Actions

Work Header

so, what fates do we share?

Work Text:

Jan Van Eck was sentenced on a grey Thursday morning.

The four of them-- Jesper, Wylan, Inej and Nina-- crammed into one booth at the Kooperoom and ordered an extremely strong pot of coffee, while a lukewarm, muggy summer rain battered at the grimy windows. Everyone had deigned to come back to witness Wylan deliver the final blow to his father. 

“Twenty years!” said Jesper brightly, slinging mugs across the table to each of them. “Hoped he might get the gallows, but I’ll take this. Surely this calls for something a little stronger than coffee.”

“It’s midday.” said Inej wryly. Jesper raised his eyebrows at her. 

“I thought pirates were good at day-drinking? Rum is safer than water, right?”

“That’s a very persistent rumour.” said Inej. “Tidemakers can preserve water just fine.”

“Well, we must be better pirates than you.” chirped Nina, turning to flag down the waitress. “Because I’m putting a shot of whiskey in this. Wylan?”

Wylan acquiesced, and was relieved when the whiskey burned in his throat and chest, shaking a bit of sense into him. His father’s trial had thrown him; sent feelings he’d thought were long-gone fleeing back into his body. He’d not wanted to return to the Van Eck mansion, and he was grateful that the others had seemed to sense that without him having to tell them, because it hadn’t even been suggested. He still barely felt as if he belonged in the Van Eck mansion as it was, and the idea of going straight from his father’s sentencing to the echoing hallways had made his skin crawl. 

Jesper sat back, frowning. 

“I don’t suppose anyone saw--”

“Kaz!” blurted Inej. Everyone turned, surprised.

Kaz sent them a blank stare, shaking rain from the brim of his hat. 

“Celebrating something?”

“Don’t play dumb, Brekker, I saw you in the public gallery opposite us.” said Nina. Jesper sighed, apparently having had his question answered before he could finish it. “I recognise that sullen face no matter what you’re wearing.”

Kaz said nothing. Wylan, who hadn’t known he’d been there, found himself disappointed that Kaz didn’t have more to say. Then again, when did he ever?

“You staying?” Jesper asked, patting the spot next to him. Kaz shot him a withering look and fetched a chair from nearby, settling himself at the head of the table. Wylan didn’t know why Jesper had bothered. They were already crammed into the booth as it was-- Kaz’s leg, and his temperament, wouldn’t have taken it. Still, Jesper looked happy enough with this compromise, and so did Inej, so it must have counted for something. 

“Well,” said Nina, making an effort to sound cheery, knocking her mug into Wylan’s in salute. “Off he goes to Hellgate! He clearly hated listening to you lay out everything he’d ever done wrong under an oath to Ghezen. His expression was almost as tragic as his hairline--”

Wylan smiled weakly-- and then had it immediately wiped off his face by Kaz’s response.

“Except he didn't,” said Kaz. 

Everyone’s heads turned. 

“What d’you mean?” frowned Jesper. Wylan stared warily down the table--

“Wylan didn’t lay out everything he’d ever done wrong,” said Kaz. Wylan’s heart stumbled, but Nina immediately cut in;

“Kaz, for saints’ sake,” she said sharply. “Wylan just watched his father get tossed into Hellgate, and you’re going to accuse him of lying under oath? He was a terrible father and person, I grant you, but even so--”

“He didn’t lie,” said Kaz slowly, as if they were all stupid. “He omitted something.”

“Kaz,” said Nina, more insistently this time. “Drop it.”

Kaz did not drop it. His eyes bored into Wylan, chilling in their intensity. Wylan held his gaze for as long as he could, chest tight. Hadn’t he learned at Saint Hilde that lying to Kaz was no use? Of course, he hadn’t even directly lied to Kaz this time, but Kaz was like a bloodhound for half-truths and omissions. He always knew. And he made sure you knew, too. 

“Kaz.” said Inej quietly. Kaz’s gaze snagged on her, just briefly. “It’s over, now. There’s no need--”

With great difficulty, Wylan took a breath and bit out;

“No. He’s… Kaz is right.”

Everyone turned.

“Don’t encourage him,” said Nina grimly. “What, did you forget to mention one tiny thing he did ten years ago, that Kaz inexplicably knows about?”

“It was… it wasn’t a tiny thing.” Wylan swallowed. “It was…” 

He’d never told any of them this, not even Jesper. It hadn’t been something he’d wanted to relive, or to admit to, and hadn’t wanted their sympathy or their righteous anger. He’d set Kaz loose on Van Eck, and now his father had fallen, and that had been all he’d needed. He had his mother back, his house and Jesper. It wasn’t relevant...

But surely they deserved to know? He knew everyone else’s past, had watched them grapple with it, had seen firsthand how they dealt with it. Well, except Kaz, but he was… Kaz. To keep something like this from them…

“I don’t know how Kaz guessed,” he admitted. “But he’s right. I left something out of my testimony. Something significant.”

“You mentioned everything that happened, though,” said Jesper. “Didn’t you? I didn’t notice anything missing.”

“I mentioned everything that you know about,” said Wylan slowly. “But there was… something else.”

Everyone stared. The only sound was the clink of metal on ceramic as Kaz stirred his coffee leisurely. Wylan thought he might hate him, right now. Did he know what he was hounding Wylan into admitting? Did he care?

