If you're new to Xena and Hercules, here's pretty much all the info you need: They both take place somewhere around ancient mythical Greece when the Roman/Greek gods like Zeus existed. Hercules is a half-god, son of Zeus, with a mortal mother. Iolaus is his best friend. Xena is a warrior woman, once bad, now turned good, and Gabrielle is her best friend.
And, um, about the language thing... well,
you see, I figure if they say things like "that sucks" and "busted" in
the Xena/Herc Universe, I'm gonna go with English *grin*
Beta'd by Hephaistos and Linda MacLaren. Rated PG-13
"Sandburg! Goddamnit! You're nothing but a liability!"
Blair winced as Jim's words echoed through his skull. It had all happened so fast, he'd barely had time to think. Jim rushed into the building in pursuit of a suspect and ordered Blair to stay put; but, when gunshots pierced the air, the order was forgotten and he rushed in to help the Sentinel, bracing himself for the worst.
Blair was running up the stairs when a large figure barreled into him. He managed to catch himself on the railing, halting his fall, but the other man rolled down half a flight of stairs. Jim was right behind the suspect, and just as Blair regained his balance, the Sentinel came storming down the steps. Of course, Blair collided with Jim, or perhaps it was the other way around; either way, Ellison tumbled down the rest of the flight. Unfortunately, the suspect was long gone by the time Jim managed to shake off the effects of the fall and struggle to his feet.
And, of course, Jim was royally pissed. His eyes blazed anger as he spun around to face his partner.
"Sandburg, Goddamnit! You're nothing but a liability!" he yelled, the tendons in his neck tight.
Blair swallowed, bringing himself back to the present. The suspect had gotten away, and it had been all Blair's fault. At the time, it seemed like the only thing to do. When the gunshots sounded, he flashed on the image of Jim falling backward, his body crumpling to the ground, surrounded by a pool of blood. He couldn't just stay outside while his partner bled to death. How could he live with himself knowing that his partner had needed him while he waited outside, cowering in the truck?
Oh, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Isn't that what they say? Well, he'd sure paved his way real good.
The real clincher, however, had been the body that turned up less than a day later. Blair had allowed the guy to escape, and another girl had been killed... a girl who would still be alive if not for one Blair Sandburg.
The fire in Jim's eyes and the clench of his jaw when they'd seen the latest victim had turned Blair's blood to ice. Jim hadn't said anything... of course he wouldn't, but it had been written on his face, as clearly as if he'd shouted the words.
I killed an innocent girl, Blair thought.
A sob rose in his chest, but he gritted his teeth and closed his eyes, pushing it back down. He inhaled several slow, deep breaths, and, when he opened his eyes again, he tried to convince himself that he felt marginally better.
Truthfully, though, he felt miserable... more than miserable. He wanted to crawl in a hole and die.
So, he'd crawled in a hole... or, actually, a cave. He had to get away from it all... be alone so he could at least try to get a grip on his emotions. He knew Jim probably thought he was running away, and maybe he was. Regardless, Blair knew he had to get away from the accusation he saw -- or thought he saw -- in Jim's eyes every time the Sentinel looked at him.
He found himself at an old archeological dig he'd visited years ago. It was a quiet, tranquil place, and he hoped it could provide him with a measure of peace. His short summer break allowed him to take a couple of weeks off, so he'd bought a train ticket to California. Then he'd hopped a Greyhound to Mexico... And here he was... sitting in 98-degree heat in the middle of a cave, sweat pouring off his face and neck and soaking his thin blue T-shirt. Limestone walls surrounded him, decorated with faded paintings of battle scenes and animals. The roof of the cave rose high above, obscured by darkness.
Blair decided the best way to give himself some peace was to do a bit of exploring. He grabbed his flashlight, hit the high beam, and made his way toward the interior of the cave. The beam danced over the rocky walls, illuminating carvings and drawings created centuries ago by the natives. Blair slowed his pace, taking in the images he'd seen only once, years before. He was so engrossed by the art that he didn't see the danger ahead. His next step sent him plummeting into darkness. A surprised scream erupted from his throat as he fell, and his descent seemed to last much too long. He hit the ground hard, spiraling into unconsciousness.
"Does it move on the land, in the sky, or in the water?"
"Uh-uh. One question at a time."
Xena sighed, flashing a pair of annoyed blue eyes at her friend. "Fine. Does it move on land?"
"Does it also move in the sky?"
"Yes. You get one more question," Gabrielle informed her companion.
"Does it walk on two legs or four?"
"That's two questions disguised as one."
Xena fingered the lethal metal hoop at her side, her chakram.
"Neither," Gabrielle said quickly, offering a teasing smile as she brushed a lock of golden hair out of her eyes.
"Neither?" Xena scowled. "So it's not a bird."
"If you say so," Gabrielle replied. "No more hints."
"A bug?" Xena guessed.
Gabrielle's smile widened, and she nodded. "That's right. Now, can you guess what kind of bug?"
Xena glared at Gabrielle. "This game of yours is really starting to grate on my nerves."
Gabrielle feigned an innocent look as she nodded toward Xena's head. "Oh, well, I'd think you'd wanna pay closer attention, since the insect in question is resting on top of your head."
Xena batted her head, and a large, green insect buzzed angrily away. She was just about to open her mouth with a retort when a long scream pierced the air.
The two women glanced at one another, then took off in a run just as the scream came to an abrupt halt. They charged through a cluster of trees, emerging into a small, green clearing. A still figure with dark curly hair rested on the ground in the center of the open space. Xena and Gabrielle glanced at one another, then slowly approached him.
Gabrielle inspected the strange man as she knelt down beside him. He had a trickle of blood on the side of his neck, indicating a head injury. She let her eyes drift over the rest of his body, taking note of his odd clothes. She had never seen dressings of the like. The cloth covering his legs was made of a rugged, light blue material that was completely unfamiliar to her. His thin shirt was soaked with sweat, and she fingered the material, noting its uncommonly soft texture. His shoes were just as strange, with an odd writing on the side: REEBOK. The word was written in strange ink, as if it was actually part of the material. His shoes were white... almost as white as fresh snow. She moved her hand to the laces on the shoes, trying to identify the material from which they were made.
Xena checked the man's pulse, then looked up at Gabrielle. "Well, he's alive. His heartbeat's strong."
"Check out these clothes. Have you ever seen anything like them before?"
Xena shook her head. "No." She gave the man a long, critical look.
"Me either." Gabrielle lowered his wrist and turned her attention upward. She took a lock of his long curly hair in her hand. "Feel his hair. It's as soft as silk."
Xena grunted, casting a narrow glance at her friend. "Jealous?" she asked, then turned her attention back to the young man just as Gabrielle threw her a mock glare.
The look lasted only a second before the younger woman found something else of interest."What's this?"
Xena looked up to see her friend holding a cylindrical gray object. Light spewed from its circular tip, and Gabrielle waved the beam over the ground, her brow furrowed with a mixture of curiosity and confusion.
"This is really amazing!" Gabrielle exclaimed, then looked up at Xena. "Look at that! It makes light."
Curiosity winning out over caution, Xena snatched the object from her friend, turning the beam on her face as she peered into the circular light source. She blinked, quickly shining the beam away from her eyes.
"Don't do what I just did," she warned her friend, eliciting an amused smile from the young woman.
The young man groaned, and the two women snapped their attention back to the stranger.
"Oh man," he moaned, raising one hand to his head as his eyelids fluttered open.
Both women waited in silent patience as the man raised his head, blinking clear blue eyes as he stared up at them.
