“You can always find love, Sarah, but only if you allow yourself to see it.”
Anna’s whispered words echoed in her ear as Izadora’s hand rested gently against her back. She could feel the barely-there weight of the ghost of the touch, almost as if Izadora was afraid to put too much pressure on her. Or perhaps she herself could merely feel the vibrations beneath Sarah’s skin.
“It’s ok, Sarah. It’s going to be ok.”
The words left her reeling for a moment, overwhelmed by the familiarity that she had never allowed herself to feel or to be shown to her, but she found the unease she had always known to accompany such actions would not come. With a deep inhale against the rising tide of emotions at Izadora’s soft words, Sarah relaxed into the touch, solid in the understanding that she was not alone in this moment.
The sensation was unfamiliar, but not unwelcome. She couldn’t remember the last time someone had touched her simply for the sake of conveying comfort except for the gentle stroking of her face from Tally Craven before she had been given to the Mother.
Sarah inhaled a sharp breath at the memory and shook her head. Touch always came with a purpose, a bargain, a betrayal. Yet with the weight of Izadora’s hand against her, Sarah was shocked to realize just how much she had missed the simple truth of just being touched.
The swelling emotions were unfamiliar to her. Sarah had spent centuries perfecting the art of detachment and yet she felt emotions roll through her like the thunder of her storm. Perhaps this was Anna’s doing? A remnant of the Mycelium returning her to life? She was uncertain, but the walls she had crafted for herself so carefully over the centuries were shaky now at best. She couldn’t remember their heights, the thickness of their depths. It left her untethered and reeling.
Sarah gripped the edges of Izadora’s small jacket tighter and pulled the fabric around her shoulders. The action seemed to trigger something for the Necro and she made a noise of surprise, leapt to her feet in one fluid motion and was out the door of the lab before Sarah could even question what was happening.
Sarah heard her desk drawer being pulled open roughly, the sound amplified against the tall stone walls and by Sarah’s own racing thoughts. Footsteps galloped back towards her and then Izadora appeared in the doorway clutching a folded pair of standard issue sweats.
“Here, we don’t have much time before a lot more people come barging in here. You will want to be covered completely.”
Sarah stared at Izadora’s outstretched hand with uncertainty. She could feel the woman’s nervous energy as she shifted and looked back over her shoulder towards the entrance of the labs. With a soft push, Sarah rose to her feet and took the offered clothes.
“I appreciate the offer, Dora, but I don’t believe your clothing will be a good fit for me.”
Izadora spared her one look of something before she turned her gaze respectfully towards the doorway once more. With a few quickened steps, she was peering out of the stone archway, clearly signaling that time was of the essence. Sarah shrugged out of Izadora’s sweatshirt, unfolded the plain white tee shirt from the pile and paused.
It was too large to be Izadora’s.
Her silence must have been caught by Izadora because the woman cleared her throat and stepped further into the hallway. Sarah could feel the hesitation from her across the room.
“They aren’t mine…they’re yours.”
Her eyes drifted up towards the woman she had always known as comrade. A sister in arms. Izadora was quirky at the best of times, and Sarah had looked out for her on more than one occasion when she had been a cadet. They had certainly struck a respectful relationship up when Izadora had become an officer, but this?
She felt warmth spiral through her chest at the admission, unfamiliar and pulling. Overwhelmed with the knowledge, Sarah decided upon the solid ground of action and shrugged into the scratchy fabric quickly for something to do. Questions shoved their way into her mind, but she clamped her mouth shut, afraid to give voice to something she could not name. Izadora did not let the moment continue.
“I… had a theory that perhaps what just happened would happen given that you weren’t actually dead when put into the Mother…”
Sarah felt a tiny smile pull at the corner of her mouth at Izadora’s rambling. She was surprised to feel happiness bloom at the sound of it, memories of hundreds of other occurrences of it over the years flashed through her mind.
“I wanted to be prepared in case I was correct.”
Sarah shook the jogging pants out and stepped into them quickly. She could feel her downturned eyes water at the admission and swallowed against the feeling. What was wrong with her?
Izadora stepped backwards into the room, eyes still scanning the entrance to the labs and Sarah found she was grateful for the attempt at granted privacy, bared open suddenly as she was at the woman’s hesitant admission.
She had kept Sarah’s clothes in the hopes that she would return.
