Title: Confining Space
Author: skybound2
Characters: F!Shepard and Zaeed
Word Count: ~2700
Rating: T
Summary: Shepard and Zaeed spend a little forced time together while on a mission.
Spoilers: None really.
Author's Note: How to fail at a kinkmeme in three easy steps! 1. Don't include any kink/smut of any kind. 2. Don't post the story at the kinkmeme. 3. Don't go anon. Yeah. I'll just say that this story was inspired by a prompt at the kinkmeme, but that's the extent of it. Due to the complete lack of kink, I'm just going to post this right here (and over at LJ).

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Confining Space

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"Is it getting hot in here? I think its getting hotter in here." Shepard tugged ineffectually at the armor at her throat, trying (and failing miserably) to loosen the thing.

Zaeed gave a rude hand gesture and went back to ignoring her.

It wasn't that she was afraid of small spaces really. It was more that she was just concerned with the fact that neither her nor Zaeed had been able to hack their way through the malfunctioning security system, and the ventilation shafts leading into and out of the small storage area were a bit on the small side, and who they hell knew the last time the Blue Suns had bothered to clean them, and really - "Are you sure it isn't getting hotter in here?"

Zaeed scoffed, "Your constant bellyaching certainly isn't making it any cooler." He gave her a scathing look. One which she returned full-forced, albeit, slightly more shaky. The overall 'intimidate' effect that she was going for was further hampered by the large droplets of sweat rolling off of her brow and into her eyes.

Her left foot twitched, and in the tight quarters, it accidentally whacked Zaeed in the calf.

As it turned out, the old merc liked to curse in several languages.

Endless minutes ticked on by, with only the eerie orange and green glow from the broken security lock (And who the hell puts security locks on both the inside and the outside of a door? Damn social experiment is what it was...) illuminating the pair.

Where the hell was Tali when you needed her?And along that same train of thought, just what the hell was taking Jacob so long? He should have made it to the rendezvous point by now. How long could it take to get the tools they needed to get them the hell out of here?

She contemplated checking back in with EDI, but knew that only frustration paved that road. The last time she had done so, she could have sworn that the damn AI was laughing at her.

See who'd be laughing when Shepard doused the freakin' core with axle grease. Once she got back on board, of course.

"Damn it!" She simply couldn't take it anymore. The collar of her armor was digging into the flesh around her neck, and the damn chest plate felt like it was squeezing the life out of her, and just how was a person supposed to be able to breathe like th-

"The hell you doing, woman? !"

Shepard blinked. Her eyes struggled to focus on the slack-jawed man in front of her. "What?"

Zaeed raised a scarred eyebrow, before very deliberating sweeping his gaze down her torso - her now mostly naked torso (it was amazing the expedience with which a person could remove a layer of armor and undersuit material when provided with enough incentive, such as choking to death on a dwindling air supply)– before landing on her hand. Which was frozen directly in the process of unclasping the second clamp to her leg armor.

"Oh. That." Her hands itched to finish what she had started. The suit's remaining leg clamps were digging painfully into her hips, and in comparison to the lovely sensation of air on sweat-slicked skin that her torso was enjoying at the moment, her lower body was practically screaming in protest. "It's hot."

She blinked at him, once, twice – before she shrugged and finished what she'd started. It wasn't like he'd never seen a woman naked before. And she'd still have on a few layers of clothes anyhow.

Zaeed's face broke in a slow leer, his gaze lingering on her cotton wrapped breasts. "Damned if I don't agree."

She rolled her eyes, but was secretly grateful for the momentary distraction. "Keep your hands were I can see 'em, Massani." If she was worrying about Zaeed, maybe she could stop focusing on the fact that the walls really did seem to be moving inwards...

"If you insist." The cracking of his voice across the cramped space grabbed her attention once more. She stared, as he brought his hands up, directly to eye level, and started by removing the glove on his right, revealing the remainder of his fully tattooed arm to her gaze. The fingers on that hand were laced with wire-thin lines of scars, that traced around the thumb and across the knuckles.

She was contemplating just what might have caused such an injury, when the hand moved, reaching up behind his left shoulder to unhook the top latch in his suit. It skirted down the side, under his arm, and unhooked another – nearly invisible to her eye – followed by one more. The last one gave way with a 'snick' and he tugged on the chest plate, removing it from his person and settling it with a thud on top of her own.

Beads of salty water coasted down her forehead, and across her cheeks. She didn't notice.

