Chapter no 7 – Kenji

Defy Me (Shatter Me Book 5)

“Do you want to tell me what the hell is going on?”

I stop, frozen in place, at the sound of Nazeera’s voice. I was heading back to my room to close my eyes for a minute. To try to do something about the massive headache ringing through my skull.

We finally, finally, took a break.

A brief recess after hours of exhausting, stressful conversations about next steps and blueprints and something about stealing a plane. It’s too much. Even Nazeera, with all her intel, couldn’t give me any real assurance that Juliette— sorry, Ella—and Warner were still alive, and just the chance that someone out there might be torturing them to death is, like, more than my mind can handle right now. Today has been a shitstorm of shit. A tornado of shit. I can’t take it anymore. I don’t know whether to sit down and cry or set something on fire.

Castle said he’d brave his way down to the kitchens to see about scrounging up some food for us, and that was the best news I’d heard all day. He also said he’d do his best to placate the soldiers for just a little longer— just long enough for us to figure out exactly what we’re going to do next—but I’m not sure how much he can do. It was bad enough when J got shot. The hours she spent in the medical wing were stressful for the rest of us, too. I really thought the soldiers would revolt right then. They kept stopping me in the halls, yelling about how they thought she was supposed to be invincible, that this wasn’t the plan, that they didn’t decide to risk their lives for a regular teenage girl who couldn’t take a bullet and goddammit she was supposed to be some supernatural phenomenon, something more than human—

It took forever to calm them down. But now?

I can only imagine how they’ll react when they hear what happened at the symposium. It’ll be mutiny, most likely.

I sigh, hard.

“So you’re just going to ignore me?”

Nazeera is standing inches away from me. I can feel her, hovering. Waiting. I still haven’t said anything. Still haven’t turned around. It’s not that I don’t want to talk— I think I might, sort of, want to talk. Maybe some other

day. But right now I’m out of gas. I’m out of James’s jokes. I’m fresh out of fake smiles. Right now I’m nothing but pain and exhaustion and raw emotion, and I don’t have the bandwidth for another serious conversation. I really don’t want to do this right now.

I’d nearly made my escape, too. I’m right here, right in front of my door.

My hand is on the handle.

I could just walk away, I think.

I could be that kind of guy, a Warner kind of guy. A jackass kind of guy.

Just walk away without a word. Too tired, no thank you, don’t want to talk.

Leave me alone.

Instead, I slump forward, rest my hands and forehead against the closed bedroom door. “I’m tired, Nazeera.”

“I can’t believe you’re upset with me.”

My eyes close. My nose bumps against the wood. “I’m not upset with you. I’m half asleep.”

“You were mad. You were mad at me for having the same ability as you.

Weren’t you?” I groan.

“Weren’t you?” she says again, this time angrily. I say nothing.

Unbelievable. That is the most petty, ridiculous, immature—” “Yeah, well.”

“Do you know how hard it was for me to tell you that? Do you have any idea—” I hear her sharp, angry huff. “Will you at least look at me when I’m talking to you?”


“What?” She sounds startled. “What do you mean you can’t?” “Can’t look at you.”

She hesitates. “Why not?” “Too pretty.”

She laughs, but angrily, like she might punch me in the face. “Kenji, I’m trying to be serious with you. This is important to me. This is the first time in my whole life I’ve ever shown other people what I can do. It’s the first time I’ve ever interacted with other people like me. Besides,” she says, “I thought we decided we were going to be friends. Maybe that’s not a big deal to you, but it’s a big deal to me, because I don’t make friends easily. And right now you’re making me doubt my own judgment.”

I sigh so hard I nearly hurt myself.

I push off the door, stare at the wall. “Listen,” I say, swallowing hard. “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. I just— There was a minute back there, before you really started talking, when I thought you’d just, like, lied about things. I didn’t understand what was happening. I thought maybe you’d set us up. A

bunch of stuff seemed too crazy to be a coincidence. But we’ve been talking for hours now, and I don’t feel that way anymore. I’m not mad anymore. I’m sorry. Can I go now?”

“Of course,” she says. “I just . . .” She trails off, like she’s confused, and then she touches my arm. No, she doesn’t just touch my arm. She takes my arm. She wraps her hand around my bare forearm and tugs, gently.

The contact is hot and immediate. Her skin is soft. My brain feels dim.


“Stop,” I say.

She drops her hand.

“Why won’t you look at me?” she says.

“I already told you why I won’t look at you, and you laughed at me.”