Sarah didn’t know what to do with the feeling the action evoked in the moment, to be honest. She chose instead to keep pressing forward.
Izadora cleared her throat as Sarah shrugged her own sweatshirt on. When she zipped it up, Izadora turned dark eyes briefly towards her before stepping fully back into the room once again. She crossed her arms suddenly uncertain as Sarah bent to retrieve the sweatshirt she had been given.
“It’s...uh, it’s usually cold in here, so… sweats.”
Izadora waved one hand awkwardly towards Sarah’s outfit. The explanation felt dangerously close to care. Before, she would have shrugged it away, clasped her hands behind her back with a ramrod stance and nodded in acknowledgment.
Now, it was different.
She was different. She had to be. Her sister’s words whispered in her mind once more.
She had been given a second chance.
Sarah smiled, gratitude filling her chest as she stepped forward to hand Izadora her jacket. The smaller woman took it without a word, but her eyes searched Sarah’s face. Sarah read amazement, confusion, and relief plainly in her eyes. It was a stark change from the usually straight-faced woman she had always known.
Izadora nodded once and shoved her arms into the jacket quickly, zipping it forcefully up as Sarah turned. There was a chair sat in the corner of the room now faced towards the Mother. She never remembered it being there before, but she was grateful for it now. Her body was tingling, power surging through her enough to make her shaky. With a sigh, she lowered her trembling body onto the chair and rested her face in her palms. The fit of her own clothing was grounding, however, and she focused on it.
Izadora’s dark eyes searched her face for a few moments as Sarah lowered her hands and rose her gaze to meet hers. She knew Izadora could probably read the emotions playing across her face, could clock her trembling. She could see the clinician in her at work. She opened her mouth and drew in a deep breath, but the silence was ripped apart by a door slamming against the stone wall at the top of the stairs. Sarah watched Izadora flinch at the sound before she spun and disappeared to intercept.
Anacostia all but flung herself down the stone stairs of the Necro lab, Petra and Magda hot on her heels. Izadora’s farspeech was disturbing and too incomplete for her to discern what was happening, but one thing had come through loud and clear.
They had to get here quickly.
Her eyes scanned for signs of intruders and damage as her hand began to unleash the scourge at her waist.
Petra pushed even with her, taking the last few steps in one large jump as she thudded against the floor and kept going. “Where are you?”
From the far corner of the labs, Izadora appeared from a long hall, hands held stretched out.
“Wait. I’m ok!”
Anacostia felt adrenaline pulsing against her insides, could hear the blood pounding in her ears. Izadora was safe, but her eyes flitted across every surface she could see for some sign of what had brought them running halfway across the base.
Magda Verger’s gruff voice cut the tension.
“What the hell is going on, Dora? We thought you were being attacked.”
Izadora had the graciousness to look apologetic at least. She held her hands up higher and Petra caught the tremor in the movement. Dark eyes slowly took in Izadora’s disheveled appearance, her pale face, and the excitement in her eyes.
She swallowed at the feeling of unease crawling up her back.
“Izadora, are you ok? What is it?”
Izadora’s quick words silenced them.
“My apologies, if it wasn’t absolutely urgent, I would not have contacted you as I did, but …” She turned her dark gaze upon each of them, shaking her head in disbelief even as she continued.
“You know that I have been theorizing about the Mycelium and what may happen.”
Tension filled the space at the words and Anacostia felt her stomach flip. She tightened her grip on the scourge once more and took an involuntary step back. They all were privy to Izadora’s theories, wild as they had been. Petra had dismissed them at first, telling the woman to leave it be, and Anacostia had been too angry at the raw wound to do anything but agree. She had mourned her mother, had collected her belongings slowly unwilling to allow anyone else but her to touch the General’s effects.
It had taken her nearly a month to even begin to do so in earnest. Izadora, however, was as persistent as ever. When she had asked Anacostia for a set of her mother’s work out clothing to keep on hand in the lab, just in case, Anacostia had relented, too afraid to acknowledge the tiny flicker of hope that the Necro’s certainty brought.
