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the tellers of your atrocities

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2181-2186

Hell breaks loose when batarians amass in a rare show of cooperation and band together with legions of vorcha in the Terminus Systems, beginning a vicious five-year war with the human Systems Alliance in the Attican Traverse. The speed at which humanity becomes desperate to stop further infringements on their colonies - left alone in all but word by the Citadel if they happen to be outside Council space - is slow at first, but then increases rapidly as batarian ruthlessness and vorcha adaptability and numbers, as well as secondary conflicts involving the Geth, wear on the Alliance.

 

2183

The Alliance is further weakened during the Attican Strife by the Geth conflicts lead by a rogue turian Spectre. Events culminate in a bloody battle for control of the Citadel, after which the Alliance must find ways to hold the line against batarian attackers with resources stretched too thin.

Several solutions are brought to board. One works - the Systems Alliance Super Soldier Program. SASSP. Elite teams picked from the best of the best, enhanced in almost every way possible, and sent into the field to drive the enemy back through sheer force of strength, stamina, and resilience.

They are patriots. They are heroes.

The rest of the proposed solutions are quietly swept away.

The blood that drips from the hands of the Alliance commanders shows on none of their gloves.

 

2186

In the Attican Traverse, near the outskirts of Earth Alliance space, the small colony of Aurora goes dark. It’s too far from Terminus space to pull a super soldier in from the front lines where they’re needed most, so the Alliance dispatches a few teams of soldiers and biotic operatives to fend off their enemies.

The colony is left empty, all hostiles down and innocent souls laid to rest.

The Attican Strife ends only a few weeks later.

 

2187

An Alliance envoy en route to Priet, one of the ravaged colonies in the Traverse, is destroyed by pirates, killing everyone on board.

In the wake of the tragedy, Captain Seeley Booth of the SASSP’s 3rd Regiment is welcomed to the Special Tactics and Reconnaissance force of the Citadel, one of the few human Spectres in the galaxy.

 

2188

Captain Booth, with the help of a team of several Alliance specialists, uncovers and cripples the operations of a slaver’s ring operating out of Alliance space, cementing his place as a Spectre in Citadel space and earning him the command of his own ship, the SSV Patriot, a Normandy-class frigate.

The crew of the Patriot is considered an elite team by virtue of being led by a Spectre, and they participate together on several Spectre and Alliance missions thereafter.

 

2190

Following leads on the activity of a dangerous ring of drug and weapon smugglers leads Booth to Illium, all the way in the Cresent Nebula in the Terminus Systems. The trail falls cold, as it often does on Illium, whose beauty hides business even uglier than Omega’s, until…

 

--

 

Booth only needs to spend one afternoon asking around to know that tracking down the head of one of the most slippery smuggling rings on the Citadel has gotten much more tedious. He’d been expecting it - he’d backed the target into a corner, and even in a galaxy as large as the Milky Way, there are only so many safe places to hide.

Tenion Braxus, the turian bastard, is going down in blood or in cuffs one way or another - but tracking him down and slamming him with galactic law is much easier said than done on a planet where even drugs like the dangerous red sand is legal merchandise.

The sting team he has waiting on the Patriot isn’t going to be happy about the wait, but there can’t be a sting if there’s no target.

That evening, Booth forgoes coffee. Despite wanting to get as much out of the daylight hours as he can on Illium, he knows that even with his enhancements, the jetlag will hit him hard if he isn’t ready for it. And as long as Braxus doesn’t slip away again, Booth has all the time in the galaxy to find him.

His omni-tool pings with a message only moments before he falls asleep, and by the time he’s reaching for it he’s nearly fully awake again. The sender is unknown, hence the pinging, and when Booth squints at the subject line of the e-mail it simply says: To whom it may concern . He taps it.

Captain Booth, it reads, I think I can be of service to you during your time here on Illium. I can’t say much more in this message - sorry about that - but if you meet me at this address tomorrow morning, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
Finley.

Below the short message is the address mentioned. It isn’t far. Booth frowns. He’d almost brushed the message off as spam, but he hasn’t done anything in the single day he’s been here to have garnered such a message, especially not with the security surrounding his contact information. That, too, poses another question - and raises a red flag. Who’s contacting him, and how did they know he was here, how to contact him?

He drops the omni-tool back onto his nightstand, rubbing his eyes. Tomorrow. Tomorrow morning. If only to solve the security issue, he’s going to have to follow the lead.

 

--

 

The initial lines of the address bring Booth to a triad of towers connected by a multitude of bridges that all intersect to form a sprawling multi-level trade district. One of the higher levels is home to a sector of privately leased office spaces that overlook a level of commerce bridges that seem to be perpetually glowing in the long Illium daylight hours, and it’s on one of these bridges that Booth finds himself trying to be as inconspicuous as possible - which has been a harder task since his becoming a super soldier, what with his increased height and mass - as he locates and stakes out the small outdoor cafe indicated in the address.

The decorative reinforced glass protecting the business from the high winds at this altitude and the number of people passing through during the morning hustle and bustle make it easier and harder to spot the person - this Finley - that he’s looking for. The glass obstructs his view, but the concentration of customers in one area makes it easier to spot the one figure sitting at a corner table near the edge of the bridge.

The man sits with his back to the drop and his eyes on the tablet on the table in front of him, occasionally sipping from a small cup held in his right hand. His left remains resting in his lap. Both are gloved. He’s tall, long legs crossed with an ankle over the knee under the table, and the suit he wears is recent Illium fashion - fitted, but only just enough so that the jacket sleeves will still blow with pointless dramatics. His face is youthful from afar, and remains mostly so up close, but the closer Booth gets the more details he can catch - faint scars along his hairline that aren’t quite masked by tousled hair, lines where an expression stuck, the type of posture that civilians can only mimic and that soldiers can only feign.

Young and hell worn - the Attican Strife, Booth thinks before he reigns his thoughts in and approaches the table.

The man has brown hair and eyes, wide when they aren’t squinting at the screen of his tablet, and full lips that all play into a look of brief surprise when he notices someone approaching his table, and then a welcoming smile when he picks Booth out from the scene.

“Hey, you showed up,” he says brightly, setting his cup down. The smell of coffee loaded with cream and sugar to mask the bitterness wafts over in the breeze.

“So you clearly know who I am,” Booth says, matching Finley’s brightness with an edge. Finley does not seem to react. “I’m guessing you’re the one who sent me that message. Mind telling me how you got a hold of that?”

“If you sit down I’d love to talk with you,” Finley says, sidestepping completely and gesturing to the empty chair across from him.

“Yeah, and I’d like some answers,” Booth says. He crosses his arms and stares down at the man hard, a tactic he knows well is intimidating even to other super soldiers. No giving, no playing.

Finley reacts a bit more to the looming. He clears his throat and leans back in his chair. “My name is Doctor John Finley. I’m a psychologist based here-”

“A psychologist,” Booth interrupts.

“Yes.”

“Are you kidding me?”

“Not at all. I’m really-”

“No, no,” Booth cuts in again, waving his hand. “That’s not what I mean. I mean - you somehow found out I was here, tracked down my contact info, and had me come out here because you figured, what, I’m a soldier, so there’s gotta be something you think you can play around with in my head? Is this how you get clients on this planet?”

Finley shakes his head quickly. “No, that’s not what I’m doing - certainly not playing with you, no.”

“Right, right.” Booth snorts. He definitely needs to fiddle with his spam filters later. “Well, great chat, but I’ve got work to do here. Do yourself a favour and go find someone else to pull this stunt on.”

He’s got his back to the shrink and half a dozen steps between him and the table before Finley calls out to him.

“He’s got more hiding places than you think, you know.”

Booth pauses involuntarily, just long enough that he figures he should stay still while the words sink in. He turns on his heel to find Finley, cup in hand and face schooled into an expression so knowing that it’s annoying. He takes a sip of coffee, eyes never breaking from Booth’s.

“Your turian friend, I mean.”

Booth glares at him as he stalks back to the table and yanks the empty chair out. “First of all, he’s no one’s friend,” he grinds out in a low voice, sitting heavily and leaning forward. “Secondly, how the hell do you know about him, too?”

Finley shrugs one shoulder. “Lots of things come across my desk,” he says, equally quiet. “Freelance psychology doesn’t pay all the bills in this place either, to be honest.”

Booth glances at the suit again. Too fancy for a kid. He leans back after a moment of considering Finley’s response and lets out a half-hearted laugh. “You’re kidding me. So you’re a psychologist and an information broker? Which one’s the side job?”

“Depends on the day,” Finley says with an annoying little smirk.

“And I’m guessing your name’s not actually Finley, is it? Oh, wait, do I have to pay for that answer?”

Finley smiles full now. “Hey, three for three, we’re doing good so far.”

“What can you tell me, then? You said you could help me. What do you know about my guy - and what are you gonna charge for it?”

“No money,” Finley says. Booth is surprised, but he doesn’t let it show. “The reward for it is more personal, you could say.”

“He done something to you?”

Finley shakes his head minutely. “Not personally, no. Either way, he’s a turian and so doesn’t actually know what a dillweed is, but he embodies it perfectly. His operations are getting people killed even here. So, first thing you should know is this - his name isn’t actually Tenion. He picked that up somewhere after leaving his homeworld. Probably lifted it off someone he killed. Who you’re really looking for is Kalas Varek. Ex-military, full-time crime lord.”

He slides his tablet across the table. There on the screen, to Booth’s continued surprise, is Tenion - no, Kalas Varek. The file Finley has opened is an old military portrait attached to a short report marking the turian as killed in action during a skirmish with pirates more than ten years ago. Booth squints at it.

“Ten years… Wait.”

“Track his operations back far enough and the dates match, right?”

“What, couldn’t grab that bit, too?” Booth asks sardonically. Finley’s assumption is right, though. The smugglers working under Varek first started popping up near a decade ago, slippery bastards that have managed to grow for so long because the tactics they used were so obviously lifted from Turian military schemes. Booth knew from the start just from that alone that the guy had some connection to the military, but even his Spectre status could only get him so much, especially when no matching name came up in the military database on the Citadel.

“On short notice? No, sorry. I had to pull a favour for this, I hope you appreciate it.”

Booth lifts his critical gaze back to Finley. “This is starting to sound like a lot of effort on your part for not a lot of gain.”

“I assure you I’m not trying to trap you,” Finley says before Booth can go much further. “I’m not working for him.”

“That’s a bad method of persuasion, just saying,” Booth says. “Besides, underworld connections are still underworld connections, doesn’t matter how much taste you think you have.”

He counts it a small victory when Finley’s lips thin somewhat. Still, he decides to pull back a little.

“I guess it doesn’t count for much even if you try to use it for something good,” Finley says with an almost imperceptible sigh. “To answer your earlier question, though - I guess you could say I have a long term goal in mind. This smuggling ring is in the way. You take it out and we both go home happy.”

Booth considers him for a moment. He seems sincere - but as much as he’s dug at both, the combination of psychologist and information broker makes for a fine acting cocktail. On the other hand, if Finley is right then Booth has far less time than he thought he did, and it’s running out fast. If he loses Varek again, there’s going to be more consequences, and he’ll be damned if he loses a mission for the first time just because he - a super soldier - can’t catch up in a race against a goose.

“What else do you have?” He asks carefully. “Anything that can help me track him down before he quits Illium?”

Finley smiles and clasps his hands together. “I have just the thing - I have exactly where he’s going to be tomorrow night. Ah, but that will cost.”

Booth rolls his eyes. “I figured. What do you want? You said no money, is that still holding?”

Finley nods and his expression settles into a slightly more serious one. “All I’m looking for in return is a favour.”

“To do what, exactly?”

Finley shrugs. “Right now, nothing. But say I need a little something from you down the line - that’s the payment.”

“You want a military informant,” Booth says flatly.

“It sounds really dirty when you say it like that. Also implies that I’m looking for something long term.”

“Aren’t you?”

“All I’m asking for is a favour for a favour. You can say no.”

“I can, and then Varek gets away again. Huh,” Booth leans back in a dramatic parody of thought. “And since someone has it in their power to stop him, it’d be their fault when the ring expands again, wouldn’t it? Are you a gambling man, Finley?”

For a moment, Finley does nothing but stare across the table at Booth with narrowed eyes and pursed lips. Then he takes a sip of his coffee, slides his tablet back into his lap, and leans back in his chair. Back to the drop, unnerving stare straight ahead. “I can be.”

This time, Booth lets a fraction of his surprise show. The guy’s just full of them apparently, he thinks.

A favour for a favour.

“I guess it doesn’t count for much even if you try to use it for something good.”

An increasingly dangerous smuggling operation nipped off before it can get any worse for the price of (supposedly) one future favour from Booth. And not just from Booth - from a respected military figure, from a Spectre. An opportunity like that must not come around often for a small-time broker.

A broker with a goal, although Booth can barely even to begin parsing out what that could be. What does Finley know - what does he want to know? Psychologist, almost certainly ex-military. Distant, masked, but reaching to catch Booth at the last minute...

“Are there terms in this favour?”

Finley blinks slowly but hardly relaxes. “Only that you actually honour the agreement and follow through. It’s not like I’m going to be looking for something that could ruin you. Honestly, this kind of thing is standard. Information is paid for with new information, that’s all.”

Booth leans forward, elbows heavy on the table. “Where the hell is this bastard?”

Finley smiles, unabashedly smug.

 

--

 

Places like Errant Nebula aren’t usually Booth’s style, but it’s certainly the type of place he’d expect to find a scumbag like Kalas Varek. Three tiers of low blue light, pulsing music, and drinks to enjoy in cushy chairs while others mingle and gamble below them. There are no shortages of dark corners or security personnel conveniently looking the other way.

Getting in meant finding a suit on short notice, but Illium was built on such things, so as long as he can ignore the slightly disproportionate measurements of the jacket, Booth pays no mind to it. All he needs to do is make himself look like another paying customer while the voices of Alpha and Bravo team filter through his earpiece, getting themselves ready for the next couple hours while Booth searches for Varek.

Half an hour after him, Booth watches a small party headed by a gaudy looking turian enter the casino level from one of the balconies above. The lights distort him briefly, but soon enough Booth has a clear look at his face, and - wonder of wonders - Finley’s information was genuine. Kalas Varek is here, dealing and gambling and puffing himself up like a peacock.

But Booth can see the way his fingers fidget, the glances over his shoulder. The crowds can’t hide the paranoia from Booth’s well-trained eye. Illium’s towers and dens might not be his last hiding place, but Booth’s definitely closing in too close for comfort.

“Target is in sight,” he murmurs. “Proceeding as planned.”

The plan is to lure Varek into a false deal, preferably alone, but Booth knows better than to think he can get Varek alone at this point. He’s far too jumpy now. The teams he has waiting in the wings, however, are more than enough to deal with Varek’s security party. Booth’s face is known to the smuggler now, though, so the task of luring him is left to the single member of Charlie team.

Varek is almost too desperate to throw Booth off his trail for the plan to work, but part of the fun of being a Spectre is having the resources - such as a mind-boggling amount of credits to blow on tempting a drug deal - to pull such stunts off. Varek might be desperate, but he’s also too damn greedy for his own good.

Alpha and Bravo move in, surrounding the deal in access corridors and alleys, while Booth checks to make sure his shields are working and his pistols are ready. Varek locks himself and Charlie into a third tier private room - and Booth bypasses it with software patented by the wonderful Miss Montenegro and strolls in like it’s been his deal all along.

“Last chance,” Booth announces, gun aimed at Varek’s head while Varek stumbles back and chokes on his own spit. “You can make this real easy and come quietly, or you go down here and now.”

“A true turian never surrenders to human scum like you!” Varek spits just before one of his lackeys is shrouded in shimmering blue.

Booth moves to dive out of the room again, but he’s never been able to claim he’s faster than close range biotics, even with enhancements. He’s thrown against the wall and his ears are ringing as shots are fired off, glancing off his shields and being returned by Charlie. The worst part of it all is that the effects of the biotic throw don’t wear off enough for Booth to stand until Charlie has taken a shot to his shoulder and Varek’s party is scrambling out the door. They alert Alpha and Bravo, who immediately set to work cornering their target.

As soon as he can stand, Booth sets off after the criminals, following the frantic sounds of their escape through one of the back entrances of Errant Nebula and into the labyrinth of alleys created by inner tower establishments. Varek tries to cover his tracks, but between Booth’s own skills and the reports from Alpha and Bravo, who block off pieces of the party trying to lead Booth astray, it’s easy to catch up to him again.

It’s a mistake for Varek to run into the open space of a near-empty landing lot a few blocks from Errant Nebula, but it’s a testament to how well Booth’s got him trapped now. He tries to dive for cover behind one of the parked hover cars, but not before Booth catches sight of him.

“End of the line, Varek!” Booth shouts over the wind. “There’s nowhere left for you - not even Illium can keep you out of jail!”

“You’ve got a lot of guts for being such an upstart, but you’re still wrong,” Varek shouts back. “I’m walking out of here alive, just like every time you thought you had me before!”

He stands up, ready to run again, and before Booth can take aim properly he raises something flickering red in his hand, eyes maniacal.

Booth doesn’t look for the explosive - there’s already no time for it. He braces instead for the blast that comes only a couple seconds later from his right, shaking the ground under his feet and shrouding the area around him in smoke. His shields absorb a fraction of the force, but without the augmentations from his armour, it isn’t enough to stop the blast from throwing him off his feet.

Alpha team is closing in, just not quick enough.

His head sways just enough to make aiming too difficult for comfort when he stands, and the static of his shields trying to reboot hurts his wrist while the fabric of his suit sticks hot to his skin. Cam’s going to enjoy having to patch him up because the only armour he had was a suit, he thinks sourly. For a few long seconds the smoke is too heavy to see through and he’s sure that Varek has sprinted away again, and he curses harshly through a gasp - but then the wind, cool and constant, clears away just enough of the smoke to allow Booth to see Varek less than thirty feet from him, gun pointed at his head.

Booth’s shields flicker again. Cracked and low on energy, they won’t stop Varek’s shot.

“End of the line,” Varek says. He snorts. “What a sorry way for a Spectre to go, but that’s the human race for you.”

A tiny decorative potted tree sails through the air from the right and strikes Varek with such force that Booth can hear multiple bones snapping. Varek goes flying to the left and hits the ground like a ragdoll. Booth’s attention whips to the source of the improvised projectile - and standing near the burned up blast zone in a suit fitted much better than Booth’s, gloved hands shimmering faintly with biotic energy, is Finley.

“Captain Booth,” Finely greets nonchalantly, as if he hadn’t just crushed a turian under the weight of a potted tree. “That went pretty well, all thing considered, didn’t it?”

“Where the hell did you come from?” Booth blurts out. It’s not his most graceful moment, but all things considered -

“Same as you,” Finley says. “You’re welcome, by the way. He should still be alive, too.”

Booth turns back to Varek, somewhat reluctant to have his back to Finley, and finds Varek still breathing. Wheezing, really, and clearly suffering under the weight of broken bones and a metal plant pot nearly half Booth’s height. He’ll get up again, but not any time soon.

