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slaves to any semblance of touch

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In the tomb, cold swaddled her like an infant. The dark--a complete, unrelenting absence of light--enveloped her as her eyes fell closed and the glow of writhing worms receded like water from an imperceptible incline. When frost formed in delicate crystals over her lashes, her robes, and her skin, it was like being held.

When she had imagined death, she had imagined the River, had expected swirling and inexorable chaos, but instead it was perfect quiet, perfect nothing, and somehow not maddening. The sounds of her heart, her lungs, her blood and bile and other unsavory juices did not thunder in her ears, but were as still as the stone that ensconced her, or the unmoving air on her skin.

It was in this unperturbed and tranquil stillness that Harrow felt the touch. It must be the Body, Harrow thought stupidly, returned to her sepulchre only to find a squatter in her place, and Harrow did not jump. She felt, distantly, the synapses firing, telling her heart to quicken, her lungs to take in oxygen, but neither happened, and Harrow remained suspended in her stillness as the touch grew more solid.

It was a fleeting stroke over her knuckles and the taste of iron in her mouth, first, and then the undeniable shape of a hand enveloping hers over the sword, squeezing. Into the nothingness she spoke, my love, with no sound parting her lips. The hand on hers stiffened, clutching hers for a long moment that stretched until--

“Oh, is that what we’re calling me now?” asked a voice that was not the body.

Griddle? Harrow replied, motionless and silent.

The hand around hers bloomed into an arm, expanded like a construct into broad shoulders and solid chest and smirking mouth above her in the darkness, unseen but known like a sudden bulk of negative space, crowding her in her own purloined coffin.

“In the--well, not the flesh exactly, I guess. Your flesh.” Gideon’s hand rose to Harrow’s cheek, brushing a curl of hair behind her ear and then resting there, gentle warmth that cut through the cold like the slice of a razor, imperceptible until one looked down to find themselves flayed by it. 

Her first thought was: It had worked. If this was real, Gideon's beautiful, idiot, self-sacrificing soul was intact, non-cannibalized, and feeling industrious enough to track down Harrow's for the express purpose of, apparently, antagonizing her, which should not have been surprising, except that it ran headfirst into her second thought:

You are not a necromancer.

"Cutting insight from the most tragically brilliant mind of the nine houses. Any other nuggets of wisdom, perhaps of the water-is-wet, blood-is-red variety?"

How are you doing this?

“If I told you that it would seriously kill the mood.”

What mood? Funereal?

“With you? Always, my Obsequial Sovereign.” Gideon’s voice didn’t catch, exactly, but there was an unevenness that undermined her irreverent tone. Her thumb traced down the line of Harrow’s cheek--zygomatic to maxilla, the line where paint might have been precisely applied over cheekbones--and although she could not see Gideon, she felt those sunlit amber eyes on her. “But no, I wanted to talk to you.”

I’m dead, Gideon.

“Debatable, and alternatively: join the club.”

The I’m sorry bubbled up in her chest like indigestion, and Gideon shook her head, the colorless, lightless strands of her red hair falling forward as they were jostled.

“Don’t. Or at least--not for that. I forced your hand. I gave you my body and bullied you into eating my soul and it sucked absolute shit but I’d do it again in a heartbeat, okay? Just--listen--”

I’m listening.

She stopped short at that. “You know, you’re way more agreeable when you’re dead.”

And you’re more tolerable when I can’t see your doltish face, Griddle

“Now there’s the Harrowhark I know and unwittingly shared a brain with--wait, you can’t see me?”

I can sense your shape. It’s vivid and obnoxious as your ridiculous hair, but like a void within a void. 

“Huh,” said Gideon, and then, shaking her head absently, “Whatever, that might as well happen. This necromancy bullshit is already so Goddamn weird.”

It’s not weird just because it’s beyond your comprehens--

“I’m inside your body, Harrowhark. I’m getting used to walking and talking and eating and pissing again and it’s all in your bloody breakable, tiny, freaky-ass Lyctor body. That’s weird!”

There’s no need to be crass.

“Oh, I beg to differ, my dearly departed adept. You might not have noticed through your dozen or so layers of repression, but occupying a human meat sack is, at times, pretty crass! I feel like every itch I scratch is crossing some kind of boundary. I don’t wanna take your ship out for a spin and have you come back to find scuff-marks on the dashboard.”

