Actions

Work Header

Watching a Crow

Work Text:

Jesper didn’t visit the Crow Club much anymore. Since moving in with Wylan, he’d been building a new life for himself. But Ketterdam was still Ketterdam and it had a habit of dragging people back to places they’d rather not be.

 

Thanks to Jan Van Eck’s generous choice to cross Kaz Brekker, Wylan now controlled the entire Van Eck fortune. Naturally, who better to help Wylan manage it than his perfect, charming, intelligent, and talented boyfriend?

 

Jesper was starting to regret his perfection.

 

He was fighting to stay awake as Kaz laid out all the countless ways the Dregs and Dime Lions were trying to screw with the old Van Eck estate. With the old man gone and all the city hearing of it, people rushed forward hoping to carve some of the pie for themselves before things got in order. He and Wylan were lucky that Kaz was calling on his own resources to help out.

 

“I can have some people take care of the group that’s skimming supplies from the silos,” Kaz explained, pointing a gloved finger at one of the circled Van Eck properties on the map. 

 

Jesper arched an eyebrow. “Take care of?”

 

“Intimidate. Violence only if needed. You’ve been clear about this.”

 

“Good.” Jesper nodded. “Good.”

 

Wylan hadn’t wanted to incur suspicion by being too aligned with Kaz. The less obvious their connections were, the better. Sending people packing with bruises and broken bones would attract the wrong sort of attention. 

 

Kaz pressed on, in his element as he articulated the countless ways he thought people might exploit the Van Eck fortune - of course Kaz would be an expert in that by now - and the counters he proposed. Jesper had learned that the two best tools to dealing with Kaz in this mood were ‘smile’ and ‘nod.’ Fortunately, he was great at both.

 

“I know you’re not paying attention, Jesper.” Kaz was watching him implacably with the same cold, slightly annoyed stare that disarmed so many. 

 

“Can’t I just trust that you know what you’re doing? I have many fine talents but book-keeping isn’t one of them.”

 

Kaz frowned impatiently. “This isn’t book-keeping, it’s business. If you and Wylan want to get squeezed for every penny of the Van Eck fortune, be my guests. If you want to avoid that, and keep the Merchant Council from breathing down your necks, you’d better at least act like you know enough that no one suspects I’m holding you together.”

 

“Ugh, fine.” Jesper threw his head back before kicking to his feet. He marched towards the open window across the office and reached for the handle. “It’s too cold to think. Seriously, why is this thing always open?”

 

Kaz’s cane was there in a flash, between Jesper’s hand and the window frame, perilously close to smashing through the glass. Jesper hadn’t even heard him move away from his desk.

 

“You survived the Ice Court, you can handle a draught.”

 

“I barely survived the Ice Court. And for your information, it was damn freezing.” Jesper went to pull the window but Kaz didn’t let it budge. He serviced Jesper with that damn glare of his, settling the issue without another word. “Alright, alright,” Jesper stepped back and raised his hands. “No touching the window. Got it. I’ll just become a handsome icicle. It’ll really add to the decor.”

 

Kaz muttered something under his breath as he returned to his seat. They pressed on, dragging through detail after detail well into the night. Jesper didn’t try to hide his chattering teeth and shaking hands, but he knew guilt wasn’t an emotion easily wrung out of Kaz Brekker. 

 

Mercifully, Kaz released him before he turned to ice. 

 

“That’s everything.” Kaz stood up, barely glancing at him. “Go on, before you freeze. Give my regards to Wylan.”

 

“Ooh, your regards. It’s almost as if you like us, Brekker.”

 

Cold. Steely. Glare. Right. Teasing Kaz wasn’t nearly as fun as doing it to Nina or Inej.

 

Jesper’s smile faded. He missed the others, even though he’d had months to get used to them not being around. Inej, Nina, not to mention Matthais - what they’d had was something special but fleeting. Life pulled them apart, some violently, others bittersweetly. 

