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pick apart (the pieces of your heart)

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Ketterdam sang in the night.

In the rain and the darkness, the spin of Makker's Wheel and the clink of glasses in the taverns.

Inej knew its songs well. In particular, she knew to listen for the thump of a fabrikated cane, the twin clicks of Zemeni revolvers. The jingle of Tante Heleen's jewelry, the stomp of her heels as she marched down the hall of the Menagerie to give Inej or another of the girls a swift smack for doing something wrong.

Only that last song was one she no longer had to listen for.

Upon their return from West Ravka, she'd accompanied Kaz to the Menagerie with a jewel from the Sun Summoner's necklace. She'd been right; the look on Heleen's face when Kaz presented her with the priceless jewel to buy her indenture had been worth crossing the Fold a thousand times.

A new song had played in her head since then: the sound of a home in the Slat, the offering of a tattoo to mark her as one of the Dregs. The song of freedom from Heleen's cruel ways, from the Menagerie and its crueler patrons.

"I won't hold you to this. You can leave, if you must," Kaz had told her as they trudged through the rain down East Stave, back towards the Crow Club and the Slat. The collar of his coat was upturned, and Inej could only just see his eyes from under his hat. "I'll figure out something to tell Per Haskell, pay off the rest of your contract."

Inej turned to look at him, surprised. "I'm not- I'm not leaving the Dregs, Kaz. I have an indenture to pay, a debt I owe to you."

She did not ask, Who will watch over you? She knew Kaz Brekker was formidable. But he'd said he needed her.

"Perhaps you'll change your mind when you hear how Jesper snores," Kaz said as he pushed open the door to the Slat. Inej slipped through the door behind him as it swung closed.

Inside, Jesper was at a table with the new girl, Nina. Kaz had gotten her a job at the White Rose, working not as a pleasure girl like the Menagerie, but as a Grisha employed there, using her Heartrender abilities to change the moods and feelings of her patrons. Though she spoke Kerch like a native, and Inej had no doubt she could make her own way in Ketterdam, Jesper had been showing her around the city, probably at Kaz's orders.

All of them did most things on Kaz's orders. He ran a tight ship, and it was all most of them could do to hang on and listen to him. Usually everything was part of a much larger scheme.

Kaz limped his way to the third floor, Inej trailing behind him. On her way up, she shot Nina and Jesper a smile, knowing they'd been aware of her and Kaz's destination. Each of them raised their glasses to her, grinning right back.

On the third floor, Kaz opened a door at the end of the hallway, motioning for Inej to go inside. A skinny slice of space, barely enough to accommodate the trunk and cot already inside. A window along the wall overlooked the roofs of the Barrel along East Stave, glittering in the rain.

And on the bed, in a leather sheaf, sat a gleaming knife. Inej fought the urge to snatch it from the bed and clutch it to her chest. Several of her precious knives had been lost on their trip to Ravka. "Another knife, Kaz?"

When she'd first started working with the Dregs, she'd done her spying unarmed. After an attempted mugging, wherein Kaz stepped in and doled out beatings, he'd given her her first knife, and she'd named it Sankt Petyr, the first of her saints.

"I know you lost one on the skiff. And when you saved my life," Kaz said, leaning against the doorway. He was all sharply tailored lines and sharper cheekbones. "A gift, for your induction into the Dregs. A blade rather than a tattoo."

"I don't need the crow tattoo?" Kaz seemed to be all surprises this evening.

Kaz was looking out the window, at the rain. "I won't be the one to mark you again."

Inej couldn't help her slight intake of breath. Like before, in Ravka, he'd say these things and throw her so off-balance it made her feel she'd never regain it enough to walk a tightrope again.

I need you.

She looked at him, and looked at the knife, and finally picked it up. Unsheathing it, she smiled as she saw its gleaming silver blade, the handle intricately engraved with roses. A knife like this cost a large stack of kruge, Inej knew. Either that or Kaz had stolen it, and knowing him as she did, the latter was more likely. It made her wonder who her saint had protected before, whose blade Kaz had claimed for her.

"Thank you, Kaz," Inej said, her voice almost a whisper. "I'll use it in the name of the Dregs, along with my saints."

"Use it as you like, so long as it isn't on me," Kaz said indifferently, turning back towards the stairs. "Enjoy it, Wraith. Welcome to the Dregs."

