Author's Notes: This story is a part of my The Sentinel/MacGyver series, after Follow the Tiger and another, as yet unnamed story. Since the relationships between Blair, MacGyver, and Sam are drawn in the first five stories (The Maze, Control, Coatlicue, Ares Bugle, and Heirs to a Nightmare), you may wish to read them first. If you are the impatient sort, I do have an overview to the first five, but it is with my Mag 7 version of Synchronization in Chaos on Lady Angel's site (http://lalibrary.net/index.html), and it does spoil those stories.

I would also recommend reading the others in the series, especially Follow the Tiger which introduces Cory. Some references are also made to the events in Hot Time in Chicago.

In addition, the character Lynn Crowder from The Cascade Virtual Tales makes an appearance, introduced in Shallan's CVT ep, It's Not Just Academic, the character Amanda Chambers is introduced in my CVT ep, Mishaps with Dinner, and Blair's Mustang is described in Paula and Robin's ep, Revenge is a Wild Kind of Justice.

This story has a rather convoluted history. I have long wanted to write it as a companion piece to The Haunting of Christmas Past, but nasty bouts of bronchitis pretty much put me out of action the last two winters. So while hopping around in the back of my mind, this plot bunny kept growing, thus it turned out a lot longer than I had planned. And because of the delays, it is set during the Christmas of 2001 instead of this year.

To all the wonderful people who email me, consider this a Christmas present. I appreciate hearing from you.

As always, I wish to thank several people. Zadra, my character check and for insight to what little boys like to play with; Lori Wright for her insight into toddlers; Malu, my cheerleaders who helped me with some of the Spanish and discussions of Nannys; Shallan, Trishbsc, and Toni Rae, my support system; Sealie, the self-declared godmother to Ian, who pushes me the most to keep writing; my beta Melanie; and as always to wolfpup who both beta'd and does the posting so I can focus on writing.

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.

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

Rated PG-13


THE PROMISE OF CHRISTMAS FUTURE



C.L. Combs






2:17 am, December 22, 2001

Sam held his cell phone to his ear as he paced alongside his rental car. "Please answer, Please answer..."

Finally, a groggy voice spoke on the other end of the line. "'ello?"

"Blair, it's Sam."

"Sam? Sam. Sam, it's A.M! It's very a.m."

"I know, but I'm in trouble."

Sam could almost see Blair pulling himself up to lean against his bed's headboard. "What's the problem?"

"Way too many to count, Indy. But at the top of the list, I'm stranded at Jewel Falls Roadside Park with a flat tire."

"Okay, I'll come get you."

"Ah, Indy, bring Jim. And your gun."

There was a pause. Sam closed his eyes when his brother finally asked, "Olsen, I know I'm half asleep here, but why exactly would I need Jim and a gun for a flat tire?"

"Because someone's shooting at me."

"What? Why's someone shooting at you?"

"I don't know, except I think it has something to do with Roxie."

"Who the hell is Roxie?"

"Ex-girlfriend."

"Oh." Sam could hear Blair talking to someone in the background. "Okay, we'll be there in about twenty minutes. Think you can hold on?"

"We'll try, just hurry."

"We? Is Roxie with you? Or Cory?"

"No, but I'll explain later."

"Considering it's 2 am, it better be good."

"It is. Just hurry, Indy."

Closing his phone, Sam peered into the car to study the small boy sleeping in a car seat. "Okay, how am I going to explain you?"


Fifteen minutes later, Blair's Cobra

Jim Ellison sat in the passenger's seat, shaking his head. "So that's all Sam said?"

Blair nodded, trying not to yawn due to the early hour. "Yeah. But he sounded desperate."

"Was he suppose to be driving tonight?"

"No, he had planned to spend the night in Seattle and drive up this morning. Mac's suppose to meet us this afternoon."

"Who's Roxie?"

"Now that I'm semi-wake, I remember Sam mentioning her. She was his first serious girlfriend. But I thought they parted ways after high school."

"Where's Cory?"

"He had a flight back to D.C. yesterday to spend Christmas with his family. But that doesn't make sense; if Sam was in trouble, I can't see Cory leaving him."

"Sam's a MacGyver. Trouble probably found him after Cory left."

Blair shot his partner a glare. "We aren't that bad."

"Yes, you are."

Before Blair could comment further, his headlights lit up the 'Jewel Roadside Park' sign. "We're here."

"And there's Sam." Jim nodded towards a navy blue rental car, Sam pacing beside it. Sam started to wave. Suddenly, gunfire erupted behind Sam. Jim saw the younger man spin as a bullet struck his upper arm.

"What the hell?" Blair swore, yanking the wheel so the Mustang could slide to a stop near his brother.

"Let's get Sam out of there," Jim replied as he opened his door. He held his badge towards the trees behind the rental. "Freeze! Cascade PD!"

More gunfire roared from the other side of Sam's rental. Blair and Jim hit the ground as bullets shattered the windows. A wail pierced the air.

Blair shot his partner a stunned look from under the Cobra's bumper. Jim shouted, "You get Sam, I'll get the baby." With a nod, both men stood and fired towards the stand of trees before splitting up.

Bent over, Blair raced to where his brother was trying to crawl back to the car. Dropping beside him, Blair ordered, "Let's go."

"But Ian..." Sam started, attempting to pull away.

"Jim's getting the baby." Blair grabbed his brother around the waist and forced him towards the Cobra.

Meanwhile, Jim had reached the car. Kneeling beside it, he yanked the door open. In the back seat, a curly blond toddler turned his tear-drenched face to him. "Come on, Short Stuff, let's get you out of here." Jim leaned inside to work on the straps. Another round of bullets showered more glass on the pair, Jim trying to shield the sobbing child from the debris. After a couple more tugs, the belts came off and the detective pulled the tiny boy into his arms. Taking a deep breath, Jim turned and raced to the Cobra. He had barely reached the other side when a bullet found the rental's gas tank. The car exploded, sending a fireball into the air.

Ducking beside Blair and Sam, Jim asked, "You two okay?"

Blair had pulled off his flannel shirt and was pressing it tightly to Sam's arm. "I think it's just a flesh wound."

"What about Ian?" Sam growled, his face a grimace of pain and worry.

"Daddy!" The boy lifted his head at Sam's voice and launched himself at the young man's chest.

"Daddy?" Blair and Jim repeated, their jaws dropping simultaneously.

Sam, his good arm wrapped tightly around the small body, buried his face into the blond hair. "It's kinda complicated."

"I bet," Jim replied dryly.

Another series of bullets caused the trio to duck again. "And you're going to tell us all about it once we get out of here," Blair declared.

Jim tilted his head. "Luckily for us, the cavalry's here." He shook the glass off his shoulders, then picked a piece out of the blond curls as the sirens became clearer. Cautiously, he listened to Sam's attackers start up their own vehicle.

Ignoring his brother's tending of his wound, Sam gently tilted the little face away from his shoulder. "You okay, Buddy?" He ran a finger along a scratch on the boy's forehead.

"Si, Daddy," the high voice replied.

Blair lifted an eyebrow. "Si?"

"I think someone's taught him some Spanish." Sam closed his eyes a moment as a wave of dizziness washed over him. Then he forced his eyes open again. "Ian, I'd like you to meet your Uncle Blair."

"Unca Bear?" Ian asked, turning big brown eyes to stare at the other man.

Blair gave him as warm a smile as he could manage under the circumstances. "Hi, Ian."


Jim was giving his statement to Lynn Crowder when Blair joined him. Jim studied him a moment. "How's Sam?"

"The EMTs want to take him in to have a doctor stitch up his arm, but they don't think it's too bad." Blair handed Jim a piece of paper. "After dropping Cory off at the airport in Seattle, Sam returned to his hotel room to find Ian sleeping on his bed and that note on the nightstand."

Jim took the note from Blair. "Dear Sam, this is your son, Ian Scott. I can't handle him any more, so it's your turn. Roxie." Jim looked down at Blair. "This is the same Roxie from high school?"

"Yeah." Blair ran a hand through his curls. "He ran into her again in Mexico, but she disappeared right before he left for Chicago."

Jim thought a moment. "The kid's what? Two? Three?"

"According to the birth certificate, he'll be three in April," Blair replied, handing Jim another piece of paper. "Which means the timing's right. And Sam's listed as the father."

Lynn had taken the note from Jim. "You mean, this woman just dropped off a two-year-old child in some strange hotel room, not knowing when Sam was going to get back? That's horrible." She looked at Blair. "Your brother didn't know?"

Blair shook his head.

"I can't believe any kind of decent mother would pull something like this. And why are those bastards shooting at your brother and a child?"

"Sam doesn't know that, either. He thinks that maybe Roxie's in trouble."

Jim tightened the hold on his temper, glancing over to where an EMT was checking out the toddler. "We'll have to do some digging."

"But what are you going to do in the meantime?" Lynn asked, handing the note back to Jim. "I assume Sam wants the boy if he's his?"

"I don't know if Sam's thought that far, but yeah, Ian'll be taken care of."

"We'll take them home with us." Jim patted Blair's shoulder. "Why don't you go with your brother and the little guy in the ambulance? I'll drive the Cobra and meet you."

Showing how much the situation had unnerved the younger man, Blair replied, "Okay." He handed over the keys to his precious car without a second thought. "Maybe I can get more information from Sam." He walked away without a single comment to be careful.

After a worried glance at his partner, Jim studied the child again. The poor tot had been through a lot. He turned to Lynn. "You gals wouldn't happen to have a spare trauma bear, do you?"

Lynn smiled. "I think there's one that'll be just perfect."


Blair was sitting in a waiting room chair talking softly to Ian in his arms when Jim arrived. Placing the bear behind his back, Jim walked up to them. "Any word?"

"The doctors are stitching up Daddy's 'owie' right now," Blair replied as he looked at the entry to the ER rooms worriedly. Ian looked up as well, forefinger tucked in his mouth. Blair smiled at the boy. "Ian, this is your Uncle Jim."

Solemn brown eyes studied the huge man. "Unca Dim?"

"That's right, Short Stuff," Jim replied as he bent down closer to Ian's eye level. "And I have a gift for you." He pulled out the bear. The plump toy had soft brown fur with a tan belly. Glittery eyes and a soft leather nose filled out the sweet face.

The boy's eyes lit up. "For me?"

"For you." Jim gave him the toy. Ian promptly wrapped an arm around the bear, hugging it tight.

Blair gently tousled the curls. "What do you say to Uncle Jim?"

Ian looked up seriously. "Gaw cee us, Unca Dim."

Jim looked at Blair. "Gracias," Blair interpreted, taking another look at the entryway.

Nodding, Jim sat next to him. "Why don't you go hunt up Sam? I'll look after Ian."