“Target is down,” he says into the radio after making sure Varek can hear him. He sends his coordinates through to the other operatives’ omni-tools. “Bring the shuttle for pickup.”

Cheers come through his earpiece in response. Ten years isn’t long by galactic standards, but for any lawful standard, it’s ten years too long.

“What will you do with him?” Finley asks, hands clasped behind his back. He hasn’t moved.

“We’re handing him over to the Citadel Council,” Booth replies honestly. “They’ll decide what to do with him. He’ll probably end up in turian hands to face the music on Palaven. He’s going to pay for what he’s done.”

“It seemed to me most Spectres would have shot him dead when they had the chance,” Finley comments. His tone and the way he stares at Booth like he’s some kind of study wriggle under Booth’s skin.

“Sure they would have,” Booth says, straightening up. “But just because the Council gives us space to do whatever the hell we want doesn’t mean I have to throw morals out the window, too. You could have killed him, too, even without the tree. You didn’t.”

“I don’t have the leeway to get away with it,” Finley reminds him. He shrugs, though, and if his conceding to Booth’s point didn’t sound so much like he’d just proven a point then maybe Booth would be more inclined to think that’s all there was to it. “Now that you have him, though, what do you think?”

“What do I - is this a shrink thing?” Booth asks, squinting. “What do I think about what?”

“About my favour,” Finley says. “Sorry, I should have said so. Will you believe now that I’m not going to ask for it for anything bad?”

Booth glances back at Varek, consigned to his fate on the ground. Finley, still standing at a distance with his hands behind his back after saving Booth from a fatal injury, stares at Booth expectantly, eyes narrowed. He presses the question silently, his expression almost severe with the dark liner on his eyes.

Booth approaches at his full height, taking satisfaction in the advantage it gives him, in the way Finley tries to step back to keep some distance between them, in the way that he ultimately has no choice but to turn his chin up just to maintain eye contact when Booth finally stops less than two feet away from him.

“I’ll find you if you do,” Booth warns, pitching his voice so low that even other super soldiers would have to focus just to hear. “And if I do, you’ll get exactly what’s coming to you. Don’t ever think that you won’t, Finley.”

Finley’s shoulders tighten and his breathing picks up. Booth takes satisfaction in that, too. If anything, the near-death experience only made him more intimidating.

Finley exhales through his nose for a few long beats - and then he smiles and holds his right hand between them. “Deal.”

Booth takes his hand and shakes it as firmly as he can manage without causing any more than light bruising.

“It’s been good working with you, Captain Booth,” Finley says, stepping back just as Alpha team updates Booth on their approach.

By the time the shuttle lands, he’s disappeared into the alley.

 

--

 

The rest of the evening is one vid call after another as Booth updates the Alliance and the Citadel Council on the success of the mission as soon as Cam pushes him out of the Patriot ’s medical bay, and then Angela on the success of her bypass program. The Patriot leaves Illium the same night, flying directly for the Citadel to hand over their prisoner. Booth forgoes coffee after all the calls so that he can fall right to sleep and not think about how he’ll have to do all the debriefing again in person as soon as he lands.

Just before he falls asleep, his omni-tool pings with a message and he reaches for it out of habit. The sender is familiar, but he’d purposefully neglected to properly label it. The subject line is short and vague again: Just one more thing. He taps it.

My name is Dr. Lance Sweets. Consider this payment for services rendered.
:)

Chapter Text

Citadel Security takes Varek off his hands almost as soon as the Patriot docks at the Citadel. The rest of the morning is spent debriefing the Council, debriefing the Alliance Admirals.

Booth is half-way out of the Alliance embassy, intent on heading to lunch with Brennan and anticipating spending most of it hearing about the projects she was deployed on during his absence before he makes any more rounds when something in his memory finally clicks and he pivots on his heel and heads right back in.

It isn’t as familiar as a friend or acquaintance by any stretch of the imagination, but Booth had still felt bothered by the name since the moment he woke up and remembered the message. Since then he hasn’t been able to shake the feeling he’s heard it before. And he knows he has.

Angela’s office has one of the prettier views of the Presidium in the entire embassy, something she’d insisted upon when it became glaringly obvious that she was one of the Alliance’s leading software engineers and data specialists and therefore deserved such an office. Booth isn’t one to disagree, either. The window that provides natural light to offset all of the holographic light that otherwise dominates the room is always lined with plants and artistically designed replicas of bio-samples and miniature Prothean artifacts, and the coffee table in front of it is never a bad place to sit. It feels homey, familiar. A little piece of Earth all the way in the middle of the Serpent Nebula.

She’s sitting there with Dr. Hodgins, the scientist who occasionally brings her samples for her to replicate from the different research projects he’s embarked on with Brennan, when Booth walks in. They’re in the middle of lunch, but they’re still happy to see him and they both cross the room to greet him.

“You’re finally back,” Angela says after a quick hug. “How was Illium? I’ve always wanted to go there.”

“I didn’t exactly have much time to enjoy the scenery,” Booth tells her, smiling. “I was working, remember?”

“Yeah, congratulations, by the way,” Hodgins says, clapping a hand on Booth’s shoulder a couple times. “I can’t believe you finally caught the notorious Braxus.”

“And what’s the supposed to mean, slime boy?”

Hodgins hold his hands up in mock surrender. “It’s just impressive. Good job, big guy.”

“Well, I couldn’t have done it without your hard work, too,” he says to Angela. “Every time I got close to him it seemed like he had half a dozen new security programs to try and lock me out with.”

“So it worked really well then?” Angela asks, her face lighting up the same way a scientist’s does when they see good results. “That’s perfect, that means I can try using some of those algorithms on other programs. Where’s my tablet…”

“Hold on, hold on,” Booth says quickly as Angela crosses the room again. She looks back up at him just before reaching her desk. “I didn’t come over here just to chat. I need you to look something up for me. It shouldn’t take long.”

“Oh, are you already on another mission?” She asks, sinking into her chair. “Have you stopped by to see Brennan yet?”

Booth shakes his head. “No. I don’t have another mission, either. I just need something double checked, since I can’t go down to Earth and see it in person.”

“Sure, then. What is it?”

“I need the list of names of the people who died during the Priet skirmishes ‘87.”

The room falls quiet and Booth briefly regrets shooting the mood dead. Angela blinks a couple times and then looks at her screen.

“Okay, I’ll throw the records up on the big screen.”

Booth steps back, listening to the faint tap of her nails against the keys as he waits for the largest screen in the office to light up.

In the midst of the recovery efforts of the Attican Strife, skirmishes had continued for a time throughout almost all sectors of the Traverse. A lot of them had faded out of public concern except for small memorials that had been erected in honour of the fallen. The Priet skirmishes, however - they’d been the toughest of the lot, and Booth won’t forget them. Tracking down the multiple pirates that had been determined to take one last colony down with them was what earned him his rank as a Spectre. He owed it to those names. He’d attended the memorials. He’d listened as every name was read aloud and mourned them.

He’d listened as Lance Sweets echoed from the microphone.

“There it is,” Angela says as the names appear. There are just under two hundred.

“Scroll to surnames starting with S.”

Savannah. Shaun. Smith. Sweets .

“There,” he says, pointing. “I need his history.”

“Give me a moment,” Angela says.

“What’s up?” Hodgins asks carefully. Booth waves him off.

A military profile opens up on screen, and there, staring back at them, is Finley - no - Lance Sweets. His face is younger in the image - taken somewhere in 2186 - but there’s no mistaking his face. The only difference between this picture and the man Booth had met on Illium is the lack of a military uniform and the presence of faint scarring on the edges of his jaw and hairline.

An Alliance psychologist since 2184 - a doctor after all, Booth thinks - and then in 2186, a biotic operative. And then, in 2187, killed in action en route to Priet.

“Poor guy,” Hodgins comments.

“Yeah,” Angela agrees. “He was going to help people get their lives back on track.”

Booth shakes his head slowly. “No.”

Hodgins and Angela both give him confused looks.

“No, this is wrong,” Booth continues. He points at the photo. “Lots of people wound up unaccounted for right after the Strife ended. We were stretched thin on all fronts, so people fell through the cracks. Sometimes we realized it, too, or people that were declared missing managed to make their way back. This man - he isn’t dead. I saw him on Illium. I spoke with him. He’s alive.”

“Holy shit,” Hodgins says, eyes wide. “Really?”

“I’m positive. He’s still out there.”

“Why didn’t he come back, then?” Hodgins asks, crossing his arms. “The Alliance still thinks he’s dead. What’s he doing out there?”

“He must think they forgot about him,” Angela says mournfully. “They think he died en route, and they weren’t dedicating resources to finding bodies in space. They wrote him off.”

Her words hang in the air between them for a moment. Booth tries to find an easy answer to Hodgins’ question, but the honest truth is that he doesn’t know enough yet. For all intents and purposes, Lance Sweets had blindsided him. Contacting him out of the blue, hiding his name until he’d already gotten what he wanted - and what that was going to be, Booth could scarcely say, although with this information he could hazard a guess or two. None of them particularly good, despite how Sweets tried to assure him otherwise.

“I need everything you can find about him,” he says to Angela. “I need to deal with this.”

“Are you going to try to get him back?” Hodgins asks.

Booth hesitates. “I don’t know if I can. He seemed pretty... I don’t know, content where he was. He’d made something new for himself. But the Alliance thinks he went up in flames and he probably thinks we left him for dead. It can’t stay like this.”

“You’re right,” Angela agrees. “I’ll find everything I can.”

“Listen, thanks for your help earlier,” Booth says before she can start tapping away. “Helped a lot. Just finish your lunch first and send me what you can later. I’m going to go see Bones for lunch. See you guys later.”

“Good luck,” Angela calls after him as he leaves the office.

Booth hopes he won’t need it, but it doesn’t stop him from being slightly on edge. He wonders what Brennan will say about it all.

 

--

 

The first thing she says is: “You’re late. I thought travelling between clusters didn’t throw off your sense of time.”

It’s a joke, mostly. Booth hugs her anyway for it.

“Good to see you again, too, Bones,” he says as he sits down across from her. The sounds of the cafe’s afternoon business around them dull somewhat as he settles in. “You know I’ve been keeping busy. What about you, any good fossils examined while I’ve been out?”

“Not as many as you would think,” Brennan says. “And the majority were not so old that they could be considered fossils.”

“That recent?”

“They’re ancient,” Brennan says. She takes a sip of coffee before nearly laughing into her cup. “Oh, I got that! Because the remains are recent compared to other digs I’ve participated in. In that case, yes, they were relatively recent in terms of galactic time. I wish we could have had the Patriot , though. It would have been much quicker getting to and from our sites that way.”

“Ah sorry about that,” Booth says. And he is, too. “Duty calls, though. We needed her to catch up to Varek.”

“Varek?” Brennan asks, brows furrowed slightly. “I thought they sent you after the drug and weapon smuggler-”

“They did, they did,” Booth cuts in. “But it turns out Tenion wasn’t his real name. I picked up on that on Illium.”

She allows him to go into more detail about how he got to Illium, now that she can hear more of it instead of receiving periodic updates through emails on his whereabouts. Half a dozen different clusters he’d chased the criminal, passing through Omega multiple times on the way before finally cornering him on Illium. He falters there, unsure of how to explain his sudden leap in progress without mentioning Sweets, but he doesn’t correct himself quick enough for her to disregard it.

“When the case is considered officially closed will you be able to tell me how you were able to make these deductions?” She asks.

“Is that what it sounds like I’m doing?”

“Actually, my first thought was that you had injured yourself in obtaining your information and your pride, especially as a super soldier, was causing you to come up with a way to save face.”

“What? That’s not it at all.”

“You were very quick to correct me,” Brennan says, unconvinced. “You should know I wouldn’t judge you for it. Even if you did it outside the law, it technically is within the law for you as a Spectre to have done it.”

“No, no, that’s not it.” He waves his hands. He’s only halfway through his lunch by now, but he pushes the plate aside so that he can lean in. “Look, I was gonna save this for later, because it kind of developed a little, too, but if you wanna hear it-”

“I’d like to have an accurate working knowledge of how you finished the mission, yes.”

He brings the email from “Finley” on his omni-tool and shows it to her. “I got contacted by an information broker…”

He tells her about Sweets. The meeting and their eventual deal. The name, its familiarity. The dead man walking almost an entire galaxy away from the Alliance. She stares intently at the second email, her eyes flicking back and forth over it.

“Whatever he was looking for, it seems that he’s gotten it already,” she says finally.

“Yeah, he’s got his favour for now, but he knows it won’t end well if he thinks I’m gonna let him hurt anyone with it.”

“Oh, so you are honouring the deal?”

Booth can’t help but sigh. “Yeah, I am. He helped me catch Varek and throw a wrench in his operations. Shady or not, I’ll hand him that.”

“That’s very noble of you. But it wasn’t what I was referring to.”

“What do you mean?”

“Sweets told you that brokering information was, in a lot of cases, a trade of more than just money. Other information, other favours. Your dealing with him was a trade back and forth. But by that logic, you didn’t do anything to have earned knowing his name - unless you’ve already done something and haven’t realized it yet.” She points to the message on his omni-tool. “He says it right there. ‘Payment for services rendered.’”

Booth re-reads the message as well. “He said that the smuggling operation was in the way of a different goal and stopping it was a favour to him, too. Maybe that’s what he meant.”

“Maybe.” Brennan shrugs. Booth can’t say he’s any more convinced than she is. “You should be careful in the meantime anyway. You’re obviously going to be hearing from him again.”

“Yeah, I just don’t know when or for what. That’s just great.” He pulls his half-eaten sandwich back to himself and takes a bite. “I’m going back later, though. I got Angela to grab anything she could find on the guy. Nobody knows he’s still alive, but if I can get the Alliance to reach out to him, then there’s a chance that if he’s planning anything then I can nip it off right here.”

“You think he is?”

“I think so, yeah. Think about it. The guy chose to enlist as a biotic operative to help during the Strife - and then everyone just goes and writes him off as dead when he winds up in a tight spot. If I were him I’d be mad, maybe even enough to want some kind of vengeance. If that’s the case, I have to change his mind. What’s the look for?”

Brennan’s expression had softened throughout his explanation, and being caught didn’t harden it again. “Spectres are the best of the best for a reason,” she says. “But oftentimes they shrug off aspects of their morality simply because they can. But you haven’t, Booth. You care about this man-”

“I care about the people he has the ability to hurt.”

“You care ,” she repeats, “with your morality intact. I truly believe it’s one of your best qualities. It’s what makes you one of the best Spectres, I think.”

He smiles. “What, and not the strength or the endurance or the amazing aim?”

Brennan shakes her head, mirroring his expression. “No. Anybody can have those traits and still be a terrible person.”

“Thank, Bones.”

“You’re welcome, Booth.”

“Wanna tell me about how much more you think you could have gotten done if you had the Patriot ?”

“I hope you realize I spent several hours in transit that I could have been using for much more productive activities?”

She tells him, and until a message from Angela arrives with several attachments, Booth doesn’t think about anything that might be waiting in the shadows of Illium.

 

--

 

Angela’s brief search, without the power of cutting through too much red tape, mostly only yields Sweet’s brief military service records and a few of his medical records from before his enlistment. There are some general records as well - place of origin, the schools he graduated from before he even hit twenty years, and an assessment of his biotic abilities. While they aren’t on Brennan’s level, they still allow him the choice of being a sizable threat if he chooses to be.

The longer Booth looks through them, the more he’s convinced that he won’t be able to let this go. Sweets had put on a nice face when they spoke, but his history is far too bloody - even before he’d joined the Alliance - for Booth to believe that he doesn’t have some kind of lingering resentment for what happened in ‘87, that he won’t become a real threat to the Alliance while it’s still putting itself back together.

He saves the files and takes only the military file back into the embassy, to the desk of General Arnett. They’d fought together during the Strife until Arnett had gotten injured, then promoted to a desk job a few months before the Alliance began its super soldier program. His promotions and his duties on the Citadel resulted in the age lines in his face deepening and his hair greying far quicker than Booth’s, but they’d remained friends since then. He’d put Booth’s name forward as a candidate for the Spectres, too.

When Booth puts the file on his desk and tells him there’s something that needs to be put to rights, Arnett understands.

So Booth is confused when he’s called back to the embassy early the next morning, back into Arnett’s office to see Arnett looking grim over the file displayed on a holopad.

“What’s the problem?” Booth asks after Arnett tells him to sit. “I know it looks far-fetched, but I know it’s the same guy.”

“I believe you, don’t worry about that,” Arnett says, shaking his head slowly. His voice has always been rough since the Strife, but this morning it sounds almost like he’d spent the whole night chain smoking. “But there is an issue. I just didn’t know how to approach it yesterday without some more input.”

“What kind of issue?”

“This man,” Arnett says, sliding the file to Booth. Lance Sweets stares up from the image impassively. “Listen, Booth, I know you want to do right by all this, but I have to warn you, this situation isn’t the way you think it is.”

Booth frowns. The records on his omni-tool now pointed him in all sorts of different directions and he isn’t liking the way in which they seem to have gone. “Explain it to me, then.”

“I agree that Lance Sweets should be brought back to the Alliance - not for reconciliation, however, but for trial.” He holds a hand up before Booth can speak. “Did you look at any of his other records?”

Booth almost considers lying. “Yeah. Medical, some history prior to his military service. I noticed a few things about it.”

“Then this shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Sweets came to us as a psychologist, but if anything he needed the help more than any of the patients he treated. The attack on his birth colony, the abuses he suffered before the Alliance was able to rescue him - all of that put an anger in him that we were willing to overlook during the Strife for the sake of the greater good. His tactical intelligence and biotic capabilities were sorely needed. Perhaps that was a mistake, though. After the war, it got worse. It became a fury he wasn’t able to work through, which culminated in an act that took the lives of everyone aboard the Paladia before it could reach Priet. We thought that he had gone down with it, too, but evidently, that is not the case.”

Booth blinks at him, speechless.

Sweets had said he bore no malicious intent for whatever his future favour was going to be. But Booth knows from experience that people will say just about anything to hide what they’re doing when they’re angry enough - especially someone like Sweets, who knows how to work people with a smile on his face the whole time.

“You mean he blew the ship up,” Booth says finally. Arnett nods once, his expression mournful. “He killed more than two dozen people and managed to make it look like pirates did it.”

“The Alliance was nearly crippled at the end of the war. It was the perfect opportunity for someone to take out their anger at us. One last hurrah before he finally kills himself, too.”

“But he’s not dead,” Booth says urgently. “He’s not done yet.”

“No, he’s probably not. It might take years before he shows himself here again, or he might never - but that’s not a risk we want to take. He is dangerous.” Arnett leans back and clasps his hands on the edge of the desk. “That’s why we want to send the Patriot back to Illium. He cannot be allowed to act freely, not when he has the deaths of an entire crew - an entire regiment of peacekeepers - on his hands.”