 

Matthias was gone. Nina would take him home before venturing back to Ravka, wrapped up in the palace politics of that weird backwater she loved so much. Inej… well, she at least got something happier. The freedom of the sea and all the drive and talent to make the slavers regret every breath they took. Wylan got his fortune, Jesper got his new life, and Kaz got a sordid throne atop the crooked kingdom of Ketterdam’s criminal underworld. 

 

Jesper shook his head. Of all the places to wax nostalgic, Kaz’s office wasn’t one of them. The Bastard of the Barrel had sauntered over to the window again. The gloves had to be the reason that man didn’t feel cold, right? Jesper shook his head and went to turn when he noticed a shadow. A crow sat on the windowsill, cawing loudly.

 

It wasn’t a huge surprise. They used to cluster on Kaz’s window all the time. Inej would perch herself there and smile as they pecked food from her hand.

 

Only Inej had been gone for months. 

 

It was probably nothing. Animals were stupid. They see food once and keep coming for it. But not crows. Crows were smart. He remembered something Kaz had told him long ago. Crows remembered the faces of those that helped them, they learned not to fear them. The crow didn’t much care for Jesper, but it seemed fascinated with Kaz. It hopped over to him, cawed, and glanced down expectantly at the window sill.

 

He’s been feeding them.

 

Such a mundane thought shouldn’t have struck him so unexpectedly. It’s just… this was Kaz . Kaz Brekker. Dirtyhands. Bastard of the Barrel. Jesper couldn’t imagine Kaz offering free stuff to the little winged beggars like… like Inej used to do.

 

“Anything else?” Kaz asked curtly. The bird startled and flew away.

 

“Uh, no. I’ll see you around, Kaz.”

 

Jesper rushed out of the door and pushed the thought aside. Kaz fed the birds, so what? That didn’t mean anything. He pulled his coat tighter around him, pointedly refused to glance at the gambling tables, and headed home.

 


 

A few months later and it was all over the broadsheets. Jesper hunted the stalls for a copy of every separate publication because, well, she deserved it. He could imagine her face when he showed her. Jesper grinned at every headline and combed the articles for every snippet of info.

 

At first it had been one ship, then two. Now there were six slave ships unaccounted for in as many months and whispers of who was responsible had finally hit the presses.

 

Multiple Slave Ships Go Missing At Sea

A ghost haunts the waves! 

 

With multiple slave ships disappearing in recent months, every eye has been toward finding the culprit, for praise or persecution as each sees fit. Now, the Ketterdam Reporter has learned that this crusader for human freedom is no myth. Survivors and former slaves speak of a woman, gorgeous and young, knives in hand, leaping across rigging like a bird in flight, bringing justice to those that condemn their fellow man to bondage. 

 

Details are few but no doubt this hero of the seas will find as many admirers as she will enemies.

 

Inej was making waves for all the right reasons. Just the thought of it filled Jesper with a warmth and satisfaction that didn’t rightly feel appropriate for the miserable pit of Ketterdam, but he found he didn’t mind. Inej deserved better than she had and if she found it by ripping it from the hands of slavers he’d cheer her all the way.

 

The Wraith’s disappearance had gone by in whispers for the Dregs. She was hardly conspicuous to begin with but even the grunts eventually noticed the absence at Kaz’s side. Jesper felt the loss even though he knew it was best for her to go. She had a life to build out there.

 

It hadn’t taken long for the regulars to piece it together. The disappearance and now the tales of an acrobatic knife-wielding Suli warrior really left no doubt.

 

“To an old crow, kicking up a storm at sea!”

 

Jesper didn’t know who raised the toast, but everyone in the Crow Club joined in. He and Wylan sat back and relished in the cheer and drinks that had come with the news. Crows remembered who’d helped them, after all, and everyone in the gang owed Inej for their newfound prosperity. 

 

“Is it too much to expect Kaz to join us?” Wylan asked over his drink.

 

“Pfft, and mingle with the rabble?” Jesper shook his head. “Kaz isn’t going to suddenly become fun for a night.”

 

Wylan tapped the stack of papers on their table. “Not even to celebrate her?”

