Walking Into Trouble

by Loui

Earth: Final Conflict is copyright © Tribune Entertainment and Roddenberry/Kirschner. No infringement of that copyright is intended by this story.
"Walking Into Trouble" is copyright © Loui.
Author's Notes: Originally just a ramble from me - honest!

Liam Kincaid surveyed the neighbourhood that he found himself in and had to fight to hold back his anger. Taelon rhetoric be damned; poverty and class barriers were alive and well in Washington DC. There was no denying that the world's hungry had been dealt with but the individuals still slipped through the cracks.

Liam's eyes lingered for a moment on a young boy, standing begging for change in front of a convenience store- he couldn't be more than fourteen - and his heart wept at the sight. What was wrong with this world?

A screech of tires caught his attention and he glanced down the street and saw a seedy-looking sedan accelerating at high speed towards the store. A window was lowered and Liam caught sight of the gun - an assault rifle by the looks of things - seconds before the gunman began randomly firing at the storefront.

The boy!

Reacting on instinct, Liam ran forward and tackled the boy to the ground, shielding him with his own body. There was no opportunity to draw his own weapon; instead, Liam concentrated on committing the details of the scene to memory. He made a mental note of the make and model and got a partial license plate of the car, as well as a detailed description of the gunman.

He flinched as he felt a sharp pain on his left arm; it didn't feel too bad. With any luck it was only a graze. Dr. Park couldn't get too upset with him about a flesh wound, Liam sighed resigned; who did he think he was kidding. His doctor was very pernickety about his health and well being, having delivered him she took any damage to him very personally.

Liam watched as the car sped off and, only when he was absolutely sure that they weren't going to return, he relaxed his hold on the boy and helped the terrified teenager to his feet. The shopkeeper slowly emerged from his hiding place behind the counter and walked out into the street. He cast a wary eye over the two people outside his store, wincing when he saw the injury to the man's arm.

Now there was a strange sight. The boy, terrified though he was, fitted in. He'd seen the kid sleeping in doorways a couple of times. Quiet, kept to himself. The man on the other hand, he screamed outsider. Tall and good looking, he was wearing clothes that were too good for the locals except for the criminal population. He'd saved the boy though; he'd seen that much before diving for cover behind the counter. The man looked at him and said, "Have you called the police, yet?"

John O'Kane stared at the other man. Police? In this neighbourhood? Where did this guy come from?!

"I've called them. They said they'd try to get a patrol car out here in about twenty minutes but that they were busy just now with the City Parade going on."

John O'Kane watched with interest at the predatory gleam in the other man's eyes. He didn't look best pleased about that.

"Oh, they did, did they?"

The man retrieved an expensive looking global from a clip on his belt and flicked it open.

He hit a few commands and waited. Standing just beside the man, John O'Kane saw a police dispatcher on the other side of the communication sit up a bit straighter with an alert look on her face. She opened her mouth to address the stranger but he beat her to it.

"This is Major Liam Kincaid. I was witness to a drive-by shooting a few moments ago outside a convenience store on 4th and Olympic. The owner of the store called in a report and was informed that it was going to take twenty minutes for a patrol car to be dispatched to the scene."

Liam raised one eyebrow and gave the dispatcher his best impersonation of his father's impassive gaze. "Is that correct?"

John O'Kane had watched in amazement at the image on the small screen as the dispatcher had first listened with widened eyes as the man identified himself and then paled noticeably at his obvious disapproval for the actions that were being taken.

"Please hold for one moment, sir"

The screen went to a hold icon and the man stood there, a half-smile on his face. He looked - expectant - thought O'Kane.

The global beeped and the signal resumed. "Sir, there are two patrol cars on route as we speak. Detectives Morgan and Peters are leaving the precinct now. They will assume responsibility for the investigation."

Liam looked at her and said one word. "Better."

"Who are you?" breathed an astonished John O'Kane. In the thirty years that he owned this store he had never seen anybody do what this young man had done.

Abashed at his rudeness, Liam held out his hand, took O'Kane's proffered hand and shook it firmly. "I'm sorry, I should have introduced myself earlier.

"Major Liam Kincaid, at your service. And you are?"

"John O'Kane. I own this store."

Liam nodded and then turned to the teenager who had been standing huddled in the doorway. "Are you all right? I didn't hurt you did I?"

"N- n- no, sir. T- thank you for saving me."

Liam gave the boy a gentle smile.

"You're very welcome. Do you feel OK enough to tell me your name?"

"R- Robert, sir."

"Glad to meet you, Robert."

The sound of approaching sirens could be heard and Liam moved out to the edge of the sidewalk to flag the patrol cars down.

As soon as he moved out of earshot the boy turned to the shopkeeper and whispered, "What's he doing way down here?"

O'Kane looked at the boy in confusion. "What do you mean, he?"

The boy looked at the older man astonished. Didn't he ever watch the news?!

"He's a Companion Protector, Mr O'Kane! He's Da'an's Protector!"

John O'Kane looked out towards the patrol cars and the surprisingly respectful attitude of the usually surly officers. A Companion Protector, eh? No wonder the police had come a'running this time.

The police officers kept a wary eye on the tall figure standing on the sidewalk beside the shopkeeper and the teenager that were the other witnesses caught up in the shooting. Detective Morgan was talking to them and taking statements while Detective Peters supervised the uniformed officers and technicians as they swept the scene for clues.

Peters directed two rookies in proper crime scene techniques and, as he did so, he thought back to earlier that morning. He and Morgan were two of the better detectives on the force and as such were already over-worked. Unfortunately for them, they had been in the squad room when the Captain had stalked out with a look that boded ill for someone.

Over their protests, they were given the responsibility for handling the investigation of a drive-by shooting in one of the rougher areas of town.

Talking before thinking - it was one of his worst habits - Peters had said, "Why us?!"

In a deceptively mild tone that usually signified that he was really angry with someone, Captain Walker had replied, "You - because you're here. Why - because one of the eyewitnesses is a Companion Protector. He was less than impressed with dispatch's message to the owner of the shop involved that a patrol car would be there in about twenty minutes.

"This division has been reprimanded on more than one occasion this year for our 'attitudes'. We are not going to win any favours with City Hall if we ignore a crime witnessed by a Protector. Not just any Protector, mind you. Da'an's Protector. Go and see if you can smooth things over and, for god's sake, let Morgan do the talking."

Peters brought his attention back to the present. Arriving on the scene, they'd found an extremely annoyed Major Liam Kincaid glaring at a couple of patrol officers. Morgan had taken one look at the officers with the Major and sighed. Owen and Walsh were not exactly renowned for their abilities to handle situations with subtlety and discretion. He'd murmured to his partner to take charge of the on-site investigation and supervision of the officers. He'd handle the witnesses.

Approaching the Major, he noted quickly the way the boy and even the shopkeeper seemed to ease themselves back behind the Protector, unconsciously seeking his protection. He also noticed with concern, the blood on the sleeve of Kincaid's coat. Nobody had mentioned to either Peters or himself that anybody had been injured.

Considering the locals down in this neighbourhood knew fine well the attitudes of the police to crimes like drive-bys and the fact that the Major was already fuming about the apparent lack of action by the police, Morgan did his best to change their attitudes. He presented a professional face and asked what had happened.

The shopkeeper and the boy presented pretty much the same story. A car had come out of nowhere and began shooting up the shop front. The other man had tackled the boy out of the line of fire and shielded him with his own body.

When the shooting had stopped, Mr O'Kane had called the police and went outside to check on the people that had been caught outside his shop by the gunfire.

Morgan had raised his eyebrow slightly at the revelation that the Protector had risked his life to save a street kid.

Major Kincaid had been a lot more detailed in his statement. He related how he had been out walking around and noticed the car speeding towards the store. Having seen the gun he had moved to get the boy out of the line of fire. Calmly, he related the make and model of the car, gave the detective the partial plate number that he had noticed and described the gunman in detail.

By the time he had finished, Morgan was eyeing the Protector with a great deal of respect. The man was obviously a professional. It showed in his stance and in his eyes; those eyes also sent a message to the detective that he expected the same level of professionalism from the police.

Stuffing his global back into his suit jacket, Morgan said, "Major, procedure requires that we take you for medical attention."

Kincaid grimaced. "For this?! It's a scratch."

"Major, its procedure. You know that."

Kincaid sighed. "All right. How about a compromise? I'll call one of the doctors that normally treats me and have her come down here and check my arm. Satisfied?"

Realising it was as good as he was going to get; Morgan acquiesced. He then turned his attention to the boy. He was a street kid. That meant Juvenile Hall. He said as much to the boy, the kid paled and tried to run. Having expected this, Morgan was ready and reached out an arm to restrain him. The boy twisted and turned as he tried to break the detective's hold.

"What do you think you're doing, Detective?!"

Morgan looked into the fuming eyes of Major Liam Kincaid. The man was in the process of closing his global after calling his doctor and he looked less than pleased with what he was seeing.

The kid turned pleading eyes on the Protector. "Please don't let them take me! Please!"

Addressing Detective Morgan, Kincaid said, "Take him where?"

"Major, he's a juvenile and he's on the street. That means Juvenile Hall until he can be fostered out. It's standard procedure."

The Protector eyed the boy who was shaking his head violently. "NO! The last time I was in Juvenile Hall I was stabbed! You can't make me go back there. You can't."

Morgan swore silently. That made things more difficult. Juvenile authorities were barely able to cope with the kids that they had in protective custody as it was. Surprising him, surprising the boy, the Protector offered another solution.

"What if he stays with me? At least on a temporary basis. Would the juvenile authorities agree to that?"

Morgan looked at Kincaid in astonishment. He was willing to take in a street kid? The boy was beyond astonished. He looked absolutely bewildered that anybody might want to help him. He looked at the Protector with wary eyes.

