This story was written for and belongs to Eli. Thank you so much for your support of the Hurricane Katrina victims and of the Bay City Library Auction which raised over six thousand dollars! A BIG thank you to Donna and DM for their help editing.

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

Starsky entered the squad room and tossed his breakfast donuts onto the desk before tiredly flopping into his chair. He began shuffling through the tall mountain of papers abandoned from the Friday before, and tried to ignore that he felt like crap; his joints ached worse than he could ever remember, and he cursed the thought of growing old if this is how it felt.

Hutch looked up from his stack of reports. "How come you're not eating, buddy?"

Normally, Starsky would be shoving one donut into his mouth after another, if just to irk his sushi loving partner, but now he realized he just wasn't hungry and pushed the bag away. A green tinge began to crop up on his face and he swallowed hard, attempting to push back his stomach acid.

"You better not be getting sick, Starsky. Half the squad is out with the flu and I need my best men!" Dobey had apparently been standing just out of view of the dark haired detective, because, when he spoke, Starsky jumped.

"Jeez ,Cap. Give a guy a heart attack, why don't cha?" Starsky said flatly. He really was feeling bad. Really, really bad. But maybe it was just all the long hours they'd been putting in since the great flu pandemic of '78 struck Parker Center. At least he could hope that's all it was.

He noticed Hutch watching him with a concerned eye, so he casually opened the paper orange juice container and took a long swig in an attempt to prove he was fine. That's when he knew he was wrong; he didn't know if it was his empty, raw stomach or the warm juice that did it, but either way, he quickly grabbed the trash can and did his best Linda Blair impression.

"Are you okay, Starsk?" Hutch asked worriedly as he grabbed the can to hold.

Sweat was dripping off his forehead and nausea overwhelmed him as Starsky heaved over and over again. Last night's coffee and pizza were spewing forth in nasty acidic chunks. Why can't the flu give a guy some warning, he wondered? If he'd known what was going to happen today, he would have chosen something yesterday that tasted better coming up.

Dobey handed him a napkin, and Starsky wiped his mouth with shaking hands. "I think you'd better get him home, Hutchinson."

"Can you make it to the car or do you need a baggie?"

Starsky mumbled that he was feeling better and was waving the can away when another wave of nausea, worse than the first, struck. He vomited violently into the trash can again, glad that the squad room was mostly empty; sadly, he knew he'd be hearing about this for weeks to come.

Dobey handed his detective another napkin. "Guess you better take the can, huh?"

O0O

Somehow, only God knows, Starsky managed to make it to the car. It was humiliating being dragged to the garage by his boss and partner, his own face buried in the grey receptacle, but all he really cared about now was getting home and into bed.

They'd only had to stop twice on their way down to the parking structure, once to empty the can's vile mixture in the men's room toilet, and the other so he could fill it up again, before Starsky was finally sitting, hunched over, in the passenger seat of the LTD.

"Why didn't you tell me you were sick, Starsk?" Hutch asked as he started the car.

"Didn't know," was the miserable sounding reply.

O0O

Finally at home, Hutch rustled his partner out of his damp clothes and into a pair of pajama bottoms before settling him into bed. "Stay put, buddy."

Starsky raised an eyebrow at the absurd thought of moving, and instantly regretted it as a sharp pain stabbed behind his eyes. He didn't want to be awake; his head hurt, his body ached, and the nausea was killing him. All he wanted to do was sleep. Sleep and dream.

O0O

"Hey, Jessie. Wake up. We need to get moving."

Starsky felt a light tapping on his chest and peeled his eyes open, slowly. "Huh?"

"Maybe he's hurt worse'n we thought."

"Nah, it's just a crease on that thick squash of his. Time to wake up, brother."

Starsky sat up feeling a trickle of blood run down his face, and reached up to find the source. He hissed in pain when his fingers brushed the deep crevice in his forehead. "Whoa, what the hell happened?"

"One'a the Pinkertons' bullets creased your scalp. Knocked you out fer a spell."

"One of the…Hutch, why are you dressed like that?" Starsky asked as he realized he was sitting on dry grass in the middle of an oak grove.

Hutch looked down at his clothes and back at Starsky. "What's wrong with how I'm dressed?"