 

He raised the glass to his lips and paused. Why did that question sound so odd to hear? Why did it feel even weirder to try and answer?

 

Commotion on the next table over saved him from thinking too hard. Some idiots bickering over a bet, new recruits by the look of them, and soon spiraling into a brawl. Instinct almost made Jesper haul them out on their ass, but that wasn’t his job anymore. Besides, the two of them punched like children. A harmless brawl would probably do them both some good.

 

“What’s going on?” Kaz’s rasping voice stayed one of the punches in mid-air. Inej may be gone, but apparently she didn't have the monopoly on sudden appearances. 

 

The belligerents quickly righted themselves and hung their heads. “Sorry, boss. It was nothing. Just having a bit of—”

 

“Fun? You can take your fun outside then and maybe I’ll consider letting you back in here before the Fold freezes over.”

 

The two brawlers ducked away, forgetting their coats in their haste, and restrained any shoving until they’d gone out the door. Kaz turned to Jesper and Wylan, looking slightly irritated.

 

Jesper smiled and raised a glass towards him. “Nice one. Though, ‘Fold’ is an outdated saying these days. They’re gonna have to freshen that one up.”

 

“You didn’t think to stop them? Isn’t that what I paid you for, Jesper?”

 

“Emphasis on paid . Past tense. I’m here as an honoured guest.” Jesper took a sip of his drink. “I’m guessing you’ve seen the news,” he added, tapping on the papers.

 

Kaz didn’t glance down. “Of course I have.”

 

Wylan grumbled after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence. “Yeesh, here I thought you cared about her at least a little bit.”

 

Jesper had seen many terrifying things in his life, but the brief flash of emotion in Kaz’s eyes at that moment had to have been near the top of them. A burning, searing, consuming anger. Something he’d seen so rarely from Kaz before. He half-expected Wylan to lose a few teeth to Kaz’s cane.

 

“Uhhh, Wylan has had way too much to drink, haven’t you?” Jesper threw an arm over his boyfriend with a forced, panicked smile. “Doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I swear, sometimes he’s a cute drunk. Honest.”

 

Kaz shifted his weight and glanced down at his cane. When he looked back, the anger was gone, safely pushed aside as if it had never been there. Wylan was too tipsy to have noticed it, but surely Kaz knew that Jesper had seen it, just for that brief second.

 

“I’ve got business. I’m blaming you if there’s another fight.”

 

“Right. Sure, boss,” he said tightly. He really needed to stop calling Kaz ‘boss’ when he got nervous. 

 

Kaz skulked away, the crowd parting before him with respect. Jesper watched him until he disappeared through a door, never glancing back once. As soon as Kaz was gone he let out a long, grateful sigh.

 

“He knew what I meant,” mumbled Wylan into his shoulder. “Like, I know he’s Kaz , but it still feels like he doesn’t care, you know?”

 

“The Dregs are a gang not a place to get a hug and kind words. Kaz and the gang aren't where they are for being all sweet and sentimental.”

 

“Says the person cradling me into their side.”

 

Jesper smiled and kissed his forehead. “Well I’m not Kaz, am I?”

 

“Mhm,” Wylan sighed, “I’m glad you aren’t.”

 

“Me too.” He grinned and brushed the hair from Wylan’s eyes. “Can you imagine all the things I couldn’t do if I had to wear gloves all the time?”

 

Wylan blushed furiously, still too sheepish for this sort of thing in public. That was fine. Jesper had all the time in the world to corrupt him.

 

“Still,” Wylan continued, “Kaz does care about something, right? More than the gang and business, I mean. He has to be human somewhere.”

 

Jesper recalled the bird at the window a few weeks back. It’d slipped his mind since then but now, with Wylan’s questions on his mind, he wondered if there was more to it Saints help Kaz if his only outlet of humanity was some birdseed for those little scavengers. 

 

Kaz had to feel something, he just knew how to power on through it better than anyone else. There had been moments, few and far between as they were, where Jesper saw something more in Kaz. A humanity that betrayed the teenage boy he really was. 

