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If you had told, say, fifteen-year-old Gideon Nav that one day, she would end up willingly sleeping in a bed next to Harrowhark Nonagesimus while slightly damp with pool water and fully freaking out, she would have laughed in your face. Like, hard.

Nevertheless, flash forward a few years, and Gideon was lying on a musty, ridiculous bed on a planet absolutely up to its ass in creatures that were spooky even by Ninth House standards doing just that.

They had tumbled back into their rooms after their Big Talk, as Gideon would always think of it, emotionally exhausted and suffering the indignity that was waterlogged underwear. After divesting themselves of their sopping clothes, Gideon had dragged her little pile of blankets to the Cavalier’s cot at the foot of Harrow’s bed, all while Harrow watched with something that looked uncomfortably like genuine interest.

“Don’t you think that feels a little…unbecoming?” Harrow asked cautiously, eyeing the pile of blankets that Gideon had dumped unceremoniously on the cot.

Gideon froze. She had already fucked it up, she realized. Whatever fragile truce she and Harrow had entered had already been ruined by Gideon’s presumptuous ass thinking that Harrow would be comfortable with this new proximity, beyond the safety of the pool. “I can move back,” Gideon hastily rejoined, feeling hopelessly defeated already, thankful that she could not really see Harrow in the dark of the room.

“That’s not what I meant!” Harrow responded with an uncharacteristic hastiness. “I meant – it seems ridiculous the Cavalier should sleep at the foot of the bed like a well-trained pet. It’s insulting.”

Gideon shrugged. “Well, this is the only other bed in the room, Harrow. We could go complain about the interior decorating to Teacher, but I frankly don’t want to see what freaky shit he does at night.”

This earned a scowl from Harrow that Gideon found delightful. “Yes, but – I thought.” She frowned, as if she didn’t even like what she was about to suggest. “I thought perhaps we could share this bed instead.”

Gideon looked at Harrow as if she had pulled a seven-layer cake out of a drawer and offered Gideon the piece with the most frosting. “Is this a test, Nonagesimus?” she asked, trying to mask the spike of anxiety she heard in her tremulous voice. “Because I am physically fighting myself to keep from saying something inappropriate.”

Harrow’s frown intensified, which shouldn’t have been physically possible. “Fine, Nav. Sleep in your dismal little cocoon. I was simply suggesting something that you might be more comfortable and feel more dignified in a bed that has more than enough room for two people, but if you insist on being a child, enjoy your cot.” With that, Harrow slipped under the covers with a decisive motion that Gideon thought resembled a grumpy vampire slamming their coffin lid shut.

Gideon Nav was aghast. She actually stood there dumbly for a solid few moments, staring at her undignified Cavalier’s cot, which looked worse by the minute, then at the space next to Harrow, who was doing her best impression of an angry statue.

Fuck it, Gideon thought, eventually. Dropping her last blanket on the floor, she moved her rapier to the side of Harrow’s bed, and carefully got underneath the covers, lying stiffly on her back with her arms limply at her sides, as if getting ready to be autopsied. Knowing Harrow, maybe that was what was really happening after all. She immediately began trying to fall asleep by sheer force of will, despite the fact that Harrow lying just inches away seemed to be activating her fight-or-flight response. After a long moment of terrible silence, Harrow rolled onto her side to face Gideon.

Much to her dismay, Gideon could feel Harrow looking at her, black eyes fixed on Gideon like she hadn’t eaten in two years and Gideon was a particularly robust snow leek. She had taken off her paint before bed, and though it was incredibly dark, Gideon could still make out portions of Harrow’s unpainted face. She was suddenly very interested in memorizing every detail of the ceiling instead of thinking more about this fact.

“Harrow,” Gideon said softly. “Say something.”

“Why,” Harrow responded, flatly.

Gideon sighed. “Because, I feel like you invited me to sleep up here and now you’re looking at me like you’re deciding which one of my bones you’re going to fashion into a walking stick.”

Harrow just stared at her, which was actually worse than having her bones removed, it turned out. Gideon couldn’t bring herself to meet her gaze. She was beginning to understand why Harrow was into dead women. There was no way anyone alive could be expected to make this much intense eye contact.

After what felt like hours, Harrow simply said, “Roll over.”

Gideon’s heart stopped for approximately three seconds. “Excuse me?

Harrow rolled her eyes. “Don’t be weird, Nav. Just roll over,” she said quickly, as if she was about to lose her nerve, but for what, Gideon still wasn’t sure.

Reluctantly, not even knowing why she was obeying, Gideon rolled onto her side so that she was facing away from Harrow. It should’ve been easier, no longer able to spot Harrow’s laser-focused gaze in her peripheral vision, but it wasn’t. She could still feel Harrow’s eyes at her back, probably looking to assess whether Gideon’s spine would make an adequate coat rack or something equally ghoulish.

