“Give me that,” commanded Harrow, and she took the fat stick of black char from Gideon’s hand. She tried to turn Gideon’s face up to hers by force, fingers grasping beneath the chin, but Gideon promptly bit her. There was a simple joy in watching Harrow swear furiously and shake her hand and peel off the bitten glove, like in seeing sunlight or eating a good meal.
Harrow began fiddling ominously with one of the bone pins at her ear and Gideon, knowing she was playing with fire, let a broad grin spread across her face, teeth and all. Harrow’s brows furrowed. “Nav,” she threatened, “we can do this the easy way, or…”
She trailed off, dangerously, and Gideon stuck out her tongue at her. The bone chips sprung from Harrow’s hands in a terrible arc, unfolding as they fell into humeri and radii and full skeleton arms that pinned Gideon to the chair and snapped her head back with a horrifying crunch of her vertebrae. Cold, bony fingers wrapped around Gideon’s chin and held her in place, hard and impassive.
“There,” Harrow said. She sounded very smug. She hadn’t even broken a sweat, bloody or otherwise. “Don’t say I didn’t offer the easy way.” The stick of paint approached like a particularly vindictive insect; Harrow stroked it beneath Gideon’s eyes, none too gently. Gideon braced herself for an exciting jab in the cornea.
“Hold your mouth closed, Nav,” Harrow said, irritated, when she tried to add the slashes of black paint across her lips and Gideon pulled a face. “You’re only making it worse for yourself.”
The skeletal hand at her chin extended a finger along her jawline, creeping towards her right ear. “Fuck you, Nonagesimus.”
“Fuck me yourself, coward.”
Gideon exploded out of the chair with such force that the constructs shattered away into a flurry of bone chips; she shot forward, pinning Harrow to the table behind her. The necromancer’s still-ungloved hand scrambled over the piles of open books, dislodging several musty ancient tomes and sending them tumbling to the floor. Gideon’s fingers closed around the back of Harrow’s neck, cupping the base of her skull. “Shouldn’t have said that,” she growled.
She expected a comeback, a barbed remark, an acerbic insult aimed straight and true for Gideon’s soft, shameful underbelly. What she got instead was Nonagesimus’ dark eyes widening, pupils blown out, and flickering down to Gideon’s mouth.
What she should have done was wrap her hands around Harrow’s throat. She should have pushed her down and knocked her unconscious on the hard edge of the table, or rammed her elbow down onto her skinny chest and at least cracked a few of her stupid, fragile necro ribs.
What she did instead (what the fuck) was bend her head and (what the fuck) kiss Harrowhark Nonagesimus on her thin, paint-covered lips.
Gideon was no expert in kissing by any means — who the fuck would she have kissed, the Great Aunts? — but she could tell this one was bad. There were too many teeth involved, for one, and Ninth House grease paint tasted disgusting, and she was fairly sure that Harrow was actually trying to bite her, but then something shifted. Harrow tilted her head underneath her, changing the angle, and that was better; Gideon leaned down further, holding Harrow down against the table with the weight of her body, the edges and points of her bone corselet digging into Gideon’s chest. Harrow’s lips parted, and Gideon ventured forth with her tongue, experimentally, then with more force when Harrow groaned into her mouth.
Harrow’s hands fluttered uselessly at Gideon’s shoulders. If she had wanted to, she could have summoned a construct from any one of the billions of bones that surrounded them and pushed Gideon off, but she did no such thing, just scrambled at Gideon’s robes with her witchy little claws. Gideon grabbed her birdlike wrists with one hand and pinned them above her head, interrupting the kiss.
“What?” Harrow asked, eyes gleaming. “Is that all?”
“Oh, fuck you—”
Harrow arched her back, pushing up against her. “I thought we’d established my stance on this,” she said primly, then gasped when Gideon pressed her knee between her legs. For the briefest of moments, she ground down against it shamelessly. “Well?”
