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The Walls Are Thin

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Inej opened her eyes in the dark. It was well past midnight, and Kaz Brekker was stomping all across the floor above her again.

She glared up at the low ceiling in her little room below his in The Slat, trying a bore a hole through the wood with her glare. She wanted to wring his neck. She’d just spent two days following a rich, adulterous merch for blackmail fodder, with barely two hours of sleep in between, and she wanted to sleep for the next ten days. Instead, she’d been listening to Kaz’s uneven gait, pacing for the last half hour. Sometimes, she’d hear him sit on his bed, the coils on the mattress squeaking beneath his weight. Other times, she’d hear his chair scrape across the floor.

Go. To. Sleep. She was trying her hand at telepathy. It wasn’t working.

What was she going to do? Kaz was only a little older than she was, but he had intimidation and menace in spades. He’d been kind to her, sort of, since he’d bought her indenture three months ago. One of the kindest Kerch she’d met so far, anyway, by a long shot. Nevertheless, he wasn’t a friend, and he was certainly unpredictable.

But she was so tired.

The next time she heard the grating bounce of his old mattress, she lost all patience. She shot out of bed, quivering in frustration and anger, and threw on a jacket over her loose blouse before trotting up the stairs to the door to Kaz’s room.

She was just going to inform him of the way the noise carried, she determined. Very professional. Totally polite. But, when she went to knock, she noticed the door had been left ajar. This gave her pause. She leaned sideways, slightly, her dark braid dangling over her shoulder, and peered through the crack.

Moments later, she’d wonder why she did it. She’d mentally berate herself for spying on the boy who was supposed to be her boss. But, for that brief instant, she was taken in.

She had never seen Kaz looking disheveled. Every waking moment, he exuded organization. He wore tailored suits only grown men wore. His dark hair was never out of place. He kept a cool, effectual air about him, quiet and scheming like a perfectly coiled snake.

But tonight, through that little crack in the door, she saw a boy who looked worn and exhausted, flat on his back on his bed, shirttails loose, his holey socks out in the open. The crook of one arm was draped across his eyes, while he gripped at his bad knee with the other hand. As Inej started to lift her knuckles to the door, he let out a low, wincing groan through his teeth, his fingers tightening on his knee.

She’d seen his limp – she knew the cane he carried wasn’t for show. Still. It was rattling to see a boy as composed as Kaz Brekker writhing in obvious pain.

She knocked anyway, straightening herself.

“Go away,” came his gruff reply. She peaked back one last time.

“Are you –?” She meant to ask if he was okay. But in the blink of an eye, she watched him pick up and throw something at the door, something resembling a shiny, polished shoe, though it was hard to make it out in the blur of its speed. The force of its impact slammed the door shut in Inej’s face with a bang. She flinched backwards. And frowned. Jerk.

Well, fine. She wasn’t stooping to his level. Inej squared back her shoulders and leaned her mouth close to the door.

“These walls are thin,” she informed him. “And some of us are trying to sleep for the first time in days. So…could you stomp quieter? Please.”

There. Professional. Polite. And there was no one around to see how hard she was blushing. Everything was going to be fine.

But Kaz was glaring at her from behind his desk the next morning when she came up to his office to give her report. Her stomach twisted, and she folded her arms in front of herself.

“Was that you knocking on my door last night?” he asked her. He didn’t sound mad, but he looked it. But then again, he always looked it. Jesper Fahey joked once that Kaz probably came out of the womb scowling. Luckily, Kaz had not been around to hear, although everyone already knew what his reaction would have looked like.

Inej wasn’t going to let the scowl intimidate her. She’d been the polite one. She wasn’t the one throwing shoes. She lifted her chin a little.

“It was,” she confessed, trying to appear unashamed. He didn’t need to know she’d snooped, too.

Kaz’s frown deepened, and Inej swallowed.

“What did you want?” he asked. Strange. He still didn’t sound mad. Maybe, she was starting to realize, maybe he wasn’t angry – just confused. There were subtle differences she was starting to pick up on.

“I can hear everything happening in your room from mine,” she told him.

“Ah.” He looked down at the papers on his desk, starting to rearrange them at random.

“I didn’t know if you knew that,” Inej went on, watching his gloved hands skim over papers. She didn’t feel the need to hold her arms in front of herself quite so tightly now.

“I’ll…take better care,” Kaz replied, awkwardly. “And I won’t throw shoes next time.”

“I would appreciate that,” Inej said with a nod. Interesting he would assume there would be a next time, she thought later. She certainly had no intention of doing that again, not after how badly she felt after.

