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Queen of Death

Chapter Text

Nina did not rest during the trip to Fjerda. She’d spent the initial trip to Ravka holed up in the cabin where Matthias’ body lay, still on the sheets. There were Corporalki on the boat with them, and they used their powers to keep the decay at bay. The journey took weeks, and Matthias’s body remained unchanged, frozen as if in ice. She could almost imagine that he was only sleeping.

She lay her head on his broad chest and dreamed of heartbeats.

Zoya, Genya, Kuwei, Colm, the other Grisha on the boat – they tried to coax Nina out of the cabin, tried to speak of grief. She pushed them away. She’d lost her appetite again. Everything inside of her that had begun to mend after her fight with parem had broken again.

It was worse without the other Crows around. She knew she needed to do this – she’d promised Matthias she would bring him home, and she would. She had to. They’d all been planning to split, anyways – Inej to her ship, Kaz to rebuild his empire, Kuwei to Ravka, Jesper and Wylan together in Wylan’s mansion, together the way she and Matthias had been meant to. They would have gone to Ravka together, to Fjerda, to the border where they could infiltrate both sides, negotiate peace from the inside.

Nina would still do that. She had to. She’d promised Matthias that as well, and if she couldn’t have him, she could at least have his promises.

If she was going to keep her promises, she could not continue wallowing in despair. When they reached Ravka, she kissed his cold forehead softly, then dressed properly, pulled her hair back, squared her shoulders, steeled her features in the way she’d learned from Kaz Brekker, the best liar of them all, and strode out onto the deck of the ship.

“I’ll be taking a boat to Fjerda,” she announced.

Genya looked up at Nina. She’d been discussing something with the ship’s captain, one of Sturmhond’s men, and Rotty, who’d come along to report the journey back to Kaz. Nina could see a hint of surprise in Genya’s eye – she hadn’t seen Nina out of the cabin, standing tall, in weeks.

“You can’t take this boat,” Genya said. “It took a bit of damage in the last storm and it will need several days, if not weeks, for repairs. And you’ll need to move quickly. We can only keep your Fjerdan for so long…”

“I’ll take any boat,” Nina said. She would. If all they had was a rowboat, she would take the oars herself and row them both to Fjerda.

“I’ll find something,” Rotty said, his rumbling voice like a promise. “You’ll be on your way by tonight.” He looked at Nina with sad eyes. Rotty had been there for the Ice Court job and everything that followed. Although Nina didn’t know him particularly well, she thought that maybe he, too, was mourning the loss of Matthias in his own way.

“Thank you,” Nina said.

* * *

Rotty found a small fishing boat that he could rent for the week, and a handful of crew. At dusk, Genya and Zoya helped Rotty haul Matthias’s massive body onto the boat.

“His body will not last long without Grisha preservation,” Genya said, once he’d been laid out on a cot in the corner of the boat’s single cabin. She gave Nina a long look, but she did not say what Nina knew she was thinking – that once upon a time, Nina would have easily had the power to keep Matthias’s body from succumbing to decay. Now, she knew she could spread decay as easily as confetti, but she could no longer find the thread of the living cells that would keep the decay away.

Nina had not told the other Grisha what parem had done to her powers, but they could sense it. And she’d needed to ask for help with keeping Matthias’s body from rotting – they knew she could not do it herself.

“I know,” Nina said simply. She gave Genya and Zoya small smiles, tried not to look weary. “I will return,” she told them. She did not say when.

As she turned to climb onto the boat, Kuwei stepped into her path. She started. It had become easier for people to sneak up on her ever since the parem had severed her connection with the living.

“Thank you,” Kuwei said in Shu. He bowed his head. “For everything.”

“You’re welcome,” Nina said.

Kuwei lifted his head, but he did not meet Nina’s eyes. He shifted, uneasy. “I’m sorry,” he said eventually. “That he died because of me.”

Something cold caught in Nina’s throat. “It wasn’t because of you,” she said. But she did not know that – none of them knew what had happened, who had shot Matthias. A stadwatch officer, a rival gang, a stray shot? He had died while faking Kuwei’s death, though, so in a small way it was because of Kuwei.

