Author's notes: No, this isn't Weardians and Witans. However, W&W is being extremely stubborn, so when I was tackled by this plot bunny, I thought I'd just go with the flow. Consider this a Christmas present to all the great people who have written to say how much they like my stories. You do not know how much encouragement that is for me.

Also, due to time constraints, I'm afraid this didn't get the full beta treatment. I do apologize, and hope it is at least readable.

I will tip my hat to my email pal Malu, who explained to me what 'mole' is.

Warning: if you don't want Blair to be a detective, I'm afraid he will be for the rest of the TS/MacGyver series (with the exception of W&W). However, it is a very minor part of this story.

Please do not reproduce, copy, or otherwise use any part of this story without permission from the author.

Rated PG, mostly for language.


THE HAUNTING OF CHRISTMAS PAST



C. L. Combs






1:30 p.m., December 22nd, Cascade Police Headquarters

As Detective Jim Ellison parked his truck in the department's underground garage, his partner, Detective Blair Sandburg, again glanced at the packages between them. "You know, if you would have done your Christmas shopping early, we wouldn't have had to fight the crowds during our lunch break."

Jim rolled his eyes as he popped open the door. "This is early. Late is Christmas Eve, which is when I usually do it."

"Jim, Jim, Jim." Blair shook his head sadly as he joined his partner in front of the truck. "Early is before Thanksgiving. Look at me, I got most of mine done before December 3rd."

"Yeah, that's because Hanukah started Dec 3rd." Jim tapped the back of Blair's head before stepping into the elevator.

"True," Blair said with a chuckle. "There are advantages to being Jewish." He followed his partner inside. "Still, if you had done it last week, you would have had time to shop on-line."

"No way, Chief. I'm not ready to hand over my credit card numbers to some geek in a warehouse."

Blair shook his head. "Jim, Jim, Jim, most sites are perfectly safe. Am I ever going to get you into the 21st century before the millennium?"

"Considering the next Millennium is in a couple of weeks, no."

"Actually, the next millennium doesn't start until 2001. Just that people don't seem to remember that."

"Nah, they'll just wait and have another big party next year."

As more people entered the elevator, the detectives stood in comfortable silence. Both of which were broken the minute they entered the Major Crimes bullpen.

"Sandburg! My office, now!" a deep voice yelled across the large room. Their boss, Captain Simon Banks, then returned to his domain.

Jim turned to his partner. "What have you done, Chief?

"Nothing that I know of," Blair replied worriedly.

Jim followed him to the door, then glanced at Simon. The dark face was in more of a concerned frown than an upset one. When their eyes met, Simon tilted his head towards the other seat in his office. Oh, oh, what's going on here?

Blair watched as his commanding officer, instead of walking back behind his desk, leaned against it in front of him. Reading the body language, he inquired worriedly, "What's wrong, Captain?"

Simon took a deep breath, then gently asked, "Have you spoken with your father lately?"

Blair blinked at the unexpected question. "We talked Thursday night. He had a bad cold, so we didn't talk very long." Then he asked anxiously, "Is Mac okay?"

Simon held up a hand. "Easy, Blair."

Blair. He called me Blair. "Simon, what's wrong?" Blair could feel the sudden tension tighten his stomach.

Simon took another deep breath. He hated breaking bad news. "Sam hasn't reported in for three days. His news agency has listed him as missing."

"Sam's missing?" Blair repeated, war images from the evening news and the CNN website flashing through his mind. "Do they know if he's still in Chechnya?" Jim placed his hand on his partner's shoulder, his own eyes filled with worry for his friend's photojournalist brother.

"They believe so. The village where he and a CNN crew were staying was overrun by soldiers searching for rebels. No one knows what happened to the Americans."

"Oh God," Blair breathed, running his hand through his curly hair.

"Anything being done to find them?" Jim questioned, though he could guess at the answer.

"Thornton said that the situation was too unstable. Right now it's a waiting game."

Blair closed his eyes. It frightened him to think of what could happen to his easy-going brother in a war zone where either side could take offense at him. Then another thought struck him. "Why didn't Mac call me?"

Simon leaned down further to meet the young man's eyes. "That's why Pete Thornton contacted me. He's worried about your father and figured Mac hadn't pulled himself together enough to call you yet."

"Pull himself together?" Blair's brow wrinkled, trying to fit that into his image of his strong, reliable father. "What do you mean?"

At that moment, the phone rang. Simon picked it up. "Banks... Yes, I've told him about Sam... Haven't gotten that far yet... He's right here. Let me put you on the speaker." Simon silently punched the proper buttons.

"Blair?" Pete Thornton's voice floated into the room.

"Yeah, I'm here," Blair answered. "What's going on with Mac?"

A sigh was audible even over the phone line. "Blair, are you aware that December is a tough month for your father?"

"Tough month? What do you mean?"

"Did you know that MacGyver's mother, your grandmother, died on Christmas Eve?"

Shocked, Blair raised his eyes to meet Jim's equally stunned ones. "No, I didn't know that."

