The sound of multiple pairs of footsteps echoed in the quiet tunnel. The underground entrance to the Washington Embassy was only ever really used when secrecy or added security was desirable.
Liam and Sandoval couldn't help but notice the furtive glances being directed at them as they walked down the tunnel. Anna's squad had shown remarkable restraint, considering the double shock they'd suffered that day. Not only had they lost their commander, but they'd also had the very core of their beliefs rocked by the revelation that Sandoval and Kincaid were father and son. No one seemed to know what to do or say.
Sandoval broke the silence first. "Liam and I are both deeply appreciative of the care you have shown for us in the performance of your duties, and we grieve with you for the loss of Anna Duncan. She will be missed.
"We also have to thank you for your reaction to Liam's announcement. We both appreciate the fact that you haven't reported anything yet. It is the truth. Astonishing as it sounds, it is the truth.
"I'm going to ask still more of you all. Will you keep silent, at least for now? Liam and I both knew this day might come. We need to talk to the Taelons. Some of them already knew the truth about us, not all, but some. It is only right that we brief them fully.
"Dependent on the will of the Synod, we may be removed from duty; we'll have to wait and see. If that is the case, then we thank you here and now for your loyalty.
"Anna's funeral still has to be arranged, and no matter what is decided, we will join you for that. We will all honour our fallen friend.
"Call the rest of your squad to the Embassy on our authorisation. After we talk to the Taelons, we'll talk to you. You've guarded us for months now. It is only right that you hear our story directly from us."
Sandoval stopped talking; they'd reached Da'an's office.
Liam and Sandoval entered the office to find Da'an, Zo'or and a pair of Volunteers. Sandoval ordered the Volunteers to leave, much to the astonishment of the Taelons.
Zo'or was just about to demand an explanation when Liam said, in a determined tone, "We need to talk."
Da'an's face betrayed a dawning awareness of what was coming. Zo'or just looked on, confused and angry.
The silence in the office lasted a stunned moment before Zo'or demanded an explanation.
Liam and Sandoval looked at each other. How to start? Finally, taking a deep breath, Liam took the plunge. "I'm sure you've been briefed on the attack carried out on us as we left the courthouse.
"Thanks to the quick reactions of Lieutenant Duncan, the assassin missed us. Her squad performed their duties in an exemplary fashion and the final Body Pure assassin was killed instantly.
"Unfortunately, he had managed to find one target. Lieutenant Duncan took the shot that was meant for one of us. The squad's medic said that the wound was mortal. Anna, knowing that she was dying, asked a question of us. Under the circumstances, there was no way that we could refuse her. We wouldn't demean our friendship in that way. So, I told her the truth. This truth has come as quite a shock to the Volunteers that were within earshot as I told her. That is why we are here now. It is only right that you both be briefed first. As your Protectors this revelation will affect you. You need to make some decisions before the Synod is informed."
Perplexed, Zo'or asked, "Informed of what?"
"That Liam is part Kimera," said Da'an, quietly.
"And that I am his father," added Sandoval.
Da'an's eyes widened at that. Sandoval shot a startled look at Liam. Liam quirked an eyebrow at him and shrugged as though to say, 'OK, so I didn't tell him everything.'
Zo'or's "What?!" seemed quite restrained under the circumstances.
Taking turns, Liam, Sandoval and Da'an told the story of Liam's life. Zo'or listened, expressionless. Liam eyed him nervously.
"I realise that you are quite probably furious. Well, no, to be honest, that's not true. I have no idea what you're feeling right now. I would like to say a few things before you make any judgments.
"Da'an never betrayed any secrets of the Taelon agenda to me. Yes, he has known what I was from the moment we met at Boone's funeral. He accepted that I meant the Taelons no harm. I saw it as my duty to take up the responsibility for protecting him since it was through Ha'gel's actions that he lost Boone as his Protector.
"One fact that I want to make perfectly clear is that Sandoval knew nothing about this when I served my first term as Da'an's Protector. I left because I found the strain of keeping my heritage hidden too great, seeing him every day and being unable to acknowledge our relationship hurt too much. So I left.
"He began to put the pieces together when I was gone. When I became trapped during the rescue in Ireland and he came to find me, that's when we talked. We knew, but we never actually said the words. Then Da'an's shuttle was attacked. My link to humanity is fairly passive, except where it concerns my father. I felt his pain and fear; that's why I came back.
"Since that point, the Volunteers - particularly Anna - have noticed a change in our relationship - we couldn't help it. Neither of us could go back to the guarded animosity of my previous tenure as Protector; we just couldn't do it. Nobody actually questioned us about this change, though. Not until Anna; and as I said previously, there was no way that we were going to lie to her.
"We are both loyal to the Taelons. If you allow it, we desire nothing more than to remain in service as Protectors. If you feel otherwise, we will understand. If there is to be punishment conferred let it be on me alone, Sandoval knew nothing about this..."
Liam was interrupted at that point - by Sandoval. The agent put a firm hand on Liam's shoulder. Presenting a united front to the Synod leader, he said, "No. What is done to my son is done to me."
Zo'or almost smiled at that. Da'an looked at the pair, approval and respect in his face.
For a long, tense moment, silence resumed its hold in the office. Then, finally, Zo'or spoke. He simply said, "I accept your explanation and your reasoning."
In an uncharacteristic display of honesty that surprised even Da'an, he added, "At that time, my outlook on humanity was such that it was probably the wisest course of action not to tell me.
"I see no reason why you both should not remain in service to the Taelons. You have never let this relationship affect your duties, which you both carry out in an exemplary fashion. I have many questions for you, Liam. I trust now that your identity is revealed you would not object to this? My most immediate concern is this: do you wish your true relationship revealed to humanity? And, if so, when would you like the announcement made?"
Astonished and delighted, Liam and Sandoval each wore relieved grins. Sandoval responded to Zo'or's questioning look.
"Thank you, Zo'or. We are both greatly relieved that you feel this way. If it is all right with you, we'd like forty-eight hours grace before any announcement is made.
"That will give us enough time to brief Lieutenant Duncan's squad first; they've earned that right. I will need to brief my superiors at the FBI, and most importantly, Liam and I both need to request permission to go to Ireland immediately. Lieutenant Beckett's family needs to be told before any public announcement is made."
Silently, Sandoval added one more group to that list, And Liam needs to tell the Resistance!
Liam also took that opportunity to say something.
"We have no objection to the Taelons making the public announcement. Our only request is that it be made after Lieutenant Duncan's funeral. Neither of us wishes that event to be marred by a media circus. Please."
Zo'or and Da'an both inclined their heads in acknowledgement of Liam's request.
Over the next forty-eight hours, Liam and Sandoval told their story several times, first of all to the FBI and to the Volunteers of Anna's squad.
One Volunteer raised the question of Liam's name and rank. Liam simply explained that he'd searched military records and found a soldier that was MIA and that had served with Boone. Smiling, he'd added that when he saw the soldier had the same first name as him, he'd decided it was fate. The Volunteers had grinned at that. Liam smiled too, for an entirely different reason; Colonel Kincaid's secret was safe.
The Resistance had been a little shocked - to put it mildly. However, as long as their secrets were kept, they raised no objections.
Most poignantly, they'd told Beckett's surviving family. The time in Ireland had been deeply emotional for them both. It had finished with a visit to Beckett's grave. Each had placed a single rose on the grave and then, kissing their fingertips and brushing them against the headstone, they'd each said what was in their heart.
Liam, with a sad whisper, had said, "I love you, mother."
Sandoval said simply, "Siobhan, thank you for my son."
The day of Anna's funeral had dawned bright and clear. Liam smiled sadly. It was fitting. Anna had brought sunshine to all their lives; it was only right that it graced the day that the Volunteers said goodbye to her.
It was a simple service, beautiful and full of fond remembrance. The media showed an interest in this funeral because the Volunteer had died to save Kincaid and Sandoval. However, they were kept strictly in the background; the Volunteers would tolerate no disrespectful behaviour at this funeral.
The cameras - even from the sidelines - did capture the images of the normally stoic Volunteers grieving openly for their colleague. It was a side to the Volunteers too often ignored in the media in favour of their more well known, feared reputation.
The headstone bore a simple inscription. Besides her name, age and date of her death, there was one simple statement: 'The sister of our hearts'.
The next day, the press corps were called to the Taelon Embassy in Washington DC for an important announcement concerning two valued Companion personnel.
The press corps entered the main audience chamber and saw Da'an, Zo'or, Agent Sandoval and Major Kincaid. Their faces were solemn and one of the older reporters felt a nervous shiver go down his spine. He'd been at this business long enough to feel it; there was something momentous in the air...
Zo'or addressed the press corps first. Standing calmly, he looked out over the huge group of media personnel and said, "It has been decided between the Synod and two of our trusted Protectors that the time has come for the truth about a truly unique and historical relationship to be publicly acknowledged.
"I'm sure that everyone recognises Agent Ronald Sandoval, my trusted aide and the person charged with overseeing the Companion Protector program. I would like to formally introduce you all to Da'an's Protector, this time with his real name and not the name used to protect his true identity.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I present Liam Beckett; Agent Sandoval's son..."
Meanwhile, on the Mother Ship, a Taelon hand dismissed the image of the press conference from view. Alone in his private chamber, T'than, with disgust and loathing glittering in his eyes, hissed, "Abomination!"
It had been three weeks since the historic press conference at the Taelon Embassy and Liam's life was still completely crazy. The population of the planet had been woken up to the possibility of alien-human hybrids. Even with the presence of the Taelons accepted as a fact of daily life, hybrids had been consigned to the realm of science fiction. Liam's existence had blown that safe, sheltered notion completely out of the water.
He was living proof that it was possible. Consequently, people were fascinated by him. They clamoured for information, for interviews, for any titbit of gossip and the media did its best to deliver. Unfortunately, the man who was the focus of their attention refused to comply with their incessant demands. After the initial press conference, he'd given one interview with Abby Franklin, and then refused all other requests.
A statement made by the Companions' media liaison on his behalf was simple and to the point. He'd granted Miss Franklin the interview to answer any questions that had not been covered at the press conference. He'd selected Miss Franklin for one simple reason; she had known about his heritage and kept his secret because, at the time, it had been judged that to reveal the truth might endanger his life. Now that the truth had been revealed, he felt that it was only right that she be granted the interview. She exemplified all that was good about her profession. She did not allow her pursuit of a story to harm innocent bystanders; she showed restraint and compassion. In short, he trusted her.
After that statement was made, Companion personnel refused to comment on the topic. Agent Liam Beckett was Protector to the North American Companion. If a question was asked of them that did not pertain to that role, then they didn't answer it.
It was a hassled looking Liam Beckett who entered the restaurant. He did his best to pretend not to notice the lull in conversation that happened as soon as he was recognised. Sighing, he approached the maitre d.
"Hi, I'm Liam Beckett. I'm afraid I'm running late. I had a table booked for eight pm. Has my guest arrived?"
The restaurant was one of Washington's best and normally nothing flustered its maitre d'. This man had no qualms about making Senators and Generals wait for tables. Uncharacteristically nervous, he said, "Ah yes, Maj-- I mean, Agent Beckett. Your guest arrived approximately twenty minutes ago. If you will just follow me."