But Kuwei had not asked to be brought into any of this in the first place. They’d ripped him from the Ice Court themselves. Nina could not blame anyone, and yet she blamed everyone.

The world had stolen Matthias from her, and despite every kindness and hope she held for the world, that knowledge was like a black rot inside of her, eating away at rationality.

“It wasn’t your fault,” she repeated. Kuwei looked unconvinced.

“I hope to see you again,” he said eventually, and then faded away into the crowd.

Nina climbed onto the boat, and did not look back at the dock as Rotty launched the boat into the sea.

* * *

As they made their way to Fjerda, Nina wanted nothing more than to lay beside Matthias once more, unmoving, to give up entirely. Every molecule inside her ached to succumb. It was like her battle with parem all over again, but this time Matthias was not there to talk her through.

Instead, Nina funnelled that desperate, hopeless energy into her powers. In some ways, it was like being back at the Little Palace all over again. She did not know everything she was capable of, and so every new discovery made her feel a little like a child again, amazed at her own abilities. It was a welcome distraction.

She could move her hair, she realized. The dead cells that made up the long strands of her brown hair responded to her command easily. She spent an afternoon sitting on the floor of the cabin, making her hair dance in an invisible breeze, even picking things up with tendrils of her hair like dextrous tentacles.

One night, curled up in a nest of blankets at the floor beside Matthias’s cot, half-awake, she realized that she could sense the walls of the cabin. They reached out to her, cold and dead but alive with her power, and she shuddered with cold sweats as she tried to understand what was in the thin wooden walls that she could sense so clearly.

Finally, she stumbled to her feet and lit a lantern, pressing her face close to the chipped red paint that peeled from the walls. She touched the wall with two shaking fingers, and realized that she could leech the colour from the paint as easily as wiping dew from leaves. It was something a Fabrikator could do as a child, a simple trick, but it was not the realm of a Corporalki. Paint colours came from plants, insects, minerals – not from humans. What was in this paint? Blood? Bones?

She felt sick. She did not want to know. It was cruel, how her powers had made her so keenly aware of the death that surrounded her right when she wanted to think about death the least.

She turned to Matthias. She placed the lantern on the side table beside the cot. The flickering yellow light sent shadows dancing across his still face. They had almost reached the shores of Fjerda. Matthias had gone several days without Grisha preservation. A faint scent of decay had begun to float through the cabin. Rotty and the crew now slept outside on nights when it wasn’t raining.

Nina reached for Matthias slowly, carefully. Maybe she could push the decaying cells back, or at least halt their progress. She touched his cheek gently with the back of her hand. He was so cold, but it felt natural that he should be icy, with his snowy hair and ice-blue eyes. She longed to see them open again.

“I love you,” she murmured. She traced the curve of his jaw. It felt slack, slightly bloated. Nina gagged. She closed her eyes and reached into the deep, cold river that now flowed between her and death. She could sense every spot of decay on the corpse before her. She forced herself not to pull away.

She reached deeper into the river. She could sense how easy it would be to reach out to the decay, to pull it to the surface, to make it blossom across his entire body. Death was alive in Nina’s hands, and she was its master.

And a master could make death do her bidding.

Nina grabbed hold of the decay, firmly, and pushed it back. Her stomach tumbled, and her whole body shifted with a sort of rolling sensation. She was reversing the progress of the decay. It felt almost as if she was unspooling time itself.

She pushed until all the decay was gone. She could no longer feel a single black spot on Matthias’s body. But she found that this feeling of unspooling, of rolling back time, did not have to end. She continued to push. She was diving deeper, deeper into the rushing black water of her powers. Distantly, she was aware of the cold sweat that had broken out across her body, of her own panting breaths, of the buzz of exhaustion that was washing over her. But more immediately, she felt this great and looming power, and all she had to do was keep pushing.

She pushed back the cold of death, and Matthias’s skin flushed warm under her fingers. She pushed back the torn and dying cells in Matthias’s stomach that had been ripped through by the bullet.

And then she reached the great, black center that lay at the very depths of her cold river.

She pushed back death itself.

