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Dealing with Our Demons

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Dear Kaz,

I’m aware you’re not much of a letter writer, but here I am forcing this upon you. Will you deign to respond? Perhaps not. But, alas, I will write anyways if only to pester you in written word in place of sitting beside you. Before you mentally ask “what business?” I shall tell you.

I took down my first ship today, Kaz. I took it down and it felt… good. I freed six girls stolen from Noyvi Zem, and they were younger than I was. They had skin the color of Jesper’s and it broke my heart and also made it soar at the thought they would not be indentured the way I was; they would not have to learn vanish into the recesses of their minds.

Did you know I think I was more of a phantom before you ever gave me the name of “wraith”? Perhaps I’m emboldened by my sudden love of rum (True pirate by all standards now), but I don’t think I ever felt more seen than when I became a shadow beside you in Ketterdam. Surely, you are rolling your eyes. Surely you must know I would have told you this in person, but I was… well I was afraid. Yes, The Wraith was afraid.

Thank you for seeing me in the dark, Kaz. Thank you for my ship. Thank you for my family. Thank you for my freedom. A hundred times over, thank you. Perhaps I’ve thanked you in my head nearly as many times as I’ve thanked the Saints. Don’t let it go to your head.

My parents are safe, home in Ravka, back with the caravans and in the comfort of family. I did not venture with them all the way back to the caravans, I. Never mind. They do send their regards though, somehow they find you endearing. Perhaps it is a family trait to find you endearing, Kaz Brekker. How happy you must be to know that all the Ghafa’s seem to like you. Don’t laugh. Not even mentally.

What business, Kaz? Why do you stay rent free in my mind from an ocean away? Surely you could pass over some kruge if you are to live in my mind. You’re rich enough, I’m sure.

I’ve drank too much and I should most definitely not send this. I guess it will be a surprise if I receive word back from you, if I remember tomorrow whether I dropped this off at post here in port. We shall see.

The crows prefer the crumbs of loaves of bread from the bakery two streets down from the Slat. I paid for three loaves before I left. Don’t you dare let my murder go hungry, they like me too much. I’m teaching them manners, but they will be snarky with you, Dirtyhands.

I’ll be back soon, three months perhaps. Depending on if I send this, I might have to run for a while first until you forget about this letter.

Yours,

Captain Inej Ghafa, Wraith, Spider, Terrible judgement.

 

Inej,

Surprise. You did send that letter. Don’t run. Come home.

K. Brekker

PS- Enclosed is fifty kruge for my imaginary rent. Spend it on rum, and for the love of all things holy, keep drinking, and keep writing.

 

Inej stood at the rail of her ship, watching as the Ketterdam skyline came into view. A nervousness had settled over her since she received Kaz’s letter a month ago. She was busy during the days, and had taken down two more ships and got all the stolen people home to whichever port they requested. A sense of fulfilling happiness settled over her, every time she thought of them, getting home to their families. The wind picked up and curled salty air into the loose waves of her hair, she’d left it unbound. Surely only because the braid was tight and bothering her, not for any other reason. Definitely not in case Kaz Brekker himself showed up on the docks today, he wouldn’t care about her hair being down anyways, she told herself.
Inej jumped down the gangway, a ball of energy that had just been set free, she nearly flew to Jesper and Wylan at the end of the docks, catching them both in bone crushing hugs. She had sent word to them that she would be returning either today or tomorrow, and she was surprised they gaged her arrival so well.

“How did you know when to be here?” Inej asked with a bright smile on her face.

“Kaz has runners on the docks now, he sent word when your ship was on the horizon a few hours ago,” Wylan answered with a flush to his cheeks that told Inej just how happy he was, she also noticed Jesper’s arm slung around his shoulders as he beamed at Wylan.

“Wait, Kaz already knows I’m here?” Inej said hesitantly, trying and failing to hide the smile etching its way further into her cheeks, and the flush threatening to spread as far as her collar bone. She remembered the letter, and she had been so nervous ever since she got his reply. Would he mock her? Would he tell her he felt the same? His response had made it seem like he felt the same, but written word did not make Kaz easy to decipher.

“Kaz knows you’re here,” came a familiar rasp of stone from behind Inej as Jesper and Wylan smiled conspiratorially toward somewhere behind Inej’s shoulder. Inej turned slowly. There he was, maybe twenty paces away, leaning against the railing, bare handed. Cane in one hand alongside him. A small smile threatening to break across his face. Inej didn’t know what to do as every single part of her body urged her to run and jump into his arms and give him the same bone crushing hug she had given her friends moments ago; she had been gone six months. What if things had changed? What would he do if she gave in and did just that? She knew that would be a bad idea for a million reasons. They had held hands, but she didn’t know how he would react to something like a hug, even with clothes between them. Would that be too much?

She didn’t even notice she was bouncing on the balls of her feet, still clad in boots. She was vaguely aware she was grinning. She was aware how unlike herself it was to show exactly what her heart wanted. Perhaps she hadn’t even quite realized how excited she would be to see everyone. How excited she would be to see him. She also hadn’t realized how badly her heart had hoped he would greet her here, on the docks. Inej knew she had thought he never would, but here he was. So full of surprises, Kaz Brekker.

Kaz must have noticed what she wanted, what was warring inside her, because he straightened himself; and for a moment she thought he might just return to steel, to Dirtyhands. But instead, he gently leaned his cane against the railing, and made the smallest gesture with his ungloved hand to beckon her forward. Inej didn’t need another moment to decide, her feet took off and before she could even register how fast she ran, she wrapped her arms around his middle, head only coming up to his chest with him standing straight, and she could not believe that she felt his arms wrap gently around her shoulders. She knew she clung tight, and couldn’t care less that she heard Jesper actually gasp from behind her. She only felt Kaz’s breath hitch lightly before he pulled her even closer. If this was all Kaz could do, with clothes between them, Inej suddenly realized that would be enough. Kaz fucking Brekker was hugging her in the afternoon light on the docks, armor discarded somewhere far away. Her heart was light as a feather and she inhaled deeply. Kaz smelled of Bourbon, blown out candles and something like cinnamon.
Kaz smelled like home.

 

KAZ

This couldn’t be real. Kaz’s mind refused to believe it, even as Inej gripped to him like an anchor and the water was not rising around him. He knew it was because his jacket buffered her from being too close to his skin, he knew he wouldn’t be able to do much more than hold her hand for a few minutes before he’d drown. But this, this moment was worth everything. Her hair was down and she looked more beautiful than his memory could even conjure. He hadn’t known what he was doing as he’d beckoned her forward to him. His body reacted before his mind had caught up, but it must have been because of that beaming smile she had on her face and the way she had practically bounced on her feet, trying to resist the urge to run towards him. Towards him. He didn’t understand. It was too much. It was everything. He felt her inhale and he was doing the same, she smelled of the sea, and sunshine. He swore his heart was seconds away from breaking through his ribcage, she had come back. Inej had come back and he didn’t want to let her go again. Now that he knew he could hug her like this, with barriers between them, he never wanted to let go.

“I missed you,” Inej mumbled into his chest. He felt his stomach do a pleasant flip that only ever occurred when he was in the presence of his wraith. He wanted to say “I missed you too” but he was Kaz Brekker after all.

“Your crows missed you,” Kaz whispered as he let his chin rest on top of her head. Surprised that he still felt no water rising, her hair proving to be enough of a barrier, at least for this moment. He made a point to ignore Jesper and Wylan smiling at him with raised eyebrows from behind Inej. He felt Inej giggle against him, she actually giggled. It was a delightful noise that he’d surely sell his soul to hear more of.

Kaz pulled back now, knowing he should not do this for very long in the open, even in Dregs territory. If he had been able to avoid Inej’s magnetism, he’d probably not of come at all to make sure no one saw her as a weakness to be used against him, but he couldn’t do that. Not this time. This was too important. He tried to tell himself that it was more for her, but after holding her as he just had, he knew him being here was as much for him as it was for her. Besides, he’d made sure there was a deal going down between the dregs and the razorgulls on the other side of the barrel, with Anika in charge. It was at least a decent enough distraction that no one on the docks had paid him any mind on the way over here, too many gangs would be focused on the deal being made that was barely a deal at all and had been made to seem like something much bigger than it was by Kaz himself.

“Hey! ‘Nej! You’re coming back with us yeah?” Jesper shouted to where Kaz and Inej stood.

Kaz didn’t want to let her go, but he put a foot of space between them as Inej still smiled. He wanted to hug her again. It was the strangest feeling, Kaz had avoided all physical contact for so long, even with clothing as a barrier. The only contact he’d had with another person for as long as he could remember was out of necessity or in fights, except for the few times he’d scarcely touched Inej. The day in the hotel bathroom, and the nightmare that was. Despite how it turned out, he found he still cherished the memory of being close to her for those few stolen moments. He was truly a thief that day, he had somehow pickpocketed his demons and went home with pockets stuffed full of a glimpse of her skin under his lips.

He also remembered the feeling of her hand in his, the day he’d given her the ship and reunited her with her parents. That day felt like a wall torn down because he had beaten the waves of revulsion within from his neck to his ankles. He felt for the first time he might be able to do it. To conquer this weakness. Even if it would only be with her, maybe he could hold her without armor someday. But today, that was a new discovery. That he could already hold her with his jacket on and her being careful not to brush his skin. Kaz realized now that he’d never known the value of a simple hug and he got it now. Oh how he wanted.

“Oh yeah, I just have to get some stuff from my cabin, I just wanted to come down here and see you all,” Inej said with a flustered smile, effectively breaking Kaz from his swirling thoughts. Inej moved back up the quay and with all the grace bestowed upon her, launched herself right up and over the side of the ship.

“I’m hesitant to ask, but uh, you could come back to our place for dinner?” Wylan spoke as he and Jesper neared closer to Kaz. Kaz knew Wylan was hesitant to invite him in fear of yet another rejection. He knew he’d been an ass most of the time Jesper and Wylan had invited him over the past months as Inej was gone. If Kaz was honest with himself, it was because he didn’t know how to just…be. To just go to spend time with friends. It unnerved him. He’d trust Jesper with his life over and over again, and Wylan had grown on him since the first days of the Ice Court but he still didn’t quite know how to be a friend. Kaz didn’t know how to have friends either, but somehow he’d made them and he didn’t even know how that happened. How Jesper or Wylan, even Nina had decided that he was their friend. He felt like a child who had to be dragged somewhere while throwing a tantrum, only to find that his parents had not tricked him and he was in fact given sweets once he began exhibiting good behavior.

“Yeah I think I will,” Kaz muttered, not trusting himself to say more. He found himself already looking back towards Inej’s ship, looking for her familiar figure and black hair.

“Great, so maybe seven bells then?” Wylan looked flustered. Jesper was muffling a laugh, surely at Kaz’s expense. When it came to Inej, he figured he was a little predictable. He’d be where she was whenever he could, and clearly Wylan and Jesper had picked up on that.

“Seven bells,” Kaz confirmed with a sharp nod, trying to decide what to do with himself. Should he leave and go deal with business and just return to the Van Eck mansion at seven bells without saying goodbye to Inej now? Or should he wait and tell her he would see her later? Since when did he do goodbyes? Even if they were ‘see you laters’? Kaz shook his head and simply nodded at Jesper and Wylan and began his ascent back up the docks toward the Slat.


I’ll see her later. His stomach began its gymnast routine again. He found himself suppressing a smile all the way back into the barrel.

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            Inej dropped her bags on the bed in her room at the Van Eck mansion and proceeded to unceremoniously drop face first onto the fluffy mattress next to them, releasing a breath of comfort.

            “Isn’t it ridiculous that we have these fluffy mattresses now?” Jesper mused from the doorway of Inej’s room. Inej shifted her face off the bed ever so slightly, she hadn’t realized he followed her up from the foyer. “Remember when the fact we had beds at all at the Slat kind of seemed like a miracle?” Jesper continued, and Inej could hear the smile in his voice even though she couldn’t see him.

            “I remember. It’s crazy how much has changed in the past year. A year ago we didn’t even know Wylan and now you’re a cushy house husband instead of a gambler turned criminal and I’m a pirate who has a room in the wealthiest merchers house in Ketterdam,” Inej laughed as she flipped over on to her back to look over at Jesper with a smile. Jesper pushed her bags off the bed and flopped down to lay beside her; his long legs still touching the floor unlike Inej who was barely hanging off the side.

            “Tell me everything, darling,” Jesper shifted his gray eyes to Inej and she smiled before she did. She told him of all the girls and boys she rescued from the slave ships, she told him of the new crew mates she had hired on and her funny new found friendship with Specht, the burly ex naval officer three times her age who helped all of them on more than one occasion. She told him of how light her heart felt, and she told him how hard it was to say goodbye to her parents in Ravka, but how her heart felt lighter still to see them shrink in the distance, going home. Her parents were a healthy amount of skeptical about her chosen path, but from the moment she told her father her arrow had aim, he could no longer argue with her. He had simply said “quite the archer my daughter has become.”With a smile on his face and tears in his eyes.

            Next, she told Jesper about how much she had missed them here on land, and how she thought of Nina daily. She hoped Matthias had been returned home to rest.

            “I’m sure the wolf has been set free and runs beside her,” Jesper said quietly. They hadn’t spoken much about Matthias before Inej left on her ship, the pain in all of them was still too fresh, but Jesper saying this surprised Inej. She knew Jesper was almost as unreligious as Kaz; it warmed her heart to know that he at least believed Matthias had not abandoned Nina in whatever life he had gone to beyond. Inej had prayed to the saints that one day, when her time came, she could greet Matthias there to thank him, to thank him for his comradery and the way he had loved her friend fiercely and without abandon, the way Nina deserved. Inej smiled.

            “So Kaz was there today,” Jesper turned to her again with a hint of mischief in his eyes. Clearly he wanted to move on to a brighter conversation.

            “Yes, he was.” Inej suppressed her grin though she felt her face warm.

            “Care to elaborate what’s changed there, Wraith?” Jesper turned fully towards Inej now, propping his head up on a dark elbow. Inej rolled her eyes though she still smiled.

            “Whatever do you mean, Jes?” Inej truly wasn’t sure what to say. It was her and Kaz. That’s… that’s just what it was. They hadn’t discussed a label. She hadn’t thought they needed to, most of their words were in their eyes, never to be heard or understood by others.

            “Uh you hugged him. Kaz Brekker. On the docks. He hugged you back. I’ve never seen Kaz be so close to another human being unless their blood was already coating his cane,” Jesper laughed.

            “I suppose we have reevaluated our arrangement to each other,” Inej chewed on her lip as Jesper laughed again. Jesper narrowed his eyes a bit in seriousness.

            “You know I’m happy for you right, Inej? I know I once felt something for Kaz but then Wylan walked in and quite literally blew up everything in my world. I can’t imagine it being anyone but Wylan now. He’s… better. For me. He makes sense of all my energy somehow,” Jesper paused and took a long breath. “I can’t quite explain it. It was like my heart just went ‘oh there you are’ the moment I kissed him. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I hate how soft he’s made me, fuck,” Jesper spurted out and rubbed a hand over his face. Inej sensed he wasn’t done.

            “He just…he and I make sense. I don’t know if the rest of you see that but it’s this thing that just clicks. Anyways, my point is, I’m your friend. I’m also Kaz’s friend even if he doesn’t acknowledge it too often. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t talk about Kaz with me, it doesn’t hurt. It’s like I just see it all different now, it was always you Inej. He always looked at you the way he did today and now I just see it clear as day because that’s how I look at Wy.”

            Inej was surprised, she hadn’t been holding back for that reason at all, in fact she almost felt a little guilty that Jesper’s previous feelings for Kaz hadn’t even crossed her mind. She also knew what Jesper meant about him and Wylan, she saw it clearly. When Jesper was around, Wylan was more confident, not because Jesper gave the confidence to him, but because it was always there and Jesper was the polish to make it shine. When Wylan was around, Jesper’s energy was of peace, he was able to sit still a little more, able to smile slowly, like Wylan was sticky honey on the gears that were Jesper, never stopping him, just slowing him down enough to enjoy the view of the moment. Inej told Jesper as much.

            “I’ve never thought of it quite like that, who knew you had a way with words that were not proverbs, Inej,” Jesper sighed with a smile on his face. Just then, a knock on the door frame startled Inej and Jesper to sit up.

            “Hey, sorry, I just wasn’t sure whether I was invited to the snuggle party,” Wylan said from the doorway with a sheepish smile on his face, his blue eyes glinting in amusement.

            “I’m not stealing Jesper if that’s what you mean,” Inej laughed as she stood up, she realized she was still in her outfit from the ship and surely in desperate need of a bath and clean clothes.

            “Are you sure? I mean maybe you and Kaz can adopt him,” Wylan chuckled as Jesper reached and threw a pillow at Wylan from Inej’s bed.

            “Oh merchling, come tonight you’d miss me in your bed,” Jesper drawled with devious amusement on his face. Inej laughed as she gathered her things to make her way to the bathroom; noticing how bright red Wylan was, his skin damn near matched his hair at this point.

            “Out, I’m cleaning up, if you two need to get things out of your system, please go terrorize your own room,” Inej chuckled as she went to the bathroom to make herself presentable before dinner, and perhaps a little more than presentable in anticipation of the boy with onyx eyes and a wicked grin who carried her heart in the palm of his lock-pick hands.

 

 

KAZ

 

Kaz stood at the end of the block from the Van Eck mansion, he had walked here too early. He knew he had but it was like Inej had a gravitational pull he couldn’t resist. He had waited six months for this day; but this afternoon had felt like another lifetime all together, as he tried over and over to sort through the Crow Club’s numbers from the previous week. Kaz was sure he could get there early and Jesper would be the only one to say anything about it. He glanced at his time piece, six and a half bells. Kaz was eager to say the least. He felt like he had Jesper’s nervous energy all the sudden, his leg wasn’t even bothering him much from the walk over here, only a dull throb. Kaz leaned against the light pole above him, watching the shops a little further down the way in the opposite direction of the mansion. People were still moving about in the hazy evening light. He noted a flower vendor with an elderly woman trimming roses out front, some children staring through the window of a toy shop. He noticed the couple walking from the booksellers, clutching their parcels and sharing private smiles. Kaz rarely stood still and watched people like this without planning to make a move for the gang to thieve either riches or information. He felt peaceful. He felt inspired. He straightened himself and walked toward the shops before he could have time to change his mind.

Twenty-five minutes later, Kaz walked up the steps of the Van Eck mansion and rapped his cane against the door. A maid that Kaz vaguely remembered was named Elena, answered the door. An elderly woman who shuffled him inside and took his hat, and outer jacket. She pointed him to the direction of the dining room and Kaz took a steeling breath as he latched his suit jacket straighter in front of his shirt while straightening his tie. Kaz briefly felt his suit jacket pocket to make sure he had moved the parcel he’d bought to his suit from his outer coat. It was there, tucked safely against Inej’s letter from her sea travels. He would not admit to anyone that he carried it with him daily, but he did. A secret all his own in a secret pocket of his best suit. He remembered the day he had received her letter in his office at the Slat several months prior:

He had waited to open her letter until he made it up the stairs to his bedroom, and sat himself on the window ledge that normally sat vacant unless the Wraith was there. He spilled bread crumbs out the window and the crows began pecking and cawing happily as he unfolded the page displaying her organized script.

Kaz must have read the letter three or four times, before realizing he was smiling like a fool to himself. A happy, violent and desperate fool. He had agonized for hours over how to respond, though he knew he would. He had to. She had admitted he was in her thoughts and he wanted her to know she was in his as well. He hadn’t recalled the last time he laughed so freely as when she shook him down (in writing no less) for kruge in payment for him infiltrating her mind. He had settled on a very Kaz Brekker response, despite Kaz Rietveld knocking mercilessly against his cage of human ribs.

After he sent his response he realized perhaps he should have provided at least a little more of his thoughts, but he wanted her to come home. He didn’t want her to run and he didn’t want to agonize over his response and risk her thinking he took too long. He had sent it to the next port she had listed on the back of her letter and hoped it made it there in time for her to receive it at post.

 

Kaz entered the dining room to see Jesper pouring amber liquid into a tumbler near a bar cart. Wylan and Inej were nowhere to be seen as of yet.

“You came! Has the sky collapsed or has the city fallen into unseemly honest hands in your absence thus far?” Jesper quipped easily. Kaz could tell it was in fun though based on the easiness in Jesper’s shoulders and the clear mischief in his eye.

“If it has I wouldn’t know since I’m standing in this dining room with you,” Kaz mumbled, half-heartedly checking the ceiling for evidence of where he and Wylan had fallen through almost a year prior. Jesper snorted and passed over a tumbler of liquor to Kaz, which Kaz took gratefully.

“Yeah, yeah. I’m sure you’re so eager to leave when the Wraith would hunt you down if you even dared to try,” Jesper smiled as he took a seat at the table across from where Kaz was standing, crossing his orange trouser clad legs. “Besides, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else when all-what? Four feet eleven? - of Suli acrobat turned pirate is right upstairs.”

“Hmm,” Kaz mumbled noncommittally as he took the seat across from Jesper, biting back a smile. He knew it was true. Inej would skin him slowly if he bailed, but rather than sharp blades, she’d skin him with words. Alas, thankfully, Jesper was absolutely right. Kaz had no intention of leaving until he absolutely had to when Inej was concerned.

“Kaz you’re here!” Wylan smiled as he entered the room in a flurry, while adjusting the sleeves of his maroon sweater.

“It would seem so,” Kaz said as he lifted his tumbler to his lips.

“Ten kruge, Jesper. Pay up,” Wylan sat next to Jesper with his hand out.

“What? Why?” Kaz almost choked on the bourbon. Were they betting whether he’d show up?

“I bet Wylan that you’d show up ten minutes late for dramatic flair, he said you’d be early. Here you are, five minutes early. Also, merchling, you know I’m in rehabilitation. It’s bad form to accept bets from ex-gamblers,” Jesper quipped as Wylan socked him in the arm with a glare that sent Jesper giggling as he placed a kiss on Wylan’s head.

Kaz was pleasantly surprised. They had known he’d come, granted he knew they only expected it because of Inej, but he found he had truly missed Jesper and Wylan as well. The feeling was new. Perhaps he’d have to reevaluate his strict no friends and dinner parties rule. Perhaps not.

“Where’s Inej?” Jesper asked Wylan then. Kaz was grateful that Jesper asked so he didn’t have to keep biting the question down in his mouth.

“She said she’d be down in a moment, my mother is taking dinner in her studio tonight and Inej brought her candies from Ravka she wanted to drop by first,” Wylan smiled as he took a sip from Jesper’s glass.

Kaz found himself joining in on a conversation with Jesper and Wylan on the markets of all things. The liquor left Kaz feeling a little less of the nervous energy while still being stone cold sober. A few minutes must have passed before he felt Inej’s presence. It was like a sixth sense he had acquired-only attuned to her.

“Sorry I’m late, I started talking to Marya about her paintings,” Inej spoke quietly from behind him. Kaz couldn’t stop himself from standing up immediately to turn to face her.

He stopped dead in his tracks. Inej. She was wearing silk. At least, part silk. Real silk. She looked…deadly. Beautiful. The silk was jet black, and it wrapped around her chest, acting as a shirt that sashed over one shoulder, the end of the sash hanging low behind her looked dipped in gold. Her other shoulder was bare, bronze skin under the low dinner lighting. Her legs, Ghezen, her legs. She was wearing high waisted pants that were similar to her normal leggings for jobs, slim fitting, hitting her in every right place to accentuate her lithe form and slight curves. Another line of golden bronze skin was showing above her pants where the silk clearly intentionally ended. Her hair was down again, tumbling over her bare shoulder in black waves that shown almost as much as the silk in the candle light. Kaz was dimly aware he was staring when Inej ran a self-conscious hand over the front of her pants.  

“I, um, my parents brought it for me back when we reunited and I didn’t have anywhere to wear it to, so I decided to at least wear part of it. I hate skirts so I… I only wore the top portion. It’s about all the silk I can wear…” Inej stammered.

“You look like yourself, Inej, which is beautiful,” Kaz spoke softly, before he could even begin to decide not to. His words had slipped past every carefully constructed barrier. She looked nothing like the falsity of cheap purple silk he had seen her in once at the Menagerie. She looked like a strong Suli woman who could pierce you with a blade or her eyes if she wished. She always looked beautiful to him, but it was the first time she had ever worn real silk in Ketterdam and he wanted her to know it still suited her, pants and modifications and all. The Menagerie could not take her culture from her.

He was actually afraid to see her from the back. He was sure those pants did favors to her that should absolutely be illegal. There was also a very primal part of him that was glad they were in the house of friends, not in public where every wandering eye could see her beauty. He might be a little territorial which was ridiculous since he’d barely held her hand, but he couldn’t help it. Inej was here and looking like the Saint of Assassins.

“Exquisite Wraith!” Jesper chimed in from behind Kaz. Inej was staring at him though, she looked almost like she was going to cry. He didn’t understand why. Had he said something wrong?

“Thank you,” Inej smiled softly with an almost too subtle shake of her head. While he knew that gratitude was to both him and Jesper, he felt like the smile was for him. He would hoard it with the rest of her smiles like priceless gems beneath a dragon in his lair.

 

INEJ

 

            Inej was shocked. Kaz had called her beautiful, in a room with their friends. He looked surprised that he had even said it himself. Inej felt like she might cry, not out of sadness. It was a feeling akin to the one she had the first time Kaz had said her name aloud in the Menagerie, like someone returning something that was stolen from her that she feared might be lost forever. No one had ever called her beautiful in earnest and used her name. She had been called beautiful loads of times by men in the Menagerie, but it was always followed by terrible slurs,Lynx, suli girl, whore.Kaz had spun the tables of her life more times than she could count, but this was one time she would never forget.

            A kind truth. No kind lies. Nothing terrible about it.

            “Shall we?” Wylan asked from the doorway near the kitchen as the maid Elena wheeled in a dinner cart and began setting the trays of chicken, rice, and vegetables on the table. Inej hadn’t even noticed him stand up and go. She hazily shook her head and managed to force her mouth into an agreement. Inej took a seat next to Kaz, realizing for the first time how strange it was that there was only the four of them there. No Nina, no Matthias. Although, it was almost in a strange sense like old times as well, her and Kaz and Jesper. Plus, Wylan. It was a strange reality.

Inej felt warmth wash over her as she watched Kaz pulling off his gloves from the corner of her eye in his lap. He tucked them away in his pocket and looked up to the conversation Jesper and Wylan were having as if he hadn’t just done something he never would have been able to do a year ago. Her heart swelled. A kind truth indeed.

 

 

           

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            Kaz was enjoying himself. He didn’t feel completely out of place like he suspected he would, and it was once again a new feeling. Kaz took a sip of the slightly too sweet kvas in front of him while listening to Jesper tease Wylan about his choices to rearrange their mansion; though privately, Kaz understood why Wylan did not want to keep his father’s previous study as his own- Jan Van Eck was a cruel man in ways Kaz was glad his own father was not, even if he could hardly remember him. Though Kaz was cruel, so perhaps goodness was something that skipped generations he supposed.

            “So Wraith, you told me of your travels, care to start sharing with the class?” Jesper smiled and looked over to Inej as Wylan just shook his head. Clearly the argument of house arranging was a couple-type of conversation. Kaz was almost sad he would miss Wylan laying down the law on Jesper. Kaz’s interest was definitely peaked though, he had waited eagerly to hear Inej speak of her travels all day.

            Inej took a breath and began to speak of a detailed recant of the first ship she’d taken down, the one she had written to him about. He felt a smile pulling on his mouth as she told them how she’d used a rope to climb to the other ship first before her crew infiltrated in the dead of night. Then, how she’d used her intimate knowledge of pick pocketing to steal keys to the brig where the stolen girls were kept, at this point she had paused with a brilliant smile on her wine flushed face as she looked at him. He never thought his criminal training would suit her so well.

He felt pride whip through him as she continued on about other ships and her crew, how she’d been practicing walking a wire on her ship, how now she could nearly sprint small distances on a rope despite the rock of the waves. He watched her gesture wildly about the colorful sea shanties that Specht had imparted on her and when Wylan had tried to inquire about the actual musical makeup of the songs; she had been set off in a fit of giggles that nearly stopped his decrepit heart. He longed to touch her again. To hold her again. Kaz wasn’t sure if he could but he found himself wanting to. He wondered if he’d be able to hold her hand again after these months. If it would work as he sat at this table now and took her hand gently in his despite the audience, he also wondered if she would be alright with that. She would, she hugged you on the docks.

“What’s the craziest thing you did out there on the sea?” Jesper asked with twinkling eyes as Inej’s giggles receded. Wylan nodded eagerly, he wanted to know too. As did Kaz.

“Do you mean most dangerous or most ridiculous?” Inej asked after a sip of her wine. Kaz audibly snorted at that and she looked at him with a grin so quickly he almost missed it before returning her gaze to Jesper.

“I’ll take whatever answer suits us to laugh the most,” Jesper mused with a chuckle.

“Well I challenged Specht to arm wrestle me so that everyone knew I was a tough captain, while a little hazy on rum I might add, so that turned out as good as you’d expect,” Inej said with a sheepish smile.

Kaz laughed. He surprised himself by almost spitting out kvas, the image of the wraith, so small and dangerous, drunk on rum, arm wrestling a burly ex-naval officer in show of strength was too funny of an image for him to even hold back his amusement. He heard Wylan chuckling and so was Jesper, but he caught Inej staring at him. He didn’t understand the smile on her face, she was looking at him with something he’d never seen before. Something like awe. He didn’t understand what he did to provoke such a look from her. He loved it. He loved that he was the subject on the receiving end of thatlook.

 

INEJ

 

            Kaz Brekker laughing freely was something so rarely witnessed that Inej wanted to rush to Wylan’s mother and beg her to paint his portrait just as he was now. His suit jacket undone, his tie slightly askew, hands bare, one gripping a wine glass and with a smile on his face. Inej thought it just might be the best view she’d ever seen, perhaps even better than her favorite perch on the chapel above Ketterdam at sunset or the crow’s nest above the open expanse of blue waves on her ship. Kaz was her favorite view.

Inej couldn’t help but shift herself a little closer to him.

            Soon after, Jesper launched into a story about his first successful plays on the market that were turning out rather swimmingly and Kaz offered him some advice here and there as Wylan watched Jesper intently with something like pride behind his blue eyes. Inej wanted to touch Kaz as he spoke of a few companies he’d seen with success on the market in the papers, but she knew she shouldn’t. But perhaps… perhaps she could offer it to him if he wanted to touch her in this room with people around. She wouldn’t push him, but maybe, maybe if he knew he was welcome… he would.

            Inej let her hand nearest Kaz rest on the table between their two table settings, seemingly casually if Jesper and Wylan noticed. Inej perked up when Wylan began talking about his mother’s readjustment into living at home with him and Jesper and she soon lost herself in the conversation.

Sometime later, she noticed Kaz’s hand was next to hers as he drank a sip of wine and his eyes didn’t leave Jesper’s as they continued speaking of merchers. Had he inched closer to her as well? Surely not. Just then, she felt Kaz’s pinky entwine with hers on the table, she resisted the urge to look over at him to make sure he was okay, but just then, she felt the rest of his hand slide beneath hers and slowly, their fingers interlocked.

            Kaz squeezed her hand gently and she shifted her eyes to him once as Wylan spoke of the room he’d converted to a gallery for his mother’s paintings. She found Kaz was looking at her, and he smiled reassuringly. It was a small private thing, that smile.

 

KAZ

 

            Kaz was holding Inej’s hand in the dining room of his mercher friends, drinking wine and laughing. Whose life is this? It can’t possibly be mine.

Kaz reeled from revulsion for a few moments as his hand slid into Inej’s, he hadn’t been able to stop himself as he noticed her hand there next to him, like an invitation to try if he wished. The water reached his knees as Jesper continued talking, but he forced his hand to stay in hers and he focused on the slight pulse he could feel where his wrist brushed hers. Her hand was warm and dry, with callous from her blades and the ropes on her ship. It was nothing like corpses and Jordie’s voice was nothing but a dull buzz of a fly in the back of his mind.  He felt the water recede to his ankles slowly as he nodded about something Jesper said, he wasn’t drowning. The wine helped some too, he thought. Made him feel just a little looser. He was not drunk or even buzzed, but it was the warmth in his belly and the warmth in her hand that allowed him to stay anchored in the Van Eck dining room. When he barely felt the water on his ankles anymore and the nausea was settling, he gently squeezed her hand, he wanted…he wanted to share this victory with her. However small.

            Inej turned to him, and upon seeing her molten chocolate eyes glinting in the candle light, he smiled. She was flushed, she was here, she was holding his hand and they were waging war on the demons that haunted them both.

            Kaz could kill with his gloved hands, everyone in Ketterdam knew that. Maybe he could learn to love with his bare ones.

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            “Oh! I have dessert!” Wylan said after they all chatted for a bit longer. Wylan stood and went to the kitchen. Jesper rose too.

 

            “Shall we move to the living room? I hate these damn chairs. Too short for me,” Jesper stretched his arms above his head.

 

            “Everything is too short for you, Jes.” Inej chuckled and shook her head. If Jesper had noticed their clasped hands, he hadn’t made a comment. Kaz appreciated it, it wasn’t that he wasn’t happy, elated actually, that he was holding Inej’s hand. It was just that he had no idea what he’d say to a comment from Jesper in this instance, it wasn’t exactly like he and Inej were an easy couple like Jesper and Wylan. They weren’t even a couple… were they? Maybe. No. Yes? Kaz wasn’t sure but that didn’t unnerve him the way it might have if he were any normal man, but he wasn’t. Inej wasn’t a normal woman either, they were just Kaz and Inej and it made sense. They had enemies who couldn’t know what they were to each other. The only person not in this house who Kaz would ever even allow to know about his and Inej’s entanglement with one another beyond the business scope, was Nina. Kaz realized how much he trusted Jesper and Wylan then- they would never use his one weakness against him because she was one of theirs as well.

 

            “Everything is too tall for you Inej, so I don’t want to hear it,” Jesper quipped back at Inej. She drew up a wicked little grin before she spoke softly.

 

            “On the contrary, for example, this house isn’t too tall. I’ve broken into it without so much as a foothold. Nothing is too tall for me Jesper, or did you forget the six stories in the dark in Fjerda?”

 

            Inej had him there. Ghezen he loved it when she clapped back at people who were not him. It was a rare site to see Inej look truly devious but he was certain it was something he would never tire of witnessing. Wicked, dangerous woman.

 

            “Oh Wraith, how could I forget. I had to remove molten rubber from your ugly feet that day,” Jesper laughed on his way to the living room. Inej rolled her eyes and let out a huff of breath. She turned her eyes on Kaz then with feigned disgust at Jesper’s comment.

 

            “I assure you, I do not have ugly feet. They might become ugly though when I kick his ass,” Inej grimaced with a twinkle of amusement in her eyes.

 

            “I’m unconcerned with your feet Inej, but at least let him keep his revolver hands in good form lest we need him to be useful again someday,” Kaz replied as she chuckled. He reluctantly let go of her hand to stand, grabbing his cane. He didn’t miss her glance back at his hand with a slightly jutted lip. The wraith would not pout; he knew that much- but that was as close as she got to it. Kaz smiled inwardly. He’d hate to use a word so low as cute to describe Inej, but that was certainly close.

 

Inej stood as well and excused herself saying she would meet them in the living room.

 

            Kaz joined Jesper and Wylan in the other room, noticing the takeaway box of dessert waffles in the center of the coffee table.

 

            “Wylan, Dear Sweet Wylan, has graced us with waffles, Kaz. I must keep him now,” Jesper exclaimed as Kaz took a seat in one of the armchairs across from them on the couch.

 

            “You mean he’ll keep you, Jes.” Kaz said with a crooked grin.

 

            “Hey! He didn’t adopt me or anything!” Jesper growled with a mock frown on his face.

 

            “Sure,” Kaz nodded slowly.

 

            “I kind of did,” Wylan chuckled as Jesper pulled him down to sit beside him on the couch with a thud.

 

            “Don’t encourage Kaz, he’ll mock me within an inch of my life and as we all know, my pride is as fragile as you are,” Jesper mocked with a wink in Wylan’s direction.

 

            “Fine, Where’s Inej?” Wylan asked with a flick of his wrist.

 

            “Yeah Kaz, where is the wraith?” Jesper looked at Kaz with narrowed steel irises. Kaz rolled his eyes.

 

            “I’m not her keeper, but she said she’d be back down in a moment,” Kaz grumbled shifting uncomfortably in his chair. So Jesper had noticed. There was a time where Kaz would have denied knowing anything just to make it look like the moments between himself and Inej this evening meant nothing, but he couldn’t find it in him to do it anymore. Dirtyhands had checked out this evening and apparently Kaz Rietveld was holding the reins. He hated it. He relished in it. He didn’t know what to do with himself. He wanted Inej to himself right now. It was a ridiculous thought. It was the only thought that mattered.

 

            Kaz felt Inej’s presence again and a moment later she entered from the foyer silently. She carried a leather bag with her. Her silk sash swished behind her and caught the light; once again Kaz was mesmerized.

 

            “Are those waffles?!” Inej yelped, her tone one of sheer elation.

 

            “They are.” Wylan beamed at her from under Jesper’s arm.

 

            “Saints, I love you Wylan.” Inej smiled as she walked up to the coffee table and took a small sugar dusted waffle. Kaz desperately tried to ignore her figure as she bent over in front of him. Perhaps her Saints were real and they created her to tempt him into religion. She was glory filled death wrapped in a pristine petite package.

 

            “What’s the bag?” Jesper asked with a raised brow as Inej munched on her waffle, still standing next to Kaz’s chair. Inej finished her bite before taking a napkin and dusting her hands off and setting the rest of her waffle down. She gently tucked some hair behind her ear and Kaz wished he had done it instead. She looked slightly flustered, Kaz was unsure why. The wraith rarely ever seemed anything but collected, somewhat like himself.

 

            “Oh. I brought some things back for you all. I stopped in Os Kervo to take my parents home and there were some caravans there selling silk and I… I thought of you,” Inej said softly as she set the bag gently on the ground. Kaz wasn’t sure what she would have brought back but he felt his heart stutter as she took out a long box wrapped in some maroon gift paper that she passed to Wylan. She had brought them gifts. Kaz was sure she meant Jesper and Wylan, he hoped she did only mean them. Inej being here was a saints-damned miracle to Kaz, he didn’t need anything else. He most certainly did not deserve anything else.

 

            “Oh Inej! May I open it?” Wylan smiled brightly with the package in his lap as he straightened himself from Jesper. Inej nodded and gestured with her hand as she crossed her legs beneath her to sit comfortably on the ground.

 

            Wylan opened the wrapping to a long light colored wooden box, he opened the latches to reveal a flute case lined in Suli silk in a rich sapphire color. Wylan clapped a hand over his mouth as he traced his hand over the inside, Kaz noticed the top of the box had the Van Eck crest stamped into the wood.

 

            “Inej, this is beautiful… this is real silk. Thank you, it’s too much.” Wylan smiled as Jesper beamed back and forth between Inej and his boyfriend.

 

            “Nonsense. You gave me a room and let me live here when I’m on land. It’s the least I could do. You’re also my friend.” Inej proceeded to say something in suli that Kaz was sure would sound terrible with his kerch accent if he tried to repeat it.

 

            “What does that mean?” Wylan asked as he gently set his new case down on the table before him.

 

            “It means ‘where kindness is earned, kindness is given.’ Or in kerch, You’re welcome.” Inej grinned as she reached back into her bag. Inej pulled out a square parcel wrapped in navy paper which she passed over to Jesper. Jesper raised a brow at her with a grin before he opened his wrapping paper and the box within. Kaz couldn’t see from his vantage what was inside, but based on Jesper’s reaction it was something equally exquisite as what Inej had gifted to Wylan.

 

            “Inej, this is… Oh they are beautiful! Thank you!” Jesper exclaimed with a grin as he reached into the box to remove two matching dark leather holsters for his revolvers. The leather was black, but the inside of the holsters was lined with Suli silk once again, this time in a vibrant emerald green with a thread of orange to match the colors of Jesper’s home country, Noyvi Zem. Kaz couldn’t help but shift his eyes to Inej, she was sitting perfectly still, her back as straight as a blade but her eyes were radiant, dark as the night sky and twinkling with the happiness she clearly felt giving gifts to their friends. The Wraith was absolutely enchanting when she was this happy. Kaz was once again struck with the fact that she had chosen to return to Ketterdam, not only to him, but to all of them.

 

            Kaz watched as Inej reached into her bag one more time, and he felt his breath hitch ever so lightly. He had no idea what she could possibly give him and he wanted to tell her to take whatever it was back, but that wouldn’t exactly fit with Kaz Brekker. Wasn’t greed his servant and his lever? Since when did he not desire to take what the world refused to give him?

 

            Inej pulled out a box wrapped in shiny black paper that was slightly larger than the other two she had removed. She turned to him and he was thankful he rarely flushed even in the cold because his skin most certainly felt warmer as he felt everyone look at him.

 

            “This is for you.” Inej spoke almost in a whisper. Was Inej nervous? Was he nervous? Kaz remembered the last time he had received a gift. It was from his brother and Kaz had been nine years old. It had been a deck of cards. He thought he might have stopped breathing. Kaz took the package and his fingers grazed hers and this time the barely there touch only sent lightning through him. He was surprised to feel that the package was very light as he set it gently in his lap.

 

            Kaz opened the paper carefully, and opened a standard cardstock box to reveal tissue paper over a shape with a notecard in her script on top. It read:

 

            Kaz,

Your darling Inej, Treasure of your heart, has done you the honor of acquiring you a new hat.

 

            Kaz flicked his gaze up to Inej, but her gaze was on her hands. She was nervous. He suppressed a chuckle of pure disbelief. He couldn’t believe she had remembered that as clearly as he did. Saints, she was always making him believe in impossible things.He tucked the card inside his pocket. That was for them. Jesper and Wylan did not need to know what it said.

 

            Kaz removed the paper to reveal a hat just like the previous one she had ordered for him nearly a year ago, but of even better craftsmanship. He picked it up and turned it over. The inside was lined in black suli silk identical to what Inej had worn tonight, but just inside along the seam, stitched in red silk thread, was a ‘K’ next to a heart. The font was the exact replica of a playing card. The ‘K’ did not stand for ‘Kaz’. It stood for ‘King’.

 

The King of hearts.

 

We’ll be Kings and Queens, Inej. Kings and Queens.

 

INEJ

 

Inej heard Kaz’s breath hitch as he noted the interior of the hat. Inej had felt nervous all afternoon about giving Kaz his gift. Inej had almost opted to place it in his room at the Slat at her first opportunity instead for him to open it privately, without her there. Something had stopped Inej from that course of action though, she had wanted to see his face. She had wanted him to know she put thought into this gift. Then she remembered how she felt on the docks only hours before when he held her for the very first time. Her mind had been made up. Saints, after everything he’d done for her? Inej wanted to do something, no matter if his surprises were far bigger than what could fit into a parcel, or in beautiful sentences. She still wanted him to know she cared. She thought of him when she was away. Her arrow’s aim included him. Kaz was a King in her heart already. A crooked, broken, and sometimes cruel King that had to fight the world for everything he wanted, crown and all.

 

Inej would have him no other way.

 

“I’ve not received one before, not… not in a long time,” Kaz whispered as he touched the etching in the hat almost reverently. He spoke so quietly Inej almost thought she had imagined it entirely.

 

“What? A hat? Technically I bought one for you before I suppose,” Inej smiled softly.

 

“I meant a gift.” Kaz whispered. There was profound sadness and exuberant happiness waging war in his dark eyes. Inej felt like someone reached into her chest and gripped her heart in their fist. Inej knew she had much to learn about Kaz, but this felt like a small chip from his armor clanging to the floor. Inej picked up that piece of armor and stored it delicately next to her feelings for him inside herself. Kaz had to choose to let go of these pieces for her; it was not something she would try to pry from him, she wouldn’t waste her time trying. It was his choice, and yet again, he surprised her by doing so.

 

“Thank you, Inej.” Kaz said now, finally looking at her directly with a private fondness that Inej would bet no one outside of her knew existed.

 

“What is it?” Inej heard Jesper ask happily from behind her. Inej hadn’t realized she was blocking Jesper and Wylan from view.

 

“A hat,” Kaz said simply as he placed it back in its box and gently tucked the box on the ground next to his chair.

 

“Well fine don’t show us, but thank you, wraith. You’re always welcome here.” Jesper said with a narrowed glance at Kaz and a smile that was all for her.

 

“You’re welcome.” Inej said with one last glance at Kaz before she picked up her waffle from the table and made her way to the other arm chair where she curled her legs under herself.

 

“So how long will you be here, Inej? I just realized we never actually asked,” Wylan asked while he grabbed a waffle for himself, knocking away Jesper’s hand as he tried to steal a bite.

 

“Two months or so, the voyage was long and there’s much to be done on land. My next voyage will probably only be about three months depending on what I can uncover about the slave trade routes on the sea. Specht advised against us sailing again without a longer leave, keeps up morale. We didn’t stay more than a night at any port on my maiden voyage and I think he’s right. It’s alright that I’ll be staying, right?” Inej questioned.

 

“Of course!” Jesper and Wylan said in unison. Inej stole a glance at Kaz who looked relieved to hear her say she was staying for more than a week or two. He evened out his expression quickly.

 

“What work do you hope to accomplish?” Jesper asked in between bites of a waffle he was scarfing down like a starved stray. Inej simply shook her head with a smile at her ridiculous zemini friend.

 

“We have an arrangement to work together, besides, I’m in desperate need of a competent spider for several sensitive jobs.” Kaz’s voice of gravel came from beside her.

 

“Hmm, competent spider? Roeder isn’t cutting it?” Jesper quipped before Inej could respond. She smiled as he spoke, though. Inej wasn’t surprised at Kaz’s response, Kaz had always been one thing consistently since she’d known him: a man of his word. It still felt nice for him to acknowledge the deal they’d made on the docks when he reunited her with her parents.

 

“Well he’s not me, so I doubt it.” Inej joked and Kaz shot her a glare that she could see right through due to his lips quirking ever so slightly. Inej had meant the words referring to her skill as a spider, but she also knew she was the true holder of Kaz Brekker’s secrets. That was a position that had been filled. The Wraith was back.

 

KAZ

 

            Inej had fallen asleep in the arm chair next to him as they had all talked about the renovations Kaz was doing on the Slat and Wylan’s plans at the Van Eck mansion. She was folded up with her legs beneath her and she looked even smaller in her sleep. Her head was laying on her arm on the arm rest with her hair twisting down over the edge. She had a peaceful look on her face that Kaz etched into his memory promptly. Kaz checked the time, it was almost eleven bells. Of course Inej was exhausted, who knows how much she had slept in her preparation to sail into port. In this moment, Kaz wished he could simply ruse her from her sleep by carrying her up to her bed. It wasn’t his leg that stopped him, he wouldn’t risk touching her while she slept knowing the demons that plagued her, he had no idea how deep they ran or how she would react. Kaz also knew he had carried her before out of necessity, but he didn’t want to touch her and find he couldn’t handle anymore today, he didn’t want to see her face, live alone Jesper or Wylan’s if he started drowning. They didn’t know anything that Inej did. He didn’t want that disappointment for her. He didn’t want that disappointment for himself.

 

            After a few more minutes, Jesper and Wylan promised they’d wake her once they went up to bed but until then they would let her sleep and Kaz felt a strange twist in his gut as he prepared to leave.

 

            He had wanted to hug her again. He wanted... He wanted anything he could give and anything she could give in return.

 

 Kaz had something for her he’d bought before dinner. He wanted to talk with her in a room that was all their own. Kaz shook his head. It was time for Dirtyhands to check back in, he needed to go back to the Slat and catch up on the work he couldn’t get to with the distraction of Inej mere miles away from him this afternoon.

 

As Kaz Brekker slipped on his jacket and gently tucked his new hat under his arm, he realized it was harder this time, even though he’d spent his whole life walking away. Walking away from moments, from smiles, from people… from life.

 

Inej came back. Inej came back to me.

 

What was it they always said? If you love something, set it free? He had. She came back.

 

           

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            Kaz made his way up the steps back to his bedroom the next morning at the Slat. He had already been up for a while despite it only being seven bells. Kaz wanted nothing more than to go get a cup of coffee from the shop down the block but he wanted to shave first, he had only gone down to his office first to hear Roeder report some findings on a mercher they suspected was funneling funds to support the slave trade for one of the prominent pleasure houses in Ketterdam. So, Kaz decided those funds should fall into much more unseemly hands. His own. In the process, no funds would remain to be smuggled to slavers. A win-win all around Kaz surmised.

 

Since taking over the Dregs and moving his office to the first floor, Kaz’s room was now off limits to anyone else. There was no longer any business conducted in the attic. Kaz found he liked it that way, it was only his. Besides, no one but him could pick the three locks on the door. Though he had a skeleton key. Kaz still kept some sensitive information stored in his filing drawers on this floor that felt safer in his own quarter. He had also since upgraded his makeshift desk. He now had a small, yet proper desk in the same place. Kaz used Per Haskell’s old desk downstairs, but, he had wanted to buy one of his own even if no one would see him use it.  It felt like a check off of some made up list in his head of things that meant he truly was the leader here.

 

Kaz had also gotten running hot water installed in the Slat, which made for much nicer living by all counts. He had converted the unused storage closet in his attic room to a small bathroom, only enough room for a small shower stall, sink and toilet. This allowed him to exchange his previous wash basin for a small bookcase which held all of his novels, his personal collection of card decks, and several binders of back log Crow Club numbers in case he needed them again.

 

            Somehow it felt a little more like he lived here. Despite that he’d had this room for years, it was only now as the leader of the Dregs, that Kaz had bothered to put down a single root in this room.

 

            It wasn’t much, but it was his. He all but laid the timber to build the Slat into what it was today and he was proud of it.

 

            Kaz entered his attic room, the sunlight was streaming in the windows and caging the room in a warm glow. Kaz shrugged out of his suit jacket, tossing it over his chair and leaned his cane against the wall as he made his way to the bathroom behind his desk. Kaz slipped out of his shirt and gloves as he splashed warm water on his face and lathered foam for his shaving routine. Once done, Kaz set his blade back into its holder and slung a towel around his neck. Kaz immediately felt better, more awake.

 

            Kaz exited the bathroom and began to head to his armoire for a clean shirt, but as he walked past, he noticed his desk drawer was slightly open. It was the bottom left drawer, the only drawer he left unlocked. It held no papers or writing utensils. That drawer served one purpose and one purpose alone; it held bread. Bread for Inej’s ridiculous murder of crows that seemed permanently fixed outside the window of the attic. The birds had settled for him and his careless demeanor these past months, seeming to sense he was a stand in for their true mistress. That’s when Kaz felt her presence. It seemed his sense had been off in the bathroom but now he felt that keen awareness in his bones whenever Inej was near.Of course she rifled through his desk for bread of all things. Then, surprisingly, Kaz heard her.

 

A wraith not trying to be quiet.

 

            As Kaz neared the window, which he could now tell was slightly ajar, he heard Inej say something like “I missed you too.” Kaz threw his eyes heavenward. Inej and her damn birds.He smirked.

 

Kaz made his presence known by pushing the window further open to peek at the ledge. Sure enough, there were bread crumbs all over the place, and Inej was sitting with her legs dangling off the ledge around the corner from the window, with her hand open to an overly eager crow who cawed happily as he pecked the bread from her. Inej had a take away cup of coffee in her other hand which she sipped as she watched the birds. She looked radiant with the morning sun catching each of her ink-black eyelashes. She always looks radiant. Did you expect something else? Her hair was braided all the way to her waist and she was clad head to toe in black. She was armed again. Kaz caught the glint of one of her saintly blades in her thigh sheath. She was looking, well, wraith-like.

 

“Good morning, Kaz.” Inej hummed as she lifted her coffee to her lips again. His eyes tracked the movement like the thief he was. Inej turned to look at him then as he leaned out the window. Her eyes widened subtly and a flush of color bloomed on her cheeks as she traced the plane of his chest. She turned away quickly. A very prideful male part of him was pleased with her reaction despite the fact that he’d been shirtless around her many times. In fact, the first time he’d done that, he hadn’t even been thinking of it. It was one of the first times he realized just how much he trusted Inej.

 

“Wraith, I didn’t expect you this early,” Kaz rasped. In fact, he hardly expected her at all. The day prior almost felt like some sick dream her Saints had plagued him with. When he woke, though, his new hat was hanging on its hook by his door and it was the only morning in memory he could recall that the first thing he did was grin. He felt like an idiot. The act had felt foreign on his face in the morning grogginess.

 

Inej stood up on the ledge and dusted crumbs off her hands to make her way in through his window. She briefly turned to the crow still perched on the ledge.

 

“I’ll see you soon, Kaz Pecker.”

 

“What the hell did you just call that bird?” Kaz asked with a grimace of disbelief.

 

“You heard me.” Inej said simply with a devious little grin as he backed away from the window to make room for her to come in. Kaz huffed as Inej slipped from the window sill silently into his room.

 

“I heard that huff. It was an opportunity for a brilliant pun that Nina and Jesper would skin me for if I didn’t take. Besides, he lives at yourwindow.” Inej laughed. It was the laugh.He would let it go because of that laugh.  

 

Kaz fucking Pecker. This woman would be the death of him.

 

“Besides, you missed that I brought you coffee. That should soften the blow to your ego.” Inej mused as she gestured with her hand to his desk. Indeed, there was a cup of coffee on his desk identical to hers.

 

He changed his mind. Inej was a saint and she could name birds after him all she liked.

 

“Fine.” Kaz grumbled as he walked to his desk and removed the lid of the cup, just inside the lid, there was a small packet of sugar tucked into the plastic grooving.Kaz mostly drank his coffee black, but secretly, he liked to add a little sugar to break up the bitterness. He generally carried a packet or two with him in his pocket which he’d slip into his coffee like performing a magic trick so no one was the wiser.

 

Inej was the wraith. Secret discoverer. Inej found one of his secrets and never spoke a word of it. Down to hiding the sugar packet herself inside his cup. Brilliant woman.

 

Kaz dumped the sugar packet into his coffee and took his first sip of glorious caffeine. He shifted his eyes to Inej who he noticed was already looking at him, as she stood straight as a rod by the window. Her lips were threatening a smile. She was pleased with herself. For a moment, Kaz recalled how strange it was to have someone know such small things about him. How he secretly liked sugar in his coffee. It was… it was peaceful. Kaz set his cup down on the desk and limped slightly to his armoire to remedy his dire shirt situation. Kaz realized that he knew similar things about Inej.

 

Inej orders her coffee three quarters full, and then fills it to the brim with cream.

 

Inej prefers tea with honey, though.

 

Inej rolls her shoulders before a fight. Also before an argument.

 

Inej’s mother’s favorite flower is wild geraniums. Inej’s favorite flower is also wild geraniums.

 

Inej loves the chocolate candy they sell in the Ravkan district. He thinks it reminds her of her home country.

 

Kaz smiled to himself as he shrugged a shirt on, and began buttoning it. He wished he had nothing else to do today but marvel in Inej’s presence. He wanted to kiss her senseless. He rarely let himself think about the possibility of it ever happening, but Ghezen, he wanted it to.

 

Kaz wanted to hug her again, too.

 

            “What business, wraith?” Kaz asked as he adjusted his sleeves, putting on his cufflinks.

 

            “Work, of course.” Inej said quietly from behind him. He turned around to find he hadn’t heard her move at all but she was now knelt in front of his bookcase. Kaz realized she hadn’t seen it before today. Inej was looking at all of his card boxes with a curiosity in her eyes and she was biting her lower lip absentmindedly. She looked like she was trying to glean information from his card collection. Kaz was amused.

 

            “Which one was your first deck? Or did you not keep it?” Inej asked softly. Kaz was startled, he hadn’t really ever been asked about anything he owned. He never displayed anything in his room before, he supposed. First instinct kicked in, the feeling told him to tell her it was none of her business. But this was Inej, he reminded himself. Kaz found himself wanting it to be her business. A raw, distinct, feeling of peace settled over him at the realization. It wasn’t an extremely personal question by any normal standard, but this was new territory for Kaz. Kaz’s body moved without his permission as he walked over to where she was kneeling and he took a novel off the shelf above his decks. Inej quirked a brow up at him in question.

 

            Kaz opened the cover of the book, it was a novel about a sorcerer who slayed an opposing kingdoms military with a flick of his wrist and won the girl in the end. He could tell you the girls name was Rose. He could tell you the sorcerer had a horse as big as a bear.

 

Kaz had never read the novel.

 

            The book had been one of the novels that Jordie had bought the week before they lost everything. Jordie had read it in one night and told nine-year-old Kaz every detail as Kaz had tried to make a coin disappear. His younger self had been enthralled. Kaz had been convinced no author could tell the story like his brother could. He had no need to read it. After Jordie died, and Kaz had been reborn, he had snuck back to the boarding house they had lived. He dug through the dumpster in the alleyway behind the building and took this book and his deck of cards back. For a long time, the clothes Kaz had on his back, the novel, and his deck of cards were the only worldly possessions that Kaz owned. He remembered stashing the book and cards behind a loose brick under one of the bridges over the canals as he slept nearby.

 

            The book was now hollowed through the center of the pages to reveal a small alcove. It was something symbolic Kaz had done when he’d finally had the money for a blade. He’d carved the hole himself, and placed his first deck within it. Kaz Rietveld was forever just a boy in a story. Kaz Brekker was a legend.

 

Kaz handed his oldest possessions to Inej and she took it with such gentleness, he thought perhaps she could read his mind. Inej looked at the cover of the book first, and she smiled wistfully and traced the words with a slender bronze finger.

 

“My father read this to me. He translated it from Ravkan to Suli for me to understand. Clearly this book printed in kerch as well.” Inej spoke softly with such earnestness that Kaz thought his heart broke in half and mended in a matter of a split second. Kaz never thought… he never thought he would know anyone else who had read it. Jordie would have liked her. Kaz knew it now. Her eyes were glittering in the filtered morning sunlight and he saw a shimmer of gold catch in her irises.

“My father would ask me if I wanted to be like Rose, with beautiful gowns and win the heart of a powerful sorcerer. I always told him I’d rather be the sorcerer. I preferred pants. It always made him laugh.” Inej said as she opened the book back up to look at his crumbling deck box with withered yellowing cards inside. Kaz didn’t think he’d ever wanted to kiss her as badly as he did in this moment.

 

A suli sorceress indeed.

 

Inej squinted her eyes as she looked at the card box. Kaz couldn’t understand why. Then he realized, in the corner of the box, his younger self had carved his initials. Not a “K” and a “B”. A “K” and an “R”. He felt his skin warm. He felt his hands turn just slightly clammy. Kaz hadn’t told anyone alive today his real name. The only time he’d so much as spoken his given name was when they’d used his family name to swindle Jan Van Eck and the merchant council. None of his friends had known it was his family name that they had used as a false identity for Colm Fahey.  Kaz knew the question was coming but he still felt his gut twist when she whispered. Then she surprised him.

 

“K. R.?” Inej was looking up at him. Pure, uninhibited fear coursed through him. Kaz wanted to trust her with this, his conscious mind knew that. His subconscious railed with skittishness. Kaz bit his cheek but he nodded slowly.

 

“Like your tattoo.” Inej spoke as she touched the letters on his card box. She didn’t say it as a question. Inej had a look of someone who was only missing a few pieces in their near complete jigsaw puzzle. Inej gently placed the card box back into its space in the novel and delicately handed the book back to Kaz.

 

Inej hadn’t asked. Kaz could see the longing for answers in her eyes but she wanted him to speak now. Kaz could tell this was something she needed him to do for her, unprompted. Kaz forced himself to swallow the knots in his throat even though it felt like fire going down.

 

“Rietveld. It stands for Rietveld.” Kaz whispered, he knew his voice shook slightly. He couldn’t meet her gaze so he looked to his hands where he still held the book.

 

Inej mouthed the name as she stood, seemingly testing it in her mouth but without sound. Kaz set the book back on the shelf and forced himself to look at her. Inej was only about a foot away from him now. Kaz knew Inej must have connected the name right away to the cover for Colm Fahey but she didn’t seem to feel the need to remark on it. Kaz met her gaze and found there was a moment of her seemingly deciding on something of her own behind those beautiful windows to her mind. Inej smiled a different sort of smile then, it felt fiercely private. Only for them. Inej held out her hand in front of her.

 

“Inej Ghafa. No middle name for you to make fun of, I’m afraid.” Kaz realized she was introducing herself to him all over again. It cracked his armor and he smiled a genuine smile that seemed to be well acquainted with Inej already. Kaz looked to his bare hands, his gloves were still in the bathroom. Kaz didn’t need them though, not for this.

 

The gloves belong to Kaz Brekker. The hands belong to Kaz Rietveld.

 

            “Kaz Elias Rietveld. It’s a pleasure, Inej Ghafa.”

 

            Their bare hands clasped slowly, and Kaz reeled with revulsion for a minute. Then, Inej’s voice walked him back to dry land.

 

            “It’s an honor to know you, Kaz.”

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

Inej had decided to meet Kaz downstairs in his office after she had brought coffee to him in his room this morning. Kaz Rietveld.Inej smiled to herself as she scaled down the building, opting to use the front door to enter the Slat for once, lest they give the rest of the Dregs the wrong impression of her leaving his room at seven and a half bells in the morning after six months away. Inej didn’t particularly care what they would have assumed, but it was safer for both her and Kaz this way- who knew where there could be a leak, even in the Dregs.

 

Inej felt warm and confident as she made her way around the corner of the building, Kaz had trusted her with something new that she knew no one else had ever known. He was still Kaz Brekker, Dirtyhands, Bastard of the Barrel. But to Inej Ghafa, he was also Kaz Rietveld. His secret was stored safely within her chest.

 

When Kaz had voiced his real name aloud, Inej thought her heart had stopped. It was a close thing.

 

The only thing warring in Inej was how the Dregs would react to her return. Inej knew Rotty and Pim wouldn’t have a problem. Roeder wouldn’t either-hopefully. Though technically he was Kaz’s spider now, and Inej wasn’t intent on imposing on his position, she hoped he saw it that way. Anika had always respected Inej, though Inej knew that Anika did not particularly like her. It had to do with Anika always fluttering her eyelashes at Kaz and making sure her figure was easily in view. It didn’t bother Inej, Kaz was handsome. People looked at him all the time, and it seemed he either truly didn’t notice or he didn’t care whatsoever. Both options were completely believable where Kaz was concerned. It wasn’t like Inej had a claim to his affections anyways. Or did she? Inej was still a girl who had her insecurities, but she was also confident in herself in ways she never would have thought possible at the Menagerie. Something deep down in Inej’s soul told her she needn’t worry with Kaz. It was clear enough when Kaz said “we”.

 

We have an arrangement to work together.

 

Because that’s what We do. We never stop fighting.

 

Inej made her way to the front door of the Slat after taking a few minutes to herself around the corner to prepare for whatever was to come. Kaz said he would be calling others to join in their meeting as he had a job he wanted her on with them. Kaz had seen her skeptical brow raise and had assured her that she would want to be involved on this one. She took Dirtyhands’ word for it. Inej twisted the knob and entered the Slat. No one was in the foyer but she heard voices from Kaz’s office to her immediate right, the door was open. Inej silently stepped into the room to see Kaz at his desk with Anika standing on his right. Roeder was leaning casually against the wall and Rotty was seated in one of the chairs in front of Kaz’s desk.

 

“Wraith! Delightful to see you!” Rotty exclaimed with a toothy grin as he turned in her direction when she purposefully tapped on the door frame to make her presence known. Inej smiled at him with an inclination of her head. Rotty had helped all of them without question when Per Haskell was still technically in charge of the Dregs. Rotty was loyal to Kaz and Inej appreciated his comradery on multiple different occasions.

 

“Inej.” Roeder said simply from his position against the wall, though he had some lessons to brush up on regarding body language. He looked like he’d truly seen a ghost and it was etched into the dip of his shoulders and the downward cast of his eyes. Inej made note to tell him she was not gunning for her position back, nor was she above offering him advice. Inej really wasn’t sure what Kaz had mentioned to the Dregs surrounding her departure from the Slat six months prior. She would have to inquire into that, she noted. Inej simply raised her hand in a wave.

 

“Wraith.” Kaz spoke in his graveled rasp without looking up from the paper he was holding.

 

“Mr. Brekker.” Inej quipped back as she bit her tongue to keep from smiling. It felt like a reunion with Kaz in a different sense than yesterday.

 

The Wraith was reuniting with Dirtyhands as well.

 

 “Hello Wraith. Good of you to join us.” Anika finally said with a voice that dripped respect with a hint of poison. Anika subtly positioned herself closer to Kaz’s desk. Inej wanted to laugh, not out of cruelty, but it was a funny sight in some way. Inej was never a lieutenant in the Dregs and she was certainly not one now, that wasn’t the undertone to Anika’s voice, though. Inej knew this was Anika making a different sort of claim known. A claim on Kaz. The thought in itself was ridiculous. Kaz was not a territory dispute. Kaz was a human being who made choices just like anyone else. Inej would not rile Anika, her relationship with Kaz wasn’t something she needed to prove to herself or anyone else.

 

“Anika. Congratulations on your promotion.” Inej said simply as she opted for the other chair opposite Kaz’s desk. Inej sat down, aware that everyone was looking at her. Kaz finally flicked his gaze up to Inej quickly. She didn’t miss him trail the line of her with his eyes subtly. Inej crossed her leg over the other as she noted him swallow, his adams apple bobbed just so. No one else in the room seemed to notice that he had even looked up.

 

“Right. Well we all know the Wraith and she will be working in tandem with us on this one. Captain Ghafa has similar interests to our own on this job. We will also require her particular skill set.” Kaz spoke now, setting his papers aside. He rapped a gloved finger against his desk. Inej felt her heart flutter as he called her Captain Ghafa. So Kaz had not kept her new title secret from at least the most trusted members of the Dregs.

 

“What’s the mark?” Roeder piped up from behind Inej. Roeder was clearly smart enough not to make a fuss about her spider skills in front of Kaz. Smart boy.

 

“A mercher named Charles Hester who has been funneling tax-evaded funds to the slave trade to provide new skin to the Vixen’s Garden- the newer Pleasure House that has been rising in rep recently. Now, if a mercher has extra funds lying around, I say we go ahead and help him out and take it off his hands. Slaver’s don’t need the kruge. I’m sure we can put it to better use.” Kaz spoke with an air of confidence that Inej would never tire of hearing. Though she loved to hear him speak, her stomach still did an uncomfortable roll at the mention of the newest Pleasure House in Ketterdam.

 

Saints she hated those terrible false gilded palaces and their patrons.

 

“I second that,” muttered Rotty. Inej noticed the others nodding as well. Inej was already on board; Kaz had been right. Inej wanted in on this particular job. Kaz went on to explain that they would target the merchers home the day following at 10 bells in the evening assuming the reconnaissance that Inej herself would pick up this evening matched Roeder’s previously collected information.

 

Inej stood to take a look at the blue print sketch that was now laying on Kaz’s desk in front of him. She nodded sharply as the only confirmation that he needed that she could case the estate for information tonight. Kaz then pulled out a newspaper from his desk drawer and proceeded to begin unfolding it.

 

“This is the man, he’s in the banking sector, lives near the financial district. Makes for easy tax evasion, but obvious target for theft due to the fact he keeps the funds he smuggles in a safe within his own estate. Easy Pigeon.” Kaz remarked as he laid the paper on the desk in front of where Inej stood to display a sketch of a man being recognized in the financial section of the paper.  

 

No. No. No. No.

 

Inej felt like she was falling despite standing straight up. The wraith never falls. Inej felt her stomach twist inside of her and her heart beat at a rate that surely outpaced a Maker’s wheel at full tilt.

 

It was him. The man who smelled like vanilla. Inej’s worst nightmare in black ink on Kaz’s desk.

 

Will you cry, little Lynx?

 

Inej felt her spine dip just subtly. She backed up and hit the chair she had previously sat on. The noise careened in the room as loud as a Chapel’s bell. The wraith was silent. Always. Inej moved away from the chair. She felt eyes on her. Too many eyes. She wasn’t sure how she managed to keep her breathing even. Inej swallowed a scream. She couldn’t break here. Inej couldn’t break in front of the Dregs.

 

            “I will- I have to- sorry please excuse me.” Inej managed to ground out in her best imitation of unbreakable steel, as if she had just forgotten there was somewhere she needed to be. Inej wasn’t even sure she spoke kerch but it appeared she had as Rotty looked confused but nodded. Anika was looking down at the photo paying Inej no mind anymore. Inej couldn’t look at Kaz. Kaz couldn’t see this shame, this fear. Inej turned and left the room without a glance backwards and moved her feet as surely as possible to not raise alarm. Inej couldn’t break on the outside in the Barrel.

 

On the inside, Inej Ghafa shattered.

 

KAZ

 

            Something was wrong. Inej had made noise. Inej had hit a chair. Inej had looked normal but Kaz saw her shoulders dip. Inej had immaculate posture.

 

            Something was very wrong.

 

            Kaz had never seen Inej’s eyes look the way they just had. She had all but fled the room. No one else seemed concerned. Maybe a tad confused, Kaz hadn’t dismissed her. Kaz had let her go without a word from his mouth in the middle of a meeting. Kaz tried to shake the worry from his mind as he had always done. It didn’t work. Why wasn’t it working? Inej is the wraith, she’s perfectly fine.

 

A voice somewhere deep inside him screamed that he was an idiot beyond redemption. She was not perfectly fine.

 

            Kaz finished the meeting as Dirtyhands and gave them only the bare minimum facts they needed to know before the job actually began. When Roeder dared to ask why they needed another spider, Kaz let his glare speak in tones of promised bloodshed. He let his gesture with his cane to the door be the only dismissal they needed.

 

            Kaz didn’t know what to do with himself when the door to his office clicked shut and he was finally alone. Kaz ran a hand through his hair. He wracked his brain for what could have gone wrong with Inej. She was fine. Then she wasn’t.

 

Kaz let his gaze shift to the sketch in newsprint laid on his desk. The man, Charles Hester, was ruddy in the face, a jawline that proved he was a fan of the drink, a mustache that looked like an overgrown caterpillar lined his upper lip. He had beady eyes, Kaz noted. Was this what caused Inej to stumble? Kaz could come up with nothing else. Who was he? Kaz felt like he was very close to uncovering something, and then it clicked. This man frequented Pleasure Houses. He was funneling money to the slave trade.

 

Mr. Charles Hester would die painfully.

 

Kaz Brekker wanted to load his pistol, walk out of the barrel, point it at Charles Hester and then drag his bullet skewered head through the bright foyer of the Menagerie and leave blood stains to mark the occasion forever.

 

Kaz settled for opening his drawer and taking a very long swig of bourbon. Kaz would do nothing irrational even as his gloved hands itched with the temptation of violence. If Kaz was right, he would not take that justice from Inej- if she wanted it. Kaz wasn’t positive.

 

Inej. Inej came first.

 

Kaz folded up the blue prints of the estate, grabbed some sheets of numbers he needed to evaluate and his pen. He placed them in his inner jacket pocket carefully and straightened his tie as he stood.

 

Kaz was going on a wraith hunt.

 

Kaz had left the Slat without a word to anyone. The Dregs knew better than to question him. That was two hours ago. Kaz had gone to the Van Eck estate first, Jesper and Wylan had been out, but the maid Elena let him in to see if Inej was there, though she assured him that Miss Ghafa had not returned. That meant nothing, Inej needed no doors opened for her. Kaz next checked the Chapel that Inej had once mentioned held her favorite view. It killed his leg and the climb was awkward with his cane, but he had done it anyways. The climb had proved unfruitful.

 

Kaz had one more idea. The Wraith. As in, the ship. Inej had been back for one saints damned day and this city already spit at her. Kaz found himself mentally praying to the saints that her berth was still claimed. Kaz found himself secretly praying Inej would not decide that this day was enough and call her crew to leave and never return. Kaz would not blame her if she did just that. Maybe this would be the saint’s retribution on Kaz Brekker. To grant him one day with her. To grant him one hug. Then send her away from Ketterdam forever. Away from him.

 

Kaz felt panic gripping his crooked heart as he made his way to the docks.

 

The sky had turned gray and the clouds held the promise of tears. The first drop hit Kaz’s new hat as he finally set foot on the docks. It was dim despite the early afternoon hour. Kaz began to walk towards her ship which was thankfully in its berth. Kaz spied a lone burly figure leaning against the rail right next to berth twenty-two. As Kaz neared, he realized it was Specht, puffing away on a pipe. Kaz froze. Kaz trusted Specht as much as he trusted any loyalty-proven member of the Dregs, but he didn’t know what this looked like. If Inej had shown her face here, upset, and Kaz came to see her… it looked intimate.

 

“Don’t worry, I saw nothing.” Specht said in a gruff tone as he turned to look at Kaz. Kaz froze but kept his expression completely neutral, he was planning to quip that he was here to deliver ship manifests regarding the trade of slaves for Inej, but Specht continued.

 

“She reminds me of my daughter. She died, you know. And I can’t say that I know much about you Brekker, but you gave me a life after my discharge from service. A different sort of life. But a life none the less. So I didn’t see you, Boss. I’m Dregs on land and I’m crew on the sea.” Specht turned his head and took a long drag from his pipe.

 

 Kaz didn’t know Specht had a daughter. Dirtyhands wouldn’t have cared. Kaz was surprised to find he trusted Specht. His admission that Inej reminded him of his own daughter seemed like loyalty Kaz had never expected. It was true that Kaz had helped Specht, though help was a very strong word for their line of work. Kaz nodded sharply, words were not needed here and Inej was on board it seemed. Kaz needed to see her for himself. Now.

 

Kaz made his way up the lowered gangplank and immediately cast his eyes upward, expecting Inej to have sought the crow’s nest, nearer to the sky. He could see she clearly was not there.

 

If Inej had not sought the sky, something was very, very wrong.

 

Kaz walked to the door of Inej’s captain’s quarters. He tapped his cane on it gently.

 

“I told you I’m fine Specht. I just need some time.” Inej’s voice came from the other side of the door. Her voice sounded small enough to match her frame, which was not how it should sound. Inej’s voice when she spoke was always that of confidence. She did not sound that way now.

“It’s Kaz.” He spoke in what he hoped came off as a gentle tone in his voice. Kaz had never comforted anyone. Ever.

 

“I’ll be back for recon, tonight. I promise.” Inej said in response. Kaz hadn’t considered she would think that’s why he was here. To make sure she came back to do her job. Kaz hated himself in that moment. He hated that he’d led her to believe that, whether it had been out of necessity or not. He would never say that aloud.

 

“Didn’t ask.” Kaz quipped. Inej was silent for a small eternity.

 

“Come in.” Inej finally spoke. Kaz opened the door and saw she had lit every candle at her disposal to brighten the small room, with the only daylight a small window that filtered the already stormy light. Kaz looked around to see Inej sat on the ground, her knees drawn up to her chest, her forehead rested on her knees. She did not look up at him. Kaz immediately turned around and walked out of the room.

 

Kaz returned less than five minutes later to find Inej in the same position, and as he closed the door, she did look up.

 

“I thought you left. Where did you go?” Inej asked quietly as she rested her head back down to face her lap.

 

“I requested something of Specht.” Kaz said as he slipped his hat and jacket off. Kaz had already made decisions about today when he saw Inej folded in on herself on the floor. Kaz was about to fold his jacket over a chair near her door when he saw a small shiver run over Inej’s spine. It had begun raining now and he noticed her window was open.

 

Kaz didn’t think, he acted.

 

Kaz gently laid his jacket over Inej’s shoulders and almost made to close the window but he figured maybe she wanted the fresh air. He heard Inej’s breath hitch and he almost thought maybe he shouldn’t have set his coat on her, but then he saw her bronze hands pull it closer around her and she didn’t look up. Inej had never looked like this in front of Kaz. He wanted to take every single pound of burden off her shoulders and carry it on his own. Kaz wanted to murder her demons in a slow and painful way that made Oomen look like he got off easy. Kaz moved to her side, with a good foot of distance between them. He sat down next to her, his back against her bed.

 

Kaz pulled out his Crow Club numbers and his pen and began to look them over, using his good knee as a desk with his bad leg stretched in front of him.

 

INEJ

Inej inhaled Kaz’s scent over and over again.

 

Kaz. Kaz is here. I’m not in the Menagerie. Kaz got me out. Kaz will get me out again.

 

 Warmth began to return to her body as she huddled under Kaz’s jacket. Inej heard Kaz sit down. She heard a ruffle of papers and after a moment she shifted her head sideways on her knees to look at him. Kaz was scribbling something on his papers that were resting on his knee. Inej had no idea what he was doing.

 

“What are you doing?” Inej asked quietly.

 

“Working.” Kaz said with a flick of his gaze in her direction.

 

“On your knee?” Inej questioned as she felt a warm flutter in her stomach. She was still in hell and every other moment she thought she might vanish again, but Kaz was here.

 

“I need to run the barrel, Inej darling, but it doesn’t have an explicit rule about being chained to a desk.” Kaz quipped as he scribbled another note. Inej felt a small smile return to her face as she listened to the soft scratch of his pen in the candlelight.

 

“And when you’re ready to talk about it, I’ll… I’ll be here.” Kaz’s voice of stone came from beside her. Inej felt her heart slow just slightly in the best way.

 

“When?” Inej quipped. Kaz turned his dark eyes to her fully now. They were beautiful.

 

“Without armor, wraith. When.” Kaz turned back to his notes. He had her there.

Without armor went both ways, it both scared her and ignited her. She would tell him. Just… just not right this second. Kaz was here. Kaz Brekker was being patient with her the way she had been patient countless times. Even just this morning as he told her his real name.

 

Thank you, Saints, for everything that is Kaz. For Rietveld, For Dirtyhands. For everything in every shade of gray between the two.

 

Inej scooted closer to Kaz and finally lifted her head as her shoulder brushed his, she laid her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes. He only tensed for a second before she heard him resume his work.

 

Sometime later, Specht dropped off waffles, her favorite ravkan chocolates, and a hot tea with honey. Inej knew now what Kaz had requested from Specht. It had nothing to do with business. Kaz had requested her favorite things.

 

Someday you will meet a boy who will learn your favorite flower, your favorite song, your favorite sweet. And even if he is too poor to give you any of them, it won’t matter because he has taken the time to know you as no one else does.

 

On the inside, Inej picked up her shattered pieces.

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

Inej woke up to a nearly pitch dark room, save for a single lantern lit on her desk in her captain’s quarters. Inej couldn’t recall when exactly she had fallen asleep, but sometime around seven or eight bells she guessed, as she remembered watching the sunset through her small window behind her desk from her bed. Inej had spent most of the day in silence while she waged war in herself-with Kaz. She sipped tea and munched on waffles and he worked. Inej remembered moving from the ground to her bed at some point, with Kaz still sitting on the floor with his back to her. She had laid on her side and watched him scrawl numbers over his shoulder and when the panic seeped back into her every now and then, she had placed her hand on his shoulder, careful not to brush his skin on his neck. It was a gesture to remind herself Kaz was still there.

 

Kaz would always reach up with his free hand and squeeze hers gently. Inej valued their silent language as much as she valued their spoken words.

 

Kaz. The job. Recon. She promised him she would go. Inej sat up with a start, knowing Kaz was probably long gone.How long had she slept?

 

Inej rubbed sleep from her eyes only to realize Kaz was at her desk, wearing his scheming face and looking down at the blue prints of the estate of the man.Their mark. Charles Hester. A shiver ran up her spine. Kaz was still here. Kaz was still here.

 

“Kaz, how long did I sleep? Is it not past ten bells? I should be out there and-“

 

“Its two bells Inej. And no. No you shouldn’t be.” Kaz’s rasp cut her off. Inej was confused, the job… she was supposed to spider tonight. Many bells ago. Kaz never put off jobs. Perhaps he’d asked Roeder to have a second look? No. That didn’t make sense, Kaz knew she was the best. She should be out there; her personal problems had never stood in the way of a job before.

 

“You could have woken me. I could have gone. The Dregs knew I was supposed to go.” Inej said simply as she swung her legs over the side of the bed.

 

“I left earlier tonight and informed them that the job was on hold due to the fact that Charl- the mark, may have moved funds around to another vault. Recon will be conducted tomorrow evening instead so I could go over the estate plans more carefully and plan accordingly.” Kaz said as he squinted at the plans laid on the desk in front of him and traced something with a glove clad finger.

 

“How did you find that out?” Inej asked as she stood and stretched her arms above her. She noticed Kaz’s gaze flick up at her movement and trace her form. Inej wanted to shrink into herself. Inej also wanted Kaz to come to her and hold her. She didn’t know what she wanted more. Inej had trouble organizing the war between her conscious self that was pleased that Kaz always looked, Kaz who wouldn’t so much as touch her arm without a question in his eyes; and the part of herself who had shrunk from the eyes of so many men she didn’t even recall why anyone would want to be anything but invisible.

 

That’s how her demons danced, they waltzed until the beat dropped and she didn’t know whether to sway with them or run.

 

“I didn’t.” Kaz mumbled.

 

“You pushed the job, not because of new information. But you pushed it anyways.” Inej mumbled with a tone of disbelief. She realized she still had Kaz’s jacket on. She had slipped her arms through his much too long sleeves hours ago, shielding her hands from sight. Kaz had left without it in the cold. Kaz had come back. Her heart fluttered like a birds wing. It meant everything to her. Inej then realized she hadn’t had a single nightmare as she slept.

 

 Kaz had chased away all the monsters. It made sense. After all, didn’t he have the biggest teeth?

 

“Yes.” Kaz said as he ran a hand through his hair and leaned back in the chair to look up at her. Inej nodded slowly as she met his gaze, she saw nothing in his eyes to suggest he regretted the decision. Inej made up her mind then. Inej wasn’t sure how to do it entirely, but she wanted Kaz to know what had happened to her today. She wanted him to know what happened to her swathed in silk in a gold barred cage with an awful man years ago. Kaz had been delicate. Kind. Inej had asked for his armor, and Inej needed to hand over some of her own in return. The deal is the deal.

 

“Will you take a walk with me? Just… just on the ship.” Inej asked as she looked to the floor. Inej couldn’t be inside right now. Inej needed fresh air. She felt her stomach unsettle as spiders of anxiety careened their threads along her spine. Kaz looked at her intently for a moment before he nodded and stood, leaving his papers on her desk. As Inej turned to leave she realized she would not make him stand in the cold with only his suit jacket, she reluctantly shrugged out of his coat and turned and handed it to him. She immediately felt colder both externally and internally. Kaz took it gently and pulled it on as Inej grabbed an extra shawl her parents had brought her from her trunk near her bed. She wrapped it around her shoulders and missed Kaz’s warm scent.

 

Inej and Kaz walked silently to the prow of her ship, the only noise was the lap of the harbor waves and the tap of Kaz’s cane. The ship was empty, Inej suspected that Specht had left under Kaz’s order. Inej came to the rail and stopped to look down at the water kissing the ship delicately, reflecting dancing puddles of moonlight. Kaz came to stand beside her and Inej remembered a time they had stood on another ship, under the same moon. On that night, Inej had told Kaz she would have him without armor or not at all. Kaz had taken it to heart. It seemed fitting that now Inej would be the one to let her armor clang to the ground under that same moon.

 

Saints, let me be able to do this.

 

Kaz was waiting for her to speak, she could see it in his eyes when he kept glancing over at her. It seemed he was making sure she would not run. Inej would not run from him.

 

“I… I want to tell you a story.” Inej stammered as she looked out and up to the still partially clouded sky. She released a puff of air and gripped her hands to the rail to ground herself.

 

“Go on.” Kaz rasped as he leaned his cane against the ship. Inej had spoken those same words to him once. Finish the story.

 

“When I was in the Menagerie, I was held to certain standards by Tante Heleen. She…expected you to be the product that was paid for. For saint’s sake, you saw me. I had to get those ridiculous spots painted on every day…” Inej began with a shiver. Inej trailed a hand down her braid and took a steeling breath. “If there was a hint dropped by a client that… that a girl seemed unwilling to do what was paid for… it generally ended in a slap or worse. I told you as much once… it was a delicate balance. Far harder than a wire I’ve ever walked. So when I realized I truly could be sold to anyone… any man she deemed to have enough kruge on the street…. I decided to learn.” Inej’s voice shook. She felt her spine drooping. She settled to grip harder on the railing. Inej couldn’t look at Kaz. Not now. She needed to keep going before she vanished.

 

“I learned to look the part. I learned to walk with a sway to my hips. I learned to let my hands wander in false admiration for anyone she sent my way. I learned to cry privately when I was supposed to be sleeping in the day and never during the night.  I learned…. I learned what noises to make and when. I learned to let go of the fact that every single first was taken from me by force. My first kiss was the hardest to let go of. I made my own peace with it, you see. I let go of Inej Ghafa, I let her die every night with cheap silk tied in a noose around her neck. I let the lynx take over.” Inej paused as her throat tightened. She couldn’t stop now even as phantom hands pulled her into a bed of sweaty sheets in her mind.

 

“I learned to vanish completely. I no longer felt what was being done to my body, I just… floated away. My mind was the only place I was invisible. There was no one but me there, but perhaps that was best, I remember thinking. A thousand hoarded memories of the sky, of kind smiles, and a broken suli girl. I liked that company better than the reality of whichever man thought my flesh warranted a night off. It worked. Until one night perhaps a few months before we met.” Inej felt her knuckles turning white on the railing. She felt like she could break it. Her eyes were watering and Inej did not want to cry. Inej didn’t want this shame to pull her into darkness. Inej needed… she needed to look at Kaz. Inej turned her head and found him looking at her directly. Rage flickered in his eyes but it was a flame that was wrapped in a calm light of gentleness that Inej hadn’t seen before. Kaz was gripping the head of his cane now in gloved hands, but she was certain his knuckles were as tight as hers. He blinked in her silence, his eyes urging her to finish, to share this with him.

 

“The man paid twice what Tante Heleen asked as my rate to reserveme for the entire evening.” Inej let out a furious laugh as she wiped her silver streaked eyes furiously with the back of a hand. If the waves could continue to kiss the ship, Inej could continue her path.

