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Living of Love

Good morning, loves! This is a new fluffy story that I posted on AO3 so you can read it wherever, but I thought I’d upload it here too just for the heck of it. 


James!” Sirius cursed as he opened the door.

His best friend poked his head from behind the corner. “Yes, my lover?”

“Cut the crap. What the bloody hell have you done to my shop?”

“Happy Valentine’s Day!” He exclaimed with a sheepish grin.

Sirius stared wide eyed at his flower shop. Only it wasn’t. It was bedazzled in pink. Paper hearts linked their way across the walls. Red and pink stickers were plastered on the front windows. A jar of heart candies was placed on the counter. Every bouquet had a card with some absurd declaration of love resting in the flowers. Sirius sighed.

“What am I looking at, Prongs?”

“Well, my truly amazing friend, you’re looking at the new and improved Guns ’n Roses!” James raised his arms. “Lily helped me a bit last night. What do you think?”

“I think you’re crazy.”

“It’s a masterpiece.”

“It’s not punk rock at all. I asked you to help prep for the holiday – not to let Cupid come in and throw up on my flowers!”

“Embrace the holiday, Pads. It’s a wonderful thing – love.” James looked off with doe eyes.

Sirius snorted. “Still in your honeymoon phase, I see.”

“You’ll find someone too, you know.”

“Doubtful. The amount of eligible gay men in Hampshire is equivalent to the dignity I have left.” Sirius turned the sign on the front door that stated they were open before shutting it and walking into his shop.

Though it was a minimalist interior, it showcased his best floral arrangements. The black and white framed photographs of old bands rested on the rustic, brick walls. On the left and right walls were white shelves of flowers from peonies, to dahlias, to flower crowns. In the middle sat two maroon loveseats, angled toward each other. There was a round table in between them with Sirius’s favorite flowers in an intricate vase; cosmos atrosanguineus. And towards the back of the store was an L shaped counter with his bouquets of the month placed on it. He walked swiftly behind the counter to the registry, and placed his things on the floor. He surveyed his precious store with another look of disbelief.

“What about that guy you told me about a few weeks ago, the one who recently opened up a bookstore just across the street?” James waggled his eyebrows and followed him around the counter.

Sirius blushed as he remembered the man.

“Are you, Sirius Orion Black, the man who claims to have a ‘heart of steel’, blushing?”

Sirius sacked him in the shoulder in hopes of ending his utter embarrassment. “Sod off, Potter.”

But as James rubbed his shoulder and howled with laughter, Sirius allowed himself to remember the man whom he couldn’t stop thinking about…

Sirius flipped the ‘open’ sign as the first drops of rain began to come down. It was a cloudy day on Belmore Street, but beautiful just the same. The local shops’ lights glowed in the downcast morning. The cobbled road was glistening with the rainfall. The storm was welcoming as it was refreshing.

He looked out his window to see the no longer vacant store directly across the street from his. The sign above the door said, Secondhand Prose. He gave a small smile. There hadn’t been a bookstore here in a long time.

Just as he was about to walk away from the front window, a lean figure in the rain caught his eye. It looked as though the man was trying to carry tons of boxes from a truck into his store. In the rain. With only a t-shirt on. He shook his head incredulously. But he looked upward again at the now downpour. He shifted his gaze back to the struggling man carrying what seemed to be a heavy box. Sirius muttered hateful words to himself as he put up his hood and stepped out into the storm.

He walked quickly across the uneven street. As the man walked out of the store, Sirius approached the truck. The man looked up at him, and Sirius’s steps faltered.

With hair dark with dripping water, a soaked through shirt, and glasses that weren’t helping him at this point, the man was a handsome mess. His warm gaze penetrated Sirius’s.

With the realization that he was staring at the stranger, Sirius cleared his throat, a flush creeping up his neck.

“I couldn’t help but watch your helpless attempt at moving all this shit,” he pointed over his shoulder at the numerous boxes sitting in the back of the truck. “Do you need any help?”

Surprise overcame his face, but looked at his feet and smiled shyly. “That would be great.”

Sirius tore his gaze from him and moved to the truck. It was piled to the brim with cardboard boxes. As leaned over to pick one up, he looked inside to see worn books. He noticed one of his favorites and picked it up.

The Fountainhead. A brilliant book.” Sirius turned around to see the man standing just a few feet away. His gaze quickly snapped up and his cheeks flushed. Sirius couldn’t help but smirk at the fact that the man had been checking him out.

