Harrowhark Nonagesimus slept in repose on the altar, Frontline Titties of the Fifth clasped loosely over her chest. She didn’t need to look at it: she had her memories and her imagination to sustain her. Here, in a bubble, she had no responsibilities, no goals, no need to agitate herself to achieve any grand plan. All that was left to her was one singular ambition: to keep Gideon Nav’s soul intact.
For Harrow, who had spent her whole life in stubborn pursuit of a dozen unattainable goals, this was simple. She had worried she might panic, confined in a bubble with no other soul and nothing to read, but it turned out that panic was a thing of the body. Without glands, there was no adrenaline to spike, no heart to hammer so hard she worried she’d have to dredge the spikes of bone out of her own lungs. Instead, she lay there, wholly content, drifting in and out of consciousness.
She would sleep here forever if it would protect Gideon.
Her last regret was that she could not give Gideon back her meat-- Gideon who had loved her own muscles beyond any reasonable regard, Gideon who had shown off to an audience of one (Harrow, scoffing), Gideon who had luxuriated in every sensation that inspired revulsion in Harrow. Harrow had never been able to stop watching. She knew Gideon’s meat by heart, so if the only way she could preserve it was in her memory, that was what she would do.
Even in the chill environs of Drearburh, Harrow had seen every inch of Gideon. The flex and swell of her biceps and ripple of her back as she did push-ups in her cell, regularly. Snatches of calf and thigh, quads and calves, hamstrings and glutes clearly delineated as they ripped and tore at each other when they fought. More rarely, she stole glimpses of the washboard definition of Gideon’s abdominals as Gideon emerged from one of the last functional sonics.
She envisioned this body, the heat and the sweat of it, ran her fingers over its chiselled planes in the canopic jar of her memory. Let the tomb be shut forever, let the rock never be rolled away. As long as Harrow remained buried, Gideon Nav would live.
And so it went. Harrow had no way to measure the passage of time.
The frantic pounding of her heartbeat woke her. Her bones and marrow tingled with adrenaline, her neurons sizzled with chemicals. Harrowhark came to consciousness screaming.
She knew her meat, knew its flaws, knew its base inadequacy. More than anything that, she knew that her resurrection meant she had failed. She had failed, and Gideon was dead. Even if the ghost-callers of the Fifth could tempt her back, Gideon would never live again.
Strong arms lifted her from her bed, and she fought them. Sure hands smoothed down the length of her spine. With eyes blurred with tears, Harrow pressed her face into the softness of a shoulder covered in woven black cloth and wept until she had no more tears to cry. She wept until her throat parched and her scleras burned. She wept until, at last, sleep took her again.
The next time she woke was gentler. Drool had glued her cheek to the softest pillow she’d ever slept on. For a moment she could pretend she was home, back in Drearburh, with the scent of facepaint and sweat and metal wrapped around her, its familiarity better than a blanket. She was safe and warm, back where she belonged.
Except-- no. That was wrong. Home had never been warm, and she could barely remember a time when she felt safe. All the muscles in her back bunched up like an accordion made of spite.
"Are you up?" asked Gideon, in low tones. Her chest rumbled under Harrow's ear. "Will you talk to me this time? Let us know that you’re all there?"
Ah. She was dreaming again. Harrow relaxed. "You don’t usually talk."
"Only when you make me take a vow of silence."
"Talk forever," said Harrow. She’d never quite been able to capture the exact timbre of Gideon’s voice in her imaginings before. Bless her own subconscious mind for pulling it out right when she needed it most.
"I'm going to remind you that you said that," Gideon warned her. "See if I ever shut up again."
"Okay," said Harrow, burrowing back into Gideon's chest.
"Hey, don't go back to sleep. You need to drink some water." Gideon laughed as Harrow nuzzled her way under Gideon's jaw. "I mean it. They’re going to stick an IV in you if you don’t hydrate yourself."
"In a minute," said Harrow, because this was a dream and fluids wouldn’t make an ounce of difference. She was going to enjoy every millisecond she had. Following her well-worn dreaming habit, she smoothed a hand over the swell of Gideon’s arm, down the crook of her elbow, across the plane of her belly. Her palm found softness, and she cupped the subtle swell just above Gideon’s pelvis before her brain caught up with her body.
