"Sandburg, put my milk back and no one gets hurt." Jim used his serious I-have-a-gun-and-you-don't voice.

Blair returned the half-gallon of whole milk to the shopping cart with a scowl.

"And don't even start," Jim warned.

"Jim."

"Ah, ah! What did I just say?" Jim inquired with a raised index finger and a steely gaze.

Blair rolled his eyes, biting the inside of his cheek when an elderly woman next to the yogurt aisle giggled like a school girl at their antics. He flashed an impish grin and batted long eyelashes. "His doctors say he needs a caretaker." Blair nodded to Jim and twirled his finger next to his ear in the international sign of mental illness.

Jim gently rammed his friend's hip with the half full grocery cart. "Move it, Johnny Carson. We have a game starting in twenty minutes."

Snickering to himself through the checkout aisle, Blair obviously felt he'd gotten one up on the older man. Jim gave him his victory, little as it was, as long as he didn't have to listen to another lecture on why whole milk was bad for a person's arteries.

It was rare that the two roommates went food shopping together. Normally one or the other did a quick swing through the grocery store. But Blair had taken a bus to the station from Rainier so they could share a ride home together afterwards.

It wasn't until the following morning while Jim got ready for work that he noticed the picture on the side of the milk carton. Blair was still asleep. Jim unconsciously monitored his breathing while he prepared to leave for work. Last night, they'd rushed to put away the groceries in order to catch the game on TV. Jim poured the milk over organic cereal – Blair's choice, of course – and read the information on the carton as he munched. A young face looked back at him. One of those missing kids advertisements. A six-year-old girl with expressive eyes and a wide forehead was missing and believe abducted by her father. Why was it, the kids suffered while the parents acted like children?

--------------

Jim pounded down the roadway, hearing Henri close on his heels. It was later the same day, nearly noon. Henri had received a tip on one of his active cases. Rafe was in court so Jim offered to back him up.

The perp was ten yards ahead and holding. If they were playing football, he'd have already made first down. The man knew he was being chased by police officers; the only step left was to take him down, preferably before he dumped the drugs he carried.

They gained yardage when the perp ran up to a shabby looking house and paused to fumble at the door. It must have been unlocked, because he got through quickly, slamming it before they could arrive. Jim heard the latch snick shut, sounding like one of those lightweight locks.

"Ram it, H," Jim ordered.

They hit the door together, one shoulder high and one low. It busted off the frame with all the strength of a wet paper towel. The two detectives tackled their suspect together; causing all three men to crash into a waist high pile of… stuff.

"Shit!" Henri muttered under his breath, face screwed up in disgust. He breathed through his mouth as he roughly pulled the prisoner's arms behind his back. Jim snapped on the cuffs. "What the hell is this place?"

Jim's eyes watered from the stench.

Dials. Dials.

The sentinel cranked down his sense of smell and sighed in relief while Henri formally placed the man under arrest and recited the Miranda warning.

The living room was a sea of refuse. Old clothing, empty food containers, broken radios, flowed from wall to wall. The debris pile came to Jim's belt, filling the room. A single path allowed a person to walk through the small living room into the kitchen in the back. Dirty dishes and rotted food dripped off the counters onto the floor.

"Marta Stewart does not live here," Henri quipped as he hauled the prisoner to his feet. "Thanks, Jim."

With a wave of his hand, Jim continued to stare in disbelief at the place.

And he thought Blair was messy.

This went beyond housekeeping and into serious mental health issues. Turning to leave, a white box caught his eye and he gingerly pulled it free from the pile, dislodging a can of shaving cream that rolled into the pathway.

It was a milk carton. Jim smiled. It would appear he couldn't get away from them today. He checked the date of the carton, almost twenty years old. What kind of nut keeps empty milk cartons for twenty years? Another face, only this one a young boy stared back with familiar eyes; Scott Livingston, born 1971.

Why did the kid look so familiar?

Jim paused to consider who this could be. The guy would be in his early twenties now.

"Jim? Coming?" H called from the front yard, prisoner in hand.

"Yeah, just a sec." Jim answered, staring at the old picture. The wax on the paper had yellowed, but he could easily see the child's face. Damn, it wasn't that long ago that he'd seen this kid. When was the last time he'd looked at kid pictures?

With sudden clarity, Jim placed it.

In his bedroom. A glass of wine and a tray of cold tongue.

Oh shit. This was Blair.

-------------

"Care to repeat that, detective?" Simon sat frozen in his chair.

Setting all the information down on his boss's large desk, Jim slowly repeated himself. It was almost quitting time and he had to get through this before Blair showed up.

"I found evidence to indicate Blair was kidnapped back in seventy-four while living with his real parents in New Mexico. The case is still open with the Feds," Jim said. "I've been checking. There is no independent record of a Blair Sandburg ever being born in sixty-nine."

Simon picked up the carton, looking at the picture with amazement etched on his face. "And you say this is Sandburg?"

"Naomi showed me pictures, Simon. She didn't have any before the age of three," Jim said. "It's Blair, I know it."

Setting the carton down, Simon leaned back until his chair tilted at a forty-five degree angle to the floor and dragged a hand down his face.

Jim tried to not fidget. He couldn't believe how angry he felt at that moment. He wanted to hunt that redhead down and shake her until her teeth rattled. How in the world was he going to explain this to Blair? And should he? How could he not? Did Blair remember his life in New Mexico?

This was a nightmare.

"God, what a nightmare," Simon muttered, removing his glasses and pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Simon, I ne –" Jim stopped. Familiar sneaker squeaks were heading toward the bullpen. "Blair's here. Listen, sir. Let me talk to him. I'll call you this weekend."

"Okay, Jim," Simon agreed, standing and gazing down at the stuff on his desk. "Keep me in the loop on this. Damn… I really liked that woman."

Outside Simon's office, Jim met his friend, the file tucked under one arm. The milk carton was safe enough left with Simon. He had photocopies of the picture to show Blair later.

"Ready, man?" Blair entered the bullpen with a smile for all its occupants. His hair was tied back and he wore his glasses, giving him a bookwormish appearance.

"Yep." Jim hooked a finger under the collar of his light jacket and lifted it off the back of his chair as he passed. "Let's get some takeout, my treat."

Looking up in surprise at the idea, Blair shook his head. "I thought we were going out? That new place? Remember?"

Placing a hand between Blair's shoulder blades, he propelled his friend forward, out of the bullpen. "Change of plans, I'll explain when we get to the loft." Jim returned a goodbye nod to Henri as they left.

Once in the loft, Blair started dishing out healthy portions of steamed rice and cashew chicken. He added two hot egg rolls to each plate before taking a seat at the table. Jim handed him a beer before sitting down across from his partner to eat.

"So, explain, Jim. Why are we eating at home instead of that new BBQ place on the lake?"

Jim gently stirred his dinner, watching as the tines of his fork mixed the rice with the chicken. Crap, how do you tell someone that they may be a kidnap-victim? Perhaps the best thing was to just hand over the file.

"Read this." Jim slid the file over guiltily and took a bite. He had to check his taste level; his meal had all the flavor of sawdust.

"What is it, a new case?" Blair flipped open the file. Pulling his glasses out of his shirt pocket, he hooked them over his nose and started to read.

It was like waiting for a train wreck. Giving up any interest in dinner, Jim studied his roommate's face. The look of interest was replaced by mild surprise, marked by a creased brow. That expression gave way to bewilderment as Blair looked up and shook his head, his face blank. "I don't get it. This is a twenty year-old kidnapping case. It's not even in Cascade, man. Why'd you get it?"

"Blair," Jim stood, leaning over the table to tap the photocopy of the milk carton picture. "That's you."

With wide, surprised-filled eyes, he gave a delighted laugh. "What? You think I got kidnapped? Shit, Jim! All kids looked similar at this age. And look, the date of birth is wrong, I was born almost two years before that." Blair's eyes narrowed. "This is a joke, right? Henri put you up to this." He stood, a wide grin breaking over his face as he pointed to the door and dropped his voice to a whisper. "They're outside right now, aren't they?"

"Blair," Jim started.

But Blair was already heading for the door on tiptoes. He wrenched it open and jumped out into the hallway, only to walk back in after a few seconds. "Hey, they left already."

Jim stood. "Sandburg, sit down and listen to me."

Blair returned to his seat, a smile still ghosting around his lips.

"I did some checking. I can't find a record of you being born anywhere in the US," Jim said.

"Because…" Blair drummed the table top. "I wasn't born in a hospital."

"Okay, where were you born?"

Blair shrugged. "I don't know for sure, man. Somewhere in the four-corner area. You know, where Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado all meet? Naomi was living in a commune. She said they'd travel around a lot. She wasn't sure what state she was in when the midwife delivered me."

"She should have filed the proper paperwork, which State did she pick?"

Blair laughed, the carefree sound an echoing reminder of the laughter Naomi had bounced off the loft walls earlier that month. "God, Jim! Listen to yourself. You think Naomi and her friends gave a hoot about government regulations?"

Jim picked up the photocopy. "Chief, this is you. Okay? I know what I'm talking about. I saw the pictures in her photo album. I'm trained to match faces. And. This. Is. You."

Blair dropped to his seat, laughter dying on his lips. "Shit. You're serious, aren't you? You think Naomi kidnapped me?"

"Yeah, I do." Jim hadn't wanted to become pissed off. This wasn't Blair's fault. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. "Listen, just consider the facts for a minute. Do you have a copy of your birth certificate?"

Blair shook his head. The earlier humor was gone now, replaced with an unreadable look that made him appear a stranger.

"Social Security card?"

Blair nodded.

"Okay, how'd you get it?"

"Naomi went to the Social Security Administration when I was sixteen. I had to have it to start Rainier. They made her fill out a ton of forms and she had to show her passport and stuff. But they gave me one." Blair was cool and reserved, acting like a person being interviewed.

"Blair, I'm not saying you did anything wrong," Jim said, not liking how this conversation was changing.

Blair stood, his chair scraping the floor. "Bullshit, man. This is total bullshit! Naomi is my mother! I am not that kid." He pointed at the file. "This conversation is so not happening." Executing a sharp turn on one heel, he marched into his room and reappeared with his backpack and coat in hand.

"Hey," Jim started to stop him but was neatly sidestepped as his partner walked out the door, letting it close behind him with a loud bang.

Slumping back down into his kitchen chair, Jim slammed his fist on the table like a judge's gavel. His fork, which was too near the edge, fell to the floor.

"Damn it!"

---------------

It was well after midnight when the door to the loft opened. Jim knew this because he checked his watch as the door moved slowly on well oiled hinges. Blair slipped in like a thief in stocking feet, one hand holding his tennis shoes. In the nearly complete darkness, Jim could see Blair glancing up at Jim's bedroom, lower lip trapped between his teeth. He carefully closed the door and slid the deadbolt into place. Jim was pleased to see Blair's arms didn't sport goose bumps. The kid had rushed off without a jacket and the spring nights were still cold.

"I'm up," Jim announced quietly from his position on the living room's single chair.

Blair reacted with a start. "Shit."

"Sorry," Jim said. "Hit the light. We need to talk."

Soft yellow light chased away the darkness. Jim had let the nighttime settle around him slowly while he'd sat and contemplated the problem. He cared about Blair. From the time Kincaid had dragged him up to the police station's roof, a strong duty to keep Blair from harm developed within him. This aspect of his personality had just spent the last several hours cussing out his older personality, the cop.

Jim waited until Blair had dropped onto the sofa before talking. Blair had a look of determination that reminded him of Stephen, the time his younger brother had been arguing with their dad. Something about a weekend trip to California with some high school friends.

"How about a 'do over'," Jim leaned forward, elbows on knees. "I screwed up."

Blair look surprised at the comment, but still harbored suspicion. This was going to be harder than Jim figured. Like an idiot, he'd underestimated Blair's bond with Naomi.

"Just…look. Do you remember much of your life before you were three?" Jim asked, verbally floundering.

Blair didn't respond. He sat motionless, just watching Jim. For what, Jim wasn't certain, but he did his best to keep his face neutral. It was like Blair was in his head, reading his thoughts, which was stupid. Blair could no more read his mind than he could levitate off the sofa.

Finally, Blair sighed, breaking the 'freeze frame' moment. "Jim, man. This is wrong on so many levels."

"Please, just humor an old cop. Okay?"

"Fine." Blair let his head fall back as if his neck was too exhausted to hold it up anymore. He stared at the high ceiling. "Except I would have been five then, remember? I was born in sixty-nine."

"If you were born in sixty-nine, remember? We don't have a birth certificate," Jim reminded him gently.

Blair huffed. "Whatever. Anyway, I remember desert-like land. It was hot. Lots of sunshine. I liked to play in the water, I think it was a pool." Blair lifted his head. "And Naomi was with me, Jim. My first memories, man. She was in them all."

Jim held up a hand. "Okay, okay, partner. I hear you," he soothed, accidentally using Naomi's own words. Or maybe on some level he did it on purpose, because the words seemed to relax his roommate. "Could we just try something? It could end this once and for all."

"What?"

Jim took a steadying breath. "The DNA for Scott Livingston is on file with the Feds. Could we send in a sample of yours for testing?"

Blair shook his head slowly, then let it fall back to rest on the sofa again. "Whatever, Jim," he said wearily.

"You okay?"

Blair gave him a wan smile. "My head's killing me."

-------------

Out of respect for Blair and a basic desire to have a pleasant living environment, the matter was not discussed again over the two weeks waiting period. Blair didn't bring up the subject after they visited the hospital for the blood draw. Although Jim did overhear him a few nights trying to reach his mother on the phone. So far, he hadn't located her. After a week, Blair seemed to give up. Jim worked on his active cases, mostly minor stuff. Apparently, Cascade was on an official holiday from being the most dangerous place in the country.

It was Friday, exactly two weeks after first seeing the milk carton, when Jim came back from the evidence room with Blair in tow. He instantly picked up a conversation taking place beyond the closed door to Simon's office. Looking through the windows, he could see two men. Jim's FBI radar started pinging.

"He's the main witness to an open kidnapping case. We want him, Captain," a new voice demanded.

"He's a person who had no idea he was kidnapped. I'm not about to hand him over to so you can whisk him off to Virginia or wherever," Simon replied evenly.

Jim stopped, snagging Blair's arm to keep him from going any further. He quickly raised a finger to his lips and, for once, Blair nodded without asking a question. Rafe looked on from behind his desk. Jim jerked a thumb backwards toward the doorway and mouthed the words, 'You never saw us' as he picked up Blair's backpack from the floor. Pointing to the coat stand, Jim signaled Blair to grab both their jackets. Together, they slipped out of the bullpen. Once inside the elevator, Jim poked the button for the parking garage.

"Jim?" Blair asked after the doors had closed and they were dropping.

"Trust me. We don't want to be found for a few hours," Jim said. He tried to remember how much information about Blair they'd sent along with that blood sample.

"Why?" Blair asked.

Why indeed? Jim abruptly exhaled, his cheeks puffing out like a blow fish.

"Jim? You're starting to freak me out here."

Damn, the more he delayed, the harder it would be to explain. "Simon had some guys in his office I'm not too interested in seeing right at this moment. It's close enough to quitting time; I think it's safe to call it a day."

"Ha! You're running like a whipped dog." Blair snorted. "This works for me, I've got to get ready for my date. Did I tell you about Denise?" Blair held his hands out in front of him, framing an imaginary image only he could see. "Think… leopard print."

Before Jim could reply, the elevator doors opened. Two men in suits stood waiting for them.

"Blair Sandburg?" the shorter man asked. His short dark hair was slicked close to his head with gel.

Shit! Jim quickly punched the button to shut the doors, but the taller Fed stuck his foot out, blocking them open.

"Jim?" Blair stepped back, a fearful, trapped look on his face as the two strangers joined them in the elevator.

The short Fed pushed the button for the seventh floor. "You gentlemen must have missed our associates."

Jim remained silent. Who'd have thought they would have anticipated an escape and had a plan in place to catch them? Blair's heart rate accelerated. Jim regretted not filling Blair in on what was going down.

"You guys have a good reason to detain us?" Jim asked.

"You? No," Gel Head said smugly. "Mr. Sandburg? Yes."

Jim's dislike for federal agents in general tripled. The taller man seemed more human, so Jim turned to him. "What's happening? Who are you guys?" He was surprised Blair hadn't asked by now. It wasn't like him to stay silent this long.

The numbers above the door increased. They were almost back at Major Crime.

"We're with the FBI. I'm Agent Mitchell. This is Agent Abler," the taller man, Agent Mitchell said softly, sparing Blair a sympathetic look. "We're here about the Livingston kidnapping case."

"No," Blair whispered, the color draining from his face. He swayed and Jim automatically steadied him.

The car glided to a stop and the doors opened. For once, the hallways were empty and Jim was able to lead a very dazed partner back towards Simon's office. Blair looked ready to fall over. He slowed as they neared the door to Major Crime.

"Blair?" Jim asked. He paused; Blair appeared to be heading toward a panic attack. The Feds waited just outside the door, looking back. At least they gave some illusion of privacy.

Head bowed, Blair trembled in Jim's grip. Then, without warning, Jim was shoved backwards and Blair ran. Jim was so surprised with the move; he couldn't help but fall into the two agents. All three men landed on the polished hallway floor in a dog pile.

A low chuckle slipped out as Jim accidentally caught Abler in the solar plexus with his elbow. "Sorry."

"Get the hell off us!" Abler shouted after he caught his breath. "Sandburg! Stop!"

Only an idiot would expect Blair to follow that order, and Jim was no idiot. Gathering his legs underneath him to stand, he tracked Blair's progress down the stairwells. Both agents were shouting now, bringing the other agents from Simon's office. Simon emerged with a confused look. Abler and Mitchell were gone, already running after Blair.

Jim stepped aside to let the two Feds who had been with Simon pass.

"What happened, Jim?" Simon asked.

"Blair did an escape and evade, sir."

"Wonderful," Simon moaned. He gave him a suspicious look. "You didn't tip him off, did you?"

Jim smiled. "Absolutely not, Sir."

"Riiight."

They waited patiently. Jim listened as the search for Blair progressed, tracking the Feds throughout the building until they finally admitted defeat and returned to the seventh floor.

"Where is he, Ellison?" Abler demanded with a red face and sweaty brow. His short hair was mussed, the gel's hold wasn't proving up to the task.

"I wouldn't have a clue," Jim said, spreading his arms innocently. "He's kind of new to this whole police environment thing. Sometimes he gets nervous. You were threatening in the elevator."

Simon bristled. "You threatened Sandburg?"

"You should have heard him, Simon," Jim said, nodding his head towards the Fed. "Made it sound like Blair was under arrest — "

"I did NO such thing!" Abler shouted, looking like a stroke candidate. He pointed a quivering finger at both men. "If either of you obstruct this investigation, I'm reporting you both to your chief!"

"You do that, Agent," Simon responded. "And I'll be sure to let your supervisor know how you treated an innocent victim."

Agent Abler puffed out his chest. Jim took pleasure in watching his green eyes budge out as he sputtered.

An older agent raised a hand, literally stepping in front of Abler. "Let's get back to the situation at hand, shall we? Mitchell, take your partner back and fill out the proper paperwork to issue a Federal order to detain Sandburg. Make it clear he's not to be considered dangerous." The agent glanced back at Jim, "Just very sneaky. Captain, perhaps we could return to your office and explain a few things to Detective Ellison? He should know more about this Pandora's Box he opened."

------------

Okay, so the Feds didn't have plans to whisk Blair off to Virginia, making it so Jim would never see him again.

Oops.

Jim tried to look innocent as the older agent, a very practical sounding man by the name of Ed Gardner, explained.

"Senator Livingston is very interested in seeing his son. He'd be here personally, but he's tied up in a senate hearing. His wife, Scott's mother, passed away ten years ago from cancer. This man you know as Blair Sandburg is all the senator has left," Gardner said. "We'd like to interview him as well. He's our only witness to this kidnapping and our best chance at catching Maria Hernandez Garcia."

Simon interrupted with a raised hand. "Who?"

Gardner's partner spoke. "That's the woman we believe took the child from the Livingston home. Naomi Sandburg. She's an illegal immigrant that ran with a local gang. We believe she slipped onto his estate and kidnapped Scott Livingston, or Blair Sandburg. The border is very hard to patrol, even to this day. Back then, it was too easy for them to slip back and forth from Mexico."

"Naomi doesn't look Mexican," Jim pointed out.

"Maria is only half Mexican. Her father was white," Gardner replied. "We don't have any pictures of the woman. Now that we believe she has been this Naomi Sandburg for the last twenty years, we're looking for anything we might have on file. Her name comes up under various protests."

Ah, yes. Big brother is watching. Jim sighed. So Blair's father is a United States Senator. What were the odds? He wondered how Blair would take the news. Would he even want to meet his father?

"How close is Mr. Sandburg's relationship with this woman?" Gardner asked. "Would he be trying to warn her?"

Shifting in his chair, Jim glanced at Simon before answering. "I'm not sure. I only met Naomi once. I didn't see her much. We were working on a case. It caused us to be gone a lot."

"Did you meet her, Captain?" Gardner turned to where Simon sat behind his desk.

"I did." Simon fiddled with his pen set. His chair turned sideways to his desk, he leaned back and watching his pens roll back and forth between his thumb and finger. "She seemed concerned about Sandburg's ride-a-long status. She was acting extremely motherly, in fact."

"Yes, thank you for bringing that up," Gardner said, looking confused. "Why is an anthropology student riding with Detective Ellison? Senator Livingston was very concerned when he read about a few of the cases. The one with the serial killer, David Lash, had him highly upset."

Uh oh, Jim didn't like the direction this was taking. Blair could find himself being corralled out of being a police observer into something 'safer' for a son of a senator. Somehow, Jim couldn't see Blair going along with the program.

If they found him.

"He's working on his dissertation. He's studying police culture, the way we interact with each other and with the public," Simon answered as if every police department had their own anthropologist.

"Uh, huh," Gardner commented. "Do either of you know where Scott Livingston might have gone?"

Jim schooled his face to keep the smile from emerging. He knew of a dozen places where Blair Sandburg might be, but since the agent wasn't asking about Blair…

"I wouldn't have a clue," Jim honestly answered.

