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Council of the Tides

Chapter Text

It had started so slowly. Almost as if the bathroom in the Geldrenner Hotel had never happened. First, it was just being next to each other as he went over plans, their clothing touching and the faint press of his body, the heat of him next to her instead of the usual space. Then a quick touch to her shoulder or hand to get her attention, and fixing her jacket or hood before she left. These little things she wouldn't have even noticed if it had been Jesper or Wylan or Nina - but monumental for the two of them. And that had been enough. For months. It was something she couldn't quite put her finger on, but each little touch made her heart thump in her chest, even if he still kept his past locked away from her.

Soon after that, she'd started taking naps in his room during the afternoon. She'd forfeited her room at the Slat in leu of Wylan and Jesper's offer, especially with all the new recruits hanging about the place. At first, she didn't think he'd notice. She was always climbing the walls of the Barrel until dawn. He was always up and working before the sun rose. And since Jesper and Wylan were trying to stay out of the fray, their house was usually noisy during the day. She could tune out the low rumble of the Slat- she could not, however, tune out Alys Van Eck. She'd thought she was being sneaky for a couple of weeks before she slipped into his room one dawn to find a huge pile of jewel-colored pillows all over his bed. She'd sank into them and immediately fallen asleep with a huge smile on her face. That night, when the city was quiet and they were all alone, he'd asked her why she never stayed.

She had wondered that as well, especially on the easy nights when there wasn't a job and she was warm and safe. Very few people had ever seen the inside of his room. He'd made it abundantly clear to the few who had that no one was allowed to stay inside it. No matter how many sleepless nights they'd planned things in it - she always had to leave. But now that had changed, and she didn't think she could survive the crushing disappointment that might come if he revoked the privilege. The panic had clawed up her throat. In a moment that she still regretted, she lied,

"Wylan has softer mattresses."

Kaz had nodded and dropped the subject, switching over to some new business he was drumming up on 4th harbor. But she had seen the disappointment in his eyes for a flash of a moment, and then again when she slipped out his small window back to an opulent room she spent very little time in. It made her heavy-footed on her trip back to the Van Eck mansion that night. He had been trying, could she say the same about herself?

But it was because with every inch forward they also had setbacks - and they weren't always his. Like the day he'd come up behind her in his room, cane clicking on the wood floor, and wrapped his gloved hand around her upper arm. Instinct had taken over. Her body moved before her mind registered what she was doing. In the next breath, she'd ducked beneath his arm, broken the hold, swept his legs out from under him and had a knife at his throat.

His eyes were wide in surprise and then instantaneously dark with understanding. He'd given her a single nod and carefully said against the knife bobbing on his Adam's apple, "so not like that?"

"No," she'd swallowed and moved off of him. And that was all that had needed to be said between them.

She didn't need to tell him how the silk and heavy artificial scent of the Menagerie still tried to choke her to death when specific things happened. He knew. And that was all that mattered. But it had taken two weeks before she let him touch her again. It was where a lot of her guilt came from. Not that she was slowing down his progress - that wasn't her burden to carry. But that they both kept so much of their past hidden from each other, even though the other person already knew enough of it.

She'd traced back the name Kaz had used for Colm at the Geldrenner Hotel - Rietveld. She'd found all the accounts, the properties, the money he had stashed away under the name. She didn't ask about it. Just wondered why he still couldn't tell her. It had been laughably easy to figure out. Then again she was the only person that knew about his other tattoo. All she could manage was that maybe it was for the same reasons she refused to speak about her parents and her childhood. Breathing life into the past could sometimes feel like raising the dead - and they weren't Nina.

The months continued to pass and a daily routine grew. It was as comfortable and predictable as it could be in the power vacuum Kaz had created both in the Barrel and the Financial District. Empires had been toppled, newcomers were hungry for their cut, and Kaz was the king of it all - calculating, manipulating, strategizing. It was the kind of measurable cadence that she had promised herself would be her cue to finally leave Ketterdam. But then he'd bought her a ship. He'd found her parents. He'd actually smiled at her mother and father - smiled! She felt the roots forming at her feet, digging into the soggy ground, whispering their promises of what she could have if she stayed. But they weren't as strong as the tides that ebbed and flowed in her heart - the promise of how much more she could have if she left.

And then there were days where she was sure he'd pushed himself to the very edge of his sanity, just to gain ground over her conviction to leave. Like the day where he'd limped into their room - and she couldn't be sure when she'd started calling it theirs - bloody and beaten after some skirmish. He hadn't been able to get the cut near his scalp to clot. After much protest and arguing about his blood besmirching her beloved pillows, she'd pushed him down onto the bed. He'd glared at her as he struggled into a sitting position, she straddled his lap, careful not to touch him, and then pressed a towel to his head as hard as she could, trapping him to the wall. He'd continue to grumble things as she held him there but she could feel him shifting underneath her.