Affrighted, she thrashed her way free of the sheets and scrambled out of the bed "This is wrong. You’re different."
"Well, yeah, it’s been months and months." Gideon rolled off the bed and stood. "Even I’m not sure how many-- it was really confusing for a while-- Harrow?"
Harrow had backed into a corner, needing to feel the solid surface at her back. "You’re not real. I imagined you. I broke you."
Gideon took a step closer. "Harrow, it’s me." But her eyes were wrong, too: they were the dark eyes so common on the ninth, the dark eyes that belonged to the cavalier whose soul Harrow had dragooned to overwrite her memory of Gideon.
Blood dripped down Harrow’s face as she grasped for her necromancy. Once again, she’d been left without so much as a bone stud, so she lengthened her personal metacarpals into claws, bone bursting through the skin of her hands in memory of Gideon’s knuckle-knives. She would launch herself at this imposter, rend its flesh to ribbons for taunting her with the corrupted likeness of the woman she had lost and loved.
"Cam?" Gideon called, backing away. "Cam, I need your help. We have a situation here."
It was easier to accept the explanation from Cam. Or, apparently, from Palamedes, who rose to the surface heralded by the eyes that had always been Cam’s, before. Harrow listened intently and tried to process everything that had happened.
This might have worked, except then Palamedes rounded out the words "and we mended Gideon’s corpse, and we called her soul, and there was a little bit of a hiccup, but we got it straightened it out in the end" in Cam’s voice, and the rest of Harrow’s brain frizzled into blankness.
"There was a hiccup?" she asked, and then, shaking her head to clear it-- "Gideon’s really alive?"
Palamedes studied her. It was weird to see his facial expressions on her impassive face. Finally, he took pity on her. "Gideon’s really alive," he said. "I suppose everything else can wait."
Very carefully, she slid into the seat next to Gideon and put her plate down. It held a single apple that Harrow did not actually plan to eat, but it provided an excuse for conversation. "Can I ask you something?"
"You just did."
Gideon swallowed a mouthful of bread, pushed her much fuller plate aside. Horrifyingly, she turned in her chair to face Harrow square-on.
Harrow tucked her knees up to her chest so she could hide her face in them. "What happened to you? I mean-- after-- after--" She trailed off, unable to say it.
"After I died?" (Harrow winced.) "I rode around in your head, saw some really old people do some really terrible things, and then you abandoned me in your body. Not the most fun I’ve ever had."
Harrow knew all of that already. Palamedes had explained. She pressed on: "But you’re different now. Your body is. How? Why?"
Gideon’s entire face lit up, like Harrow had just offered her first pick of the entirety of the armory on the Second. "Fried onions! And sausages. And ice cream. It’s all way better than snow leeks."
"Are these things-- food?" They didn’t sound like food, but Harrow could admit that she was not an expert in this arena, misadventures in soup notwithstanding.
"You’ve got to try them, Harrow, you’re gonna love them."
Harrow did not love fried onions. Neither did she love sausages. Ice cream she could tolerate in miniscule spoonfuls, if she washed it down with at least twelve ounces of water after every bite.
"I really should have known," said Gideon, sounding apologetic and looking crestfallen. "I’m sorry."
"You wanted to share something you loved." Harrow hesitated, and then pushed the half-melted bowl away from herself. "Want the rest?"
Gideon took the spoon and put a gloopy dollop of ice cream between her lips. And-- Harrow did not love ice cream herself, but she did love the look on Gideon’s face as she rolled the dessert around on her tongue.
"You really like it here?" she asked into the companionable silence as Gideon scraped the spoon against the bottom of the bowl. She watched as Gideon’s jaw worked like she was worrying her molar with her tongue.
"It’s the best," said Gideon at last. "Especially now that you’re here too. If my dad weren’t waging war on the rest of the universe, it would be perfect."
"Wait a minute-- your dad?"
Gideon groaned and buried her face in her hands. "If we’re having this conversation, I want to have lunch first."
"So that’s why we’re fighting," said Camilla, finishing a set of sword drills in the bare room that served as their practice room. "You with us, Nonagesimus?"
"Yes," said Harrow, and was startled to realize it was true, and had been true even before the explanation. Gideon loved this planet, Gideon wanted to protect this planet. There was no choice, no reflection, no other option, no matter who it was they were fighting. Harrow was going to help her.