He gulped. “It’s groundbreaking.”

Sirius was about to agree when another box caught his eye, this one filled to the brim with CD’s. A familiar album cover was at the top of the pile, and he picked it up.

Emotionalism? This album is incredible. Do you listen to them?”

Remus’s eyes brightened with passion and he grinned. “Track 10.”

They launched into a discussion about the album and the other music they listen to, somehow ending up discussing where they came from and where they longed to go. At some point, Sirius sat on the edge of the truck, Remus joining him, legs swinging back and forth, all the while the rain continuing to beat down on them as they continued to talk for what felt like hours, never once hitting an uncomfortable silence or an awkward topic. A tether seemed to form between the two men as they connected through words.

“We should probably finish up with these boxes,” Sirius nodded to the books behind him, reluctant to end their conversation.

After that, the two men danced around each other as they efficiently moved all the books into the new store. The rain conveniently stopped just as Sirius brought in the last box. He walked back outside where the man was sitting on the rear of the truck, reading a book. Sirius used this moment to look at him. His hair was nearly dry, and had a glorious golden hue in the curls. He was beautiful.

He looked up as Sirius approached and stood up.

“Thank you so much… I really appreciate your help. It would have taken me twice the amount of time to do all of that,” he waved his hand toward his store and chuckled.

“A handsome man in need of a white knight? My pleasure,” he shamelessly flirted.

The stranger blushed all the way down to his toes. “Er…thanks. Have – have a good day.” He abruptly turned his heel and practically ran into his shop.

Sirius swore at himself. He was so damn forward. He groaned and began walking back to Guns ’n Roses, sans a cute guy’s number.

It wasn’t until Sirius was inside his shop that he realized he never got his name.

He came back to the present to find James shaking his head at him.

“What happened to the Sirius Black I knew, the one who went after anything he wanted?”

“You know what happened to him.”

James tsked at him. “You can’t let one man ruin any chance for others. He was a complete asshole who treated you like scum. You’re better than him, mate. You’re better than what your family believes you to be; better than what you see yourself as.”

Sirius spared a glance at James, who was looking down at him with love.

“Is this the part where we hug?”

James scrunched up his nose and shoved Sirius back on the shoulder. They laughed together and Sirius retreated back to the counter. He picked out a peony from the vase and let out a deep breath. James grinned at his unusually nervous friend.

“Now go get some, my man!” James spanked his butt on the way out.

Needless to say, Sirius bruised his shoulder. Again.

*                      *                      *

 

A bell jingled as Sirius opened the door to the bookstore. Before he opened the door, however, he noticed a few Valentine’s themed books in the front window. Laughter bubbled up at the sight of erotic romances, and he continued into the shop.

Peering inside, a vintage looking shop with what looked like hundreds upon hundreds of bound words resting on wooden shelves stretching across the majority of the room met his eyes. Toward the back, he could make out a few overstuffed armchairs. He stepped inside and inhaled the scent of old paperbacks and freshly brewed coffee. Not having noticed before, he realized the small bar to the right. It was a bookstore café.

He walked in further, finding no one in sight. He bit his lip in anxiousness.

Was he even here?

Sirius strolled past the bookshelves, glancing into each aisle, but the man from a few weeks ago was nowhere to be found.

Finally, he got to the last shelf of classic novels. He looked down the narrow aisle between the books.

There he was.

Standing on a stool librarians often use, he was leafing through a gently used book. His untidy curls stuck up every which way, and his thickly framed glasses were on the verge of falling off his nose. And they weren’t covered with raindrops this time. Angled toward him, Sirius noticed his sweater. It was pink with a few sewn hearts on it for the holiday, he presumed. He was even more adorable than Sirius remembered.

The man shelved the book with satisfaction. He then stepped down to the box beside the stepping stool to pick up another book. As he grabbed the book and straightened, his gaze caught Sirius standing in the middle of the aisle. His eyes widened with surprise.

“Oh, hullo,” he said, self consciously running his hand through his golden hair, making it stick up even more.

“Hi, I don’t know if you remember, but I helped you move in a few days ago. I’m –”

“Sirius.” As soon as the man said it, he blushed furiously. “Er, your friend came in the other day and mentioned you owned the floral shop across the street.” The only coherent thought in Sirius’s head was, James went into a bookstore? Remus continued. “I figured it was you, seeing as you came in and out of the shop when you helped me that day, so I asked for your name. Did I thank you, by the way? It was really kind…” Sirius watched him with intrigue as he stumbled over his words.