"MacGyver wasn't able to make it home for Christmas that year, so he has always felt guilty he wasn't there for her. Thus Christmas Eve has always been rough on him."

"Oh man." Blair ran a hand over his face. He himself couldn't even imagine losing Naomi, let alone how hard it would be on a major holiday.

"Also, when he was a boy, Mac's father and grandmother died on December 14. I've noticed over the years that Mac tends to be quiet and melancholy on that date as well."

"Oh man," Blair moaned again. He jumped out of the chair and began to pace. "So to have Sam go missing at this time of the year... Oh, man, Mac must be wigging."

"Not exactly," Pete replied forlornly. "MacGyver has planted himself in his living room and just stares at the phone. As far as we can tell, he's not eating, he's not sleeping, and only growls at anyone who darkens his door."

"That doesn't sound like Mac," Jim interjected worriedly.

"No, it isn't," Pete agreed. "Normally, Nikki and I would have to tie him to a chair to keep him from racing to Chechnya. But between his bad cold and the time of year, well, we are very worried. Which is why I called." Blair paused in his pacing. "Blair, we need, no, MacGyver needs you to come to Los Angeles. If nothing else, you can sit with him until he hears from Sam. If the worst happens, he's going to need you there. You may be the only one who can reach him."

Blair looked at his Captain. "I'm scheduled to work through the weekend."

Simon waved him off. "Go. This is a family emergency."

"I can cover for you," Jim immediately put in. At his guide's worried glance, Jim added softly, "I'll be a good boy and not use my senses, Chief. You go and take care of your Dad."

Blair turned to the speaker. "Okay, I'll be on the first flight there."


Late evening, December 22nd

Blair stared at the window as his plane made its approach to LAX. The Christmas travelers around him only deepened the sadness in his own heart. Man, here it is, my first visit to my father's home, and it takes Sam being missing to bring me here. Why is it we only seem to get together when one of us is in trouble? I know Sam is okay, he HAS to be okay. But it takes something like this to force me to realize how much I don't know about Mac. He never told me his mother died on Christmas Eve. Hell, I don't even know HOW she died. Yet here he is, sending me Hanukah gifts and well wishes, and never once mentioning he was coming up on the anniversaries of the saddest events of his life. Doesn't he realize I'm here for him? That I want to make up for all the years we've lost? That I want to know everything about him while we still have time?

You know, for being the youngest, Sam has got to be the smartest one in the family. He already knows that our time is short. What does it take to get that through mine and Dad's thick skulls? Losing Sam? Heaven forbid. Will Mac be happy I'm here? Mad? Will he let me help carry this load that's weighing so heavy on him? Will he let me be the strong one?

Blair took a deep breath as the plane landed, wondering what the city of L.A. would hold for him.


As Blair walked through the gate, his carry-on travel bag over his shoulder, he spotted Nikki Carpenter waving to him. Walking over to Mac's boss, he immediately asked, "Any word on Sam?"

Nikki shook her head, her dark hair with strands of gray shifting around her shoulders. "No, nothing yet. With the increase in fighting and the new coolness between the US and Russia, it's hard to get information. Pete and I have sent word through some of our non-government contacts, but the situation is pretty confusing over there."

"Leave it to Sam to find the hottest spot to be assigned to," Blair muttered as he followed Nikki to her car. "I mean, I know he can take care of himself, but that doesn't mean I don't worry about him sometimes."

Nikki's dark eyes were filled with concern. "That's what MacGyver normally says. But this time..." her voice traveled off as she unlocked the car.

Blair slipped in through the other side once Nikki had unlocked the doors. "This whole situation confuses me. Mac always seems so in control, doing something, doing anything, except just sitting around being depressed."

Nikki inserted her keys into the ignition, then paused. "Pete and I have only seen your father like this once before. It wasn't pretty."

"What happened?"

Nikki closed her eyes a moment. "Several years ago, your father was mountain climbing with a friend..."

"Mountain climbing?" Blair interrupted, "Mac? I thought he was scared of heights?"

"Yes, but MacGyver gets into these, 'Let's overcome my fear by doing something stupid' moods," Nikki chuckled in spite of herself. "I think he thinks that if he goes climbing enough, he'll lose his fear of heights."

"Has it worked yet?" Blair asked with a smile.

"Not that I can tell. But then, I'm sure that particular trip didn't help matters any." Nikki's face turned serious as she pondered on her memories. "He had gone with his friend, Mike Forrester. She was an expert climber, familiar with the route, and MacGyver trusted her. Pete said they had known each other since college and were the very best of friends. Unfortunately, when they were nearing the top of the vertical face, Mike fell. Mac held onto her rope for dear life, but Mike's harness gave way. The fall killed her. MacGyver was so traumatized, they had to send a rescue helicopter to get him off the mountain."

Blair closed his eyes, all too easily picturing his father on a high mountain ledge, grieving for a friend and too terrified to climb down on his own.