Gideon beamed at her. "This time, you’re actually going to lift some weights."
"Fine," said Harrow, even though Gideon looked far too pleased at the prospect of taking Harrow through her paces.
"I’ll leave you to it," said Camilla.
There were several problems with working out with Gideon, which Harrow divided into two groups: the obvious ones, and the horrible ones. Of course the exertion was terrible and Gideon was far too enthusiastic about everything from push-ups to sparring. Of the obvious problems, the worst was that she couldn’t use her necromancy. ("They’ll find us in two hours," Camilla had said. "We’re not ready yet." She would not explain what constituted readiness, nor expound on who they were.)
So Gideon knocked Harrow’s frail meat to the floor and against the wall and, occasionally, made her roll off the thin mats that padded the room, through the door, and onto the unforgiving linoleum tile of the hallway. Harrow did her best during these sessions. It was actually better than she’d expected: the time she'd spent as half a Lyctor had given her half an idea of what to do with her body, even if Gideon corrected her form at least forty times an hour.
But she'd signed up for the interminable slog of letting her cavalier kick her carcass around the practice room. These problems, the obvious ones, Harrow could manage.
She had no idea what to do with the horrible ones: the problem of Gideon wearing sleeveless tops to the session, revealing every glistening inflection in her arms from her shoulders to the point where her gloves cinched around her wrists. The way Gideon's thigh sometimes brushed between hers, soft and strong, causing the image of what it would be like to pillow her cheek there to force its way intrusively into Harrow’s thoughts.
The worst part was that the horrible problems followed her out of the practice room. She had begun to relearn Gideon’s body in the same way she’d learned it in the first place: through violence meted out to one another. Neither her sore limbs nor the bruises that bloomed like asphodel haphazardly propagated around her elbows and knees could distract her from her growing awareness of her cavalier. This carnal knowledge haunted her from morning (when Gideon came in to eat breakfast with her hair still damp from exertion) to afternoon (when Gideon fidgeted in a chair across from her at the table Harrow shared with Camilla as they scoured news bulletins for intelligence) to night (when Gideon stretched, unrepentantly profligate, before flinging herself into the narrow cot that was twin to the one in which Harrow slept).
Even on the rare moments Harrow had to herself, when Gideon was busy elsewhere or when Camilla brought Harrow along on an errand as her small black shadow, the thoughts lingered. Harrow wondered what it would be like to lick the gloss of sweat from Gideon's tricep and if Gideon might like it if Harrow bit her trapezius.
She had no business entertaining any of these thoughts. Any claim she'd had to them had died with Gideon, on an iron railing at Canaan House.
Years ago, on the Ninth, Harrow had taken pains to ensure that she could feed the population. She calculated the precise quantity of food required to run her house on an average day and then ordered an extravagant 3% more, tucking the surplus cases of nutrient paste and fertilizer where they were easy to access. She bled to raise the skeletons to work the fields. Even though nearly all of the traditional Ninth cultivars had died out before even Pelleamena Novenarius had become Reverend Mother-- she made the best of what she had, so that when Gideon inevitably grew hungry and made up the difference in theft, no one would go hungry. She justified the expense as cover: the Ninth should have had another 200 young, growing souls to feed. Surely it could stretch itself to feed one extra young woman, even one with arm enough for the entire House.
At the time, she had thought her efforts sufficient. Gideon had grown, both in height and in bicep. Physically, Harrow was no match for her. They fought, and Gideon could overpower her until Harrow's skeletons ripped them apart again. She had taken this as proof of success.
But now, when Gideon pinned Harrow to the floor, Harrow could read the difference through the palm of her hand pressed desperately and ineffectually against Gideon's skin. In Harrow's absence, her cavalier had grown impossibly stronger and covered those enlarged muscles with a sleek coating of fat.
This meant only one thing: that she had always failed Gideon, failed and failed again.
By chance, Gideon had stumbled upon the miracle that Harrow had always sought and never been able to deliver. She had found for herself the delights of fried onions and ice cream.
Harrow had no right to be anything but grateful to the world that had delivered these wonders to the woman who deserved so much more that Harrow could ever provide.
She'd thought the worst of it would stay in the practice room. For the first few weeks, it did. And then the heat wave hit.
