Robbie frowned. Silence and a stunned look in Liam's eyes wasn't the reaction that he had expected. "Uh, Liam. Is something wrong?"
The confused and concerned tone in Robbie's voice pulled Liam back to the present. Robbie watched as guardian, friend and hero exhaled forcefully and pasted a half-hearted grin on his face, saying, "No, Robbie. Nothing's wrong. If that's what you think you want to do then I'll support your decision.
"You just surprised me; that's all. I didn't realise that you were already thinking about what to do after you finish school. If you're sure about this then I'll help in any way I can."
Liam watched as Robbie grinned his delight. Automatically, his arms returned the hug the boy gave him but his mind was a-whirl with other things, none good. He needed to talk to someone. Now.
Liam glanced at Robbie and said, "I need to go out for a little while. Would you mind cancelling our movie trip till next week and going to visit Sandoval?"
He had to stifle the chuckle that threatened to escape, as Robbie's eyes grew wide with excitement. In the months since he and Sandoval had made their peace with each other, Robbie had spent a great deal of time with them both.
In fact, he'd been the source of much amazement amongst the Volunteer Corps. Robbie had accomplished the impossible - not only had his presence in their lives caused Kincaid and Sandoval to become friends - he'd managed to get the intent, focused and uptight FBI agent to loosen up and smile!
"Go get ready, scamp. I'll call him and check that it's okay for you to visit."
Liam opened his global as Robbie rushed off to his room. Placing the call to his father, he sighed. He should have expected something like this. Under the circumstances it was only natural.
"Hi, Sandoval. Are you still at the Embassy?
"Are you busy?"
In his office at the Embassy, Sandoval eyed Liam carefully. His tone indicated that he was preoccupied about something.
"Is everything all right, Liam?" he asked, concerned.
His son gave him a small smile and nodded reassuringly. "I'm fine. Honest. I just need a favour.
"I need to go out for a little while and I was wondering if Robbie could come visit you, that's all."
A genuine smile graced Sandoval's face.
"Of course he can!"
Liam smiled and would have ended the call right then but Sandoval wasn't finished. Looking intently at Liam, Sandoval continued, "...Liam, if you need to talk about whatever is bothering you, I'm always ready to listen."
Liam ducked his head. He should have known that he couldn't put anything past his father. "I know that, Sandoval. Thank you. It'll be all right. If not, I'll talk to you. I promise."
Satisfied with that, Sandoval ended the call from his end.
Forty minutes later, Liam was knocking on Renee's door. Disheveled and looking unknowingly attractive in her casual clothes, Renee answered her door. She looked a bit startled to see Liam at that time of the evening but stood aside to let him in.
A few minutes later, sitting in her living room and drinking coffee, Liam was pondering how to bring up the reason for his visit when she said, "What's wrong, Liam?"
He raised his gaze to hers for a moment, groaned and rubbed anxiously at his neck and shrugged helplessly.
"Robbie had an announcement for me tonight. I should have seen it coming. I mean, it's only natural coming from his perspective..."
"Liam," said an exasperated Renee, "Should have seen what coming?"
In a wry tone that acknowledged the irony of the situation, Liam said, "He's got it all figured out. He'll be out of high school by the time he's sixteen. He's sure that he can complete university in three years so after that, his plan is to join me in working for the Companions.
"Renee, he wants to be a Protector! What am I supposed to tell him?!"
Renee's eyes widened in astonishment; was that all he was worried about? Looking into Liam's harassed features, she ruthlessly stifled the impulse to giggle. He was serious about his concern. It was a good job he couldn't read minds too because she really didn't want to see his reaction to her opinion that with his anxious frown and concerned eyes that he looked absolutely adorable. Nope. She definitely wouldn't mention that!
"Liam," she began... Good. Her voice sounded calm. No hint of laughter. "What did you expect?
"The day you met him, you saved his life and gave him a home. You introduced him to Sandoval and the Volunteers and all he saw was the general, day-to-day duties that they carried out at the Embassy. Robbie's never seen any of the Taelons special projects or the way the Volunteers and Protectors carry them out.
"He was forcibly taken from his school and rescued by you, Sandoval and an entire squad of Volunteers. You're his heroes. It's understandable. Their home environment and the way they are treated affect children profoundly.
"Robbie's start in life wasn't great but you've surrounded him with love and safety. All he's ever known of the people you work with his kindness and concern."