Scuff-marks? I’m dead. I thought you of all people might understand that I have shuffled off this mortal coil. I am not coming back to collect my body.

I gave it to you, she did not say. 

Gideon stiffened over her, those long legs straightening against hers in the tight quarters. She shifted until her weight rested on one elbow in some vague approximation of ease.

“So, you won’t mind if I use it to fuck Ianthe Tridentarious to within an inch of her functionally immortal life?”

Harrow’s chest didn’t rise, but the signals for a sharp intake of breath sparked somewhere in her cortex, her closed eyes widening and her stilled mouth curling in--no, it wasn't disgust. Acrid shock and horror run through with a sour note of envy, muddled and nauseating.

Why in the name of all the Nine Houses would you ever want to--

“So there are boundaries you’d prefer I didn’t cross? That’s what I’m hearing.” Gideon’s eyebrows were invisibly smug. 

Harrow huffed internally. It was not her body, not in any way that mattered, except--

Gideon, are you talking to me because you--you’re horny? Even in death the shape of the word in her mouth felt wrong, like one of her decrepit aunts leading her in a rousing game of hopscotch.

“No! Or--” Gideon huffed externally, and Harrow felt the breath over her palm--the palm that Gideon, at some indistinct point, had turned over in her own hand. “--or that’s not the only reason. Listen, you try living in someone’s frankly ridiculously repressed and prudish head for nine months and then find yourself thrust--heh--into a body with, shockingly, all the flowing fuck-hormones a titty-mag connesiuer could ask for and only one teeny-tiny ethical quandry standing between you and sweet, sweet relief. So yes, part of me is asking if I’m allowed to rub one out in your body, but the rest of me is just asking for, I don’t know, some guidelines?”

Guidelines? How should I know all the sordid filth you could get up to. I couldn’t possibly account for every contingency.

“Oh please, that nefariously scheming brain of yours lives to account for contingencies.”

As I apparently must keep reminding you, I’m dead. And the thought of your hormone-fueled carnal escapades is having a disruptive effect on my eternal slumber.

“Well, help me out a little here.”

Harrow had expected another coarse hypothetical or at least an insult, but the void of Gideon just stared back at her, helpless and--tired.

Do you want my permission to--be intimate with Ianthe?

Gideon snorted. “I knew that would get a rise out of you.” She adjusted her considerable bulk, bending her knees so that her head rested featherlight, wrong somehow, but not unpleasant, just under Harrow’s ribcage. The heat of that contact, hardly there at all, was a localized fever through her abdomen, “No, I don’t want Ianthe. I don’t want anyone else. I never have--well, okay, for a brief window there I would have honestly let Lady Septimus get a piece, but that was before the whole Evil Lyctor thing, and before I knew that Sex Pal kinda had dibs. And I'm not sure anyone would kick Coronabeth out of bed for eating crackers--but that’s not the point.”

Once again Harrow’s motionless face scrunched against her glimpse into Gideon’s consciousness. 

What is the point?

Gideon ran a hand through her blazing, nothing hair, and she inclined her head in Harrow’s direction. “The point is, I have atrocious taste in women because despite consuming a plethora of fine literary selections concerning buxom, uninhibited, genuinely nice necromancers who fall in love with their loyal warriors-in-arms, apparently I like my adepts to be scrawny, controlling, absolutely heinous bitches. Because all I want is you, Harrowhark. I want you, and now you’re dead and I’ve got your body and I hate that you’re not in it. It feels extra wrong to even want you while we’re stuck like this, like I’m some creep, and--”

You were right.

Gideon rose to look at her directly, her arms braced on either side of Harrow’s middle. “Okay, thanks. Unless it’s the creep part. Which part?”

This is completely fucking weird.

Her eyes falling shut, Gideon smiled, a small thing more to herself than to Harrow, and that private sweetness made Harrow's blood warm in her veins. 

“Thanks for the validation. But yeah, that’s my cards on the table. And if you’re really only interested in frozen dead girls locked away in forbidden tombs--and don’t think I don’t see the irony considering our current predicament--then that’s fine. It’” Her elbows bent a little, relaxing. “I can keep it in my pants--your pants? Pants will stay on.” 