“I’ll go,” Booth says quickly, straightening up. Being tricked always sends anger coursing down his spine.

Arnett nods. “I knew you would. This needs to be put to rights. You’ll be on your own when you get there, though. Not only is Illium outside Alliance and Council jurisdiction, but this mission will be delicate. If he finds out what you’re doing too soon, he could become very dangerous. You’re an elite soldier, but he’s got biotics on his side and all the paranoia that comes with a dark mind like his. Bring him in if you can - but if there’s any indication that you can’t... “ Arnett sighs. “We need to make sure he can’t hurt more of our people.”

Booth exhales deeply and nods slowly. He wants to bring Sweets in alive, he wants Sweets to answer for what he did. He and Arnett know it’s against his nature to want to do it another way - but Arnett’s eyes are hard and grim. There’s no room for a softer heart if it costs the life of someone else.

“Good luck, Captain Booth,” Arnett says. “Don’t let him get away with taking all those innocent lives.”

Chapter Text

Before the Patriot leaves the Citadel again, Angela sends him a short message. The address of the office of Dr. John Finley goes for seven lines - planet, city, tower, floor, the whole works. Booth sends his thanks back and apologizes again for taking the Patriot without her full crew again.

The ship leaves the Citadel the next morning and arrives in the Tasale system just after lunch. It’s a windy day, but it still isn’t enough to completely relieve everyone of Illium’s heavy heat, especially not with the sky above so clear.

To Booth’s surprise, the office of Dr. Finley, where Sweets should be working this time of day, is in one of the towers which overlook the same cafe in which they’d first met. The interior is open and cool, faintly lit pink from Illium’s ruddy sunlight filtering through the windows. In the foyer is a large sign displaying the floor numbers of all the businesses in the building.

Floor 147 is quiet. The loudest sound is the light tapping of an asari woman’s nails against a keyboard as she works behind a tall desk. She notices Booth stepping out of the elevator - it would be difficult not to - and stops writing to lean over on her elbows.

“Hello there,” she says with a light voice. The peachy freckles along her forehead shift just slightly as she looks up at him with a friendly expression. “Do you have an appointment?”

“No,” Booth says shortly, glancing at the halls to the right and left, and the stairs behind her that lead to yet another. “I do need to see someone here, though.”

She gives him a sympathetic look. “I’m sorry, but first we’ll need you to make an appointment-”

“How about you just tell Dr. Finley,” he stresses the name, “that there’s someone here to say ‘hi.’ The name’s Booth.”

The secretary blinks - then taps the sleek microphone on the side of her head. “Dr. Finley,” she says, “he’s here for you.”

Booth tries not to press his lips together too hard. Again, Sweets had already known.

“His office is right up there,” the asari says, turning slightly in her chair to direct him to the stairs behind her. “Go ahead.”

He offers a genuine smile. She knows something of what Sweets does, but aside from that, she has nothing to do with his mission.

There’s only one door after the stairs and a left turn. Booth doesn’t knock. Inside, he’s immediately met with a sitting room, complete with a chair and a sofa and paintings on the wall, and he realizes that he’d nearly forgotten that Sweets might be a war criminal, but on Illium he has a practice. Beyond the homey looking chairs is a half-open door, where light spills through pink and blue.

He stands in the doorway, taking up the entire space of it as he surveys the office. It’s larger than the sitting room and has yet another door on the left side. There is also another pair of chairs in front of the windows, which stretch from one wall to the other. On the right side of the room is a desk. Sitting in front of it, his back to the windows, is Sweets.

He isn’t doing anything except watching the doorway with his hands resting on the arms of his chair when Booth enters. The suit he’s wearing this time doesn’t look quite as fancy as either of the two before, but his gloves are a clean black and his blue jacket is just stylish enough that he doesn’t look any less well put together. He offers a smile and it makes Booth want to punch his nose in.

“Captain Booth,” Sweets says with measured surprise. “I didn’t think I’d be seeing you again so soon.”

“Yeah, well, I guess you shouldn’t have gotten cocky then.” Booth shuts the door and stands on the other side of the desk, arms crossed. Sweets looks up at him quizzically. “Don’t look at me like that. You thought you could trick me.”

Sweets sits back, brows furrowed. “No, I told you, Booth. Tricking you hasn’t in any way been on my to-do list.”

“Yeah, so you said. But I’ve known people like you before. Doesn’t matter what you have to do or say to get what you want.”

Some understanding seems to dawn on Sweets’ face. “I think I know why you’re here. If that’s the case, then we should talk. I figured there would be more time, though.”

“No, no more time,” Booth says. He slides his pistol from the holster hidden under his jacket and, holding it ready to aim and fire if he needs to. “I’m putting you under arrest right here and you’re not gonna run away from what you deserve anymore, Sweets.”

Sweets’ breathing picks up and his eyes widen slightly, but other than that he sits unmoving in his chair for a long time. “Captain Booth,” he says slowly. “I really think we should talk. I don’t know exactly what they told you, but-”

“Stop with the games,” Booth snaps, aiming his pistol. He doesn’t intend to shoot, but the longer they talk, the longer Sweets has to think of ways to use his biotics to pull off an escape. “ Now . I know what really happened to the Paladia , to her crew, and if you won’t answer for it then there’s only one way this is going to go down.”

Sweets pales. He stares at the barrel of Booth’s gun blankly for so long that Booth almost mistakes it for defeat. “That’s what they told you?” he finally rasps. His eyes finally focus on Booth. “They told you that I did that?”

Booth’s aim doesn’t falter, but it’s a close thing.

“What am I saying, of course they would,” Sweets continues, looking down at the blank laptop screen before him. His hands go to the edge of his desk with a white-knuckled grip. “Of course they would, there’s only so much-” His gaze snaps back up to Booth, and with it his entire demeanour shifts. There’s anger in his eyes for the first time. “What mission did they send you here on, Booth?”

“What does it look like, smart guy?” Booth snaps. “I’m arresting you for the murder of an entire crew of Alliance personnel - of peacekeepers , in case you’ve forgotten.”

“Oh, that’s rich coming from them,” Sweets retorts.

“You better start making sense, Sweets, because to be honest I never had much patience for people like you, and it’s running out pretty damn fast. I’m under orders to take you in or take you down - and between you and me, I’d much rather you live long enough to pay for what you did, even if your whole life is only worth a fraction of theirs.”

“I didn’t kill those people,” Sweets says, standing up. “They were my friends , why would I do something like that to them? Why would I blow that whole ship up?”

“People do a lot of shit that doesn’t make sense when they’re angry,” Booth replies. “I had a look at your file - the colony that was attacked, the pirates who passed you around until someone finally pulled you out - all of that could have been avoided if the Alliance had responded just a little faster. You never could let that go, could you?”

Sweets’ expression is pinched, lips flat and jaw ground tight.

“No, you couldn’t. So, you got into the perfect position to get as many people around you who trusted you as possible, and then you did to them exactly what you thought the Alliance did to you-”

“I didn’t kill them ,” Sweets cuts in. “I did let those things go. I got help and I joined the Alliance so that I could do the same for people who had it rough just like I did. But it meant shit all to them when they fucked up, when they needed to find the way to save their own faces before they ruined themselves worse than the Attican Strife ever could! They lied to you, Booth. I’m not the one with something to pay for.”

“What do you mean?” Booth asks. He can’t imagine what Sweets could be talking about. He wouldn’t go as far as to say the Alliance was always right during the Strife - but it was war and millions of lives were at stake with almost every decision. The anger that Sweets is showing him now, though - if Sweets is telling the truth at all, then it’s far too powerful to be rooted in the horrors of his childhood.

“Put your gun away,” Sweets says, a little more composed.

Booth only grips tighter. “I don’t think so. I’m willing to hear you out here, Sweets, but I’m not about to trust you to not run at the first opportunity.”

“Run?” Sweets holds his hands out at his sides. “You might have a gun, but do you think you’re still the one with the upper hand?”

“You looking to test your reaction time against a close-range shot? Because I’m telling you now, I won’t miss.”

“No,” Sweets says. “But if that’s your only plan of action right now then I think you should take a moment to consider where you are and how you got here. If I’m as paranoid as you must think I am, don’t you think I’d have certain security measures in place? Don’t you think I’d have prepared for something like this? Don’t forget, Booth, you didn’t stumble over me - I contacted you .”

Booth squints, clenching his jaw tightly as he realizes that Sweets is right - that Sweets not only came to him first, already knowing who he was, but also gave his name away.

Payment for services rendered . Brennan was right - Booth had already done something and he hadn’t even realized it, and then he walked right back to Sweets without a second thought. If he’s going to figure out a way to get the upper hand, he’s going to have to let Sweets keep it a little while longer.

He lowers the pistol, but doesn’t holster it.

“Start talking.”

Sweets tilts his chin up slightly, eyes flicking from Booth to the gun and back before he sighs deeply and crosses his arms. “Does the name Aurora sound familiar to you?”

Booth knows an Aurora or two, knows a few places called Aurora, but Sweets must be looking for something specific. “Not exactly, no.”

“It was a colony in the Traverse,” Sweets explains, his voice gone soft. “It was small, only a couple hundred people. More of a research outpost than anything.”

It clicks. “It went dark during the Strife.”

Sweets nods. “Just after SASSP came into the picture. Not long after I became an operative. The first mission I participated in as a biotic specialist instead of a consultant was to take out any hostiles and get the colony back online. When we got there it was too late to save it, everyone was gone. We searched everywhere we could think of, and in doing so we learned that the colony was being used as a research site for an experimental program.”

“What kind of program?”

Sweets doesn’t respond for a beat. “The Alliance came up with a lot of different things to try and end the war. SASSP was the golden goose. Project Blue Star wasn’t like that.”

“Project Blue Star?” Booth frowns. “I’ve never heard of that.”

“You wouldn’t have, either. If they haven’t scrubbed every scrap of data about it from the systems then they’ve buried it. Blue Star was the experimental solution being tested in Aurora. It wasn’t just a failure - it was catastrophic. It wasn’t batarians that took Aurora out, Booth. It was Blue Star. It was the Alliance.”

Booth freezes. He remembered the Aurora incident, now, if only second hand. He’d been on the front lines by that point. Aurora went dark, and they couldn’t spare one of their small numbers, not when they were finally pushing back against the endless numbers of the batarians and vorcha. But still…

“Your history has no mention of Aurora.”

“Then you have a false file,” Sweets says. “But like I said, they probably scrubbed everything they could. After we came back, we reported what we saw, what we found. We were ordered not to say anything - Blue Star was a secret like the SASSP had been before it turned out to be a success, and it would stay like that.”

Sweets closes his eyes and sighs quietly. “But that wasn’t enough, and they knew it. Blue Star was…” he trails off, and the far-away look in his eyes returns for a moment before he refocuses on Booth. “There’s no way they could have kept it under wraps forever, not with everyone on that mission knowing and not enough of them tight enough under their thumbs, and they weren’t going to own up to it. So, they rounded up everyone who was on that mission, put us on the Paladia , and sent us off to die. I didn’t kill my teammates, my friends, Booth. The Alliance did.”

Sweets lips twitch up in a strange parody of a smile, and that alone sets discomfort deep in his stomach.

“And now they’re trying to convince you that I was the one who did it. Are you going to shoot me, Booth? Because I have no intention leaving quietly, and the Alliance has no intention of actually putting me on trial. If you don’t kill me, then they will.”

Booth doesn’t know how to respond at first. His first thought is that it isn’t true, but his mind struggles to connect the possibility of an elaborate lie with the man standing in front of him now. Sweets is angry, that's for damn sure - but the betrayal isn’t only perceived.

“How am I supposed to trust you about all that?” he asks. “How do I know if this is all true? You never said was Project Blue Star was.”

“And I won’t, either,” Sweets says. “That might sound counterproductive, but think about it, Booth. The Alliance was - and is - willing to go any distance to make sure nobody knows about what they did. If they find out that you know then it won’t matter that you’re a decorated officer, it won’t matter that you’re a Spectre. You’ll be a dead man walking. I could tell you exactly what I know about it, but until I know for sure that it won’t get more people killed, I won’t. It’s one thing that you were willing to listen, but I need to know that you aren’t going to be my enemy.”

The words practically ring in Booth’s ears. “Then you are up to something after all.”

“Like I said, I’m not the one with something to answer for, Booth,” Sweets replies. His eyes are hard. “The people in charge of Blue Star, the people who destroyed the Paladia - if anyone should be answering for war crimes, it’s them.”

“Why now?” Booth asks. “You’ve been alive all this time, you could have said something before.”

Sweets snorts. “So that they could deny it, cover it up, and then have me killed? No, thank you. So yes, I do have a plan now, but no, I’m not telling you what it is just yet. The longer you go without shooting me, though… Well, we’ll see.”

Booth squeezes his eyes shut and pinches the bridge of his nose, cursing under his breath. If Sweets is honest, then he’s innocent. But the Alliance would never take his word.

“Well?”

Booth opens his eyes to find Sweets looking at him expectantly.

“Well, what?”

Sweets nods to Booth’s gun. “What are you going to do, Booth? I’ve said all I can say and I’ve established that I’m not going to go under arrest. Will you follow your orders or not?”

Booth stares at his pistol, lowered only half way. Despite coming here without proper armour again, he’d held no illusion of not having to use it or the second pistol hidden under the opposite side of his jacket. But still…

He came to Illium to put things right. For that, he needs more than this.

He lowers the pistol to his side.

“I’m not shooting you,” Booth says. “I can’t make that call. But the Alliance knows you’re alive now. I’m not the end of this.”

“Of course not. I gave you my name, after all.” Sweets sits back down heavily. The chair slides back a couple inches before tilting back as Sweets leans an elbow on one armrest, his chin resting on his knuckles. “I wonder, then, if I might suggest something, then.”

“Something like what?” Booth asks carefully. “Is this that favour you talked about?”

Sweet’s smile is small but genuine. It doesn’t last long, either. “Go back to the Citadel. Tell the Alliance that I got crafty and escaped. But before you do - have a look through the databases and look for any information on Project Blue Star. Discreetly, mind you. They can’t know if you saw anything. Even the tiniest scrap of information will tell you that it existed and that everything I’ve said is the truth.”

“And what do you get out of that?”

Sweets looks pensive for a moment. “One less obstacle in my way.” He glances at Booth’s pistol again. “Let me say this again, Booth - what I’m doing, there’s no malicious intent in it. What I want is for the people who committed the crime they tried to pin on me to answer for it. What I want is justice for the people they killed.”

“That’s a fine line to walk,” Booth says warningly. “I know it, believe me.”

“I’m aware,” Sweets says softly. “Nevertheless, it is true.”

“Fine, then. I’ll look.” Booth finally holsters the gun before putting his hands flat on Sweets desk and leaning closer. “Let’s say I believe you for now. You’d better be telling the truth.”

Sweets nods once.

“All right, then.”

“All right. Anything else I can do for you?”

Booth blinks. “What?”

Sweets shrugs as he returns to his initial position, arms at his sides, hands loose over the rests, legs crossed. “We’re not talking over dinner. I’m still working. Is there anything else you need? Gossip, dirty dealing businesses - or, I do have a legitimate practice, if you need to talk about something else-”

“Stay out of trouble, Sweets,”  Booth says, already out the door.

Chapter Text

Booth doesn’t head back to the Patriot immediately. He intends to at first, but in the time it takes him to leave the office building he realizes that there’s going to need to be more to the plan than just a bald-faced lie.

Tell the Alliance that I got crafty and escaped.

A medical report would probably help. Maybe a few fired shots, a dent in the ammunition block just for the records. He needs to make it look convincing, and if Sweets is as smart as he thinks he is, then Booth only has so much time before he really does run.

That’s not the only reason that has Booth loitering on one of the tower’s landing platforms. Resolving the Priet skirmishes landed him on the Council’s elite force - except one of those incidents wasn’t part of the skirmishes at all, and he’d walked right by something else entirely.

Thankfully, Sweets’ secretary was willing to tell him where to wait.

Sweets exits the office as the late afternoon sky starts to turn a deep blue. The eastern edges of the horizon are tinged violet already - Illium’s red light makes every sunset seem longer than almost any other place Booth’s seen. He’s preoccupied with his omni-tool and doesn’t notice Booth immediately, but he isn’t slow on the draw, either. He takes three steps out the door and stops, fingers freezing as he stares back at Booth, who’s leaning against the wall not far away.

“Ah, Booth. There you are.”

“She tell you I was waiting?”

“Of course.”

“How much does she know, anyway?”

“She passes things on sometimes.” Sweets tilts his head. “She doesn’t know my name if you’re wondering. You didn’t say you needed anything else earlier.”

“It didn’t occur to me then,” Booth says, pushing off the wall. “There’s something I want to talk to you about, though. Why don’t we go somewhere else?”

Sweets gives him a very pointed look.

Booth holds his hands up. “Not a trap. I’m not asking as a soldier or a Spectre. I just figured this time we talk over food, my treat. That good enough?”

Sweets hums, tempted. “It’s not often I get bribed with food. But if you’re paying…” The screen of his omni-tool flickers out after he taps it once. “Any preferences?”

“Surprise me.”

“Wow, you’re really trying to butter me up, aren’t you?” Sweets asks as he steps onto the platform past Booth.

“That’s how this works, isn’t it?” Booth asks as Sweets leads him across the platform to a small blue hover car. Its lights are already on and the doors slide open as they approach.

“You’re not wrong, I guess.” Sweets slides into the driver’s seat and nods to the passenger’s side. “Get in, then. I know a good place.”

The ride is mostly quiet. Sweets steers them smoothly into the flow of traffic weaving between the soaring towers of the city, following the directions of a soft-voiced GPS. Booth spends most of his time staring out the windshield or taking in details about the interior of the car. It’s not a recent model but it looks very clean, which tracks with what he knows about Sweets so far. It still smells somewhat new; the only other things he can smell are cologne and something fruity.

The restaurant Sweets brings them to looks like an outdoor establishment, although it’s well protected by wind walls, and colourful frosted glass partitions divide sections and tables from each other. An extendable glass ceiling covers only a fraction of the floor space since there’s no threat of rain anywhere.

The hostess seems to know Sweets somewhat, and they chat amiably before they’re led to a table closed in on three sides - a quiet corner against a wind wall, an interior wall, and a pane of blue frosted glass. The wind wall is tinted slightly, clearing some of the red out of the light filtering through it around the tables closest. There’s no good line of sight across the rest of the restaurant - although the entrance is still in sight - but the view outside the wind wall is beautiful. Sweets sits with the interior wall to his back while Booth takes the seat across from him against the partition. Their server brings two glasses of water and a plate of chips and then leaves them alone.

“I take it they know you here,” Booth says conversationally as he flips through the menu. He doesn’t miss the fact that there is not a single price listed. Good place, indeed.

Sweets shrugs. “The food’s good here. They have really nice fruit salads. What?”

“Nothing,” Booth says quickly, focusing back on the menu.

“I have taste, you know,” Sweets says defensively. “And interests aside from criminal justice.”