"Uh...you're dressed like Butch Cassidy." Starsky laughed, and let his eyes wander over his partner as he took in the strange costume: Hutch was festooned in a high collared white shirt, covered by a brown vest and tan overcoat, which actually suited him, if that were the style these days, which it wasn't. He wore a leather gun belt low on his hips, accentuating his thin waist and a revolver at his side. A thick mustache covered his upper lip. The man next to him was dressed in a similar fashion, confusing Starsky even more. A thick dusting of dirt covered both men, billowing into the air when they moved.

"Butch who? Maybe he is hurt bad, Frank."

Hutch shook his head and turned to the other man. "Shut up, Cole, he's fine. Besides, what do you know, you a doctor?"

Cole just shrugged his shoulders and moved over to the horses. Starsky's mouth hung open as he saw the three large beasts. How did he not notice those before, he thought.

"Come on, Jessie, get up." Hutch put out his hand and grabbed Starsky by the arm, pulling him to his feet. Starsky fought back the nausea and dizziness caused by the sudden rise, and was grateful for his partner's steadying hand on his shoulder.

"Somethin'…somethin' strange's going on here. Uh…it's got to be a dream, Hutch, cause I don't know who Jessie is or where…" Starsky looked down and, with a start, noticed he was wearing scuffed cowboy boots. "Jesus, Hutch, where'd I get those?"

Hutch chuckled. "Quit joking, Jessie. We need to get riding because I'm not sure the Pinkertons are going to give up so easily this time. Now get up on your horse and quit your fooling, little brother."

"Shit," Cole cursed as a bullet hit a tree behind him, sending slivers into the air. "Gotta go, Frank, now!"

Hutch jumped onto his horse and grabbed the reins as Starsky ducked a barrage of bullets and hopped awkwardly onto his own saddle. Relief filled him as the horse took off in pursuit of the other two riders.

O0O

After what felt like hours of thigh chafing riding, the horses slowed to a trot. Hutch moved along side Starsky. "Never seen you mount from that side before."

"Look, Hutch…"

Hutch looked around as if searching for someone, and then leaned in closer. "I think when we get to town, you need to see the doc, that bullet addled your brain."

"I'm not addled, Hu…Frank." Why on Earth did his mind create the Wild West, for God's sake? The only thing he knew about it was from what he'd learned in school and watching old movies. "For a dream, this really hurts." He reached one hand down between his legs and tried to re-adjust, unsuccessfully.

Settling in beside his partner, he resigned himself to a quiet, painful ride.

Hutch groused quietly next to him, "- damn stubborn fool brother."

O0O

Starsky allowed himself to be led into the local town's saloon, and sat. He had to admit, for a dream this place was pretty realistic; cowboys sat around tables drinking and playing cards, and tobacco covered the floor. Girls dressed in low cut blouses and high cut skirts flirted and poured drinks into half empty glasses. A beautiful young woman with long blond curls, dressed in a pink bodice, walked over. "Alice?" Starsky's jaw dropped.

She made a light kind of laughing noise and looked over to Hutch.

Cole spat a black wad of tobacco out onto the floor and waved his hand. "Don't mind him, he's shook up. He keeps calling Frank here, Hutch."

Hutch took Alice by the hand and pulled her onto his lap. "Mary, is the Doc around? Could you be a doll and fetch him for us?"

"Sure thing, Sugar, he's upstairs with Loraine. Go on up to your usual room. I'll tell the Doc you James boys got yourselves in trouble, again." She laughed and moved off to fetch the doctor.

"James!" Starsky had a sudden epiphany. "You're Frank James, the outlaw, and I must be Jessie James."

Cole and Hutch looked at each other and grabbing Starsky by the arms dragged him up the stairs.

O0O

The bed was amazingly comfortable after that torturous horse ride, and Starsky leaned back with a sigh listening to the muffled plunking of the piano down stairs. Before he had a chance to fall asleep, though, a tall, slender, black man emerged from the hall. Starsky looked at Huggy. "Doc?"

"That's me, amigo." Huggy sauntered over to the bed, setting a cracked leather bag on the nightstand. "What seems to be the problem this time, gentlemen?"

"My brother here seems to have got hurt worse'n usual, Doc. He's talking some kind of nonsense about dreams and keeps calling me a hutch." Eyes lined with worry looked back at the confused brunet on the bed.

The doctor sat next to his patient and placed a hand near the bullet wound. "It's not infected…yet. I'm going to need to put some stitches in it though. Jessie, can you tell me what today is?"