Liam followed the man as he led the way to a table near the back of the restaurant. Renee Palmer sat there calmly sipping a drink as they approached. She smiled at Liam as he dropped a kiss on her cheek and mumbled an apology for being late.
There was a buzz of conversation running round the restaurant and Renee smiled, amused, as she saw the exasperation in her friend's eyes.
"Superstar status not to your liking, Liam?" she asked in a sweet tone.
Liam gave a disgusted grunt and pointed out, "You're going to get your share of attention too," giving her a cheeky grin. "I can imagine the tabloid headlines tomorrow. Doors Executive linked with the hybrid! Executive in torrid affair with alien - scan links for further details."
Renee almost choked on the sip of water that she had taken, she was laughing that hard. They met each other's eyes and laughed, the hilarity of the situation getting the better of them. In truth, a tentative new relationship was beginning to form between them. They were friends, though, and both of them were reluctant to take any steps that might do anything to change that. On the other hand, ever since Liam had returned from his self-imposed exile they had been drawn to each other. Now that he had accepted his heritage and his place in the world he was more centred. The air of quiet strength that he now exuded had drawn Renee to him. They had decided to take things slowly, see how it went.
The reason for this 'date' was actually Resistance business. Liam's new profile had its mixed blessings. Zo'or trusted him more and he was actually allowed greater access to information that was of benefit to the Resistance.
Surprisingly enough, they were finding that the number of projects that they had to try and stop were actually diminishing. Zo'or's attitudes seemed to have undergone a change. That change had started not long after Liam had returned and nobody could figure out why.
T'than's projects were the ones that were now causing concern.
Liam had information about one such project in Toronto. The Resistance had to stop it, and fast. With his new profile, and the security escort that had been assigned to him while not on Companion business, the only way he could brief Renee on such short notice was on a date. With more time, there were ways that he could circumvent his own security, but this couldn't wait. Hence the date.
Liam sat and sipped his orange juice, smiling. He'd been staying with Sandoval for the last few days, and it had gone better than he had ever dared to hope. A news crew had tried to ambush him in his apartment. They'd had the shock of their lives when a Volunteer tactical squad had come through the door instead of him. They had triggered half a dozen silent alarms when they'd broken in.
It had been the last straw as far as Sandoval had been concerned. He'd insisted that Liam stay with him while something was done about the media. Liam had been reluctant to agree at first, until he'd seen the concern in his father's eyes. Not wanting him to worry, he'd agreed.
It made life infinitely more simple for the Volunteers assigned as security for the pair; after all, they now had only one location to monitor.
For the first time too, Liam and Sandoval had the chance to interact on a reasonably normal basis. The entire father/son aspect of their relationship was still a little bit awkward. No matter how you looked at it, Liam was an adult male and he worked closely with his father. An incredibly close relationship was developing though. Liam's inherited memories notwithstanding, they shared a lot of interests.
During the evenings they had talked, relaxed, played chess and just gotten to know each other. They'd talked about Beckett, Ha'gel and what they were going to do now that Zo'or and the other Taelons knew about Liam. In the end, they were left with one simple truth. They were family and they would not allow anyone or anything to break them up.
Sandoval returned to the table and saw the smile on Liam's face. His questioning glance was just met with a silent shake of his son's head and a smile. Seeing that there was nothing amiss and that Liam was just thinking, Sandoval let the matter go.
A beep on Liam's global interrupted their companionable silence. Flicking it open, Liam said, "Zo'or, what can I do for you?"
Cautiously, Sandoval put down his fork and waited for Liam to finish his call. "Well?"
Liam shrugged. "He's got some more questions."
Sandoval's face took on a worried expression. Liam did his best to reassure him. "It's all right. Really.
"I wish you'd stop worrying about this. All he does is ask me questions. What it feels like to be a hybrid. What I know about the Kimera. My attitudes and opinions about the Taelons, the Jaridians and Humanity.
"And before you say anything, yes, I am careful. He seems to be honestly curious. If he's got another motivation behind the obvious, then he's hiding it well. I think that this time his motivations are actually genuine."
Silently, they finished breakfast.
Twenty minutes later, Liam was pulling his leather jacket on as he prepared to leave. Sandoval looked at him, concern in his face. He said, "I've got a bad feeling about today. Something is going to happen. Be careful. Please."
Sighing, Liam approached his father and for one of the few times in their peculiar relationship, he pulled him into a quick embrace.
"I promise to be careful. Don't worry so much. I'll see you later, OK? Don't forget to pick up the book."
Liam opened his global and sent the signal that let the Volunteers know that he was leaving. A new day had begun.
later that day
Liam had actually spent an enjoyable day on the Mother Ship. He had arrived to see that Da'an and Zo'or were both waiting on him. They'd had a surprise for him. They took him to a restricted area of the ship and showed him several things that he'd never in his life expected to see.
They included ancient archival images of the Kimera homeworld and several artefacts that had been retrieved from worlds that spanned the entire length of the galaxy. Artefacts that had survived, intact, over the millions of years since the eradication of the Kimera.
Reverently, he'd touched part of his past, part of his heritage. With over-bright eyes he'd muttered sincere and genuine thanks to the pair, and Zo'or had given a genuine smile in response.
His global beeped to remind him of his next appointment. Regretfully, he asked to take his leave. He offered to take Da'an back to the Embassy before his meeting with Sandoval. Da'an declined, stating that he had matters to attend to on the Mother Ship. With a final smile, the Taelon said to give Marie his greetings.
Liam grinned and nodded. Zo'or's face betrayed his confusion. Liam simply said, "A mutual friend."
He was about to take his leave when Zo'or asked to meet this Marie. Liam gave him a speculative glance, but agreed.
Thirty minutes later, the Synod leader was walking down the corridor of a Washington DC library accompanied by Liam and a squad of Volunteers. Liam led the way with a smile of anticipation on his face. They swept in to the children's department and past the public access consoles to the rear of the department. The anachronism of the paper books on the shelves caught the attention of Zo'or and the Volunteers.
On the other hand, the attention of the people in the children's area was quickly focused on the astonishing sight of the leader of the Synod attending their little story group.
Sandoval came forward, his impassive expression hiding his astonishment. He was just about to formally greet Zo'or when a small blur of motion pushed by him and leapt into Liam's arms.
Marie, now almost eight, still had no restraint when it came to greeting Liam. She worshipped the ground he walked on and had no problem about showing it.
"You came, you came, you came! I knew you would."
Laughing, Liam said, "Did you really think that I'd miss this story, sweetie?"
Marie, as only a child can, said, "I saw you on the news, Liam. I was so excited! I called Mama in and we watched you.
"I had to ask Mama what some of the words meant. She said that Agent Sand'val is your daddy."
The librarian sent an apologetic glance at Liam. His expression said not to worry. He simply said, "That's right, Marie. Sandoval is my dad."
"Cool! Who's this? Does he know Da'an?"
Liam had to bite the inside of his lip to keep from laughing at Zo'or's stunned expression. He could see his father fighting a grin and, if he was not mistaken, that was a snicker coming from one of the Volunteers.
He said, "This is my friend Zo'or. Yes, he knows Da'an. He asked to come with me to meet you. That's OK, isn't it?"
"Course it is!"
Marie untangled herself from Liam's arms and dropped to the floor. She wiggled her way in to stand between Liam and Zo'or. She reached out and placed her hands in theirs. Pulling them along, she made her way to her seat.
One of the Volunteers quickly found Zo'or a seat and then went to join the rest of their squad as they stood the strangest guard duty of their lives. Liam walked to the front of the assembled group of children and took his customary position on the pile of cushions beside Sandoval's chair.
Sandoval sat, waiting. Once all the children had settled down, he opened the book and began to read the astonishing tale of Alice in Wonderland. The children listened, enthralled. So did the Volunteers and Zo'or. This image of Sandoval was one none of them had ever expected to see.
Liam leaned back against his father's chair and smiled. This was a good day.
Story concluded, everyone was leaving the library. Liam and Sandoval stood on the steps of the library conferring with the librarian and Marie's teacher about the scheduling for the next 'story time'. Half the Volunteers remained with them as an escort. The rest had accompanied a thoughtful Zo'or back to the Mother Ship.
Marie and her friend Audrey came running up so that she could give Liam and Sandoval a final hug goodbye. Laughter filled the air until, suddenly, another sound replaced it. Gunfire.
Liam and Sandoval moved as one. Liam used his own body to shield Audrey, Sandoval did the same for Marie. The Volunteers opened fire on the attackers and as soon as they had been dealt with they gave the two Protectors the all-clear.
The librarian and teacher, shocked and horrified, rushed forward to gather Marie and Audrey back into the shelter of the library.
In a hoarse voice, Sandoval whispered, "Liam."
A sick feeling in his stomach, Liam looked at the pale face of his father. He leaped forward to catch him as he fell to his knees. Feeling something sticky, Liam lifted his hand from Sandoval's back and blanched in horror as he saw the blood.
"Medic!" He screamed.
Horrified, the Volunteers called for immediate medical assistance.
Liam sat there on the steps of the library and cradled Sandoval in his arms.
"Hang on. Do you hear me?! Just hang on."
Sandoval weakly raised his hand to rest on Liam's cheek. "Love you. Always will."
Tears in his eyes, Liam pressed his forehead to his father's. Looking into his pain-filled eyes, he said, "I love you too, Dad."
He saw a smile of joy grace his father's face as he heard his son's words before he gave a final shuddering breath and slumped, lifeless, in his son's arms.
"Dad? Dad! Oh God, please. I can't lose you too..."
Liam cradled his father's body close, weeping openly. The Volunteers formed a protective screen round him, shielding him from view. In the distance, sirens could be heard approaching. Too late. The damage was done.
The day of the funeral dawned bright and clear. It found Liam sitting curled up in Sandoval's favourite chair. He had hardly slept the night before. Every time he closed his eyes, images of the attack played over and over in his mind's eye. He recalled Sandoval's premonition of danger - if only he'd listened. No! He had to stop thinking like that. If nothing else, his father would have reamed him out for thinking things like that. All hindsight had twenty-twenty vision.
What he had to do was find the people behind the attack. It wasn't going to be easy; the Volunteers had killed all the shooters. Nobody believed that it was an isolated or random incident. There was planning behind it, and that meant that there were still people out there that wanted him dead. People that had no qualms about having innocents in the line of fire. He would find them, and they would be held accountable for his father's death.
First, though, he had to get through today. He had to get through the funeral.
Everybody from the Volunteers to the FBI had been insistent that he be relocated to the safety of the Mother Ship. The public outcry in the aftermath of the attempted assassination that had claimed the life of Sandoval had been one of horrified disbelief. There had been a huge outpouring of sympathy for the young hybrid and a demand for a swift investigation. An attack on the first alien-human hybrid could not be permitted. The guilty parties must be found and punished.
Liam had been touched by the genuine concern that had been offered by the public, but he had raised his barriers. After his initial outpouring of grief as he held his dead father in his arms, he had adopted an impassive, emotionless facade and betrayed no further emotion. Despite insistent pleas that he agree to protective custody, he held firm to the fact that he was not going to be packed off to the Mother Ship. He was not going to run from the people targeting him. Not even Da'an's requests had made him change his mind.
