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Shooting the Breeze

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Garrus leaned against the wall, feeling the weight of the proto-type sniper rifle in his hands. Or rather, the lack of weight. He shook his head knowingly at Sol while she talked through the design. As much as he’d never admit it, after all these years, he still was surprised at her ingenuity.

Armax was a good idea, he thought. A not-so-secret hope lingered in his mind that maybe something familiar could be the chance to repair their relationship. Something as normal as marveling at her latest schematic, relaxing with a big gun in his hands, and beating his sister in the arena could be just like old times.

...Well, beating his sister would be new.

“–Since they need to use biotics more often, the weight distribution is completely different,” she continued. “There’s not as much kick, but you lose a little power, hence the two extra heatsinks. The range is still there, but it’s meant to kill, cover, and distract while the other commandos do all the dirty work. Someone nimble can handle it. Don’t know if that describes you,” she finished with a flick of a mandible.

Garrus rolled his eyes. “I’m plenty nimble.” He tested the weight again, pumping it up and down. The gun was too damn light for his tastes, but the design itself was flawless. Any asari commando wielding this should count themselves lucky.

But that was Solana Vakarian through and through. She was nothing if not a bit of a perfectionist, right down to keeping a certain little brother humble. She gained notoriety as one of the best advanced weapon designers on Palaven while that certain little brother tried and failed following in his father’s footsteps. After her tenure at Haliat, she formed her own independent research company, committed to better designs without the limitations of mass production. Her little brother tried – and failed – to become a Spectre, then shipped off to Omega, failed his squad-turned-family, got rescued by the tip of his fringe, traveled to the galactic core and blew up a Collector base. All while killing any hope for a normal life by falling in love with Commander Shepard.

Solana created beauty from every piece of equipment she touched. Garrus walked a path of constant destruction and chaos.

“Well, now’s your chance to prove it, Gar.” She snapped on the last bits of her armor and picked up a matching rifle. “Let’s see, how about we go against the Poena Syndicate?”

“That enemy’s a breeze after what I’ve seen,” Garrus replied absent-mindedly. “But it’s good for a warm-up.”

She clacked a mandible. “Is this where I pry out what happened the past three years?”

He shrugged. “No promises.”

As they entered the arena, the randomized environment and background noise shifted around them until it was near identical to a dense rainforest. Unlike the slick, flashy counterpart on the Citadel, the original Armax Arena in Cipritine maintained a level of utility seen only in turian culture. It was impressive in its own right, and prepared even a seasoned veteran for the battlefield. But where the Citadel boasted gimmicks like extra health and armor boosts, the original held nothing but harsh, grueling, unforgiving combat.

It was nothing short of a planetary treasure.

Garrus exchanged a glance with Sol as the recorded announcer counted down. They each gripped their rifles as the arena loaded the tell-tale shimmer of spawned enemies. The targets emerged wearing comically stereotypical armor, the garish red/gold combo of the legendary gang. Sol stifled a laugh.

“It’s still so damn goofy! Look at them!” she said, subharmonics expressing glee at the sight.

“They stand out like sore thumbs,” he replied. “That’s what makes them so easy.”

“Like sore what?”

He shook his head. “Forget it. Get ready.”

The announcer called start and the rhythm of battle beat around the siblings. Garrus drew the too-light rifle and aimed for the brutish-looking warlord. Solana slipped out of sight with a sharp crackle, forcing him to rely on his visor to keep track of her. He smiled inwardly as he lined another shot, wondering if she’d like Kasumi.

Unlike Kasumi, who favored up close and personal contact, Solana kept enemies at a safe and comfortable distance. She was a crack shot worthy of Blackwatch if she had been inclined to join. As it stood, she loved tinkering with weapons more than she enjoyed firing them. Which, he noted, was quite a bit considering she was already up by three.

As Garrus ducked into cover after taking out another warlord, he admitted to himself that she made the right decision. This was a damn good rifle.

She crackled back into view on the topmost perch of the arena that looked for all the world like a giant vine bridge. She gestured a jaunty salute before firing off several rounds into the enemies above. Her flanging voice comes in over the comm a second later. “So?”

“It’s a damn good rifle,” he said, overloading a volus henchman. “Has almost the same power as my Mantis.”

“Sure sure. I meant the Terminus.”

“Oh.” Garrus busied himself with the next round of incoming mercenaries. He changed position, ducking behind holographic huts until he made a decent flank. He signaled to Sol as she incinerated the wave of krogan muscle. He picked off the stragglers one by one until he spoke again. “What about it?”

“Why’d you go out there in the first place?” She cloaked again, laying down traps along the way. “And not the fake little by-the-book answer you gave Dad.”

