“I need you to marry me,” Harrow says, a propos of absolutely nothing that Gideon can see. And, uh, okay, this is not what childhood best frenemies say to each other upon discovering that both of their graduate programs have weird residence requirements.
“What,” Gideon asks, “the fuck?”
“I need you to marry me,” Harrow repeats, in the slow tones she uses when she wants to imply Gideon’s got the brain capacity of a particularly advanced amoeba, “because otherwise I’ll get assigned a roommate in a shitty dorm as if we were still undergrads, and I’m sure she’ll be awful, and you’re also awful but at least I’ve already figured out my coping mechanisms.”
Gideon blinks at her. “Are you sure you don’t mean that you’ll be awful, and she’ll report you for, like, summoning a demon?”
“Griddle,” Harrow grits.
“Are you sure, are you sure you don’t mean that she might find out you’re a, a vampire ghoul when she wakes up in the night to you crouched on her chest with your bat-wings unfurled?”
“Are you sure you don’t mean that you’re worried she’ll be all sweetness and light and lush, sinful curves and at the first touch of her sunlight-golden hair you’ll spontaneously combust or, like, Wicked Witch of the West it?”
“I’m taking that as a yes,” Harrow says, with all the warmth of a cadaver. She produces a sheaf of papers from her messenger bag and slams them down on the picnic table. “Sign the fucking license request.”
Gideon cocks her head and stares down at Harrow. “I could be rejecting you, you know.”
Harrow huffs, disbelieving, as if Gideon always goes along with her schemes, which is just patently untrue. They’ve been thwarting each other’s plans for over two decades now, ever since that first horrible day on the preschool playground when Harrow tripped Gideon so she could get to the slide first.
“I might say no!” Gideon exclaims. “To fully consider your proposal, Nonagesimus, I have to ask: what’s in it for me?”
And even though the subject matter is so completely out of left field that Gideon is still kind of reeling, bargaining puts her back on familiar footing. Harrow is a ruthless negotiator, but Gideon knows all her tricks, and, really. This kinesiology master’s program was supposed to be her ticket out of Harrow-ville, so it’s going to take more than a severe look to get her to agree to living with Harrow.
Harrow looks up at her with narrow, calculating eyes, fingers pressed white-tipped into the paperwork, which is how Gideon knows a) Harrow will let her set some fairly generous terms, and b) she’s going to marry fucking Harrowhark Nonagesimus.
The terms are actually pretty simple, when they iron them out. Being married gets them one of the little apartments on campus, as opposed to a dorm-room situation, and there’s only one bed but term number one is that the couch will be long enough for Gideon to stretch out fully. Harrow will spring for it, too.
They’ll switch off sleeping spot once a week, and Gideon will get dibs on the bed if ever she wants to bring a girl over. Gideon is not allowed to bring girls over if they are in any way affiliated with the university, for cover-maintaining purposes, and also bringing-girls-over is strictly limited to the first eight weeks of term, for keeping-up-grades purposes.
Gideon gets to set up her weights in the living room. Harrow is required to keep all her creepy goth shit confined to the bedroom. The blackout curtains on all the windows are non-negotiable because Harrow is legit a vampire, but, in compensation, Gideon never has to clean the bathroom or take out the garbage.
The living situation turns out to be the hardest part of the negotiation, eating up most of the six weeks they have to wait between submitting the license request and actually getting married.
Otherwise, it’s pretty easy to agree that they’ll need to keep up a minimum of appearances by eating together in the communal dining hall once a week. Harrow will come to a reasonable number of Gideon’s Pulse-Pounding Sports Events, and Gideon will attend an equally reasonable number of Harrow’s Boring Anthro Networking Nights.
Naturally, there will be no kissing, because both of them would vomit immediately and that would for sure blow their cover, but some level of physical contact is pretty unavoidable, so, for the last, balmy month of the summer, Gideon and Harrow practice not being skeeved out touching each other.
It’s…easier than Gideon expected.
Okay, sure, in early elementary school they had touched each other plenty, because they were constantly getting into fights, but by the time grade five rolled around Harrow had graduated to insults and Gideon had, as usual, scrambled to keep up. By the time undergrad ended, the most they ever came into physical contact was the odd occasion when Harrow fell asleep in Gideon’s car on the way to school and Gideon felt duty-bound to poke her awake.
But now they are practicing, and, because Harrow is involved, practicing diligently and with a timetable, and somehow it is not completely repulsive to tuck Harrow’s narrow body into her side. Somehow holding Harrow’s hand doesn’t set her flesh crawling. Somehow the press of Harrow’s forehead against her arm in what Harrow insists is an accurate representation of “we’ve been studying in the library for too long and I need a quick nap” is…actually pretty neutral.
Harrow doesn’t seem to feel the same. It takes all of August for her to stop flinching when Gideon puts a hand on her knee.
But Harrow is weird – has been weird for all the too-many years they’ve known each other, and part of that weirdness has been, increasingly in the past few years, that she doesn’t like to be touched. So, whatever. Gideon is fluent in Harrow so she can see that Harrow is putting in the effort, and in any case they don’t need to be touching all the time, just enough that no one will question how a waifish Dickensian orphan managed to lock down the personification of Glowing Health.
The wedding itself takes about fifteen minutes at the courthouse. It’s witnessed by a clerk, because there’s no way Gideon’s foster mom or Harrow’s weird cousin are going to believe that this marriage is anything but a sham.
The justice of the peace tells them they can kiss, and Harrow says, “We’re actually very private people,” and Gideon gives a thumbs up, and that’s it. Mrs. and Mrs. Harrowhark Nonagesimus and Gideon Nav, newlyweds.
Gideon starts the countdown clock on her phone for the day before their first anniversary, which is the last day they can file for an annulment. They’ll use the marriage certificate in the spring, while it’s still valid, to lock down Year Two’s accommodations, and then that’ll be it. Gideon will be in her first practicum and Harrow will be off somewhere doing fieldwork and they will officially be un-married.
The only flaw in the plan is that Harrow thought of it first.
“Wow,” the curvy brunette who is taking them through their pre-try-outs warm up says, which, yeah, Gideon’s okay with being ogled a little. “Married already?”
Ah. So, it isn’t Gideon herself the assistant coach is ogling, just the ring that still feels awkward on her finger.
“Yep,” Gideon says, popping the “p” and also her pecs, just once, out of sheer perversity. Harrow can cockblock in absentia, sure, but Gideon won’t go down without a fight.
“How does your husband feel about you being on the rugby team?” the assistant coach asks, and Gideon suppresses the desire to snort in disbelief. Hello, this woman watched Gideon take off her cuff-sleeved-denim + leather jacket combo and switch out her spotless athleisure sneakers for athletics ones? Saw Gideon’s shaved sides, the big “yes homo” bicep tattoo (the “y” is a par of nail clippers because, as Harrow often says, Gideon has never heard of subtlety)? Gideon’s always been openly, visibly queer even among the butchest of jocks.