“Can’t blame a guy for thinking you have a one-track mind,” Booth murmurs. He’s not sure if Sweets hears him or not.

The dessert menu is easily the most extensive part of the menu, but a good steak and potato meal isn’t hard to find. He’s not sure what the “added classic Illium touch” is going to amount to, but he figures it’s the closest thing to an Earth course and worth a shot.

There are two beats of complete silence after the menus are gone where they do nothing except stare at each other across the table before Sweets inhales deeply and asks, “What did you want to know?”

“Right down to business. You don’t want to eat first?”

“If you’re going to ask what I think you are, then I don’t really want to be caught with my mouth full.”

“Understandable. Well, simply put, I want to know how you wound up here,” Booth says.

Sweets sits back and knits his fingers together in his lap. “I see.”

“Is that something you’re willing to say anything about?”

For a moment, Sweets simply stares at the glass in front of him. Finally, he focuses on Booth and says, “Sometimes I’m not sure, exactly. I think if I didn't have biotics I wouldn’t have survived. If I hadn’t been looking over my shoulder since being ordered to shut up, I wouldn’t have thought anything was off.”

“But you are, and you did.”

Sweets nods and continues quietly. “I didn’t notice anything until we were already in transit. People involved in relief efforts had been selected based on their ability to help the colony reconstruct and maintain stability while it was being targeted during the skirmishes, so most of us were either biotics or had prior experience with reconstruction, crisis response, and so on.”

“And you were the shrink.”

“I was the shrink,” Sweets says with a flat look. “Plus biotics on the side. They probably would have sent me either way regardless of why they actually sent the Paladia . But while I was thinking about what I could do, what we as a crew could do, I noticed something about all of us.

“There wasn’t a single one of us on that ship that hadn’t been on the Aurora mission. We’d all seen it. I thought it was strange, partly because some of those people were better suited to be involved in retaliation efforts like you were, and partly because I was so off-kilter after Aurora that even things that weren’t strange felt like it. So I investigated a little.”

“What was there to investigate?” Booth asks. “What proved to you that the ship was doomed? It wouldn’t have had some file or transmission on it saying you were about to get blown up.”

“No, but what it should have had was adequate supplies for the mission in which we were sent to do,” Sweets says pointedly. “The Paladia ’s logs listed a cargo bay full of rations and materials needed to keep the colony afloat. When we went through what was actually there, to say what we found was negligible would be an understatement. There was some of what we needed there, but most of the cargo was just a bunch of empty crates. There’s no way it could have just been a mix-up.”

“The spotlights were on Priet then,” Booth says, shaking his head. “A mistake on the Alliance’s part would have made everything worse. Was that it?”

“That’s what cemented it. It wasn’t me that took that thought and made the connection, but as soon as the idea spread we tried to steer away from the collision course. We were between relays so we couldn’t stop, but as soon as the ship passed through the Armstrong relay we slowed down.” Sweets pauses to take a sip of water and rub his fingers over the scars along his jaw absentmindedly. “We thought we could buy some time to find an alternate route that we had the fuel for. But, um…”

“A bunch of paranoid soldiers on a ship didn’t really make for a great discussion?” Booth guesses.

Sweets grimaces and glances past the wind wall. “Not really. I wasn’t what you would call the most respected person on board, either, so I didn’t have much input. Or, if I did, I don’t remember what I said. What I do remember is that we were found pretty quickly. I don’t think slowing down had any real effect at all. They were definitely waiting for us.”

“The Alliance?”

“Blood Pack mercenaries, actually. They blended in a bit with pirates, but the thing with a large group of krogan and vorcha is that they’re not that subtle about what they do, especially not when they force someone to transmit a mayday before shooting them. They only made it look like they were part of the actual skirmishers.”

“You think the Alliance paid them off.”

“Oh, I know they did,” Sweets says with a hard look. “I know my mercs. When the Blood Pack goes into battle they don’t waste time. They don’t board a ship without stealing everything they can get their hands on. They don’t make sure a transmission was sent before they start setting charges to blow while they shoot at it from outside.”

“Well, then we need to move things along because I still have no idea how you managed to get out of there in one piece.”

Sweets’ jaw clenches tight at Booth’s near flippant tone.

“I barely survived,” he says, eyes narrowed and voice quieter than ever. “I got shot, I got burned .” He tugs his right glove off to reveal a strange pattern of mottled scars on his hand, one of which stretches up and disappears under his sleeve. “I played dead in one of the only pieces of the ship left intact until I could crawl to an escape pod.” He almost tears his left glove off. “And I did not make it out in one piece.”

His left hand isn’t flesh. Instead, he curls a prosthetic hand into a fist over the table and unfurls it again. The pads of his fingers and his palm are soft black, but the rest of the prosthetic is a sturdy white material. This, too, Booth can tell extends farther up his arm, but he has no way of telling how much of Sweet’s left arm is still flesh. Booth doesn’t have the time to try and figure it out before Sweets tugs his gloves back on, hiding both hands away again.

“Bet that wasn’t on my records either,” he says shortly.

Booth shakes his head. “No.”

Sweets takes a couple deep breaths and stares at the city below them. Booth gives him the moment. The sun is getting lower, the light passing the wind wall turning everything a deep gold. The white light on the wall above him lessens the effect only a little.

“I floated for a while,” Sweets says slowly. “I don’t know how long it was before an asari ship found me. They helped me get to Omega because I wouldn’t let them send me back to Alliance space.”

“Is that where you go into the information business?” Booth asks. “Lots of dirty things happening there.”

Sweets nods. “We all start somewhere, and I needed to start figuring out what had happened and how to solve it. And since nobody is just going to hand you an arm on Omega, I needed a way to get the money for it.”

“Why Omega, though? After the Strife, there’s no way humans would have been welcome.”

“Omega is the kind of place where no one is actually welcome,” Sweets says dryly. “But if you’re smart, stubborn, and you play nice with Aria T’Loak, then you find ways to keep going. I got what I needed there and moved on. Illium’s a nicer place to work.”

Booth snorts. “Sure, the planet’s pretty , but I wouldn’t give it much more than that. No offense.”

Sweets smiles faintly. “None taken, it’s true. Illium’s got all the same things Omega does. People here just like pretty words and the colour blue more.”

“Oh, then you’re right at home, huh?”

“As much as I can be, I guess.”

Booth doesn’t get the chance to say anything about that. Sweets turns his head and Booth follows his line of sight until he spots their server on her way back with dishes balanced on her arms. “Just in time,” he comments. “That always happen here?”

“No,” Sweets says. He takes a sip of water before pushing the glass away to make room for the large sandwiches the server sets down in front of him. He doesn’t continue until she’s finished dropping off their meals and left again. “I have noticed that sometimes they like to wait around with the food until it looks like people aren’t in the middle of something anymore.”

“Talk about being an accessory,” Booth says.

“Not an accessory if it’s legal,” Sweets reminds him. “Mind you it isn’t always, but most of the time it is.”

Sweets takes a bite out of one of his sandwiches and Booth takes it as a cue to dig into the steak in front of him. He can smell the spices on it, although the smells aren’t all familiar. It tastes much better than he thought it would be, too - cooked just right and tasting almost like the steaks he made on the grill back home. It’s hard to chew and ignore the curious look Sweets is giving him at the same time, so he opts to fill the silence.

“I didn’t think the food thing would actually work, you know.”

Sweets shrugs. He opens his mouth to speak but then shuts it for a couple seconds before starting again. “Free food works for a lot of things, actually. How is it, by the way?”

“Pretty good, actually. Not like what you can get on Earth, but it’s not bad.”

Sweets is still giving him the same look - if anything, he’s smiling wider. “Yeah?”

Booth sets his fork down and squints across the table as he tries to figure out what Sweets is getting at. A part of his brain jumps to a dark conclusion, sparking the idea that Sweets had slipped some kind of message to the kitchen staff without Booth’s noticing and now he was about to pay for it, but he vetoes it. They’re in too much of a public place for Sweets to risk his plans by poisoning him, and when Booth opens his mouth to ask, he notices a tingling sensation on his tongue which quickly becomes something closer to a burn.

Sweets hides his smile behind his free hand. “Are you alright, Booth?”

“They didn’t say how much spice they were going to use,” Booth says, grabbing the still full glass of water at his side. It’s less than half full when he slams it down again. “Wow, that really-”

“Milk, Booth,” Sweets says, pointing to one of the new glasses the server had dropped off. “They gave you milk.”

The heat tapers off as he washes it down with milk until he’s left with only the slight sensation again, along with the aftertaste of the steak. Sweets is still putting a grand effort into not laughing out loud and failing.

“You weren’t going to say anything about that, were you?”

“They did say - that’s usually what the ‘classic Illium touch’ is,” Sweets explains. “People really love their spices here, and Illium has no shortage of them.”

“Are the potatoes going to be the same?” Booth asks, looking apprehensively at the sprinkling of seasoning across the sliced potatoes.

Sweets shrugs. “You tell me. I’ve never tried it. Not really my thing.”

“Of course not.” Booth hazards a taste, anyway. To his surprise, they’re incredibly light, and the spiciness from before dulls even further, replaced with an almost soothing taste.

“Your face isn’t all red anymore,” Sweets comments. “They’re good then?”

“More than good. I’m ready for another round of the steak, even.”

The conversation falls away again as they eat. Booth cycles between the steak - less and less spicy with every bite as his body adjusts - and the potatoes while Sweets spends most of his time watching the sky slowly turn darker with the occasional glance at the rest of the restaurant on his other side. By the time Booth gets down to the last bits of his meal, Sweets has finished his sandwiches and is making a dent in the chips that they’d been left with initially. Booth almost thinks it’s impressive that Sweets can easily eat so much at once before he remembers that taking in more food than the average person is a necessity that super soldiers and biotics share.

He grabs a handful of chips before Sweets can get them all and eats them out of his hand as he gets back to business.

“Before we’re done here, there’s something else I need from you.”

Sweets raises his eyebrows. “I don’t know how much dessert is going to cover you for.”

Booth shakes his head. “Not information, no. I need you to throw me. With your biotics.”

Sweets frowns. “You want me to throw you.”

“Yeah. Maybe a couple times.” Booth pats his chest. “Super soldiers are tough, might take a go or two for you to do some believable damage. That way, when I say you were crafty someone’s actually going to believe me.”

Understanding dawns on Sweets’ face. “Oh, that does make sense. In that case, yeah, I can do that.”

“Great. Let me finish these and we can get on that.”

Later, when the server delivers the bill, Sweets slides it toward Booth immediately, who’s glad that both of his jobs pay relatively well because the price tag on the steak matches its taste. The sun is still setting by the time they leave the restaurant, but it’s only just peeking above the horizon. The sky above has gone mostly dark, but only a few stars are visible through all the lights surrounding them.

“Surveillance is heavy here,” Sweets says as they climb back into his car. “And if it sounds like someone’s getting murdered then authorities will come running, so we’ll have to look around for somewhere a little quieter.”

“Are your biotics up to the task?”

Sweets side-eyes him. “I’m manipulating every particle of your being, Booth, and then tossing you around. It’s going to hurt any way you look at it.”

“It has to show, though. I heal fast.”

“Tossing you multiple times, then.”

They wind up landing on a nearly empty landing platform on one of the larger multi-division towers. It exits into several different businesses that are closed for the night and a few winding corridors. They scout the area quickly before settling on the closest thing Illium’s tower cities have to a back alley - a sheltered corridor lined with backdoors and large waste containers, where the only light around is the white-blue light keeping pitch darkness at bay all hours of the day.

Booth relaxes as much as he can with the knowledge that he’s going to be in pain very soon without a finger having been laid on him.

“One other thing,” he says as Sweets takes up a position close by. “I’m going to fire my gun a few times. That way it looks like I at least tried to get you.”

Sweets nods carefully. “Ready?”

Booth holds his arms out. “Hit me.”

Sweets glows blue, the energy turning slightly to violet along his right arm, and then Booth glows blue. The sensation of being lifted off his feet untouched is easily one of the strangest things he’s ever felt. A tingle races through his skin and it feels like his stomach is crawling just a bit too far up his throat, and before he can think much more on that his body goes flying backwards as if being blown by a gust of wind. For a split second, it feels like nothing at all and he thinks that this is going to take longer than he thought - but then he connects first with a waste container, then with the wall next to it, and the pain is both sharp and crushing.

Very briefly, it feels like someone tried to crush his body flat, and then when his brain makes sense of that situation, the pain of hitting the corner of a giant bin and then a wall registers, sharpening like knives through the initial pain. He hits the ground after all that, which feels like landing on feathers in comparison to everything else.

He curses loudly.

“You good?” Sweets calls from somewhere down the corridor. Booth can’t be sure while his head is spinning.

“Yeah, yeah,” he says, staggering through a couple steps as he stands up.

“How was that?”

“How was - how do you think it was?”

“Don’t get too angry about it. You did ask for it,” Sweets reminds him.

“Yeah, yeah.” Booth reaches into his jacket for his gun and pointedly does not aim at Sweets. “I’m gonna fire a couple times and then you’re gonna do that again, you hear?”

“If you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.” Booth stands straight again as the spinning finally stops. He listens for a moment but can’t hear anyone on either end of the corridor. He fires twice in the direction they’d come, then another couple times for good measure before holstering the pistol again. “Okay, one more time. I’m pretty sure I’m bruised, but let’s make it a little darker.”

“Here you go.”

Booth does go - to the other side of the corridor this time, where his shoulder makes a very painful connection with the corner of a different bin, causing him to flip mid-air before landing on the ground with a heavy thump .

“Oh, I think that’s good enough,” he gasps when the pain in his shoulder does not immediately start dimming. He reaches up and pats it. “Yeah, I think we’re good.”

Sweets comes into view above him as he crouches over him, slightly concerned. “You sure?”

“I’m a super soldier, I’m fine,” Booth snaps, then winces. “I will be, anyway.”

Sweets nods. “Okay then. I have to make myself scarce, then. You’ll have to get back to your ship on your own.”

“All the better.”

“Can I tell you one more thing?”

“What?”

“I want to thank you for today,” Sweets says. “You gave me the chance to explain. Trust isn’t something that anyone can buy, not even in my line of business. It’s gained through people’s actions. I’m trusting you with what I told you today, and I know that you don’t trust me yet, but I’m hoping that you’ll give me the chance to prove myself, too. Good-bye for now, Booth.”

With that, Sweets stands up and walks away, leaving Booth alone with his thoughts as he gathers his strength again to get off the ground himself.

Chapter Text

The Alliance archives are dim and quiet except for the low hum of electronics in every division. Some sections of the archives are full of shelves of paper records, boxes upon boxes of things dating back to First Contact, now housed on the Citadel for posterity. Others house the more recent digital records, a near replica of the archives on Arcturus Station, which are just as much of a confusing maze as the paper ones as far as Booth is concerned.

He doesn’t come here often. He usually assigns others to the task of digging records up.

And he most certainly never needs to make use of the unpatented version of Angela’s security bypass program.

She’d given him a strange look when he’d asked for it less than an hour ago. It’s incomplete because it hasn’t yet been throttled by Alliance regulations and is therefore technically still in the experimental stage - meaning that in reality, he has the full version that most people will never see. She hadn’t given it to him immediately either, but it hadn’t taken long to convince her. He’d been honest about it, too.

“There’s something more to this mission,” he’d told her quietly, even though her office was empty except for them. “I can’t explain it right now, because I can’t verify how much more there really is unless I can get into records that even I don’t have access to. I need to find specific records from the Strife, ones that were most likely blacklisted and buried. Can you do this for me?”

She’d been concerned - but trusted him all the same and replaced the program in his omni-tool for its secret successor.

He starts off simple - a roundup of every project he can think of that the Alliance created when the Strife was pushing them further and further into ruin. Angela’s tech does most of the work, and eventually, he has a list of programs that had either been vetoed from the get-go, or failures during their early stages. At the top is Project Apex - known to everyone else as the Systems Alliance Super Soldier Program, the only successful solution of the lot.

Project Blue Star isn’t on the list. Other operations aren’t listed as having been located anywhere near Aurora. Not that he hadn’t seen any of that coming, though.

He continues to the most obvious place - keyword: Aurora. It was originally a geological research station that had been posted on a moon in the Armstrong cluster during humanity’s second wave of expansion from Earth. It was never large by any means, but it had yielded enough results and maintained a healthy enough growth to warrant a legitimate colony being built around it. From there, the Alliance’s data on it, even just the surface of it, before the bypass program kicks in, is immense. Scientific papers published by the researchers in the original station, and census logs, and requisitions are all stored together, seemingly with the barest amount of organization the archivers could get away with. Nearly twenty years’ worth of information. Booth dismisses the vast majority of it.

The most recent documents he can find on Aurora are dated in 2187, some months after the end of the Strife. Everything after that is just one short addendum after another on the end of the file - still pending, still pending, still pending.

He skims over the initial report and finds it very similar to others if its kind that he’d seen on the tail end of the war. The colony, left ruined and empty, had been declared too unsafe to rebuild and was slated for deconstruction. There, Booth frowns. It’s been nearly four years, but as far as he can tell Aurora is still standing. Empty and probably even worse for wear without maintenance, but still there.

Why?

Shortage of manpower, he thinks initially. It’s the most logical conclusion.

But another report is brought to his attention, further complicating everything. The words “biohazardous environment” practically glare at him and the delay on Aurora’s deconstruction starts to make more sense - and yet, at the same time, it makes even less sense than before.

What kind of biohazard could come out of geological research? Did they go digging somewhere and release some kind of alien bacteria? If there’s radiation, how did such dangerous amounts collect there?

The report isn’t helpful at all, either. It doesn’t state the exact nature of the hazard, only that it's currently too severe to allow work teams in the area. If Booth were less inclined to think there was anything more, he’d leave it at that, but the fact that the report states nothing more irks him. The file must have been changed, or perhaps the original report never made it to the archives, leaving nothing for Angela’s tech to find.  

He has to go back. He has to start from the first report stating Aurora had lost contact and work his way through it.

Several days without contact , he reads. With the chaos of the war and the heavy lag in any communication that wasn’t the highest priority, however, it’s more than likely that it had been weeks by that point.

Emergency response teams sent to eliminate threats and restore contact - just like Sweets had said. After that, all he can find are statements on the tragic loss of the colony, and the information between 2186 and 2187 is cut off abruptly. It’s almost a believable attempt at a seamless scrub, too, if not for the brief blinking on Booth’s omni-tool signaling a message from the bypass program.

Edited elements remain in the document history and can be partially retrieved , the message reads. Booth can almost imagine Angela asking him if he wants to retrieve it.

He hesitates for a moment. Even a scrap of information will tell him that there really is some kind of truth to everything Sweets has told him. Booth won’t be able to unlearn it, either, just like he can’t unlearn everything he’s already been mulling over for days.

It takes another few moments for the retrieval to come through. A collection of disorganized, half corrupted, nearly contextless scraps of data come together to form a few simple lines, most of which he still has to disregard for all the sense they make. Only one piece matters anyway.