Even Gideon had taken pity on Harrow and let her out of sparring early. Harrow had gone straight to the tub and turned the faucet on, cold as it would go, as sweat stuck her robe to her back. After it had filled her habitual two inches, she sat in it and rinsed the worst of the grime off.
The air was soup-thick, and the water refreshing. Harrow lay back, letting the water cool her spine. She was just so tired. The heat meant she could barely use a sheet at night, and she was so used to shivering herself to sleep under thick layers of blankets. She could stay here and feel human for a few minutes longer, with the shower curtain (flimsy, but blessedly opaque) shutting out the rest of the world.
She jolted to full alert some time later because the bathroom door had opened and slammed shut. (Not for the first time, Harrow wished she could be allowed to set wards.) Peeking around the shower curtain, she sought the intruder.
Gideon was already half-naked, pulling her trousers down extremely shapely legs. Her skin gleamed in the heat.
Harrow squeaked, and their eyes met. Gideon grinned and gave her a little wave of recognition. Unselfconsciously, as if Harrow wasn't there at all, she shimmied her bandeau over her head. Her breasts fell forward, perfect round globes crowned with dark points, and suddenly Harrowhark couldn't breathe.
She covered her face with her hands and squeezed her eyes shut, in case the mirage vanished when she took her attention away from it. Without looking, she groped around the environs of the tub and came up with a grey terrycloth robe. Cam’s. But it would do in an emergency, and this was definitely an emergency. Safely behind the curtain, she stood in the shallow water and wrapped it around herself. This made her feel a little better, even though the heat was atrocious.
When she dared to look again, Gideon was still naked. She'd shut the lid of the toilet and sat upon it, hands clasped behind her head, waiting. It was a scandalous display of arm and chest, punctuated with garishly red tufts of axillary hair, and above it all, Gideon herself, smirking and waggling her eyebrows.
Harrow made a sound, as if someone had punctured the inner tube of the tire of her soul and then kicked it repeatedly until the air spewed out in tortured, wheezing gasps.
"Like what you see?"
Harrow had no answer for that. Like was a small word, insipid, unequal to the task of what it meant to look at the body of Gideon Nav. The scar was only on the back; the spike had not pierced so deeply that there was a matching exit wound on Gideon's sternum, but Harrow could-- had-- imagined it there so often that she could see it clearly even with physical evidence confronting her.
"Hey, Harrow, it's not a trick question." Somehow Gideon had managed to put her breasts away again, while Harrow was panicking. "So you're not interested. That's fine. It's what I expected, anyway. I just thought--"
"Thought I'd seen you watching. That, maybe--"
"Maybe?" Harrow didn't know when she'd been reduced to a parrot, but now Gideon was frozen, too, half-naked before her, and they were frozen together. It felt like the instant before a fight, when Gideon went for her sword and Harrow for her bones. Like the day she had untangled the penultimate traps and stood, contemplative, before the last lock on the door of the Tomb.
"That you might want me-- that I could be good enough--"
Harrow could not stand there and listen to her cavalier say these things. "There has never been anyone else."
Gideon flared up, blissfully, blindingly angry. "Don't tell me there's never been anyone else, not when I rode around in your head for almost a year. I saw her, Harrow, I saw your girl in the Tomb, and I can never be her."
"The only reason I dreamed of her was because I didn’t dare remember you!" Her fingers wrapped around the thick column of Gideon's throat, dragging at her neck, pulling her close in the violent dance they both knew so well.
"Well, you've got me now." Gideon was so close. Her unshorn shock of hair brushed Harrow's freshly sweaty forehead. "So I guess you're going to have to--"
Harrow did not find out what she was going to have to do, because she was lifting herself up onto her tiptoes to crash her mouth into Gideon's, reaching out with her tongue as she once had with Ianthe, praying desperately that Gideon would yield into the touch--
"Ugh. Erk. No." Gideon ripped her face away. "Tongues. Ugh. No thank you."
Harrow flushed. "I-- The books say-- I'm sorry. " She couldn't articulate the words. She was going to destroy God, and then she was going to go to the prison high above the Ninth and lock herself in a cell until her mortal prison gave out, which would surely precede the attenuation of this mountainous embarrassment.
For some reason, Gideon was still talking. "No-- I mean-- can we try again? Without the tongue?"