Liam saw that wariness and moved to ease the boy's fear. Ignoring for the moment, Mr O'Kane and Detective Morgan, he turned his full attention to the boy.

Grinning shyly, he said, "What do you say, Robert? If we can arrange it with the authorities do you want to stay with me for a while? The authorities will have to arrange something permanent but until then you could hang out with me. Sound good?"

Robert eyed the older man. He looked trustworthy and he had already saved him once. Maybe he was different from the last guardian he had been placed with. Maybe. Sighing, he nodded. Anything was better than Juvenile Hall.

Kincaid grinned. Turning his attention back to Detective Morgan he said, "Whom do we have to talk to in order to get this arranged?"

Robert's mind replayed the events of that morning in a blur. He was sitting nervously in an office in the Juvenile division of City Hall. The assistant - to whomever that guy in there was - had handed him a coke and a candy bar and then ignored him. Major Kincaid and Detectives Morgan and Peters were inside the office discussing his fate. Major Kincaid had wanted him in there too but had been overruled. Which was why he was sitting in a chair with his mind replaying the most unusual morning of his life over and over.

It had started off the same as any other day, waking up and starting the process of trying to scrape together enough money for a meal. Then came the drive-by. Living in this neighbourhood he was used to them - he'd even lost a friend in one once. That had been why he had stood frozen to the spot, as the car had sped towards the store. He'd assumed it was fate turning round to kick him in the teeth again.

Except it didn't. This time fate seemed to be smiling. Someone risking his or her life to save you doesn't happen often, especially not for a kid living on the street. If that someone turns out to be someone important - like a Companion Protector - then you can be forgiven for thinking that your life has entered the realm of the bizarre.

Seeing the police officers he had been fully prepared to run. Juvenile Hall was looming in his future again like a big dark shadow. Then came his latest shock of the day. Major Kincaid volunteered to look after him! The offer seemed to be genuine but he had no idea what was going on in Major Kincaid's head; from the looks of things neither did Detective Morgan.

Robert brought his attention back to the here and now and fidgeted in his chair. The blonde assistant glanced at him in annoyance but he ignored her completely. What was taking so long? What if the authorities said no? Nervously, he chewed at a fingernail and fidgeted some more.

Forty minutes later, the detectives emerged, faces impassive. Robert's heart sank and he slouched down in the chair. Major Kincaid emerged next, Robert straightened his shoulders determined to say, 'thanks for trying' with a genuine smile. The Major had at least offered to look after him - that was more than any other adult had offered to do in a long, long while.

Wait a minute... the Major was smiling! A small spark of hope began to beat in Robert's heart. Major Kincaid grinned and pulled him to his feet, saying, "Come on, Robert. Let's get out of here. We need to get you settled in at my place and then we need to have a little talk."

Tentatively, Robert said, "Does this mean that I'm allowed to stay with you, Major?"

"Yep," said the Major, "You're staying with me for the foreseeable future. Do me a favour would you? Call me, Liam."

Robert smiled shyly and nodded. Taking leave of the detectives, the pair left the office.

Liam eyed the teenager walking quietly along beside him as they made their way out of the central building of City Hall. He was tall, slender and had an amazing mop of blonde hair. It was straight and tied back in a loose pony tail at the nape of his neck. His eyes were a stormy gray in colour and they were wary. Liam watched and wondered. He'd noticed that earlier, this kid was cautious. His eyes seemed to notice everything; he held himself with an inner stillness that seemed almost instinctive. What had happened to him? Obviously more than had been listed in the records that had been shown to him in the office upstairs.

Concentrating on the present, Liam said, "Okay then, Robert, first things first. Do you have any stuff anywhere that we should go pick up? Any little things that you don't want to lose?"

"Uh, no sir- I mean, Liam," stammered Robert.

Liam draped a friendly arm over the boy's shoulders and breathed a silent sigh of relief as he felt the boy finally start to relax.

"We have a few things that we need to do then. How about we go shopping and get you some stuff like clothes and a toothbrush and then I take you back to my place so you can see where you are going to be staying.

"I have the next couple of days off so we have time to get to know one another a bit better. We can stash your new stuff and then I suggest we go out for a meal. Do you like pizza?

"We'll have to talk about stuff like school and whatnot but I think that can wait till tomorrow, don't you? One other thing. At some point today, do you mind if we stop by to see Dr. Park, you know, the doctor that came out to the shop earlier? I'd like her to give you a quick check up if that's okay with you. She's nice, honest. I'm sure you're as healthy as a horse but she'll probably try to make you take your vitamins or something.

"By the way, I'm not as hopeless as she'll probably tell you. I do know that take-out does not constitute one of the four main food groups."

Robert chuckled at that.

"Pizza sounds good, Liam. I just want to say thank you again for doing this. I really couldn't have handled being back in Juvenile Hall. For however long this lasts I do appreciate your willingness to look after me.

"About the clothes, I was wondering... do we have to shop before we go to your place? Could you maybe loan me a shirt for now and let me get a chance to clean up first before we go out?"

Liam grinned. "See, I knew this was going to work out fine. We'll go with your idea. Seems the most sensible approach."

Back at his apartment, Liam had apologetically shown Robert the small room that he would be sleeping in. He'd been using it to store some old 'toys' of Augur's that had never been moved after Augur had sold him the apartment.

Robert had been quietly ecstatic. A room of his own! There was a small skylight and a door that he could shut when he wanted privacy. It was more than he had ever dared hope for.

Liam left Robert wandering curiously around the apartment and headed off to find him a shirt of some description. Moments later, he emerged back into the living area to see the kid reverently fingering the books on the shelves. Liam smiled. 'King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table'; the kid had taste.

"Robert," called Liam. "Will this do?" Liam held out a crimson T-shirt. Robert nodded absently and then his attention returned to the book, which he reluctantly put back on the shelf.

"Shower's through there. Take your time."

Early that evening, Liam and Robert sat at a booth in an Italian restaurant eating homemade pizza. They were surrounded by packages of varying shapes and sizes. Liam had tried to restrain his enthusiasm to ensure that Robert didn't feel too overwhelmed but he'd been having nearly as much fun as Robert was in choosing the things that he needed.

Liam held out his glass of coke and proposed a toast to his new 'ward'. "New friendships, new beginnings."

Robert lay on his new bed - his own bed - and stared up at the ceiling of his new room. Once they had gotten back from the restaurant they had gotten stuck in to the task of, as Liam put it, 'moving you in'.

By the time they were done, there was a huge pile of stuff sitting in a corner of the living area. Liam had grinned at him, saying, "Finally, my friend will have to move his junk!" The packaging from the earlier purchases had been discarded too. Robert had been fighting a yawn when Liam had given a friendly push in the direction of his room, saying, "Go sleep, kid. We'll talk more tomorrow."

Robert still couldn't believe that his life had changed so much in the space of a single day. He lay there and he could hear Liam moving quietly around the apartment. Taking his courage into his own hands, he emerged from his room, rubbing at sleepy eyes.

Liam quickly glanced round. He was just about to ask if something was wrong when Robert approached him and flung his arms around him, hugging him and whispering one thing, "Thank you."

Liam smiled shyly. "You're more than welcome."

Robert stepped back and yawned. Satisfied that he had said his piece, he went back to bed.

Liam started from his sleep instinctively. Something was wrong. He heard muffled sounds coming from Robert's room, he got up and pulled on a T-shirt before making his way silently across the apartment to the closed door of Robert's room. Quietly, he turned the handle. He didn't want to make the kid feel like he wouldn't respect his privacy - it was just that he was worried.

The sight that greeted him made his concern grow. The kid was tossing and turning on the bed - obviously caught up in a nightmare. Liam was standing there debating whether or not he should wake the kid up when the matter was taken out of his hands. Robert sat bolt upright in the bed and screamed, "NO! Don't hurt me!" before collapsing back down against the pillows.

Liam was at the side of the bed before he even realised that he had moved. Gently, he placed a hand on the boy's shoulder and whispered his name. Robert woke with a start and literally flinched in fear, eyes lost in his own memories. He came back to the present and Liam saw the realisation dawning in his eyes at what had happened. Liam watched as emotions flickered across the boy's face. Shame, fear, loss; silent tears streaked down his cheeks. Feeling helpless, Liam sat on the side of the bed and reached out a hand to smooth the hair back from Robert's face.

Damage done, knowing that in the morning he would have to give an explanation for his nightmare Robert gave in to his roller coaster emotions. He rolled over and buried his face against Liam's chest and sobbed. Instinctively, Liam put his arms around the boy and tried to soothe away his pain. He changed position slightly and Robert tensed, fearing rejection. Liam sighed quietly. The boy relaxed slightly as he realised that Liam was only changing positions on the bed so that he wasn't sitting as precariously as he had been.

Over the next few minutes, Liam simply held the teenager close, allowing him to regain his composure. He didn't say anything, he just sat there and gave the boy the feeling of security that he obviously needed. About thirty minutes later, he felt Robert finally succumb to his exhaustion. As the boy slept, nestled against his chest, Liam sat watch and silently vowed that whatever it took, he would help this boy heal.

The next morning, the apartment was filled with an awkward silence. Robert had refused to look Liam in the eye all during breakfast; ashamed of what had happened the night before. Had he looked up he would have seen the concern and worry in Liam's eyes - not recrimination.

After the exuberance of the day before it was a harsh switch back to reality. Robert sat on one of the chairs lost in thought. He hadn't had the nightmare in years. Why now? It was over - that part of his life was over - never again. So why think about it now? His eyes rested on the other occupant of the apartment. Liam stood at the counter, his back to Robert. He was talking to Dr. Park on his global and arranging an appointment for later that day. Robert caught snatches of the conversation... the doctor's surprise at Liam's request - Liam's exasperation at why everyone - including her - found it so amazing that he had volunteered to look after a street kid.

