#RedrockAgency – July 29, 2019

On the evening of the 18th Leah was sent a dry, impersonal message ordering her to report to Vasquez' office at 10AM sharp the following morning. The 19th has now arrived, the Redrock HQ relatively still without the presence of freed slaves or injured employees. Vasquez sits in her office, transformed from the day before. Her long black hair is tied back in a tight ponytail, and her sweater and jeans are replaced by gray camo combat pants,

one of her favored white tank tops and a matching gray camo military-style jacket with the Redrock logo emblazoned on it. The relaxed smile she wore during the honeymoon is replaced by a seemingly perpetual scowl. On her desk, her keyboard and most of the displays are off, the only thing showing a clock, which she eyes as she waits. Her hands are folded atop the desk and a half-empty coffee cup sits to the side along with a datapad.

Leah steps into the Redrock lobby and begins to stomp some snow from her boots at the front door. She's dressed in her usual attire: simple black pants, clunky black boots, and a thick, light blue winter jacket with matching gloves and hat. She could've called Jasper to bring her in, of course, but the walk to the Redrock building isn't that far and it gave her time to think. Time to clear her head. She gives a few exaggerated

chatters of her teeth as she warms up and plucks off her hat and gloves, stowing them away in the pocket of her jacket. She uses her teeth to tug one of the many colored bands off of her wrist and holds it in her mouth as she hastily begins to corral her unruly hathair, pulling it into a neat ponytail before plucking the hairtie from her teeth and tying it into place. It's been nice to be back home for the last couple of

days. To be able to sleep in her own bed again. But she still hasn't had much time to relax. Mendez needs her, which means a long walk into town every day. Again, she could ask Jasper to bring her back and forth. But, after the trouble she's caused, something about using Redrock resources to taxi her around and clean up the mess she caused seems... wrong. So a long, cold walk will be her penance. She takes a few moments

to swipe the bangs out of her face and make sure everything is in order, once it feels as if the red has left her wind-blasted face, she heads down the hall and buzzes Vasquez' office door.

Vasquez opens the door with a quick press of a button on the display with the clock, nodding wordlessly for Leah to take a seat, her expression unchanging.

Leah draws in a breath, bouncing a bit on her heels. She offers a quick, quiet, "Hey, Chief." and a big, bright smile as she meets Vasquez' gaze, but it quickly fades away. She's well aware this isn't a social call. Especially considering the frantic messages sent to her the previous night. As she steps into the room, she shrugs off her jacket. Beneath it she's wearing a long sleeved light grey shirt. Something to help fight off

the cold. She neatly hangs her jacket over the back of the seat before sitting down, hands crisply folded in her lap. "I'm guessing you have some questions for me..." she hangs out there, seemingly trying to get ahead of things and let Vasquez know that she knows she's in trouble.

Vasquez watches Leah in silence as she takes her seat, that faint scowl never leaving her face. She doesn't say anything right away, just studying her for a moment before sucking in a long breath through her nose, lips turning to a thin line before she opens her mouth. "What the hell were you thinking, Mercier?" she asks with a faint shake of her head, speaking clearly and evenly, voice laced with exasperation and controlled

frustration.

Leah's posture remains straight and rigid, Vasquez' curt question prompting a breath pulled in through her nose. "Alright..." she says softly with a nod, moreso to herself than to Vasquez, as if acknowledging that they're just jumping head first into things. "It's all right there in the report-..." she begins, a hint of defiance in her voice, just a knee-jerk response to Vasquez' blunt nature, but she seems to quickly seems to

reign herself in, deciding that would only make matters worse. Her big green eyes lower to the desk as she sifts through her thoughts. She swallows, giving a small, apologetic shrug of her shoulders. "...I was thinking-..." she sighs, meeting Vasquez' gaze once more, "...I was thinking that someone I care about is in danger and I need to do something." she says, as if it's that simple.

Vasquez listens in silence to Leah's reply, nodding faintly and shifting a little in her seat afterwards. She seems unimpressed with the response, and she licks the inside of her scarred cheek as she looks off to the side for a moment, reigning in her frustration. "...and you thought that the appropriate thing to do was to go behind our backs? To lie? To... misappropriate Redrock resources for an unauthorized mission?" she asks as

her gaze returns to Leah, brown eyes focused intently on her face, making no effort to hide her disapproval.