"Uh... hello," he said, his voice uncertain and his eyes betraying confusion. He studied the two women, his eyes drifting over their outfits and lingering on the whip at Xena's side. Finally, his eyes floated back up to their faces, and he shifted his gaze between them. "Uh... What's with the outfits? Is there some kind of festival going on??" He looked around, his brow furrowing. "Where am I? How'd I get here? Where's the cave?"
"What cave?" Gabrielle asked.
He looked back at the petite, golden-haired beauty. "There was a cave. I fell through some kind of a hole." The crease in his brow grew more pronounced. "Who are you?"
"I'm Gabrielle," she replied, then gestured to the tall woman next to her. "This is Xena."
He struggled to sit up, but released a groan instead and sank back to the ground, closing his eyes. "Oh man, remind me not to do that again."
"You said you fell through a cave?" Xena asked suspiciously. "There aren't any caves around here. Who are you? Where are you from?"
Gabrielle slapped her friend's arm. "Come on, Xena, ease up. He's hurt." She placed a reassuring hand on the young man's arm. "Don't mind my friend. She's suspicious by nature," she said, casting a narrow glance at her friend.
Xena scowled, but quickly turned her attention back to the stranger.
He opened his eyes and peered up at Gabrielle. "That's okay," he said, his eyes darting to the dark-haired woman. "My name's Blair Sandburg. I'm from Cascade, but I'm here in Mexico on a vacation... sort of a working vacation. I was checking out an archeological site. I'm an anthropologist with Rainier University."
"Mexico? Cascade? Rainier?" Xena asked. "I've never heard of them. What are you talking about?"
Blair frowned, the crease returning to his brow. "What do you mean you've never heard of Mexico? You know, south of the United States. Makes great burritos. C'mon, we're in Mexico."
Gabrielle shook her head. "No we're not. We're just outside of Damacus." She tilted her head curiously. "What's a burrito?"
"And what is the United States?" Xena asked.
Blair narrowed his eyes, peering at the two women with a mixture of apprehension and confusion. Finally, he groaned and closed his eyes. "Oh man, I must still be unconscious."
Xena grunted in amusement and patted Blair gently on the knee. "Come on, let's check you out and take care of that bump on your head."
Gabrielle and Xena, after retrieving Argo from his wanderings, settled Blair in the palomino's saddle and headed off toward the nearest village. Blair drifted in and out of consciousness during the trip, and Gabrielle sat behind him in the saddle during most of the day to make sure he didn't slide off of the horse. She offered him the skin canteen every hour or so when he was conscious, and he accepted the water gratefully.
They arrived in Corrins just before sunset, and Xena paid for a room at the only inn. Blair was nearly dead on his feet. He released a small groan as he sank onto the hay mattress.
"How are you feeling?" Gabrielle asked.
Blair opened one eye to peer at the young woman. "Great. Just great. There's two of everything and the world keeps spinning. And my rear-end isn't feeling too good, by the way."
Gabrielle smiled as Xena handed her a wet cloth she'd soaked in a basin of water. "I guess that means you haven't ridden a horse in awhile." Gently, she began to clean the residual blood off of Blair's neck. The young man closed his eyes and released a small sigh.
"Thank you," he muttered.
"Don't mention it."
Xena sat down on the extra bed and looked at Gabrielle. "You hungry?"
Gabrielle nodded. "Yeah. We should get him some food, too."
Xena jerked her chin toward the young man. "He's out for the count."
Gabrielle looked back at her patient and realized he'd dozed off. "You think his head injury is serious?"
Xena shrugged. "Don't know. Probably not. His vision's a bit blurry, but he makes sense when he talks and he remembers things. He'll probably be okay by morning."
"So what do you make of him?" Gabrielle asked.
Again, Xena shrugged. "I don't think he's a threat."
Gabrielle rolled her eyes. "You're all heart, Xena."
The warrior flashed her friend a smile. "That's your department, remember?"
Gabrielle raised an eyebrow. "Oh yeah, sure. Just admit it. You're an old softy inside."
Xena's smile broadened, and she slapped her friend on the shoulder. "Keep talking like that and you can buy us dinner."
Her eyes captured him -- dark, cold, and lifeless, and they seemed to peer directly into his soul. It was a picture. Just a picture.
"You're nothing but a liability!" Jim's voice mocked him, harsh and angry.
No. No. No. No. No.
"I'm sorry, Jim," he cried.
The picture was snatched out of his hand, then held up in front of his face by the angry Sentinel. "Look at her, Sandburg. Look at her! She'd be alive right now if I had caught that son of a bitch! But no! You got in the way! You didn't do what I told you, damnit! You screwed up and now a girl is dead... because of you! All because of you!"
Blair shook his head, tears streaming down his cheeks. "I didn't mean it. I thought you were hurt. I only wanted to help!"
"You're pathetic, Sandburg," Jim snarled. "Get out of my face. It's over. No more partnership. You're just too much of a screw-up!" He threw the picture at Blair's chest. "I should have let that psycho Lash kill you! Be done with it! I'd have done her a favor, that's for sure!"
The muscles in Jim's jaw twitched as he hung up the phone. He'd been trying to get hold of Blair for over a day now, with no luck. He'd dialed the hotel number that Blair had left and, although the young man had checked into the hotel two days ago, he hadn't returned any of the messages. Jim had tried calling at all hours, hoping to catch Blair his room, but the kid either hadn't been there, or just wasn't answering calls.
Damnit, kid, where are you?
He knew Blair needed some down time, and, with the way Jim had treated him after Simmons escaped, he didn't blame Sandburg for taking off. With a sigh, he ran his hands over his face and sank onto the couch.
You screwed up, Ellison, big time, he told himself. It really hadn't been Blair's fault that Simmons escaped. Jim had been so focused on tracking the guy's heartbeat that he'd zoned on the sound. Simmons had gotten the jump on him, getting off a shot that had missed Jim's head by a fraction of an inch, and the sound of the gun's explosion had given him an instant headache.
But I lost my temper and took it out on Sandburg. He closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the couch. And, to top it all off, I called him a liability... Brilliant. Just brilliant. I should have said something, damnit... when that girl turned up dead, I should have told him it wasn't his fault.
He clenched both hands into fists. Why the hell hadn't he said something? Why? Because he was an asshole wrapped up in his own guilt for first letting the suspect get away, and then for taking his frustration out on Blair. He'd tried to offer a silent apology, let the kid know with a look that he was sorry for what he'd said -- because he'd been too chicken-shit to say the words.
And now Blair was off somewhere, alone with his thoughts... and he might very well decide that he'd had enough. And I can't even find him to set things straight before he makes that decision.
He opened his eyes suddenly. Or maybe I can...
With new-found determination, he snatched the cordless and dialed the Captain's office. After securing a week of vacation, he booked a room at the hotel where Blair was staying, and then purchased a flight to Mexico for the morning.
Xena jerked to awareness, her body rigid against the hard floor.
"No! No, please, Jim! I'm sorry!" a male voice cried.
She shot to her feet, instantly alert. Darkness surrounded her, impenetrable. She blinked, trying to pierce the thick blackness and locate the source of the threat.
"I'm so sorry, Jim. Please don't. I'm so sorry."
"Xena?" a soft voice whispered
"Yeah, I'm awake," she told her friend.
Suddenly, soft light filled the room, and she saw Gabrielle sitting by Blair's bed, the lightstick clutched in her hand.
"This is really something," the young woman said, waving the lightstick. "You think it's something the Gods cooked up? Hey, maybe he's some kind of a God himself? He's got this weird lightstick, strange clothes, and he said he fell in a cave that doesn't exist. Maybe he was banished and the other Gods took his memory?"
