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Hutch sat there staring at the package in front of him, unable to believe his luck. In all the years that they had been together, in all the years that they had been giving each other presents, in all the years that he would go rummaging through their respective apartments and now their own house, he had never, ever been able to find the presents that Starsky had skillfully hidden from him.
But this time he had. Paydirt. And what a dilemma it was causing. He realized that perhaps all the fun had been trying to see if he could out think his partner, as Starsky usually did to him whenever they played games like chess. He found it challenging to put himself in Starsky's shoes and try to think as he did. To think of the perfect hiding place for the present. Starsky had once hinted that he always hid his gifts where he lived, never at Huggy's or at work. It was a fun game to play. But now . . .
Now, he'd won. Kind of. Perhaps it was the size of this gift that had made it especially hard for Starsky to find a really good hiding place this year. Maybe this was all a trick. Maybe Starsky had purposefully made it easy for him to find to see if he would succumb to temptation and take a peek under the wrapping paper. Guiltily, he looked around the living room, just to make sure Starsky wasn't hiding somewhere, ready to jump out at him with an, 'Ah, ha! And you thought I had no control over my curiosity when it came to getting presents!' But Starsky was at work while he was home alone nursing the last stages of a particularly nasty head cold.
He took a deep breath and changed his position on the couch, stretching and taking a swig of the beer that had turned warm as he had sat there contemplating what to do with his gift. Ah, the moral implications . . .
The gift, he knew, was for their fifth anniversary, which they would be celebrating tomorrow. Five years together . . . as a couple. He shifted himself needfully in his pajama bottoms. Don't start with that now. What are you going to do about your little find?
Open it, of course.
Moral implications be damned. This was from Starsky and he knew his curiosity would kill him before tomorrow night if he didn't open it now. And then where would Starsky be? He was doing this solely for his partner's sake.
Sliding down onto his knees in front of the coffee table, he greedily lifted the present lying there. Starsky had gotten it beautifully wrapped. Muted earth tones were splashed together over bands of a shiny copper color giving the wrapping paper a muddy, Impressionistic look. A big bow made with matching silk ribbon topped the present.
Oh, so carefully, he allowed his fingers to feel their way around the curves and contours of the present. He was pretty sure it was a picture frame he held in his hands. But what picture did it hold? They had looked at several different types of paintings over the last couple of years of living in their house, finding many they had liked, but none they could really afford. Had Starsky, feeling that this anniversary was noteworthy, splurged and gotten him something really, really special? There's only one way to find out. But he paused.
No, Hutchinson, there isn't. There are two ways and you know it. You could put the present back and wait until tomorrow, like you know deep down you should.
Ah, shut up. He hated it when his inner voice sounded like his partner.
Removing the bow was very difficult. He eased the ends around the sharp corners, being careful not to stretch the fabric. Done. With the bow removed, he attentively attacked the tape holding the paper in place. A wave of guilt stole over him as he heard the protesting paper crackle when he pulled. Then the phone rang causing him to jump and tear the tape off the paper, ripping it.
Shit. Caught with your hand in the cookie jar.
He put the present down and got up to answer the phone. "Hutchinson," he barked.
It was Starsky. "Hey, Blintz. How ya doin'?"
"Oh, okay." How he hated that his voice sounded raspy and shook a little. Starsky would probably know something was wrong. Hell, maybe that's why he had called at this particular moment. His partner had probably sensed that he was up to no good and called just then trying to stop him before he took a bite of the proverbial apple.
"You don't sound so hot." Starsky's voice held a trace of worry.
"Yeah, well . . . I-I was taking a nap." He didn't think he sounded too convincing.
"Is there some reason why you called? I'm still . . . still tired and would like to get some more rest if it's all the same to you." He didn't mean to sound snippy, but he hated being caught, especially when he was caught doing something he knew was wrong.
"No, no, just thought I'd see how you're feeling. Don't think the bug is comin' back do you?"
"No, Starsky, I'm just tired. Really. Now, will you let me go so I can get back to doing what I was doing?" Hutch felt his face flush.
"Uh, ya. Sure. Make sure you drink plenty of water, okay? Rest. And call me if you need anything. I mean anything. Okay?"
"You know I will, dummy."
"'Kay, bye then."
Hutch hung up the phone, relieved that his uneasiness had gone relatively unnoticed by his partner. Covered up, no doubt, by his cold. Before returning to opening his gift, he decided to listen to Starsky for once and get himself a glass of water.
Looking out the window over the sink, he sighed. He knew that if he stopped now, he wouldn't need to feel this guilty, because he wouldn't be, not yet. Not exactly. But I'll probably still feel this way so might as well go all the way, then I'll have a real reason for all this guilt I'm feelin'.
Mind made up, he sat down before the present again and surveyed the damage done to the paper. He thought it wasn't too bad. If he covered the seam with the ribbon, and Starsky didn't look too closely, he thought he could hide the small rip in the paper.
Crisis taken care of and spurned on by a lingering anger at feeling like he was caught red handed--which I was--he opened up the present the rest of the way. It was a picture frame like he had thought. But what painting it held, he still couldn't see. The wood of the frame was a deep mahogany color. He paused again, knowing that this was his last chance to turn back. He hadn't completely ruined it yet.
Would Starsky be so disappointed in him if he spoiled the surprise of the gift? The special fifth anniversary gift? Though he didn't want to admit it to himself, he finally did.
So he sat there on the couch, glass of water in his hand forgotten, robe untied and hanging open around his body, eyes unseeing, but staring in the direction of the frame which was still turned face down on his lap, slowly he felt the earlier euphoria of finding the present fade away.
