Ronald Sandoval sat on the chair next to his son's hospital bed and mused on the cycle of events that had brought about the current status quo. Three days. Three days and Liam had still not woken up. Antonia Waters had used explosive shells... thankfully she had been prevented from firing more than one shot... that one shot, though, had caused more pain and horror than anyone had thought possible.
The fact that Antonia Waters was in federal custody on charges of attempted murder was little consolation; her husband and the tabloid reporter that had been paid to smuggle the weapon to her outside the court steps were also in custody, on conspiracy charges. Sandoval's enhanced memory allowed him the unwanted pleasure of reliving, over and over again, the frantic journey to the hospital and the terrible, terrible waiting for news about Liam's status.
The hospital waiting area had been swamped with concerned friends and acquaintances. Matt Henderson, Judge MacKenzie, Joshua Doors, and even Da'an, had all come to lend aid and support to Robbie and Renee. He, however, had had to remain strong. The only two that knew that he was suffering just as bad as they were, were Renee and Robbie.
Robbie had been locked in Renee's arms since the moment Liam had been whisked off to surgery. Renee hadn't forgotten about him, though, her tear-filled gaze had locked with his, offering what comfort she could, but the stark fact was that Sandoval couldn't break down and show his true emotions in such a public forum. It would be too dangerous for his son.
Long into the night, an exhausted colleague of Drs. Park and Belman had appeared to say that Liam had survived the surgery. Voice grim, he'd told of the damage the bullet had done after it entered Liam's back... it was still too early to tell. If he survived the night, then maybe...
The doctor had offered to take Robbie and Renee through to Liam - no one else was permitted just yet. He had sighed silently but, for the first time since the incident, Robbie spoke up. Holding out his hand to him, he'd said, "Ron comes too."
Renee had nodded her agreement and, seeing the way that the boy clutched at his hand, the doctor had not argued. Since then, they'd taken turns to sit with Liam. One of the three of them was with him round the clock.
They weren't the only visitors. Volunteers appeared at regular intervals - before or after duty shifts - to check on both the Major and his unusual family, the Volunteers weren't oblivious; they knew the connection that ran between the Major and Sandoval, Ms. Palmer and the boy. Even Da'an and Zo'or had visited.
Sandoval closed his eyes re-visualising the astonishing sight of the leader of the Synod placing a gentle hand on Liam Kincaid's pain furrowed brow and saying softly, "Do not leave us for too long, Major. You have much still to achieve. The Taelon race calls you friend and we do not wish to lose your insights."
Sandoval stirred in his seat, returning to the present and the reality of the hospital room. It was bedecked with flowers and cards from the kids at Robbie's school - Liam had no idea how many lives he had touched. Sandoval glanced down at his watch. Renee would be here in a few hours and then Robbie would arrive with his devoted and fiercely protective Volunteer escort.
The doctors had said to keep up a constant stream of familiar voices. To talk to Liam, to keep him anchored, to call him back. There had been a long line of volunteers ready and willing to help and it seemed to be working. Liam's vital signs had been constantly improving. He still hadn't woken up, though.
Sighing, Sandoval pressed his fingers lightly against his son's, preparing to go get yet another cup of coffee. He froze... was that... did he imagine that? Holding his breath, he clutched gently at Liam's hand and felt his heart ease in his chest when he felt a faint but tangible return of pressure on his hand.
Eyes hopeful, he raised his gaze and smiled through misty eyes as he saw the open eyes of his son. Liam gave him a faint smile and breathed a soft, "Dad."
Instinctively, Sandoval reached out to smooth his hand through Liam's hair. He smiled down into his son's eyes and said, "Welcome back. We were beginning to think that you'd sleep forever."
At the word 'we', Liam's eyes took on a panicked expression. Sandoval smoothed his hair again, saying, "Hush, now. They're both fine. Just worried sick about you. You scared ten years off our lives but we're all fine. Go back to sleep, Liam. I'll call them. They'll be here by the time you wake up."
Trustingly, Liam closed his eyes; Sandoval turned to the door. His CVI enhanced hearing caught a quiet whisper, one he wasn't sure if he was supposed to have heard. He headed out to pass the good news and make the call to Renee and Robbie, ruthlessly trying to tell himself that Liam was still barely coherent, he probably hadn't even realised what he was saying.
Calls placed, Sandoval leaned against a corridor wall, eyes closed. The two words had filled him with such peace. Two simple, murmured words from his son... Love you.
Sandoval sighed, thinking, I love you too, Liam. When exactly had life gotten this complicated?
Sandoval looked up from his seat in the hospital corridor when he heard the staccato sound of approaching footsteps. He raised his eyes to meet the anxious gazes of Renee Palmer and Robbie Samuels. The Volunteers that had escorted the pair to the hospital fell back to a discreet distance to allow them to confer with the FBI agent.
"Ron, why are you sitting out here?" asked Robbie. "Is there something wrong with Liam?" At his scared and weary tone, Renee's arm automatically reached out to pull the teenager close, offering what comfort she could. Sandoval met her questioning gaze and for the first time in three days, he offered the pair a genuinely happy smile.
