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never exhale all the way

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“I’m just saying,” Gideon mutters out of the side of her mouth, “no one would notice if you, y’know, skipped a step.”

Harrowhark says nothing.

“Two steps.”

Harrowhark continues to say nothing. She carries on tracing the lines of Gideon’s face with the black char – the stubborn jut of Gideon’s jaw, the trail of red-hot pimples fading away slowly as they reach the line of her carotid. Harrowhark thinks about biting that carotid; also, she thinks about kissing it. She thinks about Gideon savage and snarling and she thinks about Gideon rising from her sad nest of blankets on the floor and climbing into the bed with Harrowhark, how warm she would be, how solid and—

“If you move,” she says, “I will glue your eyes shut and cover your eyelids with the paint as well. For the complete effect.”

“That is bullshit,” Gideon answers crisply. “You wouldn’t hamstring yourself like that for the short-term satisfaction of getting me to stop my heinous crime of, I don’t know, looking at things.” One of her legs is – not jittering, but thoughtfully contemplating the idea of jittering. Gideon’s fists are also studiously considering throttling Harrowhark until she loses every bit of breath in her body; tragically, Harrowhark loves her. Tragically, Harrowhark has loved her for a very long time.

“You probably wouldn’t,” Gideon mutters, thankfully oblivious to Harrowhark’s current train of thought. “No – definitely. Definitely not. Besides, what full effect? No one would see it. That’s what the glasses are for.”

“I will break the glasses into ten thousand pieces,” Harrowhark says.

“You wouldn’t.”

“Don’t move and I won’t have to.”

Gideon rolls her (still unglued) eyes magnificently at the ceiling, an effect that is completely wasted on Harrowhark. “Ugh,” she says.

Harrowhark raises the black char to the soft skin under Gideon’s eye; she gnaws a strip of paint off of her lip, tastes old grease. Her other hand rises to cup Gideon’s jaw, that jaw, that chin, that neck. “Hold still, Griddle.”

“If I get any stiller I’ll be—”

“And I’m sure that metaphor will be delightful and contain no profanity whatsoever. Still, please, I do in fact need you with both eyes.”

“Ugh,” says Gideon, but more softly this time. Her eyes flicker keenly around the room, then to Harrowhark, then the room, then Harrowhark. She does her best to ignore the sharp gold weight of them. Slowly she begins to trace the outline of Gideon’s eye socket; she fills it in with careful strokes. She is entirely cognizant of Gideon’s breath, soft and warm, filling up the space between them with stink.

The inhale: the line of Gideon’s throat pulling away from Harrowhark’s grip.

The exhale: “Seriously, say something, it’s like a tomb in here.”

Harrowhark does not deign to answer.

“…you get that joke, right? The tomb? It’s—”

She digs the point of the char just a little bit more into Gideon’s undereye than she needs to; Gideon makes a soft sort of hiccup and is quiet. For once. Blissfully.

Which is why it doesn’t make any sense that Harrowhark opens her mouth and says: “You really do have beautiful eyes, Nav.”

Oh, stupid.

From the eight different ways those beautiful eyes are widening – furrowing – blinking – staring, Gideon understands just as well as Harrowhark does that this was a complete non-sequitur. Not only does it not make sense for Harrowhark to say, it does not make any sense for Harrowhark to ever have said in the context of a single conversation they have had over the course of their tumultuous lives. Harrowhark had buried this fact – the irrefutable fact of Gideon’s golden eyes – deep deep down below the black pit of her grief and the cold ground of her anger. The fact that it has risen up now is inexcusable.

“Don’t stare at me,” she mutters, “I know you’re already aware. Peacock.”

Gideon slowly closes one eye and opens it again in the world’s most glacial and agonizing wink.

“It’s a shame,” Harrowhark murmurs. “I’ve never seen anything like them before – your eyes, I mean. They’re wasted on you.” Her mouth keeps up a comforting string of insults as her mind dissolves into such scintillating starving thoughts as: her eyelashes look soft, and: she has two freckles under this eye, and: I want to kiss the divot between her eyebrows. Harrowhark internally wails to herself while her mouth tells Gideon ten thousand ways that she is lower than the belly of a maggot.

She leans back and studies her handiwork. Gideon studies her right back. “You’ve got nice eyes too,” Gideon says offhandedly. “While we’re throwing out compliments. Yours are very…black. And not currently bloodshot, so that’s great.”

“Your words heat up the darkest depths of my cold black heart, Griddle.” She grabs Gideon’s head again and finishes up one final dark shadow in the bone-mask of Gideon’s face and then she thinks about it, again, her raw and shivering need to eat Gideon alive in every way that matters. How warm Gideon’s skin would be. How urgent. The hunger in Harrowhark’s sweating palms; the hunger in the pit of Harrowhark’s dry throat.

“There,” she says. She leans back. Swallows. “You almost look presentable. Congratulations, Nav.”

There’s a wrinkle of something between Gideon’s eyes – for a moment she looks lost, confused, something close to tender. Then she blinks and it’s gone and she’s swiping the paint from Harrowhark’s fingers.

“Hold still,” she says. In one bird-of-prey jerk she grabs Harrowhark’s face in her warm calloused hand and smears paint along Harrowhark’s lower lip.

“You bit it off,” Gideon says faintly. “You can’t have shitty facepaint, that’s my look. Everyone will be suspicious…if you…”

The silence stretches itself out like a cat; the pad of Gideon’s thumb lingers on Harrowhark’s lip. She can feel her heartbeat in the thin skin there. Her mouth waters. The taste of blood on the pad of Gideon’s thumb and the crunch of her bone between Harrowhark’s teeth and the feeling of a heart beating on the inside of Gideon’s wrist, the pale tracings of veins there, Gideon laughing at a joke and Gideon gorging herself at dinner and Harrowhark starving, always, always starving—

“Get your hand off of my face,” Harrowhark says. Her voice is impossibly soft, but Gideon flinches like Harrowhark had opened up her mouth and screamed. Gideon rocks back, swallows, absentmindedly wipes her hand on her pants.

“There,” she says. “Good. All good. We’re ready to go. I still think we could have scribbled a skull on and left ten minutes ago but, hey, if you don’t give a shit about being late I guess I don’t either.”

Harrowhark’s whole body hurts with the urge to reach out and touch taste take. She couldn’t, though, and also she can’t and she won’t. The warmth of Gideon’s thumb means nothing. The soft gold of Gideon’s eyes means nothing. Harrowhark locks her heart back in a tomb and buries that tomb beneath the earth and is fine, again, the way she has been fine for her entire life.

“Good,” she says. She stands. For a second Gideon is small enough to be safe, and then she stands up too and her death mask is at Harrowhark’s eye level. The golden lanterns of her eyes.

“Good,” Gideon says. She blinks. Harrowhark is fine.

“Are you going to stand there repeating everything I say, Griddle? Because I can think of far more useful things to do with that opportunity.”

“Hm, no, fuck you,” Gideon says lightly, and she steps back. “Can we get food now? I am actually starving to death.”

“Your appetites terrify me,” Harrowhark says to herself. She follows Gideon out into the dark.