Disclaimer: I own nothing but my notebook.

Notes: Jack being a decent human being. Clay just being Clay.

Of Canticles and Seeds:

A Little Time

The Pendant of Shui, such an innocuous name for a shen-gong-wu that was turning out to be a real pain in the neck – a hell of a pain in Jack's neck, anyway. The showdown was simple, a maze. First team to the center wins the Pendant. It was the "team" part that was making everything more complicated. The entire freaking Heylin army had shown up to battle the dragons for this Wu, and someone (Jack figured it must have been Omi as no one else could possibly come up with such an idiotic challenge) had developed the brilliant cough, moronic, cough idea to make it a team Xiaolin showdown. Thus, he, Chase Young, the Chameleonbot and Ashley were pitted against the four dragons. That might not have been so bad, a similar situation had worked to his advantage once before after all, but in the grand tradition of the Xiaolin showdown, it was the twist that sent everything spinning all to hell. Each Heylin competitor was paired with a dragon, and the teams were chained together.


Literally! And to make matters even worse, Jack was now stuck with Clay, who was not going anywhere at all.

Jack sighed and let his head drop back against the wall -- hard. He didn't hear a thunk – ancient stone was rather sound proof that way – but he could feel it rock through his head. He repeated the action, just to relive the feeling. He sort of liked it. Was that odd?

A low moan aborted his next repetition, as it drew his gaze down and to the huddled figure on his right. The cowboy was curled on his side, tremors running haphazard through his body, face twisted in a not-so-subtle expression of discomfort. The gaudy hat was pulled low over his fair features in what Jack supposed was an attempt at stoicism, but the American was clearly in more pain than he could ignore.

Jack was pissed, he really was, but there was absolutely nothing he could do about it.

The unorthodox partnership had started well enough. Jack had spouted his customary string of rather witty insults (if he did say so himself), Clay had held his own with a few leisurely retorts and they'd set out from their corner of the maze. All had gone smoothly (Jack still had his handy-dandy shen-gong-wu detector to guide them on the quickest path through the labyrinth) until the giant snake. No one had bothered to say anything about obstacles in the maze. Jack didn't mind snakes. He actually thought they were rather cool, in a slithering scaly sort of way, but that appreciation definitely reached its limit when the snake in question happened to be upwards of 40 feet long...

... and spitting presumably poisonous streams of goo. Yech.

Clay had reacted first -- damn monks and their martial arts training -- tugging them both out of harm's way, but leaving Jack, possessing considerably less body weight, to be dragged along in his wake. Still, scrawny or no, the boy genius's uncoordinated flailing as he was tugged here and there by the metal leash was enough to throw the cowboy off balance. He'd been hit with a dose of the poison before Jack could even pull the Eye of Dashi -- good thing he'd stolen it back, huh? -- from under his shirt to zap the monster. Luckily the lightning had been enough to scare Mr. Hissypants away -- off to eat Ashley and Kimiko he could only hope -- but Clay was down and as far as this Xiaolin showdown was concerned, out for the count. Jack had thrown his customary little tantrum then considered every possible means of working with, around or through this rather substantial impediment, but the answer was clear; there was no conceivable way Jack Spicer could win this showdown. Damn.

Damn, damn, damn.

He contemplated pitching another tantrum, just to make himself feel better, but settled for a half-hearted kick at the bottom of the cowboy's boots instead. The blond didn't seem to notice, and Jack decided he hadn't even felt the rather pathetic excuse for revenge over the discomfort brought on by the poison. Damn cowboy.

He was really starting to hate mazes, snakes, tombs and anything even remotely reminiscent of Egypt. If this maze had been open to the sky, as the majority of Xiaolin showdowns tended to be, he could have called any one of a variety of Jackbots to come pick up the dragon and carry him along in Jack's wake to the finish line, but no. This Egyptian tomb maze had to be buried miles underground. Why in the hell had Dojo hidden two shen-gong-wu in Egyptian tombs anyway? Hadn't that challenge with his future self been enough? And what was with this ridiculous maze theme? He understood that the pyramids had been built as labyrinths to confuse grave robbers, but this was just silly. Maybe Omi just had mazes on the brain or something. Damn the midget monk. Damn the showdown, damn the Pendant and damn Clay.

That was the worst part. Everything else he could have handled just fine. It wasn't as though he was particularly consistent at winning showdowns anyway, what was one more to the Xiaolin side when he could always steal it back later, but every time he looked down at the American dragon's suffering he felt... guilty, and Jack Spicer did not feel guilty. Ever.


Sure, the big dumb brute had saved his bacon, otherwise he would be the one enduring a cold sweat right about now, but that wasn't anything new. Omi had pulled him out of harm's way when they'd confronted Wuya and even... asked him to become a Xiaolin warrior. Of course he'd refused. How could he take over the world from the temple? Not to mention having to give up his super cool trench for those silly bathrobes. Seriously.