"You want to stay with Uncle Jim for a little bit?" Blair asked the boy.

Ian nodded, then climbed into Jim's lap, still holding the bear. Blair tousled the curls again before standing up.

Jim watched his partner leave as the child snuggled against his chest. The sleepy toddler seemed to need the closeness of the big detective, which wasn't surprising considering the early morning trauma. He was surprised just how good the boy's slight weight felt against him. Tucking part of his jacket around the boy, Jim followed Blair with his hearing.

"There you are. About ready to go, Olsen?"

"Yeah. The doc went to get the prescription."

"You're going to need it with that arm."

"It's okay for now." There was a long pause.

"How are you really doing?"

"I don't know." Even with the distance, Jim could hear Sam sigh. "I don't know what to think."

"Is Ian yours?"

"I don't know. I've always been careful, you know? But..."

"But what?"

"I don't do well with tequila."

Jim could picture Blair lifting an eyebrow. "Meaning?"

"The last night I was with Roxie in Mexico, we had some tequila. I woke up the next morning, she was gone, and I don't remember what happened that evening. Hell, I was still fighting the hangover in Chicago two days later."

"What do you mean, she was gone?"

"Roxie and all her stuff were gone, leaving me a note saying she had something big come up at work. She'd told me she was working for some export firm, but when I looked for her later, I couldn't find the company."

Jim lifted an eyebrow himself at that. Sam was pretty good at digging up information. That he couldn't find the company raised the detective's suspicions.

"And that was the last time you talked with her?"

"Yeah. But I had given her my email and pager number. She could have reached me if she'd tried. I would have helped. God, Blair, I never wanted a child of mine to grow up without a father, you know?"

"I know."

Jim nodded to himself. As children of single moms, both Sam and Blair would feel deeply about the issue.

So the big question was whether the tot really was Sam's son. Jim studied the child critically. The blond hair could have been passed through MacGyver's side and Blair had similar curls. The strongest link was the eyes. They did look like Sam's, but brown eyes were hardly uncommon.

There was one test the sentinel could perform. Jim tipped his nose towards the small neck. Layers of dirt and tears were identified and removed, as well as the scent of baby shampoo. The well-known scents of Sam and Blair was also noted and dismissed. Beneath it all was a scent that was purely Ian. The sentinel inhaled and analyzed. It was hard to detect much besides general baby. The boy's scent hadn't developed the richness it would gain with maturity. However, there was a hint of a tang that drew Jim's attention. He knew that faint thread; it was part of the scent that tied MacGyver to his sons. Through it, Jim was almost certain that Ian was Sam's son. "Welcome to the family, Short Stuff," Jim softly whispered.

Then the smell of cigars drew Jim's attention to the door. His captain and friend, Simon Banks, walked in. "Hey, Jim."

"Hi, Simon."

Simon frowned as he looked at the sleeping toddler. "When did you become a babysitter?"

"When Blair's brother shows up with a kid."

"Sam? Is that why you and Sandburg were shot at during the wee hours this morning?"

Jim quickly gave his captain a report, easing the note and the birth certificate out of his jacket while trying not to disturb Ian.

Simon glanced at the papers, then knelt down. "And this is the child?"

"Daddy?" Ian sleepily looked up.

A gentle smile crossed Simon's face. "Sorry, little fella. I'm a friend of your Uncle Jim and Uncle Blair."

"Oh." Ian tucked his head back into Jim. "Where's Nana?"

Simon and Jim exchanged glances. "I don't know, Ian," Jim apologized.

"Nana takes care of me," the boy explained, tucking his head back against Jim's shoulder as he rubbed his eyes sleepily.

Simon looked at Jim. "This child should be in bed."

Jim yawned. "We should all be in bed."

"You're not a child." Simon looked at the clock. "Why don't you and Sandburg take the boy and Sam home, and you all sleep in. I'll call Taggart and have him start digging. Perhaps he can find Sam some answers."

"I'm sure Sam would appreciate it," Jim replied. "And I'd really like to know who's shooting at him."

"Hey, Simon." Blair walked up with Sam in tow. Jim noted the pale face and the sleepy eyes of the new father. "We ready to go?"

Simon glanced around. "Where's the little fella's car seat?"

Jim, Blair and Sam exchanged glances. "It went up with the car," Blair replied.

Sam looked lost. "Ian's suitcase got blown up, too."

"That's where we come in." Lynn Crowder and her partner, Jesse Buxton, walked up. Lynn had an arm looped through a baby carrier. "My niece just outgrew it, so you're welcome to borrow it until you can replace the one you lost."

"And I brought some of my boys' old clothes," Jesse added, carrying a large paper sack. "They should fit."

Blair gave the women a grateful smile. "Thank you."

Sam's eyes bounced between the two. "Yeah, thank you. I don't have anything left for him."

Lynn smiled down at the child asleep in Jim's arms. "Just take care of the little guy."

"And yourself," Jessie added, tilting her head towards the bandaged arm.

Sam's tired smile charmed both women. "Thank you."


10 am, Ellison's loft

As Jim stepped out of the bathroom, he could hear Blair's soft voice. "...Cheerios? Okay, what else?... What kinds of crackers? Okay... huh, um... man, Jim's going to love this. Yeah, we have some milk but we'll need some more... Thanks, Mom. This helps a lot. Love ya, too."

"What did Naomi have to say?" Jim asked quietly as he leaned against the counter.

Blair looked up at his partner. "I called her. Don't know about you, but I didn't have the vaguest idea of what you should feed a toddler. So Mom gave me some pointers."

Jim turned the list so he could read it. "We're going to have to get some groceries."

"Yeah, but one of us is going to have to stay here in case those guys after Sam find him." Blair ran a hand through his hair.

"We've got protection. Simon sent over a car a couple of hours ago."

Blair stared at him. "Okay, what did Joel find?"

Jim sighed. "Apparently, Sam's as bad at picking out girlfriends as you are."

"Jiiimm."

"Roxanne Scott, a.k.a. The Deadly Rose, is an assassin, mostly working for drug cartels."

Blair's mouth dropped open. "WHAT?"

Jim shushed him. "You heard me. She's supposedly a very good one, too."

"How in the hell am I suppose to tell Sam that?" Blair shook his head. "She was his first, Jim. He's still got feelings for her."

"He's got to know, Chief. And Taggart did confirm that Ian's birth certificate in Arizona lists Sam as the father."

"I'd rather trust your nose," Blair declared firmly. He looked at his partner expectantly.

Jim sighed. "Ian's pretty young. I'm not getting much more than general baby."

"But..." Blair prompted, reading the expression.

"I think he's Sam's son. But I'm not positive."

Blair again ran a hand through his hair. "Good enough." Glancing at his ajar bedroom door, Blair asked, "How's Sam? And Ian?"

Jim smiled as he tilted his head. "Still asleep. But you've got to see this."

Blair tiptoed after Jim to peer into the room. Sam was sleeping on his back, his injured arm resting on a pillow and his face buried into another one. At some point, Ian had apparently left the makeshift bed in Blair's reading chair to climb up on the bed. He was snuggled against his father's shoulder, blond head tucked under his chin. Sam's hand was curled around the boy's leg.

Backing away, Blair whispered in awe, "My brother and nephew."

"Yep."

"We've got to protect them, Jim."

"Agreed. But first we've got to feed them." Jim walked over to the door as he scooped up the list. "I'll get the groceries. You try calling Mac and get your shower. I have a feeling things are going to get more interesting."


1:30 pm, Eastern Standard Time, Gen. Thomas Buchanan's house, Arlington, VA

Cory sat in a corner chair trying to become invisible. The gathering of the Buchanan family for the approaching holiday had already begun, along with the arguing. It was amazing how, even after so many years, all it took was for two of the elder Buchanans to be in the same room and they would find some point on which to disagree. Currently, his father, the general, was arguing with his uncle, the former peace activist, about the action with Afghanistan, while his uncle, the college professor, egged both of them on. The young sentinel just prayed that no one asked for his opinion. He'd be jumped on by someone no matter what he said.

Cory didn't even have the possibility of one of his siblings coming to his rescue. Russ was on a covert mission, Mark was in the South Pacific, and Missy wasn't due in until evening. He wondered what had possessed him to come back here. He'd rather have spent the time alone at the firehouse, or better yet join Sam and Mac in Cascade. However, Patty really had wanted him to come this year. Cory suspected that his step mom was still spooked by 9-11. When Missy had asked, too, Cory hadn't had the heart to say no.

Patty suddenly poked her head into the living room. "Cory, there's a call for you."

Cory stood up, ignoring his father's glare. Walking into the hallway, he asked, "Who is it?"

"Someone named Jim Ellison?" the tall blonde reported.

The joy of getting out of the line of fire dimmed. There was only one reason why Jim would call. Possible calamities to Sam filled his mind. "Thanks, Patty." Taking a deep breath, Cory said, "Hello."

A few minutes later, Cory was sitting in the loveseat by the phone rubbing his forehead. "How bad is the wound?... are you sure about the kid?... Do you think they'll still try to get him?... Yeah, I appreciate you calling... I know what you mean, I'd call you if it was Blair... Thanks, Jim." He hung up the phone, his thoughts reeling.

"Are you okay, honey?" Cory looked up to see his great aunt Iris. The elderly woman leaned on her cane, but the green eyes were still as sharp as gems. "Was that bad news?"

With a shrug, Cory shot her a weak smile. "My partner from work's in danger. But he's in Washington State."

Nodding wisely, she eased herself next to him on the loveseat. "And you are here." She studied her nephew a moment. "Partners can be very important. My eldest brother Henry, he was an army officer during WWII you know, he said he wouldn't have survived if it hadn't been for his sergeant. Thayer and he did a lot of work behind enemy lines." She paused, openly studying Cory again until he nearly squirmed. "He said that with Thayer helping, he could hear the German soldiers talking at great distances, see snipers hiding, and even smell landmines."

Cory's eyes widened in shock. "He did?"

Iris smiled. "Yes. Of course, I'm about the only one in the family that believed his stories. The rest of the family was too stuck in the mud to see what was under their noses. But you believe it, don't you, young man? Because you can do it, too."

Blinking, Cory struggled to figure out what to say. His great uncle had heightened senses, too?

Iris simply patted his leg. "Go to your partner, honey. He's more important than listening to your father and his brothers trying to act like they have the only opinion that counts."

Smiling, Cory gave her a big hug. Then he reached for the phone.


