#FreedomFalls – April 15, 2021

December 25h. Early afternoon. After a leisurely morning of sleeping in - and some chatting with Cynthia, who has apparently decided to spend the day hanging around Redrock HQ and making some calls home - Vasquez instructed Jason to join her for a car ride with no explanation offered. The weather has, thankfully, cleared up since morning, and while it's still windy, the skies are clear, Typhon shining down on a snowy Freedom Falls, and

Litae looming large above the Dactyls. Vasquez is wearing her usual olive-green winter coat, although today it is joined by a begrudging addition of the matching hat that Jason got her, which means that she's wearing her hair down for the day. They're headed towards the outskirts of Freedom Falls, already-sparse buildings rapidly growing rarer after leaving the Redrock parking lot.

Jason has accompanied Vasquez without too many questions outside of a bit of playful suspicion. Boots, jeans, and his brown canvas jacket over a long sleeved shirt as well as a tight fitting beanie is his attire for the morning. His gaze is fixed to the passenger's side window as they head towards the outskirts, good spirits seeming to have remained with him judging by the small smile that has been on his face all morning. "So...

you're really not gonna tell me where we're going...?" he asks, shooting a quick look Vasquez' way. His tone implies he already knows the answer.

Vasquez ' attention is ahead on the road, a smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth for a moment with Jason's question. "Correct." she confirms with a nod and a brief glance his way, amusement shining through briefly. As they pass the last of the warehouses, trees surround them on both sides. There's a few scattered homes out here, such as the Mercier house, which sits further up the hillside, down it's own obscure sidepath -

Freedom Falls is not exactly short on room if you don't mind the loss of convenience that comes with being outside the town proper. The outskirts are a good option if you want space and privacy without the demand for self-sufficency that comes with homesteading.

Jason gives a single, knowing nod at Vasquez' response, her answer unsurprising. "Right. Of course." he mutters as his gaze turns back out the window, lopsided smirk tugging at his lips. He shifts a bit in his seat, elbow resting against the windowsill and hand propping up his head.

Vasquez lets out a quiet breath through her noise that just might've been a muffled snicker as they continue up the road. It's the main road leading out of Freedom Falls on the west side, going up to the dam and beyond. The drive continues in silence for a couple of minutes. Only once they've passed the dam does the car slow, turning onto a smaller side road. While cleared of vegetation and not covered in deep snow, it's certainly

not as smooth of a ride - thankfully their car's suspension is quite capable. Rugged vehicles are the way to go on a frontier colony like Aite.

Jason continues to watch out the window as their ride proceeds in silence. Having grown up back on Earth- his formative years spent in a hilly, California city- the allure of the natural beauty of Aite still hasn't lost its luster with him. Sure, he's seen plenty parts of the galaxy since his younger years. But Aite is different. It isn't just another stopgap. It's the place that they've decided to put down roots. To build their

life together. It's home. It's not until the car begins to slow that he turns his attention back towards the front of the vehicle. "It's nice out here..." he muses quietly.

Vasquez smiles a little and nods again. "Yeah..." she agrees quietly, tone nothing but genuine, looking pleased by the comment. Her fingers drum a little nervously against the steering wheel as the car continues down the narrow road, rattling slightly as they cross over a tiny bridge, little more than a slab of metal over a pipe that lets a small stream flow uninterrupted despite the road. Shortly afterwards they enter a clearing,

and the car starts to slow to a stop. Once they're past the treelines, the breathtaking view that Aite offers makes itself known once more - the sharp, jagged peaks of the Dactyls tower around them, and on the left side of the clearing stands a massive tree that seems to have grown from a pile of boulders, arcing roots digging into the ground, and into the water that lines the far side of the clearing - a creek in the

resevoir that sits upstream from the dam. The tree looks not unlike the largest of Earth's oaks, albeit with a more prominent root system - its kind are surprisingly resistant to Aite's cold season, but still often prefer to grow around the hotsprings that can be found higher in the mountains. While the creek is covered in ice, this is far from true of all of the resevoir - the flow of the river can be seen in the iceless

portion in the center where unfrozen water is still seen, ripples gleaming in the sunlight. The far shore is mostly trees, but there's a couple of buildings dotted about. As for the clearing itself, a number of waist-high metal rods line the edges, glowing red lights atop them.