 

“I never learned his name back then. He had this awful glint in his eyes. A profound wickedness I’ve to this day never seen the likes of again. He took me to my room with a forceful arm on my waist. I was prepared to fulfill what was expected of me. I’d leave my body and he’d be none the wiser that a lynx puppet was all he was toying with. He smelled of vanilla. It… it was so strong I thought I would never want something sweet again. He had this disgusting mustache that he kept stroking away from his mouth. It made me want to skin off his face. I’d done this dance before, you understand. Men old enough to be my father twice over, young handsome merchers who thought they would rule the world and my skin was a vice like any other. Sometimes they thought it made it better by saying ‘just enough to take the edge off’ like the pigment in my skin resembled whiskey enough that they couldn’t tell the difference.” Inej shivered violently and she was vaguely aware that tears fell down her face now. She couldn’t stop them, the girl she once was had pulled the lever and released the dam. Inej heard Kaz take a deep breath. Inej couldn’t meet his eyes, she would crumble.

 

“He ripped my silks. Tante Heleen took extra interest on my indenture for that later, with a bonus of a slap across the face. He crawled over me with this sickly slowness and I knew what was coming next- or at least I thought I did. Then the man spoke. He… he told me he recognized me, that he’d been in the audience in one of my family’s shows in Ravka while on business there. I’d been a child, an acrobat, he said he wanted me then, Kaz. He… he remembered me.” Inej was shuddering violently now, her words choking on every other syllable. Tears kept falling silently.

 

Inej had to finish the story, she had to go on.

 

“Once he saw my face, he smiled. He kept me pinned in place. He asked me if I would cry. I couldn’t vanish that night. I felt every sinful thing he did to me. I felt it when he… when he pulled my hair. When he slapped my skin. He took anything he wanted from me and relished in my tears. I felt all of it. I couldn’t leave my body and my own mind had abandoned me there alone. I thought that was the night Inej Ghafa truly died. I thought… I thought that I was gone forever. I was nothing but skin and silk and the mist of a soul that once was. My Saints were far from reach. My family, my home, my freedom… it was all the memory of a dead girl. I didn’t know Inej Ghafa lived anymore until I… until I spoke four words I hadn’t been expecting to; months later.”

 

I can help you.

 

“After… after that night, I couldn’t look at myself in a mirror. I was terrified of my reflection. I didn’t want to face her. I convinced myself I would see the bruises he left on my neck, my chest… everywhere. Even after they were long faded, I felt those hands. I felt like I wanted to burn my flesh from my bones and inhale the smoke until I forgot the scent of vanilla. I was…empty. I held on though, somewhere deep inside me, I think. I remember that I had one thought, so often it was like a mantra. It was a suli phrase that in kerch roughly means ‘I miss someone I do not yet know.’ I remember when I realized that maybe some part of the girl I once was survived if I could think such a thought. I clung tight to that small piece, I didn’t know what to do with it-where that piece once fit, but I wondered if I’d see the sun again.” Inej paused, she closed her eyes against her tears and continued in a whisper.

 

 “Then, I spoke to you. I don’t to this day know why I did, Kaz. I don’t know if it was because I felt brave or because you didn’t seem interested in any of the women there, much to their dismay. Or, if it was because I’d heard Tante Heleen curse your name. I figured if she hated you and yet she couldn’t touch you, perhaps you were doing something right. I wanted… I wanted… I wanted help. So I offered mine in return. I don’t know what that girl was offering. It wasn’t my flesh. It wasn’t my skills, I hadn’t touched a blade, or killed a man. It couldn’t have been my mind. So I guess I offered that single piece of Inej Ghafa that remained, as tarnished and broken as it was, and prayed to the saints it would be enough. Enough for someone to see me, Inej, behind a mask of silk.” Inej finished. She couldn’t believe she’d forced the words out. Kaz was silent beside her for a moment.

 

“It was enough, Inej. I saw you.”

 

KAZ

 

            Kaz Brekker wanted to decimate everything Charles Hester ever found joy in. Kaz wanted to take his intestines and wrap them in cheap silk, then use it as a noose around his neck until his eyes popped out. Kaz wanted to burn his home to the ground and kiss Inej on the pile of ashes and

 

 And never stop kissing her until the whole world was ashes around them.

 

Kaz wanted to tell her that he would kill him, without a thought. No revenge would take away what happened to her. She had been a child. She had everything taken from her. The world had made closeness to other human beings elusive to her. Inej was far more like Kaz than he’d even known. Kaz had felt sick, deep in his bones, the entire time she spoke. Kaz knew now that the words she spoke in the bathroom, many months ago, ‘it’s not easy for me either’ were far more true than he could’ve even wrapped his mind around; despite knowing what she had been forced to survive in the Menagerie. This was far worse than he even knew. Kaz hadn’t known what her words would do to him.

 

 Inej had cried, she had cried and she was still beautiful. Kaz had wanted to wipe those tears away but he couldn’t, she needed to finish her story. Those tears needed to come, they were her battle scars, hard won. Charles Hester was on par with Pekka Rollins and Tante Heleen now.

 

Kaz would end them, even if he ended the world with them. Brick by brick, it would be done and he’d take Inej along with him as long as she’d have him.

 

“I… Please say something.” Inej said now as she looked at her hands still gripping the rail of the ship.

 

Kaz hadn’t realized he’d been plotting Charles Hester’s murder and left her in silence. Kaz felt raw. He felt unhinged and rage was coursing through his body, but now wasn’t the time for it. Inej needed him, now. There was a time where Dirtyhands would have never even been here to hear her speak. She’d be alone or on the job reeling from demons that clung themselves to her. Kaz wouldn’t be that man again with Inej, never with her. Not after this, not after all of it.

 

“You can guess that I’ve already compiled about seven extremely violent and colorful ways in which to murderhim, Inej. You… you don’t know how much I’d give to kill him right now. But I, I need you to know that… that I’m sorry.” Kaz spoke finally, his throat tying unusual knots on an apology long overdue.

 

“What are you sorry for?” Inej asked, finally looking at him. Inej’s eyes were filled with a bitter sorrow, but somewhere near her irises, he found hope. A pure and small light that had returned.

 

“If I’d been a better man, I would have known and cared what was happening to girls like you in those places. If I had been the type of man you needed, I would have been there sooner.” Kaz spoke words that had been buried in his chest for a very, very long time now. Words he didn’t think he’d ever have the courage to speak to Inej, even with the new waters they had been treading since after the auction. Kaz gripped his cane tighter. Inej looked thoughtful.

 

Kaz had nothing but violence, healed-wrong parts of a soul and a terrible apology to offer her. But he’d give every last thing he had to hear her laugh again.

 

“It is not my place to forgive that, Kaz. You have to forgive yourself for that. You must be able to say Mati en sheva yeluto yourself. It’s an apology and a promise.” Inej said softly as she looked at him square on.

 

“I will add it to the list, Inej. The list of things I must first learn how to say then learn the meaning of. You’ve given me quite the list of proverbs, these years, Inej.” Kaz said, though he knew she was right. Inej laughed an impossibly small laugh, but it was enough. All of Inej was always more than enough. Far better than he deserved. Kaz took a breath and told her what every part of his wicked heart screamed.

 

“You were always enough, Inej. Far more than that actually. Stronger than a blade made of grisha steel. You know that. I want you to know that I know it, too. And from today on, as in many days since passed, we’ll fight our way out. Together.Don’t vanish from me, Wraith. Don’t stop fighting. Please.” Kaz spoke without his barriers. Inej needed to hear these words again. Inej had to know he’d heard her. Kaz spoke without armor. Inej had to know, she had to know what he meant.

 

Don’t give up on us, ever. Damn the demons.

 

“Knives drawn, pistols blazing.” Inej whispered and she rolled her shoulders back up.

 

Inej was ready to fight for them.

 

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            Mist had started clouding up the deck of the ship where Kaz Brekker stood next to Inej Ghafa. They must have stood there for some time, in a comfortable silence that always came easy to them. Kaz knew he needed to sleep; he had hardly slept the night prior in between Inej’s return and the work he’d had to catch up on. Kaz also knew he should sleep in preparation for the next few nights, where the job would most definitely not allow for much rest. Kaz hated that he had to sleep, he knew he could push for days on end, he had countless times, until his body had collapsed from exhaustion. There was a rational part of his brain that knew it was not good for his health, and he schemed best when he’d at least caught a few hours of rest. His time piece showed it was a quarter past three bells. Kaz did not want to leave Inej.

 

            “I napped and yet I’m tired. I hate that the past months on the sea are catching up to me.” Inej spoke softly from next to him. Did the wraith read minds too?

 

“Mm.” Kaz mumbled. He didn’t want to stop her from getting her rest. He should leave. He should return to the Slat right now. He knew that none of the Dregs would even note his absence if he did not, his door was always locked. That wasn’t his concern. Kaz didn’t want to go back to the Slat when Inej was here.

 

“I guess I should go back to Wylan and Jesper’s. I don’t want to.” Inej said softly, he noticed she was absently rubbing the spot on her arm that previously held the tattoo from the Menagerie. Inej was still reeling from her run in with her past today, Kaz could tell. Frankly, Kaz was still reeling from everything she had shared with him. He didn’t want her to face it alone, even though that was exactly what Kaz Brekker had always expected of everyone to do, especially himself. It was a strange realization that Kaz had no idea what to do with. Perhaps Inej wanted to be alone, maybe that was how her demons functioned, it would make sense. A different voice flared up inside him, she wanted you with her today.

 

“Why not?” Kaz found himself asking, despite his twisting and revolving thoughts.

 

“I… don’t want to be alone. I know that Wy and Jes are there, I know that. I just… that house is wonderful, I appreciate it immensely. But tucking myself into a bed large enough for five of me, it sounds…. sounds like somewhere I’ve been before. I don’t think…. I don’t want to do that now.” Inej was looking to the sky. Kaz noted the small bloom of flush on her face, whether from the cold or her admission, he wasn’t sure.

 

“Do you want to stay here?” Kaz asked as he twisted his cane in his hands.

 

“I want to be at home.” Inej said without missing a beat. She looked almost surprised at her words, like they had spilled out without her permission. Where was Inej speaking of? This ship? The caravans of her people, with her parents? Kaz wouldn’t be able to take her there, but perhaps if it was where she wanted to go, he could let her go. His heart constricted in his chest.

 

No, she just got back. I just got her back.

 

“Where is that, Inej?” Kaz asked as he tried to meet her eyes. Inej looked at him now with a thoughtfulness in her eyes.

 

“It’s not a place, Kaz. Home is not a place in the ways of my people. Home is the people. Your tribe. Where you wish to be most when you are so happy you feel like the sun is shining only for you, or when you are so despairing that you are sure the Ocean churns on your tears alone. Home is where you feel the most like you, the most valued. Home is the center bullseye of a target where your arrow has struck true.” Inej spoke with such conviction, such sureness that Kaz was sure she knew where- who- that was for her. Kaz was certain she meant her family now, she had to. He remembered her tears of elation the day he had brought them back to her.

 

“If you have to go…. I understand. I’ll… I’ll help you make plans to depart sooner.” Kaz said, though his voice shook. He wasn’t sure he could do it, but he’d damn well try if it made her happy. Kaz didn’t know how he’d survive it, he was supposed to have weeks with her, before her next departure, but he’d survive if it meant there was a chance she might return yet again. Kaz looked at her now, and she was smiling and it looked like she was suppressing a laugh. He didn’t understand. Had he missed something? Kaz raised a brow at her and her smile softened.

 

“Kaz, I’m home now. That’s what I meant.” Inej spoke gently, and she reached out and took one of his gloved hands in hers and cradled his hand so gently, like she wanted him to feel her warmth through his leather clad hand. “Kaz I meant I want to stay where you are, tonight. If that’s even possible.”

 

Kaz hadn’t considered… Kaz had miscalculated. Kaz’s scheming, thieving brain had failed him yet again when it came to his wraith. She meant him. Inej had not called Ketterdam, Ravka, or the sea her home.

Inej had called Kaz Brekker her home.

 

It felt like a gift he had never expected to receive. Kaz knew she deserved so much more, but he couldn’t bring himself to hand it back. He didn’t understand.

 

Inej was the most challenging lock he’d ever tried to pick.

 

It was like his heart had floated to the surface of the canal water within his chest for the first time in almost a decade.

 

Kaz turned his hand to squeeze hers as he met her gaze. Kaz dropped her hand without letting hold of the tether to her eyes. He slipped off his glove and pocketed it quickly. He took a deep breath and reached out and took her hand in his now bare one. Holding her hand was getting easier, he still felt nausea roll in his stomach and he had a flash of bloated skin cut across his line of sight, but her eyes, her eyes helped. He watched her lips quirk in a small grin and he saw her eyelashes flutter once. The water receded as he felt her hesitate before she rubbed a small circle with her thumb on the back of his hand. It felt pleasant. New. All of this was new and Kaz… Kaz only wanted more. He wanted every new moment he could get with Inej, and he’d relish in every single thing he could slip past his brother’s ghost and his prying demons eyes. Perhaps, Inej’s touch would be his exception. Kaz didn’t think he’d ever wanted something more in his life. Kaz wanted Inej more than he’d ever wanted revenge, Kaz wanted Inej more than Kruge.

 

After all, Inej was gold. What kind of a thief would he be if he didn’t at least try and find a way to protect that kind of treasure?

 

Kaz wasn’t sure what he was doing, but he couldn’t stop as he raised their hands and brushed his lips in a feather light kiss against her knuckles. His lips buzzed with electricity, and desire washed through his abdomen, her eyes held all the water at bay. Inej’s saints had granted him this and he would thank them on his hands and knees if he were any other man. Inej had stilled for only a moment before he saw a smile, a beautiful brilliant smile break across her lips. Kaz would swim the harbor a million times over to relive that smile every day for the rest of his unworthy life.

 

Kaz knew then that he was not able to deny her wish to be at home. He’d make it work. After all, improvisation was what he was best at. Change the rules when they didn’t suit your goal. Kaz wasn’t sure his vocal chords would still work, but he managed to ground out the question he had.

 

“Ship or Slat?” Kaz rasped.

 

“Either.” Inej said with her eyes on their still clasped hands. Kaz vaguely recalled Jesper complaining long ago about how women never seemed to make decisions easy when it came to trivial things, it had been one of his arguments about how he preferred dating men. Kaz almost laughed now. Inej was still a girl. Deadly, beautiful, and dangerous in every way. Also indecisive. Kaz would not make her choose though. It was late and they were already here.

 

“Ship it is. My leg will thank me with slightly less annoyance in the morning.” Kaz mused.

 

Inej nodded once and turned to walk back to her quarters. She did not let go of his hand, they matched each other’s steps as they walked. Kaz felt his muscles twitch in a smile as he walked beside his wraith, hand in hand.

 

INEJ

 

            Kaz had kissed her hand. Inej couldn’t believe it, her mind had to be playing tricks on her. Kaz hadn’t looked sick and scared the way he had when he’d first ever touched her skin in the hotel bathroom. Sure, she’d still noticed how he seemingly unknowingly took a deep breath, how he squinted his eyes slightly. It was the way he looked when he was running numbers for the club, it was his concentration face. Inej found she liked that face almost as much as scheming face. Both were outranked by pleasantly surprised Kaz face, though. That was the look Kaz had on his face after he’d successfully brushed his lips to her skin without drowning. Inej sent a silent prayer of thanks to every saint listening.

 

            Inej and Kaz made their way into her cabin, and she let go of his hand with a twinge of sadness at the loss of connection to his skin. Shrugging out of her shawl, Inej walked to her desk and fumbled for a match and began to light her candles on her bedside table. She felt Kaz’s eyes on her, even as he draped his coat over her desk chair and laid his gloves on the desk. Inej had not thought about the logistics of this arrangement, but it didn’t matter. Kaz had decided to stay because she asked.

 

Inej was home.

 

“I can stay on the chair if you’d prefer, since I slept some earlier.” Inej found herself saying, though she knew what she wanted. She had a small bed, but it was big enough for the two of them. She only wanted to sleep next to him, and she would keep the distance between them, she was grateful for her small frame in that moment. Inej would not push Kaz’s boundaries though, if he couldn’t do that, it was still enough that he was here. They would get there eventually, if Inej had anything to say about it. She would be happy that he just shared the room with her, but he would not sleep on the chair. His options were the bed or the bed with her in it. Inej knew he needed rest.

 

            “No.” Kaz’s deep voice came with his back to her by the desk. His tie joined his coat on the back of her chair. Inej wasn’t entirely sure what he meant about the arrangement, but he’d show her when he was ready. Inej busied herself with moving to her bedside table, where she began her routine of disarming her blades. She slipped Sankt Petyr and Sankta Alina from their spots on her forearms, laying them gently on the table. Next she removed her brass knuckles from her belt. Inej felt Kaz’s eyes on her again. She began to unclasp the sheath that held Sankta Lizabeta when she heard Kaz move behind her. Kaz stopped beside her and met her eyes. His pupils were slightly widened but his breathing was even. He watched her intently as he sat down on her bed, and Inej felt herself flush. She was not taking off her clothes, but this felt intimate and baring in another way. Inej never removed her blades in the same room as another person. Inej trusted Kaz, she had known this for years. This was another level of that trust being displayed to him and she sensed that he knew that. Inej finished the latches on Sankta Lizabeta and was about to lay the blade down, but Kaz held out his hand from his perch on her bed. Inej stole a glance at him and he simply pushed his hand an inch further into the air. Inej understood what he wanted.

 

            Inej handed him her blade and she watched as he delicately placed it in line with her others. They followed the same pattern with the blades on her thighs, and Sankt Vladimir at her ankle in her boot. Inej knew she would sleep completely clothed as would Kaz, but her hair was normally left unbound as she slept. Inej turned from Kaz and went to her small dresser in the corner for a spare hair brush she had left onboard. When Inej turned around, she found Kaz had moved back on her bed to make room for Inej to sit beside him. Inej slipped her leather strip from the end of her braid as she silently sat beside him. She began dismantling her braid and she saw Kaz’s fingers twitch in their place in his lap. No words were needed, Inej would offer what he wanted to him and if he took the opportunity, well that was up to him. Inej held out her hairbrush handle first to Kaz, as she had done with her blades.

 

            Kaz looked at her brush, then back to her face and back to the brush. He clasped the handle and jutted his chin for her to turn around. Inej brought her legs onto the bed and crossed them beneath her, with her back to Kaz. She felt his fingers graze her hair first, with such reverence as he undid the remaining plaits near her scalp, then she felt the brush begin to move through her hair on her back slowly. Inej was generally fairly rough with her hair, but Kaz seemed to think it a breakable thing. She smiled to herself as he continued his work. Kaz brushed her hair for longer than was necessary, it was a soothing thing. Inej’s mother was the only other person to have brushed her hair. Inej felt her eyelids drooping with the promise of sleep.

            Kaz tapped her shoulder once and she opened her eyes as she took the hairbrush from him. Inej stood and placed it back on her dresser. She felt blood returning to her scalp now that her braid was free and Inej wanted nothing more than to curl up and sleep. Inej wanted Kaz there too.

 

Most things Inej Ghafa wanted included Kaz Brekker. Kaz Rietveld.

 

Inej turned back to see Kaz was laying down now, an arm behind his head. Inej was amused by the sight of his socked feet hanging slightly off the bed that was far too long for her. Inej made her way to the foot of the bed and looked at him, a question in her eyes. Kaz responded by simply reaching over and taking the corner of the blanket of the side she would sleep on and holding it up for her. She knew now that he would sleep in the bed with her, with her beneath the covers and him above them. It was a curious idea but it would make sure she did not brush his skin as she slept, despite their clothing covered bodies. Kaz was taking extra precautions. Inej didn’t mind whatsoever if it meant he’d be close by.

 

Inej kicked off her boots and climbed over the bed and laid beneath the covers, keeping as much distance between herself and Kaz as possible. Inej laid on her side with her back pressed to the wall, she found she was still comfortable. Kaz must have sensed her eyes on his face because he rolled from his back to his side to face her, pillowing his head on the same arm as before. Kaz had a look in his eye that Inej was unfamiliar with, she couldn’t tell if it was because he longed to say something, or to touch her, or to run. Inej was sure it had something to do with longing, though.

 

“Is this okay?” Inej whispered as her eyes traced his sharp jaw line in the shadowy candlelight.

 

“Yes.” Kaz whispered back. His eyes were catching on her lips every few moments and Inej wanted to tell him ‘someday’. But she would not, he had to know these things within himself. Inej settled for bringing one hand above the covers and placing it in the space between their faces, palm up. If Kaz reached for her, she wanted him to know he was welcome. Inej would not reach for him unless she knew she was welcome too. Kaz tracked her movement, and a moment later, he took his free hand and laid it in hers.

 

“Sleep, Wraith. We have work to do tomorrow.” Kaz’s stony whisper circled around her. Inej smiled and nodded and finally gave into her drooping eyelids, knowing Kaz would scare anything sinister that walked in the realm of her dreams.

 

Hours later, Inej Ghafa woke to the still pitch dark room, facing the wall, feeling puffs of air hit the back of her neck. Kaz was not touching her, but there were mere inches between them and he’d moved close to her in his sleep. Inej smiled sleepily. Kaz had stayed, and Kaz was sleeping next to her. Inej wondered how far away the day when he could drape his arm over her waist was.

 

Inej would be patient for that day she decided. Kaz’s breathing lulled her back to a deep, blissful sleep.

 

 

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            Sunlight was shining from the window on Inej when she woke, coating her in a warm haze. Inej sleepily rolled over and almost fell off the bed. She heard a chuckle come from the other side of her room, and she squinted her eyes open. Kaz. Kaz hadn’t left yet.

 

            “Don’t laugh at me.” Inej grumbled as she watched Kaz tying his shoes at her desk, his hair was falling into his face slightly and his shirt sleeves were rolled up to his elbows. She watched the muscles in his arms move under his crow and cup tattoo and she immediately decided that morning Kaz before a shave and no tie was entirely too attractive and she wished for no one else to discover this secret.

 

            “The wraith can apparently almost stumble off beds in her sleep, it is a new discovery. It would do no good to my monstrous reputation if I didn’t laugh.” Kaz jested as he reached around to the back of the chair for his tie. Inej rolled her eyes and sat up to stretch her arms above her head. She couldn’t remember the last time she had slept so soundly, even if they had only slept for around four hours. Inej knew that she wanted to sleep next to Kaz again, as soon as she was allowed. They had many things to conquer, and Inej suspected they bothsuffered nightmares, but at least for this one night, they had been granted peace by the saints.

 

            “I didn’t fall off though, so I think that has to count for something,” Inej quipped and she stood.

 

            “Mmm, perhaps. Though I don’t feel the need to ponder on it. I’ll remember the day the great wraith almost fell off a two-foot tall bed.”

 

            “It could go like this: Good morning Inej. You know, sometimes people say that instead of jesting the moment someone opens their eyes.” Inej grimaced, though she was certainly amused. Kaz was in rare form today, his shoulders seemed less stiff, his eyes a little brighter. Inej wanted to yank this man right back to that bed she almost fell off of and just look at him all day. She would not. Though she wanted to, desperately.

 

“Ah but would you like me to be anything but what I am, wraith?” Kaz smirked as he tied his tie in her small mirror above her dresser. Damn him. No. She liked Kaz as he was. Sure, there was room for improvement in his communication skills but damnit if she didn’t fall for him the way he was now.

 

Inej laughed and shook her head, she hadn’t realized Kaz was watching her in the reflection of the mirror. His smirk grew wider.

 

Kaz Brekker and his ego, a terrifying pair indeed.

 

“I have to get back to the Slat. Are you prepared to do some spidering tonight? He… the mark, will not be at home. According to Roeder’s previous intel he has a habit of frequenting the Marguerite, a newer tavern in the financial district, for cards on most week nights. Saves the pleasure houses for Fridays and attends to his wife on Saturdays. Sundays are for chapel, apparently.” Kaz asked as he picked up his blazer and over coat.

 

“Yes. I’ll head out around nine bells. I’ll report back. Shall I take Roeder with me?” Inej felt a shiver scurry down her spine at the mention of Charles Hester, but this time she was prepared for what she was walking in to, she was grateful she would not have to case his home with him in it. She could do it, easily. That wasn’t her concern, her concern was freezing at the sight of him. Inej rolled her shoulders back and began the countdown to the job in her mind.

 

“No. Roeder will be on assignment elsewhere, the Tavern. Making sure that Mr. Hester does not leak any information that might be critical to our next movements. Apparently the drink gives him looser lips than most.”

 

“Alright.” Inej nodded as she slipped on her blades. Inej needed to go back to the Van Eck mansion, she needed new clothes, a bath and food. Inej was ready for the job, but she felt ridiculous for feeling a twinge of sadness at leaving Kaz’s side. She would see him later; she would not be some love-sick girl. Though she certainly felt like one after spending the past twenty-four hours with Kaz. After sleeping next to him. Kaz had kissed her hand.

 

Grabbing his cane and shrugging on his coat, Kaz made for the door. He was still Kaz, never one for goodbyes. Inej didn’t process as her feet moved to stop in front of him. A single dark brow rose as he looked down at her. Inej looked at his eyes intently, making sure he saw her coming.  Inej wrapped her arms around him for the second time, ever. Inej heard Kaz swallow as she wrapped her arms around his middle, she could not brush his skin with his jacket and gloves on. Kaz seemed to steel himself and relax. He leaned his cane against the wall and wrapped his arms over her shoulders.

 

Inej felt safe. Inej felt strong. Inej hoped Kaz felt those things, too. It was more than she could have asked for, the discovery that she could hug him like this. She had wanted to hug him again since that moment on the docks and after everything yesterday, she couldn’t stop herself from doing so again.

 

“Thank you, for staying, for listening, for the waffles and the tea.” Inej mumbled into his jacket. Kaz did not speak, but she felt his arms draw her closer and his chin rest on her hair. In that moment, Inej remembered something her mother had told her long ago, a suli phrase that Inej had not thought of in years.

 

Make sure when you find the person who lets your wings flutter high, take them too, to the sky.

 

Inej felt her wings with Kaz, if she was honest, she had felt them for a very long time. Inej hoped Kaz felt the wind beneath them too. There really was some truth to that statement: they make my heart soar.

 

Inej felt Kaz dip his lips to her hair protected head in a ghostly quick kiss. Then Kaz Brekker picked up his cane and left.

 

Inej touched her hand to her head, and she smiled.

 

KAZ

 

            What could he have done to deserve this past day? Kaz pondered this question over and over as he made his way back toward the Slat, stopping only to pick up a cup of coffee. Kaz shook his head, he couldn’t continue thinking about Inej when it was her who perhaps might gain some semblance of retribution if they succeeded on this job. Dirtyhands had to be in control, now. Kaz would see her later, she would be the wraith tonight. Kaz felt giddy at the thought of his missing shadow once again prowling the rooftops of his city.

           

            Kaz entered the Slat and thankfully no one was the wiser as he brushed through the foyer with his cup of coffee. None of the Dregs would dare to question Kaz, anyhow. Kaz was generally awake at all hours so no one would have noticed his slightly mussed hair and the wrinkle in his slacks. Kaz entered his room on the fourth floor and his leg throbbed after the climb, though Kaz knew it would have been far worse if he had not slept those hours on Inej’s ship. Kaz had never slept in the same bed as anyone besides his brother when they were children, Kaz found he very much liked the image of Inej lying next to him when he first opened his eyes. Kaz was grateful his demons had not woken him, Inej would have known if he had a nightmare. Kaz generally woke gasping for air in the midst of a full blown panic attack. Maybe the Wraith, as fearsome as she was, had slit the demon’s throats before they got to him. Kaz smiled at the thought with a promise to himself that it was the last thought he would allow himself of Inej today.

 

            Kaz showered and shaved and put on a fresh suit, feeling much more like himself. Kaz made his way to his office and began checking the missives that had been left on his desk, including the Club numbers from the previous night. Nothing was out of place. Kaz was about to begin looking at the Hester estate blueprints when a knock sounded on his door.

 

            “Enter.” Kaz rasped, expecting Anika or Roeder. Kaz was instead greeted by six plus feet of zemini sharp shooter in- yellow trousers? Ghezen, Jesper needed to try black in his wardrobe every now and then. Or perhaps Kaz was reflecting his own personality, he didn’t care.

           

            “Good Morning, Kaz.” Jesper chirped as he shut the door behind him. Kaz had no idea what he was doing here, Jesper would always be dregs, but he was a full time mercher with Wylan now.

           

            “What do you need, Jesper?” Kaz sighed as he set down the blueprints.

 

            “Just wondering if you’ve seen a wraith anywhere. You know, yay-big, wicked knives, ugly feet.” Jesper gestured with his hands as he sank into a chair across from Kaz’s desk. Kaz knew Inej was probably back in her room at the Van Eck mansion just about now, perhaps having missed Jesper entirely. Kaz didn’t particularly want to lie to Jesper, but they were in the Slat, if anyone heard that Kaz and Inej had spent the night aboard her ship, not once leaving in the night…. Well that could be quite the dangerous rumor.

 

            “I’d suggest taking a look at your house, you know, where she lives.” Kaz drawled, putting as much boredom in his tone as possible. Kaz flicked his gaze to Jesper who was smirking. Damn.

            “Hmm. So you haven’t seen her in the last, I don’t know, twenty-four hours?” Jesper asked, his eyes alight with mischief. Kaz knew when he was caught. He hated it. Jesper had no right to know him so well.

 

            “I may have seen her, seriously, I would suggest checking your own residence, she’s not here.” Kaz quipped with a hint of pleading that Jesper would say no more. Inej and Kaz were in new territory. Kaz wanted what they had to stay theirs. It was private. Kaz had only ever coveted his revenge plans so much, but now his relationship with the wraith was also under a tab in his brain marked: confidential.

 

            “Alright.” Jesper said. Kaz was taken aback for a moment at such a simple reply from Jesper, it caused him to look up. Jesper was full blown smirking. Kaz rolled his eyes and gestured with his hand to the door in a silent ‘you had your fun, now leave before my cane meets your skull.’

 

            Jesper leaned over the desk and whispered so that no one would hear from outside the room. “I saw her before I came here, I just wanted to be a dick to my oldest friend in this city. I just wanted to see what you’d say. Treat my little sister right, Brekker. I can make a shot from a mile away.” 

 

Kaz knew Inej wouldn’t have lied about where she was if Jes and Wylan had asked. Kaz could see through the threat, Jesper was smiling like an idiot. Kaz was certain that Jesper meant well and somewhere deep inside him, Kaz wanted to laugh. Jesper was his friend, he realized, not for the first time. Jesper had literally trekked through the barrel to threaten Kaz and poke fun at his relationship. It was such a normal thing that was so unnervingly unusual to Kaz.

 

Kaz Brekker glared and gestured to the door one more time. Jesper Fahey laughed and threw his hands in a mock surrender before whistling on his way out of Kaz’s office.

 

Once the door clicked shut though, Kaz smiled. Friends? A girl? How strange his life had become.

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            The rooftops were slick with rain as the wraith skimmed over shingles. Inej had successfully cased the Hester estate, and found Roeder was indeed not nearly as competent a spider as she. The room which hid Charles Hester’s vault was actually a closet. No entry window, the vault Roeder had discovered was the one shown on the blue prints in Kaz’s possession, but it was not the one they needed to target. That safe was a decoy for thieves, or perhaps his ‘proper’ vault that he used for his legal business purposes.

You know, the money not included in the funds for the purchasing and selling of human beings.

 

 For all Charles Hester was, he was keen on keeping his hobby of funneling funds to slavers a secret. Inej suppressed a shiver, she could not think about that awful man now. They needed to target a closet vault in an undocumented basement under constant guard by two unregistered heartrenders. Inej hadn’t drawn their attention, but she knew the kefta they wore, it had been what Nina’s fake one had looked like in the House of the White Rose. Inej had been surprised to spy that they wore them at all, it was a sure sign of confidence in a city that was not always kind to the grisha. Confidence in themselves and their employer. Inej wondered what else was kept in that vault, the door was the size of a normal door, not that of a safe for kruge storage alone. Inej needed Kaz to work out a plan for this one, as much as Inej was confident in her skill, she was also confident in Kaz’s. Inej was a gifted spy, Kaz’s gift was his mind for impossible schemes. And violence, but Inej didn’t exactly count that as a gift from the saints.

 

            Inej was nearing the barrel to report back to Kaz, enjoying the run across her rooftop route despite the slick terrain, it was nearly 12 bells and the streets were empty due to the weather and the hour.

 

That was when Inej heard the gunshots, coming from the direction of the Crow Club. Inej sped up, never once losing her foothold in her climbing slippers. Inej found a vantage point near the club and shifted herself to try and see what was going on, a shout rang out and Inej couldn’t make out what was said, but it gave her a better idea where to go. Leaping to the next rooftop, Inej spied the commotion. Six members of the Liddies, standing face to face with Anika, Rotty and Pim outside the club. Inej then noted, on the rooftop over, a sniper kneeled low. His gun pointed directly at Anika, waiting for a signal. Inej made the jump across the buildings, swift as smoke.

 

            The sniper turned just as Inej was upon him, a swift under kick to the shin had him to his knees with a grunt. Inej wasted no time getting a blade held to his jugular to silence him from screeching out to his companions. Time was of the essence as Inej knocked him out with the blunt end of his own gun, binding him with rope she had used for casing the Hester estate. Why were the Liddies facing off against the dregs? Kaz had not mentioned anything and from the glance Inej had stolen, he was not present. Kaz not mentioning anything is not what surprised Inej, it was the fact that Kaz was not present. This led Inej to believe that this was not a planned parlay- this was an outright attack on Dregs territory. The Slat was only three blocks from the club, Inej could make that run for help quickly, but it would most likely not be quick enough. Six (armed) rival gang members against three of her own, it would not do.

 

No matter how much faith Inej had in the Dregs down below, at best it would be a close thing. At worst... the worst.

 

            With a prayer to the saints, Inej took up the sniper’s rifle and tossed it to the next building where she could retrieve it later for the Dregs make shift armory. Inej silently slid down a drain pipe and stuck to the shadows as she neared the street of the club, hearing Anika shout at the opposing Liddies.

 

            “You are on our territory; you have no right!”

 

            “Way we see it, Darlin’, boss man ain’t around. It’ll be an easy sweep, taking out three of the best members of your young blood gang before he’s even the wiser. Makes for an easier time cutting the dregs down for good when Dirtyhands crawls out of his hole.” A booming male voice replied. Inej rounded a corner, making sure to stay away from the streetlight. Sankta Lizabeta already warming in her fingers. Inej would not let the Dregs, her friends, fall tonight.

 

            Pity those who undermine The Wraith of Ketterdam.

 

            “You would so willingly undermine Kaz Brekker? Your death, I’m afraid. Not ours.” Rotty growled from next to Anika. Rotty, loyal to the end.

 

            Inej was only paces away from the backs of the Liddies; she saw the leader of the group make a subtle gesture with his hand behind his back, a gesture only possible to see from afar if one, say, had a spyglass and a long barreled sniper rifle. Pity. The Liddies sniper was a little… tied up at the moment.

 

            Inej saw the leader turn his head slightly to the rooftops above when no shot rang out and none of the Dregs went down. Inej was only five feet behind the group of Liddies now. Inej took Sankta Alina in her other hand.

 

            Both blades flew from Inej’s fingers as the leader began to reach for his own pistol to carry out his plans. Her saints of steel landed true. One in the back of the leader’s neck, deep and wretched. The other, in the back of the man nearest him, presumably his second for this terribly planned attack on the Dregs. The leader’s knees hit the ground in a pool of crimson before he face-planted directly into the cobblestone, dead. The man beside him followed his boss’s lead and crunched to the ground in a yelp of pain, the blade sticking from his lower vertebrae. Rotty and Pim saw Inej as she stepped from the shadows, they grinned wickedly as they turned their pistols to the remaining members of the Liddies. Anika was missing from sight, Inej realized with a start. Inej silently skirted back to the shadows before any of the still standing Liddies even registered her presence.

 

            Inej found the spot where Anika had previously stood, where Pim and Rotty had not even noticed her disappearance.

 

So the Liddies have a spider. Come into my web, you fool.Meet the Wraith. 

 

            Inej was seeing red as she heard a stone skitter near the alleyway, she wasted no time in silently tracking the sound. Against a brick wall around the corner, Anika was held at knife point by a hooded, gangly man. Anika was struggling slightly, but Inej saw the bloom of blood in her abdomen, staining her emerald cotton tunic a ghostly crimson. Anika had been the one shot earlier, perhaps the first shot Inej heard from the rooftops. The bullet must have not struck vital organs as Anika had stayed standing, though Inej could tell the blood loss was crossing into dangerous territory.

 

            “Don’t come any closer, I’ll kill her. We need Dirtyhands to come out and play.” The gruff voice of the man swirled in the air.

 

            Inej laughed and shook her head slightly, though inside she was already calculating her maneuver. This spider was fresh and green. He made noise, he stayed on the ground to hold Anika captive. He clearly thought Kaz would somehow hear of this. Clearly the spider had struck before Inej’s blades had killed their leader. This spider crawled into nothing but mistakes. Inej pitied his training compared to her own.

 

            “You poor, poor fool.” Inej mumbled though she could tell by his cadence that the man was not much older than she. Inej would pray for his soul, and regret cutting his life short. It had to be done. Anika was in danger.

 

            “Who the hell are you? Are you Dregs?” The fool boomed, tightening his hold on Anika’s waist and pressing the blade further into her neck, drawing a drop of blood.

 

            “I’m Dregs. I’m also shocked you do not know of me, they really sent you out here this fresh?” Inej questioned as she prowled the perimeter of the alleyway, drawing slightly closer but never once dropping her sights on the man’s hold on Anika. Gun shots were still firing nearby, Inej hoped Rotty and Pim were in good standing, she had bought them the high ground. Anika’s eyelids drooped with a small whimper of pain in her throat.

 

Inej had to make quick work of the fly in her web.

 

            “What the hell do you mean? Go fetch. Get Dirtyhands, if you’re a part of his crew.” The man’s voice shook slightly. Perfect. He was waning.

 

            “But of course.” Inej mock bowed, with her arm bent across her waist, the quick release on Sankt Petyr triggered. Inej rose from her bow casually, the flick of her wrist barely registering as her blade struck the man in the knee, right between Anika’s legs. He dropped like a bag of sand, Anika collapsing in front of him, his hold no longer supporting her. Inej threw Sankt Vladimir before the spider could even reach for his fallen blade, snagging him square in the chest, just above Anika’s crumpled form. He was no longer for this world.

 

            Have mercy on his soul, Saints. Forgive me.

 

            Rushing to Anika, Inej laid a finger to her neck. Her pulse was there but slow, she needed to be bandaged up. Now. Inej began to try and raise her, but Inej knew as strong as she was, she couldn’t carry Anika alone to the Slat in time.

 

            Rotty and Pim ran around the corner, blood coated both of them, but they looked in good shape.           

 

            “Wraith! What the hell happened?” Rotty trotted forward.

 

            “Questions later, you need to get her to the Slat now. Get Arman, he needs to patch her up. She’s in the red. Hurry!” Inej panted as she handed Anika’s near-lifeless form over to the two men.

 

            “Got it.” Inej heard them mumble in unison. Inej would fetch the tied up, probably still unconscious sniper. Kaz would want to have a chat with him, the only reason Inej left him alive in the first place.

 

Let Anika live, Saints.

 

KAZ

            Kaz was about to leave the Slat to investigate gunfire near the Club and the Slat when Rotty and Pim came barreling through the door, carrying a bleeding Anika.

 

            “Arman!” Rotty bellowed, his voice damn near shaking the floor. Arman, the dregs new house healer, came from the kitchen, took one look at Anika and yelled for them to set her on the make shift dining table in the common space off the foyer of the Slat, hurriedly running back to the kitchen for water and his bag of medical supplies.

 

            Once the men laid Anika on the table in a flurry of motion, Arman immediately began his work, ripping bloody cloth away from a nasty looking bullet wound on Anika’s left side. Kaz had no idea what had happened and it enraged him.  His gloved fingers were ready to rip throats out. Anika was a good Dregs member, a good lieutenant. Kaz hoped she lived, but that was not what angered him.

 

Perhaps that made him even more monstrous than his reputation indicated. This shouldn’t surprise anyone.

 

What angered him was that Kaz had not had any jobs beyond recon for the wraith and Roeder on the docket. Pim and Rotty were bouncing the club tonight and watching for card skimmers, Anika was off. The Dregs were royalty in the barrel and with the internal collapse of the Dime-Lions still fizzing out, no one should have challenged the Dregs. Kaz apparently undermined the levels of stupidity in his rivals.

 

“What the fuck happened?” Kaz grit out, not hiding his rage whatsoever. Rotty and Pim were now standing in the foyer with Kaz, a few newer recruits had peeked down the stairs of the Slat. Kaz turned and gestured with a single finger. The closing of doors rang through the Slat. Everyone else was working in the club, off, or spidering.

 

Inej. Fuck. Where the fuck was Inej? She should have been back with her report on the casing of the Hester estate by now. Kaz had to trust she was alright. He couldn’t go down that path right now.

 

“Liddies. Tried to make a cop for our territory, Anika was outside talking with us. We were at the doors of the Club. Six of them, I think. Out in full force, thought to take us out and then you’d come out and they’d call the Dregs done for.” Rotty mumbled, running a hand over his close-shaven head. Pim nodded as well, glancing back toward where Arman was digging the bullet out of Anika’s side. Kaz made mental note of the clear attachment Pim displayed there.

 

“Arman, will she make it?” Kaz grumbled without so much as turning his head. The crows head of his cane was digging into his gloved hands he was gripping it so tightly.

 

“Yes. Got her back here just in time, I was able to get the internal bleeding down, she’ll have to be careful for a few days even with my internal wor- “

 

“Only asked one question. Don’t need the rest.” Kaz cut him off as he raked a gloved hand through his hair. “Meeting, my office, ten minutes. Check and see if Roeder is back. I want you both, Roeder and Dirix in attendance. We are going over what happened. Everything.” Kaz announced to Rotty and Pim before turning to his office without another word. Kaz shut the door behind him and took a deep breath. What the hell had the liddies been thinking? Did none of them get left standing to question? Kaz needed answers. Kaz wanted a strong bourbon with a side of Inej’s presence to keep him from marching into Liddies territory like a hound on the scent of blood.

 

            Where is the wraith? What if the Hester estate went wrong? No. The wraith takes care of herself. Focus.

 

            Ten minutes later, Rotty and Pim were sat in front of Kaz’s desk, Roeder was standing by the door, having returned from his own mission. Charles Hester was only now returning home from his tavern card game, which lessened some of the terrible grip that anxiousness had on Kaz’s throat regarding his wraith. Dirix was standing in the corner, clearly he had no idea what had happened. Dirix was not on job at the Club tonight but with Anika down and Inej missing, Kaz needed his best of the second best the Dregs had to offer in this meeting now.

 

            “Tell me what the fuck happened out there. Don’t leave anything out.” Kaz rasped, letting his eyes speak the volume of his anger.

 

            “Well we told you the first part, Boss. Liddies. Their leader was that ginger guy; Kane I think his name is. The one that used to be lieutenant for Dean. Maybe he’s running their territory now. Six of ‘em came out of nowhere. We had no reason to expect them. There was no call for Parlay. Just standing out there in the rain in the streets. He called to Anika and we went with her, locking the door to the Club from outside. Anyone could get out, but ain’t no one from the damn Liddies was walkin’ in. Made sure of that.” Pim started, running a hand over his short brown beard, smearing still sticky blood with his hand.

 

            “Then when we got down there, the asshole shot. No words, just aimed, luckily he’s a terrible shot and Anika was fast to feign right. We didn’t even think she got hit, the rain was heavy and street lamps dimming, and she stayed up. Told them to get off the Dregs property. Then Kane started talking about his plan to take the Dregs down, it was idiotic. I’m no boss, but, Ghezen, that guy had as many brain cells as the callous on my trigger finger.” Rotty piped in. Kaz knew Kane, and Rotty was right. The man had a half functioning brain cell that preferred the company of liquor to actual intelligent thought. Kaz also knew he’d taken over as the Liddies boss, but he hadn’t thought that their least worrisome rival would be this level of annoying, or frankly, stupid.

 

            “We thought it was done. There was six of them and three of us, backed into a corner in front of the club. It was only thanks to the wraith that we got the high ground, she killed Kane and his second within feet of them, they were none the wiser. Craziest shit I’ve ever seen, never saw her work up close. We didn’t see her till the bodies started hitting the ground. Fucking nuts, if I’m honest.” Pim said now.

 

            Kaz felt his heart pick up speed, Inej had been there. Inej saved them. The Wraith strikes again. Where was she now? He had to know. If she was out there and they didn’t…. if she was… Kaz couldn’t think it. He’d lose it on everyone and Dirtyhands was always calm, cool, and collected.

 

            Inej is alive. I’d know it if she weren’t. I’d feel it. I know I would.

           

            “Wraith noticed Anika was gone, we didn’t even see her disappear, she just went after Anika. We took care of the rest. Got to the Wraith in the alleyway, she was trying to carry Anika. She’s small, you know. Couldn’t carry her fast enough. There was another dead liddies lad in the alley with them. The wraith ordered us back here with Anika. Didn’t ask questions, she looked alright though. Anika was down and we raced here.” Rotty finished with a heavy sigh. Kaz was grateful that Rotty noted Inej looked alright. His heart slowed just slightly. But if she was alright, where was she?

 

            “You left none alive. Why not?” Kaz glared, twisting a hand around his cane head. He wanted a subject to question, the Dregs should have known better, Inej should have left one alive to question.

 

            “We… didn’t think of it.” Pim was frowning, suddenly fascinated by the wood on Kaz’s desk. Kaz noted Roeder and Dirix looking at Pim and Rotty with something resembling sympathy. Good. They’d need it. Kaz was pissed and he couldn’t get the answers he needed about the Liddies next movements or who might rise to replace Kane. Just then, Kaz felt that tingle in his bones.

 

            Kaz felt her.

           

            The front door of the Slat banged open, and seconds later, Inej was kicking a bound man into the room in front of her.

 

            “Sorry for the interruption, gents. Delivery.” Inej smiled a wicked little grin and kicked the man in the back of his knees, he went down with a yelp. There was cloth in his mouth and his hands were tied. Kaz suppressed a giddy laugh with a cough. The man was twice Inej’s size. She’d tied him up and brought him here for questioning. Inej knew he’d want one alive. She’d stashed a liddie somewhere.

 

            Ah wraith, so pious. So dangerous. Never a dull moment.

 

            The man began blubbering something through the fabric in his mouth. Something along the lines of ‘please don’t kill me’. It was then that Kaz realized the man was looking at Inej, begging her, not him. Pride. Kaz felt an insane amount of Pride seeing Inej standing this tall. Was this how she looked when she captained her ship?

 

            “I do so love it when lesser men beg, though now doesn’t seem the time, does it? Don’t threaten my friends. Rule One. Besides, you should be asking for your life elsewhere.” Inej mused to the man, looking him in the eye and gesturing her hand to Kaz. Inej turned her back on him and strolled to stand by Kaz’s desk, crossing her arms in front of her. Rotty did a low whistle and even Roeder raised an eyebrow. Inej was clearly pissed.

 

Kaz desperately wanted to hold her to himself and tell her how glorious it was to see her deal out vengeance. Lovely, menacing, brave, creature.

 

            The man managed to spit out the fabric in his mouth. He said one word.

 

            “Bitch.” The man growled. Kaz stiffened with narrowed eyes.  

 

He’d kill him. Damn the questions. Damn the consequences.

 

Kaz began to raise, but a bronze hand in the corner of his vision stopped him. Inej held it to say ‘stop’. Kaz would be furious with anyone else, no one stopped Kaz Brekker. Kaz shouldn’t let it slip by him, he should hold up his reputation and snap at Inej. The Dregs were present. It was what he absolutely should do.

 

Kaz Brekker sat back down in his seat, ignoring the eyes of the Dregs. He played it off with a shrug that he hoped said ‘let’s see what she’ll do’.

 

“First, if you are going to insult me, please at least be colorful about it. I’ve been called far worse by men who were not tied up. Second,” Inej paused as she silently drifted toward the man who noticeably tried to back away from her. Inej pulled Sankta Lizabeta from her belt, the blade coated in blood, she held it in front of his face. “Do you know whose blood this is? No? It’s your boss’. Plead for your life again and I shall show you what it means to be a ‘bitch.’” Inej whispered in a tone that Kaz would do awful, awful, things to hear again.

 

The man seemed to shrink. Inej hated killing, Kaz knew that. Inej would pray for every soul that died at the end of her blade; but Kaz knew the days of Inej being talked of in such a manner by awful men was a thing of the past. Inej rejoined Kaz by his desk. Kaz took note that all of the Dregs in the room were looking at her with a profound respect in their eyes. Inej had saved some of them multiple times. Inej had been kind to every one of them.

 

A half hour later, with all Kaz’s questions answered, the man was set free with a broken arm and nose. An unfortunate run in with a cane, it seemed. The man was to leave Dregs territory or die. The man was to pass on a message to anyone who dare tried to undermine Dirtyhands.

 

Kaz was also sure that news of the Dregs most fearsome spy’s return to Ketterdam was going to circulate. The Wraith was a name that was feared, but to Kaz, Inej was… well in her words, Inej was home. At the realization, Kaz felt warmth encompass his chest despite the gruesome nature of the evening.

 

“Wraith, where are you going?” Rotty piped up as Kaz wiped the man’s blood from his wrists not protected by his gloves. Only Rotty and Pim had stayed for the interrogation, Roeder and Dirix had been dismissed. Kaz immediately looked up to see Inej was on her way out the door. Inej was one for goodbyes and he didn’t like that she was leaving without one. It was a strange twinge inside him, Kaz hadn’t ever realized it meant anything to him. He found he liked when she stayed to say parting words, even if he’d never change his nature to them.

 

“I thought I’d go tell our previous sharp shooter how much fun he missed out on tonight, and tell him I’m a suitable replacement just to knock his ego down a bit.” Inej laughed and Rotty and Pim did too.

 

“Tell Jesper thanks for all the damned dinner invites, the dick.” Pim jested and Inej smiled.

 

“Will do.” Inej said as she flicked her braid over her shoulder. Kaz didn’t want her to leave… he wanted… he wanted.

 

“Wraith, your intel on the job is still needed despite all the annoyances.” Kaz grit out, forcing monotony in to his tone.

 

“I know. I’ll return in the morning to discuss my findings.” Inej said softly, her back as straight as always. Kaz thought he’d missed it, but Inej had subtly flicked her eyes upward. Kaz caught her meaning. Meet me upstairs?

 

“Fine.” Kaz said as he met her eyes, and dipped his chin slightly, it appeared he was only agreeing to her proposition to everyone else. He knew Inej would know it truly meant gladly.If he was honest, after fearing for Inej’s life tonight, Kaz would have rather told her “Absolutely, please stay, don’t you dare leave without a good bye, I can’t bare it after this wreck of an evening.” But, Kaz held fast to his pride. Inej would deal with a nod. Kaz would not be that crazy, even if he truly felt every one of those insane emotions.

 

Inej turned to leave.

 

“Hey, Wraith, wait!” Rotty exclaimed as Pim nodded in Kaz’s direction and brushed by Inej and left with a small smile that spoke of thanks.

 

“Yes?” Inej turned back to Rotty just outside the doorway in the silent and now empty foyer. Rotty standing next to Inej was almost as comical as Jesper standing next to her, but in a different way. Rotty was actually an inch or two shorter than Kaz, but he was built like a tree trunk. Inej was a wisp in the breeze comparatively. Rotty then stood in front of Inej, just outside of Kaz’s door. Kaz knew he shouldn’t bother to listen, but he was. Even as he busied himself with picking up his jacket and straightening the papers on his desk. Kaz wanted to meet Inej upstairs. Kaz was tired of everyone else.

 

“I just wanted to you know, say thanks. We wouldn’t have made it out without you back there,” Rotty was rubbing the back of his neck, seemingly nervous. Kaz was confused. Kaz couldn’t see Inej around Rotty’s frame. “Can I uh, buy you a drink at the Club or something, sometime?” Rotty mumbled. Kaz momentarily froze, Rotty was asking Inej to go out and drink with him. Alone. Kaz felt odd, a flicker of something in his gut. He didn’t understand the feeling he had, he found himself wanting to walk right out of this room and butt into the conversation. Kaz was not jealous, but he did find there was some level of territorial he could not shake. Inej deserved better than himself, he knew that. Kaz would do anything to see Inej happy, even let her go. Kaz could not be selfish when it came to Inej, he had learned that with her indenture contract. As much as Kaz wanted to keep it, he would never cost her the freedom she so very much deserved. But Kaz was still just a man, legend or not.

 

“Oh. Oh. I uh, actually…” Inej was stammering. Clearly she was taken completely off guard.

 

“You’re seeing someone, aren’t you?” Rotty released a sigh. Kaz felt himself listening intently. Inej couldn’t say yes, at least not really, it wasn’t safe. Kaz desperately wanted her to anyways.

 

“Yes. I am.” Inej whispered. Kaz felt his chest tighten with an emotion he couldn’t name. Emotions were still somewhat confusing to Kaz, but this was surely one of the best ones. Kaz should be irritated that Inej would answer honestly, it put a lot at risk. Kaz didn’t want to share their private life. Kaz couldn’t find any rage within himself, though. Kaz knew Inej would not lie or lead on a good man, that wasn’t her.

 

“Is it serious?” Rotty asked, though Kaz noted he did not sound defeated, perhaps a little deflated, but that’s all.

 

“I… I would say so, yes.” Inej mumbled. Kaz wanted to kiss her; he wanted that to be possible right now, their pasts be damned. Yes, their…. relationship was… well it would not be serious to anyone else. But Kaz felt the same way Inej did. They might not be normal, able to kiss and make love and everything else with it, but it was everything all the same. They would work through their demons, individually, but together. Kaz would fight every day of his saints-damned life to be able to get to the other side with Inej, where they could do all those normal things; even if their life would never be average.

 

Average wasn’t Kaz. Average wasn’t Inej. Average wasn’t them.

 

 Inej had made him feel in the past few days that it just might be possible to get there, someday. A year ago, after leaving a hotel bathroom, Kaz never would have believed himself to be able to hug Inej, even with clothes completely in-tact. He wouldn’t have even tried it. A year ago, Kaz didn’t think he could even begin to let go of his armor. But now Kaz wouldn’t stop trying. It was difficult, and he was sure it would be difficult and infuriating many times over, but he’d glimpsed Inej in his life over the past few days, really seen it; and he couldn’t let go. Inej was worth it.  Inej came back. Inej came home.Kaz wanted to go upstairs. Now.

 

“Well, that’s… that’s good, Inej. Really. If he treats you like shit though, I’ll kick his ass. Because I’m your friend.” Rotty said. Kaz wanted to laugh. Kaz could take him. Though, Kaz felt happy too, because Rotty had taken the rejection the way a rejection should always be taken, if he had so much as pushed Inej, Kaz would have felt very differently.

 

“I wouldn’t threaten him, if I’m honest.” Inej said softly with a small laugh.

 

“Yeah well I’m sure he’s gotta be tough if he’s with you, whoever they are.” Rotty chuckled and moved away from Inej with a smile as he walked away. Kaz looked up from his desk, barely containing a smirk that was only for her. Inej was standing in his doorway. She rolled her eyes and smiled before turning away. Kaz had been caught eavesdropping. Perhaps he’d never be as good a spy as his wraith. A moment later, Inej floated out the front door of the Slat.

 

Five minutes later, Kaz finally made it to his room. Inej was in the window sill, wrapped in moonlight, leaning against the frame. Kaz closed his door and locked it behind him. Kaz was about to ask about the Hester intel and Inej’s version of the Liddies attack, when Inej’s voice stopped him.

 

“I meant it you know. I would not consider myself single. On the Sea or in the city. I would hope that is a reasonable assumption.” Inej looked at him from the corner of her eyes. He traced a fresh bloom of flush from her cheeks to her collar bone with his eyes. Ghezen, he loved that color.

 

“The deal is the deal, wraith.” Kaz smirked.

 

 

 

 

           

 

 

 

Chapter Text

INEJ

            Water droplets rained on the bathroom counter in the Van Eck mansion. Inej finished brushing her damp tresses and exited the bathroom, letting out a very unbecoming shriek.

 

            “Good Morning, Wraith!” Jesper lazily smiled from his perch on her unmade bed. His silver eyes glinting in the morning sun streaming in from her window.

 

            “Jesper! What if I had been indecent?” Inej pulled her towel against her chest tighter. She had not heard him come in while she’d been in the shower.

 

            “Indecent is what I’m always aiming for, Inej. As you happen to know, I also have perfect aim.” Jesper chirped with a wink. Inej rolled her eyes and let out a heavy sigh.

 

            “You could have knocked.” Inej grumbled as she stalked toward her wardrobe.

 

            “Did you just tell me to knock?” Jesper doubled over laughing, barely being able to get his words out.

 

            “Why is that so funny?” Inej growled and turned her head to the laughing zemini man.

 

            “It’s… just that you’re the wraith. You hardly use doors let alone knock on them and here you are, lecturing me! It’s comical beyond words, Inej.” Jesper choked out in between receding giggles.

 

            Inej rolled her eyes but Jesper had that type of laughter that was more contagious than a plague. Inej giggled despite herself.

 

            “I came here to tell you that we are having breakfast and request your captainly presence at our lowly mercher table,” Jesper quipped as he stood from her bed.

 

            “Waffles?!” Inej felt her mouth water at the promise of fluffy breakfast cakes with the apple cinnamon syrup Wylan always had stocked.

 

            “Waffles, Inej. Surely I can tempt your forgiveness with caffeine and the best food on the planet?” Jesper smirked with a come hither gesture as he backed away toward the door to her room.

 

            “Two seconds, I’ll meet you downstairs!” Inej said happily as she went back to her wardrobe to fish out the blue satin robe that Wylan had first bought for her upon moving into the Van Eck mansion. Waffles were too tempting for pants. Besides, Inej had been to their breakfast table in her robe many days’ prior before setting sail on her ship. Jesper could wear his sleep trousers, Inej could wear her robe. Besides, the robe ended just above her knees, with a sash around the middle, it was decent enough for waffles.

 

            Once Jesper was gone, Inej dropped her towel in favor for her robe, quickly dabbing the still damp ends of her hair. Inej floated to the ground floor on a cloud of sweet cinnamon beckoning her toward the dining room. Inej entered the room in a flurry.

 

            Kaz. Kaz? What? Kaz sitting at the table with Jesper and Wylan. Of course he looked impeccable despite the hour of the morning. Suit and tie in agonizingly perfect fit to his form. Her brain was only just waking up. She didn’t comprehend how she hadn’t known he was here.

 

            “Oh did I forget to mention the company?” Jesper drawled when Inej froze in the doorway at the sight of Kaz mid sip of coffee at the Van Eck table. Inej felt blush flush her face. Kaz looked up and his eyes widened slightly; and she was intimately aware of her robe now.

 

Damn you, Jesper.

           

Jesper laughed and Wylan smacked him hard on the shoulder. Inej noticed Kaz look away from her quickly. Inej was very aware that Kaz had never even seen her bare legs, not even at the Menagerie, her silks were floor length to make her look taller with the fit of the fabric. Inej also knew her robe probably left very little to the imagination, she was most definitely not wearing her chest bindings beneath it. Inej didn’t need modesty though, not here with friends. Jesper’s prank failed, Inej decided.

 

“Good morning, Kaz.” Inej smiled and walked to the chair at the head of the table; Wylan had abandoned it in a choice to sit next to Jesper. She would not be intimidated, and she was happy to see Kaz. In the past week since the Liddies had attacked the Dregs, Inej had hardly seen him- he was too busy trying to make sure no other gang in the barrel staged something so stupid. Kaz had been to the Crow Club himself almost every night this week, making sure everyone knew he was there. It was a show of fearlessness that had Dirtyhands stamped all over it.

 

 Kaz had also been scheming with the new information on Charles Hester she had found, Inej knew he had. The only times Inej had been able to catch a moment with Kaz had been during her reports on her repeated stake outs of the estate, learning the exact patterns of the heartrenders smoke breaks, the changing of the security guards Charles paid to protect his home and everything in between. Kaz had her watching the house for an exact reason, but he hadn’t yet shared. Inej wished he’d share more of his mind with her, but he’d tell her when he figured out how the pieces fit with her intel. Inej had missed him, but she could tell he needed to be in full control of the barrel right now, so she kept her distance.

 

“Inej.” Kaz rasped, his eyes still catching on her wet hair that hung to her waist. Inej felt slightly smug at the reaction from Kaz to her appearance. It wouldn’t seem like a reaction to anyone else, but Inej could read Kaz this way. Kaz had subtle things that he did to show his internal state; they slipped through his barriers and Inej didn’t even think he was aware of it. It wasn’t anything that could be used against him; Kaz was a master at concealing body language in the face of an enemy. No one else could read these things about Kaz. Except the wraith.

 

It was small things, like the way he sometimes scratched his palm with his fingers when he thought someone was lying. The way his shoulder blades moved up slightly with pride when he concocted a brilliant scheme, Inej loved that one.

 

It was the way he absently traced the beak of the Crows head on his cane with his thumb when he wanted something but couldn’t have it. Kaz was doing this now.

 

What do you want, Kaz?

 

“Oh come on, wraith! You’re not even going to make another comment about being indecent?” Jesper snorted in false disappointment.

 

“No Jes, I’d say I’m quite decent. Even better to look at.” Inej quipped with a smirk. Jesper’s jaw dropped open.

 

“Oh Inej, I’m so glad my smugness had rubbed off on you!” Jesper clapped his hands and Inej huffed a laugh as she reached for the pot of coffee.

 

“Here.” Kaz interrupted by handing her a cup already made for her, filled to the brim with cream. Inej smiled and took the cup, noticing his bare hands.

 

“Thank you.” Inej spoke softly. Inej noticed his cup was empty and she didn’t think before she refilled his with the pot in front of her. She knew he’d sneak sugar himself.

 

“How incredibly domestic,” Jesper goaded. Inej and Kaz both turned their glares on Jesper in unison. Wylan laughed freely, snorting and covering his face as it warmed with flush. Inej began to load her plate full of waffles just as the maid, Elena came into the room.

 

“Excuse me, Miss Ghafa. A letter for you.” Elena smiled sweetly and handed Inej an envelope, Inej noted the Ravka post marks and opened it quickly. There were only so many suspects; her parents, Nina, or Kuwei. Inej had been in contact with him once since the auction and she had hoped he would write her back from his place at the Little Palace. She had enclosed the Van Eck residence as her chosen forwarding address, and this letter was indeed from Kuwei. Inej read through his words and smiled. He had settled well, he spoke of a life of comfort and learning. It warmed her heart, Kuwei was so haggled over by so many nations and he deserved this peace. Inej had not been close with him but she knew that she was perhaps the only one to acknowledge how much the boy had been through, and how much bravery he held within. Inej did not agree with how he’d tricked Jesper knowingly back during the days of the auction, but Inej also knew what it was like to be scared. The boy had made a poor choice; it did not mean the Saints had sealed the envelope of his future.

 

“Who’s it from, wraith?” Jesper questioned after he swallowed a bite of waffle.

 

“Kuwei. I wrote him from my travels and hoped he would respond that he’d settled well in Ravka, he has. He has not been in contact with Nina since she left.” Inej answered as she folded the letter to the side of her plate.

 

It felt too soon to talk about Nina, Inej missed her terribly. Inej wanted to gorge herself on waffles and listen to Nina talk about whatever she wanted. Inej wanted to tell her friend how she’d done it all. She’d become a pirate and was taking the world by storm. Inej wanted to see Nina’s face when Inej would inevitably crack under her boisterous friend’s inquiry and tell her about all the new territory she had covered with Kaz Brekker.

 

She’ll write soon. She would tell Inej that Matthias had been laid to rest. Nina would tell Inej that she was ripped open, broken but stitching together slowly. Nina had to be okay. Inej wouldn’t accept anything else. Saints, watch over her in my stead.

 

Inej noticed Wylan gripping his coffee mug a little too zealously at the mention of Kuwei. Inej wanted to laugh.

 

“Wylan you can stop gripping that mug, it will shatter.” Inej said with a smile and took her first bite of waffle goodness.

 

“I was not.” Wylan glared at Inej and she laughed, almost not being able to swallow.

 

“Territorial is what you are,” Inej chuckled. She heard Kaz snort beside her.

 

“I am not territorial!” Wylan exclaimed as Jesper beamed at him.

 

“I’ve seen territorial, it’s precisely what you are.” Inej jested with a pointed look at Kaz. He rolled his eyes and Jesper started chuckling.

 

“Wy, love, you have nothing to worry about. Remember, I like your stupid face.” Jesper tugged on an auburn curl on Wylan’s head as he spoke.

 

“It’s not such a bad thing, just means Jesper has somehow convinced you to like him so much that you wish to keep him. Thank the saints for that too.” Inej joked and Wylan laughed. Jesper gave her a look marked with mischief.

 

“You’re in a mood today, wraith.” Jesper smiled a devious thing.

 

“What could be better than waffles and three of my favorite people sitting at a table with me? Of course I’m in a mood. It’s called happy, Jes.” Inej retorted as she swiped the syrup decanter from in front of him. She added more than was necessary to coat her waffles, earning a raised eyebrow from Kaz.

 

“How did you find out about breakfast before me and I live here?” Inej turned to Kaz. She wanted nothing more than to lean over and kiss his cheek, if only it were that simple.

 

“They invited me yesterday, note on my desk. I actually assumed you had brought it.” Kaz said with his gravel rasp. She noticed the corner of a ripped sugar packet near Kaz’s mug. Even Inej had missed him slip it into his coffee.

 

Magichands. Much better title than Dirtyhands, Inej decided.

 

“Care to invite me next time before catching me after a shower, Jes?” Inej looked at Jesper now with a raised brow.

 

“What’s the fun in that?” Jesper winked before beginning to ask Wylan about a new ship the Van Eck fleet was acquiring. Inej noticed Kaz’s free hand on the table, palm up. She felt warmth flood her chest. Kaz was doing the same thing she had done the night of her return in this very same dining room. He was offering his touch this time. Inej was aware that Jesper and Wylan would surely notice this time, but clearly, Kaz had decided he didn’t care despite whatever jokes their friends would surely throw out.

 

Good morning to you too, Kaz Brekker.

 

Inej subtly moved her hand to rest next to his, lightly touching her pinky to his. Without any hesitation, Kaz slid his hand into hers, interlocking their fingers. Inej paid attention to his breathing, for the first time, Kaz had only taken one deep breath by the rise of his chest. It hadn’t been audible to the room. Inej deducted that holding her hand was getting easier for Kaz and she felt her stomach flip, like going over a bump in a caravan. The feeling of walking the wire near the sky. Inej didn’t hide her smile.

 

These moments with Kaz were all she had ever wanted.

 

KAZ

            Warmth radiated from Inej’s palm and Kaz was brushing his thumb in lazy circles over the top of her hand. There was no water, there were no bodies floating in the dark pools of his pupils. Holding Inej’s hand was becoming much easier to Kaz, he realized. It was something so small, but he couldn’t help but feel triumphant, sitting here with her. Kaz hadn’t been able to rein in his urge to touch her in whatever small way he could when she had walked in looking as she had, withthatsmile on her face. Ghezen, he wanted to run his hands through her hair, he remembered how it had felt as he’d brushed it on her ship. Like liquid onyx, nothing like water, but smooth all the same. Kaz had thought of her much this week but he’d been in a position that required all Dirtyhands and zero Rietveld.

 

            Ever since the night of the Liddies attack, he’d scarcely seen her, and for that he was grateful. Disappointed, but grateful. Inej understood. Inej was his partner, in more ways than one. Inej had blatantly said so herself in his attic room a week ago; his chest tightened at the memory. Kaz was positive no one would dare ask him, but if he was ever asked if he were single, he would say no. Kaz Brekker was committed to someone. Kaz still couldn’t quite unravel this truth in his head, because nothing had changed, nothing had been altered. Inej had just spoke the truth and Kaz hadn’t thought he would ever need to hear it from her. He still didn’t think he had needed it. Kaz had been surprised that he wanted to hear her say it, though.

 

The truth of it was, Kaz had been committed for a very long time now; perhaps even since that afternoon in the attic so long ago, when her laugh had made all thoughts empty from his mind. There was no one like Inej, no treasure so rare.

 

 Kaz knew she deserved better, so he’d set her free with a reckless and impossible hope that he could be her choice. Inej had made that choice and it had been him. Kaz didn’t know how he’d gotten so lucky. If he was a betting man, he would have played the tables just to see if Inej’s saints were truly walking with him and granting him luck. Then again, Kaz could count cards without even thinking, so there wouldn’t have been much of a scientific or religious experiment there.

 

“So. I’m just going to throw it out there. I’m guessing you are not trying to kill Inej by holding her hand. Which means that’s a thing we should all know about. Though I always give due respect and you are Kaz Brekker; so I’m not ruling out murderous intentions until one of you finally admits it is something else.” Jesper quipped with a sip of coffee, eyes narrowed in amusement. Wylan rolled his eyes. Kaz had no qualms about Wylan and Jesper knowing about his relationship with Inej. In fact, this seemed like a formality at this point. Jesper had already poked fun at their relationship. Jesper only wanted to provoke mischief by saying anything at this point. Very well, Kaz would bite.

 

“We have an arrangement.” Kaz stated simply, his expression wiped of any tells; though his thumb did not stop its movement on Inej’s hand.

 

“An arrangement? Well I suppose I climbed the rank from investment.” Inej smiled deviously, though she squeezed Kaz’s hand gently.

 

Damnit. Kaz had definitely said that- and Inej remembered. Oh no. This would haunt him, he was sure.

 

“An investment? Ghezen you said that to her? How am I even surprised?” Wylan said with a shake of his head, a smile lifting his lips.

 

“Brekker, I thought I was an idiot.” Jesper chuckled.

 

“You are, my love.” Wylan jabbed Jesper in the ribs.

 

“I am not! Merchling, if you’d like to speak of idiocy, let us talk about what you accidentally said to me that first night when we were in the middle o-” Jesper was cut short by Wylan literally shoving a waffle into his still moving mouth, Wylan’s face turning bright red. Inej laughed and the sound reminded Kaz of wide open space with the sky in full view. Kaz wanted to taste thatlaugh.

 

“Have I apologized for that?” Kaz looked at Inej now as Jesper was animatedly chewing the waffle, making Wylan laugh.

 

“No. I think I at least deserve the term of ‘valuable’ investment. I know my worth, Kaz Brekker.” Inej said with her lips quirked, a small spot of sugar from her waffle was dusting above her lip. Kaz was entranced.

 

“I always knew you were valuable. Priceless, actually.” Kaz said softly, taking his hand that was not in hers and reaching for her face. He swiped the sugar from her lip, so quickly that the water did not come. It was a touch that was less than even a feather.

 

Inej laughed and touched her lip.  Her smile lit up her eyes. Kaz loved when he coaxed surprise from her. Inej’s eyes always told him how she felt, something he’d never stop being grateful for.

 

After a while, Kaz knew he needed to get back to the Barrel. Roeder had reports for him, numbers needed to be checked, he needed to plan a parlay with the new leader of the Liddies as soon as possible. It would be a show of force. Inej is here, though. His stupid heart chanted over and over. He made a note to himself that he could not waste his time while she was in Ketterdam. He knew he had at least seven more weeks with her, but he would make sure she knew she was welcome around more this week. They had much work to do together, anyhow. At least that’s what Dirtyhands screamed.

 

Kaz had left the dining room after breakfast, leaving no room for goodbyes. Kaz shrugged on his coat and was preparing to leave. Inej had caught his gaze before he left, and he’d felt her follow him. Hearing her was not something that could be done, Kaz was convinced.

 

“I’ll be casing the staking out the estate again tonight, I’ll report back.” Inej mumbled from behind him. Kaz turned to look at her and was once again struck by how beautiful she looked. Her legs were absolutely fascinating and Kaz made a vow to himself that he’d see them again when they were completely alone, someday.  

 

“Right.” Kaz said.

 

Inej came to stand in front of him and he thought she might hug him.

 

Kaz was severely unprepared for what the wraith did instead.

 

She met his gaze and before he knew what was happening, Inej had the extra fabric from the end of the sash of her robe in her hand. Inej stepped to her tiptoes, holding the fabric against his cheek. Inej leaned in and brushed a kiss to his cheek through the fabric before she stepped away, a smug smile on her face. She silently drifted back toward the dining room and their friends before Kaz’s mind could calculate what had happened.

 

Inej kissed him. Inej knew he could be sent reeling from her lips so the clever wraith found another way to get what she wanted. Kaz touched a gloved hand to his face, his mouth slightly parted.

 

Kaz felt like he’d been pickpocketed only to find that the thief had lifted 10 kruge and replaced it with 50 kruge. Inej had reverse pickpocketed him.

 

Kaz smiled like a criminal fool in the foyer of the Van Eck mansion.

 

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            It was pouring rain in Ketterdam, the sky showed no signs of halting its assault. Kaz’s leg felt like it was on fire and he knew he needed to sleep. Since breakfast at the Van Eck mansion this morning, he’d gone non-stop. He’d had to deal with a skimming dealer at the Club which hadn’t taken long but then Roeder had informed Kaz that a potential mark for another job had put his house on the market and was under the investigation of the stadwatch, muddling Kaz’s plans for the afternoon tenfold. Kaz had to rearrange plans five times over today while in constant pain and all Kaz really wanted was a hot shower and to be blissfully alone in going over his schemes for one Charles Hester.

 

            Kaz finally made it to the Slat sometime after eleven bells, and thankfully there was no one to pester him as he made his way into his office. Kaz would be up for hours yet going over plans and club prospects from the night prior, but he would not go to the club again tonight. Kaz rarely had a day when he would truly pay his leg any attention; but today was one of those days that his body demanded it. It enraged Kaz, he had too much work to be done.

 

            Kaz entered his office and took a long swig of bourbon from the bottle in his desk drawer, the warmth settling in him and thawing out his bones enough to make the climb to his attic for a shower.

 

            Thirty minutes later, Kaz was blissfully dry, warm and clean; in a fresh suit and returning to his office. Kaz opened the door to find the lamps in his office were now lit, and Inej was sitting on his first floor window sill, wringing her braid out the window. Kaz felt his gaze linger on her legs for a moment too long, it was distracting. Maybe he never should have been blessed with the sight of her bronze bare legs, he might never be able to clear his mind for work again.

 

            “Wraith.” Kaz grumbled. Despite his mood, Kaz wouldn’t turn away Inej. Even if he was in no mood for people.

 

Perhaps his person would be the exception.

 

            “Kaz.” Inej turned away from the window, silently slipping to the floor before pulling it closed behind her. Kaz noticed there was a package on his desk and he smelled salt. He hadn’t eaten but one meal in twenty-four hours he realized when the scent hit him.

 

            “Eat. It’s for you. From that place in East stave we went to before lifting that prima painting at the old Lange estate. Potatoes. I already ate there but I was certain you did no such thing, shevrati.” Know-nothing. Kaz was very familiar with that particular suli word. Inej had probably taught him that one first; well, not so much taught. Called him that first.

 

            Kaz nodded slowly. Inej brought him dinner and Kaz thought back to Jesper calling them domestic. Kaz didn’t find he much minded it. He made his way slowly with his limp to his desk and Inej perched herself right on top of it, next to him, with her legs swinging gently off the edge. He should have told her she was soaking the wood with her damp clothes, but he just didn’t have the energy to snap at her. He didn’t want to.

 

            Inej launched into telling him about how she’d cut her night short on the Hester estate as the man himself was suspected to not even have braved the weather and she’d gotten a poor look at the interior of the house, even with a spy glass, due to the down pour. Kaz listened to her as he ate, once again thankful for the wraith and her uncanny ability to realize things before even he did. Like that he’d not been eating.

 

            Inej was still musing over the layout of the basement in Charles Hester’s home so that they could concoct a drawn blueprint, when a knock sounded at the door of Kaz’s office. Inej slipped from her perch on his desk and moved a few feet away, standing near the window where it might look to anyone else that she was simply delivering information. Which, Kaz supposed she was, but he still appreciated her discretion. Kaz tossed his food container away and folded his napkin and straightened his tie.

 

            “Enter.” Kaz said lowly. He was still in a foul mood and wanted to rap whoever was unfortunate enough to walk through that door with his cane.

 

            “Boss I have- oh, wraith, you’re here too.” Anika’s blonde head bobbed into the room. She appeared mildly flustered. She was holding an envelope, probably a missive for Kaz. Kaz had been glad for Anika’s recovery, finding another lieutenant would have been tedious, and she was loyal. That was the extent of Kaz’s thoughts on the matter since she was cleared to get back to work by Arman two days ago.

 

            “What?” Kaz asked, he knew his tone relayed the clear message: ‘tell me and get the hell out.’

 

            “Letter from the runners on the docks near Liddies territory. Kid seemed bored, my guess is all clear and no appearances near our domain.” Anika stepped forward and dropped the missive on his desk. Kaz nodded and flicked his gaze to the door.

 

            Anika turned to leave, but she paused just before the door frame and turned.

 

            “Inej… could I have a word?” Anika asked hesitantly, not meeting Inej’s eye. Kaz had never heard Anika acknowledge Inej by her true name. Kaz lifted his gaze to Inej, he saw surprise run through her eyes and just ask quickly it was gone. Inej nodded slightly and followed Anika out of the room. Kaz had no idea what that was about, but he felt unjustly angry that Anika had called her away. Kaz felt unreasonably haggard, even he recognized it in himself tonight.

 

Who cares. My leg fucking hurts and fuck anyone who thinks anything of it.

 

            Kaz decided he’d go over the numbers and read the missive from the runner that Anika left. Kaz always found his brain could shut off when he ran club numbers and he desperately needed something to keep his mind off his abhorrent, angry limb. Kaz leaned back in his chair and rubbed his gloved hands over his eyes for a moment, then he took a steeling breath and straightened his spine.

 

            Back to work.

 

INEJ

           

            Inej followed Anika up the first flight of stairs in the Slat, surprised that Anika was leading Inej to her personal room. Anika opened the first door on the left to a small room that was slightly larger than Inej’s old quarters in the Slat. Enough room for a double bed, a small dresser and a chair that was draped in copious amounts of clothing. It was so normal, and yet Inej had never even seen this room while she lived here. Inej never had a reason to enter Anika’s space, it wasn’t like they’d been close. Despite their history, it saddened Inej a bit. The thought surprised her.

 

            Anika closed the door behind them and lit a lamp on her dresser casting the room in a warm glow. Inej heard Anika take a deep breath before she turned to face Inej, running her hand over the shaven side of her blonde head. Anika was rather pretty, in an unconventional way, Inej thought. Inej had always actually admired Anika’s chosen hair style, like Kaz, it was different. Inej always liked different things.

 

            “I just, uh, you saved my life. Literally. I know thank-yous aren’t conventional in the gang life or whatever and I don’t really know why the hell I’m doing this except that… that’s the closest I’ve come to dying. Rotty and Pim both told me you stepped in and took out Kane and the guy who grabbed me. The last thing I remember was you bowing to him, which, by the way, fucking hilarious.” Anika grit out as she fumbled over her words, twisting her hands together in front of her.

 

Anika had to be a good foot taller than Inej but right now she looked small, nervous. Inej may have had her… thoughts, on how Anika fawned over Kaz and how she’d treated Inej in the past, but Anika did not owe Inej gratitude. It was the way of it, Dregs are family. Your gang protects you, Ketterdam worked that way. Besides, Inej had saved Anika before, Anika just hadn’t known it. Inej didn’t feel the need to tally life debts owed to her when that was just the way of things in this city. Inej had her own life debts, though. Inej remembered thanking Nina when she’d saved her from death’s embrace on the Ferolind before the Ice Court. That life debt was one that Inej owed to Kaz as well, she barely remembered it, she’d been near unconscious; but she remembered he carried her and she remembered their conversation. He’d ran on his leg without a thought. Inej felt gratitude to Kaz and Nina every day for saving her life; Inej would not deny Anika the same.

 

            “You have no reason to thank me, but you are welcome.” Inej said softly, letting her gaze catch Anika’s, hoping that the other girl could see her genuineness.

 

            “I, look, I know I’ve been kind of… stand-offish with you in the past. It wasn’t personal. Or maybe it was, but I still shouldn’t have been a bitch. We’re all just trying to make it and my own hang ups shouldn’t have been directed on to you. I see that now.” Inej was immensely surprised, she had never expected Anika to address her behavior when it came to her.

 

            “I get it, I suppose. I appreciate the sentiment.” Inej mumbled, she normally always knew what to say to people, but now she felt out of the safe zone, this was the most words Inej had ever shared with Anika over the course of almost three years since Inej had joined the Dregs. Anika looked at Inej, squinting her green eyes just slightly, as if trying to decide if she should say something. Inej met her gaze easily, If Anika had something left to say, she should.

 

            “I… you knew I liked Kaz, right?” Anika dropped her stare to the floor. Inej almost felt bad for her, but it was not a competition for Kaz’s affections as Anika had always seemed to think it was. It was written blatantly in her stance whenever Inej drew near. Inej had no idea where this was going, she couldn’t tell Anika the truth, but right now, Inej wished she could. Not because she wished to hurt Anika, but rather to tell her so she could move on.

 

Better terrible truths than kind lies.

 

 Inej had seen the looks Pim was always giving Anika when she wasn’t looking. Anika and Pim were best friends and Pim had looked at her that way for as long as Inej had been in the Dregs. Anika deserved someone who had their eyes on her, everyone deserved that. Inej had found that with Kaz, as unorthodox as it may be.

           

            Inej opted to nod. She did not know what she could say to that.

            “Yeah I know it was obvious,” Anika snorted under her breath. She seemed to be working up to something.

 

            “I realized something though, I don’t even know him. Sure, he’s attractive, but every man and woman in the barrel knows that. But I only know what he shows to everyone. I see that now; he doesn’t care about me. At least, not any more than anyone else in the Dregs.” Anika paused, Inej was listening intently.

 

            “I know he cares, about all of us. He’d probably never say it, which doesn’t bother me. I’m not much for sentiment, despite this ridiculous situation,” Anika gestured between them. “But we all know who’s done the most for the Dregs. It’s why we have a house to live in, food to eat, kruge in our pockets. I guess I just realized I’ll never know more than that, even if I wanted to.” Anika finished with a deep breath. Inej looked her over, noticing that this admission had seemed to lift a slight weight off the blonde’s shoulders.

 

            “No, you’re right. Kaz does care in his own way. I do know that. But you deserve someone who looks at you, Anika. Who sees you. We may not be close, but everyone deserves that.” Inej said gently. Anika met her gaze once more and shook her head slightly.

 

            “What I’m trying to tell you wraith, is that I know. But you’ll never hear a word of it from me again. It’s a safe secret with me. I owe you my life, literally. And I… I still care about him. Even though he might as well be a stranger, he’s still our leader, our boss. Maybe I need to be shot more often for sense to be knocked into me.” Anika huffed a laugh and Inej was shocked into muteness. Inej dimly noted that her mouth was slightly agape.

 

How could Anika know anything? What if Anika wasn’t saying she knew about her and Kaz and Inej was just interpreting it that way?

 

“What… what are you talking about?” Inej asked, stumbling over her words in her stupor. The room was quiet for a long moment, the only sound was the rain battering Anika’s window and a roll of thunder in the distance. Inej looked her eyes up to Anika.

 

“I saw it. The day you came into the office when you got back to Ketterdam. Kaz didn’t do anything different than he ever does, except for one thing. He looked at you. Every single one of us entered that room before you and he didn’t look up from his desk once. He looked at you. But it wasn’t some one-time thing. I thought back, and… and he’s always looked at you, Inej. Every single time you come in a room, he looks at you. It’s quick, I doubt anyone else but me has ever noticed. But it’s because I want someone to look at me- that I noticed.” Anika said softly, with sureness lacing her tone.

 

“I… don’t know what to say.” Inej admitted. Kaz would be furious if she didn’t deny it, but Inej couldn’t deny what Anika had seen with her own two eyes. It wasn’t something she could do.

 

“You can just say it’s true. Like I said, outside of this room, I know nothing. But I want to know the truth. I’m the lieutenant here, and I will protect every member of this gang, but in order to do that, I don’t want to be lied to on this front. In a literal sense, I outrank you, but I’ve always known you outrank everyone besides Kaz in a real way. I know you don’t need help to protect yourself. But, fuck, it would be nice to know that I knew the truth and could help if either of you needed it.” Anika said as she rubbed her hand over her hair once again, standing a little straighter. Though her posture still dipped in comparison to Inej’s, Inej found respect for Anika deep in her bones. Inej understood.

 

“We… we’re together.” Inej confirmed, she couldn’t stop the words. Inej didn’t want to. Anika had been honest enough, down to admitting that Kaz was her own weakness previously. Inej didn’t want to end up regretting the decision to be honest about this, though. Inej spoke before Anika could respond.

 

“Don’t make me regret having spoken these words, Anika. I will not hesitate if anyone threatens him to get to me. And we both know Kaz won’t hesitate in any situation. You speak these words out of this room and you will have to watch your shadow for the rest of your life, knowing I could be there.” Inej grit out, she hoped her voice only carried the seriousness of this secret, she was not distrustful of Anika. But Anika had to see the truth.

 

Anika looked surprised to hear that Inej and Kaz were actually already committed to each other, but she washed it from her face in the span of a blink. All Inej found in Anika’s face was respect.

 

“The deal is the deal. I’ll never speak a word. Even to Kaz.” Anika said quietly, holding out her hand. Inej shook her hand with her own. Inej turned to leave and once she reached the door, Anika called out one more time.

 

“It makes sense, you know. You and him. Never seen anything make as much sense, actually.” Inej didn’t turn when she heard the words, but she smiled on her way out the door and back down the steps to Kaz’s office.

 

KAZ

 

            Kaz felt Inej a moment before she reentered his office, shutting the door behind her. Kaz had been trying and failing to stop feeling his blasted leg. Kaz was about ready to give up and try and climb the stairs for some sleep. It was a rare day when it was this bad. Maybe two or three days like this per year.

 

            Fuck the rain.

           

            Kaz flicked his gaze to Inej, she had a strange smile playing on her lips and she was absently looking out the window over his shoulder.

 

            “What did she want?” Kaz gave in to curiosity’s temptation after Inej was silent for a long moment.

 

            “She wanted to thank me for the other night.” Inej said softly as she took a seat in one of the chairs across from his desk.

 

            “That’s it?” Kaz mused as he set down his pen.

 

            “No. She wanted me to know that she… she knows Kaz. About…” Inej gestured with her hand, not speaking the words out loud in case of other prying ears in the hall.  “Not because she discovered something, but because she… liked you. She deduced why you didn’t look at her on her own.” Kaz was shocked. He ran a hand through his hair.

