Disclaimer: I do not own the Yu Yu Hakusho characters or plot.

Note to reviewers: Thanks for all your support. I doubt I'd have finished this if not for you. SakuraAngel04, this update is for you, I'm dedicating it to your brother –I hope you like the ending. Raiko Gotal, thanks for telling me who Sheadrin was, I look forward to seeing her in your fanfic! Chibi and Chan, compliments are ALWAYS welcome, thanks for the review. Yavie Aelinel, no official pairing or mushy stuff, I promise –though I do hint that some characters may like each other a little...

CHAPTER 9: BATTLE IN THE BASEMENT

Team Urameshi followed Sara into the bowels of Sen-dex. She led the way between boxes of office supplies and crated laboratory equipment to a far wall.

There, a large freight elevator, dimly lighted by a few dim bulbs high up in the ceiling, gaped open.

Sara began to step into it, but Kurama reached out and grabbed her by the arm. "You don't have to do this." He told her. "Hiei, and the rest of us can handle whatever's down there. You've been through more than enough."

The girl partly turned to look at him, and her knitted cap crept down, obscuring her eyes. She raised her non-restricted arm, and pulled the cap off. The back of her hair was pulled back in a low pony tail, but the front hung in layers around a face that had filled out healthily, so that she no longer looked like a starving waif.

"I want to go. Sen-dex cost my father his life. I have to know for certain if my suspicions are correct."

Kurama looked deep into her eyes, completely ignoring Team Urameshi, who were all watching the interplay with the intensity of soap opera addicts engrossed in a Friday afternoon plot cliffhanger, except for Hiei who pointedly turned his back.

Never one to go in for overly emotional displays, Kurama merely nodded after a moment, and released her. She stepped into the elevator and waited for the others, who piled in quickly. Sara stuck her key card in an aperture, and hit the lowest numbered button on the panel. Unfortunately, the elevator insisted on stopping at all three legitimate basement floors before heading to the secret sublevel. On the way down, Kuwabara decided to break what was looking to be an uncomfortable silence.

"So, what suspicions?" He asked Sara, who paused, mentally deciphering Kuwabara's heavy accent, then answered.

"Sen-dex is a biotech firm. It's known for genetic engineering of things like food animals. While other firms were trying to clone exact replicas, Sen-dex was trying to merge genes to create chickens with more white meat, plants that could grow more sheaves of wheat, or cows with extra udders which could produce more milk."

"Ew, that's disgusting." Kuwabara grimaced.

"And did they succeed?" Asked Keiko interestedly.

"Who cares?" Yusuke slouched against the elevator wall, but couldn't quite hide the expression of fascinated repugnance on his face.

"They had better luck with the plants than the animals." Sara looked down at her knitted cap, which she was twisting nervously in her hands. "At least that's what the published reports say. But I think they've discontinued animal research because they found stronger, more genetically resilient subject." She raised her eyes. "I think they've begun to experiments with merging human and demon DNA." She said quietly.

"Hybrids? Half human and half demon?" Kurama's eyes narrowed. "That would explain why they were so willing to give you away to the demon realm. If they'd decided to stop altering pre-existing human genes to make improved humans, and just graft demon genes onto human embryos..."

"You're kidding, right?" Kuwabara began to look a little sick.

"Actually, there are stories of humans and demons..." started Botan brightly, then glanced at Keiko, coughed, and subsided.

"What stories?" asked Keiko, as the elevator came to a stop with a grinding bump.

Botan, pink-cheeked, crowded her way to the front. "Here we are!" She exclaimed and left the elevator like a shot as soon as the doors opened. Unfortunately, she managed to charge right into a large, surprised-looking, security guard in a navy blue Sen-dex uniform.

In a blur of black, Hiei rushed past the others, and slammed the hilt of his Katana style sword into the guard's temple. Twice. The guard sank to the floor, unconscious.

They dragged him into the elevator and allowed the doors to close behind him. "There's worse." Sara whispered as they started down a long corridor. "According to the shipping manifests I've seen, Sen-dex has been buying lots of chemical solutions for its age inducing and retarding experiments, way more than they'd need for experiments. I think they're for cloning tanks. The big research going on right now is for incubator tanks, so when a baby is born prematurely, hospitals can stick them into tanks that simulate their mother's wombs so they can continue to develop at a natural pace, and be taken out at what would have been the mother's expected delivery date. It's all supposedly experimental, but..."

"Not anymore it's not." Hiei, who'd moved more quickly than the others, had stopped up ahead by a treated glass window set in the concrete wall of the corridor.

