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memories of darkness undone by the light

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It was a battle.

It always seemed to be a battle these days, broken only when Gideon managed to catch infrequent snatches of sleep or to cram food into her mouth. If she was very lucky, she sometimes convinced Harrow to eat, too.

Fighting together was the easy part, if she was being honest. That was all muscle memory and instinct, honed to a razor’s edge during their long, vicious childhood and turned outward. The two were in perfect sync as they cut down Cohort soldiers that might have, in another life, been Gideon.

She tried not to think about it too much.

Tried not to think of much of anything, really, except sword and skeleton at the ready, fighting for their lives. Fighting for everyone’s lives, against the suicidally loyal army of her dear old dad, back to back with the necromancer who had refused to eat her, who had brought her kicking and screaming back to life in a hot, dusty shack on a planet she’d never heard of. Her necromancer who wouldn’t answer any of her fucking questions, who couldn’t stand to be in the same room as her half the time, who barely even looked at her except with eyes like desolation, like Gideon had stolen something from her she could never get back, while a foreign wave of misery rolled across the shining golden chain Lyctorhood had strung between them.

Oh yeah, plus they were perfect Lyctors now, apparently, and Gideon’s brain was free real estate, and sometimes she could feel Harrow skulking around the edges of their bond like a dog kicked one too many times.

So yeah, Gideon tries not to think too much these days.

She carved a half-melted flesh construct apart with her two-hander and glimpsed Harrow through the sticky web of meat and viscera as it pulled apart. Harrow alone in the center of a cauldron of shifting, reforming perpetual ash. A group of soldiers rushed her—Gideon saw two figures holding swords and two others glowing a dangerous, radioactive blue—and Harrow pulled a construct the size of Cytherea’s bone-spider out of the muck at her feet without apparent effort. It sent them all hurtling away into the trees with one swipe of its thick arms before melting away again.

She wasn’t paying enough fucking attention. There was another soldier coming up behind her, arms outstretched, sparking with that same blue fire, and Gideon didn’t know much about being a Lyctor, but she did know that getting immolated in a Fourth House thanergy burst didn’t seem like a great idea. She felt a hot rush of fury and Harrow must have felt it too, secondhand, because she looked up just as Gideon ran for her.

There was a static burst of fear fear surrender over the link. It only made Gideon angrier. And then Harrow must have heard something, or seen where Gideon’s eyes were focused, and she ducked.

Gideon speared the soldier through the ribcage as the soldier’s hands wrapped around her neck. Gideon screamed in pain and fury, dug her heels into the bone gunk, and pushed until her blade came out the other side. Blood spilled from the soldier’s mouth, and there was blood on Gideon’s face and on her hands, and there was a pain so intense it felt like cold swallowing her neck and shoulders and chest, a pain that circled right back around into numbness as the nerve endings screamed and went dark.

And then the soldier was dead. The body dragged her sword arm down as it went limp, blue fire extinguishing like a snuffed candle. She had to to wrestle the blade free, one hand braced against the corpse, breathing hard through her mouth to avoid the smell of her own cooked flesh.

“Gideon!” There was a rushing in her ears that blurred out everything else, and when Gideon finally focused on Harrow’s voice, she wasn’t sure if she heard it with her ears or as a pull inside her brain. “Gideon!

Gideon turned. Harrow was staring, hand clasped to her mouth. Without meaning to, her perception split and, with a queasy doubling of her vision, she saw herself through Harrow’s eyes. Her shirt burned nearly to rags. Great swathes of skin melted down to pink muscle, crisped black at the edges like impact craters. Her flesh had given way in a ring beneath the soldier’s hands and she could see significantly more of her throat than she liked when she swallowed.

It was already healing. Benefits of Lyctorhood. But, yeah, it didn’t look great.

There was a shrill whistle from somewhere behind her, an officer blowing the all clear, and Gideon snapped back to her own field of vision. She was left looking at Harrow’s pale face and Harrow’s shiny new golden eyes. Harrow, who had almost been rendered down to ash and charred bone because she hadn’t fucking looked behind her.

