#Leah'sHouse – September 10, 2019

December 20th. As the clouds predicted, snow has begun to fall, though it's remained little more than a light sprinkle. The morning has been abuzz with decorating and the Mercier house is looking a bit cluttered with boxes lining the hallway wall, each filled with decorations and lights. The desk in the living room has been pulled aside to make room for the Christmas tree in the corner of the room. The vase and picture that once resided on

the cabinet beside the entry to the kitchen have been moved on to the desk to make room for a festive mat on which Leah has arranged all of her mother's angel knick knacks. Plenty are chipped or missing pieces, but that hasn't seemed to bother Leah, they were put on display all the same. Broken off hands, angel wings, and numerous other bits and pieces littered the bottom of the box when she had finished removing all of the knick knacks, but

it was nothing that a generous amount of glue couldn't fix. Tara has been given the important task of pinning up lights around the room after being given a crash course on how to hook them up, but aside from that there's been no direction. She's just been given a step ladder and a license to go nuts. The lights, as Christmas lights tend to be, are jumbled tangled messes owed to Francois having been the one to put them away last year. They're

a colorful assortment, each strand containing red, green, blue, yellow, and orange lights, some of which blink on and off. Francois has mostly left them to their devices, though he occasionally comes in to appraise their work, big smile on his face.

Leah is seated on the floor in the corner of the room, a look of confusion painted across her face as she tries to separate all the parts of the fake Christmas tree. She barely remembers the last time they had a real tree. Back in her early teens, maybe? Back when everything was simpler? Back before classes and training and space stations and constantly moving made it a hassle. But there's a certain charm to a fake tree, too. It

has history. Memories tied to it. Unfortunately, right now, all Leah sees is the headache as she tries to meticulously organize all of the different branch sizes in neat little piles. She's dressed as she was in the morning, though she's found her own Christmas hat in one of the boxes to match Tara's. Her omni-tool is pumping a festive playlist into the living room for them to listen to while they work. French classics like

'C'est Noël' along with traditional Christmas songs from across the galaxy fill the house.

Tara 's progress has been slow owing to tangled cords and worries about not hanging the lights right. The latter issue has mostly been resolved, her confidence growing after the first lights went up. The former, not so much. She's currently joined Leah on the floor, lap entirely covered in intertwined strings of light that seem entagled in ways that defy the very laws of physics. There's a determined frown on her face as she struggles to

make sense of the mess in her hands, her focus unwavering. Her decorative choices are... a bit on the unconventional side. Irregular but enthusiastic, it's not exactly what you'd put on a Christmas card. Her hat has, of course, stayed on - she seems to have quickly taken a liking to it.

Leah has obviously offered only encouragement in response to Tara's unconventional light hanging. It's not about making everything perfect. The dinged up old angel knick-knacks are a testament to that. It's about getting into the holiday spirit and having a good time! Something her face certainly doesn't reflect as she continues to study the assortment of branches in total bewilderment, chin propped up by her hand, elbow perched

atop her knee. "How in the hell-..." she mutters to herself before giving a small shake of her head which causes the puffy white ball at the end of her hat to bounce about. "Okay! You can put together an M-96 Mattock in, like, 20 seconds, Leah!" she says aloud to hype herself up as she climbs up onto her knees. Giving the rifle's full name makes it all sound so much more official in her head, as if that assures that the

Christmas tree is no match for her. "This should be a piece of cake!" Deciding it's probably not just going to suddenly make sense to her by staring at it, she begins to get more hands-on with the tree. Starting with the longest branches, she begins locking them into place on the bottom pole that's stabbed into the Christmas tree stand, brows pinched in concentration. After getting a few in she casts a glance Tara's way.

"Lights giving you a hard time?" she asks, a slight grin beginning to shine through.

Tara is snapped out of her intense struggle with the lights as she realizes Leah is addressing her, looking up with a blink. "Sorry." she says before she can stop herself. It's practically a reflex. She looks a little self-concious afterwards. She knows this is supposed to be something fun. That she doesn't need to worry about being punished for failing. But a decade of habit, no, of conditioning, isn't an easy thing to shake. "They don't

make sense." she adds quietly, shooting the lights a dismayed look as she dares to express her frustration in the tiniest of ways.

Leah gives a small snicker, though Tara's final comment causes her to join in by shooting a glare back at the tree. Which, as of right now, is little more than a small base, a single pole sticking out of it, and three long branches attached to the pole. "I hear that..." she sighs, but is quick to prop her smile back up as she turns her attention back to Tara and the mess of lights in her hands. "This year? We're not letting dad

put any of this away." she says, traditions be damned, "It's like he just... balled all the lights up and threw them in the box! And I'm not even sure all of the pieces of the tree are even in here." she continues in a mutter with a glance towards the long box laying in the middle of the living room floor.

Tara gains a small, slightly hesitant smile as Leah speaks. There's a part of her that's wary of the teasing despite it's obviously light-hearted nature. She can't help it. Her eyebrows furrow slightly as she studies the branches laid out in front of Leah. "Why is there a... false tree?" It's not quite clear if the awkward phrasing is the translator or Tara.

