Chapter 1: Fall
Technically they’re not allowed to drink in the dorms, but Gideon Nav has never been a stickler for the rules. She barely knows these people—it’s the first week of college, classes haven’t even officially started—but hey, that’s what a party is for, right?
So a handful of them are sitting on the floor of some girl’s room, mixing vodka with orange juice in solo cups and trying to get acquainted. Gideon is here because she had orientation with Palamedes who is rooming with Isaac who is friends with Ianthe whose sister is Corona, whose room this is. She thinks. The details are hazy and not that important.
Even though, once she focuses again, she realizes that the conversation is currently about roommates. Enthralling stuff.
“She didn’t want to room with me,” Corona is saying, shoving Ianthe in the shoulder. They’re twins, it seems. Sort of a sun and moon thing going on. Corona is pretty enough that it feels vaguely like an insult to everyone else in the room. “Got a single and left me to brave the roommate lottery all by myself.”
“I think you’ll be just fine,” Ianthe says. Of everyone, she probably has the most alcohol in her cup, and is probably showing it the least. “Where is your roommate, anyway?”
“No idea,” Corona says. Her eyes wide and innocent. “I told her a few folks were coming and that she was welcome, we’ll see if she accepts.”
Isaac rolls his eyes. “If a bunch of people I didn’t know were invading my room I would make myself pretty scarce,” he says. Gideon nods her agreement, and he points at her. “Look. The linebacker agrees with me.”
“I’m not a linebacker,” Gideon says, smirking, “but thanks.” She’s drunk, but just enough that it feels good. The edges of the world sanded off and polished.
“You must do something,” Corona says. She doesn’t try to hide the fact that her eyes are on Gideon’s arms. It’s a good evening.
“Fencing,” Gideon says. She’s damn good at it, too, but they don’t need to know that yet. A few of them already look impressed.
“And who’s your roommate?” Corona presses.
“Her name is Harrowhark,” Gideon says. “Nnnnsomething-or-other.”
“Oh my god,” Palamedes says, eyes wide. “You’re rooming with Harrowhark Nonagesimus?” And just like that, Gideon has everyone’s attention.
“Sounds about right,” she says, shrugging. “Do you know her?”
“Do you not?”
“Her family’s…super fucking rich,” Corona breaks in. “Her dad was like the first bajillionaire in the US or something.”
“That’s an exaggeration,” Palamedes says, rolling his eyes.
This…kind of makes sense. Gideon thinks back to Harrow’s sharp haircut, her pristine shoes, her neat possessions. She figured the girl was just careful, but the picture also fits if she’s rich.
“What is she like?” Corona asks. Even Ianthe seems interested, turning her face towards Gideon for the first time that night.
“Um.” To be honest, Gideon barely knows. They haven’t really…talked. Whenever Gideon is in the room, her black-haired roommate is either reading with headphones in or simply not there. Gideon can’t say for sure where she goes or what she’s like.
It’s not on purpose. Gideon is certainly willing. But she has spent a lot of time exploring her new campus and trying to meet people, because being alone in a new place is awful and she wants to scrub off the newness as quickly as she can.
“Quiet,” she says. “Neat. We haven’t talked a ton.”
“Your fault or hers?” Palamedes asks, laughing. “You’ve barely said three words all night.”
“I’ve been perfectly fucking amicable,” Gideon says. “I’m waiting for someone to start a game before I fall asleep in my orange juice.” She’s good at deflection, and she’s good at egging people on. She doesn’t want people’s attention just because of her famous roommate—she wants it on her own terms.
Those terms being her absolutely superior prowess at the impromptu game of beer pong they set up on the floor. Gideon feels like a fucking champion. She’s in a new place with new people, but her feet are still under her and her bright red hair is still attracting admiring glances.
It’s late and dark and quiet when she gets back to her room on the ninth floor, humming as she lets herself in. She trips over her shoes and laughs a little.
In the dark, something moves across the room.
The very first sentence Harrowhark says to her is, “Are you drunk?”
“Hello,” Gideon says pleasantly. “Lovely evening out, don’t you think?”
“Oh my god.” The shape flips over in bed. “Just try to stay quiet, all right?”
“As you wish, my lady,” Gideon says, amused. She tries to kick off her shoes and succeeds in launching one halfway across the room, where it hits Harrowhark’s bed frame with a far-too-amusing thunk. “Fuck. Sorry.”
“Just go to bed.”
“I’m going.” She collapses onto her mattress. The sheets and blankets are still unmade and she wraps herself in them—a little Gideon cocoon. “It’s nice to meet you, by the way,” she adds.
Harrowhark’s voice is positively frosty. “Goodnight.”
That night, Gideon dreams that she’s floating in space, watching the planets drift by. She thinks that if she just reached out hard enough, she could change their directions, make them spin in whichever way she wanted. But she just can’t get her fingers to reach.
She wakes up with a headache and a sour taste in her mouth.
“Welcome back to the land of the living.”
She sits up in bed and rubs her eyes. Harrowhark is awake and sitting at her desk with a journal and a pen. She’s clearly been awake for a while—she has a hot mug of coffee at her elbow and a fresh, put-together vibe that Gideon hates and envies in equal measure.
“Good morning, Harrowhark,” she croaks.
That gets the other girl to turn around. “Gross. It’s Harrow. What the fuck.”
To be honest, it’s the first good look Gideon has gotten of her roommate’s face, and she’s stunned quiet for a moment. Harrow is…so small and sharp. Like a little knife concealed in someone’s boot. Her black hair is straight and cut in a sharp line at her jaw, and her eyes are a flat gray. It takes a moment for her words to filter in, and once they do, Gideon feels attacked. “Well, how was I supposed to know? Your name was Harrowhark on the roommate assignment.”
“Yeah, but it says Harrow on our door,” Harrow says cuttingly. Her eyes dart all over Gideon’s flame-red hair and the clothes she slept in.
“Then good morning, Harrow. Where did you get coffee?”
“The dining hall.” Her tone makes it clear that she thinks Gideon is the dumbest crustacean to have ever crawled out of the water. Far from being offended, it makes Gideon grin.
“The promised land,” she says. “Eden for the pathetic and hungover. Want to go down again?”
Harrow stares at her. “I already have my coffee,” she says.
“Just offering. Stretch your legs. It’s good for you.” To demonstrate, Gideon sticks her leg up in the air and reaches for her toes. Harrow keeps staring. “Or don’t,” Gideon adds. “No skin off my back.” She wants to be friends with her roommate, but if her roommate doesn’t want to be friends back there isn’t really anything she can do about that.
“If you can wait five minutes,” Harrow says finally. “I just want to finish the paragraph I’m on.”
“Perfect,” Harrow says, and jumps out of bed to get dressed.
There isn’t really time to be self-conscious in front of this girl. They live together now. Gideon refuses to spend the year running to the bathroom every time she changes her shirt. She keeps her back to Harrow and dresses quickly and figures that’s good enough. “Ready?”
“That was only three minutes.”
In that moment, Gideon decides that her roommate is kind of a bitch, and also that Gideon likes her a whole lot. “Oh, excuse me,” she says, and then makes the executive decision to start counting down from 120. She does so loudly and cheerfully, and Harrow threatens to murder her—the first such threat of the year, but certainly not the last.
And then they go get coffee, and Gideon thinks to herself that everything is going to be just fine.
(“Where are you from, Harrow?”
“Not far from here.”
“Had a hard time leaving the nest?”
“You know, it’s usually polite to ask a person questions in return.”
“I think you lost your claims to politeness when you stole my muffin.”
“We’re roommates now. What’s yours is mine.”
“That’s not how that works.”)
In the following weeks, classes start and the wheels of college begin to grind and Gideon learns a lot of things.
She learns that she loves the seediness of frat parties but she hates the boys, and that Harrow hates parties of any kind.
She learns that their RA is a very nice senior named Abigail who is dating another RA on a lower floor, and as such is frequently not monitoring the ninth floor because she’s spending all of her time with him; this suits the residents of the ninth just fine.
She learns that it’s easier to wake up for an 8am class when Harrow is waking up too, because then they can get coffee together and it’s the one thing that keeps Gideon alive.
She learns that other freshman will leap out of her way when they see her coming because of her sheer size, and that no one she meets believes that she’s a freshman herself.
She learns that people will leap out of Harrow’s way too, solely because of the offensive nature of her neutral expression.
