#FreedomFalls – March 2, 2020

December 22nd. Early afternoon. The sun is shining on Freedom Falls, reflecting off the winter snow. The pleasant weather and the approaching holidays means that the market is a busy place. Humans make up a greater majority of the crowd than usual, and a number of temporary displays, and even whole stalls, have cropped up to take advantage of the season. Lights and decorations, toys, cards, wrapping paper, food and drinks, treats. All

manner of usual products are on special display as well, offering deals and suggesting them as potential gifts. In typical Terminus fashion, this also includes a couple of instances of body armor and even weaponry. It's a chaotic mixture of local, often handcrafted goods and Elkoss Combine products (As they like to boast, there's nothing Elkoss Combine doesn't make, and they were the first alien company to capitalize on Christmas and other

human holidays). There's some stalls selling items that must have been imported from human space - it seems the town's dedicated importers have some competition for the holidays. One human merchant, set up outside the market building itself, is selling trees and wreaths, in direct competition with the plastic variants offered by vendors inside. A quarian booth is set up outside the market proper as well, selling an eclectic mixture of

holiday-themed weaves and handcrafted children's toys, most of them robotic, with simple VIs that guide their movement. Toy soldiers, animals, and even a small drone in the shape of the SSV Normandy, the ship that saved the Citadel.

Leah and Tara were picked up by Jasper. Leah spent the entirety of their short ride to the market expertly dodging Jasper's many attempts at getting more info out of her regarding her date. If his feathers are still ruffled over all of that Fasha business, he's doing a good job of keeping it tucked away for now. With a promise to shoot Jasper a message when they're done shopping so he can pick them up, Leah and Tara disembark

from the shuttle. Leah is dressed in her usual attire. Form-fitting black pants. Light blue winter jacket. She's added some festive flair to her outfit for the occasion by way of her floppy red-and-white Christmas hat- complete with fur lining and poofy ball- and a pair of red, wool socks the poke out from the top of her clunky boots. Thankfully the hideous red sweater she's sporting is hidden safely beneath her jacket. Even

her nails have been colored for the occasion, each finger alternating between red and green. With a big, bright smile, she lets the winter air fill her lunks as she waves Jasper off and takes in the crowded market.

((lungs*))

Tara is, much like Leah, dressed in her usual winterwear, aside from the addition of her Christmas hat. Sadly, she has no atrocious Christmas socks or sweater in her wardrobe. Yet. There's obvious excitement in her face as she studies the busy marketplace, eyes wide as she scans the crowd, a slightly uncertain smile tugging at her lips. "There's a lot of people..." she observes quietly after Jasper departs, following alongside Leah.

Leah snicker as she starts towards the stalls at a slow pace. "Yeah..." she agrees. "Everyone is trying to get their last-minute shopping done." she adds, letting out a sigh at herself for having let time get away from her. It's been a... hectic month to say the least with everything going on. But still, waiting until just a few days before Christmas before going shopping?! That's unacceptable! As they near the stalls, she

pauses, rising up on the balls of her feet playfully before dropping back onto her heels and shooting a glance Tara's way, big bright smile on display. "Sooooooo~" she hums cheerfully with a rise of her eyebrows, "Where do you want to start?!" she asks, an attempt at putting the ball in Tara's court as she so often does.

Tara 's eyes widen a little, and she shoots Leah an uncertain look, laced with a bit of discomfort at being put on the spot. She hesitates, looking around before looking back to Leah with a lost frown.

Leah gives another snicker, sucking in her lips. "Alright, alright." she relents, drawing in a short breath. She reaches out, giving Tara's hand a playful tug before leading the way towards the quarian stall. "C'mon!" she encourages, gaze already turning to the wares on display.

Tara is quick to follow, letting Leah guide her over to the stall.

The quarian man manning the stall is just finishing up a sale of a blanket to a human woman as they arrive. A couple of curious children are examining some of the robotic toys under the supervision of a man with a patient, if slightly bored smirk on his lips. Probably a parent. The quarian turns towards Leah and Tara as they approach, his smile visible in his glowing eyes. "Looking for gifts? Or something for yourselves, perhaps? I have

unique toys, handmade. I have programmed the VIs myself." he says, gesturing towards the assortment of toy soldiers, animals and occasional oddities like a tank and the Normandy drone, which he activates, prompting it to fly in a little circle around Tara, much to her bewilderment, before setting back down on the table. "I also have cloths woven by my wife." he adds with a gesture to the other part of the stall, letting his hand run under

one of the pieces to show off the stylized silver reindeer set against dark blue. "Blankets, scarves, rugs... she is quite enraptured with your alien holidays, and enjoys blending your imagery with the traditional designs of our ship."