“Wife,” Gideon corrects, finally, when it’s clear that the assistant coach is serious about the husband thing. And then, knowing Harrow will hate it, she adds, “She thinks it’s hot. Got a bit of a thing for blood, if you know what I mean.”
The woman clearly does not, which begs the question of why she’s in any way involved in rugby. Someone a little further along their line of new potential recruits chuckles and offers, “Totally.”
Gideon turns to see the scrawniest little thing, just an absolute tiny baby girl. “Jeannemary,” the infant offers and sticks out a grubby hand. She’s missing a tooth when she grins and Gideon suddenly knows that this miniscule teenager plays the absolute dirtiest rugby imaginable.
“Gideon,” Gideon says, reaching out for the handshake, and, yep, yep, Jeannemary’s grip has something to prove and the broken nails to prove it with.
“You’re married and a first year?” Jeannemary asks, as she goes back to stretching out her calves, probably for kicking someone when they’re down. The coach has evaporated to be oblivious somewhere else, and Gideon can’t say she’s not relieved.
“First year master’s,” Gideon clarifies. “Kinesiology. Gotta have something to fall back on when the old body gives out, you know.”
Jeannemary blushes, which, okay, tiny sapphic freshman, we see you.
“And you?” Gideon prompts. She flexes, because she’s not a saint, and because it’s kind of hilarious to see Jeannemary go a little bug-eyed, and because Harrow will grouse at her for it later.
“Oh!” Jeannemary is still blushing, but she’s also doing a probably unnecessary shoulder stretch that has the advantage of demonstrating that her wiry muscle is definitely something to take seriously. Gideon hopes they both make the team, if only to see all six of those ounces of whoop-ass in action.
“Oh, yeah, I’m uh…here for my undergrad, but undeclared so far. Mostly planning to kick some ass and keep my best friend out of trouble. Theoretical physics shit, he’s so fucking smart, but not so good at taking care of himself, you know?”
Oh, Gideon knows. Fucking geniuses with no common sense. At least Jeannemary seems to like hers.
It’s not the last time Gideon has to answer personal questions over those first few days of the semester: everyone seems to kind of zero in on the obsidian-black band on her finger, and Gideon finds herself peppering “wife” liberally into every conversation – seriously, does no one on this campus have a functioning gaydar? She feels like a walking meme, like everyone’s pointing at her going, “is this a straight person?”
Harrow seems to be faring much better, or maybe it’s just that she isn’t telling Gideon as many stories as Gideon is telling her.
When pressed on the subject, Harrow just shrugs, “Griddle, there are more interesting things about me than my marital status or my sexual orientation,” and Gideon kind of wants to strangle her, because, um, hello?? Only one of them is in any way interesting and it certainly isn’t Harrow, but they’re walking through a particularly busy part of campus so instead of arguing the point she settles for tugging Harrow closer via hand in back pocket. Harrow makes a strangled noise, and Gideon is content.
On a balmy Tuesday in mid-September, Gideon is sitting at her desk, rocking out to some random trip-hop mix and doing her readings, when Harrow’s bony hand thrusts something between Gideon’s eyes and the laptop screen. When Gideon looks up, Harrow has this “I couldn’t care less” look plastered on her face, which means she very much cares, and that’s enough to pique Gideon’s curiosity.
She looks down at the flyer, half-crumpled from Harrow’s fucking skeletal death grip.
“I thought you might be interested,” Harrow says, and, yeah, you could say that. Gideon is 1000% interested in whatever group has produced the gaudy piece of propaganda screaming “SWORDPLAY IS AN ART FORM, AND THE PAINT IS BLOOD” above an illustration of someone with a fucking broadsword facing off against someone whose rapier is balanced by a wicked-looking three-pronged dagger.
“Best wife,” Gideon says, because it will piss Harrow off, and Harrow pinches her shoulder where her tank top strap has slipped before stalking off.
The poster tells Gideon that the swordcraft club meets Tuesdays at eight, which means she has about two hours to finish her readings and carb-load and wrap her wrists and hope that the club has practice swords she can borrow, since leaving hers in storage back home was the price for getting the apartment’s one big desk all to herself.
“You gonna come watch?” she calls to Harrow, who, predictably, utters the most derogatory sound Gideon thinks she’s ever heard, and she’s heard a lot of Harrow’s derision.
“C’mon, Nonagesimus,” Gideon sticks her head into the bedroom to wheedle. “You can trade it for some rugby games or something; what wife wouldn’t want to watch her badass spouse lay glorious waste to a field of foes?”
“How,” Harrow asks, without looking up from where she’s curled around her laptop, “is that any different from rugby? One bloodthirsty fight is surely the same as any other.”
Gideon huffs, and Harrow’s immaculate little eyebrows raise, although her eyes are still scanning back and forth across her screen. “If I didn’t know better,” Harrow continues in a peevish voice that means stop bothering me, “I’d think you actually wanted me there, Nav.”
And that’s…probably not true? So Gideon snorts an “As if” and goes to fish her mouthguard from her rugby bag.
Gideon drags Jeannemary to the sword group instead.
Jeannemary lights up like a Christmas tree. Probably about 20% of that is blush, although there are a lot of very skilled ladies wielding very deadly weapons so Gideon can hardly blame her.
The swords the group uses are dulled around the edges with carefully-applied leather covers, but they’re real swords alright, and they pack a wallop. Gideon comes back to the apartment bruised and blissed-out, on the phone with Aiglamene to ask her foster mother to please send Gideon’s extensive Sharp Things collection posthaste. Sharing a desk is a small price to pay for getting to swing her own, well-balanced blades around.
Maybe Harrow will be flexible if it’s just a fencing foil or two.
In the fifth week of the semester, Harrow sets off the smoke alarm by dumping a can of artichokes in a casserole dish and forgetting them in the oven for three hours. Gideon comes home to what smells very much like singed gym socks and an irate Harrow perched precariously on the kitchen counter jabbing at the smoke detector with the handle of their broom.
“Summoning ritual gone wrong?” she asks sympathetically as she reaches up and twists down the screeching device, pressing her thumb over the “reset” button until it gives one last, dismal squawk and falls silent.
Harrow’s normally bloodless lips get even paler when she presses them into a thin line, and Gideon notices that, actually, all of her is looking paler than usual.
“Let me make dinner,” she blurts on impulse, because Harrow has turned back to the oven and withdrawn the smoking casserole dish and Gideon is worried she might actually try to eat its contents.
Harrow looks like she’s going to object, so Gideon snags the empty artichoke can in the hand that isn’t full of smoke detector and says, in her sternest voice, “Nonagesimus, if you die of malnutrition, that will seriously impact my ability to bag cute babes. No one wants to date somebody who let their wife waste away like a consumptive orphan.”
“Fine,” Harrow snaps. “But I so much as see your disgusting protein bread I’ll make you eat the artichokes.”
Gideon contemplates her for a long moment. Harrow throws up her hands and stalks over to the couch, which is her bed this week.
“Does that mean you only want sandwich filling?” Gideon calls after her, and Harrow shrieks back, “A sandwich is not dinner, Nav!”