"Afterwards, Mac blamed himself. He holed up in Pete's cabin nearby and simply refused to leave. He missed Mike's funeral. He wouldn't talk to anyone, even Pete. It was like the light went out of him. It hurt to see him like that."

Sounds like one bad bout of depression. "How'd he get out of it?"

Nikki rolled her eyes. "I'd like to say it was due to my logical arguments and forceful nature, but I can't. It took Murdoc showing up at the door waving a flame thrower in our faces to break him out of it."

Blair barely repressed a shudder. "I'd rather not have to go to that extreme again."

"Me, neither. But it's bad, Blair. I think because he's lost almost his entire family at this time of the year, MacGyver has nearly convinced himself that Sam is gone, too. And that's tearing him apart."

"Sam's NOT gone," Blair stated forcefully.

"I hope you can convince your father of that," Nikki replied as she started the car. "But I won't lie to you-- you have a difficult job ahead. While Pete seems to think you can get through to him, MacGyver might just kick you out the door the minute you arrive."

Blair swallowed hard. "I won't let him. He needs me, whether he wants to admit it or not."

Nikki gave him a smile of encouragement. "Good for you. Stick to your guns, and you might be able to force him to listen."

The rest of the trip was made in silence as Blair pondered how to approach his father. When the car stopped, Blair looked up to see that they were at a small apartment complex. He could hear the surf as he stepped out of the car. Bet that's a soothing sound when Mac's had a tough day. I wonder if Jim could differentiate between the different wave actions or estimate how tall the waves are? The thought of his sentinel calmed his nerves, providing some grounding in his current swirl of emotions.

"I'd go up with you, but I fear that might aggravate the situation," Nikki was saying as she dug around in her purse. She pulled out a keychain with a single key dangling from it. "Here's Pete's key. MacGyver gave him a spare in case of emergencies, and he figured this qualifies." She handed him the key. "It's number 5, on the third floor, southwest corner." As Blair turned to go, Nikki gently touched his sleeve. "If you need ANYTHING, from another voice of reason to a place to crash, give me a call."

"Thanks, Nikki," Blair acknowledged softly. "You may be hearing from me."

"Any time, day or night. I'm worried about him, too."

Blair nodded, wondering if MacGyver realized how much his friends cared about him.


It wasn't hard to find apartment number 5. Blair knocked on the door, then waited. After no answer, he used Pete's key to let himself in. As he noticed the messy kitchen to his right, a hoarse, nasally voice croaked out, "I told you to leave me alone, Pete. So just turn around and go out the way you came in."

Taking a deep breath, Blair followed the voice a couple of steps into the next room. Normally, it would have been a warm, friendly area. Among various half-finished projects, there were two comfortable couches facing a picture window that Blair guessed looked out over the ocean. Yet today, the drawn curtain was in keeping with the dark gloom that hung heavy in the air. On the couch, facing away from Blair, sat a still figure.

"Pete! Leave!" the voice snapped.

"I'm not Pete and I'm not leaving," Blair replied as casually as he could muster. He dropped his bag in the hallway and walked around the couch.

Even with all the warning and preparation, Blair was shocked by what he saw. Used Kleenex covered the cushions, end table and floor except for a clear spot surrounding a phone resting on the coffee table. MacGyver himself looked awful, with a red nose, pale skin under three days worth of beard, and hair sticking up every which way. But the worst were the dark eyes staring lifelessly at him. "Blair? Why aren't you in Cascade?" Even the voice was monotone, as if Blair's sudden appearance was nothing more than a mild curiosity.

Blair continued to study his father as he quietly pointed out, "Because Sam's my brother. Apparently the only way I can get information is to come here, since you haven't called me."

Blair knew his answer had scored when the hooded eyes dropped to the floor. "Didn't want you to worry," the hoarse voice offered.

"I think I have the right to worry."

"Besides, Jim needs you."

"Jim's a big boy who can take care of himself for a few days. I'm not sure I can say the same for you right now." Blair glanced around a moment before spying a small wastebasket next to the computer and work bench in the corner.

"I thought you had to work Christmas."

Blair began scooping Kleenex into the basket. "Simon gave me the time off."

"Blair, you don't have to be here."

"Yes, I do." Blair turned around sharply, then regained the hold on his temper. "When I agreed to be a part of your family, that included the bad times as well as the good times. You need me, I'm here, that's that."

"I'm all right," the croaking voice insisted. "I just want to be alone."

"Mac, trust me on this one. You looked better when you had malaria." Wastebasket overflowing, Blair headed for the kitchen in search of something bigger. Emptying the basket into the kitchen trash, he walked back to find Mac in the same position he'd left him in. "Have you moved out of that spot at all today?"

Eyes still down, Mac growled, "None of your business."

Blair laughed lightly as he finished picking up. "Yes, it is, and you'll have to do better with the scary growl. Jim can top that one without even breaking into a sweat." Sitting on the coffee table opposite of Mac, Blair gently laid a hand on Mac's forehead. Mac swatted it away, but not before his son felt the heat radiating from him. "Dad, you have a fever. Have you taken anything for it today?" After a moment of silence, Blair sighed. "I'll take that as a no." He stood up and began his search. A few minutes later, he was back with a glass of orange juice and a couple of tablets.

