Actions

Work Header

Travelers

Work Text:

It is a great unfairness, Harrow thinks, that her cavalier can still manage to be unpredictable, or rather, that Harrow can occasionally find it impossible to predict her. If the ultimate fate of Harrow’s life is to endure the mortification of being known down to her soul by another person, she feels she is due some perks, and would have chosen predictability if it had been up to her. It would give her the ability, for example, to accurately schedule a shuttle launch based on knowing when one’s cavalier will show up for it— but Nav is late.

The commodore waiting by her side is clearly in some professional agony. Harrow can just about hear his pores exuding nervous sweat, and she makes some effort not to lean away from him. She can otherwise bear the delay unflinchingly, but she has the advantage of being in paint, and veiled (she had decided the occasion called for it). But— if Gideon makes her stay in this man’s company for a second longer than necessary...

Into the pin-drop silence of the hanger echoes the sound of steel-toed steps. Gideon sweeps in view with a small entourage, like a hawk beset by crows. Harrow has the impression she’d started off with even more, and was only now succeeding in brushing off the last of them. Gideon has a knack for brushing people off. It probably comes from her knack for making people feel seen. She’ll look them full in the eye, sober as a root canal, and her poor victim will decide that maybe they can handle it themselves after all, and then Nav will grin at them, summarily reducing them to a figurative pile of ash.

Perhaps Harrow is projecting somewhat. But not entirely.

Gideon Nav carries both her swords today (“double-fisting”, she calls it, hoping the term will catch on; Camilla can’t convince her to lay off). As she crosses the stretch of the shuttle bay and thrusts her luggage into the startled face of her last hanger-on (he turns and stows it in their shuttle without question, despite his captain’s pips), Gideon catches Harrow’s eye sidelong; Harrowhark blesses her choice of veil twice over. How inappropriate it would be, to smile in front of the commodore.

Another shuttle is awaiting their pleasure, halfway through safety checks, which, if Gideon delays them much longer, the crew of that vessel will be forced to repeat. Harrow nearly drags Nav up the ramp, speed-running the final instructions and farewells with the captain and commodore, doing her best to be the wet blanket to Gideon’s effervescence. And then they have boarded, finally, and Harrow keys the door to close, then lifts her veil back. She feels Gideon’s eyes following the lace as it spills behind her.

The door lurches down, grinding; Gideon dawdles, tapping her fingers against the interior struts while the last inch of steel slides home with a pneumatic hiss. Then she whirls on Harrow, who has time only to growl before she is pressed against the recently closed door with a barely-muffled thump.

Harrow sinks her fingers into her cavalier’s shoulders— Gideon does not need to be told to pick her up, to pin her hips between the wrap of Harrow’s legs. In a satisfying handful of seconds, Harrow’s patient work of an hour is smeared grey across Gideon’s mouth and neck and forehead.

“Put me down,” Harrow commands, despite it all, as if her body is not still insisting. “If we don’t launch within minutes I give it a fifty-fifty chance they have the temerity to issue a fine.”

Gideon lowers her slow, mouth lingering. “Nah,” she murmurs. “Fine us? Us? That takes three balls, and I happen to know that our good commodore only has two.”

“You disgust me.” Harrow doesn’t try to keep the fondness from her voice. She can admit it is a wonderful relief, more than she even expected, to be together again. Six months is not that long, but it was not a voluntary separation. At least not as far as Harrow is concerned.

She slips Gideon’s embrace, strides across the cargo hold, around the stele, and claims the left pilot chair. Gideon follows half a step behind.

“Oh, look, a stele!”

Nav,” Harrow groans.

“Come on— you must admit it really ties the room together.”

Harrow begins the launch sequence. “If you’re suddenly concerned with interior design, the Third has brainwashed you,” she sighs. “I feared this outcome.”

“There are reasons to like the Third, if you’ll only admit it. Corona has two of them.”

“My point stands.”

“Com or flight?”

“I am never allowing you to run the com again, and you know it.”

