Sandoval watched as Kincaid's face paled and his eyes widened in horror - the terror in the other man's eyes shocked him. Did he really inspire that much fear?
Sandoval gazed at the other man silently, hands clasped behind his back in an effort to hide the tremors shaking them - he wasn't much calmer than Kincaid but, by force of habit, he masked his emotions from his face - he was a master at it, if he wasn't he would be dead by now.
Liam levered himself to his feet and walked away from Sandoval; he had to forcibly restrain himself from darting for the door and escape. Why did this have to happen now?! How in hell had Sandoval found out anyway? The truth was buried so far in Resistance files that it should have been impossible to ferret out and the number of Resistance members that actually knew the truth about him was dwindling fast - Taelon ordered Resistance purges had seen to that. Augur monitored the whereabouts of those that did know; it was the only early warning system they had. So far, he had been lucky. The Volunteers had picked up only one person who knew the truth and he had been snatched back by his cell before any damage could be done.
Obviously his luck had just run out.
Liam poured himself a glass of water and was pleased to note that his hand was steady; he may be shaking on the inside but at least he hadn't cracked in front of Sandoval. Not yet, anyway.
"What makes you say that?" said Liam as he stared directly at Sandoval.
Sandoval sighed and brushed a nervous hand through his hair. This was so much harder than he had thought. He had to know the truth but he was scared of destroying the friendship that had been growing between himself and Kincaid. It had been a long time since anyone was willing to call him friend.
Deciding to be as honest and non-threatening as he could, Sandoval said, "Earlier... when we here before... you were having a nightmare.
"I tried to wake you up and I grabbed at your hand... I'm not really sure what happened next... Some sort of energy passed between us and I got flashes of images in my head.
"You talking to Beckett in the cave - she called you, 'my son'...
"Then I heard your voice, saying that I was your father, that you couldn't, wouldn't let me die...
"Liam, please. I need to know. Am I your father?"
Liam breathed a sigh. At least it wasn't another Resistance member... nobody had been hurt to get the information. It didn't alter the fact that the secret was out and it was his own fault. Sandoval hadn't acted on the information, and that was something of a pleasant surprise. The question was; what did he do now?
For a long moment silence hung in the air. Liam weighed the consequences. More than his future was at stake now; he had Robbie to consider too. Sandoval cared about him too, though. Even if his father acted against him, Liam was sure that he'd make sure the boy was looked after.
He sighed, it was time to act on faith and hope for the best. He nodded and looking his father squarely in the eye, he said. "Yes. You're my father."
Sandoval collapsed into the nearest chair. Eyes confused, he gazed at Kincaid - his son - and whispered, "How?"
Liam sighed and rubbed at his eyes. Silently, alone in his apartment, he'd had this conversation with his father a hundred times. Trying to figure out how to explain the masks and secrets that was his life and heritage while staring his father in the face was so much harder than he'd expected.
He turned and dragged one of the other chairs in the room so that it was positioned directly opposite his father's chair. He then dropped into the chair and said... nothing. Instead, he nervously twisted his fingers and refused to look up. A firm but gentle hand reached out to still his fingers and he looked up into Sandoval's bewildered eyes. Liam sighed. This was not fair to Sandoval; he knew the twisted knot that made up his heritage, his father was flying blind. It was time to tell him the truth - any fallout he'd handle - Sandoval had the right to know.
Sandoval wondered at the emotions he could see shimmering in Kincaid's eyes. Those eyes had always held an air of mystery to them. He'd always thought that they showed a bizarre mix of youth and wisdom. Liam spoke softly.
"Do you remember the hunt for Ha'gel?"
Eyes widening, stunned, Sandoval nodded.
"Did you ever stop to wonder what Ha'gel was up to while you and Boone were ordered to chase him down? He stayed in the cities, he assumed human forms, and he interacted with humanity, all instead of attempting to flee to a place where the Taelons could never find him. Did you never wonder why?"
Mute, Sandoval stared at the intent and sorrowful expression in Kincaid's eyes.
