Shades of Night
Omg, there's a snowball sipping coladas in hell and gerbils can fly - yep, I've updated. The real question is if there's anybody's still following this. I am truly sorry - really, I am. It's shameful. You might need a refresher from the past chapter - I know I did.
Pilar was perilously close to wringing the small stack of papers in her hands to pieces. Her brow furrowed with an anxious glance between him and the building looming beyond as she proceeded to vigorously gnaw on her bottom lip. The air seemed to crackle with nervous energy.
"Quit that." It came out more waspish than he had intended.
Pilar's eyes widened comically up at him and her bottom lip escaped, not quite unscathed, "Quit what?"
"You'll make it bleed." Pallin told her gruffly and started to walk away.
It took a moment for Pilar to catch up with the proceedings. She glanced over her shoulder at the building she'd been agonizing over all night, and ran after the turian with an audible sigh of relief. "Where are we going?" She asked breathlessly and fell into step beside him.
"I don't know."
Well, that was succinct. Pilar made a valiant effort not to appear concerned. It was perfectly natural that he didn't know where they were going. Perfectly natural that everything she'd planned could quite possibly blow up in her face with spectacular force – there might even be fireworks.
The instant her mouth parted to speak he was ready.
"Don't ask." He muttered.
"Oh." She replied and with a dull click her mouth shut.
Pilar dropped her head and stopped, the ground – paneling, whatever it was – glistened up at her with artificial enthusiasm. With a sigh she stepped towards the railing to gaze out over the Presidium's lake. A subtle sagging of her shoulders was the only indication of the stress that knotted there.
The railing was cool to her fingers as she leaned out and tried to imagine a setting without drama or problems. There was a man, his beard gnarled and gray, with dirty or grease stained hands, sitting on a crate under the bridge. He was dangling a fishing line from an old pole, bare knobby knees peeking through his trousers and grubby feet kicking leisurely out over the water.
Pilar tilted her head to the side, a small indentation between her eyes.
A shadow fell across the right side of her face. "At it again…" He shook his head. "Senile as an old Krogan."
"What is he fishing for?" She asked and leaned into the palm of her hand.
"The elusive Presidum private stock." Pallin replied dryly.
Her eyes perked up curiously. "I didn't know there were fish in the water."
"Oh…oh!" She frowned. "But I thought only dignitaries and political people were permitted on the Presidium?" Pilar lifted her head to look at him.
Pallin leveled her with a frank stare, "And yet here you are, from the very onset."
Her head dropped with a flush, "Well I didn't know – no one seemed overly concerned about it at the time. It's not like I got to choose where I got off."
The turian hummed with distaste. "True enough."
Taking a breath, Pilar turned towards him. "Why won't they see me?"
"The council…" He trailed off with rumbling sigh. "I am not at liberty to give details. There have been things…happening that demand their immediate attention."
Pilar regarded him shrewdly, a shadow of doubt flitted over her face. "Well I hope you won't get in trouble on my behalf."
Pallin turned his back to her suddenly, his voice low and sharp, "That may be the least of my concerns if the situation is as grave as it seems."
A shiver pricked her skin and she glanced around furtively, half expecting something to leap out of the water, but despite the ominous atmosphere surrounding her turian friend, the Presidium's bright façade of tranquility faltered only slightly. Just enough for her breath to catch.
His head inclined a fraction. "What?"
"Thank you." Her head dropped a fraction. "For trying to help me."
He turned to face her, just in time to catch a flash off white in his peripheral. His gaze fell past Pilar, narrowing. She looked back at him in question before turning around with a sinking feeling.
It was a man in a white suit. He walked with a stiff gait, his arms swinging dramatically at his sides. Navy blue uniformed men flanked him on either side - there were five of them - and they marched with purpose. They made to turn onto the bridge and she stiffened involuntarily, taking a wary step back.
The mans eyes landed on her and what she saw there made something squirm in her gut.
Every nerve ending in her body screamed to run. Her muscles coiled in preparation for just that, when a hand fell on her shoulder heavily. Pilar shook herself with an anxious look up at Pallin, subconsciously hovering behind him.
"Don't." His voice was hushed, warning.
Her hands began to shake.
Besides it being pristinely and obnoxiously white – a clothing style that she secretly despised – it was attached to a person whose sneer appeared to be a permanent accessory. His eyes were sharp - at best conniving, at worst malicious. A disdainful frown curled his thin lips.
