Author's Note – at the end because this is the last chapter.

*************************************************************

In Washington, D.C.

   "Hello?"

   "I did it."

   "Excuse me?"

   "I did it.  The procedure was a success."

   "Logan?"

   "Do you know anyone else that started human trials on experimental surgery lately?"

   Ingrid Rochester rolled her eyes behind her designer glasses.  "Well, now that you mention it . . ."  She sighed and took a break from transcribing some recent lab notes.  "Didn't you perform that surgery nearly two months ago?"

   "Yeah, but I wanted results before I called you.  You're a snob when it comes to that sort of thing."

   "Ha-ha.  So, how's the patient, besides being crazy enough to submit to your care?"

   The two college friends talked for some time.  Inge let her mind drift through most of the conversation, not bothering to listen that closely since she knew a copy of his notes and observations would be in her hands sooner or later.  How soon all depended on whether or not she decided to fly out to LA.  A break would be nice, but she was so close to getting funding for a retrovirus project that she'd hate to leave, even for a week.  One only advanced in the CIA if one was brilliant or a workaholic.  She grinned in pride; luckily she was the fir– "What did you just say?"

   Logan chuckled.  "I know it's hard to believe, but I think that Sands actually deserves part of the credit.  After all, without him, I wouldn't have had someone to operate on."

   Inge couldn't believe her ears.  "You said 'Sands'?"

   "Yes.  Perhaps you should go see if you have any waxy build-up in your ears."

   She ignored this.  "What's this guy's first name?"

   "I can't tell you that actually, and not because of doctor/patient confidentiality.  He's never told me what his first name is."

   "What's on his chart?"

   "'Giovanni,' but Tess said that was a pseudonym."

   Inge had forgotten that her old roommate had found this man.  If I'm right . . . "And she found him in Mexico?"

   "Mmm-hmm."  He sounded distracted, as if he were looking over some test results.

   "Do you know where in Mexico?"

   "Umm . . . yes, but I can't think of the name.  It was the site of that failed coup in November."

   It was him.  "Culíacan?"

   "Yeah."  Ah, she had his attention now.  "How'd you know that?"

   "Never mind.  Is now a good time for me to come out for a visit?"

   "You might have trouble getting here by the time the office closes."

   Inge paused her racing mind to shake her head at her childhood friend.  "You've never really grown up, have you Logues?"

   "Nope.  I thought it'd be nice if there was one of us who didn't lose their sense of humor."  The receiver was muffled and she heard him giving directions to someone.  "Sorry for the interruption.  But all kidding aside, now's as good a time as any for you to come out.  We're definitely a bit warmer than DC at the moment, and I know how much you hate the cold."

   Ingrid smiled.  "Ok then.  I'll call you back when I know my ETA, but I should be out by the end of the week."

   "Sounds good.  Talk to you later?"

   "Absolutely." 

   As soon as her friend hung up, Ingrid left her office and hurriedly got to the wing of the Pentagon that housed the CIA bigwigs.  Looking at the nameplates on the doors as she passed them, she quickly found the one she wanted.  She opened the door and asked the secretary, "Is he in?"

   "Yes, but I'm afraid that Director Colton is in a meeting."

   "I think he'd want to be interrupted.  I have important news."

   "Under normal circumstances that might be alright, but he's meeting with Senator Sands and his wife."

   This was her day – truly, it was.  "It's about our agent that went MIA in Mexico three months ago." 

   The secretary's eyes widened.  After a moment of simply staring at Inge, the woman got up and opened the door to the office.  "Director Colton, Dr. Rochester is here to see you."

   William Colton was glad for the interruption.  Senator Sands, while an important man, was full of hot air at times.  He lacked his son's air of contained energy.  With the younger it was always a surprise to see him sit still when you knew he was completely able of wreaking serious havoc; the older man simply blustered.  "Dr. Rochester, this is highly unusual.  I trust you have a good explanation for your intrusion?"

   She nodded, a confident and self-satisfied look in her eye.  "I found him."

In Los Angeles

   A confident, blond haired woman walked into the lobby of the medical plaza.  She looked around, then approached the receptionist.  "I'm looking for Logan Pierce, can you tell me where his office is?"

   The receptionist looked the woman over, noting the expensive suit, leather briefcase, and well hidden look of superiority in her eye; she knew another doctor when she saw one.  "Dr. Pierce's offices are on the third floor."  Inge nodded her head in thanks and headed for a bank of elevators, her expensive leather heels clicking against the marble floors.  Well, Logan certainly found himself a cozy position.