And then he was gone, faster than he should've been on a cane and a bad leg.

After that, Inej was left with her very own room, a new knife to name, and a city to relearn as a member of its deadliest gang.

And Jesper's snores, though they weren't what kept her awake.

It was the nightmares. Memories of leering glances and purple Menagerie silks, prying hands and unkind words that woke her again and again. And most of all, the Grisha twins, the brother and sister she'd sent to the afterlife in Ravka.

How much penance would it take to be forgiven for their deaths? Perhaps she'd have to ask Sankta Alina.

Debts. Penance. Indentures.

How could she ever find her parents if she had to repay all of her mounting debts first?

She said as much to Kaz, one night.

After a few weeks of little sleep, she'd taken to slipping out her window at the Slat and making her way to Kaz's office above the Crow Club, where he slept. So far, she hadn't caught him while he was sleeping, only when he was working or returning from a job. It seemed Dirtyhands never slept, though she knew that wasn't true. He'd slept like the dead in Ravka.

Tonight he wore no gloves. It was the first time she'd seen him without them, and she'd almost expected his hands to be the color of coal, or ash. But they were normal, thin and long-fingered, perfect for palming cards and picking locks. Magician's hands. Thieving hands. When she let herself in through the window, he'd immediately told her of a job they'd be starting soon, working on taking down a slave-trafficking operation he'd unearthed in West Stave, sharp mouth curved into a wicked smirk.

He knew she had a vendetta out for any and all slavers, since she'd been a victim of them too.

"How can I ever repay my debts to you when you keep doing these things?" She pressed. "The knives. The indenture. Now this?"

Kaz didn't look up from the papers on his desk, but she saw him cock his head slightly as the cogs in his brain began to turn. "You owe me nothing, Inej. But if you insist, you can pay me in secrets."

"I already-"

"Not other people's. Yours," he glanced up at her, blue eyes clear. A strand of hair had fallen over his forehead, and something made her want to push it back. "Tell me something."

Inej settled herself on the windowsill, tugging her braid over her shoulder. "What do you want to know?"

Kaz sat back in his chair, looking her over. Something about the way he looked at her made her feel exposed, vulnerable. "Tell me how you snuck up on me at the Menagerie. With bells on your clothes."

Ah. So he didn't want to know anything very serious.

She remembered. It was when she'd first seen Kaz. Before she'd started working with him, he'd paid girls at the Menagerie for information on their customers, wealthy merchers and gang members alike.

At first, she'd been afraid of him. The Barrel boy who'd taken the Dregs from the ground up as Per Haskell's second in command, who'd brought Fifth Harbor into a sprawling dock that brought in thousands of kruge, who was rumored to be so lethal he wasn't even human. He'd worn a three-piece suit then, too, all tailored edges and sharp lines, even his cheekbones looked sharp enough to cut glass.

That night, she'd caught him just before he'd left, stopping him as he'd begun to make his way down the stairs. I can help you, she'd said. Then she told him the information he'd been seeking, on a mercher's involvement in illegal drug shipments. He'd hardly looked at her, watchful eyes trained on Tante Heleen, oblivious to their exchange.

The next day he'd begun working to pay off her indenture and bring her on for the Dregs. And though she'd tried many times, she hadn't been able to sneak up on him since.

Now, Inej laughed at his request for the secret to her silence. "You're the magician, Kaz. Don't you always say one must never reveal the secrets to their tricks?"

Only there wasn't a secret to it, not really. She'd always known how to be quiet. Silence was her friend and ally. It was turning invisible that she hadn't mastered, despite how hard she'd tried during long nights at the Menagerie.

"Fine then. Tell me something else," Kaz crossed his arms over his chest. Inej watched his hands, unused to seeing them uncovered. It was clear Kaz noticed her staring, and he rolled his eyes and indulged her, showing her the front and back of one hand.

Inej wracked her brain for something to tell him that didn't divulge anything too serious. "I still see them. Those twins. The ones I-"

"Saved me from?" Kaz cut her off. "I'd be surprised if you didn't still see them. Your first kill isn't easy."

"And your first?" Inej asked. "Do you still see them?"

Kaz's eyes went dark, and he shot her that wickedly sharp smirk. "Dirtyhands has purged Ketterdam of so many knaves, how d'you expect me to remember them?"

But Inej saw the way he set his shoulders, the tense line of his muscles. He was lying.