 

            If today could stop being strange, that would be a Saints damned miracle.

 

            “Fuck.” Kaz muttered. He didn’t know what to do. He should… he should tell Inej it was all off and back away from her entirely. He had too many enemies and if Anika so much as leaked a word, Inej could be in danger. Kaz felt like his heart stopped in his chest at the thought of Inej’s face if he did that.

 

Kaz had made a promise, hadn’t he? Knives drawn. Pistols Blazing. Without armor. Kaz couldn’t run from her now. This was a battle they could face together.

 

            “Don’t. Don’t run and say it’s for the better.” Inej’s voice was quietly firm, but cracking on each word. Inej must have seen something in his face, or read his goddamned mind. He cracked at the sound of that voice. He never wanted her voice to sound like that again.

 

            “In case you haven’t noticed, Inej, I’m in no form for running right now.” Kaz quipped, he had to let her know somehow. He wanted to see her smile again. Inej snorted a small, small laugh.

 

            “She won’t say anything Kaz, and if she did, she’s an idiot. I already threatened her to watch her shadow.” Inej mumbled, she was biting her lower lip again as she lifted her gaze to meet his again.

 

            “Of course you did.” Kaz huffed though a small smile worked his lips.

 

            “I guess I should brave the storm, it’s going to be hell in the down pour on the rooftops back to Wylan’s.” Inej said as she stood from her chair, Kaz felt like she was still worried he wasn’t going to stay, to fight for her, for them. It was something in her eyes as she flicked her gaze to his quickly.

 

            “Or you could stay here.” Kaz felt the words leave his mouth before he could think better of it.

 

            “My room’s gone, though. And all due respect, I don’t know who has done what on that sofa out there.” Inej mumbled with a chuckle.

 

            “I meant with me, wraith.” Kaz didn’t want to think it through. Kaz’s leg hurt and all he wanted was to go upstairs and go to bed, but he thought it might be more pleasant with Inej. They’d succeeded sleeping in the same bed once, that night on her ship. Kaz’s bed was small, but slightly bigger than the one in her cabin. Kaz knew if he woke from a nightmare, it would be hell to see her face. Kaz couldn’t stop himself from wanting to try, though.

 

It had been a shit day and he wanted his girl next to him.

 

He felt a flutter in his stomach at the thought.

 

            “Alright.” Inej nodded slowly, she met his gaze and he saw a ghost of a smile on her face.

           

            Ten minutes later, Kaz entered the attic and Inej was pulling his window shut, dripping rain water everywhere. Kaz shrugged his blazer off and limped his way to his trunk of clothes. He felt Inej’s eyes follow him through the room. The room was dark and he heard Inej light a match for the candles on his bookcase. The room was cast in a small flicker of light, Inej lit the lamp on his desk as well. Thunder boomed in the distance and lightning flashed through the windows as Kaz yanked through his clothes. Kaz pulled out one of his white button ups and a pair of sleep trousers he’d had for years. Kaz limped to Inej and held out the small bundle of clothing. Inej raised a brow in question.

 

            “I adore you, Inej, but sleeping next to a rain soaked wraith does not sound appealing.” Kaz quipped with a crooked grin. He lied. He’d sleep next to Inej in any state if he was allowed, but she was shivering from her climb to his window. Kaz gestured to the bathroom with his hand once she took the clothes.

 

            “Fine.” Inej rolled her eyes but he also saw gratitude shine back at him.

 

            Kaz changed into a pair of his own sleep clothes, a black t-shirt and some gray cotton pants while Inej was in the bathroom. Kaz moved one candle to his bedside table and finally sat down on his bed, his leg immediately grateful after the climb to the attic. He swung his leg up and splayed it out before him, leaning against the headboard. He was in the middle of trying to massage his screaming knee when Inej exited the bathroom. All thoughts left his mind.

 

            Inej. Inej in his clothes. Inej with her hair down in his dress shirt and pants that she must have rolled at the waist five times to make them the right length, they still dragged. Kaz wanted everything he couldn’t have. He’d like to be the man who could undress her now and have her whispering his name within minutes.

 

            “Uh they’re a little long,” Inej flicked out a foot to display his pants still covering her entire foot. Kaz couldn’t help but laugh, he may want many things that are yet out of reach, but Inej going to bed with him, even in the most innocent sense, was already more than he ever deserved.

 

            Inej moved to the other side of his bed and looked questioningly, Kaz pulled open the sheets for her, just as he had on her ship. Inej smiled and slipped into them silently. He saw her inhale and he suddenly wondered if he had a scent. Kaz had grabbed a spare blanket he had for himself out of his trunk, he still wouldn’t brave sleeping under the sheets with her.

 

The sight of Inej with her ink black hair splayed out around his pillows was something Kaz would remember for the rest of his life, he was sure of it. Inej was smiling at him from her laying down position, a good two feet of space between them, he was still sitting up.

 

            “What, wraith?” Kaz looked at her fully now. Her smile did not let up.

 

            “I’m smiling because I’m here. With you. In a room I’ve been in a million times but never got to stay in, even if I had wanted to.” Inej mumbled, her eyes were tracing over his face and Kaz felt his skin warm.

 

            “You wanted to?” Kaz asked. This had surprised him, Inej’s admission.

 

            “Once or twice.” Inej jested, he couldn’t make out if she was flushed in the dim light but he sure as hell hoped so.

 

            Kaz hummed non-committedly. Inej’s smile grew wider. Inej enjoyed surprising him too, he realized. Kaz pulled his blanket from the floor and scooted himself down onto his bed to lay beside her. Careful of his leg, he laid down. Kaz gritted his teeth and winced when it throbbed from the movement.

 

            “Is it bad today?” Inej asked gently from beside him. Kaz nodded. There was no point in lying, she already knew the answer before she asked the question.

 

            “You should invest in an ice box; you can ice it before bed. I did that for years whenever ice was available; when I broke my ankle.” Inej said. Kaz had never known she’d broken her ankle.

 

            “When did you break it?” Kaz asked, turning his gaze to her, her eyes were closed now. The wraith was drowsy.

 

            “I was eight, fell off the wire. Don’t mock me for the rest of our lives because you now know I fell once.” Inej mumbled sleepily. Kaz knew she was not long for consciousness. He felt a wave of emotion hit him hard in the chest.

 

            Inej had said ‘our lives’.

 

Kaz didn’t think he’d ever let himself imagine a future. In the barrel, every day you made it through was a lucky draw at the table of fate. But Kaz was boss now, most wouldn’t even come close to him in the barrel knowing what he was capable of. He was stronger and safer than he’d been in his entire life. Maybe he could think of something like a future.

 

Kaz wanted that word to describe his future. Ours. With Inej.

 

            Kaz heard a soft snore from Inej, a piece of her hair had already fallen in her face. Kaz realized his gloves were still on, he slipped them off and turned and tossed them to his bedside table. He blew out the candle and then Kaz turned back to Inej, and careful not to touch her skin in fear of waking her or her demons, Kaz lifted that strand of hair from her face and tucked it behind her head.

 

            As Kaz Brekker looked upon his sleeping Wraith, his own eyelids drooping, he wondered if he should buy her a toothbrush for the attic bathroom. He’d like more nights like this.

 

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            Inej woke to rain still battering the attic windows, the sun must have just risen-but the clouds made the morning dreary. Inej felt warm and peaceful as her eyes followed rain drops moving down the window on the wall adjacent from Kaz’s bed. She could hear Kaz’s steady breathing behind her coming from the other side of the bed. Inej rolled over to look at him as carefully as she could, she did not want to wake him.

 

            Kaz was turned towards her, his hair messed up from his sleep, his blanket pooling at his waist, his shirt slightly ridden up and Inej could see the muscular pale skin on his abdomen, flecked with slightly pink scars. She wished she could reach out and touch her hand to him there, just to find out if he was warm or cool to the touch in the morning. Kaz’s face was unmarred by his trademark frown, in his sleep he looked his age. Eighteen going on nineteen and a young man. One pale hand was pillowed under his head and Inej wondered if he always slept on his side or if when he was alone, he slept on his back. Kaz did not snore, his breathing was silent and deep. Inej was aware this was probably an odd thing to be doing, but she was transfixed. Kaz was beautiful, all his harsh lines softer somehow in sleep. His brows were relaxed, his mouth barely parted. Inej made a solemn promise to herself that someday, she would know what it felt like to kiss his lips first thing in the morning.

 

            “Do you spy on people in their sleep frequently?” Kaz grumbled, his eyes not yet open. Surprise coursed through her. Inej noted a small quirk of his lips. His voice was even deeper with sleep and Inej didn’t know his voice would change in the morning. It was an attractive noise that sent a wave of heat all the way through her. Inej realized that she was the only person in the world to have seen Kaz Brekker like this. Sleepy and comfortable. She would value the image forever.

 

            “Not often. I’m afraid you’re the first, in fact. I best work on my tactics of stealth in this particular situation.” Inej whispered, her eyes hung on the piece of hair tumbling over Kaz’s forehead. Kaz chuckled, he still had not opened his eyes. Inej wondered if she touched his hair, if that would be a problem. She decided there was no harm in trying, though she wasn’t sure it was a good idea.

 

            Inej reached out her hand and very gently moved that piece of raven hair back into place on Kaz’s head. She saw him tense for only a second, before he realized she had not aimed to touch his skin. He hummed contentedly, Inej realized he must have still been half asleep. She raised the stakes. She ran her hand through his hair, brushing it back with her fingers gently, avoiding getting too close to his scalp. His hair was even softer than she’d imagined it, it was like silk. Real silk. Kaz had a small smile on his lips, his eyelashes subtly fluttered. Inej realized maybe this felt nice for him, the way it had felt nice when he’d brushed her own hair. Inej continued her task, fascinated by the way this felt. It meant so much to Inej, to be here.

 

 Laying down in bed with Kaz on a dreary morning, sharing small touches. It may have only been hair but it was gentle, private. The rain continued to batter the windows and Inej didn’t want to be anywhere else but here, in this safe and warm place with the boy who’d picked the lock on her soul with his crooked grins and hidden kindness.

 

            Kaz reached out and he wrapped his hand around her wrist and for a moment, Inej was scared her touches to his hair had become too much, even though she had not brushed his skin. Inej realized then that if that was the case, Kaz would have let go of her bare wrist within seconds. Instead, Kaz pressed his thumb gently to her pulse point, and he opened his eyes finally. He looked directly into her eyes, and something seemed to release for him, perhaps he needed to look at her when his trauma began to surface. Inej wondered when the day would be that he would tell her what happened to him… tell her his story. Inej wanted to understand fully, she knew bits and pieces. But Inej did not know what led to Kaz having his problem with human skin; she knew it had to be something horrific. Inej didn’t imagine it was the same as her problems, though it could be. She had saved boys from slave ships as well. Inej didn’t imagine it was though, Kaz had seemed like he was… drowning, on the day he’d first ever tried to be near to her, in the hotel bathroom.

 

            Kaz pulled her hand towards himself and Inej let him guide her, she wasn’t sure what he was going to do. His eyes did not leave hers as he set her hand gently against his face, the way Inej had touched him in the Ice Court in Fjerda. This time, Inej let her thumb stroke in a feather light touch along his cheekbone. Inej had wanted to know how sharp his cheekbones felt beneath her fingers for a long time; she never dreamed she’d be able to find out. Kaz looked at her for a long moment, seeming to push his demons away, before he fluttered his eyes shut.

 

            Inej could have sworn she heard the metal clang of armor falling to the ground.

 

KAZ

 

            Kaz had felt the revulsion, he’d felt so nauseous for a moment that he almost jumped out of his bed, damning himself for bringing her hand to his face. Then Kaz had felt her thumb move, gently across his cheek and the water had dropped from his shoulders to his waist in the span of a few moments. Kaz saw her eyes shining in the dim morning light and he wondered what she was thinking. Kaz wondered if she was thinking of the day she’d touched his face at the Ice Court.

 

Kaz continued to focus on his thoughts of her, and on her thumb brushing his face in a gentle motion that was anything but lifeless. Kaz realized that had helped, every time he’d held her hand, she would brush her fingers over his skin in circles every now and then, she had gently squeezed his sides when she hugged him. Kaz realized those reminders, those movements, made touch easier for him- at least slightly. The way her warmth leaked through the pad of her thumb as she touched his skin reminded him that she was alive. Not a corpse. He was alive. Not a corpse. Kaz felt like it was a small breakthrough for him, the discovery that touch with reminders in the form of movement seemed to help his subconscious know that there were no corpses in sight. Kaz let his eyes shut once his stomach settled and the water barely brushed his toes; enjoying the feeling of Inej’s hand on his face. Inej’s touch was something he craved, every day.

 

Kaz felt like he’d walked in the heat and sun for years with no hint of hydration in sight, and this moment, with Inej’s hand on his face, was the moment that he found fresh water.

 

Kaz knew he should get up, get to work. Kaz wanted to spend the day in this bed with Inej instead. Kaz decided then that he would never get anything done unless he was able to set aside some time with her, alone. Just like this moment.

 

“You’re thinking of getting up aren’t you?” Inej asked quietly, her hand not leaving his face. He wanted to laugh, could she really see that much of his mind?

 

“And if I was, Inej?” Kaz opened his eyes to look at her.

 

She was biting her damn lip. It was unfairly distracting. Kaz felt like it was a direct response from the saint’s themselves every time Inej did that, and he could not kiss her and bite that lip himself.

 

“Then I’d have to persuade you to see reason, obviously the smarter decision would be to stay here with me where it is warm and safe from the rain.” Inej said softly with a chuckle.

 

Kaz laughed, reaching to turn her hand on his face to him, he took a deep breath but he wanted to try. He leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss to her wrist, where her pulse beat at a ravenous rhythm. His lips buzzed with the sensation, desire flashed into him; and then he felt the water rising.

 

He looked at her quickly, breathing slightly uneven. He began to pull away, but she stared back and she must have seen something in his eyes. Inej backed away across the bed much faster and silently. Taking her hand gently away from him. It all happened too quickly.

 

            Kaz wanted to break something. Kaz took repeated deep breaths, rolling to his back, trying to stop the water from continuing. He squeezed his eyes shut. He felt bloated skin brush past his ankles and he swallowed harshly, he did not want to hyperventilate now. After several agonizingly long minutes, Kaz opened his eyes to the ceiling, calm again. He turned his head, but Inej was no longer on his bed. He had been drowning and he hadn’t sensed her move away from him, this enraged him. All Kaz wanted was to be able to…. To kiss her wrist. He’d kissed her hand that night on the ship, but that had been less of a kiss, and more of a brush of his lips… he just wanted to be able to do it. He felt like he’d broken down a barrier with her hand on his face. It had made him brave. Inej had seen his shame clearly now. Kaz felt split open. He felt like his heart had fallen out of his chest and she’d seen how broken it was.

 

“Are you alright?” Inej asked, Kaz sat up abruptly. She hadn’t left. He hadn’t been able to sense her while drowning, either. Inej was standing near his desk, across the room. She was looking at him with questioning eyes. She was still in his clothes and her hair shined when the window light caught it.

 

Kaz nodded once. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and held his head in his hands for a moment, elbows on his legs. Kaz needed to tell her. He knew he did. He just didn’t know how. Kaz had relived the worst moments of his life over and over again and he’d never told another person about any of it. Kaz had no idea how to let this part of his armor go. It felt like ripping off his own skin; in fact, Kaz would prefer to do that rather than tell Inej what had happened to him and for her to potentially decide once and for all that he was far to broken and twisted for someone so beautifully strong as her. Kaz wouldn’t blame her if she ran. Kaz wouldn’t do anything if she decided that for herself, it was her choice. Kaz felt a lump of anxiety drop deep into his stomach. He would tell her. But not right now.

 

“When will you tell me what happened to you, Kaz?” Inej had moved closer and her voice was a whisper, pleading with him.

 

Kaz looked up, she was standing in front of him now, her eyes begged him for something he wanted to give her so badly that it terrified him. Trusting Inej with everything, all his broken parts… it was the one thing in his entire life that Kaz wasn’t sure he’d be able to do. Seeing her eyes like this though, he knew he had to try. Inej deserved that. Kaz deserved that much too; to be able to tell his story to one other human being without having to lock all his armor back into place.

 

“If I promise you that I will, soon, just not right now, would that be enough?” Kaz found himself asking and he felt the truth in his own words. He would try and tell her, but not right after drowning. He couldn’t force the words out now. Kaz took his head from his hands and looked back up at her. Her eyes were kind, soft.

 

“I’ll hold you to the deal, Kaz. But yes, that- I can live with that. I just… I needed to know that I wouldn’t be left in the dark forever. I want to share your burden, the way you took on mine. Do you understand?” Inej said quietly, her gaze never shaking from his, her shoulders never dropping.

 

“I do.” Kaz heard himself answer. Kaz didn’t know how Inej could still be standing here, looking at him the way she was, like she still wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Kaz had failed to kiss her wrist, it wasn’t like he’d even tried to kiss her cheek, her lips. How could she still want him?

 

“Because there’s far more here than that, and you know it, Kaz.” Inej spoke, and Kaz had no idea he’d even said those thoughts aloud. He was truly in a poor state now.

 

“I do know that.” Kaz released a heavy sigh and stood. Inej moved away from him and looked very confused when he stood and slipped his blazer on right over his t-shirt, and pulled his gloves on. He was sure he looked ridiculous in sleep trousers and a blazer, but he didn’t care. Kaz wasn’t leaving this room; he knew what he wanted. What he needed.

 

Kaz sat down on the edge of his bed once more and gestured with his hand, asking Inej to cross the room back to him. Inej raised a brow that said she was skeptical of making things worse by being close to him now. But she stepped in front of him between his knees nonetheless. Kaz looked in her eyes before he moved his arms around her waist. He rested his forehead on her stomach. He felt her go still for a moment, and then he felt her hand in his hair, the way she had brushed it back only thirty minutes’ prior.

 

Kaz had put his jacket and gloves on, because he had desperately wanted to hug her, even through their layers of clothes. Kaz knew he’d be able to still do this, with their layers and he needed… he needed to be close to her again after drowning. Kaz let himself get lost in the feeling of her hands in his hair, and the gentle curve of her waist under his arms. Kaz almost thought he imagined it, when he heard Inej say something under her breath.

 

“It’s you and me, Kaz. We never stop fighting.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

INEJ

            The night was cloudy and damp, but the rain had finally let up to a patter instead of a roll; and the wraith was laying on a rooftop on her belly. A spyglass twisted in her hand as she spied on Charles Hester in his study. He was pacing and wringing his hands as if he was anxious for something- he also kept checking a wall where Inej was sure a clock depicted the time, nine bells and a quarter.

 

            Inej had seen his wife leave in a carriage just after six bells, a trunk in tow. Inej had only watched the estate since the week prior when this began; but now knew that the unfortunate wife, Thalia Hester, visited her sister in the countryside every other weekend, thanks to Roeder’s previous intel. Charles looked like he was awaiting something, or someone.

 

            Two more hours’ past, and the rain had kicked back up a beat, leaving Inej in wet clothes and no further intel of use. She dimly wondered how Charles hadn’t popped a blood vessel from all his pacing.

 

Maybe it would be retribution enough to watch the man keel over and die from a rooftop away.

 

Inej wanted to leave, she hadn’t had a shower since that morning and she hadn’t seen Kaz since she left the morning prior. The night in between had been too stormy for any recon of use and Inej had instead indulged Jesper in drinking and brand new sea shanties from her travels. Wylan had played the piano for them and laughed every time Jesper hiccupped during his verses. It warmed Inej’s heart thinking of nights like those, with her chosen tribe. It had been a wonderful evening that Inej wished she would have shared with Kaz, as well.

 

Kaz had almost gone into a panic in front of her the morning before, all from trying to give her a kiss against her wrist. Inej had felt like someone ripped out her heart seeing him like that again, his eyes nearly as panicked as the day long ago in the bathroom of the Geldrenner. Inej had meant her words to him, she needed to know what happened so she could understand. When Inej had told him without armor, she had as much meant the armor around his heart and mind as she meant it about his body and leather clad hands. Inej could also be patient, but he had said soon and she would hold him to his word; though she knew he wouldn’t have said it unless he intended to follow through.

 

Kaz Brekker was alwaysa man of his word.

 

Inej shook herself from her thoughts when a carriage and four pulled into the access alley of the Hester estate-it was strange that a carriage had not pulled into the front drive; almost as if Charles did not want prying eyes to see he had company if they strolled the road in front of his home. Inej tipped her spy glass and scooted closer to the edge of the roof, the rain was not yet heavy enough for her not to be able to get a decent view.

 

Inej was able to make out the bustle of skirts, and a coachman held an umbrella over the womanly figure entering the Hester estate under the cover of night and rain. Inej wondered who this woman would be. With his wife gone, Inej had figured Charles would have visited the Vixen’s Garden. His new favorite pleasure house; Inej had no idea why he no longer frequented the Menagerie.

 

Inej vaguely wondered if he’d stopped that particular excursion on his route of wickedness when Kaz had gotten her out of that horrendous place. Perhaps his appetite for Lynx had been sated.

 

Inej kept her spyglass pointed to Hester, in his study. He paused his pacing when a servant opened the door, presumably to let him know that his company had arrived. Inej felt a twist in her stomach, it felt like something was about to happen, something unpleasant. Inej always trusted her gut feelings, and this moment was no different. Perhaps whatever she was about to discover could help Kaz navigate a scheme to run Charles Hester into the ground and six feet under forever. Inej had to stay her course, even with the chilling rain seeping into her bone marrow.

 

Inej’s mind could not catch up to the sight in front of her, some minutes later. Her reality was frayed like the end of a rope.

 

No. No. How? Why?

 

Inej had seen enough. Inej took off as fast as the rain would allow to the Slat. Inej wanted to scream until her vocal chords snapped and she became a phantom on the wind.

 

KAZ

 

            Kaz was sitting at his desk in the attic, having brought the copious amounts of paperwork that needed completing with him. He had wanted to climb to his room in the attic after returning from the club before his leg got worse with the rain ramping up again. Kaz hated the late autumn months, his leg seemed to prefer even the snow over the blasted rain. In the middle of yet another signature, Kaz felt Inej’s presence on his window sill. He fought his urge to smile, he hadn’t seen her since she left after his near episode the morning prior.

 

            “Wraith.” Kaz flicked his gaze to her now, she stepped silently into the room and shut the window harshly behind her. She was dripping with rain water and she didn’t even seem to have noticed he’d said anything. Inej began to pace in front of his desk, her fists clenching and unclenching at her sides, her gaze on the ground. Kaz knew she was angry, but he did not suspect it was with him. Kaz was momentarily at a loss for words, Inej very rarely looked rage induced.

 

Something had happened, something that unsettled even his Wraith.

 

            “Inej.” Kaz rasped after she continued pacing for a few minutes, surely waring holes into the floor boards. She needed to get out of her thoughts, he could tell. Inej preferred to sit still and he’d never seen her pace in anger.

 

            “What?” Inej paused and shook her head, acknowledging Kaz for the first time. A drop of rain water slipped down her forehead and she wiped furiously at it. Her tone was harsh but Kaz noticed her eyes focus on him and she took a deep breath.

 

            “Care to share before we end up in some unfortunate Dreg’s room below us?” Kaz quipped, setting down his pen and leaning back in his chair to listen to her. Inej didn’t smile, her gaze had dropped back to the floor. She began pacing again.

 

            “He has a mistress, Kaz. A mistress. I’ll give you every kruge in my pocket right now if you can even guess who it is.” Inej had raised her voice and had barely paused to look at him. Inej looked like she wanted to break something and Kaz could empathize. He’d been there- in fact he was a household name there.

 

            Kaz wasn’t sure why Charles Hester’s mistress was a problem but Kaz would indulge Inej and her bet. Kaz needed to find out what exactly was tormenting Inej when she hated the man so much, with excellent reason. Kaz hated him too and if she asked him to, Kaz would pick up his cane and pistol now and walk to Hester’s front door and deliver a death warrant in the form of a crows head and a bullet.

 

            “Let me guess, one of his colleague’s wives? Or perhaps his own servant? Mercher’s tend to be the same across the board on this front, Inej. You know that as much as I do.” Kaz said easily and immediately regretted it. Inej turned toward him slowly and her glare was icy, she let out a frustrated laugh.

 

            “I’m not surprised he has a mistress, Kaz. I couldn’t care less. I know how many men in this city don’t have a loyal bone or appendage on their person. Do not think me naïve, we’ve cased many an estate with mistresses. Do you think I would be this upset if it was not something different than “across the board”?” Inej’s tone was laced with anger, but Kaz still sensed it was not directed to him. He was about to speak when Inej continued, her voice low and filled with untamed rage.

 

            “Tante Heleen. That is who his mistress is.” Kaz swallowed and nodded slowly, the new information did surprise him; but it did not change anything. All this did was tell Kaz that two of his most wanted targets could be caught in the same room together. The only thing it could change was if after hitting Charles’ estate for all his slave trade funds, perhaps they could find out if Tante Heleen was working along-side him. Perhaps Charles was considering funding the Menagerie’s acquirement of girls as well as the Vixen Garden’s. Kaz and Inej would take it all down from beneath them.

 

It would be like blowing a breath on the cards at the base of the card house. Swift. Utterly catastrophic.

 

“It doesn’t change anything.” Kaz said, trying to force kindness into his otherwise gruff voice. Inej had looked upon her worst nightmares tonight. Kaz knew she had resisted slitting their throats. Kaz almost wished she hadn’t. Damn the revenge. But, Kaz also knew Inej wanted to stop the slave trade more than anything, if she took out those two leads now, her chances of success on the true sea would be far lower.

 

“What do you mean it changes nothing?” Inej snapped, her hands clenching again at her sides, shoulders back.

 

“What does it change with our approach to Charles Hester?” Kaz paused until he had Inej’s gaze locked on his. “We still need to get into that safe. We still need to find out which slave routes he supplies his funds to. As far as Heleen goes, this will be our first slight against her. I doubt she has any true attachment to the man, you know as well as I that her pleasure house is all she deems worthy of her affections. Which means I’d wager she knows that Hester throws his extra funds around to acquire bodies for the Vixen’s Garden. She wants him to funnel kruge into skin for the Menagerie, instead. Heleen is not above using her own body to reach that goal. We still need to take out Hester’s funds, Inej. That is what I mean.” Kaz said, running his hand over his hair. Inej was seeing red, and for that he could not blame her.

 

“I really hate that.” Inej said softly, releasing a heavy sigh.

 

“Hate what?” Kaz questioned.

 

“When you’re right. I wanted a reason to throw knives at their faces, Kaz.” Inej slipped with a small smile.

 

“I’m right quite often, Inej darling. It should stop surprising you.” Kaz grinned a knife edged smile.

 

“If you’re not careful, I’m going to throw my knives at you and we shall see who is cheeky then.” Inej mumbled as she finally sat in the chair in front of his desk.

 

“You’d miss me, how unfortunate for you.” Kaz joked. He had an idea, and perhaps he could take a step away from his papers for the rest of the evening, what little there was left of it. Inej clearly needed a distraction from her rage. Inej giggled as she rolled her neck, probably stiff from hours of casing the estate and looking through a spy glass.

 

“Stop being right.” Inej mumbled with a soft smile. Kaz decided then that his work for the evening was done with. For once, Kaz couldn’t give a damn and there was nothing besides Inej that demanded his attention at this moment.

 

Kaz stood and went to the single painting that hung on the wall behind him to his left, next to his desk. It was the only thing hung on the walls in his attic rooms. The painting meant nothing to him, it was marked with small holes all across the front of it and it had some mediocre landscape etched into the canvas. He saw Inej tilt her head just slightly, a thing she did when she was confused. Kaz turned away from her, suppressing a smile. He lifted the painting off the wall to reveal a target behind it, marked with holes from days when Kaz needed to shut off his brain, or, comparatively, when he desperately needed to figure something out- a job, a scheme, his demons. Kaz had never shown this to anyone, but now Inej would know of its existence.

 

Perhaps the Wraith would prefer a wager to rage.

 

INEJ

 

            Inej watched as Kaz revealed a target hidden behind the lone painting in his room, Inej had always wondered if the painting had meant anything to Kaz. She supposed it did, in a sense. It hid something.

 

Kaz and his secrets were like magnets. Always together.

 

            “There was a dart board behind that?” Inej asked incredulously, shaking her head. “There’s holes in the painting, because you threw darts with it still hanging? I thought you had moths, Kaz!” Inej exclaimed quietly with a smile pulling her lips.

 

            “You thought I had moths? Near my suits? No Inej, absolutely not.” Kaz laughed freely and Inej was overcome with the urge to just touch that smile with her own. She loved when Kaz laughed like that. A small dimple would appear in his right cheek with that free type of laughter. It made her heart ache in a beautiful way.

 

            “Well how was I supposed to know! What if that painting was a family heirloom or something?” Inej jibed and Kaz smiled that brilliantly crooked smile before his chuckle was too much to hold back. Inej felt pleasant warmness spread through her at the happiness in his dark eyes.

 

            “I got the painting in a dumpster, for Ghezen sake, Inej.” Kaz choked out in between receding chuckles. He ran a gloved hand over the side of his face.

 

            “Fine. So you play darts?” Inej questioned, standing from her chair and going to the dart board, that was filled with hundreds of marks. Inej heard Kaz move to his desk and open a drawer.

 

            “No, I play knives.” Kaz answered as he pulled out a set of onyx throwing blades. Inej felt laughter bubble in her throat and she could not contain it even if she wished.

 

            “I suppose I do too.” She gritted out pointing at her blades on her arms and legs, her laughter taking over. Inej didn’t understand what the look Kaz gave her was, but he was watching her laugh as if he’d never heard the noise before. There was a smile gracing his lips and Inej noticed in the span of a few moments, those trickster hands had removed his gloves and from sight without her even noticing.

 

            “Care to play a round or two?” Kaz asked her now as he limped toward her.

 

            “Obviously. I throw knives all the time.” Inej jested as he motioned for her to back up.

 

            “So do I, or did you not notice the holes? Oh wait, moths must have gotten to that too.” Kaz grinned crookedly.

 

            “Oh you are awful.” Inej mumbled as she stood in the spot he gestured to.

 

            “We all know that.” Kaz said with amusement lighting his eyes. “Shall we wager?” Kaz asked.

 

            “I have no need to take your kruge Kaz, and I sure as hell know you don’t need mine.” Inej laughed, taking a single blade from his hand and testing the slight weight and balance in her hand.

 

            Kaz hummed and Inej saw an idea pass through his eyes and he grinned deviously.

 

            Oh no.

 

            Kaz limped to his desk and pulled out two glass tumblers and an unopened bottle of amber liquid. “Drinks instead of kruge then.”

 

Inej felt butterfly wings tickle her stomach. Inej had never seen Kaz well and truly drunk, she wondered what that was like. Kaz was always in control, always refined and polished. She herself was the only one to know what he looked like when he wasn’t those things- an image of Kaz lying next to her in bed in the morning flashed into mind. Was he the type to have looser lips when he drank? Was he like her, easy to laugh? Was he angry? Was he affectionate? No. Inej didn’t imagine he was either of those last two options. Inej hoped he was easy to make laugh, this was a wager she intended to win.

 

            “What shall it be then? A drink per bullseye, a sip per ring?” Inej asked with a wicked grin of her own. Kaz was feeling cheeky today and she found she very much enjoyed it, she enjoyed happiness on Kaz Brekker. It was her favorite look of his.

 

            “The deal is the deal, Wraith.” Kaz grinned and stood beside her, gesturing for her to go first, her blade already poised in her fingers. Inej took a deep breath and imagined Tante Heleen at the center of the target, how could her saints not aid her blade in striking true this time? Inej lifted her arm back, her posture fit for an act on the wire. She let the blade fly.

 

Bullseye.

 

            “Drink up, Dirtyhands.” Inej beamed once her blade stopped its wobble on the board. Kaz rolled his eyes but poured himself a drink and downed the entire thing. Inej found herself watching his throat as he tilted the drink back, the pale skin almost completely unmarred save for a small freckle just below his adam’s apple. Inej wondered if he had a birthmark. Inej had one on her left ankle, a constellation of freckles. When Inej was small, her father had claimed was a mark for greatness by the saints.

 

            “Back up, Darling.” Kaz said as she moved out of his way. Inej smiled, she found she enjoyed his small affections, like the term ‘darling’. Inej never would have thought herself to be the girl who enjoyed being called anything but her name, but Kaz had this way of wringing surprises out of her about herself. Kaz had shrugged out of his blazer and rolled his sleeves up to his elbows. It was infuriatingly distracting.

 

            Kaz raised one arm and with the flick of a pale wrist, the blade landed true, just inside the bullseye next to Inej’s own. Damn him.

 

            “I believe it’s your turn to drink, Inej.” Kaz said as he limped to the board and retrieved both blades. Inej shook her head. Infuriating, talented man.

 

            Inej poured herself a drink and took a deep swig, unable to drink the whole thing as Kaz had. Bourbon never went down as easy for her. She knew she made a face as she swallowed based on Kaz’s chip on his shoulder and crooked grin. Inej resisted the urge to show him a gesture that heavily relied on one finger, Kaz had taught her that gesture himself when she was fresh out of the Menagerie, and she had no idea what it meant. It was then that Inej realized that Kaz had successfully distracted her from all of her previous rage. A warm arm of gratitude wrapped her heart. Kaz hadn’t even thought, he’d just acted. It made Inej want to kiss his cheek again, even through fabric. She wanted far more, but she would settle for being able to do that again. Soon.

 

            An hour later, they were still throwing knives, but neither of them could make a perfect shot anymore. Due to both the bourbon and their bickering over turn order. Inej did not think she had laughed quite this much in a long while- it was surely the most she had ever seen Kaz smile. His laughs were harder to earn, and Inej valued each one as if she could stuff them in a safe to look at whenever he was not near. Inej had landed a blade two rings from the bullseye and released a frustrated sigh paired with a chuckle.

 

            “Do you want to know a secret?” Kaz asked, she knew he was still much soberer than she, but his skin was slightly flushed, something she had never seen before. Inej found it was a delightful color and committed it to her memory. Inej answered in suli before thinking of it.

            “What does that one mean?” Kaz asked as he retrieved their blades.

 

            “It means: Secrets are simply a memory we wish to keep for ourselves, whether wicked or remarkable.” Inej answered as she sipped her drink. Kaz nodded, as if he was trying to commit it to his own memory. Kaz walked to her and he looked her in the eye in question, Inej wasn’t sure what he wanted but nodded slightly. He gripped her left arm lightly and triggered the quick-release mechanism on Sankt Petyr. Inej raised a brow as he removed the blade. Kaz tested the weight in his hand and Inej noticed a small smile light his face, his eyes were appraising the blade as if remembering something. Inej knew he’d explain when he was ready. A few moments later, he lifted his gaze to her.

 

            “This is the best one to throw, the throwing knives feel too light.” Kaz said as he flipped the blade between his fingers once, as if it were a deck of cards.

 

            “You’ve thrown Sankt Petyr?” Inej whispered surprise lacing her voice. This was the first blade she’d ever owned and the first knife she’d used on the job. Kaz had given it to her a week after he’d convinced Per Haskell to buy her indenture. Perhaps he’d tested it himself before giving it to her? Inej remembered that day, when she’d walked into her room a floor below them now.

 

            A box sat in the center of her cot, a simple white cardstock. Inej looked back out of her room to see if anyone was nearby to have placed it there and was met with no one in the hall. Inej walked toward her bed and sat down, taking the box into her lap.

 

            Inej opened the box to reveal a knife on a bed of tissue paper. A simple note in a messy scrawl read:

 

            Learn how to use it. Training at seven bells.

                        -K

 

            Inej remembered how she felt when she’d taken the wicked little blade in her hand. She felt like she could become what the boy, Kaz, had told her she was. Dangerous. The knife had glinted in the sun from her small window and Inej Ghafa felt like a piece of herself clicked back into place.

 

            The Lynx had claws.

 

            “Yes. Many times.” Kaz said in a near whisper, flicking the blade between his fingers again. He lifted his gaze to hers and Inej let her questions show in her eyes. Kaz released a breath.

 

            “It was the first blade I ever bought, when I had enough money. It was after… after my brother died.” Kaz said and Inej felt shock whip through her.

 

Sankt Petyr had been Kaz’s own blade? How many times had she used this knife? How many times had this knife saved lives in the act of taking them?

 

“Why did you give it to me?” Inej asked quietly as he finally looked to meet her gaze.

 

“Because you reminded me…. You reminded me of myself.” Kaz answered confidently, his eyes not leaving hers. Inej felt warm. Had Kaz shifted closer to her? He was less than a foot from her now. The bourbon and the proximity to what she wanted so desperately was a deadly combination. It left her feeling… warm and electrified. Like a lightning bolt was coiled in her chest, ready to strike out.

 

“How so?” Inej found herself asking. Kaz was silent for a moment and she saw a deep pain crash in his brown eyes, perhaps a memory.

 

“You’d been through something horrible. No one had given you a way to protect yourself. But you wanted to protect yourself, I could feel it. See it. It was the way you stood and held yourself in the Menagerie despite the horror that it was. So I gave you what I’d given myself, a way to defend. I didn’t part with it lightly, but I don’t think I could have stopped myself from giving it to you, you needed it and I didn’t. I wanted to see it put to use by someone who wouldn’t stop fighting. You were that person.” Kaz admitted, his gaze never leaving hers as the words slipped from his mouth.

 

Inej felt like her heart could break out of her chest and fly. Kaz had given her Sankt Petyr because he’d wanted her to protect herself, it was never just to be a good spider. He’d seen something of himself in her and Inej felt like something in the puzzle that was Kaz Brekker clicked into place.

 

“Thank you.” Inej whispered, looking in his eyes. Inej felt herself shake slightly as she moved to her tiptoes, Kaz was watching her intently but he did not pull away.

 

Inej closed the distance and kissed him just by his mouth on his cheek, a feather of a touch, but with no fabric in sight. She felt him shudder once, then she stepped back a few inches. Kaz had closed his eyes, but Inej noticed his even breathing. Had the shudder been from his trauma or something else entirely?

 

Kaz opened his eyes that were filled with hunger and happiness in equal measure; and he smiled that smile with the dimple. Inej smiled back softly and slipped Sankt Petyr from his grasp, she turned to the board once more, and let the blade soar.

 

Bullseye.

 

 

           

 

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            Kaz was staring, he knew he was. He couldn’t stop himself though as Inej tried repeatedly to make the coin slide through her fingers in a copy of his motion. The coin clattered to the floor in front of her crossed legs for the fifth time and she laughed the laugh.

 

Beautiful.

 

They had stopped drinking hours ago and Inej had watched him flipping blades between his fingers as they sat on the floor of his attic, her back against the wall under the window sill, him across from her with his leg stretched out to her side. Inej asked him to teach her, he had suggested they start with a coin. Inej had never seen Kaz make a coin disappear before, she’d seen him shuffle decks in the club and lift valuables, but the coin was something Kaz hadn’t really practiced in years. That meant nothing though, his fingers remembered the trick easily, his whole childhood had been dedicated to the art of trickery and magic. Inej’s eyes when he’d made the coin disappear, with his sleeves rolled up, was something he’d never forget.

 

“How do you do it? I don’t understand.” Inej had reached for his hand so naturally, turning it over in her own and looking for the coin that was missing in action. Kaz felt no water in that moment, her touch on his hand was something he was beginning to feel… natural about. Maybe he had the bourbon left over in his system to thank for it partially, but he was almost completely sober now.

 

“Wouldn’t be a trick if I told you how it’s done, Wraith.” Kaz jested as she grabbed his other hand, even though it had been nowhere near the coin. She continued her search. Kaz’s heart picked up its rhythm at the sight of her curious eyes, he had looked the same way when he was a boy and saw the coin disappear. Her dark eyes narrowed when her search of his hands proved unfruitful, she picked up her own coin again. Kaz wouldn’t tell her how the coin disappeared, but he would show her the motions of rolling it between her fingers like he was able to with a blade, a coin, cards and almost anything else. Inej’s fingers were clumsy with inexperience but Kaz saw sheer determination in her eyes.

 

Inej successfully rolled the coin over one knuckle for the first time smoothly, it fell to the floor but she looked up at him with a smile that Kaz had seen only once before, when Inej picked her first lock without any assistance from him, back when she first joined the Dregs. It was a smile of triumph.

 

“Did you see that? I almost did it!” Inej beamed at the coin on the floor, like it was some sort of small miracle.

 

“I saw.” Kaz said simply with a small grin. He flipped his own coin back between his fingers.

 

“How? Where?” Inej was looking at him again and he couldn’t stop the chuckle that came from his lips at the sight of her jutted lip.

 

“Doesn’t matter.” Kaz joked. Inej rolled her eyes but her smile returned.

 

“When did you learn to do these things? Since you won’t tell me how.” Inej asked as she once again picked up her coin and tried to skip it over her knuckles once more.

 

Kaz swallowed as his coin slipped between his fingers. Kaz had been contemplating all evening if he could finally tell Inej. If he could do it. If he wanted to do it, as well as needed to. Kaz wanted to, he had decided. That conclusion didn’t make it any easier. Kaz didn’t know if he could, and Kaz found himself analyzing every small detail of the evening, it had been wonderful. How could Kaz tell Inej his awful past on a night so… so happy. He didn’t know if he would be able to bare it if Inej decided to leave and never return once she toured his shattered inner workings. Of course, he would bare it if she walked away. But Kaz knew now that he wouldn’t recover from it, it scared him more than anything ever had. Jordie’s voice swirled his thoughts into a potion of doubt. There was one small voice that screamed within him though, tell her.

 

Tell Inej and let her see you. Let it go. Let her in. 

 

Kaz shifted his gaze to Inej and found she was already looking at him, a piece of her braid had come undone and a black strand of hair hung on the side of her face that swung lightly as she tilted her head, waiting for his response. Her eyes were wide and welcome, and Kaz had to try. He knew her question had been innocent enough, but Kaz didn’t want to drown again before he at least tried to tell her what happened to him.

 

Kaz reached out his hand and her eyes tracked his movement as he tucked that strand of hair behind her ear, the way his past-self had wanted to hundreds of times. Kaz briefly wondered if he was able to tell himself a year ago that he would be sitting in this very room with Inej, and able to do something as simple as that, if he would have believed him. Definitely not. The rain had stopped over an hour ago and Kaz decided if he was going to answer Inej; in the long handed truth, he didn’t want to be inside. Kaz wasn’t concerned about anyone hearing him and Inej on this floor, but Kaz felt like the fresh air and absolute certainty that he was alone with Inej, might make it…possible.

 

“Will you come to the roof with me?” Kaz asked quietly. Inej looked him in the eye and he saw a flicker of surprise pass her dark irises, but she nodded all the same. She stuck the coin in her pocket and when Kaz raised a brow, he read the answer in her eyes, ‘for practice’. His lips quirked up.

 

 Kaz stood stiffly and turned his hand to Inej, she took it and did not let go for a moment when she stood, he felt a gentle squeeze. It felt like encouragement. Kaz moved away with his back turned and pulled on his blazer and then his coat. When he looked back, the window was open and Inej was already out of sight. Silent as always. Kaz was grateful for a moment alone, he had no idea what he was about to do and was convinced he just might feel his demons pull him under the canal water just from trying to speak of the nightmare that his life had been. Kaz took a deep breath when he reached the window sill, the cool night air whipping his face.

 

Jordie, please, let me have this. I’ll lose her if I can’t do this. Please.

 

Kaz grabbed his cane and swung out the window and made the small climb up onto the roof. Inej was already there, her legs hanging over the edge, she was re-braiding her hair as she looked out over Ketterdam, foggy moonlight and the street lamps below were the only source of illumination. Kaz finally settled beside her, setting his cane behind him. Kaz noticed her palm, face up next to him. Kaz slipped his fingers into her hand and was surprised at the warmth and naturalness of the movement. He’d done it without a second thought. Kaz had his gloves in his pocket… in case he couldn’t do this. He felt like Inej sensed that he was considering telling her everything, she was quiet but it was in that way were he could sense a tangible energy in her silence. This energy was an air of patience. Kaz wasn’t sure how long passed in that silence, perhaps two minutes, perhaps twenty. Kaz felt Inej idly rubbing his hand with her thumb as she stared out over the city.

 

Their city.

 

“You know, the one thing that the sea offers that the land can never match is the stars.” Inej said quietly. Kaz looked over to her, there was a wistful smile on her lips that made her dark eyes shine just a little more.

 

“When I was small, Papa would sneak me out late past my bedtime and let me ride on his shoulders, and we would walk and walk until we found it. The perfect view of the stars. Papa would tell me that the stars shined for those brave enough to seek the sky, and acrobats were the sky’s native people. That’s why we strive for the sky, because we don’t fear the fall.” Inej smiled as her memory played across her eyes. Kaz felt like he could see it too.

 

A small suli girl on her father’s shoulders in the Ravkan countryside, hunting the stars.

 

“I remember thinking how brave the stars were, to shine and shine, so confident in their beauty; but too far away to see if anyone bothered to look up.” Inej mused, as she shifted her gaze to the sky, covered in clouds.

 

Kaz wasn’t sure why she was sharing this piece of herself with him, but he felt a strong hammer of emotion strike deep inside his chest. It was overwhelming; it was infinite. It was everything. He felt courage deep in his bones, how could he not let Inej see him? When she was leaving all the windows to her heart unlocked for him and him alone?

 

“I found that perfect view of the stars on the sea. It’s when the sea is calm, her emotions at peace. The water will reflect every drop of star and lunar light right back to the sky, and it’s the most magic I’ve ever seen in this world. It makes me believe the old tales.” She paused, turning her gaze to Kaz, he could see something like wonder there and he hadn’t a clue what she was going to say, but he found himself begging with his eyes for her to continue.

 

“There’s one story in my culture, in kerch it says: “All the moon ever wanted was the Sea, he loved her with all his gravity and will. The sea loved him too, with all her depth and untamable spirit, so she would send her tides at his call. Together, they would meet the land and create waves that could drown a village, or send a lost ship home. If you looked closely, you could see their love in the way she reflected his light right back to the sky for him to see his beauty; and believe in himself as much as she. Etma se saman.” Inej’s eyes were soft, with a gentle ferocity swimming in her pupils that Kaz wished to dive into.

 

“What does that mean? The ending?” Kaz asked quietly, and he felt her gently squeeze his hand.

 

“I’ll tell you if you tell me, Kaz.” Inej whispered, her eyes pleading for the answers she deserved. Kaz wanted to know what it meant, and he realized Inej had told him something with that story. She wanted to reflect back to him, but he needed to show her the darkness first. Kaz took a deep breath. He squeezed her hand once, and he let go.

 

“I didn’t… I’m not from Ketterdam.” Kaz rasped, his words tight in his throat. He looked over the city, the only place he’d ever said he was from. Inej was silent, he didn’t look at her, not now. Not yet.

 

“I came from the countryside, my family, we owned a farm. In a small town called Lij. My family had owned it for generations, Rietveld is an old and respected name in those parts of Kerch. I meant that when I used my own name for Colm Fahey’s cover. That’s how I knew if anyone looked into the name, their curiosity would be met with truth and they would let it go.” Kaz paused and locked his fingers together in his lap. The breeze whistled past his face, encouraging him to continue.

 

“My mother, she died when I was born. Birth complications. I don’t remember her at all, obviously. But my father used to say she was far too good for him. When I was young, I didn’t understand how anyone could be too good for anyone else. I think I do now, though.” Kaz released the breath that caught in his throat. He could feel Inej’s eyes on his face but he didn’t give into the temptation to look at her. He knew she would be silent for now, even if she wanted to speak. He was grateful for it.

 

“My brother… my brother Jordie, he was four years older than me. He told me our mother made cookies and laughed at everything. I imagine that was true, because Jordie laughed all the time.” Kaz felt like the words were constricting in his throat and he swallowed the knot down, he hadn’t even told her much yet. He had to keep going. Kaz stole a quick glance at Inej, she recognized his brother’s name, he could tell. Kaz had accidentally called Jesper by Jordie’s name once. Her gaze shifted to his and it was soft, so soft. Kaz wanted to say damn his story and make her laugh again instead. Kaz couldn’t though, he couldn’t disappoint her like that. Kaz couldn’tlose her.

 

“Our Da was a very good, traditional man. He worked hard. He provided. He loved us, Jordie and I. We had a dog that we named Timber, he bought us Timber. All of my memories of Lij are good, until the end. We had space to run, we had a house and a father who loved us. We had a tutor who taught us, who taught all the farm children. It was simple, easy.” Kaz recalled, his voice near a whisper. He saw Inej’s lips move into a small smile at the mention of his childhood dog. Kaz knew Inej loved animals, her and her damn birds. He’d also seen her feed a stray cat once, when she thought no one was looking.

 

“When I was nine… Our Da was killed in a plowing accident in the fields. Jordie… Jordie had to take over everything in our lives, he was thirteen. He had to sell our farm, our house. The day we got the check- a small amount that seemed like so much more to me then; we packed our little suitcases and he bought us transportation to Ketterdam. He told me that he was going to use the money to make us more money, somehow. I didn’t know what that meant when I was nine. He said he’d become a merchant, he was old enough to start working. Making us money. He said that he… that he would get enough money to buy us an apartment, and I would go to school and become whatever I wanted.” Kaz felt something strange in his eyes, it took him several moments to realize his eyes were watering. Kaz had not shed a tear since the day he crawled from the canal, reborn. Save for some panic attacks. Kaz hadn’t had one that bad in years, though.

 

“It sounds like he was a good brother.” Inej whispered, she had shifted slightly closer to him, still careful to leave space. Kaz found himself wanting her closer. He felt like he was going to choke.

 

“He was my best friend.” Kaz whispered, the words couldn’t be stopped. It was the truth that had been buried in him for a decade.

 

His brother hadn’t just died; his best friend had died too.

 

“He was also a fool. A young, green, fool.” Kaz said quietly, shaking his head. Inej had heard this much from him once before, in the bathroom at the hotel. Kaz sighed and continued.

 

“Jordie and I found a small room to live in at a boarding house in the city. We had shelter and a little bit of money and Jordie began looking for work. I hated it, being left in that room alone all day, but Jordie would go for walks with me when he came home. It’s when I first saw a street magician make a coin disappear, to answer your question from earlier.” Kaz looked at Inej now, she was looking at him too. The small hairs around her face were lifting in the breeze and her lips were slightly parted. Her skin looked less bronze and more radiant under the swash of moonlight.

 

Kaz wanted her so much, Kaz wanted her more than his armor.

 

“Jordie and I went for a walk, one of those nights. We saw a boy selling wind-up toy dogs. I dragged Jordie to them, I had to understand how they worked, and I missed our dog. I couldn’t resist the pull.” Kaz felt anxiety creeping up in his chest. This. This is where Kaz wanted to stop, every instinct in him told him to stand up, climb off the roof, and lock his window. Lock Inej out. Go inside, polish his pistol. Get work done and forget Inej forever. Kaz felt his heart break, and in that moment, he felt true despair. Even if he got up now, he’d never forget Inej. Inej would haunt him forever, a more beautiful and living ghost, so different than his brother. Inej would not forgive him if he locked her out, literally and metaphorically. Inej knew her worth, she always had. Kaz knew it, too.

 

“Jordie ended up talking to the boy, Philip, who told him where he might find work,” Kaz began. Kaz swallowed and told her about the coffee shop, about the man, Jakob Hertzoon, who offered Jordie work as a missive runner. Kaz told Inej how his brother had been so happy to have work, how Kaz had hot chocolate at the coffee house every day, and how Kaz couldn’t remember much about that week except trying to make his coin disappear.

 

“About a week after Jordie began working for Jakob, Jakob invited us to his family home for dinner. He had a daughter, my age. Her name was Saskia. I played with her all night and listened to my brother convince Jakob to let him invest our money in his market portfolio. I trusted Jordie. I was nine and I found a friend my age. I liked her.” Kaz knew he didn’t need to tell Inej this, but it felt like a dam had broken in his chest and he couldn’t stop. Kaz had gotten this far. He looked at Inej, she was staring over the city, but he felther attention.

 

“Jordie invested that money, and with the money from his new job, and the promise of a huge pay off in our future, he bought me cards. New boots. As many novels as he wanted from the booksellers. We were happy for the first time since our Da died; we were just kids, Inej. Even though Jordie seemed so old and wise to me, he was so much younger than we are now.” Kaz closed his eyes against the salty convicts trying to make a prison break from his tear ducts.

 

“Jordie and I went to Mr. Hertzoon’s coffee house the next day to find it boarded up. Dark. Jordie and I were so certain that it was just a misunderstanding, we went to his house. There were no lamps on, it felt… cold. There was no sign of life. None at all, it was as if they’d never been there and Jordie and I had imagined everything, or read the story from one of his novels. We went to the neighbors and they said the family left. The house was only a temporary residence. Jordie and I sat in the cold for hours, certain that we missed something. We hadn’t. All our money… our farm’s money… it was gone. It was gone and we had nothing left. Jordie was so angry, and I remember how much I wished I was older, how much I wished Da was there to tell us what to do. I… I couldn’t return my boots that Jordie had bought me.” Kaz felt his voice crack as he stared at his clasped hands in his laps. Inej was watching him and he didn’t know if he could do it now. He felt water brush his ankles that hung over the roof.

 

“Go on.” Inej’s smooth voice came from beside him. The voice that had dragged him out from hell more than once.

 

Inej. Inej. Inej. Jordie. No. Inej. Jordie let me tell her. Let me go.

 

            “Then the Queen’s Lady Plague hit Ketterdam. We… we had been kicked out of our room when we couldn’t pay anymore. We were on the streets, two farm boys with nothing, no shelter from the cold, or the… the plague.” Kaz felt water rushing in and his chest was rising in uneven breaths. He took a deep breath, and then another for good measure.

 

Go on, Brekker. Your girl is on the other side on dry land. Swim. Tread this water to her.

 

            “Jordie got sick first. His fever was so high and the firepox covered his whole body, and he was shivering. I remember trying to keep him warm with my little coat.” Kaz whispered, clenching his hands now. He heard Inej take a deep breath, he closed his eyes.

 

Inej won’t run. You’ve always known she wouldn’t use your weakness against you. Inej will still be here when the nightmare is over.

 

“We didn’t have food or… or a place to bathe. I… tried, as long as I could until I got sick. I thought the coughs would break my ribcage. The nights were cold, but then a storm hit. It was so cold, Inej. I… I fell asleep, I couldn’t- I couldn’t stay awake anymore.” Kaz took more deep breaths, Jordie’s voice in his head screamed for him to stop. Kaz couldn’t open his eyes or tears would fall and Inej would look at him and and and

 

“I woke in the morning, barely conscious, my fever was high and I tried… I tried to wake him. He… Jordie was dead. My brother was dead and cold and….and I couldn’t wake him up, I couldn’t stay conscious for long. I felt so cold, and scratchy and I couldn’t even move my lips anymore…” Kaz swallowed and brought the heels of his hands to his eyes. Inej’s breathing next to him hitched.

 

He wanted…. He wanted to run. He wanted to stay. He had to swim the canal one more time. He could see Inej on the shore.

 

“I couldn’t talk, I was too weak, I couldn’t move. My breathing was so slow… The… the body men came. They thought I was dead alongside Jordie… I couldn’t even tell them that I was alive… I lost consciousness.” Kaz felt dead skin under his hands, he saw gray dead eyes in his mind.

 

“I woke up… my fever had broken. I….I..” Kaz’s voice wouldn’t work, tears escaped beneath his leather gloves on his eyes, he squeezed them closed as tight as he could. Kaz took deep breaths, surprised the air even reached his lungs with the water all around him. Inej took a deep breath next to him, and he heard her say “with me” and he matched his breaths to hers, he found the water sink below his throat and he felt air fill his lungs, one breath at a time. He swallowed… he had to finish this. He had to finish this now. For Inej. For himself. For his brother.

 

            “I woke up, and my fever had broken. I was on the reapers barge…. There was… there was bodies wherever I looked, wherever I moved….the skin…. It was bloated with water….so many eyes…. The.. the smell, Inej… it was… it was the worst thing I’d ever….” Kaz took another deep breath with Inej.

 

            “I screamed. I tried to tell anyone that I was still alive…. There was no one there but my dead brother in front of me….bloated from death and harbor water, the skin on his sores falling off in pieces….” Kaz opened his eyes at the memory, hoping he wouldn’t see it anymore. His tears slid down his cheeks and he couldn’t look at Inej. He had to swim this water first. His eyes found a spot on the building across the way and he let his gaze fix there. One more breath. From the corner of his tear blurred eyes he saw Inej’s breath puff in the air.

 

            “I realized I had to get to shore… Otherwise I would die there. I couldn’t swim that far… my legs were too small. I was so tired from the sickness…. I hadn’t the strength alone…. I needed a raft, Inej.” Kaz steeled himself for the part of the story that shredded his insides slowly over the past decade.

 

            “My brother’s body was floating…. I… I used his body Inej. I swam the harbor using my dead brother as a raft. I remember thinking that my legs would give out… I would drown… his skin was peeling under my hands and came off in clumps across the harbor…. I couldn’t… I couldn’t stop I had to live….” The wind blew a punctuation point to Kaz Brekker.

 

            “I… reached shore and his body got swept in the current… I couldn’t get back in the water…. I’d not be strong enough to drag his body out. It was me or him, Inej. I chose me. I died anyways, you see. I was dead. Kaz Rietveld died along with his brother, Jordan Rietveld. Kaz Brekker was birthed from the canal. It was never a lie. It was true enough.” Kaz whispered. A silent tear fell down his cheek and he removed it with a gloved hand.

 

            “I can’t touch skin without feeling death beneath my hands, Inej. I feel like its bloated and dead and I drown. I drown every time, Inej. I’ve only found… I’ve only begun to find a way to touch you. I’m sorry.” Kaz’s voice cracked under the weight of this admission.

 

            “You are the strongest man I’ve ever met, Kaz Rietveld.” Inej whispered for only him and the stars to hear.

 

INEJ

 

            Inej didn’t know how… how Kaz had held this within him for so long. Her heart was broken and bleeding right alongside his. She mourned a boy she’d never met, Jordie. Inej wished she’d met the boy who tried his best for Kaz. Her Kaz. Kaz Rietveld. Kaz Brekker. They were one, different and the same. A beautiful contrast of light and dark that met in Inej’s favorite shade of gray. A gray that matched storm clouds, the kind that could bring plenty of rain to harvest for an entire nation, or strike with lightning so devastating it could decimate forests.

 

            “I’m not strong… my brother died because I wanted to look at toy dogs.” Kaz said, his confident voice replaced by a broken rasp that Inej couldn’t bear the thought of hearing again.

 

            “No he didn’t, Kaz. You didn’t kill your brother.” Inej said gently. She wanted to take the memories from him. It was then that it clicked for Inej, Pekka Rollins… Pekka Rollins was Jakob Hertzoon. Inej would sharpen her blades and kill him slowly. Inej would never let him make Kaz Brekker live his brother’s death again.

 

            “No. Pekka might as well have.” Kaz whispered. Kaz had told her this much once, on the deck of the Ferolind before they did the impossible. Inej had known Pekka had something to do with Kaz’s brother’s death. She had paid him a visit for it before she left on her maiden voyage.

 

            “Kaz. Look at me.” Inej begged. After a long moment, Kaz looked at her. His eyes were glassier than she’d ever seen, and it seemed as if her voice helped, somehow. She saw a small decrease in his blown pupils.

 

            “You are a survivor. I am too. It is why we hold our heads high. You and I, we aren’t afraid of the fall, Kaz. We survived it already. You didn’t die. You were reborn, yes, but you didn’t die completely. Neither did I. We held on to our tarnished and broken pieces in hope we could yet find use for them in this life. No matter how broken we may be, we still sought the sky. I would have you no other way than how you are. Strong. Violent. Kind. Sometimes Infuriating.” Inej let the words hit Kaz on a whispered prayer to her saints that he’d hear them. Really hear them.

 

            “What does it mean, Inej?” Inej didn’t have to ask to know what he was referring to. His eyes stayed locked on hers, she noticed a twitch of his fingers, she knew he wanted to reach out. Inej lifted her hand and laid it palm down between them, she was certain he wouldn’t be able to hold her hand now, but it was an offer nonetheless.

 

            A moment later, Kaz’s pinky touched hers, and then linked. It was enough for Inej, Kaz was enough. He was everything she wanted. If they were never able to make love and sleep bare, Inej wouldn’t care. She wanted that with Kaz, of course she did; and she hoped they would have that, but she didn’t need those things. 

 

Inej would chose him over anyone else, no matter how steep their mountain to climb may be.

 

            “Etma se saman. It means: “My spirit has found its match in you.”” Inej whispered. Kaz nodded, she wasn’t sure he understood.

 

            “Kaz. Etma se saman.” Inej repeated. She watched in wonder as Kaz realized she was not finishing the story, she was telling him the truth. Her spirit had found its match in him.

 

            Like the Sea to the Moon, Inej reflected the light of Kaz Rietveld’s smile back to him.

           

           

 

 

           

 

 

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            Inej followed Kaz to his window and he slipped inside. Kaz walked to his chair and swung off his coat and Inej watched him silently from her perch just outside. It was late, maybe four bells. She needed to shower, maybe sleep for a few hours. Inej couldn’t believe the evening she’d had. It had started in a rage over Tante Heleen, and ended with Kaz Brekker telling her what happened to him. It was the most tragic yet beautiful gift she’d ever received, and she wondered how it was possible that it still felt like a gift. Then she remembered how she’d given Kaz her broken pieces and said ‘please make sense of this, help me solve the puzzle.’ He had. She would have no greater honor than doing the same for him.

 

            “Good night, Kaz.” Inej said softly once he turned toward her, she didn’t understand the quirk of his head. It looked as if he was confused.

 

            “You’re leaving?” Kaz rasped as he undid his tie. Inej had thought he would want space, maybe she’d assumed too much.

 

            “I didn’t think you’d want me to stay right now.” Inej answered honestly, she knew he’d understand why she thought as much.

 

            “I’d… I’d actually rather you stayed. Of course if you would rather go and sleep more comfortably though, I’d understand.” Kaz admitted, his gaze latching on the window latch instead of her face. Inej knew it was difficult for Kaz to make even these small admissions for what he wanted; it made the night even more unbelievable. Inej was already sliding to the floor and shutting the window behind her.

 

            “I’m most comfortable here, Kaz.” Inej said quietly. He nodded slowly, seeming to understand the words she truly meant. I’m most comfortable where you are.He lit the candles on his shelves and relit the lamp that had burned low on his desk while they’d been on the roof.

 

            “There’s a toothbrush for you on the bathroom sink.” Kaz said simply as he walked to his wardrobe to hang his blazer. It was as if he didn’t expect it to mean anything. Inej was shocked and a thrill of happiness coursed through her. Her mouth was slightly agape.

 

Kaz bought her a toothbrush for his bathroom. Kaz wanted her to stay. Kaz… Kaz told her everything.

 

“Inej?” Kaz questioned, she hadn’t realized she was staring. Inej didn’t think her voice would make real sound if she tried to speak, but she did anyhow.

 

“Toothbrush. Right. Thank you.” Inej nodded slowly and turned for his desk to remove her blades. She didn’t miss his smug smirk when she bumped over each word. Inej was about to begin disarming when Kaz came up to her once more, just as he had the night on her ship when she had handed over her own armor. Kaz stepped right beside her and she turned to him, thinking he’d hold his hand out for her blades.

 

Inej was unprepared for the beautiful storm that was Kaz.

 

Kaz’s dark eyes met hers and she felt a tension in his gaze. He had a question in his eyes and Inej was unsure what to make of it, she did not think he would want to touch her now, but she supposed she was fully clothed. Perhaps he couldn’t handle skin now, that much made more sense to Inej. But, maybe, he could touch her over her clothes still. She wasn’t entirely sure what he wanted, but understood quickly when his gaze flicked to Sankta Alina on her forearm. Inej felt her stomach do a flip in anticipation and she thought her breath might have hitched. She flicked her own eyes to the blade in answer.

 

Kaz kept his eyes on hers as he reached for the release on Sankta Alina with his still gloved hands. Inej didn’t mind that tonight. She understood. The simple fact that Kaz still wanted to be close to her in any way he could, meant everything. Kaz was not giving up, he’d survived telling her his gravest truth and Inej was…. She was proud of him. It was the way she’d been proud of herself when she told him the truth of Charles Hester and the Menagerie. Her heart hummed a tune of contentment when she watched him lay Sankta Alina on his desk. Sankt Petyr followed suit, his gaze never dropping from hers. Inej saw a flicker of hunger in his eyes, she knew the feeling well. Inej would always be grateful for their need of few words.

 

Kaz set Sankt Petyr in line with Sankta Alina on the desk. Next was Sankta Lizabeta on her belt, Inej was unsure if he’d be able to take all of her blades from her body, but Saints, she wanted him too. This felt even more intimate than the first night she’d disarmed in front of him.

 

It was a baring of the soul rather than skin.

 

Kaz looked to her with another question in his eyes, and Inej dipped her head to Sankta Lizabeta. Continue,is the word she willed to her gaze. Kaz lifted his hand to her waist, and undid the sheath with Sankta Lizabeta, then her brass knuckles with his other hand. She noticed his hand shake once, but Inej did not think it was because the water was surrounding him. Inej felt the electric notes in the air between them, Kaz wanted more than this. Inej did too. They would get there, she felt more sure than ever before in that moment.

 

Inej watched as Kaz took a step back, and she thought for a moment that he would not finish the task. Inej didn’t think she would ever see what she saw next.

 

Kaz Brekker knelt to a knee in front of her, looking up at her the entire way down.

 

Inej felt herself shudder as his hands went to her left thigh, reaching around her leg to unhitch Sankta Marya. When he felt her shudder, his hands froze, he looked back at her quickly. She found enough courage to move her lips into a private smile and shake her head very subtly. That shudder was from you, not the past. Kaz understood and he removed the sheath from her thigh. He set it gently on the floor beside him. Kaz made quick work of Sankta Anastasia on her right thigh next. He brushed her leg softly with one hand before he looked to her boot and did not hesitate to reach just inside and remove Sankt Vladimir. Inej felt cold at the loss of his hands, and for the first time, she did not feel sadness at the removal of her blades. Inej realized then that she felt safe, even unarmed, in the presence of Kaz.

 

Kaz stood, using the desk to brace himself. Inej had an idea, though she was unsure if he would be able to handle it. Inej wanted to try though. Inej would not touch his skin until he wanted her to, but she wanted… she wanted to disarm him too. Kaz looked at her now, as if he could see her mind working into a decision. Inej took a deep breath and met his eyes, they were like dark wells of smoke and honey. She willed her question to the forefront of her mind to reflect in her face. May I? She dropped her gaze to his gloves. Kaz froze for a moment and followed her eyes. When he looked back, he dipped his chin in an almost imperceptible movement. He was nervous she would touch his skin, she could tell. Inej would not.

 

Inej reached out one hand and took his wrist, covered in his shirt sleeve. With her other hand, she gently pinched the leather at the tip of his thumb in her fingers, repeating the motion with each digit, searching his eyes for any sign to stop. There was none. Once all fingers were loosened, Inej gently pulled his glove off. She did not touch his skin. She laid his glove next to her line of blades on the desk. She repeated the same meditation with his other hand, then she let go. Something ravenous shined in Kaz’s eyes; she was sure if they were any average couple, he would be kissing her senseless right now. Her suspicions were confirmed when his eyes seemed to get caught on her lips.

 

Inej smiled. Someday. Soon I hope.

 

Kaz stepped away from her with a deep breath, seeming to shake himself away from some thought in his head. Inej wondered what it would be like, to finally kiss Kaz Brekker.

 

Inej would wait, she was already sure that his lips would match the priceless value of his mind and heart.

 

KAZ

            Kaz wanted to kiss her. Kaz wanted to pick her up and carry her to his bed and not leave until they both had everything they wanted so desperately. Kaz could not do that now, but he would work for that life with Inej. Kaz wanted to give her the world, and everything she ever wanted. If Kaz was one of those things, who would he be to deny her?

 

Inej had seen him through hell once more, and he’d never felt more peace.

 

Inej had removed his gloves and laid his armor next to hers with such delicacy that his heart surely bruised his ribs. Kaz was shaken from his thoughts by Inej’s quiet mumble from near his desk.

 

“May I use your shower? I was in the rain for hours earlier and I feel disgusting.” Inej grimaced as she ran her hands over her braid. Kaz felt a laugh bubble in his throat but he did not release it, Inej looked as he did when he so much as noticed a blood stain on one of his blazers.

 

“Yes.” Kaz answered simply and he removed some towels from the drawer in his dresser for her. Inej took the towels and continued standing there. Kaz lifted a brow at her in question. Inej huffed a breath.

 

“May I borrow clothes again, please? Unless you’d rather I stay in these but then I may as well forego the shower. Besides I’ll make your sheets smell.” Inej asked with an almost shy smile. Flush grazed her cheekbones. Kaz chuckled now, Inej did not smell, but he understood. Kaz went back to his dresser and took the same pants and shirt she’d worn previously from the otherwise empty drawer. Inej seemed to notice this was not where those clothes had resided previously. She was correct, they used to be in his trunk with other things he rarely reached for. Her eyebrows rose with a curiosity marring her expression.

 

“The drawer is for you too.” Kaz mumbled. He had not planned to point it out now, unsure if he had been too presumptuous. All doubt flew out of his mind at the sight of the grin that spread like a bird’s wing across her face. It was a smile that made her eyes squint just slightly and Kaz loved it. He wished he was an artist then, surely almost all of his work would be of her, but who wouldn’t want to look at her?

 

“Do I have to bring my own night clothes?” Inej asked, her grin not leaving as she flicked her gaze to the open drawer and back to him. He felt his lips quirk into a small smile of his own.

 

“I figured you would want to.”

 

“Mmm. I’ll bring regular clothes, but not night clothes.” Inej answered as she stared at the bundle of towels and clothing in her hands.

 

“Why not?” Kaz quirked his head. He didn’t understand why she wouldn’t want to bring her own comfortable sleep clothes, ones she wouldn’t have to roll five times just to walk.

 

“I prefer yours.” Inej said confidently, her grip tightened on the bundle in her arms as if to say ‘mine’. Lightning jumped into his blood stream. He preferred her in his clothes too, he supposed he could hand over some of his clothes permanently to his wraith.

 

“Fine.” Kaz rolled his eyes and Inej laughed, already on her way to the bathroom.

 

“It wasn’t a question, Kaz.” She chirped as she shut the bathroom door. Kaz smiled to himself then as he looked at the drawer that now belonged to Inej.

 

He wondered when he should tell her.

 

I love you, Inej. Etma se saman.

 

           

 

 

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

There was sunlight streaming in from the windows in Wylan Van Eck’s new and improved study. Kaz was leaning against the wall across from Wylan’s desk as the redhead continued a precise line on the blueprints in front of him, the pencil scratch on paper was the only noise in the room. Finally, Wylan looked up.

 

“Okay I just wanted to add that one partition. Look it over and tell me what you think.” Wylan said, his hair a bouncing tuft of flames in the early afternoon sunlight. Kaz straightened and walked to the desk. He looked down at the new penciled blue prints Wylan had been working on. Kaz had contracted Wylan for this job a few days ago. Well, not so much a job. A project. Wylan had done excellent work on the plans for the Ice Court, Kaz knew no other person in his confidence that could complete this project.

 

The blue prints were for a new property that Kaz had acquired earlier this year, an old apartment building that had shut down after the false plague created by Kaz and the rest of them during the Kuwei Yul-Bo auction. It was a building that had been worn down with age but had decent bones and covered a decent sized lot. Kaz hadn’t really known what he would turn it into when he bought it. Initially, he’d thought a second Club. With the collapse of the Kaelish Prince, it was well known that the Crow Club was the best gambling hall in the Barrel and Kaz was confident another Club could be a success; especially with its closer proximity to the Lid and therefore the docks and the pigeons, ripe for the plucking. Kaz had only recently decided what it would be, what he would make it. Kaz traced Wylan’s drawing with a gloved finger, it what exactly what he’d wanted.

 

Wylan was alright, he supposed.

 

“Only thing I wasn’t sure about was the top floor, you hadn’t mentioned any specifications for that.” Wylan mused, as he wiped graphite from his hands. Kaz knew he hadn’t mentioned anything about the top floor of the building, the sixth floor. He had an idea for it… but it was something he hadn’t decided to voice aloud. When Kaz didn’t respond, Wylan continued.

 

“It could be an apartment of sorts, what are they called? Penthouse. That’s the word. It already has the bones for it, could knock down some walls and make it something open. It’s not a huge space, but big enough for a decent area for living or renting.” Wylan’s eyes were already tracing lines on the page in front of him. Kaz had the same idea, he shouldn’t have been surprised that Wylan had the same notion.

 

“Are these support walls?” Kaz questioned and pointed to two lines on the base print under Wylan’s new sketches.

 

“No, those could go. What are you thinking?” Wylan flicked his blue eyes up to Kaz.

 

“I was thinking those two could go and we put one here where the plumbing line is instead for a bathroom.” Kaz pondered as his eyes traced the sixth floor on the page.

 

“That would work. Kaz, what is this for, might I ask?” Wylan asked, ever so polite. Kaz’s hand froze momentarily as it traced lines on the page. Kaz didn’t quite know how to answer yet, but he’d need to tell Wylan what he was thinking at least enough for Wylan to finish the blueprint.

 

“Penthouse apartment, like you guessed.” Kaz stated simply as he straightened himself from the plans.

 

“For renting or…?” Wylan pushed. Kaz didn’t want to answer. Kaz wasn’t positive what it would be just yet, but he… he knew what he thought it could be.

 

“Something like that.” Kaz said simply.

 

Wylan released a sigh and scratched his nose.

 

“Fine. I’ll have something drawn up by the end of the day, I can always give it to Inej to bring-“

 

“No. I’ll pick it up from you personally sometime over the next few days.” Kaz cut Wylan off, he knew he’d spoke a little too quickly.

 

“You don’t want Inej to see it? Why?” Wylan looked confused then his blue eyes narrowed in a distrustful manner. Before Kaz could speak, Wylan spoke up.

 

“Don’t hide things from her, Kaz. Believe me, she won’t appreciate it.” Wylan glared at him. Kaz rolled his eyes and brought a gloved hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

 

Of course he would think it was for a scheme. He was Kaz Brekker, after all.

 

“Would you let it go if I told you part of it was for Inej?” Kaz rasped. He hadn’t wanted to share any information at all, but he guessed if he had to it might as well be someone he trusted.

Though if Wylan told Jesper… oh the headache Kaz would have.

 

“I suppose so.” Wylan nodded slowly and regarded Kaz. Kaz would say no more than that, this was all just… a plan. A potentially really good plan, but Kaz was not going to get ahead of himself.

 

“If you’re satisfied with prying, I’ll be on my way.” Kaz said as he grabbed his cane. Kaz wanted to get on with his day, Kaz wanted to see Inej. It had been two days since Kaz had survived baring his memories and nightmares to Inej and he hadn’t seen her at all since her departure that morning when they woke; save for a few moments the night prior when she’d been by to deliver her latest intel on Hester. Kaz was only a few carefully constructed steps away from that scheme, he’d gotten the last piece he’d needed from Inej’s intel last night. Kaz knew why Inej had been scarce. Apparently, there was a whole list of chores that needed doing to maintain her ship while it was docked. Inej had admitted she’d neglected a good many of them these almost two weeks since her return to Ketterdam. When Kaz had inquired why, she had narrowed her eyes in a glare directed towards him and said “you distracted me, shevrati.”Kaz almost smiled at the memory.

 

Kaz made his way to the door when Wylan called out from behind him.

 

“Kaz, wait, can I uh, can I ask you a question?” Kaz rolled his eyes but turned around anyways.

 

“Didn’t you just ask one?” Kaz snapped.

 

“I- yes. Look, just…” Wylan paused and twiddled with his hands in front of him, a nervous flush marred his face. His eyes were focused on his hands. Wylan was anxious about whatever it was he wanted to ask Kaz. Kaz hadn’t a clue what it was and couldn’t find much care for this time wasting at the moment.

 

“Spit it out, Wylan.” Kaz growled.

 

“You… Jesper hasn’t been back in the Club at the tables recently, right?” Wylan asked in a small voice. Kaz was shocked but his expression displayed nothing. Kaz knew Jesper hadn’t been to the club, and Kaz hadn’t the faintest idea why Wylan thought he’d relapsed in his recovery.

 

“No. I haven’t seen him. Besides, if he was when I wasn’t there, I’d know. Rotty and Pim would have squealed like school children.” Kaz answered.

 

“Alright.” Wylan released a breath that seemed to be of relief. “You’d tell me if you did see him there though, wouldn’t you?” Wylan questioned, blue orbs finally focused on Kaz.

 

“Wouldn’t have to. I’d drag him out myself, and we both know how pleasant that would be. He’d have this stamped into the side of his head when he was returned to you,” Kaz raised his cane, displaying the Crow’s head. Kaz felt a dull buzz in his sense that said ‘Inej’; but he ignored it for now despite the flutter in his stomach. Inej had returned to the Van Eck estate, he’d see her. Even just in passing. Wylan nodded. Kaz hated himself but curiosity got the better of him, a puzzle was hard to resist.

 

“Why do you ask?” Kaz queried.

 

“I… he’s just been acting off this week. Nothing’s amiss but I just… I had a feeling something was wrong.” Wylan admitted. Kaz wasn’t sure if he’d been knocked senseless in the head over the past few days, but he found himself offering advice.

 

“You could, I don’t know, ask him. Just a thought.” Kaz uttered. Wylan looked back to his hands.

 

“Yeah… yeah I know.” Wylan whispered, but he didn’t sound convinced. Kaz let out a heavy sigh.

 

How the hell did he get here? Where was his sense? He should have been halfway back to the barrel by now. Or at the very least looking at a much better view, bronzed skin and raven hair, chocolate eyes.

 

“Just ask him, Wylan. Seriously.” Kaz didn’t even know why he pushed, Jesper and Wylan’s relationship was not his concern; yet he didn’t like seeing Wylan worried. It was odd to have friends. An unnecessary inconvenience. Kaz didn’t like this part. Kaz still wouldn’t give it up, though. He didn’t know why.

 

Kaz reached the door and stepped into the hallway without waiting for Wylan’s response. He was met with a wraith leaning against the wall, posture still perfect. She was smiling a smug little smile that told him she caught the end of that conversation. Her arms were bare, beautifully bare. Her shirt was one that only had straps over her shoulders, as she’d been working on her ship all morning evidently. Kaz had to drag his eyes away.

 

“Eavesdropping, Wraith?” Kaz quipped with a raised eyebrow.

 

“I’m a spy, thank yourself for that one.” Inej responded, her eyes lit with mischief.

 

Not fair. Inej was cheating. He did thank himself for that one every single saints damned day.

 

“Did you just give Wylan relationship advice?” Inej asked before he responded. Kaz felt like his eyes would roll out of his head.

 

“No.” Kaz grimaced.

 

“Sure,” Inej smirked once more. “Are you going back to the Slat?”

 

Yes. No. Come with me?

 

“Where else would I go?” Kaz quipped as he began to walk down the hall, offering his arm to Inej. She took it easily, not touching his skin through his coat. They matched their steps easily.

 

“Upstairs with me until I can come with you. I thought perhaps you could share the plans for the Hester job with me, I want to take him down as soon as we can. Or at least allow me to pester you about it until I’m in insufferable and your sanity insists that you give in.” Inej said with a grin. Kaz felt his stomach flip as he chuckled.

 

Inej, just like this. Inej happy and truthful and fulfilled was what Kaz wanted to see every day for the rest of his violent unremarkable life.

 

“Why can you not join me now, Wraith?” Kaz asked.

 

“Because I’ve been working on the ship all day and I feel disgusting and Wylan has bought me expensive soap for my stay and what kind of pirate would I be if I did not abuse that luxury?” Inej giggled. Kaz couldn’t deny her after spending these days apart during their already limited days of her being in Ketterdam. He felt himself nod and then he was following Inej up the stairs.

 

Kaz followed Inej into her room at the Van Eck Mansion, he’d been here only once prior. It was when he’d left Inej a note to meet him at the docks at sunrise. He had left it here the night before he held her hand for the first time. The day he gave her The Wraith. The day Inej saw her family again.

 

How did I get here from that day? What could I have possibly done so right to deserve her?

 

Inej shut the door behind them and walked to her wardrobe as she slipped off her boots and went to the bathroom to start the water so it would heat. It was a decent sized room with pale blue walls and a bed that could surely drown Inej in half of it alone. Kaz noticed something small and made of paper leaning against the mirror above her dressing table, as he moved closer, he found that it was exactly what he thought it was. It was his letter that he’d sent to her while she was away, nothing more than a few lines of script. Kaz smiled to himself at the thought that Inej truly looked at it every day. Inej reentered and began telling him of all the repairs she was making to her ship, and how she had decided to commission a new flag to fly along the Kerch flag.

 

“What will your emblem be, Wraith?” Kaz asked as he sat down on the edge of her bed, leaning his cane beside him. His leg was not much trouble with the warm autumn day, but it still thanked him for the reprieve after walking to the mansion and standing for most of the morning.

 

“You’ll see it when it’s done. I asked Marya to paint a sample of what I pictured, then I will take it to the seamstress shop.” Inej said as she made her way back to the bathroom. Inej did not seem like she was planning on ending the conversation, Kaz noted. He heard Inej pull the shower curtain, the door was still open. Kaz inhaled sharply.

 

Inej would be the death of him, he always knew it.

 

“What colors did you choose? If I’m not to see the design before completion,” Kaz questioned to distract himself from the thought of Inej, bare, in a bathroom, twenty paces away from him. His back was to the doorway, but he knew the door was still open.

 

“Black and Gold.” Inej answered and he heard clothing drop to the ground. Kaz shook his head. He wondered if he’d had the same effect on Inej every time he’d stripped down in front of her without thinking about it. Or had she thought about it? Kaz didn’t know if he could speak so he waited for her shower to be done. After a few minutes of Kaz actually counting cracks in the floorboards to stop himself from wondering what Inej looked like in the bathroom, he heard the water stop. A few moments later, Inej walked out and to the wardrobe in front of him.

 

Inej in a towel. Inej in onlya towel.

 

Kaz thought he might like to be lit on fire.

 

It would be less torturous than this. Than not being able to touch her the way he wanted to when she was there and looking so much like everything he’d ever wanted. Everything he’d never allowed himself to want. He dragged his eyes away from her as she reached into a drawer.

 

“You do realize you’re the only person I’d allow to look at me, right?” Inej said softly with her back to him, he shifted his eyes to her. He noticed how sharp her shoulder blades were as they shifted with her movement. Kaz wanted to touch her there. Her black hair was in a damp braid already that hung over her shoulder.

 

“I… yes.” Kaz mumbled, fascinated by the most skin he’d ever seen Inej show. Her legs. He’d seen them once before, and now he was sure that the image of Inej’s figure in a towel would be the end of rational thought for today.

 

“You’re the only person I ever wanted to look at me.” Inej whispered, something in her voice was broken, scared.  Kaz registered that Inej was struggling with this. Inej was doing this because she wanted him to see her and she wanted to see if she could stay present, if she could be in a room, a bedroom, like this with him and not vanish.

 

Kaz didn’t want her to vanish from him, he never wanted her to be a shell of a person under his touch.

 

Kaz wanted her to stay with him. She had pulled him out of deep water, he would drag her back from the void.

 

 

INEJ

“Inej,” Kaz voiced. Inej froze and she felt like blood finally pumped through her veins again. Her back was still to him and she knew she needed to look at him. Inej had begun to vanish and Kaz caught her, he did not let her disappear.

 

Inej took a deep breath and turned around, forcing her arms to stay at her sides and not clutch her towel over her chest. She was covered from the chest to her knees, but it was still the most skin Inej had ever displayed in front of Kaz. In front of anyone, since the Menagerie. The only exception had been the day Jesper came in her room without permission, and Inej had been alright because Jesper joked and he didn’t look. It had only been for about a minute. Inej had wanted… she just wanted to be able to be in a room with Kaz like this, even though she was still decent, her body was not bare, she was guarded by the towel. It was far less than her robe though, much more skin. This was also very different, Kaz was on her bed. In her room. She had to know if she could do it.

 

“Yes?” Inej answered, though her voice was shaky, a smile crept onto her face.

 

Inej was here. In her body. She had done it, Kaz had helped. It was a close thing, but a successful one.

 

Once Kaz saw her smile, assured she was okay, she noted how his eyes dipped, pupils blown wide. She felt warmth flush her chest when he raked his eyes freely over her body. It was new and exhilarating. Inej felt beautiful in that moment, she felt like she wanted Kaz to look at her with that expression more often.

 

“Inej, Darling, I must make you understand that I’ve always looked at you. You never had to want for my eyes.” Kaz rasped with a small smile playing on his lips. His eyes traced their way back to hers. She laughed.

 

“Don’t get cheeky or you won’t be allowed to look anymore.” Inej jested, she wanted to kiss the smirk off his lips desperately.

 

“You are twisted, Wraith.” Kaz quipped and he scowled, though his eyes were tinged in hunger and mischief.

 

“You also have yourself to thank for that one, Kaz.” Inej laughed and made her way back to the bathroom to put on her clothes. As she shut the door, she heard Kaz take a deep breath and release a heavy sigh. Inej smiled.

 

Kaz had stripped in front of her and made her want to kill him and kiss him within moments. Inej finally paid him back for that strange and beautiful torture; and he had most certainly not said “don’t drip on the desk."

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            Inej entered through the front door of the Slat, she had run the rooftops easily. The cool autumn night was dry and clear and it had felt exhilarating, her face felt flush yet cool and Inej realized how needed her climb over the city had been. Inej had spent the past few days on her ship and her legs had thanked her for the use she’d made of them.

 

            Inej knew Kaz was in a meeting with Anika, Pim, and Rotty based on the voices coming from his open office door. Inej half stepped into the office to check Kaz’s clock on the wall, it was after nine bells. She left one hand on the door frame so the front door to the Slat was still easily in sight. No one heard her, but she was in their sights. They all looked up, even Kaz. He had on one of his exquisite black suits, this one, Inej was sure was tailored to his lean muscular frame perhaps even better than his others. She had noticed it earlier and it had made her entire body light up in flames. He didn’t hide his gaze on her this time, and Inej wondered if he was feeling her absence the past few days as much as she had felt his, though they spent an hour together at the Van Eck residence this afternoon. Inej hoped she would be welcome in his room tonight, she still wanted to hear plans for the Hester job. Inej also craved the peace she felt surrounded by Kaz’s scent as she slept. At the looks she received, Inej shook her head.