A can of the most disgusting vegetable imaginable is not dinner, either, but Harrow is pulling out one of her scary-thick theory books, so Gideon doesn’t say it. She thinks it, though, really hard, and the twitch of Harrow’s shoulders tells her that, probably, her thought-arrow has found its mark.
Gideon’s in the weird cramped bath attempting to soak the aches from her hips – seriously, who thought aging was a good idea – when the door to the apartment is flung open and Harrow’s coldest voice comes wafting in, chilling the two-thirds of Gideon’s body that are outside the bathwater and probably a good few kilometres of the surrounding area.
“No,” Harrow’s saying, “We do not need to continue this conversation, here or elsewhere.”
Someone else’s voice is objecting, and Gideon spares a thought for why Harrow isn’t just slamming the door in whoever’s face even as she steps from the bath and yanks on her sweats.
“’Sup, my mortuary maiden?” she yawns, ostentatiously stretching as she ambles over to curl her body around Harrow’s, to set her chin down on Harrow’s tense shoulder, to rest her left hand on the doorjamb and her right across Harrow’s belly and indicate to the cretin who’s got a foot literally inside their door that he is absolutely, 100% unwelcome.
The washed-out asshole in front of her doesn’t even have the grace to hide his surprise – no, his shock - as he takes in that fact that, yeah, Harrow’s living with the incarnation of a hunt goddess.
Harrow’s left hand settles over Gideon’s right, and Gideon watches the person who is almost certainly one of the colleagues Harrow’s been raging about since the beginning of the semester notice first Harrow’s ring, and then Gideon’s.
“You good, bro?” Gideon asks him.
He pretends to ignore her, although his eyes are absolutely betraying him, and gives Harrow a tight nod. “We’ll continue this later, Ms. Nonagesimus.”
“It’s Mrs.,” Harrow informs him, “And, no. We won’t.” She pushes back against Gideon, who lets herself be moved.
As the door closes, Gideon gives the creep a smile that’s all teeth. She makes a point of sliding the bolt home as loudly as she can.
Harrow disentangles herself, and Gideon feels weirdly bereft, which, yo, what the fuck, so to cover the feeling, she says, “He one of the incompetent assholes you’re cursed to be in some seminar with?”
“Visiting scholar,” Harrow replies shortly. She’s methodically stripping herself down, black blazer and silver-chased black vest and black tie and silver tie-clip and black Oxfords and black skeleton-patterned socks and black skinny jeans and black frilled button-down, until she’s standing halfway between the couch and the bedroom in her black underwear and black sports bra and her seven thousand antler and bone earrings and seems unsure of what to do next.
“Just did the laundry,” Gideon says, after a moment. “Fluffy towels all ready to go, if you’re planning on showering before you climb into your coffin for the day.”
Harrow makes the little sound she makes whenever she’s not certain Gideon can see that she’s rolling her eyes, but she does grab a fluffy towel from the closet before she slams the bathroom door.
If Gideon gathers up Harrow’s clothes and puts them directly into the laundry, if Gideon scribbles “At the dry cleaner’s with your blazer; don’t set the place on fire again while I’m gone” onto a scrap of paper to leave on Harrow's laptop, if Gideon spends the walk to the dry cleaner’s trying fruitlessly to find the visiting scholar’s identity on the crappy mobile version of the anthropology department’s website, if Gideon spends several hours before falling asleep on the couch with her eyes trained on the front door mentally replaying the way it had felt to have Harrow lean back into her, well.
None of that signifies anything, right.
It’s just that she’s the only one who’s allowed to put the fear of god in Harrow.
That’s all it is.
The day the swords arrive, seven weeks into term, Harrow sets up an anatomically correct skeleton in the bedroom, because of course this whole thing was an elaborate trap. She doesn’t even insist on half the desk, just smiles viciously at Gideon’s Utterly Betrayed face.
“How am I supposed to make sweet love to a lady with the King of Halloweentown staring at us?” Gideon complains.
“Is there a lady?” Harrow inquires, voice mild in the way that it is when she’s about to say something really devastating. “That undergrad who’s obsessed with you doesn’t count.”
By the time there is a lady, or at least, by the time Gideon has convinced herself that the immuno-compromised med student doing a sports rotation with the rugby team is actually flirting with her, it’s the ninth week of term, so even if Dulcie wasn’t affiliated with the university, Gideon wouldn’t be able to bring her anywhere anyway.
The ninth week of term is also the week in which a regular rugby practice gets cancelled when someone double-books the field, and, instead of going to the library like she really should, Gideon decides to just study at the apartment where the coffee is free, and walks in on something that scars her.
Okay. Okay, so, it doesn’t scar her.
Okay, so it may be a lot worse than scarring.
Scarring, Gideon could handle.
But, no, opening the door to their tiny apartment to hear Harrow’s hitched inhale release with a quietest of moans is arousing, and, for a moment, Gideon is caught with her hand on the front door handle, staring at the firmly closed bedroom door – the bedroom, by the way, that is currently hers for the week.
Harrow inhales sharply again and Gideon backs out into the hallway and closes the door as softly as she can.
As she walks back across campus toward who even knows where, two pieces of knowledge are circling her brain, driving out all other thoughts. One, Harrow’s voice is absolutely going to feature in all of Gideon’s dreams for at least the next few months. And, two, Gideon is going to have to sleep in that bed tonight know that Harrow was orgasming in it mere hours earlier. Even if Harrow changes the sheets, which Gideon has no doubt that she’ll do, the fact will remain and Gideon will not be able to do a thing about it.
Because, okay. If she gets off tonight, in that bed, Gideon knows she’ll be thinking of Harrow, just by virtue of location. She knows she’ll be imagining that Harrow’s stuttering breath is in her ear.
And that can’t happen: Harrow is her number one enemy and her legal wife and they are less than ten months out from an annulment, and if Gideon falls into this stupid romcom trope then only bad things can follow. There’s nothing for it but to evade, deflect, and wait for the memory to go away.
When she finally makes it to the library, around the time her practice would have ended, she pulls out her phone and hits “One Flesh <3” in her favourite contacts.
“What.” Harrow’s voice, when she answers, is the furthest thing from breathy and Gideon could genuinely kiss her for that, which, hold up, wrong direction.
“Got some studying to do,” Gideon says. “Gonna be out late. You might as well take the bed. If I don’t sleep at the library, I’ll just, like, faceplant into the couch on autopilot, and your pointy carapace could seriously wound me.”
Harrow sounds suspicious, now. “You’ve been out late plenty of times and never bothered to call, much less switch our sleeping arrangements. What’s going on?”
“Pointy,” Gideon repeats, “carapace. Seriously, Nonagesimus – I’ll take the couch.”
“Fine,” Harrow snaps. “There’ll be lentil stew in the fridge, if you don’t faceplant right away.” She hangs up, and Gideon mentally high-fives herself for maybe getting out of this one.