11 am, Pacific Standard Time, Ellison's loft

Sam wandered out of the bedroom dressed in a pair of Jim's sweats and a zip-up sweatshirt of Blair's. Holding his throbbing arm close to his chest, he tried to shake off the beginning of a foul mood. A happy chuckle drew his attention to the kitchen counter. Ian sat on one of the bar stools, trying to feed a piece of scrambled egg to his bear. Suddenly, it hit him. That adorable human being was something he and Roxie had created. His heart twisted as he watched the small hand awkwardly hold the fork. They were the hands of his son. Sam had never felt such a wave of awed love before. The grumpiness disappearing, a weak smile managed to cross Sam's face as he walked over. "Hey Buddy, I don't think bears like eggs."

A jam-covered face turned towards him, lighting up with a smile. "Daddy!"

Leaning over to plant a kiss on the small forehead, Sam then looked down. His good hand touched the leather belt that secured Ian's middle to the back of the chair. "What's this?"

"That's how Uncle Blair makes sure someone doesn't fall off while he's cooking," Blair explained, examining his brother over his shoulder. "Why don't you sit down while I fix you something."

Sam started to shake his head. "My stomach's woozy."

"Food will help that," Blair told him. "And you need to eat something before you take the antibiotics and the pain pills."

Not feeling up to an argument, Sam sat down in a chair next to Ian. Blair placed a cup of coffee in front of him. Wrapping a hand around the warm mug, he studied his son's brunch companion again. "Where'd you get the bear, Ian?"

Ian looked up from his eggs. "Unca Dim."

Sam glanced at Blair. "Jim?"

Blair nodded as he dropped a couple of slices of toast on Sam's plate. "Lynn had it in her patrol car."

Sam nodded. "Does your bear have a name, Buddy?"

"Yep."

When nothing more was forthcoming, Sam prodded, "What's his name?"

"Tubby."

"Tubby?" Sam exchanged amused glances with his brother. "Sounds like a good name for a bear."

Ian nodded as he reached for his plastic cup. "Cuz he's tubby." The boy drank the rest of the liquid, kicking his feet.

"Do you want some more milk, Ian?" Blair asked.

Ian shook his head. "I wanna play."

"What do you say?" Sam gently prodded. Ian looked at him in puzzlement. "Say, 'May I be excused, Uncle Blair'." Sam glanced at Blair. "Do you have a washcloth handy?"

Ian's face wrinkled in concentration. "May I be a, eee."

"May I be excused."

"May I be s'cuse, Unca Bear?"

"As soon as we get your face washed," Blair replied, handing his brother a warm, damp cloth.

Sam stared at it a moment. "A dish rag?"

"It's clean," Blair defended.

Rolling his eyes, Sam tried to wipe off the face of the squirming toddler one-handedly. "Come on, Buddy, work with me here." Finally getting most of the jam off the little face and hands, Sam started to work on the dish towel knotted into a makeshift bib.

Seeing his brother's difficulties, Blair walked around the counter, patting Sam's shoulder on the way. He bent over, pulled off the towel, unfastened the belt, and lifted the boy onto the floor. Then he dashed back to the kitchen before the eggs burned.

"Tubby!" Ian demanded. Too tired to insist on etiquette again, Sam handed him the bear. As Ian ran off, Sam simply rested his good arm on the counter and buried his face on it.

"We're going to get through this," Blair told him as he slid a plate of eggs and toast in front of him. "All of it."

Sam looked up at his brother, studying him a moment. "You found out something about Roxie."

"Eat your eggs."

Sam's eyes narrowed. "Blair..."

"Food first, then we'll talk."

Still frowning, Sam ate a forkful of eggs. He glanced over his shoulder and nearly spit the eggs out. "Ian! No!"

Blair joined Sam in the living room in time to see his brother grab the toddler's hand before it could grab Blair's Hopi doll. "No, Ian. Don't touch it."

Ian's lower lip began to push out. "She wanna play with Tubby."

"It's Uncle Blair's. You don't touch it."

"I wanna play with it."

"And I said no."

Blair leaned over, plucked the doll off the lower shelf, and placed it on a shelf above Ian's head. Then he walked into his room.

A tear joined the pouting lip. "I want Nana!"

Sam sighed. "Nana isn't here."

"Here we go!" Blair plopped a pad of paper and several colored markers onto the coffee table. "Why don't you draw us a picture, Ian?"

The boy pounced on the supplies. Gently, Blair led his hurting brother back to the counter. "Now you eat, then you take your pills."

Sam poked his fork at the eggs. "I don't suppose there's enough pills to take until he turns 18, is there?"


Jim stepped out of the market, carrying two paper sacks. Senses on alert, he noticed a familiar figure sitting on a park bench under a large tree. Shifting his path, Jim walked over to the man. "Well, well, well. I never expected to see you in Cascade again, Gustavo." He joined the man on the metal bench.

The middle-aged, dark haired man smiled. "There is just something about this city that draws me, Detective Ellison."

Jim smirked. "What's drawing you this time?"

"It seems that you and Mr. Sandburg are guarding a young man and a boy. What do you know about them?"

"Quite a bit, actually." Jim turned his gaze to the retired gun dealer. "The young man is Sandburg's half brother."

Gustavo's eyes grew wide. "His brother? Then why would he be involved with an assassin?"

Jim stared hard at him. "Sam knew the girl in high school before her life of crime, and she didn't tell him about her new career. What exactly is your interest?"

"The Deadly Rose has a few things that don't belong to her. A certain group I know would like them back, and believe the young man may have them or know where to find her."

"Sam didn't even see her; she left the boy in Sam's hotel room while he was out. Even if he did have something, it went up with the car."

"It may be hard to convince certain parties."

"It's the truth. Not that it matters, though. Why should we deal with lowlifes who tried to kill a two-year-old?"

"A few young members were a little too enthusiastic. Those higher in the organization were very upset to hear that the child was placed in danger."

"They damn well should be."

"But they are curious why the boy is with the young man."

"Because the young man just found out he's the boy's father. Which makes my partner the boy's uncle." Jim's eyes turned icy. "You might want to pass on that if anything happens to either Sam or the boy, the organization's days will be numbered."

Gustavo smiled. "You and Sandburg would turn in your shields to seek justice, no?"

"Sandburg and I would be the least of their worries. Blair and Sam's father is a former international agent and an explosives expert. Luckily, he rarely loses his temper. Hurting his family, especially his first grandchild, would sign someone's death warrant."

Gustavo nodded. "I, too, do not wish harm to an innocent child and I owe Mr. Sandburg a great debt for trying to help Maya. I will pass on your information."

Jim nodded in return. "Thank you."


Sam stared at Blair in shock. "An assassin? Roxie?"

"I know this is hard," Blair sympathized.

Sam slowly shook his head. "I just don't understand. Roxie's a tough girl, but I never thought she'd do anything like this. But then, I never thought she'd keep something like having my kid from me, either. It just--"

A cry preceded an avalanche of sound behind them. Sam and Blair turned around to see the last of the large CD collection flow across the hard wood floor. In the center sat Ian, one hand clutching Tubby and the other holding the arm of the forbidden doll. It was obvious that the toddler had climbed up the CD case to reach his goal. Now he was crying for Nana at the top of his lungs.

Sam closed his eyes a moment, then walked over. He quickly ran his hand over his crying son to check for injuries. Then he pulled the doll out of his hand. "What did I tell you about this?" Ian looked up at him, eyes huge. "Ian, what did I say?"

"Don't toth it."

"What did you do?... Ian?"

"I toth it."

"That was being bad, Ian. See the mess you made. Now, tell Uncle Blair you're sorry."

Ian looked up at Blair. "I'm sorry, Unca Bear."

"Now you need to be punished." Sam looked at Blair. "Mind putting a chair in the corner for me?" Sam turned back to Ian. "You are going to sit in the chair and stare at the corner until I say you can leave. Understand?"

"I want Nana," the boy whimpered.

Sam tipped the head up to look into Ian's eyes. "Nana's not here, Buddy. You have to listen to me." He led Ian by the hand and sat the boy in the chair. Leaving the child crying in the corner, he returned to where Blair was picking up the CDs. "Why is it that now I feel like the bad guy?"

Blair gave him a comforting smile. "He's testing your limits. If you don't lay down the rules now, he'll walk all over you. Then in fifteen years, Jim and I'll be arresting him."

"Yeah, I know." Sam wiped a hand over his face. "I'm just not sure how much more of this I can take."

Blair stopped him when Sam reached for a fallen CD. "I'll pick it up. I know how much gunshot wounds can take out of you, so you just sit down and try to rest."

Sam sighed as he sat. "I just feel like I'm being pulled in too many directions at once."

"Like I said, we'll get through this. Just let me help."

A couple of minutes later, the front door opened. Jim glanced into the living area as he entered carrying the sacks. Noticing the CDs scattered across the floor, he lifted an eyebrow. Blair turned his head to the corner. Spotting Ian facing the corner and Sam looking spent on the couch, it only took Cascade's best detective a moment to connect the dots.

Blair joined his partner in the kitchen to help unload the sacks. "How's Sam doing?" Jim asked softly as he placed two boxes of Goldfish in the cupboard.

Glancing over his shoulder, Blair sighed. "Hurting, stressed out and still in shock. Too much has hit him in too short a time."

Jim nodded. "How's fatherhood going?"

Blair smirked. "He's doing pretty good so far. Ian's just trying to figure out where the boundaries are and hit one hard."

"I noticed. Did you reach your Dad?"

"No." Blair paused as he placed the gallon jug of milk in the refrigerator. "No answer at work or home, and he's not answering his cell. He might be on his way to the airport."

"By the way, I don't want Sam or Ian to leave the loft for now."

Blair's brow wrinkled. "Yeah, caught that before. What's up now?"

"I ran into Maya's uncle."

"Gustavo?"

"Who's Gustavo?"

Blair and Jim turned to spy Sam, one hip leaning against the counter as he held his injured arm close to his body.

"A former arms dealer from Chile," Blair explained. "I dated his niece once." Blair turned back to Jim.

"You tell him about Roxie?" Jim asked.

"Yeah," Sam sighed, face hurt and grim.

Jim clenched his jaw. He hated to add to Sam's burden. "Roxie has apparently crossed what Gustavo called an 'Organization'."

"Probably an illegal organization," Blair inserted.

"Right. Anyway, they think Sam knows where Roxie is."

"Yeah, right. Then why shoot at me?" Sam asked. "I can't say anything if they kill me."

Jim shrugged. "Gustavo said someone got too enthusiastic. The Organization wasn't too happy that a child was in the crossfire."

"What do they want, a gold star?" Blair grumbled.

"So if they're shooting at me, what about Roxie?" Sam asked worriedly.

Jim and Blair exchanged glances. "We don't know," Jim replied.

"Maybe that's why she left Ian with you -- she was trying to protect him," Blair offered.

Sam's eyes were looking inward. "I just don't understand any of this. I suspected Roxie's job might not be entirely on the up and up. That's why I didn't look for her harder after Mexico. But killing people? And why didn't she tell me about Ian?"

