The cheering, clapping, hugging and kissing had subsided to a dull roar; the start of the New Year was officially here. Liam looked around the ballroom of the Governor's mansion and assessed the situation... nobody was paying them too much attention; well, not any more than normal. Since she had returned from London, Renee hadn't attended a public function with anyone else and the gossips were talking of nothing else. He placed a gentle hand on her arm and murmured, "Let's take a walk outside."
Casting a curious glance toward her escort for the evening, Renee nodded. They made their way outside - not completely unnoticed - after all, they were a fairly striking couple. They nodded greetings to a few acquaintances and continued on their way outside, uncaring of the speculation in the gazes of those in the room that observed their departure; New Year's Day was a magical time, a time to think about new beginnings and not the problems of the year before.
Innately courteous as always, Liam removed his tuxedo jacket and draped it around Renee's shoulders; he didn't feel the cold that much anyway, hybrid heritage was useful on some occasions. They wandered hand in hand through the formal gardens; silent, happy just to be in each other's company. It had been an intense time these past few months, what with the kidnapping of Robbie, the custody battle, the shooting, her flight to London and her subsequent return in time for Robbie's birthday on Christmas Eve.
Renee sighed quietly; things hadn't exactly been simple since then either. She was discovering things about herself that were challenging her status quo of the past few years. She loved Robbie, she'd done her best to avoid close contact with kids for years, the pain when they went away was too much to go through, Robbie had sundered those barriers with his first shy grin, she'd die to protect him.
Then there was Sandoval. Hatred for the Taelons and all their stooges had been strong in her since the day the then Liberation movement was formed. Sandoval had done terrible, terrible things. She'd been comfortable in her hate. Her head still told her to hate him, but her heart no longer could. He was a decent man, caught up in events that were beyond everybody's control; he loved his son and he loved Robbie, which made him her friend.
Then, of course, there was the person quickly becoming the most important thing in her life. It certainly hadn't started out that way! She now realised that she had allowed Jonathan's dislikes to colour her initial perceptions of Liam Kincaid. Finding out about his alien heritage, she had understood the concerns Jonathan had expressed for the otherwise reasonable choice of new Resistance Leader. Over time, though, Liam had shown her how wrong those perceptions had been. Renee sighed, he was good, decent, courageous, loyal and, at times, too honourable for the current world climate. He had become her friend almost in spite of herself, then her best friend, and now, he was becoming so much more.
Liam began to slow his pace and she slowed to match it. They stopped under a large evergreen and he tilted her chin up with a gentle finger and dropped a brief, chaste kiss on her lips. She looked up at him and smiled, "What was that for?"
He grinned and said, "Because I couldn't resist you, Renee."
She punched gently at his shoulder and said fondly, "You're a great big softy, aren't you, Kincaid?"
Liam smiled but his eyes grew intent as he gazed at her and said, "Yes. More to the point, this softy loves you very much and would like to marry you."
Renee opened her mouth to speak but her voice caught in her throat, she was stunned. This was moving very fast, there were so many reasons not to do this that she shouldn't even have had to hesitate in saying no. She didn't. There was one very simple reason for saying yes. She loved this man with all her heart.
"Yes, I'll marry you."
Liam's eyes seemed to glow with love as he pulled her close so that her head nestled on his shoulder. "Thank you, my love."
She was a bit confused when he just as suddenly released her. He gave her an apologetic grin as he said, "Sorry, I promised to let them know as soon as I had an answer."
"Let who know what?!" demanded Renee in exasperation.
Liam pulled his global from his belt and opened it and keyed in a communications code. Sandoval was on duty at the Embassy so he couldn't speak freely. Liam looked at his father and said, "She said yes." His father's face split into a huge smile and he said, "I'll see you all tomorrow at the house and congratulate you then."
Liam closed that signal and called home. Melissa Park was looking after Robbie; at first Liam had been hesitant about leaving him alone on his first New Year with him. Robbie had taken care of the situation by arranging for Renee to invite him to the Governor's New Year Ball - he had taken the hint.
Robbie answered with his new favourite greeting of, "Hi Dad, what's up?" The rest of the time, he addressed him as Liam, but Robbie delighted in answering his calls like that and he loved to hear it.
"She said yes."
"YES! YES! YES!"
Liam laughed and said, "I take it that meets with your approval, then? All right, I said you could stay up until I let you know what happened.
"Go to bed. I'll be home in a couple of hours and both Renee and Sandoval will be there tomorrow."
"Okay, Liam. A Happy New Year to you and Renee. Tell her I lover her."
Liam closed his global and turned to face a chuckling Renee. He shrugged and said, "I had my orders.
"Now then, where were we?"
He reached out and wrapped his arms around his new fiancée and they just stood there for a few minutes before returning to the party, smiles and calm faces hiding their news, it was nobody's business but family.