Xena looked at her friend skeptically. "He seems to remember where he's from... his story just doesn't make much sense." She shook her head. "No, he's not a God... just a man," she replied, then knelt down beside Blair.
He was soaked with sweat, his hair matted to his forehead. He tossed his head from side to side, his brow creased with deep lines.
"No, Jim... Please, man, don't do this," he mumbled.
Xena placed her palm on his forehead, then glanced worriedly at Gabrielle. "He's burning up," she stated. "Get me a wet cloth."
Gabrielle nodded and headed to the basin. She returned a few seconds later with a wet washcloth and placed it on Blair's forehead.
"Come on, wake up," Gabrielle urged the young man.
Xena gave Blair's shoulder a firm shake, but his only response was an incoherent mumble and a toss of his head.
"What's wrong with him?" the younger woman asked. "He wasn't this bad before."
Xena pursed her lips and shook her head. "I don't know. If he just had a head injury, he wouldn't be so hot."
Gabrielle looked down at the man, studying the deep lines etched in his face. "I wonder who Jim is?"
Xena shrugged. "I don't know. We'll find the local healer in the morning and leave the kid with him." She glanced back up at her friend. "Then we'll head out before mid-day."
"Aren't you curious about him?"
Xena raised her eyebrows. "Yes, but we've really got to get to Damacus before the next sunset. There's no telling when Sirus will make his next raid."
Morning came much too soon, and Xena groaned as she opened her eyes. Soft light streamed in through the shutters, and she pushed off the animal fur covering her as she rose to her feet. Gabrielle remained asleep on one of the narrow beds, and the young stranger rested peacefully on the other bed.
Xena crouched next to Gabrielle, giving her friend a gentle shake. "Wake up."
"Huh?" Gabrielle's eyes shot open, and she raised her head. Immediately, she turned her gaze to Blair. "He slept through the rest of the night," she observed.
Xena nodded. "Fortunately for us."
"Is he okay?"
The object of their discussion groaned, and both women fell silent, their eyes locked on his pale face. His eyelids fluttered open, and he blinked several times.
"Oh man," he groaned, snuggling deeper under the fur cover as he rolled onto his side, closing his eyes again. "Jim, man, you have got to turn up the thermostat," he muttered softly.
"Jim again," Gabrielle observed. "Sounds like he's a friend." She slid out from beneath the covers and sat up, swinging her legs off the edge of the bed. "What's a thermostat?"
Xena shrugged. "Don't know. He's just full of strange words."
Blair groaned again, and opened his eyes. He stared at the women for several seconds, then blinked. His brow furrowed, and he blinked again. Finally, his eyes widened and he shot out of bed. He swayed visibly, but kept his balance, raising one hand to his head.
"Oh man." He began to back up toward the door, his face reflecting his nervousness as his eyes drifted over the room. "Where am I? Who are you two?"
Gabrielle and Xena both rose to their feet.
"I'm Xena," the brunette said, then gestured to her companion. "This is my friend, Gabrielle. We found you yesterday. You were unconscious, lying in a field."
Blair narrowed his gaze, and he looked to be fighting a monstrous headache. He pressed his back up against the large wooden door, confusion and fear written on his face. "I... I don't..." He shook his head, then swallowed. "Where am I?"
"You're in Corrins, just outside of Damacus," Gabrielle answered patiently.
The crease in Blair's brow grew more pronounced, and he lowered his gaze to the floor, staring hard at some indeterminate spot. "I... I was in a cave. Yeah, I remember." He looked back up at the two women. "I fell into a hole, or something."
"That's all you remember?" Xena asked. "You were in and out yesterday, and you had a pretty high fever last night."
Blair took a deep breath, and some of the fear melted from his face. Slowly, he began to shuffle back toward the bed. "That's all I remember," he confessed, sitting down on the edge of the mattress. He ran a hand over his face and released a tired sigh. "I don't feel too good, actually."
Gabrielle was at his side instantly, her hand on his forehead. She glanced worriedly at Xena. "He's still hot."
Blair looked at Gabrielle, and he made no attempt to hide his scrutiny as his eyes drifted over her body. Then he turned his gaze to Xena and inspected her with equal intensity. "Who are you two?" he asked with a trace of petulance. "And what's with the outfits?"
"We could ask you the same question," Xena replied, her ice blue eyes steady and her voice flat.
Blair looked decidedly uncomfortable under the woman's probing look, and he quickly shifted his gaze back to Gabrielle. "I'm Blair Sandburg," he said.
"We know," Gabrielle said, offering a comforting smile. "You told us that yesterday." She tilted her head a fraction. "Who's Jim?"
Blair's face lost the little color it had left, and his gaze dropped to the floor. "He's a friend," he admitted quietly. "Why?"
Gabrielle placed a gentle hand on his arm. "You said his name last night in your sleep, then again this morning. I was just curious, that's all."
Blair nodded, then closed his eyes. "You know, I really don't feel good," he whispered. Then, without warning, he flung himself off the bed and headed toward the door. "Where's the bath--" His question was cut off by a dry heave that dropped him to his knees. "Oh God," he muttered, gasping, just as another wave of naseau gripped him. He threw up a bit of bile and mucous, but his stomach was otherwise empty.
Gabrielle knelt next to him, placing a reassuring hand on his back as she looked back at Xena. "We've gotta find a healer," she said.
Blair's dry heaves subsided, and he fell back onto his rear, sinking against the door. Sweat poured off his face, soaking his shirt, and he leaned his head against the wood, his eyes closed. "Oh man," he groaned. "This really sucks."
"Let's get you some water," Xena said, grabbing the canteen from the corner of the room. She knelt in front of the young man and held out the container.
Blair's eyes opened to narrow slits as he studied the offering. Slowly, he raised shaking hands and accepted the canteen. "Thanks," he muttered, taking a cautious sip of the liquid, then wincing from the taste. "This tastes a bit strange, and I probably shouldn't be drinking it," he commented, but took another sip, his thirst obviously winning out over his caution. He handed the canteen back to Xena. "You said I was in Corrins?"
Xena nodded. "Yes."
He pursed his lips, looking completely confused. "Where is that? I don't know of any city in Mexico named Corrins. It doesn't even sound Spanish."
Xena and Gabrielle glanced at one another quickly.
"Uh, you mentioned that place before," Gabrielle informed him. "We're not in Mexico. Never heard of it, actually."
Blair's eyes widened. "What do you mean we're not in Mexico? You've never heard of Mexico? Where the hell am I?"
"--ins. I know. Thanks a lot," Blair grumbled, leaning his head back against the door. "Can you be a bit more specific? Like, what continent?"
"Um... Continent?" Gabrielle asked.
Blair sighed, closing his eyes. "Okay, what country?"
"You mean what territory?" Xena asked.
Blair opened his eyes and peered at the two women. "Are you two for real?"
Gabrielle shifted, crossing her legs in front of her on the floor. "Why don't you tell us who you are, where you think you should be, and exactly how you got here."
Blair released another sigh. "My name is Blair Sandburg. I'm a graduate student at Rainier University in Cascade, Washington. That's the United States. I'm here on vacation. I work as a consultant with the Cascade PD. If you find me a phone, I can make a phone call and get myself out of this mess." His eyes darted warily between the two women. "You do know what a phone is, right?"
"No," Xena stated flatly.
Blair banged his head softly against the door and released a sharp chuckle. "Perfect. Just perfect." He straightened suddenly, his jaw clenched and his eyes betraying his frustration. "Look, you both speak really good English, and I know I was in Mexico. So, you've gotta know something. I don't know who either of you are, or what game you're playing, but--"
Xena tilted her head, her eyes flashing with sudden inspiration. "What time do you think you're in?"
