#RedrockAgency – August 18, 2019

Ilyna is very engrossed in his story, and studies his expression carefully, almost hoping he's joking. He is not, which terrifies her. Six days to acquire a present to outdo all others, now that's a stress she didn't need. Imagining little Jason with a toy weapon – which is what context tells her this Decimator is – does its part to push back her concerns, and she lets out a chuckle even after he restated

the importance of this. "I have my work cut out for me then," she says. "What else can you tell me about the gift-giving?"

Jason gives a nod at Ilyna's assertion. Her question prompts him to lower his gaze briefly as he considers how best to describe the ordeal. "Well..." he begins before glancing back to the asari, "...You're gonna want to make sure you wrap your presents. See, half the point is the 'surprise'. Ripping open the paper. Wondering what's inside. You know, did I get what I wanted or do I need to pretend to

like this pair of gloves? Which brings me to my next lesson: Avoid the things people need!" He shifts in place, seeming a bit riled up by this one as he takes another sip from his drink. "Christmas is not a chance for you to wrap up the essentials, pass them off to her as gifts as if you weren't gonna buy her a new winter hat if she needed it anyway, and then expect to earn points. Not how it works." he continues

as he gestures with his hands as if this is an important thing to keep in mind. "Christmas is about want, not need. So the mission parameters are to find out what she wants, you understand?" he asks, meeting Ilyna's eyes as he places a hand on her shoulder as if discussing the details of a top secret mission. "Does she make a comment everytime she sees the new Citadel constructor playset? Maybe she gets a twinkle in

her eye whenever they play an ad for the Facemelter-XL with it's multiple firing modes and integrated scope? Effective at ranges of up to 200 feet! Removable stock for CQC!" As he rattles off the specs in excitement he gives a small, apologetic tilt of his head, "...Uhh-... But I'd-... umm-... I'd avoid that one if I were you..." he warns with a small clear of his throat as he slows down.

Ilyna gives a few nods at the explanations, and the stress of it comes back to her. Ilyna is already worried she's not as good of a mother as she should be, and before her lies a test. And for a moment, it looks like she is going to put down the glass of wine and run off to get started. The last example does evoke a chuckle from her as she (thinks she) understands the implication. "I see," she says. "So, learn

what she wants, and surprise her with it at the same time. Sounds easier said than done, though, so... you'll know why if I get no work done in the immediate future." She smiles and drinks the remainder of her wine. "One more question," she says. "I'm only responsible for getting Li something, right?"

Jason gives a snicker at the mention of slacking at work. Not that he ever slacks... Nope... Her final question prompts a furrow of his brow and an, "...Oh." After taking a sip of his drink he gives a small shrug of his shoulders. "I mean... yeah. Technically. I guess. Typically you get presents for all of the people you're close to, you know? The people important in your life. Doesn't need to be anything big, just a fun little

exchange." He puts a hand up, lopsided smirk returning to his face, "Don't worry. I'm not gonna be offended if you don't get me anything. You get one 'First Christmas' pass." he snickers. As he shifts in his seat, however, something else seems to hit him and a look of panic crosses his features. "Shit! Santa Claus!" he exclaims without any context.

Ilyna reaches for the bottle as she gets the answer she was worried for, and pours her glass quite close to the brim. She's about to extend her slacking off estimate when Jason exlaims the name of some unknown person and she looks around the room. Despite some of Jason's panic reflecting on her, she spills not even a drop of wine. "Who?"

Jason scrambles to organize his thoughts, as if they're operating on a tight timer. "Okay-... uhh-... the short version is that there was this guy a long ass time ago who did-... something-..." he decides rather than admitting he has no clue of the history behind Old Saint Nick, "...and so we honor his memory every Christmas, right? And we do this by pretending this fat dude illegally enters our home every year at midnight on

the night before Christmas and steals some cookies but leaves gifts behind. The whole-... tradition-..." he gestures dismissively with a shake of his head, "...bullshit of it is to decide if the kid who lives there has been good all year long. If they have? They get a gift from Santa Claus. If not?" he shrugs, "They don't. You know, there's that whole song about it?" he continues, as if there's a snowball's chance in hell

that Ilyna may have heard the song. He gains a frustrated look as he glances off to the side, trying to recall the lyrics. He begins to hum the tune, nodding his head in rhythm, hoping it'll be enough to bring the words back to him. "...Hmmm... Hmm..." It causes a smile to come to his face and he nods his head with a bit more enthusiasm as the song returns to him and he sings it with a cheerfulness that betrays the lyrics,

"...Better watch out! Ya better not shout! Ya better not cry, I'm telling you why! Santa Claus is coming! To town! He knows when you are sleeping! He knows when you're awake! He knows if you've been bad or-..." he abruptly stops mid-sentence, brow furrowing, "Ya know, the whole thing is a lot less creepy with context, I promise. Kinda." Considering it for an extra moment causes him to mutter a silent, "...I guess it is

pretty fucking weird..." to himself. With a sigh, he shrugs his shoulders and levels his gaze back on Ilyna, "Look, I'm the wrong guy to explain this shit. You've got the extranet. I'm sure you can figure it out. Point is: you don't want Li looking this shit up and thinking, 'Oh no! Santa didn't bring me a gift! What did I do?!' right?"