Tara seems fascinated and enraptured by the relatively simple booth, studying everything curiously. She also seems a little uncertain of how to react to being addressed directly. It's a much different experience from her past shopping experiences. No merchant would bother to court the attention of a slave - they would see her mark and know that she had been sent by her master, likely with a specific list of items to get.

Leah's smile persists as she places a hand against the table and her gaze travels across the many objects for sale. When the drone begins encircling Tara, her expression prompts a chuckle from Leah. But it's the cloth that garners her attention. "It's beautiful." she comments softly. It's the sort of thing her mother would've loved. Reaching out, she tests the fabric between her thumb and index finger. "How much?" she asks, gaze

rising to meet the quarian's through his mask.

The quarian merchant nods at Leah's comment, focusing on her for now since Tara is just silently studying everything. "It is, isn't it? That one would be 100 credits." he says. A reasonable price - you could certainly get something equivalent for much less out of a factory, but these are unique pieces. There's a number of similar bits of cloth in various colors, most of them with silver embroidery of motifs like snowflakes or Christmas

trees against a base in a single color, but in multiple shades forming geometric patterns in the background.

Tara leans down a little to study one of the toy soldiers, a bulky human man with a dour look on its face, and startles slightly as it looks around with narrowed eyes, sweeping its rifle across the table before letting out a quiet grumble as it spots no targets.

The quarian chuckles as he notices Tara eyeing the little robotic figure suspiciously, turning his attention to her for a moment. "I'm quite happy with how the VI turned out for these. Each of those soldier toys have different personality programming. You can set the parameters manually for what it considers an ally or enemy." he explains enthusiastically. "They don't actually shoot, of course. It's just some sound effects and

holographics."

Leah continues to look through the selection of holiday cloths, her gaze only briefly turning Tara's way when the merchant addresses her, causing her smile to brighten. Her gaze travels back to that initial swathe of cloth depicting the reindeer and she once again tests it between her fingers. She doesn't have much use for a bolt of cloth, unfortunately. "Do you have a scarf with this design...?" she asks, brow furrowing slightly

as her attention shifts back to the merchant, ball of fluff atop her hat bouncing from one side to the other.

The quarian 's attention turns back to Leah, tapping the side of his mask idly as he studies the design she has her eye on. "Let me see..." he mutters, ducking down to go through the boxes sitting under the table of his booth.

Tara studies some of the robotic animals while the seller looks through his supply, poking a little varren only to have it snap at her, her eyes widening as her hand jerks back. Of course, it's doubtful that it has any actual jaw strength considering it's meant for children.

The quarian man re-emerges with a large scarf with a similar motif - reindeer, in a row here, all pulling a sled around the edges of the scarf. The blue is a bit lighter, but it's similar. "This is the closest I have. It's not quite the same shade, but..." he holds it out for Leah to see and feel.

Leah reaches out to gently take the scarf, allowing it to drape across her hands, Tara's struggle with a toy varren going unknown. Sucking in her lips she examines the scarf for a few moments before giving a small nod of her head. "I'll take it." she says before glancing Tara's way. "We should pick something up for Li while we're here, too." she says, gaze dropping to the many toys along the table. "What do you think? See

anything that she might like?" she asks. Not that the few hours she spent around Li on Halloween gives Tara any real insight into what Li likes, but it's more about including Tara in the decision making.

The merchant smiles behind his mask, nodding and keying something into the purchase terminal set up on the table. "75 credits for that." he says, waiting to see if they're buying anything else.

Tara blinks, looking over towards Leah. "I... I don't know." she says uncertainly before looking back towards the toys. The robot soldiers are all unique - simple representations of various species and builds. Some are modern while others wield little swords or maces. The animals are mostly ones well-known across the galaxy, albeit with a bias towards Earth species such as dogs or horses. There's a carashan that must have been recently

built considering it's uniqueness to Aite. "They are all nice." she adds a little hesitantly with a look towards the quarian, as if worried that her lack of knowledge about Li could be taken as a slight against the toys.

