Inej blinked at the white light outside her bedroom window. If she were a different sort of person, with a different sort of friend group, she might feel as if she was in an alien abduction movie and panicked.
Mostly though she was just sleepy, only having gotten up to get a glass of water, which required very little brain power compared to doing something about the light.
Her phone buzzed on top of her night stand and she picked it up.
Chat: The Bad Omens
> Open your window
> Dreadful etiquette, I apologize
Inej puffed a quiet laugh, waking up a bit more.
Kaz. Do not reference JD at me <
Give me a moment <
Inej lifted her blinds, and sure enough, Kaz was on her fire escape, his phone’s flashlight turned on and aimed at her window. He looked a bit tousled from the climb and the breeze, but otherwise relaxed.
It wasn’t unexpected to see him, except it was, a little. She’d known Kaz since she was eight and he was nine, and they’d long established visits between them that were sporadic and yet routine.
But Inej had never stayed in Kerch over the Summer vacation, not once, so it almost felt like extra time.
“Hey,” she greeted him, sliding the glass pane and bug screen aside to let him in.
“Hey,” he replied, raising a brow. “Did I wake you up?”
She stepped back and he swung himself inside, a bit awkward with his cane.
“I was getting water, so no, but almost,” Inej leaned against her window sill and faced him. “What’s up?”
He walked over to her desk chair and sat down, shrugging. “I couldn’t sleep, so I’d thought I’d take my chances and see if I could bribe you with ice cream or a movie to hang out,”
Part of her was surprised. Kaz valued his own routine, and Inej hadn’t wanted to assume he’d let her into whatever Summer habits she had.
The rest of her was relieved. Kaz wouldn’t seek her out if he didn’t actually want to spend time with her.
Inej glanced at the door. Hanzi had become accustomed to Inej’s (and Kaz’s) (and the group’s) nightly habits during the school year proper, but she couldn’t imagine he’d be too mad at her if she went out now. He knew she was still upset from not going back home that Summer, but her aunt was having a premature baby and her family needed to stay at a hospital near the Fjerdan border, so there was no way they could have picked her up from the airport, and other travel options were too complicated and expensive.
Thus, she was staying in Kerch. She hadn’t even messaged Kaz the last few days after Nina, Matthias, and Jesper had all left to their own families or homes, and Wylan traveled to a country estate with his mother every Summer, so he was away too.
Kaz always spent his Summer’s alone, but he almost never talked about what he did for those two and a half months, not even to her, so she’d never known if he disliked or preferred the solitude.
But he was there.
“I want ice cream,” she said. She was going to have as much fun as possible regardless of where she was, and if Kaz wanted to be with her, she wasn’t exactly going to say no. “Let me get changed,”
Kaz smiled, and Inej took a change of clothes to the bathroom before rummaging for a sack pack and grabbing some blankets. She left a note for Hanzi on the table informing him she might be out with Kaz if he woke up, and then slipped on her shoes.
Kaz waited patiently as she gathered her things and got up when she indicated they could go. They slid back out of her window, Inej closing it as best as she could behind them, and climbed down the fire escape slowly. Inej loved being on one of the top floors, but the climb was something Kaz didn’t particularly enjoy.
When they reached the road and then a bright street light, she properly took him in.
His hair was getting a bit long, forming dark waves as it curled just below his ears. He and Jesper had talked about Kaz switching to an undercut, but nothing had been determined yet. For Inej’s part, she appreciated the more relaxed look. Kaz cut his hair a week before school started each year, so she hadn’t seen it particularly long since Kaz was maybe ten.
He was wearing a loose and thin long sleeve shirt and black jeans, relaxed. Another plus to seeing Kaz in the Summer, she supposed. He almost always wore formal clothing to school.
Well seeing Kaz in general was a plus, but that was her… 4 year long crush (does it count as a crush when it’s lasted so long? Inej didn’t know) talking. Anyway, Kaz had never shown any interest in dating, and he was sixteen now, so Inej figured it was a lost cause.
“So, ice cream, what else are you thinking?” she asked as they made their way towards the Barrel. The air was warm, but much more bearable at night than during the day. Perhaps she’d become nocturnal for that Summer. Kaz would support her.
He shrugged, avoiding a gaggle of older college students that passed them by, then briefly pausing so he and Inej could match their paces. His cane tapped alongside their legs, a familiar and even comfortable sound. “Movies? Food?”
Kaz didn’t like movies. Or most food, actually. But Inej did, so it was for her sake.
Still, she couldn’t think of anything playing at that time of night either of them would be even mildly interested in. “Ice cream sounds good. How about just a Barrel walk? I haven’t had much time to appreciate the atmosphere during the Summer,”
Kaz approved, giving her a small smile then nodding for them to cross a canal. There was music playing from a small plaza somewhere nearby, and everything was washed in neon lighting.
Inej grinned back at him. She was already enjoying herself.
Kaz paid for the ice cream (he had two scoops of chocolate in a cup like always, and she had gotten mint chocolate chip in a cone). Ice cream was one of the few things Kaz liked eating, and it was definitely one of Inej’s favorites, so it had become a staple between them.
They found a bench so that Kaz could eat his ice cream since it didn’t much work if he was holding the cup in one hand and his cane in another. A dog passed by and Kaz took a picture of it.
“Why couldn’t you sleep?” she asked.
Kaz waved a vague hand. “It was taking too long to get tired, but nothing I thought of was very interesting either. I got bored of being bored, so I came to check up on you,”
She hummed. He was awful at falling asleep, but then again, they all were. Nina had once stormed into class, furious, saying, “Did you guys know it takes neurotypicals five to twenty minutes to fall asleep? And we’re stuck with an average of an hour or two or more?” It had resulted in Jesper asking Matthias to knock him out so he could get a good night’s sleep. Matthias did not oblige him.
Kaz probably did still have the worst of it in terms of sleep though. It was one of the reasons she was so used to seeing him or texting him at night, regardless of how early school started.
“Do you wish you were in Ravka?” Kaz asked.
Inej thought it over, turning her cone.
