AN: I promise I haven't disappeared! I'm focusing more on my original stuff when it comes to writing (mostly because I'm a broke student and I get paid for that) but I am continuing on with this and Let's Try This Again when I can. It's just slow going. However, when writer's block sets in, I am dealing with it by switching to drawing comics on Deviant Art. One of which ties into this, sort bridging the gap between it and See You Around. Just search for this story o find it.
Thanks again to everyone who reads, especially those who follow/fav and super awesome thanks to everyone who reviews. You guys are awesome!
Super special thanks to Spyke1985 for betaing for me!
Okay, hope you guys enjoy!
Chapter Twenty Five – Going Home
"Stop staring," Sarah said, rolling her eyes, although there was no harshness to her tone and the smile on her face betrayed her as she increased the speed of the treadmill, determined to gain back at least a fraction of her former fitness. It had been the one condition of her accompanying the others to the Cerberus base, that and proving that she could maintain a stable biotic field.
"Can you blame me?" her bondmate asked as he leaned on the treadmill, smiling back at her as he couldn't help but admire her. Over the past few weeks she had slowly started to return to how she had looked before. Her skin was no longer the pale shade of grey, but was quickly returning to its natural tan. She had started to gain weight again too, no longer seeming so painfully thin, although most of it was muscle from her intense exercise regime. She was actually struggling to maintain a high enough calorie intake due to both the efforts to regain her precious level of fitness as well as her heavy biotic use.
"I am trying," she protested, following his thoughts with almost scary precision.
"I know ani," he replied, wondering what had prompted the slightly defensive response.
She sighed a little, reading his thought once more. "Okay, so maybe it's been nice. Looking... a bit more like a turian, I guess," she admitted. "I hate the fact that it takes more than a cursory glance for people to realise that I'm not human. Especially given that all of my instincts, my mannerisms, my social habits, they are all turian."
"Hey," he told her softly as he hit the treadmill's interface, slowing it to a stop, careful not to alarm her or catch her off guard, before stepping it in front of her, pulling her close to him. "I love you. No matter if you look human or turian, you're still Sarah. Although, I would prefer it if I didn't have to worry about you fainting because you overtaxed yourself due to you not eating."
"Which is what I'm saying," she protested. "I am eating. I just... will miss the turian angles when the human curves come back."
"I like your curves," he reminded her, his sub-harmonics rumbling softly, in just that way that always made her grin like a love-struck fool. Which she guessed she kind of was.
"See, male hybrids don't have this issue. They have full fringes, plus the proportions of turian and human men aren't as similar as they are for women."
"Well, I, for one, am glad you're female."
"Me too," she agreed as she eagerly pressed her lips to his. He had been standing way too close as her body flooded with endorphins from her workout.
"Okay, you two do know that this is a communal area, right?" Philip groaned as he walked in on them.
Sarah sighed, pulling away from her bondmate as he gave a slightly displeased growl that caused her grin to widen. "Sorry, I didn't think anyone else would show up here."
"Fair enough, I'm just here to deliver this to you."
Sarah raised an eyebrow as he handed her a rather large box with a large bow on top. "I thought we weren't getting personal deliveries. Too high a chance of trojans."
"We've been stocking up on supplies for the upcoming raid. This came for you with the last shipment."
She cocked her head, her subharmonics trilling with curiosity as she examined the note that came with it. "Dear Sarah," she read aloud, "we figured we owed you for more than a few missed birthdays and Christmases. Hopefully these will be more than adequate. Everyone here misses you. And we know that you hate hearing it but we worry about you, even if you do have friends watching your back. Liara says 'good try' on your attempt to keep your destabilisation a secret. She only caught on a couple of weeks before you finished the cure. Regardless, hopefully if this all works out, we'll be able to say all of this to you in person soon. Love Mum and Dad." Sarah's smile widened into a huge grin. Tiberius knew how much having to cut off contact with her family had affected her; had made her feel even more alone in the past few years.
She immediately opened up the box, bringing out a black combat suit, clearly designed specially for her, followed by a white jacket. The jacket somewhat resembled a lab coat, minus the sleeves, with straps across the front to hold in place during combat and a hood.
"The fibres are made from non-newtonian fluids," Sarah explained as Tiberius looked over the jacket. "That sucker'll stop bullets"
His attention was quickly diverted once more as she pulled out another item that looked almost like a cloaking device, but far more advanced than any he'd ever seen. "Is that a cloak?"
She shrugged, looking it over. "Sort of. It's more of a multi-purpose device. Most of the power looks like it's been routed to shield generators... Spirits, my parents worry too much sometimes..."
"I agree with them," Tiberius supplied, earning him an eyeroll.