"Maybe she knew you'd sue for custody if you did find out what she does," Blair pointed out.

"She knew enough about your whereabouts to find you in Seattle." Jim reached over to rub Sam's shoulder. "Has Ian mentioned any place he's been?"

"No. He said 'Mommy said to go to sleep, and I'll meet Daddy when I wake up, just like magic'." Sam sighed. "I didn't know what to do. Ian said he was hungry, so we went down to the vending machines to buy some crackers when some men started following us. I ditched them around the pool area. That's when I decided I should leave for Cascade early. Having them wave guns at us in the parking lot just reinforced it."

Jim pondered for a moment. "He's mentioned 'Nana' a few times. What about Roxie's mother?"

Sam shook his head. "Roxie's mom died when she was a teenager. I don't think she had any other family. Though he does keep asking for Nana."

"'Nana' is Spanish for nurse or nanny," Blair pointed out. "It actually comes from the Aztec word 'Nantzin' which means 'mother'. Only a little kid can't say 'Nantzin' so it was changed to 'Nana'. In fact, that's where we get the word 'nanny' -- the Spanish picked it up from their Aztec servants who cared for their children."

"Meaning?" Sam asked, his patience worn thin from fatigue.

"Meaning that perhaps Roxie picked up a nanny in South America somewhere. It would explain why Ian knows some Spanish. Maybe if we could find Ian's 'Nana', we could get some answers."

"Kinda hard to put out an APB on 'Nana'," Jim pointed out dryly.

"Still it's a lead," Blair fired back.

Then Jim raised a hand, his head tilted. Recognizing the sign, Blair and Sam paused as the sentinel listened. Then Jim smiled. "Seems Mac got another ride." Before either brother could form a question, Jim walked over and unlocked the door. "Hi Mac, Dalton."

MacGyver and his pilot friend, Jack Dalton, walked into the loft. Mac smiled when he spotted Blair and Sam in the kitchen. "Hi, boys. Hope you don't mind I brought along a guest." Before Blair could greet Jack, Mac's eyes narrowed when he spotted the lump of the bandage beneath Sam's sleeve. "What happened to you?"

"Daddy, can I play yet?"

MacGyver stared first at the blond toddler then back at Blair. "Daddy?"

Everything suddenly became too much for Sam. "Yes, he called me 'Daddy'. It's not like finding out about kids after the fact's never happened in THIS family before." Sam stormed out of the kitchen and onto the balcony.

There was a moment of silence within the loft. Then Blair cracked, "I think he's out of shock now."

Mac asked bleakly, "What just happened?"

Blair clasped his father's shoulders. "I need to catch you up. And don't think I didn't notice you were looking at me first..."


MacGyver pulled the balcony door open and stepped out into the cold, fresh air. His son was standing with his back resting against the bricks, staring out over the city. The strained face and the darkly circled eyes spoke volumes of how difficult the past day had been. Mac quietly walked over and leaned on a patch of brick next to Sam. After a few moments of silence, he asked, "Can we start again?"

"Sorry, Dad." Sam ran a hand over his face. "Didn't mean to take it out on you."

"That's okay. I'm tough enough to take it." Mac waited.

Finally, Sam started to speak. "I just don't know if I can handle this. I mean, I thought if nothing else, Roxie cared about me. I always thought we connected, you know? It hurts to think she'd drop this kind of bombshell on me and not have the guts to look me in the eye and explain. But then, I never thought she was murdering for a living, either. I feel so stupid, and now it's affecting someone else. I mean, I've always promised myself I wouldn't leave some kid out there to grow up without a father." Sam paused.

"Like you had to," Mac asked softly.

Sam continued to stare out on the city. "Yeah. Not that I blame you -- you didn't know. And I truly feel that if you had been taking care of me, there are a lot of people out there who wouldn't be out there anymore. You've done a lot of good, Dad."

"Still made it hard on you."

Sam shrugged. "Sometimes, especially after mom died. But I've done just what I promised myself I wouldn't do. There's a sweet little boy inside who hasn't had a father for the first two years of his life.

"I mean, I just look into that trusting face and it hits me that Ian's depending on me. That it's up to me alone to make sure he's safe and clothed and fed, and that he learns what's right and what's wrong. Obviously, Roxie's pretty shaky on that last one. And the responsibility scares me, Dad. I haven't a clue what I'm doing. Yet I can't just hunt Roxie up and return him like a forgotten sweater. He deserves better than that. He deserves to be able to depend on his Daddy.

"But I also have another great responsibility. I need to be there for Cory. He's depending on me to ground him and his senses. God, Dad, did you know that he was zoning for HOURS before we met? I don't even want to think what could have happened to him in that state. And I can only wonder if those lost hours did some damage that now results in his bad headaches. Hell, I was worried about him going back to D.C. on his own. And we have all these responsibilities that take us all over the world, trying to make our country safer for kids like Ian. But what am I going to do with Ian when Cory and I have to go somewhere? What we do can be dangerous, so I can't take him with me. Nor can I tell Cory he's just going to have to take care of himself while I stay with Ian -- he deserves a guide. What am I going to do?"

Mac gently squeezed Sam's good arm. "You know what your problem is? You're not looking at all your options."

"I'm not seeing any good options here, Dad."

"How about the one standing right next to you?"

Sam turned to face him. "What do you mean?"

Mac squeezed his arm again. "Harry helped my mom raise me after my dad died. Now it's my turn to help you."

"Dad, I can't ask you to do that. You have your own life, too."

"And what better way to live it than to help raise my grandson? I didn't get the chance to watch you or Blair grow up. Let me be a part of Ian's childhood. Together, we can do this. There's certainly enough room at the firehouse for him, though we're going to have to put up a higher barrier around the pole and do some toddler-proofing. Phoenix has a great daycare center, and if we need to, we can see about hiring a nanny. Besides, Nikki keeps saying it's time I started slowing down a bit. We just have to coordinate our schedules. I'm also willing to bet Cory'll help, too."

Sam simply stared at his father. "You're willing to do all that?"

"You're my family. Of course I am." Mac pulled his son into a warm hug.

Face buried in his father's neck, Sam mumbled, "Thanks, Dad."

MacGyver smiled. "You're welcome."


As they reentered the loft, a high-pitched "Weeeee!" reached their ears. Puzzled, Mac followed Sam to where the blond toddler gleefully declared, "Do again, Unca Bear!"

"Is there any more under there?" Blair asked as he took the two slim cases. The boy nodded eagerly. "Okay, let's get them."

Ian chuckled as he dropped to his belly. Sam lifted an eyebrow at Jim and Jack. Jack was sitting in the armchair with a beer as Jim fixed the broken shelf. "Ian's getting the CDs that slid under the couch," Jack explained.

"Figured since he scattered them, he might as well help pick up," Jim added.

The giggling voice called out from under the couch, "Got 'em!"

"Here we go!" Blair answered as he grabbed the small feet sticking out. He slid the boy out along the smooth wood floor on his belly as the high voice squealed 'weeeee!' again.

Standing up, Ian spotted Sam. "Look, Daddy! I'm 'elping!" He raised the CD cases for his father to see.

"He's helping a lot," Blair added proudly, tousling the curls.

"Good boy," Sam praised him, dropping to one knee. "Come over here a minute, Buddy."

Mac felt his heart twist as the boy picked up a teddy bear and ran to Sam. Harry had always called him 'Bud'. Feeling as if his life had come full circle, the older man knelt next to Sam as his son wrapped his good arm around the toddler. "Ian, I want you to meet somebody." Ian looked up to Mac shyly, his finger finding its way to his mouth. "This is your Grandpa MacGyver."

Ian tilted his head to the side. "Gampa my eye?"

Mac gave him a warm smile. "You can call me Grandpa Mac."

"Gampa Mac?"

"Grandpa Mac is going to help me take care of you," Sam explained.

Brown eyes grew huge. "Weally?"

"Really," Mac answered.

Ian shoved his teddy bear in front of him. "This is Tubby."

"Hi, Tubby," Mac greeted, shaking a furry paw.

Studying the tall man, Ian asked, "Do you tell stories?"

"Sure I do." Mac held out his hands. "Would you like to hear some stories?" Ian nodded and climbed into his grandpa's arms.


3:45 pm, Mountain Standard Time, Denver International Airport, Denver, CO

Cory turned sideways to avoid the three teenaged boys darting down the concourse in the opposite direction. He hated plane travel during the Christmas holidays, even before his senses heightened. Now the crowd and the accompanying noise and smells threatened to overwhelm the sentinel. Only by concentrating on the fact that his guide needed him kept Cory from succumbing to the pressure around him.

When he reached the boarding area for the flight to Cascade, he checked the display. Estimating that he had about ten minutes before finding out if he had a seat, Cory leaned against a pillar and closed his eyes a moment. With the holiday rush, he was having to travel on standby. The only reason he was even on the list was that one of the managers of Denver International Airport had recognized him when he had exited the plane from D.C. Apparently, the woman had been impressed with the consulting work Sam and he had done for DIA. When she heard that Sam was in trouble in Washington state, she pulled a couple of strings. Now he could allow his thoughts to drift.

Sam was a father. His messy, laid-back, junk food junkie partner was a father. It was enough to boggle the mind.

Someone had shot at Sam. Sam and his son had nearly died last night. If Jim and Blair hadn't have reached them in time, he would have lost his guide. The very thought scared Cory to the core. Life without Sam in it now was unimaginable. His pragmatic presence grounded him in so many ways since they'd met. Both Sam and his father had been his lifeline the past few months.

Now there was a new person in the mix. A small smile creased Cory's face. He loved kids. Between his younger siblings and the teaching he did at the dojo, he probably had more experience with young ones than Sam had. He was looking forward to meeting the little boy.

Upon hearing his name announced from the desk, Cory stood up and joined the other lucky standbys to get his boarding pass. He then walked to the gate. A few minutes later, he sat in the aisle seat and tucked his laptop under the seat in front of him for takeoff. He grabbed a map and his Martial Arts Today magazine to examine during the flight.

The strong scent of sage waffered over him. "Excuse me." Cory looked up to see a woman smile at him. "I have the seat by the window."

Cory politely stood up. Seeing her huge bag, he helped her place it in the overhead bin, then allowed the slim redhead to pass him to her seat. From the few small wrinkles, he gauged her age to be over forty-five, though he suspected she might be older than she looked. As she sat down, she gushed, "I am so glad to have made this flight. I didn't plan on going to Cascade until the last minute."

"Me, neither," Cory replied as he buckled his seat belt. He opened the map.

The woman leaned over to look at the folded paper. "Your first time to Cascade?"

"Yes. I had planned to spend Christmas in D.C., but something unexpected popped up." Like having your partner and best friend get shot at.

