NOT MY DAY

TITLE: The Long Day

AUTHOR: Susan Zell

DISCLAIMER: All characters from "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World" series are the property of John Landis, Telescene, Coote/Hayes, DirecTV, New Line Television, Space, Action Adventure Network, Goodman/Rosen Productions, and Richmel Productions. No profit has been made by this venture. I've only borrowed the explorers to tell a Lost Tale. All will be returned to their rightful place at the conclusion.

SUMMARY: Missing Scene from Prodigal Father, bridging the time from when Roxton is stabbed by Veronica to the final epilogue.

SPOILERS: Prodigal Father, Cave of Fear, and a slight foreshadowing of a Season Two episode. I can't say since it could spoil the ending.

RATINGS: PG-13

TYPE: Hurt/Comfort, Drama.

WARNINGS: Violence and a bit of language.

NOTES: The story takes up just after Lord Roxton kills "Tom Layton" and Malone tells a distressed Veronica that the man was not her father.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: To June and Lex, my loyal betas! Bravely do they venture into the mind that is mine and help me tweak where it is needed. Extra bravo to June, who has never watched the show but enjoys the stories regardless. One day I hope to convert her. wink And special thanks to Lex, who always makes sure that Roxton and Marguerite (and the others as well) are behaving as they should. And that takes a great deal of effort since they rarely behave!

COMMENTS: I finally got to see a Season One episode. Yeah! Of course, I loved it, but was immediately dismayed to see that, like all stab victims in the Lost World, Roxton's fate is passed over without comment. He was stabbed for Pete's sake! In the gut no less! By Veronica! This is a critical moment. Yet, at the end of the episode, there is no resolution except for Ned and Veronica burning the journal papers. Argh! I decided to take a more realistic approach. So decrees the hurt/comfort Queen! All that unsettled guilt lying around, as well as a few forgotten inconsistencies, something had to be done. Let's try to resolve things, shall we.

"Oh boy, it's going to be a long day." – Lord John Roxton in Prodigal Father

THE LONG DAY

"He wasn't your father, Veronica."

Ned Malone held the sobbing girl tightly to him; her wrenching cries cascaded over him. Tormented by what happened, she clung to him and he ached for her. Ned could hardly grasp all that had happened over the last few hours. Things had spiraled quickly down into disaster and now there was nothing left but shattered pieces. He held her till her sobs quieted into heaving breaths. Then, as much as he wanted to continue holding Veronica, he reluctantly released her.

"Roxton's hurt."

Veronica stiffened and more pain etched itself deeper into her face. "Oh God, I know."

She stepped back from Ned just as Marguerite Krux scrambled up the slippery slope to where Roxton lay. The heiress was covered in the same mud that coated Veronica.

"John!" Marguerite shouted.

Lord John Roxton, lying prone at the base of the tree, smiled gamely at her but his face was as pale as she had ever seen it. Beads of sweat were dotting his brow and his breath came in painful gasps. Still he had the strength to comment on her appearance.

"Mud becomes you, Marguerite."

She shook her head at him in disbelief, but her eyes were unable to draw away from the large spot of crimson growing across his abdomen.

"It's not so bad," he tried to assure her, ineffectively covering it with a blood-soaked hand.

Veronica sank to her knees on the other side of him. "What have I done?" she whispered.

"How could you?" Marguerite snapped at the huntress. Fury was building inside her, blazing a trail that she felt was about to spin out of control. If she hadn't stopped Veronica when she had, Roxton would now be dead.

Veronica was stricken. "I'm so sorry, Roxton. Forgive me. I didn't…"

"It's all right," he said.

"All right?" Marguerite shouted. "Look at yourself, John! You're bleeding like a stuck pig!"

"That's enough," he commanded her quietly. "Veronica wasn't herself. The drug--." He broke off, grimacing against a wave of agony in his gut.

Ned wadded up his bandana and pressed it against Roxton's wound. It wasn't the cleanest perhaps, but it would have to do. Roxton groaned as his torment intensified.

"Sorry but we have to stop the bleeding. Marguerite, hold your hand here." He took it and replaced his own. "Put pressure there. Don't let up." He removed his shirt and twisted it. "Lift him up," he told Veronica who quickly complied.

Ned wrapped the shirt around Roxton's waist as a bandage. Primitive, as all things were in the Lost World, but it would be enough for now. "Roxton, do you think you can move? We need to get you to the treehouse."

A sheen of cold sweat now engulfed the adventurer. His side felt like it was on fire, but he nodded, knowing the danger of staying out in the jungle, bleeding and practically weaponless.

They eased him to his feet, Ned lifting Roxton's good arm around his neck. Lord, he hadn't even noticed that Roxton was injured elsewhere.

But Marguerite did. Pulling a scarf from her pocket, she tied it around the cut on his arm. Then she slid herself carefully under it to help carry him. Veronica came forward to make an offer to help, but Marguerite cast her a hard glance and Veronica backed off, her expression pained.

Veronica stepped aside as they passed and came up against the man who had taken her father's name. The body lay face down in the damp ground. Ned had said it wasn't her father. She clung to that fact. She knew it was true. Her father, her real father, would have never done the things this man had done. Largo was an imposter and a mad man.

However, there were still some residual feelings from which she could not shake free. She had waited so long to find her parents that she had held too tightly to lost hope; it had clouded her judgment. And because of it, she had hurt her friends.

Her heart pounded with shame. Biting back a small sob, she reached down and picked up the pistol lying limp in the dead man's hand. She turned him over gingerly in order to retrieve the kitchen knife embedded in his chest. They were low on weapons and even a knife was preferable to being unarmed in the Lost World. But she hesitated.

The man's face stared up at her, the eyes cold and pale. Why hadn't she noticed that they looked no different now than when he was alive? Armed with the knowledge that he wasn't her father, she could see that there was barely a resemblance. The nose was too large and his eyes too narrow. She had attributed most of his inconsistencies to being incarcerated in the mines. Hard conditions can change a man. She had been so desperate to find her parents that she had rationalized every danger sign that normally she would have seen through.

Roxton had.

Her face twisted with pain.

What have I done?