Still, the offer had stuck with him, surfacing whenever he thought of the little grapefruit-head. How in the world did someone that naïve and trusting manage to beat him time and time again? He just couldn't figure it out. There was irony for you. The boy-genius who could build any mechanical or computerized device conceivable to man (plus a few that definitely weren't) and open Grand Master Dashi's fifteen-hundred year old puzzle box in 1.5 seconds flat, could not understand the boy next door. Heh.

Clay wasn't exactly transparent himself. The seemingly endless string of lazily drawled metaphors and similes didn't really illuminate the boy's innermost thoughts, but Jack had been around for the whole father-son altercation and couldn't help but notice the similarities. He'd actually felt bad for the cowboy. Empathy was a fairly foreign concept to the evil genius, but he knew exactly how it felt to long for a father's approval and fail miserably, no matter how hard you fought. Clay had succeeded in the end, though, winning not only the shen-gong-wu, but his father's respect as well. After watching that... well, Jack's own pill seemed doubly bitter.

Jack kicked the soles of Clay's boots again, this time out of jealousy. It was a bit more forceful than the previous hit, but he was still startled to hear the low yet coherent accent.

"And just what was that for, Pardner?"

Jack inhaled with the intent of a scathing remark, but any fledgling comeback died on his lips as the cowboy shuddered again, his whole body curling inward slightly, as if to ward off the pain.

Damn it all to hell.

Jack cast a last gaze wistfully down the dusty stone corridor, wu detector sitting uselessly in his pocket, heaved a thoroughly annoyed sigh and walked around to Clay's head, dragging his boots the whole way. He slid down the grimy wall and straightened his gangly legs out before him, wiggling his leather-clad toes a bit to get comfortable. The dragon was curled on his side, back to the wall, head held at an awkward angle because of his ridiculously large shoulders and equally nonsensical hat. It had to be horribly uncomfortable, with or without a system full of venom. Call him a wuss -- Wuya always did -- but Jack didn't like to watch people suffer -- okay, maybe just a little, but not like this! -- especially not a person he knew and liked... kind of. Maybe he couldn't call them friends, but Jack had long ago acknowledged that taking over the world just wouldn't be as much fun without the Xiaolin Losers there to make it interesting. After the whole team-up thing he'd been serious about going for ice cream, not that it had ever happened, but he'd still meant it.

With that thought in mind, Jack lifted the blond head and slid sideways until he could let it rest atop his legs.

The blond American was clearly distracted, pale face twisted in a sickly grimace, and hadn't noticed Jack's movement, but he definitely noticed when his hat suddenly disappeared from his head and the torchlight hit him full in the face. He'd been trying to ignore as much of his discomfort as possible and hide any visible weakness from his supposed enemy. He clearly wasn't coming across as stoically as he'd hoped, but darned if it didn't HURT! Still, he hadn't had to endure nearly as much taunting as he'd expected. Sure, Jack had thrown a little hissy fit right at the beginning, and then Clay might have heard another when he was first put down by that slimy varmint, but since then the gawky goth had been rather subdued, at least as far as Clay could tell from his position on the floor. He was really starting to dislike this showdown, and asps in particular.

When he felt his hat pulled away he'd first thought it was some sort of petty prank Jack had finally decided to use on him, but then the hat had been replaced with... a pillow? Now that his eyes were fully open Clay could see a pair of chunky black boots waggling back and forth in front of his face. They vanished into folds of black denim that lead all the way up to the surface on which his face was currently resting. What in tarnation?

Jack snickered when Clay twisted his head up with wide blinking eyes. The cowboy looked like he thought he must be hallucinating, and for all Jack knew he was, but the expression of total shock on the infuriatingly even-tempered American was just priceless. Ah, he could feel the sarcasm come flowing back.

"Don't worry, Cowboy, I didn't steal your hat." He placed said headwear on the dumbfounded boy's half-exposed chest. "Though why anyone would actually want that redneck monstrosity is beyond me. Ten gallons of tacky. Why not just go with the sign, "Hopeless Hick" and be done with it?" Now that felt better, back to the old routine. Jack boasted his trademark evil grin (patent pending) until Clay started laughing -- not growling, not some accented retort. He started to laugh. Jack blinked. Okay, so that worked too.

Though he would never admit it, Jack swore he could feel his smile slip into something a bit less evil. He'd have to work on that.

The moment was ruined, however, when the blond boy was drawn into another spasm, curling back against the floor. Jack looked on and contemplated actually doing something more to help. He wasn't worried for Clay's safety. They'd been through dozens of Xiaolin showdowns by now and every life-threatening scenario, no matter how deadly it appeared, had proven non-fatal. He assumed the poison in the husky boy's system would simply disappear along with the maze and monsters the instant someone won the shen-gong-wu. Come to think of it, what was taking so long? Usually showdowns lasted no more than a few minutes. What could be taking the other teams? He glanced at his watch, then checked again in disbelief. It had only been a few minutes since the showdown had started. Clearly the wait just seemed longer to the two boys stuck where they were. To Jack this waiting felt like forever, and he was willing to bet it seemed much longer to Clay.

