen when you find a grown man, and I mean an actual grown up man, not a big kid like yourself, that believes in Santa Claus, will you promise to drop the subject right now?"

"It’s a deal." Starsky settled back onto the couch and re-opened his book.

"I mean it Starsk. No more comparisons to Natalie Wood, and no more Santa trivia."

"No more Santa trivia, gotcha."

Hutch sighed in relief. He turned his attention back to the paper, and noticed an article about the closing of the old age home the Wilson’s lived in. It occurred to him that he’d better bring this to Dobey’s attention tomorrow, just in case the elderly couple decided to protest their retirement home’s closure by planting dynamite in the downtown nativity scene.

"Here’s something I bet you didn’t know, Hutch. The first fake snow in North America was made out of crushed glass."

"Starsky!"

"Hey, this isn’t about Santa Claus." He turned the page. "Geez, you could actually buy bags of pre-crushed glass in pharmacies to decorate your Christmas tree. Pretty wild, huh?"

One of us is not going to make it to the 25th of December in one piece.

 

December 20th

"I am not wearing that!"

"You promised, Hutch."

He glared at the flourescent green outfit spread over Starsky’s bed. "To be a goddamned elf, not fucking Peter Pan."

"Hey, watch your language, Hutch. You wouldn’t want to end up on Santa’s naughty list, would ya?"

"Starsky, there’s not enough coal on the planet to get me to wear leotards!"

"Joe Namath did, and he’s a big, macho quarterback so--"

"Namath wore pantyhose in a commercial, and for a lot more money than you’ve ever seen!"

"I could start a collection at the precinct station. I bet there’s a couple of girls there -- Hutch?"

There was only one room in Starsky’s place which guaranteed any privacy, and he locked the bathroom door behind him. Gazing at his reflection in the mirror above the sink, Hutch wondered just how he got himself talked into these crazy schemes.

Starsky pounded on the door. "Come out of there, you big girl!"

"Fuck off!"

There’s got to be a limit.

"I’m checking my list twice, Hutch."

"You can stuff your list up your ass!"

"Now, that’s a bit more kinky than you usually get."

Stop pushing your luck right now, Starsk, or you’re going to be the first ever eunuch Santa.

"While you’re in there, did I mention that elves don’t have mustaches?"

He unlocked and slammed open the door. Starsky was wise enough to back off from Hutch’s extended index finger. "I agreed to be a stupid elf. And I’ll even wear that ridiculous costume -- without the damn leotards! But I am not, I repeat, *not* shaving off my mustache!"

"Jeez, alright!" Starsky took another step backwards. "You can keep your mustache."

"You’re damn right I am!"

"Okay, just take it easy there, pal."

Suddenly Hutch felt worn-out. "I’ll take it easy on December 25th," he grumbled.

Starsky retreated to the kitchen, and Hutch could hear him singing his own unique version of "The 12 Days of Christmas." He frowned at the Christmas tree in the livingroom, thinking that Starsky sounded way too pleased with himself.

Wait a second, what did I just agree to wear?

"Starsky!"

Hutch’s threats of assault with a deadly weapon were drowned out by a chorus of five golden handcuffs, four call girls, three french kisses, two Turtle Waxes, and a new muffler in a To-rin-o.

Storming out of Starsky’s bungalow, Hutch wished that Santa Claus was real, so he could arrest the bastard.

 

December 24th

"Wow, check it out Hutch. I got a throne!" Starsky stepped onto the raised platform and admired the large chair draped in red velvet.

"Just don’t let it go to your head," Hutch warned, suspecting that it was already too late.

Hutch reflected that Perkowitz had done an impressive job of decorating the kids' communal room on a limited budget. Fake snow on the windows obscured the view of a graffiti-covered brick wall, and multiple strings of Christmas lights on the walls gave the plain room with its battered furnishings a cheerful glow. A real pine tree, covered with silver garlands, shared the platform with Santa’s throne at the far end of the room.

Watching his partner, Hutch had to admit to himself that Starsky made a pretty impressive Santa too. The large red velvet suit was stuffed with two pillows, and rather than use the beard and wig provided, Starsky had bought his own. He swore they weren’t made of yak hair, but they were snow white and almost as curly as his real hair.

On the other hand, Hutch knew he looked ridiculous in his flourescent green tunic and cap. He brushed at the dark green cords he’d purchased for the occasion, and consoled himself with the knowledge of how much worse it could have been. At least, he hadn’t allowed Starsky to bully him into wearing the matching shorts and leotards.

