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Magpie (Un)Leashed

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A handcuff knot is a knot tied in the bight having two adjustable loops in opposing directions, able to be tightened around hands or feet. The knot itself does not possess any inherent locking action, and thus is not as easy to use for such purposes as the name might suggest.

- Part 1: Let Us Cling Together -

You are Aderyn Orion Icarus Atlas, and something has changed.

A feeling that you can’t quite identify pulls you up and out of dreaming. Your eyes flutter open, and you shift slightly, slowly, still heavy with sleep. For a moment you think someone else has slipped into your bed, but no, everyone’s accounted for. There’s Hyena - you’re cuddled up close to her side with your arms around her, so close that you can feel her breathing, can hear her heart beat in her chest if you focus just a little.

Her arms are stretched up over her head, wrists tied together with rope, tied again to a hitch in the wall. Her ankles are also bound and secured. Your work, and you’re getting quite good at it. She’s restrained. Safe. Vulnerable. The sound of her, and the feel of her against you - soft and warm and still, words that so rarely apply to quick, sharp, cutting Hyena - calms you deeply, and you almost fall back asleep right there.

No. Keep counting.

There’s someone on the other side of Hyena. You can feel their arm against yours where you both cling to her. You feel a scattering of scars against your skin, but that tells you nothing - you are all scarred, in so many ways. But you know this particular pattern, these particular scars. Bunny. Hyena’s keeper, sort of. Your mentor and fellow enthusiast in the art of tying people up.

Gentle breaths ghost against the back of your neck. Soft hands wrap around your waist, one resting on top of yours, which rests in turn on Hyena’s chest. Shark. Her chest is hot against the skin of your back, her legs tangled up with yours, and even at rest her presence feels like a shield.

Everyone you slept with and/or fell asleep with is accounted for. You’re all tangled up in each other in the elaborate nest of pillows, blankets, and mattresses that was once your bed, but has since transcended that definition after everyone has added their own touches of comfort to it, in what is semi-officially ‘your’ room in the Streetcrows headquarters. Your clothes and others are scattered over the floor. Your blankets and duvets are similarly devastated, some kicked clear across the room by the combined power of four sleeping, very overheated people.

Nothing has changed. You can think of nothing that should have pulled you out of your slumber. Here, in this place, you usually sleep better than you can ever remember. You close your eyes. Relax. Try to pick up what’s left of your dream.

No! There isn’t time for this! Wake up! Listen!

The dream falls away for good. That feeling is back, and stronger this time. Your brow furrows as you turn your thoughts from your sleeping friends to this strangeness, this change without change. I’m sorry for pressing you. You are hearing me, but not hearing me, because for as long as you remember you have heard me as a voice, and now the patterns of your thoughts form the shape of me without sound, closer than ever. Perhaps in another life you would know this - have never known anything else, even. Perhaps in another life I would have wanted that.

Selfish. No, not you. That was not your thought. I’m sorry. This isn’t easy. There are many definitions of dictation. The odd feeling withdraws. Shrinks. Go back to sleep. We can try again when you’re awake.

You can’t sleep. You’ve asked the question now and it won’t leave you alone. Your thoughts turn from the others inward, probing, searching. You’re never one to stop something you’ve started. Trust me, I checked. Especially when it comes to people you love, and-

Nevermind. I am the Narrator.

You lie there for a while, listening. You hear only breathing, and the muffled, distant sounds of Aberration outside, and then you wonder what you’re listening for, and why.

You think of Rigel.

It hurts. You cling tighter to Hyena, to Shark, to Bunny, to the others with which you’ve filled your heart, but it does nothing to cover the deep, dark hole inside you that looms so close every time you think of her, only anchors you so you’re less likely to fall into it. The absence of her is like the absence of your right arm, except you still have your right arm, and ‘amputation’ is too small a word to describe the wound in you. You are halved .

“Shark,” you whisper quietly, and gently pull your hand from under hers.

Shark’s breathing changes. She stirs, but only just, mindful of the others in the bed. “Mm?” It’s a quiet sound, half-asleep, but you know she can spring to full awareness in an instant, and back to sleep just as quickly, so you only feel a little guilty for waking her. “‘s’it?”

“I need to get up,” you tell her, quietly, and you very carefully begin pulling away from Hyena, trying not to stir him, or the thing in him. The heat of their skin lingers on yours, and this comforts you.

Shark lets you go as you sit up and carefully pick your way out of the tangle. But before she fully moves in to occupy the space you’ve left behind, she turns her head towards you, more awake now. “Need some company?”

The offer alone is enough. Gosh, how you love her. Shark is as much a shield in your heart as she is in your life. So it’s only a little bit of a lie when you smile and say “I’ll be alright.”

You hunt around on the floor and you find a shirt to throw on. Hyena’s, probably, judging by the size of it. You step softly out into the hallway. You just stand there for a moment, looking around, as if one of these other bedrooms might hold the source of this oddness that’s taken hold of you. Dim light crawls through a window at the end of the hall, muted further by faded, drawn blinds. You are aware that some of the other bedrooms are occupied. One door is slightly ajar, and you think you hear Tadpole and Shrike in quiet conversation within. As you pass another, you hear Bat’s familiar snore clear through the closed door.