Robert sighed. That was why he'd had the nightmare.

He'd blocked the memory for so long because he knew damn well that he had to. He'd had nobody else to turn to if he had the nightmares - nobody else to share the pain and ease the horror of the memories. Now he did. Now he had Liam. For the first time in years he felt safe and wanted; he felt like he mattered, and that was Liam's doing. In the space of a day, Liam had made him feel like he had some worth. He'd had the nightmare last night because subconsciously he knew he had someone he could turn to.

"Liam," said Robert, "Can I talk to you?"

The Protector turned to him, warm eyes full of concern. "Of course you can, Robert. Any time... about anything. I hope you know that."

Taking a deep breath, Robert said, "It's about last night..."

Liam crossed the room and crouched down until his eyes were level with the boy's. "You don't have to tell me right now if you don't feel ready, Robert. I realise you may not feel like you can trust me well enough yet. I want to help but I will wait until you're ready."

Robert gave a shy smile. Liam just didn't get it. Didn't he realise how unusual he was? He'd half expected that Liam would change his mind about letting him stay; emotionally damaged teenagers were not everybody's idea of fun.

"No, Liam. I want to tell you. Really. You're the reason I had the nightmare-

The Protector flinched and rose to his feet, backing away from the boy and saying, "I'm sorry. I didn't realise I scared you..."

Robert blinked at the interruption. What?! He jumped to his feet and grabbed at Liam's arms to stop him from retreating any further.

"Liam! Of course you don't scare me! Why would you think that?!

"I had the nightmare - for the first time in years because I knew I had finally found some place safe to deal with the memories. A place to battle the demons. Someone I could turn to for comfort. YOU!"

Robert watched as Liam let out a deep breath. The tension in the older man's frame eased and Robert breathed a silent sigh of relief. He hadn't meant to hurt Liam's feelings. That was the last thing he ever wanted to do.

Liam pulled him into a quick hug before dropping in to a seat and motioning him to do the same. Liam gave him a reassuring smile and said, "I'll do anything I can to help, Robert. No matter what you say, I won't change my mind about you staying. I promise. I won't abandon you and I won't hurt you. Not ever."

Robert wiped a tear from his cheek and said softly, "I know that, Liam. That's why I want to tell you about the nightmare. I trust you..."

Liam watched as Robert's eyes seemed to gaze off into nothingness. For several long moments, the boy was silent. Liam sat and waited and worried. He had the feeling that this revelation and his reaction to it were going to profoundly affect Robert. He prayed that he wouldn't disappoint the boy, that he wouldn't cause Robert to regret giving his trust.

Liam saw a shudder run through Robert's slender body and his own tensed instinctively. The boy dropped his gaze to his meshed fingers and his hair - worn loose - hung down like a curtain and further shielded his face from view.

In a very soft tone, Robert said, "The first time I remember being hit was when I was about five. Mama said that I had been too loud. I tried to tell her that I was supposed to be going to school and that she had to get me ready... She yelled at me for waking her up from her afternoon nap and slapped me across the face. I don't remember hitting the wall - at least not that time...

"I learned quick never to disturb those naps. I got myself organised for school. I made my own sandwiches. I never had to worry about food, she worked in a grocery store, and we always had stuff for sandwiches or whatever.

"When I was about nine, that's when I was taken into care. The neighbours had always turned a blind eye to her tantrums until then. When she threw the vodka bottle at me - that's when they finally reported her. I had to get our next door neighbour to call me an ambulance - the bottle had missed me but I got caught by the shards of glass as the bottle splintered. That's how I got this..."

Robert lifted the sleeve of his T-shirt and showed Liam the ragged scar that marred his upper left arm. The rage and sorrow in Liam's eyes was like a balm on his memory of the 'bad moment'. That's what he'd called them as a kid. There had been so many...

Drawing his attention back to his story, Robert continued.

"After that, I was placed in foster care with the Markwells. They were this lovely older couple - retired teachers - they'd been fostering kids for years. For two years I was happy. Then, life played another one of its tricks. The Markwells died in a car crash caused by a drunk driver and I was taken back into care.

"I was almost twelve when I was placed with Roger. That was a bad time. I was placed there with another boy called John. He was about a year older than me but he was quieter than me, more withdrawn. Roger used to beat us and call us worthless. I talked back more, got him to use the belt on me rather than John."

Liam interrupted for the first time. "What belt?"

"The belt was his method of choice. A big black leather belt and a huge buckle... I'll never forget that buckle...

"That last night, he almost killed me. John finally snapped and attacked him. I don't really remember what happened, not exactly. I woke up in the hospital and all they would tell me was that Roger was dead, John was under psychiatric care and that as soon as I was out of the hospital I was going to Juvenile Hall while the police investigated what had happened.

Liam took a deep ragged breath and tried to keep his composure. In a tight voice, he asked to see the scars. Wordlessly, Robert pulled his T-shirt up and turned to show Liam his back. He heard the indrawn breath and the footsteps that brought Liam from his seat and closer to him. A gentle hand and soft fingers caressed each and every scar and he heard a soft sigh as Liam murmured, "Oh, Robbie. I am so sorry this happened to you."

Robert bit at his lip. The compassion in that single sentence almost broke his composure. He felt Liam finger the last scar, the knife scar.

"This is where you were stabbed, isn't it?"

"While I was in Juvenile Hall I was approached by the main bully in the place. He'd heard that my foster parent had been killed and that the police were investigating. That gave me a reputation as soon as I entered the place and that made me a target.

"I fought back but his helpers overwhelmed me. In the confusion I was stabbed. The guards got me out before I was killed and I was taken to the hospital - again. This time, I had no intention of getting sent back to either Juvenile Hall or foster care. As soon as the attention of the nurses was dropped, I ran. I've been on the street ever since."

Robert quietly pulled his T-shirt back down and stood waiting for Liam's reaction. The Protector still stood behind him so he couldn't see his face. Couldn't read the emotion in his eyes. What would he do? What would he say?

Liam's hands grasped his shoulders and gently turned Robert to face his gaze. Robert saw compassion, regret, anger and profound sorrow in the older man's eyes. Liam placed his hands on Robert's face and held it as he looked straight at him and said, "I'll never let anyone hurt you ever again. I give you my promise."

Robert gave a sad smile and nodded at Liam. As for Liam, he gave into the emotions that he had been fighting all through Robert's tale of horror. He pulled the teen into a quick, fierce hug. He did this to reassure the boy that he cared and to reassure himself that the boy was now fine. He made a silent promise to himself that this boy's future was going to be protected, as his past damn well should have been. How could anybody do that to a child?

Later that afternoon, Liam and Robert left Dr. Park's office. She had been quietly horrified at the graphic evidence of the boy's past injuries but had - much to Liam's relief - gave him a clean bill of health. She had recommended some vitamin supplements. That had - for some reason - been the source of great amusement to the pair in her office. Both Robert and Liam had dissolved into peals of laughter. She had looked on in astonishment. To her knowledge, it was the first time she had ever seen Liam laugh.

The affection between the pair was obvious. Liam seemed relaxed and Robert seemed to be basking in the acceptance Liam was showing. She had to admit that she had heard the words 'living on the street' and had automatically prejudged the boy.

Liam hadn't.

Sometimes she could almost forget Liam's peculiar heritage. Then, he'd do something like this. In this day and age, Liam was like a breath of fresh air. He prejudged no one, he was prepared to believe the best about people and he was prepared to help if they needed it.

A genuinely decent human being - even if he was one-third alien.

Liam and Robert exited with a wave. She watched them go, smiling. A sudden thought occurred to her and she began to grin.

Sandoval, the Taelons, Renee and the Resistance - they were in for a shock. Liam had said that the arrangement was open-ended but temporary. He'd said that but his stance and his eyes indicated to her that it would take dynamite at least before that pair would ever willingly be separated.

Life was about to get very interesting.

It was a little after two pm before they left Dr. Park and Liam and Robert were walking down a busy street as they headed off to buy a late lunch. Neither had had much of an appetite after their talk that morning so they had skipped lunch and headed straight to her office. Now that the check-up was over they felt more relaxed - and hungry.

Tentatively, Robert had suggested Chinese food, Liam had readily agreed. They were almost at their destination when Liam's global signalled a message. Sighing, he'd motioned for Robert to step into the doorway of the shop. Quietly, Robert stood there and watched as Liam flicked the global open. His friend's eyes betrayed a strange emotion as he recognised his caller - regret - Robert quietly wondered why.

"Yes, Sandoval. What is it?"

Robert blinked. Another name he recognised from the newspapers.

"Major, I realise that you are on leave until tomorrow but I'm afraid I need you to come into the Embassy. Da'an and Zo'or will now both be visiting the UN tomorrow and the security briefing has been moved forward."

Liam grimaced and glanced at Robert apologetically.

"I'm downtown, near to the Central Portal. I'll access that and travel directly to the portal in Da'an's office.

"I'm not alone, Sandoval. I'll be bringing someone with me. I was going to stop by later to talk to you about him and introduce you. I'm going to need your help with some paperwork. Can you notify the security personnel to have a visitor's pass waiting?"

Confused, Sandoval said, "Major, what are you talking about?"

"Look, Sandoval, I really don't want to get into this while standing in the middle of the street.

"You sent a memo out a couple of weeks ago after the kidnapping in Berlin about dependents of Companion Protectors. After what happened to Wolfgang's kids I fully agree with your proposals - I told you that then.

"I have someone that's staying with me and I want his security assured. We both know that as the Protectors with the highest profiles that we are the most likely targets. Look, I'll explain everything when I get there."