New Year's day was a quiet, family time in the Kincaid house. Liam and Robbie had invited exactly two guests, Ronald Sandoval and Renee Palmer. Their other friends had understood, they'd been invited to share Christmas; in the aftermath of the custody case and shooting, the friends that had stood by them had been asked to share their happiness.
Liam was on duty that evening at the Washington Embassy, in place to oversee all the Volunteers on or off planet; Sandoval was finally getting a few days well-deserved rest. As a consequence, a family dinner had been decided on as their New Year celebration. Joy and happiness had greeted the engagement of Liam and Renee, as Robbie put it, "It's about time you two got together."
After dinner, they went into the living room and sat in a companionable silence, drinking coffee, just happy to be together. Ronald Sandoval sat on one of the armchairs, content in a way that had been lacking in his life since DeeDee and then Siobhan had been taken from him. His gaze took in the sight of his family - he knew it, even if nobody else did - the teenager with a heart of gold and amazing depths of courage, and the woman that had become a friend through their shared concerns for others. Fiercely loyal, compassionate, loving, determined... Renee was a good match for Liam.
Liam... His son. Who would ever have thought that possible? He had gone from an effective if annoying colleague to friend in a remarkable short space of time. And then, the revelation. Liam was his son! A man of integrity; courage, true kindness and unshakeable loyalty. Sandoval smiled softly to himself. A year ago if he had been told that he would love Liam Kincaid and die to protect him, he would have had the person that said it committed to an asylum as a danger to the public.
Shadows filled his eyes briefly. Things had changed for him now. His time away from work was going to have to be spent talking to a few people. Shadowy people. People that wielded power on this planet from behind the scenes. He was - and always would be - loyal to the cause he fought for; that's why he did what he did in the first place. He had a family to consider now, though. True it was unacknowledged as far as the outside world knew, that didn't mean he couldn't take steps to protect them.
He was going to have to distance himself from some of the riskier schemes he currently supervised. He had people to lose now, people he cared about. Steps were going to have to be taken to protect them... they came first.
His attention was brought back to the here and now when he heard Liam clearing his throat, glancing at both himself and Robbie with a shy expression. Softly, Liam said, "Renee and I talked this over last night. We still have a lot to organise before we can consider a definite date for the wedding..."
Renee chimed in, "We don't want a big ceremony, just you both and a couple of friends like 'Lissa and Matt for witnesses. A civil ceremony, nothing as massive as a church service."
Liam gave his fiancée a soft smile before continuing. "I have no family other than you both, and, Renee has no living family left. That means we have something very important to ask you both."
Renee looked at Robbie and Sandoval with a shyly, hopeful expression on her face and said, "If neither of you have any objections, Liam would like his father to be his best man and I would be honoured if Robbie would 'give me away'."
There was a stunned silence at that. Robbie and Sandoval looked at each other for a brief minute, grinned and turned to address the pair, saying together, "We'd love to!"
Across the city, in an anonymous house in an anonymous street, there were several people gathered that were not full of New Year's cheer. The former living room of the house was the command centre for a small paramilitary force. They had started out three years ago with tacit governmental backing. Their methods had soon had that backing being withdrawn and they had gone to ground.
There were three images on the screens in front of the cadre of operatives. Their CO said, "These are our new targets, people. This is not going to be easy. They currently enjoy a great deal of public affection but that is not going to deter us.
"They work directly for or collude with the Taelon taint on our planet. They must be made an example of. It will not be easy. These people are professionals and are able to call on squads of Volunteers for protection. This is going to be a long-term project but our goal is clear...
"The permanent removal of Liam Kincaid, Ronald Sandoval and Renee Palmer from the current world scene. When they are gone, strikes against Taelon interests become much more feasible.
"Study our enemies, people. We are going to bring them down."
January passed quickly as far as Robert Samuels-Kincaid was concerned. School was fun, it always was, but the thing that occupied most of his attention was his new family. Sometimes he couldn't believe how lucky he was. It seemed an eternity ago that he had been caught up in the drive-by outside Mr. O'Kane's shop. Strange as it seemed, he blessed the memory of that day... that was the day that he first met Liam Kincaid.
His adoptive father was the most understanding and caring person that he had ever met - or was ever likely to meet and he loved him dearly. Now he was gaining a new - stepmother - would that be the right term? Renee Palmer was the perfect match for Liam. He knew that with certainty. Robbie smiled as he thought happily about the impending marriage. This time last year he was living on the streets; very soon now, he was going to have two parents that loved him and took care of him, a home... a future.
The car transporting him drew into the driveway and he scrambled out, waving a friendly goodbye to his Volunteer escort as he did so. He thought it was a little excessive, after all, the terrorists that kidnapped him and his friends were either dead or in custody and Antonia Waters, may she rot in Hell, would never trouble them again; she was going to be in jail for years.