She learns that no one on the university’s fencing team is a match for her, and that each and every one of them is beyond excited to see her in competition with their rivals.
She learns that Harrow likes to read a lot and has stacks of classics and autobiographies, books of essays on feminist action and political theory. She learns that Harrow considers Gideon’s collection of bodice-ripper romance novels to be nothing more than smut, even against Gideon’s protests that she reads them for the plot.
She learns that if the blinds are open when they’re trying to go to bed, Harrow will yell at her until she gets up to close them.
She learns to wash her sheets every once in a while or she will be, according to Harrow, “marinating in a stew of her own filth.”
She learns Harrow’s class schedule so that she can get herself off without worrying about her roommate unexpectedly bursting back in the room.
All in all, it’s a very instructive time. College! What a place of learning!
She also learns that it’s very easy to forget that Harrow is supposedly very rich, because she certainly doesn’t act like it. She doesn’t casually mention exotic location spots or talk about rubbing shoulders with diplomats or anything that Gideon would expect from someone with her pedigree. If Palamedes and the others hadn’t mentioned it, Gideon would have no idea at all.
Well, except that people have continued to ask Gideon about it, and have a tendency to point at Harrow and whisper behind their hands whenever they see her in the dining hall. Harrow ignores it all with chilly precision.
Which, honestly, just endears her to Gideon even more. She starts telling people who ask that she’s pretty sure Harrow is a vampire.
By the end of their first month they’ve basically established a nonverbal language for certain things. Harrow will hit her water bottle against her bed frame; Gideon will stick one foot in the air. Roughly translated, it means, I’m going to fill up my water bottle; would you like me to fill yours? and, in response, yes please, Harrow, light of my life, apple of my eye.
Well, the embellishments are Gideon’s creation. She wouldn’t say them out loud. But the message gets across anyway, because Harrow always rolls her eyes as she picks up Gideon’s water bottle on her way out of the room.
And so the second month of the semester passes much the same as the first, and Halloween is on them before they know it.
“What do you mean, you don’t have a Halloween costume?”
Harrow is folding her laundry and looks vastly unimpressed by Gideon’s surprise. “You just said that you didn’t have one either,” she points out.
“Yeah, but I have the intention to make one!” She has to, and it has to be a good one, because she’s going to a party being thrown by a hot junior who Gideon really wants to bang. She needs to make an impression. At this point it’s vital to her health.
“It’s just not my thing,” Harrow is saying.
Harrow throws a sock at her. “It’s another excuse for everyone here to get drunk, and I don’t drink,” she says. “And I always feel ridiculous.”
“Well then don’t dress up as a bumblebee! You’re an adult, you can wear something hot like any other self-respecting college student.”
Harrow’s glares really are incredibly withering. Gideon always wonders if her life force is being sapped somehow. “I don’t see the point,” she says. “No one is going to see it.”
“Oh yes they are,” Gideon says, “because you’re going to this party with me.”
“When was that decided?”
“Just now.” Gideon crosses her arms. “When I realized that it’s my job to make sure you don’t turn into a thirty-year-old accountant before you hit twenty-five.”
“Maybe my costume should be an accountant.”
“Sexy secretary would be better. You have the legs for it.”
Harrow throws another sock at her. This one catches Gideon square in the face and she crows with delight. “Okay, sexy baseball player. Sexy professor. Sexy Jane Austen. Any of those sound good?”
“Why do they all have to be sexy?”
Gideon performs an elaborate pair of finger guns. “Halloween costumes exist on a spectrum of hot to ridiculous, and you already said you didn’t want to be ridiculous.”
Harrow looks thoroughly unamused. “What did you go as last year?”
“I was in high school, it doesn’t count,” Gideon complains. “I had to keep it school-friendly.”
“So what were you?”
“A bottle of Sriracha. I was very hot. Get it, Harrow?”
“I wish I’d never met you.”
Gideon spins around in her desk chair, thinking. There are always a wealth of distinctive redheaded characters for her to choose from, but that doesn’t really help Harrow. Not that they need to match, of course, even though the idea makes something delighted spark in her chest. “Do you have any, like, shit for your face?”
Harrow tucks a strand of hair behind her ear. “Define ‘shit for your face.’”
“I mean, I don’t own any make-up. I have naturally striking features.”
“You have features that I naturally want to strike.”
“Good one. Do you have anything? We can cobble together something cool.”
“You’re still assuming that I’ll go with you.”
“Well, yes,” Gideon says, giving her a huge grin. “I’m really just looking out for you, Harrow. I’d hate for that massive stick up your ass to turn fatal.” Harrow rolls her eyes, but she does get up from her bed and procure a small makeup bag from the closet. Gideon cheers and makes grabby hands for it. “Let’s see what we’ve got.”
Unsurprisingly, there isn’t much. Pale shades of foundation, neutral lipsticks, a few black eyeliner pencils. Gideon pouts.
Harrow scowls at her. “What?”
“These are so boring,” Gideon complains. “Like, sorry I don’t want my costume to be the sheer tights section of a shoe store. Sorry I don’t want to be a middle-aged heterosexual’s beige living room. Sorry I don’t—Harrow, why do you have white face paint? Do you moonlight as a mime or something?”
Harrow snatches it back. “It’s leftover from when I was a teenager,” she mutters. “I haven’t touched it in years.”
Now that Gideon is looking, she can see a similar little jar of black face paint. A beautiful idea lights up in her brain. Like a divine lightbulb with little skulls all over it. “Did you have a goth phase? Harrow. Harrow Harrow Harrow you have to answer me right now.”
“No you didn’t have a goth phase, or no you won’t answer me?”
“Just no,” Harrow insists.
Gideon crows with delight. “You spectacular bitch. Wait, let me guess. You were into MCR, weren’t you?”
Harrow’s face flames red and Gideon almost falls off her damn bed.
“Shut up,” Harrow snaps. “I bet you were into something equally as bad.”
“Sure,” Gideon says amicably, “but I’ve never tried to deny that fact.” She picks up the black face paint and tries to twirl it on her finger. It drops unceremoniously onto her bedspread, and divine inspiration strikes again. “Oh my god we should go as skeletons.”
One hour later Gideon and Harrow are climbing the steps to Dulcinea’s porch, ready to fucking party. Gideon topped off her skeleton makeup with a slick pair of shades and one of her fencing foils and she looks badass. Harrow had begrudgingly agreed to paint her own face—she had done a much neater job than Gideon—and was wearing some sort of dark blue shawl as though it were a cape.
They can already hear music thumping inside. Gideon hammers on the door and turns to smile at Harrow, who looks small and stern and uncomfortable. “It’s going to be fun,” Gideon promises.
“Fun,” Harrow echoes.
The door opens.
“Gideon! You came!”
“Not yet,” she says, striding inside, “but we can work on it.”
Dulcinea, the aforementioned hot junior and also the host of the party, gives her a wide smile. She’s dressed as some sort of fairy—could be a movie reference, Gideon doesn’t know—and her face is sparkling with expertly-applied makeup. “Oh, you brought a friend,” she says, noticing Harrow.
She looks like a diminutive angel of death on the doorstep, glaring at Gideon. “I hope that’s all right,” she says, shifting her flat gaze to Dulcinea.
“The more the merrier. Come in, come in. Are you supposed to be the skeleton army?” Still chattering, Dulcinea leads Gideon into the party by one arm.
It occurs to Gideon suddenly—and Harrow, judging by the look on her skeletal face—that no one here will be able to recognize Harrow behind her deathly makeup. No one can point and whisper. Everyone is happily on their way to being wasted and the lighting is bad.
She’s tried taking Harrow to parties before, without success. But this night? It’s a perfect storm.
Dulcinea pats Gideon on the cheek and shouts something about going to check on the drinks. Here in the main room—it’s probably usually the living room of the house—it’s impossible to think. Loud, heavy music is layered thick over a multicolored tangle of bodies and costumes and hands clutching alcohol. Gideon hangs back against the wall with Harrow at her side.
“This is the first one I’ve these I’ve been to that actually looks fun,” Harrow says, right in Gideon’s ear.
She has to duck to put her head next to Harrow’s. “It’s not a frat party. Better energy.” It’s mostly, like, Literature students, unless Gideon misses her guess. Less Greek life, more Greek tragedy. English majors and theater majors and stoner communists and co-op anarchists, judging by the crowd.