"Fine, Major. I'll expect you to report to me as soon as you get here."

"Of course, Sandoval."

Liam sighed as he and Robert hurried along the corridor of the Portal station. The queue of travellers awaiting transport looked less than happy to see them skipping to the front instead of waiting their turn. The Portal authority employee on duty moved to block their way.

Liam held up his ID and said, "Priority override. I need immediate access to the Portal. Step aside; the co-ordintates to the destination Portal are classified.

"Once we have gone through you are free to resume normal operations."

"Yes, sir. I'll need your authorisation code to allow you to access the system."

Liam hit a command on his global and the female employee hit a key on the console at her side.

"Authorisation confirmed, sir."

Liam turned to Robert and said, "Okay, Robert. Step up, and get ready. We'll be there in a minute."

The female employee watched the pair vanish and then she waved forward the next batch of civilian travelers, saying, "The Portal Authority thanks you for your co-operation for that short delay.

"We will now be resuming our normal operating schedule."

One older gentlemen waiting in line said, "Who was that, miss?"

"He is a Companion Protector, sir. They have priority access to every Portal on the planet."


Taelon Embassy, Washington DC

Robert, eyes wide, followed Liam down the corridors of the Embassy. He had never thought that he would ever find himself inside this place. It was amazing!

He followed Liam as he turned into a side office and hesitated at the doorway. Liam gave him a reassuring smile and motioned him forward. He addressed the other man in the office and said, "Sandoval, this is Robert Samuels. He's been placed in my care by the Juvenile authorities. He's going to be staying with me from now on.

"Robert, this is my boss, Agent Ronald Sandoval."

Shyly, Robert shook the agent's hand. "Hello, sir. Liam's mentioned you to me. It's an honour to meet you."

Sandoval murmured a hello but his mind was still trying to wrap itself round the idea that Kincaid was looking after a teenager. This was completely unexpected. He needed to talk to him alone. He pressed a button on his communications console and a Volunteer quickly appeared in the office.

"Volunteer Jenkins, this is Robert, he's a good friend of Major Kincaid's. Would you please give him a tour of the Embassy and bring him back in about an hour. The Major and I have a security briefing to go over and I don't want him to get bored."

Robert's eyes lit up at the thought of a tour. He sent Liam a questioning glance, 'could he go?' Liam smiled and nodded. Grinning, Robert fell into step beside the Volunteer.

As soon as they had left the office, Sandoval turned to Kincaid and said, "All right, Kincaid. I'd like an explanation, please. Start at the beginning and don't leave anything out..."

Sandoval stood and stared out of the virtual glass window of his office. Kincaid's voice trailed off as he finished his explanation for the presence of the boy. He honestly didn't know what to think; Kincaid had never struck him as the 'big brother / foster parent' type. It just seemed to be such a departure from the man's normal behaviour. On the other hand, even on such a short acquaintance as the earlier meeting in his office, the boy Robert seemed to genuinely feel at ease in the company of the Major.

This was unexpected but it wasn't unmanageable. The Taelons were probably going to be a bit perturbed about this seemingly precipitous behaviour but first things first, security.

"All right, Major, we do indeed have some work to do with regards to paperwork. In future, I'd appreciate slightly more warning when you decide to take in a houseguest. Clear?"

Kincaid had the good grace to flush slightly in embarrassment. Sandoval sat at his desk and pulled up some files. Quietly, he said, "All right, first things first. Personal security.

"I'll have Robert added to the authorised list of 'dependents' that can access the Embassy's emergency communications channels. He'll be added to all relevant medical and insurance records. In case of emergency he'll be taken to the nearest secure Companion facilities.

"He'll need to undergo a medical evaluation-

Kincaid interrupted. "Already done, Sandoval. We went to see Dr. Park earlier today, she's given Robert a clean bill of health."

Sandoval smiled. Kincaid seemed to be taking his responsibilities seriously. Good. The smile wiped off his face as he addressed the next subject to be dealt with. School.

"All right, then. That brings us to Robert's schooling."

Kincaid frowned, his thoughts clearly echoing what Sandoval had been thinking. Anti-Taelon fanatics had taken Wolfgang Meyer's kids from their school under the guise of a security alert for families of Companion Personnel. They were returned forty-eight hours later practically hysterical.

Anna and Gretchen were identical twins, six years old. Blonde hair, blue eyes and dimples. They had accompanied their father to the Washington Embassy a few months ago as a special treat for being good. They had charmed the entire staff and the Taelons too. Zo'or had been seen smiling at the pair and that had definitely been a shock.

Those poor girls had been returned; heads shaved with anti-Taelon garbage inked on their scalps. A message attached to them said that the children of traitors were fair and legitimate targets. Those that collaborated with humanity's enemies would pay the price.

"There's a high school not far from the Embassy, Major. The majority of the children of the Embassy staff go there. I'll contact the Principal and arrange for Robert to attend an entrance exam on Friday, if that is satisfactory?"

Kincaid nodded. That would give him time to explain some things to Robert. Sandoval was really going out of his way to make this situation work as smoothly as possible, sometimes, his father surprised him.

"Thank you, Sandoval, for everything. I realise that this has come as something of a shock.

"There is one more thing and I do realise that this is an imposition. I do know that I'll have to arrange a list of friends that can act as authorised contacts for the school if - for any reason - I am unavailable. Can I add your name to that list?"

Sandoval hesitated for a moment but eventually he nodded his agreement. That settled; Kincaid turned his attention to reading the updated security briefing for tomorrow's appearance by both Da'an and Zo'or.

Sandoval's thoughts were far from focused. He should have been concentrating on the security details for the next day. Instead, his thoughts were concentrated on Kincaid. The other man didn't agree with him on practically every issue they discussed and yet, he had immediately come to him for help in this matter. Not only that, he wanted him to be an authorised emergency contact for the boy.

Why would Kincaid feel secure in trusting him with his new 'family'?

later that night

Robert had been completely enthralled with the Embassy and had gone on and on about his tour in great detail. Liam had listened with a fond smile on his face. This was better, Robert was sounding like a typical excited teenager, not one that had been abused and was a veteran of living on the streets.

A thought echoed in the back of his mind but he put that aside for a later date. True the boy was enthusiastic about the Embassy visit; he still didn't know his true feelings about the Taelons. Certain secrets were going to have to be kept until he was sure how the boy would react.

A knocking at his door interrupted his musings. Robert jumped up to answer it and yanked it open before he had the chance to say anything.

Robert stared into the astonished eyes of an incredibly beautiful blonde woman. Silently, he thought, 'Whoops! Maybe I should have let Liam answer the door.'

From behind him, he heard Liam call out, "Renee, come in. I wasn't expecting you."

Still having said nothing, the woman stalked into the apartment. Before she had the opportunity to say anything, Liam spoke again.

"Robert, I'd like you to meet one of my friends. This is Renee Palmer."

Liam turned his gaze to the woman and said firmly, "Renee, this is Robert Samuels. He's going to be staying with me. Juvenile authorities have granted me status as his guardian."

"What?!" exclaimed Renee.

"Since when do you look after children?!"

In a tone that warned against any further outbursts, Liam said, "Since now."

The tone of Liam's voice warned Renee not to push him on the subject. At least not yet thought Renee determinedly. Something distracted her just then anyway, Liam turned to place the mug he had been holding on to the counter and she caught a flash of something white just visible under the sleeve of his T-Shirt - it looked like a bandage!

"Liam! What happened to you?" she exclaimed.

Liam gave a grimace. What was it with the women in his life? Any time he got a scratch on him they seemed to blow it out of all proportion! "It's nothing, Renee. Just a little scratch."

Robert gave Liam an incredulous look. Well, if he wasn't going to tell Ms. Palmer the truth, he would.

"It wasn't nothing to me, Liam," said Robert with a reproachful look at the older man. Ignoring the apologetic look on the older man's face, Robert turned to address Renee Palmer directly for the first time.

"Liam saved my life Ms. Palmer. I was in the path of a drive-by yesterday; he pushed me out of the way of the gunfire and shielded me with his own body. It was the bravest thing I've ever seen."

Renee didn't know quite what to say to that. It came as no surprise really, Liam always rushed headlong into danger to protect innocents; his own safety was always the last thing on his mind.

Robert turned to Liam. "Thank you for today and I do mean everything. I will remember what you said always. I think though, that you and your friend have some things that you want to talk about.

"If its okay with you, I'll go to my room and try out that new computer system you bought me. If I'm taking the entrance exams for school on Friday I really do need to get some work done."

Some of that conversation went right over Renee's head but she realised that there was a lot more going on here than was easily apparent. She watched as Liam and the boy interacted - the bond between them was almost tangible - and that was apparently after knowing each other for only two days.

Once Robert had made his discreet retreat Liam had found himself facing some very intent scrutiny from Renee Palmer. She seemed to be as amazed about this turn of events as Sandoval had been. Liam sighed, he got the feeling that she wouldn't be the last person to feel this way.

Renee absently took off her jacket and made her way over to her usual chair. She sat directly opposite Liam's position and said one word, "Talk."

For the second time that day, Liam told the story of how he had made the acquaintanceship of the teenage boy in the other room. This time though, he went into greater detail. Though he was careful not to betray Robert's confidences he did intimate to Renee that the boy had been physically abused in past foster care.

"I promised him I'd take care of him and that nobody would be allowed to hurt him again. Nobody has the right to hurt a child; not ever."

Liam's vehement tone actually reassured Renee. This wasn't some moment of madness; he meant what he said.

In a strange way, she actually envied Robert. Her role models as a teenager had been few and far between. It had taken a newspaper article about an upcoming business mogul called Jonathan Doors that she had read at college to motivate her to do something with her life. Robert could not wish for a better role model. Liam Kincaid exhibited all the best qualities of humanity and few of its worst.