She pushed herself away from the dead man, leaving the knife where it was. The thought of touching the man again made her physically ill. There was no more time to be wasted here. This man was dead and a murderer. She only prayed that she wouldn't follow down the same path as her supposed father. If Roxton died at her hands…

Standing hurriedly, she turned and ran down the trail after the others. They hadn't gone far. Roxton was rapidly weakening. But even so, his concern was for the others in their party.

"Find Challenger," he said between clenched teeth. "I had to knock him out."

"I will," Ned assured him. "As soon as we get you to the treehouse."

"And Summerlee," Roxton gasped out. "Summerlee is wandering around with an empty pistol."

"Uh, actually, we found him and tied him up," Marguerite confessed.

Roxton stopped the progression abruptly and shrugged Ned off. "Go find them. I'll make it to the treehouse. I left Challenger near the fern grove."

Ned hesitated. It's not that he doubted Roxton's resolve but his injury may well be severe. He just couldn't abandon him.

Veronica came up the trail overhearing the last. "Marguerite and I will get Roxton back to the treehouse. Find the others. They're sitting ducks out there."

Ned relented and turned to leave. Veronica stopped him and handed him one of the three remaining pistols. "Thanks," he said, studying her. There were long tracks in the mud that streaked her face from when she had cried in his arms. Suddenly, he found it hard to leave her. She looked so lost.

But he had a duty to the others. All else had to wait for a quieter moment. Reluctantly, he tore his gaze away and disappeared into the jungle.

Veronica slid under Roxton's arm and took on some of his weight much to Marguerite's relief. Despite Roxton's brave words he was fighting a losing battle. The steady blood loss was catching up to him. His weakening body was betraying any leftover notion of dogged determination.

"You know," he commented offhandedly to the two women, "this really hasn't been my day." He had been nearly asphyxiated, hung out like a piece of meat for hours, lost a brawl with Kartas, clumsily clubbed over the head by Summerlee, shot at by far too many people, and now sliced and nearly gutted. It wasn't one of his finest hours. He was exhausted and his side was really killing him. Small tremors were coursing down his limbs that he couldn't control, and the jungle was spinning in front of him like a carousel. He closed his eyes for a moment and then jerked them back open as the dizziness intensified. "How much further?" he hissed.

"Not much," Marguerite urged. "We're almost there."

"Good. However, you ladies …will have to forgive me," he gasped out between short, uneven breaths. "I think I'm going … to pass out."

"Oh no you don't," the heiress warned him, but she already felt a limpness growing in him.

Unheeding, Roxton's eyes rolled back in his head as a wave of darkness swept over him. He slumped to his knees, held up only by Veronica and Marguerite's efforts. His dark head fell bonelessly forward on his chest.

"John!" Marguerite cried out worriedly. A slight moan was Roxton's only response. She looked over at Veronica, her anger gone. She didn't know what to do and any reassurances or suggestions would be appreciated even from Veronica. They were still too far from home, and Roxton was too heavy for either of them to carry.

Veronica slapped the hunter's face lightly. "Roxton. Roxton!" She turned to Marguerite. "Try some water."

Grabbing her canteen, Marguerite soaked her hand with some water and splashed it over his face. "Come on. Wake up now. We are not going to carry you," she insisted, her voice trembling with fear.

Roxton stirred finally. He regarded Marguerite with a weak smile that faded far too abruptly. "Worth a try though, eh?"

She gave a worried laugh and offered him a drink from her canteen. The cool water revived him somewhat.

"Get me on my feet," he told them after a moment. Knowing they had no choice but to keep moving, the two women struggled and eventually pulled the adventurer up onto tremulous legs.

"Hang in there just a bit longer, Roxton. We'll get you home," Veronica said, tightening her grip.

He nodded, quietly withdrawing into himself, concentrating solely on putting one foot in front of the other and keeping the encroaching darkness at bay.

Yes, he thought, remembering his earlier words while hanging in the tree, this really was turning out to be a very long day.

****

Ned ran through the jungle. He was heading for Summerlee first since he was nearest and Ned knew exactly where he was. Hopefully, the professor had snapped out of his drug-induced aggression. He hoped both Professors had for that matter.

"Summerlee!" he shouted.

"Over here," came the relieved response. "Oh, thank heavens!"

Ned found the elderly professor trussed up just as he had left him. He knelt beside him and looked him carefully in the eye. "Happy to see me?"

"Oh yes!"

"You don't want to kill me anymore?"

"What? No. No! Of course not!"

Ned grinned. "Good to hear." He had half expected the Professor to say, 'but of course, please give me your gun,' as casually as a Sunday greeting. It had unnerved him and Marguerite to see such a quiet, peaceful man as Summerlee turned into a perfectly willing killing machine.

He untied the man and helped him to his feet.

"What happened?" Summerlee asked.

"We stopped Layton, or Largo, or whoever the hell that man was, but Roxton was injured. Veronica and Marguerite are bringing him to the treehouse. We have to go."

The old man's face fell. He grabbed Ned's arm. "I didn't think I hit him. Oh, please tell me I didn't shoot him. I couldn't bear it. I just couldn't stop myself."

Ned quickly realized that Summerlee had also tried to kill Roxton. The poor guy had had half the camp gunning for him. He reassured Summerlee.

"It wasn't you, Professor."

"Then who?"

There was a shout down the trail and both turned to face the new danger. Ned breathed a sigh of relief and lowered his pistol when Challenger stumbled out of the brush.

"George!" Summerlee cried out. "Are you alright, man?" He rushed forward to help his unsteady colleague.

Challenger grimaced and held his aching head. "I believe so. Just an overwhelming headache, courtesy of Lord John Roxton. I think he enjoyed doing that."

Both Ned and Summerlee didn't laugh. If anything, their expressions grew even more grim.

"What is it?"

"Roxton's been hurt," Summerlee answered. "We should leave now that we are all together."

"Did one of us…?"

It was obvious Challenger's memory was a little fuzzy also.

"It was Veronica," Ned told them.

"Oh no," Summerlee whispered.

"He got between her and her father." Ned turned to leave, a sense of urgency filling him.

Challenger stopped him, blatant concern displayed on his face. "How bad?"

Ned shook his head. "Bad, I think. She stabbed him. Here." He pointed to the left side of his abdomen right above the belt.

"Dear God," Summerlee said.