Pilar resisted the urge to reach out and cling to Pallin's arm like some besotted damsel. He probably wouldn't care for it much. She glanced back between the turian and the man who approached with mounting apprehension.
The party came to a menacing halt in front of them. Pallin had somehow maneuvered a step in front of her so that she was off to the side at his back.
The man's liver spots glared down at her from a receding hairline as he addressed Pallin with a frown chiseled of stone, "Is this her?" he clipped.
There was unmistakable dislike in Pallin's hawk-like gaze, "Yes." He regarded the Alliance personal with even greater distaste.
They were hemmed in by a hard wall of armed bodies – sweat mingling with highly processed materials. Her mind raced as she glanced at the empty faces surrounding them, but there was no way out anymore. It was a testament to Pallin's power and influence on the citadel that the armed entourage kept their weapons holstered. To do otherwise would have been potentially catastrophic.
"She is Alliance jurisdiction." The white suited man drew out in a stilted speech that enunciated his vowels with excessive force. "You had no right to this investigation!"
The turian's eyes flashed deadly with a subtle clenching of his hands. "What has so suddenly sparked your interest in this, Ambassador?" His voice – like gravel – reached another octave lower than anything she'd heard before and it made her stomach flutter. "She meant nothing to you before."
"You kept her a secret!" The Ambassador argued, the last word echoing loud enough for everyone in a half mile radius to hear them.
Pallin gnashed his teeth, "We are still on the Citadel, Ambassador, or did you forget? It is my job to serve the interests and concerns of its inhabitants. Ask her why she chose not to come to you instead."
From her vantage point, Pilar could see a vein pulsing along the Ambassador's forehead. His eyes looked on the verge of bursting from their sockets – it would've been funny, had the circumstances not been so terrifying. She gathered that these two had butted heads more than once in the past, judging by their innate ability to get under each other's skin.
"And your interest in a human woman stretches the boundaries of credulity," The Ambassador spat out. His eyes drifted between the two with a spiteful scowl, "I'd be careful, Executor – your...relationship with her is at best scandalous. I'd hate to see your impeccable record tarnished by an illicit rendezvous with a human girl half your age."
An eerie hush settled around them
Pilar's heart stopped, blanching in horror. She was about to bear witness to the murder of humanity's Ambassador at the hands of Citadel's most prestigious law man. If she could remember how to breathe she would have yelled at the man for being so predictably stupid.
Her eyes shifted to the turian anxiously, afraid of what she would see.
Pallin was a statue of power and grace that electrified the air as a silent portent of doom. Something in the way he held himself to these people, so unyielding even with pride at stake, made her chest constrict with pain. For a species that ran towards the wiry thin - comparative to humans – he was an impressive force to behold.
"Wouldn't you like that, Ambassador Udina." He said smoothly and his words were like the razor edge of a blade. "C-Sec is the only military jurisdiction on Citadel, so you can just try and take her from me."
Udina's bottom lip was quivering with forcibly contained rage. He advanced a step, fingerings curling into a fist at his side. He lifted his hand to point at the turian rigidly, "You will not get away with this!" He said.
Pallin took a step forward, his face inches within the human's as he answered in a hushed tone that left nothing to question, "Get away with what, Ambassador? Would you care to sit down with me in my office so that I may re-acquaint you with the regulations governing Citadel law enforcement?"
"I have the right to request for a transferal of custody!"
"And I can refuse." The Executor returned sharply.
The human's pallor had gone from a splotched gray to red, almost purple. He sucked in a sharp breath, jaw tight, and his scathing look settled on Pilar. "You…traitor!" Spittle flew from his mouth and he jerked his attention back to Pallin with a stiff thrust of his chin, the accent more pronounced than ever, "This is not over. The Council will hear of this."
And in a whirl of white and blue, the Ambassador marched away stiffly with his guards in tow.
Pilar felt her knees knocking together. Her hand had somehow come to rest on Pallin's arm in the seconds that passed between Udina's last words and his subsequent departure. It dragged listlessly down his side as she sank to the ground and sat back on her haunches, her face oddly blank.
"I thought you said you were giving me over to Ambassador Udina?" It was barely more than a whisper, eyes trained ahead.