You meet Scarab at the staircase landing. They stop and openly look you up and down, their mouth curving into a small, sharp-toothed grin. The note of teasing in the motion of their hands is good-natured, and they sign ‘Having a good night?’

It takes you a moment to realize what they mean, before you remember that you’re out here wearing a too-big shirt and nothing else. ‘So far, yeah,’ you admit, signing back to them. You look them over too, taking in the artful curve of their jaw, their strong shoulders, the fresh pattern of bruises running down their torso. ‘You look like you’re having a good time,’ you note.

Scarab’s grin broadens into a bright, beaming smile, and they stand a little straighter. Then they wince a little, when the movement pulls on the tender muscle of their midriff. They like to be appreciated. ‘The pursuit of happiness.’ The delight in their face and hands is so bright that you melt a little, even though you’ve heard the words a hundred times. ‘We were just taking a break. You want in?’

It’s tempting. Very tempting. You think about it for a moment, taking stock of yourself. ‘No,’ you say eventually. ‘Not tonight.’

Scarab nods understandingly, undiminished and radiant, and waves to you before heading back down the hallway, in pursuit of happiness.

As you head down the stairs, you turn the strange new feeling over in your mind. Rigel is there, again, always. Whatever this is, it bumps against the jagged edges of her silhouette in you, so empty and deep and dark, sending urgent shocks through your soul. But you know the pain of Rigel’s disappearance. It blankets your every waking moment even now, but you conclude that this is not that. It fills you with something resembling… longing? The anticipation of opening a door, expecting to find…

Voices break you from your inspection. You’ve padded down to the main floor of the Crow’s Nest. There’s lights on in one of the common areas, and you can hear Crow herself pacing around it and talking. You follow the sounds.

“I still don’t like this,” you hear her say. Her voice is level and steady in the way it gets when she working very hard to make it that way.

“Me neither.” Hound is there, sounding deep in thought, almost distant. You come to a doorway and spot them sitting on a couch, one hand on their chin as they lean forward, studying a pile of documents, notes, and maps strewn across a large, low table. You know that look - Special Investigator Quinn David Johnson is on the case, their mind working furiously at some critical problem. You love seeing them like this, so intent and focused, you can’t help but smile a little.

Fox is there too, sitting next to Hound, all but slumped against their side. She’s so slight that you might fail to notice her if she didn’t stand out so starkly with her pale skin and shock of red hair. Looks like she’s fallen asleep.

“And you’ll keep not liking it until you find a way to make it work,” she says. Not asleep, then, but it sounds like she really wishes she was. “And even then you still won’t like it, and it’ll still be our best and only choice. Hey, Magpie.”

You start, frozen in the act of walking into the room, looking at her. You’re sure her eyes were closed! How does she do that? “Hey, Fox.”

Crow turns to you, seeming surprised to see you. “You’re awake.” She breaks the pattern she’s been pacing around the room and comes to meet you. Leans down to kiss you, to touch your face with tenderness, even though you can tell her mind is elsewhere. You kiss her back.

Now that you’re further into the room, you have a better view of the materials the three of them have been examining. The files and photos are all too familiar. “You’re still going over the plan?”

Fox throws up her hands, matching the note of exasperation in your voice. “They never stopped going over the plan! They’ve just been working each other up over hypotheticals all night!”

You don’t need magic to know that’s true - it’s written all over the stern, defensive frown that comes over Crow’s features, and the glance she shoots back at Fox. If she wasn’t your wonderful girlfriend, boss, and fearless gang leader, you might think she’s pouting. “There’s too many variables.”

Of course. That’s so like them. You take one of Crow’s hands in both of yours and give her your most dramatic sigh. “Babe. Babes,” you add, looking at all three of them. “Look at me.”

They do, and you can almost hear the ‘crunch’ as the double combo of the sight of you wearing nothing but an oversized shirt and the most gentle, sincere look you can muster on your face devastates Crow and Hound’s trains of thought. A flustered blush starts to color both their faces. They really are so much like each other.

You strike before the wreckage can settle, tugging on Crow’s hand. Gentle, but firm. “You need to rest, okay? You won’t accomplish anything like this. Please come to bed.”

The fact that Crow hesitates - actually bites her lip - tells you just how wound up she really is. When you see she’s about to look back to the mission materials behind her, you stop her by reaching up and gently placing your hand on her cheek, stroking the area just under the black marks at the corners of her golden eyes. “Please, Artemis.”

She folds, finally, and some of the tension leaves her as she leans into your touch, reaching up to cup your hand. “Okay. You win, Magpie.”

A wave of warmth and affection fills you, and you smile, starting to lead Crow back towards the stairs. She’ll almost certainly reprimand you for using her real name, but that will come later, once she’s slept, and you’ll take it with a smile.

You look over to Hound, who’s still sitting at the table, looking uncertain. “You too, Quinn. It’ll be lonely with just the two of us.”