Hutch took a deep breath, and got down to business. He gave the room one last visual inspection, noting the door to the dining room on the right of Santa’s platform, and the emergency exit door to the left.

"Okay, I’ll stand in front of the Christmas tree on your right, the kids can line up in front of you, and then march past me for their gift. They will then move directly into the dining room, no loitering and no coming back for a second visit. Perky will have to make sure they stay lined up single file--"

"Hutch, this is Christmas Eve, not the Normandy invasion."

"Hey, you were the one who wanted me as your elf, and a little planning will go a long way to making this afternoon bearable. Now, we’ve got thirty-two kids and only an hour before their supper is served, so spend no more than a minute and forty-five seconds per kid."

"Y’know, Hutch, for an elf, you’re a real hard ass."

"Hey, if Santa Claus was real, he’d like hard asses!"

Starsky laughed, and Hutch blushed as he realized what he’d inadvertently said.

"Only some Santas like them hard," Starsky said with a wink.

Hutch grumbled a nasty suggestion as to where Santa could stuff some sugar plums. Starsky ignored it with a grin, and settled onto his throne.

"C’mon, Hutch. Smile, will ya? Perky will be letting the kids in soon."

He glared at him, but Starsky refused to back down. "Elves smile."

Hutch tried.

"Smile, not grimace."

To Hutch’s relief, Perkowitz entered the room. However, when she reached the platform, she asked Starsky, "What’s the matter with him?"

"He doesn’t believe in Santa Claus."

"That’s so sad."

Am I the last sane adult on the planet?

"I know." Starsky nodded. "And get this, his parents --"

"So, Perky, you’re looking especially lovely this afternoon," Hutch broke in, before Starsky could start comparing him to Natalie Wood again. He wasn’t lying either, for unlike Starsky’s red velvet outfit, her dress didn’t have or need any extra padding. Hutch stroked her arm, thinking that she definitely made a much cuter Mrs. Claus than he would have.

Starsky snagged Perkowitz by the waist, and tried to pull her onto his lap. "Just keep your hands off the missus, she’s all mine."

Perkowitz laughed, and gave Starsky a playful smack. "Sorry boys, you missed your chance. Albert popped the question."

"Congratulations." Hutch said.

"Now wouldn’t that make you a bigamist, being married to me already?"

"Don’t bury yourself in the part, sweetie." Rose Perkowitz extricated herself from Starsky’s grip, and gave his nose a tweak. "I’ll go get the kids ready to come in."

She left the room, and Starsky scowled at him. "Hutch?"

"Yeah?"

"Stop smiling."

Hutch laughed.

Then Perkowitz propped open the door on the other end of the room, and they were rushed by the kids.

Over the next half hour, Hutch admired the way Perky managed the unruly mob. She kept them more or less in line, amused the impatient, calmed the overexcited, and consoled the youngest ones who burst into tears on Santa’s knee. Hutch was also grateful that Perky had drilled them both early this afternoon on how to handle the kids. She’d warned them not to ask what they wanted for Christmas, or give them the opportunity to ask Santa to provide or change absent parents. So, Starsky kept up a steady stream of anecdotes about life in the North Pole, and while Hutch thought that the story about Rudolph acting as a police cruiser off season sounded farfetched, the kids ate it up.

Meanwhile, he kept the line moving by handing out gifts from the sack beside Santa’s throne. Volunteers had wrapped the presents this morning, using different color bows to indicate whether the present inside was appropriate for a boy or a girl, under or over six years old. Nonetheless, when an older boy pushed his way to the front and rudely demanded his gift, Hutch couldn’t resist giving him one with a light pink bow. Just because Santa wasn’t real, he reflected, didn’t mean that the naughty shouldn’t be punished.

To Hutch’s surprise, it took much longer than he expected for the first kid to accuse Starsky of not being the real Santa Claus.

"Course I am." Starsky answered the small boy.

"Then how come you’re wearing a fake beard?"

"Mrs. Claus asked me to shave my real one. When you’re older, you’ll understand that when someone who loves you asks you to shave off your facial hair, you just do it."

Gritting his teeth, Hutch shoved a gift at the kid, and ignored Starsky’s soft chuckling. He reminded himself that all of the kids here had been traumatized enough. They didn’t deserve to witness Santa Claus getting punched out by an oversized elf.