Vasquez comes walking down the path towards the Mercier house after deciding against trying to drive through the snow, parking on the side of the thankfully-maintained road to the dam instead. While her car is more capable than the average city car, it's a far cry from the heavy-duty vehicles common on Aite. It's mostly meant for getting around town in an expedient manner, and in the current season even the outskirts of town is

pushing the limits of what it can handle. She's dressed in her usual, olive-green winter coat, hands stuffed into her pockets, and she's opted for the winter boots she bought just before her honeymoon instead of her combat boots. They do a good job of keeping her feet dry until she reaches the door, one hand briefly leaving its pocket to knock. Her hair is tied back into a sharp ponytail as usual, a bit of snow stuck in it

from the little walk.

Leah's smile widens briefly at the framing of the question before giving a small shrug and sitting back on her heels to explain. "Well-... it's tradition!" she explains, brows furrowing as she realizes that she doesn't actually know the answer to that question. "I-... umm-... Hmm..." she hums, head tilting to the side as she studies the base of the tree for a moment. "That's a good question... I guess-... I guess it's just a

thing for Noël...? We put up the tree and-... well, when I was younger we would go out and get a real tree!" she goes off on a tangent as she tries to find her way to some point, "...But-... I guess it just got a bit difficult to find Christmas trees when we started moving around so we bought this one-..." she acknowledges the largely-plastic prop with a glance its way, "...and-... and to answer your question I have

noooooooooooo idea." she concludes, shoulders bouncing with a small snicker. "But it looks nice! We're gonna put lights on it and a bunch of ornaments, and-..." her words are cut short by the knock at the door which, thankfully, saves her from her own ramble, causing her attention to jerk towards it. "That must be the Chief." she muses as she gracefully climbs to her feet and marches over to answer the door. "Hey!" she

greets brightly before the wall of cold she's met with causes her teeth to clamp down. Before Vasquez can respond, she reaches out to grasp one of her arms and give her a tug, urging her to get inside. "Sooooo fucking cold! Inside!" she shifts in place uncomfortably.

Tara blinks as Leah starts to ramble, listening closely to her... explanation. She mirrors Leah snicker with a barely audible one of her own after she admits she doesn't know, a hint of a smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. Her attention quickly turns to the door when she hears the knock, disentagling herself from the lights and standing up.

Vasquez ' hand has just returned to her pocket when the door opens. "H-..." She blinks as Leah tugs her inside, taking a couple of awkward steps. "...hello?" Thankfully she's in a good mood, and she seems more amused than annoyed by the gesture, a faint hint of a smirk mixing with her slightly disoriented frown as she glances around her surroundings.

Leah steps in place a few times as she closes the door behind Vasquez to fight back the cold. She maintains an awkward, chilled posture for a moment, arms folding across her chest before releasing a deep breath and turning towards Vasquez, Christmas hat flopping about as she does. "Hey!" she snaps back, repeating her previous greeting, smile remaining for a moment before slipping away. Sucking in her lips, she furrows her brow as

she studies Vasquez and tilts her head to the side slightly. "Is everything alright? You didn't really mention why you were-..." she trails off, leaving the rest of her statement implied with a small gesture of her hand. "You're not having second thoughts on that whole 'not firing me' thing, right?" she jokes with a snicker that quickly grows awkward as she realizes that very well could be what's happening, causing her

to cut herself short with a clear of her throat.

Vasquez ' gaze lands on Tara, offering her a nod of acknowledgement before turning her attention back to Leah. She raises an eyebrow as she takes in her outfit for the first time, the pyjamas and Christmas hat combo clearly not quite what she expected. As Leah speaks her eyebrows furrow, her expression turning hard to read as she studies her for a moment. "Everything's fine." she relents. Well, fine is relative, but by her

standards? Sure. "And... you're still not fired." she assures, her expression softening as a hint of amusement enters it. "I'm-... I'm not here on Redrock business." she clarifies.

Tara doesn't seem quite sure what to make of the gesture, but she settles for a respectful tilt of her head and a small, slightly hesitant wave in response, remaining where she is for now.

Leah casts a small glance Tara's way as Vasquez does. Confirmation that she still has her job causes her to let out a small, almost imperceptible breath and give a small snicker. Vasquez' final statement causes her to furrow her brow slightly. "Oh-... Oh!" she offers with a bit more energy, suddenly feeling like that means she has a guest to entertain. "Sorry, we were just working on some decorations for the holidays." she

confirms, as if it wasn't obvious. The fact that Vasquez has probably discerned as much seems to hit her as well, causing her to give a roll of her eyes at herself and a goofy tilt of her head from one side to the other for the sake of causing her Christmas hat to flop back and forth. "Well, duh." she snickers before furrowing her brows and slipping right into a fresh thought with that usual, exhaustive energy she somehow

always seems to maintain. "Coffee? Coffee!" she decides as she turns about and starts towards the kitchen, shooting a glance Tara's way as she goes. "Hot cocoa?"

Vasquez opens her mouth to reply, only to close it again as Leah keeps speaking. She lets out an exasperated, but entertained snort as smaller woman darts off towards the kitchen, nodding in confirmation. "Sure." she says, unable to keep a faint smirk from crossing her lips as she unzips her coat and goes to hang it up. She reaches down to do the same with her boots.

Tara 's face lights up at the mention of hot cocoa, and she's quick to nod, following Leah into the kitchen.