She tried not to be angry. She swallowed it down into the pit of her stomach with all her other bad feelings, and she would keep them there forever, and then she’d die. Presumably. One day. Instead, she grinned, a little sharper than intended, and said, “Close one, Nonagesimus. Maybe pay more attention the next time you get your fancy bone magic on.”

Harrow’s face colored. She advanced like a tidal wave, a choking miasma of fury pouring into their link, blotting out everything else, and what came out of her mouth was not Griddle, your swordwork continues to be exemplary and very hot or thank you ever so much for saving my life, but instead, “You idiot, what were you thinking? You could have been killed. I swear to God, Griddle, not one day goes by you don’t literally throw yourself on a bomb. Was being resurrected once not enough for you? You’re that eager for a repeat performance?

Well. She really had tried not to get mad.

“Oh, excuse the hell out of me for saving your ass!” Gideon flicked her sword fiercely, swiping at the air between them and sending blood spattering to the ground. It hissed and steamed where it hit the perpetual ash. Harrow scowled and waved her hand and the shifting gray puddle melted away into regular old mud.

“You ran towards a thanergetic fission reaction,” Harrow ground out. “Even you can understand that is not the behavior of a sensible individual, surely. Or did more of your brain rot away that I anticipated?”

“I was supposed to just let you get exploded?”

“You’re supposed to endeavor to not die to the best of your ability, yes.”

Gideon bristled. Like she’d died for fun last time, for a laugh, and not to, oh right, save Harrow’s ass. “I’m your cavalier, asshole. That’s my fucking job. Get used to it.” She bent in a bow, arms spread at her sides. “I am ever at your service.”

Harrow was so angry she was shaking, head to toe, her hands balled into fists so tight Gideon could practically feel the nails digging into her own flesh. “I don’t want your service, Gideon.”

That struck Gideon like a blow. She felt it in her sternum, right where her scar sometimes ached in the middle of the night, and it forced the breath from her lungs. Her thoughts scattered, melted away like so much used up bone slag, leaving her brain a churned mess of dirt and blood.

“What— Yes, you do!” she shouted. She felt dizzy. Overheated. She wanted to sit down. “That’s all you ever wanted. What you demanded! And I’m standing here, giving it to you, hell, I already gave it to you, and you’re telling me no thank you?

Harrow took a step toward her. Gideon stumbled away, and Harrow stopped dead, her thoughts a distant roar that made Gideon’s head pound. “That’s not—” she tried.

“I did what you asked, my lady.

Harrow blanched. “Don’t—”

“I gave you everything and you spit in my face. Fuck you, Nonagesimus. Fuck you. I thought it would finally be different—”

“I never wanted you to die for me!”

Harrow’s voice shrilled and broke. Gideon felt it in the soles of her feet like an approaching earthquake. And like an animal, she fled.

“Too fucking late,” Gideon snarled.

She turned on her heel and fell in with the rest of the troops as they melted back into the trees, leaving Harrow alone with the corpses. She could feel Harrow’s eyes on her back and shoved her way between a couple filthy, limping soldiers, ducking out of sight. One of the soldiers twisted to see who had pushed her and her eyes widened when she realized who Gideon was. The soldier cast a fearful look at her companion and hurried away, leaving Gideon feeling more exposed than ever.

The BOE needed Gideon and Harrow, but they certainly didn’t have to like it. If it hadn’t been for Camilla and Corona vouching for them, a couple of immortal space wizards would never have been allowed anywhere near a BOE encampment. As it was, they were clothed and they were fed and no one spoke to them, leaving Gideon with only the questionably surviving members of Canaan House for company.