After two more kids, the next inevitable challenge arose.

"Santa isn’t real." A young girl, probably no more than seven, announced.

You tell him, kid.

"Course I’m real. I’m right here, ain’t I?"

The boy behind her piped up, "You’re just a guy dressed up as Santa."

"Nope, I’m the real deal."

"Prove it." She demanded with a great deal of force.

"Yeah!"

"Prove it, fatso!"

As the belligerent kids surrounded his partner, Hutch worried that he’d have to provide backup after all. However, Starsky took his police badge out of his pocket, and showed it to the kids. Hutch leaned over and saw that Starsky’s ID card now identified him as Santa Claus, and he was wearing his beard and the hat in the photo.

I swear, Starsky could con the Chief of Police into providing eight tiny reindeer for him.

The young girl’s mouth dropped open, but she visibly struggled to hold onto her scepticism. "Santa’s a cop?"

"Course, I’m a cop. How else am I going to know who’s naughty or nice?"

"But you don’t have a gun," one of the boys pointed out.

"Mrs. Claus won’t let me bring it to parties, but when I’m up on the rooftops, I’m packing."

Hutch noticed Perkowitz frowning at Starsky, but his partner remained oblivious.

"What about you?" One of the girls asked him.

Deciding that the harm was already done, Hutch admitted, "I’m a cop too."

"They let elves be cops?" Another asked.

"Those that pass the minimum height requirement." Starsky joked.

Hutch rolled his eyes.

"But I thought elves only worked in the toy shop." A young girl frowned.

"Some do, but Santa needs back-up when he’s delivering toys, so he picks a very special elf to be his partner." He leaned forward before confiding, "He packs a Magnum."

"Cooooool."

"Can we see?"

Hutch decided that enough was enough. "Okay, move along, nothing to see here."

"Awwww!"

"C’mon!"

"If you want your present, get back in line!" Hutch bellowed.

When the kids complied, Starsky commented under his breath. "You’re such a hard ass."

Hutch winked. "Just the way you like it."

Ten minutes later, all but one kid had been ushered into the dining room. Hutch had kept an eye on the ten to twelve year old lingering at the end of the line, suspecting that the boy might be trouble. Sure enough, the moment Perkowitz and the other kids were gone, he announced, "Christmas is bullshit!"

Between the kid’s blond hair and his serious frown, Hutch felt an uneasy sense of recognition. "Just take the present, and go to dinner." He told him, holding out a wrapped box.

The boy stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Christmas is all about spoiled brats getting everything they want, while we get hand-me-downs from the Salvation Army."

"Okay, that’s enough." Hutch stepped forward, but a red velvet-clad arm barred his way.

"No, it’s okay," Starsky assured him, meeting the boy’s belligerent stare. "Listen up, kid, it ain’t all about the presents. They’re not what’s important."

Hutch stared at Starsky, convinced that he must have misheard him. It wasn’t possible that his partner, who had moaned for months about a tree planted in his name, could’ve said that Christmas presents weren’t important.

"Y’see, presents are just ways for people to show they give a damn -- ah shit, I wasn’t supposed to say -- ah damn."

The kid laughed, and Hutch almost did too.

"Point is," Starsky forged ahead, "Christmas is about love not presents."

Hutch recognized the flash of superiority in the boy’s eyes. "Yeah, but what if nobody loves you?"

"Santa does."

"Even if he was real, he’d only love the good kids."

"Nah, that’s just propaganda spread around by parents, teachers and police Captains who are trying to get you to behave and hand in your reports on time. Santa loves everyone."

"Then Santa’s a chump."

"So, I’m a chump." Starsky winked. "Still love ya."

"Do not."

"Do too."

"Do -- you’re nuts."

"Maybe. But what’s wrong with everyone having one day of the year when they can know for sure that at least one person loves them? With no conditions, no nothin’, just plain old-fashioned love."

"Is this guy for real?" The kid turned toward Hutch.

Hutch handed him the present he was still holding. "You better believe it."

Looking shell-shocked, the boy took the gift. With one last wary glance at Starsky, he ran through the dining room door.

"Hey, Hutch, got something in your eye?"

He ducked his head, and wiped quickly. "No."

"Uh huh." Starsky started to search his pockets.

Hutch pulled a pill container out of the back pocket of his cords. "Here."

Starsky accepted the painkillers, and dry-swallowed two of them. "So, go ahead and say it."

