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The Rose Garden

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They are in a garden in sunlight.

“We should leave,” Steel says, but it’s a statement of fact and not an order. They should go back, and they will – but in a few minutes more, perhaps even an hour.

Sapphire’s lying on the lawn, twisting strands of grass around her fingers. She smiles to herself as he speaks and says what is needed to justify their behaviour for him: Only a little while longer, Steel. I need more time.

It hurt her, he thinks. That should not matter now that it’s over, but it’s still an idea he dislikes more than he cares to admit. He’s standing, looking down at her. Sapphire

“Ouch!” says Silver from behind him; he’s a distraction, as ever. Steel turns. The technician has been playing about near a rose bush and now he’s scratched himself on a thorn. Probably, thinks Steel with slight impatience, just to see what would happen – or perhaps to attract their attention.

Silver only grins up at him and then crawls backwards out of the flowerbeds and onto the lawn beside them, as he does so, laying out a collection of broken artefacts beside Sapphire, almost as an offering.

Steel steps nearer. “What are they?”

“Oh, nothing to worry about,” says Silver, lightly. “Sapphire. See what you make of these.”

Steel doesn’t know whether it’s only Silver, playing games again, or if it’s a means of finding out if Sapphire was more badly damaged in the process than they thought. Now that he knows Silver better, he suspects the latter, but he can’t be sure.

Sapphire turns her head, her blonde hair shifting against the grass with the movement. She gives Silver a sharp yet amused look that suggests she knows precisely what he’s doing, but she plays along, letting him press a shard of pottery into her hand and close her fingers around them. Steel flexes his own hand, instinctively aware of the contact, but stays where he is.

“Ceramic – clay, kaolin, quartz, feldspar. Part of a bowl. A child’s favourite.” There’s a blue tinge to her eyes now. “Made in 1938 and used daily until she dropped it.” Sapphire looks up at Steel and shares the images with him – he knows for an instant the fraction of time in which the fragile object hit the tiled floor and shattered, a child’s tears falling after: a tragedy in miniature in that second, and ever after only an incident swiftly forgotten.

Sapphire’s still looking up at Steel, amusement in her gaze, as Silver gives her the next item. “A button. Modern. Hard plastic. Newer than the other. From a man’s coat. He used it for gardening once it grew old and the button worked its way loose, and fell here. He never even noticed.”

Steel relaxes slightly; she is unharmed. Silver glances at him, as if he’s caught that thought and shares it, but he says nothing. The technician merely looks down again, laughs to himself and then passes the next item to Sapphire.

“A thimble,” says Sapphire. “Brass.”

Steel frowns. “A… thimble?”

“Yes. For use when sewing, Steel.” Silver leans back on the grass, amused again.

“To save stabbing your finger with the needle,” Sapphire says. “This is much older. Made in 1904. It was lost when a child buried it out here, playing a game.” Her sister bought it for her. She saved the money for weeks. The sister who later died. She thought she’d keep it forever in memory.

“Dangerous?” Steel cannot keep himself from asking. The emotional association could potentially be a trigger.

Sapphire shakes her head and then she sits up abruptly. She looks from one to the other. You worry too much.

There’s no telling, this once, which of them she’s directing that thought towards, and Steel thinks she means both of them. He shifts on his feet, uncomfortable at finding himself so much in fellow feeling with Silver. It seems to happen too often these days.

“Impossible,” says Silver, who kisses Sapphire’s hand with exaggerated gallantry. “Impossible, Sapphire.”

Sapphire laughs, and Steel finally sits down beside her. She leans against him. “And the last item, Silver?”

Silver throws it to Steel – it’s a tiny, indistinct, bright yellow model of a racing car – and Steel passes it more gingerly to Sapphire, who takes it and turns it over in her hands, smiling at what she sees.

“It’s hardly any age at all,” she says. “1979. A toy. Made of cheap plastic. It came out of a Christmas cracker and was thrown away within the same hour, but it slipped out of the rubbish. And here it is.”

Then Sapphire, still leaning against Steel, reaches out her hand to Silver and shares the memory with them: the one scene it witnessed – one instant of laughter and happiness and belonging, no matter what had gone before or what came after.