Chapter 1 - Kaz

Kaz felt the air in his room shift, sensing her presence before he saw her. Carefully, he placed his shears down beside his gloves on the vanity beside the basin before lifting his eyes to meet her steady gaze in the small mirror that hung on the wall.

"Inej", he murmured, holding her gaze. Terrified that in the mere seconds it would take for him to turn and face her, she would disappear into the night like a passing shadow that had never really been there.

"Kaz", she took a tentative step towards him, and only then, when he was certain that she was real and not a ghost or figment of his imagination, did he turn to her.

His eyes scanned her, searching for any injuries. Nothing visible. The sun had darkened her skin. Her usually neatly braided hair was shorter; it hung salt curled to her shoulders. She looked free.

I've missed you. How long will you be here? Why did you come to see me? Do you miss me?

Words sat on his tongue, begging to be said so that he might hear her answers. But he knew he was a coward. And he didn't know what her response would be - it had been a long year of wondering when she might visit him- if she might visit. Now that she was here, standing before him, all he could bring himself to say was, "What business?"

He didn't miss the slight rise of her chest or the furrow of her dark brows, appearing almost annoyed, as if after all this time, this was how he greeted her. He also didn't miss her gaze dropping to his bare chest, his bare hands, only to return to his eyes a mere moment later.

"I can help you" was all she said, her eyes this time going to the shears that lay on the vanity as she took another small step forward.

I can help you. The words carried so much weight. Too much weight. He wondered if she remembered that night in the Ketterdam suite's lavish bathroom. If she ever thought about what might have happened if he hadn't drowned in his own memories, in his own demons. If his lips had been able to make the journey from the juncture between her shoulder and the column of her neck up to her lips. If he'd have stopped there. If she would have wanted him to stop there.

He couldn't stop his eyes as they flicked to that spot, the spot that his lips had touched so briefly. He didn't have any saints to pray to. He didn't believe in her saints. But still, he prayed that she hadn't noticed how his eyes betrayed him. He pushed the images of her, of them, away and nodded, taking a single step to the right allowing her to move silently past him.

He could feel the air hum as she flattened her palms on the counter and effortlessly lifted herself so that she was now seated beside the shears and his gloves. Wordlessly he stepped forward and turned, so his back was facing her, allowing himself the tiniest breath of release, as though just by turning around, he was regaining the smallest sense of composure.

He heard her shift slightly, looking for a suitable position. She was careful not to touch him. He knew how close they were. He could feel the heat of her body warming his back. But he stared ahead, noticing the crows, still perched on the sill outside, freshly fed in front of the window he never locked.

She started cutting his hair. He could feel the tendrils trace down his back as she cut them. He wished they were the tips of her fingers.

"I wanted to say thank you."

"What for?"

"The warning device", the comforting snip of the shears paused. 'This will give you time to evade the izmars'ya. 3-mile radius.' That was all the note had said. Kaz himself had slipped the device and note onto the desk in her cabin when she was last docked at 5th harbour 3 months prior - perhaps he should have been at the Van Eck mansion with Inej, Jasper, and Wylan, listening to her adventures and sipping Kvas, not limping around the shadows, leaving notes scrawled with names and routes for her to find, finding notes she had left in his room and office at the Slat with secrets he might find useful.

She hadn't sought him out in her few brief visits to Ketterdam since she'd become Captain Ghafa. He hadn't sought her out either.

"And the notes," the snipping resumed. As if she had also taken a moment to think about the fact they hadn't seen each other since the morning of her first departure.

Why was she only thanking him now?

"What business?" His voice was sharp, sharper than he had intended, but he couldn't stop himself from turning around to face her. She had left two weeks after he had gifted her 'The Wraith', and she had introduced him to her parents. They hadn't had a moment alone in those two weeks partly because Kaz was a coward and partly because Inej had been busy preparing for her life without him. He had missed her leaving dinner. He had also purposefully not been in his room the night before she set sail- He knew she would climb through his window, just like he knew she would wonder where he was. He was sat in her old room in the slat, on the narrow bed. Alone. Instead, he said his goodbyes, gloves on, as she boarded her ship at dawn.

His eyes found hers as he tried to will himself to say, 'why did you come to see me now?'. Instead, he simply repeated, "What business?"

"I've heard Nikolai, I mean, Sturmhond is looking for a thief", so she did know. He'd often wondered if she also knew the true identity of the famous privateer Stumhond. She continued, "The job is yours if you want it."

It was only then that he realised how close they were. That his leg was pressed against hers.