I wrote this in a bout of writer's block, hoping to overcome it. And maybe also as a personal challenge to myself. I love Zaeed and think he's such an underrated character, and then I couldn't stop thinking about the kind of relationship he'd have with the rest of the crew. Jack popped into my head and wouldn't leave me alone, and I just had to write this. Can be considered romantic, but can also be considered completely platonic. Whatever floats your boat (my boat likes the idea of it being romantic). Don't own nothing.
She'd never admit it to anybody, not even Shepard.
Nobody deserves to know.
But she gets lonely. A lot.
Pulling her legs up onto the cargo box with her, she hugs her knees to her chest and restsher back against the cool metal behind her. The hum of the ship is always there for her, an ever-silent companion to take the edge off.
The idea of that hum ever dying, leaving her to nothing but immense silence... Jack doesn't like thinking about it.
And that's crazy, right? The Normandy will have to go silent sooner or later, won't it? How stupid is it for her to expect something like that?
Very fucking stupid.
But the Normandy, she doesn't judge. She doesn't poke and prod and want to know every single detail of Jack's life. EDI may be pretty damn annoying, but EDI isn't the Normandy. The Normandy is something on her own; a masterpiece.
Sometimes, it feels like it isn't enough though.
He's a lot like the Normandy in that respect.
He doesn't talk often, but his presence is hard to ignore. Like the hum of the boat. A silent companion who doesn't want to try and force her to speak. To partake in mindless, boring chit-chat the way the others did.
Jack doesn't like people much. She supposes it's rather obvious.
Therefore, she doesn't really like joining the others when it comes time for meals. Besides the fact that that asshole, Gardner couldn't have made good food if there'd been a professional chef there doing it for him, the room is just too big, always full of too many people.
Shepard had brought her food a few times. Then Shepard had stopped coming – finally taking the hint that Jack didn't want any company. Something in the back of Jack's mind made her want to feel guilty about it. Something in the front of her mind made her ignore it.
But then he had started bringing her food. She has no doubt that it was on Shepard's orders, but she'd definitely been surprised at first.
And pleasantly surprised at that.
He would come down, set the tray down, and just leave.
No 'How are you?'s or 'Good morning, Jack's. He'd just trump right on back up the stairs, the sounds of his boots echoing off the walls.
Eventually, she'd started muttering out things that sounded vaguely like 'thanks' and he'd started grunting noncommittally at her. He wouldn't even look at her most of the time, and if he did, it was by accident. It was a damn good thing they had going on.
After God knows how long though, Jack actually starts wanting him to look at her.
The hum of the Normandy, the drone that she used to take so much comfort in... it suddenly isn't enough for her.
Halfway through a grunt, he hesitates. He'd been in the process of turning around to make his way back up the stairs, but now his head turns back. She can only see his profile, and his gaze is downcast, brow stitched heavily.
She's grown so used to seeing him. So accustomed to his looks.
"Ah... yeah," he rasps out, obviously taken aback by her tone and by the fact that she'd actually formed words this time. He manages to collect himself quickly though. "Whatever."
The dull thuds of his footsteps fade before Jack relaxes again, and after a long moment, she realizes that she's... smiling?
Okay, so maybe it isn't a full-on, real smile. But it's still there.
And she realizes that she'd forgotten what it felt like. To smile without any malice. To smile just for the sake of smiling.
To smile because she was... what was a good way to put it?
It isn't long before she decides to venture up to where he likes to hang out.
Someone else had brought Jack her meals for the day, and she hadn't felt like asking why Zaeed hadn't come. She'd wanted the engineer – or whatever the fuck he was – out of her space as soon as possible, and any questions would have only delayed him.
But she can't help but wonder.
Maybe she just wants to see if he's okay.
She waits until late. She doesn't get much sleep anyways... she doesn't like dreaming.
The Normandy feels as it always does during the latest hours of the day – silent. It feeels both empty and full at the same time, strangely safe in the middle of the night. It's almost like being able to pretend she's all alone, yet knowing that there's people there, just in case. She didn't mind wandering the corridors then, when she couldn't be interrupted by anyone else.
But instead of wandering like a ghost, Jack stops in a room she's had yet to enter.
She isn't surprised to see that he's awake still. He doesn't seem like somebody who likes dreaming either.