Keiko gasped when she and Botan came close enough to look down through the window at the laboratory below. The others crowded around and saw large glass tubes, lining either side of the lab, in which floated bodies. Despite the distortion of the fluid, the bodies looked inordinately tall and bulky for humans. They definitely had a pattern of scales on their exposed bodies, yet the scales' color was undeniably the pale pink of human flesh.

"Like we don't already have enough full-blooded demon invasions into the human realm!" Yusuke complained. "Now we have to fight off these guys too? I want a raise!"

"You don't get paid." Botan reminded him absently.

Sara placed her fingertips on the window. "I was right." She breathed, then stepped back, moving closer to Kurama.

Kurama gazed down impassively at the forty tubes of hybrid demons. "That solves one mystery, yet the main one remains. Why do they need the opal?"

"Because it's pretty?" Asked Kuwabara. Hiei snorted derisively. Kuwabara glared and towered over him. "Hey, I think it's pretty, and they must too because I sense some of it here."

The others looked at him. "What?" Asked Kuwabara. "Can't you feel it too? It's coming from right over there." He pointed through the window to the far end of the laboratory where a doorway was set into the wall. As the team craned in to look, Kurama noticed a lighted room with huge panels of windows and lots of equipment set into the wall opposite the door, suspended over the lab by girders, with a metal staircase leading up to it from the laboratory floor.

"Botan did notice a piece of the opal was missing earlier." Stated Kurama reflectively. He touched Sara on the shoulder. "Do you think you could backtrack down this corridor and find a way into that control room?" He asked, nodding toward the windowed room below, suspended above the laboratory.

"What exactly are you planning, Kurama?" Botan turned and asked, her ever- inquisitive eyes locked onto the two standing close together.

"Forget the control room! Let's go get the little bit of opal!" Kuwabara suggested enthusiastically.

"Fool." Hiei glared at the lanky red head. "Would you like to leave those abominations free to ravish your world?"

"Hey! What did you just call me?"

"A fool."

"Save the attitude!" Yusuke stepped between a red-faced glaring Kuwabara and an icily calm Hiei. "They're gonna need it, aren't they, Kurama?"

"As always, Yusuke, you read my mind." Kurama gave an approving half smile to the belligerent boy.

"Well, I wish someone would tell ME what's going on." Botan placed her hands on her hips and looked from Yusuke to Kurama.

Kurama gestured to the door at the end of the laboratory. "Kuwabara senses the opal piece in there. That area feeds off the lab. If you'll notice, the bodies in the tubes are in varying stages of development, the more developed ones being closest to that door. It appears that once they are fully grown, they are taken out that door, which means that the ones which have already hatched, as it were, are located through there."

Yusuke's face creased in an anticipatory smile. "So what say we go in and take the opal shard from them? Then maybe we can teach them that it's not nice to steal."

Kurama nodded. "Quite so, however, I thought that the ladies would be of more use finding a way to destroy the clones in the lab from the control room while we take care of the ones which have hatched."

"Sounds good."

"Fine by me, so long as there's less yapping and more fighting."

"Hn."

The men of the group nodded agreement, and set off down the corridor in search of a stairway leading to the hidden room, while Keiko and Botan followed Sara, key card in hand, in the opposite direction.

A short while later, Yusuke led Kuwabara, Kurama, and Hiei through a door and down some stairs to an anteroom with an abandoned desk. Just as Kuwabara was starting to say that no one was there, a burly looking security guard in a Sen-dex uniform, wiping his hands on a paper towel, stepped out of one of two doors leading off the anteroom and stopped in surprise.

The team wasn't given much warning, for the guard growled, and charged in the same instant, knocking Kuwabara off his feet, and sending Kurama and Hiei leaping instinctively out of the way. Yusuke stayed where he was, and jabbed the guard on the side of the head, connecting solidly with his ear as he flew by.

Yusuke expected the guard to react to the punch, or at least to Kuwabara who, even though pinned to the floor by the guard, was raining punches on either side of his head. The guard merely reared back and raised his fist.

That was when Yusuke realized something was wrong, pointed his finger, and sent a blast of spirit energy right into the guard's torso. That felled him, and he slid off Kuwabara, into a heap on the ground.

Kuwabara sat up and glared at Hiei, who stood completely at ease, arms crossed. "Gee, thanks a lot for all the help." He complained.

"You're welcome." Yusuke distracted the bruised redhead by answering the comment, even though it wasn't directed at him.

Meanwhile, Kurama was crouched by the body. Shoving it over onto its back, he reached out and grasped a small, white pin with the Sen-dex logo engraved around a sparkling circle of white. Fisting his hand, he yanked. As soon as the pin came off, the security guard changed.