------------------

Blair hung up the payphone with a sigh.

That was that. He'd done everything he could possibly do. He'd called every phone number in his book and all he knew by heart. Hopefully Naomi would hear the warning from one of her friends in time. She needed to disappear.

Blair left the payphone behind and headed for the men's room. He was exhausted and hungry. After washing his hands, he entered the smoky atmosphere and took a seat at the long bar. A bowl of popcorn sat nearby for the taking and he helped himself.

"What, more quarters?" a fat bartender asked, appearing out of thin air.

Blair shook himself out of his musing. He needed to keep alert. "No, thanks. Ah, could I have some water?" he asked.

The man frowned, the welcoming smile morphing into suspicion. "Let's see your ID, kid."

Blair fumbled for his wallet, pulling it out of his backpack. It was ironic, he thought as he produced proof of his age. All this time he'd been carrying false ID and he didn't know it.

"Okay, so you're legal. What the deal? Now you're broke?"

Blair sighed; knowing what the man was telling him. A bar set out free food to get the customers to order drinks. It was late and the April night was cold and wet. Blair had hoped for a few more minutes before braving the elements. "I fed every bit of cash I had into your phone in the back. I'm trying to reach my mom."

"Yeah, cry me a river, kid. Beat it if you're not ordering."

"Lighten up, Stanley," a woman ordered from Blair's left. "Give him some onion rings and a beer. I'll pay."

Blair turned in surprised. His benefactor was an elderly woman wearing a purple pantsuit and a red hat. "You don't have to do that, ma'am."

She smiled "I want to. When you get to be my age, you get to do the things you want to do. Now shut yer trap and let a lady do what she wants." Offering her hand, she added, "Janet."

Blair shook her hand. "Blair."

Stanley wandered off to fill the order while the woman took the empty stool next to Blair's. "So, did you reach your mother?" She pushed the popcorn bowl closer.

"No," Blair admitted. "I've been trying for hours. I've called all the numbers I have."

"Does she live in Cascade? Do you need a ride or something?" she asked.

Blair shook his head, slightly bewildered why this total stranger wanted to get involved in his problems. Hopefully she didn't want…

The woman chuckled. "Honey, I've got grandchildren your age. Don't worry, I won't bite. You just look like you could use a friend right now."

Okay, that was embarrassing. Blair ducked his head and stuffed his mouth with popcorn. "Thanks," he mumbled, then had to chew before he could answer her original questions. God, he was being stupid tonight.

She waited patiently at his side, taking sips from some drink that looked like iced tea, but probably wasn't.

Finally, Blair swallowed. "Mom travels a lot. I need to tell her something real important, only she can be hard to find."

"What about you, though? Why are you sitting in a bar at ten minutes to closing instead of calling from your own home somewhere?" she pressed.

Stanly returned with a mug of beer and a large bowl of onion rings, the smell almost causing Blair to faint off his perch from hunger. He burned his fingers in his haste to eat, transferring his attention to the cold beer instead. Lunch with Jim was over thirteen hours ago, he wasn't going to wait long for them to cool off.

Again, Janet waited for him to take his first long drink. Blair carefully wiped his mouth with a napkin before answering. "I'm kind of… experiencing some technical difficulties at the moment. I don't really want to go home right now."

"Ah." Janet nodded wisely, but refrained from her personal quest to know everything she could about Blair. "That's rough. Can you call your father?"

"No." Blair used the napkin to pick up a large beer-batter fried onion ring and began blowing, hoping to cool it down.

"Try dunking it in your beer, my late husband used to do that," Janet said.

It worked. Blair chewed the treat, enjoying the crunch of the batter and the sweetness of the onion. "Thanks."

"Welcome." She sipped her drink. Her attention was suddenly diverted to the far wall, over near the entrance. "Now there's a walking hunk I wouldn't mind stressing my false teeth over."

Choking in surprise at the elderly woman's obviously lustful thoughts, Blair automatically turned.

"Jim!"

---------------

The bar was a dive. Just off the main interstate, it attracted all sorts of sorry looking men and women. Finding Blair in such a place was the perfect ending to a perfectly crappy day. Blair's expression was an odd mix of surprise, horror, relief and guilt. He looked seconds from bolting again. Jim picked up his pace.

"Don't, Sandburg." He hadn't meant to growl, but Blair's butt was already off the seat, ready to run. Jim caught him by the shoulder and pushed him back.

"Hey! Back off or I'm calling the cops."

The cigarette smoke was doing a number on Jim's vision. The speaker looked like a bouncing eggplant wearing a bright red hat, ready to attack. Jim blinked several times, keeping a steady grip on his roommate.

"It's okay, Janet. He's a friend," Blair explained.

"You sure, honey?" The eggplant became an elderly woman. She looked at Blair with true concern.

"I am a cop, ma'am," Jim explained. He saw the onion rings. Several things became clear. Blair was broke, Blair was hungry, and Mrs. Janet Eggplant had taken pity on him. Jim had a feeling he could guess where his partner's pocket money had gone. "I'm also Blair's friend."

"So why's he trying to run from you?" Janet pointed out, her chin sticking out in defiance.

Blair made a point of relaxing, looking up at Jim. "Jim? Anyone follow you?"

"No, we're good." Jim released Blair's shoulder with a pat.

"Thanks, Janet," Blair said with feeling, "For everything. But, it's really okay now. I'm glad Jim's here."

After she'd given Jim one last evil eye and placed a motherly peck on Blair's cheek, she left. Blair pushed the onion rings away, looking green around the edges.

"How'd you find me?" he asked.

"Sneaks. You're going to need to replace those new high tops you bought last month." Jim reached for an onion ring. It was still warm, but the grease was old enough for the Smithsonian. Tossing it back into the bowl, Jim left a ten on the counter and pulled on Blair's arm. "Let's get out of here. We need to talk."

------

Jim glanced over, catching Blair's profile against the passing streetlights. His original plan was to find a quiet place to sit in the car and talk, but maybe he'd rethink that plan. Blair leaned against his door, head resting on the closed window, the dark circles under his eyes were visible even if Jim hadn't had sentinel vision. Spotting an all night convenience store up ahead, Jim slowed the Ford Taurus and turned into the parking lot.

Blair's eyes opened. "What are we doing here?" he asked in a monotone voice.

"I'm going to pick up some food. Sit tight." By the time Jim was back five minutes later, Blair was snoring.

The next stop was a Ramona Inn. Jim paid for a double occupancy room with cash, thankful he was in the habit of keeping emergency funds tucked away at the loft. The Feds had him under surveillance; it had been child's play to lose the two teams of agents. However, it was harder to hide bank and credit card actions, so using cash had been a must.

After picking up the key, Jim drove around the building and parked. Their ground floor room opened up to an interior hallway, but at least it was close to an exit.

"Wake up, Chief." Jim gently shook a shoulder before reaching back for the grocery sack. "We're here."

"Where?" Blair blearily peered through the windshield.

"Just a place to crash for the night. Come on."

Jim waited by the fender of the car as Blair appeared to think about his situation. Dragging a hand down his face, he gathered up his backpack and stepped out, following Jim silently into the hotel. Once inside their room, Jim locked the door and set the bag down on a long dresser. He pulled out a cold, plastic bottle of apple juice and shook it.

"Drink," Jim ordered, handing Blair the bottle. Next, he pulled out two sandwiches that looked days old. It wasn't a banquet, but it would keep starvation away for the night.

The juice bottle was almost empty when Jim handed over the tuna sandwich. Blair looked better already. He accepted the half sandwich eagerly and sat on the edge of the nearest queen-size bed and stuffed nearly half of it into his mouth.

Jim pulled a padded chair away from the small round table by the window and got comfortable. "Okay, Sandburg, first things first--"

"I'm sorry, man," Blair mumbled, then swallowed quickly. "I shouldn't have pushed--"

"Let me finish," Jim insisted, raising a hand. "I'm not upset about that stunt back at the station. In fact, anything else would have made me look like I was assisting in your escape. You did good."

Blair's jaw dropped. "I did?"

"Uh huh." Jim reached for his own juice and shook it. "So, any luck reaching Naomi?"

The blush on Blair's face made Jim smile.

"No." Blair looked at his sandwich. "I left a bazillion messages, though. One of them is bound to reach her."

"Okay, first let's catch you up on what's happening. We need to come up with a plan." The apple juice hit the spot and Jim finished it quickly before reaching into the bag for his own tuna sandwich.

"Jim," Blair said slowly. "You're really freaking me out. I figured you'd be kicking my butt all the way back to those guys in the suits."

Jim shrugged as he unwrapped the plastic from his dinner. "I started this mess. One of the Feds said I had opened Pandora's Box. He wasn't kidding, either."

On a scale of one to ten - ten being a big shit-eating grin – Blair's current smile was about a three, but Jim saw forgiveness there. It was enough to loosen the tight, imaginary band around his chest.

Maybe things weren't as bleak as they appeared.

"I know Naomi, Jim. She's not a kidnapper," Blair said softly, his eyes sliding to the floor. "She may not be my mom, but she raised me, you know? She put her life on hold to take care of me. All the stuff she does now? All those trips? She wanted to do that when I was little, and some we did together. But there were others that she wanted to take, but couldn't. She wouldn't leave me." Blair swallowed hard before continuing, his eyes shiny. "When we didn't have enough food, she… she just didn't eat. But I never went hungry, man, not once." His voice was almost a whisper now. "What kind of kidnapper would do that?"

The motel was quiet. It was almost three in the morning. When Blair finally ran out of words, Jim struggled for an answer. The silence descended on them like a warm blanket. When the sandwiches were gone and the wrappers wadded up and tossed into the small trashcan by the dresser, Jim spoke.

"We're safe for now; the Feds won't find us here. After we get some sleep, you can decide what you want. We can keep going or you can keep trying to contact Naomi. I won't stop you. Your choice."

Blair sighed, toeing off his tennis shoes and standing slowly. "If those messages I left don't reach her, nothing will. Tomorrow, you can take me back. I need to face this, Jim. I just wanted to warn Naomi. I'm not ready to leave you or our work behind." He wrinkled his nose and stood. "First I need to shower, though. I still stink from that bar." He disappeared into the attached bathroom.

Jim rubbed his eyes. Blair wasn't leaving. Jim should be happy, shouldn't he? So why did he feel the urge to grab his friend and keep driving? Blair had said he hadn't wanted to leave Jim behind. Obviously the kid hadn't heard him. Jim wasn't about to be left behind.

----------

When the door to the conference room opened, Jim and Simon shot out of their seats. The first person to exit the room was Assistant Director Angela Shipman, a stocky black woman with gray hair and a gentle smile. Jim hadn't been fooled, however. He had noticed the way the other agents reacted when she had first entered the meeting, back before Simon and Jim had been politely asked to wait outside. The woman was tough.

Gardner followed behind Shipman, acknowledging Jim's presence with a slight nod. Jim smiled at him. Jim had been listening to the interview – hell, it had sounded like an interrogation a few times – and knew Gardner had offered a few comments to the group to downplay Blair's actions in the hallway yesterday.

The attorney Simon had arranged for Blair exited next, finally followed by Blair. Jim ignored the rest of the men and women spilling into the room. Blair looked trashed. His hair was pulled back and trapped by a leather tie, his face pale and waxy, like he was coming down with a bug or something. His attention was on the floor as he walked, shoulders slumped, feet dragging a little.

Jim had to suppress the urge to drive his fist through the wall. Blair might as well have worn a sign on his chest that said, 'Guilty – ready for sentencing.' None of this was his fault, didn't anyone see that? Yet, Blair was the one that had to sit through this three hour 'interview'. They had tried their best, but Blair had held firm.

He was not giving up any information on Naomi Sandburg.

"Hey, partner." Jim moved to stand by Blair, edging the attorney away gently.

"Hey." Blair was still walking, as if afraid someone would realize they'd been remiss in placing the student under arrest.

"Ready for lunch?" Jim asked.

Shaking his head, Blair picked up his pace once he reached the outer hallway. They were on the fifth floor of the federal building. Jim could hear Simon and the attorney talking back outside the conference room. No one was following Blair. Jim had to work to keep up.

"Easy, Sandburg," Jim said quietly. "You're running this race for no reason. They're not happy with you, but they're not going to put you into protective custody, that was just a bluff."

Blair shot Jim a dark look, but he did slow down.

"Come on, I'm hungry," Jim invited. "Let's at least get some soup or something."

They ended up eating at a buffet that let you build your own salad and gave you a choice of six soups. You paid by weight at the end of the line. Blair ended up counting out pocket change for his meal.

Tucked away in a small corner, Jim pushed his own salad around a moment to mix the dressing before stabbing a mouthful with his fork. His thoughts returned to the meeting. He had listened to every word. Blair had gone in knowing as much as Jim had known. "It sounded rough."

"It was okay," Blair said. He looked up at Jim and sighed. "Will you give it a rest already, Jim?"

"What?"

"This guilt trip you're taking." Blair pointed with his fork. "None of this is your fault."

"Sandburg, I brow beat you into giving that blood test." Jim tossed his fork down in disgust. "Damn, I should have thrown that carton down and walked away."

Blair chuckled, low and soft. "As if, man. You can't. It's not in your makeup. It would be like me walking by a used bookstore I'd never seen before and not going in. Just knock off the drama, already. Okay?"

Okay, that stung a little. But Blair seemed to have forgiven him. And, yeah, Jim had to admit, this wasn't about Jim Ellison finding the milk carton. It was time to move on. He resumed eating.

"Sorry, Jim."

"No, you're right."

Blair cleared his throat. "Still, I didn't want to slap you down until after I asked a favor."

Jim smiled. "Ask."

'Anything, kid, just give me a chance to do something.'

"I want to go to DC," Blair explained slowly, rolling a baby carrot back and forth on his plate. "Would you… um, could you — "

"Sandburg, there was no way I was letting you go alone," Jim stated. "I already warned Simon I'd be requesting time off. Now, eat your food."

With a quiet chuckle, Blair speared the carrot. "Cool, Jim. Thanks."

Only a sentinel would have noticed some of the paleness in Blair's face fade. Still, the kid looked like crap.

--------

Jim and Blair found their hotel room in Washington DC's Crystal City Doubletree hotel easily. It was a simple matter of following the underground corridors linked to the impressive subway system that ran underneath the entire area. Crystal City was only a short ride on the blue line from the Ronald Regan International Airport.

"You want the first shower?" Jim asked, setting his suitcase down on his bed.

"Okay." Blair tossed his case on the matching bed, quickly unzipping it and pulling out clean jeans and a shirt. "What are we doing for dinner?"

"I need to check in with Simon. Then I'm free. Is Senator Livingston coming by tonight?"

"I, um, asked him not to," Blair said. He lifted his shoulders in an embarrassed shrug. "I didn't want to deal with him our first night in town."

"That's fine. Let's find some pizza," Jim suggested. "I remember a place by the zoo that's decent."

"Cool, I'm down with that," Blair tossed over his shoulder as he closed the bathroom door.

Their room was nice, costing more than he would normally spend. He had seen the rates and shuddered, genuinely glad the senator was picking up the tab for this trip, including airfare. Senator Livingston's aid had contacted Blair immediately, telling him the senator hoped Blair could fly out. But Blair had put off the visit until he could arrange the time off at Rainier. Now, almost three weeks after the day Jim had first seen that cursed milk carton, they were in Washington DC.

After Jim's turn in the shower, they reviewed the complimentary map from the main desk. Jim had visited DC back when he'd returned from Peru. It had been an incredible adjustment from the jungle and he remembered wanting to take it easy after the military had released him. Jim had planned to return to Cascade, but wanted to wander around first and get readjusted to civilization, without dealing with all his old friends and haunts waiting for him in the Northwest. Washington DC had seemed like the perfect place to take 'baby steps' back towards his old life.

A short subway ride followed by a trip on a bus brought them to the pizza parlor. It was just at Jim had remembered and it was packed. After a fifteen minute wait they got a booth by the large front street windows and ordered a large special to split.

Blair's eyes scanned the decorated walls, with its newspaper clippings, large photographs and assorted sports equipment. The building looked old and cared for. Green ferns spilled out of large pots between the booths and suspended from the ceiling. Blair seemed to relax in the warm and friendly atmosphere.

"So, tomorrow we meet Senator Livingston?" Jim asked.

Bobbing his head and tucking his hair back, Blair chewed on his lower lip. He pulled the small basket of packaged sugars close and started sorting through them.

"Nervous?" Jim asked, amused as he watched his normally messy roommate began to organize the sugars by the color of the packets.

"Nah… well, yeah," Blair answered. He slid the basket back when the waitress appeared with their beers. Taking a long pull, Blair licked his upper lip. "Did you ever pretend…"

"I used to daydream my real dad was Bob Locker," Jim told him with a smile, correctly guessing the rest of the unspoken question. "My dad and I would have a fight about something, and I'd pretend to be adopted."

"Really? Who's Bob Locker?"

"Pitcher for the Pilots back in sixty-nine. He had a two point one-eight ERA."

"Pilots?"

Jim sighed. Sometimes he forgot Blair was a decade younger. "Before the Mariners, Seattle had the Pilots."

"Uh, I didn't know that. What happened to them?" Blair propped his chin in his palm, elbow on the table.

"They went to Milwaukee after a single season. Man, I was so pissed," Jim said.

"No way! One season? Why?"

"Seattle originally got the franchise with the agreement that King County build a domed stadium within three years. They even brought a bunch of big names out for public appearances, including Mickey Mantle. It worked, too. The voters approved the construction of the dome."

"I've seen it, on the south end of Seattle, right?"

"Yeah, they built it, but not in time. Construction was delayed. During the first year, the owner told Seattle to 'put up' or they'd lose the team."

Blair chuckled. "Really? Why the rush?"

Jim shrugged. "I think he was sick or something, he was in his late seventies. Anyway, attendance got worse after that. The team declared bankruptcy. First time in the history of baseball that had ever happened. Next opening day, Locker and his team were wearing Milwaukee Brewers uniforms. I moped around the house for a full month." Jim gave Blair a suspicious look. "You never heard about this?"

Right hand held up as if taking an oath, Blair shook his head with a laugh. "Hey, man, this is ancient history to me. You gotta remember, I was less then a year old at the ti — " He cut himself off, eyes suddenly hooded.

Shit. Blair hadn't even been a twinkle in his old man's eye in sixty-nine.

For a few seconds, it had all been forgotten. They had been just two men enjoying a beer and waiting for dinner. Nothing like talking baseball to give the illusion that all was normal.

"Anyway," Blair said awkwardly. "Bob Locker, huh?"

"Yeah," Jim answered. "How about you? Who was the guy? Timothy Leary?"

Jim knew they were walking on shaky ground, like a funhouse at an amusement park. Once, as a kid, he'd tried walking across a floor rigged in sections to spin one way, then the other. This conversation was bringing back that impossible feeling of finding balance.

Blair's eyes were focused on something far away, or maybe something that wasn't there at all. He nodded, absentmindedly fingering his silver hoops hanging from his ear.

"Far cry from a US Senator," Jim commented.

"Shit, tell me about it," Blair said with a short huff. "I bet he freaks when he sees me tomorrow. It's no wonder he wants to keep this business from leaking to the press."

"Wait a minute; you lost me here, Sherlock. The reason for the media blackout is to protect you, remember? Livingston has some impressive enemies. There's no reason to advertise your connection to him right away. Why would he freak?"

"Oh, come on, Jim." With a wave to his own face, Blair rolled his eyes. "I checked his bio; six years Air Force, third generation old money, retired CEO for a petroleum company with off shore rigs. He 'screams' establishment, man."

"So what?" Jim countered, leaning forward. "You afraid he's going to find out you voted independent or something? Give him a break. You haven't even met him yet."

"You don't understand, Jim," Blair told him quietly.

"I think I do, Sandburg," Jim answered. "Naomi let you be yourself. She was your friend. She even overcame the fact you hang around cops. For the first time in your life, you're faced with the possibility of a parent who may not approve of you, how you've turned out, how you dress, wear your hair. Am I close?"

A wry smile answered. "Okay, maybe you do understand."

Jim laughed lightly. It felt good. "Look, it's natural. I think – hell, I know – I'd feel the same way."

After a few minutes of consideration, Blair looked Jim squarely in the eye. "You know what I don't get?"

"What?"

"You had a chance to daydream about Mickey Mantle and you pick some pitcher from a team no one remembers?"

-------

Sometime during the night Blair must have found his center, Jim thought to himself.

It was 'day two' in DC. Blair sat calmly at his side, as if he didn't have a care in the world. They were waiting outside Senator Richard Livingston's office. A young man, identifying himself as the Senator's aide, efficiently worked on a computer while answering phone calls and penciling in appointments in a large spiral book. In the thirty minutes they had been waiting, the phone had not stopped ringing. One thing for sure, Livingston was a busy man.

Finally, the door opened and two Asian men exited, bowing formally one last time before leaving.

"Scott?" The man standing in the doorway looked hopefully at Blair. He was fit, like he exercised frequently. His face was tan, a sharp contrast to the silver head of wavy hair.

Jim could see the resemblance to his roommate immediately. The same nose and jaw line, although he was taller than Blair. He wore glasses with bifocals in expensive gold frames. Although his suit was a fine brand name, he wore his collar open, tie loose and managed to look like he preferred to be in a Stetson hat, denim shirt and jeans.

Blair stood, extending his hand formally. "Senator Livingston? I'm Blair Sandburg."

Jim mentally high-fived his partner as he rose to stand at Blair's side.

"This is Jim Ellison," Blair continued.

"How do you do?" Livingston had a soft lilt. He shook Jim's hand after reluctantly releasing Blair's. "Please, come in."

The office was small, but nice. A window gave its occupants a nice view of the street and the blossoming cherry trees. Obviously, the man belonging to the room loved his home state. An antique framed New Mexico flag held the place of honor on one wall. Other smaller pictures, all originals, hung in a tasteful arrangement around it; oil, acrylic and pencil artworks of desert scenes, old Spanish missions, and small border town life. Obscure artifacts lined the shelves, mixed with books; earthen pots and stone tools, some Indian artifacts, small rag dolls with velvet clothing and painted faces, even one of those 'Eye of God' yarn crafts. Everything looked original and old, like they all belonged in a museum.

