Disclaimer: The characters belong to Tribune and Roddenberry-Kirshner, among others. So far only the story belongs to me.

Spoilers: Thicker Than Blood

Author's notes: This, my so far one and only third-season fic, was in response to a challenge posted on the PS fanfiction board by Lyta in March of 2000. The challenge was as follows: Write a story with the following included 1) a Renee/Sandoval romance; 2) Liam feeling a tad jealous; 3) a part where Sandy has to explain his interest in Ms. Palmer to Da'an; 4) a shakespearean quote; 5) Jonathan Doors; 6) a reference to any movie nominated for Best Picture in this year's Academy Awards.

Dissemblement
by Estirose (Angel Island)
copyright 2000

I am supposed to be a professional. Calm, prepared, an epitome of coolness. So, what has happened to me?

Or rather, why in all things did this have to happen to me? Why *him*? Why Sandoval? Why all that I despise? Am I that desperate? Because he certainly doesn't *act* accessible.

And yet, I seem to have an interest in him which exceeds the bounds as either the Doors International CEO or a Liberation operative. Jonathan is going to have a fit. A dozen fits. But I can't help myself.

And I suspect Ronald Sandoval, Protector and Attaché to Zo'or, might be having similar problems.

* * *

It had started about two weeks ago. Dealing with the Taelons is not my favorite thing to do, but I'm a pretty darn good actress, if I say so myself. Doors International had just completed another adaptation of Taelon tech, and as usual, the Taelons were on hand to trumpet the newest thing they'd done for humanity, followed by their pet guards. Yes, I call Liam a 'pet' too... he's put up with a lot of abuse from Da'an but he refuses to get away. It's not like Da'an doesn't know the truth about his protector.

And we had a party afterwards! Nothing like a wine and dine with the Taelons. They're popular, we want to make friends and influence people. Or was that influence friends and make people? I'm not too sure nowadays. Of course, the Taelons don't eat, and their protectors don't get to do much in the way of eating either. Not that I'm going to feel too sorry for Liam; he deserves it. As soon as he stops thinking of Sandoval as his 'father' rather than just a gene donor, the better things will be for him. Plus, we'd not have to worry about Liam running around donating blood to save Sandoval's life.

But I'm not getting to the point here. Of course, Doors was at the dinner, as was I, sitting at the same table as Da'an and Zo'or. We got to eat, drink, and be merry, or at least look like we were being merry. Actually, the dinner itself was excellent, it was the company that left much to be desired.

I hate excusing myself from the front table in order to powder my nose, but it finally got to the point where I had to do so. Liam, fortunately for him, was out of my way. Unfortunately, Sandoval was not. He looked at me cooly and greeted me. "Ms. Palmer."

Just as cooly, I responded, "Agent Sandoval."

Then I pushed past him and headed to the little girl's room. The stop at the restroom was, unfortunately, relatively brief. I managed to check on a little 'project' that doesn't really belong to Doors International and that I'd get arrested for if Sandoval knew about. Come to think of it, Liam might be a little annoyed at not being let in as well. Too bad.

I ran into Sandoval again on the way back to my chair. He wasn't keeping a direct eye on Zo'or; instead, some burly agent was doing the job of guarding the Taelon. "Ms. Palmer," he greeted me again. "Did you run into some difficulty?"

Yes, I know I took longer than was expected, but I couldn't tell Sandoval what had held me up. "I got called while I was in the restroom, Agent Sandoval," I answered. "It was an important matter relating to Doors International business that couldn't wait for the dinner to end."

Well, it was a phone call, just not *to* me. "I understand. It was just that we were getting... concerned. I was also hoping to invite you to dinner."

"Dinner? Why?" I blurted out, forgetting I was supposed to like the Taelons.

"Zo'or is trying to put a more... human... face on his dealings with Doors International. He has instructed me to discuss the current relationship between Doors International and the Taelons. I felt that dinner would be most appropriate for this conversation."

I wondered if Zo'or had actually said that, or if this was another one of Sandoval's schemes. We're pretty certain Sandoval has free will, but what he's doing with it is a good question. His sudden invitation for dinner had me suspicious. What he planning to use Doors International? If that was his idea, well, too bad. I wasn't going to let him use us. "Certainly I would be more than happy to discuss the business relationship with the Taelons. We're always glad to keep things steady between ourselves and our Taelon partners."

