Nathan sighs softly, peering across to her with a raised brow. "...I'll be fine." He knew it was a lie. She knew it was a lie. But he just... didn't want to face it right now. Not while they're in the freezing cold in the middle of the wildness, with stab wounds and bullet holes in their bodies. He just wants to get this over with and go home. Where it was warm and safe and where he could throw his weapons and guns
#Kalus'Compound – March 20, 2019
Leah draws in a breath through her nose, hands folded across her stomach as she turns her gaze upwards once again. An uncomfortable silence fills the air for a few moments as she juggles the comforting lie in her mind. Of course he won't be fine. But can she blame him for not wanting to talk about it? Doesn't he deserve the opportunity to hide in that lie for a little longer while the wound is still fresh? Should she just give
him that space and let it go? No. The answer is no. "I remember my first op-..." she begins before tilting her head slightly with a brief scrunch of her nose, "...first major op. Derrish Ma'lur." It's a name that might be recognizable to Nathan. Batarian terrorist. Many believed to be Hegemony backed, though it's unconfirmed. Did a lot of damage to the outer colonies. Many innocent people died to his people's cowardly
attacks. It was an attempt at undermining the Alliance- undermining humanity. Do some damage while causing internal strife about the Alliance's capabilities to protect their people. Ma'lur was captured a few years back. Alive. Though little has been heard about him in the time since. "The op itself went off without a hitch. We caught a break. Had intel about one of his safehouses. Nobody was supposed to know about it, so
there wasn't much security. Few families. Couple guards. Armed resistence was taken care of before they even knew we were there." she explains. Everything happens quick. Just like in the compound. An explosion of combat. The battle begins and ends- lives end- in the span of minutes if not seconds. No drawn out engagements. That's not her style. "Ma'lur wasn't there. But his right-hand man was. Nashar." She cants her head
a bit to look to Nathan, brow furrowed as if searching his face to see if the name gets any recognition. "We scrubbed the place for any actionable intel. Hit Nashar with some questions. Then we put a round through his head and exfiltrated. Simple and clean. Nobody got hurt that shouldn't have." she explains, falling silent after the context-lacking story.
Nathan 's attention is drawn back to her as his eyes refocus, tearing him away from his off-track mind. He listens, first with a faint crooked brow, then steadily increasing surprise. Yes, he had heard of Derrish. It was a name that was spoken about throughout Sandbeck for quite some time, with even a few plans drafted up in the event that Sandbeck should ever butt heads with him directly. But, some would say
thankfully, they never came to fruition. But he listens to Leah, silent with her leg strew across his lap. As she concludes, he blinks and parts his mouth, voice soft. "Just like that?" He could hedge at what she was trying to do, but the sudden anecdote does throw a curve ball straight into his train of thought. So, instead, he hopes and waits for further explanation, perhaps answers to questions not yet
Leah shifts her head. "Just like that." she says with a small nod against the uncomfortable armrest of the couch. "After each op we're required to talk to a shrink. Work through whatever-..." she brings one hand up, gesturing to her noggin with a small shake of her head before her hand returns to her stomach, "...crap is going on up there. And I remember just... breaking down. He wasn't the first person I had killed. But
there was something-... I don't know... intimate...?" she asks, green eyes tilting towards Nathan once more. "...about it? It wasn't active combat. He was-... he was having dinner with his wife and kids." she snorts humorlessly. And it is humorlessly. More of an undertone of disgust associated with the memory- even with years separating her from it- than any sort of amusement. "And we just dragged him out of the room.
Hammered him with questions. And then we-... and then I ended his life. And when I sat there in front of the shrink I knew Nashar was responsible for ending dozens- if not hundreds- of lives. I knew that if he was left alive, more would die. I knew the op would bring us one step closer to getting to Ma'lur and saving a lot of lives. But, sitting on that sofa, all I could think of was the look on his family's face
when we blew the door. A group of nameless, faceless, armed and armored men and women just dragged their husband and father off and executed him. And I couldn't put that image out of my mind." She falls quiet for a moment, idly running her tongue along her bottom lip as she recalls the ordeal. "...So there I was, a project that the Alliance probably dumped millions of credits into to turn into a hardened killing machine,
on a couch in front of an NCO that I could probably have folded into an origami swan with a flick of my wrist, bawling my eyes out over a dead terrorist."