 

Kaz had suffered, that much he knew. Pekka Rollins and someone named Jordie were all the information Jesper suspected he’d ever get on that front. Whatever happened there had deeply affected Kaz. Maybe it explained something about why Kaz was the way he was. Or maybe he just popped out of the womb a ruthless bastard. Jesper’s favourite ruthless bastard, true, but a bastard all the same.

 

Then there were the other times. When the mask slipped, when control was lost, when Kaz dropped his cool and became more than just ruthless, but terrifying. It had happened twice, before and after the Ice Court. When Inej took a knife in the side - a knife that Jesper played no small part in putting there, no matter how much Inej had insisted she didn’t blame him - the monster that had crawled up in place of Kaz Brekker as he remorselessly slaughtered the one responsible was the most unsavoury thing Jesper had seen since coming to Ketterdam, which was really saying something. Then, when Jan Van Eck had double-crossed them and they’d watched helplessly as Inej was carried away, another side of Kaz came out. Brekker was always focused, always committed, but the sheer unyielding determination that Kaz poured into getting Inej back put even the Ice Court effort to shame. Jesper had almost felt bad for Jan Van Eck then. Almost. 

 

But those were normal exceptions, weren’t they? Jesper had been angry too. How dare anyone hurt their own? How dare anyone hurt Inej?

 

Inej.

 

The threat of losing Inej to a blade or the reality of losing her to Van Eck. Those had been the only things Jesper had seen that tested Brekker as a human being, more than just a Barrel boss. It was more than professional affiliation there. It had been personal. 

 

He recalled that crow once again, perched on the same window sill Inej would feed them from, even though the Wraith had been gone for almost half a year by now. Perhaps Kaz liked a crow in his window. Or one specific crow.

 

“What’s up with you?” Wylan asked, snapping him out of his thoughts. “You look weird.”

 

“I’m just… thinking.”

 

“Oh. I knew I hadn’t seen that look before.”

 

Rebuttal could wait. Jesper might have just struck onto the most bizarre revelation in his life.

 

Kaz… Inej… No . No way. He knew Inej had some feelings wrapped up in Kaz, even had her tacitly confirm it in a hushed conversation while she recovered from her stab wound, but Inej was always a bit too sentimental for this city. Kaz didn’t think like that at all. Did he? Yet Wylan was right: Kaz was still human, and if there was one thing humans inevitably did - other than die, he supposed - it was love. 

 

But Kaz Brekker? Kaj and Inej? 

 

Wylan sat up. “Okay, I seriously want to know what you’re thinking.”

 

Jesper was drunk, surely. There was no way. “It’s nothing. Something stupid.” 

 

Yeah, definitely just something stupid. Tonight was for thinking of Inej anyway. Although, he had to wonder, how often did Kaz think that exact same thing?




 

It was yet another few months before Inej came back. Jesper had jumped out of his skin when he saw her lounging on his bed, absently cleaning one of her knives.

 

Inej and Jesper had always had a good relationship. He’d known her since she came out of the Menagerie, owed her his life and saved hers a few times too. Kaz may have kept everyone at arm’s length, but that didn't mean the rest of them did. Doe-eyed hand-holding friendships weren’t a thing for people like them, but Jesper and Inej probably had the Barrel’s nearest equivalent. He loved her like a sister and knew she was fond of him too.

 

After he and Wylan had thoroughly caught her up on things, not least of all the mountains of news reports on her exploits, they headed over to the Crow Club. 

 

“Is it weird that it looks the same but feels so different?” Inej asked as they went, cutting through a dingy backalley on the outskirts of the city. 

 

“New perspectives. City might not change but you have.”

 

Inej smiled at that. “Maybe. I’m still me, just with purpose.”

 

He couldn’t have put it better. A muted but ever-present smile sat on her lips where a neutral scowl had once been the norm. She still walked as if treading on air, not a sound as she went, but the spring in her step showed it was a choice. It wasn’t to hide, it wasn’t to gather intel. She went by unseen and unnoticed to others just because she chose to, not because she had to. It suited her. 