Liam looked at her and gave a helpless shrug. He couldn't have acted in any other way and they both knew it. The reactions of Sandoval and the Volunteers to Robbie had been an unexpected bonus.
Renee got up from her seat and moved to sit beside Liam. Hesitantly, she took his hand in hers. They tended to avoid casual contact. There was always an undercurrent of tension between them... it was best not to tempt fate. Their lives were complicated enough right now.
Liam's fingers tightened round hers and she felt the warmth and strength in his touch permeate its way up her arm and through her entire body. Focus, Renee. Focus. She traced an absent pattern on his hand with her fingers and said, "It's not a cause for concern. Not yet.
"Robbie's an intelligent young man and he's wise beyond his years. He's had to be to survive. Given enough time in your company he'll hear about the 'other' activities of the Volunteers.
"Don't forget the media, either. There are more and more people coming forward to express doubts, to make revelations about the projects that they've been participating in while working in Taelon employ... He'll see all this and he'll ask questions."
Gaze solemn, she raised her eyes to Liam's face.
"You're going to have to be ready to deal with those questions, Liam. He'll go to you before he'll ask anyone else. There might be a backlash in the way he perceives Sandoval and the Volunteers. If he loses faith in his friends..."
Liam winced at the thought.
"You will have to tell him about the Resistance soon, Liam. Robbie's too bright to keep a secret like this from him for long. Now that the transition to living with you is over, as well as the initial added excitement of his kidnapping - he will notice the inconsistencies. Unexplained absences. Unexplained injuries...
"You can decide for yourself what you tell him about your heritage but you will have to tell him about the Resistance. You'll also have to accept the fact that it will forever change his perception of you."
"I know, Renee," said Liam, quietly.
He raised her hand - still clasped in his - and placed a gentle kiss on it. "Thanks for listening, Renee.
"I've got to go. I need to pick Robbie up from the Embassy."
She walked him to the door and said softly, "I'm always here to listen, Liam. I've told you that before."
Smiling, he gave her a quick hug and headed off to pick up Robbie.
Relaxing in his apartment after a successful Resistance raid on a Taelon research lab doing genetic manipulation on unwilling test subjects, Liam Kincaid sat lost in thought. He had the feeling things were about to come to a head. The Resistance's activities and the results of their actions were going to be headline news tonight. He thought back to his earlier worries about Robbie.
Renee's words had been truer than she knew. In the weeks following his announcement, Robbie's exuberance remained the same. He practically idolised Sandoval and the Volunteers stationed at the Embassy and, as far as he was concerned, Liam could do no wrong.
It was a heady feeling that he'd had to contend with. Having another being trust him that much and look to him for guidance was a terrifying, wonderful experience. This was what new parents must feel like the moment that they realised that they were responsible for guiding and nurturing another life.
The worry too was something that he had to contend with. Robbie had fit so well into his life, carving out a niche that could never be replaced by anyone else - not even if he were to some day have kids of his own. Was he doing all he could to make Robbie's life happy? Did he push too hard? Did he not push enough? Renee and Sandoval had become his sounding boards. They'd smile and reassure him that he was doing just fine.
In all those weeks, only one thing had caused him any major concerns. What would Robbie do when the bubble of his trust and belief in the goodness of the Volunteers burst?
Over the past weeks, a series of revelations by ex-Taelon employees had been plastered over the headlines. These people were not Resistance associated... they were regular citizens that had stepped forward on their own.
Robbie had watched the reports and, eyes mirroring his confusion, asked Liam whether the people were telling the truth. If he'd had the information, he'd told Robbie the truth otherwise, he had said that he didn't know. Now with the Resistance's latest escapade about to be plastered over the evening news, he had the feeling things were about to explode...
Later that night...
Liam looked up from the information he was reading off his global as he heard footsteps approaching him. He looked up into Robbie's bewildered face and had to fight the urge to sweep the boy into a hug and hold on tight, protecting him from the loss of faith that was careering towards him like a runaway train.
"Yes, Robbie," he said, gently. "What is it?"
Robbie gazed at his feet. Liam's kind eyes and reassuring smile were almost more than his fragile grasp on his composure could bear right now.
"Have you seen the news tonight, Liam?"
"You mean the story about the goings on at the Taelon research lab in downtown New York?" asked Liam quietly.