"Can I help?" asked Renee. It was something she didn't even hesitate to ask. A vivid memory of a blonde haired little girl flashed before her eyes. This time, things would be different. No harm would come to this child, accidental or pre-meditated.

Hesitantly, Liam asked, "Are you sure you want to do this, Renee?"

At her nod, Liam grinned happily. "Great! I've already arranged some stuff about his security with Sandoval and we've got to get his school organised this week too.

"Sandoval has agreed to be an emergency contact if I am unavailable. I plan to ask Melissa and Julianne. Would you like to be one too?"

Sincerely, Renee said, "I'd be delighted, Liam."

Quietly, she asked, "What about...?" and made a vague gesture with her hands but Liam understood what she wasn't saying.

He murmured, "I haven't said anything yet. I haven't had a chance to find out his real feelings about that. One way or the other, I'll deal with it."

"Be careful, Liam."

"I will, Renee. Oh, one more thing..."

Renee glanced at him inquiringly.

"I have to work tomorrow afternoon. Da'an and Zo'or are both now attending the conference. Can you watch Robert tomorrow? I don't want to leave him alone so soon."

Renee laughed. "Sure, Liam, I'd love to get to know him better anyway."

Grinning cheekily, she said, "Do the Volunteers know yet that babysitting is going to be added to their roster of duties?"

Liam mock-glared at her and Renee let out a peal of laughter.

About an hour later, Robert peeked his head out from his room. Renee waved him over and hesitantly he went to sit beside her. She gave him a friendly grin and turned to Liam and gave him one of her patented 'looks' and said, "Pizza, Kincaid. Now!"

Robert chuckled at the expression on Liam's face as he turned to place the call muttering under his breath about 'over-bearing CEOs and their pizza addictions'. The atmosphere in the apartment was fun and light-hearted. Robert relaxed. She liked him.

The next afternoon

Renee stared at her computer console and swore softly. Robert looked up from the datapad that he was studying. "Something wrong, Renee?"

"Oh it's nothing serious, Robert. Just annoying."


Glaring at the screen in front of her, Renee sighed.

"The new software installed on the system last week isn't working properly and this stupid file won't save. I swear I'm going to go down to the R&D department and fry some geek- I mean geniu- no, I don't - I damn well do mean geeks.

"We are the biggest software company in the world, everyone uses our software and even our own internal systems don't work properly! I thought I'd cured the programmers of thinking that they can fix glitches in upgrades."

Tentatively, Robert said, "Can I look or is the information confidential?"

"It's this quarter's financial overview; the data is already known, it's just my report for the board. I don't see what you think that you can do but look if you want to."

Robert slipped round the desk to stand beside Renee and scanned down the length of the entire report. He turned to the very irritated CEO and said, "Okay. You can crash your system and get your technical guys to fix the problem.

"I have the report."

Confused, Renee said, "What do you mean you have the report?"

Robert tapped at his forehead. "Up here. Don't worry. Just point me at another computer and I'll have it re-written in about an hour."

"You've got a photographic memory?" asked a stunned Renee.

Robert just shrugged, his stance unconsciously imitating Liam when he was reluctant about admitting something unbelievable that he had just done.

Renee motioned for Robert to follow her; he did so, absently snatching up the datapad that he had been working on all that afternoon. She took him to another office nearby and he happily sat and began to type. He soon became oblivious to the outside world and Renee grinned. Augur looked like he had some competition in the compulsive work habits stakes.

Quietly - not wishing to disturb the boy - Renee glanced at the datapad that the boy had been engrossed in all afternoon. It was one Liam had bought for him with revision data for the entrance exam that he had to sit for high school on Friday.

Renee's eyes widened as she took in what she was seeing. The datapad was a standard one containing sample tests and questions on the current high school curriculum. Robert had been typing away all afternoon and she had assumed he was just messing about, as teenage boys were known to do. Apparently not - according to the figures on the pad, Robert had answered and aced every question he had attempted.

This kid was extremely gifted. Liam, thought Renee, do you have any idea what you're getting in to with this kid?

Liam arrived at five pm to pick up Robert as scheduled. Renee wasn't in her office and her assistant directed him down the corridor to another office. Inside, he spotted Robert typing intently at his datapad and Renee standing looking out of the window.

Since Robert was busy, he walked towards Renee. He placed a friendly hand on her shoulder and whispered, "Thanks, Renee" in her ear. She jumped, startled. Was it that time already? Where had the afternoon gone?

Quietly she motioned for Liam to follow her into the corridor. Confused, Liam complied. Outside, he said, "There's nothing wrong is there? I can't believe that you had any problems."

"No, no problems," said Renee quietly. "Liam, I found out something this afternoon. Something that came as a bit of a surprise. Do you have any idea how remarkable Robert is? How intelligent?"

Liam shook his head, no.

Renee quickly explained the events of the afternoon and Liam's eyes widened. Okay, he hadn't expected that. He could help Robert; he too had a photographic memory. His peculiar heritage had more or less made that a certainty. It could be a bit overwhelming at times but it was more a gift than a burden - at least he thought so.

Liam smiled reassuringly at Renee. "I'll talk to him about it when we get home. Don't worry."

That night, after dinner, Liam did just that. Robert was a bit shy about talking at first until Liam admitted that he too had that particular 'gift'.

In fact, he was better off than Liam. Like Liam, he could remember anything he'd ever read but unlike Liam, he didn't have perfect recall for conversations. Imagine - just by concentrating - being able to remember entire conversations from days, weeks, even months previously. It would be living inside a whirlwind.

Liam made a game out of it and for once in his life; Robert found having a photographic memory could be fun. Liam tossed out questions and phrases at frequent intervals and the quicker Robert answered the more points he got. The prize was lunch tomorrow at the place of his choosing.

By the time he was due to turn in for the night, Robert had easily surpassed the points total; Liam had graced him with a proud smile that made him grin happily too. Hand on heart and eyes crossed, Liam promised that lunch tomorrow would be extra special.

Before a laughing Robert disappeared into his room, Liam said, "You do realise that you're going to skip some grades? Are you going to be OK with that? If not, I'll try to arrange tutors or something."

"Nah, Liam. It's all right. Being who I am and with my past I was bound to stand out as different anyway. I'll manage. I promise I'll tell you if I encounter any trouble."

"You better, kiddo! You're my responsibility and I want you to be happy."

The next couple of days passed quickly. Robert took his exams and skipped straight into his junior year. At first, he stood out. There were rumors about his past but nobody questioned him directly.

The other kids were a bit wary of him because of his intelligence; some found the photographic memory thing a bit freaky. However, Robert was kind, funny and had a wickedly zany sense of humour - all of which endeared him to a great many of his fellow classmates.

The icing on the cake though, was the fact that his guardian was Major Kincaid. A Companion Protector for a guardian was definitely far cooler than a dentist or an insurance broker.

For two weeks everything went smoothly and then, on a wet and miserable Thursday morning all hell broke loose...

Taelon Embassy, Washington DC

Liam Kincaid looked up from his desk as he heard hurried footsteps approaching. He frowned. Sandoval never moved that fast. His father looked unusually frazzled. A sudden feeling of foreboding settled over him and he felt his throat tighten. He was actually surprised to hear his voice sound so normal as he asked, "What is it, Sandoval?"

In a surprisingly gentle tone, Sandoval said, "Major... Liam... There's been an incident at Robert's school..." Sandoval's words trailed off at the look of absolute terror in the Major's eyes. He'd never seen the other man so such fear before - not even during the myriad life threatening situations he had faced since beginning to work for the Taelons.

"Is he all right?" asked Kincaid in a whisper.

Sandoval sighed, wishing he had better news. "I honestly don't know, Liam. The reports are garbled but from the initial briefing I was given there was a full-scale assault on the school. Upwards of twenty armed individuals stormed the buildings and their targets were 'our' kids. Only kids of families associated with Companion security forces were targeted. Five kids were taken in all, Robert included. He's gone, that's all we know for now with any certainty.

Sandoval watched as the Major's eyes seemed to freeze. The emotion there was almost a physical presence and it promised retribution. Kincaid rose swiftly from his seat and grabbed his jacket. "He's - they're gone - and we are damn well going to get them back. I presume that we are assuming jurisdiction?"

Sandoval gave a grim smile. "Yes, Major. I've already had words with the police investigators. They will be giving us their full co-operation.

"I have a team from Quantico on the way and there are two Volunteer squads already at the school. Shall we go?"

The two fell in to step as they walked through the Embassy and staff that they encountered quickly stepped aside. Word had quickly spread throughout the great building about the attack. Many of the personnel were waiting fearfully for news and the others were quietly supporting their friends.

The tension was palpable and there was a kind of expectance hanging in the air as the two Protectors stalked past. Kincaid and Sandoval were a very efficient team when they worked together - the Bliss epidemic being one example of what was possible when they combined their talents. They'd get the kids back and they'd get who was responsible. Whatever it took, the Embassy personnel had faith that they would get the job done.

Once they'd passed out of earshot one of the Volunteers passed on the latest news and that word whirled its way down the corridors with amazing speed. Only one of the kidnapped kid's names had so far been released to the Volunteers, Robert Samuels - Robbie - the boy the Major was looking after.

The expression that had been present in the eyes of Kincaid and Sandoval was now better understood. This was personal. God help those responsible.

They arrived to the sight of a media feeding frenzy. Word had quickly spread about the shocking attack by a 'terrorist' group on a city school. When it had become apparent that the targets were dependents of Companion personnel the story gained even more significance. Of late there had been a growing movement of people opposed to the Companions and their policies, those that worked for them were no longer considered to be 'the lucky ones'. Here was a major public atrocity perpetrated against children - for no other reason than whom their parents worked for. Would this act be condoned or condemned by those that were advocating dissolving ties with the Companions?