When he finished his rambling, he simply stood there with bright eyes and tousled hair.

“I’m Remus Lupin, by the way. A bit of a late introduction, but …er –”

“Better late than never, Remus,” Sirius finished for him, grinning. Remus loved the way his velvet voice wrapped along the two syllables of his name.

They stood there for a few moments, looking at each other with anticipation.

“This is for you,” Sirius blurted out, reaching out and handing him the flower. Remus’s eyes softened and gladly took the peony.

“It’s beautiful, thank you. I, erm… I was actually just going to bring you something once I finished shelving,” he waved his arm at the pile of books behind him.

“You’re in luck. I’m quite a fan of surprises.”

Remus led him down the aisle, past the dozens of bookshelves, and to the café. Sirius followed him like a lost puppy.

Once they reached the café, Remus picked up a lone mug on the countertop. He turned around and held it out to Sirius. He looked at the cappuccino to see a dog paw designed with milk on the top.

“I saw you walking your dog past my store on Saturday, and well, I thought you’d like it.”

Sirius’s heart squeezed.

“I love it, it’s amazing … I actually came over here to ask you out.”

Not believing his ears, Remus tripped over his own feet as he took a clumsy step forward to hand the coffee to Sirius. Although he steadied himself from falling forward, the contents flew out of the mug and onto Sirius. And as if it were happening in slow motion, the hot liquid splattered Sirius’s white shirt, staining it a muddy brown color.

Remus’s eyes widened in horror.

Sirius looked down at his wet shirt, and back up at Remus’s horrified expression.

“Shit on a fucking stick! Bloody hell, I’m such a fucking wanker.” A long list of expletives shot out of Remus’s mouth.

And Sirius began laughing.

To his chagrin, Remus decided it was a good idea to grab a towel and begin dabbing at Sirius’s shirt with it. He began wiping at his stomach, not-so-subtly feeling his impressively hard muscles, then got to his knees and cleaned the coffee off of Sirius’s shoes and the floor.

“As much as I like the sight of you kneeling before me, I don’t think it’s doing much.”

Remus tilted his head up. Sirius was looking down at him with amusement and heat in his eyes.

Sirius bent down and got eye level with Remus. He grabbed his chin gently with two fingers.

“You’re the clumsiest, most adorable man I’ve ever met,” he whispered, leaning in until their lips almost met.

Before Sirius could move an inch further, Remus shot up on his feet.

“Er, we should… I-I have customers.”

Sirius stood up and looked around at the vacant bookstore and to the lone worker at the coffee bar who was on her phone.

“I think you could manage a five minute break.”

And with that, Sirius grabbed Remus’s pale hand in his warm one and led him out the door to the floral shop across the street.

Sirius held open the front door, extending his hand out to let Remus walk in first. “Gentlemen first.”

Remus walked into the store with Sirius behind him, and before Sirius could open his mouth to welcome and give him a tour, a flash of light blinded their eyes.

“What the fuck?”

Sirius blinked a few times to regain his vision, only to find James standing in front of them, camera poised in front his grinning face. Remus was looking at him, confusion written all over his face as he too readjusted his eyes.

“Aw, look at your faces.” He bought down the camera to look at the picture he just shot. He keenly resembled a proud parent on the night of prom. “You guys are such a cute couple.”

Sirius’s mouth hung wide open, disbelief and embarrassment written over his face. He crossed an arm around himself and hid his head in his heads, face palming his forehead very audibly, shaking his head in defeat.

Remus, on the other hand was smiling, amusement in his eyes. He gave James a small wave. “Nice to see you again, James. But, er, we aren’t exactly dating. We’ve really just been properly introduced.”

James waved him off. “Not yet you aren’t,” he winked suggestively.

Sirius lifted his head abruptly. “James,” he seethed, trying to remain pleasant. “Don’t you have to go do that thing?”

He tapped his chin thoughtfully and frowned. “I don’t think so, mate –”

But one look from Sirius had him running to the back.