Nathan listens again. And his face goes from a confused frown, to a slow look of understanding and... mild horror. Not necessarily at her actions, no, but because how they mirrored with his own. Dragging the man out, forcing him down and then ending his life with a single gunshot. A life, extinguished, in less than a second with no way to defend itself. He sinks a little more into the sofa, eyes falling from Leah to
his hands at her leg. He turns them over, examining every cut, every fold, every line. Intimate. Yeah, he supposed that was as fitting a description as he could think of. And there he was, speechless. Unsure what to say, what to do, what to even feel at the moment. It was a weight sat in the pit of his stomach. He felt dirty executing a man, even if he was a fucking slaver. Yet there was an undercurrent of
satisfaction with a dash of pride. He had helped end the leadership of an entire Batarian slaver house and gave peace to God knows how families who have lost and suffered at his hands, his family's hands... all these emotions, melded into one, made him feel sick. He lowers his hands and swallows, lips closed tight.
Leah gives it a moment before continuing. Slowly working towards her point. "He told me all the things you'd expect. That the way I was feeling was normal. That it would get better in time. That I just needed to decompress. But he also recommended that I talk to some of the others in my unit. Maybe my commanding officer. Others who had been through similar situations. It took me a few days- guess I was a bit more stubborn back
then-..." she qualifies, trying to inject a little levity in the otherwise heavy story as she offers a small, wary smile to Nathan as if well aware he's probably thinking she still is. "...but eventually I reached out to my old trainer. Back then the Alliance still didn't have a handle on the whole-..." she sucks in a breath, "...training kids who could snap them like a twig with their mind, so they brought in a lot of
non-human personnel. My unit was the lucky one that got stuck with the moody turian Cabal." she says with a snicker. There's clearly some fondness there, but it's irrelevant to the story so she doesn't linger on it. "Anyway-... he met with me for coffee and I expected him to tell me to suck it up. Toughen up. Get over it." she recounts, attempting to deepen her voice and apply a little gravel to it to
immitate her old instructor. It's not a very good attempt, but it seems to at least get a more genuine smile out of her. "...But he didn't." she says with a shake of her head, smile slipping away with a deep breath. "He told me it didn't feel good because it shouldn't feel good. That what we do is necessary. That what's necessary doesn't always go hand-in-hand with what feels good. And that, if a day comes that it
starts to feel good? Then that means I'm broken and I need to figure out how to fix things up here." she reaches up, tapping an orange-painted fingernail to her temple. A small, forced smile returns and she gives a small shrug. "I'm happy to say that I guess I'm not broken yet, because standing out there over Fasha made me sick to my stomach. Seeing his lifeless body in that hole? That didn't feel good. Had he been born
to a different family- born in a different time when his people had changed their ways- born on a different planet? Maybe that's all it would've taken for things to be different. Because he wasn't evil. I've seen evil, and that wasn't it. He was misguided." She sucks in her lips as her green eyes fall to her hands. "...But he wasn't born to a different family, Nate. Or on a different planet. He was born into a galaxy
that taught him that trading lives for credits was okay. That he could use, mistreat, beat, rape-..." she stammers, her words coming through clenched teeth by the end of her statement and she has to pause to compose herself. "...So we did what was necessary. We don't get to feel good about it. That's the price we have to pay. But a lot of people will be safe because of it. That has to be enough..."
Nathan glances to her and his expression falters once more. Partly due to the impact of her words, partly to learning just a little bit more about the woman besides him, a fragment more of her past. Her small efforts at levity do bring a flickering smile to his face, a brief and much wanted respite in an otherwise heavy situation. But then she continues, the smile now falling to a grim, thin line. Broken? The word
lingered in his mind, repeating like a broken record. He wasn't broken. At least... he didn't think so. He felt revulsion at what he did, yes, but there was the pride and the satisfaction that stirred in with it all. That sat upon the guilt and disgust. And the what ifs and what could've's. Those played on his mind too, although less so than everything else. He's already been through that dance one too many
times to let it come back with a fury again. Then he'd truly be broken by it all. Instead, he draws his hand to his face and tiredly runs it over his features, a low, exhausted sigh escaping through his lips. "...How many more times are we going to pay that price? It's going to chip away at us, it's... it's going to eventually break us." He lowers his hand and looks across to her and he... looks older. Tired.