The camera crews were held back behind hastily erected cordons manned by Volunteers. The set expressions on the faces of the Volunteers were noted and the media personnel didn't push their luck. A car was flagged through the cordons and directly to the main gates of the school. Eyes and cameras watched from the distance - who was it?

Agent Sandoval and Major Kincaid? Both of the American Protectors?! Why?

Inside the school, the sight was one of chaos. Marks scored the walls - energy blasts. There were books, bags and desks scattered all over the rooms. Children and teachers had been herded to the main auditorium and roll call was taken.

The staff was waiting in their common room to be questioned by the pair. Robert's teacher, Mr. Phillips, was a former Marine who now taught American History. Regret and worry in his eyes, he stood at parade rest as he addressed the two Protectors. He related everything he had seen; including the sight of fourteen year old Robert - the calmest of the five kids taken - stepping forward resolutely as his name was called and placing a reassuring arm around the shoulders of Helen Edwards, the freshman girl who was one of the youngest of the group taken.

Sandoval had watched as Kincaid's stance stiffened slightly as Mr. Phillips gave his account on what had happened. They had been just about to leave when another voice had called out, "Wait!"

Another teacher ran forward to the Major carrying something in her arms. Shyly, she handed it to him and said, "Robert will want this when you find him, sir. We miss them. Find them soon, please."

Sandoval watched Kincaid's hand tremble slightly as he held the black leather jacket the woman had given him. It was Robert's favourite; the first thing he had picked out with his own 'allowance'. It was exactly like Liam's.

Quietly, Sandoval said, "Let's go, Liam. We have work to do."

The next step was a press conference outside the school. The identities of the children were revealed - there was no point in keeping them confidential. They had been singled out by name - their captors knew who they were.

The revelation that the Major was the legal guardian for one of the children caused a minor furor and the reporters inundated him with questions. The silent gaze he sent in their direction quickly silenced them though; their sense of self-preservation wasn't completely gone.

In the car as they headed back to the Embassy, Sandoval said what they were both thinking.

"They have inside help; they have to. It's a closely guarded secret which school the kids are sent to. These people knew where to go and which children to take."

In a monotone, Liam said, "You start the investigation into that. I have some calls I need to make."

He signalled their driver to stop the car. Before he shut the door, Liam leaned down and addressed Sandoval. "I'll be back in two hours... and Sandoval, thanks. I'm glad you were the one to tell me."

Thirty minutes later, a fuming Liam Kincaid addressed Augur and Renee. They had been waiting on him since the news broke.

"I want to know who these people are. If they're Resistance I want to know why I was never told about them. They are unsanctioned and taking unilateral action against children. I will not allow this!

"If they're not Resistance then I want to know who the are and who they claim to be working for. Use all available personnel. I don't care if they gripe about this. This organization will not condone anybody targeting children - I don't care who their parents work for!"

Quietly, Augur said, "I'm already trawling for data, Liam. We'll find them."

Renee - for once - acted like the friend she was. She walked up to Liam, put her arms around him and hugged him close. She rubbed soothing hands up and down his back as he whispered, "I promised I wouldn't let anyone else hurt him ever again.

"Now he's been targeted because of me!"

Gently, Renee said, "Liam, stop. This is not your fault. He knows that. Robert trusts you. Robert loves you. He won't give up. He knows you'll move mountains to get him back.

"Don't you lose faith either, Kincaid. Focus. You've got work to do. The sooner you get started the sooner you get him back."

Liam sighed wearily and stretched as he stepped away from the console. Augur didn't even glance up from the data he was scrolling through as he searched for leads. Renee, on the other hand, looked on worriedly. Much as she had tried to reassure Liam she hadn't been completely successful. His eyes still betrayed worry and fear, they would - she knew - until the children had been rescued.

"I've got to go," said Liam. "I told Sandoval that I'd be back in two hours. Call me as soon as you find anything... and guys, thanks."

Before he left, Liam went over to Renee and placed a quick kiss on her cheek. Quietly, he murmured, "Thank you. You're a good friend."

She reached up and placed a gentle hand on his cheek. Looking directly into his eyes, she said, "Remember what I said. He knows that you'll come for him."

Back at the Embassy, things were happening rapidly. Liam stood at the doorway of the huge office being used as a command centre by Sandoval and, emotionally wrung out as he was, he had to fight a grin.

His father sat in the centre of a hive of activity. Occasionally he would look up from his computer console and send out a command that sent various Volunteers scurrying off to do his bidding. Under any other circumstances this might be funny. As it was, Liam was secretly relieved that his father was coordinating Companion efforts; there was nobody better, nobody he would trust more.

Liam walked into the room and the noise level dipped for a moment, as he became the focus of attention; quickly enough though, it resumed its normal levels. Liam dropped into the vacant seat opposite his father, wordlessly, Sandoval slid over a datapad detailing the information obtained to date. Liam raised an eyebrow in surprise. Sandoval had been busy indeed.

"Berlin? This has to be the same group that took the twins..." Liam's voice trailed off in horror. He had seen with his own eyes what these people did to children.

Sandoval's worried gaze met that of Kincaid's - they had to get these children back fast. In the past two hours he had received a great deal of information from the Volunteer and FBI teams investigating the scene.

One student had heard one of the gunman speaking German, another was adamant that the leader had been addressed as Gunther. It hadn't been much but it had been a start. All avenues of travel were backtracked and a glitch was found in one of the smaller portals in the suburbs. A twenty-minute segment of security records had been wiped. More than long enough for the group to get through into Washington. Their avenue of egress from the city still had to be found, though.

Just then, the Major's global let out a strident beep. He jumped, startled. Fatigue was setting in for them all. Excusing himself, he retreated to a place of relative privacy and flicked open the global. Augur... smiling... he'd found something...

"Hey Liam, it's not much but it's a start. Two days ago the private portal for the CEO of Blackwing Technologies was stolen. There was no official report of the theft made. The company has a huge complex just outside Berlin - that is where those twin girls that were taken from, isn't it?"

"Thanks, Augur. That is a place for us to start. Keep at it."

Augur gave Liam a reassuring grin. "You know I will, Liam. I'll call as soon as I have something else."

Liam shut the global with a loud click and called out, "Sandoval, we have a lead on how they planned to get away from the city..."

Sandoval immediately focussed his full attention on the Major - as did everyone else in the room - as he explained the nature of the unreported theft from Blackwing Technologies. Within in minutes, the Protectors and a team of Volunteers were on their way to the headquarters of the computer software company.

Roderick Grant felt his back slam into the wall of his office and he shivered in fear. He wasn't sure which was unnerving him more. The burning eyes of Major Liam Kincaid as he stood and glared into the eyes of the man that he was holding against the wall or, Agent Sandoval as he sat perched on the end of his desk, a small smile on his face and murder in his eyes.

Volunteers were stripping every form of electronic equipment from his office to be taken away for analysis and Grant had the horrified feeling that he wouldn't be too far behind. The stock options in his rival company weren't worth it. That was why, when the Major hissed, "Where did they take the kids?" He told them.

The next day

The assault on the anonymous Berlin building that was serving as a base for the terrorists was executed flawlessly. Kincaid, Sandoval and a hand-picked squad of Volunteers swept through the building and chaos followed with them.

They took no chances; they used lethal force if necessary. Prisoners for questioning was a secondary goal in this case, the safety of the children was their prime concern. Anything and anyone that stood in their way was brought down hard.

Eventually, they reached their goal. The last two guards were captured alive and the children were taken out of the cages that they had been locked in. In the twenty-four hours that they had been captive they had been treated harshly. The two boys had bruising on their faces and broken arms and the girls, the girls had suffered the same fate as the Meyer twins... heads shaved, anti-Taelon filth inked onto their scalps.

One thing became quickly apparent. Robert wasn't with them. Helen, the girl Robert had comforted as they were taken from the safety of their school, murmured from the safe cocoon of Sandoval's arms, "They took him away almost immediately. The head guy, Gunther, said that he was the prize catch..."

Sandoval closed his eyes and muttered a silent prayer. Why did it have to be Robbie? The boy had endured enough in his life without this. Glancing over at Kincaid who was looking after the other girl, he saw the terror in the other man's eyes, and the smoldering anger.

Kincaid was ready to erupt; the people who had taken Robert had unleashed more than they knew. A reckoning was coming...

Liam levered himself up from the wall he was leaning against as he saw Sandoval walking down the corridor towards him. His father was frowning and Liam felt his heart tighten in his chest.

He said, "Anything yet?" Even to his own ears his voice sounded strained and tired. Sandoval looked at him, concern in his eyes and shook his head. Liam sighed and slid down the wall and sat with his forehead on his knees, Sandoval crouched down in front of his fellow Protector wishing that he had better news to give. Kincaid was dying by inches in front of him and there was not a damn thing he was able to do to stop it.

He placed a gentle hand on Liam's wrist and said, "Go home, Liam. You need to rest. The minute that we get any word I'll call you; I promise.

"The FBI are not going to let you near the prisoners, you're too emotionally involved. I'm watching everything and I'm not going anywhere until they provide us with the information we need."

Kincaid raised his hands to rub his eyes and murmured, "He's only fourteen..."

Sandoval closed his eyes for a moment as he whispered, "I know, Liam. I know." He cared about Robert too, far more than he had expected to when he had agreed to be on the boy's list of emergency contacts. Robert had brightened the lives of the entire Embassy staff in the few short weeks that he had been living under Kincaid's care.