Jason continues to watch in silence and enjoy the pleasant ride as they're bombarded by the natural beauty that comprises Aite. He doesn't exactly make a habit out of exploring the outskirts of town so this is- unsurprisingly- unexplored territory to him. You'd think that given everything that's happened in recent years he'd be wary about being led out into the middle of nowhere. After all, the woman behind the wheel is the one

who left him for dead- helpless and bleeding- in the middle of nowhere on some backwater planet merely months prior. But that's just not the case and those concerns couldn't be further from his thoughts. He made peace with the events that transpired on Di Yu long ago, before the dust had even settled or the blood dried. As the vehicle comes to a stop, he leans forward a bit in his seat, brows furrowing as he scans across the

clearing. The metal rods draw that familiar lopsided grin back to his lips. He had his suspicions about what they were doing out here, but this pretty much confirms it for him. He tilts his head Vasquez' way, indicating the clearing with a quick nod in that direction. "This what I think it is...?" he asks after a brief hesitation.

Vasquez ' hands are still on the wheel as she offers a slightly sheepish shrug in response. "Merry Christmas." she replies, nerves tinging her voice a bit as she looks Jason's way and flashes a small smile, holding back from saying anything else just yet as she tries to get a read on his initial reaction.

Jason lets out a slightly surprised huff of air that doesn't quite manifest as a laugh when she confirms, his attention turning back towards the clearing. He brings his left hand up to his face, idly running it across the stubble that colors his cheeks from a lazy morning in which shaving was filed away as 'unimportant'. At a loss for words, he merely studies the land in front of him for a few moments before opening the passenger's

side door- allowing a rush of cold air to enter the vehicle- and stepping out.

Vasquez ' hands finally leave the steering wheel, and she too opens her door, stepping out. She leaves the truck idling to keep it warm, slamming the door shut behind her after her boots crunch against the snow. "I cleared it with the Matriarch a few days ago. Land's ours if we want it." she says, glancing across the hood of the truck towards Jason as she starts to walk in front of the vehicle. She doesn't seem quite sure how to

take his silence, a trace of a question in her words. The snow in the clearing is uneven, with faint depressions that hint at snowed-over tire-tracks and footsteps, especially around the marker rods. She stuffs her hands into her pockets as her gaze scans across the clearing, and out to the far shore of the resevoir lake. A gust of wind makes her black hair lift from her shoulders, fluttering in the wind where not held down

by the hat.

Jason shuts the door behind him, hand dragging lightly across the hood of their truck as he takes a few steps towards the front of the vehicle, a focused look entering his features as he studies the land in front of him. He glances Vasquez' way a few moments after she speaks up, lagging behind as a flurry of thoughts flood his mind. He gives a few distracted nods, drawing a deep breath of crisp, winter air into his lungs and moving

to lean back against the front of the truck. You don't face a decision like this without considering everything that came before. After all, their relationship has taken them on quite the journey with plenty of 'homes' along the way. It started in a run down apartment on Omega. The kind that's never too far from the sound of distant gunshots that you learn to drown out by turning up the volume on the TV. Somehow, what started

as a fling on a lumpy old couch and could've ended as a one night stand blossomed into something more. Something real. They tried to make a home on Illium. But it wasn't really theirs. Shared with Bela and Malin. Just another stopgap. There's few good memories to be had there. Just arguments and loss and a road that led them to the cold, lonely sterile hospital room on the Citadel. That's a time he'd rather forget. But it

