A/N: Has it been literally a year? Yeah, let's not mention that.
Inej woke up the next morning with the bright light of dawn streaming in through the cracked window, the storm of the night before having passed. Peeling her eyes open, she caught a glimpse of a stripe pale blue sky, just barely visible over the cobbled-together patchwork of buildings that made up the Barrel. Even the smog that usually hovered over this part of the city seemed to have dissipated. It was perfect weather for sailing, and as much as Inej wanted to stay in Ketterdam, to stay with Kaz, she longed for the uneven wooden planks of her ship beneath her boots, the shifting waters of the horizon under her gaze.
The careful but hasty scratching of a pen against parchment pulled Inej from her reverie. Rolling onto her side, she saw that Kaz was not sleeping beside her, but seated at his desk, intently focused on the paper before him. With his shirt only halfway buttoned and his hair in a mess, he looked the most like himself that Inej had ever seen.
The words they had exchanged last night were perhaps some of the most sincere and vulnerable Kaz had ever expressed to her. She hoped he didn't regret saying them.
Sliding out from the pile of blankets she had nestled herself into, Inej crossed the room with near silent steps, stopping when she stood just behind Kaz. Almost without thinking, she brought her hand up to rest on his shoulder, leaning over him to see what had called him out of bed so early in the morning.
Just as she had caught sight of a hastily scrawled list of locations and what looked to be some very violent threats, Kaz absentmindedly brought his own ungloved hand up to cover hers while still scrawling away with the other. The simple action caused any lingering worries of Kaz wanting to take back his confession to vanish from her mind. Inej couldn't help but to smile, her cheeks heating at the casual domesticity of his actions. It was the kind of sweetness she would have cursed herself for daring to want from him mere months before.
Kaz himself seemed a little embarrassed, as he realized, his voice sheepish and deep from sleep as he muttered, "Good morning," He met her eyes for barely a second before quickly looking away, gaze darting around the room.
Slinging her arm around his solid shoulders and taking care to avoid the skin of his neck, Inej leaned on him in a sort of awkward half hug, trying not to crowd him too much. She breathed in the familiar scent of him, coffee and candles burned just a little too long. Kaz continued on with his writing, seemingly oblivious of Inej draping half of her body weight onto his writing arm.
Straightening up, she took a closer look at what Kaz was working on. "Is this-"
"I have a couple of contacts in Novi Zem," Kaz said, still writing. "Don't trouble yourself, I'm not associating with slavers. These are all disgustingly righteous people."
Inej didn't say anything back, still studying the papers littering Kaz's desk. From a cheap looking map marked over with hundreds of shipping routes to a stack of sealed envelopes, each addressed to locations across the Southern Isles and Novi Zem, the desk was covered with what must have been hours of work. He would have had to have started as soon as she had fallen asleep.
"I'll get you your answers, Wraith, if it's the last thing I do," he told her, setting down his pen.
"Kaz," Inej said. She wasn't sure what else to say. It was one thing to see Kaz's chaotic scheming and manipulation turned towards something good and quite another to realize that this something was entirely out of duty and allegiance to her.
"No weepy expressions of gratitude, these letters are meant for something other than sopping up your tears," he said. Then, catching her eyes and meeting them, he said, "Inej. You've gathered far too many secrets for me. Let me find this one for you."
She leaned the side of her head against his, watching as he folded the paper with crisp, precise creases before sealing it with black wax. Men with the power that Kaz had now gained had brought her here, to this Saints-forsaken city, to the dangerous life of sin she had led. And here was a boy, just as hurt by the bosses and corruption that stained Ketterdam as she had been, clinging to a shred of decency that threatened to undermine more than one regime, more than one fortune. Two teenagers, odds stacked against them, grappling with an oppressive, abusive system, but forcing their way ahead regardless. Inej felt a swell of pride and appreciation for the boy beside her, absurdly wonderful against his better judgment.
"I'm feeling rather concerned about the way you're looking at me," Kaz muttered.
"How am I looking at you?" Inej said, fighting off a smile.
"As though I have a soul. Or rather, one that isn't pitch black," Kaz amended.
Rolling her eyes, Inej peeled herself off of him and began gathering her things up. Sneaking a surreptitious look his way to make sure he wasn't paying attention, Inej stuffed two of Kaz's novels and several of his shirts into her bag before closing it securely and placing it in his overstuffed armchair.
"I'm to meet the crew at eight and a quarter bells," Inej said.
"How nice for them," Kaz muttered, now working on a new letter. Straightening up he looked at her and said, "It's nearly six bells now, do you want to go meet Wylan and Jesper before you set off?"
She nodded, settling on the end of the bed to watch Kaz as he quickly finished off his letter and rose from his desk. Within seconds, the sleep rumpled boy disappeared, replaced with his usual grim mask of intimidation. He crossed the room to her, cane tapping against the floor.
"Your wound," Kaz said.
"It's fine," Inej said quickly.
"No, really," she said. "I think I just over exerted myself. I'm truly on the mend now," As if to prove her point, she slid gracefully to her feet, not so much as a wince to give away the long, jagged cut now neatly closed with Kaz's careful stitches.
Kaz narrowed his eyes at her in a half serious glare. "Don't start keeping secrets from me now, Wraith," he said, before following her out the door and into the bright light of morning.
By the time they had finished their waffles and Wylan and Jesper had bid goodbye (the latter switching between tearful hugs and promises to write, the former more reserved, but just as sincere) the sun was well and truly risen over Ketterdam. Kaz and Inej made their way towards the docks, the bright light staving off the chill that clung to the air. The streets had begun to awaken with the possibilities of a new day, the promise of money to be made, opportunities to be had. Ketterdam was nothing if not a city that rose and fell with the turn of the markets and now it was brimming with action as the bells rang out to announce the opening of the Exchange.
Before long, Inej had led them through her network of narrow side streets and semi concealed passages to the docks. Berth twenty-two could be seen in the distance, the crew rushing about loading supplies onto the ship.
Kaz watched the changes in Inej as they neared her dock. The set of her shoulders, the angle of her chin, changed into the focused and determined set he had become accustomed to seeing on jobs. The only difference was that the sense of heaviness that had plagued her step during those was gone, replaced with a sense of purpose more serious than kruge to be earned.
She turned to look at him and Kaz had the sudden urge to grab her hand, tug her back to the Barrell. He knew the overstuffed armchair he had moved closer to the window for her would sit empty for a long while and he didn't think he could stand the sight of it. She and the whole world would be better for it, Kaz knew, but that didn't stop him from wanting, selfishly, to have her near him.
"Kaz," Inej said, "I'll miss you."
The soft smile on her face was tinged with just enough sadness to simultaneously make Kaz's heart ache and spark the warmth that flooded his body whenever he remembered Inej actually seemed to like having him around.
"Will you-" he caught her hand in his own, ignoring the sensation of skin on skin. "Will you write to me?"
Inej nodded softly. "I expect letters in return, though, Brekker. Long ones. With details regarding subjects other than your shares in the Crow Club."
"For you, Inej, I'll find a way."