Starsky looked up at his old friend and lifted an eyebrow. "Uh…Monday?"

Cole and Hutch smiled.

"Right. Now, son, can you tell me where you are?"

Starsky swallowed hard trying to remember his history. "Missouri?"

"He sounds fine to me, Frank. Probably just got hisself a mild concussion. Will you be so kind as to hand me my bag? I need to do some stitching."

Starsky sat up quickly and began to climb off the bed, his eyes wide. "The hell you're touching me!" The last thing he saw was a fist coming at him, then darkness.

O0O

He woke up slowly to the sounds of arguing voices.

"I say we wait till things cool off some. The bank will still be there when we're ready."

"I already done told you, Bob and James is expecting us. They got everything ready and won't be too goddamn happy to hear yer begging off."

"I ain't begging off, Cole, you know that. But in case you haven't noticed, the Pinkertons have shown up to our last 3 jobs. They shot Jessie for Christ's sake."

"What you saying? You saying one of us is a turncoat?" Starsky could tell by the voice that Cole was getting angry.

Opening his eyes slowly, Starsky noticed the room was dark save a lone candle burning on the night stand. With his movement, Hutch was immediately by his partner's side.

Starsky reached up to his scalp and felt a bandage wrapped round his aching head, and then he felt his aching jaw and remembered what had happened.

"You hit me!" He was incredulous.

"Yeah….It was the only way to make sure you'd stay for the mending Doc needed to do." Hutch shrugged his shoulders matter-of-factly.

Starsky rubbed his bruised jaw and frowned. "But…you hit me."

Cole moved next to the bed Starsky was prone on. "You got twelve stitches. And Doc did a real nice job with 'em, too. Yer face should be just as pretty as ever when those bandages come off." He ruffled the brown curly hair and chuckled. Whatever the argument was between Cole and Frank was forgotten, at least for now.

"Can you keep some food down, little brother? Doc says you got to keep up your strength."

"Uh…" Starsky looked around, still unsure of his reality. "Sure…uh…Frank, thanks."

Hutch smiled at the use of his name and then made a jutting motion with his chin. Starsky suddenly realized someone else was in the room with them. Mary stood up and moved to the door, opening it. "I'll see if the cook has some broth." With a wink she left, closing the door quietly behind her.

Jostling the bed as he sat, Hutch lifted the hair on Starsky's forehead to look at the bandage. "How you really feeling, Jess?" He caressed the brunet's hair away from his wound and Starsky felt the bond he'd always had with his partner coming through as strongly as ever.

"I guess I'm still a little confused, is all. You know, head wound and everything." He closed his eyes suddenly feeling sleepy at the caress.

Hutch pulled up the quilt to cover his brother and turned to the sound of the door opening. "Soup's here. Can you sit up and eat?"

Sitting up caused another wave of nausea, but a strong hand on his back helped steady him and he was able to slowly take in the broth.

When he'd had his fill, which was only a few reluctant slurps, he rolled over on his side with a moan, attempting to ignore the pounding in his head and churning stomach. The sound of sloshing water on metal grabbed his attention and he turned to see what could be making such an unusual noise.

"Your bath is almost ready. I'm going down for a drink, but Delilah will take good care of you. Won't you, Delilah?" Starsky realized that Hutch had been sitting on the bed next to him while he was sleeping, which must have been a while, because light was no longer coming through the window, and oil lamps now lit the room.

Coming from around the blond, Delilah gazed at Starsky with the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. "My God, Terry?" His soul breathed and he blinked away the moisture forming in his eyes. He looked down trying to hide his embarrassment.

"Have you been seeing other girls behind my back, Jessie James?" She teased and proceeded to dump the last boiling pot of water into the tub.

"He's been addled, don't mind him." Hutch slapped his partner on the back as he left with Cole.

Starsky felt the blush rising on his cheeks as he tried to stutter out an apology. "S..sorry, Delilah. You just… I've never loved anyone but you."

It was her turn to blush now, which made her all the more beautiful in Starsky's eyes. "Now stop your fooling and get into the tub."

She held his arm as he stood on shaky legs as he realized, for the first time, that he had been naked under the covers. Knowing in reality that he should be embarrassed about his nudity in front of a strange woman, he wasn't, because one, this wasn't reality and, two, she wasn't a stranger to him. This was the woman he loved and she was with him, here and now, and he never wanted this dream to end. Obediently Starsky climbed into the steaming water and hissed as the heat sank into his sore muscles. "Now just lean back, baby."