Once he had managed to convince the Volunteers that they couldn't get him to run, they became almost fanatically protective of him. Their mood was almost overtly dangerous and the media quickly decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Nobody got near Liam. Nobody.
He'd sequestered himself in Sandoval's apartment and the Volunteers made sure that he was left alone. For the past two days, away from public scrutiny, Liam had tried to come to terms with what had happened. He'd wandered around the apartment dazed and mourning. His fingers had brushed over the chess pieces set out in the middle of a game, a game that would now never be finished. That first night, the sight of the breakfast dishes sitting on the drainer, waiting to be put away, had almost reduced him to tears. With trembling hands, he'd tidied away the dishes; two plates, two mugs, two juice glasses... two of everything.
Liam sighed. Scrubbing his hands over his face, he got up from the chair. He went into his room and pulled on his clothes for the funeral. The final touch to his preparations had him biting his lip to keep from crying. He had the feeling that if he started he might never stop. He'd gone out into the living room and to the table - that was where he had left it. Silently, he picked up his father's pocket watch and slipped it into his pocket. Then he'd clipped his weapon to his belt before drawing on his suit jacket. The last step was to pick up his global and signal the Volunteers that he was ready.
Moments later, he exited the apartment and came face to face with a squad of sombre-faced Volunteers. He greeted them quietly and they led the way to the limousine waiting to take him to the church for the funeral service. Liam walked to the door of the limousine. He paused, seeing the sizeable crowd of people that were being held back by police barricades. An actual physical silence had fallen as he'd emerged from the apartment building. He gave a silent nod, acknowledging the presence of the well-wishers before entering the limousine.
The service had been a simple one. As part of his living will Sandoval had left specific requests for what he wanted, and Liam had made sure that those requests were honoured. There was one addition, one that Liam hoped that his father would not have objected to. Several speakers, mostly FBI or Volunteer colleagues, had read favourite passages or poems that Sandoval had chosen. The last speaker had spoken words of their own. The last speaker was Zo'or.
"Agent Ronald Sandoval served as a bridge between our two cultures. He was one of the first of your species to be selected to work in liaison with my own.
"In the time that he spent with us he taught us many things. Ronald Sandoval was a wise and trusted advisor. He was also a devoted Protector. In the course of his duty he saved Taelon and human lives, on more than one occasion.
"Above all else, he will be remembered by the Taelons for one thing. The two loves that he held most dear: his species and his son."
Liam stood at the graveside and had to fight to hold on to his composure. Sandoval's casket lay there, flag draped, as the traditional gun salute was offered for a fallen law enforcement officer. As Taps was played and the flag was taken up and folded by the honour guard, Liam felt the gentle pressure of comforting hands on his arms from the people standing with him, Renee and Zo'or. Da'an stood to Renee's other side and the picture presented was one of two species united by grief.
Liam solemnly accepted the flag from the hands of the FBI director.
He stepped forward and laid a hand on the coffin, making one last farewell when, suddenly, a Volunteer appeared out of nowhere and shoved him to the ground. The pulse from the energy weapon missed him by inches. Pandemonium ensued.
Security personnel surrounded the mourners and the Taelons and Renee were whisked away to safety. Weapons fire could be heard in the distance. Four more Volunteers appeared at the graveside and positioned themselves round Liam like a human shield. Then, and only then, did the Volunteer that had tackled him pull him to his feet. The Volunteer held up his hand to silence Liam's questions and fingered the comm-piece in his ear.
Mood grim but triumphant, he said, "We got one alive, sir. He's in transit to FBI headquarters."
Liam reached down and picked up the bundled up flag that had landed on the ground as he'd been tackled by the Volunteer. He took one last lingering glance at the gravestone and then said, "FBI HQ it is then."
Encircled by the Volunteers, Liam made his way to a shuttle. The Volunteers had vetoed the limousine considering it unsafe. Quietly, Liam said, "Thank you all."
The attack on the funeral and the capture of the assailants had made headline news around the world. It was reminiscent of the attack a few years previous at the funeral of Commander Boone; the place where the then-Liam Kincaid had first come to public attention when he had saved Da'an.
The news reports had closed with a close-up of the gravestone. The simple inscription was forever burned into the memories of those that saw it on that fateful day. Besides Sandoval's name, date of birth and date of death, Liam had requested a simple message. 'My father and my best friend. Always in my heart.'
There was a small group of people waiting on the roof of the FBI building. They watched silently as the Taelon shuttle landed and four Volunteers leaped out. The virtual glass barrier of the shuttle was quickly closed. The four Volunteers took up positions surrounding the shuttle guarding all avenues of approach. When their visual sweep of the area had been carried out, one of the Volunteers gave a hand signal to the shuttle pilot. At that signal, the shuttle opened up and Liam emerged.
Falling into formation surrounding him, the Volunteers accompanied Liam as he walked over to the welcoming committee. The group consisted of several agents and two assistant directors. Liam listened as they informed him of the status of the prisoner. The Volunteers watched silently. They saw the particular respect Liam paid to one of these directors and noted the information for future reference. Agent Beckett obviously held him in high regard. They would treat him the same way.
One of the junior agents present said, in an overly patronising tone, "Your escort will have to remain here. We cannot allow them to come into the building openly bearing weapons."
The Volunteers didn't even twitch at the insult, though a couple eagerly awaited Agent Beckett's response. This should be good.
He didn't disappoint. "My escort was ordered by the Taelon Synod and the President, agent. I realise you may be new at your job, but I assume you are aware that this authority supercedes your own?"
The agent quickly lost the condescending look from his eyes. Liam continued, "Considering the events of this past week, the Volunteers would be remiss in their duty if they allowed you to block them from their assigned task.
"If you feel strongly about this, then you have my permission to try to remove them or to confiscate their weapons. I'm sure they will demonstrate all due restraint when teaching you the folly of that particular course of action." Liam's mild tone couldn't hide the veiled threat or his impatience with this nonsense.
The AD he had greeted with respect, AD James Kelly, quickly defused matters by dismissing the young agent from the scene, his tone heralding future 'discussions' on proper procedures. There was no further comment made about the Volunteers, and the group made its way down from the roof and to the floor where the prisoner was currently being held and questioned.
Other agents and clerical staff stood to the sides of the corridors as the group walked by. Intense glances were cast at Liam, though; the footage from the funeral was still on all the newscasts.
AD Kelly had moved up to walk beside him. The Volunteers let him through their cordon, and then re-formed around the pair. The other FBI agents were left to trail along behind.
"I am very sorry for your loss, Agent Beckett."
Liam looked at the other man and said softly, "Thank you, Director Kelly. I know this must have been a hard blow for you too. And please, call me Liam."
The older man looked a bit startled at that. Liam continued to talk as they made their way down the final corridor.
"I know who you are, sir. You recruited my father into the FBI. You taught him a lot. He was very fond of you, sir.
"I know you were his supervisor here and that you were the man he turned to when he was approached to take up a position working for the Companions. He valued your judgement and followed your advice. He told me all about you. You were one of his heroes."
AD Kelly was rendered speechless. Liam's comments had come as a surprise. They raised a few matters of concern, too. What exactly had Sandoval told his son?
Those thoughts had to be tabled, for now; they had reached the interrogation rooms. Liam and his escort were shown into a conference room. A huge monitor filled the far wall. There were concealed cameras in the actual interrogation room - old-fashioned one-way mirrors were now considered antique. The cameras monitored pulse, temperature, respiration and were an accepted part of law enforcement, evidence from similar cameras having been vital in literally thousands of court cases.
Unfortunately, this interrogation was not proceeding very well. The man had been identified using DNA scans. Jim Doyle was an ex-cop who had been drummed out of the NYPD for brutality and excessive use of force. He was not known to have any particularly radical viewpoint with regards to aliens, either for or against. It quickly became apparent that he had accepted this 'job' because the pay had been so good. He was also apparently determined to remain silent about who had contracted him and his associates - for no reason other than spite.
Liam's expression had grown more and more intense as the interrogation had gone on. The Volunteers eyed him with concern; they were getting to know his moods and they recognised that he was in a rage.
Liam slammed his palm down on the table, hard. Several of the other FBI agents present had cast startled looks at him; they had been engrossed in the interrogation and had forgotten his presence. "I want to talk to him."
Liam's statement and cold tone was met with a concerned glance by AD Kelly. "Agent Beckett, you cannot... I mean, you have no proper auth--"
Liam interrupted him and said, "I am fully aware of what I am asking. This man perpetrated an attack on me that endangered two Companions. That attack is quite possibly linked to the attack that claimed the life of Agent Sandoval, a senior Companion Protector. Either reason gives me enough cause to question him. Companion Protectors have worldwide jurisdiction when investigating incidents of crime perpetrated against Companion interests. I would be within my rights to have this man removed to the Mother Ship for questioning. I have not ordered this. Yet.
"I want to talk to the prisoner. Now."
Sighing, AD Kelly nodded his head.
twenty minutes later
Doyle broke off his conversation with his attorney and looked towards the door as he heard it open. His eyes betrayed nervousness for the first time since entering the interrogation room. He watched, warily, as the two agents that had been questioning him stood up to leave.
The newcomers took up their positions. An older agent took one seat, and two Volunteers took up positions inside the room - one guarding the door, the other stationed behind the two men seated at the opposite end of the table.
It was the fourth man, however, that captured Doyle's attention and held it. He could see the marks on the suit jacket that had been caused when the man wearing it had been tackled to the ground to save his life. Doyle looked into the glacial expression of the man he had been contracted to kill. The emotion banked in his green eyes promised a reckoning.
"Mr Doyle, I have some questions..."
"I won't tell you anything, freak!"
The Volunteers tensed at the insult and the palpable hate directed at Agent Beckett. He didn't even blink. He was certainly the calmest person in the room.
He addressed the prisoner again with a slight smile on his face, and his tone was deceptively mild as he said, "Oh, I beg to disagree, Mr Doyle. You've refused to co-operate with the federal investigation into the attack on the funeral. That is your right.
"However, your attack on Companion personnel puts you squarely into my jurisdiction. You'll talk here, or you'll talk on the Mother Ship. You will talk, though, I promise you that. Think about it."
Liam rose to leave, and the Volunteers made their way to the door. Doyle lost it then. In a fit of pure rage, he hurled himself at Liam, his hands reaching for the hybrid's throat. Quick as the Volunteers were, Liam was even faster. He extended one arm and latched on to Doyle and pushed him backwards.
Doyle struggled to break the grip that held him firm. He had at least forty pounds on the other man, but he found that he couldn't loosen the grip. He was pushed back until he felt his back hit the far wall of the interrogation room.
AD Kelly, Doyle's attorney and the Volunteers all looked on in astonishment as Liam casually pressed his forearm under Doyle's chin and lifted him up. Doyle, his movements frantic as his airway was compressed, tried to break free. He looked into the coldest eyes that he ever hoped to see as the young hybrid said, "That was a mistake, Mr Doyle. You're mine now."
Abruptly, Liam stepped back and released his hold. Doyle slumped to his knees, gasping for breath. He heard the order being given for him to be made ready for transport to the Mother Ship. Panicked, he croaked, "Wait. Wait! I'll co-operate..."
Liam looked at Doyle and in a soft, almost gentle tone, "Mr Doyle, the other agents are going to come back into the room now. You will answer any questions that they ask you. Is that clear?"