At first, she'd thought it was just him fighting the impulse to push her away. But as they both went silent she shifted her weight on his rickety bed and he'd closed his eyes and groaned. She couldn't be sure if it was because of the pressure on his head or his own frustration with himself. Then his still gloved hands had carefully slid up her thighs to her waist to press her down into his lap. Instinctively she'd rolled her hips against the length of heat now perfectly positioned under her and they'd both sucked in a stuttering breath and locked eyes.

She'd started making careful, purposeful, little circles in his lap until they were both breathing hard. And then she stopped using the crutch of his head wound and dropped the towel. She closed her eyes and guided his hands across her body to all the places burning for his touch, even with her clothes on. The small of her back, around her hips, up her stomach, her chest, her neck, between her thighs. His roaming palms and squeezing fingers only made the need in her frantic. Soon their hands were searching for some kind of release over all their clothes, grabbing and smoothing and rubbing at each other. Until finally she couldn't resist anymore and kissed him, ready to be punished for it. But instead, he devoured her, desperate and urgent. And it all swelled inside her as she broke her lips from his own, gasping as she felt them slide down her jaw and onto her neck. She'd let out a strangled cry of release and he had followed her with a deep groan against her shoulder. And that night when he asked her to stay...she did.

Chapter Text

"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.

Chapter Text

"I heard an interesting whisper today," she smiled and pulled out the final plait of her braid. Kaz raised an eyebrow in question but didn't stop reading from the pile of documents on his lap in their bed.

She slipped across the room and stretched her tired muscles out along the mattress. She could feel his gaze on her, even with her eyes closed, and made sure to arch her back a little more than necessary. Over the jewel-colored mountain of pillows between them, she heard him slowly let out a deep breath, then set aside a contract onto the bedside table and go back to work. After slogging through the deluge tonight for some intel she was ready to be warm and dry. But Kaz never stopped working, even on the nights when his body forced him to sleep. Which was why the pillows were always on the bed.

All it had taken was one morning of his hand smoothing across a small patch of her stomach that had come exposed in the night. Still mostly asleep he'd thudded into the wall behind him in his attempt to flee, hyperventilating and his eyes rolling around in panic. Papers had flown into the air and spilled across the floor. For the rest of that day, she couldn't figure out if he was angrier at his reaction, or that he'd fallen asleep working.

After that, she made sure to shove several pillows between them any time they were on the bed. She also started sleeping against the wall so he had an easier escape. To be honest, she appreciated the barrier as well. Unexpected touch was a dangerous trigger for both of them. It was silly that pillows were the thing that kept their own turmoil in check. But somehow, without saying it, they knew it had created a way to keep parts of themselves safe to allow them to give the rest to each other.

When she'd settled her favorite few into position she watched the rain lash against the window of their room for a moment. Everything on her body relaxed in their companionable silence until he let out a rasp of,

"And?"

"Apparently you've impregnated some poor girl over at the White Rose. She swears on all the saints."

From the corner of her eye, she watched him, hoping to see at least a small reaction from this ridiculous rummer. The whole brothel had been buzzing with excitement at the possibility. In all fairness, it had been quite a slow day.

"Impossible," he easily replied, flipping to the next document in his stack.

Her body now stretched, she rolled to her side to look at him, pushing a few pillows out of the way, "obviously."

"Not for that reason," he elaborated, eyes still fixed to the papers in his lap. She stared at him, waiting. Knowing Kaz it could be any reason under the sun.

"And?" She broke the silence.

"I've just heard that most men are...sterile after the Queen Lady's plague."

"You survived the plague?" She immediately sat up. "You had to have been…"

"10."

Her brain ached from how quickly all the puzzle pieces she'd been holding onto slammed into place. The murky picture of his past finally started to take shape for her. Boys - too young to have left home. Quickly swindled by greed in a city that put profit over human life. Suffering through unimaginable terror together only to then be caught in a plague.

"Jordie didn't make it."