"I thought I told you to leave," Mac grumbled.

"No, you told Pete to leave," Blair returned as he perched on the coffee table again. "Now take these."

"No."

"Yes."

Dark eyes lifted to stare sullenly at Blair. "Leave, Blair. Please."

Blair again struggled with his own rising temper before answering, "I'm staying. Accept it and take these." Blair leaned forward to hand the pills and the glass to Mac, only to have Mac's hands stay maddeningly by his legs.

"Blair, leave. People around me tend to die."

Anger evaporated as understanding lit Blair's mind. "Mac, people die every day whether they're close to you or not. I'm not going to keel over simply because I'm sitting here."

"I want you safe."

Blair couldn't contain his bark of laughter. "Do you honestly think I'm safer in Cascade? Hell, Jim calls it the most dangerous city in America."

Mac's hand slowly rose to rub his eyes. "Blair, I mean it. I don't want to lose you, too."

Blair leaned forward to encircle Mac's other wrist with his hand. "You're not going to lose me, and you haven't lost Sam yet. Now, take these so that we won't lose you." Blair pulled the hand open to drop the pills into the palm.

Mac paused a moment before finally slipping the pills into his mouth. Blair handed him the glass of juice to ease the medication on its way. After he was sure the pills were swallowed, he stood up. "Okay, that airline food was horrible, so why don't I fix us something to eat?"

"I'm not hungry."

Blair rolled his eyes, recognizing the next battle he had to fight. "Yes, you are." He walked to the kitchen, determined to win not only the battle, but the war.


Two hours later, Ellison's loft, Cascade, WA

~bring~

Jim instantly turned from the TV to pick up the phone. "Ellison."

"Hi, Jim."

A mixture of relief and concern flowed through the tall detective as he heard his friend's tired voice. "Hi, Chief. You make it to Mac's okay?"

"Yeah, I'm here."

"Have you heard from Sam yet?" Jim asked, worried at the depressed tone.

"No, nothing yet. Pete has heard that no American bodies were found at the village, though. I'm taking that as a good sign."

"Yeah, that's good." Jim turned his mind away from all the other gruesome scenarios. "How's Mac?"

"Not good." The exhaustion, frustration and worry vibrated across the line. "God, Jim, I've never seen him like this. He's sick, grouchy, and keeps telling me to leave. It's like aliens have sucked out all the life and left just a shell of Mac behind. I finally managed to get some soup down him after a LONG argument, which must have worn him out because he's asleep on the couch. I couldn't make him move to his bed."

Jim closed his eyes, feeling his friend's frustration. "Do you need help?"

"I'd love some, but I'm afraid it would be counterproductive. Mac would probably feel ganged up on and become even more stubborn. Right now, if I keep up the steady pressure, he eventually gives in just to get me off his back."

Jim smiled briefly, knowing how well that particular technique of Blair's had worked on him in the past. But that didn't mean it was easy on his friend. "How are you holding up?"

"I don't know. I guess I'm just really scared, you know? I'm scared that Sam is out there hurt or worse, and I can't help him. I'm scared that if I do lose Sam, Mac'll sink so deep into depression, I'll lose him as well. I feel so close to them, yet I've only known them for a couple of years. I'm not ready to lose them yet."

Jim took a deep breath. "Sam's a survivor, Blair. Just like his brother. Just like his father. You have to believe in that and hang on."

"I know, and I am. It doesn't make waiting for news any easier, though."

"I know it doesn't. Are you sure you don't need some company?"

"No, with all the vacations due to Christmas, Simon's going to need you. Hell, I'm still surprised he let me go."

"He understands, Chief. Just remember that if you need me, I'm only a phone call away."

"Thanks, Jim."


Early morning, December 23rd, MacGyver's Apartment, Los Angeles, CA

Rubbing his wet curls with a towel, Blair walked into the living area to see MacGyver, sitting back up on the couch and staring at the phone again. An occasional cough or sniffle were the only sounds to assure the younger man that his father was still breathing. Taking a moment to center himself, Blair decided to start fresh. Gently, he called out, "Hey Mac, why don't I make us some breakfast?"

"Not hungry."

Blair rolled his eyes from behind Mac's back. "How about a fruit smoothie? Even Jim likes my orange peach concoction."

"Leave me alone."

"Back to that," Blair muttered, glad he was dealing for once with a man whose hearing was normal. Forcing any trace of frustration out of his voice, Blair continued lightly, "And the vitamin C will do you good. Just give me a few minutes and it'll be ready."

Ignoring the growl from the couch, Blair walked to the kitchen and searched for the ingredients. In fifteen minutes, he was back, placing the cool glass on the coffee table. "How do you feel this morning?" Mac ignored both him and the glass as he blew his nose. "Do I need to force some more ibuprofen on you?" Silence. "Okay, at least try the smoothie. I guarantee you'll like it."