Blair automatically glanced at his watch. Then, the full impact of her question penetrated his thoughts and his jaw dropped open. "Wh-- ? Huh? What time?"
"You think he traveled through time?" Gabrielle asked, her face bright with realization. She slapped one hand on her knee. "Of course, that would explain a lot -- like the lightstick and his strange clothes." She looked briefly at Blair, then turned her gaze back to Xena. "Who do you think is responsible? Ares? Zeus?"
Xena shook her head. "I don't know. I--"
"This is all very interesting," Blair said. "But I don't--"
His protest was interrupted by a loud crash of chaos from outside. Xena and Gabrielle shot to their feet, and the older woman grabbed Blair's arm, pulling him up and depositing him on the bed. Loud screams pierced the air, and she drew her sword as she moved to the door.
Gabrielle grabbed her staff from its discarded position on the floor and moved up behind her friend. "What's going on? Sirus?"
Xena's eyes blazed, and she replied with a curt nod. She cast a quick glance at the pale young man on the bed as she reached a hand out to open the door. "Stay here and lock this after me," she told him, then flung the door open and leapt out of the room.
The world spun. Blair Sandburg tried to push himself off the bed, but as soon as he moved, the room tilted away from him. He found himself lying flat on his back, staring at the spinning wood-and-hay roof above.
Oh man. What's wrong with me? he asked silently, closing his eyes in an attempt to combat the nauseating sensaion of motion. After a few seconds, his stomach settled, and he allowed his mind to ponder his current predicament.
The two women were definitely way on the other side of strange. What was with the leather and whip, anyway? And what was all that talk about time travel?
He released an explosive chuckle. "Yeah right." Welcome to the Twilight Zone... or rather, the Sandburg Zone. Looks like they're all right about me -- I'm some kind of a cosmic trouble magnet.
The sounds of combat drifted to his consciousness. Oh yeah, I was supposed to lock the door, wasn't I? The disturbing sounds were louder now... much closer. He rolled onto his stomach and pushed himself to his knees, keeping his eyes closed. He took several deep breaths, then rose to his feet, swaying slightly. Slowly, he let his eyelids drift open and struggled to place one foot in front of the other. The door careened toward him, and, before he could move out of the way, it slammed into his face.
Blair leaned against the closed door for several seconds, struggling to push down the rising bile in his throat. Oh man, I didn't know it was possible to feel this miserable. He closed his eyes again. I am not going to be sick. I am NOT going to be sick. He repeated the mantra several times until, finally, the nausea faded. Cautiously, he opened his eyes, releasing a relieved sigh when the room remained stationary.
A scream pierced the air, driving a spike of pain into his skull. He winced, but, as the sound died to a soft gurgling whimper, the pain gave way to a tight pressure in his chest. Oh God... Whoever had made that noise was obviously right outside the room... dying.
He swallowed and pulled open the door. Light poured into the room, slamming into his face and blinding him. He blinked rapidly, taking a step out into the sunshine. He nearly tripped as his foot contacted something hard and immobile, and he looked down, spots dancing across his vision. He gasped when he saw a large man dressed in partial armor. The armor covered his legs, but his chest was exposed, covered with blood. The red liquid seeped from the large gash near his heart, collecting in a dark pool beneath his body. His blue eyes gazed blankly upward, and, if it weren't for the shallow rise and fall of his chest and the soft gurgling hitch in his breathing, Blair would have thought the man dead.
"Oh man." Blair dropped to his knees, and the world spun violently with the sudden motion. He closed his eyes, pushing back the sick feeling, and pulled his shirt over his head. He took a deep breath, opened his eyes, and pressed the thin material over the gash in the man's chest.
"Hold on, man. Just hold on. You're gonna be okay," he muttered, his mouth running on automatic as his brain tried to assimilate the situation.
He looked up briefly, just then noticing the chaos around him. People were running... screaming. Men on horses charged with swords, cutting down men and women mercilessly. A few foot soldiers, all dressed similar to the man dying beneath Blair's hands, added to the slaughter, their mouths twisted into wicked grins as their swords sliced through flesh and bone.
An undulating, high-pitched battle cry sliced the air, and Blair's head snapped around, his eyes focusing on the source of the sound. Xena catapulted through the air, landing deftly on her feet as her sword cut down one of the foot shoulders. Blair winced as the blade sliced lethally through the man's gut. Behind her, Gabrielle battled two large men, her staff whipping through the air so fast that it was barely visible. Within seconds, both men lay in crumpled heaps at her feet. A third charged her, but she twisted her body and snapped the staff upward, catching him under the chin. His head snapped up as he was thrown backward.
The soldier beneath Blair released a sudden, wheezing gasp, and his body convulsed once. Blair dropped his gaze to the man, automatically increasing the pressure on the wound. "Oh man. Don't do this. Don't do this."
The man convulsed once more, then went limp, his chest still.
"Damnit!" Blair cursed between clenched teeth.
He tilted the soldier's head back and covered the mouth with his own, forcing air into the man's lungs. After several repetitions, he straightened, then began the chest compressions. He continued CPR for what seemed like a small eternity, his entire being focused on keeping the soldier alive. Blood covered his hands, chest, and neck, but he barely noticed as he continued the CPR. Come on, man. Come on, he urged silently. No way. No way are you gonna die. He suddenly felt responsible for the man... a part of him believing that, if he stopped, the blood would stain his hands forever.
...five... six... seven... Blair counted off mentally as he continued the chest compressions. His mind wandered as his body developed an automated rhythm. He pictured the man as a child, wondering where he'd grown up... Did he have a wife? Children? Was he a criminal, or just a soldier following orders?
His eyes moved of their own volition to the man's face, locking onto the empty blue eyes. For a second, everything stopped, and, for the briefest moment, he saw Jim's eyes... Jim's face...
And he knew he had to save this man. Jim had been a soldier. Jim had been in combat. Jim could have died just like this man here... lying on the cold ground, his blood mixing with the dirt. So easy. So random. And everything would be different. I'd never have known him... would never have cared that he ever existed. He shook his head in angry denial, covering the man's mouth once again as he forced air into the unresponsive lungs.
A pressure gripped his shoulder, but he continued the mouth-to-mouth. The pressure increased until he felt himself being pulled backward.
"No!" he yelled... or meant to. His voice sounded hoarse and weak even to his own ears. He struggled forward, determined to continue the life-support, but hands held him back.
"What are you doing? He's dead," a woman's voice asked.
He shook his head, glancing at the figure behind him. Gabrielle's gentle eyes met his own, and he shook his head again, his throat too tight to form words.
"Yes," Gabrielle said, pulling him firmly away from the body. "He's dead."
A glint of metal caught Blair's eyes, and he whipped his head to the right just in time to see a foot soldier poised for a deadly blow.
"Look out!" he yelled, reflex overriding his brain as he shot to his feet in front of Gabrielle. The sword arched toward his chest just as the man flew forward. Blair barely had time to close his eyes before he was slammed backward. He expected to feel the blade cut through his chest, but the pain never came. He hit the ground, feeling a warm mass beneath him and a crushing weight on his chest. Then, suddenly, the pressure abated and he felt himself being rolled onto his stomach.
It took his body a moment to convince his brain that he was still alive, and he slowly opened his eyes. Hands grabbed his shoulders, rolling him onto his back. Xena and Gabrielle stood above him, and the larger woman dropped down next to him, rubbing her hands over his chest and torso, her eyes narrow with concern.