Until now, Harrow had not lamented her stillness, and her resentment was not because she felt vulnerable with the vacuum in the shape of Gideon looming over her inert form. Even when they’d fought and gnashed their teeth and drawn blood from each other, Harrow could never feel unsafe in Gideon’s shadow. Once she had believed it was because Gideon wouldn’t let anyone else kill Harrow. Gideon had earned that privilege, and she didn’t know that dying by Gideon’s hand was not counted among Harrow’s failure states. When Gideon had let her battered body fall on the railing spikes at Canaan House, it was not only an undoing of that certainty, but the certainty of all the time before, all the time Harrow told herself it was spite that kept Gideon at her side. 

The empty breathing bulk of Gideon held herself at what distance the close quarters of the tomb would allow, and Harrow, unmoving, reached to her like she had the Body in the Mithraeum, even then pleading for Gideon without knowing it, pleading both for her dead lover in the tomb and the only living person who ever meant a single fucking thing--except now her arms did not heed her fool commands.

I can’t touch you, Nav. Can you--please.

Gideon raised her head, and there was disbelief giving way to something Harrow couldn’t quantify on her face. 

“I’m not sure if--” and one of Gideon’s hands cupped Harrow’s jaw, her fingers--they seemed small, somehow, but firm--curling around the base of her skull. 

A sound, helpless and unuttered, came from the back of her throat, and Harrow was relieved she couldn’t flinch away. 

“You felt that?”


“Huh. Good to know. What about--” and Gideon’s other hand was on her leg, resting on the outside of her thigh just over her knee, which was--a strange choice, first of all, but something was wrong, like her hand was on backwards. “--that?”

Are you touching yourself--touching my body, to touch me?

Both of Gideon’s hands froze. “Um, yes? I can’t touch your--your ghost, or whatever, but your spirit can sort of… plug in? To your body? I don’t know, Harrow, this is all above my paygrade. Do you want me to stop?”

You’re not getting paid. The hand on her leg started to pull away. And no. Don’t stop.

“Your wish, my command, my Chilly Countess.” The hand on her leg travelled up now, and Gideon’s fingers pressed into her hip. Harrow rolled her frozen eyes as her lifeless heart quickened. 

The hand at her neck pulled away, but before Harrow could object Gideon was saying, “I’m gonna try--hold on, this takes a little mental dexterity on my part.”

Not your strong suit.

“Shut up, Nonagesimus,” said Gideon, and then she was kissing her--or, the empty face in the shape of Gideon’s dropped to hers, and there was a pressure on her lips. It wasn’t right, but it was close, and Gideon opened her mouth, tilting her head, and Harrow thought for a delirious moment that Gideon might devour her, and she wanted it, wanted to tell her please , it’s only fair

But Gideon only pulled away. “Was that okay? Too forward? Am I misreading this whole shared-body-courtship thing we’ve got going on?”

Did you… kiss my hand? Did you jam your--my tongue between my thumb and forefinger like some sad twelve-year-old?

Sighing, Gideon shifted her weight to one elbow--and how was she-- “Okay, first of all, there was no tongue because I’m being a respectable gentlewoman. Also that makes this shared nerve-endings thing more complicated, and look, I’m improvising! Forgive me for not knowing how to make out with someone when we’re currently occupying the same body.”

I didn’t say it was bad. I was just curious about logistics. Speaking of, how are you… over me? You’re in my body, but I can sense you--big, absurdly muscled you--above me, here.

Harrow thought she caught the void-Gideon preen a little at ‘muscled’. “Well, when w-- when I reached your ghost, I could see, when I closed my eyes, so I imagined climbing in, and now I’m just kind of… thinking about being on top of you? Really hard?”

You’re thinking really hard.

“Not to put too fine a point on it, darling, but this is not exactly the first time I’ve imagined us in some version of this configuration. I mean, that wasn’t what I was thinking when I climbed in. I was just trying to get your attention, and usually I imagine that you’re, you know, alive, and we’re both in our respective bodies, and you’re in complete awe of my extremely sexy muscles--maybe I do some press-ups--whatever--but after eight weeks of these Harrowhark hormones running through my veins I’ll take what I can get.”