"No. Nothing's wrong. He woke up again an hour or so after I called you, the doctors descended en masse. Judging from his grumbles about over enthusiastic prodding and sadistic nurses taking great delight in sticking him with needles I think it is safe to say that he's feeling better.
"Melissa Park was on call and she's in with him now. For some reason, he won't - what's the word that my grandmother used to say... I know... he won't sass her."
Renee bit back a giggle. She knew exactly why Liam was on his best behaviour with 'Lissa. Pity she couldn't share it with them. Fighting her laughter, she said, "Can we see him?"
"One at a time, and only for a few minutes." Sandoval looked at Robbie and said, "Liam's being asking for you. He's worried. I told him that you're fine but like any good parent, he's not going to believe it until he sees for himself."
Robbie smiled at the other man. Mr. Sandoval would know about that, wouldn't he? He'd barely been out of this hospital for the past three days as he waited on his son to wake up. His train of thought robbed him of the reply he had been going to make.
Parents and children. Liam was his guardian now. Matt had already filed the papers to get the adoption under way. He'd known about the adoption, hell, he'd been ecstatic about the idea - in the abstract. The reality of the situation had just struck him full force with Ron's words. Liam was going to be his father. He was going to be Liam's son!
Instead of replying, he just nodded and headed to the doorway of Liam's room. Hesitantly, he looked inside. Dr. Park saw him and smiled. He heard her say, "I'll be back later, Liam. For now, I think you've got a visitor."
Liam followed her gaze and his face broke into a delighted smile. "Robbie!"
Robbie had no recollection of moving, but the next thing he felt was Liam's arm around him as he was hugged with tender care and as much love as he'd ever felt in his entire life. Liam's gentle hand raised his chin and Robbie saw the concern shining out of the older man's eyes.
"You're really all right? You weren't hurt?"
Robbie leaned forward and pressed his forehead to Liam's. "I'm fine. Now that you're awake, I'm better than fine."
He got to his feet with a sigh and a smile. "I've got to go, Liam. The doctors are only allowing us a few minutes each to visit you. Renee's waiting."
Liam sighed ruefully but nodded his understanding. He watched as Robbie stopped at the doorway. The teenager turned back to look at him, the concern and love in the boy's eyes robbed him of the power of speech. What had he done in his life to be blessed with Robbie's presence in it?
"Hurry up and get out of here, Liam. There's a victory celebration on hold waiting on you to be there... and Liam... I love you. I just wanted you to know that."
Robbie disappeared before he could answer. Liam sat there lost in thought and almost never heard the arrival of Renee Palmer. In a voice husky with emotion she stood at the doorway and said one word. "Kincaid."
He met her gaze but his grin of welcome faltered on his face. Renee's eyes were glittering with a multitude of emotions. She stalked towards him, silent. Her hand jumped to his throat and she angrily tilted his face so that he was looking up into hers and hissed, "Don't you ever do anything like that again. Do you hear me, Kincaid?! Protect the boy. Don't start going chivalrous on me. Don't you dare start flinging yourself into danger to save me!"
"Renee... I..." stuttered Liam. Where had that come from? He'd just done what anyone would have done. Hadn't he?
Trying to rein in her anger and worry, Renee looked down into the bewildered and hurt expression in Liam's eyes. Damn it. Her heart melted at the sight and she gave into the longing she had been suppressing since entering the room. Renee bent her head and kissed him with all the longing, all the worry, and all the terror she had been holding in her heart.
His dazed eyes brought home to her what she'd done. She had promised herself she wasn't going to do that! Her feelings were going to be suppressed. Liam had enough on his plate with Robbie. He didn't need emotional outbursts of undying love from his friends.
For once in her life, Renee did something she had hardly ever done. She turned and ran from his room... ran away from her problems.
Liam lay back on his pillows, head spinning. What was that about?!
Sandoval stuck his head round the door and saw the stunned and confused expression on Liam's face. Renee had haired past them so suddenly he'd been unable to stop her. From the look on Liam's face, she'd revealed more than she'd intended too. He fought a grin. Liam looked completely bewildered.
Friendship isn't enough for her any more, Liam, he thought. She's been wearing her heart on her sleeve for a while now. When are you going to figure it out?
"Ms. Palmer... Renee... This is not the way to handle this."
"Don't you think I know that, Sandoval?!" snapped Renee. Sighing, she dropped her head for a moment before raising her gaze to meet his. "I'm sorry, that was uncalled for. I know you're only trying to help. I just can't deal with this right now and I'm in no frame of mind to handle dealing with Liam's response to my unfortunate little problem."
Sandoval fought a sigh. When had he gone from Implant and feared agent of the Taelons to relationship counsellor? He must have missed the memo.
"Renee, have you ever thought that he might feel the same way? Running away is not the answer. How am I supposed to explain this to them?"
He watched as she flinched at that. Sighing dispiritedly she absently tucked a lock of her blonde hair behind her ear. "It's not forever, Sandoval. I'll be at the London offices of DI for a couple of months. It'll give me time away. Time to think.
"I'll be back in time for Robbie's birthday and for Christmas. Tell them that."