Liam and Ron had both insisted, though. He'd tried to resist - he was fifteen - he didn't need babysitters. That's when Liam and Ron had pulled out the big guns, the hopeful, 'it'll make us feel better' expressions; grown men shouldn't be able to make faces like that, it was unfair! He had begun to weaken, and that's when Sandoval pulled off the masterstroke of guilt trips. He'd said that the Volunteers would be heartbroken if they couldn't look after 'their' Robbie! When exactly had he become their mascot?!
Renee had arranged to spend some time with him this afternoon, so he unhesitatingly walked in the front door, yelling, "Renee, I'm home! Where are you?"
"Kitchen, Robbie! Come on, you can help me make the pasta."
Robbie grinned and he could almost feel his taste buds cheering. Renee's lasagna was amazing! He turned to close the door and paused, frowning for just a second. That maroon car was back again. It was the second time he'd seen it drive along their street this week. He shook his head in exasperation. You're imagining things, Robbie.
"Robbie!" yelled an exasperated Renee. "What are you up to?"
"Nothing, Renee. Sorry. I'll be right there..."
The maroon car that Robbie had spotted continued its journey down the street. One of the men inside pulled out a global and reported in to their base of operations.
"The boy's home from school. Escort make-up remains unchanged. Two Volunteers in the car with him and another two following in another car; presumably functioning as a chase vehicle ready for intercepts.
"As reported by Team Two, the woman is in the house.
"Location of subjects one and two is unknown at this time."
A cold hard voice responded, saying, "Return to base."
"Aye, sir. ETA thirty minutes."
On board the mothership, Liam stuck his head in to Sandoval's office, saying, "You got a minute, Sandoval?"
The Implant looked up from his work, scowl transforming to a smile, "Of course, Major Kincaid. What can I help you with?"
Liam grinned and rolled his eyes at his father's formal tone. "Nothing, Sandoval. Just wanted to let you know something..."
After it became apparent that Liam wasn't going to say anything more till he did, Sandoval muttered under his breath about 'maturity of a toddler sometimes' and said "What?!" in an exasperated tone.
"Date's tentatively set for February 5th. Is that all right for you?"
A huge smile graced his father's face and Liam grinned happily as Sandoval said, "It's fine with me, Liam. How about you? Are you ready for the big day?"
Liam nodded and came forward to whisper, "You'll hold my hand if I get nervous, won't you daddy?"
Sandoval's hand snapped out and smacked the back of Liam's head and he said, "Idiot!
"Get out of here and leave me to my reports!"
Liam held up his hands in mock surrender, saying, "Ooh, grumpy. That's the price of authority, though. Reports, red tape..."
He ducked avoiding the pen thrown at his head, laughed and quickly exited Sandoval's office. It was time to head for the shuttle bay and back to Washington. Renee was making lasagna and he didn't want to miss it.
At half past five on the evening of February 3rd, Ronald Sandoval left the Washington Embassy with a smile on his face and a spring in his step. The Volunteers on duty at the doors watched his departure with approval. Sandoval had changed a great deal in the past year and most definitely for the better! He was still hell on wheels to deal with when it came to the proper performance of their duties but, off-duty, he was now approachable, in fact, on occasion he was downright mellow.
"Is there any word on the 'special' assignment yet on February 5th? Is the duty roster up yet?"
Kate gave a slight shrug of her shoulder as she addressed her friend. "No, not yet. Word is Sandoval won't announce it till tomorrow evening. He doesn't want anything leaking to the media."
Jane's eyes widened. Sandoval was taking a lot of precautions. That meant Major Kincaid and/or Robbie's safety was at stake... those two were better guarded than some heads of state. What could be... "Kate," breathed Jane in shock, as a thought struck her. "You don't think that the major and Ms. Palmer..." Her voice trailed off but Kate understood what was 'not' said. She smiled and said, "Oh, I hope so."
Ronald Sandoval closed his global with a smile. David Graham was an old acquaintance from a case during his days as an FBI field agent. They had kept in touch after David and his wife Donna moved out of the city; he had been the first person that sprang to mind when Liam had approached him about the wedding, asking him if he knew of any Justices of the Peace that could perform the ceremony. He'd called David and his old friend had readily agreed.
His global signalled a message and called him back from his reminisces. The face on the screen was something of a shock. It was a generated false image and a digital recording of a randomly chosen voice. The message was concise and to the point. "Mr. Lincoln's office. An hour."
An hour later, as instructed, Sandoval walked towards the Lincoln Memorial. Footsteps echoed behind him, fighting all his instincts, he didn't turn round. A voice said, "Sabre 353." He responded with the correct recognition code of "Wolf Gamma 3."
Satisfied that the proprieties had been observed, Sandoval muttered, "What's wrong? Why the emergency summons?"
"You've been targeted."
"And? There's nothing new there."
The voice sighed, "Not like this, and you're not the only target."
Voice showing a first hint of fear, Sandoval said, "Who else has been targeted?"
"Besides you? Major Kincaid and Ms. Palmer, thankfully not the boy. The situation's bad enough, though. The people after you are a rogue Covert Ops. Group that are acting without sanction.
