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I tore my gloves off hurriedly, prepared to itch my palms to within an inch of their lives, and froze, spotting the ring I always wore on my smallest finger. Hiroko’s handiwork. Quickly, my thoughts flashed to her, the scried image of her coming to me without prompt.

Her bedroom, late at night… Hiroko standing in the middle, fully dressed, cute backpack on her shoulders… hands extended and waiting… eyes up, looking at–

Me. I thrust my hands out in front of me, breathless, and worked swiftly to tweak my wards enough that–

Space began to warp, extremely close to me. Jaroslav became uneasy and sidled away against a wall. I didn’t need to glance around to know we were out of anyone else’s sight, and that no one else was there to see two hands appear from nowhere and clap down into mine. Fingers tightened and the whole person followed, my favourite Displacer stepping from Sapporo to Prague with only my hands as her anchor.

Space righted itself and Hiroko was standing in perfect hugging range.

‘It worked,’ she noted, pleased, just as a delighted laugh escaped me and I dropped her hands to throw them around her. She hugged me tightly and I heard her smile in her voice. ‘I got your letter.’

We let each other go and I can’t remember what I was going to say. Something about her perfect timing, some description of how much I’d missed her, maybe an exclamation of how utterly cool that move was, but I didn’t get the chance. Further down the passageway, the Fabric was shifting again. We both tensed at this intrusion, and I built my wards back up in preparation for the skinny figure that blinked into existence behind a statue and stepped uncertainly out of its shadow to face us.

Hiroko’s sharp intake of breath and surge of emotion influenced mine as a dishevelled and underfed Garrett Fischer raised his hands in supplication and kept his distance. Under a concerning level of stress, I gauged his nervous, hopeful wariness for a few seconds, and found it similar enough to Hiroko’s that I could trust it. I lowered my hands and released the magic I’d had ready in my palm.

‘Thanks,’ he acknowledged me, then turned his gaze to Hiroko, whose fingers had strayed to the string she wore around her neck. I was sure he’d seen the paper crane he made her hanging from it when he’d saved her life in Belarus last week, though she didn’t remember that. ‘I’m sorry to scare you like this, but I don’t have anyone else to ask. I’ve been waiting for a big Displacement out of Hokkaido that I could track, hoping to find you… and every time I follow one, it’s always someone else… and I didn’t know if you want… if I ruined everything… I just, I just wanted to find you, and tell you…’

Words failed him. He shook and swallowed. I didn’t know what he’d been through as a Magnus Moira recruit-slash-hostage, and like Jaroslav, he seemed immeasurably hardened by his experiences, but in this moment, I could see the shy, milky-faced boy who’d blushed his way through a two-month courtship of Hiroko at Morrissey House.

I didn’t know what she could see. ‘Garrett…’

‘It’s Josh,’ he managed, voice tightening with grief. ‘He followed me, but he wasn’t… They caught him, and… This is my fault.’

Helpless tears brimmed in his eyes and he shook even harder. Hiroko and I shared a look of alarm. Joshua Reyes was one of the other kidnapped boys, and the only one we’d reasonably call our friend.

‘Is he alive?’ I asked, not sure I wanted the answer. Garrett nodded quickly.

‘I think so. But I can’t get to the house to tell the White Elm, and I don’t have time… to make them… I can take them, I can get in, but I need…’ He swallowed again, hope draining away as he stared at us and tried to keep it together. ‘I swear it’s not a trap. I understand if you don’t believe–’

‘Garrett,’ Hiroko interrupted. ‘Shut up.’

‘W-What?’ He kept his hands up despite his surprise. His unwashed rusty hair hung limp into frightened eyes and he took a full step back when Hiroko stepped away from me.

‘I said shut up,’ she repeated, crossing the distance to him. He backed into the wall and his red cheeks drained to white when Hiroko laid her hands on his face. He went utterly still, a feat for someone shaking so badly, and stared, wide-eyed, into her eyes. She looked over him for injuries. ‘Tell us how to help Josh.’

The firm gentleness of her voice broke whatever strength had gotten Garrett here. Exhausted relief burst free on an emotional level and his tears followed. Hiroko threw her arms around him and held him close, and he gripped her tight as he sobbed into her shoulder.

I realised he hadn’t known until right then whether we’d help or spurn him.

Jaroslav slid over to me, hands in pockets as he watched this dramatic reunion.

‘I… assume you know these people?’ he asked awkwardly. I smiled back at him, hardly able to believe the way this day had turned around, and shrugged helplessly.

‘They’re my friends.’