Robbie nodded wordlessly.
"Yes, I saw it. Was there something you wanted to ask me?"
"Is it true, Liam? Did the Companions order those experiments done?" asked Robbie in a horrified whisper.
Liam closed his eyes for a moment. It was time.
"Yes, they did."
Robbie stared at him in disbelief. "Then all the stories about the Volunteers... the news reports... they're all true?"
Liam met his gaze but didn't say anything. Robbie had more to ask, the tortured look in his eyes nearly broke his heart but he'd wait till the boy had asked it all...
"You and Ron-- I mean Mr. Sandoval, I mean Ron... do you do stuff like that?!"
Liam's expression was beginning to freak him out! "Liam," whispered Robbie, "Are you and Mr. Sandoval bad people?
"Is what the Resistance has been saying about what the Taelons have been doing, is it the truth?"
In a quiet voice, Liam said, "The Resistance has been telling the truth."
Robbie shook his head in denial. "No, Liam. You're not bad. You can't be bad. You can't work for people like that. I won't believe it!"
At the stricken tone in Robbie's voice, Liam rose to his feet. He approached the boy and gently tilted his head up so that Robbie's gaze met his own.
"There's more you need to hear, Robbie. Are you ready for this? There's no turning back."
Robbie swallowed nervously but he nodded.
"Yes, I work for the Taelons and yes, I know the Resistance is telling the truth. The reason I know is because I'm part of the Resistance. I'm a deep cover operative working within the Taelon inner circle."
Liam fought to stifle a grin at the absolutely stunned look in Robbie's eyes.
"What I've told you is dangerous enough for you to know, Robbie. There's more but you'll have to tell me that you want to hear the rest. It's got to be a choice made of your own free will."
Robbie rolled his eyes in exasperation. He pulled a seat over so it was directly opposite Liam's. Imperiously, in an uncanny impersonation of Sandoval at his most draconian, he pointed at Liam's chair and said, "Sit!"
Chuckling, Liam complied.
Robbie sat in his own chair, gazed at Liam and commanded, "Tell me everything!"
Liam ran a nervous hand through his hair as he gazed at Robbie. He hoped to God that this was the right thing to do... Get a grip, Liam. You've gone too far to turn back now.
"Where to start? Okay... I'm not the first person to go undercover for the Resistance and I'm not the first to go undercover as a Protector.
"My friend, Lili Marquette, was Resistance. That was on the news when she died. Did you see that story, Robbie?"
Robbie nodded though inside his heart began to beat just a little faster. From Liam's sad tone it was obvious that Lili had been a close friend. What worried him though, was the fact that she had died. Exciting and amazing as Liam's revelation had been, he had overlooked one frightening fact. Resistance members faced death on a daily basis. Liam, faced death on a daily basis! That thought scared him more than anything else ever had in his short but eventful life! He didn't want anything to happen to Liam!
Unaware of Robbie's frightened realisation, Liam continued.
"Commander Boone, Da'an's Protector, was also a Resistance operative. I assumed the identity of one of his former army colleagues and took his place as Protector."
Liam held up a hand to stop Robbie from asking the question that had automatically sprung to his lips ready to be asked. Why had he assumed another person's identity?
"There is a reason for that, Robbie. I'll get to it. Bear with me.
"When I joined the Resistance, I was only one of many operatives but when Jonathan Doors decided to run for the Presidency, it was decided that we needed a new leader.
"They picked me."
Robbie gaped at Liam. "You're the...
"...Leader of the Resistance," said Liam, finishing the statement that Robbie had started.
Liam grinned at the boy and shrugged his shoulders. "Okay, so my life's a bit more complicated than most. I have to admit, I never expected to be this involved in Resistance activities. It was inevitable, though."
Robbie just shook his head in bemusement. How on earth had Liam managed to keep this a secret from him for so long? A warning little voice in his head cried out, 'Why? Because he's had to be able to keep it a secret. He'd be dead otherwise!'
"Do I know anyone else in the Resistance?" asked a curious Robbie.
Liam fell silent. Robbie swallowed nervously. Perhaps he shouldn't have asked. Finally, Liam nodded.
"Yes, Robbie. I'll talk to them. If they want you to know, they'll tell you themselves. Remember, if they do, they're placing their lives in your hands."
Robbie's face grew still, the implications of that statement were not lost on him and it brought another question to mind.