“Still loud as fuck.” Harrow almost has to shout to be heard.
“Well, I’m going to dance.”
“Wait. I’ll come too.”
Gideon wants to say really? but she doesn’t, because doing so might scare Harrow off. She just navigates them into some small space in the crush of dancers, where they can move without anyone else’s elbows in their ribs.
Usually, Gideon likes to be in the thick of things. Bodies pushing back and forth like ocean waves, jumping and pounding and feeling her pulse in her fucking face.
But Harrow still has her shoulders drawn in like she needs to protect her collarbones. So they stay in the corner with a little more air.
And Gideon discovers, to her delight, that Harrow can’t dance.
She’s stiff and self-conscious. She doesn’t know what to do with her hands or hips or eyes, so she just sways and stares at Gideon. And listen, Gideon can’t say she’s a stellar dancer either, but Harrow looks more suited to a haunted house than a house party. Which is saying something, given that everyone here is supposed to be full of Halloween spirit.
“Do you want a drink?” Gideon asks. “I can go get us drinks.”
Harrow’s stare is even more flat and terrible from her eerie skeleton face. “Fine,” she says. So Gideon fights her way across the room and unearths a pair of solo cups. When she turns back around, Harrow is exactly where she left her.
It’s not really something Gideon wants to Notice or Give Much Thought To, but Harrow is. Attractive. Pretty. She’s an objectively nice-looking individual.
Gideon groans and tips her head back. She’s so attracted to Harrow that she wants to melt her own face off. It’s a bad idea. She’s heard horror stories about people hooking up with residents of their same hall; it’s widely regarded as a bad move. She can’t imagine what circle of hell fucking her own roommate would land her in.
And that’s assuming Harrow would ever give her the time of day. Looking across the room at the smaller girl’s perpetual grimace and upturned nose, Gideon can predict with a near-mathematical certainty that it is never going to happen.
She tips back her beer and drinks the whole thing in one go. Then she weaves her way across the room to Harrow. Like a tipsy ship, nose eternally pointed towards a dark and pissed-off north star.
Harrow looks her up and down judgmentally when Gideon finally makes it through the other party-goers. “You look like a mess,” she says.
“Sorry about that,” Gideon says with a swagger, “I just got back from doing your mom, she likes it a little rough.”
Harrow freezes. She looks angrier than Gideon has ever seen her. “Do you think that’s fucking funny?” she demands.
Gideon looks down at her. “A bit, yeah,” she says. She can’t help her little grin.
“I’m going home.”
“What?” Gideon blinks, uncomprehending, and in that second Harrow manages to get several steps away. “Hey, wait, come on, we just got here. I brought you a drink”
“I’m tired and I want to go home,” Harrow says. Her tone is clipped and furious and Gideon wonders if someone spilled beer on her shoes, or said something nasty while she was across the room. They were having fun, before.
“I’ll go with you,” she says. Harrow shouldn’t be out alone this late.
“No,” Harrow says. “You stay. I want to be alone.”
Gideon stops. “You sure?”
And then she’s gone. And Gideon is left on the edge of the dance floor, feeling off-kilter and strange, holding a beer that wasn’t supposed to be hers.
So she drains it. And when Dulcinea comes by five minutes later with another drink, she drains that one too. It’s fine. She’s Gideon Nav. She has a tolerance of steel. She can drink anyone under a table.
At least, that’s what she’d like to believe about herself.
Before long, she’s kneeling over a toilet, reminding herself that she’s Gideon Nav, still a freshman, who doesn’t drink often because she can’t fence if she’s hungover.
There’s no one there to hold her hair back. She wishes Harrow could. She also hates the thought of Harrow seeing her like this. She also recognizes that her hair is too short to warrant anyone holding it, anyway.
She isn’t sick, but it’s a near thing. She opens the door to a line of girls who are waiting to pee and chatting easily in the manner of drunk strangers. One of them ogles Gideon’s arms openly as she passes.
“Leaving so soon?”
She turns around at the door. Dulcinea is there, looking like a perfect cupcake that Gideon just wants to cram in her mouth. Even if the thought of eating makes her feel ill again. “What time is it?” Dulcinea fishes out a phone and reads out the time. It’s both earlier and later than Gideon thought. “Yeah, I have, you know, things tomorrow,” Gideon says. “Time to be off.”
“Well.” Dulcinea steps closer. “I’ll have to catch you some other time.” She kisses Gideon on her skeletal cheek. “Get home safe.”
“You too,” Gideon says stupidly. Then she all but flings herself out the door.
She doesn’t really notice the walk home. She does remember trying to walk upright and normal like a sober person through the hallway of the dorm, and then slumping against her own door and knocking because trying to unlock it is positively beyond her.
Harrow opens it within seconds. Her face is clean, through traces of black linger in the corners of her eyes. Gideon grins, feeling light and happy at the sight of her. “Hello, Harrowhark.”
“Get in here,” Harrow grumbles. “You’ll get in trouble if Abigail sees you.”
Gideon snorts as she swaggers into the room. “There’s no way she’s in her room. Ten bucks says she’s down on the fifth with Magnus.”
“I’m not taking that bet.”
“Because you know I’m right.” Gideon tries to turn around and trips over herself. She finds herself holding onto Harrow for balance.
Harrow makes a very aggravated leaning post, it turns out. “You’re a disaster,” she says.
“I might be sick,” Gideon admits blearily.
Harrow’s consternation turns to concern at the speed of light. “Do I need to call someone?”
“Oh my god, don’t be a narc, Harrowhark.” Gideon wheezes out a laugh. “Hey, that rhymes!”
“You’re a disaster of a human being and I hate you.” Back to consternation.
Gideon starts singing, just to be a little shit. “Harrowhark’s a fucking narc!”
“Would you shut the fuck up?” Harrow hisses. “I’m not going to narc but you’re going to get us both in trouble, and I swear to god I’ll kill you.”
“And then narc on yourself.” Gideon smiles down at her. “Your moral code is too strong.”
Harrow’s face twists. “Not that strong,” she mutters.
“Happy Harroween,” Gideon says, and gets dropped to the floor for her trouble. “Ouch.”
“Get your ass in bed,” Harrow says. “I’ll get you some water.” Out of instinct, Gideon sticks one leg in the air. Harrow rolls her eyes so mightily that it looks like it hurts.
Getting in bed is an epic journey, one that deserves a ballad from one of those literature types. The ballad of Gideon’s drunk ass. She stares at the ceiling. She’s tired, which is a pleasant surprise. Sometimes she gets so wired after a party that she can’t sit still, has to do push-ups or jumping jacks until she gets worn out.
Harrow comes back with water and makes Gideon drink it down with all the stern disapproval of an old-timey nurse. Gideon might even call her Nurse Harrow when she says goodnight. She’s not sure—the words are somewhere caught between waking and sleeping, and Gideon doesn’t know which side of the line her feet are on anymore.
She dreams about hunting for something small in a range of black mountains. In the dream, it flickers just out of sight ahead of her. No matter how quickly she moves, she can never catch up.
Somehow, she and Harrow become better friends after that night.
As though dressing up as skeletons and dancing badly for five minutes and Gideon’s drunken buffoonery broke down some walls, eased some barriers. Harrow is still as prickly as ever, but perhaps a bit more willing to join Gideon when she makes a midnight run for pizza, or tries to climb over the wall into the study carrels into the library.
She even deigns to eat with Gideon and her friends, in the vague span of days between Thanksgiving and the end of the semester, when they all catch each other in the dining hall. Gideon has just sat down with Corona and Palamedes when she catches Harrow’s eye across the room, and before she can stop herself she’s waving her roommate over. “Act normal,” she hisses at Palamedes and Corona.
“I want her to be my best friend,” Corona says, watching Harrow approach with her food. “Then she’ll take me on vacation with her and I can spend Christmas in the tropics.
“Like that’s going to happen,” Palamedes says scathingly. He seems entirely unconcerned by Harrow’s approach. Apparently they have a discussion section together and they spend most of it disagreeing; Gideon has had to be sympathetic to both sides of their stories.
“The lady at the pizza station actively wants me to die,” Harrow says, when she reaches the table.
“She and I have that in common,” Gideon says. Corona lets out a shocked laugh. “Did you get me any breadsticks?”
Harrow gives her an unimpressed look. “I didn’t even know you were here.”
