"I thought you were dead," Starsky gasped out to his partner.

"I'm wearing a vest, remember?" Hutch reassured him.

A vest. Starsky thanked every god he'd ever heard of that Hutch had been wearing a vest. The thought of losing his partner scared him more than anything. He loved Hutch, more than his partner knew. And he'd never told him. What if Hutch really had died, without ever knowing how much Starsky loved him? He made a vow to tell Hutch the truth, first chance he got. After they'd found Joanna.

When it was all over, Joanna had been rescued and their 'psychic,' Collandra, had been thanked, the two detectives relaxed at Hutch's apartment.

"You've been awfully quiet," Hutch said to his partner in concern. "What's wrong?"

"What makes you think something's wrong?" asked Starsky.

"I'm not a psychic, but I know you better than anyone. Now, spill."

Starsky sighed. He'd vowed to tell Hutch of his feelings, but he'd been getting cold feet. "I thought you were dead."

Hutch squeezed his shoulder in reassurance. "I know, but I'm not, am I?"

"You could have been," Starsky pointed out.

"I was wearing a vest," Hutch reminded him.

"What if you hadn't been? Or if they'd been using armour-piercing bullets? Or if you'd been shot in the head?"

"Starsk, those are risks we take every day."

"I know," Starsky moaned. "I just hate the thought of anything happening to you."

Hutch pulled him into an embrace. "I'm all right," he told Starsky. "I'm here, I'm in one piece. You know, I don't like the idea of anything happening to you, either."

Starsky enjoyed the hug for a moment, then reluctantly moved back so that he was looking into his partner's beautiful blue eyes. "I have something to tell you."

"Sounds serious."

"It is. But it's not bad or anything," Dave added.

"So what is it, then?" Hutch asked.

"I just wanted to tell you that I love you, Blondie."

Hutch smiled. "I know that. I love you, too. You're my best friend, the best I've ever had."

"And you're mine, but that's not the kind of love I mean."

"I don't understand," Hutch told him, puzzled.

"I mean that I'm in love with you, Hutch. When I'm with you, I want us to be even closer that we already are. I think I want to kiss you. In fact, I know I want to kiss you." He paused and waited for his friend's reaction. When none was forthcoming immediately, he continued. "I know this must be a shock, Blintz, but please talk to me. Tell me how you feel. I know you love me. You just said so. But do you love me the way that I love you? And if you don't, is there any chance that you could?"

The blond detective stood up and walked around the room for what seemed like hours. Finally, he turned back to his partner. "I want you to leave," he said in a deathly calm voice.

"Hutch, no!" Starsky exclaimed. "Please, don't make me leave. Let's talk about this."

"Leave. Now."

Tears streaming down his face, Starsky did as he was told.

After his friend left, Ken sat and began to meditate. He needed to clear his mind. He needed to process what Starsky had just told him. Eventually, he began to feel better, clearer, but he also felt like a heel for the way he'd told Starsky to leave. Obviously the other man had been hurt by his dismissal. He didn't like to hurt Starsky. He did love him, just as he'd said, but he'd never thought of loving him the way he would love a woman. Not that the idea of having sex with another man was entirely foreign to him. He and Jack Mitchell had fooled around some that summer they had been lifeguards. But he'd considered it to be youthful experimentation, not related to his 'real' sexual orientation, which he'd always thought of as heterosexual.

Well, he'd see Starsky at the precinct tomorrow. He'd apologize for the way he'd acted, and invite him to come over after work to talk. They'd work this out, somehow.

Meanwhile, at home, Starsky was wondering how he would ever face his partner at work the next day. Hutch would probably ask Captain Dobey to assign him a new partner. They wouldn't work together anymore. What will I do without Hutch? he asked himself.

He knew it would just be delaying the inevitable, but he'd call in sick to work tomorrow. Maybe he'd take a couple of days off, and gather up his strength before he saw Hutch again.

The next day, Hutch was surprised to see that Starsky wasn't already at his desk when he arrived. He shrugged. Maybe the red tomato had a flat, he thought.

But an hour later, Starsky still hadn't arrived. "Captain," he asked Dobey, "have you heard from Starsky this morning?"

"He called in sick. Didn't he tell you?" the Captain asked, surprised.

"No, no he didn't," Hutch replied. "Guess it must have come up after I last saw him."

"The two of you live in each other's pockets. How could you not know he's sick?" Dobey asked, but Hutch didn't have an answer for him.

Hutch spent the day wrapping up the Haymes kidnapping case. It was strange to work without Starsky. Yes, he'd done it before, when Starsky had been recovering from being poisoned, but at least then he'd known that his partner would be absent for a few days.

Thinking about the time Starsky had been poisoned brought back some unwelcome memories. He'd been so afraid that he wouldn't find the poisoner in time and that he'd have to watch Starsky die. The situation had been made even worse when Starsky had shot their prime suspect, their only lead, to save Hutch's life. His friend had been willing to sacrifice his own life for him. And he almost had. Hutch had been Jennings' real target.

He shook off the memories. Starsky had survived. He was all right. At least, Hutch hoped he was all right. He didn't like Starsky's absence. It didn't feel right. What if Starsky wasn't here because of what had happened last night? Surely he wouldn't let their personal relationship affect his work.

Starsky still wasn't at the precinct the next day. Now Hutch was really getting worried. This was not like his friend. Starsky didn't get sick very often. Even after the poisoning he'd been impatient to get back to work &mdash after his 'invalid' act had been exposed, of course.

All this worrying wasn't getting him anywhere. He'd have to go see Starsky and find out what was wrong.

That night, Starsky was sitting alone in his apartment, trying to read a book, when there was a knock on the door. Who could be coming to see me at this time of night? he wondered. Not that long ago he would have assumed it to be Hutch, but he didn't expect to see his partner again any time soon.

To his astonishment, however, it was Hutch at his door. "Can I come in?" the blond man asked.

"Uh, yeah, sure," Starsky stammered. Why was Hutch here?

"I want to apologize for the way I acted the other night," Hutch began. "The way I told you to leave. I should at least have explained that I needed to be alone to think about what you told me, instead of throwing you out like that."

"So did you?" Starsky asked.

"Did I what?"

"Think about what I told you."

"Yes," Hutch replied.


"And," Hutch replied, "it scares me."

"What scares you about it?" Starsky inquired gently.

"Starsk, so many people that I've loved, or thought I loved, have left me, or died &mdash Gillian, Vanessa, Abby, Jeanie, " he hesitated, "Jack."

"Jack? Jack Mitchell? From Las Vegas?"


Sensing a story that he hadn't been told, Starsky said, "Tell me about him."

"The summer we were lifeguards, we hung out together a lot. Neither of us was having much luck finding a girlfriend, and so we spent most of our time with each other. One night we were drinking, and all of a sudden he kissed me."

Starsky's eyebrows went up but he didn't say anything, waiting for Hutch to continue.

"I was surprised, but I kissed him back. And we made love. It wasn't the only time. We did it a few more times that summer."

"But not since then?" Starsky asked.

"No. I never saw him again until Vegas."

"What about other guys?" David wanted to know.

"Never met any other guy that I wanted to do it with," Ken answered. "Until you." He sighed. "It wasn't easy, admitting that to myself. Admitting that I wanted to be with a man. The idea of being gay scares me. But what scares me more is the thought of spending the rest of my life without you."

"You don't have to, Blondie. Just say the word, and I'll be with you for the rest of our lives, and any lives that there might be after."

Hutch took the man he loved into his arms and kissed him. "I love you, Starsk."

"I love you too, Babe."