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sting of a wasp

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Harrowhark Nonagesimus was many things.

She was an honors student in the best pre-med program in the country, for one. She was five foot two on a good day and five foot one on most others.

She was chronically arthritic, she was an insomniac, she was — in the words of her aunts — absolutely never going to find a husband with an attitude like that, the list went on.

She was also, much to her annoyance (though she was sure it ensured peace for the aforementioned aunts), a virgin.

So this was going to be, in no uncertain terms, her absolute worst fucking nightmare.

This was, currently, a party at Palamedes Sextus’ house. He was one of Harrow’s fellow pre-med students, and had — begrudgingly, and with no small amount of annoyance on her part — become one of her closest friends.

The party had been Camilla’s idea, as most social events they hosted were. That should have been an early warning sign.

Being chronically early in addition to chronically ill, Harrow had shown up thirty minutes before the party was set to start. She had been put to work immediately setting up drinks and music in the living room.

As people started to roll in slowly, Harrow busied herself organizing the liquor bottles in the kitchen and making drinks for whoever asked. Unshakeable precision meant alcoholic consistency, which meant she had a steady line forming within the first few minutes.

So half an hour into the party, it was with a perfect, unobstructed, and completely sober view that she saw Gideon Nav walk through the front door.

“Fuck,” Harrow breathed. Then, more emphatically: “Fuck.”

Camilla turned to her with a frown. “What?”

“You invited Nav?” Harrow hissed, nodding towards Gideon where she had walked in. “Seriously?”

Camilla frowned. “I thought you two were friends.”

“We’ve hated each other since birth, Hect.”

“Same thing,” Camilla said, shrugging. “You always seem to gravitate towards each other. I thought the party could use some entertainment.” She paused. “If one of you starts a fight, don’t break anything.”

Harrow turned back to the door helplessly, knowing in an instant that the night was going to be borderline unbearable.

Here’s the thing.

Gideon and Harrow were to each other as a pig was to a butcher’s knife: bound by fate, bound by necessity, and completely fucking inevitable. No matter where one went, the other was sure to follow, and often by accident or coincidence.

They shared the unique, less-than-ideal experience of growing up in Drearburh — a small, horrifically Catholic town in New Jersey that numbered more nuns than civilians — under the care of St. Dominicus’ orphanage.

This meant many things.

They were the only children there for a number of years, so they knew each other thoroughly, inside and outside and upside down. Gideon could press Harrow’s buttons like no one else, and Harrow could win over Gideon at just about everything she wanted to— provided it was nothing physical, of course.

They bickered like old nemeses at every opportunity— and still, when Harrow’s hands were in enough pain that she could barely move them, it was Gideon who typed out her essays and took her notes with little more than a roll of her eyes.

And months ago, when Gideon was in danger of being evicted — her job had fired her without warning — and couldn’t afford rent, it was Harrow who covered her for the next two cycles and refused any reimbursement.

And now, in the house of the Sixth, while Harrow was trying to make herself a drink without being noticed or sought after, Gideon looked like she’d just touched something she was allergic to at the sight of her.

The worst part was always how damn handsome she was. As if the russet-red hair, the golden eyes, and the ever-present ghost of a smile on her face weren’t enough, she was built like a brick shithouse— which was to say, she was six feet tall and had biceps that could’ve made a sculptor weep.

“What’s up, Nonagesimus?” Gideon said in her stupid, smooth, smug voice. She had just showered, which meant she had just come from practice, which conjured up a few unbidden images of bloody lips and long, powerful legs.

And, because Harrow couldn’t ever catch a fucking break, she was wearing a short-sleeved button up with cuffed sleeves.

Great.

Harrow had to fight not to stare at the long, toned curves of umber skin that the shirt revealed, watching the muscles of her forearm move as she crossed her arms. “Wouldn’t you like to know,” Harrow said, intelligently.

“Well, yeah. A question usually implies an answer. I’m not being— what’s the word?”

“Facetious.”

“I was gonna say a prick, but sure.”

Harrow rolled her eyes. “Do you ever get tired of possessing the wit of a twelve-year-old boy?”

“Nope. Most people think it’s refreshing,” Gideon said sweetly. “Are you doing a shot?”

“No,” Harrow said, patently ignoring the full shot glass in her hand. “Why?”

Gideon, after over a decade of practice, was completely unfazed by Harrow’s biting sarcasm. “If I have to watch Palamedes stare longingly at Dulcinea all night, I don’t know how sober I can be.” She nodded towards the bottle in her other hand. “Pour me one too.”

One shot led to another once Camilla found them— and then, rather suddenly, someone was inviting all three of them to play a game of Never Have I Ever.

Harrow was, by this point, mildly intoxicated. Gideon was right— she could hold her shit, but she was still the size of a below-average jockey. Two shots was no joke. Her head wasn’t spinning, but she could feel a sort of weighty fog behind her eyes as she sat down in the living room.

The usual suspects joined her.

First, there were Coronabeth and Ianthe Tridentarius. One of the twins was a basketball player on the university’s D1 team. The other had captained the debate team to three years’ worth of victories and wore it like a badge of honor. They were a mirror of each other— if the mirror you were looking at was cracked and a little dusty.

Both were bickering with Naberius Tern about something stupid— the placement of the curl on his forehead, for example. Corona, as always, looked absolutely radiant. Ianthe, as always, looked like she’d just eaten something sour and was refusing to spit it out.

Judith Deuteros was pretending not to watch Marta Dyas — who was, in addition to herself, the other pride and joy of campus ROTC, though she was a few years older — beat a football player at arm wrestling in the corner.

Camilla was watching openly and with no small measure of distaste. Coronabeth, meanwhile, was sneaking glances at Judith, and had been for the last several minutes.

Harrow had no intention of touching whatever tension lay between them. All she knew was that Camilla had once broken Marta’s arm — which the other woman held a surprising lack of animosity towards, instead opting for grudging respect — and the Tridentarii and Judith had grown up going to each others’ birthday parties.

Speaking of Palamedes: he was talking quietly with Dulcinea Septimus, a grad student that he had been enamored with for years, about something Harrow was unable — and had zero desire — to hear.

And then there was Gideon, who plopped down beside her in all her cocky, mildly sweaty glory. A piece of red hair was plastered to the side of her head, giving her a sort of boyishly handsome glow. Harrow looked away.

“You must be fucking killer at this game,” Gideon said, handing her a red Solo cup with her name scrawled hastily on it.

Harrow’s jaw ticked. “Fuck off.”

“Hey, I know you like to win,” Gideon said, raising her hands in supplication. She was good at supplicating when she wanted to be, but she was much better at being annoying. “I’m congratulating you early. Looks like being a repressed nunlet does come in handy sometimes.”

Fighting the urge to spit a mouthful of— what was this, vodka and lemonade? in Gideon’s face, Harrow took a breath, flipped her off, and tried to focus on literally anything else.

She landed on the playlist Palamedes had decided to blast on the surround sound— which was all of 2011’s greatest hits, for some fucking reason.

“Really, Sextus?” Harrow couldn’t help but ask, interrupting his conversation with Dulcinea. “Selena Gomez? I didn’t take you for a fan of hers.”

“I will never forgive Beliebers for what they did to her,” Palamedes said, with a faint smile. “And musically, she’s actually quite—” Dulcinea put a hand on his arm, and he quieted. He did skip the song, allowing it to change to something Harrow found considerably more tolerable. She was satisfied.

Soon, everyone that intended on playing the game was gathered comfortably, all with cups full of whatever liquor or spirit they had decided on. There was the brief question, as always, of who would start them off.

“I think Harry should start us off. Don’t you agree?” Ianthe said, to no one in particular. “I’m sure she has oodles of things she’s never done.”

Harrow wanted badly to prove Ianthe wrong, if for no other reason than her cruel smirk and the way her pallid, lifeless hair fell past her shoulders with all the energy of a piece of roadkill.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t. As much as it pained her to admit, Ianthe was right.

Her entire life had been devoted to either prayer or schoolwork, and the single relationship (if you could call her that) she’d had in college had ended after two weeks because Harrow refused to make time for her partner.

Harrow had only started drinking once she reached the legal age, and even then, she only really did it at parties. Drugs were foreign to her — those outside of her medication, anyway — and sex was a non-starter.

The only edge she had lay in obscure knowledge of ancient texts, biology, and the Dewey Decimal System. Somehow, she didn’t think any of those would help her here, except perhaps to tell Ianthe the exact aisle she could go fuck herself in.

After a moment, Harrow swallowed her shame and turned it into fierce, unyielding confidence. No one would humiliate her— especially not an engineering major.

“Never have I ever cheated on an exam,” She said flatly.

Harrow was more than aware that everyone wanted to know everyone’s dirty secrets and who was having threesomes on the reg, but she had a wealth of statements to exploit. She wasn’t about to expose herself as a virgin on the first question.

No: Harrow was going to play the long game. Winning came naturally to her. Why fight it?

Ianthe and Gideon both groaned in exasperation at how tame the statement was, but no one else seemed to have an issue. Aside from Harrow, Palamedes was the only one to abstain from taking a sip, which surprised absolutely no one.

To Harrow’s immediate left was Camilla. “Never have I ever sucked dick. That includes plastic, by the way.” To no one’s surprise, Harrow abstained.

Around the room, she saw Corona downing a shot of vodka, Dulcinea sipping her beer, and just about everyone else following suit aside from Camilla, Gideon, and herself. And Palamedes, but that was expected.

“Whose dick have you sucked, Tern?” Camilla asked, taking a long pull from her rum and coke.

Naberius rolled his eyes and said nothing. Ianthe had other plans. “Our dear Babs has been pegged by half the women’s volleyball team and at least three of the men’s. I’m sure it’s happened on at least one occasion,” She exposed, ignoring her sister’s gentle smack to her shoulder.

The group looked at Naberius in a mix of shock, awe, and mild disbelief, but he didn’t deny it. His pristine, billboard-ready face was bright red. “Thank you for that, Ianthe,” He said curtly, glaring blue-brown daggers at her. “My hero.”

“Questions require answers, darling,” Ianthe replied sweetly. “If you weren’t going to step up, someone had to.”

Babs took a long sip from his drink for courage and waited a moment before he spoke. “Well, if God didn’t want me to get pegged, he wouldn’t have given me a prostate. Who am I to deny my nature?”

Harrow thought he was a massive prick, but she couldn’t argue with that. Corona raised her glass in solidarity and clinked it against his.

The game continued slowly, winding and meandering in the way drunk party games are inclined to do. Palamedes admitted to never having had a one night stand, Dulcinea proudly let everyone know that she had never faked an orgasm, and Coronabeth told everyone she’d never kissed a man.

Finally, it was Ianthe’s turn to admit whatever it was she was going to tell people. Her eyes made direct contact with Harrowhark as she told the room: “Never have I ever stayed a virgin.”

God fucking damn it. Harrow had told her that in confidence.

Well, maybe confidence was the wrong word. Ever since their freshman year, Ianthe had pestered her relentlessly for details about her sex life. Harrow had ignored her for the first few months, but at some point it had been easier to just avoid it completely.

So she snapped and told Ianthe the truth: there wasn’t one. There hadn’t been one. And, at least for the foreseeable future, there wasn’t going to be one.

It was a targeted response — there was no doubting it and zero subtlety — but Harrow refused to let her cheeks darken with embarrassment. Instead, she wrapped her fingers around a small glass, filled it to just below the top with an amber liquid she suspected was whiskey, and downed the shot.

Then, refusing to wince as it burned down her throat, she looked up at Ianthe and narrowed her eyes. “Happy?”

Ianthe leaned back, satisfied. “Overjoyed. You know the rules of games like this, Harry.” She grinned. Her canines were sharp— sharp enough that Harrow was momentarily worried about being eaten. “Everybody plays.”

The game moved on around her, but Harrow found herself stuck on the subject.

On some level, she had hoped that her lack of experience would change in college, though this was less for personal reasons and more for clinical ones— she was a scientist at heart. Science implied data collection. This was her issue: she’d never really done relationships, so she had no data. It was from a lens of simple, academic curiosity that Harrow viewed having sex.

It wasn’t that she was ashamed of being a virgin— she knew herself better than that. On a social level, it was just annoying. She had no frame of reference for what her friends were talking about, and found it to be a critical lack of knowledge.

For example: once, months ago, Dulcinea had complained once about some guy who had only lasted two minutes. Everyone else had hummed in understanding, but Harrow had frowned.

That much continuous physical exertion would be tiring. Wouldn’t it? From a physiological standpoint, it made sense that someone holding such a core-intensive position would get tired more quickly than someone lying down on their back—

—And that was what she was talking about! A detail like that was nowhere near large enough to warrant this much thought— and yet here she was, vexed by an anecdote months after the fact.

From a scientific perspective, it was infuriating. Knowledge was power, and it was power Harrow had built a brand on possessing. This represented a notable lapse in her expertise.

And, much to her displeasure, it meant that while the attention of the room had shifted away from her, the golden, half-disbelieving eyes of Gideon Nav had not.

Someone started a conversation about something else (Harrow couldn’t hear and didn’t care) but Gideon was staring at her with something that would have resembled thoughtfulness— if, of course, she was capable of using her brain to think.

“Are you seriously still a virgin?” She asked, the question bursting out of her without fanfare.

There was a note of disbelief in the words that set her on edge. Judgement from Gideon Nav, of all people, was the last thing she needed. Harrow’s metaphorical hackles rose. “It’s none of your business, but.” She cleared her throat. “Yes.”

“Oh,” Gideon said, nodding. “Okay.”

Harrow’s hands twitched in her lap. This much of Gideon’s undivided attention was making her collarbone heat up. “Aren’t you supposed to be drinking?”

“You’re a virgin,” She repeated, almost testing it out. This was her way of processing information. It was deeply annoying in middle school, and had only gotten worse since. “Huh.”

