Actions

Work Header

sting of a wasp

Chapter Text

IV.

This, so far, had been a terrible fucking day.

At least Gideon had had some warning for it. There were certain mornings where she woke up with a lingering, eerie sort of feeling — the same that a weary sigh might convey — that it was going to be, in no uncertain terms, absolute ass.

Gideon had pulled an all-nighter the day before studying for a kinesiology test, which meant she’d stumbled into sleep about an hour before her alarm was supposed to go off. Three things stood out to her.

One: she was pretty sure — not completely sure, but mostly sure — that she’d remembered to set her alarm. If she had to put a percentage on it, it would be in the low 60s. Maybe the high 50s— she wasn’t quite certain.

Two: she had to do laundry soon, but the nearest laundromat wouldn’t be open until Wednesday because of maintenance issues. This was not unusual given its proclivity for flooding, but it did mean Gideon was shit out of luck— she’d been banned from nearly every other laundromat in town over the years for a few too many pranks gone wrong.

Three: she couldn’t remember the last time she’d consumed more than a sip of water. The last liquid to pass her lips was a cup of cold, canned coffee.

This morning, in a cruel trick of mathematics, the three combined. Gideon woke up with a splitting headache thirty-eight minutes after her alarm was supposed to go off and was greeted by a room completely devoid of clean clothes.

So Gideon arrived — very late — to class in the only clean clothes she could find.

This, unfortunately, meant she was wearing a pair of joggers one size too small (which was why she never wore them), one of Harrow’s black hoodies, and an orange novelty shirt that read SEX, WEIGHTS, AND PROTEIN SHAKES. She looked like a Halloween party given legs— and impeccable bone structure, of course.

Her professor was less than impressed, but gave her the exam book anyway. Pyrrha had always had a soft spot for her. Or at least Gideon thought so. It was hard to tell— she picked on her more than others in the class, but in a way that felt more like a coach’s pressure than a bully’s arrogance.

Upon her first glance at the test book, Gideon thought she was being singled out. She looked around the room for a second in dismay, hoping to see equal looks of confusion and fear on her classmates’ faces, and saw only concentration. One person had the audacity to turn their papers in as Gideon watched.

She looked back down at the first question — which was manifestly not something her studying had covered — and resisted the urge to rip out her arm hair follicle by follicle.

The exam read Units 2 and 3. Gideon had covered chapters 2 and 3.

“Fuck,” She muttered, resting her forehead on the cold, hard wood of the desk below. “Fuck.

Sure, it had seemed a little odd at the time, but Pyrrha wasn’t exactly known for having a conventional teaching style. A few years back, in fact, she’d gained university-wide fame for taking her class axe-throwing to help them study pressure on the rotator cuff.

It had been this that made Gideon take her class in the first place. This particular class was her— fourth? fifth? with Pyrrha, who had played rugby in her own college days. This had created a sort of admiration between them— but it wouldn’t help her now.

By the halfway mark of the test, Gideon resorted to picking the answers at random. She had a 25% chance of being correct, which she figured was about the same as she had if she put thought into it.

Some of it she remembered from lectures and online quizzes. Unfortunately (as Gideon realized an hour in), she had forgotten to take her ADHD medication this morning— so recalling the knowledge was about as easy as looking for a grain of salt in a silo of sugar.

Gideon waited until the last possible moment to turn her test in, feeling as though she’d just run a marathon and survived a session of psychological torture, and wrote sorry on the bottom of it for good measure. Perhaps Pyrrha would find it in her heart to drop their lowest test score.

Her stomach reminded her with a rumbling, aching growl that she hadn’t eaten in hours. There was a dining hall nearby — Hallelujah! — that served breakfast all day, which was almost enough to improve her morning.

There was a suspicious lack of people outside. Normally, by midmorning, it would be packed with people coming from class, the gym, their beds, and wherever else they were stumbling in from. There was a line out the door at all hours.

But there it was, in bold black lettering, plastered on the door: Closed for maintenance. This was becoming a theme, apparently.

If she had been a little hungrier, Gideon would have cried. Instead, she took out her phone and began to scroll through her contacts.

Camilla had a car, but she would be in her Bio lab until the early afternoon, so that ruled her out.

Coronabeth was an option, but she drove like she had a plan to kill the people in her car— and Dulcie was the same way, if not worse, because years of battling cancer had rendered her completely unfazed by the idea of dying. Gideon couldn’t handle either of those right now.

Palamedes couldn’t drive, Ianthe wouldn’t drive— and that left Harrow.

Gideon hovered over her name for a moment, debating whether or not to do it, and gave in after half a second.

She picked up on the second ring. “Nav,” Harrow said, by way of greeting. “What is it?”

“If I don’t eat something, I think I’m going to die,” Gideon said.

There was the sound of rustling on the other side of the line, which probably meant Harrow was cocooned in her duvet. “Thank you for sharing. What do you want me to do about it?”

“The dining hall is closed. I’m on campus, and the bus doesn’t run for another—” She checked her watch, “—twenty minutes.” Gideon closed her eyes, trying not to sound as desperate as she was. “Can you— do you want to grab breakfast? I-I’ll pay for your meal and shit.”

“That won’t be necessary.” There was a brief pause. Then, Gideon heard another rustle of movement followed the jangling of keys. “I’m on my way. Meet me by the pool in ten minutes,” said Harrow, and Gideon could have kissed her.

She waited restlessly, fidgeting with the straps of her backpack and the strings of Harrow’s zip-up hoodie, for the aforementioned 10 minutes until the car pulled up alongside her.

Harrowhark had clearly just woken up, if the complete lack of makeup or cohesiveness in her outfit was any indication, and was in a large, off-white hoodie that looked somehow odd on her.

It looked more like a dress than a sweatshirt, for one, but the fact that it was in their university’s colors was the more surprising thing. Harrow was not known for her school spirit. She turned her nose up at most sports, and regarded them in the same sneering, aloof way that a rich man might regard his personal assistant.

Gideon slid into the passenger’s seat. “Did I wake you up?”

“No,” Harrow said, not quite meeting her eyes. “Maybe.” She paused. “Fine. Yes, you did.”

Gideon’s stomach gurgled, and a hunger pang stabbed through her insistently. “I wish I could be sorry, but I think if I don’t eat soon you’re going to have to drive me to the hospital.”

“Always so dramatic. It doesn’t suit you,” Harrow sighed, though there was no malice to it. She opened up her phone, typing a few words in before saying, “There’s an IHOP five minutes away. Will that suffice?”

“Only if you let me pay for yours.” Gideon raised an eyebrow, stopping Harrow’s protests with a hand. “You’re my guardian angel right now, Harrow. My evening star, my— is that my sweatshirt?”

Harrow froze. She had moved to look Gideon in the eyes with an unimpressed stare, and in doing so had revealed the front of her hoodie— which read Property of Canaan Rugby in black lettering. There was a little 9 below it. “Maybe.”

“I’ve been looking for that,” Gideon said, eyes wide. “Wait, I thought you came straight from bed— Harrow.

“What.”

Did you sleep in my hoodie.

“...Maybe.” Her cheeks were flushed dark, but she was doing a surprisingly good job of maintaining eye contact. “Even so, you’re one to talk. That’s mine,” Harrow said, nodding at the hoodie Gideon wore. “Though I can’t speak to that— monstrosity you’re wearing under it.”

“It was a gift. Cam has a matching one,” Gideon said, slightly wounded and completely baffled. “I want that sweatshirt back.”

Harrow put the car into drive. “I’ve been considering it a finder’s fee.”

Gideon, at least, had the good grace to zip her hoodie up before they pulled into the parking lot. Harrow led them into IHOP with Gideon lingering a half step behind, and wore her pyjamas — which included black sweatpants and the skeleton slippers Gideon had gotten her for her birthday — as a very puffy suit of armor.

A knowing smile crossed the hostess’ face as she looked at them. “Table for two?” She asked, with a sparkle in her eyes.

Harrow nodded stiffly. “A booth, if you have one.”

They were led to a table in the corner. Gideon let Harrow slide in first before scooting into the side opposite her. She took a sip from the water bottle in her backpack.

Their hostess handed them a few menus and asked, “So, is there anything I can get you two lovebirds to drink?”

Gideon choked on her water. “Oh, we—”

“A cup of coffee for me,” Harrow said, frowning at the menu. “Griddle, do you drink coffee? I can never remember.”

“I was a barista for, like, four years. I’m pretty sure it’s in my blood,” Gideon said faintly, too focused on the word lovebirds to think of anything else. She blinked, then turned to their waitress. Her name tag read Susie. “Um. Yeah, a—a cup of coffee would be great.”

Susie nodded, giving them both a broad smile, and said, “I’ll be back in a few with those coffees,” before leaving them in their respective states of complete shock and mild indecision.

Gideon was staring into space trying to process what had happened when Harrow asked, “If I get a stack of pancakes, do you think it’ll hold me until dinner?”

“Eggs would hold you better.” Gideon shook her head, then blinked. “I— Harrow, did you hear what she said?”

Harrow’s eyes flicked up. “Nav, I am five foot one. I am built for academia, and the only sport I’ve ever excelled at is chess.”

“Congrats,” Gideon said. “I don’t follow.”

“This hoodie is three sizes too big and marks me as a rugby player. You, meanwhile,” She said matter-of-factly, “are nearly a foot taller than me and weigh twice what I do in muscle mass alone. Anyone with eyes would assume what she did.” Harrow looked back down at the menu, but not without the hint of a blush creeping up past the edge of the hoodie. “And besides, it was a harmless comment.”

“Being polite to people?” Gideon said, still stubbornly stuck on the fact that Harrow thought she was muscular. “That’s a first for you.”

Harrow gave her a look. “The aunts never allowed for impropriety, Griddle. You know that.” She returned to the menu. “Order whatever you want. I’ll pay.”

“I woke you up for this,” Gideon said. “I’m paying.”

Harrow raised an eyebrow, sat up straight, and met Gideon’s gaze dead on. There was something that tingled at the base of Gideon’s spine when she repeated, “I’m paying, Nav. There’s no use arguing.” She nodded toward the menu. “Find something to eat.”

And then, for some reason, Gideon’s pulse ticked up. Her stomach did a traitorous swoop, mind suddenly filled with images of — Jesus, those were vivid — Harrow using that tone in a different context.

The one that she found herself fixating on involved her on her knees with Harrow’s hands running along her jaw, smirk blazing on her face, maybe even sliding a thumb into her mouth—

Gideon reached blindly for the cup of ice water Susie had set down, taking a few huge gulps to simulate a cold shower.

Well, that was a realization. Gideon tried to hide her face with the menu so Harrow wouldn’t see her blush, but… well, maybe she wasn’t completely sickened by the idea of Harrow taking charge. Maybe it made her sit up a little straighter.

Maybe — maybe — it made her hands tremble by her sides in anticipation.

Privately, Gideon also thought this was a not-so-smooth way to change the subject from letting someone think they were dating, but her stomach was rumbling like a thunderclap, so she did as she was bid and looked at the menu.

The difference in their portions was always a little comical. Harrow ordered a stack of pancakes with a single egg, which was as close to following Gideon’s advice as she’d ever come. Gideon, meanwhile, ordered a full breakfast, a side salad, and an extra order of eggs.

They ate in relative silence, but it didn’t hold the same angry tension that it used to. Their silences, Gideon had noticed, now tended towards amicable— comfortable, even.

“So.” Harrow washed down a meager bite of pancake with a sip of coffee. “You wouldn’t have called me unless it was an emergency. What happened?”

Gideon paused with a bite of egg, sausage, and hot sauce en route to her mouth. “I call you for sex all the time.” She mumbled, stuffing her bite in.

“That’s different.” Harrow didn’t budge. “What happened, Griddle?”

At least chewing gave her time to think. “I had a bad test,” Gideon said finally. “I pulled an all-nighter studying the wrong damn unit.”

There was a little voice in her head taunting her, telling her all sorts of insults. Using your brain has never been your strong suit, has it? taunted her mind in an approximation of Crux’s voice. She told him to shut up. “You know how it is,” Gideon offered lamely.

Harrow had never missed — much less failed — a test in her life, but figured this was the wrong time to say so. “Right,” She said haltingly. “Well. That sounds… difficult.” Another pause. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah. It wasn’t awesome,” Gideon agreed. She shifted after a moment. “But I’m done with classes for today, so if you want to— I can’t believe I’m saying this, but if you want to hang out, I’d be down.”

Harrow paused, eyes widening in an approximation of surprise. “My schedule is blessedly empty today,” She said after a moment. “And you need a break. I’m happy to rent us a movie— unless you want to finish this season of Downton Abbey, which I’m also happy to do.”

Gideon nodded. “I’m— um.” She cleared her throat. “I’m down to do other activities, too.” She gave Harrow an exaggerated wink. “Sexual activities.”

This, to her surprise, did not garner the mortified reaction she was expecting from Harrow.

Instead, she leaned forward, tilted her head to one side, and let her eyes drag up and down Gideon’s body for a moment. The sudden feeling of being examined overtook her from her neck to her knees. Gideon felt suddenly locked in place.

