Author's notes: This is a prequel to my first Roachia story, 'Before Dawn'. While this story is set in time prior to 'Before Dawn', I STRONGLY RECOMMEND THAT YOU READ BEFORE DAWN FIRST. Otherwise, this story will give away the main mystery in 'Before Dawn' and quite possibly ruin your enjoyment of that story. Also, I do not provide the background of the planet Roachia in this story as I did in 'Before Dawn', so you might be totally lost if you don't read that one first.

With that out of the way, this prequel is set during and after the Clarian Invasion. It mainly focuses on ten-year-old Blair and his father, Jeff MacGregor. Like in Before Dawn, characters from other TV shows will pop up in this story, among them MacGyver, Charmed, and Legend. If I've seen the show, it's fair game.

This was the story Anna requested after winning my services in the auction last fall. Let's just say that I was totally impressed that anyone would be willing to write that many letters for one of MY stories! While I have always had this background in my head even before writing 'Before Dawn', I hadn't really planned to turn it into a story. So you can thank Anna for this one.

In addition, I want to thank Lori and her sons, Kyle and Brett, for helping to make young Blair and Sam more realistic; Sealie for betaing and in helping me to develop the disease statcus; Zadra for her suggestions and moral support; Shallon, for betaing; and Wolfpup for the final check and for giving this and all my stories a snug little home on her site.

Please send any comments to spacecloud@juno.com

Enjoy the ride.

Disclaimer: Most of characters are not mine. I'm borrowing them out of deep reverence, affection and respect. I will accept only personal fulfillment, and no monetary gain. If you do sue, you will not get much and I will send over my Black Lab mix, who will stare at you pathetically for hours, and probably con you out of all your food.

Rated PG-13, for violence and language.


HOME BY SUNSET



C. L. Combs






INTRODUCTION

Harbor Bay, Laurian Province

Jeff MacGregor was barely listening to the radio as he puttered around the kitchen. He was having fun making a very special breakfast for his son's seventh birthday. Hearing the bell signal that his morning beverage was ready, Jeff continued to read the recipe, stir the batter with his right hand, and reach into the cupboard for a mug with his left. Satisfied that everything was in the bowl that needed to be, he turned to pour the drink. Then his eyes fell on the mug he had grabbed. It was the floral mug he had helped Sam buy for Kate.

A flood of grief washed over Jeff as he closed his eyes. Kate should have been there, teasing him about the apron and discussing their plans for Sam's present. But on a black day nine months earlier, a ferry accident had killed his dear wife and their little daughter, Aubrey. Jeff still felt their loss keenly.

Yet as bad as it was, it could have been worse. Jeff had nearly lost Sam in the same accident. The doctors hadn't given him much hope the first couple of days, with dire predictions of permanent disabilities or worse. Fearfully, Jeff had taken up residence by Sam's bedside, holding the small hand and telling him Keegan stories. It was only when his friend, Frank, put his foot down that he was pulled away long enough for food or a shower. However, it had been worth it. His spunky little boy fooled them all, not only by surviving but also by fully recovering from his injuries. Even his nightmares were growing fewer.

With a deep breath and a shake of his head, Jeff forced his still too-fresh grief out of his mind. It was Sam's day, a day to celebrate his precious life. Jeff was not going to let the pain of the past ruin it for him. He returned the mug to the cupboard and picked up another.

Then the words 'Claria Island' caught his attention.

"...News is spotty, but much of the Western side of the Island has been decimated by Roachian bombs and invading forces. Refugees are fleeing to the East end where many of the resorts and vacation homes are located. So far the Island's tiny police force, more use to handling drunks than an invading Army, are no match for the Roachian Drones..."

Jeff felt stunned. While the antagonism between the human colony and the natives across the sea had grown more tense in recent years, there had been no indications that an attack on the peaceful island was imminent. Closing his eyes, Jeff pictured the warm blue waters, floral scented air, and the farmlands of fruits and sugar cane. He had enjoyed the year he had spent there working on a water project right out of college. He had especially enjoyed meeting and falling in love with one special Clarian.

Naomi. Jeff sighed, remembering the beautiful and lively redhead for whom he'd fallen so hard. While the dating and courtship had been heavenly, their breakup had been a painful experience full of harsh words and bitterness. It wasn't until he had met Kate a year later that Jeff had been able to overcome the hurt and fall in love again. Yet the things he had learned from Naomi had prepared him for his life with Kate. He had never wished her or her people ill. Jeff sent a heartfelt prayer of safety for Naomi and her commune.

Then the lively thunder of feet and paws hit the stairs. Jeff swiftly shoved the disturbing news out of his mind as Sam slid through the kitchen, their large Labdane dog, Bogey, sliding after him. "Happy Birthday, Sam," Jeff declared with a huge smile.


City of Unity, Claria Island

The bombs may have stopped falling, but they had done their damage. Where once shined the most modern city of the island now lay a maze of debris. Soon, the Roachian ground troops would be marching in to finish the eradication of the human pests.

Not that Naomi Sandburg would live long enough to see the Roachians. She could feel her life draining away under the rubble that pinned her to the ground. Her commune was gone, the House of Law where she had served now rubble, her way of life was destroyed. She was almost ready to accept her death. Almost.

Holding tightly onto her hand was her dear, sweet boy, Blair. There was no one left to take care of him, no place for him to go. Except the one name and one place she had sworn never to tell him about. But there was no other choice. No matter how badly things had ended between herself and Jeff, she knew he would take good care of Blair.

Gathering as much of her waning strength as she could, Naomi whispered, "Honey Bear, listen to me."

"Ima," Blair whimpered, tears streaming down his face.

"Honey Bear, you must leave me now."

"No."

"Yes, Honey Bear. The Roachians are coming. They'll hurt you if you stay."

"But Ima..."

"No, I can't go with you, baby. But promise me something."

"What?"

"Go to the mainland. You understand?"

Blair's tear-streaked face only looked stricken. "The mainland?"

"Yes, Honey Bear. To a city called Harbor Bay, Laurian province. Repeat that to me."

"On mainland, Harbor Bay, Laurian province." Her Blair had an incredible memory for a ten-year-old. She knew he'd remember.

"There's a man called Jeff MacGregor. Repeat the name."

"Jeff MacGregor."

"Good. Now, promise to find him, Honey Bear."

"Why?" asked the bewildered and frightened child. He had never heard of the town nor the name before.

"He's your father."

Blair stared at her, round blue eyes stunned. "My, my father?"

"Yes. Now promise."

"I promise," the boy whispered, shaking from a fear he didn't understand yet.

Naomi struggled to pull her satchel off her free shoulder. "Take my satchel, it has money." Once Blair helped her free it, she watched as he slowly pulled the strap over his head and shoulder. Then, her hand shaking with effort, she pulled her necklace off. "You must take my star." Pressing it into his small hand, she whispered, "It came with our family from the old world. Wear it in good health, my son." With the last of her strength, she kissed his cheek. "Now run, Honey Bear. Stay ahead of the Roachians and find Jeff."

"Ima..."

"RUN!"

Blair stood up, stared at her for a moment, then turned and ran. Naomi watched him run until the light faded from her eyes.


PART 1: ESCAPE

Claria Island, five hours later

~Thump Bump~

The rough jolt shook Blair out of his daze. He suddenly realized he was on the flatbed of a hauling vehicle. A faint memory arose of two teenage boys calling him over to the vehicle and helping him up. Looking around, he saw several small groups of men, women and children, huddled together for comfort. Shivering, Blair wrapped his arms around himself as he thought of Naomi. He wanted to be cuddled up with her, hearing her say that everything was going to be all right.

But it wasn't going to be all right. The radio reported that all communes on the ocean shore were in flames. That would include Serenity, home to generations of Sandburgs. It had only been two weeks since they had left there to return to Unity for Naomi's second term as council person. Blair could still feel Uncle Michael's good-bye hug and hear his promises to play catch when they returned in four months.

After hearing the news of its destruction in their hostel at Unity, Naomi had cried. She rarely cried like that and it scared Blair. Then she shoved a few things into a duffel and hurried him outside. They had barely traveled a few blocks when the bombing started.

Turning his mind away from the painful memories, Blair slowly fingered the medallion his mom had given him. As Naomi's oldest child, it was supposed to be passed on to him when he was almost fourteen, nearly four years away. Closing his fist around it, he fought back the tears. He didn't want it yet. He wanted his mom.

"Promise to find him, Honey Bear."

The voice floated in his ear, nudging him. Find his father? Blair hadn't realized he had a father. Well, yeah, from the biology books he knew every creature had a mother and a father, except the ones that divided or budded or something. Just that most of the kids he knew didn't have a father hanging around. They had uncles and other adult males in the commune, but few had fathers. Those that did rarely did anything with them, except for Danny.

Blair closed his eyes a moment, picturing Danny and his father Jesse, another council person. Jesse had spent most afternoons with Danny, teaching him to fish, swim, play ball and other cool stuff. Blair had been envious, seeing them laugh and play together. Naomi had tried, but she really didn't get into all the 'boy stuff'. Did he have a father like that? For a moment, a warm glimmer of hope pushed back the horrors of the past few hours. I want to know. I want to meet my father. But why haven't I met him before?

Blair quickly shoved the negative thought away and turned to more practical matters. Laurian Province. At the advanced school in Unity, they had all memorized the map of the mainland colony. Laurian had been a pretty blue-green one on the left-hand side. Their main products were fish, red peas, lumber and teal wood furniture. It was also home of the space program. They had watched a space probe being launched from the school's tele system. Blair had thought it was pretty cool.

Could he find it? He thought the mainland might be bigger than Claria and he'd never been further east than Unity. Even then, he used to drive the adults crazy by getting lost all the time. Plus, they spoke Basic on the mainland. Blair had been learning it at school, but he was still more comfortable in his native tongue of Esbrew. Yet he'd promised Mom and he never broke a promise to his mom. Blair swiftly brushed back a tear. He was not going to cry again.

Blair's thoughts were broken when a small, high voice asked, "Can we sit with you?" Suddenly realizing that the vehicle had slowed down, Blair looked up into the big brown eyes of a chubby little girl. Blinking out of his daze, Blair managed a small smile. "Sure."

"Goodie." The girl plopped down beside him and waved at two older girls whose dark brown hair matched hers. Must be sisters.

The older one rolled her blue eyes. "Phoebe," she muttered darkly as they picked their way over. Blair guessed she was probably in her early teens. The younger one, walking with a slight limp, was about his age.

"My name's Phoebe," stated the youngest one, regaining his attention. "What's your name?"

"My name's Blair," he replied, smile a little bit bigger. Normally, he was the outgoing, talkative one. But then, he suspected this little one really didn't understand what was going on. Lucky kid.

"My name's Piper," said the middle girl. She sat down gracefully next to them. "And this is our sister, Prue."

"Hi," Prue replied gruffly. Blair noticed the haunted expression, which he was sure matched his own. "Piper, why don't you take off that shoe so we can see how bad it is."

As Piper leaned over to untie her low-cut leather shoe, Phoebe eagerly explained, "We had to leave our bikes after the road got rocky and busted my tire and then Piper's foot started hurting."

Rocky? From the bombing? Blair bit his lip in sympathy as he saw the broken and bloody blisters on the back of Piper's foot. He quickly reached for his mother's satchel.

"Oh, Piper," Prue sighed. She dripped some water onto a handkerchief then dabbed at the wound, causing her sister to hiss. "I don't think I have any bandaids."

"I do," Blair replied, digging around the numerous items Naomi always carried with her. He pulled out a small kit. "I've got some salve my Ima made, too." His voice broke a little bit on the word 'Ima', but he tried to cover it up by handing the small container to Prue. "It should make it hurt less and help it to heal." For an instant, his and Prue's eyes met, relaying an understanding. Blair suddenly realized that Prue had witnessed the same kind of horror he had and was trying to protect her younger sisters. Blair almost felt envious. He wished he had siblings, too. Maybe he wouldn't feel so alone.

"Thanks." Prue turned back to her sister as she twisted open the top. Piper's foot jumped back when Prue touched the salve onto the wound. "Piper, hold still."

"It's cold!"

Prue glared at her and grabbed the foot. Yet in spite of her stern manner, Prue was gentle in dabbing the salve on broken skin. Wiping her finger on the handkerchief, she then took the bandaid Blair held out to her.

Realizing she wasn't the center of attention anymore, Phoebe piped up, "We're going to Grandma's house. Mommy's coming later."

From the sad glances Prue and Piper exchanged, Blair had a feeling their mom wasn't coming. Just like his mom.

"She lives on the mainland," Phoebe continued to chatter. "Where are you going, Blair?"

"I'm going to find my father." Suddenly, Blair knew that was exactly what he was going to do. The stubborn will that had gotten him into so much trouble at Serenity had kicked in, aimed at a new target. "He lives on the mainland, too."

Piper looked up from watching Prue's bandaging job. "Where does he live?"

"Harbor Bay in the Laurian Province."

Prue shot him a searching look. "Have you ever been there?"

Blair's eyes grew more stubborn. "No."

Phoebe jumped in before Prue could ask anything else. "I've never been to Grandma's, either. But Piper says she sings and makes great cookies."

"That sounds nice," Blair replied, smiling at her.

Piper carefully slipped her foot back into her shoe. "That feels much better. Thanks, Blair." She gave him a warm smile, her brown eyes grateful.

"You're welcome," Blair returned. He replaced the salve and the kit into the satchel.

Prue squinted at the sun, judging that it was close enough to the horizon to signal supper time. She dug into her own bag and pulled out two pocketwiches. Tearing one in half, she handed the slightly smaller piece to Phoebe and the larger one to Piper. The second she broke more evenly and held a piece out to Blair.

"That's okay," Blair waved it away. "I'm not hungry." He didn't want to take food from the sisters that they might need later.

"When was the last time you ate?" Prue questioned sternly. When Blair couldn't come up with an answer, she shoved the 'wich roughly into his hands. "Eat."

"It's good," Phoebe claimed, backing up her sister. She then snuggled next to Blair, munching contentedly on her 'wich.

Giving up, Blair took a bite of the bread with sprouts and nut filling. For the first time since leaving Naomi, he didn't feel quite so alone.


Six hours later

Blair stirred as the flatbed slowed. Nestled next to Piper with Phoebe's feet in his lap, Blair cautiously lifted his head so as not to wake them. Night had fallen, so Blair could only feel the vehicle ease over a couple of bumps. Once stopped, Blair spotted the faint light as the driver's door opened.

"Can you see what's going on?" Prue whispered. She was on the other side of Piper, closer to the center of the bed.

Blair could hear the mumbles of the driver with one of the other men in the cab. "I think they're just switching drivers again," he whispered back.

"Okay," Prue replied, nestling back with her sisters. The truck had stopped every few hours to change drivers and once to get fuel.

~boom!~ ~boom!~ ~boom!~

Most everyone on the vehicle stirred awake and began talking in fear. "Prue?" whined Phoebe sleepily.

"It's not here," Prue told her, squeezing her tighter.

Blair searched the horizon in the direction of the noise. "Over there!" he pointed. They could barely pick out the distant fires.

"Everyone off!" shouted one of the men who had been driving.

Immediately, all the bodies began shoving towards the edges of the flatbed. For an instant, Blair feared he and the sisters would be pushed off the high platform. Then another man appeared on the ground next to Blair. "Here kid," he said as he swiftly grabbed Blair under the arms and gently swung him onto the road. Once his friends were standing next to him, the man continued, "Go to the ditch," pointing behind them.

"Thank you!" Blair shouted over his shoulder as he turned. With the distant explosions urging them on, Blair and the sisters ran. Stumbling in the dark, they almost fell down the steep slope of the ditch. Instead, Blair slid down to the bottom with Piper, Prue and Phoebe sliding on top of them.

"Everyone okay?" Prue asked as she pulled herself off Piper. Three 'yeahs' answered her as they rearranged and huddled close together as more people piled into the ditch.