The woman nodded her head. "I hear that. Nothing like having the unexpected pop up when everyone else is trying to get someplace else. But then, I don't think I could have anticipated this. My son's half brother by his father suddenly found out he has a son." She laughed lightly, a musical tone that soothed Cory's mind. "Just the thought of Blair, his brother, and his partner having to deal with a toddler told me I should pay them a visit, holidays or no. They're all bachelors, you see. Blair didn't even know what to feed the little tyke."

Cory was nodding along until everything she had said finally caught up in his head. "Wait a minute, Blair Sandburg?"

The redhead gave him a huge smile. "Why, yes. Do you know my son?"

Cory returned the smile. He had heard about Blair's mother. "I've met him. Sam's a good friend of mine."

Clasping her hands together, she exclaimed, "What wonderful karma! You're going to meet Sam's new little boy, too?"

Figuring that came pretty close, Cory nodded. He held out his hand. "Cory Buchanan."

"Naomi Sandburg. You can put away that map, by the way. I can get us to Jim's place."

Cory smiled as he tucked the map away. He had a feeling this was going to be an interesting flight.


Ellison's loft

Jim watched as Blair showed Ian how to stay within the lines of the coloring book with a marker. The pair were sprawled across the rug in front of the fireplace, the book filled with line drawings of teddy bears between them. Personally, he thought his partner was being a little optimistic that the small boy could learn the skill at such a young age. Then again, considering the brain power within the MacGyver family, perhaps he could. Noting that Sam's shower had shut off, Jim visually checked on Mac, who was using his cell phone on the balcony.

Jack joined him by the counter, two beers in his hand. He handed one to Jim. "Quite a turn of events we have."

"That's putting it mildly."

"Yeah, I remember Sam telling me about Roxie and Mexico." Jack paused to take a drink from the bottle. "That little gal broke his heart."

Jim turned to him. "He told you? He didn't say a word to Blair or Mac."

Jack shrugged. "It was just after Blair's little swim with the fishes. Sam didn't want to burden them with it on top of all that was going on. He's too much like his dad that way. But we had a little down time there in Wyoming when he was still hurting, so he spilled it to me. I've played Father Confessor before when he didn't want to worry Mac." After watching Ian rub the marker in the book, he asked, "Are we sure the boy's Sam's?"

"As sure as we can be without a blood test." Jim took a sip from the bottle. "Sam's listed as the father on the birth certificate."

"Well, that's something," Jack commented.

"Yeah." Jim took another drink instead of mentioning the sentinel evidence.

The balcony door opened. Mac stepped inside, rubbing his arms absently.

Blair glanced up. "Raining yet?"

"No, but it looks like it will soon."

"Gampa, look!"

Mac looked down at the picture, nodding. "That's looking good, Ian."

Proud of himself, Ian's head dipped back down to the floor. MacGyver walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of green tea.

"Catch Nikki?" Jack asked.

"Yeah, and she's going to contact the lawyers to see what we need to do about custody." Mac glanced at his grandson worriedly. "I want to make sure we're ready in case Roxie decides it's 'her turn' again."

Jim clenched his jaw. He had seen the results of too many custody battles gone wrong not to be concerned. "I'll have Taggart send you copies of his investigation. Roxie's chosen profession should count against her."

"As long as she doesn't decide to use her skills on Sam." Mac was still frowning as he drank from the bottle.

"What did Pete have to say?" Jack asked.

"He'll arrange for the blood test." Mac punched his old friend's arm. "And that we're going to have a fun Christmas. We'll need to do some more shopping before the big day. I don't want Sam out in the crowds if we can help it."

"I'm always up for spending your money, Mac," Jack chuckled.

Mac noticed Jim's head tilt in his listening stance. He wasn't surprised when Jim walked to the door.

"Hi, Jim," Joel Taggart greeted him, entering the door. He spied MacGyver and Jack in the kitchen. "Hi, Mac, Jack."

"Hi, Joel." Mac walked over to shake his hand.

Joel glanced into the living area, spotting Blair and the toddler. "How's it going?"

"As well as can be expected," Jim replied.

"Well, heads up. The suits have caught wind of it and are on their way over."

Blair's head raised from the coloring book, frowning. Ian, catching the tension, sat up and put his finger in his mouth.

"CIA, FBI, Interpol, or DXS?" Jim asked lightly, noticing they had caught the boy's attention.

"Not sure, but somebody's excited."

"Now? On a Sunday?" Jack asked.

Joel shrugged. "Apparently, they've been trying to track down the Deadly Rose for years." Frowning, Mac pulled his cell phone out of his pocket.

Sam exited the bathroom, still towel drying his hair with one hand. Realizing it was too quiet, he looked up to see the serious faces. "What's up now?"

"A rep from the Alphabet soup's on its way," Blair replied. He reached over to tousle Ian's curls. "Hey, Buddy, I think it's about nap time."

"Don't wanna nap."

"Still time for one," Sam countered, walking towards the boy with the intent of leading him to Blair's bedroom.

"One thing first, if you don't mind, Sam." Joel shifted a bag he was holding. "I talked with my pastor, and there was an extra kid's coat left over from the Christmas baskets this year. Thought I'd see if Ian could wear it."

Overwhelmed, Sam stared at him. "A coat?"

"Told the pastor about your car blowing up. If you're spending any time in Cascade at all, the little fella's going to need one."

Eyes huge, Sam replied, "Thank you."


Two hours later, outside Ellison's loft

Cory paid the cab driver as Naomi stepped out. Then he flipped the hood of his jacket over his head for protection against the cold rain. Glancing around, he noted that the building was on a rise facing the harbor. Jim must have a fantastic view. As he escorted Blair's mother to the doors, he eased the control of his hearing, searching for the voices of Sam and his family.

"...would hurry up. It's cold out here."

"I wish I knew how many were in there."

"After the agents leave, that should leave maybe two cops, the man, and the boy. Once we neutralize the men, we'll grab the boy. The Deadly Rose will have to come out of hiding for her son."

Cory took a deep breath. The voices had to belong to Sam's attackers. Once inside the lobby, he turned to Naomi. "Will you do me a favor? Tell Jim to meet me down here."

Naomi turned to him, confused. "Whatever for?"

Cory gave her a tight smile. "Small problem. And tell Indy and Olsen to watch their six."

"Indy and Olsen?" Naomi asked.

"They'll know."


Ellison's loft

"No, I don't know where Roxie is," Sam repeated wearily. The CIA agents never seemed to tire of asking him the same question in a different way, as if his answer was going to be any different from the other 57 times he'd answered it.

However, it could be worse. Sam knew that if it wasn't for the respect the agents held for his father standing behind him, their questions would have been rougher. Jim's icy glare from the other side probably helped, too. He glanced into the kitchen, hearing Blair banging pots. His brother had tossed in some friendly interference earlier, but was now taking his own frustration out on starting dinner.

The older agent, Mr. Grey, pulled his papers together. "Well, I think that will be all for now, Mr. Malloy. Just don't leave town until we contact you again." Sam barely kept his eyes from rolling. "We will take the child now and be out of your hair."

"Excuse me?" Sam wasn't sure he had heard what he just thought he heard. Jim's soft growl informed him that he had.

"We will take custody of Deadly Rose's son."

"What?" Blair surged from the kitchen.

"The hell you will," Jim growled at the same time.

"The boy is staying here," MacGyver quietly informed them.

"With all due respect, Mr. MacGyver," replied the younger agent, Mr. Smith, as he ignored the cops. "Ian Scott is part of our investigation and we will have him."

A rage Sam had never felt before boiled up from his chest. Fighting for control, he stood up. "His birth certificate says Ian Scott Malloy." He glared at the agents as everyone fell silent, feeling the rare chill in his voice. "He is MY son, MY responsibility, and he stays with ME."

"Mr. Malloy, we can protect him better than you," Mr. Smith informed him.

Sam lifted an eyebrow as he crossed his arms. "I feel a lot safer here than any place you'd care to take us. And it would be 'us'. If Ian goes, I go."

"Mr. Malloy, this has nothing to do with you." Mr. Grey explained patiently.

"Yes, it does," Sam insisted. "I have every right to say no. If you disagree, you can speak with our lawyer."

"Arrangements are already under way," Mac quietly pointed out, hiding his proud smile.

"We have no proof that the boy is yours," Mr. Smith pointed out snidely.

"The birth certificate is legit," Jim informed him, his more experienced icy voice finishing what Sam's had started. "Which you should know, if you are any good at detecting. You will need to disprove Sam's paternity, and you can't. The boy stays here."

For a moment, the agents stared at the united front of Sam, Mac, Jim and Blair. Even Jack Dalton, who had been hiding out in the living room with a magazine, had approached the kitchen willing to lend his support.

Then there was a knock on the door. Jim tilted his head a moment, then sneezed. Blair's eyes widened, realizing the implication. He walked to the door, glanced through the peephole, and opened it. "Hi, Mom."

"Hi, Sweetie," Naomi greeted brightly, totally unaware of the tension in the room. She gave her son a big hug.

"Ah, Mom..." Blair began.

"Oh, Jim!" Naomi turned to the big man, ignoring the others in the room. "Cory told me to tell you to meet him downstairs."

"Cory? Sam's partner?" Mac asked.

"Oh, hi, Mac. Yes, that Cory. We met on the plane. And he wanted me to say something else." Naomi thought a moment to make sure she got it right. "'Tell Indy and Olsen to watch their sixth'? Sixth what?"

Sam and Blair exchanged glances. "Six, Mom," Blair explained. "He's telling us to watch our backs."

"Cory spotted trouble," Sam added worriedly. He took a step towards the door. Mac immediately threw his arm out to prevent Sam from leaving.

Jim was already grabbing his jacket from the hook by the door. "I'm on it. Sandburg, you stay here and guard Sam and Ian."

"I'm with you," Mac replied, giving Sam a 'you stay here' look before heading out the door. The agents followed without speaking.

Naomi stared at the closing door. "How rude."

"They're not paid to be friendly, Mom," Blair explained as he set the deadbolt.

Naomi turned and spotted Dalton. "Jack," she greeted stiffly.

"Naomi," Jack returned just as stiffly.

Rolling his eyes, Blair walked over to the balcony to close the blinds. With his back to his mother, he double checked that his gun was still tucked in his waistband under his sweatshirt. He returned to the kitchen. "By the way, why are you here, Mom? I thought you were helping Gail and Digger in Boulder."

Naomi turned, a huge smile on her face. "I want to meet my grandson."

Sam sent a confused look at Dalton, who just shrugged. He never tried to figure out Naomi. It only gave him a headache.

Blair stared at his mother. "Ah, Mom, Ian is Sam's son, not mine. I'm sure I told you that."