Leah gives a single nod to herself at Tara's response. "We usually try and get these up a bit earlier but-... well, it hasn't exactly been a quiet December." she gives an exasperated snort, continuing to speak to Vasquez from the kitchen, having to raise her voice to be heard over the holiday music. "But it's better late than never, right?" she asks as she gets to work on the coffee and cocoa. There's a pot of coffee already

made just as there is every morning. "Cream? Sugar?" she calls out as an afterthought as she begins to fetch the items from around the kitchen.

Vasquez reaches into the pocket of her jacket after taking her boots off, pulling out a small, fairly flat package with simple red wrapping as well as an envelope. She shifts the items into one hand as she starts to head over towards the kitchen, stepping over lights and plastic branches as she goes, the decorations and the music drawing out a snicker. "Sugar." she decides after a moment's consideration. She usually takes her coffee

black, but the pregnancy has been messing with her preferences. "Didn't realize you were so... into Christmas." she comments with one last glance towards the decorations before entering the kitchen.

Tara hovers near Leah in a manner that some would no doubt consider a bit annoying, a habit that she's developed when someone else is doing something for her and she has nothing else to preoccupy her.

Leah has grown used to Tara's peculiar habits and doesn't seem distracted in the least by it. She goes about pouring a cup of coffee for both herself and Vasquez as well as preparing a cup of cocoa for Tara. Three mugs in a row. Cream and sugar in her own cup, and just sugar in Vasquez'. Tara's cocoa goes into the microwave as she drops a spoon into hers and Vasquez to give them each a quick stir. She gains a small, embarrassed

smile at Vasquez' observation. A silent moment passes before she seems to decide that the coffee has been stirred enough and extends Vasquez' mug towards her. "My mom was really into the holidays." she admits through her smile. She turns her gaze down into her own mug as she shifts to put her back against the counter as she waits for the microwave to finish. She takes a quick sip, using her thumb to pin the spoon in place,

"I think she just enjoyed having a reason to celebrate, have a big feast and put up colorful lights." she snickers fondly. She gives a small shrug of her shoulders as she looks back to Vasquez. "I guess it just wouldn't feel right to stop now just because she's gone, you know?" she asks.

Vasquez accepts the mug with a nod, taking a small, tentative sip as she listens to Leah. Her words cause her gaze to fall away, nodding a couple of times. She doesn't seem quite sure what to say, but opts to speak up anyway, before risking Leah going off on another rant to fill the silence. "It's... been a long time since I celebrated properly. Decorations and food and all that. It-... it hasn't really-..." she trails off briefly,

expression turning a bit uncomfortable, but she looks back to Leah. "We're trying to put something together this year. For Li's sake mostly, it's her first Christmas, so..." A shrug, and she looks down at her coffee.

Tara listens silently to Leah and Vasquez as she waits from the microwave, fading into the background as she has a tendency to do.

Leah doesn't seem saddened by the mention of her mother. On the contrary, Christmas is an opportunity to feel close to her again, at least for a little while. To fall back into traditions that they carried out ever since she was little. Vasquez' plans cause her to give a small snicker, brushing aside her boss's discomfort. "That's-... nice. " she says with a nod, shifting in place against the counter. She opts not to mention just

how much Li probably needs a little positivity in her life right now after everything she's been through. "It's gonna be Tara's first, too." she says with a bit of enthusiasm as she glances towards the younger girl, smile growing into a full-blown grin. "She has noooo idea what she's in for." she teases.

Tara blinks as Leah calls attention to her, straightening her back a little as her gaze darts between the two of them.

Vasquez nods in agreement with the first statement, the discomfort lingering as everything Li has been through goes unsaid. The mention of Tara causes her to look over, lowering her mug after another sip. "Looking forward to your first Christmas?" she asks, forcing a smile back into place.

Tara furrows her eyebrows slightly. She's gathered that Christmas and Noël is the same thing by now but she's still wary of making assumptions. She opts for a small nod as a safe response. She's still not entirely clear on what it's going to entail, but Leah's decription coupled with the cozy mood of the preparations is enough to secure her answer.

Leah gives a small snicker at Tara's response and takes another small sip of her coffee. The dinging of the microwave prompts her to shift away from the counter and spin on her heels, setting her own mug down as she reaches up to fetch Tara's mug from the microwave that is mounted just below one of their cabinets. "Careful, it's hot." she offers as she sets the mug down on the counter and shifts her attention back to Vasquez. "I'm

still trying to fill her in on all the details but we're gonna have fun!" she assures, passing Tara one more quick smile as she attempts to keep her from becoming the focus, well aware of how uncomfortable that makes Tara. "So-... I'm guessing that means you guys are gonna be spending Noël-..." she gives a small shake of her head as she corrects herself for Vasquez' sake, habits and all, "...Christmas with Ilyna then?"

Tara relaxes a little once Vasquez' eyes are off her and goes to grab the mug after the conversaton shifts away from her, treading cautiously to avoid burns.

Vasquez seems to have been about ask Tara something else, but reconsiders when she notices the girl's hints of relief after going to grab her cocoa. Her attention turns back to Leah, the question prompting a nod and a faint, slightly awkward smile. "That's the idea." she confirms. "Barring any new emergencies, at any rate..." The last bit doesn't come out quite as joking as she intended. The sigh she can't quite suppress makes it sound

more tired.

