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A Mess You'd Wear With Pride

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Anderson's a strong man with strong convictions, stronger even than he'd ever thought he was. He's had so many things happen but he's always felt hopeful, even when dodging Reapers and the invading ground forces, because Shepard's been out there. Some of the top brass might think that Anderson's a fool for believing in Shepard, especially after Cerberus and the Collectors but Anderson isn't a fool and he doesn't misplace his trust.

Not even when he walks in on Shepard hacking into the Extranet and downloading news that he definitely shouldn't have access to. He could talk to Vega, get stricter security on Shepard or he could trust his gut, which means trusting Shepard.

"Sir, I'm sorry, I… that is…" Shepard stumbles over his words as he makes no attempt to hide what he'd been doing.

"Care to explain?" Anderson sits in the small room Shepard's been given for his house arrest. It's tiny enough that barely a bed and a desk fit. The screen is clearly visible to the door and it's obvious that whatever Shepard's looking for is worth the possible discovery.

"I was hoping that, maybe, there would be a message for me. It's quiet in here, too quiet. I…" Shepard looks everywhere but at Anderson. Considering the size of the room, avoiding Anderson is a feat.

"Yes?"

"Permission to speak freely, sir?"

"Granted."

Shepard finally looks at him and Anderson can feel the intensity even before he begins to speak, "I feel abandoned, sir. I've received no communications from anyone since my incarceration. Not from Garrus or Tali or … " Shepard's voice trails off once more, gaze skittering to the side. He continues in a whisper, soft enough that Anderson strains to hear it, "or Kaidan."

There's a wealth of emotion in that name, more than Anderson had conceived of. His mind's swirling with the implications to the breathed out word, the hope and despair, all in a name, when Shepard starts speaking again, voice pitched normally. "I was hoping for some sort of communication, if just to find out what's going on out there in the world."

"Your communications are being monitored. You know that."

"Yes."

"It's a risk to communicate with you. Your crew doesn't want to endanger you. You know that there are those that will twist even the most innocent communication into a harmful attack."

"But – "

"But nothing. There is a risk, for you, in any communication from anybody, whether that person is Alliance or not."

"Yes, sir. I understand."

It's clear to Anderson that Shepard doesn't understand as he rubs a hand across his shaved head, scrubbing at his scalp before kneading at the back of his neck and the implant sitting there. "I'm certain even Alenko understands the risks to you and is unwilling to aid those that want to see you hang."

"I wish I had your certainty, sir." Shepard sounds bitter. Resigned. Hurt. It's not something that he's heard Shepard sound like before, even when missions haven't gone his way or subordinates have disrespected him.

"Something to discuss, Shepard?"

"No, sir. Nothing to discuss. There was never anything to discuss there."

"Step lightly and keep your nose clean. No more attempted hacking. You know that sort of thing will look bad for you. Honor what your crew's doing and keep yourself clean. It won't be much longer."

"That's good considering we probably don't have much longer."

Anderson nods and then heads out. He keeps the conversation in the back of his head until they're heading into the Council Chambers and the conversation pops right back into the forefront of his mind as Alenko walks out of the Chambers. Deciding to see just where the two of them sit with one another, he nods his head towards Shepard and watches Alenko as he turns and stares. He hears Shepard say "Kaidan". He watches the way they dance around one another, the exchanged looks and the hesitation in their stilted conversation and he knows that they're more than comrades that served together.

He needs time to absorb everything but he's not given that time as the Reapers invade. He forgets about it in the face of the immediate need for survival. Anderson gets the Vancouver troops to regroup and work at guerrilla attacks against the Reaper forces. He's reviewing the next planned foray when he gets a communiqué from Alliance Headquarters on the Citadel.


Alenko in Huerta Memorial w/ concussion/biotics strain. Return to Normandy unlikely. Shepard heading to Palaven for Turian recruitment.

Anderson tries to get word out to Shepard, find out what happened with Alenko and what his mental state is. If Shepard falters, if Shepard missteps, out there in the galaxy, then everything Anderson is doing here is for nothing and Earth is lost. He can't have that. He's willing to sacrifice himself, if he has to, to keep Earth going but to sacrifice and then to lose anyway? It's unacceptable.