Leah sucks her lips in once more, not wanting to make Tara self conscious due to the smile threatening to slip out. "Mmhmm." she agrees, resting one hand against the table and leaning a little bit heavier against it as her gaze travels over the selection of toys. "Which one do you like the most?" she prods, green eyes tilting up to Tara's face.

The quarian just waits patiently since he has no other customers at the moment - the two kids that were eyeing the toys have moved on further into the market.

Tara considers for a moment, eyebrows furrowing. Then she points out the soldier toy that originally caught her eye. The large, human one with the serious face. She opens her mouth to speak, although there's a brief moment of hesitance before the words "...this one looks like Mendez." slip out.

Leah's gaze turns to the soldier in question. She doesn't have a chance to really assess it before Tara passes her judgement, causing a loud snort to slip out. "Ohmygod it does!" she agrees. "He's so angry!" That seems to be enough to make up her mind, causing her to gesture to the soldier as she turns her attention back to the merchant. "We'll take this, too." she musters through a snicker as she begins to dig through her

jacket pocket for her credit chit. "Did you want anything, sweetheart?" she asks, worried Tara might not speak up otherwise.

Tara seems pleased with Leah's agreement, a quiet snicker of her own slipping out. The question prompts her to shake her head softly, pulling back a little and standing up straight again, hands folding in front of her.

The quarian merchant nods and keys in the second item before spinning the terminal around for Leah to look it over and swipe her chit. "That will be 175 credits total."

Leah passes a polite smile to the merchant once Tara confirms she's not adding anything to the pile and she pulls her chit free from her jacket, leaning over to swipe it. "Do you have a bag for these?" she asks, green eyes peeking back up through her bangs, "We're gonna be walking around for a bit and don't want to have to-..." she scrunches up her nose as she tucks the scarf under her arm.

The merchant straightens up a bit, hastily grabbing a back from a roll and shaking it open for them, letting them place the items before handing it over. "Of course! Enjoy your shopping, and... Happy Christmas?" he says, not sounding quite sure if he got it right or not.

Leah settles the items into the bag, using the scarf as padding for the soldier before accepting the bag from the merchant. His festive attempt gets a genuine smile from her and she gives a stern, appreciative nod. Good enough. " Joyeux Noël!" she answers back in kind. With a bit of pep in her step, she loops an arm through Tara's- shopping bag on her other arm- as she starts towards the market doors. She's clearly in

good spirits today, smile practically plastered across her face from the moment she woke up. Must be the season. Or... maaaaybe her date went better than expected. "Speaking of Mendez~" she says in a sing-songy tone, "He's doing a lot better so, as long as you don't mind-..." she clarifies, wanting to make sure Tara knows she has a say in things given their conversation the previous night. "...I was thinking we should

invite him over to celebrate Noël with us. What do you think?" she asks. "He-... doesn't really have anyone else out here..." she adds in a mutter, nose scrunching up briefly.

Tara seems in high spirits as well, perhaps absorbing a bit of Leah's good mood - and the general holiday cheer, although it manifests in more subdued ways. Leah's suggestion brings out a smile and she's quick to offer an enthusiastic nod. She's had the time to get used to Mendez over the past month, and there's no hesitation there.

Leah has, of course, already been planting the seed with Mendez since their return. He's been a pain in the ass to look after, but it's a small price to pay for the sort of loyalty he has put on display time and time again. As they step through the market doors, she moves off to the side, not wanting to block the entrance for others as they make a plan of attack. "Alright!" she says, unlooping her arm from Tara's and turning to

face her. "As is tradition~" she begins, standing up a bit straighter and putting a some dramatic flair into her words for emphasis, "...gifts are supposed to be a secret for the person you're giving them to until they open them on Noël!" she explains. "Soooo~ I need to make sure you're not snooping around and trying to get a peek at what I'm buying!" she continues, her playful nose scrunch and delivery making it sound

like an accusation, though her fond smile persists.