   She rode the elevator in silence, her thoughts awhirl.  She and Sands had had a brief but intense fling in the months before he'd been sent to Mexico.  To put things nicely, the break-up had been neither pretty nor her idea.  Actually, it was all his father's fault.  The Senator had unexpectedly shown up at Sands' apartment as they'd been preparing to go out one night, and he'd mentioned how good they looked together and how glad he was that Sheldon had given up on his 'bimbos'.  Privately, Inge had agreed.  Sheldon was the type of man she was looking for – successful, intelligent, privileged, and sexy as hell.  But Sands hadn't taken his father's comments well.  He broke up with her the next day.  And three years go by without hearing one word from him, then he practically falls into my lap.  I wonder if it's supposed to be some kind of sign.

   The doors opened and she walked to the door marked with Logan's name, rapping on it with her knuckles.  "Come in."

   A half an hour later, after greeting her old friend and getting the required chit-chat out of the way, Inge murmured, "Remarkable," as she looked over Sands' charts.  "I can't believe he's shown this much improvement in just two months.  And you say that nearly all the nerves and tendons were still intact when he got to you?"

   "Mmm-hmm.  Tess did a wonderful job with him while he was on the medication."

   "I'm sure."  Why am I not surprised?  It stung that Tess had been the one to find Sands.  "Speaking of Tess, is she going to make an appearance?  It's been years since I've seen her."

   Logan made an uncomfortable sound.  "I'm afraid she left.  She took a job in New York and left last month to set up house."

   Inge looked up for a moment in surprise.  Tess-the-perfect actually abandoned a patient before they were 100% healthy?  This is too good.  "That's too bad, I was looking forward to spending some time with my old roommate.  I suppose it couldn't be helped though – I know she'd never leave a patient before she was confident that they no longer needed her."  Logan looked even more uncomfortable.  Satisfied, Inge let the subject drop.

   "You know . . ."  Inge looked at Logan as he addressed her several minutes later; he had a mischievous grin on his face.  "Sands is scheduled for a check-up today.  I don't suppose you'd be interested in sitting in on my examination?  As a colleague, of course."

   "Of course."  They both knew he wanted to rub her nose in his success.  After all the times she said he'd been daydreaming, she was willing to admit that she might deserve it.  "I'd be delighted."

Sands had never before considered that sight could be as disorienting as blindness . . . but it was.  Now that he was starting to see again, he almost wished that he hadn't gone through with things.  Almost.  Once he progressed past the headache inducing undistinguishable blur of light and color stage, he'd be glad to see again.  But for the moment it was a pain in the kiester.

   "Yo, Sands, let's go man."  For the thousandth time in the past week alone, Sands cursed Tess for leaving.  For who her family was.  For leaving him to the care of 'Carl,' his perpetually cheerful nurse.  If Sands was honest with himself, he hated Tess for more than just that – he hated her for leaving him.  He tried very hard not to be honest.  "Let's hit the road my chromatically challenged friend."

   Despite knowing it was going to hurt, Sands rolled his eyes.  By now he was certain the man had been picked as an extra motivator for him to get better, because Sands was either going to be self-sufficient soon, or he was going to shoot Carl in the head.  Sands left his room and walked into the foyer, a pair of sunglasses over his eyes and his clothes as miss-matched as he could make them.  "You are a pain in the ass, Carl."

   "Good-morning to you too, sunshine."  Carl opened the door and they left the house.  The house that had been extremely quiet for weeks on end.  Good.  It was too loud before.

   "Watch your head."  As Sands climbed into the front seat of the car, he casually flipped the man off.  "No thanks.  I've got a fiancée waiting for this job to end." 

   Sand gave up.  He really did.  Nothing phases this man.  Nothing gets to him.  Nothing.  A month he's been hanging around and I haven't seen one display of temper from the man.

   And he doesn't throw back quotes either.

   That's the one thing I'm glad about.  Little-miss-literature was getting annoying.

   You miss it.  The voice was smirking.  It's your own fault she's gone.  Or don't you remember?

*   *   *   *   *

Tess was nervous.  She didn't like being nervous.  Nervousness gave her too much time to think about her actions and thoughts.  Especially when it came to this man.

   Just go in and see him.

   And if he doesn't want to see me?

   That's fine.  He can't see yet.