She’s quiet for so long I wonder if she’s walked away. Finally, she says, “I thought you were joking.”

“Well, I wasn’t.” More silence.

Then: “Do you always say exactly what you’re thinking?”

“Most of the time, yeah.” Gently, I bang my head against the door. I don’t understand why this girl won’t let me wallow in peace.

“What are you thinking right now?” she asks.

Jesus Christ.

I look up, at the ceiling, hoping for a wormhole or a bolt of lightning or maybe even an alien abduction—anything to get me out of here, this moment, this relentless, exhausting conversation.

In the absence of miracles, my frustration spikes.

“I’m thinking I want to go to sleep,” I say angrily. “I’m thinking I want to be left alone. I’m thinking I’ve already told you this, a thousand times, and you won’t let me go even though I apologized for hurting your feelings. So I guess what I’m really thinking is I don’t understand what you’re doing here. Why do you care so much about what I think?”

“What?” she says, startled. “I don’t—”

Finally, I turn around. I feel a little unhinged, like my brain is flooded. There’s too much happening. Too much to feel. Grief, fear, exhaustion. Desire.

Nazeera takes a step back when she sees my face.

She’s perfect. Perfect everything. Long legs and curves. Her face is insane. Faces shouldn’t look like that. Bright, honey-colored eyes and skin like dusk. Her hair is so brown it’s nearly black. Thick, heavy, straight. She reminds me of something, of a feeling I don’t even know how to describe. And there’s something about her that’s made me stupid. Drunk, like I could just stare at her and be happy, float forever in this feeling. And then I realize, with a start, that I’m staring at her mouth again.

I never mean to. It just happens.

She’s always touching her mouth, tapping that damn diamond piercing under her lip, and I’m just dumb, my eyes following her every move. She’s standing in front of me with her arms crossed, running her thumb absently against the edge of her bottom lip, and I can’t stop staring. She startles, suddenly, when she realizes I’m looking. Drops her hands to her sides and blinks at me. I have no idea what she’s thinking.

“I asked you a question,” I say, but this time my voice comes out a little rough, a little too intense. I knew I should’ve kept my eyes on the wall.

Still, she only stares at me.

“All right. Forget it,” I say. “You keep begging me to talk, but the minute I ask you a question, you say nothing. That’s just great.”

I turn away again, reach for the door handle. And then, still facing the door, I say:

“You know—I’m aware that I haven’t done a good job being smooth about this, and maybe I’ll never be that kind of guy. But I don’t think you should treat me like this, like I’m some idiot nothing, just because I don’t know how to be a douchebag.”

“What? Kenji, I don’t—”

Stop,” I say, jerking away from her. She keeps touching my arm, touching me like she doesn’t even know she’s doing it. It’s driving me crazy. “Don’t do that.”

“Don’t do what?”

Finally, angrily, I spin around. I’m breathing hard, my chest rising and falling too fast. “Stop messing with me,” I say. “You don’t know me. You don’t know anything about me. You say you want to be my friend, but you talk to me like I’m an idiot. You touch me, constantly, like I’m a child, like you’re trying to comfort me, like you have no idea that I’m a grown-ass man who might feel something when you put your hands on me like that.” She tries to speak and I cut her off. “I don’t care what you think you know about me—or how stupid you think I am—but right now I’m exhausted, okay? I’m done. So if you want nice Kenji maybe you should check back in the morning, because right now all I’ve got is jack shit in the way of pleasantries.”

Nazeera looks frozen. Stunned. She stares at me, her lips slightly parted, and I’m thinking this is it, this is how I die, she’s going to pull out a knife and cut me open, rearrange my organs, put on a puppet show with my intestines. What a way to go.

But when she finally speaks, she doesn’t sound angry. She sounds a little out of breath.


“I don’t think you’re a child,” she says.

I have no idea what to say to that.

She takes a step forward, presses her hands flat against my torso, and I turn into a statue. Her hands seem to sear into my body, heat pressing between us, even through my shirt.

I feel like I might be dreaming.

She runs her hands up my chest and that simple motion feels so good I’m suddenly terrified. I feel magnetized to her, frozen in place. Afraid to wake up.

“What are you doing?” I whisper.

She’s still staring at my chest when she says, again, “I don’t think you’re a child.”


She lifts her head to meet my eyes, and a flash of feeling, hot and painful, shoots down my spine.

“And I don’t think you’re stupid,” she says. Wrong.

I’m definitely stupid.

So stupid. I can’t even think right now.