Which should have been fine, really. It would have been fine, if her goddamn necromancer would speak two consecutive words to her without chewing her out or, worse, looking at her like she was some crumbling Ninth House artifact surrounded by landmines. Gideon wasn’t fragile. Gideon was fucking immortal now, actually, which was a real reversal on the whole self-sacrifice business, and considering she was immortal, maybe everyone could reconsider why they felt the need to talk about her in deathbed whispers.

The insectile buzz of Harrow’s thoughts pulsed at the base of Gideon’s skull. Gideon ground her teeth. If Harrow was just going to stand there like a brainless construct and watch her go, then she didn’t get to poke around in Gideon’s gray matter, either.

“Get out of my head,” Gideon growled. She fired the thought across their connection like a slap. Harrow’s alarm burst in her chest like the toll of a bell and then it was gone, somehow, taking Harrow with it. Gideon was alone with her own racing heart and a sensation like cotton filling her ears.

She swallowed down a sudden swell of nausea and kept marching.

The Blood of Eden camp bubbled up out of a hastily cleared circle of earth in the middle of an alien forest. There were trees everywhere. Gideon knew about trees, obviously, because she was a woman of literature, but seeing a tree in the background of a comic panel while much more interesting things were going on in the foreground did not remotely prepare her for the reality of a forest, any more than drinking a glass of water could prepare someone for diving headfirst into the River.

And the trees were the least of it; everything was overwhelming. The campsite stunk of woodsmoke and human sweat and the sharp, green smell of the needle-like leaves that collected everywhere and poked uncomfortably when they found their way into her cot. And there were so many people all moving and talking at once and not one of them was a hateful, decrepit nun. Gideon wanted to find all this reassuring. This was what being alive was like, and being alive was good, blah blah blah, but mostly what she wanted to do was dig a hole somewhere Harrow couldn’t find her and take a nap for a couple hundred years.

This was apparently perfectly visible to everyone. Gideon bounced off both Coronabeth (who gave her a look so knowing and sympathetic it made Gideon wince) and Palamedes (who rolled Camilla’s eyes in Camilla’s face and said “You have two bodies and two working mouths, Ninth. Talk to each other.”) before deciding to retreat to the relative peace of the tent she shared with Harrow.

Harrow was, of course, not there. Gideon used the privacy to wash as best as she was able, planning comebacks while scrubbing herself down over the bucket of tepid water, waiting for Harrow to stride into their tent with all the icy contempt of the Locked Tomb.

She didn’t. Gideon threw the rag into the bucket, splashing gray water all over her boots. That probably meant she was hiding in some corner of camp, sulking. She must have come back to camp. Not for Gideon, clearly, but surely Harrow didn’t just tromp off into the wilderness with no food or water or anyone with a big sword to make sure she didn’t get completely murdered. Gideon reached out, thoughtlessly, for the place Harrow was tied to her and—she wasn’t there.

Or—no, not exactly, she realized after her heart gave a sick lurch. She was still there, but muffled, like she’d pulled as far away as she could and then drawn the storm shutters down for good measure.

Gideon only wished she was surprised.

She spent the rest of her evening fuming and polishing her sword within an inch of its life. Well, not her sword. Her sword was at the bottom of the River. And it was trashed anyway, because a certain bitch-ass necromancer couldn’t be bothered to keep her one, single possession in good condition. And she felt weird about missing it at all, considering it had been possessed by her dead, homicidal mother for pretty much her entire life and that was way more than she had time to unpack right now, so—

New sword. Polishing. Stop thinking so goddamn much.

Harrow didn’t reappear until the sword was so shiny it wouldn’t have looked out of place on a Third House mantelpiece. Gideon didn’t feel her approach, didn’t feel anything, so when Harrow’s voice came from the tent flap, she jumped.

Harrow chose not to comment, even though it was easy ammo; Gideon must have looked stupid, rounding on her tiny necromancer like a Herald had burst into the tent. She just stared with Gideon’s eyes, huge and sad in Harrow’s face.

“Can I come in?” she asked.