"We better hurry," Challenger said.

****

Roxton lay lifeless on the bed. He had passed out soon after they got to the treehouse, his strength spent. It was for the best, especially in preparation for what they were about to do next.

Marguerite had cut his shirt away and Ned's as well to get a better look at the wound. It was small but horrid looking. The bleeding had subsided substantially but it still leaked steadily. And from the amount saturating the discarded shirts, the man didn't have much left. She had cleaned it as best she could and was now washing the cut on his arm. She was thankful he wasn't feeling the pain any longer, but she was worried sick about how still and pale he was. He had gone absolutely gray beneath his tan.

They had no idea the amount of damage done by the knife's entry. It could have cut through any number of vital organs. And they had no way to check. They could only stop the bleeding on the outside and pray that luck had been with Roxton and the internal damage was not severe.

Veronica came back into the room, holding a needle and thread. She stood next to the bed. "It's a good thing he's still out. This isn't going to be pleasant."

"But necessary right?" Marguerite was suddenly glad to have Veronica take charge. It appeared that whatever influence the drug had had on Veronica was gone. All Marguerite just wanted to do at the moment was help Roxton, and right now the huntress was the best suited for that. In her society circles, Marguerite hardly had the need to know anything above basic first aide and this far exceeded those rudimentary skills.

Veronica nodded. "To stop the bleeding." She sat on the bed beside Roxton and poured some alcohol over the needle and thread and then coated her hands. "Hold him while I do this, in case he wakes."

Marguerite's color faded a bit also. What a horrible thing to happen, regaining consciousness while they were stitching. She prayed he wouldn't wake up. Biting her lower lip, she complied, putting her weight onto his shoulders. She was grateful that Veronica was quick about it. But even though, Roxton thrashed weakly. Thankfully he didn't wake, but settled again once it was over.

The wound was only two inches or so in length and it was a clean cut. Veronica made short work of the sewing not wanting to cause Roxton any more pain than she had already inflicted on him. Her heart was sick with guilt.

Before her resolve waned, she went to work on his arm. It took longer because of the length of the cut but thankfully it wasn't as deep. Roxton didn't seem to feel it. Maybe he had slipped deeper into his unconsciousness. Veronica didn't know whether to be relieved or concerned.

Finally she was done. She sat back, limbs shaking and blinking back tears. She couldn't draw her gaze away from the damage she had wrought on her friend. How could she have been so willing to hurt him, hurt anyone?

Marguerite's quiet voice behind her startled her.

"He's already forgiven you, you know?"

The younger woman looked up to find the heiress observing her. Veronica said nothing, desperate to hold in her tears. She didn't believe it. How could any of them forgive her, Roxton most of all? She was touched by Marguerite's attempt to make her feel better. It was unlike her, especially after her reaction in the jungle. She looked up at the dark haired woman. "Have you?" she asked.

Marguerite shrugged and her hand fell to the locket she wore around her neck. Unbidden memories surfaced. "It's not as if we haven't seen this kind of thing before. And drugs can be a powerful influence."

Something about the way she said it, made Veronica believe that the older woman had more than a passing knowledge of such experiences. She realized that they knew so little about the heiress despite the length of time they had spent together in the Lost World. She rarely talked about herself.

"It was horrible," Veronica confessed in a hoarse whisper. "I was filled with such hatred. I had to protect my father, obey him. And I never doubted him, not for a second. And I should have." Her shoulders shuddered at the memory. Oh God, she thought. She had actually smiled up at Roxton after she yanked out the blade, his blood oozing over her hand, enjoying his stunned expression as he sank to the ground, thinking how proud her father was going to be. Her hand lifted to cover her mouth, sickened by the memory.

Marguerite gripped her shoulder firmly. "Let it go, Veronica."

"If he dies because of me…"

"No," Marguerite stated fiercely, turning the young woman to face her. "Not because of you. Because of the man masquerading as Tom Layton. He caused this."

Veronica stared at her. She understood that but it didn't ease the pain in her heart.

Marguerite had brought over clean bandages and Veronica was grateful for something to take her mind from her dark thoughts. Just then the elevator mechanism engaged and soon deposited the rest of their missing party. Relief flooded the women's faces.

Challenger immediately approached Roxton. "How is he?"

"He passed out a few times," Marguerite told them. "He hasn't regained consciousness since we got here."

"From the blood loss most likely," Challenger said. He examined the wound.

"And the shock," added Summerlee.

"It was deep, Professor," spoke a quiet voice.

Challenger turned to Veronica, immediately understanding the guilt she was experiencing. It could easily have been himself or Summerlee in a similar position. They had all tried to do exactly the same thing.

"John Roxton's a strong man, Veronica. He'll make it," Summerlee consoled her. He examined the women's handiwork. "You did a fine job. Now it's up to God and Roxton."

Knowing they had done all they could for their injured friend, they began to take stock of everyone else. Both Challenger and Marguerite were sporting lumps and massive headaches, but were relatively fine. Ned was minus his dignity at the hands of Kartas, but upon Challenger's recount of what occurred when Kartas met with Largo, it became obvious that Roxton had been right about the bounty hunter, or whatever he had been. Kartas had been trying to help them in a bizarre sort of way. Keeping them out of his hair, deciding that trying to explain the situation would not yield fast enough results.

When Challenger mentioned that Largo had shot Kartas, Ned decided to go out and look for him. "We owe it to him."

"He's probably dead," Marguerite said.

"We don't know that," Summerlee noted, despite the fact that the bounty hunter scared him. The tattoos made the man seem very fierce. It was either that or the lingering effects of the drug.

"We also need to think about the guns," Challenger said. "Largo took them. We're down to one rifle and three pistols. We need to find the rest."

"Yes, but where did he hid them?" Ned asked. "You must have seen."

"He had us hunting Roxton. Largo had plenty of time to hide them anywhere in the blasted jungle," said Challenger in frustration. Without the guns they would be vulnerable to far too much. Finding the cache of weapons would have to be high priority.

Ned rose. "I'll go look around."

Veronica also stood. "I can show you where we left Kartas. Largo might have left some tracks from there. It could lead us to the guns."