And that was the way it went.

When she found her room at the Slat too small, the walls closing in, morphing into the Menagerie, she took to the rooftops to the Crow Club, and let herself into Kaz's attic.

A few times, she found him sleeping, but he woke when her feet touched the floor, mouth turning down into an annoyed frown as he instructed her to either go to sleep or go back home to the Slat. Those times, she'd go and spy on the Dime Lions or the Razor Gulls or someone else Kaz had it out for, listening to find information to repay him with, bit by bit. 

Most of the time, they'd sit across the desk from one another and conjure up schemes together, or come up with jobs they could pull. Only occasionally did Kaz ask her for secrets, and each time Inej felt she was giving pieces of herself to him. She found that she didn't mind. 

She noticed more about him during those late nights above the Crow Club. How his leg seemed to hurt more in the cold and the rain. The strange hatred he seemed to hold deep within his heart for Pekka Rollins. Try as she might, she hadn't yet been able to figure out why he hated him so. How he glowed after a brawl, pale cheeks red and eyes bright. The way he laughed, quietly and not often, accompanied by a lopsided grin.

Sometimes he'd show her his sleight of hand tricks, and his skills at playing magician never failed to make her laugh.


Her laugh was like music. And Kaz hated how quickly it had become his favorite song.

That song kept on forcing itself through the crack in his armor that had appeared soon after he'd met her.

He felt it crack more with each passing day, and it terrified him. 

When Inej stumbled through his window rather than gracefully letting herself in, he immediately saw that something was very wrong. 

There was no Jesper to catch her while she faltered, only Kaz, thanking himself for having left his gloves on as he took her by the elbow to steady her. When she looked up at him, her eyes were glassy, strands of hair weaving about her face from where they'd escaped her braid. She flashed him an odd smile, and then Kaz noticed the blood on her other arm.

"What happened?" he demanded, leading her to his desk. With his good leg, he kicked his chair out of the way so he could look at her wrist. 

She sat down on top of it heavily, and her lack of grace made Kaz realize she was slightly drunk. "Got rid of the tattoo. Had me down some liquor first, so it hurt less."

"Tell me you didn't cut that Menagerie tattoo off your arm, Inej," Kaz ran a hand through his hair.

"I don't like lying to you, so no," Inej told him stubbornly, thrusting her arm out to him.

Her wrist was poorly bandaged, leaking blood onto her hand and sleeve. Kaz took a steadying breath, closing his eyes. When he opened them, she was still looking at him. "Inej. Nina could've taken it off you in a second. Who did this?" 

"Butcher on Burstraat," Inej said, working to tug off the bandage. Even drunk, she was able to gently remove it and wipe away the blood. 

"Butcher," he echoed. He watched from the side of the desk, schooling his features into a pointedly bored expression. Then he made his way over to his dresser and reached into the drawer, pulling out antiseptic and fresh bandages. Blood meant life, he reminded himself. Nothing of cold waters and pallid, dead skin. Just Inej's shallow breathing, her watchful eyes tracking him across the room. 

The gloves stayed on as he took hold of her wrist and dabbed it with a cloth. Like this, with her sitting on the desk and him standing, they were almost the same height, and he could her quietly shocked intake of breath as he touched her, even with the gloves on. The water rose around him, and her knee jerked against his hip when he dabbed her wrist ungently, dragging him from the depths. 

"Sorry," she breathed, and he felt the warm air on his face. Life. Inej was life, far from the cold water and pale bodies. 

How long had it been since he willingly stayed this close to someone? Despite his nervousness at the proximity of another person, of Inej, his shaking hands remembered the motion of wrapping a bandage, of securing it once around her thumb before tying it off. 

And then her hand was sitting in his, bandaged and trembling almost as much as his own. Gently, he released it, then went and poured himself a glass of vodka, which he downed in one gulp. There was a decanter of whisky on his desk just next to Inej, but he needed the space. 

"Right," he said, squaring his shoulders and turning to look at Inej. "Are you going to tell me what the hell you were thinking?" 

She swirled around on his desk to face him again, but didn't meet his eyes. "I wanted it gone. I couldn't look at it anymore. That... marker of..." she trailed off.  

Kaz looked at his cane, resting next to her on his desk. 

"That's different, Kaz," Inej shook her head, picking up the cane and balancing it on her hand. 