Harrow didn’t like the sound of that huh. She knew Gideon’s noises, and that was a thoughtful, sinister huh. That was the same huh she’d made before putting canned tuna in Crux’s work boots.

Her eyes narrowed. “What.”

“Is that something you ever want to change?” Gideon asked. “Because, seriously, I know a ton of girls who would go for your whole Edward Cullen vibe.”

“I cannot believe we’re having this conversation.” Harrow’s cheeks were warm. She decided to ignore it. “Once again, not that it’s any of your business, but—” She paused. “I have no plans for my first sexual partner, but it isn’t going to be someone random.”

Gideon cocked her head to the side. “Is there a reason you’re waiting?” There was no judgement in the question— only genuine curiosity.

Perhaps it was this that made Harrow more inclined to answer. “I don’t have the time to look for someone new,” She shrugged. “And my available pool is somewhat limited.”

“Well,” Gideon said, with just a hint of conspiracy in those glittering golden eyes. “If you ever want to change that, you have my number.”

What? What?

Harrow blinked. “What?”

“I’m just saying!” Gideon said, eyebrows raising. “Sex is weird, and relationships are worse. I know you. You just want the experience to say you have it.” She cleared her throat, trying her best to sound nonchalant. “So if you want, I can be of assistance.”

The wink she threw at Harrow was as exaggerated as ever, but there was no mistaking the seriousness in her voice.

Beside her, Harrow could hear Naberius saying something about never having done something vulgar, but she paid him no mind. “You want to have sex with me,” She said, surprised at how calm it came out.

“I— I’m not opposed to the idea,” Gideon said awkwardly. She cleared her throat, trying to regain a handle on the situation. “Life is short, and we’re both hot. Who fuckin’ cares?”

After a moment, she dropped all bravado, and the gentleness in her voice surprised them both. “Listen. You’re a weird, uptight asshole—” (“Probably the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me,” muttered Harrowhark,) “—but I’m going to level with you here. Sex can be scary. I like to think I know you better than anyone else here, which is why I’m offering in the first place.”

Harrow rolled her eyes, but didn’t deny it. “And if I say no?”

“Be my guest,” said Gideon. “It’s not like it’s gonna change things for us. There’s no pressure.”

“Nav,” Camilla called, making a face at her lack of enthusiasm. “It’s your turn. Figure something out or drink.”

With that, Gideon turned her head away from Harrow and towards the rest of the group and said, intelligently, “Uh.” She racked her brain for a moment, trying to come up with something, and seemed completely blind to Harrow staring at her.

Harrow was, for her part, trying to come to grips with what the fuck just happened.

Gideon Nav — her longtime-nemesis-slash-occasional-friend, horndog extraordinaire, D1 athlete inevitably bound for the national team — offered to have sex with her.

Worst of all, Harrow was actually considering it.

“Never have I ever had someone go down on me,” Gideon finally said, though not without a dark blush on her cheeks. It came as something of a shock to everyone in the room— including Harrow, who found it more surprising than she was willing to admit.

To distract from her blush, Gideon added, “I eat pussy like a champ, though,” and waggled her eyebrows at the room as a whole.

To Harrow’s surprise, Coronabeth nodded. “She’s very good at it.” At the look of disgust Ianthe threw at her, she cleared her throat. “...So I’ve heard.”

“I’ve heard good things, too,” Dulcinea said, giving Gideon a wink. Palamedes made a noise like a strangled cat, at which Dulcinea whispered something about it being before your time, darling, and patted him lightly on the arm.

Well, that was a development.

If her friends could— ahem, partake in activities together and still remain friends, there was no reason the same couldn’t be true for her. Assuming her theory of precedent held true in practice, it would be easy to achieve the same results herself.

So, fine. Maybe Harrow was going to have sex.

For purely scientific reasons, of course. Nothing else.

Her mind was made up, then. Good, Harrow thought, trying to ignore the pounding of her heart in her chest. She resolved to let Gideon know as soon as was appropriate.

Part of her — a traitorous part, and one that she had tried very hard to quiet over the last few years — whispered to pull her into the bathroom and do it then and there. But years of practice meant Harrow was extremely good at denying herself indulgences— so she waited until the night was over.

Harrowhark never stumbled, but she had swayed home by the time she’d sobered up to send the text. Sobriety threw the situation into a new, more serious light: if Harrow did this, there was no going back.

Well, maybe there was, but she wasn’t counting on it. Assuming that the worst possible situation would occur had never steered her wrong before.

She kicked her shoes off and began a list of possible outcomes, typing them out in between getting into bed.

The best case scenario was that she checked an item off her bucket list and they parted without any change in relationship dynamic or — God forbid — emotions. The worst-case scenario was that Gideon had been joking all along.

But that wasn’t likely. Gideon was a douche, but she wouldn’t offer unless she meant it. Harrow sighed, thinking for a moment about what was most likely to happen.

It was inevitable that things would change— possibly forever, and probably for the next few years at least. This made her nervous.

The best part about her and Gideon’s friendship — if you could call it that — was that everything they said to each other was more or less predetermined. Their banter was practiced and sharpened to a point, their knowledge of each other began in Drearburh’s halls, and their memories were steeped in too-big black habits and rosaries.

They were Gideon-and-Harrowhark, Harrowhark-and-Gideon, and always had been.

Maybe it shouldn’t have surprised her, then, that hearing Gideon’s voice in her head was all it took to convince her. Life is short, whispered Nav’s voice. And we’re both hot. Who fuckin’ cares?

Harrow was lying prostrate in bed when she finally gathered the courage.

Harrowhark (3:24am): Griddle.

nav (3:24am): what lol

Harrow took a moment to confirm that she was, in fact, really fucking doing this before she sent her next message.

Harrowhark (3:25am): It’s about your offer from earlier.

A beat. Then, three grey dots appeared, and eventually resolved into a message.

nav (3:26am): you mean the sex one?

Harrow rolled her eyes.

Harrowhark (3:26am): Obviously.

Harrowhark (3:26am): It was a surprising offer. I was... caught off guard.

She paused, collecting herself, and tried to calm her racing heart enough to send two simple, impossibly meaningful words.

Harrowhark (3:27am): I accept.

There was a pregnant pause. Harrow was approximately three seconds away from dying of embarrassment when the typing bubble appeared in response. Gideon’s message came through shortly after, though she restarted it a few times.

nav (3:29am): ur virgin era finally comes to an end :’) just give me a date and time sweetheart

Harrowhark (3:29am): Call me that again and I’ll take my acceptance back.

nav (3:30am): noooo don’t take ur acceptance back ur so sexy ahaha

nav (3:31am): would sugarlips be better?

Harrow decided — wisely, in her opinion — not to dignify either message with a response. She turned off her phone, tried very, very hard to keep herself calm, and laid in bed staring at nothing.

There was a strange, half-frenzied excitement that ran through her at the idea of finally getting to cross something off her list of life experiences.

And, fine— Harrow was a scientist, but she wasn’t a saint. She had eyes. Gideon’s time in the gym didn’t go to waste, but even her face made Harrow’s head spin sometimes. That stupid, crooked smile had always been hard for her to look at without feeling dizzy.

As if her mind was being read from a few blocks away, Harrow’s phone buzzed one more time.

nav (3:48am): lmk when you want to come over and ill get the apt ready for u

Harrow thought about this for a moment. She didn’t want to lose her nerve, so the sooner, the better.

Tomorrow could work. It was a Saturday, and her study group wouldn’t meet until Sunday afternoon. As long as she had time to prepare mentally — which would be accomplished through a long shower and an extensive skincare routine — she was sure she could swing it.

Harrowhark (3:50am): I’ll see you tomorrow, then. 8pm. I won’t be late.

A strange sense of triumph pounded in her chest. Harrow tried to tell herself that her excitement was a result of being awake for so long rather than any emotional attachment to what was happening, but it only half-worked.

Her phone buzzed with one final text.

nav (3:50am): it’s a date ;)

* * *

I.

As it happened, Harrow didn’t wake up until half past noon.

Light streamed, strong and unyielding, through the spaces between the closed slats of her blinds. One of them had fallen, letting a huge beam of light into her otherwise dark room.

Harrow narrowed her eyes, drawing the covers up out of reflex. Her hands protested, aching with stiffness. She cracked an eye open and moved her fingers slowly, wincing as she did. She ran through a few of her exercises from physical therapy until some of the morning’s soreness faded.

Stiffness was common for people with rheumatoid arthritis, she knew, and she’d been dealing with it since high school, but it still fucking sucked.

And it was another reason Harrow had always been fiercely dedicated to her academic prowess: if her body was variable, she was going to make damn sure her brain wasn’t.

Her thumb twinged traitorously as she swiped it down her phone screen, starting a routine, aimless midday scroll through social media.

In the end, all it took to remind her of what had happened the night before was a photo of Gideon from her Snapchat story. Of all of Gideon’s character traits, this was the one that tripped Harrow up most frequently. She had a tendency to post— what did Camilla call them?

Ah, Harrow remembered, eyes widening at the picture. Thirst traps.

This one was very clearly taken at the gym.

Gideon had a backwards baseball cap thrown over messy, sweaty red hair, and was flexing one absurdly large bicep in the mirror. There was a single bead of sweat running down her neck. Harrow’s eyes fixed on it, and with a start she realized that disgust was not the emotion that ran through her body at the sight.

This was too much. She couldn’t cope. Harrowhark closed her eyes, took a brief trip to her mind palace, and took a screenshot of the picture before turning her phone off.

Her morning — afternoon, really — began the same way it usually did. First, she brewed a pot of strong, black coffee, sitting and yawning on the counter as it gurgled and squelched through its machine.

Waiting had never been her strong suit. To warm up her palette, she retrieved a half-empty can of Red Bull from the kitchen table. The can was emptied in less than two sips. Harrow dropped it into the recycling before pouring her first cup of coffee.

This level of caffeine consumption, as her dietician had articulated several times, was ‘unhealthy’ and ‘possibly life-threatening,’ but Harrow didn’t care. Put simply: she didn’t give two shits, and her body already worked a little worse than everyone else’s. In her mind, she was just leveling the playing field.

Once Harrow was adequately caffeinated, she allowed herself to think seriously about what she was doing. This was done in between careful, thoughtful sips of black coffee and a thousand-yard stare into the glass of her microwave.

Three things came to mind.

The first: it was already one in the afternoon. She only had seven hours to prepare for The Event, as she was now referring to it.

The second: she still didn’t know what preparation meant in a situation like this. Harrow debated texting Gideon to ask if she should shave, then decided she simply didn’t care.

The third: though the Sisters of St. Dominicus had tried to convince her otherwise, Harrow was well aware that virginity was a social construct. It held no real meaning other than what she chose to give it. That said: if her nerves now were any indication, she was giving it a lot of meaning.

It was an arbitrary thing to remember in the grand scheme of things. She knew this. Her body was her own, not the property of a church or a divine being. Harrow figured God had bigger problems than a young adult exploring her sexuality.

But it was still her first time doing something horribly intimate. That feeling was scary for someone who couldn’t remember the last time she’d been touched affectionately.

It was a difficult thing to imagine that she would be seen bare and vulnerable, even if she was ready for it from an emotional standpoint.

But Gideon was right: they knew each other like no other. At the very least, she would be seen for the first time by someone she would know blind, deaf, and dying.

Harrow looked down to see her hands shaking, and blamed it solely on the caffeine. She set the cup down.

Time moved slowly, then quickly, then slowly again— on and on in cyclical motion, catching her by surprise one way or the other for the remainder of the day.

Harrow tried to keep busy: she organized her desk, then did it again; she pushed her laundry down to make space for more, resolving to actually clean the clothes later; she showered and bit her nails to the bed; she plucked some errant hairs from her eyebrows; and she even considered calling Ianthe for advice before coming to her senses half a second later.

She found that time passed more slowly the closer they got to the pre-approved meeting time, and so found herself fully dressed two hours in advance.

It was a damn good outfit, though.

Silver, bone-embossed studs and spikes lined her ears like armor. Her septum piercing was clean and shone like it had been freshly polished, and her eyeliner gave her the hollowed-out, skull-like appearance she loved. Her hair, black and freshly shorn, was brushed as neatly as she could make it.

Necklaces — silver chains and cords layered around each other — dipped down to her collarbone. Bracelets of silver and bone and silver again clinked around her wrists.

And her shirt was one of her favorites. It was black, of course, and tight in the body, but it tapered out into long, broad sleeves that flowered as she walked. It gave her the appearance of a monk, if monks grew up listening to death metal rather than sermons.

Harrow was mostly skin, bone, and tendons, but God and good genetics had deigned to give her a very respectable ass. If she was ever going to show it off, it would be now. She tucked her pants into her scariest-looking pair of black boots and called it good.

Truthfully, Harrow looked more like she was going to a seance rather than a dick appointment, but she’d always found it better to intimidate than be underestimated.

Her heart fluttered as a pre-set alarm buzzed on her phone. Twenty minutes, Harrow thought. She looked towards the door. Now is as good a time as any.

And so it was with her battle armor on and her heart racing that Harrowhark Nonagesimus walked the three and a half blocks to Gideon’s apartment.

* * *

Gideon, in classic Gideon fashion, opened the door in joggers and a t-shirt. “Holy hell, Nonagesimus,” She said, eyes widening. “Did you come here to kill me?”

Harrow rolled her eyes, pushing past her inside the apartment. “Are we going to do this, or are we going to talk about it?”

“Slow your roll.” Gideon let the door swing closed. “I mean, we can dive right in if you want, but I was gonna make a night of it.”

Harrow paused, turning around to face her with a disbelieving look. “Make a night of it,” She repeated.

“Well,” said Gideon, who looked suddenly self-conscious standing in front of her door, “yeah. A little. I bought a bottle of wine, I made dinner, shit like that.”