Leah furrows her brow as she studies Vasquez. "Appropriate?" she asks with a small, almost imperceptible shake of her head, eyes remaining fixed on Vasquez. It's one of those questions you expect to hear from your parents when you've done something wrong. Something that there's no denying was out of line. The sort of lose/lose question where there's no right answer. The person asking it just wants you to acknowledge your

mistake. "No..." she admits quietly, "But that doesn't mean that it wasn't the right thing to do."

Vasquez 's eyebrows rise at Leah's final words, an incredulous look crossing her face. "The right-..." she bites down, a disbelieving, far from amused chuckle slipping out. "It was reckless. Irresponsible. Foolish. You're lucky nobody died." she says harshly, staring Leah down as if she can't beleive she's trying to say she did the right thing.

Leah steels herself as Vasquez lays into her, letting her say her piece. She gives a slow shake of her head as she listens, but Vasquez' final words seem to hit a sore spot, illiciting a humorless snort from her. "You think I don't know that?" she asks through a furrowed brow. "If you think for one second that I wouldn't have rather been out there on my own then you are sorely mistaken, Chief." She shifts in place at her own

outburst, a bit of guilt slipping into her features. She can't blame Vasquez for being angry. And she's not wrong. "...I didn't want to involve them." she admits, a bit of the previous fight having quickly drained from her voice. "But I'm not suicidal. I knew the chances were low that I could pull it off on my own and getting myself killed wouldn't have done a whole hell of a lot for Tara." she explains in little more than

a whisper.

Vasquez shakes her head silently as Leah mentions the idea of going on her own, but bites down on her lip to hold back from interrupting her. After the final, quiet words she leans forward a little, her scowl deeper than ever, one hand lifting to rub at her temple. "So why didn't you come to me?" she asks, the hand moving away to gesture questioningly, and for just a moment something else slips into her expression. Something

other than the (plentiful) frustration and disappointment. Something more personal. A flash of betrayal in her brown eyes. "Of course you couldn't have gone alone. But why in the world wouldn't you come to me? Ask Redrock for help?" she seems genuinely baffled. "You think I don't know something had to be done to keep Tara safe? You think I wouldn't have given you the resources you needed?"

Leah's face flashes with a brief hint of confusion as Vasquez' asks her question, as if she believes it would've been obvious. It causes her to lean forward in her own seat, matching Vasquez' posture. "I didn't ask you because I know you would have helped." she says. Full stop. And, from the tone of her voice, that doesn't seem to be a favorable outcome. "Who would you have sent? Tankovich?" she asks, "She's strong. Capable.

Professional." Her gaze shoots downward briefly as she briefly scours the list of names i nher head. "Korio? I don't know much about him, but he seems to be able to handle himself. Or Tarkus, maybe? You, Jason, Ilyna, and him go way back, right? Seems like the trustworthy type." She pauses for a breath, despite the accolades she levels at the listed names, her tone implies that she doesn't believe any of them to be

suitable candidated. She leans forward a bit more. "Do any of them even know who Tara is?" she asks sincerely, something that seems to legitimately bother her. "So-... what? They go out there? Fight for someone they don't even know? Maybe die for someone they don't know...? For a client that doesn't exist because-..." a small shake of her head and a humorless snort, "...I sure as hell couldn't afford to hire

Redrock."

Vasquez seems puzzled at first, but her frown returns and deepens as Leah goes on. By the end she shakes her head. "That's not-... Redrock looks after our people. And fighting is our goddamn job. We could've done this right. Prepared. Instead you waited until Jason and I were out of town and... went off with Redrock resources, Redrock personnel, to fight." She swallows, gaze shifting away for a moment as she rolls her shoulders.

Another shake of her head. "Don't try to spin this like you were doing the right thing. Not after the mess you dropped on me. I left for one week. I trusted... that for one. Fucking. Week. I could rely on my employees to keep doing their jobs, and to not bring any more trouble to Redrock's doorstep because God knows we have enough." A strained snort. "Instead I find out you've declared war on a batarian slaver house,

that T'Rea's been pushed into keeping quiet while scrambling to deal with this clusterfuck, that I have badly injured employees, that Halisi's been going sleepless for days keeping everyone alive, calling in favors with the clinic to get medical resources because we were not prepared for this!" Her glare is not a pleasant one, although it's tempered by exhausted exasperation. It's one that's had more than one ExoGeni

security officer shrinking in their seat. Of course, Leah is made of tougher stuff than the average corp security.