This was not like animating the corpses at Reaper’s Barge. This was nothing like making a lump of dead cells follow her commands, nothing like making her hair jump and dance. This was reaching right into the center of the thing – not into the center of Matthias’s life, but into the center of his death.

And she reached for it, this big, dark, monstrous thing that felt like ice and fear and peace, and she commanded it. She commanded Matthias’s death, and she pushed it far away, to another time, another place.

And she felt Matthias’s heart begin to beat beneath her fingertips.

Nina’s eyes snapped open with a jolt. She burst through the surface of the dark river, shaking and gasping.

Matthias’s eyes fluttered open. In the stuttering light of the lantern, they were ice-blue and endless.

In a voice that was rough and weak and unused, Matthias whispered, “Nina. What have you done?”

Chapter Text

Specht had begun to gather a crew for Inej’s ship, but Inej was not prepared to leave Ketterdam just yet. She showed her parents around the winding streets of the city, carefully steering them away from the worst places, and kept them housed in a lovely inn near the Lid – she could afford a room at the Geldrenner now, even the Ketterdam Suite where Colm had stayed, but her parents were not the type. She ate waffles and played music with Wylan and Jesper, and snuck into Kaz’s office late at night just to sit by him, to hear him scheming about the future.

She was waiting for Rotty to return from Ravka with news of how the voyage had gone. It took weeks to reach Ravka this time of year and weeks to return, but Rotty was beginning to verge on lateness. Inej prayed to her Saints that nothing had happened to him, or to Nina and Kuwei, or to Jesper’s father and all the others.

Inej did not expect Nina to return with Rotty – she was taking Matthias to be buried in Fjerda, and from there she had grand plans of working towards peace on the border between their countries. She hoped Rotty would have news of Nina’s well-being, at least.

She could not imagine how Nina was doing, how she was coping with having lost Matthias so soon after finding him again. Though it felt like lifetimes since they had rescued Matthias from Hellgate, it had really been no time at all.

Inej did not like to think about Matthias’s body, broken, bleeding, cold. They had all had their disagreements with Matthias. He had been gruff, judgemental and difficult to get along with at first. But he was one of them. The six of them, the Ice Court team, had begun to feel like something more than just a crew on a job. They had been something special, something sacred, something that none of them had fully appreciated until it was gone.

“We were all supposed to make it,” Wylan had murmured the night Matthias died. And Inej realized that, naively, she had thought the same. She’d thought she’d been prepared to die at any moment, facing off against Dunyasha and against the whole of Ketterdam. She’d thought she’d been prepared to see any or all of her friends die – she’d almost expected it.

And yet, at the end of the night, when she saw Matthias’s cold body while the rest of them were still warm and alive, she’d been shocked. And maybe that was it – she’d expected them all to go together. Either the plan would blow up in their faces and they would all die, or they would all celebrate their triumphs together. They’d chilled champagne. They’d expected to win.

In the end, no one had drunk the champagne that night.

And no matter how much any of them missed Matthias, Inej knew Nina missed him more. She hoped Nina was okay. She missed Nina, too, in a different way.

Inej missed Matthias like a vital piece of herself that she hadn’t known she’d needed until it was gone. She missed Nina like a favourite knife she’d misplaced. She would probably find it again, but until then, she felt naked and empty without it.

* * *

The night Rotty returned to Ketterdam, they were all eating at the Crow Club. Though Wylan, Jesper and Inej were living in Wylan’s mansion, after a few weeks they’d all grown tired of being cooped up in even the largest of houses. They were children of the streets, even Wylan, and in their own ways they all itched to have free reign of the Barrel.

After that day at the harbour, when Kaz gave Inej her boat and her parents and her future, she’d ended her self-imposed exile from his life. She’d brought Kaz back to Wylan’s home with her. Kaz had told Jesper himself that he was missed around the Slat, and Jesper seemed to have broken a self-imposed exile, too. He never went down to the Barrel on his own – Inej figured it would take Jesper a long time to trust himself alone around the gambling dens – but he would go with Wylan or Inej to shop or drink or just to roam the streets. He’d started doing some jobs with Kaz again, too. Wylan hadn’t been able to give up on his demolition talents either.

“Is it proper for a merch to work with a Barrel boss?” Inej teased that night at the Crow Club.