Tara listens closely as Leah speaks, a serious look on her face as she nods along - this matches what she's learned from the many, many hours of Christmas-themed television she's watched over the past days.

Leah nods in turn. "Sooooo~ I think maybe we should split up to get some quick, private shopping out of the way-..." she floats by Tara tentatively, studying her to make sure that she's okay with the idea, "...and then we can meet back here in 45 minutes and look around together. What do you think?"

Tara offers a single, determined nod, her serious expression remaining. There's a bit of relief beneath it since she hadn't been sure how to covertly acquire gifts - there's nerves there too, of course, she's not used to shopping on her own behalf, without specific instructions on what to get, but she doesn't say anything. She's been preparing herself for this. She's ready.

Leah sucks in her lips as she studies Tara, the younger girl's nod causing her smile to resurface. She gives a nod in turn. "If you need me, just call me, okay?" she reminds, having long since taught Tara how to call her, Francois, or- in case of emergencies- Mendez on her omni-tool.

Tara 's only response is another equally serious nod, gaze drifting away briefly to scan across the busy marketplace, a hint of nervousness crossing her face. "45 minutes. Meet here." she repeats, nodding to herself again.

Leah in the wake of everything that has happened, is unable to keep from fussing. Reaching out, she gives the edge of Tara's Christmas hat a gentle tug, pulling it down a little lower. "And make sure to keep your hat on." she offers, this bit of wisdom delivered in a whisper. The markings are the next thing on the list that needs to be taken care of. But a market isn't the place to march around on your own sporting slave brands

so, until they're removed, it's better to be safe than sorry. Even if they just lead to a closed contract, it's just not the sort of attention they need right now. It's especially not the sort of thing Tara needs to be dealing with while they're split up. Still, she punctuates her warning by propping her big bright smile back up and giving Tara a playful poke on the nose, not wanting to sour the mood. "Okay?"

Tara 's gaze falls a little, until it's brought back up by the poke, nose scrunching up as she meets Leah's gaze again and offers another nod, this one softer, expression a different kind of serious.

Leah gives another nod, this one causing the white, fuzzy ball of her hat to flop in her face. She scrunches her nose back up, ineffectively blowing at it a few times before reaching up and patting it aside with a snicker. "Alright, sweetheart." she begins as she backs up, adjusting the bag hanging off of her arm. "Fourty-five minutes!" she reminds with an addition of, "Good luck!" before turning on her heels and setting out on

her own adventure to aquire gifts and ask around for any information on vendors selling pets...

45 minutes later. Tara arrives with a little time to spare, wary of being late. Judging by the full-looking bag she's carrying her wanderings have yielded results. The market is a busy, busy place for the holidays, and the combination of lots of people and more merchants than usual makes it a bit crowded, but there's a positive atomsphere. There's more than one stall giving away free samples of homemade cookies or candies. The selection for

present is not bad at all - it's nothing compared to the infinite ocean of choice you would have back on Earth, of course, but there's a certain charm to hunting for gifts among the limited, and eccentric selection. As it turns out there's a couple of options when it comes to pet vendors. There's a human woman from an outlying homestead who is selling off a litter of kittens for cheap, and there's a batarian man, a travelling merchant who

has a more long-term presence in one of the rented spaces. He seems to have a varied selection of animals, as well as selling basic feed and such for some common pet species.

Leah has been coming to this market for a while now, but with its constant shifting and changing of vendors, it's always a new experience. Still, given the two new bags hanging from her arms, it seems she managed to find some things worth her time. The first to make it back to the front door, a big bright smile crosses her features as she spots Tara heading her way. She raises a hand to give her a wave and get her attention, but

given the stick of meat in her hand she winds up looking more like she's trying to direct traffic with a baton. In any other circumstance she might just wave with her other hand. Unfortunately that hand, too, is occupied by a length of meat on a stick. The vendor handing out free samples made the right move when he placed one in Leah's hand. They resemble large links of sausage, skewered on a stick and hosed in some sort of

thick sauce that necessitates the baggy with which Leah is holding the stick by. She brings one up to her mouth and takes a large bite as she steps towards the younger girl to meet her partway and extends the second stick of meat towards her. Tara doesn't need to know that she's already eaten her way through one prior to heading back to the rendevouz point. Her chewing hurries as she nears Tara, quickly wolfing down her

bite. "You have to try this!" she exclaims.

