Fishing. Fishing was good. Relaxed in the foldable chair, Blair smiled as he pulled up a little on the line, relishing in the feel of breeze against his face.
Blair looked over to see Jim reeling in his line, standing at the edge of the bank, his attention focused completely on the incoming catch. A large, grayish fish dangled from the end, and Jim quickly snatched it and tossed it, flopping, into the cooler.
Jim looked over at Blair, a triumphant grin on his face. "Now *that's* gotta take the record. Looks like you'll be cooking dinner."
Blair leaned forward in his chair. "The day is still young."
Jim smirked and turned his attention back to the glistening lake. "And, remember, the loser gets to do the scaling, too."
"Just you... Ouch!" Blair flinched as a stab of pain shot through his thigh. He looked down in time to see a dark shape slither beneath the brush.
Jim was on his feet, and when Blair looked up, he was shocked to see wide-eyed alarm on the detective's face. "Blair...."
"A snake bit me." Blair reeled in his line and carefully set the pole on the bank. There weren't that many venomous snakes in Cascade... were there? "Damn." He leaned over to inspect the throbbing wound.
Blair felt a tug on his arm and looked back up at Jim's worried face. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"We've gotta get you to a hospital." Jim's voice was tight and controlled.
"Uh... Don't tell me, please..."
"Yeah, I saw it. It's poisonous."
Blair swallowed, allowing himself to be pulled to his feet. "How poisonous?"
"You'll be fine once we get you to the hospital." Jim grabbed their half-empty packs, but left the equipment, then steered Blair toward the path that lead to the truck.
Blair didn't fail to notice that Jim didn't directly answer the question. His heart began to thud heavily in his chest, and he felt his breathing start to teeter out of control.
"Calm down, Chief." Jim's hands went to his own belt buckle, and he quickly unfastened it, then yanked it off. "You need to keep your breathing and heartrate slow, or else the poison will spread more quickly."
Blair watched, feeling oddly detached, as Jim fastened the belt firmly around his injured leg. He winced when the strap cut painfully into his flesh.
"Uh, I thought I heard somewhere that you weren't actually supposed to do that."
Jim straightened. "Trust me, Chief."
Blair tried to swallow again, but his mouth had gone dry. "That bad, huh?"
"Not if we get you to a hospital fast."
"It's a twenty minute walk to the truck."
"I know. Damn." Jim dropped the packs, then turned to face Blair. "Okay, this is the deal. I'm gonna sling you over my shoulders. Just go limp, and..."
"No way, Jim. C'mon. Are you sure it was poisonous? Did you get a good look at it? I mean..."
"It was a Black Mamba, Chief."
"What?" Blair's heart leapt to his throat. "No... No way. Those aren't native to Cascade. How would --"
"Who knows? Maybe someone had it as a pet illegally and dumped it when it became too much trouble."
"Who the hell would dump a deadly snake in the wilderness?"
Jim shook his head. "Lots of people, unfortunately. Now, c'mon." Jim didn't give Blair a chance to reply as he ducked and leaned forward, yanking Blair over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. "We've got little time to waste," he grunted.
"Oh." Blair felt Jim's shoulder digging painfully into his diaphragm, making conversation difficult but not impossible. "You can't carry me all the way."
Jim took off at a brisk pace. "If you walk, the poison will only spread faster."
Jim was beginning to tire. He'd only been walking about ten minutes, but he wasn't used to carrying a one-hundred-and sixty pound weight for that amount of time. Blair hadn't said much since his initial protest, and Jim was worried. He could feel the heat starting to pour off of Blair, and his clothes were already damp with perspiration.
"Oh, man, Jim," Blair groaned suddenly. "Put me down, I don't feel so well."
Jim stopped and carefully eased Sandburg to his feet, reaching a hand out to grab him when he doubled over and threw up on the ground, his arms clasped over his stomach.
"Oh, God." Blair dropped to his knees, away from the mess.
"Easy, Chief." Jim crouched next to his friend. "Take slow, deep breaths."
"My vision's going all weird."
Jim nodded, his stomach sinking. Tunnel vision was one of the symptoms resulting from the Black Mamba's venom. "Come on."
He hated to rush Blair, but time was wasting. Once they reached the truck, it was still another hour's drive to the hospital. And the odds were that Cascade General wouldn't have the appropriate anti-venom in stock.
Jim patted Blair's back briefly before once again lifting him. He gritted his teeth and resumed his brisk hike toward the truck.
Blair felt the blood rushing to his head. The rocking motion of Jim's gait threatened to send his stomach into another revolt. He was hot and sticky from sweat, and his vision was going white at the edges. His arms and legs were tingling, and his tongue felt like it was stuffed tightly with cotton.
Some time later, Jim came to a stop, and Blair felt himself being lowered. Then he was sitting upright, staring at the wilderness above a dashboard.
"Hang in there, Chief." A pat on his arm pulled Blair's attention to his right. Jim smiled briefly at him, but his eyes were dark and crinkled with worry.
