This story was originally published in The Fix # 9, put out by In Person Press in 1990. Special thanks for scanning and proofing by Evelyn.
Terri Beckett, with Chris Power, is the author of TRIBUTE TRAIL. See www.speculationpress.com for details! Comments about this story can be sent to: kmankatz@CandW.ky
(being one of the 'missing scenes' from NO EASY ANSWERS.) No Easy Answers is a complete novel. It is the third novel in the Red Light Trilogy. The first novel, One More Mountain, is on the S&H Gen Archive, and the second novel, One More River, is on the S&H Slash Archive.
"How come we never realised what we were missing?" Starsky asked rhetorically, reclining against his pillows like a particularly debauched Roman Emperor.
"Too much else on our minds?" Hutch suggested absently. "Didn't I tell you the pace of life is completely different out here?"
"The climate certainly is." Starsky gave him an urchin grin. "You better get back under the quilt unless you want it to freeze and fall off. There's a frost forecast."
Hutch obeyed. "You don't have to sound so pleased about it."
"We could get a White Christmas," Starsky said lyrically. "Like in the old movies. 'Chestnuts roasting at an open fire, Jack Frost nippin' at your nose...'"
"I get the picture," Hutch said quickly, before Starsky could warble more than a few bars. "You won't be so cheerful if it does snow. We could be cut off."
That won him a lecherous leer. "No sweat. We got enough in the freezer to see us through until spring."
"Even with power cuts?"
"Sure, pessimist. There's wood stacked under the house, plenty more in the forest if we run out of that--and besides, we got our love to keep us warm."
Hutch groaned theatrically into Starsky's neck. "I'm not sure that associating with those High School kids isn't warping your brain, Starsk."
"Vicky wouldn't agree. She's trying to reform me. Hey, did Kath tell you they want us to spend Christmas with them?"
"Yeah," Hutch said, eyes closed.
"And what did you say?"
"I said thanks but no thanks. What did you think I'd say?" Hutch squinted open one eye to fix on his lover. "We're spending Christmas here." He closed the eye again.
"Thought as much." Starsky patted him soothingly. "Two mind with but one single thought. But could we join 'em for Christmas Eve?"
"Whatever you want, lover," Hutch mumbled, hoping Starsky would take the hint. The man seemed to have regressed to teenage in more ways than one, and there were times when Hutch didn't think he could take the pace. Or not without his back giving out, anyway.
He had cause for concern. Starsky's next little brainwave told him that.
"You want to do what?" There was a twinge of premonition from his lumbar region. "Are you sure?"
"Sure I'm sure. Trust me, huh?"
Hutch gave him a look. "I've heard that before."
"I took expert advice. It'll be okay. We can do it."
"It'll be terrific, I promise." Blazing confidence and enthusiasm in the blue eyes. "I've read the books. And I talked to this guy I met--"
"Who?" Hutch demanded warily.
"At the nursery. He knows about these things. C'mon, babe. Let's try it. Huh?"
Seduced as always by the wide intent gaze and the brilliant smile, Hutch had no real intention of saying no. If it worked, after all, the result could be spectacular. "How long will all this take?"
"No time at all. I got all the stuff we need already. All you gotta do is agree on the tree."
"Starsk... " Hutch said doubtfully. "I'm not sure we really need this... "
"You're not suggesting we go for a fake, are you?"
"The needles'll drop..."
"Not if we do it right. Kind of like bonsai," Starsky added, inspired.
"Starsk. You can't bonsai a full-grown Royal Spruce."
"It's not full grown," Starsky reassured him patiently. "It's only about seven feet tall..."
Hutch refrained from pointing out that seven-foot spruces are still a touch mature for successful bonsai. It didn't matter. If it didn't work out, they could always go and buy a tree.
The chosen conifer was duly transplanted, with appropriate ceremony and considerable effort, into the tub prepared for it. Dop was fascinated. This was obviously intended for his sole use, combined earthbox, scratching post, and climbing frame. But his initial attempt to explore the possibilities prompted a roar of outrage from Starsky that sent the cat streaking for the tall timber with his tail bushed.
The sanctity of the tree was guarded from then on with pepperdust in liberal libations, together with orange peel and evil-smelling mixtures concocted in the kitchen from 'recipes' scrawled on scraps of old envelopes from Starsky's pals at the nursery. The combination did deter Dop from his excavations, but didn't stop him from leaping from the tub rim to a point halfway up the trunk. He could have leapt higher, of course, but feline sense told him the higher branches wouldn't take his weight. As it was, he could make the tree sway as if in a high wind, his slit eyes gleaming in enjoyment...
The time came to take the tree indoors in the week before Christmas. Hutch's twinging back was fully justified--the damn thing was heavy. Also, Dop was about as helpful as a minefield. Maybe it was the frosty weather, or the unusual activity, but whatever the cause, the cat staged high-speed acrobatics around the burdened men, diving between their legs, using shoulders or tree as springboards, and generally making a nuisance of himself. He only quit when the tree was ensconced in place beside the window: presumably this was when he lost interest.
"I guess he got excited because it was moving," Hutch said, one hand pressed to his aching spine. "Or he wanted to help."