Status of Blue Star cannot be ascertained, but it is no longer necessary and doesn’t need to be taken into consideration by emergency response.

Blue Star .

The archives are dark and dim but for a few active terminals, and Lance Sweet’s voice is echoing all throughout.

 

--

 

It takes almost two weeks for Angela to come up with Sweets’ trail. Booth doesn’t tell her what he’d found in the archives in that time. He doesn’t tell Brennan, either, or anyone else. He’s not sure how to - the last thing he wants to do is risk their safety. He can’t just take the information and the Patriot without them, though.

For two weeks he has no choice but to keep quiet about it while the team takes on simpler bag ‘em and tag ‘em jobs in the Citadel’s immediate vicinity.

Then Angela strolls into his office one morning with one word: “Omega.”

Booth looks up from his desk, frowning. “What about Omega?”

Angela rolls her eyes rapidly. “Your guy? Sweets? I finally tracked him down - he’s on Omega.”

Booth blinks. It’s such an obvious place for Sweets to go, not that Booth has been in all that much of a hurry to track him down. He’s still trying to figure out who in the Alliance Sweets could be after - aside from a single name that Booth hasn’t enjoyed thinking about like this.

He stands up as Angela crosses the office to hand him a holopad. “How’d you find him?”

“Not easily,” Angela says. “Pulling your Spectre card goes practically nowhere there. I had to resort to some alternative sleuthing methods.” She leans in to whisper, “I won’t tell the Alliance if you won’t.”

“Somehow, I don’t think they’d mind,” Booth says dryly. He scrolls on the holopad to find a still shot from a security camera. The image is slightly grainy and saturated with a heavy tint from Omega’s heavy red lighting, but one of the figures in it is almost certainly Sweets.

“That’s one of the clearest ones I could get,” Angela comments. “I’m pretty sure I managed to spot him in some other places, but either the lighting was just too bad to repair or he was wearing just enough makeup to prevent facial recognition software from making a 100% match.”

“This is recent?”

“Yep, just within the last few days. I got a bit of a trail on the name Finley as well, but most of it was from years ago.”

“That would have been from when he first got there,” Booth says. “I doubt he’s doing much on Omega that you could easily figure out. You’d have to actually know people there. Good job, though. We know where to go now.”

“We’ll probably have to figure out a careful way to get to him,” Angela says, looking proud of herself. “Rumour has it that he’s on good terms with Aria T’Loak. She’s dangerous.”

“She’s gonna care more about herself than him, though. This doesn’t concern her.”

“I hope you’re right.”

“Thanks, Angela,” Booth says, returning her holopad. “Let’s get everyone ready to go.”

Angela nods and turns to leave his office again. Before she leaves, though, she turns to look over her shoulder with a concerned expression. “Hey, this is going to be okay, right? You’ve been weird about something since you got back from Illium. And I know you’re still probably not going to tell me what that’s about, but are our plans still going to work?”

Booth hesitates for a moment, an apology on the tip of his tongue. He’s playing things by ear more than anything, trying to appear as invested as possible in the mission when in reality, everything under the surface is so unsteady that’s it’s hard to keep his footing. It’s like being thrown into zero gravity training again.

“Is it because he used to be Alliance?” Angela asks quietly, snapping Booth out of his thoughts.

“No,” he says quickly, shaking his head. If that were the case then he’s sure that he’d feel even more determined to bring Sweets in. “It’s not that. It’s just that this might get really messy. No matter how this goes down, though, I’m going to make sure this team is safe, okay?”

Angela offers a small smile, but Booth can tell she’s still unsure. “Okay. I believe you. I’ll tell everyone to get ready.”

“Now that we know where he is, we can lay down some solid plans once we’re on the ship,” Booth adds.

“Right. See you, Booth.”

 

--

 

A couple hours after Angela sends her message out, Booth sends one of his own, calling the team to meet at his apartment after dinner. They’re getting ready for an early morning departure so that there’s still some time left in their day to work when they reach Omega.

Booth knows there won’t be a good enough chance to explain anything then. He’d thought about it after Angela had left his office and realized that the best way he can handle this is if his friends know what they’re actually going into. He can’t take the choice away.

It takes some time for everyone to gather. Brennan takes a ride with Booth, but they have to wait for everyone else to navigate the tight flight paths through the maze that is the lower levels of Shalta Ward. He’d purposely chosen an apartment near a commercial area, where the population is the densest and navigation can be most confusing because he still found it easy to get in and out, and the building is located within the ward’s maintained atmosphere and therefore doesn’t need to be air-tight.

No one else finds it particularly easy to get to, but they make their way. He rarely calls them here, anyway.

Hodgins says as much when he arrives last, right on Cam’s heels. He’s been at the apartment only once before, during a holiday. “What’s this about?” he asks with the same disbelief he has when Booth makes a rare visit to his office. “Is it about the mission? Or do you have a surprise for us?”

“It’s a surprise,” Booth says as he ushers him over to the table just off the kitchenette. “It is about the mission, though. There’s something you guys should know about it.”

“Is this about what you were looking for in the archives?” Angela asks. All attention immediately turns to her as everyone sits down. “Are you finally going to tell us what that was about?”

Brennan looks up at him from her own seat. The confusion is barely evident on her face but she still looks slightly confused. “You never mentioned anything about needing things from the archives.”

“That’s because this is... “ Booth pauses, shooting Angela a brief look, to which she responds with an apologetic shrug. “It’s delicate. I needed Angela’s help to get into sealed documents without someone else catching on.”

“This doesn’t sound good,” Cam says, her brow furrowed with concern.

Hodgins, on the other hand, leans forward on his elbows with wide eyes. “It sounds interesting. Unauthorized access to secret documents by a Spectre chasing down a war criminal? This is getting good .”

“This is not some conspiracy theory for you to get your fingers in,” Booth scolds. “This is serious. And I’m telling you now because there’s not going to be a good time for it later. This might turn into a real mess and you won’t be able to opt out then.”

“If that’s the case, then you really should tell us now,” Brennan says, gesturing around the table. “We can’t work to the best of our ability as a team if we don’t all know the facts, and…” she shrugs and gestures to Booth. “I have the feeling that you’ll go to Omega alone if you have to regardless, and that’s not a very good course of action.”

“I have the feeling you’re going to want to help either way,” Booth says softly.

“Of course,” Brennan replies. “You already proved with the incident on Illium that you’re not a match for Sweets’ biotics. However, it’s likely that I am.”

Booth closes his eyes while a round of snickering passes along the table. “Thanks, Bones. His biotics aren’t the problem, though.”

The group hushes gradually. Booth takes a breath and finally tells them the story - a message out of the blue on Illium from a complete stranger, a psychologist with a tiny practice on Illium who - and this he tells honestly, even when he hadn’t when reporting it to Arnette - also deals in information. A survivor of the Strife turned war criminal turned - well, Booth doesn’t know what the hell to call him now. Some kind of freedom fighter?

He tells them what Sweets had told him, and before anyone can ask about how believable or trustworthy any of the information is, he tells them that he found exactly what he’d been looking for in the archives, that someone had been just careless enough to leave him one nugget of truth in the story - one that can only be confirmed if they can track down Sweets again and get the full story.

He hadn’t wanted to tell Booth everything for fear of losing more lives. Booth doesn’t want to lose more, too.

But he can’t let this go unresolved, either.

He’s not sure how much they all believe. Hodgins is the only one that doesn’t look completely shocked. He looks serious, almost intense. “I see why we’re doing this here now,” he says quietly.

“That is a lot to take in,” Cam says.

“It does indeed make this mission more dangerous,” Brennan adds. She stares up at Booth. “How much of it do you believe?”

“You think he’s was telling the truth the whole time?” Hodgins asks.

“I think enough of it is true,” Booth finally admits. “I think… Look. We were at war. We were getting desperate, too. We can never be proud of all the choices we make in that kind of situation.”

“That doesn’t make them right, though,” Angela says. It’s almost a plea.

“I know that,” Booth stresses. “I know. That’s why I want to see this through. A lot of good people died and there was no one to answer for it - there’s no one that wants to answer for it. Instead, more people died so that it would all go away.” He shakes his head. “But it not going to go away, not while someone’s still alive to remember it and not while there are people around who can make it right.”

“If we get into this,” Cam starts warningly, glancing around the table, “then Booth's right, and this could very likely go downhill before it gets any better.”

Booth nods. “If you come with me to Omega, you might not get the chance to back out. Let’s be honest, actually. You probably won’t.”

“There tends to be a high level of danger in the majority of the missions we participate in,” Brennan says simply. “We carried out those tasks anyway.”

“Yeah, she’s right,” Hodgins says. “If it’s a matter of how much danger we’re going to be in-”

“I think you’re oversimplifying it,” Booth cuts in.

“-then it’s not like we haven’t been in some risky situations before,” Hodgins continues as if Booth hadn’t said anything. “I’m in.”

“Me too,” Angela chimes in, looping one of her arms around Brennan’s. “We can’t put someone on trial for something they didn’t do just so someone else can cover their ass.”

“We’re going to need all hands on this no matter which way it goes,” Cam adds. She rolls her shoulders back, her usual confident posture returned, and smiles. “Looks like we’re all in, Booth.”

Booth can’t help but smile back. He only hopes that he doesn’t come to regret it. “All right. You should all go home and get some sleep, then. We’re leaving early tomorrow and chances are we aren’t going to figure out how this will play out until we get there.”

 

--

 

Sweets hasn’t sent him any more messages since they parted on Illium, and Booth has no way of knowing whether or not he still pays any attention to the address he’d used to initiate contact, but it’s the only way Booth has any chance of contacting him now.

He’d nearly done it during the two weeks of waiting, late at night when he was alone in his office or in his quarters on the Patriot , but he’d never gone through with it. There wasn’t anything he could think of to say - certainly not to tell Sweets that he was right about something , or to get himself deeper into what Sweets is doing, or to give him a name .

Omega is further from the Citadel than Illium is. They have more than half a day’s travel ahead of them, most of which the team will probably spend mulling everything over. So, the night before they leave, Booth writes out a very short message.

We’re coming for you.

And he hits send.

Chapter Text

He doesn’t remember that the majority of the team hasn’t actually been to Omega until they’ve nearly arrived. It isn’t far from the Omega relay, and as soon as the ship passes through it he has to remind them that they need to exercise as much caution as possible. Cam is the only one who doesn’t need the warnings, not only because she’s been to Omega before and knows how to handle herself, but because she’s also the only one staying on the ship. Her steel backbone was useful on their past missions here, but with the rest of the team backing Booth now, she’s elected instead to remain in the med bay in the event that anyone comes back bloodied.

Hodgins, on the other hand, is excited regardless, and Brennan is also looking forward to seeing the cultural differences she’d studied before in action. Namely, how a whole colony built in a mined-out shell of an asteroid can possibly run the way it does.

Booth recognizes a losing battle when he sees one and settles for one last warning before they leave the ship. “It’s not a field trip, you guys. Just keep your eyes peeled and don’t be rash.”

They’re met almost immediately after getting off the boarding strip. An asari with deep red specks across the length of her crest and light armour steps into their way as soon as she spots Booth, and the group stops with him.

“Rishal, right?” Booth asks easily.

The asari smirks. “Guess it was too soon to hope I could throw you off guard again, Booth.”

“Hey, I was never off guard,” Booth says, although it isn’t necessarily a correction. She’d waylaid him the first time he visited Omega, and being recognized immediately had unsettled him somewhat. “I’ve got business to get to, though. What do you want?”

“To go take a nap,” Rishal replies wryly. She shrugs to one of the exit gates on her left. “You gotta go see Aria first, though.”

“Our business isn’t with her,” Brennan interjects. Booth waves a hand quickly, but it’s too late. Rishal shoots her a stern look.

“It is if you’re on Omega. If a Spectre shows up here, she wants to know.” She turns back to Booth. “Congrats on catching that turian, by the way. Braxus always was too smug for his own good. Or, I guess it was actually Varek. Either way, good job, I guess. Now go see Aria.”

She turns around and leaves then, strolling away from the docking platforms.

“Well, this is going well so far,” Angela comments. “It is, right?”

Booth shrugs. “Eh, she’s right. This is mostly just standard procedure for this place. Aria T’Loak is gonna know what you’re up to one way or another, we might as well be upfront about it. Let’s go.”

“This place runs surprisingly well,” Brennan says as Booth leads them through different platforms and winding turns. “There’s no official form of government here, but it’s still quite far from anarchy. I don’t know who Aria is, but she seems to keep it very controlled.”

She garners a few odd looks from passersby, but while Booth is leading them nobody comments on it. Instead, she and Hodgins get into a discussion on Omega’s inner workings, with Booth occasionally offering his own first-hand experiences. It’s not as smooth as what Brennan’s been able to see so far, despite the steady income from shipping out element zero, and despite a more or less stable civilian population. Aria T’Loak sits at the top of the pile, but the pile is made up of mercenaries and criminals and she doesn’t stop them from constantly fighting with each other over tech, money, and turf, not unless they make the mistake of threatening her business.

They hear the pulsing music of Afterlife before they find the queue in front of the club’s entrance. Booth waves at the massive elcor bouncer standing before the line and waltzes past the people waiting. A scrawny looking man sputters when he notices the team passing by without so much as a blink from the bouncers.

“What - why doesn’t he have to wait, huh?” he exclaims.

The elcor doesn’t budge and says tonelessly, “Exasperated: because Aria is actually expecting them.”

Hodgins snickers as they enter, pausing only to survey the wide hallway they walk into. “Wow, what a perk.”

“Yeah, there’s one or two,” Booth says. He directs them over to one side of the corridor. The shifting light of the digital flames dancing up the wall is more intense but the area is just far enough out of earshot. “Okay, listen up. We might be welcome for now but there’s always gonna be some guys who don’t agree with that. Don’t get any weird alien drinks.”

“I think we’re all adults who are familiar with club etiquette,” Hodgins says.  

Booth gives him a flat look. “Yeah, and more people actually like humans on the Citadel than here. Try not to get into any stupid bar fights, either. I mean, you can punch a guy, but don’t shoot him, you know?”

“Does that actually happen?”

“Yes. And when it does they kick you out and don’t let you back in for a long time.”

“Are you talking from experience?”

“No,” Booth lies. “Let’s go.”

There’s never a time when there isn’t some kind of crowd in Afterlife. There are always dancers and drinkers and the music is a constant beat that Booth can feel in his heart. Maybe he can feel it so well because his heart syncs to it. He nearly loses Hodgins in the activity around them immediately, but Angela reigns him in before he can wander off anywhere, and with one arm looped around Hodgins’ left and the other around Brennan’s right, she leads the two of them in a somewhat awkward daisy chain after Booth.

Near the back of Afterlife’s main floor, Aria’s platform never suffers from a lack of security, and for that, it’s dimmer and quieter. She doesn’t care to have the neon reds and oranges and flickering white shining on her business, and the music is constantly maintained at a volume just quiet enough for people to hear themselves speak and just loud enough that nobody else can without an earpiece feeding the conversation to them.

The only difference between Aria’s appearance from the last time he saw her is the colour of the shirt under her white jacket, gold instead of black. Otherwise, she watches the group shuffle up the ramp to her platform with an aloof expression from the center of her couch, hands resting over her crossed legs just like always. They’re stopped before the final ascent as a pair of guards scan each member of the team quickly, then nod to Aria. She waves her hand and the guards push everyone but Booth back. Brennan starts to protest, but Booth quickly assures her it’s fine before walking up to the couch and taking a seat to her right.

“Thought you said you weren’t coming back for a while,” Aria says by way of a greeting, hardly even looking at him.

“Ah, well, you know the galaxy,” Booth says unapologetically. “Always looking to screw up my vacation plans.”

Aria snorts. “What are you here for this time, then?”

“I’m tracking down an ex-Alliance shrink,” Booth answers, leaning forward, elbows on his knees. “You know anything about that?”

Aria scowls at him for a brief moment before her face smooths out again. “Oh, you mean Sweets.”

“So you know him.”

She shrugs. “Like I know anyone else in the network. He did good work last time he was here. He’s pretty smart as far as young humans go.”

“You’ve known who he was?” Booth asks, surprised to hear Sweets’ name spoken so blatantly by someone outside the Alliance.

“Of course,” Aria says, almost offended. “You think I let shit like that get by? He’s good, but not that good. I know a fake name when I see one, and when I do I make sure I know who I’m really dealing with one way or another. Now, what do you want with him?”

“I want to talk,” Booth says honestly. “The Alliance had him down as dead, so now I’m on the investigation into what he’s been up to.”

Aria hums and then reaches down for a holopad lying on the cushion next to her. It flickers on, for only a moment before she sets it down again. “Looks legit. I can tell you where to find him, but you have to leave the tourist brigade behind.” She nods to his team waiting below the platform, where Brennan is openly staring almost delightfully at something.

“The team goes where I go,” Booth says firmly.

“Don’t care,” Aria says flatly. “Those are his terms, not mine.”

Booth sighs through his nose. “So he knows I’m here already?”

“Yep.”

“Fine then,” Booth concedes. A chance to get in alone is probably better, anyway. “They can occupy themselves for a while. Where can I find Sweets?”

“Downstairs,” Aria says simply.

“What, really?”

“Yes. He’s been in a private room since you got off your ship. Number seven. Don’t cause any trouble while you’re down there or this time I’m billing you for it.”

Booth smiles tightly as he stands up. “I’m not here for that, don’t worry. Thanks for the info.”

“Yeah, yeah. Get out of here.”

He leaves the platform and the team gathers around him almost immediately.

“Did we miss anything important?” Brennan asks first.

Booth nods. “Yeah. I know where to find Sweets. Here’s the thing, though: I have to go alone, so the rest of you are going to have to entertain yourselves for a little bit. That shouldn’t be hard here.”

“Is that a good idea?” Angela asks.

“It’ll be fine. We’re just going to talk,” Booth assures her. “Neither of us is gonna cause trouble on Aria’s watch. Just remember what I said before, okay? Cam’s not going to appreciate having to scan all your insides, so don’t go drinking something weird, and try not to get in a fight. I’m going to be downstairs for a while.” He taps his ear. “And if anything does go wrong, we have radio contact.”

None of them are especially happy with the plan, but after a moment of trying to get Booth to budge on it, Angela recognizes the losing battle for what it is and starts drawing Brennan and Hodgins away. They concede to her grip, although they all try to keep their eyes on him until there’s too much of the crowd in the way. Booth watches them make their way to one of the orange lit tables before turning to the stairs below Aria’s platform.

The music dims slightly on the other side of the door, but after he descends a longer staircase and passes through another door it comes back, louder and faster. The lighting isn’t as bright, though, and there are fewer people. It’s easy to find where the club leads into a few corridors of private spaces.

Strategically speaking, it’s a good place to be, Booth thinks as he searches for the right room. Right under Aria’s nose, where she’ll probably have them both shot if they make a mess in her immediate vicinity.