But she doesn’t get out of it, not really. She spends a night on the couch imagining she can hear every move Harrow is making behind the closed bedroom door, and then a morning picking at her protein-bread toast as Harrow moves groggily around the kitchen, tousled and sleep-creased as she always is, because Gideon’s wife is nocturnal, only…
Only, Gideon feels hyper-aware of the way Harrow’s curls are clinging to one side of her head. The way her eyes are just a little puffy. The way she sucks down the coffee Gideon made as if it were a miracle cure and she had a horrible disease. Her throat bobs when she swallows and Gideon’s mouth feels dry. She licks a drip from the corner of her lips and Gideon’s gut clenches.
Gideon spends a week noticing every little thing about Harrow, and, horribly, finding it, like, the opposite of repulsive. Endearing, maybe.
Possibly even cute, she thinks in horror one day as she escapes the apartment to avoid watching Harrow chew on a grease pencil and scowl at X-rays.
Ten weeks into term, as Gideon’s equanimity is sort of returning, there is a faculty mixer for some big hot-shot forensic anthropologist’s keynote address for some important lecture series. At least, these are the details Gideon tells her rugby coach to explain why she has to leave practice early.
“My wife is so small,” she intones solemnly, “I think she’d get trampled by all the human-sized nerds if I wasn’t there to make her visible to the naked eye.”
The coach laughs a little, at that, and tells Gideon to enjoy herself. He does not tell Gideon about the scrapes and bruises along her face or the blood crusted under her nose, all of which have moved to the back of Gideon’s mind by the time she gets back to the apartment to shower and change.
Harrow, sitting primly on the couch and already in her Gothic Fabulous getup despite it being, like, an hour before they need to leave, offers a reminder in the form of getting really, really upset.
“They’re going to think I beat you!” she yells at one point, which is kind of hilarious because, uh, no, Harrow, you’re the size of a grasshopper and you have the muscle tone of a coma patient.
Gideon finally stalks past Harrow to the bathroom. “I’m showering, and wearing a tie, and coming with you to fulfill my contractually obligated duty as your wife,” she calls over her shoulder. “Weren’t you the one who said there were more interesting things about you than your marital status? Pull out some creepy human remains stories or whatever it is you normally talk about, and everyone will forget about me.”
When she finishes washing and half-dressing and goes to the bedroom to pull on the rest of the clown suit, Harrow is seated at the edge of the bed with a makeup bag on her lap.
“No,” Gideon says, and Harrow says, “Yes.”
“I’m going to look like a corpse with your pale-ass – what is that, concealer? Foundation? No.”
Harrow squares her shoulders. “You already look half-dead anyway, Griddle. What the fuck did you do to yourself?”
Gideon grins at the memory. “That trash teen got me good. Adolescent horror-show. I think she’ll be our star player this season, and I’m not even mad about it.”
“I am,” Harrow says in a voice like a glacier crushing a mountain into dust. “Get over here and let me deal with the worst of it.”
“Gonna kiss it better?” Gideon asks, because she’s not one to pass up an opportunity to push Harrow’s buttons, not when they’re all out in the open like this.
Harrow tilts her head in a way that promises pain, but she doesn’t say anything, just points to the floor between her feet, and Gideon finds herself kneeling and closing her eyes and letting Harrow’s ice-cold fucking undead hands make her look a little less like a mugging gone wrong.
“There,” Harrow says, and it’s almost soft. “At least now you look like a good veterinarian could bring you back.”
When Gideon opens her eyes, Harrow is still right there, right there, right there, inches away, and Gideon’s mind is screaming defuse and Gideon’s bloodstream is screaming kiss and Gideon’s mouth manages, “What did I look like before?” and Harrow answers, “Roadkill.”
Harrow’s colleagues are a brightly-coloured mass of plumage in the small faculty lounge when Gideon and Harrow arrive, and Gideon sighs internally because of course everyone here is dressed like a temporally-relevant person while Harrow looks like she stepped out of the Winter 1801 edition of Witches Quarterly.
Gideon scans the crowd for the odious Visiting Scholar, he of no name and no colouring, but doesn’t spot him, which makes her relax a bit.
Harrow, in contrast, sets her shoulders in a way Gideon associates primarily with playground fights and, okay, weird, but she just rests a hand against Harrow’s lower back and moves them further into the room. Toward the punch, preferably.
“Harrowhark!” someone twitters. It’s always hilarious to hear Harrow’s full name, but it’s especially hilarious right now because the slender woman in the filmy gold dress sounds like someone for whom even “Harrowhark” is an insufficiently formal appellation.
“Professor,” Harrow smiles, in that way she has of smiling for photographs. “I’d like you to meet my wife, Gideon Nav.”
“Yo,” Gideon says, but she reaches out to shake the hand that clearly belongs to Harrow’s supervisor. “Harrowhark tells me great things about your research, half of which I can’t understand. Super to meet you.”
“Yes, well” the woman says. She has shaken Gideon’s hand but doesn’t really look all that happy about it. “Super to meet you, too, Mrs. Nav.”
She moves off, with a little nod to Harrow, and Harrow discreetly elbows Gideon in the rib. “What the fuck was that,” she hisses.
“Being a supportive spouse,” Gideon hisses back.
“Stop it,” Harrow commands. “Just…don’t speak. Or, if you must, don’t say ‘yo’ or ‘super’ or ‘Harrowhark.’”
Gideon slides the hand from Harrow’s back around to her hip, a gesture that’s become as familiar as breathing. “Okay, honey,” she says pleasantly, and tilts her head down to smile at Harrow’s sour, pinched little face. “Pet names in public it is.”
The reception continues on for another half hour or so, during which time Harrow is accosted by professors and grad students who seem variously charmed and bewildered by the fact that their resident pocket monster is married to the human form of the sunshine emoji. Gideon says things like “keeping it profesh” and “my little graveyard cupcake” and keeps her hand rooted on Harrow’s hip.
As they’re filtering into the lecture hall for the keynote whatever, Harrow seems to relax the smallest bit.
“Worried they’d hate me?” Gideon murmurs.
“I think everyone assumed I had a husband,” Harrow whispers back.
It suddenly feels important to follow that thought, to sling her arm around the back of Harrow’s chair and draw her lips down to Harrow’s ear and ask, “Would you prefer a husband?”
“I would prefer a lot of things,” Harrow replies without turning her head. “But none of them are a husband.”
When they get home, Harrow is buzzing with excitement from whatever cool thing the lecture was about (Gideon was not thinking about the feel of Harrow’s short curls against her forehead instead of listening, okay, she was thinking about picking up a new off-hand weapon the next time she practiced with a rapier instead of listening). But her hands are steady when they push Gideon down onto the toilet seat to clean off the makeup from around the bruising.
Her voice is steady when she says, “You must be in a lot of pain, Nav. You should take the bed,” even though it’s only the third night of her week and Gideon knows for a fact that the couch makes her back weird.
And maybe it’s that steadiness that has Gideon agreeing. Maybe it’s the fact that she’s spent all night saying “sweetheart” and “undead empress” and “my one true crypt-keeper.”
Maybe it’s that she’s touched Harrow more today than at any point in the past semester and every part of her wants to keep touching, and the sheets that Harrow’s been sleeping in are as close as she can get without blowing this whole thing sky-high.