He closed his eyes as Delilah ran soapy hands over his feet and legs. He shivered as they moved up his thighs in a circular motion, lost in his senses as she grasped his erection. "Shhh, just relax and let me take care of everything."

The next time he moaned, it was not with pain, but rather with bliss as he felt her delicate fingers stroke him to life. He couldn't believe this was actually happening, but it felt so real, so right. He sat up just enough to look into her copper eyes and yearned so badly to hold her again. Slowly, exquisitely, she traced the nails of her free hand over his muscled stomach sending slivers of desire through his body until he exploded with pleasure.

O0O

Making love to Terry was something he knew he would never do again, yet he had, and it felt real. So real, in fact, he began to wonder if this was a dream at all. Terry slept peacefully in his arms as he struggled to remember his life before all of this, before Frank and Cole, before the old west. He fell asleep dreaming of the farm he and his brother tended before the war, and he dreamt of the war. Somewhere in the night he began to relive the terror of the war he never fought and woke in a panicked sweat to his name being yelled. Terry was sitting up shaking his arm as he fought to clear the confusion from his mind.

Hutch burst into the room and grabbed the dusty clothes off the dresser top, tossing them to his muddled partner. "Jess, they came for Ma and Robert says she's hurt. We need to go, now."

"Ma? Who…who came, Frank?" Starsky jumped out of bed almost tripping on the covers.

Hutch pulled Starsky up and pressed his pants into his hands. "The Pinkertons, those son's a bitches."

Terry clamored over to the edge of the bed, a sheet loosely covering her curves, worry etched on her pretty face.

"I don't..I don't understand. What do they want with her?" Starsky pulled on his boots.

Hutch grabbed him by the arm, pulling him from the room and down the stairs. Huggy met them at the bottom step along with Cole and Robert Ford. "You know this is a trap, Frank. Those Pinkertons don't fight fair and never have."

"It's our ma, Doc. We have no choice." The tall blond placed a strong hand on the doctor's shoulder. "Thanks for…well…everything."

Starsky walked over to Huggy looking him directly in his dark eyes. "Take care a Delilah for me, Doc."

"Always do, Jess. Always do." Starsky heard the doctor's continued talking as they mounted their horses. "Keep in mind that I'm not a miracle worker. I can't fix everything!"

Hutch winked at Starsky as the four horsemen left the dirty town streets and headed out to open country.

O0O

Several hours of painful riding passed before the Saddlebred Hutch was riding came to a stop. Starsky slowly dismounted, cringing at the ache in his crotch, and stumbled over to an old oak, leaning against it.

"We're going to stay here till sun up, we'll ride to the farm at first light. Robert, take care'a the horses. Cole, rustle us up some grub." Hutch snagged his rifle from his saddle and moved along side his kin.

Starsky slid down the rough bark into a seated position. "What's the plan?"

"Remember that night in Lawrence with Quantrill?"

"Ah…sure. Who could forget that?" Starsky really didn't remember that night, but hoped against hope that his partner would fill him in on the details.

Hutch picked up a long stick and squatted close to the dirt. A full moon illuminated the terrain and he began to sketch lines through the dust. "The town was here." He placed an X to represent the town. "The union soldiers were here, here, and here." More X's. "You and I were about here, right?"

"Yeah, that looks about right." Who the hell is Quantrill? Starsky puzzled.

"Quantrill and his men were over here, and Cole and his brothers about here."

Starsky was baffled. "Yeah, so?"

"So, remember how we took out those soldiers before taking out the town? We can use the same maneuver here, Jess."

"How many were on our side that night, Frank?"

Hutch looked puzzled, but answered. "About thirty…"

"And how many do we have with us now?"

"Four, but what's that got to do with…"

"Because, what if Doc is right and it is a trap. They could gun us down without breaking a sweat."

Hutch's eyes grew dark with anger. "So, what, we just sit here and let them come to us? What the hell kind of plan is that, brother?"

"That is not my plan, brother." Man, Hutch could be frustrating at times. "We go in tonight, now, and get Ma out before they even know we were there."

The hard stare was beginning to make Starsky nervous. Finally, though, the glare from his partner softened. "Yeah. Yeah, that just might work."