“Like I could stop you.” It was Harrow’s tent, too. No one else in the BOE would share with them, and Cam, Corona, and Judith had their own arrangement. Still, Harrow hovered at the entrance, expression pinched, until Gideon sighed. “Yeah, fine. Come on.”

Harrow walked stiffly to her cot and sat across from Gideon, hands folded primly in her lap. She didn’t wear the paint anymore, but everything about her posture screamed Reverend Daughter and Gideon had never been less in the mood for preaching. But Harrow just sat there, which was somehow worse, the sound of cloth on steel too loud in Gideon’s ears, the place in Gideon’s mind where Harrow should be nothing but ringing silence.

If she thought that Gideon was going to apologize—

“Gideon.” Like a puppet with its strings pulled, Gideon looked up. Harrow looked fucking terrible. She hadn’t washed away the remains of the battle, but even under the grime Gideon could see the deep lines of sadness carved into her face, lines that Gideon’s brief residence in her meat had done nothing to alleviate. Her hands twisted against each other. She looked like she wanted to be anywhere but there. Gideon knew the feeling. “Gideon. I don’t want you to be my cavalier.”

All the air vanished from the tent. Possibly there wasn’t any air anywhere else in the universe. Another Lyctor benefit: Gideon was discovering she didn’t need to breathe.

“I got that, thanks.” She waited for the anger. Expected it. There always seemed to be more anger. But the words were sand poured over the charred embers of her heart, leaving her cold and heavy. Her hands were trembling a little. Probably a side effect of being dead for awhile. She should asked Palamedes about it.

Harrow hesitated. She looked like she was feeling her way down an unlit corridor. Her mouth opened and closed like she was tasting her words, evaluating and discarding available options, calculating the best outcome, and Gideon wished she would cut the bullshit and just say something.

“Why did you kill yourself at Canaan House?” Harrow asked.

Gideon flinched. One hand came up reflexively to touch the scar twisting across her chest, pressed against the dull ache. She made a mental note to be more specific with her wishes in future. “I had to.”

“Why?” Harrow pressed.

“Because we were all going to die if I didn’t.” Harrow was there.

“Why you, Gideon?” Harrow’s voice was gentle, which was freaking Gideon the fuck out. “We could have tried another plan. I could have distracted her, or Camilla could have, and you might have lived.”

The thought of letting one of them die for her made Gideon sick. “Fuck that, it was my job. My duty or whatever. I was your cavalier, even if you’re all done with me now.”

Gideon wanted Harrow to rise to the bait. She hated this—this calm, measured reasonableness. It was like like she wasn’t talking to Harrow at all. Like Harrow wasn’t really here. Like Gideon was alone, adrift, pulled down into the crashing sea by a weight she’s too tired to fight. She couldn’t believe she got dragged up out of the afterlife just to argue with the Reverend Daughter again. All of that was supposed to be over.

Harrow didn’t rise to it. She searched Gideon’s face, lips pressed thin, and then she said, “It was your duty to die for me. You were right. You got it exactly right.”

Oh. There’s the anger. Welcome back.

“What?” Her hands curled into fists, one around the grip of her sword, one around the blade. The edge cut neatly through rag and skin. She released it with a hiss, but it healed before she could even swear.

Harrow kept her face blank. She kept whatever she was thinking from seeping out along their link, the picture of control. It made Gideon want to throttle her with an intensity that scared her, and she reeled away from it.

“It is the cavalier’s duty to die for their necromancer,” Harrow said. “You were right.”

“No, I—” Harrow was twisting everything up to suit herself, like always. Gideon was tired, and confused, and she couldn’t feel Harrow at all through their connection like Harrow had slammed the door in her face, and Gideon leaned harder into her rising fury. “Then why didn’t you just eat me? What’s one more soul, Reverend Daughter?” she asked, smearing the title with contempt.

Harrow finally flinched. Gideon felt a hot flare of triumph go up like gunpowder in her chest and then it was gone, leaving her cold, a pillar of smoke dissipating into the wind.