 

The Slat came into view. Kaz had done some touching up to the place but it was still the same lovable pit it had always been. Inej took in the sight for a few moments, standing in the middle of the street yet somehow not taking anyone’s attention. Her eyes went to an open window on the top floor.

 

“You taking the shortcut?” Jesper asked.

 

Inej nodded. “You two joining me?”

 

Wylan glanced up at the perilous rooftops. “No thanks. I like my neck in one piece.”

 

“It is a gorgeous neck,” Jesper agreed.

 

Inej rolled her eyes. “I swear, you’re worse than Nina and Matthais.” 

 

She was gone in an instant, disappearing to her well-trodden routes from street to rooftop. Jesper didn’t bother trying to look for her. He and Wylan headed inside through the narrow hallways and rickety staircases. Jesper greeted those he recognised but didn’t stop. There was something particularly fascinating about Inej and Kaz being alone in a room together that pushed him onward. 

 

Jesper reached the top floor and slowed, pushing the door open gently. One didn’t just barge in on Kaz Brekker.

 

Kaz and Inej startled. Inej was barely through the window but Kaz was there, facing her, almost touching. Jesper got the horrible feeling he’d interrupted something as Kaz abruptly stepped aside to let her in. Inej swung her legs through the window as Kaz shut it behind her. He’d already laid out chairs for them.

 

Their gracious host lay his cane aside and sat down. He fiddled with his glove and Jesper cursed himself for not noticing whether it had been off before they’d entered the room. 

 

“So…” Kaz stared at each of them before his eyes settled on Inej. “What business?”

 

Wylan pinched his nose. Jesper smiled. Inej giggled. Of Kaz’s many gifts, social calls weren’t among them.

 

“You are hopeless, Kaz Brekker,” Inej grinned, a lightness and joy to her beyond anything Jesper had seen before. Kaz let slip a noise that might have been a chuckle, if Jesper hadn’t known any better. 

 

They talked long into the night. For once, there was no business. No jobs. No new problem to chase them to death’s edge and back again. They were just friends catching up after far too long apart. 

 

It wasn’t like old times. In some ways it was better. They’d grown, overcome, moved beyond the confines of the past. In other ways, it was quieter. As much as Jesper loved having the four of them here, it felt distinctly incomplete without two more. Inej asked after Nina immediately and Kaz assured her that Nina was back in Ravka. Whether she was happy there was a question even Kaz’s sources couldn’t answer.

 

As night rolled into the small hours of the morning, Jesper might have downed a bit too much to drink. His laughs became freer and he seemed to end up sprawled over Wylan all the time. Not that he was complaining, even if Inej and Kaz were. Still, he was composed enough to raise a glass to old friends.

 

“For Nina and Matthais,” Inej led.

 

Jesper mumbled a response that drowned out sober Wylan. Kaz sat quietly but drank all the same. He wasn’t without a heart. Wasn’t that what Jepser had been noticing recently anyway? 

 

All good things ended, though. Inej was tired and had to be up early the next morning.

 

“When are you leaving?” Wylan asked as they all rose.

 

Inej glanced at the window. “Dawn. I just had some business in the city to sort out. I’ll be back soon though. I’ve got some refitting I want done after this next route, so I’ll be in Ketterdam for a while then.”

 

It was better than nothing. Knowing someone was coming back - could even come back - was a luxury not everyone had. 

 

They parted ways. Jesper and Wylan promised to see her off this time. Well, Wylan promised, and Jesper slurred something vaguely in agreement. He’d push through a hangover to make it there. Kaz was reserved, hanging back and not partaking in the hugs his friends shared. 

 

As Wylan led him to the door, Jesper noticed how Inej stalled. She made a token effort to head towards the window but didn’t open it right away. She and Kaz seemed to wait as Wylan guided Jesper through the door and pulled it behind them.

 

“I’m not that drunk,” Jesper lied as he stumbled down a few stairs.