Ned headed for the elevator, grateful for the help. Veronica hesitated a moment, looking back at Roxton, lying still and ashen in the bed. Marguerite was by his side, anxiously watching over him. Summerlee came up beside her so quietly she didn't even notice.

"Don't worry, my dear. Everything will turn out just fine."

Veronica tried to return the man's kind smile, but failed. She merely nodded. "Take care of him."

"We will. Good luck."

****

It didn't take Ned or Veronica long to backtrack to where they left Kartas, but to their amazement there was no body when they got there.

"Raptors?" Ned asked with a little trepidation. He had brought the lone rifle with him but he never liked meeting up with those ferocious creatures. There was blood on the ground, but it wasn't enough to demonstrate the crude feeding habits of the raptors. It was spotty and far too little of it. A small blood trail didn't lead them far either. It was as if the Lost World had just swallowed him up, as it did so many things.

They were forced to turn their attention to the matter of the weapons. They followed Largo's tracks as he left the violent scene, but they were soon disappointed. The tracks disappeared into the thick brush and heavy ground vegetation. In order to find them again, they split up, widening their search in ever increasing circles.

It was then that Ned stumbled across something. It was lying on the ground. The whiteness of it in the lush greenery of the jungle caught his eye. It was a dress, soft and silky. It seemed odd for it to be just lying out there. It looked familiar for some reason. Then he remembered. He had seen it hanging in a corner of Veronica's room.

What was it doing out here? Wrapping it up carefully, he brought it with him. Just one more mystery in this forsaken place. He'd ask Veronica about it later. He gazed at the deepening shadows gathering around him. Night was descending rapidly on the plateau and Ned knew that their search would have to wait until daybreak. He headed off to find Veronica, knowing she wouldn't give up easily. The guilt radiating from her was practically tangible.

He found her making a futile second circuit of the area. "Still no luck?"

"No," she snarled. "I don't understand. He wasn't separated from us for that long. He couldn't have gotten far." Her anger and frustration were plain. "Why can't I find it?!"

'I' not 'we,' mused Ned, noting her use of pronouns. She blamed herself for the loss of the guns as well as everything else. It was too much responsibility for one person to take on. He tried to console her, not that he thought it would do much good.

"We were all duped by Largo."

She whirled on him, furious. "You followed my lead! I'm the one that should have known, not any of you. I should have realized he wasn't my father. Instead, I embraced him because I wanted to believe so damn badly. There was no way any of you could have known. It was up to me and I failed. I let a murderer in our midst!" She rubbed her face harshly. "This is my fault, Ned! All of it!" She spun away, ready to disappear into the jungle.

He reached out and grabbed her. "It isn't. By the time any of us were ready to suspect, he had already used the drug. I've seen how powerful it can be. It turned mild mannered Summerlee into a perfectly able killer."

She looked at him with wide, fearful eyes.

"It's true," Ned insisted, "Largo is the one to blame here, not you."

She shook her head. "Roxton…"

"He knew what had to be done. It was his choice. He'll make it through this."

"You don't understand. I was so angry at all the things he was saying about my fath…about Largo. I hated Roxton and I wanted to please Largo so much. I would have done anything to protect him."

"It was the drug, Veronica."

"Was it? Or was it the fact that Roxton was saying things I didn't want to hear? A part of me was happy to do it, Ned." A sob escaped her lips. The memory was tearing her up inside.

He pulled her tight to him. "The drug amplified those feelings, used them against you, against all of us. The fault lies there, not with us, not with you."

She quieted somewhat. "What about the guns? Without them--?

Ned laughed lightly. "You survived here with only a hunting knife for eleven years. I think we can manage to do the same. Whatever happens, we'll get through it together." He raised her head with his hand and looked into her blue eyes. "All right?"

She took a shaky breath and then nodded slowly.

Ned took in the gathering gloom. "We'll start searching for the guns again tomorrow."

Veronica stepped out of his embrace, but still clung to his hand with her own. "I want to get back to the treehouse."

Ned understood. So did he. "Maybe he's awake."

"I hope so."

****

Roxton's eyes flickered open to see Marguerite's relieved face staring down at him. The thatched roof of the treehouse came into focus beyond her. He didn't remember getting here.

"John!" she exclaimed. Turning quickly around, she called out to the others. "He's come around!"

"Oh, thank God," Summerlee exclaimed from somewhere out of view.

"We made it," Roxton commented distractedly, his weighted eyes not leaving the dark haired woman at his side, regardless of much he wanted to sink back into the darkness that beckoned.

Marguerite offered a nervous smile. "Barely. You are quite heavy when you're dead weight, you know that."

"Just what … are you implying?"

"Only that you frightened me out of my wits."

"Didn't mean too." He tried to shift and immediately regretted it. His abdomen exploded with pain. Unable to suppress a groan, his hand fell to his wound.

"Easy, John," Challenger said, crouching down beside the bed. "How are you feeling?"

"Like I've been … run over … by a very angry … rhinoceros."

"That would be Veronica," Marguerite told him.

Despite the pain, Roxton twisted around to look for her. "Is she here?"

Marguerite laid a firm hand on his shoulder, preventing him from rising. He collapsed back far too easily. The weakness she felt beneath her hand disturbed her. "She went out with Ned to look for …" She hesitated, deciding not to tell Roxton about the missing guns. He had more than enough to deal with already. There was nothing he could do on that front anyway. She glanced worriedly at Challenger. Surely there was something they could do. To see Roxton in such pain was more than she could bear. A part of her wished he had remained unconscious to spare him this torment.

Summerlee rose from the hearth and brought over a cup to Marguerite. "Have him drink some of this. Not a lot, mind you. Just a few swallows. It will help ease the pain." He was afraid that the knife had perforated Roxton's internal organs. To put excessive liquids into him would not help the situation.

Relieved, Marguerite took it and offered the cup to Roxton. Challenger assisted in lifting Roxton's head and shoulders up a bit so he could drink more easily.

Roxton gulped at it. He had a terrible thirst. He could have drank the entire cup and more, but Marguerite took it away far too soon. He wanted to complain but the small task of just swallowing had already exhausted him. Challenger laid him back gently and Roxton panted through the fire that was engulfing him, concentrating on controlling it as much as he could. It wasn't nearly enough.