Harrow raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t take you for a romantic.”

“Romantic implies I’m doing it because I’m in love, or something,” Gideon said. “I’m doing it because I know you haven’t eaten today and you’re anemic. I’m not letting you pass out on me.”

Harrow, unfortunately, could not rebut any of those things. “Very well.” She sat down on the couch and tried very hard not to think of the other encounters Gideon had no doubt had on it. She tried not to let it show on her face. “What did you make?”

“Oh. Um, Pasta alla vodka. I know you’re lactose intolerant—” (“We’re both lactose intolerant,” Harrow corrected,) “—so I substituted the heavy cream for cashew cream, which… was weird, but it tastes alright.”

It was a small gesture, but it meant Gideon had been thinking of her. Gideon had been thinking of Harrow when deciding to make dinner for them both. That was disgusting, and if her knees went weak at the thought, that was her business.

“I would have braved it,” Harrow said, ignoring the way her heart was fluttering.

Gideon shot her a look. “I don’t want you shitting yourself while I eat you out, either. Imagine the toll it would take on my mental health.”

Moment over. Harrow sighed. “Charming as always, Griddle.”

A bowl — a very clean, surprisingly well-plated bowl — of pasta was handed to her as Gideon plopped down beside her on the couch, and almost against her will Harrow’s mouth began to water.

“Bon appetit,” Gideon said proudly, watching Harrow’s eyes close in contentment at the first bite.

It was, she had to admit, fucking insane. The pasta was perfectly cooked, the sauce was creamy and smooth and spicy and mouth-watering all at once, the parmesan was so fresh she could almost taste the grass the cow was eating— it was restaurant-quality, and Harrow didn’t say that lightly.

Gideon had always been a good cook — she’d spent her childhood helping out in the orphanage’s kitchen — but Harrow never remembered until it was right in front of her. And it wasn’t like they spent their meals together.

In fact, if memory served, this was the first time Harrow had ever eaten her cooking one-on-one.

“For the love of God, Griddle, you are something else in the kitchen,” Harrow murmured gruffly in between bites.

Gideon, using all the brainpower available to her, said, “Mmf,” through a mouthful of pasta. She swallowed. “What?” Her face had gone pale. “What did you say?”

“Don’t mistake me,” Harrow said, taking a sip of the wine Gideon had poured them. “You’re still a dreadful person.”

“Oh, phew. That’s more like it.” Gideon put a hand over her heart in mock relief, though it was suspiciously well-acted. “I don’t think I could have handled an earnest compliment about my personality. I was already half-worried this whole thing was a dream.”

Harrow reached over and pinched her, which had the desired effect of making Gideon yelp. “Hopefully that helps dispel your dream theory.”

“You are the worst,” Gideon stated matter-of-factly. “Eat your food, you ass.”

When Harrow had eaten her fill and Gideon had eaten three times more, she set her bowl on the table. “So,” She said, fighting against the darkening of her cheeks. “What now?”

“Well, princess—”

That wouldn’t do. “Nope.”

Gideon thought for a moment. “Well, my liege of darkness,” She substituted (which earned her an eye-roll, but not a complaint), “I thought we could watch something.” She paused, turning to Harrow with an earnest sincerity that surprised her. “And we don’t have to do anything if you’re not comfortable. Assuming you don’t kill me in the first ten minutes, we can just hang out and watch a movie.”

Harrow knew that, but hearing the reminder aloud helped ease her mind. “I know,” She said, the ghost of a smile appearing on her face. “Thank you.”

“That’s— kind of bare minimum, but sure. You’re welcome.”

“A movie would be fine,” Harrow said after a moment. “What do you have in mind?”

Apparently, what Gideon had in mind was some old horror movie that looked as though it was filmed through a layer of fog. It wasn’t exactly Harrow’s favorite — she preferred more religious imagery and body horror in her movies than she was currently receiving — but it was fine.

About twenty minutes in, she started to get antsy. She was here for a reason. Pretending otherwise was useless.

Harrow’s hand edged over the cushion to Gideon and brushed lightly against her knee. As soon as Gideon looked at her with a raised eyebrow and those damn golden eyes, the temperature in the room seemed to change.

Harrow swallowed, looking back toward the movie, as she picked up Gideon’s hand and placed it in the most obvious way possible on her thigh.

Harrow had to scoot a little closer to allow for it, which meant their shoulders were now pressed against each other. Gideon hid a smile, but didn’t say anything, which Harrow was grateful for.

For about a minute and a half, her hand just rested on Harrow’s leg. It was warm, and given their respective sizes, it sat heavy and huge on the fabric of her jeans. Then there was a jumpscare on the screen that neither of them were expecting— and Gideon squeezed hard.

Harrow had never thought that she would be particularly vocal during sex. She was proven wrong almost instantly, and let out a harsh, strangled gasp as soon as she felt Gideon’s hand tighten.

Gideon’s head snapped to look at her, and for a moment they just stared at each other.

Then, Gideon leaned in half a centimeter, and Harrow thought fuck it and closed the rest of the distance herself.

Kissing Gideon was everything and nothing like she had expected.

Her lips were smooth, with the faint texture of Chapstick still on them, and her jaw was taut and strong under Harrow’s hand. Kissing her was as easy as breathing, and Harrow knew in an instant that she needed to do it again.

She leaned back, studying Gideon’s face, and saw awe and pleasure written plain there. Gideon’s eyes, heavy-lidded already, dipped back down to her lips, and they met again— and again, and again, and again, until Harrow was making soft noises that she refused to let embarrass her into Gideon’s mouth.

She wasn’t sure if the decision to move into Gideon’s lap was conscious, but she made it as soon as it occurred to her.

Huge, sure hands settled on her waist. “Wait,” Gideon breathed, leaning back for a moment.

Harrow blinked slowly, staring at her. “What is it?”

Gideon swallowed. “Can I please,” She asked, voice turning husky, “touch your butt?”

Harrow put her head in her hands. “I cannot believe I’m going to have sex with you.”

“I mean, you don’t have to.”

“No, I’m going to.” She let out a sigh. “Yes, Nav. You may.”

One of the hands at Harrow’s waist slid down over her ass, palming gently at it, and Gideon let out a contented hum. “You know, you have a really nice ass. I don’t know if I ever mentioned it, but—”

“Griddle.”

“Yes?”

“Shut up,” Harrow said, and kissed her. This kiss was more heated than the last. It was also more languid— Harrow felt as though she was melting into it. Her hands settled on Gideon’s body — one hand on her jaw, the other squeezing at her shoulders — while Gideon’s roamed around her back and ass.

Harrow couldn’t help but moan softly as Gideon kneaded the skin there, all embarrassment shoved to the back of her mind. She moved one of her hands to Gideon’s head. Harrow raked dull nails over her scalp— and felt a sudden spike of heat when Gideon made a low, needy noise in return.

Oh, Harrow thought. Oh. Wow.

Whatever hesitation she had been clinging to was gone, discarded immediately in favor of wanting to make Gideon make that noise over and over again. The idea of hearing her own name falling, desperate, from Gideon’s lips had her dizzy.

The kissing grew more and more heated and desperate with each passing moment. Neither knew how much time had passed before Gideon pulled gently at Harrow’s shirt. They broke apart with equal expressions of need, both breathing heavy in the dim evening light.

“Take this off,” Gideon said with a soft grunt. Her eyes were dilated, and were now more black than gold.

Harrow nodded wordlessly, then remembered the shirt she was wearing. “Can you—”

Gideon hid a smile, and helped draw it carefully over her head before chucking it behind her.

This left Harrow in just her pants and a simple, nondescript black bra. She didn’t own lingerie — Victoria’s Secret scared her — and had never seen a reason to, but sitting here under Gideon’s burning gaze sent an odd, uneasy feeling of self consciousness through her.

For fuck’s sake, Gideon had seen Coronabeth naked. There was a small voice in her head that nagged at her, telling her she didn’t hold a candle to The Ones That Came Before Her. Harrow told it to shut up, and tried to focus on Gideon instead.

She wasn’t looking at Harrow’s face, nor was she particularly fixated on her breasts. She was staring at her body as a whole, taking in the sight of the most skin she’d ever seen from her at once.

“Fuck.” All the air left Gideon’s lungs in one, breathy word. Her voice was raspy, and her lips were reddened and swollen from the kissing. “God. Harrow, you’re—you’re stunning.”

Well. That was a surprise.

Harrow was used to Gideon calling her — among other things — a goblin, the devil incarnate, a creature of the night, so on and so forth.

In fact, the nicest compliment Harrow thought she’d ever received from her was when she’d bitten Gideon’s palm sophomore year of high school. Gideon had called her a fucking wolverine while pulling her bleeding hand away, which was creative enough to earn it a place in Harrow’s top 10 Nav-given nicknames.

Stunning, however, was not something she ever imagined to hear from Gideon’s lips.

“Right,” Harrow said, unable to stop herself. “You don’t have to lie to me, Griddle. I don’t need pity.”

“I’m not.” Gideon’s eyes rose from Harrow’s waist. She had been staring, half in horndog mode, half in wonder, at the way her hands dwarfed Harrow’s hips. Her voice was solid, though it was tinged with awe. “Harrow, you’re—” She let out a shaky laugh— wait, was she nervous?

Gideon cleared her throat. “I meant what I said. I mean, I usually try to ignore it, but since we’re here, I may as well let you know.” She shrugged helplessly, meeting Harrow’s eyes. “You’ve always been beautiful.”

Harrow refused to blush. Her cheeks did not share the sentiment. “Shut up.”

“Absolutely not,” Gideon said indignantly. “I will do no such thing.” A pause. “But—”

Harrow rolled her eyes. Of course there was a but. “Spit it out, Nav.”

“It’s a good but. Like yours,” Gideon said proudly, assuming wordplay was funny by default. “But you’d look even more beautiful with my mouth on your tits.”

“Oh.” Harrow blinked, looking down at her chest. “Oh.

Gideon’s eyebrows raised. “I mean, I don’t have to, obviously, but—”

“No, I want that.” Harrow nodded a few times, jerky from the weight of admitting to the dreadful sin of wanting. After a moment, she added, “Please.”

This was all the reassurance Gideon needed. She met Harrow’s eyes dead on, keeping their eye contact burning, and unclipped her bra. Their hands met on Harrow’s shoulders, pushing the straps gently down her arms.

Gideon let out a shaky breath at the sight of Harrow’s bare chest. Finally, with an almost hurried kind of excitement, she leaned her head down.

Harrow heard a small, breathy noise of awe as Gideon’s mouth closed down around her nipple, and realized a second later that it was her that had made it.

A wave of hazy, warm pleasure spread through her as Gideon’s mouth and tongue swirled over pebbled skin. Gideon, for her part, seemed to be enjoying it. Her eyes had slid closed, and she had a look of complete contentment on her face.

Then, because she was a dick, she opened one eye just to see Harrow’s reaction, and dragged her teeth lightly over her nipple.

A sharp, hot spike of pleasure ran through her, and Harrow’s reaction was instant. She gasped, back arching up into Gideon’s mouth, and the hand in Gideon’s hair tightened down hard.

Gideon’s mouth fell open, letting out a surprised noise torn between a moan and a strangled fuck. “So no teeth?” She asked, voice raspier than it had been when they started.

“Just give me a warning next time, you ass,” Harrow breathed, eyes sliding closed. “Fuck.” She pushed Gideon back toward her chest, feeling a strong, sure hand come up to roll her other — untouched — nipple between her fingers.

Harrow wasn’t sure when she started rolling her hips down, trying to get any kind of stimulation she could out of Gideon’s lap, but at some point she felt hands settling firm her waist to slow her down.

“Easy, babe,” Gideon said, leaning back for a second. “Talk to me.”

Harrow whined — honest to God, whined — at the loss of contact, hips jerking forward again. Her entire body felt as though it had been brought to boiling and was now being forced to simmer. She could feel something building, some hazy, fuzzy feeling at the edge of her mind, and at the moment she wanted nothing more than to lean into it.

“Fuck me,” Harrow said, much more calmly than she was expecting. Gideon’s eyes widened at the authority in her voice, and Harrow swore she saw her gulp. She wasn’t sure if the dark blush on her cheeks was a trick of the light or something real, but she was beginning to suspect that it was the latter.

“Um. Yes, ma’am,” Gideon said, giving her a mock salute. “Let me move us to the bed, it’ll—”

“Nav,” Harrow interrupted. “Let me be clear.” She let her hand rest at Gideon’s throat, just under her chin, and applied the barest hint of pressure there. “If you don’t put your fingers in me right now, I will fuck myself on your lap and tell you that you’re not allowed to touch.”

Harrow had no idea where the words came from, but they were the right ones. Gideon’s eyes widened further, giving them the appearance of the sort of white-gold saucers that might accompany a teacup. For once in her life, she was speechless.

“You’re hot when you’re mean,” Gideon said after a second’s pause, swallowing hard. “Wow. Um. Yeah.”

Harrow cursed her past self for picking pants that were this damn tight, but within the minute they were discarded on the floor. It left her in a simple pair of black boxers. She settled herself on Gideon’s thigh, letting out a sharp gasp at the feeling of hard muscle against her pussy. The layer of fabric did little to hide the feeling.

Which reminded her— Gideon was still fully clothed. That wouldn’t do. “Take your shirt off,” Harrow breathed, fisting a hand in the fabric.

Gideon didn’t even verbally respond. In a smooth, practiced motion, she flung the shirt off of herself, uncaring of where it landed on the ground. It left her in just a sports bra. Gideon caught Harrow staring at her boobs and said, “Later.”

The broad, smooth shoulders that were so often hidden (too often, in Harrow’s uninhibited opinion) were now on full display. They were also tragically unbruised, which Harrow could not in good conscience let stand.