Wylan and Jesper had helped Kaz break into one of Pekka Rollins’ old safe houses that night. Kaz was slowly staking a claim on many of Pekka’s old haunts. Inej hadn’t told him about her trip to Pekka’s country house many nights before, but she suspected that he’d heard the rumours of Pekka running far, far away, and she thought he might know why.

“It’s not the first time a merch has worked with a Barrel boss and it won’t be the last,” Kaz said.

“Usually it’s more in terms of sharing power and money than demolitions work, though,” Wylan said.

Kaz raised a dark eyebrow. “Are you offering me power and money, merchling?”

“As if you need more power,” Jesper said. He looked around the room, which was teeming with Dregs and clients alike. Though the group was sitting at a plain table in the corner of the room, it was easy to see the way the other Dregs gave Kaz a wide berth of respect and admiration. Despite his age, Kaz had easily secured his place as leader of the Dregs. He’d been the unofficial leader for a long time, of course. It hadn’t been hard to oust Per Haskell as the figurehead.

“One can always use more power,” Kaz said, but Inej could see in the slight quirk of his lips that Jesper had flattered his ego.

It was nice to see Kaz warming up to Jesper again. Inej had hardly noticed how icy Kaz had been towards the sharpshooter during the Ice Court job and the days that followed, but now she noticed the returning warmth. Kaz hid his feelings well, but even Dirtyhands had friends, and Jesper was one of his best friends. At one time, when Inej was still becoming the Wraith and had not yet earned Kaz’s trust the way she had it today, a small part of Inej had been jealous at the closeness Kaz and Jesper shared.

She could not quite pinpoint the moment things had changed, but she suspected that at some point, Jesper had become jealous of her. Inej was glad that Jesper had Wylan now. Jesper was too good a man for Kaz’s cold callousness. She wondered what that said about her.

She didn’t get to wonder for long, though, because at that moment, Rotty entered the Crow Club and strode across the floor to their table.

Nina and Matthias followed behind him.

Inej froze, her breath knocked out of her. She felt as though she’d fallen from a tightrope, except the fall did not end. She was free-falling through endless open air, her stomach reaching up into her throat.

Inej believed that the spirits of her Saints watched over her. She’d seen Nina command corpses, and she’d spent days living in the misty depths of a graveyard.

But until now, she had never seen a ghost.

“Is that… Matthias?” Jesper asked. His voice was low and uncertain.

“It would appear our Fjerdan is not as dead as previously assumed,” Kaz said.

Inej looked over at Kaz as he stood up to greet Rotty. His face was stoic, but she could see the faint shine of perspiration on his pale skin, could see the way he leaned heavily on his cane. She knew his knuckles were white beneath the leather of his gloves.

“Rotty. You brought guests,” Kaz said, throwing out his arms in greeting as if Rotty had just brought over some drinking buddies.

“I did,” Rotty said. He looked almost as uncertain as the rest of the crew, who stared in unbridled confusion at Nina and the ghost that followed her.

And then Nina was running towards the table. She threw herself into Inej’s arms, her face flushed with excited joy.

“Inej! Kaz! All of you! It’s been less than two months and I already missed you all terribly. How will we ever go our separate ways?”

Inej returned Nina’s hug but said nothing. Everyone continued to stare. Even Kaz seemed at a loss for words.

Nina pulled away from Inej to look back at Matthias. He stood a few feet from the table, great and hulking, grim-faced as ever. He wore a simple unbloodied black tunic and pants, and he looked very much alive. Solid. Unchanged. Inej suddenly wondered if he’d been dead at all, when they’d sent him off on the makeshift sickboat weeks before.

“Well, say hello,” Nina prompted, reaching towards Matthias. “They all look like they’ve seen a ghost. You’re scaring them.”

Matthias looked as though he was restraining himself from rolling his eyes, but he gave a small smile, half defeated and half endeared, and said, “Hello. I’m not a ghost, though I suspect Nina may be if no one feeds her soon. She’s been talking about waffles for hours.”

Nina laughed, a high, clear sound, and the spell that had fallen over the table was shattered. Matthias was real, and he was alive, and everything was as it was meant to be. They had all been meant to live, and they were all alive, here and now.