“Not exactly,” she admitted. “I’m sad that I won’t get to see my family, especially since there’s no guarantee I will be able to see them over, say, Fall Break, that always depends on their trips. It could even be a whole year until I visit again. But right now, I’m having a good time. Plus, night time outings with you during the Summer sound like a lot of fun,”
“So I can stop by in the future?”
“Of course,” Inej said, knocking their shoulders together. Kaz didn’t like most touch but she and Jesper were exceptions most of the time, unless he was having a bad day. “You can stop by whenever. Or I can come by your place, if you don’t mind? It’s what we do during the school year, but I don’t know how you like to spend your Summers,”
Kaz grinned, almost to himself. “You can stop by whenever you want, too,”
The silence that followed was comfortable. An entire Summer of hanging out with Kaz would be great, she thought.
It made her think of how Kaz barely communicated during the Summer with everyone. She tried to text him as often as possible, and he had the best track record at replying to her, at least, but she was often away from Wi-Fi or good cell towers. She’d told herself that Kaz was independent by nature and valued his own routine, and that if he could sit in front of a mirror practicing magic tricks for hours on end, then he’d be fine without her and the others over the Summer, but not for the first time she also considered the possibility that Kaz got lonely while they were gone.
“This is the first time one of us has joined you for the Summer, right?”
“Is there anything you want to do?”
“Not particularly,” Kaz shrugged. “I figure we should do what you like, since it’s your first Summer here,”
She took that with a grain of salt, not because of his consideration but because Kaz had the habit of not considering himself. He had some non-negotiables, like wearing his gloves a good 95% of the time because “Fuck touching things, Inej,” (his words), but because he was so used to a “survival and efficiency over comfort” mentality, he often disregarded the fact that he was literally wired to value routine and space.
If he decided to spend a lot of time by himself, she decided, she wouldn’t begrudge him. But as long as he seemed alright, and Inej knew how to tell, then she’d take him up on the idea.
“I’ll come up with something, then,” Inej said, looking up at the sky. She whistled softly. “Ketterdam’s stars are pretty this time of the year, huh?”
Kaz followed her gaze up. “You know all the constellations up there, don’t you? It was your hyperfixation in the 6th grade,”
“Mhmm,” Inej pointed up at a group of stars. “That’s the net spintress over there, and that cluster of stars to her left are the fishes that turned to gold when she caught them. Do you know the story?”
“Not at all,” Kaz admitted, then looked over at her, dark strands of hair falling over his eyes. “Tell me?”
That night ended with them finding a grassy hill next to a clean canal and laying down on one of the blankets Inej had brought. Kaz indulged her love of stories as she explained all the Kerch tales behind the constellations she could spot.
Hanzi only raised his eyebrows when they straggled back to the apartment in the early morning. They fell asleep on the couch and didn’t wake until it was dinner time.
Inej hesitated just outside Kaz’s apartment door, unusual for her. He’d told her to stop by whenever, but she still felt a little weird. Kaz’s place was almost a second home to her during the school year, but she was feeling mentally a bit awkward stopping by now, almost out of place.
She had sent a text telling him that she’d be coming by in a bit. He hadn’t replied yet, but that wasn’t a no, and if it was, he’d have just told her so.
She rang the doorbell. Inej had considered going through one of the windows as she sometimes did, but had figured the door would do just as well.
A few moments passed without answer and Inej was about to press the bell again when she heard the sound of the lock turning and paused her movement.
The door opened and revealed a sleepy and ruffled Kaz. Inej tried not to smile, but it reminded her distinctly of when Kaz was little and hadn’t cared as much about keeping tidy with his appearance.
He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. “Hello, Inej,”
“Hello, Kaz. May I come in?”
He opened the door and let her walk inside, then closed it behind her.
Kaz’s apartment was one of the few places where Kaz let himself be comfortable, so it was all neutral colors, dim lighting, and a year-round cool temperature. There was a large whiteboard on one of the walls, as well as a dart board that was more for Inej and Jesper’s sake than his, and a side table stacked with puzzles and board games. The windows all had blackout curtains and were completely covered.
Like always, it smelled like warm coffee.
She sat on one the large L couch (Kaz had two couches, one was a sofa bed for when Inej sometimes slept over, and the other a huge L-couch he had only because it was the easiest way to get all six of them seated comfortably and for Kaz to still have enough space), sinking into the cushions. She noted a blanket, pillow, and a book opened about halfway. He must have fallen asleep reading, and seeing as he’d only gotten up then, he must’ve been up fairly late.
“I’m guessing you didn’t see my text?” she asked.
Kaz picked up his phone, looking at the notifications with a small frown. “No. But it’s fine,”
She put her chin in her hand and watched him move around, relieved that Kaz was comfortable with the impromptu visit.
Perhaps she needed to stop thinking about it as “an intrusion to Kaz’s Summer” and more like “an extension to their school year habits.” That would make more sense. Probably.
“You can go back to sleep if you want to,” she told him, patting the space on the couch next to her. “I’m fine waiting,”
Kaz raised a slow brow as he slid on his dark gloves, then gave her a borderline snarky smile. “Who would sleep with your company available?”
She laughed and tossed the pillow at him, which he easily caught and threw back. “Sure, Kaz. Are you hungry?”
“Not at all right now. You can eat whatever you want though. Well, don’t finish the hot chocolate,”
“Only you drink hot chocolate in the Summer, Kaz,”
“Then only I am wise,” he replied, heading to his bedroom. “I’m going to shower, don’t burn down my kitchen,”
She stuck her tongue at him, not that he could see with his back turned, and took out her phone to reply to a picture from Nina.
Kaz was out in 20 minutes and Inej was in the kitchen. The edges of his hair were still damp, and he was wearing a thin grey pullover. He could only get away with wearing it because he kept the apartment so cold.
“What are you making?”
“Omelettes,” Inej said, whisking the eggs. Another one of their shared favorites. “Do you want some?”
He hadn’t been hungry before, but she knew he would say yet. It was omelettes after all.
He helped her with chopping some of their toppings, and she slid into Kaz’s morning seamlessly.
Inej and Kaz were the Crow and the Spider in their text messages, but Inej’s nickname and reputation surrounded her being ‘The Wraith’, a ghost that couldn’t be detected. She helped Kaz and the others whenever some eavesdropping needed to be done on anyone’s behalf, and sometimes she did it just because.