 

            “Don’t mind me, continue, I’m using the clock.” Inej said simply with a wave of her hand, not taking her eyes off the second hand ticking by.

 

            “What are you doing, Wraith?” Anika was the first to ask with lifted blonde brows. Rotty was leaning against the wall near where Inej was standing and he smiled. Inej returned the gesture, her eyes still intently focused on the clock. Just then the front door to the Slat slammed open and Roeder collapsed on the foyer floor, right in front of Kaz’s office. Roeder’s skin was flushed and his shaggy brown hair stuck to the sweat shining on his forehead. His breaths were haggard as he touched the bottom step of staircase.

 

            “You. Are. Insane.” Roeder wheezed up at Inej. Inej turned fully to him now. She felt the Dregs eyes on them.

 

            “I took it easy this time, but you were a minute and nineteen seconds behind me even when I went along leisurely. You need to cut your time down; we’ll make the run again. I can do that route in twenty-two minutes, and if I’m rushing, nineteen.” Inej said with a shake of her head to her now spider in-training. Inej had run into Roeder as she’d entered the Slat earlier in the afternoon and she had taken the time to offer to show him some pointers, if he was willing to hear them. He had looked skeptical, but once Inej assured him that her only motivation was to help, his shoulders had released a weight. Roeder had been eager to prove himself and he’d decided to take her up on her offer. Good thing too, he was too slow yet. He’d get himself killed, or worse, someone else in the Dregs would die if he didn’t pick it up. He was stealthy enough, Inej didn’t think she could train him to her level in that. A lot of her light foot work was because she’d always walked a wire. Inej knew he could improve in his speed, though.

 

            “Please tell me you mean one way in nineteen minutes,” Roeder groaned. Inej heard Pim stifle a laugh with a cough behind them.

 

            “I mean both ways.” Inej released a heavy sigh as she tightened the coil of hair at the base of her neck.

 

            “I get it now.” Roeder said shakily. Inej quirked her head, what did that mean?

 

            “Get what?” Inej asked.

 

            “You’re totally not human.” Roeder flopped to his back right in the middle of the foyer, sprawling on the ground and still panting. Inej thought she heard Kaz roll his eyes. She definitely heard Rotty and Pim both snicker.

 

            “Human and eager to help, I’m afraid. Up. Get some water, then we run again. Don’t touch the ground till you reach the docks, then don’t touch the ground again till you reach the street in front of this building.” Inej voiced firmly, she held out her hand to him and he scowled but took it as she lifted him to his feet. Roeder was average height, shorter than Kaz, but he still towered over Inej. Roeder flipped his hazel eyes heavenward with a frustrated breath and stalked off in the direction of the kitchen, presumably for a copious amount of water. Once he was out of sight, Inej turned back to Kaz’s office.

 

            “Ghezen, Wraith, you’re going to kill the new spider,” Pim chuckled, his gray eyes almost watering from snuffing his laughter out repeatedly.

 

            “I’m going to make him faster, you’re welcome.” Inej said with a smug smile as she walked into the room. Rotty laughed freely.

 

            “Wraith, if you make my spider die of heart combustion you’ll be in charge of cleanup.” Kaz remarked with his voice of stone on stone. Inej didn’t miss the smirk threatening to ruin his casual demeanor.

 

            “Have faith, Mr. Brekker. I do not fail once I set my mind to something.” Inej mused with a quirk of her lips as she made to stand near Kaz’s window. She braced her hands on the latch, she flicked her eyes to the clock and then she noted Anika’s small smile. It was the first time Inej and Kaz had been in the same room with the blonde since she’d discovered the truth. Inej appreciated her clear regard for their secret. Inej wished she could touch Kaz, now. She wanted to hug him and envelop herself in his arms. It was truly a dire state that she was in since none of the Dregs could see that.

 

            “I believe in carefully constructing my fate, Captain Ghafa. Not faith.” Kaz rasped with a flick of his gloved hand. Inej rolled her eyes, but the butterflies still came with his use of her new title.

 

            Inej saw Roeder come back into the foyer and he looked at Inej by the window in Kaz’s office and she saw his shoulders slump, but he walked to the front door anyways. Inej heard the door shut behind Roeder and she kept her gaze on the clock. Inej felt everyone looking at her, but she didn’t care, Inej was focused on the task at hand. Inej waited a full minute before she opened the window silently.

 

Roeder would have the small mercy of a head start.

 

            “Report to me later, Wraith. I have specifics on Hester to clarify with you.” Inej heard Kaz say from behind her. She smiled on her way up to the window sill. Come back later?

 

            “Alright. I have a spider to trail.” Inej said in parting, though she knew Kaz would hear the unspoken truth.

 

I’ll see you tonight, yet. All night if I’m to have a say about the arrangement.

 

Inej took off and vanished on the rooftops, she was shadow made flesh.

 

KAZ

 

            Kaz didn’t feel Inej’s presence even as he saw Roeder, dripping sweat, come in through the front door of the Slat hours later. Kaz had been pleasantly surprised that Inej had taken to personally training Roeder. She had not mentioned her intention to do so, and Kaz was pleased. Roeder did decently enough, he supposed. Though when Inej inevitably returned to the sea, he hoped that Roeder would be improved with the help he received from her. Kaz checked the time, twelve bells sharp. Kaz had no qualms about going upstairs now, hoping he would sense Inej once he began his climb.

 

            As Kaz reached the second floor landing, his bones buzzed. Inej was waiting for him above.

 

If someone like him could have a spring in his step, he just might have.

 

            Kaz unlocked his door and found the light on his desk already lit, his bottom left drawer ajar. Inej was in his window sill, tossing bread crumbs to her crows leisurely as she read from a sheet of paper in her hand. She didn’t lift her gaze to him, enraptured by whatever she was reading. She looked focused, her lip in between her teeth. Kaz wanted to reach for her now, he had not touched her skin since the night he’d told her the truth of himself. It was something he found himself craving desperately. A strange new reality for Kaz.

 

            “What’s that?” Kaz asked as he locked the door behind him.

 

            “My parents sent me a letter. I stopped at the mansion to pick it up.” Inej said softly. Kaz raised a brow but she still did not look up, Kaz wasn’t able to make out the expression on her face with her head dipped. Kaz knew she would share when she was good and ready. Kaz busied himself with hanging his coat and hat on their hooks. He heard Inej sigh from the window sill, he turned to her then.

 

            “All is well?” Kaz questioned, not bothering to hide the curiosity in his voice.

 

            “I- yes. Yes, all is well.” Inej whispered as she folded the letter in her lap, running a hand over the small parchment square. Kaz sensed there was something troubling her, but he would not push her. That was not how they worked. Kaz limped to where she was, settling his cane against the wall before hoisting himself up to sit beside her on the windowsill. Inej’s gaze was focused out the open window, on two crows bickering over a bread piece. Her eyes looked somewhere far away, perhaps all the way in Ravka with her family.

 

            “They asked if I would make a visit to the caravans to see the rest of my family, my cousins and aunts and uncles.” Inej whispered. Kaz traced her features with his eyes, he noted she was frowning. He wasn’t sure why.

 

            “Do you not wish to?” Kaz replied as he slipped his gloves in his pocket; their use was fulfilled for the day. No leather was needed with Inej here. Inej pondered silently for a long moment, she twisted her hands in front of her and she looked down to them. Her umber eyes looked flecked with amber in the dim lamplight.

 

            “I do I suppose… I want to see them. I just… it was hard, Kaz. It was hard to tell my parents the truth of my life these past years. In fact, my portion of it with you, here, was the easiest. The… the Menagerie was the hardest to tell them about. For them to know their daughter was sold for her flesh against her will, I thought it would surely make them look at me differently. Not with disappointment, or sadness…. But pity. I was afraid of pity, Kaz.” Inej paused and she looked to her hands then she lifted her gaze to his hands. Kaz did not hesitate in holding out his bare hand. She took it and released a breath as she cradled their linked hands in her other one, tracing his knuckles delicately. He found he enjoyed it very much.

 

            If Inej needed him to lean on, as much physically as mentally, he would be there. He would fight every battle within himself to be there for her. It was a vow he’d made to himself.

 

            “I just… I don’t know if I’m ready to tell that story more times, to other family members who remember me as I was. My parents did not look at me with pity, and I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve thanked the saints for that. I know that I need to go back to face the rest of them, I miss them. I do. I’m just not…” Inej trailed off. Kaz understood.

 

            “You aren’t the same as you were.” Kaz finished for her. He squeezed her hand, urging her to look at him. Kaz could tell she was doubting herself, he didn’t want that for her. Inej didn’t have to be ready, she could take her time. Kaz may not have a family, at least not in her sense, but that was how he felt it should be. If family was worth it all, they should be patient with you. Kaz did know Jordie had always tried his best to be patient with him as a child. It may be his only point of reference, but Kaz didn’t doubt himself on this.

 

            “No, I’m not; and I wouldn’t want to be her anymore either. I prefer my callous hands and strength in my soul.” Inej had a small smile on her face as she traced his knuckles once more. Kaz wanted to pull her to his chest and keep that smile on her face.

 

            “It’s not just that though. I- I’m afraid that… since I was taken from the caravans… what if I don’t look at the place of my family the same anymore? I always felt so safe when I was small… and now… Now I’m afraid that I would have to sleep with my blades on and turned to the door just to close my eyes, Kaz. I still have nightmares about the day I was taken.  I… I don’t want to have to wear armor with my people and I’m afraid I would have to just to stay sane.” Inej admitted. Kaz regarded her for a long moment and a plan formed in his mind, a plan that was completely new territory for Kaz, but he knew how much it would mean to her. Kaz did not allow himself to rethink it before he spoke.

           

            “Invite your parents back to Ketterdam for your next leave on land. You’ll have time to spend with them and from what I know, they just want to see you. Then… if you decide you want to go to Ravka and see the Caravans again… perhaps I could go with you, if you thought that could help.” Kaz whispered. Inej’s eyes flew to his face, searching for proof of the truth in his words. Kaz wasn’t sure if he’d overstepped, but he hoped not.

 

            “You’d do that?” Inej whispered. She looked like she might cry. Kaz hadn’t expected that. Kaz was definitely in brand new territory, talking about the potential idea of going to Ravka to see Inej’s people, her family. With her. Even if it would be a long while from now. Kaz realized with a start that this is what it meant to make plans for a future.

 

Kaz had started planning things with Inej without even realizing it. It terrified him, if only because he’d never known how much he wanted to do this with her. Only ever with Inej.

 

Kaz nodded slowly as he met her glassy eyes. Inej’s smile in that moment could have put her Light summoning Sankta Alina’s power to shame. Nothing had ever been so bright, Kaz was sure of it. Kaz was happy to be an unworthy shadow in the face of that light as long as it continued shining from her face.

 

Kaz watched her as he slowly brought their clasped hands up to him, Inej’s smile did not falter. Kaz felt brave once more, and he pressed his lips in a kiss on her wrist, the same place he’d tried to once before when he’d begun to drown.

 

Warmth. Open skies. Alive. Love. Inej. Kaz felt it all under his lips in the deep breath of an infinite moment.

 

            For the first time, the water did not come.

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            “So we’re going to pick pocket the whole Hester estate. That is what you’re telling me.” Inej let out a disbelieving laugh. Kaz. Kaz was the only man who could come up with a plan like this. He’d just finished telling her the basics of his scheme for Charles Hester.

 

            “Mmhmm.” Kaz grumbled as he spit out toothpaste into the sink. She was sitting on top of his desk outside his bathroom as they got ready for bed.

 

            “I think I just might be mad enough in the head to understand, thank you for that, by the way.” Inej chuckled as she began to undo her braid. Inej was still feeling giddy, Kaz had kissed her wrist and he’d been able to do it without so much as flinching. Kaz had offered to go to Ravka with her to see her family. Inej didn’t know what to do with the excess and overflow of happiness brimming from her heart.

 

            “You are welcome. I told you I would corrupt you, Inej.” Kaz jested with a twisted smirk that sent a flutter straight through her.

 

            “When do we make the hit?” Inej asked as Kaz limped toward her; his hands came up to her hair and she dropped her own. She watched in fascination as Kaz’s pale fingers slipped through the plaits of her braid, his eyes focused on his task.

 

            “He leaves for business this Friday, as in the day after tomorrow. We make our move with only his wife to worry about.” Kaz said simply as he shook out her hair. Inej giggled at the smile on his face as he did it.

 

            “We should not underestimate her, Kaz. Women are dangerous in all forms, even housewives.” Inej said with a tone of seriousness despite her smiling lips.

 

            “I don’t underestimate women, Inej. The most dangerous person I’ve ever met is a woman.” He paused with a pointed look to her. “I just happen to know she hates her husband based on the letters I’ve intercepted to her sister that she visits so frequently. I would almost say we could knock on the door and ask politely to enter her husband’s vault and decimate his life. Though the thick security and the heartrenders only bow to their master, the man who pays their wages. So, unfortunately, a tea party in the vault with his wife is not an option.” Kaz rasped, his fingers still mussing in her hair despite his task being completed.

 

            “I think I would very much like to see you sip earl gray with a merchers wife and some heartrenders in a bank sized vault.” Inej laughed and Kaz rolled his eyes, though he could not hide the smile marring his lips.

 

            “I’m sure I’d also somehow be the life of that conversation in your mind, Inej.” Kaz chuckled. Inej laughed and felt her heart beat with that excess happiness as if it were blood.

 

Kaz was standing between her knees as she sat on his desk, and for the first time since he came to stand before her, she was reminded of the only other time he had stood like this. It had been a year ago, in the Geldrenner hotel bathroom. This time, he was smiling. She was not bleeding. He was touching her hair. There was no water in his mind or eyes.

 

            Inej was momentarily struck with the beauty of the world’s chaos. How something that had once seemed so impossible, was now happening right before her eyes.

 

            “What is that look?” Kaz asked quietly. Inej had not realized she had fallen silent, she felt a smile on her face still.

 

            “I’m just… I’m just happy, Kaz. In a way I’d once thought would never be possible for me.” Inej whispered honestly. Kaz quirked his head and she saw something ease in his expression.

 

Sharp lines blurred to softness, like the artist who drew Kaz blended the edges just for her.

 

“I… I am too.” Kaz said, eyes focused on hers. He moved his arms without dropping her gaze and he wrapped them around her as he moved closer. Inej wrapped her own arms around him, her knees brushing his hips. Inej rested her head against his chest and listened to his heart beat through his shirt, it’s beats were fast, but Inej did not suspect it was because he was going to drown. It was how she imagined her own heart sounded now, being this close to him even through clothing.

 

It was the kind of magic that had nothing to do with sleight of hand.

 

“Bed?” Kaz mumbled after a few minutes, his chin on her head. He had been swirling his hands over her shirt on her lower back. It felt so different than any intimate touch Inej had ever received. It felt natural. Loving. Inej wanted to plant her roots right here and bloom in Kaz’s arms till the Saint’s called her time of death; surrounded by the scent of home.

Inej hummed an agreement and reluctantly let him pull away from her. Inej had changed into his clothes earlier as he’d spoke of the plans for their hit on Charles Hester. Inej slipped off his desk and grabbed her bundle of clothes from beside her and proceeded to walk to the drawer that was now hers. She opened it with a smile and laid her things inside. She felt Kaz’s eyes on her from his spot still near his desk. It was only as Inej slipped in to the bed under the sheets that she heard him shut the bathroom door to change into his own sleep clothes.

 

Inej hoped that someday the both of them could change right in front of the other without so much as a second thought. Or forego the clothes all together. Inej felt her skin flush at the thought as she laid her head against the cool pillow.

 

KAZ

 

            Kaz exited the bathroom and flicked his gaze to the small shape of Inej under his sheets on his bed. Kaz didn’t think he’d tire of that sight. Inej, safe, warm, waiting for him. Kaz still wasn’t quite used to this, going to bed with the girl he loved. Kaz would be content to just sleep next to her for the rest of his life, but he would work for the day when they could blow out the candles and do anything but sleep. Kaz wanted that with Inej.

 

            Kaz approached the bed and Inej lifted her head. He saw her eyes narrow as she pulled her lip between her teeth. Something she did when she wanted something. Kaz had to know what it was.

 

            “Yes, Wraith?” He asked as he set his time piece on the nightstand. Inej did not respond, when he turned his eyes back to her, she was holding up the sheet for him. The way he’d done for her on all the previous night’s they’d spent together. Kaz was surprised. Kaz wanted to do it. Kaz didn’t want to brush her skin in the night and see her face if he flew from the bed. Kaz wanted to climb in and pull her close to him. Kaz wanted to beat his demons back to hell with the head of his cane just so he could have this with her.

 

He just wanted.

 

“You don’t have to… I just-” Inej’s mouth clicked shut. He saw flush trace down her chest under the collar of his shirt. Kaz couldn’t help but catch her hand before she let the sheet fall. Kaz was terrified of this failing, but he was more terrified of her not offering again because he’d been too much of a coward to try. Kaz watched her eyes as he slipped into bed next to her, under the sheets. Inej moved farther away from him and he found himself frowning at the wide expanse of bed between them.

 

Three feet that felt as wide as the True Sea.

 

Kaz looked up to her as he laid his head down on the pillow. Inej’s eyes reminded him of the hot dark chocolate his Da used to make on the morning of the first snow fall on the farm.

 

They warmed his body in the same way.

 

Inej was looking at him too and he wondered what she could possibly see that made her lips soften into a smile.

 

“Tell me something I do not know.” Inej whispered next to him. Kaz contemplated for a moment as he followed her slender bronze hand that came up to pillow beneath her cheek. One thought came to mind immediately. Kaz shook the thought away. Not yet.

 

I love you, Inej. With every single twisted and criminal part of myself.

 

“That’s a broad request.” Kaz replied instead. Inej rolled her eyes and she pursed her lips just slightly.

 

“It’s a game my mother would play with me before bed every night when I was growing up. We tell each other something we did not know about the other. When I was small, I thought mama would know everything and I could not possibly come up with an answer. I was wrong. Once, I even accidentally admitted I’d stolen candies before dinner. She had laughed so hard she forgot to punish me.” Inej giggled. Kaz smirked at the image of little Inej thieving sweets. Kaz thought for a long moment.

 

“Once when I was six, one of the barn cats gave birth to a litter of kittens. One of them was too small, and our Da said he wouldn’t make it and nature had to take its course. We couldn’t save him. I didn’t believe Da, I thought I could save him. I snuck the kitten into the house in my pocket. He mewed too loud, but I got him into mine and Jordie’s room. Jordie had looked at me like I was crazy. We saved him and named him Legacy. Because he would live and be a legacy. We snuck milk for him for weeks, Inej.” Kaz chuckled at the memory, he hadn’t thought of this in years. Inej laughed too.

 

“Our Da found out when he was three months old. Da had looked from me to Jordie and said ‘I don’t know why I thought you’d be doing anything different.’  He never even punished us. We let Legacy back outside and he became the best barn cat. He brought a dead mouse to me once on the front steps of the house. Jordie had laughed so hard he cried because I said ‘thank you’ to the cat, Inej. I was six and I thought it best to use my manners.” Kaz couldn’t stop the laugh from the memory. Kaz had almost forgotten that he had good memories with his brother, too.

 

I still remember you, Jordie. I remember you before.

 

“I was wrong, you do have manners, Kaz.” Inej muffled her laughter into the pillow.

 

Kaz wanted her laugh to be his lullaby forever.

 

“Your turn, tell me something I do not know.” Kaz whispered as she lifted her gaze back to him. Inej smiled, seemingly to herself as she pondered on something to tell him. Kaz wanted to know everything, he’d take what she gave him.

 

“One thing you do not know about me is that I’m incapable of cooking. When I was ten, Mama tried to teach me to make pan bread. It’s the easiest thing to make, Kaz. I had one job. Flip the bread once it was golden on the face down side. I forgot because Mama had left out the new balancing sticks on the table. They were far too big for me, but I was determined to begin practicing. I left that bread in the pan Kaz, and it almost burned down the caravan.” Inej laughed freely and Kaz traced the smile on her face with his eyes. The story made his heart hammer in his chest, it was so… Inej. Determined to start her practice as an acrobat with new balancing sticks, saying ‘to hell with bread’. Kaz could imagine a fierce little Inej stomping around with a stick far too big for her.

 

“Papa told me that we had to be thank the Saints for Mama or we would both go hungry. He said I took after him in the kitchen.” A gentle smile lit up her face. Kaz reached out with his hand and she met him halfway with her own. Kaz couldn’t believe he was able to do this with her hands now. He didn’t even have to think about it.

 

It was truly a miracle; he didn’t give a damn if it was her Saints or Ghezen or Greed he had to thank for it.

 

“One more before sleep. Tell me something I do not know.” Inej whispered as she swirled her thumb along the edge of his hand under the sheets. Kaz pondered the question once more.

 

“Do you remember the book with my cards in it?” Kaz asked quietly. He wasn’t sure why this is the truth he wanted to share.

 

“Yes, of course.” Inej said, her eyes filled with curiosity.

 

“That book was my brothers. I never read it, but he told me the entire story so well that I didn’t think the author could tell it nearly as good.” Kaz rasped, letting his eyes catch on her cheek bones as they lifted with her smile.

 

“I think I would have liked him.” Inej whispered with such sincerity that Kaz wondered if he could kiss her now, if it would be worth the drowning. He thought it would be.

 

“He’d have loved you. Your turn.” Kaz said, feeling the honesty of the statement in his bones.

 

“My favorite scent is cinnamon and bourbon.” Inej whispered, it seemed like a much larger admission somehow. Kaz wasn’t sure what her look meant.

 

“Why?” Kaz asked and squeezed her hand gently.

 

“It’s what you smell like. Home.” Inej inhaled. Kaz had no idea he had a scent. He felt his stomach flip in a delightful way. Inej’s eyelids were drooping and Kaz felt exhaustion in his bones as well.

 

“Sleep, Inej.” Kaz whispered, and when he heard her breathing deepen, he finally allowed himself to close his eyes.

 

 

 

 

Kaz half woke some hours later, Inej’s hair was tickling his nose. They were pressed together from shoulder to knees, her small frame snug against him, clothes protecting their skin from brushing. His arm wrapped around her waist.  Kaz did not ponder the realization, sleep already dragging him back into its clutches. Kaz felt warm, so warm. Kaz felt safe.

 

Kaz pulled Inej closer still, each inch of shattered space an unspoken I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            There were glass shards stuck in Inej Ghafa’s feet as she climbed the rooftops of Ketterdam. The Hester estate had been a difficult mark, but it had succeeded. Inej pondered back on the evening to distract herself from the pain of the glass in her feet on her way back to the Slat:

 

They had successfully switched the Dregs own grisha healer, Arman, with one of the heartrenders guarding the basement vault under the estate. Kaz had laid those plans carefully. Inej still wasn’t sure entirely how he’d been able to pull off getting Arman proof of employment for Charles Hester and successfully getting the other regular heartrender out of the way. Inej heavily suspected Specht’s particular gift for forgery, though. Corporalki was the order of the living and the dead in the Grisha hierarchy, and Arman was technically part of it, so the plan was thorough. Arman was a grisha who defected from the second army and leaving to Ravka after the Kuwei Yul-Bo auction. He opted to stay in Ketterdam and join up with the Dregs instead. Inej suspected it was because of Daron, a medic who worked in the University District hospital. Inej had seen them walking hand in hand once; and Arman constantly spoke of him according to Anika. Inej had inquired about the Dregs new healer after Anika had been shot, he seemed loyal and skilled based off Inej’s first impressions.

 

 Arman had been able to incapacitate the second heartrender in charge of guarding the basement vault, Inej knew it had taken a toll on the healer. Using his gift in that manner had gone against all of his training. Though, like Nina when she was still a heartrender before the jurda parem, his gift could go both ways. At least partially. Inej had taken out the stationed security along with Roeder, their weeks of intel had proved fruitful. It had been exactly the same patrol rotation of the grounds that Inej and Roeder had planned for. It had been a silent entry. Hester’s wife was still sound asleep in her bed, none the wiser.

 

Once they’d gotten into the house, Kaz had come in with his skill set. Inej smiled through the pain in her feet at the memory. Kaz’s eyes sparkled when he saw a particularly challenging lock. Kaz had made quick work of the seven different lock mechanisms, his lips quirked in concentration the entire time.

 

Inej hoped that when she wasn’t looking, Kaz looked at her the way he looked at a lock.

 

Inside the vault itself on the other hand, had made Inej sick. It was nothing like what she expected. It hadn’t truly been a vault at all, it had been a prison cell. Inside the safe door, there had been a small room, perhaps fifteen by twenty feet. Kruge used for funding the slave trade and Hester’s precious smuggling documents had been stored in a second smaller safe in the front half of the room, there had been a thin curtain separating the second half of the space. Inej had pulled the curtain open to reveal rusted steel prison bars. She thought she would have lost the contents of her stomach right there. Behind the bars the ground was covered in sawdust, there had been rings with chains and manacles on the walls. There had been a bucket to serve as a toilet. It had frozen Inej in place, rage clouded her vision and her mind. Charles Hester was the most despicable creature Inej had ever encountered. Not only because of what he’d done to her in the Menagerie. Charles Hester stored new “shipments” for the pleasure houses when the Slave ships brought them to Ketterdam before the enslaved people were taken to their new masters. Inej had been brought straight to the Menagerie after Tante Heleen bought her indenture. The fact that Inej herself could have ended up in a room just like the one before her was not lost to her. She had thanked her saints for that small mercy when she nearly fell to her knees in the middle of the job. Kaz had to bring her back and pause his work on the smaller safe.

 

He’d had to step in front of her and pull the curtain closed. His dark eyes had focused on hers. His voice of stone on stone was the only thing that brought Inej out of her frozen rage. Inej thought again about what he had said “Inej we have to make it out of this room so we can make sure no one else has to come back here.” He had whispered it in such earnest that her mind had slowed down enough for her to focus back on the job, to get out of the estate before a single unconscious guard woke and could sound the alarm to the stadwatch.

 

They’d made it out, and Inej knew Kaz had taken every last coin of the tax evaded funds that fueled Charles Hester’s monstrous behavior. Inej was pleased, but she was more eager to have a look at all the documentation that she and Kaz had also lifted from the room. Inej picked up her speed along the shingled rooftops of the financial district. She did not want to stop to focus on her feet when on this side of town. Kaz had gone with Arman and Rotty on the ground, Roeder had taken an opposite route to Inej so they could better make sure that Stadwatch patrols had not been notified or stopped along their planned route back into Dreg’s territory. Inej caught glimpses of Kaz and the others every now and then from her race along the skyline. She had been keeping tabs on them in case they ran into any trouble.

 

 Inej’s feet felt awful but it was not the worst pain, her rubber slippers had protected her from the majority of the glass. It had been a stupid mistake on Roeders part while re-knocking out a waking guard on their way out of the building; he’d shattered a nearby window and glass had flown everywhere. Thankfully the window had been on the back side of the estate, far enough away from Hester’s sleeping wife and her quarters so as not to wake her. Inej had seen the look on Kaz’s face directed to the new spider, she did not want to be there when Kaz got him in his office. Inej did not pity Roeder though. He needed to be stealthier if he wanted to be a passable spider, and more importantly keep his own life safe as well as the others who relied on him. The glass in her feet had also cost her precious speed on her race across the rooftops.

 

Inej paused briefly, tracking Kaz and the others as they made their way around the bend of the last street before the Barrel. Inej would see them to Dreg’s turf and then she would allow herself a moment to pick shards from her slippers, once she knew they were in more agreeable territory. The sky was clear tonight, a rare occurrence in Ketterdam. A small mercy of moonlight from the Saints. Inej made the jump to the next building, wincing when her feet hit the ground.

 

Inej followed Kaz and the others until they were only three streets west from the Slat. As Inej jumped a gap between two apartment buildings, she found Kaz and the others were stood in the middle of the empty street in front of two hooded figures. Inej did not waste time, she began to inspect the roofs nearest to them; there were no snipers or spiders perched on the surrounding buildings. Who were they? Kaz did not have anything else planned tonight. Inej knew as much from the way he’d told her to report back at the Slat.

 

Inej silently slipped her way down a drainpipe, keeping closely to the shadows. As Inej got closer to the meeting in the street, her heart picked up speed. She listened intently.

 

“Who the hell are you and what do you want?” Inej heard Kaz rasp to the hooded man across from him to the left. Inej knew she had missed the first portion of this exchange, and judging by Kaz’s tight grip on his cane, it was not pleasant. Kaz was angry, it was an almost palpable energy in the air that sizzled like electricity. Inej spied that the first hooded figure, whom which Kaz was not questioning, was sub-consciously tapping his index finger over his pocket; there was a pistol or revolver hidden there. A nervous tick indicative of someone fresh to this type of encounter.

 

“I’m a simple messenger, Mr. Brekker. My name is Henrik. We have no quarrel with you.  Let’s just say my employer is supremely interested in someone who may be on your payroll.” The man paused and dropped his hood, from Inej’s vantage, she could tell he was about Kaz’s height. Stocky build. If Inej had to guess he was perhaps in his thirties or forties, sandy hair. Trimmed beard. Inej did not recognize the man, his accent sounded natural, like Kaz’s. Kerch born, most likely.

 

“I’m looking for a Captain of a war ship, it is docked in a berth that is listed as belonging to you. That Captain, you see, has cost my employer quite a bit of money. My employer also employs Mr. Charles Hester, which was clearly a terrible investment if you were able to get into his home. I digress, that is not my business, keep what money you have taken. I’m sure my employer will no longer have the necessary faith in Mr. Hester and I do not care for what you’ve stolen from him. I do not know this Captain’s name that I seek, but I’m told it is a woman. Do you happen to know anyone who fits that description, Mr. Brekker?” The man mused. Inej felt her stomach twist into a knot.

 

This man was here because of her. This man works for the Slave-trade. This man is looking for her and wants to use Kaz to find her.

 

“Can’t say I do, though even if I did, why would I bother to share Dreg’s business with a man who was stupid enough to stop me on the street in my territory?” Dirtyhands’ voice of gravel filled the street, bouncing off the cobblestones and empty space. Inej knew that Arman and Rotty would not say a word either.

 

“Very well. I will have what I need soon enough. Even if I do not have the Captain yet, I will have all the leads she’s acquired for my employers trading routes. It’s just business, you see. Can’t have a woman pirate setting our merchandise free when it is just so hard to come by good product.” The man let out a laugh. Inej felt frozen with rage. Inej wanted to rip the man’s throat out with the sharp end of Sankt Petyr. Inej watched as Kaz made to speak, but the man continued.

 

“I have men searching her ship for the manifests she stole from our vessel she swindled not too long ago. It is very important that the information is returned to us, it is too late to make alterations to the arrangements those manifests contain. In fact, I’d set the whole vessel aflame, if it were not for the tedious laws regarding such activities with the vessel in Harbor. Terrible legal cleanup. So, I will settle for taking those manifests back. Then I’ll find this Captain and dispose of her as well.” The man voiced. Inej knew exactly which manifests the man spoke of, she had only two leads for her next voyage and those manifests contained them. She had not left them on her ship, she had taken them to the Van Eck estate with her to go over during her leave on land. Inej was glad of it too.

 

It was then that Inej realized she had made a critical error. Inej had taken the manifests, but she had left her letters from Wylan and Jesper in her desk… they had the Van Eck residence listed. It would not take them long to decide to search her acquaintances in Ketterdam for her and those stolen manifests.

 

Jesper and Wylan. No. Inej had to go, Inej had to move.

 

Inej would not allow her friends to fall simply because she had stayed with them. Inej had no idea how many men, or how skilled of men, that this Henrik had sent to her ship. Or how long ago. They could already be at the Van Eck estate, Jesper and Wylan would not be at the ready for a fight. Inej knew the second man was most likely Henrik’s back up. Inej had to trust that Kaz and the others would be okay. Inej knew Roeder was probably across the street at this point, also hidden. Inej had to have faith in him as well. Inej knew Kaz could protect himself, but she sent a silent prayer to the Saints anyways. Inej didn’t want to walk away from Kaz, but Wylan and Jesper could need her help now.

 

Please let Kaz be alright. Let me get to Jesper and Wylan in time.

 

Inej shrank further into the shadows, and with a whispered prayer she ascended to the rooftops. Nothing more than darkness and flesh, Inej Ghafa raced amongst the shingles and the stars to her friends, to her chosen family.

 

KAZ

 

            Kaz entered the Slat with Rotty, Arman and Roeder in tow. Anika greeted them in the foyer, Kaz’s cane was dripping blood as he shrugged off his jacket. The man, Henrik, and his second, were dead. Kaz would not let them leave that street alive, not when they were looking for Inej. None of them had been hurt, Roeder had managed to take down the second man before he’d even lifted his pistol. Kaz had taken particular care of Henrik. Arman and Rotty had said nothing though he knew they’d noticed his rage had been unchained, even more than Dirtyhands normally was. They did not know it was because Henrik had threatened Inej, and frankly Kaz didn’t care beyond that. Kaz just wanted to know Inej was safe. The job had been a success, but the night had taken a toll on Inej, Kaz saw it when she froze in the middle of the vault. Kaz couldn’t blame her.

 

            Kaz had felt her near the street when Henrik had stopped them on their way back into Dreg’s territory, he knew she’d heard what the man had said. Kaz had felt her leave, he knew she had probably headed to her ship to stop the assault, knowing he’d take care of Henrik. Kaz had to trust in her the way she had in him when she had left the street. Kaz had needed to come back here, he could not risk leaving the Dreg’s unaware and unguarded if Henrik had more men in the area. Kaz did not suspect it to be the case, but he would not take that chance tonight.

 

            Kaz wanted nothing more than to shred his blood battered clothes, shower, have a drink, and feel Inej near.

 

Kaz would do none of those things until she reported back to him. Kaz entered his office, leaving Rotty to explain to Anika that the Dregs needed to be on extra guard tonight, and to have an extra man stationed at the doors of the Crow Club too for good measure. Kaz had said as much to Rotty on their trek back to the Slat after the run in with Henrik. There was a missive on Kaz’s desk containing Club numbers and Kaz busied himself going through them, avoiding checking the clock on the wall every few moments. After almost an hour, Kaz felt anxious energy boiling in his chest at a furious rumble.

 

Inej would come back any minute. She would and she would tell him her ship was fine and the men were disposed of. It wasn’t a question. Kaz would allow no other option.

 

It had been one full bell and forty minutes before the front door of the Slat slammed open outside of Kaz’s office door.

 

“ARMAN! Help! Please, please help!” A familiar voice shouted from the other side of Kaz’s door, he thought he must be wrong. Jesper shouldn’t be here. Kaz was already moving to his door.

 

Kaz could not have been prepared for the sight he found in the entryway of the Slat.

 

Kaz had lived through a thousand nightmares and none of them compared to the terror of the waking world in front of him.

 

Jesper had dropped to his knees, holding Inej. There was blood everywhere, her dark shirt dripping in the lamplight. Her hair was coming out of her braid. Her skin looked pale, wrong. Her eyes were closed, she was unconscious. Jesper was whimpering something to her that sounded like “stay with me” mixed with “why did you do that for me”. Kaz froze. Rotty and Pim had raced into the room, followed by Anika and Roeder. Kaz saw Wylan in the doorway, tears streaking down his cheeks.

 

“Oh fuck, lay her flat, lay her flat NOW!” Arman came rushing down the stairs, medical bag in tow. Kaz registered Anika gasping and Pim cursing. It was moving so slow. Why was everything so slow? Why was it so fast?

 

Inej. No. Inej. Inej. Inej. Inej. Inej. Please. No. Not her. Not Inej.

 

“I need you to cut away this part of her shirt, her pulse is there but it’s faint. I need to get the bullet out so I can start stopping the blood loss, I need to stitch her together from the inside.” Arman was saying to Rotty who was already cutting away Inej’s shirt, leaving her bindings underneath untouched. Kaz saw a horrific bullet wound just beneath her left breast on her ribcage. Kaz couldn’t breathe. Kaz couldn’t move. Kaz had to do something. Kaz had to do something, now.

 

“Jes, help her.” Kaz growled. Jesper looked up at him, and Kaz saw the broken expression in Jesper’s face shift with the realization with what Kaz was asking of him. Jesper could remove the bullet from her body quicker than Arman digging it out and beginning his healing work. Jesper took a deep breath.

 

“I’ll get the bullet out.” Jesper said directly to Arman and Jesper laid Inej’s head down gently to the ground and moved to hover his hands above Inej’s still body. Kaz dimly saw the other Dreg’s eyes widen. He thought he heard Anika gasp “grisha”. Kaz didn’t care.

Inej had to live.

 

Kaz heard a gurgling sound come from Inej’s mouth, as if she were drowning. Kaz felt his whole body go numb.

 

No. Inej. No. Inej don’t leave me.

 

“Her lung was nicked by the bullet. She’s not getting enough air. We need to keep air going to her while we work on this. Someone needs to start resuscitation, now!” Arman bellowed and Jesper was carefully extricating the bullet from Inej. Wylan stepped in from the doorway and made to move to Inej. Kaz didn’t think. Kaz didn’t care about anything in that moment but Inej.

 

“Move!” Kaz nearly shouted. He pushed Wylan out of the way. Kaz didn’t care. Inej needed air, Kaz would give her his.

 

The only sound in the room was Kaz Brekker’s knees hitting the floor beside his Wraith.

 

Kaz pinched Inej’s nose the way Arman directed, as if she had drowned. They needed to clear her airway from blood. Kaz bent his mouth to hers for the first time. It was not a kiss, but his lips touched hers. He did not feel any water. This time, his demons were drowning. They were drowning in the panic he felt coursing through his body.

 

 Inej. Inej. Treasure of my heart. Please, live. I’m here. I still need to tell you. I need to tell you I love you. Come back to me. If you are listening, Saints, let her live. Inej.

 

Kaz gave her breath in the rhythm of Arman gently pumping her chest. He heard the bullet clang to the ground.

 

Kaz had drowned a thousand times over, he wouldn’t allow Inej to drown too.

 

Inej gasped.

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            Kaz was standing near the door to his office, Arman was using his abilities to stitch together Inej’s wound. She seemed stable, for now. Kaz didn’t think he’d ever heard a more beautiful noise than when she took air down and gasped.

 

            Kaz Brekker’s heart was being held together with string woven by Saints he didn’t believe in.

 

            Wylan was standing beside him, silently folding and unfolding his arms in front of his chest. Anika and the rest of the Dregs were still nearby, standing in the common room across from the foyer. Kaz was dimly aware of the fact that both Rotty and Anika were pacing anxiously. Kaz couldn’t bring himself to so much as move his eyes from the soft rise and fall of Inej’s chest as Arman held his hands to her skin. The bronze color was slightly less pale than it had been only minutes before. Jesper was still sitting on the ground beside Inej, twirling the bullet he’d removed between his fingers, seemingly trying to focus the energy that railed within him into the object. Jesper’s eyes were unfocused, lost in the haze of worry that Kaz also felt. No one spoke, and Kaz knew that none of them would dare ask him now why he’d made sure he was the one to help Inej. Kaz still didn’t care. Damn it all to Hell. Kaz needed to know she was going to make it, the vice grip he had on the head of his cane tightened. Arman finally rose and turned toward Kaz and Wylan.

 

            “She’s stable. At least for now. I’m a healer but I’m no miracle worker; her body has to do the rest. The bullet hit sensitive tissue, complex healing was required. It’s up to her body to hold the mending together now.” Arman paused with a look back to Inej laying on the ground behind him. He ran a dark hand through his black hair that brushed his shoulders, the motion teeming with exhaustion. “While her skin is healed, we still need to keep an eye out for any internal bleeding, even with the stitching I did. It will look like bruising to the naked eye. She’ll be out for hours yet, too much blood lost. I made sure she would sleep; she does not need to feel this pain. I would recommend we move her to where she will be able to recover for the next few days. If she makes it through the night without incident, it will tell us her body is keeping my work in place. Still, she will need to take this week slow, the next few days even more so, she must be delicate with her body. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to save her, it was a fatal wound by all counts.” Arman finally concluded and he turned away from Wylan and Kaz to begin cleaning up the medical supplies he’d left strewn around Inej. Kaz knew everyone had been listening intently to Arman’s prognosis.

 

Kaz felt like he’d been through a hurricane. He felt raw, disheveled, and like his insides had been plucked from his body and put back wrong. It did not diminish the tidal waves of relief that crashed against his chest.

 

Kaz wasn’t sure how long he’d stared in silence at his Wraith. Long enough for Arman to exit the room. Jesper rose slowly and turned to Wylan and Kaz. Wylan met his eyes and Jesper tried his best to offer a small smile to his ginger partner.

 

“Kaz, we need to move her. She deserves to be comfortable. Our house or yours?” Jesper asked quietly, aiming for discretion in the presence of the other Dregs even with his back to them and Inej. Kaz knew Jesper meant the attic or their mansion. Jesper’s gray eyes finally focusing somewhere on Kaz’s face. Jesper was covered in Inej’s blood, his yellow button up stained crimson. Kaz knew that Inej would be more comfortable physically in the Van Eck Mansion, and Kaz also knew that if he asked, Arman would station himself there to watch over her care. Kaz didn’t want to let her out of his sight. It was all too fresh. Kaz couldn’t get his scheming brain to form a rational thought.

 

“It’s not my place but… I know she would be more comfortable waking where she feels safest.” Wylan whispered. Kaz knew somewhere deep inside him that if Inej had been awake, she would tell him she wanted to be at home. Home was with him, and Kaz still didn’t understand it, how he had become that to her. Home for him was with Inej too, though. He understood that much. Kaz found he would still listen to her counsel even as she laid unconscious before him. Kaz made a call then that he swore to himself he would not regret. He would not allow Inej to be endangered because of him, and everyone here would know it.

 

“Here. She’ll stay here.” Kaz said and turned back to his office stiffly, reaching into his coat pocket on the hook around the corner from the door. He removed the skeleton key for his attic rooms.

 

“She needs something to wear. I can go try and find something that might fit- “

Anika said now from across the foyer. Kaz cut her off with a raised hand. Kaz had made up his mind. Kaz felt anxiety churn in his gut but he brushed it off, willing Dirtyhands to return once more.

 

            “She has things here.” Kaz said simply. His voice rasped more from the tightness in his throat. He heard Jesper take a deep breath. Rotty, Pim, and Roeder were staring at Kaz as if he’d grown another appendage. They all knew Inej did not have a room of her own in the Slat any longer. Kaz didn’t feel like he had the energy for this conversation now. Inej needed to be taken upstairs.

 

            “I’ll carry her.” Jesper said, already kneeling down to Inej. Kaz wanted to object, he didn’t want anyone else to touch her. Kaz knew Jesper would get her up to the attic with ease though, so he quieted the ridiculous thoughts and sharply nodded. Kaz passed the skeleton key to Wylan.

 

            “I’ll be up in a moment.” Kaz voiced. He watched as Jesper carefully lifted Inej, keeping her as still as possible. Jesper and Wylan walked up the steps toward his rooms and disappeared around the second floor landing. Kaz fixed his gloved hands on the head of his cane before he turned to Rotty, Pim, Anika and Roeder. Thankfully, Arman was the only other Dreg’s member currently in the house; the rest of the new recruits and older members were at the Club and manning various pigeon catching posts on the streets around Dregs territory. Kaz had made this so when he’d planned the Hester job, leaving Anika and Pim at the Slat.

 

            “If anyone here says a damn word about this,” Kaz paused to gesture with his hand to himself and up toward the stairs in reference to Inej. “I will personally end you. I expect loyalty to the person up there who has saved your asses countless times. I demand loyalty for myself because I have bled for this fucking gang and you cannot deny it. If a word of this leaves your mouths to anyone, even other Dregs, you will pay for it. Slowly. If you think you have gotten away with saying anything to anyone, you will suffer the rest of your life anyways. You will have to walk through each day knowing The Wraith could be behind you. You will have to keep your eyes forward knowing that I could be before you. Do I make myself clear?” Kaz rumbled.

He did not have the patience to deny his relationship with Inej, not with what they had all just witnessed. If Kaz was honest with himself, the people in this room had proven their loyalty to him time and time again. Perhaps it would be better to have these few people know, to have these people understand. Inej had always been his second in all ways besides title, but now they knew Inej was his partner. Inej was his equal, she always had been. Inej had bled for every single one of them, Inej deserved their loyalty as much as he did.

 

Kaz felt all of his instincts telling him to take it all back when the words left his lips. It showed he was human, Dirtyhands was supposed to be anything but that. Kaz couldn’t take it back. Kaz was human.

 

Kaz Brekker was a monstrous man helplessly in love with righteous, tenacious, and dangerous woman.

 

Rotty looked like he might pass out but nodded all the same. Kaz knew it was because Rotty had asked Inej to go out with him right in front of Kaz, none the wiser that Kaz himself had been the person Inej was seeing. Roeder looked momentarily surprised but shrugged it off. Pim had widened eyes as he looked from Kaz back to Anika. Anika was leaning casually against the door frame. She was clearly not as surprised as she should have been in the eyes of the other Dregs.

 

“Not a word.” Rotty spoke clearly, straightening himself to look Kaz in the eye. Kaz noted the others nodding as well, even Anika. Kaz knew she’d already agreed to this when Inej had spoken to her, but he was glad all the same that she acknowledged the weight of this secret in front of him now. Kaz had nothing left to say, he nodded once and turned to his office and closed the door and locked it. Kaz began his ascent up the stairs.

 

His girl was up there. She needed him. Kaz wouldn’t have cared if the rest of the world burned down in his absence, as long as she made it out the other side breathing.

 

As Kaz climbed the stairs, he heard Pim ask Anika why she wasn’t surprised. He heard her chuckle and walk away. Despite everything, it made Kaz want to smile. There was loyalty beating in the hearts of those people down there.

 

 

The stairs creaked once as Kaz finally reached the Attic landing. Jesper was sitting on the top stair, long maroon clad legs folded awkwardly in front of him. Kaz raised a brow when Jesper did not move out of his way.

 

“Wylan is getting her into one of your shirts and Arman stopped up here to tell us to remove her bindings so her chest can move more easily. I figured out of all the people here, Inej might feel most comfortable with that arrangement. Wylan has no desire to see a woman’s body and he’s her friend, she trusts him. I thought about grabbing Anika, but they aren’t close. I wasn’t sure… I thought about waiting for you but something told me Inej wouldn’t want you to see her… indisposed, while she was completely unconscious.” Jesper mumbled as he fidgeted with his dark hands. Kaz didn’t particularly like the idea of anyone undressing Inej while she was unconscious, including himself, but Kaz appreciated Jesper’s logic. Kaz could see the reasoning, and Wylan was a better choice than Anika. Kaz would have done it himself, but Inej wouldn’t have wanted that, Kaz didn’t either.

 

If Kaz was ever able to see Inej completely bare, he wanted that to be a very different night.

 

Wylan opened the door just then, he looked a little flustered. Probably a combination of struggling to change Inej’s clothes without disturbing her wounds and also having to undress his friend while she was unconscious.

 

“You can come in; I took a shirt from your wardrobe for her. I hope that’s alright. I didn’t want to go through everything and try and find her own things…” Wylan’s blue eyes spoke of exhaustion as he met Kaz’s gaze. Jesper stood up and followed Kaz into the attic.

 

Kaz wanted to thank every deity in the modern world for the sight of Inej breathing in his bed.

 

Wylan had unbound her hair and pulled a blanket around her, she was laying on her back with her head tilted just slightly against the pillow. A raven lock had fallen to her face. Kaz leaned his cane gently against his desk, and he heard Jesper close and lock the door behind them. Kaz ripped his gloves off quickly and tossed them on to his desk. Kaz felt Wylan and Jesper’s eyes on him as he crossed the room, his limp prominent from the use on the job tonight. Kaz stepped to his bed and gently tucked that piece of hair behind Inej’s ear. Kaz’s body reacted before his mind could catch up. He leaned down and placed a gentle kiss to Inej’s forehead.

 

Kaz wouldn’t realize until later that he’d done it without a second thought.

 

“You can go. I want to know what happened tomorrow, though.” Kaz rasped, not bothering to turn back to Wylan and Jesper standing by the door.

 

“No. We’re staying.” Wylan said with confidence Kaz rarely heard from the young mercher. Kaz turned to look at them slowly. Jesper had his arm around Wylan’s shoulders and was also nodding. His eyes looked distant but he clearly agreed.

 

“I… I need to be here when she wakes up, Kaz. I have to.” Jesper said quietly, his usually brazen tone replaced by an honest pleading. Kaz sighed. He would not deny Wylan and Jesper this even if he wanted to. Kaz simply pulled the chair from the corner near his bed and motioned to them to grab his desk chair as well. Kaz walked to the other side of his bed and eased himself down onto the mattress to sit beside Inej. Jesper and Wylan took the chairs on the opposite side. Kaz found himself reaching for Inej’s limp hand. He didn’t care that Wylan and Jesper were here.

 

He needed…. He needed her. Kaz needed to feel the pulse in her wrist. Maybe, Kaz thought, she would know he was here too.

 

“Are you okay?” Jesper asked quietly, his silver eyes glinting in the warm lamplight from Kaz’s bedside table. Kaz felt every answer he’d ever given to a question like that bloom from the soil of his mind. Answers like “always”, “of course.”, “Not your business.”, “haven’t you heard I don’t have a heart?”. Kaz wanted to quip that he was fine. That it didn’t matter how he felt. Kaz realized then that he’d never had friends he could answer honestly to before. Or he’d never wanted to.

 

Kaz shook his head before he could change his mind. No. He was not okay. He would not be okay until Inej opened her eyes and looked at him. Kaz wanted to know what had happened, but he couldn’t find the words in his mouth to ask now. Kaz just wanted Inej to wake.

 

“Me either.” Jesper whispered. Kaz saw Wylan nod too.

 

“There’s bourbon in the desk. Inej wouldn’t want us to drink over her, but I’ll take the heat for that later.” Kaz said, the joke slipping from his lips like water. He thought it might have been worth it when Jesper smiled a genuine smile that made him look much more like the Zemini sharp shooter they all knew.

 

Jesper was the closest thing Kaz had to a brother since Jordie died. Kaz had known it for some time, if he was honest with himself. It was worth a stupid joke to make his best friend rise again from his despair.

 

Kaz and Wylan watched as Jesper poured them each a drink before taking his seat next to the bed again.

 

“To whichever Saint is bothering to eavesdrop, heal her.” Jesper raised his glass in a toast.

 

They all downed the bourbon in one drink. Even Wylan. Kaz did not let go of Inej’s hand as he made another toast within the privacy of his mind.  

 

To you, Inej. For everything you’ve done as our lodestone to hold us together. We’re all here waiting for you. We all need you.

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            Eyes open equals awful. Eyes closed equals bad, but manageable.

 

            Inej tried to squint her eyes open, thankfully the room was dim, but that was about all she could tell through the stars darting across her vision. Inej heard the patter of rain against a window, she smelled cinnamon, bourbon…. And something else? Gun powder. Definitely gun powder. It reminded Inej of Jesper and his revolvers. The other scent made Inej want to put a stop to her eye opening efforts and simply keep her eyes shut and her breathing deep and open. Inej heard several different breathing patterns swirling against the sound of the rain. Who was here? Her body felt muddled, like someone had taken a stirring spoon to her insides and hadn’t stopped swishing it around until her organs came to a boil. Pain lanced her side and she bit her cheek to keep from whimpering.

 

            Eyes. Open. What had happened? Inej couldn’t recall yet.

 

            Inej finally opened her eyes to see a slanted ceiling, the beams familiar. She could not manage turning her head yet, but her eyes shifted to her left, leaned over the bed in an awkward position was a heap of umber zemini skin next to a mop of auburn curls. Jesper’s hand was next to Inej’s, as if he’d been holding it before he’d fallen asleep. Wylan had his arms folded beneath his head on the bed as well, face turned just slightly towards Jesper. Soft snores echoed from the both of them, their breathing deep and even. Inej felt her lip twitch up at the sight. She managed to turn her head slightly to view her right side next, warmth was emanating from that side of the bed. Kaz. He was leaned against the headboard, with his legs stretched out in front of him. Her hand was in his lap, his fingers still loosely holding her wrist in sleep. His shirt was bloodstained and his hair disheveled as if he’d run his hands through it repeatedly. Black lashes splayed out on his high cheekbones. Inej felt her chest tighten. Kaz. She was safe. Kaz was here.

 

            Inej wanted to move closer to him but the pain in her side ricocheted off her organs at the slightest movement. Inej couldn’t remember why she’d opened her eyes in the dim morning light.

 

            Sleep was dragging her back under, Inej thanked the Saints for granting the wish she’d made when she stepped in front of that bullet. She remembered that much.

 

            Let me live long enough to see my Moon again, with his waning smiles and pale light that shines in the blackest of suits.

 

 

 

            Inej felt stiff as she opened her eyes once more. The room was still dim, there was a crash of thunder in the distance. She found herself examining the cracks in the beams above her, trying out focusing her irises on different spots, willing her muscles to work properly. Her consciousness felt foggy, she knew she’d woken once, but she didn’t know when.

 

How long had she been asleep? How did she get to the Slat? Kaz?

 

            Inej did not realize she’d whispered his name aloud until she heard a rushed movement from somewhere in front of the bed, a tap of a cane on the ground.

 

            “Inej?” Gravel. Stone. Kaz. Inej felt like something eased in her heart at the sound of his rasp. He sounded frantic, though. Why?

 

            “Inej.” Kaz said again, her name was spoken as if it were a prayer, something holy. Inej tore her eyes from the beams, tamping down the pain in her side as she tried to sit up slightly. She failed, falling right back to the pillows. She crushed her eyes shut with a grimace as agony twisted its talons into her ribcage.

 

            “Don’t move too much. Arman used his powers to heal you but you need to stay still for now, love.” Kaz was next to her now, she wanted to look at him. He had never called her ‘love’ before. The word fluttered through her stomach on wings of its own; despite the throbbing. Inej finally peeled her eyelids open once more as the pain receded. Inej was greeted with Kaz standing above her, his crow black hair hanging slightly in pieces on his forehead. Inej noted a dust of shadow along his jaw line. He wore a white button up as always, but no jacket or tie. His sleeves were rolled up his forearms, one side displaying his crow and cup tattoo. His eyes held a gentleness that was all Rietveld. Inej decided it was beautiful. All of him.

 

            Saints, he was the most beautiful sinner. How could the Saints not let him into their paradise in the after-life? Never mind. He’d break in himself. She loved him for it.

 

            Inej tried to move her vocal chords into a word but it died in her throat. Thirsty. She needed water. Inej wasn’t sure how she’d managed to whisper his name in the first place. She fought the fire in her throat.

 

            “Water.” The word came out dry and broken. Kaz immediately retrieved a glass from his bedside table, clearly he’d already set it there for her. Inej raised a shaky hand and took the glass. She gulped it down in a couple of swallows, the liquid coated her throat and she immediately felt just a little better. Kaz took the glass from her and filled it again with a pitcher. She downed the second glass just as fast.

 

            “Better?” Kaz questioned. Inej noticed that he seemed to be having trouble taking his eyes off of her face. His eyes didn’t leave her once. She was starting to remember the night before. The man, Henrik. His men. The Van Eck Estate. Jesper and Wylan. Where were they?

 

            “A little.” Inej managed to get out. She realized the error in her ways with chugging so much water. She needed to use the facilities and the rest of her body did not seem to agree with that course of action; seeing as she’d have to stand and walk to do that. Inej tamped down the embarrassment of having to ask Kaz to help her stand, there was no other way.

 

            “I need to get up.” Inej said softly. Kaz quirked his head just slightly in question, Inej noticed that his eyes had more of a purple hue beneath them than usual. He must not have slept for long. Inej raised a finger to gesture to the bathroom across the room from the bed behind his desk. Kaz understood immediately. As Kaz moved to lift the blanket around her, Inej realized she was in his shirt. Only his shirt. A flush traced its way down her chest, her skin was surely on fire. Inej knew she still had on her underwear, but her bindings must have been discarded when she was wounded. Inej could not allow herself to ponder on the possibility that Kaz had to change her clothes. Or someone else.

 

It made her skin itch and threatened to bring up horrific memories that she’d rather leave to rot in the sewers of her mind. She tossed the memories back into the wastes.

 

Kaz gently lifted the blanket and Inej flushed further upon realizing the shirt had ridden up in her sleep to the middle of her thighs. Kaz clearly took notice but he swallowed and bent over her, meeting her eyes the entire time. She knew what he was going to do and she was grateful she would not have to walk but she was more concerned about his leg.

 

“Your leg.” Inej whispered with a glance toward his bad knee. Kaz rolled his eyes with a stubborn huff.

 

“Clearly I can carry you, Inej. I have before.” Kaz mused, she spied a small smirk on his lips.

 

“Fine, but don’t complain to me when I ask you to carry me back from the bathroom.” Inej retorted, her own lips betrayed her serious tone with a grin. Kaz sighed in false annoyance before he leaned down and Inej moved her arms around his neck, doing her best not to brush his skin, thankfully the collar of his shirt proved to be a decent barrier. Inej shivered slightly as his arm moved under her bare legs, his other hand on the small of her back. Kaz lifted her up with ease, cradling her in his arms. She found she very much enjoyed the feeling of his biceps around her.

 

“See? Unfortunately for you, I’m less a cripple than you currently.” Kaz smirked as he walked in his uneven gait to the bathroom. Inej laughed and pain shot across her abdomen. She winced.

 

“Laughing is apparently not in my fate today.” Inej grumbled in irritation.

 

“I’m the least comical person you know, how fortunate.” Kaz quipped as he opened the bathroom door. Inej bit her lip to hold back her chuckle. Not true. Kaz could be terribly funny at the most inopportune moment. Kaz had already lit the lamp in the small bathroom.

 

“Can you stand?” Kaz asked now, his general rasp was laced in a softness that Inej was sure she was the only person to hear before.

 

“I think so, I’ll use the counter if I have to. But as you know, I have a strong core. Acrobat, remember?” Inej retorted through her pain as Kaz set her gently to her feet, she gripped the counter as she swayed slightly. It was an odd thing. Inej was always balanced.

 

“I’ll be outside. I swear on your Saints if you crack your skull open because you refuse to tell me you’ve lost your balance, I will pick the lock on the after-life door just to smite you, Wraith.” Kaz mumbled as he shut the door. She found herself smiling as she leaned against the small sink for support.

 

Inej finally managed to roll out her neck muscles and look up to the mirror. Her hair was a disarray of knots and tangles. She didn’t care. Inej noted her skin looked sullen, which was to be expected after one got shot. She had looked the same when she’d been stabbed before Nina saved her life on the Ferolind.

 

Inej managed to take care of her body’s call without falling- it was a close thing.

 

Inej wanted to walk back to the bed herself, her body was already exhausted but she wanted to use her legs if only for a moment. Inej opened the door silently. Kaz was in his desk chair twirling a letter opener between his fingers. He turned as soon as she stepped out of the bathroom on shaky feet. He rolled his eyes at her stubbornness and stood, offering her his arm. She took it without complaint. She needed help, even if she did not want it. Inej managed to dig up the courage to ask the question rolling around like a marble in her head.

 

“Did you… Did you change my clothes?” Inej whispered as they crossed the room, Kaz’s arm was a steady support beside her. Inej did not have the need for modesty with Kaz, in fact she wouldn’t mind him seeing her… but she did not like the idea of him having seen her while she was unconscious. It was… it was something private that was meant to be shared with him in a much different moment. She would not be angry if he had, only somewhat saddened. Inej was also still a girl, no matter how confident she was, she also had her insecurities. It made her human.

 

There were still scars on her body from the Menagerie, even if the majority of the wounds had been deep beneath her flesh.

 

“No. Wylan did. Jesper…. Jesper asked him to. Wylan has no interest in women and he’s close to you. I thought it was the right call too.” Kaz said as he helped her sit down on the edge of his bed. Inej felt relieved, while she still didn’t care for the idea of someone touching her body without her mind aware; she trusted Wylan. Wylan must have been gentle. Inej also knew she most certainly did not have the anatomy to appeal on any level to Wylan, which settled some sort of unease in her mind from her time at the Menagerie.

 

“It was. Thank you.” Inej said softly, her hand came up to her side, she had not lifted the shirt in the bathroom, though she was certain with Arman’s abilities, her skin was probably unmarred. Inside is where the real work was taking place. Inej winced the moment her hand came in contact with the broken part of her body. Her hand had been feather light, it must have been a horrific thing to behold, her wound.

 

Inej felt Kaz’s eyes on her. She lifted her eyes to him and he eased himself to sit beside her on the bed.

 

“I thought… I thought you’d….” Kaz was looking at his hands in his lap. There was something broken in his face and Inej wanted to rectify it immediately. Inej knew what he’d thought. He’d thought she was going to die, she knew she almost had.

 

“Kaz, look at me.” Inej said gently. After a long moment, his eyes lifted, unfocused for a moment before finally connecting with her gaze.

 

His pupils were islands in a sea of too strong tea, her favorite kind.

 

“Soja hon hai, semti. It means: The sun sets on its own schedule, so do I.  I’m still here, Kaz.” Inej whispered as she reached a hand out, palm up. Kaz did not hesitate, his hand was in hers quickly, as if he’d been missing her contact. Inej wanted to push him back and rest her head on his chest, she wanted him to smile that crooked grin she loved so much despite how it always promised mischief. Kaz inhaled deeply, it looked as if he was steeling himself to say something important.

 

“Inej I just want-” Kaz was cut off by a knock on the attic door, it had been unlocked apparently as Jesper’s lanky form appeared around the open door, Wylan behind him. She suspected they had gone home to change clothes in the time she’d been awake, both of them lacking blood spatter, the way she remembered they had been before she lost consciousness.

 

Inej heard Kaz take a shaky breath. She hadn’t been sure what he was going to say, but clearly it was something private. He did not drop her hand, even as she subtly covered her legs quickly with the blanket.  

 

“Inej!” Jesper nearly shrieked as he loped the space of the room and bent to throw his arms around Inej, he caught himself just before disaster, it would have been extremely painful if Jesper had gripped her. Inej saw the promise of an early death for Jesper in Kaz’s face. Inej squeezed his hand gently as Jesper wrapped an arm around her shoulder lightly in an embrace. He straightened back up before her. Sitting on the bed, Jesper seemed to be even taller. Inej smiled the best smile she could muster through the throbbing in her ribcage. She was just happy to see Jesper alive.

 

Jesper, her brilliant, chaotic friend who made terrible life choices but managed to be the best of them all. Jesper was alive, she’d made sure of that. She’d take a hundred more bullets to the chest to ensure his grey eyes would always twinkle with mischief.

 

“Inej.” Wylan was behind Jesper now, his sapphire irises looked lined in silver with unshed tears. Inej knew it had been bad, but clearly she’d been even closer to death than she’d thought. It had scared them. The night prior was coming back clearly now, the last thing Inej remembered before she lost consciousness was Jesper carrying her as he ran across the Van Eck garden toward a carriage and four. She remembered him saying that he was taking her to Arman, the only grisha healer available at all hours. She remembered that she’d whispered Kaz’s name; Jesper had promised Inej that Kaz would be there.

 

“I’m alright, I think.” Inej said softly, looking at her favorite people. The boys who had shaped her soul in different ways. Kaz had reminded her how to stand up, no matter how broken. Jesper reminded her that laughter could cure most anything. Wylan reminded her that gentleness was a strength all its own.

 

They all had a place in her heart made from the sky.

 

Inej felt guilt deep in her gut. Her enemies had been who had targeted all of them. Not Kaz’s. Hers. Inej knew that this path she’d chosen was dangerous, but she still wished that they did not have to be involved. Inej knew there was only one way they wouldn’t be, and Inej would never be able to take that road. Inej could not cut them from her life.

 

Inej could offer an apology though, her heart deemed it so. Her soul demanded it.

 

“Mati en sheva yelu.” Inej whispered, her throat cracking even in her native tongue. Inej felt Kaz’s thumb brush her palm.

 

“What in the absolute hell are you sorry for, wraith?” Jesper retorted, his eyes showing hurt that Inej did not understand.

 

“Is that what that means?” Wylan asked, and Inej realized she’d never spoken those words to him. Inej nodded, while it technically meant much more, she did not want to ignore Jesper’s question. She felt Kaz’s eyes on her, but she did not lift her gaze from their clasped hands.

 

“I am sorry because my line of work put you in danger. Your home. All of you. It was my enemies who caught up and it was all because I’d left your letters on my ship, they found your address. It was a mistake I will never make again. This action will have no echo.” Inej said, forcing confidence back into her tone.

 

“Inej you came into the house like a fucking hurricane, you saved our asses. We had been asleep when they broke in. Asleep. Inej, I’m a great shot but fuck even I’m not that fast.” Jesper was near yelling now, his hands tapping his revolvers with a nervous energy that was even more heightened than normal.

 

“So you weren’t at the ship?” Kaz asked softly. Inej shook her head. Her ship. She prayed The Wraith was not in disrepair. Specht. No, Specht was to go into the city to stay in the Inn the next week or so. Inej had to have faith in the Saints for his safety now.

 

“No. Those assholes, seven of them, were looking for her. They wanted to kill her. They were going to take us out too, and Inej came in and knocked six down like it was a fucking waltz with death. The last one…. He-” Jesper visibly swallowed. Inej was thankful he’d said the majority.

 

She reached into her chest and dragged courage up by the throat. She would finish.

 

“I didn’t get to him until he was on Jesper in the hallway, Jesper’s back was turned, we thought we’d gotten them all…my blades were gone, lost in the necks of the fallen. I hadn’t paused… I should have retrieved them. Wylan was with Marya, making sure she was safe…. I had nothing left but myself. The quarters were cramped… the man had his pistol raised toward Jesper, poised to shoot. I jumped. I jumped in the line of fire.” Inej relived the moment now. She had not thought about the action, Jesper had to live even if she did not.

 

It would have been a worthy death, even without a blade in her hand.

 

“You scared the hell out of us, Wraith.” Jesper sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. Wylan gently touched Jesper’s arm, a sign of support.

 

“I know. I remember I lost consciousness before we got off the Estate grounds.” Inej whispered. Kaz was silent. Inej wanted to look at him, but something cowardly was holding onto her eyes.

 

“Kaz had to resuscitate you on the foyer floor, everyone knows I can manipulate metal now because I took the bullet out and Arman looked like he was going to die from exhaustion.” Jesper said now. Inej knew it had taken a toll on them. She wasn’t sure why Jesper was telling her this.

 

“I’m not sorry for saving you, Jesper. I’d do it again. I am only sorry I led death to your door, I would not blame you if you asked me to live elsewhere when I’m on land.” Inej said and she finally lifted her gaze to her zemini friend.

 

“Hell no. No. I’m telling you this because I want you to know that none of us would have had a clue what the fuck to do without you. It was a nightmare and I’m pretty sure every single one of us wanted YOUR advice on what to do about YOU dying on the ground.” Jesper replied, his voice shaking. Something Inej hadn’t ever heard from him.

 

“He’s right.” Wylan said softly, blue eyes tinged with sadness and relief on a balanced scale. Kaz squeezed her hand as his agreement. Inej understood.

 

“Well then perhaps I shall double the use of proverbs, so in the event of my untimely end, you will all have plenty of material to reflect on and gain wisdom from.” Inej quipped, she wanted them to know she would be alright.

 

A collective groan sounded around her.

 

Inej smiled. She was alive. Her heart took flight. 

Chapter Text

 

INEJ

 

            The scent of warm sugar, maple, and chocolate hit Inej’s senses as soon as the door to the attic opened. Jesper came in followed by Wylan. They had only left for an hour or so, Inej had napped. Walking from the bathroom had proved exhausting enough for her mangled flesh and bones. Jesper cradled a precariously balanced stack of take-out containers.

 

            Waffles. Inej felt her mouth water.

 

Saints, please bless these friends of mine.

 

Inej sat up on the bed slowly, wincing but managing. She positioned herself against Kaz’s headboard and once again wondered where he’d gone. When Inej had woken, the room had been empty. Kaz had been with her when she’d dozed off while waiting for Wylan and Jesper to return with food. Inej knew she couldn’t have slept for more than thirty minutes or so. Kaz had been quiet after Jesper and Wylan had left, not unusually so, per say, but Inej felt like there had been something important he wanted to say but didn’t want to risk being interrupted again. He’d tell her when he was ready, Inej knew that. She would not waste her waking time worrying when it was up to him to confide in her.

 

“Hello, Captain Ghafa.” Jesper chirped as his long legs crossed the room in a matter of seconds, he set the pile of boxes down right on Kaz’s bed by her blanket covered feet. Inej smiled as Jesper shrugged out of his coat and tossed it onto a chair near the bed. Wylan smiled to her as well and took up a spot on the other chair.

 

“How are you feeling?” Wylan asked softly, running a hand through his ginger curls. Inej pondered for a moment, taking assessment of the throbbing in her chest and abdomen.

 

“Like I’ve been shot.” Inej mused as she not so subtly began to open one of the waffle boxes, a cat on the scent of a sugary mouse. Jesper laughed as he sat.

 

“Been there, it sucks.” Jesper jested as he reached into Inej’s box with a long brown arm. She glared and he took the waffle anyways, a smug smile on his face. He mumbled something like “paymenth for retrievning da wafflehs”. Inej laughed despite the pain in her side.

 

“Where’s Kaz?” Wylan asked, turning his head about the room. Inej couldn’t blame him, sometimes Kaz could stand as still as she.

 

“I’m not sure.” Inej said. She felt pathetic for a moment, she wanted him to come back already.  As if summoned, the door to the attic opened once more. Kaz came in, immediately turning his gaze to her and then assessing the fact that they were using his bed as a dining table.

 

“I’m not sleeping next to you if there’s sugar in my sheets, Wraith.” Kaz huffed as he hung his coat and hat on the hook. Jesper rolled his eyes but continued munching on his waffle. Wylan shook his head.

 

“It’s not much different than sleeping next to me without sugar in the sheets, the sweetness level is hardly elevated. I’m sweet enough.” Inej smiled smugly when Kaz snorted in disbelief. His lips quirked almost imperceptibly. Jesper laughed unapologetically.

 

“You tell him, Wraith!” Jesper chuckled with a devious and conspiratorial smile.

 

“Oh do not encourage her, neither Kaz nor I need a second Jesper sized ego running around.” Wylan smacked Jesper on the arm and Inej saw Kaz smile at that when he limped around the bed to once again sit beside her. He brought his bad leg up on the bed and stretched it out before him, rolling his ankle twice in a satisfying pop.

 

“I agree with Wylan.” Kaz quipped as he opened the box of waffles next to Inej, taking a small cinnamon one for himself. Inej smiled as she watched him set it delicately on a napkin. Kaz and Wylan were both like that, always eating delicately and prettily. Inej was more like Jesper and Nina on the other side of the spectrum, it made something warm flutter in her chest.

 

“So who’s going to tell me how long I was out for?” Inej asked finally, she could tell the sun was setting out the window despite the gray storm clouds.

 

“Only about fifteen hours, not as long as Arman thought you’d be down for.” Kaz answered from beside her. Inej noticed he must have taken the time to shave while she’d been napping, the shadow on his jaw was gone, replaced by smooth pale skin. Inej nodded, she was glad it had not been long, but she knew she was in bad form. Inej did not think she’d be climbing the rooftops tonight to check on her ship.

 

“Where did you go?” Inej asked as she picked at her waffle. Kaz must not have gone too far, she was asleep for only a short while.

 

“I had to give orders to dispose of the bodies at the estate. I already took care of Henrik and his second last night before you- before you were here.” Kaz said simply with a slight inclination of his head towards Jesper and Wylan. Inej did not miss how he’d paused when he spoke of her getting shot.

 

“How did you explain to everyone why they were cleaning up the Van Eck estate? Also, what is the cover? That I’m here because Arman is?” Inej was realizing slowly that she had no idea what the other Dregs had seen, what they thought happened. Inej knew Kaz wouldn’t tell them the truth, he’d almost run when Anika found out. Inej felt sadness rise within her at the memory, but she reminded herself that he’d stayed. Kaz had stayed even when he’d been afraid.

 

“They know what happened. They also know why you’re here, in my room. They know that we are…. involved.” Kaz swallowed and avoided her eyes. Inej thought her jaw was going to unhinge itself from her skull and scurry away.

 

“You mean… you told them?” Inej asked, disbelief seeping into each word. Jesper and Wylan were both trying very hard not to interject, Inej could tell.

 

“Yes. Only Pim, Rotty, Roeder and Anika. I suspect Arman as well since he was in here to check on you once last night as well. None of the others know, and if the ones that do know speak a word of it, I already assured them they will not find peace in the greeting of a death by my hands.” Kaz rasped.

 

Inej didn’t know why the world had been turned on its head while she slept; but she enjoyed this strange new reality, she decided. Inej didn’t mind the most loyal of the Dregs knowing Kaz was hers. She was his, too. It was not a possessive thing, it was more a way of saying she would protect him, and he her.

 

Inej nodded slowly.

 

“Why did you tell them?” Inej asked.

 

“Probably because I was about to give you mouth to mouth and Kaz pushed me out of the way in front of everyone.” Wylan said, looking almost surprised the words had left his mouth. Kaz glared. Jesper chuckled but took Wylan’s hand in a show of union against the cold front that was Kaz. Inej didn’t understand. Why would Kaz not want Wylan to save her if he could? Kaz couldn’t do it himself, not yet.

 

It was then that Inej remembered that Jesper had said Kaz resuscitated her.

 

Her heart beat at a rate that was surely not normal. The feeling in her stomach reminded her of falling. She was unsure what to make of this new information. She was glad it had been Kaz. She was angry that those were the circumstances that allowed his lips to touch hers. She was frustrated. She was obscenely grateful, Kaz had saved her. Kaz had done it because she needed him. Kaz had said to hell with his demons and saved her life.

 

“You did it?” Inej tried to hide the surprise in her voice. Kaz had not spoken of his touch issues with Jesper and Wylan. To anyone else, it would just appear that Inej and Kaz were fiercely private with their affections. Which, Inej supposed, they were in some way. Always would be in their line of work. Kaz nodded slowly, his eyes not leaving the waffle in his lap.

 

“Thank you. To each of you for carrying me when I couldn’t walk.” Inej said softly, she placed her hand between herself and Kaz and felt saddened when he didn’t reach for her. Inej left her hand but turned back to Jesper and Wylan who were now arguing the merits of sugar coated waffles versus syrupy ones.

 

Inej was surprised when a moment later she felt something tickle her palm, not Kaz’s hand. Inej turned to look down at her hand. Her heart swelled.

 

In her hand was a small bundle of wild geraniums, tied with a black ribbon. It had been a lavender petal that tickled her palm. Kaz had placed them in her hand as if it were a magic trick. 

 

Her favorite flower, gifted to her from the boy who had taken the time and learned her as no one else does.

 

Geraniums that her mother always said made the whole world smell like summer.

 

Inej felt that summer bloom in her chest, the growth tended by pale trickster hands that were violent enough to kill a man. Gentle enough to hold her together.

 

KAZ

 

            Wylan and Jesper had finally left once Inej assured them she was fine, she just needed sleep. Kaz had been at his desk in the low burning lamplight for hours. He was working at a pace slower than molasses, his eyes betraying him by shifting to Inej’s shape in his bed every few minutes. The slow rise and fall of her chest was a relief every time. Inej had fallen asleep quickly after Wylan and Jesper had left, and Kaz had been worried. Arman had checked on her though and said she just needed rest. Kaz hated having to put his faith in the word of someone else, but he had no choice.

 

            Kaz heard a rustle of sheets as he read the same line of numbers for the third time.

 

            “Bed.” Inej mumbled from the darkened side of the room. He saw her head slightly raised off the pillow, she wanted him to join her. Kaz felt a flutter in his stomach. He should keep working. His bravado was already cracking though when she laid her head back down and he felt her eyes on him, daring him to tell her no.

 

            “I should finish this. Rest, Wraith.” Kaz shook his head and forced his eyes back to the page.

 

            “And I should not have gotten shot. Let us continue breaking rules.” Inej hummed sleepily. Kaz smiled despite himself.

 

            Inej was alive. Inej wanted him. It felt like a weight was slowly leaving his shoulders with each breath she took. Last night was the first time Kaz had ever felt real, palpable terror since his brother died. It didn’t even compare to when Jan Van Eck had kidnapped her; Kaz had at least known she was alive.

 

            “I thought I was the monstrous influence in this arrangement.” Kaz quipped even as he was already setting aside his pen and closing the folder of numbers.

 

            “Mmm not always.” Inej mumbled, her voice muffled partially by the pillow. Kaz rolled his eyes as he stood and shrugged off his blazer. He walked to his wardrobe and hung his jacket before he unbuttoned and removed his shirt, his back to Inej. He felt her eyes tracking his movements.

 

            “You’re handsome.” Inej said in a whisper. Kaz froze. He knew she was half asleep, but something cracked in his chest. He’d known people had looked at him before, he was not completely dense. But, he’d never been called attractive, no one had ever been close enough. He’d especially not been called attractive by the only girl whose opinion he cared for. Especially not while shirtless. Kaz didn’t know what to say, even as he turned to sneak a look at her in his bed. She was on her side, looking at him with her bronze hands clasped beneath her head. Her dark eyes shining just slightly in the dim light flickering from his desk behind him. He noticed she’d used her water cup as a vase on the bedside table for the flowers he’d given her. He smiled freely. He couldn’t have stopped the motion if he’d stitched his lips shut.

 

            “You have a dimple.” Inej whispered, her lips parted in a soft sleepy grin. Kaz had forgotten he even had a dimple. It wasn’t something he’d ever see; he wasn’t one to smile to himself in the mirror. His brother had the same dimple though, Kaz remembered.

 

            “Are we pointing out the obvious, wraith? Because then I will tell you that you are half asleep and delirious.” Kaz quipped softly as he retrieved his sleep trousers from a drawer.

 

            “Delirious enough to tell you I think you are my favorite view. You beat the True sea and the Ketterdam skyline.” Inej whispered in reply.

 

            Kaz felt his heart hammer furiously in his chest. His skin felt warm. It was all still so new. Inej felt things about him he’d never imagined a monster like him could possibly deserve. What did Inej see in him that he did not see in himself?

 

            Kaz did not respond, he went into the bathroom and changed his clothes, only to return to Inej trying to sit up from the bed.

 

            “What are you doing?” Kaz grimaced when she winced from pain he could only imagine was worse when she moved.

 

            “I don’t have any pants on, Kaz. I don’t want to make…. I don’t want to make it worse for you to sleep next to me.” Inej said, defeat on her face when she could not will her body to move.

 

            “I’ll sleep on top tonight. Don’t push yourself, Wraith.” Kaz said and he retrieved the spare blanket once more. He knew she was trying to make things easier for him but all he could really focus on was the fact that he couldn’t be the type of man who relished in the fact that his girl was pant-less in his bed. He hated it so much that he vowed once again he would beat this. He would beat the ghosts and the water and he would be able to hold her bare, in body and soul.

 

            I will be able to love her that way too. I will, someday.

 

            Kaz slipped onto the bed next to Inej, he eased himself to lay beside her. He faced her on his side. Inej jutted her lip slightly at the space between them. Kaz made a show of moving an inch closer, she rolled her eyes but a smile danced on her lips.

 

            Kaz didn’t know how long they looked at each other in silence. They didn’t need words for this reunion, they rarely needed words at all in fact. Kaz memorized her jaw line, he etched the way her lips parted softly into his memory. After the past twenty-four hours, Kaz would be content to stare at her for the rest of his life.

 

Damn his reputation and criminal empire.

 

            “I think the Saints must be angry with me,” Inej whispered, startling him from the line his eyes were making along her mouth.

 

            “Why?” Kaz held in his chuckle. Her Saints should never be angered with such a loyal follower.

 

            “They allowed your lips to touch mine but I was unconscious.” Inej’s eyes were hanging on his lips. His cheeks were aflame, but he was certain his pale pallor had not changed to her eyes. Kaz could hardly remember her lips under his, it hadn’t been a kiss. It had been adrenaline fueled and he’d only wanted her to breathe; he didn’t know if he could do it again. Kaz wanted to know what her lips felt like under his, he wanted to be there for it and not lost in a panic so profound he couldn’t recognize the victory. He wanted to see Inej’s face after it. He wanted…

 

            Kaz was helpless but to try this once, try something small. Kaz moved that distance between them, his head lifted above the pillows, his elbow propping him up. Inej’s eyes widened just slightly as Kaz brushed his lips in a gentle but real kiss to her cheek. He felt a wave of nausea, but her eyes sparkled. It quelled the unease in him.

 

Her eyes built dams in front of the rushing water. They kept him safe. Dry. Warm.

 

Desire bled into his bloodstream but he forced himself to lay back down beside her. Inej’s smile then was something he’d think of when he died, he was sure. They say your life’s greatest moments pass before your eyes you when you die. Kaz knew almost all of his included Inej. He’d once said to her that he wanted be buried under the weight of his own gold. He changed his mind. He wanted to be buried with a thousand more moments like this etched onto his crooked heart.

 

It was obvious what the better treasure was.

 

“What were you going to tell me earlier?” Inej whispered. Kaz knew when she was speaking of, it had been right before Jesper and Wylan had come in when she’d first woken. Kaz swallowed the knots in his throat. Inej was looking at him curiously, her eyes darted to his throat as it bobbed.

 

“Etma se saman.” Kaz rasped. He’d practiced saying the words in her language ever since she’d said them to him. Kaz hadn’t said them back, and it was not quite yet the full truth he wanted to give, but that… his throat caught on the words. Kaz had decided he couldn’t hold onto this secret in his chest after all they’d been through. She had to know. Inej had to know he loved her.

 

Kaz watched as Inej’s smile widened, her eyes glassy. Clearly he’d said the words correctly in his accent.

 

“Etma se saman, Kaz. Always.” Inej whispered. Kaz smiled as he felt her fingers interlock with his between them on the bed.

 

 

 

 

 

“I love you.” Kaz finally whispered aloud for the first time, her breathing deep and even beside him. Ink lashes splayed against bronze skin. Kaz felt the truth of it in his bones.

 

 Inej would hear him next time.

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            Inej had spent almost two full days in bed, but her body was finally seeming to cooperate. She had managed to shower, put on real clothes and arm herself. Inej had found her blades clean and in the order she always laid them in on top of Kaz’s desk. Presumably, Jesper had brought them with himself and Wylan the day prior. Inej knew Kaz had probably been up for hours, already downstairs and running the city. She smiled to herself at the thought.

 

Inej had one mission today, walk to the docks and see her ship. Her nerves had been frayed despite Jesper having told her that he and Wylan had not noticed any damage when they’d gone in her stead to check on the vessel. Inej needed to see The Wraith for herself. Inej also needed to start planning, she had not mentioned to Kaz or Jesper and Wylan that she was now planning to cut her leave short… those manifests were in her possession and if whoever Henrik’s employer was discovered that she still had them… he would change his routes. Inej had to act quickly. Inej felt conviction in her heart and she had a personal vendetta now, even more than before.

 

Whoever Henrik’s employer was, he would regret the day he targeted Inej Ghafa and those she loved.

 

Inej eyed the window but opted to use the stairs in the Slat. Inej knew her body still needed to be treated with delicacy even if she felt better. It was something Papa always told her when she strained her muscles as a young girl, “Our bodies tell us what our minds cannot, we must listen to both sides of the story.”

 

Inej made it down the flights of stairs, much slower than she usually would have, not braving to slide down the bannister in her current predicament. Inej reached the foyer of the Slat and heard voices in Kaz’s office, his door was cracked. Inej proceeded to tap on the door and open it.

 

“Wraith! You are alive and well!” Rotty exclaimed and offered her a toothy grin. Inej smiled too, it was nice to not have to hide the fact she’d been in the Slat this entire time.

 

“Welcome back, Inej.” Anika said from her spot in one of the chairs across from Kaz’s desk. Inej inclined her head, grateful for the respect found between the two of them.

 

“Wraith.” Roeder nodded to her from beside Anika. Pim was not present, presumably sleeping off his shift at the Club from the night before. Inej finally flicked her gaze to Kaz, who was looking at her unapologetically, seeming to assess if she was alright.

 

“Good morning.” Inej said softly, as she looked back at Kaz. She did not mind this new normal, she was able to look at him easily without trying to hide their relationship with one another.

 

“We have all the plans figured out, you may leave.” Kaz rasped to everyone in the room, Inej knew the meaning. “Leave us alone, now.”Inej caught Rotty hiding a small, sly smile but they filed out of the room quickly. Dirtyhands did not have much patience. The door clicked shut behind Inej.

 

“Are you well?” Kaz asked, folding his gloved hands in front of him on his desk.

 

“Well enough. I need to see my ship. I know they said it was fine but… I have to make sure. That ship is everything to me.” Inej said softly.

 

That ship is everything to me because you gave it to me. You set me free.

 

“You are going to climb?” Kaz asked, she noticed the swallow he took. He was concerned but he wouldn’t say so. Inej felt warmth encompass her chest.

 

“No I will walk. I’ll be alright if I managed the copious amounts of stairs, I do not envy you, Kaz Brekker.” Inej chuckled. Kaz sighed but she saw the smirk before he banished it from his face.

 

“I can come with you, if you’d like.” Kaz said as he ran a gloved hand through his hair.

 

“No, that’s alright. I know… I know I’ve kept you from a lot these past days,” Inej paused. She wasn’t sure how to tell him she would be leaving a full three weeks early if she could manage to get her crew back to the ship within the next few days. Inej didn’t want to leave, not with all the moments she’d shared with him since her return. But, Inej could not let more people fall to the fate she’d barely survived herself. It was her purpose, her aim. Kaz was included, but this was…. This was what Inej needed to do. Besides, Inej hoped it would make up for it that she would return in less than three months’ time if everything went as planned. The routes she would be targeting were closer than her previous voyage, she would also not be sailing to Ravka. Last time she’d had to drop off her parents, that was not a concern this time. Inej would also be staying for two or three months on land upon her return to make up to her crew as well for cutting their leave short. Inej took a deep breath.

 

“I also have to start making plans. I need to move before whoever Henrik’s employer finds out he failed. Surely, he would change his routes in that case, and I can’t…. I can’t let that happen. I need to get to those ships before they even steal the innocent from their homes. I’m going to tear it all down, Kaz.” Inej said, she lifted her eyes to meet his.