The room is unlocked when he approaches it, and since he knows he’s already expected he doesn’t stop to announce himself. Inside, the music fades until all that makes it through the walls is the thud of the bass. The light is pale orange over a table on the right side of the room, empty except for a single pistol and a heat clip, and a couch lining the left side surrounding a long coffee table, where a couple bottles and an empty glass sit.

Sweets is seated on the couch against the wall opposite the door, a holopad held loosely in one gloved hand as he watches Booth enter. He’s not wearing a suit this time. Instead, he has a red jacket over a white shirt and black pants, which blends in far better with Omega’s population. His face seems to glow slightly under the lights, which looks almost at odds with his careful expression.

“Hello again, Captain Booth,” Sweets greets. “How’s your shoulder?”

“Fine,” Booth replies, resisting the urge to roll his shoulders back. The pain of the fracture had faded long ago. “I heal fast, remember?”

“Right. Will you sit down?” Sweets asks, gesturing to the other end of the coffee table as he sets the holopad down in front of him.

“What have you been doing here?” Booth asks as he sits down.

“Nothing bad,” Sweets says. “I try not to get involved in the power struggles. I mostly just listen. And wait. I wasn’t sure how long it would be until we saw each other again.” He tilts his head and smiles faintly. “And since you haven’t made some kind of move yet, I can only assume that during the last couple weeks you… had some luck?”

“Yeah, I guess I did.” Booth stands up again and pulls his gun from the holster hidden under his jacket. Then he slides the heat clip out and crosses the room, setting both the gun and clip on the table before returning to his seat and fixing Sweets with a heavy stare. “Just one thing that escaped the scrub, saying Blue Star had gone dark with the colony, and emergency response didn’t need to know. No more games, Sweets. Tell me what the hell Blue Star was, now.”

Sweets is quiet for a long moment. Finally, he says quietly, “I believe it was supposed to be a solution to the Attican Strife, specifically a way to prevent the heavy losses humanity was facing. Similarly to the people working on Project Apex, which later became SASSP, scientists were looking for another way to utilize genetics. With Blue Star, though, they’d also added cybernetics into the mix.”

Booth looks down at his hands. Because of what SASSP accomplished, his body as a whole is stronger, and with the rate at which his cells regenerate now, he’ll live longer, too. He’d almost be on a whole different level with cybernetics weaved in. Something more than human. “They wanted to go even further than Apex.”

“I can’t say that for certain. Officially, all anyone wanted was an end to the constant battles.  With Blue Star, I suspect they reached some of the same conclusions that Apex did, and then,” Sweets makes a jamming motion with his hands, slotting his fingers together quickly, “they rushed to wedge in the cybernetic aspects.”

Sweets pauses, his hands starting to fidget. In lieu of anything else to do, he reaches forward and fills the glass in front of him with something dark. “It’s just punch,” he tells Booth quickly before taking a sip.

Booth’s not sure if he believes it or not.

“Anyway. The exact details of it escape me; we didn’t exactly stick around long enough to find out all the intricacies of it,” Sweets continues. “It was essentially an enhancement project, one that they seemed to have lost control of when they implemented the cybernetic aspects.”

“Seemed to?”

Sweets presses his lips together briefly. “Based on what we’d witnessed and what we learned while searching the colony, yes. And I’d rather it have been that than to think it was done purposely.”

“What happened, then?” Booth asks. He doesn’t want to point out that the Alliance’s reaction to the project’s discovery would make even more sense if it were intentional.

“They were successful when they tried enhancing subjects with just one or the other, but when they moved on to both at the same time…” Sweets frowns and takes another drink. “Theoretically, it is possible, but they didn’t hit the mark and the changes they tried to make backfired on each other. The subjects’ brains couldn’t handle it and just sort of melted down, and their bodies were stuck in a never-ending cycle of change and repair. What they made instead of a super soldier was a disaster, and once it got out of the lab it spread like a virus.”

“You’re saying they made a plague?”

Sweets doesn’t answer at first. He stares at the half-empty glass of punch for a while, worrying at his bottom lip. Then he makes an odd sound, almost like a strangled laugh. “You know those old zombie apocalypse vids? I haven’t actually been able to watch one since then.”

“Is that supposed to be a joke?” Booth asks sharply. Then it clicks. He shakes his head slowly in disbelief, his mouth running dry. “No.”

Sweets looks up at him grimly. Slowly, he continues. “We had orders, Booth. Eliminate hostiles, get communications back online. We were under attack the moment we hit the ground. We had to fight our way to the communications tower, only to find we were being jammed by something in the labs. We went to investigate, thinking we’d find survivors.” Sweets’ voice is faint as he shakes his head. “There weren’t any. We didn’t know - we didn’t realize .”

“They were all gone by the time you found out,” Booth says. He leans forward, elbows heavy on his knees. It’s tough to swallow, the kind of horror nobody think they’ll have to face. A whole colony gone, and no one around to say it could possibly be worth it.

“We only found out about it while trying to figure out why the labs were jamming the colony,” Sweets says, volume returning bit by bit. “And it made more than a few of us sick. Nobody wanted to stick around for more, so we got communications back up long enough to say the colony was lost, and we went home. And then we thought that reporting it would force the people in charge of that project to answer for what had happened.”

He scowls and downs the rest of the punch. “But you can see how well that panned out. We were idiots. We didn’t stop to consider that we’d be reporting to one of the last people who would help, and we all went to hell for it.”

“You say it like that because you’re thinking like a broker now,” Booth says. “You tried to do something right.”

“That doesn’t change what happened,” Sweets says, practically slamming the glass back onto the table. “It doesn’t change the fact that our own superiors couldn’t be trusted. They ruined more lives just so that they wouldn’t have to face what happened - but I’m not dead yet, and when I get back there I’ll know exactly who it is I’m dealing with and they won’t be able to get away from it this time.”

“What are you going to do?” Booth asks, worry rising in his gut.

Sweets rolls his shoulders back, his posture challenging. “I’m going to take everything I know, and I’m going to bring it as high up as I can. I don’t care if even an Admiral turns out to be involved. I’m going to drag them through hell, Booth, but I’m not going to kill them to do it.” His expression softens suddenly, but his eyes become almost desperate. “Murder won’t show people the truth, and it won’t make what happened any easier to live with. Am I wrong, Booth?”

Booth leans back slowly, almost shocked at the answer he’d received. He remembers recognizing a piece of his own demeanour in Sweets when they’d first met, thinking that Sweets was hell-worn. It seems to fit now more than he would ever want for anyone, and he can’t imagine how Sweets must have come to where he is now instead of becoming some kind of vengeful vigilante.

After Aurora, after being betrayed and losing a part of himself along with the people he served with, after putting himself back together and building a different life among criminals - he wants to take on the Alliance brass in court.

“General Arnett,” Booth says finally.

Sweets blinks. “What?”

“General Darren Arnett. I reported to him when I found you alive,” Booth explains. He remembers how Arnett’s voice had resembled nails rattling around, and he can only imagine how much worse it’s getting the longer Sweets evades the Alliance. “He’s the one who sent me after you, saying that they’d covered up what happened with the Paladia so that humanity wouldn’t think less about any of their own so soon after the Strife. He knows something, enough to be afraid of you, at least.”

Sweets regards him quietly for a moment. Then he manages to show Booth a genuine smile. “Thank you.”

“How far along are you?” Booth asks. “The Alliance won’t just leave you alone and wait for you to be ready.”

“I know,” Sweets sighs. “To be honest, I’m not nearly as prepared as I’d like to be. Working from the Terminus Systems has allowed me a certain amount of safety from the military, but in turn, it’s made getting the information I need extremely difficult. I have people on the Citadel and Arcturus Station, but getting what I need from them alone would take years and the longer I wait then the further my chance slips away. That’s why I contacted you.”

“How did you think pulling me into all this would make it easier?”

“Because I knew that I would need more allies in this,” Sweets explains. “I needed to find someone who believed in doing the right thing, no matter what, and who had the skills and resources in order to see it all through. I knew who you were because you were one of the best in the SASSP, and one of the only human Spectres to boot. And then I saw your records, I saw how you worked, and I knew that if anyone could help me with this, you could.”

“If that’s the case, then I’m going to assume you need more than just the name I gave you,” Booth says. He doesn’t mention that he’s never stated that he’ll help - he’s been too far in it since before he came to Omega, anyway. “What’s your next step here?”

Sweets inhales deeply. “I need to go back to Aurora.”

“Aurora. Why?

“Because I don’t know everything yet, and I need to know everything about what happened if I’m going to be able to use it,” Sweets answers. “The colony was locked down and then slated for deconstruction, but it’s still standing. There’s a chance that while people have been stalling Aurora’s removal, the data I need is still waiting in the labs. With a ship like the Patriot , I could get in and out easily, all without being caught.”

He did say he needed resources, Booth thinks. “When do you want to do this little break in?”

“As soon as possible, before anyone can catch on to me and get there before I do. Does this mean you’ll do it?”

“It means I’m considering it,” Booth corrects him. “I’m not the only one you have to convince, though.”

Sweets looks slightly confused. “Oh?”

“I’m not the only one on this mission anymore,” Booth tells him. “After I told everyone you banged me up on Illium, the rest of my team was put on with me. They’re upstairs now, and I think you should meet them.”

Sweets’ expression changes to understanding. “Your team, oh, of course,” he says quickly. “I nearly forgot. Uh, how much do they know already?”

“Almost everything,” Booth says. “You’re practically a danger magnet now and I needed them to have the chance to get out of orbit. They’re only here because they agreed they’d still follow me when things get dicey.”

“That’s - you’re right,” Sweets says, standing swiftly. “I should meet them.”

“Hold on, hold on.” Booth stands up as well to stop Sweets from making it to the door with one hand. “I’ve got this.”

The first thing that comes through his earpiece is the music of Afterlife’s upper level, slow but loud. Then, Brennan’s voice.

“Booth, is that you? Is everything okay?” She sounds somewhat breathless. She must have started dancing at some point. Angela’s and Hodgins’ voices immediately filter through after.

“Hey, it’s been a while,” Hodgins says. “What’s your status down there?”

“Do you need backup?” Angela asks.

“No, no,” Booth says. “I’m fine. We’re good. I need you all to come down here, though. Look for number seven.”

“We’re meeting the vigilante shrink?” Hodgins asks.

“Yes. I’ll tell you what’s up when you get here. Make it quick.”

The radio cuts out, leaving him on his own again in a quiet room with Sweets, who makes his way back to his seat and sits down before pouring another glass of punch.

“Thank you,” he says softly, holding the glass in both hands. “The answers are in Aurora, I know it.”

“I can’t make any promises,” Booth reminds him.

“I know. But this is already better than nothing.”

They sit in silence for the next few minutes. Sweets takes small sips from the glass while Booth contemplates the mess that he’s preparing to wade through. The team had agreed to follow him into it, but he’s not sure how they’ll take to the idea of actually bringing Sweets along with them anywhere.

He should treat it like any other mission, he tells himself. The goal has always been justice for the deaths on the Paladia .

Brennan is first through the door, nothing but business in her posture and face. Booth can see how she surveys the room - she locks eyes with Sweets first thing, and they say nothing to each other, and then she glances at the table at the far side of the room, then spots Booth almost immediately to her left. Angela and Hodgins only take a couple steps into the room, not moving any farther than Brennan has.

Booth moves in along the couch. “Come on, let’s sit down for a few minutes.”

The shuffle to get everyone onto the couch is awkward. By the time Booth has left enough room to stop, he’s halfway around to Sweets’ side of the table.

“I take it you’re not making the arrest, then,” Brennan says finally.

Booth sighs. “Yeah, looks like it.” He puts a hand on her shoulder and says to Sweets, “Dr. Temperance Brennan, resident expert on dead things and biotics.”

Sweets waves his fingers slightly. “I’ve heard of your work.”

Brennan takes a breath but Booth continues down the line before she can speak. “Angela Montenegro, software engineer, technical analyst, and Dr. Jack Hodgins, expert on explosives and slimy things.”

“That is a grossly simplistic definition of all of our fields,” Hodgins says disappointedly. Instead of going further into his profession, though, he leans forward and stares at Sweets intensely. Sweets stares back with only vague discomfort. “So then, dead guy.”

“I have a name,” Sweets says defensively. “It’s Dr. Lance Sweets.”

“Are you even a doctor anymore, technically?”

Angela elbows him lightly. “We’re not here to antagonize.”

“No, I assume we are here to judge Dr. Sweets’ innocence,” Brennan says.

Are you innocent?” Hodgins asks.

“I’d like to prove I am,” Sweets replies steadily.

“How?”

“He wants to go to Aurora,” Booth answers first. Then, when all eyes turn to him, he clarifies, “He wants me to take him to Aurora.”

Sweets takes over. “There are people in the Alliance who don’t deserve to walk around free, or at least retain their positions. I want to expose what they did, but my word alone won’t be enough even for the lowest court. I need hard evidence. Some of you are scientists, so I imagine you can understand that.”

Brennan nods. “In our line of work, there’s no room for conjecture. Only evidence and facts are viable. Booth told us that the Alliance military was at fault for the destruction of both an entire colony and the Paladia . What evidence do you have to support that?”

Sweets grimaces. “Not much. A story and a few names connected to shady wartime projects won’t be enough to convince a jury. Going to Aurora could change that, though, if I’m not too late.”

“What if you are?” Angela asks. “What if the data isn’t there anymore?”

Sweets stares at his fingers for a few seconds before shrugging heavily. “Then Booth does his job.”

Booth isn’t startled by the answer, but it doesn’t settle well, either. “But you’re not guilty.”

“You can’t prove that without evidence,” Brennan reminds him.

“You could just make a run for it,” Hodgins says before Booth can respond. “You seemed to be doing just fine at that before.”

“No, I can’t,” Sweets says sharply. He curls his hands into fists and unfurls them a couple times. “Dozens died on the Paladia , hundreds more in Aurora. If I start running... I’d never be able to stop.” He looks at everyone around the table in turn. “I know it might be a little much to ask, but I need to go to Aurora. I need to find this evidence, and I need your help to do it.”

“Possibly dangerous detour to the Skyllian Verge,” Booth says. “Who’s in?”

Angela and Hodgins glance at each other before looking at Brennan, who spends a long moment staring at Sweets and Booth. For a few seconds, it seems like she’s looking through them. Then, she nods slowly.

“Innocent or guilty, we need to find the evidence first.”

 

--

 

They make a brief stop at what can only be described as a shitty little motel room so that Sweets can pick up two pieces of luggage - one that Booth is almost certain has a hard suit and weapons, and another that he strongly suspects is full of all the fancy jackets Sweets owns. Afterwards, Booth calls ahead to Cam on the ship as they make their way to the dock to tell her that they picked up their passenger and that the ship needs to be ready to leave soon.

When they reach the docking strips, the Patriot , sleek in blue and white and black, finally comes into view on the other side of the reinforced glass, and Sweets pauses to look at it with blatant admiration.

“She looks even better up close,” he breathes, hands pressed against the glass.

Booth can’t help but smirk. “Yep, she’s small but also one of the best of her class. She’s light on weapons but makes up for it more than enough in speed and stealth. Admit it, you only need us for the ship.”

A grin spreads across Sweets’ face, full of an almost completely unchecked excitement. “It’s the stealth systems, you got it.”

They pass through decontamination and the airlocks into the corridor connecting the bridge to the command deck, where they find Cam waiting for them. To her right, Flight Lieutenant Sullivan watches the team board as well, his attention only straying from Sweets when he and Brennan greet each other.

“Dr. Saroyan, Lieutenant Sullivan,” Booth says to Sweets, gesturing at the two. “Chief Medical Doctor and pilot - or just Cam and Sully.”

“All systems are green,” Sully says. “We’re ready to go, and since he’s not in handcuffs,” he points at Sweets, “I take it we’re on plan B.”

Booth nods. “Yep, that’s right. We’re headed to the Armstrong cluster, so we’ve got a lot of jumps ahead of us.”

“We’ll have to make a pit stop along the way,” Cam adds. “We’ll need fuel and rest before we get there.”

“You’re probably right,” Booth agrees. “If we’re ready to fly then let’s get going.”

Sully immediately salutes and turns around, heading left into the bridge. As soon as he’s gone, Cam surveys the group and then points to Sweets. “It looks like nobody needs any medical attention, which is good, so you’re going to come to the med bay with me.”

“Why?” Sweets asks, his tone guarded again. Booth’s not sure if it’s because he’s being directly addressed again or because he doesn’t like the idea of actually having to follow an order while on the ship.

“Booth has agreed to take you on here, but he isn’t the only one who’ll be keeping an eye on you,” Cam explains. There’s no room for argument in her own tone, which Booth is grateful for because he’d rather not have to drag anybody on the subject. “I keep up to date medical records of everyone aboard this ship. It’s protocol and I don’t slack on my job. All I have on you, however, is an outdated record from before you were declared dead. You’re not serving on this vessel, but you’re still under my care and I need to know what might be required for said care.”

Sweets nods, his face relaxing slightly. “I completely understand. In that case then…” He looks down at his luggage, unsure about what to do with them.

“I can take those down to crew quarters,” Angela says, taking both cases before Sweets can say anything otherwise. “They’re on the deck below.”

“So is the med bay. This way.” Cam leads the way down the corridor to the right, to the Command Information Center with Sweets behind her, and Angela pulling the luggage along just behind him with Hodgins beside her.

Booth and Brennan follow at a subdued pace and stop when they reach the CIC proper. On the other side of the room, the rest of the group heads into the elevator, and aside from the few technicians at their consoles, Booth and Brennan are left alone in the CIC as the Patriot starts to pull away from the dock.

“How far do you think this will go?” Brennan asks, staring across the deck as the elevator doors slide shut.

“I wish I could say,” Booth replies quietly. “I wish I could say it’ll go as far as it needs to, but if things don’t pan out in Aurora, then we’re not left with a lot of options.”

“If he ultimately goes under arrest, that still wouldn’t mean that time has run out. A trial like this could take months.”

“No, it wouldn’t,” Booth sighs, shaking his head. “They wouldn’t let it go at all. Sweets, if he goes to trial without anything to back himself up, he’ll still tell them everything, and that might not convince the juries but it’d get people talking and it’d get people sweating. Those people wouldn’t let the trial get that far. Arresting Sweets would be as good as killing him.”

“Then we’ll just have to find that data,” Brennan says. She reaches over to grab Booth’s arm, simply gripping it with a firmness that’s reassuring all on its own. “We’re considered an elite team for a reason.”

“Of course,” Booth says, smiling. “We’ve got each others’ backs.”

“I was going to say our skills are practically unparalleled, but that’s true as well.”

Chapter Text

The SSV Patriot is practically a dream. She’s out of place in Omega’s docking platforms, surrounded by countless bulkier, shabbier ships, and the boarding feels almost unreal.

Sweets’ heart beats quickly as he steps off the boarding strip and into the airlock. He admits, only to himself, that he’s amazed to be here at all. That nothing has crashed and burned - yet.