Leah brings a hand up to swipe her unruly bangs out of her face. Vasquez' ire might not scare her, but it does a good job of helping to bring her guilt to the surface. Her gaze lowers as Vasquez runs down the list of trouble that Leah's actions have caused. The state of Mendez and the others. Halisi running herself ragged. The stress it has put on Ilyna's shoulders. She draws in a deep breath. "I'm not trying to spin

anything..." she says softly, seeming equally exasperated by the whole ordeal. A bout of silence passes, eyes fixed on the front of Vasquez' desk as she sorts through her thoughts. "You weren't down there in the catacombs with us, Chief." she finally says as she raises her gaze, meeting Vasquez' eyes with her own. "But I think I know you well enough to know that you've probably read over the reports." Over and over again.

Just like she has. "You know what happened down there. With Vaden?" She winces slightly. "He... didn't sign up for that." she continues, her words soft. Careful to avoid sounding like she's assigning blame. "For him, Redrock was a job. But he found himself caught up in someone else's fight and it cost him his life. He died saving me and Damien and I-..." another humorless chuckle, "...and I barely know anything about

him." She presses her tongue against her lower lip as she dwells on that for a few moments, gaze distantly looking past Vasquez as she does. "And then I killed Damien..." her brows furrow as the word leaves her mouth and, if it wasn't for the emotion in her eyes, it would almost seem like she was talking about something that happened to someone else. "...Just... killed him. Some nights I wake up and I swear I can hear

the sound of his neck snapping, clear as day." she says, finally meeting Vasquez' gaze once more, haunted by the visceral memory. "I'm guessing that maybe Vaden would've reconsidered his decision if he knew what was gonna happen." she adds, forcing a smile that couldn't be more hollow. She has to look away, blinking at the emotion bubbling up to keep it in check and swallowing at the lump in her throat. "Chief... I

kidnapped you!" she continues with a scoff. "And then I'm supposed to-... to, what? Expect you to throw away a vacation that both of you very clearly need? Send more people to die for me? Pay out of pocket to fix a situation that I caused because-..." she straightens up, giving a small shake of her head, "...I just can't seem to keep my problems from drowning everyone around me?" Her green eyes search Vasquez'

for some sort of recognition. Some sort of sign that she understands what she's trying to say. She gives a small, defeated shrug of her shoulders. "I couldn't let you do that." she finishes on, her voice cracking ever so slightly.

Vasquez waits in silence for Leah's reply, gaze never leaving her. The moment Di Yu is brought up her expression darkens. Falls away, down to her hands on the desk. There's a twitch to the right one at the mention of Vaden and she has to make an effort to control it. Leah is right, of course, she poured over every inch of those reports after her return. Obsessed over every detail. Vaden's death was one weight among many that would

never leave her shoulders no matter how many times she was told it wasn't her fault. No matter how many times she tried to believe it. What happened to Leah and Damien is another. It was because of her that Cerberus had gotten their claws into Leah too. Damien's death was on her too. The irony of her guilt doesn't seem to enter her mind. It's not rational. Of course it isn't. But that doesn't mean it isn't there. She sucks

in her lips - they suddenly feel dry. Her hand travels up to her temple, fingertips tracing the tiny little chip there. She seems to zone out a little as she reminds herself that it's gone. No Cerberus programming left. It's just there to help her now. Keep her thoughts structured. She resists the urge that rises every now and then to just tear thing out. She blinks as she forces herself to bring Leah's voice back into

focus, trying to hide the unevenness in her breaths. The scowl is gone, replaced with a distraught look as she swallows and looks back to Leah. "I-..." she trails off into nothing, a frustrated embarrassment bubbling to the surface as she finds her thoughts derailed entirely, no reply coming.

