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Happens great, happens sweet

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There were a lot of things Kaz thought he’d never be able to do again, after the harbor.

‘Having mercy’ was one of the things toward the top of that list. Then, there was ‘ever love another person again’. And somewhere among the top twenty things, there was being held.

Then, at some point among the past three or so years, Inej had made him do the first two things.

It wasn’t until they were on his bed one day, lying side by side, her hand running through his hair without touching his skin. They’d been like this for about an hour now, trying not to fall asleep. Or at least, he was trying not to fall asleep. His eyes were closed as he laid there, sun seeping in through the window, as it rarely did. It was since--it made the whole room warmer, like it was an actual home.

Inej was somewhere in front of him, lying half-slouched with her head against the wall and a pillow behind her back. She’d long since stopped staring at him, like she had been for the first half bell or so. Now, she was reading a book, sitting with it propped against her legs and turning the pages with her free hand. He’d caught glimpses of it every few minutes as he blinked his eyes open, not trusting himself to stay awake if he let them close.

Slowly, he was beginning to realize that he was far too comfortable with her. It was as they had more and more days like this whenever she was in town, where they’d act more like a domestic mercher couple than the criminals that they were. Inej had made more than one joke that they were turning into Jesper and Wylan, and he’d have to say that he agreed.

Eventually, with his eyes closed, as he slowly started drifting away into sleep, Inej closed her book. He was not awake enough for it not to have startled him, and his eyes snapped open, his head lifting off of the pillow automatically.

Inej’s hand came off of his head, like it always did when he made a sudden movement. Sometimes, it was because she was worried for him, that he’d begun to drown. Other times, it was because he’d scared her, and he’d need to apologize or put a bit of space between them while he waited for her to come back to her body.

At this moment, it appeared to be the former, as he relaxed back into the pillow and she gently lowered her hand back down.

“I finished my book,” she said, picking it up off of her lap and setting it on the nightstand beside his bed. “It was a good one, but it was far too long for such a simple story.”

He hummed, letting his eyes flutter closed for a moment as he focused on her hand rubbing against his head. “I’ll be sure to never pick it up, then.”

She let out a soft laugh, and then she moved, taking her hand with her. A part of him wanted to sit up and reach for her, to bring it back to him. It was only so recently that he’d been able to sit there and let her do that without remaining tense until she pulled her hands away.

Her hands on his hair, or really anywhere on his head other than his face, were almost immune to his drowning. It was like his hair provided a dam for the waters that would come up whenever she touched him anyplace else. He’d always been nervous about other people’s hands near him, though--even Inej, until recently. It was too much of a risk that they’d miss their mark and end up getting too close to his skin. But he’d always had faith in her precision with her knives, and he quickly learned that she carried that same amount of skill with every part of her. She hadn’t touched him accidentally yet, not on his skin. Little brushes of her clothed arm against his, or her hand accidentally sweeping against his thigh as she’d reach up to grab something. Never against his skin, though; she’d made sure of that.

“You’re falling asleep on me,” she chuckled, moving down on the bed to lie at his level. She reached up then, but stopped before touching him. “I don’t think I can keep doing that without touching your skin from here,” she said, hand hovering until he just nodded once, and she lowered it down.

He was able to take it with just a slight shiver rather than recoiling--a sign of both progress and that this was one of his better days. A bad day, and he’d have been squirming backward, attempting to find some relief in the space between them.

“Do you want to try something new today?” she asked, as if she’d noted his minimal reaction and connected that to an opportunity. He was glad for it, too, but also a bit hesitant. After all, it was incredibly comfortable there, right then, and he’d have hated to ruin it by triggering a panic response.

Still, good days were still a bit spotty and still outnumbered by the bad ones, and if he wasn’t overly put off by the notion of a new experience, he really should run with it.

That’s why he nodded slightly, his eyes staying closed. He opened his eyes and was almost blinded, both by the sun and her smile. “How about a hug?” she asked quietly.

“Haven’t had a hug in a long time,” he mumbled, still tired and sleepy in the sun, under her touch.

“Do you want one?” she asked, looking over at him.

He used to want one. He used to ache for one, all the time.

It was right after he’d lost Jordie, who was nothing if not gracious with his physical affection. He’d throw his arms right around Kaz like it wasn’t absolutely jolting to get yanked backward into a wall of person, or tug him forwards into a hug when either of them was having a bad day. Losing that, losing those casual but strong, comforting embraces, was enough to have him all but pleading for them internally. Even once he’d realized that touching another person gave his body a reaction similar to running away from a pack of lions, he still craved it.

He’d long since forgotten that wanting, though. It was a few years before he met Jesper, the last time that he’d truly thought it was even possible, really. Even the sharpshooter who threw himself at people so similar to the way his brother did was incapable of forcing that sense of longing back into him.

The closest thing he’d felt to it was watching other people with Inej, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to have that. It wasn’t as much wanting as it was an ache, knowing that it would not be possible for him.

Except, now it was. Or, could be.

“Okay,” he mumbled again.

She smiled again, and almost like she was trying to melt the earth with how bright it was. “We should stand,” she whispered.