“Wy,” said Jesper slowly. “What the hell did you leave out?”

Wylan swallowed down bile and wrenched his gaze away from Kaz. He could shout himself hoarse at Kaz later, if he so desired. He didn’t care how he took it. But for now….

“When you and Kaz found me, and I joined the Dregs...” Wylan began, with some difficulty. “I wasn’t even meant to be in Ketterdam. My father summoned me to his office one day, seemingly at random, and told me he’d secured me a place at a music school in Belendt. When I went to say goodbye to Alys, I found out she was pregnant, and then it all made sense.”

“You realised he wanted to replace you,” said Nina. Wylan nodded mutely. This they’d known. 

“He gave me papers, told me he’d arranged for chaperones to go with me on the browboat, two men called Miggson and Prior. We set off soon after.”

The clinking of Kaz’s teaspoon stopped abruptly. Wylan looked up at him, confidence shrivelling. Kaz’s Barrel-damaged mindset, teeming with suspicion, needed to hear no more to understand that there was something terribly wrong, but the others were still frowning.

“How come you didn’t go to Belendt?” asked Nina. 

Wylan opened his mouth, but found himself unable to speak, the memory of Prior’s grip around his neck choking him, even now. Helplessly, he looked around the table--

“They… it was…”

“You didn’t read the papers, did you?” said Kaz. “You didn’t even look at them.”

For some reason, Kaz’s easy disdain was the catalyst.

“No,” Wylan snapped. “No. Of course I didn’t. Which is why I didn’t notice it was a sham.”

The others looked at each other, starting to get nervous, but Wylan only looked at Kaz, letting his irritation fuel him;

“The journey was fine, at first. Then I left the cabin to get some air, and they followed me out.” He shook his head bitterly. “There was no account, no people expecting my arrival, no place for me at the music school. My father had sent those men to kill me.”

“What?” said Jesper faintly, from beside him. 

“They tried to strangle me, and they nearly finished the job,” Wylan bit out. “They were interrupted and claimed they’d found me stealing from other passengers and were going to drop me off at the next stadwatch stop. While they were distracted, I got away and jumped over the side of the boat, into the water.”

Wylan noticed that Kaz had stopped stirring his coffee at some point, and was now sitting very still, staring somewhere over Wylan’s shoulder, brow furrowed. Wylan decided he didn’t want to know what he was thinking, and risked a glance at Nina and Inej, who both looked stricken. He didn’t think he could bring himself to look at Jesper. 

“So you… swam?” said Nina. Wylan shrugged helplessly. 

“I had to. And I managed to escape, but it was back into the Barrel. I spent weeks there until Jesper was sent to find me, looking over my shoulder, wondering if Miggson and Prior would come back to finish the job.” 

“Those were their names?” prodded Nina. “We could find out--”

“No.” said Wylan sharply. “They’ll have gotten employment elsewhere, and it’s not as if my father is going to be paying them to try again. He tried it himself, with the Ferolind. I don’t want to give them any indication that they ought to be remembering that job.”

This was what he’d told himself over and over again, but it hadn’t stopped his paranoia. Apparently it hadn’t stopped everyone else’s, either; Jesper’s hands were drumming furiously on the table, a frantic rattle that was making people’s drinks spill.

“It’s not really… surprising.” said Wylan, dismayed by how unconvincing he sounded. “You all knew my father was perfectly happy to let me die on the Ferolind. And--”

“This was direct, though,” said Nina. “It was premeditated and planned--”

“Well, yes--”

“Don’t try and act like this is somehow normal, Wylan. It’s not.”

Wylan looked uncomfortably away, not sure how to respond to that. 

“It’s not normal, it’s just… well--”

“Why didn’t you tell us?” asked Inej calmly. It wasn’t an accusation, so much as a simple question, and Wylan was grateful for it, but it didn’t make it easier to answer. He ran his fingers around the edge of his mug, shaking his head.

“I don’t know. I just… I didn’t want sympathy, you know? I don’t want to be coddled about it.” he looked up, and finally managed to meet Jesper’s gaze. “I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. It happened, and it was awful. But I survived, and now my father’s off to Hellgate like he deserves. What does it matter?”

Jesper frowned deeply, and Wylan couldn’t help but be disconcerted by how serious he looked.

“Wy, it matters a lot. They--”

The scrape of a chair interrupted him, and Wylan turned to see Kaz stand briskly, and start preparing to leave. 

“Where are you going?” demanded Jesper hotly.

“Out.” replied Kaz blankly. 

“Kaz.” said Inej sharply, but to Wylan’s utter surprise, Kaz completely disregarded what was clearly a warning, tossing a tip onto the table and disappearing out of the door without so much as a goodbye. The other four stared after him, ranging from disapproval to disappointment.

“He’s a proper bastard, isn’t he?” said Nina, sounding venomous. “I’d forgotten how angry he makes me--”

Wylan shook his head. 

“I don’t think I was expecting sympathy from Kaz, Nina.”

“He acted as if he hadn’t even heard you say all that!” said Jesper indignantly. “Even though he was the one who made you admit it!”

“I wouldn’t have admitted it if I didn’t want to.”

“Kaz would have--”

“Kaz would have gotten it out of me eventually, but if I didn’t want it to be in front of the rest of you, I would have made it so it didn’t happen then.” said Wylan, though also slightly unsure exactly why he was defending Kaz, who didn’t really inspire defence. “He’s Kaz.” he said incredulously. “What were we expecting?”