"Is Mr. Sandoval in the Resistance?"
Robbie's face took on a horrified expression. "Does that mean he's a bad person?"
Fighting to keep composure in his voice, Liam gave the less than satisfactory answer that he had to live with. "Sandoval has his own agenda. Sometimes he seems to be opposed to what the Taelons do; sometimes he seems to support it. It's best to keep an open mind where his actions are concerned."
Robbie rose from his seat and moved to crouch down in front of Liam's chair.
"I don't understand, Liam. If you can't entirely trust him then how can you be his friend?"
"Aren't you his friend?" asked a quiet Liam.
Robbie frowned. "Well, yes. I was..."
Liam's pain filled eyes locked with his own. "I may hate his actions but I can never hate the man."
That answer gave Robbie pause. Mr. Sandoval had never been anything but kind and giving to him. Was it fair to dissolve a friendship on judgement of actions that he didn't know the full story behind?
He sighed. "He still is my friend, Liam. Why do you care about him so much, though?"
Liam rose from his seat and wandered to the window; looking out into the night. Finally, after a few moments, he spoke.
"My Resistance ties are not the only secret I have to tell, Robbie..."
Robbie frowned in confusion. What more could there possibly be to tell? Liam turned to look at him, pale face accentuated by the black clothes he was wearing. In the dimly lit apartment and standing against the moonlit window, Liam looked like a wraith. Liam looked scared.
Why would Liam be scared?
Robbie heard Liam give a long, drawn out sigh before turning and walking towards him. Liam crouched down in front of him, resting a hand - just for a second - on his shoulder, saying, "Robbie, everything I'm about to tell you is the truth. I hope you know that I have never or would ever lie to you... I may have had to keep some things confidential for your own safety. That all stops now.
"If you cannot accept what you're about to hear; I will understand. It's a lot to ask an adult to accept, let alone a teenager. It won't affect the way I feel about you... I'll always be there to look out for you - for as long as you want. I promise."
Eyes wide, Robbie stared at Liam. The tense words, the scared expression in Liam's eyes; all of it conspired to rob him of any words of reassurance for Liam. He just didn't know what to do! He desperately wanted to know what Liam was about to reveal but, according to the older man, this information might alter the way that he felt about Liam. He didn't want to believe that there could be anything that could make him do that!
Liam moved back to his seat and stared at his tightly clenched fingers.
"I'm not entirely as I seem, Robbie. I'm not entirely like anyone else..."
Liam looked up and gazed at the boy.
"I'm not entirely human."
At that abrupt announcement, Robbie's jaw literally dropped in shock. Liam continued on regardless.
"It gets better. I was born a little under a year and a half ago. What I'm saying, Robbie is that if we go by actual birth dates, you are just over thirteen years older than me."
"How?" breathed Robbie.
Liam, running nervous hands through his hair, related the tale of Ha'gel and the hunt by the Companion Protectors. He told of the Joining with the female Protector and the fact that Ha'gel had assumed the form of another Protector, but he didn't say which one. He told of the injuries to Boone, his birth in the Liberation hideout and his accelerated growth.
Liam also told of the death of his mother, his voice clearly expressing the profound grief that he still felt. Quietly, he related the abilities that he had, had lost and the problems associated with his heritage. Eventually, he fell silent.
Robbie had listened, astonished, to Liam's tale. Never in a million years would he have expected this! The glaring oversight in Liam's story had not gone unnoticed by him. Robbie said, "Who was the other Protector, Liam? Who's your other human parent?"
Liam, eyes mysterious, said one word. "Sandoval."
"Oh My God!" breathed Robbie. "Does he know?"
Liam gave a slight nod. "He found out a few weeks ago. I'm sure if you think about it you'll figure out when."
Liam got to his feet and gave Robbie a tired smile.
"I'm going to turn in Robbie. Think about what you've been told tonight. Think long and hard. I don't want any emotional declarations tonight. I know you well enough that you'd sit there and announce that nothing's changed.
"Much as I appreciate the sentiment, I don't want you to do that. This is going to have a profound effect on your life. Think about your options."
With that, Liam went to bed.
The next day, Liam wandered out of his room to find breakfast ready and an almost bouncing Robbie eagerly awaiting his appearance.
Robbie jumped to his feet and raced to where Liam stood watching. He flung his arms around him and whispered, "Nothing's changed, Liam. I love you. I trust you."