As for Kincaid, he had been a revelation. Although Sandoval had always known that the Major was very good at his job and dedicated to the principle of helping those who needed it, he had found him to be a bit brash at times. Robert had proved that there was more to Kincaid than met the eye. He treated the boy with patience and infinite understanding; he didn't prejudge and he gave unconditional acceptance and support. Yes, Robert had blossomed during this relationship; so had Kincaid.

In the past two weeks it had come as something of a shock for Sandoval to realise that he was growing to like and respect Liam Kincaid more and more as each day passed. He'd be proud to call him friend.

Sandoval looked round for one of the Volunteers assigned to keep an eye on Liam; they were there to stop him doing something stupid and to keep the media away from the Major. He didn't see any of them but then he heard footsteps approaching from his left. He looked round to see Renee Palmer waking towards them. Why was she here? Sandoval spotted her concerned gaze as she looked at Liam. Why else?

She addressed Sandoval - her usual brusque attitude noticeable by its absence - and said, "I'll take him home now. You know how to reach me. Call when there's any word and I'll bring him in."

She turned to Liam and dropped to a crouch in front of him. Placing a firm hand on his shoulder she murmured, "Come on, Liam. It's time to go. Robbie needs you to be strong for him..."

Liam raised his gaze, tortured eyes betraying his worry but he nodded and got to his feet. Ms. Palmer surprised Sandoval by holding out her hand; Kincaid surprised him even more when he took it and held on to it like a lifeline. He couldn't read the expression in Ms. Palmer's eyes but he nodded a farewell as she walked quietly down the corridor of the FBI building, Liam at her side.

Sandoval took a deep breath and focused. He walked back into the interrogation room, ignored the startled protests of the agents conducting the interrogation and completely dismissed the attorney present that had been assigned as counsel for the prisoners.

He pulled over an empty seat and sat facing the two pieces of scum that had survived the Berlin rescue. He put his palms flat and didn't say anything; he let the glowing skrill on his wrist and the visions of tightly leashed rage in his eyes do his talking for him.

The two prisoners fidgeted nervously. Sandoval allowed a grim half smile to appear on his face and elicited a flinch from them in the process. It was a start but it was going to be a long night...

Renee's apartment

Liam had not said a lot since they had arrived. In fact, since the other four children had been recovered safely he had not said a lot, period.

She had accomplished a minor miracle in getting him to eat a little dinner but had been unsuccessful in persuading him to go to the guest bedroom and get some sleep. In the end, she had managed to manoeuvre him to the large leather couch in her living room. Moving silently, she had placed a micro disc in the music system and the soft sounds of a Celtic ballad filled the apartment.

She watched quietly as Liam fought a losing battle against his exhaustion and the music; his eyes fluttered shut and he curled up on the couch. Renee gave him a few moments to fall deeper into his much needed sleep before gently pulling the throw from the back of the couch and covering his sleeping form.

Without thinking, she smoothed a hand through his hair and placed a gentle kiss on his forehead. Retreating to her favourite armchair, she curled up, book in hand and switched on a small table lamp. No sleep for her tonight, tonight, she'd watch over her friend.

The next morning, Liam had woken to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Disoriented at first, he quickly remembered where he was and why. He got to his feet and made his way to the bathroom to freshen up. Feeling slightly more human when he emerged, he wandered into the kitchen to greet Renee.

She smiled quietly at his mumbled thank you and pointed silently to the place already laid out for him, fresh orange juice waiting. Meekly, he obeyed.

They were just finishing up when Renee's global beeped. Liam fell silent as she opened it. A tired looking Sandoval said, "How is he?"

Liam got up and wandered round into the field of view. "Much better thanks to the care of a good friend. Any word?"

Sandoval gave a nod. "We have a possible location. I need you back at the Embassy immediately."

Liam stiffened and said, "I'm on my way."

Renee stood to walk him out and he pulled her into a fierce hug. "I meant what I said to Sandoval; thank you for last night."

Renee said quietly, "It's what friends do, Liam. Go. Be careful. Bring him home."

Liam nodded and quickly left the apartment. There was a Volunteer waiting outside Renee's building with a car to take him to the Embassy. They were getting closer...

Liam strode down the corridor of the Embassy with such intent focus that he didn't notice the concerned glances being sent his way by his Volunteer escort. True enough - he looked much better than he had the day before, after finding out that Robert had been separated from the other children.

In fact, in the past few weeks, the Volunteers had begun to notice a slow but perceptible shift in the relationships in and around the two American Protectors. Major Kincaid taking in the boy Robert had been the catalyst for the change. He and Agent Sandoval were becoming friends; everybody could see it. Renee Palmer was the other main surprise. Major Kincaid had had no hesitation in seeking out her help with Robert and since this entire situation began she had been a source of strength and support for him. One thing that the entire Embassy staff agreed on was that these changes were for the better.

Liam's escort assumed position against the far wall of Sandoval's office and tried to look inconspicuous. Sandoval barely spared them a glance, all his attention was focused on his fellow Protector - assessing. He looked pleased at what he saw.

"Where are they?" demanded the Major.

"If the information is accurate, a warehouse in New York. I've got the mothership running scans now. As soon as we confirm their presence we'll be moving.

"Why don't you go get ready while I await confirmation?"

Liam nodded his head to Sandoval and headed off to gear up for action.

Ten minutes later, Agent Sandoval, Major Kincaid and a squad of Volunteers stalked towards the roof access of the Embassy and the Major's shuttle, watched with avid curiosity by the Embassy staff. It was time...

On the short flight to New York you could have cut the atmosphere in the shuttle with a knife. Nobody said a word though the Volunteers did send a few covert glances at the Protectors. Eye contact between them confirmed what they were all thinking - if they were the bad guys they'd start running now and never, ever stop.

Once the shuttle was on the ground the squad met up with a detachment of FBI personnel from the New York field office and an entire tactical squad of the NYPD. The 'until then' FBI Special Agent in Charge looked most put out when the Protectors assumed command. Under his breath he muttered something about 'damn Taelon lackeys being too emotionally involved'. Sandoval levelled his patented glare on the recalcitrant agent - unsurprisingly as far as the Volunteers were concerned - the agent quickly shut up.

Quickly, efficiently, the teams moved into place, poised and ready. Over the secure channel, Sandoval gave the word they were waiting for. He said, "Go now!"

The teams swept into the building and were met with a surprised but dogged resistance by the terrorists. It quickly became apparent that surrender was not something that they would consider. Numbers were against them but they fought on giving the teams no option but to kill them.

Sandoval and Kincaid swore under their breaths; they knew they needed at least one prisoner alive. Reports were coming in from throughout the vast warehouse that there was no sign of the boy. Where had the terrorists stashed him?!

Finally, a standoff developed between the Volunteers and the last surviving member of the terrorist band; the leader, Gunther. He looked around at his captors and spotted the Protectors approaching. He caught sight of Major Kincaid's pale face and the lines of worry around his eyes and he grinned evilly.

The Major stepped forward only to be quickly yanked back by an infuriated Agent Sandoval. A quiet but vehement exchange took place between them. Agent Sandoval seemed to be violently opposed to whatever his colleague was suggesting but he eventually seemed to acquiesce. The Volunteers watched in absolute disbelief as the Major took out his weapon and calmly handed it to Sandoval.

There was absolute silence in the warehouse as the Major walked into the middle of the 'no man's land' between the Volunteers and Gunther. Unarmed.

"Well, well Major," drawled Gunther. "You appear to be a little anxious. Have you misplaced something?"

"It's over... you know it's over. Robert's done nothing to you. Let him go."

Gunther's eyes laughed and in a manic voice he said, "No, I don't think I want to do that. I think I'll let you wonder about where he is!" Before anyone could stop him, Gunther raised his gun to his temple and took his own life.

"NO!" screamed Liam in frustration.

There was a stunned silence in the warehouse as the teams realised that they had lost the last living link to the location of Robert Samuels...

For a long moment nobody seemed to move, it was almost as though time inside the warehouse had simply stopped.

Major Kincaid stood staring at the grisly sight in front of him, disbelief in his eyes. The Volunteers, police and FBI agents eyed him uneasily. After his initial outburst of rage and anger he had become almost unnaturally calm. It was unsettling.

Sandoval drove aside his own feelings of anger and frustration - he had to - Liam was in no fit state to be giving orders right now. He had to get him out of here...

In the silence of the warehouse his voice seemed unnaturally loud as he said, "All right. I want the NYPD to secure the perimeter of the warehouse. Nobody gets in unless they give an authorisation code from me. Absolutely no media personnel are to be admitted. Anybody that deviates from these orders can expect to face the severest disciplinary action.

"FBI and Volunteers: I want teams sweeping this warehouse from top to bottom and then doing it again. Within twelve hours I want to know everything about our dead friends and each and every piece of equipment that they had stashed in here.

"I want the life history on every person in here and if necessary that includes the rats. I want answers, people. Somewhere, somehow, they've left a clue to the location of the boy. Find it!"

At that last command, Sandoval's voice cracked with the force of a whip and the teams jumped to do his bidding. Satisfied that all that could be done was being done; Sandoval turned to the most important matter at hand, Kincaid.

Quietly, he walked up to his fellow Protector and placed a hand on his arm; as he did so, he could feel a tremor run through the other man's body. Reaction was setting in.

"Come on, Liam. We need to get out of here and let them get to work. You can't stay, you're too emotionally involved to do an impartial investigation; so am I, for that matter.

"When they have something, they'll call us."

Wordlessly, Liam nodded. The teams bore silent witness to the sad sight of the two Protectors walking through the warehouse and towards the exit. Backs stiffened, resolve doubled, they went to work. They'd find the boy - no matter what it took.

Two hours later

Sandoval sighed and dropped his head into his hands. He and Liam had checked into a hotel in the heart of Manhattan, close to a Taelon facility with a secure Portal. He was exhausted.

