Okay guys, I guess I should warn you. This is going to take a major turn into Dark Ville next chapter. You'll learn more about what's going on with Garrus—although more questions will be raised than answered, most likely. Coinciding with this, the much-vaunted DARK THEMEZ will start to creep in around next chapter.

This chapter: So we finally meet Nodin, and it turns out he's not actually that bad of a guy—or he could be lying. You can't be sure. If anything, I desperately want to avoid the standard 'Hollywood serial killer' villain trope, where the main antagonist is suave and badass and knows everything about everyone and is never outsmarted until the film's climactic scene where... they get shot, for some reason somehow. Because they have to get shot in the end, obviously. I might have gotten to this scene a little bit differently than I thought I would, but I've been wanting to do this from the beginning of the fanfic. I just like the idea of meeting the antagonist before the real 'chase' starts, is all.

I'm thinking maybe I'll start responding to reviews in this little opening segment here, too, just to show you guys that I read 'em. Starting next chapter.

As always, review please. Since the plot just got kicked into motion I should have no trouble pumping out the next few updates. Reviews are a big motivator. Especially reviews with lots of smiley faces and hearts, like this ^_^ 3333333333 but not too many hearts because you might crash the servers.


7

Bagged

The spotlight beams trained on the dance floor were the color of blood. A DJ—human, black, wearing a loose white shirt—stood behind an enormous mixing table, waving his hands around in the blood-colored mist like some vampire god. Staircases on either side of the club led to bars and tables on raised platforms that surrounded the dance floor in a U-shape.

Shepard and Garrus shrugged their way through the outskirts of the crowd and up the right hand staircase. They sat down at the bar and turned to look at the club.

"What time is it?" said Shepard.

"I don't know," replied Garrus. "Two o'clock, standard time?"

Shepard squinted, peering through the mist to the bar opposite them. "Crowded for two o'clock."

A voice came from behind them. "This place never sleeps." Startled, they turned around. It was the bartender, a middle-aged human man with a grizzled beard. He looked back and forth between the two of them.

"Jesus, don't sneak up on people like that," said Shepard.

"Sorry," he said. His voice was a rustic tenor. "You two new here? Never seen you before. Everyone knows that Fadra's never closes."

"That a fact?"

"Yes." His eyes narrowed, trying to gauge Shepard. Then he looked to Garrus. "So what's your story?" he asked.

Shepard's eyes flickered in Garrus's direction, worried.

"We just got here a few hours ago." Garrus paused. Shepard locked her fingers behind her back.

"Name's Lorik, and this is my wife, Jane."

Oh you fucking—

"Really now?" The bartender adopted a strange, cartoonish expression. "How long you two been running together?"

Garrus dove into his grab bag of human expressions. "Six months, give or take."

"Well—" The bartender shook his head, smiling. "—I'll be damned. You don't see that much. Suppose that's why you're out here on the Rim in the first place!" He laughed gutturally. "Can I get you two something to drink? On the house."

Shepard said, "One brandy, please. Thanks," and forced a smile.

"Can I have a Turian brandy, then?"

"Aww," the man said, flopping his wrist at Garrus dismissively. "You don't want that watered down shit. Tell you what, I'll mix you something. My own little secret recipe, Turian specialty."

"Sounds great. Thank you."

"No problem." The man whistled and walked away.

Shepard's head collapsed into her waiting palms.

"Garrus."

"Jane?"

She exhaled, laid her palms flat on the table, and turned her head to meet his eyes. "What, the fuck, are you doing?"

"What? I thought that went well, he's—"

"It was a joke!" she hissed. As much as she wanted to be angry with him, the situation was so ridiculous she felt a smile coming on. "Don't you remember?"

"You said we needed aliases. We have aliases, now."

"But..." Her frown exploded into a smile, and she groaned. She put her hand on his shoulder. "Just, never mind. We're doing fine, but, let me do the talking from now on, okay?"

Garrus shook his head. "Whatever you say."

The bartender was back, holding two glasses. "This one is yours," he said, "and here's my special mix. Go ahead, have a taste!"

Garrus took a sip. It tasted like a hundred different fruits laced with cocaine. "Not bad at all," said the turian.

"Need anything else, just ask," said the man. "Welcome to Nabros 2."