"No," she whispered, her eyes quickly filling with tears. He set aside all his work and crossed his arms over his chest as he watched her. Her heart shattered for him, for his brother, for what they'd been forced to live through. Worse yet that by 10 he'd had any hope of a childhood ripped away from him when life spat him out into this saint's forsaken city. Then all the pieces of her shattered heart crumbled to sand as a final realization slid into place. Ships weren't cheap, no matter what Wylan had done for Kaz. After the initial shock of his gift had worn off she hadn't been able to figure out how he'd done it. Until now. He had liquidated his entire past to give her a future. The beautiful agony of it all rose inside her, threatening to overtake her, to drown her with everything he'd given to her - especially this piece of his past.

She climbed over the mountain of pillows, pushing and kicking them out of her way. They fell with soft plunks to the ground until there was no space left between them. There was a wary look in his eyes, but he uncrossed his arms and she wrapped her own around his chest and crushed him against her as hard as she could. She didn't care that her tears were soaking into his vest. All that mattered was that she could hear the rapid thumping of his heart against her ear. Most people in Ketterdam thought he didn't even have a heart beating in his chest. All she wanted to do was cradle it in her hands.

He didn't pull away. Instead, she felt his fingers lightly raked through all her loose hair pooling around them. She burned to ask him more, she wanted to know everything. But each little speck of light into his soul was a beautiful gift to her. Each one meant more than all the other things they had accomplished together. She treasured each one with her deepest reverence.

"Honestly," his gravelly voice finally broke back through her thoughts, "I thought I'd be dead before I'd have this conversation with someone."

"About the plague?" She wondered with a sniffle.

"No," he let out the tiniest laugh. She wouldn't have even noticed it if her head wasn't still pressed to his chest. The realization hit her and she let out a little laugh as well, wiping away the last of her tears against his vest. They both let out a deep breath and the tiniest bead of jealousy started to roll around in her chest,

"Someone?"

His fingers raked through her hair with perfect pressure, "just you. Always you."

She yawned against his shirt and closed her eyes, "you're going to need a bigger room."

"What's wrong with this room?" He shifted under her and she started to pull away. But to her surprise, his hand caught her wrist and tucked it back against his side. She snuggled in deeper, her squirming causing the last of the pillows to plop to the floor.

"How are you going to fit a bigger bed in here?" She yawned again and then smiled at the contemplative noise that left his throat.

Chapter Text

SMACK!

Kaz let out a grunt of pain and then shook his hands in frustration.

“Go ahead,” she smirked, unable to stop herself from ogling him as he begrudgingly unbuttoned his vest. She didn’t have the heart to remind him that technically he should be taking it off. He seemed quite flustered by how badly he was losing to her. Cheeks flushed, hair slightly out of place, breathing through his nose to keep his anger to himself.

The vest now hanging loosely he reset his hands just above her own, his palms facing down, hers facing up. There was only the tiniest sliver of space between them, but it was enough for her to see him swallow hard. A flare of pity in her chest made her question if she was pushing this too far, too fast. Then she remembered who she was dealing with.

SMACK!

“Fuck,” he growled and looked away from her, rubbing at the tops of his hands. “This is…”

“Fun?” she offered. He shot her a warning look.

He started to shrug out of his vest and she shook her head.

“Changed my mind, leave the vest. Unbutton your shirt next.”

His hands stalled, “those weren’t the rules.”

“Need to keep this interesting,” she teased and swung her braid over her shoulder. She glanced at his desk where all the spoils of her victories lay. His cane, his hat, his coat, his gloves, his tie, his belt, all the odds and ends from his pockets. Technically she could have demanded his boots next but this was decidedly more entertaining.

He rolled his eyes as he undid his topmost black button at his throat, and then rose a challenging eyebrow at her. She nodded in concession and set her hands back out.

“You shouldn’t be smiling,” he murmured as he reset his hands.

“And why’s that?” She grinned back at him. She moved her hands a fraction of an inch and he yanked his own back to avoid the smack - that didn’t come. Her laugh filled the quiet of his office and she wiggled her fingers to entice him back.

“Switch,” he darkly answered. She gracefully flipped her hands over so that Kaz could slide his own, palms up, just barely underneath them.

While he adjusted, flexing his fingers and narrowing his eyes at the hint of contact, she noticed the flush from his cheeks had started to bleed down his neck. Her brain immediately came up with a thousand questions that distracted her from the task at hand. Did the flush go further down? Was it only from losing? Could there be other ways she could make him look as flustered as she felt sometimes? Is that one of the reasons he was always covered head to foot? Would she ever be able to convince him to wear something other than black?

“Inej?” He asked and she was startled out of her thoughts. “Did I just send you into a catatonic state?”

She nodded, “something like that.”

Their eyes met and he smirked, “even Saint’s get bored?”

“Hardly,” she answered and wiggled her fingers again. This time the pads gently tapped against the base of his palms. “Just wondering about things.”