Challenger rose, leaving Marguerite to wipe Roxton's damp brow. The Professor eased Summerlee aside. They stepped out onto the balcony to talk in private. "What do you think, Arthur?"

"I don't know. This kind of stab wound is serious under any circumstances. John's bleeding internally. If we were in a London hospital, he'd have a chance. Out here…" Summerlee shook his head in dismay.

"Is there nothing you can do?" Challenger implored his friend. Summerlee was the only one here with even a smattering of medical knowledge.

"I'm no surgeon. And the risk is too great for me to even try."

"Perhaps we should. Roxton is dying!"

"It's impossible," Summerlee told him, his remorse plain. "I'm sorry, George. We don't have the proper tools or even the necessary drugs. That tincture of herbs I just gave him will take some of the edge off. But even so, I won't go mucking around in the man's innards. I could cause even more damage. It would be barbaric!"

"So what's our only recourse?" Challenger argued. "Sit here and watch our friend die?" He felt so helpless.

"We can pray, George." Summerlee laid a hand on Challenger's shoulder. "We can pray," he repeated quietly.

"It won't be enough. Not even with an angel of mercy watching over him." Challenger watched Marguerite as she tended John. She was distraught but bearing up well under the circumstances. She was clinging to hope and he didn't have the heart to take that from her. Roxton's death was going to be hardest on her. Her feelings toward the hunter were quite plain despite the efforts she made to show otherwise. He would not go unmourned.

There were no words of comfort to offer her. They could only wait and pray that Lord John Roxton's passing would be swift and painless.

****

Together, Ned and Veronica walked back home. It was pitch dark by the time they made the treehouse. The jungle's thick canopy allowed little starlight through, however, the warm gold glow of the treehouse lamps showed them the way. Ned had to admit, it had come to be a most comforting sight over the past few months.

So wrapped up in their hurry to reach the treehouse, they didn't see the shadowy figure until he was right in front of them. Both Veronica and Ned went for their weapons.

"I mean you no harm."

It was Kartas. He stepped out of the darkness and into their small circle of light generated by the treehouse overhead. The bounty hunter's strange tattoos made his face dark and unreadable.

"What do you want?" Veronica asked. Even though she knew that this man had not been her true enemy, she still felt an overwhelming surge of hate and resentment. A parting gift of the damn drug. She tried desperately to quell it.

"Largo is dead," Ned informed him. Otherwise, why would he be here?

Kartas nodded. "I found the body. It was a fitting death." His eyes appraised Veronica and her knife.

"It wasn't me," she told him. "It was Roxton."

A smile creased his tattooed face. It was a knowing smile. "Ah, the Markus of Queens Berry."

Ned and Veronica stared at him blankly. They exchanged confused glances.

"He is a most able warrior," Kartas continued. He pulled something from his belt. It was the kitchen knife that had pierced Largo's heart. "Return this to him."

Veronica stared at it. The knife was clean now, but she couldn't bring herself to touch it. Instead, Ned took it from Kartas.

"Um, thanks. I'll see that he gets it."

Kartas threw down a large, long bundle wrapped in an oiled dinosaur hide. "And these as well."

The hide opened and revealed their weapons. All of them.

Relief flooded the young faces. "You found them!" Ned burst out. "Thank you!"

Kartas nodded and turned to leave.

Then Ned remembered something, the reason they had gone out in the first place. "Wait! Weren't you shot?" The bounty hunter looked remarkably healthy for someone they thought was dead.

"Your projectile weapons though formidable are only as good as those wielding them. The projectile merely penetrated my side. It passed through the meat. Easily remedied."

Ned looked at the man's side. He could just barely see the hole. It was a wound that would normally fell any man or animal. He brought his gaze back up to Kartas. "You must have remarkable regenerative powers. The wound is practically healed."

"A have a poultice that works on repairing the damage."

Hope sprang into Veronica's eyes for the first time. "You can heal this kind of injury?" The desperation in her voice was clear.

Ned immediately saw the same potential. "Roxton was wounded in the battle with Largo," he explained. "He might not make it."

Kartas absorbed this information. He stared at them for a moment and both Veronica and Ned thought he would decline to help them. Then he lifted the pack of weapons again. "Take me to him."

Veronica leapt to call the elevator down to the ground level. For the first time in hours, she felt that perhaps her soul could be saved. She just hoped they were in time.

When the elevator rumbled to life up in the treehouse, Challenger stepped forward to meet Ned and Veronica. He was glad they had returned. They should all be here, just in case. Roxton was growing weaker by the minute.

He was surprised therefore to see Kartas emerge from the elevator behind the two young people. His hand reflexively dropped to his side, but then he realized that he had no weapon.

Marguerite gave a startled cry and Summerlee let out an exclamation at the sight of Kartas. Had the bounty hunter taken Ned and Veronica prisoner?

Ned stepped forward quickly and held out his arms. "It's okay! He's here to help!" His fellow explorers looked confused and wary.

"But how?" Summerlee asked. "Largo shot him. We saw it."

"He has medicine that could help Roxton," Veronica answered. She looked over her shoulder and was surprised to see Kartas was no longer there.

Kartas had ignored the conversation currently going on and instead approached Roxton's bedside.

Marguerite, though terrified of the fierce looking warrior, refused to leave Roxton's side while the stranger was in their midst. Despite what she heard, she remained suspicious. They knew hardly anything about this man and this day did not bode well for placing further trust in anyone. She reverted back to her normal self, overly suspicious and mistrusting of everyone. She stared up at Kartas defiantly, warning him to deceive them no longer. The repercussions of such a betrayal would be highly dangerous.

Kartas scrutinized this woman who stood her ground and then nodded to her, accepting her presence and understanding it for what it was. He could see the spirit in this woman. She was a fine choice for Roxton.

He shifted his gaze to his ally. In spite of the considerable pain he was in, Roxton lifted out his hand.

"Glad to see … you're all right," Roxton said.

"Yes," Kartas replied, grasping the man's forearm firmly. "Unlike the two of us, even if Largo wanted us dead, we would not be."

Roxton laughed at the private joke between them. He regretted it as agony blossomed within him. He tightened his grip on the warrior and held in his groan as best he could, not wanting Kartas to see it. He felt it was important for reasons he couldn't quite explain.