Come on, Hutchinson, do the right thing.
Setting the glass of water down, he covered the back of the frame with his hands. Yes, he would do the right thing, and not only would he put the present back without looking at it, he would confess to Starsky what he had almost done, and if Starsky wanted to take the present back, then he could. He would let him because he felt like he had been just about to break a trust between them. How could he almost of done that? He felt tears start to well up in his eyes. Then he looked up as he heard the front door open.
Frozen, he just sat there unable to move. A second later, a curly head peeked around the corner.
"Oh, there you . . . are." Starsky's eyes showed surprise, then shock as he took in the scene before him. Ignoring the distraught look on Hutch's face, Starsky sat down next to his partner.
Reaching a hand out to touch Hutch's forehead, he asked, "Feelin' okay? You look a little flushed. You don't feel warm though." Starsky moved the back of his hand down to Hutch's cheek. "You didn't sound so good on the phone, so I was able to come home early to see wha . . . ah--how you were doin'."
Hutch sat there caught, stunned, speechless. He could only stare back at Starsky.
"Got something to tell me, partner?" Starsky waited patiently for whatever might issue from Hutch's mouth.
"I . . . I-I-I don't know what to say . . ." Hutch dropped his eyes, shame filling up his insides. Try the truth. Inspired, he looked up quickly. "I didn't look at it. Honest. I know it's a picture, a painting, but I don't know of what. Really. I-I didn't get a chance to look. But that doesn't matter anyways because I was about to put it back. Yes. Put it away, rewrap it and put it away without looking at it, then tell you later what I had done. What I had almost done." Hutch knew he was rambling, but he wanted to cover all the bases. "I was feeling so guilty . . ."
"Go ahead, Hutch. Look at it." Starsky's voice was soft, full of caring and understanding.
"No. I can't," Hutch whispered back, awed by the quietness of the moment. He looked back up at Starsky, his eyes full of misery and tears.
But Starsky only smiled back, trying to ease Hutch's unease. "No really, I mean it. I congratulate you on finding it in the first place." He took Hutch's face in both of his hands, wiping the tears away with his thumbs. He gave his partner a small kiss on the forehead. "I love you."
Finally Hutch was able to return a small, shy smile. "Really, Starsk, I'll put it back and we'll do this right, tomorrow, when you meant to give it to me. When we have dinner, after dessert, when I have your present ready, before we adjourn to . . ."
Starsky reached out and turned the frame over, face up onto Hutch's lap.
Hutch could only stare at it. He had been wrong. Completely wrong. There was no expensive painting confined within the edges of the frame, but instead there was a series of photographs. Two rows of four, eight photos in all. And Starsky stood in every one of them.
He shifted the frame around so that he could get a closer look at the pictures in what he guessed was some sort of order. He was confused at first because they seemed to be all the same . . . except that Starsky looked different in this one . . .
"So what do you think, Blintz? Like 'em? Wood is the traditional gift for the fifth anniversary. Get it? A wood frame containin' pictures of me in front of the tree you got me for Christmas eight years ago. Wood. Wood. Get it? Get it?" Starsky had a satisfied smirk on his face.
And indeed every picture did show Starsky standing next to a fir tree in a park. A quick glance showed the tree growing taller every year. Eight years ago? He had completely forgotten about that tree he had had planted in Starsky's name that year.
"Who took these pictures? Huggy?"
"Yeah, some of 'em. Dobey took a few, too. Like that one." Starsky pointed to the photograph that must have been taken not long after he had gotten out of the hospital after he had been shot. It was the only photograph in which he was bundled up in layers of clothing. He looked older, thinner, and tired though he had managed a small grin. Hutch didn't particularly like that photo, but the next one in the series, taken a year later, showed Starsky pretty much recovered. The beautiful smile was back, bursting with energy. Ah, my love . . .
Other photo's showed Starsky just as Hutch had always loved him. Wearing various shades of blue, tight jeans, and different leather jackets. Except for the one shot, Starsky really hadn't changed too much.
"It's beautiful. I love it." Hutch reached out to cup Starsky's cheek. "I love you."
"Ah, babe . . ."
"I'm gonna need a lot of time to look at all of these carefully. Pictures of you mean so much to me." Hutch lightly touched the glass with his fingertips. "I don't think a thousand words would ever be enough to describe them," looking up, "or what you mean to me."
"Okay, okay . . . big softie, save it for later, will ya?" Starsky blushed.
Hutch tried to lighten the mood. "I'm sorry about opening this once I had found it. I was just so excited about finally finding one. I mean I always look everywhere!"
"I know what you mean. Every year I find your gifts for me, I always get the itch to open 'em. But I've found . . . What?"
Hutch couldn't believe what he was hearing. Every year you find my gifts . . . ? Every year he already knew what he was getting? His disbelief showed on his face.
"But I don't open them, Blintz. Really. I did up until about oh, three years ago. But it always spoiled my surprises, so after that I stopped opening them." Starsky got up and tried to escape his partner's penetrating glare. "And actually, Hutch, I don't even try to find them anymore. It was just too easy . . ." He stopped and looked at Hutch. "C'mon, you know I know how you think . . ."
Hutch put the pictures down gently and, getting up slowly, he walked towards his partner, trying to look as threatening as possible. He reached out to grab Starsky, but missed. Starsky stepped out of the way and turned quickly on his heels, heading up the stairs two at a time. Hutch gladly chased after him. The only rooms upstairs were bedrooms. Gotcha now! And if Starsky were a good boy, perhaps he would get started on those thousand words tonight.