Unfortunately, a side effect of becoming the Wraith was how her sense of hearing seemed to sharpen with each passing month she spied and sleuthed. Where she once struggled to overhear a conversation through a closed window, now she could wait in the bushes and piece together every word.

This also meant becoming keenly aware of the nights Kaz was preoccupied with the pain in his leg, pacing the floor to loosen the tight muscle or tossing and turning on his noisy, old mattress.

She tried to ignore it, to let him be. They weren’t friends. It was none of her business. Although, six months after he’d thrown a shoe at her, she was certainly less intimidated by him and his cool exterior. So, when she heard him again one night, in the middle of a bad thunderstorm, she climbed the stairs once more and knocked on his door.

“What?” she heard him bark from the other side. She could envision him now, kneading at his knee, scowling beneath his flung arm.

“It’s Inej,” she said, leaning against the door with her arms crossed.

“What do you want,” Kaz shouted back. It wasn’t a question. He didn’t care what she wanted, only that she would be going soon.

“Can I get you anything?” Inej said to the door. “To help you sleep?”

“Go to bed, Inej,” was the only grumbling reply. She seethed a quiet sigh. I wouldn’t be here if that was an option.

“Ice would help it, if the muscle’s inflamed,” she pushed. “This is coming from an acrobat who’s hurt many limbs. I know a thing or two. I can help you.”

“Why didn’t I think of that?” Kaz’s voice was snarky and mean, and Inej scowled to herself. “I’ll just wire the ice shop and have a fresh batch of ice delivered up right now.”

Inej rolled her eyes. So rude. 

“Would you like me to bring you some ice, Kaz?” she drawled, her own voice mocking-sweet. Anything for a night’s peace in this rickety old house.

There was a long pause.

“Fine,” came the muffled, reluctant reply. Say please, Inej wanted to say, but she wouldn’t push the issue. They weren’t really friends. Not really.

Instead, rolling her eyes, she shoved herself away from the door and trotted the three flights of stairs toward the shared kitchen of The Slat. They kept an old ice box there, rusting and dilapidated, but it kept things cold. She shucked some ice out of it, wrapped it in a blue tea towel, and returned upstairs. When she reached the landing, Kaz was waiting with the door ajar, his hand extended. He didn’t even lift his gaze to look at her. She dropped the ice bundle in his waiting palm, and he withdrew, slamming the door without so much as a thank you.

Inej suppressed an exasperated sigh in her throat and returned to her little room for a few solid hours of sleep. He’d get his own ice next time, she swore.

Unlikely.

Because the thing of it was, while Kaz Brekker excelled at nearly everything, he was absolutely rubbish at stairs. And, given his rudeness, Inej was wickedly glad sometimes to do something he couldn’t do, though she’d never admit it. That would just be mean. Much like Kaz himself. Whom she was nothing like.

And so it started to become a ritual: every few weeks, particularly after long, physical jobs, Inej would pop up to the third floor to see if he needed ice. She’d get more sleep that way. Eventually, she stopped asking altogether. If she could anticipate it – even more undisturbed sleep. And undisturbed sleep was a gem to Inej. So, she watched him throughout the day, noticing if he seemed stiffer, if he was carrying his weight a little differently, all so she would know whether or not to make a quick trip to the ice box before turning in for the night.

Her timidity around him wore off quickly this way. During the day, Kaz Brekker was a formidable force few had the courage to try to understand. But the grumpy boy she delivered ice to some nights? That Kaz was all bark and no bite.

If he’d been particularly nasty during the day, Inej had no qualms about dropping the freezing cold bundle of ice directly onto his stomach before marching away. In fact, it was a little satisfying to hear his surprised, uncomfortable grunt when she did. Once, when he’d failed to mention the scouting assignment he’d sent her on required her to wait for two hours neck-deep in a vat of vegetable oil, she took a significant amount of sick pleasure in pretending to drop the ice onto his groin, catching it at the last second. Though not before half his body curled up off the mattress while he shouted something unintelligible in wide-eyed horror. Inej had to bite both of her lips to press back a laugh while he snatched the ice from her hands and flopped back onto the pillows with a heavy sigh of relief, the mattress squeaking beneath him.

“Get out,” he rasped, pointing to the door, though Inej knew him well enough now to know that, somewhere deep down, he was mildly impressed with her reflexes.

“’Thank you, Inej,’” she cued him in a sing-song voice, as she slipped through the door.