It had been eight weeks. Harrow hadn’t considered time before Gideon had shown up. She had clutched the sword and shoved the magazine to the side of the tomb and thought of absolutely nothing. It felt like sleeping, only less fitful, less dangerous. But now she was awake, or something like it.

Then keep going.

“Is this… is this working? Are you into this? Fuck, tell me you’re into this.”

I don’t… hate it. Go ahead.

Gideon kissed her again, and Harrow knew it was her hand but it didn’t matter, really, because it was Gideon: foolishly brave, gorgeous, God’s-perfect-idiot Gideon, and if Harrow had breath she’d be short of it now. 

Gideon slid a hand--too small, not laying right--up Harrow’s stomach, slipping under her robes and passing through the sword as if it weren’t there, lingering at her sixth and seventh ribs. 

“Tell me if you want me to stop, Harrow. I feel weird enough doing this with your body; I don’t wanna creep on your immortal soul, too, but oh my God, I’m dying over here.”

The only thing I’d like you to stop is invoking the Undying Emperor of the Nine Houses while you’re feeling us up. And “dying”? Really?

“Hey, I died! I’m allowed to say that. And I can honestly attest that this is comparable. And okay, the first point is a good one. I wasn’t even think--yeuch, yeah, no more God-talk. Although we should talk about that, uh, later...”

About what?

“Nothing--just. Don’t worry about it right now, okay?”

Harrow considered pressing the issue, but Gideon’s skin still touched hers--or, technically--it didn’t matter. Show me, then, said Harrow, because her instinctive fear-tinged revulsion at her own longing was dulled here in the insulating cold, and there was nothing she could think to lose. Show me what you want if we’re both alive. If we both have our bodies. 

“Fuck yes,” said Gideon, and her hand continued its trek. Her fingers grazed over the swell of Harrow’s breast, and Harrow made a noise that was humiliating even echoing in her own head. 

“Oh, you like that?” Gideon asked, and Harrow could hear the crooked grin plastered over the question, but that only sent her nerves arching into it when a thumb passed over the pebbling skin of areola, nipple.

Yes. Yes-- and why was she panting if she didn't actually breathe? Were the synapses that fired on this end going off on Gideon's? 

Can you...feel what I'm feeling, Griddle? As in, are my reactions to...this...translating to the body you inhabit? 

"Ah, yeah? Kinda? You’re sort of...swimming? Around in my--your head, but I’m in the pilot’s seat so I can, like, direct what gets sent back to you. It’s exceedingly weird, but also pretty hot that I can feel when you’re into it. Your body reacts, and I get this jolt to my pulse..." Harrow's cheeks would be turning a deep and merciless pink, and she knew she couldn't count on Gideon to keep up a face paint habit to hide it, not that paint would matter if she could feel the burning just under the skin, the girlish, infantile-- "Oh, no," Gideon said, curling her free hand around Harrow's neck again. "You don't have to be embarrassed. Please don't be. The fact that you're even slightly into this is unbelievably sexy."

Harrow snorted now, somewhere far away from the tomb. 

Gideon kneaded at the breast in her hand, making a low, wordless sound in her throat. "I swear I haven't been sneaking any more peeks than strictly necessary, but I think it’s fair to tell you that I'm a little obsessed with your tits."

After the immediate pang of disgust, more reflexive than heartfelt, Harrow was truly mortified to learn that Gideon’s declaration sent a thrill through her chest and threatened to color her cheeks a second time. 

These aren't exactly Frontline Titties material. 

Harrow realized that if Gideon really was here, in the flesh, her left knee would be crushing that very publication, crumpling the pages so they would never lay flat again. It would be exceedingly rude--very like Gideon--since that magazine was one of only two of Harrow's post-mortem possessions--and also extremely dismissive of dubious-quality pornography--very unlike her. 

But she wasn't in the flesh; they were One Flesh now, undeniably this time, albeit the wrong way around, and Gideon was pressing into it with a hunger almost--almost--entirely unfamiliar to Harrow.

"Harrowhark Nonagesimus, what do you know about the contents of my thoroughly researched, carefully curated fictional spank bank? And more to the point, who cares? They're yours ." 