Shepard smiled at the man, and he walked away. She waited until he was out of earshot and said, "Don't drink that."

"Why?"

"We're still in enemy territory here. Can't let our guard down like that. Also, we're supposed to be gathering information, and that's difficult to do when you're drunk."

Garrus put the drink down on the counter. "So what should we do, then?"

"I don't know." Shepard looked back over her shoulder. "Want to dance for a bit?"

The turian thumbed some of the condensation off the side of the glass and rubbed it between his talons. "Not exactly."

"Oh, what's wrong. Afraid to dance with your wife?"

"I don't dance."

"This isn't the waltz. Anyone can 'do it', it's just moving with the music."

Garrus was about to agree when he heard a soft click behind his head.

"Hands up, now," said a corrosive Turian voice. "Both of you."

There was one behind Shepard who stayed silent. Garrus raised his hands off the bar top. He watched Shepard do the same, albeit slower.

The turian's voice sounded again. "You know, I've got plenty of better things to be doing than trailing a couple of Citadel punks like yourselves. And I'd certainly love to see both of you with nice little holes in the backs of your pretty Alliance heads. So let's cut the shit. I count to three, you both get up. Get up at two, you die. Four, you die. Understand?"

This was not the first time Garrus had been in a situation like this. The typical response, on the cop's end, was to gauge the stability of the armed combatant.

"What about one?" said Garrus.

He slammed the pistol into the base of Garrus's skull. Shepard winced as his head impacted the bar top. He was out cold. She glanced down the length of the bar. Other patrons looked nervously away.

The turian pointed the pistol at Shepard. "One," he said.

--

Shepard choked at the black bag covering her head. There was a man walking behind her and she could feel the metal ringlet of a shotgun barrel pressing into her spine. The invisible cannon prodded her again.

Vacation's over.

She tilted her head up toward what she thought was a light source. "Where are we going?" she asked.

"Shut the fuck up and keep walking," said the other man. His voice didn't give any hints as to his species. He must have been wearing a gas mask.

Shepard called out to Garrus. He didn't respond.

"Get in the tram car," the man said.

"Where are we going?"

He clubbed her with the shotgun in the skull and threw her into the transport. She blacked out.

--

She woke up an indeterminate amount of time later. She was being carried by two men who held her underneath her shoulders. Her hands were tied behind her back. The bag was still over her head.

They rode upward in an elevator and exited onto a marble floor. After exchanging words with someone who sounded female, they clunked along the flooring, entered another elevator, went up a few floors, walked out, and stopped.

"I think she's awake," one of them said.

"Take it off," a voice echoed from across the room. It sounded Turian but Shepard was too disoriented to tell.

The blackness was gone suddenly and Shepard squinted against the light. Windows on the left had their solar filters turned down and the sun poured in, reflecting off the white walls. She could make out a figure sitting behind a desk across the marble floor. Ten feet to her left was Garrus, hands tied, eyes sharp, growling in low tones at the figure. Two men were stationed on either side, restraining him.

"So..." said the figure, tapping the surface of the desk, leaning back in his chair. "That's that, I suppose."

After staying motionless for a moment, he abruptly stood up, slid over the top of the desk, and walked to the pair.

He was a turian, his features brown, lacking any markings to represent his home colony, wearing simple black armor that wasn't overly concerned with aesthetic appearance. He fiddled with something that looked like a lighter, shoved it into the armor's back pocket, and looked between the two of them.

He lifted his hand to point at Shepard. "You..." he said, and panned slowly to point at Garrus. "And you." A rumbling came from Garrus's throat.

The figure faced her again. "Shepard, right? Commander Shepard?"

She gritted her teeth. "Yes."

"I'm not one for handshakes, but I'll let you know it's a great, if troubling, honor to have someone such as yourself on my station." He spoke smoothly and without a hint of sarcasm.

"The back of my head feels differently," she said.

He rubbed his chin in a curiously human-like manner, mandibles twitching. "Hopefully one day we can speak on more even terms, then. I have many questions I'd like to ask you. If I thought highly of myself I'd say this was an honor reserved for a select few people, but I'll settle for saying it is unusual."

Shepard stared at him fiercely and he looked down.

That's interesting, thought Shepard. For a criminal, a serial killer, in his position, anything short of cockiness was abnormal. She couldn't believe that anything he said was true—mindgames, obviously—but his reaction did cast some doubt into her mind.