"'Help', my ass," Starsky grunted. "He was angling for place of honor--impaled on the top spike like the frigging Christmas Tree Fairy. You okay? I could give you a massage."
"I'll hold you to that. No, let's get the thing decorated first."
Starsky would probably have been the first to admit he'd gone slightly overboard with the tree ornaments. There were enough lights, Hutch observed, to decorate the Queen Mary, and what looked like a linear mile of tinsel. But a seven-foot tree can take a lot of ornament before looking overdressed, and finally Starsky hung the last bauble and stepped back to regard their creation.
"Lights," Hutch suggested, crouching ready to hit the switch--obediently Starsky turned off the main lights, and the tree glowed to life, glittery and starry as a Disney confection.
There was a moment of appreciative silence. Then: "Damn, that's pretty," Hutch said softly. Starsky joined him on the floor--lying flat and looking up proved the best vantage point.
"We do good work," he announced, satisfied.
"It was your idea."
The multicolored lights shed a delicate illumination, webby with shadow and unexpected reflections, catching rainbows in the pale strands of Hutch's hair, as if they too were spun glass, too fragile to touch.
"It feels like Christmas now," Hutch said softly, gazing at their tree, and Starsk, seeing the chatoyant reflection in his eyes, could only nod in agreement. "Only thing left is to pile the presents underneath."
"With a week to go?" Starsky wondered. "Well, four days, anyhow."
"Right. Guess the temptation might prove too much at that."
"Hey," Starsky objected, all innocence. "I wouldn't. We're going to open them on Christmas morning, in front of a roaring fire, with all the trimmings. Right?"
"Right. Is there anything we've forgotten?"
"We got the food, the turkey, the wine, the presents for Kath and Mac and the kids--what else is there?"
"Absolutely nothing." Hutch reached for him. "It is only four days. We could start Christmas early. Just the two of us."
Dop wandered back at that moment, craned to sniff the lower branches, then stropped himself engagingly around his two humans. "WAH," he said, and began ablutions beside the hearth.
"Three," Starsky grinned, relaxing into Hutch's embrace. "Don't know when I ever looked forward this much to a Christmas. Know what I mean?"
"Yeah. Me, too."
"And for the first time ever I haven't been giving you grief about what present you got for me."
"Shit," said Hutch, with overdone shock. "Knew I forgot something... "
"Smartass." Starsky was not fooled. "I feel so good about all this...almost like it's too good to be true... "
"We're due some good times," Hutch said grimly. "But I know what you mean."
"Well, if it's a dream, I'm in no hurry to wake up." He started to laugh, quietly and contentedly. "Maybe I'm turning into a staid middle-aged family man."
"You? Staid? Bite your tongue!"
"Flattery will get you late for dinner," Starsky chuckled.
"That's okay." Hutch could feel the vibrations of Starsky's laughter against his lips as he kissed the hollow of his throat. "I wasn't that hungry anyway..."
It was close to midnight on Christmas Eve before they got back from Visalia. But it had been a good evening, the kind of family time that is only possible before a holiday, while the excitement still runs high and hasn't flattened out with over-indulgence and boredom. Starsky had enjoyed it enormously. He was serenading Hutch with seasonal songs most of the way from town, and Hutch put up with it in the spirit of the season and because he was feeling pretty good himself.
Starsky had started in on a reprise of "Deck the Halls" as he pulled into the drive, but he sobered a little as Hutch led the way up the steps and into the darkened house. The main room shimmered into life at the flick of a switch, and Christmas glowed from the glittering tree at the window. Stretched out in front of the hearth, Dop barely raised his head in greeting.
"Hi, cat. We're home," Starsky announced unnecessarily, one arm around his lover's waist. And, as Hutch pulled him close for a kiss, "Merry Christmas, babe."
"It is," Hutch whispered.
"I've been looking forward to this for weeks."
The cat squinted up at the embracing pair, gave a disgusted grumble, and got up to stalk towards the kitchen.
"Turkey!" Hutch warned, but Starsky shook his head.
"It's safe in the cupboard above the fridge. You think I'm stupid? Dop doesn't stand a chance. C'mon, lover. Let's go to bed."
The first thing Starsky realised, as he surfaced slowly from sleep, was that he had the Christmas tree on his chest. Complete with tub. In his somnolent state, this didn't seem odd until, with a shimmering sparkle effect reminiscent of the Enterprise's transporter beam, the tree and ornaments floated up to hover above him, leaving the tub behind. The weight of it remained, warm and slightly pulsing in a way that was strangely familiar. He tried to work out why, and the effort pushed him the last little way toward full awakening.
"Dop," he groaned, and opened his eyes.
"PPPrrraow," agreed the cat, smiling at him in the way only cats can. Dark paws were tucked neatly under the creamy pale breast, the whole reposing warmly just south of Starsky's sternum. The sleek sides bulged out beyond the narrow shoulders. The Siamese was fat, Starsky realised suddenly. More than fat. Bloated might be a better word. A suspicion crossed Starsky's mind, but he rejected it. The turkey was safe. No way could Dop open a cupboard door to get at the bird.
Quietly, and with inscrutable satisfaction, the Dop belched.
NO EASY ANSWERS