"Thanks to the Taelons, he was the last of his race, Sandoval. Instinct kicked in, he stayed and risked capture because he was being driven to preserve his race - in the only way that he could to ensure it's survival. Joining with a human.
"As you know, he wasn't successful at first and a young woman paid for his failure with her life.
"Beckett was in love with you and her CVI afforded her a greater chance of surviving Joining with a Kimera. In your form he got close enough to her to take her and Join with her and I was conceived."
Liam watched as Sandoval's eyes burned with fury. His father's, "How dare he use us like that?!" cut through him like a knife though he fought not to betray that fact. Sandoval had the right.
Whether or not Beckett had loved Sandoval was irrelevant, as was the acknowledged attraction between the pair. The facts were incontrovertible; Ha'gel had used them without their consent and conducted what amounted to a rape.
And I'm the living proof of that fact, thought Liam, unhappily.
Taking a deep breath, Liam continued.
"Lili - as you now know - was Resistance. During the final battle between Ha'gel and Boone, she got Beckett out of the line of fire and into Resistance hands.
"Their doctors ran some tests on her and found out what Ha'gel had done. A little over nine hours after I was conceived, I was born and she gave me the name of Liam.
"I matured at a greatly accelerated rate - she never saw this - within half an hour I was fully matured to the man you see in front of you."
Sandoval just shook his head in disbelief. The truth was far more unbelievable than he had imagined. Abstractedly, the set tone in Kincaid's voice was noted by his CVI but he was too overwhelmed to pay attention to what it was telling him.
"Are you telling me that you were born in the Liberation Headquarters?! Why on earth are you still walking about, let alone acting as a Companion Protector?"
Liam gave a mirthless grin.
"Oh it gets better. Beckett said I was the key to defeating the Taelons; they couldn't kill me. Jonathan hated me on sight and the others were scared of me.
"We reached an accommodation - of sorts. I wasn't going to join them and they couldn't just let me go... I knew the location of their HQ, I knew about Lili... I was a threat."
Sandoval gazed at his son and said, "You're here. What sort of accommodation did you reach?"
"While I wasn't about to join the Resistance I wasn't particularly enamoured by the Taelons either. I knew damn well what they'd done to the Kimera - and what they're capable of doing to humanity.
"I made my intention of joining the Protectors clear, that I intended to keep an eye on the Taelons and that I would be attempting to act as a voice of reason to curb their more lethal plans. I agreed to pass on bits of information to the Resistance - stuff that protected innocent human victims but nothing that would harm the security of the Taelons I was sworn to protect. A human killing a Taelon would result in a bloodbath, as we both know full well.
"I agreed to keep Lili's allegiances a secret and she was in place to keep watch on me to make sure I didn't betray them. In the end, we became friends in spite of our differing viewpoints.
"For my co-operation I got them to re-program my mother's CVI. They wiped her knowledge of the Resistance personnel she had encountered and of my existence. It was the only way they'd agree to spare her life.
"You wouldn't remember anything, Kimera possession results in a loss of the host's memory for the duration of the event.
"Everything went according to plan. Beckett forgot me, you never knew about me and I joined the Protectors."
Sandoval sighed; his mind was quickly going numb. He stared at Kincaid, his explanation about his ties to the Resistance was plausible and it would explain a lot. Why didn't he believe a word of it? He'd let it go for now, there was more to this story.
"So why did Siobhan react to you the way she did and why did I look at the two of you and expect to see you together?"
Kincaid sighed and bit at his lower lip as he stared across at him. What was the meaning of the look in his eyes?
Sandoval watched as Kincaid absently picked at the cuff of the navy shirt that he was wearing. The room seemed to grow still in the silence that followed his last question. Eventually, in a quiet voice, Kincaid said, "No plan can cover all eventualities. You know that as well as I do."
In a soft tone that unconsciously mirrored his son's, Sandoval said, "What do you mean, Liam?"
Liam looked up at him, eyes bright with unspoken emotions, "Instinct, Sandoval. Instinct.
"Memories wiped or not, the connection between us was there. Call it genetic heritage, parental instinct, the subconscious mind - whatever you want - you both looked at me and felt a spark of recognition.
