AFTERWARD As I struggle to the surface of consciousness, I can’t suppress a groan. I’ve had some major hangovers in my time, but they were nothing like this. Every muscle in my body is stiff and sore; and even through the pain medication I seem to have been given, I can feel a splitting headache. Only this time, there was no taste of good scotch beforehand to compensate for it. I open my eyes to see Sydney’s anxious face hovering over mine. It’s okay, Dad, she says; you’re in the hospital. You’ve had a rough time, but the doctor says you’re going to be just fine. For the first time I feel her hand grasping mine. How long was I asleep, I ask. Since last night, she replies. It’s now nine o’clock the next morning, according to the large clock on the wall. She sits back down in the chair by my bed and asks if I remember much about what happened. No, not much, I tell her. I remember seeing, through a haze of pain, the door of the “conversation room” bursting open, and Sydney shooting Geiger at point blank range. I remember her frightened face as she got a good look at me strapped in that chair. I’m all right, sweetheart, I’m okay, sweetheart, I'm okay, I remember telling her, my voice sounding as if it were coming from someone else; but still she seemed to be afraid to touch me for fear of hurting me further. I remember paramedics gently assuring her that they would see to me, then unstrapping me and putting me on a gurney and wheeling me out of the room. Then darkness enveloped me and I remember nothing more. It’s over, she tells me. Every cell of the Alliance has been raided. It’s over. Now all the work you’ve done over the years to gather evidence against the Alliance will finally pay off. I feel relief, but no sense of triumph. Not after the heavy price Sydney and I have paid for this moment. I think Sydney feels the same way. I’ve brought you some things from home, she says. The doctor wants you to stay here for a few days. I’m in no position to object. I’m not a young man, and I won’t recover overnight from this one. I’d better go, she says. You should rest. She hugs me tightly. I’m surprised at how weakly I am able to hug her back. I love you, Dad, she says; and for the first time in years I tell her that I love her too. She looks deeply moved, and if I were feeling stronger I would kick myself for all the times I left that unsaid. I gaze after her for a long time after she leaves. Do I deserve to have a daughter like Sydney? Of course I don't. But as flawed as I am as a father, she loves me anyway. I love her too, even if she isn't always easy to love; and I guess that's what love means. Maybe I should just be grateful for it and not overanalyze it. I wonder if Irina has been told what happened. If not, I suppose Sydney will tell her. It was strange, the other night, to spend time with her as an equal -- no threats, no manipulation, no bickering between us -- just putting our heads together and working out what was going on with Ariana Kane. She seemed surprised and touched that I would do that, and I surprised myself as well; it wasn't my first thought. But I respect her abilities. Oddly, I trust her judgment more than that of most people right now. I remember, some time back, Dr. Barnett asking me if I thought Irina could be simply looking for forgiveness. That question no longer seems as outrageous as it did then. What will happen between us? I have no idea. I guess it's useless to speculate at this point. But even with all the uncertainty in my life right now, I feel more at peace that I have in years. I close my eyes and go back to sleep.