Blair closed his eyes tight as he partially covered Phoebe with his body and tried to push them as close to the dirt as possible. He shook with fear, his mind frozen from remembering the morning's horror. Prue's delicate hand gently squeezed his shoulder as she draped her arm across his back.

Soon the air was filled with the loud monotone droning of the Roachian ships, drowning out the harsh breathing and an occasional sob from the crowd in the ditch. Blair tried to hold his breath, illogically thinking the Roachians wouldn't bomb them if they couldn't hear him. He then began silently counting, trying to hang on by filling his mind with another task.

After reaching 200, Blair realized the ship noise had faded. By 240, he couldn't hear them anymore. By 300, one of the drivers told everyone they could get up.

Slowly, Blair and the sisters untangled themselves from their pile. The man who had helped them off the truck knelt beside them, trying to see them in the dark. "You kids okay?"

"Yeah, thank you," Blair replied, brushing some dirt off Phoebe.

"Thank you, we're fine," Prue expanded.

"Then let's get you back to the truck. Sooner we get you to Fish Cove, the sooner we can get away from these Roaches!"


Next morning

As the sky grew pink expecting the sun's arrival, Blair and the sisters looked about themselves in amazement. The road the flatbed was on was jam-packed with people in and on every conceivable means of transportation. More people were walking along the shoulders of the road. All were heading for the east coast.

"I didn't know Claria had so many bikes and vehicles," Piper whispered, spotting a land vehicle overflowing with people, pets and baggage.

"I didn't know there were so many people," Blair added, his own blue eyes wide. While the bikes were flowing past the flatbed as it chugged its way through traffic, they were still traveling faster than the people walking. Blair spotted an older woman with a duffel over her shoulder and carrying a large, ornate box in her arms. Walking past her was a woman leading an old horse, three young children clinging to its back.

"Where's everybody going?" asked Phoebe. "Are they going to their Grandmas', too?"

Prue's eyes looked even more worried as she brushed her youngest sister's hair. "No, Phoebs, they're all trying to get away from the bombs."

Piper shuddered as she remembered the nighttime scare, so Blair squeezed her hand. He shot another worried glance at the sky, making sure no more of those gray ships were there. Then he pointed to a man balancing a crate on his handlebars. In the crate was a little dog, wagging its tail in the man's face. He and Piper giggled at the sight.

After the foursome breakfasted on bar cookies, the flatbed entered a small fishing village and resort. The streets were packed with even more people and vehicles pouring in. The flatbed slowed down to a crawl, then finally stopped in the jam. After several minutes, the driver and his friends climbed out of the cab.

"Okay, everyone," the driver shouted. "I don't think we're going anywhere soon. You'll have to hoof it from here."

"Where are we going to go, Prue?" asked Piper as she fearfully looked at the crowds.

Even Prue looked scared as she studied all the people, searching for a route to the boats. Then the man that had helped them the night before appeared by the side of the bed. In the light, Blair realized just how huge the man was, muscles rippling along his arms. "You kids ready to go to the mainland?"

"Yes," Prue replied, "but how do we get to the docks?"

"Come with me. I'll get you on a boat."

The man swung them down to the ground. The driver then appeared, ushering three more kids and a young mother with a baby. "Is that all of them, Bubba?"

The first man did a quick count, then nodded to his friend.

"All right," the driver replied. "I want everyone to hold hands and stay close to either Mr. Skinner or myself. I don't want to lose any of you in this mob."

"Okay," Prue whispered, grabbing Phoebe's hand. "Blair, you hold tight on to Piper's hand. Piper, hold onto mine. Whatever you do, don't let go."

Blair swiftly pulled the satchel's strap over his head and grabbed Piper's hand. They then plunged into the crowd.

Too many people. Blair was pushed and shoved as anxious people larger and heavier than he swirled past him. It was impossible to see anything except bodies. Staying close to Piper was hard as the crowds pulled at them. Yet Blair was too scared to let go of her hand. He feared he'd be lost, never to see light again.

Then a man bumped into him, driving a hard-sided bag into his ribs. Air rushed out of his lungs as he fell to the ground, wincing as huge feet came way too close for comfort. He could barely hear Piper squeal as she struggled to continue holding his hand.

Then a large arm scooped him up and brought him back close to the sisters. "You okay, kid?" asked Mr. Skinner, eyes concerned.

Still gulping air, Blair nodded his head. Mr. Skinner gently tousled his curls and gathered the four in against his huge body. "Let's try to stay closer."

As they pushed farther into the crowds, they could hear voices shouting. As they struggled closer, Blair could hear 'Ten more! Ten more!', 'Another kid!', 'That's all! That's all!'

Finally, the docks came into view. People were being divided into lines, leading onto the various docks and to the boats there. The area before the docks was crammed with more people, all struggling to be next in line. Looking out onto the water, Blair could see one of the fishing boats leave, low in the water from carrying its human load.

Mr. Skinner gently squeezed his shoulder. "Come on, let's get you kids on a boat." He ushered them closer to the sailors dividing up people. Thanks to Mr. Skinner's large size, they were soon close to the docks.

"I can take a few more kids!" one sailor yelled.

"I've got four here!" Mr. Skinner yelled back.

The sailor waved them forward, much to the angry disgust of some of the adults nearby. But Mr. Skinner ignored them as he pushed the children through. By-passing the narrow steps, he lifted first Phoebe and then Piper onto the high dock. Just as he helped Blair on, the sailor yelled, "That's all!"

Seeing the fear on Phoebe's and Piper's faces as they looked down on the stricken Prue, Blair immediately shouted, "NO!" He jumped off, then shoved Prue to the dock.

"Blair..." Prue began sternly.

"No, they need you to get to your Grandma's," Blair replied stubbornly. Mr. Skinner, realizing what was going on, helped Prue into the line. Prue gave her sisters a big group hug, then all three turned to Blair.

"Good luck finding your father, Blair," Piper called, tears beginning to fall.

"Take care of yourself!" Prue ordered, worry deep in her own eyes.

"Bye, Bye, Blair!" Phoebe called out cheerfully. She waved vigorously. "See you on the mainland."

Blair waved back as he swallowed his fear, then allowed Mr. Skinner to usher him away.

"I know, kid," Mr. Skinner softly sympathized, squeezing his shoulder. "But let's get you on another boat."

Twenty minutes of fighting the crowds later, they came upon another sailor shouting, "I can take two more kids!"

Mr. Skinner quickly made a path for Blair to reach the sailor. Blair glanced up at him. "But what about you?"

"Don't worry about me, kid. I'll get on the next boat."

The huge sailor looked down at Blair and pointed. "Okay, last one." He swiftly picked Blair up and set him onto the dock, ignoring the angry protests of others who wanted on.

Blair turned back to wave at his protector. "Thank you, Mr. Skinner! Good Luck!"

"Good luck and God bless, kid." Mr. Skinner waved back, then disappeared into the crowd. Blair felt a tear try to fall. He was alone again.


Two days later

Blair sat curled up next to a gear box. He felt so hot and queasy. When his uncle Michael had taken him out on the little sail boat, he had thought the waves were fun. After a day of the fishing boat's rocking, Blair just wanted to get on dry land. Everyone was so packed in on the ship, you really couldn't walk around. If you did, someone would take your spot and you'd have to find another place to sit.

He also missed Prue, Piper and Phoebe. None of them had made fun of him like the cranky passengers he was with now. Blair curled tighter, remembering the talk from yesterday.


Day before

"Are we really going to the mainland?" one young girl asked as she climbed on the rail near Blair.

"Yes," replied her mother sadly. "Now get down before you fall off."

"What's the mainland like?" she asked.

"I don't know, honey," the mother answered wearily.

"The mainland is big," explained one man standing against the rail. "It is full of people all running around. Not very friendly people, either."

"That's for sure," stated another woman bitterly. She was dressed in a fine, colorful wrap-around dress. She looked like some of the women Naomi used to call 'east resort riff-raft', yet her self-important manner reminded Blair of some of the council people he'd met. "Those mainlanders are self-righteous scum. Unless you have something they want, they pretty much don't want anything to do with you."

The mother's eyes widened, then she gently pulled her little girl closer. "Surely they will help us now. It isn't our fault the Roachians came."

"I wouldn't count on that. Depends on how hard you work. But then, they have to be willing to give you a job, first."

Blair had been quietly absorbing the conversation. He had sometimes gotten into trouble at Serenity because he would disappear to read instead of helping with the work. His mom and Uncle Michael would just trade that 'look', then smooth things over. Would he get into trouble for reading on the mainland?

The mother looked confused. "But surely there'd be some communes..."

The colorful woman laughed. "There's no communes on the mainland!"

"Yeah," added the man. "Those mainlanders live all separated from each other, like those little resort cabins."

No communes? Lots of people but no communes? "But I need to find my father," Blair blurted out, worried now. "How do you find people on the mainland?"

"Your father!" The colorful woman squealed. "Why on earth would you want to find your father!"

"My Ima..."

"Trust me, little one. Mainland fathers don't want anything to do with their Clarian children!" Then everyone around him laughed.


Even now, the memory of the cruel laughter made him feel sick inside. Was that why he'd never met his father before? Didn't his father want him? Would his father want him now?

"Promise to find him, Honey Bear."

Without thought, he grasped the star medallion. Mom wanted him to find his father. He had promised her to find Jeff MacGregor. He WAS going to find him. Surely Naomi would not have told him where to look if his father wouldn't want him. If his father needed him to work, Blair would be willing to work hard and give up books. He would do anything to have a home again.

"Hey, sweetie." Blair looked up into an old woman's eyes. "You look like you could use some water, little one."

"Thank you," Blair politely responded. He took the bottle and drank the warm water. It tasted kinda yucky, but at least it was water. After a couple of swallows, he handed it back to the woman. She then gave him a piece of a biscuit. In spite of his queasiness, Blair gratefully ate the dried, tough bit.

The oldster gently tipped his head up and smiled at him. "Hang on, sweetie. We should be hitting land soon."

Blair gave her a grateful smile in return. He curled back up and drifted to sleep, feeling a little better.


PART 2: SEARCH

Two days later, Odinland Refugee Center, Southern Province

It seemed like he'd been standing in the food line forever. Blair glanced up into the sky, remembering where his favorite book character, Kid Dooley, would judge the time by the position of the sun. It looked close to midpoint in the sky. Blair thought that meant noon, but he wasn't sure.

Most of his time since arriving on the mainland had been spent in line. Once the fishing boat made landfall, Blair and the rest of the people were herded into a huge area filled with tents. They had been directed to a line where everyone was given a blanket and a metal cup. Then they stood in line for some water to wash up. Then they stood in line for some clean clothes. Then they were herded into another line so their names would be added to some kind of list. By that time Blair had become bored, especially since most of the people in the line were adults. He finally stepped out of line to see what was going on.

He was soon asked to join a group of kids. Blair had thought it was lots of fun racing around the tents until he noticed one of the kids stealing a pillow from an elderly lady. Blair had grabbed the pillow and given it back to the woman. Once he had walked away, the rest of the kids ganged up on him, pushing and yelling at him for spoiling their fun. Blair had stood his ground, pointing out that it was wrong and mean to steal from people, especially the oldsters. One of the bigger kids then punched him in the stomach. Blair had dropped to the ground, wrapping his arms around his painful middle while the rest of the kids walked away, laughing and calling him names. Blair wasn't sure what felt worse, the punch or the abandonment. Then he reminded himself that he had to be good so that his father would want him when he found him.

Spotting the same gang of kids racing past the food line, he ducked behind the large woman in front of him. Once they were gone, Blair moved back away from the lady talking with her mother. Behind him were several teenage girls, for which a boy his age was neither old enough nor young enough to be of interest. Blair stood in between, making himself as small as possible while searching for someone he knew. So far, he hadn't recognized anyone among the swarm of people, not even Mr. Skinner or one of the sisters. Nor had he wanted to make new friends after the incident with the gang. Blair hadn't realized before just how alone one could feel in a crowd.

It was worse at night. While the tents seemed to stretch on forever, there were still more people than space inside. Various adults had laid claim to each tent, dividing it into sections for themselves and their groups. It seemed that most of the refugees were only concerned with taking care of the people they already had, not taking in more. Blair had tried the night before to get into a tent, but was turned away each time. It was hard without an adult to stick up for him. Blair had ended up sleeping next to a rock on the outskirts of the camp, plagued by nightmares of Naomi and Uncle Michael being killed by bombs because he hadn't been good.

Finally, Blair reached the table where aid workers were handing out food. A nice lady in a red and white dress filled his cup and handed him a paper plate with food. The water tasted so good, Blair drank it down before checking out the food. On the plate were two square biscuits-like things and a large green fruit. At least, Blair thought it was a fruit. He ditched the plate in a nearby canister while holding the food in his hands.

Searching for a place to eat, he eventually found himself back at the boulder where he had spent the night. He perched on top of its hard surface and took a large bite out of one of the biscuits. It was hard and chewy, but it was food. Working the bite in his mouth, he surveyed the area. There was still a long line of people waiting for the food table, stretching past the aid station and out of sight in the sea of tents. In an empty space further down was a group of older boys trying to play stickball with a rock and a piece of wood. It looked like fun, but the boys had refused to let smaller kids join them.

Taking a bite from the strange fruit, Blair studied the large fence stretching past his rock, outlining the area where the Clarians were allowed. It didn't seem fair that he would have to stay inside with people he didn't know when his father was somewhere outside. He couldn't keep his promise in the tent city.

Sighing, Blair lightly ran his fingers across the rock's rough surface, letting his thoughts wander. It was so dull without even a book to read. He really missed his books at home and the school library. Why, he'd probably never find out what happened to Kid Dooley and Cowboy Willie now. He was only half-way through the series set back on the old world. Admittedly, he didn't know what a cow was, but the stories of cowboys, gunslingers, Pony Express Riders, shoot-outs and chases had swiftly become his favorite. Thinking back on the Kid's and Cowboy Willie's adventures, Blair remembered one where the Kid was falsely accused of being a bank robber and was placed in the town jail. Now Blair could truly understand what the Kid had felt being locked up. But the Kid was smart and had gotten himself out of the cell.

Suddenly, Blair smiled to himself. That's what he'd do. He'd stage a jailbreak.


For the rest of the day, Blair made his plans. He tucked the second biscuit into his satchel to eat on his trip. He carefully counted the bills and coins from his mother's change purse, so he'd know how much money he had. Then he casually walked around the perimeter of the camp. Since many others were also walking around for exercise, Blair didn't worry about his plans being discovered.

The fence was more than twice his height and made of chain link. Blair wasn't sure he could climb it, especially with the guards walking along the outside. The only way he could even make an attempt undetected would be at night, when they wouldn't be able to see as far. Then he spotted a new possibility. The fence was split where it went over a large boulder. Pretending to tighten the straps of his sandals, Blair studied it under his arm. There looked to be enough space between the chain link and the rock for someone small to slip through. Hopefully, he was small enough. With a lighter step, Blair finished the circuit around the camp.

Busily thinking of his plans, Blair wasn't paying attention to the people around him. Abruptly, he was grabbed by the arm and practically lifted off the ground. "Well, well, well. What do we have here?" Blair looked up into the face of a tall, dark haired man and instantly froze. Trace Hayburn had been the only one of Naomi's boyfriends that he had hated on sight. So had Uncle Michael. For that matter, Naomi wasn't with him very long, either.

"Naomi's little brat," Hayburn continued, studying Blair with an intensity that sent shivers down the boy's back. "Where's your mommy, little brat?"

Anger rising from his sick stomach unfroze Blair's mouth. "None of your business."

Hayburn laughed harshly. "Oh really, now. Naomi would have been my woman if it wasn't for you. Maybe now she'll change her mind. Why don't you be a good boy and tell me?"

"NO!" Blair declared stubbornly, trying to wiggle out of Hayburn's painful hold.

The man studied him a moment more. "I bet Naomi isn't here, is she?"

"Let me go!"

"You're all by your lonesome, little brat? Then maybe you should be my boy."

Cold fear now joined the hate and anger churning Blair's stomach. He didn't want to have anything to do with the man he considered evil.