The deep blush on their face is still there. “I- You- Uh…” They have to clear their throat before they speak. “You two go ahead,” they say, eventually, looking back to the table in front of them so they don’t have to see how it stings you. “I still have to-”

“Nope!” Fox cuts them off, abruptly getting to her feet. She wraps both of her arms around one of Hound’s and pulls, and Hound is caught so off guard that she actually manages to drag them to their feet.

Quinn actually yelps in surprise. “Mallory! What are you-”

“Nope!!” She’s managed to drag Quinn halfway across the room- a few stumbling steps for them, a considerable achievement for her. “If you make me sleep on that couch when I could be sleeping in a real bed with two werewolves - and Magpie,” she adds, shooting you a wink, “then you can just send me back to jail because I will literally die.”

With the two of you leading the way, you with Crow and her with Hound, the momentum shifts entirely in your favor, and you lead the pair of anxious puppies back to Crow’s room. Mallory shoots you a knowing, mischievous look, and you thank her with a smile. Behind you Crow sighs resignedly and leans over to give Hound a kiss on the cheek. “They’re both right, and we both know it.” There’s warmth in her voice, and you think that maybe she won’t go too hard on you tomorrow after all.

(She will, of course, and you know it. She takes her role very seriously, and this is something the two of you established from the outset, when you made things official. She loved Bluejay, too.)

Crow’s room is fairly spartan. There’s a desk with a battered laptop and a few scattered files. A small, neat toolkit next to which Crow puts her prosthetic arm after she takes it off.  What looks like one of Lioness’s shirts draped over the back of the desk chair, and a few of her sketches taped to the wall. A broad, thick, heavy mattress takes up a big part of the floor, with a small pile of books and a first aid kit next to it forming a makeshift nightstand, and a go-bag of clothes and other items lies at the foot of it. The first aid kit was a gift from Hound. The collector’s edition anime figurine posed on top of it was a gift from you.

Fox leaps onto the mattress, landing face-down with a quiet thwap , having shed her too-big turtleneck and pants. She keeps raiding Quinn’s wardrobe - or Crow’s, occasionally, since they started dating. You tried to take her clothes shopping once, since none of your clothes fit her, but she turned you down, smiling pleasantly in that way you’re coming to realize means you’ve hurt her somehow.

Crow, paused in the middle of pulling off her shirt, catches you as you move to join Mallory on the mattress. “Magpie,” she says quietly. You stop and turn to her, struck by the note of command in her voice. You see the wolf in her, in the white fur spreading up her arms and down the sides of her head, in the tail trailing behind her and the second set of fuzzy ears that now sprout from the top of her head, and in the way the hue of her luminous yellow eyes shifts just slightly towards sharp and golden. Crow changes forms as easily as she changes clothes.

You have a feeling you know what she’s about to say, but you try your best to look innocent anyway. Her use of your code name sounded very intentional. “Yes, Crow?”

Your intentional use of her title mollifies her a little, and she finishes taking off her clothes before putting one growing, twisting, changing hand on top of your head and firmly moving you towards the door. “Take off that shirt, then go put it back where you found it.”

There’s a sharp, short “Hah!” from Fox, who’s propped herself up on her elbows to watch your exchange. And then she yelps as Quinn, now fully shifted to their werewolf form, flops into the bed, and three hundred pounds of muscle and fur hit the mattress with enough force to jolt her clear up off the mattress. Clearly there will be no help from that direction.

You glance at the shirt that Crow is still holding in her other hand. “Can I borrow yours?” you venture.

“No.”

You smile nervously, looking up at her. “This is for using your name, isn’t it?”

It’s not really a question, so it surprises you when Crow shakes her head. “No, I just don’t want to wake up tomorrow with my nose thinking Hyena snuck into my room. We can address that tomorrow.”

The look she gives you brooks little questioning, and you nod understandingly, pulling off the shirt you commandeered earlier. As you do, you hear a quiet wolf whistle from next to the bed, where Fox had hit the floor earlier. As the only other person currently in the room with the right kind of mouth, she has taken up the solemn duty of teasing you. (Not that she ever actually put it down to begin with.)

You feel yourself blushing in spite of yourself as you slip out of Crow’s room. It’s the middle of the night! It’s not like most of your fellow Streetcrows haven’t seen you in various states of undress, you remind yourself. You could confidently stroll through the whole building and you’d only raise an eyebrow or two, you tell yourself!

You tip-toe carefully down the hall, keeping to one side, hyper-aware of every sound and movement you make. Horrifyingly, the door to Tadpole and Shrike’s room is now completely open, and Shrike happens to be looking that way as you pass. You wave shyly when she does a visible double-take, then dart the rest of the way to your door as quietly as you can.

As you pass their doorway on the way back to Crow’s room, you see that Shrike has gotten Tadpole’s attention, and Tadpole blows you a kiss as you pass. Somewhere, somehow, you find the power to wink . Shirt or no shirt, Hyena’s been rubbing off on you.

You reach the door to Crow’s room, and you- freeze? Why have you stopped? What am I missing? I don’t-

“It’s good to have you back, Narrator.”

Your lips barely move as you subvocalize the words, in the way that you learned lifetimes ago, and that I did not teach you . You are through the door, kissing your partners good night, and asleep in their arms before I can figure out what to say.