I wish… I could see you.  

The words left Harrow before she could think to stop them, but they were true, and she didn’t need to. She had not felt regret at finding she was dead. She had crawled into her final resting place with heretofore unknown serenity, but now she wanted, she ached--Necrolord Prime help her, she yearned .  

Gideon groaned and cupped both breasts now, pinching one nipple between her first and middle digit. Harrow gasped, shallow and sudden in the body that reacted even if it wasn’t hers anymore. 

“Fuck, it’s so good to hear your voice again. Seriously, feel free to call me every name in the book, disparage my hilarious quips, anything. It’s all music, baby.”

Several things went through Harrow’s mind at that, and she knew she was stiffening under Gideon’s touch. First, that meant that not only was her body reacting to this...activity, but she was speaking aloud, wherever Gideon was, which for all Harrow knew was sprawled on the dinner table of the Mithraeum (unlikely: even Gideon, to Harrow’s knowledge, wasn’t obscene enough to pleasure herself in public). Second, Gideon wanted more of it, and as much as it made a mortifying heat gather in the helix of her ears, Harrow could not think of a compelling reason to deny her. Third, and most appalling, hearing Gideon, in her own easy rumbling voice--spiritual projection or not--call her “baby” formed a sensory cascade that started just under her sternum and found its way to her nasal cavity before dissipating over her cranial ridge. 

What she said was: You have my vocal chords. You can hear me any time you like.

“Now I know you know that’s not the same thing at all. Even when I do my absolutely spot-on Harrowhark impression, it’s never you. It’s never even close.” Her hands paused, and then slid from Harrow’s breasts, resting above her navel. “I've been so scared I’d never hear it again. I was scared you turned the tables on me, only worse, because you left me with only your body and not even a scrap of your soul to brush off and put in one of your weird bone pockets.”

I did. The cruelest thing you ever did to me was dying, Gideon. Serves you right.

“Yeah well,” Gideon said, and reached up to pinch Harrow’s cheeks so that her mouth pursed like a sour-faced child. “Lucky for me, your soul is too stubborn to get lost in the River--or whatever--and it can’t resist a call from this sweet little bod to pay a visit. A few wards, a few incantations, a little of your own blood in your mouth and--here you are. Kinda thirsty, now that I think about it...”

You enlisted necromantic help to summon me.

“Obviously, and okay, yeah, I’m the thirsty one; I admit it. Happy? Can we keep making out?”


“I told you, mood-killer, can we just--”

Are they still with you?!

“No! No, Harrow. I had them leave the room as soon as I was sure we found you. Said we had to talk highly classified necro/cav stuff. Believe me, I’m well aware that you would find some way to mega-double kill me if you found out I was canoodling with your ghost for an audience. Much murder, very soul-death, etc.”

A correct assumption.

“So, we’re here, and the summon won’t last forever, and if I really wanted to I could lecture you about what a dick-move it was to shove me to the back of your brain and surgically forget about me for nine months, but I’m willing to rise above it all, let bygones be bygones, and continue getting some hot, hot ghost action. What do you want?”

It didn’t matter, and it was the only thing that mattered now, so Harrow said: You. Always you, Nav.  

"Good Lo--Hell, now I'm horny and sad.” She dipped her head again, her forehead just touching Harrow’s sternum. “Luckily, I can multitask." 

Harrow could not do anything about the sadness. She knew how unyielding it was in the face of argument and reassurance and denial. She did not have overmuch experience dealing with the other emotion, but Gideon seemed eager to press-on, so.

Prove it then, Griddle.

The void-Gideon over Harrow widened her eyes, only to narrow them again with a toothy grin. "Yes, ma'am."

Those burning hands traveled with measured slowness over her abdomen, fingers tracing over the iliac crest of her hip, into the valley created by her belly. 

“Do you know how hard I have tried to put some meat on these bones? Your body just burns it up, like I’m shoveling coal into a void.” The touch skimmed the tops of her legs now, almost tickling. “I think it helps when I make sure you don’t get injured, so you’re not pouring this freaky metabolism into healing. You might even have another ounce or two of muscle to your name now.”

Not mine.