   Tess rolled her eyes.  For the past week, she'd been keeping up on Sands' condition through phone calls and conferences.  She'd never actually gone in to see him, although Marcos had on several occasions.  But this morning things had changed.  This morning Logan had called her and said that the nurses had said that Sands had been asking for her.  So here she was.  We didn't exactly part on the best of terms.

   What are you talking about?  He asked you to kiss him.  I think he might be sweet on you.

   We both know I was talking about what happened the night before his surgery.  The whole 'Barillo revelation' thing?

   Sorry.  I forgot.  You've been trying so hard not to think about it that I didn't want to bring it up.

   Tess didn't believe that for a moment.  Instead of arguing though, she went to the door of Sands' room.  There was a window in the door and she looked through it, watching Sands.  She couldn't even tell if he was awake or not.

   "Can I help you, doctor?"  Tess turned to see Merrie at her elbow.  The nurse had been persistent in her care of Sands.

   "Umm . . . I don't want to disturb him if he's asleep."

   "Do you want me to go in and make sure the coast is clear?"

   "Sure."  Tess watched as the younger woman walked into the room.  Immediately she knew that Sands was awake; he remained in his reclined position, but his entire body tensed.  Merrie didn't say anything as she adjusted his IV drip and made a note in Sands' chart, but Tess knew he recognized who was in the room by the way he relaxed.  For the first time she wondered if she'd done the right thing by staying away.  Perhaps if she'd even dropped by every now and then, he'd find it easier to relax.

   Yeah, and if you thought he was charming before, you'd love him now.  The voice was incredibly sarcastic.

   I can handle a bit of verbal abuse.  Aren't a few harsh words worth his peace of mind?

   Well, you can either stop being yellow and go inside and find out for yourself, or you could keep looking for reassurance from me. 

   That was a good point.  As Merrie came back out of the room with a wink and an assurance that all was clear, Tess walked into the lion's den.

Sands lay quietly in his bed as the nurse left.  Impatience and boredom had become second nature by now, even though time was still inconsistent where he was concerned.  More often than not he'd find his consciousness drifting in a drug induced haze until someone came into the room.  He'd then have a few minutes of coherent thought until they left, and then he'd fall back into the well of thoughts that seemed to bubble with new information every time he looked into it.  Of course, he had probably just forgotten most of it from the last time he could remember remembering anything.

   Most of his recurring or new thoughts centered around the woman who'd been at his side night and day for all but the past week.  He wavered between relief that she was absent and anger that she was gone.  He had no desire to really talk to the woman now that he knew about her . . . family connections, but a small piece of him resented not having her at his beck and call.  The least she could do after everything else that had happened was sit around and distract him until he was capable of doing so himself.

   The door shut.  Sands waited for the echoes to die before turning his mind and his ears to other things.  Silence.  He moved his head, detecting something.  No.  Only near silence.  There's someone in the room.  He could hear someone breathing over by the door.  He waited for them to speak or to move . . . nothing.  Well, this is interesting.  Certainly more interesting that anything else that had happened recently.

   Sand didn't address whoever it was who was doing their best to imitate a potted plant.  Sooner or later their patience would wear out because he had nothing better to do than wait for them to give themselves away.

   -Tap, tap, tap.  Ta-tap, tap, tap-  Sands stopped listening as he realized who it was, instead rolling his head towards the window.  He could feel the sun on his face, and even if he couldn't see it yet, he was willing to take what he could get.  "I don't suppose you brought my cigarettes," he drawled.

   "No."  Her voice was quiet, but it carried across the smallish room.

   "Then why are you here?"

   "If I knew, I would speak.  I know little.  I guess much."  He heard her walk partway across the room, although she didn't exactly come closer to the bed.  "They told me that you wanted to talk to me."

   "Where would anyone get that idea?  Can you think of a reason I'd like to talk to you?"

   Tess had a funny feeling in the pit of her stomach.  Something wasn't right.  His voice was too . . . impersonal?  Uninterested?  Forged?  Tess couldn't decide what was making her nervous, so settled on tentatively speaking her mind.  "His mind, of man a secret makes,/I meet him with a start,/He carries a circumference/In which I have no part,/Or even if I deem I do –/He otherwise may know./Impregnable to inquest,/However neighborly."  To keep her hands from tapping, Tess hid them behind her back where they started wringing.  "How would I know what you're thinking unless you tell me?"

   This irritated Sands to no end.  The woman was such a coward.  For once it'd be nice if she'd speak her mind instead of hiding behind quotes.  "It'd be too much to ask of you, wouldn't it?"

   "What?"  Tess didn't understand.