"You would. I can probably shunt some of it to make the cloak last a bit longer..." Tiberius responded with a warning growl that prompted another eyeroll. "Fine. You do know that I have biotic barriers as well, right?"
"Look, I'm not exactly happy about you coming with us at all," he replied.
She took a deep breath, really not wanting to argue about it any more. She was going and he couldn't stop her, so there was really no point in trying to get him to agree that it was a good idea. He was far too stubborn for that. So, instead, she simply ignored his comment, turning her attention to the datapad that had arrived with the equipment.
Philip ignored the tension between the two of them, perhaps not even noticing it, inspecting Sarah's new sniper rifle (courtesy of her father) as he spoke up. "Actually, this came with the final shipment. We're all ready to go now. So, Rookie, if you're now a genetically perfect hybrid and all that, are you gonna be some kind of super soldier?"
Sarah simply snorted at that. "No. Pretty much all of my combat abilities come down to my biotics, which have nothing to do with me being a hybrid."
"Really? Don't you have the flexibility of a human with the strength of a turian?"
"Yeah, that's not how it works. I'm more of an average across the board. I'm a bit more flexible than a turian female, but not as much as a human. Same for strength. I mean, I'm stronger than most human females my size, but no where near as much as a turian."
"Wait, Smiley said that the first time you two went into combat together, you were pulling all kinds of acrobatics."
"Yeah, I was just propelling myself about with my biotics. All of the flips and stuff were just for dramatic effect. My parents always said that being feared by your enemies is thirty percent skill and seventy percent style."
"I feel a little cheated... So, wait, if you're not some awesome killing machine, what's the point of everyone breeding hybrids? No offense."
"A little taken," she replied coolly before tapping the datapad in her hand. "Actually, I've been asking the same question for a while now. We assumed that this was the reason for them, because that seemed the most obvious. But, if this was the case, surely Cerberus would want to cure the hybrids, even if it did mean that they lost some of their hold over them. That doesn't seem to be the case, although we were right about one thing; Cerberus and the Protheans had similar reasons."
"Social, actually. Cerberus intel suggests that they had scrapped their own plans for using alien DNA to enhance their soldiers, figuring that it would 'dilute the genepool' or some other racist nonsense. But, once they found out about my existence, they returned to their work. They want their hybrids to be deformed monsters. Let's face it, without the Cerberus hybrids, I wouldn't be facing such a huge backlash over my work, or my existence."
"And the Protheans?"
"Well, they maintained a huge empire with subservient races, which were all referred to as 'Prothean'. However, of course, the racial barriers still remained and the subservient species still fought each other. The empire could step in and stop them, of course, but it was quicker if they never had to, and they figured the best way to do that would be to blur the lines between the species. That's a huge feat of genetic engineering so late in the evolutionary process, but it was simpler for them to set up the ability to produce hybrids in the races that were earlier in their development, the ones that they were keeping an eye on with the intention of eventually bringing them into the empire. They didn't finish their work before the Reapers came, but it was sound."
Philip just shook his head. "Yeah, I shouldn't have bothered asking... Anyway, Gamma team have finished both viruses; the cure and the... well, the other one. Now all that's left to do is to use them."
"Use the cure, you mean," Sarah corrected, trying to focus her mind on anything other than the task ahead. Despite her best efforts, she still felt the twin cold thrills of fear and anticipation begin to creep through her. She did her best to seal away the fear. In all honesty, she liked it. It was a reminder that she was alive; that she had something to fight for. It was a feeling all too alien to her. However, Tiberius needed no more ammunition in his argument that she wasn't ready. She couldn't let him know that she was anything but sure of herself. Which couldn't have been further from the truth. The only thing keeping her façade of perfect calm and assurance in place were the memories of her parents leaving the ship on missions. Sarah had never considered that they might not make it back, mostly because they had this almost superhero-esque aura that made it almost impossible to conceive that they could ever lose.
Well, people do keep telling me I'm my mother's daughter, she reasoned as she began to make lists and plans in her head, trying to figure the best method of dispersal for the cure.
A few days later, they were ready for the assault on the Cerberus base.
Sarah and Tiberius didn't speak as they got ready. Sarah hated the silence but didn't trust herself to open her mouth. There was nothing she could say or do - short of agreeing to stay behind - that would stop him from worrying. He was terrified for her and furious that she wouldn't back down. But, of course, being Tiberius, he wouldn't say anything. He just brooded in silence, possibly forgetting that she knew his every thought anyway. Or maybe he didn't forget, maybe it was the only way of communicating he could deal with, since he sure as hell wasn't good with talking, like every other sapient being in the galaxy. Which, she guessed, was something she had always known about him. And, on any other day, found endearing.
But certainly not today.