Sirius was furious. James was a wonderful friend, no doubt. But he knew what Sirius had gone through with his previous relationship – the pain he had experienced after the man he loved cheated on him. Coming home from the jewelers, a newly bought engagement ring in his pocket. Calling out his name, his heart pounding in anticipation. Hearing sounds from their bedroom, and opening the door to see him fucking another man. Screaming and screaming and screaming until his voice was hoarse and his tears were nearly drowning him. Throwing the ring in his face. The betrayal. The heartbreak.

James knew. He witnessed it all – the breaking, the burning, the healing. He knew that Sirius thought he would never let someone in like that again; that he would never know what intimacy and love would feel like.

Three years gone. He had never been in a relationship since – never found a person that he could open himself up to. And now, with Remus, he felt like he could have that chance of happiness and love.

If James didn’t fuck it all up.

He turned around to face Remus, a long winded apology already on the tip of his tongue, but before he could get out a word, Remus took a long stride forward, wrapped Sirius in his arms, and kissed him, his lips soft and plush and fumbling.

Sirius, completely taken aback, had only one thought running through his mind. Remus is gay. I owe James ten bucks.

But that instantly vanished when he realized, Remus is kissing me.

Once his brain properly functioned, his lips curled into a warm smile and he began to properly kiss Remus back. His slightly shaky hand tentatively slid up to wrap around Remus’s neck, deepening the kiss. The other went around the man’s narrow waist, fingers tightening around his soft and oversized jumper, curling around the material to pull Remus closer to him.

They continued to kiss for what felt like hours. With their bodies pressed tight against one another, they were in their own cocoon of blissful heat. When Sirius pulled back slightly, his stormy eyes met Remus’s, whose were bright and warm like melted chocolate. He brought his hand up to cup Remus’s cheek tenderly, drinking in the flushed face, shy smile, and tousled hair.

“Can I just say something?” Sirius asked, breathless. A nod. “I am a fucked up man. I haven’t had a relationship in three years.” He shook his head, laughing a little. “You make me feel, Remus. I don’t know what it is about you. And I know we’ve only just met, and fucking hell this is cliché, but I feel like I’ve known you forever. Maybe it’s your taste in literature or your adorably crooked glasses, or maybe it’s the fact we connect in this way that I’ve never experienced. But I want to take this chance with you and risk being completely destroyed instead of wondering what could have been. So please take that chance with me because you are like no one I have ever met.” He exhaled a breath and quickly added, “It’s also a bonus that you’re incredibly handsome and witty.”

Remus laughed incredulously and merely nodded, whispering, “Yes.”

Sirius held up a finger, and ran over to the display case, picking up a single rose, and rushed back to Remus, holding it out to him.

He smiled, accepting the flower and pulled Sirius into him, kissing the life out of him.

From a passerby’s view in the cobbled streets, they would simply see two men in a tight embrace, their gazes never wavering.

Two lovers on Valentine’s Day.

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BTS Reactions - Their pregnant wife has morning sickness

You groan as you grip the toilet seat, throwing up whatever was left from last night’s dinner. Tears sting your eyes from the force of it, and just as you open your mouth to call your husband to help, more vomit comes up.  You’ve had two other occasions of morning sickness, but it hasn’t been this bad. You’re shaking and you don’t know what to do anymore.

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fakedarkangel  asked:

Hey there! Me again, I know, a plague :) Can we have some insecure! NoctNyx sex? like maybe first time and Nyx's all ready and stuff but Noctis' really awkward and has never done this so he isn't ready but doesn't want to disappoint Nyx? I live for uncomfortable or sad Noct being loved :p Either way, I love your stories, and also the other's guys too :) You are awesome =)

turned out a little differently than might be-fit your request, but i hope it’ll suffice! nsfw everybody.


Nyx loved this. He loved Noct, he was practically sure of it. They hadn’t talked about it much. Hadn’t really said it to each other yet. But Nyx felt with the prince something he hadn’t felt before with anyone else. A deep ache that wanted to reach out and pull Noctis inside to protect him from everything. The desire had extended so far beyond his duties as Kingsglaive. He wanted to warp head-first between Noct and danger with daggers bared, as well as just wrap him up in his arms like this.

Have him shut inside his apartment with the lively district chatter bubbling through the windows. Pressed down on his couch beneath him, making the cushions moan to match the sounds trapped in his throat. Long, careful kisses to melt down his barriers, open him up, invite Nyx in to make him feel safe and belonged and wanted.

