Once, when Karleigh was younger, a boy had climbed the elegant façade of her uncle’s house to tap on her bedroom window. It had been a deeply moonlit night, so she had caught his shadow across the glass before he knocked for her, and his hair had a silver sheen like something precious, and her stomach had gotten butterflies just from the storybook timing.
A year later, she realized it wasn’t romance in the stories. It was just practicality. Dashing young men who tried to climb on darker nights, probably fell and broke their backs. Even if the pretty girl was only on the second story.
At home, where her rooms sprawled comfortably on an inside corner of the palace’s fifth floor, no one had ever climbed up to meet her. No one would, when doors were easier, and all of them had aged past the game of it.
But then, there was a tap, late one evening.
Karleigh lifted her head from her books. It was easy to imagine twenty innocuous things which might have made the sound – a squirrel dropping something small from the roof, the breeze brushing just the wrong way to make the glass creak, her neighbor’s latch being lifted – and she was more distracted than curious. She listened, ignored it within a moment, and looked back down.
The tap returned. Twice. And immediately became something purposeful.
Karleigh hesitated, then shifted her books from her lap. She neatly wiped the ink from her pen to place it back in the stand, and the tap came a third time. She smiled, stood, and crossed to the window.
She pushed it open gently to let Zain shift on the other side, and avoid its swing. Crossing her arms on the sill, she knew she should have been surprised. But she wasn’t. His blonde hair was laced with silver in the moonlight. Half his face was in shadow, but she knew his smile well enough.
“I see you’re back in port,” she murmured.
“Yes, my lady,” he said. He held his voice just as low, and it made the formality sweet. And strange. And so ridiculously playful that she almost laughed.
He was still in his Captain’s uniform, jacket buttoned tight against his chest, white shirt pressed perfectly so that it showed above the collar. His hair was salt-curled, but smelled like sweet soap. He shifted to brace himself better against the outside wall, and seemed comfortable enough, wedged into the corner immediately outside her window. There was an extra strap across his chest, a bag slung high on his back. It moved more than his adjustment allowed. Something, perhaps, chirruped inside. And a ferret’s pointed nose poked over his shoulder.
Zain ignored it. Karleigh did as well.
“How long have you been home?” she asked.
“We made it in on the evening tide,” he said.
She raised her eyebrows. “Were you in a rush? It might have been safer to wait until morning.”
“No crew likes to sleep on ship when they can already see the city lights,” he said. “Especially not mine. I have a very reckless bunch. And they like a challenge.” He was having a hard time holding back a full grin.
She leaned out just to make it clear when she looked down at his perch. His foot was pressed tight to a ledge beneath the window. His other leg was bent back under him to rest his heel against the wall behind him. “You had standards,” she said. “None more reckless than you.”
He grinned. Laughed. And never looked away from her.
“I was in a rush,” he said.
“Do you have news that couldn’t wait for morning?” she asked. She had been combing letters from other Captains a moment ago, and there always seemed something new and pressing. There was a war on the water. It seemed ridiculous to talk about it through a window like this, but it was never very far from thought.
Zain shook his head. His expression sobered just enough that she knew he had followed her through to other things as well. But he held onto an unshakeable smile. Held her eye. “No,” he said. “Nothing that needed to be delivered at midnight.”
“But you’re here,” she said. “And… You have something furry on your back.” She laughed, because the ferret was nosing over his shoulder again, and she couldn’t keep her face straight while he hung outside her window and she ignored important papers behind her.
“Yes,” Zain said. “That’s Tafi. He’s supposed to be good luck.”
“Aboard ship, yes,” she said.
“I figured I would take whatever I could get, when I was going to climb five floors and try to steal a kiss from ShatterIron’s niece,” Zain said.
Karleigh shook her head. “Now you’ve ruined all your chances. You can’t rob a girl when she knows what’s coming.”
Zain looked down, just for a second. Then he nodded. “I know.”
Karleigh looked at his perch again, at his carefully placed feet. He hadn’t moved since he arrived. So she leaned out as far she could, and didn’t care that the sill cut against one hip.
At first touch, she shut her eyes, and all she cared about was the sudden understanding of how soft his lips were and how gently his hands could hold her. How tangled they could be in an instant, fingers in hair, lips on lips, until she didn’t want to draw away.
It was not the place for first kisses. The thought was so immediate, she laughed and couldn’t chase it away. But it was exactly the place to kiss Zain. She did it again, just to prove it to herself.
Eyes still shut, Karleigh took a deep breath. She felt him do the same.
“Now, get down,” she whispered. “Before you hurt yourself.”
My friends are thieves! They ran off with a line from this piece, and wrote fictions of their own involving furry things. Check out all the robberies, over here.