Kartas offered his strength to his friend, not letting go of the man's grip as he fought against the pain. When the spasm passed the bounty hunter leaned over and pulled up the bandage, examining the raw and ugly wound. It was a bad wound and already much time had passed, but still an effort had to be made. Roxton's heart was strong and Kartas himself had witnessed the man's remarkable determination.

"I fear … Largo might have … actually succeeded … this time," Roxton groaned.

Kartas turned to the woman. "Bring me a bowl."

Marguerite raised an eyebrow at him. She was about to remark that he get it himself. There was no way she was going to leave Roxton with a man they knew practically nothing about. But then she felt something touch her arm and glanced down to see Roxton's hand.

"It's all right," he told her.

There was such complete trust in Roxton's feverish face that she relented. Standing, she quickly left to retrieve a bowl. By the time she returned, Kartas had taken her chair. Stifling an annoyed huff, she thrust the bowl at him.

Kartas poured the remaining water from his water skin into it. It wasn't nearly enough, he noted. Less than a quarter cup. He had used up the majority to heal his own wound and he would have none for his journey home, but that was a risk worth taking.

Reaching into his pouch, he removed a small leather satchel. From it, he poured the last of his whitish powder into the water and mixed it till it became like diluted milk.

Summerlee and Challenger watched this process curiously.

"It must be derivative of a medicinal plant," the elder professor noted.

Challenger nodded. "But it's unlike any I've ever seen or smelled. It's almost heady." His nose wrinkled at the stench filling the room.

Satisfied that the mixture was strong enough, Kartas eyed Roxton. "Are you ready, Markus of Queens Berry?" he asked, addressing the man by his proper title. Oddly enough, it brought a sad smile to Roxton's lips.

Marguerite frowned at him. The Marquess of Queensbury? How the hell does Kartas know that name from British society? Marguerite thought with an air of annoyance, but such thoughts quickly dissipated. She didn't like the expression that had fallen over Roxton's face. Terrified of what was to come, she stepped closer to the bed.

Roxton's tired eyes sparked with a glint of memory. His own brawling days in British boxing matches hidden inside seedy pubs had been wild and unruly, and therefore utterly disgraceful to his father. He would come home bruised and bloody and yet feeling so very much alive. It was the only thing after William's death that he had been able to tolerate. 'It is no way for a Lord of the manor to act,' his father would reprimand, not understanding what drove his younger son. However, the Knight of Newcastle was merely exorcising his bitter demons with acts of outright aggression against all comers in the ring. The shame of it all was that he had made a better bare-knuckled boxer than a British Lord.

Pushing aside for now his regrets of the past, Roxton regarded the tattooed warrior and nodded. "Let's do it."

"There will be pain as the liquid enters the wound. It will work from the inside and repair the damage." The man's face showed remorse for the first time. "I will admit this to you. The mixture is not as potent as it should be. There is a chance it will not be enough."

"I understand. Hell, it's not as if I have any better options at my disposal."

"Then let us begin." He lifted the bowl above Roxton's abdomen and slowly poured the mixture over the wound.

As the liquid hit, Roxton arched off the bed. A howl of agony ripped its way out no matter how hard he fought to hold it in. He thought it would be a cold sensation; he was right. It was like ice. It lanced through him like an electrical current, freezing everything it touched. So cold it burned.

"John!" Marguerite grabbed him, holding him, fear enveloping her. Desperate to end Roxton's agony, she reached over to prevent Kartas from finishing his task. "Stop this!"

Easily eluding her, Kartas continued to pour the last bit of liquid over Roxton. Finally it was done. He held the convulsing man down with a hand.

Marguerite turned on him. "What have you done?"

"What was necessary."

Roxton fell back onto the bed, his whole body shaking, and his breathing shallow and fast. He seemed to be still conscious, his eyes wide and fixed on the ceiling above him. The convulsions stopped abruptly and he lay motionless.

"John," Marguerite called. "Can you hear me?" Her hands touched his face gently, willing him to look over at her. His flesh was like ice.

Veronica leaned anxiously over her shoulder, her own fear easily apparent. "Is he…?"

"I don't know," she confessed, her own voice shaking and uncertain. She glanced over angrily at Kartas. "What's your diagnosis, Doctor?" The last came out dripping with sarcasm.

Kartas didn't respond. There was little he could say to alleviate their concern. He truly did not know. It had been far too little and it depended on how bad the interior damage had been. And that he had no way of knowing. He wished he could do more.

Marguerite called out once more to Roxton. Finally, he blinked and his breathing settled into a steady, normal rhythm. He slowly turned his head to look at her. There was no pain in his expression. Instead there was a sort of euphoria. His side felt numb as if it was frozen, but he was no longer in agony. Wearily he smiled at her. "I'm okay," he whispered.

Marguerite gasped with joy. Tears tumbled from her eyes. There was a chorus of elated shouts behind her. She sensed Veronica at her side and she reached out a hand to her. The young woman immediately turned and embraced her. Marguerite could sense the release of emotion in the woman as her shoulders shook with the force of it.

"He's going to live, Veronica," she assured her. "He's going to live." She repeated it as if it was her own personal mantra.

Veronica's eyes met with Kartas and sought the final confirmation. The bounty hunter granted it with a nod.

The mixture had been strong enough and so had Roxton's will to live.

"Amazing," Summerlee exclaimed. "George, look at the wound!"

"Incredible," Challenger agreed. "But how?"

Roxton's flesh had knitted together miraculously before their eyes. It was still red and ugly, but there was no more blood.

"His suffering is over," Kartas told them. "He will be able to heal on his own now."

"You have done us a great service," Challenger told Kartas. "We are in your debt."

"Yes," the bounty hunter agreed. "You are. One day I may make you remember it."

"And we will, gladly," assured Roxton, his strength returning. He raised himself up on an elbow, color seeping back into his pale skin.

Kartas regarded his new ally. The sincerity in the man's face was strong. This was a man of his word. He had almost forgotten that honorable men existed on this plateau. He inclined his head graciously.

"May I ask what that was?" Summerlee inquired eagerly. "What you did was truly remarkable."

Kartas hesitated. Such practices were long held secret by his clan and though he admired Roxton, he knew nothing about the rest of this group. Would they all hold to the same set of ideals? He cast a glance over all of them, reading the relief and gratitude in some and the trepidation and suspicion in others. He could not be sure. But he did offer them something, a half-truth.