Nyx was patient with him. Knew how hard it was for Noctis to trust, to give himself over completely. The prince was difficult to resist – with that soft hair that felt so good to tangle his hands through; that smooth skin which Noctis had allowed him small teases of to brush fingertips across; the way he bit his lip when Nyx ventured to whisper something in his ear. And those eyes like underwater street-lamps; submerged passages to mysteries Nyx wanted to get forever lost uncovering.

But Noct was worth waiting for. Worth the stumbled “no”s whenever Nyx asked. He was worth the nervous, needy hooks of fingers in Nyx’s shirt. Like he was afraid the rejection would chase him away forever. But Noct’s fear only drew Nyx closer. Fueled his want to protect him from that terror of being abandoned for saying “no.” If he was being honest, Nyx was starting to like the “no”s. He liked wanting to prove to Noctis that he could say anything and Nyx would adore him all the more for any of it. That he could be his truest, most honest self and Nyx would only pull him closer for it.

He’d gotten so used to “no” that Nyx didn’t expect the deep, breathy sigh of “yes.” He drew back from where he was lavishing kisses along Noct’s neck, hands braced against the couch on either side of the prince’s head. Noctis blinked up at him, eyes glittering, lips pink and parted and forcing Nyx to swallow down his hunger long enough to ask again.

“You sure?”

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Fic: You With the Sad Eyes, Don’t be Discouraged

Here is my submission for the Olicity Hiatus Fic-a-thon organized by @thebookjumper. The theme this week was “eye contact.” This fic kind of took on a life of its own, so I hope you enjoy it! 

Read it on Ao3 or below. 

You With the Sad Eyes, Don’t be Discouraged

This was the most ridiculous and humiliating thing she had ever endured.

Felicity Smoak, master hacker and double major in business and computers was sitting in Introduction to Computers 101  - as a student. She had thought her advisor was joking when she told Felicity, a college senior, that Intro to Computers was a required course to graduate.

It didn’t matter if she had taken many more advanced courses and was a senior. Nope. She had to sit here and listen to someone who probably didn’t know the difference between Linux and Windows. Frak you Starling University.

Cooper would have teased her to no end over this. She felt a twinge of pain in her heart at the thought of her now-deceased boyfriend. He had been arrested for their hacking antics and then killed himself in prison. Felicity let the guilt of her involvement in the hacking consume her.

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Visits

YAYYYY another Dean original ^~^ also I just want to take a quick second and say THANK YOU to @mysteriouslyme81 for recommending my “Shopping Day” original in their “Supernatural February Recommendation Library 2017″ You guys should go check their blog out and the other recommendations listed there!

This original is you and Dean in high school and of course your dad doesn’t know about Dean and y’all’s relationship so he comes and visits occasionally. Gummies became life savers ~ constructive criticism encouraged ~ enjoy!


‘Tables have four legs but they cant walk.’

‘Dead people can still get goosebumps.’

‘If you were to remove all of the empty space from the atoms that make up every human on earth, the entire world population could fit into an apple.’

You were supposed to be asleep but all these thoughts; these truthfully odd riddling-facts were just whizzing around your mind. It was very similar to the five blades on the ceiling fan spinning around, blending to look like one.

‘Laughing while being tickled is actually a panic response from your body.’

Just thinking about it made you giggle to yourself. It was always seen as a normal reaction to some people but it was actually a distress call from your body. 

A series of taps echoed throughout your room. Your eyebrows furrowed as you laid still, to make sure you weren’t hearing things and to make sure if it was something, you could catch it off guard.

Another set of taps came through from the window. Well at least you weren’t going crazy.

You were swift onto your feet and on the wall, knife in hand. More taps were heard, a bit more frantically this time.

With a quick turn in front of the window, you tilted your head in confusion and then a hand over your own mouth to keep from waking your dad with laughter.

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Hey guys, sorry for the lack of updates this week. My friends and I have been super working hard on this stop motion animation piece that is being projected on the walls of the Cubbon park metro station in Bangalore.

So here’s a bad gif from the video I took from my phone lol

Also thanks for all the follows! I’m seriously overwhelmed by the response I got for all my art!

Kaz had far bigger things to worry about than coping with the space left by the Wraith’s absence…and the cat taking up residence on his (the Wraith’s) windowsill.