"Please have a seat," Livingston invited, pointing to a corner of his office where a brown leather loveseat and a matching wingback chair waited. When Jim and Blair sat down on the short sofa, he took the chair, facing them. "First, I must apologize for not coming out to Washington State, Sco— I mean, Blair."

"No, it's okay," Blair told him. "I understand."

"Thank you," the older man said. "But I hated not being able to come right away. When the FBI told me they had a match, I just," he paused, his voice breaking, "I just couldn't believe it."

Blair looked over at Jim. Some of the earlier calm he had exemplified in the waiting room slipped a little. Jim smiled, hoping he was at least looking like the supportive friend he wanted to be. Truthfully, Jim felt more like a voyeur.

But Livingston didn't seem to even notice Jim; his eyes were fixed on Blair like a man serving a life sentence would look at a chance to live on a tropical island. He sat on the edge of his seat, body poised and leaning forward.

"Would you like something to drink? Coffee? Soda?"

"No," Blair said. "Thank you anyway, sir."

Livingston smiled sadly, shaking his head slightly. "I never dreamed this would be so difficult, son. Hell, I lost hope I'd ever have this opportunity at all." He dragged a tan hand down his face, then finger combed his hair in a way that Jim had seen Blair do a thousand times. "Do you remember me at all? Or your mother?"

Blair stiffened, his gaze dropping to his lap where his hands were clutched in two tight fists.

Jim wanted to punch the senator in the face. He had to remind himself why he was along; be supportive for Blair.

The senator sat, oblivious to the damage he'd caused.

"Senator Livingston," Blair said quietly, evenly. "I understand your position. But you have to remember my mother is Naomi Sandburg. I only remember her, as far back as I can remember that is."

Livingston's brow wrinkled, confusion evident. "Naomi? I don't understand. You understand that she kidnapped you, right? I mean, the FBI told me that they explained it all to you."

Blair looked up, eyes hard. "To me, man, she is my mother. I know it's not what you want to hear and I'm sorry. But I can't change the life I lived. She loved me and sacrificed a lot to raise me," Blair told him. "I don't remember you, or your late wife. I'm sorry."

"Is that why you won't co-operate with the FBI?" Livingston asked, matching determination with determination. He stood not waiting for Blair's answer. Striding over to a shelf, he returned with a small object in his hand. His face relaxed into a softness that belayed his earlier tone. "Here, even when you were little, you were so clever. Your mother, your real mother, knew you would be brilliant."

He held a smaller, crudely made 'Eye of God' in his hand, extending it out towards Blair as he sat back down. "You made this for us the Christmas before you were stolen."

An 'Eye of God' was merely two wooden sticks held together to form an 'X' by brightly colored yarn carefully wound around each stick. Each complete circle caused the circle to grow wider and wider. The yarn switched to new colors forming a bright design reminding Jim of a setting sun. The entire artwork was no more than five inches in diameter and had a few obvious mistakes where the yarn overlapped, but still, it was not too bad for a three-year-old.

"I… remember…" Blair's voice shook as he turned it over a few times in his hands. His heart suddenly raced. A fine sheen of moisture developed on a whitened face. He moaned, leaning forward as he clutched his stomach with his left hand.

"Sandburg?" Jim tried to pull Blair back up by a shoulder. Damn, he looked ready to faint.

"What is it?" Livingston asked Jim quickly.

"I don't know," Jim answered, sliding off the sofa to kneel in front of his partner. Blair folded at his waist, his face almost touching his own knees. "Blair, tell me what's wrong."

The 'Eye of God' dropped to the carpet. Jim automatically brushed it back towards Livingston's feet, as if it was responsible for whatever brought this on. Maybe it had somehow. Blair held his own head now, another clue to the mystery.

"What's wrong? Blair? Does your head hurt?" A dozen different possibilities ran through Jim's mind, none of them promising to be good. This was crazy. Blair was healthy and young, damn it. "Sandburg! Talk to me!"

The 'no crap tolerated' tone must have triggered some deep response. Blair answered weakly, pushing the palms of both hands over closed eyelids. He rocked as he answered. "Head, man. It hurts." He blindly reached out and took a handful of Jim's shirt at the shoulder. "Get me out, Jim. Back to the hotel… please."

"I'll call an ambulance," Livingston said, heading for the phone on his desk.

"N-no." Blair took a deep breath. "Please, don't."

Jim was torn; liking the idea of Blair getting checked out by a doctor as well, but feeling Blair should have a choice in the matter. This had come on with no warning. But, on the other hand, Blair was under a lot of stress. And it was looking as if some color was returning to his face.

"Okay, no ambulance," Jim said, throwing in with his partner's wishes. "I think Blair just needs to lie down for a while," he told the older man as he helped Blair stand. "We'll call you later tonight. Okay?"

Livingston reluctantly hung up the phone. "Are you sure?"

Blair was able to answer. "Yeah. I'm sorry. Maybe later?" He still had his eyes screwed shut and leaned heavily on Jim's arm, but he managed to produce a small smile.

"Okay, but if it gets worse, please - tell me you'll see a doctor, immediately," the senator insisted.

"I'll watch him, sir," Jim promised, leading Blair toward the door.

----------

Jim had the cash ready to give the cabdriver. Blair had suffered the trip back to the motel in silence. Using one hand to shade his eyes, he let Jim lead him through the lobby, into the elevator and finally into their room.

"Bed?" Jim asked.

"Bathroom."

The sounds of Blair's breakfast being tossed into the toilet drifted through the closed door. Afterwards, Blair reappeared looking weak and wrung out. Jim had his bed ready. Stripping down to his boxers and T-shirt, Blair crawled in between the sheets with a groan. He didn't comment as Jim arranged his blankets and gently picked up one wrist.

"Your pressure's a little high, but not too bad," Jim reported. "If you don't feel better after some sleep you're going to a doctor."

"If this headache isn't gone when I wake up, man," Blair mumbled miserably, "I'm borrowing your gun."

"Not even funny, Junior," Jim said as Blair wrapped his head up in a pillow.

"Sorry," drifted from within the stuffing. "Sorry about all this, man. Go out and see the sights or something. I'll be fine."

"No thanks. I'll just kick back and watch some TV."

Jim changed into sweats, listening as Blair quickly dropped off to sleep. The sudden headache, nausea, and sensitivity to the light reminded Jim of a migraine. But what brought it on? In the time he had known Blair, there had never been any migraines.

Settling into his bed, using the headboard and pillows as a back rest, Jim picked up the room service menu and looked over his lunch options. He quietly ordered a sub sandwich and chips with soda. He found an old movie that was just starting and settled in for a few hours of pleasant relaxation.

The food arrived around the time the American hero deduced the German's diabolical plans for the train carrying the warheads. After tipping the waiter and assuring him the TV's sound was not broken, and yes, he did know how to use the remote, he checked to make sure Blair had not been disturbed and carefully ate his meal without dropping crumbs into his sheets.

After the last bad guy had been taken care of, the idea of a nap seemed appealing. Killing the TV, he dialed down his hearing and allowed himself to relax completely.

------------

The headache was gone when they met Senator Livingston for dinner. Both men had brought suits and were dressed appropriately for the fancy Italian restaurant. The food was superb, the service top notch and the senator a gracious host.

Too bad Blair was in a rotten mood.

"How long will you and Jim be staying, Blair?" Livingston asked. "I thought perhaps, if you'd like, we could tour the monuments."

Shrugging, eyes on his pasta, Blair continued to poke his food with a fork. Most of the serving was still on his plate, even though Livingston and Jim were almost finished. "Actually, I should be getting back to my classes. I was thinking about flying back."

This was a surprise. Jim remained quiet as Blair broke the news to the man. It was obviously a lie. Both of them had made plans to be gone for two weeks if they needed to be.

Livingston did not look happy with the idea. "Surely you could find a way to stay on a few days. If you don't like DC, how about visiting New Mexico? You can both stay at the hacienda. I'll join you this weekend."

Looking up with genuine interest, Blair seemed to give the idea some consideration. "Hacienda?"

Livingston was eager to sell the idea. "The staff lives there year round, so you'll have the run of the place. There's swimming, horseback riding or you can go into Carlsbad and look around. There are wonderful museums and historical sights within driving distance."

"This is the same place that… you and your wife lived when I was…"

It almost pained Jim to hear Blair fumble over his words. He made a living out of talking. He turned it into an art form when he set his mind to it.

Livingston nodded, understanding his son's question. "Yes, you were born there. So was I, as a matter of fact. The ranch is called Casa Piedemonte. It's been in our family for close to two hundred years. Before New Mexico became a state."

"Wow," Blair said softly, glancing to Jim with wide eyes.

"That's pretty cool, Sandburg."

"Yeah, very cool," Blair said. His wide forehead wrinkled in thought. "House… at the foot of the mountain?"

"That's right. Sits at the base of a mountain range west of Carlsbad. How about if I make reservations for both of you to fly out day after tomorrow? You can have one more day in DC to yourselves. Unfortunately, I have meetings I can't get out of. But we could have dinner again tomorrow night." Livingston seemed to hold his breath, finally relaxing when Blair gave him a nod.

"Okay, I guess that would be good," Blair said. "Jim? Is that okay, man?"

"Sure, I'd like to see New Mexico again."

------------------

The last day in DC was clear. They managed to visit Arlington cemetery, the monuments and the Supreme Court. It wasn't until they stood on the narrow street outside Ford Theater that Blair seemed to take interest.

"Think about it, Jim. Lincoln was shot inside this building."

Jim pointed across the street. "They took him across the street, to that building. He died while the doctor was treating him."

"Wow," Blair murmured under his breath.

Inside the small theater, they went into the basement where the exhibits were kept. Tall glass enclosed display cases housed the original door to the presidential box, complete with the hole drilled in by Booth, the assassin. Blair gazed sadly at Lincoln's coat and hat.

"His blood is still on the coat," he whispered in awe.

"Look." Jim pointed to another case. "This is the pistol. And here are the boots that the killer was wearing. See the rip in the side? He broke his leg during the escape, by jumping onto the stage from the box."

"Shit, Jim," Blair said as he came to stand by Jim. "I remember reading about all of this, but – wow – it's so different when you see it."

The museum had been nearly empty when they arrived, but sounds of a noisy group of school kids warned them that was about to change. The kids clomped down the wooden stairs, breaking Blair out of the near trance.

"For all the good he did, he wasn't a very popular president, was he?" Blair asked.

Jim shook his head. "I guess not. It was a dark time for our country. Civil war made it impossible to please the entire nation, no matter what he tried to do."

Blair buried his hands into his coat pockets. "I wish we had more time."

"To what?"

"Look around." Blair waved a hand in the air. "All the history. It's here. You can see it, touch it, even walk the streets where it happened. There's too much to see."

"Sandburg, the senator said we could stay as long as we wanted. You're the one that said you wanted to leave," Jim pointed out. They were drifting toward the staircase leading them out.

"I know," Blair shrugged. "But I don't want to sightsee, knowing each night I have to have dinner with him."

"You don't like him?" Jim was amazed. Blair was seldom quick to judge a person.

Blair didn't comment as they waited for the last of the children to pass. They climbed the stairs and emerged back onto the narrow street.

"I can't explain it, Jim," he said unhappily.

"You've only met him once," Jim said. "Maybe you're expecting too much, too soon. Give it some time."

Wrapping his coat tighter, Blair shrugged.

-----------

Twenty- four hours later they landed at Carlsbad International Airport. Waiting in a large crowd at the baggage claim area, Jim spotted their bags on the carousel. Blair slipped in between a heavyset man and a business woman wearing a pinstripe suit and snagged both bags with ease. After verifying their claim check with the attendant, they walked through the electronic doors to the outside.

"Oh, man! I could get used to this, Jim." Blair paused to shrug out of his jacket. "It feels like seventy degrees!"

"It's nice all right." Jim scanned the wide roadway crowded with cars letting passengers off. "There's our ride."

A white Lexus was parked, motor idling, next to the curb. A short Hispanic man holding a large cardboard sign with the words Sandburg/Ellison above his head was standing silently on the sidewalk.

He met them with a smile. "Senors, welcome to Carlsbad. I am Guillermo. I will drive you to Casa Piedemonte," the greeter said with a heavily accented, deep gravelly voice, like a person who enjoyed a lifetime of cigarettes. After stowing their bags in the truck, he hustled them into the back seat and jogged around to the driver's door and climbed in.

The airport traffic dispersed around them and soon they were driving among the sparse desert land of New Mexico. Jim remembered a few training weekends in New Mexico as a Ranger in the Army. The harsh terrain and unforgiving temperatures had provided excellent environments for training new soldiers.

"Jim?"

"Yeah?"

Blair was staring out the tinted window, his brow lined in contemplation. They had been driving for over an hour. The Lexus purred over a narrow road that wound up and around rolling brown hills leading to higher mountains in the distance.

"I think I know this place," Blair admitted, bringing a hand up to his face. He closed his eyes and began to massage his own forehead.

"You remember being here?" Jim whispered.

Blair nodded, his Adam's apple jumped erratically as he swallowed several times. Small beads of sweat appeared on his face.

"Sandburg? Are you getting another headache?" Jim asked. "Do you want to pull over for a second?"

"No, it's okay. It doesn't hurt very much."

Guillermo slowed and made a turn. They drove through an open gate, complete with a manned guardhouse. A guard gave the driver a cheerful wave as they passed. Distant buildings appeared in the distance; barns, horse paddocks, outbuildings. Blair was squinting now with a painful expression as he surveyed the grounds belonging to his father's family.

It took another half an hour before they reached the green, irrigated lawn surrounding the main house. It looked like a compound, the type Jim remembered seeing in history books. The older, original buildings were easy to pick out by their thick adobe construction. The main house looked newer, but still built in Spanish tradition with a flat red tiled roof and arched windows. A deep shaded porch ran the full length of the front, shading the heavy wooden door and windows from the New Mexico sun. The hacienda had been built snugly nestled into the foothills of a long mountain range.

The driver parked the Lexus in the middle of the circular tiled drive and turned off the motor. "Welcome home, Senor Livingston."

With a groan, Blair grabbed his head. "Ahhhh, Jim, it hurts."

------------------

Jim paced the floor impatiently. The doctor had arrived quickly. It was amazing to know that some doctors still made house calls. Maybe that privilege was reserved for rich senators. Whatever the reason, Jim was glad. Blair had to be half carried into the house. The cool, air-conditioned interior had produced goose bumps on his friend's arms. They'd hustled him through a massive entryway, down a hallway, past impressive displays of authentic looking Mexican wall hangings and hand painted tile, and finally into a spotless bathroom; where Blair promptly vomited his airline lunch into the toilet.

"Mr. Ellison?"

Jim turned to address the doctor. He hadn't even heard the man approach, his mind too busy trying to figure out why Blair was having these migraines.

"How is he, Doctor Sunde?"

The doctor was Caucasian, a few years older than Jim. He passed a delicate looking hand over his own bald head and sighed. "From what you've told me, and what I've seen, your friend is having some fairly intense migraines. I'd like to run a few tests to rule out something more serious. But frankly, I believe these may be caused by stress. I've been the Senator's personal doctor for over ten years, as well as his late wife's. I'm aware of the situation. I can't imagine what that young man must be feeling right now."

Jim nodded, he agreed. Blair seemed fine during the tour of DC yesterday and during the flight to New Mexico. It wasn't until he started recognizing the countryside that the pain had started. "Can you give him anything?"

"I've given him a mild sedative," the doctor said, a tiny smile appearing. "He doesn't like needles much, does he? But then, show me a man that does and I'll show you a fool. He should sleep for a while. Wake him for a late dinner, something bland would be best. I'll call tomorrow and see how he's doing. I'll set up a time he can come in and have those scans."

"Thank you." Jim automatically walked at the man's side as he headed towards the main door. "So, you've known the Senator for a while?"

"Actually, all my life," the man said. "My father was the family doctor. You might say I was groomed to take over the job. The Livingstons have been a big part of this area for hundreds of years. I know the senator doesn't want the news to leak to the general public yet. But the surrounding area was in mourning when Scott was kidnapped. It's incredible to find him after all these years. We all believed he was dead."

"Why?" Jim asked.

Pausing in the entry way, the doctor shrugged as he answered, "No ransom note for one thing. Why kidnap the only child of a rich man? If it wasn't for money, it must have been revenge. Powerful men have powerful enemies."

"Who are his enemies?"

The doctor seemed to realize he was talking to a cop. With a vague wave, he sighed. "Just a general observation, nothing specific. I'm just happy to see Scott back home again. He looks like he turned into a very nice person, in spite of his upbringing."

Good grief, if Blair heard any such comments along this vein, there would be fireworks in the near future for sure. "Listen, Doc. I'd appreciate if you didn't call him Scott. He's only known the name given by the woman that raised him. This has been very difficult for him."

"Certainly! I'm sorry. Blair Sandburg, isn't it?"

"Right."

"Okay, I'll make a point to remember that," the bald man promised.

After Jim saw the man off, he followed the sounds of people talking, finding himself in the large kitchen. The staff needed to know Blair would need something bland for a late dinner. An elderly Mexican woman was dicing potatoes for a large pot on a commercial sized gas stove. She wore a traditional looking black dress and white full apron of a hired cook. Tiny in size, her wrinkled skin was dark brown. Silver-streaked hair was pulled high into a neat bun. Guillermo was sitting at a long pine table, drinking coffee. He quickly rose to his feet.

"Senor! How is Senor Scott?"

Oh, boy. Jim had a lot of people to set straight.

Ten minutes later, Jim slipped into the darkened room where Blair lay on a massive bed. Earlier, before the doctor had arrived, Jim had helped Blair out of his clothes and into the bed wearing just boxers and T-shirt. A thin cotton blanket over a sheet had been the only covering at the time. Jim had sent Guillermo off for more blankets. Now, Blair was resting under a thick down comforter.

"Jim?"

"Why aren't you asleep, Chief?"

Blair rolled on his side, blinking painfully in Jim's general direction. "What's happening to me, man? Why does this keep coming back? Am I sick or something?" His words were slurred and sluggish. It wouldn't be long before the drug the doctor gave him would take him down.

"I'm not sure," Jim said honestly. "We'll talk later. Just sleep."

A faint ghosting of fear appeared briefly in Blair's eyes. "I think I made a mistake, Jim. I don't want to be here."

Jim responded without thinking, placing a soothing hand on Blair's shoulder. "Everything's going to be just fine, Blair, I promise. I think you'll feel better when the migraine's gone. But, if you still feel that way when you wake up, we'll leave, okay?"

"Where will you be?" he whispered, his eyes closing. "I don't know these people."

"Right here. I'm not going to leave. I promise."

Some of the tension seeped out of Blair's body. He sighed wearily. "Sorry, man. Sorry I'm being so stupid…"

"Sleep," Jim ordered gruffly, then nullified the effect by gently patting Blair's arm and tucking in the covers. By the time he was satisfied Blair wouldn't feel any of the excessive air conditioning the younger man was asleep.

Jim kept one ear on Blair's breathing as he unpacked his clothes. True, he might be repacking them soon, but he didn't mind. This gave him something to do. The room he had been given was a mirror image to the one next door, where Blair lay sleeping. Not as large as their DC hotel room, but still roomy. The walls were thick and textured, made to look like authentic adobe. Jim could feel the cool air from the tile floor swirl around his ankles. The ceiling was high, probably to trap the hot air during the summer.

The beds were constructed with old, heavy carved oak, stained in a dark color. They lifted the sleeper high off the floor, so high you needed to use the built-in step to crawl onto the mattress. A tall, matching dresser held drawers for clothing as well as a door that opened up to shelves for sweaters and such.

A soothing collection of desert landscapes, painted in watercolors, hung on the walls of Blair's room. Jim's room had a collection depicting men and women, obviously Mexican, doing menial tasks like cleaning, cooking and working in gardens.

Jim studied one picture of a young woman sitting by an open fire. It looked like she might be grinding corn or some other grain. Each picture looked like an original, yet Jim didn't recognize the painter. Perhaps the pictures had been specially commissioned.

He cast one more look around the room. Terra cotta reds, browns and off whites, the colors reminded Jim of earth. Even the scent of the place was anchored in the land around them. It didn't take much imagination to picture the compound two hundred years ago, probably the only shelter for miles. It would seem that Blair had strong roots here.

With nothing more to occupy his time, Jim went back to check on Blair. His friend hadn't moved a muscle. Hopefully he'd be sleeping for hours. He watched Blair's relaxed face for a moment, relieved to see him free from the migraine's pain.

These last three weeks felt like a trip down the rabbit hole. How much worse was it for Blair? People might argue that every person had a right to know the truth about their birth and their ancestors. But Jim wasn't sure. What was the harm in his friend believing he had been the only child of a beautiful, if not a little ditzy, carefree woman?

With an impatient shake of his head, Jim left the room. He'd remembered seeing a room filled with bookshelves off the hallway by the main bathroom. And the senator had said they could have free run of the place while they were staying.

--------------

The comforting sound of a page being turned woke Blair to darkness. He wasn't sleeping on his futon. Before he could piece together enough information to arrest the fear growing inside him, he heard nearby sounds of someone moving.

"How's the headache?"

Jim.

Releasing air he hadn't realized he'd been holding, Blair relaxed. With a rush, memories of the plane trip to New Mexico and the drive out to the senator's house returned.

"Gone," Blair answered after a few seconds. It was sort of the truth. His brain still felt bruised and sore. Although he couldn't see much, he knew Jim could. Offering up a tiny smile into the darkness, Blair pushed the bed covers down. Two issues needed attention. One couldn't wait.

Jim clicked on a small lamp, bringing yellow light that bounced off the woven rug next to the bed. Wow, steps. Blair carefully swung his bare feet over the edge. A person could get a nose bleed from up here.

"There's a small bathroom right across the hall," Jim told him. "If you're ready, the cook's been holding dinner for you."

"What time is it?" Blair asked, shivering as his feet left the warmth of the rough rug and hit the cold tiles.

"Around nine PM."

