🖤🖤🖤 SPOILERY FOR BOTH SOC AND CK SO PLEASE READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION 🖤🖤🖤
Inej watched tentatively as the boy known as the bastard of the barrel slowly slid his nude body from beneath the sheets of his bed. She had arrived in the city only hours before, docking her ship in the murky waters of the port, unable to wait till morning to see him. She snuck into Kaz’s rooms through the window, leaping across the cluttered rooftops of the slums of Ketterdam to get there. Silent as the wraith she was.
When she slipped in through the window, the famed leader of the Dregs, notorious street gang of The Barrel, had been sleeping on his back, face perfectly at peace. At first she had simply wanted to relish the way the moonlight fell across him, covers pooled at his hips, torso bare. He had seemed so at ease, so serene. She had never seen him like this before, so much like the boy he could have been … if. If life had not been cruel, if he had never hardened himself to the world, if he could have been only a boy and her only a girl. The warm knife of longing scratched at the surface of her chest and she pushed it away.
The moonlight danced across Kaz’s form, painting his bare chest in a silver glow, scars from a life hard lived etched across his skin. Some of those scars he had gotten while protecting her, though he would never admit to having done so for any reason other than protecting an investment. That is what Kaz had always called her, pretending that her life meant nothing to him beyond the hassle it would be to replace her. She believed it once, but now she knew that was not true. He cared for her, though to what extent she could not be sure. They had always had a connection stronger than any other. More an extension of one another than only a friendship.
It hadn’t taken long before Kaz had stirred in his sleep, before slowly standing and exposing the backside of his body in full. He had always been able to sense when Inej was near, even when she was completely unseen, unheard, a wraith in the night. And in that moment, she thought she had been caught. But soon it became clear that Kaz had only woken to relieve himself in the privy adjacent to the bedroom, failing to acknowledge her presence, completely unaware that she was hidden in the shadows of his room.
Now she was frozen, not by the desire to watch him at peace, but by the knowledge that she was seeing him in a way she knew she should not. A way he would not have wanted. She had let her presence go unnoticed for too long and now she was rooted to her spot. In fear … in awe.
Kaz stood before the latrine, his back still turned to Inej, and relieved himself. Inej’s cheeks heated as she watched the way the same silver moonlight that had been so innocent before now crept from his torso, and brushed fingers of light along the curves of his now exposed hips, legs, ass. His body was a personification of this city. Hard edges and jagged lines but beautiful in its brokenness. His stance was slightly skewed from walking with a limp, the remnants of an injury received as a child thief. But his legs were toned leading to a backside that was rounded in all the right places. He was lean but she could see the cording of muscles across his back, across his sharp shoulders. The nape of his neck to the curve beneath his ear had her longing to press her lips to his pulse. He was … gorgeous, and Inej felt a tinge of jealousy for the way the light could touch him so, like she wanted to, like she never could.
It was becoming increasingly difficult to mask her quickening breaths, her heart beating like a drum in her chest as her eyes took in the image before her. It was not the nudity that made it hard to breathe now … it was the intimacy of it. The fact that Kaz was unguarded. the fact that Kaz Brekker was unmasked and exposed. His walls down.
Inej pressed deeper into the wall at her back, feeling more and more like she needed it’s support. Any moment now, Kaz would turn and see her, any moment now the infamous criminal would know what she had seen of him. Any moment now, his walls would be erected once again.
She heard the dripping sounds as Kaz’s task was completed, feeling anxious for his discovery of her, or was she anxious for her discovery of more of him? She could not be sure, but she felt her knees start to give as Kaz gave a few good shakes to a part of him she wouldn’t admit she longed to see. A part of him she was about to see … did she want to see?
Her hands itched to touch the knives at her sides, not for protection, but to give her fingers something to do, something to touch. A comfort to know that something about the world, about her world would remain the same even as it felt like the whole world was about to change irrevocably. She palmed the blade she called Sankta Alina, named for a girl her age who had saved the world once upon a time, and pulled the blade into her hand, it’s shaft filling her palm and giving her peace. But the comfort was short lived.
Kaz began to turn, the pressure of the moment sucking the air from the room, from Inej’s lungs. She couldn’t stand the way this boy made her feel. Hot and cold. Angry and lustful and safe and frustrated. Kaz made her feel all of those things and more. She hated the way the anxiety burrowed into her stomach, the way it settled like a heat between her legs. But she loved it too.
She could see him now, face in profile, back still turned toward her, as she let the knife slide from her fingertips and hit the floor with a thunderous boom. She hadn’t decided to make her presence known, she had just reacted. Too afraid of what irreversible change was about to take place. Kaz shielded himself with his hands as he turned to face The Wraith. Inej watched as Kaz’s eyes flickered from brief fear (undetectable by anyone who had not been his shadow for so long), and finally landing like the calm fortress everyone else knew. Her heart sank as she watched his walls slide back into place.
Kaz grabbed at a pair of discarded breeches, sliding them on quickly.
“Inej,” his face forming a questioning grin, unsure. Did he know what she had seen? Did he know what she had thought?
“Kaz” she took a few steps toward him, stopping several feet away, as the boy grabbed a shirt and threw it over his head. The moment was gone, and so was the anxiety, but a new feeling was settling into Inej’s stomach now … regret.
On the desk she saw a pair of leather gloves, the gloves he had always worn like a shield for as long as she had known him. The gloves that kept him separate from the world, untouched. But she had told him once that she would have him without armour or she would not have him at all. Kaz let the gloves stay where they were as he stepped closer to Inej.
Yesterday, they had been an ocean apart, now they were only inches. The heat from his body warming her through her cloths. Through his clothes.
She hoped that she could touch him one day. Could slide her hands down his body, across his back. Could feel his chest slick with sweat slide across her bare skin as their bodies became one. She would have him one day without armour, without anything between them. But in this moment, she would settle for the way his bare hand fell into hers, his fingers shaking, unsure, twining with her own. It was where they had left off. Worlds from where they had begun. She would take it. She squeezed her hand around his in response.
“Tell me everything” Kaz said, leading them to the bed.
So Inej told him about the world she had seen on the ship this boy had once given her. The world that he had given her. As the sun rose, they lay side by side on the bed, sunlight falling across them both. And between them … Kaz’s bare hand was still in hers … the piece of him that he had given her.