Sal and Grace fought through the flight, through landing, and through passport control in Alexandria, but Sal only knew to call it fighting by the texture of the silence. Her fights with previous friends of the boy- and girl- variety had been large, screaming, noticeable affairs, the kind where you wouldn’t have had to work to find witnesses after the fact. Once and only once she’d lost control and dented a wall with her knuckles, and for the next two years she’d lived in that apartment she passed the dent, invisible to anyone else and glaringly obvious to her, and felt ashamed each time.
Grace fighting looked the way Grace always looked—reading a book, say, with the total grinding attention that let her flip pages every thirty seconds on the second, or watching the world pass from a café seat, or stretching in the morning light that filtered through the smoky windows of their room. Grace did not glare or shy away. She displayed no stillness at a touch, nor was she less likely to return a kiss. But Grace moved at the bottom of an invisible ocean of silence, and while she did not act in any way Sal could identify as off or wrong, when Sal opened her mouth to speak, or to lean in for a kiss, the weight of that invisible ocean crushed down.
It was a subtle difference—not what Sal would have expected from what she had seen of Grace in battle: sweeping, swift, violent. But that, Sal realized, was her mistake. Battle or not, Grace was always fighting. At this moment, she was fighting Sal.
The rest of the team hurt, too. There was no time to heal after Rome, not with the Engströms headed to Alexandria to make their move. So Menchú worked his rosary as if the passage of his fingers over beads might sand his soul smooth, or rub away the blood there, invisible to anyone but him. So Asanti sat stock-still the whole flight from Rome, keeping her own counsel as always, only this time a counsel of war. So Liam, bone tired, slept, with his hands balled into fists.
The Archives had been invaded before, ransacked by demons, but this was worse. Cardinal Fox was dead. They all had different feelings for Fox—frustration, scorn, hatred, grudging respect—but death had a way of turning those feelings around and knotting them to their opposites. You might think a fellow officer was scum, but then he died, and you met his son who’d come back despite their long estrangement for the funeral, and that didn’t make you like that officer or the way he acted on the beat or the kinds of arrests he made, but still you had watched his son cry. And you had to decide how that changed things. If it changed things.
And Sal’s brother was dying back in London. Not now, not soon, but the world was eating him. The flood of magic tugged at the stitches that held his soul together. And she wasn’t by his side. And she couldn’t help him. She was here, failing to stop the Engströms from making everything worse.
Perry’s sickness was the world’s fault, and Fox’s death was the Engströms’. But what was wrong with Grace was Sal’s fault, in part, and at least she could try to fix it.
So when Sal and Grace watched the luggage while the others used the restrooms before customs, she steeled herself by looking everywhere but at Grace—robed men and women in line, the drop ceiling, the grubby standard-issue airport tile—then asked, “What is it?”
Grace blinked, and in that instant Sal understood the reason for her silence: She was trying to be kind. “You like me too much.”
Whatever she’d feared, it wasn’t that. “What?”
Grace put down her book. “This will be worse than Rome. There’s no Team One, no backup plan. We’re all we’ve got.”
“I know. That’s why I’m trying to fix whatever this is between us.”
Grace sighed. “You don’t know. You’re making the calls now. And that’s good—you decide quickly, and you have good judgment. You managed to get Liam’s head out of his ass. But if we’re going to get through this, you need to use all your resources. Including me.”
“I’m not holding you back.”
“You don’t think you are. I didn’t notice it before Rome. There are orders you can’t give me, ideas you can’t suggest. Arturo never had that problem. I think the vows kept him on track.”
“You’re wrong.” But she had her passport in her hand, and she was flipping through the blank pages, reading the vaguely patriotic quotes on each washed-out landscape page. She closed the passport, but still she could not look at Grace directly.
Grace took her wrist, her grip taut, not tight. Sal felt her own pulse beneath Grace’s fingers. “Sal. I want you to look at me and tell me that, if you...