"I am aware." He crossed his arms over his chest. He was further away, but still he felt unbalanced. "And did you trail blood all over the rooftops for someone to follow to my room?" 

Her face closed off, used to his cutting remarks. She hopped down from the desk and didn't look at him. "Goodnight, Kaz." 

She didn't take the window, but he heard the door to his room close as she left. The fact that he'd heard her at all meant she shouldn't have been going back to the Slat alone. That he shouldn't let her go back to the Slat alone. But Kaz just leaned back on his dresser and closed his eyes, frustrated. With Inej. Mostly with himself. 

It rankled him that he could hardly even touch her with his gloves. 

It rankled him even more that he wanted to touch her in the first place. 

The clock on his wall chimed a dozen bells. Midnight. 

She'd come to him, needed him, and he'd insulted her. 

Kaz ground his teeth and pushed off the dresser, grabbing for his cane and coat. 

Thankfully, Inej hadn't gotten far. Kaz's leg would've been likely to give out if he'd had to chase her all the way back to the Slat. 

She moved through the street like a shadow, her hood drawn up, and Kaz doubted anyone but him would've noticed the wobbliness in her step. Around her, tourists and Barrel inhabitants moved unaware of her presence, headed for taverns and clubs to drink and gamble away their kruge. The spin of Makker's Wheel resounded from one of the clubs, and Kaz heard someone whoop in excitement. 

He waited until he was close to call her name, and was answered with a swift elbow in the face. 

Inej spun, surprise clear on her face. Blood spurted from his nose like a fountain. Grimly, Kaz was thankful he was wearing black, like always. 

She hadn't realized it was him. Saints, she'd probably thought he was some podge from the Menagerie or something nefarious. If it weren't for whatever she'd had to drink, she would've known it was him by the sound of his cane. They were both off their game tonight, it seemed. Inej's eyes were wide and guilt-stricken. "Kaz- I didn't-"

Kaz shook his head once, bringing his hand to his nose to staunch the flow of blood. "If you had a problem with my nose you could've just told me, Wraith." 

He turned back and headed for the Crow Club, Inej hot on his heels. 

"You're setting this for me," he told her, limping his way up the spiral staircase to his rooms. 

But Kaz ended up setting his nose himself, as Inej promptly settled herself in his desk chair and fell asleep waiting for him to undress. 

He stripped himself of his bloodied coat, vest, and shirt, tossing it in the basket by his dresser. There was blood smeared on his chest, bright red against his pale skin. Kaz threw his gloves onto his dresser. They were bloodied too; he'd need a new pair. 

All it took to reset his nose was a simple pop, which hurt. Kaz bit back a curse and went and fetched himself some water. 

He stopped in his tracks as he crossed to the dresser, eyes stopping on Inej's sleeping face. In her sleep, she looked younger, probably as she'd looked before she was taken to Ketterdam. Undoubtedly she'd been happier too, before this city. Before the Menagerie. Before Kaz.

Some nights, she'd let herself into his room shaking so bad it was a wonder she'd been able to reach the Crow Club at all. Those nights, Kaz would entertain thoughts of tracking down the Menagerie's patrons, one by one, of tearing the filthy pleasure house down brick by brick. 

He knew it would anger Inej. That revenge wasn't his to take. 

Once, they'd been running a job when one of the bouncers at the Lucky Nine grabbed for Inej's wrist, asking if she'd be waiting for him at the Menagerie later. Inej had a knife to his throat as soon as he'd moved, but left him with only a threat. 

Later, Kaz had dragged the bouncer from his post and doled out a beating that had bruised his fists for two weeks. By the end of it, the bouncer was a few teeth short, and full of promises that he'd never even look in her direction again.

He was washing the blood from his face and chest when she woke, silently stepping behind him like a shadow. Their eyes met in the mirror, guilt still written all over her face. Kaz didn't feel bad; he'd been owed that punch. Penance for his cruel remarks earlier. 

"I'm sorry," Inej said, her voice like a melody. Her eyes tracked over his bare chest in the mirror. It made Kaz feel as if he was laid bare. 

Kaz shook his head, and his hair fell into his face. "You can stay here, if you haven't a mind for going back to the Slat." He did not look at her as he spoke. 

"And you, Kaz?" 

"I was in the middle of something when you so gracefully barged in," he said. "I need to finish it by morning." 