He nodded as if that was the expected response. "Then, if you are amenable to dinner on Sunday night at seven, I will make reservations and provide you with transportation there."

With that, he left. I growled inwardly, knowing that Sandoval had probably already had the reservations and arrangements made. I was trapped being kind to the traitor. Forcing a smile, I managed to slip back into my seat and finish the dinner.

* * *

"So, what were you and Sandoval talking about last night?" the Liberation's favorite toddler asked me as he walked arrogantly into my office at Doors International.

"He wants to 'discuss the current relationship between the Taelons and Doors International'," I said, folding my arms. "That's all."

"You sure about that?" Liam asked doubtfully.

"The Taelons don't suspect Doors International of being in league with the Resistance... what's left of it, anyway," I said, noting with pleasure the flicker of guilt in Liam's eyes. It was his idea to give Da'an a look at the Liberation, and Da'an who ultimately betrayed what we'd rebuilt. No, I don't feel any sympathy for Liam, not after what he's done.

"And that's all?"

I was suddenly looking forward to my dinner with Sandoval. "Well, I'm having dinner with Sandoval on Sunday."

I wish I had a picture of his expression when I said that. Too bad I didn't have any recorders running right that moment.

* * *

Now, if I'd been only half as amused when I'd actually been at the dinner with Sandoval, maybe I wouldn't be in my current state. But it's hard to be amused when you're with Sandoval, and I didn't think my usual calming techniques, like imagining him naked, would apply. Besides, who wants to think of a naked Sandoval?

Okay, I guess I'm not that far gone. I'm attracted to him, but not in *that* way. Thank goodness. I mean, he's not bad to look at, but I can't imagine hitting the bed with him.

Thankfully, Sandoval was courteous in his own, remote way. He was acting in such a way that I could genuinely not tell what was up with him, or even whether he was working on his own agenda or that of the Taelons. That meant the whole dinner could be him feeling me out on whatever he was up to, or he could actually be playing the puppy dog for the Taelons.

Whatever he was up to, I had to play the courteous, ever-eager-to-please-the-Taelons CEO. I mean, I know better than to give my true sympathies over in public. And especially when that public includes Sandoval.

I should mention here that I was able to deflect the fancy ride and instead come in my own car. My flair for cars is well-known, and I suspect that's why Sandoval wasn't more insistent about getting me a ride. Instead, I met him at the restaurant, a fancy Italian place. I wasn't beyond letting the Taelons or Sandoval pay the bill, though.

Sandoval met me just outside the restaurant, closing that watch of his that he's so fond of. Given what I've been told about the species that makes up Liam's non-human part, I'm glad Liam hasn't adopted that habit. If you watch the two together, it's painfully obvious that Liam has picked up some of Sandoval's habits, though I don't know if it's because Liam is so devoted to his 'father', or if he's just picked them up unconsciously from Sandoval's personality and memories.

"Ms. Palmer," he greeted me, the normal way he greets everybody.

"Agent Sandoval," I reply, courteously. He nods, and opens the door to the restaurant. We get a few discreet stares; after all, the Companion Protector to Zo'or and the CEO of DI aren't people you see in person every day, even at this restaurant. Still, we are able to get a table quickly, and that table is relatively isolated. Hey, I'm not worried; Sandoval's a 'widower', and he's not likely to hit upon me.

I wish I remember all the conversation that I had with Sandoval that evening. Some of it was trite, some of it tantalizing tidbits, some of it relatively useful information. Problem was, Sandoval had some sort of anti-recording device, and so I have no recordings and must rely on my fragile human memory.

Some of it I remember really well.

The dinner was a garlic chicken fettucine alfredo, probably the best I've ever tasted. Sandoval was dining on some sort of upscale lasagna. As I was savoring the taste of the combination of pasta, sauce, and chicken, Sandoval spoke up. "Ms. Palmer, Zo'or wishes me to convey his appreciation of Doors International's work. He also expressed some concern as to the loyalty of your workers. Have you done what we asked in replacing those workers?"