“Better.” said Inej tautly. Wylan sighed and leaned over to add more whisky to his coffee. Well, maybe he just didn’t have the correct amount of faith in Kaz’s humanity, because he certainly hadn’t. 

“You wouldn’t have ever had to tell anyone at all if he hadn’t gone meddling!” insisted Jesper furiously. 

“Wouldn’t you have wanted me to tell you?” asked Wylan doubtfully.

“Not if you didn’t want to.” said Jesper, but it was unconvincing, and he probably knew it.

Still, they sat a little closer together as the rain rattled at the windows, and Jesper grabbed his hand under the table. Despite himself, Wylan clung onto it.


Even merch-hired mercenaries knew the Bastard of the Barrel on sight. 

“Is this about a job, Brekker?”

“In a way,” said Kaz slowly, testing the heft of his cane, “I suppose it is.”


As it turned out, Kaz’s stash of clothes in the Staedlied Opera House even included Hellgate guard uniforms. 

Jesper had known he’d had one, at least-- he remembered how they’d broken Matthias out of Hellgate well enough-- and had wondered, idly, if it might still serve. And then he’d wondered if Van Eck would be kept apart from the other prisoners, or if he’d have a private cell. And then he’d wondered some more, and looked at Wylan while they walked back to the Van Eck mansion, as noble in profile as he had been the first day he’d seen him-- the same righteous tilt to his chin and good-natured face-- and something had wrenched sideways in his chest. He’d pulled Wylan to his side and made some stupid joke that Wylan had laughed obligingly at, he’d kissed his temple and called him Merchling and jested like he always did, but that something had simmered on, and now…

Honestly, he wasn’t completely sure how he’d gotten inside. Sheer dumb luck, effectively flirting with the washerwomen, and massive confidence, he thought. But now, yes, now-- here he was, outside Jan Van Eck’s cell, with the actual guard bundled into an alcove at the end of the corridor. The second guard had arrived late and been completely apathetic to his presence-- Jesper didn’t think he’d even bothered to look at him. Pity. He was missing out.

The only trouble was, Jesper was going to have to think of some way of getting rid of this other guard. He wasn’t as tall as Jesper, and stood slightly funny, perhaps from an old injury. In theory he should be able to incapacitate him with relative ease...

Jesper glanced left, looked back forwards-- then looked left again, shocked. 

“I advise you to make a solid plan before embarking on a chivalric quest to avenge your slighted lover, Jes.” said the severe guard.

Kaz. All the Saints and their mothers, of course it was Kaz...

“How in Ghezen’s name, did you--”

“You’re very predictable,” said Kaz, sounding bored. “You do realise you’re not going to be Wylan’s white knight if you get your skull smashed against the wall like a bird’s egg for breaking into Hellgate?”  

“They’re not as tough as all that.”

“I assure you, they can be if they feel the situation calls for it.” said Kaz, flexing his jaw and stretching the scar above his mouth. Jesper sensed an exploit there, but it really wasn’t the time for that. He shook his head. 

“Where have you been? Why did you have to leave like that? It wouldn’t kill you to show a little sympathy to your friends sometimes, Kaz--”

“So quick to denounce me, Jes.” said Kaz blankly. 

“Then where were you?”

“Dealing with the part I could deal with.”

“What do you mean?” Jesper trawled back through the day’s interaction. “Why do you always have to speak in-- no.” Could he have really… but that was beyond anything Jesper had ever seen from him before. “No, there’s no way you can have--”

There was movement from inside the cell, and Kaz’s lockpicks flashed in his hands.

“I think I’ll save that anecdote for the return journey. Shall we?”

Incredulous, Jesper nodded mutely, and Kaz made quick work of the locks, swinging open the door to let Jesper in first--

Jan Van Eck turned to face them, frowning, and all of Jesper’s preoccupations vanished in a blur of hot fury. 

His intentions had been more sophisticated, they really had. He’d thought to taunt Van Eck, channel Kaz and get into his head, mock him for his losses and twist the knife, if only to cover for his white-hot rage. He’d tried his very best to conceal it in front of Wylan, not wanting to make him feel coddled. But now, confronted with Van Eck for the first time in months, the father who had twice tried to murder his son-- it ate him up from the inside until he had no choice but to let it out.

He hit him.

Jesper landed a punch, and then another, knocking the older man onto the stone floor with a wicked cracking sound. His whole body was shaking with fury, but he kept on, kept hitting, feeling bone crunch and skin split under his knuckles;

“You’ll be fucking sorry! You hear me, you miserable mercher scum?” He shook him so hard he felt joints clicking. “You hear me?”

“Jes.” said Kaz from above him, but Van Eck shoved back against Jesper, and Jesper tuned Kaz out, hitting the merch again, and again, and--

Kaz seized his wrist, twisting just hard enough to get his attention.

“Jesper. That’s enough.”

Jesper was so surprised that Kaz had touched him voluntarily that he did; he let go of Van Eck and let Kaz haul him to his feet. Van Eck gave a choked wheeze from the floor, barely conscious enough to talk, let alone recognise them or raise the alarm.

“As satisfying as this is,” rasped Kaz, “I find that I have a better idea.”


“Newly-Convicted Jan Van Eck Beaten Bloody In Hellgate Overnight,” read Nina the next morning. 