"That was before the Council decided not to see reason." He bit out sharply. "I would sooner grovel before Shepard than allow let that sniveling bastard to make demands of me. If he wanted my cooperation, he should have said please."
Pilar gazed down at her hands. "I see…"
Long tapered fingers appeared in front of her, palm open in invitation. She blinked at it and slowly lifted her head to meet his eyes. Her brow furrowed slightly.
"You should eat something." He told her. "Come on."
With an absent nod Pilar took his hand and pulled herself up on nerveless legs. She bounced on her toes, brushing herself off, and forced a trepid smile. "Well that was fun." She said with a nervous titter and clutched her stomach. "I think I'm going to be sick."
Pallin pressed lightly on her lower back, ushering her forward. "Relax. Udina is a perfidious charlatan." He rumbled with the barest hint of irritation. "The Council would be out of their heads to accede to his demand."
Something they frequently were these days... Pallin refrained from growling.
A shadow cut across her brow and she regarded him flatly. "And this was the person whose custody I'd be in?"
The Executor rubbed hi forehead with a grimace. "Alliance custody - Udina is merely an Ambassador, though he would like us to believe he is something more. If brought before the Council your testimony would put you under Citadel protection, but as an Alliance civilian, and they would protect you."
They had come to one of the quick transits and the door popped open.
"Would that stop him?"
Pallin did not look at her as he spoke, "To say otherwise would insinuate that the Ambassador is capable of treason, and that is dangerous territory for the head of C-Sec to embark in."
Code word for, no, I don't believe it will stop him.
Pilar bit her lip. She stepped onto the quick transit and hunkered down in the seat with a brooding frown. "Great. So I'm going to get abducted in my sleep."
"That is not my fault." Pallin gave her a pointed look as he took the seat in front of her and punched in a destination point on the touch panel. The door shut with a hiss as the seal was made and then they were moving.
"It was necessary." She grumbled, crossing her arms over her chest as she gazed out the window. The outside moved past in a blur of light and color.
"Was it?" His tone was dubious.
Pilar shifted around to stare at the fringe that curved back from the crown of his head. "You were going to compromise what I was trying to do."
The Executor twisted in his seat, one glowing eye settling on her intently. "And did I?"
Her lips framed a dismal frown, "You're emotionally compromising." She resisted the urge to push against the back of his seat with her boot and refused to meet his gaze.
"The feeling is mutual." He muttered and straightened in his seat.
Pilar smiled as she leaned back and hummed thoughtfully. "You know," she began, "people would be totally scandalized at our age difference if we were both human."
Pallin grunted. "So they can be scandalized that we're not both human instead. Same difference."
"Is that a confession?" She gripped the back of his seat in her hands and hovered over his shoulder with a clear spark of mischief in her soil dark eyes.
"All I've done is confess since our meeting last night." He answered with what came dangerously close to being a huff. "What more do you want from me?"
"A declaration?" Pilar teased and tugged lightly on one fringe. Before he could answer though she leaned forward and pressed her lips to the hard carapace of his cheek.
Pallin may have stopped breathing. His lungs were definitely not functioning at optimal level, or perhaps it was just the tightness in his chest strangling his windpipe. He clamped down on the immediate impulse to lift his hand to the spot that still burned from her touch.
It was one thing to play at words, but an action was tangible. The truth solidified itself in his heart with the brutal finality of one chaste touch and he closed his eyes, breathing slowly out his nose. He could never be rid of her now - he didn't want to be.
The quick transit came to a stop and the door opened. Pallin stepped out onto the platform and turned in time for Pilar to hop out beside him. They were in a part of the wards that she had never been to, with dim blue lighting and bustling activity.
She grinned brightly up at her companion and asked, "So where are we going?"
Pallin cast an inquiring glance at her, "Where do you want to go?"
Pilar tipped her chin, thinking. "Hmmm, I don't know. Let's have a look around."
They had settled on sushi, which had been Pilar's idea. It was pleasant to sit and talk about something that was not death or impending disaster. Pallin enjoyed it, fleeting though it was. And the food was good; raw fish was a delicacy back home.
"I have to get back to work soon." She told him at the tail end of an hour spent discussing everything from family to art and movies.