"What is it?" Inej asked, already settling herself on his bed. On it, not in it. He wondered why she didn't elect to bury herself in the blankets. 

Kaz waved a hand as he headed for his desk, tugging a fresh shirt on. "Accounts, finances. Things Haskell doesn't feel like doing." 

"As I do the things you don't feel like?" 

"That reminds me, I'll be needing a few new pairs of gloves." He shot her a wry smile as he passed the bed. 

"Tell me something," she called after him. 

Kaz's smile remained, and he was grateful he was out of her line of sight. "Would you like to know what glove size I wear?


I need you, he thought, not for the first time. Instead he chose a safer subject. "Pekka sold the Orchid. Bad business, apparently."

He heard Inej hum in response. 

"Now you," he said, wishing he could see her face. "Tell me why you didn't let Nina remove the tattoo." 

A pause. "The scar will serve as a reminder. A lesson learned," she laughed without humor. "As if I could forget." 

Again, Kaz pictured the Menagerie up in flames, slimy Heleen shrieking as her operation burned to the ground. "Lessons can be taught without flaying yourself, Inej." 

The laugh that she gave was like a lullaby, and it played in his head long after she'd fallen asleep. In the morning, she was gone, and that afternoon he found a box containing three new sets of gloves on his bed. 

The next time he saw her was at the stables south of the Financial District, two days later. The Black Tips ran the place, but officially it was owned by one of the merchers on the Council. It was called the Harddraav, and it raked in cash for the Black Tips every week. 

They were working a job on the races, looking to capitalize on the reckless betting of businesspeople from the Financial District. With Inej's help, Kaz had worked a ploy to bring on the perfect horse, a big black beast, and hired a jockey to do their bidding. The horse had been steadily performing in the races out in the country, and Kaz had paid a Shu fortune teller to perform a "spell" on the horse for good luck in an area where the financial fools would see the performance and be convinced to bet on the horse at the next race.

The horse, whom Jesper had named Ace of Spades, had won with flying colors at its first race. Meaning they'd lost all the money bet on it, but the betters had won. This morning, with huge bets riding on its back along with their jockey, the horse would lose, spectacularly, and the Crows would seize the money from the Black Tips' coffers after the races.

It was just barely dawn, and the first race wasn't due to start for another hour, but the Harddraav's stalls were bustling with stable hands and jockeys and their sponsors or patrons. Inej was perched on a bale of hay, crunching on a sugar cube meant for a horse. The bandage on her wrist was fresh, stark white compared to the blue of her clothing. 

Standing nearby was Jesper, murmuring to Ace of Spades and stroking his hand down the horse's velvety black nose. Inej was looking at Kaz, evidently amused.

Kaz raised an indolent eyebrow at Inej in question, then winced inwardly. Right. His nose still twinged, and he was sporting a particularly fetching black eye from her elbow. "Entertained, Wraith?" 

"I will be. Jes, did Kaz tell you how he got that black eye?" She was smiling. 

Jesper turned to them. "Razor Gulls jumped him the other night, he said." 

The smile on Inej's face told Kaz she was holding back laughter. He shot her a wry smirk and nodded at Jesper. "Correct. How's the horse?" 

Jesper snorted. "What, like I kno-" 

"Not you," Kaz told him. 

"Looking good, boss," their jockey, Drikken, approached, kitted in his checkered riding clothes. The jockey was shorter than Inej, but that only made him lighter on a horse's back, kept him from weighing it down and allowing it to run faster. "I think he'll perform very well for us this mornin'." 

Kaz nodded grimly. He'd met with Drikken the night before, instructed him that he and Ace of Spades were to make the loss look real. According to Drikken, it looked best if Ace of Spades had a strong start before sputtering out, and planned to come in 5th or 6th place. Not a bad enough loss to look suspicious, but enough that the racetrack would earn all the bets on Kaz Brekker's prized horse. No one, not even the businessmen, suspected Kaz to lose

Kaz Brekker didn't lose.

That was the genius in the scheme.

At the Crow Club and other casinos and betting houses in the Barrel, he'd had Jesper place reckless bets and blather on about the winnings he'd earned from Ace of Spades' first win. That combined with Kaz's performance with the Shu fortune teller had crowds flocking to the Harddraav in droves, placing almost blind bets on Ace of Spaces. 