Blair knew enough about the Black Mamba to realize that he likely wasn't going to survive. However long it had taken Jim to hike back to the truck had seemed way too long, and the hospital was still far away.
He felt the safety belt fastened over his chest and lap, and closed his eyes, leaning his head against the seat back.
He also knew what to expect. The venom would paralyze him slowly. Soon, he wouldn't be able to move...or even talk. Then, he'd go into respiratory failure.
Score one for the Discovery Channel. He really needed to watch more fluff. Ignorance was truly bliss.
Blair opened his eyes to look at Jim.
"You doing okay, Chief?"
A tiny smile lifted Blair's lips. "No."
"Right." With a grimace, Jim turned and slammed the door shut, than hurried to the driver's side and hopped behind the wheel.
"Jim." Blair's tongue moved sluggishly in his mouth.
"Yeah, buddy?" Jim started the engine and looked over at Blair as the truck lurched into motion.
"How long does it take?"
Jim's jaw twitched, and he turned his gaze to the road. "We've still got time."
"How long, Jim?" Talking was becoming increasingly difficult.
"Usually an hour. Two at most, but that's extremely rare."
"Oh." Blair turned his head straight and gazed at the trees ahead. "I'm not gonna make it, am I?"
"Just watch." The truck accelerated, and Blair's stomach twisted. He closed his eyes and waited out the ride.
Jim screeched the Ford to a halt in front of the emergency entrance to Cascade General Hospital. Blair groaned but gave no other reaction, and Jim flung his door open, then jumped out and ran to the passenger side. Yanking Blair's door open, he reached inside, unbuckled the seat belt, then lifted Blair over his shoulder again.
It had taken too long. An hour since the bite. Blair was barely responsive, and Jim had no doubt that the young man was aware of what was going on but simply couldn't move or speak well enough to do anything about it.
"Okay, Chief. We made it."
"Uh-huh," Blair mumbled. "'immmm?"
"Yeah?" He ran through the doors. "I need help here!"
"Almost an hour. Hey! I said I need help!"
Finally, two orderlies approached him with a gurney, and he carefully laid Blair down, gently lowering his head to the thin mattress.
"He was bit by a Black Mamba about an hour ago," Jim told the men, his eyes focused on Blair.
The kid looked far too pale. Sweat made his hair slick and his face glisten. His eyelids were closed, and his jaw hung slack.
"Are you sure?"
Jim looked up as another man in a white laboratory jacket approached. His nametag read, 'Dr. Grondel.'
"Yes," Jim nodded. "I'm familiar with that species."
"You said about an hour ago?" The physician grabbed his pen light and lifted one of Blair's eyelids, then shined the light on the pupil.
"You're absolutely positive it was a Black Mamba?" They doctor looked at Blair's other eye, then gestured down the hall, and the orderlies began wheeling the gurney in that direction.
Jim hurried to keep up. "Yes, damnit!"
"Look, we could kill him if we give him the wrong serum, assuming we can even find some."
"If that's true, he.... Well, he shouldn't still be alive."
Jim clenched his jaw against a reply. There wasn't anything more that he could do. Now that his role was over, he let himself extend his hearing and listen to Blair's sluggish heartbeat.
Blair felt Jim's hand cradling his skull and lowering it gently to the gurney. Although his sensations were dampened, he still found it odd that he could feel but not move. He couldn't even open his eyes or close his mouth, and he knew he was probably drooling all over himself.
One of his eyelids lifted, and a narrowed world edged with white met him. A stranger's face hovered over him. Graying hair. Dark eyes. A crinkled brow.
A flash of light assaulted him, giving him an instant headache, then the doctor released Blair's eyelid and it dropped closed, bathing him once again in darkness.
The other eyelid lifted, and Blair wanted desperately to see Jim, but he couldn't even manage that much movement. He prepared himself for the onslaught of light as best he could, but it still hurt, and he was grateful when the doctor finished and once again let his eyelid close.
Then he was moving. People were talking. He heard Jim's voice, then the doctor's.
"He shouldn't still be alive."
Blair wanted to open his eyes and scream. He was still alive, damnit. Don't give up. Please, don't give up on him.
Then the doctor was calling his name.
"Mr. Sandburg? Mr. Sandburg, can you hear me?"
"Can you tell me what happened?"
*No.* Blair's frustration grew. Jim had already told the man what had happened. Wasn't that enough?
"Smmmmakkke." He thought the word sounded marginally intelligible.
"A snake bit you?"
The gurney jerked to a halt. Hands touched Blair's injured leg. The pressure of the belt around his thigh vanished, and sudden pain flared in his leg.
"Look, it's been too long." Jim's voice. Angry. "You've got to put him on a respirator, now. Can you get some antivenom here ASAP?"
"Mr. Ellison, you're going to have to go into the waiting room."
*No.* Blair knew he was dying. He could *feel* his body shutting down. He struggled to make his tongue work again, but all he could manage was an unintelligible groan.
Then his chest tightened, and it felt like a large fist had grabbed his lungs and started squeezing. He tried to move, to struggle, to call out, but he could do nothing but lay there as the agony of suffocation spread from his chest to the rest of his body.