Harrow smiled crookedly, and it was an expression that gave her the distinct look of a carnivorous plant accepting a meal. “As I said,” She repeated. “You need a break. Perhaps I can help with that.” Her eyes flicked down to Gideon’s lap. “How about this: I take care of you, for once.”

Gideon blinked. “Wait, like—”

“You’ve never been eaten out.” It was not a question. “It’s a surprisingly effective stress reliever.”

“Oh.” Gideon’s eyes widened. “Oh. And— and you want to—”

“I do.” Harrow’s unyielding gaze yielded for just a moment. “Or, if that’s too much, I can just have you fuck me until I can’t walk.” Her hand inched closer to Gideon’s where it sat on the table, scratching lightly at her wrist. “You follow directions so well when you want to, Griddle. Don’t you think?”

Okay, well, this was new. Gideon could feel herself blushing, and was pretty sure her brain was blue-screening. This was likely why her only response was, “Y—yeah. Okay. Cool. No doubt.”

Harrow smiled. Her canines were wickedly sharp — had they always looked like that? Gideon needed to lie down — and said only, “Good. Then I look forward to it.”

* * *

The rest of their meal passed in a blur of horniness and post-hunger delirium.

Gideon kept sneaking glances at Harrow, who had been sneaking glances back at her all day, and kept pretending like the idea of letting Harrow take control wasn’t as fucking hot as it was.

It was no secret that she was open to the idea. Since they began the arrangement they shared, Gideon’s opinion of Harrow’s mean streak had shifted from fucking annoying to actually, pretty sexy. Perhaps it was just that she had more context for it now— Gideon didn’t really feel the need to examine it.

At least she’d been able to swipe the bill from under Harrow’s nose. That was a small victory.

At Gideon’s request, Harrow drove the two of them back to her apartment complex before returning to her own. “Remind me what you need from here?” She asked, putting the car in park.

“The backpack.”

“What backpack?”

Gideon gave her a look. “The backpack.”

“Oh.” Harrow’s eyes widened with realization. “Oh.

“Just in case.” Gideon unbuckled her seatbelt. “I don’t want to assume anything—” (“You know what they say about assuming,” Harrow said,) “—but being prepared never hurts.” She left with a wink, leaving Harrow wide-eyed in the driver’s seat.

A few minutes later, she returned with a nondescript black backpack slung over one shoulder. It was similar to her school bag, Harrow noticed. Hopefully she had a method of keeping them separate.

The drive to Harrow’s apartment, short as it was, held an unmistakable tension in the air that made it thicker. As always, the promise of something settled in between them. It hung full and heavy and only grew fuller and heavier as the minutes ticked by.

And this time, blessedly, they wasted no time with pretense. As soon as they were inside Harrow’s apartment, she fisted a hand in Gideon’s shirt — awful as it was — and pushed her backwards with a searing kiss.

Gideon let out a surprised noise as her back hit the hard, solid wood of the door, but the feeling of kissing Harrow back drowned out the dull blossom of pain. Her hands moved to Harrow’s face and waist out of habit—

—And then, pulling away with a sharp bite to Gideon’s bottom lip, Harrow breathed, “Did I say you could touch me?”

Gideon’s eyes flew open. Her mouth followed suit, hanging open for a few seconds before her brain caught up to it. “Oh. Um. N— no.” Her hands fell away from Harrow’s body, lingering in midair for a moment before settling, restless, at her sides.

“Good.” Harrow’s hand — oh, so she was allowed to touch? that seemed unfair — dragged slowly up Gideon’s side, sliding under her shirt. Her nails pressed lightly against the skin below, watching Gideon suck in a shaky breath at the feeling. “If you want to, all you have to do is ask.”

“Can—” Gideon stopped herself. She wasn’t interested in a grammar lesson right before sex, and reconsidered her word choice. “May I touch you?”

Harrow smiled, pleased. She leaned in again, guiding Gideon’s face towards her with a hand on her jaw, and kissed her senseless. “Yes, Griddle. You may.”

Using the hand on her face, she tilted Gideon’s face upward, exposing her neck. The muscles there tensed, half in anticipation and half in surprise, as Harrow leaned in. She pressed a line of kisses down it, feeling Gideon’s hands tighten around her waist.

Then Harrow bit down — not hard enough to leave a mark, though she knew Gideon wouldn’t be opposed — at the spot where Gideon’s neck met her shoulders. This earned her a harsh gasp and a badly-hidden noise of surprise.

Well, the whole point of this was for Gideon to relax a little. Hiding wouldn’t do either of them any good.

“From now on,” Harrow said, leaning back, “no more of that.” She tilted Gideon’s face back toward her. “I want to hear you.”

Gideon blinked, nodding. “Um. Yep. Yeah, o—okay.”

Harrow pressed her nails into Gideon’s stomach again, raking them lightly down her abs. This time, rather than try and stifle her groan of pain-turned-pleasure, Gideon let it out. Her face was hot. She could feel her blush all the way down her neck.

“Good,” Harrow breathed, staring brazenly at her. “Good girl.”

There was a pause. Then Gideon said, “Yeah, I’m not sure about that one.”

“Apologies.” Harrow thought for a moment. “Good boy?”

Gideon shrugged. “Maybe just stick with good for now.”

Harrowhark nodded. “You are, you know.” She stroked her thumb across the line of Gideon’s cheekbone. “Good.” She pressed a kiss to Gideon’s jaw. “Strong.” Another kiss— this one to her neck. “Handsome.” Gideon swallowed hard, and Harrow tracked the movement of her throat with her eyes. “You like that one, don’t you?”

“I’m not opposed to it,” Gideon said faintly, eyes sliding closed as Harrow raked her nails down her stomach again. God, that felt fucking good. White-hot pain dulled and bloomed into warm, heated pleasure under Harrow’s hands. “Fuck.”

“Tell me what you want,” Harrow murmured, biting down against her neck. “I want to hear you say it.”

Gideon opened her eyes. “I want you,” She said simply. “However you’ll let me have you.”

Harrow leaned back, searching her face for a moment. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for— hesitation, maybe, or doubt?

All she found was a lopsided smile and golden eyes that were blown dark with arousal. Harrow took a step back, letting her hand intertwine with Gideon’s. Without a word, she brought them to her bedroom.

Gideon unzipped her hoodie, letting it fall to the ground, and took that godawful shirt off a moment later. Her pants were next— she unbuttoned them and shed them without fanfare, leaving just her boxers on. They had flamingos on them. Harrow hid a smile.

She shed her sweatshirt — which, Gideon had to admit, she felt a certain sense of warm pride seeing her in — and stood in a simple black shirt.

“Can I take this off of you?” Gideon asked, hands playing at the hem of it. Harrow nodded, lifting her arms up. Gideon’s fingers ghosted up her sides as the shirt came off, which sent a shiver unbidden down her spine.

Their clothes were discarded on the ground, leaving Gideon in a nondescript sports bra and Harrow topless. “Lie down,” She said, trailing a hand over Gideon’s shoulders. A moment later, she added, only somewhat haltingly, “For me. Lie down for me. Can you do that?”

Gideon closed her eyes, nodded a few times, and swallowed hard. “Y—yeah.” She settled against Harrow’s headboard, eyes wide in anticipation, and watched Harrow settle on her lap. “So,” She said, clearing her throat. “Come here often?”

Harrow gave her a look. “You’re nervous.”

“Maybe a little,” Gideon said. The tips of her ears were flushed. “I’ve never done this before, remember?”

This was true. It was a new feeling for Harrow to be the one doling out pleasure rather than the one receiving, but it wasn’t a bad one. She nodded a few times. “Of course I remember.” She leaned down, taking Gideon’s face in her hands. “Well, I’ll go slowly. If you want to stop, we will.”

“That’s my line,” Gideon said weakly, smiling. She pressed a kiss to Harrow’s nose. “I’ll let you know.”

Harrow let her hand trail down Gideon’s front, rubbing lightly at her chest for a moment. Her hand stopped against the fabric of Gideon’s sports bra. “Do you want this off?”

Gideon looked down for a moment, then shook her head. “Not really. Honestly, I kinda forget they’re there most of the time.”

Another nod from Harrow. “Then I’ll forget, too,” She said evenly, pressing a kiss to Gideon’s shoulder. She took a moment to admire her from this angle— her shoulders were broad and boxy, muscles twitching as Gideon shifted every so often.

There was a faint dusting of red-brown hair under her navel. Looking at it, Harrow understood why Gideon had been so excited to see hers: something about it made her stomach flip over. Happy trails had been aptly named, it seemed.

Harrow pressed a kiss to it, relishing in the short sigh that Gideon let out. A hand came to rest in her hair, scratching lightly at her scalp, and she looked up to meet golden eyes blown dark with anticipation.

This was her cue, then. Harrow scooted backwards — realizing all the while that Gideon made it look a lot sexier than it felt — until her face was level with Gideon’s hips. She tapped one strong, muscular thigh. “Can you—”

Gideon nodded, shifting so her legs were bent. It was a new, vulnerable position. She blushed from her chest all the way to her cheeks at the feeling of being exposed the way she was. There was something in her stomach that felt suddenly tight.

Harrow played at the hem of her boxers. “Can I take these off?”

Gideon’s mouth was very dry, so she nodded wordlessly and lifted her hips, allowing Harrow to slide them off of her.

Cold air hit her— oh, she was wet. That was a new feeling. Harrow’s eyes shot wide at the sight of her, and it was all Gideon could do not to squirm under her stormy, thunderous gaze. “What’s up?”

Harrow, for her part, was trying to keep her heart rate under control. “You—” She swallowed. “God. I— I had no idea—”

Gideon stiffened. “Oh, shit. Is something wrong?”

“No! No, nothing— no,” Harrow stammered, running her eyes over the brownish, wiry curls between Gideon’s legs. Some of them — the ones closest to her pussy, her mind supplied helpfully — were damp. They were darker than the rest. Part of Harrow was surprised that— well, that the curtains matched the drapes.

It was now or never, she thought. There was a surprising sense of self-consciousness that overtook her as she leaned down, taking in the heady — no pun intended — smell of Gideon that filled her nose.

One of the thighs beside her ears was trembling, Harrow realized. Gideon had gone very, very still, and it sounded almost like she was holding her breath.

Harrowhark pressed her tongue flat against Gideon’s clit, and heard her let out a shaky, measured exhale at the feeling.

“Okay,” Gideon said unevenly. “Not what I was expecting, but—” Harrow licked long and slow up her slit, tasting salt and tang and something she found difficult to describe, which cut her off with a strange half-grunt.

A few more seconds went by in relative silence, save for quiet breaths from Gideon and the sound of Harrow licking at her pussy. Then: “T—tickles a little.”

Well, that— hm.

It wasn’t a bad thing, Harrow thought, but it wasn’t exactly the reaction she had hoped for. She leaned back. “Is everything okay?”

Gideon had never been able to hide what she was thinking, even when they were children. Her emotions showed plainly on her face. Harrow had spent her life memorizing her microexpressions, whether intentionally or by accident, and she could usually tell what Gideon was thinking within a millisecond of reading her.

This expression read doubt and uncertainty, which sent a shock of cold anxiety down Harrow’s stomach. She leaned further away. “Gideon?”

“Can— can we stop?” Gideon asked, suddenly quiet. “I’m sorry. It’s not you, I-I promise. Honestly, I was kind of expecting this to happen, so, y’know, no harm, no foul—”

“Of course,” She said tightly, hearing how clipped her voice came out. Harrow leaned back, shame and embarrassment turning her face to fire. “My apologies. I—”

“—And before you start blaming yourself, let me explain,” Gideon interrupted, holding up a finger. She beckoned Harrow closer.

Harrow paused for a moment before slowly crawling up, sitting cross-legged next to her. “Explain what?”

“I—” Gideon let out a sigh. “Okay. Um— how can I put this?”

There was an infinity of seconds that filled the void between that sentence and her next, expanding between fast enough to break the sound barrier. Within it Harrow felt her heart crack, shatter, and harden in alternating patterns.

She imagined what Gideon would say. You’re not very good at that, maybe. I don’t want to do this anymore.

Or, worst of all: I don’t want this— I don’t want you.

So what Gideon actually said surprised her: “Harrow, my body and I really do not get along sometimes.”

Harrow blinked. “What?”

“It’s hard to explain, so just—just bear with me,” Gideon said, holding up a hand. She looked nervous— though, surprisingly, it wasn’t in a way that suggested she was about to break Harrow’s heart. It was self-directed.

Gideon took a deep breath. “So, I don’t know if this is going to make sense, but when I think of myself, it’s not as a woman.” Harrow was staring at her like she had grown another head. “And don’t get me wrong, I’m not— a man, either.”

There was a clear opening for Harrow to ask, “Alright. What are you?”

“Butch,” Gideon said simply. “I’m butch. I’m a butch. Whichever you prefer.” Harrow’s expression flickered into something resembling curiosity, though she still looked like her fight-or-flight instinct was in full swing.

Gideon sighed. This would take further explanation, it seemed. “It’s like— okay, remember when we were kids, and Sister Marietta tried to put me in a dress that one Christmas?”