   "It'd be too much to ask you to stop being a coward."  He could hear her stunned silence.  "I suppose some traits breed true no matter how diluted the blood."

   "Señor?"  He almost laughed when he heard the whisper of hurt in her voice.  What right did she have to be hurt?

   "At least when your father and sister manipulated people, they did it very openly.  When they used you, you knew it.  You can't even do that.  You get people to do what you want and they never know.  What did you get from this?  What was in it for you?"

   "I didn't do this for me."

   "Maybe you find comfort in telling yourself that, but we both know it's not true."

   His words hurt.  They came dangerously close to the truth.  "Why are you –"

   "Tell me, Teresa.  Tell me.  Did you take me in out of the goodness of your heart, or was there another reason?  There was something else motivating you, wasn't there?"

   "No . . ."

   "You're a liar, Teresa.  Do you get a charge out of making people dependent on you?"

   "No.  I –"

   "You what?  You're pathetic?  You're useless?  Ineffective?  Worthless?"

   "You're weak, Teresa.  Your compassion will ruin you.  I try to make you strong and this is the thanks I get?"  What had she been thinking to come here?  "I felt responsible.  I spent my life being responsible for the actions of my family.  Whatever they did had me at the root.  So it was my fault that they left you to die, and I . . . I accepted that.  Everything I did was to make up for that.  I only wanted to give back what they took."

   Her voice was quiet, but dug into him with fiery claws.  He'd thought that venting his anger would make him feel better because Tess had taken everything else he'd thrown at her with a calm eye . . . I suppose it's nice to know the woman has nerves to hit after all.  That didn't explain why he didn't feel better.  "Get out of here, Barillo."

   The name was the equivalent of a slap in the face.  For a moment Tess could do nothing but stand frozen in her place, but then she nodded.  She understood.  She couldn't blame him for feeling the same way she did.  "I see why you say that only men do evil, I think.  Even sharks are innocent; they kill because they must." 

   He didn't know who she was referring to: her family or his cruelty.  Yes, he was aware that he'd been cruel, but at the moment he really didn't care.  Why should he?

   When Sands didn't reply, didn't even acknowledge her, Tess knew that was it.  Quietly, she made her way to the door and let herself out of his room.  I will not cry.  I knew what I was doing when I went into there.  I knew how he would feel as soon as I realized he knew my last name.  Still, it was hard.

   "T?  Are you alright?"

   Tess spun to find Logan behind her.  She nodded.  "Umm . . . I've taken a job in New York.  I plan on being gone by the first of January.  We're going to need to find someone to take care of Sands."  She left before the stunned look could leave Logan's face.  She didn't want to talk.  About anything.  She wanted to go tend her wounds in private.

   Logan stared after her for a moment before going into Sands' room.  "Well, whatever you were attempting, it worked."

*   *   *   *   *

"Hey, Sands.  We're here man.  Let's go."  Sands woke from his reminiscences and opened his car door.  Good riddance.  There was no reply.  Why should there be when he didn't even start to believe he meant it?

"Well, everything certainly seems to be progressing nicely."  Logan made a note in his chart as Sands finished walking through an obstacle course; the obstacles were large and brightly colored so they were hard to miss.  This time through, Sands had managed to navigate the course without brushing against a single object.  "Just one more exercise and we'll be done for the day."  Sands nodded to hide a surge of relief – his head was starting to pound unpleasantly, which was different from the moderate pounding he felt most of the time.

   Logan hid his own sigh, although his was of frustration.  Since Tess had left, Sands had become withdrawn.  Not that the man had ever been congenial, but there had been times when his presence had been almost bearable.  Now the only times he spoke anymore were to say something caustic.  Although, he's incredibly determined to regain his sight as fast as he can.  Perhaps I'm just reading too far into things.  "Come over here and have a seat."  Sand did.  "We're going to combine two exercises into one, actually.  We're going to turn up the lights – just a very small amount – and then we're going to test your eyesight a bit."

   "I thought we were already doing that, doc."

   "This more like a classic eye exam.  I have some pieces of poster board that have been cut in half.  On them, letters, or numbers, or shapes have been printed in red, since that's the light frequency best seen by the human eye.  We're going to test how close things are before you can focus on them and how far away they can be before you can't recognize them."

   They did this long enough that Sands' headache became literally blinding.  He couldn't focus his eyes at all, anymore.  Logan noticed this when his patient stopped cooperating altogether.  "I guess that's enough for today, then."