Anderson has to know. With that in mind, he contacts The Shadow Broker. He's not happy that The Shadow Broker has access to the Normandy crew but it benefits him in this case. The skips and falters during the conversation, with communications going up and down depending on where they can find enough power to send word to the Citadel makes it close to impossible to gather intel. He's forced to resort to written requests.

Request information regarding attack on Mars. Alenko and Shepard's physical/mental status including injuries and reactions to said injuries. Need confirmation of possible compromised state and/or fraternization.

He's heading across Canada by the time The Shadow Broker sends anything back to him. There's just one word.

Why?

Anderson wonders what information he should give up as to his suspicions.

Request one-on-one conversation to answer.

This time, the response is almost instantaneous. Granted. There's a string of numbers and code, telling him when, where and how to communicate. By the time the meeting rolls around, Anderson decides to lay it all out and take the risk that the information won't be abused.

"I do not exaggerate that the fate of the galaxy rests on Shepard's shoulders."

"And?" The computerized voice hides The Shadow Broker's identity from him but if Shepard trusts him or her, then Anderson will, as well.

"How much loss would you be able to cope with before you collapse? I'm afraid that Alenko's loss would be the straw that broke the camel's back."

"Shepard did not leave the medbay while transporting Major Alenko to the Citadel," The Shadow Broker confirms to him.

"And his mental state?"

"More distraught than I've ever seen. He continued to be that way, even when Major Alenko was taken to Huerta Memorial. Until the doctors certified that Major Alenko would recover, in time, Shepard barely attended to his duties."

"More than comrades?" he asks, knowing that The Shadow Broker would know what he's asking.

"Yes, from what I have seen, heard and gathered. Shepard has lost many crew members but he has never reached this level of emotional commitment. There is something about Major Alenko." The voice lightens, as if happy about the relationship between them. "We all need someone to lean on in our time of need. I think Shepard had hoped it would be Major Alenko."

"And now?"

"Major Alenko is recovering and Shepard is better at his duties. Hang in there, Anderson. Your faith is not misplaced."

Anderson's brain starts churning with ideas that should be better left alone at The Shadow Broker's words. Tamping them down, he thanks him or her and signs off. It's just that, once thought, he can't unthink them, can't get the ideas out of his head, especially once he finally gets word that the Turians are on board and Shepard's working on getting the Krogan, as well.

It'd be wrong. Awful. Unethical. Wrong to make that order. It's outside of the scope of duties for anyone to order or abide by the thoughts.

But then another Reaper lands and Anderson receives the reports that part of the Fleet is lost and the Turians are making more demands and the Krogan are demanding even more and Shepard is stumbling. Anderson doesn't hesitate to recommend Alenko for Spectre status, ensuring that word gets to Udina. With Alenko and Shepard on equal footing, Shepard might be more willing to act on any hidden feelings.

By the time Shepard cures the Genophage and secures Turian and Krogan support for saving Earth, Anderson's gone too far and the plan is set firm in his mind as the only course of action. For just a moment, he feels like Sisyphus, pushing a rock up a hill only to have it roll back and crush him as it gains speed. He just hopes that the rock only crushes himself. All he can do now is go along with it, making the call to Alenko. He's relieved at himself that he waited that long as much as he hates himself for making the call. Leadership comes with dubious calls, though, and Anderson would rather sacrifice one man, even two of his best men, if it means that he can save the Earth.

"Sir! Good to see that you're still alive." Alenko looks the worse for wear as he stands at attention in the Spectre offices. The bruises from Mars have faded but Alenko looks twitchy and unsettled.

"Same to you, Major. When I heard about the attack on Mars, I was worried."

"There are no lasting effects, sir."

Alenko gives him the perfect opening. "We both know that isn't true, Major."

"Sir?"

"Have you spoken with Shepard recently?"

"Uh, yes." Kaidan stares off to the side. "I assume you haven't heard about Udina, sir."