Harrow transfers flight control to Nav, who can be trusted to pilot a ship the same way she can be trusted with a blade. She cannot be trusted with the radio, unless one feels that the efficiency of launch communications can be improved by innuendo.

They are out of there in short order, on course to hook the stele at five hundred thousand clicks portside. The naval vessel recedes, already forgotten. Harrow has planned this carefully. She managed to net them an extra three hours of travel by pretending to be magnanimous— no trouble at all, captain, we would never presume to re-route you for our convenience. So now they have a journey of six hours to make, together, alone, in the most comfortable shuttle Harrow could commandeer.

Ten minutes until the hook. Harrow settles back, allows herself a sigh of relaxation. From her pockets she withdraws a handkerchief and a pot of cold cream, and begins to remove the paint, taking her time with it, glancing over as she does. Gideon’s foot is curling around her ankle, pivoting her chair around until they’re facing each other, and she is grinning.

“So, I missed you,” Nav says, as she rubs her foot up Harrow’s calf.

Harrow crosses her legs. “Then what, pray tell, made you so abominably late?”

Gideon’s smile turns lazy and satisfied. “I had to make myself look good for you, my caliginous lady.”

“Now there’s a fool’s errand.”

But Gideon does look good, and Harrow knows that Gideon knows that she thinks so. Her cavalier needs a haircut, but she’s got this new patch of paler copper amid her vibrant locks, with a silver streak coming in, sexy as all fuck. Her skin (where Harrow hasn’t marked it up with paint) looks smooth and weathered, as if she has spent her last six months out in the light.

Harrow holds her body perfectly still as they stare each other down.

“Aren’t you going to tell me about the wedding?”

“Oh hell,” Gideon laughs, and starts dishing the gossip from Ida, which is rich beyond even Harrow’s wildest hopes.

Coronabeth married her consort after only two months of bothering to give him the time of day, to the shock of all the old imperial power brokers, and Gideon clearly can’t decide whether this move is the most brilliant or the most moronic thing she’s ever witnessed. Ida during the royal wedding “was a self-kicking anthill, my God,” Gideon cackles, “And I wish you had been there to watch Corona play up the drama, except that you’d have to have constantly been repairing your own ulcers. Corona’s arm candy is a dweeb, Harrow. Just, I have never met anyone who chaps my ass harder. Imagine Naberius, but with a pencil mustache, and a mid-life crisis. I got drunk with her a few days before the big event and she told me he’s amazing in the sack, which, barf, but she was getting tired of that Forth bitch pressuring her to use marriage to broker some power deal that will make Sextus’ job harder, so she wanted to give them all the finger by throwing away her eligibility on some dude? But apparently it’s fine because her girlfriends think he’s adorable—”

It goes on. Once her paint is removed, Harrow finds herself leaning her chin onto bridged fingers in rapt attention, thankful beyond words that Nav volunteered to stay on through the whole thing and keep her out of it. Ulcers are a gross underestimate; had Harrow been made to endure so much as a day of exposure to what Gideon describes, violence would have assuredly ensued. Instead, she’d finally had the time necessary to really assault the Sixth house bureaucracy until it crumbled before her. Sextus had helped, stepping on the toes of the new Warden with unseemly glee. They have rarely had a more productive period of work, even with Cam pulling Sextus’ attention back to the management of the nascent Republic for half of every day and most of every night.

It’s fascinating, and a pleasure to hear Gideon’s voice again, but Harrow doesn’t mind entirely when Gideon’s oratory is interrupted by the need to complete the hook. Nav sits quietly for her, even though, with her Lyctoral font, this is easy for Harrow. It’s still a little delicate. It used to take four adepts to manage a stele hook.

She feels that rush of power between herself and her cavalier in a way she hasn’t for months now, and it’s invigorating, the more so when the operation is complete and the light through the shuttle window shifts to black.

They are in deep space now. Harrow’s relief increases. Gideon sets their new course, locks the pilot interface screen, and immediately pulls Harrow to her feet. She hasn’t minded the interruption either.