   Sands barely bit back the obscene comment he was going to make in reply to that.  Instead, he rolled his head back on his neck and blindly stared at the ceiling, letting everything go completely out of focus.  The light still hurt, but not as badly as it had when the bandages had first been taken off.  Then the pain had been so bad that he'd had to bite back a moan, even though no more light had been in the room than the light cast by a small candle.  The room he was in now was lit by dim sunlight.  Natural sunlight.  The shades on the windows were controlled by computer to simulate different strengths of sunlight – at the moment they were a step above dusk.

   The door opened and Sands listened as a pair of heels came into the room.  There was something vaguely familiar about the person's gate, but it wasn't recognizable enough for Sands to know who it was – which meant it wasn't anyone he'd met since the Day of the Dead.  He recognized all those footsteps.  And there was no hesitation to make him think that perhaps his memory wasn't as good as he thought it was.  His interest roused enough to make him ask, "Who's your friend, doc?"

   "A colleague of mine.  We went to med school together – heck, we grew up together – and she's actually a friend of Tessa's as well."

   I won't hold it against her.  "While the background information is appreciated, a name would be appreciated even more."

   "Oh, sorry.  This is Dr. Rochester."  Sands remembered where he recognized those footsteps from and he held back the desire to laugh.  This was unbelievable.  "Known to her underlings as Ingrid Rochester."

   Inge shot a look at Logan, but he shrugged.  She shook her head and addressed Sands.  "Hello Sheldon."

Logan had left his patient and his friend alone some time before.  The moment Inge and greeted Sands he'd felt awkward and in the way, so he'd excused himself.  Now the two were engaged in a standoff of sorts.

   "You're looking well," Sands addressed the dark, human-shaped blur at the other end of the room.  I see you're still bleaching your hair."

   "I see you're still a jackass."

   Sands chuckled.  "Sorry, rubia, but things don't change that much."  He was glad to see that she was still upset with him over their sudden breakup.  "Don't tell me you're still holding a grudge after more than three years."

   "No, no grudge.  I simply don't like you."  Inge was irritated.  Nothing changed this man.  Not even having his eyes scrambled in his sockets.  "They sent me down to evaluate whether you should be taken back to DC immediately or left here to finish recuperating."

   "Ah, eager to get me back now that I've risen from the dead?"

   "They're not viewing it as anything that spectacular.  Just another agent emerging from the ranks of those gone MIA.  I don't think director Colton is going to be happy to learn that you've been in the States for over two months without sending some sort of notification that you're alive.  Your parents have been riding the poor man rather hard to get some news of you."  Sands grimaced.  "Before I left, the Senator was pressing for marines to go in and search you out, despite the fact that the trail would have gone cold by now."

   There was an uncomfortable silence between the two.  Sands, of course, reveled in it, pulling out a pack of cigarettes and lighting one.  Inge stood across the room, feeling irritation buzzing under her skin.  Sands smiled . . . it was good to be in control.

In Fairmont, New York

   Tess took a break from arranging the latest batch of new furniture to arrive at her house.  For the first few weeks after coming to New York, she and the children had lived in a three bedroom apartment while she tried to find a house.  It'd been a struggle just to decide how much she could afford to spend, and she'd spent one entire afternoon on the phone with her attorney trying to figure out how much money she had available to her.  The final figure had been considerably higher than she'd thought – it turned out that Barillo had never changed his will . . . the will that listed her as the primary beneficiary if Ajedrez was also dead.  The news that she had nearly a hundred million dollars in off-shore accounts had kept her sitting in shock for another afternoon.  Not that she had access to that much money – half of that was in accounts that were monitored by the cartel and she couldn't take money out of them without alerting 'the family.'  But the rest of it was in her personal accounts, which she did have access to.  The next morning she'd started looking for a house that she could feel comfortable in.

   It'd taken a month, but she'd eventually found the house she and the children were now living in.  She, the children, and Cora Mendez.  Cora was the daughter of Tina, Logan's personal assistant.  Cora was also a registered nurse who specialized in home care for the . . . mentally impaired, or at least that's what she wanted to specialize in.  No one had taken her on yet because of her young age.  At twenty-two, she was nearly a decade younger than Tess, but Tess had looked over her qualifications and recommendations and had decided that the woman was just what she needed.  Cora had needed a job and Tess had needed someone to help her look after the children and be on hand should . . . should the balance ever tip.