Leah adds an exasperated snort of her own to Vasquez' statement, taking a moment to sip at her coffee. She of all people wouldn't deny the last few months have been... well, stressful doesn't quite seem to cover it. But the Collectors are gone. Tara is safe. There might be a shadow in the shape of a three-headed dog hanging over all of them, but sometimes you need to take the victories where you can. Leave tomorrow's problems

for tomorrow no matter how terrifying they might be. "I guess my invitation got lost in the mail, huh Chief?" she teases with a look of mock offense, "I'll try not to take it personally."

Vasquez lets out a quiet snort, a faint smirk crossing her lips as she shakes her head. "Seems like you've got your own thing going here." she points out, before remembering the items she's holding in her left hand, pressed idly against her side as she takes another sip from the mug in her right. "I... did bring this though." she says as she lifts the small package, and the envelope pinned against it by her thumb. A shrug

accompanies the gesture, and her expression turns a little awkward as she holds it out to Leah. Both the package and the envelope have simple, Christmas-temed sticker labels on them. The package's reads "Merry Christmas. From: Vasquez, To: Tara" while the envelope reads "Merry Christmas. From: Vasquez, To: Leah". Straightforward enough.

Tara is sipping her hot cocoa in silence, seemingly content with listening as she takes a break from untagling lights.

Leah gives a snicker at Vasquez' response. Her brow furrows as her gaze is pulled towards the articles in Vasquez' hand, seemingly having barely even noticed them amongst their chit-chatting until now. "...Oh." she says softly, brow furrowing as she hurriedly sets her coffee down on the counter to accept them. She tilts them in her hand to give the labels a read, lips tugged right back into a smile as she reads Tara's name on the

first one, causing her to glance towards her briefly. "Shit, I don't-..." she stammers as her green eyes turn to Vasquez once more, "...I don't have anything for you." she admits with a wince. "It's just with everything going on and-... I don't even have my tree up!" she exclaims with a gesture back towards the living room, "But you are definitely on my Christmas card list!" she assures as her ramble continues, almost

sounding like a threat, "But I just-... We're going down to the market to do our Christmas shopping in a couple of days!" she settles on with a glance Tara's way as if the girl might back her up despite her not having mentioned this until now.

Vasquez lets out an amused snort, shaking her head and lifting her now-free hand in a dismissive gesture. "Wasn't expecting anything." she assures. "It's-... it's nothing big anyway. Just... yeah." An aimless shrug, and a bit of discomfort as her gaze goes over to the coffee machine just to avoid Leah's face for a bit. "Gonna be a busy few days, wanted to make sure I had the chance to hand them over before Christmas." she adds in a

half-mumble, just to keep from being rambled at for a bit.

Tara is leaning slightly to the side to peek curiously at the mysterious items, still sipping her cocoa eagerly. Leah's glance her way causes her to blink, looking as if she's not sure if she's supposed to be saying something.

Leah falls silent as Tara fails to provide her with backup though it doesn't seem to surprise her. Her gaze turns right back to the objects in her hand and she gives a soft frown, clearly not comfortable with having nothing to give in return. Not much to be done about it now, though, so with a sigh she tries to expel a bit of that discomfort. "Well-... thank you." she offers sincerely, making sure to make eye contact as she

speaks. "I guess we've got our first gifts to put under the tree, huh?" she snickers with a look Tara's way. After a moment's consideration she scrunches up her nose. "...Well, when we actually have a tree to put them under." she grumbles as she's reminded that she still needs to finish wrestling with the unorganized mess in the living room.

Tara 's eyebrows furrow slightly as she glances off towards the sad pile of plastic branches on the floor. Is there a hint of amusement in her face as she looks back to Leah? If there is she hides it under another long sip of hot cocoa, emptying her mug.

Vasquez nods a little stiffly, sipping her coffee again as she seems a little unsure what to say. As Leah mentions the tree her gaze shifts towards the living room, a small smirk crossing her lips. "I'm thinking I'm gonna head out and get a real one later." she comments thoughtfully. "Had enough of the plastic ones as a kid." she adds with a faint snicker, although the smirk slips quickly from her lips, expression souring a little.

Leah too, looks towards the tree in the living room, narrowing her eyes on her adversary. Vasquez' comment causes her to glance her way, brow perking up as she sets the gifts down on the counter for now. "Is there someone in town trying to make a few credits or are you planning on chopping one down yourself?" she asks, neither possibility sounding like much of a reach.

Vasquez snorts quietly, shifting to lean back against the counter next to Leah, looking out across the room, coffee cradled in both hands. "Might be, but I'm not gonna pay for a tree when there's millions up for grabs outside town." she says, flashing a brief smirk.

Tara goes over to the sink to rinse her mug and put it in the rack for drying. She hesitates for a moment, looking between Leah and Vasquez, before deciding to head back to the living room and resume her Christmas-light wrestling. No point in hovering around them while they chat.

Leah flashes Tara a smile as she passes by. "Can't argue with that." she agrees with a small tilt of her head. She recollects her cup and retakes her position against the counter, leaning back and crossing her ankles before having a sip of her coffee. "Hell, it'll probably be less trouble than putting that damn thing together..." she mutters with another glare in the general direction of the sparsely branched base in the other


Vasquez lets out a quiet, muffled laugh that causes her to bounce slightly against the counter, her gaze lingering on the not-quite-a-tree-yet. Silence descends as her thoughts slowly turns more distant, the smirk fading away to a thoughtful frown, although it softens as her attention eventually shifts to Tara, who has returned to her place on the floor, in her own world as she focuses on untagling the lights in her lap. She doesn't

say anything.