Oh. Oh. Harrow nodded minutely, and Gideon ducked her head, and their closed lips met. Gideon cradled Harrow's skull, palm gentle on the bone, fingers threading through the hair that Harrow cut once a week so that it would remain at most chin-length. This was better. This was sweetness and warmth.
"I want to kiss you in all the places," said Gideon, at length.
Harrow screwed up her courage. "Only if I get to kiss you everywhere first."
"Everywhere?" Gideon's eyes-- Harrow's eyes in Gideon's face-- went wide with shock.
"Everywhere." She was clearly mad with shock or desperation or sheer venal lust.
"All right," said Gideon, and-- "Now?"
"We need to shower."
"If you kiss me, we're only going to get messy again."
"All right. Now."
They blew through the hallway in such a tumultuous storm that Camilla emerged from the room she and Palamedes shared with Corona. "What are you two--" She visibly took in Gideon’s dishabille, Harrow’s stolen robe. "Oh. Finally. Close the door."
The room that they shared was no cooler than the bathroom or the practice room. The thickness of the air made Harrow feel like her chest was being compressed. Or maybe that was just Gideon stripping off her bandeau again, followed by her shorts, until she was bare before Harrow.
"Lie down," said Harrow, because that seemed like a reasonable place to begin. The cots they’d been given were narrow and not particularly comfortable, but Gideon’s would suffice for the proceedings.
When Gideon did, Harrow perched awkwardly on the edge and leaned over. She kissed Gideon’s forehead, and then both eyelids in turn. She kissed the tip of her nose, and then she kissed her mouth.
Gideon’s arms came up to hold her there, and they kissed and they kissed, mouths closed, nose to cheek, revelling in the closeness. By the time Harrow could sit up again, she was out of breath. "Can you stay still for me? I can’t think when you do that." It seemed very important that she be able to think.
"Whatever you need." More quietly, Gideon added, "I never thought I’d get to do anything like this with you."
Unsure of how to follow that up, Harrow picked up Gideon's left hand. Under her fingertips ran the filigree network of nerves, the tracery of veins, finely wrought and bursting with life. She pressed a kiss to the mound of Gideon's thumb, and then to the palm, before stroking up the tender inner arm. Goosebumps rose in the wake of her fingers, even as sweat beaded on Harrow’s back.
"Damn, Harrow. You look like you want to dissect me."
"No. No. Never." Harrow's stomach turned. She had to take several hard breaths through her nose to keep her lunch in place. "I want you whole. I'm sorry I didn't protect you. I’m sorry that-- our whole lives-- I could never give you any of the things you needed. I let so many bad things happen to you, Gideon, and I can’t stand it."
"Hey, gloom mistress, no. We’re here now, we’re together now. I wouldn’t trade any of it away, not if it meant I’d risk losing this."
"I got better." Gideon propped herself up on her elbows. "And, anyway, I can’t die now."
"Why not?" Harrow pressed her palm to Gideon’s sternum to feel the comforting thud of her heartbeat.
"I can’t die now," Gideon said, smugly, "because the smartest, hottest, weirdest, best necromancer I’ve ever met promised me she was going to kiss me everywhere, and she hasn’t delivered yet."
"But--" Surely there was an argument Harrow could make here. There had to be.
"I’m waiting, Nonagesimus."
"You’re unbearable," Harrow told her, and started on her other arm.
After that came Gideon’s neck-- here, Harrow used her teeth, and Gideon gasped -- and then the glorious swoop of her collarbone. That was easy enough to kiss, the skin warm and pliant under her mouth. Below that, though…
Harrow had screened all of the magazines that had ever crossed the threshold of the Ninth, destined for Gideon’s cell. The busty models had never appealed to her then. But looking at Gideon’s chest, so warm and soft beneath her, she suddenly understood the appeal. Her mouth watered even looking.
Carefully, reverently, she kissed the fleshy top of one, around the velvety side, and just below the nipple. Finally, she sucked that soft peak into her mouth. Driven by the heavenly weight and texture, she brought one trembling hand to the other breast.
Gideon made a noise like she was in pain. Harrow stopped immediately. "Was that wrong?"
"I don’t usually-- like that." Gideon winced. "But that’s how you like your tits touched, isn’t it?"
Harrow flushed. "Were you-- how do you know that?"