Tara smiles as she spots Leah, returning her wave with a small one of her own as she approaches. She blinks as the unknown meat-on-a-stick is presented to her, carefully accepting the baggy-enveloped stick and eyeing it with a mix of curiosity and skepticism before taking a small bite, her other hand keeping a tight grip on her shopping bag.

Leah's big eyes widen as she quickly takes another bite of her own, humming an expectant, "Mmmm?!" It's hard to tell exactly what kind of meat it is. An unfortunately common problem with Terminus food. You just never really know what you're eating. Leah doesn't seem too concerned, though. It's tender and the thick sauce pooling along the bottom of the baggy has a hint of sweetness to it. It's not bad, but nothing special. Just

typical food cart food. A fact probably lost to Leah's black-hole appetite. "Good, right?!" she asks, chasing down her bite with a lick of her lips.

Tara offers a small nod, continuing to nibble on her food as she eyes Leah's additional shopping bags with a hint of curiosity. She's finally started to get used to the fact that her food isn't at risk of being taken away at any moment, and her eating has started to slow to a more reasonable pace as a result, especially when confronted with something that has such a high messiness-potential. "You found gifts...?"

Leah's gaze lowers to the two bags hanging from her arm and she shifts them about, the question prompting her to playfully turn away from Tara as if to ensure she can't get a peek as she briefly looks into one of the bags. "Oh. I found gifts alright." she taunts as if Tara should get excited, playing it up. With a snicker she adjusts the bags and flicks her eyes at the bag hanging from Tara's arm. "How about you?" she

asks as she leans in for another bite, "Find what you were looking for?"

Tara considers the question for a moment before nodding in confirmation, seemingly satisfied with her acquisitions. She takes another bite from her food as she looks out across the market briefly.

Leah seems to be waiting for more to be said as she wolfs down her bite until Tara turns her attention elsewhere, causing her to blink and let out a small snicker. "Alright then." she nods in turn. She steps aside to stay out of the way of a large group of people walking through. "So-..." she begins, nodding in a direction once the group has passed by to indicate the general way they're going before she begins to lead. "...On

account of this being your first Noël, I think we're going to break tradition juuuuust a tiny bit." she explains, shooting a glance Tara's way.

Tara blinks, attention snapping back to Leah. She's mid food-bite, but there's a shortage of curiosity in the questioning look she shoots her.

(*no shortage)

Leah merely gives a snicker as Tara looks her way expectantly. "There's a gift that I can't really pick out on my own. So I'm gonna need your help with it." she continues to tease, dragging it out and giving a goofy wiggle of her eyebrows for further emphasis as she leads the way towards the batarian vendor, deciding that the place where Tara can look around and see her options is the better choice. If nothing looks promising,

they can always check head over to take a look at the litter of kittens afterwards anyway.

Tara can't quite keep the hints of excitement away from her face as they get moving - she has a pretty good idea of what this is about, after all.

The batarian merchant has a fairly large space tucked away in one of the calmer corners of the market. The shop smells a fair bit, as places like this tend to. Numerous animals are contained within, most of them in cages that definitely wouldn't pass Council space regulations. There's a lot of exotic birds and reptiles native to the warmer parts of Aite - in fact, given the fact that the majority of the current stock seems to be of that

sort, it seems likely that the merchant's primary purpose here is to collect rare animals for sale on other worlds, while trying to sell of some of his existing stock while he's at it. There's an aquarium full of fish, and a sad-looking terrarium with a vibrant blue-yellow lizard that floats up in a faint biotic field to grab from the food hanging in the ceiling as they pass. The tag says "Thessian Airswimmer". One cage holds a pyjak that

extends its snout through the bars to sniff at Leah and Tara as they approach. Further in is a plastic pet carrier with a metal cage door and something blue and furry inside of it, as well as a large, blanket-covered cage which is the current focus of the batarian merchant, who has just grabbed a bucket from the shelf behind him, where a number of sacks and buckets of pet food sit. The place isn't all that clean, and they seem to be the

only customers at the moment.

Tara 's excitement seems to wear off pretty quick as they enter the place, an uncomfortable frown taking root as her gaze scans across the cages, lips a thin line.