Leah's gaze, likewise, eventually drifts to Tara in their silence. It's more than enough to prop the smile back up on her face. "She's handling the lights." she informs Vasquez sounding like a proud sister, green eyes flicking her way. "I think she's having a good time..." she muses, sure to keep her voice just low enough that the music keeps it from Tara's ears. "I know it's gonna take a while before any of this really seems

normal to her but-..." she swallows, clearly talking about more than just Christmas. Sucking in her lips, her gaze turns down to her coffee and she gives a small nod, "...one step at a time, right? Today's step: Christmas decorations." she concludes with a snicker.

Vasquez nods softly, sipping her coffee as she listens, watching a small, subdued but triumphant smile briefly cross Tara's lips after defeating a particularly stubborn tangle of lights. "I didn't think it was a good idea. When you first took her in? Was worried you were taking on more than you could handle. Especially in the wake of... everything." She shifts a little uncomfortably over even bringing it up, looking down at her

coffee. She's lowered her voice to match Leah's. "But I was wrong." she adds, even quieter, looking back towards Tara.

Leah finds herself lifting her coffee to her lips as Vasquez speaks, just as a way of keeping herself occupied as she listens. Her gaze remains fixed to Tara even as Vasquez finishes and she gives a small shake of her head. "No..." she says, that ridiculous little pom at the end of her hat bouncing about, "...you weren't. I was being stupid." she admits with a small snort, eyes turning towards her boss. "After everything that

happened and Damien-..." her sentence ends abruptly. Still too fresh to get away with a casual mention. It causes her to draw a deep breath in to steel that instant gutpunch she feels whenever she brings it up and she purses her lips to the side apologetically. "...I just-... I needed to do something, you know?" she continues, her voice softer, "Something good. Something right..." She gives another shrug as she returns

to watching Tara work on the Christmas lights. "But I was in over my head. It wasn't fair to her and-... It was selfish." she settles on flatly. But, despite all of that, watching Tara in the small act of untangling some Christmas lights is enough to reinforce the smile that had faded, causing it to make a tentative return. "But... I'm glad I did it." she says, an almost guilty look on her face for admitting it when she

looks back to Vasquez. "I think she is, too." she adds before adding with a small shrug, "I hope she is..."

Vasquez sighs as Leah mentions Damien, casting a brief glance her way, a hint of worry in her slightly furrowed eyebrows. As she keeps on talking she nods a couple of times, looking back to the living room. "Yeah... I can understand that." she says quietly, before furrowing her eyebrows. "I think you're wrong though." she says after a moment's silent thought. "She's better off with someone that cares. I mean... actually cares.

Instead of getting shuffled through the system." Her frown deepens, gaze going to her coffee as she practically scowls at it, considering whether to voice the next words. "Not the same, but... Alliance psych sure as shit didn't do anything for me." she almost-mutters, a sigh following. "Having people that cared did." she adds, her voice little more than a whisper, shrugging and lifting the mug to her lips in a half-hearted

attempt at concealing her growing discomfort.

Leah continues to watch Tara as Vasquez speaks. The mention of the Alliance psych causes her green eyes to turn Vasquez' way reactively. But she quickly looks away once more, not wanting to make Vasquez any more uncomfortable than she already is. She's certainly spent her fair share of time around Alliance shrinks. Regular sessions back when the Alliance first recruited her. The L2s and BAaT didn't exactly lay the best groundwork

for biotics. Back then she was a question that the Alliance wanted to make damn sure they had an answer to. They wanted to ensure that they weren't repeating past mistakes. Sure, they were nice enough, but it always had that watered down, impersonal filter over it all. Like she was being judged. Like their questions had a correct answer and she was being put under a microscope. Like they wanted to make sure that they knew

what made her tick. The mandatory evaluations she had to attend as she got older after each operation weren't much better. She could appreciate their purpose, but they certainly weren't her fondest memories of the Alliance. Their situations may not have been the same, but she's well aware of how uncomfortable that process can be. The seemingly throwaway comment prompts her curiosity, but she doesn't dare pry. She merely gives

a small, appreciative nod at the overall sentiment, Vasquez' appraisal causing a subdued smile to tug at the corner of her mouth. "I just hope that the others are able to find that, too..." she says softly with a sigh as her mind drifts to those they freed.

Vasquez sighs quietly as she lowers the cup from her lips, willing herself to dispel her discomfort best she's able. There's something about their shared trauma that made her willing to let a detail that personal slip out, but she's still far from comfortable with it. The mention of the other liberated slaves causes her eyebrows to furrow, nodding a couple of times. "At least they've got a shot now. To have a real life." After a

moment's thought she adds: "I've heard good things about Sandbeck. It was Tennhausen that organized that?" she says, obviously having read the reports.

Leah remains focused on Tara, simply nodding along to Vasquez' words. A shit. A shot is more than they had before all of this. Hopefully that's enough. Her final sentence and, more specifically, the mention of Nate causes Leah's smile to rematerialize fully and look back her way, though she's quick to avert her gaze once more as if worried that Vasquez may see right through her smile. Not that she hasn't alluded to there

being more between them than just a working relationship in the past, but still. "Yeah..." she confirms with a small nod. "He reached out to some people that he knew from his time with them."

