The first time Garrus sees Shepard make a kill with a sniper rifle, he has to admit it's a pretty impressive sight.

Granted, she's entirely out of ammo and is using the weapon to bludgeon a rachni to death, but still — impressive. When it comes to shooting the thing, that's another matter entirely. It doesn't make a damned bit of sense to him; he knows enough about N7 selection — Shepard's been trained on every single weapon she carries, and that's not a small number of weapons. Hell, the woman's practically a walking armory. So, she shouldn't be bad with any of them, but she is — on that weapon, at least — to a point that leaves Garrus vaguely insulted on behalf of snipers everywhere.

He's just not sure it's the place — or time — to bring it up. Shepard's given him an out, has gotten him out from under all of C-Sec's red tape and bureaucracy and the never ending fill-this-out-in-triplicate of it all. When push comes to shove, he really doesn't want to run the risk of being dumped right where he started from, all because he had the nerve to tell the first human Spectre that while she may have been top of the class when it came to hand-to-hand combat (true), and he's nearly sure he's never seen anyone, human, turian, or otherwise, handle a shotgun with that level of style (also true: she shoots, reloads, aims, and shoots again, all one after another in movements fluid as water), headshots only counted when they were headshots. That was the whole point. Line up your target and take them out in one pull of the trigger. Make every shot count — every single shot. Because sometimes you only ever got one.

Sometimes one squeeze of the trigger is the thin line marking the difference between glory and death.

There's always the chance he's simply looking at her skill from a sniper's point of view, which he really can't help doing. His specialty, after all, and he's proud of it. But even so, she should be better. He wants her to be better. And he knows, deep in his gut, he knows she can be better, that he can make her better.

He just has to bring it up. Make her an offer in such a way that wouldn't end with his ass getting jettisoned next trip to the Citadel. Or worse, thrown out an airlock.

In the end, he doesn't have to say a damned word. Shepard finds him in the belly of the Normandy, tinkering with the Mako's defenses. For far too long she stands just off to the side, watching him work. But he's used to that, and he doesn't mind; Shepard is curious, and when she's curious about something, she pays attention. Normally she stands behind him, watching over his shoulder, asking questions he's only too happy to answer. She likes to understand things, and doesn't make any pretense of already knowing all the answers. He finds it… refreshing. On this occasion, however, the commander doesn't seem particularly curious. Agitated, more like.

She coughs once, clears her throat, and says, "So, we've got a little down time coming up."

Garrus looks up from his work to find her standing too still, too tense, too ready to bolt. The readout on his visor is going wild, and he doesn't need to read her heat signature to notice there's a rush of color at her face already. He may not be able to read her face, exactly, but those numbers are telling him something. He just doesn't know what.

What kind of trouble are you going to get me into, Shepard? But he doesn't say that. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." Shepard shifts her weight again, releases her hands, then reclasps her hands behind her back. Her body heat creeps up another half a degree. Interesting, he thinks. Definitely interesting. Then she rocks back on her heels and says, "Joker's taking her in for some maintenance."

"Hmm. Well, I'm not gonna complain; a little down time'll be nice." He turns back to the console then and waits, but the commander doesn't say anything else — and he's sure there's more she's not saying. From the corner of his eye, he spies her still watching him, gnawing a little on her thumbnail. She shifts her weight again. After a moment he sends her a sidelong glance. "Something else on your mind, Commander?"

There. He's given her an opening. And when she frowns harder, maybe even annoyed with him for being perceptive — he's a cop, his choices are to either be perceptive or dead most days — Garrus finds himself almost surprised. Almost.

"You're a good shot, Vakarian."

He nods once. It's true, and he's not going to deny it. He's an excellent shot. "All right. Tell me something I don't know."

"You're a cocky bastard?"

He cocks his head at her, wondering where she's taking this. It's not flattery — she's presenting the words far too matter-of-factly. "Knew that one, too."

She exhales hard, and there's a funny look in her eye. If Garrus didn't know better, he'd think she was trying not to laugh. "All right. You're the best sniper on the whole damned squad. Don't think I haven't figured that out."

"Oh, stop. You're gonna make me blush here, Shepard."

She goes on like he hadn't even spoken. "And when I find someone who knows what they're doing, when I find the best, I'm not too proud to think I can't learn from them. So I've got a favor to ask. And don't expect me to kiss your ass more than I already have."

He straightens again and leans against the Mako. "Here I thought you were the one who always got asked the favors. Shoot."