Kaz had to go to the Crow Club, a restaurant and arcade he’d been working at since he was eleven, although he’d basically been handling all of it’s financials since he was thirteen. He was also the person who had decided to rename the place, and added the arcade, and basically everything. It was more his business than the actual owner’s, Per Haskell, and Inej figured Kaz would become the official owner sooner rather than later.
Still, sometimes Haskell called him in to push his weight around, and sometimes Inej followed. It was very interesting to overhear their meetings, since they were almost entirely Kaz using the most fake-polite voice she’d ever heard (he made it sound fake on purpose, which did at least make it funny) and Haskell being drunker than perhaps medically advisable.
The fun part though, or at least the interesting one, was seeing Kaz interact with the other employees, half of them hired by him.
The thing is that Kaz was quiet. Not Inej’s brand of silence, but just… not loud, or talkative.
Actually, the entire first year she’d known Kaz, he’d spoken to her directly maybe four times, and they saw each other nearly every day and walked to and from school together.
Of course, things had changed as they got older. Not only did Kaz have a penchant for the dramatic when it came to executing his plans, but he was almost just more comfortable speaking to her and the other four.
When it came to strangers or acquaintances, Kaz instead sported a shark-eyed look that spoke for itself: Talk to me and you’re in danger of being punched.
The problem with the Crow Club employees is that, despite Kaz being labelled as “weird” among them, they also looked up to him. It made for interesting interactions.
“C’mon, Brekker, are you sure you don’t want to come? You haven’t been to one of the employee happy hours in like, two years!” one of the workers, Anika, complained. “And you’re sixteen now, so it’s actually legal!”
Kerch’s drinking age was ridiculous, Inej thought.
Kaz didn’t even look at Anika completely. “Not interested,”
“Booossss,” Pim complained, slumping over the bar counter. “You’re killing us here,”
Kaz moved past Anika, although a few more workers called out. “Die a little faster, then,”
“So cruel,” Anika followed him. “What else is there even to do, Brekker? Fun won’t hurt you,”
“If you keep talking, I will hurt you,” Kaz replied.
Inej figured he didn’t mean it completely, because Kaz didn’t dislike Anika, but Inej also knew that Kaz didn’t exactly mind punching people.
She made her way out of the shadowy corner she was standing in, coming from behind Kaz. He still straightened. He could always sense her. “Kaz, violence is not always the answer,”
Anika and Kaz turned to her, and Pim perked up from behind the counter. Inej and Jesper were popular at the Crow Club.
“Inej. Doing some spying?” Kaz asked
“Can’t let myself get dull,” she grinned, and Kaz smiled.
“I doubt you could,”
Anika threw her hands up. “Wraith, you astound me. Brekker really only smiles for you, huh?”
Inej shook her head, amused. “He also smiles at checks and cash, I’m nothing special,”
The blonde girl rolled her eyes and walked away, giving a friendly farewell wave over her shoulder. Pim and a few others also said hello, and goodbye, and then she and Kaz made their way out.
Maybe Inej was too smug about Kaz’s difference in attitude between her and others. And maybe sometimes she only came to the Crow Club just to see the difference in front of her. But oh well.
Chat: The Cool Cousins
Caretaker Of The Year
> Some of my coworkers want to hang out and apparently it’s my turn to host
> I feel bad turning them down and it’s true I haven’t hosted before
> But there’s going to be at least seven of them over, and they’re probably going to stay really late and I think you’d rather avoid it
> Do you think you could sleep over at Kaz’s? I’ll lend you some money so you can buy snacks or rent a movie or something
Inej read over the texts, scrolling through them with one hand and holding bubble tea in the other. She wasn’t bothered at all, rather thankful in fact because Hanzi was always good at considering Inej’s introverted nature. Hanzi was actually introverted as well, so they had a decent understanding between them. He never really forced her to interact with any guests when he had them over, rare as it was, and because of how little it happened, she had no problem finding different accommodations.
Usually he wouldn’t even bother suggesting she asked Kaz to sleep over, because she already did at least once every one or two weeks regularly, but she figured it was due to the time of year that he said it.
“Kaz, Hanzi’s having coworkers over for a party and they’re going to be at the apartment pretty late. Is it fine if I sleep over?” she asked, showing him the phone screen.
He read the texts in a split second and didn’t think it over for much longer before he nodded. “Sure, but I can probably pay for the snacks,”
“Kaz, are you really passing over the chance to save money? You?”
“Well, I was trying to be polite but I’ll just retract the offer then,” Kaz said, but it was lighthearted.
In the end, Hanzi did push several kruge bills into Inej’s hands, and she decided to buy some spicy chips for herself since Kaz didn’t really like spicy. Kaz’s compliance was bought with a few brownies.
By six pm, Inej was already settling into Kaz’s couch, and they were setting up his computer, not for a movie but for a call with all the others. Nina had suggested it in their group chat just before they’d arrived at Kaz’s place, and it turned out everyone was free enough for it to work out.
Matthias and Nina were three and four hours ahead respectively, both having just finished their dinner, and Jesper was a whole five hours behind Kerch, having just finished a late lunch. Wylan was in the same time-zone as Kaz and Inej of course, just out in the countryside.
Usually, it was Inej who was the most off-grid and hard to reach person in the Summer, so whatever little group calls they had were usually scheduled spontaneously whenever her family passed by a town with with Wi-Fi for a day or two and Inej would would spend a few hours sitting at whatever locale there was, catching up with everyone. She could admit it was a lot less stressful to simply have it available to her now, with the only thing that needed to be done was turn on the computer, rather than having to appease a cafe owner telling her she needed to keep ordering food or they’d kick her out.
One by one, their friend’s faces filled the screen.
“Hellooooo,” Nina called out. She had a face mask on that was shaped like a panda. “Can you guys hear me?”
“I can hear you,” Jesper replied. His background revealed that he was sitting out in the farmstead’s porch.
One by one everyone checked their audio and mics, and once everything was proved to be in order, the call really began.
Kaz leaned back on the couch as the others talked and closed his eyes, but he was clearly still attentive as the others asked Inej how she was feeling and if her family was doing alright with the entire baby situation.
