Author’s Note: Dedicated to my grandfather, G.P. Goold, who died the day before this was written. May your journey be swift and the thoughts of those you love be always with you.
Liam opened the door to the church and slipped in, closing it carefully behind him so as not to draw any attention to his presence.
Although it was a small church, Liam was surprised at the sheer number of people that seemed to packed into it. Surprised, and pleased, underneath the grief.
On the outside of it, there was absolutely no reason for Major Liam Kincaid to be here in this town, much less in the church itself. There was nothing directly connected to the Taelons here.
But indirect connections... there were definitely those. Liam’s eyes went to the front pew, where a solid-looking woman with dark hair shot through with gray sat, dressed in black mourning. The dress was familiar; she’d been wearing the same one the only other time he’d seen her in person.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out in a shaky sigh, Liam sat down in the empty pew on the right side of the aisle, closest to the door. It was empty – the only empty pew there. Once seated, shielded from the view of everyone else in the church, he buried his face in his hands and concentrated on listening to the service.
It was simple and elegant, much as he had been, Liam thought distantly, as he let the words flow over him. Much what he’d expected. Unfortunately, as nice as the service was, it didn’t seem to be helping him any – which was the only reason he’d come, in the hopes that it would help. It was taking a surprising amount of effort to keep himself from bawling like a baby.
Which, although somewhat appropriate, everything considered, would raise too many questions.
He wished it was otherwise. He wanted to be as free to mourn as everyone else; but he couldn’t. It would be impossible to explain without revealing the truth.
Finally, the service ended. Liam stood up and moved to one side as the mourners began to exit, heading down toward the small pub where the combination wake/memorial service would be held.
As the woman whom he’d noticed came down the aisle toward the door, however, he stepped forward. “Mrs. Beckett,” he said quietly.
The woman looked at him for a long moment, and then recognition flooded her face. “Major Kincaid,” she replied, her voice a bit raspy.
“I’m sorry about the loss of your husband, Mrs. Beckett,” Liam said. “I came to pay my respects.”
“Thank you, Major.” She looked at him curiously for a moment. “I must admit, I didn’t expect to see any Companion-Protectors here.”
Liam forced a faint smile. “I’m not here officially. Your daughter and I were friends, as well as colleagues. I’m here as Siobhan’s friend.”
“Thank you,” she said, with a smile that – although as faint as Liam’s – was genuine. “Will you be joining us for the wake, then?”
Liam shook his head. Da’an was expecting him back at the Embassy in less than two hours; he hadn’t told the Taelon what had happened, much less where he’d gone. “I’m afraid not; I have to be back to work. But thank you for the invitation.”
She nodded, and then a young man about Liam’s apparent age – Siobhan’s cousin Peter, Liam recognized him as – took her arm. “Come on, Aunt Mary,” he said quietly. He gave Liam a nod of acknowledgement, and then they walked out the door – the last ones, except for Liam.
He looked around and then, seeing that no one else – including the priest – was still there, Liam walked to the front of the church. Lying open on a small speaker’s podium was a guestbook.
Liam paged through it gently, studying the signatures. He recognized many of them from his mother’s memories – longtime inhabitants of the town. Then he came to the first page.
‘In Loving Memory: Seamus Liam Beckett. 1952 A.D.-5 A.C.’
With another shuddering breath, Liam quickly paged back to the last signed page, picked up the pen next to the book, and scrawled in, ‘Major Liam Kincaid’.
Before he could move away, however, he found himself entrapped by a sudden memory.
“He looks so still, Da. What happened to him?” eight-year-old Siobhan Beckett asked, as she looked at her grandfather lying in the coffin.
“He’s gone to heaven, cariad,” her father said. She could hear the pain in his voice, and reached up to give him a hug.
“That means he’s left, right, Da?” she asked then, after a long moment. “He’s not here anymore.”
“No, he’s not. But if you look up in the sky at night, you’ll see a star winking at you. That’s where Grandda is now – with the stars.” Her father paused, and then led her over to the rack of candles at the side. “Here – let’s light a candle for your grandda, to let him know we’re still here, and we’re thinking of him.”
“Two,” Siobhan said firmly. “We’ll light two – one from you, one from me.”
The memory disappeared back into the recesses of his mind, but it had given Liam an answer of sorts.
Turning around, he went over to the rack of candles and knelt in front of it. He took one of the matches from the side of the rack, lit it, and touched it to three candles.
One for you, Mother, from me. I love you, and miss you dreadfully.
One for you, Grandda, from me. I never had the chance to know you, not as your grandson, and you never had the chance to know me – but I miss you. I would’ve liked to have known you properly – played games with you like Mother did with Great-Grandda.
And one more for you, Grandda – from Mother. I’m sure you’re together now, but this still feels right. I know you through her memories; so this is in memory of the love you shared, the love I’ve never had with either of my fathers.
I will miss you.
For several long minutes, Liam watched the candles burn, the flames dancing as though they really could reach the stars, until he found – not peace – but a sense of acceptance at what had happened. Then, standing back up, he walked slowly out of the church toward where he’d left his shuttle.