"Leave me alone."

The frustration rose to color Blair's voice. "Mac, you are worse than a child. Hell, you're even worse than Jim and I didn't think that was possible. But if you drink it, I'll quit bugging you about breakfast."

Lifeless brown eyes lifted to stare at the blue ones above him. Blair just stared back, allowing every bit of his determination to drill into the other's eyes. Finally, MacGyver picked up the glass and took a sip.

Blair turned back to the kitchen to hide his smile. Guess that's another thing I've learned from Jim.

The apartment grew ominously quiet as Blair cleaned the kitchen. The younger man even found himself banging cupboard doors and slamming drawers, trying to lift the gloom. Suddenly, it was broken by the shrill of the phone.

Blair dashed into the living room in time to hear Mac snap, "I'M NOT INTERESTED!" and slam the phone back down on the coffee table.

Wincing from the unexpected violence, Blair took a deep breath. "Someone wanting to discuss your phone bill?" he asked lightly, referring to the typical ploy of long distance phone companies fishing for business.

"No, subscription to the Times," Mac growled.

The older man sat back down and rested his elbows on his knees. He looked so tired and dejected, Blair couldn't help but insert, "Sooner or later it will be someone who'll tell us Sam is all right and coming home."

"HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT!?!?!" MacGyver shouted as he jumped up. He stormed away, then started to pace, his cough practically ignored. "We have no idea what has happened. Sam could be dead now!"

Blair's own anger was rising. He stepped in front of his father, grabbing his arms. "We don't know that, either. What we DO know is Sam himself." Mac made an attempt to jerk away, but Blair held on fast. "Even Jim said that Sam is a survivor, just like I am. I KNOW that Sam is doing everything he can to get to safety, just like I would be in the same situation. In fact, Sam and I both get that trait from you."

Mac stilled, not looking at his son but listening. Encouraged, Blair continued, "Just as I know I would be doing everything I could to survive and get home, I'm not going to give up on Sam until I have proof saying otherwise." Blair gently released one of Mac's arms to comfortingly rest a hand on his shoulder. "Besides, how many times have you been in a tough situation where others thought YOU were dead? How many times has Pete Thornton stood by, having faith that you'd make it even when everyone around him thought otherwise?" Seeing the memories drift across Mac's face, Blair pressed, "Doesn't Sam deserve the same faith?"

Tears began to fall from Mac's eyes. "But everyone else died," he whispered brokenly.

Blair drew him into his arms, his own voice becoming rough. "Sam isn't your mother, Mac. He isn't your father or grandmother, either. Sam is tough, and smart, and he's a MacGyver. Just like us, he will find a way home, no matter what time of the year it is."

Mac finally broke down with a harsh sob. Blair tightened his hold, supporting his father as he prayed that his brother really was okay.


An hour later

Blair pulled a blanket over MacGyver and paused a moment to watch him. After convincing Mac to try one of the herbal cold remedies Blair had packed, he had drifted off to sleep. At least it should speed up the wait, and perhaps help his immune system, too.

A vibration of the pager Blair had clipped to his belt that morning drew him to the balcony with his cell phone.

"Ellison."

"Got your page. What's up?"

"Hi Chief. Where's the Kolowasky file?"

"It should be in the pile of folders between my computer and the phone."

In the background, the faint sounds of Jim searching the pile drifted over the line. "How's Mac holding up?" Jim asked absently.

"Better. He's asleep right now, but this is really hard on him." Blair took a deep breath as his own seed of doubt grew. "I'm not sure how he'll handle it if Sam..."

The folder search was abandoned as Jim turned his full attention to his partner. "Don't you lose faith, too, Blair. Sam will fight tooth and nail to get out of this. You know that."

Blair chuckled. "That's what I just got done telling Mac. And nine tenths of me believes that. It's that other tenth that's worried."

"Tell that tenth that Sam has too many MacGyver genes to give up," Jim ordered.

"I know. I told Mac that, too." Then, sentinel soft, "Thanks."

Blair could almost hear his friend's soft, encouraging smile. "Any time, Chief. And if you forget again, call me."

"Will do."

"Okay, I've found the file. Hang in there."

"I will, and you be careful!"

"Aren't I always?"

Blair rolled his eyes as he shut off the phone.


That afternoon, MacGyver's apartment

Blair glanced over the top of his laptop when he heard Mac stir, coughing. Seeing his father sit up, he immediately shut down the web site on Chechnya and closed the device. "Hey Mac. How you feeling?"

Mac just shrugged as he rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, then grabbed some more Kleenex. After blowing his nose, he met his son's gaze. "Sorry about earlier."

"Hey man, nothing to be sorry about. That's what I'm here for." Blair stood up and stretched, carefully gauging the other's condition. Deciding Mac looked mostly scruffy and sick with the depression more on the edges, Blair carefully asked, "Feel like something to eat?"