The decontamination protocol takes a moment, and in that time Sweets adjusts his grip on the handles of his luggage, his right hand clammy in its glove, and works on steadying his heart rate.

I need to be here , he tells himself. The plan is fine.

But if it isn’t, he’s in the perfect place for it all to change course. Captain Seeley Booth appears to be everything his records claimed him to be, but Sweets doesn’t have enough personal experience with him to be fully confident in their deal. Booth is a high ranking, well-respected soldier, and loyal damn near to the bone. It’s still possible that he’s just as willing to go to the same lengths to bring Sweets into custody that Sweets is willing to go to reach his goal.

Dr. Brennan, standing somewhere between cautiously and casually beside Booth, had given Sweets one solid look over and has barely looked at him since. He knows that she’s keeping track of him, though, and that she’s ready to respond to anything he might try to pull behind her back. Sweets doesn’t plan to do anything, and not just because he’s known from the first glance at her records that her biotics could overpower his easily.

To his left, Dr. Hodgins hasn’t been nearly so professional since leaving Afterlife. His eyes keep coming back to Sweets with the same intense gaze, the same peculiar little smirk on his lips. Sweets knows he isn’t a biotic, but Hodgins does know his way around tech, and he isn’t a broker, but he does know his way around information networks. Due to this balance of skills, his presence next to Sweets has been oscillating between threatening and not, depending on how long he’s been staring at any given time.

Miss Montenegro has been the least threatening in the short time they’ve been acquainted. The possibility of Sweets going to jail after this had discomfited her when he’d reminded them of it. Her job, like Booth’s, also relies on her good standing with the Alliance, but she isn’t a soldier like he is and doesn’t seem to view their cases from the same lens. She’s not a broker, either, but she gathers information like any other - and presumably, had been the one to track him down - so Sweets can’t dismiss her capabilities in throwing a wrench into his plan, either.

I need this ship.  

The decontamination protocol ends, and Sweets steps out of the airlock, into the interior of the ship. It’s clean and cool, lit by soft white lights and running to the tune of smooth, top of the line technology. It’s the most high-tech vessel Sweets has been on in years, and in the time it takes him to surreptitiously look around and catalogue the differences between his research and first-hand experience - like its size, small for a frigate but large for a stealth ship, and the layout of the Command Information Center, with terminals neatly arranged around a holographic projection of the Milky Way - he almost misses the introductions of the Patriot ’s helmsman and medical doctor.

Dr. Saroyan’s eyes are amiable but sharp, her tone professional to the core. Her voice makes him snap to as she turns the request to have him in her office into an order. Tension coils tight in his spine before he can stop it. He’s not a member of this crew, and if she updates his medical file then it’ll pass right along to-

I need this team.

He takes a quiet, deep breath. He’s on the ship and they’re following Booth’s orders. They deserve that much trust, at least. And Cam’s reasoning is sound. He hands his luggage to Angela, and then she and Hodgins and Cam flank him as they lead him through the spacious CIC, around the Milky Way projection and to a large elevator.

It takes fewer than ten seconds for the elevator to open up to the crew deck below, all of which are quiet and awkward. On the deck, Angela points out the crew quarters that take up a large portion of the port side of the ship before dragging both his luggage and Hodgins in that direction. Sweets imagines that whatever bunk they allow him will be both away from the majority of the crew and in a spot he can easily be monitored, and a slight sourness settles in his gut when he realizes he won't see exactly where Angela goes with his things.

The medical bay is on the starboard side. Sweets tries not to eavesdrop on the quiet chatter he can hear drifting from the small mess table as Cam leads him to her office. He can slow himself down from cataloguing miscellaneous information, reminding himself that it’s neither paid for nor useful, but it’s a harder task to not try to categorize everyone he sees according to how much they may or may not like him.

He’s temporarily freed from the effort of doing so when the door of the medical bay sweeps shut behind him. Inside, it’s completely silent except for the clicking of his and Cam’s boots and the slight hum of the equipment around them. It’s brighter, too, with white lights on white walls and floors and blue accents. The equipment, most of which is off, is sleek and advanced, and while it’s only the onboard medical center of a stealth frigate, it’s still the most state of the art facility he’s been in since he got his arm - if any type of facility on Omega could even be called such.

Cam looks a little unsure the longer they stand quietly in the office. She makes a beeline for her desk and grabs a holopad from the organized clutter.

“Well, let’s start with what we have,” she says. She taps the tablet’s screen and a large monitor on the wall above her desk lights up. Sweets resists the urge to grimace when his file is dropped onto it. “This is clearly outdated.”

It is. It’s thorough, although that’s more on account of the Alliance’s combined paranoia and desire for biotics. But the wounds it describes are old scars now, nothing that would trouble Cam if there ever comes a situation in which she needs to treat him.

Sweets nods wordlessly.

"Let's have a seat." Cam pulls out two chairs, one from in front of a small terminal on her desk and a smaller one from near the end of the desk. They sit. She looks across the gap at him intently, shoulders settled into a posture he often takes himself. “Would you consent to a full scan?”

Sweets considers it for a few seconds. The scan would catch just about everything and make his effort of listing everything himself a non-issue. But he shakes his head. “No.”

“I thought you might say that,” Cam says, although she doesn’t seem disappointed. “Is it because you don’t trust me?”

“No,” Sweets says again. He’s only partially lying. “I want to talk if that's okay with you.”

“If that makes you more comfortable, okay,” she counters, reaching back to her desk for a pair of thin black framed glasses and sliding them onto her nose. She swipes across the screen of her tablet, but from Sweets’ side of it he can’t tell what the screen looks like now.

“Do you trust me?” He asks carefully.

Cam looks up at him over the rims of her glasses for a second before tilting her chin up to see him properly. “No,” she says simply. “Not necessarily. But not without good reason.”

“I have good reason, too,” Sweets replies.

Cam glances over at the old medical file. “Do you think I’m going to pass this information along?”

“If Booth asked for it, would you?”

She very nearly cuts him off. “I am a professional and everything that passes between myself and my patients is confidential. This is an Alliance case, and he doesn’t have the right to act as a Spectre. If Booth needs something from me then he needs a warrant for it.’

Sweets holds his hands up in surrender. “I understand. I’m a doctor, too. Works the same way. Sorry.”

“So that’s enough for you?”

“I guess it has to be. I don’t have many options here except to trust Booth. Will you?”

Cam nods, her shoulders relaxing somewhat again. “I do trust him. He warned us something like this might be coming, anyway.”

“We’ll try to keep paranoia to a minimum, deal?” Sweets asks, offering a friendly smile. “I’m just here to find the truth.”

“Deal,” Cam says. “Lucky for you, that’s what we like to specialize in. Now then. You’re a biotic. This says you have an L4 implant.”

“That’s right. No current side effects or issues.”

As Cam starts to jot down notes, Sweets weighs the pros and cons of telling her that there’d been issues previously, years ago, when he was suddenly short one arm and his implant had struggled to compensate for the loss of body mass and an integral portion of his internal element zero network missing, as well as all the additional environmental stress. The rare headaches that he’d had to deal with since his implant was upgraded during the Strife had turned into frequent excruciating migraines until he’d re-trained several of his abilities in order to continue using them one handed.

Cam breaks into his contemplation. “None?”

Sweets decides to concede a little. “When my implant was changed from an L3 to an L4 in 2185, headaches were an expected side effect and were meant to fade with time. Things like that tend to hinge on how much stress one is under, however.”

“So they haven’t gone away.”

“No.”

“How bad are they? How frequent?”

“Not bad.” Not blinding, anymore. “At least once a week I can tell a headache is from the implant and not some other factor.”

 “Noted. I guess I’ll get to the next most pressing thing, then.” Cam gestures to Sweets’ side. “Booth told me you sustained a serious injury.”

Sweets looks down at his arm, curling his left hand loosely in his lap. “Yeah. That’s one way of saying it.”

“You have a prosthetic limb, right?”

“Mm-hm.”

“How long have you had it?”

“Ten months. No issues with it, either.”

“I’d like to look at it.”

He almost considers saying no, but something about the strict business between them is comforting, like they’re just two doctors comparing notes. He tugs his gloves off, right then left, and leaves them on the desk before shrugging out of his jacket. He folds it up neatly and leaves it on the desk, too, before pulling his shirt up over his head to finish the pile. He tries and fails to not follow Cam’s eyes as they flicker back and forth, immediately drawn to the white carbon fibre that covers everything up to his left shoulder before the pattern of burn scars on his right side catch her attention. She follows the marks up to his neck, where he only left a few marks showing near his jaw before covering the rest with makeup.

Cam rests the tablet in her lap and holds her hands out. “May I?” Sweets give her his left hand. She takes it in one hand and holds his elbow with the other. “Curl your fingers. Uncurl them.” She quickly types a note about dexterity. “It was amputated above the elbow, am I right?”

“Yes.”

“And no issues, you said?”

“None, technically speaking. My body didn’t reject it and it synced properly from day one.” Which was a blessing, considering that the first prosthetic he'd had to deal with was an utterly awful experience. He brushes the memory aside. 

Cam keeps pressing. "What about phantom pains?"

They come and go like the headaches do. He could describe with almost perfect accuracy how often such pain comes - because it does, more often than he likes and even more painfully - but it's not exactly something he considers necessary. Cam's interest is clinical, solely for the purpose of creating future safeguards for specific situations (say, if he gets shot and they need to keep him alive long enough to stand trial). The degree in which it feels like a limb he doesn't have is burning would have no bearing on a procedure to save his life.

"They're tolerable."

It's hard to say whether or not she believes him. 

Nevertheless, she accepts his answer and changes gears with a pointed look. “Losing a limb is enough to severely affect biotics."

“That’s true. I changed my techniques to work without my left arm, though.”   

Cam seems impressed, at least a little bit. “When did you last calibrate it?”

“Shortly before I met Booth.”

She gives him a knowing smile. “Making preparations?”

“More or less.”

“Okay, then.” Cam picks her tablet up again and types a few more notes. Then she turns slightly in her chair to look at Sweet’s other side. “These are burn scars, aren’t they? They have a very unusual pattern.”

Sweets traces the patches of thick scar tissue along his right arm and abdomen with his eyes. They’re uneven, faint in some places and heavy in others while the pink tissue starts to looks like a lattice if he stares at it long enough. For all that the limb had been covered in-

“I was trying to use a biotic barrier to mitigate the damage,” he explains at length.

“Oh. Then that explains their appearance. What you managed to do - it seems you were successful, though. If you sustained these burns with a barrier-”

“I would have had severe muscle and nerve damage without it,” Sweets finishes. “As is, though, the damage is minor. I’ve got feeling in the majority of my arm and if any element zero nodules were damaged they haven’t affected me in any noticeable way.”

“Hmm. Aches, pains?”

Sweets shakes his head. Using his full range of movement tends to tug on the scars, but it hasn’t hurt him for a long time. “Can I put my shirt back on?”

Cam pauses while jotting more notes down to look up and down his left arm again. She nods. “Yes. I think this is good for now.”

His shirt almost gets caught up in the joint of his elbow as he pulls it on. The t-shirt alone is almost enough to make the asymmetry of a false limb on one side and a scar-distorted one on the other tolerable. The sleeves don’t come down quite far enough, though, and even a doctor’s gaze on him is unsettling. He slides his jacket back on - its one of his favourites, the fabric inside worn down from super soft to a light and comfortable weight on his skin. The gloves are last, worn down to smoothness against his fingers from constant use.

No wounds, no fingerprints, and no scars except for the faintest clue purposefully left behind.

“If your headaches and phantom pains get bad, I have plenty of painkillers,” Cam says. Every syllable in her tone practically cuts right through the image he’d tried to shape of someone who’s in significantly less pain than they are. She probably has to deal with that kind of reluctance all the time. “And for the duration of your time on this ship, you should be able to maintain a high enough caloric intake to fuel your biotics and maintain body mass, specifically in your stump. There really is more that we should do, but...”

Sweets shrugs. “Covering more than the basics under our current circumstances is a bit of a non-issue.”

Cam frowns slightly, but instead of voicing a disagreement, she says, “I only require a full check-up of people officially on the ship’s roster, and anything more than that requires that the patient is forthcoming with their information. Which you have been, certainly, to a degree-”

“But due to the nature of our circumstances, until either I have my evidence or the Alliance has me in handcuffs, this is probably as good as it gets for either of us,” Sweets says apologetically.

“I can’t force you to talk about things you don’t want to talk about,” Cam replies. She smiles a little. “You probably know a thing or two about that, right?”

Sweets laughs quietly, the sound hardly more than a huff. “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.” He leans forward slightly, propping his elbow on the desk. “And you’re okay with this arrangement? For now at least?”

“Frankly? I think so. Booth could have brought you here injured - he could have brought you here dead. For what it’s worth, though, I’m glad he brought you here in one piece.” The honesty in her expression shifts to seriousness. “Whatever you’ve done, Dr. Sweets, I meant what I said. Myself and my people, we find the truth first, then we worry about what it means.”

“Hopefully it means we’re not doing everything for nothing. Thank you, though, Dr. Saroyan. I’m a good judge of character but you never know when you might be wrong. I’m feeling more and more like I’m right, though, and that I picked the right people for this.”

He sincerely hopes he has, anyway. He really does want to trust them.

 

--

 

Despite the lack of an overt threat - which says nothing about that which lies under the surface - Sweets finds that he almost can’t leave the medical bay quickly enough without feeling like he’s making an escape. Still, his barely contained haste is such that he nearly misses the bulky super soldier standing less than ten feet from the door - which is a feat in and of itself, what with Booth’s stature - and he almost stumbles before Booth’s hand shoots out and grabs him by the arm.

The acton startles Sweets out of his thoughts just into time for him to realize that he had no idea where he was going to go - where he should go - after leaving Cam’s office. Crew quarters? Mess? Somewhere he can scrutinize and be scrutinized? He knows the basic blueprints of the ship but not where a safe enough place to gather himself would be. Booth marches him back to the elevator, granting him a temporary reprieve from the daunting question by taking him back up to the CIC.

The holographic Milky Way projected in the centre of the CIC is displaying their current path between relays while they’re still in FTL, a soft red line spanning the stars with a small gold blip marking their approximate location. He and Booth aren’t the only ones gathering around it. As the rest of the team appears on the deck he projection fades away so that they can all see each other properly.

Reading the room only takes a split second. Switching gears takes another. There's more talking - the briefing kind, where Booth lays everything out with casual speech doused in a commanding tone and people listen.

“We need a plan for Aurora before we get there,” Booth says. He turns to Sweets, and other eyes follow suit.

Sweets’ brain stalls at the circle of expectant looks. His objective is simple - get in and do whatever he can to find data. Now it feels inadequate. There are things he hadn’t thought to adjust for because his initial plans running true are one thing, but having more than an ounce of control in one of the most delicate stages where he believed it to be out of his hands is another.

The hesitation is momentary, but it’s enough of a window for Booth to read it wrong and say, “Please don’t tell me you thought we were just going to wing it.”

Sweets holds his hands up quickly. “No, I just didn’t think I’d be making the game plan.”

“You’re not making the game plan,” Booth cuts in, “I am. But no one here has been there. What did it look like the last time you were there? What the best way to get in?”

That makes more sense. Sweets gathers his wits again. “It’s kind of hard to get to,” he begins, recalling the first and only time he’d seen Aurora. “The colony was built from the original research station on the side of a mountain, so there’s no stretch of stable land big enough even for the Patriot nearby.”

“So we’re taking the shuttle.”

“Yeah, that would be best. There shouldn’t be resistance, but if there is then it’s probably automated to keep scavengers out.”

Sweets doubts that there’s going to be anything as such, though. Humanity has never been known to fiercely guard something they’ve truly abandoned. The only thing stopping the Alliance from leaving Aurora standing indefinitely is its proximity to a sanctioned planet.

“Most of it is prefabricated structures,” he adds, “so if you’re familiar with that then you shouldn’t have to worry about finding cover, just in case.”

“If there are mechs I can handle them,” Angela adds. “It might be a chance for me to test some of my new hacking tech.”

“Good,” Booth says. “What about the labs? That’s where we need to get to, right?”

Sweets nods. “The research station is farthest up the mountain, but only some of the old geology labs are above ground as far as I know. The rest are underground and they should still be accessible, although before we do anything there we’ll probably have to get the power back on.”

“What about the biohazard issue?” Hodgins asks. “If there’s something Cam and I need to get together for an antidote we should have known earlier.”

“That shouldn’t be necessary as long as you don’t go poking around without your helmet on,” Sweets says.

He pauses briefly. He’s not entirely sure about the biohazard warning. At best, the warning is a flimsy precaution set up to discourage people from poking around. But what if it isn’t? Could remnants of the virus-like disaster still remain there? Would it even be possible for a viable antidote to even exist? Could he be making a reckless assumption that could endanger them? If they make one wrong move-

He could lead more people into a horrific death-

Another pitch dark night where the only lights left are the ones coming to kill him-

Hodgins is standing directly across from him, eyes alert. There's a slight glow in them, but it's nothing more than the reflection of light. They're human. Waiting on a full response.

“The hazard warning is probably just a precaution, anyway,” Sweets continues. “The contamination wasn’t airborne or anything, although I’d still be careful in the labs; I have no idea what state they’ll be in when we get there.”

“Okay then,” Booth says, clapping his hands together, “here’s our plan. We’ll be engaging the stealth systems as soon as we get into the cluster. There’s no shortage of pirates there, and Aurora’s orbiting a sanctioned planet, so we’re going to have to scoot by the security satellites. We fly in, you disable any security,” he points at Angela, then to Sweets, “and you find the power generator. We search the lab, Angela uses her computer mojo, and we find that data. If there are other hostiles, Bones and I take point. Sound good?”

After a moment of consideration, there’s agreement all around.

“Great. Dismissed.”

Sweets inhales deeply, as slow as he can manage, and decides that his next course of action is to locate the quietest place on the ship that he can.

Chapter Text

There’s an asari vessel nearby when the Patriot comes close to Casbin’s orbit. They aren’t sure if it’s a mercenary ship or a Citadel patrol ensuring that no one tries to land anywhere on the planet’s surface. The planet is massive and relatively young, its life forms still in an early stage of evolution, but someday it’s going to be a thriving world, and contact with it is forbidden to ensure that future. Despite the laws against it, though, some ships still try to get away with offloading the electrical charge from their drive core in the planet’s magnetosphere.

Casbin’s half a dozen moons, on the other hand, aren’t all included in the sanctions. The furthest moon, Baleth, nearly a planet in its own right if not for its orbit around Casbin, had been opened to small-scale development, and because of how similar it is to Earth humans had snatched it up as soon as they could.

The colony is brighter than Sweets remembers it. The Patriot flies close to the surface and drops the shuttle off during Baleth’s extremely long daytime, clean and smooth the entire ride. There are hardly any clouds above them, hiding neither the sun nor the forms of Casbin and one of the other moons in the sky. Aurora is easily visible from the shuttle on the low slope of a mountain - and it looks completely deserted from above.