I inwardly took a deep breath. "I don't think you have to worry about our loyalty, Agent Sandoval. Doors has seen the error of his ways; my loyalties have always been clear. Many of our employees who don't like the idea of working with the Taelons have been encouraged to move on to other jobs, of course with recommendations from Doors International to make sure they don't have a bad opinion of *us*. We've seen the benefits of working with the Taelons, and of course are always anxious to work more with them. Potential employees know who they're going to be working for; we don't get many Liberation sympathizers applying, not with our new image."

There. I'm not lying. Everything I've said can be certified as true. It's just that which of my loyalties has been clear to whom makes things interesting.

"Very well, Ms. Palmer. Now, you've been working on some sight-enhancement devices...."

The negotiations of that particular deal aren't extremely important, except maybe executives with extreme nearsightedness. What happened during our unofficial negotiations was, heaven help me, I enjoyed it. Sandoval is a shrewd negotiator, just like I am. Sometimes I think he's in the wrong field.

I think that I enjoyed the challenge, actually. I wanted to do it again, and not just to annoy dear old Liam. Whatever I despise about Sandoval, there are some things that are enjoyable about him.

And why not? Sandoval, in many ways, is in the same position that I am, on opposite sides of this war. Sometimes, you've got to admit, opposites *do* attract.

* * *

I got my first indication that something was going on when Sandoval sought me out again. I mean, there isn't *that* much business that Doors International does with the Taelons, not enough to justify the time we were spending together. The first was a lunch invitation, the second time he actually showed up at my office!

And, to top it all off, Sandoval insisted that this was Companion business when anybody could see through him! Augur tells me of Sandoval's chasing of a woman named Maiya, a Liberation member. Sandoval was apparently very transparent when he was investigating the woman.

I'm amazed that the Taelons, and Zo'or in particular, haven't noticed this aberration on behalf of his implant. Unless... unless I've been less cautious than I thought about my Liberation sympathies. Although if this is a plan, only Zo'or and Sandoval know about it. Liam told me that Da'an doesn't know.

Actually, that was pretty darn cute when he told me. Liam, well, he sometimes *does* act his age. He swept into my office (thank goodness I check it for bugs, the toddler's pretty darn lax about checking these things) and demanded - yes, demanded - to know what was going on with Sandoval. He was acting pissy, like his mother hadn't fed him his favorite breakfast.

Of course, Liam's lack of maturity (though he is awfully darn mature, considering his true age) is not what I wanted to mention. It's what he told me after he got through pouting after the lack of attention from his Daddy.

Apparently, Sandoval's behavior earned him a remark from Da'an....

* * *

Liam had gone to the Mothership as part of his duties as Da'an's protector, among other things. It seems his shuttle's in need of a tune-up, why am I not surprised? But the tune-up had been completed when Liam chanced to practically walk into Da'an's questioning of Sandoval. Thank goodness he stopped short, or I'd never have heard this choice tidbit.

"Agent Sandoval," Da'an said, in his calm, detached tone. "I must speak to you."

Yeah, like an Implant would refuse a Taelon. "Yes, Da'an?" Sandoval replied, in the courteous, respectful voice he always uses when he wants to be polite.

"You have been visiting Ms. Palmer several times in the past week. Is there something regarding Doors International that I should know about?"

"No, Da'an," Sandoval replied, still in that same courteous manner. "Zo'or wishes me to stay in good relations with Doors International. It does necessitate paying attention and coordinating with their senior management from time to time."

Cool cat, that one. "Very well, Agent Sandoval. I trust I will be notified if anything involves me."

"Of course, Da'an."

I don't know if Da'an was convinced, since Liam didn't tell me, but at least somebody noticed. Besides Liam, that is.

* * *

Of course, Liam and Da'an weren't the only ones who noticed Sandoval's frequent attentions. I'd notified Doors as a matter of course about Sandoval's visits. It was, however, a total surprise when he called me in to talk about the matter.

Doors keeps pretty busy nowadays, running the network of cells that he very, very wisely didn't tell Liam about. Ma'el's ship in Peru is where he keeps his office nowadays; fortunately, it was fairly easy to claim Doors International business at the refinery.

I slipped into the tunnels leading to Ma'el's ship and was shortly in Jonathan's office in a chamber just outside the ship. He motioned for me to close the door, which meant that it was important business. Once I had done that and settled down in one of his chairs, he looked up and got right to the point. "I'm concerned about the amount of attention Sandoval's paying."