Suddenly, the rock the older boys were batting flew into the crowd, causing people to scatter. With Hayburn's attention on the rock, Blair managed to kick him in the knee. Hayburn released Blair's arm to grab the injury, allowing Blair to dash into the crowd.

Running hard, Blair weaved in and out of the tents until he dropped behind a barrel near the aid station. He curled up out of sight, struggling to control his heavy breathing and rubbing his arm where Hayburn had held him. He'd probably have another large bruise, like he did when Hayburn had backhanded him for dropping a basket. Closing his eyes, Blair remembered Uncle Michael running up furious, ordering the man to leave Serenity by nightfall. With the backing of the others at the commune, Hayburn had been forced to comply.

Only now, Uncle Michael wasn't there to protect him. That fact removed any doubt in Blair's mind. He had to escape tonight and find his father before Hayburn could find him again.


"Ima..."

"RUN!"

Blair woke with a start, pulling the blanket tighter around him. He listened intently while he leaned against the boulder's solid form. The camp was quiet, with only a couple lights here and there. But what Blair was planning to do would suffer from illumination. Glancing up, the boy thanked the Creator when he saw that the moons were covered by a thick layer of clouds. Only the faint light from the nearby city reflecting off the clouds allowed the boy to see.

Quietly, he folded the blanket and draped it over his arm. The strap of the satchel was pulled over his head. Ready to move, Blair cautiously peered over the boulder, searching for the guards. Seeing no one, he slipped through the night to the nearest dark tent.

It took some time to sneak quietly from tent to tent, being careful not to alert anyone to his presence. Finally, Blair was across from the boulder that interrupted the fencing. He looked right, then left, then laid on his belly. Crawling as silently as he could, Blair was nearly half-way to the fence when he spotted one of the guards, flashlight in his hands.

Oh, man! His heart plunged into his stomach, fear freezing him in place. He could scarcely breathe as the man walked along the outside of the fence. The light swept the ground, coming to within a foot of where Blair lay. Closing his eyes, Blair was certain he had been caught.

But nothing happened. A few moments later, Blair opened his eyes and raised his head. The guard was continuing his circuit, his back to where the boy laid. As soon as the light disappeared around a bend, Blair scooted to the fence.

The boulder's top was bigger than its base, leaving an opening close to the ground. Blair folded the blanket into a tighter roll, then shoved it through. Next was the satchel. Then Blair grasped the cut edge of the fence, trying to make the hole a little bigger. The metal tore at his hands as Blair tugged at it, but it moved a couple of inches. Holding it in place, Blair slipped first one leg, then the other through. The rest of his body followed, his hand holding the fencing last.

Looking around, Blair didn't see any more of the guards. Yet that didn't mean there wasn't one coming. Blair grabbed his stuff and dashed to the large boulders on the other side of the path. He had barely reached them when he spotted the light of another guard making a circuit. Swiftly, he dropped behind one of the large boulders. As still as the rocks around him, he watched as the guard walked past his escape route without even a hint he knew there had been an escape. Once he, too, had disappeared around the bend, Blair started climbing the embankment. He was on his way to keeping his promise.


Late next morning, outskirts of Odinland

By morning, the clouds were releasing their burden of moisture into the ground. Blair had slipped under a wooden porch of a building, trying to keep from getting too soaked. He looked out at the train cars lined up in various directions. Fear again rose up in his chest. He was lost in a strange city, with no idea how to find Harbor Bay.

When he'd woken up that morning from his hiding place under a bush, Blair had figured it would be easy. All street corners on Claria had signs that pointed to the various towns and communes. He just had to find the one that said 'Harbor Bay' and start walking in that direction. Sooner or later, he'd find it.

However, Blair hadn't found a corner with a sign pointing to Harbor Bay. He hadn't even seen a sign that said Laurian Province. In fact, he wasn't quite sure what a lot of the signs meant. There were a lot more here than he'd ever seen back on the island. Nor did he dare ask for directions. Thanks to his teachers at the advanced school, Blair could understand most of what the citizens around him were saying. Yet he was scared to talk for fear they'd realize he was Clarian and toss him back into the tents. Blair didn't want to have to escape again.

He was also hungry. He'd eaten his biscuit that morning and his stomach was demanding more. Yet he couldn't find an open air market selling food like on Claria. It was too risky to walk into a shop where he'd have less of a chance of escaping if found out. At least the tiny park he'd found had a water fountain. Blair had filled his cup several times and tried to convince his stomach it should be grateful for what it could get. His stomach really wasn't buying it, though.

Blair ducked back close to the ground when two pairs of boot-clad feet splashed past him. He held his breath when the men paused above him.

"I can't believe Jane gave me salsa chips again."

"Well, maybe you picked up Tommy's lunch instead."

"I still won't eat them. You want 'em?"

"Nah, too cold. Besides, I'll get a hot meal in the engine once we head out." The soft swish of bags going into the trash reached Blair's ears.

"Which run are you on?"

"The Laurian hauler."

Blair perked up in interest. It was the first time he'd heard anyone mention Laurian.

"Ah, the fuel and fish run. Isn't that usually Perkin's?"

"Yeah, but he's out sick and I need the extra cash."

"Well, you better bundle up..."

The voices faded away. Once Blair was sure they were gone, he crawled out from under the porch. Checking to make sure he was alone, he slipped above the boards and looked in the trash can. He pulled out two paper bags, then jumped back down under the porch. Searching the bags, Blair quickly finished a half- eaten 'wich. Then he slipped the bag of chips and a piece of fruit into the satchel. He couldn't waste any more time eating. He had a train to find.


In spite of the rain, Blair searched for the train heading to Laurian. Holding a piece of board he'd found over his head and shoulders, Blair slipped between the rail cars. There were so many cars and he had no idea which ones were the right ones. He ducked back when he saw two men walking along the track.

"Ernie, make sure these cars are attached to the Laurian hauler. They'll be leaving soon and these shipments need to go."

Peeking around the car, Blair saw the man talking waving his hand at a string of cars on the next track. Noticing that the side door on one was open, Blair quickly scrambled across the rough gravel. He ducked under the car when he saw the other man walking his way. With great care, Blair watched him look down the line, then turn back. Once his attention was on the switch handle at the end of the track, Blair made his move. Standing up, he tossed his blanket and satchel inside first. Then he grabbed a hold of the bar on the door just barely within his reach. Squirming and pulling, he finally managed to get inside.

It was fairly dark within the car, lit only by the rainy gloom of the outside. Several tall cubes made up of shipping boxes filled the inside. Peering through the thick layers of plastic-wrap, Blair tried to read the label. He thought it said something about fish. Looking over his shoulder, Blair realized he would be easily spotted if someone came to the door. He had to hide.

There was just barely enough room between the cubes for the boy to squeeze through. Once through all the cubes, Blair spotted the outline of a small door on the end of the rail car. Wondering if anyone would come through that way, he was about to check it when he heard someone at the side door. Ducking, Blair curled up behind a cube. With an ear-piercing squeal, the side door was closed, leaving him in the dark.

Feeling his way, the boy set his blanket on the wooden floorboards and spread it out. The space felt closed off and stuffy. Blair could feel his muscles tighten with each passing second in the dark. Suddenly a hard jolt shook through the car. Scared, Blair held his satchel tight to his chest. Then the car was yanked the other way, slowly moving the car forward. After a couple more jolts and yanks, the car moved forward again, slowly picking up speed until it was traveling at a steady pace.

Curious, Blair crawled forward until he reached the end of the car. By touch alone, he found a lever. After a few tries, he finally felt it move down and the small door he had seen opened outward. Fresh air, moist from the rain, flowed into his hiding hole along with a bit of light. After a couple of bangs against the side of the car, the door stuck open. Blair didn't mind. He crawled back to his blanket nest and pulled out the bag of chips. He was heading to Laurian Province and was one step closer to finding his father.


Early next morning

The slowing of the car woke Blair from his doze. His stomach growled again, reminding him that it hadn't been fed in a long time. The pink light from the dawn radiated in through the open door. Blair crawled over and cautiously poked his head out. It looked like they were in another yard of train cars. Was it Laurian? Debating on whether to stay in the car or get out, Blair's growling stomach made the decision. He really needed to find some food and water.

Gathering his stuff in preparation to move quickly, Blair knelt by the hatch. Enduring a couple of hard jolts, he waited until the train had come to a full stop. He checked again to make sure that the coast was clear. Then he slipped through the opening, his feet slipping and sliding on the slick metal coupling. Once his feet found purchase, Blair managed to finish his climb out and dropped to the track below. Keeping his head down, he scurried across the rails and rough gravel.

Ducking behind a small shed, Blair took his first look around. There were trains and tracks in all directions. Somewhere was the direction to Harbor Bay and his father. He just had to find it. Spotting some larger buildings, Blair stood up and picked his way over. Maybe there'd be some food there and a sign pointing to Harbor Bay.

Food appeared unexpectedly when he walked around one of the cars. On the ground was a broken crate, green fruit like he'd received at the camp spilling out the side. Blair's eyes grew wide at the unexpected bounty. Dashing over to the crate, he picked up a fruit and took a bite. It tasted so sweet and juicy. Within seconds, the hungry boy had eaten it to the core. Then Blair grabbed several more, stuffing them into his satchel.

"HEY! What are you doing there, boy!"

Blair jumped up with a start. Spotting the angry man walking in his direction, he swiftly turned and ran. He dodged between and under cars, squirming through tight spots the larger man couldn't possibly fit. Soon, he was past the train yard and running into the town beyond.

A small park, lush and deep gray-green, drew the frightened child. Its tall Dankwood trees, the sharp-tooth gray leaves covering each set of multiple trunks, promised cover. Ducking behind a tree, Blair struggled to catch his breath. The town seemed even bigger than Odinland. Blair didn't even know its name. Suddenly, the fear of being caught was multiplied by the fear of being lost and alone. It swamped him, freezing him to the tree's slender trunks. Taking another deep, shaky breath, the boy pushed back his fear. He had to find Harbor Bay. Sitting here scared wouldn't help.

Again drawing on his stubborn nature, the boy pushed himself off the ground and dusted off his pants. Glancing at his hands, Blair suddenly realized just how dirty they were. Mom would have really yelled at him, if she could have see him. Shoving away the intense sadness that particular thought produced, Blair marched over to the nearby creek.

A short while later, a bit cleaner and stomach full of fruit, Blair wandered the streets. Unnoticed by the people hurrying to start the morning, he soaked up the sights, searching for any bit of information that might lead him to his father.

"...Looks like more rain tonight..."

"...Did you see Stanton U pummel Tech?"

"You bet! That was some game..."

"...Did you get your mother off?"

"Yeah, I dropped her off at the Express station last night. She should have hit Harbor Bay this morning, then reach Poodunk tomorrow..."

Express station! Blair remembered seeing the pictures of the double-decked buses that carried people to various cities on the mainland. Now all he had to do was find the station, buy a ticket, and he'd be all set. Searching the streets, Blair finally spotted the sign with a double-decked bus, pointing to the Express station. He turned to follow, a bounce to his steps that had been missing since the invasion.


It was a long hike through the hot city streets to the station. Blair's feet grew sore as his pace slowed. But by late afternoon, he finally reached it. Unconsciously straightening his shoulders, Blair took a deep breath and opened the large, heavy door.

It was cooler inside. Blair wandered through the large open area, staring up at the pointed ceiling three levels above his head. There were people here and there, sitting in chairs and keeping their hands busy while they waited. But overall, the place echoed in emptiness. A large flat board was mounted in the middle of the area. Blair stopped in front, studying the large map. He found a star labeled 'You are Here'. So, I'm in Davenport. He also found a dot labeled 'Harbor Bay'. But the schedule of bus arrivals and departures mystified him. Oh well, surely the ticket should say when the bus leaves?

Searching the large room with his eyes, he finally spotted a sign over a window that said, 'Purchase Tickets Here'. Praying he remembered how to speak Basic as well as he understood it, Blair marched over to the window. He stood up on his tiptoes so that his face was higher than the ledge. Remembering all the times he had said it in class, Blair politely greeted, "Hello, sir."

The old man with a pointy nose and glasses stared at him. "What do you want?" he asked in a tone that made Blair feel he wasn't worthy of the gentleman's time.

"I like to buy a ticket to Harbor Bay," Blair replied, worrying he was conjugating the verb wrong.

"Go away, kid." The old man waved him off. "Go back to your parents." He slammed the door to the window down, effectively dismissing Blair from his presence.

"But I want to go to my father's," Blair whispered, disheartened. He slowly turned away from the window. Fearfully worrying about what to do now, he wandered back into the empty station.

"Hey, kid!"

Blair turned to see an older teenager wave him over. After glancing around to see if there was anyone else the guy could be talking to, Blair slowly walked over.

The thin young man was studying him, taking in the dirty clothes, exhausted face, and the hungry eyes. "You in a bit of a jam, kid?" There was concern in the face.

Uncertain what he meant, Blair replied softly, "I just want a ticket to Harbor Bay. My father is there."

"Well, can't blame you. Doesn't look like they're treating you well here." He leaned over to Blair. "I'll get the ticket for you, if you don't mind giving me something extra."

"I don't have much extra," Blair replied slowly, not quite sure what the teen meant. If he meant money, Blair wasn't even sure he had enough for a ticket.

"How much do you have?"

Backing up a step, Blair eyed the guy cautiously as he pulled out his mom's hand purse from the satchel. He pulled the bills slightly out, quickly recounting the amount.

"What's that, there?"

Confused, Blair glanced down to see what he was pointing at. A small piece of folded cardboard had slid out with the bills. "Stamps," he replied.

"I don't think I've seen any like those before," the teen replied. "What province are they from?"

Blair paused, fear warring with the need for a ticket. Finally, the ticket won. "Claria Island."

The hazel eyes widened a moment, then the calm facade returned. "Sounds like you're in more trouble than I thought." The teen paused a moment, thinking over the situation. "Still, those stamps are going to be worth something now. I'll make you a deal. I'll trade you a ticket to Harbor Bay for those stamps and half the price of the ticket. What do you say?"

Blair's eyes were glowing. The stamps didn't mean anything to him, but if they could get him a ticket, they were worth more than gold. "It is a deal."


The older boy's name was Dillon. He was working a summer job in one of the furniture factories, sending most of his check back to his grandmother and little cousin in Manhaven. "There isn't anyone else, and we need money to pay for Gram's doctor bills," Dillon explained matter-of-factly. "I'm here waiting for a package from home."

He directed Blair to a section in the back, filled with machines. Dillon showed him how to put a couple of coins into the slot, punch a button, and whatever the button was labeled would fall into the tray below. Blair was fascinated. He'd never seen anything like it before.

"While I buy your ticket," Dillon told him, "I want you to get something to drink. You look like you could use it."

So after Dillon left, Blair studied the selections, slipped in the coins and pressed a button. A juice box wiggled itself loose and fell into the tray. Picking it up and pushing the tab, Blair took a deep drink. It tasted so good, and it did make him feel better. He sat on a bench in the area, swinging his legs as he studied the other machines in the room. It felt good not to be standing on his feet anymore.

A few minutes later, Dillon came back. "One ticket to Harbor Bay."

Blair gave him a wide smile as he handed over a few bills and the stamps. Dillon then gave him the ticket. He ran his finger along the cardboard. 'Harbor Bay' was inked across the top, with the date and time stamped below it. Blair felt hope rise in his chest.

Meanwhile, Dillon studied the stamps. "These are beautiful. Very intricate artwork. Thanks." He turned back to study the boy. "Don't you have any other clothes?"

Blair looked up and shook his head.

"Well, people are going to wonder with you looking like you've been rolling through the mud," Dillon explained. "I don't think you want a lot of questions?" Blair shook his head. Dillon reached for his pack. Pulling out a T-shirt, he stood up. "Let's head for the bathroom."

Half an hour later, they exited the bathroom. Blair's face, hands and arms were clean, his hair washed and slicked back. Even though Dillon's shirt hung loosely, it too was clean.

