There was a knife in a box on his desk, and there was a girl downstairs who’d just finished running a con for him.
The larger of the two issues: he’d sent Inej out on her own, which was proving to have been an unfortunate choice for someone who was, without any spare reasoning, incapable of putting her out of his mind for more than two consecutive thoughts.
He was not a lovesick boy. He didn’t do this, he did not see someone slightly more attractive than the average person and forget how to manage himself. The last time he’d spared more than a single moment toward anything remotely romantic had been for scamming someone out of their fortune, and excluding business, had been when he was fourteen years old.
He did not get crushes. He didn’t. He was stronger than that.
Or, he’d thought he was stronger than that.
But today, he’d been an asshole, and he’d sent Inej out on her own for a mission he was only partly sure she’d return whole from. She’d known she wasn’t ready as much as he had, and she’d gotten angry rather than scared -- or possibly angry due to fear -- and argued with him until the moment he’d slammed a book down with a threat on his lips and pure frustration in his eyes.
He hadn’t been kind. He wasn’t usually kind, but he’d been something closer to the antithesis of kind, today.
In fact, he was unkind enough to have had Jesper walk quietly up all the way up to the third floor after Inej had rushed out the window, only to point out how he’d been able to hear his ‘unkindness’ all the way from the first floor.
Usually, he didn’t feel remorse for yelling. Stupid people deserved his cruel bluntness, no matter how loud it may come to them. But Inej wasn’t stupid; she was right, and he was being obtuse after being backed into the corner of desperately needing some single-opportunity information, knowing Roeder actually was stupid, and knowing he couldn’t fit into the places he needed said spider to go, himself.
Inej was not ready to be breaking and entering into high-security houses with no backup inside the house, let alone no backup in general. He’d taken a risk on her safety, and he’d never felt like this particular brand of shit.
In the end, she’d returned with a few scratches from the rusty interiors of some vents, but otherwise unharmed. She’d still been angry, and had practically spat the entirety of her report at him when she’d returned, but she was physically well.
And still, he felt bad. To the point of brooding literally over his work, papers strewn about his desk while his mind found ways to rope Inej into his train of thought without fail. He had to apologize, he had to talk to her, because Haskell was going to continue to harass him for these records until they were in his own lazy hands, and he was not going to be capable of finishing the records while the last expression he’d seen on her face -- pretty, wonderful, splendid face -- had been of such disdain.
He wasn’t sure how apology had turned into gift-giving, though.
Eventually, he’d himself walking to and from The Slat’s weaponry supplier, returning with a neatly carved box and a receipt for one of the nicest knives he’d ever purchased. Personally, he was able to work with just about anything, and found little purpose in buying anything particularly showy; there was some comedy in ruining someone’s life with a piece of basic kitchenware, in his opinion.
Inej did like flashy knives, though. A lot.
So, there was a box with a knife inside sitting out on his desk, and he was trying to just make certain he was truly unable to finish his work without apologizing to Inej before he handed over a pricey piece of retractable steel. It was possible his mind wouldn’t ease, anyway, and he’d have spent both money and time on this for nothing.
He was proving himself wrong, the longer he sat here. He was weak, and he was just as stupid as his damn crew.
The box practically glared him into submission from where it was seated on his desk. He stood, took his cane, and flipped the lid open.
The knife was gorgeous, he’d admit. Basic, but perfectly crafted: a wooden handle with a golden band around the end. The handle concealed the steel blade, never once used prior to purchase. Still not worth the kruge he’d spent on it, but worth the peace he’d get from offloading it onto someone who’d rejoice in it.
He took the knife out of the box, flipping it open with the press of a trigger button.
He was no longer used to handling a knife, as a gun was much easier single-handedly, and had been his weapon of choice since he’d injured his leg and found both his cane and gun to be enough to win most fights. Still, he knew how to test the reliability, to ensure he’d bought something usable before handing the blade off to be used on jobs, for defense, hopefully for some sort of gain.
The blade flipped open.
Of course, to ensure the thing wouldn’t fall apart after stabbing through flesh was going to have to wait until an opportunity to put it through someone, which was… well, inconvenient, but there were lines he was not willing to cross. Especially seeing as Inej was decorated practically head to toe in other blades, and many of which would literally fall into her hand, should she become desperate.
And if not…
If not, hopefully she’d appreciate the sentiment, should the knife prove itself faulty.
He tested the durability of the blade’s attachment to the handle, pressing against the edges in every direction. It did not move. He had half a mind to stab it into the wall, to see how well it would hold up embedded in oak, but even some of his more trustworthy blades had met their end by getting torn apart through The Slat’s walls.
He’d leave the extra testing up to Inej. For now, this was much more than fine, especially seeing as it wasn’t even a damn bribe.
He pressed the trigger button on the side once more, sending the blade back into the handle. Quickly, he put the now seemingly empty handle into the box, closed the lid and flipped the latch shut, and walked down the stairs to Inej’s room.
Realistically, he could’ve made the much shorter descent out the window, which likely would have been an act of grace toward his already throbbing leg, too. Entering her room through the window was to completely forsake knocking, though, as there was nowhere to rest outside while checking for permission to go inside. While one part of him was genuinely afraid she’d come at him with one of her many other knives, the potential of seeing the look on her face as someone tried to intrude…
Regardless, dangerous or not, it was worth the half flight of stairs. He was usually able to manage to work through pain; it was whatever this was that needed to go.