"That's about it in a nutshell," she says with a shrug. She's more confident now, less fidgety, and Garrus wonders if Shepard simply hates asking people for things. "You're good and I want to be better. I figure my best chance at getting better is to pay attention to someone who's already good."

"Sound reasoning." He regards her a moment. This… isn't what he would've expected from working with a human — and that's not necessarily a bad thing. "So, what, you want some pointers?"

"Since we've got some free time coming up? Yeah, I guess you could say that."

He says yes.

Really, he's doing it for the good of the galaxy. At the rate Shepard is going, she's going to cause an intergalactic incident with that damned gun. Or put out her own eye.

#

Shepard has, of course, received standard training on a sniper rifle, and doesn't take long for Garrus to decide that's half the problem. She's received standard human training on the sniper rifle. There isn't a turian training officer alive who'd let her off with those skills. Still, the raw talent is there — that much is more than obvious; she just needs more practice. Better habits.

She also needs to breathe. He can see it, plain as day: Shepard, in a crouch, trying to line up the perfect shot, which would have been fine if she wasn't holding her breath. All that achieves — and he's known this since he was all of fifteen — is the scope wavering all over the damned place.

"Shepard," he sighs, "what in the hell are you doing?"

"Planting corn," she mutters, shooting him a dark sideways glare. "I'm lining up the shot. What's it look like I'm doing?"

Garrus shakes his head. "You really don't want me to answer that."

She lowers the gun and draws herself up to her full height — however much shorter Shepard is than Garrus, she more than makes up for those lost inches in the look she gives him. "All right, smart guy. Tell me what I'm doing wrong."

"For a start? You aren't breathing, Shepard. Hell, I'm surprised you haven't passed out." He takes the gun from her hands, adding, "Tense snipers are dead snipers."

She makes a protesting little noise, folding her arms. "I'm not tense."

"The hell you're not. You're also impatient. That's no good either." He reloads the rifle and lowers himself into a crouch, lifting the gun up and settling it in place. The paper target hovers before him in the scope, blurry at first, then sliding swiftly into sharp focus. "You've got to breathe and wait," he says quietly, his words barely above a breath themselves. "Always ready, always primed for the moment." On his exhale, he squeezes the trigger. The gun kicks hard against his shoulder, filling the room with the sound of the shot. A small, neat hole decorates the target's head at the furthest end of the shooting range. "Granted," he says, standing and handing the rifle back to her, "it's easier when your target's standing still."

Shepard frowns and looks down the range at her targets; all of them have been hit, of course, but every hole in every target lacks the same sort of precision. Garrus sees it, and he notices the moment Shepard sees it too. But it's her reaction that surprises him. Shepard glowers. Not at him or even at the gun, but at every imperfect shot.

Maybe there's hope for her yet.

"So all I've got to do is breathe?" she asks, never pulling her eyes from the row of targets.

"For now? Yeah. Breathe. Then we'll hit the tough stuff."

#

Weeks pass before Garrus sees Shepard use her sniper rifle in any sort of firefight again. In that time he's watched her play to her strengths and let her team play to theirs. In those weeks he's kept himself in position behind her, picking off the enemies she doesn't see coming as she charges into the fight, pushing the opposition back, clearing a path, fighting hard for every inch. He's never given much thought to shotguns before; they're effective enough, but crude and unsubtle. He's always believed there's no way could anyone get a shotgun to dance. Or at least he'd thought so before now; as he watches Shepard through his scope, loading her gun with nimble fingers only to unleash a blast into whoever — or whatever — is stupid enough or suicidal enough to get in her way, as she simply absorbs the recoil and moves forward — always forward, ever forward. She takes in things quickly, absorbs them, and makes decisions just as quickly. Quickly, but never recklessly — or too recklessly, at least.

He realizes then that breathing and waiting and patience do not fit into who Shepard is in the middle of a fight. Waiting would have meant her death a dozen times over by now — she moves fast and thinks faster, and it works for her. She and Tali work well together; they both favor shotguns as they push through the warehouse of geth while he searches out the hidden threats and eliminates them.

Garrus takes out one last geth charging Shepard while she reloads, but when he turns his attention back her way, it's to find her facing his direction, her own sniper rifle raised, her eye to the scope.

What the hell, Shepard? he wants to yell out, but there isn't enough time; the thought itself barely has time to form in his mind when he sees her chest lift as she breathes in, and then drop slightly as she exhales.

Her finger moves on the trigger. The room fills with the sound of that single shot.

The sound of metallic spluttering comes from somewhere behind and above Garrus, and with a torrent of sparks, the geth sniper that had been targeting him tumbles over the railing and off the catwalk, landing in a pile of scrap. Its rifle spins and skitters across the floor. A single dark hole smokes up at them. A perfect headshot.