And Harrow did, if only vaguely.

It had been at least thirteen years prior, so her memory was hazy at best, but she remembered the nun putting them both in bland, misshapen black-and-white dresses and telling them sternly that they had to look presentable for dinner.

Harrow had just been happy to have something besides hand-me-downs and old clothes.

But Gideon had thrown a fit for three days leading up to their Christmas dinner, and had been inconsolable for hours following it. The longer she thought about it, the more vividly she remembered how long and how hard Gideon had cried about it.

“You tried to punch her,” Harrow said, frowning. “You didn’t eat all night. You didn’t pull your crackers or open any presents that year.”

“Not even when your great-aunt tried to force-feed me cake to stop kicking the damn table,” Gideon agreed. “Yeah. And it’s— it’s not the only time it’s happened.” She gestured vaguely to her hair. “I mean, I cut all my hair off when I was six, and—and you know I’ve always dressed the way I do.”

This was a very roundabout way of telling Harrow she was bad at giving head. This implied Gideon had a separate reason for it— and unfortunately, Harrow was not known for her patience. “Nav, what are you trying to tell me?”

“I’m getting there.” Gideon paused. “When I first got to college, the first girl I ever had sex with— and it’s no one you know, so don’t give me that death glare, Harrowhark.” She cleared her throat. “She tried to finger me. And— I wanted it, until I actually felt her try to do it, and then it was like my whole body was seizing up, because it was the same feeling that that stupid dress gave me.”

Gideon cleared her throat again. Her hand was trembling. “So, y’know, we stopped, because I was on the verge of tears. And I think she realized what was happening before I did, because she said, oh, don’t worry, my ex was the same way. And—and when I described it to her, she said that one word for that feeling was dysphoria.”

Oh.

Well, that was completely different. Everything clicked in Harrow’s mind. Her embarrassment vanished in a second, with guilt and warmth replacing it in a strange balance. She reached out for Gideon’s shoulder and found that all she could say was, “And then what?”

Gideon swallowed thickly. “After that, I did some reading, and apparently being stone— which is what it’s called when you don’t want to be touched or perceived—” She paused, “—down there, is super common for butches. Which, like I said.” She gestured to herself awkwardly. “I am.”

There were a million things that ran through her mind: questions, apologies, and platitudes— but all she said was, “Okay.” And then, in a soft voice free of judgement: “Gideon, you could have told me.” Her tenderness surprised them both.

“I didn’t know how.” Gideon looked down at where her thighs were trembling. “In my experience, not a ton of people have heard of it. And I wasn’t, like, lying about wanting to try getting eaten out or anything, so don’t start thinking that, either. I didn’t want to rule out that it would feel good, and—and I wanted to try it—”

“Until you didn’t,” Harrow finished, nodding in understanding. She picked up one of Gideon’s hands in her own and lifted it to her face. She let her eyes fall closed as she pressed a kiss to it. Her lips lingered against Gideon’s palm.

There was a sudden lump that formed in Gideon’s throat. “Thank you,” She croaked, in a hoarse whisper that lodged straight in Harrow’s heart. “I just— it’s not you.”

“I know it isn’t,” Harrow said, and meant it. “That was a very thorough explanation, Griddle, and I thank you for trusting me with it.” She pressed another kiss to Gideon’s palm, then turned her hand over and pressed one to her knuckles. There was a long, comfortable moment of silence that passed between them.

“So,” Harrow said, looking at Gideon with renewed determination. “I still want to take care of you in the way that you do for me. Is there a way that I can make you feel good that will— sidestep that feeling?”

Gideon’s eyebrows rose. “Wait, seriously?”

“Of course.” Harrow said, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world. “I want to take care of you.”

There was something raw about hearing it said like that— something that tore its way through Gideon’s chest and lodged between them. All she could manage was, “Oh.”

“Let me see if I understand. Directly receiving and penetration are both out of the question,” Harrow said thoughtfully, seemingly uncomprehending of the butterflies spinning dizzily through the whole of Gideon’s being. “But your boxers— the set with the harness— have a place to insert a vibrator, correct?”

“Um,” Gideon stammered. “Y—yeah. They do.” She swallowed, nodding a few times. “And I’m— cool with using it like that. I’ve tried it a few times, and, y’know.” She gave a weak thumbs-up. “Good stuff.”

Harrow nodded, satisfied. “Then maybe if—” Her eyes widened into huge, eager black saucers. “I have an idea.” A pause. “Do you trust me?”

There was no hesitation. “Yes.”

“Excellent.” Harrow nodded as if that settled things once and for all, and said imperiously, “Lie down and put your harness on.”

Gideon didn’t waste any time. She slid her dick into place, adjusting it against her, and looked up to see Harrow rinsing off a small, sleek bullet vibrator. She handed it to Gideon a moment later, satisfied with her work.

“Put this in.” Gideon did. Her harness held it against her tight enough that she could feel it pressing against her, but not enough to be uncomfortable. “Good,” Harrow praised, trailing a hand over her stomach. “Now turn it on.”

Gideon’s mouth was, again, very dry, but she did her best to swallow. Her mouth fell open as the vibrator buzzed to life against her. Harrow shifted, eyes widening as Gideon’s face melted in pleasure, until she was hovering over her legs.

The pleasure was warm and welcoming, and part of Gideon wanted to sink into it— but as her eyes slid closed, she heard Harrow say, “Look at me, Nav.”

Gideon forced her eyes open—and saw Harrow, poised with her face directly over Gideon’s strap.

Her eyes were half-lidded and held a promise in the same way that coals hold heat. Not for the first time, Gideon wondered if being burned would really be a bad thing. She had always been a glutton for pain, hadn’t she?

Harrow’s lips curled in a smile. “Very good.” And then, making sure Gideon was watching, she leaned down and took the head of her cock into her mouth.

Gideon’s eyes flew open. Her lips parted briefly, enough for a ragged gasp to escape her, as Harrow wrapped a hand around the base of her strap and pressed it down against her. Her hips jerked up at the feeling, chasing the stimulation, and Harrow had to put a hand on her lower stomach to keep her in place.

She leaned forward, taking a few more inches into her mouth, until it hit the back of her throat. The feeling made her gag — very lightly — and Gideon let out a strangled whimper at the noise.

“Fucking hell, Harrow,” She breathed, hips jumping up again. “God. I—” Gideon cut off with a low groan as Harrow pumped her hand up and down, pleasure hitting her in dull, hazy waves.

Harrow made a pleased noise around Gideon’s cock, raising her eyebrows for a moment, and began to bob her head slowly up and down. She felt Gideon’s hand settle, tensed near the back of her head, and scratch lightly at her scalp.

The vibrations, coupled with the visual of Harrow sucking her dick, holy fuck, were a lot for Gideon to take. Her face was on fire, flushed dark with a mix of arousal and need. She was letting out quiet, harsh breaths with every movement of Harrow’s head and hands. Her free hand moved to cover her mouth.

At this, Harrow leaned back completely, pumping Gideon’s cock idly in one hand. A thick, brazen string of spit connected her lips to the head of Gideon’s strap. “Don’t cover your mouth. I want to hear you, Gideon.”

Gideon thought this would kill her, and said, “F—fuck.” Her hand, now directionless, dug into the sheets as the vibrator hit a new spot against her. She was close already. And if Harrow kept doing— this, literally everything she was doing, Gideon wouldn’t last much longer.

“Much better. See? You’re very good at following directions when you want to be.” Harrow raised an eyebrow, still keeping that burning, red-hot eye contact, and ran her tongue up the underside of Gideon’s cock before taking the first few inches in her mouth again.

Her reward was another sharp, open-mouthed gasp from Gideon and the press of blunted nails against her scalp.

A spike of pleasure shot down her, and Harrow reached down between her legs to find that she was dripping wet already. She made sure Gideon was watching when she started rubbing her clit.

With one hand on the base of Gideon’s cock and the other rubbing frantically at her clit, Harrow let her eyes fall closed. She knew she was getting sloppier with her movements— and yet, somehow, she didn’t think either of them cared.

This was— well, it was a very new feeling for her. It was one that would stick with her for the next day at least (if the growing ache in her jaw was any indication) but that was a burden she was willing to accept. She slid two fingers into herself, relishing in the way Gideon’s eyes widened at the sight.

Every time Harrow looked up at Gideon, she saw shameless want on her face, and that was more than enough to spur her on. To say she was enjoying it would have been an understatement. Harrow felt a spike of heat bloom in her stomach at the sight of Gideon’s eyes falling shut.

Harrow pulled back with her chest heaving and her lips parted and thought, Time for phase two. She sat back against her heels, kneeling over Gideon’s thighs, and jerked her off slowly.

“Wh— why’d you stop?” Gideon asked, voice rough from need. “Is everything—”

“I want to ride you,” Harrow interrupted, drawing her fingers in a lazy circle around her clit for Gideon to watch. “How does that sound?” Her voice came out breathy, trying to keep it as stable as possible through the sensation of her fingers.

Gideon’s eyes widened again, and she nodded forcefully. “Yeah,” She said, clearing her throat. “Yes.” And then, after a moment: “Please.” Her abs were tensing involuntarily, and her hands were tight against the sheets. She wouldn’t last much longer.

Harrow settled herself over Gideon’s cock, lined it up with her cunt, and began to ease it inside herself. The stretch was instantaneous— it burned in all the right ways, licking a delicious line up through her chest. She put a hand on Gideon’s chest to support herself, pressing her back against the bed.

Harrow moved slowly. She felt more than saw Gideon try and hold herself back, feeling her trembling with restraint below her. Then, with the final inches inside her, their hips drew flush together.

A hand settled firmly on her waist and squeezed lightly, fingers digging into her hips. She opened her eyes — when had they fallen shut? — to see Gideon with a wild, hazy look in her eyes. “Please,” She begged, choking on the word. “God. Please.

Harrow rolled her hips experimentally, mouth falling open at the feeling, and watched Gideon’s back arch up from the bed. The hand at her waist was replaced by a strong, sure arm winding around her, pulling and pressing their chests together.

Gideon thrust her hips upward, making a wordless noise of pleasure as the vibrator hit some new, perfect spot against her, and Harrow nearly went limp at the feeling of Gideon’s cock buried so deep in her.

The position — both of them upright, bodies pressed together and breaths mingling — kept her clit pushed firmly against the base of Gideon’s strap. Every movement of their hips, joined in a smooth, slow rhythm, sent another lick of pleasure through her body.

Then, as her eyes slid closed and her mouth fell open, Gideon came.

Her hips jerked upwards, chasing the full extent of her pleasure in Harrow, and every uneven, involuntary motion hit harder than the last one. Harrow had to bite down against Gideon’s shoulder to keep herself quiet, letting out a few high-pitched whines with every motion.

Gideon’s chest was heaving with the force of her orgasm, but she didn’t stop fucking Harrow. She reached down, fumbling in her boxers for a moment, and turned off the vibrator before resuming her pace.

Harrow came soon after with a sharp, keening gasp, her hips rolling hard down into Gideon’s, and let her weight collapse against her. Her forehead rested against Gideon’s shoulder, letting out quiet breaths against her chest.

Strong arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her into a tight, warm embrace. Harrow smiled.

They were quiet for a few moments before Harrow tapped lightly against her back. “Can—” She cleared her throat. It was rough from disuse. “Can you pull out?” She asked, looking up at Gideon’s face.

Gideon helped maneuver her off her strap, and discarded the harness a moment later. She pulled Harrow onto her chest, hugging her tight again.

Harrow only realized she was crying when she heard Gideon sniffle. Her head was up in an instant, searching Gideon’s face for any pain or shame, and found her wiping away a tear with the back of her hand.

“Sorry,” Gideon said, letting out a shaky laugh. “Just— that was—” She shifted, pulling Harrow closer. Rather than fight it, Harrow wrapped her arms around Gideon’s back and sank into the embrace. “Thanks.”

The words were mumbled, quiet and clumsy, against Harrow’s neck. Harrowhark ran one of her hands through Gideon’s hair, memorizing the waves and curls she felt. She leaned back with a smile. “You don’t need to thank me.”

“I want to.” There was a surprising lack of comedy in Gideon’s voice. Every word she spoke was earnest, and a little more self-conscious than Harrow was used to seeing. “That— I can’t believe I’m saying this, but that meant a lot to me.”

There was something in her voice that made Harrow’s heart flutter— and she knew it was dangerous, she knew that this was closer than they’d ever let themselves get, but she couldn’t help but say, “You aren’t the only one.” She pressed a kiss to Gideon’s forehead. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Gideon said, and meant it. “But I could use a nap.” She leaned back with a wince, settling against the pillows. “I think you knocked me out.”

Harrow let out a quiet laugh. “Is that a compliment?”

“Oh, a hundred percent,” Gideon said lightly. She yawned. “Hundy-ten, even. Yeah. That was—” She nodded a few times, making the ok sign with her hand. “Yeah. Nice.” A quick exhale. “Wow.”

She looked down to see Harrow smiling at her, long and sweet, and leaned down to kiss her. Her phone buzzed on the table, which made her pause for a moment. She frowned when she opened the lock screen.