When Inej opened the door, he was able to actually watch her consider slamming the door in his face, and the moment she’d opted not to.
“What is that?” she asked, glancing down at the box in his hand. She stepped back, making space for him to enter, despite the bitter glare she was shooting his way. “I don’t want to see De Haan’s fountain pen, if you’ve managed to murder him and raid his home in the half hour I’ve been back. Alive and well, I might add, if you were at all concerned.”
“It’s for you,” he said, holding out the box as she shut the door with one hand.
“Oh, good. Will your little gift try to kill me, too?”
“Will you just take the damn box?” he snapped through gritted teeth, barely holding back from yelling at her. That’s exactly what got you into this mess, he told himself. Pull it together.
She continued to glare at him, but reluctantly -- truly reluctantly, not just putting on a show to be difficult -- took the box from him. Everything about the way she moved was slow, like she was preparing to throw the box and run before whatever was inside could jump out and kill her.
Maybe a retracting knife wasn’t the best choice after putting her life in immediate danger.
“What is it?” she asked, looking down at the handle.
Until this point, he’d been planning on letting her figure it out, herself. However, after the events of the knife, and her obvious mistrust toward him -- which was clearly not awful, seeing as they were alone in her room with the door closed -- he was fairly certain she would never end up putting her hands on the handle without being perfectly sure of what was inside.
“A knife,” he said, taking a step back to lean against the wall. “You press the button, the blade pops out. I thought you’d find it… entertaining.”
“And you’re giving it to me because?”
“Because I need you to stop stomping around and let me finish my work, or I’m not going to have any more jobs to send you on, and neither of us is going to get paid.”
She rolled her eyes, taking the handle out of the box. “Asshole,” she said under her breath, setting the box down.
Every time he saw her with a knife in her hand, he grew marginally more afraid for his life in her presence. And once she found the button and the blade was out, he swore his heart actually dropped out of his chest and onto the floor. She wasn’t even approaching him, but he’d seen what she was able to do, knew he wasn’t necessarily better with a knife than she was. He was better in a fight, yes -- but she was quickly catching up.
The clean, clear steel glinted against the lamplight, with enough shine to see one’s reflection inside. She admired it like it was a precious jewel, like it was much more than a piece of molded metal.
“I like it,” she said, pressing the button once more and setting it down onto the bed beside her. “But I don’t forgive you.”
“It was expensive,” he challenged, an eyebrow raised.
“You haven’t even apologized with your words, yet. I wasn’t ready for that mission, I nearly got myself caught on the way out, and it’s just the same to you because you still got the information you needed,” she said, growing progressively angrier and louder with each word.
He wished he could tell her. Tell her about how he’d worried the entire time she’d been gone, how the thought of not seeing her return was enough to make his heart start pounding and his stomach start churning. Tell her about how every time something had gone even slightly wrong in the few jobs he’d accompanied her on, she was his first thought.
“I don’t forgive you,” she continued, looking straight into his eyes, “and I won’t forgive you until you put your brain back into your skull and actually use it for something other than greed.”
“Fine,” he sighed, rolling his eyes. “I’m sorry.”
“If it took me telling you to say it, you don’t actually mean it,” she said, shoulders dropped, expression going back to practiced indifference. “I don’t want an empty apology, anyway. I want you to stop being a podge and consider my safety -- and everyone else's, for that matter -- before you send me out on jobs.”
“I won’t stop sending you on missions you’re unsure about. You’ll never get better if you refuse to practice. But I will stop sending you on missions above your skill level.”
He would, mostly because he had genuinely felt sick the entire time she’d been away. The moment she’d returned, he’d felt his entire body clear up, like a fever breaking in the span of seconds. He never wanted to feel like he’d fucked up by sending her out again; he never wanted to be afraid she wouldn’t return because of a mistake he’d made.
“Thank you,” she said, sitting back onto the bed and picking up the knife again. She pressed the button repeatedly, but never completely, sending the knife slightly in and out of the handle, staring up at him while she spoke and paying no mind to her own fidgeting.
“And you better mean it, Brekker. You just further armed me,” she threatened, tilting the knife in his direction.
He grinned slightly, nodding once. She was… well, no. Maybe he was just weak.
“On my life, Inej,” he said. It was not an exaggeration -- he’d take himself on the next one, if it meant keeping her away from harm. Damn the consequences, damn the possibility of getting stuck in a rich man's air vents. Anything to keep them away from this situation, anything to keep him from being this behind at work ever again. “And clean the scratches on your arms, would you? I need you healthy for a job tomorrow.”
She looked up at him, angry, before seeing the grin still displayed on his face as he pulled open the door to her room. “You know, I truly hate you,” she laughed. "I already cleaned the wounds, shevrati."
He was only partly joking -- he did need her for a job, the next day; an easy one, where there would be little to no real risk. He wanted her to clean her arms to keep her safe, but he did have use for her, as well.
“Good. And I couldn’t blame you, dear,” he said, stepping outside and shutting the door behind him, leaving without time for her to respond. Dear.
When he got back to his room, he’d be unable to work, and it would still be because of Inej. However, this time, it would not be due to the anger and hurt he’d seen so clearly displayed on her face earlier in the evening.
It would be because of the picture in his head of the last time he’d seen her: a blush on her cheeks, laughing with her eyes closed, and a knife in her hand.