"It's not his blood," Gabrielle said, jerking her head toward the dead soldier. "It's his."
Xena sighed, her shoulders sagging with relief as her eyes met his. "Are you okay?" she asked again.
Blair swallowed. He really had no idea how to answer that question. It was all just way too much, way too fast. The spots returned, dancing at the edge of his vision. The darkness encroached, pulling him down, and the image of a pair of bright blue eyes followed him into the blackness.
Jim. The silent plea faded as he fell toward oblivion.
Jim dropped his bag and leaned on the counter. The plump, dark-haired woman looked up from the television and rose from her seat.
"Como esta, Senor?" she asked.
Jim knew very basic Spanish, so he understood her question.
"Bien. Habla Ingles?"
"Yes," she replied. "You want a room?"
Jim nodded. "Yes, please. Also, is a man named Blair Sandburg registered here?"
The woman glanced thoughtfully up at the ceiling. "Yes, he is. He has many messages, but he has not been in for two days."
"Did he pay for his room in advance?" Jim asked.
The woman nodded. "Yes, Senor. He paid for one week."
"Any idea where he might have gone?"
Jim sighed and pulled out his wallet.
"I'd like to book a room for the next five days, and I'll pay in advance. If you can get me one close to his, I'd appreciate it."
The woman cocked her head, eyeing him skeptically. "What do you want with the jovenito?"
Jim placed three twenty dollar bills on the counter. "I'm his brother from the United States. I have some important family news, but I haven't been able to reach him with the messages," he lied. It was, after all, much easier than explaining the truth.
The woman nodded as if in understanding, then snatched up the bills. "I can put you in a room just across the hall from his."
"Thank you, ma'am," he said. "Oh, I know he was looking to visit some archeological sites. Do you know of any near here?"
She creased her brow. "What?"
"Caves? Are there any caves around here with old drawings on the walls?"
"Ah yes," the woman said, nodding. "Yes, there are two caves near here like that. They are both to the west. One is about thirty minutes by bus, and the other is an hour away."
Jim heard a deep growl and spun around. A large black jaguar sat near the entrance of the hotel, its tail twitching.
"Is there a problem, Senor?"
The Sentinel turned back to the woman. "You said one was a half an hour away?" He glanced at the panther, and it continued to twitch its tail. "And the other is an hour away?" The panther roared and leapt to its feet, disappearing through the doors. Jim smiled, offering a silent word of thanks to the ephemeral feline and turned back to the woman. "Where is the one that's an hour away?"
"Mix the powder with water until it is thin enough to drink, and make him drink two mouthfuls three times a day," the old frail-looking man instructed, plopping the pouch in Gabrielle's hand.
The young woman nodded, offering a smile. "Thank you."
The healer shook his head. "If this doesn't help him, I know of nothing else, besides the Gods, that can."
Gabrielle nodded grimly, glancing at Xena. The warrior princess slipped two gold coins into the old man's hand. "Thank you."
The man nodded as he shuffled out the door.
Gabrielle watched him close the door, then sighed and turned to Xena. "I hope this works," she said, glancing at Blair, who lay sleeping on the haybed, soaked in sweat.
Xena sank onto the empty bed. "It either will or it won't. The healer doesn't even know why he's sick, so there's little else we can do for him."
Gabrielle chewed her lower lip unhappily. "He's a good guy, Xena. He jumped in front of a blade, and he barely knows me."
The older woman nodded. "Yes, I know," she muttered, looking thoughtfully at the young man. "We can stay here for another day. Sirus' latest attack has weakened him. He's in no condition to hit Damacus right now. It'll take him at least two days to round up more men and allow the ones left to heal."
"Maybe we oughta send word for Hercules?" Gabrielle suggested. "I mean, what if Blair isn't ready to travel in a day? We can't leave him here."
Xena sighed, her gaze drifting over the motionless figure on the bed. They had cleaned off most of the blood, and replaced his shirt with a woven cream-colored piece. "Hercules is too far away. It'll take over three days for someone to reach him, then another three days if he can travel immediately to Damacus."
Gabrielle shook her head. "I heard a young man talking in the bar yesterday when I went to round up some food. Hercules was last spotted in Battacus. You think maybe he's already heading for Damacus?"
Xena tilted her head, her eyebrows rising with surprise. "I don't know, but that'd be good news." She jerked her chin toward the door. "Okay, go see if you can find that messenger and ask him to get word to Hercules." She rose to her feet, walking over to Blair and placing her palm against his forehead. One edge of her mouth turned upward in a small smile as she met Gabrielle's soft gaze. "He was willing to sacrifice his life to save you, so I figure we owe him some help."
Jim wiped the sweat from his brow and adjusted his backpack as he ventured further into the cave. His hearing told him the cave was empty, but he'd found Blair's discarded backpack near the entrance, and the footsteps set in the fragile dirt led him deeper into the cave. Fortunately, his sentinel eyesight penetrated the soft darkness easily.
He tried not to dwell on the implications of a trail that led into, but not out of the cave, with no accompanying heartbeat. He could only hope that something had happened to cause Blair to find another exit to the cave and leave his backpack behind. Although he didn't relish the thought of his partner being injured and forced to travel on his own for help, the alternative just wasn't something he could deal with.
Sandburg, if you're not okay when I find you... He cut the thought short. There was no way Sandburg could... die... no way Jim could live with knowing that he'd never be able to take back the things he said.
Detach with love. He unconsciously clenched his jaw. When he'd first heard Blair voice that phrase, he'd had to suppress the urge to roll his eyes. It sounded too naively-feel-good-politically-correct for his stomach, but now it turned his stomach in a different way. He wished he'd paid the philosophy more respect. If he'd set things straight with Sandburg before the kid had left...
If only... How many times had he said THAT in his life? He just didn't learn... kept doing the same stupid, arrogant things over and over again.
"Shut up," he told himself. The panther had led him here, so Blair HAD to be alive... he was meant to find Blair, not -- his jaw clenched tighter -- his body.
As if on cue, he spotted the fleeting lash of a tail ahead of him. His heart nearly leapt into his throat, and he broke into a run after the cat. He was so focused on the brief glimpses that teased his vision, that he never even saw the hole.
Gabrielle lifted Blair's head and placed the rim of the goblet against his lips. "Come on, drink this," she urged.
Blair groaned, shivering visibly, his hair matted to his head with sweat. His lips parted a fraction, and Gabrielle tilted the cup and let a small amount of the liquid slide into his mouth.
He choked, inadvertently spitting most of the liquid out. "Wha--?" He opened his eyes to look at her, his face twisted in revulsion. "What is that?" he asked weakly.
Gabrielle shrugged. "I don't know, but the healer says you need to drink it."
"Healer?" Blair croaked. "You can find a doctor but not a phone?"
Gabrielle smiled condescendingly. "If you tell me what a phone is, maybe I can find one."
Blair moaned and turned his head away from the goblet. "This is all one big hallucination, isn't it?"
Gabrielle forced his head back toward the goblet. "Come on, take two drinks of this and I'll leave you alone."
"Tastes terrible," he complained.
"Then it must be good for you, right?" Gabrielle countered lightly.
The first thing he realized as he drifted toward consciousness was that his head felt about five sizes too big. The second thing he realized was that there was sunlight where there should have been darkness. He could see the brightness through his eyelids. Slowly, he opened his eyes, seeing green grass tilted at an odd angle.
What the hell...?
He realized he was lying on his stomach in a field. He slowly lifted his head, taking in his surroundings. Somehow, he had ended up in a woodsy clearing... and there was no sign of the cave. As a matter of fact, he was sure he was nowhere near the cave because the area looked completely unfamiliar.