Harrow leaned down and bit gently at Gideon’s shoulder, hearing and ignoring a quiet hiss of pain as she did, and began to grind against her thigh.

The friction was perfect. Some of the desperation that had been building was alleviated in a second, and Harrow found herself gasping against Gideon’s skin and speeding up the movement of her hips.

“Let me,” Gideon breathed, staring openly and brazenly at Harrow. “Please.”

Harrow nodded, not quite sure how Gideon planned to work around the angle, and bit her lip as a warm hand slid down the front of her boxers.

Gideon let out a sharp gasp at the feeling of damp curls surrounding the dripping heat of Harrow’s cunt. “Fuck. God, you’re wet. Holy fuck.”

Harrow’s chest was heaving, breaths turning shaky at the feeling. “Consider it one of my many ski— fuck,” She interrupted, clapping a hand over her mouth at the feeling of Gideon’s fingers rubbing her clit.

Her head fell back as Gideon’s hand sped up, rubbing quick, tight circles on and around it. One of Harrow’s hands went to the back of Gideon’s neck, pulling her closer until their foreheads met. Gideon’s free hand, formerly gripping her waist, slid up to Harrow’s nipple and began to stimulate it gently.

It was heavenly. Every movement sent another warm, enveloping jolt of pleasure to the pit of her stomach, bringing her closer— but there was something else Harrow needed. She kicked her boxers off, suddenly uncaring of her nudity, and settled herself back on Gideon’s lap.

“Inside,” She breathed, opening her eyes to see nothing but gold. “Please.”

Gideon swallowed, adjusting her angle, and Harrow’s mouth fell open again as she felt a finger pressing gently against her entrance. “I’m gonna go slow,” She said, searching Harrow’s face for any doubts. “Tell me if it hurts.”

Harrow nodded, swallowing, and looked down at where their bodies joined to see— and then, a nanosecond later, to feel Gideon sliding a finger inside her.

Well, Harrow hadn’t been wrong: her hands were fucking huge. Her fingers were long, more than a little thick, and surprisingly nimble, and Gideon moved the one inside Harrow with expert precision.

It slid in without resistance, and though the feeling was glorious, Harrow needed—

“More,” She gasped, rolling her hips down against Gideon’s finger. “Another one. Add—add another one.”

Gideon did, though slow and careful enough that Harrow nearly wanted to scream at her to just get moving. The stretch of two fingers was more her speed, and coupled with Gideon’s thumb rubbing at her clit, Harrow thought she might pass out from pure sensation.

She rolled her hips lightly, mouth falling open as Gideon’s hand pistoned in and out of her in time with the movements on her clit.

And, inevitably, there it was.

Harrow could feel her orgasm approaching fast, building as abruptly as a tsunami a few feet from the shore. All the advance warning she could give her partner was: “Fuck— fuck, Gideon, I—”

Her eyes slid closed, rolling back in her head as she fell forward against Gideon’s shoulder. Harrow felt pleasure pour over, through, and out of her. Her hips jerked senselessly, the motions barely — if at all — controlled by her, and she could feel her walls spasming around the fingers still inside her.

Gideon didn’t touch her clit, but her fingers moved gently back and forth inside Harrow, fucking her gently through the aftershocks.

Very suddenly, it was too much, and Harrow made a small noise of overstimulation that made Gideon still completely. “Want me to pull out?” Gideon asked, searching her face. At Harrow’s nod, she slid her hand out gently, then let out a surprised laugh. “Um. Holy fuck.”

“What?” Harrow asked, still trying to catch her breath. She looked down to see that Gideon’s hand was absolutely soaked in cum— as was, it turned out, her lap. Harrow could see dark patches on her pants that were definitely not there a moment prior.

She blinked. “Oh my God.” Her brain was still catching up, but shame was quicker than self-acceptance. “Fuck. Jesus, Griddle, I—” Harrow shook her head, standing on shaky legs, and grabbed her boxers off the ground.

Her vision blurred suddenly, and she realized she was blinking back tears.

Gideon frowned, standing. “Whoa. Harrow, wait a second, what are—”

“Leave me alone,” Harrow spat. “Where’s my shirt?”

Gideon gestured vaguely behind the couch, seemingly at a loss for words, and barely moved as Harrow barged roughly past her. “Can you slow down for a second?”

“No,” Harrow said firmly. “I am mortified, Griddle. That—” She gestured to Gideon’s pants and hand, “—is disgusting, and I can’t believe I—”

“I’m gonna stop you there,” Gideon said, eyebrows raising.

“But—”

“No buts,” Gideon said firmly. “My turn.” She took a step closer, much in the same way one might approach a wild animal, and put a hand on Harrow’s shoulder. “One, washing machines exist for a reason.”

“Fine, but I—” Harrow felt her throat close in horrible, horrible shame, and could not speak.

“Harrowhark,” Gideon said gently. “It’s cool. I promise. Sex is weird and, usually, a little gross. It’s not a bad thing.” She paused, looking down at Harrow’s face. “Did you enjoy it?” After a long moment, Harrow nodded. “Okay. I did, too. And I would love to do it again,” Gideon said, raising her eyebrows, “assuming you forgive yourself sometime in the next century.”

Harrow shot her a glare, but Gideon had had far too much practice receiving them to flinch. After a moment, she let out a quiet huff. “I appreciate you saying that,” Harrow said stiffly. “I’m still leaving.”

Her voice sounded significantly more normal, which meant Gideon relaxed visibly. “That’s fine. That’s about what I expected, honestly.” She glanced back toward the kitchen. “Do you want some pasta to take home?”

Harrow bit stubbornly at the inside of her cheeks. Begrudgingly, she said, “Yes.”

“Put your bra on,” Gideon said. “I’ll grab you a Tupperware.” Then, unexpectedly, she leaned in to press a kiss to Harrow’s forehead.

Somewhere in Harrow’s mind — the part not currently occupied with processing the events of the night — she realized that the return of that Tupperware would ensure another meeting, and likely one in the near future. This was a clever move. It was one that she found herself kicking herself for not thinking of sooner.

And so, torn between excitement for the future and the remnants of the embarrassment from moments prior, the most Harrow could do was mutter, “Fuck.”

* * *

II.

When Harrow came back a few days later to return a clean, thoroughly sanitized version of the Tupperware she’d been given, it started something that would quickly become a pattern.

She knocked on Gideon’s door, Tupperware clenched in her hands, and couldn’t help the low noise of satisfaction that left her mouth on seeing the door open. Gideon had gotten a haircut, and looked — much to Harrow’s annoyance — freakishly hot.

“Fuck,” Harrow grumbled, walking inside.

Suffice it to say: the Tupperware was abandoned, as were all thoughts of a return to normalcy.

And so followed the next few weeks. Whenever Harrow felt as though she had an itch that needed scratching — or whenever Gideon invited her over, which was happening with slowly increasing regularity — she would walk the three blocks.

Their banter had always been practiced. This was no different.

Harrow would knock on the door either with a meager excuse as to why she was there. Gideon would raise an eyebrow and give her that stupid, sexy cocky grin, and they would continue on in their way until, inevitably, one or both of them was shirtless and gasping.

Harrow’s discomfort with the more— shall we say, fluid aspects of sex lessened. It became another thing to expect, and with expectation vanished self-consciousness.

There were a few things she had noticed. The first was that Gideon seemed to much prefer giving to receiving. Harrow, for the time being, was fine with this, but she didn’t want their dynamic to be imbalanced. Talking with her about it was something that might require time, though.

So far, they’d been fairly standard with what they had done in that it always involved Gideon’s fingers. But by the fourth time Harrowhark made the walk to Gideon’s, she had something else in mind.

It had been a stressful day. First, the most important of her meds was nearly out, and her doctor would be out for the next two weeks— which meant at least a week and a half of increased pain and fatigue.

Then the bus had been late on the way to campus, which meant she had missed the opening thirty minutes of her upper-division anatomy lecture, which meant Mercymorn — her professor — was going to be on her ass for the next millennium about staying up to date.

Harrow thought this was bold coming from a woman that still hadn’t finished grading tests from six weeks prior. When she told Mercymorn this, the resulting squawk of indignance, annoyance, and sheer rage she let out was almost enough to justify being kicked out of class for the day.

So Harrow needed a distraction. She needed a break.

Goddamn it, she needed some head.

Gideon had asked the last time if oral was something she was interested in, and years of accumulating Catholic guilt meant Harrow had been too busy battling her repression to answer in the moment.

But she had thought about it in the days since. She had done… extensive thinking about it, in fact. Sometimes with the help of a vibrator.

Harrow had decided that the worst that could happen was that she didn’t enjoy it, and they never did it again. Somehow, she didn’t expect that to happen.

Gideon opened her door before Harrow could even lift her hand to knock, which embarrassed them both. “Hey, asswipe,” She said for posterity, pretending she wasn’t blushing. “Come on in.”

Harrow did, feeling golden eyes track her steps. “Do you want to watch a movie, or—or eat anything, or—”

“Griddle, drop the act. We both know why I’m here.”

“Well, yeah, but forgive me for wanting to be a gentleman,” Gideon said lightly, raising her eyebrows.

“You?” Harrow said, letting out a surprised bark of laughter. “Oh, Griddle. I’ve never expected you to be much of a gentleman.”

Gideon blinked. A flicker of something — disappointment, Harrow thought, though it was followed quickly by hurt — moved abruptly across her face before it smoothed over. “Then you don’t know me as well as I thought you did.”

Harrow felt a twinge of regret, and went through ten years’ worth of emotions in the span of half a second before arriving at an inevitable conclusion: if this was going to happen, things between them had to change.

And so what happened next was thoroughly unexpected for both of them.

Harrow apologized.

“I shouldn’t have said that,” She said quietly. “I’m… sorry.”

“What.” Gideon blinked. “The fuck?”

Harrow sighed, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. “I am apologizing for what I said. You’ve never given me any impression other than being a gentleman. It was rude— and, more to the point, hurtful to suggest otherwise.”

Gideon made a strangled, surprised sound. With the dim glow of the kitchen reflected in her amber eyes, she looked vaguely like a deer caught in headlights.

“I knew this would happen,” Harrow grumbled. “Listen, Griddle. I meant it. And it’s unlikely that things will remain the way they have been going forward. This is quite literally the least I can do.”

“If I knew offering to fuck you would mean you started communicating with me, I don’t know that I would have done it,” Gideon said, wide-eyed. “Wow. Okay. Not how I expected this to go.”

“If you’re going to be a gentleman, I am, too,” Harrow said. “Do you want me to move on?”

“Please.”

“Fine. Last time,” Harrowhark began, hearing Gideon shut the door behind her, “you asked if I ever wanted you to—” Ah. The repression was back. It closed heavy-handed around her throat, making her words come out strangled. “Eat me out.”

Gideon’s eyebrows shot up, and her eyes widened in noticable excitement. “I remember,” She said, eyes drifting down to Harrow’s lower stomach for a moment. “Have you been thinking about it?”

Understatement, said the voice in her head unhelpfully. “A little,” She lied. “I want to try it.” She cleared her throat. “For purely observational, scientific purposes.”

Gideon ignored the addendum and punched the air. She let out a hiss of triumph. “You won’t regret it,” She said, the words tumbling out over each other. “I’m not letting you do it on the couch this time, though. No more sex on the couch.”

Harrow’s back still ached from the last time Gideon had fingered her there, and nodded in agreement. “Bedroom it is.”

Gideon’s room had been vacuumed, there were fresh sheets on the bed, and the usual layer of clothes that lined the floor had been transferred to a laundry bin out of sight. Harrow wondered if she’d made the effort just for her, and was only mildly annoyed at herself for blushing at the thought.

“Well, um,” Gideon said awkwardly, scratching the back of her head. She gestured vaguely to the bed. “Here it is. You’ve— I mean, you’ve seen it before—”

“I thought I told you to drop the act.” Harrow sat on the bed. “Where do you want me?”

“On your back,” Gideon said, sounding grateful for the lack of pretense. “But I’m not gonna start without warming you up.”

Harrow raised an eyebrow, ignoring the now-familiar tick in her heart rate. “And what does warming me up entail?”

“Oh, the usual. Getting your engine going.” Gideon took a few steps closer, undoing the first few buttons of her shirt. Harrow’s eyes fell instantly to the expanse of skin and the sports bra underneath. “Revving you up.”

“You’re an idiot,” Harrow said with unmistakable fondness.

Gideon shrugged, settling over her on the bed with a leg on either side of Harrow’s hips. “If you kiss me, I’ll shut up.”

Harrow found it very difficult to argue with that.

Gideon’s lips felt the way they always did, and had the same calming, grounding effect on her that Harrow had come — very grudgingly — to crave. Without meaning to, she slid a hand through Gideon’s hair, letting the other rest on the toned, soft stomach under her shirt.

Her fingers brushed against skin, feeling a healthy layer of fat over the strong, taut abdominal muscles that lay underneath. As if on cue, Gideon flexed her abs, letting out a quiet, shaky gasp against Harrow’s mouth.

“Sorry,” She breathed, kissing a line down Harrow’s jaw. “Tickled a little.” Gideon continued her line down Harrow’s neck, alternating between kissing, sucking, and biting gently at the stark, lithe lines of bone and sinew.

Harrow responded by flattening her hand fully, resting it in between Gideon’s chest and stomach, and pressing the tips of her nails into the skin below. Her reaction was instant— Gideon let out a gasp, pausing open-mouthed against Harrow’s collarbone.

“Does this tickle, Nav?” She asked, matching Gideon’s airy volume.

Gideon paused, letting out another shaky gasp. “Not fair.”

“You like pain,” Harrow said. It wasn’t a question. She felt Gideon’s lips resume their path at her neck, and only felt guilty for a moment that she had to fold herself practically in half to reach it. “I can work with that.”

With that, she took the fist in Gideon’s hair and pulled tightly, dragging Gideon’s face up to meet hers once more.