She raised pleading eyes to the doubtful gaze of the Implant. Eventually, his eyes softened and he relented. He nodded his agreement.
"Thank you," breathed a relieved Renee. She turned to walk out of her office and to meet the car waiting to take her to the nearest Portal station. She paused in the doorway and turned to gaze at Sandoval. "Look after, them. Please."
"Of course I will, Ms. Palmer. Do what you need to."
Two months later. December 23rd
"Matt, that's fantastic! Can I tell him or do I have to wait until the paperwork is signed?"
Matt smiled at the huge grin on Liam's face. Damn, sometimes he really loved this job. "Tell him whenever you want, Liam. I'll need you both to be in Judge Walsh's courtroom on December 27th. We'll do the paperwork and then everything will be settled once and for all."
Liam just couldn't stop smiling. "Matt, thank you. For everything. You've been a true friend, we appreciate all the work; we really do.
"You're coming to dinner on Christmas day, right?"
Matt grinned and said, "I wouldn't miss it, Liam. Tell Robbie Happy Birthday for tomorrow."
"I will, Matt. See you Christmas."
Liam shut the global and looked up into Sandoval's expectant gaze. He knew his shining eyes told his father the good news but he said it anyway, "The adoption's gone through. Robbie's mine."
Sandoval broke into a delighted grin. Things were falling into place. He looked over into Liam's happily glowing face and said, "It's fabulous news, Liam. The perfect birthday news Robbie could get.
"I've got some errands I need to run and some work that I need to finish up for the Taelons. I'll drop by the house tomorrow afternoon as arranged. Give Robbie a hug for me and tell him that I'll see him soon."
Liam nodded and waved a farewell as his father left the Embassy.
Later that night at the new house that he and Robbie had picked out, Liam broke the news to Robbie. For a long moment the teen just stood there, staring at him. Finally, he murmured a breathless, "It's about time," and launched himself into his adoptive father's arms for a hug.
The next day was filled with laughter and joy. Robbie loved Christmas, he'd rarely had a chance to enjoy it before but Liam was more than making up for it this year. With Robbie's birthday being Christmas Eve and having their first Christmas together too, Liam had let loose on the decorations.
Sandoval had been roped in to helping and the result had been a cheerful, cosy atmosphere and lots of laughter. The only thing that had marred an otherwise relaxed and happy couple of months was the absence of Renee Palmer.
Robbie missed her, surprising himself Sandoval found that he missed her, and Liam refused to talk about what had happened in his hospital room. His eyes took on a lost and bewildered expression every time her name was mentioned.
Well, Robbie smiled quietly, he and Ron were going to fix that.
While Liam was off changing, Robbie quickly attached one more decoration, just above the doorway to the living room. He heard car doors slamming and he yelled, "Liam, Ron's here!"
A muffled voice called back, "Let him in, Robbie! I'll be there in a minute."
Robbie obediently went to open the door; he winked at Sandoval who winked back. The person accompanying Sandoval wandered slowly up the pathway to the house, her gaze lingering appreciatively over the house's decorations and the cheery welcome it offered.
Renee was wearing cream trousers and a burgundy sweater that hugged the curves of her body like a second skin. Robbie looked on in approval, Liam didn't stand a chance; neither did Renee. He and Ron had arranged this reunion very carefully, Renee didn't know that Liam had no idea that she was back, and Liam had no idea that she'd been invited.
She stepped through the front door and hugged Robbie close, saying, "Happy Birthday, sweetheart."
Hugging her back, Robbie tugged excitedly at her hand to get her to come see the tree in the living room. In the doorway, he stopped and grinned, saying, "Look up, Renee."
She did and, spying the mistletoe, she kissed the tip of his nose. Robbie laughed in delight and demanded that she kiss Sandoval too. Her eyebrows rose in surprise but she obliged and gave him a quick kiss too. A voice from behind her froze her in her tracks. Liam's voice. Husky.
"Can I play this game too?"
Before she had the chance to object, he swept her into his arms and proceeded to show her exactly how much he had missed her. Out of the corner of his eye he watched his father and Robbie give each other a high five, grinning. He broke off from the enticing lips of his best friend and mock-glared at the pair, saying, "Of all the sneaky, manipulative..."
His words cut off as Renee pulled him back for another kiss. Robbie and his father just looked on and laughed. Liam's warm gaze eased the ache in Renee's heart. She didn't know quite how this development was going to affect her relationship with Liam but it promised to be very interesting.
After dinner, they were sitting there with glasses of warm eggnog; Sandoval raised his glass and proposed a double toast. To Renee and Liam, who had finally gotten a clue and acted on the feelings that had been evident to everyone but them, and, to Robbie and Liam and their new family status.
The three accepted the toast with good grace and smiles; Robbie was determined to have the last word, though. He raised his glass of hot chocolate and said, "A toast. To Ron. We'd never have got this far without you."
Sandoval inclined his head and sipped on his eggnog in salute. He almost choked at Robbie's final words. "Thanks... Grandpa!"
At the cheeky grin on Robbie's face and the astounded look on Sandoval's, Renee and Liam lost all control and held on to each other for dear life as tears of laughter rolled down their faces.
This holiday period was going to be the best ever.