Jeannemary’s best friend shows up an hour before the game’s supposed to start and huddles under a bright-blue umbrella in the late-November rain and generally looks way too chipper for somebody who has been dragged from his lab to sit in the rain and watch a bunch of chicks fight over a ball. Gideon texts a picture of him to Harrow with the caption “your cheerleading partner.”
Harrow, predictably, does not reply, but when she shows up with both a slick black raincoat and a black umbrella whose dripping edge appears to be made of lace, she sits close enough to Isaac that it’s almost sociable.
As the game goes on, Gideon’s eyes keep darting to the pair of them, which, okay. Is possibly a little because drowned-kitten Harrow is one of Gideon’s preferred Harrows, but is mostly because Isaac is fucking loud.
Every time someone from the opposing team goes for Jeannemary, Isaac is on his feet screaming imprecations (at the enemy) and encouragement (at Jeannemary). Every time Jeannemary has the ball, Isaac yells like a goddamn soccer mom. He’s the smallest fucking drill sergeant Gideon has come across, and she kind of hates him.
Jeannemary seems to thrive on it, though: she’s an absolute whirlwind, better than the best Gideon’s seen her before. Every time she gets a breather she waves at Isaac, grin broad on her face beneath the mud, and Gideon thinks about what Jeannemary’s told her about their friendship.
“I love him more than my life,” she’s said, on more than one occasion, and Gideon is kind of getting the impression that Isaac is just as batshit about Jeannemary.
She’s so preoccupied thinking about the horrible teens that she doesn’t dodge in time and gets caught at the edge of a very illegal tackle, slamming to the ground and catching the edge of an elbow-guard in the face. It stings, which means it’s going to start bleeding, and, yep, there it is, right into her eye, which is why head wounds are her least favourite kind of injury. Hard to ignore something that prevents you from seeing the field.
“Nav!” the coach yells, and, yeah, yeah, Gideon pulls herself up and jogs over to the bench to let Dulcie check her out under the insufficient little tent they’ve got set up. She feels Harrow at her back as she sits, which is oddly gratifying.
“Just a scratch, Duls,” Gideon says, although the words are for her wife. “Caught myself on number twelve’s guard. Stung like a bitch, so hopefully not too deep, yeah?”
Harrow radiates disapproval and Dulcie seems like she’s about to ask this random bystander to leave or at least stop glowering, so Gideon adds, “Dulcie, this is my wife, Harrow. Harrow, the good doctor’s gonna patch me up good.” On an impulse, she holds out her hand on the non-bleeding side and lets Harrow grip it tightly. The pressure is a nice distraction from the sting of the antiseptic.
“Head wounds usually look a lot scarier than they actually are,” Dulcie says, and Harrow says “Naturally; cranial tissue is replete with blood vessels,” almost before Dulcie’s finished her sentence.
She continues like that for the whole time Dulcie is applying antibiotic cream and butterfly bandages and a gauze pad, quizzing and critiquing and using all the technical terminology at her disposal. Dulcie handles it well, and Gideon doesn’t handle it at all.
This…defensiveness? Worry? Whatever it is, it’s new, and Gideon really isn’t sure what to do with it aside from give Harrow’s hand a little squeeze when Dulcie declares she’s ready to go back onto the field.
At halftime, Jeannemary introduces Gideon and Harrow to Isaac, whose long fingers carefully rework her braids as Jeannemary tries, unsuccessfully, to rope Harrow into a conversation.
As they jog back to the field, Jeannemary says, “You guys are childhood best friends, too, right?” and Gideon shrugs, because it’s the story she’s been sticking with as Jeannemary has become more and more inquisitive.
“You’re so lucky,” Jeannemary sighs. “I’m bi, you know, but Isaac is super gay, so us being, like, soulmates isn’t going to go anywhere romantic.”
“We’re not,” Gideon begins, but doesn’t know how to finish the sentence. They’re not soulmates? They’re not romantic? Gideon isn’t even sure where, if anywhere, Harrow is on the “liking women” spectrum?
Jeannemary thankfully misunderstands, and hastens to correct herself – something about love being a choice, and luck having nothing to do with it – but Gideon can’t stop thinking about Isaac’s fingers in Jeannemary’s hair and how it looked an awful lot like how Harrow’s fingers felt on Gideon’s own cheeks, wiping concealer off bruises.
Kinesiology is a practical discipline but there are still way more papers than Gideon really wants to be writing. And Harrow’s anthropology seminars are all paper-based, which pretty much just means that the two of them spend a lot of the first three weeks of December haunting the part of the science library where the printers are and cursing at the undergrads printing 600 pages of notes single-sided.
With two of them, they can commandeer the comfy chairs around the corner from the printers and not risk losing their spots when they get up to pee or grab some food. Gideon sneaks in an extension cord so they can charge their laptops without having to move.
One night in the last week of term, with one paper left each, two more exams for Gideon, and about a billion combined hours of sleep deficit, they get home to discover that Gideon, whose turn it is on the couch, has only halfway done the laundry. The couch bedding is still in the washing machine, drenched.
“Don’t hog the covers,” is all Harrow says, and they shove the couch bedding into the dryer, and brush their teeth side by side in the cramped little bathroom that Harrow hasn’t cleaned in like a month, and fumble into pajamas, and Gideon is lulled to sleep by the soft rise and fall of Harrow’s breathing.
When she wakes in the morning, Harrow’s curls are pushing up against Gideon’s nose and Harrow herself is a small, compact weight curled half under Gideon’s arm and half on her chest.
For a long, long moment, Gideon lets herself imagine that she and Harrow are married in more than the strictly legal sense.
“The theme for the swordcraft club’s winter demonstration is Eternal Warriors,” Gideon announces in early January. Harrow doesn’t look up from the digital femur she’s painstakingly examining, but her head is cocked in the way Gideon knows means she’s listening.
There’s been a lot more of that, in the past few weeks, since Harrow woke up to Gideon making her pancakes instead of to Gideon making her come – which Gideon feels she should be congratulated for because it took a lot of restraint – and, okay, yes, the tranquility is kind of nice after the hectic race to the finish line of the end of the semester, but it’s also weird how quiet Harrow is being.
And Gideon has no idea how to goad her, now, in a way that won’t sound like desperate flirtation, how to be the kind of dick she’s always been to Harrow without the thrumming undercurrent of, hey, I know if we consummate our marriage we can’t get it annulled but, here’s a thought, do we really need that annulment? Maybe I like being married to you?
“I feel like,” Gideon says, since she can’t say any of the other things that are on her mind, “what’s more eternal than a skeleton, right?”
Harrow finally looks up. “Where exactly are you going with this, Griddle?”
Gideon grins at her. “Wanna paint my face like an anatomically-correct skull so I can sweat it off in the heat of battle?”
Harrow shrugs like she could care less. Gideon grins again. “Wanna paint your face to match and be my mascot from the stands?”