   Now, five months later, Tess was ready to admit that the woman was a lifesaver.  The children adored her, she had a nearly bottomless well of energy, and she wasn't daunted by Tessa's confession of being a schizophrenic.

   She's obviously not a very bright woman.  Tess ignored that comment, instead surveying what she was coming to think of as her home. 

   The house was large, but it had a distinctly Spanish flavor to it that she found comforting: red-tile floors, stucco walls, exposed beams.  Her favorite feature were the humongous floor to ceiling windows in the living room.  There was a large kitchen that Tess was sure she'd never come close to using completely.  She could cook, but most of what she did make was very simple.  The rest of the downstairs was taken up by a family room, a bathroom, a guest room, a small study, and a laundry room.  The second floor held six bedrooms and two bathrooms.  The third was a converted attic.  Tess was pleased with herself for finding this house.  The only problem was filling it.  After so many years of living on the go, she didn't have that many possessions.  However, with four kids and an eager assistant, she was quickly solving that problem.

   The clock stuck nine.  Tess surveyed the downstairs and sighed.  She really didn't have the energy to keep going tonight.  She headed towards the stairs, pausing for a moment when she saw her cell phone sitting on a nearby table.

   You know you want to call and see how he's doing.

   I don't know what you're talking about.  Logan keeps me more than updated.

   It's not the same.  You're still feeling guilty.  I swear to god that I am going to give up on you. 

   I wish you would.

   The voice ignored her.  Nothing makes you happy.  You took him in because you felt guilty, you brought him back to the US because you felt guilty, you were ready to let him kill you because you felt guilty, you left because you felt guilty . . . and now you're feeling guilty for something you did out of guilt.

   Thank you for that synopsis.  Tess went up the stairs, ignoring the urge to call and check in on Sands.  She was well aware that she had the annoying tendency to let the man occupy her thoughts even though he was no longer even in the same town as her.  If something important happens, either Logan will call me, or Sands will . . . not that he ever would.  So, baring the chance that Logan would call to update her, Sands was none of her business anymore.

   That didn't stop her mind.

   Tess got to her bedroom and went into the bathroom.  She ran herself a bath and climbed in, turning on the radio.  Quickly, she scanned the stations: country, talk, gospel, heavy metal, classic rock . . . she paused on that station.  For some reason she wondered if this was the type of music Sands listened to.  It seemed like something he'd like.

   Tess realized what she was doing.  Fed up with herself, she turned the radio off entirely and climbed out of the bath.  Settled in flannel pajamas, she went to bed, leaving a single lamp on to chase away the darkness.

   If only it were so easy to drive him out of my head.

   Downstairs, her cell phone started to ring, but she didn't hear it.

Los Angeles, five months later

   Sands shoved his glasses back up on his nose as he finished packing his bags.  Pierce had either finally gotten fed up with him, or this was good as things were going to get.  Granted, he was glad to be seeing more than colored blurs and bright lights, but the glasses were going to take getting used to.  A lot was going to take getting used to.  He still hadn't managed to look at his new eyes in a mirror – he'd been told they were a shade of hazel-green, but as he'd discovered hearing was one thing and seeing was another game entirely.  He'd been hearing things all his life, and in the past eight months, he'd discovered that seeing wasn't all it was cracked up to be.  He threw another shirt in his suitcase, thinking, Maybe when I get contacts I can look myself in the eye again.  But that wouldn't be for another two months.  Pierce was insisting that his eyes needed more time to 'adjust'.

   "Sheldon, our plane leaves in an hour and a half.  We need to get moving."  Sands looked up at the blond standing in his doorway.  For a month or two after she'd first come out, she'd insisted on living with him, dismissing Carl and taking care of him herself.  It'd only taken a day for Sands to miss Carl.  Inge had somehow gotten it into her head that she could care for him just was well as the next guy . . . or girl in this case.  No one had said anything, but Sands had gotten the impression that there was some kind of rivalry going on between Tess and Inge, and Inge was bound and determined to win his affections back.  He could only shake his head – the idea of sharing a bed with her again wasn't that bad, but the sentiment behind it was a pain in the ass.  The woman was looking for a trophy husband, but it wasn't going to be him.  That, or she was trying advance her career by using him.  Even Tess hadn't sunk that low.  He'd kicked her out the moment he could see well enough to get by on his own.

   She'd stayed though, stopping by once every few days with groceries or whatever, offering to drive him around, volunteering to make meals for him.  When she'd discovered that he'd called Carl to come help him out with that stuff, she'd gone rigid with anger.  The only thing Sands regretted about that was he hadn't been able to clearly see her face.