Leah likewise, falls silent. That usual energy replaced by sheer exhaustion. She didn't come here with the intention of spilling her heart, but Vasquez deserves honesty. It's not hard to see that that it's taken a toll on her and she finds herself simply staring at Vasquez' desk as her own thoughts drift. Navigating through the destruction she's left in her wake. To the name on the wall of the gym that she put there. A life she

ended with a simple gesture of her hand. When Vasquez attempts to speak up, her green eyes turn her way. An understanding silence follows. "...I wasn't trying to betray your trust, Chief." she finally offers softly, whatever fight may have been in her when she walked through the door totally drained by this point, replaced by sincere honesty. "I just wanted to do the right thing. You've already done so much for me, I

couldn't ask you for more. It was only supposed to be me, Mendez, and Nate." she admits with a shrug. "Emma and Jattic-..." she trails off with a shake of her head, just not having the energy to get into specifics. "...They weren't a part of the plan. Mendez is my best friend." she explains, whatever joy that thought might bring tainted by the fact that he nearly died out there. "Nate is-..." a deep breath follows as she

finds herself unsure how she's even supposed to end that sentence. Complicated doesn't quite cut it. "...I don't know..." she decides with a shake of her head, "...Something. It wasn't just a job for them. I guess I-..." she shrugs her shoulders, "...I needed it to be more than a job. I needed to know that it was something they were willing to fight for-... willing to die for even if there wasn't a paycheck involved."

By her tone that doesn't seem to provide her much comfort in hindsight. And why would it? Had they died, it would've been more names on the wall. More weight on her shoulders. Guilt. Self loathing. The details and reasons behind it doesn't matter all that much in the grand scheme of things no matter how much she tries to convince herself otherwise. "...I'm just tired, Linda." she says, the use of her employer's name barely

a conscious choice. But the conversation goes far beyond work. "Tired of getting everyone I care about hurt. Tired of-..." she sighs, sounding like she doesn't even know where she's going with it. "...I thought I could keep them safe. I thought if-..." her gaze lowers once more and she merely shakes her head, instead deciding to say what she should have lead with. "...I'm sorry."

Vasquez tries to muster up the frustration again, the professional disappointment, but it doesn't come. Leah's words are too honest and the underlying reasons are too familiar. The admission that accompanies her name causes a faint nod, failing to meet her gaze. The words hit too close to home. She deflates slowly over the cause of the last few sentences. The apology brings her gaze back to Leah, looking tired and on the verge of

losing herself in her own thoughts. There's no doubt that she doesn't approve of the way Leah handled the situation, but the apology is accepted with a silent nod, her gaze scanning Leah's face now, refocusing her attention. She continues to study her for a moment before looking off to the side, thoughts churning for a moment before coming to a decision. "You walked here?" she asks, seemingly out of nowhere.

Leah's spirits don't seem to be all that lifted by the quiet nod her apology is met with. But what else can she say? She said her piece. Regardless of whether or not she stands behind her actions, Vasquez has every right to be pissed off and she's certainly not going to claim otherwise. She allows the silence to permeate the room, distant gaze focused on a random spot on Vasquez' desk until the woman speaks up. It causes Leah to

glance up to her through her browline. "Yeah..." she says simply, a small nod accompanying her words.

Vasquez nods a couple of times, eyebrows furrowed slightly. "I'll walk you home." she says, hands moving to the edge of the desk as she starts to get out of her seat. It's a statement, not a question.

Leah seems caught off guard, Vasquez' words causing her expression to contort into one of confusion. "Uhhh-..." she stammers before shaking her head a few times. "That's not necessary." she offers, seemingly trying to connect the dots as she quickly stands up. Her eyes shut and she brings a hand up to touch her own cheek, middle finger scratching at the corner of her eye. A moment passes before she draws in a breath and open her

eyes. "Okay, I'm getting mixed signals here." she begins, her tone taking the one that often foretells of a coming ramble. "...Am I fired, or...? Because I came here expecting to be fired! If that's the case I'd really rather just-... out with it, you know?" she winces with an apologetic tilt of her head. Of course, she doesn't give her question much time to breathe, so there's little chance Vasquez will be able to answer

it. "And-... before you answer I just-..." a deep breath, "...Mendez and Nate and the others don't deserve to be punished for my actions. They were just trying to do the right thing and I got them caught up in my mess because-... because of course I did and-..." she trails off in a guilty whine, green eyes fixed to Vasquez as if she's awaiting a response despite not having given her a chance to do so.