After using the bathroom and changing, Blair followed Jim down a hallway. He remembered nothing of their arrival earlier that day. He had been too busy dealing with keeping his brains from spilling out his ears. The pressure had been so intense, so severe, Blair was sure the gray matter had swollen to three times its normal size.

High ceilings, arched entrances from room to room, heaving wooden furnishings and doors, even the windows were set in deep casements; the place was a fortress.

They arrived in a large kitchen. A circular, open fire pit on a pedestal occupied the center of the room. Above it, a hooded duct system made to look like earthen clay gave the feeling of old Mexico. Blair had seen similar authentic cooking systems in South American missions. The cabinetry looked handmade from heavy oak. The counter tops were hand painted tile. Hammered copper pots hung from a huge rake by a commercial-size gas range. The kitchen was the same size as Jim's living room and kitchen combined.

"Senor Sandburg, how are you?"

Blair tried to remember the man's name, recognizing the driver that had brought them out. "Fine, thank you."

Guillermo. That's right.

Another woman was standing, almost at attention, by the long trestle table. She looked old, her brown face a roadmap of wrinkles. One look at her eyes and Blair felt a rush of shyness swallow him from within. He dropped his gaze to the floor.

"I think Sandburg's ready for that soup, Senora Carmen," Jim said, pushing Blair towards the table.

"Si." The woman invited them to sit with a wave of her hand.

Blair took a seat on the wooden bench, his mind numb. Please, please – no more headaches. There was a smell in this room that made him think of warm bread and soft laps, of being held close while wrapped in blankets - no, not blankets; towels, big towels, because he was wet. He'd just gotten out of a warm bath.

Blair's eyes went to the deep sink against the far wall, then to the large rocker in the corner.

Oh, God.

"Sandburg?" Jim sounded worried.

"Jim," Blair murmured, his vision suddenly blurry. "C-can we eat in our rooms?"

Without asking for a reason, Jim gripped Blair's elbow and he was propelled out of the seat, away from the kitchen and its smells. Once back in his room, Blair shuddered and dropped into a chair.

"I'm calling the doctor," Jim said calmly, kneeling next to Blair and looking unhappy. "You're going to the hospital."

Blair snagged Jim's shirt before the older man could rise. "W-wait. It's not that." He took a deep breath, ignoring the hitch. He needed to get back in control. "I'm fine, man. No pain, I swear."

"So what's wrong?" Jim demanded, squatting back down to look deeply into Blair's eyes. "You're pale, like you're in shock or something."

An abrupt escape of laughter from Blair's mouth startled both of them. Blair grabbed the chair's padded armrests and closed his eyes. He had to get a grip.

"Sandburg? You'd better start making sense here; because I'm thinking it's ambulance time."

Okay, deep breath… and hold. There.

Blair opened his eyes and forced himself to relax. Jim's image was clear now.

"I'm remembering, Jim," Blair explained quietly, stopping to swallow, his throat suddenly dry. "Th-they used to bathe me in that sink. There was a fire in the fireplace… in the middle of the room. I remember the wood would pop and snap as it burned."

Jim was getting blurry again. Blair closed his eyes as he continued. "She'd wrap me in a big towel and hold me on her lap. We'd sit in the rocker, only it was closer to the fire so we could feel its heat."

Now that he'd said it, now that the words were out, the truth was easier to handle. It still freaked him out, but it was just a memory. It couldn't hurt him.

"No headache?" Jim asked.

Blair shook his head.

"That's good," Jim said. A sturdy looking footstool sat against the wall. Jim pulled it close and sat facing Blair. "I've been giving your headaches some thought, Chief. That book," he pointed to the book on the low table next to Blair's chair, "is an interesting study on the human brain. I found it in the library. It talks about repressed memories."

Blair looked at the book. Yeah, he'd seen similar textbooks at Rainier. But that textbook looked old. "Jim, recent studies are proving repressed memories can't be trusted. Besides, most repressed memories are of trauma. I'm not remembering trauma, man. This is normal stuff."

Jim held up a hand. "Let me finish." Clasping his hands together carefully, Jim looked ready to deliver bad news. "When I was involved in… when I was in the army, we studied ways to repress even normal memories using drugs and hypnotism. They'd plant suggestions that would prevent the memory from surfacing. One thing that worked well was to cause headaches."

"I don't get it, Jim. Why would Livingston give me …" Realization slapped Blair in the face. "Shit! You think Naomi did that to me? No WAY!"

"Sandburg, calm down," Jim ordered.

Snapping his jaw shut, Blair crossed his arms purposefully across his chest and leaned back into the chair's cushion. Jim was absolutely out of his GI-Joe-mind if he thought, for one second, Blair was going to buy any of this shit.

Jim was talking, unaware of the mental ranting inside Blair's head.

"Not the drugs. I doubt she'd use pharmaceuticals. But what about all that meditation she taught you, and the herbs she used? You said yourself that some of the medicine in plants could be just as powerful as chemicals. You were only three-years-old. It wouldn't take much to repress some of those early memories, give you a posthypnotic suggestion that would trigger a migraine if you started to remember."

"She wouldn't do that, man, not to me," Blair said with feeling. "This is crazy."

Holding up a hand to prevent any further comment, Jim sighed. "Let's just move on, okay? My point is this: now that you know what's happening, you should be able to prevent the migraines. I think this happens each time you first see the trigger. You've already reacted to the land and the house, so that shouldn't cause anymore. If you should see something else that surprises you, try and remember this, okay?"

A light knock on the door interrupted Blair's answer. Soup had arrived; carried on a large tray by Guillermo and set down on a collapsible stand he had draped over one arm. After bidding them goodnight, he left.

A pot of fragrant soup, a covered dish of hot tortillas, assorted sliced cheese and fresh fruit looked inviting and Blair's mouth began to water. He didn't want to continue this conversation anymore. He didn't want to fight with Jim.

"Can we just eat?" Blair asked in his best neutral voice. "I hear what you're saying, man. I know you're trying to help."

Jim stood, repositioned the footstool back and moved the tray to place it between them. "Bottom line, Sandburg? If those migraines don't stop, we're making appointments for some tests."

Now that was incentive to give Jim's theory serious consideration. But he still refused to believe Naomi gave him drugs as a child. Helping himself to some cheese while Jim ladled out the soup, Blair nodded. "I'm so for the 'no more migraines' part, Jim."

-----------

Blair's first waking thought was that Jim got the first shower. Then he remembered they weren't at the loft. With a huge yawn, he stretched. The bed was nice. The mattress had a pillowy soft top, yet still firm underneath. Blair wondered if he'd grow too spoiled to go back to his small futon.

Jim hadn't said much after dinner last night. He'd gone to his room after telling him to call out if he needed anything. Blair knew Jim would hear him if he did call. The man could wake from a sound sleep at the drop of a hat. Like that time that reporter and camera man had tried sneaking up on them at the loft. Nothing could sneak under Jim's radar.

Surprised he had managed to sleep after the long nap yesterday afternoon, Blair climbed off the bed and opened the curtains over the room's single window.

New Mexico was… beautiful.

The rising sun threw a rose petal shade of red across the sky that kissed the bottom of the high clouds, showing their soft bumps and dimples. The land stretched out before him, rising up into sloping foothills, then distant, higher hills with spots of dark greens marking the scraggly beginning of a stand of small pine trees.

Blair could see for miles. It reminded him of how it felt to stand and look out across the ocean or to look up at night and see billions of stars. He wanted to explore, learn the names of all those low shrubs and bits of color growing close to the ground. The desert was in bloom.

"Wow," he whispered, turning as someone knocked on his door. "Come in."

"Morning, Sandburg," Jim said, entering wearing Levis, lightweight hiking boots and a long sleeve T-shirt. His Jag's cap stuck out of his back pocket. "Plenty of hot water. Hurry up, I'm starving."

After Blair showered and dressed in worn jeans and a long sleeve button up shirt over a lighter polo shirt, they followed their noses. Smells of sausage and biscuits drifted from the back of the large house.

"How'd you sleep?" Jim asked casually as they walked through the hallways.

"Good," Blair replied truthfully. "No problems."

"We're eating in the dining room this morning. I talked to Guillermo and we can pretty much do what we want today," Jim said, turning Blair as they reached a section of the hallway that split in three directions. "This way."

Leave it to Jim to already have a road map in his head. "This house has its own zip code, Jim," Blair half-joked, half-complained. "How long have you been awake, anyway?"

"Couple hours." Jim pointed out the last turn and Blair found himself in a sunny room with a long table already set with place settings and hot coffee. The far wall was a series of high glass doors that opened up to a lush garden complete with a fountain. "I needed to burn off some calories. Ran a few miles. I found the senator's weight room and had a good work out."

Blair was still mesmerized by the garden. He nodded. "That's nice." Walking to the doors, he turned the handle. Rich smells of spices and moist dirt met his nose. Droplets of water splashing delighted him. Four adobe walls bordered the open greenbelt, the sky above revealed clouds and the blueness beyond. The garden appeared to be in the center of the large house.

He felt Jim standing close. "You can see this part of the house is the original homestead," Jim explained, pointing to where the wall looked like real clay. "The rest was added on later."

"Wow, this is really, really nice," Blair said turning to look at Jim. "Isn't it?"

"Yeah, it's okay." Jim wasn't smiling though. He looked down at Blair. "Any of this giving you problems? Any pain?"

"No, it's cool, man." Blair turned away, his stomach telling him to quit goofing off and feed it. "Let's eat."

Guillermo entered, carrying steamy plates filled with scrambled eggs topped with salsa and sausage. Carmen followed with a large platter of biscuits. She gave Blair a warm smile.

Blair bolted from his chair at the table. "Excuse me, Senora. I just wanted to apologize for last night."

Her smile broadened as she set the platter down. As she spoke, her voice soft and gentle, Blair felt a rush of nostalgia hit him. God, he knew this voice! He caught a few Spanish words that he understood: precious, small joy, welcome home. When she moved close to embrace him, Blair leaned in and returned her hug.

"Thank you," he whispered into her wrinkled neck. She was gone before Blair's vision cleared enough to realize he was alone with Jim again. In a daze, he plopped back down in his seat. "Oh, man…" he croaked, pausing to clear his throat.

Thankfully, Jim gave him a few moments. Filling his plate and breaking open a hot biscuit, he searched through a small assortment of homemade jams before digging a spoon into the strawberry. Blair wiped his eyes, waiting for his hands to stop shaking before reaching for the eggs. This was getting ridiculous.

"What do you feel like doing today?" Jim asked before stuffing half a biscuit into his mouth. A look of pure bliss on his face made Blair chuckle.

"How about exploring? Can we go riding?" Blair asked. The eggs tasted great. He even sampled the sausage; tasty, but too much grease. Jim was fast, before Blair could even voice the offer; his links were speared and transferred to the older man's plate.

"I saw some horses in the paddocks. I'll ask if we can take a ride this morning," Jim promised.

-----------------

"These horses are very good," Guillermo explained as he led two geldings to the fence and looped the leads through a ring. He pointed to the north. "All this belongs to your father. The horses, they know the trails. You cannot get lost." Guillermo eyed the distant horizon knowingly. "We will have a storm later. The morning will not have any rain."

Jim ran a hand down the flank of the nearest horse. Both animals looked fit, eyes alert but not too wild looking. The taller one, a dark brown three year-old, tossed his head impatiently, ready to go.

Just as Jim opened his mouth to ask Blair if he had any experience on horses, the younger man ran a friendly hand down the shorter horse with a light brown coat and a white, speckled rear. The horse gave Blair a curious sniff, which Blair used as an opportunity to gently blow into the animal's large nostrils, then hold perfectly still as the horse sniffed his face. The animal abruptly rubbed the side of his long jaw against Blair's flannelled shoulder. With a chuckle, Blair patted his neck and moved down to the saddle. He carefully lifted the stirrup and checked the cinch carefully for slack.

Okay, looked like Blair knew his way around horses.

Ten minutes later, they rode side-by-side, following a double dirt track into the foothills. High rock walls, canyons and large rock formations lay ahead of them. Exploring them promised to make a very enjoyable morning. Jim shifted in his saddle. He knew how to ride both Western and English style, but these Western saddles seemed too large and clunky.

"You okay, Jim?"

"Yeah, how about you?"

"Okay, I wish we could ride bareback, though. I always get sores on these saddles." Blair shifted forward to peer at his mount's head. "And bits. Yuck, man."

Jim made a note not to complain about the saddle. The thought of riding bareback made him shudder.

It was just over three hours before they returned to the barn. The sky to the northwest was building with dark clouds. Blair had chatted happily the entire time. Trips in Southern America on horses or mules across rugged mountains for weeks on end, expeditions with college classes in jungles, long summers working as a volunteer on digs in Mexico, Jim heard them all.

He was still chatting as they dismounted and led the horses to the deep trough to enjoy a drink.

"I did turn down the hunters, though," Blair said with a grim look. "I refused to take part in that, man. Hunting for food is one thing, but just to fill a room with mounted heads? No way." He quickly worked the wide strap out of the buckle and lifted the saddle off his horse and setting it on the top rail of the fence.

Jim placed his saddle next to it. "I don't see Guillermo anywhere."

"We can take care of them, Jim," Blair said pointing to the large barn. "Let's take them out of the sun and rub them down. We'll find them some grain and a stall or something."

They led their horses into the cool shade of the barn. A spacious tack room opened up on the right. After tying his horse to a wall-mounted ring, Blair investigated the equipment and returned with two metal curry brushes and a bucket of grain.

"Okay, Hoss," Jim said, "Confession time. I don't have a clue how to do this."

"It's easy, man," Blair replied. "I'll show you."

And it was. Jim enjoyed combing his horse, appreciating the animal's strength and beauty. During the ride, they had enjoyed a few short canters, but mostly kept the animals at a leisurely walk as they explored. The animals seemed to enjoy the attention as they munched grain from a half barrel mounted on a wall.

"That should do it," Blair said, glancing over his shoulder. "I wonder if we can use a couple of these stalls."

"I'll check." Jim set the comb on a shelf built from rough wood and strode down the wide corridor, lined on each side with stalls. Each had a sturdy looking door with heavy iron bars as well as a matching window to allow good air circulation. Looking between the bars, Jim could see the first few stalls were currently being used to store straw, hay and burlap bags filled with grain. When he reached an empty stall, he lifted the iron latch and opened it.

And fell back as the stench hit his nose. "Shit!"

"Jim?" Blair was at his side within a few seconds. "What? You having a reaction?"

Breathing through his mouth, Jim shook his head. He closed the door quickly and stepped back. "Damn…"

Blair buzzed and flitted at his side seeming ready to burst with concern. "Talk to me, man. What is it?"

"They've been keeping more than horses in there, Sandburg," Jim said, wiping his eyes. He hadn't smelled such a concentration of human feces and urine since the army, when he'd been part of a rescue mission. He approached the door and examined the latch, an inkling of dread starting to grow in his chest.

Sure enough, Jim could see the faint scratches on the metal where a padlock had hung.

"Senors, I did not see you return!" Guillermo called out cheerfully as he jogged into the barn. "And you have taken care of your horses. What a happy surprise. I must thank you!"

"Not a word, Chief," Jim whispered before raising his voice to answer. "No problem, we were just looking for some stalls to put them in."

"Ah, gracias! But, allow me. Why don't you go into the house and clean up? Carmen has a special lunch for you both. You will enjoy very much." Guillermo swung an arm towards the open doorway and the house beyond. "Please, I will take care of the horses."

---------

After washing up, they enjoyed a light lunch of cold seafood salad and ice tea in the same room they had eaten breakfast.

Jim pushed away from the table and regarded Blair with a critical eye. "How's your head?"

Blair proudly resisted rolling his eyes. "Fine, thanks for asking." Judging by Jim's reaction, the sarcasm wasn't lost on him. Blair would have to work on that some more.

"I think you should take a nap," Jim announced with a frown.

"Excuse me?"

"You know, genius. A nap? As in… rest?" Jim stood, jerking his thumb toward the doorway leading to the hallway that would take them back to their rooms.

Guillermo picked that moment to enter through heavy swinging doors and began to collect the dirty dishes. "How was your lunches, senors?"

"Very good, thank you," Jim said to the man. "Senor Sandburg and I will be resting in our rooms for a few hours."

"Ah, very wise! In my country, this is a good thing."

"Jim!" Blair was having a hard time getting used to 'bossy-Jim'. He couldn't believe he was being told to take a nap. He had never been ordered to sleep in the middle of the day before, even Naomi had known better. Besides, Blair wanted to do some more exploring, or maybe drive into town.

One look at Jim's face, however, halted his response. Captain Ellison of the US Army calmly returned his gaze. The ex-ranger towered over Blair with the determination of years and years of covert operations backing him up.

Even if Blair hadn't been a genius, he knew when to fight and when to surrender.

Looked like he was taking a nap.

"Would you please thank Senora…" Blair realized he didn't know Carmen's last name, and he didn't feel like he should be referring to her by her first.

"Senora Lopez," Guillermo said. "Si, I will tell her you enjoyed the meal."

Blair waited until they reached his room before cutting loose. He smacked the middle of Jim's chest and all but stamped his foot as he vented.

"What the hell was that all about, Jim?" he said in a harsh whisper. "I'll thank you to remember that, while I may not be twenty-six, I am still an adult! I know when I need a nap and when I don't." Pacing back and forth on the rug next to his large bed, his hands flying through the air as he spoke, he ended the rant with clenched fists on his hips and turning to stare hard at his friend. "And stop smirking at me!"

"Sorry, sorry," Jim said quickly, not quite managing to pull a straight face. "I have a plan. We're going to look around after everyone's gone to sleep tonight. We should catch a few hours sleep."

"Oh." Blair dropped his arms, feeling slightly foolish. "Well, if you're going to rest, too, I guess I can lie down for a while. What are we going to look at? The barn again?"

Jim nodded, glancing quickly at the closed door behind him. "I may be reading too much into this, but I believe a thorough look might enlighten us. And I don't fancy an audience while we snoop."

A thousand tiny ants marched up and down Blair's back and over his scalp. He sucked in his breath. "What? You mean we're being spied on? Why didn't you say something before?"

Jim shook his head. "Sandburg, it's okay. I'd expect some security. You're the son of a United States Senator. This is his home. Remember the armed guard back on the road? He has men patrolling the perimeter and a few lookout towers out in the desert. He'd be a fool not to be cautious."

Still, Blair didn't like it. Pushing back his hair, he couldn't help but glance over at the window. Men were watching them? Like they were in a prison or something?

Jim continued softly. "Look at it from his point of view. You were kidnapped out of this very house. He's bound to be paranoid."

Swallowing hard, Blair tried to relax. "Yeah, you've got a point."

"Listen, I'm sorry I even brought it up, Chief," Jim said, deep creases appearing on his forehead. "Would you try and get a few hours of sleep?"

Jim really did look sorry, so Blair managed to summon up a calm look and nodded. "I'll be ready."

After Jim left, Blair slowly changed for bed. Before closing the heavy drapes, he took a few moments to look up into the foothills with wonder. The clouds were getting closer and darker; a storm was heading their way for sure. He hadn't seen any signs of guards on that horseback trip. Jim must have used his sentinel ability to know they were out there.

Question was, if they were there to keep him safe, why did Blair feel afraid?

-------------

It was three-twenty in the afternoon when Jim woke. He'd slept on top of his blankets. Even though he had changed clothes after the ride, he could still smell the horses on his skin. He decided to take a shower before waking Blair.

Afterwards, feeling clean and dressed in comfortable Dockers and a polo shirt, Jim knocked lightly on Blair's door. When he didn't hear an answer, he peeked in.

Blair was sound asleep, burrowed into the bedding like a dormouse in its nest. Tufts of brown hair stuck out. Two of the pillows rested on the rug. Jim could see the outline of the third under the covers. Blair's rhythmic breathing told Jim he was sleeping deeply.

Maybe too deep to be woken. Jim dropped his chin and gave the idea some thought. The extra sleep wouldn't hurt him, but he'd probably have another fit. Blair did not enjoy being left out.

Decision made, Jim entered the room and shook the rolled up body under the covers. "Up and at 'em, Sandburg."

"Geoophum…"

"Yeah, whatever," Jim said with a smirk. He shook the lump again. "You going to sleep all day?"

A wild mane of brown hair appeared with one blue eye peering through a small gap. "It's time?"

"Geeze, you in there?" Jim asked, grinning widely. "Yeah, it's time."

"'Kay, I'm up, I'm up." Blair yawned widely. "I'll be just a second."

Ten minutes later, Blair tapped the doorframe and leaned into Jim's room. "Hey."

"Hey, sleep well?" Jim set a book on military history that he had borrowed from the senator's library aside.

"Yep, slept great," Blair admitted. "You think Livingston would let us look around his house?"

"He said we'd have free run of the place," Jim reasoned. "We can ask Guillermo."

They found the man in a small office-like study near the kitchen. He stood as they entered and held a phone handset out. "Senor Sandburg, I was just coming to find you. The senator is wishing to speak with you."

With eyes wide, Blair accepted the phone, giving Jim a nervous looking glance. "Hello?"

Jim pointed toward the hallway, eyebrows raised in question. Blair shook his head and pointed to the floor, so Jim leaned against the corner of an old wooden desk and waited. Blair was nodding his head as he listened.

"No, it's okay. I understand. We've been riding horses and resting… yeah, it's been nice. Oh, he did? It was no big deal. I just had a headache… yeah, like the one in your office. I know… I know, but it hasn't been back, so I think I'm okay. Sure… no, he was fine. If I have another one, I'll make an appointment."

Blair gave Jim an exasperated look, causing Jim to smile. The senator was certainly acting like a parent.

"Actually, I do. Is it okay if Jim and I look around the house? I'm kind of interested in it. It looks really old. Yeah... okay, we will. Thanks, and I'll see you this weekend. Bye." Blair handed the phone back to Guillermo. "Thanks."

"You're welcome." Guillermo set the handset back. "You wish to look around?"

Blair nodded. "We won't touch anything, but I'm interested."

"Certainly, certainly. It is understandable. You were born here. This is your home. Go anywhere you want. I will answer any of your questions. You can find me here." He pointed at the old desk with its scarred surface.