“Yes, thank you, gentle Inej, for not sterilizing me,” Kaz grumbled after her.

“I don’t want to point this out,” Inej leaned back into his room with a wicked grin, hanging onto the doorframe, “but you’d be less focused on your leg right now if I had.”

“Don’t point it out, then.” Kaz looked mortified, and Inej snickered. When she did, a quicksilver smile flickered across Kaz’s lips, there and gone in a breath. “You’re not helping,” and he tried to frown. “This is not helping me. Go to bed.”

“Good night, Brekker.”

“Good night, you sadistic spider.”

And that was the worst bedridden Kaz Brekker could do: tell her to get out while trying (and usually failing) to look angry at her. Not that he didn’t try to get her back some nights. If she wasn’t quick enough, sometimes he’d dig his fingernails into the ice and flick freezing, wet bits of ice at her if she wasn’t leaving as fast as he would have liked.

“You know what,” she said once, trying to keep a straight face as she wiped the cold water off her face. “Get your own ice next time.”

“I think I’ll just go back to my usual nighttime hobbies instead,” Kaz said, narrowing his eyes up at her from his bed. This was how he joked. Much like how Inej imagined sharks would joke.

“You don’t have hobbies,” she said, slitting her eyes at him.

“I absolutely have hobbies,” Kaz objected, totally deadpan. “Marching loudly, jumping on squeaky mattresses, smashing china on the floor at completely inconsistent intervals--”

“You are insufferable.” Inej was shaking her head. She was not going to smile; she was not going to encourage him.

“I was thinking of taking up the tuba. Just as a nighttime hobby, though. Nothing professional. That won’t bother you too much, will it?”

Try as she might, Inej couldn’t hold back the laugh that came with the image of Kaz fucking Brekker playing a goddamn tuba. Kaz grinned stupidly when she cracked up, and it was contagious. She was still laughing to herself as she trotted back down the stairs to her room.

Some nights were entirely different, however. Some nights Kaz didn’t say much at all. Those were his bad nights, Inej realized, and it was often when a big storm was rolling in from the harbor. Changes in the weather seemed to affect him most severely, and sometimes it seemed like ice did absolutely nothing to help.

“Sometimes, stretching with a counter weight can help,” Inej tried to offer one night, when his face looked pale and drawn. “If I held the leg here--”

Don’t touch it.” Kaz bolted upright in the bed, his hands flying to block hers from brushing his bare ankle. “Don’t.” His black eyes were blazing, and, for the first time in over a year, Inej felt frightened by him. She recoiled instinctively, holding one wrist close to her chest, her hand balled in a fist.

For a brief moment, Kaz looked out of breath, wild-eyed and panicked. But when his gazed flickered up at Inej’s startled expression, he made a concerted effort to try to soften. He took in a deep breath and adjusted the bundle of ice over his knee, swallowing hard.

“I just,” he fumbled, “I don’t want it touched.”

“I wasn’t trying to hurt you,” Inej tried to explain.

“I know.” Kaz closed his eyes for a moment, looking frustrated. “I know. But don’t. Don’t touch it. Ever. Please.”

Inej blinked. Kaz never said please, not in the entire span she’d known him.

Saints. Are we friends now?

“I won’t touch it,” she promised, gently. Her gaze drifted to where his black leather gloves sat on his nightstand, and something itched at her brain. She’d never seen Kaz touch anyone. Kaz Brekker made himself untouchable. Her fingers lingered on the mangled scar where the peacock feather tattoo on her arm had once been, the tissue now waxy and lumpy. Maybe Kaz didn’t want to be touched. That was something she understood.

“How did this happen anyway?” she ventured as Kaz shifted himself back, propping himself up against the headboard of his bed. In the years Inej would know Kaz, she would hear him tell many different tales about his leg, each story tailor-made to intimidate whomever he was trying to size up. And she would wonder why, that night, he decided to tell her the unexciting truth.

“Fell off a roof ages ago,” he muttered, as he tried to mash the ice bundle to encompass his kneecap. “It broke, and it’s never really been the same since.”

Inej frowned.

“Kaz,” she started, carefully, “that’s entirely fixable, you know. You could visit any Grisha Healer, and they’d put that right in a day.”

But Kaz scoffed, glaring down at the leg.

“Pain isn’t the enemy,” he said, his rasp harsher than usual. “Pain is a reminder that something needs to be set right.”

“In this case, your leg,” Inej nodded, pointedly.

“Metaphors, Inej.” Kaz looked exasperated, shifting his gaze up at her. “If I took you to a Tailor to have that scar covered up, would you go through with it?”

