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sting of a wasp

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Harrowhark Nonagesimus was many things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s the thing.

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

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

This meant many things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great.

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

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

“Facetious.”

“I was gonna say a prick, but sure.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

The usual suspects joined her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harrow’s jaw ticked. “Fuck off.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh,” Gideon said, nodding. “Okay.”

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

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

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

Her eyes narrowed. “What.”

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

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

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

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

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

What? What?

Harrow blinked. “What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worst of all, Harrow was actually considering it.

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

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

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

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

Well, that was a development.

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

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

For purely scientific reasons, of course. Nothing else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harrowhark (3:24am): Griddle.

nav (3:24am): what lol

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

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

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

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

Harrow rolled her eyes.

Harrowhark (3:26am): Obviously.

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

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

Harrowhark (3:27am): I accept.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her phone buzzed with one final text.

nav (3:50am): it’s a date ;)

* * *

I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one was very clearly taken at the gym.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three things came to mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a damn good outfit, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, princess—”

That wouldn’t do. “Nope.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kissing Gideon was everything and nothing like she had expected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I mean, you don’t have to.”

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

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

“Griddle.”

“Yes?”

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

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

Oh, Harrow thought. Oh. Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well. That was a surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, inevitably, there it was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

II.

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

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

“Fuck,” Harrow grumbled, walking inside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Harrow needed a distraction. She needed a break.

Goddamn it, she needed some head.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harrow apologized.

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

“What.” Gideon blinked. “The fuck?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harrow found it very difficult to argue with that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christ, even her inner monologue sounded like Gideon.

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

III.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Picking desk lamps?”

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

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

“You what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Full name, please.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That seemed difficult to achieve. “How?”

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

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

“Believe it, Nonagesimus,” Gideon said proudly.

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

Gideon raised her eyebrows. “Excuse me?”

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

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

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

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

Harrow blinked. “What?”

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

Nav.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I didn’t want to be presumptuous!”

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

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

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

Harrowhark shifted uncomfortably. “What.”

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

“You’re quiet.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gideon’s eye twitched.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And, God, it was amazing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harrow blinked. “Is that a concern?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Harrow refused.

Harrowhark.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not a doctor,” Harrow said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, she imagined herself at the gates of Heaven.

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

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

“I do,” Harrow said out loud. “Yes.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Are you okay?” Gideon asked, rushing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her eyes widened. “Oh, fuck. Did I—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then Harrow paused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where are you going?” Harrow asked.

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

Harrow shifted. “Nav.”

“—lamps to build and decorations to ponder—”

“Griddle,” Harrow said, trying to interrupt.

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

“Gideon.”

They both stopped.

Gideon turned. “Yeah?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”