"We're trying to get some more details on them for you but it's going to take time. Till then, the best we can do is to tell you to watch your back - and theirs - anything happens to any of you, it would be a security nightmare."
"Acknowledged," said Sandoval. Five minutes later, the accompanying footsteps had faded away and Sandoval headed off in a new direction - to the Washington Embassy - he had work to do. It was going to be a long night.
The following evening, Sandoval walked into one of the briefing rooms in the Embassy and addressed the forty plus Volunteers sitting there.
"You've been called in to ask to 'volunteer' your off-duty services to a special assignment. Does anyone want to decline? It will not reflect in any way on your record but I cannot divulge any further information before I know if you are willing to accept the duty."
Demonstrating a willingness to trust that would have been absent a year before, not a one left the room. Sandoval smiled at them. His Volunteers were good people; too many people overlooked that fact.
"Thank you, everyone.
"All right then. After this briefing some of you will be heading directly to the town of Hatton; the rest of us will follow tomorrow."
A hand was raised. "Sir, what's going on?"
Sandoval grinned and sat on the edge of the desk as he looked at his Volunteers.
"Major Kincaid and Ms. Palmer are getting married."
The muffled cries of, "Yes! It's about time!" made him chuckle and he said, "Yes. Robbie and I mentioned that fact ourselves."
There was some outright laughter at that. It cut off the instant his smile changed to a frown.
"The bad news is that the Major, Ms. Palmer and I are being targeted by an as yet unidentified 'terrorist' group. As soon as I have more information it will be relayed to you.
"This group will try to avoid civilian casualties but not to the exclusion of completing their mission. That means Robbie and the other civilians are in the line of fire too, and that means that we have a lot of work to do before tomorrow."
Shoulders squared, faces grew focused, nothing was going to happen to 'their people'; the Volunteers wouldn't allow it.
On February 5th, the sleepy little town of Hatton woke to glorious winter sunshine. There was a light dusting of snow over everything and the odd icicle glistened as it was caught by light from the sun.
Renee Palmer looked out of the window of the guest-house that she and 'Lissa Park were stay in and smiled as she said, "It's perfect!"
Melissa looked up from the dressing table where she was busily laying out cosmetics, hair brushes and various other knick-knacks, smiled and said, "The setting's perfect, now we need to work on you. Sit!"
Renee obediently moved to the chair indicated, fighting a giggle as she did so. Each and every item that had been laid out had been done so with surgical precision. Everything was arrayed for ease of access, 'Lissa's surgical training shining through.
'Lissa had been delighted to be asked to be Matron of Honour and had quickly revealed a great deal of experience in organising brides to be; apparently four sisters and seven grown nieces had given her a lot of practice at this stuff.
Renee was truly grateful, with the absence of her parents, her mother in particular, she'd had no idea how to go about a simple little wedding. Church ceremonies were easy - hire a coordinator - that didn't work for small, intimate ceremonies like this one was going to be.
Melissa Park reached out with a gentle but firm hand to tilt Renee's chin up as she assessed the blonde's pale features. She smiled at Renee and said, "Not much need for drastic work here, Renee. A few touches here and there... We just have to knock the dear boy in to next week, not the next zip code."
Renee choked on a laugh and fought not to blush. In a voice echoing with suppressed mirth, she said, "You're a devil, you know that don't you?"
'Lissa nodded and said, "Fun, isn't it? Now hush up and let me work."
Back in Washington DC, Matt Henderson and Robbie, having just had breakfast, were notified by Robbie's 'unofficial' Volunteer security squad that the cars were on the way to pick them up and take them to the Embassy.
Sandoval had had a long talk with Liam and Renee. Both had been fuming at the thought of Robbie being put at risk... again. They had wholeheartedly endorsed Sandoval's additional security precautions for the wedding party.
The travel plans for Robbie and Matt were rescheduled. Instead of Matt driving Robbie to Hatton with a two-car Volunteer escort, the plan was altered to Robbie and Matt travelling by shuttle to Hatton with an eight-man escort. The plan detailed four Volunteers to be in the shuttle with them, and another four in an accompanying shuttle that would be shadowing their every move.
Meanwhile, at the home of David Graham, Sandoval and Liam had been ensconced in the loft bedroom with a couple of camping beds. At Sandoval's insistence their travel arrangements had also been altered. Rather than what had originally been planned, he and Liam had travelled by portal to the mothership and had then been shuttled to Hatton by their own Volunteer escort.
All the Volunteers were acting in an 'unofficial' capacity, those not on duty covered for their colleagues. It was on occasions like this that the Volunteers blessed the fact that the Taelons paid more attention to the uniforms rather than people wearing them. All orders had been verbal, to the best knowledge of everyone involved; nobody - especially not the media - knew what was going on.
That thought echoing in his mind, Sandoval did something he had not done in a long time and sent up a quick prayer that everything go as planned.
Clearing his throat, he murmured, "Liam, I have something for you."
Liam rolled on to his side and gazed at him across the loft with a questioning expression.