"It was stronger with my mother because the re-programming of her CVI was a risky move to begin with. There was the possibility of it degrading; the moment that started to happen and she started to remember it was programmed to overload and kill her. It was the best deal the Resistance doctors could come up with.
"You felt it too. In your hospital room when you woke up from the injuries you sustained when the Atavus attacked; you saw me with Beckett and murmured something about, 'of course we would be there together' - instinct again."
Sandoval, hand absently stroking the skrill on his arm, said, "So that's what happened in the cave. Her CVI finally broke down and when it did it killed her."
Liam nodded. "I had a race against time to get to her and finally tell her the truth. She had so wanted a child, I couldn't let her die without telling her who I really was."
Sandoval nodded his understanding before levering himself up from his chair and wandering over to stare out of the window of the hotel room. Back to his son, he said, "Then - months later - I get sick."
There were several minutes of silence. Sandoval stood and stared out of the window; he couldn't look round. Every nerve and muscle in his body screamed with tension - he had to know why Liam had done what he did and saved him - at the same time he was terrified of what his son might say.
Liam's tone was quietly reflective. "You know, I didn't know what to think when you went in for your 'tests'. I mean, it wasn't as if we were close. Colleagues, occasional allies, like when we went after the source of the Bliss epidemic. Mainly though, we were antagonists. You'd tried to discredit me more than once - you'd even tried to have me killed.
"None of my friends that know about me have ever been able to understand why I have never hated you for that. How could I? You never knew whom you were acting against so how could I blame you for the hurt you caused each time you tried?
"Then I was told the real nature of your illness. You were dying and the only person who could save you was me. The reaction to my intention to give you the blood you needed was mixed to say the least."
"Why, Liam?" demanded a passionate Sandoval. "I think about the way I've treated you and I don't understand how you could even think about saving me."
Voice heavy with emotion, Liam replied.
"I could give you any number of reasons why I shouldn't have done what I did; all logical and sensible. The reasons why are far less tangible. I knew it was a risk when I did it but I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
"I don't know how you'll come to view me but I can never view you as a 'surrogate' though that is what friends have called you.
"You're my only surviving parent and, rational or not, I'll always think of you as my father. I couldn't let you die, I just couldn't."
Liam's gaze bored into his father's back. He watched the slumped shoulders straighten a little and then his father turned to meet his gaze. Damn it, no! thought Liam. His father's face betrayed no emotion - the mask was back in place.
Liam sighed and glanced at his watch. He stood and made his way to the door.
"I'm going to the hospital. It's almost time for visiting hours. I'm going to take Robbie home.
"You've got your answers, the next move is yours. I don't expect anything from you though I do ask you one thing. I want a two-week grace period if you plan on turning me in. I give you my word that I won't run but I'd appreciate the time to make sure that Robbie will be taken care of.
"Let me know when you've reached a decision. Goodbye, father."
The door closed behind Kincaid and Sandoval dropped back into his seat, sighing. He raised weary hands to rub at his eyes, glowing skrill clear indication of the turmoil he was experiencing.
Liam was his son. Liam didn't hate him. Liam had saved his life. Liam still half expected him to turn him in to the Taelons.
He'd been feeling guilty enough for the way that he'd treated Kincaid as this new friendship had developed between them; now he found out that the person that he had treated so badly was his son!
He had some thinking to do.
Reaching for his global, he signalled for a car to take him to the nearest secure Portal. He was going back to the mothership and away from Kincaid. His emotions were too clouded when he was with him.
Ten days later
Liam looked up with a tired smile as Robbie emerged from his room. The teenager had refused to let his ordeal rule his life. Oh there were nightmares and he was still a little wary around strangers but he was back at the same school refusing to hide.
He had calmly vetoed Liam's suggestion that he might want to switch schools, stating, "If they make me run away from my school and my friends then they won. I won't allow that."
Robbie had been welcomed back to the school as a returning hero, which had caused him some discomfiture. The first night back home after returning to school he had turned bewildered eyes on Liam, saying, "I didn't do anything! I just waited on you and Mr. Sandoval coming to get me."