did do one thing for him. It showed him just how much Vasquez means to him. And then there was Earth. Their tiny, cramped apartment where he worked long hours just to fall behind on rent as they struggled to pay off the medical bills that dug them deeper and deeper into debt. That memory smells like cold pizza and microwavable dinners and is cluttered with free movies on TV because those were the only dates that they could

afford. For that matter, the only dates that Vasquez could manage as she worked through her recovery. That whole time is colored in a haze of exhaustion, with one day bleeding into the next. But they were together. And that gave a sense of hope. The late night talks when he wasn't too tired from a day of back breaking work and she wasn't too ornery from rehab without results are the things he remembers the most. When they'd

order cheap takeout that they could barely afford and talk about the future. But Aite hasn't exactly been the future they dreamed about. Their home was quickly reduced to rubble, and the guest rooms of the Respite will forever be a reminder of just how close he came to losing Vasquez. Nights spent with cheap booze, hard pain meds, and his own dark thoughts to keep him company. But they bounced back from that. They bounce back

from everything. Somehow. They rebuilt. Both themselves, and their home. A home nested in the middle of a literal military base. Complete with its own armory, med bay, and even a wall reminding him each and every day of everyone they've lost as hardened mercenaries file in and out. There was a time when that would have been fine. It would have been enough. But something changed. This past year hasn't been an easy one. Hell,

none of them have been, but the past year has been particularly rough. Nearly losing Vasquez. Facing his own mortality in the face of a nearly incomprehensible enemy. Fatherhood looming on the horizon and all of the fears that accompany it. It's brought to light the thing that has been missing from the life that they've struggled so hard to build together and each 'home' that they've passed through. Something that, perhaps,

he just wasn't willing to admit he needed. Peace. After all, what use does 'peace' have for a man who has spent half of his life fighting wars. "So..." he finally speaks up, swallowing as he glances back Vasquez' way, blue eyes seeking hers out. "...do we?" he asks, trying to feel out her thoughts just as much as she's trying to get a read on his.

Vasquez joins Jason in front of the truck, although she doesn't lean against it - relaxing was never her strong suit. His words draw a quiet, awkward chuckle from her, seeking out his gaze with her own. "It's a bit out of the way. I know we said 'close to the office'." she qualifies with a small shrug, eyes leaving Jason to look out at the landscape that surrounds them again, letting out a puff of air that turns to mist as it

mingles with the cold air. She blinks a few times and swallows at the lump in her throat, the same feelings that rose when she first set sight on the spot filling her again. "It's... pretty damn peaceful though, isn't it?" she asks with another short, nervous laugh, looking back to him with a hopeful smile.

Jason mirrors Vasquez' gesture, attention quickly turning back out towards the plot of land. He gives a distracted nod to her initial statement as he continues to look over the area, gaze scanning across the lake. "It sure is..." he agrees quietly, her description seeming like quite the understatement. It's downright tranquil. The sort of idyllic place people speak of when they talk about settling down but never follow through on.

Feeling Vasquez' eyes on him causes him to glance her way and scoot across the edge of the truck to step closer to her, his own smile beginning to manifest. He opens his mouth to speak again, but all that comes out is a snicker and he gives a small shake of his head in disbelief as he looks back out to the landscape arround them. "We'd need a second truck..." he muses quietly, shooting her a sidelong glance as he spitballs in

the way one does when they've probably already made up their mind but aren't ready to outright say it, and are already setting their sights on future complications that are going to need to be addressed.

Vasquez ' smile grows a bit firmer before she swallows it and nods in agreement. "We would." she acknowledges, looking out at the clearing again. "Construction'll set us back too." she adds with a brief tilt of her head. "But we streamline Redrock's expenses, score a few more solid contracts? Maybe sell off some of our salvage? We could afford it." she comments, gaze darting Jason's way briefly, hands still in her pockets. "Could

be ready to start building by the time the ground thaws."