Without any kind of indication, he whipped his hands up and around and landed a resounding smack to the tops of her hands. She stood there shocked, the pain radiating up toward her wrists, as a wicked grin spread across his lips.

“Knives,” he commanded. So he caught her off guard - once. It wouldn’t happen again. She set Sankta Marya on the desk next to all his things. “All of them.”

“That afraid of losing?” She questioned as she twirled Sankt Petyr around her fingers to stall.

“I’m at a disadvantage. I wasn’t tortured as a child by this game.”

“It’s supposed to be fun, Kaz,” she rolled her eyes and set the knife down reaching for Sankta Anastasia next.

“Fun is a subjective construct,” he countered. She let out an exasperated breath as she set Sankta Alina down.

“What did you do for fun as a child?”

He leaned against the front of his desk and crossed his arms over his chest. She fingered the intricate rose pattern on Sankta Lizabeta as she waited. He was quiet for so long she began to worry he couldn’t think of a single example. Or worse, wasn’t able to share it.

As soon as she set the final weapon down he put his hands back out and she held hers above. On the one hand, she didn’t feel she should have to pry the information out of him. But on the other hand, he was at least still playing. Starts and stops. Tiny progress was still progress and she’d be lying if she said she didn’t enjoy beating him at all these games.

His dark eyes focused on their hands again and he quietly answered, “mostly bothered Jordie, when we weren’t working.”

The shock made her throat constrict. But she forced herself to carefully prod, “bothered him how?”

SMACK.

It was so sudden she actually gasped, and then ripped her cloak off and tossed it onto the chair next to her. Kaz’s eyes roamed up and down her body before they reset their hands.

“Pestered him, followed him, asked him endless questions. I used to hide his shoes.”

She chuckled to herself imagining it, “where?”

“Anywhere he wouldn’t think to look.”

SMACK.

“Started young then?” She questioned and quickly shrugged out of her own vest eager to keep this momentum.

Kaz shrugged but was grinning as they reset their hands. After a beat of concentration he continued, “then Da died and we came here.”

“No more games,” she quietly guessed. She noticed him hold his breath and moved her hands a fraction of a second before his, causing him to swat the air. Instead of resetting his hands, he moved even closer to her.

“No,” he murmured and smoothed his hand carefully over her waist. “Then it was magic.”

With his free hand he produced her hair tie at the same moment she felt her braid unraveling. She hadn’t even noticed his other hand. His fingers pressed into the small of her back, gently pulling her toward him and she let out a shaky breath. It wasn’t that she was uncomfortable. She was worried she’d want to move too fast. She’d stab herself before she’d admit it out loud, but most days she fantasized about what was supposed to happen after they got this far.

His lips dusted against her forehead as his fingers started working through the plaits, carefully combing down to the ends. She was sure her heart would give out before she could beg him to keep going. She couldn’t trust her own voice. Instead, she delicately reached up and started working on any buttons her hands could fumble with. His breaths started to pick up as well, but it was the flush seeping from his cheeks down onto his neck and chest that made her keep going.

With a rough tug, she yanked his shirttail out from his pants and slid her hands up his stomach and onto his pecs. She paused, unsure if she was doing it for his benefit or her own. Her blood was practically singing with promise with every pump of her fluttering heart. But this could always go so terribly wrong so horribly fast for either of them, she didn’t know if she should risk it.

“Don’t stop,” he whispered into her hair, and she bit her lip in exaltation. Her greedy hands skimmed over his shoulders and pushed his shirt and vest off. He let her go just long enough to shake it off his body and then in one smooth movement had picked her up and spun her around to set her on the desk. She adjusted, he pushed everything out of the way, his belongings clattering to the floor and she felt her eyes widen with excitement.

“What?” His eyes searched her face first and then darted around her as if assessing for a threat.

“No, I…” she forced the laugh down and continued with, “I’ve always wanted to see you do that.”

He blinked, confused for a split second, and she felt her own cheeks burn with embarrassment. To break the very intense eye contact they were having, she started to gather all her hair at the back of her neck.

“No,” he shot in. It was her turn to look up, blinking in confusion. “I...like it down.”

“Four years together and this is the first time you’ve mentioned it. Was that so hard?”

“Not that hard,” he smirked.

With a wicked grin of her own, she looked directly into his eyes and ran her palm down the front of his slacks, “beg to differ.”

