The crows had flown into the room and taken over Kaz's desk.
They were better guests than other people he'd had in his room. Neater, though they were making a nest out of some papers.
Inej smiled at them. Kaz smiled at her. Her eyes were soft yet full of mirth. Glittering. Or something.
"Sorry," she said when one of the crows let out a squawk and knocked over an inkwell.
It had been empty anyway. "All your fault," Kaz agreed lightly, and made no move to shoo them back out the window. Why would he? It was raining.
Inej laughed as if she knew what he was thinking—she probably did—and was questioning his reluctance to let the crows get wet while a person would get much less sympathy.
The rain beat against the open window and some drops landed on the sill below it, yet neither made a move to close it. It was summer, and the rain was fresh against Ketterdam's usual stench of industry and humidity.
Kaz drew a circle on the hem of Inej's long shirt. Nina had once schooled them about the importance of wearing transformable clothes, a shirt that was also a dress, a dress that could be fought in, before she realized they knew it all already; still, Kaz had filed away the information because he collected it like Inej collected woodcuts of flowers at various ports to send to her parents. It was white and linen. Kaz imagined her standing on her ship, the wind in her hair, the parts of the shirt not covered by her vest billowing in the breeze.
It was soft.
She didn't take her eyes off the crows—she hadn't named them, except for one mean-looking chick she'd called "Kaz" once, and Kaz was never going to admit that he had named them, or that the honorific naming him smile. Crow Kaz now had his own family. Crow Kaz was the main culprit of the mess on Human Kaz's desk.
Inej snorted. Maybe she was thinking the same thing. Kaz was thinking that he'd just called himself "Human Kaz."
"He's gotten big," she said softly, eyes following one of the chicks.
That was Mr. Feathers. Kaz had chased a pigeon away from the nest once when he'd been an egg. "He's a nuisance."
Inej's light swat was well-deserved, though it hit only his collar.
He tapped her shoulder in return, brushing against soft fabric and loose hair, and let his hand stay there when Inej relaxed against him. She shifted her gaze to the open window and the falling rain, and Kaz shifted with her, the bedsprings creaking when he leaned on his arm to remain a firm support for her.
He winced. He'd been in one position for too long, and the movement sent tingles down to his fingers.
The clouds illuminated. Thunder rumbled over the city.
"We got stuck in a storm once."
"Yeah." Inej tucked a foot under herself and leaned forward as a breeze swept the curtains into the room. "A little one. Specht got us out, I… I had no idea what to do. He taught me as he went, and in hindsight it wasn't so bad, but the clouds and the waves—I thought it was all over for a second."
Kaz gave her shoulder a squeeze.
"There are no crows at sea." Inej threw them a glance. "That's one of the things I thought when it started and I realized I didn't know how to deal with it. I saw some when we docked last, but I hadn't seen any in days and I couldn't believe I was going to die without seeing a familiar face."
Exceedingly familiar with its surroundings, another young crow pecked at a cup of pens on the desk.
"Hey," Kaz said.
It listened. He wasn't surprised: little Tulip had always been the best-behaved crow.
Inej giggled. "They like you."
She wasn't convinced but returned to the rain, still leaning against him. There were two layers of thin summer clothes between them, yet Inej's warmth burned, constant and unyielding against Kaz. He closed his eyes at the intensity and pressed his face against her loose braid. Some hair had escaped and curled in the humidity.
That same suspended atmosphere, wet and light and heavy all at once, settled in Kaz's bones, too, in moments just heavy and in others agonizing. He'd stretched his leg out as he always did, and when Inej moved, her loose shirt brushed against it. He couldn't help but tense up when it did, and reached around her to hold the hem and keep it in place.
He rubbed the fabric between his fingers. Soft.
"My parents got the fabric from some weavers in south Ravka. Friends of friends—some people we rescued who recognized them."
Inej probably put it down to a higher power. Kaz put it down to coincidence. "And you got a shirt out of it?"
"Yes." It was a nice shirt. Soft.
Inej shook her head and her hair tickled Kaz's face. It was nice hair. Soft. Kaz ran some strands through his fingers, the shirt falling back as a secondary experience—and his leg falling even further as a third, a constant ache but not nearly as sharp as it had been before.
The humidity had made it curl. "Of course."
Kaz levered himself upright and inched back so he sat fully behind Inej, shaking his arm out as feeling returned to it again. He bit back a hiss as his leg shifted, too, and forced his frustration into his hands, carefully unwinding Inej's braid, her hair slick where it had been tied and wild where it had been free. The heavy locks fell over his hands and he breathed in the sweet scent of the oils she'd started using when she left the city.
Lighting lit up the sky and a shine reflected off Inej's hair. A few second later, thunder rolled once more. Kaz imagined it pounding into his leg and shaking it against his tense muscles. That would hurt more than it was hurting now. That wasn't saying much.
Hair. Soft. He ran his fingers through it to smooth it out and divided it into strands. Over, over, over. Firm and thick in his hands—Inej liked her braid tight. Practical and safe for the long style she favored.
At sea, she braided it around her head when she was going into battle, tucking it under the wide-brimmed hat that protected her from the sun and made her look fearless. She always looked fearless. The hat made her look like a pirate.
Inej leaned back into the touch. "Thank you."
"I'm not done yet." He was taking his time, putting his whole focus into the task and drowning out everything but Inej's presence and the patter of rain.
She hummed. "Still."
"Still," Kaz echoed. He had nothing else to say.
Lighting. Thunder. Jordie had taught him how to tell how far away the lighting was by counting the seconds between the two. Inej had taught him to braid, once when a stray knife had gotten too friendly with her shoulder. She'd asked him to finish a braid and he'd had; she'd cut off the tangled ends two days later.
He knew better now.
Over, over, over. Then a break, an inhale, a moment to close his eyes and let out the breath as his leg pulsed with pain. Fucking rain. At times, the crows and company made up for the increased ache. At times they didn't.
"I would have thought they'd leave," Inej said lightly, "when I did."
Kaz didn't turn towards the sound of flapping wings.
"It's almost as if there's someone still feeding them."
Kaz didn't feel badly when he tugged on her hair.
Kaz ducked his head and looked at his own fingers lest his adoration spill over the room and give Inej further ammunition against his reputation.
Lightning—over, over, over—thunder.
Inej talked and the frows fluttered and Kaz braided: sound and touch and a deep-seated contentment in his chest. Thunder rolled and the curtain swung, and his leg ached, a sudden sharpness in an otherwise steady pulse, and Kaz took a sharp breath against his will, bending over so as not to drop Inej's hair.
He didn't want to mess up the braid.
He clenched his hands around it, fingers awkwardly tangled and bent out of shape to keep the strands separated.
He breathed out through his nose and shook his head against Inej's shoulder. In front of him, trapped between his chest and Inej's back, his fingers twitched.
His leg burned.
"It'll pass," he ground out.
Somewhere, a crow jumped between chair and desk.
He breathed in and raised his head and focused on the braid once more. Over, over, over. His pain messed up things for him, but like hell it would leave Inej with messy hair. He tied her ribbon around the end and let it drop. Played with the stands at the end anyway, tugging when the pain came back and whispering an apology into Inej's shoulder when he let his head fall once more.
"Kaz," she said, and nothing else, bringing an arm back and offering an open palm.
He took it and held on tight.