It was tremendously cold in the house. Steel had just drained the warmth out of everything — the iron door knobs on the great old doors, the mirrors in the long hall, the tiny glass animals on the dark mahogany shelves, even the shelves themselves. And the kitchen, the beautiful modern kitchen the wife had been so proud of, all brushed steel and carbon black edging on the industrially severe appliances, they were sheeted in frost.
The kitchen was still dangerous at this point; the poor creatures trying so hard to return to life had used a gateway that stood just … behind … the bright new room. It was there they had slid and clawed their ways into this world. Pale shades, pitiful things. Sapphire wondered distantly how long it would be before they sought desperately for a new gate. Life so wants warmth, she thought, putting her hand on the mantelpiece.
“Is he still in there?”
Lead had been standing outside the rear wall of the house, building and holding the rougher defences Steel had thought necessary, in the event his freezing action wasn’t completely successful. The big man must have come round to the front foyer to enter, which meant the kitchen door was still unusable.
“He should come out. It’s not healthy. Not even for him.”
Sapphire looked at Lead, one eyebrow barely raised.
Lead laughed softly, or as softly as he could, or cared to. “He fancies himself quite the icicle, our Steel. But he never comes out of these bouts happy.”
“I’m not sure that’s ever a word that will apply to Steel,” she said.
“What word?” Steel walked in. His hair was still white with frost and his lips were thinner than usual. He looked exhausted.
As he came into the room, the fireplace roared into life. Steel glanced at Sapphire, who shrugged slightly. “Happy.”
“You don’t think I can be happy.” He made it a statement as he edged towards the flames. “I can be happy.”
Lead laughed again. Only he could make it sound dismissive without sounding mean. Steel still glowered, though. Perhaps it was just the remnants of the frost now dripping into his eyes, Sapphire thought.
“I suppose it depends on what one means by ‘happy,’” she said mildly, handing him the large robin’s egg-colored handkerchief that came easily to hand. “Here, wipe your face.”
She had expected Steel to snort, the way he generally did, or make that subtle moue of disapproval that sometimes seemed permanent on his face. To her surprise, his face softened very, very slightly as he looked at her. “You generally know what makes people — humans — happy. What do you suppose would make me happy?”
Sapphire considered the question. She sat down in a nearby wing chair and crossed her legs very carefully. Lead walked over behind the chair, but said nothing. Steel waited.
Eventually she stopped examining the walls around the living room, and smiled very slightly.
“You’re happy when you have done well. When we’ve done well.”
Now the snort was audible. “We all have to do our jobs. Or very bad things would happen to reality.”
“Of course. But not everyone cares the way you do,” she said. Her eyes were very blue.
“You do,” he responded. After a moment, he glanced at Lead. “And you.”
“Caring about something, doing it well. Those are things to be proud of. It makes you happy.” Sapphire said. Steel shrugged, but didn’t demur.
“If that’s all there is to it, I suppose you’re right.”
“Here. Come sit, Steel. I’ll get you a blanket.”
“ I don’t need one.”
“I’ll get it for you anyway,” Lead said, pulling one out from who knew where and draping it around the other man’s shoulders. Steel pulled at the blanket corners, tugging them tighter around him, and leaning in even closer to the fireplace.
“The two of you,” he grumbled.
Lead’s grin widened, if that was possible.
“Life so wants warmth,” he said softly, turning his smile to Sapphire.
She was only taken aback for a moment. “It does, doesn’t it?”
The fire crackled, bright gold and red on the hearth. Frost melted, and Steel rested while the others kept watch.