The world was a circle cut into the air, split up and across by bisecting lines. The silver-skinned creature sitting between two boxes of cargo, its head bowed over a packaged meal that was definitely not native to its surroundings, had not the slightest idea it was being targeted.
One deep breath to steady aim, exhale. All sights, sounds, even smells faded to the background, until only the observer and creature existed. That brief, tense moment overcame the senses. Another deep breath as a finger curled around the trigger, and- there! Release.
The bullet soared for its intended prey. It struck the package from the creature's hands, causing it to hop in comical fashion before tearing off, unseen, into the back alley.
"Nice shot," complimented the woman kneeling beside him.
Garrus Vakarian hefted the rifle onto his shoulder with a self-satisfied grunt. She met his gaze, a tiny smile tugging at the corners of her mouth. She was dressed in casual clothing, her usually combed hair tangled from their excursions atop Afterlife. Below, Omega spread before them, a myriad of color and sound.
"That's twenty-five for me, Shepard," he announced, watching as she readied her own rifle. "Think you can beat that?"
"I know I can," she declared with unshakable confidence. Garrus chuckled, having expected nothing less. Target practice had become one of their favorite past times since docking in Omega. The Normandy had suffered heavy damage upon its return through the mass relay, tying up most if not all the crew in repairs. Much of it was superficial, but the exterior damage directly above her cabin rendered it useless. She had checked into a hotel at Miranda's insistence, who had stated (with a rare smile) that humanity's savior deserved better than sleeping on a pallet in engineering. Garrus had been overseeing the weapons' repair when he received Shepard's invite. He wasted no time in answering her call. While some of the crew had smiled at his departure, none questioned it. All had an unspoken understanding that he and the commander were to be given the utmost privacy.
And we spend it shooting pyjaks, he thought with some amusement. Better than being shot at.
"So," he began, rolling his shoulders to ease the ache standing still for so long brought on. "How will you do it?"
"That's for me to know and you to find out," she countered, peering through the scope. She slowly moved left to right as she sought a target. "I don't have a tell like you do."
"I'm a bit...rusty on my human metaphors, Shepard," Garrus drawled.
She chuckled and resumed her search. "A tell is a term used in card games. It's how you know someone is bluffing, or if they have a really good hand. In your case, Garrus, it's right before you pull the trigger. Your eyes light up for a moment, you tense, and you take your shot. It's the same."
The turian, torn between admiration and surprise at how well she could read him, regarded her curiously. He said, "The same as wha-?" before realization dawned on him. He finished his statement with a decidedly self-conscious, "Oh." She stole a glance at him, smiling as she watched him gather his thoughts. Rallying at last, he countered, "Well, you know me, Shepard. I like to savor the last shot before popping the heat...wait," he said, shaking his head. "I said that once before, didn't I? Damn."
She laughed. "You might want to quit while you're ahead."
"So you like to remind me."
Shepard fell silent then, concentrating on potential targets. Garrus also kept his peace, casting his gaze down at the streets of Omega. Strange how life could turn on its ear in so short a time. Was it really only a few months ago that he set up shop here? That the only thing sustaining him was a sense of purpose born from Shepard's memory? Looking back now, he had no idea he'd be tapped for a suicide mission, let alone be part of her crew again. That he'd be the one she turned to at the zero hour.
Back when they were fighting to stop Saren, he hadn't the time to appreciate her beyond her role as commander. But after she died...well, that put everything into perspective. How clearly he could picture that day. The survivors, clustered together aboard the frigate that had answered the emergency beacon, listened in stunned silence as Joker delivered the crushing news. Tali and Liara had openly wept; Wrex shook his head. Kaidan Alenko staggered as if physically hit. He then sank to the floor, so shocked it seemed he had switched off. But the hollow ache in Garrus' heart was so profound that six months after her death, the pain, regret, and remorse hadn't gone away. Everyone else had moved on. Eventually he had, too, choosing to take matters into his own hands with the merc presence on Omega. It had felt good being around others who shared the same beliefs as he did. Making a difference.
Until it had all come crashing down, of course.
With the loss of his squad and the foul taste of Sidonis' betrayal fresh in his mouth, he had been ready to die that day. And, just like that, Shepard was there, restoring his wounded spirit and giving him new purpose. Giving him his life back. He could never repay her enough.
Garrus' gaze returned to Shepard, taking in what he saw. Two years spent laid up had done nothing to slow her reflexes or dampen her skills. She could still shoot, dodge and run just as efficiently as ever. He had lost count of how many times she had saved his ass in frantic firefights. Her prowess was nigh legendary- something that was not limited to battle, either.
The thought called up a very specific memory from the other night, forcing him to focus on something, anything, that would distract him.