"Thank you." Blair headed for the hallway. Once outside he turned to Jim. "The senator gave me permission to go anywhere, Jim. He said even the outbuildings."

"Perfect," Jim answered softly. "Let's look around the main house first."

Letting Blair take the lead, Jim followed behind as they explored. The house was well built. With thick adobe walls and a flat roof, it was hard to see where the old merged with the new. Careful consideration had been taken to blend the additions together. The center garden could be seen from various windows and a few glass doors as they moved around the large home. Occasionally, Blair would find a hallway that led away from the center of the main house to smaller rooms that appeared to be used for storage. On one such side trip they found Carmen Lopez's room, set up like a studio apartment. Another looked like it might belong to Guillermo. Off one side, a covered walkway led to a swimming pool, complete with an enclosed hot tub.

There were formal parts of the house, probably used for entertaining. In one such room, with clusters of furniture to give guests a place to sit and chat, Jim's eye was drawn to a large oil painting of a couple with a child. He recognized the senator immediately; the woman with him was probably his deceased wife. She was pretty, beautiful in fact, with long blond hair and fair skin. She held a young child in her lap, Blair. He looked about a year old.

"Chief." Jim pointed up to the picture.

Blair's mouth parted as if to utter an exclamation, but nothing came out. He stared at the painting for a full minute, his eyes traveling over the entire framed picture, but constantly returning to the woman's face.

Finally, he spoke. "She's beautiful."

"Yeah."

Turning to look at Jim with puzzlement, Blair shook his head in small motions. "But, shouldn't I remember her? I remember Carmen giving me a bath. Shouldn't I remember her?"

"I don't know what to tell you. The mind is funny sometimes," Jim said carefully. Would this give Blair a headache? He watched his partner carefully, trying not to look like he was hovering.

Blair's attention returned to the painting a few seconds, then he moved on.

They left the room. After a few turns, Jim spoke. "We're in the old part again."

"How can you tell, man?" Blair asked, looking carefully at the walls, even reaching out to lightly touch. "It looks the same."

"It's not really the look," Jim answered. "I can smell the real adobe here, not the fake stuff. And the temperature's always just a little cooler."

"Cool." Blair's eyes twinkled.

For the first time in weeks, Jim recognized the look his partner got when the mental cogs were turning. There were tests in Jim's future. Jim bit back a grin, offering a menacing glare instead. The result was less than heartening as Blair returned a totally fearless chuckle before he headed off again.

Damn, Jim was losing his touch.

They didn't have much left to explore, Jim realized as they walked down a dim hallway. None of the southwestern art or decorations adorned the walls. Pausing at a door, Blair tried the handle. The door opened to reveal a child's nursery.

The walls were pale blue. Someone had painted colorful flowers, a rainbow, and white fluffy clouds in a cheerful mural. A thick layer of dust covered a low dresser, wooden toy box, adult-sized rocking chair and a smaller, child-size chair. In the far corner, a hand carved bed with a bare, dusty mattress sat like a forgotten relic.

"Oh… my…God…" Blair murmured under his breath, frozen in the doorway as if rooted to the floor.

Was this going to send Blair into another migraine?

"Remember, Sandburg. If any pain starts, concentrate on taking control of your thoughts. Don't let yourself get lost in the memory." Jim had no idea if any of that actually made any sense. It had been years since he had read that report on the army's attempt to repress memories.

Blair nodded, shaking off his stunned look and moving toward the dresser. Small picture frames and odds and ends were scattered across its surface. Blair picked up a frame made from Popsicle sticks glued together at the ends and studied the picture. "I remember making this," he whispered, and then handed it back to Jim, his attention already moving on to the next item, a small wooden box.

Jim took the frame. He and Steven had made similar frames back in the Cub Scouts. Within the frame was a color picture of a grinning Blair, short corkscrew hair and a wide gap between the two small front baby teeth. Jim smiled. Blair looked as much a handful at two-years-old as he was today. The photo had been snapped while Blair stood out in the sunshine. A woman's pair of tan, bare legs could be seen behind him. Who was she? The skin looked too brown to be Blair's mother, the woman in the painting. Was it a younger Carmen? No, the legs looked even younger than Carmen would have been at that time. Maybe the senator had hired a nanny for Blair.

The small box held a few small stones, the kind a kid might pick up and keep for no reason other than they looked pretty. A plastic troll doll with long green hair stood next to the box. Blair picked him up and absentmindedly stroked his hair before setting him back down, almost reverently before wandering away to look around the rest of the room. Squatting down, he lifted the lid to the toy box and started pulling out Tonka trucks, a kid's holster and plastic gun, a couple of plastic horses and a child's microscope. It was bigger than a normal microscope with the words 'I want to be a scientist' printed on the side.

He stood, holding the microscope in his hand, his face pensive as he turned it over. "I remember this. I wanted a real one so much." A grimace of pain stopped him from continuing.

"Sandburg, relax. Don't push it," Jim warned. Maybe they should leave.

Blair closed his eyes and took a deep breath. No other signs of pain appeared. Exhaling loudly, Blair squared his shoulders and returned all the toys to the box. "I'm hungry. Let's see if dinner is ready."

"No pain?" Jim asked.

"Nope."

"Good," Jim told him. "Dinner is ready, smells like cornbread and BBQ chicken, with potato salad."

"Lead on, Marco Polo," Blair told him. "I'd need a map to find my way back. This place is huge."

Jim knew it was an act. Blair was deeply affected by the discovery of his old room. But he wasn't letting it sidetrack their plans. Jim was proud.

------------------

Blair woke in terror.

Then remembered. The large hand lightly covering his mouth belonged to Jim.

"Quietly," Jim whispered, his lips close to Blair's ear. "Dress in dark clothes. I'll be back in a few minutes."

When Jim slipped back in, Blair was ready. It was like a being in an old spy movie as they slipped through the silent house and exited through a side door. Jim must have a pretty good map of the place in his head, Blair realized. Even with all the exploring they had done earlier, the younger man could only manage the front door, his room and the dining room.

The wind swirled, knifing through his clothes as they headed toward the barn and Blair wished he'd dressed warmer. The storm had finally arrived. Jim kept them on a course that skirted the large pools of light cast by the overhead vapor lights. Once inside the barn, Blair had to latch onto Jim's belt. The interior was black and silent like a tomb. No sounds of horses greeted them.

"Okay, I want to start here, where I first got that smell," Jim whispered.

Blair waited, listening to the hinges creak as Jim opened the door. A sour odor met his nose. He hadn't noticed it before. It was similar to a public restroom on a hot day, long overdue for a cleaning.

Jim gently removed Blair's hand from the back of his belt and patted his arm. "Stay put, I'm going to look around."

Blair nodded. He could do that. Tentatively reaching out and touching the rough boards of the stall, he stood quietly, listening to the faint crunching of Jim's feet in the straw. Sounds of rain hit the barn's roof. The cop searched in silence. After a few moments, Jim's hand was on his arm and he was pulled out of the stall. Blair welcomed the relatively fresh air.

"I want to check the others," Jim told him.

By now, Blair could pick up slight shapes in the darkness. Just a hint of night vision was working for him now. Still not enough to walk around without tripping, at least he could watch Jim's shadowy form as he searched. They went into several stalls. Jim would crouch down as if searching the floors. In one stall, he picked up something that clanked like heavy metal. After what seemed like hours of searching, Jim finally called an end to their excursion.

"That's good enough for now," he whispered. Taking Blair's hand, Jim guided it back to his own belt, playing the part of the seeing-eye dog. "Let's head back to our rooms."

Rain fell with a vengeance, soaking the ground. By the time the two reached the side door, they were thoroughly soaked. Blair shivered as he leaned down to remove his tennis shoes and tiptoed back into Jim's room. A small table lamp clicked on, causing Blair to blink rapidly.

"First light, we need to call Simon," Jim said grimly, peeling off his wet shirt.

"What did you find?" Blair asked.

Jim looked pissed as he pulled on a dry T-shirt and tossed a clean sweatshirt to Blair to wear. "People have been kept in those stalls. I found a set of old leg irons buried in the straw."

"Why?" None of this made any sense. Why would Guillermo keep people in the barn? Blair was out of his own wet shirts now, pulling the borrowed top over his head.

"I have a theory," Jim said gravely. He pulled his cell phone out from his coat pocket. "Question is - does the senator know what's going on while he's away?" He glanced at his watch, then checked the display screen on the small phone. "Damn, no signal. We must be blocked by the hills. Okay, we might as well get some sleep. The sun will be up in a few hours anyway. We'll borrow a car and drive into the city in the morning."

"Jim! I'm not going to be able to go back to sleep now. Tell me what you're thinking!"

"Sandburg, think about it. We're close to the Mexican border. Why else would you hide groups of people?" Jim asked.

"Illegals?" Blair blurted out. "But that doesn't make any sense, man. He's a US Senator. He wouldn't risk that to help people enter the country illegally."

"Maybe he doesn't know," Jim reasoned. "Now go back to sleep, we'll get up early and tell Guillermo we need a vehicle to take into Carlsbad."

Back in his room, Blair waited for his bed to warm up. Damn, that rain had been cold. They may be in the desert, but the spring nights were chilly. Plus the fact the air conditioning was always on. Jim's soft sweatshirt along with a dry pair of his own sweatpants made for warm pajamas. He'd done his best to towel his hair dry before laying down. Curling into a ball, he tried to relax. He still couldn't get over Jim's theory. But it made sense. Plus the senator was away in DC for long periods of time. Who knew what happened out here?

Blair opened his eyes to find morning had arrived. A dim light filtered in around his drapes, bathing the room in soft shadows. Blair yawned and rolled over, not wanting to leave the bed. It was warm and the room was not.

Holy crap! They needed to drive into town. Jim had wanted to leave at first light.

Tossing back the covers, Blair climbed down, glancing at the small digital alarm clock on the bedside stand.

"Shit!"

It was after eight. They'd slept in.

Quickly pulling on a pair of sweats, Blair left his room and knocked on Jim's door. Was he sick? There was no way Jim would sleep in. He didn't think the older man even knew how.

"Jim?" When he received no answer, Blair opened the door. The empty bed was unmade.

Blair checked the bathroom across the hall. No Jim.

Back in his room, Blair hastily pulled on a thick pair of socks. His tennis shoes were still wet. He didn't feel like dealing with hiking boots, so he jogged towards the dining room in stocking feet.

"Jim?" Blair looked into the empty dining room.

He found the kitchen. Carmen was stirring a large pot on the stove.

"Buenos dias, mi hijo."

"Good morning, Senora Lopez," Blair answered quickly. "Have you seen Jim? Ah, Senor Ellison?"

She shook her head slowly.

"Where's Guillermo?" Blair asked, feeling panic seep into his heart like an enemy.

Guillermo entered, wearing an oiled canvas raincoat. "Good morning! You slept well?"

Blair didn't waste time with pleasantries. "Where's Jim? He's not in his room. I can't find him."

"Ah." Guillermo shrugged out of his coat and hung it on a peg by the door. "Senor Ellison told me to tell you he had to drive into town very early this morning. He will call you when he can."

The absurdity of that statement was like a cold slap to the face and Blair physically took a step back from the very concept. "No, he wouldn't do that, man."

"Senor?" Guillermo looked alarmed. "Are you feeling well? Do you need a doctor?"

Blair took another step back. "Jim wouldn't leave me."

Just the look on the other man's face told Blair he was heading toward dangerous water. Taking a deep breath, Blair mentally changed directions. Something was wrong, seriously wrong. But being freaked out wasn't going to make things better. He back-peddled toward the hallway.

"I… forgot my, ah, shoes." He fled down the hallway, his mind searching for a plan.

Back in his room, he grabbed his hiking boots and put them on. There was that phone in Guillermo's office. Maybe he could sneak down there and call out. But first Blair wanted to look in Jim's room, look for a clue to explain what had really happened to his friend.

Making sure the hallway was clear; he ducked into Jim's room. Jim's bed had the covers flipped back. That alone told Blair something was amiss. Jim always made his bed, always. All of Jim's clothes were still in the dresser. His wet shoes were under the bed, but his hiking boots were missing. Blair bit his lip in thought.

Had Jim brought his gun to New Mexico? He didn't remember seeing it. The airport security would have found it, right? Or do the police just get to take them onboard? Blair didn't know.

Time to find the phone.

With a few false turns, he found the office. It was empty. Feeling his heart pounding in his chest, he picked up the handset.

Nothing. No sound, no dial tone - nothing. Blair made sure the device was plugged into the wall; it was. Why didn't it work? Did the storm take out the phone lines?

Screw this. He'd steal a car if he had to. He needed to reach the police, tell them Jim was gone. He'd bring back help and they'd tear the ranch apart if they had to.

The rain had slacked off from last night. The puddles made the trek a challenge, like threading through a maze. Without being challenged, Blair reached the building Guillermo had parked the Lexus in. The side door was unlocked and he found himself in an enormous open bay. The Lexus was parked inside, along with a flatbed Ford truck, a dark green Hummer and a blue Chevy Suburban. Quickly checking the vehicles, he found them all without keys.

Okay, time for a little hot wiring, but which car? Blair headed for the Chevy. With his head down under the dash, he never heard the door open and the two armed men enter. He was working on stripping the second wire when one of the men tapped his leg. Blair jumped, hitting his head on the hard steering wheel before twisting to see the two new arrivals. Both men were armed with rifles. Looking at him in a no-nonsense manner, one pointed to the doorway. Their Spanish was fast but Blair picked up enough to understand they wanted him back inside the main house.

"Listen, guys. I really need to go into town," Blair explained, careful to keep his hands in sight as he backed out of the Chevy.

"Senor Sandburg." Guillermo stood in the doorway, a frown on his face.

"Guillermo! Tell these guys to put away the guns, man!" Blair demanded.

"Please come back into the house."

Pushing his hair back from his face, Blair considered his options. Nobody was listening to him. They hadn't come out and stated he was a prisoner, but it was obvious to anyone with half a brain that he was. Blair slowly walked toward Guillermo. "I want to leave, Guillermo."

"You are ill. I have called the doctor and the senator," Guillermo told him patiently, scolding him like a misbehaving child.

"I'm not sick. I just want to leave," Blair answered, keeping his voice steady. The men with guns were following. Would they really shoot him?

Gesturing for Blair to go ahead, Guillermo waited till he had gone past. The rain had started up again. Blair could see the comforting figure of Carmen watching from the doorway off the kitchen, but doubted the woman could help him.

Guillermo's actions were the convincing factor in Blair's mind. Somehow last night's little trip had been discovered. Jim was in danger. Blair had to get help, even if all he could manage was running to a neighboring ranch. It was worth the risk. Besides, there was no way the senator would let these guys shoot his only son.

He waited until they were halfway to the house before making his move. He'd try the same stunt that had worked with the FBI Agents back in Cascade. Slowing until Guillermo was close, Blair threw himself backwards, knocking Guillermo back into the two gunmen. Not looking to see how much damage he'd caused, he ran.

Clearing a low stone wall, he ducked behind an adobe shed and ran for a distant pasture holding several horses. If he could reach one, he had a chance. Shouts spurred him on and he threw everything he had into running. The hiking boots slowed him down. He would have made better time if he'd put on the tennis shoes; even wet, they would have helped. Before he could reach the fence to the pasture, an olive green ATV roared into view and cut him off. Blair changed directions, running for the distant foothills. He was breathing hard now. No one was shouting anymore, but no one fired at him either.

A second ATV appeared and Blair veered off again. Shit! He was running back toward Guillermo and his goons. He wasn't going to make it.

Before he could change directions again, the first ATV roared by him, within mere inches and Blair stumbled to get out of its path. The ground was slick from rain. A sharp, stabbing pain ripped through his left knee as he fell. The rider was off the vehicle and had him pinned into the dirt before he could blink.

These guys were good. In seconds, Blair's arms were pinned behind his back, his cheek pushed into the muddy desert floor.

"Senor Sandburg," Guillermo said, barely out of breath. "Why do you run? We only are worried about you."

"B-bullshit!" Blair shouted in frustration as he panted, tasting the mud work its way into his mouth. "I told you… I want to leave. Let me go!"

They lifted him to his feet easily. Guillermo shook his head. "We will wait for the senator. He is flying home. He is very worried."

Blair was coated with mud, from his hair to his boots. They escorted him back to the barn. His knee throbbed. The rain was falling hard enough now to finish the job of completely soaking him to his skin.

At the barn they began pulling off his clothes. Blair fought them, cursing and shouting. His fury drove the shivers away. A bright, warm furnace of anger burned in his gut, fueling his body to fight with everything he had.

Which is why, when the doctor arrived and followed the sounds of loud cursing, he saw a muddy Blair scratching, clawing, and snapping like an animal. Without inquiring, the medical expert drew a large syringe from his bag and prepared a shot.

Blair saw him too late.

"No! Listen to me! They took Jim! They won't let me GO!" Blair struggled madly as the doctor approached. Guillermo and his men shoved him up against the wall, face first. Their boots and knees kept him from kicking. Strong arms pinned his arms and shoulders.

"Easy, easy, Blair. I'm going to give you something to calm you down."

"Shit! Listen to me, damn it!" Blair shouted. "Don't! DON'T!"

The needle found its mark on the fleshy, upper part of Blair's right butt cheek. It burned as the man drove the plunger down. Blair threw back his head and screamed with frustration.

By the time they finished stripping him to his boxers and half-carried him into the kitchen, Blair could barely hold his head up. He caught a glimpse of Carmen standing by her stove, wiping tears from her eyes. Blair tried calling out for help, but the drug had found its way into his brain, scrambling his ability to talk. A low guttural moan escaped.

Bits and pieces of dialog between the doctor and Guillermo made it into Blair's mind.

"I need a … examine him, you … senator is on his way?"

"Si, he must be … cannot let … see him like this."

Blair was laid down. He could feel the rough weave of a coarse blanket on his back and shoulders. All strength had been robbed from him. Hands held him down effortlessly. Blair couldn't even keep his eyelids from closing.

Warm fingers gently pressed on his injured knee and he groaned. He could feel the beginning of unconsciousness creeping up. He wasn't going to last much longer. Just before the darkness took him, he heard one last comment.

"… clean him up…"

----------

The guard said something in Spanish, but Jim paid no attention. All his attention was focused on the sounds of Blair's attempted escape and subsequent capture. Whatever that damn doctor had given Blair was calming him down. Jim lay on pile of moldy straw, his wrists in iron cuffs behind his back, attached by a few links to an iron ring bolted to the wall. Rough cord tied his ankles together. Once a storage room of sorts, the outbuilding he was in had been turned into a very effective jail, complete with a decorative iron grate over the single window. It sat on the far edge of the hacienda compound, too far for anyone to hear him if he had called out.

Not even aware he was glaring at his single guard with murderous intent until the man shifted uncomfortably, Jim allowed a feral smile.

"I think I will kill you slowly," Jim said in a calm manner. "Perhaps use your own knife to cut out your tongue, so when I rip out your heart and stuff it into your mouth there will be room."

The guard, a nervous looking man about Blair's age, grew pale, his eyes wide. He understood enough English to realize what Jim was promising.

"Let me loose now and you can live," Jim continued.

Guillermo opened the heavy wooden door and entered. "Senor Ellison, your threats are empty. It is you that will be dead by the time the sun is gone today." He turned to the young man and jerked his chin toward the open door. A second later, another man entered. He was older with cold, dead eyes and a large potbelly. He spit at Jim's feet before settling into the chair, resting a sawed off shotgun in his lap.

Jim saved his breath.

The hours passed. Blair was sleeping now. Jim could easily hear the even breathing. After a bit, another vehicle drove up and he recognized the senator's voice as he asked about Blair and went into the large hacienda.

Jim's eyes narrowed in anger. The conversation between Livingston and Guillermo did not sound promising. Any doubt that the senator might be clueless about the illegal activity in his home disappeared.

He knew.

-------------------------

The door to Jim's jail opened. Two men followed Guillermo into the single room, the kid from before and an older man with a face scarred by chickenpox. Guillermo followed, pointing to Jim and they unlocked his chain from the ring. Lifting him roughly by the shoulders, they dragged him out into the rain and awkwardly lifted him into the back of a Chevy.

"Good-bye, Mister Cop. Say hello to El Diablo for me," Guillermo said and laughed.

Jim didn't bother answering. At least they didn't plan on killing him immediately. Guillermo had said by nightfall he would be dead. Jim judged it to be about noon. So they probably planned to drive him somewhere off site, maybe even out of state or, more likely, into Mexico. They slammed the rear door. Two of the guards, Pox Face and the kid, climbed into the front and they were off.

Jim bounced around, his back and shoulders taking a couple of painful knocks against the spare tire as the Chevy danced over potholes and rough spots in the road. Turning to brace his body with knees and shoulders, Jim worked on a plan. He knew the cuffs were metal, but if the hardware was anything like the set he had found in the barn, they belonged in a museum.

Jim fingered the rust covered links of the chain. One felt corroded. Could he manage to break it? Grimly, Jim tensed his back and arm muscles and began to pull.

-------------------

Disjointed dreams, fractured memories invaded Blair's mind. He was being bathed, next time he woke it was quiet and peaceful; yet impressions of fear and anxiety lingered. He knew enough to realize something very bad was happening.

His first truly conscious moment found him warm and comfortable. He was back in the large bed, under the down comforter. His body felt funny, any movement seemed hard to accomplish and he moaned in frustration.

"Shhh," a woman's voice told him gently.

"Mom," Blair whispered, turning toward the sound, unable to focus.

A soft hand stroked his hair back from his eyes. Blair sighed and relaxed into the pillow.

The next time he woke, his stomach was empty and complaining – loudly. Blair moved his arms carefully; glad to see a little cooperation. He felt as if he was waking up from surgery or something.

Shit. That doctor had given him a shot.

Jim!

Lifting his head just enough to look around the room, he saw he was back in his room. The door opened and Senator Livingston entered, moving quickly to stand by Blair's bed.

"How are you, son?"

Blair wanted to laugh. He was shitty. He was pissed. And he wanted to know about Jim. That's how he was. With careful determination, Blair forced himself to look calm and in control. After all, acting like a wild animal had earned him a shot in the butt.