As the pair hatched their plan, Cole wandered over and held out a leathery looking object toward the darker man.

With a curled lip and look of distrust, Starsky stared at the object. "What is it?"

Taken aback, Cole shared a worried look with Hutch. "It's jerky, Jessie."

"What's it for?"

"It's your dinner." Hutch grabbed the dried meat from Cole's hand and stuffed it into Starsky's. "Now stop foolin around and eat."

The reluctant detective stuck the petrified chunk between his teeth and bit down, pulling on the end in an attempt to break a bite free. Then with a sigh, he withdrew it from his mouth in the same form it went in. "I'm uh…I'm not really hungry after all. Thanks though, Cole."

"What'r you talking about? You always like jerky more'n you like beans? In fact…"

"Leave him be, Cole. We don't have time to eat anyway." The unkempt cowboy lifted an eyebrow in question. "We're going in tonight. Jessie thinks we should try and git Ma without any killing…and I think he may be right. We sneak in, grab our ma, and sneak right back out. The Pinkertons bein none the wiser."

"Whatever you say, Frank. Yer the boss and you know I'd do anything to keep your ma safe. So, just tell me what it is I need to do."

Hutch slapped Cole on the back in a gesture of gratitude. "Go tell Robert to get the horses ready, we'll explain the plan on the way. Now be quick about it. We only have 3 hours till sun up."

Cole ran off to give Robert the orders and Starsky moved closer to his friend. "Frank? Do you think Ma is still alive?"

Troubled sapphire eyes turned to peer at his brother and a hand reached out to caress the back of his curly hair. "I hope to God she is, little brother."

A tender smile helped ease the younger man's anxiety. "She is. She's alive. And we'll get her back, Frank." Starsky laid a steady hand on Hutch's shoulder. He didn't know if the plan would work, or if there was even anyone alive to rescue, but, by God, he was going to try.

O0O

The gang reached the roof of the barn which overlooked the farm and house. From there they could see several of the Pinkerton detectives patrolling the perimeter of the farm, one right underneath where they were hidden.

Two suit clad men stepped out of the large house onto the porch. One lit a cigar and leaned against the banister. Starsky stared at them, his mouth dropping open, and Hutch followed his gaze. "What is it?"

"Holy shit. It's Simmonetti and Dryden. Should'a known they'd be involved in this," he said venomously.

"Who else were you expecting?" Hutch asked, perplexed.

Starsky shrugged his shoulders and turned to face Robert and Cole on his left side. "Robert, you create the distraction over the hill there. Cole, you watch from up here and take out anyone who gets in the way. You ready, Frank? Let's hope Ma is alone in the back bedroom."

Starsky shimmied down the back of the barn, followed by Frank and Robert Ford. Running quietly, the two partners made it to the house without being spotted and proceeded to climb up the back railing and onto the roof below the upstairs window. A loud bang followed by flames broke the stillness. "That's the signal." Starsky lifted the glass and climbed through. He quickly assessed the area and waved Hutch in. Moving quickly, Hutch made it to the door at the end of the hall and opened it.

"Thank God, Ma." Hutch rushed forward and pulled the short woman into his arms, promptly joined by Starsky.

"It's really you, Ma, isn't it?" he asked, pulling her into a tight embrace.

"What's gotten into you, James?" She pushed him to arm's length and focused on his eyes, then his bandage. "You're injured."

Starsky softly slapped her hand away. "It's nuttin, Ma. Doesn't even hurt." In his career, he'd become good at fibbing to his mother. Not that she ever really believed him, but this time she let it drop without her usual hen pecking.

"Really, Ma, he's fine. But that won't last if we don't git out of here, now." Hutch flashed his eyes on the door alerting Starsky to the sound of voices coming up the stairs. Gently, he ushered his mother out the door and to the window. She followed their directions without argument and made it safely to the ground.

Gunfire erupted to the side of them as the Pinkertons realized what had happened. The air became thick and heavy with gunfire as they ran to the barn.

"How the hell did they find out?" Cole shouted as he hopped to the ground.

Starsky reloaded his gun, praying he was hitting his target. "Get Ma to the horses, I'll be right behind you."

"You heard him, Cole. Get Ma to safety. We'll hold 'em off for you."

Starsky took several more well aimed shots. "Get outta here, Frank."

