Corvus intercepted Jonathan before he could get back to Thomasin.

"Where've you been?" he demanded. "The Matriarch wanted to hear back half an hour ago. Why are you bleeding?"

Jonathan sniffed and wiped his nose. The bleeding had mostly stopped but the dried blood on his face and clothes did not paint a pretty picture. He didn't want it to. He'd been underestimated enough in his life.

"A couple of Hoods decided to pick on me. I kicked their asses. Anyway, I was on my way back to talk to Thomasin, so calm down."

Corvus gave him a chilling glare.

"It's a fight against the clock right now, Styker. I don't appreciate your flippancy."

"I don't care," Jonathan grinned. "So are we going to see the Matriarch, or not?"

Corvus shoved him towards Thomasin's offices.

"I don't care how special you think you are," he told him, crossing his arms. "You don't get to straddle both worlds."

Jonathan bared his teeth in a cheap imitation of a grin, more threat than anything else.

"Yes I do. That's my job." Corvus recoiled, surprised and then pissed off at the blatant display of disrespect towards himself. Jonathan jabbed his finger in Corvus's chest. "You aren't shit anymore. You blew it. Get over yourself, Corvus. I don't answer to anyone but the Matriarch."

With that, he turned on his heel and marched away, listening to Corvus stewing in anger behind him. Corvus was constantly overstepping, especially when it came to Jonathan. He thought he had the right to oversee Jonathan's actions, but he was just jealous of Jonathan's level of agency within the Beaks. He'd entirely blown it when he tipped the Beaks into war with the Hoods. Thomasin hardly let him go anywhere without supervision. He could barely travel within the Conclave alone. Corvus needs to get over himself. Jonathan would tear him apart if he tried to lay hands on Jonathan.

He was deep in thought when he reached Thomasin's main meeting room. Sasha was adding detail to the vibrant tattoo of a snake that wrapped around her forearm when he arrived. She barely glanced at him when he came to a stop.

"Get in," she said, bored. "She's close to pissed."

Jonathan exhaled through his nose, nodded, and then squared his shoulders and entered the room. Thomasin was surprisingly alone. Jonathan was unable to stop the tension from grabbing his bones. Thomasin looked up from the papers spread across the table.

"You're late," she said without inflection. Jonathan swallowed.

"I got sidetracked."

"By whom?"

"Couple of Hoods jumped me but I took care of it."

Slowly, Thomasin lifted her head to look at him.

"Did you?"

Jonathan resisted the urge to shift on his feet and avoid her gaze. He did not respond.

"Jonathan," Thomasin said slowly, rounding the table to stand in front of him. "You're being careful, aren't you?"

"Of course!" Jonathan said, surprised. "You know me, Thomasin, I'm not that stupid to risk losing what I've got."

She tilted her head. Then she nodded, turned around, and went back to her papers.

"What did you hear from Raina?"

Jonathan did not release a sigh of relief, no matter how much he wanted to, at the topic change back to familiar territory.

"She said that she'd answer if called upon. Do you have any other suggestions for me to check on?"

"Yes," Thomasin said, sliding a sheaf of paper towards him. "Elias Arden, the reality witch."

Interesting. She wanted to send the reality witch to a stressful situation where he would be under pressure and couldn't guarantee a n environment that he could keep everything correct.

"You're surprised," she said.

"Yes," Jonathan said. "Very." He set down the sheaf of paper and looked up at Thomasin. "What exactly is our angle here?"

Thomasin took her seat at the end of the table, folding her hands together on top of the table.

"Surely you didn't think we had our own agenda, Jonathan. You should know better." She tilted her head again at him and Jonathan couldn't suppress the squirm this time. "We're making things turn out how we want. Right now, we want the Claws and Fangs to keep it in their pants. If they devolve into war, they are taking all of us our with them. We want to keep our position in Castellum City, don't we Jonathan?"

Jonathan nodded.

"If the Fangs and the Claws are unable to come to peace, we need to be able to handle this without getting wiped out with them. Do you understand?"

Oh, Jonathan thought. Oh. Yes, he understood. Slowly, he nodded, and then said,

"You're saying if they can't come to terms, then we're taking out the Fangs and the Claws."

"Very good," Thomasin said, pleased and beaming. "That, Jonathan, is our angle. Have you figured out your place in all this, Jonathan?"

No, he hadn't. That's what worried him. That's also what he wanted to talk to her about.

"...No," he said slowly, "but I wanted to talk to you about it."

"Really," she said. He decided to press on.

"Yes. I didn't know if you wanted me to go as part of the group or not. If I did, I'd be stuck with the Beaks and nothing else. Only magic. But if I don't go at all, officially, then I'm free to use whatever means I see fit. I figure the Mayor wants someone on the inside."

Thomasin smiled. It was unsettling, to be frank.

"You want to use the Mayor to your advantage. Surprisingly, cunning of you, Jonathan."

Jonathan didn't say that he was trying to gain every advantage he can. The only one looking out for Jonathan was himself. He might answer to Thomasin, but he never was fully accepted by the Beaks. He didn't have back-up. It was him alone and he was a survivor, and he was going to survive this as well.

"I wanted your approval before I contacted the Mayor for approval for this," Jonathan lied.

Thomasin nodded approvingly.

"Of course. I appreciate your honesty in this, Jonathan. I know you've struggled with that in the past."

Jonathan was going to strangle her. Instead, he purposefully did not clench his fists. He smiled.

"I couldn't have gotten here without you."

Thomasin nodded again and then returned her attention to the stack of papers.