Everyone fell over themselves, shouting and reaching to hug Nina and Matthias and ask them about their travels, about Ravka and Fjerda and about what had happened to Matthias and how was he alive?

Inej looked back at Kaz. He had sat back down, and he was smiling, but his forehead still shone with sweat and there was a worried tension around his eyes.

“I’ll explain everything, but first, food,” Nina declared imperiously. She sat down between Inej and Matthias and crossed her arms in front of her.

Kaz called over one of the younger Dregs to get them food, and soon they were all tearing into piles of gravy-soaked meat and biscuits. Nina ate ravenously, and Matthias ate slowly, though Matthias had never been a ravenous eater. There was something strange about Matthias, as if he had shifted just a little to the left in Inej’s perspective and she couldn’t quite bring him into focus in her mind. Maybe it was just that she had been so certain that he was dead, and now he was not.

Maybe it was something else.

Once Nina had eaten her fill and was licking gravy from her fingers, Kaz leaned towards her.

“Alright. How is Matthias Helvar alive. If this is a ruse, I would like to know how you did it, and why,” he said.

Nina leaned across the table towards Kaz, mocking his conspiratorial pose. “It wasn’t a trick,” she said. “Though if I knew a trick you didn’t know, I wouldn’t tell you for free, Kaz Brekker.”

“Fair,” he conceded.

Nina leaned back in her seat, and Inej could tell that she was enjoying this spectacle. Inej hadn’t seen Nina this vibrant and alive since before the parem.

“For several weeks, Matthias was very much dead,” Nina said.

Several weeks? Inej had heard of people being mistakenly pronounced dead and then springing back to life hours, occasionally even days, later. But weeks? A body could decay to oblivion in weeks.

“And then,” Nina said, and reached for one of Matthias’s large hands, “I brought him back to life.”

“What, just like that?” Jesper said. “How? With your powers?”

Nina nodded. “There is still a lot I don’t know about what the parem did to my powers. My connection to death is… deeper and more complicated than I ever imagined.”

“Does this mean… Could you bring anyone back to life?” Jesper asked. His voice sounded almost hushed. They were all in awe. Even Rotty, who had no doubt heard Nina’s explanation already, looked on in disbelief.

For the first time since she’d strode into the Crow Club with Matthias at her heels, Nina looked uncertain.

“Maybe,” she said finally. “I don’t know.”

“She was exhausted when she brought me back,” Matthias said. It was still alarming to hear him speak, when Inej had resigned herself to never hearing his deep, gruff voice again. “She passed out almost immediately and didn’t wake up again for nearly twelve hours. She was sweating and shaking. I was afraid she’d taken parem again.”

Inej felt her heart stutter. “You didn’t, did you?” she asked Nina desperately.

Nina shook her head firmly. “No. I didn’t have any, and even if I did, I would never use it again. I promised.”

Nina looked at Matthias as she spoke, but Inej wondered if that was true. If Nina had had parem on hand, would she have taken it to save Matthias’s life?

Inej remembered seeing Matthias die in Nina’s arms, bleeding out on the streets of Ketterdam. She remembered Nina reanimating Matthias, his dark dead eyes open as he croaked Nina’s name. She’d told Nina to let Matthias go. And Nina had, or so it had seemed.

This was different from then. Matthias was not a flat-eyed corpse, an animated puppet at Nina’s command. Inej could tell the difference. This was Matthias, alive. Nina had not let Matthias go. She had hauled him back fully into life. But something about it still felt wrong, askew. Inej did not wish this Matthias dead. Her heart swelled with joy and relief at the sight of Matthias’s living face, but she was still uncertain.

Death was inescapable, the only part of life you could trust to always be there. Nina could strip death away from life. And that was, somehow, more horrifying than stripping life away from the living.

Inej glanced over at Kaz again. He still did not look comfortable. Inej knew the look of Kaz who had fallen into his own mind, Kaz who had been taken over by dark waters. And she knew the look Kaz had when he’d climbed out of his own mind, hand over fist, breaking through the surface of whatever traumas still haunted him.