“I feel like you should just always get me breadsticks, though,” Gideon says. “Like, just in case. As a ceremonial offering for me when I’m gone.”
“If I burn them will that ward you away from me?”
Gideon clutches her chest. “Doesn’t even joke about that.”
“About having to stay away from me?”
“About burning breadsticks. It’s sacrilegious.”
“You’re my least favorite person that I know,” Harrow informs her calmly, and then catches Corona’s eye. “What?”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Corona manages. Clearly, Harrow isn’t what she expected.
“Likewise,” Harrow says. “I have class with your sister.”
“Oh, I didn’t know you two were friends!” Corona says brightly.
“We’re not. She never talks to anyone.” Harrow takes a bite of her salad. She always has a salad at lunch, like some sort of alien.
“That’s rich, coming from you,” Gideon can’t help but say.
“And that’s rich, coming from you,” Palamedes interjects. “I’m sick of the strong and silent type.”
Gideon starts to grin. “See,” she says, “but to fit that type, Harrow would have to beef up her little noodle arms.”
“I think you have enough arm for all of us,” Corona says. The conversation seems too sharp for her, but she’s making a valiant effort.
And gets a flat stare from Harrow for her trouble. “What do you mean?”
Corona blinks at her. “I mean, have you seen the size of Gideon’s biceps?”
Harrow frowns, as though she has not, until this point, considered the size of Gideon’s arms. That stings a little. They’re maybe her best attribute and she’s proud of them.
“I don’t look at…arms a lot,” Harrow says.
“You live with the biggest pair of guns on campus and you haven’t ever wanted to take a shot? Incredible.”
“Man, shut the hell up,” Gideon says. Maybe she’s made peace with her own attraction to Harrow, but she doesn’t need the complete lack of reciprocity brought up while she’s trying to eat her damn sandwich.
But now Harrow is studying her openly, and it feels a little bit like being x-rayed and a little bit like being interviewed.
“We keep telling Gideon she needs to let us come to one of her fencing matches,” Corona adds. “I think guys with swords are hot.”
“They’re foils,” Gideon says, rolling her eyes, “and no one looks hot when they’re dressed up in a glorified beekeeper’s suit.”
Corona pouts at her. “You ruin all my fun.”
“Which is precisely why I don’t let you come.”
Harrow breaks in to say, “I’d like to see one, too.”
“Gonna get your mom to drive you?” Gideon teases. The thought of Harrow watching her during a bout makes her skin itch. “The next one is, like, three hours away, and I don’t think I can get you on the team bus. Especially not with your sparkling personality.”
Harrow’s expression has gone sorrow and cold. “Never mind, then,” she snaps.
Corona and Palamedes share a glance. Gideon steals a crouton off of Harrow’s salad and laughs at the punch on the shoulder she gets in retaliation.
Harrow stays moodily quiet for the rest of the lunch, which earns her a few more glances from Corona and Palamedes, but Gideon will be damned if her day is ruined by her acerbic roommate. She forces the conversation along by bitching about the frat house across from the dorm that insists on blasting music every Friday night. More than once in the past she’s threatened to get out her foil and go terrorize the brothers, but this time she really does think she’s close to snapping. Palamedes tells her she’s being ridiculous. Corona says she should do it, and film it. Harrow just rolls her eyes.
They head back to their room after lunch so Gideon can pick up a notebook for class and Harrow can do…whatever the shit Harrow does with her time outside of class. Start cults. Plot murders. Whatever.
“I’m glad you came to eat with us,” Gideon says as they walk down the hallway. “I worry about you rotting away in our room. I don’t want to have to be the one to deal with your corpse.”
“I don’t think they wanted me there very much,” Harrow says. There’s no concern or self-consciousness in her tone whatsoever. As is typical for her, she doesn’t seem to care.
Even so, Gideon shakes her head. “Corona thinks you’re cool,” she promises. “And Palamedes is always like that. And especially these days, we’re trying to coach him on how to talk this girl he has lab with. He’s been too much of a coward so far.”
“Oh,” Harrow says. “I thought Palamedes was into you.”
Gideon snorts. “He’s really, really not. Besides, he and I don’t play for the same team. He and I don’t swing the same way. He and I don’t float the same boat.” Harrow is staring at her. Gideon sighs—it’s so difficult to find a good audience in this economy. “I mean that I’m gay.”
“Well I already knew that.”
Harrow rolls her eyes. “I follow you on Instagram, you absolute dumbass. ‘While you were busy being heterosexual, I studied the blade’ is not as clever a bio as you think it is.”
Gideon grins. “I think it’s plenty clever,” she says. She barely ever uses her account, mostly has photos of herself sweaty and beaming at fencing tournaments. She didn’t even realize that Harrow followed her. “If you knew I was gay why did you ask about Palamedes?”
“I mean, I didn’t know you if were exclusively gay.”
“Oh yes,” Gideon says, nodding. “Very exclusive. VIP lesbian right here.”
“Literally shut the fuck up.”
She wants to ask, What about you, Harrow? What gets you going?
Sometimes, though, Gideon is a coward.
This is one of those times.
Later that night she opens Instagram and goes looking for Harrow’s account. It’s set to private—of course. Gideon stares at it for a moment before pressing follow.
The next morning, as she blearily eats her cereal in the dining hall, she sees that Harrow has approved the request. She immediately goes to see what sort of things her roommate would put on social media.
And finds next to nothing. Photos from lectures she’s attended and books she’s read. Not even laid out artistically or aesthetically—no thought given to making anything look good, because she doesn’t need to, because she doesn’t care.
It’s sort of perfect, really.
The photos don’t go back far, and almost none of them show Harrow’s face. The ones that do, well… Gideon doesn’t need to look at them long when she has the real thing back in her room, now does she?
She finishes her cereal. If she keeps Harrow’s page open the entire time, well, that’s her business.
There’s a parcel wrapped in plain brown paper on her desk when she gets back to the room. Gideon walks in, sees it, and asks, “Is that a bomb?”
“What the fuck?” Harrow asks. “Who would leave a bomb on your desk?”
“I self-identify as a weapon of mass destruction.” Gideon tosses her jacket on her bed. “The Feds could finally be trying to take me out.”
“I wish they would,” Harrow mutters. “It’s your Christmas present. Stop being weird.”
Gideon looks incredulously at the back of Harrow’s dark head. “My what?”
“I got you a present.” How do those words still sound like a curse? “Do I need to explain the concept of a present to you?”
“No, you don’t,” Gideon says. “But…I didn’t get you anything.”
She can almost hear a smile curling at the edge of Harrow’s mouth. “You should probably open it before you start feeling bad.”
Gideon attacks. She’s never seen the use in saving wrapping paper, so it goes on the floor in shreds and she beholds the book in her hands.
It’s gray. It has a yellow binding. The cover, in recessed letters, declares How Not To Be A Dick.
She stares at it in silence for fully ten seconds. “Harrow,” she says, when she finds her voice again.
“This is the funniest fucking thing you’ve ever done.”
Harrow is grinning down at her desk, pretending like she’s still working but clearly not. “I tried to ask myself what you really needed,” she says innocently. “I put a lot of thought into it.”
“Never in my life have I been roasted by a Christmas present. You’ve just upped the ante for everyone I’m ever going to encounter in my entire life. This is so backhanded. It’s perfect. I love it.”
“You’re so weird.”
Gideon collapses onto her bed. She feels giddy, and that’s a dangerous way to feel around Harrow. If Gideon is a soap bubble, Harrow is a needle intent on destruction.
Still, for a moment, she lets herself feel it.
“Do you want anything for Christmas?”
Harrow is bent back over her work by now. “For you to shut the fuck up.”
There’s the pinprick. Gideon keeps on smiling.
The book gets a place of honor at the very top of the stack on Gideon’s desk. Every time she sees it, it makes something warm and pleasurable uncurl in her chest. It’s a nice feeling to be feeling, particularly in the hell that is exams week. Gideon just wants the semester to be over.
She’s going to spend most of the holiday travelling, mostly. Fencing competitions and the like. Herself and the open road and slightly-more-festive-than-usual coffee. She’s looking forward to it.
Except that the semester being over means not seeing Harrow for, like, a month.
Harrow’s plans are a complete mystery, of course. She hasn’t said where she’s going, but she has to be going somewhere, doesn’t she? The school dorms shut down over the winter holidays. She can’t stay, and Gideon doubts that she’ll be embarking on the tropical vacation Corona had predicted.