"Could've warned me," he says, staring down at the synthetic.

"No time," she replies, breathlessly. "Had to breathe."

"Nice shot."

"Thanks."

There are any number of other things he wants to say then, starting with "Hey, Shepard, thanks for keeping my brains from getting splattered" and ending with "No, really, nice shot." Why none of those things come out of his mouth, however, Garrus isn't all that sure.

What he says instead is, "You know, everyone gets lucky sometime, Shepard."

"Are you kidding me?" she retorts, holstering the rifle and switching it out again for her shotgun. "That wasn't luck."

He's feeling cocky — or at least really glad not to have gotten shot — because Shepard's standing right there, armed, and he still says, "Guess we're just going to have to see about that, won't we?" And, yes, he is absolutely, definitely challenging her now, because he can.

Better still, it works. Shepard squares her shoulders and inclines her head, opens her mouth to say something (something colorful, is his guess), but then snaps her mouth shut. Either she's actually insulted or just responding to his goading; better if it's the second and not the first — she still has the ability to make life pretty miserable. "Guess we're just going to have to start keeping track, then, won't we, Vakarian?"

Definitely responding to the goading, he thinks, pleased with himself. "You suggesting we keep score?"

"Maybe I am."

"Okay. Starting now?"

"Yeah. Starting now."

"All right. Starting now, that puts as at about…" Garrus thinks quickly, silently counting off each shot he'd taken. "What, ten to one? Twelve to one? Hey, I'm generous; let's say ten to one." He grins down at her. "Seems to me you've got some catching up to do, Shepard."

And then Shepard does the strangest thing. She smiles at him, then turns on her heel and walks out of the warehouse, leaving Tali and him behind. Tali sends him a look that says one hell of a lot for someone wearing a mask.

"Are you sure that was a smart thing to do, Garrus?"

He sighs and switches out his sniper rifle for his assault rifle, and starts off after Shepard. "Yeah… you know, I'm pretty sure it wasn't."

#

Mission by mission, Shepard changes her strategy subtly enough for Garrus to notice. Wrex comes along more often than Liara, if she happens to need a biotic, but with increasing frequency it's Tali and Garrus who accompany her off the Normandy. Instead of Garrus clearing things out while Shepard charges in, the two of them hang back together, picking off as many enemies as they can from a distance while Tali works her magic on the geth, before Shepard moves in to clear out the stragglers and push them forward. That's still her job and she knows it — push and fight and push until they can get a foothold, and then push some more. That's still what happens, sure, it just happens a little differently.

Funny thing is, it works for them. A team of three is small under the best conditions, and the words "the best conditions" have not described a single one of their missions so far. They thin the herd from a safe distance — and when you're dealing with infestations of geth or rachni, or even those Cerberus bastards, thinning the herd isn't just necessary, it's vital — and then they advance. Shepard still changes things up now and then, trying different strategies, different squad members, and Garrus realizes it's not just about Shepard becoming a better sniper.

She's trying to become a better leader as well.

Still, Garrus cringes every time she pulls out the sniper rifle without adequate cover — no time to line up the shot, no time for patience, and definitely no time for a breath — but, with increasing frequency, Shepard makes the shot.

He keeps track of their respective kills on his visor, and feels a faint swell of pride as Shepard's headshot count slowly goes up.

But then time starts getting tight and things get tense. There isn't much opportunity for down time, so they take it where they can — refueling stops or maintenance checks are best. Garrus and Shepard either spend those spare hours at the C-Sec shooting range, down in the shuttle bay, or on other non-hostile planets, making up target-shooting games as they go along. Sometimes they flush vermin out of colony settlements, and sometimes they set up makeshift targets and goad each other until someone misses. Usually, it's Shepard. Sometimes it's not.

Slowly, Garrus finds himself correcting Shepard's form less and less. He never lets her win these little contests, but neither does he go out of his way to beat her soundly enough to turn their competition into something less friendly. It's not what he ever expected, but there's a sort of camaraderie growing between them — respect and oneupmanship combined.

Maybe it's strange he'd form a friendship with a human, but that's the funny part — when they're hip deep in a firefight, he doesn't stop to think about the fact that Shepard's human — she's just Shepard.

In fact, she stops being anything but Shepard.

#

All of the waiting has come down to this.