Leah too, looks a bit put off by the conditions of the place, but she does her best not to let it show, not wanting to bring the mood down for Tara. As they enter, she scrunches her nose up at the smell and turns to face Tara. Having finished her meat-on-a-stick during their walk, she places her now-free hand on Tara's shoulder as she meets her gaze. "Okay-... umm-... sooo, nothing dangerous." she says, that seemingly being

the only real pressing rule as she casts a quick glance about the store. "And-..." she begins before taking note of the look on Tara's face, causing her to furrow her brow, tilting her head to the side. "What's wrong...?" she asks, already having a pretty good idea of what the answer is.

Tara 's gaze falls away from Leah's face, her discomfort growing as it is noticed. She doesn't answer.

The batarian man tugs the blanket from the large cage. Underneath is scarred up varren, with bite and claw marks, as well a few missing silver scales. An animal raised for fight pits probably. It certainly has the aggression to match, lunging at the cage bars with long, razor-sharp teeth, rattling the whole thing and growling. The merchant curses the deadly creature out in a grumble and pours a bucketfull of some kind of meaty slop into the

cage, which the varren immediately starts to lick up.

Tara flinches as she hears the growling and cage-rattling, distracted by the sudden noise as a jolt of fear shoots through her. She stares at the deadly predator in the cage, eyes wide.

Leah winces at the sudden clank, gaze shooting over in the direction of the loud noise, unable to hide the look of pity that crosses her features as she studies the scarred creature. She doesn't allow herself to linger for too long, forcing her attention back to Tara and giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze as she props her smile back up, a little heavier this time. Batarians. Cages. It's hard not to think of Fasha. "Hey..." she

offers softly, her tone whispered to keep from offending the vendor. Her hand moves from Tara's shoulder to her cheek, urging her to meet Leah's gaze. "...We'll just take a quick look around, okay? If-..." she finds herself glancing back towards the varren, drawing in a breath and inadvertantly giving a small shake of her head before looking to Tara once more, "...umm-..." she swallows, "...If you don't see anything here

that catches your eye? There's a lady with some kittens we can go see." She holds her smile up a little firmer for Tara's sake. "Like Pixel...?" she adds, unsure if Tara even knows what a kitten is.

Tara 's breathing is starting to get faster, but she forces herself to meet Leah's gaze, hanging onto her words. She gives a couple of faint nods, doing her best to keep her anxiety at bay. She can't help her attention slipping back towards the varren as the blanket covers the cage once more. Sealed away for storage, cut off from the world around it. Her gaze starts to seek out Leah again as she feels herself getting lost in the past,

but that's when her gaze falls on the plastic carrier behind her and the terrified animal within, hiding away in the back of its housing. A blue, furry creature who's details are hard to make out in the shadow of the carrier. She stares past Leah's shoulder at it.

Leah holds Tara's gaze, making no attempt to look away as her breathing picks up, frown tugging at the corner of her mouth. "I'm right here, sweetheart." she assures in a whisper, hand rising to fix the edge of Tara's hat. She does her best to tuck away her own feelings, hiding away the frown trying to escape in Tara's best interest. "Ya know what?" she asks with a small shake of her head, festive ball flopping about. "How about

you and I go check out those kittens, hmm?" she offers, doing her best to resummon her smile. But as Tara's gaze drifts past her, she gives a furrow of her brow. "What is it...?" she asks, turning around to see what has gathered Tara's attention. She studies the furry, blue creature for a brief moment before taking a step closer and looking around the carrier for any sort of information as to what's contained within it.

Tara gets closer alongside Leah, although she keeps going, kneeling down in front of the carrier to peek inside. She seems calmer now, distracted perhaps, although there's a frown etched into her features. It's a soft, sympathetic one, and she leans close to the gate, hands folded in her lap as she looks carefully inside, uttering a whisper-quiet "Hello...?" There's no label on or near the carrier to clear things up for Leah, but not

long after Tara speaks a head comes into viewing, daring closer to the gate. It looks not unlike a fox with just a dash of kitten. It has large, expressive ears and ocean-blue fur that looks unwashed and a bit matted. The animal's most prominent feature is definitely the four big, dark eyes that study Tara with cautious curiosity. It's somewhere right between 'cute' and 'creepy'.