Gideon wants to ask, but she doesn’t know how. And the days continue to slip by until their first semester of college is done, it’s over, and Gideon is about to leave and she feels as though she’s forgotten something important that still needed to happen. She keeps dreaming about chasing things down, and wakes up with her hands empty and a hollowness in her chest.
Also, she doesn’t want to go out in the world and wake up in rooms that don’t have Harrow in them. But there isn’t really a way around that.
Her bags are packed and her car is full of gas. She putters around the room as though she’s tidying, even though she’s really only stirring things up more. It’s a problem for January, she decides. New year, new Gideon. She’ll make things happen. She won’t waste her time.
Harrow is in bed reading a biography of…someone. Gideon doesn’t want to look long enough to glean the title. It’s not quite the same as looking at the sun, but there’s something. As if looking at the moon had the danger of burning her eyes out.
Finally, she can’t delay any longer.
“I’m heading out,” she announces. She picks up her back and slings her coat over one arm.
Harrow looks up from her book and gives a wave that manages to be both sarcastic and sincere. “Bye, Gideon.”
It doesn’t feel like enough. Gideon wants to hug her. She can’t, in a million years, do that. “Have a good holiday, Harrow,” she says, and then she leaves.
Winter semester starts inauspiciously: Gideon gets in late one night and, dead on her feet, collapses in bed without bothering to unpack.
She’s unceremoniously woken up at five a.m. by Harrow returning to the room, tripping over Gideon’s suitcases in the middle of the floor, and screaming like a banshee the whole way down.
The first shouting match of the year ensues in short order.
(“WHY WOULD YOU LEAVE YOUR FUCKING SHIT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE GODDAMN ROOM—”
“WELL I DIDN’T KNOW YOU WERE COMING BACK AT ASS O’CLOCK IN THE MORNING—”
“COULD HAVE JUST UNPACKED IT—”
“DUDE I GOT IN SO FUCKING LATE I WASN’T ABOUT TO FOLD UP ALL MY UNDERWEAR—”
“THEN PUT YOUR SUITCASES AGAINST THE WALL, DUMBASS—”
“I DIDN’T THINK YOU WOULD BE HERE SO SOON—”
“MY ENTIRE ASS IS A BRUISE NOW, GIDEON—")
They don’t get in trouble, miraculously, because no one else in the hall appears to be back from holidays and so no one hears Harrow threatening to dismember Gideon with a spoon. They retreat to their respective sides of the room in a huff. Harrow starts unpacking, taking no pains to be quiet. Gideon, figuring that she has a snowball’s chance in hell of getting more sleep, decides to do push-ups.
After fifty, she realizes that the noises from the other side of the room have stopped. She looks up to find Harrow watching her. “What?”
“Do you…usually work out in here?”
“Why, is it bothering you?” Gideon snarks.
Harrow frowns at her. “I’m literally just asking.”
“Whatever.” Gideon sits back on her heels and wipes a few traces of sweat from her face. “No, I don’t. But the gym won’t be open until the first day of classes.”
Even in the early winter morning the room feels hot to Gideon, with the combination of shouting and push-ups and Harrow’s relentless stare. She strips off her shirt and puts her palms back on the floor.
“Oh my god, do you always sleep with a sports bra on?”
She looks up again. “What? No.”
Harrow is watching her again. “Is that like, a jock thing? Always wearing a sports bra?”
“Sorry, did you want me to flash my tits at you?” Gideon says with a grin. “I seriously fell asleep as soon as I got back here last night. I forgot to take it off.”
“I don’t think it’s healthy to sleep with those on,” Harrow notes.
It certainly doesn’t feel good, now that Gideon is awake to feel it. Her chest is sore and her whole body feels crummy. She wants a three-hour-long shower and an omelet. “I don’t do it often,” she says.
“Well. Good.” Harrow turns back to her unpacking.
Gideon keeps doing push-ups.
In her eventual shower, she stands for a long time with her face directly in the spray.
Certainly it’s some sort of masochism, to want someone so prickly and proud. But Gideon wants anyway. She’s never had much sense and she knows that about herself.
Thus they tumble gracelessly into January, and a new semester.
Harrow wears sweaters more often. Gideon goes for a run now and then and comes back swearing, her nose and cheeks and ears flaming red with cold. The dining hall sets up a hot chocolate bar, which they cheerfully abuse.
And Harrow stays acerbic and private. And Gideon waits and wants.
But Gideon is a complex and multifaceted individual. She’s capable of flinging her heart in a hundred directions. Which is why, when Dulcinea invites her to a Valentine’s Day party early in February, Gideon spends the whole rest of the week feeling giddy.
She likes attention. Sue her. She also likes the sharp, exciting anticipation of maybe getting laid soon, which is almost as enjoyable as actually getting laid.
“The hot junior invited me to a party,” she brags to her lunch table, the day after it happens. She can’t keep the pleasure to herself.
Palamedes rolls his eyes. Harrow frowns and says, “Hot junior?”
“Gideon has a crush,” Corona says, picking primly at a salad.
“If by ‘crush’ you mean, ‘I want her to crush my head with her thighs.’ Then yeah.”
“Don’t be vulgar,” Harrow says absently.
Palamedes turns a page in his Chemistry textbook. “You’ll have better luck telling water not to be wet.”
“Her name is Dulcinea,” Corona says to Harrow—she’s much more comfortable talking to Gideon’s prickly roommate these days, which has made lunchtime easier on all of them. “She’s… what, an English major?”
“You have no idea how little I care about that information,” Gideon says.
“I dare you to name the major of any single one of us at this table,” Palamedes says. “I will give you one hundred dollars if you can name a single one.”
Gideon scoffs. “Easy. Harrow’s majoring in being a massive bitch.”
“I’m undeclared, actually.” Harrow’s tone is dry.
“Come on, back me up here.”
“For what possible reason?”
“I could use the money to make our dorm room nicer.”
“The last thing you suggested for our room was a neon green beanbag chair, so I think I’ll pass.”
“It would have looked badass! Corona, don’t you think it would have looked badass?”
Corona physically scoots her chair back to gain some distance. “Leave me out of it,” she begs. “Last time I sided with either of you I never heard the end of it.”
“Yeah, because you said you would rather fight a hundred duck-sized horses. That’s, like, objectively the worse choice.”
“Only if your objectivity is based on being a complete dumbass,” Harrow snaps.
“What sort of damage do you think a duck is going to inflict, Harrow?”
“You’re overlooking the fact that it would be the size of a horse, Gideon!”
“I hate you both,” Palamedes says pleasantly.
Anyway, Gideon’s buzzing with anticipation by the time the party rolls around, and she spends longer than usual staring at her own arms in Harrow’s mirror on Friday night. Valentine’s Day isn’t until Monday, but no one wanted to have a party on a Monday, so they’re getting in the horny spirit a few days early. It suits Gideon just fine. She’s had a dry year.
“Aren’t you supposed to wear red on Valentine’s Day?” Harrow asks pointedly, after ten or so minutes of watching Gideon preen.
“My hair sort of takes care of that for me, don’t you think?”
“I guess it would clash.”
“Exactly. The only thing I want to be clashing is my mouth against—”
“Do not finish that fucking sentence or I will open your trachea with this pen.”
Gideon waggles her eyebrows. “I’d like to see you try.” She wishes she found it less hot when Harrow threatens bodily harm, but her brain is hardwired to overheat at any mention of a girl’s hands inside of her, be it surgical or sexual. Yes, it’s a problem. No, she’s not going to think about it.
“I just need an outlet,” Gideon says. “I haven’t been on a single date this year. Do you know how much that hurts? My ego is fucking bruised, man.”
“I thought Dulcinea asked you out.”
“She invited me to this party, but she invited dozens of people, I don’t think I’m special.”
Harrow hisses a sigh through her teeth. “Don’t you have something productive you could be doing? Like, I don’t know, homework?”
“Worried I’m not gonna pass my oral exams?” Gideon wiggles her tongue obscenely.
Harrow turns red. “Don’t be disgusting,” she says.
“But no, tragically, I don’t actually have a date,” Gideon groans as she flings herself onto her bed. “No one wants a piece of this action. No one wants to ride the Gideon train into love-town. No one—”
“Do you ever shut up?”