Kaz drummed his fingers across the table, face turned to the closed door of his room and gloves tucked in the breast pocket of his suit jacket. Beyond the walls, the sound of Ketterdam’s obnoxious and oblivious inhabitants boiled and bubbled through the cracked window behind him. Despite winter staking claim on the wet, stone streets, Ketterdam still bustled and business boomed. Not even the moon showed its face but The Crow’s Nest knew not of curfews or stillness.

Before him lay papers and documents for his latest move and most importantly, security against the Tide Makers. The musings were hardly fleshed out but Kaz recognized the beginnings of a masterpiece and could feel the momentum gaining as he followed the threads meticulously. Months had passed since the dethroning of Pekka Rollins and Van Eck but the Bastard of the Barrel knew peace to be two things: fictitious and ephemeral. A bomb with a slow-burning fuse. Contrived only by children and naive city-dwellers that never wandered near dark alleys or gambling dens, peace was a deceitful tale only achieved by those deliriously rich.

Kaz Brekker, however rich he had become, was not delirious and was especially not naive. His days in the streets had made sure of such and it was a lesson he’d hold onto no matter if his hands bled or leg crumbled. Though the Barrel sometimes fell quiet, it never stilled, so neither would he.

An abrupt sound he could’ve only described as plucking diverted his attention and sent a jolt through him that set his spine straight. Kaz twisted his head to look across his shoulder; one hand reached out to his cane at the end of the table and the other for his gloves, and then promptly froze.

There, reaching as far as the windowsill allowed, lay a black cat exaggeratedly stretching its limbs and plucking the side of the window with long white claws. It froze in place, all four sets of claws dug deep and just as alert and wary as Kaz himself. If it weren’t for the small patch of white fur on its chest and the deep, wide amber eyes, it could slip into the shadows as neatly as the Wraith herself. So still and barely visible against the dark sky, tiny wisps of silver and gray were the only indication Kaz had that the creature was not, in fact, his eyes playing tricks.

Neither looked away, primed and waiting for a move to be made, for the other to relent.  

Finally, Kaz released the head of his cane and let it and himself relax but firmly held the feline’s fixed gaze. In return, it loosened its shoulders and retracted all four sets of claws. After a breath, it slowly blinked once then rose to lazily saunter out into the dark night as quietly as it had come.

It took a long moment before Kaz could look away from the open window, the whispers of a memory echoing in his head. I can help you. With an indulgent shrug of the shoulder, he stood and crossed the room to watch its descent but closed the window instead. Peering through the glass suspiciously for a bare moment, he almost thought to reply but let the words die on his tongue. You can’t help me.

The next time the Barrel King spotted the feline, the tip of a tail disappeared past the top of the window and several days after that, Kaz glimpsed two glowing eyes atop the roof as he left for the docks. It was then, though he never spoke it aloud, that he decided to give the vanishing cat a name: Ghoul.

On a night much colder and wetter, Kaz climbed the three flights of stairs leading to his room and tried to pay no mind to the clink of his cane on the steps or the click inside his knee.

Behind him, glasses and cups clattered as cheers carried across a room warmed by spirits and bodies and fires.

A room nearly fit to be an oven welcomed him when he finally entered, chasing away the chill in his bones then the short-lived relief quickly after.

He pulled the gloves off his hands, finger by finger, before setting them on the table and moving to crack the window just enough to grant reprieve from the heat. The moon presented itself in unashamed glory, painting twisted, silver squares across the bare floors and the cold air felt like liquid on his exposed knuckles.

He was nearly asleep, memories and plans turning over in his mind in a rapidly disintegrating order, when he heard a soft thud followed by a scraping sound not unlike the one he heard a few weeks before.

This time, Kaz didn’t flinch or sit up to face the infiltrator. Instead, he just turned his head slightly and caught it half under the window, reaching in as far as it could to pluck and dig while watching Kaz cautiously.

Kaz waited a breath and returned to his original position, occasionally paying attention out of the corner of his eye. He thought about ushering it away and shutting the window to sleep in solitude until it sprawled along the length of the windowsill, half-in and half-out. Kaz lie there, watching out of the corner of his eyes as its ears twitched and twisted at every sound up till they didn’t. Only then did he fall asleep to dreams of phantoms and rolling waters.

He tried to convince himself the dreams had nothing to do with the Wraith – none, whatsoever – and he damn near believed it until his breath caught when he heard a soft thud at his window and found a pair of round, gold eyes studying him on the other side.  He resigned to keeping the window propped open at night to prevent false starts and hopes.