The average looking middle-aged face's features coarsened. The teeth elongated to fangs, fingernails became claws, and all over, the skin raised itself into scale shaped disks of hardened flesh.

Kurama turned to his astonished teammates, and showed them the pin in his hand. "This is why they need the opal. The opal clouds human minds. They've somehow programmed it to camouflage their hybrid demons to blend in to the human world. By placing the opal shards on devises like these, they could hide an entire army of hybrids."

Yusuke's eyes narrowed. "From now on, anyone we see is a hybrid, and we fight them just the same as we would any demon. Got it?" He looked at each of his team, registering their nods of acceptance. "Then let's go." He strode over to the second of the two doors in the wall, and threw it open wide, then stopped dead on the threshold.

Before him was a room resembling an army barracks filled to the brim with hybrids. A few wore civilian style suits with the Send-dex logo pin on their lapels. They looked human, but the rest wore army fatigues, and as eighty pairs of red tinged demonic eyes looked up, and registered the intruders into their domain, Yusuke sighed.

"I really need a raise."

After that there wasn't time to speak or think, just react. Yusuke quickly lost track of the others as a wave of hybrid soldiers surged forward. Dropping shot after shot of his spirit gun, he twisted, turned, and jumped for his life. Yusuke was used to fighting one on one, and keeping track of ten opponents at a time was getting real old real fast. But he couldn't afford to worry about how many more there were, he had to concentrate on dropping the ones right in front of him.

At times he caught glimpses of Kurama's rose whip, or a black blur of motion that was Hiei. He heard Kuwabara's continuous bellows, and saw flashes of the teenager's spirit sword.

Somehow, they made it all the way across the room and ended with their backs to the wall, opposite of where they'd started. Though fully half the hybrids were down, dead or wounded, the other half were growling for blood and standing between them and the exit to the stairs. They'd been herded, which showed a certain cunning intelligence and teamwork on the part of their opponents. For the first time, Yusuke began to doubt that they'd all get out of this alive. At that moment, the door behind them flew open.

"Did you close the door behind you?" Sara hurtled into the midst of their group and grabbed Kurama's arm. Startled, he nodded, questions in his eyes. She leaned forward and whispered something to him, then rushed in front of him to face the hordes of demon hybrids, who appeared just as startled as Team Urameshi that she was there.

"We must go." Kurama grabbed Yusuke and Kuwabara by the arms (correctly identifying the most difficult and obstreperous of his teammates) and pulled them back toward the lab. Hiei merely lowered his sword, turned and stalked into the lab, but Yusuke immediately protested.

"What are you doing? Get your..." He trailed off when Kurama nodded at Kuwabara, who was reeling, off balanced not only by Kurama's tugging on his arm, but also because he had a cut streaming blood on his cheek, his chest was heaving with exhaustion, and he was limping. From the corner of his eye, Yusuke noticed that Hiei's clothes were torn in several places where hybrid claws had tried to shred him. Even the normally unflappable Kurama's hair was matted to his forehead with sweat. Yusuke gave in and allowed himself to be dragged backward, but only to just over the laboratory threshold. When Kurama slammed the lab's double doors shut behind them, Yusuke pressed his nose to the window set in the door.

Wind Slasher was standing in front of the doors on the other side. Her hands were lifted toward the ceiling, she was standing on tiptoes, and even her hair, pony tail and bangs where lifting heavenward. Meanwhile, the hybrids in front of her weren't attacking.

Instead, they were clutching at their throats and mouths, pawing the air, and falling to the ground. The ones nearest Sara were turning blue.

"What the...?"

Kurama came to stand beside Yusuke, peering through the window set in the second of the double doors. "She's taking the air out of the room, at least the lower part, and concentrating it in the area above, near the ceiling."

Yusuke wrenched his gaze away from the window and stared at Kurama in shock. "She can do that?"

Kurama nodded absently, his eyes never leaving the window. "Evidently." He watched impassively for a moment, then added. "The question is, did she know that she could do it before now?"

Yusuke stared at Kurama, then broke into a laugh. "You mean she didn't know she could, she just marched into a room full of demon hybrids and GUESSED?"

"I assume so. According to Botan's files, Sara has never attempted anything like this before in all the tournaments she's fought in."

Yusuke gave another short laugh before turning back to look out the window. "I think I like this girl."

"As do I." Kurama said reflectively, then repeated it so softly that Yusuke wasn't sure he even heard it. "As do I."