 

She saw it happen. She saw the hurt. She saw it for a split second before walls came up behind his eyes.  

 

“Whatever you think is best, Wraith. It is not my business.” Kaz grit out. His eyes were sharp, Dirtyhands. His jaw was locked. No emotion in his face. Inej wanted to scream. He knew what this meant to her, to go after the slave traders. Kaz knew and he was hiding his emotions from her once again, after everything. Inej knew they would have setbacks but this was infuriating. Inej would not beg for more from him.

 

Kaz knew who she was, she would not settle for sometimes.

 

He was in or he was out. She would not sit and watch him build walls around himself out of fear of pain. Inej could not tear them back down for him, he had to do that himself. Inej was hurt more than anything. Inej knew he was resorting to his mask because he didn’t want to feel the pain of her leaving so soon, after almost dying.

 

It didn’t make it any less painful to watch his armor lock back into place.

 

“When you want to talk about it with me instead of shutting me out, I’ll listen.” Inej said softly, not bothering to hide the hurt in her voice. His eyes did not betray a thing.  

 

Inej Ghafa turned and left Kaz Brekker with his armored heart.

 

She wanted him to call out. He did not.

 

KAZ

 

            It had been eight bells and thirteen minutes since Inej left his office.

 

            Fuck.

 

            Kaz had shut down. He’d felt it happen before he even decided to turn the key within the lock.

 

Kaz hadn’t been able to deal with the idea of Inej leaving so soon after he’d just watched her walk the line between life and death as if it were a high wire.

 

Kaz felt like someone squeezed his chest in a vice as he watched her walk away that morning. Her voice had sounded hurt, angry. It sounded the way it had the night on Black Veil, when she’d asked if he would have come for her. At least then he’d managed to rip the words from his armored walls. Today he had not. Kaz knew he’d fucked up, he knew Inej was angry. Inej had always been able to convey her feelings with the energy that emanated from her silence; and through the lack of her presence.

 

Dirtyhands had tried to convince Rietveld that this was the problem with unnecessary attachments. Dirtyhands wanted him to learn his lesson, brush the dust of his shattered heart off his gloves, and move on. Rietveld had more rage in this fight.

 

Inej wasn’t an unnecessary attachment. Inej was everything. Kaz was in love with Inej. Dirtyhands had respect for the Wraith. Kaz couldn’t shut her out. If Kaz didn’t make this right, he’d lose her. Inej wouldn’t settle for half of him, she’d been clear. Inej hadn’t handed half of herself over, either. Inej wanted him to be her partner and he’d failed her today.

 

Ten bells and thirty-six minutes since she’d left.

 

Kaz was in his attic rooms, the window was unlocked and open even though he hoped she wouldn’t climb after her injury. Kaz would be lying if he hadn’t checked to see if her toothbrush was still on the counter. Kaz had checked to see if she’d left her geraniums on the bedside table. She had. Part of Inej was still here. Kaz didn’t know how this worked yet, would Inej give up on him when he missteps? No. Kaz knew it deep down, but he had no experience in this territory. Inej had been angry with him a hundred times, Kaz remembered many of them. This was the first time she’d been angry with him when they were lovers as well as friends and business associates.

 

Eleven bells since she’d left. It was ten bells at night. Kaz was certain now that she was not planning to return to him tonight. Kaz didn’t blame her. He also couldn’t concentrate on anything. Kaz would go to her. He had to make this right. Kaz was still reeling somewhere inside himself from her close call with death. He needed her near.

 

It was a magnetic pull in his gut, like gravity. He recalled her story of the Moon and the Sea. Perhaps it was very true after all.

 

Forty minutes later, Kaz was standing on the ground of the Van Eck garden, looking up to the window belonging to Inej’s room. There was dim light coming from behind the sheer curtains.

 

Dirtyhands made the climb to the Wraith, this time.

 

Kaz looked into her window to see Inej cross legged on her bed. Manifests were strewn all around her, a compass on her knee and a map of the true sea before her. She was biting her lip absent mindedly and twisting a strand of her unbound black hair around her fingers as she read a document.

 

Kaz felt his heart crack and mend at the sight. This was Captain Ghafa, Warrior of the Innocent. He’d heard that title on the street once after she’d taken down her second ship. Pride pooled in his chest.

 

Kaz took a breath and knocked on her window with bare knuckles. Inej looked up immediately. She did not hide the surprise in her face, but it quickly transformed into a glare. A glare Kaz did not like to be on the sharp end of.

 

That glare scared him more than her skills with a blade. They were equally as sharp. The wraith was still angry.

 

Inej stood up off her bed and crossed the room to her window. Kaz watched her as she smugly locked it and walked away. Kaz rolled his eyes. She knew he’d pick it, she was making him do it. Inej walked the room back to her bed and Kaz pulled out his picking kit from his jacket.

 

The Wraith was being petty. It was strange to Kaz that he found it so unnervingly attractive.

 

Kaz picked the lock with ease and opened the window, dropping somewhat awkwardly to his feet on top of the plush carpet.

 

“Eighteen seconds, I’ve seen you pick a lock faster.” Inej mused without looking up at him. Kaz released a heavy sigh. Of course she was timing him. Kaz thought he might understand how his impatience made people irritable now.

 

“My apologies, it was unlocked to begin with so I suppose if you wanted me to enter quickly you should have foregone the dramatics, Wraith.” Kaz quipped, letting his hands grip the top of his cane in front of him. Inej let out a huff of breath, it could have been a laugh but Kaz wasn’t sure.

 

“What business, Mr. Brekker?” Inej asked in a cold voice that only reminded Kaz of himself. He did not like it; it was not a good look for Inej. Actually, it was. But not when it was directed toward him.

 

Oh. Kaz got it now.

 

Kaz felt knots tying in his vocal chords, he yanked them apart with courageous hands.

 

“I’m sorry. Mati en sheva yelu.” Kaz’s accent made the words come off as harsh, wrong. But Inej seemed to have understood just fine. She lifted her head immediately with a slight quirk. Inej had scarcely heard an apology from him, and she was the only one who ever had. Inej seemed to be weighing the honesty in his tone with her anger. Her dark eyes traced over his face and Kaz found himself wanting to squirm. He felt raw.

 

“I won’t be treated like everyone else, Kaz. I did that for years with you and I won’t do it again. I want you, all of you. Your thoughts and emotions are included in that and I will not settle for openness only when you deem it acceptable. That’s not what being equals means.” Inej said quietly but with conviction. There was hurt in her voice that Kaz wanted to toss out the window.

 

“I know. I will mess up, Inej. I am not good. I am not perfect. I am not…. I am not what you deserve. But I will fight. It’s what I know how to do. I won’t stop fighting, and I’ll do my best to be victorious.” Kaz let the words fall from his mouth like a collapsing card house.

 

“I know that. I’m not asking for good. I’m not asking for perfection. You are what I deserve, because you are who I want. Do you understand that? Etma se saman means we are equal. You know that. All I want is you, Kaz. What do you want?” Inej whispered, her voice left no room for doubt. Kaz couldn’t stop his legs. He stood in front of her bed and he leaned his cane next to him. Kaz held out his hand to her. Inej looked at his hand for a moment before she took it in her own, he pulled her to her feet. Her eyes looked up to his.

 

“You, Inej. You.” Kaz let the words bleed from his chest, where they had been harbored inside of him for some time. Inej nodded once, a small smile returning to her face. Kaz watched as she wrapped her arms around his middle. He wrapped his own arms around her shoulders, his eyes not leaving hers. Kaz bent his head to her and leaned his forehead against hers. Water traced his ankles, but he felt Inej’s breath hitting his chin. Alive. Inej is alive.

 

Two deep breaths and the water dried. Inej was watching him. This was the closest they’d been to each other since before Inej had been shot. Kaz wanted to kiss her. He wanted to be able to do it so badly. Her lips were right there; their breath was intermingling. Inej seemed to know what he wanted and couldn’t have yet. She did not let her eyes leave his as she tilted her head slightly and pressed a tender kiss to his neck, just below his jawline.

 

 It set his body up in flames, the water threatening to drown him was reduced to mist.

 

Inej smiled when he shivered. Inej knew what she had done to him.

 

“Stay?” Inej asked as she leaned her head into his chest, she was tracing shapes over his lower back with her hands. The feeling was pleasant through his shirt.

 

“Always, if you’ll have me.” Kaz answered honestly. He knew it to be true. He leaned on her, he needed her near. He would survive her voyages with the promise of nights like this with her.

 

Kaz reluctantly let Inej go so she could move her work from the bed.

 

“If Jesper finds out I stayed, there will be no cure for the migraine I’ll have.” Kaz pondered aloud as Inej folded the manifests onto her bedside table. Kaz draped his tie and jacket on the chair. He didn’t mind sleeping in his day clothes as long as it was next to her.

 

“Just tell him our sex life is better than his and he’ll leave you alone to find Wylan and rectify that. Jesper’s ego will work with you if you let it.” Inej chuckled. Kaz couldn’t wait to find out if what she’d said was true. They’d have that life eventually.

 

“Clever, Wraith.” Kaz chuckled. It was only now that they’d resolved their dispute that Kaz noticed. Inej had taken his clothes from the Slat and was wearing them here even when she’d been angry.

 

“I see you looking. They are mine now.” Inej jested with a grin of mischief on her face.

 

“Fine.” Kaz grumbled, but he did not bother to hide the smile on his face.

 

Inej held up the sheets for him as he untied his shoes at her dressing table. Kaz smiled. Inej was wearing his pants and he’d survived sleeping with her beneath the sheets once now. Kaz didn’t hesitate to crawl in the bed beside her.

 

This time, Kaz laid on his back. Inej blew out the candle on her table and turned back to him. Kaz stretched out his arm, he wasn’t done holding her yet. He could do this; they were both fully clothed. It was hug, just… in bed. Kaz had done it in his sleep before Inej had been injured. Now that he knew he could hold her in bed, he’d rather not let her go. Not after the past few days and with the promise of her leaving before the week’s end.

 

Inej raised a brow but burrowed into his side nonetheless. Inej laid her head gently on his chest and Kaz wrapped both arms around her. No skin touched but it was warm. Natural.

 

“Thank you for picking the lock anyways.” Inej said softly, her voice muffled by his shirt. Kaz tightened his arms around his girl and wondered how he’d made it this far.

 

Kaz wanted this, every night, for the rest of his undeserving life.

 

Tomorrow, he’d run the empire he built. He’d be the monster Ketterdam knew and hated. Tonight, tonight he was just Kaz Rietveld. A farm boy who had started out in this city with nothing, but was going to sleep tonight with everything right inside the circle of his arms.

 

 

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            The sea was calling, Inej felt it in her bones. Tomorrow she would be setting sail on her second voyage, much sooner than initially planned. The slave trader who employed Charles Hester and the newly deceased Henrik needed to be stopped, though. Inej would do just that; along with her crew on her little warship that held freedom in its prow.

 

            It had taken some careful work to get word to all the crew members who ventured outside of Ketterdam to see family and friends around Kerch; but with Specht’s assistance, Inej would be sailing with her full crew in tow. She’d spent the last three days agonizingly planning their route in order to best cut off the Slaver vessels and also preparing the ship for another voyage. She’d restocked all food, medical and water supplies they’d need. As far as things went, Inej was even more prepared for her second voyage than her first. Inej had two warring feelings inside her, though.

 

            Inej had to go, her soul demanded it. Her heart would miss home, would miss Kaz.

 

She would also miss the comfort of Jesper and Wylan and all the laughter she found in their house. It was a bitter sweet thing. Inej had barely been able to spend time with any of her favorite people the past few days, Kaz had parlayed with the Liddies and it had proven to be a bloody venture, but Kaz was involved so it was to be expected. He needed the rival gang to know that they would never take down him or the Dregs. It was successful. Inej knew he was also working on something else, she’d seen blue prints on his desk when she’d stopped by after working on her ship the day prior, he’d immediately put them away. Inej hadn’t asked, when Kaz was ready to tell her, he would. Even if it was when she returned.

 

Jesper and Wylan were expanding the Van Eck empire; they had plans to invest in the arts and open a college in the Van Eck name at the University. The project was a large one, but Inej saw Wylan’s eyes sparkle when he spoke of the music program he wanted to incorporate into the Ketterdam University. Jesper had even more success in the market, and was learning to be more cautious. It was a slow thing, but Inej would never tire of the excitement that Jesper exuded when he told Wylan and herself of his success.

 

Inej saw so much progress in all of their lives, and it made her heart feel light every time she thought of it. Inej had her ship. Kaz had his city. Wylan had his empire. Jesper had his own stock portfolio. It was a life Inej had only dreamed for all of them a year ago. Inej hoped Nina was finding this peace too, she wished she could share it with her. Inej had written Kuwei and included a letter for Nina if she were to return to the Little Palace, Inej knew Kuwei would give it to her if he crossed her path again.

 

Inej wrapped her silk around her chest, this was something she’d saved for tonight, her last night in Ketterdam before her second voyage as Captain Inej Ghafa. It was the same style as the silk she’d worn the night of her return, but this was the color of the Sea. It had small aqua gems lining the bodice and it reminded Inej of when the sun hit the water just right. Inej tied her hair back into a low ponytail and she felt strong. This is what it meant to be Suli, she was reminded suddenly. Inej wished she could tell the girl she had been in the Menagerie that she would make it here, to this point in time.

 

You’ll make it. You’ll shed your bruised skin and remind the world what hell looks like when it wears the flesh of a strong woman. You’ll be everything you ever wanted to be; not in spite of the things you’ve endured, but because of them.

 

Inej took one last glance at her reflection, with no fear in her eyes and made her way downstairs for dinner.

 

Inej entered the dining room to see Jesper had actually put on a suit. It was an amethyst color that made his dark skin sing and his iron eyes glitter. Inej smiled.

 

“I cannot believe you are leaving us.” Jesper said, but he smiled regardless.

 

“I know, but who else is going to put slavers down to their watery grave? It’s much better than six feet under, in my opinion. Why not make it a thousand feet under the weight of the True Sea?” Inej said softly. Jesper laughed and pulled her into a hug, Inej did not flinch. Not from pain, and not from her demons. She held on tight.

 

“Can I join the hug?” Wylan said from the doorway of the kitchen. Inej turned her head and was greeted by auburn curls, the bluest eyes she’d ever seen and a suit that reminded her of autumn leaves in September. A deep red with an orange tie. They had dressed up for her going away dinner. Inej wanted to cry, happy tears. Only one person had yet to arrive, she knew he would show, though. Wylan hugged Inej from the back.

 

Inej did not feel close to vanishing despite two boys hugging her fiercely, it was one of the most triumphant moments of her life, she was sure.

 

“If you are done cuddling, I’d like my chance. None of you are invited but Inej.” Stone rasped from somewhere behind their cuddling pile in the middle of the Van Eck dining room. Inej couldn’t hold back her laughter as Jesper and Wylan pulled away from her. Inej turned to see Kaz leaning in the doorway to the living room. He looked a vision in perfectly tailored onyx as always, but Inej noticed one thing was different. Kaz’s tie was a navy blue, not black. She knew it was a testament to the True Sea, for her sake. He’d never tell her, but she understood.

 

“We’re never invited.” Jesper huffed with a mock frown. Kaz rolled his eyes even as he opened his arms to Inej. She didn’t miss his eyes widen at the silk she wore. She’d miss that look. Inej reminded herself once more, this was only a ‘see you later’, not an ending. Perhaps this return to Ketterdam had been her true beginning, after all.

 

Inej had never expected what would bloom in the waste land of these city streets.  

 

Kaz had lied. He said that happiness and safety would never be found with him the night he led her from the Hell that was the Menagerie. How wrong he had been.

 

KAZ

 

            Inej was leaving. Kaz had accepted it, but he didn’t like it. It felt different this time than when she’d left on her maiden voyage. Kaz had convinced himself, that time, that she would not return. No matter what her words had been. Kaz still hoped, his stupid heart hadn’t cooperated, but he’d made the vow to let her go. He’d given her the freedom he promised. Then, on a sunny afternoon, he’d received her letter. It had shaken his world from the core. He didn’t know how they’d gotten here, but he felt like his past self would have rolled his eyes and said “I bet you’re a good man now too?”. Kaz had slept with her in his arms, he’d kissed her cheek, her wrist. She’d kissed his cheek. He’d saved her life and touched his lips to hers. That day in the Geldrenner felt much longer than a year ago.

 

            Kaz could hold her bare hand without thinking about it anymore.

 

            He’d told her everything, she knew his name. His real name.

 

            Somewhere between the dim lights in the Menagerie to the florescent lights of a Fjerdan ice palace to the afternoon sun in his attic window to the moonlight over Ketterdam, Kaz had fallen in love. It had been slow, yet fast. It had been a laugh, a story, a changing of bandages on a bathroom counter and the flip of a coin between his fingers. It had been a gunshot and a handwritten letter. It was all these moments, yet Kaz couldn’t pick just one. Inej made him fall in love during all of them.

 

            Kaz pulled Inej close in the Van Eck dining room and before she left for this voyage, he made a different vow.

 

He wouldn’t let go.

 

            They had dinner, and Kaz laughed freely. When Jesper got hazy on kvas and tried to recant one of Inej’s proverbs. When Wylan had to stop him from opening another bottle. When Inej had told them how her parents referred to Jesper and Wylan as “her sweet otherworldly friends.” It was because Jesper and Wylan were complete opposites in how they looked, her parents thought the two boys were so beautiful together. Wylan had flushed red to his hair line.

 

            Kaz thought he’d been right the first night Inej returned. He’d reevaluate his strict no friends and dinners rule. Jesper and Wylan were his friends and he’d be back before Inej returned.

 

            It was a new normal that Kaz Brekker would have scoffed at a million times over a year prior. He was still what he’d always been, an armored and monstrous demjin. Dirtyhands, the monster who haunted Ketterdam. Now, he was just a monster who enjoyed kvas and conversation with less monstrous individuals.

 

            Dirtyhands had been carved into a legend. Rietveld had died. Kaz Brekker had been born of those two. He was a combination.

 

Kaz didn’t mind being both man and monster.

 

That night, Kaz had watched as Inej said goodbye to Marya, Wylan’s mother. Inej had thanked her for her emblem and Marya had beamed, happy to have done something for her son’s friend. Kaz had forgotten about the emblem, he wondered if he’d see it as she sailed away on her ship in the morning. Kaz would be at the docks. It wasn’t a question this time.

 

When Inej left, he had plans for her months away. He was finishing expansion work on the Crow Club. He had a slightly more competent spider thanks to training with the Wraith, who would help him begin his study on one Tante Heleen. He had a painting he was itching to fence with Jan Van Eck long rotting in prison. He had an apartment building that was architecturally ready for construction, thanks to Wylan.

 

Kaz had decided to cut Jesper a very, very, small stake in the Crow Club. Making Jesper a partial owner, the only other stake holder besides Kaz himself. Jesper had helped save Inej’s life, and while Jesper couldn’t go to the club to play the tables anymore, he was still very much in recovery, Kaz knew Jesper would always be Dregs. If this was the way Kaz could show him how much he appreciated that loyalty, that friendship, so be it. Kaz would leave the proof of ownership documents on Jesper’s desk when he left the mansion tonight. Kaz didn’t need to see his face. Kaz knew what it would mean to Jesper, and Kaz didn’t know how to handle gratitude. He could hardly handle it from Inej.

 

Kaz would share the Club with his living brother.

 

Kaz left the Van Eck Mansion after dinner, he didn’t get far before he felt Inej on the rooftops above his route. Inej had taken her things with her, and she was coming back to the Slat with him. Kaz would have stayed at the mansion with her for her last night on land, he even would have suffered Jesper’s jokes. It had been Inej who had said “I’ll come home with you.” Jesper and Wylan had grumbled but promised to see her off in the morning. Kaz had been pleasantly surprised she wanted to be alone with him.

 

Kaz entered his attic rooms to find Inej already perched on his windowsill, her silks had been traded for her all black ensemble, the mark of the Wraith in every stitch. Kaz wanted to tell her what he’d tried to say for days, but no words came out that night. Even as he laid beside her in bed, he couldn’t force them out. No moment was right. Kaz didn’t think he’d ever believed in a perfect moment for anything, but clearly some part of Rietveld did.

 

I’ll tell her before she leaves. She has to know. In case…. No. She’ll come back. It’s not an option.

 

 

INEJ

 

            The sun glinted off the water in the Harbor as Inej made final checks with Specht, her crew already prepping for their departure. The salt breeze washed over her from the True Sea and Inej felt sunshine in her veins. She felt vengeance in her bones.

 

The Slave Trade should prepare for the storm that was Captain Inej Ghafa.

 

Inej disembarked her ship and walked up the docks for the last time that day, to where Kaz was standing with Jesper and Wylan. So similarly to when she’d returned. She couldn’t wait to leave. She couldn’t wait to come back.

 

“Come back, Wraith.” Jesper smiled when she hugged him, memorizing the gun powder and lemon scent that only said “Jesper”.

 

“Till we meet again, Inej. Bring back new songs for me to memorize.” Wylan said softly, blue eyes shining in the sun. Inej embraced him and remembered how much she’d miss the scratch of his sweaters whenever they hugged.

 

Inej turned to see Kaz poised against the railing, just as he’d been when she returned. Inej smiled and said she’d see Jesper and Wylan when she came back. Inej wanted a moment with Kaz, alone. The docks were deserted this morning at the early hour, her ship the only vessel preparing for departure. Inej was reminded of a morning almost exactly a year prior, when Inej had stood on these docks with Kaz and he’d held her hand, and her heart, for the first time.

 

“I’ll miss you.” Inej said softly as she watched Jesper and Wylan walking hand in hand down the docks, giving them privacy.

 

“Do I have to feed your birds again?” Kaz asked and Inej laughed and bumped his arm with her shoulder.

 

“Yes, of course.” Inej smiled as she gripped the railing in front of her, inhaling the salty air that whipped around her face.

 

“I have something for you.” Kaz said as he stood beside her and reached into his pocket. Inej was surprised, she had something for him as well. Inej was slowly realizing that this was how Kaz knew how to express his affections, he wasn’t much for words. Neither was she. It was actions. Kaz had never let her wonder with his actions even if his words said otherwise.

 

Kaz handed her a small black box that appeared darker in his pale hand. Inej quirked a brow and his eyes said “open it.” Inej didn’t hesitate, she opened the box and felt a rampage of butterfly wings taking flight within her. Inside the box, was a compass. A compass made of the same grisha steel of Kaz’s crow head cane.

 

“I bought it the same day you returned and I didn’t get a chance to give it to you. But I’m glad of it because I added something to it.” Kaz said softly as he looked over the harbor before them. Inej picked up the compass from the box and opened the cover, inside the compass lid was an inscription in silver. It was only two words.

 

Come Home.

 

Inej had felt it all in her eighteen years. She’d felt the truest happiness and the deepest despair. She’d felt pain, heartbreak, hope and humbled. Nothing prepared her for this amount of love.

 

“Thank you.” Inej whispered as she slipped her compass into her pocket, she’d toss the old one into a drawer in her desk on the ship and never touch it again. This new compass would give her aim.

 

“I have something for you too.” Inej remembered, she reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out the small leather notebook she’d bought for him. It was nothing remarkable, but she had an idea. Inej handed it to Kaz and he took it with a quirked brow.

 

“I won’t be gone long enough to stop in ports frequently since it’s only three months, so I doubt I’ll be able to write you, live alone be able to receive a response. But I thought… I thought I could give you this. I have one too. Perhaps we could write each other anyways without the worry of letters being missed or intercepted. Then when I return, I’ll give you mine and you’ll give me yours. That way when I come back, nothing will be forgotten. I’ll read the things you wrote over time that you might have forgotten to tell me months later and you’ll have the same from me.” Inej felt her skin warm, she knew Kaz didn’t like writing much, but maybe this would be different. There would be no danger of their enemies getting ahold of these, they wouldn’t be sending them by post.

 

Kaz was staring at the notebook, his eyes looked concentrated. Like he was figuring out how to handle the small leather book. Inej heard him take a deep breath but he did not speak until a moment later.

 

“I’ll write you of all the things your birds do that annoy me.”

 

Inej laughed and felt the wind on her face, she would come home to him.

 

“Will I see your emblem fly as you depart?” Kaz asked as he looked down the docks toward her ship. Inej smiled.

 

“No, I will not rise my flag till I leave the harbor. Though I suspect you’ll find out what it is soon enough.” Inej whispered. She knew she needed to get going, she could not waste the morning sun or fair winds. Kaz nodded next to her, she could tell he was disappointed, Inej smiled inwardly. He’d be surprised later when he saw it for the first time.

 

“I have to go.” Inej mumbled, gripping the rail tight once before straightening herself. Kaz nodded.

 

“No mourners, Captain Ghafa.” Kaz whispered as he pulled her in for a hug. Inej inhaled his scent.

 

“No funerals, Kaz. Stay alive for me.” Inej mumbled gently as she pulled back from him. Inej looked at him once more before she turned to walk to her ship.

 

“Inej!” Kaz called after her after she’d walked only a few paces away from him. She turned her head back to him and he walked to her. Kaz wasn’t one to say goodbye, so Inej was unsure what more he’d say.

 

Kaz stopped directly in front of her and he took a deep breath as his eyes met hers.

 

“I love you.” He whispered, his dark eyes were void of any armor. She saw it all there. Her heart beat furiously in her chest. Kaz told her he loved her. Inej had known she loved him too, for far longer than she’d care to admit. Inej held his stare.

 

“I’ve already told you I love you. Etma se saman. It’s what the suli use to say we are in love. My spirit has found its match in you. We are equal parts.” Inej whispered, and she saw Kaz’s lips form into the smile with a dimple. “But in Kerch, I love you too, Kaz Rietveld.”

 

 

KAZ

 

            Kaz didn’t even feel the pain in his leg. His body reacted with his heart’s instructions. His mind could go to hell. Kaz kept his eyes on Inej until he tilted his head down and touched his lips to hers, a brief brush, nothing more. But, it was a kiss. It was the first kiss.

 

            Soft. Warm. Alive. The sky. The sea. Inej.

 

            The water threatened, and did not follow through. Inej’s fluttering eyelashes blew it all away. When he opened his eyes, he saw a smile on her face that would surely be his greatest legacy. Inej’s eyes glittered gold in the sunlight and Kaz couldn’t believe he’d done it. He wanted more.

 

            Kaz wanted to remember this feeling every moment until she returned and he could try again.

 

            Kaz Brekker watched as the Wraith pulled out of her dock and started her journey across the Harbor. At almost nineteen years old, Kaz had his first kiss, and it had been with the girl he loved; the girl that he was sure he’d love for the rest of his years, no matter how many or few.

 

            For the first time, he welcomed the whisper of Jordie’s ghost. “Well Done, little brother.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

            Kaz had managed to focus the rest of the afternoon after Inej’s departure, but once he made it to his attic room that night, he couldn’t stop glancing at his window sill. It would be vacant until his wraith’s return. Kaz decided he would write Inej her first letter now, before bed. He sat at his desk and pulled out the little square book. Kaz opened to the first page, intent to start writing, when he saw there was a note in Inej’s script, it was only one line.

 

            Do you remember where we first kept the DeKappel painting?

 

            Kaz racked his brain for a moment at her strange note, then it dawned on him. He’d put it under his bed. Kaz looked across the room to his bed and stood before he could further question Inej’s motives.

 

            Kaz knelt beside his bed with a huff of air when his knee objected. Kaz picked up the sheets, and sure enough, just under his bed was a flat square wrapped in paper. Kaz pulled it out, it felt like a canvas beneath the paper, it was medium sized. About the size of an average portrait. Kaz ripped open the paper to reveal the back of a canvas, with a small note attached inside the grooving. Kaz opened the note first:

 

            Kaz,

 

A new piece of art for you, please don’t throw knives at it or hang it in front of a dart board. Marya worked hard painting this for me.

 

            -Captain Inej Ghafa

 

            Kaz smiled to himself before he flipped the canvas over for the first time. He felt his breath hitch in his throat.

 

            The canvas was all black. Except in the center, there was the silhouette of a girl on a high-wire, she was mid-step. Perched on the other end of the wire, was a crow. It was all in gold.

 

            This was Inej’s emblem. The girl in the sky walking toward her Crow.

 

 

 

 

 

           

 

           

           

 

 

Chapter Text

JESPER

 

            The sun was shining, they’d had waffles for breakfast, and they’d said goodbye to the Wraith. Jesper wasn’t sure how his life had become what it had, but he felt like the luckiest son of a bitch to ever walk on this planet.

 

            “I’m going to check on my mother, I’ll be down in a bit and we can go over the missives from the week together?” Wylan asked from beside him as they hung their coats in the hall closet.

 

            “Of course, Merchling.” Jesper smiled when Wylan flushed slightly. It always happened, every time Jesper called him that. He’d never tire of it. Wylan was too cute to not provoke every chance he got. Wylan stood on his toes and pressed a kiss to Jesper’s cheek, but Jesper caught his wrist before he left the room and kissed him in a way that would ensure Marya would surely notice the blush on Wylan’s face still when he made up the stairs to her gallery.

 

            “I’ll, uh, I’ll hurry then.” Wylan said as he straightened his sweater.

 

            Merchling flustered is almost as good as Merchling when he plays music, Jesper decided long ago.

 

            Jesper made his way into the study that was primarily his, Wylan had given it to him when he’d moved in. It wasn’t a large room, but Jesper felt proud every time he took a seat at his desk. Sun was streaming in from the sheer curtains behind his desk and it made the emerald walls just a little brighter. Light glinted off the framed flag of Noyvi Zem that Wylan had gifted to him for his birthday.

 

Jesper loved Wylan for letting him paint the walls whatever color he wished, the world was in color. Why shouldn’t Jesper be in color, too?

 

 

Jesper draped his jacket over his desk chair and sat down, set to start reading the missives for the various companies in the Van Eck name, he’d also recite them to Wylan so they could make decisions together. It was one of his favorite times he spent with Wylan, they would always end up arguing at one point and laughing the next. Jesper felt warmth flood his chest at the thought of the afternoon ahead of them.

 

Jesper flicked his gaze to the desk and noticed something. It was a large envelope with only a “J” on the cover. Jesper had no idea who it could be from so he flipped it over. The seal. A crow in onyx wax. Jesper would recognize the seal anywhere: Kaz Brekker. Jesper hadn’t been in his office since last night before the going away dinner for Inej, he suspected Kaz picked the lock on his door and dropped it off then. Jesper smiled. Kaz and his secrets. Curiosity got the better of him, Jesper ripped open the envelope. He didn’t bother with the letter opener only an arm’s reach away.

 

Inside, there were several documents, but the note on the front was what got Jesper’s attention. In Kaz’s messy scrawl it read:

 

 

 

 

Jes,

 

Once I called you “Jordie” It was in the clock tower of the Geldrenner. I told you the truth, he was someone I trusted. He was my brother. He died long ago. I called you by his name because you were someone I trusted, like my brother. If he was around, I’d share this with him.

 

Instead, I’ll share it with you. You own ten percent of the Crow Club and all of its holdings. I’m the only other owner.

 

Thank you, for helping Inej. I know it was difficult to use your abilities in a forced situation. I won’t forget it.

 K.  Brekker

 

P.S.- You still are not allowed in the club; I’ll kill you if you relapse. Then I’ll bring you back so Wylan can have a go. So on and so forth.

 

 

Jesper couldn’t believe what he read. He scanned the page multiple times. He brought a hand to his mouth, he didn’t even register the tears welling in his eyes. Jordie. Of course Jesper remembered when Kaz had called him that. Jesper didn’t know Kaz had a brother, once. Jesper couldn’t help the disbelieving laugh that escaped from deep inside his chest.

 

Partial owner of the Crow Club. This was going to be interesting.

 

Kaz Brekker had once been someone Jesper wanted to love, in a very different way. Jesper did not mourn those feelings, Wylan was it. Wylan was the gunshot, the ring in his ears that sounded like a choir in a chapel in Noyvi Zem.

 

Jesper lost a potential love, but he gained a brother. He wouldn’t trade it for anything.

 

Chapter Text

Inej,

 

It’s been 3 days.  It’s been 15 bells. I won’t lie. I’m supposed to be everything I’ve always been, right? Perfectly fine. Alone. Then why does the bed feel empty without you?I thought there would be a part of me that was relieved, to sleep alone again. After all it’s not like we’ve spent all of our nights together. Only a handful. I’m not relieved. I think I preferred our handful over all the rest.

 

I should tear this page out before I give this book back to you.

 

I won’t.

 

Come home soon.

 

Kaz

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Kaz,

 

The mornings on the ship are one of my favorite things about life at Sea. There’s nothing more invigorating than the sea breeze and the sunrise. The only thing that comes close is waking up to you. I think I’d like to combine those two things someday, if you’ll take a voyage with me. Perhaps if we were to travel to Ravka?

 

I miss you.

 

Yours,

 

Inej

-------------------------------------------------------------

 Dear Inej,

 

Now it has been three days. Today I found out a new dealer at the club was skimming. I let him go myself. I don’t know why I took care of it personally. He has three children. I don’t know why I cared. I let him take the full week’s cut to make sure his family ate. Why? I couldn’t tell you. I also threatened to kill his family if he ever told anyone I’d helped him. Why? Couldn’t tell you that either.

 

I’m unbalanced, Inej. I have to stop thinking of you.

 

I want to kiss you again. I hope I can do it.

 

This journal letter writing is proving to be a terrible experiment and I should only write to you about what pertains to our business together from now on.

 

K. Brekker

 

 

 

 

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Kaz,

 

Why did you kiss me before I left when I could not relish in it and have another? I hate you.

 

I lied. I love you. I also hate you, shevrati.

 

Yours, Inej

 

------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Inej,

 

The Club did double this week in profit to what it did last year at this time. The Dregs are flush with funds and I poured myself a bourbon and retired to my room early to celebrate, if that’s what you’d call it. I miss you. I hope the sea has been fair to you, it’s been one week since you’ve left.

 

I’m going to Jesper and Wylan’s for dinner tomorrow. We’re playing cards- in a controlled setting with no bets. It’s an experiment to see if Jesper does okay. We will not be playing any of his favorite games just in case.

 

Perhaps Wylan and I will set him up in the corner with a game of solitaire.

 

K. Brekker

--------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Kaz,

 

I’m on the trail of the first ship now. I’ll land my blade true, I know I will. I feel rage in my bones. Perhaps we are more alike than I ever realized. Maybe Matthias thought me a demjin, too.

 

Wish me luck, mera chaar. (My moon, it’s what you are to me)

 

Captain Inej Ghafa

------------------------------------------------------------------

Inej,

 

I drank too muchright alongside Jesper and Wylan.

 

I love you. Etma se saman.

 

I miss you.

 

I had fun tonight. Why? Because I’ve never done this before. It’s only strange. I went with no agenda. How do I have friends and why do I like it? Jesper didn’t even say anything about the Club and I couldn’t be more grateful to have avoided that awkward conversation.

 

Oh, you don’t know about that yet.

 

I’ll tell you when I’m less drunk.

 

Can I kiss you when you return?

 

Yours,

Kaz Rietveld Brekker

--------------------------------------------------------------

Kaz,

 

I did it. The slave ship is sinking as I write this.

 

I got stabbed, but I’m fine. It was a shallow wound. Not even a close thing.

 

On to the next.

 

It’s been one week and three days since you kissed me.

 

-Inej

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Mr. Brekker,

 

I have a bone to pick with you. (Is that the correct kerch phrasing? I don’t know. My mind is hazy. Rum and waves will do that to you. I am the shevrati.)

 

You kissed me at the last possible moment, and completely ruined my concentration. How rude, you do not have manners. You even warned me that crows never do.

 

Shevrati.

 

Se mera taa shalen   Kerch. Right.

 

I’m so angry I could throttle you. Or kiss you. I’d settle for either.

 

-Captain Inej Ghafa

 

It’s been one week and six days since I left.

 ------------------------------------------------------------------------

Inej.

 

I’m not even going to bother to look at what I wrote the night I came home from Jesper’s and Wylan’s. Perhaps I can go buy another of these books somewhere and burn this one entirely and start over.

 

I won’t because you’d know.

 

I hung your emblem above the bed. No knives or dart boards in site.

 

I love you.

 

Kaz

----------------------------------------------------

Dear Kaz,

 

I think the next ship has stolen people on board. They must have moved up their shore venture to try and out-pace me.

 

They will not.

 

I love you, and I practiced with my coin today. I almost have it. Maybe when I see you next, I shall be better than you at it.

 

Doubtful.

 

Sweet Dreams, mera chaar.

 

-Inej

 

PS- Tell my crows I miss them.

 

 

           

 

 

 

 

           

 

           

Chapter Text

Inej,

 

The Razorgulls just won’t stop. They tried encroaching onto our portion of the docks again. I fear for them, Inej. My rage is just about ready to be unchained. I will attempt once more to parlay. I do not think it will be a pleasant affair. For them, I mean. I could care less. It’ll be pleasant enough for the Dregs and myself either way, as long as they learn what territory lines mean.

 

Roeder has spied on Tante Heleen. Nothing much to note yet, but she no longer frequents Charles Hester’s estate. It seems I was correct, she had no genuine affection for the man.

 

On the subject of Hester, it seems someone has bought out a fair share of his legal business holdings in the stocks. Someone by the name of Rietveld. Such a strange and unfortunate turn of business for him. Isn’t it odd? I suspect the banks will withhold lending large sums to rectify the situation since the scandal broke of his involvement with the Pleasure houses in the papers this past Tuesday. He truly should have worn a comedie brute mask when frequenting. How arrogant.

 

We must have a moment of silence for him in light of his misfortune, soon. Preferably with blood sliding down a blade as our background music? My birthday is January ninth, this is my only wish, Inej. Please, allow me to have it. Or let me watch you take his life. I’d like nothing more.

 

I fear that may have been a mistake, telling you my birthday. Hopefully your people do not celebrate them. That would be a very nice tradition that I’d love to embrace; unless it involves Hester falling dead on the cobblestones.

 

I fed Kaz Pecker today. He ate from my hand and I hated it. I don’t know why I tried to get him to do it. The rest of the winged rats cawed happily. I hope my namesake crow is their leader.

 

They miss you, darling.

 

Kaz

 

---------------------------------------------------------

 

Kaz,

 

I DID IT! The coin did not fall! It did every other time I tried to replicate it, but I don’t care! I did it!

 

Who said liquor inhibits one’s hand-eye coordination? They were wrong.

 

Etma se saman, Kaz.

 

Only yours, The wraith

-----------------------------------------------------------

 

Dear Kaz,

 

Tomorrow I strike on the second ship. A vessel called “Serendipity”. I do feel quite serendipitous to have caught up. The winds have been kind. We are mere leagues behind them based on the route they would have taken from port. I’m eager to free those poor people. Nothing is quite as awful as the hold of a Slaver’s ship. Tight packed. Awful smell. Nothing… nothing bright. It exudes only two things: despair and fear. Specht and Quin (my third in command, she is a kaelish woman whose wife, Mira, is also our medic) are optimistic. We spent all afternoon while the waters were calm planning our strike.

 

Speaking of, I’d like you to meet my crew sometime. Would that interest you? I hope so. They know I have someone I go home to. None of my crew besides Specht are from Ketterdam, so I hope that soothes your nerves and rage that they know I have someone. They are loyal, Kaz. As devoted to this cause as I am. I could not keep it from them if I wished to, I spend half the year on a vessel that is not terribly large with them.

 

Quin, like I said, is kaelish. She is the product of a purchased indenture. Her mother was stolen and sold to a Kerch man many years ago. The man, married her mother. It’s an awful story. Quin was born of that union, her mother died in birth. She has every devotion to this cause as I, I met her as she infiltrated the second vessel I took down on our maiden voyage. She had posed as crew to try and help those people. Needless to say, she joined the crew of The Wraith. Her wife, Mira, is new. Quin only brought her aboard for this second voyage. I like them both very much and it brings me peace to have a trained medic in our midst.

 

I could go on all night and use every page in this journal. I will not, you’ll have to meet them yourself.

 

I wish I could inquire as to how Jesper and Wylan are faring. I miss you all. It is my least favorite part of life on the Sea. I think of Nina often, too. I wish we knew how she was.

 

I need to sleep, but I’ll surely think of you more when I wake.

 

I love you, Kaz Elias Rietveld.

 

Saints speed in all you do, Kaz. I’ll see you soon.

 

Fondly, Inej Ghafa

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

Dear Inej,

 

The Razorgulls have surely learned their lesson, much to my contentment. It was… uneventful. At least no more eventful than a parlay including myself normally is. I missed your presence above me amongst your rooftops.

 

Jesper and Wylan miss you, I had coffee with Wylan today. He is helping me with a project, you see. Nothing more.

 

I hope the sea is treating you well. It has been one month since you’ve left. It hasn’t gotten easier. I thought it would by now. It has been as much time with you away as it was with you here, somehow it feels as if it’s been much longer with you away.

 

Stay alive and righteous, Captain Ghafa. Your crows mourn your company.

 

So do I.

 

Sincerely,

 

Kaz Brekker

 

---------------------------------------------

 

Inej,

 

I ran out of bread and the crows won’t shut up. I’m going to the bakery at eleven bells at night for no reason other than to appease your ridiculous murder.

 

You are welcome. I hope this counts as a life debt.

 

Kaz

 

-----------------------------------------------

 

Kaz,

 

It’s been two weeks since I’ve been able to pick this journal up. My heart is breaking, and I wish nothing more than to crawl through your window and curl up beside you. I want to be at home. I… I haven’t been able to write because it meant facing what happened.

 

The “Serendipity” caught wind of our shadowing them. Whomever the Captain was, seemed to think I’d make them hang. They killed the innocent people on board before I got there. They seemed to think their own lives outside of a prison cell was worth more than those children and women they murdered. The captain’s last words were “A small setback, but we’ll grab more product eventually.”  I stabbed him in the back with Sankta Lizabeta. He bled out slowly. He and his crew had not known I’d gotten aboard in the night.

 

They are dead. It didn’t bring those innocent souls back.

 

I failed, Kaz.

 

How do I live with this shame? I knew I would not always be victorious. I knew that. But I… I didn’t expect how it would feel. I must keep going, there is one ship yet listed in my stolen manifests. I must get there in time.

 

Kiss me until I forget this pain. Hold me together, Kaz.

 

I miss you. I wish you were here.

 

-Inej

 

 

 

 

 

             

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

KAZ

 

            Two months, 22 days, eight bells. Inej would be back any day now. Kaz knew he would not be able to gage which day accurately due to the fact she had not stopped in port to write himself or Jesper and Wylan of her planned return date. Kaz opened the book of letters for Inej on his desk in his attic rooms. He flipped to the next fresh page and wrote:

 

Inej,

 

Any day now. Hurry home.

 

Kaz

 

            Kaz ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath with a glance at the window sill. A dusting of snow was covering the ledge outside, the white canvas marred only by tiny crow footprints. He missed her. He wanted to kiss Inej senseless, even if he didn’t think he could quite manage that yet. He hoped he had not been set back in his progress with touch in her time away. Kaz hadn’t exactly practiced, but every time he’d been around Jesper and Wylan, he’d left his hands bare. It was a small thing, but he’d been fine even without Inej beside him. Every night, he’d imagined her hand in his, to try and keep the memory fresh. Kaz wasn’t sure he’d have even needed to do that, he craved her touch daily. It had become something comforting, even her touches over clothing. Kaz hadn’t been able to be close to another human being since Jordie had died, he felt starved for it now. Only with Inej though. The rest of the world could stay the fuck away as far as he was concerned.

 

In just her month on land, they had accomplished so much together.

 

            How much more will we accomplish upon her return? Work? Yes, of course. But, I’m more interested in the rest. The moments alone. Would it be too forward to ask her to stay with me instead of at the Van Eck mansion? Is it unreasonably soon for that?

 

            Kaz turned his gaze to the emblem hanging above his bed, he smiled to himself. Inej was returning. These three months had felt double the length of her maiden voyage, because he had reason to hope. They were committed. Each other’s home. Equals.

 

Kaz shrugged on his blazer and flicked up his cane. It was time to get down to his office, surely there were missives already waiting for him. Anika had been tasked with organizing the Club shift schedules for the week ahead, and Kaz needed to look over her work and make any necessary adjustments. He needed to check how his newly acquired stocks in the Rietveld name were faring.

 

            A to-do list that felt like busy work until he could check off items on his real list. Number one: kiss Inej. Number two: spend time with Inej. Number three: work with Inej and take down all the bastards in this city who had wronged them.

 

            Kaz made it down to his office to find Roeder leaning against his locked office door.

 

            “Morning, Boss.” Roeder mumbled, flicking shaggy brown hair off his face. Kaz only unlocked his door in response, clearly Roeder had found something to report if he wasn’t still sleeping off an uneventful recon night.

 

            “What do you have for me?” Kaz asked as he limped to his desk and settled into his chair, noting the ever expanding pile of paperwork that would garner his attention this afternoon.

 

            “I intercepted a letter from Charles Hester to Tante Heleen that I thought you might be interested in.” Roeder said, as he dropped an envelope on Kaz’s desk and sat down across from him.

 

            Kaz was interested indeed. Besides a miserably pathetic letter to his now estranged wife who had moved to the countryside, Charles Hester was rarely corresponding these days. A collapsed life could do that to a man. Kaz smiled internally as he picked up the letter. He scanned the page to find that Charles Hester had promised Tante Heleen his allegiances and a sure up-turn in his business ventures. It wasn’t until Kaz got farther into the letter that he finally found why Roeder had deemed this important. Kaz saw red when he read the lines.

 

            Heleen, I can assure you a new opportunity to replenish your lovely house of exotics. My employer in the trade has assured me that the blasted pirate hunting his routes will be exterminated before the month’s end. He almost let go of my involvement when my home was burglarized, but it seems he’s decided to give me another chance once I told him I could ensure a partnership with you as well as Ellen Vask from the Vixen’s Garden. Surely, even if you no longer wish to continue our fun (much to my internal and physical dismay), you’ll at least see reason in the promise of financial prosperity for the Menagerie in the acceptance of this partnership. Of course, a portion of profit from the new product will need to be paid to my employer, but it will be more than worth your while.

 

            Write me and let me know when we should meet to speak of specifics. I hold my breath on your every word.

 

Kaz would tear Charles Hester limb from limb and smile over the pieces. He’d do far worse to Tante Heleen. No. He’d let Inej decide their fates. It was not Kaz’s vengeance to bestow. Kaz had to believe Inej would be safe, despite this mysterious slave trade boss hunting her down. Kaz wished she were here for at least the third time that morning.

 

“That will be all. This is good work.” Kaz mumbled to Roeder. Roeder inclined his head and made his way out of Kaz’s office. Kaz couldn’t deny the fact that it was useful that Roeder and the other most trusted Dregs knew of his involvement with Inej beyond the business scope. They were looking out for her even more now.

 

Kaz needed to find out who this Slave trade employer was. Kaz suspected he did not reside in Ketterdam, since he’d sent the man Henrik as his messenger the night Inej had been shot. He wondered if Inej had discovered the employer’s identity on her voyage. Perhaps one of the vessels she was targeting had led to new information. Kaz had no other option currently but to continue sending Roeder on recon when he could spare him and await Inej’s return. They’d make a plan for a new course of action together.

 

This was a job for both Dirtyhands and the Wraith.

 

Kaz picked up the first missive in his pile of papers and set to work, Inej would be back soon, he told himself.

 

INEJ (Two days prior)

 

            “DROP AND BLOW THE CANNONS! WE NEED TO SINK HER!” Inej shouted, blood was coating the hilts of her blades making them slippery in her grasp. Sweat beaded down her forehead. Inej could not let her ship fall. There were too many souls counting on her. The antagonistic ship had appeared from nowhere on their way back to Ketterdam. The moonlight and lanterns normally gave the deck of the Wraith a warm glow. Now it felt ominous in the midst of gunfire and bloodshed.  

 

Inej had succeeded in taking down the third ship listed in her stolen manifests, “The Fair Play”. Inej had rescued five girls who’d been taken from Noyvi Zem as well as a boy. They were no older than fourteen. Inej couldn’t let them fall back into Slavers hands now, nor could she let them die along with her crew. Inej had too much work to do to welcome death now.

 

Inej was supposed to be home with Kaz in under a week’s time. Death would have to wait for Inej Ghafa.

 

            Inej mouthed the names of the saints as she felled a man climbing over the rail of her ship. The opposing crew must have gotten a rope or plank attached to cross between boats. Inej had to stop the infiltration, they had to sink the attacking vessel.  She spotted the rope tied to a lantern post and started to clear a path along the taffrail of her ship.

 

            In Inej’s wake there was only blood.

 

            “Specht! Take the Helm and veer us outward!” Inej bellowed, hoping her first mate would hear her in the midst of the chaos. Inej spied Greer, a kerch girl only a year older than herself, firing her pistols with almost as much precision as Jesper. The deck of the Wraith was a battlefield. The enemy ship was pointing cannons now; they’d wanted to recover the stolen people but they’d settle for sinking Inej’s ship to the bottom of the True Sea. Inej saw it clearly in the upturn of their cannons.

 

Inej had to fire first.

 

Inej sank Sankt Petyr in the jugular of a burly man guarding the rope allowing passage on the starboard side of Inej’s ship. Inej cut the rope and it fell to the waves below, two rival bodies mid journey across dropped with it. Inej hazily noted she could no longer see the color of her skin beneath the crimson on her hands.

 

Inej turned to find several of her crew battling along the sides of the rail with the remaining oppositional men. This would be a close thing. Or the end. Inej would not give up.

 

Saints, hear me now. Lend me strength and wisdom. Let me sail home. Let me sail these brave souls to their own home.

 

“Ready Captain!” Specht’s baritone voice rang in her ears. Inej didn’t hesitate to give the order.

 

“FIRE!” She shouted as loud as she could, willing her voice to carry to those manning the cannons.

 

The thunder of cannons and the lightning of gunpowder filled her corner of the True Sea.

 

KAZ

 

            The afternoon light was fading as Kaz entered the Van Eck mansion sometime after six bells. It had been two months and twenty-four days since Inej left. Kaz was eager for her return to say the least. Kaz was also looking forward to the night, Jesper and Wylan had invited him for dinner and to show him the blueprints for the building that would be built to serve as a college at the University in the Van Eck name. Kaz wouldn’t even be able to convince his past self that he was doing this now; going to see friends just to see them. Just to enjoy himself and drink bourbon and joke around. It was something new that was becoming normal.         

 

Kaz didn’t find he’d trade this new life for a moment of his previous isolation.

 

Kaz let the maid take his coat once he entered the house and spotted Wylan sitting on the sofa in the living room to his right. A fire cracked in the hearth, blasting Kaz’s face with a pleasant heat after the walk in the light snowfall.

 

“Hey, come here and tell me if you think this makes sense.” Wylan said in greeting, his head not looking up from the blue prints in front of him. Kaz was still surprised every time Wylan asked his opinion on something- it felt like a respect that was earned. A respect that was earned without a drop of violence; instead it had been earned through friendship and comradery. Kaz still didn’t understand fully how it had happened.

 

“Wylan, I know nothing of architecture. I know my talents and they are very different than yours.” Kaz grumbled but he found himself walking to look over Wylan’s shoulder anyways.

 

“I just need fresh eyes. I don’t care that you don’t know the precise measurements or the full picture. I just need someone else to look at it and see if it flows right.” Wylan said as he adjusted a line with a ruler in front of him on the page, smudging graphite onto his pale blue sleeve. Kaz had learned that “flow” related to the layout of a building, if it felt natural if you were to walk into it. Kaz couldn’t say it was especially useful knowledge in his line of work, but Wylan constantly taught him new things about music and architecture.

 

If Kaz was honest, it made him pleasantly surprised every time Wylan spoke with confidence about his career and abilities. Kaz remembered the conversation he’d had with Wylan in this very house in front of Jan Van Eck’s safe.

 

Wylan had taken Kaz’s advice, he had not let his disability slow him down.

 

Kaz inspected the blue prints and gave Wylan some suggestions before he followed the ginger boy into the dining room where Jesper was already nursing a drink and looking over the financial section of the post.

 

“Del Meran stocks have gone up in value,” Jesper said with a grin in Kaz’s direction. Kaz had given Jesper advice to buy stake in that particular jurda distributor a few weeks prior. Kaz managed a smile back, Kaz was pleased his advice had done Jesper some good. Kaz had particularly good information on that company’s successes and failures due to the fact that the owner of Del Meran frequented the tables at the Crow Club. Kaz had dealt three-man bramble on a night the owner had been there; he’d been six drinks deep and sharing trade secrets and upcoming promises of success with Kaz as if they were a bowl of sweets. Kaz had listened intently and fed the information to Jesper without a second thought.

 

Soon, Kaz joined Jesper and Wylan at the table for dinner and lost himself in a conversation about the plans for the new college and the upcoming construction. It wasn’t until after dinner, drinking in the living room hours later, that Kaz felt her. He thought he was wrong, but that electric buzz in his bones and ring in his ears told him otherwise. Kaz flicked his eyes to the door of the mansion as Wylan and Jesper continued talking. Nothing happened. Kaz shook his head and tried to refocus on the conversation, convincing himself that it was just because he wanted to feel her near.

 

A voice roared viciously inside him, telling him that he hadn’t felt her at all since she left. He hadn’t been wrong once. Inej was here.  

 

A moment later, the front door of the Van Eck mansion opened. There had been no knock. Kaz’s head shot up the moment the handle had turned, along with Jesper and Wylan. Whoever it was had a key.

 

Inej.

 

INEJ

 

            Inej didn’t even know how she’d gotten here. She barely remembered traversing the rooftops, heading to the Slat first only to find the attic empty of Kaz. Inej had only one other place she could fall apart and she immediately set her sights on the Van Eck mansion. She’d pulled into berth twenty-two and had jumped down to the docks, not even bothering to wait for the gangplank to lower; she hadn’t taken her things either. Inej hadn’t even thought of it. Specht would handle the remainder of the chores to prepare the ship to stay put in port, as well as arrange passage for the stolen girls and boy they’d rescued to get home. Specht promised her that he’d reiterate for the crew to remain in Ketterdam until they could lay their fallen brethren to rest the next day, even if it was to the Reaper’s barge and not a true grave.  

 

Inej had thanked every standing member of her crew over the last two hours of her journey into the Ketterdam harbor. She’d lost three crew members in the fight against “The Gilded Crown”. The vessel who had attacked her ship in the dead of night. Inej hadn’t been able to hold it together any longer once they’d made it into port. Tears that had been harbored in her eyes were going to break through. Inej had held it together ever since she’d failed in saving the innocent stolen people on the second ship she’d targeted this voyage. Inej had held it all in, she’d stayed strong. She’d stayed the Captain for all those who relied on her. Once the Ketterdam skyline had come into view, Inej had felt something in her chest crack wide open. She needed Kaz. Jesper. Wylan. Her people.

 

Losing crew members had twisted the blade in her already bleeding heart. The dam was going to shatter.

 

Inej opened the door of the Van Eck mansion with her key, Inej hadn’t even wanted to make the climb to her room here. The rooftops had proven exhausting enough. Inej hadn’t slept since the fight on the sea, she’d taken over the fallen crew members duties, stood watch, helped nurse the wounded. It was the least she could do in the wake of such a loss and in the face of the devotion and bravery she’d witnessed from her crew. Inej turned and found Jesper, Wylan and Kaz in the living room. She hadn’t expected this mercy from the saints, that they’d all be here.

 

Kaz. Kaz. Kaz. Thank you, saints. He’s here. He’s here.

 

“Inej.” Kaz’s voice of stone rang in her ears and embraced her aching heart. It broke the last remaining barrier in her chest, she was falling apart in the span of a single heartbeat.

 

Inej was vaguely aware of the tears already rolling down her cheeks. Kaz stood up immediately and at the sight of his perfect suit and harsh lines, Inej couldn’t stop her feet from moving. She dropped her key to the ground, a clatter of metal on marble tile. She dimly recognized that Kaz could have been set back with touch in her time away, but she couldn’t stop. Inej needed him. Now.  

 

Inej ran across the living room and Kaz barely had time to open his arms before she jumped, her arms wrapped around his neck. Inej inhaled the smoky sweetness of him and she felt the sob in her chest break free. Inej hadn’t even realized her feet had left the ground. Kaz was holding her up, her legs wrapped around his middle. Inej knew Jesper and Wylan had both said something, but Inej couldn’t understand them over the crunch of bone cracking in her chest. Kaz hadn’t so much as flinched. Inej hadn’t touched his skin, though. Her sleeves on her arms around his neck protected him.

 

“Inej, love, I’m here.” Kaz’s whispered in her ear, warm breath tickling her skin. Inej gripped tighter. Inej couldn’t face the world yet. Inej wanted to stay right where she was, home. Inej felt his hand rubbing her lower back, comforting her. She wouldn’t realize until later that her shirt had ridden up slightly, and he’d rubbed her back bare handed. Skin to skin. Inej felt tired. She felt burnt out. Inej knew she needed sleep, her exhaustion had only made her emotions less reined in. She didn’t know how long she cried into his chest before she heard him speak.

 

“I’m staying here tonight.” Kaz rasped over Inej’s shoulder to their friends, she felt relief wash over her with those few words. Inej needed to look at Jesper and Wylan, she knew she’d scared them. Inej was never this way, Inej was private, Inej was strong. She couldn’t bring herself to care in this moment after the past few days, weeks. Inej reluctantly let Kaz set her back to her feet, disentangling her legs from his waist.

 

“I- I am sorry. I need to sleep. I will explain I just- I just need to sleep and then I’ll talk.” Inej’s voice came out scratchy, broken. Jesper and Wylan were both looking at her with worry in their eyes.

 

“Of course, Inej. Whatever happened, you’re here now.” Wylan was the first to speak, he grabbed her hand and placed his other one over top of hers. Inej managed to squeeze his hand gently before letting go. Jesper walked to her and pulled her into another hug. Inej felt like she was going to cry again when his purple clad arms circled around her.

 

This is what she had needed. She just needed them. All of them. Thank you, Saints.

 

“Wraith, you scared the hell out of us. If I need to go shoot some people, I will.” Jesper placed a kiss on the top of her head. Inej snorted a small laugh when he pulled away, wiping furiously at her still wet eyes. Inej felt Kaz’s arm at her waist, she leaned into his strength. She could feel the tangible energy of unanswered questions in the air, but Inej felt like she was going to drop to the ground in exhaustion.

 

“Bed?” Kaz looked down at her now, his brown eyes laced with concern and something like relief. Inej knew the feeling. Inej had missed him terribly; these months had felt much too long in the after math of her month on land. Kaz tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear sending a warm flutter through her. Inej knew she probably looked as disheveled as she felt, she’d not even changed her clothes in at least twenty-four hours; not touched her hair in even longer. Her boots were covered in blood and sea grime.

 

She needed a bath, food, sleep and Kaz. That was all Inej wanted in that moment.

 

Inej nodded. It was about all she could muster. Everything else she had left had fallen out of her eyes onto Kaz’s shirt moments ago. Inej let Kaz lead her away from the living room, he’d picked up his cane somewhere but Inej’s vision was blurry from tears and exhaustion. Inej barely managed to work her mouth into a goodnight to Jesper and Wylan.

 

Inej would face it all tomorrow, tonight she’d let Kaz lend her the strength to make it through. She saw it in his face as they walked up the stairs toward her room. They didn’t need words. His eyes said “Let me hold it all for now.”

 

So, Inej Ghafa handed over the pieces of her shattered heart, knowing there was no one who could protect her broken treasure better than a thief. 

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            The door to Inej’s room swung open before Kaz, he gestured for Inej to go first. Kaz was worried as he watched Inej’s shoulders droop the moment she entered the confines of the room, like holding them up had grown to be a burden. He felt like someone had punched him in the gut with brass knuckles. Inej had cried the moment she’d seen him, he’d seen Inej cry only twice and he had no idea what happened. It had to be something horrific to knock the wraith off her metaphorical balance. Inej had launched into his arms, her body had wrapped around his like a vice- he didn’t mind. He’d happily hold her like that whenever she wanted now that he knew he could do it; but he hated it was under these circumstances.

 

            Kaz wanted to rip someone apart for this; preferably whoever had made his girl sob in his arms upon returning to him. She’d left with a smile, he’d wanted her returned safe and sound from the sea with a smile as well.

 

            “I need a bath. I’m disgusting, I’m sure.” Inej’s voice barely reached his ears she whispered so quietly. Kaz disagreed. Inej was dangerous. Beautiful. Strong. Perhaps a little low on the shiny boots scale currently, but he could care less. He understood though. If Inej went to sleep in her current state, it might make her feel worse when she woke.

 

            “Bath or shower? I’ll start the water.” Kaz rasped as he leaned his cane against the wall and locked the door behind them. He knew Jesper and Wylan would respect their privacy; but Kaz didn’t want one of the maids or servants walking in unaware the room was now occupied again. Kaz had a feeling he was the only exception, the only person Inej wanted here right now. It was a realization that warmed his chest despite the dreary atmosphere. Inej was his exception in many ways, and it was an odd yet wonderful feeling to realize he was hers as well.

 

            “Bath, please. Thank you.” Inej said softly, she sat down at her dressing table and began unlacing her boots. Kaz stopped as he walked by her to lean down and press a kiss to the hair on the top of her head. It was a motion he hadn’t even thought about. Inej had looked up with the smallest smile he’d ever seen from her-but it was enough. It was everything.

 

            Kaz entered the bathroom off her room and got hot water going to fill her bathtub, he found the fancy soap Inej always joked about that Wylan bought her and added it to the water. Kaz pulled towels down from the shelf in the small cabinet and folded them over the side of the tub for her. He almost laughed, the bathtub was a monstrosity compared to the size of Inej.

 

            Ah, Van Eck money.

 

            Kaz exited the bathroom to find Inej digging through drawers in the wardrobe, coming up empty handed. She let out a frustrated laugh.

 

            Inej needed sleep. Kaz knew how to recognize the signs of near collapse, he’d pushed himself to this point too many times to count.

 

            “What are you looking for?” Kaz asked as he walked toward her.

 

            “I have nothing here to wear. I brought nothing with me from the damn ship because I just- I couldn’t- I thought I left my fucking robe here.” Inej sounded like she was close to tears, stumbling over words. Inej was cursing like a true pirate- she definitely needed sleep. This was a moment he’d experienced before, granted these moments for him ended in bloodshed, not tears shed. It was the moment the last thing went wrong and you were exhausted; the last card that collapsed the house, no matter how small and light.

 

            “Wylan probably had it laundered for you and hadn’t gotten them to bring it back yet. You can have my shirt.” Kaz said as he gently grabbed her hands from the drawer handle she was still clutching with white knuckles.

 

            “What about being next to me? That’s less protective layers and I want you to be able to be next to me if- if you can.” Inej grimaced as she fumbled with a stray string on her very blood stained tunic, avoiding his eyes.

 

            “I’ll manage.” Kaz raised a hand and tilted her chin up with a tender touch of a finger. He wanted her to look at him, hear him.

 

            Inej’s eyes met his finally; there were red rims surrounding them, a darkness that had nothing to do with color weighed heavily in her irises.

 

Kaz hated it. He wanted to commit heinous crimes and murder whoever or whatever had put this weight on her strong shoulders.

 

“Come on, don’t want your water to get cold.” Kaz said without dropping the firm hold he had on her eyes. Inej sighed but nodded. Kaz took her hand in his and pressed a kiss to her knuckles, he felt the revulsion, a brief vivid flash of bloated skin. He took a deep breath as Inej walked toward the bathroom. He beat it down. Waist. Knees. Ankles. Gone. Kaz knew he could do this, he had to. For her. Overall, Kaz was pleasantly surprised he’d felt no sickness until he dared to kiss her hand. He’d been able to rub her bare back, take her hand in his, kiss her hair. Most of their progress had stuck.

 

It was a flickering flame in the dark for Kaz. Hope. That’s what it was.

 

            Kaz stripped off his jacket and tie, draping them on her chair before sitting and removing his shoes. Kaz would sleep on top of the covers tonight, he didn’t want to tempt his demons. Inej would be bare legged, he would be shirtless. It was the least amount of clothing they’d ever worn to sleep next to each other. If Kaz had a religion, he just might get on his knees and pray that he was able to do this without incident or nightmare.

 

Inej needed him, he’d be there. It was the promise he’d made to himself. The deal is the deal.

 

Kaz waited and heard a soft splash as Inej got into the water, she’d left the door cracked very slightly. Presumably so she’d hear him if he said anything, but Kaz knew she’d prefer the quiet. Kaz would too.

 

What had happened? Her ship was clearly still afloat; she’d said she left her things on board. Kaz was desperate to know what had happened, but he wouldn’t push her. If she wanted to tell him tonight, she would. If she didn’t, he’d wait. He was just thrilled she was back here with him where he could be there for her. Kaz was grateful he’d spent all afternoon catching up on work for the Club and planning for a new job pertaining to jewels the Dregs were going to lift from a new-money mercher. He was caught up and had no reason to leave Inej until tomorrow, when and if she was ready to be alone. Kaz would accept her company back at the Slat though, if she wished.

 

He damn well wanted her there.

 

Inej came back for a second time, to him. If her Saints were real, maybe they did have kindness in their holy ways. Kaz didn’t have a deity to thank nor did he want one, but if he had, he’d have paid them gratitude a thousand times over for Inej.

 

Kaz sat and waited on the bed, his shirt was already off, waiting for Inej beside him. He’d almost asked if she wanted him to bring it to her, but he didn’t know if she’d be alright with that, even if he’d see nothing of her body below the sudsy water.

 

“Kaz?” Inej asked softly from the bathroom.

 

“Yes?” Kaz rasped.

 

“Can you bring the hair brush from the dresser?” Inej asked, her voice sounded like she was damn near asleep already. Kaz took a steeling breath as he flicked his gaze to the brush in question across from him on her dresser. He’d see nothing of her naked body, he didn’t want to right now. Well, of course his body wanted him to. His mind did not. He did not want Inej to feel uncomfortable now. Though, Kaz realized, this was her way of telling him she was okay with him coming in, that she wouldn’t vanish. This was intimate in a different way that had nothing to do with actual bare skin. It was Inej trusting him to be in the same room with her completely bare, not a stitch of clothing to speak of.  She knew he would not treat her as every other man in the Menagerie had in that state. Kaz stood and picked up the brush and made his way to the bathroom.

 

Kaz kept his eyes trained on the brush as he opened the door. He placed it on the counter gently, his head turned away from the tub. Inej deserved her privacy. He was surprised when she spoke.

 

“You can look, I’m decent. Or- no I’m not, but I’m covered.” Inej said softly. Kaz swallowed but he couldn’t stop his head from turning.

 

Inej. Inej… naked. But under so many bubbles it looked as though there was a pile of snow on top of her bath water, from her collarbones down, Kaz saw nothing but suds. Kaz desperately tried to ignore the first thought. His body did not need to react to this now.

 

“Thank you.” Inej whispered, something in her voice made all his thoughts stop. Inej was looking at him as she wringed her hair out into the water. He had no idea what she was thankful for.

 

“For what?” Kaz asked, his eyes locked on her face.

 

“For not looking until I asked you or until I showed you. It was never like that for me… when I was there.” Inej mumbled. Kaz knew what “there” meant. The Menagerie.

 

“I’ll never be able to stop looking at you Inej. But when it comes to your bare skin, I will never look unless I know you are not vanishing from me. I won’t taint that. I can’t.” Kaz spoke honestly, surprising even himself with the easiness of the answer. There had been no barrier with his words. Kaz had always thought whether you chose to work in a pleasure house or were in a twenty-year marriage, it was your choice whom you share your body with. Inej had solidified those beliefs ten-fold since he’d known her. Kaz had never thought he’d share his own body with anyone, and that had been his choice. He of course felt the same desire as any other man, but he’d never thought he could beat his severe aversion to skin contact. It was only with Inej that he now found he wanted to share himself physically with another person, willing to fight the sickness that had plagued him for a decade. Inej would always get that same respect from him.

 

“I love you.” Inej whispered with such earnest that Kaz wanted to kneel beside the tub and attempt to kiss her again. He would not, he did not want to risk brushing her bare skin while it was also wet from bath water. He also did not want her to vanish at the proximity.

 

It felt like a recipe for disaster that his demons would season and bring to a boil. Kaz didn’t want that shame. He needed to be here for Inej as much mentally as physically.

 

Kaz’s stomach flipped when he heard her say it for the second time ever.

 

“I love you, Inej.” Kaz said in response, his throat did not catch this time. Maybe it was because he’d said it in his head so many times since the first time he’d told her before her departure. He’d also written it in her book of letters.

 

 Kaz wished he could stay and hold the towel open for her. He wished he could be the man who pulled her up from the tub and carried her to the bed still dripping jasmine and night bloom scented bubbles and just make her forget everything going on around her. Kaz also wished he could just take back whatever had happened to her before her return and protect her from this hurt. Inej protected herself, he knew that. Kaz wanted to protect her anyways, fiercely.

 

Kaz met her eyes one more time, they looked like puddles of honeyed chocolate in the low bathroom lighting. Kaz saw something ease slightly in her expression when an impossibly small smile danced on her lips. Kaz turned and walked back into the bedroom, pulling the door mostly shut behind him, just how she’d left it. Cracked enough for him to hear her if she asked for him. Kaz sat down on the bed and leaned back against the headboard to stretch out his bad leg.

           

            A few moments later, Inej exited the bathroom in a towel. It was shorter than the one he’d seen her in before, or perhaps it was how she’d tucked part of it into itself across her chest. Kaz didn’t care. He’d never complain about seeing her legs. This was Inej not minding him looking, walking in front of this like this. They both knew what permission from the other looked like.

 

How could a woman so short have legs that seemed so long?

 

Kaz couldn’t stop his eyes from roaming freely over her form when she stood in front of the dresser braiding her damp hair. Kaz had never seen above her knees, except once in his bedroom after she’d been shot. Kaz had been too happy she was alive to really commit it to memory. Kaz hadn’t noticed the odd scar marring the side of her left thigh, just below the towel she was wearing now. It was shaped almost like a square but there was a line through it. Kaz wasn’t sure what it could possibly be from, it didn’t look like something she’d gained from her acrobatic years, nor from the Menagerie. It definitely wasn’t a stab wound or a gunshot from her time with the Dregs.

 

“How did you get that scar on your thigh? It’s a shape I’ve never seen in a scar.” Kaz asked softly, hoping the question would prove to be a distraction for Inej from her troubles. Inej froze. Kaz watched as her bronze hand reached down and touched the scarred flesh self-consciously. Kaz wasn’t sure that asking had been a good idea, now.

 

Kaz watched as Inej turned and looked toward the chair where he’d draped the things he wasn’t wearing to bed. Inej walked to his clothes and picked something up with her back to him. Kaz raised an eyebrow to her when she turned back toward him. She was holding his belt. Inej took a deep breath and held up the buckle. A square with a line through it, that’s the scar a belt buckle would make. Fuck. Kaz felt rage bubble in his bloodstream. Every time he thought he’d heard the worst of Inej’s time at the Menagerie, it got worse.

 

“Fuck, Inej.” Kaz ran a hand through his hair. He wanted to reach for her. That way she could hold him here, and keep him from slipping his gloves back on, picking up his cane and waltzing to West Stave and burning the Menagerie to the ground right now. His hands itched for vengeance.

 

“I didn’t want to lie to you about what it was. Nina saw it once and I did lie then. I don’t know why I did. I hate that mark almost as much as I hated the tattoo, at least this one I can forget it’s there most of the time.” Inej said softly as she dropped his belt back onto the chair.

 

“You could get it removed by a tailor the way Nina removed your tattoo scar?” Kaz asked.

 

“No. This one I will bear for the rest of my life. I… I need the reminder that I lived through it. This one is private. The tattoo scar was not.” Inej mumbled as she reached for his shirt on the bed beside him. Inej didn’t hide the way her eyes still traced the plane of his chest before she moved away from the bed. Kaz understood what she meant, though. His leg was something of the same for him. He’d never wanted to heal it even when the pain was horrendous.

 

“Don’t hide it from me, please.” Kaz found himself whispering when he noticed her hand had once again gone to the mark. He didn’t want her to hide any part of herself from him, it was all Inej. He didn’t find a single part worthy of concealing.

 

Inej was too beautiful inside and out for doubt. He never wanted her to doubt it with him.

 

Inej pulled her hand away and he saw something like relief and awe pass through her eyes.

 

“Close your eyes.” Inej asked softly. Kaz did as instructed, he heard her towel drop to the floor and the swish of fabric as she pulled on his shirt. Kaz could not allow himself to ponder on the fact that Inej was not putting anything on underneath that shirt. It would ruin him and his pride if he thought on it.

 

“Open.” Inej said simply. Kaz opened his eyes and saw Inej had moved close to him, standing next to the bed. His shirt hit her mid-thigh, she’d rolled the sleeves up enough to make her hands visible. She’d left the top two buttons undone. Kaz ignored the urge to trace her collarbones with his eyes and met hers instead.

 

“Can I kiss you?” Inej breathed quietly. Kaz had no idea. Yes, of course. No. Maybe. Yes. He wanted. He wanted so much he felt a physical ache in his chest.

 

Kaz nodded, his eyes not leaving hers. He’d kissed her last time. Would this work or would he drown once more? He’d felt the revulsion when he kissed her knuckles. He didn’t have time to question it all. Inej leaned over him slightly from her spot beside the bed.

 

Night blooms. Sweet and dark. The scent filled his mind with images of Inej, a hundred stolen glances he’d taken and hoarded in his chest.

 

His eyes shut on their own accord.

 

Inej pressed her lips to his, a soft press, gentle. Real. Wings fluttered to life in his stomach.

 

Inej. Inej. Inej. So alive.

 

Inej was pulling away.

 

Kaz found himself leaning forward, chasing the shadow of her lips the way he’d always seek her in the dark.

 

Inej kissed him a second time, with the gentleness of a butterfly’s wing. She pulled away now, and Kaz opened his eyes to see a smile on her face.

 

If kissing Inej made her smile like that, his demons could kindly fuck off forever.  

 

“I’ll tell you everything tomorrow.” Inej said softly as she crawled under the sheets beside him. He saw the promise of sleep in her face. Kaz had done it, again. He hadn’t drowned.

 

Inej was the lighthouse. Inej was the beacon that brought him back to shore when the waves turned wicked and the undertow grew limbs. Kaz had never seen anything so bright.

Chapter Text

 

           

INEJ

 

            Someone was knocking on the door. Inej’s mind was clouded with the residue of a dreamless sleep.

 

            “Go away.” Inej heard a grumble from Kaz beside her, she forced her eyes open to see Kaz was facing her, his eyes not yet open. Inej could tell it was early based on the rising light through her window behind Kaz’s sleepy form.

 

            “Can’t! I made waffles and Inej has a letter out here!” Jesper chirped happily. Inej knew Jesper had been worried about her last night, it was time to get up and face the world. Inej felt her stomach twist in pleading motion at the mention of food, she couldn’t recall when she’d last ate. Sometime after the battle at sea she had eaten some stale crackers while keeping watch; that must have been the last thing. Her body was angry with her. Inej sighed and Kaz cracked his eyes open slightly upon hearing her breath.

 

            “Give us a few minutes,” Inej called softly to Jesper. She heard his footsteps soften on their way down the hall. Kaz’s hair was sticking up in odd angles and there was a shadow at his sharp jawline. Inej wanted to kiss her way along it and make maps on his skin with her lips. Her grogginess made it even more appealing.

 

            “Wraith,” Kaz rasped, sleep lacing his voice. Inej couldn’t help but smile a bit. Kaz was here, even if her world felt wrong, he was right. Inej’s mind was slowly waking up, recalling what she needed to do today. She needed to lay three crew members to rest on a body boat for reapers barge. Carn. Aubree. Shila. That was their names. A splinter spread in the glass that was trying desperately to hold her heart together. No. Inej had to pick herself back up. She needed to be a captain today, strong and kind. Inej needed to hold her head high, even when her heart sat low.

 

Inej remembered something her father had once told her: “Loss is a terrible friend who never writes ahead or knocks. Loss only barrels into our space and demands to be seen and heard. When loss visits, we offer it tea, we listen and chat and cry. Then, time passes. Eventually, loss will only send us letters. Those letters will still hurt, remind us of who was once here, but it will no longer be sitting across from us demanding our attention. We will continue to live, Inej.”

 

            Inej had to continue to live her life. There was so much to live for. All the people she could yet save. The man warming the space beside her. Her parents, her friends.

 

            Inej took a deep breath once more, acknowledging loss with a teary smile. She’d listen now.

 

            “Morning, Kaz.” Inej mumbled, her eyes tracked his hand as it reached for hers. She met him half way, the feel of his palm in hers wrapped a comforting warmth around her tired bones.

 

            “Are you okay?” Kaz asked, dark eyes traced her face. It was as if Kaz was committing her lines to memory, the way she had done with his countless times. Inej wasn’t sure how to answer. She was okay. She was not okay. She settled for the only truth she knew.

 

            “I will be.” Inej whispered, rubbing his knuckles with her thumb, her eyes fell to their clasped hands on the gray sheets between them.

 

Copper and pale marble linked in a lover’s embrace.

 

“Shall we get up before Jesper makes his frustration known?” Kaz asked and Inej’s lips quirked up.

 

“I suppose, though it would be fun to see him have to shoot the lock open in his own house. Wylan would hang him.” Inej mused and Kaz chuckled. His laugh was a delicious noise to hear in the morning, Inej determined.

 

            “Can you go ask Wylan if I can borrow a sweater from him to wear? My pants will be fine for now. I’ll get my clothes from the ship today.” Inej asked. While Inej was a confident girl, she did not particularly want the jokes that would come from strolling down the halls of the Van Eck mansion in Kaz’s shirt. Only Kaz’s shirt.

 

            Kaz hummed a confirmation and Inej forced her bones into motion. She let go of his hand and sat up, rolled her shoulders back, twisted her neck to relieve knots from sleep and forced her chin up. Inej swung her legs out of the sheets and took one more deep breath. She felt the weight of a hand come up to her back from the bed behind her. Kaz rubbed circles in the base of her spine and Inej closed her eyes at the motion.

 

            “I’ll go get a sweater from Wylan for you, you do what you need to.” Kaz rasped and she felt a flutter in her gut. Kaz was being gentle. It was still an odd thing to match up his pieces.

 

            Rietveld and Dirtyhands were such opposites, yet the same soul housed them both.

 

            Kaz stood up stiffly, running a hand over his mussed hair. He somewhat succeeded in bending the raven black strands to his will. Inej watched him as he put on his belt before he grabbed his blazer and threw it on over his bare chest, Inej didn’t know what it was about the look, but it sent heat into her veins. Kaz was attractive always, it wasn’t a question; but something about Kaz in the morning made her want to beat their battles with even more ferocity so they could be closer sooner. Kaz noticed her staring and ran a hand over his hair one more time, his eyes asking “flat?” and Inej nodded, her cheeks stretched into a smile. She still couldn’t believe she’d kissed him, that he’d kissed her.

 

            She’d been right, Kaz Brekker’s lips had been worth the wait. She was ruined for anyone else. It was him and that was that. Her heart had known it for some time, her body was catching up.

 

            Kaz returned a few minutes later while Inej attempted to wrangle her dark tresses into the unison of a braid at her vanity. Kaz laid a black sweater on the bed for her and came up behind her in the mirror. Inej didn’t want to think on the coincidence that Wylan had lent her a black sweater for this day. Kaz held out his hand for her brush and Inej gave it to him; grateful to allow a tender hand to her head. She had been ripping at her own scalp mercilessly. Inej watched Kaz as he brushed her hair, she noticed the faint smile on his lips threatening to make an appearance. Kaz enjoyed touching her hair, she knew this. She suspected it was because it was a way for him to touch her that held no danger at all. She found she enjoyed it very much as well.

 

            Once her hair had been tamed by Dirtyhands himself, Inej turned around and hugged Kaz around his waist, his blazer still protecting her skin from brushing his, she did not lean her head into his stomach from her sitting position, just in case. Inej didn’t know what a touch to him there would do, if it would cause the room to flood in his mind’s eye. Kaz placed his arms around her shoulders and Inej didn’t hide the way her eyes skimmed the muscles of his abdomen. She made a promise to herself that she’d touch him there someday.  That they’d make it that far and further.

 

            “Jesper is going to come up here if we don’t get moving and I’d hate to leave blood stains on the carpet for Wylan’s maids when he regrettably makes me irritable.” Kaz mumbled from above her. Inej rolled her eyes and let him go.

 

            A few minutes later, Inej was clad in Wylan’s soft sweater, her unfortunate pants, and once again armed. It wasn’t much in the face of the day ahead of her, but she felt better. Kaz was dressed and waiting for her by the door, he offered her his arm as they made their way downstairs for breakfast. Inej could feel his questions in the air. She’d made them all a promise to tell them what had happened.

 

            Loss was still occupying her table, demanding attention. Inej would invite the people who’d pulled her up from her knees to sit and listen too. Inej would get through today and live.

 

            The windows in the Van Eck dining room depicted a stormy day ahead for Ketterdam. Inej said good morning to Wylan and Jesper and settled down into a chair at the table beside Kaz.

 

Inej knew she was looking at the waffles as if they were a long lost lover. She thought she understood Nina’s relationship with food a little better in that moment.

           

“What’s the time?” Inej asked as she took a sip of coffee after a few blissful bites of food. Inej knew Jesper was itching to ask her what had happened but one look from Kaz in his direction had allowed her a few moments of blessed silence to nurture her angry stomach. She had to keep an eye on the time, she would need to be back at the docks by nine bells to meet Specht and the rest of her crew. They would send off the fallen together. Inej also needed to retrieve her clothes.

 

“Half seven.” Kaz said beside her. Inej nodded, her eyes caught on the first flakes of snow falling to the ground outside the window, she was glad to be off the Sea with winter plunging its talons into autumn’s dying heart.

 

“Did you rest alright?” Wylan asked, a clink of silverware on his plate was the drumroll lead up to Inej’s story. It was time.

 

“Yes, thank you. I wish I hadn’t scared you all, I hadn’t slept in three days and I just needed to come home.” Inej said softly, she knew Kaz understood that much already. She felt his hand rest on her knee below the table, it was new. A private gesture of encouragement. Inej once again leaned into his strength and reached within for her own. With a deep breath, Inej began.

 

She told them of “The Serendipity”, of how she’d not been stealthy enough. Of how she’d failed. Her words had hitched in her throat when she told them of the bodies of innocent people she’d found in the hold. People she was meant to save. She hadn’t been quick enough to spare them the fate that found them. Shame coated her chest cavity, as violent a crimson as their blood had been. Kaz’s hand squeezed her leg when she couldn’t breathe evenly over the words. She let him pull her back from the nightmares. She told them of how she’d murdered the Captain and his men alone. They died by saintly blades, the only reprieve they deserved.

 

            Jesper had been about to speak but Inej had to finish, she cut him off. She told them next of “The Gilded Crown” and the battle that shook her to her very core. Inej had never seen as much blood on her own hands as she had that night. Both physically and metaphorically. Inej told them how she fired first, to save her crew, to save the children she had rescued from the third vessel she had targeted on her crusade. Inej hadn’t weighed the chance that the attacking ship could have also had stolen people aboard.

 

            It had. “The Gilded Crown” also had a brig of enslaved people. In the midst of battle, Inej hadn’t even thought of it. An oversight Inej was paying dearly for in her heart. It had been a sinful sacrifice of innocence to preserve life.

 

Saints, please forgive me, the stolen did not deserve the death they met by my hand.

 

 Inej hadn’t discovered that information until the aftermath of the battle, when the opposing ship was sinking under the weight of The Wraith’s fire power. Inej had saved her crew, spared the lives of all those on board her ship. She’d sacrificed many others. Inej’s voice cracked when she admitted her failure to those people too. She did not look up from where her gaze had locked on the coffee pot. Her eyes were blurry but she would not cry again, not now.

 

She heard Wylan whisper something like “Oh, Inej.” She felt Jesper’s buzzing energy, he was holding himself back. She knew Jesper just wanted to reassure her, tell her that it was not her fault that people were stolen in the first place.

 

Inej knew that it wasn’t her fault, perhaps in time she would be able to recognize it clearly. It did not stop the boulders of shame from dropping heavily to her chest now.

 

Inej knew Kaz understood that. She felt in in his silence. Kaz would not tell her not to feel how she felt. He knew that was not how she worked; her faith and her spirit had to guide her in this maneuver of forgiveness within herself. Instead, Kaz lent her strength to carry the weight until she could drop it herself. It was within every brush of his thumb against her knee, the gentle squeezes.

 

Inej told them of her crew that had lost their lives protecting others, fighting alongside her. Never giving up, never yielding in the face of death.

 

“I have to go send them off to rest here shortly. It’s the least I can do.” Inej finished solemnly. It was only at the end of the bloody tale that she dared to look up. Wylan had sympathy written all over his face, as did Jesper. Kaz looked like he wanted to kill things, his own version of empathy.

 

“Do you want us to come with you?” Wylan asked gently.

 

“No. I appreciate the sentiment, but I need to do it alone. I’m their captain. I need… I need to say goodbye with my crew.” Inej said. Jesper nodded along with Wylan.

 

“We’re here for you, ‘Nej.” Jesper said, his silver eyes narrowed on her. She knew they were here. Inej managed to work her face into something like a smile for them. It was going to be a long day. Kaz squeezed her knee again.

 

Saints, she loved these people.

 

“There’s a letter for you, by the way.” Jesper said and he reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. She was grateful for the change in subject. Inej took it from him and noticed the ravkan post mark first, then she saw the script displaying her name. Inej would recognize it anywhere. Mama.

 

“When did this arrive?” Inej asked as she began to tear open the envelope, her posture straightened immediately, her body perking back up. She hadn’t thought of it during her voyage much and most certainly not since she’d been on land; but she had taken Kaz’s advice before she’d set sail. Inej had invited her parents to visit her in Ketterdam while she was docked. It wasn’t until Inej was holding this envelope that she realized just how much she wanted a hug from Papa, the kind where he picked her up off her feet and spun her around. How much she longed to hear Mama’s soothing hum as she made pan bread. Inej clung to the hope that they had accepted her invitation as she pulled the letter out of its confines.

