He could stand to attention for a solid eight hours without moving a muscle. He could hold a salute for three. He could probably last longer in both those activities but he'd never needed to and it was beside the point. He could take dressing downs from admirals and snide comments from politicians. He stayed cool under fire. Calm, focused, in control. Those were his qualities. The ultimate professional. He was never flustered. Never lost it. Except when dealing with Shepard. He wasn't sure what it was about her that could make him want to snap. Probably everything.
"Do you even care if Lieutenant Alenko survives?"
"Oh he better survive, I've got words for him." She growled and Anderson stared speechlessly at her as she prowled the comm room where they were conducting the mission debrief. He'd sent the sole survivor of the 212 down to the med bay with Kaiden and would read her report of the incident later. Shepard would have to submit an official report as well of course. He knew it would be professional and well written and not include the word cunt, just like he'd taught her, but it would probably also be missing all kinds of other little details. She wasn't stupid enough to put anything potentially incriminating down in print. For his own sanity he decided to switch the topic of conversation.
"And this dockworker, you're certain he said it was Saren who killed Nihlus?" She paused in front of him, seamlessly morphing into standing at ease. Well, all her body parts were at the right angle for the military position of 'at ease' anyway. In the 10 years he'd known her he didn't think he'd ever seen Hamelin actually look as if she was genuinely at ease with the world, not after he'd learnt her almost microscopic tells.
"That's what he claims Nihlus called the turian who killed him. I can't vouch for his hearing but he definitely wasn't jerking me around." The carefree shrug and small wry smile was as good as an admittance of guilt, although would never be admissible in court. Anderson knew better than to inquire how she could be so sure the civilian wasn't lying but did find himself asking:
"Do I need to be worried about what the others are going to submit in their reports?"
"You can worry if you want Sir, but I'm not worried." He breathed a sigh of relief, probably just verbal threats this time then. Not another 'my finger slipped' incident. He still couldn't fathom how that defense had actually worked in her last tribunal, the idea that a top N7 marksman with training in weapons and operations safety could 'accidentally' kneecap a suspect. It probably had something to do with the fact that not a single one of the twenty odd witnesses present had seen or heard anything that suggested it was deliberate. For some reason there never seemed to be anyone willing to officially go on record or make a public statement about the Hero of Elysium's less honorable actions. Not since Torfan at any rate, and there were very few people outside the handful of survivors and top level brass who knew that the infamous 'marine A' had in fact been Shepard.
"I won't lie Shepard. Things look bad. Nihlus dead, the beacon destroyed and the geth invading. The Council's going to want answers."
"Fuck them! Only person responsible for Nihlus' death is Nihlus. Stupid fucker forgot the first rule of survival."
"Come on! Saren was his mentor, of course he didn't expect to be betrayed. That would be like me pulling a weapon out on you right now!" Her posture didn't change at all as she raised a single incredulous eyebrow.
"Exactly!" There was a moment of silence as they stared at each other, trying to put themselves in the other's head and work out the communication error they seemed to be experiencing. Shepard realised the cause of the discrepancy first, sighing as she spelt it out for him. "Sir, I have six separate response plans to you pulling a weapon on me in this room right now, varying slightly depending on whether you pull a gun or a knife, and I have four different escape routes off the ship. You will be glad to know that only one of those involves spacing the rest of the crew." It was Anderson's turn to look incredulous and somewhat horrified. He of all people should know how 'different' Shepard's outlook was to the rest of the galaxy, how ruthless, but even so the unwelcome reminders still shocked him sometimes. It wasn't that she was incapable of acts of kindness as such, simply that the possibility of them existing rarely entered her mind, her own survival and wellbeing was the prime directive of her twisted brain no matter the cost. Other people's wellbeing could occasionally be catered for, but always as a secondary objective. He was fortunately excused from having to think of a response to her revelation by the ship's tannoy sparking to life, the doctor's voice filling the room.