Pilar had learned that Pallin's mother lived on Palivan and took great pleasure in tormenting him with his lack of a romantic life - usually at random. She was a tough old biddy that ran a tight ship, but not so much that she couldn't be outraged at the distinct lack of grandchildren that he had failed to provide. His father had died as a C-Sec officer in the line of duty many years ago.
She in turn had regaled him with her father's love for campy western movies - Clint Eastwood had been his hero. Her mother had been more of a science-fiction and fantasy buff, and always professed that had she not been a scientist she would surely have been a novelist. And she adored watercolor paintings.
"Thank you." Pallin said and stood to his feet. "For the pleasure of your company."
Pilar stood up with him and flashed him a grateful smile. "Thank you for offering."
They walked back to the transit in companionable silence and if a person or two shot them a strange look, neither was paying turned then to face her, clearing his throat. "Perhaps you would consider a game of chess, when you are off work."
Her head tilted curiously to the side, "It will be late when I'm done - I have a lot of work to do."
He bowed his head, "You are welcome any time."
"Alright," she agree, "Ill see you tonight then."
Pilar hated being late to anything - especially work, but she had decided well before it became a factor that it was going to be totally worth it today. And it was. Spending time with Pallin was far better than the alternative of moping around, working her tail off for something she rather wished she didn't have to do.
But someone had to and she couldn't afford to put aside her mission for too long. Her ticker was winding down.
It was with some suspicion that she arrived to her garage to find her co-worker, Polick, poking around her ship. She froze, her hand poised over the door panel as she peered through the window, her brow furrowed. He was tampering with the engine block.
A tremble of real fear rolled down her spine and she stepped back, slowly. What was he doing? There was no reason for him to be in there - certainly not working on her project.
Her eyes widened a fraction when a thought occurred to her. An exceptional engineer could make the explosion that had happened the other day look like an accident. It also might explain who had put out a hit on her.
Pilar waited in the hall, too afraid to confront him if her suspicions proved correct, but unwilling to just leave when there was so much work to be done. The salarian fiddled around for another minute before straightening with a wary glance around the room and making for the door. She dove out of sight and tried desperately to compose herself with a shaky breath.
The door opened with an electronic swish and Pilar pulled up short with a startled yelp to avoid Polick as he converged on her path. Her co-worker jumped back with an audible gulp, blinking rapidly as he glanced uneasily between her and the garage.
"O-oh!" The salarian stammered. "Sorry, Pilar. Didn't meant to startle you."
Her hand was clamped to her chest as she nodded quickly, forcing a smile. "Oh that's alright. I just didn't, ah, expect you to be coming out of that door."
"Oh, well, umm," Polick scratched the back of his head. "There was a power short. I just went to check that everything was alright with your equipment."
Pilar bit her tongue, "Well thanks," she replied. "I appreciate it."
"Yes, back to work now." He called quickly before hurrying down the hall.
Her eyes followed after him out of sight before trusting herself to turn around and examine the seemingly innocuous door. He had used it so whatever he had set in her garage would not be triggered by that, but…her hands tensed into fists at her sides. Well she wasn't an engineer for nothing.
It could be that she'd just given herself the scare of her life over nothing too. Her overactive imagination sometimes ran away with her after all.
But something wasn't right.
Pilar took a deep breath and touched the door panel, grimacing in anticipation of something bad. It slid open easily though and she stepped inside, looking around. Everything appeared untouched.
After a quick walk about she headed to the ship and bent over to inspect the engines. At first nothing jumped out at her as being out of place, but after close examination it was clear that the wiring had been tampered with. They weren't critical wires - nothing that would ignite if the engines were revved - but Polick was no slouch if he could rig a bomb in the mechanics that was untraceable once it blew, so there had to be something else.
They did work with explosive materials on a regular basis that with even the slightest altering could go boom in your face, but those were obvious things that she would see. No, he'd done something much worse than just sabotage few wires and she was going to find out what it was.
Pilar's shoulders slumped and she released a disgruntled sigh, biting her lip. Then she remembered that Pallin had told her to stop doing that and released it with an even more disgruntled sigh. Briefly she considered saying to hell with it, jumping into the cockpit and starting the engines, missions be damned. But she was really looking forward to that chess game.
Grating her teeth, she raked her hands through her hair with a growl of frustration. Did she not have enough problems already? At this rate she'd never get her project done.
