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What Follows War

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Miranda spends the months after the war in the garden.

Her nails, once carefully manicured, are now chipped and dirty, soil browning her palms and covering the calloused pads on her fingertips. She removes each weed by hand, digging her hands into the earth and yanking it out to throw into the pile of discards in the wheelbarrow. Her skin, once a pale porcelain, browns like leather under the harsh sunlight, despite the sunscreen and visor while she works. Her latex-styled outfits, she traded in for a pair of jean shorts and a loose tank tops, stained and frayed from wiping her hands on them so often.

Sometimes, her fingers scrape a bullet casing or various pieces of the material found in shredder ammo. They join the weeds in the pile, but not before she brings it up to the light, studying it, building its story in her mind.

She never tells Ashley when she finds them.

Ashley always brings her fresh lemonade at 1200 on the dot, a stickler for routine. Routine feels normal, and Ash clings to it like air. Sometimes, she’ll stand above where Miranda works and they chat, but then she disappears, back into the cottage they bought, set far away from the cities that struggle to rebuild. Life comes easier out in the country, and the damage and scars from the war less apparent. Miranda does her part to rebuild, and it keeps her busy; nowhere near the complexities of reconstructing a full person, but the work itself is pleasant and uncomplicated.

These days, uncomplicated is nice, and exactly what she needs.

In the evening, after Ashley comes back from her daily trip into town, 1800, the two of them turn on the radio and listen to the names. Names of the survivors, of the newly discovered dead. Miranda seeks out Orana’s name, still unaccounted for. Ashley listens only for Sarah. They both wonder about Shepard, but expect that name to end up with the amassing dead.

Abby and Lynn didn’t make it, both victims of the Citadel takeover by the Reapers. Ashley doesn’t like to talk about it, but Miranda will catch her before bed, staring into a recovered picture of the four Williams sisters, smiles lighting up each face, Sarah in her wedding gown. Sarah stayed with the other two, but Ashley stills holds out the hope of her survival.

2200, Ashley comes to bed. Miranda showers in the early evenings, her hair still damp by the time she lays on a pillow. Some nights, they make love, but mostly the two cling to each other, soft kisses where worries dispel temporarily. Ashley smiles and Miranda mirrors it, and it almost feels like they’re back on the Citadel, finding time for each other between missions, Shepard their guiding light, their beacon of hope. They giggle and read to each other, poems or stories but never news articles. At night, their love blossoms in a place built only for the two of them.

Ashley takes her shower in the morning, 0600. Miranda hears her weep under the water.