His gaze fell to a pair of turians patrolling the grounds outside Afterlife. They seemed quite unaffected by their surroundings- no, scratch that. Two asari dancers, emerging from the entrance, sent provocative smiles their way as they sauntered past. The turians practically ran after them. The quartet passed a human couple caught in a very public display of affection. Garrus nearly groaned aloud. Afterlife and its unashamed atmosphere was absolutely no help at all. His grip tightened on his rifle. Shepard had to find her target, and fast. He needed to shoot something.
...aaand there's another fine metaphor to add to your colloquial repertoire.
"Target in sight," Shepard murmured, breaking into his thoughts. He had just looked up when she pulled the trigger. A distant yelp echoed far below, accompanied by a krogan's exasperated growl of, "Those little bastards are everywhere!" What followed was a series of frenzied gunshots and panicked pyjak squeals.
Garrus chuckled as she knelt beside him again. "Didn't think you'd be able to find another one," he remarked. "I could have sworn I got them all."
"You haven't decimated the population just yet," she countered smoothly, reloading the rifle with skilled precision. She appeared thoughtful for a moment, then turned to face him. Her eyes gleamed. "That last shot brought my total to twenty-five, too. What shall the tie breaker be?"
Garrus grinned. He definitely liked where this metaphor would take them. "Whatever it is," he said in a low murmur, "it will involve the handling of a firearm." She chuckled and moved closer to him. He watched as she took hold of his shouldered rifle and gently eased it out of his hand. Her other slid round his waist. In response he reached out, intending on drawing her against him. There was a flash of delight in her eyes, then laughter as she took hold of his holstered pistol and wrenched it free. Garrus could do no more than yell, 'Hey!' when she fired over his shoulder. A pyjak shrieked in indignation.
Caught between exasperated admiration and the distinct feel that he should have seen this coming, he shook his head. "That was a dirty trick, Shepard," he growled, holding her firmly when she tried to squirm free.
"Maybe," she agreed, smiling as she set his pistol down and ran her fingers down the length of his cheek. "But it's my job to be stealthy. I have to take advantage of every opportunity."
Garrus leaned in closer, inches from her face. "Except you got caught this time. Not going to be so easy getting away," he promised, squeezing her waist for emphasis.
Shepard's laugh was throaty. "Who said I wanted to get away?"
Garrus reached up to trail one finger down her face. The fiery recklessness in her eyes, the way her body cradled against his, the feel of her hand upon his cheek- how could he resist? But he didn't get the chance to suggest they continue this discussion in private. Their foreheads were just about touching when Joker, with his usual impeccable timing, contacted her. Garrus gave a heavy sigh that Shepard smiled at before she slid off his lap.
"What is it, Joker?"
"EDI just told me she intercepted a message for you on a frequency Omega definitely does not use."
Shepard's brows lifted. "Any idea who it's from?"
"Yeah, but you wouldn't believe me if I told you."
She exchanged an amused look with Garrus. "Try me."
"Kaidan Alenko," Joker told them, surprise evident in his voice. "Says he's on his way to Omega and wants to meet with you."
At their former teammate's name, Shepard's eyes narrowed with suspicion. "Did he happen to say why he was coming?"
"No. Just that he'll be here tomorrow."
"What's an Alliance soldier doing all the way out here?" Garrus questioned once she signed off, unable to keep the edge from his voice. Memories of meeting Kaidan on Horizon still did not sit well with him. Before, the mission had prevented him from analyzing it too closely, but now, as he looked into Shepard's eyes and felt a spark of anger come alive within him, he couldn't believe Kaidan's presumption. He had accused her of being a traitor, claimed Cerberus had manipulated her thinking, and turned his back on everything they ever had together.
"Your guess is as good as mine, Garrus," she replied. A faint smile teased her lips. "I know what you're thinking, and I appreciate the thought. I'm fine, really. What concerns me more is why he's coming here," she continued, gathering the spare thermal clips piled on the ground and placing them inside a bag. Garrus cleaned up the rest and strapped his rifle to his back just as she did. They strode side by side across the rooftop for the exit. He let her go through first, shadowing her as they descended the stairs. The club's music grew steadily louder.
"Do you think Anderson sent him?" he questioned, having to raise his voice.
Shepard shrugged. "Doesn't seem like it. Udina would probably have a coronary just knowing Anderson talked to me without his knowledge. Kaidan might be acting on his own."
Garrus conceded her point with a curt nod. "Well, whatever his reasons are, let me know."
At this she turned on the stair to smile up at him, the same as the one she had given him back when they were reunited. He had not seen her smile like that at anyone else, not even Kaidan. "Oh, you'll know," she assured him. "The message never said anything about this being a solo meeting."