He was looking straight at the remnants of the peacock feather tattoo, and Inej held a hand over it, her face warming. She didn’t like the turn this had taken. She didn’t like Kaz thinking of the way he’d found her. And yet…

“I don’t know,” she said, honestly.

When she had torn into her own flesh, cutting at the tattoo’s colors and swirls, she’d meant to take back control of her body and cut herself off from how the Menagerie had used her. But it had never been quite that simple. Now, when she looked at the scar, she remembered the other girls who had been taken, the ones who had not been so lucky. The ones who could not cut themselves off. When she looked at her scar, she was reminded of why she fought and spied in the shadows of this saintsforsaken city. Because, one day, maybe not soon, but some day, she would help them as she had been helped. And she would take down the ones who’d marked her.

It was a reminder.

“What does this help you remember?” Inej asked, looking back at the ice on his knee cap. But Kaz clicked his tongue, shook his head.

“We’re not talking about that.” His harsh rasp was flat. “I don’t ask you about the scar. You don’t ask me about this.”

Kaz Brekker makes himself untouchable. Inej wanted to be untouchable, too. They were more alike than she cared to admit.

“Fair enough,” she relinquished with a nod, and left him alone with his ice and his memories.

She intended that night for that to be the end of it. They were untouchable, and there were barriers between them that would never be breached. That was how it ought to be with your boss, Inej would tell herself, since that it was Kaz was. Although, he wasn’t exactly. Not anymore.

The Ice Court and the Van Eck affair would change all of that. They were no longer untouchable – worse, she thought about his touch now. She longed for it, in ways she now understood he couldn’t give, maybe not ever. And there was no ignoring the new quality of Kaz’s glances at her, no matter how reserved he tried to appear. There was nothing that could take back the way his gloved hand had gripped hers on the deck of the Ferolind, the tone of his voice when he’d asked her to stay. To stay with him.

She’d tried to stay in her old room in The Slat one night only when the dust began to settle in the aftermath of the Church of Barter. It had been her home once, after all. It was still her home, wasn’t it? It wasn’t.

She could hear him up there, the mattress creaking, his uneven footsteps pacing. Just like it had always been. And yet, somehow, nothing was the same. Her heart raced this time as she stared at the low ceiling above her. What if she took him a bundle of ice? What if their hands brushed, or he asked her to stay again, or, really, spoke at all in that voice of his, with that soft mouth that had just barely kissed her neck, those lips that had taken her breath away? Her fingers twisted in her sheets at the thought. Suddenly, she didn’t trust herself anymore. She didn’t want to leave him with a bundle of ice. She wanted to curl up on that squeaking mattress next to him. She wanted to kiss him until he stopped hurting. She wanted him to give her a reason to stay.

Clearly that wasn’t happening, and Inej wanted to scream. The walls had never seemed thinner, and it terrified her.

She didn’t give an explanation when she packed up her things the next day and moved to the Van Eck mansion. Jesper was there, after all. Kaz was more than welcome to follow, if he wanted. (He wouldn’t.) It didn’t have to be a strange thing.

She almost bolted for The Slat the first night, when the unending silence of the enormous house stretched before her like a bottomless pit. She wasn’t sure if she’d be able to fall asleep without the rusty creaking and that comforting, uneven footfall above her.

But she did. Sleep could come for her in all kinds of new and strange conditions, she would learn, as she set sail on the Wraith for the first time. Maybe she wasn’t actually a light sleeper, she’d wonder sometimes. Maybe it had just been Kaz.

For that reason, for a long time, she chose to stay at the Van Eck mansion when she visited Ketterdam, and Jesper and Wylan didn’t question it. They might have even preferred it, Inej realized, when they presented her with her own key, even as she and Kaz both made concerted efforts to take down their own walls that separated their hearts from each other. She accepted the little brass key wholeheartedly. If anything, she just needed the rest. She didn’t want to lie awake at night, thinking about what she wanted to do to Kaz – and couldn’t -- when she heard his footsteps.

Until –

“I forgot my key,” Inej told Kaz at two in the morning, while they drained the last of their drinks at The Crow Club. It was a lie. The key had been a formality, a thoughtful gesture, but the Wraith had never needed keys. And surely Kaz knew this when he set his drink down, shaking his head at her.

“Whatever will you do,” he said, in that teasing way of his. Not unlike a cat throwing a bird around, Inej had once noted.

“Sleep in the gutter, I suppose,” Inej shrugged with a smirk. “Or on the roof. Or beg some charitable merch to take me in.”