I nodded. "It's got me concerned as well," I acknowledged. "It's not unlike him to keep a close eye on things. I've beefed up security in the office, and I've had to plead not available to at least one of his calls. I don't know what he's got planned, but I don't like it."

"Good. I don't have to remind you of Sandoval's background. Any other reports?"

"Liam's having problems because his 'daddy' is paying attention to me rather than to him."

Doors shook his head. "Someday he's going to really screw things up."

"He's already screwed things up, Jonathan," I replied angrily. "All he makes is a really useful figurehead." Okay, and a fairly useful experiment, maybe. There's a Doors International project that I'd love to have Liam in on; he'd *really* have nightmares about 'seeing dead people' then!

"And this way, he doesn't pay attention to what's going on *here*, which is the main point. Still, see if you can rally the Liberation leaders - what's *left* of them that is - and see if they'll appoint a new leader."

"I've got it. And about Sandoval?"

"Just be careful. I'd hate to have to lose you, too."

Doors occasionally scares the heck out of me, you know that? He really would dump me if I fell in love with Sandoval. It calls to mind the random quote of the day that I read before disembarking in Peru "This is most strange, that she, that even but now was your best object, the argument of your praise, balm of your age, most best, most dearest, should in this trice of time commit a thing so monstrous, to dismantle so many folds of favor."

I hated 'King Lear' in college. But I do remember it well; the passage is right at the beginning, after Cordelia refuses to flatter her father. Doors isn't in the same situation as Lear, but I can see him dropping me like a hot potato if this turns out to be more than it is. And I don't blame him.

* * *

With Doors' warning firmly in mind, I finished up my supposed business at the platform, as well as catching myself up on Liberation activities there. I don't know how I did it, though; my mind was busy analyzing Sandoval and trying to figure out what he wanted, and whether it was a good idea to respond to his advances.

Problem was, I was afraid that my response might become genuine, or that Doors might take it as genuine. Jonathan's a rich man; he's not beyond killing me if he thinks I might betray him. But, as I remind himself, he's the best businessman I know.

So, I'll have to be careful, needless to say. Let Sandoval think I might be useful to him; he's not the only natural actor in this war. I'd let the tyke get jealous all he wants, for I intended to make this work. It's not the first time I've outmaneuvered someone.

* * *

With my plan of action together, I was all ready for Sandoval, or so I thought. Trouble was, I didn't plan things out as thoroughly as I could. It was a fatal error, and one that I will surely pay for in the long run. I started my plan by inviting Sandoval to dinner. Let him know I'm feeling him out so he won't be suspicious when it turns out that I'm feeling him out. Maybe even get a clue to what he's up to.

To my surprise, Sandoval accepted. Without any 'I will have to check this with Zo'or' or any such nonsense, even! He accepted without comment, and next thing I knew, I had scheduled a little private working dinner with the head of the Companion Protectors.

Needless to say, Sandoval and I probed each other for what seemed like hours at a french restaurant as exclusive as the one that Sandoval had taken me to originally. Keeping up with him was quite challenging, quite refreshing, and a nice change from work. Well, my Doors International work, anyway. Responding to his comments with comments of my own was exciting, especially when I had to keep my mask on.

By the end of the evening, I wanted to see more of him. I wanted to hear what he'd say, and what he'd challenge me with. Sandoval is smart, dangerous, hard to keep track of. It was what made me attracted to him.

That was my downfall.

* * *

Now, I can't help thinking of Sandoval. It's too bad that Liam didn't inherit his wits in the package that Ha'gel gave him. If he had, we wouldn't be in this bind, and I'd not be worrying about Doors' perception of my date. (Or maybe I would; Doors wouldn't like Liam anyway.

Liam tells me that Zo'or is this close to noticing Sandoval's behavior. This is dangerous, both for Ron, and for me. But I can't tell him that directly. We both still have to have our masks in place, and pretend like nothing has happened, that there is no attraction between us.

Heaven knows, I can't talk to anyone about this. Liam and Augur wouldn't understand, Doors would be furious, as would any other Liberation member, and I can't talk to anyone else without revealing too much. So, now I must hide my feelings, hide them from anyone.

Thankfully, I'm very good at hiding.

-end


Earth: Final Conflict fanfic