A few moments later the laboratory doors opened, and an exhausted looking Sara came through. Footsteps clanged on metal stair steps, and Yusuke jerked around to see Botan and Keiko running down the steps from the lab's control room. He also noticed that the cloning tubes, which had been lighted, and full of bubbles before, were now dark and still.

"Yusuke!" Keiko tripped and fell against him.

"Oof! You're heavy!" He must have been more tired than he'd thought, for the words slipped out before he could stop them. Why did he always say the dumbest things around her?

Keiko didn't seem to mind, much. She just punched him in the arm, called him stupid, and said she was glad to see he was all right. Botan's eyes made a quick survey of the room, stopped uncertainly on Hiei for a minute, ascertained that he wasn't badly hurt, then looped her shoulder under Kuwabara's arm and hauled the wounded boy to his feet.

"Come on, Kuwabara," She said. "Let's get you out of here." Botan began dragging the complaining Kuwabara back toward the control room stairs. Keiko and Yusuke, bickering quietly, followed.

Hiei lagged behind, then walked up to Sara, who was leaning against the lab door, and told her in demonish, "Not bad, for a human." Then Hiei pivoted, and followed the others.

Kurama watched Sara react. Her expression tended to be blank most of the time, a remnant of the survival tactics she'd used as a battle slave to the sadistic Mist Master team, but a slow, surprised smile ghosted across her features, and he caught it.

"So, what will you do now?" He asked her curiously.

She looked at him, her eyes still blue shards like the sea on a still summer's day. "I don't know, really. I can't pretend to be Ashley Morris anymore. I was tired of wearing that stupid blonde wig and glasses anyhow."

Kurama was taken aback at the mental image that conjured up.

"I think perhaps I'll use my stock in Sen-dex to make some changes. It turns out I have enough to be a swing vote. I'd like to turn this company back into what my father worked for it to be. I'd like it to be the company he believed in."

She gestured at the dead hybrids lying on the floor behind her. "The company is much more than just this. There are some really good people who work here, researchers who want to make a difference, and save lives. If only we could get rid of the few bad apples at the top..."

Kurama looked at her searchingly. "I'm sure Koenma would help with that."

"He would?"

"People have been known to join the spirit world a bit sooner than expected." He saw the realization of what he was actually saying in her expression.

"I should be shocked by that, or repulsed I suppose, but after today..." Sara glanced around the lab, to the monsters in the cloning tubes. She met his gaze squarely. "I'd be grateful for any help Koenma would like to give."

Kurama nodded. "I'll see to it, then. And now, I suppose we'd better get Kuwabara and the others back to the hotel."

"Oh no." Sara shoved herself off the door, and touched his sleeve as he turned to go, so he turned back to look at her.

"What is it?"

"I don't want you to...I mean." Sara took a deep breath and began again. "My stepfather left me a huge house with lots of guest rooms. When I came back, I re-hired the housekeeper and her husband and told them to tell everyone I was an invalid. They've been covering for me while I lived in town and pretended to be Ashley Morris. There's plenty of room for all of you to come stay with me."

Kurama hesitated.

She saw it, and dropped her hand from his sleeve. "Unless you have other plans, I completely understand." She ducked her head, exactly the way she used to when she stayed with him in Japan, and stared at the floor.

He reached out and took her hand in his, holding it gently. It caused her to look up at him in surprise, as he'd guessed she would. "We would be happy to accept your invitation, if you can stand to have Hiei and Kuwabara in the same house. They are not exactly the most amicable of houseguests. That is the only reason why I hesitated to accept your invitation."

Sara's mouth creased in a tiny smile. Just that little shift in facial muscles, and her whole face lighted in a way that made her beautiful. "I have a confession to make. I don't speak Japanese at all, but I did pick up enough to figure out that those two were insulting each other all the time. I think it's kind of ...funny." She shrugged helplessly, swallowing laughter.

Kurama smiled back. Amusement was something Hiei would never tolerate, but still, it might be nice to be around someone who could share his humorous appreciation of Hiei and Kuwabara's unremitting battle of wills.

"Then, if you're sure. We should go and inform the others." He held out an arm, politely gesturing for her to go first. He might have imagined it, but he thought she clung a moment to his hand when he released hers.

Eyes still warm with their shared amusement, she turned and started toward the staircase.

It would be, he reflected, allowing the fascinating human girl to precede him, an interesting vacation. He looked forward to discovering the girl behind the Wind Slasher guise, and to making Sara smile again.

THE END Really. No more story. It's done. No more episodes. No sequels. Over. Team Urameshi came, saw, conquered, and are now on vacation.