Kaz Brekker doesn't do touching. The number of people who have seen his hands out of his gloves can be counted on Kaz's one hand.

But for Inej, he tries. It takes days, months and years to swallow back the revulsion he feels at human contact.

It starts with a brush of fingers until the desire to vomit fades away as Kaz reminds himself that she's not a bloated corpse.

It becomes standing side by side with shoulders touching, and Kaz has to close his eyes until he can bear the feeling without thinking of cold, clammy flesh.

It's Inej straightening his tie when they spend time with her family and Kaz so desperately wants to press his lips to her warm, brown skin. But he can't promise he won't faint and so he refrains.

Until the day he can finally place his mouth on hers and his body melts over her frame the way it's supposed to.

And it's only possible because Inej is brave enough and strong enough to master her own paralyzing reaction to skin on skin contact.

She tries because she can see how it takes every ounce of Kaz's strength to touch her. And she wants him to touch her and for her to be present for every second instead of thinking of the horrors she endured.

For her it starts with hand-holding, which she can manage with only the slightest racing heart. They make it to hugs and it is Kaz who strokes her head when her muscles lock and her breath comes fast. Kaz whose heart she focuses on and tries to match with her deep breaths.

It is Kaz who holds her when she comes through his window on the days her ship is docked in Ketterdam. She can never catch him unaware. The second her shadow falls over his sleeping form, his eyes are on her, as if he's waiting for her.

They are an unlikely pair in Ketterdam, and yet; they make the most sense. For who else would Dirtyhands Brekker see as his equal if not for the Wraith.

And if anyone doubts how devoted they are to each other, because Kaz Brekker would never be caught acting even close to affectionate in public, all they have to think of is the stories whispered in the dark about the time he ripped out a man's eyes for the damages wrought on his Wraith.

But there comes a time when Inej whispers to him in the dark, wrapped in the cocoon of his arms, that there is to be a child. And of course it's Kaz's, for who else could it be.

In the quiet that follows, he is almost frozen with fear. Inej is the only one who's touch he can bear. In that instant, he wishes the child was someone else's even though the very thought of it is enough to send him into a shaking rage.

Because what if he cannot bear the touch of his own child? What will he do then?

He never says as much to Inej, but she has learned every tic and breath and shift of Kaz and what it means and she understands, anyway.

Inej imagines Kaz will be many things as a father: protective, stern but revolted by his own child is not one of them.

Kaz is present when the squalling alien looking child enters the world. Steady and calm, the way Inej needs him to be while she screams and crushes his hands in her grip. Comforting is not a word that has ever been used to describe Kaz Brekker. But while Inej is whimpering in pain, his low voice provides a stream of encouragement in her ear as she gasps for breath. He is solid, never wavering as Inej pushes and pushes and times stretches on.

But finally the child enters the world, their voice piercing the quiet where only Inej's heaving breaths are heard. Kaz's hand is still holding Inej's, but his sharp eyes follow the Healer as they whisk his child out of sight, his ears straining to make sure his child is still making noise.

Kaz is stroking Inej's hair, whispering how wonderful she did, wiping the sweat from her face, fluffing her pillows to make sure she's comfortable because she is the dearest thing in the world to him.

Kaz doesn't get a chance for his heart to stop racing or to think about his fear of being revolted by his own child when a swaddled bundle is thrust into his arm and the Healer is exiting the room to give the brand new parents a moment together. He barely hears the news that he is the father to a daughter.

Kaz freezes in wonder, looking down at the tiny human in his hands. The wriggling and crying stops almost immediately when she is placed in his arms. His little girl has light brown skin and jet black hair and her eyes are big and dark as her head moves from side to side.

Kaz wants to do the exact opposite of drop his little girl, he wants to hold her close, and kiss her and take in that baby smell to make sure that she's real.

His shaky legs collapse on the edge of the bed Inej is lying in and he presents their daughter to her tired eyes.

"She's so small," Inej says sleepily.

"She's going to be my cutthroat little girl," Kaz coos down at her. Inej rolls her eyes and relaxes into her pillows.


"I can't wait for the day she breaks someone's knees," Kaz says, holding the little baby to his chest.


"You're right, we'll start her with knives, there's a lot less blood involved," Kaz says solemnly. Inej lets out a laugh, Kaz's favourite laugh, and then groans.

"Healers!" he barks, and they come rushing into the room. Kaz says nothing else. The look on his face is threatening enough, so he moves out of their way as they work to heal Inej and ease her pain.

It takes an hour, maybe more, Kaz standing in the corner the whole time, rocking his child as he lightly strokes his hand over her downy hair while Inej lays with her eyes closed. In the end the Healers tell him that physically Inej is fine, but the exhaustion in her bones is something that will only go away with sleep.

They name her Nina.

The only people who know that Kaz turns into a puddle of mush when it comes to his child are the child in question and Inej. The first couple of years, when the folks of the Barrel see Inej, Kaz, and little Nina out and about, they whisper how lonely the child must feel and how unloved because her father never hugs her or gives her kisses.