Jack clunked his head against the wall again (why was that so satisfying?) before glancing back to the boy in his lap -- wait, that really didn't sound right. Straight blond hair was matted to the dragon's scalp, sticky sweat holding it down -- eew. That could not be comfortable. He began to rummage through his numerous pockets, discovering various and sundry tools and toys and discarding each just as quickly. He let out a whoop of victory as one gloved hand finally emerged with his prize. The rag was woven of soft cotton (best for not leaving fuzz in his circuitry -- okay, that didn't come out right, either) and was almost clean. At this point he didn't think Clay would mind one or two smudges of grease. Now that he had the rag, though, he wasn't entirely sure what to do next. Was he seriously considering wiping the cowboy's face like some sort of nurse? A particularly violent tremor shook them both with its force and Jack shrugged. Ah well, it wasn't like the cowboy was in any shape to slug him if he didn't approve.

Rag in hand, Jack Spicer, Evil Boy Genius and future ruler of the entire planet, began to gently wipe the dripping moisture from the Xiaolin dragon's forehead. Clay jerked at the unexpected contact, but the redhead ignored him, running the soft T-shirt like material through his sopping hair.

"What in the name of Bessie's stirrups are you doing?" Clay's voice was softer than Jack had anticipated, and far less angry.

Jack shrugged again, though Clay couldn't see it, and kept his hand moving. He wasn't done yet, but knew that once he stopped he'd be far too embarrassed to begin again.

"You're sweating all over my jeans. It's grossing me out." Silence followed as the American chewed over this strange behavior and painfully thin excuse. For a moment Jack was afraid the boy might actually thank him -- he was a "good guy" after all -- in which case he would most definitely have to stop, but the silence was broken instead by a chuckle.

"You should see Rai after a session of Kimiko's "aerobics training"." Jack laughed, appreciating the comment for what it was: a joke not aimed at him, as well as the image of Kimiko teaching Rai -- not to mention Omi and Clay himself -- aerobics. The tight knot of tension that had built up just behind his breastbone eased its grip. He wasn't sure, and no force on earth would get him to ask, but he thought he could feel some of the aching tension leave Clay's shoulders as well. Damn snake. Jack made a final pass at the sandy hair, leaving it standing in a myriad of spiky tufts -- oh yeah, the other dragons were sure to love that -- before handing it to Clay. The Texan quickly scrubbed it across his face before another seizure could distract him, and tossed it weakly up onto Jack's knee. The boy genius extraordinaire snatched it back to the safety of his pocket, taking mental note to make sure it saw a washing machine before coming into contact with anything in his shop.

"You know," Clay's voice was a bit stronger than before. "I'm sorry about getting us stuck back here while the others are all working their tails off for a chance at that shen-gong-wu." Jack just snorted.

"Aw, don't worry about it. At least now I can blame you when I lose. Wait, that didn't come out right."

Before he'd even finished speaking, the massive stone blocks surrounding them began to levitate and fly off in every direction. Within moments they were standing side by side on the sand, hot Egyptian sun beating down on their heads as Chase and Omi growled at one another, Kimiko and Ashley glared daggers and Rai and... Rai? leapt up and down in celebration, each holding a half of the black and white Pendant. Oh yeah, the Chameleonbot. Right.

Jack glanced over at Clay. The cowboy was looking haggard, but much much better than he had a mere minute earlier. Clearly his assumption had been correct and everything, including the poison, had vanished once the showdown was completed. However...

Silence descended as each of the pairs noticed he and Clay. Three jaws hit the basement while Ashley whistled, CB snickered, and Chase just turned to stalk away in disgust. Though the playing field had been reverted to normal, the cowboy's hair had not. Jack just stood back and grinned (patent still pending).

Kimiko was the first to recover her voice.

"Clay, what happened? Are you alright?"

"'Course, Little Lady. It takes more than a sharp shooting snake to throw this buckaroo." The oversized American cocked a smile as he dusted the sand from his robes. After a long moment of silence blue eyes glanced back up to his friends. "What?"

Rai tried to cover his chuckling. "No, Compadre, your hair..."

Upon receiving a totally blank stare the currently aqua-haired girl quickly produced a compact and flipped it open, pointing the mirror toward her teammate. Jack's grin grew even wider as the cowboy's cheeks flushed bright red and he immediately jammed the giant white hat back on his head.

The Boy Genius took that as his cue to head out. A quick wave and a click to the helipack sent him skyward.

"Later, Losers."

"Next time, Pardner." Jack's smile did not soften at that drawl. Nope, not at all. Nuh uh. No way.

"Eeeew, you were paired with JACK?"

"Dude, I'm so sorry."

"Clay, is Jack Spicer responsible for rearranging your hair?"

Oh what a boy genius wouldn't give for a photo.

x x x

Notes: Does the racehorse line make it too obvious I'm from Kentucky?