“Who is it?” Harrow asked, burrowing into her side. She slung a leg over Gideon’s waist protectively.

“Oh, just Camilla,” Gideon shrugged, looking over the messages idly. “Looks like Corona roped her into helping get stuff for her and Ianthe’s birthday party next weekend.”

Harrow stiffened for a moment, then leaned back. “And are you— planning to go?”

“To our friends’ birthday party?” Gideon asked, raising her eyebrows. “Duh. The Tridentarii are rich as hell, and every time Corona makes jungle juice someone ends up passed out in the lawn. It’s gonna be great.”

Harrow blinked. Ianthe had told her about the party weeks beforehand. In Coronabeth’s words, it was going to be the horniest, most spectacular party this university has ever seen. If Gideon was going, at least one of those was going to be true.

Harrow swallowed and, as casually as possible, said, “Then I suppose I’ll see you there.”

* * *

V.

Harrow was beginning to get used to waking up in Gideon’s arms.

Days had passed since the revelation they had shared. Somehow, it felt like something was settled between them, as though they’d given up on pretense completely. There was no more awkward hesitation between them. There was no more tension, not really— and for the first time, it felt like they had time.

It had gotten to the point where half of Harrow’s nights were spent in Gideon’s bed — or with Gideon in hers, though it was beginning to feel like there wasn’t much of a separation — and her mornings, more often than not, passed by with casual kisses and light, domestic conversations.

This in itself was— to be honest, she flip-flopped between terrifying and comforting, but today it was closer to the former.

Gideon was already awake when she blinked groggy eyes open. “Morning, sunshine.”

“What time is it,” Harrow grumbled, her voice cracking off the crust of sleep. “How— how long have you been up?”

“Since, like, seven? It’s half past nine now,” Gideon said, giving her a smile. “I got caught up on reading for one of my classes while you were out. I was going to make breakfast.”

Harrow nodded, yawning lightly. “Is there—”

“I made a pot of coffee for you, yes,” Gideon finished, rolling her eyes fondly. “And there’s a cafe down the street if it’s not up to your standards.”

Currently, Harrow’s standards were hot and available. She tried not to apply it to more than just the coffee. “That will do fine,” She said, nodding. A pause. Then: “Thank you.”

“No need.” Gideon pushed the covers off of herself, stretching lightly before reaching for a shirt. “You think I’d hang you out to dry after you stayed the night?” She shook her head, pulling the t-shirt over it. “Come on. You know me better than that.”

Harrow watched her, leaning back against the headboard. “And here I was thinking you hated doing things for other people,” She said waspishly. Even so, there wasn’t much of a bite to it. “Perhaps I was wrong.”

“I’m an acts of service bitch,” Gideon said, giving her a winning smile.

Harrow sighed, pushing herself out of bed with a wince. Her knees were sore. “I don’t follow.”

Gideon raised an eyebrow, tossing her a hoodie. “You’ve never heard of love languages?”

“Should I have?” Harrow pulled on Gideon’s sweatshirt, settling the heavy, comfortable fabric over bony shoulders.

“I dunno,” Gideon said, shrugging. “I just sort of assumed everyone had.” She paused, looking Harrow up and down. “There are— five? I think? And I’m pretty sure yours is acts of service, too.” A beat. “Assuming you’re capable of love, I mean. Jury’s out.”

Harrow rolled her eyes. “All this brutality before ten in the morning?” She asked, sighing. “I’m leaving a bad review on— oh, Christ, I sound like you.”

Gideon grinned, golden eyes crinkling at the edges. “Looks like I’m rubbing off on you.” The sentence was followed by an exaggerated wink.

Harrow wrinkled her nose. “Gross.”

“You didn’t think it was gross last night.”

“You are the worst,” Harrow said, with the barest hint of a smile on her face. “I’ll take that coffee now.”

And so it went. Gideon was mostly dressed — if you called wearing a t-shirt, bright red booty shorts, and a pair of sunglasses being dressed — and Harrow was in Gideon’s hoodie and little else.

Gideon had one of her lectures around ten, so she would leave in the next few minutes. Harrow didn’t have class until 2pm, which meant she would spend her morning going over homework and scheduling for the next week.

They would meet for lunch. They would talk. They might even watch an episode of a show before Harrow left.

In other words: in everything but name, they were practically living together.

Harrowhark wasn’t sure how they’d nearly skipped the step of dating altogether, but they’d managed it. It was more or less assumed that they would spend their mornings together, more or less obvious that they’d spend their days together, and more or less inevitable that they’d spend their nights together.

And that meant—

Well, it meant something. Harrow didn’t know what, exactly, but she knew it was big.

Gideon handed her a cup of coffee (“With a splash of oat milk for some actual nutrients,” She said, crossing her arms over her chest,) and Harrow didn’t need to taste it to know it was perfectly made. Somehow, everything tasted better when Gideon made it for her.

She took a sip, humming in contentment. “Thank you, Griddle.”

“Don’t mention it.” Gideon turned to the stove, where a skillet was warming idly. “I don’t have a ton of time, so I’m gonna heat up some leftovers from last night for you. Is that cool?”

“Normally my breakfast is a can of Red Bull,” Harrow said, taking another sip of coffee. “Anything solid is a marked improvement.”

Gideon shot her a look. “You’re gonna make me worry about you,” She said, turning back toward the stove. “Like, more than usual.”

“You worry about me?” Harrow leaned back, only half-serious in her question. “There’s no reason to. I’m fine, Nav.”

Gideon fixed her with an unimpressed stare. “You consume enough caffeine on the daily to send a horse into a heart attack. Someone has to watch out for your body.”

“Well, I haven’t died yet,” Harrow said simply. “And horses are fragile to begin with. If you’re going to compare me to any animal, I’d rather it was one with a little more stability.”

Gideon sighed, sliding a plate of food her way. “You’re such a shit.”

“I lo—” Harrow choked halfway through the word, realizing too late that she was about to say I love you, too.

What the fuck? What the fuck?

Gideon frowned. “What the fuck? You good?”

Harrow coughed, suddenly unable to look her in the eyes. “Yes, I-I’m fine. I’m not even— I don’t know what I was going to say.”

There was marked suspicion in Gideon’s eyes, but the alarm on her phone drew her attention faster. “Shit,” She sighed. “Alright, I gotta get going. I’ll see you back here?”

Harrow shoved a bite of food in her mouth rather than reply, mumbling something incoherent into her plate. Gideon pressed a kiss to her forehead before reaching for her keys. “Enjoy your breakfast, stinker. I’ll see you later.”

The door clicked closed behind her— and Harrow was left alone in the resulting stillness.

Her food was forgotten as anxiety, cold and tight, washed through her in wave after wave. Fooling around and playing house was one thing, but love?

Love was out of the question for her; it always had been and it always would be. Love meant vulnerability. Love meant weakness— love meant terror and horror and fear and guilt.

Love, for her, had always been larger than the usual romantic love. It was terrifying. It was steeped in sepulchre and drenched in death. In fact, the only love Harrowhark’s body had ever truly been able to sustain was her love for her Lord, and that one only worked because it was by definition impossible for Him not to love her back—

And there it was. Harrow amended her fear: love wasn’t the issue.

Being loved was the issue.

Here’s the thing.

Harrow, much to her displeasure, had always been far too quick to love. For example: she loved her work. She loved her faith. She loved the taste of coffee and the smell of rain, and she loved the feeling of cold air through layers of warm clothing. She loved driving at night. She loved Jeopardy.

She was slightly lower on people to love, but she wasn’t found wanting. Harrow loved Palamedes Sextus and Camilla Hect fiercely — though that love was accompanied by healthy doses of rivalry and fear, respectively — and she loved God so much it hurt.

And—

And Harrowhark loved Gideon.

She did, didn’t she? The secret, interred feeling she had been avoiding turning her gaze towards— it was love. It had to be. It felt like praying and held the same comforting routine. It was a furnace inside her— and it was one she refused to give fuel.

This was a problem. This was an issue. This was a grade-A, USDA-certified-organic fuck-up on her part— because how, in God’s great and terrible name, could someone as warm and as bright and as alive as Gideon Nav ever love her back?

Harrow pushed her plate away and realized, dimly, that she was trembling. She needed to think. She needed to lie down. And if she was ever going to get over this stupid, god-damned emotion, she couldn’t do it somewhere that reeked so strongly of tragedy.

When Gideon came home, hours later, it was to an empty apartment and a hastily-scribbled note.

APOLOGIES— SOMETHING CAME UP, it read. GOING TO BE BUSY FOR A WHILE.

And then, in familiar handwriting on the back, was written a final sentence that made the smile freeze and crack on Gideon’s face: DON’T CALL AND DON’T COME LOOKING FOR ME.

* * *

Even now, after three years of college, parties still felt new to Harrowhark.

In high school, she had been more likely to be invited to a seance — not that she would’ve gone, considering how busy her schedule was. No, back then, she was too busy focusing on AP classes and clawing her way into top-tier schools to care about something as trivial as socializing.

This was something that changed slowly. After arriving at college, Harrow didn’t go to a real party until the second semester of her freshman year.

She still remembered her first party. Palamedes had hounded her for weeks about coming to an event his Desi frat was throwing, and at some point she’d decided it would be a small price to pay to never hear about it again.

To her surprise, she hadn’t actively hated it. When the next event happened, he invited her again— as well as to the next one, to the one after that, and so on and so forth.

And Harrow always went. She told herself it was because Palamedes wouldn’t let her hear the end of it if she flaked — which, to be fair, was completely true — but she had to admit, there was a part of her that was nourished in social settings. It was a very small part, and one that she was loath to ever admit to, but it was undeniable.

Harrow and Ianthe had known each other from class — they shared a major, though not a concentration — and through Ianthe, she met Coronabeth. And so it was that through the Tridentarii, Palamedes, and Gideon, the rest of their group began to coalesce.

Judith was a childhood friend of the Tridentarii — though maybe friend was an exaggeration — and Marta was nearly inseparable from her. Dulcinea had been pen pals with Palamedes and Camilla for years, and her brother-in-law Protesilaus worked with Harrow’s cousin Ortus in the Classics department.

At those parties of old, Harrow hadn’t been thinking of someone to impress. Now, though, she couldn’t help but admit that, fine: she was thinking about Gideon.

Half a week of avoidance hadn’t helped much. She always seemed to be— and normally it was with an accompanying pang of her heart. This made the idea of attending a party together— well, difficult to say the least.

Which, complained some part of her mind, was a very un-Harrowhark thing to fret about. Normally she spent her energy worrying about things like anatomical structure and muscle movement.

Technically, she was still doing that— it was just that there was a very specific anatomical structure she was thinking about. Hell was a butch with golden eyes.

Speaking of: her mind was stuck ruminating — largely against her will— on Gideon and how their dynamic had changed.

Though, then again, perhaps evolved was a better word. Change implied totality. Nothing about them had changed completely, though there were aspects that had faded and others that had grown.

Gideon still made fun of her for being so uptight, but now it was with a hand on her lower back and concern in her eyes. Harrow still thought she was an idiot (and told her as much relatively frequently), but now it was with a fond roll of her eyes and the unspoken promise that it wasn’t true.

Even if she didn’t want to admit it before, Harrow had always cared about her. Now there was something else between them: something Harrow couldn’t — wouldn’t — name again.

If she was being completely honest, the idea scared the shit out of her.

In fact, it scared her enough that some nights — those nights, when Harrow couldn’t stop thinking about golden eyes and that damn smile — she’d walk to the church across the street. She had asked during her freshman year that it be kept unlocked throughout the night, and the priest had deigned to give her a key instead.

When it — as in, It, which was how she was referring to the swirling maelstrom of emotion wreaking havoc inside her — became too much for Harrow to bear, she would sit with The Lord and adore him. It gave her comfort. It gave her peace.

Closing her eyes in love and devotion reminded her of nights back home at the adoration chapel in Drearburh. If Harrow strained her ears, she could hear Crux playing the organ. She could hear the melodic, ancient, familiar words of Latin spoken by the congregation in prayer to God and his mother. She could taste the old, smooth wood-smell of the sturdy oak pews on her tongue.

Sometimes she stayed for ten minutes. Sometimes she stayed for two hours. And sometimes, on days where it felt like her upbringing had a vice grip around her throat, she couldn’t bear to even look at the crucifix.

And still, no matter how hard she tried to banish it, Harrowhark found herself wanting.

But right now, she didn’t want to be invisible. After all: she had a reputation to uphold.

Harrow chose a pair of simple black jeans that accentuated the shape of her ass, because fine, she liked the feeling. The cropped hoodie she threw on was an old one— one of Gideon’s from back in high school, in fact. If asked about its origins, Harrow planned to feign ignorance with a flat-faced expression.

She laced up her Doc Martens and starred in the mirror one last time. There was something else she needed, she thought.

Ah. Harrow’s eyes flicked over to her dresser. Accessories.

Like armor before a battle, she put on her necklaces one by one— first, the silver skull worn from years of use and wear, then the caduceus the Reverend Mother had bought her before she left for school, then the chains she layered between them.