Kaz laughed. This beautiful, carefree, baritone laugh she watched burst past his lips as the flush grew a deeper red. She’d never heard that laugh before. The fake one he used with the Dregs - several times. The snort he’d give Nina and Jesper when they were in true, hilarious, form - often. But this was so surreal it felt like magic. He rested his forehead on her shoulder as he tried to compose himself. She brought up her hand to run her fingers through his hair and then slightly scratch her nails down his back.

He pressed a surprising kiss into her neck and said, “I also like…”

KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.

They both froze like misbehaving children caught red-handed.

“Boss,” a low voice boomed through the wood, “got a delivery for the Captain.”

“Me?” Her eyes darted to Kaz, still bright red.

“Leave it,” he ordered. But his eyes darkened with concern. “The better question is how would they know you’re here?”

“It’s not exactly a secret,” she scoffed at him, hopped off the desk, and moved to the door. The letter had been slid underneath with an official-looking gold seal.

“It would seem our friends in Ravka have finally made good on our deal,” he commented as he came to stand next to her.

“There was more?” She broke the seal and slowly opened the parchment, “my parents and a lead.”

“Hardly enough for funding a bankrupt nation,” he drawled. She smacked him with the envelope, momentarily distracted when it hit his still bare chest. But she could only get past the first line.

Captain Ghafa,

We are in desperate need of your help.

She stood up straighter, pleasantly surprised to be able to lean against Kaz as he tried to get a better look over her shoulder. Dread hit her square in the chest, stealing her breath. This was the moment. In her hand everything she’d been striving for. At her back everything she’d been building. She had been personally summoned to assist the people of Ravka. And Kaz was still shirtless and flushed, his gorgeous laugh echoing in her ears.

“Did you ever find a replacement for your chief engineer after that raid in the Southern Colonies?” He took a step away from her.

“Yes,” she folded the letter, “how did you…”

“I pro…” he started to say and then pressed his lips together. “I care about your success.”

“Marginally better,” she warned.

“You’ll need to leave in the next hour or so if you want to catch the northern tide,” he turned away, carefully shuffling back toward his desk.

“When have you had time to study sailing?” She wondered and followed him across the floor.

“Puts me right to sleep,” he quipped, the muscles on his shoulders tensing. He grabbed his shirt from the floor and gave it a violent shake. But he didn’t put it right back on, just pressed into the top of his desk enough for her to see his back flex. She needed to see his face, his eyes, they never lied to her like all his armor could. With both of them practically naked now she supposed this was the perfect time to be honest with each other. She reached forward and tugged on the shirt to get his attention. He didn’t turn and the dread tried to squeeze her lungs empty.

All she could hear was the thready panic of her heart. Stay. Leave. Stay. Leave. She tugged the shirt again and he dropped his head in defeat and then turned. The flush gone, his shoulder’s square, his face guarded. But his eyes. His eyes were desperate.

“What should I do?” She whispered to him.

“I can’t answer that,” he firmly replied.

“Can’t?” She dropped the shirt. “Or won’t?”

“I thought I’d have more time,” he frowned, “I just hope all this is enough.”

“For what?”

“We both know this one is different,” he leveled her with a knowing look. “And I will never be what stands in your way.”

“Kaz.”

“Just tell me you’ll come back,” he clenched his jaw, “one day.”

“Yes,” flew from her mouth without thought. She took two steps forward to throw her arms around his neck and squeeze. His own snapped around her as if trying to meld her into his own body. She pressed her forehead into his chest and whispered over and over, “yes.”

The breeze from the harbor pushed through the open window, fluttering all the papers on his desk about the room, but he didn’t let go.

“Come back to me,” he breathed into the crown of her head.

“Always,” she answered, turning her face so she could rest her cheek, and hear his heart. His fingers tangled into her still loose hair and she closed her eyes. For a moment, it was absolutely perfect. And she knew, no matter where the Saints might take them, that she would destroy anyone and anything that tried to take this away from her again.

“Inej,” he breathed into her hair again, but in the distance, she could hear the bells from the temple announcing a change in the tide.

“Stay out of trouble,” she smiled.

KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.

“Boss, you’ll wanna come out for this,” the same voice boomed through the door.

“I’m going to break his fingers,” Kaz growled and then reluctantly let go.

She grabbed the shirt from his distracted hand and shrugged it on, “tell Jesper and Wylan I’m sorry for missing their party.”

“I’m not going to that now,” he grumbled. “I have morale to crush.”

“Build,” she chuckled as she buttoned up his shirt. “You need to build morale.”

“You have your ship,” he said as he grabbed another shirt out of his closet. “I have my city.”

“Challenge accepted,” she smirked, sliding on her vest and all her knives. The moment his back was to her, she snuck right out his window.