Wylan, who had been told about this the second he’d woken up, put his head in his hands, conflicted and exhausted. 

“What does it say?” pressed Jesper. 

“They’re not sure who, or why,” said Nina slowly. “But they think it might have been other prisoners, since a lot of their cells were badly locked, and there were disturbances in the night. I suppose a mercher, especially one who’s as disgraced as Van Eck, seems like easy prey.”

Through the gaps in his fingers, Wylan was sure he saw Jesper glance at Kaz. Kaz-- who had deigned to join them, ignoring the frosty disapproval Inej and Nina were treating him with-- either didn’t notice or blanked him. 

“Apparently they graffitied the walls.” said Inej, peering over Nina’s shoulder. “ Pray to Saint Hilde for forgiveness, cleanse yourself in the river. In archaic Kerch. It feels like a traditional prayer, or invocation.”

Wylan lifted his face from his hands, eyes narrowed. That almost felt like something that--

“How pious,” said Kaz drolly. “Does Hellgate really invoke such a fear of higher powers in prisoners?”

“Perhaps it does in better men, Kaz, yes.” said Inej. 

“There are no better men residing in Hellgate, I assure you.” 

“I suppose the murderers and other unfathomably wicked men in Hellgate pale in comparison to Dirtyhands?” scoffed Nina.

“Helvar knew exactly who and what I was before he met me, sweet Nina. That should be all you need to know.”

Nina shook her head wryly and handed the paper to Inej. 

“He thought you were a demon.”

“As far as I recall, he has never been definitively proven wrong.”

Wylan listened to all of this with a detached interest, brow furrowed. 

“Jes?” he said, finally.

“Yeah?”

“You don’t know anything about all of this, do you?” 

“What, Kaz being a demon? Well, he looks like a person, but he’s eaten in the Slat kitchen for ten years and not once has he gotten food poisoning, so it’s possible--”

“I meant my father.” said Wylan, taking mental note of the rambling. Jesper blinked.

“Oh. No, sadly. Would have been great. But me and Kaz were out for a drink, you know that.”

Wylan looked at Kaz, who was listening to Inej and not paying attention in the slightest.

“Yeah,” he said. “I know. Just wondering.”


He was not just wondering. 

“I need to see Kaz.” 

Pim recognised Wylan’s voice through the Mister Crimson mask and jerked a thumb over his shoulder, into the main gambling parlour. 

“If you like, Merchling. He’s in there.”

Wylan muttered thanks and passed him into the chaotic foyer of the Crow Club, ducking through the seething crowds until he reached the main parlour.

Kaz was indeed in there; at the centre table and wearing the red waistcoat the Crow Club dealers always wore, shuffling a deck so fast it was dizzying. Five out of the six people at his table looked terrified. The elderly lady on Kaz’s right seemed to be having a marvellous time. She was winning by a very long way. Wylan watched them for a while, wondering if Kaz was making this happen, or if she was just a very good player. Possibly it was both, based on the way she played her hand, and the fact that her hand appeared to be very good indeed...

Presently, the game ended, and Kaz stood and shook out his cuffs, another dealer appearing by his elbow almost instantly. 

“Health and much prosperity, Mister Brekker,” said the old lady cheerily in a strong southern accent, piling her winnings into her purse with marked satisfaction. 

“As Ghezen sees fit to grant it, Mrs Van Zijl.” said Kaz drolly, taking up his cane. 

They shook hands and Kaz turned towards Wylan, moving around the table and jerking his head to indicate he should follow him. Wylan trailed after him down the hall, not bothering to ask how Kaz knew it was him. Probably some miniscule detail or mistake that all rich men’s sons made.

They entered one of the gambling parlours at the very end, and Wylan asked;

“Who was that?” 

“An old acquaintance.” said Kaz, slamming the door shut. “She requested I deal her a few hands.”

“You don’t do favours.” said Wylan, wondering why Kaz had seen fit to grant such a request. “Or deal in the clubs.” 

“I do whatever I please,” said Kaz, stripping off the dealer’s waistcoat and reclaiming his usual black one, along with his coat. Wylan followed suit, removing his mask. “Keeps the pigeons on their toes. What do you want, Wylan?” 

Wylan took a deep breath, and held up the deck of cards he’d palmed off an empty table. 

“I want to play you at Ratcatcher.”

Kaz gazed contemplatively at him. He didn’t seem very surprised.  

“And what,” he said slowly. “Are we gambling for?”

Wylan sat down and put the cards in the middle of the table. 

“Information,” he said. 

The trick with Kaz, Wylan had found, was theatrics. Kaz couldn’t resist playing a part. Dirtyhands was his best known role, but he took others. The dealer at Club Cumulus, the boy Smeet had collided with, a respectable schoolmate of Wylan’s, as far as Marya Van Eck was concerned. Farmers, dock workers, everything. 

So Wylan was not at all surprised when Kaz indulged him in this particular bit of theatre. 

“You know I’m banned from play in every gambling parlour on East Stave.” Kaz told him, taking the seat opposite.

“For cheating?”

“For winning.” said Kaz. 

Wylan swallowed. 

“Of course.”

He watched as Kaz’s nimble fingers shuffled the deck. He didn’t think Kaz would cheat-- his arrogance would make him want to win on fair terms-- but he wasn’t sure he trusted Kaz not to lie to him. He took his hand of cards, and found it to be relatively hopeful. Maybe he had a chance of winning, after all. 