Ilyna takes a long sip of her drink as he begins his explanation, chuckling at the mention of the sort of reverse burglary. She decides to put down the wine glass as he continues, giving him her full attention. She looks at him stunned as he starts singing to her, especially considering the dystopian content describing an all-seeing entity that rewards good behavior. She nods in agreement when he says it's very

weird, and after a failed attempt at containing it, bursts into laughter. "No, no, I think you've explained it well," she says between bouts of laughter, "but you're right, I should have looked this up earlier."

Vasquez enters the gym, face buried in a datapad. She's wearing her usual fatigue pant and tanktop combo and has probably come straight from the office. "Jason." she says, without looking up, no doubt having asked Fergus for his location. "We need to discuss the-..." She cuts herself off as she notices the laughter, her gaze snapping up from her datapad to the two of them, soon focusing entirely on the asari. "...Ilyna." is all

she manages, frozen in place, discomfort quickly entering her expression.

Jason is unable to stop himself from joining in on the laughter once Ilyna gets going. "What?!" he exclaims through snickers, "That's how the song goes!" he insists. Her final statement causes him to give a small shrug, "I should've given you more of a heads up." he admits. He opens his mouth to say more but his attention is pulled towards the new arrival at the door. It only causes his smile to widen. "Hey you." he says. "We were

just-..." he gestures towards the asari, then to the drinks, "...having a little 'fuck the Collectors' drink. You know, in honor of the Collectors getting fucked." After a moment's consideration he shoots a glance Ilyna's way, "Was just educating Ilyna here on the joys of Creest-mess." he explains. Turning his gaze back to Vasquez he has to suck in his lips to suppress a snicker before repeating himself, anunciating each

syllable. "Creest-mess."

Ilyna can't suppress the laugher after he joins in. "I believe you," she says. Looking over to see Vasquez' discomfort does put an end to it, however. "Hey," she says with a strained smile. Ilyna gives a low, annoyed hum as he parades around her mispronounciation. "I hope you don't expect much from me in the days leading up to it," she says, mostly to avoid a tense silence between them. "I just learned about the

presents."

Vasquez ' attention turns briefly to Jason, offering no real acknowledgement of his words. She shifts a little in place, straightening her back a bit as she looks back to Ilyna. "Oh. Right. Jason mentioned you and Li were joining us for Cree-..." she shakes her head with an exasperated grunt. "...Christmas." Her demeanor is no less stiff and there's not a hint of a smile on her face.

Jason's smile begins to slip at the obvious tension, prompting him to clear his throat. There's a short pause before he furrows his brow and stands from the bench. "Why don't you join us?" he asks, inviting Vasquez over with a gesture towards his relinquished seat. It's not like they can avoid each other forever. Especially if they're going to be spending Christmas around one another.

Ilyna glances up at Jason as he stands, and she picks up her wine glass. Vasquez' tension is starting to really reflect in her, and she takes a sip to momentarily distract herself. "Yeah, and I couldn't turn down that invitation," she says with a small smile. "I'll help you prepare food though, if... if you'd like me to."

Vasquez sucks in her lips slightly as Jason speaks, gaze lingering on Ilyna, her expression more than a little hard to read. She draws in a breath through her nose and nods, going to take a seat next to the asari, angled a bit towards her. She's leaned forward, elbows on her knees and gaze focused now on her own crossed hands. It's not long after she's sat down before one knee starts to bounce slightly. She seems on the verge of

saying something from the moment she sits down, but no words come just yet, instead she just frowns at her own hands.

Jason brings his glass with him as he leans back against the memorial wall, dropping down to sit on the ground and face the pair. Vasquez' lack of a response causes a bit more discomfort to settle in as he shifts against the wall, synthetic forearms rested against his knees. Head leaned back against the wall he looks between them. "I-... uhh-... I don't think we've really even decided what we're gonna be doing for Christmas dinner

yet." he offers softly, as if an attempt at prompting Vasquez to chime in.