Naomi placed her hands on her hips, giving him her 'don't mess with me' stare. "And when are YOU going to make me a grandmother?"

Turning bright red, Blair stuttered, "Ah... well... ah..."

"Exactly! And Sam's your brother, so that makes us family." Naomi turned to Sam. "Do you mind, Honey? I'm sure you have all sorts of questions about raising kids, and it's a grandmother's job to help answer them."

Amused to see his brother caught so off-guard, Sam solemnly replied, "No, ma'am. I'd like Ian to have a Grandma."

"Then it's settled, except I want you to call me Naomi. Where is he?"

"Taking a nap," Blair managed, still red.

Sam glanced at the clock, surprised at the time. "Shouldn't he be awake by now?" He walked to Blair's bedroom.

Naomi looked at Blair. "How long has he been in there?"

"A couple of hours."

"Have you child-proofed your room?"

"I put up the clay pots and figurines."

"You've barely started, then."

"IAN!"

Blair dashed to the bedroom door, hand slipping under his shirt, with Naomi and Jack on his heels. Sam was kneeling on the floor next to his son, holding a pen out of reach. The toddler was looking guilty, lip starting to stick out. Sam raised his eyes. "I hope you weren't attached to your tape player." He picked up a piece of plastic. Blair was shocked to realize it was from the cassette player he used to take notes.

Ian looked up at him, eyes huge. "I wanna see how the light wook, Unca Bear."

Naomi started laughing. "They're right, you know. Grandchildren are your revenge on your children." Blair glared at her. "Sweetie, do you remember how many of my things you took apart to see how they worked when you were his age? I never did get that old radio working again."

"I'll buy you a new one," Sam promised.

Blair simply shook his head. "Guess it's better than following the MacGyver tradition and breaking my arm."


Standing near the elevator, Cory looked up when Jim exited into the lobby. He nodded at Mac, glanced at the agents briefly, then reported to Jim, "There are three of them, standing in the entry for that bakery."

Jim nodded as he pulled out his gun. "It should be empty this time of night."

Mac, quietly checking out the state of two sentinels, asked, "How do we play it?"

"Hold it," Smith interrupted. "This is our case and we're in charge."

Cory, noting Jim's fuming face, asked, "Gary, is that you?"

Smith's head swiveled to the other man. "Buchanan? What are you doing here?"

"Malloy's my partner at Phoenix." He smirked at him. "And I would strongly suggest you listen to Ellison. He's better at this than any of us."

The two agents stared at Jim in surprise. Smugly, Jim began, "Now that we know where we stand..."

It was over in a matter of minutes. Cory casually walked towards the bakery, sentinel senses aware of the others positioning themselves. He stopped in front of the men. "Excuse me, do you have the time?"

One of the men glared at him. "Move on."

Cory shrugged. "Can't do that."

The man swore in Spanish. "Of course you can."

With exaggerated sadness, Cory shook his head again. "Nah, Jim would get mad at me."

"Who's Jim?" one of the others asked.

"Me." Jim aimed his gun at the man's face. "Freeze, Cascade PD."

The two agents popped up on the other side. "Federal agents. You are under arrest."

The third man drew a knife from his coat. The darkness hid it from the agents, but not from sentinel sight. Cory spun backwards in a circular kick, knocking the knife out of the man's hands. The next move forced the man to the ground, Cory snarling in his face. "Try something else, and I'll remember that you were shooting at my partner and my soon-to-be godson last night." The man wisely froze.

Jim simply smirked in approval. "You have the right to remain silent. If you waive this right, anything you say may be used against you--"

"Wait a minute, they're our suspects," Smith objected.

"My jurisdiction," Jim pointed out before continuing, "--in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you can't afford an attorney--"

"Detective Ellison," Grey began.

"If you can take Ian, Jim can arrest these men," Mac drawled, picking up on Jim's intent. Cory gave him a sharp look.

"--an attorney will be provided for you. Do you understand these rights?" The suspects simply looked between Jim and the agents in confusion.

"This is our case," Smith pointed out.

Cory shot the agent a cool look. "Jim, with this crew you'd better do the Spanish version."

As Jim opened his mouth to start in Spanish, Grey jumped in. "Okay, okay, you keep the kid and we get the suspects."

MacGyver's mouth pulled into a smug smile. "You've got a deal."


Dinner was an impromptu but lively affair. Blair's pasta casserole, along with peas and toasted bread, was perfect for the cool evening. Everyone was in high spirits, talking about everything from the latest movies to their worst Christmas gift. Even Dalton and Naomi were tolerating each other. Jim couldn't remember a better meal.

Unfortunately, things were going down hill for Sam and Ian. The toddler, who had shown a fairly sunny disposition all day, was becoming whiny and cranky. Sam's patience was being rigorously tested.

"No mas." The toddler's lower lip was jutting out as he rubbed his eyes, his face, hands, and hair covered with cheese sauce.

Sam forced back a sigh. "Just one more bite of peas."

"I want Nana."

"Nana's not getting you out of this one. Just one more bite."

Ian abruptly slammed his hand on the plate, knocking the spoon and peas into the air. Sam ran a hand over his own face, smearing a dab of sauce along his cheek. He gently turned the stubborn face towards him. "Ian, that was..." Then Sam stopped, looking at the child closely. "You feeling okay, Buddy?"

Jim and Cory shifted their attention to Sam. "What's wrong?" Cory asked.

"His eyes look red and his face feels kinda warm," Sam replied, threading his fingers soothingly through the blond curls. "Hey, buddy, look at me a minute."

Ian looked at his father, his eyes tearing. "I don't wanna be bad."

"It's okay, buddy. Are you feeling sick?"

Jim reached over to gently lay the back of his hand on the small face. "He does feel like he has a fever." He tilted his head a moment. "He sounds congested."

"A cold?" Sam asked, worried.

Naomi suddenly appeared at his elbow. "I'd say so. Kids pick up any little germ floating around, and you two have had a trying couple of days."

Sam looked even more lost. "What do I do?"

"That's where Grandma Naomi comes in with her advice." She looked at Blair down the table. "Do you have any of Obie's herbal rub in the house?"

Blair stood up and nodded. "Obie left me some more the last time he was here."

"Good. That should be safe enough for him. You'll also need to get some Children's Tylenol for the fever."

"They do make children's cough syrup, too, right?" Jim asked.

Mac was grabbing his jacket. "I'm on it."

"I'm with you," Jack added, picking up his own leather pilot's jacket. "I noticed a drugstore just down the street."

Naomi held out her arms to the boy. "Why don't Daddy and I give you a bath, Sweetie?" Ian climbed up out of the chair and into Naomi's embrace. She smiled at the worried father. "Go get his pajamas, and we'll tuck him in when we're done. Blair, Honey, do you have any baby shampoo?" The troops mobilized, the redhead carried the little boy to the bathroom.

As everyone was scrambling, Cory leaned towards Jim. "Is that sort of whistling sound in Ian's lungs normal for a sick kid?"

Jim shrugged. "I hear it occasionally with a sick adult, but I'm not around sick kids much. I'm just worried about how sudden all this came up."

Cory frowned. "What should we do?"

"Monitor him. If he gets a lot worse, we'll take him into the ER."


2:37 am, December 23, 2001, Ellison's loft

Cory jerked awake. It took a moment to remember he was in a sleeping bag on the floor of Blair's bedroom. The sounds of slumbering humans surrounded him. He instantly focused on Sam lying in Blair's bed. The deep breathing assured him that his partner was sound asleep, fueled by Sam's fatigue and the pain meds. Ian's soft breath was at the other end of the room. It certainly didn't take sensitive hearing to pick up Blair's snores to his right. Extending his range, he picked out Jim's breathing from the living room and Naomi's soft snore in Jim's bed above them. What had awakened him?

Then he felt a small foot bump his leg. Rising up on his elbows, he looked down to spy Ian. Apparently, the sounds of the toddler climbing out of the cushioned chair had disturbed the sentinel. With Tubby tucked tightly under his arm, Ian was sleepily trying to step over him. "Hey, Squirrel, what's up?" Cory called softly.

Rubbing his eyes as he stepped closer, Ian softly whined, "I want Nana."

Cory gently brushed the blond curls away from the boy's eyes as he gauged his temperature. "Why do you want Nana?" The fever from earlier was lower. He listened to the lungs.

"I scared."

His breathing was sounding much better. Cory studied the child a moment. "You have a bad dream?" Ian nodded. Cory reflected that it was surprising they all weren't having nightmares. "You want a drink of water?"

Ian shook his head. "Wanna sleep with Daddy."

Cory comfortingly rubbed the small arm. "Okay, but Daddy hasn't been feeling good. So try not to wake him up, okay?"

Ian nodded in agreement. Cory sat up and helped the boy climb into the bed. With a smile, the sentinel watched as Ian squirmed his way tight against his partner. Sam shifted in his sleep, subconsciously wrapping his good arm around his son. His tribe safe, Cory laid back into the soft bag. He drifted into sleep, reflecting that this was a much better way to spend Christmas then listening to his family argue.


8:33 am, Ellison's loft

Sam leaned back against the cushions of the couch, pad of paper on his knee. Ian was fed and clean, showing no sign of the cold from the previous night. The toddler was now happily dancing to 50's tunes with his 'Unca Bear'. Naomi was merrily working in the kitchen, while Cory was dressing after his shower. Sam looked down at the paper again. His father had promised to pick up some Christmas presents for Ian if Sam made out a list. He wished he had more time to plan out the holiday for his son. As it was, they didn't even know if they'd make it up to the cabin as planned.

Still drying his hair with a towel, Cory walked out of the bedroom and joined his friend on the couch. He glanced down at the list, frowned, then grabbed the pencil out of Sam's hand. Sam watched as Cory added 'stocking' and 'candy for stocking' at the bottom. Sam sighed as he scribbled 'rubber duck for stocking' under it. "Thanks. I knew I was forgetting something."

Cory smiled. "It's probably a moot point. I'm sure Mac's probably ten steps ahead of us."

"Yeah. I wouldn't be surprised if he and Jack are already shopping." Sam chuckled as he glanced at Ian trying to do the twist like Blair. "I've never seen Dad this excited for Christmas before. He usually just tolerates it."

Cory scanned the room. "Where's Jim?"

"He went into the station."

Nodding thoughtfully, Cory picked up the remote and turned on the TV. He slowly started to flip through channels until Ian suddenly shouted, "Telly Tubbies!" The toddler was climbing onto the couch before any of the adults could blink.

"Telly what?" Sam repeated as Ian snuggled in between him and Cory, attention fixed on the screen. Sam quickly held the pad above Ian's line of sight.

"Teletubbies are a children's program from Britain," Blair explained as he powered off the stereo. "Supposed to be really good for kids."