The hunt has been drawing to an end for a while now — it looked like it was going to end on Virmire, but then everything went sideways, which only managed to piss Shepard off. She's hurt, too; he's read her files and he knows about Akuze, though he'd never in a lifetime ask her about Akuze. But it doesn't take a genius to see there are ghosts pulling at her, judging her for her call. It was an impossible situation and time was running out — Garrus knows and understands the ugly truth of battle: not everyone comes out alive. He's not going to question Shepard's judgment, not on this (the rachni queen on Noveria, now that's a different story; he's questioned that call since she made it — damn spiders).

The Normandy is eerily quiet. Could be nerves, as they make their way to Ilos, or it could be the crew is feeling Kaidan's absence — maybe wondering who'll be next. Could even be some mix of the two. For a moment he misses turian ships — there's no room to move on the Normandy, no battle sims, nowhere to run, to train, to spar. All there's room for is sitting and waiting, and normally he's pretty good at that, but right now he's wishing for a training room, or even a ring with an opponent to fight. It's been too long since he's done any real hand-to-hand, and Garrus considers whether the cargo hold would work — they could move the Mako off to the far side and clear up some space to move.

It takes no time at all to convince Wrex his plan's a good one — the krogan's looking at least as restless as Garrus feels.

"Go find Shepard," grunts Wrex. "I'll move the tank."

Absolutely nothing about Wrex inspires any sort of confidence in his driving abilities. And the Mako's tricky to handle at the best of times — Garrus knows; after a particularly dicey run-in with a thresher maw, Shepard willingly gave up all rights and privileges related to driving. "Don't you think we oughta move the tank after I ask if we can do this?"

"Ask, nothin' — what're you thinkin' we're gonna ask her? I figured you'd invite her. Give her the chance to wipe the floor with your bony ass."

"You know, having seen Shepard in action more than once, I'm pretty sure I'll pass."

He snorts a laugh. "Thought so."

"But I'd be happy to mention you're interested in challenging her," he lobs back, stepping onto the elevator, letting it begin its upward climb before Wrex can reply.

It takes some time to find Shepard. She's in the cockpit, and initially Garrus thinks he's interrupted a conversation between her and Joker, but she's just standing there, looking out the window, arms folded across her body.

"You busy, Commander?"

"Just thinking."

Joker sends Shepard a skeptical look that makes it clear he's not terribly comfortable with anyone taking up so much of his space, but he doesn't comment. Garrus doesn't blame him one damn bit.

"About?"

"…Headshots."

He blinks once. "Come again?"

"Yeah, she's been a real barrel of laughs since she got up here," mutters Joker. Garrus and Shepard both ignore him.

"Headshots," she says again, and when she turns to look at him, there's a sort of… intensity in her eyes. Maybe she's being physically still, but mentally she's outrunning them all. "Every single race, every species we've come across so far can be taken down with a shot to the head. Even the geth. Headshots take them all out."

"True enough. What's your point?"

"Sovereign can get into heads — can infect the thoughts, the motives of the people it infects."

"Which means we have to make more headshots."

"But we're never actually taking out the head. We're taking out the puppets. The slaves. And Sovereign can make more of those."

"Joker's right. You really are a barrel of laughs." He shakes his head. "You're gonna have to connect the dots for me here, Shepard. What, do we have to find Sovereign's head to take it out?"

She takes in a deep breath, lets it out again, and he's reminded of the day down in the C-Sec shooting range when he reminded her to breathe — he can almost imagine her picking her target, setting it up in the crosshairs.

"I just can't help but wonder…" Closing her eyes, she rubs hard at her forehead and he wonders for what's not the first time what the beacon showed her, what the cipher clarified for her. Oh, he knows the general bits; what he wonders is what she saw. This is not a woman easily rattled, and yet…

"Wonder what?" he asks, pulling her out of her thoughts — they can't be good ones. In fact, he's pretty sure they're not.

"If Sovereign is the head or—"

"We'd have to take out the whole damn thing, in that case. Hell, we're gonna have to do that anyway."

"Or if there's something else," Shepard says, looking up at him. "Something bigger. A master switch, a main control — Sovereign didn't want to acknowledge it, but it's synthetic, meaning it had to be built by someone. Some civilization, somewhere."

"Overload all of the Reapers in one shot? I like that idea."

"One great big headshot." She looks out the window again. "I keep hoping maybe there's something like that on Ilos. Maybe the Protheans… I don't know. Maybe we are going to have to take them out, one by one."

"That could be fun too." He turns, and looks out the window with her. "Vakarian and Shepard, Lining 'em up, taking 'em out."

Shepard tries, but does a lousy job of hiding her laugh. "Vakarian and Shepard, huh?"