He rose carefully to his feet, taking stock of his welfare. His head ached a little, and felt like it would topple off his shoulders any minute, but his vision seemed fine, and he didn't really hurt anywhere else. He glanced at his watch, and realized that he'd been out for only about five minutes.
He stretched his hearing outward, encountering the clear chirping of birds and the soft rustle of leaves. He also heard about a hundred mixed heartbeats, some fast, others slow, but nothing that sounded human. Confident that his senses were online, he focused next on smell.
The pleasant aroma of flowers tickled his nose, but he couldn't quite identify the variety. He also smelled green... well, a smell he'd come to associate with leafy vegetation, anyway. The air itself smelled crisp and clean, much different than the slightly polluted air in Cascade. Mixed among those pleasant smells were more pungent odors like feces, urine, and the horrid stench of rotting flesh.
He crinkled his nose quickly and dialed down his sense of smell. He'd hoped to find a trace of Blair -- a lingering remnant of his herbal shampoo or the soft beat of his heart. Since his smell and hearing turned up nothing useful, he decided to concentrate on sight. He knew he was surrounded only by plants and animals, so he turned his gaze downward.
Aha! He was immediately rewarded with the sight of footsteps. The trail was light, obviously over a day old, but his sensitive vision picked up the soft impressions on the ground. He could make out two sets of footprints and a small round impression that looked like it came from a walking stick. He scanned the ground, grateful that the impression made by the walking stick helped him decipher the direction in which the faint trail led. The footsteps themselves had already been mostly destroyed by wind, leaves, and other elements, so he relied on the regular pattern made by the person walking with the stick to lead him forward. He walked a few steps, and noticed that a third set of footsteps joined the other two.
With a furrow of his brow, he turned back around, following the third set to their source... and noticed that they started right where he had woken up. A few dark drops caught his eyes, and he crouched lower to inspect them. His gut twisted in a knot, and, reluctantly, he opened his sense of smell to confirm his suspicions.
Blood... Sandburg's blood.
It wasn't a lot of blood, so he hoped that meant his partner wasn't seriously injured. Considering how he himself had arrived, it was very possible that Blair had hit his head in the fall.
Now all I have to do is find him. He turned his attention back to the faded footprints. They looked lighter than the other two. In fact, one of the impressions was a bit deeper, and closer to the third, indicating one person supporting another.
So it looked like someone just appeared in the center of the clearing and took up with the two travelers. The impressions looked to be the right size for Sandburg's feet, and he could make out the very faint pattern of sneakers. He quickened his pace, following the trail and deciding to forego thoughts on HOW he'd gotten there until he found Sandburg... maybe the kid could shed some light on the situation.
He walked for nearly twenty minutes before he found the impression made by hooves. Confident that he was heading in the right direction, he increased his pace.
"I think that'll hold up well," Xena commented, her eyes drifting over the makeshift cot attached to Argo.
Gabrielle looked at her friend skeptically. "But he'll be bounced around a lot. Do you really think this is a good idea?"
Xena sighed and patted the horse's neck. "We've got to get to Damacus... early rather than late."
Gabrielle nodded. "I know. It's going to be hard for us to travel with him. We're going to have to stop a lot, you know."
Xena nodded. "Which is why we're getting an early start and following the river." She jerked her chin toward the small inn. "You go check on him. I'll be in in a minute to help get him out here."
"Okay," Gabrielle acknowledged, turning to head toward the room.
Jim followed the horse's tracks, noting that Blair's footprints had disappeared a while ago. He didn't quite know what to make of that. Had Blair gone with the travelers willingly? The logical explanation was that someone had found his injured partner and taken him to get help, but, knowing Sandburg, Jim didn't dare bet on such good fortune.
He knew from the trail that Blair had at least a day's head start on him, so he used his senses to scan for more signs of the travelers. He didn't dare focus solely on his hearing for fear of zoning, because there would be no one to pull him out of it, and, not only would he be left in a vulnerable state, but he could end up staying zoned long enough to lose the trail. He decided the best approach would be to extend his senses at regular intervals to search for his partner, being careful not to focus too much on any one sense... just like Sandburg had taught him.
He smiled briefly at that thought. See, Chief, I do, on occasion, listen to you. The smile faded suddenly, along with his mirth, when he remembered how he'd recently failed his partner.
But I'm not going to fail you now, Chief. He stopped and cocked his head, listening.
"You know, when we get to Damacus, I'm gonna round up a nice, hot bath," a male voice announced.
"Good idea. You need one."
"Ha. Ha. Very funny, Herc. You don't smell so great yourself. Even half-gods sweat, you know."
A chuckle. "Okay, so we can both use some cleaning up, but don't worry -- we'll be there in a little over a day."
"Yeah I know. One of these days, though, I'm gonna invest in a horse."
Jim hurried his pace toward the new voices. He heard only two heartbeats, so he knew Blair wasn't with them, but they seemed to be heading in the same direction, and he hoped to gain some information from them.
Using the vegetation for cover, he followed their voices. Within a few minutes, he spotted the two men walking along a trail. One was tall with shoulder-length brown hair, and the other was shorter with curly blonde hair.
"So we show up, we kick some butt, we lay up and relax, and then we head on. That's the plan?" the blonde one asked.
"You're getting cocky, Iolaus," the larger one said, smiling at his companion.
Iolaus chuckled. "Hey, the messenger said that Xena and Gabrielle were already on their way. I mean, c'mon... the Great Iolaus, his friend, Hercules, along with Xena, and Gabrielle against, what, a little old army. No contest."
Jim furrowed his brow. Hercules? Who'd name their kid after a mythical God? Despite their weird names and strange clothes, at least the two men seemed okay. Jim didn't think they presented a threat. In fact, watching them reminded him a lot of what he screwed up with Sandburg.
Hercules cast a sly look at his friend. "The Great Iolaus?"
The smaller man grinned brilliantly. "Hey, a guy can dream."
Hercules laughed and patted his partner on the shoulder. "Iolaus, why do I get the impression you're more eager to see Gabrielle then you are about stopping Sirus?" Before Iolaus could respond, Hercules leaned in closer to the smaller man and lowered his voice. "We're being followed."
Jim raised his eyebrows. Damn, the guy was good... either that, or Jim was sorely out of practice on his stealth maneuvers. Of course, he hadn't expected Jim to overhear the comment. The Sentinel decided that, since his cover was blown, confrontation was the best course of action.
He rose to his full height and broke into a light jog toward the two men. As he approached, Hercules and Iolaus stopped as if expecting his appearance. Jim stepped onto the trail a few feet in front of the men, deciding to play dumb.
"Excuse me. I seem to have gotten lost, and I was hoping you could tell me where I am," Jim asked.
Hercules and Iolaus glanced at one another, then the larger man turned his gaze back to Jim. "Uh... you're about a day away from Damacus," he said.
Jim nodded. Well, that cleared things up. "And Damacus would be where?"
"West of Corrins," Iolaus offered, his eyes drifting over the man's clothes. "Which is less than a day that way," he added, pointing north.
Jim smiled good-naturedly. "I'm sorry, I guess I'm more lost than I thought. I was traveling with a friend... smaller guy, about your height," he said, gesturing to Iolaus. "He's got long, curly brown hair."
"Haven't seen him," Hercules said.
"You must be really lost. I haven't seen clothes like yours anywhere," Iolaus said.
Hercules shot his friend a look, then turned his attention back to Jim. "Look, you're welcome to travel with us to Damacus, but, I warn you, there's an army reportedly on its way to there. It'd probably be safer for you to head to Corrins."