"Much better," Dillon commented, looking Blair over again. "Your pants are still dirty, but that's not as noticeable with the long T-shirt." He sat Blair down again. "Now, when you get on the bus, go to the top deck. The drivers don't like hiking up there, so they should leave you alone." Blair nodded, absorbing the information. "Keep to yourself and stay on the bus until they say 'Harbor Bay stop'. That way, you don't get off at the wrong place or get left at a stop because you don't get back in time. You're also less likely to get noticed. Grab some food and drink boxes here, so you won't need to get any during the trip. Now, do you know where your father lives?"

"Harbor Bay," Blair replied.

Dillon barely kept the smile off his face. "Harbor Bay is a big place. Do you know his name?" Blair nodded vigorously. "Okay, come here a minute." Dillon led him to a small table with a comm system. "See this book? It lists everyone who has a comm link in Davenport. There will be one at the Harbor Bay station, too. Look up your father's name, and it will give you his address." Dillon pointed to one in the book as an example. "Just find the street, and you'll find your father. Got it?"

"Got it," Blair replied. It now felt like finding his father would be an easy task, thanks to Dillon.

"Okay, why don't you get your food," Dillon waved at the machines, "and I'll get my package. Then I'll take you to where the bus will pick you up."

"Okay," Blair merrily agreed. He walked over to the wonderful machines. Counting his coins, Blair carefully made his choices. By the time he was done and had packed his satchel, Dillon had returned, a brown, paper-wrapped package tucked under his arm. "Let's go, kid. The bus will be here soon."

Scurrying after the teen, Blair double-checked that the precious ticket was in his hand. He was surprised to see that there were more people milling about. Dillon led him across the wide expanse of tile floor over to the windows along the side. They had just reached them when a huge red bus pulled along side the curb.

"Here it is." Dillon waved at the bus with his hand. "Your ride to Harbor Bay."

"Thank you!" Blair replied. He bounced into line, handed the ticket to the driver who barely glanced at him, and scurried into the bus. On the steps, he turned back and waved at the teen who had helped him.

Dillon watched the bus pull out with the youngster safely aboard. "Good luck finding your father, kid," he whispered. "I just wish I knew who mine was." The teen turned away, heading back to the lonely boarding house.


That night, Express bus

Wrapped up in his blanket and tucked against the window, Blair dozed contentedly. Everything seemed to be going well. After dining on chips, dried fruit, and a juice box, his stomach had finally settled down. He would be in Harbor Bay by tomorrow morning, and would have hopefully found his father by tomorrow night. He would have fulfilled his promise and maybe have someplace to stay that was warm, safe, and dry. Fantasizing about what his father looked like and how he'd react, Blair drifted off to sleep.

The suspicious stares from one of the other passengers went unnoticed by the tired boy. Several hours into the ride, the passenger made his way down to the lower level and the bus driver.


Next morning, Express station, Harbor Bay

"HARBOR BAY STOP."

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Blair picked up his blanket and satchel. He walked down the aisle and trudged down the steps, trying to keep from yawning. His stomach was demanding breakfast, but Blair figured he's just find some more of those wonderful machines. There was still a little change left in the hand purse.

Deep in his thoughts, Blair hadn't realized he was in trouble until gloved hands grabbed his arms. He was pulled roughly away from the other bus passengers. A man with his face covered in a mask yelled, "You're from Claria, aren't you?"

Wincing, Blair raised scared eyes to look at the man. Apparently, being Clarian wasn't a good thing. "Why?" he asked in Esbrew, his Basic fleeing his mind in the face of the man's anger.

The man dragged him to a waiting van, yelling at him in Basic. Blair tried to pull away, but the man was much bigger and stronger. Blair was shoved into a corner seat. He nearly fell off when the van flew away from the curb. In Basic words too fast for Blair to grasp, the man continued to yell at him. Blair thought there might be some questions in there, but he was too scared to try to answer or understand. He must have done something really bad. Was it because he left the tent city? Because he rode in the trains and took some fruit? Because he was Clarian? Blair really didn't know, and that just made him even more scared.

Within minutes, Blair was pulled out of the van by people in rubber suits. His brief glance suggested a hospital, but he was soon shoved into a room before he could tell for sure. His satchel and blanket were whisked away, his clothes swiftly striped from his body before he could protest. After he had been scrubbed from head to toe, one of the suited figures pulled a light gown over his head. What do they think I am, a girl? Blair was then shoved into a room with white walls and floor. Feeling scared, naked and alone, he ignored the bed and curled up in a corner. If he had done something so bad to deserve this, would his father want him now? Would anyone want him now? Blair wrapped his arms around his legs and shivered, wishing desperately for his mother.


PART 3: DISCOVERY

Lila Memorial Hospital, Harbor Bay, Laurian Province

Inspector Frank Colton walked down the hospital halls, looking for the isolation unit. His captain had sent him here to check the story of the Clarian kid. Frank shook his head, wondering how a kid from the island had managed to get to Harbor Bay. Most the refugees had landed in either Tucker or Odinland. He hadn't heard of any making it this far north. Since some of the Clarian refugees were coming down with an unknown disease, his captain feared they might have a disaster in the making if more Clarians had made it this far. The media was already stirring up a panic down south.

Gently tapping on the shoulder of a young nurse, he quickly showed her his badge. "I was sent to check into the Clarian kid. Is he here?"

"Yes," the woman replied. She pointed to a large window. "He's in there. But you can't go in without a suit."

Frank sighed, having a good idea what kind of suit she was talking about. He hated rubbertex. "Have you found out anything about him? Like how he got here?"

She shook her head. "He hasn't said much, though the health department guy really yelled at him."

A seed of anger began to grow in Frank. He adored kids, even though his wife Dana couldn't have children with her illness. He positively doted on Jeff's and his brother Jesse's kids. Nothing made him angrier than an adult hurting a child. He walked over to the window. After a moment, he spied the boy sitting in the corner on the floor, arms wrapped around his skinny bent legs. His anger grew when he realized the kid was shivering in the thin hospital gown. "Who's his doctor?"

The nurse shrugged. "Dr. Norman at the moment, though I don't think he wants to do it."

Frank shook his head. He hadn't been very impressed with Norman, neither in handling Dana's occasional emergencies nor when little Sam had been hurt. "See if Dr. Brannon is available," he suggested, recalling the doctor who had been so good with Sam. The nurse left to make the calls.

A few moments later, he was joined by a patrol officer. "Inspector Colton?"

Frank turned and recognized the young man. "Davis." He looked back into the room. "Any information yet?"

Davis shook his head. "No. The kid's not talking, they're still working on sterilizing the stuff he had on him, and I think the HD guy scared the poor kid to death."

Hitting the window ledge, Frank fought to control his anger. "What the hell did he think he was doing?"

"I think he's scared of this statcus thing," Davis replied. "The news reports make it sound worse than the Landing Year Plague."

"That's no excuse," Frank growled. "He's just a kid. Lord knows what he must have gone through on Claria." Then a thought struck him. "Does he speak Basic?"

Davis' face turned puzzled. "What do you mean?"

Frank rolled his eyes. "The native language on Claria is Esbrew, not Basic. The kid might not have a clue why everyone's yelling at him."

The light turned on behind Davis' eyes. "Really? I don't think anyone has said anything to him except in Basic. Though he did speak a couple words of Basic."

"Doesn't mean he knows the whole language." Frank thought a moment. "Okay, Jeff MacGregor knows Esbrew, and I think he's working on some reports at home today. Go tell him I need a translator fast and drive him over here. He lives next door to my mother."

Davis quickly left to follow the order. Frank glanced back into the room and sighed. Hell, I'm going to have to climb into one of those damn suits.


Fifteen minutes later, Frank was suited up and connected to an air unit. Frank practiced a couple of steps, decided it was just as bad as he thought it would be, then pushed the discomfort from his mind. There's a boy in there possibly sick and definitely scared. I've got to do something.

Once through the sterilization cycle, the inner door opened to allow him in. He walked over to where the boy still sat, grabbing a blanket from the foot of the bed. "Hi there." The boy looked up, fear making his big blue eyes even larger. Realizing the problem, Frank awkwardly sat down on the floor a couple of feet from the boy, trying to look less intimidating. "I'm Inspector Colton."

The boy swallowed hard. "Are you go to arres, arrest me?"

Frank shook his head to make sure the child understood. "No, I am not going to arrest you." He spoke slowly, so that the boy would have an easier time understanding the words. He held out the blanket. "Why don't you wrap up in this?"

The boy took the blanket and swiftly wrapped it around his bony body. Frank swallowed hard. No child should be so skinny. Probably hasn't had a decent meal since the invasion. Every instinct Frank owned wanted to pick the kid up and carry him home for his mother and wife to feed and pamper. Instead, Frank simply asked, "Does that feel better?"

The boy looked up and nodded. Frank was struck by how blue his eyes were. Gently, so not to scare the kid further, he asked, "What is your name?"

"Blair Sandburg."

A nudge tickled the back of his mind, but Frank didn't know why. He pressed on, "Well, hi Blair. How much Basic do you know?"

The boy paused a moment in thought. Frank could tell he was thinking hard on the words. "I learn a little at school."

So I'm right. Hope Jeff gets here soon. "That's good. I have asked someone to come here who can speak Esbrew. He should be here in a little bit. Okay?" The boy nodded, eyes brightening at the thought. Remembering the questions the nurse said they needed answered, Frank asked, "Where are your parents?"

The light went out of the blue eyes. Blair seemed to withdraw into himself, barely shaking his head.

Damn, the poor kid probably saw them die. Frank carefully laid a hand on the thin shoulder, trying to offer comfort. He changed the subject, planning to check the records for relatives later. "That's okay. How old are you, Blair?"

Frank could see the boy struggle to turn his mind away from horrible memories to answer the question. "Ten."

"When is your birthday?" The boy slowly told him. Frank nodded his head. He wasn't sure if the child would understand the Basic word 'allergies', so he decided to continue with his own questions. "That's great, Blair. Where are you from?"

"Serenity."

Frank smiled at him, even though the nudge was back. That name sounded familiar. "How did you get here?"

"By boat."

Ask a stupid question... "Do you know where the boat landed?"

Stumbling over the pronunciation, Blair replied, "Oo, Oh, O'in land."

Odinland! That's miles from here! "How did you get to Harbor Bay?"

Blair shrugged. "I got on train to Laurian. Then I got bus to Harbor Bay."

Frank did his best to keep the surprise from his face. How did a ten-year-old manage all that? Though there was an even better question. "Why did you come to Harbor Bay?"

Blair squirmed on the floor a moment. Frank could see the horror lurking in his eyes. Struggling with the words, Blair softly answered, "I... Ima... my mother, she tell me... to come here."

Puzzled, Frank asked, "Why?"

"To... find... my father."

Frank blinked. He hadn't expected that response. "Did she tell you his name?"

Blair nodded, studying the man in front of him. After a moment, he replied, "Jeff MacGregor."

Frank's eyes widened in surprised. Oh hell, THAT'S why Sandburg sounded familiar. Taking a deep breath, he asked, "Is your mother's name Naomi?"

Surprised, the boy nodded. Hesitantly, he asked, "Do... Do you know... my mother?"

"I met her once," Frank replied, remembering the beautiful woman who just about tore his friend's heart into pieces.

"Can you find my father?"

Gently, Frank laid his gloved hand on the curly head. "I'll see what I can do. But you have to do something for me." The boy looked at him expectantly. "I want you to get in that bed and wrap up in the covers to get warm. Then I want you to do what the nurses and doctor tells you. Agree?"

The curly head nodded vigorously. By the time Frank had pushed himself off the floor, the boy was in the bed and pulling the sheet and blanket over himself. Frank gave him a smile, hoping Blair could see it through the faceplate. Then he left the room.

During the sterilization process, Frank's thoughts ran furiously. Thinking back, doing a little math, he wasn't liking the results. Jeff wasn't completely over Kate's and Aubrey's deaths yet. Frank hated dumping this mess on him now.

Stepping out of the chamber, he was met by Ted Brannon. "Did I hear what I thought I heard?" the doctor asked.

Frank pulled off the headgear. "That Jeff is that kid's father?" As Ted nodded, Frank sighed. "Yes."

"Well?"

Frank closed his eyes as he took a deep breath. "Jeff was briefly engaged to a Naomi Sandburg from Claria back when he was nineteen. Let's just say it didn't end well. By my best guess, it could be possible."

"Damn!" Ted exclaimed, running a hand through his hair. "We've barely got Sam back on his feet. How's Jeff going to handle this? Hell, how are we going to tell him?"

Frank shook his head. "I don't know, but I better think of something quick. Jeff should be on his way here right now to translate."

"Great," Ted sighed. He glanced at the little boy in the isolation room. "What can I do?"

"Take care of the boy. If he does have statcus, this could be a rough ride."

A nurse stepped into the observation room. "Inspector? Mr. MacGregor is here to translate."

Exchanging glances, Frank turned to break the news to his friend.


Stunned, Jeff stared at the cup of java Frank had given him. "I...Why... Damn it, Frank." He sat the cup down and rubbed his face. "Can it be true?"

Frank took a deep breath. "You were with Naomi about eleven years ago during the summer, right? Up about the Ninth month?" Jeff thought a moment, then slowly nodded. "Blair said he's ten and was born in Fifth month."

Jeff gradually raised his head to meet Frank's concerned brown eyes. "That's about eight to ten months. Damn, it could be true." Jeff dropped his head back into his hands. "Why didn't Naomi tell me?!?"

Frank struggled to keep his dislike of Naomi to himself, but finally suggested, "Maybe Naomi didn't want you to pollute his mind with your mainland ways."

"Probably," Jeff admitted, remembering the fights they had had over the differences in their respective cultures. "She always thought the mainlanders were too uptight." A son. How can I have a ten-year-old son and not know it! I could feel Sam and Aubrey from the minute I held them. Damn, how could Naomi do this to me?

A knock on the lounge door echoed in the room. Frank opened the door.

"Inspector Colton?" the nurse asked. When Frank nodded, she handed him a box. "These are the things the Sandburg boy had on him. Dr. Brannon said you'd want to see them."

Frank thanked her, then carried the box over to the low table by Jeff. Taking a deep breath, Jeff sat upright so he could look into the box as well. Carefully, Frank picked up a leather wallet. Opening it up, he bit his lip. "Jeff, can you read this?"

Jeff took the wallet from Frank's hand and looked down. It was a card with a small picture of Naomi. An older version of Naomi than Jeff remembered, but definitely Naomi. He read the card. "It's a council person's I.D. card for entering the House of Law." He gave Frank a small smirk. "I had a feeling Naomi would go into politics. She was always a passionate debater." He sighed, "That would also explain it."

"Explain what?"

"Serenity was right on the West coast. The Roachians hit it without warning. I'd heard there were few survivors from that area. Yet Council would have been in session, so Naomi would have been in Unity, closer to the center of the island." He then flipped to the next section. It was a picture of Naomi with her arms wrapped around a boy standing in front of her. Jeff could see the strong resemblance between her and the child. "What happened? Where's Naomi?"

Frank shook his head. "Maybe Blair can tell us, though I'd tread carefully. Just the little he's said, I think he's too traumatized to talk about it yet."

Jeff exchanged looks with his friend, thoughts of Sam's recent trauma fresh on both minds. "You think she's dead."

Frank pointed to the box. "Most of this stuff is what you'd expect to find in a woman's purse, especially a mother. Why would her son be carrying it?"

Jeff swallowed hard and looked back down at the picture. He ran his finger over the small face, a face that could be his son. "When can I see him?"


Before the nurse directed Jeff towards the isolation suits, he walked over to the observation window. A thin boy with dark curly hair was poking at a meal tray. Jeff felt a tug on his heart. The kid looked so lost and alone. Is he my son? How could I not know about him? What kind of father am I?

The nurse caught his gaze. "That kid is undernourished, but he doesn't seem to want to eat."