Black-rose eyes met golden ones, and for a moment, all Harrow could do was stare. She stared at the parted, wet lips that composed the majority of Gideon’s expression. She stared at the growing black ring of her pupils. Harrow saw unimpeded desire in her face, and just for a moment, she thought she could drown in it.

Then, she said, “Kiss me again before you go down on me,” and it was all Gideon could do not to react audibly.

Harrow had learned, after their first tryst, not to wear such fucking irritating clothing before having sex. Today, she was in a simple black button-down over simple black pants and simple black boots. Gideon still had some mildly emasculating trouble with the laces of her shoes, which both of them elected to ignore.

Before long, Harrow’s shirt hung open, revealing her lack of a bra, and her pants were discarded on the floor. Gideon pushed her own shirt off all the way, and looked down at her own pants. “Do you want me to be less clothed or more clothed?”

Pictures — years and years of pictures, preceded by sharing a room — of strong, powerful thighs flashed through Harrow’s mind.

“Less,” She said instantly. Gideon nodded, shoving her pants off, and then the two of them were left closer to nakedness than they’d ever come before.

Harrow elected to ignore this, too. “So,” She said awkwardly, tongue feeling leaden in her mouth. “Um. Should I—”

Gideon shook her head, leaning in to press a quick kiss to the bridge of her nose, and settled over her hips again. “Just lay back and enjoy, sweet thing,” Gideon said, giving her a wink. “I get to have all the fun.”

She began to crawl — mildly awkwardly — backwards, scooting until her face was level with Harrow’s belly button. There was a faint dusting of hair that led downward from it in a line that was more or less neat, and it was one Gideon made a surprised, pleased noise at seeing.

“You have a happy trail,” She said, audibly delighted.

Harrow was on the verge of biting out a response when Gideon pressed a feather-light kiss to it. Her words died in her throat. Her eyes widened as Gideon pushed the sides of her shirt down, letting them reveal the protruding bones of her pelvis, and kissed gently at them.

She reached the waistband of Harrow’s underwear and looked up. “May I?” Gideon asked.

Harrow’s mouth was suddenly very dry. Not trusting herself to speak, she gave an impatient nod.

Gideon slid her fingers gently, carefully into the waistband and pulled, sliding them down and off Harrow’s legs and dropping them off the side of the bed.

The air tore itself from her lungs as she spread Harrow’s legs, letting out a shaky gasp at the sight of her.

In Gideon’s defense, Harrow was wet enough that she was glistening in the warm glow of Gideon’s lights— and she thought, very genuinely, that Harrow’s was the most gorgeous pussy she had ever seen.

Part of her wondered if she should offer to say Grace before eating, though she figured Harrow wouldn’t find it as funny as she did.

“Fuck me sideways,” Gideon breathed, swallowing. “God, dude. Holy shit.”

Harrow shifted in mild discomfort at being viewed so intently. “Is something wrong?”

“Not even a little bit,” Gideon said, scooting herself back further. “Nope. I’m in Heaven here.” She pressed a line of kisses down each thigh, hearing Harrow’s breath catch in her throat every time she edged closer to where she needed her attention most.

This was one of Gideon’s favorite things to do, after all. She wanted to savor the whole experience. She switched tactics after a minute or so, sucking gently at the fleshiest parts of Harrow’s thighs until bruises began to form.

By the third minute of this teasing, just as Gideon was about to start biting, Harrow’s hand — when had it slid into her hair? she wasn’t sure — tightened into a fist and pulled her closer.

“Nav,” Harrow said, with some effort. “I swear to God, if you don’t start, I—”

Gideon leaned in, opened her mouth, and pressed her tongue flat against Harrow’s clit. Harrow broke off with a noise somewhere between a whimper, a moan, and a shudder.

Her nose twitched at the feeling of hair brushing it, but she got used to the feeling quickly. Gideon shifted, pushing Harrow’s legs open a little wider to give herself better access. The hand in her hair slackened, then tightened again with renewed energy.

Harrow’s hips jumped up against her, trying to seek more friction, but Gideon didn’t feel like risking a black eye. She spread one of her hands flat over Harrow’s stomach, anchoring her hips in place, and started in earnest.

Gideon licked in wide, even strokes across Harrow’s entrance, letting out a contented hum at the salty tang on her tongue. She gave Harrow a few moments to adapt to the feeling before switching it on her completely, sucking her clit into her mouth with a practiced move.

Gideon was suddenly glad for the hand slung heavy over Harrow’s stomach— because the force with which her hips moved would have broken her nose. She filed this victory away to relish in later, and redoubled her efforts at the task at hand.

Above her, Harrow was staring with open, awe-filled eyes. Gold met black once more, and Harrow’s chest fluttered with the gasp she let out. “Fuck,” She breathed. “Jesus Christ, Gideon, you—”

The sound of her name — her real name, not a childhood nickname or anything else that avoided it — made Gideon hum again. This time, considering Harrow’s clit was sitting just inside her lips, the vibrations made Harrow arch up off the bed with her mouth in a wordless O.

Every movement of Gideon’s tongue and mouth against her sent another wave of pleasure down Harrow’s spine. The muscles in her lower back were starting to tense, and she could feel herself twitching erratically.

Harrow’s range of understanding had narrowed solely to her body— and, more specifically, to where Gideon’s mouth and fingers and tongue were touching her cunt.

Every time she could wrestle her eyes open long enough to process what she was seeing, she saw Gideon pressing her entire face between her legs with an unrestrained kind of zeal and focus that was completely unfamiliar to her.

Put simply: she wasn’t sure which one of them was enjoying it more.

At some point, Harrow realized her mouth was moving, with a near-constant stream of don’t stop, fuck, and Gideon pouring from her.

In response to one of the louder recitations, Gideon pushed Harrow’s legs further apart to give herself better access. Her face was only away from Harrow’s pussy for a second, but it was enough to make both of them desperate by the time she dove in again.

Gideon’s eyes were closed in a mixture of pleasure and concentration, and Harrow felt her climax approach right as she sucked her clit into her mouth again.

Then, Gideon opened her eyes and winked, and that’s when Harrow knew she was utterly, completely fucked.

As if to prove it, she came about half a second later.

Harrow couldn’t stop herself from staring into Gideon’s eyes as her muscles spasmed, back arching up off the bed, and she couldn’t stop her thighs from squeezing down hard around Gideon’s head. Part of her worried vaguely if she would be able to breathe, but Gideon would find a way.

Sure enough, when the dust settled and Harrow felt the capability for human thought returning to her, she opened her eyes — unaware that she had closed them — to see Gideon’s head laying against her thigh.

The expression on her face could only be described as pure, untempered bliss. “Hi,” Gideon murmured, giving her a smile. “There you are, baby. Come back to me.”

“Fucking hell,” Harrow wheezed, with about the same amount of force as a gentle gust of wind. “Did I die?”

Gideon smiled, kissing her thigh, her hip bone, and a line down to her mound before letting out a contented sigh. “Nope. That’d be kind of a dampener, don’t you think?”

Harrow could not, for the life of her, think of a comeback to this. Instead, she let out another faint wheeze, and was treated to a rumbling laugh and Gideon pulling her gently into an embrace.

If Harrow had been in any other situation, she would have reacted instinctively at the feeling of being hugged. Now, though, it was warm and inviting and felt like home— which was probably something she wouldn’t let herself think of again for another few weeks at least.

“I’m giving you five minutes before I start kicking,” Harrow mumbled into Gideon’s shoulder.

She felt her chest move a few times with quiet, genuine laughter. “Cuddles after sex is a must-have, babe. It’s non-negotiable.”

Harrow muttered something about “how about you negotiate this,” but it didn’t go anywhere. If sex was a boxing match, she had been momentarily K.O.’d. She was down for the count. She’d tapped out.

Christ, even her inner monologue sounded like Gideon.

Goddamn it, Harrow thought, with surprising clarity. She wasn’t kidding.

“I hate to admit it,” Harrow grumbled, after minutes had passed and she’d regained the use of her motor functions. “But you weren’t wrong.” She shifted in Gideon’s arms, looking her in the eye. “You do eat pussy like a champ, Griddle.”

Gideon put a hand over her heart and pretended to wipe away a tear. “That’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

“Enjoy it,” Harrow said, closing her eyes. “That’s the only time I’m going to admit it.” There was a surprising silence that greeted her, and after the thirtieth second of it had passed, Harrow opened her eyes to see Gideon staring thoughtfully at a backpack in the corner of the room.

After a beat, she turned to Harrow and said, in much the same tone one might inquire about going on a walk in the park, “How about we try the strap next time?”

* * *

III.

“It’s… a little big, don’t you think?”

Harrow turned to Gideon with a raised eyebrow. “Do you think so? I thought it would fit rather nicely.”

Gideon shrugged, tilting her head to the side to get a better view. “How big was the last one you had?”

“Oh, much smaller.” Harrow chewed thoughtfully at the inside of her cheek, taking out her tape measure for the fifth time. “If memory serves, the last desk lamp I had was half this size.”

Gideon leaned against the shopping cart, running her eyes over the box Harrow was ruminating over. “It’s a nice color,” She said agreeably. “I mean, it’s black, but it’s a nice black. It looks—” She paused for a second, trying to find the word. “It looks sophisticated. The only things missing are some skull decals.”

Harrow made a thoughtful, serious noise at this, squatting down to check the dimensions and specifications written on the lamp’s box. “My only concern,” She said, face crumpled in thought, “is that it won’t match the other shades of black I have in the room.”

She paused for a moment, then nodded to the one beside it. “This one is not black, which would both avoid my dilemma and create the entirely new problem of sticking out like a sore thumb.” Harrow let out a sigh. “This is vexing, Griddle. I’m vexed.”

Gideon fought the urge to roll her eyes. Her stomach growled loudly. “I’m going to say this in the nicest and least douchey way possible.” Harrow turned halfway to face her. “We’ve been at Costco for, like, two hours, and those free samples, while delicious, are not holding me.”

Harrow considered this. “If you help me figure this out, I’ll buy you as many hot dogs as you want.”

“Deal,” Gideon said. She looked at the lamp again, then at the one beside it. “Ooh, that one has a USB port.”

They approached the checkout with both boxes in the cart, which Harrow only allowed because Gideon promised to return at least one of them for her if it wasn’t up to her standards.

She ordered two hot dogs, while Harrow opted for a bottle of water, and they sat for a moment in the food court while Gideon munched down happily on her food.

“Alright, this makes it worth it,” Gideon said, taking a sip from Harrow’s water.

Harrow made a noise of unmotivated alarm. “I would have gotten you your own bottle if you’d asked.”

Gideon looked aghast, and shook her head. “And waste more plastic? My AP Environmental Science teacher would roll over in her grave.”

Harrow rolled her eyes. “Aiglamene isn’t dead, idiot.”

“Maybe not yet,” Gideon said, raising her eyebrows. “But she’s close enough that it would count.” She took another sip from Harrow’s water, ignoring the noise of irritation she made, and swallowed. “So. What’s the plan for after this?”

Harrow shrugged. “I don’t have the musculature to carry two boxes up four flights of stairs,” She said. “And my wrists have been aching all morning.”

“So that’s why you brought me along.” Gideon sighed in a fair approximation of hurt. “I’m nothing more than a pack mule to you. I understand.” Her eyes sparkled, giving away the joke even if her voice wouldn’t.

“Please.” Harrow rolled her eyes. “I brought you along because you have a Costco membership, and because you’re the only person I can trust to help me on decisions like this.”

“Picking desk lamps?”

“Interior decoration,” Harrow corrected. “You were right. Much to my surprise, you do know me better than most people in my life.”

Gideon paused with her hot dog on the way to her mouth. “It always surprises me when you say stuff like that,” She said lightly, leaning back. “I do, too, though.”

“You what?”

Gideon was quiet for a second, though it might have just been because she was chewing. “I trust you, too.”

There was a glob of mustard on the corner of her mouth. Harrow licked her thumb and leaned over, wiping it gently away. “Considering your head has been between my legs, I would certainly hope so.”

Gideon smiled — a real, kind, genuine smile, though it was perpetually lopsided — and it was unexpected enough that Harrow paused with her hand still on her face. “What?”

“You want me to carry boxes for you,” Gideon said smugly. “I knew you liked my arms.”

Harrow took her hand away and tried to banish her blush through sheer force of will. “I refuse to confirm or deny that.”

“I see you on my Snap stories,” Gideon said. “You know it tells me when you screenshot them, right?”

Harrow’s water bottle froze on the way to her mouth. She paused for a long, mortified moment, then set it down. “As it happens,” She said tightly, “I did not know that.”

“Hate to be the bearer of bad news.” Gideon leaned back, crossing her arms over her chest. “You know I only post them for you, right?”

A strangled cough made its way out of her throat. “You—” Harrow blinked. “What?”

“It’s fun to see when you react to them,” Gideon shrugged, scratching the back of her head. “Makes me feel sexy.” Harrow looked like she was going to combust, so Gideon decided to spare her this once. “And if you want me to bring your boxes up and give you the best dick of your life, you’re gonna have to invite me up.”

Harrow decided not to mention that it would be the only dick of her life at this point, though the reminder of why they’d decided to spend time together in the first place sent a bright spark of anticipation to her lower stomach.

“Is that really what you’re asking for? That’s the big mystery of compelling you to spend time with me? An invitation?” Harrow asked, wrestling her water bottle out of Gideon’s hand.

Gideon raised her eyebrows. Her expression shifted, just a little, and grew heavy with memory. “That’s all it’s ever taken,” She said. Then, for posterity’s sake, she added, “Asswipe.”

Harrow cleared her throat. “Fine.” A huff. “Griddle—”

“Full name, please.”