Gideon turns her head to answer, only to find that Harrow has marched across the room to her, and before she can say anything Harrow leans down and kisses Gideon full on the mouth.
And…she hates to say it, but it’s a good kiss. Even angled as they are. Harrow’s mouth is so soft and so warm. Gideon parts her lips, just a touch, and presses up into it, but before she can really start to enjoy herself Harrow is gone.
Reality crashes back in.
“What the fuck was that?” Gideon demands, sitting up.
“So you would stop complaining,” Harrow says. She’s already back at her desk, looking completely unaffected, and somehow that’s even more of a turn-on for Gideon’s dumb bitch of a brain. “You got your Valentine’s kiss. Now leave, so I can work.”
Gideon stares at her, absolutely dumbfounded. She isn’t sure that she hasn’t hallucinated the last thirty seconds, except that her mouth still has that just-kissed feeling, and damn it, she wants it again.
The most damning part of the experience is that Harrow continues doing her homework like nothing has happened.
“Okay,” Gideon says. “Bye.”
So she leaves.
And then feels like a dumbass, because it’s way too early to be going to Dulcinea’s—she’s not some sort of scrub that shows up to a party right when it starts, that simply isn’t her style. So she’s outside on the sidewalk, and it’s cold and there’s some drizzle, and she has no idea what to do next.
Fuck it. Early bird it is. Maybe she can get a head start on drinking. She heads in the direction of Dulcinea’s apartment, retracing her steps from Halloween.
She wishes she could have dragged Harrow out with her tonight, too. She might have liked it. Maybe she would have stayed longer, and they could have shared a drink and made fun of everyone at the party clearly about to hook up. It could have been nice.
Gideon shakes her head, disgusted with herself, and walks faster.
“Aren’t you eager,” Dulcinea says, when she opens the door. “Hardly anyone else is here yet, darling.”
Gideon hunches her shoulders a little. “Miscalculated the timing,” she lies. “Do you need help setting up or anything?” She’s tall, she can probably hang up paper hearts or whatever without needing a stepladder.
And Dulcinea’s eyes light up. “That would be grand, actually,” she says, and beckons Gideon in out of the February chill. “I had given up the streamers as a bad job but if you could take over I would love it.”
Which is how Gideon finds herself hanging up red and pink crepe paper in a house that isn’t hers, watched by the other awkward early guests and listening to a screaming girl power playlist about heartbreak.
Not how she had planned it, really.
And if she could only stop thinking—
The party is comfortably full and noisy by the time she’s done with her little task, and she stuffs the tape and leftover crepe paper in a corner and seeks out a drink. She needs one. People are grinding on each other to the tune of a song about a man cheating. There’s some sort of irony there, but she can’t articulate it.
She can’t focus. The thought keeps flashing in the back of her head in bright neon: Harrow kissed me.
“You seem pretty out of it tonight, Nav,” someone says. She swings around to see Naberius—fellow fencer, kind of a dick. She’s not surprised he’s here.
“You seem out of hair gel,” she shoots back. “New look?” It’s true that his hair is falling in his face in an unusual way. She doesn’t like it.
He smooths it back with one hand. “Change is nice,” he says shortly.
“Mmhm.” Gideon cranes her neck, peering around the dim room.
“What are you doing?”
She gives him a wide smile. “Looking for the person you’re trying to impress.”
He rolls his eyes. “Not everything is about getting laid, you know.”
“It is on Valentine’s Day.”
“I doubt you have a romantic bone in your body.”
“Is that a pick-up line? I’m a lesbian, dude, I don’t want your bone in my body.”
He turns even redder. Matches the décor. “That is not what I meant,” he says hotly.
“Where are the drinks at this thing?” Gideon asks. She’s done riling him up—it’s too easy, and he always takes it out of her during practice. “I would like to be not sober.”
“You were here before me, shouldn’t you know?” he snarks. “Surprised Dulcinea didn’t make you pay for the alcohol, along with putting up all her little decorations.”
“Fuck off,” Gideon says, more than a little stung and not sure why. “Tell me where the beer is or I’ll write your number on the bathroom wall.”
“Kitchen,” he says. His face is arranged in a scowl. She flips him the bird and goes searching.
She wishes she wasn’t here by herself. Last time she had Harrow. now she’s realizing how few people she actually knows here. Dulcinea is nowhere to be found, and Gideon isn’t necessarily feeling charitable towards her at the moment.
She feels like she was brought to be a helper monkey and a novelty, to be honest. That’s not a good feeling.
When she finds the alcohol—bottles of vodka alongside sugary mixers, sink full of ice and bottles of beer, big orange cooler of jungle juice—she stares at it all dully. She kind of feels gross and weird already and suddenly isn’t sure if she wants a drink after all. Maybe she should just…go back home.
Back to Harrow.
She fills a solo cup with coke and vodka and returns to the main room.
And there’s Dulcinea, swanning around in her pretty pink dress. She spots Gideon and beams.
“I’m glad you found a drink!” she says, once she makes her way through the dancers. “You’re a dear. Are you having fun?”
“I could be having more,” Gideon says. She takes a large drink. It feels like something she should say, rather than something she wants to.
Dulcinea gives her a slow smile. “You’re a bold one,” she says. “What’s on your mind, Gideon?”
There are so many things she could say. So many ways the night could unspool. She can see the pale skin of Dulcinea’s breastbone, just barely kissed with sweat, and wants to lick it.
Someone behind her has short black hair, and Gideon knows in an instant that nothing is going to happen, because she can’t pull her thoughts away from one short, spiky, unexpected kiss.
“The music is kind of shit,” she says. Redirection. “I kind of thought I wouldn’t have to be reminded of my single status during every song, damn.”
Dulcinea laughs. “I’ll see what I can do about that,” she says, and then she’s gone, and Gideon knows she won’t be coming back.
It’s fine, actually. The music does improve, and Gideon dances a bit. She makes it through half of her vodka concoction before pouring the rest out in a houseplant and slipping out the front door, back into the night.
Long, cold street. Bright, mocking stars. “What the hell is wrong with you, Gideon Nav,” she mutters, and stuffs her hands in her pockets and heads back to the dorm.
Harrow is already asleep—in bed by a sensible ten p.m. like always—and Gideon can’t do anything but climb into her own bunk and stare at the ceiling, as still and quiet as a body being pinned in place by a giant, invisible hand.
Usually she would pass out fast, party-worn and pleasantly warm. But tonight she simmers. Not over the party—she’s already forgotten it.
It has no logic, no matter how many times she turns it over in her mind. A kiss should denote interest, or affection. Everything else about Harrow insists on the exact opposite of that: apathy, if not outright dislike. Gideon can’t make sense of it.
It’s hours before she falls asleep.
Harrow doesn’t seem interested in mentioning it the next day. It’s business as usual: schoolwork, and snarking at Gideon, and reading one of her many dense books.
But it happened. It happened. It happened.
Gideon floats around on a cloud of dumbfounded wonder for about a week, before everything—no, truly, everything—gets weird.
It starts with Ianthe Tridentarius.
Gideon hasn’t seen much of her, past that first party in Corona’s room, way back in September. But one night as she’s coming home from fencing—tired, and sweaty, and sporting a new bruise on her thigh that aches like a motherfucker—she runs into Ianthe, coming down the hallway the opposite way.
They size each other up for a moment. Gideon yanks out her headphones. “What’s up?”
“Just paying a visit to Harrow,” Ianthe says with a flat smile.
Gideon stops to chew on that thought for a moment. “I didn’t realize the two of you were friends.”
“Well.” Ianthe gives a short, horrible laugh. “’Friends’ is one word for it.”
Something about the air feels icy. Gideon hopes she’s misreading the situation, the languid tilt of Ianthe’s head, the lateness of the hour. Because if Harrow and Ianthe—she can’t even think it to herself. It makes her chest feel tight and strange.
“Study buddies,” she says, nodding. “Got it.”
Ianthe presses her lips together. “Mm. I certainly learned a lot.” Before Gideon can think of a response to that, she adds, “Don’t let Harrow get so stressed in the future, will you? She really wore me out.”
And then she leaves Gideon, standing there alone, her hand clenching and unclenching on the bag holding her foils.
When she gets in the room, Harrow is in bed, reading.
“Hey,” Gideon says.
Harrow turns a page.