“I’m good, I’m good,” Inej waved away their concerns. “So is my aunt. I was a bit sad since I won’t get to see them for a long time, but it’s with good reason. Plus, I’ve been with Kaz nearly the entire time, so it’s been fun,”
Nina gasped theatrically. “Kaz Brekker, fun? Did I fall into another dimension? Did you hit your head?”
Kaz kept his eyes closed as he flipped off the camera, and Inej pulled his hand down, laughing.
Jesper cleared his throat. “Nina, we all know that two years ago during Fall Break you had to stay in Ketterdam and you and Kaz ended up in a jail cell overnight. Clearly, Kaz is great company over breaks,”
That made them all laugh and Nina just rolled her eyes before eventually joining them.
While Summer was a solid time in which all of them but Kaz left, the other breaks during the school year, a week or two long, were pretty randomized in terms of who went home and who stayed. Inej usually stayed during Fall Break, and only left to see her family over the Winder about half the time, while Jesper went to see his dad most breaks, and Nina and Matthias were never sure. Wylan never left the city until the Summer though.
The specific break that Jesper was mentioning had been one in which Inej had, out of the norm, gone back to Ravka for Fall Break. She distinctly remembered passing by a phone tower while taking a video on the back of her uncle’s truck and getting a million text notifications from Nina, who was panicking about her record and universities, and how she and Kaz were in so much trouble.
On the other hand, Kaz’s long but singular text had read, Don’t listen to Nina. The Stadwatch is going to have a very unfortunate computer glitch that will just so happen to delete all entries made in the past two hours. Also, it was HER idea to disturb the peace (what we’re in here for). If you see any cool animals send me a picture.
Inej had also found herself inside a jail cell with Kaz before, and it wasn’t all that bad. Frankly, nothing quite turned Kaz into a snarky and sarcastic teenager like lawful authorities, which was both incredibly amusing and exasperating.
“So what is there to do in Ketterdam over the Summer anyway? Kaz never tells us and Wylan flees the humidity every year, so we’re depending on you to spill all the secrets, Inej,”
“I don’t spill secrets,” Inej argued, a bit haughty if she was being honest.
“Don’t you, though?” Matthias and Wylan said at the same time, making even Kaz laugh.
Matthias continued after a moment. “I mean, your job is literally to report back to Kaz with any secrets or information you find out. And then he uses them to blackmail people. So,”
“That’s different!” Inej insisted, although she wasn’t really all that bothered. She fought off a grin. “And usually only Kaz knows what I find out, so it all hardly counts because spilling a secret isn’t the same thing as telling one person who is only going to maybe use the information against the person the information is about, who already knows. It’s contained,”
“Here, we witness a rare occasion,” Wylan narrated. His back was to the camera because he was painting on an easel they couldn’t completely see, but he was paying attention. “Inej, having to defend her ethics amongst the likes of the rest of the group, who have a far worse track record. Except me. I have done nothing wrong, ever, in my life,”
“I know this and I love you,” Jesper said immediately, and Wylan turned to shoot a sunshine-bright smile at the camera.
“I think we can safely conclude that we’re all at least a little bit sketchy,” Kaz said, finally speaking up. “I also know I’ve been in a cell with all of you at least once, to back that up,”
Everyone grumbled at that, but he was right of course.
“Fine, fine,” Inej finally relented. “But it’s been good, really. Hanzi’s been great, and Kaz and I have hung out most days after the first week and a half. And Kaz doesn’t take nearly as many jobs over the Summer,” she glanced at him to see if he minded that being brought up at all, but he didn’t seem to care, just shifted slightly closer. “So it’s been more relaxed. There’s basically no workload for me, which is honestly great. Although it’s really humid and hot, and Kaz’s air conditioning bill is going to be through the roof,”
“Is he doing the ‘my thermostat has never seen over sixty degrees’ thing?” Jesper groaned. “ Kaz, just buy a few box fans and turn off the AC!”
“And have all that whirring noise? I think not,”
“I see your point but also, Kaz, money,”
“Fans can’t keep an entire room, never mind an entire apartment, completely cool. I get more for my money by just using the AC. I’ll suffer the consequences of my unchangeable dislike for annoying whirring noises and ingrained need to never feel even a bit too warm,”
“We should be grateful that Kaz is like this,” Matthias pointed out. Inej could make out a large white dog in his background. “You know those instructions that are always like, store in dry, cold, dark place? He did that, and he still ended up this way. We can only assume this was the best case scenario. Imagine if he was left outside in the Ketterdam weather of the Summer, hot and humid. He’d have killed at least three people by now,”
“For all you know, I have,” Kaz argued.
“The possibility is high, true,”
“Kaz, are you ever going to open your eyes?” Nina asked.
“Inej, most beautiful, most serene Inej, how do you deal with him?”
Inej turned to him. “Kaz, will you open your eyes?”
He leisurely opened one eye, looking up at her. When she pointedly raised a brow, he fully opened both before giving her several purposefully ridiculous slow blinks, like a cat.
“He opened them,” Inej said, giving him a smile and then turning back to the camera, trying to act like she wasn’t stupidly charmed by Kaz’s silly obedience. Wylan laughed, and Nina and Jesper threw their hands in the air.
“What else did we expect?” Matthias said. “Kaz thrives on being contrarian to anyone who isn’t Inej,”
“That is a lie,” Inej said. “He’s contrarian with me all the time about metaphors or sayings or anything,”
“Pretty sure Kaz was born arguing with philosophy,” Wylan joked, and the others quickly voiced their agreement.
The call then spiraled into what traits they must have been born with. Kaz and Jesper used the fact Kaz was autistic and Jesper had ADHD as support that they were “born hyperfixating on playing cards,” and Nina said Inej was born a tiny cinnamon roll and remained a tiny cinnamon roll (“but she can also kill you,”).
Eventually, Nina and Matthias started falling asleep and they all said their goodbyes (of course, that included in Wylan showing the progress he’d made on his landscape painting and Colm Fahey popping his head into the fame of Jesper’s camera and wishing them all a good vacation after they’d all rallied to see him). The call ended with cheery farewells.
Inej yawned. It wasn’t late, only nine in the evening, but for once she felt like going to sleep early.