"What's he done now?"

"Cerberus agent, sir. Tried to assassinate the Council but, uh, Shepard stopped him."

"I get the feeling there's more to it than that."

"Shepard discovered that Udina was the Cerberus agent attempting to assassinate the Council. I was attempting to evacuate the Council when he confronted Udina. There was a confrontation with weapons drawn." Anderson watches as Kaidan's body sags, his gaze looking off to the side, as he recaps the events. "Udina pulled a weapon and I was forced to fire on him."

"On Shepard or Udina?"

"On Udina, sir. If I'd fired on Shepard, I don't think I would be standing here speaking to you. Shepard doesn't miss."

"He wouldn't have fired on you." Anderson's as certain of that as he is of the sun rising and setting.

"I'm not so sure about that."

"Look, son, I think there's more to Shepard than you know." Anderson hesitates. "He's under a lot of strain but there is no way he would've shot you. Udina? In a heartbeat but you? No."

"How can you be certain of that?"

"What I'm about to say stays between the two of us. You will tell me if it affects your ability to work with Shepard. Earth rests in the balance of what I'm about to say and your ability to cope and work with it. Are we clear, here, Major?"

"Yes, sir." Alenko nods and salutes.

"What Shepard's doing, uniting the galaxy to help Earth, will save the galaxy and win this war. I have complete and total faith in his ability to do this if his mental state remains steady. What I don't have complete and total faith in is his ability to maintain that mental state. Shepard needs someone to rely on."

"Sir." Kaidan nods in agreement, a puzzled look on his face that Anderson can see even in the wavering broadcast.

"Are you aware that that person is you, Major?"

"Me, sir?"

"You. Shepard needs you with him."

"I don't see what I can do for him. He's a Sentinel, as well, and doesn't suffer from my limitations."

"That isn't what I'm talking about. Shepard needs your friendship and your support. He needs your presence at his side."

"With all due respect, I don't see what's so special about me."

Anderson feels like he's betraying Shepard's confidence even as he decides to go ahead with the conversation. "Shepard cares for you, deeply."

"We've known one another a long time; that's to be expected but he's known Garrus and Liara for almost as long. How is my presence different?"

"Shepard has romantic feelings for you, feelings he doesn't seem to have for anyone else. Have you ever known Shepard to date? To even look at someone else?"

"No, sir," Alenko says, looking gobsmacked.

"Shepard is loyal to a fault. Everything he's done is for the Alliance and for the galaxy. That includes ignoring his own needs because of rules of fraternization and the needs of the galaxy. He will continue to do so unless someone pushes him to understand that he has those needs. He needs someone to meet those needs. Shepard needs someone to turn to, someone that won't judge him for his weakness in the middle of the night. We all need someone to turn to."

"Sir? I'm not certain I understand what you're asking."

"Shepard's mental state is skating on thin ice, Major. He needs a rock to shore him up. You are the one that he wants to do that, whether he is willing to discuss that with you or not. You will force him into that discussion and you will be that rock."

"Are you ordering me to start a romantic relationship with him?"

"Do you have any reason not to? You haven't had a single romantic relationship since BaaT. That's a long time for no romantic entanglements."

"Have you forgotten the rules of fraternization amongst crew?"

"You're both Spectres and don't have to adhere to Alliance rules. Any other concerns?"

"I'm not going to do it."

"Major – "

"No, Admiral. I won't. I think you're seeing things you want to see. Even if they were there, I won't do that to him and I won't do it to myself." Anderson watches as Alenko rubs his fingertips over his temples, massaging lightly.

"Then, at least, be his friend. Serve with him aboard the Normandy and see if I'm seeing things."

"I'll do that much, sir."

Anderson salutes, watches as Alenko does the same and then severs the connection. He'd known Alenko wouldn't agree the first time. He probably won't agree the second time. But the third time and Shepard would have his rock, someone to turn to in the middle of the night. Anderson just has to be patient and get through Alenko's strict moral code. It's just that there isn't a lot of time for patience.