At least Gideon also looked shamefaced. "Look, you put me in the back of your head. I, uh. Picked up some things. I didn’t mean to, I swear, but--"
"But you don’t like your nipples-- sucked?" Anything was better than talking about what Gideon knew about what Harrow liked. Anything.
"Touched at all, really. It usually hurts."
"Oh." Harrow had more bounty than she deserved in Gideon’s warm body alive next to her-- she had no right to hope for more.
"Can I touch yours?" Gideon propped herself up on her elbows. "I know I said I’d stay still for you, and if you want, I totally will, but if you let me touch you, I’ll make it so good for you."
Harrow shied back. She could imagine Gideon’s hands on her breasts, and the thought made heat rush through her body.
"Please?" Gideon held out her hand, because she was ridiculously perfect. "And if my nips ever cooperate, I promise I’ll tell you."
She hated that it was so easy for Gideon to read her. "All right."
"Sweet." Drawing the lapels of Camilla’s robe very gently apart, Gideon exposed Harrow’s breasts. "C’mere."
Tentatively, Harrow climbed onto the cot to sit astride Gideon’s hips. She was bare under the robe, and Gideon could surely feel Harrow’s wetness against her skin. It couldn’t be helped. Gideon crunched up to palm a breast. (Her strength never failed to make a tremor run through Harrow.)
"Tell me if you want me to do anything differently," Gideon said, before bending her head to one of Harrow’s scant breasts.
Her touch was amazing. All the nerve endings in Harrow’s nipples exploded into absurd pleasure. Chemicals roared through her body, corrupting every cell with joy. Gideon touched her with confidence, alternating between breasts at intervals, sucking on one nipple and rolling the other between her fingers, as least as skilled as she was with rapier and offhand. If this was a duel, Harrow had never been so glad to lose.
Eventually, Gideon bit , and Harrow couldn’t withhold the whimper that travelled all the way up from the very base of her spine to spew out of her throat. Her body felt all hot and all cold at once, and she rocked against Gideon’s stomach, digging her fingers into the muscled expanse of Gideon’s back. When the pleasure swamped her and overwhelmed her, Gideon held her through it, her free hand gentle on Harrow’s back.
"You’re so hot," said Gideon when Harrow came again to stillness. "Thank you."
Harrow felt wrung out, satiated, completed. The marks Gideon had left behind were the completion of a necromantic theorem, the perfect fit of humerus to scapula, a page written in a cipher Harrow would share with no one else. To buy herself time to form words, Harrow pulled her robe over her breasts and knotted the tie again. "I haven’t finished kissing you."
"So kiss me." This was the old sound of a challenge, and Harrow rose to it, moving around the cot so that she could reach Gideon’s legs.
She kissed the tops of Gideon’s feet-- arches slightly flatter than the ideal, as they always had been-- and moved between them.
Gideon’s shins were dusted with a light coating of red hair, the tibia resonant with her magic as she kissed up it. She traced the sculpted curve of Gideon’s calf, breathing "You're a marvel" as she went.
Gideon sucked in a sharp breath, so Harrow repeated the motion. This time, there was no reaction, so she moved on to the other leg. Gideon moaned when Harrow craned her neck to kiss the hollow behind her knees.
Her thighs, more than anywhere, had gained from the soft layer of adipose tissue that now covered them. Harrow savored their new curves, even as the old muscle twitched under her palms. Overcome with wonder, she pulled back to just look. "You’re magnificent."
Gideon made another half-muffled that made Harrow wonder what she’d done to elicit it. She wasn’t even touching her.
Experimentally, she said: "I’ve always admired how strong you are." Gideon’s eyes went gratifyingly wide, and her chest heaved, so Harrow went on, running her fingertips over the outlines of Gideon’s thigh muscles so she could see the well-honed internal structure of her leg. "You’ve only gotten better here. There’s so much power in your legs." (Those legs quivered under Harrow’s hands.)
Flinging an arm over her eyes, Gideon said, "Fuck, Harrow, I don’t think I can take much more of this if you talk."
"Do you want me to kiss you instead?"
Gideon did not answer in words, but in a glorious noise that Harrow took as assent. She bent back to her task with the knowledge that she had already reduced Gideon to speechlessness.