Pallin might be waiting a long time for that chess game.
It was almost midnight when there came a knock at Pallin's door. He turned the lights off and approached silently, a pistol held at his back, because there was no telling what might be lurking in the hall. Then he waited, listening.
The knock came again, a staccato tap. "Pallin?" Pilar's voice was muffled, but unmistakable.
Releasing a breath he didn't realize he held the Executor open the door and flipped on the lights. His pistol dangled at his side as he faced her in the doorway. Her eyes automatically traveled to the object in question and back to his face in concern.
"Precaution." He told her and stepped aside for her to come in.
Pilar glanced apprehensively over her shoulder before diving inside, shucking her shoes, and deflating in his chair. Her face was pale and drawn as she lay there, draped over the arms.
"Are you alright?" Pallin asked and he approached her hesitantly.
"I have something to tell you." She confessed with obvious reluctance.
He stiffened, "What?"
Her eyes slid languidly to meet his, "but you have to promise me that it waits till morning."
A mandible twitched. He noticed that her hair looked messier than usual and a moist sheen clung to her hairline. "That depends on what you have to tell me."
"I've been dismantling a bomb that was rigged into my space-shuttle's ignition since I got back this afternoon." Pilar explained and wrinkled her nose. "I think it's okay now."
Pallin stared at her for a moment, perhaps to allow for the words to fully sink in. It should not have sounded so casual, though there was a slight tremor in her voice - no doubt from mental and physical exhaustion. That tended to occur when one had to work under life-threatening conditions for long periods of time.
He could kill her himself, she was so maddening.
A growl emerged from the base of his throat and then he was advancing on her with a look in her eyes that was downright frightening. Pilar sobered quickly, scrambling back as deep into the chair as she could go. Pallin gripped her hard by the shoulders, his eyes more intense than she'd ever seen them.
"You are a fool." He snapped.
"Well it's not like I could tell anybody about it!" She contested hotly and straightened in attempt to not feel so short sitting down, "If I did they'd swarm my garage and do all sorts of tests on my ship, and probably confiscate it, and then I'd never get it back and all my plans would be ruined and-"
Pallin pressed his thumb to her mouth, halting her diatribe, and his gaze softened, "Alright," he conceded reluctantly, "But warn me next time so that I might come myself to make sure you don't get stabbed in the back."
"I'd hear the door." Pilar answered feebly. "It's my co-worker, Polick."
The Executor sat back on his heels, "How do you know?"
"Because I saw him tampering with the engines when I got back - he shouldn't have been in there at all." She explained. "And there was that explosion the other day too, and the hit that was put out for me. I don't know why he would, but I'm sure it's him."
Her shoulders shrugged helplessly.
Pallin straightened to his full height and turned away. "I must call this in immediately."
Pilar rolled over, planting her foot on the floor to stand, but couldn't quite muster the energy. Her head fell with a crestfallen moan, "I don't want to do paperwork this late at ni-ight."
"We will take Polick into custody." His tone brooked not argument and he leveled her with a frank stare, "You will get a full night's sleep."
Her lips pulled back in a lazy smile and she dragged herself back into the chair fully, letting her head fall back. "I still expect that chess game though."
Pallin had disappeared down the hall into his room. She heard his door open and close behind him, and closed her eyes. As exhausted as he felt her system was still wired so she didn't fall asleep.
Pilar blinked when Pallin appeared above her a short while later.
"It's done." He said.
"Is my word enough to convict him?" She peered up at him, legs swinging loosely over the side of the chair.
"No, but the krogan that was hired to kill you can be linked back to him."
"Well then," Pilar swung around smoothly. "Chess?"
"You should rest." Pallin admonished.
She arched a dubious brow. "I think I can make that decision for myself."
He sighed in resignation. "Very well, but I would have my chair back in that case."
"Alright!" Pilar bounded to her feet, grinning despite herself and skirted around him to the other side of the table. "Where's the board?"
She spotted the object of her desire and plucked it from between two leather bound texts. Then she plopped herself down on the floor, cross legged, and placed the board on the table. . Feeling much better than she had when she first arrived, she began to set the pieces, her legs bouncing with contained energy.
"Have you been practicing?"
Pilar made a tsk sound against the roof of her mouth as she spared him a cheeky glance. "How are you going to beat me if you don't practice?"