“I have lived among the Lyctors, Gideon,” she said. She wished Harrow would stop calling her that. It was easier when she was Nav or Griddle. She didn’t feel like a bug under glass when Harrow called her Griddle. But Harrow forged on, her voice fraying at the edges. She leaned in like she was imparting a necromantic secret, speaking too fast, as though Gideon might cut her off. Like Gideon could think of anything to say. “I have met the Emperor’s saints. Each of them a holy blueprint from which the bond between adept and cavalier has descended down to us through time.”

Gideon had met them too, briefly. They hadn’t seemed much like saints to her. But then, her-dad-who-was-God made Harrow a saint, too, which might have been hilarious if Gideon didn’t feel so much like throwing up.

“Every single Lyctor had a dutiful cavalier. Their cavaliers died so that they might live.” Harrow’s eyes were like a brand against her flesh. “And every single one of them is a miserable husk hollowed out by their grief and sin, and their cavaliers are gone.

Blood dripped down the blade of Gideon’s sword. She barely felt it.

“Except Pyrrha,” Gideon rasped.

“Except Pyrrha,” Harrow conceded. “Who was instead forced to live as a stranger in someone else’s body, unacknowledged for millenia, while her necromancer used her soul as a battery. An enviable position?”

Gideon licked her lips. “No.”

“No.” Harrow pressed forward cautiously, like Gideon was fractured glass held together by the pressure of its frame alone. “Cavaliers are bred to die, Gideon. The bond—the whole contract—is rigged.”

Blood in her mouth as Harrow battled the avulsion field. Naberius Tern dead at his necromancer’s feet. A mad Lyctor killing them one by one, just to stop them becoming her.

“You did everything exactly right,” Harrow whispered, “and it would have seen you dead. It’s—poison.”

There, a flicker across whatever tied their souls together. An impression of Gideon, bright and warm in Harrow’s memory, being smothered by the Drearburh dark, by ice and stone and the implacable skeletal fist of the Lady of the Ninth.

Gideon shuddered. She wasn’t sure Harrow had meant her to see that.

“I will not see you devoured. Least of all by me. I reject it wholesale,” Harrow said quietly, still just looking at her. Gideon might have been offended, if she didn’t feel herself one touch away from exactly the kind of shattering Harrow seemed so worried about. “As I believe you should.”

Reject it. Like it was that simple.

Like those weren’t Gideon’s eyes in Harrow’s face, stamped with Harrow’s signature brand of sorrow. Like Harrow’s weren’t right there in Gideon’s skull. She didn’t know what that looked like. She’d been avoiding mirrors.

How was she meant to reject it when Harrow was wrapped around every strut of her life, down into the core of her, all the way back to the freezing black pit where they’d both been trapped, locked in together, cuffed wrist to wrist, right from the beginning?

Didn’t Harrow feel that? Or would it be easy for Harrow strip Gideon out of her life, like taking off a soiled robe?

Gideon felt her mouth move like she was somewhere outside of herself. She looked up into Harrow’s face, into her own eyes, and asked, “What else am I supposed to do?”

Harrow’s control faltered. The shutters groaned against the strain and, in desperation, Gideon threw herself against them. And Harrow was there again, everywhere, pouring across the bridge in a deafening rush that made everything before seem like whispers through a crack in a wall. The flood swept Gideon away before she could decide if she was relieved or not. In a choking torrent, she tasted Harrow’s bitter yellow fear when the soldier’s corpse-fire had burned her. She retched and shook at the touch of a memory—a courtyard and iron spikes and screaming.

Harrow felt her feel it. It echoed back and forth between them, amplified until fear and grief and stubborn rage was all there was, and it was both of them, it was Gideon-and-Harrow, and at the bottom of all of it was an emotion Gideon could barely put a name to, something vital and warm and as fathomless as the River.

