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through wide oceans, back home to you

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Inej always felt safest with Kaz.

It was less of an emotional thing, and more of a logical one, at first. She trusted him. If she was in danger, Kaz would always come back for her, always fight her out. She was a part of his crew. Gradually, it became an acknowledgement of the bond that the two shared, the unspoken promises that were left taut between them. Kaz Brekker, the king of Ketterdam, of twisted lies and cold iron. Inej Ghaffa, the queen of the seas, of crashing waves and silk skies. 

Now, she sat at the corner of his bed, back from one of her voyages, and stared at the sun just beginning to break out from the darkened haze of night. She was waiting for him, like she always did. She had information for him, and he her. She had promises to make, and things to say, and stories to tell. Her boat had docked not an hour ago, and she had told her first mate to argue with the dock workers, so she could come home.

The room was slightly chilly, the way he liked, and she could see one of his hats hung on a hook by the door. Always the same, comfortingly familiar. She closed her eyes and let herself remember the weeks past, the battles won on jagged waves. The screaming, and the blood that stained her clothes, and then even worse, the dark underbelly of the slaver ship, filled with young women and men with their hands shackled to the ceiling.

She remembered pressing a blade into the side of the guard, tall with a tangled beard, who attempted to kill her right there, and watching him fall to the ground. Blood dribbled down his chin from his mouth, and left a red mark on the collar of his shirt. She had punctured a lung. His death would leave a stain on the wooden floors. She had pulled keys from his belt and ran from chain to chain, person to person, unlocking the heavy padlocks and coaxing them slowly, urgently, to move up to the deck and onto her ship. 

Once she had sailed away from the slavers, she looked back at their ship, unmoving as the waves crashed viciously against it, and tried to remember who she had killed. Wondered how many were left bleeding tainted blood on the wet wood of the deck. Her girls, the women that she had slowly come to care for as a crew and a family, were exhilarated from the thrill of a successful battle and moving quicker than she could track. They were coaxing the freed slaves to drink, rubbing salve on the welts from the chains, and Inej knew she'd come to join them soon.

The men she had killed had deserved it, with their hateful minds and their heavy purses. She knew that. And yet, she took a minute, staring back at the ship that she had left for dead in the ocean, remembering each life she took away.

 The door opened, and Kaz stepped in, pulling off his grey coat and turning to throw it over a chair. He was checking his watch, which hung on an unassuming chain from his pocket, before he turned around and noticed her. She wondered vaguely what he had been doing at such a late hour, if he would smell like gunpowder, or jurda, or the salty scent of blood. He exhaled heavily before offering her a subdued smile. Odd for him, but Inej had grown accustomed to his moods, how they circled and uplifted before sinking back down, like the seagulls that occupied the briny air of the docks.

Now that he was here, she felt herself waking up, pulling out of the daydreams of blood and steel to emerge back into the world. She hadn't seen him in a month, and she always got antsy after so long apart. Kaz stepped up to a table, emptying his pockets into a drawer. Some coins and a scrap of paper were tucked away, and he stepped up to the bed where she sat, pulling off his black leather shoes and leaving them neatly next to the bed, half under the bed frame.

He sat next to her, in a ritual that they had both come to think of as sacred. As Inej watched, he pulled off his gloves finger by finger, leaving them beside her and extending his hand toward Inej. She placed hers flat against his on the soft fabric , and watched him tense up, do his best not to recoil, and then exhale, holding tight to her and letting his breath slow down to an even inhale and exhale.

Even this was something that should be cherished, that should be known as a sign of renewal and hope. She thought about interlacing their fingers, and then decided against it. It had only been about a year since they returned from the Ice Court, since they had fought in the narrow streets of Ketterdam for what was owed to them.

There would be time. There would be fights, and tears, and angry arguments on rooftops with the wind ripping into each other. They would move through time slowly, learning to live again with purpose, learning to feel touch without remembering pain. Kaz Brekker, the boy playing games in this city, was not ready yet. He would be eventually, and they would be able to keep each other safe in the howling winds of the sea, and the storm, and the sky.

Somebody to come back to, somebody to fight for, somebody to draw her home as easily as a compass would point the way. Someday, there might even be an unnamed sort of love, the kind that nobody would ever put into words but shown in the fighting for each other until the end of their days. Today, there was hope, watching the daybreak over the ruthless city through heavy curtains and swirling fog.