"What?"

"The ‘I told you so’ you’re holding back."

Hutch pasted on an innocent expression. "Who me?"

"Yeah you." Starsky tossed the pill container back at him. "So, it was a bit rougher on me than I thought it’d be. This throne is damn uncomfortable."

"Uneasy lies the head that wears the Santa hat." Hutch paraphrased.

"I’m not even goin’ to ask."

"Well, you can get down from your throne, your Majesty, all the kids are gone."

"All except one, big one. So, Hutch, have you been a good boy this year?"

Memories of how their partnership had been torn apart by his actions, before Gunther had tried to finish the job with hired killers, inundated him. "Not all year," he admitted softly.

"S’okay, pal, I have it on the best authority you’re on the nice list this year." He pushed himself upward using the chair’s arms. Hutch offered him a hand, but Starsky didn’t take it. "So you can stop trying so hard, okay?"

Hutch’s hand fell to his side. "Don’t know what --"

Starsky clasped his shoulder, hard. "You’ve been my personal nurse, accountant, chief cook and bottle-washer since I checked out of the hospital, Hutch. Enough’s enough." The pressure on his shoulder eased, but Starsky didn’t let go. "You’re my best friend, that’s all you gotta be from now on, understood?"

Hutch muttered under his breath.

"Didn’t catch that pal, speak up."

Just back off, Starsk.

He clamped down on the surge of anger, but his voice shook from the effort. "I said, I’m not any good at it."

Starsky released his shoulder, and frowned. "Don’t you think I should be the judge of that?"

"NO!"

Hutch was as shocked by his furious shout as his partner looked.

After a wary glance at the dining room door, Starsky hustled him out the emergency exit door, and into the alley alongside the building. "Hutch, I think--"

Hutch felt the last of his controls break. "You don’t get to judge, because you’re a goddamn chump just like that kid said. You let everyone off with a fucking wrist slap!"

"What am I supposed to do -- punish you?"

Hutch turned his back on him.

"I mean, why the fuck would I bother? You do such a great job of it all by yourself, hell --"

"I’m not your best friend, Starsky. Best friends don’t lie in a hospital bed, and pretend they don’t know who you are."

"What the f--"

"Best friends don’t sleep with your girl."

"Shit, we dealt with that already!"

"Best friends don’t --"

Starsky grabbed him by the arm, and made him turn around. "Hutch, you’re seriously losing it here. Sure, you’ve screwed me over, but I’ve done the same to you! Hell, if we’d ever kept track, I don’t know which one of us --"

"Shut the fuck up!" Hutch yanked his arm out of Starsky’s grip. "A best friend doesn’t let their best friend die!"

Hutch stared down at the filth covering the ground, his harsh breathing loud in his ears.

Then he heard Starsky release a slow, even breath. "I thought that’s what was wrong."

This quiet observation surprised Hutch enough to make him look up.

Starsky shrugged, and winced at the movement. "You think I haven’t wondered why you’ve been carrying on like you’re personally responsible for every muscle twinge I get." He took a deep breath. "I can’t punish you, Hutch, or forgive you, or whatever the hell you’re looking for from me, cause you’re not responsible. Gunther and his merry band of assholes was."

Hutch shook his head.

"Don’t shake your head at me, Hutch. You warned me to get down, and like an idiot I didn’t--"

"You would’ve listened to me if I hadn’t --"

Starsky shoved him against the alley wall."Fuck, Hutchinson, will you listen to me for once?"

Hutch opened his mouth, but the fury in Starsky’s eyes silenced him.

"You’re my best friend," Starsky seized his arms and gave him a rough shake. "You’re my best friend and my partner, but you’re not my fucking guardian angel appointed by God to make sure nothing ever happens to me. And you gotta get that through your thick head, or we’re not going to be able to work together again!"

The emergency exit door swung open, and Perkowitz stuck her head out. "There you two are -- what the hell is going on?"

Starsky released him, and gave Perkowitz a sheepish look. "Just convincing this clown that Santa Claus is real."

Suddenly aware that they were still in their ridiculous costumes, Hutch felt laughter threaten to escape.

Shit, it must have looked like Santa Claus was mugging an elf.

"O-okay." Perkowitz frowned, and added, "Dinner’s about to be served."

"Go ahead and start, we’ll be there in a sec." Starsky assured her.

With a last worried glance, she let the door shut.