He woke alone one morning to a mouse, ears perfectly round and eyes frozen wide, dead on the floor next to his bed. Peeved, he tossed it out the window and began to envision the many different ways he could kill the cat as he started his day.

Kaz still cracked the window every night.

Three times he caught himself leaving out strips of meat and he even found himself leaning over to scratch its chin on occasion. Twice were done with a gloved hand and not without consequence. Ghoul had turned his head and bit down, claws curling deeply and securely into the leather until Kaz pulled him off by the scruff. After that, Kaz only reached out with bare palms to meet soft paws and purchased a long strip of fine leather as a replacement. Ghoul only ever lay atop it and he briefly contemplated throwing it away out of spite.

Nearly a month and several dead-offerings later, Kaz woke in the small hours of the night to the sensation of being watched. Against the furthest wall of the room, Ghoul sat half-crouched and ears low, waiting. Only its gaze wasn’t on him, it was on the window. Or, rather, through the window as a dark shadow overtook a corner and the smell of sea-spray and gunpowder sifted in. During the months since she’d left, she shed the scent of Ketterdam and adopted the scent of the ocean and her conquests. It didn’t matter, no matter if it was her voice, her smell, her – no matter what form she took, Kaz Brekker would always recognize Inej Ghafa, his kind, willowy Wraith.

Kaz rose and slowly crossed the room to lean against the table, watching as Inej lifted the window and slid in like a leaf drifting effortlessly down a stream. On his other side, Ghoul flattened and slunk lower into the shadows as she stepped into the room. Kaz only saw the delight swell in her smile as her eyes drifted to the furry phantom and only heard the intrusive of his heartbeat as it grew quicker, louder, heavier.

“Kaz Brekker,” she began lowly. “Are you going soft on me?” Even in the pale light of the slimming moon, Kaz could see that her skin was a slight shade darker, her knuckles and fingertips wearing more discolored lines than he remembered. Curiosity simmered in his chest and suddenly, he wished for something he couldn’t yet name, something he wasn’t yet ready to label. She grinned, a smile that reached her eyes and across the distance to his chest. The Wraith knelt on one knee and held out her palm, all in one gentle, fluid motion.

Kaz Brekker cast a look to the ceiling, as if asking the Saints the same question, before turning his attention down to the furry visitor. He considered telling her that he, Kaz “Dirtyhands” Brekker, leader of the Dregs, bastard of the barrel, did in fact have a soft spot for agile creatures that climbed through his window in the middle of the night but instead, he thought it best to just tell her the cat’s name. “Ghoul.”

A grin split across her face and Kaz could see the laughter in her eyes. She repeated him, as if tasting the name on her lips to see if it matched the shadow of fur in front of her. Tentatively “You must be my replacement,” she said, unmoving as he leaned forward to sniff her hand and test her patience. “I must warn you not to sneak up on Dirtyhands. Then again, you wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t already.” Her eyes lifted up to his, as dark and beautiful as Kaz remembered. Wisps of hair framed her face, strands falling loose from a messy braid tucked over one shoulder. He wasn’t sure when it had happened, but a smile had formed on his face so wide his lips threatened to show teeth.

“No bells,” he conceded with a gesturing nod to the curious fellow below and her head tilted at the answer. He extended a hand to her with a deep breath and shrugged the other shoulder, “less armor.”

Her grin shrunk into a soft smile that gave him a warm feeling in his chest larger and more overwhelming than almost everything he’d ever known. It consumed him nearly as quickly and powerfully as slipping back to the fateful day on the bay, but good. Like ice on bruised knuckles and hot water on sore limbs but it was more than just relief. He wanted to savor the feeling, live with it every day and never let it escape him or become corrupted. Slowly, Inej raised her palm to hover just above his, giving him the power to close the gap. Her voice echoed within him again and he let it ring through his bones like a promise. I will have you without armor, Kaz Brekker. Or I will not have you at all. For he conquered many enemies and won many battles in Ketterdam, Kaz Brekker had yet to conquer himself and the demons he could not shake. He readied himself for his hardest battle alongside his strongest ally, his confidante, his touchstone. He focused on the crease of her smile, the fullness of the blood flowing through him, and the way she held both her gaze and her hand steady; let it consume him with the fierce sensation of being alive.

He took a deep breath and lifted his hand meet Inej’s, ready for the next battle.