“There’s going to be begging?” Kaz lifted his eyebrows, eagerly. “I was going to offer you a room, but if there’s going to be begging--”

Inej kicked him under the table.

But she took him up on it. The rain began to fall on their slow walk back to The Slat, where a wash of old memories flooded in when Inej breathed in the house’s old musty scent.

She said goodnight to Kaz at the door of her old room and left a soft, lingering kiss on his rain-damp cheek. She heard his breath catch, his body stiffening, and he darted a quick glance over his shoulder, as if to make sure no one had seen. Then he nodded his goodnight, his hair wet and mussed, and Inej watched him hobble away until she heard the floorboards of the stairs groan beneath his slow ascent to the attic.

And then again on his walk to his room. And then again as he paced his floor.

Inej sighed as she sat lightly at the edge of the bed, hearing the mattress above her groan at the same moment. The walls were as thin as they’d always been.

They could be thinner.

She changed out of her wet clothes, hanging them out to dry along the footboard of the narrow bed, all the while listening to the creaking above her head. She threw on an old nightshirt Kaz had lent her – it hung to her knees, but at least it was dry. She combed out her wet hair with her fingers before braiding it tightly for the night, and then she crawled under the covers in the darkness. The floorboards above her sighed with every uneven step.

Her palms were starting to sweat.

Kaz was probably changing out of his wet clothes, too, she realized. Toweling off the hard planes of his torso. Raking his bare fingers through his crow black hair. Raindrops trickling over the curves of his shoulder muscles.

Inej was staring at the ceiling, this time wishing to see through walls.

Or his leg might hurt, she thought. It had been ages since they’d done this particular dance. She could just take him a bundle of ice as she used to, and if he happened to be half-dressed when she got there, well, that wouldn’t be her fault, would it? She was just trying to be helpful.

When did you become such a creep? She would wonder to herself as she shucked ice out of the old icebox in The Slat’s shared kitchen. She clenched her bare toes nervously while she wrapped up the ice, and then darted up the stairs before anyone wandered out and caught a glimpse of her in only Kaz’s shirt.

Her heart was racing when she knocked on his door.

“Yes?” came the tentative response. Did he sound expectant? She leaned closer to the door.

“It’s just me,” she said, hand on the knob.

“Come in.”

Inej gave the old door a shove and inched inside. Kaz had changed out of his tailored suit, opting for a pair of soft, dark sleeping trousers, and – sweet Lizabeta – he hadn’t put on a shirt. Inej felt her face warm as she shuffled the ice between her palms, absentmindedly. He hadn’t even looked up – he was hunched at the edge of his bed, tense and kneading at his bad knee.

“Am I making too much noise again?” he asked. Inej could see him wincing even though he wouldn’t meet her gaze.

“I thought you might want some ice,” she offered. Kaz huffed, trying to straighten the leg.

“Ice doesn’t actually do much when it’s raining,” he confessed, his voice strained, and it was Inej’s turn to scoff.

“Wait. All these years…?”

“I just wanted your attention? Yes. Yes, I am a bastard.” And Kaz started to raise his head, a crooked, painful smirk on his mouth, but his eyebrows lifted suddenly, noticing her bare legs. It was Inej’s turn to smirk. She didn’t have to be the only one made to feel things.

She closed the door behind her.

“You know, I do know other things that might help,” she offered, setting the bundle down on his nightstand as she crossed to his ogling stare. “Stretching or massaging or--”

Touching.” Kaz’s stare darkened. Not at her, she knew that now. At his own inner demons.

Inej gave a soft shrug and moved to brush the wet, tangled hair back from his forehead.

“I’ve already broken that promise, haven’t I?” she said, half teasing. “What’s one more?”

Kaz fell silent, considering, his dark eyes drifting to her knees. His fingers tightened on his kneecap, like he could hold himself together just there.

“What do you want me to do?” he rasped, after a long moment.

“Just sit comfortably,” Inej said, and, though it pained her a bit to add: “Put a shirt on first, if that makes you more comfortable.”

It would make him more comfortable, it seemed – he threw a plain white shirt over his head before slowly inching back down onto the edge of his bed, wincing on the way down. He was trying to fix his longer locks of hair when Inej crawled up behind him, as if trying not to look as unraveled as he clearly felt.

“What are you doing?” He threw her an alarmed look over his shoulder before she even put hands on him.