Sandoval reached over to the chair where he had draped his jacket and rummaged around in the pocket, retrieving two velvet boxes.
"The ring?" asked Liam in a soft voice. "Why two boxes?"
Sandoval grinned. "Well, you were right to ask me to go in your place. I can tell you that for nothing. I got a few stunned reactions to my appearance in jewellery stores and a few pointed questions about you and Renee; which I deflected with skill I might add!"
Liam threw a pillow at him, saying, "Stop patting yourself on the back and tell me what you've got there!"
Sandoval fingered the larger of the two boxes before wordlessly handing it over. He said, "This is for you. I wanted something for your wedding that would be from your parents. It had the added bonus of deflecting the suspicions of the jewellers."
Gently, Liam opened the box... and gasped. Inside, nestled on velvet, was a pair of gold cufflinks. The design was what took his breath away. Sowulo. His mother's chosen rune of protection.
"Sandoval... Dad... I don't know what to..."
"You like them?" asked Sandoval in a diffident voice.
Liam rolled to sit upright on his bed and placed a hand on his father's wrist, saying, "They're perfect. I love them."
Sandoval smiled his relief and fingered the other box. He said, "Renee told me her ring size and I had this altered to fit. It was your great-grandmother's. It was passed to me to give to my eldest daughter when she got married.
"I'm never likely to have a daughter and I think that you should have it to give to your wife. Grandma would have wanted this, I'm sure. She'd have loved Renee, she liked women to have 'spirit'."
Liam grinned. Renee certainly had that. He opened the ring box and gaped in wonder. The wedding band was an interwoven design featuring white gold and platinum. It was simple yet elegant and it suited Renee's style to perfection.
Softly, he said, "She'll love it. Thank you, father... for everything."
Sandoval just smiled. He pulled out his ever-present pocket watch, looked at it and said, "Time to start getting ready."
In a secluded house on the edge of Hatton another group of people were also making preparations. Black camouflage clothing was laid out, as were a variety of weapons...
By the time that David Graham said the words, "I now pronounce you man and wife," there were more than a few teary eyes in the room. The usual stoic facades of the Volunteers had begun to crumble the minute that Renee Palmer walked in the room, escorted by a beaming Robbie. He was dressed in a charcoal grey suit that matched his eyes; she was a vision of elegance in a pale cream trouser suit.
The two Protectors in the little wedding party looked very handsome in casual but incredibly stylish suits. Agent Sandoval was - to the Volunteers' eyes - practically beaming with pride, and Kincaid exuded so much happiness it was a pleasure to be in the same room. This little group had suffered more than a few trials and tribulations in the past year, they deserved this happiness; they truly did.
A lot of hugs, tears and laughter followed the traditional kiss between the bride and groom. After that, the celebration moved back to David Graham's house where a huge celebratory dinner had been laid out. Much to the surprise of the Volunteers, they were invited. They all took turns on guard duty but everyone did get the opportunity to join in the fun; it was a non-alcoholic feast and both Sandoval and Kincaid insisted that they had earned the right to be there.
Everyone was staying in Hatton overnight; Liam and Renee were staying at the guesthouse. All in all, it ended up being unanimously hailed as a 'perfect day'.
As far as everyone was concerned, the next day came entirely too soon. There were muted grumbles and complaints about having to return to Washington. Nobody really wanted to go back to work - it would spoil the almost magical spell that they had all fallen under.
Security considerations demanded that the targets be split up. Liam insisted that Robbie travel with Sandoval - by road. He'd take Renee and Matt with him in a shuttle, with another flying escort. It was moderately safer to travel in the road convoy, all it would take would be one well-timed rocket before the shuttles traversed into ID space and they would be toast. The road convoy had the added benefit of several chase cars full of Volunteers riding in close support; it would be practically suicidal to attack it. Much though Robbie wanted to dispute the decision, he didn't. His father was very careful with his safety, and considering past circumstances, he had reason to be.
The shuttles left without incident, and thirty minutes later, the road convoy set off. The attack began thirty miles outside of Hatton.
As soon as it became apparent that they were under attack, the Volunteer vehicles that were accompanying the car containing Agent Sandoval, Dr. Park and Robbie, moved to form a constantly flowing barricade as they put themselves between the attackers and their intended target.
The call was put out for assistance but it would still take at least five minutes before tactical responses units from the Embassy and the mothership could reach them. Melissa Park flinched slightly from the floor of the vehicle that she was travelling in. She hadn't had to be told to get herself and Robbie down on the floor and out of the line of fire; Sandoval had spared a second to smile at her and nod his approval, thankful for the instincts she had as a Resistance member.
She bit her lip in anxiety, that explosion had been close, and it could mean only one thing. One of the chase vehicles was gone. Volunteers were either maimed or dead and there was not a damn thing she could do to help them!