Vasquez pays no heed to Leah's declining, already moving to grab her coat. She stops just after unhooking it, facing the wall with a quiet snort as Leah asks if she's fired. She opens her mouth to respond, but the ramble quickly shuts that plan down and instead she just waits for her to finish. "No one is fired." she says in a quiet sigh as she turns to face Leah, putting on her coat. Her eyebrows furrow as she meets her gaze.

"But I will be docking your pay to cover the medical expenses." she says, studying Leah as if to see if she's going to protest this as she zips her coat up.

Leah opens her mouth to speak over top of Vasquez but it seems the answer wasn't the one she was expecting and causes her to fall silent, mouth agape as she blinks a few times. A soft, "...Oh." follows. Her posture straightens out and her expression falls more neutral and, for a moment, she merely stands where she is, as if waiting for it to sink in. When it does, she quickly scoots around to the back of her chair to begin

collecting her own coat. "Of course!" she finally chimes up in agreement, a few nods of her head causing her ponytail to bounce about behind her. "Absolutely!" she doubles down. Her mind moving in all directions, it's not until she's addressed the medical expenses that she swings back around. "So-... by 'no one'-... just so there's no confusion-..." she clarigies, "...you mean including me, orrrr....?" she asks as she

begins to slip her own jacket on. "Or just me and nobody else...?"

((clarifies*))

Vasquez looks back to Leah after holstering her M-4 against the plate on her hip and locking her terminal. She studies her for a moment before letting out a heavy sigh. It seems like the previous, heavy shift in topic completely knocked the animosity out of her, leaving a bit of awkwardness since she can't really muster up any strength to her disapproval. The previous night's rage is... nowhere to be found. "You're not fired,

Leah." she confirms quietly, her expression begrudgingly soft. "Don't get me wrong - you screwed up." she says, holding her gaze to show that she means it, and that this isn't going to just be forgotten. "But..." she shakes her head with an empty snort, burying her hands in the pockets of her olive green coat. "Fuck, you're sure as hell not the first." she says with a shrug as her gaze wanders the room before settling back

on her. "I know your heart was in the right place... and..." she reluctantly draws in a long breath. "...shit... I get it." she admits, sucking on her cheek distantly, feeling the scar tissue. Her demeanor is night and day compared to yesterday. "I know how you feel." she says, the look in her eyes an intense one. It's not some vague attempt at empathy. She's dead serious.

Leah gives a small humorless snort at her own oversight once Vasquez confirms she's not fired. "Right. Obviously." she sighs under her breath to herself, "Can't exactly dock my pay if I'm fired." she adds, once again, to herself. She pulls in a flustered breath and rolls her eyes at herself and her mouth moving faster than her brain. She shoves her hands into her pockets to retrieve her gloves and begins to slip them on. They,

too, match her coat and hat. As Vasquez continues to speak, she listens attentively. A small smile tugs at her lips when Vasquez acknowledges her intentions, seeming to gain at least some comfort from Vasquez knowing she wasn't just trying to run around causing trouble. But the smile quickly fades at her final statement and her eyes turn away for just a second. She gives a small, understanding nod. It's been a turbulent

year for sure. For all of them. For many of them, news of the Collectors' defeat was probably that win that they so desperately needed. But it goes without saying that, for the two of them, it was bittersweet. "...Yeah." she says quietly as she adjusts her jacket with a roll of her shoulders and starts to lead the way through the door.

Vasquez follows Leah out the door, and subsequently, out of the building, putting her own gloves on as they do. She says nothing, at least not yet, letting silence descend as they start to make their way down the deserted road out of town, passing warehouses and empty lots. It's a gray morning, Aite's sky hidden behind a veil of clouds. It's a bit windy, but it's not all that cold, hovering just around freezing, leaving the snow

on the road wet and crunchy.

Leah doesn't seem to be in any hurry to be the one to break the silence. She walks this path most days. She's never been the sort to really take advantage of Jasper's always-on-offer services. Just on the days when it's too cold or has snowed too much for the walk to be feasible. Or to take Tara to-or-from work on the days when their shifts don't exactly line up at the Respite and she can't walk with Tara. In truth, the walk has

become a pleasant part of her routine. Especially when the weather is more agreeable. It's quiet. A chance to sort through her thoughts. She keeps her head towards the ground, idly stepping through the small footprints she left on her way to Redrock's building to avoid having to step through as much snow as she can.

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