Cowed, Doyle resumed his seat at the table and muttered, "Yes sir, it's clear."
"Good. If I have to come back in here, I am not going to be in such a pleasant frame of mind."
With that, Liam gathered his escort and left the room. When back in the corridor, Liam met AD Kelly's stunned gaze and said, "You just have to know how to handle people like that. They will respond to reasoned persuasion - most of the time."
Liam was about to take his leave of the director when a diffident Kelly had mentioned that Sandoval had kept an office here. It hadn't seen much use since he had assumed his responsibilities working for the Companions. There were some personal items still there, though. Did Liam want them forwarded to him?
Liam's eyes widened. "Show me."
AD Kelly led the way through the building to an anonymous looking corner office. Liam paused at the door. "When was the last time that he was here?"
James Kelly shrugged. "About a fortnight ago. He hadn't set foot in the place in months. He came back a month or so ago - when he gave us his briefing about your true identity. Then, a fortnight ago he came in to talk to me about some security procedures that he wanted implemented to protect you from media harassment."
Liam was about to open the door when he felt a restraining hand on his arm. Sighing he stepped aside. The Volunteers entered and checked the office. Once they'd shut the blinds on the windows, they left, guarding the door to ensure that Agent Beckett had some privacy.
Liam stood just inside the office near the now-closed door and let his gaze wander over the interior of the office. The desk and computer console were as expected. The silver photo frames were not.
Then the bookshelves caught his eye. Slowly, hesitantly, he walked towards them and ran gentle fingers over the covers. His father's eclectic tastes were evident for all to see. The titles ranged from law books, to Macchiavelli's The Prince, to Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.
Sighing, Liam turned around and sat in the chair at the desk. The first thing he saw was the contents of the photo frames and his breath caught in his throat. One had a familiar picture in it, he'd seen it in his father's wallet often enough. It was a picture of him and DeeDee Sandoval. It was the second frame that had caught him by surprise. It was a picture of his mother; he'd had no idea that Sandoval had kept any reminders of her. Reverently, his hand brushed across the picture of his mother. He had no idea when or where it had been taken. She had a carefree smile on her face and the light of laughter in her eyes. She looked so beautiful.
His sensitive fingers caught the feel of something at the back of the frame. Curious, he tipped it over. Scrutinising it closely, he found what he was looking for. There it was, just at the edge of the frame. A small mark in Kimera script. It was the symbol for 'father'.
In one of their many conversations that they'd had in the weeks that had followed the revelation of his true identity, the subject of the Kimera language had come up. On a whim, Liam had taken a pen and drawn the symbol for father on a piece of paper and handed it to Sandoval.
That had switched the topic to parents. Having finally met his mother's surviving family, Liam was curious about Sandoval's. Hesitantly, he'd brought the subject up. Sandoval had given a sad smile. He was an only child and his parents were dead. He had shared some memories though. Like the taste of his mother's handmade fudge brownies and the sound of his father playing the piano.
Liam sat there and shut his eyes and he could clearly hear his father's quiet voice saying, "The thing that I most associate with my father is his love of knowledge. A cliché, I know, but he always used to laugh and say that his favourite book was the dictionary. That the wisdom of the ages was made up of the contents of that book. To this day I still can't look at a dictionary and not picture my father's laughing face."
Liam opened his eyes, a hopeful expression on his face. Would he have?
Quickly, he returned to the bookshelves. His eyes scanned the titles till he found what he was looking for. With eager fingers he pulled it from the shelf. Two things fell out into his hands. A small computer disk and a sealed envelope. There was one word written on the front of the envelope: 'Liam'.
Whatever it was, Sandoval had wanted him and only him to find it. Liam stuffed them into his jacket pocket. He'd see what they were when he got back to the safety of his father's apartment.
He made his way back to the desk and snatched up the two photo frames. Exiting the office, he gave a reassuring smile to his escort; he was fine, not to worry.
"Director Kelly, I'll take these now. Can you please ensure that my father's books are forwarded to me? I trust you will be able to deal with any red tape and expedite this for me. Please?"
Kelly nodded his head in agreement. He looked like he was about to say something, but Liam interrupted him before he got the chance.
"If you'll excuse me, Director Kelly, I'd like to go home. This has been a very emotional day for me and I think I'll do everyone the most good if I go home and get some rest. Please keep me apprised of the situation regarding Mr Doyle.
"If you can't reach me at the Embassy, then relay the information to the Mother Ship. I want the people behind these attacks."
With that final comment, Liam turned to his Volunteer escort and murmured a few quiet instructions. They headed back up to the roof and the waiting shuttle. He'd be taken back to the Embassy and transported back to his father's apartment from there.
Back in the safety and solitude afforded by the apartment, Liam felt like he could finally let his guard down. He dug into the pockets of his suit jacket and removed the disk and the envelope. Carelessly, he draped the jacket over the side of a chair.
He sat in his father's favourite chair and absently fingered the disk before he set it down on the arm of the chair and opened the envelope.
I have to say that this was a hard letter to write. It's a letter that I hope you never see, because if you've found this, then it means that I'm probably gone. Please believe that I would never willingly be separated from you - not now that we've been able to acknowledge our relationship.
Before I say anything else, there is something that I want to say. In case I never got the opportunity to tell you this before I died, I feel honoured to be able to say that I am your father. I have been blessed with a truly unique son, a good man; someone that I love more than I ever thought was possible.
I want you to be safe. That's why I've left you the disk. The information it contains may be of use to you. It is the names of some people that I trust. When the truth came out about us I talked to them. In the event that anything happens to me, they have agreed to help you. The disk contains the passwords and contact information that you will need if you decide to contact them.
Liam, I've trusted these people with my life for years now. I trust them with your life. Don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it. AD Kelly is on this list too. I'm sure you've met him by now. When the time is right, talk to him about the work I've been doing ever since my MI broke down.
Above all else, I want you to take care of yourself. Be careful of the Taelons. The status quo has changed somewhat, ever since you returned to duty. I can't quite put my finger on what it is. Something feels different. Apart from T'than, the Synod appears to be undergoing a slow change in attitudes towards humanity. It is a change for the better; I'd just be more comfortable if I knew the reasons behind it.
Be safe. Be happy. Always remember that I love you.
Liam closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. Once he was sure that he could trust himself, he rose to his feet. The disk had to be hidden for now, until he had the chance to move it to a more secure location. The hiding place that his father had picked had been perfect. Nobody but the two of them knew the significance of the book. He went to the bookcase in his father's study, opened the dictionary, and sandwiched the disk between two random pages.
That left the photographs. He took the picture of Sandoval and DeeDee and he placed it in a prominent position on the bookcase. His father had loved her. That had been one of the hardest things that he'd done - not telling him about DeeDee. The fact of the matter was that he couldn't. It would have betrayed Resistance secrets and it would have placed DeeDee Sandoval back in mortal danger.
Besides, the Resistance had no idea where she was. The identity that she had chosen - out of the four that Lili had given her - had eventually been traced. Apparently, however, DeeDee Sandoval had learned a lot from her husband. She'd used it only long enough to be able to create another new identity for herself. Then she'd vanished again.
The Resistance had no idea where she was. Or who she was. Eventually, with the resources of the Resistance or the Taelons, she might have been found. But what would that have accomplished other than to ruin her new life? The decision was made to leave her in peace. She'd earned the right.
Pulling his thoughts back to the here and now, Liam lifted the other picture, the one of his mother, and carried it to his room. Another thought occurred to Liam and he smiled fondly, remembering. Sandoval may have been insistent that Liam stay with him while the media had been dealt with, but that hadn't prevented his initial tentative behaviour when his son had moved in.
He'd been almost embarrassed when he'd mentioned preparing a room for Liam. Surprised and touched, Liam had followed his father down the hall as he was shown where he would be sleeping. Now, Liam couldn't imagine being as comfortable anywhere else. His father had amended his will and left him the apartment, and he was going to stay. He'd decided that almost immediately. Some might think that he was living in the past, trying to hang on to the last vestiges of his father. It wasn't that, not entirely. While he couldn't deny that the thought of leaving here and moving on scared him, it was the fact that he felt safe here that made him want to stay.
Liam placed his mother's picture on the shelf in his room. There was another picture on the shelf too, a recent one. Abby Franklin had sent it to him about a week after the interview. It was a picture of him and Sandoval. They had been photographed talking and laughing, while standing guard at a recent dedication ceremony attended by Zo'or and Da'an. It was a good picture, a happy picture.
Liam began getting ready to turn in. It had been a long, emotionally draining day. He was sitting on the end of the bed, shoes off, top couple of buttons of his shirt undone, when his global signalled a message. He would have ignored it, but there were only two groups of people that he'd left it programmed to accept calls from. The Resistance or the Taelons. Anybody else - like the press or even the FBI - would have to leave a message for a call-back in the morning.
Groaning, he flicked it open and saw that it was Zo'or calling.
"Yes, Zo'or. What can I do for you?"
"Agent Beckett, I require your presence on the Mother Ship first thing tomorrow."
Liam fought a yawn and said that he would be there. He was about to close the channel when he realised that Zo'or wasn't finished. In a quiet tone, the Taelon asked, "Are you all right, Liam?"
Liam eyed Zo'or in surprise. The tone of that question had been one of genuine concern. The Taelons - Zo'or and Da'an in particular - had been more than kind in the aftermath of recent events. They had gone out of their way to aid and comfort him. He hadn't really been able to bring himself to wonder why, he'd been too grateful for the support. His father was right; their attitudes had undergone a change.
"I'm fine, Zo'or. Thank you for asking. I'll see you tomorrow at nine am. Is that satisfactory?"
"That is fine, Liam. Sleep well."
Liam eyed the blank screen of his global in astonishment. That was the last thing that he expected to hear coming from Zo'or. He gave a yawn. He was too tired to think about it just now. Later, he'd figure out what was going on. Later.
At exactly 8.59 am Liam walked onto the bridge of the Mother Ship. It was the first time since the death of his father that he had set foot on the ship. Judging from the stares being directed at him, his summons by Zo'or had not been made public to the general crew of the ship. Walking forward to stand in front of the command chair, Liam said, "You asked to see me, Zo'or?"
"Ah yes, Agent Beckett. I wished to speak with you."
Zo'or gazed around and said to the other personnel on the bridge, "Secure your stations and leave us."
That command was met with some startled expressions but the bridge personnel did as they were bid and left the bridge. Liam, a confused expression on his face, said, "Zo'or, why did you--" His question cut off as Zo'or raised a hand to motion him to silence.
"Agent Beckett, I regret that I must interrupt your period of grieving, but I cannot allow this matter to wait.
"A vacuum has been created by the death of your father. The Companion Protector and Volunteer programmes have no one to oversee them and I, as Synod leader, now have no Protector. I wish you to assume these roles; I wish you to take Agent Sandoval's place."
Inwardly, Liam flinched. Nobody could take his father's place. Nobody. "Zo'or, I am honoured that you would select me, but I cannot accept. There are other Protectors with greater seniority and I am Da'an's Protector. I will not just abandon that duty."