((A shot*))

Vasquez glances Leah's way, her reaction to the mention of Nathan garnering a slight raise of an eyebrow, but she doesn't comment, nodding instead as Leah speaks. She doesn't seem quite sure where to take that thread, and for the moment she falls silent, sipping her coffee awkwardly. Nobody ever accused her of being particularly good at socializing.

Tara has gone to hang up a successfully untagled string of lights, disappearing out of view.

Leah puts all of her effort into not meeting Vasquez' gaze when she looks her way, cheeks reddening slightly as she feels eyes on her. She too, falls silent. And when Tara disappears out of view, she has nothing else to distract her, causing her to turn her gaze down to her coffee as she fiddles with the mug. Another sip of coffee and more silence. Unfortunately left to her thoughts, panic begins to seep in. Why isn't she

talking? She knows something is up! Oh crap! Am I that obvious?! She knoooooows! Of course, when nerves begin to take hold, all power is diverted to her mouth. Drawing in a breath, she snaps her attention Vasquez' way. "I'm going out on a date tomorrow with Nate." she blurts out, almost in a single syllable. She props up a forced smile as if to imply that it's no big deal. A quick fluttering of

her eyes and a wince later, she's already trying to backpedal and correct herself. "Not really a date date just-... just-... you know! We're gonna-... watch some movies and have dinner and-..." she scrunches up her nose, though who its directed at is unclear. "That's pretty datey..." she muses to herself, green eyes turning low as she considers it before giving a shake of her head and looking back to Vasquez. "...But

it's no big deal. It's just, like-..." exaggerated shrug, "...a thing." Uncomfortable snicker. Uncomfortable snicker. Uncomfortable snicker. Ohno that was a snort. "I think he's cute." ABORT! ABORT! CUT ALL POWER TO CENTRAL ORAL FUNCTIONS! She swallows hard, awkward smile pinned in place as she tries to walk her ramble back with a muttered addition of, "...Kinda..."

Vasquez blinks as Leah speaks up, looking her way. She doesn't manage to reply - she barely has time to look surprised before the rambling starts. She just... looks at her as she gets going, eyebrows furrowing slightly and her head leaning back a little. Her face contorts a little as if she's not quite sure what she should be doing, doubly so as the uncomfortable snickers start. The final revelation causes her eyebrows to shoot up,

obviously amused by the sudden, rambling confession judging by the grin tugging at one corner of her mouth. She settles back a little against the counter, putting her cup down and crossing her arms as she studies Leah, tilting her head a little as she looks down at her. She doesn't say a word, curious what will happen if she just lets her stew in her own embarrassment for a moment.

Leah looks like a deer in the headlights under the scrutiny of the much-larger woman. She shifts from foot-to-foot in discomfort big green eyes once more fixed to her coffee to avoid meeting the look on Vasquez' face. The silence does absolutely nothing to help calm her nerves. Eventually she turns back to Vasquez with an apologetic wince, shifting so that her elbow is against the counter, idly tapping her toe against the floor as

if a nervous habit. "I just-... I don't do guys, you know?" Nope, that definitely isn't what you wanted to say. She blinks, eyes widening slightly in horror. "No, no, no, no, that's not-... I mean-... I do guys-..." she corrects matter-of-factly before abruptly stopping. Shit. Silence. Terror. Cheeks the shade of a ripe tomato. Blink. Blink. "I'm not gay! That's-... what I was trying to say not-..."

Too-much-infoville. Population: You. "...not-... oh no-..." another wince, "Not that there's anything wrong with being gay! Obviously!" she quickly corrects, accompanied by an uncomfortable chuckle that almost sounds painful, "...If you're-... if you're-... I just mean I'm not-... But if you are-..." Her eyes shut and she shakes her head a bunch of times, the awkwardness of that stupid white pom bouncing

around only adding to the ridiculousness of the situation. The color of her cheeks is rapidly closing in on the shade of red in her hat. "Of course you're not! You~ just~ married~ a~ maaaan~" she points out in a sing-songy tone that devolves into another painfully awkward snicker, "...I just-... I-... kinda wanna die right now." she snickers in discomfort. She gives a big smile but it very quickly begins

slipping away... Going... Going.... Gone. The moment the smile gives way the rest of her demeanor cracks as well and she lets out a long whine, eyes closing as she desperately attempts to get her word vomit under control. She draws in a deep breath and straightens out her posture as her big green orbs snap open, almost as if trying to clean the slate before speaking again. "What I'm trying to say is-... is-... I suck at

this whole relationship-dating-... shit and-... and I didn't want it to get all awkward and uncomfortable and weird when everyone found out about me and Nate and-... and-... well, fuck me, I guess, too late for that!"