"Not really," Mac admitted, his voice still hoarse from the cold. "But you're going to make me eat anyway, aren't you?"

Blair laughed softly. "Yep, I'm going to make you." Taking another look at Mac's messy hair, he suggested, "Why don't you take a shower while I make it? The steam will help open your nasal passages." Noting Mac's immediate glance at the phone, Blair quickly reassured, "If there's a call, I'll get you. I promise."

Mac rubbed his face again, then quietly agreed.

A half hour later, a freshly scrubbed MacGyver sat back down on the couch as Blair placed a bowl of soup in front of him. "I'm afraid I used chicken stock," Blair admitted as he seated himself at the other end of the coffee table with his own bowl, "But chicken soup is supposed to be good for colds. However, I didn't put any meat in, only vegetables."

"Thanks, Blair, that'll be fine." Mac breathed in the rising steam before dipping in his spoon. The pair ate in silence for the first few minutes. Then Mac spoke to his bowl, "I am sorry, Blair. I didn't mean to treat you that way."

"I understand, Dad," Blair assured him. "That's why I'm here. You've been strong for me in the past. Now it's my time to be strong for you."

Mac looked up, a hint of his normal twinkle struggling to light his eyes. "Yeah, but who's going to be strong for you now?"

"Jim," Blair immediately answered. He chuckled. "He's already given me a few pep talks."

A faint smile curled a corner of Mac's mouth. "I should have known." He poked at his soup for a moment. "You know, I've wished Sam had one."

"One what?" Blair asked, confused.

"A sentinel. I don't worry about you as much as I would if Jim wasn't protecting your back."

"I protect his, too."

"That's why it works."

After another pause, Blair asked hesitantly, "Do you worry more about me now, since I joined the Cascade PD?"

Mac met Blair's eyes. "I've always worried about you. Just because the University was paying you didn't mean you weren't facing the same dangers as most police officers, perhaps even more. Though I'll admit I'm not thrilled with the idea of you using a gun, I respect what you do, and I admire your courage and ingenuity. I'm even more impressed with how you carry out your guide duties, especially since you're writing the rule book as you go." Blair felt a warm glow deep in his soul at the praise. "But most importantly, I know Jim is there to back you up in whatever dangerous situation you two get into. But Sam... Sam usually works alone."

"Didn't you usually work alone when you were an agent?"

Mac nodded, a self-deprecating smile trying to work its way onto his face. "Yeah, and I remember the dangerous situations I used to get into. It scares me to think of Sam in them, too."

"He's going to be okay," Blair quietly, yet forcefully, inserted.

"I hope so," Mac replied softly, his nasally voice full of worry.

Racking his brains for a good change of subject, Blair rejected several before his mouth suddenly asked, "What was Grandpa Harry like?" Quickly shoving aside his surprise at the question, he continued, "You always quote him, and I know the cabin in Colorado was his, but what was he like?"

Mac swirled his soup, his spoon clicking against the bowl as he thought about his grandfather. "Harry wasn't always an easy man. In fact, he was often rude, caustic and opinionated. Yet he could always cut right through the bull to get to the heart of a situation, then give you a straight answer on the right thing to do, whether you wanted to hear it or not. He taught me a lot. For instance, there was this one time when I was a kid playing hockey in the championship game "


That evening

"...Naomi and Aunt Esther started arguing over the proper way to make Mexican mole. Aunt Esther likes hers spicy, while Mom prefers hers sweet." Blair's eyes were distant, remembering the Sandburg family gatherings. "Of course, mole has over 25 ingredients, so there was plenty of room for discussion. They'd fight for hours, during which the cousins and I would hide out in Tommy's fort."

Blair then returned his attention to MacGyver. Mac's eyes were also distant, while his hands tightened their grip on his mug. Blair was certain he was back to his battle with worry and grief. Taking a drink from his cup, Blair continued, "Of course, that's when the Indians invaded with their laser guns and tanks." He paused, waiting for a reaction that didn't come. "Mac?"

With a blink of his eyes, Mac returned to the present. "What?"

Before Blair could reply, the phone rang. Mac instantly picked up the receiver. "Hello?... Was Sam with them?... WHAT?" Mac jumped from the couch and began to pace. "Come on, he couldn't just disappear, Pete... Could the Russian government be holding him somewhere?... Does anyone know if he was hurt? Can't those journalist tell us ANYTHING?... Okay, Pete... Yeah, he's right here... No, I haven't killed him yet." Mac flashed Blair a faint smile. "Okay, call us the MINUTE you hear anything, no matter what."

"What?" Blair asked anxiously as Mac clicked off the phone and placed it back on the coffee table. Mac dropped to the couch and rubbed his face. "Mac?"

"They found the CNN crew," Mac quietly explained. "They managed to get back into Dagestan with a group of refugees. A couple of them were injured in the shelling, so they are in a Russian hospital. Some officials are accusing them of being spies, but that's being worked out."

"What about Sam?"

"They don't know. He became separated from them in the crowds of refugees trying to leave Chechnya."