“I can’t believe I’m tired when it’s a sleepover,” she complained softly. “I feel like I should have the energy to stay up at least until one in the morning,”
“You’re forgetting that we stayed up until four in the morning walking around yesterday, and that we only slept like five hours because I forgot to turn off my alarm,” Kaz said, taking a bowl of chips from her lap and placing them on the table. “Are you gonna sleep here or do you want the sofa bed?”
“Sofa bed, please,”
Kaz got up and walked to the smaller black couch, sliding off the cushions and pulling out the foldable mattress. Inej helped him put a bedcover on it before she crawled onto it.
Kaz tossed her a pillow and some blankets. “Are you going to sleep right away?”
“No, I’ll be up a bit longer. Hang out with me until I do?”
He shrugged and sat down next to her, sitting up against the couch cushions that were functioning as a sort of headboard, leaving a good foot of space between them.
Kaz’s touch aversion was far worse than hers and originated from very different places, but sometimes she still needed that little bit of extra space, too. Kaz understood boundaries, and one of the reasons she let him get so close was because he knew when to back up, too.
“What do you want for breakfast tomorrow?” Kaz asked her, flipping through his phone and glancing at her.
“We’ll order it for delivery,”
“A single smoothie delivery?”
“I’m not getting up and dressed for tortured fruit,”
“I can get it,”
“Hmph. And what will you have?”
Kaz turned his phone to take a picture of her. She imagined she must look a little like a burrito with all her blankets. “I probably won’t be hungry. If I am, cereal. If I’m not, I’ll wait for lunch,”
He moved his hair to the side so it wouldn’t fall in front of his eyes.
“I want to argue with you skipping breakfast, but I do that all the time,” she told him.
Kaz gave her a look she imagined other people considered threatening if they didn’t know him, but to her it just looked mildly disapproving.
“Don’t give me that face, I’m reacting to you making a bad decision, that I also make. We’re both hypocrites here,”
He rolled his eyes and went back to looking at his phone.
She fell asleep not too long after.
Inej woke very briefly a few hours later. The lights had been turned off and another blanket had been thrown on top of her. Kaz was nowhere to be found. Presumably, he’d gone to bed in his own room.
She snuggled further into the blankets and found herself easily pulled back to sleep.
As she had predicted, the outings (which were starting to feel more like dates, but that was silly of her, wasn’t it?) had taken their toll on Kaz. Going out nearly every day was a lot, and she’d suspected he’d have to take a break soon enough.
It was that day, apparently, because she’d received a number of funny if slightly concerning texts in the afternoon:
Chat: The Bad Omens
> I am become a hermit, avoider of society
> That is, I refuse to leave my apartment for the next… 3-4 business days
> You can come over, I’m just not leaving
> Also beware that there’s someone unconscious outside my door (probably)
Kaz, what the heck <
Also okay, is it alright if I stop by in 20? <
I’ll bring you chocolate chip waffles <
Wait, is the person only unconscious, or are they dead? <
> Fairly sure he’s alive. Probably. I did hit him in the head, so
> Oh it’s just Geels, so you don’t need to worry about the ethics of it. Apartment security will probably move him in an hour or two
> 20 minutes sounds good
Why did you hit him <
> He was talking too loud
> Also it’s Geels. He aggravates me by proximity
I shouldn’t say this but <
I got your waffles. If Geels is still there I’m coming in through your window <
> Do not fall off the side of the building.
Inej did not fall off the side of the building, even with a takeout bag hanging from her wrist.
Kaz’s window wasn’t locked for once, so she slid open the glass pane and softly settled the takeout box on Kaz’s bed, since it was under the window. Kaz, she found, was lying face down in his bed, still as a log.
Unfortunately, she entered with slight awkwardness in the position of her legs, accidentally jostling herself. Her knee gave from under her, resulting in her falling into a roll, bouncing on the corner of the mattress, and finding herself on the floor.
Kaz turned his head very slowly from the pillow to look at her.
Inej righted her ponytail, which had flipped over her face, and looked up at him. “Not a word,”
He started to laugh.
“ Ugh ,” Inej flopped completely onto the floor. Stupid Kaz and and his stupid nice laugh. He had a rasp in his voice, it wasn’t fair that his laugh was nice.
“I thought you never fell?” he said, sitting up.
“This doesn’t count. It’s just a little slip,”
“Sure, Inej. And I’m the Sun Summoner,”
Inej glared at him and stood up, checking that she hadn’t crushed her phone. When she saw it was intact, she took a picture of Kaz, who tilted his head at her, still amused.
“You’re mean,” she grumbled, walking over to his desk chair and slumping in it. “I got you waffles, too,”
“My darling Inej, treasure of my heart, thank you for bringing me waffles,” Kaz said, grabbing the takeout and making his way from the bedroom to the kitchen. After a minute, Inej sighed and followed him.
It was always nice to watch Kaz in his apartment because of the ease of his movements.
The story of Kaz’s housing was weird. He’d lived in a hostel rather than a group home despite being an orphan, which was technically illegal but the owner of the hostel had never reported Kaz. Then, he’d bought the apartment when he was 14 and moved out, which was also technically illegal because Kerch minors had to be at least 16 before they were allowed to live by themselves. Kaz had gotten away with it all, the same way he’d somehow managed to get into the international school they’d all attended for their middle school and high school years, without a single parent or guardian to actually sign papers for him. It was bizarre.
But it worked for him, too. Kaz living alone was far, far more bearable than Kaz living at the hostel. Partially because he wasn’t surrounded by assholes anymore who he had to always be watching, lest his things get stolen or someone push more than they should. Plus, it made all of them infinitely more comfortable with visiting Kaz. While Kaz would sometimes sleep over at Inej’s, her coming to him only really started when Kaz had gotten the apartment.
Inej watched as Kaz sat down and started to eat. She’d already had breakfast with Hanzi that morning, so she wasn’t hungry.
“So, what was with Geels, anyway?” she asked. Inej had spotted the older man while she’d been walking up to Kaz’s window through the glass doors of the apartment complex. He technically wasn’t in front of Kaz’s door anymore, but he was still inside and she hadn’t wanted to pass by him lest he recognize her, so she’d opted to climb the window.
