"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.