And nothing made Ketterdam natives and tourists alike spend money like kvas in the morning, so Kaz had Dregs working the crowds as barkers, selling kvas, wine, and whisky at absurd prices. Nina was there too, on the arm of a mercher, white rose pinned to her dress, sweet-talking him into laying more kruge down on Ace of Spades. The races were turning out to be a lovely business venture for the Dregs. 

"Right, so when are we going in?" Jesper demanded after Kaz and Drikken had spoken, always itching to pull his pistols.

"Tonight," Kaz said, stepping forward to inspect the horse. It was a large, lithe beast, all bunching muscle and big black eyes. "And not we. Inej is going in alone."

"She's going in alone?" 

"I'm going in alone?" 

Inej and Jesper spoke over one another in their shock. 

Kaz looked at her, pleased to see her excitement for the task. "Earn it, Wraith." 

He didn't know whether he meant earn their kruge with her skills or if he meant earn his faith in her sending her alone on this job. Or if he meant for her to earn the moniker he'd gifted her. It didn't matter. Faith in her was something he'd had since she got the drop on him that night at the Menagerie. She just didn't realize it, not really. And he'd heard the name Wraith whispered in dark alleys under the cover of night, spoken in fear. The Wraith had nothing to prove to anyone, especially not Kaz. 

But only Inej would be able to follow the Black Tips' accountant home, and only she would be able to divest him of the cash before he noticed her presence. She could use some confidence after the tattoo incident, Kaz thought. 

Kaz allowed himself to smile at her, at Jesper, riding high off the excitement of the coming scheme. Until it was time for Inej to work her magic, the three of them would be testing their long-rested acting skills in one of the boxes in the crowd, drinking (or pretending to drink) and cheering, then lamenting Ace of Spades' loss. By two bells that afternoon, he and Jesper would be walking back to the Crow Club, playing at being drunk and despondent. 

By three bells, they'd have their pockets lined a little extra fully. 


Inej climbed through the window of his room later that night, spirits high from the successful job. In her bag was a few thousand kruge, recovered from the Black Tips' money man. She'd waited a few hours before returning to the Club with the money, wanting to avoid allowing the Dregs to celebrate their win, lest they tipped off one of the other gangs to their success. 

They'd done well, especially Nina, who had flirted a mercher out of more than a few hundred kruge. Inej and her were becoming fast friends. Her crude sense of humor made Inej laugh unexpectedly, and she had a way of seeing through Kaz's ways that made her laugh as well. It was hard to believe that Kaz had found someone more adept at flirting than Jesper, a feat that she'd never thought possible.

Tomorrow, she had to seek out the potential demolitions expert Kaz had been dealing with. According to Kaz, the term was more "enthusiast" than expert, but she'd been assigned to following said enthusiast and obtaining information on him. 

Tonight, all she had to do was deliver her success to Kaz, and hope he was seeking company as she was. 

It was pitch black when she returned, sure the Black Tips hadn't even realized their money was gone. And they had little reason to suspect Kaz; Ace of Spades' first win had laid the grounds against suspicion. 

Kaz was at his desk when Inej hopped through the window, but she could tell he wasn't working. Anticipation had him drawn in sharper lines than usual. He'd been waiting. Waiting for her. "Evening, Wraith."

There was color on his cheekbones, a flush of excitement or perhaps from celebratory whisky or kvas. When he looked up, his sharp mouth was curved into a grin, and Inej thanked her saints for two smiles from Kaz Brekker in one day. A steaming plate of hutspot awaited her on the desk. 

She knew, now, why she longed to run her fingers through his hair, touch the sharp angles of his cheekbones. She would not let it affect her work for him, but she understood it. For a time, she'd thought she'd never feel it again, not after the Menagerie. 

But Kaz's smile tugged at her edges, brought forth a smile of her own. His kindnesses and gifts played with her brain. Some girls got flowers from boys they liked. Inej figured she was pleased with getting knives. 

He held up a hand and Inej tossed him the bag of money, watched as he counted through it with his deft gloved fingers. New gloves, ones she'd picked up for him at a tailor on Winkstraat. She seized the hutspot and took it back to the windowsill, devouring it quickly, eyes never leaving Kaz.

He tossed her a stack of kruge. "For my gloves. And a job well done." 