Harrow actually looks like she’s considering it, so Gideon keeps going. “You have the whole Lady of the Endless Night aesthetic nailed, and I figure I can pull out, like, a fucking cloak or some shit, and we can confuse all the weird straight people at this university as to whether they’re terrified or aroused.”
And Harrow’s never passed up a chance to instil some healthy fear, so Gideon knows that this is a good line, but she doesn’t expect the soft, deadly, “You find skeletons arousing, Nav?”
Terror creeps into Gideon’s heart, giddy, glorious terror, because this is her Harrowhark, her scary, scary Harrowhark, who holds the keys, probably, to death and hell and to the depths of Gideon’s twisted little soul; because, god help her, Gideon does find skeletons arousing, these days, when Harrow’s wearing them.
“After Professor Bones moved into the bedroom, it was that or give up getting off for the rest of my life,” she deflects, voice only a little shaky, and watches the little twist that is a genuine Harrow smile.
God, she’s so fucked.
It’s not even February of her first year but Gideon is somehow being expected to turn in a draft practicum proposal, and it is straight-up murdering her. So she can perhaps be forgiven for looking blearily up from her desk at whatever o’clock at night and propositioning her wife.
Harrow is walking back to the bedroom from a shower, hair in a towel and skull-patterned pajamas clinging to still-damp skin, and Gideon just blurts, “Can I eat you out?”
“I just need to turn my brain off for a bit,” Gideon explains – begs, pleads. “Please, it doesn’t have to mean anything, it can just be a favour you’re doing me.”
“I get the orgasm,” Harrow says, voice a little thick, “and that’s doing you a favour?”
That’s not a no, Gideon’s exhausted brain points out. “Sensory reset,” Gideon confirms, dredging up some technical terminology by sheer force of will. “Limbic system gets washed with some nice chemicals, nucleus accumbens connects pleasure and learning, blah, blah, whatever, if you want the details I have a paper somewhere.”
“But if you’re not the one orgasming, Griddle,” Harrow points out, exasperation creeping into her voice, “Your autonomic nervous system…” she trails off when Gideon laughs.
“Duchess of the darkness,” Gideon manages, “I promise you that I will enjoy eating you out enough to get the chemical effects I’m looking for.”
Harrow’s still looking at her from across the back of the couch, assessing, careful. Whatever she sees, finally, must be enough for her, because she takes the towel from her hair and goes to hang it in the bathroom, and when she emerges again she holds out her hand and says, “Whenever you’re ready, Nav,” as if it had been her idea from the get-go.
Harrow tastes like grapefruit and wild honey and that fancy fleur de sel cultured butter Gideon bought from the farmer’s market one time last semester when she was still trying to impress Dulcie.
The skin of Harrow’s thighs where they’re hiked up over Gideon’s shoulders is dangerously soft. The way Harrow’s fists are gripping the bedsheets is nothing short of astounding.
Gideon wants to close her eyes and get lost in the sensations but she needs to see – she needs to watch those hands as they clench and unclench in response to Gideon’s lips and tongue and the graze of her teeth. How else will she know this is good for Harrow?
The small sounds Harrow’s making help with that, and, yeah, yeah, this is a bad idea, because two breaths from Harrow in the fall were enough to keep Gideon a prisoner in her own body for the better part of two weeks, but Gideon somehow can’t bring herself to care because every hitched breath Harrow takes is a revelation.
“Harrow,” Gideon whispers against her, just to watch the full-body shudder. “Harrowhark, I want to live inside this moment.”
For a moment Gideon is struck with the sheer terror that maybe that’s too much, because Harrow stiffens a little, but then her deep, dark, fathomless eyes are open, and her slender fingers are sliding firmly against Gideon’s scalp, and her voice is absolutely wrecked when she says, “Why?”
So Gideon shows her why: she uses all the ways she’s learned Harrow’s body language over two decades, and she uses the mouth that knows how to wring feelings from Harrow’s otherwise stoic demeanour, and she uses the fingers that have been itching to touch Harrow for months now, and she shows Harrow exactly what she means, exactly how perfect this is.
When Harrow arches off the bed with a cry, Gideon keeps going, gentler, at first, and then firmer as she brings Harrow up again and over the peak, down and up and over, again and again until she’s lost count and Harrow is practically sobbing and the hands in her scalp are pushing her away.
When Gideon sits back on her heels, wiping ineffectually at her mouth with the back of her hand, Harrow’s eyes are squeezed shut and her chest is heaving, perfect breasts that Gideon hasn’t had the chance to taste yet shuddering with the uneven rhythm of her breathing.
“I can keep going,” Gideon offers, and Harrow shakes her head violently, signalling with one hand for Gideon to wait a moment. So Gideon waits, blissed out, more turned on than she’s ever been in her goddamn life and far away from her practicum proposal.
But when Harrow has caught her breath, she doesn’t open her eyes. “You good on the sensory reset front?” she asks, and Gideon suddenly feels impossibly guilty.
“Yeah,” she manages. “Thanks, Nonagesimus. I’ll,” she swallows hard as she catches sight of Harrow’s glistening thighs. “I’ll grab you a washcloth and then be out of your hair.”
Harrow shakes her head. “I’ll take care of cleanup. You just get back to work.” She still hasn’t looked at Gideon.
She will not look at Gideon for the rest of the month.
It is Reading Week and Harrow is sleeping on the couch, as she has been since The Incident, refusing to take up the sleeping arrangement rotation again, and Gideon is absolutely, unimpeachably certain of two things:
One, she is in love with her wife. And not just because she wants to kiss Harrow every second of every day, not just because her body aches where it isn’t getting to touch Harrow’s. No, every well-meaning teammate who asks why her wife hasn’t been to a game recently, every librarian who says “studying alone today?”, the way Harrow leaves early and comes in late – all these things are hammering home for Gideon that she wants to look up at the stands and know Harrow is there, even if she’s reading instead of watching the game. That she wants to spend time with Harrow in the apartment and around campus and at stupid events with the anthro faculty. That she wants to just be with Harrow, that she could probably handle no kissing and no touching if it meant Harrow would give her the time of day.
The second thing of which Gideon Nav is certain is that she has fucked things up in some irreparable way, in a way that, six months ago, she wouldn’t have thought possible and a year ago she would have thought she wanted.
Both of these certainties together are probably to blame when, at the end of practice the Thursday of Reading Week as she and Jeannemary are hosing down and Jeannemary says something despondent about Isaac having a visitor from home, Gideon cracks.
“How do you do it?” she asks, and Jeannemary gives her a startled look, as if people don’t ask her that kind of question. Which, she’s so tiny and so teenage, they probably don’t.
“Do what?” Jeannemary replies, finally, when Gideon doesn’t retract the question.
“Deal with Isaac not, you know, being into you like you’re into him.”
“Oh.” Jeannemary is silent for a long moment, water dripping from the tip of her nose. Her hands are green-ish when she brings them up to rub at her face, and Gideon would bet good, good money that Isaac’s hair currently looks like a forest.