Gideon almost jumped out of her skin when she felt Harrow’s touch. Impossibly, one thin arm wriggled its way under Gideon’s waist with determination, looping around Gideon’s torso. The other arrived more hesitantly and came to rest on top of Gideon’s waist and hip, so that she was wrapped in Harrow’s arms. With a slight huff of breath that Gideon felt on the back of her neck, Harrow none-too-gently pulled herself closer to Gideon, her bony chest hitting Gideon’s back as she came to rest her forehead between her shoulder blades.

Gideon might have had a thought at this point, but it was neither coherent nor appropriate.

“Harrow – "

“Shut it,” Harrow commanded, immediately.

Gideon shut it.

She lay there quietly, dealing with the impossible reality that was the Reverend Daughter holding her.

After her brain began fully functioning again, Gideon allowed herself to relax into Harrow’s slightly pointy embrace as best she could. She wondered if this was what Harrow felt like in her freaky little bone cocoon. She hadn’t understood it at the time – actually, she’d been furious with her necromancer’s apparent desire to idiotically throw herself into the most dangerous situations possible without so much as asking Gideon to tag along to enjoy the show. But now, as Harrow’s feather-light arms circled her waist, and Harrow’s slight frame arched over Gideon’s broad back, she came to the profoundly upsetting realization that, in this fragile instant, she felt completely safe with Harrow at her side, her own personal necromancer cocoon in the quiet night.

This thought was enough to make Gideon want to rocket-launch herself out of the bed and possibly over the side of a cliff, perhaps with a well-timed “I take it all back! Eat my shorts, Nonagesimus!” as she ran as far away from Harrow and the Ninth as her sexy legs could carry her. Since when, she thought, a flare of that old resentment flickering low and rapier-sharp in her stomach, had she felt safer because Harrow was close to her? Since when was the Reverend Daughter’s proximity anything other than a cause for alarm, a harbinger of bitter disappointment? Why, in this still moment in the haunted dark, did the anxious thrumming of the Harrow’s heartbeat pressed against her back fill Gideon’s own treacherous heart with a warmth she usually reserved for her sword and an anonymous pile of bones in a dusty niche?

But, in a possibly more upsetting realization — and Gideon was quickly learning that perhaps growing up was simply a series of increasingly upsetting realizations about oneself, which was not very fun — she knew her desperation to put distance between herself and Harrow was now a thing of the past. Without even noticing it, she had spent every second at Canaan House, every excruciating moment on this stupid, skeleton-infested rock, inching closer and closer to Harrowhark, like a child seeing how close they could get to a flame without getting burnt. She had spent so much time — so much fucking time — during her wasted youth dreaming about when she would finally leave the Ninth for the sword-swinging adventures and scantily-clad babes she deserved, and now she had done the very thing she had sworn she’d never do: she let the Ninth worm its way inside her closely protected heart, and then she had gone and sealed it with saltwater.

Gideon let out a long breath she hadn’t even realized she was holding, the last shreds of tension leaking out of her body. And Gideon Nav, who had seen her entire childhood as a prison sentence that she would serve and then never look back, knew in that moment that she could never really leave the Ninth, because leaving the Ninth meant leaving Harrow, and leaving Harrow wasn’t really worth thinking about anymore.

With a strange sort of clarity that made her stomach hurt, Gideon realized that she didn’t feel defeated, not even surprised, like she might have expected she’d feel at the thought that she was more bound to the Ninth than she previously believed. She didn’t quite know what she felt at all, but it was something like peace, maybe. The only thing she knew for sure was that maybe the freedom she dreamt of in her youth and the freedom she sought in her adulthood might be two very different things.

Personal growth really was a bitch.

“Nav,” Harrow whispered, and—damn it, Gideon could feel Harrow’s eyelashes flutter against the back of her neck, sending the slightest shiver down her spine she hoped beyond all hope that Nonagesimus didn’t detect.

“Yes, my — yeah, Harrow?” she replied, voice breaking on a stupid nickname and ending in a pathetic whisper that made Gideon’s stomach flip in hot embarrassment.

“Are you… comfortable?” Harrow asked with a tenderness Gideon had not once detected in her voice over eighteen long, brutal years. She could feel, but not see, how Harrow rested her face on the curve of Gideon’s neck, her unpainted cheek cool against Gideon’s skin. She suddenly understood like she never had before why Harrow was so dedicated to wearing the face paint, why having someone see your naked face and behold you necessitated an unspeakable vulnerability that their miserable upbringing had never prepared them for nor allowed them to have. She couldn’t imagine turning to face Harrow in this moment, seeing Harrow’s face laid bare and Harrow seeing her, watching the nervous working of Harrow’s throat like she had in that endless moment in the pool when she had almost — the thought made her head hurt.