Inej smiled at him again, plucking the stack out of the air and tucking it in her trousers. Dirtyhands did not often hand out money. Handing out praise was even more rare. "You're in a rare mood. Something else good happen?" 

Kaz held onto his information like jewels, and Inej could tell that he was sitting on a nest egg of intel. "You'll find out soon enough. It's a job. Bigger than the others. You're going to see the demo brat tomorrow, yes?" 

"I am. Does he have something to do with it?" She pressed, curious. 

"Don't pry," Kaz admonished, but his tone was light as he stood and headed for the washbasin. "I won't tell you tonight, anyway." 

But Inej felt like pushing her luck. "What will you tell me, then?" 

She watched as he removed his gloves and vest, laying his silver watch and chain on the dresser. He was working on the buttons of his shirt as he gave a one-shouldered shrug, his back to her. "Depends on what you have for me." 

"No," Inej shook her head. "You can go first tonight. I'm the one who just completed the job."

A laugh from Kaz, making her smile at the sound. "That's fair." A long pause, and Inej turned away as he removed his shirt and trousers. She wanted to look, wanted to draw her eyes over the corded muscle and myriad of scars on his back. But she didn't want to push her luck in that direction, not now. When he finally spoke, it sounded like the words were being torn out of him. "Don't go back to the Slat tonight."

It didn't sound like a secret. But Inej heard it for what it was: stay with me.

"And you, Kaz?" She asked, remembering their conversation from two nights prior, when she'd slept in his bed. 

"I-" When he returned to his desk, he was in sleeping clothes, and his hands were still bare of his gloves. "I'll manage." 

Inej cocked her head at him, not daring to hope but following him to the bed all the same. The fact that Kaz was trying continued to surprise her. Trying to keep her in Ketterdam, to convince her to stay with him. I need you, he'd said. To watch over him. And the Dregs. She was one of them now, completely. 

When they reached the bed, Inej found that she was grateful that only the headboard was against the wall. A night in bed with someone else and pushed against the wall was something she wasn't ready to handle, not yet. She risked a glance at Kaz. His jaw was stubbornly set, like he was clenching his teeth in pain, or fear. 

Though Inej hadn't yet figured out why, she'd noticed Kaz's aversion to contact, the way he tensed when she'd reached out for him after first meeting. The gloves added to the moniker of Dirtyhands, but he wore them as protection, she'd guessed. Inej understood. She fought demons of her own each day as well, when Jesper threw an arm around her shoulder unexpectedly, or she saw a too-familiar silhouette in the street. 

So Inej settled herself on the bed first, laying on top of the blankets, on her side. Her braid snaked out onto the pillows behind her. Kaz's bare hands appeared to be trembling as he laid down beside her, as far as the bed would allow. His blue eyes closed as soon as he'd settled his head on the pillow, facing her. 

"Tell me something," he grit out. 

Inej thought wildly for something to distract him. "Nina did well today. Becoming a proper Crow, I'd say." 

"As you are?" He asked, teasing despite his discomfort. 

"Something like that," Inej murmured, growing uneasy at his tension. "Kaz. I can sleep on-" 

"No," Kaz said. Two blue eyes blinked open, and his brow furrowed in concentration, but he held his gaze on her. Kaz had a way of looking at her that made her feel like she was more than just the shadows she'd made her home in. 

And then his hand came to rest between them, unprotected by a glove and trembling just slightly. If someone who didn't know them walked in, they'd see nothing at all, just two Barrel rats shaking like leaves on opposite sides of a bed. But even this was almost too much for each of them. 

Inej's hand was unsteady as she rested it next to Kaz's, not touching. She brushed her pinky finger against his and watched him tense, then relax, eyes meeting hers again. 

"Tell me something," she whispered. 

They spoke until the candles burned low, talking of heists and saints and Ketterdam lore. More than once, their fingers brushed, which both scared and delighted her, and, she suspected, Kaz. When the candles were burnt out, Inej laughed softly, declaring that they needed to sleep. 

"Goodnight, Kaz." 

"Goodnight, Inej."

Inej didn't know which of them would fall asleep first, but it was Kaz, in the end. It made sense; she hadn't caught him sleeping in several nights. 

She yawned, listening to his shaky breaths evening out. Inej was delighted to find a new favorite song in the sound of Kaz's steady breathing, quiet in the room and the pattering rain outside, another song Ketterdam had gifted to her.