“I brought you a present,” Gideon says, slyly.

“From the Third?” Harrow asks, in the same tone as she’d use for from a cesspool?

“You’ll like this,” Nav assures her. They’re speaking more softly now, as if it mattered, but having completed the hook, and finding themselves so alone and remote, has changed the atmosphere. Gideon is brushing their knuckles together, maybe deliberately, maybe subconsciously. “The Third has great shopping.”

“Subjective. Everything available for purchase on the Third is nauseatingly bejeweled.”

“I found the only item that isn’t,” Nav says, rummaging in her duffle bag, “tempting though some of those other options were…”

Gideon hands her lube, of all things; Harrow sneers at it. Practical, yes, but why?

“Griddle—”

“That’s not it, hang on.”

Triumphantly, after another second of rummaging, Gideon places a strap-on into Harrow’s outstretched hands. It is black, synthetic, unremarkable. Harrow has to try very hard not to laugh, and ultimately fails.

“I have suffered your presence for thirty-nine years of life,” she finally says— Gideon is standing close, smiling so helplessly her face is going to stick like that if she’s not careful— “And now, apropos of nothing, you acquire us a strap-on? Griddle, I could have made you one to keep at any time.”

“Call it an impulse purchase,” Gideon says, leaning in, but not quite closing the gap yet. “So what if you already make us bespoke unspeakable things out of bone? How can we call ourselves an old married couple and not actually own any sex toys? If we had any self-respect we’d have a whole pantry of freaky shit. Did I mention I missed you? A lot?”

“Hmmm,” Harrow deflects, examining the toy, as if there’s anything mysterious about it.

“And more to the point, this is silicone, love. You can’t control this one.”

Harrow tilts her head, considering. It’s an excellent point. Whenever Gideon wants to top, she takes some trouble to wear nothing but polymer. Whenever Harrow wants to top, she just starts taking off bone jewelry. Yes, it’s an advantage of being an adept, but Nav has never complained.

“This is hardly ‘freaky,’” Harrow points out, just to be pedantic, dragging her teeth over her lower lip at the anticipation she can see in Gideon’s eyes. “And we’re not old.”

There is often a moment, between them, where their words get fewer and fewer, and in the end they just forget to keep talking, because they don’t need to anymore. Harrow can feel Gideon’s feelings if she allows herself, and Gideon can likewise feel Harrow’s. In twenty years of Lyctorhood, they have learned to manage this. Harrow is not sure if she has actually learned to suppress her perception of Nav’s emotions, or if the influence they have brought to bear on each other has simply meant there’s no longer much discernible difference between their feelings. Harrow used to think that she could not live without this woman. What they have been through since has taught her otherwise, and yet the depths to which Gideon Nav is existential to her now, as taken for granted as her DNA, would have been inconceivable to her younger self.

“Want me to put it on?” Gideon says, and then she breaks first, and leans down to kiss along Harrow’s jawline.

“Patience,” Harrow whispers, and removes a stud or two from her ears.

The shuttle has room, but not much else other than the chairs and the stele. Harrow builds them a quick bed, smooth ivory lattices of bone. Much nicer than the floor. She also arrests the river of blood from the stele, effectively turning it off, because, as Gideon might say, it’s at risk of “lowkey killing the mood.”

She can feel the swell of Gideon’s avidity, her desire. As they’ve both discovered, access to another’s emotions is not as useful as it might seem. Feelings are rarely monochromatic. Actions almost never run parallel. But Gideon has figured out how to tease her. She isn’t ashamed of wanting Harrow, hasn’t been since those earliest years. She makes sure Harrow can tell. And then she’ll demur, draw it out, take her time.

Gideon is wearing her bone buttons and clasps today. It is her equivalent of Harrow’s paint. Something for the other to take off. Nav teases the strap-on out of Harrow’s hands, puts it on the bed like a chocolate in a fancy hotel, and spins Harrow into a slow dance.