“He sometimes shows up, particularly during the Summer, and tries to pick a fight,” Kaz explained mildly, more focused on the waffles. “So I hit him in the head with my cane,”
Inej recalled seeing blood on Geels’ shirt. Kaz must have been annoyed.
“Do you get into a lot of rights over the Summer?”
Kaz finished his bite before replying. “I suppose? Sometimes it’s people from school who think I’ll be easier to catch off guard when you guys are gone. Sometimes it’s someone new to the Barrel, we always get more newcomers in the Summer, who doesn’t know me, sees the cane, and thinks it’ll be an easy win. As of now, they’ve all been wrong,”
That was no surprise. Anyone who knew Kaz well would have known not to mess with him. “They’re idiots, then,”
That was an interesting thing about him, Inej supposed. She knew him in most facets of his life, but most people didn’t.
If someone knew him from school, they would think he’s ruthless and violent 100% of the time, but she knows Kaz is also a good student who enjoyed math.
If someone only knew him from the Crow Club, they’d see him as cold and uninterested and silent, but he’s talkative with her, particularly when he’s gotten an idea (well, as long as she somehow isn’t in the idea itself. H likes making it like a puzzle for them to figure out if they play a part).
And of course, if someone didn’t know him, they saw a kid with a cane all alone and thought of him as an easy target when he was probably the most dangerous person walking down the street.
They were silent as Kaz finished eating. He really did like chocolate, Inej thought, amused. When they were little, she’d initially had to convince Kaz to walk with her by offering him a chocolate at the end of every trip.
“Are you sure you don’t mind not heading out?” Kaz said, throwing away the takeout box.
“It’s alright, I don’t mind. You know, you could have told me a few days ago that you needed a break,”
Kaz hummed. “I could have, but I do things regardless of whether I’ll need rest,”
“Just because you can hack your mind into letting you push yourself to the edge doesn’t mean you always should,” Inej sighed. Kaz loved ignoring a number of his mental needs and comforts just because he’d always managed before. She got where he came from, but it was still a pain. “Also, I do understand if you want to be alone for a few days to really wind down. You’ve done a lot for me this Summer already, and I can’t imagine having me so close the entire time is that fun for you,”
Kaz gave her a look that was half confused and half sincere. “That’s definitely not a problem. Being with you is always better than being alone,”
He turned around to grab coffee from one of his cupboards. “Do you want some?”
She stared at his back before thumping her head on the counter.
“Sure,” she mumbled after a moment. “With cinnamon,”
At least, she thought as she felt heat flush her face, she had solid confirmation that Kaz wanted her around.
To entertain themselves without leaving, Inej pulled some of the puzzles Kaz had in his living room and they did that to entertain themselves the next few days.
A solid week after Kaz decided that he’d had enough time in his apartment, Inej saw a picture from a classmate on Instagram about the Mercher gardens. A bunch of old estates from a few years ago had large and expansive gardens. The houses and gardens were open to the public year round since no one lived in those houses anymore.
Inej had seen the garden’s before, but never in their full Summer bloom.
So she asked Kaz if they could go, and he’d agreed, so out they went.
There were very few clouds in the sky, so the sun was bright, and the air was drier than usual. It seemed like the perfect weather to go visit the gardens, and there was nothing in the forecast to imply rain.
“Kaz, if we’re in a garden, you need to actually take pictures of the flowers,” Inej laughed, pushing Kaz’s phone to the side. He’d been trying to take a picture of her when she was trying to get him to take a picture of the large white rose she’d been leaning towards the camera.
Kaz sighed and took a picture of the rose. “Not as compelling, though,”
She rolled her eyes but was ever so pleased as they made their way through the small walkways and around the large ponds. Sometimes they’d stumble into a section of the garden full of people, with kids tumbling down hills, and then they’d walk through an arch and be completely alone in a new hedged area. It was fun and somewhat whimsical.
She’d decided to wear a Summer dress, rare for her, and it was endlessly amusing that Nina would be so mad that she wasn’t there for a photoshoot.
Kaz seemed to be making up for it though, lifting the phone once again to take a picture as Inej walked under a series of arches that were covered in the same white roses. He was wearing black clubmaster lenses with gold accents, and the lenses black enough that she couldn’t make out his eyes behind them.
Inej herself was wearing round glasses with purple lenses that Kaz called her “60s hipster glasses,” but she also knew he thought they looked good on her, so whatever.
They passed another pond section, and Inej spotted what looked like a spire roof somewhere to the left of their new section.
“What’s over there?” Inej asked, pointing it out to Kaz.
He shrugged, waving a map of the gardens at her. “I’ve never been in this area before either,”
She opened the map, checking to see if it was mentioned. “I think it’s this one, Gallows Gazebo,”
“You Kerch do like death a lot,”
Kaz shrugged. “It’s the weather that does it, really,”
Inej glanced up at the sky. “By the way, is it me or is it getting a lot hotter? And it’s not as dry as this morning,”
Kaz frowned, thinking for a moment before groaning. “It’s going to rain,”
“The forecast says it’s not going to,”
“Inej, trust me, I’ve dealt with these stupid Summers every year. It’s going to rain,”
Inej crossed her arms. “It won’t,”
She usually never bet against Kaz, but c’mon, there weren’t even that many clouds in the sky.
Kaz stared at her before grinning slowly. “I bet you that it’s going to rain. If I’m right, you’ll do a dart shift at the Crow Club. If you’re right, I’ll do you any favor you want,”
Dart Shifts were what she and Jesper called the brand of Crow Club related favors they did for Kaz. Mainly, they would show up and act like normal clientele, pay for a game, and egg people on into joining them. The better they did the more people wanted to “have a go” against them, and sooner or later they had people walking up to the counter in groups to buy darts or cue sticks or to switch out their cash for coins to play in the arcade games.
It had started, of course, with Jesper playing darts and getting half the customers to participate, but Inej had only elevated it.
She didn’t mind the Dart Shifts, but still. It wasn’t going to rain.
“I’ll take the bet,”
They’d found the gazebo, finally. It had taken a while, and there had been a small hedge maze between them too, and a confusing roundabout, but finally they got to the entrance of the Gallows Hideaway the Gazebo was placed in.