Jeff shifted his gaze to the food on the tray. Chicken soup, crackers, red peas, applesauce, and a corn muffin - not too bad for hospital food. But not typical fare for a Clarian kid, either. The boy was studying it instead of eating. "He's probably never seen that kind of food before," Jeff thought out loud.

The nurse looked at him in surprise. "What do you mean?"

"They mostly ate native fruit, nuts, vegetables, and reed rice on Claria. And Serenity commune was strictly vegetarian. I doubt he's ever seen cooked chicken before."

"Hmmm," the nurse thought out loud, "we may have some fresh fruit in the kitchen. Do you think he might eat that?"

Jeff gave her a smile. "We can give it a try."


Blair speared another red pea with his fork. He had read about them, but he'd never ate one before. They tasted okay, but his stomach wasn't feeling very good. He carefully ate the pea, then glanced at the other stuff on his tray. He again poked at the liquid stuff. It wasn't like any soup he'd ever had before, but it kinda smelled good. He just wasn't sure his stomach wanted it.

Then the door to the room opened. Blair scooted back into the bed, a flash of panic racing through him and making his stomach feel even more queasy. Everyone looked alike in those suits. It wasn't that nice Inspector, since the skin was light and not dark. It wasn't that nice Dr. Brannon either, who wore a blue suit instead of the yellow ones. Was it that mean old man who yelled at him?

"Hello, Blair," greeted a suit-muffled voice. Blair looked up in surprise. The words were Esbrew.

When the big blue eyes met his, Jeff felt as if he'd been punched in the stomach. Those were Jeff's mother's eyes, just like her picture Harry had kept in the study. This kid had his mother's eyes.

"Hi," said a soft, high voice. It continued hopefully, "You speak Esbrew?"

Mentally shaking himself, Jeff replied, "I sure do. I lived on Claria a while back." Jeff pulled a chair closer to the bed and sat down. Making a display of looking over the tray, he continued, "Looks interesting. Aren't you hungry?"

The thin shoulders shrugged. "My stomach feels queasy. And I don't know what anything tastes like."

The lost tone struck Jeff hard. Taking a deep breath, Jeff picked up the knife and gently pointed at the compartments on the tray. "Well, this is applesauce. It's made from a fruit brought from the old world then cooked into a sauce. It tastes pretty good. In fact, it's my son Sam's favorite."

"Really?" Blair scooped some up with his spoon and studied it a moment.

Jeff smiled and chuckled, "You won't know what it tastes like unless you try it."

Blair gave him a shy smile that went straight to Jeff's heart. Then he put the spoon in his mouth. Rolling the mixture around with his tongue a moment, the boy swallowed then nodded. "It's okay."

Making it into a game, Jeff soon had the boy try everything on the tray, explaining what it was and trying to describe what it tasted like. Blair had brightened up considerably and had even chuckled a time or two. Jeff could see the sharp mind absorb all the information then ask intelligent questions. He'd even made a comparison between the chicken and a hamburger he had had at school. "It was good, but I didn't tell my mom I ate it." Then a veil of sadness crossed his face. Jeff wanted so badly to give him a hug, but knew he didn't dare rush things.

It wasn't long before a good portion of the food had made it into the boy. Well practiced at handling hospital trays, Jeff set it to the side and moved his chair closer. "Well, Blair, Inspector Colton told me you landed in Odinland. How did you get all the way to Harbor Bay?"

Hesitantly at first, then gradually gaining the ease of a natural-born story-teller, Blair told the man all about his adventure starting at the tent city. It wasn't until he told of getting caught off the bus that the words slowed. Jeff could see the fear grow on the small face. Gently, Jeff laid a hand on the bony shoulder. "What's wrong, Blair?"

Blair fought back tears. He was so scared, yet this man had been nice to him. "I'm really in trouble, aren't I?"

Jeff squeezed the shoulder, trying to comfort the boy through all the layers of rubbertex. "A little. But that's okay. We'll take care of it."

Brushing back a tear that insisted on falling, Blair replied, "But I want to be good so my father will want me when the Inspector finds him."

Jeff swallowed hard. "Blair..."

More tears fell. "They said mainland fathers don't want their Clarian kids. But I thought if I'm good and work hard, he'll want me. But if I'm in trouble, he won't want me."

"Blair!" Jeff captured the small face between his hands and ducked a little to meet the eyes. For a moment, blue eyes held brown through the faceplate. Then with one gloved thumb, Jeff gently brushed the moisture from the red cheek. "Inspector Colton found your father, Blair. I'm Jeff MacGregor."

The blue eyes blinked in surprise. "You're Jeff MacGregor?"

Swallowing back his own tears, Jeff forced his voice to remain steady. "Yes, I'm Jeff MacGregor. And this mainland father definitely wants his Clarian son."

"You really want me?"

"Yes."

The thin body immediately launched himself into Jeff's arms. Jeff hugged him back as tightly as the suit allowed.


It was hard to leave Blair behind in the sterile white room all alone. Waves of confusing and conflicting emotions pounded over Jeff as he waited for the sterilization cycle to run its course. Guilt, wonder, anger, joy, sadness, fear, hope, and worry all tugged and pulled at him. When the cycle dinged its completion, Jeff took a deep breath and pulled himself together. Blair needed him to be strong now.

After pulling off the suit and absently running a hand through his light brown hair, Jeff stepped into the observation room. It was much more crowded than when he had gone in. The first face he saw made him smile. Apparently, Frank had called in the troops. "Hi, Mama Tess."

"Hi yourself," Tess Colton replied, folding him into a warm embrace. Comfort flowed from the large woman who had been a surrogate mother to him since his own had died. Yet when she pulled back, Jeff knew from her face he was about to be scolded. "You told that boy you're his father, didn't you?" Jeff nodded nonchalantly. "Jeffery, what ever possessed you to do that! You don't know that for sure. You're just raising that little boy's hopes up."

"He's mine, Tess," Jeff told her with conviction. "He has my mom's eyes."

"Jeff, that doesn't mean..."

"Even if he's not, Naomi sent him to me. She trusted me to take care of him for her. That's what I'm going to do."

"Jeff, Naomi may still be alive."

"No," Jeff contradicted her sadly. "Blair's wearing her star necklace. Naomi once told me that it had been passed down in her family since they had left the old world. Naomi would have only given him that necklace before his Bar Mitzvah if she wasn't going to be around to wear it."

"Bar Mitzvah?" Frank asked.

"Sort of a 'passing into adulthood' ceremony. Also, if she hasn't told me about him before this, she certainly had no reason to send him to me now if she could take care of him."

Tess sighed and gave him another comforting hug. She knew that stubborn look and didn't have the heart to stress him further by arguing.

"Did Blair tell you anything more about Naomi?" Frank asked.

"Just that he didn't tell her about the hamburger he ate at school." Jeff sadly chuckled. "Naomi would have had a fit if she'd known he'd eaten meat."

"How is he feeling?" a new voice with a Hungarian Province accent popped up from behind Tess.

"Janos?" Jeff questioned, spotting his friend and fellow scientist from the space project.

Janos Bartok gave him a sympathetic smile. "Ana sent me to get information when she had heard there was a possible statcus case here," he explained. His sister was a microbiologist in Odinland.

Jeff ran a hand through his hair. He'd almost forgotten why Blair was in isolation. "Blair said his stomach is queasy. I just figured it was from not eating and all the stress he's been through."

"It could be." Janos shrugged, trying to keep the worry out of his eyes. "Ana said they were still trying to get a handle on the symptoms, though they suspect chills and headache are the early signs. It's been hard, since this disease is totally new and has only been found in a population already stressed to the maximum."

Jeff took another deep breath, pushing back his fears. "Could you have Ana send me whatever information they have so far? I want to know what we're up against if Blair does have it." Janos nodded.

"What are you going to do now?" Frank asked.

Jeff took a deep breath. "Talk with Ted about what arrangements need to be made for Blair. Then probably go back in and get acquainted with my son."

"Then you'll need these." Jeff looked up to spot Frank's wife Dana enter the room, her arms full. "It looked rather bare in there, so I picked up a few things for him."

Frank grabbed a tube before it could fall, unrolling it to find a picture of horses with the sun setting behind them. He shared a smile with his wife, proud of her warm and giving spirit.

Jeff picked the dark brown teddy bear in overalls out of her arms, appreciating the long, soft fur. "Thanks, Dana."


Blair ran his fingers up and down the blanket. There was nothing to do in the bare room. He had studied some of the equipment, but didn't dare touch anything since he was suppose to be in bed. How long did he have to stay here? He felt so cold and alone. If only he knew why he was being punished. At least it didn't seem to upset his father.

Wrapping his arms around his bent legs and resting his chin on his knees, Blair thought about his father. He really couldn't tell what the man looked like in the suit, but he had been fun to talk to. Would his father want to take him home with him? Blair hoped so. He really wanted out of here. What would his father's home be like? They said on the boat that people didn't live in communes. In school, there had been pictures of tall city buildings. Did his father live in a place like that? Would it be like living in a tree house?

His father had also mentioned another son named Sam who liked applesauce. Was he older or younger than Blair? Blair had always wanted a brother or sister. Would this Sam like Blair? Would they be close like Prue, Piper and Phoebe? Were there any more brothers and sisters?

The sound of the door opening drew Blair's attention. A suited figure walked in, arms loaded with stuff. Blair's eyes grew wide as he identified the toys and games.

"Hi Blair," the muffled voice greeted in Esbrew. It was his father.

"Are all those for me?" Blair asked in awe.

"Well, I don't see anyone else here," the voice teased as he dumped his load onto the foot of the bed. "Mrs. Colton thought you might like them."

Blair scrambled out of the covers to check out the pile. The first thing he picked up was the teddy bear. Running his hand over the soft fur, Blair looked at his father who had pulled up a chair next to the bed.

"That little guy is to keep you company when I'm not here," Jeff explained, hoping the ten-year-old didn't think he was too big for stuffed toys. The shy smile that stretched across Blair's face as he hugged the bear dispelled that worry.

Soon, Blair was examining the books and games while Jeff taped up the poster. But when Jeff turned around, he saw a flash of sadness cross the boy's face. Sitting back into the chair, Jeff asked, "What's wrong?"

Blair thought a moment, worry deep in his eyes. "How long do I have to stay here?"

Swallowing hard, Jeff gently laid a hand on Blair's shoulder. "I don't know," he admitted.

Screwing up his courage, Blair asked, "What did I do that was so bad?"

Jeff blinked. "You didn't do anything bad."

"Then why am I being punished?"

Understanding dawned, bringing horror with the realization. "No, Blair. You aren't here to be punished. They just want to make sure you aren't sick."

"Sick?" questioned the confused boy.

"Yes. Do you remember anyone at the camps getting sick?" Blair shook his head. "Well, some of the Clarians have been getting sick since they came over to the mainland. You are in here to make sure that if you do get sick, you can't give it to someone else."

Blair tilted his head in thought. "You mean like a cold or something?"

"Right, like a cold. Nobody knows how you catch it, so they're just being cautious."

"Is that why everyone is in the suits?"

"Right."

Blair pondered the information for a moment. "Will I get sick?"

"I don't know," Jeff replied, struggling to keep his voice calm as the innocent question made his stomach clench. He brushed a curl out of Blair's face, wishing he could feel it. "I hope not."

Worried blue eyes turned to him. "Where will I go when they let me out of here?"

Jeff smiled, hoping Blair could see it through the faceplate. "You'll go home with me."

"Really?" Blair's entire face lit up with the thought.

"Really."

Then Blair's face puckered again as another thought sprang into his mind. "Then why haven't I met you before?"

Jeff ducked a little to meet Blair's eyes. "I didn't know about you. If I had, we would have met before now."

"Why didn't you?"

Taking a deep breath, Jeff chose his words with care. "Your mother and I had a bad fight the last time I saw her. We both said things we didn't mean, which really hurt the other. Naomi probably didn't want to risk getting into another fight over you."

"Oh," Blair replied. "But Mom always made me apologize to my friends when we had a bad fight."

"Well," Jeff explained sadly, "adults don't always have someone to make them apologize like we should." Then Jeff tousled the curly hair. "Anything else you'd like to ask?"

Blair gave him a smile. "Is Sam my brother? And when will I get to meet him?"

Jeff settled back into the chair and started telling Blair about Sam.


That evening, MacGregor home, Harbor Bay

In the privacy of his study, Jeff stared at his mother's picture. Deep set and dark blue, they were just as he had remembered them. They matched the eyes of the boy in isolation.

Jeff slowly filled his lungs with air and released it. He had been reading the information that Ana had sent. This unknown disease was a nasty one. Starting with a severe headache and a slight drop in body temperature, it slowly progressed to blurred vision, high fever, and loss of muscle control. Most frightening was that over half the patients eventually died from respiratory or cardiac failure. The only positive thing was that the Tucker group felt it might not be an air-borne disease, so the quarantine might be lifted soon.

Jeff rubbed his eyes. To have suddenly discovered a son he had not known about, only to have the specter of death hanging over him felt incredibly unfair. Jeff wanted desperately to spend time with the boy, learning all about his likes and dislikes, his joys and his fears. Yet he might not be given the time. He was scared that fate was about to snatch this child out of his grasp as suddenly as he had been dropped into his hands. Jeff didn't know if he had the strength to handle it.

"Do you need a hug, Dad?" a voice suddenly asked.

Looking across his desk, Jeff smiled sadly into the brown eyes peeking above it. "Yeah, I think your Dad needs a hug."

The pajama-clad figure, light brown hair sticking in all directions, scampered around the desk and climbed into Jeff's lap. Sam wrapped his arms around his father's neck and squeezed. Jeff firmly hugged him back, needing to feel the vibrant life radiating from his precious son. Would he ever be able to hug his other son like this? Be able to feel the emotions from Blair flood into his mind as Sam's did?

Pulling back, Sam studied him for a moment with a seriousness that belied his age. "Are you sad tonight?"

Jeff tousled the soft hair. Sam had so often pulled him out when he was sinking too deeply into grief, the question was not unusual. "A little, but I'm better now." He lightly tickled the boy sitting on his knees. Sam giggled, squirming from the touch.

Taking a deep breath, Jeff continued before he lost his nerve. "I do have something to tell you."

"Really?" Sam asked, his eyes attentive.

Jeff gave him a small smile. "Yeah. I may be gone for a couple days."

"For work?"

"No, not work." Jeff paused a moment, then made his decision. "What would you say if I told you you had a brother?"

"A brother?" Sam asked, puzzled. "A baby brother?"

"No," Jeff returned with a smile. "He's a few years older than you."

"Really?" Sam's eyes lit up. "A big brother?"

Jeff smiled at the eagerness. "Yep, a big brother."

"Goodie!" Sam gave a bounce on his father's knee. "I always wanted a big brother." Then he paused. "Where'd he come from?"

Lightly brushing the soft hair away from his son's face, Jeff's smile turned sad. "He's been living with his mother on Claria Island. But I'm hoping in a few days he can live with us."

"Why can't he live with us now?"

"He's sick right now," Jeff answered while praying he was wrong. "Remember how I stayed at the hospital with you?"

Solemnly, Sam nodded. The hospital didn't hold many good memories for him.

"Well, I'm going to have to spend a lot of time at the hospital with him for a few days. You might not see me much, but I want you to know that I still love you. I just need to be with him while he's sick."

"Can't I come too?"

"Not yet. Remember how Willie couldn't visit you until you came home from the hospital? You can meet Blair when he comes home."

Sam nodded. "Okay." Then the boy gave him a big smile. "What's he like?"

Jeff returned the smile and started telling Sam what he knew about Blair.


The next morning, Lila Memorial Hospital

The first thing Jeff did as he arrived was to peer through the observation window. Only this time, Blair was curled into a tight little ball on the bed, the bear squished against his chest. A closer look revealed the sheet around him shaking. Fear rising in his chest, Jeff immediately turned to the nurse on duty. "How long has he been like that?"

The woman shrugged. "A while, I guess. He claimed he was in pain, so I gave him the meds the doctor prescribed."