Harrow smiles and prepares to enjoy the foreplay. She has learned to dance as best she can, for Nav, on the condition they don’t do it in public. She doesn’t have Gideon’s innate grace, and so she has adapted the little skill she’s gained in this area to being the foil for Gideon’s movement, the catalyst from which Gideon will impose the will of her body. Harrow stays center, and Gideon leads her, orbits her. Harrow can recognize the beauty of it. She has always been awake to the loveliness of clean, pure form.

She begins to remove the buttons on Gideon’s clothes almost without thinking. They dissolve to dust, one by one, and then Harrow is pulling her cavalier into closer and closer proximity, pulling off layers while their eyes lock again, daring Gideon to ask her to go faster, which of course she does not. Gideon only moves obediently under Harrow’s hands until she’s bare.

Harrow walks her back until she has put Gideon on the bed, seated in front of her. At this point Gideon unpins Harrow’s veil, and lets it fall, but when she moves on to dismantle the rest of Harrow’s layers, Harrow stops her. Reaching for Gideon’s “impulse purchase,” she presses the toy into Gideon’s hands.

“Yes,” she whispers, lips fluttering just over Gideon’s paint-marked cheekbone. “Put it on.”

Then she steps back.

While Gideon untangles, dons the straps, Harrow fiddles with her own clothing, peeling it off. Gideon sits back down to watch when she is ready, and her dark eyes are glinting in a way they never used to when they belonged to Harrow, her breathing audible. Harrow moves faster after all. Maybe the foreplay won’t last as long as she thought. Maybe Harrow doesn’t care. The crow’s feet of Gideon’s eyes are pronounced with the adoration in her gaze, and six months of Third abundance may have softened her hips a little— beautiful. Beautiful. Harrow drops her last item of clothing, and Gideon breaks the silence again to reach out her hand and plead,

“Come here.”

Harrow goes. She doesn’t hesitate. They kiss, already breathless. Harrow straddles Gideon’s thighs, reaches down to rub the tip of the strap against herself, ready and slick. She tilts her hips, wanting.

Gideon makes a noise into Harrow’s neck. Her eyes cut down to watch. Harrow settles in, her legs around Gideon’s waist, pressing their bodies close together, and now it’s Gideon’s turn to reach down, to guide the strap against Harrow’s folds and entrance, to ease it in.

Harrow can’t help the sounds she makes. She grinds, and Gideon thrusts, short but hard. Harrow thinks she’s been wet since she heard Gideon’s boots on the shuttle deck. The penetration feels so good, so good to her aching body, and she has waited such a long damn time, and she wants to feel all of it all at once, and she wants to spend the whole shuttle ride and more just like this. Her legs spread wide, and Gideon Nav between them. She has known this for almost twenty years, and it’s erotic enough to make her stupid.

“Harrow,” Gideon breathes, “Oh, Harrow, you’re good, this is good, and I’ve wanted you, God, I’ve wanted you.”

Harrow grinds harder. Kisses with teeth. Marks Gideon’s shoulders with her nails. Gideon seems to remember suddenly that they are all alone, hours from the nearest star system, and moans so loud it’s nearly a shout. Harrow arches for her, and receives the marks she craves across her clavicle and neck, the bright red trail of Gideon’s mouth, the traces of paint.

Harrow indulges in a fist to Gideon’s hair. Gideon has her by the hips now, emphasising her grind. They settle into a rocking rhythm. They’re both a little out of their minds at this point. Harrow leans forward and whines with need. Gideon is allowed to see this in her. Gideon is allowed to know her like this. It’s so easy. It’s a miracle that it could be this easy to let go.

“More,” Harrow begs. “Harder, Gideon—”

Gideon flips them like it’s nothing; she’s so strong, it’s impossible to imagine her as anything other than powerful, no matter how much her body ages. Harrow gets what she wants. Gideon thrusts hard, rails her, really, why not call it what it is, it’s wonderful, every stroke a delicious shock that fills Harrow’s whole body, it’s what she asked for. And Gideon is reaching down to touch her without being asked.

They can never be that coy anymore about devotion, not for very long.