Gideon bit back another remark that would have been embarrassingly similar to her last. She had one hand full of necro wrist and a film of greasepaint coating the inside of her mouth, and a throb of heat in her belly that wasn’t just anger. She stared down at the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House spread out in front of her, chest heaving, and then her free hand was fumbling with the buttons on Harrow’s pants and she was putting her actual hands on Harrowhark Nonagesimus’ actual bare skin (shit), fingers carding through the curls of dark hair and venturing further downward.
Harrow’s breath echoed in the damp, miserable library, proof of her arousal hot and damp on Gideon’s fingers as she writhed against her. Gideon put more weight into the grip on Harrow’s wrists, imagining the bruises that would form there and how sore she would be tomorrow under all those layers of black cloth, and then she bit her lip and finally found Harrow’s clit with her fingertips. The noise Harrow made was immensely gratifying, high-pitched and a little like a distressed rodent. Gideon traced circles around the sensitive bud, each one immediately translated into a desperate jerking of Harrow’s hips.
“Griddle,” Harrow groaned, straining against Gideon’s grip with all three of her muscles. “Let me up.”
“No chance,” Gideon said, but she did snatch her hand back. “You’re just going to bone me to death.”
The lady of the Ninth House rolled her eyes so hard it was practically audible. “I’m trying, you oaf! For once in your life, do as I say!”
Underneath her smeared paint, Gideon felt herself flush. If what she had been doing was dangerous territory, this was the equivalent of walking behind enemy lines with a big sign around your neck saying ‘PLEASE STAB ME WITH BONES’. But there was a desperate tendril of want rearing its head inside her, fighting the stabbing reminder that had been drilled into her since she was very small that nobody wanted her , and for the first time since she had been a child, that voice was losing. She looked down at the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House lying under her, hips desperately searching for contact, her small breasts pushed up by the arch of her spine, her skull paint smeared unforgivably by Gideon’s own lips, and Gideon Nav made a decision.
That was how they ended up on the dusty, decaying sofa, hands down each other’s pants, Harrow’s pointy little teeth biting at Gideon’s throat, their breath hard and fast in the damp air. Gideon had to teach Harrow how to touch her, by demonstrating, which was both mortifying and hot as fuck, once she got over the weirdness of this whole situation and accepted that this was, apparently, something they were doing now. Even as the heat curled in her belly and pooled between her legs she expected at any moment to be yanked to her feet by skeleton hands and summarily tossed down a drill shaft, but no such thing happened. Instead, Harrow’s forehead, painted white and beaded with sweat, came to rest on Gideon’s shoulder as she shook and shuddered and sighed through her orgasm, her fingers curling inside Gideon almost reflexively. Gideon swore and followed her over the edge, and then they were lying there in the gray light, close enough that they could have quite comfortably throttled each other.
For the briefest of moments, Gideon considered this. It was the best chance she was ever going to get, with Harrow distracted and spent and vulnerable, but even if she’d thought she could get away with it, she was momentarily too overcome with boneless, fatigued contentment. Harrow’s body was hot where it was pressed against her own, their legs tangled together on the narrow seat so they wouldn’t fall off, and Harrow turned her face into Gideon’s neck and let out a little sigh that seemed to dissipate all the tension from her bony shoulders. Gideon’s arm moved without any input from her brain (which was typical) and came to rest across Harrow’s waist.
They both froze.
Gideon, very carefully, spread her hand over Harrow’s scapula.
Harrow lifted her head and glared up at her. “What in God’s name do you think you’re doing?”
Shrugging with as much nonchalance as she could muster, she said, “It’s called cuddling, Nonagesimus. Never heard of it?”
She snorted. “Of course I’ve heard of it.”
They stared at each other.
At a speed of perhaps a micrometer per myriad, Harrow dropped her head again, her breath hot on Gideon’s skin. One of her hands — the right one, the one Gideon had snapped her teeth at — burrowed under the layers of Gideon’s clothes and curled, delicately, over her eighth and ninth ribs.