She looked at her work and saw that it was good. With her make up done, piercings in, and hair perfectly messy, Harrow left her apartment.

The drive to the Tridentarius twins’ house was always a quick one, given how small their town was. Waze listed it as seven minutes away. Harrow usually made it in three.

Two minutes and forty-seven seconds later, Harrowhark shouldered the Tridentarii’s door open and pushed all thoughts of sepulchre and sainthood from her head. No one was there yet — the party wouldn’t start in earnest for another half hour at least — except for Naberius, who was deep in concentration frosting a cake on the dining table.

He put down his piping bag with a huff as she walked in. “God, Nonagesimus. You couldn’t have knocked first?” Babs drawled, rolling his eyes self-importantly.

“Oh, is that Harry?” called Ianthe from the kitchen. “Tell her she’s late.”

Naberius rolled his eyes, but relayed obediently, “You’re late.”

Harrow resisted the urge to smack them both. “I would love to hear what constitutes your idea of late, considering you haven’t even finished setting up.”

Ianthe strolled out into the living room, plucking a grocery bag full of snacks from Harrow’s hands. “Well, you could’ve been here to help me pick out an outfit. Or to organize Babs’ embroidery thread,” She sighed. “And who knows? Maybe seeing me undress would’ve awoken something in your pious little brain.”

“I’ll pass.” Harrow found it difficult to keep the grimace off her face. “I’m not interested in white girls.”

“Pity,” Ianthe said, shrugging. And then, as if the conversation had never happened: “Corona made jungle juice. Do you want any?”

The question earned another grimace from Harrow, though this one was more because of memory than anything else. “If it bears any resemblance to what she— concocted last time, I’m afraid I’ll have to turn you down once again.”

Coronabeth appeared, resplendent and near-phantasmal, in the doorway of her bathroom. She was holding a curling iron in one hand, which explained why the house smelled faintly of burning hair. The other held a Red solo cup. To Harrow, this seemed like a fire hazard waiting to happen.

“Oh, don’t be so dramatic,” Corona said, rolling her lovely eyes. “Only six people threw up.” She was wearing a sash that said Birthday Bitch over a deep purple pantsuit. If the deep, plunging V of her neckline was any indication, she wasn’t wearing anything under her blazer.

Harrow had to blink a few times before responding, “And I’m grateful every day that I wasn’t one of them.”

“You’re no fun.”

“On that, we can agree.” Harrow looked between them. “Do you want me to start setting up drinks?”

The Tridentarius twins shared a look and an unspoken conversation. Harrow’s spine prickled. That couldn’t mean anything good. “In a moment,” Corona said. She crossed her arms over her chest. “Try the juice first.”

Harrow blinked. “Absolutely not.”

Babs tried it,” Ianthe added.

“Then that is his mistake to live with,” Harrow said, eyeing the twins warily. “I see no need to repeat it.”

Coronabeth narrowed her eyes and said, in a measured, low tone, “It’s our birthday, Harrowhark.”

This was a losing battle— but, then again, it was difficult to argue with Coronabeth Tridentarius about anything. The only person who had ever succeeded was Ianthe, and something about the grin curling at her lips made Harrow think she wasn’t exactly on her side.

This was a lost battle, then. Harrow sighed, then nodded to the kitchen. “Fine. Do your worst.”

Whatever was in the tub of (juice? alcohol?) liquid was electric blue and tasted like a punch to the throat— which she had to admit was a considerable improvement from last time.

“Do you like it?” Corona asked, eyes blown wide with nervous excitement. “I made enough for everyone.”

“Um.” Harrow raised her cup weakly, ignoring Ianthe’s smirk at the back of the room. “Yes. It’s— it’s good.”

Coronabeth beamed. “Wonderful,” She said, pressing a kiss to Harrow’s cheek. “A million thanks, my lady Nonagesimus.” Harrow told herself that the resulting blush was from the alcohol.

With her duty completed and her mouth completely numb, Harrow busied herself with setting up. She organized drinks, set up snacks, and tidied up the living space while Ianthe and Coronabeth bickered halfheartedly over the music playing from the speakers around the house.

Slowly, people trickled in. Palamedes arrived with Camilla in tow five minutes early, and surprised absolutely no one with their punctuality. Dulcinea poked her head in promptly after, beaming airily about the weather and the decorations.

After that, Judith and Marta arrived together (which, for whatever reason, had Coronabeth fuming into her glass of— concoction). The house reached full capacity quickly, which meant people trickled outside into the backyard to smoke and socialize.

And then there was a low, husky, familiar voice in Harrow's ear. “Come here often?”

Harrow swore she jumped two feet off the ground, though the motion was probably closer to a hard flinch. There was the sound of a bottle of liquor — as in, the one she’d been holding when Gideon decided to scare the shit out of her — dropping on the counter.

Harrow pressed her hand to her chest in a feeble attempt to calm her heart rate. Seeing Gideon was what she had been worried about, but she wouldn’t let it show. “Christ, Nav, I could have broken the bottle!”

“But you didn’t,” Gideon said smoothly, giving her a wink. Those stupid eyes and that cocky grin always made Harrow lightheaded, though whether it was from rage or— something else, it was hard to be sure.

After a second, Gideon’s grin faded into a tense smile that didn’t quite reach her eyes. “Probably could’ve been more careful. My bad.”

“Yes, well, no harm, no foul,” Harrow said, vaguely aware of herself echoing Gideon’s earlier words. An awkward silence settled between them.

Harrow wanted to say all sorts of things— things like I’m sorry I haven’t texted you and I haven’t been able to sleep without you and I’m sorry I didn’t stay.

What she actually said was: “Do you want a drink?”

Gideon looked like she had eaten something that didn’t quite agree with her, but nodded anyway. “If you’re offering, then sure,” She said. Then, she frowned lightly. “Is that my hoodie?”

“Perhaps,” Harrow said, sniffing imperiously. “I had to modify it a little.” (“Yeah, I can see that,” Gideon said, staring mournfully at the cropped hem.) “One shot or two?”

“One,” Gideon said. A noise from the living room — which had become the de facto dance floor — drew her attention, where she saw Coronabeth pressing herself against a furiously blushing, stone-faced Judith. She sighed. “Two.”

The screen door slid open with a whine as Camilla made her way through, giving the two of them a nod. “Dulcinea wants to play Spin the Bottle,” She said by way of greeting, setting her cup down on the counter. “Are you making drinks?”

Harrow sighed. “I am now.”

Camilla nodded, then looked between them. “You two look… civil.” She narrowed her eyes. “What’s going on?”

Harrow and Gideon met each other’s eyes, blinked, and turned back to Camilla. “Parties bring people together,” said Gideon, hoping it would pass for true.

The words were said evenly, and nothing about her face would betray the truth, but Gideon could tell Camilla didn’t quite believe her. It was her own fault for assuming she could fool her— Camilla had always possessed an eerie knack for finding out the truth of a situation.

Camilla Hect blinked. All she said as Harrow poured her drink into a cup was, “Hm.” Then, she moved back towards the sliding glass door, turned back towards them, and said, again: “Hm.”

Gideon watched her leave, then turned back to Harrow with a sigh. “She knows.”

“She couldn’t possibly.”

“Harrow,” Gideon said. “Trust me. She knows.”

Harrow’s jaw twitched. “What do we do?”

“Do we have to do anything?” Gideon asked, frowning lightly.

The obvious answer was no, but the thought made Harrow’s skin itch. She had a wealth of self-directed disgust that she couldn’t touch right now. To mask it, she said, “I would rather not have to explain our— history to her.”

Gideon paused for a moment, then took a long sip of her drink. “Yeah, but— I mean, would it really be so bad if she knew?”

“Yes,” Harrow said, before she could stop herself.

There were times in her life, Harrow had realized, where she made a decision that was totally, completely, and irrevocably wrong. Rare as they were, they were impactful. Usually, they ended with her staying up half the night dissecting them in her mind, trying to figure out where exactly she had done wrong.

This was one of those times.

As soon as the word left her mouth, heavy and bitter with the tang of regret, Harrow stiffened.

And Gideon froze. Her face went on a half-second journey through pain, hurt, and something Harrow couldn’t place before landing on a careful, stony expression that Harrow hadn’t seen in months.

“Oh.”

Shit, Harrow thought desperately, rapidly cycling through panic and embarrassment. She wasn’t even sure if she meant the word, but it was too late now.

There had been an unspoken question in what Gideon asked her: would it be so bad if everyone knew? Would you be ashamed of it?

And Harrowhark, without bothering to pause to consider the consequences, had answered yes.

Gideon seemed to recover more quickly than she did, and finished her drink before speaking again. “Well. We could act the way we normally do,” She said, though she sounded unsure about the idea. She paused, looking at Dulcinea where she sat in the backyard. “Or we could try to throw her off.”

“And how do you propose we—” Harrow’s eyes widened with realization. “Wait. You don’t mean—”

Gideon nodded. “Up for a round of Spin the Bottle?” Without waiting for a response, she followed Camilla’s path out the screen door.

Harrow watched her leave and tried to swallow down her fear. Then, to help, she swallowed down the rest of her drink. “Fuck.”

* * *

It was almost funny: months ago, Harrow had thought being at a party with Gideon was her worst nightmare.

It seemed like that was true today, too— except now, there was a reason, and the reason was that she was too damn scared of letting things change between them permanently.

And that was what it all came down to, wasn’t it? The fear of wanting, the ordeal of letting herself be seen in her entirety, the dreadful sin of desire made holy in another person’s arms— this was her nightmare.

Harrow settled down across from Gideon, trying very hard not to watch her. She was talking with Coronabeth about something. For some reason, seeing her eyes drift down the deep V of Corona’s top made Harrow’s blood boil.

As if on cue, golden eyes turned to meet hers, smoldering with some inexorable storm of emotions, and hardened.

“Are we playing or not?” Gideon asked, meeting Harrow’s eyes with a brazen tinge of anger.

Dulcinea raised an eyebrow and gave her an exaggerated wink. “If you keep flirting with me, Gideon, I’m going to end up propositioning you,” She said, reaching for an empty bottle of rum. She handed it to Gideon, who set it lightly in the center of the circle. “Would you like to start us off?”

Gideon nodded. With a smooth, practiced motion, she spun the bottle in an easy circle. Harrow heard something rushing in her ears and realized dully that it was her heartbeat pounding.

The bottle drifted past her lazily— until, in an act of betrayal that made Harrow’s stomach twist, it stopped with the neck pointed at Coronabeth.

For her part, Corona seemed delighted by this development. She turned towards Gideon, running her eyes greedily over the broad shoulders and curly red hair that awaited her, and raised an expectant eyebrow. “Well?”

 

Gideon blinked, cleared her throat, and nodded. “May I?”

“I think I’d be a little upset if you didn’t,” Coronabeth said lightly, fingers toying lightly with Gideon’s collar.

This was too much already, and they hadn’t even kissed yet.

Harrow told herself she couldn’t watch— and yet, whether out of perverse curiosity or self-hatred or plain masochism, she did.

Harrow watched Coronabeth, with her golden hair and bronzed skin and amethyst eyes, lean in and run a hand through Gideon’s hair. She watched Gideon’s eyes widen, she watched her swallow, and she watched her press a kiss she knew was solid and warm and inviting to Corona’s perfect, statuesque lips.

The knowing was the worst part. Harrow knew exactly how that felt— she knew in a deep, complete way what kissing Gideon felt like, and it was because of this that she couldn’t blame Coronabeth for the needy, wanting noise she let out against her mouth.

She only turned away when Coronabeth climbed into Gideon’s lap. This was when it became too much.

Harrow looked around for anything— anyone else to focus on, and found Ianthe watching her with an unreadable expression from another part of the circle.

Gideon and Coronabeth separated a moment later, both of them flushed, to wolf whistles and whoops from some of the other partygoers. Coronabeth wiped the corner of her mouth with the back of her thumb— her lipstick had smudged. There was red on Gideon’s lips.

A surprised, half-wild grin took over her face. “Gideon Nav, girl kisser extraordinaire. Happy Birthday to me,” Corona said, staring openly at her. “Well, if that was our warm-up, I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Christ. Harrowhark needed a drink. Anything would be better than watching whatever this was play out.

Luckily — and because God was merciful — the game moved on quickly.

Next in the circle was Judith, who pressed a stiff, awkward kiss to Coronabeth’s cheek— which, Harrow noted, made her blush more than the borderline pornographic scene she’d had with Gideon.

Then came Marta, who opted for a firm handshake when her bottle landed on Palamedes. Dulcinea let Gideon press a polite, courteous kiss to her knuckles, and Palamedes played a game of Slide with Camilla for nearly five whole minutes before they finally broke their streak.

And then it was Ianthe’s turn. Her gaze flicked up towards Harrow for a moment before she spun, as if gauging the distance between them, and Harrow knew even before the bottle landed that it would be her.

She was proven right a moment later. Ianthe sat back with a half-proud, half-expectant smirk. “Well, Nonagesimus?” She asked, raising an eyebrow. She raised a bony, skeletal hand and crooked her finger towards Harrow, beckoning. “Care to join me?”