Harrow closes her eyes and tenses through the final crest, her lips rounding out Gideon’s name unbidden, and Gideon whispers, “Look at me, honey,” and Harrow does, shuddering into her toe-curling orgasm while she watches Gideon watch her.

In the wake of it Gideon shifts to lie next to her, and as Harrow comes back to herself she traces with fingertips the heavy swell of Gideon’s shoulder, the red of her eyebrows, the line of her jaw.

“I don’t think I mentioned,” Gideon confides, rolling a thumb around Harrow’s nipple, “how much I missed you.”

“Mm-hm.” Harrow allows her hand to drift lower, sitting up and coaxing Nav onto her back.

When she uncinches the harness straps enough to allow her hand between Gideon’s legs, Gideon pulls her into a kiss, only to break it almost immediately to curse at the sensation of touch. Harrow isn’t teasing. Gideon’s impressively wet. Harrow slides her fingers in with a satisfied hiss, uses her palm with an expertise derived from years of familiarity, and Gideon chokes.

“Hah— Harrow, love.” She’s panting, riding Harrow’s fingers delightfully. “Oh, sugar, your hand.”

Harrow sucks one of Gideon’s nipples into her mouth, mind quiet with focus.

“If you keep this up—“ Gideon’s hands are grasping but there are no sheets to hang onto; her fingers scrabble against Harrow’s back. “Ah, Harrow, Harrow I’m not going to last—“

“I don’t want this one to last, Griddle,” Harrow tells her, low in her ear. “I missed you, and I’ve been wanting you, and I’m having you now.”

Gideon comes, hard. Harrow savors the clench against her touch, the gorgeous look on Gideon’s face. Her cavalier in pleasure; her cavalier at rest.

Harrow climbs on top of Gideon when it’s over. Gideon puts arms around her clumsily, still breathing hard. Harrow has some other intentions for the rest of their trip, but maybe they won’t get to all of them. There is almost no part of her body that is not touching Gideon’s body. She is in no rush to move. There are stars fixed in the windows above them, and it is just the universe and them, and they so rarely get this anymore, the alone time. Yet this feels like a default state of being.

Gideon is walking her fingers slowly up Harrow’s spine. Her lips are against Harrow’s brow, above her hairline, just resting there in a half-kiss, the way she likes. In all their years, Gideon has never said as much, but Harrow knows perfectly well that Gideon loves the way her hair smells.

“Nonagesimus,” Gideon says, into her hair.

It is a prelude to a question, but Gideon is clearly not in a hurry. The name is more than a means to get Harrow’s attention. Gideon’s voice is secretive, because she’s always a little shy when she says the things she means, even now. It’s very Ninth of her. Gideon never says I love you without pressing the words into Harrow’s hands like gifts, or laying them like offerings of petals over her body. And it’s this of all things, her name in Gideon’s reverent voice, that Harrow treasures. She lives to hear it, and the wave of love that always follows across their Lyctoral bond, like incense in a dark room.

“Nonagesimus,” Gideon repeats, kissing a new spot on her brow, “can you tell me now? Are we going to live forever?”

Harrow expected this question. Until just recently it was one that neither she nor Sextus could answer, much to their frustration. God’s first Lyctors, the imperfect ones, lived for a myriad and more, and whether they claimed to be immortal or not, they were certainly assumed to be.

But perfect Lyctorhood is not the same. She and Gideon have many gifts. Her necromancy is limited only by the knowledge Harrow possesses, and her need to sleep. Gideon is physically unbeatable. Both of them will heal instantly from anything short of decapitation. Yet the specter of immortality has remained, and for years Harrow tried not to think of it, of how eons would grind them down, part them, make them less than human and ultimately alone.

Sextus, of course, never made any assumptions. He’d started his attempts to calculate the limits of a Lyctoral lifespan almost immediately. Eventually, Harrow had joined him. And it proved to be vastly more complex than they had ever dreamed, and in no way self-evident, even as they all, Cam and Sextus, Griddle and Harrow, began to age.

