Link and Ariel rushed to the medical wing of the ANA building. Fortunately for Da'an, Ma'ri had brought an Espelon medical officer with her who assisted Dr. Curzon in sealing Da'an's leg. Link opened the door to Da'an's bed and found her talking with Mi'en and Augur.
Ariel raced to her mother, who eagerly embraced her.
"Uncle Augur and Aunt Mi'en were really worried about you, but I knew you'd be okay," Ariel said kissing Da'an's cheek. "I told them that you promised you would never leave me."
"I sure did, didn't I?" Da'an said with a laugh. "I'm sorry we couldn't give you a better Christmas this year."
"But I liked this Christmas," Ariel said with a big smile. "We saw The Nutcracker, we had a tree, we went ice skating, and I had lots of food and presents. Besides, your leg will grow back."
"How long did they say it would take?" Link asked her.
"Four weeks," Da'an said. "I'll have to be in a wheelchair until then."
"They're going to keep her for a few days to make sure that her energy's fully replenished," Mi'en added.
Link nodded and a serious look appeared on his face. Mi'en nodded in acknowledgment and watched some television with Ariel to distract her.
"How's Liam?" Augur asked in a low voice.
"He's out of surgery," Link said, "minus a kidney, but he's still critical. He lost a lot of blood, and he had an infection. He's under the care of a Dr. Belman in the ICU."
"Dr. Belman's taking care of him?" Augur asked. "Huh."
"I take it you know this woman."
"She was the chief human medical physician of companion protectors before the role was passed to Dr. Curzon," Da'an said. "She is also a senior member of the resistance. Renee must have called her when they asked for Liam's blood type."
Link breathed a heavy sigh. "They don't know if he's gonna make it through the night."
The group fell silent.
"Is Renee still at the hospital?" Augur finally asked.
"Yeah," Link said. "There's a whole group of co-workers and 'friends,' camped out right now, and I think you know what I mean when I say 'friends.' "
"I know what you mean," Augur said.
Da'an nodded in confirmation.
"Well, I'd better go check on Renee," Augur said. "I'm glad you're all right, Da'an."
"Thank you," Da'an said.
"You'll let me know about—"
"You will know when I am ready," Da'an said.
Augur took Mi'en and left to go to the hospital. When they were gone, Link feverishly embraced Da'an and peppered her with kisses.
"You are gonna give me a heart attack one of these days," Link said as he kissed her.
"I'm sorry," Da'an said. "But I had to try."
"Yeah, well, try to promise me that you'll never do something that crazy again," Link said, looking her in the eye.
"You know I can't do that," Da'an said, "but I will try for you."
"I must love you to put myself through all of this," Link said.
"You should go home and get some rest," Da'an said.
"I'd never be able to do it," Link said. "No, I think I'll stay right here with you and my girl."
"Before you make yourself at home, I need you to do one more thing for me," Da'an said. "It is important."
Link sighed. "What is it?"
Da'an whispered it to Link. Link nodded that he understood, gave Da'an and Ariel a big kiss, and left the room.
Da'an stared out her window and found it cloudy outside, and she chuckled. "Funny how the weather on this planet tends to reflect your mood."
"Are you okay, Mommy?" Ariel asked.
"I'm fine," Da'an said. "It's going to snow pretty soon. Just waiting for the sky to break."
"I want to see it snow, Mommy," Ariel said eagerly. "Can you read to me until it starts? I don't want to fall asleep."
Da'an took the copy of The Oresteia from Ariel's hands and scooted to the side allowing Ariel to lay next to her.
"What were we on?"
"The Eumenides," Ariel said.
"Very well," Da'an said, opening the book.
Renee had heard condolence after condolence from virtually every friend, co-worker, and resistance partner that Liam had ever known. It amazed her how quick they were to feel sympathy for him after turning their backs on him during the elections. Maybe this was their sad, desperate attempt to atone. Either way, Renee did not need this.