He's leaning against the wall, using a small blade to pick at his short fingernails. His body tenses just briefly when the door hisses open, a motion that might have gone unnoticed by many, but he relaxes just as quickly. He never looks up once.
Jack says nothing.
For once, she's at a loss for words.
Folding her arms over her chest, she sweeps her gaze around the room with interest. Her eyes land on a gun. An old assault rifle, one of the M-8 Avenger models, and it's years are very clearly visible.
She boldly reaches down, swiping a finger down the barrel. No dust.
"Call her Jessie."
The sound of Zaeed's voice almost makes Jack flinch, and she glances over her shoulder at him. He still doesn't appear to have looked up from what he was doing, but it does seem as if he's angled himself to face her a little more.
Something flutters in Jack's chest. Why?
"Why do you still have this thing lying around?" she asks.
"Girl, I'd give up every weapon I have just to get another go with that shitty old rifle. Just one more mission."
This is the most he'd ever said to her.
Normally, by now, Jack would get tired of hearing someone's voice. She hates people who talk too much. It's like people who overstay their welcome.
But she doesn't mind this time.
"Why Jessie?" she asks.
He doesn't say anything, so she looks at him. He shrugs one of his shoulders.
"I like it," he says simply.
Jack isn't all that good at telling when people were lying, but her first thought is that he has to be hiding something.
And then she figures she has no right to judge. She'd have hidden everything about herself if she could have. If Shepard hadn't already seen most of it when picking her up and recruiting her.
"How long have you had it like this?" Jack asks. "Pretty useless to carry around a weapon that you don't use."
"Five years I've been without her," he answers. A wry smile comes to his face. "Guess I'm just sentimental that way."
Silence covers them like a heavy blanket, and Jack turns back to him. After a long moment – seriously, it could be hours – he finally looks up from what he's doing.
His mismatched eyes meet hers, and there it is again – she's almost smiling. She's sure that it isn't noticeable. Hell, it probably just looks like she'd sucked on a lemon or something. But it's still there, and she thinks it's bigger than the other.
She never would have guessed how much she kind of... liked smiling.
Saying no more, she disappears back down to the bowels of the Normandy. She doesn't seek out the hum or the vibrations like she used to, instead choosing to lie down with her mind somewhere else.
She doesn't worry about falling asleep that night.
They don't really speak again, not until after Shepard's gone to Tuchanka and returned. Jack had been there as well, though it had seemed at first as if Shepard hadn't liked the idea. It's just that sometimes, Jack gets really fucking bored.
Inviting herself along on some of the missions is the only way she can keep herself occupied.
She's lying down when she hears him coming. She knows it's him now, because she knows his walk. She sits up just as he reached the bottom of the stairs, and his gaze seeks her out – he actually looks for her.
"Thanks Z," she says, climbing to her feet.
His gaze flickers to the bandage on her arm – one of her many new battle scars – and he sets the tray of food down. He crosses his arms, and Jack is surprised that he isn't already on his way upstairs yet.
She notices that he's smirking at her.
She can't help but wonder what it would look like if he were to smile a real smile. Smile the way she was learning how to.
"Heard about the way you all took on that thresher maw. Killed it," he says. "Wish I could've been there."
"You sound impressed," she says, and is that a hint of playfulness in her voice?
"Well, when most people come across something like that, the usual course of action is to run," he replies.
"I'm not most people."
His eyes linger on hers for a long moment, and Jack begins to feel like he's looking right into her. She once met a kid who insisted that he could read people's minds, but she'd never believed him. She doesn't believe anybody – especially humans – can have that power.
"Think I'm figuring that much out for myself," he says.
When he heads back upstairs this time, Jack is grinning from ear-to-ear.
And damn it, it feels good.
She doesn't know where to go, or what to do.
She's livid, stewing in rage. It feels like fire coursing through her veins, making her want to punch through walls and tear things apart.
She hates a lot of things, but at that moment, she thinks she can't hate anyone or anything more than she hates Miranda. But the worst thing is that she can't hate Shepard. Shepard, always trying to settle things with words, and always trying to make nice with fucking everyone.
Jack hates that Shepard's words always ring so damn true.
So instead, she chooses to hate Miranda as much as she possibly can. She funnels all of her negative energy into it, imagining all of the different ways she can hurt Miranda. Snooty bitch.