The batarian merchant, a lean middle-aged man with dark stubble observes disinterestedly after returning to behind the counter.

Leah continues to look for any sort of markings on the carrier until Tara's voice gathers her attention. It causes her to give up on her search and crouch down beside Tara, balanced on the balls of her feet. She allows the bags to rest against the floor, forearms perched against her thighs as she looks from the strange creature to Tara. Tara's gentle timidness causes her restrained smile to grow more genuine, cementing it in

place despite the atrocious conditions of the place and the poor critters within. For the moment she just quietly observes.

Tara is kneeled on the floor, paying little mind to her pants getting dirty as she remains leaned in close to the door, shopping bag forgotten next to her. She carefully extends a hand towards the grated metal, although stops when the animal pulls back in fear, frown deepening. "It's ok..." she mumbles quietly, almost seeming like she's forgotten that there's anyone else around. She removes her glove and slowly, slowly inches her hand

closer, fingers brushing against the thin metal bars. The creature within slowly, cautiously moves forward again, studying her again, and then, hesitantly, nuzzling her hand. When nothing bad happens it seems to grow a little more confident, licking the residue from the food she just ate off her fingers and prompting a tiny, soft giggle from Tara, her face still filled with a sad sympathy. Noticing Leah hovering next to her she

glances her way. "She's a gzzk." she explains quietly, picking up on the lack of recognition in Leah's face. The word is simultaneously throaty and hissing, and it seems like there ought to be a vowel in there somewhere.

Leah's brows pinch into an arch as she watches the little, blue, furry creature, her heart practically melting at the exchange, prompting a bit of gentle laughter to escape her. Tara's words cause her to glance her way, confusion momentarily crossing her features. But she's heard more than her fair share of batarian dialects, and she's smart enough to put two-and-two together and come to the conclusion that it must be a species

she's had contact with previously. "Oh..." she whispers, merely watching the exchange for a few moments before leaning in a little closer. "Hey there." she offers gently, cautiously bringing one hand up to the cage in an attempt at giving the creature a little pat with her fingers through the bars. Her movements are slow and steady in an attempt at avoiding scaring the timid creature.

Tara shifts a little to give Leah some space, a faint shadow of a smile on her face.

The gzzk is still nuzzling Tara's hand when Leah reaches in to pat it, but it suddenly pulls back as a faint jolt of static electricity passes between them, pressing close to the floor and watching her with all for eyes, ears pressed back as it lets out a low sound. Almost a growl, but it sounds more like a low, anxious whine.

Tara frowns, looking concerned.

(*four eyes)

Leah quickly jerks her hand back, concern washing over her face. She curses under her breath, hand shooting up to her mouth. "I'm so sorry! I didn't-..." she begins, her voice still low as her gaze turns from the caged creature to Tara, "...I didn't mean to-...! Fucking biotics!" she whines. Drawing a deep breath in through her nose, she brings her hand back to rest against her leg. Despite it being a mostly harmless static

charge, there's genuine guilt on her face over having scared the gzzk. She silently curses herself for not thinking to discharge the static build-up beforehand, mood visibly dampened.

Tara studies Leah as she curses to herself, frown deepening. She reaches over to give her hand a light squeeze, meeting her gaze before looking back to the gzzk in the carrier, leaning closer again, a worried look on her face. "It's ok..." she repeats, voice quiet and gentle. "It was an accident." Her fingertips brush the cage door, and the scared critter studies her hand. The tone of her voice seems to relax it a little, but it seems

more shy, hesitant to get closer. "We won't hurt you..."

The gzzk slowly starts to inch a little closer to the door again, but then the voice of the batarian merchant cuts in from behind the counter. "Are you buying that thing or what?"

Tara looks to Leah, face full of emotion, and it's abundantly obvious that she doesn't want to leave the gzzk here.