Gideon breathed out through her nose, like a perturbed animal. “Sorry, sweet-cheeks. This is your body; I’m just livin’ in it. Deny it all you want, have paperwork drawn up by some Sixth ghost-lawyer to make it official and it won’t be legally binding because oops, I can’t read suddenly. I don’t know! So tell me, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Our Lady of Eternal Freaky-deaky Osteo-bullshit--” she was speaking these words into Harrow’s ear, her breath an illusion of billowing steam on her chilled epidermis. “--you want a little cavalier inside you?”

That doesn’t even-- was all she managed before the air left her stilled lungs all at once, drawing back in just as quickly with an embarrassing gasp, because Gideon had slid her fingers to the space between Harrow’s thighs. Blood rushed to meet her, and nervous axons sparked to life on her outer labia when Gideon’s palm--was she imagining the roughness of those calloused hands?--cupped her, one digit sliding through the slick seam of her flesh, parting, flaying to find more ignited, hungry nerves. 

“Oh my--Fuck, I’ve been wanting to do that for so long.” The finger swiped once. The heel of Gideon’s palm pressed into her pubic bone, resisting the involuntary arch of Harrow’s spine. “And then I felt dirty and wrong for wanting it, which did not actually help and--Harrow, babe, tell me if this is good for you.”

The words were suspended as Harrow tried to parse the sensations, tried again, uselessly, to reach out and touch Gideon’s shadow. Her arms weren’t hers. It was like being tied down, which should have--would have--made something primal and just this side of panicked flare up in Harrow, but she knew with something more entrenched than instinct that Gideon wouldn’t let harm befall her in such a state, and she had nothing to fear regardless. She wouldn’t hurt her, even if part of Harrow wished for it, wished Gideon would tear her soul’s skin away and bite into the frozen muscle tissue with her uneven smiling mouth until her Ninth bones creaked and splintered. Then the words spilled past their sensory barricade, and Harrow heard, among other things, “babe,” and another helpless sound escaped her throat.

Yes, it’s--it’s good, Gideon. Please--

“Oh damn, I’m getting ‘Gideon’-ed already? No ‘Griddle,’ no ‘Nav’? I am doing something right.”

And it did hurt now, the smile that split Harrow’s unmoving face. Don’t get cocky, she said. 

“That ship has launched, My Gloaming Baroness, and don’t tell me it’s a turn-off because--” she drew obscene wet circles around Harrow’s lateral and medial labial folds, glancing off her clitoris like a comet passing too close to Dominicus, doomed to the gravity well but still completing its orbit intact. “--the evidence begs to differ.”

Harrow wanted to put her unmoving hands in Gideon’s hair, wanted to clutch at the swell of muscle tapering from ulna to elbow joint, but she settled for tilting her body’s hips and forming a terrible, needy sound. Harrow resented the outcry, but she didn’t have words for what she wanted from Gideon, beyond please and mindless keening. 

Mercifully, Gideon wasn’t faring much better. Her self-assurance was giving way to breathy curses and broken questions: “Yeah?” and “Like this?” and “More?” as those circles tightened, until it was a relentless rocking over her clitoris, and Harrow already didn’t have much sensation in the rest of her body, but now all of it was there, at the juncture of femur and pelvis, spooling up like the rattle of an old engine, with fits and surges. 

It was all there, at least, until Gideon’s other hand clutched the side of her face again, her fingers curling hard against the hair at the back of her neck. Her thumb worried at Harrow’s jaw, a touch that was almost nothing against the slick oscillations between her legs, and yet something like a sob escaped Harrow’s throat.

The fingers stilled, and the presence of Gideon lifted her head, wide-eyed. “Are you okay?” 

Harrow didn’t know, and what she said was: Don’t stop.

Void-Gideon’s eyes fell shut, and she exhaled. Her fingers moved again, and Harrow gulped at the air she wasn’t breathing. 

Gideon sucked a breath between her teeth, and her fingers slowed, despite the impatient wriggle of Harrow’s hips against her. One of those digits slid further downward, and it slipped just inside her vaginal canal as though it was on a track, smooth and frictionless. “Harrow?” Gideon asked, rocking her palm against the blood swollen flesh over her pubic arch.