There were large willow trees and a pond, and bushes full of flowers and greenery. The gazebo was beautifully made of swirling metal shaped like leaves and branches covered in blooming vines.
The sky had darkened with clouds, but Inej held out hope that it wouldn’t rain. She tried to take a video of the entire area from where they were standing, and just as she completed it, a loud crack echoed in the sky.
She jumped and cursed loudly, and Kaz would have probably laughed at her if the sky then didn’t open up and start pouring water.
In seconds, her hair was plastered to her skin, and she and Kaz were making a run for the covering of the gazebo, Inej yelling all the while.
“This is unbelievable,” Inej complained as she wrung out her hair, which was no easy task when it reached her thighs.
In just a few minutes the walkways around the gazebo, that was thankfully elevated from the rest of the ground, had flooded. The water swirled around, catching loose petals and leaves in it’s currents.
“Told you so,” Kaz said, chucking off the dark gray jean jacket he’d been wearing over a white t-shirt. Kaz didn’t like wearing sunscreen, but he also hated direct sunlight, so when it was daytime he almost always just had on a jean jacket of some sort over a shirt, while mostly keeping to loose long sleeves at night and in his apartment. He also really hated wearing wet clothes, and the jacket was thoroughly soaked. “You owe me a shift,”
She only hummed, distracted by his bare forearm. He had a large tattoo there of a crow drinking from a wine cup. It was a beautiful tattoo, but she rarely got to see it.
She brought it up. “I haven't seen your tattoo in ages,”
Kaz looked down at it. “That would be because you freaked out whenever you say it,”
Inej rolled her eyes. “When I was thirteen I freaked out, because, well, you were barely fourteen when you got it. Fourteen year olds don’t get huge gothic tattoos on their arms,”
“It was worth it,” Kaz said. “And the artist wore gloves to it wasn’t even that bad,”
Kaz shrugged, leaning his arm so she could see it better. “You like it though,”
Inej didn’t feel confident enough to ask whether he meant the tattoo, or him.
They settled in the built-in benches of the gazebo and waited for the rain to stop.
It took nearly an hour, but finally the sky began to lighten and the rain lessened. They had to wait another twenty minutes for enough of the water to wash away though, because their area had become flooded, but eventually the sun broke out once more and they were free.
Kaz jacket, much like Inej’s hair, was still not dry, so he carried it with one arm and frowned at the sun, as if daring it to try and burn him.
Both of them had firmly reached their garden limits, so they headed out.
Inej did not miss the number of looks people were shooting at Kaz. He already had plenty of admirers on a normal day, but she imagined that with the slightly damp hair and his toned arms visible, more people were going to notice him.
She didn’t glare at them. Not at all. It was none of her business.
“Want to get something to drink?” Kaz asked, nodding at an open-sided restaurant, the style that was completely open to the street and needed grates to close up at night.
It was slightly crowded, but Inej thought a soda sounded good. “I didn’t bring any cash, but if you have some I can go in and buy us some soda?”
Kaz nodded, handing her some kruge and leaning against one of the wooden support beams closest to the side walk.
She was waiting for the restaurant owner to pass her two large Dr. Peppers and also some chocolate cookies she’d spotted when a girl tapped her shoulder. Inej turned to her, confused.
“Hey, that guy by the sidewalk,” a pretty girl with large blue eyes nodded at Kaz. “You walked up with him. Is he your boyfriend?”
Inej frowned. “Uh, no,”
The girl grinned. “Great! I’m going to ask for his number,”
Then she disappeared into the crowd, and before Inej had the presence of mind to come up with some sort of excuse as to why that was a very bad idea, the cashier was asking her to pay.
She headed back to Kaz and handed him one of the drinks and the cookies, which he was happy to see.
They sit down on one of the empty and more removed tables, not really talking, until the girl appears from Inej’s right once more. She’d touched up her makeup.
She really was pretty, Inej thought.
“Hey,” the girl said to Kaz, who barely glanced at her. “I was standing over there with my friends when I saw you, and I was just wondering if I could have your number? You’re exactly my type and I’d love to get to know you better,”
Was it the tattoo? Inej wondered. It had to be the tattoo.
Kaz leaned back in his chair. “Not even mildly interested,”
“I—uh,” the girl floundered before regaining her metaphorical footing. “C’mon, at least consider it! I’m sure we could find something in common between us,”
Kaz didn’t reply and instead leveled her with a look so absolutely cold that Inej almost felt as if she should have goosebumps.
The girl’s smile slipped slowly from her face before she huffed and turned away, stomping a little.
Inej set her cookie down and started to laugh. “Kaz, that was mean!”
“Oh well,” he said, and Inej peeked up at him. He was smiling at Inej.
She really was going to have to gather her courage one of these days. If random girls on the street could ask Kaz out, why couldn’t she?
“You guys should go on one of the day-trip ferries around the small islands,” Hanzi suggested as he left to go to work.
Inej and Kaz were sitting at the table, trying to come up with something to do, but they felt they’d exhausted their ‘walking around’ options.
She perked up immediately. “That sounds like a good idea,”
“Take pictures if you do go,” Hanzi told them, waving goodbye as he closed the door.
“Kaz, have you ever been to one of the ferries?” Inej asked, looking up the information on her phone.
“No. They’re expensive, and why go on a ferry by yourself?”
“Enough to be overpriced,” Kaz said. “But we can go,”
Inej considered it. Both she and Kaz infinitely preferred dry land over boats, but neither of them had a fear of being on boats either (she did know Kaz hated the idea of drowning though).
A ferry sounded like a nice time, and tomorrow was supposed to be the least busy day.
“We should go,”
Inej had brought two extra packs of Polaroid film and she already had only five pictures left, so Kaz confiscated the camera. The ferry wasn’t particularly fancy, although they did offer refreshments, but it was nice still. It wasn’t completely full either, so Kaz and Inej had their own little section of chairs, with a canopy included for Kaz to stay under like the vampire he was.
“This was a great idea,” she said. “I’m going to make Hanzi muffins,”
Kaz laughed quietly, mildly amused as he fiddled with the Polaroid. “Alright,”
Inej knew she shouldn’t, but no one was looking.