"The kaidia plant grows only on the northern end of this plateau in the higher elevations. It is collected only during certain growing cycles and unfortunately its potency does not last long."

"What does the plant look like?" Summerlee insisted, his eyes practically glowing with curiosity.

"Reddish green leaves with white blossoms, but it will do you little good here." Kartas gestured around them. "It is too damp and hot; the potency would not last long past its journey to this side of the plateau. That was why the risk was great for Roxton. I could not be sure it would still work."

"Did the water have any bearing on the healing?" Challenger asked.

Kartas was quick to answer, "No."

Challenger studied the bounty hunter quietly, but then nodded, deciding not to push the matter. Though he suspected that there was more that the man was not telling.

"Oh, I see." Summerlee's face filled with disappointment. It was obvious Kartas was trying to dissuade their interest and a part of him understood, but the botanist in him demanded more. Still, he refrained.

Kartas was relieved that the old ones had left him alone. The water was indeed the key, far more than the plant. Unfortunately, it was not pure like the true source, which was well guarded by the Witch, but it was derivative of it and thereby held great potential for healing albeit at a slower rate, the kaidia plant merely enhanced it. However, if word got out that such things existed, then his Valley would be soon overrun with greedy men like Largo. It was best to say nothing. These may be fine people but they were obviously far too curious and open for their own good.

Roxton sat up in the bed; he half expected excruciating pain to greet him, but inexplicably there was none. His arm still ached, but that was a pain he could live with.

Worried he was overexerting himself, Marguerite tried to stop him. "What are you doing? Lay back."

"I'm fine, Marguerite. I've never felt better."

"Are you sure?" After all, they had no idea what had just been done. It could be nothing but a massive painkiller, and even if it was something more, Roxton shouldn't risk aggravating the delicate work that had been graciously done. "You should take it easy for awhile. Just in case."

"Nonsense." Ignoring her plea, he rose from the bed, fluid and graceful. The pain that kept him prisoner no longer marred his motions. He smiled down at her, broad and effortless. In all honesty, he felt reborn. Even the numbness was abating and still there was no stabbing pain. It was as if he hadn't been injured at all.

Marguerite huffed with annoyance. "You are so stubborn. Go ahead then. Run around. If you have a relapse, don't come crying to me."

Roxton sighed and turned to Kartas.

"He is so aggravating," Marguerite grumbled.

Veronica laid a hand on hers. "Let him go, Marguerite."

The dark haired woman glanced over at the blonde. Then she let out a heavy sigh and groused, "Bloody obstinate man."

"That's our Roxton," Veronica offered with a weary half smile. The weight she had been carrying was gone now. Her soul felt lighter. She was exhausted but satisfied with the way the events had transpired. She owed Kartas a great deal and she too would honor any request for help. That she swore.

She looked over at Marguerite. "By the way, who is this Marquess of Queensbury? Is that Roxton's title?"

Marguerite laughed. "Oh no! The Marquess of Queensbury was a man of London high society. He had manners, esteem and morals. Nothing like our Roxton. He came up with some silly rules for boxing. How gauche." She stared at Roxton as he stood before her, noting his fine physique and readily believing that his man might have connections in that particular realm of London's violent sporting society. She did remember there being rumors of a noted Lord slumming in the boxing circles. It made quite a stir in the papers for a time. She tried to recall what was the name mentioned in those articles. The Knight of something or other. Murmuring conspiratorially, she noted to Veronica, "However, I wonder if there is some connection." The mischief that flared in the older woman's face was plain to see.

Kartas rose to meet Roxton, as warriors should: standing eye to eye.

"Thank you," said the newly restored adventurer. "For saving my life yet again." Roxton offered his hand once more, this time it was strong and sure.

Kartas took it, clasping the man's forearm to his own. "It seems we have made a habit of it."

"Will you stay for a while and eat with us. It's been a helluva day."

Kartas shook his head. "No. My journey is long and I have spent too much time here already. I will take my leave tonight."

Roxton nodded. "If you ever need..."

"I will send word," Kartas finished. And with that, the bounty hunter departed, swift and silent as was his way.

The peace in the treehouse lasted only a moment and then broke out into raucous reverie. Everyone crowded around Roxton, elated at his miraculous recovery. Veronica stood a bit off to the side, letting the wave of joy rise before her. They had fought a long, hard battle and had somehow won against all odds. It didn't matter how anymore, just that they were all alive and all together. She had given up hope and she was relieved to see she had been wrong to do so.

"We were extremely lucky," voiced Challenger as if reading Veronica's thoughts.

"I'll say," Ned agreed, patting Roxton on the back.

"It's amazing how one man could cause so much damage in so short a time," Challenger said thinking of Largo. "We must be more careful."

Marguerite folded her arms across her chest and took on an air of superiority. "If only you'd all be a little less trusting of strangers."

"Like yourself," Roxton offered.

"But of course."

"And if we hadn't trusted Kartas," he pointed out, "I'd be dead."

Marguerite's smugness dissolved into a frown.

Shaking his head, Summerlee said with a bit of dread, "Appearances can certainly be very deceiving in the Lost World."

Challenger stepped forward. "Something we should make careful note of next time we come across a stranger in the jungle." He pulled down a bowl to fill with cold water. His head was throbbing to beat the band. A cool compress sounded heavenly.

Things reverted quickly back to normal as the group went about their business. Ned took the guns before Roxton noticed their state and offered to clean them. Luckily they were merely damp and not broken. Some care and some oil and they would be fine.

Grateful to Ned, Roxton took the opportunity to wash up and change. He was still covered in dried blood. In the solitude of his room, he used a cloth to wash away the rest of it. He stood there and gingerly touched the closed wound in his side. It amazed him that there was no more pain associated with it. Not even when his fingers pressed against it. Only a small red line crossed by a few stitches remained and those weren't even necessary any longer. He'd have Challenger take them out.

Dipping his hands in his washbowl, he scrubbed the sweat from his face. The coolness of it felt good. His skin felt flushed, though not from a fever, but more from the way his blood was suddenly rushing through his veins, renewed and invigorated. He had so much energy, which seemed impossible after all that had happened this day. He should be completely worn out.