“For every point I win, I get to ask you something, and you have to answer honestly.” Wylan said. “If I win overall, you have to tell me something you’ve been holding back. I know there’s a lot.”

Kaz lifted a shoulder lazily.

“As you wish, Merchling.” He clearly didn’t think Wylan was going to win any points, let alone win overall. 

And for the first few rounds, he didn’t--  until a fluke in the third round delivered him his first question.

“What happened at Hellgate?” he demanded immediately.

Kaz laid down a two of clubs. 

“Why do you think I’d know? Did Jesper not read you the full article?”

“He did,” said Wylan. “With a determinedly straight face and avoiding all comments or speculation.”

“Perhaps he feared he’d upset you,” said Kaz blankly. “Why, do you think he withheld something?”

“I think he had something to do with it.”

“Jesper got in and out of Hellgate alone and unseen,” said Kaz drolly. “Using his well-documented skills at espionage and inconspicuity.”

“No.” said Wylan, drawing his shoulders back. “I think you both went. When you were out for a drink.”

Kaz cast him a long look, lip curling. He was gearing up for something cutting. Wylan set his jaw, determined not to give him the chance to say anything. 

“Pray to Saint Hilde for forgiveness, cleanse yourself in the river?” he recited. “Smart. It sounds like a simple religious sentiment, maybe from pious prisoners offended by his affronts to Ghezen, but my father will know better. He’ll know what it means, and it’ll torture him to know someone has that information. He’ll agonise over it, worrying at any moment his sentence could suddenly lengthen, or that he’ll be marched to the gallows. He’ll have taken satisfaction from me not mentioning it, but to have that suddenly snatched away…” he spread his hands. “I love Jesper, but it’s not something he would come up with. Jesper doesn’t get under people’s skin like that.” Wylan leaned forward. “But you do. You cut deep. It’s never enough for you to just hurt people physically, you have to get into their heads. And the fact that the evidence is pointing towards the other prisoners is the sign of a thorough job. Jesper doesn’t do those.” 

Kaz considered his hand of cards, not looking fazed in the slightest.

“Interesting.” He put the King of Diamonds down, deliberated, then picked up the Queen of Hearts.

“I thought it was.” said Wylan, determined not to let him annoy him. “So?”

“So what?”

“Am I right?” demanded Wylan. He could see the disdain in Kaz’s expression. How foolish of Wylan-- foolish to think that the Bastard of the Barrel might have summoned enough sympathy for him to embark on this ridiculous revenge quest.

“Win another point and we’ll see, Merchling.”

Wylan clenched his jaw. 

“That’s not what--” he caught Kaz’s eye and decided not to have this argument. “Fine.”

And by some miracle, he did, and Kaz said; 

“You remember that Matthias was imprisoned in Hellgate before the Ice Court Heist.”

“Yes.” Wylan hesitated. “And I suppose you weren’t exactly given a warrant to take him freely, were you?”

“Not quite.” said Kaz, lip curling. 

“So you can get in and out of Hellgate easily.” Wylan sat back. “From you, that’s as good as a confession.”

Kaz considered his hand and ignored him. Again. 

They played two more rounds, both of which Kaz won. And then, suddenly, Kaz had no more cards, and Wylan had two, and he’d won.

Incredulous, Wylan looked up. He knew there was only one truth, here.

“You let me win.” 

“I control every deck I play,” said Kaz. He paused. “I owe you a piece of information, then.”

Before Wylan could even ask anything, Kaz looked at him.

“I didn’t know what I was forcing you to admit,” he said. 

They stared at each other. Kaz never apologised, never even came close. But to Wylan, this felt like…

No.

“I don’t believe you.” said Wylan, honestly. Kaz’s expression struggled for a second, but then his shoulders lifted. 

“Don’t, then. But that’s your information. And I told you, I’m not in the habit of cheating.”

Wylan watched Kaz collect up the cards in silence, a pit in his stomach. It wasn’t what they’d agreed to, but he wanted to ask...

“Miggson and Prior.” blurted Wylan as Kaz stood to leave, taking up his cane. “Could you at least find out whether they’re still in the city? I just… want to stop looking over my shoulder.”

Kaz turned up his collar and snapped the leather of his gloves. 

“I would be most impressed if they managed to come after you,” he said. “Considering the fact that they’re dead.”

“...what?”

Kaz bowed mockingly to him, and fitted his hat to his head, casting a deep shadow over his narrow face. For a moment, Wylan thought he understood exactly why Matthias had been convinced Kaz was not quite human. 

“Ghezen’s blessings upon you, Merchling.”

“Kaz!”

The door banged shut and Kaz was gone.


“I’ve had no luck with Miggson and Prior,” Nina was saying as Wylan returned to the Van Eck mansion that evening. “Inej, maybe you--” 

“No need,” said Wylan, shutting the door sharply behind him. “They’re dead.”

Everyone turned to stare at him. 

“...they are?” said Nina. “Oh. Good. Was it painful?”

“Probably,” said Wylan. “Since I think Kaz either arranged it, or did it himself.”

“Why do you think--” began Inej--

“He told me they were dead,” muttered Wylan. “And left before I could question him.”

Inej sighed. 