"They obviously aren't working. Why didn't you call Dr. Brannon?" Jeff demanded as he swiftly pulled on a protective suit. A glance at the name tag gave him an answer. Blair had said that nurse Witman didn't like him because he was Clarian.

"He's home. We aren't suppose to bother the doctors at home unless it's necessary."

Jeff wanted to shake the woman. Instead, he pulled the rubber gloves onto his hands. "It's necessary. Call him now." Jeff quickly connected his air and grabbed a nearby blanket. He practically ran into the sterilization chamber.

After several panic-filled moments as Jeff waited for the chamber to run its course, he finally entered the room. He was kneeling by the bed in an instant. The boy's eyes were tightly squeezed shut, tear streaks wetting his cheeks. "Blair, can you hear me?" The curly head beneath his gloved hand barely nodded. "Can you open your eyes for me?"

A hoarse wisp of voice reached his ears. "My head hurts."

"Anything else hurt?" Jeff asked, fighting to push back the panic he felt. A severe headache was the first symptom.

"No," the broken little voice replied slowly. "Cold, too."

Automatically, Jeff laid the back of his hand against the pale forehead, only to realize he couldn't tell anything with the layers of protection between him and the boy. A boy who was in pain and desperately needed comfort. A boy who could be his son.

Jeff's patience snapped. He yanked the glove off and for the first time laid his bare hand against Blair's forehead. He had barely registered the icy skin when a wave of emotions hit him. Jeff closed his own eyes against the flood of pain, cold, fear, and loneliness. He now had his answer. Only with Harry, Sam and Aubrey had he ever felt such a connection. This boy was his son.

Not that that was important now. Barely hearing the nurse's protests over the intercom, Jeff stood up and pulled off the rest of the suit. He then gathered the boy into his arms, tenderly wrapping the blanket around them. Blair's eyes were still squeezed shut as he buried his face into Jeff's shirt, the small hands tightly grasping the soft material. Damn, he was so cold. Jeff carried him over to the rocking chair left by the room's last occupant. He sat down, gently shifting his burden. Blair endeavored to squeeze himself even tighter against the warm body holding him. Jeff slowly began to rock, whispering, "Easy, son, easy. I'm here, I'm right here." He sent thoughts of love and protection as he rubbed the bony arms and legs.

Time faded away as he strove to ease his son's suffering. Gradually, the icy body in his arms began to relax and warm. Loneliness was replaced with comfort, fear with a sense of security. Jeff could still feel the pain flowing from the too thin form, but even that did not seem as extreme as before.

A gruff voice growled, "MacGregor."

Jeff looked up into the face of the doctor. "Hi Ted." He could see the gleam of annoyance in Ted's eyes through the faceplate. He also knew Ted wasn't about to scold him here and upset the patient in his arms. "Blair," he softly directed to the precious bundle. "How are you feeling now?"

"Warmer," the faint voice rose from under the blanket.

Jeff softly translated the word for Brannon. "Does your head still hurt?" Jeff felt a slight nod against his chest. After mouthing 'head hurts' in Basic to Dr. Brannon, Jeff asked, "Anything else hurt?"

After a brief pause, Blair replied softly, "No, just cold." Jeff gently rubbed the hand still holding on tight to his shirt as he looked into Ted's eyes again. It was starting. His son had the disease that could kill him. Ted held up a syringe. "Dr. Brannon is here. He has something to make you feel better."

Jeff managed to uncover an arm for Ted to inject. Ted then helped to tuck the blanket around them. He suggested, "I'll have a cot brought in."

Jeff laid his cheek on top of the curly head. "Sounds like a good idea." He wasn't leaving his child to suffer alone again. He continued to rock until he felt Blair drift into sleep.


Mid-morning, Harbor Bay Space Center

Colonel Peter Thornton sat down at the desk he borrowed while visiting the Space Center and quickly shuffled through the reports. It was his job to keep abreast of various scientific research, in case it was needed to protect the colony. Thornton enjoyed learning about each new breakthrough and meeting with the incredible minds who produced them. The Space Center had been especially productive in that area. They had secretively launched newly designed satellites that returned images not just of the colony, but of the Roachian lands as well. Several analysts had pointed out the signs of the ever increasing Roachian population and its strain on their land. They had warned that sooner or later, the Roachians might want to take humans' lands, but none had expected it quite so soon.

Pete sighed and closed his eyes for a moment. The reports out of Claria Island had been shocking. Over half of the population was believed dead, the rest were refugees on the southern coastlines. The scariest was that there were no indications whether the invaders would be happy with just the island. Looking back over the projections from the imagery, Thornton feared they would not. Nor was he certain that the colony's tiny military would be effective against the Roachian army with its large number of seven foot drones.

So, how did they stop them? Thornton was under orders to gather a group of the top scientists to start working on that very problem. There were five he needed to talk to at the center. He'd already spoken to three of them. They had all agreed to work on the new team. He still had two more to meet. Thornton reshuffled the reports, noting that one of the scientists he wanted hadn't turned one in. Frowning, Thornton began to reach for his phone. MacGregor was usually quite dependable, but he had recently gone through a tough time in his personal life. Hopefully, nothing more had happened to little Sam.

Before Thornton could dial, a knock echoed in the barren room. Janos Bartok poked his head around the corner. "Is it time for the meeting?"

Waving him in, Thornton replaced the receiver and turned his attention to the young scientist. "Yes, but first I have a question. What's going on with MacGregor? I'm missing his report."

Bartok shrugged uneasily. "That is a long story. Do you wish to hear it?"

"Yes."

By the time Bartok had finished, Pete would have been pulling out his hair, if he had had much left. "Is there any evidence that this boy truly is MacGregor's son?"

"No, though Jeff is firmly convinced he is."

Thornton swiftly thought over the situation. Mac was still vulnerable from the aftermath of the ferry accident. This was a lot for him to handle now. Nor did it help that the brilliant, yet practical, MacGregor was the one Thornton most wanted on the team. "Does anyone know if the boy's infected?"

Bartok took a deep breath. "He entered stage one of the disease this morning."

"Then I suppose Mac isn't coming in to the Center today?"

Looking down at the table, Bartok related his most disturbing bit of news. "Actually, Jeff isn't going anywhere. He broke quarantine this morning when the boy became sick."

"HE WHAT!" Thornton stood up behind the desk in order to yell better. "What was he thinking!!!" Before Bartok could say anything, Thornton held up his hands. "Yeah, I know, he wasn't thinking." Thornton thought a moment, then grabbed his coat. "Guess you'll have to take me to him."


A hour later, Lila Memorial Hospital, Harbor Bay

"...The Tucker researchers suspect this isn't an airborne disease..."

The blanket tucked around him felt soft and warm. It felt so good to feel warm. Nearby, soft voices whispered in the background. Instead of concentrating on understanding the Basic words, Blair simply let the sounds wash over him.

"...He's already undernourished and traumatized, Pete. He'll need every advantage he can get..."

Blair slowly opened his eyes. Instead of the intense pain of before, his head was down to a dull throb. Yet the rest of him felt so tired and weak.

"...I'm not going to lose him. I've already lost Kate and Aubrey. I nearly lost Sam. I'm not losing this one..."

The voice was warm, rich, and deep, unlike the muffled ones he'd been hearing through the isolation suits.

"...sent him to me. On that alone, I'd take him in... moot point, anyway. He's my son..."

Slowly rubbing his eyes, Blair lifted his head to spot the speaker across the room. A tall, lanky man was leaning against the wall, speaking with a large, round man in an isolation suit. Quietly, Blair studied the lanky man who was waving his hands around to make his point. He had straight, light brown hair that was sticking up in different directions. The long-sleeved red shirt and the light blue pants looked comfortable and slightly wrinkled. Most puzzling was that he wasn't wearing an isolation suit.

Blair stared at the IV tube running down to his arm for a moment, trying to think around the headache. Then he remembered snatches of before, when someone had cuddled him, had rocked him, had made him feel safe and loved. Could it be?

The man turned to looked at him. A gentle smile spread across his face, alighting the brown eyes with warmth. "Hi there." In a couple of long strides, he was kneeling next to the bed. "How are you feeling?"

"Head hurts, but okay," Blair's soft voice replied, still studying the man.

The smile turned a bit rueful. "Bet I look a lot different out of the suit."

Blair conjured up a weak smile of his own. "Yeah." He paused a moment, scared of making a mistake. "Are you Jeff MacGregor? My... father?"

"Yep, I'm your father."

"Why aren't you wearing a suit?"

Jeff shrugged nonchalantly. "I was getting pretty tired of them. Besides, you needed me."

Blair nodded. Jeff gently laid his hand on the curly hair. "Are you hungry?"

Blair's stomach flip-flopped in response. "No."

A muffled voice injected, "But you still should eat." Pete was shocked at how thin the boy was. No wonder Mac was jumping into his over-protective mode. Then the deep blue eyes, pain still evident in their depths, looked into his. At that moment, Pete Thornton knew he was trapped. He was going to help this small survivor by any means at his disposal.

Jeff gently tousled the curls. "This is Colonel Thornton. I work for him sometimes."

"Hello, Colonel Thornton," Blair replied politely.

"Hello, Blair," Thornton returned. He glanced back at Jeff. "Why don't you concentrate on this little guy and I'll see what I can do to smooth things on the outside?"

A large smile stretched across Jeff's face as he realized just what a huge offer he'd received. "I'd appreciate that."

Thornton nodded, then turned back to Blair. "You take care of yourself, young man. I'm looking forward to hearing all about your adventure." Blair gave him a friendly smile and a weak wave.

It was a smile that stayed with Thornton through the sterilization cycle. The minute he was outside the isolation room, he walked to the phone. "Helen? Grab some paper. I have a huge list of things I need you to do..."


Once the Colonel had left the room, Jeff turned back to his son. Blair's face was still quite pale, a tightness around his eyes indicating how much his head still hurt. Feeling helpless, Jeff fell back to what had worked with Sam. Taking the small hand into his, Jeff asked, "Hey, would you like to hear a story?"

Blair squinted at him curiously. "What kind of story?"

"Have you ever heard of sentinels?"

Blair's head tilted slightly as he thought. "You mean, the old protectors with the special senses?"

"That's right. Do you know who a guide was?"

Blair's eyes screwed up a moment. "Weren't they the ones who helped the sentinels?"

"Right. But what you don't know, is that your great-grandfather's grandfather was a guide."

"Really?" Blair's eyes lit up with the thought. "Did he have a sentinel and everything?"

Jeff smiled and brushed a couple unruly curls out of Blair's face. "He sure did. Grandpa Keegan's sentinel was named Harry and they had lots of adventures together."

Blue eyes riveted on his father, Blair pulled his teddy bear close to his side. "How'd they meet?"

Getting comfortable, Jeff leaned back and his story-telling voice replied, "When he was still quite young, Keegan was a student at the Mountain Center, studying everything he could to be a guide. There was a lot to learn in order to lead a sentinel properly. One afternoon, he had gone to a park to study..."


Next morning

Jeff paced as Brannon examined Blair. The boy's temperature had risen sharply and he was having trouble focusing his eyes. It was hard to stand by while a fierce battle raged inside the thin body. Jeff kept wondering if he could have prevented it. If he hadn't hurt Naomi so bad during their breakup, would she have told him about Blair? If Naomi had told him, would Blair have been visiting Harbor Bay over the summer school break and thus been spared the whole invasion? Or if Blair had known him, would he have been able to contact Jeff once he had landed, thus avoiding the cross-country trip and the added stress? Heck, if Jeff had known, he would have been searching every ship that had landed on the mainland for his son. Would any of those scenarios prevented Blair from contracting this disease?

A gloved hand placed itself on Jeff's chest, stopping his pacing. "Jeff?"

Lifting his head, Jeff stared into the faceplate. "Janos?"

"I have news," his friend explained softly. "A Jane Mullway with the Tucker research team has isolated the pathogen that causes statcus. It is a bacteria that secretes a neurotoxin."

"This is good?" Jeff asked, not liking the sound of 'neurotoxin'.

"Very good. Now that they know what it is, the team is rushing to make up an antitoxin. Once it is given to Blair, it will hopefully neutralize the neurotoxin's effects. Ana is making sure a dose will be sent here as soon as possible."

Jeff almost feared to ask the next question. "How long?"

Janos broke eye contact. "I don't know."

Jeff swallowed hard. Blair had only another day or two at the most.

"Ima," a soft voice pleaded from the bed.

"What is he saying?" Janos asked.

Jeff's face was bleak as he translated, "Mother." He walked back over to the bed, taking the wash cloth from the nurse's hands. Dipping the cloth in the cool water, Jeff gently bathed the hot face. "Easy, son."


Eight hours later

Jeff stroked back the damp curls from Blair's face. He had been keeping watch as the boy's condition worsened, rubbing the small hand tucked in his. Blair was already receiving oxygen through a nasal tube. Jeff glanced at the mound of equipment standing by, ready to spring into action should Blair's breathing or heart stop. He feared they would need it, possibly soon. The boy was growing sicker and weaker by the minute, muscles going slack as the disease progressed. Jeff concentrated on sending his strength and positive thoughts through his connection to the boy. He didn't know if it would help, but at this point it was worth a shot.

Suddenly, a flow of activity poured out of the sterilization chamber. Brannon was beside Jeff before he could blink. "We have the antitoxin," Ted explained as he gently picked up a limp arm. Jeff prayed as the doctor worked, hoping this was the miracle Blair needed.

It was. Four hours later, the fever had broken and weary blue eyes blinked up at him. "It's going to be all right now," Jeff softly told him. Blair snuggled back into the covers and drifted into a restful sleep.

Brannon laid a hand on Jeff's shoulder. "We'll need to run a few tests in the morning." He took another look at the father. "Why don't you get some sleep now, too? Blair and Sam need you to stay healthy."

Jeff wearily nodded his head and stumbled to the cot.


Next morning

"There doesn't seem to be any permanent brain damage..."

Jeff felt the relief from Ted's words flow over him. His second greatest fear had been that the bright little boy he'd met that first day would be lost forever to the disease. His first, that the boy wouldn't live at all, also seemed to be banished as well.

"...He's going to need a little therapy to strengthen up his legs and arms, but it won't be as extensive as what Sam had to go through. We don't know about the headaches. They may go away in time, or he may suffer from them for the rest of his life, though they should decrease in length and frequency as time passes."

Jeff frowned a little at that. He didn't like to think of Blair continuing to suffer from this.

"There is also a minor lesion on his brain."

"What?" Jeff exclaimed. That did NOT sound good.

Ted raised his hands in a calming fashion. "Just a minor one, Jeff. We think it's located in the portion of the brain that controls speech."

Jeff suddenly realized that Blair hadn't uttered a sound since yesterday afternoon.

"But Blair is young. We hope he'll be able to talk in time and with some speech therapy. It's just that we have so little experience with this disease."

Jeff released a sigh, recognizing the truth in Ted's words. Didn't mean he had to like it, though. He hated the idea that the little story-teller would never speak again.

Ted gave him an encouraging smile. "I know, but Blair is already better off than many of the other children who survived. Several of them may have permanent brain damage and physical disabilities." Ted laid a gloved hand on Jeff's shoulder and squeezed. "We've got him through the worst of it. Now we just have to help him recover and adjust to his new life."

"I know," Jeff replied, suddenly realizing that might not be an easy task, either. Island life was very different from life in Harbor Bay. However, Jeff knew he'd help his son through it somehow. He managed to give the doctor a weak smile. "Thanks, Ted."

Ted chuckled. "Well, let's see if we can keep Sam and Blair from needing my services again."

"Amen to that," Jeff agreed. He glanced back to the bed where Blair slept. "How long do we need to be in isolation?"

Ted shrugged. "I'm hoping not more than a day or two. We don't know the incubation period of the disease, so I don't know when you'll be out of danger. We do have a second dose of the antitoxin ready for you, so the minute you start showing symptoms, we can stop it. I understand the Mullway team is currently working on a vaccination. As soon as I can get it, we'll inoculate both of you."

"Sounds good," Jeff replied. "I can handle another day, I think."