Liam let out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding and returned the boy's hug in full measure.
Twenty minutes later, Liam and Robbie were sitting eating breakfast when Liam's global signalled a message. He opened it up and blinked as he recognised the person on the other end of the signal. The message filled his eyes with dread and he agreed to meet the person at eleven o'clock that morning.
He looked at Robbie, worry in his eyes. This was so unfair. Were they never going to get a break?
At eleven forty a.m. the next day, Liam left the Judge's chambers in a daze. The last forty minutes had rocked his composure more than anything else - Jaridian replicants included - had ever managed to do.
Oblivious to his surroundings, Liam wandered the streets lost in thought. Eventually, he found himself on a park bench. That wasn't really much of a surprise; it was an instinct that he'd inherited from his mother - the best place to think was in a wide-open expanse of wilderness, nature as your only companion. In the city, a park was as good as it got.
He needed to talk to someone... he needed help. Instinctively, automatically, his fingers punched in a communications code on his global. Sandoval's startled expression greeted him, an expression that quickly changed to one of concern as he saw Liam's apparent distress. He opened his mouth to ask what was wrong; Liam beat him to it. In an almost inaudible murmur, Liam said something that had Sandoval reaching for his suit jacket before he even realised that he was moving.
"Dad. I need your help."
Sandoval's thoughts raced. Liam has never called me 'Dad'. He's called me 'father' less than half a dozen times in his life. I don't think he even realises what he's said. What's spooked him so badly?
"I'll meet you at the Flat Planet in half an hour, Liam," said Sandoval. He watched as Liam sighed, nodded and ended the communication.
"What the hell is going on?" murmured Sandoval.
Flat Planet Café
Twenty-nine minutes later, Sandoval entered the Café and headed straight for Liam's favourite table. His son looked up as he approached with a haggard expression on his face.
Softly, gently, Sandoval said, "What's happened, Liam? What's wrong?"
A mixture of terror, worry and anger in his eyes, Liam replied.
"I got a call to go meet Judge MacKenzie at eleven o'clock this morning. He wanted to inform me personally that Robbie's mother has re-surfaced and put in a claim to regain custody of her son.
"She claims she's reformed, that she hasn't touched in almost ten years and that she and her new husband can offer a more stable home environment away from the dangers of anyone associated with the Companions.
"There's an initial hearing in just under a month. What am I supposed to do? How do I tell Robbie that the mother he remembers as an uncaring alcoholic - the mother that gave him both literal and physical scars; wants him back?
"I promised him that I'd look after him... I promised I'd never let anyone hurt him ever again... How do I tell him this?"
Sandoval fought to keep control of his own feelings. Liam was in too much of a state right now for him to freely vent his feelings at the thought of anyone trying to separate Liam and the boy.
"What's going to happen in the interim?" he asked.
Liam offered his first genuine smile of the day. "Judge MacKenzie has overruled Robbie's mother's request that he be temporarily taken into care. He said that Robbie was settled with me and doing well at his school. He's not about to order him moved unnecessarily until the outcome of the hearing."
"Good," said Sandoval. He placed a firm hand on Liam's wrist. "Take the rest of the day. Go home. Talk to Robbie and find out what he wants. Call me first thing tomorrow and we'll take it from there. There's no way she's getting Robbie if he doesn't want to be moved."
Liam bowed his head for a moment. He knew he had been right to count on Sandoval. Getting to his feet, he murmured, "Thanks."
Sandoval waited until Liam had left and then took out his global and made a few quick calls to friends and colleagues around the country requesting all possible background on Robbie's mother and her new husband.
His final call was to Renee Palmer to invite the astonished woman to dinner. He explained his bizarre invitation by saying, "There's a problem with Liam and Robbie. His mother has filed for custody."
Instantly, Renee said, "I'll be ready at seven."
Liam held a shaking Robbie in his arms as the boy sobbed. Tear-stained eyes were raised to his own.
"She can't really take me away from here, can she?"
Liam tightened his embrace and replied fervently, "I'll do all I can to stop her, Robbie. I promise you that. I don't want you to go either. I've already talked to Sandoval. We'll fight it all the way, if that's what you want."
"Of course that's what I want!" exclaimed a still tearful Robbie.
Liam took a deep breath and said; "We fight."