Jason shifts against the hood of the car, nodding along in acknowledgement to each point Vasquez hits on. There's the slightest tinge of guilt that rises up over his recent discussion with Halisi. The sort of tech that he's got her looking for doesn't come cheap. And now a new truck? Construction of a house? It's probably the sort of expense that he should have discussed with Vasquez first. And, for a brief moment, he considers

coming clean about it. But the smile on her face is enough to convince him otherwise. He doesn't want to ruin this moment for her with more financial concerns. Or ruin the surprise. It's not like they don't have a solid income. Drawing in a breath, his gaze drops towards the ground, unable to wipe the grin from his face as he considers her words as if he hasn't already made up his mind. "I mean-..." he begins, once again

looking to Vasquez and offering a shrug of his shoulders. "...fuck it, right?" he asks, as if seeking solidarity on such a monumental decision. His grin widens into a full on smile, enthusiasm winning out over all of the nerves and concerns that come with something this big, "Let's fuckin' do it."

Vasquez is second-guessing herself as soon as the words leave her mouth, even though she's already gone over all of it. It'll be a bit tight, but they can afford it. And if this isn't worth their time and money, what is? Her gaze shifts back to Jason as he speaks, and the words that soon follow makes her smile return in full force. "Yeah?" she prods in response, straightening up a little and turning towards Jason, the enthusiasm

that affirms that it's not just her that wants this already making it easier to justify going through with it.

Jason gives a stern nod. "Yeah." he says with a confidence that drowns out all of his other uncertainties. "We have worked our asses off, Linda." he says, the exhaustion that accompanies that statement almost audible in his tone. They've shed blood, sweat, and tears. Far too often on behalf of others. Fighting someone else's fight for them. Bleeding for them. Losing for them. "And what do we have to show for it? A room on top

of an office building?" he shakes his head. Despite the implications, the smile remains, if a bit heavier. "We deserve more than that." he says. It might not be something he wholly believes, but his confidence doesn't waver in the face of that lingering self-doubt. "You deserve more than that." he continues, and he can't help it from sounding more like a correction than an affirmation. "Our child-..." the phrase alone is

enough to cause his smile to grow with nervous enthusiasm for the life that they're trying to build together. A life that he never could have expected. A life that, despite all of the roadblocks, setbacks, and disappointments, he wouldn't trade for the world. He brings a hand to Vasquez' side, urging her in closer so he can slip both arms around her waist. "...deserves more. So-..." he shrugs his shoulders as he meets her

eyes, voice growing a bit quieter, "...Yeah. Let's do it." he repeats.

Vasquez snorts quietly as Jason speaks, nodding in acknowledgement. It's been a practical solution, but having so little space to themselves? So little privacy? No barrier between their jobs and the rest of their lives? It's tiring. It wears you down. After sharing makeshift solutions from the moment they got together, the idea of a place that's truly theirs, just theirs, out of choice and not circumstance, is an awfully appealing

idea. And now, more than ever... there's more than just work in their lives. They need room to live. Room to start a family. A base full of hired guns in no place to raise a child. Jason's unintended 'correction' makes her gaze fall down to the snow briefly - eyebrows furrowing as her smile slips away. As far as she's concerned there's not a whole lot of overlap between what she dreams of and what she 'deserves'. Thankfully

the next sentence stops that train of thought before it can spiral, because soon there's going to be someone that they both agree deserves the very best, and that's enough to bring her smile back, warm and soft on a face too used hard expressions. "Let's do it." she agrees, voice quiet and eyes gleaming a little as she lets herself be pulled closer, arms slipping around Jason and wrapping him up in a hug as she leans

against him.

Jason presses a quick kiss against her shoulder as she wraps him up in a hug. His arms slip further around her, enveloping her in a hug and giving her a gentle squeeze before adjusting to a more comfortable position, hands resting- wrists crossed- against her lower back. His smile tempers into something softer as he finds himself looking down at her, unbothered by the cold and looking to be in no rush to move.

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