Liam examined the door critically, taking in the grey metallic paint, chipped a little around the edges, and the general wear-and-tear. Poor upkeep, he thought. Observing, not disapproving. It was a sturdy door. Solid. His eyes strayed to the doorknob, where his hand rested lightly. He stared at it as if it belonged to someone else. Last chance, he told himself. He wasn't quite sure what he hoped to gain from this conversation. The man on the other side was not, despite all appearances, his father. He was a might-have-been; a shadow of sorts. There are, Liam reminded himself sternly, no magic words. And even if there had been, it was unfair to expect this man to know them. That's not what I want. I just want insight. The more I know about the man, the more effectively I can resist him in my world. He straightened his shoulders and turned the knob.
Sandoval lay in the bed, still pale, but alert. His eyes flickered from the ceiling to Liam as he heard the quiet creak of the door. Liam stepped inside.
"How are you doing?"
"I'll be well in no time," replied Sandoval, pulling himself up. He leaned back against the pillow casually, as if sitting hadn't required a major effort. "I've been getting reports from Captain Marquette. It sounds like you've been busy."
"A little," agreed Liam. He pulled up the straight-backed chair beside the bed and crouched on the edge, bringing himself down to eye level with Sandoval. "I think Jonathan Doors would be happier if I'd been a little less industrious."
Sandoval's mouth twisted in a half-smile. "Jonathan would be happier if you and the Taelons had never shown up here."
"We can't always get what we want."
"But sometimes we do," said Sandoval. He reached back and adjusted his pillow. "It must be a little odd, seeing your father again."
"Seeing both of my fathers," corrected Liam.
"Of course," said Sandoval without inflection.
"This has to be uncomfortable for you, too," said Liam carefully, watching him. "It was a lot easier when I did it anonymously."
"Uncomfortable is a good word. So is unexpected. And impossible."
"Don't waste time feeling sorry for things you can't help," replied Sandoval, waving away the apology. "Besides, if you hadn't shown up, I'd be dead. And Ryan might be too. I think our lives are worth a little discomfort."
Liam smiled and settled back in the chair.
"I heard from Melissa that you've been watching out for him," Sandoval continued.
"He's a great kid."
"Yes, he is," said Sandoval. "Thank you. This has been hard on him."
"I'm glad I can help him," said Liam. "I've enjoyed getting to know him. Getting to know both of you."
"The way you'd like to know my counterpart?"
"It's not something I ever considered," said Liam honestly. "I knew from before I was born that it was impossible."
"Before…" mused Sandoval, glancing down. His hand traced a pattern on the thin blanket. "How much of my life do you remember?"
"Bits and pieces," replied Liam cautiously. "Most of my knowledge is implicit, but sometimes memories surface. Usually they're prompted by the situation."
Dark, inscrutable eyes caught his. "It's odd to think that someone who I only met a few days ago knows me so well."
"Not you, necessarily," said Liam, holding the gaze. "You made different choices, after all. Chose a different path. I don't really know how much of my knowledge applies to you."
"Enough to get under my skin when you want to," said Sandoval dryly.
Liam laughed, a little harshly, and looked away. "I've had a lot of practice."
Sandoval raised a brow. "Intentionally setting out to irritate me can be a dangerous proposition, Kincaid."
"Not as dangerous as giving the other Sandoval time to think about who I really am."
"You think he'd turn you over to the Taelons if he knew."
Liam rubbed his palm absently. "I don't think his CVI would give him any choice."
"This from the man who believes he can override Beckett's implant?"
Liam shrugged. "I wouldn't have tried it if she weren't already in Resistance custody," he said lightly
"Why make the effort at all?"
"She's a good person. She doesn't deserve to die for doing her duty."
Sandoval began coughing. "Her duty was to betray humanity," he said hoarsely.
"She didn't know that when she accepted the CVI," replied Liam. He leaned forward and handed Sandoval a glass of water from the nightstand. "I should let you get some rest," he said, standing. He started towards the door.
"Liam," called Sandoval. Liam paused in the doorway and half-turned. Sandoval looked at him for a moment.
"I'm proud of you."
Liam smiled shyly and nodded. The door clicked gently behind him.
His internal clock placed it at around 3 am. With a muffled groan, Liam opened his eyes to see what had awoken him. A small figure stood shivering in the dark beside him, tears gleaming on his cheeks.
"Ryan," said Liam, pushing himself up on one arm. "What's wrong?"
The boy shuddered. "I was dreaming."
