Title: Interstitial

Author: Jewels (bjewelled)

Fandom: Mass Effect

Disclaimer: Mass Effect is the property of Bioware. So is the hamster.

Summary: When you put chronology of a relationship in a blender, and take a look at what's left over, you probably wind up with something like this. Nine excerpts from the relationship.

Author's Notes: Gah, it's been a long time since I've written something this overtly romantic. Although romantic is probably the wrong word to use here. It just started as something to keep me busy while I was playing ME2, to keep my brain from continually running through the off-screen scenarios. And then at some point I decided to keep writing them and, if not turn it into a story, turn it into a collection of little vignettes that entertained me. I shan't bore you by explaining my character choices. If you've played the games, you can probably pick up what I decided.

Spoilers: Heavy, for both games so far.

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One

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Every planet had its own smell. It was something that Shepard had quickly learnt after leaving Earth. Even individual ships had their own lingering aroma. They were all sterile, of course, bacteria and virii thoroughly scrubbed out of the air, but some ships had slightly stronger smells of coolant, or others had the tang of mechanical lubricant in the air.

Horizon had the peculiar hint of mint to it. It clung to her hair, to her armour where she'd skidded along the grass to cover, and had somehow become attached to her skin. It had filled her nose, the unusual sensory input demanding her attention from the moment she'd stepped off the shuttle. The only time that it had been pushed back was when Kaidan had put his arms around her and-

She had taken herself off to her quarters the moment that she'd arrived back on board, ordering Joker to set a course for nowhere in particular. Shepard knew that the Illusive Man wanted to speak to her as soon as possible, but knew she could plead needing a shower to gain at least an hour before she had to confront the bastard who was pulling her strings.

Like she was just a marionette, a puppet.

The inner layer of her armour interfaced directly with her cybernetic implants, gifts from Cerberus, and it had taken her some time to get used to disconnecting the under-layers by herself. The first few times she'd attempted it, she'd needed Chakwas's help to avoid damaging the connectors. Chakwas had never looked at her with pity or disgust, only the cool professionalism that befitted her profession, but it was something that Shepard preferred to deal with privately. It didn't bother her per se but it felt somehow… private. Intimate. She tried to tell herself that she hadn't had the body given to her by nature since the day the Alliance had shot her up with a standard array of gene-mods. Her stamina had improved, clotting abilities, and then there were the biotic implants, which were just another flavour of cybertech, weren't they?

She stood in the bathroom of her quarters, staring at her reflection in the mirror as she peeled away the underlayer of her uniform, exposing the still-raw scars that marked her skin, glowing with an eerie light from the tech under the skin. It reminded her faintly of the cool blue of Saren's implants, before they'd chewed through his flesh, reanimated his skeleton and tried to kill her.

Did Kaidan see such a monster when he looked at her, she wondered? Not just a member of Cerberus, the ones who'd murdered Kohaku, performed experiments on rachni, and thorian creepers, but as a semi-synthetic monster like the ones they'd fought against and destroyed years ago? Not that it felt like years to her. It felt like months, at best. Maybe that was why the pain of Kaidan turning his back on her so easily, calling her a traitor, hurt more than she would have thought possible, considering she still remembered exactly what it had felt like to suffocate to death in the vacuum of space.

She peered into the mirror, examining herself with an exacting eye. She could just see where the seams of flesh joined, where the point that they met wasn't perfect. There were the more obvious gaps, obviously, where the tech showed through, but she could swear that her eye colour had changed. So when Kaidan looked at her, he saw a stranger, a traitor, a Cerberus puppet.

A broken doll.

Shepard didn't even realise that she'd broken the mirror until she was standing there, her hand flat on the broken remnants of the glass. Blood had started to seep out from under her palm, dripping in long, fat lines towards the sink. She pulled back her hand and looked at the palm. Already the blood was clotting, the enhanced weave just below the dermis already knitting the sliced flesh together. The blood stopped flowing, and in less than a minute there was nothing left by faint pink lines that she knew would fade to white and then return to normal skin shades, albeit lighter and with a faint glow from underneath.

The worst part was that Shepard was pretty sure that when she left, the next time she returned she'd find that the mirror had been replaced. Kelly would no doubt make curious and sympathetic noises, and the Illusive Man would make veiled comments about allegiances and emotional responses. Shepard had gone through her quarters and pulled every bug that she could find but she was pretty certain that there were others, better hidden and still firmly in place that she didn't know about. So she turned on the shower and got in and turned her face into the spray.

Inevitably, Horizan's smell of mint left her, and the last lingering traces of Kaidan's scent went away.

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