 

“Really? Because I can leave you on your back in the hallway if you’d like.”

 

“I have plenty of good memories of you laying me on my back.” Jesper tried to steal a kiss, only to be pushed away.

 

“You’re terrible when you’re drunk.”

 

“I'm terrible when I'm sober, too.”

 

As they got out of the Slat the fresh air kicked some of the haze aside. They continued down the street and Jesper had the presence of mind to stop and look up to Kaz’s window.

 

Still closed.

 

Jesper grinned like an idiot. He wasn’t sure what exactly it meant, but it meant something. Kaz and Inej had something they wouldn’t share with anyone else, even their closest friends. Jesper couldn’t begin to guess what they were doing up there. Actual business? Probably not. A friendly chat? Doubtful. That? Certainly not. 

 

But there was something, he was sure. Kaz had gotten his favourite crow home and she was in no hurry to fly just yet, even if the two of them only got a few minutes or hours before she took to wing.

 

“What is wrong with you?” Wylan pulled at his arm. “What are you looking at?”

 

“Nothing. Nothing.” It was a weak refusal, especially with the smile on his face. “Ugh, I’ll tell you another time.”

 

“When you’re sober?”

 

“No. When I’m sure Kaz doesn’t have anyone around to hear.”

 


 

The next morning was fairer than most days in Ketterdam. The sun made a noble effort to cut through the overcast gloom, not quite banishing it, but letting through glimpses of its brightness. 

 

Jesper had a throbbing headache but he made himself presentable and got to the docks in time to see Inej off. Kaz and her were already there. Apparently Kaz made an exception to his ‘no goodbyes’ rule for her. Memories of the previous night were fuzzy, but he was fairly sure they’d both changed clothes. That meant they probably hadn’t spent the night together. Probably. That would have been a whole other surprise for Jesper's mind to accommodate.

 

They weren’t great at goodbyes. Granted, Jesper was barely functioning as it stood, but even sober Jesper wasn’t gracious with them. They’d been raised on the expectation that any day could be their last, every gamble the one that costs them it all, every bullet could have been the bullet. For one of them, it had been. Goodbyes were too much trouble under those circumstances.

 

Inej’s happiness made it easier. It was easy to pretend she was heading off on a playful jaunt than to the treacherous seas. He knew she’d be safe, but damn it, he was getting sentimental in his old age. Twenty was old, right?

 

“No mourners,” Inej murmured into his ear as they embraed.

 

“No funerals.” 

 

Wylan offered the same exchange. Kaz stood by, never betraying a hint of jealousy at the contact that came so easily to the rest of them. 

 

While Kaz’s mask was perfect, time at sea had made Inej less careful. Jesper didn’t miss the expectant glance, gone in a flash, that Inej gave to Kaz as she pulled away from Wylan. She forced herself to stand up straighter, backpedaling on whatever forbidden instinct had crept up.

 

“You too, Kaz. No mourners.”

 

“No funerals.”

 

Jesper felt like he’d made some mistake. Like last night when he’d entered Kaz’s office, it was like he and Wylan had intruded on something that wasn’t theirs to see. Inej turned, eyes lingering on Kaz long enough for Jesper to know, and then she marched up the dock. Kaz didn’t so much as flinch as she went. For Saint’s sake. He owed them more than this.

 

Jesper slung an arm around Wylan and yawned exaggeratedly. “Well, I’m exhausted. Let’s head back.”

 

“Already?” Wylan protested. “Aren’t we going to watch her go?”

 

Inej walked slowly, drifting away by the second. There wasn’t time to waste. He looked at Kaz. Brown eyes full of secrets were watching him. 

 

Understanding was a matter of life and death on the streets. To know without words what your partners, your friends, needed in any one moment had saved Jesper’s life countless times. No job, however minor, had been pulled off with some measure of it. These last few years, Jesper felt like he’d come to understand Kaz Brekker better than most. They could say in a glance what others would need minutes to explain. 

 

Jesper knew. Kaz knew that Jesper knew. In those seconds, Jesper saw something of Kaz he’d hardly believed could be there. He'd unpack it later. For now, he thought only one thing.