It came as absolutely no surprise to Shepard that Zaeed's impressive collection of arm tattoos extended up, over his shoulder, and down across half of his chest. What was surprising, however, was the little jolt she felt between her thighs at the sight.

She'd always had a bit of a thing for ink, she supposed.

Blood rushed up her neck, flushing the skin there even further. But it was no longer entirely a response to the enclosed space, and their (most certainly) dwindling air supply. She involuntarily sucked in a deep breath at the thought.

Zaeed sat across from her, clothed only from the waist down. His head was cocked to the side, a look upon his face that she couldn't quite decipher. "Hell of a thing."

"Hmm?" She shook her head, to buy some time to collect her thoughts. "What is?"

"That the Great Commander Shepard. Savior of the Citadel. Humanity's last hope. Is claustrophobic."

Indignation flared up in her, and she poked a finger out at him, "I am not claustrophobic."

But Zaeed just plowed on, as if she hadn't spoken. "How the hell does that even work? I've read your file. You've spent most of your life on a ship. No one logs those kinds of hours in deep space without being launched in an escape pod at least a time or two. How'd you ever manage?"

She felt a growl building in her throat. "Don't you listen? I said I'm not claustrophobic! I just..." She took a shallow breath, and closed her eyes, blocking him out. "I was spaced. Turns out, recovering from that's not as easy as they tell you in the manuals. Oh, wait. There are no manuals for that sort of thing. Just my dumb luck, eh?"

Shepard opened her eyes in time to see Zaeed shrug. "Could be worse."

Her mouth twitched in an almost smile. "I could still be dead?"

"Gotta be worth dealing with a little psychological trauma, I'd wager."

"Yeah. Maybe. Still doesn't change the fact that its hot as hell in here."

"Mmm." An overly critical look filled Zaeed's face as he studied her. It made her nervous.

It also made her insides clench in an all-too-familiar way once more. Her body shivered in response, despite the heat.

"Close your eyes."

"What?"

A heavy sigh. "Just do it."

"No."

"Damn it! I'm trying to help you out here." He sounded exasperated, and somehow that calmed her a bit.

She blinked at him, "Why?"

"Call it self-preservation. I figure any minute now your fight response is gonna kick in, given the lack of flight options we've got. And frankly, I got zero interest in being on the receiving end of that episode."

Later, she'd blame it on the fact that the walls were closing in on her, but at the time the logic seemed sound, and she shut her eyes tightly without further protest.

His voice lowered in pitch and volume, the vibrations of the accented syllables cascaded gently over her. "Keep 'em closed." She wouldn't admit it out loud, but she liked his voice when he spoke like that.

She liked it a lot.

"I ever tell you 'bout the time a team I was running with got caught on Noveria?"

It was a monumental effort not to roll her eyes, but she managed. Barely. "No."

"We'd been hired by some big-shot exec working for the Development Corp. Been having problems with some of their techs out at Peak 7. Apparently, the fools had been selling off the information they'd been paid to firewall to the highest bidder."

"Same shit, different day on that rock."

Zaeed's laugh was warm, and rich, and Shepard would be hard pressed to say that she didn't fully enjoy the sound. "Yeah. No points for originality on their part. What they lacked in creativity, they made up for with sheer idiocy though. They made the mistake of not following up on the winning bidder's ident closely enough. A nice shadow organization set up by their employer to run down any leaks in the company. You can bet how surprised they were when my team showed up, courtesy of their employers."

She smiled. It wasn't hard to imagine. "I'll bet."

"Right pathetic lot, really. Felt almost guilty for turning 'em over. But, a job's a job. And considering that one didn't even end in a pile of bodies, I think it turned out better than most."

Shepard cocked her head at him, her body leaning subconsciously forward just a tad, but kept her eyes shut. It wasn't lost on her that her own erratic breathing, and racing heart had begun to return to normal, once she could no longer see the walls. She just refused to think on it overly long. "Where exactly does the 'caught' portion of this story come in? Sounds like a successful mission."

There was a cough from directly in front of her. One she cold almost classify as embarrassed. "Yeah, well. Nothin' is ever easy, right? We encountered a slight...hiccup en route back to Port Hanshan from the Peak. Our vehicle uncovered an abandoned mine field - leftovers from some coup that was staged a few decades back. Knocked out our nav systems, and our transmission. We'd run out of omni-gel ages before – crap drivers, the lot of us – and had zero left with which to make repairs. Had to wait nearly 15 hours for an extraction. Coldest damn hours I ever spent. Cramped too."

"How many in your team?"