“Okay,” I say stupidly. I don’t know what to do with my hands. I mean, I know what to do with my hands, I’m just worried that if I touch her she might laugh and then, probably, kill me.

She smiles then, smiles so big I feel my heart explode, make a mess inside my chest. “So you’re not going to make a move?” she says, still smiling. “I thought you liked me. I thought that’s what this whole thing was all about.”

Like you?” I blink at her. “I don’t even know you.”

“Oh,” she says, and her smile disappears. She begins to pull away and she can’t meet my eyes and then, I don’t know what comes over me—

I grab her hand, open my bedroom door, and lock us both inside.

She kisses me first.

I have an out-of-body moment, like I can’t believe this is actually happening to me. I can’t understand what I did to make this possible, because according to my calculations I messed this up on a hundred different levels and, in fact, I was pretty sure she was pissed at me up until, like, five minutes ago.

And then I tell myself to shut up.

Her kiss is soft, her hands tentative against my chest, but I wrap my arms around her waist and kiss her, really kiss her, and then somehow we’re against the wall and her hands are around my neck and she parts her lips for me, sighs in my mouth, and that small sound of pleasure drives me crazy, floods my body with heat and desire so intense I can hardly stand.

We break apart, breathing hard, and I stare at her like an idiot, my brain

still too numb to figure out exactly how I got here. Then again, who cares how I got here. I kiss her again and it nearly kills me. She feels so good, so soft. Perfect. She’s perfect, fits perfectly in my arms, like we were made for this, like we’ve done this a thousand times before, and she smells like shampoo, like something sweet. Perfume, maybe. I don’t know. Whatever it is, it’s in my head now. Killing brain cells.

When we break apart she looks different, her eyes darker, deeper. She turns away and when she turns back again she’s smiling at me and for a second I think we might both be thinking the same thing. But I’m wrong, of course, so wrong, because I was thinking about how I’m, like, the luckiest guy on the planet and she

She puts her hand on my chest and says, softly:

“You’re really not my type.”

That knocks the wind out of me. I drop my arms from around her waist and take a sudden, uncertain step backward.

She cringes, covers her face with both hands. “I don’t—wow— I don’t mean you’re not my type.” She shakes her head, hard. “I just mean I don’t normally— I don’t usually do this.”

“Do what?” I say, still wounded.

“This,” she says, and gestures between us. “I don’t— I don’t, like, just go around kissing guys I barely know.”

“Okay.” I frown. “Do you want to leave?” “No.” Her eyes widen.

“Then what do you want?”

“I don’t know,” she says, and her eyes go soft again. “I kind of just want to look at you for a minute. I meant what I said about your face,” she says, and smiles. “You have a great face.”

I go suddenly weak in the knees. I literally have to sit down. I walk over to my bed and collapse backward, my head hitting the pillow. It feels too good to be horizontal. If there weren’t a gorgeous woman in my room right now, I’d be asleep already.

“Just so you know, this is not a move,” I say, mostly to the ceiling. “I’m not trying to get you to sleep with me. I just literally had to lie down. Thank you for appreciating my face. I’ve always thought I had an underappreciated face.”

She laughs, hard, and sits next to me, teetering on the edge of the bed, near my arm. “You’re really not what I was expecting,” she says.

I peer at her. “What were you expecting?”

“I don’t know.” She shakes her head. Smiles at me. “I guess I wasn’t expecting to like you so much.”

My chest goes tight. Too tight. I force myself to sit up, to meet her eyes. “Come here,” I say. “You’re too far away.”

She kicks off her boots and shifts closer, folding her legs up underneath her. She doesn’t say a word. Just stares at me. And then, carefully, she touches my face, the line of my jaw. My eyes close, my mind swimming with nonsense. I lean back, rest my head against the wall behind us. I know it doesn’t say much for my self-confidence that I’m so surprised this is happening, but I can’t help it.

I never thought I’d get this lucky. “Kenji,” she says softly.

I open my eyes.

“I can’t be your girlfriend.”

I blink. Sit up a little. “Oh,” I say.

It hadn’t occurred to me until exactly this moment that I might even want something like that, but now that I’m thinking about it, I know that I do. A girlfriend is exactly what I want. I want a relationship. I want something real.

“It would never work, you know?” She tilts her head, looks at me like it’s obvious, like I know as well as she does why things would never work out between us. “We’re not—” She motions between our bodies to indicate something I don’t understand. “We’re so different, right? Plus, I don’t even live here.”