Zo'or remained silent for a moment as he too thought about Agent Sandoval. In that one simple sentence, Liam had demonstrated why he was the only person that could take his father's place. They were the only two Protectors that ever stood their ground and said 'no' to him. It had come as a great surprise to him to realise how much he missed Sandoval's presence. He had taken the human's presence for granted and had been unprepared for the loss he now felt.
"Your loyalty does you credit, Agent Beckett. I have discussed this matter with Da'an and we believe we have a solution. You will become Protector to us both."
"What? How?" exclaimed a stunned Liam.
"As commander of the Companion Protector programme, you will have full authorisation to assign personnel as you see fit. You will oversee security for us both. Much of my time is spent on the Mother Ship so, on most occasions, you will be providing security for Da'an, as you have always done.
"On the occasions that we both attend the same event, you will have the leeway to augment the security teams with as many additional personnel as you deem necessary. On the occasions that Da'an and I are attending separate events, you will make the necessary judgements as to which security situation requires your personal attention.
"Whichever one of us that you do not accompany will accept whatever security measures you deem appropriate. You will have full authority to temporarily reassign other Protectors, use the Volunteers, whatever you think necessary.
"The Synod have agreed to this. I ask that you reconsider your answer."
Liam stood there, his mind racing. What Zo'or was suggesting would give him almost unlimited access to any information he required about the Taelons and what they were up to. It was unheard of. Not even his father had had that much power. Why was Zo'or demonstrating such trust in him? Well, there was only one way to find out.
"I accept, Zo'or. Thank you."
Zo'or gave Liam the latest in a long line of recent shocks as he smiled and said, "No. Thank you, Liam."
The bridge personnel were recalled and Zo'or made a general announcement about Liam's new position that was relayed to every Companion facility on or off planet. Liam excused himself and made his way through the ship and entered the chamber that his father had used as an office while on the ship. For the next four hours, he made a thorough review of the current status of the Protector and Volunteer programmes and the security reviews for the upcoming appearances scheduled for the Companions on Earth. He found very little that needed to be adjusted, his father had done his job very well.
Da'an was scheduled to attend a conference at three that afternoon, so Liam notified his escort that he would be on duty for the next three hours and to meet him at the Embassy at five p.m. He then placed a call to Renee Palmer to confirm that he would be able to meet her at her place for dinner that evening.
Liam made his way to the Embassy and briefed the Volunteer personnel on their assignments during Da'an's upcoming appearance at the conference. Da'an had greeted Liam with questions of quiet concern. Liam reassured the Taelon that he was coping; it wasn't easy, but he had to go on with his life. If he didn't, the people targeting him would have won, and he'd never allow that.
Da'an's shuttle re-entered normal space and settled gracefully in the parking lot of the arena where the conference was being held. Police and Volunteer personnel manned positions monitoring the crowd. The shuttle opened and four Volunteers emerged, followed by a figure in black and finally, Da'an himself.
It took a few moments for the crowd and media to realise what they were seeing. After the attack at the funeral the day before, it had been expected that Agent Beckett would be absent from duty for the next few days. Certainly nobody had expected him to be back at duty the next day! The familiar sight of him in his favoured black jeans, black shirt and black leather jacket had taken everyone by surprise.
The appearance by Da'an went flawlessly. The Companion had been greeted with his usual applause when he took his place amongst the dignitaries and speakers on stage. The greatest acclaim, however, had actually been saved for someone not speaking at the conference. When Liam had walked onto the stage, preceding Da'an's arrival, and took up his position at the side of the chair that Da'an would be using, the conference attendees had burst into a spontaneous round of applause. The young hybrid was clearly not allowing the cowards targeting him to affect his daily life; the crowd recognised that and applauded his quiet courage.
Liam's escort was waiting for him at the Embassy, as ordered. They quietly congratulated him on his new role as their commander - not that he had needed official sanction. He had earned the loyalty of the Volunteers almost as soon as he had returned to active duty. His treatment of Anna Duncan had shown that, unlike the majority of the other Protectors, he listened to input and advice from Volunteers, and acted upon it when necessary.
The Volunteers had been genuinely surprised to learn of his heritage and of his true relationship to Sandoval. They had accepted it readily; the fierce loyalty that the pair had been demonstrating for each other having been explained. The fact that they had been unable to stop Sandoval's murder had hit them hard. They had truly respected the man. The Volunteer corps had taken it as their personal responsibility to protect his son.
Liam had changed out of his 'work clothes' and now wore black trousers and a simple green silk shirt. He addressed the new commander of Anna Duncan's squad - Peter Franklin - and said, "Peter, I'm meeting Renee Palmer at her place for dinner at six, then I'll be heading home. Is the squad ready?"
"Yes sir, we're ready to leave at your signal."
"Well then, let's go. It doesn't pay to keep this lady waiting."
That comment earned some quiet chuckles from his escort as they made their way through the Embassy's tunnels to the vehicles waiting outside.
Later that evening
The evening had gone very well. The Volunteers had beat a discreet retreat after making a thorough inspection of Renee's apartment. Liam had been apologetic, but Renee had waved aside those apologies. Considering recent events, the Volunteers were behaving as they should. Liam's safety took precedence over any misguided notions about overstepping their authority by searching her home.
Dinner had been eaten while discussing the latest news that Renee had to pass on from the Resistance, including the sincere condolences of Augur and Doors - though whether or not Jonathan's condolences were sincere were open to debate. He had never made any secret of his dislike of Sandoval.
Liam had broached the subject of his promotion with Renee. She had been, for once in her life, truly astonished. The breadth of powers that the Taelons had just given Liam was totally unprecedented. She was full of excitement about it, though. The opportunities for the Resistance were obvious. Never had a deep cover operative had the opportunity to learn so much.
Liam had pointed out in a resigned tone that the good fortune came with a price attached. His new higher profile was only going to become even more visible. Unless it was a dire emergency, he was going to have to forego even the idea of visiting the Resistance HQ. All contact was going to have to be filtered through Renee. It was just too risky otherwise.
By this point in the evening, the discussion had moved to the lamp-lit living room. Liam and Renee were relaxing on the huge leather couch. They had been talking quietly as they sipped their wine, and the mood had been growing more and more intimate. This feeling had been building between them for a long while. Their gazes locked and almost of their own volition, their heads drew closer and closer, their lips touched... and nothing.
Eyes laughing, Liam and Renee pulled back. Liam put into words what they were both feeling.
"I'm sorry, it's like kissing family. Maybe once we might have been able to build a relationship.. We've moved past that now. You're the closest friend I've got. I feel like I'm trying to kiss my sister or something."
Renee crossed her eyes and gave a sigh. "Thank God. I thought it was just me."
Liam grinned at that and placed a friendly hand on Renee's cheek and looked directly into her eyes. "That doesn't mean I'm going to stop coming to hang out with you. To be honest, the thing I need most in my life right now is a friend I can rely on.
"Besides, this is going to be fun. When you do find someone who'll love you the way you deserve, I'll get to play the part of the over-protective brother."
"Oh, God. Somebody shoot me now," groaned Renee.
For the first time in a long time, Liam let out an infectious laugh of pure pleasure. Renee smiled to herself. Mission accomplished. For a little while, at least, Liam had forgotten his sorrows and had some fun.
Liam glanced at his watch and blinked, surprised. Where had the time gone? Begging the excuse of an early start the next day, Liam got up to leave. Renee walked him to the door and Liam placed a friendly kiss on her cheek before heading out with his ever vigilant escort.
Liam, still laughing to himself over Renee's 'shoot me now' comment, got himself ready for bed. He'd already fielded one call from AD Kelly as soon as he'd arrived home. Doyle had provided the FBI with a couple of solid leads. Did Liam want to meet with him in the morning to discuss them?
Having made an appointment for eleven o'clock the next morning, Liam was just about to go to bed when naturally, his global signalled another message. Groaning, Liam flicked it open.
"Oh! Zo'or, I'm sorry. I wasn't expecting anyone to call this late. Is something wrong?"
"No, Liam. There is - as you say - no problem. I was just concerned about how you found your first day back at duty. Are you all right?"
Liam gave a shy, tired smile. "I coped. Right now, that's about as much as I dare hope for. I appreciate your concern, though. You have been very kind."
Zo'or blushed and gave an unpractised smile of his own. "Sleep well, Liam. I will speak with you more. Tomorrow."
With that comment, the signal terminated. Liam sighed and stretched out on his bed. Before turning off the lamp illuminating the room, Liam gave a lingering look at the photograph sitting on the shelf, the one of him and his father.
I miss you, thought Liam. You were right. The Taelons aren't acting in a predictable manner. Especially Zo'or. If it didn't sound so ridiculous, I'd say he likes me.
Liam rolled over and punched at his pillow. He needed some sleep. All the puzzles would have to wait till morning, when he was awake enough to think properly.
Next day, FBI Headquarters
"Doyle turned out to be a fairly small cog in a much larger machine. He has co-operated fully, though..."
AD Kelly was interrupted by the quiet murmur of one of the less experienced agents murmuring, "Of course he has. Agent Beckett put the fear of God in him..." The murmuring cut off quickly as the agent looked up and found himself being scrutinised by the steady gaze of Liam Beckett.
AD Kelly stifled a smile. If nothing else, Liam was shaking up things within the Bureau. He had the same air of command that his father - and, by all accounts, his mother - had had. Even before the revelation of his true identity and his relationship to Sandoval, he had been drawing quiet attention from some very influential figures - both in and out of the Bureau. The manner in which the Body Pure assassins had been dealt with and the rescue efforts in the aftermath of the San Francisco quake had been noted. The kid was good.
For the first time since he had arrived, Liam asked a question. "Did he reveal any of his co-conspirators, or where they received their information from? The only way they could have gotten that close to the mourners at the funeral was with inside help."
AD Kelly looked at Liam and wondered how he'd take this next statement. He said, "I've ordered thorough security reviews of every Bureau agent and police officer that was assigned to duty that day, but that still leaves us with the Volunteers."
Liam simply said, "I know. It's being done. A thorough review of the Volunteer Corps is underway."
Surprised, Kelly asked, "The Taelons authorised this?"
Liam replied, "They didn't have to. I did. As of yesterday morning, I am in command of the Volunteer Corps and the Companion Protector programme.
"I doubt any of my people were involved, but I've ordered the checks anyway."
AD Kelly was not the only agent in the room to react to that statement. The surprised and speculative glances of the other directors assigned to supervise this investigation were directed at Liam. The young hybrid sat there calmly, completely unfazed by the fact that he was now - without a doubt - one of the most influential law enforcement personnel on the planet. This new authority came on top of his FBI clearance, which had been expedited the month before. In the space of a single day, Major Liam Kincaid had officially become Agent Liam Beckett.
"What about payment? Has the source of Doyle's payment been traced yet?"
AD Kelly frowned. "We've been having a bit of trouble with that. The money was funnelled through accounts held in unfriendly nations. They are burying us under a mountain of red tape. It's going to take time to wade through. They don't like us and while they know it's against their best interests to hinder us, they have no qualms about slowing us down."
"Not good enough," murmured Liam. "I want answers."
AD Kelly opened his mouth to say something, but Liam shook his head slightly. "I'm not disparaging your efforts, Director Kelly. I just need faster results - and I think I know how to get them."
Liam opened his global and punched in a command.
"Hi, Renee; I need a favour. The investigation is being stonewalled and I need your help to persuade certain financial institutions that it is in their best interests to co-operate. Can you help?...