But she had found herself in the Necro labs more and more listening to Izadora’s theories and wishing beyond anything that she could be right. Not that she had ever admitted it out loud. There had been many times that Anacostia had found Izadora merely sitting beside the Mother and jotting down notes. She could never bring herself to join her there, however, the pain still too fresh from the last time she had been in the room. Somewhere along the way, Petra too had been caught in the possibility that maybe Izadora could be right. It was an unspoken and impossible hope, but they needed anything to cling to in the free fall in which they had found themselves.
“I don’t … what I have been theorizing has happened.”
Heavy silence befitting the location they occupied descended.
Anacostia felt it on her skin like sticky summer air, too dense and suddenly too much. Petra’s shocked stare turned to sweep over her two companions. No one knew what to say it seemed. It couldn’t possibly be…could it?
It was Magda’s grounded voice that broke the silence.
“Are you certain it’s her?”
Izadora shook her head quickly. “I haven’t been able to run any tests of as yet, I would like your help on that, but I feel it in my bones.”
Petra’s eyes travelled beyond Izadora to the hallway from where she had appeared. Anacostia merely blinked against the feeling of hope that she had long ago pushed down. She swallowed thickly and slowly turned to take in Magda’s discerning stance. Anacostia felt the woman’s thoughts racing, contemplating the possibilities before them. She straightened her back and fortified herself once more. She would be the soldier her mother had taught her to be.
Her voice was only slightly shaky when she spoke.
“Until it’s confirmed…”
Petra shook her head as she interrupted to finish the sentence, “We treat this as a potential threat.”
Izadora’s eyes flashed. “I’m telling you, Petra, it’s her. She’s different though, younger and the power coursing through her is… palpable.”
She turned fully to Petra then, one quick step forward as she continued. “After what she has been through, we cannot treat her as a combatant. This is Sarah.”
It hung in the air between them. Magda shared a significant look with Petra then. Izadora could read the message loud and clear. They would not believe it until she made them. She switched tactics.
“If we treat her as a threat, I cannot say with certainty yet how her body or the Mycelium will respond.”
Petra nodded back to Magda who stepped forward, her cane loud in the sudden echoes of the hall as she moved to push passed Izadora. Izadora stared after her even as Petra’s hand came to rest on her shoulder as she moved passed.
“We must take every precaution, Dora. You know how things are now.”
Izadora merely shrugged the hand off, stepped back and physically situated herself in Magda’s path.
All three woman she had called halted as Izadora brought her hands up once more.
“If you are going to interrogate her…”
Petra scoffed lightly. “I never suggested any such thing, but we need to be sure, Izadora, and you know it.”
She turned a soft glance to the stoic stance of Anacostia. Izadora recognized it for what it was – an ask of agreement. Anacostia stared hard at the woman before nodding curtly once.
It seemed to bolster Petra in the moment, and she turned, back straight and command etched on her features. Izadora scanned the faces of each woman. She knew they were right, they had to be sure, but rage boiled in her at the implication of the distrust of her diagnosis. She had been the one to know this potential outcome could arise. She had been the one to sit for hours in the night documenting every change in the Mother’s behavior and appearance. She had cataloged hundred of hours researching for any potential bit of information for how to proceed. She had never been particularly gifted at Knowing, but something in her knew beyond a doubt that the woman behind her was Sarah. Even in her certainty, however, her clinician’s instincts shoved at the feeling, pushing logic to the forefront where she had always welcomed it.
She would have to do so again. With a tight sigh, she nodded.
“Very well, but I must insist that as Chief Medic we do our best to not spike her epinephrine and norepinephrine levels until I can determine that there won’t be any adverse effects. I’m not sure how she’ll respond yet, so I recommend…”
Petra nodded and moved to push passed her once more.
“You have my word that…”
Petra halted, words dying on her lips, as a sudden iron grip tightened on her arm. Fury billowed in her gut at the action, and she turned her fiery gaze to Izadora’s fingers around her bicep. When she lifted her eyes to find Izadora’s hard stare boring into her, the fury quelled.
“Do not upset her.”
Izadora’s piercing stare was storm and fury itself. The moment was tense, and Anacostia could see Magda glance at her from between the two women. She had never seen Izadora in this manner, but she trusted the woman. She didn’t move. After another minute of silence, Petra nodded. Izadora visibly relaxed and released her grip immediately. She stepped back slightly and took a deep breath.
“Then follow me.”
Anacostia pushed off the steps and rounded the corner of the hallway on Izadora’s heels before Petra and Magda had even moved.