Liam had fought conflicting emotions at that moment. Pride in his young ward's courage under adversity and wonder in the absolute trust and faith in that last statement. Robbie had truly never doubted that he and Sandoval would come for him.
Yawning, Robbie approached the table and took the proffered glass of orange juice from Liam; smiling as he did so. The pair sat at the table and ate breakfast in companionable silence. Assessing, Robbie gazed at his guardian and sighed quietly. Liam had been too quiet for too long. He wasn't sure what was going on but he was damn well going to find out! He loved Liam far too much to allow him to be this upset without doing something about it.
He'd contacted Ms. Palmer - no, Renee; she'd been quite insistent about that - the day before. She had agreed to help him. She was due to arrive in about an hour ostensibly to take Robbie out for the day. In actuality, he'd be spending part of the day with her and part of it at the Washington Embassy.
There was something going on between Liam and Mr. Sandoval. Something had happened the night that he had been rescued. They had both accompanied him to the hospital but had then gone off somewhere together. Before then, outside the building he had been held captive in he had seen for himself the concern and friendship between the pair and he'd been so happy! Liam and Sandoval were practically the first decent male role models he had ever had and he loved them both. When the friendship had blossomed between them he had been ecstatic.
Something had changed.
The next day Liam had come to fetch him by himself. Since then, Liam and Mr. Sandoval had carefully avoided direct contact whenever possible. Mr. Sandoval had called Robbie via global to make sure he was all right and he had seen the same sadness and pain in Mr. Sandoval's face. Apart both he and Liam were miserable and Robbie was determined to find out what was going on and fix it.
Taelon Embassy, Washington DC
Agent Ronald Sandoval looked up as he heard someone entering his office. He opened his mouth to angrily dismiss the unwanted intruder but, of its own volition, his mouth formed a delighted grin. It was Robbie.
He smiled and with a friendly wave motioned Robbie to a seat. He fought an indulgent smile as Robbie flopped into the seat and curled his feet up under himself; he'd seen Liam do that too. Liam. The smile on his face faltered briefly and a stab of pain and uncertainty flashed in his eyes.
He dropped his eyes for a moment, pasted a happy expression on his face and raised his gaze to meet Robbie's. The boy was staring at him with an intent expression of his own. For a moment, the boy said nothing. His gaze did have the astonishing effect of making Sandoval nervous. If he only knew how remarkable that was. Not even Zo'or's malevolent gaze had made the agent feel that uncomfortable.
"Mr. Sandoval, are you mad at Liam?"
Sandoval gave the boy a mock-glare. "I thought I told you to call me, Ron."
Robbie sighed in exasperation. Getting either Liam or 'Ron' to talk about what was going on was like getting blood from a stone.
"Mr. Sandoval - Ron - is something wrong? Is it something I did? Ever since the day you rescued me neither of you have been together in the same room. You're both unhappy and I don't understand what's wrong. Aren't you friends any more?"
Sandoval gave the boy a reassuring smile. "Of course it's nothing you did! We just have some things that we need to sort out, that's all.
Robbie frowned, face unhappy. "Can't you sort it out together? You're friends and apart you seem to be miserable."
The teen scrambled to his feet. "I've said what I came to say. Renee is waiting to take me to dinner. Think about what I said. I don't like to see you both so unhappy. I care about you too much."
In a flash, the boy was gone. Sandoval retreated to his desk, swung his chair round and thought long and hard about what to do next.
Liam's apartment, an hour later
A knocking at the door interrupted Liam's reverie. He got up from his seat, lethargic in body and soul, and went to open the door.
He stood staring in disbelief as his visitor looked up at him; face wan, eyes tired.
"Can I come in, Liam? We need to talk..."
Heart pounding, Liam stepped aside and allowed his father to enter. Without uttering another word, Sandoval stepped through the doorway and entered Liam's home for the first time. Curiously, he looked around. It was different from what he had been expecting, less cluttered than he would have thought. Some things were obvious recent additions - Robbie's presence was changing Liam in more ways than one.