And now she knows. They finished the math last month. She sent Gideon an encrypted letter to notify her, but left the answer to be conveyed in person.

Now she puts her lips against Gideon’s chest: kisses the twisted scar over her heart, kisses her mouth, then her forehead.

“You don’t have to go full nun,” Gideon teases, softly.

“We’re not immortal, Gideon,” Harrow answers, ignoring the teasing. “The healing helps, but we’ll continue to age.” Her eyes flick to the silver in Gideon’s hair, and she smiles despite herself, and Gideon smiles back. Watching her, Harrow can see the relief even as she feels it too. “Sextus says, maybe a hundred and twenty years. One hundred and fifty.”

Gideon kisses her. It lasts for a minute. When they stop kissing, she says, “You already know I think it’s better that way.”

Harrow, tucked against her, nods.

“I’m so glad, Harrow,” Gideon whispers. She’s tracing Harrow’s spine again. It’s shivery. “You, and me, and one lifetime. That’s right. That’s how it should be. That’s the best thing I could have had.”

Harrow agrees without words. Gideon will know that she does.

They drift like that for a while, through the diamond-studded dark. Harrow, with some surprise, finds that this moment is profound, pivotal. In day to day life— and what lives they’re fated to live, rebuilding a universe— she tries not to let herself take Gideon for granted. Mostly, she thinks she succeeds. Yet she hadn’t appreciated how much it would mean to know the truth of their mortality. When they had married, fifteen years ago, it had felt in some ways like a social concession. It had meant a great deal to Gideon and for the sake of that feeling, to Harrow as well. But it had frankly paled in comparison to other moments of their history: the cavalier vow, their walks through the River, Lyctorhood.

It is possible that this, now, the love promised forever in the context of a finite life— a falsehood that, she realizes abruptly, gives shape to a truth otherwise imperceptible— was how marriage was supposed to have felt. She thinks about Abigail Pent, and remembers her as young and brave. She and Gideon are older now than the Fifth scions were, back then.

“How much longer do we have to travel?” Gideon murmurs.

“You set the coordinates.”

“Like I paid any attention, with you flirting your brains out at me.”

Harrow bites the flesh her head is pillowed on, and feels Gideon’s silent laughter. “If you set the course correctly, we’re stuck in here for at least another few hours, which you know perfectly well.”

“Good,” Gideon says. “I petition we spend at least two of those hours with your thighs around my face.”

“Fine,” Harrow says, as if she couldn’t care less, in practiced opposition to the way her body thrills at the image, which brings an answering thrill from Gideon.

“So…wheels up on that in, say, twenty minutes?”

“There’s no rush, Nav,” Harrow complains, snuggling in more comfortably. Gideon pokes her.

“Like hell there’s no rush. I’ve been on the Third without you for six. Bloody. Months. I put ‘face-sitting: 2 hrs’ on my calendar weeks ago. I have been crossing off the days. This cannot happen soon enough.”

“So demanding— why is it so hard to get obedient cavaliers these days?”

Gideon pokes with each word. “You. Me. Thighs. Face.”

They banter for a while, devolving into bullshit, prattling back and forth, eventually even Gideon starting to doze off despite her fixation on the promised face-sitting.

“I love you,” Harrow says, after a lull in the conversation. She should say it more often. She takes Gideon’s hand, brushing her thumb over knuckles, the way she used to on her rosary.

Gideon brushes Harrow’s fingers in turn, and suddenly recites, quietly.

“We came from the far side of the river of starlight,” she kisses Harrow’s fingers, “and will cross back over in a little boat no bigger than two cupped hands.”

Harrow plays the words back to herself, memorizes them. “From Sextus?” she asks, sleepily.

“That one’s from Cam,” Gideon answers. She pauses— perhaps a little embarrassed?— and adds, “I asked her for some good pickup lines. Useful on the Third, you know.”

“And how’d that work out for you?” Harrow chides, before drifting off in her cavalier’s arms, passing beyond the need for any more words.