Leah meets Tara's gaze as she grasps her hand, the small, comforting gesture causing a semblance of her smile to resurface. It's a little weighed down by what just transpired, but it's obviously important to her that Tara seems to know it was entirely accidental. For a moment she merely watches Tara's gentle interaction with the scared creature. The voice at her back causes her to briefly shut her eyes, drawing in a breath to

keep from flipping him off. She reaches up, using her middle finger, instead, to tuck a loose strand of hair back beneath her colorful hat. "Umm-... just-... give us a moment." she says, wincing as she meets Tara's gaze once more. Despite wanting to make Tara happy, she still knows almost nothing about the creature before her. Urged to speed things up by the impatient batarian, she slips her arms free of the bags, letting

them sit on the ground as she rummages through her jacket pocket. After a few moments of digging that, thanks to her awkward, crouched position results in her nearly tipping over not once but twice, she finally pulls her omni-tool free. "Gizzek you said?" she asks, her pronunciation way off as she begins to hurriedly swipe through the interface. "How do you spell-..." she begins before trailing off and shaking her head,

"...uhh-... it's fine." she interrupts herself. "Autocorrect should-..." she continues in a mutter, trailing off once more as she's pointed in the right direction by the image of dark green gzzk. Suddenly feeling like she's on the clock, her green eyes scan from left-to-right across the interface as she does some quick reading, lips silently moving as she quietly reads, doing her part to make sure they're it's dangerous.

That it's not likely to die in a week, leaving Tara heartbroken. That feeding and training it won't be difficult. Things of that nature.

((to make sure it's not dangerous*))

The merchant offers an affirmative grunt behind the counter, grabbing a magazine and flipping through it idly.

Tara looks a little worried when there's no immediate confirmation, watching Leah's eyes scan the omni-tool screen with a nervous look on her face, not quite sure what she's doing.

Leah sucks in her lips as she skims through the article displayed on her omni-tool. Long live span for a pet. Playful. They don't seem to have a picky diet. She tugs at her lower lip for a moment with her teeth before raising her voice to be heard by the batarian behind her without having to turn his way. "Can you tell me how old it is...?" she asks, "...Do you know its age?"

The batarian looks up from his magazine, raising a couple of eyebrows and looking down at the plastic carrier. He scratches his chin as he quickly runs the numbers. "Hmh... about 5 months." Leah's search might have told her that most breeds of gzzk take about 8 months to reach adulthood.

Tara 's gaze darts between Leah and the merchant, her worry lingering as she awaits a decision. The gzzk has dared to get a little closer as they talk, and Tara looks over to the carrier when she suddenly feels it nuzzling her fingertips again. There's a surprised look on her face as she carefully reaches in what little distance she can through the cage door, stroking the gzzk's head gently as she studies it, temporarily distracted from

the conversation, expression all soft affection.

Leah waits impatiently, desperately not wanting to disappoint Tara. As the batarian informs her that the gzzk isn't nearing the end of its lifespan, she lets a breath out through her nose, gaze lingering on Tara. A soft smile crosses her lips once more. "You know if it comes home with us, that means it's gonna depend on you to take care of it, right...?" she says, once again lowering her voice to keep their conversation private

from the batarian at their backs. "Feeding it? Cleaning up after it? Are you sure that's something you want to be responsible for?" she asks, perhaps showing her cards a little early. But that's okay. That's what they came here for. And even if that wasn't the case, after seeing Tara interact with the little critter, how could she possibly say no?

Tara reluctantly tears her attention away from the gzzk to look at Leah, listening to her. She offers a determined nod, clearly taking this responsibility very seriously. "I will take good care of her." she promises solemnly.

The batarian goes back to reading as they speak. He doesn't seem all that invested in making the sale. Or maybe he figures it's already a foregone conclusion.

Leah allows the smile to spread a bit further across her features, drawing another deep breath in before letting it out through her nose. She studies Tara for a few seconds before giving her head a tilt to the side, gaze turning upwards as she calls out to the batarian. "We'll take her." she says, smile turning big and bright as her green eyes settle on Tara once more. She gathers her bags up, slipping her arms back through the

loops before standing back up and turning to face the vendor. "And the carrier, too." she continues, giving a nod in the gzzk's general direction. "Just to get it home." she adds unnecessarily, the barbed undertone hidden away for just her and Tara. After a moment's consideration she shoots a glance Tara's way, brow furrowed. "Umm-... you wanna look around real quick? Maybe pick up some snacks for her? Bedding? Toys...?" she

lists, not particularly sure what sort of things they should even be considering for the alien creature.

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#FreedomFalls
Tara
Leah Mercier

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