Harrow wasn’t sure if it was reflex or intention that made her turn towards Gideon, but when she did, she saw her staring at Ianthe with something hot and mistrustful in her eyes.

Fuck it, Harrow thought. This had been Gideon’s idea— and after what had happened with Coronabeth, fair was fair. An eye for an eye; a kiss for a kiss.

She stood and walked over to Ianthe. She slotted herself in between the other girl’s legs, ignoring the way her eyebrows rose in surprise and pleased anticipation, and pulled her into a hard, unyielding kiss.

Ianthe made a surprised noise against her, clearly not expecting the amount of fervor she received, but she settled in easily. Harrow felt one hand card through her hair as the other pressed greedily against her back.

Kissing Ianthe was— different.

Gideon was all warmth and muscle, and felt undeniably alive in the vigor she displayed. She ran hot— her hands were big and gentle, and being in her arms felt like being protected. There was a breath of trust inherent in every touch.

But Ianthe was cold and sharp. This kiss was all teeth and nails, all pain without the redemption of pleasure. This was not being protected— this was Harrow attacking and being attacked from all angles. It was a fight. It was a chess match. Every move mattered; every move cost her.

Well, that was fine. Harrow could give it back as well as she took it. Ianthe fought, and Harrow fought back. Ianthe moved one way, so Harrow moved the other. Ianthe pulled at her hair, so Harrow bit down hard at her bottom lip.

The other girl made a noise of surprise, and Harrow was only the slightest bit pleased when she drew back to see blood welling there. She had won.

Ianthe stared at her when they pulled apart, both breathing heavy. “Marry me,” She said simply.

Harrow realized faintly that she was blushing again, but she hid it well. “Over my dead body.” Without another word, she returned to her seat.

She was vaguely aware of someone offering her a drink once she sat down. “You look like you could use it,” said Camilla, who only looked the faintest bit surprised at what had just happened.

God bless Camilla Hect and her powers of observation. “You’re not wrong,” Harrow said, accepting it. “What did it look like from the outside?”

“Honestly?” Camilla asked, letting out a short hiss of air through her teeth. “Like watching hyenas fight. Was that what you were going for?”

Harrow took a long, sturdy sip of the drink Camilla had handed her. Whatever it was tasted of lemon and a hint of sweetness. “More or less,” Harrow muttered. “As long as it was visible.”

Camilla’s eyebrows rose a fraction. “I don’t think visibility was an issue, Nonagesimus.”

Harrowhark didn’t have to look up to know Gideon was staring. She’d always been able to feel those golden eyes running over her, taking in her sharp edges and her jagged lines.

But she looked up anyway— and in doing so, met Gideon’s eyes. There was a pained, half-raw expression on Gideon’s face that she had never seen before. Gone was the cocky, protective mask of humor. It was replaced by something desperate— and something that made her look very, very young.

Whatever was written on Harrow’s own face made Gideon’s eyes widen in return. For a moment, the world stood still. There was something that passed between them— and then, abruptly, Gideon stood and began walking hastily towards the house. Her hands were shaking by her sides.

Shit. Perhaps she’d overdone it. Harrow stared after her, trying to figure out what to do about the situation she had created. Next to her, Camilla frowned. “You alright?”

Harrowhark was so startled she nearly jumped out of her seat. “I— yes,” She said tightly, blinking once. She closed her eyes, made up her mind, and continued, “Excuse me. I-I left something inside.”

And then, without waiting for a response, Harrow stood. She did her best to be inconspicuous as she sped towards the interior of the house.

Her brain, addled as it was, was sharp enough to understand that Gideon was hurt and probably wanted to be alone to process what had just happened. And yet the alcohol in her system emboldened her. If Gideon was going anywhere, it was going to be somewhere isolated and relatively quiet.

The bathroom door was unlocked when Harrow walked in.

And sure enough, there was Gideon leaning against the counter. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and there was an expression on her face that gave Harrow the impression of a thundercloud. As soon as Harrow entered, she stood up straight.

 

“Harrow,” Gideon said, almost unsure of what to say next. Her expression didn’t clear.

Harrow took a step closer. Then, she took another, and another, and two more, until she was directly in Gideon’s space. “Griddle.”

“What the fuck was that?” Gideon asked, barely able to contain her anger.

Coronabeth’s face — and the noise she had made — seared themselves in Harrow’s mind. She crossed her arms over her chest. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“No, you seriously fucking couldn’t,” Gideon said harshly. “I mean— Jesus, Harrow, what the fuck? Radio silence for half a week, leaving without even telling me—”

“I left a note,” Harrow heard herself say faintly.

“Fuck your note! You know that’s not the same thing. And— and making me watch that?” She gestured wildly with her hands as she spoke, pushing into Harrow’s personal space. “Look, if— if you aren’t happy with— us anymore, that’s one thing, but I don’t know what I did wrong, okay? At least fucking tell me what I did.

Harrow clenched her jaw so hard it hurt. She spat, “You didn’t do anything, Nav.”

“Then why—”

“Because something came up. I told you.” Harrow had to fight hard to keep her voice and face neutral. “I couldn’t spare the time to preoccupy myself with— distractions.” The words tasted of iron and blood coming out of her mouth.

The vein at the side of Gideon’s neck was jumping, standing out strong and tense as her teeth ground against each other. Her face was stark with rage, flushed dark with alcohol and anger all at once.

“So that’s what this was to you? A distraction?” She shook her head. “I don’t buy that for a second. You were just as into it as I was, Harrowhark.” She jabbed a finger into Harrow’s chest. “I want the truth.”

Harrow pushed against the finger digging into her sternum with a snarl, leaning closer to Gideon until their faces were centimeters apart. “Tough shit.”

There was another moment that passed between them. Harrow’s heart was racing again— she could feel it in her neck, in her chest, all the way down to her fingertips. She swallowed.

Gideon opened her mouth to say something else — something real, something painful — but her eyes betrayed her. Her gaze dropped to Harrow’s lips for a moment, swallowing. And then, all she said was: “Lock the door.”

Harrow did— and that was all it took. She surged forward, pulling Gideon into a kiss, and sent them both crashing against the counter.

Gideon responded instantly— one of her hands was bracing them against the counter, but the other rested against the back of Harrow’s neck and tugged her impossibly closer.

Blunted nails scratched against her scalp, earning a soft noise from Harrow in return, and she retaliated by biting down at Gideon’s lip. They broke apart for a moment, both breathing heavy.

Their time was limited, so Gideon didn’t waste any of it— she flipped them around and pressed Harrow against the counter. Then, breaking away from Harrow’s lips, she moved closer and began to kiss a line roughly down her neck.

This was unlike anything they’d done before. Every time before had been languid, filled with tenderness, filled with care.

But this was rough and sloppy and angry.

Each of Gideon’s kisses was more teeth than lips. She was sucking at Harrow’s neck hard enough to leave big, visible bruises. Harrowhark was sure Gideon could feel her blood pounding in her veins.

This was dangerous — more dangerous than anything they’d done before, and certainly twice as disastrous if they were caught — but there was something about the danger that made her want it more.

Then Gideon bit down at her pulse point, and a harsh gasp left Harrow’s lips. “Fuck,” She groaned, one hand digging into strong back muscles. The other reached for Gideon’s hand, pressing it between her legs.

Gideon stilled. She looked up at Harrow, uncertainty breaking through the haze of passion for a moment. Her eyes were heavy and black, so dark now that their usual gold was a mere ring near the edges. “Are you sure you want this?”

“Yes. Yes,” Harrow said, nodding. “I do.”

“Then say my name.” Gideon’s voice clawed its way out of her, raw from anger and heavy with emotion. “Say my name, Harrow.”

Fingers pressed between her legs, and Harrow had to fight to keep her hips from bucking up against them. “Gideon,” She breathed. “Please.” Strong hands moved under her thighs and lifted, and with an undignified squeak Harrow found herself sitting against the counter.

Slowly, with a hint of the care Harrow had grown used to receiving from her, Gideon unbuttoned the front of Harrow’s pants and slid her hand down her boxers. A gasp left both of them as Gideon’s fingers touched her for the first time.

Touching Harrow always made Gideon feel indescribable— and even now, with emotions running high between them, there was a thin strand of trust that connected them.

Gideon ran her fingers through the wetness pooled between her legs, collecting some of it before she started to rub slow, tight circles around her clit.

Harrow’s eyes slid closed at the feeling. One hand fisted in Gideon’s shirt, while the other came to rest on the back of her neck. She pulled her closer, resting their foreheads together. “Faster,” She breathed, eyes opening for just a moment. “F—fuck, Gideon.”

The fingers at her clit sped up. She could see the muscles in Gideon’s forearm working, tendons flexing and straining to keep up her pace. Gideon let out a soft grunt of effort, jaw tightening as she leaned in to bite at the other side of Harrow’s neck.

Then, Gideon’s finger slipped— and the pad ran directly over her clit, swollen now from arousal. Harrow’s hips jumped up as a sharp, needy noise left her. She heard herself begging, heard a litany of Gideon— more — please— falling from her lips.

“Bite down,” Gideon mumbled against her neck. “At my shoulder. Bite down.”

The dual sensation of Gideon’s fingers at her clit and her teeth and tongue at her neck was just at the edge of overwhelming her, but Harrow listened. She unbuttoned Gideon’s shirt hastily, pushing the fabric down her arms before biting down hard at one brown-skinned shoulder.

A gasp tore its way through Gideon’s mouth, but her hand only paused for half a second. She sped up with renewed energy, almost frenzied with need, and holy shit, Harrow was close.

The knot growing just below her stomach was starting to tighten, and Harrow could feel her abs tensing up. She released Gideon’s shoulder with a breath, leaning her forehead against her shoulder for a moment to gasp, “I— I’m close.”

“Do it,” Gideon grunted, face hot with exertion. “Fucking do it, then.”

And as Harrow came, the only things running through her mind were golden eyes and a lopsided smile.

Wave after wave of pleasure crashed through her, and as her orgasm hit she sagged forward against Gideon’s body. She could hear someone saying, over and over, “Gideon,” and realized it was her own lips moving.

Her chest was heaving, and she was faintly aware of Gideon taking her fingers out of her pants and wiping them against her jeans.

The two of them stayed like that for a moment— Harrow’s head against Gideon’s shoulder, Gideon’s hands bracketing either side of her against the cool tile of the bathroom counter in a crude approximation of an embrace.

And speaking of the counter: it was good, she thought distantly, that Gideon had had the sense to make her sit on it. Harrow thought her legs would have given out otherwise.

Their breaths mingled in the warm, stuffy space between them.

And then, in a broken voice that was completely unfamiliar to her, Gideon asked, “What are we doing, Harrowhark?”

And whether from her orgasm or the simple absence of knowing, Harrow couldn’t answer her.

Their eyes met for a moment, with black meeting gold for a time that felt eerily final— before Harrow looked down and away.

Harrow didn’t have to see Gideon’s face to know that her heart was breaking. She nodded, jerky, and took a step backwards. “Great,” Gideon croaked, hoarse. She sniffled once. “That’s what I thought.”

She did the buttons of her shirt up before unlocking the door, then paused with one hand on the doorknob. For a moment, Harrow thought she would turn around.

Instead, all Gideon did was ask, “When the waitress thought we were together, you didn’t seem bothered by it. What changed?”

And Harrow couldn’t answer that, either.

This seemed to be expected. Gideon nodded again. Then, straightening her shirt, she took a breath and cleared her throat before rejoining the party.

Muffled though she was, Harrow could hear her making an excuse to someone inside about leaving. That was it, then. Gideon would be gone by the time she was out.

And then, alone in an unfamiliar bathroom with her pants undone and her heart breaking in half, Harrowhark Nonagesimus began to cry.

* * *

… + I.

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned,” Harrow said, eyes downcast. “It’s been one week since my last confession—”

“Harrow, you know you can say hello to me first, right? God won’t be mad,” said the priest, with only a hint of exasperation. “Would you like a biscuit?”

“No.” Harrow’s eyes flicked up, taking in the sight of the priest across from her. Everything about him was plain, from the brown hair cropped short on his head to the simple black of his cassock. The one thing that betrayed him were his eyes— they were a strange, bright black, with irises that reminded her of a black hole. “Hello, Father Gaius.”

Father Gaius — who had given up long ago on being just John around her — gave her a smile. “Hello, Harrowhark. How are you doing?”

I haven’t slept in three days. I haven’t eaten in three and a half. My hands hurt. I can’t sleep. I hurt the only person in the world I give a damn about, and I don’t know how to fix it.

“I’m fine,” She said tightly, shifting in her seat. He insisted on having confessions face-to-face rather than using the stately, ornate booth in the church, which had taken Harrow years to adjust to. “May I continue?”

He nodded. “Be my guest.”

Harrow nodded briskly. “Since my last confession, I have lied three times. Once to a friend, once to a colleague, and once to a professor regarding the reason I failed to submit an assignment on time.” She shifted, then admitted, “I told her I had a case of food poisoning. She told me to clean the vomit off my computer and get it in by midnight.”

“Was that Mercymorn?” At Harrow’s nod, Father Gaius sighed. “That sounds about right for her.” He shrugged. “Well, I won’t tell her if you don’t.”