Gideon slammed her eyes shut. The storm receded to distant thunder, and they both surfaced with a gasp. Gideon rocked forward, trying to find the edges of her own mind, to let her soul relearn the limits of her body like she’d had to after her resurrection. Her hands were empty—she’d dropped her sword—and she felt the impulse to reach for Harrow, just to make sure she was still there.

She didn’t. It was a near thing.

Harrow was still there, when Gideon finally opened her eyes. Harrow looked like she would sit there for eternity, waiting for Gideon to come back. Her expression was one of unadorned pain. Gideon hated it. It strangled her stupid, wanting, little heart. But seeing it, seeing something on that bitter, familiar face, was like feeling her toes brush the bottom of a deep pool.

“You are worth so much more than that. You’re worth everything,” Harrow whispered. She reached out a narrow, trembling hand toward Gideon’s face, but then stopped, hesitated. Gideon could still feel her pulsing along their connection. It was quieter and too confused to make any sense of, but it was there. And Gideon didn’t need to read Harrow’s mind to read her face. She was afraid.

Afraid of hurting Gideon.

Everything narrowed to that feverish heat hovering just above her skin. Everything expanded outward from the two of them like the birth of a universe, branching infinitely in all directions. A whole sky of constellations, each point of light an action and reaction she could trace with her fingertips out into the murky future.

If she leaned away, she knew, with the same unthinking confidence that her hand knew to find the grip of her sword, that Harrow would let her go.

Gideon turned her face into Harrow’s palm.

In the end, it had been simple. But if she’d thought it would settle the world back into a familiar shape, she was wrong. She knew it was what she wanted. It was also an end to everything she understood.

Before Gideon had been a cavalier, she’d been nothing. Ninth House vermin. A bone to chew on. Gideon the Ninth was the first flower of her house. Gideon Nav knelt on the landing tier and watched hope recede into the black of space, on and on and on. If she wasn’t Harrow’s cavalier, if she wasn’t Harrow’s, she didn’t know what the next step looked like. She teetered in the dark, one foot over open air.

By Harrow’s shaking breath, almost a sob, she was right there beside her.

Harrow traced her thumb along Gideon’s cheekbone. Touched the thin skin beneath Drearburh black eyes. “I have bound you to me more securely than any Ninth House debt,” she breathed. Across the link, Gideon felt an ocean of regret. “I am so sorry.”

Gideon’s voice was sandpaper-rough. “Thought that was what you wanted.”

Regular as clockwork, the anger rose again through the tangle of both their emotions. She remembered a dozen shattered escape attempts. Remembered the hope and the defeat, the black despair. Remembered punishments, pain and cold and hunger, and superimposed above it all the design of the Reverend Daughter Harrowhark Nonagesimus, who held tight her chains and would never let go.

It was all still in there, at the hot, red center of her, a wound badly dressed and festering. She felt it spill across toward Harrow. Didn’t even try to stop it. It wasn’t to hurt her; Gideon was tired of the hurting. But if this was going to be—anything, it needed to be there, standing on that fragile new bridge between them. She needed to see Harrow’s face as she felt it, needed to know what Harrow would say. They had been through worse—a hell of a lot worse, frankly—than a little honesty.

“Yes,” Harrow admitted, brows drawn tight together. She tried to pull away, but then Gideon’s hand was atop hers, holding her in place. Harrow drew a sharp breath and said, “Gideon. I was wrong.”

Gideon nodded, throat tight, and didn’t let Harrow go.

“I will not hold you,” she continued. “Never again. If you leave this minute and never look back, never think of me again, I will not hunt you down. That is the very least of what I owe you. If I knew of any way to undo—this.” A finger traced around her orbital socket, “I would do so in a heartbeat and release you from me, as you deserve.”

Gideon snorted, half to cover up the sudden drop in her stomach, like missing a step on the stairs. “You’re so dramatic.”

“Gideon,” Harrow pleaded.

“And if I want to stay?”