"Great! Come to FBI HQ...
"Thirty minutes? Fabulous. Thanks, Renee."
Grinning, Liam closed his global and looked at AD Kelly. "Help will be here in about thirty minutes. No financial institutions with any sense turn down requests from Renee Palmer. She'll get the answers we need - or she'll bury them. They know that."
As promised, Renee arrived thirty minutes later. The first thing she did upon entering the chamber was to walk up to Liam, hug him and kiss on him the cheek. Liam could feel the eyes of every agent in the room on them and he whispered, "Behave!" Renee just grinned.
All business after that, she sat down, commandeered a console and started making some calls. Suddenly, the recalcitrant financial institutions were eager to help. Renee looked up at Liam and AD Kelly and winked. Liam just sighed. Kelly, on the other hand, seemed fascinated by her. He had barely taken his eyes off of her since she had arrived.
Liam's eyes widened as a sudden thought occurred to him. Did Director Kelly 'like' Renee? This could be interesting!
Renee looked up from the console to say, "Liam, this is going to take a couple of days. Whoever set these accounts up didn't want to be found."
"I don't care how long it takes, Renee. Just find them. Please."
"I will, Liam. I promise."
AD Kelly and Liam then left the investigating team to their tasks; they had another appointment to keep.
Orientation lecture, Quantico
Taking a deep breath, Liam walked out to the front of the lecture hall. Every seat was taken; word had quickly spread about who was giving this lecture. Normally, Sandoval had done this, now it was Liam's responsibility.
"Good afternoon, class. This lecture is to familiarise you all with the law as it pertains to Companion property and personnel and any crimes perpetrated against Companion interests.
"You've already studied the laws. I am here as a serving Companion Protector and head of the Volunteer Corps to answer any questions that you might have..."
Taelon Mother Ship, three hours later
Zo'or rose from the command chair. He was tired of waiting. Liam had signalled over forty minutes ago that he was on the way to the Mother Ship. He had expected his Protector to come to the bridge; he had been wanting to talk to him. Instead, Liam had retreated to Sandoval's - his - office, and he had not moved.
Irritably, Zo'or waved away the Volunteer that stepped forward to accompany him; he made his way alone down the corridors of the huge ship until he reached his desired goal. Volunteer Franklin and another Volunteer that Zo'or did not recognise snapped to attention as he walked up.
"I wish to speak to Agent Beckett. You are dismissed for now. I will see to it that Agent Beckett calls you before he leaves," said Zo'or.
Reluctantly, the Volunteers obeyed. Zo'or waved his hand over the shield control and stepped through the doorway, the shield reforming behind him. He paused just inside the chamber. The lighting was lowered, the room sheathed in shadows.
"Agent Beckett. Are you all right?"
His question caused Liam to stir. He had been sitting with his back to the door, blocking out everything. Hearing Zo'or's question, he swung the chair back round and gazed across at the Synod leader.
On soft, graceful feet, Zo'or approached him. Taking a good look at his Protector, the Taelon let out a concerned gasp. "Liam! What is wrong?"
Eyes haunted, Liam looked at Zo'or and said in a soft voice, so quietly that Zo'or almost didn't hear him, "I miss him so much."
His lost and helpless expression caused Zo'or to act before he stopped to think about his actions. He reached out to place a comforting hand on the young hybrid's shoulder. Surprised, Liam looked at him.
Whatever expression he showed must have been the right one, for in the next moment Liam had taken things one step further and wrapped his arms round the Taelon, demanding more of the comfort that Zo'or had offered. Unpractised in the technique though he was, Zo'or drew Liam closer to him and simply held him.
Eventually, he could feel the minute tremors that had been wracking Liam's body begin to subside. The tension seemed to ease out of him and he relaxed in the Taelon's embrace. Zo'or felt the heaviness that had been weighing on him since he had entered the chamber begin to ease as Liam's pain eased. He had been right to come. After a time, Liam eased back out of the embrace; he leaned back in his chair, eyes closed. Quietly, he said, "Thank you."
Just as quietly, Zo'or replied, "You are welcome. What happened?"
Eyes still closed, Liam gave a shrug of his shoulder and said softly, "Nothing extraordinary. I had to give an orientation lecture at Quantico to a bunch of trainees. It was about procedures relating to Companion matters. Up until that point, Sandoval had always given the lecture.
"It was just another reminder that he is gone. That I'm alone now."
Just for a second, Zo'or reached out his hand and placed it on Liam's cheek, saying, "You are not alone, Liam. You never will be."
Liam opened his eyes, astonished, as he felt a tingling on his cheek. He raised his eyes to meet Zo'or's. The Taelon blushed blue, but his intent eyes never wavered; he met Liam's gaze and let him read the emotion in his eyes. Hesitantly, Liam raised his hand to cover Zo'or's and he felt a shock go through his body - not a sharing - not exactly...
Neither of them said a word, neither of them wanted to break the moment.
Outside forces intervened. Liam's global signalled a message. Apologetically, he broke contact and opened the global. Zo'or stepped back, out of sight of the person that had placed the call.
Concerned, he watched as Liam grew tense and said, "I'm on my way!"
He looked at Zo'or and said, "I'm sorry, Zo'or. I have to leave. Somebody has vandalised my father's gravestone." His eyes sparkling with rage, Liam headed for the door. He paused as he heard Zo'or speak his name, and turned to meet the Taelon's concerned gaze. To the admonishment to "Be careful", he gave a nod.
Ten minutes later
Liam and his escort stood gazing down at the grave in complete disbelief. Liam was in a rage, but he had it so firmly contained that he was making even the Volunteers nervous. The police officers that had taken the initial call and the groundsman that had reported the 'vandalism' looked like they would rather be somewhere else entirely.
The gravestone looked like someone had taken an old-fashioned chisel to it. Liam's chosen message of 'My father and my best friend. Always in my heart' had been completely obliterated. The words 'Your child is an abomination' had been crudely carved on top of the stone.
Jaw clenched in anger, Liam said, "I want this replaced by morning. No excuses.
"Peter, contact the Mother Ship. I want rotating shifts of two Volunteers on duty at this cemetery at all times. Six hour shifts. They'll be staying until those responsible are caught - and the people behind them, too."
Liam shifted his attention to the police officers. They quickly agreed to his 'request' that he be kept apprised of the police investigation into this matter. He then gathered his escort with an inclination of his head and they headed off to the Washington Embassy.
Officer Jerkins turned to his partner, Sergeant Robson, and said, "God help the people responsible when he catches them."
Sergeant Robson was a twenty year veteran of the force; a man who was assigned rookies like Jenkins because of his instinctive ability in reading people and getting the best out of them. He said quietly, "God help those that put them up to it.
"That young man is ready to blow. He's got enough strength of character to save his wrath for the people or person orchestrating this campaign against him. When they are identified, then the true test of his mettle will take place."
At the Embassy
Liam had headed straight for the exercise facilities, his concerned escort hard on his heels. For the next thirty minutes, Liam worked off his excess anger on the equipment there. He'd knocked one bag flying with a single punch - one of the Volunteers had narrowly avoided being hit by it.
Of the other three bags that had been in use, only one still stood. Liam had punched and kicked the other two into a mess of ripped fabric and padding. Tentatively, one of the Volunteers suggested he spar with them. Eyes focused, he said, "Pad up. All of you."
The next ten minutes became some of the most painful that the Volunteers had endured. They quickly became appreciative of Agent Beckett's insistence that they gear up. They attacked him four on one - and they could barely get near him!
Peter Franklin rose to his feet, having been flung half way across the room for the fourth time, and breathed a grateful sigh as Agent Beckett called a halt.
Not even breathing that hard, he said to them, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have taken this out on you."
Peter smiled, answering for his squad when he said, "Sir, you're more than just our boss. You're a friend. We wanted to help. There's no need for an apology.
"I would appreciate it, though, if you'd consider scheduling some training sessions when we get things calmed down. Some of those moves you just used are ones that we've never seen."
Finally relaxed, Liam gave a smile and nodded his agreement.
Two hours later, Sandoval's apartment
Liam shut off his global and leaned back in his chair, sipping at his tea, thinking. He was finally beginning to understand Zo'or's recent behaviour. His speculation based on what his father had written to him had been more right than he knew. Zo'or didn't just like him; Zo'or liked him.
The question was, how did he feel about that?
Thinking back to earlier that afternoon, he remembered the comfort he had felt when Zo'or had put his arms around him and simply held him. The way he had felt the weight of grief lift from his heart when in the Taelon's presence and then, there was that moment - that connection - when they had touched...
Liam closed his eyes as he came to one simple conclusion. He liked Zo'or too. What in the name of God did he do now? He was a member of the Resistance, for crying out loud! He couldn't fall for the leader of the Synod! You didn't have to be a genius to figure out that that had disaster written all over it.
Liam sighed and rose to his feet. He made his way through to his room and prepared to turn in for the night. Standing in his bathroom and brushing his teeth, Liam stared at his reflection in the mirror. Slowly, he raised his free hand and ran a finger over his cheek; the one Zo'or had touched.
That night, Liam tossed and turned in his sleep, his restless mind trying to fathom a solution to its dilemma. Eventually, Liam moved to a deeper level of sleep; but as he did so, he murmured Zo'or's name in a wistful tone.
A week had passed since his father's grave had been vandalised and the investigation into the assassination attempts was still proceeding slowly - too slowly for his liking. Liam stalked down the main corridor of the Doors International complex in Washington DC, heading to Renee Palmer's office. She'd called earlier to say that she had news on the money trail left behind by those responsible for hiring the assassins targeting him. Her voice had been overly calm when she had called. Whatever her news, it wasn't good.
He turned his head to talk to his escort, saying, "Peter, I need to talk to the lady alone. Station whatever personnel you want outside the office and around the main access points, but nobody comes inside with me. Not this time."
Volunteer Lieutenant Peter Franklin frowned slightly but murmured, "Yes, sir." It wasn't often that Agent Beckett pulled rank on them, but when he did... he expected to be obeyed. Besides, the D. I. Washington Complex was one of the most secure buildings in the world and, having previously visited Ms. Palmer's office with Agent Beckett, he knew exactly how secure it was. Jonathan Doors had many outspoken and questionable opinions, but one thing was for sure - he looked after his people well. Security was not a problem here.
Renee had an enigmatic look on her face when he walked into her office. Rising frome from behind her desk, she walked towards him and placed a quick kiss on his cheek, saying, "Liam, you've looked better. Are you getting enough sleep?"
Liam rolled his eyes in exasperation. Since they'd decided that their relationship was destined to be a familial rather than romantic, Renee had developed a severe case of mother-hen syndrome. It was beginning to get a bit annoying.
"I'm fine, Renee. I'm a big boy, you know. I can take care of myself."
Renee stepped back a couple of steps and looked up into his eyes, one eyebrow raised, expression saying, 'Oh really?' He fought the urge to stare at his feet like a recalcitrant schoolboy. For crying out loud, he was head of the Protector and Volunteer programmes and had been a member of the Resistance since the day he was born! Okay, so he currently went everywhere with a Volunteer escort, there were assassins hunting him and Renee could obviously tell that he hadn't had a full night's sleep all week... apart from that, he was fine, though.