Garrus, on the other hand, was positively fuming.

"And you," said the mysterious turian, "are a bit less high-profile. Don't tell me, it's..." His eyes tightened. "It's right there, you look familiar. Related to... Yes! Vakarian, that's who you are, that old bastard's son." He looked from Garrus to Shepard. "What's a fine, upstanding C-Sec officer like yourself doing with a Spectre? Especially a human Spectre."

"Nodin," said Garrus, like the name was a curse.

"Yes, yes, that's my name. Thank you for that." The figure, Nodin, turned on his heel and paced back and forth in front of them.

"What do you want?" Shepard asked in soft tones.

"People always ask me that," Nodin said. "It makes no sense. I was a C-Sec officer for twenty years. I built this entire station from scratch." He paused. "I have so much fucking money I could make clones of myself and get rid of these heedless fools who hit beautiful women in the back of the head at a moment's notice. If I knew what I wanted, don't you think I'd be there doing it?" His expression sharpened under the filtered light.

"Then it stands to reason," said Shepard, "that this is what you want."

His mandibles twitched again, he reached up to stroke them like a mustache. "And what is this?"

"You kidnapped us, tied us up, and brought us here. Is that so difficult to understand?"

"Yes, actually, because if memory serves, you flew here. You, landed on, my, station." He took the lighter-like object out again and began to fiddle with it. Shepard noted his habit. If it was not a ruse, it indicated discomfort—perhaps even hesitation.

"You're not stupid," she said. "You know why we're here."

His gray eyes focused on her again. "I know why he is here, but not you." He paused, bringing his hand up to his mouth in a somewhat feminine gesture. "I apologize. I know why you are here, but I don't understand. Him, I understand."

Garrus pulled against his captors, "Shepard don't listen to—"

Immediately, Nodin's hand was pointing toward Garrus, cutting the turian off. "Garrus Vakarian." Nodin smiled slightly at Garrus's response, but it was a momentary occurrence. "Yes, I know exactly who you are. Judging by your reactions, I'd say I know more about you than you do yourself."

"You want to speak to anyone," hissed Shepard, "speak to me. Leave my crewmate alone."

"You'll get your chance," Nodin said, "just wait."

He moved closer to Garrus. Blue eyes met gray. "You're not like your father," Nodin said. "You are, different."

Garrus was silent.

Nodin looked to Shepard and back. He smiled, frowned, then looked puzzled. "Does she know?" he whispered.

"What are you talking about?" said Garrus. His mandibles splayed outward in anger.

"I suppose that's a no. Well then, you'll have much to talk about back on your ship."

Shepard's face tightened. "You're not going to let us go. I know that."

The serial killer looked hurt. Good actor, thought Shepard.

"Cut her loose," said Nodin, as if he had read her mind.

The two guards behind Shepard exchanged perplexed glances. "Sir?" one of them said.

"Just do it," he snapped. "She's unarmed. And she won't make trouble. Will she?" After some hesitation, Shepard shook her head. "See? Cut her loose."

The guards did as they were told, and Shepard shrugged free of the ropes. Nodin beckoned Shepard forward with his index finger. She shot him a hostile glare.

"Come closer," he said.

After a questioning glance toward Garrus, who shook his head, she took a tentative step toward Nodin, and another, her boots echoing softly throughout the room.

"Closer..."

She continued until she was about a foot away from him. Crossing her arms over her chest, she looked up to meet his eyes. Keeping his feet together, he leaned forward until his face was mere inches away from hers.

"I'm going to put my hand on your back," he whispered. "Is this going to bother you?"

Shepard's eyes widened but she fought the reflex down before he could notice. "Excuse me?"

"Shhh," he hissed. "Don't let them hear you. I asked you a simple question."

"For what purpose?"

"I need to know that you won't do something stupid, like scream."

"Or get you in a shoulder lock and rip your arm off," said Shepard.

"So the legends are true! You're quite the folk hero among humans. All kidding aside, I need a straight answer."

"Go ahead and find out."

His mandibles twisted into a smile. "Very well." He reached around to her back, spreading his palm wide across her spine, maneuvering to the side so that he could hold her in the crux of his shoulder. When Shepard didn't react, he began to walk with her toward his desk on the other side of the room.