"No way, partner, I'm staying right here with you. Besides, Ma would kill me if anything happened to her little boy." How could Starsky argue with that. He handed Hutch a rifle and ducked as a bullet whizzed by his head, splintering a plank near his ear.

"Jesus Christ. We gotta get better cover."

Hutch looked around before using his free hand to signal toward the large boulders behind the barn. Starsky nodded and took position to cover his partner's movements. Hutch ran, sliding behind the rock and returning cover fire. Starsky took the opportunity to join him, but as he stood to make the dash, a searing pain struck his chest, spinning him around and to the ground.

"Jessie!" he heard Hutch yell in panic. Jesus, it hurts, he thought as he struggled to his feet. Hobbling over to the rock, he collapsed against Hutch, gasping for air. Hutch took several shots, fatally wounding two of the advancing posse before glancing down at his partner.

"I'm okay." Starsky pulled his vest over the bleeding wound and lifted his revolver with a shaking hand. "Just help me…help me up."

Hutch pulled him to his knees as they took aim on the last three hunters. "How are you on ammo?"

"Getting low. You?"

The blond looked in his chamber, beads of sweat dropping onto it. "I have three in the chamber, then I'm out." He glanced quickly at his sagging partner. "The only way we're going to make it out'a this alive is if we run for it."

"Frank, I can't ru-"

"You have no choice, Jess. Now listen. Remember the old mining shaft we played in as kids? We can make it there." Hutch fired a shot as he saw movement behind the rose bushes. "It's still dark for another twenty minutes or so. That gives us time to get into those hills and get to the shaft. We can wait it out there."

"Frank…" Starsky's eyes were full of pain and sadness.

"Shut up, Jessie. Just shut up. Now, on the count of three, we're going for it. One. Two. Three." Hutch grabbed his friend around the ribs and pulled him up. Starsky ran along side, not sure where they were headed, but willing to completely trust his partner.

Expertly, Hutch weaved and darted behind manzanita bushes and tall brush until they were over the rise of the high hill behind the farmhouse. The sun was just beginning to show over the horizon as they reached the mouth of the cave.

Starsky was no longer able to make his legs move and Hutch, exhausted from dragging him the last mile, fell to the dirt floor. Starsky landed with him, grunting in pain.

"Sorry… Jess." Hutch gasped, trying to calm his breathing.

Rolling onto his back with a painful sigh, Starsky peeled his shirt open to look at the damage in the light. He heard a quick intake of breath from the blond, and knew from the hopelessness in his eyes that it was as nasty as it felt. "It's not so bad. Hardly hurts…at all."

"You've always been a bad liar, brother." Hutch's voice cracked as he grabbed him under his arms and pulled the prone man into the open shaft. The coolness of the earthen floor immediately sank into his damp back, causing him to shiver. "Here, put my jacket over you."

Hutch removed his coat and settled it over his shivering friend, then moving onto the floor behind him, pulled the curl covered head onto his lap.

Although Starsky couldn't see him from this position, he could feel warm tears dropping onto his face. "Ain't…your fault. Nothing you could do…do bout…it." It was getting hard to breath, and he was beginning to feel lightheaded.

"We'll get outta this mess, I promise, just hang on. Please hang on, Jessie." Hutch grabbed his hand and clenched it possessively in his.

"Yeah, sure." He coughed to clear his air way. "We…we've been in worse…trouble'n …this before. You know…Doc's gonna kill us." He coughed more deeply, a tinge of red blood coloring his lips.

Hutch let out a small chuckle along with a tearful sob. "He sure is." He began to stroke the damp hair away from Starsky's pale face.

"Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in." Both men jumped at the unexpected intrusion, Starsky wincing with pain as he shifted to look toward the voice.

"Robert. How…how did you find us?" Hutch was perplexed and seemed edgy to Starsky.

The scrawny man rested his shot gun over his shoulder and knelt next to the brunet on the floor. He pulled the coat aside and whistled. "Shit. That don't look too good."

"Answer my question, Ford."

Something was niggling in Starsky's mind, but the spasms of pain that were now shooting through his chest made it difficult to focus.

"Sure, partner," he drawled. "I remembered you talking about it once when we were on a job. You'n Jess was joking about how you used to bring your girls up here until yer pa caught on. Said it was the biggest whipping you ever got." He had an oddly amused expression on his face when he glanced down at Starsky. "Ain't that right, little brother?"