Jim had no intention of heading to Corrins. Sandburg's trail lead northwest. "Thanks for the warning, but I think I'll head to Damacus."
Hercules opened his mouth to respond when Jim cocked his head and raised a hand to silence the man. A faint sound caught his ear, and he stretched his hearing outward, trying to hone in on the sound. He clenched his jaw as he concentrated on pinning down the elusive sound. Whatever it was, it was very faint -- almost out of range. He couldn't be sure, but it sounded like a cry or a howl...
He jerked back to awareness and saw Hercules shaking him. "Hey, you okay?"
Jim blinked, nodding quickly. Damn, he'd zoned. He'd have to be more careful in the future.
"Thanks for the help, but I gotta run," he said, then took off in the direction of the sound.
"Quit it!" Xena snapped, pushing Gabrielle away.
"I'm not doing anything," the young woman said innocently, splashing some water from the river at her friend.
Xena sighed and turned her attention back to the fire. "Look, are you gonna go round up some food so we can get back on the road, or shall I?"
Gabrielle raised her eyebrows. "I can handle it. Fish or rabbit?"
Xena shrugged. "Think you can handle another rabbit? The last one did quite a number on y-- ow!"
She whipped her head around and glared at Gabrielle. The young woman stood smugly behind her, the walking stick poised conspicuously in the air. "You know, I really like my walking stick. It has a variety of uses."
Blair watched the playful display from his position on the cot. He felt miserable. His stomach took turns between cramping up and threatening to lurch out of his throat... and his throat was on fire. There also seemed to be some guy with a jackhammer working diligently inside his skull, and the pounding sent waves of pain down his neck and back.
He swallowed, but his mouth was dry and the motion only ended up adding fuel to the inferno in his esophagus. He knew he was dying. He felt it in every pore of his body. He was so weak, he could barely lift his head, and he suspected this moment of lucidity was something of a rarity because, either he'd slept through the entire transport, including getting strapped to the cot, or he'd been so out of it at the time that he didn't remember anything.
His eyes drifted back and forth between the two women as his eyelids fought to stay open. They're good friends, he thought, and felt a sudden lump form in his throat. Jim. He wondered if anyone would ever find out what happened to him. He didn't even know where he was, and no one knew who he was... hell, no one even knew about the United States. Would Jim think he'd just taken off, abandoned him? Would the Sentinel even care, or would he be relieved to be rid of the burden that was one Blair Sandburg?
A sudden pressure on his bladder turned his thoughts to more pressing matters. Great. Just great. I need to use the bathroom, and I can barely lift my head. He had truly reached the epitome of humiliation. He clenched his teeth, determined to salvage a bit of his dignity. It took a monumental act of will to lift his head and find his voice.
"Excuse me," he rasped.
Xena and Gabrielle spun around, both looking distinctly surprised. Gabrielle hurried over to him, dropping to her knees. "You okay? Do you need some water?"
He managed a weak smile. "I need to, uh, relieve myself."
"Oh." She looked uncertainly back at Xena. "I guess you should help him."
Xena shook her head. "Not me. You can help him. I'll round up dinner."
"I can do it myself, just unstrap me and help me to my feet, will ya?" That one sentence left him breathless, and he dropped his head back to the cot.
In what seemed like only a heartbeat later, he felt himself being lifted into a sitting position. He opened his eyes, realizing that he must have passed out.
"You sure you can do this on your own?"
He nodded, gazing up at the woman. He wanted to ask her why, exactly, she was doing this for him, but doing so would just use up the little energy he'd mustered for his next task.
"Help me up, please?"
She sighed in resignation and pulled him carefully to his feet. He felt the blood drain from his head, and the world spun violently. Gravity tugged at him, and he was sure he was no longer on Earth. He must be on one of those giant planets that had a force of gravity three or four times that of Earth's. Yeah, that was it. He almost chuckled. One just left the cookoos' nest.
A sudden, intense spasm dropped him to his knees. His insides felt like they were turning in on themselves, being ripped to shreds. White hot agony filled his throat, but the pain could not silence his screams.
Jim piggybacked his sight to his hearing as he ran through the brush. A hand gripped his heart when he spotted his partner writhing in agony on the ground. Two women knelt beside him, and Jim pumped his legs faster.
Xena shot to her feet just as Jim emerged from the plant cover, her hand reaching for her sword. When she saw Hercules and Iolaus behind him, she relaxed and took a step back.
Jim slid to a halt next to his partner, inadvertently pushing the younger woman out of the way. Blair lay on his side, curled into a ball, his hands clenched into fists over his stomach. Jim turned down his hearing, his heart pounding furiously in his chest. Blair's screams were obviously caused by pain, but Jim could see no visible injury, though he did feel the intense heat pouring off of the young man. The pungent odor of urine reached his nostrils, and he quickly dialed down his sense of smell.
Firmly, he grabbed his partner's shoulders, trying to uncurl him from his protective ball so he could perform a proper inspection. "Blair, it's me, Jim. Come on, buddy, let me see."
Blair gave no indication that he even heard Jim, but his screams tapered to hoarse gasps. Jim clenched his jaw and looked up at the blonde woman kneeling next to Sandburg.
"What's wrong with him?" he barked.
Gabrielle shook her head. "I don't know. He's been sick. We had him checked out by a healer, but he couldn't find out what's wrong with him."
Blair went limp beneath Jim's grip, and the Sentinel dropped his gaze to his partner. "Chief? Come on, don't do this," he muttered.
Carefully, he uncurled his unconscious partner, rolling him onto his back. He pressed his palm against Blair's forehead, gauging his temperature at 105. Damn. The muscles in his jaw twitched. He didn't know what was wrong with his friend, but he did know that he had to get the kid's fever down.
He listened to Blair's heartbeat, tuning out the soft chatter that sprung up amongst the others. Sandburg's heartbeat sounded fast, but much too weak.
"Okay," he said, looking up at the faces staring down at him. "I need to cool him down." He glanced at the river, hoping the water was cold enough to combat the fever. "Help me get him into the river."
Xena knelt down next to Gabrielle and peered at Jim skeptically. "Who are you, by the way?"
"Jim Ellison," he said, his attention focused on Sandburg. Quickly, he propped Blair into a sitting position and pulled off his shirt.
"So you're Jim? He's said your name several times," Gabrielle informed him.
Jim froze, and slowly lifted his head to look at the young woman. "What did he say?"
Gabrielle looked suddenly uncomfortable. "Uh, he kept saying he was sorry." She shrugged. "He wasn't very coherent most of the time."
Jim's nostrils flared and he looked back down at Sandburg, gently lowering his shoulders back to the ground.. He pulled off Blair's sneakers and socks, then undid his jeans and slid them off, leaving Blair in his white boxers.
Hercules knelt next to Jim. "I'll give you a hand with him."
Jim nodded gratefully and placed one of Blair's arms across his shoulders. Hercules grabbed the other arm and, together, they carefully lifted the young man. His feet dangled uselessly between the two men as they carried him over to the river.
At the river bank, Jim and Hercules lowered the young man to the ground. "We'll do it slow," Jim said. He didn't want to send Blair's system into shock by suddenly immersing him in the water. He placed his hand in the river, noting with satisfaction that it was ice cold.
"We'll start with his feet," Jim muttered absently.
He immersed Blair's feet in the running water, keeping his hearing tuned to Blair's heartbeat. He sloughed off his backpack and rifled through it, pulling out his spare shirt.