"Wait a minute. They LOST him?" Blair asked in disbelief.

"Yep," Mac replied. "They know he got out of the village okay, but after that is anyone's guess."

"Damn," Blair muttered grimly.

"Ditto," Mac added just as grimly.

For several moments, they both stared at the phone, each thinking worried thoughts for Sam. Then Blair lifted his head. "Is there any way WE could get into Chechnya?"

Mac thought a moment. "Maybe. I have some friends in Russia. Unfortunately, I also have just as many enemies."

"I could go," Blair pointed out. "They don't know me."

Mac shook his head. "You have a Jewish last name, going into a former communism country fighting with Muslim rebels. I'd have an easier time sneaking Taggart in."

Blair rolled his eyes. "Damn it, Sam, you sure know how to pick them."

"I think it's another family trait."

Blair studied his father a moment. At least he was sounding more like the father he knew. "So we wait?"

Mac rubbed his face again. "I hate waiting."

"So I've noticed."

Meeting his son's eyes, Mac quietly explained, "Sitting here, all I can think of is how my mother died alone. I'm scared of Sam dying alone, too."

Blair bit his lip, forcing back the bleak image rising from those words. "Sam is going to be all right. We now know he's out of the village. He's mixed in with the other refugees." New images, TV interviews of refugees hurt in their exodus, flashed across Blair's mind and threatened to break his control over his emotions. His voice rough, he continued, "Sam's tough, smart, and quick. He'll stay safe until he can get out."

"Yeah, but what if he runs into one of my old enemies over there?" Mac asked, bringing up one of his private worries. "Just the association could target him as a spy instead of a journalist."

"But Sam is traveling under Malloy. It wouldn't be that obvious that he's your son." Blair shot his father an inquiring look. "Is that why you wouldn't let Sam take MacGyver for a last name? So that some of those old enemies wouldn't connect you?"

Mac nodded, staring at the phone again. "Since he grew up as Malloy, it would be hard for someone to just happen across the fact he's my son."

"So there's no reason to think someone has," Blair pointed out. "We have to keep the faith, Mac."

Mac simply nodded, back to staring at the phone.


1 am, December 24th

Blair, laying his head against the glass patio door, stared out over the ocean. Even the moon was absent, making the night even darker, as dark as Blair's own thoughts. He thought about his father, finally sleeping in his bed, worn out from his fears for his son's safety. He thought about his brother, alone in a foreign country. With the early hour, Blair couldn't hold back all the fearsome images that he had managed to keep at bay during the day. The dead bodies he had seen suddenly appeared before his eyes, all wearing his brother's pain-twisted face, with echoes of Mac's fear of Sam dying alone.

Dying alone had never been something Blair had ever thought about before. His own, thankfully brief, death had been more or less alone. Yet it had happened so fast. His thoughts had focused solely on the struggle, then on trotting in the jungle as a wolf until Jim's panther arrived to drag his soul back to the land of the living. In fact, most of his close calls had happened so swiftly, thoughts of dying were drowned out with thoughts of how to stay alive. Somehow, death had become entwined with fast and violent, mostly likely in a daring bid to stop another evil foe, quite possibly with Jim dying beside him. To die slowly, painfully alone had never crossed his mind.

But it had apparently crossed Mac's. Was that partly why Mac worried more about Sam? His father knew that with Jim guarding his back, not only was Blair less likely to die, but that when the time came, he would not die alone. Yet Sam had no backup, no safety net, no one to watch his back as he strove to uncover the injustices of the world. Just like his parents before him, Sam went into battle alone.

No, that wasn't quite true. Just as MacGyver always had his good friend Pete Thornton backing him, Sam had both his father's and his brother's love supporting him as he went out into the world. His brother would never be truly alone as long as MacGyver and Blair lived. Even Jim supported Sam, his faith in the young man even stronger than his own blood kin.

Blair's hand tightened around his cell phone. He wanted to talk to Jim, to hear his older friend's voice telling him that Sam would survive and to keep his hopes up. But a long day of controlling his senses without his guide nearby had most likely worn out the sentinel. A call at 1 am would only interrupt his much needed sleep, possibly effecting that control later in the day. Only if Blair had definitely news would he disturb his friend, no matter how good that voice would sound.

~Click~

Blair turned away from the glass, all thoughts driven away as he focused on listening. The faint sounds of the front door opening, then soft steps into the kitchen sent Blair into action. Grabbing the hockey stick next to Mac's workbench, Blair crept forward to confront the intruder. As the dark figure sneaked towards him, Blair reached for the light switch as he raised the stick. With a flick of the wrist, the hallway filled with light.

"AUGH!"

"SAM?" Blair lowered the stick, rubbing his watering eyes.

Blinking in the light, the lanky young man in a torn up jacket peered down at the shorter, unexpected figure. "Blair? What are you doing here? Aren't you supposed to be in Cascade?"

"I've been keeping Dad company while you've been scaring him to death," Blair pointed out, exasperated.