Harrow stiffened, expression suddenly guarded. Gideon felt her try to pull back across the bridge. Felt her try to strangle that spark of hope before it caught, before Gideon saw it. Gideon frowned. Harrow was pretty transparent to her before the addition of a necromantic soul-bond; it was just unfair at this point.

Carefully, Harrow said, “You are, of course, free to do whatever you wish. That is the basis of what I’ve been trying to—”

“If I want to stay,” Gideon said more firmly, “you’ll have me?”

Harrow crumbled like old, dead bone. It looked like she might actually go to her knees right there on the uneven canvas floor. This time, Gideon didn’t hesitate. She reached for Harrow, hands implacable around Harrow’s thin arms, and Harrow, long past that event horizon, let herself be pulled into Gideon’s lap. It was surprisingly easy, letting Harrow curl against her, small and warm and alive in Gideon’s arms. Their link went slack, then broadened and softened until it was a blurry hum in Gideon’s bones, prickling under Gideon’s skin.

“Of course I’ll have you, you yellow-eyed moron,” Harrow said, muffled against her shoulder. Her face was wet where it touched Gideon’s neck.

“Pretty sure you’re the yellow-eyed moron here, sweetheart.”

Harrow’s body shook in her arms and Gideon tried to pull back in alarm before she realized—Harrow was laughing.

Oh, she thought, muscles unclenching. Huh. Didn’t know she could do that.

Gideon breathed out long and slow, and when she filled her lungs again it was with Harrow—which, y’know, was mostly sweat and blood at this point, but Gideon wasn’t any better off. She had one hand buried in Harrow’s hair, scraping gently over her scalp, and as a small personal miracle, Harrow let her.

So. They weren’t adept and cavalier anymore. Two separate fleshes, thank you very much, and hopefully no more ends. If they weren’t that, then—were they friends? Could they be friends? There wasn’t any framework for what they were. It was too messy, too sprawling and complicated. They would be finding the shadowy corners of this thing between them for the rest of their lives, even if they lasted another ten thousand years.

Friends would be a good start. Or, Gideon flushed and carefully shepherded the thought away from the link, something other than friends, maybe. If Harrow wanted. And if she wanted, she thought with sudden giddy clarity.

Yeah. Maybe. Something to talk about, at least.

“You think so loud,” Harrow murmured eventually. They hadn’t pulled apart. Gideon might have expected there to be clinging, or at least some desperate clutching, but they fit together easily, somehow. Hand in hand in arm in lap. Maybe they were both just exhausted, going limp like prey in each other’s jaws, but Gideon felt a soft brush of something from across their bridge that felt like safe.

“Never thought I’d see the day Harrowhark Nonagesimus accused me of thinking too much.”

“I said it was loud, not complex.” Harrow shifted in her arms, her forehead tucked into the curve of Gideon’s neck, her hands knotted in Gideon’s shirt. “What now?” she asked, tentative in a way Gideon was probably going to have to get used to.

Gideon rested her cheek on Harrow’s head. Her hair was too long again. “I’m willing to give this a shot if you are, my—” Gideon bit off the teasing sobriquet. Given all of that, something like night boss might be a bit in poor taste. “Harrow.”

Harrow heard it anyway and huffed another small laugh. She was quiet then for a long time, her fingers pulling gently at a thread of Gideon’s shirt. “I would be honored,” Harrow said softly, “if you would have me.”

Gideon rolled her eyes. “Soooo dramatic.”

“Shut up, Nav.” There it was again, that bottomless warmth blossoming in the space between them.

Gideon smiled, blushing all over, and didn’t let her go. “You know, next time, it might be easier to have, like, a conversation before jumping right to perfect Lyctorhood’s two-for-one soul smoothie special.”

“Yes, Sextus said much the same thing to me.”

“He’s so annoying when he’s right.”

Harrow hummed agreement. She tapped her fingers arrhythmically against Gideon’s forearm and didn’t seem to be in any hurry to move. That suited Gideon just fine. There was nowhere else she wanted to be.