 

Go to her. We’ll get out of your way. 

 

Jesper turned around, dragging Wylan with him - he’d explain it to him later - and walked up the dock. 

 

“You’re not still drunk are you?” Wylan asked as he was forcibly marched away.

 

Jesper laughed. It wasn’t funny really, but the laugh wasn’t for him. Something needed to cover the sound of a cane hitting the wood behind them as Kaz chased after his crow.

 


 

A silent pact had been signed at the docks. Jesper had seen Kaz only once or twice since, briefly too, which wasn’t uncommon these days. They hadn’t so much as broached any topic aside from business. 

 

Jesper was careful not to overshare. He’d told Wylan only of his suspicions, not the wordless agreement he and Kaz had shared. Wylan thought Jesper was being stupid, seeing things in Kaz Brekker of all people that just weren’t there. It wasn’t for Jesper to prove him wrong.

 

Several weeks passed before he was back in Kaz’s office. Apparently the Kaz's help was so effective that people were scrambling to be rid of illicitly obtained Van Eck goods just to be safe. Arrangements had to be made to make sure no one got too suspicious. It was the longest they’d been in a room together since Inej left. Business took up their attention but business was finite. Eventually, they wrapped everything up, and Kaz rose without even a goodbye.

 

“Alright then, I’ll see you around,” Jesper muttered, well used to it by now.

 

A squawk filled the room as a crow landed on the windowsill. Kaz was already there. He lifted his gloved hand to the bird and a few tiny seeds dropped onto the stonework. Jesper couldn’t help but watch. It pecked at his fingers as happily as it had done to Inej.

 

“I know you’ve been wondering,” Kaz said suddenly. “You think as loudly as you shoot.”

 

Jepser froze. “You mean…?”

 

Once more, silence was their understanding. “When Jan Van Eck took her, he hadn’t known what he’d done. Not really. If he had known, if Pekka Rollins had known, if anyone had known...“

 

“I understand.” Jesper took a tentative step towards him.

 

Kaz kept his eyes on the crow. “We both have enemies and we won’t stop making them any time soon. None of them are above using anything or anyone to hurt us.”

 

“That’s why you won’t talk about it, isn’t it? Even to me.”

 

“Partly.” Kaz looked over to him. “This city isn't a place for nursing delicate feelings.”

 

“I know. That’s what friends are for.” 

 

Kaz frowned but didn’t reply. Jesper knew that necessity was only a part of why Kaz never let anyone see past the armour. He was still human and he’d been hurt. Kaz simply didn’t know how to be normal, to laugh and live and love like everyone else did. Inej walked with her own scars. The steps to intimacy that came so casually to Jesper were difficult paths fraught with danger and hardship for the two of them. It was half a miracle that they'd even grown brave enough to try.

“I’m not…” Kaz cleared his throat, “it’s not that I don’t trust you, Jesper.”

 

“Hey,” Jepser stepped right up to the window now and the crow didn’t flee, “whatever you and Inej have is yours. You don’t have to share any of it.” Saying it so plainly was odd. “I’ll keep it quiet, you know that. I just want you to know, if you ever need advice on… any of it. I’m open.” Jesper didn’t know if Kaz would avail himself of such wonderful advice, but it was right to offer. “I’ve got your back. Both of you.”

 

Kaz mulled on it for a while. “I’ll keep it in mind.”

 

“Right.” Jesper nodded, unsure what to say. “Cool.”

 

"I promise you," Kaz said, "that conversation was a hundred times as uncomfortable for me as it was for you."

 

Jesper laughed at that. The crow sat there a while, judging them, before flying off on some little adventure of its own.

 

Crows came back though, Jesper knew. Kaz would be whatever the Barrel needed him to be, but some piece of him would be smiling when that wayward bird - his wayward bird - showed up in his window again. Jesper would carry that little secret in silence, for their sake. Because crows remembered who helped them, who cared for them, who had their back. And good crows returned the favour.