PART 4: HOMECOMING

Two days later, early evening.

It felt so good to be finally out of isolation and taking a real shower. Between the new vaccination and the news that the disease was transmitted by drinking contaminated water, Jeff and Blair had been allowed out of the unit that afternoon. Jeff finished towel-drying his hair, then picked up the clothes Mama Tess had dropped off earlier. Frank had promised to bring Sam to the hospital that evening. Jeff wanted to look clean and presentable, so Sam wouldn't be worried or scared. It had been days since he'd seen his younger son. Jeff had missed him terribly. Then he smiled. Younger son. What a change from a week ago, when Sam was my ONLY son. I hope Sam doesn't mind.

Jeff had debated about going home, but he wasn't quite ready to leave Blair alone yet. The boy was still waking up with nightmares. While his missing voice prevented him from telling Jeff what they were about, his father could guess. At least Blair was now in a regular room and not the dreary isolation unit.

Walking down to the hospital lounge, Jeff debated on what to say to Sam. Once he stepped through the door, a small body launched himself off a chair. "DADDY!"

"Hey, son," Jeff replied warmly, picking Sam up and giving him a huge hug. He nuzzled the soft hair. "How's my boy doing?"

"Good," Sam replied, pulling back and giving his dad a smile. "How's Blair doing?"

"He's doing well," Jeff replied, his worry easing a bit at the eager eyes. "Have you been good for Aunt Dotty?"

"Yep," Sam replied. "I've been going to bed and eating my peas. I've been so good, she's letting me help with Blair's room."

Jeff lifted his eyebrows in surprise, glancing at Frank for confirmation. At Frank's nod, Jeff set Sam down on a couch then sat next to him. "What have you done so far?" Sam happily chatted about cleaning up the spare room, picking out furniture, getting some new clothes, and putting up posters. "Uncle Billy said we should get him a bat and ball, but Uncle Frank said we should wait until Blair can try on gloves so we can get the right size."

"Sounds like a good idea," Jeff inserted with a smile.

Frank cleared his throat. "Didn't you have something to give to Blair, Sam?"

Sam hopped off the couch and ran over to Frank. Picking up a piece of paper from the coffee table, he trotted back to his dad. "See!" he exclaimed proudly.

Jeff studied the drawing of a house, stick people and a stick dog. Thankfully, Sam had carefully written names under each person, including a figure labeled 'Blair'. "Very nice, Sam. I'm sure Blair will like it."

"Can I give it to him?"

Jeff tousled his hair. "Not yet. Blair's sleeping right now. But I can give it to him so he'll know you're thinking of him."

Sam frowned. "Is he still sick?"

Jeff took a deep breath, wondering how to explain it to the seven-year-old. "He was very sick a few days ago. It will take some time for him to feel well again."

"Like it did me?" Sam asked softly, his eyes filled with the memories of his injuries.

"Kinda like that," Jeff admitted, squeezing his son's shoulder. "Because Blair was so sick, he gets tired very easily. He also has really bad headaches. So you might have to go easy on him for a while and speak very softly when his head hurts."

Sam absorbed all the information, then nodded. "Okay, I can do that."

"Blair also can't talk right now. We hope he can talk later, but we'll have to be patient. You'll have to be careful and ask him only questions he can either nod or shake his head to answer."

"Okay," Sam agreed. "Can you come home tonight?"

Jeff felt torn at the hopeful question. He prayed Sam could understand. "Not tonight. Maybe tomorrow night, okay?"

"Okay," Sam replied wistfully.

"Speaking of which, we should get you home before your bedtime," Frank suggested, standing up.

Jeff gave Sam a goodbye hug. "Stay good for Aunt Dotty, and I'll see you tomorrow."

"Bye, Dad."

Jeff could hear the slight sniff as Sam tried not to cry. "Hey, I promise. I'll go home with you tomorrow. Then you can show me Blair's new room."

Frank squeezed Jeff's shoulder, reassuring him that he'd keep an eye out for Sam. Then he took Sam's hand as they walked out into the hallway. Sam turned back to his dad and waved.

Jeff waved back, watching until they were out of sight. Then he returned to Blair's room.


Next evening

Sam tried to be patient as Aunt Dotty chatted with one of the nurses. Yet without any toys or books, he quickly became bored. He wanted to see Dad and Blair so bad. Walking to the drinking fountain, Sam suddenly recognized the potted plant sitting in a corner. If he tried, he knew he could find his new brother's room. After another glance to make sure Aunt Dotty was still talking, Sam slipped around the corner.

It wasn't hard for Sam to find the children's wing. After all, he had spent a long time here. Each nook and cranny was familiar from his slow, painful walks with his father, trying to get his legs to work again. While all the nurses, therapists, and Dr. Brannon had been really nice to him, he still felt a shiver of fear as he stepped into the long halls. However, that only lasted a moment. Blair was a kid, too, so he had to look here.

Without Dad, home had somehow seemed bigger and scarier. Strange noises seemed to echo through the empty rooms at night. Even Aunt Dotty wasn't big enough to make him feel safe. It reminded him of how much he missed his mom and Aubrey. Only Bogey and Uncle Frank were able to chase the monsters away.

But now he was going to have a big brother. Sam's step developed a bounce as he quietly peeked into each room. Someone to talk to and play with and eat dinner with, even when Dad had to work late. Sure, Dad said Blair had been sick and would need a lot of help. Sam knew what that was like, and surely Blair would get better, just like he did. He couldn't wait to show

Blair his toys and books and the swing set.

Deep in his plans, he almost missed it. Pulling his head back when he didn't see Dad in the room, he suddenly spied the picture on the wall next to the bed. It was the one he had given Dad last night to give to Blair. Sam's eyes lit up. This had to be his new brother's room.


Blair was trying to concentrate on the book in his hands. He wanted to read, but his head seemed to pound harder the more he focused on the print. Instead, he was looking at the pictures, enjoying the colorful illustrations depicting the animals in various action scenes.

"Hi!"

Startled, Blair looked up to see a boy about Phoebe's age standing next to him. The light brown hair was sticking out in all directions, vibrating with the friendly excitement shining in his brown eyes. Blair couldn't help but smile back.

"My name's Sam. Are you my new brother Blair?"

Sam? Blair sat up a little straighter, looking over his father's other son. Remembering how close Prue, Phoebe and Piper were, a seed of excitement also bloomed in his chest. Blair nodded his head, wishing again that he could speak.

"Goodie!" Sam bounced and managed to climb onto the bed. Brown eyes met blue for a moment, searching the other for something, though neither were quite sure what. Then Sam leaned over to peer at the book. "Wha' ya reading?"

In answer, Blair turned the book so Sam could see the front cover.

"Plains Cats," Sam read, then flashed a smile at his brother. "Goodie. I like plains cats." He tilted his head as he studied his brother again. "Dad said your head hurts. Is it hurting now?" Sam knew what it was like to hurt.

Blair nodded lightly. While Sam's presence helped him to ignore it, it was still pressing down in his skull. He also briefly wondered who 'Dad' was. He'd never heard that Basic name before.

"Do you hurt anywhere else?" Blair shook his head no. Sam thought a moment. "Well, Dad used to read to me when I was hurting. Would you like me to read the book to you?"

Surprised, Blair nodded, still puzzling over 'Dad'. He scooted over and picked up his bear when Sam squirmed up next to him.

Sam gave the bear's soft fur a pat before taking the book. Holding it so both he and Blair could see the pictures, Sam started, "The plains cats are a little funny looking in their blue and gray splotched coats, but they are fur...fer...ouses animals who hunt their prey...."


"...Plains cats have litters of 3 to 5 babies called cubs..."

Jeff's brow wrinkled when he heard the soft voice float out of Blair's room. That sounded like Sam.

"...They live in a den with their mothers..."

Pausing in the doorway, Jeff realized it WAS Sam. His younger son was all snuggled next to Blair, reading the book Tess had delivered the night before. The urge to scold Sam for walking through the hospital without permission died on his lips. The two looked so cozy together, contentment flowing from their minds. Blair even seemed to have a bit more color to his face, listening to his brother with his eyes half closed. Though Jeff knew that sooner or later the boys would fight like all brothers did, it felt good to see them getting along. Some of the weight on his heart lifted. Perhaps everything was going to work out.

Sam spotted his dad when Jeff stepped into the room. His face lit up. "Hi, Dad!"

Blair sleepily looked up to see his father. Dad?

Jeff smiled at them. "Hi, sons." He reached over to gently ruffle hair on both their heads. Swiftly, he studied Blair's face. "How are you doing, Blair?"

Blair shrugged. His head still hurt but not as bad as before.

"Dad, when can Blair come home?" Sam asked.

"Well, that depends on what Dr. Brannon says and how well Blair is feeling."

"You'll like it at home," Sam told his brother. "Aunt Dotty and I are fixing up your room, and Aunt Dotty makes really good food. Dad sometimes makes a fire in the fireplace, and ..."

Dad. Blair repeated the word a few times in his mind. It sounded warm and safe, much friendlier than 'Father'. It fit the man he was getting to know. He liked it.

"I think your brother needs to get some sleep," Jeff stated as he watched Blair's eyes struggle to stay open.

"Oh, Dad..."

"No arguments. The more sleep Blair gets, the sooner he can come home with us."

Blair smiled contentedly at the thought. He wanted to go home with Dad and Sam. He snuggled back down into the covers.

Jeff helped Sam off the bed, then tucked the blanket around Blair. "I'll be back tomorrow morning, son." He brushed the curls off Blair's forehead and gave him a kiss.

Blair gave him a peaceful smile, eyes already closed. As he drifted off, he heard Dad say, "Now, we better find out where you left Aunt Dotty..."


Late morning, two days later

"Hi Dr. Brannon," Sam called out, waving his hand. He raced ahead of his dad to meet the man.

"Hi Sam," Ted greeted, kneeling down to give the boy a hug. It made his job worthwhile to see youngsters like Sam, happy and healthy after being near death less than a year earlier. Hopefully, Sam's brother would be joining those ranks soon. He stood up to shake Jeff's hand. "You two here to pick up Blair?"

"If you're ready to release him," Jeff replied, his quiet smile filling his face.

"Well, I want to discuss a few things with you, but he should be ready to go."

"Can I go see him?" Sam asked, turning pleading eyes onto the adults.

"Sam..." Jeff began, about to remind him of the lecture two days ago about running through the hospital by himself.

"Do you know where Blair's room is?" Dr. Brannon interrupted. Sam nodded his head vigorously. "Okay, as long as you only go to your brother's room. Agree?"

"Agree," Sam repeated merrily. He skipped down the hall to Blair's room as the adults began to talk.


Though his hands and legs were still a bit shaky, Blair silently insisted on putting on his trousers by himself. Nurse Lansing finally agreed. "All right, but don't wear yourself out. It's going to be a big day for you, going home and all."

Blair gave her a brilliant smile. He was going home with his Dad. It made him feel all bubbly inside. Even his head didn't seem to hurt. He carefully lifted his leg and drew on the new pants. Dad had dropped off the clothes last night for him. He couldn't wait to have them on instead of pajamas.

Nurse Lansing finished packing his case, then turned back. Inspecting his clothes to make sure they were on right, she passed him with a nod of approval. "Okay, why don't you sit here while I find the wheelchair. Your Dad should be here soon to pick you up, so we might as well be ready."

As she left the room, Blair sat on the bed and looked around. He wanted to get out of this place so bad. If he hadn't gotten sick, he'd already be home with his Dad and Sam. He knew he'd caused a lot trouble for his Dad already. He'd have to find some way to make it up to him.

"Here's the room," a female voice stated.

Blair looked up to see a stranger walk in, followed by ... Oh NO! Blair climbed backwards onto the bed when he spied Hayburn following her inside.

"Yes, that's my girlfriend's boy," Hayburn told her. "Come on, Blair. You need to come with us."

Blair scooted further back into the bed, fear grabbing ahold of his heart. Holding tightly to the bear his dad had given him, he shook his head.

"Blair, you have already caused enough trouble," Hayburn told him sternly. Blair could see the cruelty in the cold eyes, promising all sorts of punishments. "Come here."

Tears started streaming down Blair's face as he again shook his head. Hayburn took a step towards him. "You are coming..."

"LEAVE MY BROTHER ALONE!" shouted a high voice. Blair looked down to see Sam plant himself between Hayburn and Blair. The brown eyes snapped with anger at the man who was scaring his brother.

"Is he your girlfriend's child, too?" the woman asked.

"I don't know who this brat is," Hayburn growled. He grabbed Sam's arm.

Blair was about ready to launch himself off the bed to protect Sam when a cold voice slowly stated, "Take your hand off my son." Blair looked up to see Dad in the doorway, face full of anger. Hayburn turned to stare at him. They both sized up the other, neither liking what they saw.

The minute Sam was released, he scurried next to Blair's bed, still standing between the mean man and his sick brother.

"There has been a misunderstanding," the woman explained imperiously. "I'm from the Clarian Committee. We are here to pick up Mr. Hayburn's common law son."

Jeff glanced at Blair's fear and tear-drenched face, quickly placing the name from Blair's story of the camps. "My understanding is that Mr. Hayburn and Naomi were no longer together at the time of the invasion."

Hayburn waved away the comment, while wondering how this man was so well informed. "A minor tiff."

"I doubt Michael would have you kicked out of Serenity for a 'minor tiff'," Jeff pointed out. "The Michael I knew always stayed within the commune's laws and traditions."

The point struck home. "That doesn't matter," Hayburn huffed, now openly glaring at Jeff. "There are no other survivors from Serenity, so I have graciously agreed to take him."

Jeff felt his anger rise at the word 'gracious'. It was doubtful this man would want Blair out of the kindness of his heart. "Then you'll be happy to know that Blair already has a home with me. I'm his biological father."

Hayburn looked him up and down contemptuously. "A mainlander? You don't even look like him."

"Blair is mine and Naomi sent him specifically to me. I don't believe your name ever came up."

"Naomi would never be with a mainlander!"

"Besides," the woman butted in, sure this other man was just trying to improve his image by taking in a poor Clarian child. "We have specific guidelines for the adoption of Clarian children. The boy is under the committee's custody until we give approval."

"Blair is not an orphan you need to protect. He is my son and you have no right to take him." Jeff fought to keep his cool. There was no way he was going to allow his son to be tossed about in red tape after all he'd been through. Nor was he going to allow this scum to get his hands on Blair. Hayburn made his skin crawl.

"Go... With... Dad..."

Surprised, everyone in the room turned to Blair. He was looking at Jeff, pleading with terrified eyes.

"I'd say that tells you what you can do with your guidelines," Jeff growled, walking to the bed. Blair launched himself into Jeff's arms, holding tight. Jeff hugged him back. Jeff then snaked an arm around the scared Sam, pulling him in close as well.

"And I have the documentation to back it up," stated a strong voice from the door. Jeff glanced over his shoulder to spot Colonel Thornton. "Here are the results of the blood test, determining within 90% accuracy that Jeffery MacGregor is the biological father of Blair Sandburg." Pete handed the paper to the committee woman. "Here is the paper stating that Blair is now a citizen of Laurian Province due to his paternal parent." He laid that paper on top of the first. "Here is the paper placing Blair Sandburg under Jeffery MacGregor's insurance." A third paper joined the pile. "And here is the paper granting Jeffery A. MacGregor temporary custody of Blair Sandburg, soon to be Blair Sandburg MacGregor once final custody is transferred." With a flourish, Thornton placed the last paper on top.

"And I want you out of this room and preferably out of this hospital," Dr. Brannon ordered, standing behind the Colonel. "You're upsetting my patient."

"But..." the woman started, throwing the papers back at the Colonel.

Brannon snapped his fingers, and two of the hospital's security men appeared. "I said, OUT!"

Escorted by the guards, the committee woman and Hayburn left.

Jeff looked at his friends. "Thank you." Then he gently set Blair back on the bed. Still rubbing Sam's shoulder, he cupped Blair's face with the other hand. "How you feeling?"

"Ss..cared." Brannon's eyes popped wide at the sound.