Starsky cleared his throat, and when Hutch met his eyes, they both dissolved into hysterics.

Leaning against the alley way wall, Starsky managed to pull himself together first. "That reminds me!" He began digging around in his jacket’s pockets.

"What?" Feeling exhausted, Hutch joined Starsky in resting his back against the wall.

"I found an adult man who believed in Santa."

"Not now, Starsk--"

"Hey, you promised to listen, remember?" Starsky fished out a piece of paper and unfolded it. "His name was Charles A. Dana, and he was the editor of the ‘New York Sun.’ This kid wrote to him back in 1897--"

"Starsk, I already know this story."

"Yeah, huh? Then what did he tell her, Mr. Smarty-Pants?"

Hutch rolled his eyes. "He wrote, ‘Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.’ Everyone knows about that stupid editorial."

"Yeah, and why did he tell her Santa was real?"

"Because," Hutch paused and thought for a moment. "It was some claptrap about the spirit of Christmas living in all of us."

"See, you don’t know everything. But lucky for you, I wrote it down." Starsky consulted his notes. "He said: ‘Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exists, and you know that they abound and give your life its highest beauty and joy.’"

Hutch found it hard to breathe. He hadn’t remembered it like that, not at all.

"You know what I realized after the doctors told me I’d died, Hutch? That all of the shit we’ve been swimming in all these years in our job, and that we’d let into our friendship, none of it meant a goddamn thing. Love and generosity and devotion -- that’s what counts, and that’s what we’ve always had. And that’s what we’ve gotta remember when we dive back into it next year. "

Hutch managed to take a deep breath, but still couldn’t look at Starsky. After what felt like forever, he whispered, "I’m just scared, okay?"

The hand returned to his shoulder, but much gentler this time. "Hey, me too, you know that. But you've got to have faith, Hutch."

He shook his head, but had to smile. "In Santa?"

"In me and thee."

Hutch stopped breathing. It had been so long since either of them had used that phrase.

"So, are you with me or not?"

When he let go of the breath he was holding, Hutch was surprised by how much tension went with it, and how much certainty remained behind. "You’re my best friend and partner, where else would I be?"

"Okay then." Starsky gave his shoulder a squeeze, and grinned. "Now, let’s go eat, I’m starved."

Hutch smiled in return, but then noticed a problem they’d overlooked. "Um, Starsk. . ."

"Yeah?"

"How are we going to get back in when there’s no door handle on this side?"

 

December 25th

"Merry Christmas, pal!"

Hutch shook himself, and realized that he must have nodded off on Starsky’s couch. However, the candles were still burning, and there was no sunlight coming through the windows.

"Already?" He asked, looking for his wine glass. He spotted it on the coffee table beside the empty glass and plate from the milk and cookies Starsky had insisted upon.

"It’s 12:03 a.m., Christmas morning. We can open our Christmas presents now!"

Hutch couldn’t help smiling at the man beside him. "I thought you told that kid that it wasn’t about the presents."

"Nope. I said it wasn’t *all* about the presents. So, fork ‘em over, elf!"

Hutch chuckled, and slid off the couch to reach under the nearby Christmas tree. "Just remember it’s the thought that counts." He handed a gift to Starsky, and stayed seated on the floor after he’d picked one for himself.

"Like I can ever forget that, with the crappy things you get me every year." Starsky checked the label and then shook the box. "Doesn’t sound like you planted another tree for me."

"Two this year, along with some shrubbery." Hutch lifted the gift in his hand. "Did you get me another ant farm?"

"Nah, a super deluxe ant farm this time. Nothing but the best for you, pal."

As Starsky tore into his present, Hutch leaned back against the couch. He couldn’t remember when he’d felt so relaxed. Certainly not since the shooting, he reflected, and not even during the months leading up to it.

I’ll be very glad when 1979 comes to an end.

"Hey, you’re not opening your present!" Starsky protested. "Don’t you want to know what you got for Christmas?"

Shaking his head, Hutch said, "I already know."

Love, generosity and devotion.

"Huh?"

Hutch sighed. "You convinced me to believe in Santa Claus."

At least, in one curly-haired, Jewish Santa.

"I told you so!"

The triumph in Starsky’s voice made Hutch grin.

And you made me believe that the New Year is something to look forward to.

"So, Hutch, did your parents ever tell you about the Easter Bunny?"

Mostly look forward to.

 

- end -

 

 

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