He has the look of a man who was probably not bred for this kind of life, that should've settled for a job as a teacher back on the distant world of Earth. But he, somehow, still has that look of keeping it all wrought together, even if it is strained.
Leah falls silent, having no answer for Nathan's question. A few quiet moments pass as she just watches him from her end of the couch, his exhaustion showing through even in the low-light of the room. The story she told is separated from her by years. A lifetime ago. The emotion attached to it was long drained from her. But, like him, there's so much more that has happened since- both during her service in the Alliance and more
recently- that still weighs on her. Fresh wounds. "...I don't know, Nate." she offers honestly, her voice barely more than a whisper. She lifts her leg from his lap and shifts both legs onto the couch to sit beside him. She reaches for his hand with her left, gripping it tightly in her own as she rests her head against his right shoulder. Maybe he's right. People are made to live like this. Everyone has their breaking
point. But that's probably not something he needs to hear right now, so she doesn't say it. "...But we won't let it." she says with as much confidence as she can spare, tilting her head against his shoulder to look up at him through glassy green eyes. "We won't let it break us." Her words are punctuated by the telltale beep of a message being recieved on the omni-tool lighting the room, but her eyes remain on him.
Nathan his fingers intertwine with hers and her weight against his shoulder releases a small air of reassurance around him. Such a small action, able to have such an influential impact on how he feels, how he thinks. And her words... he wants to believe them. He wants to let them wrap around him and blanket him from the harsh realities of this galaxy, to spare him from having to pay that price over and over again. So
that’s what he does. He believes her. Even if it’s for a short while, he’ll believe her to keep his sanity in check, to keep him focused on the now. The moment. His sanity. He looks down to her and gives her a weak, but sincere smile. He takes his free hand and twists his torso to capture her in another embrace, a tight hold to squeeze the fears out for now. Even through all this darkness, they do have a
small flicker of light to guide them through. It is over. They won. They have time, however brief, to be allowed peace. “Okay.”
Leah returns the gesture, her right hand looping beneath Nathan's left and hooking around the top of his shoulder to hold him close. She's careful to avoid aggitating his wound as best as she can. It's welcome. Warmth in an otherwise freezing room. And a part of her wishes she could just stay like this. Ignore everything else going on, just for a little longer. She's given enough. She deserves a little happiness. A little
comfort. A little closeness. But it's just not how she's wired and, another beep sounding out on her omni-tool causes her to let draw a deep breath in through her nose and let out a low, annoyed whine. "Been going off all night." she mutters as she releases the embrace. With everything going on, she hasn't bothered with her messages. They could wait. Everything could wait. Fasha required her full attention. But now he's
been dealt with. "...Guess I should send dad a message." she continues, shifting closer to the edge of the couch to reach for her omni-tool. The device's glow shifts as she brings it to her lap, bathing the far end of the room in darkness and highlighting her features in the light. "I told him I would let him know-..." she gets out as she navigates the holographic interface projected in front of her before coming to an
abrupt stop. The expression that her face contorts into is hard to read. Surprise? Confusion? Anger? "...No..." she manages under her breath.
Nathan releases her as she reaches out to his omni-tool, her own device causing him to consider sending a message to Sofia to let her know that he was alive and well. Although he mostly wanted to send a message so she doesn’t whack him senseless with her violin for getting shot. Again. Leah’s sudden halt doesn’t click for a nano-second, but he eventually hones in on her expression, his own features switching
Leah gives a few tiny shakes of her head, ponytail swinging ever-so-slightly behind her head. Brows furrowed in concentration, she swipes frantically through her interface for a bit longer, in no hurry to answer Nathan's question. It's like it went through one ear and out the other. She swallows. Hard. And presses back against the couch, one hand rising to cover her mouth. A few shallow breaths pass before she reaches out with
her free hand and taps the interface, causing it to bloom outward into a three-dimensional image so that Nathan can see it as well. The footage displayed is muted and choppy, more of a single frame as it tries- and fails- to buffer than an actual video. But the scrolling graphic- frozen in place due to the terrible Aite infrastructure- is plain as day. 'COLLECTORS DEFEATED' Leah slowly shifts in place, bringing both knees
up and balancing the omni-tool at the top of one of them as she sinks against the couch. For once, it seems, she doesn't know what to say.