Liam's voice interrupted his reverie. "Sit down, Sandoval. Can I get you something to drink? Tea, coffee, juice?"
Sandoval sat down but declined the offered refreshment. An awkward silence fell. Liam sighed; he missed the camaraderie of the previous few weeks, it had been great being 'in sync' with Sandoval and not acting against him. He swallowed nervously. It was time to ask his father the question that he had been dreading.
In a stilted voice, he said, "Are you going to turn me over to the Taelons, Sandoval?"
At that, Sandoval's eyes snapped up to meet Liam's and he rasped out, "No! Of course I'm not!"
The tension in Liam's frame eased a bit but he eyed his father in askance; there was no of course not's between them. How could there be? He'd never had the opportunity to get to know or trust Sandoval well enough to be able to accept anything on faith.
Liam dropped into one of the other seats, unconsciously mirroring Robbie's earlier mannerisms in Sandoval's office - not that he knew that, of course. He remained silent. He'd done his talking. It was Sandoval's turn now.
Sandoval sat there for a while, saying nothing, staring down at the meshed fingers of his hands as they rested on his lap. Liam didn't move, he barely breathed; he didn't want to do anything to scare his father off. One way or another, things would be settled between them.
At first the voice was so faint that he could barely hear it and then Sandoval glanced at him - just for a moment - before dropping his gaze back to his hands.
Speaking quietly, his father said, "My parents died before I even entered the FBI. No other family... I was totally alone. Maybe that is why - when I met DeeDee - I fell in love so fast. She was alone too but together we made a whole... does that make any sense?"
Sandoval raised his eyes in an almost imploring gesture to Liam; did he understand? The compassion evident in his son's eyes clearly indicated that it did. Sandoval continued.
"We were blissfully happy and anything seemed possible. We both wanted children but the timing was never quite right. It was always a case of 'next year'. We'd have the time the next year."
"We eventually ran out of 'next years'. At the point when we were closest to actually deciding to seriously try for a child, the Taelons came. I was given the opportunity to serve them and I was determined that I was going to take the chance. It was the career opportunity of a lifetime. DeeDee wasn't as trusting as me but - for the first time in our marriage - I ran roughshod over her opinions and went ahead against her wishes and accepted my first CVI.
"What I did to her..." Sandoval's voice trailed off in horror and loathing.
Still Liam kept silent. This 'confession' was having a cathartic effect for his father. The anguish in his father's eyes was painful to witness but it was time for his father to bare his soul to someone and to whom else but his son should he do so?
Pulling himself back from his memories, Sandoval continued.
"I'm sure you've read the records about what happened when my CVI began to degrade. My actions were irrational, instinctual and ended up getting her killed; Boone did what he had to."
Liam bit at the inside of his lip. He couldn't tell his father the truth about that - much as he wanted to.
In a dry voice, Sandoval said, "At that point, I made a vow to myself that I would never get that emotionally involved with anyone ever again. I'd do my job and that would be all. The hurt to me aside, I wasn't going to risk hurting anyone else I cared about. Not ever again."
A rueful grin crossed Sandoval's face and his next words made Liam grin too.
"Siobhan had other ideas about that."
Liam gave in and smiled at his father indicating that he understood completely. His mother had been a hard woman to say no to about anything.
In an emotion-filled voice, Sandoval said, "Much as I wanted to reciprocate Siobhan's advances, I didn't. Not that seems to have mattered, Ha'gel saw to that."
Liam flinched slightly at that.
"Boone died and then you appeared to take his place. I didn't like you at first - there's no point in trying to deny that. I'm not really sure why. Maybe it was the fact that you were stepping into Boone's shoes and I was surprised to find that I missed him.
"Maybe it was Siobhan's reaction to you or my own feeling that I should know you - which seemed patently ridiculous. Whatever it was, you always seemed to be a little 'off', like there was something just slightly out of place. Now, of course, I know what it was.
"You stepped into your role - literally days old, relying on your own abilities and inherited memories to get you through the early days of your life."
Sandoval looked at Liam and said, honestly, "You have done a remarkable job of adapting to the uniqueness of your situation."