“I just ran into Ianthe,” she tries again.
“We were working on a thing,” Harrow says absently. The lack of detail isn’t unusual—but is it a cover for something else? Gideon can’t tell and she hates herself for wondering. She also has no reason to believe that Ianthe would lie to her. Which means…
She throws her foils into the corner of the room and goes to take a goddamn shower. Tries not to think about it. Tries not to feel sick to her stomach.
Fails, on both accounts.
What the fuck was up on Valentine’s Day, then?
As usual, she has no answers.
She skulks around like a wounded animal for another week, terrified to bring it up, unable to let it go. She tries to watch Harrow for signs that she’s hooking up with the bitchier of the Tridentarius twins, but can’t see anything new.
She even asks Corona—in a shifty, roundabout way—if she knows anything.
“Um,” Corona says, shredding a lettuce leaf with her perfectly manicured fingers. “They had a class together last semester, right? That’s about all I know.”
Which means they don’t share a class this semester. Which means they couldn’t have been working on a project. Gideon wants to faceplant into her pizza.
“Why?” Corona asks.
And Gideon almost tells her. Almost reveals the ugly little twist her intestines have assumed on an almost permanent basis.
But Corona is a gossip, and way too close to the situation.
“Just wondering,” she lies. And then tries to make herself eat.
So that weirdness is lingering in the air like a bad smell, and then something even worse happens in the early days of March.
Which is bullshit, really. March is usually Gideon’s favorite month. She’s not Irish, sure, but the red hair makes her popular on St. Patrick’s day, and more than one person has made out with her in the past “for luck.”
But before she can even get to the partying part of the month, she comes home from class on a normal Tuesday to find Harrow literally steaming at her desk. She snaps cruelly at Gideon just for saying hello. Which is like, remarkably bitchy, even for her.
“What’s got your tits in a twist?” Gideon asks, leaning against her bed post and crossing her arms.
“Something’s fucked up with my computer,” Harrow grumbles. “And I have a huge project due tonight, and I do not have the time for this.”
“Did you try turning it off and then back on?”
“Yes, I did try the most fucking obvious option. I’m not a complete dumbass.”
“You seem really upset,” Gideon notes.
“I am really upset, thanks, Gideon,” Harrow snaps without turning around. “How am I supposed to finish this assignment if my laptop is spontaneously rewiring itself?”
“Just get your parents to buy you a new one, dude. I bet you could get one shipped in, like, a day.”
Finally, finally, Harrow turns to face her. “Sure, sorry, let me call up the fucking funeral home,” she snarls. “Hi Dad, how’s the underworld? Care to float a few fucking thousand dollars back across the fucking Styx?”
Gideon blinks at her. “What?”
“And you know,” Harrow continues, really ranting now, “if he could hook me up with some change, which would be super awesome and not at all traumatizing, I would use it to literally pay you to stop mentioning my dead parents so goddamn often.”
Gideon is not a short person. She’s quite tall, in fact. The tallest in her school from third grade on (save one boy, bane of her existence, who had her by a good two inches). Football in middle school (she was the only girl on the team) and fencing since high school on has made her bigger, and stronger. She’s always felt solid and sure.
But at the moment she feels so, so small.
“Your parents are dead?” she asks, quiet.
Somehow, this incenses Harrow even further. “Do not play the stupid jock with me right now,” she hisses.
“I’m not,” Gideon says, and she feels like the floor is slipping out from under her feet. “I’m really not, I swear, I didn’t know.”
Harrow squints at her suspiciously. Her chest is heaving, like she’s just run a mile. Gideon would find it hot, if it didn’t feel inappropriate to find anything about this situation hot. Even she has some vague sense of decorum around tender subjects.
Like dead parents.
“Everyone knows,” Harrow says, still glaring. “Literally everyone. It was…it was all over the news, either you’re fucking with me or you’re stupider than I thought.”
“When did this happen?” Gideon demands. She tries to remember if Harrow has taken any unexpected trips this past year. But no, she’s too much of a stickler for attendance. Did she skip her parents’ funeral to go to fucking biology? Or did they die over, like, Christmas break?
“When I was ten,” Harrow says.
Ah. Not over Christmas. Or, like, not this most recent Christmas.
“I didn’t know that,” Gideon says honestly. Another ugly thought occurs. “Wow. I must have looked like a complete tool this entire year.”
Harrow hunches her shoulders. “Well, yeah,” she says. “You did.”
“I’m sorry.” She doesn’t know what to do with her hands.
There’s a long moment where Harrow looks her up and down, like she’ll catch a lie in the lining of Gideon’s clothes. “It was all over the news,” she repeats, quieter now.
“I hardly read the news now,” Gideon says helplessly. “Let alone when I was ten.”
And for the first time all day, something like a smile floats across Harrow’s face. There for the briefest second, then gone. “That, I believe,” she says.
A tense sort of silence falls. Gideon runs one hand back through her hair. “Can I…help with your laptop at all?” she asks awkwardly.
Harrow looks down like she’s surprised to still find it on her lap. “Are you any good with technology?”
She laughs. It’s a short, bitter sound. “I’ll just take it to tech support. But thanks for the offer, Nav.”
Gideon nods. Feels useless and strange. Hands too big for her body, body too big for the room.
She goes to the gym.
They eat dinner together that night, but neither one of them speaks.
Things after that are…really fucking strange.
It’s partly Gideon’s fault, of course. She doesn’t know how to navigate a landscape of dead parents, and she maybe sorta kinda wants to atone for looking like a heartless fucking animal for the past six months. So she tries to stay quiet when she’s in the room. Turns her lights out when she notices Harrow getting ready for bed. Drinks a little less when she goes out, and watches her feet carefully when she comes home.
She also looks up Harrow’s mom and dad, feeling marginally bad about it but also wanting to make sure she doesn’t cram both feet in her mouth again. She finds a few grim details that make it difficult to look Harrow in the eyes for like a day.
(Car accident. A bad one.)
And she doesn’t see Ianthe around their room again. She tries to keep from hoping that’s a good sign.
But things in the room feel strained, to say the least. Harrow goes about her work like an automaton, not speaking much. They haven’t eaten dinner together in ages. And Gideon just feels…bad.
“I don’t know how to make it up to her,” she says a week later, lying flat on Palamedes’s floor and looking up at the ceiling. “I feel like a dick.”
“You could get her a card,” Palamedes recommends.
Gideon snorts. “That will go over well. Sorry I made jokes about fucking your dead mom while dressed as a skeleton. I didn’t mean it, honest. She would set it on fire in my bed.”
“Well you wouldn’t have to write that in it,” Palamedes says, rolling his eyes. “Besides, I think you’re getting too worked up about it. You apologized already.”
“Yeah, but I still feel bad.”
“You shouldn’t. Even with the dead parents, Harrow’s so rich that I don’t have much sympathy for her.”
Except that she’s not. Oh, she’ll be fine, certainly. She won’t have student debt or bad credit. But her parents weren’t planning on an early demise, and what assets they had were mostly still tied to their business. Neither of them seemed to have thought to set anything aside for Harrow.
Gideon knows this from Google and from Harrow herself. They’ve had one and a half conversations since The Big Reveal, and the one was about Harrow having to request money from her trust to order a new laptop. They money she does have isn’t in her own pockets; it’s overseen by a bank. She tries to never touch it. Gideon kind of hates rich people on principle, but she still finds it a little unfair.
The half conversation had been Harrow complaining about some drunk frat boys on the sidewalk outside their room.
Gideon kind of misses her rants.
“I just want things in our room to go back to normal,” she says.
“From the sound of it, normal was still the two of you hating each other,” Palamedes says.
“I mean, we didn’t hate each other,” Gideon says. “We’re both just. Loud. Vocal.”
“Are you talking about fighting or having sex?”
She laughs, and tries not to let it sound hopeless. “Well, she hates me too much for that.”
Except, Gideon asks herself later, as she walks back to her own room, why would she kiss me if she hates me?
St. Patrick’s Day comes and goes. Gideon’s not really in the mood to party. It’s fine. She can grit her teeth through the end of March. Through the end of the year. It’s all fine.
It sucks, actually, Gideon is miserable and she doesn’t know how to fix it. Emotional intimacy, like math and being heterosexual, is simply not her strong suit. She spends more time out of the room, figuring that she’ll do the least amount of damage if she just stays away.
But that doesn’t last long.