“There’s more,” Harrow said. She paused. “I have committed— quite grievously— the sin of gluttony.”

There was a pause. The priest leaned forward, frowning lightly. “Can you explain what you mean by that?”

Harrow nodded. With a sort of clinical detachment in her voice, she said, “There is a person in my life whom I consider myself— close to. She and I grew up together, and recently we’ve begun a sort of arrangement.”

“Which means?” The question trailed off at the end.

Harrow closed her eyes and bowed her head lightly. It was easier to admit this if she wasn’t looking at him. “I propositioned her some weeks ago. We’ve lain together several times over the course of the last few months, and I find myself craving her more than is healthy.” She nodded to herself. “I have become a glutton for her presence. I’ve taken matters into my own hands, but I would ask you to assign me a penance for it.”

Father Gaius — now blushing down past his black-and-white collar in an embarrassed way that reminded Harrow of a father giving his child the talk — raised his eyebrows. “Wait, just— hold on, Harrow. What do you mean by taking matters into your own hands?”

“I haven’t spoken to her in—” Harrow thought for a moment. “A week and three days. I’ve ignored her calls and texts, and she has done the same for me.” Grief tightened in her throat, and she did her best to clear it away. “The last time we spoke, it ended— poorly. I hurt her. So I figured it was best to cut off contact altogether.”

Most priests would have nodded gravely and patted her on the shoulder, which is what Harrow thought — foolishly, apparently — that Father Gaius would do.

Instead, he let out a groan and put his head in his hands. “Harrow, that’s not—” He sighed. “Let me see if I understand this. You like this girl—” (“Person,” Harrow corrected under her breath,) “—and instead of dealing with it, you’ve been avoiding talking to her altogether.”

Harrow frowned. “That feels reductive.”

“Is it wrong?”

A beat. Then: “No.”

“Okay,” the priest said. “So you’re punishing yourself for having feelings.” Harrow opened her mouth to protest, but he raised a hand to stop her. “You were raised pious. Do you know the parable of the two debtors?”

“In the Gospel of Luke,” Harrow said, frowning at the change in subject. “Of course.”

Father Gaius nodded. “Can you tell it to me?”

This was a trap. It had to be. Harrow narrowed her eyes.

“It was a story Jesus told to Simon,” She said slowly. “He forgave a woman who sinned gravely. He tells Simon that she loved Him more than others do because—” Damn it. She was right. It was a trap. Harrow sighed. “Because her sins were great, and His forgiveness was even greater.”

John smiled. “So if He was able to forgive sins that were— and I don’t mean to be reductive— somewhat worse than this, why do you insist on punishing yourself and your person in the way you have been? Because it isn’t for His sake.”

“Well—” Harrow sputtered, and realized she was having a hard time arguing. That didn’t matter— she would try anyway. “Maybe, but— but I have sinned gravely, Father, and—”

“And you will continue to,” Gaius said quietly, interrupting her. “Just as I will. Just as everyone else will. We’re not divine, Harrowhark. We are human.” He leaned forward, turning an impossibly kind expression her way. “Our experience on this Earth is messy, and—and ruinous, and destructive, and He died to absolve us anyway. It isn’t God’s will to punish you for being human— it’s your own.”

Harrow only realized she was crying when the first tear hit her hand. She opened her mouth, then closed it again. Finally, with a voice far more hoarse than it had any right to be, she asked, “So what is my penance?”

“Apologize to the person you hurt. Usually, admitting to a mistake is penance enough,” Father Gaius said with a rueful smile. “Answer me one thing, Harrow.”

Harrow looked up, not quite meeting his black, oil-slick gaze. “What is it?”

“Do you love her?” asked John, his voice impossibly kind.

“Yes,” Harrow said, voice hoarse. “Yes. I do.”

Father Gaius nodded. “Then I think she’ll understand. You will apologize and be absolved.” Harrow was silent, and she wasn’t quite looking at him, but she didn’t protest. “Are you ready to join me in the act of contrition?”

Harrow closed her eyes. “I am.”

* * *

Gideon, for her part, was doing a bang-up job at Not Thinking About It.

This meant that, in the last week and a half, she had dedicated even more time than usual to her fitness regimen. In her experience, the best cure for a hangover, for sadness, for grief, for anything was a solid session in the gym.

This dedication had snowballed somewhat into obsession, and now she was outside Camilla’s front door at half past six in the morning. She let out an impatient huff, rapping her knuckles against the door. No answer. Gideon tried again, and, in the middle of her second knock, the door swung open.

“Are you trying to wake up the whole house?” Camilla grumbled, moving past her with her gym bag in hand. “I heard you the first time.”

Gideon rolled her eyes. “You know, if you hadn’t answered, I would have called Palamedes and had him let me in.”

“He wouldn’t have picked up. He just went to bed. That man can sleep like no one’s business when he solves a problem.” Camilla paused, looking her up and down. “Is—”

“If you ask me if everything is okay, I’m going to start screaming.”

“Is everything okay,” said Camilla, who was a dick.

“I see you calling my bluff, and I resent it.” Gideon let out a sharp breath. “It’s fine. I’m trying not to think about it.”

“Looks like that’s going well.” Camilla nodded towards her car, pushing them both to get a move on. Gideon slid into the passenger’s side. “You look like a pile of hot shit.”

Contrasting the words themselves, Camilla’s tone held more concern than it did judgement. Anyone else would have been mildly offended. Gideon just felt a little uncomfortable at being seen.

She knew the bags under her eyes had blossomed, spreading out like mold in the hollows above her cheeks. She knew her face looked gaunt — try as she might, eating had been more difficult than usual recently — and she knew her hands shook more than usual.

It was infuriating. It was maddening. It made Gideon want to tear her hair out.

“I’m fine,” Gideon repeated, hoping it would convince them both. “Hopefully after the gym I’ll be even more fine.”

Camilla raised an eyebrow and turned the ignition key. She put a hand on the back of Gideon’s headrest, turning to look out the back window as she put the car into reverse. “You mean, after I kick your ass on the treadmill?”

“Oh, God, no,” Gideon groaned, drawing the syllable out. “You’re making me run?”

“Our coach is making you run,” Camilla corrected. “I’m just following the program.”

Gideon never ran unless she had to, which made playing a sport emotionally difficult at times. But this morning she found it more difficult than ever to lose herself in the rhythm of it, doing her damndest to stay in step with the music pumping through her headphones.

She found herself cursing under her breath every time her lungs heaved for air (which was far more often than she cared to admit) and felt every jolt of the treadmill under her feet go straight to her knees. Her form was ass, which normally wasn’t an issue considering she did more sprinting than long-distance.

When they were done with their warm-up from hell — and both dripping approximately a bucket of sweat — Camilla nodded towards her. “Something’s on your mind.”

Gideon swallowed a gulp of water and sighed. “Something’s on my mind.”

“Spit it out,” Cam said. A pause. “Or don’t, I guess. Whatever’s going on, you need to figure it out before the game tomorrow.”

Gideon bristled— or tried to. Given her state of exhaustion, it looked closer to a messy grimace. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means that was the worst jogging performance I’ve ever seen from you,” Camilla said nonjudgmentally. It was spoken completely without opinion— which somehow made it even worse to hear. “We need you focused if you’re going to play the way you normally do. I’m not fond of the idea of leaving the pitch in a stretcher.”

Gideon nodded, chewing lightly at the inside of her cheek. “It’s Harrow.”

“Isn’t it always?” muttered Camilla, pushing herself up to her feet in a smooth motion.

The corner of her lips quirked up in a brief smile before a hard, thoughtful expression replaced it. “I just— I don’t know what to do.” Gideon sighed, dragging herself to her feet. There was a brief silence as they walked to the weight room. “She’s always been— I dunno, hard to read, but not for me.”

Gideon shook her head helplessly. “And now I don’t know what the fuck she’s thinking, and it’s making my life hard. Kind of a dick move on her part, honestly.”

Camilla paused on her way to the bench, taking half a second to think before lowering herself beneath the bar above her. Gideon took the spotter’s position behind and above her as she did a few warm-up reps with the naked barbell.

“Okay,” Camilla said after a moment. She paused with her arms extended, lines of muscle sharp and smooth. She re-racked the bar before standing, retrieving a few plates, and sliding them onto the ends in a well-practiced motion. “I’m going to assume that something happened between you two.”

“You know what they say about assuming,” Gideon mumbled, to no response. She sighed. “But— you’re right, obviously. Something did.”

“Was it romantic?” Camilla asked. She let out a quiet grunt as she pushed the weight into position above her. “Or were you two just arguing harder than normal?”

Gideon shrugged, tracking the movement of the barbell idly. “No, I think parts of it were. Like, we watched a lot of movies and spent a lot of mornings and free time together. I helped her move furniture,” She offered lamely.

Camilla frowned lightly, pausing at the apex of her movement. With a tone of vague surprise, she asked, “Hang on, did you two have sex?”

“Keep your voice down, you dick,” Gideon said, looking around in a sudden flash of embarrassment to make sure no one had heard her. “Fine. Yes. We did. God, I hate when you do that.”

Camilla nodded to herself, eyebrows raising and falling in mild surprise. “Well— how was it?”

“Nope!” Gideon said brightly. She crossed her hands over her chest. “I am absolutely not discussing that with you.”

Camilla re-racked the bar again, taking a brief swig from her water with a shrug. “You’re the one who wanted to talk about it. What happened to bragging about eating pussy like a champ?”

Gideon shifted. “I want it to be known that I’m admitting defeat here.” She let out a sharp breath. “It was good. Like, really, surprisingly good. And I thought we were good, but then—” A pause. Then, a harsh, humorless chuckle escaped her. “I should’ve fucking known it wouldn’t last. Nothing ever does with her. But it’s fine— I’m fine.” Another pause. “I guess she just— doesn’t see me like that anymore.”

For some reason, admitting this made her heart hurt.

“Did she tell you that?” Camilla asked, cocking her head to the side softly. “Or are you just assuming?” One eyebrow raised. “You know what they say about assuming.”

Gideon bristled at hearing her words tossed back at her, crossing her arms over her chest again. “She didn’t have to tell me. She hasn’t talked to me in a week, Hect, so trust me— message received. I figured it out after about a day of radio silence.”

Against her wishes, Gideon had always been too damn quick to trust. Somehow she was even quicker to love. There was something about Harrowhark that had always drawn her in completely.

In the past it had been out of a desire for attention — which, Gideon supposed, at the basest level hadn’t changed — but fuck.

She had been so sure that they were getting somewhere. She had been so sure that they were making progress. She didn’t know what kind of progress, nor did she know where their end goal was, but still. It counted.

Gideon’s throat was burning again. She tried to clear it, but the sound she ended up making was a half-choking, half-wet noise that embarrassed both of them. “Anyway,” She said, trying not to sound heartbroken. “That’s what’s been going on.”

Camilla paused. “I’m sorry,” She said abruptly, cool grey eyes meeting golden. “I know you two have always had a— fraught relationship—” (“Understatement,” Gideon muttered,) “—but I didn’t know that it was hurting you this badly.” She paused. “If Palamedes were here, I think he’d give you a hug, which I resolutly will not do.” She settled for a stiff, only mildly awkward pat against Gideon’s thigh.

Gideon shifted where she stood, stomach tightening at the idea of being pitied. “It’s— look, I’m not, like, weeping over her. It just— sucks. It’s a shitty situation made shittier by her absolute refusal to talk to me.”

A thoughtful pause. “Do you want to egg her car?”

Admittedly, it was tempting. Somehow Gideon didn’t think it would help their situation. “It’s a damn good offer,” She said, offering a brief smile. “I’ll let you know.”

Camilla nodded once, with the shadow of a smile on her angular, intelligent face. Then she gestured toward the bar. “Your turn. I got her all warmed up for you.” She looked at the weights with a fond sort of familiarity, moving around behind her.

“Thank you,” Gideon said. “I think.” She sat down, ready to knock through the first few reps, when her phone buzzed with a text—

—from Harrow.

Harrowhark (7:02am): Meet me at my apartment later today.

And then, a few seconds later:

Harrowhark (7:02am): Please. I need to talk to you.

“Speak of the fucking devil,” Gideon muttered, wiping sweat away from her forehead. She let out a sharp breath, hating the way her heart ticked a few beats faster at the sight of Harrow’s name. “Well, looks like she’s done with whatever gag order she imposed.”

Camilla let out a quiet huff, settling into position. “Great. See? It sorted itself out. Life’s funny like that.”

Gideon leaned back against the bench, feeling the cold steel — though it was a little warmer from Camilla’s sets, which was only mildly gross — of the bar in her hands. “Yeah,” She grunted, hefting the bar up. She brought it down slowly to the line of her chest, then pushed it upwards easily. “I sure hope so.”

* * *

It wasn’t until hours later that Gideon found herself outside Harrow’s apartment building.

There was a stiffness in her muscles that had settled firm once her workout was over, but a shower and a good, hot meal — as well as the remaining quarter of Camilla’s, which would have gone uneaten otherwise — had helped immensely.

