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Seven Bells

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“How are you feeling today?”

Kaz looked up from the small snowdrift of paperwork covering his desk. “Why do you ask?”

“Jesper said you went out last night stalking kvas,” Wylan Van Eck said closing the office door behind himself. He dressed in a worn coat with a pageboy cap pulled over his hair and looked like just another young man trying to make his way in the Barrel. After the auction scheme, Kaz had told Wylan and Jesper not to come to the Slat at all (it would be good for none of them if rumors started about Jesper and Wylan being in league with the Dregs). They still came all the time, however, despite knowing better. At least Wylan always came in disguise. Jesper didn’t always remember to.

“You shouldn’t be here,” Kaz said.

“Neither should you,” Wylan pointed out. “I know you. You’ve been up all night and here you are doing paperwork at seven bells.”

Kaz didn’t try to deny it. “If you think it’s too early for me to be awake, why are you here?”

“Because I knew you wouldn’t be asleep,” Wylan went into Per Haskell’s living quarters and came back carrying a chair. There had never been more than one chair in this office--it was one of the few leadership strategies that Haskell had employed that Kaz did as well--but Wylan knew where other chairs were and was not willing to stand.

“So,” Wylan said once he was settled in the chair on the other side of the desk. He sat like a mercher now, Kaz wondered if Wylan had noticed. “You never answered my first question. How are you feeling?”

“I’m feeling fine,” Kaz said. In all actuality, he was exhausted in a way he wouldn’t have been before he’d gone and gotten fucking pneumonia . His leg was exquisitely painful this morning, which could have either been from walking all night, from the cold, or from both, and his head was attempting to rival it. He was blaming that on sleep deprivation, but it was also probably also because he was out of coffee and therefore hadn’t had his morning cup. He was aware that his coffee dependence was probably bad, but he didn’t have the time to worry about it.

He was also freezing. Ketterdam was freezing at this time of year which meant that the Slat was only marginally better. The water buckets and basins froze over at night, and the more uninhibited members of Dregs took to sharing beds to mooch off each other’s body heat. The secret to surviving the Barrel in the winter was to forget that you could be warm. Kaz had managed that before he’d spent almost a week in Wylan and Jesper’s house, which was actually warm and not just something to break the wind. He hated himself for wanting to go back to the house just to feel warm again. He’d been a Barrel rat for more than half his life, you’d think he’d be used to cold by now.

“We both know that’s not true,” Wylan said. “How’s your cough?”

“Also fine.” This was not really a lie. The cough was much better. It was pretty much in the realm of a minor nuisance, except for the minor problem that if he’d started hacking during a fraught part of the mission last night he would have blown everything. 

“When was the last time you slept?” Wylan asked. “I know you didn’t sleep last night, but did you sleep the night before that?”

“Of course,” Kaz snapped, lying through his teeth. 

“I don’t believe you,” Wylan said. He rose to his feet. “Come on, let’s go upstairs.”

Kaz just looked at him.

“You need to sleep,” Wylan said. “Or you’ll just get sick. Again.”

Kaz threw his head back against the headrest of his chair. “Honestly, Wylan-”

Wylan let out a frustrated hiss. Kaz realized that they were going to quickly end up in a stalemate and not in a way that left Kaz free to carry on with his day. Wylan had always had a spine, but six years of dealing with the Merchant Council day in and day out had turned that spine into a thing of steel. Kaz had been avoiding a true confrontation between them for years because he was honestly a little scared to figure out who’s spine would break first in a real fight. “Kaz-”

Someone knocked on the office door. “What?” Kaz called wishing he wasn’t relieved.at the interruption.

 Roeder pushed the door open and stepped in. He did a double take when he saw Wylan. “Go ahead,” Kaz told him.

Roeder swallowed. He’d been a member of the Dregs for almost as long as Kaz had, though Roeder was older--almost thirty--and had a wife and kids. Of the three spiders, he was still the most nervous around Kaz, possibly because he was the least talented and knew it. Kaz kept him around and let him be the leader of the spiders because Espen and Minna were always either best friends or about to fight to the death at dawn--more of the latter these days--and Roeder could keep them focused. Also, he was a dad and looked it. People underestimated how useful having someone who could effortlessly assume the role of a typical dad could be if you were in the business of spying on everyone in Ketterdam.

“I’m not getting any younger,” Kaz pushed when Roeder didn’t immediately spit it out.

“Do you know where Espen is?” Roeder asked.

It was almost hilarious how the mere mention of Espen’s name made Kaz’s headache worse. “No,” he said. “I take this to mean he’s not where he’s supposed to be?”

“Of course not,” Roeder growled. He rarely demonstrated his own opinions around Kaz, so the fact he was doing it now proved how annoyed he was. “He was supposed to head back with Minna. Obviously, he didn’t.”

“Great,” Kaz said rolling his eyes. “I’ll take care of it.”

Roeder left and Kaz gave himself thirty seconds to lean back in his chair and curse his life and his underlings before he started to haul himself to his feet. “If you’ll excuse me,” he said to Wylan. “I need to go wrangle one of my spiders.”

“Kaz, you’re exhausted,” Wylan protested. “You shouldn’t be running all over the city.”

“I’m not going to be running all over the city,” Kaz said. “There’s a restaurant a couple blocks from the Crow Club where Espen gets breakfast practically every day. If I sit there long enough he’ll come to me. You can come along and buy me breakfast if it makes you feel better.” Even though he couldn’t remember if he had eaten at all yesterday, he wasn’t exactly sure if he was hungry. He did know that breakfast would mean coffee which he desperately needed, especially if he was going to deal with Espen.

Wylan watched him for a stretching minute, his face still. He’d trained himself out of all the little fidgets and nervous tells he’d had as a teenager. Kaz would have been impressed if that gaze was not currently being leveled at him. He wondered if today was the day he and Wylan would have their final battle of wills.

“Fine,” Wylan said. “But I’m going to make sure you eat.”

Kaz had long since trained himself not to show any emotion he didn’t want to, especially not emotions which would even suggest he wasn’t perfectly in control. He did allow himself a mental sigh of relief, even as he smiled; he was glad he wouldn’t have to fight with Wylan today. “Come on, merchling,” he said. “This will have a better effect on Espen if we’re there when he arrives.”