"Senator, something's happened to Jim," Blair said, sounding somewhat froggy from too much sleep, but calm. "Your man? Guillermo? He chased me, with two other men. They had guns and they wouldn't let me leave. I can't find Jim. That doctor drugged me, he wouldn't listen to me." There, that sounded rational, a little angry maybe, but he had good reason.

"I spoke to Guillermo, Blair," the senator assured him gently. "He was worried about you. The rain had caused a lot of flashfloods. He was afraid you'd become injured. The desert can be very dangerous."

Blair pushed up from the pillow, leaning his shoulders against the headboard. This conversation wasn't going very well. "He's lying to you, it wasn't like that. I'm telling you, man, something is wrong. Make him tell you were Jim is."

The senator glanced over his shoulder. The doctor walked into the room. Blair slid further back, pressing into the carved wood. He glanced down at the bald man's hands; at least he wasn't carrying another syringe this time. Blair rushed to explain the rest.

"We found chains in the barn," Blair explained in a rushed voice. Damn, he was getting too excited. He forced himself to go slower. "We think Guillermo is helping illegal aliens into the country. He must have taken Jim."

The senator ran a weary hand through his thick hair. He turned to the man at the door. "Go get Guillermo."

Yes! Blair felt like crowing, he was finally getting somewhere.

When Guillermo came into the room, the senator turned angrily on the man. "You pendejo! You assured me everything was taken care of. He tells me they found a set of cuffs in the barn."

"Senor Livingston, there is no way anyone could have known," Guillermo pleaded, his hands opening wide for understanding. "One set of chains, that is all. Nothing else."

"At least tell me you followed my orders and took care of Ellison," Livingston demanded.

"Si, they will take him out into the desert. No one will find him," Guillermo assured his boss.

Blair's vision dimmed, the room tilted like a ship being tossed around in rough seas. He had to catch himself to keep from falling over. What was Livingston saying? He knew? He's known all along what was going on out here? He was the one responsible for Jim's disappearance?

"W-what did you say?" Blair whispered in shock. "What are you planning to do with Jim?"

Livingston turned back to Blair, his face relaxing into a sympathetic expression. "Blair, you don't have to worry about anything. You can just concentrate on getting better."

"Better?" Blair squeaked in surprise. "What do you mean better? Are you nuts? What the hell is happening around here?" Tossing back the bedding, he saw his knee was swollen and red. It didn't matter. He was leaving.

"Doctor, Blair's getting too excited," Livingston said, placing a firm hand on Blair's shoulder.

"Get your hands off me!" Blair exclaimed as he was pushed back. The doctor appeared over the senator's shoulder, hypo in hand. "No! Not again!"

They flipped him face down on the bed, hands holding his arms and legs still. His boxers were lowered and the sharp bite of the needle stung his other butt cheek.

Shit, he was going to end up a pincushion.

"Just something to keep you relaxed, Blair," the doctor's voice repeated again.

Blair ground his teeth in frustration, too pissed off to reply. He had screwed up big time; believing Livingston didn't know what was going on. What had he been thinking? His best chance would have been to play along and wait for a chance to escape. Now they knew about the chains. He had blurted out everything.

"Let's move the schedule up. How long before we get that paperwork signed by the judge?" Livingston asked.

"I'll call him today. He's already agreed the circumstances here are highly unusual. I should be able to convince him that your son is a danger to himself. As his only living parent, you'll have his power of attorney by the end of the week," the doctor replied.

Still pinned down, Blair curled his hands into fists. What were they saying? Power of Attorney? Was the senator having him committed or something?

"Will he want to see Blair?"

"Probably not, he should trust my diagnosis."

"Good, I want him ready in the morning. I'm moving him to the house in Guatemala."

The drug spread throughout his body like a water spot blurring words printed in fresh ink on paper. It was a good thing Blair had an empty stomach, suddenly he was very nauseous.

-------

It was hard to know for sure, but Jim thought one of the links was beginning to open up. His shoulders burned with fatigue. He'd had to stop several times due to the cramping in his upper arms and back.

He watched the scenery pass as he worked. They followed a faint road, barely two tracks in the dirt. Pox Face and The Kid were talking in Spanish. Jim had tuned them out after realizing they were having a lengthy discussion on who was the better driver. The kid wanted a turn at the wheel, but the older man wasn't ready to let him. Jim didn't blame him. The rain had turned the desert into a treacherous obstacle course with mud slides and creek beds filled with fast moving water. They had been driving parallel to one such creek for several minutes now. Pox Face hadn't liked any of the places the kid had wanted to try driving through.

Just as the kid had spotted another likely place to cross, the link attaching the metal cuffs broke. Jim checked the front of the Chevy. They weren't looking back. He carefully moved his hands forward, fighting to keep from moaning as pins and needles attacked his arms and shoulders. He cursed his numb fingers as he began to work at untying the rope from his ankles.

Pox Face had finally agreed to the river fording and the Chevy slowly drove into the stream. Water hit the front wheels with enough force to slide the large four-wheel-drive vehicle a few inches to the side.

Jim hurried to untie the knots. This was perfect timing. Both men were anxiously watching the river. All their concentration stayed on the brown muddy water that swirled around them, tickling the undercarriage of the vehicle.

Just as the kid cried out in alarm when the vehicle jolted sideways for several feet, Jim finished the last knot. Curling like a tight spring, he leapt across the back seat and enveloped Pox Face's head in both arms. Without hesitation he killed him with a deft move, breaking his neck. Each man carried serious firepower. They were taking him out into the desert to kill. It was neither the time nor the place to read them their rights and place them under arrest. He had to take them out, permanently removing the threat and go back for Blair.

The kid in the passenger seat screamed with fear, suddenly face to face with his assassin. Jim experienced a brief moment of doubt; after all, the kid was Blair's age. But, before Jim could offer him a chance to exit the vehicle and live, the younger man reached for the gun tucked within his waistband.

Jim reacted to the threat without thinking. Still draped over the seats, he drove the heel of his palm into his would-be killer's nose in an upward motion, driving the cartilage back into his brain with a wet, knuckle-popping sound. The kid gurgled a death chant and slipped sideways against the door, eyes remaining open.

Fumbling for the driver's door latch, Jim open the door, shoved Pox Face out and quickly swung his long body into the driver's seat. The Chevy was still moving forward. Jim slammed the vehicle into reverse. After all four tires safely reached the muddy shore; he leaned over and got rid of his dead passenger in the same manner; but not before helping himself to the handgun still tucked in his jeans. He stomped the gas and the Chevy leapt backwards. With a sharp twist of the wheel, it completed a sloppy 180 degree turn and headed back across the desert.

---------------

Hands were lifting him.

"No more."

"Now, Blair," Livingston soothed as he helped Blair sit up in bed. "Don't get excited."

Sure his head had somehow managed to float free from his body; Blair captured his own ears and held on. He had never felt so unwired. This must be what it felt like to be truly and seriously stoned. The senator and Guillermo helped him totter down the two steps from the bed. His knee still hurt with a distant throbbing, but it supported his weight.

"Let's get you dressed," Livingston said. "Then we'll get some supper."

Blair wasn't even sure he remembered how to eat. They dressed him in sweats and put a pair of soft slippers on his feet. The journey down the hallway to the dining room seemed to take weeks. Blair stopped several times, leaning heavily against the rough wall before continuing. Livingston was patient; giving him time to recharge until they finally reached the table where Blair slowly lowered himself into a seat with a sigh.

A bowl of clear broth appeared on the table. Turning Blair's hand palm up, Livingston gently placed a spoon in his grasp. Blair closed his eyes. Yeah, he was hungry and he desperately wanted food, but this scene was too bizarre to deal with.

"Why are you doing this?" Blair asked, careful to keep out any hint of anger. He didn't think he could take another shot.

"Because you're hungry, son."

Figures this guy wouldn't get the question right.

"No," Blair said slowly. "Why keep me here? Why keep me drugged? Why take Jim away? Where is he?" Blair lifted his gaze from the soup, focusing on the older man's face. "Why are you doing this?"

Livingston returned a sad smile. "I know you're unhappy, Blair. You have to trust me. I'm doing what's best for you. You didn't ask to be kidnapped, but you were still denied the type of life you deserve. All I want is for you to be the person you were meant to be."

Okay, that made no sense. It sounded like a stupid Army recruiting commercial. Before he allowed his anger to surface, he remembered that damn syringe. He couldn't afford to have that doctor from hell reappear with another dose of 'instant sleep.'

"I have an anthropology degree, with several minors. I'm living exactly the way I want to live," Blair explained rationally, not able to hold back as a twinge of sarcasm struck. "Sorry if you wanted something else."

"Blair, you're my son." The older man leaned forward to squeeze Blair's forearm with affection. "You were meant for greater things."

Okay, it was getting harder and harder to stay calm. Blair went back to studying the soup. This was getting him nowhere, time to change the subject. "Where's Jim?"

"I'm really sorry about your friend."

"He's a cop, man. People are going to miss him." Blair was already missing him. The smooth handle of the spoon pressed into his palm. What he wouldn't give for a weapon right now, anything. Hell, Jim probably knew a hundred ways to kill a man with a soup spoon.

Please, Jim. Don't be dead.

"Eat your soup," Livingston ordered firmly.

Blair ate. He wasn't going to give this man another reason to drug him. He would bide his time and look for an opening. He might not understand where the senator was coming from, but he had a feeling the man was not all there.

Soup was followed up with a warm tortilla topped with melted cheese. Blair rolled it up and took a big bite. After finishing the simple meal and drinking a tall glass of water, he was allowed to return to his room.

"Get some sleep," Livingston said. "We're flying out in the morning."

"Where?" Blair noticed it was dark outside the window, too dark. He remembered seeing shutters that framed the windows on the outside of the house. Obviously they were more than mere decoration. They were as fine as any set of bars. Blair would need a chainsaw to cut through them.

"I have another house in Guatemala. We're going to live there for a while," the senator answered. "Now, there's a guard outside your door. Just knock if you need to use the bathroom." He raised a finger. "Don't try anything foolish, either. I don't want to sedate you again, it's not healthy."

Blair turned away, not trusting himself. Shit, as if any of this was for his health! This man was freaking nuts!

-------

Jim cursed the mud. The rain fell without mercy, turning the surrounding desert into miles of viscid goo. Only his superior vision kept him on track. The dirt road was gone, camouflaged by the puddles and small landslides. Instant gullies formed everywhere, long forgotten waterways that only appeared when the desert was subjected to this much rainfall in a short period of time.

Jim still had a long way to drive. Forced detours had screwed up his plans. If he'd seen a single glimpse of a ranch or anyplace with a phone, he would have stopped and called for backup. The land was beautiful, and remote.

On the plus side, the storm would increase his odds of being able to slip back into Livingston's hacienda with ease. No one would patrol in this kind of weather.

The earth moved.

"Shit!"

Jim had known it was risky to follow close to a raging creek, swollen with latte-colored muddy water, but it had been his best route. Without warning, half the road collapsed. The rear of the Chevy dipped, sliding sideways. Jim gunned the engine, but gravity was the final law. Dirt and vehicle fell into the water with a splash.

Jim had a brief moment of shock, gripping the steering wheel as the Chevy bobbed in the water, spinning back and forth like an out of balance load of wash.

He shook off his surprise, time to switch to plan 'B'.

He slammed his shoulder against the door, but it wouldn't budge. The force of the water was too great. The Chevy's motor stalled and died. Jim punched the button for the window. The glass lowered a few inches before the electrical system shorted out.

Okay, plan 'C'.

Knowing how hard it was to kick out a side window, Jim picked up the gun from the passenger seat and dialed down his hearing. The safety glass shattered into thousands of tiny squares as the bullet broke through. Jim took a second to tuck the gun securely into his waistband before climbing up on the seat. The car sank into the current as gallons of water poured into the passenger compartment. Broken cactus, sections of brush and golf ball-sized stones smacked Jim's body as he angled it through the opening. He hissed in pain. Sections of glass still clung to the edges of metal, catching and tearing his skin. He dialed down his sense of touch and leaped into the current. He nearly gagged as he spat out brown water, another dial to adjust.

Bobbing to the surface, Jim rolled onto his back and lifted both legs. He pointed his feet downstream. The Chevy floated off to the side. Jim was lighter and the current quickly gave him the lead. Something underwater must have snagged one of the Chevy's tires, because the entire vehicle flipped over. The rear bumper came within inches of smashing into Jim's shoulder.

Nature's deadly reminder to keep his feet up.

Silent water rushed him along. If the situation had not been so serious, the experience would have given him a thrill. With his dials for hearing, touch and taste on zero the ride didn't seem real. Jim quickly adjusted everything back to normal. He needed every bit of input to stay alive.

There was one benefit from driving along the river. Jim was familiar with its course. He knew the desert floor was about to drop in elevation somewhere ahead. The drop had formed a narrow but extremely powerful waterfall. He'd never survive it.

A couple hundred feet down the river bank, Jim spotted possible salvation in the form of a sturdy looking shrub growing close to the river's edge. He had to move closer to the river's bank before he could try for it. The river had created a small vertical bank on either side, about three feet high.

Jim turned away from the direction he wanted to go and started kicking. Careful to keep his feet up, he maintained a forty-five degree angle from the flow of water. The shrub was coming up. Jim braced himself as the current caused him to hit the bank hard. The force of water worked him like a scrub brush as he scrambled to find purchase in the soft bank only to knock off chunks of dirt and stone as he passed.

The shrub was directly overhead and Jim reached up, catching a low branch with his left hand.

It snapped off.

One last attempt at the overhanging plant proved fruitless. He had missed it. He was going to die in that waterfall. No way would the hydraulics release him once he became caught up in the rolling action at the base of the drop off.

Before Jim could form whatever 'plan' designator he was up to, something brushed his shoulder and he instinctively grabbed for it.

And caught it.

The sudden halt caused the water to sluice over his head, stealing all access to air. Still, he refused to let go. He had caught a root, exposed by the receding bank, growing just under the current water level. Hand over hand, Jim towed himself to soggy but firm land. Draped over the edge of the bank, Jim reached out and caught the base of the lifesaving bush and pulled himself out of the creek. The current released him reluctantly until he was out of its murky path. He didn't rest. He wanted as much distance between himself and that water as he could manage. Crawling on all fours, Jim moved as fast as he could through the mud, automatically dialing up his sense of touch. He slogged forward, feeling the ground becoming more and more stable.

Finally satisfied he wouldn't fall victim to another landslide, Jim fell face first into the mud and rejoiced in the fact he was alive.

----------------

He hadn't meant to fall asleep. Besides, it wasn't so much sleep as exhaustion. The result was the same, Jim realized, angry for being so stupid.

Four men surrounded Jim, one old man wore an oiled canvas duster, another had a muddy colored parka, and the last two had plastic garbage bags for ponchos, anything to keep the rain off their sun-browned skin.

Jim's gun was still tucked into his waistband and he considered the wisdom of making a move to draw. Catching sight of the blunt end of a double barreled shotgun poking out from under a rain parka, he opted to wait.

"What are you doing out here?" the man with the duster asked, displaying missing teeth and a heavy Mexican accent.

Jim stayed perfectly still, as he lay under the scant protection of a scraggly looking bush. "My car went into the river."

A few of the men looked back at the brown water, nodding wisely at each other. The leader of the group seemed to be the old man who had spoken. He scratched his chin thoughtfully as he eyed Jim.

"Anyone else with you, senor?"

Jim shook his head.

"You know what I think?" the old man asked. "I think you are one of the coyotes who promises to take my people to Florida to pick your damn fruit. I think we will give you back to the river."

"No, you're wrong. I'm a police officer," Jim answered quickly. He had a feeling these men did not work for Livingston. "Do you know of the Livingston hacienda?"

That got a reaction. Shotguns and an old hunting rifle appeared out from under coats and pointed at him threateningly.

"I'll take that as a yes," Jim said with a frown. "My friend is being held there, he's a prisoner. I was on my way back to him when my car went into the water."

The old man tilted his head. "Where are your police amigos, senor? Why are you out here alone?"

"Livingston tricked us. He ordered me brought out here to be killed, I escaped." Jim moved his right hand closer to his belly. He'd have to roll to draw his gun. A stupid move would bring down a hail of bullets, but he wanted to be ready just in case he saw a chance. He needed to get back to Blair.

The rain continued to fall. None of the men seemed to notice. They waited for whatever decision their apparent leader was contemplating. Jim wondered if he was going to end up going over that waterfall after all.

"We'll make the river wait a few more hours, senor. You will come with us."

When Jim stood, they found his gun and took it. Marching him over a brown hill, Jim saw a truck waiting. He was prodded into the open bed of the old Ford. They didn't point their guns directly at him anymore, but he knew he was a prisoner just the same.

Jim wearily dropped to sit with his back against the cab of the truck.

The old truck bounced across the desert floor, winding around brush and hills. The two men in the back had to hold on to keep from being thrown out. Jim braced himself the best he could. His body felt like Tyson's punching bag.

The smell of old horse manure and moldy straw was strong enough to bring tears to his eyes. Furious with the situation, he wrenched down his sense of smell. He pondered what the old man had accused him of being.

Coyote.

He'd first heard the term while working a joint operation with the FBI and INS. It was given to the men and women that promise illegal immigrants good jobs in the US and better living conditions. The unfortunate person that ended up in the hands of a coyote would find what little money they had taken away. They were sold off, becoming part of a 21st-century slave operation.

Realization flooded through Jim. Livingston was involved in trafficking humans.

---------------------

The sun was just setting when the Ford jerked to a stop next to a chicken coop built from lumber torn from old pallets. A low mud house with a red roof made of sun-baked clay tiles occupied the crown of a gentle rise in the dirt yard. Two dogs bounded out from under a lean-to within a small fenced yard that housed a mule and a milking goat. The dogs met the men with happy barks, but froze with rigid hackles when Jim climbed down.

The leader slapped his battered hat against his leg and sent them scampering away. Jim was herded by gunpoint toward the house. Only the old man, Jim and one armed man entered. The rest of the men fell back, either the house was too small or they had other things to do.

Jim felt like ducking his head as he entered. The doorway was low, clearing his short hair by an inch. Inside, the floor was rough wood, the walls whitewashed mud and the furniture old and handmade. The old man called out a greeting. Jim could hear people moving around somewhere to the left, a kitchen perhaps.

A man entered the room. He was short, with a heavy build from a life familiar to hard manual labor. He looked about mid-forty with black hair that hung over his ears, but the top of his head was bald and tan. He was followed by a woman wearing a brown sweater and a long skirt that swirled around her ankles.

She looked familiar.

"Jim!" She rushed toward him. Her hair had been dyed a darker color, more like a rich chocolate brown. It was shorter, cut in a pixie style that framed her face. She clasped his hands, her eyes demanding and scared. "Where is he?"

"Hello, Naomi," Jim said carefully. After all, he was surrounded by her friends, her armed friends. A fraction of his anger still managed to slip in. "Or should I call you Maria?"

She shook her head, dismissing his anger. "Where's Blair? Please tell me he's not with that pig," she said. The bitterness was surprising, like finding a big brown section of rot on a ripe, red apple.

Jim knew this woman was a kidnapper, a criminal in most cultures, but he also knew Livingston had his own skeletons. Which crime was greater? The consequences to his partner favored the woman before him. He forced himself to relax.

"Yeah, I'm afraid he is."

"Shit! That piece of filth!" she spat out with fervor, turning toward the man at her side. "Jason, we've got to move now! We can't wait any longer."

"Naomi." Jim took her arm, then dropped it seeing the reaction it caused from the other men in the room. "Talk to me, what's going on? What are you planning? I heard Livingston talking, just before he gave orders to have me killed. He plans on flying Blair out of the country."

"I knew it," she moaned. "Which house? Where?"

"Guatemala."

The man at her side, Jason, raised a hand. "Let's just take a minute here. We need any information you can provide. I didn't want to make a move without the others, but if we have to, we will."

"Others?" Jim asked. "Who? Who are you guys?"

Jason gave Jim a feral smile. "Call us the local pest control. Naomi and I go way back. We've been waiting to catch Livingston red handed for over twenty years."

"First we get Blair, Jason," Naomi interrupted in a cold, steel-like voice.

Jim was seeing a whole new side of the woman.

"Right, of course," Jason said soothingly.

Jim didn't like the way he answered. This was a man with a hidden agenda. Still, he had armed men and they sounded like they were planning on making a move against Livingston.

"Why not call the cops? I can testify against him," Jim said.

Jason shook his head. "His word will be believed over yours in this county. He'll run before we find an honest cop to listen to us. We need to get in, remove Naomi's son before we do anything."

"He's not Naomi's," Jim blurted out, pinning Naomi with an accusing glare. "Blair knows. You can't expect things to go back to they way they were."

Naomi met Jim's judgment without flinching. "He is my son, Jim. Why do you think I took him?"

Before Jim could answer, Jason clapped his hands loudly. "Right, let's not get into this right now." He looked at Jim's guards. "Louis, gather the men and have them review the plans for the hacienda. Tell them to get ready."

After the men left, Jason gently took Naomi's hand. She was still glowering up at Jim. "Naomi, take Jim back, clean and feed him. See about those cuts on his arms. I'll be about an hour with the men, then I'll join you two. We need everything you can tell us, Jim. Can we count on your help?"

Caught between going alone or aiding and abetting known criminals, Jim nodded. He would take the best option for Blair. "I'm in. Right now my only concern is getting my partner out safely."

------------------

Blair didn't expect to fall back to sleep, but he did. A gentle hand woke him. Someone small was bending over him, too small to be Livingston or any of his men.

Carmen.

She held a finger to her lips and drew his covers down. Blair still wore his sweats. She held out his tennis shoes, which he quickly slipped on his feet. He felt more alert. The drug must have finally finished poisoning his body.

They were alone in the room. Going to the door, Carmen pulled it open and checked the hallway before Blair could stop her.

Nothing happened.

Blair followed her into the hallway. The guard sat in a chair, his body slumped down, looking ready to topple over. Not giving Blair time to dwell on the guard, Carmen pulled him along the hallway, taking turns in the darkened house like she had Jim's gift for vision. Blair wondered how long the woman had lived here.