He grinned at her and said, "Are you?"
Renee blushed furiously and Liam thought cheerfully, 'Gotcha there, Renee.' He was, of course, referring to the current 'society' gossip about the fact that the CEO of the Doors International Co-Ventures Division was apparently dating an Assistant Director in the FBI.
There had been rampant speculation about the fact that she was apparently not involved with Liam Beckett, as had been previously thought. The tabloids were full of ludicrous articles speculating reasons for the break up of their relationship a relationship that had been a tabloid fantasy to begin with!
Deciding that he'd teased her enough about her love life, Liam turned Renee's attention back to business, saying, "What do you have for me?" He didn't want her turning her attention back to his private life and relationships. He was still trying to figure out what to do himself, and he didn't need any teasing right now.
Renee shot him a curious glance - she recognised a diversion when she heard one. Still, it was the reason she had called him...
"Do you want the bad news, the really bad news, or the really, really bad news?"
Liam winced. That sounded promising...
"Why don't you start with bad and work up to god awful?"
Renee took a deep breath and headed back to her computer console, motioning for him to follow. She said, "I sent this off to James just before you arrived; he's already shifting the focus of the task force as needed."
Sighing, she leaned back in her chair and looked up at him with worry in her eyes. "It took a judicious bit of arm twisting and a couple of bouts of downright intimidation, but with the information that Doyle provided as a starting point, I have managed to trace where the funds came from to contract the assassins."
Liam frowned and murmured, "Wouldn't that be good news?"
Renee snorted a laugh. "Well, I'd have to say, considering what I've uncovered so far... no.
"There are still a few layers of dummy companies to wade through, but I can more or less say with certainty that the person contracting the assassins is working for somebody else."
"How can you be so sure that they're not our final target?" demanded Liam.
Renee rubbed a tired hand over her neck, and said, "Because it's looking like the person contracting the hits is an anti-Taelon extremist called Susan Ramirez."
Liam winced. Ramirez was well known to Companion personnel. She hated the Taelons with a passion, considered anybody that worked with them as irredeemably tainted and had orchestrated the deaths of dozens of personnel and their dependents in a bombing campaign that had lasted five months before narrowly escaping a Volunteer assault squad and vanishing, seemingly into the ether.
She was suspected of masterminding several more atrocities from hiding and would be well capable of organising the contract on his life - she did after all, know all the wrong sorts of people.
"Okay, I take your point. Much as I'm the living embodiment of all that she hates, she wouldn't have the money to orchestrate a team the size that we've been dealing with."
Renee's fingers twitched on her keyboard. Tone resigned, Liam said, "Tell me the rest, Renee."
"It's okay, Renee. Whatever it is, just tell me."
"I did manage to trace something else from Doyle's information. His team was one of three contracted. Considering the gunmen that were killed outside the library where Sandoval died, and those killed at his funeral... There are at least five more unaccounted for."
Renee watched with dread as Liam's entire body tensed and his eyes filled with his own unique brand of cold fire. It was unnerving. The man she considered her closest friend had acquired a hard edge in the short space of time since his father had died. At times now, he exuded - for lack of a better description - danger.
In the time since he had returned to duty, even before he and Sandoval had gone public about his heritage and their relationship, Liam had changed. There were times when his face went unreadable, but his eyes... his eyes burned with a fire so profoundly alien to what he used to let the world see - like now. Right now, her best friend was so terrifyingly in control of his rage that she was scared for him. Bottling up that much emotion and not letting his control break had to be taking its toll. She only hoped that he, and everyone in the vicinity, survived the fallout when he did let his anger out.
Liam looked into Renee's concerned eyes and summoned a smile for her, he didn't mean to make her worry, or, God forbid, scare her. He kept his tone light, saying, "That would be the really bad news, then?" Just for an added touch, he rolled his eyes in mock resignation.
Renee's lips twitched in amusement at his effort. That amusement quickly died when he said, "Time for the really, really bad news..."
Renee swung her chair round to face him directly and murmured, "I'm sorry... I checked and re-checked... I actually wanted to be wrong this time..."
"I've got a long way to go before I'm going to have definitive proof that will hold up in a court of law, Liam. The money is being funnelled from Taelon secret holdings. Money that only a member of the Synod could authorise transferred."
Renee's eyes were truly apologetic. She knew that Liam had been pleasantly surprised by the welcome and acceptance that the Taelons had given to him in the aftermath of the revelation that he was a Kimera hybrid. Now she had told him that it was all a lie... Why didn't he look more upset?
"It's okay, Renee. You've just added some more 'unofficial' reinforcement to some of my own observations. Don't look so worried for me. It's not being done on orders of Zo'or."
"How can you be so sure of that?" demanded an impassioned Renee. "His recent attitudes have been so far removed from his typical behaviour..."
Her eyes narrowed slightly as Liam actually blushed as he said, "I have my reasons, Renee. It's not him."
Liam frowned momentarily and gazed out of her shielded virtual glass window and murmured, "T'than. It's got to be T'than... He's been openly hostile when I've talked to him without other Taelons present. I know he doesn't like me. The question is, does he really hate me that much?"
The combination of anger, wistfulness and confusion tugged at Renee's heartstrings. She reached out and placed a gently comforting hand on Liam's wrist and said, "I'll re-check the connections and see if I can narrow the link to the Taelons down. You've given me a new direction to focus on. Just give me a little more time..."
Liam gave her a small smile and placed his free hand on her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. Softly, he said, "You've done fantastic work, Renee, and I'm more grateful than you will ever know. Take all the time you need, just get me hard proof so that I can act."
He let go of her shoulder and began to head for the door, saying, "I've got another stop to make. I'll call you tomorrow. Okay?"
She nodded and smiled.
At the doorway, he paused and said, "Have fun tonight with James, Renee."
She blushed furiously and said, "Liam, I--"
He smiled at her discomfiture and said, "I'm really happy for you both, Renee. I think he's good for you and he'd have to be an idiot to not realise how good you are for him.
"I wish you both every happiness, and please, tell him I said that. I don't want him feeling uncomfortable around me."
He gave a mock-glare and continued, "But tell him that if I find out he's hurt you in any way, I'll make him wish that he had never been born."
Renee's gaping face was the last thing he saw before he chuckled and headed off to his next appointment.
Liam's next appointment was supposed to be Zo'or's daily update on Taelon security matters around the globe. He walked onto the bridge of the mothership expecting to see Zo'or, but he wasn't there. Frowning, he sent his gaze round the bridge. A few Volunteers quickly met his gaze, but just as quickly dropped their gazes back to the consoles that they were manning.
Silence fell when he said, "Where is Zo'or?"
Eventually, one of the Volunteers answered, since it seemed like the few Taelons on the bridge had no intention of doing so. "He's in his private chambers, sir. He said that he did not want to be disturbed."
Liam frowned slightly and murmured an absent, "Thank you, Volunteer. As you were."
Still frowning, he turned and left the bridge, uncaring of the curious gazes that lingered on his retreating back.
Liam had ordered Franklin and his escort to take a break and meet up with him at the shuttle bay in three hours - that was how long the briefing had been scheduled to take. Standing outside Zo'or's chambers, he ordered the Volunteer on guard duty to take the same three hours off. He had some things he needed to say to Zo'or and he didn't want anyone disturbing them.
He keyed in the security override code that Zo'or had given him - an override that he'd never told Sandoval - and went inside the Synod leader's chambers, sealing the energy barrier behind him.
Zo'or was in his energy stream. Liam gazed at him for a long moment, saying nothing. Instead of approaching the stream, he turned to wander round the chambers. Unsurprisingly, there was very little clutter. One thing caught his eye and he went over to investigate it.
It was a sculpture - or, to be more precise, a sculpture in progress. It was made of what looked to be a sort of crystalline substance similar to quartz. It was iridescent in the subdued lighting of the chamber. It looked so fragile, like a gentle breeze might shatter it. It was exquisite.
He didn't turn his head as Zo'or's quiet voice said, "It is not finished."
Still staring at it, Liam breathed out a hushed, "You did this?"
He turned to see the usually inscrutable Synod leader make an uncommonly nervous gesture with one hand as he said, "Yes."
"It's exquisite, Zo'or. I had no idea you had such a gift."
Liam watched as the Synod leader blushed, quietly pleased at the praise. Zo'or moved to stand beside him, murmuring, "It has been many years since I did anything like this. I had dismissed it as a frivolity that had little place in the Taelon struggle for survival."
"Oh, Zo'or." Liam began to pace about. "Struggling to survive is not enough. To survive is not enough. To live without beauty or joy is not to live at all. Even the human race, as primitive as we are, has always known that.
"When did the Taelons forget that basic truth?"
For a long moment, Zo'or said nothing. He then turned to walk to the opposite end of the chamber from his Protector, saying, "Why are you here, Agent Beckett? I left instructions that I was not to be disturbed."
Liam took a deep breath. Back to formality, eh? He looked across the chamber to stare at Zo'or, and said, "You called me earlier and asked me to give you the security briefing in person. I went to the bridge. You weren't there.
"I was told that you had retired to you chambers leaving orders not to be disturbed. I was concerned. Are you all right? I can come back and give you the briefing later, if that is what you desire.
"Is that what you want, Zo'or?"
"No, Agent Beckett. What I want is you. Now, please leave me to my solitude."
Liam's eyes had widened at Zo'or's uncharacteristic outburst. Since the day Zo'or had come to see him in his father's old office, they had carefully skirted around the subject of what had happened there. There was a sort of unspoken understanding between them that if they didn't speak about what had happened and the feelings that had been revealed, then they wouldn't have to deal with it.
Liam took a deep breath and took a step into the unknown. Eyes fixed on Zo'or's, he walked towards him and said, "You can't say that you want me, Zo'or, and then expect me to just leave."
Zo'or turned his gaze away and said, "It is too dangerous. I still suffer the effect of my ka'atham. You are an extremely young hybrid. The feelings that I am experiencing could profoundly damage you or your continued development of your Kimera heritage. The damage that I have already caused to you and your family is already too great. Leave... Please..."
Tentatively, Liam reached out with one gentle hand and turned Zo'or's face so that he could stare directly into the Taelon's eyes. He put into words the feelings that he had acknowledged to himself earlier that week. "I want you too, Zo'or."
The Taelon's eyes widened. Liam watched as he saw disbelief, terror, and something far less tangible, shimmer in the Taelon's eyes. Zo'or's hand came up to gently rest on his cheek, and Liam mirrored the motion.
He said again, "I want you too."
Stepping back, he broke the caress, saying, "I'm just not sure what the hell we can do about it."
Zo'or turned his back and headed back over to where the sculpture was sitting. His gentle hands reached out to finger it gently, and for a long moment, nothing was said.
Liam waited silently as Zo'or battle with whatever demons he was fighting. This moment was going to affect the rest of his life. He held his breath when Zo'or looked at him and said, "I wish to get to know you, Liam Beckett. For me. Unfortunately, the fact remains that your heritage could hold the key to saving the Taelon race."
Liam let out a long breath that he hadn't realised he was holding. Sensing that - for now - Zo'or needed the space, he remained on the opposite side of the chamber and said, "I'm drawn to you. I won't deny that. It's still too soon, though. I need the time to work through my emotions and deal with everything going on in the whirlwind that I seem to be riding.