Vasquez wasn't quite sure what she expected, but Leah most definitely exceeded her expectations regardless. Her eyebrows just... slowly continue to rise as Leah gets further into her ramble, not quite sure whether to burst into laughter or wince. Amusement eventually turns to sympathy and second-hand embarrassment as the flustered woman just keeps digging herself deeper. Her hand rubs across her jaw as she grimaces. Once Leah's

word-vomiting finally comes to a stop she can't help the sudden, loud snort of laughter that slips out as she studies her, looking utterly baffled, but it fades quickly, replaced by a sympathetic look, although she fails to keep the amused grin from her lips. "It, uh... yeah. It might be a little late." she agrees, eyebrows furrowed as if considering her assessment. There's an unusual levity to her words - between the

honeymoon, the upcoming Christmas, and the multitude of weights that have been lifted from her shoulders lately, she's feeling better than she remembers doing in a long, long time. Beyond that, Leah's spectacularly awkward display has taken all of the tension that comes with a personal discussion like this away from her, and she actually cracks a smile after speaking, the earlier sympathy in turn giving way to a wicked,

amused look. "Let me... make sure I got everything." she says, frown deepening as she brings up a hand as if to count. "'Nate' is cute." she repeats, using the index finger of her left hand to unfurl her right thumb before moving on to the next finger. "But you don't 'do guys'..." she continues. "...but you're not gay! Not that there's anything wrong with that." she lists casually. "Neither am I, because I married a man."

She furrows her eyebrows, looking off to the side briefly as if considering the logic. "Yeah, that checks out." she agrees with a nod and an amused snort. "You... 'kinda wanna die right now'." she quotes with a look back towards Leah. "Also you suck at dating." she adds finally, shrugging a little since she's run out of fingers, and letting her hand drop back to her side. "That about cover it?" The grin fades but an amused,

questioning look lingers.

Leah's utter embarrassment mixes with a flat, unamused look that crosses her features as her boss bursts into laughter, causing her to scrunch up her nose. "Oh, ya think?" she asks sarcastically as Vasquez confirms that it's too late to avoid making an ass out of herself. When Vasquez makes a show of beginning to count down everything she learned from Leah's ramble, embarrassment seems to beat out unamusement once more and her

cheeks begin to redden again. When Vasquez repeats her comment about Nate her cheeks practically turn to fire. But with each finger that raises it seems like that boss - employee barrier is pulled down a little bit more and, by the end, she merely has a single brow raised as if waiting for it to end. Vasquez' questions prompts an insincere little smile and a few rapid nods of her head. "Oh! I think you might be

forgetting-..." she lifts up a free hand, extending only one very specific finger as she does her own countdown, "...You're an asshole." Her insincere smile turns smug and widens ever so slightly. But Vasquez' display seems to have done a good job of helping to dispel some of Leah's discomfort and she allows a grin to cross her features as she shakes her head and lowers her hand. "Yes, I suck at this! I know!" she agrees

with another whine, this one far less panicked and just a bit exhausted. She leans a little heavier against her elbow on the counter, cheek pressing against her closed fist as she looks up at Vasquez with a deep sigh. "...He is cute, though." she repeats after a moment's consideration, her tone deflated and her words muffled a bit by the hand against her cheek.

Vasquez ' grin returns in full force with Leah's insult, before fading to a faint smile over the next couple of seconds. It's almost jarring how relaxed she seems compared to normal. It's a sharp contrast to scowling behind the desk of her office, or brooding on Leah's porch. Leah's ramble seems to have done a remarkably good job of dispelling the lingering stiffness that accompanies a lot of her social interactions. "Tennhausen..."

she muses, eyebrows furrowing as if considering the assertion, looking over at the kitchen table. "...really?" she questions, looking back to Leah as if she's struggling to see the appeal. Spotting her coffee out of the corner of her eyes, she grabs the cup from the counter, sipping it as she studies slumping biotic next to her.

Leah lazily brings her own mug to her lips for a quick sip without having to adjust her posture before setting the cup down and rotating it idly with her free hand. Vasquez' question prompts her to look up at her through furrowed brows. "Yes really." she scoffs playfully. The grin at the corner of her mouth grows ever so slightly and she gives a small, timid shrug against the kitchen counter. "He's-... sweet." she begins. "And

kinda dumb." she admits, scrunching up her nose momentarily, "But, like, good dumb, you know? Cute dumb. Like a puppy! And-... I don't know!" she stammers, clearly not all that confident talking about such things as her green eyes momentarily shift back to the coffee and she tries to sort through her thoughts. "...And he's just -... a good person." she continues softly after a moment's consideration, once more looking

Vasquez' way with an honest shrug. "Plus-..." she draws a breath in through her nose while her gaze turns past Vasquez, growing a little distant as her mind wanders, "...he has a really nice body." she confesses, wincing as she reveals that she's most certainly not immune to such allures. An embarrassed snicker slips out and her gaze turns low once more to hide her face, causing the pom on her festive hat to flop forward.

Vasquez cradles her coffee in her hands as she listens. Leah's assessment of Nathan brings out a smirk, her words more than a little familiar, and she nods knowingly. The simple mention of him being a good person causes her smirk to shift into a soft smile, the nod that follows now a bit slower, heavier. She mostly just knows him as 'frustrating employee number 12', but it's obvious Leah's words are genuine. The final confession

prompts an amused snort, grin flashing across her face again. "Hmh... no comment." she says, lifting her hand and turning her wrist in a little wave to show off the ring, her grin growing a little.

Leah tilts her head to get a look at the ring, shoulders bouncing as she gives a snicker. "I'm just saying!" she continues defensively, "It certainly doesn't hurt if they can just-... you know-... shut up and look pretty." she jokes, her tone implying she thinks they may have found some common ground but she's unable to even get the sentence out completely before laughter is escaping with it. As her laughter slowly dies down she's

left with a big, genuine smile on her face and she reaches up with her free hand to adjust the fluffy white ball on the end of her hat and move it back behind her head. "...But, really." she nods, "He's-... I don't know!" she finds herself stammering once more, cheeks turning flush as she sucks in a breath that's exhaled in a giddy snicker before finally relenting with a simple shrug, "...I like him." she settles on, as if

that's all there is to it.