It had been a losing battle trying to persuade Kincaid to eat but by dint of sheer dogged persistence, he had finally persuaded him to go into his room and get some sleep.

His musings were interrupted by a cry from Kincaid's room. Quickly, Sandoval jumped to his feet and made his way over to the closed door. For a moment he hesitated, unsure if Kincaid would want to be disturbed, then he heard another muffled cry; he opened the door and slipped inside.

Kincaid lay on top of the bed, shoes and jacket dumped carelessly in a heap on the floor. His eyes were screwed tightly shut; he was obviously lost in the thrall of a bad dream. Sandoval heard one word and shut his eyes in despair as he heard the anguished cry of "Robbie!"

Sandoval walked towards the bed and sat on its side. Tentative, unsure if he was doing the right thing, he placed a gentle hand on Kincaid's shoulder and murmured, "It'll be all right, Liam. We'll find Robbie. I promise."

Kincaid seemed to ease at the contact but he didn't wake up. His quiet voice - in its dream-like tone - murmured something that made no sense. "Father, do you think Robbie's OK?"

Father?! Kincaid was obviously even more stressed than he was letting on. The younger man grew agitated at the lack of response, so Sandoval sighed and said, "Yes, Liam. I'm sure he's OK."

Kincaid rolled onto his side and flung one arm over Sandoval's knee. The agent fought a grin - if Liam were conscious he would be dying of embarrassment. Again, Kincaid said, "Stay with me, Father. Bad dreams..."

Eyes worried, Sandoval gently clasped the Major's hand to ease it back on to the bedspread. As their palms met, a shudder ran up Sandoval's arm and through his entire body. Images exploded in his mind and he gasped. Staggering to his feet, he made his way over to the nearby chair and collapsed, hands massaging his temples.

There were too many images to sift through just then but he knew his CVI would be cataloging them for later perusal anyway. Certain images did stand out though...

The cave... Siobhan... the perspective was wrong. No - wait - he was seeing this from Liam's viewpoint. Beckett was saying something... We didn't have our time together here on Earth but you were brought to me when I needed you the most. If you ever lose your way, my son, look to the heavens... and I'll be shining a star for you...

Angry voices... Looked like the Flat Planet Café... Liam, Palmer and his hacker friend, Augur...

He's my father!

He's a surrogate! There has to be more to it than that...

Sandoval represents everything wrong that the Taelons have done to humanity! But for me to let him die would be just as bad! I can't do that... I won't do that.


The scene shifted again to Bethesda... Liam's viewpoint again - looking through the window into his room. Sandoval recognised the moment. He'd just woken up and found out that he was going to be all right. That was when Dr. Curzon had told him the astonishing news about the blood that had been donated...

How is this possible?!

His thoughts were interrupted by the strident tone of his global as it signalled a message. A Volunteer appeared on screen, hope in his eyes. "Sir! We think we've got a possible location!"

Sandoval smiled. "We'll be there in ten."

He moved to the bed and shook Kincaid's shoulder. "Liam. Liam, wake up!"

"Uh. Wha'? Sandoval?"

"The Volunteers have a possible location on Robert. Time to go."

Liam quickly scrambled to his feet. Too distracted to even consider how long Sandoval had been in the room.

Five minutes later, Sandoval followed Liam out of the hotel suite and shut the door. Walking down the corridor with his fellow Protector; Sandoval maintained an outward façade of calm. Beneath the surface, his thoughts were turbulent to say the least. 'We find Robert and then we talk, Kincaid. I want to know the truth...'

The car came to an abrupt halt outside the old house. The Volunteer stationed outside the main door as a sentry snapped to attention as the two Protectors exited the car and made their way up the steps - Kincaid taking the steps three at a time before breathlessly saying, "Where is he? Have they found him yet?"

The intensity in his eyes had the Volunteer flinching noticeably back; Sandoval sighed. Placing a hand on Kincaid's shoulder to rein him in, he said, "Liam, calm down. Grilling the Volunteers like this is not going to get him back any faster. They're doing their best.

"Now then, Johnson, isn't it? The last information we were given was fairly vague. All we were told was this house was a possible location for the boy. Elaborate."

Breathing a sigh of relief at being given a question that he could answer, Johnson complied.

"Sir. The background check on the man Gunther revealed that he had stayed here in New York when he was a teenager. His aunt used to own this house. We requested scans from the mothership and they indicated that there are two sub-basements in this building.

"Readings were inconclusive as to life signs. There were intermittent signals but it could be neighbourhood kids, or transients. The only way to find out if the signals identified are the boy Robert is to search. The doors to the lower floors have been boarded up from the outside - from the looks of things, the work was done recently.

"We're getting there, but there have been booby traps. Fairly elementary, but they're slowing us down."

"Thank you, Johnson. As you were."

Sandoval turned to Liam and firmly said, "Major, you are to wait out here with Mr. Johnson. Is that clear?"

Johnson inwardly cringed at the look of anger in the Major's eyes. He didn't want to be witness to the two Protectors fighting. Nobody in their right mind ever wanted to be around if and when these two ever blew their stacks at each other and let loose.

"What?! Sandoval, are you out of your mind?! Of course I'm going in there."

In a tone of finality, Sandoval said, "No, Major. You're not."

He placed an arm out to block Kincaid's way and, angry though the other man was; he didn't push past him - yet.

"Liam, please... think. It may be Robert or it may not. He may be hurt - or worse - and you know it. I'm not letting you in there until we know one way or the other. Stay here, please. I don't want you hurt any more than you already have been.

"Trust me."

Johnson watched as the Major's shoulders slumped and he gave in. "I do trust you, Sandoval. It's just that I'm so worried..."

Sandoval placed a reassuring hand on the Major's shoulders. He said, "I know - we're all worried. As soon as I know anything definite I'll let you know. Till then, please wait here. If nothing else, it will ease my peace of mind."

Johnson watched quietly as the Major nodded and went to lean against the car that had brought them to the scene. Agent Sandoval turned, took a deep breath and jogged up the rest of the steps opened the door and made his way into the house.

Inside the house, the atmosphere was charged with tension. The teams knew that this was the last chance they were going to get to find the boy. Solemn nods greeted Sandoval's arrival and then the work went on.

Finally, the reached the last door and once it had been cleared, Sandoval said, "I'll go in."

Pulse racing, praying to a God that he'd turned his back on when DeeDee died; Sandoval slowly edged the old wooden door open. The basement was shadowed, musty and ominously quiet. In a soft tone, Sandoval called out, "Robbie? Are you here?"

At first there was no answer and his heart sank but then, he heard a hoarse, faint and wonderfully familiar voice, whisper, "Mr. Sandoval... I'm here..."

Head whipping round at the sound coming from the far left corner of the basement, Sandoval made his way across the room. The sight that greeted him caused two distinct sets of emotions. Elation and fury.

It was a damn good job that Gunther was dead; otherwise, he would have had to go beat the man to a bloody pulp. Robbie was chained - chained! - to a restraint on the wall. He bore the signs of neglect, a small table with some water and a couple of stale sandwiches sat just within reach. Robbie himself bore a myriad of cuts and abrasions all over his bare arms. He also seemed to have the fading splendour of a black eye that must have been a beauty when it first developed.

Robbie seemed to be fine though and Sandoval sighed. Robbie had already experienced worse in his short life; he'd almost forgotten that. The boy's eyes showed signs of fatigue and relief, which was not a surprise. Sandoval watched in concern as worry replaced them. What now?

"Where's Liam? Is he all right? Nothing's happened to him, has it?"

Sandoval fought a grin. Kincaid was definitely rubbing off on this kid. He too seemed to worry more about others than himself. Smiling, Sandoval said, "Other than being worried sick about you, he's fine.

"I told him to wait outside and for once he listened to my orders. What do you say we get you out of these chains and go find him?"

Robbie's smile was like the sun coming up in the morning.

Less than ten minutes later, Liam looked up, startled as the door to the building burst open. A blur of motion followed and he found his arms full of a teenage boy trying to hug the stuffing out of him. Robbie!

His arms tightened round the boy and he drew him closer. He looked up as a smiling Sandoval came jogging down the steps and mouthed two words, 'Thank you.'

Releasing his hold on Robbie, Liam placed gentle hands on the boy's face and tilted it up so he could look into the teen's eyes. He catalogued the pain and fatigue, every cut and abrasion, the shining grey eyes that radiated relief and joy and he dropped an instinctive kiss on the boy's forehead and drew him close again.

He and Sandoval both heard Robbie's softy spoken words. "I knew you'd find me in time. I knew you'd both come and get me. I knew it."

Sandoval placed a gentle hand on Robbie's shoulder and said, "Let's get this young man to a hospital for a check-up. The sooner that's done, the sooner he can go home."

Two hours later, Liam and Sandoval were heading out of the private room that housed Robbie. The doctors said that there was nothing wrong with him that a few weeks rest and recuperation wouldn't cure but they wanted him to stay overnight just for observation.

An entire Volunteer tactical squad was brought in to augment hospital security; then and only then, did the Protectors agree to leave him alone.

Liam placed a call to Renee Palmer. Once she had stopped crying in relief she agreed to go to Liam's apartment and get things ready for Robbie's return the next day.

Sandoval and Liam went back to the hotel suite that they had been in earlier that day. Liam collapsed in a chair, emotionally exhausted. Sandoval stood and stared out of the huge bay window in the sitting area of the suite. He took a deep breath, now was probably not the best time but he couldn't wait. If he put this off he might never work up the nerve to ask again.

He turned round and said, "Liam, I need to talk to you about something."

Kincaid turned his head and looked in his direction, saying, "Yes, Sandoval. What is it?"

Taking the plunge, Sandoval said, "So. I'm your father... How is that possible?"

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Last modified August 6th, 2002.
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