The car screeched to a halt and there was the ominous sound of weapons fire being exchanged. Masked figures blasted open one of the doors and tossed in some kind of gas canister. Melissa held on to consciousness long enough to see a black-sleeved arm reach in and drag something out and then the world went black...
The response teams - led by a frantic Liam Kincaid - arrived to find a scene of carnage and chaos. There were seven Volunteers dead and more injured. A pale and shaken 'Lissa Park was treating them as best she was able. Seeing him, she wordlessly pointed to her left; there, surrounded by a squad of Volunteers that were guarding him like a pride of lions guarding their cub, was Robbie. Alive.
The boy pushed through their arms and ran to embrace his father, tears streaming down his cheeks, shaking. He said the words that nobody else had dared to, words that froze Liam's heart in his chest...
"Dad, they've taken Sandoval..."
Exhausted and bone weary, Liam Kincaid was just about to leave the Washington Embassy when his global signalled a message. Steeling himself for bad news he managed a tired smile instead as his wife's face appeared instead. It was not exactly how they had envisaged spending their honeymoon but, hey, since when had they ever done anything the easy way? As Renee had put it, they had the rest of their lives together - finding Sandoval alive was all that need concern them for now.
"Anything?" said Liam in a hopeful tone.
"Maybe," acceded Renee with a tired frown. "I got a hold of Street, Augur was right, she's better than good.
"She's running searches on the forensic evidence left behind by the aggressors' vehicles. She seems certain that she can trace them back to where they were purchased. We both know that they were probably 'appropriated' specifically for the mission, but if we can find where they were taken from, then it's a place to start.
"It's a long shot, I know... How are things going on your end?"
Eyes betraying the worry he felt, Liam sighed and said, "We're stalled. These people are not idiots. Sandoval's global, ID and his clothes all appeared in a dumpster in DC two hours after he was taken. They're taking no chances with hidden transmitters.
"Zo'or's in a rage that anybody target a Protector. I think it's more that he's taking it as a personal affront on his position than the fact that he's worried about Sandoval. Then again, with those two you never can tell. It's the weirdest hate-hate relationship that I've ever seen.
"We can't track him - he and I are the only two Protectors that don't have sub-dermal transponders. I'm beginning to think that the benefits might have outweighed the possible security considerations.
"If we can narrow his location to a half-block radius then we've got scanners that will be able to detect emanations from his skrill - but we have to be that close.
"I'm worried, Renee. We might not find him in time..."
Blue eyes locked with green, and she said, "We're going to get him back, Liam. Just hold on to that belief. You're not going to lose him too."
Liam sighed and nodded. Renee was right. Please God, Renee was right.
Renee smiled. "He's been great, Liam.
"Terrified as he is about Sandoval, he's been full of optimism and support. I swear he's done the Volunteers more good than a squad full of counsellors..."
A two-tone beeping interrupted her. Liam had another call waiting...
"I'll be back as soon as I can, Renee. I'll call if I'm going to be late."
Renee smiled and broke the connection from her end. Liam sighed, rubbed tiredly at his neck and punched the code to play the waiting call.
It was a voice recording only.
"Mr. Lincoln's office, in an hour. Lone Wolf is missing. We have some information for you that might help."
Liam closed his global, fire burning in his green eyes. Finally, some action he could take!
Hang on, father. Just hang on. We'll get you back and I'll personally make sure that the people that took you away from me realise exactly how big a mistake they made.
Newly married Major Liam Kincaid, noble Companion Protector and extremely angry Resistance Leader restrained every instinct he had when he heard footsteps approaching from behind him.
As they walked towards the Lincoln Memorial an unknown voice said, "Sabre 353." Liam took a deep breath, fighting the urge to turn and look, he used the recognition code his father had given him and said, "Wolf Gamma 4."
"The aggressors that removed Lone Wolf are commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Currie. He was dishonourably discharged from the Marine Corps two and a half years ago when he and the rest of his unit went rogue.
"He's a fanatical believer in the fact that the Earth should expel the Taelons from our sovereign territory and, as is now patently obvious, proactively carrying out a campaign of terror and aggression against any and all humans that associate with the Taelon inner circle. That puts you, Agent Sandoval and your new wife at the top of their hit list.
"They are obviously unaware of your - or your wife's - role in the resistance; or, for that matter, the role that Sandoval plays.
"We have narrowed down the location of their base of operations to one of three possible locations. You'll have to take it from there."
"One more thing. If Sandoval cannot be retrieved, he must be neutralised."
Liam's face froze and it was a very good thing that Sabre couldn't see its expression. The ice cold fire in his eyes was an indication of the tight rein he was keeping on his anger. That was not going to happen.
"The data will be transmitted to your global within the hour. Good luck, Wolf."
The footsteps faded...
Seven hours later, Street had pinpointed the location of the base to the suburbs of Los Angeles. Liam exchanged a long glance with his wife, asked her to tell Robbie not to worry, kissed her goodbye and went to talk to the Volunteers.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, an anonymous house in a quiet suburb hid a macabre sight. The entire basement had been converted into a soundproof medical laboratory - holding true to the myths of suburbia, the neighbours had noticed nothing.