Harrow shot Gideon a look, but didn’t protest. “Gideon,” She corrected. It felt odd leaving her mouth— there was an intimacy to it that made Harrow sit a little straighter. “Will you please help me move boxes.” Harrow made her voice flat to avoid addressing the tremble in it.

Gideon nodded her head, pleased. “Why, yes, Harrowhark. I would love nothing more than to help you move your lamps.”

Harrow nodded. “Wonderful. And do we need to stop at your apartment for, um.” She cleared her throat. “Any additional equipment you need?”

“Nope,” Gideon said brightly. She shifted, scooting closer to Harrow where she sat, and moved her legs apart just slightly.

Harrow’s eyes were drawn to the movement, and went wide at what she saw— which was, if her eyes were telling the truth, a noticeable bulge.

That fucker. Gideon, rather than bring a backpack like a normal person, was packing. In jeans. Because she wanted to kill Harrow where she was sitting, which was in fucking Costco.

“You—” Harrow swallowed. “You’re wearing it?”

“It’s not hard,” Gideon said, leaning back after eliciting the desired effect. “Literally. It’s soft right now.”

That seemed difficult to achieve. “How?”

Gideon dug in the pocket of her jeans for a moment before pulling out a skinny, jointed plastic rod. “Pretty cool, huh? I can just—” She mimed wiggling the rod into something, though it made her look like she was trying to cast a spell, “—whenever I want. It was expensive, but very worth it.”

Harrow’s first urge was to find a bathroom and make whenever I want into right fucking now. Her second urge was to beat the first urge over the head with a baseball bat. Her third was to say, “I-I wasn’t aware that things like that existed.”

“Believe it, Nonagesimus,” Gideon said proudly.

Harrow cleared her throat, leaning a little closer. Her blush was burning on her face, and she was — not for the first time — grateful that her skin was dark enough for it not to show too badly. “How big?”

Gideon raised her eyebrows. “Excuse me?”

“How big is it, Nav?” Harrow gritted, lowering her voice.

“Sorry, I-I didn’t hear you—” At Harrow’s withering glare, Gideon relented. “Couldn’t resist. You get so embarrassed about stuff like this. It’s fun to make you stew in it for a little.” She cleared her throat. “About five and a half inches. Not huge, but plenty to start out with. Very respectable.”

Harrow nodded. “Have you ever… received anything yourself?” She cleared her throat and gestured vaguely to Gideon’s pants, hoping her question would be understood without having to explain further.

Gideon raised her eyebrows. “Me? God, no,” She said, shaking her head. “No. First of all, I-I prefer giving to receiving, and second— how can I put this.” She thought for a moment. “I am tighter than a goddamn jar of pickles down there.”

Harrow blinked. “What?”

“It’s true,” Gideon said. “Medically speaking, I mean. I have a clinically tight pussy.”

Nav.”

“You asked!” Gideon grinned, watching Harrow sink deeper into mortification at being near her. “Anyway. No, I have not, and as of right now I have no desire to.”

“And other things?” Harrow asked, looking at her after a moment. “You said at the party you’d never been eaten out.”

“And that remains true.” Gideon shrugged. “But penetration is kind of a no-go for me in general.”

Harrow said, “Good to know.” And then, after a moment had passed: “If I asked, would you allow me to do the first thing for you?”

That seemed to be a surprise, because Gideon made a strangled sound and paused with a wide-eyed look of shock on her face. After a moment of complete, stunned silence, she fumbled, “Are—are you asking?”

“I am,” Harrow said, and meant it. “For research purposes, of course.”

“Research purposes,” Gideon repeated faintly. “Yeah. Yes. I-I’d be okay with that. Today is your day, but in the future? Yes. Definitely. Absolutely.”

Your day. Future. Harrow was, for some reason, blushing again. “Finish your hot dog, Griddle, and I’ll drive us back.”

Gideon arranged the boxes neatly in the back of Harrow’s car — a black Subaru Forester, purchased for its position in the upper tier of Consumer Reports’ range of SUVs — and slid into the passenger’s side.

It was a short drive to Harrow’s apartment, and one spent in relative silence. Yet it wasn’t the same suffocating, stony silence that had followed them up until this point— this was a companionable silence, and settled idly in the air between them.

Gideon hummed along to the radio while Harrow tapped her thumb against the steering wheel, sitting up as straight as she could to get the best view of the road. They were home before they knew it.

The elevator had been repaired, as it turned out. The out-of-order sign that Harrow had grown accustomed to seeing was nowhere to be found.

Harrow stepped in and held the door, moving to one side as Gideon tried to balance the two boxes in her arms. The doors slid quietly closed.

Beside the mechanical whirring of the gears, they stood in silence.

Gideon looked down, giving her a grin. “Hi.”

“Hello.” Harrow’s eyes flicked down without her consent to Gideon’s biceps. “You’re looking… healthy.”

Gideon blinked. “Thank you?” She inspected Harrow for a moment, running her eyes up and down her frame. “You’re looking... healthier than usual.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Normally you look frail and sleep-deprived,” Gideon said. “Now you just look sleep-deprived.” She nodded, pleased. “You’ve been eating better.”

It was true, even if it wasn’t intentional— Harrow was fed every time she went to Gideon’s apartment. It was more homemade food than she’d eaten since moving away from Drearburh years before.

And Harrow saw the meaning behind the words. She had noticed it in herself, too: color had returned to her cheeks, she’d been spending more time in the sun, and her sharp, bony edges were being softened by muscle and fat.

Harrow wasn’t sure what to say to the statement besides, “We both know I have you to blame for that.”

If the small, half-hidden smile on her face was any indication, Gideon took it as the thanks that it was.

The elevator doors opened to the familiar fourth-floor hallway a second later, sparing either of them another attempt at conversation. Harrow slinked out around Gideon’s box-filled arms, unlocked her door, and held it open as Gideon made her way down the hall.

She tried not to stare at the long, smooth ripple of muscles in Gideon’s arms as she set the boxes down, but it was difficult not to. Harrow traced the line of her tricep with her eyes, following it down to where it met her elbow. Her radial flexors twitched, flexing and unflexing as Gideon positioned the boxes on the ground.

A bead of sweat rolled down Gideon’s neck — the car had been hot, and the exertion wasn’t helping much — and for a moment Harrow wondered if the room had gotten a few degrees warmer.

Gideon didn’t seem to notice. She stood a moment later, dusting her hands off proudly. “There you are, my umbral sovereign. Two lamps, bought, paid for, and delivered.”

“Thank you,” Harrow said stiffly, turning before Gideon could see her blush. “Can I get you anything to eat—” She paused, considered the contents of her refrigerator, and amended her statement. “Anything to drink?”

Gideon raised an eyebrow. “Do you have anything in there that isn’t caffeinated?”

“Um.” A beat. “Well, I have tap water.”

“That’ll do. One tap water, please,” Gideon said, pulling out one of the chairs at the island. She looked around the kitchen, wincing internally at the state of the sink.

Mugs of coffee and plates that still bore the food-stain scars of a microwave were piled high, there was a dismal-looking sponge in danger of falling off the edge, and every so often the disposal would gurgle sadly. Gideon made a mental note to pick her up a sturdy dish brush the next time she went shopping.

Harrow presented her with a glass of lukewarm tap water, which Gideon accepted gratefully. It tasted like water. Very acceptable.

“So,” Harrowhark offered. “Do you— would you like to watch a movie?”

“I’ve been packing for two and a half hours, and you ask if I want to watch a movie,” Gideon said, shaking her head.

“I didn’t want to be presumptuous!”

“Harrow, that’s the whole point. Presume away, sweetheart. You can objectify me a little.” Gideon leaned back, watching Harrow walk around to her side of the kitchen island. She opened her legs to invite her in, then settled her hands on Harrow’s arms first in a purposeful, not-quite-intimate way. “Do you still want to do this?”

“I do,” Harrow said without hesitation. “I merely thought—” She paused, clearing her throat awkwardly. “Whenever I come over, you offer me food, a beverage, and entertainment. I wouldn’t be doing my duties as host if I didn’t offer you the same courtesy.”

It was said with all the ease and graciousness of an 18-wheeler that had flipped over into a ditch, and it made Gideon’s heart flip over in her chest. There was something hopelessly earnest about it that took her by surprise and rendered her momentarily speechless.

Harrowhark shifted uncomfortably. “What.”

“What?” Gideon asked, jolted back to the moment.

“You’re quiet.”

“I—” Gideon blinked. “Yeah.” Harrow’s eyes, impossible and ineffable in their rosy blackness, widened in fear. “Nothing is wrong, loser. I just wasn’t expecting you to try so hard.”

Fear turned to surprise, which turned to mild chagrin. “Oh,” Harrow said, fingers twitching by her sides. “Griddle, I would be a pretty shit lay if I didn’t put some effort into hosting you.”

Gideon smiled. “You’ve got me there.” Her hands slid down Harrow’s wrist until they rested comfortably on her hips. “You know,” She said, hands toying at the hem of Harrow’s shirt, “this is a great shirt. But—”

“Nav, if you say it would look better on my floor—”

“—but it would look better on your floor,” Gideon finished, undeterred. “Can I take it off you?”

Harrow sighed, rolled her eyes, and drew her shirt up and over her head. “You are insufferable.”

 

Gideon’s hands moved up to her stomach, settling just over her pelvis. “Better,” She said, smiling. She pulled Harrow gently closer, prompting her to loop her arms around Gideon’s neck. “Can I kiss you?”

“You know, while I appreciate your zeal for consent, you don’t have to ask every time,” Harrow murmured, eyes flicking downward to Gideon’s lips.

Gideon raised her eyebrows. “How else am I going to know?” She asked, which Harrow answered by leaning down and closing the distance between them.

It was a comfortable kiss. Gideon’s hands were warm against her, and she kissed at a lazy, languid pace that Harrow met easily. After a few minutes had passed, she found it difficult to determine exactly where Gideon’s body ended and hers began.

Then, Gideon bit down at her lip, and Harrow remembered. The hands hanging loose behind Gideon’s neck reanimated and slid into her hair, carding gently through the short, thick waves there.

In response, Gideon’s hands squeezed lightly at her waist, tensing against her at the feeling of Harrow pulling gently at her hair. She kissed back with renewed energy, and suddenly the atmosphere was different.

Suddenly, the air changed. Suddenly, the kiss became heated— charged with promise and the expectation of something Harrow had barely ever let herself entertain the idea of.

The reminder gave her an idea. Harrow broke the kiss for a moment, watching a string of saliva connect their mouths, and slid one of her hands down. She dragged it slowly over Gideon’s shoulders, down her chest, down her stomach— until it rested just over the bulge in her jeans.

Then, Harrow looked up again to see Gideon staring openly at her with wide, dark rings that were beginning to edge out the gold in her eyes. Harrow raised an eyebrow and dragged her hand over Gideon’s packer, pressing it gently against her.

Her reaction was immediate. Gideon’s mouth fell open, her head leaned back, and her eyes dropped down to where Harrow was palming her dick. She felt a spike of heat shoot through her at the open, bare need in Gideon’s face already.

“What is it?” Harrowhark asked, unable to resist. She moved her hand again, pressing lightly against Gideon’s cock. A smile curled across her lips, knowing and just a little mean around the edges. Gideon always seemed to like her mean.

“You know what it is, Nonagesimus,” Gideon breathed, eyes sliding shut for a moment. “Damn it, I’m supposed to be the one teasing you.”

“And yet here we are.” Harrow grinned, baring her teeth, and sat down in Gideon’s lap. Her hands settled on strong shoulders, squeezing lightly. “But please, by all means, tease away.”

Gideon’s eye twitched.

Then, almost faster than Harrow could see, she leaned forward and undid Harrow’s bra. As it fell to the floor, Gideon closed her mouth around one of the brown nipples in front of her.

Harrow’s hand tightened reflexively in Gideon’s hair, mouth falling open at the electric, all-encompassing feeling of her mouth, and she couldn’t keep the breath of fuck from falling out of her.

One hand slid up, dragging slowly up Harrow’s body, until she could toy gently with the other nipple— and, really, that was where the last of her resolve left her.

Harrow leaned her head back, focused completely on Gideon’s mouth on her tits, and stared as brazenly and openly as she could bear. “God,” She breathed, feeling Gideon hum in return. Then, because she was competitive, she asked, “Is that all you got, Nav?”

In response, Gideon canted her hips upwards, and— oh. Oh. Right.

Normally, when Gideon did that, there was nothing there to rub against Harrow. This time, there was a smooth line of silicone that pressed directly against her pussy, and Harrow had to fight not to gasp audibly.

It was a fight she lost. This made Gideon look up for a moment, mustering as much of a shit-eating grin as she could with her mouth around Harrow’s nipple. The hand still at her waist tightened, and Harrow only had half a second to wonder why before Gideon’s hips rolled up into her again— and then another time, and so on in a steady, slow rhythm against her.

And, God, it was amazing.

With the sensation at her chest and Gideon rolling steadily up against her pussy, angling in a way that meant she rubbed against Harrow’s clit with every movement, it was almost too much.

“Nav— fuck,” Harrow breathed, fisting a hand in her hair for a moment. “Gideon. If—if you keep doing that, I’m going to cum.”

Gideon released her nipple for a second, breathing heavy against her chest, and looked up. “Do you want me to stop?”

Harrow regarded her. Gideon’s eyes were heavy-lidded, her lips were parted and just the slightest bit swollen, and there was a trail of spit that was drying on her face. Almost against her will, her hips ground down on the bulge below her.

“No.” Harrow pushed Gideon’s head back against her, grinding her hips down again. “Keep going.”

Gideon did. Her eyes slid closed, focusing on the work her tongue and lips were doing in tandem, and her hips resumed their steady rhythm— though it was faster now, and more sure. She hit the same spot every time, rubbing against Harrow’s clit perfectly.