At last, at last, Harrow kissed her way up the last inches of Gideon's inner thigh until wiry red hair brushed her cheek. She nuzzled over Gideon's labia. The hair was wet and smelled intensely of Gideon, which was not so different from the scent and texture of Harrow herself on the occasions she hadn't been able to avoid seeking relief.
Now, she relished the renewed low throb of arousal nestled in her abdomen. She parted Gideon's labia and pressed a chaste closed-lipped kiss to the slick skin thus revealed, and Gideon groaned. "Fuck, Harrow, please."
"Can I use tongue here?"
"Yes-- fuck-- Harrow--"
Perhaps Gideon had meant to go on, but Harrow had licked delicately along the valley between labia and clitoris, and this strangled any further coherence. Instead of words, Gideon gave Harrow reassuring pressure at the base of her skull, cupping Harrow’s head with both hands as if she needed to touch Harrow as much as Harrow needed to touch her.
Gideon’s thigh was every bit the wonderful pillow Harrow had imagined it would be: she rested her head on it and squirmed up the cot until her nose pressed firmly into Gideon’s mons, until every breath she took was rich with the scent and taste of her cavalier. Here, she could rest one hand on the softness of Gideon's belly and feel her abs jump and clench as her cavalier tried to remain obediently still. Harrow could still feel the minute pressure of the rocking of Gideon’s hips against her shoulders and tongue. This did not dislodge Harrow; it counted as success.
She wormed her other hand up under her body to tease at Gideon’s entrance. Gideon rewarded her with an abrupt high-pitched noise, so Harrow pressed fingertips inside, testing the give of flesh there as she suckled at Gideon’s clitoris.
And Gideon dissolved. Her muscles shimmered in bliss, pulsing gently against Harrow's shoulders. But Gideon kept her word and stayed still, even as her orgasm wracked her body and made all those muscles pliant under Harrow.
Uncertain, Harrow pulled away, and Gideon grabbed her and pulled her back. "Don’t-- please-- Harrow-- don’t stop."
That suited Harrow extremely well. She pressed her face back against Gideon’s cunt and delved shallowly between Gideon’s labia minora, pleased with how well she could part her even as Gideon’s walls clutched at her fingers.
"Fuck, Harrow, damn-- inside, put your fucking hand inside me, fuck me, please, fuck--"
Harrow did not put her hand inside Gideon, but she did slide two fingers in, slowly, to the knuckle, and let Gideon rock onto them. She did not know this particular area of anatomy as well as she should, but if dim memory served, there ought to be a spot disguised along the interesting textures of Gideon’s drenched inner walls. Experimentally, she crooked her fingers, seeking, probing--
Gideon gave a hoarse shout and curled up from the waist, keeping her hips still enough to avoid breaking Harrow’s nose. There was a hot rush of fluid against Harrow’s chin, and when Gideon fell back heavily against the cot, she was trembling.
So that Gideon would know she wasn’t upset, Harrow twisted her head and murmured praises toward Gideon’s thigh. ("Good, good, you’re doing so well, come for me, tell me if it’s too much.") Then she set to work fucking Gideon into oblivion.
Harrow managed to drag herself up the cot far enough that she could pillow her head just below Gideon’s rib cage. She was exhausted. Her hand hurt, her jaw was sore, and there was a funny heavy feeling in her rib cage that she couldn’t trace to any element of her physiology.
"Fuck," said Gideon, apparently in agreement. "Now I can die happy."
"Don’t you dare," Harrow mumbled. "If you live-- if you live-- perhaps we can do that again."
"I’ll take that deal on one condition."
"I want to touch you first."
"Not now. I think I’m going to pass out."
"Yeah, definitely not now. Damn, I think you turned my legs into jelly. I can’t feel my toes. Who knew that the Reverend Daughter was that good in the sack--"
"Shut up, Nav."
"You promised me I could talk forever."
"I was hysterical at the time. You can’t hold me to promises I made when I was impaired." Harrow could feel her words begin to slur as the weight of exhaustion dragged her down toward unconsciousness.
"It’s okay. You’re shit at keeping promises, anyway."
"There were extenuating circumstances-- "
Humiliatingly, Gideon shushed her. "Go to sleep, dread empress. You’ve earned some rest."
There were few other options available to Harrow; her eyelids felt heavier than the entire rack of dumbbells that Gideon treasured. She was barely awake when Gideon added, very quietly, "You’re amazing, too."