“Everything’s connected,” she explained. “If your leg’s hurting and you’re walking unevenly, you likely have tense muscles elsewhere, too.” And she gently rested her palms just above his shoulder blades, where he was warm and solid beneath his soft shirt. “Mhmm,” she confirmed, pressing in. “Oof, you’re as tense as a Fjerdan diplomat.”

Kaz’s shoulders shook a little in a light chuckle, loosening just a bit. Inej smiled to herself.

He loosened even more as she worked her way down his back, kneading around the wings of his shoulder blades, stroking down his spine. He sighed, soft and contented, as she rubbed over the slopes of his muscles, and, when she glanced up once, she noticed his eyes had fallen shut. Once he seemed sufficiently relaxed, she moved to the side and told him to lie back.

The nervous light in his eyes flared up again as he inched back and lowered himself back toward his pillow, the mattress rasping with every movement. Oh, Saints, the whole house is going to hear.

“Relax,” she whispered to him, and softly pressed a warm hand to his bad hip. His eyes still betrayed his skittishness. “When have I ever hurt you?”

“You tried to throw ice on my balls once,” Kaz frowned, looking wary. He was still propped up on his elbows, refusing to give in the last few inches.

“You still remember that?”

“I still have nightmares about it.”

But that quicksilver smile of his flickered when she muffled a laugh, and while he looked more at ease, she moved to softly massage his thigh.

“Wait,” he hissed, tensing, “That’s -- huuuuh…” He never finished his sentence. Inej ran the side of her hand down the tense muscle on the back of his thigh toward his knee, and his eyes started to roll back in his head. He released his hold on his elbows, dropping back onto his pillow with a groan, and the mattress coils squeaked.

Shhhhh,” Inej insisted. The walls were so thin. “Is this all right?”

“Mhmm.” Kaz had pressed a tight fist over his mouth. She was softly stroking his thigh with both hands, gently bending his knee.

“Are you sure?” she whispered. “It looks like it hurts.” His dark brows had knit together, lines crinkling in his forehead.

“Oh, I’m sure,” he said, in a single moan. Inej shushed him again, unable to tear her eyes off him in fascination. Surely no one had ever seen Kaz Brekker so undone.

He only continued to collapse as she gently rubbed down his calf, taking great care around tough bits of scar tissue and atrophied muscle. When she made her way down to his ankle, he released the hand from his mouth with a sigh, like the mattress had begun to swallow him whole. She glanced up at his face, his features relaxed in the flickering lamplight.

His eyelashes barely fluttered when she moved to his other leg.

“There’s more?” he asked. He sounded half-awake. Inej hummed a confirmation.

“This side’s doing all the work,” she explained, pressing in on his stronger thigh. Kaz let out another groan, this one deep from his chest, as she kneaded her knuckles into the tissue.

He was as still as a corpse by the time she had finished, and Inej slipped off the edge of the bed, tip-toeing to turn down the lamp. She thought to sneak back downstairs. When she’d glanced at him once last time, his lips were slightly parted as his chest slowly rose and fell, and she’d assumed he’d fallen asleep.

But instead, to her surprise, he murmured her name, “Inej,” and reached out to touch her sleeve.

“Feeling a little better?” she whispered. She perched at the edge of his mattress, trying to keep the springs from squeaking, and Kaz gave a comfortable hum.

“Come here.” She looked down in amazement at his sleepy eyes as he opened up his arm and started to fold her in.

Kaz shifted his weight and began to pull his girl in, and, Saints, the sounds the lurched out from deep within the clunky old mattress then. It was Inej’s turn to wince. There was no getting around it. The whole world probably heard. No hiding anything now.

“Saints, Kaz, how cheap are you,” she hissed. “This bed sounds older than the making at the heart of the world.”

Shhh,” Kaz hushed her, mocking. “The walls are thin. Everyone can hear you.” But Inej couldn’t help grinning to herself in the dark, even as she rolled her eyes.

He tucked her head below his chin, cradling her head against his bicep as he bent his arm to hold her head. Something warm and welcome spread in her belly as his fingers slid into her hair, and she pulled him closer, an arm over his torso.

“That’s a yes, then?” she whispered, as his other arm circled around her. His hand curled in the fabric between her shoulder blades. “You’re feeling better?”

“I defy any man who would have me believe that sex is better,” Kaz mumbled, half- asleep, and Inej stifled a laugh into his chest.

“Nina would say don’t knock it til you try it.”

“Nina’s a podge, too, then.”

Outside, the rain fell, dribbling down the clay rooftop, but inside The Slat, the night was warm and dark. And silent. And right.