“I…like, Isaac doesn’t want to, um, to have sex with me, but…” Jeannemary trails off and scrubs at her face with her towel this time. “I mean, okay, yeah, I bitch about it a lot, because I want to have sex with him and, um, right now I don’t have a girlfriend or, like, I don’t have anyone I can just, you know, sleep with. But, I mean, I don’t really have to ‘deal with it’? What Isaac and I share is deeper than any sexual relationship, you know?”
Gideon doesn’t know, tuned out whenever the LGBTQ+ club kids in high school and undergrad talked about all the grey zones of queerness because being a lesbian is actually pretty straightforward, thanks, as far as she’s concerned. But she nods like she does know, because she can see that this is hard enough for Jeannemary as it is and anyway it sucks to be relying on some pimply child for relationship advice.
Jeannemary relaxes a bit. “Like, I don’t know, Isaac says stuff like ‘platonic life-partner’ and ‘non-sexual love of my entire life’ – I don’t have the words, you know I’m not good at that shit. But it’s him and me, all the way to the end.” She shrugs, but when she meets Gideon’s eyes hers are wide and solemn.
“When I die,” she says, and the conviction in her voice is rooted deep in the core of the earth, “it will be beside Isaac Tettares. He’s never gonna fuck me, but he’s also never gonna leave me, Gideon. And nothing in this world or out of it can change that.”
“Wow,” Gideon says, and means it. “Dude, I…can I say that I love that for you, and have it sound sincere?”
Jeannemary huffs a little laugh and it whistles through her missing tooth. “Sorry,” she shrugs. “I know it’s a lot.”
“I asked,” Gideon reminds her. “And, like, I’m shit at words, too, but thank you, you know. For telling me. Um. What are you going to do about the visitor from home?”
Jeannemary grins wickedly. “Make him work for it,” she says. “Part of my job is keeping Isaac safe, you know. Gotta make sure this guy is good enough for him.”
The thing is, Jeannemary’s and Isaac’s solution isn’t going to work for Gideon and Harrow. The nightmare teens have known about their feelings all their lives, have committed themselves to each other over and over in ways that kind of cheapen Gideon’s super legal fraud marriage. And, sure, Gideon has spent her whole life feeling bound to Harrow, inescapably bound, but it’s not the same, is it?
It’s not the same because Harrow doesn’t feel the same.
It’s not the same because even though she wants to echo Jeannemary and say, hey, it’s Harrow and me, all the way to the end, one flesh in all the ways that matter, she doesn’t know if it’s true, because what Jeannemary and Isaac have is two stars orbiting each other, and right now Gideon feels kind of like a sad moon.
She says as much to the bartender – okay, not the whole thing, just the part about feeling like a sad moon, or, you know, maybe the whole thing, it’s butt-fuck early in the morning because the bars around campus don’t seem to have a functioning last call and Gideon has lost count of the number of sheets she’s got to the wind.
The bartender, by virtue of being a bartender, nods sagely and pours Gideon another whiskey. “This one’s on the house,” he says, and reaches out to pat her hand. “Do you want me to call someone to pick you up?”
Gideon downs the whiskey and shakes her head and pays her tab and tips generously and begins the slow, winding walk home.
But when she gets there, she can’t bring herself to open the door, to face Harrow sleeping on the couch. She slumps against the wall and feels herself slide down it as she loses consciousness.
She wakes to the sensation of being dragged. Someone with hands like ice cubes and the upper-body strength of a newborn is trying to pull her arms out of their sockets.
“Help,” she murmurs softly, so as not to wake the hangover that is lurking behind her eyes. “The larval form of a praying mantis is trying to pull me back into her home to eat me.”
“If you’re awake,” the someone dragging her says, tartly but quietly, “you can get yourself into the apartment.” But the hands don’t let her go until she has blearily stumbled to her feet, sliding down her arms as she comes to standing. Gideon looks down at them and then a little less down to meet their owner’s furious brown gaze.
“Get inside,” Harrow hisses, and because this is probably the most they’ve spoken since Harrow told her to leave the bedroom, god, was it a month ago now?, Gideon obeys.
When the door has been closed behind her and Harrow has steered her firmly to the couch, sitting Gideon down and then perching herself on the edge of the coffee table like some kind of netherworld starling, the threatening hangover begins to make itself known as Harrow demands, “Where were you last night? You didn’t come home.”
Gideon blinks. “Um,” she says. “Out?”
“Out?” Harrow’s arms are crossed in the way that means she’s almost certainly digging her nails into her palms where they’re fisted at her armpits.
“Campus bar,” Gideon clarifies, “the one with the red, um, the red umbrellas? Or the one next door to that, I think. Pretty decent whiskey.”
Harrow’s eyes are narrowed. “Decent enough to keep you out all night.”
“Were you,” Gideon tries, because it seems like a stupid question but it also seems like the only reasonable one at this point, “Were you worried about me? Harrowhark?”
Harrow scoffs. “You’re huge. You can take care of yourself.”
“Then what, Harrow?” Gideon is trying to keep her voice calm, because Harrow is displaying all her normal Deep Distress signs and escalating is not actually helpful, here. But she desperately needs to know what the fuck has gotten into her lifelong enemy-slash-spouse.
When Harrow doesn’t answer, Gideon tries again. “Nonagesimus, I fucking beseech you: what is the issue here?”
“You’ve barely spoken to me – you haven’t looked at me for weeks, you go out before I wake up, you come home after I’m in bed, and, okay, so, I didn’t come home last night. Why is that such a big deal for you?”
Gideon runs a hand through her hair when Harrow still doesn’t respond. She desperately needs, like, coffee or hair of the dog or an entire pharmacy’s worth of painkillers. “Harrow, babe, I’m trying to understand, here. This isn’t, like, a gotcha question or anything stupid – I promise, Harrowhark, unlight of my life, I am just trying to understand what’s going on in that hobgoblin brain of yours.”
“I thought you weren’t coming back,” Harrow says, finally, voice so small that Gideon thinks it would fit even in one of Harrow’s tiny hands. “I thought you were leaving me.”
Gideon opens her mouth but Harrow keeps going, eyes on their feet. “I thought…I just wanted things to go back to the way they were and I thought, maybe it just needs some more time, but then you were gone and you’ve never been gone before,” Harrow looks up and Gideon has only rarely seen Harrow cry but here it is, and she can’t help it, she reaches out her hands to cup Harrow’s head and draw her thumbs across Harrow’s cheeks.
“Griddle,” Harrow whispers. “I’ve fucked everything up, haven’t I.”
Gideon laughs, even though it’s Hangover 101 not to, because, hey, look at the two of them. “It’s funny that you say that, my tenebrous tyrant, because I’ve spent the past month-ish thinking pretty much the same thing about myself.”
Harrow tilts her head, just a little, just to rest it more firmly in Gideon’s palm, and says, “I’m so sorry.”
“Me, too,” Gideon agrees. “Let’s make a list. I’m sorry for not telling you when I started falling in love with you.” Harrow’s eyes blink wide and Gideon forges on. “I’m sorry for not straight-up asking whether you felt the same instead of trying to, like, interpret your body language and assuming I knew what you were thinking.”