"Be patient, Zo'or. Please. I want what you want. I want to get to know you better too. I didn't expect to feel this strongly about anyone - ever - and the fact that I feel the way I do about a Taelon is, quite frankly, scaring the hell out of me.
"All three of my parents taught me that nothing in this life is easy. That the hard things are usually the best things, and that they are worth fighting for.
"You are worth fighting for. And I will fight for you, if necessary."
Liam nodded his head to Zo'or and said, "I'll leave you to your rest. The briefing can be postponed until tomorrow. Till then, be well." That said, he exited Zo'or's chamber before the stunned Taelon had the chance to react.
Face wearing a smile that no Taelon had seen on his face in centuries, Zo'or turned his attention to the sculpture rather than retreating to the energy shower. Serene in a manner that had been absent from his mind since the ka'atham had come upon him, he took up his tools and began to work on Liam's gift.
From his station on the roof, Lieutenant Peter Franklin listened - via his earpiece - to the all-clear coming in from the spotters assigned to the rooftops of the buildings surrounding the hospital where Agent Beckett had been treated for his injuries. Only when the last team had checked in did he send the coded burst to the Volunteers assigned to close protection for Liam to escort him from his room and up towards the waiting shuttle on the roof.
His boss - who was quickly becoming a friend - had been less than happy about the latest tightening of his security detail, but this time, he'd been overruled. These new orders had come directly from Zo'or. The Synod leader had been as angry as Peter had ever seen him when he'd had the unfortunate task of calling the mothership to report the attempt yesterday on Agent Beckett's life.
The FBI had finally tracked two of the remaining contracted assassins who were targeting Liam and had immediately signalled his team with the information they had obtained, but it had nearly been too late. The warning had allowed them to bundle Liam from the car he'd been travelling in; unfortunately, he'd been hit by flying wreckage as it had exploded in a ball of flame. The wound to his arm had necessitated an overnight stay in hospital and it had proved to be a security nightmare, with the press descending in droves.
Thankfully, the local police, the FBI task force assigned to the assassination attempts, and the Volunteers had managed to keep the press at bay, but that was why they were on the roof now rather than leaving by car. The waiting shuttle was going to take Liam to the Washington Embassy. He would then be escorted home in an unmarked car and smuggled into the building through the service entrance; while, at the same time, Da'an would give a press conference announcing that, for his own safety, Agent Beckett had been ordered to relocate to the mothership.
Zo'or had actually wanted Liam on the mothership, but somehow Liam had managed to talk him out of that ultimatum. Of course, Zo'or had insisted on one thing, and Liam had finally relented to that much. His apartment now had a secure, mini-ID Portal in its master bedroom. If necessary, it was a last line of escape for Liam. Only three people on Earth had its access codes: himself, his deputy and Liam. On the mothership, there was only one person with the codes - Zo'or himself.
Peter jerked himself out of his reverie as he got word Liam was on the final stairwell that led to the roof. Time to get ready.
Bone-weary, Liam shut the door to his apartment and set the alarms. Peter's team had gone through it with everything from bomb-detectors to a fine tooth comb before leaving him to his solitude. He knew that they were just doing their jobs and he was touched by the level of concern that they were showing for his safety, but really, all he wanted was some time alone to think.
Carefully removing his jacket, mindful of the bandages wrapped round his left bicep and the abrasions on his shoulder, Liam set about relaxing for the first time in forty-eight hours. Next, and with a hearty sigh of relief, his shoes were kicked off; he loved nothing better than wandering around the apartment in his stocking feet, the feel of the lush carpets soothed him as he walked across them.
A ham salad sandwich and a glass of milk were happily consumed - hospital food was still unappetising, even in this day and age. Next, a visit to his father's state of the art music system... and finally, Liam allowed himself to relax. Sprawled in his Sandoval's favourite chair, he sat, head back, eyes closed, listening as the soothing strains of some Celtic ballads filled the air.
The beeping tone of his global momentarily disrupted his serenity, but he didn't frown. He had a feeling he knew who was on the line - Zo'or. Opening the global, he smiled. He was right.
"Good evening, Zo'or. I trust everything is well?"
"Yes, Agent Beckett. I will be far more satisfied when this matter has been concluded and the rest of those that plot against you are dealt with. For now, that you escaped from the last incident with only minor injuries will have to suffice."
Liam bit back a smile. It had to be annoying for Zo'or to be unable to express his true feelings, but on the bridge of the mothership was not exactly the place to express personal concern about his protector.
Feeling the sudden urge to take some control of his life after all the recent turmoil, Liam took a gamble and made a step into the unknown. Voice hesitant and soft, he said, "If you wanted to... you could stop by. You have the co-ordinates to my new ID portal. If nothing else, I could give you the latest security update in person." Liam held his breath as he waited for an answer. Too much, too soon?
For a few seconds there was silence, but then Zo'or gave a single, regal inclination of his head. "That seems acceptable. I shall arrive shortly."
The communication shut off abruptly and Liam gaped at the now blank screen. Zo'or was coming?! Bounding to his feet, he quickly assessed the apartment... was it presentable? As far as he knew, this was the first time Zo'or would ever have set foot in a private residence that did not belong to a head of state.
Gazing down at his own attire, Liam almost decided to change his clothes but decided against it. Zo'or would need to learn to accept people the way they were and not just the efficient personas they donned when meeting the Synod leader. Moving into the bedroom, Liam perched on the edge of the bedspread and did his best not to fidget and pick at the covers.
Fifteen minutes later, Zo'or arrived. Alone. Liam's eyebrow rose in surprise; Zo'or was obviously a better judge of human body language than he let on, because he said, "I informed the Volunteer guards that you assigned to me in your absence that I was making a brief visit to you and that you would call the mothership to notify them when I was about to return."
And this information didn't cause an outcry from the rest of the Taelons on board when it was logged into the security logs? I find that very hard to believe.
Liam smiled shyly at Zo'or and said, "Welcome. Would you like the tour?"
An unpractised grin appeared on the Taelon's face and he said, "Yes."
The next ten minutes were some of the more bizarre in his eventful life as Liam showed off his father's, now his, apartment to the Synod leader. Zo'or - as with the fatefully tragic day at the library that had taken his father's life - seemed genuinely fascinated by the large selection of books on display, from both his and his father's collections. He was also fascinated by the Celtic music still playing in the apartment, especially when Liam explained that it had its roots in the same island that had been Ma'el's final home.
The curiously gentle expression on Zo'or's face as his head was tilted slightly to one side as he concentrated on the music, delicate alien fingers running over a first edition of The Great Gatsby, was one of the most open that Liam could ever remember seeing on Zo'or's face. In fact, Liam felt his breath catch in his throat at the sight... Zo'or looked... beautiful.
Somehow sensing his protector's gaze on his own, Liam waited and watched as Zo'or allowed his gaze to meet his own and his eyes widened at the emotions burning deep in the Taelon's eyes. For all that he was not a human, the emotions were plain enough to see: worry, rage, tenderness...
The mini-disc finished, and, taking the momentary distraction offered, Liam turned to remove it and insert another selection, this time classical. A gentle hand on the back of his neck robbed him of breath and he slowly turned to see Zo'or's face, now literally inches from his own. "Are you truly all right, Liam?" asked Zo'or, voice soft and questioning.
Taking a second step into the unknown, Liam wrapped both arms around the Synod leader in a brief embrace, saying, "Yes, Zo'or. I wouldn't lie to you about that." He then made a move to step back, but Zo'or wrapped strong arms around him, keeping him in place. Surprised, he looked down into Zo'or's eyes.
A gasp escaped from his lips when Zo'or moved one arm so that he could reach out with gentle fingers to run them down his cheek and across his lips, the gesture both sensual and innocent. "Good," said Zo'or in a simple tone. "I cannot lose you, Liam. I will not."
Liam turned his cheek into the gentle caress, saying, "You won't."
The gentle touch stopped in mid-caress and Liam again turned his eyes to those of the Taelon holding him. Hesitation graced those eyes now as Zo'or said, "I believe human custom at this point would be something called a kiss... would you kiss me, Liam?"
The whole axis of Liam's world shifted with that simple statement. Should he kiss a Taelon? Would he kiss a Taelon... especially this one?! Trusting his heart and his father's advice to follow it, Liam did so.
Softly, gently, he brushed his lips against those of Zo'or. The Taelon froze in place for a moment but Liam didn't draw back, he just kept up the gentle pressure of the kiss. When Zo'or began to grasp the concept and started to reciprocate, Liam deepened the kiss. From the way that Zo'or's arms tightened their hold around him, it seemed that he too was feeling some emotion from the mind-blowing embrace.
Wanting Zo'or to feel what he was feeling - and not sure how much the Taelon was really experiencing from such a human action - Liam gently ran his right hand along Zo'or's side and tugged gently at one of the arms holding him. He then continued his hand's journey along that arm until he reached the Taelon's hand... and then... he pressed his hand to Zo'or's and initiated the most profound intimacy he could outside of a full Joining. He Shared his soul with that of the Taelon in his arms.
The jolt of wonder and surprise from Zo'or made Liam dizzy, the desire emanating from them both had him practically weak at the knees. Exhibiting some tried and true human male instinct, he gently manoeuvred Zo'or backwards till they were both sitting on the couch... and that was how Liam Beckett found himself spending his time for the next ten minutes. In the simplest terms possible, he was making out with the leader of the Synod. The Resistance would have kittens if they knew what was going on.
Regretfully, Liam and Zo'or both knew now was not the time to take things further. On the edges of his subconscious Liam could feel the shockwaves reverberating around the Commonality. They hadn't felt the full force of what he and Zo'or experienced, Liam knew that much, but they had felt some part of the emotionally outpouring from Zo'or... and its cause.
Pulling back slightly, Liam placed a gentle palm on Zo'or's face, saying, "I think it's time for you to be getting back to the mothership, Zo'or." He watched and waited and smiled as the Synod leader sighed and nodded his agreement.
They moved back into the master bedroom and Liam accessed the codes for one of the secure terminals on the mothership. Grabbing his global from the place on the bed where he had discarded it earlier, Liam signalled the senior Volunteer on Zo'or's protective detail to say that his return to the mothership was imminent.
Zo'or moved to the portal and stood ready, face expressionless but his eyes were practically glowing. Liam smiled at him saying, "Ready?"
At Zo'or's nod, he said, "I'll see you tomorrow, then. Oh, and one more thing--"
"Yes, Liam?" interrupted Zo'or.
"I love you."
The last thing Liam saw before Zo'or vanished from the room was the expression of complete wonder in the Taelon's eyes at that announcement.
Sighing, Liam turned his attention to his own rest. Twenty minutes later, head resting on his pillow, Liam thought of the days to come. They weren't going to be dull. They had three more assassins to catch and Renee still had to track the originator of the contract. Liam was willing to bet any amount that anyone cared to name that the name she tracked down would be T'than. All he needed was concrete proof and he would act... burgeoning relationship with Zo'or or not.
And that was the finally thing on the list of things to do... get humanity in general and the Resistance in particular, not to mention the rest of the Taelon race, to accept one simple thing - he was in love with Zo'or, and, although the Taelon hadn't yet said the words and perhaps never would, Zo'or was in love with him too.