Ilyna is unable to quell the discomfort she feels in Vasquez' presense, and she's not sure what to say. This was a lot easier when the discomfort was mostly on Ilyna's side. When the indecision comes up, she looks up from her glass at Vasquez, who must have an informed opinion on this.

Vasquez nods faintly as Jason speaks. "Yeah, I have some thoughts on that. We'll-..." she starts, her voice distant, but she cuts herself off and shakes her head, looking over to meet Ilyna's gaze. "Ilyna, I-..." an uncomfortable grunt, and a hand goes up to rub her temple, where the neural compensator chip sits. Her eyes close for a moment. As they open she draws in a quiet breath. "I've been lectured..." she says with an aimless

gesture. "...by Jason." A brief glance his way, her discomfort plain to see. Back to Ilyna. "...and Halisi." she adds with a tone that implies that one was the deeper cutting of the two, sucking on her cheek as her gaze falls away briefly, feeling the scar tissue caught between her teeth with her tongue. "It's been pointed out to me that... you've done nothing but be there for us. That... it's not your fault that you were

born with your... condition." There's a visible wince that accompanies the last word. "And... well, it's true." she admits. It's obvious that none of her words are coming easy. Not in the slightest. Slowly forced out. But they don't sound insincere. Her attention shifts, floating out the room, drawing a sharp breath as it lands on the memorial plaques. Her intertwined hands go up to her mouth, thumbs supporting her chin as

she stares at the names. "Let's be honest here. I think we both know which one of us is the dangerous one. Which one of us is the most likely to hurt the people around us." she says as her gaze turns back to Ilyna, voice quieter now, less forced out and more laced with restrained emotion. Her face is near enough blank - strained but neutral, aside from the weakpoint - brown eyes shiny with tears threatening to escape. A

couple of blinks hold them in. "I'm sorry."

Jason falls silent as Vasquez begins to speak and remains as such up until she implies that she's dangerous to the people around her, prompting him to utter a soft, "Linda..." A reminder of the conversations they've had. The many... many conversations. And the guilt that he absolved her of the moment she pulled that trigger. But he doesn't further interrupt, instead taking a long pull from the glass in his hands on Vasquez'

behalf, well aware how difficult this must be for her. He lowers his gaze towards the floor, discomfort taking hold as it tends to when one is audience to such a personal moment that doesn't directly involve them.

Ilyna does her best to meet Vasquez' gaze as she is spoken to, her expression all over the place as she does her utmost to keep herself composed. Even before all this, she never believed she'd see the chief in this state. She was always composed and rarely spoke of personal matters with Ilyna, and so she's at a loss of words. Which serves to underline just how difficult this is for the chief. There's a lump

forming in her throat as she follows her gaze to the plaques. When Jason speaks, her noisy mind finally finds what specifically she's referring to. "That wasn't your fault," she says in little more than a whisper, but there's not much else she can say. Nothing that she thinks Jason hasn't already said. She swallows nervously as she considers her apology, and looks at her. "I... wish I could have spoken for

myself instead, but... I knew you needed space, and...," she says. "I was hurt, I was scared, and the night I told you... I....-" Ilyna breaks her gaze to look down at her glass. "I would have understood if I wasn't... welcome here anymore, even if I would have had nowhere to go."

Vasquez is quick to shift one of her hands slightly to make a 'not now' gesture in Jason's direction when she hears his voice, but it proves unnecessary. She nods a couple of times as Ilyna speaks, gaze shifting back and forth between studying her face and looking slightly past her. She lets out a heavy sigh. "You're always gonna be welcome here, Ilyna." she says, her voice softer. She has less luck keeping the tears in this time,

and a couple roll down her cheeks as she lets out an awkward snort of a breath that turns into half a smile. It's certainly a side of her that she hasn't shown much to the asari. "I mean, shit. None of this would be here without you. None of us. I shouldn't-... I shouldn't have made it seem otherwise. Shouldn't have said any of the shit I did." she adds with a shake of her head, drawing in a long breath as she stares past

her at the wall briefly. "I was afraid." she admits, flinching slightly. It's more than a little obvious those words don't come easily either, but there's no backing down now. Her arms have fallen back down against her knees and her gaze follows to her own hands. "I was fucking terrified." she confirms with a hard nod, forcing herself to keep going. She can't just let this linger. She can't. Not with everything else

that's going on. And she made a promise to do better. To be better. "But you didn't have anything to do with this." she says, very quietly now, looking to Ilyna's face again, searching for her gaze as a hand reaches up to tap a finger against her own temple. She swallows hard and shrugs a little hopelessly. "So... yeah. I'm sorry. And... thank you. For everything you've done for us. For me, for Jason, for Redrock..."

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Ilyna T'Rea
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