"Five, including me. Three of the ugliest bastards you'd ever meet, and one delectable little thief. She was a bit of alright to look at, but also had a one-track mind. Getting her to focus on something other then the next heist was more of a challenge than you could possibly imagine. She'd get all fidgety when she didn't have a pocket to pick for a few hours."

"Sounds fun."

"Hmm. Wasn't too bad. Not once I managed to distract her at least." Soft breath coasted across the skin of her cheek; the slight scent of mint traveled with it. She felt her skin prickle in response. Just how close was he?

"Oh. How'd you -" She swallowed reflexively around the lump that had formed in her throat. "How'd you manage that?"

A rough, calloused palm skirted down her arm, from bare shoulder, down to her elbow, circling around the appendage with slow, even strokes. They left goosebumps in their wake. Oh! That close...

"I mentioned that it was damn cold too, right? More than one way to stay warm, and provide a distraction, you know."

She sucked in air through her teeth, eyes still firmly clamped shut, and tried desperately not to press herself into that hand. "But the rest of your team...?"

She felt Zaeed shrug in the disrupted motion of his hand on her arm. "Ordered 'em to stay in the front compartment. Wouldn't have wanted to see those hideous faces during that. Would've killed the mood. Sure they got an earful though."

The strokes had gotten bolder at her lack of resistance, and now, his other hand had come up to play around the base of her neck, tugging her head forward some, so that if she were to open her eyes, she knew she'd be looking into her own lap. A slight moan escaped her as those calloused fingers dug into the skin of her shoulder, kneading the muscle there through sweat-dampened skin. She could feel the heat of his body so close to hers. But rather then make her feel over-heated or confined, she found herself relaxing more and more, until she was bracing herself with one hand on his still armor-covered thigh, head lolling forward like so much dead-weight.

The hand on her neck tightened, just a bit, and she felt her head being guided forward and up, out of the home it had just made for itself against his chest. That mint-scented breath skated across her lips, and they parted almost instinctively in response. His other hand – the one with scars decorating its roughened surface – slid against the over-sensitized skin along her side, and back, and settled into the curve at the base of her spine.

Is it getting hotter in here again? The thought had barely been processed before she finally was ready to throw all sense of, well, sense out the (metaphorical) window, when her comm unit flared to life. EDI's patient tones flooded the small space. Shepard's eyes shot open, quickly focusing on Zaeed's mismatched ones only a scant few centimeters away.

"Commander. Operative Taylor is en-route to your position with Engineer Tali'Zorah. Estimated time of arrival is two minutes."

Shit. Her tongue felt thick and uncooperative, "Thank you, EDI."

Zaeed's lips twitched between a frown and a grimace, as his hands slipped from her. The sense of loss she felt at their sudden absence was surprising.

"Best get your kit back on, before they arrive." He lifted his chin in a gesture towards her pile of discarded clothing, as he began to tug on his own armor. (If she sighed when the tattoos were covered up once more, well, she'd never admit that to anyone.)

"Yeah, I can just imagine the looks on their faces – well, Jacob's at any rate." She quickly yanked on her undershirt, and began refastening her gear as she spoke. Her hands steady, despite her internal lack of calm.

"Heh, might do the boy some good. Considering how much your XO has been yanking his chain."

"What do you-" Shepard didn't get the chance to finish the question, as their liberators chose that moment to arrive. Shepard quickly snapped the last latch to her armor closed. "'Bout damn time. Get us out of here Tali."

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The debriefing was, thankfully, quite brief. Mostly due to the fact that Shepard was in desperate need of a shower, and really just didn't give a damn at the moment.

Shepard watched as Jacob determinedly kept his eyes not focused on Miranda. And how Miranda, in turn, gravitated just slightly towards Jacob.

Huh. Damn merc was right.

Miranda lingered behind after the debriefing, but Zaeed followed Shepard onto the elevator. It probably should have taken more time than it did for her to come to a decision. But, all things being equal, time was something they may just not have a lot of these days.

She reached over and hit the emergency stop button, just a few seconds after the door had closed. A red light flooded the space, carving into Zaeed's facial scars almost brutally.

He cocked an eyebrow at her, an amused look upon his face, but she cut him off when he opened his mouth to speak; shoving him up against the wall of the elevator with one hand, her full 'Commander Shepard' mask in place. "I believe I said something about keeping your hands were I could see them, Massani?"

He answered her with a deep chuckle, his right hand coming to alight on her hip. "Keep your eyes open next time then, and it shouldn't be a problem." Her lips twitched in response.

Yeah. It was definitely getting hot in here.

~End