He’d almost forgotten about that, in his tired state. Yes, they should stand. So as not to trigger Inej, and also so that he could run off to the bathroom if he needed to. There wasn’t a very good way to do that on the bed; Kaz needed to be able to rush off, but Inej couldn’t be cornered between him and the wall. He kept trying to come up with ways to position his bed to fix it, but he had yet to come up with a solution that didn’t block where Inej came in through the window.

So, she stood. He reached out as she did so, taking her hand in his and standing up as well.

He stood closer to the bed, since he’d been the one further into it while they were lying there. He almost felt as if he’d collapse backward now, like his legs would just give out beneath him as he watched her, her hair flowing unbound behind her and the sun lighting her up in a way that made it appear as though she was glowing.

His sun. His Saint.

“Do you need your gloves for this?” she asked, looking over to where he’d laid them down beside him when he was lying down.

It had not been long since she had gone further in-depth over her ‘without armor’ statement, explaining that she did not necessarily mean his armor as a metaphor for his gloves, but for whatever defenses he’d put up to prevent her from knowing him, truly.

It made things both much simpler and much more complicated to hear that, seeing as he needed his gloves occasionally, but was also unsure which parts of him were armor, now. He’d fabricated almost his entire being so carefully, so flawlessly, that he had a hard time discerning which parts of him were actually Kaz Brekker and which parts of him were Dirtyhands.

Still, in this moment, he chose to trade one piece of armor for another. He could have decided to lay down two pieces at once, both attempting to hug her and keep his gloves off at once, but he’d truly hate for this to be more panic-inducing than need be. Especially because as they got closer to being ready for it, he got more excited for it. He almost felt like a child again, ready to be given something special as a rare treat.

He wanted it in the same way. He wanted it, in the way that he’d wanted anything nice the world could give him when he was younger.

So, he slipped his gloves over his hands, adjusting them to fit right and flexing his fingers to settle them onto his skin.

“Ready?” Inej asked, because she always did. His last chance to back out, a warning that she was going to do something and an offer to stop herself if he asked.

He did not want her to stop, though. Actually, he very much wanted her to continue.

So, he nodded, and she stepped forwards. It took only one long step between them for her to reach him, and then her arms were around his waist. Her head found its place against his chest, right over where his heart laid, just a few inches away.

He found that it only took him around a minute this time to find his pattern treading the water, keeping himself just high enough above it that he wasn’t worried about drowning. That moment, when he found his comfort in staying above the waves, he lowered his arms to rest around her waist.

She shivered, too, when he did that. He pulled back a bit, to which she shook her head and reached behind her, grabbing his arm and firmly resting it where he’d had it a moment before. “I’m fine,” she whispered, and he just nodded. She was Captain Ghafa of the True Sea, giving him whatever kind of reassurance she deemed fit.

“You give good hugs,” he mumbled after a while. Honestly, he wasn’t entirely sure whether that was true--he’d long since forgotten what a normal hug really felt like, so a good one might be just the same as a bad one to him. But at that moment, it felt like a good one, with her arms around him and her entire body just as warm as the sun on his had been, and it felt safe.

It had been years since he’d felt this safe, as if there was a shield protecting him from the rest of the Barrel. It almost had to be a good hug, to make him feel safe.

“Thank you,” she all but giggled, squeezing just a bit tighter. “You give good hugs, too.”

He hadn’t expected that, really, since he was hardly holding on. It was once she said that, though, that the feeling of that lump in his throat beginning to show itself happened, and he found himself holding back tears that threatened to fall from his eyes.

It didn’t feel like there was much of a reason for it at all, really, so he refused to let them spill. But it was overwhelming, in a way. All of that feeling.

Eventually, his chest stuttered a bit with the effort of holding back a cry, and Inej pulled back slowly. “Oh,” she whispered, almost silent. “Why are you… are you okay?” she asked, pulling back and looking up to meet his eyes.

He just nodded. There wasn’t much else to do, really. He could feel in his throat that if he spoke, his voice would break, and he knew from experience that once his voice broke, he’d start to cry. No longer would he be able to hold back his tears, not even a little bit.

“Do you want another hug?” she asked in a clear effort to make light of it, just a bit.

He didn’t know what she expected him to say, but it clearly wasn’t a choked out “Yes,” as he reached out, ready for her to step back into his arms.

She did, too, putting her arms back around his waist. He was able to take it all at once this time, since he’d already felt this in the past few minutes, and his arms went around her quickly, too. His chin rested on top of her almost perfectly without him even needing to bend his neck to reach it, all while he attempted to keep the tears that had started flowing quiet.

“You’re going to get so many more hugs now that we know you can handle it,” she said softly, almost as if she was talking to a child. It didn’t help his situation, equating it to how his father used to speak to him, as a child. “If you want them, of course,” she added.

“I will, on good days,” he said, sniffling. He knew that much already. He liked hugs, he decided, even if they had the potential to send him rushing off to the bathroom on bad days.

She let out another laugh. This time, it was that addictive one; the one that sounded like bottled warmth.

He thought there was just about nothing better than hearing that laugh like this. With her, standing in his room without distractions, the sunlight coming in through the window, with her in his arms.

He might be a bit too comfortable with her, he’d begun to realize, lately. He didn’t mind, though. Not even a little bit.