They arrived at a side door. She had a sturdy looking coat and canvas bag with a long strap ready on the floor. Blair let her help him with the coat. She lifted the strap over his head and arranged the bag to rest under his arm.

"Why?" Blair whispered.

"Shhh," she ordered, taking his face in soft hands and giving his cheek a kiss. "Vete." She pushed him toward the door.

"Wait," Blair pleaded softly. "Jim? Where did they take Jim?"

"Sur." The door was open now, the night air was heavy with the scent of the recent storm.

"South?"

"Si." She pushed him again.

Blair snagged her arm. "Come with me, please. You'll be in trouble for this."

She shook her head firmly, the dim light in the hallway catching the tears in her eyes. "Vete," she repeated firmly and closed the door in Blair's face.

Pulling the borrowed coat tightly around his neck, he ran toward the deep shadows. The ground was wet with deep puddles that soaked Blair's shoes in seconds. The cold traveled directly to his core, sharpening his thoughts. She said Jim was taken south somewhere. Blair's sense of direction was not his strongest suit, but he thought he knew which way that might be. How long would he have before his absence was noticed?

He paused behind a stone wall, dropping to a crouch. How was he going to get by the patrols Jim had talked about? The best chance would be to stay in the cover of the trees to the north, but then he'd have to double back. That was going to take forever.

The horses.

If he could get one of the horses, he could eat up the ground. Maybe he could even catch up with Jim. There was no question in Blair's mind as to Jim being dead or alive. He was alive. This was the man that had been tossed off a moving train and come back fighting.

Blair smiled. Maybe this was going to work after all.

--------------------

Guiding a horse without the benefit of a harness or bridle was tricky.

Blair leaned forward, careful of his bad knee, and gently pushed the horse's upper neck to the left. The horse snorted with mild defiance and continued to go to the right.

Damn.

"Listen to me, friend," Blair whispered. "I know you think it's time to head for the barn, but I'm not going back there." He patted the muscular neck and tried again. The animal responded.

The heat from the large beast's back felt like heaven and Blair eagerly huddled close. Carmen had put an apple in his canvas bag, which had gone a long way to forge a temporary bond between man and horse. It was nearly dawn now. The storm had tapered off about an hour ago, giving the land time to soak up the water and return to its normally arid condition.

Blair shivered, longing for the sun and the promise of being dry again. The sky to the left glowed with a faint, pale light. Blair breathed a quiet prayer of thanksgiving; at least he'd guessed correctly and was now heading south. In fact, he had much to be thankful for. Carmen had helped him to escape. He had slipped by the senator's guards without being captured. Was it too much to hope for to find Jim alive and in one piece?

Without prompting, Blair's horse made a tight loop and headed north again.

"Okay, okay. I get the picture." Gently swinging his leg over, Blair slid off the animal and said a silent goodbye to all that glorious body heat. It was time to go the rest of the way on foot. How much longer till he met a road or something? He needed to contact the police.

Limping as he walked, Blair could see enough of the terrain to keep from tripping. The biggest obstacles were the runoffs from the storm. The smaller creeks had been easy for the horse to cross. One of the deeper rivers had looked too scary to try. Thankfully the river's path turned west and Blair didn't have to cross. Now that he was on foot, he hoped he wouldn't have to swim.

When the sun lifted over the horizon, Blair's limp was worse. On the plus side, the exercise had warmed him up. Other than the pain in his knee, the only other physical complaint was being thirsty. It was time for a break. He found a low rock and made himself comfortable. This was the first opportunity to explore the contents of the bag. Blair pulled out its contents eagerly: a water bottle was first and he took a long drink, a baggie of rolled up tortillas filled with cooked chicken and cheese, another baggie had a mix of dried fruit. Blair found a long object in the bottom of the bag, wrapped in a dishtowel. Quickly stuffing his mouth with a bite of filled tortilla, Blair unwrapped the towel and found a long hunting knife in a leather sheath.

He pulled the knife out and examined the edge as he chewed. It was sharp. The knife looked old, the handle handmade from an antler. Blair returned the knife to its case and tucked it into one of the large, roomy pockets on his borrowed coat. He quickly finished off the tortilla and drank more water before returning all the contents to the canvas bag. As much as he longed to rest his knee, he had places to go, a sentinel to find and stories to tell the police.

As if the knee wasn't enough to deal with, Blair realized he was getting blisters. He vowed the next time he was escaping from demented state senators he would take the time to wear socks.

Later, when the sun was fully over the horizon, Blair saw a flash of light in the distance. Something was moving across the desert ahead. It was catching the morning sunlight and reflecting it back. Another flash of light ahead gave Blair hope. It had to be cars. He had reached a road. Breaking into a jog that shot hot spikes up his knee, Blair stumbled, almost falling face first into the dirt.

"Okay, man. Just take it one step at a time," he admonished himself. "You'll get there." Besides, the road was still miles away. He needed to pace himself. At least walking was easier now. The warm temperatures were quickly taking the puddles around him to task, drying them up in the heat of a new day. He hadn't had to wade across any streams in a while now.

It helped to know that each step he took brought him closer to help. He would call the State Police first, then Simon. Just the thought that soon he would be hearing the captain's voice caused him to pick up the pace. Simon would talk to the local cops and do his Mojo. They'd organize a search party for Jim, unless Jim had already escaped. Maybe Jim had already called Simon.

Caught up in his daydream, Blair headed for the distant road with a slight bounce in his limp.

-------------

Returning to the hacienda had been much harder than leaving. Jim and Naomi lay side-by-side next to a stack of fence posts, just outside the main compound area. Naomi had changed to brown jeans and a long sleeve shirt. She'd found similar clothes for Jim to wear that morning.

They had planned long into the night. Jim had drawn maps, given the location of the guards he had seen on patrol while riding the horses. He and Naomi and gone over the diagram of the main house. Most of it was accurate, but Jim made a few changes, possibly remodels done after Naomi had been there.

Naomi.

She had given Jim much to think about. He had listened carefully while she shared her side of the story with him last night. Her heart rate had held true, she hadn't been lying. He no longer wanted to slap a pair of cuffs on her wrists, but he knew she faced serious problems with the federal government.

When they had started out a little past midnight for Livingston's home, they hoped to reach the hacienda at daybreak. If they couldn't penetrate the security around the house, they would ambush the senator on the way to the airport.

Either way, Jim was getting Blair out of there.

But they had met with more patrolling guards than expected. The group had broken into three separate teams, each with the directive to safely get past the ATVs and men on horseback. Jason had led a group, the old man had led another and Naomi had chosen to stay with Jim. Now Jim used his enhanced vision and hearing to listen in on the activity below he learned what had happened.

"I think Blair got away," Jim said quietly.

"How can you be sure?" Naomi asked in disbelief.

Jim could say he knew because he was her son's holy grail, but he didn't. "Look at the garage. All the cars are gone. Some of the horses are missing. They're out looking for him. That must be how we got in so easily."

She bit her lip, scouring the compound below with normal vision. "If that's true, what are we going to do now?"

Jim could hear a woman crying softly somewhere inside. He could hear Livingston screaming at her, she had helped Blair to escape. His hand tightened on the gun he held. Would the senator hurt her?

No, it sounded like she was being locked in her room. He was threatening her family, hurting her with her love for them rather than physically knocking her around. Jim hated the man even more than before. He hadn't thought it possible.

------------------

The first two cars didn't stop, but the third one did. Blair could barely stand by now. He'd been so anxious to reach the road; he pushed his knee to its limit and it was making him pay.

The elderly couple who had stopped had a cell phone with them. The flat terrain around them allowed the signal in. The man had called the emergency dispatcher while his wife had clucked at Blair's condition. She had insisted that Blair sit in the backseat of their old Impala to wait. The first deputy arrived within fifteen minutes. When the second car pulled up, the couple had left with wishes of good luck and admonishments to be more careful in the future.

Eager for the search for Jim to start, Blair told his story again for the second arriving officer. Sitting sideways in the back seat of the first patrol car, a blanket around his shoulders, he leaned wearily against the backrest while the first cop taped a chemical ice pack to his knee. Blair told his story calmly, leaning his head on the seat when it seemed too heavy for his neck. The cops were sympathetic and patient as he went over the facts, and the reason for his condition and midnight escape through the desert.

"Okay, son," the older deputy said. He had bars sewn on his long sleeves that must have given him rank over the other. "Just relax. We'll get this sorted out. Let's get you to my vehicle, I'll take you in."

Both officers took an arm and they supported him to the other car, guiding him to the back seat again. Blair made a face. He wanted to ride up front.

"You can stretch out," the older cop explained. His name tag read 'Balch'. "Don't worry, it's clean."

They located a second blanket, folding it into a pillow and Blair found himself comfortably leaning on the far door, his bad leg stretched out. The car was still running. The heater was on. It was nice and warm.

"You okay?" Balch looked in, concern evident.

Blair nodded. "Yeah, I'm good, thanks."

"Okay, then. We're off." He closed the door.

Blair watched the two cops confer briefly together before Balch got in. He pulled off the gravel shoulder and soon their speed was near sixty on the straight away. Blair hugged the blanket closer, relishing the warmth, the comfort of the padded seat, the knowledge that his running was over.

The car swerved. "Sorry, don't like to run over the rattlers, even snakes have a right to survive. The rain really brings them out," Balch said making small talk "We sure got our share of it last twenty-four, even had a car swept away by a flashflood. We found one poor guy dead."

"Really? Does that happen a lot?"

"More during tourist season, but this guy was a local." Balch briefly turned to look at Blair through the metal grill between them. "In fact, he worked for your father."

A sick feeling in his gut stole some of the warmth. This guy knew Livingston's employees? Why was this not a good thing? Blair covertly felt for the door handle. As he expected, it didn't open from the inside. "Ah, that so?"

"The Senator is real worried about you, son," Balch said calmly.

"I told you," Blair insisted, dread flooded his bones. "He's dirty, man. He's smuggling illegal aliens. He kidnapped a cop!"

"Now, calm down," Balch ordered firmly. "I've known the man for years, all your life as a matter of fact. I was on the force for just over a year when you were kidnapped by that woman. I know you've had a hard time with all this, but the senator only wants the best for you."

"Oh god," Blair whispered. This was un-freaking-believable. Closing his mouth, his lips pressed together, jaw tight with anger; Blair dropped his chin and closed his eyes. Several minutes later the car slowed and turned.

Sure enough, Blair looked out and recognized the familiar sight of the guard shack. He was being returned to Livingston like a misrouted UPS package. Too tired to try and reason with his public servant chauffeur, Blair doubted the cop would believe anything he said. Livingston must have reported him as a halfwit runaway to the police. No wonder they looked so compassionate before. They thought he was a delusional idiot or something.

Livingston stood outside with folded arms, waiting in front of the house when the car stopped. Balch killed the engine and stepped out with a smile. Blair tuned out the greetings, the senator praising the fine job done, the modest comment in return about just doing his job.

He didn't give a shit.

Blair gloomily predicted his near future. Livingston would step up his security, keeping him under guard constantly, having his every move watched. Blair found it highly unlikely Carmen or anyone else would be able to help him now.

The far door opened, Livingston bent down and looked in. "Come out, Scott. You've taken up enough of this officer's valuable time." Reaching in, he snagged the canvas bag off the floor and passed it back to Guillermo.

Blair considered his options and found none, except to do as told. It rubbed him raw to give in. It simply wasn't his nature. He would rather go out swinging, but his knee was throbbing and he was too exhausted to come up with an alternate course of action. He needed to wait and be ready; perhaps once he was rested he would figure a way out again.

Moving gingerly, he slid down the seat. A heavy weight bumped his hip and he remembered the knife in his pocket. Would they search him? Maybe if he played his cards right, he'd get a chance to hide it in his room. Livingston's hand gripped his arm with enough force to bruise as the man pulled him up.

Eyeing Blair knee and the ice pack still wrapped around it, he frowned. "Did you re-injure it?" Livingston demanded harshly.

"Bite me," Blair muttered, wincing when the comment earned a rough shake by the arm. He caught the surprised look on Balch's face. "You're making a mistake," Blair insisted, locking gazes with the cop before being yanked towards the house. He raised his voice, his head turned to keep the eye contact as long as possible. "Call Captain Banks in Cascade, Washington! Simon Banks!"

Two men stood ready and Livingston passed Blair off before going back to speak with Balch. Blair could hear him explaining how difficult the last few days had been. In the iron hold of the senator's hired hands, Blair let his exhaustion replace the eleventh hour appeal for help. What was the point, anyway?

Taken to his room, Blair never had a chance to properly hide the knife. His two guards had been watching him too closely. Livingston joined them a few minutes later, his face red with anger. Blair caught the hard slap full in the face. He never saw it coming. Even opened handed, it sent him to the floor. The shock wore off before the stinging pain eased and Blair chuckled as he sat up.

The man's true nature was coming out into the light.

Livingston stood over him, his anger as readable as an intercity billboard. "I'm through being patient with you."

"Yeah?" Blair responded. "What took you so long? I've been fed up with you for a full day now."

Using Blair's hair as a convenient handle, Livingston levered Blair to an awkward kneeling position. He seemed to take pleasure in watching Blair bite his own lip as the pain from his injured knee and roots of his hair warred to see which hurt more.

Livingston leaned down until his face was nearly level with Blair's. "Two of my men died in a flashflood yesterday."

Blair grunted then gasped out another insolent response. "Like you really care." That cost him another shake, only by his hair this time.

"Thought you might like to know, Ellison was with them at the time," Livingston said in a saccharine voice, dripping with fake pity.

Blair's world grayed. "Y-you're lying."

This time Livingston chuckled. To Blair's added horror, he recognized the sound; he had inherited the senator's laugh. Livingston raised his hand high and Blair saw the second slap coming, harder than the first, exactly in the same spot. Livingston released his hold, letting Blair drop like a stone.

Warmth flooded down his upper lip, over his mouth and large red spots stained the rug under his face. Blair stayed still, conserving his energy. He could hear Livingston breathing hard above him. He knew the second before the hand returned, grabbing its fill of matted curls and hauling him up again. This time Blair pushed off the floor with both arms to take the strain off his scalp.

"Where is she?" Livingston demanded. He was standing straight this time, as if even bending over wasn't worth the effort.

Back on his knees again, Blair's head was forced back in a painful position so the senator could see his face. Blair couldn't stop his own hand from reaching back and gripping Livingston's wrist, just to try and relieve the pressure.

"Who?" Blair gasped, choking on his own blood.

"The bitch that took you!" Livingston shouted. "Tell me where she is!"

"I don't know."

"You're lying. You called her, didn't you?"

"No." Blair paused, getting the rest out through clenched teeth. "I couldn't… f-find her. Leave her alone!"

Livingston shook Blair hard enough to cause small burst of lights, like tiny novas, twinkle in the edge of his vision. "She's my property! I won't have her showing up out of nowhere and ruining my career."

It was hard to listen and feel oneself being scalped at the same time, but Blair managed somehow. Livingston was just a fountain of good news, spouting out one atrocity after another.

"It doesn't matter," Livingston determined harshly, flinging Blair back down to the rug. "She can't touch me if she knows I have you."

He pointed to the two men. "Don't take your eyes off him."

Blair waited until the man was gone before moving. Ignoring the guards, he pulled himself up the steps and onto the bed without bothering to take off his muddy clothes and dirty shoes, leaving a trail of blood. His body reported levels of pain from several locations, but his brain wasn't listening. It was numb, caught in an overload of data, like a bystander who had simply witnessed too much.

None of it seemed real anymore.

-------------

"Jim?" Naomi was sounding more and more frightened.

Jim raised a hand, keeping his attention on what was happening within the house. He relaxed when Livingston was on the move again, he was making a phone call – no not phone. It sounded more like a radio. He was bringing back his men and calling the search for Blair off.

At least he wasn't hitting him anymore.

"Can't wait for Jason and the others. I need to go in," Jim said, pushing off the ground and squatting on his heels as he checked his gun. "The place will be crawling with more men soon. My best chance is now."

Naomi hooked long fingers around his forearm and squeezed. "How can you know all of this, Jim? You act like you've been listening to every word…" Her eyes grew wide with realization. "Oh my God."

Jim's look cut through her shock. "We don't have time for this, Naomi."

"Um, right. Of course." She swallowed hard and looked back at the house. "How are we going to get in?"

Jim almost said 'wait in the truck, Sandburg', but he didn't. First, he doubted she would remain behind and, second, he might actually need another gun in there. Not counting Carmen, who was still locked in her room, and Blair, the odds were four to two.

He'd take that. Hell, he'd taken worse.

"You need to know Livingston wants you dead," Jim warned.

"I've known that for nearly twenty years, Jim," she answered. "Now, let's go get my son."

"You do everything I tell you."

"Right."

"We get in, get Blair and get out. Nothing else."

"Right."

"Let's do it."

They slipped up to the rear of the house without a problem. The back door was unlocked, a security breach common when a person is used to hordes of patrolling guards. Once inside, Jim kept Naomi tucked close to his side and tilted his head. He could pinpoint each person's location within by their breathing. Two men were near Blair's room, another on the opposite side of the house. A closer person, Carmen, was breathing as if asleep. Someone was missing, they must have gone outside.

"Okay, Blair first," Jim said, taking the lead, but changed his mind when he realized they would be going very close to Carmen's room. He stopped. Leaving the old woman behind seemed wrong. She had helped Blair at great risk to herself. The long term goal, after getting his partner, was stealing a vehicle and driving to Carlsbad. They could take one more person along.

"On second thought," Jim whispered, pointing to the hallway leading to the servant's rooms. "Go get Carmen and meet me in Blair's room. Remember the one I showed you?"

Naomi nodded and went off as directed.

Jim moved silently through the house, keeping track of the occupants in the house with his senses. Reaching the last corner before Blair's hallway, he chanced a quick look.

A guard was leaning casually against the wall. He was too far away to jump. While he considered his options, Naomi and Carmen arrived. The latter woman's eyes were red and swollen from crying but she looked okay.

Not only that, she was useful.

Moments later, Jim watched Carmen walk boldly around the corner. Still wearing her apron over her dress, she was just the house cook. The guard addressed her without fear or suspicion. She played her part well. Jim made out a few of the Spanish words, something about needing help in the kitchen with a heavy dish. The man even laughed. Obviously he was a great fan of that particular meal, because he quickly agreed to help her.

Jim dropped him without a sound. They found an empty bedroom, tied and gagged him with the cords from the drapes and closed the door.

"Okay, the next one may not be as easy," Jim warned his newly appointed feminine-covert-ops-team-members. He was proud of both women, but he wasn't going to risk getting them hurt. "Stay back here, out of sight. If it gets noisy, grab Blair and run."

Naomi nodded eagerly, seeing her goal coming within reach.

Jim moved forward, hesitating long enough at the closed door to listen in. Blair's heartbeat was coming from the other side of the room. Another person was sitting closer to the door. In one fluid motion, Jim opened the door, delivered a knockout punch to the man's jaw, his left hand smoothly relieving him of his shotgun. Miraculously, the gun did not go off. The guard slumped sideways in the chair, unconscious.

"Naomi," Jim whispered back down the hallway. He waited for them to arrive and pointed to the man in the chair. "Tie him up. I'll get Blair."

Waiting long enough to make sure the women had the supplies they needed, namely the guard's own belt and anything else in reach, Jim went to the bed.

Blair lay – fully clothed, complete with coat – curled up on top the down comforter. His eyes were open and dull as he stared blankly at the footboard. Rusty colored, semi-dried blood covered his lower face and spread out in a growing puddle on the expensive cotton duvet cover.

"Chief?" Jim kept his voice quiet. Blair hadn't blinked or acknowledged their presence. He gently shook Blair's hip. "Hey, buddy. We've got to get you out of here."

Blue eyes slowly turned and focused on him. Deep furrows appeared on his dirty forehead. With a sudden start of recognition, Blair lifted his head. "Jim!"

"Shhh!" Jim ordered with a growing smile. "Yeah, it's me. You ready to leave?"

Blair sat up, wiping the muck off his face with his sleeve. Jim could see the way he flinched as he moved his leg. Livingston's treatment had left his cheek flushed and nose swollen. Yet it didn't stop the happy expression from appearing his partner's face.

"He said you died in the river!" Blair whispered urgently as he scooted to the edge and let Jim help him to the floor. He leaned into Jim's support, patting the older man's biceps in disbelief. "I knew he was lying, man. I knew you wouldn't die on me."

"Let's just say I have a sudden admiration for bushes now," Jim answered with a fond expression as he let Blair have his moment to make sure he wasn't dreaming.

Blair turned to the door. "Naomi!" he squeaked weakly, nearly falling except for Jim's hold.

"Hey, sweetie," Naomi answered quietly from her task of finishing with the final knot on the guard's ankles.

"Sandburg," Jim interposed firmly. "Reunion later. Escape now."

"Right, sorry." Blair wiped his sleeve across his face again, smearing the redness over his cheek.

"Shit, Blair." Jim took a second to snatch up a handful of tissues from a nearby box on the night stand and wipe the worst off. He tossed them on the floor and pressed a clean batch in Blair's hand. "Pinch your nose."

The women were finished with the guard. It was time to leave. Jim supported Blair to the door. Extending his hearing, he found the immediate area safe and led them out of the room and down the hallway. Their destination was the garage. He wanted a reliable vehicle, preferably with four-wheel drive.

Somewhere in the house the phone was ringing. Jim heard footsteps, then Livingston's voice impatiently answering. Now that Jim knew Livingston would be occupied elsewhere, he picked up the pace. Blair hobbled along at his side, doing his best to keep up. By the time they all reached the side door, Jim had him hopping one for every third step he took. Blair's face was covered with sweat and lined with pain as he gulped air and leaned against the wall.

"Sorry, kid. Just a bit further and you can sit," Jim murmured as he opened the door and peered out into the compound. The yard looked empty. He turned to his three fellow escapees. "Okay, we run for the garage. Naomi, ask Carmen where the keys to the vehicles are kept."

Whispering quickly in Spanish, she turned with her answer. "There's a box hanging on the wall in the back, above a tool bench. A set of keys are kept inside. We may have to break in, but she says most of the time it's left unlocked."