Liam sat there, speechless. Was that a compliment?
"We've had our ups and downs, Liam. Zo'or ordered me to do many things that I now deeply regret but there's not anything I can do to change what is past.
"I had - and have - come to accept you as a trusted colleague. You are a formidable and capable Protector.
"Do you realise that you were the only person I really talked to while in the hospital? I knew I was dying and I knew only a miracle was going to save me. There were no first-degree relatives to appear and donate the blood I so desperately needed.
"I couldn't believe it when I woke up and Dr. Curzon told me that I was going to be fine. I'd been given a third chance at life. I'd thought getting my second CVI was my one reprieve that would allow me to make amends for my actions, and now, I'd just been granted another one.
"Somewhere out there I had a son that knew about me and wanted me to live."
Liam couldn't meet his father's eyes. He was terrified of what he might see.
Sandoval's soft voice, said; "Now I find that that son is you.
"Amazing, yes. Impossible? Obviously not. Repugnant? Horrifying? Never!"
Sandoval moved from his seat and took the couple of steps necessary to bring him to where Liam was sitting. He crouched down and placed a gentle hand on Liam's cheek, raising his gaze to meet his own.
Face sincere, eyes filled with unshed tears, voice full of pent up emotion, Sandoval said, "Thank you for telling me the truth, Liam. I would be proud to call you my son."
Sandoval stood and his voice grew more controlled. "Obviously I can't. It's far too dangerous for you. So, my son, how do we proceed? Can you treat me as a friend and colleague in public? Will you trust me to do the same?"
Sandoval watched as Liam closed his eyes and took a deep, shuddering breath. It was a reaction he identified with all too easily; their entire relationship was going to have to be redefined. If they were willing to try. He was. Was Liam?
Hesitant, Liam said, "We try."
Sandoval sighed and smiled his relief and watched his son give him a shy glance. Okay then - first steps first - ease the tension in the room. "Is there any chance of getting a drink of something, Liam? Personal revelations and confessions are thirsty work."
Appreciating the gesture from his father for what it was, Liam gave a smile and nodded. He headed off to the kitchen to peruse their options and called out, "Coffee, milk, juice or lemonade?"
Liam watched in astonishment as Sandoval gave a cheeky grin and said, "Milk and cookies, sounds good. What do you think?"
Liam rolled his eyes in exasperation but ten minutes later, munching cookies and sipping at some milk; he was sitting discussing ways to upgrade the security of the schools around the world that were attended by the dependents of Companion personnel.
A message on his global interrupted their discussion. It was Renee telling him that she and Robbie would be back in twenty minutes.
Sandoval rose to his feet, murmuring, "I guess that means it is for me to go. We'll finish this discussion at the Embassy. I don't want to see you there before noon, is that clear?"
Liam nodded and moved to escort Sandoval to the door. Sandoval moved to open the door but was restrained by a hand on his shoulder. Confused, he looked to the other man.
Kincaid looked embarrassed, determined and terrified as he said, "I'm sorry, I have to do this. I promise it'll never happen again." Nervously, he put his arms around his father and drew him close for a hug. Quickly, quietly, he murmured, "Thank you, father." He made a move to let Sandoval go but felt his father put his arms around him and hold him tight - just for a moment, saying, "No, Liam. Thank you."
Liam blinked in delight but his father stepped back and raised a hand to silence whatever he was about to say. Liam sighed and nodded his understanding. It couldn't happen again. Colleagues and friends... that was the way they had to act.
A nervous Robbie had walked into the apartment just over twenty minutes later. He glanced around and his eyebrows rose at the site of the remnants of what looked like two helpings of milk and cookies. Liam was standing at the window, gazing out into the city. Robbie approached him and stood silently at his side.
Liam put his arm around the boy's shoulders, pulled him close for a second and murmured, "Thanks, Robbie. We're going to be all right now."
Robbie breathed a huge sigh of relief and smiled at Liam.
Liam cocked his head to the side and indicated the door to Robbie's room with a nod of his head.
"Bed. Now. You've got school in the morning."