She tried her hardest not to retaliate through their bond. If nothing else, she understood where these feelings were coming from. He had, after all, almost lost her just mere weeks ago and here she was, ready to step right into the line of fire.
But it was necessary, and she wasn't one to hide away from necessary. Scary, difficult and complex? She ran almost every time. But not if it was necessary. If nothing else, she couldn't be faulted for that. And Tiberius had always known that about her. It was one of the things he loved about her, even if it was infuriating him beyond belief right now.
And so the silence persisted, even as they headed towards the shuttle.
Philip, Tia and the few Alliance grunts with them seemed content to follow their lead, none of them so much as making a sound. They all knew the plan. "The dead can't answer my questions," Sarah had told them firmly as she passed out new ammo in the form of sedative darts. Red ones would knock out humans and blue ones were for hybrids. As much as Sarah had said that hybrids were just a middle-ground, the two exceptions were their exceptionally high metabolism and their impressive immune system. The red ones would barely slow them down, whereas the blue ones would probably kill a human. Which would go against Sarah's orders. This was, after all, her show. Everyone understood that. And, as much as Tiberius would worry, not even he could deny that her instincts were more than good.
Sarah concentrated on calming her nerves as the shuttle slowed to a stop, just around the corner from the Cerberus facility. The aim was to hack the security systems and sneak in without anyone realising their presence, hopefully disabling the facility in one fell swoop.
Everyone filed out with a precision borne of years of training, making Sarah truly self-conscious for the first time since they had started planning this endeavour. She was good, but 'by-the-book' would never be a term associated with her or her style. She was too independent, both raised and trained by the two people in the galaxy most deserving of the title 'epitome of unconventional'.
To her surprise, Tiberius held back from the others to move over to her. She half expected an 'I-told-you-so' or for him to tell her to stay put, but that wasn't anything close to what he ended up saying as he gently pressed his forehead to hers. "You can do this," he told her, his subharmonics trilling with confidence.
She allowed her eyes to scan his own, looking for even the smallest hint of deceit. "Why the sudden change of tune?" she eventually managed to ask.
"No change," he told her. "I just can't lose you again. Even the best lose sometimes, ani."
She moved a hand up to caress his mandible, causing him to nuzzle into her palm. "I can't lose you either, ani." She emphasised the word that literally translated as 'my heart' to remind him of the fact that those feelings were not one-sided. "So what in the hell makes you think that I would ever let you do this without me?"
"Just like old times, huh?"
She smirked as she pulled away, quickly checking her weapons as they left the shuttle. "Don't say that. Then you sound like my parents..."
Sarah wished that they hadn't needed to split up once inside, but understood. There were too many places to be, so each of the four went in different directions, taking an Alliance soldier with them. The one accompanying Sarah seemed young and arrogant, making her wonder just how many real battles he had seen.
"Approaching the mainframe," Tia informed them over the comm as Sarah approached the labs. "No hostiles encountered yet."
"Lucky," Philip commented. "The stores were crawling with them. Looks like they just received a delivery."
"Are you okay?" Tia asked, her worry evident in her tone.
"'Was', honey. I'm more than capable of taking down a few Cerberus thugs."
Sarah tried to ignore the way their conversation was reminding her that Red had yet to call in. As had she, she reminded herself as she silently entered the lab, keeping low. To her surprise, she found it empty. "I've reached the labs, but I've yet to find anyone."
"All of the... researchers were down here, in the lower levels," Tiberius told her, finally confirming that he had, indeed, reached his target.
"For what purpose?" she asked, not entirely certain she wanted the answer.
"You... don't want to know, ani," he informed her gently, confirming her fears as her gaze swept the room. There were machines, chambers in which the hybrids were grown to maturity. Or, as close to maturity as they wanted. A child, just shy of their teenage years, had longer before they destabilised and still made a decent soldier.
All of them were empty.
"Are there any hybrids down there?"
"There were..." Sarah didn't want to think about what he meant, or what was being done on the lower levels, but she knew that she no longer had reason to remain in the labs.
"I'm coming down."
"Blue..." Tiberius started, but she cut him off.
"Red. You need my help," she told him as she made her way down. "Tia, have you hacked into the mainframe?"
"Almost there," the asari replied.
"Blue, how long should the dose for humans last?" Tiberius asked warily.
"Twelve hours," she replied. "Why?"
"I think- Arghh!" She hurried at the yell as she felt the vibrations of an explosion.
"Red?!" she yelled, breaking into a run, leaping down stairs, several at a time. She made it to his side in moments, barely noting the smoking remains of the Cerberus employees.
"I'm okay," he coughed, sitting up. "My shield caught most of the blast."
"What happened?" she asked, crushing him close to her.
"One of them woke up early. I don't know how. He had an explosive built into his head. I'm not sure how he activated it, but he was too quick. I was trying to give him another dose when it went off."