"Huh?"

"SAM!" Before either could turn, Mac was there, enveloping his younger son in a bear hug.

"OW! Dad, watch it!"

Instantly, Mac stepped back at Sam's sharp cry. "Where are you hurt?"

"Cracked my collarbone. Nothing too bad," Sam explained breathlessly, holding his right arm that was tucked inside his jacket.

"Yeah, right," Blair commented with a roll of his eyes. He guided his brother to the couch, then watched as Mac gingerly helped Sam remove his jacket. "Looks like someone has worked on you," pointing at the sling.

Sam nodded, his face still drawn and pale from pain. "Yeah, a Russian doctor. He suggested I get it X-rayed once I got back to the States." Sam yawned as his father checked him for other injuries.

"How did you get back?" MacGyver asked. "We've had feelers out for you with no luck."

"Even that CNN crew didn't know what had happened to you," Blair added, gently checking his brother's forehead for fever.

"Things got pretty confusing there for a while. Once the bombs stopped falling, I found myself in with a small group of refugees. We managed to cross the border into Dagestan after a bit of a wait. One of the ladies lent me her husband's old coat, so the soldiers didn't realize I wasn't Russian. Once across, I ran into this old man who took one look at me, then announced I was his old friend MacGyver's son. Felt like I'd been struck by lightening -- I hadn't even told him my name. Before I knew it, he had my shoulder taken care of and his friends had somehow managed to get me on a flight to LA."

"Did the old man say his name?" Mac questioned.

Sam yawned again. "Said something about you and Nikki and a top secret plane, and that you helped him to defect or something." In spite of his exhaustion, a sly smile managed to lift his mouth. "Also asked if you two had gotten married yet."

Blair laughed as Mac shook his head. "Starkoss, it has to be. I can't believe he's still alive."

"Well, he said something about having to get me home before Christmas Eve."

Blair lifted an eyebrow at his father's grim face. "Starkoss considered himself a psychic," Mac vaguely explained.

"Well, he did get Sam here by Christmas Eve," Blair pointed out.

"What day is it?" Sam yawned again.

"Christmas Eve morning," Blair replied with a huge grin. "Welcome home, bro." He then gave Sam a gentle hug, careful of the shoulder. MacGyver laid his hands on their heads, whispering thanks to have them both safe.


Afternoon,, December 24th, MacGyver's apartment

Blair leaned against the railing, taking in the ocean view as he talked on his cell phone. "Yeah, flight 347. Do you think you can pick me up?"

"Not a problem, Chief," Jim answered. "Though we may have to head for the station instead of the loft."

"That's fine. Though weren't you going to meet Steven somewhere for Christmas dinner?"

"That's not until 7. Sure you don't want to come, too?"

"We'll see if I'm still awake. It's been a wild couple of days."

"How is Mac and Sam doing?"

"Sam's on the couch, sleeping off the pain meds. Boy, does he have some stories to tell! I'm just glad his collarbone is only cracked."

"Yeah, but that hurts enough," Jim pointed out. "Has Mac come out of his depression?"

"He was finally working his way out of it yesterday evening, but Sam's arrival made it disappear. His cold is better, too. He's poking around in the kitchen right now, making something for tonight."

"Tonight?"

"Yeah, apparently the mother of some friends is having a big dinner and invited us. Ought to be interesting."

"Why? Because you haven't attended too many Christmas Eve dinners?" Jim asked with a chuckle.

"No," Blair replied with a smile. "Apparently, the Coltons are bounty hunters. Between them and Mac, I'm sure I'll be hearing some great stories."

"Bounty hunters? How does Mac... never mind. Just watch yourself."

"I'll be fine, Jim. It's Mac who may regret this once I get all the embarrassing stories out of Mama Colton."

Jim laughed. "Well, have fun partner, because tomorrow you're back to work."

"You just watch yourself today." Blair paused. "And Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas, Chief."

As Blair folded up the phone, MacGyver stepped outside to join him. Silently, they both looked across the ocean for several moments. Then, MacGyver softly whispered, "Thanks, Blair. Thanks for coming."

Blair turned to face him, a smile on his face. "Well, I hadn't expected to spend my first Christmas with my Dad's family this year, but I think it has all turned out well."

MacGyver glanced down. "Next time, let's do without all the worry and despair."

"Yeah, I'll agree to that," Blair chuckled. "Let's also see if we can do it without one of us being abducted or in trouble."

"Amen to that, though I'm beginning to wonder if that's possible." Mac took a breath, then stared deep into his son's eyes. "I'm really sorry I went off the deep end like that. I'm not sure what happened."

Blair grew serious, picking up on his father's mood. "You were sick and scared and worried about Sam. Under the circumstances, it's understandable."

"Well, I appreciate you coming down to keep me from sinking too low."

A slow smile stretched across Blair's face. "As Harry used to say, I'm in this for the long haul, Dad. I'm here whenever you need me."

"Me, too," Mac returned before pulling his son into a hug.

The End

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