He placed his shirt underneath the stream to soak, then lifted it out and wrung the cold water over Blair's lower legs. Blair showed no signs of stirring, which only worried Jim. He rubbed the wet, cold shirt over Blair's chest and shoulders, then he wiped the sweat off the young man's brow. He repeated the procedure a few more times until he was certain that immersion in the cold water wouldn't completely shock the young man's system.
"And this will help him?" Gabrielle asked.
Jim pulled off his shoes and socks as he answered her. "I don't know, but I'm hoping it'll get his body temperature down." Rising to his feet, he slid off his jeans, then bent down and lifted Blair's torso.
"Help me get him into the water up to his waist," he told Hercules.
Hercules nodded and grabbed Blair's legs, lifting them so Jim could slide him into the water and prop himself on the edge of the bank. Finally, the cold broke through Blair's wall of unconsciousness, and he groaned, turning his head to the side.
"Easy, Chief, it's just a little cold water," he soothed. Of course, it was ICE cold water, and he was sure that if Blair hadn't been so out of it, he'd be fighting against the shock.
Jim scooted forward another few inches, his arms locked under Blair's armpits, until the water rose his partner's chest.
Blair's eyes fluttered opened, and he pulled weakly against Jim's arms. "N-no. C-cold," he muttered, his voice barely perceptible.
"Sandburg, just take it easy," Jim urged, tightening his grip on the young man. "You've got a fever, and this'll lower your body temperature."
"Jim?" Blair tilted his head back, blinking at Jim, but his pupils looked somewhat dilated, and Jim doubted that he appeared any clearer than a fuzzy blur to his friend.
He grabbed the wet shirt and held it under the water for a second, then raised it to Blair's head and wiped it across his brow. "It's okay, Blair. I'm right here."
A sharp, violent shiver coursed through Blair's body, and Jim focused in on his heartbeat. It still beat fast and weak, but it seemed no worse than it had moments ago.
"Who are you and where are you from?"
Jim looked over his shoulder to see the dark-haired woman looking at him. "I'm Jim Ellison, and this is my associate, Blair Sandburg. We're here on vacation from Cascade, Washington." Wherever 'here' is, he added silently. "Your turn. Who are YOU and what's with the outfits?"
Xena glanced at Gabrielle. "I'm Xena, and this is Gabrielle."
The Sentinel turned his attention back to his partner. "Yeah, Blair, I'm right here."
"S-Sorry," he muttered, his teeth beginning to chatter.
Jim pressed one palm against Blair's forehead, relieved to find that the fever had dropped a bit... not much, but maybe a degree or two.
"Sorry for what, Blair?" Like he had to ask.
Blair muttered something incoherent, and his shivering increased. Jim decided his guide had had enough, and he pulled him out of the water, lying him gently on the ground next to the river bank. He soaked the shirt another time and wiped it over Blair's face and neck.
"It's okay, Blair," Jim said. Even though he hadn't understood Blair's reply, he could fathom a guess as to what was on his young friend's mind. "It wasn't your fault. I shouldn't have said what I did. We'll talk about it when you're feeling better, okay?"
Xena pulled Gabrielle aside, and Jim listened as the taller woman whispered to her companion. "Now that his friend is here, we've gotta hurry to Damacus."
"You think the two of them will be okay alone?"
"Right now we have little choice. He can take care of Blair and meet us at Damacus later, hopefully after Sirus is taken care of."
Jim looked up at the two woman. "The four of you can head on, if you want. I'll be fine here with Sandburg."
Xena and Gabrielle exchanged surprised glances, then Xena nodded curtly. "Okay. Do you know the way to Damacus or Corrins?"
"Damacus is northwest and Corrins is north, right?"
Gabrielle nodded. "When he's well enough to travel, you can take him to one of the towns to recuperate."
"Sounds good," he said. What he really intended to do was make sure Blair didn't die, and then try to find a way back to the hotel... or the cave... or even Kansas, for that matter.
He glanced back down at Blair, noting that his partner had slipped back into sleep.
"We'll head out after grabbing something to eat," Xena said, glancing at the sky. "We still have a good amount of daylight to burn."
"Sounds good," Gabrielle said, then knelt in front of Jim and handed him a canteen. "Water?"
Jim took the canteen and cautiously took a sniff from the lid, encountering an odd odor. "This is water?" he asked.
The young woman nodded. "Yeah, some as the river water." She stared at the band on his wrist, seemingly entranced by the circular face. "What is that?" she asked, pointing to the wrist band. She glanced at Xena, then returned her curious gaze to the watch. "It has writing on it, and it changes, moves. Very strange."
Jim glanced quickly at the river. "A watch," he said absently, gazing at the running water. "It keeps time." He'd had his sense of smell dialed down earlier, so he'd missed the scent, but now that he focused on it he realized the scent surrounded him. He raised the canteen again and took another sniff of the contents, inhaling a strong lungful of the odor.
The water, he realized with sudden dread. He couldn't place the odor, but it had to be either a chemical or bacterial agent that was causing Blair's illness.
He clenched his jaw and peered critically at Gabrielle. "You gave Blair some of this water?"
She nodded. "Yes, of course. He has to have water."
His jaw muscles twitched. "He got sick after he drank the water, right?"
Gabrielle glanced anxiously up at Xena, who stood a few feet to the side. "Uh, well, he'd hit his head and was a little out of it before," Gabrielle said, "but, yeah, he didn't get sick until after we gave him the water... but it was so soon we found him that we can't know it was water. We've all drank the water, and we're fine."
Jim had the sudden urge to shake the woman, but he took a deep breath and told himself that she had only been trying to help. Obviously the natives had developed a tolerance to whatever was in the water, and, he supposed, if they'd never encountered foreigners, they could not know that the water would prove lethal for non-natives. He just found it hard to believe that people who spoke English would not have encountered Americans previously and learned that their own water makes foreigners ill... unless it wasn't the water. He clenched his jaw tighter. Okay, so he couldn't be sure it was the water, but right now it was his best guess. Unfortunately, he'd gotten a good amount of the water on his legs and hands, so, if the toxic agent in the water could penetrate his skin, he could expect to find himself in Blair's situation soon.
He chewed the inside of his cheek thoughtfully. He had to hope that a bacteria was responsible for Blair's illness, because he knew Sandburg wouldn't make it through the night unless he could find a way to combat whatever the kid had been exposed to. A bacteria he might be able to counteract, but a chemical agent wouldn't be so easy to deal with. In the army, he'd had a great deal of training on furnishing medicines out of plants, but what he needed to do now was round up a few of the ones with antibiotic properties, and coax Blair to swallow the preparation.
He looked up at the group. "Can someone stay with him while I search for some things?"
Gabrielle nodded quickly. "No problem. Do you want me to keep running cold water over him?"
Jim shook his head. "No, don't give him anymore of that water." He grabbed his backpack and pulled out a bottle of water. "Here, give him some of this if he comes to."
Gabrielle took the bottle, but looked at it as though it were a large diamond. Her eyes held a hint of wonder, and she looked back up at him. "What is this material?" she asked.
Jim furrowed his brow. "You mean the plastic container?"
Gabrielle raised the bottle and peered at the rays shining through. "Is that what you call it?"
Jim sighed and shook his head. He didn't have time for this. "Yeah, that's what we call it." How could someone who spoke fluent English not have seen plastic?
He rose to his feet, looking down at Blair. He hated to leave him, but he had no choice. "If he asks about me, tell him I'll be right back." He just hoped Blair wouldn't take a turn for the worse while he was gone.
He dressed quickly, slung the pack over his shoulder, and headed into the woods in search of a cure.