Harrow turned her body’s head--where she had sensation, she could move--and pressed her mouth over the skin and meat surrounding the metacarpal of Gideon’s thumb--her thumb--and breathed yes against it. Gideon’s finger slipped further, which was a curious sensation more than anything, and then the digit curled and Harrow might have yelped, except Gideon was using her vocal chords to groan. The sound, or maybe the maddening, insistent press inside her, ran Harrow through with a violent shudder. 

The grip at the back of Harrow's head tightened, and the finger inside her probed deeper. Gideon slipped in another, easy as the first, and then Harrow had a monopoly on the vocal chords.

"Harrow, baby," Gideon said when Harrow finally relinquished them. "Let it out, my--my somber empress…"

Harrow grunted and wanted to smack Gideon on one tense shoulder, but there wasn't any bite to it when she said, stop trying to come up with ridiculous honorifics and f--focus, Nav.

"Rest assured," she said, dipping her head low again, breathing imperceptibly across Harrow's collarbone, "my--ah--attention is undivided." 

And then her fingers were as far as they could go without clawing through her--or maybe just as far as they reached--and the heel of her hand rubbed more fervently against her clitoris as Gideon stroked at the wet and ravenous flesh inside her. Like the cold and the dark, hunger was something Harrow always leaned into like comfort. In life, the inescapable gnawing was almost like touch, and it grounded her in her meat, so she did not try to escape it.

But now Gideon was satiating both of them, filling them both up with her hands and her breath and her voice in Harrow’s head. Harrow couldn’t begin to push it away, even when part of her feared that if she had this now she’d never stop wanting, she’d become a creature of awful appetite, hollow if not fed.

She’d always been hollow, though. Two-hundred souls and still a shell where a person should be, cold and dark and starving. Everything that Gideon wasn’t. And Harrow had eaten her, used her as kindling and then tried hopelessly to un-spark the fire that already burned, and still Gideon was feeding her, pouring heat and light into her like a sun shining on a dead planet.

Gideon , she croaked, her imagined voice breaking. Every curl of fingers, every slide of palm, was too much, and still Harrow’s body pleaded for more. Gideon gripped her neck so tightly it hurt, short nails cutting into skin over the second and third vertebra. 

Harrow’s thighs tensed, her hips rose of their own accord, and it was blinding even in darkness, the terrible wave of it. For a fleeting moment Harrow felt her whole body light up with it, like Gideon had dropped a wire and sent a charge from her belly to the ends of her toes, her fingers, her throat crying out. Gideon shuddered, she rumbled with it, pulling free her drenched fingers and passing them lightly through the folds of Harrow’s labia once, twice, eliciting final echoes of orgasm from Harrow’s used-up body, and then collapsed for the both of them.  

Void-Gideon’s chest heaved, and she dropped to her elbows, a heavy, human-shaped blanket draped over Harrow’s inert form. 

“Harrow,” she said, and the graze of a thumb returned to her cheek. 

Gideon , Harrow echoed. Maybe it was the lingering endorphins, sputtering from her corporeal pituitary like a sealant leak, but Harrow felt brave. If a lack of fear could be called bravery, and not simply foolishness.

I missed you, Griddle.

Gideon was still breathing hard, but she made an effort to slow it. “I missed you t--”

No. Even when I couldn’t remember, I missed you. My body knew there was a hole where you were supposed to be and it didn’t know how to continue. I’m a broken thing without you.

There were tears forming in the corners of her body’s eyes, and Harrow could not say who they belonged to. 

“Harrow, I--” Gideon pressed her forehead to Harrow’s. She couldn’t feel it, but that had no bearing on its reality. “I don’t know what I’m doing without you. I’m lost, out of my depth, and I don’t even have the easy out of falling on my sword for you, because if I do it’s your body, and I just don’t have it in me to watch that happen--and yeah, I’m a hypocrite because I definitely made you watch me get hella impaled on a gnarly spike, but I never was as tough as you, Harrowhark.”

I can’t lose you again.

“Then come and get me, bone-babe.”

They stayed like that, Gideon over Harrow, until the summon began to lose its hold on her soul. The Tomb was iced over again, and soft under her weight; empty but for herself, a sword, and a lewd magazine.