They whisper how Nina must be so afraid of displeasing Dirtyhands Brekker, even now, at her young age. They whisper how Kaz must already demand more of this little girl than anyone demands of their child because Kaz Brekker doesn't have time for the underwhelming. They whisper that Kaz Brekker must be planning something because Kaz does nothing without a scheme in mind.

At least that's how the rumours go.

Inej is the only one who's seen Kaz stay up all night, soothing Nina when she wakes up crying, feeding her warm milk to get her back to sleep while he thinks Inej is still sleeping. Inej is there when Nina catches her first cold and Kaz puts on Nina's favourite jacket and hat, and her little bejeweled shoes to go get some hot chocolate while Inej tracks down a Healer.

No one from the Barrel sees the time Kaz puts a band-aid on Nina's pudgy knees when she's just getting the hang of walking and trips and falls. They do not see Kaz when he tells Nina children's stories right before bed to get her to settle down, or the way Nina is sprawled out on Kaz's chest, her own rising and falling in deep sleep. Sometimes she leaves them like that. Kaz passed out while his daughter uses him as a mattress.

He watches Inej teach Nina how to ride a bike first and then she gets her started on balancing on a wooden beam. His face is calm, his features neutral, hands clasped behind his back as he watches the toddler stumble across, her chubby hands clasped in Inej's. On the outside, Kaz is the picture of stern, unconcerned, because they are in public. He appears the demanding father who will not approve of his child not being a double threat with the combined skills of her parents. It is like everyone would expect.

On the inside, Kaz is a mess.

Breaking into and out of the Ice Court was easier than having to sit back and watch his little girl stumble on a wooden beam when she's barely learned to walk. He wants to scoop her up into his arms, press kisses to her face, and take her home with the promise that she'll never have to worry about hurting her little legs.

But he doesn't. Because they are in public. And he knows a child of his cannot be soft in a place like Ketterdam.

Nina, of course, adores him and learns very quickly that she has her father wrapped around her little finger. Kaz will sneak her sweets and ice cream and even toss her in the air while she shrieks with giggles of delight. Inej scolds the two of them for being partners in crime, but in truth, it fills her with warmth.

Kaz Brekker is exactly the kind of father that she knew he would be.

When it's time for little Nina to go to preschool, it's Inej who enrolls her because they both know Kaz would make the administration faint from fear. It's Inej who drops Nina off in the morning, and for the first few weeks, it is the other Crows who pick up Nina from school. The parents are used to seeing Jesper's lanky form and Wylan's curly hair swinging Nina back and forth between the two of them as they take her to their house for babysitting. Once or twice they even see Hanne and Nina, together, pick up the little girl from school and take her shopping to buy her pretty clips and brightly coloured dresses.

And eventually it's Kaz who takes over picking up his daughter from preschool.

The other parents or servants stare at Kaz out of the corner of their eye, their heads bent together whispering to each other about the tall man dressed all in black and a cane in his hand. They wonder who he's here to pick up on his first day and watch in confusion as lovely little Nina comes bounding down the stairs of the school, a smile spread across her face as she spots her favourite person in the world waiting.

"Papa!" she yells excitedly as she comes careening into his long legs and latches onto them like a weed. At first she's perplexed by the solemn look on Kaz's face, an expression she's never had occasion to see aimed at her before, but Kaz gives her a wink, and some of the uncertainty leaves her small shoulders.

Kaz bends down even though it pains his leg and acts as if he is making sure Nina's bag is all zipped up.

"Nina darling, Papa has to be serious when we're in crowds like this, okay," he tells her quietly. Nina nods her head eagerly in understanding. "Think of it as a game okay and act super important."

Nina does not understand completely, but she nods anyway and puts on her most serious face and straightens her shoulders. It takes everything in Kaz not to smile and scoop her up.

The other parents watch them walk away, Nina's small hand disappearing inside of Kaz's larger one. They only hear him ask her if she's making him proud in that severe way of his and their faces form frowns out of pity. Nina does her best to try not to sound excited to tell her papa about her day at preschool. Sometimes she forgets and starts skipping before remembering that she has to act important. Serious.

Kaz feels bad for asking his young daughter to do this, a sensation that he is unfamiliar with. It kills him to have to pretend that he doesn't love her when they are outside. But the business that Kaz works in doesn't allow him to be soft in any capacity, not even when it's his child.

On the way home, he buys the two of them ice cream and they wander by the canals, finishing them together. When they get home, Kaz gives little Nina the hugs and kisses that he knows she's come to expect from him, and his heart tugs at the way her face lights up in delight. In his heart is a steady chant of I'm sorry.

He is not afraid that a target will be put on Nina. Everyone has seen what Kaz has done when a single hair on Inej's head was disturbed. It doesn't even bear thinking about the nightmare that awaits the world if his daughter so much as sniffles out of hurt.