 

“About two weeks ago, noticed the date on the post mark showed they sent it about a month ago. Makes sense, port to port post can be slow. My Da’s letters take forever from Noyvi Zem.” Jesper shrugged. Inej anxiously scanned the lines of her mother’s elegant script. Something in Inej rose back to life as she read in her native language. Inej reached the end of the letter, she felt a smile bloom on her cheeks.

 

“Good news?” Kaz asked from beside her. Inej felt contentment stretch its legs within her.

 

“My parents are on their way here.” Inej answered in a whisper wrapped in elation.

 

The sky had been gray in Inej’s mind these past weeks; but now, sitting here with her friends and the boy she loved, with the promise of her parent’s arrival, the sun dared to peek through its downcast curtain. It bathed Captain Inej Ghafa in a brazen gold hue of hope for a better tomorrow.

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            “The red one.” Kaz explained to the man behind the counter. The vendor handed Kaz the bottle and he left kruge on the counter and walked out of the shop to the snow covered street. Kaz wasn’t entirely sure what he was doing, but he hoped it was a good decision. Kaz slipped the bottle of Kvas into the bag he had picked up from the eatery on sixth just prior to this stop.

 

            The street lamps cast the snow blanketed streets in a glow as Kaz began to make his way back to the Slat. The streets were still busy despite the weather and hour- It was just after eight bells. Kaz had spent most of the day after Inej left to be with her crew overseeing finishing touches to the expansion of the Crow Club. It was set to open to the public in less than a week and Kaz was proud of it. Wylan had assured him that the “flow” was right when Kaz had brought him to see it the week prior. Kaz didn’t know when he’d started valuing the opinion of the ginger but he didn’t find a good enough reason within himself to deny it.

 

            Kaz entered the Slat and found Anika perched on the bottom step of the stairs with Pim.

 

            “Boss.” Pim looked up and Kaz inclined his head, the only greeting he ever gave.

 

            “Club’s already packed, pigeons getting out of the cold. Headed there now to back up Rotty and the bouncers. Roeder left a missive for you, it’s on your desk.” Anika said as she laced up a boot and shrugged on her coat.

 

            “Good. Make sure we run the specials at the bar, liquor warms the cold. I want the patrons flushed in anything but kruge by the time the sun rises.” Kaz rasped as he set the bag he had been carrying down and walked into his office to check Roeder’s missive.

 

            “Are you dealing tonight?” Pim asked from behind him.

 

            “No. I’ll be dealing tomorrow when the winter tourist ship from Noyvi Zem arrives, though. I don’t want a single interruption this evening unless it is crucial. Do you understand?” Kaz said sharply and turned back to Pim and Anika standing in his office doorway.

 

            “Got it.” Anika said and Pim nodded, though Kaz didn’t miss how they eyed the bag sitting on the ground.

 

            “Big plans?” Pim asked easily, Kaz knew they would have known Inej had returned to Ketterdam by now, her ship was distinguishable in the harbor. Kaz still didn’t want them pestering in his business. Kaz’s glare had them shutting the front door to the Slat within seconds, eager to walk away. Kaz knew that Pim had just been looking for comradery. Friendship, even. Kaz had never been that to the Dregs, not as their lieutenant under Per Haskell, and not now as their leader. Kaz didn’t regret it now, and he hadn’t regretted it then. Kaz had friends, two to be exact, three if he counted Zenik. That was enough to handle, more than enough. Kaz had accepted it, but it was a strange thing to think about. Inej was also his friend, but she was so much more. Inej was his partner, in business and life.

 

            Kaz read Roeder’s note- it was exactly what he had expected. The mercher they were going to target for a particularly large haul was precisely where Kaz wanted him. The mercher was new-money, an easy target who was not yet wary of the dangers of Ketterdam. Kaz wouldn’t have bothered targeting him until it became clear he had a rather large collection of rare and exquisite jewels. The mercher had made quite the name for himself in the acquisition of opals and diamonds in Shu Han prior to moving to Ketterdam. Kaz felt giddy at the idea of fencing those stones. Kaz could care less for gems- he preferred his assets in cash.

 

            A few minutes later, Kaz made his way to the attic. He set the bag down on his desk and shrugged out of his coat and hung it on the hook. Kaz wasn’t sure when Inej would arrive, but he hoped soon. He’d asked if she wanted to join him at the Slat tonight and she had agreed. He also hoped she was well, the day had promised to be tiring for her. Kaz knew that. Inej was empathetic to her core, eternally devoted to her mission and to the people that relied upon her. Kaz didn’t understand where that goodness came from, he held none of it within himself. Kaz did understand loyalty, though. Kaz respected Inej even more for her choice to send the fallen members of her crew off as a Captain should. Alone with the other members. Kaz didn’t believe in funerals, that much was obvious, but Kaz knew some part of Inej did. He’d be here for her when and if she needed him.

 

            Kaz hung his blazer in the wardrobe and straightened his tie and vest. Kaz lit the candles and the lamp on his desk and as he blew out the match, he felt her near. He pulled the bottle of kvas out as well as the two glasses he kept in his desk. A moment later the window clicked open and Inej slipped silently inside his room. There were snowflakes melting in her hair and she had a light flush to her cheeks. It made him want to move closer to her. Inej dropped a small leather bag next to her feet before she looked up to him. She didn’t speak but her eyes danced over him and left him with a flutter in his stomach. Kaz still wasn’t quite used to recognizing the hunger in her eyes for him- he still didn’t understand it. How could she want him as much as he wanted her? Kaz had worn his best tie and vest though. It was only for her, a hope to make a terrible few days better.

 

            Inej shrugged off her coat, it was then that she noticed the food laid on the desk, the bottle of wine. It was red, her favorite. Kaz preferred bourbon to wine, but he knew Inej liked kvas, and rum when she was pirating. A smile broke freely on her face.

 

            “For me?” Inej asked softly, her bronze hand traced the bottle of wine. She was looking at the small kindness like it was a far bigger gift than it was.

 

            “No. I thought I’d drink it myself in front of you and then I’d eat all the dessert waffles too.” Kaz quipped and Inej chuckled and mumbled something that sounded like “shevrati” under her breath.

 

            “That would be an unfortunate decision, I’d be forced to take my leave and go back to Jesper and Wylan’s. You’d never admit it but you’d miss me and regret it.” Inej wore a smug little smile as her eyes met his. Kaz was struck by the way the dim lighting heightened the gold in her irises.

 

            Her eyes were the summer heat that could surely melt the snow outside his window if she wished it so.

 

            “I’ll admit it then. I missed you and don’t leave. The wine and the food is for both of us.” Kaz rasped eagerly and honestly. He didn’t even think a second longer on the admission, he wanted her to know. Kaz saw the surprise of his honesty pass over Inej’s features but it earned him a smile that was all his.

 

            “Good to know you’ve come to your senses.” Inej chuckled as she sat in the chair in front of his desk to unlace her boots.

 

            Kaz smiled to himself as he settled into his own desk chair and began to unpack the dinner he’d picked up for them. After he’d placed the food out, he realized Inej was staring at him.

 

            “What, Wraith?” Kaz asked as he tossed the takeout bag into the bin below his desk.

 

            “You bought me dinner.” Inej said simply, as if it all made sense as to why she was looking at him with something akin to wonder in her eyes. He’d never tire of that look.

 

            “I’m pretty sure over half the time we staked out for jobs and got dinner- I foot the bill, Inej.” Kaz felt his lips quirk up.

           

            “That didn’t mean the same as this. This is dinner across a table from you with nowhere else to be. This is dinner with you because you want to spend the time with me the way I always wanted to spend the time with you.” Inej voiced confidently, her admission surprised him. It was also not entirely true. Inej was incorrect because perhaps once it was just work as colleagues and grabbing food to fuel themselves. But somewhere along the way in Inej’s time in the Dregs, Kaz had waited to eat those meals with her. He wanted to spend as much time with her as possible, even if it was very little. He wanted to pay because Inej was… Inej was more. Kaz couldn’t pick an exact moment where it had changed, but it had.

 

            “I used to wait to eat until our stakeouts if we had one planned. I wanted to spend time with you, Inej. I told myself it wasn’t the case but it was.” Kaz whispered as he began unscrewing the bottle of kvas. Inej was looking at him intently, he felt her eyes on him. Kaz looked up to see a smiling wraith, already nibbling on a bread roll. Inej didn’t respond but he could see the happiness in her eyes. It had been an admission for an admission. He didn’t regret sharing that truth.

           

            They sat in their comfortable sort of silence for a few minutes, beginning their meal. Inej was sipping her kvas when she seemed to remember something. She paused and reached into her pocket, she took out her own journal. It was identical to the one he had to give her. Inej pushed it across the desk to him before her hand made a motion that said “give me”. Kaz suppressed a smile at the motion before he reached into his desk drawer and took out the one for her, he placed it in her hand. Inej smiled and he noticed her do a somewhat giddy bounce in her seat. Kaz rolled his eyes but she was smiling and taking another bite of potatoes as she began reading his letters to her. Kaz decided he didn’t want to watch her reactions, he didn’t entirely remember everything he’d written. He knew he’d been drunk on at least one occasion when he’d written to her. Instead, Kaz opened the journal she had given him and opened to the first letter she’d written.

 

            She mentioned traveling to Ravka with him again. She missed him. Kaz felt his lips form a smile as he read the next letter and the next. He snuck a glance at Inej when she laughed. She laughed the laugh.

 

How could something he’d written garner such an exquisite reaction? He didn’t care. Inej was home and it felt like the barrel was a bit brighter in it’s dark corner of the world.

 

Kaz came to a letter when Inej herself had been drunk on rum and he couldn’t hold back the laughter when he saw she’d accidentally started writing in suli only to cross it out and repeat herself in kerch for him. She had written that she wanted to kiss him or throttle him and Kaz laughed harder than he had in a long time. Inej was glaring at him from across the desk, but he saw through it. Her eyes were lit up with amusement and her cheeks were flush from kvas.

 

Ghezen, he couldn’t stop thinking about kissing her again. Maybe knowing the feeling of her lips against his was a curse. How was he supposed to live up to his horrendous reputation for violence when all he cared about was the softness of Inej’s mouth pressed against his own?

 

“Your birthday is January ninth? Mine is April thirteenth. I will consider your birthday request. The suli do celebrate them. Get over it.” Inej said with a smile as she read and Kaz felt his skin warm. He rolled his eyes and he filed Inej’s birthday under a tab marked “to-remember” within his mind.

 

They continued to read in mostly silence, except for the occasional laugh. Inej reached her hand across the desk to him and he took it easily, brushing his thumb over the top of her hand. Kaz came to the last letter Inej had written and he felt unease in his gut as he read of Inej’s shame. She’d shared it all with him, her anger, her rage, her broken heart. Somehow, reading it from Inej’s past self on her ship, made her reaction to seeing him, after the sea battle had also occurred, make much more sense.

 

Kiss me until I forget this pain. Hold me together, Kaz.

 

Kaz felt an acute pain slice through his chest. He pictured Inej in the Crow’s nest on her ship, writing him, missing him. Kaz would hold her together and he’d practice kissing her every moment he was allowed, until someday she would forget that pain. Kaz wanted to kill every last man that Inej had felled all over again, he wanted them to pay for the pain they’d caused her.

 

He was glad they were dead by Inej’s steady hand. He would have bought a ship for himself to hunt them down, otherwise.

 

Kaz closed the book and he found Inej staring out the window, she clearly knew what her last letter had been. She was avoiding looking at him, he felt it in her silence. He saw it in the turn of her face away from him. Inej was not hiding because she didn’t wish for him to see her shame, she was avoiding looking at her shame again for herself. It was too fresh, Kaz realized.

 

Kaz let go of her hand and stood from his side of the desk and limped around to her. She did not look at him. Kaz put both of his hands in front of him. Stand with me? Inej placed her hands in his and let him pull her to her feet. Kaz pulled her close to him and wrapped his arms tightly around her, he knew she was surprised but her arms gripped him tightly around his waist.

 

Kaz would hold her together as she mended herself from within. Inej would never know that she’d held him together for a long time now; but he was slowly stitching his parts back together for her. This embrace was proof enough.

 

He’d pull himself into some semblance of a man for her.

 

INEJ

 

            Inej picked up the rubbish from their dinner on Kaz’s desk and felt his eyes on her. She didn’t know how long she’d stood circled in Kaz’s arms, letting him keep her pieces together once again, but she felt better. Inej was happy to be home.

 

            Inej threw away the containers and made her way to her bag, she noted Kaz undoing his tie and hanging it on a rack with the others in his wardrobe. His lines were perfect, Inej thought. She wondered how he found such an excellent tailor for his suits, how he never failed to look as if a blade itself would run in fear of his sharpness. Inej’s eyes moved from Kaz to the bed, where her emblem was hung above it. A smile cracked on her lips at the sight, it was a testament to the two people who would lay down beneath it tonight. If Inej was honest, she would spend every night on land here with Kaz. It frightened her. Not because of the realization, but because she recognized how soon it was for something like that.

 

Then again, she thought, had it really been soon at all? How long had she felt these feelings for Kaz? How long had she craved the company of his crooked grins and harsh lines? His terrible truths? His confident demeanor that hid kindness beneath? Inej didn’t know for sure, but it had started long ago, she realized. Of that, she was certain.

 

Inej wouldn’t ask him for that, though. She wouldn’t ask to stay with him exclusively when she was docked. Kaz had to decide he wanted her here when she was on land, it was his space. It was something for him to ask. Inej did love spending time at the Van Eck mansion, too. Jesper and Wylan were excellent friends and wonderful housemates, but something about sleeping alone when Kaz was in the same city seemed like a waste. It was a victory for Inej. She no longer cringed at the thought of sharing a bed with a man, so long as that man was Kaz. Inej wondered if Kaz had thought about it. It wouldn’t be moving in together, per say. Inej was gone much of the year. In a way, it was a step toward that, though. Even here in the attic that Inej had felt everything from rage to love inside of.

 

            Inej took out half of her clothes she’d taken from the ship, the other half she’d already taken back to the Van Eck mansion to get laundered and put away in her room there. Inej took the bundle of clothes and went to her drawer in Kaz’s dresser. When she opened it, she smiled. There were two more of Kaz’s shirts inside, waiting for her. Inej turned her head and found Kaz leaning against the wardrobe looking at her. He shrugged, his eyes displayed the words. You’d take them if you wanted them anyways, so I gave them to you.Inej smiled as she took a shirt of his out and replaced it with her own clothes inside. Inej also took out the sleep trousers that were far too long for her. Inej wondered vaguely what Kaz would do if she changed her clothes right here, in front of him. He’d probably look away. She was grateful for it, but she also wished it wasn’t a necessary concession to her trauma.

 

Inej wanted to be a girl who could relish under his gaze and feel confident and free to do as she wished in the privacy of the bedroom belonging to the man she loves. She would do that, someday she decided. Her demons hold on her had been loosening, and she would break free.

 

Inej made her way into the bathroom and smiled at Kaz as she walked by. He was unbuttoning his vest and Inej resisted the urge to pause and do it herself. Someday.

 

Inej opened the bathroom door a few minutes later after changing and sat on the counter as Kaz came in to brush his teeth. Inej took the time to tell him her parents would be here within three days’ time, maybe slightly more or less depending on the winds at sea. She saw him freeze slightly at the mention of their visit. Was Kaz nervous? He’d met her parents already. He’d actually made a great impression on them. It’s why her parents liked him, despite his line of work. They knew who Kaz was, but Inej knew they felt gratitude to the boy who had gotten her out of the Menagerie, they had told her as much.

 

“What is it?” Inej asked as Kaz splashed water over his face and patted it dry with a towel from the hook.

 

“I need to get a haircut.” Kaz mumbled. Inej quirked her head in confusion. He did not look like he needed a haircut, she also didn’t know why that seemed to be an important thought now. Inej reached out a hand, she made sure he saw her coming and she ran it over the side of his head very lightly, the shorter pieces soft under her palm. He moved to stand in front of her and she parted her knees to make room for him in the small bathroom.

 

“It doesn’t look any longer than you usually keep it.” Inej stated.

 

“I… I just want to…I’ll just look my best then when they arrive.” Kaz was looking down and toying with a stray string on the hem of his shirt that she was wearing. Inej smiled then, she felt a flush grace her chest. Kaz was nervous. He wanted to make a good impression now because they were lovers; he wanted her parents to accept him for their daughter. Inej wondered if she should tell him that her parents had already decided Kaz was more than a friend to her the moment they’d seen Inej interact with him. Inej hadn’t been able to figure out how Mama had known, but in private, she had asked Inej why she and Kaz were not together. Inej hadn’t had an answer back then. It had been the same day Kaz had held her hand for the first time. Inej hadn’t known what the future could yet hold.

 

“Kaz they like you. I didn’t lie to you.” Inej whispered. Kaz flicked his gaze up to her, they were eye to eye with her on the sink, or at least much closer to it. Inej traced the scar above his lip with her eyes and she watched her words sink into him. Kaz wouldn’t believe her so easily, Inej knew that, but it was a start. Inej was nothing but excited to reintroduce Kaz to her parents. This time, she would introduce him as her avri. Avri meant “partner” in suli. Her heart picked up pace at the thought.

 

“I’m sure they’ll come to their senses.” Kaz mumbled and Inej giggled.

 

“I didn’t, shevrati.” Inej mused with a playful nudge of her knee into his waist. It earned her a small smile from Kaz’s lips. Inej wanted to kiss him again, desperately.

 

“Avri, my partner.” Inej tested the words in her mouth and Kaz tilted his head in question.

 

“It’s how I’ll reintroduce you to my parents.” Inej answered his unspoken question.

 

Inej thought her heart stopped when Kaz repeated the word back to her in a whisper, his eyes were on her neck as he spoke.

 

Inej was struck with the memory of another bathroom, another sink, another moment.

 

She moved her braid off of her shoulder with a flick, Kaz’s eyes tracked the movement before narrowing back on the pulse point in her neck. Inej was inviting him to rewrite that part of the story.

 

“Go on.” Inej whispered just as she once had.

 

Kaz swallowed and leaned his head down, Inej clutched the bathroom counter at her sides, but she did not go completely still the way she had the first time he’d ever done this.

 

All thoughts left her mind when she felt Kaz’s lips at the juncture between her shoulder and neck. He kissed her once, twice, three times. He paused, taking a deep breath before he began kissing a line up her throat.

 

Kaz left embers in the wake of his lips, leaving her skin burning for more.

 

Inej thought perhaps she’d died and the Saint’s had decided she was worthy of this reward in the after-life.

 

Kaz paused when he reached her jawline, her breathing was uneven, his was too. Kaz pulled back and looked her in the eyes before he leaned in once more.

 

A kiss on her lips was the punctuation point at the end of the story. The story of a moment on a bathroom counter, a year in the making.

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            “No you have to hold your hand steady or he’ll move away!” Inej was laughing and clutching the mug of tea Kaz had made for her downstairs in the kitchen of the Slat. It had earned him a very raised eyebrow by Arman, who had never once seen Kaz step foot in any rooms of the Slat besides the office and his attic floor. It seemed like Arman determined the tea was not for Kaz himself and that had kept him from uttering a word. Kaz had come back upstairs and they had been getting ready for bed when Inej heard the caws of her birds outside his window in the snow. She’d jumped to the bread drawer with a smile on her face that was so sincere that Kaz couldn’t help but come to the window with her.

 

            Kaz was still drunk on the feeling of her skin under his lips. Kaz had kissed her neck, her lips. He’d had to take some deep breaths, but he was learning what helped. Inej had not gone completely still, that had helped immensely. Kaz also knew that was a victory for her in her own internal battles. Her eyes before he kissed her always helped too.

 

They were so full of life it seemed to trick the ghosts that haunted him into looking the other way, knowing there was no death to be found here.

 

            “He hates me. He told me while you were away.” Kaz rasped in between chuckles as the crow cawed angrily at his unsteady dinner plate, also known as Kaz’s cupped hand. There were snowflakes blowing in from the open window and Inej was catching them in her palm and trying to inspect them before they melted.

 

            “My crows do not hate you. They just like me better.” Inej chuckled as she brought her hand up to see a snowflake that caught on the sleeve of his shirt she was wearing.

 

            “Ah we have something in common then, maybe the crows and I will bond after all.” Kaz observed as he shook the remaining bread crumbs from his hand and left the bird to pick them from the snow on the ledge.

 

            Inej laughed and a gust of snow blew in from the window on a strong harbor wind and she frowned when snowflakes landed in her mug of tea. She jutted her lip and Kaz chuckled freely at her expression.

 

            Inej balled up some snow from the ledge beside her and threw it at him before he could react. It hit him square in the cheek.

 

            “Rude.”

 

            “I never claimed that I had manners either.” Inej quipped with a sip of her tea.

 

            Kaz laughed and offered her his hand, she took it and he pulled her down from the ledge. He pulled the window closed behind her, it was a cold night for early winter. Kaz wondered if he should get his own fireplace put in, up here in the attic. It would be easy enough being it was the top floor beneath the roof. Kaz thought that might be nice, both for his leg and to enjoy with Inej.

 

            He was momentarily struck again how easily he’d fallen into planning things with Inej in mind in his future, even something like a fireplace. It should terrify him. It did once. It was starting to feel… normal. Easy.

 

            Kaz couldn’t imagine going back to the way his life had been before the Ice Court and all the revelations those months had brought. After the auction is when everything truly began to change, and now Kaz was here.

 

            Kaz was holding Inej’s bare hand and getting ready to lay down beside her after having dinner with her and kissing her. It was unexpected. It was a wish Kaz had made a million times over but never allowed himself to believe in.

 

            It was like the snowflakes Inej seemed to like so much. His life had a one in a million chance to take the exact shape and pattern it had before drifting from the sky- to either land on the ground beneath someone’s boot or to land on the delicate bronze hand of a girl who looked to the sky.

 

Kaz felt lucky, he felt like he’d beaten a game of odds against some deity. Whether Ghezen or Inej’s saints, he didn’t care.

 

Kaz watched as Inej made her way to the bed and slipped under the sheets, her eyes saying “you blow out the lamp and candles.” Kaz sighed and felt a pull on his cheek muscles at her smug grin. She made a show of making herself more comfortable.

 

“You know I’m a cripple right? I should be sitting down.” Kaz rasped.

 

“You know you survived for literally your whole life without me, right? Also, I’ve seen you take down fifteen men on a staircase. You’re not selling your incapability to me, Kaz Brekker.” Inej laughed and Kaz felt a spark light in his veins. Inej’s laugh always seemed to do that to him.

 

A few moments later, Kaz settled in beside Inej and listened to her talk about the day she’d had sending crew members off to Reaper’s barge. It seemed that the darkness and the warmth of the bed had emboldened her. It was now that she was comfortable and warm

beside him that she was able to talk about it. Overall it seemed that it had gone as planned, Inej said her crew was looking forward to three full months docked. One-month worth of land time in the past ten had been rough on everyone.

 

Kaz told her about the Crow Club expansion rooms opening the next week, which led to him finally telling her about the fact that he had cut Jesper a portion of ownership of the club.

 

“You have no idea how much that meant to him, Kaz.” Inej whispered. Kaz avoided her eyes, she was looking at him as if he were a good man. He wasn’t. She should know that by now.

 

“Why won’t you look at me?” Inej asked.

 

“Because you’re looking at me like I’m decent. I’m not, Inej.” Kaz answered softly, his voice coming out with more gravel than usual.

 

“You’re wrong.” At this, Kaz turned his head to look at her. Her face was peaceful, her brown eyes narrowed on him.

 

“I’m looking at you as if I’m in love with you. But if you’d prefer to deny the obvious, that it up to you, Kaz Brekker.” Inej mumbled. Kaz rolled his eyes but his stomach flipped. Kaz decided to change the subject.

 

“Are you putting your parents up in a hotel or are they staying at the house?” Kaz asked.

 

“The house. Jesper and Wylan insisted. Though I will admit they do have four spare bedrooms that are completely unused.” Inej smiled at the ridiculousness of it.

 

“I see.” Kaz mumbled, he wasn’t sure what he was doing. He also knew that Inej would surely want to stay at the house with her parents while they were in Ketterdam. Kaz had no idea if her parents would find him disrespectful for spending nights with her, whether her coming to the Slat or him coming to the house. Kaz also knew that they hadn’t explicitly decided to spend most nights together. If Kaz was brave enough, he’d admit that he wanted every night with Inej while she was on land.  Kaz wasn’t sure how Inej would react to him asking that of her, or if her demons within would allow that. It wasn’t lost on Kaz that he’d also been lucky thus far; he hadn’t awoken to a nightmare while Inej was beside him. If she were to stay every night with him… well he’d be tempting what was surely inevitable. If only he could figure out how she would feel about such an arrangement…

 

“Why are you scheming in bed while I’m here?” Inej whispered. He’d heard her and Jesper’s remarks about his “scheming face” before. Kaz wasn’t sure how his face altered when he concocted a plan but apparently it was a visible change. Kaz hadn’t realized he’d fallen so deep into his thoughts.

 

“It’s nothing.” Kaz responded, rolling to his side to face Inej.

 

“You are a great liar with everyone else, Kaz. Not me though.” Inej mumbled with a slight squint of her eyes.

 

Damn her. Inej was the most beautiful, infuriating creature he’d ever encountered. She was also the best spy, secret finder. Even with him.

 

Kaz took a steeling breath and dug around in his gut for a handful of courage and a pinch of boldness.

 

“Will I be able to spend any nights with you while your parents are here? I don’t want to be… disrespectful.” Kaz whispered. He didn’t think he’d ever once cared about being respectful to anyone besides Inej. The word felt foreign on his tongue, it tasted like he’d eaten something too salty. Dirtyhands wouldn’t give a damn if he was respectful. But this was Inej’s parents, he knew what it would appear they were doing if they spent nights together. Someday, Kaz reminded himself. Kaz refused to lose Inej because he couldn’t muster a bit of manners in the face of her family.

 

Inej looked thoughtful for a moment, something twinkled in her eyes. It was something happy, Kaz decided. She reached her hand out, palm up for him. Kaz took her hand in his own, interlacing their fingers and tracing over the small scar that lined her ring finger.

 

“First, you know I can climb, don’t you? I don’t need a door opened. If I wanted to spend the night with you, it would not require permission from anyone but you. I also know you can traverse rooftops when you want to, and I’ve seen you pick the lock on my window, shevrati.” Inej paused with a soft grin and squeezed his hand gently. Kaz scoffed but his lips pulled up slightly. “Second, my parents will know we are together. They would have no qualms with me spending my time with you as I see fit. It’s not… it’s not taboo in my culture. I’m of age and I chose you. You’re my avri, the person I choose and will choose over and over again. It makes sense for us to be together… in all ways. No one needs to know what we share privately. They also know where…. Where I came from before I met you. They know what I’ve been through. I think it will honestly bring them peace to know that my experience there, in the Menagerie, did not destroy my chance of finding happiness and love with a man I chose.” Inej finished with a smile on her face.

 

Kaz hadn’t considered it like that. Inej and Kaz were committed to each other and would tell her parents as much with the introduction of avri. Kaz knew only kerch practices, where it was often a scandal if a couple spent their nights together before marriage- at least in mercher families. He thought of Alys Van Eck who was not much older than himself who had been forced to marry Jan Van Eck by her own family. Kaz decided the suli had a much more refreshing view on how relationships worked. It wasn’t like Ketterdam was pious, far from it. Most lost their innocence early, at least in the barrel. Kaz had just wanted her parents to accept him, despite what he was.

 

Kaz still didn’t think he deserved an ounce of respect from them, but he hoped he could at least find a way for them to know that he loves their daughter.

 

“You’ll want to stay at the house while they are here.” Kaz stated, he hadn’t actually meant to say the words out loud. His voice had not hidden his disappointment. Inej was smiling unabashedly. Kaz didn’t know why.

 

“If you want to ask, you should. Brooding is not working for you, mera chaar.” She whispered.

 

Mera chaar. My moon. Inej had called him that in her letters. It made his skin warm, Inej had a name for him other than shevrati.

 

“What is the suli word for sea?” Kaz asked, his eyes focused on hers. Inej quirked her head slightly against the pillow.

 

“Nadra.” Inej whispered. Kaz moved his mouth into the word with no sound. Inej was watching him, he could feel her confusion emanating from her. She wanted him to ask something else, he knew that. He was going to.

 

            “When you wish to, mera nadra, would you stay here with me?” Kaz whispered. Inej’s eyes widened before a sparkling smile on her lips lit up the dark room.

 

INEJ

 

            Inej didn’t think she’d heard him correctly at first. He’d asked her, in his way, to stay here with him more often. Exclusively? Inej wasn’t positive that was what he was leading to, but she hoped so. She’d only thought of if he’d want that earlier this same night.

 

            Kaz had called her his sea. Mera nadra. The moon and the sea. Kaz knew where she’d chosen her term of endearment from. It was beautiful to hear her language from his lips. It meant everything to Inej.

 

            Inej decided to ask him now, what he wanted. Inej had already decided she’d prefer to be with him when she was on land. Kaz was home.

 

            “And what if I would prefer to be with you all nights when I’m on land?” Inej whispered, she felt her face warm but she did not let her eyes leave his. He had to know what she wanted, it was up to him whether he’d let go of his pride and admit the same to her. Or if he didn’t want that yet, Inej needed to know that too. She would not push him, she would understand. Inej would rather the truth from him, no matter what it was. Kaz’s eyes were trained on hers, she felt a hesitation in his finger that was brushing along her own.

 

            “I want you with me every night, Inej.” Kaz replied after a long moment. She saw the swallow he took before he spoke, this was Kaz without armor.

 

            “Then I will request one thing.” Inej smiled as his words slipped as soundlessly as she into her heart.

 

            “What is that?” Kaz asked quietly, a smile crept onto his face without his permission.

 

            “I want the fancy soap Wylan buys.” Inej chuckled.

 

            “You’re going to make me ask him where he gets it, aren’t you?” Kaz mumbled with a grimace.

 

            “Absolutely.” There was a smug grin she couldn’t stop from appearing on her lips. Inej didn’t know how her heart could fly so high while confined in her chest’s cage.

 

            “The deal is the deal, Inej.” Kaz answered softly, his brown eyes glinted in the filtering moonlight from the window.

 

            “To make it up to you, I cleared hangers for you in my wardrobe at the house. In case… In case we spend some nights there while my parents are here and otherwise.” Inej said. Kaz’s eyes widened, it was clearly not something he’d expected, despite the fact that he’d done the same for her here in the Slat.

 

            “Maybe my suits will be safe from moths, there.” Kaz quipped and Inej smacked his arm with her free hand and it made Kaz laugh. It was the smile with the dimple.

 

            If Inej could have, she’d have painted murals to honor that smile. It reminded her of the sky, of the way the wind whipped her hair when she stood in the Crow’s nest of her ship. It was freedom. That smile was freedom in its purest form, free from the weight of the world and the hand that had been dealt to him.

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            “Good morning,” Inej chirped as she walked into Kaz’s office. Kaz had seen her enter through the front door of the Slat; he appreciated the discretion. While the most trusted members of the Dregs knew of his and Inej’s involvement- the other members did not. Inej primarily used the window to enter his attic rooms anyways so nothing of their routine had truly been disrupted with the secret. It almost made Kaz laugh to think of the fact that Inej would be sleeping above them all, with him no less, and half the gang was none the wiser.

 

            “Wraith,” Kaz rasped and he looked up to find Inej dressed and ready for the day, holding two cups of coffee. Inej handed him one and Kaz smiled. Inej must have woken and gotten ready and left to get them coffee. Kaz had been up for hours, but he’d let Inej sleep. He figured she needed it after the day she had prior in combination with the tumultuous time she’d had her last days on sea. Kaz noticed she looked brighter today; sleep, a warm shower and clean clothes in combination with a personal armory strapped to your body could do that to a person, he supposed. Inej sat down in a chair across from his desk.

 

            “So, tell me. What have we got in the way of work? Any information for me regarding the trade, Mr. Brekker?” Inej asked as she sipped her coffee. Her eyes were bright with the promise of work. Kaz relished in it.

 

            This was the second reunion. This was their reunion as business partners, as Dirtyhands and the Wraith.  

 

            “I have something for you to read. I’ve also been sending Roeder on recon to watch Tante Heleen when I could spare him. This is the last thing he was able to intercept but I wanted to work with you exclusively on the information. I got it two days prior to your return. Roeder has been waiting to intercept a response ever since.” Kaz rasped and he pulled out the copy of the letter from Charles Hester to Tante Heleen from his desk, Kaz had Roeder place the original back into the post so they could find out if Heleen responded once she received it.

 

            Inej read the letter quickly, her eyes widened at the same spot his own eyes had when he read it. Inej shook her head angrily.

 

            “They failed at sinking me. Bastards.” Inej mumbled. Kaz loved to hear her curse. It was a genuine delight. He just wished it wasn’t because of the same people who haunted her nightmares.

 

            “I want to intercept Heleen’s response before we make a further move. We need to find out when and if she is going to meet him, that way if his employer deigned to join the meeting, we can learn his identity. I’ve done some digging on Henrik, I suspect he was kerch born on his accent alone, but he either gave a false name or it was an incorrect assumption. Both are possible.”  Kaz said and he folded his gloved hands in front of him on the desk and watched as Inej thought over the new information.

 

            “I’m taking point on the intel. I want Roeder to watch Heleen and intercept any missives she decides to send in response to that letter, but I’m going to keep a closer eye on Hester. I want to know which girls he sees at the Vixen’s Garden, they could prove a good source of information and I might be able to help them.” Inej said confidently. Kaz felt a pleasant shiver dance down his spine. Inej was scheming alongside him once more.

 

            Fuck I love this woman and her mind.

 

            “He frequents the Garden on Friday nights, right? We’ll stake it out to see who he visits. Also, I want a glimpse of the madam who runs the garden, what was her name? Vask?” Inej was swirling the end of her braid between her fingers, her jaw was locked. Kaz wondered if this was the wraith’s scheming face. When he thought on it, it was. He’d seen this look on her face many times. Even the night he’d crawled to her window to apologize and he’d seen her planning her route for her voyage. It was the same look.

 

            Scheming face? Definitely.

 

            “I’ll stake it with you.” Kaz said in response, a small grin threatening his collected demeanor.

 

            Inej looked up to him now and he saw a matching smile on her face.

 

This is where it all started, Kaz realized. Somewhere along the way, Kaz noticed those smiles while they sat in his attic and schemed impossible jobs. Then they pulled them off, together. In those moments, Kaz’s breath had begun to hitch every time she entered a room, in anticipation of everything that was Inej. Thankfully, no one had ever noticed that.

 

Kaz was about to tell her about the jewel heist he was also planning when a knock sounded on the door to his office.

 

“Enter.” Kaz grimaced. He’d been enjoying talking business with his wraith. He was not yet caffeinated enough for other people who were not nearly as exquisite to listen to.

 

“Boss just a missive-” Rotty popped his head into the room and paused when he saw Inej sitting in front of the desk.

 

“Wraith! You’ve returned to us from the sea!” He exclaimed with a grin. Kaz watched Inej smile and say hello and Kaz realized he was grateful that Rotty now knew of their relationship, that he knew Inej was committed to himself. Otherwise, Kaz would have wanted to kick him out of the room for earning that smile from Inej. It was terribly territorial. Kaz desperately needed to drink more coffee. Mornings made him eager for bloodshed, when even he knew it was not deserved. Kaz had also made a habit of getting more sleep regularly because of Inej and it made him loathe mornings more than when he scarcely let himself slow down enough to sleep at all. Inej made laying down much more appealing.

 

“Missive.” Kaz gestured with his hand, breaking up Rotty’s reunion with Inej.

 

“Oh, right! Here.” Rotty stepped away from the doorway and handed Kaz the envelope.

 

“Good to see you back, Inej.” Rotty inclined his head and Inej did the same before Rotty left the room and closed the door behind him.

 

Kaz skimmed the letter, it was the expected numbers for the bar sales at the Club the night before. Kaz would go over them later. He felt Inej’s eyes on him and he looked up to see her smiling. Kaz was about to ask her what it was for when another knock sounded on his door, this one in a rhythmic tone.

 

“For Ghezen’s sake, what?” Kaz rasped and he noticed Inej suppress a giggle at his reaction. He sent a glare her way before the door opened, which only made her grin wider.

 

“Morning, ladies and violence!” Jesper chirped from the open door way. Kaz wanted to strangle him and mangle all his violet polyester clad limbs. Inej chuckled once more at Kaz’s glare.

 

“Sorry to interrupt but I suspected I would find our wraith here,” Jesper paused and sent a smile and a wink Inej’s way. Kaz had no idea why Jesper was here before eleven bells in the morning.

 

“Good morning, Jes.” Inej said and she flicked her braid over her shoulder as she crossed one leg over the other, a sly smile on her face as she looked at Kaz.

 

“What, Jes?” Kaz sighed and ran a gloved hand over the side of his head.

 

“Oh I’m here because two acrobats showed up at my house this morning, Wylan was terribly embarrassed. You see, his hair was messed up because we’d been in the middle of some nefarious-” Jesper rambled but stopped when Inej held up her hand with a brilliant smile and disbelieving chuckles that stopped words from forming in her mouth. Kaz would taste those chuckles, soon. He promised himself that before Jesper’s words really sank in to him.

 

Inej’s parents. Here. Sooner than expected. Fuck.

 

“They’re here?” Inej finally got out. Jesper nodded, silver eyes shining with happiness right alongside Inej’s.

“They’re here early! I wanted to watch the docks I- I have to go!” Inej was bouncing on her feet, a smile permanently engraved into her cheeks.

 

Inej jumped up and set her coffee cup down on Kaz’s desk. Inej turned to him then.

 

“I um-” She started before Jesper cut her off.

 

“Dinner for the Ghafa’s, our house. Six bells.” Jesper said easily and Inej beamed like she’d just seen the sky for the first time. Kaz couldn’t help but nod to her, he managed a smile even though he felt anxiousness churn in his gut.

 

“I’ll see you tonight then.” Inej said softly as she glanced to the still cracked door to Kaz’s office. She moved quickly to stand beside Kaz in his chair and he looked up to her.

 

He saw it all there. There was a happiness in her eyes almost as profound as the day he’d reunited her with her parents for the first time. She looked as if the earth itself had told her it spun just for her. In that moment, only the sun could match the brightness he found in her eyes.

 

Kaz would pick the universe’s pockets to give her as many of these happy moments as possible. She deserved them all.

 

“Six bells.” Kaz confirmed and before he knew what she was doing, she left a feather light kiss on his cheek. She’d checked to make sure no one would see around his office door, he realized.

 

Inej damn near ran from his office, Jesper only gave him a knowing smile before he followed her out of the Slat.

 

Kaz was left with a gloved hand pressed to his face. Inej had surprised him, she hadn’t asked with words or her eyes. For the first time she’d kissed him on the cheek without a second thought or warning.

 

Kaz’s mind was gloriously dry. Not a drop of water.

 

INEJ

 

            The wind whipped Inej’s face as she jumped the last rooftop before she’d be on the street to the Van Eck Mansion. Jesper was somewhere far below on the streets, probably a few blocks behind her. Inej hadn’t been able to wait for him, her heart hadn’t allowed it.

 

            Mama and Papa were here. Waiting for her. Inej felt like her veins were filled with the wind, making her lighter and faster.

 

            Inej finally dropped to the ground in the alley way and made her way across the street to the mansion. Inej paused for a moment outside the house, she made sure her shirt sat straight, re-braided her hair quickly. She knew her parents would say something about her blades strapped to her body, but they’d seen them before. Inej knew it was only because it was still a jarring thing for them to see.

 

            Their daughter, The wraith of Ketterdam and Captain of the True Sea.

 

            Inej took a deep breath and felt a smile move back to her lips before she opened the front door of the house.

 

 

            After many hugs and tears, Inej had spent several hours telling her parents all about her first voyage at sea after she’d dropped them off in Ravka. Wylan and Jesper had made themselves scarce, leaving Inej to pour tea for her parents in the Van Eck sitting room. Inej couldn’t believe they were here, she couldn’t believe that tonight she would eat dinner in the same room as all of the most important people to her. Except Nina, but Inej had her in her heart and told herself once more that she would surely hear from Nina soon. Inej sent her parents off for a much needed shower and few hours’ rest before dinner this evening, the last few days of sea travel had been taxing on them with rough seas and the cold of winter creeping in around Kerch.

 

            Inej busied herself with a bath and unpacking a few of her laundered clothes, though, she wondered, how many she would actually leave in her room here now. Inej had every intent on bringing more of them to the Slat, even if she had to cram them into her drawer in Kaz’s dresser. The thought brought a smile to her face every time.

 

 It was nearing five bells and Inej was digging through her clothes; trying to decide on what to wear, if she’d wear one of her silk tops, when she heard a soft knock at her door.

 

“Come in,” Inej said and she turned to see Mama in the door way clutching a small bundle of cloth. Inej was struck with how well her mother was aging, her parents had been young when they had Inej, only twenty, but Sharya Ghafa looked barely a day over thirty despite pushing forty. Inej hoped she would age half as well as Mama. Her mother had the same perfect posture as Inej as well as the same lithe frame, but her mother was an inch or two taller than herself. Her mother looked much more rested, and clean. Her ebony hair was as long as Inej’s but she tended to keep it up in a bun high on her head. Her nose diamond always sparkled against her clear bronze complexion.

 

Inej remembered being small and always asking Mama when she could have her own nose pierced, Mama had let her have it done when she was thirteen. Inej wished she had a ring or diamond to put in now. Her piercing was still there, but she had not worn it since she left the Menagerie. Occasionally, Inej had put in a simple ring while she slept at the Slat in her time with the Dregs, just to make sure it never closed up. It hadn’t, Inej still had it even now. Inej had never worn it in public once she became the wraith. It would have been something that could catch the light in the shadows Inej was trying to become. It was too much of a risk.

 

“How are you, daughter?” Mama asked in suli. Inej felt a smile creep on her lips. It was nice to speak in her native language after strictly using kerch most of the time, with the occasional ravkan on her ship.

 

“Well, Mama.” Inej responded in suli as well. Both of her parents knew kerch fairly well, not quite as much as Inej, but it had been a useful language to know when they traveled to perform. Kerch was a common tongue that was used in almost all port cities in some capacity. Inej had learned kerch from them as well, but Inej hadn’t learned to read kerch until she joined the Dregs.

 

Kaz had tasked her with learning to read kerch so she could obtain information and comparatively leave him notes in a language he understood. Inej had succeeded, after some trial and error. Once, Inej had meant to leave Kaz a note that read “The mark will be out of Ketterdam from Tuesday to Sunday.” Instead, she’d written “The mark will be dead in Ketterdam from Tuesday to Sunday.” It was the first time she’d heard Kaz really laugh. Inej felt a flutter in her stomach at the memory.

 

“I brought you something.” Mama smiled and placed the bundle she’d been holding on the bed, the afternoon sunlight caught on the violet silk sash she was wearing across a long sleeved black shirt. Her mother was wearing black pants that cut off at the calves as well. They were the athletic material Inej was very familiar with. It was sweat wicking, perfect for acrobatics. Silks consisted of half of her mother’s wardrobe, the other half was clothes meant for the sky.

           

            Inej smiled and dropped the clothes she’d been holding and walked to stand beside her mother near the bed. Mama gestured with a delicate hand to open the cloth wrapped around the bundle. Inej untied the knot and felt her breath hitch.

 

            On the bed before her was a new silk top, a deep crimson color that reminded Inej of both blood and her favorite red kvas. It was in the same style as her others, it would sash around her chest and cut off just below her navel, one end would tie and hang over a shoulder, leaving the other bare. Underneath the top, was a bottom to the ensemble. Inej almost groaned, thinking her mother would want her to wear the traditional skirt, but then Inej noticed.

 

These were silk pants. Her mother had gotten pants made for her in silk. Inej wanted to cry. Inej had protested skirts her entire life, much to her mother and grandmother’s dismay. Her mother had come around.

 

Inej held them up and felt her mother’s gaze on her. The pants were the same color as the top, but form fitting and high waisted, they would land on the top of her hips right where Inej’s normal leggings would. They flared out at the bottom, giving the fabric some of the movement a skirt would without limiting movement.

 

“Mama this is beautiful. Thank you so much. It’s perfect.” Inej whispered in suli and looked to her mother who was beaming next to her.

 

“You are beautiful, you deserve to wear your culture how you wish. I should have conceded to this battle with you sooner.” Mama muttered and reached out a hand to tuck a stray strand of hair behind Inej’s hair. Inej smiled and moved to change into the new silks.

 

Inej felt Mama’s gaze on her as she laid her blades in order on the dresser, but she said nothing. Inej went to the bathroom and changed, the silk felt soft and rich and real on her skin. It was nothing like the cheap costume that she’d worn at the Menagerie. Inej hadn’t worn this much silk since before she’d been abducted and she had been worried she wouldn’t be able to handle it. Something about Mama’s presence though, lent Inej courage. It made the silk feel luxurious instead of trapping.

 

Inej exited the bathroom to find her mother sitting on her bed. She stood immediately and clapped a hand over her mouth.

 

“My girl you look divine.” Sharya Ghafa said and Inej beamed back at her when she moved to stand in front of the mirror on the door of her wardrobe. Inej felt powerful, strong, beautiful. Inej had felt glimpses of this moment when she’d worn silk on both her returning night to Ketterdam after maiden voyage and the night before she’d left; but neither of those times compared to this. The silk fit her like a glove and accentuated her features and form. Inej felt like she could take on the world, without even a blade on her person.

 

“Let me do your hair.” Mama said and clamped her hands on Inej’s shoulders and guided her to the stool in front of the vanity. Inej chuckled at her eagerness. Inej was happy to let her mother do her hair. The only other person who Inej had let touch her hair had been Kaz, the thought made her smile to herself as Mama undid her braid and ran a brush over the strands.

 

“You have always had perfect waves that are still smooth somehow.” Mama mused as she continued her work. Inej grinned.

 

“Your hair is straight but it is more cooperative. I always wanted yours when I was small.” Inej replied with a smile to her mother in the mirror before them.

 

“I think your hair was a gift from the Saints. It’s a testament to your time at sea, waves that are smooth and fair.” Mama whispered as she fanned Inej’s loose hair over her shoulders. Inej felt a flush bloom on her cheeks, she looked somewhat different than how she normally did. It wasn’t unpleasant. It was nice to leave her hair free.

 

“Coal for your eyes?” Mama asked. Inej froze. She had not worn any sort of liner on her eyes since the Menagerie. Inej pondered on the idea for a moment; did she really want to spend the rest of her life afraid of a cosmetic? She’d probably only ever wear it in the presence of those she felt most comfortable with, Inej wasn’t a makeup kind of girl to begin with. Inej decided that she could do this, she’d lean into Mama’s strength.

 

“If you have some. Only a little bit, please. I don’t… I haven’t worn it since…” Inej trailed off but her mother was already nodding. Inej appreciated her mother not asking further, Mama had always seemed to understand quickly. Inej watched as her mother produced the small black pencil from the pocket of her pants.

 

Inej fluttered her eyes shut and felt her mother’s delicate hand on her cheek, holding her steady as she lined Inej’s lashes very lightly.

 

When Inej opened her eyes, she was pleasantly surprised. She looked nothing like a lynx, no cat eyes in sight. Her lashes just looked slightly thicker and her eyes stood out just a little more. Inej found she liked it.

 

“One more thing, if you want.” Mama said and reached into her pocket once more. She brought out a small gold ring- a nose ring. Inej felt like crying, yet again. Inej hadn’t worn one in so long but her mother had thought of her, over and over again.

 

“Thank you, Mama. I love you.” Inej whispered as she slipped the ring into her piercing with hardly any trouble, using the mirror. Inej pulled back and she was surprised by her own reflection. It was strange because she still looked completely like herself, just polished in a way she hadn’t known she could still look. The ring in her nose glinted in the setting sun from the window across from them and Inej smiled and turned her head in the mirror, sending spots of light reflecting on the wall.

 

Inej felt proud of the girl she’d been, for surviving long enough to remember what it meant to be suli again.

 

            “When does your boy arrive?” Mama asked.

 

            “Six bells.” Inej muttered without thinking, still contemplating her reflection.

 

            “I knew it.” Mama chuckled.

 

            Damnit. Her mother had tricked her, so easily. Inej had just admitted Kaz was with her without even meaning to.

 

            “Mama!” Inej cried but Sharya Ghafa was already walking to the door, she paused and gave Inej a knowing smile.

 

            “I’m your mother, I know these things, daughter. I’ll see you downstairs for dinner in a few minutes.” Sharya Ghafa chuckled and left the room.

 

            Inej turned back to her reflection in the mirror with a smile on her face. Inej knew that the evening ahead was sure to be interesting. She still didn’t know how her mother had known about her and Kaz now. Inej knew she’d suspected before, but her mother couldn’t have possibly known how much had changed.  

 

            It was then that Inej saw it. Her letter from Kaz leaning against the mirror of the vanity, the one he’d sent to her on her first voyage. Inej had put it back out as she’d been unpacking. Part of the script on the letter was clearly visible under the fold of the paper.

 

            Come Home.

 

    K. Brekker

 

            Sharya Ghafa should have been a spy, too. Inej decided that much with a shake of her head and a smile on her lips.

 

 

KAZ

 

            Kaz was early. Ten minutes before six bells. Kaz took a deep breath before he knocked on the door of the Van Eck mansion with the head of his cane. Kaz had worn his best suit, down to the cufflinks at his wrists.

 

He wasn’t nervous. He wasn’t. Why should he be? He’d met them before. It wasn’t any different. Only now he was committed to Inej and he wanted their acceptance of that fact.

 

Kaz was nervous.

           

            The maid, Elena, opened the door for Kaz with a smile and he entered the house and felt warmth sink back into his bones from the cold walk to the house. Kaz handed off his coat and hat to Elena and he heard Inej’s laugh from somewhere to his left, presumably the dining room. There was no one in the living room.

 

            “Dining room, sir.” Elena said as she turned to hang his things in the closet. Kaz nodded and began to walk through the living room. Kaz paused before he got to the doorway to the dining room, he’d see them once he rounded the corner. Kaz heard Jesper’s chuckle and a man’s voice that Kaz recognized as Inej’s father from within the room.

 

            Kaz took a steeling breath and straightened his tie for the third time since he’d walked onto the estate grounds.

 

            Get it together, Brekker.

 

            Kaz entered the dining room to see Jesper and Wylan at the table with glasses of wine already in hand, talking to Kahir Ghafa. Kahir was a man of about Kaz’s height, maybe two inches taller. He had a sharp jawline and dark short hair with an equally dark trimmed beard and moustache. He had skin perhaps a tone darker than Inej’s, he wore a navy dinner jacket over black pants. There was a silk pocket square in his jacket pocket that was a bright sky blue. Kaz took it all in, he was preparing for them to notice his presence.

 

            “Kaz, welcome!” Wylan exclaimed, blue eyes twinkling. Kaz nodded and Kahir turned to face him with a smile on his face.

 

            “Mr. Brekker, my daughter said you would join us. I hope you have been well.” Kahir said as he extended a hand for Kaz’s own. Kaz took his and shook it with gloved fingers. Kahir’s voice was deep and melodic, it reminded Kaz of a baritone singer he’d seen on the street once.

 

            “Yes, sir. Thank you. Welcome back to Ketterdam.” Kaz rasped, ignoring Jesper’s raised eyebrow at his use of the word “sir”.

 

            Kaz was about to sit down when he heard Inej’s laugh again. It caused him to look up to the kitchen door, it sounded as if her laugh had come from behind it. A moment later, Sharya Ghafa walked through the door and held it open behind her. Inej came in.

 

            Inej. Crimson silk. Inej with her nose piercing.Kaz remembered she’d had one in the Menagerie, he hadn’t seen it since. She looked stunning. The silk of her pants swished lightly as she walked through the doorway, it made her look like she was floating.

 

            Inej looked away from her mother then and saw Kaz. Kaz felt his breath hitch in his throat. He was frozen and standing next to the Van Eck table. Kaz couldn’t care less when Inej was here and looking at him like that; like she would like nothing more than to kiss him senseless the way he wanted to do the same to her.

 

            “Hello, Kaz.” Inej said.

 

            “Inej.” It was the only word that his mouth seemed to remember.

 

            Inej smiled then, her eyes shining gold in the candlelight and her body clad in glimmering silk.  Kaz wondered if this was how people found religion; when you see something so beautiful that there’s no other way it could exist unless it was designed by a greater force.

 

            If you exist, Saints, let me love her for the rest of my life. I’ll be a better man; I’ll spend every day earning that smile.

 

           

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            “Do you prefer kvas or amber spirits?” Kahir Ghafa asked Kaz when he finally gathered himself enough to sit down next to Inej across from Kahir and Sharya. Jesper was next to Kaz and Wylan at the head of the table beside him. Kaz watched as Inej’s father picked up both bottles from in front of him on the table, one bourbon, one kvas.

 

            “Amber, if I’m honest.” Kaz answered, his voice coming off rough even to his own ears. He tore his eyes off Inej and noticed both Wylan and Jesper barely containing chuckles surely at his expense, he’d all but frozen solid when he’d seen Inej. Sharya Ghafa had quirked her head at him slightly with a smile that seemed only to say “I know,” as she’d taken her seat beside her husband. Kaz had seen that same expression on Inej’s face a hundred times. Kaz found gratitude for his pale skin that did not flush easily.

 

            “Thank the Saints. That makes two of us.” Kahir chuckled and Kaz couldn’t help but smile when Kahir handed him a tumbler of bourbon.

 

            “I like both!” Inej mumbled from beside him.

 

            “You make a face every time you drink bourbon.” Kaz said and it earned him a laugh from Sharya.

 

            “It’s true!” Jesper piped up, while he swirled kvas around in his glass.

 

            “It’s fine, my girl. We shall drink our sweet wine and actually enjoy the taste.” Sharya said and Inej beamed at her mother. The two suli women picked up their drinks and clinked them across the table and both took healthy swigs of the sugary wine. Kahir threw his eyes heavenward before he looked to Kaz.

 

            “Now you will experience something truly terrifying.” Kahir mumbled to Kaz with a conspiratorial smirk. Kaz wasn’t sure what he meant.

 

            “When those two put alcohol and attitude together, nothing will save us.” Kahir gestured with a dark hand to his wife and daughter and Kaz felt a grin slip onto his face without his permission. Sharya huffed in Kahir’s direction and it was so much like Inej that Kaz chuckled.

 

            “We do not have attitudes, Papa.” Inej mumbled with another sip of kvas.

 

            “Inej, you have an attitude. We’ve all seen it.” Jesper chuckled as he watched the exchange. Wylan was smiling as well.  

 

            “I do not want to hear it, Jes. I’m a delight.” Inej smiled a wicked little grin.

 

            “Will your mother be joining us, Wylan?” Sharya asked their ginger friend. Wylan’s blue eyes seemed to dim a bit under the question’s spotlight.

 

            “No… she has good and bad days. I apologize.” Wylan said softly and Kaz saw Jesper squeeze his hand on the table.

 

            “Nonsense. We all have good and bad days, there is nothing to apologize for. Marya deserves her rest. If she needs anything, let us know. Vishra se samti hei.” Sharya responded, her voice reminded Kaz of water, in a good way. Her voice was smooth and flowing. It was like Inej’s, but still different. Inej’s voice reminded him of honey, smooth but thicker somehow. A true combination of her parent’s tones.

 

            “What does that mean?” Wylan asked with a soft smile.

 

            “Rest brings us the peace we need.” Inej answered in her mother’s stead. Kaz noticed her hand waiting for him on the table. Kaz felt a flutter in his stomach, he was wearing gloves tonight. He wasn’t sure if Inej would mind. It was because Kaz didn’t want to risk shaking her father’s hand or brushing her mother in passing and not being able to handle it. Kaz could touch Inej now, at least some of the time. Her hands were safe now, Kaz didn’t have to think before he touched her hands anymore, he knew every callous and scar and bump of her knuckles like his own. Kaz could kiss her now, but it was very new. Kaz didn’t think he’d be able to touch another person. His demons had only just begun to recognize Inej as safe.

 

            Kaz refused to drown in front of Inej’s parents. That shame would be too much for him to bare.

 

            Something in Kaz told him that Inej would not have offered if she minded. Kaz set his hand in hers and her bronze fingers intertwined with his leather clad ones.

 

            “Pay up, Kahir.” Sharya Ghafa said to her husband with a grin.

 

            “For what, Mama?” Inej questioned.

 

            “Avri’s.” Sharya gestured to Kaz and Inej’s clasped hands on the table. Kaz heard Jesper chuckle, even though the zemini did not know what the word meant, he clearly understood well enough.

 

            Inej’s jaw dropped open a bit and Kahir Ghafa laughed a booming laugh.

 

            “Mama! You did not bet with Papa about my relationship. Tell me you didn’t.” Inej cried with a shake of her head, her mouth betrayed her amusement with a disbelieving smirk. Kaz felt anxiousness in his gut, he couldn’t tell if her mother was pleased with Inej’s choice in him. She was smiling but Kaz still wasn’t positive. He began to pull his hand away from Inej but stopped the moment Inej squeezed gently. It was encouragement to stay the current course.

            “Of course I did, you looked at him like you loved him when we first met him.” Sharya said to her daughter and Kaz turned his head to see Inej’s skin flush brighter than he’d ever seen. Kaz couldn’t believe it, he didn’t understand. Inej had looked at him like that and he hadn’t been able to tell? Inej had felt as strongly about him then? It made all the anxiety in his shoulders drain, he wanted to kiss Inej again.

 

            Kaz decided he liked the Ghafa’s very much.

 

            “I respect a bet with good outcomes.” Kaz found himself saying and Inej snapped her head to him with a glare that was filled with false ire. Her eyes told him she felt nothing but amusement despite her show. The joke earned him a laugh from everyone else at the table. It was new, making people laugh. Kaz didn’t comprehend how he was here.

 

            Kaz was making jokes with Inej’s parents. Inej’s hand was in his. Jesper and Wylan were here. He was about to have dinner in a mansion he frequented regularly. Tonight he’d lay down beside Inej and hold her when he did. Kaz Brekker had never imagined this outcome on the gamble he made on a suli girl in the dim light of hell itself.

 

Inej had gone from lynx to spider to wraith to captain to love of his saints-damned life.

           

Kaz listened as Jesper and Wylan talked to Inej’s parents about the college they were building, Inej was brushing her thumb along his wrist under his glove. It was sending shivers down his spine in a delightful rhythm.

 

Soon, dinner was brought out by the Van Eck kitchen staff. Wylan had asked them to make steak and vegetables; Kaz realized he hadn’t eaten since dinner with Inej the night prior. All afternoon he’d been anxious for this very meal. He’d managed to work the numbers he needed to go over, he even managed to get a different dealer lined up in place of himself tonight at the Club. He knew he’d need to spend the weekend paying extra close attention to the club and staff. Kaz had been scarce the past few days since Inej returned; he didn’t need the staff getting cocky and skimming, thinking they’d get away with it in Kaz’s absence. Kaz also had a heist to plan.

 

Kaz ate and listened to Inej tell her parents about some of the people she’d rescued, she remembered every single name. She knew all of their stories.

 

How could someone so good love someone so terrible?

 

“So, Kaz, are you from Ketterdam?” Kahir asked with a sip of bourbon as they were all finishing their meal. Kaz felt a gust of anxiety blow down his throat. He swallowed. Jesper and Wylan would expect the answer he’d always given: “Yes, Ketterdam”. Inej knew the truth. Kaz had only ever shared the truth with Inej. Kaz knew without a doubt he could trust Jesper and Wylan, and he knew the Ghafa’s were just trying to get to know him, like any parent would do. Kaz felt Inej’s hand on his knee under the table, a gentle squeeze. The same thing he’d done for her before. Kaz knew what it was meant to convey. Inej wanted him to make his own choice. Inej would not judge him if he told them the same answer he’d always given. Kaz didn’t want to do that now. Kaz wanted… he wanted to be himself in the face of Inej’s parents. He wouldn’t be able to elaborate, but Kaz wanted to give them this little bit of truth. Kaz felt every single instinct within him kick and rail against the idea, though. Kaz almost heard Jordie’s voice at his ear, telling him to lie.

 

I can’t. I want to deserve their daughter. I want… I want to tell them the truth, Jordie. Let me share this small truth. Let me live. Don’t make me die a little more with you.

 

Kaz took a moment to swallow down the cowardice coating his throat like syrup.

 

“No. I’m from a small farming town called Lij, about seven hours from here.” Kaz said softly. Jesper choked on kvas. He recovered quickly with a mumbled “sorry excuse me” and Wylan patted him on the back. Kaz knew it would shock Jesper perhaps the most, given that Jesper himself had grown up on a farm in Noyvi Zem. Kaz and Jesper had very similar childhoods in that small regard. Inej’s hand was brushing along the outside of his thigh in soothing circles. Kaz focused on that motion until he was able to meet Kahir’s gaze.

 

“Interesting, must mean you learned to work hard young.” Kahir smiled and Kaz managed to nod. Inej’s father was not pressing him, Kaz was grateful.

 

“Is the Kerch countryside nice? We spend much of our time outside the cities in Ravka, but equally as much time in the countryside.” Sharya asked as she refilled her wine glass.

 

“It is. It’s actually much more green than you’d expect if you’ve only seen Ketterdam.” Kaz answered honestly and he looked to Inej who was smiling a soft smile, her face turned directly to him.

 

Kaz would keep answering honestly for as long as he could if Inej would keep smiling at him so contentedly.

 

“I’d like to see it sometime; do you have family to speak of still in those parts?” Kahir asked. Kaz could feel Jesper and Wylan’s eyes on him. They would ask later, Kaz was sure of it. The beginnings of a headache stretched in his skull at just the thought of that conversation. He was still Kaz Brekker, no matter if he’d improved with many things. “Openness” was still not a part of his basic chemical make-up. Kaz didn’t think it ever would be.

 

“No, can’t say I do.” Kaz answered and took a sip of liquid courage.

 

Sharya nodded before she tilted her head to Inej.

 

“I made sweet bread this afternoon instead of resting. I hope you don’t mind I borrowed your kitchen, Wylan.” Sharya said sweetly. Wylan shook his head but before he could say anything, Inej spoke up.

 

“You did? Wait, do I have to share it?” Inej had a brilliant smile on her face and Kaz saw her do a slight bounce of glee in her seat.

 

Inej looked like she’d sell her soul for this sweet bread. Kaz wondered if he’d ever earn such a look from Inej. He hoped she’d look at him the way she looked at the sheer mention of her favorite dessert, someday.

 

“Yes, you do.” Sharya said with a slight glare in her daughter’s direction, trying desperately to pull off a stern parent look. Kaz muffled a chuckle and felt a stab of a foot in his calf when Sharya stood to go to the kitchen to retrieve the dessert.

 

“Ouch.” Kaz mumbled and he rolled his eyes when Inej let out a frustrated huff, whether to himself or her mother- he wasn’t sure.

 

“One thing you should know, Mr. Brekker: never let my daughter cook for you. It will result in your city in embers.” Kahir chided.

 

“Joke is on you, Papa. I already told him that.” Inej grumbled and Kaz noted an embarrassed flush creeping along her collarbones.

 

“She told me that she is a true tragedy in a kitchen.” Kaz confirmed and Jesper chuckled.

 

“Probably not as bad as Wylan, he can’t manage toast without burning it.” Jesper added.

 

“It was one time!” Wylan exclaimed, his cheeks already as red as his hair. He proceeded to smack Jesper’s arm and Jesper only chuckled harder.

 

“Fine, I change my advice. Do not ever stand in the way of my daughter and sweet bread. You will be mauled to death and it is not a victorious way to go. I’ve come close a few times.” Kahir cautioned and Inej rolled her eyes.

 

“Not true. I would not kill you for standing in the way of the sweet bread. I’d kill you for not knowing me well enough not to in the first place.” Inej said to Kaz now.

 

“It will be my solemn vow to not stand in front of you and your desserts, Inej.” Kaz rasped and a grin took over his mouth.

 

“Smart man.” Kahir declared. Kaz felt like he was doing alright in her father’s eyes. Kahir turned and asked Jesper and Wylan how the Van Eck businesses were going. Kaz was lost in thought.

 

Kaz wondered how that could possibly be the case. Wasn’t he an awful choice for Inej on every count? Kaz couldn’t bring himself to care when Inej reached for his hand once more and she squeezed, she wanted his attention. 

 

Kaz looked to Inej and he didn’t understand what he saw in her face. There was a private sort of happiness in her eyes that she’d only wanted to share with him. It looked like pride. Kaz realized suddenly that Inej was proud to be sitting with him in front of her parents and their friends.

 

            For a moment, Kaz wondered how it would ever be possible to see the world in the same shade of gray he’d once seen it in. Kaz had seen color now; Kaz had seen the magic he believed in as a boy.

 

Magic was bronze skin and crimson silk and chocolate eyes that held love and pride and violence and tenderness within them all at once.

 

INEJ

 

            Inej watched as Kaz laughed with Jesper over the way Wylan cracked his knuckles before he began to play the piano. Inej felt like her heart would burst, there was surely no words to describe this amount of happiness within her. Her parents were sitting on the sofa across from her, Kaz was next to her and so was Jesper. They’d eaten sweet bread and retired to the music room of the Van Eck mansion after her father had basically begged Wylan to play them something. Her father loved hearing Wylan play, he’d heard him the first time they’d been in Ketterdam and never tired of it. Wylan had hardly needed any convincing to play for them, his blue eyes lit up at the briefest mention of music.

 

A soft melody filled the room as Wylan tapped the keys.

 

“Family dinner in that ravkan restaurant you took us to last time? I haven’t forgotten the soup I had the last time.” Papa said from across Inej.

 

“Of course we’ll go. We have a full two weeks with you here.” Inej said happily.

 

“You too, Kaz.” Mama added and Inej saw the words hit Kaz. Her father had said family dinner. That now included Kaz, he was her avri. Her parents would include him as family from now on. It was the suli way; avri meant partner in life. Marriage did not precede Kaz’s inclusion in her family; in her culture, he would be considered family until she did not wish it so. Inej didn’t think that would ever happen, Inej had chosen Kaz.

 

Inej would never stop choosing Kaz. Her spirit had found its match.

 

“I wouldn’t intrude.” Kaz rasped, Inej felt that he was tense beside her.

 

“Kaz, it’s not intrusion.” Inej mumbled. Kaz turned to her then, she told him without words. She willed her eyes to show him the truth, he seemed to understand that she wanted him there. His eyes showed a tentative “okay.”

 

“Inej is right. Besides, I should at least try to intimidate you. What type of a father would I be if I did not?” Papa added. This caused Kaz’s lips to quirk up. Inej wanted to kiss him. It shouldn’t be so damn hard to concentrate but when Kaz smirked like that, Inej wanted to taste that crooked smile she loved so much.

 

“I won’t deny you that right, then.” Kaz replied. Papa laughed and Mama smiled. Inej didn’t think she’d ever loved Kaz more than when he made her parents smile. He’d done it on more than one occasion, too. Inej found herself moving closer to Kaz, to her surprise, he lifted his arm and she pressed into his side. It was so natural, Kaz hadn’t thought of it. Granted, their skin did not touch, but that wasn’t why the gesture had surprised Inej this time. It was because it was such a loving movement, and in front of her parents and friends. Inej inhaled the cinnamon and bourbon scent of him and rested her head against him. Inej did not miss her mother’s smile. It was a smile that said only “I’m happy for you.”

 

Inej listened as her father requested songs from Wylan that he might know and her mother hummed along. Kaz had actually fallen into conversation with her father at one point when he’d inquired about business in Kaz’s life. Inej knew Kaz would not speak of the Dregs, despite that her parents knew who he was; Inej was glad. Their line of work was unorthodox and Inej didn’t want her parents to worry more than necessary for her. Inej heard him talk about the expansion to the Crow Club instead and specifics of the construction, Jesper and Wylan joined in too. Inej felt tiredness creeping up on her, Kaz’s side was her pillow that kept her warm. She felt him laugh beneath her and she let the rhythm of his breathing soothe her. She did not mean to fall asleep.

 

“Inej.” Kaz whispered to her. She was sleepily aware he was trying to wake her.

 

“Mmm,” she hummed.

 

“Bed.” Kaz said in response and Inej cracked her eyes open to see Kaz looking down at her, she had positioned herself in her sleep to have her head resting on his knee, she must have stretched out on the sofa. It was a pleasant place to wake up, Inej decided. Inej sat up and looked around the room, her parents were gone, she must have been asleep for a while. Kaz sensed her unasked question.

 

“Just went up to bed a minute ago, I told them I’d wake you.” Kaz said softly.

 

“You even snore small, it’s hilarious.” Jesper joked from by the piano, Wylan was leaning into his side and Inej could tell Wylan was as tired as she was.

 

“I do not snore.” Inej mumbled but she saw Kaz turn his face from her.

 

“Do I?” Inej asked and Kaz grinned slightly in confirmation of her fears.

 

“I said you snore small. Implies quiet. But you do, Wraith.” Jesper chuckled.

 

“Saints, why do I even care,” Inej muttered but a smile perked up her lips.

 

Inej stood and Kaz did too. Kaz reached for his cane and Inej felt a flutter in her stomach when he made no move to the door. Kaz was staying with her.

 

Inej said her goodnights to Jesper and Wylan before she turned to the staircase to make her way up to her room. Kaz was beside her, she matched his steps easily.

 

Kaz paused once they reached the second floor landing, he grabbed her arm gently to turn her to him, his eyes meeting hers. Inej was surprised when he pulled her close, he wrapped both arms around her gently.

 

“I love you, mera nadra.” Kaz’s stony whisper hit her ear, his breath warm. Inej felt a shiver run down her spine before he pulled away.

 

“What was that for?” Inej smiled.

 

“I wanted to tell you from the moment I saw you tonight.” Kaz said. Inej saw the honesty in his eyes.  

 

Kaz may have worn armor on his hands tonight, but there was none around his heart.

 

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            Vanilla so strong it churned her stomach. Cold and scratchy silk sheets, wet from sweat.

 

            He’d pulled her hair; her scalp burned it had been so hard.

 

            He was coming back to the bed; her eyes focused on the canopy above.

 

            The bed dipped under his weight.

 

            “Will you cry, little lynx?” his guttural voice rambled directly against her ear. His breath sickeningly hot, his mustache scratched her temple.

 

            “No.” a broken whisper came from her bruised lips.

 

            “We’ll fix that.” Vileness incarnate growled from above her.

 

            She tried to scream, only a whimper came out.

 

            She was dying slowly.

 

 

 

            It was going to happen; she was going to be sick. Inej threw the sheets off her body and jumped from the bed in a flurry. Her insides were twisting and her body felt slick and cold with sweat, Kaz’s shirt stuck to her middle awkwardly as she crashed to the bathroom floor in the Van Eck mansion. Inej had barely managed to kick the door shut behind her, it was a foolish hope that Kaz wouldn’t wake and see this. See her deepest darkest demons that haunted her sleep and forced her to empty the contents of her stomach and clutch the porcelain so hard she thought it would surely crack beneath her white knuckles.

 

Inej’s demons had been scarce, tonight they visited her once more.

 

Just when she thought she was done, she wasn’t. Surely her body had no contents left to hurl. His face was burned into her mind; she could feel the disgusting tickle of his facial hair at the back of her neck. Inej couldn’t breathe. She rubbed furiously at her face, trying to get the pieces of hair sticking to the sweat of her brow out of her way. Her heart wouldn’t slow down and her mind wouldn’t catch up.

 

            You’re not there anymore. You’re not there anymore. You’re not there anymore.

 

            Another wretch into the toilet.

 

            Vanilla filled her nostrils so strongly that she thought she’d never want an ounce of sugar again.

 

You got out. You got out. You got out.

 

Inej tried to get her breath to slow, she was hyperventilating. Her ribs felt like they were on fire, her stomach twisted again. Tears were marching down her cheeks in a war path. The clothing stuck to her skin uncomfortably and her limbs were shaking.

 

He can’t touch you. He can’t touch you. He can’t touch you.

 

Inej folded in, she wanted to vanish. It was a dream, it felt real. It felt so real she couldn’t breathe.

 

A tidal wave of nausea rolled over all her organs, she felt phantom hands grabbing her hips and binding her hands to her sides. She barely made the six-inch crawl back to the toilet before hurling again. It was a panic so acute her body no longer recognized the dream.

 

You have to survive to see the sun again, to chase the stars and ride the wind on the sea. Don’t you want to see your moon again?

 

Kaz. Kaz. Kaz. Kaz got you out. He gave you a knife. You can protect yourself. You’re a lynx with claws.

 

Her breath wouldn’t slow down.

 

Fire was all that was left emanating from her throat, she couldn’t stop retching.

 

 

KAZ

 

            Something is wrong. Kaz felt it in his sleep, he shot up in the bed. His mind was hazy from sleep but it was the dull buzz in his bones that woke him. It took him a moment to recognize Inej’s bedroom at the Van Eck mansion. Inej. Kaz turned to her side of the bed, the sheets were a mess and half hanging on the floor. Then he heard her. Inej was puking? Coughing? Kaz swung his legs off the bed, was Inej sick? Kaz couldn’t imagine she’d gotten food poisoning from the dinner they’d all had with her parents earlier that night, he’d had the same meal and felt fine.

 

            Inej isn’t okay. He feltit in his flesh and bones. A dull whimper sounded from the bathroom.

 

            Kaz stood up immediately and reached for his cane. His leg was stiff from sleep. He winced slightly but he limped as quickly as possible to the closed bathroom door, ignoring his angry limb’s protests.

 

            “Inej?” Kaz asked softly as he knocked on the door. No answer.

 

            “Inej?” He tried again, a little louder. No answer. Kaz felt anxiousness rising in his gut. She wasn’t puking anymore, he pressed his ear closer to the door. He heard her shaky breaths, they were coming way too fast. Inej was hyperventilating. Kaz knew the sound well. He didn’t want to open the door without her permission but a voice within him screamed and thrashed.

 

            Go to her. Go. Now. Inej is not okay. Your girl is in there and she needs you.

 

            Kaz tried the handle, the door pushed open easily. There was no light on in the bathroom, the only light was from the moonlight filtering in from the small window above the bathtub.

 

            Inej. Inej crying. Inej on the floor and folded so awkwardly it had to be uncomfortable. Kaz leaned his cane against the counter quickly, her breathing was so fast, her eyes were squeezed shut and her face was slick with sweat. Kaz felt like someone hammered a nail into his sternum.

 

            Kaz dropped to the floor on his knees only a foot away from her. He had to calm her, she needed to breathe.

 

            “Inej, Inej love, listen to me. Take a breath with me.” Kaz pleaded but she couldn’t hear him from whatever place she was in within her own mind.

 

He wanted to touch her, he wouldn’t. Kaz knew what a panic attack looked like.

 

            “Mera nadra, you need to breathe. Listen to my breath. It’s me, it’s Kaz. Just try a breath with me,” Kaz whispered, forcing his own anxiety down. He threaded confidence and what he hoped came off as gentleness into each word. Inej must have heard something now, when he’d used her suli nickname. Her eyes opened and her pupils were so wide that her eyes looked black. They were filled with a fear that Kaz had never seen in Inej; not in the face of certain death by a blade, a bullet. Not when she’d seen Charles Hester’s basement prison.

 

            Kaz never wanted her to look this afraid again. Kaz wanted to torture every single person who had contributed to the pain he saw in her irises. Kaz wanted to kiss away every single memory of evil that marred her perfect bronze skin.

 

Kaz took a deep breath and Inej’s eyes locked on his and she tried to replicate it, her chest shook and her lips quivered. Tears were running down her cheeks silently. Kaz repeated his breath, keeping his hands where she could see them, folded on his knees.

 

“Again.” Kaz rasped and Inej finally was able to take a full and deep breath, her arms wrapped so tightly around her knees he thought she might leave bruises on her own legs.

 

“One more.” Kaz took a deep breath with her, exhaling and watching her repeat the motion.

 

Inej was shaking but her eyes were on his and he thought he saw recognition register behind her eyes, finally.

 

“Kaz.” It was a broken and tired whisper that seemed to fall from her lips.

 

“I’m here. We’re here together, safe. In the bathroom at Wylan and Jesper’s house.” Kaz reassured her, hoping that the word “safe” would register in her state. Kaz knew what it was like to be unreachable, granted, no one had ever come close enough to him in recent years to try and reach him while he panicked. Kaz had been in a state like this many times, unable to recognize even his own room in the attic at the Slat.

 

“You got me out.” Inej whispered, her voice cracked. Kaz saw it then, exactly where she’d been in her mind. She’d been back at the Menagerie, her own personal brand of hell. Kaz didn’t know what had triggered her demons, they hadn’t even been touching in the bed when they’d fallen asleep. They’d fallen asleep facing each other- talking without words.

 

“I’ll always get you out Inej, I’ll always come for you.” Kaz whispered back, he couldn’t stand it. He couldn’t see her suffer this hell again, she had to know he was here. She would never go back to the Menagerie.

 

Charles Hester had limited days. Dirtyhands was going on the hunt for retribution.

 

“Knives drawn?” Inej asked, her eyes tracing his face as if she wanted to remember him if she sunk back into the pit of despair bubbling to a boil in her mind. Kaz wouldn’t let her sink back down. He’d hold her up if it was the last thing he did.

 

“Pistols blazing.” Kaz voiced confidently.

 

Kaz hadn’t expected her demons to take first blood against their peaceful nights sleeping beside each other. Kaz always assumed his ghosts would strike first and with a vengeance.

 

Kaz also hadn’t expected her nightmares to make an appearance after an evening like the one they’d had. He didn’t think he’d ever seen so much happiness in one place as when he’d laid down beside Inej hours before.

 

Inej’s eyes had been so bright, Kaz had wondered how it was possible his shadowed self hadn’t disintegrated under the shine.

 

“Please stay.” Inej croaked out, her hold on her legs slightly loosening. Her eyes fell to the floor somewhere beside Kaz, tears still silently creeping along her skin. Kaz was confused for a moment before he realized that this is what Inej had been afraid of him seeing, the same way he’d questioned over and over again how he’d handle it if he woke from a nightmare beside her. This is what Inej considered to be her shame. Inej was afraid he’d see this and leave. The ridiculousness of it would have made him laugh in any other situation. Inej was far too good for him; not the other way around.

 

 Kaz didn’t think there was a single part of him that had ever loved her more than in that moment on the bathroom floor.

 

There was nothing about Inej that was not stronger for everything she’d endured. Kaz felt much the same about himself, even if he hated it. Inej would not be rid of him because her demons threw a tantrum. Kaz would beat them to hell with every peaceful night they succeeded in sharing together.

 

“I’m not going anywhere.” Kaz wanted to tilt her chin up to him, make her see the truth in his eyes, but he wouldn’t touch her until she asked him to.

 

“Do you promise?” Inej asked quietly, he saw her shoulders tense in preparation for his answer; she was still not fully here. She was breathing deeply, her eyes unfocused.

 

Inej was still climbing out of hell, reaching for him.

 

“I promise, Inej. Etma se saman.” Kaz answered. He hoped hearing the words in suli would help, no one in the Menagerie had known her language. It was proof to her subconscious that she was no longer there.

 

            Inej nodded once and her eyes met his, her pupils were slightly less wide. She was fighting her way back to him silently.

 

            “I need a shower.” Inej whispered. Kaz nodded and used the counter behind him to stand. He reached into the shower and started the water for her, testing it with his hand to make sure it was warming. He turned back to Inej and offered her his hand to help her up. Inej observed his hand for a moment before she unfolded herself and gently placed her own palm in his. Kaz pulled her up slowly.

 

            Kaz turned to leave and let her shower, trusting she would want him as far away from her bare skin as possible after what her nightmare surely held.

 

            “Can you… Can you stay?” Inej asked softly from behind him. Kaz froze at the tone she used, it sounded fearful. It sounded like she was unsure. 

 

She might fall apart if he left, she might fall apart if he stayed.

 

Kaz turned back to her, she was twisting her hands in front of herself. Inej didn’t want him to refuse her. Kaz wouldn’t.

 

“Yes.” Kaz rasped and she flicked her gaze to his with a small nod. For a moment, they stared at each other. Kaz said “I love you” a hundred times over in his head, willing it to reflect in his eyes. Inej said “stay, please,” with her own look. Inej reached a hand up and unbuttoned the top button of the shirt she was wearing. Her eyes didn’t leave his.

 

Kaz wanted to turn away. Kaz did not want to turn away. Her eyes held him frozen where he was.

 

Inej undid the next button, then the next. He didn’t let his eyes leave hers. Kaz wasn’t sure why Inej had chosen this moment to begin undressing in front of him, but he would let her do as she wished, what she was comfortable with. He would not look without her permission in words or action.

Kaz suspected this was Inej’s personal revenge on her demons, she was claiming ownership of her own flesh again.

 

“Can you turn around?” Inej asked softly. Kaz did as she wished, Inej had gone as far as she wanted to or could. He just wanted her to come back to him, fully, from that dark place within herself.

 

A moment later, Kaz heard the drop of clothing on the ground behind him.

 

“Can I touch you? Don’t turn around.” Inej was directly behind him now. Of course he hadn’t heard her move, even on the tile floors of the bathroom. Kaz swallowed, he was fully clothed, he trusted her. It was hard not to turn around and see her eyes. Kaz knew Inej would not touch his skin with his back turned to her. He found himself nodding just once, his eyes focused on the door handle in front of him.

 

Inej’s bare-arms wrapped around his middle, she was hugging him from behind. Kaz desperately tried to ignore the fact that there was only the thin material of his shirt between his back and her naked chest. He felt the brush of her breasts on his lower back and swallowed once more. He would not let this moment be anything than what it was- a victory for Inej. She was bare and in the same room as him- without even bathwater to cover her. She was touching him on her own free will. She was winning a battle against her past.

 

It struck Kaz then, just how much Inej trusted him. Trusted him not to turn around, trusted him not to turn his head to look in the mirror above the counter. Trusted him with all of her, with only his back turned.

 

He’d never betray that trust.

 

Kaz tentatively raised a hand and placed it on her wrist in front of him. He felt her head lean into his back.

 

“I love you.” her whisper sounded against his shirt from behind him.

 

Before Kaz could respond, Inej’s arms dropped from him and he heard the shower curtain pull open and close once more. Kaz turned around to see her clothes on the ground in a pile.

 

“Stay,” Inej said from under the shower water, clearly sensing his indecisiveness. Kaz felt a smile tilt his lips. Inej sounded more like herself already, and she wanted him here.

 

Inej had waged war and taken some small part of herself back from the past. In that moment, Kaz had never felt more certain that they’d be able to touch and love each other as they wished, someday. Kaz would fight his own battles as fiercely as Inej had fought tonight.

 

That’s what we do. We never stop fighting.

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            “These are the best candied almonds I’ve ever had!” Kahir Ghafa said from beside Inej as they walked the docks in the late afternoon sun, bundled up against the light snow fluttering from the still bright sky.

 

            “I told you!” Inej smiled to her father. They’d decided to go on a walk so Inej could check on her ship and her father could spend some time with her. It had been two days since her parents first arrived and Inej could tell her father had been itching for an outing. Inej got much of her motivation from her father, he was always up before the sun back home with the caravans, whether it be training or working. Inej had offered for him to accompany her to the docks and he’d jumped at the opportunity. Inej had made sure they stopped at one of the street vendors selling her favorite candied almonds that were somehow extremely specific to Ketterdam, she’d not found their likeness anywhere else.

 

Kaz had stopped at the same vendor once, only a few months after Inej had joined the Dregs, and ever since Inej had been hooked. Kaz had given her a handful of his and it was one of the first times she’d seen Kaz smile not out of spite or sarcasm. She’d liked the sweets so much she had actually said “Ghezen bless Ketterdam.” Kaz had rolled his eyes but there was a small smile on his face.

 

Inej smiled at the memory as she popped another sweet into her mouth. Her father had the bag in his hand beside her and was tossing them back with equal fervor. Inej and her father paused once they came to the Goedmedbridge on their way back to the Van Eck estate. The sun was sinking, and standing at the Apex of the bridge, you could see all the way down to the harbor again. Some gondels were still rowing further down from the bridge, but Inej and her father were alone here. The water glinted in the setting sun and snow sparkled in its descent from the heavens.

 

Inej paused at the rail, momentarily caught up in a memory of geranium petals swirling around her just as the snow was now. Inej remembered thinking it was a sign from the Saints that the boy beside her would take the time to know her. How right she’d been.

 

“So when will you tell me?” Inej was shaken from her memories by her father’s deep voice beside her. Kahir was looking down over the water with Inej, she saw his smile in the reflection of the water below them.

 

“Tell you what, Papa?” Inej asked, not bothering to hide her confusion as she gripped the walk rail of the bridge.

 

“Does the boy know your favorite flower?” Kahir bumped Inej’s shoulder and Inej turned to him with a small smile; she had known this question was coming.

 

“Yes. He does.” Inej whispered, she could almost feel the drape of a Mr. Crimson cloak over her shoulders. Almost feel the relief she’d felt that day long ago at the sight of Kaz and his harsh lines, waiting for her at the other end of this same bridge.

 

That was before everything changed, before she and Kaz had begun to inch toward each other instead of farther away.

 

If Inej could go back to that moment now, she’d kiss him in the middle of that lavender petal rainstorm.

 

“Hmm. Why did your spirit choose him?” Kahir asked, his face turned upward to the last sunrays, casting his dark skin in a warm glow despite the temperature. Inej traced her father’s outline with her eyes, the jaw line so similar to hers, his soft yet striking cheekbones. Inej couldn’t imagine how she’d actually survived for years without seeing him. She wanted to make up for the time tenfold. Kahir Ghafa was the first man Inej had ever loved; he was her father and her best friend in one. Inej knew his question was not that of judgement, but of genuine curiosity. Inej already knew her father liked Kaz well enough, but he wished to know him better. He wished to know, genuinely, what Inej saw in Kaz. Kahir wanted Inej to tell him how she’d gotten here- helplessly in love with a crooked grinned-boy who ran a criminal empire yet somehow held her hand in front of her parents and called her father “sir”. Inej didn’t know what answer to give, but her spirit seemed to guide her mouth into words.

 

“He’s my moon.” Inej said simply, she knew she’d have to explain further, but it was the answer her heart demanded she give. Her father turned his face to her now, the sunlight charged his caramel eyes and seemed to set them alight, like the first brazen flicker of a match.