The only condolences she took for their worth were the ones from Liam's co-workers. She never thought she would see the day that she would confide in minions of the companions and treat resistance members (some she had known all her life) with hostility. But then, nothing about this situation felt right. Dr. Belman had seen her about her pregnancy. The good news was that she had not miscarried during the pandemonium. The bad news was that because Renee did not tell her to look for it, she still had no idea if the child was normal. All she wanted to do was go to sleep and pray that tomorrow would reveal this as a terrible nightmare. But she would be damned if Liam died on her while she was asleep. So she waited as patiently as the situation warranted. Even as the number of friends and co-workers diminished, she sat awake in the waiting room, until Link was the only one left with her.
"Thanks for staying with me through all of this," Renee said. "I know you probably want to be with Da'an right now."
"It's okay," Link said. "You needed someone to help you fight off the fair-weather well-wishers."
"More like conceited leeches," Renee said bitterly. "They can burn in hell for all I care. At least Liam's co-workers were nice. He's developed quite the little clique with them."
"Well, you can't expect every companion agent to be the devil," Link said.
"I guess not," Renee said with a long sigh. "So how's Da'an?"
"Her stem, as I like to call it, sealed itself before her energy loss could become critical. So they just gave her a double dose of an energy shower. They say the leg will grow back in about a month or so."
"Was she okay when you left her?"
"Yeah, she was fine. Talking and everything. Ariel's with her right now."
"That's good," Renee choked, bursting into tears.
Link hugged Renee and let her cry on his shoulder. "He's gonna be all right, Renee," Link said. "He's young and strong."
"I know. I just feel like if I hadn't been such a bitch to him, none of this would've happened. I let that bastard Hubble and all that hogwash from the elections get to me. I was so selfish. I could see that he was in pain. He needed me, and I was too busy thinking about myself."
"It is not your fault that this happened," Link said, "or that he was in the embassy. He was just doing his job."
"But maybe if we hadn't separated, he would've stayed outside. We could've talked together, spent the day together—anything just to keep him out of that building."
"He couldn't have spent all day with you. He had a job to do. Look, you can't beat yourself up over this, Renee."
"I just wish that I could've saved him. If Da'an had just called me, maybe I could've—"
"Then, you would've been blown to smithereens too. Da'an knew what she was doing when she ran into the embassy. She only had a few seconds, and she knew that only she could save him."
"It seems like it'll be for nothing if he dies."
"Look at me, Renee," Link said, bringing her eyes parallel to his. "Do you love him?"
"Of course I do."
"And I know he loves you. That's why he's gonna be okay. He has something to fight for in there, someone like you, and come hell or high water, he will return to you. He knows that you two need each other. I know we tease you about it, but you two really are made for each other."
Renee wiped away her tears and fell back on the couch. "Rembrandt, tell me something, something important."
"Who are you?" Renee asked firmly. "Really? Who are you?"
Link's eyes narrowed, and his lips curved slightly upwards to form a faint smile. "Who am I?" he asked, dropping his Brooklyn accent. "I'm no different than you, Liam, or anyone else in the ANA. I'm a man on a search for the truth and the never-ending struggle to protect it. There are some things you want to know, and there are some things you need to know."
He stood and started toward the exit.
"I need to know who you are!" Renee cried. "Are you a spy? Have you betrayed us?"
"If I had betrayed you, you'd know it by now," Link said.
"What about Da'an?" Renee asked. "Did she betray us?"
"Absolutely not," Link said firmly. "If you really believed she did, you wouldn't have helped me put Hubble in jail."
"Then, you can at least answer me this," Renee said. "Did Da'an know that Nu'na was going to do this?"
"I don't know that."
"Bullshit you don't. Tell me! Did Da'an know that Nu'na used Hubble as a puppet or didn't she?"
"You'll have to ask Da'an that. I have no idea. I can tell you this, however. Da'an had no idea that Liam would be caught in the crossfire."
"It's all about her now, isn't it? You're protecting her and her stupid agenda that she won't even share with me and Liam, the closest humans left to her, the ones that would die to save her! Like Liam's dying right now!"
"The agenda is for the good of the human species. With Urick gone, you'll know everything you need to know eventually. The agenda must proceed on schedule."
Renee rolled her eyes. "Sure it does. Anything to fight the phantom menace that is the priests."
"Amen," Link played along. "Oh, and Da'an wanted me to tell you. Your kid's gonna be fine. Ten fingers, ten toes—everything in order."