"I'm sorry Captain, I know you're busy, but Lieutenant Alenko is waking up."
"How's he holding up doctor?" Anderson asked quietly with professional but genuine concern, noting the dimmed lighting as he entered the med bay, Shepard following at his eight o'clock. The biotic had been leaning back against the far bed but attempted to straighten to attention at the officer's voice even as an involuntary wince flickered across his face, Anderson quickly waving him back at ease. Chakwas hurried to greet the N7s, keeping her voice low as she answered:
"Woke with a migraine as you'd expect, gave him his usual dose and it's starting to die back down to manageable levels. Other than that, physically he's fine. Although I did notice some abnormal beta waves."
"Any chance we can have that last bit again in english Major?" Shepard enquired, slipping effortlessly into the professional Alliance officer act that she mostly managed to maintain around people who didn't know the truth about her.
"Unusual brain activity. I also noticed an increase in rapid eye movement, usually associated with intense dreaming. Might be a side effect of the beacon or it might not. Unfortunately I just don't know."
"I saw... I don't know what I saw." Kaiden interrupted hesitantly, three pairs of eyes instantly snapping to his huddled form on the bed, arms curled protectively around his head.
"Is he well enough for a debrief?" Chakwas merely shrugged in response to the captain's query.
"As long as you keep the noise down I don't see why not, but I reserve the right to change my medical opinion at any time." Anderson nodded, shooting a silent warning to Shepard as they softly padded towards the bed. Now is NOT the time for your 'words'.
"Sounds like that beacon hit you pretty hard Lieutenant, you sure you're okay?"
"I'll live, thank you Sir. What happened to the beacon?"
"It exploded. Suspected system overload. You probably triggered some kind of proximity sensor." The way Shepard's voice was void of even the faintest flicker of emotion of any kind told Anderson her quietness had nothing to do with the LT's migraine. The only thing stopping her from ripping the marine a new one was deference to his order. Right now he didn't care about her motivations as long as she did it. Either way he best take back control of the conversation before she changed her mind.
"You were there just before the beacon self-destructed Alenko. Did you see anything? Any clue that might tell us what Saren was after?"
"Just before I lost consciousness, I had some kind of vision."
"A vision? A vision of what?"
"The darkness. Death and destruction. Fear. No hope. No escape-"
"Ah great, the fucking L2 finally cracked!" Alenko winced, whether it was due to the commander's words or her volume was anybody's guess. Anderson shot her another warning look but she glared right back 'what?' At least she shut up, even if her left hand started hovering ominously close to her thigh pocket.
"Nothing's really clear," the biotic amended hastily "but I think I saw synthetics. Slaughtering people. Butchering them."
"Maybe, I don't know. "
"We need to report this to the Council."
"And tell them what Sir? That I had a bad dream? The commander's right, they'll just think I'm crazy."
"We don't know what information was stored in that beacon. Lost prothean technology? Blueprints for some ancient weapon of mass destruction? Whatever it was, Saren took it. But I know Saren. I know his reputation, his politics. He believes humans are a blight on the galaxy. This was an act of war." A quiet cough interrupted his epic speech, it was far too subtle to be Hamelin so he glanced towards the doctor.
"Sorry Captain, but I think that's enough for just now." She nodded towards her patient and Anderson realised Kaiden had withdrawn to his own little world.
"OK. Let me know if he says anything that could be useful." He turned to leave, Shepard on his heels, her hand still hovering by whatever concealed weapon she must surely have in that pocket until the door shut behind them. "I've got to get back to the bridge, can you make sure Chief Williams is squared away."
"Aye aye Sir."
"And Shepard? Go easy on her. She's just lost her entire unit. Most people actually give a damn about their fellow marines."
"Think I read something about that once Sir." She actually smiled, Anderson really didn't want to try and analyse what that one meant. He briefly wondered if migraines were contagious. "Don't worry Sir. It's just assigning a bunk, kit and duties. I'll be gentle."