 

“Kaz… he’s different, Papa. I don’t mean that in some poetic way, either. Kaz and I are both different from those around us. Our gravity is different.” Inej paused and took a breath before looking back to her father. “Neither of us can be exactly who we would have been if terrible things hadn’t happened to us- and we wouldn’t want to be those people either. We’re stronger because of what happened to break us. His story is not mine to tell, but when I tell you he’s the strongest person I’ve ever met, Papa, I mean it. When I met Kaz, he told me the truth of what I’d be doing in the Dregs. He didn’t lie to me, trick me, or mislead me. Kaz gave me terrible truths, never kind lies. It comforted me because I’d been treated with nothing but lies and disregard for so long. I think that is when I realized I respected him, somehow.” Inej paused once more as she looked over to a gondel floating peacefully beneath them on the water, a woman and a small boy on board next to the rower. She felt her father’s gaze on her.

 

 “Kaz is my moon because he has the power to pull me from the depths of myself, without ever changing me, slowing me, or draining me. His lunar gravity pulls my tides back to shore, Papa. Seeing him smile feels like walking the high wire for the first time without a balancing stick.” Inej finished, feeling the truth of it all warm her chest. Kaz had dragged her back from the void within herself only two nights prior. Inej normally would be in that panicked state for hours when she was by herself- but with Kaz there, she’d come back.

 

His voice, his gravity, everything that was Kaz, it brought her back to the surface, back into her own body.

 

Inej dared a glance back to her father, she found him smiling, a wide toothy thing that Inej only saw when her father was truly beside himself with glee.

 

“You are young, Inej. But I know that does not matter. I met your mother when I was fifteen, younger than you by three years- and I knew even then I did not wish to be parted from her from that day forward, she was home. Have you gone home, daughter?” Kahir Ghafa asked in suli now. Inej smiled and she felt a snowflake melt on the tip of her nose.

 

“Yes, Papa. I’ve been home for some time now.” Inej whispered and her father turned his face back to the sky to watch the snowflakes.

 

“Then you must bring him back to the caravans. He has to prove he can handle all of us.” Kahir said with a smirk in Inej’s direction.

 

“He’s already offered.” Inej answered honestly, remembering how the night she’d spoken to Kaz of it, he’d kissed her wrist for the first time without drowning.  

 

“Hmm. It seems I will have to try harder.” Kahir said with a chuckle. Inej quirked her head in a silent question. He turned his gaze back to her and she saw amusement twinkle in his irises.

 

“To intimidate him, of course. Boss of a gang or not, he’s a nineteen-year old boy who has found the greatest treasure in the world: my daughter. Can’t have him feeling too welcome.” Papa laughed a musical thing.

 

“Papa! Do not harass him.” Inej tried to sound stern but giggles were bubbling in her throat.

 

“I will harass him just enough to make him know that I’m as much a force to be reckoned with as the girl I raised.” Kahir smiled deviously and Inej bumped her father’s shoulder with her own with a huff of false frustration.

 

“Do you approve of him?” Inej asked quietly.

 

If Inej was candid with herself, her parent’s opinions still mattered very much to her. She could not imagine the weight that would be on her shoulders if they did not approve of her avri. She already knew they liked him well enough, and felt a tremendous amount of gratitude to Kaz for the fact that he’d been the one to get her out of the Menagerie; no matter what circumstance he’d been able to bring her into. Anything was better than that hell, both in Inej’s eyes and her parent’s eyes.

 

“I wish to know him better. I won’t lie, Inej. He is a different sort of man than I would have imagined for my only daughter. But I can’t deny what I’ve seen. Rosha ko kareta hai, mera ke tarre.”

 

He ignites your eyes, my littlest star.

 

Inej smiled at the use of the nickname her father had given her when she was small enough to ride on his shoulders on their nightly treks in search of heaven on earth.

 

“Kaz takes… he takes time to open up.” Inej answered carefully. Inej had a hope Kaz would open up, at least some, to her parents. Inej didn’t disregard the weight of the fact that Kaz already had, he’d told her parents where he’d grown up. It had been something Inej had wished for but never expected and once again, Kaz had surprised her.

 

“I already knew that, daughter. You looked at him as if he hung every star you’d seen when you introduced him to us the first time; and yet he was only your friend in our introduction. I respect the grain of sand that grows into a mountain that reaches the Saint’s heavens.”

 

Inej smiled. That was how it had happened, hadn’t it? Inej and Kaz had started with a grain of sand that represented respect- they were still growing, reaching for the sky.

 

“He gave me my freedom and never thought I’d return.” Inej found herself voicing to her father and the water below them. Kaz had never quite said it, not with words anyhow. But Inej remembered how he’d looked at her, the first time she’d come back to Ketterdam, come back to him. His onyx and sepia irises had told her everything.

 

I didn’t think you’d come back.

 

“The heart is an arrow that demands aim to land true.” Kahir mumbled back to his daughter. Inej sensed he’d had a moment of realization, he wasn’t done.

 

“My daughter, what marks the direction of a compass?” Kahir turned to her with a smile on his lips, a slight flush from the cold on his cheeks. Inej noted a stray snowflake on his trimmed beard, already melting.

 

Inej understood then. An arrow marks the direction on a compass.

 

“Your arrow spins, my girl. It always has aim because you were born to travel between land and sea. Seems your avri understood that.” Kahir smiled.

 

Inej felt her heart swell, her hand came up to the pocket of her jacket where her compass from Kaz always rested. She took it out and she felt her father’s eyes on her once more.

 

“A gift from Kaz.” Inej said as she slipped the cover of the compass open. She knew her father saw the inscription on the inside of the lid, she heard him release a gentle laugh that sounded like disbelief and happiness in one.

 

Inej watched the arrow spin, it pointed due north. From where she stood, North was the exact direction of the Slat, to Kaz.

 

 Kaz was surely getting ready to head out to the rooftops above Vixen’s Garden. She was meeting him to stake out the place tonight, in hopes of gleaning information they desperately needed to take down Hester and Heleen and whomever the mysterious slave trade employer was.

 

            Tonight, the Wraith would work alongside Dirtyhands once more; only this time, their hands would clasp, high above their Crooked Kingdom of criminals, crowded chimneys, and the most daring souls you could ever encounter.

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            Kaz had settled onto the rooftop about ten minutes’ prior. He was across the street from the Vixen’s Garden, on a slanted roof that would allow a perfect view of the front entrance of the Pleasure house he and Inej were staking out. They’d be able to tell exactly when Charles Hester entered, and they’d be able to see through the front windows with a spyglass into the lobby to see which girl’s services he requested. If one were to look up from the street, the slant of the roof would obstruct Kaz from view; this allowed him to sit comfortably enough, with his back against the bricks of the chimney.

 

            There was a light chill in the air but none of the afternoon snow had stuck to the ground, it felt like a dying breath of autumn, but a breath none the less. The sky was surprisingly clear for Ketterdam, the snow and winds had blown most of the smog away. Kaz found himself looking up at the sky, enjoying the view for once. Inej would be here any moment, and Kaz was looking forward to being up in the sky with her once more, stalking their prey easily from above. Working alongside Inej was one of the things he missed most when she was at sea, she balanced him. He felt like he balanced her too, in some way. Before Inej, Kaz had never found anyone he truly enjoyed working beside, he would have happily done everything by himself unless entirely necessary.

 

            Inej. His senses tingled with awareness, she was here.

 

            Kaz smiled to himself when out of the corner of his eye he saw a petite figure lean back against the bricks beside him. He hadn’t heard her- no one ever did. Kaz reached into his coat pocket and pulled out the licorice he brought with him, it was one of the few indulgences he always had for himself. Licorice was sweet without being too sweet.

 

            “I’ll trade some of mine for some of yours,” Inej broke the silence beside him. He turned then to see her hood was up, braid trailing down the front of her black ensemble. In the moonlight, he could make out the silhouette of her profile, her small nose, soft lips.

 

Kaz felt a smile pull on his face, he could in fact confirm her lips were as soft as he’d always imagined.

 

“Is it a fair trade?” Kaz rasped. He saw Inej reach into her pocket and pull out the candied almonds he’d shown her years ago when she first joined the Dregs. He knew she loved them almost as much as he did.

 

“Answer for yourself, Brekker.” Inej smirked as she tossed some almonds into her mouth, her eyes already on the front of the pleasure house. Kaz sighed but he could not resist her or those damn nuts. He took two strings of licorice from his pocket and passed them to Inej, she dumped a handful of almonds into his gloved palm from the bag.

 

“I almost forgot, I have a gift for you back at the house. It involves licorice.” Inej mumbled as she munched on the stick of candy. Kaz smiled, he didn’t know why she would have gotten him his favorite semi-sweet snack but he would gladly accept anything Inej had to give him. He’d learned that lesson now, Inej liked giving gifts. He saw it in her eyes, he wouldn’t refuse her that show of her affections.

 

“Is it licorice?” Kaz asked with a smirk as he watched a Mr. crimson masked man who was far too round to be Hester entering the pleasure house far below them.

 

“I love when you use your mind.” Inej chuckled and bumped his knee with her own.

 

“You must see quite a lot of that.” Kaz jested.

 

“Not as much as you’d think,” Inej giggled in between bites of the licorice.

 

“I’m wounded, Inej, truly.” Kaz placed a palm over his chest in mock hurt and it earned him an eye roll from Inej. Her hood fell back off her head and Kaz tracked the fall of the fabric, happy with its removal. He could see her more clearly now, she looked genuinely content, sitting here on a roof with him in the cold, where they would surely be for hours yet.

 

“How’s the Club? Ready for the expansion opening?” Inej asked him quietly. Kaz had been at the Club the past two nights and all day today, making sure everything was ready. He’d dealt at the tables as well, making sure pigeons spread the word that his Club was the place to get rolled in the barrel. He’d also had to use show of force on several employees who had indeed gotten cocky in his absence most of the week. They knew without a doubt now that Kaz had eyes and ears everywhere. They could not outsmart him, nor outrun him. Kaz had missed Inej though, despite the fact that he’d come back to the Attic both nights to find her familiar form under the sheets in his bed. Inej had come to sleep next to him even if he’d been up before her and come back much later. He’d not slept much, but her presence had allowed those precious few hours he claimed to be deep and dreamless sleeps.

 

“It’s ready. Rotty and Pim are out tonight on the docks, sending new pigeons our way. Anika made sure there is announcements for the new private parlors and the second bar in every inn and boarding house. The fucking Geldrenner even has the Crow logo displayed at its hotel bar.” Kaz rasped with a grin of his own, he felt proud. This was something he’d built, entirely on his own. Kaz had bought the Crow Club, and he’d raised it from the ground up. Now the Dregs could be entirely self-sustained off the Club alone if he wished. Most of the other jobs they did now were to pad pockets. Or to take down bastards like Charles Hester and Pekka Rollins, while alsopadding their pockets.

 

It was taking out the garbage and coming back with sweet, sweet kruge.

 

If Kaz was honest, he also liked to prove he could take anything he wished. It’s why he’d stolen the DeKappel, after all. That perhaps was the only thing Jan Van Eck had ever been correct about.

 

“I can’t wait to see it.” Inej mumbled, he saw her grin. Kaz realized then that Inej had not been back to the Club at all while she’d been in Ketterdam. She’d been outside of it on her last leave on land, the night the liddies attacked- but not inside.

 

“Will you be coming for the opening?” Kaz found himself asking. He didn’t know if Inej would want to attend, she hadn’t said anything about it previously. He also knew she wouldn’t want to waste precious time while her parents were in the city. He would understand if she didn’t want to attend.

 

“Depends. Are you asking me to come with you?” Inej turned her eyes to him now, he could see what she wanted. Inej wanted to go, Inej wanted to go with him. Kaz hadn’t pondered that idea, it surprised him. Of course, there was a problem there. The most trusted Dregs knew he and Inej were together. The rest did not. Not only that, it was public. Even if there would be a reserved parlor only for Dregs members. Kaz ran a gloved hand through his hair. Inej’s eyes tracked the movement.

 

Of course he wanted to bring Inej and tell the whole saints-damned planet that he was the luckiest son of a bitch to ever walk the earth. Inej was with him, the rest of them were not half as lucky. He’d never be able to do that though, it would put a target on Inej’s back from his growing list of enemies.

 

            “No, just wanted to see if you’d attend.” Kaz said, realizing right away that this was not the right thing to say. Inej turned her eyes back to the street below them, she nodded very slowly. He saw disappointment line her features. Kaz wanted to take it back and explain better but Inej cut him off.

 

            “I’ll just come with Jesper and Wylan then. Yes, Jesper is coming. He owns part of that club and he wants to be there for you. I’m going to go get a better view, I’ll be back.” Inej grit out and she was gone before he could force out another word.

 

            Fuck. Not how this was supposed to go. Damnit, Brekker. She’s right. You don’t use your mind often enough.

 

            Inej came back not ten minutes later and sat down beside him once more. He’d half convinced himself she’d spend the rest of the night across the roof from him and far away in other ways.

 

            “That’s not what I meant.” Kaz said. He wasn’t used to this; he never took back what he said, to anyone. It wasn’t something Kaz Brekker did. Kaz couldn’t stop himself though, he’d gladly let her stab him for being dense. Inej turned her face to him and he saw something soften in her eyes.

 

            “I know. I just… I just needed to remember why I can’t go with you.” Inej said softly as she twirled the end of her braid around her fingers and leaned back against the brick.

 

            “I want you to come with me.” Kaz said, he’d not thought about the honesty of his words. That was something Inej did to him. Inej had always had a way of being able to wring secrets out of even him.

 

His barriers were made of stone and unmovable with the rest of the world, but with Inej his defenses were made of glass that only she could carve a door from without it shattering.

 

“I can’t though.” Inej mumbled with a frustrated sigh.

 

Kaz thought of it then. It was a scheme. A scheme in the form of the seed. If he only added water…

 

 

INEJ

 

            Scheming face.

 

            Kaz was looking off toward the street below them, but she could tell he wasn’t really seeing anything besides plans forming in his raven haired head. His jaw ticked slightly and she saw his shoulder blades move up, it must be a good plan. Kaz only did that when it was a plan he was especially proud of.  Inej didn’t know what triggered his mind to start forming a scheme, and she had no idea what that plan was for. They were only staking out tonight, there was no job besides gleaning information ahead of them. They hadn’t even been speaking of anything pertaining to work, only of the Crow Club expansion opening night.

 

Inej hadn’t known how hard it would be to hear from his lips that she couldn’t go with him, Inej knew that before she asked of course. Somehow though, the words had come out anyways. Inej wanted to go with Kaz, be on his arm. She knew it was not in the cards for them though, that part of “normal”. She and Kaz both had too many enemies to make their relationship public, there were few who knew of their involvement with one another and Inej knew she should want to keep it that way. Yet, some part of her, that was just a normal girl- not spy, nor captain- didn’t care. That part of her wanted to waltz down the street with her arm in his and not worry about being noticed. Inej would always value their privacy, she and Kaz were similar in that way, but being able to attend such an event as something other than a business associate did sound appealing to her.

 

“What are you scheming for?” Inej asked quietly. Kaz didn’t answer for a long minute, Inej kept her eyes on the entrance to the Vixen’s Garden. She would not miss Charles Hester’s entrance.

 

“What if we did go together? What if we plant a seed of suspicion that the Pirate hunting slave ships on the sea is Dregs as well? Then wouldn’t that employer be forced to make his appearance in Ketterdam? Since he never seems to actually be on the ships you target? Here, we have the high ground, and a whole lot of fucking fire power.” Kaz mused. Inej felt her jaw fall off her face and damn near clatter to the shingles of the roof beneath her.

 

“Kaz… I can’t. No. It’ll endanger Jesper and Wylan, everyone else in the gang. You. He’s my enemy, not yours.” Inej whispered. Her heart was racing. Kaz was willing to take up arms against the slave trade in a very literal sense beside her.

 

“You forget, love, I killed his messenger. Whoever this man is, he knows your berth was in my name. I’m on his list now, too. Too bad I’m terribly difficult to kill.” Kaz grinned that knife edged smile that promised a job and a whole lot of trouble. Inej thought over his words, but before she could speak, Kaz continued.

 

“Also, Henrik’s men were the only ones who found the address to the Van Eck mansion, and you made quick work of them minus a bullet. He will have no idea Jesper and Wylan are of any relation to us outside previous gang affiliation. They’d have no reason to target them.” Kaz paused, his eyes scanning the Pleasure House before them. Inej hadn’t considered it like that, it was true. Kaz was now an enemy of this employer as well, therefore the Dregs could be targeted and Kaz would want to eliminate him for this reason, even without Inej’s involvement.

 

Inej didn’t know who this Slave trader was, but he’d be a fool to stand against Kaz Brekker in Ketterdam, on the streets he lived, breathed, and bled for.

 

“So what are you suggesting? We go public?” Inej laughed a disbelieving thing.

 

“No. I’m suggesting we go just as we are to the Club. We don’t tell anyone anything about us, we just let people see us there, together, with the Dregs. If this employer has anyone watching out for you, after this past voyage, he surely is attempting to have eyes on me as well since your ship docked in the berth with my name attached once more. It would cause him, at the very least, to want to have a closer look, if we got another of his associates in our grasp, we could make them crack and give us a name.”

 

“So you want me to come with you as the Wraith and Captain Ghafa, what about the rest of the Dregs? Will they know of our relationship if it comes down to this trader coming to confront us?” Inej asked. Inej didn’t want to put the Dregs in harm’s way, or leave them unaware, but Inej was understanding where Kaz was going with this. They needed to put an end to Charles Hester’s employer, an end to people like Tante Heleen buying human beings as if they were nothing more than new throw pillows for her sitting room.

 

“We’ll tell the rest of the Dregs if we have to, not a moment before. We never know where we could have a leak. For now, I’d like you to come with me in a way that doesn’t put a target on your back from other gangs for your association and assumed importance to me. Those of the Dregs that know about us were there the night we ran into Henrik; they know I eliminated a threat against you. They won’t hesitate to eliminate a perceived threat against either of us or the Dregs when we do confront Hester and his employer.”

 

Inej turned Kaz’s plan around in her mind, it was a good one. Inej would be able to attend the evening with Kaz, while also dropping a bread crumb trail to lure out the slave trader she needed to stop. They’d either catch him right away when he came to Ketterdam, or at the very least one of his associates in order to gather intel. Inej had pondered if they should just try and crack Charles Hester, but Inej wanted to leave that path open for now. No matter how much she wanted to watch the light drain from his eyes under her blade. Inej wanted to stop the whole damn thing, and Charles Hester was the only living lead they had. If Kaz’s plan was successful, then they would have another avenue to the slave trader and could take down Hester and a major human trafficking sector in one fell swoop, while simultaneously harming Tante Heleen’s operation as well. Hopefully, this stakeout would also provide insight to the madam of Vixen’s Garden, who they could also cut down with the removal of this slave route.

 

“Let’s take them down, Kaz.” Inej felt conviction steel her bones.

 

“So you will attend as my date even if only we know that is what it is?” Kaz asked from beside her as he poised a spyglass to his eye.

 

Inej laughed.

 

Of course that was all Kaz Brekker had heard. Saints help the fool who stood in the way of Kaz and anything he truly desired. He’d come up with a plan to get them both what they wanted. A night together in public and progress on the job.

 

“Yes I’ll come with you. It’s about time you took me out, Kaz Brekker. Seeing as I sleep in your bed and you’ve met my parents.” Inej jested.

 

“Darling Inej, Treasure of my heart, will you accompany me on a mission to destroy terrible business men and women while also enjoying a drink at the club bar before we go to bed together?” Kaz said with false bravado that made Inej blush fiercely.

 

“Saints help me, I already said yes.” Inej chuckled.

 

Kaz smiled and she felt his hand entwine with hers on the shingles. She scooted closer to him and laid her head on his shoulder. He had the spyglass up to his eye and Inej trusted him to keep watch for now.

 

Inej remembered other nights just like this, where they would be sitting with barely any space between them, but it would feel as if he was a million miles away. Inej remembered how she’d wanted to lean into him on those cold nights they spent on their bellies, spying on marks for the job. Inej pressed closer into his side now, his hand left hers but his arm wrapped around her shoulder instead.

 

She never wanted those inches that had felt wider than the True sea to separate their hearts again.

 

Inej tilted her head up and whispered his name to get his attention, Kaz lowered the spyglass and turned his head to look down at her, the moonlight made his sharp lines look harsher, his skin more radiant. Inej raised her head off his shoulder and held onto his eyes before she leaned in for only a moment.

 

The Wraith kissed Dirtyhands on the job that night.

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            The gold of his crow shaped cufflinks glinted in the dim lamplight of Kaz’s attic room as he snapped them to his sleeves. Kaz added an onyx tie to his neck and slipped into his freshly tailored suit jacket, he’d bought a new one specifically for this occasion. The expansion of the Crow Club opened tonight. The expansion added a second bar, three new private parlors, eight additional tables in the main hall, and a smoking lounge that overlooked the main floor of the club. According to the note Roeder dropped off for him an hour ago, the club was already packed despite the early evening hour, just past six bells. The bar tenders were rolling in kruge and the game tables had waiting lists. Kaz smiled to himself as he flicked up his cane and stopped by his dresser to dab some of his cologne on his neck. Inej liked it, he knew that much. He’d only worn it once or twice around her, he rarely used it; but on the night that they’d had dinner with her parents, Inej had settled next to him in bed and inhaled deeper than she normally did. According to her “it makes you smell even more like you.” Kaz felt a smile tug on his face at the memory.

 

            Kaz was excited, he realized. He was going to his own Club, and not working. He’d be nothing more than a presence of authority and the leader and owner of the club. Kaz was mostly going to enjoy himself. Inej would be there. Jesper and Wylan would be there. They were celebrating something he’d done, celebrating the success of himself and the Dregs. Kaz couldn’t believe it, his past self was squinting his eyes in suspicion at him from within. Surely this was not his life.

 

            A musical knock on his door shook Kaz from the swirling web of epiphanies he’d been having. Kaz limped and unlocked the trio of mechanisms on the door. Kaz opened it and was greeted by a clementine suit clad zemini sharp shooter and a bottle of bourbon.

 

            “Hello, Kaz.” Jesper chirped as he moved around Kaz to enter the attic. Kaz rolled his eyes but he smiled privately as he shut the door.

 

            “What business, Jes?” Kaz asked as he leaned his cane against the wall.

 

            “Brought us this. Thought we could toast. Tell me you have glasses up here still.” Jesper set the bottle of bourbon on Kaz’s desk as he began to rummage through Kaz’s desk. Kaz pointed to the right side drawer and Jesper retrieved glasses. Kaz picked up the bottle and inspected the label, it was vintage. Expensive. Jesper had bought him a gift to share with him before they went to the Club they both owned.

 

There was a time where Kaz would have sent Jesper away, told him not to be so damn sentimental. Kaz found there was no part of him who wanted to do that this time. Kaz wished Jordie was here on a daily basis, Jesper was as close as it came. Kaz was grateful.

 

“You’re wearing an orange suit.” Kaz found himself saying with a mock grimace, despite that it was pointing out the obvious.

 

“And you’re wearing black. Everything seems normal to me, Brekker.” Jesper quipped as he swiped the bottle from Kaz and opened the top. Kaz let a small smile break free on his face as he took a glass of bourbon from Jesper. He noticed Jesper did not have cufflinks on.

 

“To a divine partnership that will surely result in more color in your life, Kaz.” Jesper raised his glass and clinked it against Kaz’s.

 

“To the Club. Please don’t relapse.” Kaz quipped and Jesper rolled his silver eyes but his grin showed he knew Kaz meant it only in fun. Kaz had high hopes for Jesper’s recovery, Wylan and himself would be around all evening as well as Inej. Besides, Dregs were not to be served at the tables tonight, the spots were reserved for paying pigeons. Jesper wouldn’t be allowed to sit at a table even if he managed to get close enough. Jesper had also done excellently thus far, he had so much success on the stock market that Kaz didn’t think he missed the tables nearly as much as he had in the beginning of his road to recovery from his gambling addiction.

 

“Where’s Wylan?” Kaz asked after he took a healthy swig of the golden liquor. It went down smooth as smoke. Divine.

 

“He’s going to meet us at the Club, I thought I could go with you, since you know, partial owner.” Jesper grinned and his iron eyes shined with excitement.

 

“Fine.” Kaz grumbled, but he felt his chest warm. He had known what the gift he’d given Jesper meant to his friend, Kaz was happy that Jesper didn’t feel the need to remark on the rest of the truth he’d told him. About his brother.

 

Kaz didn’t mind entering the Club with Jesper either, considering Inej had also opted to meet him there. Inej had mentioned she was going to invite Specht as well as a few of her crew members who were still in Ketterdam for their leave on land. Kaz knew Inej had already insured their loyalty and none of them would speak of their Captain’s relationship, besides none of them other than Specht even knew who Kaz was. He hadn’t yet met her crew. Kaz didn’t mind them attending, it was more people who were loyal to Inej at her back in case anything went awry with their plans or if the Slave trade employer dared to send any associates their way during the coming days.

 

“Is that hers?” Jesper asked and Kaz looked up from his thoughts and followed Jesper’s gaze to the emblem hanging above his bed. Jesper was smiling as he took in Inej’s chosen symbol for her ship.

 

“It is.” Kaz said simply, not bothering to hide the grin on his face.

 

“She didn’t show us before she left on the sea, guess she wanted you to see it first.” Jesper said with another sip of bourbon.

 

“She gave it to me.” Kaz rasped and turned and walked to his dresser, he opened the top drawer.

 

“It suits her. And you.” Jesper said easily from behind him. Kaz found what he was looking for before he turned back and crossed the room back to his desk.

 

“Open your hand.” Kaz said and Jesper raised a dark brow before setting down his bourbon and holding his hand out.

 

Kaz dropped a spare pair of cufflinks into Jesper’s palm. They were identical to the ones he was wearing, except silver instead of gold. Crow shaped silhouettes.

 

The devil was in the details.

 

“Really?” Jesper whispered, his mouth slightly ajar.

 

“Keep them. You’re partial owner. I have another set.” Kaz twisted his wrist in Jesper’s direction and the gold of his own links caught the light.

 

“Thank you.” Jesper said as he was already pinning them onto his sleeves. The silver somehow complemented the clementine suit. Kaz nodded sharply and took another drink.

 

Kaz didn’t know why he’d done it, but he would have done it for Jordie. He’d do it for Jesper in his dead brother’s place.

 

“Shall we?” Kaz asked once Jesper had the links in place.

 

“Abso-fucking-lutely.” Jesper grinned and loped to the door of the attic as he whistled a musical tune. Kaz sighed but he followed Jesper out, locking the door behind him. A smile stayed trapped on his lips.

 

 

 

About twenty minutes later, Jesper and Kaz were hanging their snow dusted coats in the hall closet of the private back entrance to the Crow Club. The front entrance had a line as they’d passed. Kaz had spotted Dirix directing people in and Pim was patting people down for weapons. Only members of the Gang were allowed to be armed in the Crow Club on such a packed night. Kaz did not want blood stains on the fresh carpet of his gambling hall, he at least wanted it to be unmarred for one Ghezen blessed night.

 

Jesper followed Kaz out the curtain hiding the private entrance from sight and straight up the stairs that would lead them to the new smoking lounge that looked over the Club’s main floor. The lounge was on reserve for the Dregs only for opening night, the lounge would be open to the public for the first time the following night. Kaz reached the landing and saw most of the Dregs already clutching drinks and passing around bottles, card games were being played on the low tables surrounded by sofas and arm chairs. All of the upholstery was crushed velvet in a crimson color, the furnishings otherwise were black wood. The chandeliers were lit low above them, a wet bar was in the corner and Kaz noticed Anika pouring rounds of shots for herself and Rotty. Conversation buzzed around them.  All of the club was being manned primarily by staff tonight, not Dregs members. Those who were working were already down on the floor and at the doors. Pim and Dirix as well as James, an older man but new recruit, who was guarding the back entrance. Those who were working would get to enjoy themselves the next night, it was something Kaz had made sure of. No one would say anything but he knew the gang was grateful for the private lounge on reserve away from the pigeons on the ground floor. The gang was smart enough not to thank him, Kaz hated gratitude.

Kaz may have also spent a decent amount of kruge stocking the bar up here. It was the only way he knew how to thank those who were loyal to him in the Dregs. Dirtyhands hadn’t even been able to object to that. Loyalty was being paid for tonight, even if Kaz knew that was not why the Dregs were loyal to him. It had not as much to do with kruge, but with status. The Dregs were untouchable in the barrel since he’d taken over as their leader.

 

“Boss! Jesper!” Rotty exclaimed from near the bar and walked quickly to clap Jesper on the back. Jesper was already grinning ear to ear. Kaz knew Jes was always Dregs, even if he was a bonafide mercher alongside Wylan. Jesper also had many more friends in the gang than Kaz could even keep track of.

 

Jesper was a social butterfly. Kaz was a distanced moth in the corner. Opposites.

 

Kaz smiled at his own analogy before he left Jesper and Rotty to catch up and limped to the bar and poured himself a stiff whiskey, which he promptly took with him to the rail of the lounge.  The club was indeed packed, the floor was buzzing with alcohol infused energy and excitement. The occasional squeal of a win at the tables sounded through the hall, conversations of every type floated up to Kaz’s ears. Kaz grinned and took a sip from his whiskey as he leaned against the railing.

 

“Congrats, boss.” Arman said from behind Kaz, Kaz turned and nodded. Arman smiled before he walked away, Kaz spied where he was walking to. The medic he was courting, Daron, was sitting on one of the sofas across the lounge, smiling and waiting for Arman. Kaz had told Arman the medic was welcome for the opening when Arman had awkwardly stood in his office that morning and tried to ask if he could bring a guest. Arman was a newer member still and Kaz had almost laughed at him for asking. Kaz had no patience and simply said “for Ghezen sake just bring the man and leave me alone.” Kaz didn’t mind, the Dregs were also responsible for the success of the Club.

 

“It looks incredible. It also flows right.” Kaz turned to see Wylan leaning against the rail a few paces down from him, his auburn hair looked aflame in the low chandelier haze. Wylan was wearing a suit just like Jesper, but his was an emerald green. It was much more subdued than Jesper’s own fashion choice. They were both wearing the respective colors of Noyvi Zem, Kaz realized. It must have been to celebrate Jesper’s own involvement with the Crow Club now. Kaz noted that Wylan was keeping an eye on Jesper from the corner of his eye, but he seemed relaxed. There was no trouble for Jesper to get into up here, away from the real danger of the tables below them, housing everything from three-man bramble to straight shot.

 

“Thanks.” Kaz mumbled. He’d accept the compliment from one of his few friends, he appreciated Wylan’s notice of the “flow” of the building. Wylan had helped him with some of the architectural decisions for this very lounge.

 

“Where’s our favorite assassin?” Jesper quipped as he walked up and wrapped his arms around Wylan, causing a flush to spread on the gingers face.

 

“She’ll be here.” Kaz answered, as he looked back to the stairway once more. He was eager for Inej to arrive, he wanted to share this with her. He wanted to feel her near, walk the room with her by his side, even if only very few here knew they were together.

 

A moment later, Rotty and Anika walked up and greeted Wylan and began talking to them about all of Jesper’s success with the markets, Kaz found himself standing with them. Even if he barely spoke, he found he was enjoying himself and listening to the conversation was actually pleasant. Rotty and Anika had exchanged a glance between themselves that screamed “he’s actually staying to talk with us”, Kaz couldn’t blame them. He didn’t offer comradery or friendship to the Dregs. Tonight, he’d allow himself a moment of it, though.

 

Sometime after Jesper had retrieved them another round of whiskey, Kaz felt Inej near.

 

The whiskey smoothed his muscles just slightly, allowing a small smile to pull on his face. Kaz noticed most of the Dregs were looking toward the stairway.

 

“What is everyone staring at?” Jesper mused aloud as their whole group turned to face the stairwell.

 

Captain Inej Ghafa. That was who everyone was staring at. Kaz’s throat went dry at the sight before him.

 

Inej was standing in the doorway to the stairs, shadowed by Specht and two of her female crew members. She was taking in the lounge and her eyes looked up to the low chandeliers. Inej’s hair was down and rolled down her body in smooth midnight waves that reached her waist. She was wearing a perfectly tailored black naval jacket with gold buttons that lined the front, it accentuated her waist in a way that Kaz would surely call illegal. It ended just below her hip bones in a sharp line. She had the buttons of her jacket undone halfway down her middle, it revealed bare bronze collar bones and a slightly deeper neckline than anything Kaz had ever seen her wear before. He could not allow himself to notice the slight cleavage her jacket promoted. She was clad in black pants that fit her better than his most worn pair of gloves fit his hands, making her curves prominent and delicate at the same time. She wore shined black leather boots that fit snugly over her knees, almost to her thigh, they gave her an inch or two in height. Her nose piercing was in again, a small gold ring that matched the buttons of her jacket. Her eyes had a slight dust of coal to them and it made the flecks of fire in her irises strike out every time her head moved in the low lighting.

 

This was Captain Ghafa, Inej as the leader at the head of a warship. She was striking. Inej in tailored clothes and lines that rivaled his was almost as magnificent as Inej in silks. Who was he kidding? Inej’s existence alone just did things to him.

 

Kaz didn’t fucking care anymore. Inej could not look like that and have him not gravitate to her.

 

He was a moth after all. Inej was the light.

 

Kaz stood up, he felt eyes on him, both knowing and confused amongst them.

 

“Captain Ghafa.” Kaz said as he approached Inej and extended his hand.

 

He was already drunk off her, no alcohol was needed.

 

“Mr. Brekker.” Inej said with a smirk as she placed a bronze hand in his gloved one. Kaz noticed Specht roll his eyes behind her as he made his way to the bar.

 

Kaz brought her hand up and kissed her knuckles gently. He didn’t miss the surprise on her face, he probably shouldn’t have done it. Kaz didn’t care. He heard some whispers from confused Dregs behind him, he couldn’t be bothered to find out who it was. To anyone else, the gesture was only a little forward, not exactly professional, but not a confirmation of anything either. Kaz and Inej knew better.

 

The smile Inej gave him was only for them. It was a smile that said “I love you” in a language only they understood.

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            “What’s your poison, Cap?” Specht asked Inej from across the wet bar in the corner of the Crow Club lounge. Kaz had walked with her to the bar, Quin and Greer had followed as well. Inej’s crewmates had both jumped at the opportunity for a night out in Ketterdam with Inej and Specht- especially a night where drinks were free and there was a private lounge in a popular club. Quin’s wife, Mira, had elected to stay in their boarding room, Mira was much more of a quiet soul than her counterpart. Quin was loud and boisterous and the first to sing a shanty on the sea, whereas Mira was one for reserved observation. Inej’s crewmates knew she was involved with the owner of the club- they had not met Kaz prior, though. Nor did they know who he really was, leader of the Dregs, Dirtyhands. Specht had clearly told them he was also a part of the Dregs just as much as Inej herself, though.

 

            “Hi, Inej.” Anika said to Inej as she made her way around Specht to retrieve more drinks from the bar. Inej had spotted Jesper and Wylan as well on her way in, she would join them after she acquired a drink for herself. Kaz seemed content to stand with her, that much was evident in the way he’d brushed his lips to her hand the moment he’d seen her. It surprised Inej, it also made her heart jump in rhythm. Kaz looked every part the owner of the Club tonight. His lines were perfect, maybe even more perfect than usual; from his tailored obsidian suit to his crisp facial features. His jawline was enchantingly smooth, sharp as a blade. 

 

Inej thought if sculptors could only study him, they’d understand how to make stone take the form of flesh.

 

He had forgone no expense on the club itself, either. Inej was mesmerized. It was beautiful, sultry, and alive. It was warm, decadent. The Crow Club was a project of passion, even if Kaz would never admit it.

 

It was Kaz, emanated in timber and playing cards and crushed velvet.

 

“I guess bourbon, Specht. Hello, Anika.” Inej smiled softly to the blonde with an incline of her head. Anika smiled in return and Inej was once again glad for their new found mutual respect. There was no malice in Anika’s greeting whatsoever.

 

“Are you sure you want bourbon when I acquired this?” Kaz said as he reached around the counter to a shelf below the bar and brought out a handle of rum. Inej felt her stomach flip in a pleasant tumble. Kaz had a talent for thinking of everything.

 

“Oh no, she’ll definitely have that, she’s quite the fan.” Specht answered Kaz with a chuckle as he poured out drinks. Inej rolled her eyes but she was already reaching for the bottle in Kaz’s hands. He held it out of her reach with a crooked grin.

 

“You’re the worst, Kaz Brekker; using someone’s height to their disadvantage.” Inej cried but a smile broke free on her lips. Cheeky Kaz was a rare sight, she loved it every time.

 

“We all know I’m the worst, Inej.” Kaz chuckled and she heard Greer laugh from beside her as she took a glass of bourbon from Specht.

 

“I’ll have you know I’m still very much armed, Kaz Brekker.” Inej smiled deviously as she settled back down on her feet from her toes. This caught Kaz’s attention instantly. Inej thought that just might appeal to Dirtyhands. Inej was aware of Anika muffling laughter at the sight of Kaz swallowing thickly in the wake of the revelation, and trying and failing to keep his eyes from scanning over Inej’s body. Inej did not have her blades visible this evening, one would not even know she was armed with her current ensemble.

 

“Where on earth did you hide blades?” Jesper asked from behind Inej, she hadn’t even noticed his approach. She turned to see him chuckling and making a show of trying to estimate where she could have hidden her personal armory.

 

“Isn’t that the question we’d all love to know the answer to?” Greer piped in from beside Inej.

 

“I’ll tell you if you give me the rum, Kaz.” Inej purred and she smirked as he handed over the bottle easily.

 

Inej stood on her toes as if to whisper the secret to Kaz.

 

“I didn’t specify when I’d tell you. Bad form to not notate every detail of the deal, Brekker.” Inej whispered in his ear with a smirk at the almost undetectable tremor that ran through his frame at her proximity. Inej knew the affect she’d had on him, it made her face warm, but she felt confident. Strong. Like the Captain she was.

 

Inej took the bottle and moved away from Kaz around the bar and swiped up a glass tumbler for herself.

 

Kaz shook his head at her, his eyes said “devious, wraith.” Anika laughed openly. The only people at the bar currently were those familiar with Kaz and Inej’s relationship. To anyone else, it just looked like a normal conversation, one where Inej may have conveyed a secret to a business partner.

 

“So, are you the owner?” Greer turned to Jesper. Inej realized suddenly that she had not described Kaz’s appearance to anyone on her crew, only mentioned him. Greer was clearly trying to deduct who Inej was involved with. Inej saw Kaz roll his eyes when Jesper said “partially” with a grin that screamed pride.

 

“Great, so not about to hit on you. How about you? Are you single?” Greer turned her sights on Kaz. Inej did not hesitate to answer.

 

“No, he’s not.” Inej sent a frigid glare in her crewmates direction, though she softened immediately when Greer threw up her hands in a mock surrender when she saw her captain’s look. Jesper was suppressing a ridiculous bout of giggles at being mistaken for Inej’s lover, even Specht coughed to cover a laugh from beside her. Kaz’s pupils widened just slightly, but he did not giveaway to anyone besides Inej how taken aback he was by the clear come on from Inej’s crewmate.

 

Greer was much like how Jesper had once been, before Wylan. Wasn’t much for commitment, but loved to play the field. Boys, Girls. It didn’t matter. Greer was just a flirt, Inej loved her for it. Except when it involved Kaz.

 

“I see. My mistake, Captain.” Greer smiled and Inej returned it. Inej was grateful that Greer would say no more, in case of prying unaware ears.

 

“Flattered, but your Captain would be correct, very much unavailable. I’m the other owner of this club.” Kaz rasped and Inej felt a flutter from her chest to her stomach. She’d never heard Kaz acknowledge their relationship to anyone besides their friends and her parents. She’d been unconscious when he’d told the other close knit members of the Dregs of their involvement. She wanted to drown in Kaz’s eyes when he looked at her then.

 

They were molten fire in the middle of an umber sandstorm. Burning, burning for her.

 

“Right. Anyways, Greer, Quin- this is Kaz Brekker.” Inej motioned with her hand as she poured her drink. Greer and Quin both smiled and Kaz nodded once. Jesper scoffed.

 

“Hello! Inej, Sweet, aren’t you forgetting someone?” Jesper’s silver eyes twinkled with amusement. Inej huffed a laugh but repeated the same introduction of her crewmates to Jesper. She picked up her drink as Anika also introduced herself and she made her way back around the bar, she felt Kaz’s gaze on her until she was standing right beside him. Inej noticed a flex of his gloved fingers on the crow head of his cane. Inej was about to move toward where she saw Wylan and Rotty talking on some sofas across the lounge, when she felt a subtle brush against her hand, a gloved finger entwined with hers for only a moment before letting go.

 

It was Kaz’s way of saying he wanted her near, it was written in his eyes when his gaze flicked to hers.

 

Inej wanted to kiss him. She wanted to grab that perfectly straight tie and bring his lips to hers right in the middle of the Crow Club lounge. She would not. But she considered it.

 

 

KAZ

 

            “That’s not exactly what happened!” Quin, Inej’s third in command on her ship cried to Greer who was now sitting very close to a slightly intoxicated Rotty on the sofa across from Kaz and Inej. Jesper and Wylan were sharing the sofa to Kaz’s left and Quin was sitting with Anika on Inej’s right.

 

            “It is, Quin. We all saw it. You tried to drink yourself silly and then climb to the nest, even though the sea was restless. It was a delight to watch Mira drag you to bed.” Inej chuckled from beside him. Kaz wanted to wrap his arm around her and pull her into his side. He would have if it wasn’t for the rest of the lounge full of Dregs in their own celebratory card matches and conversations around them. The Club was buzzing with excitement from below the balcony as well. Inej had gotten here around a half bell ago and now Kaz found himself sitting in a circle of his closest friends, most trusted Dregs, The Wraith’s crew, and his girl. Kaz almost laughed aloud at the realization.

 

            Kaz Brekker was socializing. Well, as close as he came to it. Kaz discovered he didn’t loathe it entirely.

 

            “You’re the Captain! Aren’t you supposed to be neutral?” Quin cried as she tossed a red lock of hair over her shoulder. Her kaelish features were soft, Kaz estimated she was somewhere around twenty-five years old. Greer was closer to himself and Jesper in age, perhaps twenty.

 

            “I’m a Captain who values both truth and laughter, therefore I will not lie on this front.” Inej laughed freely before she took a long drink of her second glass of rum. Kaz noticed a flush blooming on her bronze cheeks, it was his favorite color.

 

            “Fine! I’m going to get another drink.” Quin mumbled with an amused glare in Inej’s direction.

 

            “When you return you must share the most amusing story you have of Inej!” Wylan chirped to Quin’s back and Inej immediately shot a glare in the ginger’s direction.

 

            “Oh I love your ideas, Merchling. Your mind is truly one of your best qualities, I’d say the best but we both kno-” Jesper was cut off with a jab in the ribs by Wylan, embarrassment rippled across his freckled face. Clearly Jesper was about to divulge intimate details of his favorite physical qualities of his boyfriend.

 

            “No need to wait, my favorite story of Inej is when I asked her to join me in bed and she damn near stabbed me.” Greer laughed and Inej rolled her eyes, her nose piercing caught in the light and Kaz was momentarily lost in the idea of asking Inej to leave with him and go home right now.

 

            “I didn’t expect you in my cabin, first off. Second, you were drunk out of your mind. Third, I felt guilty because you didn’t know I was not interested in women. Fourth, I had someone already and didn’t know how to tell you that in a way your drunk mind would understand and not make you cry. Fifth, you’re my friend.” Inej made a show of listing her points off her bronze fingers, it was evident Inej and Greer were close enough to make light of the awkward event now. Everyone laughed, even Kaz found himself chuckling. Kaz couldn’t blame Greer, same way he couldn’t blame Rotty when he’d asked Inej out. Inej was enchanting and dangerous and beautiful.

 

            Kaz was the luckiest bastard of them all, and he knew it. He resisted the urge to reach for her hand. It felt natural now.

 

            “Don’t feel bad, most of us have fallen under atleast one of the holy duo of untoucheableness spells at one point or another,” Jesper piped in with a smirk.

 

            “What the hell is the holy duo of untoucheableness?” Kaz found himself asking, Inej also looked confused. He didn’t think he was the only one who had missed something, and he certainly was not drunk enough to not hear properly.

 

            Rotty, Anika and Jesper all exchanged glances and muffled chuckles under their breath.

 

            “I’m as confused as you are.” Inej leaned over to whisper to Kaz.

 

            “Oh, Ghezen. They mean the two of you.” Wylan was the one who spoke quietly to avoid anyone outside of their group hearing. He shed a soft smile in Kaz and Inej’s direction, his blue eyes aflame in amusement. Kaz didn’t understand.

 

            “It’s a term we coined for the two people who every single man and woman noticed in the barrel. The two people who never noticed anyone outside of each other, for literal years.” Jesper choked out in between laughs.

 

            “Oh.” Kaz said dumbly, he felt out of his element. Yes, he knew people had looked at him before, apparently even Anika. But Kaz had never slowed down enough to pay the attention any mind, why would he? He never thought he would be able to fight against the sickness and ghosts that plagued his mind in order to be close to another person in any real way, physically or otherwise. Inej was the only exception, she had convinced him to try one more time to fight it. He was still fighting. Every saints-damned day. It was worth it to know what it felt like to sleep with her in his arms, to be able to kiss her lips, even just softly.

 

Inej was worth the swim across the harbor of his nightmares.

 

Inej was the only person who had caught his attention in years, and the only one who had ever made all thoughts drain from his mind with a laugh. It seemed fitting that the one person that Kaz Brekker noticed was the one who tried her best to blend in shadow, to be invisible. She stood out to him, Inej was brighter than anything he’d ever seen.

 

“Oh.” Inej parroted beside him. Kaz decided he could care less if this was a joke meant to be their expense, it was also the truth. Kaz had eyes for her and her alone.

 

Inej turned to him then and the smile she wore said she felt the same way. Inej picked up her glass of rum, Kaz caught on quickly and picked up his own bourbon from the low card table in front of them. They clinked glasses and sipped before they both leaned back into the couch smugly, almost in perfect tandem. Jesper’s jaw hung askew from its hinges of flesh on his face. Wylan was cackling already, his face red from laughter and drink. Anika simply shook her head, but a smile marred the blonde’s face. Greer was chuckling in between glances at Rotty. Clearly he’d caught Greer’s attention.

 

“That was disturbing.” Jesper chuckled and Kaz felt Inej inch only slightly closer to him, her thigh only a hairs-width away from his on the sofa.

 

            Quin returned shortly after, and Kaz listened as Inej told Rotty and Anika more detailed recants of her voyages, they’d never heard her stories. Her crewmates joined in. Wylan and Jesper had caught the attention of Roeder, who was now seated in a chair across from them, turns out Roeder had always had a keen interest in shooting and Jesper was gesturing wildly about how to aim with different firearms, occasionally Kaz would join into one conversation or another. It was strange, how normal this felt. Kaz had thought he’d feel like he wanted to leave the first moment possible, it wasn’t the case. The only thing Kaz craved that could only be obtained in private was to kiss Inej. He wanted her closer than she was, he wanted to feel her palm in his, even through gloves.

 

            After some time, and at least two more rounds of drinks, Kaz could admit he was buzzed right alongside the rest of them. He felt warm, his mind was still fairly clear. It was a comfortable kind of buzz, the kind that only made his muscles feel looser, his leg stopped throbbing almost entirely. Greer had moved to another table to talk with Specht as well as Roeder. Rotty and Anika were across from Kaz and Inej, Jesper and Wylan were on the left still, Quin on the right.

 

            “Care to play a round of straight shot?” Quin asked as she pulled out a deck of cards from her pocket. Kaz felt Inej tense beside him, her eyes flicked to Jesper. Jesper had never much cared for straight shot, but Kaz felt the same unease for their friend bloom in his stomach.

 

            “Stop looking at me like that, I’ll watch and help Wylan. We’ll play as a team, I won’t join. Don’t let me stop you.” Jesper said with a flick of his umber wrist. Kaz noticed a slight downturn in his expression. It was Jesper’s only expression of shame.

 

            “That’s a smart move, Jes.” Inej voiced softly. Kaz noticed Wylan lay an encouraging hand on Jesper’s knee. Kaz looked away from the smile his two friends shared, it felt private. Kaz understood those moments now, he had them with Inej. It was the moments when the world could burn and he wouldn’t notice even if his blazer caught fire; he would be too trapped in the silent conversation with her.

           

            Kaz noticed Inej shake her head in Quin’s direction at the sight of her raised brows; telling her not to ask what the problem was. Kaz found he liked the kaelish woman well enough, she seemed strong, loyal to Inej. He also remembered the story Inej had written in her journal regarding her ginger third in command, it was another devastating tale of the slave trade.

 

            “You deal, Cap.” Quin passed the cards to Inej and Inej promptly dropped the card box onto Kaz’s lap. Rotty chuckled, the message was clear. Kaz was the best dealer amongst them by a long shot. Considering he was the only one who actually dealt the tables.

 

            Kaz sighed and Inej’s eyebrows raised, her eyes shined in challenge. When Kaz made no move for the cards, Inej huffed a breath.

 

            “Fine. I’ll do it, but you’ll be annoyed.” Inej mumbled, though a devilish little grin spread on her lips. Inej grabbed the box back up and took the cards out, before painstakingly trying to bridge them in a shuffle.

 

            Kaz groaned at the catastrophe of her shuffling, causing Jesper to throw his head back in laughter right alongside a chorus of chuckles from Anika and Rotty.

 

            Kaz reached and ripped the cards back from Inej’s hands gently. She smiled smugly and flipped a dark lock of hair over her shoulder. It was a motion that only said “told you so.”

 

            “We need to work on that. Your hands need practice.” Kaz grumbled as he began to bridge the cards skillfully, the feeling familiar beneath the leather of his gloves.

 

            “Was that an innuendo?” Jesper choked out, almost spitting whiskey everywhere.

 

            “Most definitely not, if it was, he would not be saying my hands need work.” Inej quipped easily, she winked in Kaz’s direction. Kaz recalled how Inej had once told him to come back at Jesper about their private physical life to get him to cease his jokes. Kaz fucking loved when Inej clapped back at others. Her wit just made him want to kiss her more.

 

            Fuck. Inej winked at him. She was going to kill him. Inej was going to kill him slowly, with looks just like that. Kaz could not contemplate what Inej meant about her hands. Her wink would surely haunt his sleep. Whether dreams or nightmares remained to be seen.

 

            Jesper laughed unabashedly and so did everyone else. Kaz couldn’t be bothered to care if anyone else in the lounge had overheard that part of their conversation, it did not confirm a relationship between himself and Inej. It was just drink-fueled banter in the eyes of an outsider.

 

            “How about a wager? No kruge, just drinks!” Anika piped up, her posture perking up. Kaz sighed but relented at the nudge in his thigh from Inej’s own. Kaz did not allow himself to get well and truly drunk often, there was too much room for error in the barrel when one’s mind was unclear. Kaz supposed, though, tonight may be an exception. This was his club, everything he’d spent years working for seen to cultivation. This was his gang. He was their leader. He decided if he was to show any level of comradery to anyone in the gang outside of Inej and Jes and Wylan, it would be Anika and Rotty.

 

            Kaz began to deal the cards out in a circle around the small table before them, he felt Inej’s eyes on him. Once he finished, he turned to look at her. Inej was smiling.

 

            “What?” Kaz whispered as the others began to pick up their dealt hands, talking amongst themselves.

 

            “Your dealing face is my fourth favorite.” Inej mumbled as she flicked up her own hand and began to examine the cards.

 

            “What’s first?” Kaz asked despite himself, the bourbon lending give to his vocal chords too, apparently.

 

            “Scheming face.” Inej chuckled, he noticed the way she bit her lip slightly when she reorganized the cards in her hand.

            Kaz decided he was going to kiss her as soon as he could. The moment the door of the Attic closed when they got back to the Slat. Kaz didn’t think he’d ever wanted to kiss her as much, but he’d told himself that a hundred times over, hadn't he?

 

           

 

            Four rounds of cards and about three drinks later, Inej’s crew bid their goodbyes, it was sometime after twelve bells. The Club was still in full swing as was the lounge, but apparently none of Inej’s crew had wanted to stay late. Kaz watched as Inej trailed them to the stairway that led them out of the lounge, he knew Inej was not sober. She did not sway in her walk; she was eternally the acrobat. But, she had this way of talking more with her hands when she was drunk, it was subtle but Kaz noticed. She was doing it now as she made plans to work on her ship with Specht. Kaz loved it.

 

            Kaz stood up from his spot on the sofa, the others were wrapped up in conversation and paid him no mind. He walked to where Inej stood by the stairs. Kaz had decided to take the opportunity to have a moment alone with Inej, perhaps he could not wait until they returned to the Slat.

 

Not when she looked so saints-damning beautiful.

 

            “May I have a moment?” Kaz asked her softly when Specht disappeared down the stairs. Inej turned to look at him and she nodded subtly.

 

            Kaz walked them across the lounge and down a short hallway that led to a private parlor, only big enough for one gaming table. It would be used for high rollers who didn’t want to be on the floor of the Club. The small parlor would be available for reservation only. It was also a room that Kaz had dedicated to his own use when not reserved, he planned to invite Jesper and Wylan to this parlor for a card night, away from the temptation for Jesper but also a way for him to come to the Club safely. A place that he could enjoy a game with no bets, no gamble.

 

            Kaz unlocked the door and gestured for Inej to go first. Thankfully, Kaz didn’t worry about disappearing from the lounge with Inej in front of the Dregs. Inej was the Wraith. Anyone would assume he was accepting information from his best spy.

 

            Inej smiled at him as she moved past and entered the small room, the chandelier was on dimly above the card table, casting the room in a warm glow. The maroon walls reflected the light softly. Kaz took a deep breath at the sight of Inej spinning in a small circle, taking in the details. Her boots clicked softly on the dark wood floors. There was a painting of the Crow and Cup on the wall in black and white. Kaz had commissioned it from Marya, Wylan’s mother, while Inej was on her voyage. Marya had tried to refuse payment from Kaz but he did not relent. He had paid her enough to help Wylan with the finishing of her gallery at the Van Eck mansion.

            Inej paused her spin and looked to him, her eyes gave him a glimpse of the happiness she felt. Kaz wanted… he wanted to try. He wanted to kiss her the way he had dreamed of kissing her. His eyes met hers and he didn’t know how long they looked at each other, a second or a minute. They came to an agreement in their silence.

 

            Something snapped in Kaz’s chest. He had to try. He wanted to kiss the girl he loved the way she deserved to be kissed. He leaned his cane against the wall, he slipped the gloves off of his hands. He didn’t want this memory clouded with leather. 

 

Kaz walked to Inej, his feet moving on their own accord. Inej met him halfway. Kaz’s hands came up and he brought them delicately to her cheeks, her skin warm and soft beneath his palms. Her eyes were caramel pools, her pupils wide. Kaz didn’t see the shadows of her demons, he didn’t feel the water. Kaz didn’t know if it was the bourbon he had to thank or one of her saints, but Kaz couldn’t care less.

 

Kaz Brekker leaned down to his girl, and he kissed her. He kissed her softly first. Then her lips moved against his, he pulled her closer to him. It was searing, desperate, a kiss worth waiting for. He deepened that kiss as much as he dared so as not to tempt the water. He’d kiss her better, someday. This alone was a victory he once never considered possible. Kaz felt her hands rest gently at his sides. His thumbs brushed her cheeks, he felt her pulse at the tips of his fingers beneath her jaw, it beat a rhythm that was as furious as his own. Kaz did the one thing he hadn’t been able to stop thinking about being able to do. He gently bit her lip the way she always did.

 

Inej smiled into that kiss then, he’d never tasted anything so sweet.

 

Her smile tasted like salvation.

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            “Want to go back to the house and drink out of my father’s vintage whiskey collection?” Wylan laughed from across Inej. Wylan and herself had ended up at a table by themselves playing a round of go-fish. Kaz and Jesper were across the lounge; they had gone to get drinks twenty minutes’ prior and clearly got caught in a conversation with Rotty at the bar. Inej smiled to herself as she watched Kaz from across the room. He wasn’t exactly smiling, but she saw a slight quirk on his lips, he was nodding and he laughed along with Jesper at something the burly Dregs member said. It wasn’t a free laugh, it was more reserved, but it was a laugh amongst others. It was a start for Kaz. Inej had sobered up some after the kiss Kaz had given her an hour prior in the private parlor. She still felt butterflies in her stomach, it had been the kiss she’d dreamt about.

 

            That kiss was the moment you stepped onto the wire. It was adrenaline as the wind whipped around your face and the anticipation before every balanced step.

            It was around two bells, not quite late in the barrel. Inej had to admit going back to the Van Eck mansion and drinking and laughing in private with her friends sounded appealing, but only if Kaz came too. She was thankful that the mansion was big enough that if they did go back, there would be no danger of waking her parents or Wylan’s mother. Her parents had attended a gallery in the University district with Marya tonight, Inej was happy that her parents had been able to have a night out with her, she rarely got out and she seemed to enjoy the company of Inej’s parents. Much like Mama and Papa enjoyed hers.

 

            “That sounds delightful, I always love the chance to swindle your father further while he rots in a jail cell.” Inej chuckled and Wylan laughed alongside her as he cleaned up their cards.

 

            “Shall we tell them or let them come find us when they’re ready?” Wylan giggled with a motion of his hand toward Jesper and Kaz across the room.

 

            “We’ll invite them, if they want to stay for longer they can and it’s their fault if we’re slap happy drunk without them when they get to the house.” Inej smiled deviously.

 

            “Oh Inej, we should do this more often.” Wylan smiled and slipped the deck of cards into his pocket as he stood up and offered Inej his arm. Inej took it with a grin and walked with Wylan across the lounge. Some of the Dregs had made their way down to the main floor of the Club, turns out there was more a chance of finding partners for the evening amongst pigeons. Many of them were still in full swing celebrating around the lounge, though. As they walked, Inej noticed Roeder and Anika by the balcony, it looked like they were drunkenly flirting by the way Anika kept smiling and Roeder stood close to her. Inej did not want to see the awkward sobriety in the morning of that sure mistake. She could be wrong, though. Inej didn’t feel like she knew Roeder or Anika well enough truly to make that call.

 

            “Hey you!” Jesper exclaimed with a grin when he saw Wylan as they approached the bar arm in arm. Wylan smiled and Inej saw Kaz rake his eyes over her, his eyes told her he was thinking of the kiss just as much as she was. Rotty smiled in greeting but he grabbed his drink and made his way over to a group of Dregs across the bar.

 

            “We’re going back to the house to drink vintage. You are welcome to join, but if you want to stay for longer since you’re both the owners, you can find myself and the lovely Inej here drunk off our asses in our living room.” Wylan proclaimed, his sapphire eyes sparkling. Inej chuckled beside him and she saw Kaz’s lips quirk once more.

 

            “Fuck, that does sound appealing, what do you think, Brekker?” Jesper turned to Kaz with a grin. Inej wanted Kaz alone, too. Inej decided the best of both worlds could be obtained by going back to the Van Eck mansion tonight instead of the Slat. They could enjoy a few more hours amongst friends and then retire to her room, blissfully private and alone.

 

            “What type of criminal would I be if I objected at the opportunity to drink whiskey older than myself in a mercher’s house I’d previously robbed?” Kaz quipped and Jesper and Wylan smiled. Inej felt excitement bloom in her stomach, she was sure this had been one of her favorite nights in her entire life.

 

            “We’ll meet you there, I want to make sure the tenders and dealers downstairs are equipped for the rest of the night. Jes if you could check in with those up here, make sure they know what’s expected of them tomorrow shift wise?” Kaz continued. Inej saw the excitement in Jesper’s eyes when he nodded eagerly, Kaz was asking him to help as his co-owner. Not as Dreg’s. As a legitimate business partner and owner of the Crow Club. Inej felt warmth close her heart in an embrace.

 

            Inej and Wylan added their confirmation quietly, Inej spared a small personal smile for Kaz before she turned to follow Wylan on their mission for amber spirits at the Van Eck mansion.

 

            Not forty minutes later, Inej and Wylan were poking around the liquor cellar at the house, joking and reading ridiculous names off of vintage bottles of booze older than both of them combined. Inej had never been in the cellar before, it was a room lined with shelves made of a dark rich wood, the Van Eck crest was stamped into the wood of each shelf. Wylan had lit lamps on the wall sconces, it gave the room a soft sort of glow reminiscent of the golden liquids the room housed.

 

            “So how are things with you and Jes?” Inej asked as she used her sleeve to dust off a label from a bottle on a bottom shelf.

 

            “They’re good, Inej. They’re so good.” Wylan smiled as he leaned against the shelf beside her, the light causing his hair to display the many tones of titian and cardinal mixed together.

 

            “I’m glad to hear it, I’ve never seen Jesper so happy as when he’s with you.” Inej answered honestly with a soft smile.

 

            “Care to share how the hell you managed to get close to Kaz?” Wylan jested with a giggle, he reached above Inej to grab a large bottle of something surely twice her age.

 

            Inej pondered for a moment, a smile crept onto her lips. Her face felt warm, she’d never really had to explain it to anyone besides her parents. Wylan raised his eyebrows at the sight of blush marring her cheeks. The ginger laughed softly.

 

            “I guess Kaz and I are two sides of the same coin. We’re different but made of the same metal.” Inej voiced, she felt a flutter in her stomach.

 

            “I can see that.” Wylan answered easily as he fumbled in a drawer for a corkscrew behind her.

 

            “It’s just… it was always slow with us. I can’t pick just one thing that brought us together. It was a thousand moments, even the bad ones. Kaz he’s… he’s like me. We’re both so stubborn, we refuse to give up.” Inej found herself continuing.

 

            “I agree.” Inej startled and dropped the bottle of whiskey she’d been holding, the glass shattered everywhere and Wylan threw his head back laughing. Stone on stone. Kaz.

 

            “Holy shit I’ve never seen you jump before, Wraith!” Jesper chuckled from the doorway, behind Kaz who had clearly heard what she’d said. Inej felt her face grow warmer than it ever had, she refused to turn around and look at her newly arrived friends.

 

            “I thought I was the only one who could turn that shade of red!” Wylan was close to tears in his laughter, his words came out choked. Inej glared directly at him. She could not believe she hadn’t heard Kaz, she was less sober than she’d thought. She hadn’t been paying attention, or aware.

           

            “I am not red.” Inej finally turned around and completely avoided the eyes of Jesper and Kaz as she made her way around them, she felt a smile on her face despite her embarrassment. She was on a mission to fetch a broom from upstairs for the broken glass. Behind her, she heard Jesper make his way to Wylan. Inej made it only a few steps down the hall before she heard the rap of a cane right behind her.

 

            “Inej. Wait.” Kaz rasped and Inej was helpless but to still. She was not used to embarrassment because of clumsiness, she was the wraith. Clumsy wasn’t in her repertoire.

 

            “What?” Inej asked, her back still turned to him. She was not upset that she’d broken the bottle. She was just flustered that she had not noticed Kaz or Jesper.

 

            Kaz moved to stand in front of her, she saw a smile peek through his facial features.

 

            “Even the bad moments?” Kaz asked softly. She was still avoiding his eyes, but something in his tone made her look up to his gaze. Inej knew he was referring to what she had just said to Wylan, about their relationship. There was something written on his face that Inej couldn’t quite decipher, something like appreciation.

 

            Inej nodded. All of those moments had led them to here and now, a thousand stupid jibes on Kaz’s part, their disagreements on jobs, their wounds. All of those things contributed to the journey they’d been on these years. Years of partnership that led to partnership in another sense entirely, while still encompassing the old pieces.

 

            Damnit. The dimple. It was the smile with the dimple that he showed her now.

 

            Inej would drop a thousand bottles of vintage spirits if it led to more of those smiles.

 

            Inej left to retrieve the broom with a singular vow to herself to kiss him again tonight. Preferably when he wore that smile.

 

           

KAZ

 

            They were all settled into the sofas in the Van Eck living room and at least three drinks into the bottle of vintage they’d opened from the liquor cellar.

 

            Kaz was drunk. He knew it. He was not completely gone by any means, he could walk straight, but he was beyond the point of buzz. Kaz had only drank this much one other time in recent memory, it had been while Inej was at sea and he’d had a card night with Jesper and Wylan in this very house.

 

Inej was pressed into his side and Kaz felt nothing but warmth throughout his entire body as he listened to Jesper hiccup through a shanty that had become his favorite from Inej’s voyages. It was the dirtiest song Kaz had ever heard, which was saying something for a barrel rat like himself. Wylan was beside himself with chuckles.

 

“Bed?” Inej mumbled from beside him, she didn’t lift her head off his shoulder.

 

Yes. Yes. Please. Kaz’s drunk mind was more than happy to say to hell with the rest of the world and lay down with Inej and just fucking look at her.

 

A few minutes later, they were entering Inej’s room a floor above. Kaz was pleased with the realization that he’d since brought a fresh suit for himself to reside here, it was now hanging on the hangers Inej had cleared for him in her wardrobe, as well as some sleep trousers and a t-shirt.

 

Kaz heard Inej click the door shut and lock it behind them as he walked to the chair by her dressing table, shrugging out of his blazer and un-cuffing the links at his wrists. Kaz heard a deep sigh from Inej and he turned around to see her leaning against the door, she ran a hand through her hair, posture still as perfect as ever even with the drink. She was staring at him. There was a grimace on her face. Kaz didn’t know why.

 

“What?” Kaz asked softly, pausing his movements.

 

“It’s unfair. It’s so unfair.” Inej released a shaky breath with a disbelieving chuckle. Kaz was confused, her eyes said she was happy, but her actions were telling him something else.

 

“What is, Love?” Kaz asked as he took a step in her direction. He had no barriers left on his person now, he just wanted to be close to her. Kaz drunkenly wondered if alcohol unlocked the cage around his heart.

 

“You look like that and I can’t just… saints, Kaz. I can’t just do everything I want to. You look like that and I want everything I never thought I’d want again.” Inej leaned her head back against the door in frustration.

 

Kaz didn’t know what to make of her admission. Inej wanted him as much as he wanted her. Inej was looking at him with so much desire he didn’t know how he’d earned it. He felt his skin warm under the weight of her eyes. What the hell did Inej see in him?

 

“Come here.” Kaz rasped. Inej raised a brow but straightened anyways. Kaz wasn’t sure what he was doing, but Inej felt the frustration with their demons as much as he did. He wanted… he wanted her to believe that they’d get there. He wanted to reassure her. He wanted her to know he’d fight every day, for her. To love her in every sense of the word.

 

Inej stood before him now, her eyes asking him questions. Kaz was definitely not sure this would work. He didn’t know if the water would rise, but he just wanted to let her know he was working on himself as much as she’d been fighting her own battles.

 

Kaz reached for her hand with his bare one, gloves discarded since he’d entered the Van Eck mansion. Inej tilted her head just slightly when he raised her hand up to the buttons of his shirt. He’d let her do this, if she wanted.

 

Kaz would fight back any demons that came for them with his bare hands. He would fight this battle skin on skin.

 

Inej’s breath hitched. He searched her eyes and only saw surprise, no shadows. Inej undid his tie first, slowly. Kaz did not let his eyes leave hers, they were still in safe territory for him. Inej’s trauma triggered differently, he would not watch her vanish.

 

The tie dragged off his neck, fisted in her bronze fingers. She dropped it over his shoulder onto the chair behind him. Kaz noticed her fingers shake just subtly as her hand came up to the first button of his shirt.

 

“Go on.” Kaz whispered, Inej nodded and took a deep breath. She undid the first button, then the next; looking back to his eyes after every unlatching.

 

Inej finished until the last button disappeared below his belt, Kaz untucked his shirt for her, she undid the last button. Inej asked with her eyes if she could push his shirt off, Kaz took a deep breath but flicked his eyes down to his open shirt in answer. Inej’s hands came up to his shoulders, she gently pushed the fabric off of him, careful to not brush his skin. The shirt fell to the ground and Inej’s eyes raked over his bare top half. Inej had seen him like this loads of times, but it was the only time she’d been this close. This was the only time anyone had ever undressed Kaz Brekker.

 

Inej looked to him once more, her eyes asking a question. Kaz wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, but he felt only courage as he nodded once.

           

Inej stood on her toes, she placed a warm and gentle kiss on the juncture between his neck and shoulder, the same place he’d kissed her twice before.

 

One kiss ended in a nightmare, the other in a dream.

 

Kaz felt it, even the liquor couldn’t hold back every drop of water. Kaz steeled himself, he focused on the warmth of Inej’s lips, he thought of everything he’d do to just be near to her. The water began to dry, corpses disintegrated. It was a war in the span of a heartbeat. Then, it was all there. Inej, love, warmth.

 

Kaz felt like his body turn to molten wax under her flames. Inej kissed him once more before she kissed up his neck, all the way to his jawline.

 

This was how Kaz Brekker died, not with a gunshot by the devil, but with a kiss from a saint. He was sure of it.

 

“I love you, mera chaar.” Inej’s lips brushed his jaw as she whispered.

 

            Inej pulled away, they both smiled like drunken idiots in the middle of her bedroom.

 

            The true intoxication came from victory instead of whiskey.

 

It was a battle won, together.

 

 

 

Kaz slept shirtless, under the sheets that night. He hadn’t even thought about it as he pulled Inej close, her head on his chest. It was the quickest he’d ever fallen asleep.

Chapter Text

 

INEJ

 

            “Good morning, Mama!” Inej chirped as she made her way into the Van Eck dining room for breakfast. Inej leaned down and pressed a kiss to her cheek and Mama turned to smile and squeeze Inej’s hand on her shoulder as she poured out more coffee.

 

            “Good morning, my girl. How was your night with your friends? Kaz’s opening was a success?” Sharya Ghafa asked as Inej settled into a seat next to her mother.

 

            “A success is an understatement, but I can tell you right now, Mrs. Ghafa, I am hungover and I am so sorry.” Jesper chuckled from across Inej and Sharya. Wylan was half asleep with his head leaned back in a chair beside Jesper.

 

            “I take it your avri is upstairs?” Sharya chuckled at Jesper’s comment before turning back to her daughter.

 

            “Yes, how did you know?” Inej asked as she filled a mug of coffee for herself.

 

            Sharya motioned to the shirt of Kaz’s Inej was wearing. Inej laughed, it was a fair assumption even if Inej would have worn it to sleep if Kaz had not been here. Inej had left Kaz upstairs to shower, she knew he would not be like the rest of them, coming downstairs to the breakfast table in sleep trousers. Inej didn’t even try to convince him otherwise with her parents in the house, even though they wouldn’t have cared one bit. Inej had been pleasantly surprised to find Kaz still beside her in bed when she woke, despite it being almost nine bells in the morning. When she’d raised her brows to him he had shrugged. Inej knew it meant he hadn’t wanted to leave yet and after the club opening, most of the Dregs were surely still sleeping off liquor and poor choices as well. The morning was always quiet in the barrel but today it would be even more so.

 

            Inej busied herself with talking with her mother about her respective night at the gallery with Marya, it turns out her parents had a wonderful time. It had been a clear headed day for Marya and she had taught them much about the pieces they’d viewed and Sharya was beside herself with happiness that Marya asked her to have coffee with her this afternoon as well. Inej couldn’t help but let her smile shine despite her slightly pounding head, she was glad her parents had made another friend in Ketterdam, and Marya needed friends as well. A few moments later, Inej heard the click of a cane on the living room floor, making its way to the dining room.

 

            “Good morning,” Kaz said from behind Inej in the doorway. She turned to see him immaculately dressed, his harsh lines crisp and smooth. Not a raven hair out of place. Gloves on. She was dimly aware of her own wrecked hair, slightly disheveled sleep clothes, and smudged coal under her eyes.

 

Kaz still looked at her like she was the treasure he’d like to steal from a safe.

 

            “Good morning, Kaz.” Mama smiled and Kaz actually managed to smile freely. It was only obvious to Inej that he was still somewhat unnerved talking to her parents. She was pleased, every time he came out of his shell even a little bit around them. Kaz was trying, that’s all that mattered to Inej. It meant so much to her for her parents to see glimpses of the boy she’d seen in private, the boy who laughed and smiled, who was rather funny, who had more wit than the saint’s should have allowed in anyone. The boy who was fiercely kind to those he truly cared about. Inej had fallen for every side of Kaz, but she loved seeing these glimpses of Rietveld.

 

            “Mrs. Ghafa,” Kaz inclined his head slightly.

 

            “Sharya. Please. I will not have my daughter’s boy call me anything formal. Besides I look fantastic for my age and it makes me feel old.” Mama laughed and Inej saw Kaz nod, a smile on his face. Jesper chuckled too in between bites of a muffin on his plate. Wylan was full blown passed out, his arms crossed in front of him on the table.

 

            “Mr. Brekker,” Papa’s voice came from behind Kaz. Inej saw Kaz freeze, his pupils widened. Kaz had not heard her father approach, nor sensed him. Kaz was startled. Inej almost choked on her coffee.

 

            “Uh, Morning.” Kaz rasped, his voice shook almost imperceptibly.

 

            “I startled you.” Papa clapped Kaz on the shoulder with a grin on his face, his hand only touched Kaz’s blazer, no danger of skin contact. Kaz was still dumbstruck, he didn’t even nod.

 

            “Good. Reminds you that I’m as silent as the girl I raised, Mr. Brekker. Food for thought.” Papa continued through a laugh before he made his way to Inej, and she displayed her cheek for a morning kiss.

 

            “That scares even me. Good luck, Kaz.” Jesper jested, silver eyes glimmering in the slight sun coming in from the windows. Inej saw Kaz swallow quickly before he moved his feet and sat down in a seat across from Inej. She spared him a private smile as her mother inquired Jesper about his own father’s wellbeing in Noyvi Zem. Kaz raised his eyebrows in response. It was a look that screamed “I’m disturbed, Wraith.” Inej wanted to laugh at the way Kaz glanced in Papa’s direction every so often. Inej knew her father’s intimidation was in good fun, Inej was grateful that Kaz seemed to as well, even if he was still reeling from someone getting the high ground on him.

 

            A few moments later, Inej was listening to Jesper and Kaz talk about things they’d like to alter at the Club after seeing how it ran last night. Alterations included adding a slightly larger width door at the front for crowds, her father joined in and recommended double doors that could prop wide open in the summer time. Inej lost herself in enjoying the pastry spread before her and the quiet morning conversation around her.

 

            “Excuse me, sorry to interrupt, a missive for Mr. Brekker.” The maid Elena came in from the living room, holding a folded note in her hands. Inej froze, who would bother Kaz while he was here unless it was urgent? Inej recalled that Kaz would have probably told Anika that he was not returning to the Slat last night, ensuring his lieutenant at the very least knew where to find him in case of something truly important. Anika would not risk Kaz’s ire unless it was extremely important. Inej saw Jesper tilt his head as well. Inej’s parents would not have known how odd it was that Kaz would receive word here. Inej felt unease boil in her gut, this had to be important.

 

            Kaz stood and nodded to Elena as he took the missive, mumbling an “excuse me” as he made his way to the living room to read the note privately. Inej contemplated for only a moment before she excused herself as well, sending Jesper a look that she hoped conveyed “standby”. She noticed a slight tilt of his head that said he understood as he continued listening to Papa talk.

 

            Inej drifted silently into the living room to find Kaz by the mantle, quickly scanning and re-scanning the missive. Inej saw the way his eyebrows scrunched slightly, whatever it was had upset him.

 

            “What business?” Inej asked softly as she made her way across the room to him. Kaz looked up to her quickly before looking back down to the note. He released a heavy sigh and passed the missive to Inej.

 

            K-

 

            Word arrived for you this morning, a messenger from the estate of that financer we targeted, Charles Hester. I didn’t open it but it felt like something you might want to know, considering the wraith was also shot that same night. I don’t know if that was entirely related but I didn’t want to risk not telling you as soon as possible.

 

            All is well otherwise.

 

            Anika

 

            Inej read the note and re-read it for good measure. Charles Hester now knew of Kaz’s involvement with the robbery on his home, one way or another. Or, he knew that Kaz had killed his employer’s messenger, the man Henrik. Inej wanted to scream. Charles Hester was the last person she wanted to think about after such a beautiful night. Although, Inej mused, hadn’t their plan been to allow anyone spying on Kaz or herself to see them at the Club together? They had spent the entire night at a table nearest the balcony looking over the general public on the floor of the Crow Club, anyone could have looked up to see Inej amongst the Dregs, sitting next to Kaz. Either their plan was working swimmingly, drawing out Hester’s employer in the Slave trade, or something had gone wrong.

 

            “I have to go back to the Slat.” Kaz rasped, effectively breaking the spell Inej’s thoughts had put her under.

 

            “I’ll go with you.” Inej answered easily.

 

            “No, stay. Have breakfast with your parents, tell them I’m sorry.” Kaz responded as he ran a gloved hand over the side of his head.

 

            “Didn’t ask.” Inej quipped back and Kaz rolled his eyes.

 

            “I recognize why people hate that now.” Kaz mumbled.

 

            “You’re still going to say it though, so I will too.” Inej replied, letting a small smile return to her face.

 

            “I fucking hate this man, Inej. I really do.” Kaz was gripping the head of his cane tightly. Inej knew why he hated Charles Hester so much, it was the same reason she felt her blood boil and her stomach curdle every time they even spoke his name.

 

            “Then let’s go find out what he wants and destroy him with whatever information we glean.” Inej tried, she wanted him to know she was not upset about the call of work. They had big plans, big people to destroy. They’d do it together.

           

            At this, Kaz’s eyes reignited, light returning to his irises.

 

            “Brick by brick.” Kaz mumbled, he took the missive from Anika from Inej’s hand and tore it to bits before tossing it into the fireplace to burn later that day when cold seeped in. Kaz turned back to Inej and she was surprised when he wrapped his arms around her. Inej was learning that Kaz sometimes needed these touches now, to keep his anger from burning him from within. Inej was happy he leaned on her this way now, she wanted to share all of their burdens. His on her shoulders, and hers on his. It was why her spirit had found its match in him.

 

            Inej shivered when Kaz’s gloved fingers slipped under her shirt and traced circles onto her lower back. She didn’t mind the gloves when there were other people were around, it helped Kaz to be present. She knew he’d take them off when they were alone, that was all Inej had ever wanted from him.

           

            “Did you all leave breakfast to cuddle?” Inej heard Jesper from the doorway to the dining room. Inej did not move her head from Kaz’s chest, he made no move to let go of her, either.

 

            “Don’t be jealous, Jes. Wylan is asleep, but I’m sure you could coax him to snuggle you if you try hard enough.” Inej mumbled and she felt Kaz’s chest rumble with a soft chuckle.

 

            “I’m not jealous, I’m disturbed.” Jesper quipped and Inej finally forced herself out of the cloud of cinnamon and smoky bourbon that emanated from Kaz’s embrace.

 

            “What was the missive? Everything good?” Jesper continued when Inej turned to face him alongside Kaz.

 

            “Work. It’s fine.” Kaz grumbled as he straightened his tie.

 

            “Had to be important if someone had to find you here?” Jesper pushed.

 

            “Charles Hester sent a letter for Kaz back to the Slat. We have to go find out what it’s about.” Inej answered before Kaz could snap at Jesper, she felt his irritation in the air. Kaz had also not drank even one cup of coffee.

 

Inej was learning that caffeine was an important part of a mild tempered Kaz Brekker. Or, as mild as Kaz got.

 

“That’s the financer that you guys targeted, right?” Jesper asked quietly, lowering his tone enough that Inej’s parents would not hear from the other side of the door in the dining room. Inej nodded, not bothering to conceal the shiver that went through her frame at yet another mention of the grotesque husk of a man who haunted her worst nightmares.

 

“Why does it seem personal? I know you told me he works for the trade, Inej, but you look like you’re going to be sick just from talking about him.” Jesper pushed once more. Inej felt Kaz tense beside her, he was ready to tell Jesper to go to hell and she knew it. She knew Kaz wasn’t actually angry with Jesper, but Kaz wanted to defend her.

 

Inej didn’t need defending, it was her truth to bare to her best friend if she so chose. She loved Kaz for his protectiveness, but this was her choice.

 

“He…. He frequented the Menagerie, Jes.” Inej whispered. She felt her skin turn clammy, her head suddenly felt too heavy on her shoulders for this conversation. She wanted to tell Jesper the truth though, at least the short-handed version of it. Kaz’s pinky brushed hers and she interlocked hers with his without a second thought.

 

Kaz was lending her strength even when he was about ready to beat people with his cane; namely Jesper in this moment.

 

Inej watched as Jesper realized what she was implying, the truth looked like it hit her zemini friend square in the jaw. Jesper’s eyes narrowed in an anger that Inej had never seen from her friend, it rivaled the anger she had only ever seen in Kaz’s eyes when she’d first told him the full story of her time in the Menagerie.

 

“Alright. That settles it. I’m coming out of retirement. Let’s go kill the son of a bitch, Brekker. Let me change pants and get my revolvers.” Jesper was already tapping his sides where his guns would sit, his energy bursting from his finger-tips. Kaz was nodding before Inej nudged him in the side.

 

“Fine. I like Jesper’s plan, but fine.” Kaz conceded, his voice lower and rougher than usual. It was laced with frustration, Inej knew Kaz wanted to kill Charles Hester more than perhaps even Pekka Rollins. It was Inej’s vengeance to deal, though. She knew Kaz would respect that.

 

“I like Jesper’s plan too. Let’s do what Jesper says.” Jesper added, already moving toward the stairs presumably for a change of clothes. Inej knew Jesper was very serious, Jesper was as protective as Kaz about those he loved, just in a different way.

 

“Jes. No. I need to get to the man who’s employing Hester. We can’t kill that lead, yet. There’s innocent people that need to be saved, that need me. Besides, I’ll kill him myself. You both know I’m capable. Let me do this my way.” Inej whispered.

 

Jesper and Kaz shared a look, both sighing almost in perfect tandem. A long moment passed before Jesper broke the silence.

 

“I’m going to help on this one. I’m coming back for this job. And before you say a damn word, Brekker, I didn’t ask.” Jesper spoke lowly and Inej saw Kaz nod in confirmation. She knew Kaz wouldn’t object to having his best sharp shooter help take down one of the worst people on their hit list.

 

 Charles Hester’s name was underlined on that list in innocent blood.

 

Inej nodded to Jesper as well, she felt her heart swell when Jesper winked at her. It was a wink that said only “I got your back.”

 

Dirtyhands, The Wraith, and the Sharpshooter were going on a hunt for retribution once more.

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            The rooftops were slick with partially melted and re-frozen snow as Inej made her way across Ketterdam toward the Slat. Kaz would already be there, Inej had told him to go and she’d meet him there. First she’d had to explain to her parents that she’d be back either that night or the following day. Thankfully her parents did not seem bothered by the fact that Inej had work to attend to, especially when she’d promised them that both she and Kaz would attend dinner with them the night after next. Inej was looking forward to it, it gave her something else to focus on besides the looming Slave employer and the missive from Charles Hester. Inej had also promised Jesper to fill him in once any plans were made between herself and Kaz; she would include him as soon as possible. Inej left Jesper to tell Wylan of his involvement on this job, Inej hoped Wylan would understand. She knew Wylan worried for Jesper being close to the Dregs, not because of the people or even necessarily the crime, more because he did not want Jesper to slip up in his recovery and enter a gambling hall once more.

 

            Inej shimmied down a frozen solid drain pipe on the backside of the Slat before making her way in through the front door, the place was all but deserted. Inej saw Rotty passed out on the sofa in the common room to her left, she supposed it was still morning. Eleven bells, but she knew Rotty had drank much more than even herself and her friends the night prior for the opening. Most of the Dregs were already out pigeon poaching for the day, prepping the club for the second night of the expansion being open, or taking after Rotty and sleeping away a hangover.

 

            Inej tapped on Kaz’s office door, she heard his voice as well as Anika’s on the other side.

 

            “What?” Kaz snapped from the other side, Inej rolled her eyes and made a mental note to tell him to drink more caffeine. Inej opened the door and immediately saw Kaz regretted snapping, he had clearly expected one of the Dregs despite that she’d told him she was coming. Kaz ran a hand over the side of his head and Anika looked up from her seat across from Kaz’s desk, she looked haggard. Her tunic was wrinkled and her blonde hair on the unshaved side was knotted and in a disarray. Inej surmised that the delivery of the note from Hester’s estate had actually woken the blonde up. Inej wondered if she’d proceeded to make poor choices with Roeder or not, but she would never dare ask. It was not her business, and she and Anika were not close.

 

            “Morning, Wraith.” Anika said as she swirled coffee around in a chipped mug she was holding from the kitchen of the Slat. Inej mumbled a morning before coming to sit down in the other chair across from Kaz.

 

            “That will be all for now, Anika.” Kaz rasped, not bothering to look back up from the paper he’d picked up from his desk. Anika nodded, she seemed grateful for the dismissal and quickly made herself scarce, the office door clicked shut softly behind her. Kaz was silent for a long moment before he sighed and looked up, passing Inej the missive from Charles Hester.

 

            Mr. Brekker-

 

            I’d like to introduce myself, my name is Charles Hester. I work in finance, but I also have quite the side business.

 

I’m writing you because I have a job proposition for you, my employer seems to believe you have the pirate he’s looking for under your payroll. I’ve heard nothing but awful yet strangely wonderful things about you, sir. You see my proposition is this, a cut of my side business in exchange for your cut of business ties to the Captain of the ship called “The Wraith”. I’ve heard there’s no job you won’t do for the right price. You hand over the Captain or any/all information leading to her capture and prompt execution, and I can tell you that you and I will both become much richer men, Mr. Brekker. My employer had sent a messenger to you once, it seems he was not adequate in relaying our urgency. My employer expresses his deepest apologies for his error in sending you a message so brutally.

 

We have no qualm with you, Sir. We simply wish to make our business run more smoothly; and stuff both ours and your pockets on the way. My associate, Heleen of the lovely Menagerie, says you have traded in cold hard kruge with her in exchange for information in the past. She suspects there is truth to the Captain we seek being a part of your empire, based on the name of the Vessel we wish to annihilate. It seems Ketterdam once had a spy by the same name and title as the ship.  

 

I’d like to meet with you to discuss specifics, I’m sure we can come to an arrangement. If we do not, unfortunately, we will cut you out of the equation. My employer does not wish to make this decision, but it will be necessary if we do not eliminate this thieving pirate.

 

Think on it, Mr. Brekker. I’ll be in front of the Exchange at nine bells night, tomorrow evening. I will of course, be armed and well-guarded. I expect nothing less of you. A precaution, you understand.

