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Tangled Threads

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Zolf knits. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone - very traditional pastime for sailors, he’ll have you know - but Hamid can’t deny he was a little taken aback the first time he came across the dwarf squinting fiercely at a garishly striped sock he was in imminent danger of knitting into his beard.

Since then, there have been many more socks, mostly in colour-combinations that Hamid strongly feels should not exist on this plane of reality. Zolf has also been known - maybe as a joke? Hamid honestly can’t tell - to knit whimsical leg-cozies for his peg-leg.

“All the patterns expect you to be making two socks,” is all Zolf will offer by way of an explanation.

~

Before they touch down in Prague, Zolf hands Sasha a pair of fingerless gloves. They’re charcoal-grey and the kind of soft that won’t survive the Rangers’ lifestyle for long, and as Sasha takes them, she wonders whether she should hug Zolf.

He’s doing the lip-chewing thing that means he wants to say things but won’t, and she figures a hug will probably just make the whole thing more uncomfortable for them both, so she just gives him a nod (finds she’s doing the awkward lip-chewing thing herself) and says, “Cheers, Zolf. These’ll come in really handy. Handy, geddit?”

And Zolf growls something about Wilde’s terrible influence and things go back to normal for a time.

~

It’s always a bit of a surprise to Hamid when he remembers how many sizes and shapes humans come in. He’s so used to the inter-species sizes differences of the LOLOMG that a foot or so here and there doesn’t really register. Still, he does notice clothes - even Sasha’s clothes, deliberately unremarkable as they are - and he notices that she’s been fiddling with the cuffs of her new shirt every few minutes since she put it on this morning.

When he asks her about it, she shrugs. “Turns out you get through a lot of shirts, being undead. Had to get a new one in a hurry but I guess it was made for someone taller. And, y’know…” She holds out her hands so the sleeves flop over them.

“I can fix that!” Hamid tells her, already digging in his pack for his sewing kit (purely for emergency repairs; only six colours of thread, but one of them should match well enough). “Is there anything else you’d like doing to it? I could… add extra loops for your daggers, or something?”

Sasha’s face lights up.

~

Grizzop doesn’t understand knitting. Azu does it, occasionally, when they’re winding down for the night, although no one’s quite sure what the extremely pink … thing taking shape on her needles might be. But Grizzop can’t see the point of all those hundreds of little repetitions, hours and hours of work for a sock (or … whatever it is).

Now, needle-felting, that’s a craft he can get behind. Very cathartic. He’s made several tiny felt Wildes at this point, and he’s getting better every day.

~

Sasha isn’t much for sitting still, but she’s always been fascinated by how things work. She’s watched Zolf and Azu knit enough times to have figured out the basics of that, and now she’s turned her attention to Grizzop’s work.

“See, you just do this,” he says, driving the needle in and out of the bit of fluff almost too fast for Sasha to follow.

“Ohhh,” she says, with dawning realisation. “It’s like regular stabbing, just really tiny!”

~

Rome is so cold and Hamid’s magic feels like a candle in a gale, flaring one moment, almost snuffed out the next. He’s never felt so useless, looking around at these people he’s meant to be taking care of and knowing he can’t even keep them warm.

When Zolf left - up and dumped his responsibilities in Hamid’s lap like Hamid was in any way capable of holding them - Hamid had been furious. He understands better now why Zolf did it, but his understanding is still tinged with resentment. I don’t think I can do this, he thinks, oft-repeated postscript to a letter he’s been writing in his head since Prague. And, You’d have some kind of plan, right, Zolf? And finally, At least you could’ve knitted us all a blanket or something.

~

It’s impossible to read in the same room as Wilde. If he’s not offering waspish commentary on their latest orders, he’s muttering over his writing, or else - even worse - reading himself, which apparently needs to be a full sensory experience, judging by his exaggerated sighs and thoroughly exasperating habit of tapping the page whenever he hits a particularly good line. Sometimes, he’ll read the line in question aloud, steamrolling right through Zolf’s flat “I don’t care”s and “I’m not listening”s.

Other people working for their ragtag cause (which is apparently even worse at naming itself than the erstwhile London Rangers) say that Wilde didn’t used to be this aggravating. That actually, for a brief period in Damascus, he was almost pleasant to work with. This was before he got his scar and ended up partnered with Zolf, of course. Zolf’s not sure which one he’s more annoyed about.

Anyway, reading is out of the question, so Zolf’s taken up knitting again. He’s found some distressingly orange wool and has a special project in mind for it.

~

Wilde is in full sarcastic flow over their latest orders. He seems to enjoy having an audience for these rants, thought fortunately audience participation isn’t required. Zolf’s produced most of a scarf in these ‘planning sessions’, though that’s not what he’s working on today. As Wilde seems to be winding down, Zolf carefully weaves in his last end, cuts the tail, and turns the hat the right way out.

There’s no doubt about it: it’s the ugliest hat Zolf’s ever seen. it’s the ugliest thing he’s ever made, including his favourite teal-and-yellow sock that had actually made Hamid cry when he saw it. (Zolf hastily redirects his thoughts away from Hamid, who, in a very best-case scenario, is still stuck in Rome.) The hat is a thing of hideous beauty: glaring orange in all the wrong places, subtly misshapen, with uneven ear-flaps and a crown that’s far too pointed. Zolf contemplates adding a bobble, but decides this would add an air of whimsical charm that the hat doesn’t deserve. It’s perfect.

As Wilde comes to the end of his diatribe, Zolf lobs the hat at him. “Present for you,” he says with a wink. “I’ve heard it’s cold where we’re heading.”

Wilde is, for a whole blessed minute, lost for words.

~

Oscar is profoundly irritated to discover that Zolf wasn’t wrong about how cold this mission would be. Yes, any self-respecting magic-user can keep themself warm with no difficulty, but not when they’re impersonating an utterly mundane merchant in a town where every second person wanders round with Detect Magic goggles strapped to their face. Fortunately, Oscar is an excellent actor, but he remains a rather chilly one.

“You know,” Zolf says thoughtfully as they make their way towards the harbour, “you’d really feel better if you put a hat on. My mum always used to say you lose 90% of your heat through your head.”

“Mm-hmm,” Oscar says. “And I suppose you have another wool-based abomination to inflict on me?”

Zolf grins and begins digging in his pack. “Well, when I saw you’d left it behind, I thought I should bring it. Might come in handy, after all.”

“For signalling low-flying aircraft, perhaps,” Oscar mutters, but he can’t deny the orange monstrosity looks warm. They turn a corner and find themselves on the seafront, a cruel, ice-edged breeze whipping up from the water. Oscar can feel his ears going numb. “Fine, give it here,” he sighs.

The overall effect must be one of an ambulatory carrot, Oscar thinks, which Zolf’s amused snort confirms. But when he’s finished adjusting the ear-flaps and meets Zolf’s eye, what he finds there isn’t derision after all, but something that might almost be called… affection?

“Well, what do you know, you can look like a normal person after all,” Zolf says.

“Yes, I’m sure the King of the Pixies is a very down-to-earth fellow,”  Oscar retorts, but at least his ears are warm.

(Some months later, Zolf presents Oscar with another gift. This time, it’s a scarf in a blue the colour of the sea under a winter sun. It’s the first truly beautiful item of clothing Oscar’s seen in months, and he thinks he might cry.)