In that laboratory, bare-chested and held in full body restraints, Ronald Sandoval was unconscious. His captors had tried everything from the latest in truth serums through to a variety of less friendly narcotics in an effort to pry any useful information out of him. They had been convinced that they would be able to overcome the CVI's influence in regulating Sandoval's body and preventing him from feeling the side-effects associated with narcotics. They had been wrong.
In a rage, Lieutenant Colonel Currie had ordered more aggressive measures. Sandoval had been beaten into unconsciousness, revived, and beaten again. The last thing that they had done had been the one thing to cause most harm to Sandoval's psyche.
Removing his arm from its restraint, they had used a laser scalpel to cut the skrill from his arm. For that one time, he tried to reason with them, saying that the skrill was a living creature. They ignored him and they killed it.
He'd lapsed into unconsciousness again as the blood loss began to take effect. His thoughts drifted away from his current situation to the things causing him most concern. Had Robbie been taken too? Had Liam's shuttle been attacked? Were Liam and Renee safe?
The Volunteers looked up as Major Kincaid stalked into the briefing chamber. He was dressed in black and armed for combat.
"I have the location. Move out. You'll be briefed at our staging post in Los Angeles.
In Los Angeles, the LAPD quickly realised that their role in the assault was going to be in a strictly back-up capacity, the Volunteers were out for blood and, considering the circumstances; none of the officers were in any mood to put up obstacles.
They provided outside perimeter support and discreetly but efficiently evacuated the houses on either side of the terrorists' hideout. When the perimeter was secure, the Volunteer teams, headed by Major Kincaid, moved into position.
Poised and ready, with a Volunteer ready to burn the hinges off the front door, Liam gave a silent countdown with one hand. Three... two... one... GO!
With almost economical ease of movement, the Volunteer teams swept into the house, completely surprising the terrorists inside. Most were captured before the even had the chance to reach for their weapons, and those that did soon wished that they hadn't.
Two Volunteers protecting his back, Major Kincaid roughly pressed one of the captured terrorists against the nearest wall. With an almost nonchalant expression on his face, Liam pressed his forearm into the man's throat, slowly cutting off his air supply.
Green eyes burning with ice cold fire, he said, "Where Is He?!" The man shook his head in defiance and Liam pressed his arm more firmly against the man's throat, bending in to whisper something too softly for the Volunteers to hear.
Whatever it was, the terrorist went about three shades paler and gasped out, "The basement... the rest are in the basement. It was converted to accommodate the stuff we'd need. It's soundproofed..."
Rage burning in his eyes, Liam thrust the terrorist into the arms of a waiting Volunteer saying, "Get this person out of my sight!
"Teams Alpha and Delta, with me."
They burst through the only entrance to the basement with furious intent. They knew that they'd have to press hard; they were going to be expected. Major Kincaid - with his two appointed bodyguards - went through the initial resistance force like a whirlwind, his bodyguards doing their best to keep up with him.
Watching him calmly and efficiently grab a terrorist and break his neck with an almost effortless twist, his two Volunteer guards settled for just guarding his back. The major was on the warpath, anybody that was stupid enough to get in his way deserved what they were going to get.
Out of the corner of his eye, Liam caught sight of two things. Currie and a portable ID portal. "Get Currie, keep him away from the ID portal."
He was too late, though, with a snarl he watched Currie escape. His anger quickly changed to fear as a Volunteer called out in an absolutely horrified voice, "Oh my god, Major Kincaid... Sir!"
Heart in his mouth, Liam walked to where the horrified members of the Volunteer teams were congregating. Sandoval... it had to be Sandoval.
Liam bit back a groan at the sight of his father strapped to a medical table, covered with marks of torture and beatings, his blood soaked arm testament to the fact that the skrill had been literally cut from it; and whispered, "Is he alive?"
A Volunteer hand was quickly ungloved and shaking fingers felt for a pulse. Everyone in the basement held his or her breath until the shaken woman said, "There's a pulse. It's weak but it's there."
Liam shut his eyes just for a second, and felt his heart start beating again. Quickly, he began snapping out orders.
"Get a medical team down here, NOW!
"Team Delta, round up the surviving prisoners and get them out of here and hand them over to the LAPD.
"Team Alpha, you guard this site. Absolutely NO media. The only authorised people allowed on site are the Volunteer and police tech teams."
"Where will you be, sir?"
The Volunteers present watched as the major placed a gentle hand on his fellow Protector's face and gently stroked his sweat-soaked hair back from his forehead.
"I'm going after Currie."
The tone of his voice clearly indicated that Currie should make peace with his maker before the major got his hands on him.
The Volunteers jumped to their assigned tasks, as Major Kincaid walked to the portal and pulled out his global, saying, "It's me."
He pointed the global at the portal and quickly downloaded its co-ordinates and its specifications.