She got on top of the ferry’s metal railing, locking her legs around one of the vertical bars and clasped the proper handlebar as well.
Inej hadn’t considered that being on a ferry would be particularly windy, but her hair was flying behind her. She couldn’t lie—she felt picturesque.
The wind, the sunlight, wearing her purple sunglasses, all of it. The air felt fresh this far from Ketterdam’s shore, and the ocean was wide and beautiful.
Kaz must have agreed with her sentiment, because she heard a loud click. When she turned her head, he was putting a picture in the bag she’d brought for it to develop in the dark.
“And you said I was taking too many pictures,”
“You were taking pictures of the ocean,” Kaz said, walking up to her and into the sunlight. He was wearing his sunglasses too, so she couldn’t see his eyes. “The ocean is boring. You are not,”
That startled her, and her grip loosened.
For a moment, she felt herself falling backwards, and she panicked.
Kaz’s hand shot out and grabbed hers, pulling her to sit straight once more and stabilizing her.
They were quiet for a moment, before Kaz just chuckled quietly and held her hand a little tighter. “Please don’t fall, Inej,”
He was pretty in the sunlight.
Inej scrolled through her phone, reading everyone’s messages in the group chat. She was at her own house that night, and Kaz was at his apartment. She’d been planning on heading to sleep ages ago, but it was already three in the morning and she was wide awake.
The others would be back that weekend, and then in another week school would be starting again. They were about to go into their final year of high school, which was a box of feelings she didn’t even want to start thinking about yet.
Instead, she focused on her and Kaz’s Summer coming to an end, which wasn’t exactly a happier thought but it certainly didn’t inspire as much panic inside her as this time next year you’ll be heading to your university , because, as Jesper liked to say, fuck that .
She wanted to see Kaz, like she hadn’t seen him that afternoon.
And she was getting a little tired of herself, honestly. She’d known Kaz forever, and it was true that he’d never seemed interested in dating, but really? Really, Inej?
She considered it seriously. Kaz, regrettably, wouldn’t make anything official himself. He wasn’t that sort of presumptuous. But he’d filled her entire Summer with joy and fun. He’d held her hand, told her that he wanted her with him more than he wanted to be alone.
It was frustrating that he wouldn’t just say it , but she hadn’t said it either. So she’d go to him. And she’d say it, and either he’d say yes or no.
She wouldn’t chase him if he said no, though. And she would hold him to it if he said yes.
Alright. That was the plan. Now she actually had to get to his place.
And that required getting up and ready and thinking about what she was about to do in painful detail the entire time.
She thought about Nina telling her that Inej is the bravest person she knew. Time to live up to that emotionally, then.
Like a mirror image to what Kaz had done, Inej texted Kaz when she was outside his window, although in a considerably more perilous situation because Kaz didn’t have a fire escape. Then, she turned her phone flashlight on, too, just because.
The window opened a few seconds later and Inej crawled inside. That time, she didn’t tumble to the floor and landed on the bed very softly, composed.
“Hey,” Kaz said, standing back. “Are you alright?
“Perhaps,” she answered, which wasn’t much of an answer. She’d brought one of her knives with her for courage, and briefly thought that if this wasn’t Kaz, it would probably feel like an assassination attempt on her behalf. “Kaz,”
“So,” she waited until Kaz sat on the bed as well. He’d clearly been working at his desk, his computer open to what she thought was some sort of tax form, probably for the Crow Club. “Firstly, the Summer is almost over and I wanted to thank you again for spending it with me,”
Kaz frowned. “It was done very willingly,”
“Still,” Inej said, encouraged a bit by the reply. “And the others are coming back in just a few days. And then the new school year is starting. So I wanted to get this out there while it’s just us to not overcomplicate things,”
Kaz’s face was carefully blank. He did have a great poker face.
Alright, Inej. Just get it out there, and if he says no, you can buy a boat and leave the country.
“If it’s not like this, then I’m sorry, but the outings we’ve had all Summer felt a lot like dates,” she started. “It could just be me, but it could also actually not just be me. And I guess I don’t mind them being dates, if you don’t mind them being dates. And then all future outings and hang outs are also dates. Because. That’s what it feels like,”
Kaz had once told Inej that she was a great speaker, that she had a good handle on words and the language she used. It did not feel like that.
“Oh,” Kaz said.
That wasn’t much to work with.
“I don’t mind,” Kaz continued. “Calling them dates. Them being dates. Permanently. Officially,”
Inej stared at him. “I’m asking you out, just so you know,”
“Yes, I got that. You beat me to it, too,” Kaz said, leaning against the wall. “I was hoping to talk to you about this tomorrow, or at least before the weekend,”
“I—” Inej put her face in her hands. She was smiling like an idiot. She was going to throw her knife against the wall. “Good. Great,”
Then she began to laugh.
“Inej. Not to ever discourage you from laughing, that’s something akin to a crime, but you sound manic,”
“Kaz,” she said. “ Kaz. I’ve liked you since I was eleven, I’m having a moment,”
“Ah,” Kaz said, and when she glanced up at him, she could see his ears were blushing. Sweet Saints.
“Wait, since you were eleven?” Kaz then said. “I beat you at that one, I’ve liked you since I was ten,”
“What!?” Inej exclaimed, whipping her face fast enough that her braid nearly smacked her in the face. “Really? You still barely even spoke to me back then!”
“Huh,” Inej said. “And all it took was an entire Summer of us being almost completely alone and going out on basically-dates nearly every day for anything to be said,”
“We are nothing if not stubborn,” Kaz said dryly, but he was still blushing.
“Well… yes,” Inej couldn’t wipe the smile off her face.
“So,” Kaz said, trying to keep a straight face but smiling too. “Is tonight a we should sleep now, a house date, or a lets go outside at three thirty in the morning date,”
“House date,” Inej picked.
Kaz got up, offering a hand. He didn’t have his gloves on then. “I may or may not have cinnamon rolls in my kitchen,”
“I may or may not have brought cookies,” Inej laughed, taking his hand.
The look on everyone’s faces a few days later when Kaz and Inej greeted them at the airport holding hands was, of course, hilarious.