Vasquez ' gaze goes out across the room as her own laughter joins Leah's, head slumping a little as it dies down, looking down at what's left of her coffee for a moment, a grin lingering on her lips. It softens as she speaks again, and a couple of nods follow. "I got that impression." she says with a leftover snicker, studying Leah again now. "And now you're going on a 'kind-of' date. And you're nervous." she recounts, as if

checking that she has it right.

Leah lets out a puff of air, furrowing her brow at Vasquez' assessment as if she's way off base. "What? Nervous? Me? Nooooo." she insists with no small amount of sarcasm as she straightens up a bit to get more comfortable. "More like terrified." she corrects with a snicker of her own. "Me and dating? We don't exactly have the best track record." she winces for emphasis before letting out a sigh. "But I'm sure it'll be fine.

I mean, he seems almost as bad at all of this as I am, so there's that." she explains, as if that's providing some small amount of comfort.

Vasquez offers a faint smile, Leah's assessment of Nathan drawing out a small snicker. She sips her cup, letting her gaze wander the room again as she ponders her response, just listening to the Christmas music for a moment. "I'm terrible at dating." she admits eventually. "Pretty glad I'll never have to worry about that again." she adds with a faint snicker. "Honestly, Jason and I just... kind of happened." she says, glossing

over the messy details. Her vows at the wedding more or less made it public knowledge among Redrock that she was in a bad place when they met, but she's not about to sour the conversation with that. "Before that? I've had... two relationships. One good one, and, honestly? The dating part was all her, I was... pretty fucking useless." she says, the snicker that follows little more than a faint exhale. A tiny, soft smile plays

briefly across her lips before she sucks them in to lick them. The look on her face has shifted. Distant, fond but wistful. She keeps her gaze focused firmly on the last layer of coffee at the bottom of her cup. She hadn't meant to bring up Janet. It just... came naturally, and for a moment, talking about ordinary things, she forgot how messed up her life has been. She swallows hard, trying to keep the emotions that threaten

to rise to the surface at bay.

Leah's smile pulls back, shifting into something a bit more restrained, more gentle- but no less sincere- as she listens to Vasquez talk and open up more than she had expected. The 'her' doesn't go unnoticed but she decides against making a joke relating back to her earlier rant. The look on Vasquez' face causes her to turn her gaze to her own coffee as well for a moment. Her own relationship history isn't the most cheerful of

stories and some of those wounds are still quite fresh. Others, old reminders of just how a large portion of humanity views her. As outgoing as she is, being a biotic has still left her guarded in some regards... "Well..." she interjects over the silence threatening to take hold, refusing to let the mood sour over either of their failed attempts at finding love. "I once spit in a guy's beer during our first date." she

explains, eyes flicking back to Vasquez, smile widening. "To let him know I was into him!" she clarifies matter-of-factly, as if that should be obvious. The snort that follows it implies she's figured out that probably wasn't proper first date etiquette. "We were having a few drinks. The conversation was going well and things were getting comfortable. He started teasing me about-... about-..." she scrunches up her nose and

dismisses that line of thought with a shake of her head, "...I don't even remember. So I leaned over and-..." she makes an exaggerated spitting noise as she dips her head over her own coffee mug. "Right in his beer. I thought it was hilarious!" she insists before wincing. "Him...? Not so much." With a sigh she gives a small shrug of her shoulders. "Never heard from him again." she says with an exaggerated furrow of her

brow, as if considering why that might be. It slips back into that bright smile of hers and she gives a shrug, "But, hey! I got valuable intel, right? Now I know!"

Vasquez seems to appreciate the interjection, shifting a little and drawing a deep breath before shifting her gaze back to Leah, refusing to let the memories take hold. She finishes the last of her coffee, but keeps a tight grip of the mug, wanting something to hold onto. Leah's outlandish statement helps distract her, a muffled, surprised snort slipping out, confusion filling her face as she studies her with a look that practically

screams '...why?!' She listens to her story, slowly feeling herself calm down, and by the end she just shakes her head. "That's-..." she trails off. "Sure." she sighs. She searches her mind for some amusing dating-anecdote to offer up in turn, but she comes up short. What she has is either depressing and messy, or fraught with too many painful associations. She furrows her eyebrows a little as she goes silent again. "Okay,

so you know not to spit in his drink." she comments to cover for her failure, forcing a small smirk into place. "Sounds like you're ready to me."

Leah gives a stern nod in response to Vasquez' statement. "Exactly! See? I've got this in the bag!" she says with mock confidence that just prompts another snicker and shake of her head at just how hopeless she is. She drains the last of her coffee and sets the mug back down, finally rising up from the counter with a sigh. "Alright, if I'm going to share all of my juicy dating secrets with you, then I'm gonna have to put you to

work, Chief." she says with an apologetic tilt of her head and a shrug as if there's not much to be done about it. "How are you with Christmas trees?" she asks, big bright smile widening.

Vasquez snickers, her grin turning more genuine as she glances over towards the mostly disassembled Christmas tree. "I've got you covered." she says confidently. "Like I said, not a lotta live trees on Mars." she adds with another snicker as she puts her cup down on the counter and pushes off from it.

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