That’s familiar. The stillness, the lack of life.

Sweets stands behind Booth’s seat in the shuttle, gripping the back of it to maintain his balance as he points out different buildings in the colony. The power station is obvious with its tower and satellite dish. The research lab looks a little more non-descript, although Sweets can easily pick it out from the wreck of a landing pad attached to it.

Booth takes one look at it, at the great black marks across its surface, and immediately scans for a different spot to put them down. Sweets doesn’t even have to say that he wouldn’t trust it to remain stable, either. The last time he’d seen it, it was engulfed in the flaming remains of a bomb.

Instead of the designated landing zone, Booth tries to find a strip of clear space as close to the lab as possible, although he still only gets them near the middle of the colony. The whole area is tight and precarious, though, so that in itself is almost a miracle.

Behind them, Brennan, Hodgins, and Angela are absorbed in a murmured conversation. Sweets strains to hear it over the rattle and hum of the shuttle, but he can only catch the barest hints of their words. They fall quiet after the shuttle lands.

“Any movement?” Brennan asks after a few seconds.

None. The only thing moving is the short, sparse grass in the wind. The buildings around them prevent Sweets from seeing very far, but he knows there’s going to be nothing around the corners, too. He steps away from the pilot’s seat to grab his helmet from his own seat and tug it on.

“None,” Booth says as he stands and follows. “Keep your guard up, though. First thing’s first, we have to get some power up. Let’s go.”

They file out of the shuttle one by one, their steps light on the thin grass. They won't be floating anywhere, but Baleth's gravity isn't as strong as the mass effect generated gravity aboard the Patriot. It’s cooler outside the shuttle, too. Sweets’ armour isn’t as heavy as Booth’s, but it’s enough to keep the elements away from his skin. He can’t feel the chill of the wind, only the force of it pressing against him, and his HUD reads the temperature at a mere 6 degrees Celsius.

As Booth and Brennan survey the intersection around them, Sweets turns until he finds the communications tower rising above the colony. Overgrown and bathed in sunlight, the place looks completely different than he remembers. The tower, though, is the same, resilient against the elements. It’s lifeless, too. Its slow blinking lights are gone - there’s no power, just like he’d predicted.

The road there is straightforward, although it curves out of sight around a corner not far away. Sweets finds himself focusing on the turn, on the half-wall lining it, where a dark smear is flaking away, and the building opposite is riddled with missed shots.

“Sweets.”

Nothing around the corner - nothing that the sensors, scrambled like the static stricken radios, are programmed to pick up on-

“Hey, Sweets.”

Sweets turns halfway, and Booth is right there behind him, a frown just visible through his visor. Sweets points to the tower. “The power station is over there.”

“That’s good,” Booth says, voice clear through the comms. “Are you good?”

Sweets nods quickly. “Yeah, yeah, I’m good.”

“These bones,” Booth says slowly. Sweets is briefly confused before he catches Booth’s eyes flicker to the ground nearby. Piled along the edges of the buildings, half buried over time-

“Human remains,” Sweets replies flatly. “Yes.”

Brenna appears as Booth’s side as if by a cue, a single bone heald carefully in her hands. She holds it between them, brow furrowed. “What could have caused these striations?”

Sun-bleached white and riddled with faint black markings, it’s unlike anything else Sweets has seen. Not a sickly grey, not a too bright blue - the marks are patterned, though. Straight lines running all along the length of the bone, never curving even if they change direction. Bones aren’t Sweets’ thing, but he thinks he knows the answer anyway.

“If I had to guess, they’re a result of the experiments. Do they look like cybernetic weaving to you?”

“Cybernetic weaving isn’t supposed to go bone-deep,” Angela says as she looks at the bone over Brennan’s shoulder, wincing. “If weaving did that, it would have been really painful. Are they all like this?”

“It appears so,” Brennan says. “Although, examining every bone isn’t one of our objectives, unfortunately.”

“Right,” Booth says uneasily. “Put the bone down and we’ll get moving.”

Brennan turns around and brings the bone back to what must have been its original resting place. “I think we should still take some with us, though,” she says as she rounds a corner, disappearing from sight. “A full skeleton, preferably. That alone would be considered evidence an experiment being carried out here.”

Sweets agrees silently. He can’t help but feel a tinge of hope, even when it has his chest feeling tighter than it already did. Brennan’s thoughts are difficult to read sometimes, but Sweets has come to learn in a very short time that her methods are grounded firmly in logic and rationality. If she is convinced that something can be done here, then maybe…

“Good idea, Bones,” Booth says. “We’ve got lots of daylight to dig with, too. Power station?”

Sweets turns toward the tower again. “Power station. The generators shouldn’t have been exposed to the elements, so we should be able to get something out of them.”

The tower isn’t too far away, although it is slightly higher than their landing point. They have to climb a short way to get to the low building extending into the mountainside below the tower. Booth leads the way, ready to react in case of danger, but all the while the abandoned colony is silent.

“Looks like we’ll have to pry the door open,” Booth says as they reach the station. It’s locked tight, but without power, Angela can’t do anything about it.

“I think we’ll just leave that to you, Mr. Super Soldier,” Angela says jokingly.

“Hey, come on, we have biotics here, don’t we? Two, right there.”

“I would only be able to manipulate one piece of the mechanism at a time,” Brennan says. Sweets knows that isn’t particularly true - if he still had the ability to work the finer aspects of his biotics with both hands, he could probably get the door open himself, and he knows that Brennan’s biotic capabilities far outstrip his own. Something passes between the two women, however. Something light and warm that has Hodgins snickering and Sweets trying to grasp at its threads.

“I’d really love to see super strength up close,” Sweets says without trying to think of a better excuse.

Booth rolls his eyes and approaches the door. “Only on the condition that you never talk like it’s a science experiment again. Especially not here.”

Sweets wonders at first if he actually needs to use his enhanced strength. Doors in prefabricated structures like this are constructed with the possibility of having to be opened by hand in mind, so all Booth really needs to do is find the proper handholds and tug hard, which he does after a moment of feeling around the panels. In the end, though, the door is stubborn after years without proper maintenance, and getting the panels to slide out far enough to allow everyone to fit through takes some real power.

“Got it,” Booth grunts as the door passes the halfway point and falls open the rest of the way on its own.

“That wasn’t half bad,” Sweets says as he enters the dim interior of the station.

“Not half bad?” Booth scoffs as he follows. “I didn’t see you helping at all.”

“Didn’t see you needing it, really. The enhancements really are something, huh?”

It’s dusty and looks like everything that wasn’t nailed down was tossed around, but there are no bone piles in their immediate vicinity. The generator room has to be pried open as well, and Angela slips inside as soon as she can fit to scan each of the three large generators inside.

“Good news,” she says. “Diagnostic scans say they’re all still functional.” She moves to the one directly across from the door. “And it looks like this one’s also connected to the labs, so just give me a second…”

A loud whir fills the room, and then the lights above them flicker on, washing the room and the hall behind them in harsh white light. Outside, the buildings in the colony have probably come partially back to life. They wait until Angela has exited the room before heading back to the entrance. The door there has shut again, but this time there’s a small green hologram over the center, and it opens automatically, if somewhat choppily, as they approach.

Outside, Booth squints up at the research lab and says, “I have a good feeling.”

“Why is that?” Brennan asks. She surveys the road before them, sounding somewhat confused. Sweets isn’t exactly sure where he’s getting the feeling from, either.

“Well, look at this place. It’s a mess,” Booth explains, gesturing at the bones scattered around, most of them almost invisible in the overgrowth. “Nobody has been down to clean up yet. They probably haven’t touched the lab, either.”

“They didn’t think they needed to,” Sweets says sourly as he moves on ahead. He’d been worrying about this - overthinking it for months - but now that he’s here, it’s as if nothing has touched the colony except for Baleth’s slow plant growth. “Which is going to suck for them later, because now I’m coming.”

The road to the research station is a hike, and the group follows Sweets’ brisk pace silently the entire way up.

The damage to the buildings becomes more pronounced closer to the lab, escalating from scattered bullet holes to burns and dents that have left several walls in sorry shape. The landing pad attached to the research station looks even worse for wear up close. Chunks of blackened, distorted metal are scattered around the half that’s still standing, and a section of the wall attached to the pad is missing, allowing the roof to fall in partially.

The damage from the explosion they’d set off here is much more severe up close, Sweets thinks belatedly as the group picks their way through the wreckage to get inside. A red hologram is flickering over the entrance, and with the damage it's sustained he doesn’t see it opening any time soon, even with Booth’s strength. Luckily for them, though, the partial collapse right next to it has left a gap just big enough for everyone to squeeze through one by one.

The power is definitely running inside, but lights are more of an annoyance than an aid. Only a few are on and they all blink in and out constantly, struggling to illuminate the complete chaos that they’ve climbed into. Papers, broken glass and computers, rocks - the floor is covered with everything that was left of the lab, including the crumbling half-walls that divided the room into different areas. Beyond it all, there’s an elevator that is almost certainly still in working order, clean except for a dark smear down one of the door panels.

Hodgins makes a mournful sound. “I always wanted to come here,” he says as he bends down to gingerly pick up a sharp brown rock. “This place was cutting edge, especially back when I was working on my degree. I got sent off to Bergins instead, though. Guess I was lucky in the long run, though.”

“This is the place they were doing experiments in?” Brennan asks after crossing half the space.

“This is the original lab that was first built here,” Sweets says. “The elevator goes down to the levels built after. We need to go down as far as we can… and then even farther.”

The route hadn’t been obvious. Sweets seriously doubts that everyone who worked in the lab was even aware of it. Nevertheless, his team had found the lift that went even deeper than the central shaft.

“Hopefully nobody tried to literally bury the evidence,” Booth says, heading straight for the elevator.

Sweets grimaces, but doesn’t have time to point out the state of the elevator’s interior before Booth gets there, the doors sliding open on his approach. The light inside is working perfectly and he nearly steps inside, but then he stops, his large frame taking up nearly the entire doorway. Sweets doesn’t need to see inside, though. The elevator had been a mess of streaked, dried blood the last time he’d seen it. This time, he’s pretty sure the only real difference is in how much of it has flaked off.

Brennan stops at his side and leans awkwardly around his shoulder to see into the elevator and asses the marks. “That’s definitely blood.”

“That’s what I thought,” Booth says grimly.

“There are stairs,” Sweets offers from Booth’s other side. To their right, the door to the stairway is labelled on a small white panel.

“I vote stairs,” Angela sing-songs immediately.

“The elevator would be much quicker,” Brennan says even as Angela is already turning away.

“The elevator is a bloodbath, Sweetie,” Angela replies. The door to the stairs opens just before she reaches it and she leans inside. “And the stairs aren’t.”

“The blood in the elevator dried long ago,” Brennan comments, drifting away from Booth all the same.

“Still a bloodbath.”

The stairway is wide and their boots on the metal steps echo all through the shaft as they descend. Booth picks up the rear, glancing over the railing and checking for movement below them often. There is none. Sweets, descending carefully behind Brennan, listens for scraping or groaning but hears nothing other than their own steps.

The door at the bottom is labelled B3 in bright blue paint. It slides open smoothly. The hallway on the other side is bright with stable white lights and it looks clean until they round the first corner and see it choked with overturned storage crates. Halfway down the hall, Brennan stops to kneel down next to another set of remains. They’re sprawled across the middle of the hall, limbs akimbo, and the only thing keeping the bones together now is the stained and ruined lab uniform around them.

Sweets passes it by, only pausing when he has to wait for the group to catch up.

“Several of their bones were broken,” Brennan states as she carefully pulls the uniform away. “But then it looks like every break healed extremely fast, and the striations...”

“If they had weaving it would have kept them together,” Booth says. “And they could repair any damage they took just like I can.”

Brennan looks up at him. “Judging by the growth around each break, I’d say they were repairing themselves several times more efficiently than you do.”

“That was the intent,” Sweets says quietly. “This project was essentially trying to create the ultimate enhancements. They were aiming for an army of super soldiers on an entirely different level, and even though they wound up with this … None of them went down easily, not unless we could nail them in the head.”

“Bet you got good at that real fast,” Booth says.

Sweets blinks at the wall. He hadn’t. He distinctly recalls having overused his biotics instead as outright horror and fear and adrenaline had mixed terribly in his veins, and the migraine that had come on due to the abuse of his own limits had been like nothing he’d ever experienced before. He’d rarely made any shots that were actually fatal. Instead, he’d torn -  

Sweets focuses on the blank white wall in front of him, shutting the memory down before turning to Booth slowly. “Well, we tended to die otherwise, so I guess so.”

Booth says nothing in response. Brennan stands again and they continue quietly.

The entire basement level is to be mostly storage. They pass several doors labelled with a room number and either a type of material stored inside or the names of people who claimed their offices here. Sweets passes by all of them, following a trail of splattered blood until he reaches an office at the far end of the hall.

“Dr. Alec Telousse.” Hodgins squints at the plaque next to the office door and starts muttering. “I’m pretty sure I’ve heard of that guy somewhere before. Telousse, Telousse…”

“Rich scientist with shady connections,” Sweets says before passing through the door. “Does that ring enough bells for you?”

“Yeah, it does,” Hodgins says quickly, close on Sweets’ tail. “I mean, to be honest, a lot of scientists have shady connections. Not that we do, of course. But you know-”

“Some people think ethics codes don’t apply to everyone?” Angela offers.

“Putting it lightly,” Hodgins says, shrugging, “but yeah. Telousse was infamous, though. Started in pharmaceuticals and then went from place to place, and it seemed like practically everywhere he went he was getting busted for something new. He went underground a few years back, though, and I lost track of him. Shit, the Alliance must have brought him on in secret.”

“Yeah, and it looks like his bad track record finally caught up with him,” Booth says as they look around the office.

It’s not in any better shape than the hall before or the rest of the station. The room is wide and arranged into three separate spaces, and each one is in disarray. On the right is a sitting area surrounded by blank screens, littered with shattered glass and the pieces of a low table. Directly in front of them is a long, curved desk, all in one piece if only because it’s bolted to the floor. The surface of it is covered in several old, bloody handprints, though, and everything that might have been on it is scattered across the floor. To the left is another desk, smaller than the other and half blocking another door in the far corner of the office. The door is already partially open, permanently jammed after having been broken by one of the crisis response parties.

“I dug up what I could about Telousse,” Sweets says, stepping carefully around to the other side of the curved desk. There’s a small terminal on the other side, one that had been left alone behind more pressing matters years ago. This time, though, he intends on being as thorough as possible. “Not a great guy, bribed and conned his way to most of his positions. Everything on him drops off after ‘86, though, so I’m reasonably certain that he died here.”

The console response to Sweets’ prompts, beeping softly and then lighting up, throwing out a holographic keypad in front of him.

“Is there something on that terminal?” Booth asks.

“There might be,” Sweets says, brow furrowed. “Looks like we need a passcode.”

“Let me handle that,” Angela says from behind him. He shuffles out of her way and she holds the interface of her omni-tool up as she approaches the console. She makes short work of the encryption, and a moment later the console is showing them a list of numbered entries. “They look like journal logs,” she says, moving out of Sweets’ way again. “Maybe he talked about work details like Brennan does.”

“If he did then the information in those logs could be extremely important,” Brennan chimes in.

Sweets hums and scrolls to the most recent entries. “That’s what I hope. If he said anything at all about the project then I can use that.”

He accidentally jabs the first entry with enough force that half his finger passes through and the light flickers red for a split second. He draws his hand back and tries again lightly. The terminal makes a crackling sound for a second, and then -

“I’m jamming signals,” a male voice gasps. Sweets recognizes it, if only faintly. The following seconds are filled with heavy, ragged breaths before he continues. “Only for a little bit, though. They probably won’t notice. We just need some time to get everything back under control. We’re so close - so close - but if they catch wind of the alarms then they’ll think we failed-

The voice pauses again to breathe. His breaths slow down, inhales getting deeper, exhales getting steadier. “No, no. Jaune’s earlier hypothesis was correct. It’s just a matter of reducing the neural impact of the cybernetic implants now. This is why I told them we needed biotics, so then we could just route it through-”

Sweets cuts the audio log off.

“I’ve heard enough,” he says quietly. He stares at the entry in the list, and the small scroll bar on the edge of the holograph for a few seconds before turning back to Angela. “Can you get these downloaded?”

“Yeah, definitely,” she says quickly, sliding in front of the console again. She looks slightly uneasy but doesn’t hesitate, her fingers flying over the projected keys. Sweets is grateful for it. “I’ll make copies of them.”

The next few moments are quiet. Sweets catches Booth and Brennan moving a few feet away, the comm line beeping a couple times as they switch lines. Part of him is curious about what they need to say on a private line, thoughts curling like sharp, unpleasant hooks in the back of his mind, but the audio logs are more important to him for the moment.

Angela’s software is impressive. It doesn’t take long for her to scan through and pull the logs to her omni-tool, and as that task finishes, she begins to send them to Sweets in turn.

“If you get these on a computer,” she says as they wait, “I have a program that can filter through everything in the logs and sort them out based on their content.”

“That would be useful,” Sweets replies. “He probably talked about all sorts of topics here, but I can’t really say I care about all of them.”

The comm line beeps again a moment later, but if either Booth or Brennan have anything to say to the group at large, they don’t get the chance before yet another voice joins the line.

“Shore party, come in,” Cam says, her voice slightly staticky. “Can you hear me?”

“Loud and clear,” Booth responds immediately. “We’re doing fine so far.”

“Well, let’s hope that holds,” Cam says, “because you might get some company soon. Remember that asari ship we saw on the way in? They came down not too long ago, looks like mercs. We’re still running silent, but if they’re here for the same reason we are then they’ll see us right out a window. We’ll try to keep them occupied if we need to, but you should keep an eye out in case they get a team on the ground.”

“Got it,” Booth says, exchanging a brief nod with everyone else as they take in the information. “Thanks for the heads up, Cam. We’ll try to get out of here as soon as we can.”

“Stay safe down there,” Cam says before checking out.

“Did you get everything from that terminal?” Booth asks, turning to Sweets.

Sweets exchanges a look with Angela and nods. “We should go down to the actual lab. There should be security footage and the scientific logs for the project, not just Telousse’s personal ones.”

“Let’s get down there, then,” Booth says. “We need to grab everything we can and then get out.”

He marches immediately for the jammed door on the other side of the office, which leads them to a short, dim hallway, at the end of which is a smaller elevator. It’s also in working order, and although there’s no escaping the mess in it this time, it isn't quite as bad as the last one. It’s a tight fit to have an entire armed and armoured team inside, but they make due with only minimal pushing against the walls and stepping on toes.

Sweets breathes as deeply as he can manage through his nose, trying not to make it obvious. He’s back again, even though he would have been completely fine with never seeing Aurora again before. He’d felt the same way about living on Omega and Illium, some of the last places he thought he’d end up, too. But he’d still managed to make things work - and he’d done it alone.

Now, though. Now he’s not on his own.

He has to make this work.