Shortly after Gideon’s new resolution, she slips into the room for a notebook, intending to sneak right back out again. Harrow’s in bed, reading—small and dark and lovely—and Gideon hunts around for what she needs, increasingly fighting the urge to swear when she can’t find it.
But the notebook has shuffled off this mortal coil, apparently, because it’s fucking nowhere to be found. Gideon takes a breath and starts to ask, “Harrow, have you seen my—”
She’s really not expecting to get hit square in the face with a pillow. She splutters and flings it away, wheeling around to face her pint-sized assailant.
Harrow is standing with her hands on her hips. “Quit fucking tiptoeing around me, I can’t stand it,” she says.
Gideon throws her arms out. “I was trying to, like, atone.”
“Well, stop.” Harrow picks up another pillow and hits her again. “Funeral was ten years ago, dumbass. You don’t need to be so somber.”
“Oh, so you can make jokes about it but I can’t?”
“What the fuck do you mean? They’re my parents, of course I can.”
“Seems a touch hypocritical, if you ask me,” Gideon says. She keeps having to duck to avoid taking another feathery projectile to the face. This is so much better than silence.
“I despise you,” Harrow says, but it doesn’t sting the way it used to, even though she keeps raining down blows on Gideon with her pillow. There’s only one option: to go on the offensive.
Gideon makes a noise like a growl and charges. Harrow is small; it’s easy to scoop her up and carry her across the room, even though she immediately yelps and starts wriggling like a fish.
“Put me down, you absolute brute, oh my god—”
“Mm, no, I don’t think I will,” Gideon says. She adjusts Harrow so that she’s over one shoulder, sack-of-potatoes style. “Not until you promise to stop attacking me.” Harrow kicks her feet and Gideon wheels around, trying to keep her balance. “Easy there, tiger.”
“I hate you so much, I hope you choke on a sword—”
Gideon throws Harrow onto her bed.
“Die in a fire, Gideon Nav.” Harrow pushes herself up onto her knees and glares. Her short black hair is a gorgeous disaster, all over her face like she’s been caught in a storm. A sexy storm.
“Ooh, full names,” Gideon says. “That’s hot.”
“I’ll fucking show you hot—” Harrow threatens, but the rest of the sentence never comes, because she grabs Gideon by the neck of her shirt and pulls her into a kiss.
They stay locked there for an impossibly long moment.
Gideon picks Harrow up again. Under her thighs, this time, so Harrow can wrap her legs around Gideon’s waist. It’s maybe the second-best thing that has ever fucking happened to her. The absolute best is the way that Harrow kisses like she’s starving for it, every bit of prim decorum gone, murmuring words into Gideon’s mouth that don’t make sense and don’t need to.
If Gideon is going to hell, she’ll be smiling and screaming the whole way down.
By the time they stop, Harrow’s mouth is red and her eyes are bright and Gideon wants to keep her like this forever.
“What about Ianthe?” Gideon asks. It pops out of her mouth before she’s even aware what she’s saying.
Harrow scowls at her. “What about Ianthe?”
“She definitely more-than-implied that the two of you are fucking,” Gideon says bluntly. “And like, usually I’d be all for it, add me to the broth, but I feel like that would make things weird with—”
“We aren’t fucking.”
Gideon blinks. “Okay, define we.”
“Are you saying that you and Ianthe aren’t fucking?” Gideon tries to clarify. “Or, like, that you and I aren’t going to—”
Harrow pulls her hair. Gideon makes a short, sharp sound.
They stare at each other.
“Got it?” Harrow asks.
Gideon feels parched. “Yes ma’am.”
“Now I have a question,” Harrow adds, digging her fingers into Gideon’s red hair.
“What is it?”
Harrow bites her lip. “How long do you actually think you can keep holding me up?”
This is the best day of Gideon’s life. “Do you like it?” she asks with a grin. “I seem to recall you saying I was nothing but a dumb jock.” She’s still holding Harrow, can still feel her fast and nervous breath against Gideon’s chest. “Oh how the turntables.”
“I take it back, you’re insufferable, don’t touch me,” Harrow says. But she doesn’t move away. Gideon hums and kisses her neck. Harrow’s breath leaves her in one long sigh.
Gideon learns a lot of things that evening.
She learns how to leave beautiful bright red marks all over Harrow’s fair skin.
She learns that she is, in fact, strong enough to pin Harrow to the wall and keep her there for a good long while.
She learns that Harrow’s bed is soft and her blankets are warm.
She makes a well-placed “eat the rich” joke at a rather pivotal moment and learns that she loves having her hair pulled, and that Harrow loves to pull her hair.
She learns that the streetlights outside their dorm window shine directly in Harrow’s face when she’s trying to sleep, which is why she’s so insistent about the blinds being down at night.
For once, Gideon doesn’t sleep in her own bed. For once, Harrow’s homework goes neglected.
Gideon dreams about running across the moon, launching herself forward in the low gravity and grinning every time her feet leave the surface. Above her, the sky is thick with stars, so many that the dark places threaten to disappear.
She wakes up with Harrow’s hair in her mouth. “Gross.”
“Shut up,” Harrow says drowsily. “I’m not awake yet.”
“I can tell.”
“I wouldn’t say no.”
They get breakfast together in the dining hall, same as always, but somehow the togetherness feels different. Gideon can’t stop smiling like an idiot. Harrow looks exactly the same as ever, somber and slightly annoyed, eating a healthy assortment of foods and rolling her eyes at Gideon’s cereal.
“You’re aware,” she says, “that this is a colossally bad idea.”
“Oh, fully,” Gideon says cheerfully. “Absolute disaster waiting to happen.”
“Good. As long as we’re on the same page.”
“I’m willing to be on literally whatever page you’re on at any point.”
Harrow smirks. “I would be more impressed by that declaration if I knew you could read.”
Gideon crows with delight. “Insult me some more,” she says. “I actually love it.”
“I’m starting to think you do.” Harrow tips some fruit into her yoghurt and Gideon just beams at her for a minute, trying to think of something to say that isn’t overly stupid or horny. It’s too early in the day for either of those things.
She feels Harrow’s foot tap the side of hers under the table.
“I do genuinely need to ask,” Gideon says, after stealing three-quarters of Harrow’s bran muffin, “what was up with Ianthe.”
Harrow shrugs. “If she told you we were sleeping together, she was lying,” she says. “Probably trying to rile you up. She kind of hates everyone her sister is friends with.”
“Except for you.”
“She didn’t really say it,” Gideon admits. “Just…heavily implied it.”
“Heavily implied what?” Palamedes drops into the seat next to Gideon and steals part of her stolen muffin. Harrow sighs deeply.
“Gideon thought I was fucking Ianthe Tridentarius,” she says flatly.
Palamedes chokes on the muffin a little bit. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I know. Not my type at all.”
“That isn’t, uh, why I was surprised,” Palamedes manages. “I just…didn’t expect that.”
Gideon nods. “Hearing Harrow say ‘fuck’ is like hearing a nun swear,” she says. “Like, she says it often, but it still feels kinda wrong.”
Harrow points her fork at Gideon’s throat. “Bold of you to make fun of me for anything after you were gullible enough to believe I was sleeping with Ianthe.”
“In my defense,” Gideon says, “she told me you wore her out.”
“She makes me sound like an exercise regimen.”
“I mean, I don’t know,” Gideon says, because she has no fucking filter, “I’m definitely pretty sore today.”
Harrow drops her fork. Palamedes almost falls out of his chair. Gideon keeps spooning cereal into her mouth, unrepentant.
“You have all the subtlety of a gunshot,” Harrow says, but something at the corner of her mouth is almost fond, and Gideon is so happy she could bench press the whole table.
“Congrats, I guess,” Palamedes says, eyes darting between the two of them. “Like, I wondered, but I also figured not in a million years. You know?”
Gideon punches him in the shoulder. “Gee. Thanks.”
He holds up his palms. “I genuinely thought you hated her,” he says to Harrow.
She frowns, but it softens when Gideon throws an arm around her shoulders. “To quote the philosophers of old,” Gideon says smugly, “my girlfriend is a bitch and I like her so much.”
It gets a laugh out of Harrow, which is all Gideon wanted. And it’s the perfect cover for her to steal the last bit of the muffin.
Yeah. They’re going to be just fine.
*abigail pent voice* is this really how it happens?
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