"Or Shepard and Vakarian," he replies with a shrug. "You know. Either way."

"Uh huh. We'd have to figure out where the heads are, first." She tips her head at him and grins. "Don't know how we'd keep score otherwise."

#

It's over. Been over for weeks — just over a month — and there's still nothing ahead of the Citadel but wreckage and rebuilding. Even being part of Shepard's squad is over for Garrus, and he's still not sure how he feels about that. At one time it seemed like a good idea — even Shepard had thought so. But now that he's here, now that he's back at C-Sec, back dealing with the same bureaucratic crap as before. He's telling himself it's better now, he's helping more people now, because there's so much to be recovered and rebuilt. But lately he feels like any sort of good he's actively doing is getting lost somehow. It's not fulfilling in the way being on the Normandy had been — but then what else is?

His shift is over and he's tired, hungry, and in a rotten mood. So when someone yells, "Hey, Vakarian!" his first instinct is to tell whoever it is to go straight to hell.

When he sees it's Shepard, leaning lazily against a wall still marred with bulletholes, he's glad he didn't listen to that first instinct. She looks tired too, but happy to see him as she pushes off from the wall and meets him halfway. She's carrying two bags, and something smells delicious.

"What's that you've got there?" he asks, eyeing her bundles.

"It's food." She hands him one. "I figured you'd be hungry. Been a long shift."

"You figured right," he says, inhaling appreciatively. "Where'd you get this?"

"The turian with the food cart on Zakera Ward. Seemed like the right guy to go to for some dextro takeout. Turns out he's thinking about opening a cafe — I thought giving him a little extra business couldn't hurt."

He nods. The food's good; he's eaten there before, usually between shifts, and sometimes after work, when it's too late to even think about feeding himself. …It occurs to him then that he eats a lot of takeout. "So what've you got?"

She hefts her own bag, the plastic crinkling. "Ramen. Different guy, different cart."

"Right," he intones, peeking in his plastic bag, smiling a little at the choices Shepard's made for him. "The stuff that looks like worms. It was pretty popular with the krogan right up until they figured out the stuff only looks like worms."

She shoots a crooked grin up at him. "Delicious, delicious worms."

"I had no idea you were such a fan of krogan cuisine, Shepard," he says on a dry chuckle, turning and leading the way to the shooting range. With everything else going on during the rebuild, it's little more than a still-unfinished room, but there are targets and there's room to shoot. All things considered, it's practically fancy compared to some of they places they've held their target practice.

"I wouldn't say that," she replies, falling into step beside him. He wonders how she does that, since one of his strides usually counts for two of hers. "But I did eat a worm on a dare once."

"A worm?" he asks, not bothering to hide his surprise. "Wait, let me guess. Wrex had something to do with it."

She laughs and shakes her head. "Nope, though I wouldn't put it past him, either. No, my brother Jason dared me to…" she trails off, and a strange look settles on her face, confusion mixed with realization. She looks up at him, blinking, and her steps slow to a stop. "Huh."

"I… didn't know you had a brother."

Shepard looks down at the floor briefly, but not before Garrus can see something flash in those dark blue eyes. There's pain there. Loss. …Even tenderness. He waits quietly, letting her figure out what to say and when to say it. "I had two," she says, finally. Her voice is thick and she swallows hard. "And I just realized I've never told you about them until now. Never talked about them to… anyone."

The shooting range is deserted when they get there. They sit on the floor and eat — Garrus wonders how Shepard can eat something so slippery and unwieldy with a pair of sticks — and she tells him, for the very first time, about her brothers. About her parents. About Mindoir. And once the food is eaten and the containers disposed of, they set up their guns and targets and begin to shoot. With her eye to the scope, Shepard talks; Garrus doesn't mind, because as long as she's talking, she's breathing. And in one night she tells him more than she's told him since the first day their paths crossed.

She doesn't tell him everything; he can tell by the way she furrows her brow and presses her lips together that there are still things she doesn't want to say, doesn't want to put into words. It doesn't bother him; everyone's got things like that. He thinks of his mother, of the most recent round of failed treatments, of the rage and helplessness at the injustice of a vibrant, intelligent woman slowly vanishing in bits and pieces. He thinks of her sharp mind going dull, of lucid moments growing fewer and further between, and of her anger and frustration during those lucid moments. Against his will he thinks of recognition fading from sharp eyes that had always known just what kind of crap he was getting up to at any given second.

Maybe he'll tell Shepard about his mother someday, but not tonight. Tonight it's her turn.

She's felt like his friend for a while. Tonight, he starts to feel like hers.