 

Looking forward to meeting you in person. I hope we shall shake on a fortuitous business relationship going forward.

 

Sincerely,

 

Mr. Charles Hester

 

Inej felt her stomach turn. She read the note three times before she dropped it back on Kaz’s desk and bent with her head between her knees in her chair. Charles Hester didn’t know it had been Kaz who had robbed him, in fact it seemed he thought Inej herself had targeted him alone. He clearly did not know who Inej was, what she looked like. She suspected they had already tried spying on her ship, and were unsuccessful in picking her out without being able to get close enough to her dock. Besides, Inej had not been on her ship this past week. Only Specht and her crewmates who were still in Ketterdam. If they’d only begun trying to pick her out, they would not have found her. Inej knew that the news of Kaz’s murder of Henrik would have reached the employer behind all of this when neither Henrik nor his men returned to report back, wherever this deplorable man was hiding. Clearly Heleen did not realize Inej was also that same captain, she probably presumed Kaz had given the same title to another under his employ, marking the ship as part of the Dregs.

 

“Inej.” Kaz rasped, Inej had been lost in her thoughts, trying to let her stomach settle. This vanilla man was the filth of the earth, she wished he would smell like his nature. He was anything but sweet. Hester spoke of human slavery so easily, like it was nothing more than any honest business venture.

 

Saints, let me damn him to hell on your behalf.

 

“Inej.” Kaz tried again when she did not sit up. Inej took a deep breath before unfolding herself from her awkward position.

 

“I’m open to your thoughts but I’m thinking a gunshot to the head or a blade across his jugular will do nicely.” Kaz said when she finally met his eyes, his tone was light but Inej saw the eagerness in his eyes. Inej had already made a tentative plan in her head, but she’d need Kaz’s help with this monster of a scheme.

 

“No. You’re going to accept his offer to meet.” Inej said softly, venom leaking into her tone.

 

She’d only be able to cure her veins of this poison when Charles Hester’s blood dripped off one of her holy blades.

 

KAZ

 

            Kaz was still reeling from the tentative plan he’d spent the past few hours going over with Inej, he’d been surprised with her plan. His head was pounding; he’d been hungover with the rest of them. Kaz wanted nothing more than to say to hell with the rest of the day and go up to his attic with Inej. Kaz came to the conclusion he’d do just that after Inej excused herself for a shower, she’d foregone one at the mansion when they’d heard from Anika about the missive. Kaz was going to bring his work upstairs, he needed to go over all the sales numbers from the expansion opening night of the Crow Club and make sure all of the shift schedules were in order, he also needed to go over his plans to lift jewels in another job he was planning. His list kept growing.

 

            He also needed to kiss Inej and drink more water, he decided.

 

            Kaz figured there was nowhere he needed to be today, only work that could be done from his desk in his office or his desk upstairs. Kaz glanced at the clock, three bells in the afternoon. He should eat. He just wanted to go upstairs, he would eat later.

 

            A few minutes later, Kaz made his way up the stairs to the attic, he unlocked his door. He didn’t feel Inej. Inej had not said she was leaving, but Kaz figured perhaps she’d gone back to the mansion if she wanted to retrieve new clothes or things for her shower. Kaz opened the bathroom door to find the mirror was still steamed up, Inej had showered here already. Inej had only left his office perhaps thirty minutes’ prior. Kaz sighed, he was not willing to go back downstairs. His leg was stiff from the cold, he didn’t want to make that climb again until it was necessary. He decided he’d sit at his desk and Inej would return when she wanted to.

 

            Not twenty minutes passed before Kaz felt her near, he flicked his eyes to the snowy window ledge but she was not there. A soft knock sounded on his door, Kaz had not expected that. Inej never used the door to the Attic, both out of her favoritism to the window and in discretion to avoid any of the Dregs seeing her come into his rooms. Kaz stood up and unlocked the door to Inej standing on the landing with a paper bag in her arms, the scent of bacon radiated.

 

            “No one saw me come up, I came in downstairs thinking you’d be there and I couldn’t make the climb with this.” Inej said softly with a smile as she moved around him. Kaz closed and locked the door behind her. Inej hadn’t been able to come in through the door because of his copious amount of locks, he didn’t like that she hadn’t been able to come in. Kaz made a choice then.

 

            “I brought us lunch, from Savrene’s. I also got you this.” Inej continued as she sat the bag on the desk and reached within to produce a hot takeaway cup of coffee.

 

            Kaz didn’t remember why he wasn’t religious, he’d like to thank someone for creating Inej. Inej who brought him caffeine. She was a delight.

 

            Kaz didn’t hide his smile, he limped and took the cup from her, he paused and placed a kiss on her hair. It earned him a glimpse of blush on her cheeks. Kaz walked around his desk and took out his keys and unlocked the main drawer, he fished around in the back for the hidden compartment that hid what he was looking for. Inej raised a brow and he shook his head as he finally found what he had his sights on. Kaz took his hand out of the drawer and produced the spare skeleton key he had for his attic rooms. It unlocked all the locks on his door from the outside, no picking required. He was the only one who’d ever had a key. He passed the key to Inej.

 

            “What is it for?” Inej asked as she turned the key around in her hand.

 

            “The door.” Kaz gestured with his hand as he began to unpack the lunch she’d brought them. Inej glanced from him to the door and back again. She had a confused look on her face.

 

            “I only used the door because of the food.” Inej mumbled, he noticed her biting her lip absent mindedly.

 

            “Do I get to keep it?” Inej asked after a moment. Kaz got it then, her confused expression. Inej hadn’t thought the key was meant for her to keep. She’d thought he was showing it to her, showing her where it was in case she needed it- not for her own personal use.

 

            “I want you to have it. It’s your space as much as it is mine, now. Though I appreciate your use of the window both for our privacy and just because I like to see you there.” Kaz said without thinking, his truth slipping out of him without slowing. It surprised even him that he’d said the last part aloud. It had been worth it though when he saw Inej smile. She was already taking out a small key ring from her pocket that only had a few keys on it, presumably her key to the Van Eck mansion and to her quarters and brig on her ship. Kaz couldn’t help but let his own lips follow suit when she fumbled the key onto her ring and smiled to herself as she admired the new addition.

 

            “Thank you.” Inej said softly before she took a seat across from him at his desk to eat lunch.

 

            They’d spent the rest of the afternoon in mostly their comfortable silence before Kaz had left to make an appearance at the Club, Inej had opted to stay out of the snow. She promised she would be there when he returned. Kaz thought of the afternoon on his way to the Club, snowflakes dusting his coat and hat as he walked.

 

Inej had taken some time in the window sill, polishing her blades and sharpening them. Kaz had sat at his desk and worked over the numbers from the opening the night prior- they’d tripled what he initially expected in sales. He was thrilled, it was a piece of good news in light of the previously dim morning. Kaz had voiced the success aloud to Inej and she had looked up to him with a smile and the words displayed clearly in her eyes “I’m proud of you.” Kaz had been struck with a memory of Inej on a sunny day long ago, the first time he’d heard her laugh in earnest.

 

            Kaz still wished he could bottle the sound. Instead, he made her laugh every night in bed as she laid down beside him. The past version of himself would not believe he was sitting in this same room with Inej now, with every intention to hold her through the night.

 

 The sound of Inej’s blades on a whetstone, in her perch at the window, had brought Kaz only peace. It was something they’d done a thousand times when Inej had been in the Dregs. When Kaz thought of it, there had never been a real reason for himself and Inej to spend as much time together as they had; Roeder was his spider now, Kaz saw him only to talk business. It was a realization that brought warmth to his limbs, they’d always gravitated toward each other. It had been an unspoken agreement, they’d spend their afternoons together, each going about their own business. Kaz remembered when he’d convinced himself that he only enjoyed the routine they shared, not her. He’d known it was a lie to himself then- and now he could only laugh internally.

 

            It was always Inej that he craved, their routine was a result of the easy connection that bloomed between them even back then.

 

            It was near eleven bells when Kaz finally made it back to the Slat, satisfied with how the Club was running tonight. It had been equally as packed as the night prior, the lounge had been full of high rollers and Kaz knew they could expect similar sales this night as well. The Dregs would have a lovely payday; Kaz felt nothing but pride for himself and the gang who’d worked hard for this too.

 

Kaz himself had stepped in and dealt a game of three-man bramble to some of the high rolling pigeons, it had taken longer than he’d thought it would, he had expected to return an hour or two prior. Kaz was thankful when no one stopped him on his way up to the Attic, most Dreg’s members were working tonight, he suspected Arman might be the only other person in the Slat outside of Rotty who was on watch tonight at the front door. Rotty had simply nodded to Kaz as he passed, he suspected the burly man was still nursing a hangover despite it having almost been twenty-four bells.

 

Kaz unlocked the door to his rooms and found candles lit on his bookshelves and his bedside table. The next thing he noticed was Inej’s small frame leaned against the headboard of his bed, one of his novels rested gently on her crossed knees. She was wearing his shirt and her hair was loose. Her head was bent over the book, raven strands falling to the pages. Kaz smiled as he hung his coat on the hook next to his hat.

 

“I don’t understand all kerch words, apparently.” Inej mused in way of greeting.

 

“What word?” Kaz asked as he limped over to her and sat down on the edge of the bed beside her and began unlacing his shoes.

 

“This entire damn book.” Inej laughed as she looked up to him. Kaz paused with his shoes and reached over, flipping the cover of the book up to see what of his few books she’d decided to read. Kaz couldn’t hold back the laughter from his chest.

 

It was a book on Kerch economics “A navigational guide to stocks and investments.”

 

“Why the hell did you choose that one?” Kaz choked out and Inej frowned though her rich soil eyes shined with amusement.

 

“Because I hear you and Jesper talk about his stock portfolio and I thought maybe you all just spoke a different language.” Inej retorted and she slammed the book shut with a dramatic sigh. Kaz laughed again at her theatrics and it earned him another frown.

 

“Are you interested in stocks? Because I can teach you, if you want.” Kaz said now as he finally finished his task of removing his shoes.

 

“No. This book killed it for me.” Inej mumbled and he heard her lean her head back against the headboard.

 

“Yes, economics can do that to you if you aren’t that interested.” Kaz mused as he stood and walked to the wardrobe to hang his blazer.

 

“How did you learn about trading investments and all of that?” Inej asked. Kaz pondered for a moment, he supposed he just taught himself. He used books like the one she’d tried to read and also trial and error to figure out how to best swindle the market. It was almost like picking a pocket, you had to have the right timing. Kaz told Inej as much and he didn’t understand the smile on her face when he turned back around to her.

 

“I’m interested again.” Inej said softly. Kaz rolled his eyes at the damn near flirtatious raise of her dark brows, though his stomach flipped. He didn’t know if he’d ever get used to seeing Inej look at him like that. He never thought he would deserve it, he still didn’t.

 

“Wraith, are you trying to seduce me by asking me to talk about money?” Kaz quipped as he unbuttoned his shirt with his back to her.

 

“Absolutely.” Inej said with a chuckle.

 

Damnit. It was working.

 

“Fine. You win.” Kaz mumbled as he made his way to the bathroom to change into his night clothes. Her laugh followed him on his way.

 

As Kaz stood in his bathroom, getting ready to go back out to the girl he loved, he thought of how Inej needn’t do a single damn thing to seduce him to complete distraction.

 

Inej was the reason winter chased spring. Kaz was winter- he was bloody knuckles, cold sunrises and dead things left in the ground. Inej was the blinding sunlight that brought things back to life, smooth petals on fresh blooms, and rainstorms while the sun still shined.

 

Kaz had been in the dead of winter almost his whole life, Inej had brought life him back to life with her spring.

 

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            There was an ominous glow on the gently flowing canal that ran past the Exchange. The street lamp was burning low, but Inej had a clear view from her perch on the upper awning of the second floor windows. Inej turned to her left and saw Roeder’s form on the next building over. He would be invisible to anyone from the street, just as Inej was. Kaz, Jesper, Rotty and Anika should be entering her field of view any moment. Inej had just settled in to her perch, she’d tailed Charles Hester and the five men he was bringing as his personal guard from his estate. They were waiting on the street below for the meeting with Kaz, none the wiser that they’d been followed across half of Ketterdam.

 

Inej had not touched the ground once.

 

            Inej had wanted to ensure there were no snipers in Hester’s envoy. Inej knew this could very well be a trap from Hester, it was a trap on their end. She and Kaz had planned for it- down to Jesper being on the ground with Kaz, if any of Hester’s men so much as moved for their weapons, Jesper was faster. Inej knew Quin and Greer were amongst the shadows in the alleyway along the building too, posed as homeless squatters who only understood kaelish. Inej’s crewmates were not spiders on land, but she trusted them to move fast when and if they were needed. Roeder had also scoped the surrounding area over the past few hours, making sure Hester had not stashed any sort of backup in the nearby buildings; turns out he had. Inej had planned for it, though. He’d only stashed three men in a nearby warehouse, Roeder had signaled her upon taking up his own perch closer to Kaz and the Dregs.  

 

            Kaz and Inej had meticulously gone over the plans with the most trusted Dregs and her own crew over the entire afternoon. They were all eager to have Charles Hester off their backs; since many of them were also involved in the robbing of his estate. Inej had faith in Kaz, if there was one thing Kaz was better at than picking locks and scheming, it was talking when the time called for it. Kaz had a way of making a mark talk in exactly the way he wanted a conversation to go; Inej suspected it was because Kaz was terrifying when he wanted something. She recalled a meeting with the Blacktips before the Ice Court job, it’d been in front of this same building. Kaz was reckless, he’d asked them to shoot him, having faith in Inej that she hadn’t missed a sniper, his life had been in her hands. Inej shook her head at the memory, it still unnerved her when Kaz would so willingly walk into the line of fire.

 

            “Boss, I think they’re here.” A scruff lanky man spoke from next to Charles Hester far below Inej’s perch. She’d purposely put herself within ear shot of Hester’s party, she’d hear if he gave any sort of signal to his men to harm Kaz or the Dregs.

 

            Charles Hester would not be walking out of this meeting, nor would he die, yet.

 

            “Excellent.” Hester replied. Inej felt sick. She had not heard his voice since she nearly died in a bed of cheap silk.

 

            Saints, let me stand tall. Let me keep my head. Fear will not serve me here.

 

            Inej turned her head slightly, keeping her position low. She spotted Kaz, his harsh silhouette amplified by the waning street lamp. Jesper’s lanky form was beside him, as well as Anika and Rotty a few paces behind. Kaz stepped into the light first, Inej could only make out part of his face from her position, but she saw enough to tell that he wore the expression that solely belonged to Dirtyhands.

 

This was Kaz Brekker, leader of the Dregs and revenge incarnate. Inej loved him just as much as Rietveld.

 

“Mr. Brekker, so pleased you accepted my offer!” Hester exclaimed as he moved to stand in the light as well, keeping about twenty-five feet away from Kaz. Inej noticed Kaz’s hands braced on his cane- she knew he’d like to kill Hester immediately, it didn’t show. Kaz gave nothing away; his body language was perfectly professional, bordering on casual. It was this version of Kaz that had struck fear into many men before Charles Hester. The financer and regular scum of the earth should not have dared to hold a meeting with Dirtyhands.

 

 It was like watching a man dressed in red and fake horns walk into a meeting with the devil himself.

 

 Hester was out of his element, he was clearly underestimating Kaz already; most men kept fifty paces at the least between themselves and the head of Kaz’s cane.

 

“I’m a man of business, it seemed an opportunity that only presents itself so often.” Kaz rasped, stone grating on stone with his every word.

 

“We are cut from the same cloth, then. Shall we get down to business?” Hester said, his plummy voice reminded Inej of the sound of rusted machines in the factory district. His words never quite sounded right, squealing and broken with a deep whistling note. It sent a wave of disgust down her spine in needle pricks.

 

Kaz gestured with his hand for Hester to continue. Inej knew he’d like nothing more than to coat his cane in vanilla scented guts for Hester’s comparison of Kaz to himself.

 

            “Marvelous. I assume you’ve thought over the proposition I presented to you? Do you have the Pirate I’m looking for stashed away or do you have information to broker with me?” Hester straightened his already too tight jacket over his gut, his face glistened with a fine sheen of sweat under the lamplight despite the early winter chill in the air.

 

Inej dimly wondered if he’d scream if she lit his mustache aflame.

 

“First, I’d like to go over some questions I have for you.” Kaz rasped. Inej noticed Jesper had folded his hands in front of him, she knew he was itching to tap his revolvers.

 

“Of course, I would expect nothing less.” Hester smiled a wilting, yellowed thing.

 

“What percentage of a cut do I gain from your…. Product revenue?” Kaz asked, he slowly tapped a gloved finger against the beak of the crow’s head on his cane.

 

“Fifteen, my employer is also willing to pay a handsome price upfront for the corpse of the pirate bitch who’s cost him a great sum. His gratitude will be far reaching, Mr. Brekker.”

 

“Who is your employer, anyhow?” Kaz mused, his head tilted just slightly. Inej noticed Hester’s personal entourage sharing a look that said only “good luck finding that one out, kid.” Inej would have laughed any other day. They clearly were not used to the Barrel; they had not heard the full extent of Kaz Brekker’s capabilities, his legacy was far bloodier than they seemed to believe.

 

“Afraid that is confidential, though should we establish a lasting partnership here in Ketterdam, I’m sure he’ll pay you a visit.” Hester paused and brushed back his overgrown mustache with a sausage finger. “You see we could use someone with your… influence. It could allow us much more privacy on the docks when we move merchandise; if we had the protection of your associates and your name. I’m also aware you’ve acquired a new building under your name, is that right? The Dregs seem to be the only gang to my knowledge that do not have their own pleasure house established. Should you accept my offer, my employer would be more than willing to provide exquisite product to your own house, should you choose to open one. Am I right? That’s why you acquired new property?” Hester smiled, he thought he had Kaz figured out.

 

Inej didn’t know what building Hester was talking about, she made note to ask Kaz of it later. What Inej did know, though, was that Kaz would never open a pleasure house. She also knew the majority of the Dreg’s did not frequent them, either. It was one of the reasons Inej held so much respect in her chest for most of the gang as well. It was unheard of in the Barrel.

 

            “Ah. You’ve done your homework, Mr. Hester. I’m willing to broker with you and your employer. Though, I do have one request.” Kaz rasped. Inej was already poised to make her move, “request” had been the word that she and Kaz had decided on. It was word to signify for Inej to begin her descent. It was a word choice that was easily avoided but also easy for Kaz to weave into the conversation naturally.

 

            “Splendid! What is it that you request?” Hester inquired, Inej could just make out that repulsive glint in his beady eyes, the eyes that had haunted her sleep for years.

 

            “Try not to scream.” Kaz’s grin could have sliced through flesh and bone on its own.

 

            Inej saw Hester tilt his head in confusion, it was the last glance she spared as she made her last leap.

 

            Inej landed silently on the ground, she’d been inching closer to the ground in the cover of shadow for some time now. Roeder had made it across to her previous position silently as well, he landed beside her. Inej made mental note to praise him on his dexterity, later.

 

            That was when the first shot rang out, the world smelled of Zemini gun powder.

 

KAZ

 

            Kaz saw a glimpse of Inej felling Hester’s men, swift and silent as death herself. Jesper had taken out two of the men in the span of seconds. Anika and Rotty were already on their way to bind Hester, who hadn’t had time to so much as turnaround to his men before Kaz had flicked a short blade hidden in his sleeve into Hester’s calf, dropping him to the ground. It was only enough to drop him; he would not bleed out.

 

            The man should have stayed farther away. Kaz had inched closer casually during their entire conversation, Hester hadn’t even noticed.

 

            Moments later, Rotty and Roeder had a bound, blind folded, and gagged Charles Hester in their hold, they had gondels waiting in the canal that they dragged him to.

 

            “Where’s Inej?” Jesper loped up to Kaz after ensuring that Dirix and Pim knew what to do with the fallen bodies of Hester’s men; the two Dreg’s members had been hidden alongside Quin and Greer from Inej’s crew. Kaz looked around, Inej was nowhere in sight, but that meant nothing when it came to his wraith.

 

“She’ll meet us there.” Kaz answered with one last look around for Inej, he trusted she’d be safe, but some part of him still wanted confirmation.

 

Inej is the Wraith of Ketterdam, Dread Pirate of the True Sea, Warrior of the Innocent. She needs no protection, those in her sights needed protection from her.

 

Kaz situated himself in the second gondel behind the one they’d use to transport Hester. Jesper got in with him, Roeder was already waiting at the oars. Rotty and Anika would transport Hester ahead of them to the abandoned distillery they were going to use as an interrogation chamber, to crack one Charles Hester.

 

“Wraith is taking out the men he’d had as backup stashed in the warehouse a block away. She said to go without her.” Roeder said to Kaz as he pushed the gondel off the side of the canal and began rowing them downstream. Kaz nodded, he noticed Jesper glaring daggers into Hester’s back ahead of them. Kaz sent him a look that said “soon”.

 

Kaz was looking forward to gleaning information from the man who had hurt his girl. It was sure to be a bloody venture; he’d worn his worst button up shirt just for the occasion. It was a black tie event, after all.

 

About ten minutes later, Kaz watched as Rotty and Roeder dragged a whimpering and lightly bleeding Charles Hester into the dilapidated abandoned distillery. It was just inside Dreg’s territory, but the whole block was abandoned due to a fire the year prior destroying most of the construction.

 

Not one soul to hear this vile man’s pleas; unless Inej’s saints were listening. Kaz suspected they were on his side tonight, though. Kaz didn’t think they’d hesitate to turn their righteous eyes away from Kaz’s saintly work.

 

Kaz motioned for Anika to light the few lamps they’d placed in the building earlier this afternoon. Light illuminated the old beams above them, vaulted for the giant liquor casks to their right. Hester was tied to the chair they’d put against the wall, his hands were untied from the rope, only to be bound again to a chain that Kaz himself had attached to the wall on a ring meant for horses.

 

It was the exact same set up that Charles Hester had installed in his own basement vault to use for stolen people.

 

Once Hester was situated, Rotty stepped back and leaned against the wall. Jesper was standing behind Kaz, tapping his revolvers. Jesper’s silver eyes had not left Hester once since they’d left the exchange. The rest of the Dreg’s here did not know what Charles had done to Inej, Kaz didn’t intend to tell them, but they knew this was personal. They knew Charles was looking for Inej, Kaz would not hold back his rage. He would get the name of the slave trade employer, Hester did not strike him as a man who could hold up under the great pressure of physical pain and torture. Anika and Roeder stood on opposite sides of the room, both keeping watch through the withered panels of the walls, in case anyone approached from either side of the building.

 

Kaz busied himself with resting his cane against the wall, just loud enough for Hester to hear, he shook his head in an attempt to see through his blindfold. The man made a grumbling noise through his gag. Kaz shrugged out of his blazer and tossed it onto a stool nearby, he made sure his foot-steps were loud enough for Hester to follow. He wanted Hester to wonder where he would come from. Rotty, Roeder, Anika and Jesper stayed silent. They’d all seen Kaz prepare for violence. This time, his hands itched for death. Kaz would have to hold back, Inej did not want him dead, yet.

 

A moment later, as Kaz observed Hester repeatedly gurgling into his gag, trying to say something while also pulling hopelessly on his chains; the door to the distillery opened. Kaz knew it was not Inej, he did not sense her. He flicked his gaze momentarily behind him to see Quin and Greer enter, dusting snow off their clothes. They shared solemn nods with Roeder and Anika, Kaz had known they’d attend this little “meeting” as well. Inej had said she wanted some of her crew in attendance to hear the name of the Slave trade employer as well, in case anything was to happen to her. Kaz had not allowed her to finish the thought when she’d said it. He’d simply shook his head and said “I love an audience, wraith. Bring them if you wish.”

 

He couldn’t contemplate Inej dying, he’d come close to losing her twice before. It would not happen again. Kaz wouldn’t survive that death, either. He might breathe and walk, but he’d never want to love again. He’d let Dirtyhands take over for good.

 

Quin and Greer both walked to stand beside Kaz, they did not hide the disgust on their faces. Kaz doubted they knew what the man before them had done to their Captain, but they clearly hated him enough for his direct involvement in the human trafficking that they had devoted their lives to stopping, right alongside Inej.

 

Greer turned her hazel eyes to Kaz and ran a hand over her freckled face before she whispered, “let’s make him pay.” Quin quietly added her own confirmation.

 

Kaz decided he liked Inej’s crew very much.

 

“Arrrgggh,” A frustrated growl came from Hester.

 

Kaz smiled. It was time to begin his favorite type of dance number; his waltz partner was his own rage. They’d match each other step for step.

 

Kaz stepped forward and removed the blindfold from Hester’s ruddy face. His dirt brown hair in a disarray with the removal of the fabric. Kaz tsked when the bastard glared at him.  

 

“Didn’t expect that of me, did you, Mr. Hester? Kaz mused as he walked in small paces before the man. Hester tried to say something once more through his gag.

 

“Oh will you stop it? The gag is there for a reason. A shake or nod of the head will do just fine for now. I hate stupidity almost as much as I hate your voice.” Kaz growled as he leaned in just slightly. He was hit in the face with a stench so sugary he contemplated never adding sweetener to his coffee again.

 

Kaz remembered what Inej had said, she’d said he smelled of vanilla. At the memory of Inej’s tears, Kaz slipped on brass knuckles from his pocket, he didn’t let Hester prepare for his swing. Kaz hit him straight in the temple. Enough to break the skin above his bushy eyebrows, but nowhere near enough force to knock him out. Kaz heard Jesper do a low whistle.

 

Kaz’s senses tingled, Inej was near. Hester whimpered from the blow, Kaz paused to dab the filth’s blood off his brass knuckles with a handkerchief from his pocket.

 

There was no reason to not have them fresh for the next blow. There would be a next.

 

“Stop.” Inej’s voice carried from the now open door to the distillery, silent as ever. Kaz turned to look at her, her hood was all the way up. He could only make out her bronze jaw as she stepped forward, he caught a glint on the hilt of Sankta Marya in her thigh sheath as she stepped into the already dim light of the lanterns. Kaz turned to see Hester squint, trying to make out who this mysterious new arrival to the gathering was. The rest of the group looked on silently. Kaz had not expected Inej to make her presence known while he interrogated Charles, she’d said she wouldn’t earlier that day. Kaz had not asked why, he’d known she did not want to face him until the end. Apparently, Inej had changed her mind.

 

“Wraith.” Rotty nodded and so did Roeder and Anika.

 

“Captain.” Greer and Quin parroted in tandem.

 

“Remove his gag.” Inej said to Jesper, he moved quickly to Hester.

 

“If you scream, I’ll shoot you where I know you’ll be in immense pain, but won’t be in danger of dying, do you understand? You’ll beg for death.” Jesper growled to their captive before he untied and ripped the gag off of Hester’s face.

 

“Captain and Wraith? Are you one and the same? For Ghezen’s sake let me go. I don’t know what the bitch has on you, Brekker, but if you let me go now- we can kill her. She’s right here and we’ll be richer men. No sense passing up a profitable opportunity.” Hester spurted, Kaz could tell he tried for confident, his voice shook and betrayed him.

 

Kaz opened his mouth to speak but Inej spoke first.

 

“I’m one and the same. I’ve had many titles. Do you know who I am?” Inej purred as she moved closer to Hester, keeping her head low, her walk was cat-like. Inej was circling her prey. Kaz would have been giddy at the sight any other day, in any other situation. Seeing Inej work up close was a rare sight. Seeing her take true revenge was even more of a wonder to behold.

 

Kaz was sure his spirit had found its match in her, even more so than before. Etma se saman, wraith.

 

Inej came to stand only five feet before Hester. Kaz hung back, he saw the rest of their group watching Inej intently as well.

 

“You’re the Pirate bitch who cost me a lot of money and robbed my fucking house, happy?” Charles spat. Inej tilted her head slightly, Kaz heard a soft laugh come from her. It was a laugh that promised pain.

 

“Oh, fine! I’ll give you a hint, you have met me before. You know one of the other titles I was given.” Inej inched slightly closer to Hester, her black clad frame looked to be made of shadow and smoke in the hazy lantern light.

 

“I’ve never met you before, why the hell would we have crossed paths?” Hester’s voice shook again.

 

Kaz never thought he’d see himself in Inej in this type of situation, he’d been wrong. This was the Wraith. He’d seen only glimpses of this look on Inej before, he’d never loved her more.

 

Inej chuckled again, this time she stepped directly in front of Charles Hester, her hood still obscuring most of her face. Kaz saw Charles squint up at her.

 

Inej dropped her hood.

 

“Lynx.” Hester whispered, his tone laced in horror.

 

Inej smiled. It was a smile Kaz himself would run from. He’d also kiss that smile if given the opportunity.

 

Jesper tapped his pistols nervously across the room from him. Kaz was vaguely aware of the confused looks that passed between the other Dregs and Inej’s crew members.

 

Inej brought her hands up and kicked the captive’s chair back, causing the back of it to hit the wall. Her movements were quick, precise, violent. One of her hands gripped his hair, yanking his throat to full exposure, Sankt Petyr pressed to the soft flesh. Kaz noticed gloves on her fingers. Inej never wore gloves, they weren’t good for climbing.

 

Inej had taken a page from his book. She’d worn gloves to protect herself from touching Hester’s skin or hair. In fact, Kaz was pretty sure those were a pair of his gloves. The wraith must have stolen them from the attic this afternoon. He didn’t mind.

 

Kaz would lend Inej his armor when she needed it.

 

Hester whimpered from the sure pain in his scalp.

 

“I won’t kill you if you tell me the name of your employer.” Inej whispered, her tone laced with pure poison. Hester nodded, he was clearly afraid now. Kaz noted the man’s leg wound was still bleeding based on the droplets of crimson on the ground beneath the chair. He noticed the blood on his brow hadn’t clotted, either.

 

“Fine, his name is Kane De Vries. Don’t kill me!” Hester near shouted as Inej yanked harder on his hair with glove clad fingers.

 

“One more question.” Inej said, her voice lower than Kaz had ever heard it. Hester was helpless but to meet her eyes.

 

“Will you cry?” Inej whispered, her face lined up directly with her worst nightmare.  

 

Kaz felt a shiver run down his spine, revenge looked beautiful on Inej.

 

Kaz saw Hester try and speak, Inej was too quick. She’d already been retying the gag onto his head. Hester was silenced, save for a dreadful whimper.

 

“May I borrow this?” Inej turned her head in Kaz’s direction now, he followed her arm down to his cane.

 

Yes. Absolutely. Borrow it all you like, you brave and dangerous woman.

 

Kaz nodded. Inej flicked his cane up in her hand, she studied it for a moment, then she swung. There was a crunch of bone in Hester’s chained wrist, he tried to scream.

 

Inej grinned and Jesper looked close to clapping, Kaz wanted to as well. Anika and Rotty were darting their eyes between Kaz and Inej, no one had ever swung Kaz’s cane besides him.

 

Inej was the only exception.

 

Inej turned the cane over in her hand, Hester managed to get his gag out of his mouth.

 

“You bitch! You told me you wouldn’t kill me! Kane will come for you when I don’t report!” He bellowed in the midst of pain from his broken wrist. Inej turned her eyes back to him before she huffed a disbelieving laugh.

 

“I said I wouldn’t kill you. I never said anything about Kaz. You really should read the fine print of a deal before you agree. You must be a terrible financer. Second, that’s the point. I’d like to meet this Kane.” Inej tossed the cane to Kaz now. He couldn’t believe it. Inej was letting himself and Jesper take out the man who had tried to ruin her, inside and out. Dirtyhands was beside himself with glee.

 

“Happy Birthday.” Inej whispered for only him to hear as she brushed past him and toward the door of the distillery. Kaz was absolutely going to kiss her repeatedly as soon as he got back to the Slat. Hester was in for a few hours of life yet, but he’d served his purpose. They had a name. Hester would only live to repent for his sins.

 

You’re welcome, Saints.

 

Hester shrunk back as Jesper and Kaz both stepped forward.

 

“Shall we?” Jesper grinned. His silver eyes spoke of vengeance.

 

Two brothers, not by blood but bond, stood before evil and bared their teeth in easy grins.

 

 

CHARLES

 

Charles Hester regretted the day he’d called the suli girl a lynx. He did cry.

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            Kaz made it back to the Slat around three hours later, Charles Hester’s corpse would feed a family of fish in the harbor for at least a year, assuming even they would want to eat him. Jesper had gone home to Wylan and Kaz was eager to get upstairs, to see Inej. Thankfully, the rest of the Dregs had decided to go to the club after the night they’d had so Kaz was blissfully alone save for Dirix who’d been guarding the door of the Slat.

 

            Kaz took an extra minute to check his desk for any missed missives, thankfully he was mostly caught up on his desk work. Kaz did not hesitate in deciding to say to hell with everything else besides Inej for the rest of the night. They’d gotten the name of the man behind the Slave routes Inej was currently targeting, they’d also disposed of the man who had taken so much from Inej. Kaz knew there were others they needed to take down, Tante Heleen, Kane De Vries. Pekka; If he ever showed his face again in Ketterdam. Kaz still didn’t know why he’d never shown back up. Kaz hadn’t realized the man was so easily defeated, he didn’t think his act at the auction would have kept him away forever. It was no bother, though. Kaz would hunt him down regardless, Pekka would not live in peace.

 

            Kaz shook his head and locked up his office for the night. He needed a shower, he had blood on his wrists that were not protected by gloves. The rest of his clothes were stained crimson in random parts as well, Kaz had not cared. Kaz was too busy making Charles Hester remember what he’d done to Inej to pay attention to splatter. By the end of it, Hester had known exactly what his crime against Kaz Brekker and Captain Inej Ghafa had been that earned him a bloody and brutal death with no dignity in sight.

 

            Kaz made his way up the flights of stairs, he felt a switch flick on in his senses. It was the sense attuned to Inej. Kaz smiled to himself when he unlocked the door on the fourth floor landing. Kaz opened it to find the lamp on his desk burning low, the rest of the room’s candles were lit as well. Kaz wondered how Inej made his drafty attic feel so warm, comfortable. He’d never lit all the candles at once. He found it made the room not too bright, but golden. Kaz liked it.

 

            “How was guy’s night?” Inej mused as his desk chair spun around slightly to reveal her, she was practicing bumping a coin over her knuckles. He noticed ship manifests on his desk that were certainly not his, she must have been working on planning her next voyage, a few months’ time from now. He also noticed his spare pair of leather gloves discarded by his pen, they had been his gloves that she’d worn.

 

Kaz couldn’t hold back his laughter. He supposed that had been what the night had turned into for himself and Jesper. They’d bonded over blood rather than sharing it.

 

“Hester will make a pleasant appetizer for fish, darling.” Kaz grinned over his shoulder before he hung up his coat, he looked down and noticed there was far more blood on his shirt than he’d realized. Thankfully his blazer had been off and out of the splatter zone during the main event of the evening.

 

“I don’t think fish have the taste for vanilla.” Inej mumbled. Kaz turned to see her grimacing at the memory of Hester’s too-sweet stench.

 

“Are you well?” Kaz asked now, turning fully to face her. Inej tilted her head for a moment but he saw a brilliant smile break free on her face, her cheeks were dusted with a light blush. Kaz wondered why.

 

“Wylan blew up his house. There’s no more prison cell for slaves, nothing for Kane to use ever again if he were to inherit Charles’ property. I’m sure he has other employees, but it’s a start.” Inej smiled smugly. Kaz was shocked, Wylan hadn’t been a part of their plan. Jesper had said Wylan had spoken to Inej and knew why Hester needed to die, but he had not seemed to know Wylan would be involved as well, either.

 

“Wylan Van Eck blew up a house in the middle of the financial district?” Kaz couldn’t hold his jaw in place, his wraith and the merchling had shocked him. He hadn’t thought of that, neither had Jesper.

 

“Well, not so much blew up. Wylan planted bombs in his basement vault, Charles took his heartrenders off watch of the vault and moved them outside since so many of his men went with him to the meeting, he wanted them on security outside. Terrible choice, really. Also a poor choice using the very same vault after we’d already broken in once. Seeing as Wylan was able to get in and out with Specht without them even noticing. The house burned and collapsed from the basement upward. Wylan had a blast concocting timed blasts for this very venture. I went and saw him before I came back here. He also provided me an entire box of Hester’s business files from his study. It’s back at the mansion.” Inej finished, a smug little smile pulling on her lips.

 

Inej had schemed a brilliant scheme. Inej had let him kill Charles in her stead. Inej was brilliant, bold, and lovelier than anything an artist had ever captured on canvas. If she were a painting, he’d steal her.

 

“I love you.” Kaz could not stop the words, it was all he could seem to say. Inej smiled softly, just as the coin bumped over all her knuckles successfully.

 

“Did you see?! I did it once on the ship but now I have proof! I did it!” Inej squealed with a giddy little bounce in her seat. Kaz was going to kiss her. It was decided. Kaz moved to his desk and leaned down, but Inej put a hand to his chest over his shirt, effectively stopping him.

 

“Shower. You smell like… him.” Inej pushed back in the chair. Kaz didn’t see any shadows in her eyes though, just a small scrunch of her nose.

 

“Fair enough, I did have to help Jesper drag his body.” Kaz moved away, he’d kiss her senseless after he was not covered in blood and vanilla odors. Inej laughed as she went back to her coin and picked up a manifest on the desk.

 

Kaz made his way to the bathroom and was grateful for the hot water as soon as he stepped into the shower. As soon as he was done, Kaz stepped out and realized a critical error in his ways. He had been so focused on Inej, he had not gone and retrieved clean clothes.

 

Kaz sighed as he wrapped the towel around his hips. He’d just go out there, it wasn’t a big deal, Inej had seen his top half bare a million times. Normally he had pants on, but it wasn’t like she’d even notice. He’d also seen her in a towel, fair was fair. He told himself that over and over like a mantra as he opened the bathroom door and walked to his wardrobe, he felt Inej’s eyes on him. He felt his skin warm. He’d known she’d notice if he dared to be honest to himself. Kaz was confident, but he’d never been so undressed around Inej.

 

“I would crack under torture.” Inej mumbled, this caused Kaz to pause his digging through his drawers to turn back to her. Inej was looking right at him.

 

“What? Why do you say that, Wraith?” Kaz asked. There was a flush from her collarbones to her cheeks.

 

Kaz would have liked nothing more than to kiss a map of its path into her skin.

 

“This is torture.” Inej huffed a breath and diverted her eyes to the ceiling. Kaz chuckled and turned back to the dresser.

 

“Am I that awful to look at?” Kaz joked as he found his sleep trousers.

 

“No. The opposite. I’ve always looked at you because you’re so saints-damning appealing to look at.” Inej admitted with another frustrated huff. Kaz didn’t think he’d ever felt so feverish, he almost wondered if his skin had flushed. Inej complimenting him was something he was still not used to. He liked it. He didn’t know what to do with it.

 

“I’m fairly certain I’ve looked at you far longer.” Kaz mumbled and started his walk back to the bathroom, his leg was a little bit sore, but the hot water of the shower had helped.

 

“Oh and when did you decide I was attractive?” Inej narrowed her eyes at him. It was a challenge for the truth. He’d never admitted how long he’d harbored an attraction and feelings for her. He never thought he’d be asked to admit it. Of course, he had moments where he’d realized the truth; the moment on the window sill when she’d laughed, another moment when she’d tried to teach him how to fall. Another when he’d noticed her figure, how strong she looked with a backdrop of the night sky behind her as they staked out a mercher.

 

“Years ago.” Kaz answered and Inej rolled her eyes with a smile on her lips. It was an honest answer without revealing the full picture. She didn’t hide the way she traced each muscle in his chest with her gaze.

 

“When could you have possibly decided you thought I was someone worth looking at?” Kaz hadn’t meant to ask the question, he had meant to drop it. Curiosity had won him over in the end, though.

 

“Easy. It was when you learned how to launch me into the air properly from your knee with cupped hands. It’s difficult to learn and you and I matched each other’s movements with no problem at all. I’ve never let anyone else besides Papa launch me like that. Not even my cousins, I was too scared of it going wrong and hurting my legs or my ankle that I’d previously broken. I noticed the strength in your arms. I’m an acrobat. Of course it was mind boggling how distractingly attractive it was.” Inej smiled smugly when he stopped in his tracks. Kaz had not expected such an honest answer.

 

Inej had noticed him then? Inej found him appealing to look at… then? How had he never noticed? Then again, wasn’t it when she wasn’t looking that he’d always allowed himself to steal glances? Had it been the same for her?

 

Inej was a better spy than he even thought.

 

A few moments later, Kaz reemerged from the bathroom, clad in clean sleep clothes. He noticed Inej had not changed her own clothes to stay the night.

 

“Are you not staying?” Kaz asked, he felt his chest tighten, tonight of all nights he wanted Inej beside him. Besides, they’d decided not to spend nights apart if they could.

 

“What? No, I am. Why do you ask?” Inej questioned as she squinted at a map of the True Sea.

 

Kaz gestured with his hand to her very much still in-tact work ensemble, he even noticed her blades still strapped to her thighs. Inej looked down at herself and mumbled an “oh”.

 

“I’m good now… but before, when I first got back… I wasn’t exactly.” Inej stumbled over her confession. Kaz sensed she was not done.

 

“There was no one here except Dirix, I just… I showered three times because I thought I smelled like…you know. But I put my blades back on every time. It took me awhile to really realize that he was dead, you and Jes were taking care of it. It was the first time I’d been in the same room as him since he… since he…” Inej’s mouth clicked shut. She wasn’t able to say explicitly what Hester had done to her. Kaz understood. Inej could sleep in her blades if she needed to, he wouldn’t mind.

 

Kaz nodded. Inej did not need to relive those moments of her time in hell, she was safe here now. Inej smiled and stood from the desk, she walked to the window sill where Kaz noticed a small wooden chest that he hadn’t seen before. He tilted his head in question when Inej turned back around, chest in hand.

 

“I um, I brought some more of my things from the house earlier. If that’s alright.” Inej brushed a stray piece of hair behind her ear, shifting the chest under her arm.

 

Kaz didn’t know what else to do besides nod. He wouldn’t mind if Inej brought all of her things here. He didn’t want to be too presumptuous, but he wanted Inej near. He knew she would leave on her ship again in a couple of months, but he wanted to make the most of his time with Inej. They already spent all of their nights together, he didn’t see a problem with more of her things marking the attic as theirs. It’s why he’d given her the key after all.

 

Kaz settled onto the edge of the bed and watched as Inej opened the lid to her small box on the desk. He saw her take out a hair brush. Next came a small jar with some sort of liquid in it, it looked like an oil of some sort.

 

“What’s that?” Kaz asked as he tried to massage the muscles of his bad leg.

 

“Coconut oil. Mama brought it for me, it’s for my hair.” Inej answered distractedly. Kaz smiled as she took the first two items into his bathroom. She left the door open and he watched as she gently slid the stand with his razor over on the counter and placed her jar of oil next to it. She brought the hairbrush back out and put it on top of his dresser.

 

 She went back to her box and took out a small bundle of clothing. She went to the dresser and hurriedly put it into her drawer. Kaz suspected those clothing items were things she’d only want him to see on a night where he could remove them. It sent a shiver down his spine.

 

Inej reached into her chest one more time, she brought out a bundle of dried geraniums with a black satin ribbon. It was the flowers he’d given her after she’d been shot. She’d kept them and dried them and took them with her.

 

Kaz made a mental note to buy fresh ones for the bedside table. Inej would like that.

 

Kaz watched as Inej looked around the room, to the walls. He didn’t know what she was looking for.

 

“What are you doing?” Kaz mumbled and he leaned back onto the bed, moving carefully backwards so he could rest against the headboard.

 

“I want to hang my flowers.” Inej mumbled.

 

Kaz pointed to the spot above the window sill. Inej smiled and launched herself up onto the sill, she balanced precariously as she tacked the flowers by the stem so the dried blooms hung down just slightly over the window. It was fitting, since the window was her domain.

 

Kaz had never had wall decorations besides a dart board. Now there was Inej’s emblem, and her flowers.

 

The attic felt like theirs. Maybe it had been for a lot longer than Kaz would admit. Now it was shown clearly with a small bottle of oil on his sink and flowers above his window.

 

Inej jumped down from the sill and admired her work. Inej gestured to it and he nodded for her. Her smile then reminded him of his earlier plans. He still had at least three things left to do today. All three were kissing Inej.

 

One to thank her for his birthday present.

 

Two to show his appreciation of her scheming mind.

 

Three because he just fucking wanted to, he loved her more than he thought possible.

 

He’d probably say that every day for the rest of his life.

 

 

Inej strode to the dresser, she was poised to begin her routine of taking off her blades. Kaz wanted to do it instead.

 

“Come here?” Kaz rasped, he noticed his voice was more gravely than usual. Inej turned her head and raised a brow to him. Kaz held her gaze but he made no move to stand. Inej walked to the edge of the bed, kicking off her boots as she went. Kaz noticed Sankt Vladamir was on the bedside table already, she must have removed that one blade from her boot earlier and left it off.

 

Kaz had an idea. It might be a terrible one. Maybe not. He had to find out. Kaz opened his arms to her, his legs still stretched out on the bed before him, his back still leaned against the headboard. It was up to Inej if she was comfortable with this. He was fully clothed, only his hands would touch skin, for now he was in a safe zone.

 

Inej paused, but he saw a very small smile lift her lips. He wasn’t sure that she was aware it was there. Inej moved a knee onto the bed and swung the other over his thighs.

 

Inej was in his lap. Inej was straddling him. No, do not contemplate that further, Brekker.

 

Kaz felt nothing but resounding victory with Inej being this close to him. She sat gently on his thighs, her slight weight did not bother his leg but he could tell she was trying to be careful as she shifted most of her weight to one knee. Kaz shook his head when her eyes met his, he told her with his eyes “I’m fine, sit.” Inej let her weight rest on his legs fully now, his leg still did not protest for she was not near his knee.

 

Kaz moved his hands to her forearms, flicking his eyes to her in question before he began. She smiled in response, he felt her eyes on him as he removed the blades from her forearms and then Sankta Lizabeta from her belt. Her thighs were all that was left. Kaz met her eyes as he brushed his hands along from her knees up the sheath latches on the sides of her thighs, her legs were strong; he felt muscle even through her leggings. Inej shivered, he paused and removed his hands. Inej grabbed one of his hands, she moved it back to buckle of her sheath. It was her answer; she shivered from him, not from her past.

 

Kaz finished his task and placed the last blade on the night stand. Inej made to move off of him but he shook his head. “Not yet.”

 

It was when her eyes traced his face before meeting his eyes that he couldn’t help himself anymore. Kaz leaned in, Inej met him in the middle. His lips touched hers, his hands seemed to know where to put themselves at the crook of her waist. Kaz was inexperienced, but his body seemed to know things his mind did not.

 

Kaz felt one of her hands come up to his chest and grip lightly in the fabric of his t-shirt. His lips moved against hers, he’d only kissed her like this once before, he had no idea if this was right.

 

It damn well felt right, though.

 

When Inej’s other hand came to his hair, all thoughts left his mind. Her hand moved gently into the thicker hair at the back of his head. She did not tug, her fingers just grazed his scalp. It was a pleasant feeling that Kaz would beg for in the future, if his pride allowed.

 

Inej bit his bottom lip the same way he’d bit hers at the Club.

 

Kaz was gone forever. Kaz didn’t know how he’d gone his whole life without knowing what it was like to kiss Inej. His heart was surely breaking out of his chest like a common criminal making a jail break; it roared against his ribcage in a choir of one name “Inej”.

 

He didn’t know what he was doing when his tongue touched her bottom lip, just a brush. He tested it out. Inej reciprocated immediately and his grip tightened on her hips only slightly. Their tongues touched for the first time, Kaz had been worried this was where his demons would strike.

 

The feeling was so new, so foreign, it tricked the ghosts into staying away. Inej’s blades must have built a dam of holy steel against the devil’s water.

 

They both broke away, breathless. Inej’s eyes were still closed, her lips were red and parted. Kaz could not help the smile on his face. Inej opened her eyes then, the hand she’d placed on his chest came up to her face. Her fingers touched her lips and she smiled.

 

It was a smile of awe.

 

“That face, the one after a kiss like that. That’s my new first favorite.” Inej whispered, she leaned her forehead into his.

 

Kaz had planned to kiss her three times, it ended up being six.

 

Four for the way she smiled.

 

Five for the flowers above his window sill.

 

Six to say goodnight.

 

 

Then, seven to say good morning.

Chapter Text

JESPER

 

            “Why is there soot footprints all the way up to our room, Merchling? Did you fall in the fireplace or something?” Jesper chuckled as he shrugged out of his very bloodstained shirt. Wylan was in the shower based on the sound of water coming from their bathroom. Jesper had every intention of joining him.

 

            Too late. Fuck. The water shut off.

 

            “I uh, I did a job tonight. Like you. For Inej.” Wylan came out of the bathroom, red hair dripping and a towel draped loosely on his pale frame.

 

            Damn. That’s distracting. Wait, what the hell did he just say?

 

            “Wait, what?” Jesper set his revolvers on the dresser before turning back to a flushing Wylan.

 

            “Inej asked me to help finish Hester, too. We kept it a secret so no one would get word I was going to his house, Specht came with me. I planted timed explosives in that awful room he used for slaves. I collapsed his house. There’s no evidence, nor will anyone who would have inherited the property be able to use that disgusting basement vault for humans ever again.” Wylan said confidently. His shoulders picked up in pride and Jesper was beside himself with amusement.

 

            Inej and Wylan had schemed without himself and Kaz. Oh, Jesper wished he could see Kaz’s face when the wraith told him.

 

            “You blew up a house in the financial district only seven blocks away from here?” Jesper choked out, his mouth was dry. Wylan when he played with bombs was one of Jesper’s favorite looks on him.

            Wylan nodded, a sheepish smile appeared on his lips. His blue eyes looked like cold fire in the low lamp light.

 

            “Looks like we both came out of retirement and did some dirty work tonight.” Jesper smiled as he finally bent to take off his blood spattered boots. Hopefully the Ghafa’s and Marya didn’t notice Wylan and his footprints in the hall before the cleaning staff got to it in the morning.

 

He should probably go clean it up himself, but Jesper had other dirty work he was planning for the rest of the evening. All of it involved the ginger boy who blew up houses.

 

            “We owed it to Inej. I’ve never seen her stumble over words like when she told me what that piece of shit did to her. I would have blown him up too if given the chance.” Wylan’s pale fists clenched and unclenched at his sides. Jesper understood. Jesper had let Kaz have the finishing blow to Hester, but Jesper had shot him in both feet early on in their…meeting. He’d died in pain. Kaz had laughed, Jesper understood why. Jesper hated Hester potentially as much as Jan Van Eck, but no one hated him as much as Kaz did. Except Inej, she hated him the most. Kaz wanted vengeance for the girl he loved, Jesper wanted vengeance for his best friend, the closest thing he’d ever had to a little sister.

 

“She’s stronger than anyone I’ve ever met.” Wylan added in a whisper. Jesper loved Wylan for his empathy, he still didn’t know how he’d gotten so lucky. Wylan had the biggest fucking heart he’d ever seen.

 

“She is. But now that bastard is at the bottom of a canal, I told Kaz I doubted even the fish would find him appetizing but maybe he’ll just disintegrate. You should have seen it, Wy. Inej showed her face to him, he recognized her. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a grown ass man look more terrified, even the ones who come face to face with Kaz. It was a true wonder.” Jesper tossed his shoes into the closet, when he turned around to Wylan, the towel was gone.

 

Oh. Fuck. Shower first. Then Wylan.

 

“Shower first.” Wylan slipped under the sheets on their bed, effectively hiding almost all of himself.

 

How did he always do that? Wylan always seemed to know what he was thinking before Jesper even finished his own thought.

 

“Fine. But I’d lock the door. I don’t think we’ll be leaving again tonight.” Jesper chirped with a wink that set Wylan’s face aflame.

 

Jesper closed the door to the bathroom and turned on the water in the shower before dropping his remaining clothes to the ground.

 

“On second thought, I could use another shower.” Wylan whispered from behind him.

 

“I fucking love you.” Jesper said with a wicked grin as he pulled Wylan into the shower right along with him. Wylan giggled as Jesper kissed him repeatedly under the warm water, all over his bright red freckled face.

 

Jesper thought, for perhaps the millionth time, Wylan could blow him up with every single one of his bombs and he’d only say “thank you.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            Kaz had fallen back asleep, it was unusual for him to have slept in. It was almost eight bells judging by his time piece on the bedside table. He immediately noticed Inej was not in the bed beside him as she had been several hours ago when he’d awoken before. He felt her near, though. Kaz sat up in the bed and rubbed sleep from his eyes and scanned the room, it was a typically cloudy Ketterdam morning, but he noticed a decent amount of snow had fallen and encompassed the ledge outside the window in a drift against the glass. He noticed a bundle of his clothes near the bathroom door and the shower was running. Inej never took her clothes off before going into the bathroom, it was a small inconsistency that made Kaz stand and limp to the bathroom door to knock. Kaz didn’t think it had been a nightmare that had awoken her, but he wouldn’t leave her in there to fend on her own if it had been.

 

            “Inej?” Kaz’s voice cracked with the residue of sleep in his throat. The water of the shower turned off and Kaz waited. A moment later, Inej opened the door, clad in a towel. Her hair was tied above her head, she’d meant to keep it out of the water, it seemed. Next thing he noticed was she looked tired, despite having gone to bed at the same time as him, she’d seemed to be sleeping peacefully before, when he’d kissed her good morning several hours ago. His stomach still flipped a ridiculous amount at the memory but it was second to the concern her felt.

 

            “Hey. I- um. I didn’t expect- I need to go to the house.” Inej stumbled, he noticed her clutching the towel tighter to herself, a seemingly embarrassed flush was grazing over her still wet collarbones.

 

            “What is it?” Kaz asked, not awake enough to even consider hiding the immediate concern in his tone. Kaz could imagine last night with Hester could have caused her nightmares, but he still wasn’t sure. Kaz also didn’t know why that would mean Inej had to rush to the Van Eck estate.

 

            “I’m-” Inej cut herself off and gripped her abdomen tightly. Inej looked like she was going to be sick.

 

            “Are you sick?” Kaz asked. He wanted to reach out to her but her wet skin posed too much a threat, Kaz would not risk that type of contact with her. It would surely send his demons knocking on the doors of his consciousness.

 

“Not exactly.” Inej mumbled, she’d shut her eyes tightly. She looked to be in pain. Kaz was not pleased.

 

“What is it, Inej? Tell me.” Kaz pressed after she seemed to be more steady.

 

“I… my monthly. I’m early and I didn’t bring anything with me and I should have thought to bring something in the way of supplies to keep here. I’ve always had a painful first few days. I didn’t see it coming.” Inej was looking to the ground.

 

Oh. Oh. That’s all? Mansion. Supplies. Warm drink. Plan-made, crisis-resolved.

 

“I’ll go get what you want from the house. Do you want tea or coffee?” Kaz asked as he limped over to his wardrobe to retrieve clothes for the day. He felt Inej’s eyes follow him through the room. He didn’t understand why she was embarrassed, it was something that happened to her that she could not control. Kaz had seen blood many times, far too many to count, why should this be any different?

 

“You’d go to the house and get supplies for this… for me?” Inej asked quietly, it sounded like she was surprised.

 

“Obviously. You’re in pain. It also snowed, the rooftops will take you longer to maneuver. You can stay here and I’ll go. It’s not… It’s not something you should feel like you can’t tell me.” Kaz wanted her to hear the words, he knew her only other experience with men and this particular situation had probably been in the Menagerie. He did not want to know what any of those bastards had said about it. Inej was a woman and it was normal. Kaz didn’t care one bit. Besides, he’d always known when Inej was on her cycle back when she’d worked with the Dregs. At least, he’d suspected it. Inej ate copious amounts of Ravkan chocolates to begin with but he noticed she had extra in her pockets only around once a month. Kaz had also suspected on several jobs when Inej had lightly gripped her abdomen. If he had known she was in this much pain, he might have pushed jobs around to accommodate her, even back then.

 

Dirtyhands scoffed, Rietveld did not like the idea of Inej in pain.

 

Inej had clearly hidden her pain when she’d been only his spider. He was glad of it, he wished she hadn’t.

 

“I… I um, I need to wash the clothes I was wearing. I am sorry, I know they are yours, technically.” Inej mumbled, he turned to find her leaning against the door frame of the bathroom, the clothing in question bundled tightly in her arms.

 

Kaz went to his desk and found a spare paper bag he’d kept to empty the waste bin; it would work for this.

 

“Clothes in the bag, I’ll drop them at the washroom in the Van Eck mansion. Also, Inej, love, we both know those clothes ceased being mine. Let us not lie to ourselves.” Kaz smirked and Inej’s lips quirked up and she took the bag from him.

 

“Thank you.” Inej whispered with a soft smile. Kaz noticed she was clutching her abdomen again as she set the bag with the clothes on the ground.

 

“I’m going to use the bathroom really quick then you can get back in the shower if you want, if the water helps. I’ll go and come back within an hour.” Kaz passed her and paused to press a kiss to her now dry forehead. He felt rather than saw her smile as he shut the bathroom door behind him, day suit in tow.

 

Around ten minutes later, Kaz left the Slat on his mission. He’d left Inej to get back in the shower and he’d stopped down in his office and read the reports from Roeder regarding the jewel job he was planning. Roeder had managed an excellent night of spidering, Kaz was almost sure enough of the target’s routine to say they should make their move, perhaps only a few more days’ worth of intel, to be positive. Anika had stopped him as well to pass him the Crow Club numbers, based on a cursory glance, the club was still far exceeding expected sales with the new tables and lounge. He was pleased, he’d look over them this afternoon further. He’d almost asked Anika if she had any… feminine supplies to lend to Inej but he hadn’t had a chance. Pim had come downstairs and the two Dregs had made their way out of the building ahead of Kaz toward the Club for clean-up duty after a bar fight broke out the night prior while they’d all been dealing with Charles Hester and his subsequent corpse.

 

Kaz made it to the Van Eck mansion and was let in by Elena. She’d tried to take his coat but at his insistence he’d only be a few moments, she’d relented. Kaz was greeted by Wylan walking down the stairs, clad in sleep clothes and ginger hair pointing every which way.

 

“Morning, Kaz.” Wylan mumbled sleepily, seeming only to realize it was strange that Kaz was in his parlor after he made it halfway through the living room. Kaz looked at him expectantly when the ginger turned around.

 

“Oh. Why are you here before nine bells in the morning, I thought Inej was with you?” Wylan rubbed a hand over his face, stifling a yawn.

 

“I came to get some things for her, she’s back at the Slat. Rough night, Wylan?” Kaz couldn’t help the joke. Wylan flushed brightly in the dim morning light filtering in from the windows. Kaz wondered how often Jesper made the boy blush, it was like a light switch. So easy to flick on and off.

 

“Something like that. Jes is still asleep. You’re welcome to go up, Inej’s parents might be up but I’m not sure.” Wylan managed an embarrassed smile.

 

“Right.” Kaz turned to make his way up the stairs before he paused. “Oh, and Wylan? Thanks for blowing up his damn house. Excellent work.” Kaz mumbled, he heard a mumbled “yeah, yeah,” from a still half-conscious Wylan.

 

            A few minutes later, Kaz was standing in the middle of Inej’s room. He knew he’d forgotten something. He had not asked where she kept what she needed, nor what the package looked like. Kaz released a heavy sigh as he leaned his cane against her bed and made his way to her dresser, he really didn’t want to go through her things, but he saw no other option.

 

            Damnit, Brekker. What is it your best at? Not looking over the details. Good job.

 

            “Kaz? Good morning.” Kaz turned to see Sharya Ghafa leaning against the door frame of Inej’s room. Her hair was already pinned up in a bun on her head, she was dressed for the day and clutching a mug of tea, Kaz noticed the tea string dangling over the side of the ceramic. Sharya had a small smile playing on her face that reminded Kaz so much of Inej he was momentarily frozen.

 

            “Good morning.” Kaz replied. He’d never been alone with Inej’s mother. He thought she liked him, but he was still just the man in love with her only daughter. A man who didn’t deserve her.

 

            But he wanted to. How he wanted to.

 

            “Actually, maybe you can help me?” Kaz asked, the realization that her mother would probably know exactly what he needed to find dawned on him. Sharya raised a dark brow, her diamond nose piercing glinted as she tilted her head to him.

 

            “I… Inej sent me for her supplies for her cycle. She did not tell me what I was looking for and I failed to ask.” Kaz sighed, he ran a gloved hand over the side of his head. Sharya’s eyes were narrowed on him and the gaze of Inej’s mother made him slightly nervous, if he was candid.

 

            “Of course.” Sharya chuckled and she straightened herself and went into the bathroom and dug around in the small cabinet for a moment. He heard a “hah!”, she must have found what he was looking for. Of course it was in the bathroom. Kaz felt dim.

 

            “Here. It was kind of you to come retrieve it for her. Let’s surprise her, come.” Sharya passed him a small black bag, it seemed to be filled with bandages, pads. Of course. Makes sense. Kaz had no idea what Sharya meant but if she had something else she wanted Kaz to bring to her daughter, Kaz would do it eagerly. He’d take as many points in the “acceptable partner” department from her parents as possible.

 

            Kaz followed Sharya down to the kitchen of the Van Eck mansion, they passed Wylan half asleep with a cup of coffee at the dining table. Wylan barely raised his brows in their direction, but Sharya stopped and passed him the entire pot of coffee on her way.

 

            “Drink more, you look exhausted.” Sharya chuckled and Wylan flashed her a brilliant smile. Kaz realized Sharya was much like Inej, always taking care of others when possible.

 

            Sharya opened the door to the kitchen and Kaz paused to drop the bag of clothes in the wash room just inside the door, he knew Wylan wouldn’t mind Inej’s laundry being brought here.

 

            Kaz watched as Sharya went to the herb box below the window sill that faced the back yard, Kaz suspected the herbs in the box were all grown in the Van Eck garden. The kitchen staff probably brought them in to have on hand.

 

            “Come here, I’ll teach you to make this for her since she is with you much more of the year than I am.” Sharya looked at him over her shoulder. Kaz would have thought that was a slight in his direction regarding Inej choosing to return to Ketterdam, but he understood the smile on her caramel hued face. Sharya was not upset Inej was with him, she wanted him to learn something to make Inej feel better.

 

            Inej’s mother is teaching me something about herbs. What a strange turn my life has taken.  

 

            Kaz swallowed his slight nervousness, willing the steel strength within him to show. Kaz wasn’t used to being nervous, around anyone. It seemed all three of the Ghafa’s were the absolute exception to this rule for Kaz Brekker.

 

            “Watch.” Sharya took several different herbs from the box, she listed them as sage, chamomile, and peppermint. The chamomile was a dried light yellow flower, Kaz recognized the scent from one of Inej’s favorite teas that he’d caught scent of a million times when she’d been off to her room in the Slat, back when she was living a floor below him.

 

            Kaz watched as Sharya took a small bag, the kind used for tea, and chopped up the herbs and put them into the bag. Kaz thought they were making tea, but Sharya passed him a ribbon and asked him to tie off the bag. Kaz did as instructed, then Sharya took the bundle and wrapped it in paper, sealed it up, and handed it to him. Kaz was momentarily confused before she explained.

 

            “You place that mixture in a kettle, as if for tea, but only bring the water close to boiling, do not let the kettle warm fully otherwise it will be a little too hot. Then, pour the mixture over a small towel for her, completely drenching it before wringing it out. I’ve done this many times to relieve the cramping. She can lay with it over her middle, it helps soothe the muscles, the warmth in the rag on the skin and the mixture is a natural muscle relaxant. Plus, it smells divine so no complaints from anyone around.” Sharya finished with a brilliant white smile. Kaz couldn’t help the upturn of his own lips as he eyed the small bundle in his hands.

 

            Sharya Ghafa was a good mother, it was the only experience Kaz had ever really had where he saw that particular dynamic in action. He found he liked her, she reminded him much of Inej but also had a softness about her that he presumed came from age. It wasn’t awful.

 

            “Thank you, I know she’ll appreciate that it came from you.” Kaz said as he slipped the herb packet into his pocket along with the small bag of hygiene items for Inej.

 

            “It came from us. Now you’ll know how to make it in the future, I doubt Marya or Wylan would even notice if you came and plucked the herbs from their garden for free.” Sharya laughed and dusted her hands off on a kitchen rag by the stove. Kaz didn’t bother to tell her that he could easily break in and grab them from the box under the window sill.

 

            “Kahir and I noted the weather, perhaps instead of the restaurant tonight we can have dinner here? Wylan told me that he and Jesper are leaving for the weekend with Marya to visit his newest sibling in the countryside? I suspect they’ll still go since they have a carriage that can fair the weather.” Sharya mused as she busied herself with preparing a kettle for more of her own tea.

 

            Kaz had almost forgotten. Dinner with Inej’s parents. Tonight. He was glad of the weather, the club would run smoothly on its own and he’d have Anika in charge of the Dregs tonight, he didn’t have any other task that needed his attention terribly this evening. Kaz was also glad they’d have dinner in the privacy of the Van Eck mansion instead of at a tavern, he didn’t know how he’d explain having a dinner with his work associate’s parents without outing himself and Inej to the entire saints-damned city. Kaz felt more confident than the first night he’d had dinner with her parents, also. He felt he knew them a little better.

 

            He also knew how happy Inej would be to spend more time with them, since work had taken such a clear precedence this week. He wished he could kill Hester again for the simple fact that he’d interrupted the Ghafa’s visit and limited time in Ketterdam.

 

            “Sounds good. Six or seven bells?” Kaz asked and he straightened his tie.

 

            “Let’s say seven. Kahir is helping Specht repair the rail on Inej’s ship today, so I don’t know how late he’ll return.” Sharya smiled softly, it was a movement laced with a gentle sort of pride. She was proud of her daughter owning a ship, and of her husband for stepping in to help take care of it. Kaz presumed Kahir had made friends with Specht on the return voyage to Ravka when Inej had dropped them off.

 

            “Oh! Don’t tell Inej that, it’s a surprise from her father.” Sharya added with another grin.

 

            Kaz nodded, a smile of his own crept onto his face. It seemed his own face knew he could smile freely in the presence of any Ghafa.

 

            “We’ll be here, then.” Kaz said in parting and he made his way back out of the house. Wylan was nowhere to be seen and Kaz suspected the ginger had gone back to a sleeping Jesper.

 

            As Kaz made his way back to the Slat, he wondered if this warm feeling in his chest was what it felt like to have a family. He shook his head of the thought and picked up speed despite his protesting leg in the snow fall, he had an aching avri to attend to.

 

 

INEJ

 

            Inej was finally clean, and protected. She thanked her saints for Kaz the moment he’d returned. She hadn’t even said anything to him, but instead leaned in and kissed his still gloved hand before retreating back to the bathroom.

 

            Inej exited the bathroom and found the room empty. Inej frowned but the ache in her abdomen demanded she march herself back to the bed and lay down. It was the worst part of the month, Inej hated being incapacitated. She knew she could force her body to work, but after last night, she felt like she’d earned the rest. There was nowhere she needed to be today, no work needing to be completed. She’d start worrying about Kane De Vries and the rest of the slave trade tomorrow, she promised herself.

 

            Inej dropped onto the bed unceremoniously and stared at the ceiling beams through a particularly bad cramp. She hoped Kaz would come back upstairs, but if he needed to work in his office, she understood. As if summoned by her thoughts, she heard the rhythmic tap of a cane on the stairs outside the door.

 

            “How are you feeling?” Kaz asked as he shut and locked the door. Inej smiled, he locked it; which meant he was staying upstairs. Inej did not lift her head but she heard him drop some paper work onto his desk and make for the bathroom.

 

            “Like you hit me with your cane in the gut about seven times.” Inej answered and she heard a raspy chuckle and the sound of metal being sat on the bathroom counter. She tilted her head up to see Kaz had a kettle in his hands and he was drenching a towel over the sink, steam billowing around the basin in whirls.

 

            “What are you doing?” Inej asked softly.

 

            Kaz came out of the bathroom and walked to her, Inej caught the scent of the damp towel. Chamomile, peppermint, and sage. Mama, the scent screamed.

 

            Saints, bless him and Mama.

 

            “I saw your mother, she taught me how to make the mixture to help ease the cramps. She wanted me to be able to do it for you… in the future.” Kaz mumbled as he shifted the towel between his hands. Inej felt a giddy laugh build in her throat, she did not release it. Kaz Brekker made her a warm compress for her cycle after speaking to her mother.

 

            Dirtyhands had been learning about herbs from her mother. Her heart swelled, it was as if the saints themselves had shined their light on the boy before her, no matter what he’d done to survive.

 

            “Saints bless you, Kaz Brekker.” Inej mumbled and winced as she sat up on the bed to take the compress from him, she saw him roll his eyes but the movement didn’t conceal the fact he was pleased with her response.

 

            Inej laid back and rolled up the shirt she’d stolen from Kaz’s wardrobe, she rolled the waist line of the sleep trousers down some too, before she placed the compress over her middle. Kaz had diverted his eyes. Inej smiled.

 

            “You are allowed to look, Kaz. It’s just my navel.” Inej chuckled, already feeling the warmth soak into her skin and easing just a bit of her uncomfortableness.

 

            “I- uh. Yes.” Kaz mumbled before he turned away.

 

            Flustered Kaz face was making its way up the ranks.

 

            “Are you leaving?” Inej wondered aloud, she wanted to be sure even though he’d locked the door. Inej wanted to just spend time with him, that was what she wanted for her well-earned day off, despite her angry body.

 

            “I thought I’d stay at least for a little bit.” Kaz answered from somewhere near his desk. Inej had her eyes closed, enjoying the warmth and scent of the compress.

 

            “Only a bit? Do you have anywhere you have to be today?” Inej asked. She hadn’t really intended to make her wishes so well known, but apparently she was feeling honest.

 

            “Are you asking me to stay in this room all day with you, Wraith?” Kaz rasped. Inej heard his gloves land on the desk in a soft plop.

 

            “If I am will you say yes?” Inej mumbled. She swore she heard his eyes roll. Inej wondered if this was part of her cycle, maybe she was feeling a little attached today. Or maybe she just felt this way because Kaz never took days off, she’d like to force him to rest once in a grand while. He’d earned it just as much as she had.

 

            “I suppose you know where I sleep. Best not risk the chance of a blade to the jugular if I refuse you.” Kaz answered with sarcasm dripping on each syllable; he’d moved to right beside the bed. Inej hadn’t even paid attention to his steps nearing. Inej cracked an eye open to see Kaz staring down at her, a small smirk on his lips. A piece of raven hair hung low on his forehead.

 

            “You are correct. You’d be in mortal peril if you dared to refuse me when I’m so unbelievably incapacitated.” Inej quipped.

 

            “I suppose on the other hand; couldn’t that work in my favor? You’re down for the count, darling. I could slip away easily in your current state.” Kaz retorted. Inej felt a smile pull on her lips that she desperately tried to conceal.

 

            “You would have a head start, Brekker. I admit that; but how would you like to find me in your shadow when you least expect it?” Inej mused, failing to hide her smile any longer.

 

            “Ah. You have me there. Though, If the barrel falls to ruination whilst I’m sequestered here, the world will know I died as a hostage and you my captor. Just think, Inej. I could have stopped whatever happened out there while I was stuck here.” Kaz prophesized with a gesture of a pale hand to the window. Inej choked on a chuckle.

 

            “Kaz, you would be the ruination. I’m keeping you here.” Inej laughed so hard her abdomen screamed again. She squeezed her eyes shut and let it pass. The warm compress worked it’s magic.

 

            “Fine, you have a point.” Kaz mumbled with a stony laugh. Inej felt the other side of the bed dip and she opened her eyes once more. Kaz was now next to her, laying on his side, blazer discarded somewhere across the room, tie loose, head propped up on a hand supported by his elbow.

 

            Why did he have to do that? He looked so peaceful. It made her want to kiss him over and over again until she couldn’t remember a scent besides cinnamon and smoky bourbon.

 

            “Tell me something I do not know.” Kaz asked her, his voice was gentle. Inej felt butterflies in her stomach, Kaz had never started the game before. Inej pondered as she looked up to the beams above them.

 

            “When I was little, my father told me that acrobats had wings. I would stand in front of the mirror on a stool for hours, just trying to catch a glimpse of those wings he claimed I had. I think I’d like to get them tattooed eventually. Maybe just small, at the top of my back. It would be a mark I chose. I’d like to have wings forever.” Inej said.

 

She smiled at the memory of her younger self, both reflection and flesh, chasing wings as she spun around and around in circles, eyes darting to see if feathers fluttered to the floor.

 

            “Wings. It suits you.” Kaz responded and Inej turned her head to see him smiling to himself, not noticing her eyes on him as he flicked a stray thread on the pillow case beneath his elbow.

 

            “Your turn.” Inej whispered.

 

            Kaz pondered for a moment and she felt his free hand search for hers on the bed. She moved it to him and he interlaced their fingers gently. She watched as he stared at their hands, she wondered what thoughts came to mind when he considered telling her a truth.

 

            “I bought it back.” Kaz whispered so softly, Inej thought she’d imagined the words.

 

             Inej didn’t know what he meant. His dark eyes caught the dim light from the window as his gaze bumped over her knuckles in tandem with his own finger. Inej noted pristine flecks of copper amidst the ink wells that were his irises.

 

            “Bought what back?” Inej squeezed his hand gently, encouraging him to open up. She could see that whatever this truth was, it was costing his armor greatly. This truth was taking a hammer to his carefully constructed walls in order to break free. She noted the slight furrow to his dark brows, the hesitation in his finger’s motion over her knuckles.

 

            “I bought back the farm I grew up on. I’ve owned it since I was sixteen. I bought it back only five days before I met you. I don’t know why I did. There’s a staff that takes care of it. I think of selling it back off at least once a week. I can’t seem to, though. My…” Kaz swallowed and paused. Inej felt her chest constrict. “My parents are buried out there. My… I bought my brother a headstone even though his body was lost. I don’t believe in funerals, but I did that. I still don’t know why.”

 

            Oh, Kaz. Inej wanted to tell him he didn’t need a reason, but she knew that’s not how Kaz’s mind worked. Kaz saw logic, plans. She would tell him what she believed, then.

 

            “Aatma ko diya. To set his spirit free. I think that’s why you did it, because you knew he’d want to be there instead of the harbor.” Inej whispered, she tentatively raised her hand out of the embrace from his hand, she gently tipped his chin up to make him look at her.

 

            “Aatma ko diya.” Kaz nodded, his accent did not assist the words very much, but he did well for his first try.

 

            “Have you gone back to see it?” Inej asked gently, she did not want to press him if he did not wish to tell her further. She respected that Kaz would open up when he could, as he learned to drop his walls of defense around his heart and mind.

 

            Kaz tensed, but he sighed. Inej was beginning to recognize that sometimes he needed a moment, a breath, to win out against his first instinct to tell her it was not her business.

 

            “No. The caretaker has written me saying both the house and the barn are in decent condition, though.” Kaz said simply. Inej read between the lines marring his face.

 

            Kaz was afraid to return. He wasn’t sure if it would heal or destroy long since healed wrong parts of himself. It would either pad and aid the scar tissue or rip it back open violently.

 

            “Should you ever wish to… maybe I could go with you, if you thought that might help.” Inej whispered gently, the same way Kaz had offered to return to the caravans with her in the face of her own fear.

 

            Kaz looked at her then, it was a look she’d never seen. In that look, she saw many words. A thousand “I love yous”, a pinch of “where have you been my whole life?” and lastly, a “thank you” so profound it would never come out right in any language.

 

            Inej raised her hand and gently grabbed his loose tie, pulling him forward to her. His pupils widened in surprise. She answered that “thank you” with a “you’re welcome” in the only way she thought might convey the honesty of her offer. She willed every ounce of promise and hope and love she had within her into that kiss.

 

Kaz had to know she meant it. She would always mean it, whether he decided to go tomorrow or ten years from now.

 

 

             Kaz mumbled against her lips, a desperate hope lacing his whisper.

 

            “Yes. Come with me.”

Chapter Text

KAZ

 

            Snow fell at a leisurely pace from the sky as Kaz made his way up the path to the Van Eck mansion. He knew Inej had arrived before him despite having left at about the same time as him from the Slat; she had decided to take her time across the rooftops as she was feeling better since the morning. Kaz hadn’t minded, he could tell she was craving a little bit of exercise and fresh air in the sky, well, as fresh as air got in Ketterdam. Kaz himself had also made some stops on the way to the house, he clutched a paper bag under his arm. He noticed Inej’s small and delicate footprints in the snow on the walkway ahead of him. Inej had spent most of the afternoon leaning against his shoulder on the bed, in and out of a peaceful sleep as he read through the numbers and reports from the Club.

 

            Kaz had stayed in bed with her all day. He didn’t know if he’d done that even once just because he could. The only other time he could recall resting so much had been when he’d broken his leg, he’d been fourteen. Granted, he’d worked all afternoon this time, but he still found his leg protested less on the walk to the house, and he felt well rested. It was strange, he wasn’t even craving an evening coffee.

 

            A few moments later, Kaz entered the mansion. He opened the door himself, it had been unlocked for him. Kaz knew that Inej’s parents probably left it unlocked for him, Inej never would have, she’d prefer him to pick the lock. He loved her for it. Kaz knew that the Ghafa’s probably insisted that Elena and the other house staff take the night off since Jesper and Wylan along with Marya were en route to the countryside for the next few days to visit Alys Van Eck, her young daughter, and her new… housemate. A suli music teacher. Kaz didn’t envy the singing that Wylan and Jesper were about to endure. He remembered the young Van Eck wife, while very kind, she was an absolute nuisance in Kaz’s opinion. Maybe the child would take after Wylan’s side of the family and be better adept to hold a tune. If Kaz was a praying man, he would have prayed for that child to be more musically inclined than its mother.

 

            Kaz was wrapped in warmth immediately upon entering the marbled foyer, a roaring fire was going under the mantle in the living room to his left. Kaz noticed the sofas had been pushed back away from the coffee table, in their place, cushions sat on the ground. There were tapered candles lit in the center of the coffee table and he noticed a small arrangement of flatware and napkins folded on the side of the candles. Kaz had never smelled anything like the aroma that whipped around his senses like tendrils of a vine plant. It was spices, rich and deep. Something sweet. Something savory. Kaz didn’t think he’d ever really felt his mouth genuinely water, but it did for whatever they were having for dinner. Kaz didn’t know what the Van Eck kitchens had produced, but he was fully invested in whatever it was.

 

            Kaz made his way to the dining room, assuming the living room would be for dessert. He entered the room and found the table empty, no place settings to be seen. He heard a booming laugh come from the kitchen, he immediately recognized it as belonging to Kahir Ghafa. Kaz also felt Inej nearby, he didn’t hesitate to open the door to the kitchen that he’d been in only this morning with Sharya Ghafa.

 

            Kaz didn’t expect the sight in front of him. Inej, perched on the edge of the counter, a glass of something pink in hand; her shoes were off and her small bare feet swung in the air, she’d also let her hair down and slipped in her nose ring. Kahir Ghafa was flicking pieces of something green, appearing to be parsley, at Sharya as she stood at the stove. Every piece that hit his unsuspecting wife garnered a laugh from both his daughter and himself, causing Sharya to turn and throw daggers around the two of them with her eyes.

 

            “Saints help my family,” Sharya mumbled as she stirred a pot over the flame.

 

            “Kaz! Welcome!” Kahir noticed him first in the doorway. Kaz shifted the package under his arm and shook Kahir’s extended hand.

 

            “Oh, Kaz! Good! Someone who can defend me from the merciless mocking of my daughter and husband.” Sharya turned to Kaz with a smile and Kaz felt his chest warm, he hadn’t known what he expected, but this surely must be what welcome felt like.

 

            “Kaz is on my side, you cannot divert him, Mama.” Inej chirped as she hopped down from the counter gracefully. The drink in her wine glass barely even swished at the movement. Sharya and Kahir both laughed, their mutual laughter reminded Kaz of some sort of melody without even trying.

 

            “Hello.” Inej smiled to him as she filled another glass on the counter and passed it to him. Kaz eyed the glass in front of him, he noticed something that looked like peach slices in the wine at the bottom of the glass.

 

            “It’s winter peach sangria, my wife is a lovely woman who has blessed us with desert wine that is easy going down and even easier to get drunk off.” Kahir chuckled at Kaz’s raised eyebrows. Inej pushed the glass into his hand and Kaz couldn’t help the smile on his lips. He raised the glass to his lips and it smelled divine. It reminded him of winter, despite the fruit. It tasted like nothing he’d ever had. It wasn’t too sweet, it was a gentle sort of citrus that was in fact, Kaz decided, going to be easy to get drunk off.

 

            “Thank you.” Kaz rasped and Inej touched his arm gently before she moved back to the island and picked up a kitchen knife and began chopping a clove of garlic that was already peeled in front of her.

 

            “What’s the package?” Inej asked when she stole a glance back at Kaz. Kaz had almost forgotten the parcel under his arm. Kaz downed the wine in his glass and made his way to stand beside Inej at the island and set the bag on the counter. Kaz removed the bottle of vintage bourbon he’d had his eye on for Kahir Ghafa at the shops down the street from the Slat. He’d planned to buy it since he’d learned Kahir enjoyed bourbon as much as himself. It was also distilled in Ravka and imported to Kerch. He thought it might… he thought it would be a kind gesture. He didn’t know when he’d started thinking of things like that.

 

            “For you.” Kaz said and he passed the bottle to Kahir. Kahir’s face broke out in a brilliant white smile as he eyed the label.

 

            “You can stay. Inej, keep the boy.” Kahir chuckled and whistled a tune as he began searching a drawer in the counter beside him for a bottle opener. Kaz felt his skin warm, but he managed a smile. He felt Inej’s eyes and he didn’t turn to meet them. He didn’t want her praise, he just wanted to make an effort for her, in this small way he knew how.

 

            “I was planning on it, Papa.” Inej giggled and he noticed the sureness of her hands beside him with the blade. He knew Inej would not be cooking, but he understood why Inej would take over chopping up ingredients. She was very familiar with dicing, after all. The thought made him smile once more.

 

            Kaz reached back into the bag and gently removed the small bundle that was wrapped in a sheet of tissue paper. He walked around the counter and passed it to Sharya Ghafa when she moved away from the stove. She took the bundle from him immediately and when she opened it, he felt eyes on him from both Kahir and Inej. It was a small bouquet of fresh geraniums, tied in a violet ribbon. It was from the same flower shop he’d bought Inej’s from, he hoped Sharya would appreciate them, too.

 

            “Inej told me they were your favorite first.” Kaz mumbled, he clasped his hands in front of himself to keep from squirming under Sharya’s eyes. Kaz didn’t expect the reaction he received.

 

            Sharya Ghafa hugged him in the middle of the Van Eck kitchen.

 

Her skin did not touch his, he noticed. It was brief and loose and he didn’t drown. It was just completely unexpected. He swore he heard Inej’s breath hitch from somewhere behind him, worried for his sake.

 

            “Thank you.” Sharya smiled so brilliantly, he thought it was worth the adrenaline of anxiety swirling in his gut from the embrace. Kaz watched as she fished around for a glass and moved to the sink to fill it with water for her flowers. Kaz was frozen for only a moment before he made himself walk back to Inej in what he hoped appeared as a completely unaffected and casual gait.

 

            “Are you okay?” Inej asked under her breath when Kahir moved across the kitchen to help Sharya remove something from the oven.

 

            Kaz didn’t respond verbally, instead he leaned in a placed a kiss to her cheek. Inej smiled a sunshine type of smile and turned back to her chopping. Kaz didn’t know what to do with himself but his awkward standing did not last for long.

 

            “Do you play cards often, Kaz?” Kahir turned his dark eyes to Kaz from across the island.

 

            “I do. I mostly deal at the Club but I know many deal and play types.” Kaz answered honestly.

 

            “Excellent. I doubt you know this one, it’s one from our culture. I’ll teach you, I suspect you’re a quick study. Come, join me for a game at the table. We still have awhile before dinner will be ready.” Kahir plucked up a deck of cards from the counter, Kaz hadn’t noticed the box there. Kahir had planned to ask him to play, it was a strange and warm realization. Kaz found he wasn’t nervous to sit with Kahir any longer. In fact, he always wanted to learn new card games, he wanted to go with Inej’s father. He stole a glance to Inej.

 

            “Go. I’ll be out in a moment. Mama will kick me out when there’s nothing left for me to chop. I’m not allowed near the stove.” Inej threw a false glare to Sharya and her mother simply nodded in a mock seriousness. Kaz placed a kiss to her hair on top of her head, despite the audience. He didn’t… he didn’t even consider if her parents would mind the small affections. Kaz also had no idea when these movements of affection had become so natural to him, it was only for Inej. It didn’t seem like her parents noticed at all, except for a tiny slip of a smile from Sharya before she turned back to her task. Kaz was grateful.

 

            As Kaz followed Kahir into the dining room, he realized he’d kissed his girl, his avri, in front of her parents. He was going to play cards with her father. Her mother had taught him how to make herb concoctions to ease her daughter’s cramping. He was going to sit down and have dinner and conversation and… be with family.

 

            How had Kaz Brekker, Dirtyhands, Bastard, Careless monster, earned a place amongst a family? He didn’t know. He just realized he didn’t want to lose it. The Ghafa’s were all amongst the select few he’d lay his life down for, now.

 

            Inej, Sharya, Kahir. And now… maybe, himself. That was this family. Kaz understood what avrireally meant when Kahir poured them both healthy glasses of bourbon and joked about his abysmal shuffling in front of a gambling hall owner. Kahir treated Kaz as if he’d always been meant to be here.

 

Kahir treated Kaz like family.

 

Kaz would have run from even the idea of having people to lose, once. He would have sworn he could make it through life completely alone. Maybe, he could have. It wouldn’t have been the same, though; he wouldn’t have been the same. Kaz’s already sharp edges would have turned lethal to his soul.

 

Kaz found he preferred this version of himself.

 

Kaz was still crooked parts, harsh lines, terrible schemes. Kaz was also bottles of bourbon, card games, family dinners, and wholly in love with a suli woman who he trusted to carry his heart across the wire between the violence and the love that existed in his corner of gray.

 

Kaz decided then and there that he needed to pick up construction on the apartment building he’d purchased. He wanted it done sooner.

 

           

 

Chapter Text

INEJ

 

            “Go, I see you eyeing that door. Go make eyes at him from the s