Sarah sighed as she pulled away. On the plus side, they would soon have the mainframe data, but without anyone to question, Sarah doubted she would get all of the answers she wanted. And she seriously doubted that the guards Philip had captured would know anything of use.
She was pulled from her thoughts, however, by the faint whispering in the edges of her mind. Instead of closing herself off to it, she opened up her mind, whipping around so that her eyes could scan the shadows, yet they saw nothing. Heard nothing. But her mind told her a different story.
"Come out. Now. I know you're there," she called to the shadows, allowing her mind to tell her the location of the other hybrid.
They ran out at her silently, but with no skill to the attack. Sarah saw every move before it was made, swiftly countering before she pulled a lone blue dart from her belt, swiftly stabbing the hybrid in the neck.
Once the blows had ceased, Sarah finally got a good look at her. She was, biologically, no older than thirteen, with dark hair and skin, but lighter brown plates. She carried the familiar hallmarks of a Cerberus hybrid but the deformity that struck Sarah the most was one she had not seen before. On the girl's right hand, she had three fingers and a thumb. The finger closest to the thumb was long and thick, like a turian's, but the other two resembled human ring and little fingers.
"Uh, guys," Tia's voice sounded over the comm, pulling Sarah from her thoughts. "I think we have a problem. It looks like a signal was sent from the lower level at the same time as the explosion. More Cerberus forces are on the way."
"Shit..." Sarah muttered. "How far out are they?"
"Then you guys head back to the shuttle. We'll meet you there," she told Tia before turning to Tiberius. "Can you help me lift her?"
He nodded, seemingly a little distracted, but quickly snapping out of it. "Sure."
She turned to the two Alliance soldiers, who were just watching the entire encounter with curiosity, but failing to actually help. "We'll need you two to look out for us."
The one who had been following her frowned, stepping forward. "She's no use to us. Better to leave her. Or, better yet, stick a bullet through her head."
Sarah growled at that. "No. You will not harm her, do you understand me?" No one doubted at that moment that she was the daughter of the great Commander Shepard as she stared down the soldier. "Do you understand me?"
"Yes, Ma'am," he replied, backing down.
"Good. Now, move!"
After that, it was a fairly uneventful trip back to the shuttle. Philip had effectively disabled all of the guards and the new ones were still on approach.
"We good to go?" Sarah asked as soon as they boarded.
"Just waiting for you guys," Tia confirmed as she took the helm.
Sarah nodded, knowing that she could be of no help here instead turning to the hybrid girl she had lain across the seats. "Perfect candidate to test the cure," she muttered as she reached into one of her pockets, pulling out one of the cure serums that Nat had made up before she had left to help Cee.
"Are you sure about this?" Tiberius asked gently, knowing that things were about to change once more.
"Yeah, I am," she replied, before injecting the cure into the young girl, just as Tia swore from the cockpit.
"They're tailing us," she informed them.
"Can you lose them?" Philip asked, leaning on the back of her chair.
"Probably, but you'd better strap in. It's gonna be a bumpy ride," she warned.
Everyone did as she asked without hesitation. She was right, although 'bumpy' had perhaps been an understatement. They rode like that for several minutes before Tia swore once more.
"That's it," she declared, "I'm breaking orbit..." At that, she pointed the shuttle almost directly upwards, speeding up through the atmosphere, before finally settling into a low orbit, still, however, being pursued. "Don't these guys ever give up?!"
"No," Sarah told her simply, her sub-harmonics rumbling with a low-burning anger. She hated ship-to-ship combat. She felt just so damn helpless.
She was pulled from her thoughts, however, when Tia let out a surprised gasp. "Either they have cloaking technology," she explained, "or they just disappeared..."
"Knowing our luck, they have cloaks..." Sarah muttered in reply as the comm burst to life.
"You're all clear, kid, now let's blow this thing and go home," said a female voice over the comm. Everyone turned to Sarah as she let out a relieved laugh.
"You promised I'd get to say it!" protested a male voice, also over the comm. "I am the pilot, after all."
"Yeah, well, I'm the commander, so I outrank you."
"We're not even Alliance anymore!"
That was the point at which Sarah spoke up. "The quote's not even that applicable!"
"Well, if you're going to be like that, we won't let you dock."
Sarah sighed a little at that, but it was through a smile. "I'm sorry, Mum."
"Apology accepted. Now, get over here." The comm closed at that.
"Wait, that was Commander Shepard?!" Philip asked incredulously.
"Oh right, did I not tell you guys about my mother being crazy?" she joked. Philip just rolled his eyes in response as Tiberius stood up, wrapping his arm around Sarah's waist.
"Looks like you're going home," he observed.
She shrugged. "I guess I am..."
End of Part Two