There was a quiet knock on the post outside his room. He looked up to see Veronica standing there. He waved her in as he finished toweling off. Throwing the soiled cloth in the corner, he picked up a clean shirt and shrugged his way into it. The tender skin on his arm pulled against the stitches with a slight stab, but he was careful to keep it masked for Veronica's sake. He knew all too well what she was going through.

She started out hesitatingly. "I just … I just wanted to say…" For the first time the huntress's eyes refused to meet Roxton's.

Roxton held up a hand. "There's no need, Veronica. I don't blame you for any of this."

"But it was my fault."

"Bullshit," he stated firmly, surprising the young woman. "You were under the influence of a very powerful drug. There was no way for you to fight it."

"I almost killed you."

"Almost being the operative word. Don't blame yourself when no one else does. Drugs can make things seem very genuine, Veronica. Trust me on this. I know what they can make you see and feel, courtesy of Cassandra."

Roxton's mind cast back to the time when a seemingly harmless fungus on a cave wall ripped through his and Marguerite's minds. The courtesan-turned-queen had knowingly sent them to the lethal cave, and both of them nearly died because of what they believed while under the influence of those spores. He had no idea what Marguerite had experienced during that time, but it had been enough to make her turn the gun on herself. He had arrived in the nick of time. Despite some gentle prodding, she still refused to speak of the matter.

His own hallucination absolutely terrified him. He had been so willing to believe his brother hated him for what had happened. He had almost followed William over the precipice to his own death. It had all seemed so real at the time, but in the end it had been nothing more than his own tortured mind. It had taken days to shove his guilt back down and for the nightmares to cease once more.

He took a deep breath. He hadn't thought of that incident in a long time. He pulled his gaze back toward Veronica who was watching him curiously. "It wasn't your fault, Veronica. Please let it go."

She straightened, her eyes filling with tears again as she grasped at his offer of absolution. She nodded, unable to trust her voice. "Thank you," she finally whispered and left.

Veronica escaped to her room. Relief so utterly engulfed her that she couldn't hold back any more. The tears flowed from her eyes. The course of events over the last few hours had drained her completely. The joy at finding her father, the lie about the death of her mother, the drugs, the stabbing, the deception and death of Largo, the near loss of Roxton at her hands. She couldn't hold it in any longer.

To muffle the sound of her sobs, she buried her face in her pillow. She didn't want the others to see her like this. She hated the show of weakness. It was unlike her, but the traumas of this day were enough for a lifetime and they had mercilessly caught up with her.

It lasted only a few minutes and then finally it ended. Spent, she sat up, gulping in lungfuls of air. She was grateful it was over. All of it. Life would return to normal again. Everything was as it should be and had been. Roxton was well, the weapons were found, and she still had hope that her parents were alive.

She had proof now. At one time, not so very long ago, they had been alive and in the hands of slavers. And if that bastard, Largo, had managed to escape then so might have her parents. It was a small shard of hope, but it was enough for Veronica.

Her gaze caught something in the room that shouldn't be there. It startled her. Her mother's dress. It was hanging once more in its normal place. She rose. There was a grass stain on the bottom and it was a tad wrinkled, but otherwise it was fine. She reached out a hesitant hand to touch it, the gentle silk soft beneath her fingers. She thought she had lost the dress. She remembered wearing it, but not where she had left it in the jungle when she went to hunt Roxton.

Her gut tightened automatically remembering how strong the urge to kill had been in her. But she quickly let it go. It was over. The drug was the enemy and in time that too would fade.

Her fingers tumbled over something pinned to the dress. It was a note. She opened it and it simply read, "What is lost can always be found. Love Ned."

Her lips pulled into a genuine smile, the first of the day. He was right on many levels.

Thank you, Ned, she told him silently.

She knew what she had to do now. She lifted her father's journal from the shelf, the one that contained the formula for the neurotoxin, and went downstairs.

****

Marguerite sauntered past Roxton's room on the way to clean up and then paused for a moment. He had the curtain pulled back and she could easily see him as he buttoned up his shirt. He moved effortlessly and without pain. Marguerite reveled in watching him do so.

She had almost lost him this time. It was a fact she lived with every day in the Lost World. Some days it terrified her beyond reason and caused her often to reevaluate any notion she had of falling in love with the man. It was days like today that screamed at her to forget about him. Treat him as she would treat any other man. But then he would smile that smile and touch her gently and ask the world of her and she would gladly give it.

God, how she hated him.

Roxton slicked back his long, damp strands of hair with a rough hand. He turned to see Marguerite standing there in the doorway. He cocked his head at her quizzically, but she was engrossed in something. She just stood there, staring at him, a half scowl, half smile painted on her face.

Perplexed, he called out, "Marguerite?"

She started out of her thoughts and realized quickly that he was observing her, smiling that smile of his. She was at a loss for words.

Unfortunately, he was not. His smile turned into a feral grin. His gaze raked her disheveled form. "Mud still becomes you, Marguerite." He licked his lips with far too much relish.

Marguerite's eyes flew open wide revealing darkening orbs, like menacing clouds before a storm. She had forgotten just how filthy she was. How ungentlemanly of him to take notice. "You ungrateful lout. I got this way saving your life," she remarked hotly. "Don't think for a moment I will let you forget that, Lord Roxton." Then she added wickedly, "Or should I say The Knight of Newcastle."

Roxton straightened abruptly as Marguerite's anger turned swiftly to iniquity. Then she spun on her heel and marched away to her own room.

Merciful heaven, she knows! Why is it I can't keep one bloody secret from that woman?

He lifted a dismayed hand to his brow. He was surely doomed.

Oh boy, he thought, it's going to be a long night.

The End

[Insert the episode's final epilogue here if necessary.]

FINAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: To the writer of the fanfic "Kartas," Leslie T. Talent, who gave me the idea of letting the bounty hunter survive his wounds. There was no forwarding email on her story, but I would like to give her credit where credit is due. Also, after watching "The Source" I noticed a slight resemblance between Kartas and the Horsemen. I decided to make a very subtle hint that Kartas was from that region and he might have been dipping into the Fountain of Youth to make his potions. And also it was the perfect way to save Roxton.