"Shepard!" Garrus called out to her. She looked over her shoulder and tried to placate him. It didn't seem to work.

When they reached the desk, he let Shepard out from under his arm and she turned to face him. "What's this about?" said Shepard.

He looked down at her with stern eyes, motioning downward with his hands. "Here is something you currently do not understand: You are a Spectre. You are the first human Spectre in history. If I let you go, those men will kill you. In the elevator, on the street, in the car. It doesn't matter. Now that they know who you are, they will put a bullet in your head and leave this station given the slightest opportunity. Do you have any idea what kind of reputation that would earn in the criminal community? To kill someone of such importance?"

She kept her guard up, suspecting some sort of deception, but replied. "I understand. Your point?"

"My point is keep your voice down. My point is, unless you and your friend want to die, we're going to have to get rid of them."

"What are you talking about?" Shepard eyes narrowed to slits.

"Did you really think I intended to kill you?"

"Yes," said Shepard, immediately.

"Why don't you have any weapons? Oh yes, I remember. Because I couldn't possibly be here. It would be such an amateurish mistake." For the first time, he showed something resembling anger. "That was your line of thinking, was it not? Face it. If I wanted to I could have sent a kill team down there and you would be dead right now. But you're not."

Shepard's eyes glazed over. He's toying with us, she thought. "So why aren't we dead?"

His look of sadness returned. "I meant what I said. You're not someone I'd like to see gone, not someone I would—" He moved closer to her, sniffing at her. Shepard took a step back, revolted and confused. "—like to, absorb." He smiled. "I can't kill you, and you can't kill me. Isn't that right? I assume they told you they wanted me alive."

She suspected that he knew already, and was asking a rhetorical question, but she didn't want to throw away her only card. "If you say so," she said.

"Perhaps later, when this is over, we can speak in more depth."

"Perhaps."

"Your friend—" He looked over his shoulder at Garrus, struggling against the guards. "—is a problem. Do you see this?" He reached into his pocket again, retrieving the lighter-like object. "This is an injection device. It will 'dope' him, so to speak. That will be the cover we need to take the guards out as quickly as possible."

"Not going to happen," said Shepard. "You're not drugging one of my crewmates."

Ignoring her, he said, "Do you see that button, right there?" He pointed to the center of his armor.

"Yes."

"Press it."

Shepard reached out and punched the button inward. A small compartment opened on his chest, containing a compact energy pistol.

"Take it," he said. "Discreetly, if possible." She lifted the pistol from its compartment and held it against her chest. Nodin's body concealed the weapon from the guards. "I have shields tailored to that pistol's output. So don't shoot me, please. I'm ticklish."

She glared at him, but tucked the pistol into her jeans and folded her shirt over it.

"Now," he said, "we go back. I make a scene. I administer the drug, turn, and tap my foot. That's the signal. You shoot the two on the left, and I'll handle the ones on the right. Got it?"

"Why are you doing all this?" she asked, letting curiosity slip into her speech.

"Because I like to speak more than shoot. But sometimes shooting is necessary." He half-smiled. "Are you ready?"

Shepard frowned, realizing she would not get a better answer out of him. "Yes."

He pushed the compartment on his armor shut and turned. Shepard followed him loosely as he walked back toward Garrus. The gun was burning a hole into her skin, and every time the hired muscle's eyes drifted in her direction, she knew that they had seen its outline underneath her shirt. But they had not.

"Well then," said Nodin, eerily. Shepard noticed the change. He sounded flippant, hollow, like he was pretending. Is he acting now or was he acting before? "I guess it's time to ship these two out. But you—" He pointed to Garrus. "—are going to be too much trouble. Don't worry, I have just the thing."

He thumbed the injector from his pocket and brought it slowly to Garrus's neck.

"Hold him steady," said Nodin. The guard's tightened their grip. Nodin pressed the injector into Garrus's neck and it hissed. Garrus clenched his beak in pain. After a moment, his mandibles loosened, drooping downward comically. His legs started to give out. "Let him fall," said Nodin.

The guards chuckled and dropped the turian on the floor. He fell limp.

"Now..." Nodin trailed off, turning to face Shepard in a graceful motion. For the first time in her life, a turian winked at her. "What to do with you?"

Shepard's right hand began to migrate toward her belt buckle.

Nodin tapped his foot on floor.