Sal’s face hurt. Her whole body hurt, but her face was a mass of stinging needles beneath the warm washcloth the Society’s clinic’s nurse had thoughtfully provided. She exhaled slowly, trying to manage the pain.
“You should’ve let me deal with it,” muttered Grace, left arm cradled in a makeshift sling rigged from Liam’s shirt.
“You said that already.”
“You didn’t look like you believed me.”
“You didn’t look like you could deal with it just then!”
“I’ve dealt with frost demons before. Have you dealt with frost demons before?”
“For the love of God,” Liam groaned from his own bed, “let it go!”
There was a pause before Sal started chuckling. Liam narrowed his eyes.
“I just thought you were about to burst into a thematically appropriate song.”
He stared at her. Then he snorted. Then they were both laughing while Grace rolled her eyes. Sal sobered first.
“I got the reference.”
They lapsed back into quiet. The doctor came in to set Grace’s wrist and arm, tutted over it being broken in three places, and then left again. For almost twenty-four hours everything had felt wonderfully normal—though, Sal thought, frowning, what had her life become that normal was facing down a magical blizzard in the Alps to close a book made of black ice? But everyone had been on point: Sal had noticed an unusual number of British tourists complaining about the inclement weather in Livigno; she’d mentioned this to Liam, who looked up the fact that the forecast for Livigno had nary a storm in sight; they’d reported this to Asanti and Menchú, who woke Grace and sent them off to investigate. They solved the problem, fought the monster, bagged the book—it had all gone so beautifully according to plan, minus the frostbite and broken bones. She’d missed this.
But the cracks papered over by a successful mission were already breaking through. Menchú and Asanti had gone back to their knife-edged civility, walking on the broken eggshells of Team Four and Society politics; Liam looked a million miles away, nursing his bruised ribs, probably thinking about the ordeal in Shanghai with his ex—And how do I feel about that, anyway? wondered Sal, before stuffing it into the overfull mental closet of deal with it later—while Grace . . .
Grace looked vaguely furious, as she always did when she had to burn time to heal a serious injury, but there was a peculiar edge to it now, something simmering, volatile. Sal was imagining her as a taut, fraying thread when Asanti came in.
“Fantastic work!” she said, beaming—then looked around, took in their faces, and quickly calibrated her enthusiasm to the tone of the room. “. . . You’re all right? Nothing too serious?”
Grace looked away. Liam shrugged. Sal, after waiting for a second, tried for a smile she hoped wasn’t too wan. “We’re fine, Asanti.”
Asanti looked at Grace, who kept her eyes on the wall. She sighed. “I’m glad. There’s—something pressing I may need help with—”
“Grace needs time to heal,” said Liam. “Can it wait?”
Asanti hesitated. “It . . . can’t wait, but I don’t think Grace needs to come. It’s probably nothing—a chance to help a fellow archivist in Canada and kill two birds with one stone—”
They all turned to Grace, who’d narrowed her eyes at Asanti. “Where in Canada?”
“The capital. A friend was recently appointed Associate Librarian to Parliament, and—”
“What?” said Sal and Liam, in stereo. Grace shrugged.
“I need a vacation.”
“You mean a day off?” Sal asked, cautiously. “Like—”
“No.” The word had sharp edges. “I need four days to heal and I don’t want to do it here. If I have to be awake, I may as well follow along with you. You can take care of whatever Asanti needs while I”—she gestured at her broken arm as at a showroom vase—“vacate.”
“Huh,” said Sal, sneaking a look from Grace to Liam to see if she’d missed an inside joke, but he looked as baffled as she felt. “But . . . Canada? This time of year?”
“After we just battled a frost demon?” added Liam.
Grace shrugged. “I’ve never been.”
“Seriously?” said Sal. “In all the time you’ve been with the Society, Team Three’s never had business in Canada?”
“Not that I’ve been needed for.” She turned to look at Asanti. “Unless you have any objection?”
Asanti held her gaze a moment, then sighed. “No. Of course not. Though Menchú—”
“Fantastic.” Grace swung her legs off the hospital bed and onto the floor. “You talk to him. I’ll go pack.”
“I’ll see you at the Archives for the briefing,” said Asanti, but Grace was already walking away and did not look back.
Menchú sat in his room and reflected, not for the first time, on how impossible it was to truly know someone.
He’d known Asanti a long time; they’d shared drinks, stories, hopes and fears; they’d solved problems, fought battles, chased mysteries. Whatever opposite ends they began from with regard to magic, he had always been assured of their meeting in the middle...