"I need a trace put on the last traffic outgoing from this site and I need it now. Where did the traveller go?"
"...Fine, route me to the next closest portal. Now!"
Liam traced Currie from the portal he had used to an abandoned warehouse - why was it always warehouses? - and began his hunt.
Nathan Currie was not quite alone in this fallback hideout, but free from the restraint that he'd had to show in front of the Volunteers, Liam, for the first time in his life, let his rage out.
These people had taken his father from him, and hurt him badly. In doing so, they had hurt him. The only companion that Liam had with him in that building was Lady Death, and she was the only one he needed.
Eventually, Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Currie was the only one left.
Liam strode out into the middle of the warehouse floor, saying, "Come out, Currie. Don't make me have to come in after you."
Trying to affect an air of calm under duress, Currie did so.
He never flinched under the baleful glare that Liam sent at him, as he said, "Why? Why did you do it?!"
"You're a Taelon stooge, so is he, and so is that bitch you married. I will do whatever it takes to free my planet of the taint of the Taelons and use whatever means necessary to get the information humanity needs!"
Liam shook his head in disbelief. "I don't believe I'm hearing this! You claim to be fighting for your planet and to be connected to the movement to get rid of the Taelons. What a load of self-serving bullshit!
"You know nothing!"
For the first time, doubt began to seep into Currie's voice.
"What do you...?"
"What do I mean?" interrupted Liam. "I mean, Sandoval's been deep cover for years, and Renee and I lead the Resistance!
"And if you think you're walking out of here alive, you've got another thing coming. People like you, humanity doesn't need."
Fingering the weapon hidden at his back, Nathan Currie cried out, "You can't just kill me in cold blood, it's against everything the Resistance stands for."
The words died in his throat at the expression on the Companion Protector's face but the words Kincaid spoke eased his tension.
"That is true..."
Currie's fingers eased off of the weapon he was concealing, until he heard... "But."
"But... you see... that doesn't take into account one thing...
"Sandoval is family, and nobody hurts my family."
Desperately, Currie snatched at his weapon and prepared to fire. He never got the chance. Liam Kincaid fired two shots. One hit Currie's heart, the other, his head. He was dead before he hit the floor.
Dismissing the man from his mind, Liam opened his global and called the Volunteers. A team was dispatched to the site to tidy up loose ends and a shuttle was sent to transport him to Bethesda where Dr. Curzon was still treating Agent Sandoval.
For two days, Sandoval remained unconscious. His CVI had come critically close to overload, but seemed to have stabilised once again. He'd suffered multiple broken ribs and a punctured lung. Coupled with the brutal beatings and the trauma of the removal and murder of his skrill, the medical staff was secretly glad that his body was taking the time it needed to heal.
Now, if they could just get rid of the Volunteers continually dropping in to check on their commander...
Alice Curzon grinned to herself as she wandered down the hospital corridor. This time last year, her patient would have been here alone, the only visitor he would have had would have been Kincaid.
Not now. Now the agent had a veritable gaggle of visitors. From Volunteers to FBI colleagues, even Da'an had shown up. The most important three, though, were Liam Kincaid, his wife Renee, and the boy Robbie.
Those three sat with Sandoval round the clock, but also managed to reassure the Volunteers at the same time. Quite a feat indeed. She looked in the window to Sandoval's room, fully expecting the sight that greeted her. Kincaid sitting in a chair at Sandoval's side.
The thing that she did not expect to see was her patient awake. She watched as Sandoval reached over to where his skrill - Raven - should be, anguish in his dark eyes. Through the partially open door she heard:
"I'm so, so, sorry. If only we had gotten to you sooner, we might have..."
His voice a pale imitation of its usual rich tones, Ron said, "No, 'what ifs' Liam. You found me. I knew you would.
"I'm just glad that you, Renee and Robbie weren't hurt in the attack after the wedding. If something had happened to you..."
"We're fine, Dad. Now that we know that we've got you back safe, we're better than fine."
Dad?! What did he mean, Dad? Her mind skipped back to those few days when she thought that she was going to lose Ron, and the transfusion that saved his life... and the one person, besides her, that seemed to care one way or the other - Kincaid.
Things were starting to become a lot clearer.
Silently, she crept away from the door. The fact that she didn't think that Sandoval could form a link with a new skrill and that she expected that he was going to be out of commission for a good few months was news that could wait till the next day. Time to leave this family reunion to its privacy.
One week later, much to his amused disgust, Ronald Sandoval moved into his 'new home' for the next month, the guest bedroom of the Kincaid household. He bit back a grin at the excited chatter spilling from Robbie's lips, the boy practically bounced while standing still!
His son's amused eyes met his own, as he and Renee stood and smirked at the sight of Robbie ordering him about, while, at the same time, acting solicitous questions like 'do you need another pillow, Ron?' as he fussed and made sure that the agent was settled.
The question that sprang to Ronald Sandoval's mind was whether or not he would survive a month of his family's loving care.