Thornton walked over and placed his hand on Blair's head. "You're safe, Blair. Your dad and Uncle Pete won't let those people bother you any more."

Jeff could barely contain his smirk. 'Uncle Pete'? Guess Blair found his soft spot, too.

"Now it's my turn," Ted interjected. "I want to check over my patient and make sure he's ready to go home.

As Jeff guided Sam back towards the door, he glanced at the Colonel. "You sure arrived with those papers in time."

Thornton chuckled. "Much of that paper work was needed to cover Blair's hospital expenses. I'm just glad I had them on me."

"I just don't understand why it would be necessary." Jeff shook his head in puzzlement. "From what Blair has said, Hayburn blamed the boy for his break-up with Naomi. I don't know whether that's true or not. It would have taken something big for Michael to kick Hayburn out of Serenity, plus he'd have needed support from the majority of the adults there. But why would Hayburn want Blair now?"

"There is one very simple explanation - money." Pete shook his head, gazing at the thin boy being checked over by the doctor. "The Clarian refugees are being given money to resettle on the mainland. The amount is increased for each member of the family unit. By claiming Blair as a son, Hayburn would get more money and support from the committee."

Jeff felt another flash of anger. "Over my dead body."

"And mine," Thornton added. He hadn't liked the man, either.


An hour later, the MacGregor home

In spite of his best intentions, Blair fell asleep in the vehicle during the ride. He awoke to the sound of the driver's door opening. Rubbing his eyes, he looked out the window. Unlike the sprawling one story complex at Serenity or the straight, plain hostel in Unity, this tan brick building looked squat and comfortable. It sat back in the shade of several large trees, flowers lining the path to the door. The front was embraced by a porch, a swinging bench seat on the end. The dark brown roof seemed to dip down like a droopy mustache. Blair almost felt like he was stepping into a story book as he slowly opened the door.

"BOGEY!" Sam ran ahead, greeting a huge black and brown beast that had bounced around the corner. Blair stiffened a moment, unsure.

Then a warm hand rested comfortingly on his shoulder. "That's our dog, Bogey," Dad explained gently. "He's a lot bigger than the dogs on the island, but he's just as friendly."

That certainly seemed to be the case. Blair watched as the big head sniffed his brother's neck, making him giggle. The long black tail whipped back and forth, expressing the beast's delight in seeing his boy. Then the huge creature trotted over to Blair. The big nose sniffed over him, smelling his clothes, his shoes and his hair. The whiffs of air did tickle a little on his skin. After a quick lick to the face, the dog then tucked his head lightly against Blair's chest.

"Bogey likes you," Sam declared gleefully. "He wants you to scratch his ears."

Gingerly at first, then gaining confidence, Blair scratched behind the floppy ears. The hair was silky soft. Bogey's tail wagged in pleasure from the attention.

With Bogey and Sam leading the way, Dad guided Blair into the house. The rooms felt more closed in than the airy ones at the commune. Yet there was a feeling of comfort and security. It felt safe.

"Hi, Aunt Dotty."

Blair turned his gaze to an older woman by the doorway. Her dark blonde hair was mixed with white and curled about her face. She gave him a warm smile. "This is Sam's great aunt Dotty," Dad introduced. "Dotty, this is Blair."

"Hi Blair," she greeted him. "Why don't you just call me Aunt Dotty, too."

Blair smiled back. He had never had an aunt before.

"I have lunch all ready in the kitchen. Are you hungry?" Blair nodded vigorously. "Sam, show Blair the washroom and both of you wash your hands."

Watching the thin boy follow Sam, Dotty turned to Jeff. "He looks exhausted."

Jeff nodded worriedly. "We had a couple problems this morning." He quickly updated her. "At least he's able to talk a little. That really surprised Brannon, but he said it's a good sign. He's now hopeful Blair can make a complete recovery." He then gave Kate's aunt a sheepish look. "You don't mind having an extra boy around, do you?"

"Of course not," Dotty waved her hand. "Sam's been lonely in this big house all by himself. Besides, Kate would have loved that little cherub. He has the sweetest blue eyes. Nor would she have held his existence against you." She gave Jeff a comforting hug. "Kate would have understood. And so do I."

Jeff squeezed her back. "Thanks."


After lunch, everyone took him upstairs to his new room. In spite of his exhaustion, Blair paused in the threshold. A small, single bed was back in the corner, a brightly colored spread tucked in neatly. Blair stared at it for a moment. At the commune, he had had to share a room with four other boys. Privacy was a rare commodity.

Next to the bed was a desk with a lamp in the corner. A couple of posters, one of his favorite sports hero and another of a fantasy scene, hung from the walls. Along the other side was a huge floppy pillow next to a bookcase. Blair walked over to the bookcase, running his fingers long the top row of books. It was the entire series of Kid Dooley and Cowboy Willie, in Basic, just waiting for him to read. The crispness of the pages indicated they had just been bought. Someone had bought them for... him? They had actually bought books for him to read? Eyes wide, Blair turned back to his new family by the door. "All...Me?"

Dad gave him a warm smile. "Yes, this room is all yours. Sam's is next door, and mine is down the hall."

Blair ran over and threw his arms around his father. They had made a place just for him. They really wanted him. He was finally home.


EPILOGUE

That night

People were trapped under the debris from the buildings. Not only his mom, but Uncle Michael, the sisters, teachers, school friends, and most of the Serenity commune were buried. Blair tried to pull them out, but more debris continued to pile on top. Naomi kept shouting for him to run. Then Hayburn appeared, latching onto his arm. Blair cried out, fighting to pull his arm away. Then something wet touched his face...

Waking up with a start, Blair jerked up in his bed. By the night light, he could see that it was Bogey nudging him with his nose, concern in the big canine eyes.

Sam appeared in the doorway, carrying a glass from the bathroom. "Did you have a bad dream?"

"HmmHmmm," Blair mumbled, rubbing his eyes and trying to steady his breathing.

Sam walked over to the bed. He'd had enough nightmares to know what to do. "Let's go to Dad's room. He keeps the nightmares away."

Taking the hand Sam offered, Blair crawled out of bed and followed his new brother.


Dressed for bed in his T-shirt and boxers, Jeff was just walking out of his bathroom when he heard a noise. It had sounded like a cry. Worried, Jeff tiptoed to his bedroom door. While both boys had gone to bed a few hours earlier, he knew either could be having nightmares. It had been a stressful day for both of them. He paused at the threshold, trying to determine from which room the noise had originated.

"Did you have a bad dream?" That was Sam's voice. Then there was a muffled tone, probably Blair. "Let's go to Dad's room. He keeps the nightmares away."

Hearing two sets of small feet padding down the hall, Jeff slipped back to his bed. Picking up a book from his stand, Jeff debated on what to do. While he wanted Blair to get used to sleeping in his own bed, he also knew the boy had been through a lot lately. It may take a while to not only settle into his new home, but to feel safe again. Plus, Jeff had to admit, it would take some time before he himself felt secure about their safety. Both boys were even more precious because he had come so close to losing them.

"Dad, can we come in?"

Seeing the two boys in the door frame, Jeff couldn't help but reply, "Sure, come on in." He had barely replaced his book on the stand before the boys had scrambled up into his bed. Even Bogey had followed them, curling up on the end of the bed by Jeff's feet. Once both boys had snuggled next to him under the blanket, Jeff wrapped an arm around each son. "Would you two like to hear a story?"

"Tell us a Keegan story," Sam pleaded.

Blair simply snuggled tighter against his Dad. He felt so safe and loved. He was with his dad, his brother, and a big dog. A story was just icing on the cake.

"All right," Jeff replied, pausing a moment to pick a story from his memory. "Once there was a sentinel named Harry. He could see like an eagle, hear like a cat, smell like a dog, taste the slightest of flavors, and feel even the tiniest of imperfections. Yet it was dangerous to have these skills, for while a sentinel focused on his talent, he became vulnerable to other dangers. So every sentinel needs a guide to watch his back and guard against a zoneout. Harry's guide was named Keegan, a wise and intelligent man who was brave and tough and quick thinking. The two had many adventures together...

"...So Harry and Keegan returned to the town they had sworn to protect, feeling confident that their people were again safe." Jeff finished the story softly. He knew Sam had fallen asleep about five minutes ago. He had thought Blair had fallen asleep fairly soon after he had started.

"I...be...guide," a sleepy voice whispered.

Surprised, Jeff smiled down into the blue eyes blinking up at him. "You want to be a guide?" The curly head bobbed up and down. Thinking of the boy's daring adventure in finding him, he replied, "You know something, Blair? If there's a sentinel out there, I'll bet you will find him and become a guide."

Pleased, Blair snuggled back into the bed by his dad and drifted into good dreams about guiding sentinels.


Same night, Cascadia, Washinger Province

~SQUISH~

Damn it, why couldn't Rafe get lost someplace dry? Jim pulled his foot up out of the hole he'd stepped into and inspected his shoe. It was dripping with mud and other stuff Jim really didn't want to identify, especially in the dark. Wrinkling his nose at the obnoxious odor of rotting plants, he reflected on how fast an evening could change.

Just an hour ago, the eighteen-year-old had been at a great party with dancing and food and fun. He'd even managed some good 'closet' time with his current girl, Gina, and still get her home just under her curfew. Jim had been in a wonderful mood by the time he got home.

At least until he had spotted Steve waiting for him in the garage.


An hour earlier

Steve immediately jumped down from his seat on the work bench when Jim pulled in. The look on the 14-year-old's face shouted 'guilt' and 'fear'. Jim climbed out of his vehicle, shut the door, and turned to hear what his brother needed to confess. Then he remembered something. "Steve, where's Rafe?"

Rafe Janson was the next door kid, a couple years younger than Steve. Out-numbered by four sisters, the kid had become the Ellison boys' 'shadow' from the time his little legs could follow them. Neither minded. Rafe was a good-natured kid, and his father would often take them to games and stuff that their own father was too busy for. So it was natural that when Drs. Paul and Jill Janson needed to work with the Clarian refugees, Rafe had received permission to stay at the Ellison house while his sisters went to grandma's.

Steve looked down at the floor, rubbing the toe of his shoe against the cement. "Well, some of us decided to take Rafe, Millie, and Craig on a snipe hunt back in the woods."

"Snipe hunt?" Jim rolled his eyes. "Do you have any idea how OLD that trick is?"

"It's new to them," Steve pointed out. "Besides, we thought it would be fun, running around with them carrying lights and bags and all."

"So what happened?"

A flash of anger crossed Steve's worried eyes. "Charlie Timmons apparently decided it would be funny to scare us."

Jim didn't like the sound of that. He personally thought there was something wrong with Charlie. "What did he do?"

"He set up some kind of a bomb."

"WHAT!"

Steve held up his hands to calm his older brother. "It was mostly noise and light, but really scary. Before you knew it, everyone had scattered. Took us forever to find Millie and Craig and get them home. But none of us can find Rafe."

Jim raised his eyes to the ceiling as he took a deep breath. The woods behind the neighborhood was several parcels long and swampy if you went back far enough. It was a huge and potentially dangerous area in which to lose a 12-year-old. "How long has he been missing?"

"About an hour."

Jim switched his gaze back to Steve, ready to scold him until he took another good look at his brother. Steve's clothes were dirty and torn, evidence of his earlier search for his friend. The fear in his eyes convinced Jim that Steve wasn't taking this lightly. "Have you told Dad and Sally yet?"

Steve shook his head. "Dad had to suddenly leave for Manhaven." Then Steve looked down to the ground. "I didn't want to upset Sally."

Didn't want to get into trouble, you mean. Jim sighed then grabbed his brother by the neck with a firm grip. "Okay, you'll confess to Sally while I change clothes. Then I'll start searching for Rafe."


So here he was, tromping through the wet and dark woods, calling Rafe's name every few minutes. Both his light and his voice were fading, but there was still no sign of him. Jim placed his hand on a nearby tree, took a deep breath, and cleared his mind. By this time, the kid had to be cold, wet, possibly hurt, and most likely scared. Jim didn't like to think of Rafe all alone in this marsh. Besides, he had promised Dr. Paul he'd look after his son. He had to find him.

Taking another deep breath to clear the haze from his mind and perhaps get a better idea of what to do next, a sound caught Jim's attention. Tilting his head, he could make out the words, "...any time you want to find me now, Steve, is okay by me. I want to go home."

Jim quickly gave his head a shake and shouted, "Rafe! Rafe, answer me!" He was met by silence. However, he knew he had heard something. With renewed energy, he hiked in the direction he had heard the voice, calling Rafe's name. It was at least another half a mile before he heard an answer.

Following the voice, Jim quickly walked over a small hill. He peered through the dark and spied the boy hunched down on the ground. "Rafe!"

Rafe turned to his older friend, relief flooding his face. "Jim? Is that you?"

Jim knelt beside Rafe. "Yeah, it's me, Pest. You ready to go home?" Noticing Rafe's shivers, he immediately yanked off his jacket and wrapped it around him.

Rafe nestled into the soft material, appreciating its warmth. "Yeah, but my foot's stuck."

Shining the light at the ground, Jim realized that Rafe's foot had somehow fallen into one of the many small holes in the swamp. Roots had closed tight around the ankle, refusing to release the foot from its grasp. Glancing around, Jim grabbed a large stick and wedged it in next to Rafe's ankle. Using all the strength in his growing muscles, Jim managed to break a root and pull his friend's foot out.

"Does it hurt?" Jim asked as he gently felt the ankle.

"A little," Rafe admitted, not wanting to sound like a baby.

Jim's fingers could feel the swelling and the gash where a root had torn into the skin. "Do you think you can walk on it?"

Before Rafe could answer, Jim's light gave up and died. Rafe jumped slightly, moving closer to his much larger friend. Jim draped an arm around the shaky shoulders. "It's okay, Pest."

"But how are we going to get home?"

Jim gave him a squeeze. "No problem, my night vision is kicking in. But back to my question. Can you walk?"

Wondering how Jim could see when everything looked pretty black to him, Rafe stood. Or at least he tried, because his ankle immediately protested the action. Crying out, Rafe nearly fell back to the ground when Jim caught him.

"Okay, guess we'll have to do this another way," Jim replied. Before Rafe realized what was happening, Jim had draped him over his shoulder in a fireman's carry. "You okay?"

"Yeah," replied Rafe, hanging on for dear life. As Jim began to walk comfortably into the blackness, Rafe added, "Thanks for finding me."

Jim squeezed his leg. "Any time, Pest."

As they continued through the woods, Rafe's tired voice asked, "Jim, is there really any such thing as a snipe?"

Jim laughed the rest of the way home.

The End


Author's note 3/7/99: Thanks to all of you who have emailed to say so many kind things about Before Dawn. It has been gratifying that so many have enjoyed such a wild story. While admittedly this story is not the much-promised sequel to Before Dawn, I hope all of you have enjoyed it.

I do plan to start work on the Before Dawn sequel next (tenatively called Under the Cover of Darkness). It will focus more on Jeff and Frank behind enemy lines, but Blair, Jim and the rest of the gang will show up about half-way through.

Below is a table listing the characters and corresponding TV show. If you'd like a more detailed list, send me an email.

Cindy

TV Show----- # of Characters (major--minor -- brief--mention)

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

The Denver Broncos ----- 0 -- 1 -- 0 -- ! Okay, so they're not a TV show J

Charmed ----- 0 -- 3 -- 0 -- 0

The Dirty Dozen(TV series) ----- 0 -- 1 -- 0 -- 0

ER ----- 0 -- 1 -- 0 -- 0

In the Heat of the Night----- 0 -- 1 -- 0 -- 0

Legend ----- 0 -- 1 -- 0 -- 0

MacGyver ----- 2 -- 2 -- 1-- 2

Scarecrow and Mrs. King ----- 0 -- 0 -- 1 -- 0

The Sentinel -----1 -- 2 -- 1 -- 2

Star Trek: Voyager ----- 0 -- 0 -- 0 -- 1

Touched by an Angel ----- 0 -- 0 -- 1 -- 0


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