She takes a deep breath. This is the important one. The one, if she’s being honest, that she was drinking to avoid. “And I’m sorry for touching you in a way that made you uncomfortable. I don’t…Harrow, I want to touch you all the time, but I also want it to be good for you, if you let me touch you.”
“It was,” Harrow whispers, and then keeps going like that’s not a bomb that needs defusing. “I’m sorry for pushing you away. And for the silent treatment, and for making you believe you’d done something wrong, and for, like, fifteen years of not telling you that I love you.”
“Wait,” Gideon says, brain screeching to a halt. “Wait up, hold the phone, Harrowhark, fifteen years from when to when? Harrowhark, fifteen years?”
Harrow sniffles and manages to blend despondent and amused. “You should see your face, Nav.”
“Harrowhark,” Gideon warns, “answer the question. This is honesty hour in the Nav-Nonagesiumus household and you’re contractually obliged to answer questions.”
“Fifteen years starting fifteen years ago, more or less.”
“Okay,” Gideon says, and her hands are still around Harrow’s head, she could just…could just lean in and kiss her, but there’s still some honesty left in this hour.
“Okay, so, I love you and you apparently love me, although, fuck, Harrow, I know you’re usually ahead of me on shit but I only figured this out in, uh, November – but we love each other, and we’re married, and I can’t believe you asked me to marry you for an apartment and not on the grounds of loving me. But, okay,” she relents, watching Harrow’s eyes dart uncomfortably away, “we can get into that later. Talk to me about the sex, then.”
Harrow’s eyes shoot back to Gideon’s face, and she’s sure that Harrow’s, like, medically incapable of blushing, probably, because she’s the goddamn lady of the underworld, but if she could blush, Gideon is pretty sure this is what it would look like.
She barrels on. “What…what is the hangup there. What am I not understanding? The sex was good, you said, but you also said you want things to go back to the way they were, so, I’m, like, much confuse, very not follow. And I even talked to that pustulant adolescent, god help me, and she said that in her, uh, queerplatonic relationship the problem was sexual orientation, right, not that they didn’t love each other, so is this maybe an orientation thing?”
“You talked to Jeannemary about us?” Harrow asks, with that twist of a smile that means Gideon’s done something right.
“Not exactly?” Gideon admits, “but I knew Isaac was gay, so I thought hearing about her unrequited love might help me make sense of mine, only it turns out her love isn’t unrequited, so that was kind of a bust.”
“Gideon,” Harrow breathes, and, hey, okay, this is probably why she never uses Gideon’s name, right, because when she says it, it sounds like it contains a universe, it sounds too big and too much for even Gideon’s admittedly very large, very buff frame to carry.
“I know,” Gideon says, “I mean, I know now, my love isn’t unrequited, either. And, okay, I take it back, we don’t have to talk about the sex, now or ever, although I need you to know that it was good for me, too. I think about the noises you made on, like, an hourly basis. Just in case it wasn’t clear.”
Harrow makes a strangled little sound that seems more panicky than sexy, so Gideon says again, “We don’t have to talk about the sex.”
But Harrow has always been the most predictably surprising person Gideon knows.
“I’ve thought about you,” she says, flushing bruise-dark, but her eyes are steady on Gideon’s and, god, this girl, she’s going to murder Gideon and Gideon’s going to enjoy it, “I’ve thought about…about what it would be like. To have sex with you.”
Gideon cocks an eyebrow, tries to make her face ask the question.
“For…most of the fifteen years,” Harrow confirms. “And it’s fine when I…when I’m just thinking about it. It was even fine when I was doing it as a favour to you, or, at least, it was until I started worrying about it being…more than just a one-time indulgence.”
Her hands have come up to circle Gideon’s wrists, thumbs pressing into pulse points.
“But?” Gideon prompts.
“But actually having sex with you – with anyone, Griddle, but especially you because all the feelings are right there – something in me just tenses up. And I don’t…I don’t want it. Does that make sense?”
“No,” Gideon says, honestly, “but it doesn’t have to, at least not for me. There are lots of things about you that don’t make sense.”
Harrow looks as frustrated as Gideon has ever seen her, which is endearing and also terrible, because it suggests that Gideon isn’t getting something important.
“I want to want to,” Harrow grits out. “Especially knowing, now, what it feels like.”
“And maybe one day you will,” Gideon shrugs. “Or maybe you won’t, whatever. You think about me, and I’m going to very liberally assume that means you think about me.”
Gideon grins at her. “Like, when you’re all alone in that big bed, you think about me. Like, you think about my hands, and, and my mouth, and, uh, you think about me coming home all sweaty from practice, and –”
Harrow looks like she’s about to commit ritual murder, so Gideon concludes, “I’m very happy to parade around in whatever states of dress or undress help your imagination. Or never speak of this again. Or, you know, babe, whatever you need.”
Harrow’s narrowed glare has morphed into wide, wide eyes over the course of this little speech, eyes like the depths of the earth and the cool embrace of the grave, and Gideon says, “Jeannemary told me that even though she and Isaac are never going to sleep together, they’re it for each other. And that’s…Harrowhark, I know I’m late to this party, but I feel like I’m in the same place, when it comes to you.”
She lowers her forehead to rest against Harrow’s, softly, whispers, “One flesh for real, in this life and whatever comes after,” and then Harrow tips her head in Gideon’s grasp to bring their lips together.
It’s Saturday of Reading Week, noonish if the sun peeking through Harrow’s improperly closed blackout curtains is any indication, and Gideon Nav is in bed with her wife, being a very willing victim to said wife’s very sharp teeth.
If Harrow were anyone else, Gideon would have said, hey, move that mouth somewhere a little more productive, but there’s actually something nice about staying in the parts of intimacy that are usually more of a pit stop.
“I love you,” she whispers into Harrow’s ear, and Harrow hums into her neck in response.
“The assistant rugby coach asked how my husband felt about blood, at try-outs,” Gideon continues conversationally, heroically ignoring the way Harrow’s arm keeps unintentionally brushing against her breast. “I told her that you were my wife, and that you thought blood was hot, and I’m glad to see that I wasn’t wrong.”
Harrow sputters and lifts her head. Her lips are a little swollen, and little wet, and Gideon forgets the vampire joke she was setting up in favour of pointing to her own lips, a silent question that Harrow answers with a very soft kiss that quickly turns less-soft.
“You’re insufferable,” Harrow says when they break apart. “You rag me all the time about being spooky, but who was the one who begged to have her face painted like a skull for a swordfight?”
“That was the day!” Gideon exclaims. She’s resting her hands on Harrow’s narrow hips and she’s never getting out of this bed, not ever. “You were like, oh, do you have a thing for bones, in this voice that promised me you would never let me forget it, and I was like, oh, shit, I’m in love with this tiny bitch.”
Harrow glares. “The one consolation to being stuck here with you,” she announces, “is that you are also stuck here with me.”
Gideon smiles happily at her. “You fucking bet I am,” she says, and, “All the way to the goddamn end.”