“Right,” I say, but my mouth feels suddenly numb. My whole face feels numb. “You don’t even live here.”

And then, just as I’m trying to figure out how to pick up the pieces of my obliterated hopes and dreams, she climbs into my lap. Zero to sixty. My body malfunctions. Overheats.

She presses her face into my cheek and kisses me, softly, just underneath my jaw, and I feel myself melt into the wall, into the air.

I don’t understand what’s happening anymore. She likes me but she doesn’t want to be with me. She’s not going to be with me but she’s going to sit on my lap and kiss me into oblivion.

Sure. Okay.

I let her touch me the way she wants to, let her put her hands on my body and kiss me wherever, however she wants. She touches me in a proprietary way, like I already belong to her, and I don’t mind. I kind of love it. And I let her take the lead for as long as I can bear it. She’s pulling up my shirt, running her hands across my bare skin and telling me how much she likes my body, and I really feel like—like I can’t breathe. I feel too hot. Delirious but sharp, aware of this moment in an almost primal way.

She helps me pull off my shirt and then she just looks at me, first at my face and then at my chest, and she runs her hands across my shoulders, down my arms. “Wow,” she says softly. “You’re so gorgeous.”

That’s it for me.

I pick her up off my lap and lay her down, on her back, and she gasps,

stares at me like she’s surprised. And then, deep, her eyes go deep and dark, and she’s looking at my mouth but I decide to kiss her neck, the curve of her shoulder.

“Nazeera,” I whisper, hardly recognizing the sound of my own voice. “I want you so badly it might kill me.”

Suddenly, someone is banging on my door.

“Bro, where the hell did you go?” Ian shouts. “Castle brought dinner up like ten minutes ago.”

I sit up too fast. I nearly pull a muscle. Nazeera laughs out loud, and even though she claps a hand over her mouth to muffle the sound, she’s not quick enough.

“Uh— Hello?” Ian again. “Kenji?” “I’ll be right there,” I shout back.

I hear him hesitate—his footsteps uncertain—and then he’s gone. I drop my head into my hands. Suddenly, everything comes rushing back to me. For a few minutes this moment with Nazeera felt like the whole world, a welcome reprieve from all the war and death and struggle. But now, with a little oxygen in my brain, I feel stupid. I don’t know what I was thinking.

Juliette might be dead.

I get to my feet. I pull my shirt on quickly, careful not to meet her eyes. For some reason, I can’t bring myself to look at Nazeera. I have no regrets about kissing her—it’s just that I also feel suddenly guilty, like I was doing something wrong. Something selfish and inappropriate.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t know what got into me.”

Nazeera is tugging on her boots. She looks up, surprised. “What do you mean?”

“What we just”—I sigh, hard—“I don’t know. I forgot, for a moment, everything we have to do. The fact that Juliette might be out there, somewhere, being tortured to death. Warner might be dead. We’ll have to pack up and run, leave this place behind. God, there’s so much happening and I just— My head was in the wrong place. I’m sorry.”

Nazeera is standing up now. She looks upset. “Why do you keep apologizing to me? Stop apologizing to me.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry.” I wince. “I mean— You know what I mean.

Anyway, we should go.” “Kenji—”

“Listen, you said you didn’t want a relationship, right? You didn’t want to be my girlfriend? You don’t think that this”—I mimic what she did earlier, motioning between us—“could ever work? Well, then—” I take a breath. Run a hand through my hair. “This is what not being my girlfriend looks like. Okay? There are only a few people in my life who actually care about me, and right now my best friend is probably being murdered by a bunch of

psychopaths, and I should be out there, doing something.”

“I didn’t realize you and Warner were so close,” she says quietly.

“What?” I frown. “No, I’m talking about Juliette,” I say. “Ella. Whatever.” Nazeera’s eyebrows go high.

“Anyway, I’m sorry. We should probably just keep this professional, right? You’re not looking for anything serious, and I don’t know how to have casual relationships anyway. I always end up caring too much, to be honest, so this probably wasn’t a good idea.”


“Right?” I look at her, hoping, suddenly, that there was something I missed, something more than the cool distance in her eyes. “Didn’t you just tell me that we’re too different? That you don’t even live here?”

She turns away. “Yes.”

“And have you changed your mind in the last thirty seconds? About being my girlfriend?”

She’s still staring at the wall when she says, “No.”

Pain shoots up my spine, gathers in my chest. “Okay then,” I say, and nod. “Thanks for your honesty. I have to go.”

She cuts past me, walks out the door. “I’m coming, too.”

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