The bulb finally came on causing Starsky to vomit as realization hit. This man was Robert Ford. The Robert Ford. The Robert Ford that shot Jessie James in the back while he was hanging a picture. Oh, shit, this isn't how it happened! "F..Frank…Robert…" He tried to warn Hutch, but another painful stomach contraction had him leaning over and vomiting blood.

Hutch was up and holding onto his partner as he continued to retch. "Help me, Robert." His voice was full of apprehension as Starsky gagged and struggled to take a breath.

"Don't fret none, boss. I'll take care'a you both." Starsky was unprepared for what happened next; Ford pulled out his revolver and pressed it against the side of Starsky's head.

"What the hell are you doing?" Hutch pulled his partner closer as if that could shield him from a head shot.

Ford laughed manically as he pulled the hammer back on his colt. "They were supposed to finish you off at the farm. I told 'em your plan word fer word, but somehow those idiot lawmen lost track a you. Now to get the reward I have to finish you off myself. Say goodbye to your brother, Frank."

"You son of a bitch. I'll fucking kill you," Hutch spat. Without warning, Starsky kicked his feet out making contact with Ford's knees with a sickening crack. Ford fell backward, but not before pulling the trigger. With a cry of pain, Hutch clasp a hand over the side of his neck, thick blood seeping from between his fingers.

"Frank!" Starsky screamed as he saw his partner fall against the cold wall. As Ford raised his revolver and re-cocked it, Starsky felt a surge of adrenalin course through his body and used it to launch himself at the turncoat. For the second time in one day, he felt the burning heat of a bullet as it pushed into his stomach. He felt renewed warmth flow down his abdomen and tasted copper in his mouth. "You motherfucker," Starsky slurred, grabbing the hand that had fired the final fatal bullet and pounding it against the rock floor until it was nothing but a bloody pulp. He then took the gun in his left hand, and with waning strength placed it against the head of his assassin. Without pause, he pulled back the hammer and fired. Robert Ford was dead by his own gun.

O0O

A red trail marked the path as Starsky struggled to reach his partner. "Oh, God, oh, God…Frank? F…Frank?" Using the last of his strength, Starsky pulled himself next to the dying man and collapsed, his head falling onto Hutch's lap. He felt cold fingers brush his face and he looked up to see pale blue eyes watching him. "I…screwed…up." Darkness began to form around the edges of his vision.

"You did good…" Hutch's lids began to grow heavy as they closed over his fading eyes. "…little brother…"

"Don't…go… Frank…don't…don't…leave me." His body now felt completely numb and a strange high pitched ringing was in his ears.

"I'll always be with you, Starsk…" The words were whispered so softly Starsky almost missed them. Then his partner's hand dropped from his face and fell to the ground, unmoving.

"H..utch. No…no…no…God, no…"

"I think he's waking up."

"Yeah, he is. Hand me the water, will you?"

Starsky felt a hand supporting the back of his head and a cup pressed against his lips. Cool water ran down his throat, easing the pain he felt when he swallowed.

"Is that better, buddy?" Hutch asked, laying the head back against the pillow.

Starsky peered through slitted eyes. "Doc?" he asked, confused.

Huggy moved closer. "What's he talking about? Are you sure he isn't hallucinating?"

His eyes flew open and the blurry shapes snapped into focus. Hutch and Huggy were standing near, and he could see the depressed bed covers where Hutch had been sitting. "You make a lousy doctor." His voice scratched out to Huggy as his hand reached up to rub the nonexistent stitches.

"Yeah? Well, you, my friend, make a lousy patient." The lean black man strutted out of the bedroom in mock indignation.

"Welcome back." Hutch put a strong hand behind Starsky's head again, and held the cup.

"You have no idea how good it is to be back." And he really didn't.

Hutch chuckled as he helped his friend settle back into the covers. "Well, Starsk, looks like you were sick, after all."

"Was not," he said, deeply tired.

A smile lit Hutch's entire face. "Whatever you say, partner." He rolled his eyes, but took pity on his friend, fluffing the pillow and smoothing the comforter. "Go to sleep now, you need the rest. If you need anything, I'll be right here." Hutch settled on top of the covers and picked up a book from the nightstand.

"Thanks, big brother." Starsky never saw the perplexed look on his partner's face. He was asleep. A blissful, relaxed, non- dreaming sleep.

The End

For more information on the James Gang and Robert Ford, please visit http/www.spartacus.