Harrow closed her eyes. The pleasure was so, so close to overwhelming, almost enough to push her out of her skin, but it wasn’t. It was hot, snaking up her chest and down her back and stomach, and it was driving her closer and closer to orgasm by the second.

The only warning she could give Gideon before she fell over the edge was pulling her up for a hot, openmouthed kiss.

Harrow slumped forward, twitching every so often with the force of her orgasm, but Gideon was there to catch her. “I got you,” She murmured, wrapping her arms around Harrow’s back. “I’m gonna bring us to the bedroom, okay?”

“First door on the left,” Harrow mumbled into Gideon’s shoulder. “Give me a moment to stand.”

“No need,” Gideon said. She moved her hands down to Harrow’s ass to support her before standing up slowly with her still hanging from her front. Gideon’s hands were strong and capable — emphasis, Harrow’s brain pointed out unhelpfully, on the strong — and they held her easily.

It was a surprising comfort to be carried, though you wouldn’t have known it from how Harrow fidgeted and squirmed in Gideon’s arms. Her steps picked up in speed the closer they got to Harrow’s room.

Gideon deposited her on the bed ungracefully. “God, you’re like a cat,” She said, shaking her head a few times. “Right. Status check, Nonagesimus. How are we feeling?”

Harrow’s brain was still operating at diminished capacity, but she managed a thumbs-up. “Phenomenal,” She creaked, propping herself up on her elbows.

“Do you want to take a break before we—”

“No,” Harrow said with finality. “That was our warm-up, Nav. Take your pants off and come here.”

Gideon, who Harrow was beginning to suspect held a greater regard for obedience than she’d originally thought, gave her a nod and did so. “Where do you keep your lube?”

Harrow blinked, trying and failing to tear her eyes away from the bulge in Gideon’s boxers. She could see the veins in the packer through the black, thin fabric stretched taut around it. “Normally, I don’t need it for—” She cleared her throat, “—the activities I partake in on my own.”

“For this, it’ll make things easier. Not that I’m dissing your— natural production,” Gideon said, gesturing to Harrow’s lower body, “but trust me, it’ll help.”

Harrow’s eyes flicked down again and lingered. “Try without it first.”

Gideon let out a long-suffering sigh. “I see you looking at my dick. My eyes are up here, babe.”

Being caught staring, Harrow found it exceedingly difficult to respond, and settled for flopping back down on the pillows and closing her eyes. “You are a nightmare.”

“Dressed like a daydream, though, am I right?” Gideon knelt on the bed, leaned down over her, and rested a gentle hand on Harrow’s jaw. “Look at me, sweets.” Harrow did, and pretended the pet name didn’t make her heart flip. “I’m gonna warm you up a little, alright?”

Harrow’s capacity for patience — which, already, was not the highest in the world — had worn down to the bone. “I told you already, Nav,” She said bluntly. “You don’t need to do that.”

“Do you want me to just…” Gideon gestured again, still vague. “Put it in?”

“Yes,” Harrow said, assuming it was true. This was a part of sex that she was, admittedly, a little less well-informed on, but she figured it was fairly straightforward.

Gideon was unconvinced. “What happens if it doesn’t fit?”

Harrow blinked. “Is that a concern?”

“Well, I would know if I put a finger in you,” Gideon huffed, shuffling her boxers down a few inches. Her packer flopped ungracefully out, which earned a muttered curse, and Harrow’s eyes flicked down to the red-brown mass of hair revealed between her legs. “Let me put the rod in and I’ll be good.”

Moments later, with the packer pulled properly through the front O-ring Harrow had neglected to notice before, Gideon was ready. “If it hurts, tell me, and I’ll stop. If you want to slow down—”

“For God’s sake, Nav, fuck me already.”

Gideon swallowed, nodding a few times, and leaned down to press a kiss to Harrow’s forehead. “Yes, ma’am.” She spread Harrow’s legs apart, positioning her in the most comfortable way she could manage, and dragged a few fingers through her wetness.

Harrow gasped, chest heaving with the sudden touch, and her hands flew to Gideon’s back. Her mouth fell open as Gideon took the gathered wetness and began to run it up and down her cock. Her hand moved slowly, trailing it up and down the shaft, until it was lubricated to her liking.

Then— God, this was the moment, wasn’t it? — she leaned forward, drew her hips back, and pressed the head of her strap against Harrow’s cunt. The hands at her back tightened out of reflex.

Golden eyes flicked up, worried, to search her face. “You don’t have to do this,” Gideon said softly, barely above a murmur. Their faces were inches apart.

Harrow swallowed, looking down at where their bodies were just barely touching. “I want to,” She said at the same volume. “Just— go slow.”

Gideon did. She pressed her cock more insistently against Harrow’s entrance, sliding the head into her as slow as either of them could bear.

It was a different stretch than Harrow was used to. It was wider, for one, and felt altogether like more than she had taken in the past. It burned— which was not unfamiliar, but normally, the burn faded after a few seconds of adjustment.

This one, much to Harrow’s displeasure, did not.

Gideon watched her face twist and quirk in discomfort, and paused. “Talk to me.”

“It’s nothing,” Harrow said, wincing despite her words. Gideon adjusted her position, and the movement sent a wave of deep, burning pain up Harrow’s body. Her eyes squeezed shut, and she made a small noise of pain.

That seemed to be all Gideon needed to see. “Nope,” She said plainly, shaking her head. “We’re not doing this.” She drew her hips back, sliding the head out of Harrow.

Admittedly, the absence was a relief. “Gideon—”

“Harrow.” Her voice left no room for argument. Gideon crossed her arms over her chest. “It isn’t supposed to hurt. You’re not supposed to tolerate it, it’s— Christ, Harrow, it’s supposed to feel good.”

 

Maybe it was the overwhelming sense of failure that crushed her, or maybe it was the remnants of her last orgasm coming back to haunt her, but furious tears welled in Harrow’s eyes. She refused to acknowledge them. “Try it again. I can do this, Griddle.”

One traitorous tear rolled out of her eye, trailing brazenly down her face, and Gideon’s eyes widened. This time, though, they held only concern. “Harrow,” She said quietly. “Look at me.”

Harrow refused.

Harrowhark.”

“What?” Black eyes, red-rimmed, met gold. “What, Nav?”

Gideon plopped down beside her and rested a hand on her shoulder. “You didn’t do anything wrong. You know that, right?”

“That’s difficult to believe when, evidently, I can’t even have sex correctly,” Harrow spit back. “This was a mistake. We—”

She cut off with a wheeze as Gideon pulled her into a tight, borderline bone-crushing hug. “You didn’t do anything wrong,” Gideon repeated firmly. “You’re not a fuck-up or a freak for not being able to take a strap on your first try without any prep— and grinding on me doesn’t count as prep, Nonagesimus.”

Harrow remained in stubborn, frustrated silence, which meant she wanted Gideon to continue talking. “How about this,” Gideon said, pulling back a little. “I take the dick off, you give me your biggest hoodie, and we watch a movie and take a little break.”

“And then?” Harrow asked gruffly, refusing to meet Gideon’s eyes.

“And then we try again, if you want.” Gideon’s voice held no pity, which came as a surprise. Somewhere along the way, it had become compassion. “Let me pull up DoorDash. We can get some lube from the 7-11 down the street.”

There was a brief pause, but at least Harrow wasn’t trying to wriggle out of her embrace anymore. “Make sure it doesn’t have glycerin added to it.”

Gideon smiled, pressing a kiss to the top of Harrow’s head. “There’s my weird little scientist. What do you want to eat?”

They settled on a moderately-priced Hawaiian restaurant a few blocks away and put on a movie both had seen a million times, and as much as it pained her to admit, Harrow felt marginally more relaxed with the pressure off for a moment.

Gideon ended up eating an entire order of loco moco and half of Harrow’s poke bowl, which was the way it was always going to go. And the movie was predictable — Gideon knew it by heart, and by the fourth line she quoted from memory, a ghost of a smile was on Harrow’s face — so, as the day turned to evening outside them, Harrow relaxed.

Without realizing exactly how it happened, Harrowhark rested her head on Gideon’s shoulder, slumping over in her lap as the minutes ticked by. She stiffened lightly at the contact, still unused to it coming from Harrow, before slowly letting herself settle into it.

As it turned out, months — years, more accurately — of bad sleep and insomnia meant Harrow fell asleep within the first half hour. She awoke to Gideon scrolling aimlessly through social media with half an eye on the television.

Harrow shifted, blinking the drowsy sand from her eyes. Her throat was dry. She tried to ask How long was I asleep, but all that came out was, “Hnngh.”

“Good morning, sunshine,” Gideon said, not looking away from her phone. “How was your nap?”

There was a glass of water on the table that Harrow reached half-blindly for. Water tasted like divine ambrosia going down her throat, and sent a cool thrill down her ribs. “Fine,” She croaked after a moment. “Good. My apologies for taking it in your lap.”

“It was nice,” Gideon said without thinking. She paused, looking into the middle distance for a moment with an expression that read hm! I didn’t mean to say that and cleared her throat. “If it’ll help the bags under your eyes, I’m more than willing to let you sleep on me.”

Harrowhark rolled her eyes. “My hero,” She said, though it lacked its usual bite. The movie seemed to be over. It had been for, at minimum, twenty minutes, if her math was right. “So. What now?”

“Depends on how you feel,” Gideon said, shrugging. “I can go home, we can cuddle, or we can… y’know.” She made a flippant hand gesture.

Harrow blinked. “I do not know, Griddle.”

The athlete shifted in her seat, face darkening down to her chest with a blush. “Pick up where we left off.”

“You mean—” Harrow’s eyes widened. “Oh. Right.” Her hand lingered on Gideon’s arm, stroking idly at the skin and veins there. The memory of what happened a few hours prior was, to say the least, a sore spot.

It represented a critical lack of experience where research was concerned, of course, but— well, research be damned, Harrow wanted to get railed.

“Did you ever have the lube delivered?” She asked, stilling her fingers.

Gideon nodded and pointed to a small, nondescript bottle on the table. “Glycerin free. Just what the doctor ordered.”

“I’m not a doctor,” Harrow said.

“You’re not a doctor yet.” Gideon raised an eyebrow. “Growth mindset, babe.”

Harrow rolled her eyes, an action that had long since been her go-to when conversing with Gideon. “Fine.” She gnawed at the inside of her lip for a moment. “Well. I’m more than happy to try again, if that’s something you’re still interested in.”

Her voice came out more stilted than she had hoped for, which Gideon picked up on. “That’s not what I asked,” She said, turning to face Harrow completely. “Do you want this, Harrow?”

Want. It always came down to that, didn’t it?

Harrowhark, for the first twenty-one years of her life, had understood that to want without shame was criminal. It was to be avoided at all costs.

And here she was, undone in her entirety by one idiot with a crooked smile and hair as red as fire.

For a moment, she imagined herself talking to God. This was not an uncommon occurrence: for whatever reason, it came as a common comfort for her. She spoke with Him often (though the conversations tended to be one-sided) about everything: her friends, her grades, her parents.

Now, she imagined herself at the gates of Heaven.

Harrowhark, you have sinned grievously, He would say to her, though not unkindly. Despite the insistence of the nuns, God had never struck her as unkind. A large, warm hand would rest on her shoulder. You wanted too much, my child. Your greed, your desperation— these are what become you.

Perhaps they do, she would reply. But Lord, if you had seen her as I had, you would have understood.

“I do,” Harrow said out loud. “Yes.”

Gideon blinked, then nodded. “Okay,” She said, giving Harrow that familiar lopsided smile. She stood with a quiet noise of effort, then offered a hand. Harrow took it and allowed herself to be pulled up. “Then after you, my lady.”

Harrow led them in companionable — albeit charged — silence to her bedroom once more, playing idly with the strings of the hoodie she wore. She lay herself back on the pillows, mimicking her earlier position.

Gideon watched her with eyes of liquid gold. “So I did some Googling while you were asleep,” She started, shrugging off the crewneck Harrow had lent her. “And I found some super-skinny dildos for— well, technically they’re for pegging, but they work well for first-timers. Apparently they’re only about as wide as one or two fingers.”

The reveal of Gideon’s bare stomach and chest had somewhat distracted Harrow. Her sports bra was nowhere to be seen, which meant her tits were out. They were on the smaller side, and were a slightly lighter shade of brown than the rest of her. Her nipples were brown, and surrounded by an expanse of soft skin.

Harrow tore her eyes away and forced herself to listen. “And you’re telling me this because?”

“If it still doesn’t work, you’re not out of options,” Gideon shrugged. “And I know you hate being in the dark about shit like this. Remember freshman year, when I told you I went swimming in the fountain with my TA?”

Harrow did remember, as a matter of fact. Gideon had presented the story with such an air of smug, self-satisfied bravado that Harrow had shoved her laptop into the other woman’s hands and jumped into it herself just to prove a point.

“Maybe so,” Harrowhark said, refusing to blush. “But that’s... kind of you, Griddle.” A pause. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.” Gideon paused for a second. “Like, seriously, do not mention it. Every time we talk about our feelings my blood pressure spikes.”

By this point, Harrow was getting antsy. They came here for a reason, goddamn it. “So stop talking.” Black eyes flicked down to Gideon’s lips, and Harrow pulled her in by the waistband of her shorts. “Can you do that, Nav?”

Gideon’s eyes widened. Her tongue flicked out to wet her lips. Her throat bobbed with a small gulp. “Yes,” She breathed, looking down at Harrow’s mouth.

That was all Harrow needed. With one hand tangled in Gideon’s hair and the other curling protectively— no, possessively around her neck, she pulled her down for a hot, dizzying kiss.

One kiss became two, which became four, which became ten before either of them knew it.

Harrow was faintly aware of Gideon moving, positioning herself somewhere new, and when she opened her eyes again she was looking up at her. Gideon was holding herself over Harrow’s upper body, knees resting on either side of her hips.