That was the look he wore now. His eyes were wilder than usual, his smile wide, teeth bared.

“What a monstrous thing,” Kaz said. Everyone turned to Kaz, wide-eyed, waiting for his judgment. “A dead thing that’s come back to life and the dark witch who made it happen. I can almost feel the death coming off of you two.”

“Kaz-” Jesper tried to interrupt, but Kaz kept talking.

“The King and Queen of Death. Your enemies will cower at your feet, I can feel it. You should accompany Inej on her ship sometimes, put the fear of death into some wretched slavers. I know I’d like to use your abilities sometime.”

Nina looked shocked, but then her face sharpened. She gave Kaz the defiant stare that only she seemed able to give him.

“Looks like you’re not the only monster in these parts now, Dirtyhands,” she said.

Kaz’s grin was wide and approving. “It’s good to have company.”

And Inej knew then that no matter what Nina had done, whether it was natural or monstrous, she and Matthias would fit right back in with the Crows. If you couldn’t beat the odds, you changed the game, even if that meant changing the game of life and death itself.

They’d all fought to survive against all odds, and what was one more monster in a city full of them?

Chapter Text

Matthias sat in the warm, steaming bath in Wylan’s master bathroom. It was not the wooden hot tubs of Fjerda, but the warm water still felt familiar and soothing. He flexed his fingers underwater, watching the distorted shape of them change and ripple.

The gunshot wound had left an ugly, twisted scar on Matthias’s stomach that Nina had been unable to heal. She dealt in death now, not healing. She could pull the death right out of his wound, but she could not make it pretty.

He touched the scar. He was glad that she hadn’t been able to heal it. It was a solid reminder that he had been shot. That he had been dead.

And that now, he wasn’t.

When Matthias awoke in the cabin of the fishing boat, Nina’s face flushed and sweating, her dilated pupils staring down at him hugely, he’d known immediately what she had done. He did not remember being dead, but he felt the empty space like a gap in his memory. There was a clear division between the moment he had bled out in Nina’s arms and the moment when he had awoken in them. It was nothing like passing out or falling asleep. It was as if Matthias was a new, fully reformed person.

He had been reborn.

The Fjerdans believed in rebirth, but not in reincarnation. When you died, you were not reincarnated as another person. You were reborn as a tree, becoming one with Djel and watching over all those who still lived.

Matthias’s heart ached at the thought that perhaps, being reborn in this way, living once more in his human body, he’d lost his chance to be reborn a tree. He did not know, of course. No one knew. Nina’s powers as they were now were completely beyond what any Grisha had done before.

It was hard not to think of Nina’s powers as unnatural now, now that she’d done the unthinkable, and plucked him right out of the hands of Djel.

But if her powers were god-given, then maybe Djel had wanted Matthias to return to her. Perhaps Djel had not been ready to take Matthias into his arms. Perhaps Matthias was meant to live longer, to help Nina restore peace between the Fjerdans and the Ravkans, to help Fjerdans like the young boy who’d shot him see the world anew. All in the name of Djel.

Matthias tried to convince himself of this, because if this was not what Djel wanted, then Matthias was the worst kind of traitor. Because he was glad. He was glad that Nina had plucked him out of Djel’s embrace and brought him back to this cold, cruel world. He was glad to be by her side again, to feel her warm skin, the softness of her curves, the strength and passion of her body as she held him, made love to him.

He would forsake Djel one thousand times for one more minute in Nina’s arms.

He was the worst kind of sinner, and if Nina was unnatural, then he was too, now.

“Can I come in?”

Matthias looked up with a start. The room was hazy with steam, but he could see Nina leaning against the doorway, in nothing but a short, sheer robe.

“Of course,” Matthias rumbled.

Nina shed the robe as she crossed the bathroom floor, letting it fall from her body in a silky ripple. She climbed into the tub, sloshing warm water onto the tile floor. They were both big and tall, and despite how large and lavish the Van Eck’s tub was, it was still a squeeze to fit them both. Matthias wouldn’t have it any other way, though, as Nina lodged herself snuggly against his chest, the length of her naked body pressed against his.