   Inge, on the other hand, was remembering why nothing more than her pride had been hurt when Sands had broken things off.  He was a grade A bastard.

   "I don't know if I ever thanked you for sticking around."  Her ears picked up when Sands said that.  It wasn't an apology, but it was the closest he would ever get to giving one.

   "That's al– "

   "You're a lot easier to tick-off than Carl."  Sands smirked at the look on her face, dismay quickly replaced by disgust.  He glanced around the room, realizing he was missing something.  His guns.  Brushing past Inge, he left his room and went into the one that had been Tessa's.  If a memory could twinge in the same manner that a muscle could when it was pulled, he'd have the mother of all headaches by now.  Despite doing his best, he'd been unable to put the woman out of his mind.  The way she cleaned when she was nervous or had something on her mind, her incessant quotes, her refusal to fight back against him – verbally or physically – when he provoked her, the quiet but resigned hurt in her voice that day in the hospital.  He didn't want to remember that.

   Revenge is always a valid excuse for hunting her down.

   I don't want to kill her.

   Ok, then you need to kill her.  If you've formed an opinion about it, then she's too close.  She's a liability unless you're willing to claim responsibility for her.

   That was total bologna.  Sands went to the closet and moved the stack of pillows there.  He'd never removed the other two guns that Tess had hidden there.  Then he went to the dresser and got the spare ammunition.  But that wasn't all he found.  There was also a box there.  A box addressed to him.  Now what?

   Inge was nagging from the other room, complaining that they were going to miss their flight.  Sands rolled his eyes – something he could do without pain these days – and shut the door to the room, locking it to keep his nosy guest out.  For some reason, as he sat on the bed and stared at the box, he couldn't help but remember the scene in Peter Pan where Pan opened a present he'd thought had been from Wendy, only to have it explode in his face.  He got the feeling that opening this box would be tantamount to having the same thing happen to him.  But what the hell . . . he'd already considered opening the box.  Might as well see things through.

   The top flaps of the box were simply folded over to keep things closed.  Sands easily opened it, removing a piece of newspaper that had been folded and stuffed inside to keep the contents a secret.  The first thing that met his eyes was a card.  With misgiving, he opened it.  It only contained one word – congratulations.  The handwriting was the same as that on the box; Sands could only assume that it was Tessa's.  He studied the writing for a moment, noting how the letters lacked ornamentation, that the words resembled print more than cursive.  It was very distinctive – bold yet unassuming.  Sands looked up as the door rattled.

   "Sheldon!  Are you listening to me?!"

   "Don't get your panties in a bunch," he muttered under his breath, setting aside the card to see what else la niña had seen fit to leave him.  He reached into the box and pulled out a book, another box, and a drawstring bag.  The book was a dictionary of quotations, the bag held a pair of sunglasses, and the box a small marionette.  "Damn you."  That settled it.  The woman simply knew him too well to go unattended.  He was going to have to decide what to do about her.

Outside of Culíacan, Mexico

   "I don't care if the trail has gone cold, señor Keel.  I hired you to find my cousin, and that is what you will do.  I don't care if it takes until next year, that is all you will be doing until you track her down.  If I even hear a rumor that you've taken another job before this one is finished, I'll make sure that you regret it."  Carlos Velasquez hung up his phone, handing it to the flunkie who'd been at his side, then waving the man away.  He went into the gardens alone, needing the time to think.

   In the months since the Día los Muertos massacre, his hold on the cartel had solidified to the point where he could afford to wander his uncle's estate without bodyguards trailing behind.  He looked forward to the time when he could move operations back to Zacatecas without having to worry that he was leaving a fomenting rebellion behind him.  If only he could get a hold of Terésa.  Through her, he could get the funds he needed to manage the territory left to him by the death of Barillo – his mother's brother – and Ajedrez.  Then he could think about expanding that territory all the way down to Mexico City as had been planned for several years now.  But he needed Terésa first. 

   Needed to have her back under the influence of the cartel mentality.

   Needed her to show that the Barillos had not been weakened by infighting.

   And he needed her soon.

*************************************************************

Author's Note: well, there we go.  The end of that story.  I've gone ahead and posted the prologue to the sequel, so you can go read that.  The actual first chapter should be up by next Thursday at the latest.  I know, that's a long way away, but I'm having to rewrite some stuff I'd already written because it was OOC.  That's what you get for writing things months in advance.