"It was Da'an, wasn't it? She came to see me that night," Renee said, moving her hand down to her lower abdomen. "What's happening to her, Rembrandt…if that is your real name?"
Link shook his head. "You should get some rest. Worry about your son right now. Let us handle the priests."
He started once more for the door, but he stopped. "Oh, and you should tell Liam about the kid. That's from me, not Da'an."
Renee collapsed back on the sofa. The change had come so softly that Renee and Liam had not noticed until it reared its ugly head. Now, they were running to catch up with it. In all possibility, Liam could die because of it. She and the Human Liberation Movement had been preparing for this war since the day the Taelons arrived. When the gauntlets had finally been cast, it had caught them all by surprise. It made Renee feel like a relic and long for the days of old, the days when she had been in control, when she had been directly fighting the guerilla war, even if it turned out to be a worthless one.
To defeat an enemy to gain another, to fight one war just to get pulled into a bigger one, and it's all in the name of peace and survival, and the never-ending struggle to make sense of it.
Out the window, Renee could see a break forming in the cloudy sky. She took it as God's attempt to comfort her and tell her that she was strong enough to adapt to the change. If so, then she was the exception, not the rule.
Alex was on his way out of the hospital when Christine caught him at the emergency room entrance.
"How is everyone?" she asked.
"Da'an's okay. I wish I could say the same for Kincaid."
"I've completed my report. Would you like to see it?"
Alex smirked. He had to admit that the thought was tempting, but he knew that no matter what was in that report, his situation would not change. "I guess I still trust you."
Christine smiled and pocketed the disk that contained her final report. "It's too bad you can't tell your friends what you really do at nights."
"I have a feeling that in a few weeks, it won't matter."
"You'd be right. Jonah sends his regards. We're both going to be commended for our performances. He says that even though Hubble's project was commandeered by another terrorist cell, he was the root of it."
"And how does the CIA plan to use him?"
"You think that we wanted him alive?"
"Don't play coy with me. You're no good at it," Alex said with a smirk. "We could've killed him at any moment, particularly me. My job was to build a case against the man so that we could blackmail some knowledge out of him for the greater good."
"Even if that were the case, and I'm not saying it isn't, you know I can't divulge that information," Christine said. "Not until you've been assigned to the case."
"Indeed we will. You've been re-assigned."
"Somewhere tropical, I hope."
"Keep dreaming. You're going to Moscow, frozen pearl of Mother Russia," she said, offering him an envelope. "Here are the details. You know the drill."
"Destroy it after I read it," Alex recited. "Don't we sing this song every time you offer me a new case."
"Well, you can add this new verse to the repertoire. You're being promoted. You and I are officially partners," Christine said.
Alex laughed. "It'll be just like old times then."
"Looks like it."
Christine stepped closer to Alex and narrowed her eyes. "I just want you to know that…I'm happy for you. I may not understand it, but whatever it is you two have, it's something special…and I'm happy for you."
"Thank you," Alex said. "I just wish that you could meet her."
"No thanks. It's better we don't complicate things by bringing me into the picture."
"We're the job," Alex agreed. "See you around."
"I asked you before what you would do if you failed," Christine said.
"You did ask me that."
"So how are you feeling?"
Alex smiled. "Honestly? I don't consider it anything. Just a prelude to the symphony."
"See you around, Christine."
"See you around, Alex."
As Alex journeyed back to his mate and his daughter, the cloud blanket covering the sky broke in half. Amidst the hole in the sky where the moon and stars shown clear, the snow began to fall. However, Alex did not pull his jacket over his head, nor did he button it up to shield himself from the cold. Instead, he pulled off the jacket and exposed his warm Taelon energy to the cold. The hole in the sky where the snow fell seemed to follow Alex all the way to the ANA building.
"It's funny how the weather reflects how you're feeling," Alex told himself.
Clarity was always a gift, but this kind had come with a steep price. Alex wanted to feel ashamed for the circumstances that had brought about this change and the role he had played in it. However, Alex chose to embrace the change. Rather than focusing on the ominous gray surrounding it, Alex focused on the clear, glowing, azure sky and everything that came with it.