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Council of the Tides

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"It's not going to work," he retorted.

"I'm sure you have plenty of people lining up for the chance," Wylan had carefully started to say, but abruptly stopped himself.

"Not the same." Jesper's voice was next, a hint of laughter in it.

"Obviously," Kaz darkly replied.

Inej held her breath, pressed against Kaz's office door at the Crow Club. There was a long beat of silence and she wondered if she should just make her presence known, or slip away. She hadn't intended on sneaking up on a conversation between the three of them, but she couldn't help her intrigue now. There was very little Kaz didn't come to her first about.

Finally, Wylan's wavering voice asked, "have you asked her to stay?"

"Beg," Jesper corrected. "Have you begged her to stay?"

"I won't do that," Kaz immediately replied. "I can't."

"A little humility isn't going to kill you," Jesper said. "Not sure anything can at this point."

Wylan broke into a nervous coughing fit and she pushed through the door on impulse alone. All three heads snapped toward her and she brightly smiled, pretending as if she'd just arrived, and dropped the small parcel onto Kaz's desk,

"Might have some trouble from the Merchant Council for this one."

"I don't want to know," Wylan put his hands up above his head and stood.

"I do," Jesper leaned forward and poked at the package. Kaz snatched it away, pocketing it effortlessly and Wylan grabbed the back of Jesper's coat and tugged.

She stayed by the door, as the two of them made their way out, but not without quick squeezes of goodbye to her shoulder. Her eyes never left Kaz's as they were bombarded by the rowdy noise of the Crow Club, and then sent back into quiet as the door closed. He didn't need to say a word, she could see it in his eyes - he knew she'd been listening. It would be easy for her to just point blank ask him, she normally had no problem with antagonizing an answer out of him. But this was different. She needed him to initiate this.

Kaz stood from his desk and moved around it to lean against the front. She watched him as he carefully tugged his gloves off and tossed them at his desk, then held out his right pinky finger toward her. She ducked her head in defeat, her smile dissolving her poker face. When she had suggested these little games to him it had been in a benevolent nature. But like all things given to Kaz Brekker he had turned it into a weapon that he wielded perfectly in every situation.

She stood in front of him and held out her left pinky, waiting until he locked them together diagonally across the space between them. It still took him a breath or two to adjust to the feel of skin on skin initially, but she was in no rush. It was her favorite part - his visible effort.

"Architecture," he softly said and then swung his left hand up to rest on top of their still entwined hands.

"Is it jobs we'll never have this time?" She wondered, squeezing his pinky with her own.

"Degrees given by Ketterdam University," he clarified, his eyes transfixed on all their bare skin touching.

"Biology," she swung her right pinky up and wrapped it around his left one, their still entwined first-round fingers released.

"Chemistry," put his hand on top.

"Drama," she entwined their fingers and he held fast onto both of her pinkies.

"That's not a degree," he argued as he ripped his eyes away from their tangled hands and give her a challenging look.

"Prove it." She smirked. He released their bottom hands, she took a step closer to him and he focused on the game again. Swinging his free pinky up on top of their joined hands he continued with,

"Economics."

"Finance," she grasped his finger. He yanked them again, bringing them an inch closer to each other.

"Same thing," he shook his head, the faintest smile on his lips.

"Fashion," she challenged looking up at him through her lashes. He swallowed hard and broke their eye contact as if he was thinking for the next letter - but she knew he was completely enamored.

Three weeks ago, when she had been spying in the Financial District, she'd witnessed two young girls playing all manner of hand games with each other as they waited outside a store for their mothers to finish shopping. At first, she had been flooded with the memories of rolling golden fields and endless blue skies from her childhood. Of the concentration game she and her father had played, the fierce slap competition she could get into with her cousins, and the listing game her mother would entertain her with on long trips. The realization had been lightning quick. Though he never said it out loud to her, Kaz's biggest problem seemed to be with his bare hands. She knew she didn't like to think of all the wrong she had created with her own, but it was something more than that for him.

He'd looked at her like she was crazy when she'd suggested it that very same night - children's hand games did sound like some drunken joke at first. But if she could get him to concentrate on something while he had to use his hands - that didn't involve some kind of criminal activity - it might help him realize all the good he could do with them as well.

"Geography," he finally exhaled.

"Took you a minute," she teased and let go of his finger. "History."

He tugged her closer, their still entwined hand now the only thing separating them. Her breath caught in her chest when she looked up at him all soft eyes and hair slightly out of place. In her mind, she begged him to kiss her. It was so loud she was sure he could hear it or see it in her own searching eyes.

"I...I want you to stay."

"Have another job for me?" She tested, her voice quiet and reedy.

"No Inej," he seared her to the ground with the intensity of his eyes alone. "Stay with me."

"For how long?" She whispered and felt her hands shake the slightest bit in anticipation, but she didn't pull them away. She needed him to feel how vulnerable she was at this exact moment.

"For…" his voice cracked. She held her breath. He closed his eyes and exhaled. "For as long as you'll have me."

She squeezed his fingers as tight as she could, "forever then?"

His eyes flung open, wide in surprise, fragile with hope, dark with promise. He nodded, "forever."

"Journalism," she forced over the lump in her throat, swinging her pink up on top of their joined hands.

"That is not a degree," he reprimanded her, but his voice was light and easy.

She frowned at him, but only for a moment, her smile betraying her, "shall I get Jesper?"

"Kruge," he smirked, slamming his hand down on top of their joined one. Her laugh was so loud it drowned out the Crow Club's debauchery on the other side of the door.