She ends up pacing as soon as she gets off the elevator.
She doesn't want to go down to her hole. She doesn't want to go down into the darkness and listen to the once-comforting hum of the ship. It would drive her crazy in her current state of mind.
Or maybe crazier than she already is.
So she goes to the only other place she can think of.
Zaeed's sitting at a small metal table, playing some game with cards and looking about as interested in it as he does in anything else. He pauses when she storms into his room, but he doesn't look at her.
And she's fine with that.
Saying nothing, she crosses the room and drops down to the floor, sitting with her back against the wall. Her fists are clenched so hard that her knuckles are bone white, nails cutting into the smooth flesh of her palms.
She stares up at the back of Zaeed's head from her spot on the floor. His shoulders are straight, but relaxed – he's completely fine with her being behind him and out of sight. This strikes her as strange. She would have thought he was too paranoid for that sort of thing.
Her blood stops boiling after a long while of sitting there, feeling his presence and listening to him breathing. When her hands stop clenching, she looks down at the deep red marks on her palm – tiny crescent moons from her nails.
That damn bitch.
Damn them both.
"Now I know why you were so pissed when you came back from Zorya," she says.
Again, he pauses. After a second, he goes back to his game. "Doesn't sound good."
"Why does Shepard have to do that? Say those kinds of things? Fuck, I just want to knock some sense into the cheerleader, but then Shepard comes in and has to make me feel... guilty?" Her tone makes it sound like she's asking a question. She doesn't know if 'guilty' is really the right word.
"Some might say it's the mark of a good leader," Zaeed says.
Jack doesn't respond. She thinks he's right.
With a little sigh, she hugs her knees to her chest and lets herself relax. It feels so good to be in his company, to have someone there for her even when she doesn't want to talk. Like the Normandy, a silent companion.
"Can I stay here?" The question surprises even herself – she isn't expecting it to come out. She quickly rushes on. "I think if I get any time to myself, I might try and concoct a way to throw Miranda out the air lock."
His head turns slightly, and gives her a view of his profile. He looks thoughtful.
"Stay as long as you like," he says.
It feels like there's a balloon in Jack's chest, swelling and filling with air. It's not so bad a feeling.
And she smiles again.
The first time she falls asleep in his room is, of course, one of the times she wakes to a nightmare.
She sits up on her make-shift bed – a pile of blankets in the same spot she'd sat the first time she hung out in his room – and she's sweaty and pale. Zaeed's in a chair not so far from her, cleaning a gun expertly. He doesn't look at her, but she knows he knows that she's awake.
A small part of her wants to think that he had been watching her sleep, and not in the perverted way. She wants to believe he was watching over her, like a guardian.
It makes her chest feel all fluttery again.
"Not gonna throw up, are you?" he asks.
When she doesn't answer right away, his hand stops moving over his gun, and he looks up at her. Is that a trace of concern lacing through his features? It's gone before she can truly pinpoint it. It couldn't have been.
"Sorry," she says. "I just... forgot where I was."
He studies her for a long moment, then looks back down at his gun. She lets her head fall back against the wall, but she keeps her gaze on him. Her body starts to relax, to ease back into some semblance of a comfort zone.
She's come to need his company more than she'd like to admit.
He's like oxygen to her now.
"I get bad dreams too," he says, surprising her. "Go through the kind of shit we do – it could happen to anyone."
She likes that she was included in that. 'Go through the kind of shit we do,' he'd said.
"I'm just afraid," she admits. "Sometimes I think I'm gonna wake up back there, and everything'll be gone. I'm afraid to go to sleep... and even more afraid to wake up."
He looks at her once more. "Not gonna happen."
It's just words.
Jack's come to understand that anything anyone ever has to offer in the form of words is meaningless. But there's something in his expression that reassures her, something that makes her feel like he's telling the truth.
She believes him.
And in her fright-addled and sleep-deprived state, she asks, "Promise?"
He doesn't say anything for a moment, perhaps trying to figure out if she's joking. Then he gives her a curt little nod. "Yeah, sure. Promise."
And there it is.
When he goes back to cleaning his gun, Zaeed is smiling. So maybe it isn't a full-on smile, a real smile. Maybe it even looks like he's tasted something sour.
But she knows the look all too well.
And she can't help but mirror it.