"Now, before you talk to the Mayor, I want you to brief Elias. I don't have any further tasks for you today, but I'll inform you if something changes. Oh, and Jonathan?" Jonathan paused on his way to the door. "Clean off your face. You look feral."

Jonathan grinned at her as he left.

Sasha had moved positions and had begun adding a new flower to the collage on the back of her right hand.

"Still alive, I see," she said. "I thought for sure she was going to tear you apart."

So had Jonathan.

"I am indispensable, Sasha, don't kid yourself."

Sasha motioned at his face with her pen.

"Are you going to clean that up?"

"For fuck's sake, why is everyone so obsessed with my face," Jonathan asked exasperately, wrinkling his nose at her. "It's not like this is the worst injury I've ever had."

Sasha clicked her tongue.

"Still annoying to look at. Better get on whatever Thomasin told you to do before she changes her mind about leaving you alive."

Jonathan flipped her off as he headed towards the stairs and up towards his room. He didn't usually live full time in his room at the Conclave. He didn't like feeling owned, which is how he usually felt when he spent too much time with the witches. Even despite the amount of freedom he had within the Beaks, it just felt like a long leash. It had felt like that form the moment he'd joined the Beaks, and he still felt the leash yanking at his throat sometimes. Staying in the room provided by Thomasin didn't help that, so when he'd gotten the funds, he'd gotten a room above a bar more towards neutral territory, a short walk from the Conclave. Still, it was handy to have a place to crash or clean up without having to take a hike.

It was a single room with a bathroom attached, and the only thing he kept there regularly was spare clothes, medical supplies, and some nonperishables. He hadn't eaten since yesterday, but he wasn't hungry, so Jonathan skipped the idea of food and went straight to the bathroom to wash his face. He wished he had time for a whole shower; he felt filthy. Unfortunately, he was on a time crunch. Jonathan washed his face off, examined the split in his lip, and determined that both his mouth and his nose would be fine. When he peeled off his shirt, however, he winced, both from the stretch and at the mottled bruises forming on his ribs. They'd definitely given him his fair share of the beating. Nothing much he could do about that, though.

The change of clothes and a clean face helped repair his mood. It was time to track down Elias. Honestly, he didn't mind running errands for Thomasin or even Sasha. It kept him busy. Sasha had made comments before about how he needed an enrichment environment, like a cat. She's laughed. He'd laughed. Then Thomasin told them to quit it. Maybe she was right. Gods knew he went stir-crazy ridiculously easily. Jonathan jogged down the stairs and thought about how he was going to tell Elias that Thomasin wanted him on the team. He didn't know everyone personally in the Beaks, but he knew of the resident reality witch, knew a little bit of what he was like (reserved and quiet), who he spent time with (the only other alchemist, Marcelo, and Marcelo's wife, Eugenie), and had a basic idea of what he'd think about the whole mess going on right now (advocate peace). Sure enough, when Jonathan reached the alchemy lab, Elias and Marcelo were the only two people inside.

"You know," Jonathan said, entering and announcing his presence, "I've always thought it'd be interesting to learn alchemy."

Elias was closest to the door and he glanced up from the complicated mess of tubes and vials when Jonathan entered. He stood up fully, pushing his goggles up onto his hair and leaned against the work table.

"How can I help?" he asked. Marcelo still had not looked up, still engrossed with his work, scribbling notes and talking to himself at the back of the lab.

Jonathan propped his hip against the table and arranged his features into a neutral expression.

"Thomasin has a job for you."

Elias looked skeptical. He yanked off his thick gloves and tossed them down as he rounded the table and stood next to Jonathan, crossing his arms. Tilting his head, Elias squinted at Jonathan, and then said,

"Why would she have a job for me?"

"You're part of the Beaks, aren't you?" Jonathan shot back, just as wry. "If Thomasin says she has a job, you say 'yes, ma'am.'"

Elias scowled.

"I know that. I'm just surprised."

"Fair enough," Jonathan shrugged. "Aren't you going to ask what it is?"

"Well," Elias began, already exasperated with Jonathan, not that Jonathan could blame him, "I figured I wouldn't need to ask since you're here to tell me."

"Fine," Jonathan sniffed. He reached a finger out to touch one of the vials, full of a shimmering blue liquid, but Elias knocked his hand away without his expression deviating from the deadpan. "You're going on the team of. I dunno. Diplomats? To the compound outside the city with the other teams from the other gangs."

"What are you talking about?" Elias said bluntly. Jonathan looked up at him, a tad suspiciously, but Elias's face was all confusion. He must not have heard the news yet.

"How long have you been working?" Jonathan asked. Elias shifted uneasily and looked away.

"Awhile," was all he said, but Jonathan rolled his eyes, understanding anyway. He probably hadn't left the lab since he arrived in the morning. Jonathan resigned himself to filling Elias in. After he'd given the reality witch the basics, Elias nodded thoughtfully.

"Well, I can't say that I'm a fan of the idea but I'm not stupid enough to tell Thomasin no."

"Attaboy," Jonathan said, reaching to pat Elias on the shoulder. Elias rolled his eyes and went back around the table to get back to work.

"You're like ten years younger than me. Don't attaboy me, kid," he griped, good-naturedly. It was probably good-naturedly. Either way. Jonathan waved goodbye and headed outside. It was late afternoon, now, and the sun was turning everything golden. Ugh. There was still so much he had to do. He didn't normally care too much about lack of sleep, because it was easy enough to catch up on. Not today. Not anytime soon, probably. Goddammit. It was going to be a long few days.

to everyone who knows that i said i was going to do homework instead of write: don't be like me. to everyone else: there was a lot less swearing in this chapter surprisngly and i could have sworn it was going to be longer than this but damn. anyway thanks for reading