For the record, it also made some other body-places feel other body-things that she didn’t want to think about while pressed up against the girl she had cruelly (and incorrectly, she now thought with another sickening lurch of her stomach) called “less appealing than Crux’s ancient, saggy underwear” during a particularly nasty argument at fifteen.

“I’m fine,” she replied, again shamed by how small her voice sounded to her own ears. “Are you, though? I feel like I’m going to crush you, because I have this great, muscle-y bod and you have a little measuring stick for an arm.”

This was a real concern, not just a dig. Gideon felt Harrow’s arm shift slightly where it was pinned underneath her waist. Harrow’s relative physical fragility had once been her greatest advantage during their childhood scrapes, and now the thought of Harrow snapping one of her little noodle arms was starting to make Gideon feel slightly panicked.

Harrow exhaled sharply through her nose in what was the closest approximation to a snort-laugh that Gideon expected Harrowhark Nonagesimus would ever get. She wanted to make Harrow laugh for real, she thought, to feel the elusive curve of Harrow’s smile against the back of her neck.

“I am perfectly alright,” Harrow replied, and her tone was almost warm.

“I don’t want to crush your arm bones with my bodacious bulk, my Lady,” countered Gideon, still seeking Harrow’s smile.

“I’m good at bones, Nav. I am not so easy to break,” said Harrow, and, wait, when was the last time Gideon had heard Harrow sound relaxed? The concepts of “Harrow” and “relaxation” did not interact in Gideon’s brain, and she thought for a moment she would short circuit. But perhaps Harrow was relaxed because she found safety here, too. Perhaps Harrow wanted to cover her cavalier like a Drearbruh shroud, keeping her safe from whatever outside the doors of this, their little sanctuary, sought to disturb them.

A moment passed in comfortable silence before Gideon worked up the nerve to convert her inside thoughts to outside ones. “Harrow… thank you. For telling me. About… you know.”

“The unforgivable sin behind my very existence?” Harrow replied, and this time she honest-to-God-the-Emperor did snort a little.

“Well, yes, that — which, again, is truly wild — but also just… everything else? …I like feeling like you trust me a little,” Gideon finished, the last words coming out with some difficulty.

For a moment, Harrow stilled. Even her breathing seemed to stop for a tortured moment as Gideon lay in Harrow’s arms, feeling more at Harrow’s mercy than she had ever been, even buried under bones with Harrow’s boot at her throat.

“I trust you more than you know, Griddle,” Harrow finally murmured. She shifted up and ducked her head into the crook of Gideon’s neck, speaking the next words almost against her skin, so quietly that Gideon was sure she would have missed them had Harrow’s mouth not been so (distractingly) close to her ear. “I won’t pretend that I’ve done enough yet to earn your trust, but you told me you needed me to be trustworthy. And I’m…trying.”

Gideon opened her mouth to reply and found her words caught in her throat, like she had been dunked in the pool again and the water had rushed in and filled her lungs. She remembered deflecting Harrow’s first attempt at bridging the divide between them, when Harrow told her they could no longer be strangers, and she had flinched away from feeling like she would from a blow. She remembered being back at Drearbruh, raising her sword in Harrow’s implacable face, telling her “I — will never — trust you.” Telling her that her promises meant nothing to her. She had meant it.

And yet.

She couldn’t say it, couldn’t say she trusted Harrow, not yet, not even if she felt it, or was beginning to feel it. Not even if old wounds were scarring over and she was putting them in the past. Not even if she knew that she and Harrow had emerged from that pool different people than the ones who entered it. Not yet.

But maybe soon.

What Gideon managed to say in that moment was a soft “I know,” and she could feel Harrow’s exhale of relief hot on the back of her neck.

“Go to sleep, Gideon,” Harrow said, and something in the way Harrow said her name caused some unnamed thing inside Gideon to bloom and, okay, she thought. She would fight any gross bone construct, any Eighth house milk man, the Emperor of the Unstilled Mandible himself if it meant that she could spend another night in Harrow’s embrace.

In other words, Gideon had it bad.

Who would have guessed.

But that was a problem for Future Gideon, she decided. Not the Gideon currently curled up with a tiny necromancer for a blanket and a lullaby of said necromancer’s even breathing at her neck and steadily beating heart at her back. So, Gideon gently placed one of her hands over the hands clasped around her waist, tangling her and Harrow’s fingers as she had in the pool, and she slept. She slept through the night and dreamed of an ocean.