“That explains his disappearance from the Kooperom. Of course it does. Out. Why can’t he just--” 

Jesper’s brow furrowed, and he interrupted; 

“Wait, you’ve seen Kaz again?”

“I just went to see him,” said Wylan. Jesper frowned uncomfortably, but Nina was talking over him;

“He really is deranged,” she said, but she didn’t look particularly disapproving, and the tone was almost fond. 

“No,” said Jesper. “He’s obsessed with settling scores.”

“It wasn’t his score to settle.” said Wylan hotly. He wasn’t sure why he was so upset, but something about this was bothering him immensely-- had bothered him all the way home back from the Crow Club. How could Kaz hold him at an arm’s length like had all this time, only to turn around and deliver the ultimate defence of him? He thought of how Kaz’s wicked, pragmatic mind would justify it, if he was pressed. Protecting his easiest link to Merchant Council business, probably. Or else, he was eliminating anyone left with a lingering loyalty to Van Eck, and therefore linked to Pekka Rollins. Certainly nothing else. How could there be?

“Wylan, think about it from Kaz’s point of view,” said Nina. “Which is a terrible point of view to think from, but we’ll have to endure it for a moment. In Kaz’s Barrel-warped worldview, that was the only way. You and Jesper are far too respectable to be running around maiming mercenaries nowadays, so how could you have dealt with them yourselves? He thinks he’s cleverer than everyone else, so there’s no way he could tolerate the idea of having anyone else help him. I don’t think he’s ever received help in his life, except that one time Matthias had to restart his heart. No, the only way, to Kaz, was to seek them out and kill them all alone.” 

“I suppose Jesper and Kaz’s little boys' night at Hellgate was risky enough for Jes.” murmured Wylan. Jesper froze, stricken. 

“How-- Kaz told you?”

“Jesper, you’re about as good an actor as Josep Kikkert.” said Wylan. “Kaz just vaguely confirmed my suspicions.”

“I think Josep Kikkert is quite good.” mumbled Jesper, but he drooped like a parched sunflower under Wylan’s stare. “Wy, I know it was a bad idea, but I couldn’t help it, I was just… so angry. I just thought--”

“I know what you thought.” sighed Wylan, biting back a but it was really stupid and you deliberately ignored what I told you. It was probably implied well enough.

“Yeah.” Jesper muttered. “But I should have asked. I just--”

“Wanted to do something, I know.”

Jesper pressed his lips together. 

“It’s not our place. He’s your father. We shouldn’t have intervened. But it was kind of… too late, by the time that properly occurred to me. And I don’t think Kaz really cared, to be honest.”

“Any reasonable person would have turned them in to the law enforcement, but no one could accuse Kaz of being that.” said Nina.

“Reasonable?” said Inej.

“A person.” said Nina. The other three laughed, but Wylan ground his teeth, and Jesper sobered. 

“I’m sorry, Wy. We shouldn’t have imposed ourselves on something like this.” he glanced at Inej. “Something about this action will have no echo?”

“Something like that.” agreed Inej.

“It’s done, now,” said Wylan heavily. “And I don’t think we can say my father didn’t deserve it. But next time, Jes, I don’t think it would hurt to ask before you start offing people--”

“I didn’t know about Miggson and Prior until it was already done.” frowned Jesper. “That was all Kaz. In fact, I didn’t know Kaz was going to be there at all. I think he followed me. I didn’t tell him.”

“Did he think you’d get yourself killed if you went on your own?” guessed Nina.

“...yes.” Jesper shook his head. “It would never have occurred to him that it wasn’t our place to intervene. I think in a really messed up way, he thinks he’s helping. I was wanting to get some revenge, but Kaz is… I don’t know. It felt a bit rabid, honestly.”

Wylan turned this over in his mind for a while. He had said, hadn’t he, that he wanted Kaz to make his father pay? To make his life hell? He’d stood outside of Saint Hilde and thought about it. It was possible that everything that had been dredged up by the trial-- all the memories and feelings and perspectives-- had obscured his view of that. That he’d rankled at the idea of being made to feel pathetic and helpless, the way his father had seen him. The news that Kaz and Jesper had gone in for such a ridiculous gesture had irritated him, made him worry that they, too, saw him as useless… but he should know better. Kaz had played him for information, given into Wylan’s game, and he’d let him win, but perhaps he was too proud to bestow information any other way. Jesper and the others had tried their best to honour his wishes and not drip in sympathy for him. And he certainly wasn’t sorry that Miggson and Prior had fallen at Kaz’s hands. So… 

Nina’s voice drew him out of his thoughts.

“Well, now we should all have a swing at your father, just to make things fair. A parting shot, if you will.” 

Wylan couldn’t help but grin. 

“I’m tempted.”

“Knew you would be.” Nina wiggled her fingers. “I could dredge the bones out of the harbour, give him a bit of a scare--” 

“You’ll do no such thing.” 

Kaz was standing in the doorway, watching them, and Wylan was startled by the harshness of his tone. Nina raised her eyebrows, clearly also picking up on it. 

“What, am I stepping on your devious little toes? Do you have some other plan to enact? Hello, by the way. When did you get here? Moving quietly is Inej’s forte.”

Kaz ignored her ribbing.

“Leave the dead men where they are, Zenik, it’ll be less bother.”