"Sure, now I find that out," Blair muttered under his breath.

"Okay, everyone ready?" Jim asked. Receiving nods, Jim tightened his hold on Blair. "Naomi, you make sure Carmen keeps up. I've got Blair."

They ran for the distant garage which lay just under a football field length away. It was just dumb luck the last guard picked that moment to walk out from around the barn and shout out in alarm. Bringing a handgun up to aim, he fired a round that bit into the brick drive a few feet in front of Jim and Blair.

"Fall back!" Jim ordered, spinning Blair around and running for the only safe shelter from the gunman, the main house.

Naomi fired her gun at the man, missing him but making him duck for safety.

Back at the side door, Jim frantically re-evaluated their position. They were armed, but cut off from their only decent chance for escape. Blair was too injured to start running across the desert. More of Livingston's men would be arriving any time now. Jim needed to take out this gunman if they were going to make it. And it had to be now.

Naomi held her gun ready, an old but reliable .357 Dan Wesson revolver with an eight inch barrel. Jim knew she had plenty of ammo and she appeared to be a semi-decent shot. Jim's own gun that Jason had given him last night was a 9 mm Glock with seventeen rounds in the clip.

"What are we gonna do, Jim?" Blair asked.

"We've got to make a try for a car." Jim looked over Blair's head to Naomi. "I say we split up, first one to the vehicle gets it started. Be ready to pick up the other team if they're pinned down. You up for this?"

She nodded, her eyes filled with doubt but game. "Just get yourself and Blair out of here. Carmen and I will be fine."

"What!" Blair hissed, twisted his head to look at the woman. "No way! Jim, no! We all go together."

Jim managed to settle his partner with a frown. "Enough. We'll all get out. Ready?"

With nods all the way around, Jim pointed back around the house. "You take Carmen that way. I'm going to try and take out the guard here if I can. Blair and I will run for the garage. If I can't, then you two slip around behind him and see if you can make it."

Naomi and Carmen ran as instructed, ducking around the corner of the hacienda. Carmen moved quickly for a woman her age and for a moment, Jim believed they were going to make it out okay.

"Jim," Blair started to protest, stopping when he looked up at the older man's face.

Jim wanted to tell him everything was fine, that all of them would make it out okay. But he didn't. They could only do their best and hope it was enough. There was no time for anything else.

"Come on," Jim said quietly. "Try and keep up."

Longing for adequate cover, Jim cast his hearing out and received more bad news. The shooter advanced, using a low stone wall that meandered through the compound for cover, but worse than that was the distant sound of ATVs returning. Spurred with the knowledge that their window of opportunity was not only closing, but being boarded over, Jim ran, pulling Blair along.

Shooting a moving target is always harder in real life than depicted on television. Jim watched the shooter rise and take aim, the bullet skipping behind them with a sharp whine. He screeched to a halt, pushed Blair down and pointed his Glock. When the shooter's head and upper body appeared a second time, Jim was waiting.

Not bothering to confirm the kill, Jim pulled Blair back up by his coat collar. They were going to make it; the ATV's were close, but no match for them once they got a vehicle.

"Very good, Mr. Ellison," Senator Livingston said, stepping out from under the porch. Holding a hunting rifle with a large scope ready and aimed at Jim's back, he looked more than capable of using it. "Drop the gun."

Frankly Jim was surprised he hadn't already been killed. He dropped the Glock.

"Kick it away."

Following orders, Jim briefly searched the area for Naomi. Where was she?

"Come here, Blair," Livingston said firmly.

Blair made no movement. When Jim gently pushed him in the shoulder, the younger man baulked.

"No."

Livingston raised the rifle. Jim could almost feel the crosshairs pressing into his forehead. "Blair, do it." Jim insisted.

"He'll kill you." Blair took a step, but only to place himself directly in the line of fire.

Livingston looked every bit like a parent frustrated with his only child. "Stop that and get over here, now!"

As the struggle of wills distracted the senator, Jim once again checked the surrounding area with his hearing. He picked up soft footfalls off to the left. Too light to be a man, Naomi was coming in for a rescue. He just prayed her shooting skill was up to the task; her shot would be a good sixty feet.

As Jim listened to Naomi's approach, something long and narrow was pressed against his thigh. Hidden from Livingston's sight by Blair's body, Jim reached down and took the object from his partner's hand, fingers recognizing the feel of antler and steel.

A hunting knife.

Blair limped away, going to Livingston, his shoulders taut with tension. Jim knew he was waiting for a verbal signal. Keeping his face perfectly straight, Jim smiled inside, proud of Blair and his knack for coming through in the most difficult of times.

Before Jim could blink, the battle started.

Naomi appeared from around a corner, shouting at Livingston. Jim's own bellow for Blair to get down confused the senator long enough for Naomi to get a shot off. A loud roar from the garage sounded seconds before the wide garage door blew out as the Hummer, driven by Carmen, smashed through. She braked to a stop in the yard after a short four-wheel sideways drift.

Naomi missed her target by a good two feet. As Livingston swung his rifle to take aim at Naomi, Jim flipped the knife up, caught it by the tip of the blade and raised it above his shoulder. He snapped his arm out shooting the old knife like an arrow that flew over the top of Blair's prone body and sunk up to the handle into Livingston's side, just under his ribs.

Livingston's trigger finger tightened, firing a deadly high-powered round into the bricks. Another shot from the Dan Wesson echoed off the old adobe walls. This time, Naomi's aim was true and Livingston fell back onto the brick, the rifle falling from his hands.

Jim ran to Blair, who was struggling to stand. Grabbing an arm and pulling his partner to his feet. Jim looked back. Naomi stood in shock gazing at Livingston's still body. "Go! Get in!" he shouted at her and waved his arm toward the vehicle.

Propelling Blair along, Jim was the last to arrive at the Hummer. Carmen had left the engine running before climbing into the back seat. Naomi was piling in next to her as Jim wrenched open the front passenger door and literally picked Blair up and dumped him into the seat. He ran around the front for the driver's door, his ears registering the ATV's approach. They were getting too close for comfort.

"Hold on!" Jim ordered. He slammed the door and dropped the lever into gear as he stomped the pedal. The Hummer lunged forward with surprising power, nearly smashing into the nearby decorative fountain. Jim twisted the wheel hard, swinging the unusually wide vehicle into the tightest arc possible and running over several landscaped bushes before getting them onto the main road leading toward the distant highway and freedom.

Jim's entire attention focused on the road before them. He climbed the gears until the Hummer resembled a tree-top flyer rather than the ground vehicle it was. The guard shack was still ahead and Jim wondered if it would be manned. It didn't matter. They'd punch through anything parked in their way.

"Jim!"

Following Blair's pointed finger, Jim saw the approaching ATV's on intercept course, three in all. Even at the Hummer's speed, the ATVs had the ability to cut them off due to their position. They had been on approach from the south.

He zoomed in on them. Rifles were strapped to the cargo areas. It would be child's play to pick them off from one of the surrounding rises. Why hadn't they? He zoomed in further and caught a glimpse of the rider's face.

Jim slowed the Hummer.

"What are you going, man?" Blair cried in alarm. "They'll catch us!"

"It's okay, relax." The ATVs neared. "They're friends of Naomi's."

"Jason? Jason is here?" Naomi asked from the back seat, her voice small and quivering.

Jim recognized the other two men on the ATVs from the small house he'd been taken to last night. He braked and climbed out as Jason pulled up.

"Livingston?" Jason asked, searching the occupants of the vehicle.

"Taken out," Jim answered. "What about the rest of your men?"

"We had casualties. Don't worry about the guard shack." Jason spotted Blair and nodded. "You got what you wanted, what now?"

Jim turned to look back inside the Hummer. Blair had huddled down in his seat, face white and eyes wide, Naomi didn't look much better. Carmen sat calmly in the back seat, hands folded properly in her lap. Something told him she preferred anything to remaining at the hacienda. He wondered if her status was the same as Naomi's. The government did not make allowances for immigrants that entered its borders without proper papers, no matter what the reason. He hated it. It wasn't fair. These women were victims, not criminals.

"Naomi, what do you want?" Jim asked, sticking his head into the interior.

Pushing short hair back from her eyes, the woman looked surprised with the question. "Y-you'd let me go?"

Blair piped up in bewilderment. "What? What do you mean? What's going on?"

"She'll face criminal charges, Chief," Jim explained.

Blair sat straight as if a thousand volts of energy suddenly flowed through his body. "They can't! Jim, you can explain! She saved our lives, man. You can't be serious!"

Not meaning to snap, but knowing they didn't have time, Jim held up a hand. "That's enough. Quiet." He turned to Naomi. "What do you want? Tell me. You can stay with us or go with Jason."

Naomi turned to Carmen. "What about Aunt Carmen?"

"She can go with you," Jim said.

"Aunt," Blair exclaimed softly, falling against the door as if deflated.

Naomi turned to the older woman and rattled off a short explanation in Spanish. Carmen nodded eagerly and gathered her skirt to prepare to get out as Jim opened her door. Naomi climbed out the opposite side, pausing next to Blair's door as it opened.

"Naomi," Blair choked in distress, almost falling out of his seat. "Wait!"

Taking his outstretched hands in her own, she pulled him close. "Oh, honey. Jim's right. If Aunt Carmen and I don't leave now, I'll be arrested."

"B-but, you can't—"

She pressed fingers gently against his lips, her eyes bright. "Listen to me, Blair. I love you. I'll see you again, I swear."

"Mom? Please… tell me—"

Naomi cut him off, nodding her head fervently. "I am your mother, baby. I swear. Yes, I kidnapped you from him, I had to." Tears dropped down the dirty planes of her cheeks. She pulled him into a tight hug and whispered into his ear. "Jim will tell you everything. Be safe."

Before Blair could answer, she was gone. Carmen had already been assisted onto the back of an ATV. Naomi ran to Jason's and climbed on. Without further comment, all three ATV's roared off across the desert.

Jim felt like collapsing, unable to make the transition between 'fight for life' and being told everything was handled. Still, there was an off chance Jason's men hadn't taken care of all of Livingston's goons.

"Get in, Sandburg. We need to keep moving." Jim climbed back in and slammed the door.

Blair hadn't moved. He stood, leaning drunkenly against the open door, his back to Jim.

"Blair! Get in!" Jim repeated a little louder, slapping his hand down on the empty seat next to him.

Blair was a statue.

"Shit," Jim muttered, opening his door again. He jogged around the Hummer and caught sight of his partner's face. "Oh, shit," he quietly repeated.

Irritation dissolved upon seeing Blair's condition. Although the younger man was still staring at the distant ATV's , there was no way he saw anything but blurry browns and blues. Twin floods of tears washed his face. Misery and anguish fought for dominance in those red-rimmed eyes.

"Blair, everything's going to be okay," Jim promised quietly, taking a slumped shoulder and firmly turning him toward the Hummer. "I'm sorry you didn't get more time, but we'll find a way to see her again."

Knuckles white, Blair climbed back into the passenger seat. Lips pressed together and bloodless, he sat in a rigid pose as Jim quickly fastened the seatbelt. Blair appeared to be fighting to keep his emotions limited to tears. Jim closed the door and briefly looked at Blair's profile through the dusty glass.

Naomi's last comment came back to haunt him.

'Jim will tell you everything.'

He groaned and shook his head before returning to the driver's side.

Thanks so much, Naomi.

---------------

Blair's mind blurred the next several hours together in an uncomprehending mess. The drive into Carlsbad, the cops talking to Jim while the doctors at the hospital X-rayed his knee, the men in the suits talking to Blair with Jim standing rigid next to his chair, and protesting when they got cranky about his lack of detailed responses. All of it ran together in a real life kaleidoscope of color and sound. Jim's presence was the only solid thing that kept Blair from shutting down all together.

When the colors darkened and the sounds faded, Blair found himself standing with Jim in a hotel room. Jim guided him to a chair and silently urged him down with a gentle hand on his shoulders before crossing the room to a single phone.

Like a man waking from a long sleep, Blair blinked and looked around in surprise. "Jim?"

Jim stopped punching buttons and returned the handset to the phone base. "Hey, look who's back with the living. How're you feeling?"

Wow, had he been that out of it? Blair took stock of his condition. His knee was wrapped in a bandage. It didn't hurt as much as before. "Okay, where are we?"

"Ramona Inn, Carlsbad." Jim answered, sitting down on the edge of a nearby bed. Another matching bed sat at the far end of the room.

"Oh." Blair lifted a hand to his nose. He sounded stuffy when he talked. Fingers found tender skin over his cheek and a puffy nose. He felt strange and wondered if this was how coma patients felt when they woke. "Oh."

"You've been unresponsive for a while now, Blair," Jim explained. "I didn't make any friends with the New Mexico authorities. I promised to call them when you felt better."

Blair must have given his feelings away, because Jim smiled tolerantly and continued, "'Better' is a relative term. We can wait a bit longer."

"But who were you calling just now?" Blair asked.

"Simon, I told him I'd call again when we got a room," Jim explained. "Seeing how his credit card is paying for it."

"Oh."

Jim was watching him with a strange look, making Blair check to make sure he didn't have anything gross hanging off his nose. Damn, his nose was sore. The memory of Livingston's treatment rose to the front of his mind.

"What did… I mean, has anyone gone back?" Blair wasn't making a lot of sense.

Jim didn't need a lot of explanation. He must have anticipated the question. "They went back to the ranch, the same county deputy that picked you up, actually. I'm sorry, Blair. Livingston is dead."

Blair almost said 'oh' again, but he snapped his jaw shut in time. He wondered if the small fire of pleasure he felt made him evil. What kind of person gets satisfaction in hearing his father's been killed?

Then again, Blair touched his cheek absentmindedly, what kind of father did Livingston prove to be?

"You okay?"

Blair nodded, pursing his lips. He really wanted to know what Jim knew. Naomi had said 'ask Jim' and he wanted to, desperately. He just wasn't sure he was ready to hear what Jim was going to say. Maybe not knowing was okay. Maybe if he went long enough, things could just go back to the way they were before.

Blair closed his eyes.

Maybe pigs would need landing gear and short runways.

"Hey."

Jim sounded scared. For me, Blair thought. God, whatever she told him must be terrible. He needed to know.

"She said she was really my mom, Jim," Blair said without preamble.

Jim nodded.

"The DNA said Livingston was really my father."

"That's right."

"So… they used to be… a couple?" Blair asked, testing the water.

Jim swallowed.

Damn, he looked like he had switched from feeling scared to guilty.

"No," Jim whispered softly. "Not a couple."

That was good; Blair remembered his first impression of the senator, back in DC. He hadn't liked him. He couldn't see Naomi liking him either. And Naomi didn't do casual sex, never had as long as Blair had been able to understand what that was. So that left…

"No!" Blair blurted out.

The look on Jim's face gave the answer Blair didn't wish to fathom.

Oh, God…

"Sandburg, it was a long time ago. She told me—"

Pushing out of the chair with his arms, Blair hobbled away. A stupid move, really, running wouldn't make the reality of his conception go away. Reaching the far end of the room, Blair raised his hand high and slugged the wall. He welcomed the pain shooting through his knuckles and up his arm.

He was evil! He was created from evil! He deserved the pain and more.

Something captured his fist, preventing him from taking another punch and putting a hole through the sheetrock. Someone was calling him. Someone close was talking. A warm arm circled his shoulders from behind, pulling him back against…

Jim.

"You're not evil," Jim was murmuring into his ear, repeating it over and over.

Oh, damn. Blair hadn't even realized he was shouting. What was going on? He was losing it. Control was slipping through his grasp.

"Jim!" Blair croaked, hiccupping violently and turning to face his friend. Words didn't exist to describe how bad he felt. He shouldn't even be standing here. He should never have been at all.

Blair was swept up in a fierce embrace. Jim was addressing someone not in the room. "I knew it. I knew he'd feel this way. Damn it!" The comments focused on Blair again. "Listen to me, Chief. She said she hated him except for one thing, you. She loves you more than anything he did to her. Are you listening?"

Blair tried to bury his face into Jim's shoulder. He longed to believe Jim's version, but his imagination replayed vile crimes in vivid color until his gut cramped.

"Stop it, Blair. Just stop!" Jim demanded. He shoved Blair back, pinning him against the wall by the shoulders to look into his eyes. The fury in Jim's face was arresting. "Don't forfeit everything Naomi did to survive. She lived it, it's done, she moved on. You can do no less. Don't you get it? You're the living proof of her courage. Don't fail her now."

Blair concentrated on sucking air into starving lungs. Jim's words stung, and made him warm at the same time. The hard pressure on his shoulders relaxed and before he could move, Jim pulled him back into a looser embrace. Blair felt dizzy, his arms moved of their own accord, returning the hug tentatively. A quiet voice within his head was telling him he didn't deserve friends, he shouldn't be liked or loved. But that voice was getting quieter and quieter.

"Stop it, Blair," Jim whispered. "Don't go there, okay?"

When did Jim learn how to read minds? How could Blair not listen to that voice of self-loathing in his head? Sure it was quieting down – now, but what about later? It was bound to return later, when Blair was alone. He knew he'd never be strong enough to keep from listening to the doubt; the odds were against him.

"You can do it," Jim continued, "and you know I won't let you fight this without me, right?"

With a snort that made his nose hurt, Blair told the quiet voice to 'shove it' and returned Jim's hug with fervor.

-------------

"Dropped?"

"Yep, all charges." Jim turned to scan the huge crowd inside the covered stadium, to make sure Daryl and Blair were still off getting hotdogs and cokes before answering.

It was three weeks later. Life had settled back to what passed as normal for them. They even managed a night off. It was the seventh inning stretch and the baseball game promised to go into a tenth unless the tie was broken soon. They had decent seats a few levels up from first base, compliments of Joel.

Who knew the man was a personal friend with the Mariner's pitching coach?

"The shooting was justified," Jim continued, glancing at Simon. "Livingston was just waiting for Blair to get clear before he killed me."

"Hey, works for me," Simon replied. "What about the immigration charges?"

"That's going to take more trips to the bartering table," Jim answered. "Naomi's friends might go a long way in helping the Feds shut down a major slavery ring. She told me she was only sixteen when she was sold to Livingston, along with her Aunt. Livingston lied about her belonging to a gang. The local cops believed him. She was kept on at the house as Blair's nanny after she gave birth to him. She said she knew he was planning on having her killed. She was learning English and becoming too visual to outsiders. She ran with Blair after overhearing her own murder being planned."

"Good God, what she must have lived through." Simon shook his head. "I can't believe the government doesn't take some of this into consideration."

"I doubt they'll give her citizenship but they may grant a visa to allow her to visit Sandburg as much as she wants. We're flying down to Mexico in a few weeks to see her."

"The kid's okay, right? I mean, he's a legal citizen and everything."

"Yeah, he was born on U.S. soil and his father was a citizen, so he's okay."

Simon leaned forward, his eyes on the field as he seemed to ponder. "Damn, it's hard to believe."

"No kidding," Jim noted glumly. "I've had quite an education on present day slavery. Did you know they recently busted a ring in Florida? People were playing golf at a retirement community, right next to a slave camp; two worlds, speaking different languages. Hell, more than seventy Thai women were rescued last year in a Los Angeles suburb."

"I remember reading that case," Simon said. "They were making clothes for a major retailer."

"Yeah, the Feds think twenty thousand are trafficked into the US every year," Jim said quietly, his eyes on the thousands sitting in the stands around them. "From farm laborers to prostitutes. Children, Simon, even the children. Naomi ended up as a domestic slave. They're confined to the private home. Can you imagine? They estimate somewhere between a hundred to a hundred-fifty thousand slaves in the US today."

Simon ran a hand over his face with a groan. "Shit. Just incredible. And we walk around like Americans who solved the slavery problem decades ago."

"Well, we're still working on it," Jim commented wryly. "I guess that counts in our favor."

"How's Sandburg doing with all this?"

Jim shrugged. "He has to slay demons daily, although the shrink is helping. Having his name legally changed to Blair Sandburg gave him some peace of mind."

"What about those headaches he was having?"

Jim shrugged. "The shrink thinks Blair developed his own mental block. He repressed his earliest memories. I still think Naomi found a way to encourage it. She got into all those weird meditations and stuff back in the late sixties."

"What about the estate in New Mexico?" Simon asked.

Jim smiled. "He's giving the land to the state to make a park. Any inheritance left over after legal restitution is paid will be donated to help efforts to teach English to local migrant farm workers."

Simon huffed. "Sounds like Sandburg."

"It's a start. He doesn't want anything to do with Livingston or his money. Quiet, here they come," Jim warned seeing his partner along with Simon's son heading toward them, both loaded down with snacks. Blair's limp was only visible to the sentinel's eye. His face had healed, except for the dark sadness Jim sometimes caught lingering in Blair's eyes.

Seconds later, he was holding a king-sized chilidog with extra onions and shoving his change into a pocket. Blair settled down into his seat, happily munching hot French fries.

"Hey, you guys should switch with us now," Daryl said. "Blair and I want to sit together."

"Yeah, it's only fair, man," Blair added. "Our turn."

"Don't think so, son."

"No way, Chief," Jim said agreeing with Simon. "We want to hear the game, not listen to you two yammer the whole time."

Daryl's sour face made Jim chuckle.

"Don't sweat it, Daryl," Blair said, leaning across Jim. "They probably want to share Bob Locker stories."

Both Simon and Daryl turned as one, asking their questions in harmony.

"Who's Bob Locker?"

Jim rolled his eyes. "You win, Sandburg. I'm switching."

End

Author's note: Can't believe I did another 'Who is Blair's Father' story! LOL. This was originally part of a birthday present. We were asked to write a story where one of the fellow's faces appears on a milk carton. I first thought to myself; easy – I can to that.

Then I got to thinking. Who the heck would save a milk carton for 20 years?

I recently read an article in National Geographic (Sept 03) on 21st-century slaves. All the facts listed in the story are taken from that article. Naomi's situation was a documented fact for a young woman living on the East Coast with her 'owners'.

Anyway, you never know where a story germ starts. I'm posting this on Christmas Day, with permission from the birthday girl.

I hope you enjoyed.