"He can't read," Cory pointed out, looking at the list.

Sam chuckled. "Oh, yeah." He brought the paper down to his lap.

When Jim entered the loft a few minutes later, Sam and Cory were still watching the show with Ian while Naomi and Blair conferred over a cookbook. "What's up?" Jim asked as he hung up his jacket.

Naomi looked up and smiled. "Blair and I are looking at Christmas cookie recipes."

"Cookies?" A small but distinctively boyish grin crossed Jim's face.

Blair hated to ruin the rare sight, but needed to know. "How'd it go?"

The smile disappeared as Jim handed over a folder. "What Joel has found so far. We figured you should take a look -- you might pick up something we're missing."

Blair tapped the folder against his hand. "Has she been sighted?"

Jim glanced at the trio on the couch. "The feds have a couple of good leads."

"The guys from last night?"

"Still with the feds."

Blair sighed. Naomi nudged his shoulder. "Go ahead, honey. I'll start the cookies."

As his partner opened the file, Jim wandered over to the couch. Ian was bouncing to the program. Neither of the adults looked very thrilled. "What's up?" Jim asked.

"Telly Tubbies!" Ian declared.

"This has got to be one of the weirdest programs I have ever seen," Sam stated, eyes wide.

"Very," Cory concurred.

"Well, the purple Teletubby's suppose to be gay," Naomi called out.

Sam's eyes grew wider. "You're kidding?"

"Oh, that's just some political stuff. The show's producers deny it," Blair replied absently.

Jim tilted his head as he studied the terry-clothed creatures hopping across the screen. "How can you tell what gender they are anyway?"

"Haven't a clue," Sam replied. "But they're weird in the strange kind of way. The landscape looks like it's been laid out with a ruler. There are speakers that rise out of the ground with disembodied voices telling the Tubbies what to do."

"If you replaced the Teletubbies with people, you'd have a very strange Twilight Zone ep about brainwashed zombies," Cory inserted.

Sam continued to stare wide-eyed at the screen. "I'm not sure I should be letting Ian watch this."

The toddler, who had been ignoring the adults, suddenly looked up. "But I wanna watch."

Sam tousled the boy's curls. "Okay, you can keep watching it." He silently mouthed, 'For now'.

Jim shook his head. "Whatever happened to Captain Kangaroo?"

"He died," Blair replied, nose still buried in the folder.

"What about Sesame Street?" Sam asked.

"Electric Company," Cory added fondly.

"Mr. Roger's Neighborhood," Blair called out.

"Romper Room," Jim tagged on.

Sam and Cory looked up at him. "Romper Room?"

Jim looked down his nose at them. "Hey, when I was in pre-school, Romper Room and the Captain were very big. Those shows you guys were talking about didn't come along until after I started Kindergarten."

"I'm surprised you even had TV," Blair mumbled.

"I heard that!" Jim shot back. "Besides, we didn't sit in front of the TV or computer screen like today's kids -- we played outdoors."

Ian looked up. "Play?"

"Sorry, Buddy, we have to stay inside." Sam hooked an arm around his son. Ian immediately snuggled next to him, watching the end of his show.

Everyone looked up at a knock on the door. Jim walked over to answer. "Hi, Simon. Didn't I just leave you at the station?"

"Yeah, a call came in just after you left." Simon Banks walked in, his face grim. First nodding politely to Naomi, he looked pointedly at Ian and explained, "I need to talk with Sam."

Reading the expressions, Naomi walked over to the couch. "Hey sweetie, you want to help Grandma?"

Bright eyes looked up. "Help?"

"Yes, I need your help, but it has to be a secret."

"Se-kit?"

"Secret. Means we can't tell anyone so it'll be a surprise." She held out a hand to the child.

"Soo pise?" Ian hopped off the couch and took Naomi's hand. "For who?"

"Why, for your Daddy, of course," Naomi explained as she led him into Blair's room, closing the door behind her. Instantly, four pairs of eyes focused on Simon.

Banks sighed and walked over to the chair next to Sam's seat on the couch. Looking into the young man's eyes, he explained, "I have news about Ms. Scott."

Jim and Blair exchanged looks. "What happened?" Blair asked.

"According to reports, she was in a gun battle with known members of a drug cartel in Montana, near the Canadian border. Before the Feds could gain control of the situation, the car with Ms. Scott blew up."

"No," Sam whispered.

Simon offered softly, "I'm sorry, Sam."

"No." Sam stood up, starting to pace.

"The Feds said they found remains..."

"NO!"

Blair attempted to grab his brother's arm, "Sam..."

Sam brushed the hand away and stormed out onto the balcony, slamming the door shut with a hard 'whoosh'.

Jim sighed and turned to his fellow detective. "Do they know if Sam and Ian are safe now?"

Simon shrugged. "The Feds think so. However, you might want to keep your eyes open, just in case."

"So we really don't know if we're off the hook yet?" Cory asked. Then they all winced as the sound of plastic smashing into brick vibrated through the room.

"I think we're back into the anger stage," Blair commented with a sigh. "Sorry about the outdoor furniture, Jim."

Jim stared worriedly at the balcony door. "It can be replaced."

"I'll talk with him," Cory volunteered. Another crash echoed from the balcony. "After he calms down a bit."


Pulling the glass door closed, Cory could hear the quiet, harsh sound of sobbing. In a corner of the balcony, Sam sat on the cement, arms crossed over his bent knees, his face buried against his arms. Cory paused a moment, uncertain. Then he walked over and draped the blanket he carried over Sam's shoulders. Turning, he slid down next to his partner to wait.

Finally, the sobbing eased. A ragged voice emerged from the arms. "You don't have to freeze."

"Yeah, I do." Cory reached over to knead the tight neck muscles. "That's what partners do. Or so you've taught me." He waited as Sam slowly pulled together his composure.

Lifting his head, Sam stared at the bricks in front of him. "She was special, you know? There was always some tiny part of me that thought we'd get back together one of these days." He paused, wiping the tears from his eyes. "Even when she just dropped Ian off in my room, I thought she'd come back at some point and explain. I didn't want to believe she'd do this to me. I didn't want to believe she was killing people in cold blood, either. It had to be a nightmare. It couldn't be real. Roxie just had to explain for it to make sense."

Cory remained silent, his hand still on his partner's back as he listened.

"I didn't want to believe any of this. Yet, in the back of my mind, little things started poking at me. Inconsistencies that I ignored because I loved her and didn't want to look at it too closely. But now, what Banks said.... Deep in my gut, I know it's true. And it.... it hurts." Sam took a deep, jagged breath. "I'm never going to get any answers. And I can't even get mad at her. 'Cause she's... she's gone."

"Yeah, you can." Cory closed his eyes a moment, trying to pick his words carefully. "She lied to you, buddy. She kept two precious years of your son's life from you. Just because she died doesn't mean you can't mourn her and be mad at her at the same time."

Sam fingered a small hole in his borrowed sweats. "I just want the chance to ask her why. Why did she become an assassin? Why did she have Ian without telling me? Why, after three years, did she just drop all this on me? Why didn't she come to me? Ask me for help? Why? Didn't she care for me?"

"I think she did. She knew you were in Seattle -- that would have taken some detective work on her part to hunt you up. I don't know her well enough to judge any of the other stuff, but maybe she's been trying to protect you, keep you away from the ugliness in her life so she wouldn't lose you. Yet leaving Ian risked you finding out, ruining your belief in her. She could have left him someplace else -- anyplace else. But she cared enough about him and about you to leave him with you. That's got to count for something."

The pair fell silent as Sam absorbed his friend's words. Finally, he looked around the balcony. "I'm going to have to buy Jim some new patio furniture."

Cory shrugged. "We could always try superglue."

They both stared at the broken plastic and said together, "Nah."

The glass door clicked open. Blair's voice floated out into the chilly air. "There he is. See?"

"Daddy!"

The toddler dashed across the small space, pulling up to a stop when he spied his father's face. A finger entered his mouth. Scared, he asked, "You crying, Daddy?" as a tear of empathy began to fall from his eye.

"Come here." Sam drew the boy into his lap, wrapping the blanket around him.

Ian touched his wet face. "Why you crying?"

It would be so easy to lie, to make up a story that avoided the painful truth. However, Sam had always tackled things head on. His son needed to know. Taking a ragged breath, Sam explained, "Because Mommy can't come back to us, buddy."

The toddler stared at him in confusion, more tears joining the first.

"Mommy would like to come back and see us, but she can't."

"Why can't she?"

"She died, Buddy. That means she can't be with us any more. She had to go to heaven with the angels." Sam crossed his fingers within the blanket, knowing that heaven might not have been Roxie's destination, but praying there was some mercy left for her.

Ian's bottom lip trembled. "You leave me?"

"Never, Buddy." Sam gave him a tight hug as tears fell again from his eyes. "I'll always come back to you. I promise."


MacGyver, having been briefed by Blair, was waiting for them when they reentered the loft. Ian was still snuggled in his father's arms, Cory protectively walking behind them. Mac met Sam's sad eyes, then enveloped both son and grandson in a hug. "I'm here, son," he whispered in Sam's ear.

"Thanks, Dad," Sam replied gratefully, soaking up his father's warmth.

"I gotta go potty," a small voice announced.

"Then let's take care of that." Mac pulled away and drew the boy into his arms.

As they headed to the bathroom, Sam turned to Blair. "Sorry for before."

Blair smirked as he gave his brother a hug. "Big brothers can deal with rude, little brothers."

A slight smile curved Sam's lips until he spied Jim. Embarrassed, he withdrew from Blair and met Jim's eyes. "I'm sorry about the damage. I'll pay you back."

Jim reached over to squeeze his shoulder. "We'll work out a payment plan."

"Here you go." Naomi handed Sam and Cory steaming mugs of tea. "This will warm you up."

"Thanks, Naomi." Cory took a cautious sip of the warm liquid.

The redhead studied them all. "What shall we do now?"

Sam glanced between Jim and Blair. "Can we leave the loft?"

"Yes, though I'd like to keep a guard on you," Jim replied

"You want to do some shopping?" Blair asked softly.

Sam shook his head, staring at the floor. "Not in the mood anymore."

"What would you like to do?" Mac leaned against the wall, studying his son. Ian dashed up to Sam, raising his arms.

Sam picked the boy up and gave him a hug. After a moment, he replied, "I want to go up to my cabin. Give Ian a good Christmas there."

Mac nodded. "Then let's get to work. We've got a lot of stuff to put together to make it happen."


10:45 am, Ellison's loft

Jim took a deep breath as he re-entered the loft. The smell of baking cookies filled the air. He couldn't help but smile.