He sighed as he stabbed an enforcer that rudely decided to spawn right behind him. “There’s not really an answer worth saying, Sol.” The timer rang out announcing the end of the round, leaving him with a slight bit of respite. “I was frustrated with how the Council handled things. I ran. In the end I thought I knew better than everyone else. In a way I still do.”

“Yet you came home with half a face and a head full of Reaper talk. Hell, you even got Dad convinced.”

“Turns out the man loves hard evidence more than he loves being right. But at least this way he gets both.”

She laughed at that, a dry yet not unpleasant sound that reminded him of home. “No surprise there. You meet someone out there?”

He stiffened. “What makes you think that of all things?”

The next wave alarm rang, and he prayed to any spirit he could that it’ll distract her.

“You remember that girl, what was her name? Pia? Pia something?” She cloaked out again, and he tracked her heading towards the back of an ambitiously-sized tree.

He followed suit, keeping hidden the old-fashioned way. “Pia Zakari, 4th Platoon, had the asari step-mother.”

She laughed again. “Exactly. You were so moonstruck when you were around her or if anyone even mentioned her.”

He grumbled under his breath. So what if he had a slight interest back then. He didn’t act moonstruck, he was polite, damn it. His composure was perfect.

“And now you’re acting like you’re completely over her, but you’re still moping, doing the same moonstruck marching about, only no one’s really pinging as the object of your affection. So what happened? You fall in love with some asari out there? Your tastes running a bit bluer than usual?” Her traps from earlier detonated during her speech, taking out four more enforcers.

“You ask that as if there aren’t any turians out in the Terminus. I was there and I saw plenty.”

“And none of them are home with you. Even if I bought the line you were selling, you wouldn’t be so rankled right now if she were turian, so asari’s a natural guess.”

Garrus shot at the incoming turian guards with more focus and growing agitation. Either she was purposely trying to rattle him to win, or was using the arena to distract him enough to gossip. “Even if I humored your ‘devastating logic,’ it wouldn’t be the weird thing you’re making it out to be. Out on Omega, there was a guy who ran with human men every night. Don’t ask me how it works and damned if I want to know any details,” He smirked, recalling a conversation with Zaeed nearly half a year ago.

Let’s see how she reacts to that.

“Now I know you’re just putting me on,” she said, and her voice echoed into the comm as she stood beside him. “You’ve never been into guys.”

Garrus looked around to see Solana’s faint outline. His visor indicated an elevated heartrate just in line with the activity of fighting off holographic mobsters, but the subtle twitch in her now-cloaked mandible indicated worry. As much as he wanted to put her at ease, he wanted to deflect this particular conversation more. “Asari aren’t exactly female. Mono-gendered, remember?”

“Don’t be smug.” She faded into view and expertly took out the last of the volus ‘merchants.’ “If you want to keep it under wraps, then fine. But maybe stop acting like being on Palavan is some punishment or temporary gig. Are you gonna be a transient for the rest of your life, or are you going to start putting down roots?”

He shrugged easily. “Maybe I’ll do both. It’s an awfully big galaxy and I’ve got my whole life ahead of me before the Reapers come.”

She gives him a hard glare. “If they come,” she said, voice even. “But you know something else I’ve noticed? You’ve really been hanging out with humans a lot. The shrugs, the eye rolls. I don’t even think you realize you’re doing it. I know you’ve been serving on human ships, but your level of adoption is borderline…” She stopped talking long enough to shoot a holographic krogan in rapid-fire succession. Somewhere between the third and sixth round a look of realization covered her face.

Garrus looked away and aimed a grenade at a string of Cabal rogues, thinking to himself that Armax upgraded this map after all.

“Don’t know any details, huh?” she asked quietly. “With humans, I mean.”

Throat tight, he faltered for a near second before answering. “Not all, at least not anything about men.”

“But women?”

“Singular.”

“Mutual?”

“…Yeah.”

He hoped so at least.

A cheerful fanfare blared over the speakers. Their scores flashed on the screen, replacing the jungle background. Their visages reflected back to them, a scarred turian beside a slightly shorter sister with identical facial marks, identical rifles, and identical looks of discomfort.

She broke the discordant silence first by giving him a downright evil smile. “Dad is going to freak, Gar.”

He put in all the effort in the galaxy to not sigh or roll his eyes, but even that effort couldn’t save his shoulders from slumping. “Laugh it up, Sol.”

She patted his fringe. “Well, let’s just hope I like her better than Pia. Who is she, anyway?”

Still slumped, he craned his head at her. “Ever hear of the first human Spectre?”

Her mandibles widened to an outright grin, and it was only then that it dawned on Garrus to really look at the scoreboard. He lost the match by one singular point.

“Dad is going to freak, Gar.”