"Yeah? Was it a bad dream?"
"Do you want to tell me about it?"
"I was back on the ship," he said softly. "The Taelons were there. They were doing things to me…it hurt. I'm scared of them, Liam."
"I know," said Liam. He sat up and pulled the boy into his arms. "I won't let them take you back there."
"They're bad," said Ryan, burying his head in Liam's shoulder.
"Some of them," agreed Liam. "And some of them aren't. Just like humans."
Ryan shook his head rebelliously. "I don't like the Taelons."
"Maybe someday you'll get a chance to meet some nicer ones."
"I don't want to."
"Okay," said Liam soothingly. He rubbed Ryan's back gently. "Then you can stay here on Earth."
"What if they come back for me?"
"I won't let anything happen to you."
Ryan was a silent for a moment.
"Liam? Are you a Taelon?"
Liam tensed. He'd wondered if Ryan would remember. He forced himself to relax. "I'm a little bit Taelon, Ryan. And a little human, and a bunch of other things as well."
"But you fought them."
"I wanted to help you, and I had to fight to do that. Not all aliens are bad, Ryan."
Ryan lifted his head. "Can I stay here with you tonight?"
"Sure," said Liam. He released the boy and lifted the blankets in invitation. Ryan crawled in and curled up beside him on the narrow bed. Liam rested a hand protectively on the child's shoulder, and hoped he wouldn't have any nightmares of his own.
"Commander Boone," greeted Ha'gel. He rose from the computer terminal, shifting from energy-blue to solid-white. "You're up early."
"Do you ever sleep?" asked Boone sourly, striding towards the kitchen.
"I have no need of sleep." Ha'gel turned and watched him.
"Lucky you," said Boone, filling the coffeemaker. "I notice that Kincaid does."
"He is two-thirds human," replied Ha'gel. "And at the moment, his human physiology dominates."
"At the moment?" said Boone inquisitively, turning.
"We are shape shifters by nature," said Ha'gel. "Our physiology is subject to change."
"Does Kincaid know that?"
"On some level," said Ha'gel. "He possesses all of my alternate's knowledge, after all. I do not think that fact is accessible at the moment, however. And you, Commander? Why are you not still asleep?"
"Condor was restless," said Boone, gesturing with his skrill. "So I don't get to sleep either."
"Ah yes," said Ha'gel. "Liam told me of those. An interesting innovation by the Taelons."
"If you say so," said Boone, focusing on the coffeepot. "Manipulating another species for their own purpose struck me as a bit unethical."
"In doing so, they achieved greater harmony and integration between their two races. And with yours."
"At the cost of the independence and self-determination of the skrills."
"I've noticed that humans greatly value independence," said Ha'gel. "Even Liam. Perhaps because he cannot freely access the Taelon Commonality without risking detection."
"Perhaps your alternate's work wasn't as well done as you'd like." Boone tapped his fingers impatiently on the counter and glared at the coffeemaker.
"Does your implant not reduce the amount of sleep you require?" asked Ha'gel.
"It does," sighed Boone. "But it doesn't make waking up any easier." He grabbed a mug from the cupboard and set it down.
"Interesting," said Ha'gel.
"So tell me," said Boone, turning to face the Kimera, "doesn't it bother you to be helping the race that destroyed yours?"
Ha'gel looked at him seriously. "It was the Kimera who created the Taelons, and in doing so sowed the seeds of our own destruction. We are as responsible for our fate as the Taelons. And as long as I exist, the Kimera have not been destroyed."
"In this universe," agreed Boone. "But in Augur and Kincaid's universe, you're dead. All of the Kimera are dead."
"Except for Liam," said Ha'gel. The faint white glow surrounding him fluctuated.
"Right," said Boone. He poured the coffee and reached for the milk. "That's a lot for one person to carry."
"I believe that Liam is capable of handling it," said Ha'gel. "My counterpart did a good job with him."
"Yes, he did." Boone moved back to the computer and leaned against the desk, sipping his coffee. "Have you talked to Liam since you got here? You're the only living Kimera he's ever likely to meet. I think he might like a chance to discuss his heritage."
"Liam will receive sufficient guidance towards his destiny."
"Destiny?" asked Boone skeptically.
Ha'gel smiled. "Everything happens for a reason, Commander. Including our meeting." The white glow grew brighter, encompassing them both as Ha'gel reached out. The carpet muffled the clatter as the mug fell to the ground, coffee splashing brown on the ground.