It should have been easy: just take the trip up the elevators and walk down the hallway. No stairs needed climbing, no fences needed hopping— the doorman recognized her, so Gideon could walk in without even mentioning Harrow’s name.

And yet it was really, really fucking hard to leave the car.

One reason for this was obvious: Gideon was fucking pissed. Harrowhark hadn’t given her the time of day in nearly a week, and the last time they met had felt eerily like an ending between them. It didn’t feel like there was much of a reason to reunite. Let Harrow have her radio silence and choke on it.

In fact, part of Gideon thought she would be completely happy never speaking to the other girl again. And another part — some treacherous bastard in the depths of her mind — felt like doing so would shatter her heart irrevocably. Like, more than it was already shattered.

But then— well, okay, maybe shattered was a bit excessive. After all, Gideon had been expecting this. She was, on some level, accustomed to being too much for some of the people in her life. In all honesty, she was just surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.

Maybe it was the terrible, masochistic satisfaction at having her suspicions confirmed that eased her heartbreak.

Or maybe it was just that the real truth of what had happened — that Harrow did not and would not ever want her in a way that mattered — was too great and too awful to bear, and simply hadn’t set in.

Whatever it was, Gideon wasn’t in any hurry to talk to Harrowhark about— whatever she wanted to talk about.

She swallowed thickly. Turning the ignition key off, she looked down to see her hand trembling.

Gideon let out a short breath of air. Come on, she thought to herself. Come on, dickhead. Just get through it. She opened the car door, feeling her pulse hammer in her throat, and closed it again behind her.

She swore an elevator ride had never taken so fucking long. Each floor seemed to take longer than the last to pass.

As soon as the doors slid open, though, Gideon found herself wishing desperately for even a few more seconds’ preparation. She could see Harrow’s door down the hallway. She knew this hallway— she knew that door. She knew the apartment like the back of her fucking hand.

Hell, Gideon thought desperately, swallowing down a gulp of fear. She wasn’t sure she could do this.

And then, as if to kick her in the balls one last time, Harrow’s door opened without fanfare. A scrawny, black-eyed, pointed little face poked out and craned over at her.

“Oh,” Harrow said, raising her voice a little to carry the distance of the hallway. “I wasn’t sure you’d come.”

“That’s what she said,” Gideon said, not sure what else to say. Her palms prickled with sweat. She clenched and unclenched her fists as she walked over to Harrow’s door. She paused, looking at Harrow for a second. “Sorry I’m late.”

“Don’t be.” Harrow seemed to be at a loss for words and gestured inside. “Well, I— I ordered some food.” This was about as much of a peace offering as Harrow had ever shown. By some food, she seemed to mean pizza, if the unopened box on the kitchen counter was any indication.

“I already ate,” Gideon said, ignoring the pathetic gurgle of her stomach at the smell. The door closed behind her. “What do you want, Nonagesimus?”

Harrow took a slow, measured sip from a mug of coffee. Well, it could’ve been anything, but Gideon didn’t think she’d ever seen her drink anything else. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

Here it comes. Gideon’s heartbeat picked up despite itself. “Okay.”

Harrow’s eyes, black and wide, were searching for something in her face. Gideon kept her expression carefully neutral just to spite her. “I—” Harrow fumbled, clearing her throat. “I went to confession today.”

Well, that wasn’t how she was expecting this to start, but— sure. “Okay,” Gideon said, frowning lightly. “Good for you.”

“I— I told Father Gaius— the priest,” Harrowhark explained redundantly, “about what happened between us.”

Gideon’s eyebrows raised. “What the fuck?”

“Not like that, Griddle— Christ, I’m getting this all wrong.” Harrow paused and let out a short, sharp huff of air through her nose.

“What are you trying to say, Harrow?” Gideon asked, crossing her arms over her chest. “What, that—that what we did was a sin? Because that’s, like, super fucked. I knew you were repressed, but I didn’t think you were that repressed—”

“Gideon, for fuck’s sake, will you let me finish?” Harrow took a much longer sip from her coffee. Her hands shook around the mug on the way down. She squeezed her eyes shut tightly, forehead wrinkling with effort. Her voice came out flat, contrasting the broken look on her face.

“I told the priest what happened,” Harrow said quietly, “because I needed advice on what to do. And I needed advice because—” She paused. “If I am to tell you this, I need you to promise me something first.”

Gideon had told herself she was going to be strong about this, that she was going to tell Harrow in no uncertain terms just how much her actions had hurt. She’d prepared a tirade so long and so damning that Harrow would need to call an ambulance just to escape with her life.

And yet, at the same time, her heart twinged seeing Harrow look so goddamn small. She had her arms wrapped around herself, and her eyes were downcast. It was the saddest and most vulnerable Gideon had ever seen her look.

Gideon closed her eyes, then opened them again. “What do you need?”

“I need you to promise you won’t be— disgusted,” Harrow said. Her voice cracked for the first time on the last word. “Or, at the very least, that you won’t let it show. I don’t know if I could take that.”

Even now, mad as hell and even more confused, Gideon’s response was instant: “I promise.” She shifted where she stood, a frown ghosting across her face. “But I need you to start telling me the truth right goddamn now, Harrowhark. You’ve kept me in the dark for days.”

“I know. And I’m sorry,” Harrow said simply. “You didn’t deserve that. I shouldn’t have done it, and I have no plans to do it again. It was hurtful— as was my kiss with Ianthe— and as was what I did in the bathroom after. It was childish, and immature, and— I’m sorry. God, Nav, I’m so goddamn sorry.”

It was a surprisingly comprehensive apology. Gideon figured she must have thought about it beforehand— oh, God, she must have thought about it beforehand. Shit. Is that what she’d spent the last few days doing? Working up the courage to apologize?

“Thanks. Uh— apology accepted.” Gideon paused, adrift after having her feelings validated. A nagging feeling of guilt tugged at her, and she said, somewhat haltingly, “I— I started the kissing stuff, though. I mean, I didn’t control the bottle or anything, but— you hurt me and I wanted to hurt you back.” Gideon looked up to meet Harrow’s eyes. “It wasn’t super mature of me. I’m sorry.”

Harrow’s eyes widened a little, as though she was surprised to hear it. Today was full of surprises for them both, it seemed, and all of them came from just talking to each other. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Gideon cursed Camilla for always being right about things.

“Thank you for saying that,” Harrow said finally. “I accept your apology.” A beat. “And you’re right. You should know the truth.”

She paused, letting a long, shaky breath rattle through her. “I needed advice because I realized that I was falling in love, Gideon,” Harrowhark said simply. “Or— that I had already fallen. One of the two.”

At the bug-eyed expression on Gideon’s face, Harrow added, “With you. In case that wasn’t clear already.”

Oh.

Oh.

Holy fuck.

Holy fucking shit.

Holy mother of God, holy hell, holy Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, that’s why Harrow did what she did?

“But you—” Gideon blinked. Then she blinked again— then again, and then two, three, four, and eight more times. “You—” Her tongue didn’t seem to be working. Her brain didn’t, either. “What the fuck?”

Harrow’s face crumpled, and she turned away. Her arms wrapped around herself lightly, coming to rest on her shoulders. “It was just supposed to be sex, but I— I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I let myself imagine a future for us, and I let myself get caught up in you— in us. I panicked, Gideon.”

She paused, chewing at her cheek. This seemed to be a space for Gideon to say something, but she couldn’t find the words. So Harrow continued, stilted and haphazard: “And I apologize for my silence. I think—” A beat. “I think that if I loved you less, I would be able to talk about it more.”

Gideon was blinking again. She opened her mouth, trying to get a word in edgewise between Harrow’s desperate explanation, trying to say Harrow, for fuck’s sake, I love you too — which, she realized in the span of about half a second, was the word she had been missing in describing her feelings — and couldn’t. She was frozen solid in place.

Harrow was still ranting, seemingly unaware of the emotional rollercoaster Gideon had just been thrown onto. “I-I knew you wouldn’t feel the same. And I don’t expect you to, given our history. I should have told you sooner, to— to let you free yourself from my company earlier, but I thought it wouldn’t have been fair to burden you with—”

“Harrow,” Gideon interrupted.

Harrow didn’t move. “That’s my name, yes.”

“Harrow,” Gideon repeated, half-wild now. Her body unfroze itself — fucking finally, she thought distantly, drowned out by the clamorous calm in her mind — and she felt her legs moving, taking bumbling step after bumbling step closer to Harrow until she was behind her. “Harrow, look at me.”

This time, she turned halfway. Tear tracks glistened on her cheeks. “What?”

“Harrow,” Gideon began, “you are the stupidest motherfucker alive.” Harrow turned around fully at this, spluttering wetly in offense, and this reminded Gideon that it might not be the best way to start a confession— so instead, to shut her up, Gideon pulled her into a kiss.

It was firm and gentle all at once— firm in the sense that Gideon refused to yield, but gentle in the sense that her hands were soft on Harrow’s cheeks and their lips pressed chastely together. Harrow’s eyes were wide open when she released her. “What—”

Gideon shook her head and leaned forward to rest their foreheads together. “Harrow. Harrowhark.”

“What?”

“Harrowhark Nonagesimus.”

What, Nav?”

“I have loved you since I was eighteen years old,” Gideon said. “And, honestly, probably a hell of a lot longer than that.”

Harrow blinked. Then, she leaned back. “What?”

“I’m saying I love you too, you ass,” said Gideon, as though it was the easiest thing in the world. “God, and you call me an idiot.”

Harrow’s mouth had fallen open in a small, shocked O. It took her a few moments to say, “Since you were eighteen?”

“I didn’t have the words for it for a while, but I remember when it clicked. Freshman year, right after I got diagnosed with ADHD, you offered to reorganize my notes for me,” Gideon said. “You probably don’t remember it. You—” She let out a quiet breath of laughter. “You told me I was an idiot for not color coding them sooner.”

Remembrance flickered in Harrow’s eyes. “You kept mixing up Biology with Philosophy because your notebooks looked the same.”

“You transferred all my shit into new notebooks,” Gideon said, nodding. “And I looked at you highlighting my fuckin’ chicken scratch handwriting, and I realized that no one else would ever do that for me. No one else knew me like that. No one else had ever tried, and there you were doing it like you were born to even though you hated me.”

Harrow seemed to be at a loss for words. “But— Gideon, I have treated you terribly. Ever since we were children—”

“And I’ve treated you about the same,” Gideon said. “We’re even. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still, like, mega-pissed at you for the silent treatment—” (“Fair,” muttered Harrow,) “—but if that’s what you were worried about, you don’t have any reason to be.”

And then, for the first time in weeks, Harrow smiled.

It was long and sweet, with awe playing at the corners of her mouth and her eyes crinkling up at the edges, and Gideon swore to whatever was listening that she had never seen something so beautiful in all her life. “Do you mean that?”

“I mean it so fucking hard, dude,” Gideon said, smiling back so hard her mouth began to ache.

And when they kissed again, it felt like the first time.

Harrow made a noise against her mouth that sounded like desperation and release all at the same time, and Gideon felt it strike a chord somewhere deep inside her. She pulled away after a few seconds, both of them breathing heavy from the weight of the moment.

“Stay with me a while,” Harrow breathed. “Please. I— I missed you.”

“Do you have to ask?” Gideon smiled. “I missed you too, sugarlips.”

Harrow sighed. “That’s a godawful nickname.”

“You’re a godawful nickname.”

“Don’t be rude,” Harrow said, pressing another kiss to her lips. “So. Do you—” She cleared her throat. “Do you want to have sex again?” It was possibly the most awkward thing Gideon had ever heard her say. Somehow, hearing it felt like falling in love all over again.

Gideon let out a laugh. “Well, I thought this conversation was going to be very different, so I didn’t exactly bring the strap.” An idea occurred to her. “And, you know, we’ve been going all out of order.”

Harrow frowned. “Out of order how?”

“Take me out on a date,” Gideon said. “Woo me, Harrowhark. Get your wooing on.” Harrow stared at her blankly, as if her brain hadn’t quite processed the words yet. “Y’know, wine and dine me. I’ll consider it part of your apology for being an ass.”

Harrow’s thoughts finally sped up to her actions, and put her head in her hands. She let out a quiet, amazed chuckle. “How long are you going to hold that over me?”

“As long as possible,” Gideon said with a grin. “As your— hey, do you know what we are now?”

“I just— don’t want to be without you,” Harrow shrugged, wrapping her arms around Gideon’s torso firmly, protectively, as though she couldn’t bear the idea of letting go. “I hadn’t really thought as far ahead as a label.”

“Well, I like partners,” Gideon said decisively, looking around Harrow’s kitchen before pressing a kiss to her forehead. “And thus, as your partner, I demand a meal for my trouble.”

Harrow looked over at the box on the counter. “Will pizza suffice?”

Gideon looked down at Harrow— at her partner. That would take some getting used to. She smiled again, relishing in the weight that pressed against her. All that they had been through had led them here— to realizing that they were a couple of idiots in love.

They weren’t perfect, nor was their situation— but who fucking cared? For the first time, they had each other without barriers. That was enough.

And Gideon’s smile widened into a grin, big and bright and loving. “It’ll be a good start.”