Nathan ‘s eyes flick to the image as it’s displayed and his own eyes shoot wide. COLLECTORS DEFEATED. They’re... they’re gone? They’re all gone? “What?! How? Seriously?! They’re-they’re finished?!” He seems torn between a whirlwind of emotions. Elation that they’ve been defeated. Confusion as to how. A mild dose of anger that it was only a few weeks late. But above all else, elation was the
predominate feeling in his chest. “That’s-that’s great, right? We don’t have to worry about them chasing after us? Leah this is good news!” He has already stood up, gesturing frantically to the display, eyes passing back and forth between it and her. But her reaction... something about it causes him to falter and look to her with a worried frown. “...Leah?”
Leah remains as she is, practically buried in the couch, green eyes fixed to the image in concentrated confusion. One hand remains loosely over her mouth as she studies it in silence. Nathan's words may as well be a distant droning and it's not until his final statement that her focus snaps his way, as if just now remembering he's even in the room. "...They're saying-... They're saying that Cerberus stopped them..." There's a
well of emotions that stirs inside of her. Elation at no longer having to worry about the Collectors, sure, but also fear. No, sheer horror at the implication of their defeat being at the hands of Cerberus. How are they capable of this? Her gaze turns back to the choppy video feed as the hand over her mouth runs along her cheek and she finds herself absently rubbing at her eye as she feels a sudden, involuntary itch that
Nathan turns back to the projection and there’s a few silent moments where he considers her words. Then it dawns on him. Cerberus. The people who forced her to kill her friend. They did this? They... beat the Collectors? He slowly looks back to her as comprehensions creeps onto his face and the fear that lingers in her features. If they could do that to the boogeymen of the galaxy... “Oh... oh.” He’s not sure
what to say, what to do. He wants to pop a bottle of champagne at the fact that they’re no longer under the looming shadow of the Collectors, but the impact it’s having on Leah curbs any enthusiasm he had. Instead, he kneels on the ground besides her and he reaches up to take the hand that starts rubbing her eye. “Hey... stay with me, yeah?”
Leah draws in a shallow breath as Nathan takes her hand, glassy green eyes turning to him. She furrows her brow as she studies him, his words taking a moment to sink in. "Huh-...? No! It's-... this is good!" she says through her confusion, clearly trying to keep it together for his sake despite the whirlwind of emotions and questions battering her. Trying to push down those fears as to not worry him. Even as a stray tear runs
from her eye she tries to maintain it. "It's-... it's fine, I'm fine..." she assures. "I just-... I just need a minute." she continues, her words smothered under a heavy breath. A soft, silent, apologetic plea. "Just-... I need to-... I told dad I'd send him a message and-..." she stammers, struggling to hold everything together, quiet as a mouse she repeats herself, "...just need a minute..."
Nathan part of him wants to wrap her once more in his arms and hold her tightly, as if to act as a barrier to shield her against the encroaching storm that is her emotions and fears. And yet, a part of him understands that need to be alone, to take a moment yourself and fight back those demons, to pull yourself together by the bare threads bind you with your logic and sanity. So, he turns and reaches for her
omni-tool, shutting down the projection and minimising the screen. He plucks it from the table and goes to press it into the palm of her hand, before looking back up to her. He nods, softly and his thumb moves to wipe away the tear. “Breathe. Focus. And breathe. I’m here if you need me,” he says, slowly, softly, gently. “Okay?”
Leah's hand tightly grips around the omni-tool placed into her palm. She searches his face, desperately trying to keep from falling apart in front of him. But as she feels the thumb brush against her cheek, her eyes close tightly and the dam starts to break. The tears flow freely, but she remains quiet, merely nodding to his words. "Okay..." she manages softly. Her free hand turns to his upper arm, fingers gripping at the taut
fabric of his undersuit as her feet come off of the couch and touch back down on solid ground. Contrary to her words, it's an attempt at keeping him in place. Silently urging him to stay with her despite asking him to leave. Torn between not wanting him to see her like this again and desperately wanting to cling to him.
Nathan goes to lift himself away, to afford her some space that she likely needs. But as her fingers dig into the fabric of his undersuit, he finds himself rooted to the spot, anchored by the weight of her emotions and silent plea. So, he nods ever so softly and he pulls himself back onto the couch. “Okay,” he says, an answer to her silent request or an echo of her confirmation. Whatever it was, he merely reaches
over to hold her tightly, leaning back into the couch. Silent comfort. A presence to keep her rooted to now. That’s all he needs to be. So that’s all he’ll do.