Nina shivered in the cool morning air. The shadows from the mausoleums and skeleton trees made shapes wander in the mist and Nina felt her heart beat against her ribs. She wondered if this time the shape would turn out to be the stadwatch, or the Dime Lions, or some of Van Eck’s men finally come to call.
The shawl Matthias had found for her hung limply from her shoulders, just serving as another reminder that nothing beat the hunger for parem. It was truly beautiful, deep red, stitched and embroidered in the Ravkan style. It reminded Nina of the materials of her kefta. That Matthias had touched something like it after all the complaining he did the last time they’d passed them in the market made Nina bite her lip to stifle a giggle. Her amusement didn’t last long.
The Fjerdan kept bringing her treats, cookies and chocolates and anything he could think of or afford, but their supplies were low and Nina didn't feel like eating anyway. She still remembered slipping into Matthias’ bedroll, kissing his body, hoping to find where he’d hidden the rest of the drug so that she wouldn't have to beg him for it. She remembered begging anyway.
Nina still felt an echo of that hopelessness, that impotent rage as she thought about Kaz having the last of the parem. The thoughts she’d had, what she would have done to Kaz, to Matthias, to get her hands on the drug scared her. There was nothing she could possibly do to Kaz, nothing she could say that would make him give up the drug she needed, and she had wanted to try anyway. It burned under her skin, an itch she could only scratch with another dose. Just one more dose. She could still take one more dose and be herself.
Maybe then they could find Inej.
The idea lit up like a will-o-the-wisp and Nina felt the pull of the parem as it demanded she pretend that it could help them find Inej. But Nina blew it away like the strands of hair tangling in her face. Kaz would ask her how, because he knew the answer, just as well as she did. It couldn't. There was no way he would give it to her unless it served his purposes and only as a last resort. Nina could pretend Kaz cared that much for the rest of them that he wouldn’t give her parem just for his own amusement. But she wasn’t sure. It was better to believe she’d never taste it again. Easier to fight back the empty ache.
Nina huffed out an exasperated sigh, tucking the hair still in her face behind her ear. The brown had dulled, lost its shine. She slid the strands through her fingers, watching it fall limply and hang like moss in the early morning grey. It no longer held its shape as she dressed herself for their missions. No more tailoring for her, she had to use the same tricks everyone else did. If her lessons at the Little Palace were right, there was a simple explanation. Not that it was one she wanted to contemplate. She still couldn't use her powers, and it was making her as sick as her need for parem.
Nina reached out once more to that place inside her where her power used to rest. The connection to every living person was dull and empty. The heartbeats around her were still muted. There was nothing there for her to use. And what was more, touching that place hurt.
She was useless to Inej right now.
The tears threatened to spill and Nina brushed them away roughly. The morning air was still cold and the damp was no longer appealing against her skin. She picked herself up off the broken tombstone and went back into the large, ship shaped tomb that had become their home. She’d spent long enough out in the open as it was. Just because nobody in Ketterdam visited a graveyard anymore didn’t mean there weren’t eyes on them.
Jesper was snoring loudly; arm flopped on the floor, reaching toward the wall and the person leaning against it. Wylan, still with Kuwei’s face, huddled against the stone just out of reach, still too scared to touch Jesper even if everyone could see how much the two of them wanted each other. Nina shook her head at the boys, knowing that it would be a long dance yet before either of them dared take what they wanted. It was cute to watch them, and neither really objected to her flirting. It helped her feel a little more normal in their upside down world.
It helped a little bit, but not enough. Every time Nina looked at Wylan or Kuwei, she hungered for parem. Looking at them, all she saw is what she could do. She could change people's faces completely. Make them someone entirely new. But only with parem. The reminder hurt almost as much as the lack of her power did.
Nina moved to the small alcove she’d claimed as her own. One of the benefits of being a girl was that the boys generally stayed away from any space she marked as hers. She made sure to take a larger space than the boys, pretending it was her ego that needed the room, knowing the boys could see through her lies now when they couldn’t before. She had to believe that soon she'd be sharing this space with Inej. That the ragged blankets that made up her bedroll would soon smell like metal and oil and spice and the sky right next to the smell of ice and fur and passion. In the mornings, when Inej sharpened her blades, the whisper of the whetstone used to lull Nina back to sleep.
Nina hadn't slept properly in weeks.
Not since Jan Van Eck had ordered his Squaller to capture Inej. Not since Nina had sat, hidden and praying to the Saints for the safe return of all her friends. Not since Kaz had come back, soaked to the skin and pale with rage, dragging the rest of them behind him – everyone except Inej. Nina hadn't been able to bring herself to ask what went wrong. Kaz was sure to tell them all just how spectacularly they had all failed him. But he didn't.
Within hours, they had money, and Kaz had them scrounging up what supplies they could. Nina was left to list the things that she needed, that she wanted, whatever they could get on short notice, shorter money, and that could be easily carried. Nina hadn’t said much, mostly gone on the loss of parem and her friend. The boys had done their best to guess at what she could need, but there wasn’t much.
Inej wasn’t with Nina. She wasn’t there for Nina to lean on; she wasn’t there to giggle with her. She wasn’t there to tease the boys with. To hold on to when the shaking got too bad and Matthias was too overbearing to help, too guilty to do Nina any good. Inej wasn't there.
Nina couldn’t breathe.
She missed her friend. Somehow the other girl had wormed her way into Nina’s heart when she hadn’t been expecting it, and now, after so long spent together, Inej’s kidnapping hurt them all. Matthias, Wylan, they were losing a friend. Jesper, he was even closer to her, the two of them making up Kaz’s innermost circle. He had lost a friend that helped keep his life sane, or as sane as it ever was in the Dregs. But maybe the one to understand her pain most of all was Kaz.
Nina remembered the way Kaz had reacted, the wild look in his eyes when he asked her to heal Inej’s stab wound on the boat. Nina was sure that he’d seen the panic mirrored in her own eyes. But she hadn’t failed the Wraith then, and she would not fail her now. Finding Inej, getting her back was all that mattered to Nina now. Parem or no parem, powers or not, Nina would not let Inej face this on her own. She was coming for her. And there would be hell to pay when they got her back. Nina would make sure of it.
After they went out for waffles.