"Unca Dim! I'm helping!" Ian was sitting at the table while Sam showed him how to decorate the cookies. Colored sugar was everywhere, but Jim was willing to overlook it this once. The smile on the small face was well worth a clean dining area.

"Jim, would you like a cookie once they've cooled?" Naomi asked from the kitchen. She was pulling out a baking sheet of perfectly browned sugar cookies.

"Thanks, Naomi." He turned to Sam. "I picked up some clothes for you. Figured it was the only way to get you out of my sweats."

Sam smiled as he brushed the sugar off his hands. "Thanks, Jim. I'll pay you back."

"We'll worry about that later."

Cory looked up from his laptop. "Why don't you change? I'll help Squirrel with the cookies."

"Squirrel?" Jim asked, tousling the blond curls as he handed Sam the bags.

"Because of the way he climbs up stuff," Cory explained.

Jim nodded. "Good enough." As Sam walked to Blair's bedroom, Jim looked across to meet Blair's serious eyes. His partner was sitting in an armchair by the fireplace, a folder opened on his lap. When Blair tilted his head towards the balcony's glass door, Jim gave Ian's head another rub and followed the silent signal.

Once outside, Jim asked, "What's up?"

Blair tapped the folder against his hand. "Did you read this about Roxie's activities?"

"Yeah. Joel, Simon and I went over it this morning."

"She was using him, Jim."

Jim frowned. "You mean, using Ian as a cover? We did pick up on the reports of a woman and her baby at several of the Deadly Rose assassinations." It angered Jim to think of that sweet little boy being used at the scene of a murder. It was scary to think what could have gone wrong if Roxie had been discovered while Ian was with her.

"Well, that too. It would have made any custody battle a slam duck. But I meant Sam."

"Sam?" Jim's frown deepened. "There was no hint of a man helping her."

"Not that way." Blair ran his hand through his curls, eyes angry. "Maybe I've just been hanging out with paranoid cop types too long, but the timing is just too coincidental."

"Chief, will you step out of the Sandburg Zone long enough to tell me what's going on in that thick skull?"

Blair held up a finger in the air. "One, Sam just runs into Roxie by 'accident' in Mexico, and they immediately pick up where they left off." He held up a second finger. "Two, there was one night Sam doesn't remember. Three, a hit was placed on a pot grower, El Tornado, by his competition. Only the man is as paranoid as hell, so he's not easy to get close to. Five months after the hit was ordered, El Tornado was killed in the clinic where his wife was giving birth. Reportedly it was by a pregnant woman who was about four months along." Blair paused, holding back his anger. "What if it wasn't just tequila that's keeping Sam from remembering? What if she slipped him something to make sure he wouldn't use protection?"

"Sandburg..."

"Sam was fighting a pretty good headache there in Chicago. What if it was partly due to the aftereffect of roofies? GHB? Man, there's a whole list of stuff she could have slipped him and Sam would have blamed the tequila. She needed to get pregnant to get close to El Tornado, and she used Sam to make it happen."

"Chief..."

"And she kept using Ian to hide her activities. An innocent baby, and she just places him in danger time and time again."

"Chief..."

"Only Ian's getting old enough to talk out of turn, perhaps reveal her crimes. That's probably why it's 'Sam's turn' now, not because she cared about them. Damn!" Blair slammed his hand against the balcony railing. "Good thing she is dead, or else I'd have the urge to go after her myself."

"Blair!" Jim grabbed his arm. "Calm down."

"She used him, Jim. She used both of them."

"But does it matter?"

Blair blinked, then looked up at his partner. "What are you saying?"

"Does it matter? Roxie is gone, taking the threat to Sam and Ian with her. She can't hurt them anymore."

"Sam's still hurting." Blair glanced into the loft. "He thinks he's somehow to blame for this. He didn't deserve to be treated like that. Ian certainly didn't, either."

"No, they didn't. But it's over except for the healing. Your theory, and that's all it is--"

"It's a good theory."

"Yeah, but Sam doesn't need to hear it. That woman is gone. Leave it be."

Blair closed his eyes, forcing himself to take a deep breath. "I'm just so angry."

"I know." Jim rubbed his shoulder. "Me, too. But there's nothing we can do about that. Ian's now with his Daddy where he'll be loved, protected, and most likely spoiled rotten. It's going to be okay."

Blair shook his head. "Shouldn't Sam know the truth?"

"That he was taken in by a woman he loved who didn't return it? We've both been there, and it hurts like hell. If Roxie was still alive, I'd say yes, we need to warn him. There's no point in it now."

Blair took another breath, then nodded. "It's just a theory, anyway."

"Exactly."

"It could have been a coincidence."

"Yes, it could."

Blair met Jim's eyes. "I've got to concentrate on Christmas."

"Right." Jim cuffed him on the head. "Let's try out some of those cookies before Mac and Dalton get back from shopping."

Blair nodded as he followed Jim to the door. "Did you pick up what I asked for?"

"Yep. Haven't seen those in a long time." Jim paused, hand on the handle. "Brings back memories, having a kid to buy for. Good memories."

Blair bounced in place. "Let's go make some more."


Three hours later

Almost everything was loaded into the minivan Mac had rented. He stared at the vehicle for a moment. "Never thought I'd ever drive one of those."

Jack laughed as he clapped him on the shoulder. "Never thought one of us would live long enough to become a Grandpa, either."

Blair was a few feet away, tucking packages into the back of his Mustang. "Sure you don't want to come up with me?"

Sam, Ian perched on his shoulders, glared at him. "I'm not having Ian ride in that death trap."

"Death trap?" Blair repeated, feeling insulted. "I'll have you know the Cobra's in perfect condition. Just ask Jim."

"Yeah, it is for now. However, just one car chase or an icy patch of road, and it's toast."

"That is so unfair. I'll have you know I'm a much better driver than Jim."

"I'll ride with you, honey," Naomi interrupted. She reached up to wiggle Ian's foot. "How's my Sweetie doing?"

"Fine, Gamma."

Jim and Cory were loading bags into the back of the minivan when Jim paused. Following Jim's line of sight, Cory softly asked, "Who's that?"

"An old acquaintance I need to talk to." Patting Cory on the shoulder, Jim walked over to the other side of the parking lot. Standing under the canopy of the bakery was Gustavo and an Hispanic woman. She was staring longingly at Ian.

"Gustavo," Jim greeted, eyeing the woman.

"Ellison!" Gustavo smiled at him. "I stopped by to give you good news. The Organization has agreed to leave Sandburg's brother and nephew alone."

Jim gave him a tight smile. "That's good to hear." He looked at the woman again.

"Senora Cruz," Gustavo informed him.

"Ian's Nana?" Jim asked.

The woman turned to him. "Mi Ninocito. He is well?"

Jim nodded. "Yes, he is well. Though he keeps asking for you."

A tear welled up in her eye. "He belongs with his padre."

"That's who he's sitting on, his father, Sam." Jim turned back to look. "The man with curly hair is Sam's brother, Ian's Uncle Blair. The tall, blond man is their father, Ian's grandfather."

The woman nodded. "He looks a little like Senor Sam."

Jim smiled. "Ian is his first grandchild. He's agreed to help Sam raise him. And the tall guy with dark hair is Sam's partner from work. He'll keep an eye on Ian, too."

"Who is the woman with red hair?"

"That's Blair's mom. She's already insisting that Ian call her grandma."

The woman raised her hands to her mouth. "Then he will be taken care of, no?"

"Yes, he will be cared for and loved." Jim tilted his head. "Would you like to see him? I'm sure Sam would like to thank you for taking such good care of him."

She shook her head. "No, better for mi Ninocito not to see."

Jim reached inside his jacket and pulled out a card. "If you ever need anything, please contact me. We will be happy to help."

She took the card and smiled. "Gracias."

Gustavo took her arm. "I will make sure she is taken care of, Ellison. I know of a family in need of a Nana."

Jim nodded, then returned to the group. Cory met him, whispering, "You know, the feds would probably love to question her."

"Let the feds do their own legwork."

Cory chuckled as he led Jim back to the vehicles. "We all set?"

"All loaded." Mac turned to Jim. "Sure you don't want to come up with us?"

"Would love to, but Dad's having a party tonight." He smiled as he ruffled Ian's hair.

"And Amanda promised to call you tomorrow morning," Blair added with a knowing smile.

Jim glared at him as Sam and Cory both added in their deepest voices, "Oooooooo, A-Man-Da," large grins plastered on their faces.

Mac smiled. "You propose yet?"

Jim turned his glare at him. "Haven't seen her since this fall."

Mac's smile grew. "So, have you bought the ring?"

Jim admitted, "I've looked." Another chorus of 'Ooooooooo' followed, with Blair joining in.

"Does Amanda know if they're going to locate the West Coast branch in Cascade yet?" Mac asked.

"I hope she'll know tomorrow."

Mac patted his shoulder. "Then I hope you bring us good news when you drive up tomorrow afternoon."

"And a Christmas tree," Blair added with a grin.

"Kissmass tree?" Ian asked, hopefully.

Jim reached up to tousle the blond curls. "Yes, Squirrel, I'm bringing up a Christmas tree."

Dalton rubbed his hands together. "Then let's get cracking!"


Christmas day

Amazing the difference a couple of days will make.

I've never liked Christmas much. While everyone else was celebrating with family, I was only reminded of everything I had lost. Mom. Dad. Grandma. It had become a time of the year I marched through, hoping to get past the New Year without losing anyone else I love. Having Sam and Blair in my life only increased the fear.

But now, during my lowest time of the year, a new life has appeared. A tiny, blond rugrat, who is currently scooting across the cabin floor with the large plastic dump truck Cory bought him. My heart just swells with love when I look at him. I can't wait to watch him grow up. For the first time in a long time, Christmas has brought joy. In spite of the grief lingering in Sam's eyes, I know that the family will only grow stronger. Never boring, for I know my clan won't stay out of trouble indefinitely. But it will be enriched with the new light amongst us.

Ian reminds me that I am blessed. I have two sons who have grown into good, decent men. They are both partnered with gifted people who watch out for them. I have good friends like Jack, Pete and Nikki. And through Ian, I now understand that there is a future, a bright future, for us all.

For once, I truly believe there is a Merry Christmas for me.

A crash from the stairs, followed by a yelp, forced Mac's eyes open.

"Blair?" Sam's worried voice floated past the large Christmas tree blocking Mac's view.

"I stepped on something on the stairs." Mac rose to his feet, picking up on the pain within his son's voice.

"Unca Bear, you boke my See and Say."

"That's not all I broke."

Sam's voice grew more worried. "Blair?"

"I think I broke my arm, damn it."

"Hey, no swearing in front of the munchkin. And let me see."

Yep, that's my family.

The End

Author's note, 12/16/02: Merry Christmas everybody!


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