“You’re not my boss anymore, Brekker.” said Nina tartly. When Kaz held her gaze fiercely, she frowned; “I’ll put them back, Kaz. Didn’t take you for a man who respected the dead. Usually you create more of them. Do you not want the bones of people you’ve dumped there coming back for another round?”

Kaz looked shockingly coldly at her, turning away to stand by the window. Nina shook her head.

“I expected this from Matthias, but not from you. You used my power to your advantage when it suited you, but now you won’t hear of me using it--”

Kaz turned sharply back to her. 

“You’re being imprudent, and I won’t be the one to coddle your sorry ass when it comes back to bite you. It’s your prerogative, but eventually you’ll dig too deep and find something you won’t like, and then where will you be?”

Nina opened her mouth to argue back, but Inej put her hand on her arm, shooting her a warning look. Reluctantly, Nina shook her head. 

“There’s something not right about you, Kaz. Truly.”

“A truly original observation.” said Kaz blandly, apparently deciding he wasn’t interested in their company, and making for the door. “And one I’ve certainly never heard a thousand times before.”

“Are you leaving?” protested Jesper. “We were gonna have dinner!”

“I was only bringing a note for the Captain,” said Kaz, an envelope being delivered into Inej’s hands as he passed. “Business to be done. Things to be resolved.”

“Kaz, come on--”

Kaz ignored their protests, and disappeared down the hall. They all listened to his footsteps recede, until Nina looked in exasperation at Inej;

“Something I said?”

Inej shrugged, ignoring her sarcasm and tucking the letter into her vest.

“I don’t think it was. Not really. From what I know…” she stopped herself, and Wylan looked hard at her. 

“Has he told you something?”

Inej shook her head quickly. 

“Not much. Not enough. And even if he had, it wouldn’t be my place. But I feel as if something about this whole situation got to him. It’s not just Nina, he’s been like this the whole day.”

“You think that’s why he intervened?” said Wylan. The idea that something about this might affect Kaz’s seemingly non-existent feelings was disarming. 

“To be honest, Wylan,” said Inej, “I think you sometimes remind him of himself.”

A beat.

“Inej, I don’t think that’s a compliment.” said Nina. “Maybe Kaz has been playing Sankt Kaz to you, but--”

“I know exactly what and who Kaz is.” said Inej firmly. “But I think that’s part of Kaz’s perspective.”

Everyone looked doubtfully at each other. 

“Maybe,” said Nina, finally. Wylan looked at her, askance.

“How am I like Kaz?”

“Opposite ends of the relentless and obstinate spectrum,” said Nina. “You’re too righteous, and I think if you asked Kaz to define righteous, he would burst into flames. And he uses it to be terrible, but you can be pushy too, it’s just usually for much better reasons. Also, you both like to coddle a grudge.”

“I don’t--”

“Kuwei.” said Nina. 

Jesper laughed, and Wylan bit his cheek and decided not to argue about this anymore. 

But he mulled it over for a while after, and when he went down into the kitchen with the cook to check on dinner, and the entire way back up the stairs. The door to the third floor was open as he returned to the sitting room, and Wylan moved to shut it, thinking he was sure he hadn’t opened it in the first place. He didn’t think anyone had actually been down this corridor today--

Except for Kaz.

Business to be done. Things to be resolved.


As Wylan had suspected, Kaz hadn’t left at all.

“How did you know this was here?” he asked, sighting Kaz sitting on the east side of the roof terrace. “We never use-- actually, never mind, you’ve probably got the house plan memorised.”

“Twenty years is not as long as it sounds,” said Kaz, immediately launching into a spiel. “By the time your father is released--”

“It’s long enough, and much longer than I expected,” said Wylan firmly, shutting the terrace door and sitting down.

“Longer than expected,” conceded Kaz, “But not half as long as he deserves.”

“Does anyone ever get what they deserve?”

Kaz’s black gaze was fixed somewhere very distant. He didn’t answer Wylan’s question.

“His sentence could be extended,” he said.

“By the judges who he had dinners with every month for years?”

“Some evidence is very hard to refute indeed.”

“Kaz, you can’t prove he tried to have me killed.” snapped Wylan. “Since you just killed the people responsible. And there’s a reason I didn’t bring it up at the trial. It’s my personal score with him, and I consider it settled. I have what I want without having to dredge it all back up. I don’t need, or want, people meddling.”

“The judges--”

“That includes you, Kaz!”  

To his surprise, Kaz almost seemed confused.

“Wylan--”

“Twenty years is enough,” said Wylan hotly. Kaz opened his mouth, and he cut across him; “No, it is. It’s done, and it’s enough. By the time he’s released, he’ll be past sixty, and I’ll be almost forty. I think he’ll find me a lot harder to fell after I’ve spent the last twenty years building up my network and my trading business. I intend to make a good name for myself, one that people will be reluctant to betray in a hurry. He’s disgraced and, more importantly to the Kerch courts and people, he lost the Merchant Council a lot of money and destroyed his trading empire. He won’t have the sufficient influence to pose a threat. He’ll slink off into the countryside to nurse his wounds and curse us, but what can he do?”

“Desperate men go to extremes.” warned Kaz slowly. “Especially ones who feel they have been wronged.”

“I appreciate the warning, but I don’t think it’s true in this case,” said Wylan wryly. “No man, no matter how desperate, is going to resurrect a feud with Kaz Brekker.”