Wanted to include my inspiration for this fic.  The first time I saw OUATIM, I went with my friend Sarah, and on the drive home, she had some radio station playing, but the lyrics to one of the songs really inspired me.  They were There's more to this life than living and dying/more than just trying to make it through the day/More to this life/More than these eyes along can see/and there's more that life alone can be.  And that got me thinking.  It really would have been a good title for the sequel, because then people discover what there is to life that is more than what can be seen, but whatever.

Quotes: Ursula Le Guin, Emily Dickinsen, and Ursula Le Guin

Author's Thanks: thanks go to everyone who ever reviewed, even if it was just once.  The encouragement I got from the quotes that were sent in, or the one line reviews, or the humongous reviews, was what kept me going.  The urges, the threats, the nagging . . . thanks to you all.  Now for the reviews for the last chapter:

Scarlett (Scarlett! *smack*  Sorry mate, couldn't resist.  I'm glad to hear that you'll be reading, although I wouldn't mind reading another chapter of your fic.  ^_^); The Flaming Chia Pet (I'm glad you're saving your tomatoes.  I get the feeling you'll like the next fic.  Now that I've successfully written one without any romance . . . well . . . not sure how much romance I'll be writing, per se, but there will be some relationship stuff going on.  : P); sidhe_ranma (yes, but ff.net wasn't cooperating with me, and the chapter was displaying in two different fonts and font sizes, so I had to delete the chapter and repost.  It was annoying, to say the least.  Thanks for the complements.); Digital Diamond (I think I can safely say that your reviews have 'flair.'  ^_^  Yes, a sequel that I will post as soon as I finish this.  And Jessica – well, she noses into everyone's business, not just Tessa's.  I like her just because she's so different than everyone else I've written so far.  But she won't make too many appearances.  And the first on your favorite's list?  I'm very honored.); Isola (Don't worry!  I posted it.  It's up, or it had better be.); Nimwen (oh, my ideas roll so fast that they get mixed up and then I have to untangle them.  That's what my problem is.  ^_^); Satisdee (yes, hmm, enormous energy.  Yes, Chia terrified me.  : P  I hope this chapter lives up to expectations.); CaptainJackSparrowsGirl (yes, more, a sequel.  I hope everyone has caught on to that by now.  ^_^); Pixy (new computers are fun. : D  As for waiting a month to post the new story . . . I honestly think I'd be killed in effigy by then.  You reviewers can be brutal if your obsessions don't get fed.); and Blank (yes, I caught that little mistake as well, and I'll fix it once I post the final copy of this story.  That'll be in a week or so – there's a lot of story to read through and fix.)

And new reviewers à Shinneri-chan (you wouldn't be the first to be obsessed, and hopefully you won't be the last.); Kontara (I really don't try to make people cry, but it's always a plus.  ^_^  As for your lack of viewing OUATIM – I like to think my Sands is an accurate interpretation of Sands, but it all depends on the reader, I guess.); Crystal Symphony (thanks for the quotes, and thanks for the complements.  I'm always amazed the people sit down and read something this long – it can be daunting.); and Lorelei Lee (I'm not a quick, fluffy, romance type of girl – which isn't to say that I won't be moving into some smut-like territory, but it'll be just as painful and confusing and angsty and full of substance as the rest of the story.  I've written some preliminary scenes and run them by people, and they seem to like the character building/informational stuff I've thrown in with the sex.  We'll see what actually makes it here though.  ^_^  I'm so glad you found Sands to be in character, and Jess . . . well, apparently she's one of those people you either love or hate.  Glad I got her character written down that well.)

And last, but never least, more thanks and gratitude than I can ever give to Ashley, who stepped forward to be my beta.  And who, despite ice storms, evil computers, bad job hours, school, and family, has been sending me beta copies full of caught typos and grammar mistakes.  Girl, you are a lifesaver, and I look forward to working with you on 'Fallen.'

To those of you who have me on your favorite's list or author alert but who have never taken the time to drop me a note (and I know who you are.  : P), please, let me know what you liked, hated, didn't understand, or whatever.  I take all comments into consideration while writing and try to clear up any questions.  I'm writing this for people to read, but I need to know what they want to read.  You won't hurt my feelings, unless you send poorly thought out flames, in which case I'll feel bad because I didn't irritate you enough to actually upset you.  ^_^

I'll be reposting this entire story in a week or so, and I probably won't keep the replies to my reviews, so if you want them, you'd better copy them or print them out.

That is all from me for this chapter.  Thanks for the experience.

Sara