Not so long ago, the feel of her pressed against him like this would have been so unacceptably lewd that he would have run away at the mere suggestion. Now, he pulled her closer, breathed in the scent of her damp hair.

He had changed in so many ways.

“You know, we never got to use the tub at the Geldrenner,” Nina murmured, eyes closed. She tilted her head and rested it against Matthias’s shoulder, exposing the soft skin of her neck. “It was much larger than this one.”

Matthias hummed and pressed kisses to her neck. She sighed, a delicious sound.

“Maybe we’ll go back to the Geldrenner someday. Rent the top floor all to ourselves,” he whispered against her neck.

“Mmm. Yes. We’ll order waffles every day and spend all our time in the tub.” She shifted against him and sent sparks of desires dancing across his skin. “You know, Jesper and Wylan could do that every day if they wanted. Lucky little bastards, living in a mansion with a cook and an excellent tub.”

“We could have a mansion someday,” Matthias said into her hair. He enjoyed playing along with her fantasies, enjoyed the delighted noises she made when she thought of food and comfort.

“We could,” Nina agreed, though they both knew that they were not the type of people to settle down in luxury. “We have a whole lifetime of things we could do.”

Matthias’s heart beat fast in his chest. It was devastating to think that he’d come so very near to not having a lifetime with Nina at all.

“I’m very glad you saved my life,” Matthias said, because it was the only way he could think to voice what he was feeling.

Nina opened her eyes and tilted her head so she was looking up at Matthias. Her face split into a brilliant smile.

“I’m very glad you’re glad,” she said. She closed her eyes again and breathed in deeply through her nose. Her eyebrows creased with something like worry. “I thought maybe you would be mad.”

“Mad?”

“You… are very religious, Matthias,” she said, slowly, as if trying to find the words she needed. “You love Djel. I stole you from him.”

“I love you more than I love Djel,” Matthias said, and though the words were terrible and blasphemous, they were true.

Nina laughed, a laugh that sounded as though it had bubbled up from deep in her chest. Relief.

“What I did…” Nina began, and then, suddenly, her laugh became a sob. Pearly tears dripped down Nina’s round cheeks. “It was unnatural.”

“No, no,” Matthias said. He reached a wet hand out of the water to brush away her tears, smearing soapy water across her cheeks instead. “It wasn’t. It was beautiful, Nina.”

Nina shook her head, silky hair brushing across his chest. “You’re not meant to bring people back from the dead. I know you’re not. I could tell, even as I was doing it, that I was breaking something. It felt incredible, and exhilarating, and I would do it a thousand times over to save you, Matthias, but it isn’t right.”

Matthias’s heart ached inside his chest. He was not used to being on this side of the debate. Nina had shown him the beauty in Grisha powers, and now she was trying to use Fjerdan words and ideas to argue against it.

“It is… unusual, to bring someone back from the dead,” Matthias conceded. “But if Djel gave you your abilities, then he gave me to you. You did not steal me from him.”

“Your god didn’t give me these powers, Matthias. Parem did.” She said the word parem like it was sickness in her mouth, like she might spit over the edge of the tub just to rid herself of the taste.

“And if it did?” Matthias said softly. He ran his wet fingers through her damp hair, touched her soft shoulders. “Parem did many terrible things to you, Nina. But it gave me another chance to be with you, and that is a gift.”

“Kaz said-”

“Kaz fancies himself a monster, and he understands things only in terms of the monstrous,” Matthias interrupted. “You are not Kaz. You are Grisha, and you are wonderful.”

She sniffed. “Since when have you been so in favour of Grisha powers, druskelle?”

“Your powers gave me life, Nina. They are my new god. You are.”

And it was true. Nina had been Matthias’s goddess from the moment he saw her, and now she had given him new life. If Djel had not given her these powers, then she was his new Djel.

Nina heaved in a stuttering breath. “I’m not used to being afraid of my own abilities, Matthias.”

He kissed her temple. “Don’t worry. I have lots of experience with being afraid of Grisha powers, and lots of experience with overcoming those fears. I’ll teach you.”

Nina tilted her head up to kiss Matthias’s lips. “Thank you,” she whispered. “If I had a god, Matthias, you would be mine, too.”