He hadn't realized he'd faded out of consciousness until something hard pushed down throat, jarring him back to awareness. His lungs expanded, filling with air, and he thought he felt tears slide from beneath his eyelids and streak down the sides of his face.
"I'm sorry, Detective."
"Don't be sorry!" Jim paced in front of the doctor.
"Calm down, Jim."
Jim glanced at Simon standing a couple of feet away, his dark eyes grim. He ignored his captain and spun to face the doctor. "I don't care what you have to do, but find some, damnit!"
"I already told you, Detective. We're working on it. We've called every major facility in Washington, but no one has that serum. We're contacting out of state providers, but assuming we find someone out of state who has it, it'll take time to transport it here."
"Look, if it's a matter of money, I'll pay out of my own..."
The doctor straightened sharply. "This isn't about money, Detective."
"Doctor Grondel," Simon interrupted, "there has to be something you can do."
"We *are* doing something. We're trying to locate the right serum. In the meantime, we've got Mr. Sandburg on a ventilator. So far, that's keeping him alive."
"Damn." Jim dropped to one of the empty chairs in the doctor's private office. "Can I stay with him at least?" He looked up.
Doctor Grondel nodded. "Yes. That I can do for you."
Jim's eyes hovered on the blurry television screen. He'd been awake for almost two days, only napping occasionally in the uncomfortable chair by Blair's bed.
Sandburg hadn't woken yet, and the hospital had been unable to locate any available serum. All they could do was keep air going in and out of Blair's lungs, feed him nutrients and water through an IV, and hope his kidneys filtered the venom from his system before his organs shut down.
The door creaked open, and Jim tore his empty gaze from the television. He saw Simon walking slowly toward the bed, his eyes on Blair.
"How is he?" Simon stopped at the edge of the mattress.
"The same. No change." God, he was tired.
Simon sighed and looked at Jim. "How long do they think he can hold out like this?"
Jim managed a half-hearted shrug. "They don't know. They were hoping in two or three days, if they could keep him alive, that his kidneys would filter the stuff out of his system, and he'd wake up on his own."
The scent of antiseptic was the next thing he became aware of after feeling the tube shoved down his throat. Slowly, the darkness faded to light, and Blair was surprised to realize that his eyelids were lifting. He blinked, and the blurry whiteness morphed, become more recognizable as a paneled ceiling.
His leg felt much too big, but it didn't hurt. He wiggled his toes, and relief stole his breath. Next, he tried his arms, and they both lifted on command. He draped one over his stomach and let the one with the IV rest straight at his side.
Blair turned his head to see Jim rising from his chair, his face lined with fatigue and his eyes bloodshot. A dark shadow of stubble darkened his jaw, and his clothes hung wrinkled from his body.
Blair tried to talk, and it was then that he realized the hard tube was still lodged in his throat. He tried to swallow around it, but its unyielding mass made him feel like he was about to choke.
"Take it easy." Jim's hand came to rest on Blair's forehead. He reached down, and a small buzzer sounded. "The nurse should be here soon. Maybe they can take the tube out now that you're awake."
Blair crinkled his brow. How long had he been out? He raised his arm toward the tube, then caught himself and aborted the motion, letting his hand come to rest on Jim's forearm.
"You're going to be okay." Jim covered Blair's hand with his own. "Don't worry."
The door opened, and footsteps squeaked against the tile.
"Detect.... Mr. Sandburg?"
Blair turned his head and blinked at the short, graying nurse standing at the edge of his bed.
"I'll get the doctor." She spun on her heels and hurried from the room.
Blair flipped idly through the channels, his injured leg propped on pillows. He was waiting for his discharge papers, and then he'd be free to lounge on his butt at home.
"So, did anyone find out about that snake?"
Blair glanced at Jim, who was slouched in the chair next to the bed, flipping through a magazine.
"Yeah, we called animal control." Jim dropped the magazine on the end table. "They haven't found it yet, but they're still looking, and they've issued warnings."
"I can't believe someone would just dump an animal like that out in the wild." Blair shook his head and gave into a yawn.
Jim leaned forward in his chair and rubbed the back of his neck. "How are you feeling?"
"Much better, considering. That was weird -- hearing everything around me but not being able to move or speak." He swallowed hard at the memory and took a deep breath. "I really thought I was going to die."
Jim nodded, then leaned forward some more and gently patted Blair's good leg. "I told you you wouldn't. You still have to cook dinner." Jim grinned. "Or did you think I'd let you out of a bet that easily?"
Blair rolled his eyes, smiling. "That is so not fair, man. My fishing hours were cut short by that stupid snake."
Jim shrugged. "Tough luck, Chief. But, I'll tell you what, since I'm feeling gracious, I'll give you an extension until next week."
"Okay, man." Blair sighed in mock resignation. "But the deal was I'd have to cook the fish you caught. So, uh, go back and get it, and I'll cook it."
Jim leveled a narrow gaze at Blair. "You know, I wouldn't have lost that fish if I hadn't been carrying your ass back to the truck."
Blair smiled happily. "Tough luck."
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