“You act as if I’ll still be alive in twenty years.” said Kaz abruptly. “I don’t live a safe life, Merchling.”

Wylan looked uncomfortably down, not sure how to take that. He’d given plenty of thought to his own mortality, but hearing Kaz acknowledge his was unsettling. Still...

“You’d crawl out of your own grave if you felt there was still a score to be settled.” Wylan said.

Kaz was silent for a long moment, face drawn.

“I suppose I would,” he murmured finally. He paused. “I take it you still don’t believe me.”

I didn’t know what I was forcing you to admit.

Wylan hesitated. The answer, if he was honest, was still probably no.

“You must have had some idea,” he said.

“I knew you were avoiding something,” admitted Kaz. “But I suspected he’d humiliated you in some way, or you’d witnessed something I… we... might be able to use to our advantage but for whatever reason, you didn’t want to bring it up.”

“And you wanted to know what that reason was.” Wylan rolled his eyes. Of course Kaz had thought of it like that. Purely strategic. But Wylan had noted the we, and while he said nothing, he felt a little lighter. 

They sat in silence, for a while. Wylan thought of what Jesper had said earlier. I think in a really messed up way, he thinks he’s helping. And it was true that Kaz had never underestimated Wylan in the slightest, and it wasn’t as if he was inclined to coddle...

Wylan didn’t know why he said it, but something compelled him to. Maybe it was simply the memory of the first time he’d been stuck with Kaz in this house, when he’d told him it’s shame that eats men whole and collapsed the ceiling of his father’s dining room, or perhaps it was something else, but he said;

“Not looking at the papers wasn’t the only stupid thing I did.” he muttered. Kaz glanced at him, and he grimaced. “When I jumped into the water, I was still wearing my satchel. And it weighed me down, but I didn’t let go of it. I couldn’t. I just thought that it had everything in it, everything I’d deemed important enough to bring. It was like a dead weight, but I kept it.” he huffed. “I could have drowned. But it felt important. Like I was saving… something.”

“Your sense of self,” said Kaz. He rested his elbows on his knees and propped his hands on his cane, staring at the crow’s head. 

Wylan blinked.

“...yes. Exactly like that.” he hesitated. “Kaz, can I ask you--”

“No.”

“Ok-ay.” Wylan blew out a breath, exasperated by Kaz’s seemingly random fluctuations of mood, but thinking it didn’t feel like a good idea to press him. 

Presently, he said;

“I suppose if you’re really wanting to do something, you can make sure there’s no legal loopholes to help my father. No bail, no appeal, no early release for good behaviour, no being moved to a fancier cell or given better food. But you’ll run it past me first. No more of this weird… avenging stuff.” 

Kaz gazed silently at him. Wylan thought of his infernal motto, and realised what he was waiting for. Never something for nothing.

“...I’ll let you read my papers from the Merchant Council.”

If smiling had been an activity that Kaz ever participated in, Wylan thought he would have done it then.

“The deal is the deal.”

“So I’ve heard,” said Wylan wearily. They shook hands, and Wylan frowned. “Listen, I should really say thank--”

Kaz’s gaze slid uncomfortably away, and he shifted in a way that indicated he was going to get up and leave if Wylan finished the sentiment. So Wylan cut himself off.

“... well, never mind.” he shook his head. “You really don’t like debts, do you?”  

“Ghezen has granted me the prosperity to pay them all off,” said Kaz drily. “And I would prefer not to procure new ones.”

Wylan sighed heavily.

“Right. Sure.” he looked across at the harbour, the browboats departing down the canals, and Kaz looked too. 

Then he raised his voice, and said;

“I was under the impression that your espionage days were behind you, Wraith.”

Wylan turned, shocked, as Inej’s voice came from the gabled roof above them;

“Someone had to make sure you weren’t saying something terrible to Wylan.”

“Am I so predictable?”

“Apparently not always.” Inej dropped lightly down, landing behind Wylan’s chair. 

“How do you always see her?” Wylan demanded of Kaz. Then, to Inej; “And how did you know he hadn’t really left?”

Inej just laughed, and Kaz ignored the question, standing to lean on the railing.

“Haven’t you left your white knight behind for too long? Don’t you need to go and give him a handkerchief or a ribbon as a token of your favour?”

Wylan knew a dismissal when he heard one and rose, casting Kaz an unimpressed glance.

“Your concept of romance needs some serious work.”

“I’ll brush up before my speech at your wedding.” said Kaz, checking his timepiece. 

“You are not speaking at my hypothetical wedding, Kaz.”

Kaz smiled nastily at him, but there was a tinge of genuine amusement in it. 

“Tell that to Jes.”

“I will!” Wylan called over his shoulder, and was surprised not to get a response. He paused on the stairs and glanced back to see Inej standing by Kaz at the railing. She touched his sleeve lightly, telling him something. She smiled wryly and Kaz frowned, avoiding her gaze and looking away, but Wylan didn’t fail to notice how he’d leaned towards her just the smallest amount, and she towards him. They were angled together, just slightly. From the top of the stairs, he’d been able to see the spire of the Church of Barter in between them; but now, there was nothing. 

Shaking his head, he turned and headed down the stairs, back to Jesper and Nina and good company. Wylan found it was distinctly possible that he would never fully understand Kaz and his coarseness-- but when they did understand each other, it was very well indeed.