Pallin sat back, digits tapping a rhythm against the arm of his chair. "Hubris will undo you. I know what to expect now."
"Quite likely." She agreed as she placed the last piece. "So what's the winner's prize now?"
The turian lean forward, elbows propped on his knees and hands clasped in contemplation. "Any request." At the disapproving scowl that started to show on her face he added, "Within reason."
"Okay." Pilar shifted the board around so that the white pieces were on her side. "But I get to go first."
"You do realize," Pallin drew out slowly, unsure of whether he should pursue this train of thought out loud, and did anyway. "-that human and turian…relations aren't strictly possible?"
It was an excellent avenue for distraction though.
Pilar puzzled that for a moment before her eyes darted up sharply, gawking at him. "What - do you mean sex?"
He cleared his throat and considered the board with false intensity, as if he hadn't just dropped that bomb in the middle of their perfectly decent conversation.
Then she burst out laughing and rolled over onto the floor, literally vibrating with mirth. When the bouts of giggles slowed and she straightened, wiping her watery eyes with an amused sniff, she chuckled, "Sorry about that." She managed. "It's just…well…don't you use the net?"
Pallin gazed back at her in silent question.
She coughed, covering her mouth from another laughing fit. "You can find diagrams for just about anything on there."
The Executor felt about as close to gob smacked as he'd ever been. He found himself seeing the blond haired girl in a whole new light. Again he blessed the stars for his heritage and the fact that emotions were so much harder to read on a turian face than a human's.
"Dare I ask what provoked you to research that?" He'd bite.
Pilar's head cocked to one side, "Curiosity?" Her hand waved dismissively as she made her move on the board. "But that's not the end of the world you know."
Pallin tried valiantly not to choke on his spit. Was he the only one who felt distinctly awkward in this conversation? His eyes narrowed a fraction - well he did start it so perhaps he could take some small amount of blame. Once again she'd manage, without even trying, to turn his strategy against him.
This was either going to be a very long game or a very short one.
"Oh really?" He shouldn't be provoking her. This is what he told himself as he cursed his own curiosity and the infernal impulse to begin down this road of no return in the first place.
It was her fault.
The innocent way with which Pilar blinked up at him did nothing to assuage the trickling of apprehension (it certainly was not anticipation) that traveled down his spine. Her eyes lowered deliberately to settle on his hands. She studied his fingers with a critical eye and a faint smile touched her lips. Then she straightened and she made no attempt to hide the gleam of mischief in her gaze as she met his.
Pallin was quite certain his brain had stopped working.
"Have I ever told you," she began and her gaze slid back to the board as she reached out to move a piece, "that you have very shapely hands."
And he was officially catatonic.
He couldn't look at her so he focused on the board instead, which, to his chagrin, did not look promising anymore. What he needed to do was somehow put her off balance, but she was playing dirty. Yes, that was it. Just what he needed.
"You're playing dirty, Pilar." His voice positively purred and made his move.
Pilar's hand twitched. "You shouldn't start what you can't finish." She maintained primly.
"Neither should you."
She sat back and looked at him with a solemn frown, "I was joking." Her lips abruptly split into a devious grin, "But if I could…"
"Well," He declared and his mandibles flicked, "Should that day come, I expect to be the first to know."
Pilar had gone beat red, the board and her pieces forgotten. She hid her face behind her hair, stifling a choked laugh. "I can't believe you just said that."
I wish I could live to take up that offer.
Pallin sat back, quite pleased with himself as the woman in front of him struggled to keep her composure between furtive glances in his direction and studying the board.
It looked to be a long game after all.
"Did you know that there's hanar-elcor pornography? "
Author's Notes: Disclaimer - if I knew what I was doing it wouldn't have taken this long to update. Aka, I have no idea what's going on, but I wrote something so I can feel slightly less guilty for the next 6 months. And in another 6 months after that I can become guilty all over again. I'm going to try and not let that happen, honestly. Bear with me, if any of you are still there. I've got another story to update now - I'm on a ROLL!
Oh yeah, and MASSIVE ME2 SPOILER***
PALLIN IS NOT DEAD BECAUSE PILAR ABDUCTED HIM, YOU BASTARDS!
My work here is done. Well, not yet. I've got like 5 chapters yet to go. Better start flexing my fingers before I fall back out of shape again.