Then, lifting one hand off the bed, Gideon trailed her fingers down Harrow’s chest lightly. “Can I take this off?” She asked.

Harrow answered by leaning up and chucking it over her head herself. It left her exposed from the waist up.

Gideon’s eyes widened, as they always did at seeing her tits. “Nice,” She breathed, expression turning to an awed grin. “Can I—”

“For fuck’s sake, Nav,” Harrow interrupted. She took the hand hovering in the air and brought it down to her body, letting it rest against her ribs. “Yes, you may.”

A thumb swiped over her nipple, rubbing gently over it, and Harrow couldn’t help but let out a quiet, surprised noise at the feeling. Gideon leaned down again, pulling her into another series of hard, searing, fucking extraordinary kisses, and Harrow wondered for a moment if she might melt into the mattress from the pure heat of it.

The hand on her tit moved down lower, trailing slowly down her stomach until it reached the waistband of her boxers. “Harrow,” Gideon murmured against her. “Do you—”

The hand on Gideon’s throat tightened ever so slightly, and Harrow leaned back. “Fuck me,” She breathed, searching Gideon’s face. “Please.”

Her throat bobbed against Harrow’s hand as she swallowed, nodding profusely. “Okay.” Gideon’s hand dipped down past the waistband, knuckles straining against the fabric of Harrow’s boxers, and dragged a few fingers — two, Harrow thought, with the part of her brain still able to think — through the wetness gathered between her legs.

A harsh breath escaped her. “Fuck,” Gideon said. “God. You’re— you’re wet.”

Harrow nodded, tightening her hand again. “Do something about it.”

Gideon did. One finger dipped shallowly inside her, pressing lightly against the spongy pad just above her entrance, and it was followed quickly by another. Harrow let her head fall back at the feeling of Gideon’s fingers working slowly and steadily inside her, and her hand slackened around her throat.

She opened her eyes to see Gideon staring openly at her. It was always disarming— but this time, it seemed, she had a purpose. The pad of her thumb swiped over Harrow’s clit, rubbing at it as best as she could, and Harrow’s mouth fell open with a wordless noise halfway between a whimper and a moan.

“Just like that,” Harrow breathed, eyes closing. “Fuck. Just like that, Gideon.”

A third finger pressed inside her, and this time the stretch was just barely enough for her to take. It was difficult to describe: it burned, but in the way that wood burns in a fireplace, with greedy flames licking at it and a household warmed.

Speaking of warmth: there was a blossom of it growing in Harrow’s stomach. It was a feeling she now recognized with startling clarity. “Fuck,” She gasped, feeling the fingers inside her thrust again, “Fuck. Gideon, I— I’m close.” She tapped her shoulder twice. Gideon stopped instantly. “Get the strap.”

Gideon’s eyes widened. “Are you sure?”

Harrow, who had never been more sure of anything in her entire life, nodded. “Please,” She added, hoping the desperation in her voice would make Gideon move a little faster.

It did. She pulled her fingers slowly out of Harrow’s cunt, popped them in her mouth to lick them clean, and reached over onto Harrow’s bedside table for the packer she had taken off a few hours prior.

After giving it a quick rinse and adjusting the boxer harness to her liking, Gideon positioned herself back between Harrow’s legs and squirted a generous amount of lube into her hand. “Same as last time,” She said, rubbing her hand gently over her cock, twisting and pumping. “If it hurts, I’ll stop.”

Harrow leaned up to give her a quick peck and nodded. “I’ll let you know.”

Gideon positioned the head once again at Harrow’s entrance, rubbed it gently against her clit until Harrow was on the verge of screaming at her, and pressed herself slowly inside her pussy.

This time, Harrow knew it was going to be different.

The prep had helped— Gideon had used three fingers on her, and there was no way her cock was bigger than that. A little thicker, maybe, but not by much: the stretch still burned, but it was in a way that warmed her from the inside out and that settled into hazy, hot pleasure after the first few seconds.

Her hands flew to Gideon’s back and dug in, mouth falling open as Gideon pushed herself inside inch by inch. Golden eyes scanned her face, wary and hyper-aware of any discomfort, and found nothing but a ragged gasp.

When Gideon bottomed out inside her, she gave Harrow a second to adjust. “Fuck,” Harrow breathed, hearing her voice squeak a little. “Fucking— fuck.”

“Are you okay?” Gideon asked, rushing.

Harrow didn’t trust herself to speak, and nodded jerkily. Gideon pumped her hips shallowly, more of a test than anything, and the spot her cock hit inside her made Harrow’s eyes roll back in her head. “Again,” She breathed. “Again. Do— do that again.”

Gideon did. She drew her hips back carefully, going as slowly as either of them could bear, and rolled them back against Harrow. This drew a long, groaning noise from her mouth. Gideon repeated the action once, twice, settling into a steady, even rhythm that she hoped would be enough for Harrow to start with.

A particularly long thrust made the hands at Gideon’s back dig in hard. The pain was red-hot and gorgeous, searing itself into Gideon’s muscles, and she found her own eyes sliding closed in the ecstasy of it. A small, needy noise escaped her mouth.

Harrow watched her, wide-eyed, and did it again, dragging her nails down harder down Gideon’s back.

Gideon’s hips snapped forward in response, harder and faster than she’d intended, and instantly her eyes blinked open. Instead of anger or pain, all she found on Harrow’s face was the desire for more.

If her eyes hadn’t been black before, they were now. Her pupils were huge; dilated with pleasure and pure, unrelenting need. “Do you want me to—”

“Like that— fuck,” Harrow gasped, eyes rolling back in her head as Gideon snapped her hips in again. She picked up her pace, setting a rhythm for them that few others would be able to sustain.

Strands of red hair were plastered to her face from sweat, and this time, when a bead of it rolled down her neck, Harrow leaned up to lick it. She bit down against the skin for good measure, pressing Gideon down against her.

The force of Gideon’s thrusts, juxtaposed with the gentleness she’d always shown her, sent another bloom of heat to her stomach. One of Harrow’s hands stayed at her back, but she brought the other down to rub at her clit.

The dual sensation of Gideon fucking her — properly fucking her, and finally letting some of her caution go — with the pure, electric feeling of touching herself was perfect. She knew she was close, and she knew it wouldn’t take much more to cum.

“Fuck,” Harrow gasped, letting out a sharp whine. “Fuck, Gideon, you’re so fucking good—”

Gideon’s hips jerked again at the praise, snapping hard into Harrow even in the midst of the pace they were going. That was all it took.

Harrow’s hand dug hard into Gideon’s back as she came, hard enough to earn a proper groan from her, and her vision went momentarily white with the force of her orgasm. It crashed over her, sweeping its way through her body one muscle group at a time.

Somewhere, she felt Gideon’s thrusts slow, easing her carefully through the aftershocks. It was a long time — it felt like millennia, though it was probably closer to about twenty seconds at most — before she released the tension in her back and flopped down against the pillows.

When Harrow opened her eyes, she found Gideon panting above her. She leaned down and bonked Harrow’s head gently, resting their foreheads together. “Hi.”

“Hi yourself,” Harrow wheezed. Gideon shifted, and the movement sent a wave of sharp, oversensitive pain through Harrow’s body. She winced. “Can you— I-I’m sensitive, can—”

Gideon made a sentence out of her stumbling, too-heavy words, and nodded. She drew her hips back slowly, easing herself out of Harrow until the length of her packer was exposed again.

A surprised gasp fell out of her at the feeling of no longer being filled, but the immediate issue of oversensitivity was gone.

Harrow moved her hands, wiping some of the sweat away from her face. “I feel like I’ve been factory reset.”

Normally, a statement like this would have earned at least a blush from Gideon, but now she was silent. Harrow looked to see her staring at the nails of the hand that had been scratching up her back.

Which… were no longer just painted black, the way they had been when Harrow last checked them. They were now bloody. Flecks of red were lodged under the nails.

Her eyes widened. “Oh, fuck. Did I—”

“I’ve never had anyone break skin before,” Gideon breathed, half-impressed and hopelessly desperate. “Fuck. Holy hell, Harrowhark. Did you seriously—” She tried to twist around to look at it, which went about as well as you’d expect, and said, “Take a picture. I want to see.”

Harrow was silent. Gideon turned back to find her staring at her nails in a mixture of horror and another emotion that she couldn’t quite place. “What?”

The word seemed to jolt her. Harrow flinched, eyes closing for a moment. “Nothing.”

“It doesn’t look like nothing,” Gideon said, frowning. Harrow’s eyes were still squeezed shut. “Harrow?”

“It’s nothing,” Harrow repeated. When she opened her eyes, avoiding Gideon’s gaze, there were tears welling in the corners of them. “I-I didn’t think—” She swallowed, clearing her throat weakly. “I wasn’t expecting to hurt you the way I did. Seeing your blood on my hands… the idea is unappealing, to say the least.”

Gideon’s eyes softened at the quiet, self-conscious guilt in her voice. “You didn’t.” A beat. “I mean, you did, but it was nothing I didn’t ask you to do.” Harrow was still eyeing her nails. Gideon reached out and closed Harrow’s hands in her own. “You didn’t hurt me, Nonagesimus.”

Harrowhark’s eyes closed again, and if the tight set of her jaw was any indication, she was trying very hard to believe it. “Okay,” She said finally. “I have Neosporin in the bathroom.”

“Pee first.” Gideon presented it matter-of-factly, but Harrow made a strangled, half-surprised half-confused noise. At this, she elaborated, “To avoid UTIs, idiot.”

Harrow let out a grateful breath. “That makes more sense.” She stood, shifting out from under Gideon, and began to walk with unsteady legs and a satisfied kind of soreness — Christ, that was a new feeling — towards her bathroom.

She reemerged to find Gideon trying to look at her back in the mirror. “Stop preening and sit down, Nav,” Harrow said, rolling her eyes.

The tube of antibacterial gel was in her hand. She unscrewed the cap, kneeling on the bed behind an upright Gideon.

Then Harrow paused.

She had seen the planes of smooth, rippling muscle that formed Gideon’s upper body before, but not like this. It was broad, held a few mildly awkward tan lines, and was somehow even more impressive from behind.

And yet it was difficult to focus on anything but the angry, raised lines that marred it. Most weren’t deep enough to break the skin— but the ones that were had begun to bleed.

At Gideon’s rear deltoid, there sat a line of small half-circle indentations that were a faint crimson. A wave of nauseous guilt reared up at her.

There were two spots that Harrow found, doing her best to target both with an almost clinical detachment. If she could separate herself from her work, she would have no issue doing it.

If she couldn’t, then she would be stuck in memories of their shared upbringing for as long as she lived.

The last time Gideon’s skin and blood had ended up under her nails, they had been ten. She had come into Gideon’s room to find her praying— which was odd, given Gideon’s distaste for organized worship even then.

Harrow couldn’t remember what she’d said, but she knew it had been about Gideon’s mother. It was some occasion— a birthday, maybe, or an anniversary of something. She had been trying to goad her into something. You won’t hit me, she remembered saying.

And Gideon, always bigger and always stronger, had pinned her to the ground. She had screamed herself hoarse in between punches. Harrow remembered clawing up Gideon’s face, leaving them both bloody by the time the nuns found them.

Gideon had been punished. Harrow had not. And so continued their childhood.

Harrow did her best to quench the fire of memory, cooling it with the feeling of Neosporin against her fingers. She pressed her hand to Gideon’s back, rubbing the gel in gently, and earned a quiet sigh of relief in response.

“Feels nice,” Gideon remarked idly. She turned halfway to face Harrow and did something stupid with her mouth, putting on a fake Southern accent. “Battle scars.”

Harrow’s eyes flicked over to her face. “It’ll keep you from getting infected, at least.” Her hands stilled against Gideon’s back. “I’m sorry. Truly. I-I didn’t— if I had known I could do this, I—”

“I forgive you,” Gideon interrupted. She smiled as best as she could, leaning around to make eye contact. “I accept your apology.”

“Why?” Harrow asked, unable to stop herself. “I mean, after everything that’s happened, I wouldn’t be surprised if you hated me.”

Gideon shrugged. “Because I can tell you mean it.” A pause. “And I’ve never really been able to hate you, Harrow. Why do you think I offered to do this with you in the first place?”

Harrow tried to find an answer and came up empty-handed. With her mission finished, she put the tube back on the nightstand with a yawn that surprised them both.

It was later than she had realized— or, more accurately, she was more tired than she realized. Gideon looked at her for a moment before turning away. “I can make myself scarce,” She said, standing with a quiet groan. “Thanks for having me over. Let me know when you want to do this again, alright?”

“Where are you going?” Harrow asked.

“Home.” Gideon leaned down and picked up her shirt. “You look tired, and I’m not about to overstay my welcome. ‘Sides, I’m sure you have work to do—”

Harrow shifted. “Nav.”

“—lamps to build and decorations to ponder—”

“Griddle,” Harrow said, trying to interrupt.

Gideon continued, undeterred, “—Hell, maybe even weird, fucked up bone papers to write—”

“Gideon.”

They both stopped.

Gideon turned. “Yeah?”

Harrow chewed at the inside of her mouth. The whole of her longed to be held. “Don’t leave,” She said. “I— if it’s all the same to you—” Harrow’s voice died in her throat. “I would ask you to stay.”

A beat. “You want me to stay the night?” Gideon asked.

Harrow made room for her on one side of the bed. “I do.”

That seemed to be all Gideon needed to hear. She let her shirt slip out of her fingers with a smile — that same stupid, gorgeous lopsided grin that had lodged itself so firmly in Harrow’s heart — and sat back down on the bed.

“I’ll warn you,” Gideon said, scooting in to spoon her, “I’m a cuddler.”

Harrow pretended to be disgusted, but when she woke up the next morning in the strong, warm arms of Gideon Nav, she found it difficult to be anything but completely at ease.